Hello from Earth! Having a wonderful time! Wish you were here!

Chapter 1: Hello from Earth

Hello from Earth…

( Unless otherwise noted all messages are video recordings. )

Stardate 44395.54

(Thursday, 25 May 2367, 09:00 AM, Mars Standard Time)

To: Keiko Ishikawa O’Brien, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe Harris, Hotel Curiosity, Mars

Hi, Keiko! I’m recording this on my padd at the breakfast table, so I only have a minute, but I wanted to let you know I received the file with the pictures from your wedding. Sorry I had to miss it, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t really need some kid hanging around. I know, I know, you’re not that much older than I am, but… look at you, all ‘Sadie, Sadie, married lady.’ Congratulations!

Anyway, your dress was amazing! I’ve never seen a kimono that delicate looking, and you really did glow the way all the magazines say you’re supposed to.

Actually, everyone looked amazing – I can’t believe Ed wore a tuxedo – but then, he’s not Starfleet, and everyone else was in formal dress. He and my mother look so good together, don’t you think?

Thanks, also, for the picture of Data – I’d never seen him all dressed up before. I know you can see me blushing, but please don’t tell him I did? Someone should frame a copy of that image of him though…

Dad has a class this morning – he’s teaching a spring intersession kind of thing, through June – but this afternoon we’re going to the Spirit Arboretum. I can’t wait to see it.

(An audible chime interrupts the recording.)

Oh! My ride is here. Friends of Dad’s have daughters my age, and we’re spending the morning getting mani-pedis together. Gotta go.



Thursday, 25 May 2367, 3:00 PM, Eastern Time

From: Theodore Nechayev MIT, Boston, MA, Earth

To: Zoe Harris, Hotel Curiosity, Mars

Well, Zoe, I did it!

I have completed my last exam, turned in my last documentation from my time on the Enterprise and I stand – well, I’m sitting. Hmm. Alright, I sit before you a free man, and a rising junior. I’m told next year will be intense, so I hope you’re planning to have some fun between music and theater stuff because I’m excited about getting to show you MY city.

Aunt Alynna says she’s got the guest suite already for you, and to let you know that yes, there is a bathtub. She asked me what your favorite scents were, and I’m afraid all I could remember was that you dislike roses. No matter. There’s a bath shop in one of the shopping districts that you will love, and I will suffer manfully through because it’s my job as your host.

Before you ask, no, she’s not expecting that we’re serious; she knows I invited you as a friend.

And, friend-of-mine, you’ll want to be in your best comfort mode, because Cherise – the on-again/off-again girl I told you about – is definitely off-again, this time forever.

I can imagine the look of doubt crossing your face, so before you crumple a napkin to throw at the screen – don’t you dare glare at me, Miss Harris – you should know that a copy of her wedding announcement to some lawyer from Harvard is attached to this recording.

Can’t wait to see you next week.

(Attachment, from the Boston Herald)

Girard – Kaplan

Cherise Girard and Evan Kaplan were married Saturday the 20th of May, 2367 at Memorial Church, Harvard University. The reception followed at the Plaza Tent on campus.

The bride is the daughter of Claire and Edmond Girard, of Quebec, and is currently a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where her studies are focused on Urban Planning and Civil Engineering. She will graduate with the class of 2369.

The groom is the son of Harriet and Norman Kaplan, of Chicago, and completed his legal studies at Harvard University in January of this year. He is currently an associate at the law firm of Kaplan, B’nel’kp, and Rogers, and is based in Boston.


Stardate 44402.71

(Saturday, 27 May 2367, 11:45 PM, Mars Standard Time)

To: Lt. Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe Harris, Hotel Curiosity, Mars

Hi, Data. This message is really brief because it’s almost midnight, and I’m very tired and a little buzzed from champagne.

Yes, you heard that correctly. Champagne. Dad let me have some at the after-party, but it had been hours since I’d eaten anything and… oh, god…  telling this completely backwards.

Okay, five words: I saw the Tantalus Quartet.

I saw them, and heard them, and met them, and it turns out that their cellist, Hugo Rodriguez, is actually one of the instructors at the Suzuki thing, and he’s going to make sure I’m assigned to his section.

How cool is that?

I mean… seriously?

Anyway, the concert was amazing, and the after-party was really lovely, but it would have been better if you were there. I mean, going to their concert with Dad was fabulous, but his suits are always rumpled and he never lets anyone press them, and Keiko sent me the pictures from her wedding and you looked…

(Zoe utters the next line in a tone of perfect, sudden clarity.)

Actually, you looked pretty amazing.

(And then she reverts to her usual breezy style.)

I mean seriously…  are you not beating women off with a stick?

Oh-oh! Hugo and Gae-Lyn said to hook you up with their booking agent, so I’ve sent that information as a text file. They said if their schedule meshes with the ship’s, ever, and anyone would be interested, they’d be willing to come aboard and do a concert or two, gratis.

(Data is then treated to a really intense yawn from Zoe.)

Remind me of the time conversion, and I’ll call live and in-person when I’m settled in San Francisco.

G’night, Data.


Stardate 44421.56

(3 June 2367, 8:56 PM, Pacific Time)

To: Lt. Commander Emily Harris, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe Harris, Casa Nechayev, San Francisco, Earth

Hello from Earth, Mom!

Theo met Dad and me at the spaceport on the first, just as we planned, and then his aunt took us all to dinner at this place in the Marina district that had these mashed potatoes that are twice-baked with gouda…seriously, Mom, I wanted to take a bath in them.

Oh, please tell Lt. Worf that we delivered his gift to Alexander, and that his parents send their regards. They’re very sweet people, and insisted upon serving us lunch. I might have to start swimming every day if people keep feeding me this way.

I got your letter, and I promise I’ll be a credit to my good breeding. Or at least I won’t embarrass you too much. Yes, I know staying with the Admiral is an honor, and yes, I know I have to tone down the snark. Maybe it helps that I’m a civilian, because she seems perfectly delightful to me.

Also, she’s a lot smaller in person than she is on the news nets. We could totally share clothes, if she owned anything that wasn’t a uniform.

Dad’s list of rules was way more specific: don’t do drugs, don’t get drunk, don’t pierce anything below my earlobes, or above my earlobes, and no visible tattoos.

No, Mom, I’m not going to run out and get an invisible tattoo. What would be the point?

Anyway, yesterday, Theo and I went out to the Maritime Museum to see the old ferries – they really used petroleum products to power vehicles? How quaint. We also poked around the tall ships – I love the smell of tar and history. I would have made an awesome pirate. Theo indulged me, and since we were practically the only people there, we played pirates on the Balclutha for hours.

Then we went to this really old restaurant on the wharf and had three kinds of clam chowder just as the fog rolled in. Mom, Beach Haven is fantastic, but I think I’m falling in love with San Francisco.

Today, we went to Golden Gate Park, and saw a local Shakespeare troupe perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The actor playing Puck was half Vulcan, and I know it’s a total stereotype, but the pointy ears totally worked for the character, and then we came home and watched vids and ate Thai food. I always miss delivery food on the Enterprise.

It’s only nine, but I’m tired…Theo has arranged to meet some of his local friends for brunch tomorrow, and we left word at the Academy for Wesley to come join us if he was available.

I’m enjoying this trip a lot, but I’m also looking forward to Suzuki starting next week. I’m not wired for a life of leisure.

I’ve attached a few still images from our museum trip. There’s one of me in classic pirate stance at the bow of the ship – could you make sure Data gets a copy? Trust me, he’ll appreciate it.


3 June 2367, 10:30 PM, Pacific Time

From: Cadet Crusher, Wesley, Starfleet Academy, San Francisco, Earth

To: Zoe Harris, Casa Nechayev, San Francisco, Earth


Mom said you were spending the summer here in San Francisco, and I have been so busy with classes that it didn’t occur to me to have a welcome message waiting for you.

About brunch, I’ve arranged for a day pass, and would love to meet you and Theo. The time and place you suggested work within my schedule.

See you then.

Oh, wait…”Casa Nechayev?” What’s that?

(There is a beat and then the recording continues.)

Wait, Theo Nechayev is related to Admiral Nechayev?

You’re staying with them?

Now I really want to see you at brunch.

Notes: This is not the proper sequel to “Crush” (obviously), but it is a bit of fun to move the plot ahead a bit. Locations on Mars are named after various Mars landers. Locations in San Francisco are real. The Balclutha is one of the tall ships at the National Maritime Museum, which is based at a pier off of Aquatic Park. I confess: on days when the water is choppy, I’m too chicken to climb the steps to the upper deck, even though I know it’s perfectly safe. “Casa Nechayev” is Zoe’s name for the admiral’s house.

Chapter 2: Having a Wonderful Time – Part I

Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.

Having a Wonderful Time – Part I

(Unless otherwise specified, all mail messages are video recordings)

Stardate 44431.90

(7 June 2367, 15:28 hours, ship’s time)

From: Dana Swenson, U.S.S. Enterprise

To: Zoe Harris, Suzuki Institute, San Fransisco, Earth

Omigod, Zoe! You looked just a real pirate standing on that ship. And Theo looked so dashing in that other picture. It sounds like you’re having a great time. I’m almost jealous.

No, I’m definitely jealous. You get to explore San Francisco with a cute boy, and I’m here doing a summer design class via correspondence and a creative writing seminar with Professor Benoit and … I miss my best friend. I mean, Annette’s here, but she’s about to start her last year of high school, so she’s been reading college brochures.

Oh! Everyone was on lockdown for three days because there were…well, I’m probably not supposed to say, but…you know that race of people with the kind of grey-ish skin and the neck ridges that sort of sounds like a kind of sweater? We had a bunch of them on the ship.

Daddy says I had nothing to worry about, and he’s in security, so he should know, right? But everyone was so tense, and I felt like if I was too loud or too happy something might break.

They’re gone now, but things still feel really…unsettled.

Josh said to tell you to tell Wesley that he’s NOT doing summer school. Boys! Honestly.

Speaking of boys…Josh and I…things are getting kind of serious…I think…but then there are days when I feel like he’s my brother because I’ve known him so long.

Gah! Zoe! I wish you were here. Or I was there.

See you soon.


Stardate 44432.87

(7 June 2367, 23:57 hours, ship’s time)

From: Lieutenant Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

To: Zoe Lauren Harris, Suzuki Institute, San Francisco Earth

Dear Zoe,

Please forgive my delay in responding to your last message. I was pleased to hear from you, and am gratified that you enjoyed your experience with the members of the Tantalus Quartet. I have contacted their booking agent, and it is likely that the Enterprise will be doing more than hosting them for ‘a concert or two’ but I am unable to provide further details at this time.

I was unaware that one’s companion wearing untidy clothing could negatively impact enjoyment of an artistic presentation, but I appreciate the sentiment. I also regret that we were unable to attend the quartet’s performance together. However, I am certain there will be other opportunities to share similar experiences.

(A shaggy orange cat leaps into frame, and as he picks up the animal and deposits it on the ground, Data addresses it.)

Spot- no. You are not part of this recording.

(The cat lets out an annoyed mrrrreeeeooowww.)

(Data returns his attention to the letter he is recording.)

Pardon me. Spot is not yet well-versed in proper behavior.

I was initially uncertain as to why you believe that seeing me in my dress uniform would require that I beat women with a stick, or any other blunt object, but I realized that you were using slang to imply that I am ‘a catch,’ or that I have qualities that would interest a potential mate. Thank you for the compliment, Zoe.

I believe you would find it amusing to know that I recently had a conversation with Counselor Troi in which I confessed that being an active participant in Keiko and Chief O’Brien’s wedding has prompted me to consider the possibility of my own marriage at some point in the future.

The image of you ‘playing pirates’ on the Balclutha, forwarded from your mother, was not, perhaps, representational of your most aesthetically pleasing attire, but it was agreeable to ‘see you happy.’

I am due on the bridge shortly, but in answer to your question about time conversions, if zero-two hundred hours local time on what will be, for you, Sunday morning, is not too late for you to be awake (I am familiar with your predilection for keeping late hours), or disruptive to your optimal sleep patterns or class schedule, it will be an acceptable time for a ‘live and in person’ conversation, as you phrased it.

I look forward to speaking with you.



(There is a moment of dead air and then, instead of the usual Starfleet or UFP symbol, the cat – Spot – returns, and switches its tail, then turns its head toward the camera and blinks, then bats its paws. Data’s hands are seen lifting Spot away from what must he his desktop, and then his face comes into view, though it’s obvious he’s petting the cat below frame.)

P.S. I believe I neglected to mention that I have acquired a cat.


Stardate 44433.69

(8 June 2367, 07:10 hours, ship’s time)

From: Lt. Cmdr. Emily Harris, U.S.S. Enterprise

To: Zoe L. Harris, Suzuki Institute, San Francisco, Earth

Oh, my dear Zoificus…I’ve gotten spoiled by having you with me, and now knowing you’re out in the world exploring your own interests on your own terms…I’m not sure how I feel about it. Who gave you permission to grow up, anyway? It must have been your father.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the pictures you’ve been sending, both holos and photos. Admiral Nechayev sent me a note telling me that you were an excellent guest and expressing pity that you have no Starfleet aspirations. (I did not tell her that you must have been replaced with a clone of the daughter I’m familiar with.) I know you think you aren’t suited for this life, but if she invites you to tour the Academy, consider taking her up on it. The worst that could happen is that you confirm that it really isn’t the path for you.

I’m looking forward to hearing all about the Suzuki Institute. Comm when you can; don’t worry about the time conversion.

I love you, kiddo.


(A Series of Text Messages)

Thursday, 8 June 2367, 10:00 AM, Pacific Time

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

Hey, CelloGirl, Friends of mine from school are going to be in town for the weekend. Would love for you to meet them. Would a note from a Starfleet Admiral get you a weekend pass? Let me know your schedule, soonest.

Thursday, 8 June 2367, 10:07 AM, Pacific Time

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

Got your message. This is music camp not the military. No one tracks us on weekends as long as we make curfew, but I’m trying to get a spot in Hugo’s master class. Will let you know my schedule once I know it.

10:16 AM

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

What’s a master class and who is Hugo?

10:19 AM

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

My secret lover. Wanna have a threesome?

10:20 AM

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

So. Not. Funny. Not. Funny. In. The Slightest.

10:22 AM

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

Don’t they teach you how to use search engines at MIT?

It was, too, funny.

10:33 AM

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

Okay, it was a little bit funny.

If Hugo Rodriguez is offering a master class, then you must do everything possible to get in. Let me know about the weekend ASAP.

12:47 PM

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

I got in! Master class is Saturday from 1:00-5:00 PM. I could meet you for dinner, maybe?

1:02 PM

From Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

Fantastic. Will work out details later.


9 June 2367, 4:47 PM, Pacific Time

To: Zachary Harris, Hotel Curiosity, Mars

From: Zoe Harris, Suzuki Institute, San Francisco, Earth


Oh, my god, this place is stellar in the extreme. I only have about fifteen minutes, but I’m recording this message on my padd so that I can show you this:

(The video pans away from Zoe’s face, to do a slow tour of her dorm room, which has a view of one corner of the Golden Gate Bridge.)

I can see the bridge from my bed, Dad. And I can smell the salt air.

(The image steadies and Zoe’s face is once again in frame.)

Anyway, the room is awesome, and I share a bathroom with just one other girl – it’s actually between our rooms, and she’s the first chair cellist in her high school orchestra so, at least she’s not horrible, which is good because everyone is practicing all the time.

Sunday afternoon, when Theo dropped me off here, our registration packets already had our section assignments. I have a warm-up every morning first thing after breakfast, and then after that we break up into an ensemble class, where there are about six of us. We play quartet music, mostly, with some people doubling parts or taking turns.

After that I have my private lesson, and guess who my instructor is? No, not Hugo. Cooper! Cooper the luthier from Ogus II. She seemed surprised that I was surprised to find her there – she said you knew she went to Suzuki every year. Apparently a lot of the instructors are instrument makers, and they treat the after-class hours as an unofficial conference of their own.

After lunch we have orchestra rehearsals – we don’t audition for places until next week – for now, we have randomly assigned positions based on our current repertoire, and then free time until dinner – you can practice or there are workshops on different kinds of music, and other instruments – and then after dinner there’s a concert. Sunday night it was some of the instructors, but the rest of the time it’s students, so I think I’m going to sign up for a spot next week.

(There’s a knock – an actual knock – on the door, and Zoe turns away from the screen to yell, “Almost ready, come in if you want.” Then she turns back.)

Dad, that was Ronnie – her real name’s Veronica but she hates it – she’s my suitemate. Gotta dash to get one of the good tables at dinner. Love you.

Oh! I made it into Hugo’s master class on Saturday.



Stardate 44438.92

(Saturday, 10 June 2367, 5:00 AM Pacific Time)

To: Lt. Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe Lauren Harris, Suzuki Institute, San Francisco, Earth

(Zoe begins by affectionately mimicking Data’s very formal tone from his letter to her.)

Dear Data,

I received your missive and apologize for the delayed response.

(Zoe rolls her eyes, then breaks into a grin.)

Did you seriously record that as if you were writing a formal letter to a colleague, instead of a note to a friend? “Dear Zoe?” “Regards, Data?” I’m not sure what the total volume of your personal correspondence is, but with people you’ve actually hugged? It’s okay to loosen up a bit.

And…you used my middle name. Even my mother doesn’t use my middle name. Well, she does if she’s mad at me, but then it’s a whole different thing. I have a theory that the only reason human children even have middle names is so that they can tell when their parents are really, truly, deeply angry with them.

You’re totally gonna poll all your friends about this now, aren’t you?

Anyway, this note is to ask if we can reschedule our call until next week, because I got into Hugo Rodriguez’s master class and it starts in eight hours, and I haven’t slept yet, and then afterward I was invited out to meet some of Theo’s friends from MIT, and tomorrow I’m supposed to have breakfast with my father, as he’s returning to Centaurus in a few days, and then there’s the Sunday night concert, and…well…do you mind if we reschedule?

I’m betting you’re curious about what exactly the Institute is like, and I really wanted to tell you in real-time, but I don’t want you to have to wait, so I’m attaching a copy of my last note to Dad.

By the way, my private lesson instructor says to send you her ‘kind regards.’ That will make more sense when you watch my other vid.

(Zoe does not yawn, but she does rub her eyes, and even Data, watching her image on a video display, would be able to see that she’s in that weird combination of tired and wired that often happens to young people at arts camps.)

By the way, you owe me the full story about how you managed to adopt a cat. And why is he? She? Whatever. Why is the cat called Spot?

(Zoe shrugs)

Well, I guess if it’s good enough for Hades…

(Zoe resumes her affected version of Data’s formal style)

Cordially yours,

Zoe Lauren Harris

(The effect is ruined by the giggle she emits as she closes the file. Only a portion of it is appended to the recording. )

Notes: For purposes of this story, Zoe’s dorm is part of University of San Francisco’s Lone Mountain campus, and the Suzuki Institute exists in that space as well. Her class schedule is based on the National Cello Institute’s annual program, though that is only a week or two long. Data’s formality, with complete headers and actual greetings and closings seems consistent with his letter to Bruce Maddox in “Data’s Day.” Zoe’s comment about the name Spot being “good enough for Hades” is a reference to a scene in the fifteenth novel in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, Skin Game.

Chapter 3: Interlude: Eat, Sleep, Cello

Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.

Interlude: Eat, Sleep, Cello

Stardate 44460.75

(Sunday, 18 June 2367, 04:11 AM Pacific Time)

I’ve heard it said more than once that nothing good happens after two A.M., but whoever came up with that expression obviously lived in a time when faster-than-light travel hadn’t become routine, and time zones were calculated only on individual planets, and not across whole segments of the galaxy.

Put more succinctly: it’s always after two A.M. somewhere.

Right then, in my dorm room at the Suzuki Institute in San Francisco, it was actually shortly after four A.M., but I was wide awake, and even kind of wired, though that might have been as much because of the fact that my suitemate Ronnie and I had only returned from a late-night excursion to Mel’s Drive-In a couple of hours before, and had spent the intervening time ghost hunting in the campus chapel.

We didn’t find any ghosts, but we did manage to scare ourselves silly, which was the real point of the exercise. Never underestimate a little well-placed horror – it gets the adrenaline going.

And then there was the anticipation of the call I was about to place…one that had been rescheduled twice in the last ten days.

I fetched a mug of tea from the replicator in the elevator lobby on my floor, returned to my room, adjusted the comm-system so the camera could see me from my chosen position, sat cross-legged on the end of my bed with my back against the wall, and placed the call.

There was a delay, as connections were made, and then there was a static-filled screen – for a moment, I could have sworn there was an image behind the static – one of a pale-faced man in black combat-gear – but then it resolved into the Starfleet symbol, and then the mission patch for the U.S.S. Enterprise.

U.S.S. Enterprise communications. Lieutenant Seth Starker here. How may I route your call?” How ironic that the person on comm-duty was the cello-teacher I was not actually trying to reach.

Seth? Seriously? Since when are you a communications officer?”

Again there was a delay, probably so Seth could confirm the origin of my transmission. Then the video feed engaged, something that typically didn’t happen until a call had been routed to its intended recipient.

“Zoe! I’m filling in for Lieutenant Rothfus. He just had a paper published and is celebrating with his girlfriend. Hey, how’s San Francisco? How’s Suzuki? How are you?”

“San Francisco is awesome, and Suzuki is amazing. Eat, sleep, cello…that’s my life right now…and I love it.” I hesitated, “Look, I’d love to regale you with everything I’m learning and doing, but I kind of have a comm-appointment with Data, and I’ve already canceled on him more than once…”

“I’ll connect you through immediately,” he said, as if he’d suddenly remembered he was on duty.

There was another brief delay and the screen went dark again, but then it flickered back to life to reveal my tutor – my friend – in living color, sitting at the console in his quarters. The cat, however, was not in evidence.

“Hey, Data,” I said. “This is so much better than letters.”

He didn’t smile, of course, but he did imbue his words with a bit of warmth. “Good morning, Zoe. Yes, this is ‘better.’ Are you certain you are awake enough for a conversation? It is…quite early…in San Francisco.”

“Way to not give the time in detail,” I teased lightly. “And it is early – or late, I guess, since I haven’t been to bed yet. But…” I shrugged. “I have tea, and I have time, and I miss you.” I didn’t let him respond to that, just continued on, adding, “Besides, I cannot possibly survive one more day without knowing how you managed to adopt a cat.”

“Ah, Spot.”

“Yes, Spot. And should we take a moment and discuss the reason you chose that name for a stripe-y cat?”

“It is a common name for Terran pets, Zoe. As well, it seemed to…suit her.”

I smiled. “If you say so. Now, tell me where she came from?”

“Spot escaped from a supply shuttle. The pilot was due to continue her journey, and by the time the animal was located, she had already departed. Initially, she was to be a quartered in a crate in the biology laboratory.”


“She appears to be an escape artist.”

“Oh, so…she’s a pretty typical cat, then?”

“Having never before owned a cat, nor been around many household pets at all, I am uncertain as to what constitutes ‘typical.’ However, she has demonstrated a remarkable ability to disappear from her assigned crate and reappear in inappropriate locations.”


“Geordi found her curled up against the outer casing of the warp core on her first morning aboard-ahip, and two days later, she managed to gain entry to the Jeffries tube leading to the port nacelle.”

“Sounds like she has a thing for magnetic vibrations.”

“That is my theory as well. It may be why she tolerates my company above most others.”

“Is there a story there?”

“Only that, before I agreed to co-habitate with her, Spot managed to attain ingress into my quarters on no fewer than six occasions.”

“Data,” I said, letting my delight bubble out in my tone, “she likes you. She really likes you.”

“That has been my supposition.”

“So you’re keeping her?”

“I believe it would be more accurate to say that she is keeping me.

I laughed again. “That’s probably true. I have to say, I’m not a fan of cats – I’m much more a dog-person – but I’m glad you have a pet. One thing, though?”

“Yes, Zoe?”

“She better not usurp my spot on your couch.”

For a moment we were both silent, and I was frantically analyzing what I’d said. Was it too forward? Had I just…staked a claim? Should I be embarrassed? Why was I not embarrassed?

Data broke the silence, saying with his usual understated certainty. “She will learn to share.”

We lapsed into another silence, but this time it was because I was sipping my tea. “So, I sent you the recording from my recital, last Tuesday. What’d you think?”

His head tilt, ever-so-slightly forward, was not the one that meant he was confused, but the one that held a hint of reproach. “Are you certain you wish me to analyze your performance?”

“Sure, tell me how much I sucked,” I quipped.

“I found no fault in your technique or intonation,” he said. “But I believe you chose a piece you are comfortable with in order feel more confident of your abilities.”

“Cooper said pretty much the same thing,” I confessed. “Well, actually, she said the piece was beneath me, and she’s making me work on one of Bach’s unaccompanied pieces for the last week of the clinic. She’s tough…but she’s also kind of Zen. She actually reminds me a little of you.”

His eyebrows lifted. “Of me?”

“Yeah. She has this knack of explaining things so that they just make sense, and she’s sort of…quietly confident. You always know she’s in charge, but you never feel like she’s ordering you around.”

“That is an excellent quality in a leader.”

“May I ask you a personal question?”

Again with the eyebrows. “You have never required permission before.”

I threw him a look meant to telegraph that he’d made a valid point and that there was a first time for everything. I wasn’t sure if he’d get it, but to explain would have distracted me from what I wanted to ask. “What are you like when you’re working?”

“I do not understand.”

I sighed. “Okay, look. I’ve observed my mother when she’s been involved in a work project. I’ve hung out in the anthro labs. I’ve even seen her issue orders before, though rarely…like to teammates, or whatever, but…she’s my mother, so, to me, her leadership style is never gonna seem anything other than parental.” I waited for him to digest that.

“Please continue.”

“I know what you’re like in class, and I got a glimpse of what you’re like when you’re in charge of a mission when we were on Ogus II – ”

He interrupted. “When the Potts child was missing.”

“Right. But most of the time when I’m around you it’s when you’re off-duty. It’s class or rehearsal or…just us. And… you don’t usually act like an authority figure, you just are one. I’m kind of curious about what you’re like when you’re actually…leading.”

“Is there a specific incident that has prompted this curiosity?”

“No. Not really. I guess it’s partly just me being nosy. And partly me being away from the ship, but in a city that’s become essentially a ‘company town.’ And…I guess I’ve been curious for a while, but I didn’t want anyone to think I’d ever be actually interested in Starfleet.” I favored him with a rueful grin, then. “It’s just…I’ve never seen you on duty. I want to know if you’re…different.”

“If you are referring to the idea that people take on distinct personae when interacting with differing segments of a population…”

“I am, and I’m not. I mean. I already know that you’re different when it’s just you and me than you are in class or in public. Not a lot different, but…there are things…nuances. You’re a lot more…open…and kind of…looser…when it’s just us.”

“I am not alone in this.”

“No, of course not. You already said…everyone does it.”

“I was referring specifically to yourself.”


“Yes. You are much more flippant with your friends, for example, more prone to snark, than you are when we are ‘just us.’ At those times, you are much more introspective.”


“In any case, if you wished to observe me at work during a typical day, I am certain it could be arranged, although the shadowing of officers is more usually reserved for students who are candidates for the Academy.”

“Shadow you?” I was surprised by the very idea. “No one said anything about shadowing you.” It had actually never occurred to me. “I was just thinking maybe…isn’t there any video of ‘Commander Data on the job’ that isn’t classified, or hasn’t been edited specifically for media? I mean, it’s not like you haven’t been a story from time to time.”

His eyes widened in apparent surprise. “I was not aware you had seen those media files.”

I could feel myself blushing. “You’re not the only person who can look stuff up, you know. It just takes me longer.”

“You do not have to ‘look stuff up’ if you wish to know more about me, Zoe.”

“Hence this whole conversation.”


I took in, then released a deep cleansing breath. The light in the room seemed different somehow, and I realized that the sun was coming up. I glanced at the clock, then refocused on the screen, my eyes meeting the image of his. “It’s almost six. I should let you go. A bunch of us are going to spend the afternoon at Stinson Beach, and I want to be awake enough to surf and still survive tonight’s concert.”

“You should not be depriving yourself of sleep.”

I laughed at that. “Oh, please, Data, it’s summer. Anyway, I can sleep when I’m dead.”

For a fraction of a second, there was a troubled look on his face, as if my expression had truly rocked him. Then he was his usual self again. “I have enjoyed our conversation,” he said. “We will speak again soon.” It wasn’t a question.

“G’night, Data.” I said.

“Good night, Zoe,” he responded, but before he disconnected the comm system on his end, he added, very softly, “I have missed you, also.”

The connection terminated, and the screen went dark. I unfolded my legs and padded across the floor to look out the window at the bay and the bridge. Cool salt air tickled my senses, but for all my bravado before, I really was tired. I put my tea-mug on the desk so I wouldn’t forget to return it to the replicator, and then crawled into bed.

My dreams that night were full of music and laughter…and a certain android.

Notes: This was done as an interlude because their live chat deserved more than just being another entry in a series. For purposes of this story, Spot has always been female. Mel’s Drive-In is a real diner. Zoe and her friends probably went to the one at Geary and Arguello. Stinson Beach is also a real place and people really do surf there, but the water can sometimes be a little sharky.

Chapter 4: Having a Wonderful Time – Part II

Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.

Having a Wonderful Time – Part II

(Messages are all video recordings unless otherwise noted.)

Stardate 44487.49

(27 June 2367, 10:25 PM, Pacific Time)

From: Zoe L. Harris, Suzuki Institute, San Francisco, Earth

To: Zachary & Gia Harris, Beach Haven, Centaurus

CC: Lt. Cmdr Emily Harris, U.S.S. Enterprise

CC: Lt. Cmdr Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

Please forgive the mass mailing, but it was easier to record this once and send it to all the people who matter. I just got back from tonight’s recital where I played the Prelude from Bach’s first suite for solo cello – the one in G major – and I killed it. I mean, yeah, I know, it’s one of those pieces that every cellist plays, but Cooper has this knack of pulling stuff out me – musically, I mean – that I don’t even know where it comes from.

We worked on it nonstop for a week, and I even canceled my weekend plans with Theo and Wes (yeah, Wes has been hanging out with us when he gets weekend passes) to practice more. I know, you’re all in shock. Remember to breathe, those of you who need to.

Anyway, Cooper says she’s contacting Dad and Data herself to tell what she thinks I ought to be doing. We also talked a lot about the fact that I’m NOT doing music for the second half of summer, but going to an acting program instead, and she actually thought it was a good idea.

Specifically, she said, I should let one thing inform the other, that acting would help me be a better musician, and vice versa. She is officially the first teacher I’ve had – sorry, Data, but it’s true, if only because you and I have never had this discussion – who doesn’t think I’m being somehow disloyal to my instrument (does anyone think that could sound really dirty in the wrong context? Oops, sorry, forgot who I was talking to.) or not serious enough by wanting to do different things. She also said I should consider an academic institution for college, rather than a conservatory, but that I should look at all my options.

No, Mom, Starfleet Academy is still not on the list. Data, back me up on this? You know it’s not a life I’m suited for.

Anyway, it’s hard to believe this is my last week at Suzuki. I think I could stay here forever and not get bored.

At the recital tonight there were a couple of boys from Oberlin who played rock and roll cello duets – covers of a song by some ancient Earth group called ‘Metallica’ and a newer piece by an all-cello rock band called ‘String Theory.’ Dad, you and Uncle Zane would love them. Data….I’ve got a data-solid with some of their stuff, but I’m not sure you’ll appreciate the glory of ACID CELLO.

(The door opens, and another young woman – one with cocoa-colored skin and a head full of braids – leans over Zoe’s shoulder and peers into the camera. Her accent is faintly British.)

Hello, Zoe’s parents or friends or whatever. I’m Ronnie. If she hasn’t told you ALL about me, you’re missing out. Need to borrow your girl for a couple hours. There’s cheeseburgers a-waiting and less than 90 minutes to curfew.

(Laughing, Zoe pushes Ronnie out of frame.)

Ronnie, I need to finish this!

(She returns her attention to her letter.)

Alright everyone, you heard her…there are cheeseburgers. Sorry, but junk food trumps letter writing every time. Love you! Mean it!

(Message attachment: a clip of Zoe playing the Bach Prelude.)


Stardate 44487.90

(28 June 2367, 2:00 AM, Pacific Time)

From: Zoe L. Harris, Suzuki Institute, San Francisco, Earth

To: Dana Swensen, U.S.S. Enterprise

Okay, I admit it: I’ve been a horrible friend. I’ve been so focused on music and music, and did I mention music? And I kept meaning to send you another letter, but then all the news was of the old kind and…forgive me?

So, it’s my last week at Suzuki, and I’ve met some people and my playing is better than ever, but more than one of my teachers here has asked me if it’s what I really want to do with my life, and the thing is, how are you supposed to know what you want to do with your life at sixteen? I mean…really?

I mean I love music. But…what if they’re right?

What if I don’t love it…enough?

Okay, this is already way too serious.

So, you and Josh…Josh and you. I don’t know, you seem to fit together so well. But I guess…I met you both at the same time, so I think of you in the same breath half the time. The two of you together just seems right.

But if you’re not ready, you’re not ready.

I mean…Tev and I…we were…but then with Theo I’m not….

I’m really not helping, am I?

I’ve only got three days left here at Suzuki, and then I’m back at Theo’s for the North American Independence Day holiday, which is apparently some ancient celebration that involves fireworks and backyard barbecues. I’ll be there for a week after that, actually, before I move to ACT’s summer dorms, which are actually in the hostel at Fort Mason.

It will be weird not doing music every day. I know pretty much how I stack up with other musicians, but against other actors I have no idea.

Tell me I won’t suck?

Hug Josh for me.

Kiss him for you.


(Another series of text messages)

Friday, 30 June 2367, 11:05 A.M. Pacific Time

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev, Wesley Crusher

Okay, boys. The final recital is tonight. My ensemble got picked for the opening. Are you both coming? Can I get a head count?

11:07 A.M. Pacific Time

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris, Wesley Crusher

At the advanced age of eight-days-from-twenty, I do not believe I still qualify as a boy. Wouldn’t miss your concert for the world, CelloGirl. Auntie is coming as well.

11:08 A.M. Pacific Time

From: Wesley Crusher

To: Zoe Harris, Theo Nechayev

I requested an early-start weekend pass, but it hasn’t been approved yet. Will let you know ASAP.

11:09 A.M.

From: Wesley Crusher

To: Zoe Harris

If I don’t get a pass, please don’t hold it against me? It’s a really big weekend for off-campus requests.

11:12 A.M.

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

Aunt Alynna wants me to tell you not to be put off when she shows up in full dress uniform. Suzuki Institute is a respected school, and this concert is an annual event.

11:13 A.M.

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

Is this the part where you tell me I committed some social faux pas by inviting her so casually?

11:14 A.M.

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

She’s a friend of the family to you, at least now. If you were a cadet it’d be different. Are we allowed to take you home with us, or do you have to wait until morning to check out?

11:15 A.M.

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

Morning, sadly. Between ten and noon. Are you coming to fetch me, or should I sign up for the Institute’s ground shuttle? Public transport with cello and luggage is kind of a hassle.

11:16 A.M.

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

I’ll come collect you at 10:30, and bring you home so you can unpack. We’ll plan the rest of the weekend together.

11:23 A.M.

From: Wesley Crusher

Zoe Harris, Theo Nechayev

I was just informed I am Admiral Nechayev’s body man for the evening, and that formal dress is in order. Gee, Zoe, I thought you said we were FRIENDS?

11:37 A.M.

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev, Wesley Crusher

I swear I had nothing to do with this.

11:38 A.M.

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris, Wesley Crusher

Hey, it got you off-campus on a Friday night of a holiday weekend didn’t it? Aren’t you plebes supposed to be honored by such assignments?

Also? I had nothing to do with it either.


Stardate 44498.86

(Sunday, 2 July 2367, 2:00 A.M. Pacific Time)

To: Stevek Mairaj, U.S.S. Berlin

From: Zoe L. Harris, Casa Nechayev, San Francisco, Earth


So, we haven’t talked since April or early May, and so much is going on. First, I’m writing this from the home of one Admiral Alynna Nechayev. Yes, that Admiral Nechayev.

(Zoe does her best deadpan I’m-being-completely-serious tone and expression.)

Apparently hanging out with officers, wannabe officers, and ‘fleet brats eventually sinks in. T’vek, I’m actually at a Starfleet Academy summer program for prospective students.

(She takes a beat.)

Also, I’m dating Wesley Crusher.

(She stares into the camera daring it to contradict her. It does not.)

(Time passes.)

(She bursts out giggling.)

Okay, that’s totally bogus, but I wish I could have seen the expression on your face when I said it. So, truth: I’ve been on Earth since the end of May, staying with Theo – I think I mentioned he was on the Enterprise for a semester in space thing from MIT? Well it turns out that he’s the Admiral’s nephew, and he’s here for the summer, and he invited me to spend the summer with him.

Of course there was no way my parents – well, my dad, maybe, but definitely not my mom – were going to let me spend the whole summer with a boy. (Theo says he’s technically a man since he turns twenty next week, but whatever.) So, for the last month I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing music at the Suzuki Institute, and I’m here for a week, and then I move to Fort Mason, for ACT’s summer program, and then there might be a few days here again before I head home.

Or…back to the ship.

Or…you know what I mean.

The music part’s been stellar, of course. I got to work with members of the Tantalus, I’ve learned a little bit of Vulcan lyre technique in a workshop here (see, I promised your mother), and the rest…

The admiral, when you’re not her underling, is really all shades of cool. She’s much smaller in person than she seems on a vid-screen, and kind of soft-spoken, and she’s been very welcoming, not pushing the whole ‘consider the Academy’ agenda on me at all.

And Theo…Theo is…nice. He’s funny and kind and I like spending time with him – he’s introducing me to his friends, and taking me to lots of his favorite places, but we’ve agreed to keep things casual. Light.

At least for the summer.

(Her tone changes from light and chatty to somewhat darker. Worried.)

I need to tell you something. Well, I need to tell someone something, and I’m picking you because you’re not likely to put me under house arrest or redirect a starship…you know I told you about…about Data’s brother and what happened after you left? Well, it’s probably nothing. Or nerves. Or…I could have sworn I saw him at the final Suzuki concert last on Friday. Just for a second.

I’m probably just imagining things, right?

Oh! I forgot. My suitemate, Ronnie, says to ask you if you know a guy on the Berlin – Harley Babigian? He’s a year or so ahead of us in school, and they used to date or something. Well, they used to ‘get together,’ but I’m not entirely sure which meaning of ‘get together’ was meant.

It’s really late, and we’re doing brunch with bunches of people I don’t actually know tomorrow, so I’d better hit send.

This summer’s been amazing, Tev. I miss you…I think I’m always gonna miss you…but I’m okay.

Better than okay.

Great even.

(She flashes her happiest smile, the one that goes all the way to her eyes.)

Give my love to your parents.

And send me a note when you have time.


Stardate 44505.87

(4 July 2367, 15:35 PM, ship’s time)

From: Stevek Mairaj, U.S.S. Berlin

To: Zoe L. Harris, Admiral Nechayev’s residence, San Francisco, Earth

Look at you, Zoe, hanging with the Admiralty. Wow, and to think I knew you when…

Okay, I know, you wouldn’t care if Theo’s family were janitorial workers, as long as they kept you in coffee…you are being kept in coffee, aren’t you? I’d hate to think what you’d be like if not.

(He schools his smiling, laughing face into a more serious expression.)

I’m glad you’re doing something for you this summer. I’m going to a summer program on Earth as well, that starts in a couple of weeks. ‘The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts’ is hosting an intensive for prospective architecture students and they liked my application enough to get me in. No promises, but maybe we can meet up. I’d love to see you.

(He takes on a concerned, lecturing sort of tone.)

So, about the other thing you mentioned. The brother….are we talking in code for a reason, or can we say his name? I feel like I’m in a spy vid.

(In a conspiratorial whisper)

The sehlat yowled at moonrise.

(In a normal voice)

I don’t know what to tell you. If it was just one time, then maybe it was just your imagination…you can be a little…creative, sometimes. Don’t be paranoid, just be aware. But if you see him again, Zoe, you have to tell someone. Your mother, at least. Or Data.

Is it wrong that I hope it’s just you being a little crazy?

Not crazy-crazy, but…you know.

Anyway, I’ll append my trip details so you have them. Hopefully our schedules will mesh. I want to meet this Theo-person, see if he’s good enough for you.

Oh, and Harley’s in my lit class – or was – I’m not sure what classes will be when school starts again. He’s…kind of awesome actually. Trouble, but in a good way.

(He holds his hand up, favoring her with the Vulcan salute, but then flashes the ASL sign for ‘I love you,’ right after.)


Stardate 44507.34

(5 July 2367, 04:23 hours, ship’s time)

From: Lieutenant Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

To: Zoe Lauren Harris, Admiral Nechayev’s residence, San Francisco, Earth

Good morning, Zoe.

At your request, I am attempting to be more casual in my personal correspondence with you. Do you find that ‘good morning’ is a better greeting than ‘dear Zoe?’ Does the fact that it may not be morning in your location when you receive this missive lessen the effect of the greeting? Is there a specific greeting you would prefer I use for future letters?

You have asked before for news of the ship. We have been under a communications blackout for the last three point seven six eight days, but I am afraid the reason is classified information. Let me assure you that we are all well.

Prior to the blackout, I had the experience of serving as ‘judge and jury’ in a trial between Captain Picard and a ‘con artist’ attempting to pass herself off as a legendary being in order to lay claim to an entire world and all its people and assets. I do not mind admitting that I was somewhat concerned about the possibility of ruling against the Captain, but with the help of Commander LaForge and many others aboard the Enterprise – including your mother, whose knowledge of folklore was quite handy – the truth was found, and the woman was arrested.

It is possible you have seen mention of this on the news networks, as she has been ‘scamming’ people throughout the Federation for…the better part of a decade.

In regard to your last letter, I am honored to be included with your family among people who ‘matter’ to you. Perhaps you are aware of this already, but, as I have often had to remind you that we are friends, I will clarify for you: you also ‘matter’ to me.

I have heard from Cooper, who has suggested that if you are to move forward as a musician, even if you do not eventually make a career of it, you would benefit less from a teacher and more from a coach and partner. She has further suggested – as you, yourself, have – I believe the word is ‘grumbled’ – that you have moved beyond what Lieutenant Starker can teach.

As we have already agreed to continue meeting weekly to continue your study of music theory, I would suggest that we expand our time together by one hour, and focus part of that time on technique and repertoire. I have observed that reactions to my own performances are much warmer since we have begun working together, and believe we should capitalize on what is clearly mutually…beneficial.

However, if this plan is not acceptable to you, or if you would prefer to work with someone who understands the emotional component of musicianship, I will understand, and will begin the search for a likely candidate.

When I mentioned your complaint about my ‘writing style’ to Counselor Troi, she suggested that I include some inconsequential chatter in my next letter, so I will share that as I record this, Spot is curled up on the couch, but not in ‘your place.’

Instead, she has taken a liking to the place I generally occupy when you and I are having tea together, and I must dislodge her if I wish to sit down. After I do so, she invariably waits until I have picked up a padd or my oboe (You have stated more than once that you think the oboe sounds like a ‘duck call’ but it is a necessary component of certain chamber ensembles. Having now listened to the calls and songs of eight hundred seventy-three distinct types of water fowl, I believe that you either made an error in identification, or are using ‘duck call’ in a way with which I am unfamiliar. Please elaborate?) and then jumps into my lap, where she will remain until I move her again. This behavior typically repeats itself until I cease my planned activity and focus my attention on her, or until she exhibits signs of being hungry.

(As if on cue, there is a loud meeoooowwwrrrrr from out of frame, and then orange and white fur obscures Data’s image.)

No, Spot. You must not jump onto the console.

No, Spot. You must not bat at the control keys.

No, Spot –

(There is a screen full of static for about 30 seconds, during which Data’s cajoling and Spot’s meowing can be heard. Then the image resolves into Data’s face again. His last three sentences are uttered very rapidly.)

I am afraid I must end this letter now, Zoe.

I look forward to your next communication.

Data out.

Notes: Episodes that take place during this chapter are “Devil’s Due,” and “Clues.” The piece of music Zoe mentions playing solo is the Prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007. A video of Yo-Yo Ma playing it has been added to the CRUSHING ON CELLO playlist (link in my profile.) Rock cello is not a new thing, though it’s safe to say it was new to Zoe. My own first intro to it was via the group Apocalyptica, which really did start out doing all-cello covers of Metallica tunes. Their version of “Fade to Black” has also been added to the playlist. And before you ask, no, Tev and Zoe are NOT getting back together.

Chapter 5: Wish You Were Here – Part I

Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.

Wish You Were Here – Part I

(Messages are all video recordings unless otherwise noted.)

Stardate 44521.34

(10 July 2367, 07:00 hours, ship’s time)

From: Lt. Cmdr. Emily Harris, U.S.S. Enterprise

To: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

Hello, Kid-of-mine!

I haven’t heard from you in a few days…are you all settled in at the hostel? I know orientation was last week, but classes start today, don’t they?

Send a note, even if it’s just a quick line to tell me how you are.

I miss you, kiddo.

I love you.


12 July 2367, 2:00 PM Local Time

From: Zachary Harris, Beach Haven, Centaurus

To: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

Darling Zoetrope, are you merely immersed in your creative artistry, or has something gone wrong? We miss seeing your smiling face and hearing your melodious voice, even if it has to be via comm-chat and recorded letters.

I heard from your mother…she says you’ve been incommunicado for the better part of a week.

I think you’re just avoiding us until whatever you pierced or dyed has healed or faded.

Tell me I’m right, darling?

Gia sends her love, as do I.


13 July 2367, 4:00 AM Pacific Time

From: Anonymous Sender

To: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

(This message is audio only, and the voice sounds like a darker, less stable version of Data.)

I’ve been watching you while you’ve been in San Francisco. Brave of you to stray so far from the people who can protect you. Maybe you aren’t such a little girl after all.

I heard you play the Bach prelude at Suzuki. My brother didn’t teach you that kind of expression.

Does he know you wanted it to be his kiss? Somehow, I doubt it. If you ever want to taste the real thing again, instead of pining for a cheap imitation, I’ll be around.

I’m always around.

(Message auto-deletes after it finishes playing.)


Stardate 44533.22

(14 July 2367, 15:00 ship’s time)

From: Stevek Mairaj, U.S.S. Berlin

To: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

So, you’re so starstruck by the people you’re working with at ACT that you don’t have time to read or answer mail anymore? Maybe it’s good we’re not a couple any more – I’d be hurt and worried.

Oh, wait, I am hurt and worried.

Mostly worried.

Anyway, Zoe, I’m not traveling through San Francisco, but through Antwerp, so I won’t be able to see you before my program starts but we have a long weekend at the beginning of August and if you can find time, I think I could get a shuttle there, or you could come to Denmark, or we could meet somewhere in between – what’s in between California and Denmark?

Hope you’re having fun showing off how amazing you are.

See you in a few weeks.


15 July 2367, 11:00 AM Pacific Time

From: Cadet Wesley Crusher, Starfleet Academy, San Francisco, Earth

To: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

Hey, Zoe, I just got a text from Theo asking if I’d heard from you all week, and when I tried to text your PADD I got a message-refused response. Is everything okay? Should I call the Admiral, or send word to my mother?


Stardate 44535.56

(Saturday, 15 July 2367, 11:34 hours ship’s time.)

From: Lieutenant Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

To: Zoe Lauren Harris, ACT, Fort Mason, San Francisco, Earth

Alert: This message has been tagged read-receipt (automatic), reply-requested


As I begin this recording, it is one hour, thirty-four minutes and thirty-eight point three seconds into the time of day when, were you aboard ship, we would be having our Saturday Session. As I have nothing else scheduled for this period of time, and have become accustomed to sharing it with you, it seemed appropriate to spend it recording a message.

Spot is asleep on the couch, and the ship is engaged in a mapping and charting expedition in a largely uninhabited sector. You would refer to this as ‘the boring part.’

Most of my colleagues would agree with you.

It has been approximately ten days since we have last communicated. As your pattern has been to send messages every other day, I became…concerned…and went to your mother to determine whether or not there was cause for alarm. Her response to my inquiry was that she had not heard from you either, but that you were likely ‘just busy, making new friends and experiencing new things.’

It is my hope that your mother is correct.

I am unsure why, but I do not believe she is.

I have formed seventeen distinct scenarios providing possible reasons for your ‘radio silence,’ to use your phrase. However, I am not inclined to list them now. It is my experience that if I omit information, you will ‘come looking’ for the missing…data.

Zoe if something is wrong…May I remind you that I am available if you…’need an ear.’

I hope to hear from you…soon.

(Read-receipt: July 15, 2367, Time: 11:35:35 Stardate 44535.57)


Stardate 44536.03

(15 July 2367, 3:37 PM, Pacific Time)

To: Lt. Cmdr. Emily Harris, U.S.S. Enterprise

CC: Lt. Cmdr. Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

Zachary & Gia Harris, Beach Haven, Centaurus

Cdt. Wesley Crusher, Starfleet Academy, Earth

Dana Swenson, U.S.S. Enterprise

Stevek Mairaj, U.S.S. Berlin

From: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

(This message is text only).

Am fine. Settled in at hostel. Other girls are really cool. Boys…are boys. Week’s been intense. More later. Z.


(A series of text messages)

15 July 2367, 4:02 PM, Pacific Time

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

Sorry to be so avoid-y all week. Cannot believe you actually had Wesley Crusher check on me. I mean…Wesley? Really? Brunch tomorrow?

15 July 2367, 4:03 PM

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

It has to be on the late side. Promised auntie I’d go to mass with her in the morning. You’re welcome to join us.

4:04 PM

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

Mass, really? Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian….What flavor of mass? And what time?

4:05 PM

From: Theo Nechayev

To: Zoe Harris

Episcopal. Sung. We’d pick you up at nine-thirty.

4:06 PM

From: Zoe Harris

To: Theo Nechayev

I haven’t been to mass since Christmas Eve. See you in the morning.


15 July 2367, 8:30 PM Pacific Time

To: Irene Harris, Harris Farm, Garrovick River Falls, Centaurus

From: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

(Throughout this message, Zoe seems subdued, and a little bit ill-at-ease.)

(ACT is spelled as one word, but pronounced letter by letter – A – C – T)

Hey, Gran –

It’s been a while since I’ve contacted you, and since everyone else jumped on me for not being all chatty-Cathy this week, I thought I’d better send a note before it was your turn.

San Francisco is a lovely city, and I can see why people always want to come here. Parts of the city feel like there’s nothing but Starfleet, but then you turn a corner and there’s a local café that’s been here forever, and you can’t help but feel the history of the place…Centaurus feels so new and young by comparison.

So, the Suzuki Institute was an amazing experience. My technique instructor, a woman named Cooper who owns CrossBows on Ogus II, was really amazing at pulling expression out of me while she tweaked some of my technical skills, and I got to do a master class with Hugo Rodriguez from the Tantalus…and that was really scary, and really daunting, but then I did some more weekend extras, and I’ve learned that I’m a better musician than I think I am.

But I also learned that I’m not certain I want to be a musician as a career. The instructors are all brutally honest – you give up a lot of other options when you choose a conservatory, and it invariably means long tours or being stuck in the back of an orchestra til you’ve paid your dues…

So…I had a nice break hanging out with Theo. Mom likes him. Sometimes I think she likes him more than I do, but then, she sees us as some great match, and I suspect if I stayed with him it might not hurt her career – and why am I even worried about that. I mean, she’s on the damned flagship – I know, language – and everything and…

But that can wait.

I’ve been at ACT for a week and a half now, and wow…it’s not what I was expecting. It’s not what I was expecting at all. I mean, everyone’s very nice, but…I’m not sure I belong here. I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, and everyone is so much better than me.

I wish you were here to hug me and then talk sense to me.

I wish I’d decided to go back home and do summer stock, at least for the second half of the summer.

I wish…I wish a lot of things.

Well, I have another message to send, and I’m going to mass – yes, you heard that right – with a friend tomorrow, so I should end this now.

I love you, Gran. Can’t wait to see you at Christmas.


Stardate 44536.94

(15 July 2367, 11:40 PM Pacific Time)

To: Lt. Cmdr. Geordi LaForge, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

(As with her previous message, Zoe is subdued, and any semblance of being chipper is obviously forced.)

Hey, Geordi,

I bet in a million years you never expected to get a message from me. Hope you don’t mind?

So, I’m at ACT in San Francisco, and there’s this boy here who’s a little younger than me – about fourteen. His name is Michael Lang, and he’s really kind of sweet in an I-wish-he-were-my-younger-brother kind of way, and his family survived one of the Borg attacks, but there was blowback from an explosion and he lost his eyes.

He’s been fitted for a VISOR – I guess they don’t like to do prosthetic implants on kids who are still growing? – and he’s getting used to it, but what he isn’t getting used to, shouldn’t have to get used to, is that other kids are picking on him.

I might’ve sort of, kind of, mentioned that the Chief Engineer of Starfleet’s flagship was a family friend – presumptuous I know, but you can exact some kind of revenge when I get back to the ship next month – and might be willing to share some advice?

So, would you?

His contact info is appended to this message.

Also…while I’m recording this…is there a way someone with seriously subpar computer skills could retrieve a message that was set to auto-delete after being read? If there is, could you send me step-by-step instructions?

I don’t want to eat up more of your time. Let me know what you think about Michael? I hate to see anyone in pain.

Oh…and…could you let Data know I’ll call him tomorrow afternoon or evening?

Thanks bunches.

Notes: Zoe’s lack of communication will be further explained by Zoe herself, so I won’t elaborate here. This chapter also exists between episodes, so it really is, mission-wise, one of the ‘boring parts.’ Fort Mason is a former army base in the Marina district of San Francisco, and was the principal port for the U.S. Army’s Pacific campaign during World War II. Today, it’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Some of the officer’s housing is still in use, while one of the buildings is a hostel with a small café. The main fort now houses Fort Mason Center, which provides space to improve troupes, SFMOMA, Greens restaurant, at least one music school, etc. ACT – American Conservatory Theater is a real institution, but does not, in our time, have space at Fort Mason – they’re more centrally located. For this story, I’ve really just co-opted their name.

Chapter 6: Interlude: Fear of Failure

Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.

Interlude: Fear of Failure

Stardate 44539.34

(Sunday, 16 July 2367, 8:40 PM Pacific Time)

I put off the calls I knew I had to make for as long as I could, not because of the message from Lore, but because I didn’t want my family to know I was floundering where I’d expected to excel.

First, I spoke to each of my parents, explaining that the first week and half of ACT’s program had been intense. Then I watched Geordi’s message, following his step-by-step instructions to retrieve and save the message from Lore, which I (also following his instructions) forwarded both to him and to Data. Then I took a long, hot, water shower – one of the perks of having a father who’d funded a private room with an en suite bathroom.

I was wrapped in a terry-cloth bathrobe, with bare feet and still-damp hair when I finally placed the one call that I had been both anticipating and dreading.

“Lieutenant Commander Data, here,” came the familiar voice, as his features resolved into an image on my screen. As before, I’d adjusted things so I could sit on my bed while we talked.

“Hey, Data,” I said, attempting my brightest smile. “Miss me?”

“Yes,” he answered simply, but then his head canted ever so slightly forward, and his brows came together in the expression that usually meant he was concerned, but his yellow eyes were reassuringly steady. “I do not wish to be rude,” he said, “but in the common parlance, I believe it would be accurate to say that you ‘look like hell.’ How can I help?”

Come here and make everything better, I wanted to say, but didn’t. Instead I sighed, “I don’t think you can. It’s not just the message from Lore that has me all messed up. I’m not sleeping well. Food tastes like sand.” I could hear my voice quavering. “Data, everything’s all wrong…I don’t think I can do this.”

If I was expecting sympathetic platitudes, I was talking to the wrong person.

“Please elaborate,” he said.

“It started the first day,” I answered. “They broke us up into different groups, and the instructor I was assigned is this guy named Lachlan Meade. He’s this great big bear of a man, and he’s Scottish, and I’ve seen him in vids like half my life – we all have – so I know his reputation, but he walked into class on the first day, and announced that ‘acting is standing up naked and turning around slowly.'”

“That is an interesting description of the craft,” Data observed. “Please continue.”

“Then he said that some of us were probably here because we were the children of celebrities, and some of us probably had professional credits from work as kids, and some of us had the leads in our school plays…and that none of that mattered.”

“Ah,” Data said.

“Ah? I tell you that the instructor basically said I didn’t belong here, and all you say is ‘Ah?'”

Data didn’t typically need to search for words, so his hesitation confused me. After a beat or two, however, his soft reply came over the comm-link: “I am uncertain of what you would have me say. Did Mr. Meade state explicitly that you do not belong in this program?”

I took a breath, “Well, no. But Data, I fit every single one of those three criteria.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “You do. However, I would ‘hazard a guess’ that you are not the only student who does so. ACT’s summer intensive is a pre-professional program, is it not?”


“And is it not also usual for the children of professional performers to follow their parents into ‘the biz,’ just as the children of Starfleet officers often follow their parents into service?”

“Yes,” I said again. “Of course it is, but…”

His brow-crinkle, this time, was the one I recognized from class as the expression he wore during ‘teachable moments.’ “Then, is it not possible that your own flair for the dramatic, as well as your prolonged absence from home and family, have combined to reduce your confidence in your own talent and abilities?”

I wrinkled my nose at him. “It’s…possible,” I allowed.

“There is more,” he stated. And I knew he meant that I had more to tell him.

“He’s having us do these exercises where we talk about ourselves.”

“I do not understand.”

“He puts us all in a circle, and makes us close our eyes and talk about our scariest moments, or the time we were happiest, or who makes us our best selves.”

“I have never known you to be reticent about sharing personal anecdotes.”

“All my biggest moments would involve name-dropping. I’ve never been more scared than when I was afraid you’d all been Borgified, or when I thought you were dead. I’m happiest when I’m playing music, which is pretty normal, but the best musical moment I had was doing Hugo Rodriguez’s master class. And the person who makes me my best self is…” I could feel myself blushing, but somehow the distance between us and the fact that it was just a comm-call made the confession come out anyway. “…is you. And I can’t talk about any of it, because Lachlan – I mean everyone -already thinks I’m an over-privileged ‘fleet brat with a celebrity father, so naming the Enterprise or talking about how my math tutor and music theory teacher is…you… would be…less than helpful.”

I hesitated, catching my breath, then continued before he could say anything. “But it doesn’t matter, anyway, because really, Lach is – I mean everyone is – is right. I’ve never had to struggle for anything, really. I’ve been taught how to succeed, but I’ve never been taught how to deal with failing. And Data, I feel like I’m failing.”

“I suspect you are simply having difficulty adjusting to a new paradigm.”

I rolled my eyes at his image on the screen. “You would say that.” A thought occurred to me. “Have you ever failed at anything?”

“Yes,” he said, in the same matter-of-fact tone he’d used when he’d said he’d missed me. “I experienced failure many times as a cadet at Starfleet Academy.”

“You failed classes? Aren’t you omniscient, or something?”

His expression was reproachful. “You are aware that I am not. But, yes, I did fail more than one class. Anything that required personal interaction was difficult for me, as I had not yet learned human social customs.”

“You weren’t programmed with stuff like that?”

“There is often a great divide between theoretical knowledge and the knowledge gained from experience,” he said. And then his face lit up, as a thought apparently occurred to him. “Zoe, do you play poker?”

“Poker? The card game? No. Most people my age consider it a geezer game.”

“Query: ‘geezer game?'”

“One of those things only old people play.”

“I do not think either Geordi or I count as ‘geezers’ by any definition,” he said. Anyone else would have been miffed. He, of course, was not.

“Well, no…not you two…but, why are you asking me about card games?”

“My experience playing is a good example of ‘knowing how to play’ a game, but lacking the necessary real-world experience to excel.”

“I’m not sure how your poker prowess – or lack thereof – relates to my problem.”

“It does not relate to your problem, merely to your question about what ‘stuff’ was included in my original programming.”

“Oh…okay.” I waited a beat. “I think maybe we should talk about the message I received from your bro – from Lore.”

“He did say he would be watching you.”

“I remember. I was there. It was creepy then, and it’s creepier now. Bordering on scary, even. The thing is, Data, most people don’t actually mean it when they say things like that.”

“That is true. However, Lore is not ‘most people.’ He has demonstrated a tendency to be unpredictable, and his behavior is often irrational. As well, he –”

I cut him off, “Data!”


“Am I in danger? Is he likely to kidnap me from my bed? Should I inform the instructors that I may have a stalker?”

“Ah.” His eyes betrayed that he was searching for information. “I do not believe he means you direct harm. In fact, I am inclined to believe that he meant for you to forward his message to me. As long as you are cautious about where you go, and with whom, I do not think you are at risk.”

“Can you do me a favor?”

“Of course, if I am able.”

“If you believe that I’m really not in danger, I trust your judgement, but… I didn’t tell my parents about that message. I also haven’t told them that I thought I saw him – Lore – at the Suzuki concert.”

“If Lore truly wished you harm, he could have ‘made a move’ against you at any time.”

“Oh, thanks for that.”

“Is the concert the only time you have glimpsed him?”

I closed my eyes, thinking it over, “I thought I saw him at mass this morning as well, but that seems unlikely…I mean why would he go to mass? But most everywhere we’ve been there’ve been Starfleet officers in uniforms, and I’m betting he still has your old one, or access to more, and really what’s one more officer in a sea of…oh, god, I just realized why you’re always in uniform, even when other people are in normal clothes.”


“It’s to blend, isn’t it? You in civvies would stand out, but in a uniform…. People see the uniform first, not the man who’s wearing it.” I said it softly, not with the usual gleeful tone I’d have used when solving some other, less personal, puzzle. “When you’re in uniform, it forces people to see you as an officer and not…”

“…as a machine.” He finished the sentence for me. “Indeed,” he added quietly.

The kid I’d told Geordi about, the one with the VISOR, flitted into my thoughts for a moment, and when I looked at Data’s face on my comm-screen, and met his eyes, all I could say was, “People really kind of suck, sometimes.”

“I would not use that phrasing,” Data said, in a tone as subdued as my own, “but you are correct. However, as you yourself have noted, sometimes people can also be ‘kind of awesome.'”

My slang coming out of his mouth made me grin. “You are kind of awesome. All kinds of awesome.” I managed to maintain a real smile for him. “Thank you, Data. Talking to you has really helped.”

“I am glad that it did.”

The rest of our conversation was just chat. He told me the ship was still mapping and charting, but that Commander Riker was deployed on a mission to determine if a planet was able to be contacted by the Federation, and I told him about some of the stuff I’d been doing at ACT that hadn’t been completely awful.

As our conversation wound down, I asked him again, “So, you won’t tell my mother? About Lore?”

“I will not, for now, if only because she would likely insist that you return to the Enterprise, and I believe Lore would consider such an action cause for alarm.”


“But I must insist that you stay in touch with your parents, and that you let me know if you see or hear from him again.”

“I will,” I said. “I promise.”

“I accept your promise,” he said gravely.


“Yes, Zoe?”

“Do you really think I have talent?”

“Yes, Zoe.”

We ended our call at that point, and I went to comb out my hair before bed. I was still half-convinced that I wasn’t doing very well, but I wasn’t ready to give up, either.

Notes: First, a shout-out to Phangirl27. No, I’m not in school. Haven’t been for decades. Just crazy-busy. Improv helps me get into the heads of different characters. Sometimes. Second, Riker’s mission (referred to by Data) is “First Contact,” the episode, not the movie. It’s the only episode that doesn’t reference a specific Stardate, but based on the episodes on either side of it, mid-July should be about when he first goes ‘undercover’ on the planet. Third, I’m off to Mexico on 12/23, but will try to have this story finished before I leave. Someone stop me before I write a Christmas one-off. Edited to add: the quotation, “Acting is standing up naked and turning around slowly,” used by Zoe’s instructor Lachlan Meade, was actually coined by Rosalind Russell.

Chapter 7: Wish You Were Here – Part II

Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.

Wish You Were Here – Part II

(All messages are video recordings unless otherwise noted.)

Stardate 44588.42

3 August 2367, 6:36 PM Pacific Time

To: Stevek Mairaj, U.S.S. Berlin

From: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

Well, you’ve been gone again for like four days now, and somehow it doesn’t hurt as much as it did after my birthday. Does that mean we’re really over each other – romantically – or does it just mean we’re growing up? I’m guessing a little of both.

Anyway, I’m just dashing this off between class and dinner, and I’m late for the latter. I loved hanging out with you in San Francisco, and I’m glad Theo didn’t feel threatened by you being here. It shouldn’t matter that the two of you get along, and yet somehow it does, at least a little.

And how dare you tease us about being the new power couple of ‘fleet brats? Aren’t you the boy with five – FIVE – different girls pinging your padd all the time.

Really, Tev…if I’d known you were such a player…

But…I guess it’s good you have options.

And…I still miss you like crazy.

I should go.

Give your parents my love, and I promise to be better about keeping in touch if you are. Deal?


Stardate 44589.98

4 August 2367, 08:13 hours, ship’s time

From: Lt. Cmdr. Deanna Troi, U.S.S. Enterprise

To: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

Hello, Zoe, I hope this message finds you well.

Data says you and he have been corresponding regularly – no, he hasn’t provided any details of what you’ve talked about – so I bet you know that we’re still on our mapping and charting mission. Commander Riker is back from his away mission – I think I mentioned that in my last letter, if someone else didn’t – and I hope you don’t mind, but I shared the recordings of your music with him. He says any time you want to switch to jazz, you’re welcome in his band. Take him up on it – he could use the challenge.

I’m glad to hear you’re not struggling so much now that you’ve been at ACT a while longer. Remember that even though it’s a pre-professional program, you are not committed to a career in theatre if it’s not what you want. This is just a time for you to explore possibilities. If you look at the experience that way, I think you’ll find the pressure eases.

Perhaps I wasn’t clear, Zoe, but you are welcome to contact me any time. As long as your mother is part of this crew, you are a part of the Enterprise family. Something tells me there are people – a certain android of our mutual acquaintance – who would consider you a part of the ‘family’ even if your mother transfers to a different posting.

Enjoy your last few weeks, Zoe. I look forward to seeing you again in person, and hearing your adventures over some kind of chocolate.


Stardate 44592.92

5 August 2367, 10:00 AM Pacific Time

To: Lt. Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

I looked at the time as I was getting up just now, and the first thought that entered my mind was, “Oh, god, it’s ten in the morning and I’m going to be late for my Saturday Session with Data.” Then reality penetrated my brain, and I remembered I was still in San Francisco. No, I’m not crazy (Counselor Troi says so) it’s just that Saturday mornings with you have been imprinted into every part of my being.

Translation: I miss you. I miss my routine. I even miss the ship, but don’t you dare tell my mother I admitted that.

On the other hand…things here have completely turned around. So, last Friday in class (a week ago Friday, not yesterday-Friday) I got so fed up with all the ‘find your inner truth, tell your deepest secrets’ stuff that Lach – Lachlan Meade – was pushing us to share that I blew up at him.

I mean, I really blew up at him.

I told him I thought he sucked as a teacher, and not everyone was supposed to be a method actor, and anyway, he’d already said the kids of celebrities, community theater brats, and people who’ve had the leads in school plays didn’t belong at ACT, so why would he want us to share truths that amounted to name-dropping.?

And the weirdest thing happened.

He started laughing.

I mean like belly-laughs, from the deepest core of himself, and then he started to applaud.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I was confused. Actually, the whole class was confused. Then we all started laughing, too – it was like some invisible wire had snapped, and suddenly there was no more tension.

(Whenever she’s quoting Lachlan Meade, Zoe imitates his Scottish brogue.)

Then Lach looked at me, and said, “Zoe, just because it happens that ye match ev’ry category I ticked off on m’fingers, doesna mean ye’re not s’pposed t’be here. Sharing yer truth isna about the facts of a story; it’s about finding the universal truth in all of us. And fer yer information, almost ev’ry one of ya has some celebrity in the family tree. So now, I’m gonna ask ye again t’tell us yer scariest moment, and this time, ‘stead of worrying yourself silly over droppin’ names, just open yer pretty mouth and tell the fookin’ tale.”

So, Data, I did. And do you want to know something? It wasn’t about Lore, after all. And it wasn’t about the Borg, either. And…and I just realized that breakfast ends in an hour, and Lach is leading an improv bootcamp today, and I kind of really want to go.

Tell Spot I’m bringing her a special present.


(The following is neither text nor video, but printed on monogrammed paper, delivered by courier.)

6 August 2367, 2:00 PM Pacific Time

From: Admiral Alynna Nechayev, Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco

To: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco

Ms. Harris

The pleasure of your company is requested at the Historic Cliff House at 11:30 A.M. local time on Sunday, August 13th, for a farewell brunch honoring my nephew Theodore. RSVP at the above address.

(Below the printed invitation, the following note is handwritten in peacock blue ink.)

Zoe, dear, Theo insisted that you’d appreciate a written invitation, and we use paper so seldom these days that I was happy to indulge him. Send me a note at the office, and I’ll make sure a ground car picks you up and returns you to ACT on the day.

It’s not a surprise, of course, but I’m not sure if Theo remembered to tell you he was heading back to campus on the 14th – he has a chance for a better position in the housing lottery, but only if he’s present on the day.

You are, of course, still welcome to spend the rest of August at the house, if you like. In fact, if you let me know when your showcase performances are, I’ll extend an invitation to your parents to come as well.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know you, Zoe, whatever you decide.




(This message is text-only.)

6 August 2367, 8:30 PM Pacific Time

To: Admiral Alynna Nechayev, Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco

From: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco


(You keep telling me to use your first name, so I really hope you mean it.)

Thanks so much for the invitation to brunch. The formal paper made me smile. Of course I’ll be there. Thanks for including me.

I’m not sure of the performance dates, yet, but should know in the next day or so.

Whether or not my parents can make it, I hope you’ll come.

– Zoe


Stardate 44620.46

Tuesday, 15 August 2367, 11:15 AM Pacific Time

To: Lt. Commander Emily Harris, U.S.S. Enterprise

cc: Zachary & Gia Harris, Beach Haven, Centaurus

From: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

I’m pretty sure you’ve all received messages from Admiral Nechayev already, but you know I had to tell you in person. Theo and I eloped two days ago right before he went back to school, and we know it’ll be hard and everything but…

Yeah, I wouldn’t buy that either, if I were you.

Although it’s true that you should all have personal notes from Alynna (yes, she told me to call her that). Why? Because they’ve announced the dates for the ACT Summer Showcase – not whole plays, or anything, more like our own plot that we all wrote, but using scenes and musical numbers from established productions.

Anyway the dates are the 24th-26th of August, and I’d really love it if some or all of you could come. Mom, Ed is invited, too, if he wants to come. Or can. I was thinking maybe you could beg for leave and we could spend the last week of August together, here in San Francisco or somewhere else.

Alynna says she has room for up to seven people in the house, if you uniform-y types don’t want to slum it in ‘fleet housing. Um, her words were probably a lot more gracious than mine.

Anyway…I have to dash off for lunch, then a dance rehearsal, then a vocal rehearsal and then we’re taking a picnic dinner to the Fort Mason Green to watch the sailboats. Lach said if we’re off-book by Friday he’ll take our group sailing on Saturday.

I love that he knows just how to bribe us (he calls it an ‘incentive’) to make us rehearse.

Hope you’re all hale and hearty. Gia – I want a new belly-pic!

Love you, miss you…can’t believe my time here is almost over.


Stardate 44621.67

15 August 2367, 9:53 PM, Pacific Time

To: Lt. Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth

Hi, Data…I think I was a little sappy in that last note. Call it a creative buzz and forgive me if I was out of line?

This message is a quickie, because I’ve got to dash out to lunch and rehearsal.

Anyway, they’ve set the dates for our showcase, and I know you’re Very Busy and Important and all but I’d love for you to come if you can.

I’ve attached a file with the calendar details. Also, Admiral Nechayev said I should extend her offer of housing to you, too, as long as I’m inviting you.

P.S. I thought I saw Lore at the Marina Green earlier today. I’m probably just being paranoid, but I got it on video. Also attached.

(File attachments: calendar of events, invitation from Adm. A. Nechayev, video of crowd at Marina Green)


17 August 2367, 10:47 PM Pacific Time.

Chat Request from MadRussian MIT

Chat Request accepted by CelloGirl ACT

CelloGirl: Theo! Did you get the dorm assignment you wanted? I meant to send you off with a proper message and failed utterly.

MadRussian: I did. I’m in a 2-person suite. Each of us has our own room, with a common area between them, and we share a bathroom with the suite across the hall. Visitors are allowed, you know.

CelloGirl: And you know my mother is unlikely to allow it, but I’ll ask. I’d like to see Massachusetts before I’m forced to go back to the ship. Or Boston, anyway. Is it true the swan boats are still there?

MadRussian: They are, and I’d be happy to take you on one. *sigh* You only want me for my connections; now I see it clearly.

CelloGirl: Yes, it’s true. Your connections…and your rowing prowess. Um, you do have rowing prowess, don’t you?

MadRussian: I’ll have you know, I’m on the crew team.

CelloGirl: Well, that’s a relief. I could never be with someone who can’t handle a canoe.

MadRussian: Do you want to…be with me…Zoe?

CelloGirl: …

MadRussian: Zoe?

CelloGirl: I do, and I don’t. I’m afraid of going too far, too fast with you…

MadRussian: The way you did with T’vek. Doesn’t he have around seventeen girls hurling messages at him?

CelloGirl: At last count it was only five. But…yeah. I mean, at the time neither of us had any clue his parents were being PCSd, but still…

MadRussian: I know…I DO know, Zoe. Think about it…meanwhile, I’ll see you on the 24th.

CelloGirl: You’re coming to showcase?

MadRussian: As if I would miss it.

CelloGirl: I’ll talk to the parental units. I’m sure we can figure something out. Good to chat with you, Theo.

Session Ends.


Stardate 44627.78

18 August 2367, 03:22 hours, ship’s time

From Lt. Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

To: Zoe L. Harris, Fort Mason Hostel, San Francisco, Earth


After viewing the video footage that you sent, I can assure you that you are not being paranoid. However, I remain certain that you are in no direct danger from Lore. Nevertheless, I would advise caution. Secure the door to your room when you enter and leave, and avoid being alone in public spaces.

I have just processed your mother’s leave request – I do not think she will mind me telling you that it has been approved – and have made a request for leave for myself. If the captain approves it, then your mother, Professor Benoit, and I will travel to Earth together to see your performance. I will confirm this with you as soon as I am able.

Regarding your concern that you were ‘too sappy’ or ‘crossed a line,’ let me remind you that I cannot be offended, nor was there anything improper in what you said. I, too, am aware of the absence of our established routine, and anticipate your return to the ship so that it may resume.

I was in Ten-Forward with Geordi yesterday attempting to ‘cheer him up’ as he has recently met one of the ship’s original designers. Their encounter did not go as he had hoped, although their differences were resolved by the time she left this morning.

We had not been there long when Guinan joined our conversation. She asked after you, and I relayed your story about Lachlan Meade. She laughed, as did Geordi, and then asked if I had been imitating Meade or you. I explained that I was drawing on your habit of changing your voice for dramatic effect, and she smiled and nodded and made the observation that you were ‘good for me.’

If she meant that you are helping me to see new sides of humanity, and stretch further beyond my programming, then she is more correct than she knows.

She asked me to send her regards, and Geordi also sends greetings.

I hope to ‘see you soon.’

Data out.

Notes: This chapter involves a time jump of a couple of weeks. It takes place after “Galaxy’s Child” and before “Identity Crisis.” Not a great time for Geordi. Also, I cannot figure out how to escape out an at-sign so ffnet doesn’t think I’m trying to post a link.

Chapter 8: Love, Zoe

Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.

Love, Zoe

(All messages are video recordings unless otherwise noted.)

Stardate 44655.45

28 August 2367, 5:46 AM, Eastern Time

To: Admiral Alynna Nechayev, Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco

From: Zoe L. Harris, Sandpiper Inn, Ocean Grove, NJ


I just wanted to leave a message thanking you for your hospitality over the summer. You made me feel very much at home, and it was reassuring knowing I had your house to call ‘home base.’ I’m pretty sure my parents were reassured, also.

I actually enjoyed the tour of Starfleet Academy more than I thought I would, but it only confirmed my feeling that it’s Commander Data, the other officers I’ve met, and even my friend Wes have experienced.

Mom, Ed, and I are settled into this B&B and even though I’m still on California time, I was up before dawn, listening to the tide come in. It’s so beautiful here. Different than San Francisco, but nice.

Anyway, thanks again, for everything, and I promise, the fact that you’re really not a dragon lady will be our secret.


31 August 2367, 10:30 AM Eastern Time

To: Theo Nechayev, MIT, Cambridge, MA

From: Zoe L. Harris, Sandpiper Inn, Ocean Grove, NJ

Hey, Theo –

First, it was great spending bits of the summer exploring San Francisco with you. I’ll never forget the look on your face when that woman started shaking the dead chicken at you so you’d give up your seat on the cable car – and you thought they were just for tourists!

Second, thank you for being so patient with me. I know it’s not the romantic summer you’d hoped for, but be realistic. You’re twenty, and I’m – (She sings this line) – I am sixteen, going on seventeen. And while I’m not going to confess to being either innocent or naïve, I think we can both agree I’m too young to commit to someone half a galaxy away, and you…you’re in college. You’re supposed to be sowing wild oats, or wild triticale, or…I don’t know…wild Talaxian redstalks…or something.

Translation: I think you were right when you said we’d always be friends, but that we shouldn’t be more. At least, not right now. But I promise, if I do another summer in San Francisco next year, I will contact you (especially since your aunt has already invited me to stay).

That said, I had a blast with you in Cambridge the other day, and it was sweet of you to introduce me to your friends, and make time for the swan boats. If I follow my original plan and go to the Martian, I won’t be that far away, and if not, well, Earth has a lot of options for arts and academics.

Take care, keep in touch, and I’m sure we’ll see each other again.


Stardate 44664.32

31 August 2367, 11:30 AM Eastern Time

To: Zachary & Gia Harris, Beach Haven, Centaurus

From: Zoe L. Harris, Sandpiper Inn, Ocean Grove, NJ, Earth

Hi, Dad! Hi, Gia! Hi, Future Sibling Currently Residing in Gia’s Belly!

This last week at the Jersey Shore with Mom and Ed has been really amazing. Not great for surfing, but Nonna and Nonno came from Connecticut to spend some time with us, and Nonno took me deep-sea fishing. It’s weird. I always think of my family as being only your side of the family – I guess because I lived with Gran when I wasn’t with you, Dad – and I forget about Mom’s parents, and I was so little the last time I saw them, but now I’m old enough to really get to know them.

Anyway, we leave tomorrow to return to the Enterprise, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the flowers. Yes, I completely understand why you couldn’t make it all the way back to Earth for my showcase. No, I’m not upset.

I guess I forgot to tell you that my instructor, Lachlan Meade is directing at Idyllwild and encouraged me to audition for their summer program. I know, I know, you don’t want me to ignore music…but auditioning isn’t necessarily committing, and I’ve learned so much this summer, that I kind of really want to.

Mom and Ed send their regards.

Mom is also convinced I’m about two inches taller than I was when I left the ship, but…whatever.

Love to you both. All. Whatever.


31 August 2367, 11:47 AM, Eastern Time

To: Cdt. Wesley Crusher, Starfleet Academy, San Francisco, CA

From: Zoe L. Harris, Sandpiper Inn, Ocean Grove, NJ

Heyya, Wes.

Just a quick note to let you know, yes, I have the package for your mother, and no, I won’t forget to pack it. Ditto the package for Annette. Sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye in person, but things were kind of hectic. Hope your first full year at the Academy is as awesome as you want it to be.

Don’t be a stranger.


Stardate 44665.49

31 August 2367, 9:43 PM Eastern Time

To: Dana Swenson, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe L. Harris, Sandpiper Inn, Ocean Grove, NJ, Earth

Okay, best friend, we head back to the Enterprise in the morning, and I’m dying for some girl talk with you and Annette. Set something up for Monday or Tuesday, please? When do classes start again? Oh, right, orientation meetings on the 7th and 8th and then instruction begins on the 11th – Ed said.

Miss you lots. I have stories to tell, and I’m sure you do, too. Love to Josh, and your Dad, and…sorry, I’m a little scattered.

Anyway, see you soon.


Stardate 44666.22

1 September 2367, 4:07 AM Eastern Time

To: Lt. Commander Data, U.S.S. Enterprise

From: Zoe L. Harris, Sandpiper Inn, Ocean Grove, NJ, Earth

(This message is text only.)

Dear Data,

I’m supposed to be awake in less than three hours, and the reality is that I haven’t slept at all. I can never sleep the night before I travel, and since I can’t sleep I thought I’d send you one last note. It’s text only because I don’t want to disturb Mom and Ed – this inn is old, and there’s no soundproofing.

On the other hand, I’m sitting on the sleeping porch as I write this, and I can hear the waves crashing on the sand, and it reminds me a lot of Dad’s house on Centaurus, a place I wish you could see.

Although…somehow, I don’t think you’re really a beach-person.

I have so much to tell you…and I have a present for you. It’s not very big, but I think you’ll like it. And don’t tell me you can’t like things. I know you have preferences, at least.

So, I was wondering if we could actually plan on tea when I get back? You pick the time, and let me know.

I’m looking forward to resuming music theory with you, and meeting Spot. I wish I could say I was looking forward to your math tutorial, as well, but the fact is, I’m never going to like math. Even if the teacher is made of awesome and wrapped in gold.

Thank you for letting me inundate you with messages and calls all summer.

See you soon.

Love, Zoe.

Notes: Ocean Grove, NJ is a real place, and a popular summer destination. It’s right next door to Asbury Park, and has some of the best swimming beaches on the central Jersey shore. As far as I know, there’s no inn named the Sandpiper…but there could be. This chapter ends Zoe’s summer. Her story – and Data’s – will continue in the proper sequel to CRUSH (title suggestions are still welcome).


Crush: Chapters 11-20

Chapter 11: I’m going to Serenity Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t you play, Zoe?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Spoilsport,” he groused back, mostly teasing.

“Bratling,” I countered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, like you could do better?”

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

“Malapert?” Wes asked?

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

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

“Better,” I said. “Overweening.”

“Elf-skinned flax-wench,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

“We were bored,” Josh explained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you, Josh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Welcome aboard,” Mom said, “T’vek?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As do I,” our tutor said.

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

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

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

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

“That would be mutiny,” Wesley pointed out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you win?” Wes asked.

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


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

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

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

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

Chapter 12: I’m going to Serenity Five II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Snarky, hmm? Sounds challenging”

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

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

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

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

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

Well, more than sort of.

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

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

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

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

“Sorry, Zoe,” T’vek said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

“See that you do not,” he said.

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

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

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

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

Chapter 13: Your Mission

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

Your Mission…Should You Choose to Accept It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One moment, Zoe,” he said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How naughty?” my friend wanted to know.

I grinned. “Deliciously naughty.”

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

Chapter 14: Considering the Letter P

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

Considering Things that Begin with the Letter P

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

“So I get the wall,” Dana asked?

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

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

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

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

“I thought your father was a tactical specialist?”

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

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

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

“Actual aliens?” I offered, grinning.

“Something like that,” she agreed.

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

“Are we allowed?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You really don’t know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes ma’am,” Dana replied, “Emily.”

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

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

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

“Do tell?”

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

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

Chapter 15: Guilt, Flattery, and Bribery

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

Guilt, Flattery, & Bribery

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

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

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

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

“Mmhm. And pretty cute, too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She also said there’s a boy…?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Isn’t she?” I interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

“I was supposed to go shopping.”

“Excuse me?”

“With mom. I promised not to bitch – ”

“Watch your language – ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Zoe Harris, sometimes you scare me.”

“Mom, sometimes I scare myself.”

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

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

Snark in the Key of ‘Z’ – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop that!” Dana hissed at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad – really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snark in the Key of ‘Z’ – Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well put,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not at all,” Wes assured him.

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

“She said to ask you,” Dana added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Always,” he grinned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ugh! TMI,” Josh said.

“You’re just jealous.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the Scoville scale?”

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

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

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

“Fear, Zoe? Really?”

“Enlightened self-interest,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you alright, Wesley?”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, okay.”

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

“Which one is this?” T’vek asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks for letting us take over your room.”

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


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

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

“Indeed,” he said.

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

Chapter 18: Turning for Home

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

Turning for Home

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

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

“Kill switch?” I whispered to T’vek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just grinned. “Theatre brat, remember?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Only if I won’t distract you.”

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

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

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

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

“I am not familiar with that nomenclature.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your query was not unreasonable,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 19: Back in the Saddle

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

Back in the Saddle…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Um…okay.” I said. “You first?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then tell her.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Is Lieutenant Starker not challenging you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I also said I was often devious.”

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

We didn’t run…exactly.


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

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

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

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

“Sure,” he said.

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

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

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

“We didn’t design a Ferris wheel.”

“We should add one.”


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

Chapter 20: Conversations in Three-Quarter Time

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

Conversations in ¾ Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Bye, Zoe.”


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Intense?” I asked. “Us?”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds like a smart boy. Who is he?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is there a problem?”

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

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

“Yes, but…”

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

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

“I did not mean it that way.”

“I know.”

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

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

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

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

“Are you having difficulties with the assignment?”

“Me personally, or the group collectively?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you wish me to answer that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that even allowed?”

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

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

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

“How do you ever get anything done?”

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


“Yes, Zoe?”

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


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

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

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

“I am not offended,” he said mildly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crush: Chapters 1-10

Chapter 1: Ask Him

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


“Ask him.” My mother leaned back in her chair, cradling her coffee mug between both hands and just watched me. She wouldn’t speak again until I had. I think it was a negotiation tactic she learned at the Academy. Or maybe it was just parental thing. Either way, I knew I’d cave before she did.

I returned her gaze, noting that her chestnut hair was pulled into a single braid that fell between her shoulders. Her face was thinner than mine, more heart-shaped than oval, so even though we both had the same medium-thick eyebrows arching over brown eyes, and the same full lips, she could get away with pulling her hair back while I couldn’t. We were sitting at a table in the Ten-Forward lounge aboard the Enterprise. My father had disappeared again, this time to conduct the Capital City Orchestra on Centaurus, but it wasn’t like he’d ever really been a constant in my life. Mostly, I’d lived with my grandmother, but three months before my mother had suddenly decided it was time for some mother-daughter bonding, and brought me here to live with her. School had only recently started, and the teacher in charge of the high school aged students wanted me to do some stupid accelerated math tutorial thing, so instead of our usual dinner in our quarters, we were here, discussing it in public. It was my mother’s way of defusing the bratty behavior that had become habitual for me since she’d dragged me away from home. “Isn’t that sort of your job?” I asked her. “Arranging my education, and all?”

“If it was really a question of arranging, then yes, it would be,” my mother answered in her best rational voice, the one she used when she was being more Lt. Harris than Mom. “But Zoe,” she continued, “Ms. Phelps has already stated that Commander Data has offered his tutorial services to any student who asks, and I’m concerned that you’re avoiding interaction with the officers and crew.” She took a sip of her coffee, and went on, the way parents can when they have you trapped. “I know you’re not thrilled about being here, but if you’d come out of your shell and stop being so shy you’d find that everyone on this ship has something pretty interesting to offer. Most fifteen-year-olds don’t get the opportunity to have their math classes taught by ranking officers.”

“I’m not shy,” I protested, focusing on that part of my mother’s mini-lecture. “I’m just very selective about who I talk to.” I sought refuge in a bite of chocolate mousse. “And anyway, I’m pretty sure Ms. Phelps made a mistake. I’m abysmal at math.”

“Abysmal?” The corner of my mother’s mouth quirked up in a slight smile. “Surely you’re a little better than that. Your test scores have always been excellent.”

I shrugged. “Maybe I just test well. Mom, I hate math. The last thing I want is a teacher who’s literally made of it.”

Her smile grew broader. “You do have a way with words, Kidlet.” She took another sip from her mug, then set it down on the table, and placed her hands palm-down on either side of it. She wasn’t intentionally showing off her perfect manicure, but I couldn’t help noticing, and thinking about how ugly my own fingers looked. I put my fork down, and folded my hands in my lap, waiting for her to finish. “I know you’re not thrilled about being on the ship, and I do realize that math isn’t your favorite subject, but you need to realize that I want the best for you. In just a few years you’ll be going off to college, or the Academy – ”

I interrupted with an ill-contained snort. “I am SO not Starfleet material, Mom. College, yes. The Academy, never. Anyway, I’m going to M-SOMATA, like Dad.”

” – and then you can make your own decisions. Until then, you’re stuck with me, Kiddo, and I think you should follow your teacher’s suggestion and take this tutorial with Commander Data, and in order to do that, you need to ask him.”

I sighed, clenching my fingers into fists under the table then releasing them. “I’ll do the tutorial,” I said, “but can’t you ask him? I mean, you see him every day – you report directly to him – and I’ve only ever said hello once.” I was whining, and I hated it, but I really didn’t want to go up to any officer and ask for math help, and especially not the only android in the ‘fleet. I mean. Commander Data was the epitome of “proper” and I was decidedly…not.

“Zoe…” My mother was still smiling, but her tone held that warning note. The one that meant if I didn’t agree to her wishes she’d move to phase two. Nevertheless, I whined a little more.

“Mo-om. Please?”

But she was ready for me. “Zoe Lauren Harris, you are fifteen, not five. I love you, but you need to do this on your own,” she said. And once she’d used my middle name, I knew there was no chance of winning.

“Alright,” I said. “I’ll do it. Is an intra-ship communication acceptable, or do I need to replicate stationery and use actual ink?” I’d moved from whiney to snarky, but that was normal for me. I lifted a hand to push a stray piece of my own chocolate-brown hair back behind my ear, then returned it to my lap.

“Intra-ship text may be fine with your friends, but it’s not appropriate with senior officers,” my mother decreed. “Commander Data’s actually very nice, Zoe. Really. And you know, he’s a musician, too.”

Carrot. Stick. My mother knew me too well. I’d do almost anything that involved hanging out with other musicians. “Okay, okay,” I said. “I’ll ask him. But when I fry his circuits with my complete and total stupidity, I reserve the right to say, ‘I told you so’.”

Chapter 2: Blind Date?

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


“You set me up on a blind date?” I asked my mother incredulously. “For breakfast? Even for you, Mom that’s kind of pushing it.”

“Having Wesley Crusher take you to the teen brunch in Ten-Forward is hardly a blind date, Zoe,” my mother responded, not looking up from her padd. “You’re too young to be dating, actually.”

I rolled my eyes, knowing she couldn’t see me. Easy for her to be calm – she’d had her morning coffee already, and was currently – if I guessed correctly – catching up on news, first from around the ship, then other ships, then outside the ‘fleet. “You might’ve at least asked me if I wanted to go,” I grumped.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” she said off-handedly. How did she always know? “And if I had asked would you have agreed to go?”

“Well, no,” I admitted. I slouched into the other chair at the table in our quarters, which weren’t all that bad, really. I mean, they were bigger than the average hotel suite and the art was personal, at least. “But Wesley?”

“What’s wrong with Wesley?”

I stared at my mother for a long moment before answering. “Nothing, exactly, it’s just…”

“Yes?” The word might have been neutral, but the tone in which she uttered it was decidedly…not.

“He’s kind of a dweeb,” I said. “All he wants to do is suck up to the engineering crew and get the Captain to notice him.”

“He has goals, Zoe. Just because they differ from yours – ”

“Mom, you so don’t get it. Wanting to be in Starfleet – I get that. I mean, I wouldn’t do it if you begged, but I understand it. Wesley though…he just doesn’t. Do. Anything. Else. He doesn’t read, he doesn’t keep up with holo-vids, he doesn’t pay attention to music or art or even politics…”

My mother set down her padd. “No,” she said, in calm agreement. Maybe too calm. “He doesn’t do anything else. He’s extremely focused, which is admirable in someone so young, and I know you’re not without focus yourself, Ms. M-SOMATA. Nice shirt, by the way.”

I looked down at the faded sweatshirt from my father’s alma mater, and it’s dusty red planet surrounded by stylized comedy and tragedy masks, music notes, and a paintbrush and planet. The back bore the name of the school: Martian School of Music and The Arts. I knew it was a little too casual for the ship, but it was comfortable, and it smelled like home. “Okay, Mom,” I said, toying with the glass of juice she’d set out for me. “Focus good, and all that, but…”

“But he’s a nice boy doing a favor for a friend of his mother, and you might pause a moment to consider the notion that you might be good for each other,” my mother pointed out.

“How so?”

“You’re right about him not having any other interests. Beverly – that’s Dr. Crusher to you, Kiddo – is concerned about that as much as I’m concerned that you’re passing up opportunities because you’re afraid of success.”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” I said. It would have been more effective if my voice hadn’t caught in the middle, though. “Well, not most things.”

“Only new people, new situations, prospective tutors, and spiders.”

“That’s only four things,” I said, in my best I’m-making-a-point-even-if-it’s-silly tone. “There are way more things than that that don’t scare me. And spiders are evil.”

My mother laughed. “Fair enough,” she said. “How about a deal, then?”

“A deal?”

“Mmhm. Go with Wesley and the other kids to the teen brunch. Stay for the concert that the wind ensemble is giving – Commander Data’s part of it – and you can kill two birds with one stone…”

I peered closely at my mother. “And what do I get if I do this?”

“Skating with your favorite mother in the holo-deck one night this week.”

Again my mother was proving how well she knew me. Ice skating was one of our only mother-daughter activities from when I was little, and even though I was really, really clumsy at it, I always had fun. “I guess that would be okay,” I said. “If…”


“If you promise me I will never, ever have to wear one of those hideous gray jumpsuits. They’re a bigger fashion don’t than wearing real leather on Vulcan, and no one looks good in them.”

My mother laughed. “I promise,” she said.

I stopped playing with my juice glass at that point, and lifted the glass to drain it, setting it down just as the annunciator chimed. My not-a-date had arrived. I smoothed my hair and went to the door, “See you later, Mom,” I said, stepping into the corridor.

Wesley, thankfully, was not wearing a jumpsuit today, either, just a really bulky cinnamon colored sweater. “Hi,” he said, grinning at me.

I forced a not-quite-sunny smile, “Hi,” I said. “I’m really sorry our mothers forced you into this.”

“I didn’t mind.”

“Oh…good. So, do these ‘teen brunches’ happen often?”

He started walking, and I fell into step beside him, listening. “About once a month. Ms. Phelps and Counselor Troi started them because they were concerned that the older kids didn’t socialize enough. Different people from the crew come and talk to us about hobbies and interests, and if they’re part of a musical group or the theater club they sometimes perform.”

“There’s a theater club?” I asked with more enthusiasm than was really necessary. “Really? Is it adults-only or can anyone join?”

“Oh, if there are parts for kids or teenagers, they let us know during school. Josh has been in a couple of plays, I think.”

“Do you ever participate?”

“I don’t have much time, really. I’m usually working on science or math, or helping out in engineering, when they let me.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at this. He was trying to be nice, after all, and even a dweeb was better company than no one. Finally, we got to Ten-Forward, where several tables had been clustered closer together than I remembered from previous visits.

“Josh, Dana, T’vek – come meet Zoe.” Wesley called to a trio of kids who seemed to be about our age.

Josh was tall, and handsome verging on pretty. No surprise that he was into performing. Dana was about the same height as me, thinner, and blonde, but her hair was pulled into a lazy pony-tail and her grin was truly friendly. T’vek looked Vulcan, but not, and while his greeting was reserved, I thought I saw a glimmer of something in his dark eyes. “Hi,” I said to the group.

We all stood around looking sheepish, not sure what to say. Finally, Dana broke the ice. “Zoe, I’m so glad there’s another girl in our class. The boys are nice, and all, but…”

I laughed. “But they don’t know the difference between trendy and tragic when it comes to important things like clothing and shoes?”

“Exactly,” she said. “So, I heard your father is an orchestra conductor…do you know a lot of famous musicians?”

I found myself answering her questions without thinking about it, explaining that I rarely got to meet many of the guest artists Dad worked with, though I’d often begged for the chance. Before I knew it, we were all sitting down, and the other couple of tables filled with teens both younger and a bit older than the five of us. Just as we were being presented with food, the open chair at our table was filled by none other than the man I was tasked with meeting later.

“Data,” Dana said, grinning at him. “This is Zoe Harris. She’s new.”

I looked across the table and slightly up, and found myself staring into the most amazing yellow eyes I’d ever seen. Okay, the only yellow eyes I’d ever seen, but still…

He paused for the merest fraction of a second before speaking. “Welcome to the Enterprise, Miss Harris. Are you adapting satisfactorily?”

I hesitated for a much more noticeable length of time. Was I supposed to call him by rank or by name, or…well…Dana had used his name… “I’m getting a little more comfortable, I guess,” I said, avoiding the issue entirely. “It’s different actually living here, instead of just visiting.”

“Zoe’s dad is a conductor, Data. Did you know?” Dana asked.

“Lieutenant Harris has mentioned as much,” he answered her, then added in my direction. “She also said that you have inherited your father’s love of music.”

“I play cello, a little,” I admitted. “I like acting better, though.”

From there the conversation got easier, as Josh had heard the magic word, and jumped in about the theater club. We ate breakfast – all but Data – and chatted, until finally the adults rose and moved toward a small stage beyond the tables. They played a few songs for us – I noticed that the oboe player was a bit off – and then we were left to mingle a bit longer. This was when I finally faced the task my mother had set.

Data was standing with Wesley when I approached after making plans to meet Dana later, and I got all nervous again when they both stopped talking. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said, following my favorite rule: when in doubt, be polite. “Commander Data, could I have a minute of your time, please?”

Wesley, dweeb or not, seemed to sense my awkwardness, and stepped away. “I’ll wait and walk back with you,” he said, and I nodded.

“Is something wrong, Miss Harris?” Data asked.

I couldn’t help wrinkling my nose. “Could you just call me Zoe?” I asked. “When people call me ‘Miss Harris’ I always think I’m in trouble, or something.”

“As you wish,” he answered. “If you will call me Data, as the other young people do.”

“It’s a deal,” I said, and the phrase kicked me back into gear. “Ms. Phelps mentioned to my mother that you offer a math tutorial to students who ask, and I promised Mom I would. I’m pretty sure it’s a mistake, because I’m an epic failure with anything beyond basic arithmetic, but I already tried arguing with Mom, and I lost, so if there’s room in your class, may I join…please?”

He tilted his head slightly, as if trying to determine what species I really was, then said. “I have experienced your mother’s persuasive discussion style, Zoe. She is a formidable opponent in debate. Ms. Phelps informed me of your test scores, and they would imply that you are not an ‘epic failure’.” He managed to make the quotation marks around my phrase audible. “I would be pleased to include you in the tutorial,” he continued. “We meet at ten-hundred hours, three days a week. I will send this week’s assignment to your terminal.”

“Thank you,” I said, “I’ll try not to scare you with my utter lack of computational skills.”

He opened his mouth to say something – probably to tell me he couldn’t be scared – but then his name was being called, and he moved to leave, saying only, “Excuse me, Zoe. I will see you in class.”

I waited for him to exit before re-joining Wesley. “What was that about?” he asked.

“Math class,” I grumbled. “I was ‘strongly encouraged’ to ask to join his tutorial.”

“That’s great!” Wesley said. “Data’s an amazing teacher, really. Really patient. And it’ll be nice having another student.”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure it’ll be fabulous,” I snarked,

He frowned slightly. “You don’t want to be in our class?”

I was forced to confess, “I hate math.”

The walk back to the turbo-lift, and then back to my mother’s quarters was mostly silent.

Chapter 3: First Day Jitters

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


“Rise and shine, Kiddo!” my mother’s voice sing-songed too close to my ear. I’d have thrown a pillow at her but both of mine were under my head. I settled for rolling over and ignoring her, which didn’t work, of course. She simply snuck her hand under the covers and tickled the bottom of my foot. “Come on, Sleepyhead. Even your powerful will cannot keep the day from starting.”

I snatched my foot away, and sat up in what I desperately wished was a smooth motion, but probably was more of a desperate leap away from her oval-tipped, manicured fingers. “Leave my feet alone,” I grumbled.

But she was laughing. “Tickling a child’s feet is a mother’s right and very special privilege,” my mother said, from her position at the foot of my bed. “Besides, it’s the one way I’ve been guaranteed to wake you, since you were a baby.”

“Okay, fine,” I said in my grumpiest morning voice. “But I’m not going to smile, and I’m only going to eat breakfast because I don’t think I can face the first day of Data’s math tutorial on an empty stomach.”

“That’s Commander Data, to you, Zoe,” my mother corrected.

“Actually, he said to just use his name, ‘as the other young people do’.” I imitated his intonation and caught my mother trying not to grin. I waited a beat for the mood to shift, then began, “Mom?”

“Zoe?” She used my same, serious tone.

“What if I really am abysmal?”

“You’re not,” she assured. “But you will miss your first class if you don’t get dressed. Fifteen minutes to breakfast.” She left the room, and the door slid shut behind her.

I closed my eyes for a long moment, gathering myself together, then zipped through my usual morning machine. I would have preferred a water shower, but sonic ones were faster, at least. For clothing, I chose black, and lots of it, adding an old fisherman’s cap I’d stolen from my father as a finishing touch. Like him, I was a hat person.

Breakfast was quiet. My mother used the time before her shift to check messages and read news bulletins, and I put earphones on and listened to music while I had coffee and oatmeal, which are two things that are almost decent when replicated. Finally our door-annunciator signaled Dana’s arrival – we’d agreed to walk to class together, and I tossed a good-bye toward my mother, grabbed my padd, and left.

“Nice hat,” my new friend told me as we sauntered toward the turbo-lift.

“It’s a security thing. I really don’t like math, and I really don’t want to be in this class, I thought the hat would help.” I paused, then added. “It’s my father’s. I guess I kind of…miss him.”

“That’s understandable,” Dana assured. “All of it, actually. But Data’s not scary in class, really.” She waited a moment then asked, “Is the all-black outfit a security thing, too?”

“Power color,” I said. “I will be a social and mathematical ninja today.” We arrived at the lift, and stepped inside, only to find Josh and Wes already there. “Or not,” I muttered under my breath.

The boys seemed to sense my first-day jitters, or were to wrapped up in their discussion to notice and react, and we were out of the lift and heading toward the suite of rooms reserved for school use within moments. T’vek was already there when we arrived, as was Data.

“Hey, T, Data,” Josh breezed into the room, pushing past Dana and me. “I get to sit near the new girl.”

Dana and I exchanged annoyed looks and followed Josh into the room, leaving Wesley to be last. As we did so, Data stood up.

“The ‘new girl’ has a name, Josh. Please use it,” he said. Again, I could hear the quotation marks in his inflection. I supposed it was just something to get used to. “Welcome Zoe. Seating in this class is fairly informal.”

I took a look at the room, and noticed that it was essentially a conference room, with an oblong table. There were three seats on each of the long sides, and a seventh seat where Data had been sitting. Wes and T’vek took the first two chairs on the farthest side, with Dana and Josh taking the first and third on the side nearest the door. “It’s all good,” I said, taking the seat between them.

“Did you receive the assignments I sent last night?” Data asked.

“Yes, but your note said I had the week to catch up?” I made it a question, and frowned when my voice shook a little. I wasn’t usually nervous.

“That is correct. Please see me after class or contact me if you have any trouble.”

“Sure,” I said. “I mean, yes, I’ll do that.”

The next two hours passed more quickly than I expected, although I didn’t speak up much. I tend to prefer to observe before jumping into groups, and I was accustomed to math classes with twenty or thirty students, and having to raise hands in order to speak. Data’s tutorial was really more like a seminar, with everyone jumping in to discuss the problems he posed, until each of us understood the concepts. If math had been like this at home, I might not have hated it.

I don’t know if a human teacher would have picked up on my near-silence during that first hour, or if Data simply had some sort of sub-routine running that tallied how many times he heard each of us speak, but after we had a ten minute break to stretch, and class resumed, he turned to me and asked me to work through a proof he’d assigned earlier in the session.

“Data, don’t put her on the spot like that on her first day,” Wesley said, before I could answer.

I shot him a quick grin of thanks, but then turned back to our teacher, “No, it’s fine.” I hesitated a minute, then slowly gave the answer I’d come up with, even though my mouth dried up a little.

“Your method was unorthodox, but the result is correct. Which of you can demonstrate a more direct route to the solution?”

Josh jumped on the question, spitting out the answer without even consulting his padd, and I have to admit, I was impressed. He grinned at me, and whispered, “It’s easier when you know the result you need to get.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that, though I tried to hide it. The rest of the class went even faster, but I didn’t speak up again, nor was I called on, and I have to admit I was relieved. Data sent new assignments to our padds from his terminal, reminding us that were free to contact him with questions, and then we were free to go.

“Zoe, do you want to come to lunch?” Wes asked before I could ask Dana the same question. I stared at her, and she shrugged helplessly. “I usually go with Data, because I have helm duty right after, and we’re allowed in Ten-Forward during day-shift if we’re with an adult.”

“Dana and I had made plans,” I said. We hadn’t, actually, but we seemed to click, and Wes was just so eager. I waited a long moment for her to confirm that, and when she didn’t, I added, “So maybe we should all go?”

“Dana’s father doesn’t let her go to Ten-Forward,” Josh offered, when my new friend still didn’t speak up.

I shot Dana a questioning look, and she answered with a nod, then said softly, “It’s true. I can’t go. You should though, really.

I was torn. On the one hand, I knew the right thing to do was to stay. On the other…well…it’s not every day you get to eat lunch with line officers, even if they come with heaping side of annoying classmate. On yet another hand – the existence of which, had I been speaking, would have proven my severe lack of math skills – I was curious. I knew Commander Data’s official bio, but nothing about him as a person.

Dana obviously sensed my inner debate. “It’s fine, Zoe. We’ll catch up later, okay? Josh and I need to finish our presentation for English, anyway.” She flashed a smile and suggested, “Let’s plan on lunch together tomorrow, and you can tell me all about today.”

I smiled back, and uttered one room, and said, “Sure, no problem,” then gathered up my padd before Wesley could offer to carry it for me. Josh and Dana went on their way, I was about to leave the room myself, but T’vek was in my path, where he’d stopped to read something on his padd. One of my grandmother’s frequent reminders to never stop dead in doorways crossed my mind and, I stepped aside, while Wesley asked our instructor a question.

“Data, is Commander LaForge going to be at lunch today? I wanted to ask him a question about one of my assignments.”

I didn’t know who Commander LaForge was but I did know that this lunch was sounding more like a geek convention. “Wes, maybe I should come with you another time,” I said. “If you have questions about work, I don’t want to be in the way.”

“You won’t be,” Wesley said. “Will she, Data?”

“Mr. Crusher is correct,” Data said, emphasizing the title as if it was a sort of admonishment, before continuing in what seemed to be his customary soft-spoken, but still decisive, manner. “You will not be in the way. You are welcome to join us for lunch, as long as your mother does not have any objections.”

“She doesn’t,” I said, though in truth, I had no idea if she would, but didn’t people always say it was easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission? Time to test that theory. “She really doesn’t.”

“Then let us go,” Data said, and with that, we did.

Chapter 4: Pythonesque

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


“You’re Lieutenant Harris’s daughter, aren’t you?” Geordi LaForge asked me as I took a seat at the table he was holding for all of us in Ten-Forward. I ended up opposite Data, and between Geordi and Wesley. “You may not remember, but we met several years ago. You were visiting at Christmas -”

“- and you let me ride the lift in engineering up and down til I was nauseous. I remember wishing all of my mother’s friends were as cool as you, sir.”

He chuckled at that, and said, “I’m not ‘sir’ to you – just Geordi. And you’re…” he trailed off, clearly not remembering my name.

“This is Zoe,” Data supplied helpfully. “She joined my math tutorial this morning, and held her own, despite a warning to expect her to be ‘abysmal’.”

I couldn’t help but grin at being teased by my teacher on the first day, but I resisted the urge to respond as I would have had the remark come from Wesley or anyone else my age. Instead I said, in a tone that was only half self-deprecating, “Give me time.”

We ordered food after that, and the conversation remained light as we ate. Well, as most of us ate. Data hadn’t ordered, and I had to wonder if he felt at all out of place as we all chewed and swallowed our way through an hour. Leaning toward Wesley, I asked in what I thought was a soft whisper, “Does Data ever eat?”

My classmate opened his mouth to answer, but Data beat him to it. “I do not require sustenance,” he stated matter-of-factly, “though I sometimes do eat in order to experience a new food, or when required for diplomatic reasons.”

“Diplomatic, like, if you’re at an official dinner?” I asked. “I guess that makes sense,” I went on, not waiting for a response, but sort of musing over my chicken Caesar salad, “I mean, if you’re in the middle of negotiating an arms treaty or passing initial judgment over whether a planet should join the Federation, it’s probably easier to just eat what you’re given, rather than spend time explaining why you’re not tasting anything.”

“This is especially true within societies where shared meals are the equivalent of a state meeting,” he confirmed, but he added after a beat. “Zoe, I understand that curiosity is normal, and I am willing to answer any question, but if you desire information about me in the future, please ask me directly.”

I had the good grace to feel sheepish, and it was evident in my quiet, “Sorry, Data.”

He offered me a single nod of acknowledgement then addressed Wesley, reminding him, “You wished to ask Commander LaForge about your deflector project. I would like to hear your proposal as well.”

The boy-wonder launched into a convoluted explanation involving magnets, propulsion, deflector shields, and warp energy, and while I recognized the individual words they were using, the concepts were so far beyond what I knew – or wanted to know – about ship operations that my salad became incredibly fascinating, and when it was gone, I spent time watching Data’s facial expressions until my eyes glazed over.

I was jolted from my lunch-table coma by the feeling of someone’s hands resting on my shoulder, and a woman’s voice observing, “Nice hat.”

Glancing behind me, and slightly upwards, I found myself looking into the dark eyes and serene smile of the woman I’d glimpsed behind the bar when I’d been here several nights before with my mother. “Yours, too,” I said, though honestly, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in the disc-and-hood contraption this woman was wearing.

“I’m Guinan,” she said.

“I’m Zoe,” I responded. Around us, Data, Geordi and Wesley were still absorbed in their discussion of Wes’s project. “And yes,” I added, since everyone seemed to want to confirm it, “Lieutenant Harris is my mother. Are you the…bartender?”

“Among other things,” was her cryptic answer. I was about to ask her what things, but she pointedly cleared her throat, and in response, my three table-mates stopped their conversation. “Gentlemen,” she began, in a soft but confident voice, “When you invite a woman to lunch – even a young woman – you are obligated to include her in the conversation.”

“Oh, God, Zoe, I’m sorry – I just started talking about my project and completely forgot you were here.”

“Gee, thanks, Wes,” I snarked. “Just what every girl wants to hear.”

Geordi glanced up at Guinan, then back at me. “Sorry, Zoe. Wes just gets so excited about his ideas that his enthusiasm is contagious.”

“I, too, apologize for neglecting you, Zoe,” Data added.

“Um, it’s okay, really,” I said, suddenly embarrassed by all the attention. “I should go, anyway. I have advanced lit and a music lesson this afternoon.” I waited for Guinan to move from behind my chair, and pushed it back. “Thanks for rescuing me,” I said to her, and gave her a sincere smile.

“Any time,” she said, moving away. “Come say hello next time you’re here.”

I stood up, while promising I would do as she asked. “Thanks for inviting me, Wesley,” I said. “It was sweet of you, really.”

“I really am sorry,” he said.

“I know. It’s cool.” I was all of two steps from the table when Data called my name. “Yes?” I asked.

“Do not hesitate to contact me if you require assistance with the make-up work I assigned for class.”

“No,” I said, “I won’t.” Inspiration hit me then, and I offered him my best innocent grin. “Data, you said you’d answer any question?”

“That is correct.”

“Okay. What’s the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” It was a line I’d learned from my father – a bit from an ancient twentieth century comedy show. I wasn’t expecting Data to take the question seriously, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the question he asked in response.

“An African or European swallow?”

I chose that moment to make a hasty retreat, holding my laughter until I’d reached the relative safety of the corridor. The befuddled looks on both Wesley and Geordi’s faces was well worth the effort.

Chapter 5: Best Laid Plans

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

Best Laid Plans

Three months into my new life aboard the Enterprise, I had finally settled into a routine. Three mornings a week, I met my friend Dana in the corridor between her quarters and mine, and we rode the lift to our math tutorial together. Most mornings, the boys – Josh, T’vek and Wesley, would be in the lift already, but sometimes we’d leave a little earlier and arrive enough ahead of them to have time to chat a bit before class.

Our tutorial met in a conference room one deck down from the bridge, and not on the deck where the rest of “school” took place, but even though I complained about it to my mother – loudly and often – that math and I didn’t get along, the truth is, once I got used to Commander Data’s perpetual calm, and discovered that he had an encyclopedic knowledge of twentieth century comedy – something my father had gotten me hooked on when I was really little – I began to enjoy the class. Well, except for the times that Wesley cornered me afterward to ask me out. It had happened often enough to become annoying, and while I knew I could ask my mother, she was good friends with his mother, and it would have been messy, so I tended to let it go.

Over the last few weeks, I’d even initiated a private game with Data – sneaking Monty Python references into our discussions whenever possible, just to see if he’d react. Most of the time, he left his responses in the comments on returned, graded assignments, but once in a while he would answer with the next line in the sequence. Dana and the boys were often perplexed by our exchanges, but then, we were all perplexed by some of the exchanges Data had with Wesley. Even T’vek, who aspired to a career in propulsion engineering, confessed once that he didn’t understand half of what they were talking about.

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard when it was T’vek, and not Dana, who was waiting at the usual pre-class rendezvous point. “Are you lost?” I asked, only half-kidding. I knew by now that T’vek was half Vulcan and half Betazoid – a combination that gave him inky black eyes, and the ability to charm almost every girl aboard the ship who was over the age of twelve, except that he was too nice a guy to actually do it.

He made a show of looking around, “Deck twelve, intersection C-7,” he said, offering me a grin. “Apparently not.”

“Okay,” I began, skepticism heavy in my tone. “Are you here to convince me to do your English essay for you? Because Dana already warned me that you’d asked her, and – ”

“Do you really think I’d go a deck and a half out of my way just for an essay?” he asked, cutting me off. “I need your help with something bigger.”

“My help?” I asked, feeling somewhat stupid. “Sorry, I haven’t had enough caffeine or sugar yet today. Could you be more specific?”

“I’m getting to it,” he assured, as he took off in the opposite direction that Dana and I generally walked. He stopped when he realized I hadn’t moved to follow. “What?”

“You’re going the wrong way.”

“Not really. It is a longer route, but I’ve estimated the time needed to convince you that offering your assistance would be logical, and we will still make it to class on time.”

I rolled my eyes at that. T’vek was half Vulcan, but his usual personality was all Betazoid – warm, light, and full of emotion and humor. “Okay, spill.”

“Your father is conducting the Capitol City Orchestra of Centaurus,” he said with a note of expectation in his voice. No doubt he’d planned that.

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

He ignored my sarcasm, and continued. “The Orchestra has announced their upcoming tour, and will be playing a series of concerts on Serenity Five in six weeks. I believe our math class should attend.”

I blinked at him. “I didn’t know you were into that kind of music,” I said.

“I am not…particularly,” he admitted. “But Serenity Five is also home to the sector’s only amusement part where every gravity coaster is mathematically designed to induce the optimum combination of fear and pleasure.”

“I’ve read about it,” I admitted in return. “Small problem: the Enterprise isn’t scheduled to be anywhere near the Serenity system.”

“That’s where you come in,” T’vek said. “We will be close enough to travel there by shuttle, but the park alone isn’t enough reason to request a pilot, chaperones, and hotel vouchers. If, however, we are all escorting our dear friend Zoe to visit her father…” He let the sentence trail off.

“I don’t know,” I said, deadpan. “I’m not sure if I appreciate being used for my connections.”

“C’mon, Zoe. Even I know you’re not exactly in love with shipboard life.”

“I haven’t complained about it in over a week,” I protested, though I had to add, “in public.”

“Our parents talk,” he revealed. “Will you ask your father if he can arrange tickets?”

I had to think it over. And I also had to ask, “The chaperones would be our parents, right? Who is the pilot likely to be? Some ensign barely older than we are?”

“No. The last time we went anywhere, Commander Data took us. He designed math problems about skiing and ice skating and stuff…but it wasn’t too bad, really.” He waited thirty seconds in silence, then asked, “Will you ask your father, Zoe? If I don’t have your answer in five point seven seconds, we may be late for class.”

“Start walking,” I said, because we’d been talking in the corridor for a while. “I’ll answer by the time we get there. How many days is it to Serenity Five? And what do you need my father to provide? Just tickets?”

“Two out, three back,” T’vek informed me. I was going to ask why the return trip was longer, but I realized it had to do with the ship’s planned route. “He’d need to arrange seats for us, and promise some sort of educational advantage. Perhaps a tour of the concert hall and a question-and-answer session with some of the musicians.”

“You’ve been planning this for a while, haven’t you?”

“Only since last session, really.” He paused and turned to face me, giving me his best grin. “I work fast.”

We entered the lift, and I remained silent, listening to the hum as it traversed the ship, and thinking about being in a shuttle for five days. Upside: Data would probably be there. Downside, at least one of our parents would, as well. Other downside: Wesley Crusher would be there, too.

Our classmates were already inside the conference room when we arrived a few seconds later, and when we walked in, we were left no option but to sit together in the two remaining open seats. As I settled into my chair, and he settled into his, T’vek arched an eyebrow at me and I realized how I could use the situation to my advantage.

“T’vek? The question I promised to answer?” I said, in a too-sweet, too-coy tone designed to make him worry. “The answer is ‘yes’.”

Across the table, Wes’s expression soured a little, but I didn’t have time to worry about it, because Commander Data arrived at that point, and class began.

Chapter 6: Ask Him Again

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


“It’s done,” I said to T’vek as he left his family’s quarters one morning. This time, I was waiting for him, and had asked Josh to make sure he and Wes went to class without them.

To his credit, the half-Vulcan/half-Betazoid boy knew exactly what I meant. “Your father agreed,” he asked, but it was really more a confirmation than a question.

“Maestro Harris is delighted to have the advanced mathematics tutorial students from U. S. S. Enterprise attend the Centaurian Capitol City Orchestra’s first concert on Serenity Five,” I said, in a fake upper-crust accent. I earned a flash of smile, and continued in my normal voice, “He’ll arrange for us to tour the concert hall, meet some of the musicians, and attend a pre-concert lecture. There may be an after-party, but it’ll be optional. Well, optional for everyone except me.”

“Because the Maestro’s daughter has to make an appearance?” He was teasing me a little, but I didn’t mind.

“Oh, absolutely. You know, I should make you go with me. You sort of owe me now.”

“Do I?”

“You do,” I said. “You know you do.”

“Can’t fault your logic,” he agreed amiably. “And it would annoy Crusher.”

“There is that.”

“Of course we still have to convince Data,” he added. “And we can’t do that standing around the corridor. Hand me your padd.”

I arched an eyebrow at him. “Carrying my books? Are you being sexist or chivalrous?” This time, I was teasing.

“Chivalrous, always, Zoe. And this will also annoy Crusher.”

I handed over my padd, and he tucked both his and mine under his arm. Together, we walked down the corridor to the nearest lift, chatting along the way. By the time we met our classmates at the conference room door I was almost – almost – thinking that T’vek might be potential date material even if annoying Wesley wasn’t part of the bargain.

T’vek and I had agreed on the way to class that I should be the one to ask Data about the our little field trip, so after an intense lesson that nearly had Wes and T’vek shouting at each other over the correct method of answering a problem – Wesley made an intuitive leap and couldn’t explain the steps, while T’vek took longer, but was able to break it down – I asked our tutor if he had a moment to answer a question after class.

“Are you having difficulties with this material, Zoe?” he asked, with enough inflection that from anyone else I’d have assumed it was concern. He’d waited for the room to be empty.

“No more than ever,” I replied in a teasing tone. “My main difficulty is just the general not-wanting-to-be-here thing. That’s kind of what I wanted to ask about.”

“You wish to re-visit the requirement that you attend this tutorial?” he asked.

“No! I mean…math is never going to be my favorite subject, but you do make it sort of…tolerable.” The reality was that even though I still protested loudly, I liked the class and the teacher. “Look, don’t tell my mother this, but I pretty much only bit – um – complain about this class because I don’t want her to think she’s won.”

“I understand,” Data said. “It is a matter of pride.”

“Sort of,” I agreed, adding, “It’s a mother-daughter thing.”

“Ah.” He uttered the little monosyllable that meant he didn’t really understand but accepted that he would never understand, and since it clearly wasn’t relevant we should move on. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. “Then you had another reason for asking to see me after class?”

“Yes,” I said. I activated my padd, called up the text of my father’s formal invitation – I’d asked him to send it – and handed the device to Data. “My father’s orchestra will be in the neighborhood,” I said. “He thought the class might like to attend.”

Data took a fraction of a second to read the information and returned my padd. “Serenity Five is home to an amusement park of some notoriety,” he said.

“So I’ve heard.”

“T’vek suggested this excursion.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t a question in any possible way that ‘question’ could be defined.

“He did,” I confirmed. “But he also said you might be willing to allow a visit to the park if there was a way to make it an assignment, or if it had cultural value…and the invitation from my father is legit.”

“Legit…ah, legitimate.” He paused, and his eyes did that waking-REM thing that always meant he was searching for information. “I will require your father’s contact information. I will also require permission from your mother and the parents of your classmates, as well as two volunteer chaperones. If everything can be arranged we will make the trip.”

I tried not to go all girly, and I did manage not to bounce in delight – mainly because I was sitting down – but there might have been the tiniest element of a giddy shriek in my “Thank you!”

“You are welcome,” he said in his typically calm way. He rose from his chair. “You are also going to be late for your music lesson, if you do not go eat lunch.”

“Speaking of my music lesson,” I said, rising from my own chair. “My father added a condition of his own to this trip. He said I need to have a music theory course to apply to the M-SOMATA, and the ship’s school doesn’t offer one.”

“Your music teacher does not teach theory?”

“I have two music teachers. Lt. Caldwell gives voice lessons, but she doesn’t have time for anything else, and Lt. Starker is my cello teacher. Seth’s great with technique, but says he’s not that great at theory himself, and he doesn’t have time either. He recommended a holodeck program, but it’s not on the list of rec programs that kids are allowed to access. The system said to see the ship’s operations officer or second officer…which, I think, are both…you?” I still wasn’t all that great with ranks and hierarchies.

Data nodded once. “Correct, Zoe. The program in question is a university level music theory course, and is part of the continuing education menu.”

“So, I didn’t do anything wrong? It’s just locked because it’s a for-credit college course?”

“Essentially, yes.”

“Fabulous,” I said, in a tone that clearly expressed how very un-fabulous I thought this was. “Thanks, anyway, Data.” I moved toward the door, but he said my name, and I stopped, and turned back.

“Contact me tomorrow. I will have a solution for you.”

“I didn’t mean to put you to any trouble.”

“It is no trouble,” he said in the matter-of-fact way that meant it really wasn’t.

“Thanks, Data,” was all I could say.

I returned to my quarters to have lunch, and made it to my music lesson in time after all…barely.

Chapter 7: String Theory

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


It wasn’t my alarm that woke me the next morning, but the incessant chiming of the com-system telling me I had three new messages. It wasn’t a school day – we kept to a typical five days on, two days off schedule, even if our Starfleet parents didn’t – but Dana and I and a couple of the girls from our literature class often got together to hang out in her quarters and talk about boys or watch video entertainment, and sometimes all the teenagers would share holodeck time for games or virtual adventures.

Josh was completely in love with a pirate-themed game, and had even taken to wearing a bandanna and eye-patch to math class, until Dana had asked if he needed counseling for an apparent delusion. We both knew that Josh had a massive crush on Counselor Troi, so this embarrassed him on several levels. Score points to the girls!

I was about to call Dana and tell her I was opting for extra time in bed and the company of a trashy novel, when I remembered my conversation with Commander Data from the day before. He’d said to contact him. “Computer, time please?” I called out and was informed that it was ten-thirty. Not horribly late then. “Play messages in the order received.”

“Zoe, can’t do the pirate thing til I finish that essay. And no, I am not asking for help,” came T’Vek’s smooth tones. “But if you were to offer…?” He let the question trail off, and then added that he thought he’d be done around fifteen-hundred hours.

The second message was from my father, confirming that he and Data had spoken, and the third was from Data himself, asking me to bring my cello to one of the conference rooms on an upper deck where civilians weren’t generally allowed, at eleven-hundred hours. He’d thought to mention that I was to use his name if anyone questioned my presence there, but I barely heard that part of the message, because I now realized I had less than half an hour to get ready.

I told the computer to delete the messages as I was looking for something to wear. I knew this meeting would have to do with the ‘solution’ to my music theory class that had been promised, and I was suddenly nervous. The solution, of course, would be to wear something completely bad-ass, but since I hadn’t planned any such outfit, I settled for the outfit that has been the default mode of dress for teenagers for centuries: a t-shirt (mine was from music camp the year before, and bore the quote, “If music be the food of life, play on!”) and jeans. I also twisted my hair into two braids. It made me look like some weird futuristic take on Anne of Green Gables, but it kept it out of my way.

My cello and I made it to the conference room with two minutes to spare.

“Ah, Zoe, you are here,” came Data’s greeting as I entered the room. “Lt. Starker suggested that you would benefit most from a ‘hands on’ approach, so I have brought my violin.”

“You want me to play with you?” I asked. “In order to learn theory?”

“Research shows that the more senses humans involve in the learning process, the more retention they are likely to have,” Data explained. “We will begin with abstract theory, and move on to application. Please be seated.”

I collapsed into the nearest chair, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. “Data?” I began, feeling even awkward than when I’d first asked about the math class.

“Zoe?” Apparently I wasn’t the only person who mimicked other people’s tones.

“Are you sure you have time for this? I kind of thought you’d just fix it so I could use the holo-program, or modify it for a less advanced student, or…something. I really didn’t mean to be a bother.”

“It is no bother,” he said in the matter-of-fact tone that was usual for him. He turned one of the table-top terminals to face my chair, and sat where he could see it also. “Computer, begin lesson one.”

Using the computer program, as a guide, Data spent the better part of an hour quizzing me on musical theory. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to figure out how much I already knew, or just trying to torture me – it was an even bet either way by the end – but eventually he called up a piece of music, and lifted his violin from the table. “Shall we play?”

It wasn’t a difficult piece, just a folk song arranged as a duet for cello and violin, but playing with Data was difficult, and I found myself faltering.

“Is this piece too challenging, Zoe?” he asked, with as much concern as he ever showed. “Lt. Starker assured me you were an accomplished musician.”

“It’s not the piece.” I said. “It’s me. Or…I think it’s us. There’s a distinct lack of…” I searched for a word, fumbled and finally came up with “…meshy-ness.”

“Meshy-ness?” He seemed as if he were tasting the word and finding it unpalatable. “You are implying a lack of connection?”

“Kind of, yeah.” I said. “But it’s probably mostly me. Dad says I play by instinct, too much. Seth makes me sing the line I’m supposed to play, so I can feel the timing better.”

“Ah.” Data said. I’d come to learn that the monosyllable was the android equivalent of the lightbulb-in-your-head moments that humans…maybe all organic beings…have. “This is often the case when I am playing with new partners, Zoe, and it is not ‘mostly you.’ We are equally at fault. Your ‘instinctive playing’ means that you are not adhering strictly to the timing marked in the music. As an android, I default to strict time.”

I smiled then. “I’m not sure it’s just because you’re an android. I mean, the first few times I played duets with Seth we weren’t in synch at all.”

“How did you resolve the issue?”


“Breathing?” Data asked.

“We would sort of take an exaggerated inhalation breath at the beginning of the piece, and any place – ” I pointed to the music ” – like here – where there are natural breaks, we’d do the same thing. Breathing together helps you play together.” I paused a moment, and then, feeling both sheepish and really rude I asked, “Um. DO you breathe?”

“I do not require inhalation and exhalation of air in order to function,” Data answered calmly, as if I wasn’t some kid prying into the details of his anatomy. “However, my speech functions do require breath, just as yours do. Let us attempt the piece again, your way.”

It took a few times, and I had to really try not to laugh, not at Data, but because the situation seemed so absurd, but eventually we did manage to find some sort of cohesion, and by the end of our two-hour lesson, I was high on music.

As if an internal alarm had sounded inside his head – and maybe it had – Data stopped the lesson at that point. “I must return to duty, Zoe,” he told me. “If this time is acceptable to you, weekly meetings would be advisable.”

He was asking me to give up my lazy weekend mornings, but I found that I couldn’t even make a perfunctory objection. “If it’s really not an imposition,” I said, “I’d like that.”

“It is really not,” he assured, as he got up to leave.

“Data wait – ” he turned, and waited. “When you play with other new musical partners…how do you find…”

” ‘Meshy-ness’?” he supplied.

“Um. Yeah. I mean, yes.”

“We often employ the use of a metronome. I will see you in class, Zoe.”

I nodded, and muttered an embarrassed, “Thanks,” as I loosened my bow. Once I had packed my cello and the padd with the lesson we’d covered, I hightailed it to the nearest ‘lift, nearly whacking an older bald guy in the chest with my instrument as I entered. “Um, sorry,” I said, adding a hasty, “sir” when I realized that I was in a turbo-lift with Captain Picard.

He merely nodded, then seemed to focus for a moment on my t-shirt, just as the ‘lift stopped on one of the officers’ decks. “Play on,” he said, half-reading the quotation. “Indeed.” And then he was gone.

My mother was still on duty when I got back to our quarters, so I called Dana on the com-system and asked her to come hang out while I had lunch. “You would not believe how I spent my morning,” I began, once she’d arrived.

She took in my outfit and braided hair and sat cross-legged on the couch. “Let me just tell Josh that we’re not gonna have time to play pirates today,” she said.

And she was right.

Chapter 8: Friends and Lovers

Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG, although I’m bending time a bit with this chapter, as Jenna definitely doesn’t appear til Season Four, and in my head this story is more late Season Two/early Season Three.

Friends and Lovers

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I was shrieking at my mother, and I knew I shouldn’t be, but I couldn’t help it. “You cannot be one of our chaperones. You just can’t.” It was a week before our math tutorial’s planned ‘field trip’ to Serenity Five, and we’d just learned which of our parents had volunteered to accompany us. “You hate being on tour with Dad.”

My mother set her coffee mug on the table with the sort of care that meant she was trying not to yell back at me. “We are not going ‘on tour’ with your father, Zoe. We are going on a school field trip – one, I recently discovered, that you were instrumental in arranging.”

“Why does that mean you have to go? It isn’t enough that you dragged me away from my whole life and stuck me here with all these people who are perfect and nice all the time? Now you have to horn in on my activities, too?”

“You knew that two parents had to accompany the group, Zoe. T’vek’s father had already volunteered. Commander Data requested one of the mothers for the second chaperone. Only three of you have mothers living aboard the ship, and Doctor Crusher can’t take time away right now.” She paused, looking at me with far less anger than I expected. “I’d hoped you might see it as a chance to spend time together without my duties interfering.”

I wanted to stay mad at her, but if I’d argued that point she’d only have reminded me of my tendency to complain about her job. “I hate it when you’re right,” I grumped.

“Does this mean you’ll refrain from whining about your mother being on your trip?”

“I’ll consider it,” I said. “At least once we leave. Until then, no promises. Although…”

She tilted her head at me in that I-know-you’re-about-to-try-to-get-away-with-something way that all mothers have. “Yes?”

“Orchestra concerts are dressy occasions…and I haven’t had a new outfit in forever.” I said in my best too-casual voice.

“It always comes back to clothes. You know you have the right to use the replicator from time to time.”

“Replicator clothes are wrong, Mom. They’re all stretchy and shiny in the wrong places and…they’re just wrong. Besides, you know I like vintage.”

“And I suppose you’ve already done the research and discovered at least three boutiques within a reasonable distance of our hotel?”

“Four,” I said. “One specializes in shoes.”

“Shoes, too?” My mother let her voice drip with melodramatic world-weariness.

“Mom, please. It’s all about the shoes.” I glanced at the chronometer display on her desk, and gulped down the rest of my pineapple juice. “Gotta go meet Data for my theory lesson. He really doesn’t like it when I’m late.” And I grabbed my cello, and escaped into the corridor.

“Hi, Data. Sorry I’m late,” I breezed as I entered the conference room where we usually met for my lesson. “I’ve been practicing the Bach piece, but I’m having a problem hearing the chor -” I stopped mid-word as I realized that Data wasn’t the only person in the room. A blonde woman with lieutenant junior grade’s pips on her collar and a clarinet in her hand was sitting in the chair the android usually used. “Did I miss a message rescheduling this lesson?”

“You did not,” he assured me. “Zoe, this is Jenna D’Sora. Jenna, this is Zoe. I believe you will benefit from playing with her.”

“You’re the cello prodigy Data’s always talking about?” the woman said, her tone just this side of patronizing. “I expected someone older.”

“I’m working on it,” I said, focusing on the fastener of my gig bag. I kept my eyes averted while I pulled my bow out of its pocket, and then removed my cello from the main case. “Do you work with Data?” I asked, trying my best not to sound catty or jealous, and mentally scolding myself for being hurt. He’s just your teacher, Zoe, that’s all. But I couldn’t help the slightly snide remark that slipped out, “He’s never mentioned you.” Never mind that Data never mentioned anything that wasn’t relevant to the lesson at hand, unless he was specifically asked.

Data was either unaware of the tension between me and the lieutenant, or was choosing to ignore it. “Jenna is a member of the security department,” he explained. “We also play in the same chamber ensemble, but she often has difficulties finding cohesion with the group. I believe a smaller ensemble would help her learn to attain your – ”

“Meshy-ness?” I asked, offering him a real smile.

“Exactly,” he said.

Jenna added, in a tone that was a blend of sweetness and ice, “We’re also dating.”

I sat down and waited as Data drew out his violin, tweaked the tuning, and played an open A. The coolest thing about playing music with him was that we never needed a pitch-meter or piano in order to tune. He was always on key, and I have an excellent ear.. My own instrument was just a hair sharp, so I adjusted until I was matching his pitch.

“You will need to transpose to Concert A, Jenna,” he reminded his…girlfriend, but she merely nodded.

The three of us played together for about an hour, and we did manage to find some cohesion after a bit, though she balked at using my breath-matching method, even after the metronome didn’t work. “You’re anticipating,” I observed, when she came in early for the third time.

“Excuse me?”

“I do it sometimes, still, too. You’re either not actually counting the measure, or you’re so concerned about coming in late that you’re anticipating the beat and coming in early.”

“Data…?” she turned to him for validation.

“Zoe is correct, Jenna. You are making your entrance early.” He turned it into a teaching moment. “How do you correct your anticipation, Zoe?”

“Tapping your foot works. It’s…amateurish, but it helps you feel the beat. And you can stop once you’ve learned the correct timing. Otherwise…count each fraction of a beat…like when you learn basic rhythm in school? Not just, one-two-three-four, but one-ee-and-a, two-ee-and-a…like that.”

“Thanks,” she said grudgingly. “I’ll try that.” There was a beep, and she got up to go. “I’m due back on duty,” she said, packing her clarinet into its case. “Data..?”

“Zoe’s lesson is typically two hours long,” he stated. “We cover theory as well as application.”

“Oh, well…I’ll see you for dinner?”

“As you wish,” he replied.

She brushed a kiss across his cheek and left the room, though she paused to throw me a frosty glare before the doors closed behind her.

“Data, if you need to go, we can discuss my theory homework next week,” I offered lamely, feeling suddenly awkward.

“I do not,” he said, “need to go. I have scheduled the customary two-hour block of time. Shall we continue?”

I shrugged. “I guess.”

“Perhaps I should have informed you that Jenna would be joining us,” he observed, as he put down the violin, and reached for a padd.

I set my cello on its side, and reached for my own device. “Whatever. Can you please just check my work? I kind of got caught up in playing the Bach instead of analyzing it the way you wanted.”

If he noticed the change in my attitude, Data didn’t say anything. Instead, he patiently worked through my analysis of the harmonics of the Bach prelude in question, having me play some of the sections I’d been fuzzy on, and demonstrating one particularly complicated passage on his violin. Even so, we finished before the second hour was up, and I began to pack my things.

“We have enough time for another piece,” Data pointed out.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t think your girlfriend realized how much time you’d been spending with me, and I’m certain she’s not thrilled about it.”

“She did not say anything,” he observed.

“She didn’t have to,” I said. “Is she going to be joining us next week?”

“We will be en route to Serenity Five at this time next week, Zoe.”

“When we get back, then?”

“Her presence here was beneficial to you both. Is there a problem?”

“Not exactly.” My cello was back in its bag, and I let it rest on the floor, crossing my hands over the scroll. “Studying theory with you…playing music with you…it’s more like spending time with a friend than taking a class. You don’t treat me like a kid. You treat me just like any other musician. Having Jenna here…kind of forced me to remember that I’m just your student.”

I don’t know what possessed me to tell him all that, but he seemed to take it in, process it, and form a response, all in the space of a breath or two. “Zoe, you are correct. You are my student. However, unless I am mistaken, that does not preclude you from also being my friend. I would be pleased to be counted among yours.”

I couldn’t help the cheesy grin I knew was spreading across my face. “Thanks, Data.” I said. I moved toward the door, but stopped to add, “Would you please tell Jenna I’m sorry I was rude to her?”

He tilted his head slightly. “If you are sincere in your wish to apologize, our wind ensemble is playing in Ten-Forward at twenty-hundred hours. If your schoolwork is complete, and your mother approves, I would appreciate your attendance.” He waited a beat, then added in a tone I swear held a hint of teasing, “As a friend.”

I laughed. “I’ll ask her,” I said. And then I really did have to get going.

Chapter 9: A Little Night Music

Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, Lt. Commander Data, and anything else recognizable belong to Paramount. Zoe and her mother belong to me. This takes place during the first four seasons of TNG, although I’m bending time a bit with this chapter, as Jenna definitely doesn’t appear til Season Four, and in my head this story is more late Season Two/early Season Three. Also? this chapter is a bit longer than I usually post…

A Little Night Music

“Hey, T’vek, you busy tonight?” I breezed over the com-channel, flashing a too-sweet grin at the screen.

My half-Vulcan/half -Betazoid male-friend-of-interest arched an eyebrow at me. “That depends, Zoe. Will you proofread my English essay before we engage in whatever nefarious activity you have concocted.”

“Nefarious?” I pretended to be shocked and insulted. “Nefarious. I’m never nefarious.” I waited a beat. “I am sometimes devious, but that’s a trait you likely appreciate since you share it…”


“Yes, I will proof your essay, although I should point out that the computer system includes spell-check and grammar-check functions.”

“But the computer does not have your…unique…turn of phrase.”


“What is it that you wish me to do?”

“Data has invited me to attend a concert of his woodwind ensemble this evening in Ten-Forward. I couldn’t possibly go without a suitable escort.”

“I’ll go, but I’m giving up a rousing game of tri-d chess with my father, so you’ll owe me a favor.”

It was my turn to arch a brow at him, two, actually. “You mean, aside from proofing your paper?”

“Mmhmm.” No one under the age of thirty should have been able to put that much seduction into a couple syllables of non-verbal noise.

“Name it.” I didn’t quite make those words a dare. Not really.

“The favor is that I don’t want you to invite any of our other classmates to join us. I will go with you only if it’s an actual date.”

I couldn’t help blushing, and not only because I’d had no intention of asking our other friends. “If it’s a date, there’d better be chocolate involved.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Zoe.”

“I learned from the best. Pick me up fifteen minutes before?”

“I will see you then.”

T’vek was nothing, if not prompt. He signaled at our door at precisely fifteen minutes before the hour, and offered me a replicated sunflower when I invited him in. “For you, m’lady,” he said, an insouciant grin on his face.

“Did you use telepathy on me?” I accused half in jest, “Because sunflowers are my favorite.”

“I’m not actually that good at telepathy,” he confessed while I stuck the flower in a quickly-replicated bud vase. “If we were touching, I could sense your surface thoughts, and I’m a bit of an empath, but when it comes to either Vulcan or Betazoid mental skills – ”

“You got kinda screwed?” I asked, smiling.

“Pretty much.”

“Did you get the Vulcan ears, at least?” I asked, staring at the shaggy black hair that he wore pretty long, especially by starship standards.

“You can look for yourself,” he said, and tilted his head toward me.

Suddenly nervous, I shook my head. “Maybe later. Don’t wanna be late.”

“We won’t be,” he assured. “But we need to leave now.”

We left, and we weren’t late, but the whole time we were in the turbolift, my eyes kept straying to where the tips of his ears would be.

Ten-Forward was arranged for an informal concert, when we arrived, with rows of tables pushed close together, forming a half circle facing a small stage. Chairs and music stands were waiting, but there was no sign of Data or Jenna, or any of the other musicians.

“T’vek! Zoe! Over here!” Wesley Crusher’s voice hailed us from across the room. “I saved seats for you both.”

“Please tell me he has a date?” I whispered to T’vek.

“He’s with that blonde girl from our lit class. Anna? Annette? Something like that.”

I gave T’vek a look that clearly conveyed my assumption that he knew the girl’s name, and was just trying to show how uninterested in her he was. “Annette. She’s…mostly harmless, I guess.”

We wove through the people and tables, and joined our classmates. “Thanks for saving seats,” T’vek said, and I was glad he spoke, because I’d have sounded much grumpier.

“It’s no problem,” Annette said. “Zoe, I’m so glad you’re here. Are those new boots?”

“I finally broke down and used the replicator,” I confessed, adding, “I like your earrings.” It was true. I mean, they were tiny pearl studs, and way too prim-and-proper for me, but they suited Annette perfectly, and I suspected they were real.

“Thank you,” she said.

I heard T’vek and Wes exchanging whatever passed for greetings among guys, as I settled into my chair. Our table was round, and Annette and I were side by side, with Wes next to her and T’vek on my other side. Cozy enough, but not ideal for our first real date. A server came by, and T’vek whispered, “Do you trust me?” into my ear.

“To order dessert?” I asked. “Absolutely.”

I heard him say something about frozen hot chocolate with two straws and two spoons, but then the lights dimmed a bit, and the musicians walked out. Jenna, I noticed, had changed to civilian attire, though Data was still in uniform. Idly, I wondered if he even owned normal clothes.

I don’t know if the wind ensemble had improved since the teen brunch months before, or if I’d merely not been paying attention then – but I do know that our dessert was served mid-way through their first number, a swing piece that relied on heavy syncopation.

The chocolate was creamy and cold, part drink, part spoonable dessert, and I was glad T’vek had assumed I wouldn’t mind sharing, because it would have been far too rich to eat on my own. Our hands kept brushing against each other as each of us scooped spoonfuls, and I found myself caught between staring at him and focusing on the music.

After about forty minutes, there was a break, and Annette and I excused ourselves to the restroom. “You and T’vek make a cute couple,” she said, as we waited in line because even on state-of-the-art starships there are never enough stalls in the women’s restroom.

“Do we?” I asked, feeling my face go hot. “We’re good friends, but…”

“But it’s your first real date?” she asked. “Same for me and Wes, but you and T’vek seem better matched.”

“What do you mean?” I asked the other girl.

She looked at her shoes for a long moment, before meeting my eyes and explaining. “I’m not in that special math tutorial. I don’t have Starfleet ambitions. And he has bridge duty.”

“Oh, Annette…” Suddenly, she wasn’t just some girl from my lit class, but an actual person. “First, even though Wes is a little…single-minded, he’s really an okay guy. And second? Just because he wants to be an officer doesn’t mean he can’t have friends who have completely separate interests. I mean…T’vek doesn’t play any musical instruments, and performing is all I’ve ever wanted to do, but we’re still here together.”

She went into a stall, then, and a bit later it was my turn, but she was waiting for me in the corridor, and we walked back to our tables together. “Thanks for the pep-talk, Zoe,” she said before we rejoined our dates.

“No problem,” I said, smiling at her. “Look, Dana and I are getting together tomorrow night to work on that essay together. You should join us.”

“Thanks,” she said. “I might.”

We took our seats just in time for the second half of the concert, which was more classical fare, and less swing and jazz. At the end, Data set his clarinet aside, and reached under his seat, for his violin. “My fellow musicians have agreed to a slight departure from our usual format this evening,” he said. “This piece was originally written for the cello, and is from the third movement of Bach’s Concerto in D. It is most often transposed into the key of C Major,” he explained, “so that it can be played on a single string of a violin. The rest of our ensemble will be providing harmony.”

As Data began to play the Bach’s ‘Air on a G String,’ I reached for T’vek’s hand. “I love this piece,” I whispered in his ear.

T’vek’s response was to drape his arm around my shoulders, leaning close to whisper back, “Can you play it, on your cello?”

“Not yet,” I responded. We were both quiet for the rest of the piece, but his arm stayed comfortably around me.

After the lights had been turned back up, and the applause had faded to nothing, all four of us moved as a group to thank Data and the other musicians for their performance. The android was gracious, thanking all of us for coming. Wesley made a point of introducing him to Annette, and the three of them chatted softly for a while.

“Zoe, I want you to meet someone,” T’vek murmured in my ear.

“Give me a sec? I have to do something first.”

He moved slightly away from me, and I approached Jenna. “Hi,” I said softly.

“Zoe.” Her tone was cool, but not actually rude.

“I enjoyed your performance,” I said politely. “But I also wanted to apologize for being rude to you…before.”

She softened, and even smiled. “I wasn’t exactly nice to you, either,” she admitted. “And I’m supposed to be the adult here. Shall we start over?”

I nodded. “I’d like that.” I stuck out my hand, “Lieutenant D’Sora? I’m Zoe Harris, one of Data’s students. It’s nice to meet you.”

Her smile widened, “Nice to meet you, Zoe. Call me Jenna.”

Another officer called her away at that moment, but that wasn’t an issue, because T’vek had returned to my side. “What was that about?” he asked, directly in my ear.

“I’ll explain later,” I said. “There was someone you wanted me to meet?”

“Yes.” He led me through the mingling concert-goers to one of the musicians who had remained on the stage, and was packing her instrument. “Mother…”

The flautist looked up, her Vulcan features softer than most, with a warmth in her expression that truly surprised me. “Stevek,” she greeted, and I made a mental note to ask my friend about his name. “I am pleased that you attended this evening.”

“I always come when you’re playing,” he pointed out. “Mother, this is Zoe Harris. She’s in the math tutorial with Data, and is studying music theory with him. Zoe, this is my mother, Lt. Commander T’rella Mairaj.”

“My son speaks of you often,” she said, nodding politely at me. “I am pleased to finally meet you.” The corners of her mouth turned up in the merest hint of a smile. “Perhaps when you children return from Serenity Five you and your mother will join us for a meal.”

“I’d like that,” I said. “And I’m sure my mother would, too. It’s nice to meet you.”

T’vek spoke up then, saving me from figuring out what else to say, “Mother, Zoe and I were going to go look at the fish in the aquarium before returning to quarters. Is that acceptable?”

“One hundred hours,” was all the woman said, but I got the feeling there was an undertone I wasn’t really perceiving.

To my credit, I held my tongue until we had arrived at room that the science department had turned into an aquarium. Once we were inside the space, which was lit by watery blue light at this time of the ship’s night, I couldn’t wait to ask, “Stevek? How do you get T’vek out of Stevek?”

He grinned his roguish grin at me, and captured my hand. “Stevek’s my real name…my mother insisted on a Vulcan one. T’vek is a character in a series of Betazoid holo-novels about a pirate who sails the Opal Sea. I liked the name, and it was close enough to my own.” He rubbed his thumb over the back of my hand, and lowered his voice. “Besides, apostrophes are cool.”

I had to laugh at that. “So they are,” I agreed. “Makes me wish I used an umlaut or…something.” I meant it to be flippant, but my voice caught on the last word, mainly because T’vek was staring intently into my face. “What?”

“Are you in love with Commander Data?” he asked.

I blinked at him. “No. He’s helping with music. I admire him, and we’re…we’re becoming friends, I guess. And he seems to get me.” I paused, using my free hand to do what I’d been thinking about all evening: brush his hair back and see that yes, he did have Vulcan points to his ears. “Not as much as you get me, though,” I added softly.



“Mmhmm. Cuz it means I can do this.”

And he kissed me.

Chapter 10: A MotherDaughter Thing

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

A Mother-Daughter Thing

“Good morning, Sunshine!” my mother sing-songed into almost directly into my sleep-addled brain. When you were up until two in the morning, after a full day of music lessons, a concert, and your first kiss from a boy you really like, a doorway eight feet away totally counts as ‘almost.’ “Rise and shine! Up and at ’em!”

“You are evil, and have no soul,” I grumbled as good-naturedly as I could, mustering just enough strength to fire a throw-pillow at the woman who was exuding obnoxious perkiness. I missed, and she laughed, lobbing it back toward my bed.

“So, I’ve been told,” she agreed amiably. “Listen, daughter-of-mine, I have the day off. Get up, hit the shower, and let’s go have a mother-daughter breakfast in Ten-Forward and then get pre-field-trip mani-pedis.

That actually got me to sit up. “The really long kind, with the hot stones?” I asked, shoving my tangled hair out of my face.


“Can I get black nail polish?”

“They’re your hands,” she agreed. She probably knew I wouldn’t really have my nails painted black. Well, not my finger nails. “Though personally, I think a rich purple would be much more interesting.”

“Mmm.” I pretended to think it over. “Give me fifteen minutes?”

Approximately twenty-three minutes later we were back in Ten-Forward, where the tables had been restored to their more common configuration, at the same table where I’d been ordered to request admission to Commander Data’s math tutorial, except this time, we both had coffee. Okay, mom’s was black and brewed double-strong, while mine was a frothy mix of coffee and steamed chocolate milk, but still…

“You were out pretty late last night, kiddo,” mom observed.

“I was in by curfew.”

“Yes. Yes, you were. Thank you for that. Was it a good date? I noticed a flower on your nightstand.”

“I heard someone at this table fed T’vek the information that sunflowers were a personal favorite,” I shot back, hiding my blush behind my coffee mug. “But yeah…it was good. The dessert was nice. The music was nice. The kissing was nice.” I was kind of hoping she wouldn’t pick up on that last part.


So much for hope. “Yeah, you know, after the concert and all the booze we totally made out. Even got yelled at for sucking face in a turbo-lift.”

For a second, she almost believed me. Almost. “Nice try, Zoe.”

I shrugged. “You woke me up before I was ready. I deserved a little payback.” I sipped more of my mocha, then put the mug back on the table, and fiddled with the spinach and mushroom omelet that was rapidly cooling on my plate. “He’s a good kisser, actually,” I said softly.

“He was respectful?”

“He was nice. It was…nice.”

“Just nice?”

“Really nice,” I said. “Even kind of awesome.” I waited a bit, then asked, “Are you okay with this? I mean, you’re not going to go all over-protective and declare I’m not allowed to date til I’m thirty, are you? I mean, we’re locked on a hermetically-sealed starship, and it’s not like there are rabbles to be roused, or anything.”

My mother proved just how cool she could be. “I like T’vek,” she said. “I think you’re a little young for anything serious, but your teen years are meant for experimentation. As long as your schoolwork doesn’t suffer, and you keep me informed of where you’re going and what you’re up to, you can date.”

“No list of rules?”

“Do we need to go through all that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Fine.” She thought a minute. “No unsupervised time with him in our quarters. If he’s visiting, I want you to have other friends around. No late nights if you have classes the next day. No ‘sucking face’ in turbo-lifts – this is still a starship, after all – and if things get serious, I’d like you to talk to me, but I know I can’t force it.”

“Serious? How serious?”

“Zoe…” Why was it that everyone in my life had their own way of making my name convey a thousand things?

“Is this the bit where you tell me what happens when two people of compatible species and genders get up close and personal without taking precautions? Because I’ve been through all the mandatory sex-ed classes, and we had The Talk when I was eleven.”

My mother gave me her best mock-scowl. “I’ll spare you the tab-A slot-B discussion,” she said. “And just remind you that things that seemed gross when you were ten probably won’t anymore.” She studied her mostly-eaten grapefruit with sudden intensity before adding in a softer tone, “Don’t be in a rush to grow up, Zoe. You can always go forward, but you can’t go back.”

I held back the snarky comment I would have made any other day, and said instead, “I know this, Mom, really. I can’t promise I won’t do anything stupid, but I promise to try not to give you a reason to worry. Okay?”

That sentence earned me a rueful grin. “Worry has been part of the deal since the day you were born, Zoificus. It’s what parents do.”

I smiled. “‘Zoificus…’ I think I like that. Makes me sound like a goddess or something. Oh, before I forget, T’vek introduced me to his mother last night – did you know she plays the flute? – and she said – T’rella, I mean – that we should all get together for ‘a meal’ when we’re back from Serenity Five.”

“Sounds like a lovely idea,” my mother said. “Now, finish up, so we can hit the spa before alpha shift goes off-duty.”

A couple of hours later, I was sprawled on my bed, dressed casually in an old M-SOMATA tee shirt I’d stolen from my father, and a really comfy pair of sweatpants. Annette and Dana were due to arrive for an informal lit essay write-in and I had a feeling at least one of them would demand details about what happened after the concert last night.

I wasn’t wrong.

“Details, Zoe, details,” Dana said by way of a greeting as she breezed into the main room of the quarters I shared with my mother. “Annette said T’vek had his arm around you all night?”

Annette followed Dana into the room, looking a bit sheepish. “Sorry,” she said. “She badgered me the whole way here in the ‘lift.”

I just grinned. “Just wait til you and Josh finally get together,” I teased. “See how patient I am. And honestly, you might ask Annette what it’s like to date the ship’s official wunderkind.”

Dana turned to the other girl. “You and Wesley Crusher?” she asked.

Annette blushed, but on her the pink was pretty instead of just awkward looking – at least, to me. “He’s brought me to a few ship’s functions.”

I led my friends over to the table in the center of the room. My padd was already there, along with a tray of fruit juices and different snacks. “Last night wasn’t the first time?” I asked. “I had the impression it was.”

“It was, and it wasn’t.”

“First real date?” I asked, and Dana was nodding knowledgably. I slid into a chair. “He seemed to really pay attention to you.”

Annette grinned, “He did, but…I’m surprised you even noticed. You were ‘paying attention’ to a certain shaggy-haired fellow.”

It was my turn for blushing again. “Yeah, well…”

“And you two disappeared right after the concert. One minute we were all talking to Data, the next minute, you’d gone.” She narrowed her eyes at me. “Where exactly did you go.”

“Gee, officer,” I quipped. “It was late; it was dark; we’d had chocolate.” I smiled sweetly at her. “He swore he was of legal age.”

“Chocolate?” Dana asked. “He gave you chocolate?”

“Yes. Well, no. He sort of…we shared a frozen hot chocolate during the concert, is all.”

“Mmhmm.” Dana could do a skeptical tone as well as any of us. “And after the event in question, Ms. Harris?”

“We went to the aquarium and looked at the Turkalian jelly-fish, and talked a while, and he kissed me, and then we spent a few minutes playing with the singing rays in the tide pool exhibit.”

Annette and Dana shared a significant look, before the former said, “Told you they made out. I knew it was destined as soon as Wes pointed out they were sharing a single dessert.”

“People share dessert all the time,” I felt compelled to say. “Besides, have you tasted that frozen hot chocolate? You’d die from the richness of it if you tried to eat the whole thing yourself.”

But my friends didn’t care about that. What they cared about was made explicit by Dana’s next barrage of questions, “So, is he a good kisser? Was there tongue? Did you get to see his ears? Did you kiss him back?”

“Yes, not the first time, yes, and of course,” I said, answering the questions in order. “And yes, he held my hand all the way home, and yes, he kissed me good night at my door, and yes, we’ll probably be disgustingly lovey-dovey during the entire field trip just to annoy you.” The last bit was meant in jest, but then I realized. “Or actually, maybe not, because we’ll each have a parent there.”

Annette and Dana shared another look, before Annette suggested, “Maybe we should actually work on our essays now.”

“Good idea,” I said.

We actually did work in companionable silence for the next two hours or so, reading bits of our work to each other, and helping to smooth each others’ writing. When each of us was satisfied with what we’d come up with, and our work was saved to our padds, Dana glanced up at Annette. “You never told us,” she said softly. “If Wes was any good at kissing.”

Annette wouldn’t meet either of our eyes for a long time. “I don’t know,” she said. “I like him. He keeps inviting me to things, and we did come close to a kiss last night…but it hasn’t happened.”

Dana and I were at a loss for what to say, until I suggested, “Try chocolate, and a trip to the aquarium.”

Annette smiled at that. “I might,” she said. “I just might.”

After my friends had gone, I got the notification that said T’vek had sent me his essay, which I’d promised to proofread. He’s actually a better writer than I am when he wants to be, but I made a couple of phrasing suggestions before sending it back. I got a text message in reply. Thanks, he’d written. And thanks for last night. My mother says she approves. See you tomorrow.

I grinned to myself, then went to my mother’s bedroom. She was engrossed in a novel, but put her padd aside so we could chat. “Sit,” she said, patting the edge of her bed.

I sat. “Were you listening to us earlier?” I asked.

“Not really,” she assured, reaching to brush my hair away from my face. “Mostly, I was just pleased that you have girl friends, Zoe. I never did, when I was your age.”

“Really?” I asked. I’m not sure why that surprised me.

“Really,” my mother said. “Most of my friends were boys, and most of my friends are men even now.”

“Is that why you and Dad separated? Because he couldn’t deal with you having male friends?”

“Maybe a little,” my mother agreed. “But having a long-distance relationship, even with video communications and faster-than-light travel is still taxing, and we have wildly different interests. We grew apart, and realized that if we wanted to remain friends, we couldn’t stay married to each other.” She paused, took a breath, then asked, “You know it has nothing to do with you, don’t you?”

I did, actually. “Yeah. I know that. Part of me kind of wishes we all lived together at Grandma’s farm on Centaurus, but most of the time I’m aware enough to notice that you’re both happier now then you were when we were always waiting for you to come home.” I waited a beat, then added, this time in a teasing tone. “But I still have zero interest in Starfleet, so don’t think that just because I’m not grumbling about being here anymore that I’m not itching to leave.”

Yet again, my mother surprised me. “I still think,” she said, “you haven’t really given it a chance. Not everyone ends up serving on ships.” I wrinkled my nose, but she continued. “Nevertheless, it’s pretty obvious that you’re going to have to figure out a path that’s uniquely yours. I can’t wait to see where it leads.”

I smiled, and hugged my mother. “Me either,” I agreed. “I’m going to bed now.”

“‘Night, Zoe.”

I paused in the doorway. “What? I’ve been demoted from Zoificus?” But then I shook my head. “‘Night, Mom.”

Auld Lang Syne: Part III

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS owns all the canon characters and settings, though Pocket Books might own the Happy Bottom Riding Club. The rest is mine. See notes at the end for music credits and other info.

This piece takes place at the end of 2377 – roughly two years after Insurrection and two years before Nemesis.


Auld Lang Syne: Part III

(24 December 2377 – 1 January 2378)

Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling, Christmas Eve
I stole behind her in the frozen foods
And I touched her on the sleeve.


New Paradise City, Erehwon

Sunday, December 24th, 2377

02:00 AM local time

It was two in the morning on what would have been Christmas Eve if I were on Earth, or even on Centaurus. On Erehwon, however, it was just another Sunday, and I was just another actress eating bad room service food because I hadn’t wanted to go clubbing with the rest of the cast. It wasn’t that I didn’t like dancing and revelry – I did – but our initial six week run had stretched to eight, and then twelve, and I had been growing increasingly lonely and antsy.

It didn’t help that in the after math of both the Battle of Sector 001 and the Dominion War, from which the Federation was still recovering, a strong pro-human movement had begun to grow. In truth the main organization, the Keep Earth Human League, had been present since the dawn of Starfleet a couple hundred years before, but now we lived in a world where anyone could be a shape-shifter, and holograms and androids were being granted civil rights.

Well, one android anyway, but for me his story was always the lead, because we’d been a couple for the past five and a half years. “Data,” I said out loud to my empty hotel room. “I know I’m being weak and pathetic, but I’d quit this show tomorrow if it meant you’d be here.” But of course, he couldn’t be. In fact, he was even further away than usual, on temporary assignment as the first officer of the U.S.S. Sovereign. We both knew he needed the experience to boost his own career, but we’d also both been spoiled by the fact that his usual position was on Starfleet’s flagship, which was generally much more accessible.

As if on cue, the in-room com-system chimed with an alert from the concierge. “Go ahead,” I instructed.

“Miss Harris, I’m sorry for the lateness of the hour, but Commander Data is calling for you from the Sovereign. Will you accept video?”

The front desk had been given a list of people who should always be put through if they called, no matter the time of day or night. Data was at the top of the list. “Yes, thank you,” I said.

“Transferring. Please hold.”

The view-screen on the desk flickered on and then resolved into an image of the one man in the universe I most wanted to see. “Zoe,” he said, offering a soft smile. “I am sorry for calling so late. Did I wake you?”

“Data,” I said, suddenly teary. I wiped my eyes with my hand, and managed a watery smile. “I was up, just feeling a little pathetic tonight. I miss you.”

His expression softened even more. “As do I,” he said. “But this assignment is nearly over, and you only have to complete the week, and then we will both return home.”

“So you are going to finish on time?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I am. My permanent replacement arrived this morning, and the science officer has successfully passed the bridge officer test under my tutelage.” He paused, then added in his gentlest tone, “Zoe, please forgive my bluntness, but your appearance gives every indication that you are exhausted.”

I shrugged. “I haven’t been sleeping well. There were protestors at the theater again last night, and someone had set the current on the barbed wire too high. We nearly had a crispy-fried emcee.” I was playing Sally Bowles in a version of the twentieth-century musical Cabaret. Originally set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi regime, our version was set on Bajor during the Cardassian occupation. It was dark, gritty, and eerily relevant to the new post-war Federation, and between the protestors and the press, it was also getting a lot of attention. “On the upside,” I added, forcing a bright tone, “ticket sales have never been better. They talked about another extension, but I’m not the only one feeling a bit burnt out.”

“A bit?” he questioned. “I estimate that you have lost ten kilograms since this engagement began.” He doesn’t ask if the authorities were called, or suggest that he can help with the political turmoil.

“Nine,” I admitted. “But that was a pretty impressive estimate for video, especially without a full body shot.”


“Data…” but I knew he was expressing concern because he loved me.”I’m sorry,” I said. “I promise I’m eating regular meals and sleeping as much as I can. I’m just…” Lonely. Tired. Frazzled. “I just miss you,” I said lamely, because none of the other words were right. “Should I book passage to Starbase 78 after my last show?” I asked, changing the subject.

“That will not be necessary,” he responded.


“I had planned to surprise you, but I believe you will benefit more from knowing: I have a shuttlecraft at my disposal, and will come get you.”

“Isn’t it out of the way?”

“Not significantly, no.” He hesitated then added, “I do not wish to wait any longer than is absolutely necessary to be with you again.”

I closed my eyes for a long moment, and when I opened them again I found his yellow-eyed gaze and held it. “I love you. You know that, right?”

“I do ‘know that,'” he said, “and I love you, also.” Again he paused, and I saw him swallow reflexively. “I am afraid my ‘time is up’ and I must end this call. Please try to rest.” He didn’t add And please be careful, but I knew he was thinking it.

“I will,” I said. “I’m glad you called.”

“As am I. Goodnight, Zoe.”

The screen went dark.


Sunday December 24th, 2377

12:00 PM local time

I was crossing the hotel lobby to catch the tram to the theater, when I heard my name being called. This wasn’t unusual; fans and gawkers called my name a lot. What was unusual was that the voice calling my name was familiar to me. I turned around, and scanned the other people in the lobby – cast-mates, tourists, business travelers – looking for the source of the voice.

“Geez, Zoificus, I know we haven’t been face-to-face in a couple of years, but I’d have thought you’d recognize me.”

“T’vek? Oh my god! T’vek!” I launched myself across the lobby to hug the man who had once been my boyfriend, and remained one of my best friends. “What are you doing here? Are you alone? Why didn’t you call and tell me you were coming?”

“Heyyy,” he laughed, hugging me back. “Breathe between questions, would you. You’re as bad as Commander – ”

“- Data. Yes, I know.” I looked away from him, and then back, flashing him my best insouciant smile. “It’s actually worse when we’re in the same room.”

He grinned. “Yeah, I bet. Is he here with you? For the holidays?”

I shook my head. “Detached duty. Temporary first officer of the Sovereign. But his assignment’s nearly done, and I only have four shows left and then…god, I’m sorry…I haven’t seen you in two years, and I’m complaining that my boyfriend isn’t with me for Christmas.”

“Hey,” he said. “Zoe, this is me. You’re allowed to complain to me.”

“Only so you can use it against me later,” I teased.

“Well,” he said wryly. “There is that. Come sit with me a minute?” I nodded and he led me to one of the conversation groupings in the lobby, one which was mercifully empty at this hour. “I’m here with Anjali, actually. I had a job here, and she came along.”

“That’s wonderful. I can’t wait to see her.” A news story I’d seen connected with some other information in my head. “Oh, wow! You’re Stevek Designs!” I had completely forgotten his real name.

“Guilty,” he said.

“I knew you’d opened your own architectural firm, but for some reason I kept parsing that as ‘Steve K.’ Tell your graphics guy to rethink that logo.”

“I’ll get right on that,” came his dry retort. “Anyway, Anj found out there was some controversial musical happening here, and thought we should get tickets to the winter extravaganza instead – ” I glared at him, as he’d probably expected me to. “- but then I remembered you mentioning you were in it the last time we talked. So we have tickets for tonight. Any chance you could join us for dinner before-hand?”

“Aw, I wish I could,” I said, meaning it. Anjali was a lovely woman, and we always got along well when we saw each other. “Weekends are brutal for me. Four shows in two days – we have a matinee today as well as the evening performance. Please tell me you got decent seats?”

“Row nine,” he answered. “I learned from the best.”

“Come back stage after,” I said. “I’ll leave your names with security. Maybe we could have a drink or something…but I don’t want to impose on your Christmas.”

“Neither of us actually celebrates it, Zoe,” he reminded me gently. “But I know it’s important to you. Drinks then, and maybe we could all do something tomorrow? You’re…dim, aren’t you?”

“That’s dark,” I corrected. “And that would be lovely, as long as your wife doesn’t mind an interloper.”

“Anj loves you, silly. We both do.”

“Back at you,” I said, “really. But I do have to run – I’m supposed to be doing an interview or something before call.” I stood up, kissing him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you, Tev. Give my love to Anjali.” I left the hotel, and made it to the theater just in time.


Our director was waiting for me when I entered the theater lobby, her white hair untwisted from its customary long braid, and pulled into a much more cosmopolitan style. “Cutting it close there, Zoe,” she said. “You do remember that FYE is doing a story on the show?”

“I remember,” I said. “Sorry if I scared you; I ran into an old friend in the lobby of the hotel.”

“You seem to have friends everywhere,” she observed. “It must be nice.”

From anyone else, it would have been a catty remark, but Rory Bowen was actually one of my closest friends. “I don’t exactly plan it,” I assured her, linking my arm through hers. “It just happens. Let’s get this over with, shall we?”

She smiled and patted my hand. “I’m just a little tense,” she said. “Protesters, press, divorce proceedings.”

“Divorce?” I asked. “I thought you and Gil had worked out your issues?”

“That was before he found out Harb was here.” She shook her head, “It’s nothing, really. Let’s do this, and we’ll talk between shows.”

I wanted to object, to give my friend the time she clearly needed, but the reporter was already approaching. “Hello,” he said, offering his hand to each of us in turn, though, I knew, he and Rory had a personal relationship that went back years. “Rory, it’s good to see you again.” He kissed her, after taking her hand, the way you kiss an old friend who is also an ex-lover. “Miss Harris -”

“It’s just Zoe, please.”

“Zoe, then. I’m Harb Culkin from For Your Entertainment.” I knew this, of course, but his introduction was probably automatic. “We’ve set up one of the café tables from your set, and the cameras are in position. We’re just going to ask you a few questions about yourself and the show. You’ve done interviews before.”

“Several, yes. Will Rory be participating as well, or Jimmy?” Jimmy Grimmaldi was a theatrical veteran, and played the emcee in our show.

“Nope. This one’s all about you.”

I hadn’t known that, but I tried to cover my surprise. “Oh, well then… Shall we begin?” I climbed the stairs to the stage and sat in one of the chairs.

Harb came to join me, and I saw the lights on the cameras switch from red to green. “Gentlebeings, we’re here with Zoe Harris, the young woman who’s been charming audiences with her fresh portrayal of Sally Bowles in the gritty musical Cabaret. Zoe, why this show?”

“Because they gave me the part,” I quipped, though I sobered instantly. “I think this show is extremely relevant. It expresses a lot of the same confusion and turmoil, and represents that same unsettledness, that many of us felt after the Battle of Sector 001 and the Dominion War.”

“It’s a pretty dark show.”

“It is,” I agreed. “But sometimes the darkness can be cathartic. And running through Cabaret – especially in the actual cabaret acts, there’s this sense that these people are whistling in the dark. I think we all do that. I think that makes it universal.”

“The original version, the twentieth century version, of the show, was set in Nazi Germany. This production is set on Cardassia-occupied Bajor. Do you agree with that choice?”

“Well, that’s really something our director, Rory Bowen, would be better at discussing, but, yes. Yes, I do.”

“Would you elaborate?”

“Sure.” I took a moment to find the right phrase. “Whether or not the analogy is completely accurate really isn’t the point. Nothing is ever a complete reflection of anything else. But, by setting our story on Bajor, at the beginning of the Cardassian occupation, rather than in Berlin at the dawn of the Third Reich, I think we’ve changed the context so that modern audiences will get more out of the play than just an evening’s entertainment.”

“Would it be bad if an evening’s entertainment was all they got?”

“Not at all. But it’s better if you’re entertained, but still come away from it with a new perspective or a new idea.”

“So, you think theater should be provocative?”

“I don’t think it’s a requirement, but it’s definitely an added bonus.”

“This play is definitely provoking reactions from certain segments of society. There were people protesting the show last night. Does that bother you?”

“Well, I think it’s a bit silly that they’re protesting a piece of fiction, but again, if it’s inspiring that sort of reaction, I think it means we’ve succeeded in making it relevant to a world in which we claim to have quashed racism and bigotry.”

Harb arched his eyebrows at me. “Are you accusing the Federation of being racist and bigoted?”

“The Federation as a whole? No. But there are still individuals, and even whole groups of people who hold to less enlightened points of view.”

“You have first-hand experience with bigotry, don’t you? After all, you’re romantically linked with the Federation’s only sentient android.”

I could feel the edge of anger welling up inside me, but I counted to five, and then ten, before I responded, too calmly. “No, I’m ‘romantically linked’ with Lieutenant Commander Data, a highly decorated line officer from Starfleet’s flagship who has saved or helped to save the Federation on more than one occasion. He happens to be an android. Just as you’re a Peabody-winning journalist who happens to be a Martian-born human.”

Harb gave me a sharp look, as if he’d been expecting me to blow up at him. “Fair enough,” he said, forcing a chuckle. “But you have dealt with bigotry.”

I nodded. “Yes, there’ve been a few incidents. Mostly it’s been fringe groups, or members of the Keep Earth Human League, and their major activities has been tabloid journalism and a few rude comments.”

“Does it bother you that people question your relationship?”

“Well, it’s not exactly sunshine and roses, but honestly, it bothers me more that they couldn’t come up with a name for their organization that involves a better acronym.” I snorted. “Honestly, ‘KEHL’ – what does that even mean?”

Harb laughed at that. “So your main beef with them is a bad marketing plan?”

“Well, not my main beef. But it’s a thing.”

“Do you have any reason to believe that KEHL and the people protesting here are at all connected?”

I gave him a quizzical look. “Well, I’m an actor, not an investigator, but I think it’s doubtful. On the other hand, stranger things have happened. Either way, it’s making people more aware of this show, and from what I’ve heard, ticket sales are booming, so if their aim is to hurt us – epic failure.”

“You seem remarkably unfazed by both the controversy and the spotlight you’re in.”

I shrugged. “You play the hand you’re dealt,” I said. “I’d prefer to have people coming out because I’m doing – because we’re doing – good work. On the other hand, there’s an old saying: ‘if they’re shooting at you, you know you’re doing something right.'”

“Thank you Zoe,” Harb said, and then added, “Cabaret is playing that the Atrium Theater in Erehwon’s New Paradise City through Friday, December 29th or Stardate 54994.06.”

We stayed seated until the camera lights turned red again, and then he grinned at me, “Great interview, Zoe. I thought I almost had you when I mentioned your relationship with Commander Data.”

“You almost did,” I confessed softly. “Thanks for not asking about wedding dates, or anything.”

He grinned, “Well, now that you’ve brought it up…”

I laughed, “No, Harb. Even with someone I mostly trust, I am not going to discuss the details of my personal relationship. But I will tell Data you asked after him.”

“You two should consider doing a joint interview,” he suggested. “It would be good for your career, and it might even quell some of your detractors.”

“I don’t live my life to make racist bigots happy,” I said. “But I’ll consider it – we’ll consider it.” I stood up. “It’s my call time. When will this air?”

“In about an hour, actually.”

“Can I get a copy of the broadcast file?”

“I’ll have it sent to you.”

“Thanks, Harb.” I left him on the stage, and headed for my dressing room.


“Okay, so what’s going on with Gil?” I asked Rory. We were in my dressing room sharing a tray of sushi and a pot of green tea between the matinee and the evening performance. “How bad are things, really?”

“You shouldn’t worry about it,” she insisted. “Just focus on your performance tonight.”

“How many times have you been there for me when I was whining and pathetic about missing Data?” I asked. “I’m your friend; talk to me.”

“We were going to see a counselor,” she said. “I thought we were working toward reconciliation. Now he’s saying he wants to go forward with the divorce, and he wants a good chunk of my assets.”

“Oh, Rory…” I nabbed the last piece of unagi. “What does your lawyer say?”

“She says I should face facts and do the most expedient thing…but I’m not ready to do that.”

I reached out and covered her hand with mine. “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” I said. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do?”

“You’ve already ‘done,'” she said. “By the way, you were amazing this afternoon. Did Harb say something to give you that edge of anger?”

I sighed. “He brought up KEHL and my relationship with Data. But,” and I smiled triumphantly, “even though it took counting to ten in my head, I kept my cool on-air.”

“Of course you did. Oh, did I tell you that the issue with the barbed wire was just an accident?”


“The tech misread the dial, apparently. We’ve given him a new handheld torch; that should help. I’ve also asked Trin to check the setting before the finale starts.” She began collecting plates and chopsticks.

“An extra pair of eyes is never bad,” I agreed, shoving empty take-out containers back into their bag. “I need to lie down for a bit until my next call,” I said. “Thanks for dinner. Tell Harb I thought he was really fair.”

In the mirror, I caught a glimpse of Rory’s troubled expression, just before she left me alone.


T’vek and Anjali were already seated at a table – a half booth, really – in the hotel bar when I joined them, but they stood up to greet me. It was almost midnight, almost Christmas, but if I couldn’t spend it with the man I loved, at least I was spending it with friends. “Tev,” I said, hugging him again. “Anjali, it’s great to see you.”

Anjali Mairaj – formerly Anjali Gol’tresshal – pulled me into a warm embrace. “Zoe! You were amazing tonight.”

“Better than the winter extravaganza?” I teased.

Her laugh was as musical as ever, and her green eyes lit up with her amusement. “I told Tev not to tell you that. I should have known he would. But yes, better. Darker, though.”

“It is that,” I agreed. “But I’m really glad you came, even so.” They resumed their seats on the upholstered bench and I settled into the chair opposite them. “Have you already ordered?”

“We were waiting for you,” T’vek said. “Do you want anything more substantial than just drinks? The bar menu looks fairly extensive.”

“Actually,” I said, “they have a brownie on their dessert menu that’s to die for…and it’s been a medicinal chocolate kind of day.”

T’vek caught the eye of the server, and we placed our order: red wine and the brownie for me, a local micro-brew beer and a cheesy snack for him, and Anjali asked for mint tea and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which seemed odd, but I’d been known to order stranger things at later hours, so I didn’t comment.

Instead, I told them about how it had been almost four months since Data and I had seen each other, and how the separation was beginning to wear on me. I told them about the protesters, and the interview, and Harb’s questions about Data. I even mentioned a little about trying to find the strength to be a source of support for the director who was also my friend.

T’vek took it all in the way he always had, listening, and then mentally chewing on what I’d said. His dark eyes didn’t flicker the way Data’s did, but in some ways the two of them were very similar, and I knew he would offer something useful before the night was over.

By contrast, Anjali responded by offering me the emotional support I really needed. She reached across the table and covered my hands with her own. “Oh, Zoe. I can see why chocolate was needed. You’re coping with a lot. Does Data know about the interview?”

“Yes and no. He knew it was on my schedule.”

“But he hasn’t seen it?”

“Not as far as I know. I’m getting a copy to keep, though.”

“Good. You should send it to him directly, by the way. So he knows what you said.”

I nodded. “Yeah,” I said softly. “You’re probably right.”

The server interrupted us at that point, to take away our empty glasses and plates and offer refills. I asked for a cognac, wanting to take a bit more of the edge off the evening, and T’vek did the same. Anjali asked for sparkling water. When she drew her hands from mine and sat back against the seat of the booth, I saw something flicker in her face, and took a hard look at her. Her dark hair was as lustrous as ever (and how I envied her for it!), but there was a new softness in her face, and she carried herself as if were protecting something. The dots in my head formed a picture, and I couldn’t stop staring.

“Zoe,” she asked me, “are you alright?”

“You’re pregnant,” I blurted. “Oh my god, you’re pregnant, and you let me sit here and babble at you for two hours without telling me!”

She burst out laughing. “I thought T’vek had told you that, too, since he mentioned everything else.”

“Sitting right here you know,” he snarked, rejoining our conversation. He kissed her on the cheek then turned back to me. “Sorry, Zoe. I did mean to tell you, but then we got sidetracked.”

“It’s fine,” I said. “More than. Oh, god, I’m so happy for you. For both of you. I’d better get to be an honorary auntie.”

“Of course you will,” Anjali said. She yawned, then. “I’m sorry, but I think I’ve reached my pumpkin hour.”

“It is pretty late,” I said. The servers had done last call five or ten minutes before. “Thanks, Anjali. You were very helpful.”

“It’s the least I can do for the auntie of my future son or daughter,” she said. “Tev’s going to walk me back to our room, and then I’m sending him to you. I can tell you both want to talk more.”

“It can wait ’til tomorrow…” I said.

She rose to her feet. “Perhaps it can,” she replied. “But I’m quite certain it should not.”


Alone in my hotel room, I found that Harb had already sent the file, with a note asking me to ‘strongly consider’ a joint interview. I thought about Anjali’s recommendation that I send it to Data, but decided that doing so could wait. Instead, I took a few minutes to scrub the remaining makeup from my face and change into more comfortable clothing. I was curled up on the couch with chamomile tea and a book, too wired to sleep, but not really focused enough to read, when T’vek activated the signal of my door. “Come in,” I called, and he did. “Hey. I was half expecting you to call and cancel.”

“Naah. I’m nocturnal, and Anj really does want us to talk. Nice shirt. Did you get recruited and not tell me?”

“What?” I looked down at what I was wearing – a comfortably worn uniform shirt I’d stolen from Data. The first time I’d warn it was in his quarters, and his response had been to ensure there was no trace of rank insignia, before stripping it off me. I blushed faintly, remembering. “Oh. This old thing? I might have stolen it from the recycle-pile when the new uniform design came out.” I felt him looking at me and added, “It’s comfortable.”

“And you miss Data.” It wasn’t a question. “Anj has this old sweatshirt of mine she always wears when I’m not home. Does that actually help?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Surprisingly a lot.” I put the book aside, and moved more into the corner of the couch. “I sense a lecture coming on,” I teased lightly. “You may as well sit.”

“A lecture?” He arched one of his eyebrows at me. “Zoe, please. I do not lecture. I merely advise. Firmly.”

I laughed at that. “Oh, really? Well then, oh mighty Oracle, what do you advise?”

He gave me his best wicked grin as he took a seat at the other end of the couch. “You should definitely listen to everything your friend T’vek says, and follow his instructions,” he teased. “Also? Tell Data exactly how much you miss him.”

“No,” I said. “If I do that, he’s likely to break off his mission and come running out of sheer worry. I miss him horribly, and I do want him here, but…not like that. If I had a legitimate reason to get him here, it’d be different. But…” I let the sentence trail off.

“Yeah,” he said. “I figured.” He was quiet for nearly a minute, starting to speak and then stopping himself several times. Finally he said, “Okay, Zoe, here’s the thing, we’ve been friends for years, and I probably know you better than almost anyone.”

“That’s probably true,” I allowed.

“When I met Anj, you were the one who made me realize she was my forever person.”

“And your point is?”

“You’ve been in love with Data almost as long as I’ve known you…”

“That’s not true,” I said. “Well, not entirely true. I mean…you and me, back then…that was real.”

“I know,” he said with the complete serenity of someone who had no more unresolved issues in their romantic life. “I do know that,” he said, leveling the full force of his half-Vulcan/half-Betazoid gaze at me. “But whenever it happened Data’s your forever person.”

His expression dared me to deny it. I couldn’t. “Yes,” I agreed. “He is. Still not hearing points being made.”

“Give me a minute,” he said. “I’m out of practice. Anjali is usually the one lecturing me.”

“As it should be,” I said, snorting.



“Okay, I’m just going to ask you: why aren’t you and Data married? I know he wants to be. What’s holding you back?”

“You know he wants to…how do you even know that?”

“He told me, of course.” His tone rode the edge between nonchalant and smug.

If there had been throw pillows on the couch, I’d have pummeled him with one. “He told you? He told you?”

T’vek nodded. “He did. At my wedding. I don’t think he meant to, exactly. You were dancing with Geordi, and we were both watching you. But how I know really isn’t important.”

“It’s not?”

“No, it’s not.” He reached for my hand, and I met him half way. “How long have we known each other? Don’t we tell each other everything?” He waited for my nod. “So, tell me: what’s got you spooked, Zo’?”

“I don’t want to be a Starfleet widow,” I said, just as I’d told Data himself several months before.

“Bullshit,” T’vek said. “If that was really what was scaring you, you’d have left him after the Borg.” His gaze this time was frank and appraising. “C’mon, Zoe, this is me. This is us. We’ve never lied to each other, even when we maybe should have.” He gave me an evil look and then glanced pointedly at my bare feet. “I’ll tickle you if I have to.”

“Don’t you dare!” I said.

“Then answer the question.”

“Okay.” I was silent for a long while, but my friend was patient with me. “Partly it is that I don’t want to be a Starfleet widow,” I said. “And partly it’s because when we have these long separations, I’m half-convinced he’ll find someone better.” He made a noise of disagreement, but I just continued. “And partly – probably mostly – it’s because whenever I find out a friend is having a baby – Dana is pregnant with her second, by the way – I realize that as long as I’m with him, I’m never going to have that experience.”

“Wait – Zoe Harris is upset at the prospect of not having kids? Who’d have thought?” But his teasing was light, and his tone shifted back to one of friendly concern almost immediately. “Have you told Data this?”


“Do you actually want children?”

“Scary notion, isn’t it?” My laugh was soft and non-committal. “I never thought I wanted kids, but I’m in a relationship with a man who would be an awesome father, if only he could, you know, actually procreate. And I…I really want to have that experience with him.”

“Since when does he have to be fertile? Or even organic? Zoe, you of all people should know better than to think what he is institutes automatic restrictions. You know there are tons of ways to become a parent. You could adopt. He could build an android child. You could go to a sperm bank and do artificial insemination…” He let the sentence die, and just sat with me, still holding my hand, for a long moment. Then he said, “I’m betting you’re realizing about now just how obtuse you’ve been.”

“Kind of,” I said sheepishly. “Yeah.”

“Have the two of you really never discussed kids?”

I laughed. “Hi, have you met me? Avoidance and evasion are my specialties.” The words came out with more bitterness than I’d intended. “Sorry,” I said. “I have no filter when I’m tired.”

“I remember,” he teased, wiggling his eyebrows at me.

“We had a fight. Well, not a fight-fight, because, you know, Data can be stubborn, but he’s not one to allow stupid arguments.”

“Right,” T’vek snorted. “Data can be stubborn.”

“Do you want to hear my confession, Tev, or do you want me to tell your wife you failed in your assignment.”

“What makes you think this was Anjali’s idea?”

“Because I know you better than pretty much everyone, too.” I took a deep breath. “Anyway, it was when I was doing a play in New York, and he’d been at the opening, and then we did some other snooty social events and there was press.”

“I vaguely recall someone whinging to me over a com-call about that.”

“Yeah, well. I was complaining about the word ‘partner,’ and he brought up that the solution would be to just get married.”

“Wait, he proposed and you turned him down?”

“No!” All my anguish and frustration was in that word. More calmly I repeated, “No. Do you really think I’d have the nerve to refuse him?” I sighed. “I didn’t let him propose. But I did agree to consider it. And discuss it. And then he was sent to the Sovereign and I was asked to do this show – and I love the show, I really do – it’s just – it was supposed to be six weeks, and now it’s been double that. More if you count rehearsal time.”

He squeezed my hand. “Zoe, I can’t pretend to know how your relationship with Data works, but I know you, and I know him, and I know that he’d move every star in the galaxy if that’s what it took to make you happy.”

“So I should call him and say, ‘okay, let’s talk marriage?'”

“No, you should call him and tell him you love him and you’ve been completely daft. Then you tell him you want to marry him and have lots of sex and babies, for whatever value of ‘baby’ you both agree to.”

His phrasing made me smile, and his support improved my mood, and I couldn’t let him have the last word, so I grinned evilly. “Oh, please,” I said. “We’re already having lots of sex.”

“God, Zoe, so didn’t need to know that!” He pulled his hand from mine, but he was laughing. “Call him,” he said. “Don’t wait. If he’s busy, schedule a time. And call Anj and me in the morning. Well, maybe more like noon.”

“Okay, okay.” I stood up to walk him to the door, and hugged him hard.

He kissed me on the forehead. “Love you, Zoe…say hi to Data for me.”

“Oh, I will.”

And he left.

I waited a beat, stuck my tea mug in the return slot of the replicator, and then perched on the edge of the desk chair to start my call. “Outgoing,” I instructed it, “call to Lieutenant Commander Data aboard U.S.S. Sovereign.

There was a delay, and then the image of the Sovereign‘s communications officer filled the screen. “Miss Harris,” he greeted, “Commander Data is in with the Captain. Would you like to leave a message?”

“Can you transfer me to the message system in his quarters?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I flinched at the use of ma’am. I was so not old enough to be a ma’am, but I was also fairly certain such terms were encoded in the DNA of those destined to be Starfleet officers. “Thank you.” There was another pause, and then I had the menu for leaving a private video message.

“Hey, Data,” I said, looking straight into the camera on my system. “Sorry to bug you while you’re on duty, but it’s four in the morning here, and if I don’t do this now I won’t sleep. There were protesters again tonight, but it’s no big thing. I’m attaching a file of the interview I did…you were mentioned, so I thought you shouldn’t wait to see.”

I thought about ending my message there, but the heavy truths T’vek and I had talked about had made me see my own stupidity. “You know that point I agreed to consider and discuss?” I hesitated, searching for the perfect words, and then realized that for Data, anything I said would be perfect in the moment. “I think we should embrace words like fiancée.”

I let that hang there for a minute, but I could feel a smile spreading across my face. “I love you,” I said. “I miss you. Call me when you can.” I used the manual controls to encrypt and send the message, and then went to bed.


Friday, December 29th, 2377

6:00 PM Local Time

I walked into my dressing room for the last performance of Cabaret to find a bouquet of Turkalian irises waiting for me. Someone had taken the liberty of putting water in the vase, but the card was still sealed. I opened it, expecting a digital message. Instead, in precise, slightly angular handwriting, I saw the words, “I know it is customary to wish that you ‘break a leg,’ but I find I cannot. Instead, just know that I love you, and will be with you soon. Data.” It seemed somehow odd that I didn’t recognize his handwriting, but then, how often did anyone even use pen and ink anymore?

I wasn’t certain how he had managed to arrive almost a day ahead of schedule, and I resisted the urge to peek out into the house and find out where he was sitting. I forced myself to go through my usual pre-performance routine, drinking water, using the restroom, doing my hair and make-up. At the last minute, I decided I needed a talisman, and since the theatrical mask pendant he’d given me years ago couldn’t be part of my Sally Bowles costume, I tucked his card into my bra.

Maybe it was because the whole town knew this was our last performance, or maybe it was because the new year was just a couple of days away, or maybe it was just that the cast was ready to move on to new projects, but our performance felt electric. Jimmy added some ad-libs to his opening number that had the entire house either laughing or gasping in shock – often both – and when Aurora and Niles did their number about marriage, even I got teary. It wasn’t surprising, then, that we finished our run with a standing ovation, though it was a bit beyond the norm to have three curtain calls.

Backstage, champagne corks were popping almost before the house had emptied. “Zoe, great show tonight,” Rory enthused. “Did I see your partner earlier?”

“If you did, that makes one of us,” I said.

“Oh, honey, that Starfleet officer of yours? I totally let him into your dressing room earlier. Here, take this, go find him and get out of here.” Jimmy hugged me and thrust a bottle of champagne into my hands. “We love you, but I know you’ve been missing him.”

I took the bottle, and gave one-armed hugs to everyone on the way back to my dressing room. Data was already there, looking at all the different pictures I’d stuck on the perimeter of my mirror – a theater tradition most of us followed. “Hey,” I said softly, stepping all the way into the room, and closing the door behind me. “I thought you weren’t going to be here ’til tomorrow.”

“Captain Gupta agreed with my assessment that my assignment was complete,” he said. “I was not certain I would be able to be here in time for this evening’s performance, and arrived just before the theater opened. Rory managed to find a ticket for me. Are the flowers acceptable?”

I left the champagne on the counter and crossed the room to hug him. “The flowers are a lovely surprise,” I said. “I kept the card with me on stage tonight.” His arms came around me and we kissed, but then I pulled back a little and rested my head against his chest. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“I am glad to be here, as well,” he said into my hair, still holding me. “I am sorry we have had to spend the last week playing ‘message tag.'”

“Me, too,” I said, looking up at him. “But I’m pretty sure the fact that you’re standing here means that I won.” I stayed there, in his embrace for a few seconds, before asking, much more wistfully than I meant to, “Can we go home now?”

“If you do not wish to rejoin the party, I will escort you back to your hotel.”

“No,” I said. “I mean, yes, I’d like to shower, but…I was expecting you early tomorrow anyway, and except for a few things here and some odds and ends at the hotel, I’m pretty much packed. Can we just…go home? We have a lot to talk about and I’d really like to do it at home, with tea, and Spot to cuddle, and…I miss sleeping in our bed.”

“Spot,” he repeated. “Our bed…you are referring to the Enterprise.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement, one laced with happiness.

I nodded. “Well, I guess the farm is also home.” I’d actually inherited it from my grandmother after her death. “But all the really big shifts in our relationship have happened on the ship, and I’d really like to be there, with you, when the year turns. Do you mind? I know it’s more travel, sooner.”

“No,” Data said. “I do not mind.”


The beauty of starships is that they move around. Living on one, especially on one the size of the Enterprise, you tended to think of it more as a sort of place than a vehicle, but the reality is that the ship moved, and when Data checked in to confirm our travel plans, we found that it was considerably closer than even he had anticipated. Instead of taking the better part of two days in the shuttle, our trip home would only take about seven hours.

By unspoken mutual agreement, we did not use those seven hours to discuss our relationship or the prospect of appearing in a joint interview. Instead, I sat in the cockpit with him, and we just chatted. I caught him up on the news from home, and from those of my friends that he had known, and he told me more about his time on the Sovereign, and when we needed a break from that, there was lunch (black bean soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – a combination even the basic replicator on the shuttle could manage fairly well), and then I pulled out my padd and started reading the scripts I’d been sent to look at, sometimes reading sections out loud to see if I liked the way the words felt.

Finally, though, we arrived in the docking bay of the great ship, and exited the shuttle to a welcoming committee that included the Captain himself, as well as Geordi, Deanna, and Will, the latter of whom pulled me into a brotherly bear hug. “We saw you on FYE the other night. You’ve become quite the celebrity,” he teased. “I’m glad you’re still willing to come spend time with us little people.”

I laughed with him, but was quick to counter with, “I’m not a celebrity, I just play one on the news sometimes.” The truth was that the press interest in me had been growing steadily over the past couple of years, and as much as I pretended otherwise, it made me a little uncomfortable. Embarrassed, I pulled away from him.

“Zoe, I’m glad you’re back,” Deanna had welcomed Data home with a warm hug, and now she came to do the same to me. “Everything okay?” she whispered softly. “You’ve lost weight.”

“Talk tomorrow?” I asked. “Maybe over coffee? Except for the shuttle ride, Data and I haven’t actually spent any alone-time.” She nodded and I raised my voice to ask, “Wow, does Data always get this kind of welcome home, or is this just for me? I mean, it’s not like we eloped or anything.”

“Oh, greeting returning officers with hugs is an Enterprise tradition,” came the dry response from Picard. I turned away from Dee to meet his gaze, finding only bemused affection in his steely eyes. “Welcome home, Zoe.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said, and we did embrace, though it was quick and perfunctory. “I’m sorry you never made it to my show, but it was thoughtful of you to send flowers for the opening. They brightened my hotel room a lot.”

“I’m sorry to have missed it,” he said amiably. “Mr. Data says there may be video?”

“We usually record at least one performance for archival purposes. I could probably hook you up with a copy if you’d like.”

“Please do.”

Data stepped away from his conversation with Geordi, who also came to get a hug. Then, turning to me, he said, “I will escort you to our quarters, but I must make my report to the Captain before I can remain there with you for any length of time.”

“It’s fine,” I said. “Really. I’d like to call my parents if I can, and just let them know we arrived safely, but otherwise, I think a nap is calling my name. Do what you need to do. Home equals routine.” It was short-hand for something we both sometimes had difficulty with: treating my stays on the Enterprise or his at the farm, or the apartment in San Francisco, or whatever hotel room I was in as normal life, and not a vacation.

“Agreed,” he said. But he still insisted on steering the antigrav sled that held all our luggage (mostly mine) down the corridors.

Geordi came with us, having first ensured that he wasn’t intruding. “It’s good to have you back with us, Zoe,” he said. “Data’s not the only one who misses you when you’re off being famous.”

“Oh, god, I am so not famous,” I protested. “Actually the two of you are more famous than I am; you’re just never in situations where you have to confront your fame.” I was walking between them, partly because it would keep them from falling into engineer-chat. “I did a couple of interviews. I’ve been doing interviews half my life. Ask my father sometime…I think he’s got home movies of a talk-show we did when I was seven. ‘The home life of the hottest conductor in the galaxy’ or some such. I had no front teeth and they made me wear this pink, ruffled, flouncy thing that still gives me nightmares. It was super-fun.”

He gave me a measuring look, which was somehow more intimidating with his optical implants than it would have been with his VISOR. “You don’t want to be a celebrity?”

I shook my head. “I can’t deny that a little bit of notoriety is helpful in opening doors, but I’d rather be known for being good at what I do.” I hesitated. “You’re awfully silent over there, Data,” I observed after a few beats. But I turned back to Geordi, asking, “Do you think I don’t know that at least half the opportunities I get are because I’m my father’s daughter or Data’s…?” I trailed off. We still didn’t have a word for us that I liked.

“Fiancée.” He finished the sentence for me.

“What?” Geordi and I said it together, but in distinctly different tones.

“We have not yet had time for me to officially present an engagement ring,” Data explained as we reached the door to our quarters. “And we have many details to…negotiate…but Zoe has agreed to marry me. May we ask that you refrain from telling anyone yet?”

Data navigated the sled through the door, and I followed, but Geordi was still in the corridor, as if frozen.

“Engaged? The two of you? Finally?”

It wasn’t the way I’d wanted to be proposed to, really, nor, I’m sure, was it the way Data wanted to do it. He was totally the down-on-one-knee type. But I had agreed to marry him, even if it was by message, and I really didn’t need a ring. “Oh, please,” I said, catching Data’s hand and tugging him inside. “It’s not like there was ever any serious doubt. Geordi, would you let the captain know that Data will be a bit…delayed?”

I let a laughing Geordi LaForge respond in the affirmative before stepping out of the way of the door so it would close. After it did, I turned to face Data, caught between laughter and tears. “I love you,” I said. “I should be royally pissed at you for just blurting things like that, though.”

“But you did agree,” he pointed out.

“I agreed to a proposal you haven’t actually made,” I countered. “Unless you want me to propose to you? I’m not the traditionalist here, and I don’t expect you to go ring shopping, but…”

“I have already secured a ring.” His interruption may have been quiet, but it got my attention.

“What? When?” I backed away from him until I ran into the couch, and then I sat down, stunned.

He crossed the room to the drawer where some of his keepsakes were stored, and removed a small blue box. Turning back to me, he asked, “Do you recall our visit to Atrea IV last year?”

“I remember,” I said. “I don’t recall you sneaking out to go shopping at any point, though. You and Pran were pretty absorbed in that project of his.”

He opened his mouth to answer me, but the com-system came to life, “Picard to Commander Data.”

“Data here,” he answered. “Go ahead, Captain.”

“Mr. Data, I’ve been reminded that you and Ms. Harris typically celebrate the turning of the year as a personal holiday. As you are technically on detached assignment through the first of the year, I will have to insist that you hold your report to me until your scheduled return date. We will process your return to duty after the holiday.”

“Aye, Captain,” he said. “Thank you, sir. Data out.”

“Geordi arranged that, I’m betting.”

“I believe you are correct. I will have to speak to him about such matters -”

“Data…” I gave him a look that clearly meant, ‘Focus.’

“Forgive me. As I was about to explain, I did not ‘go shopping.’ Before we left, my mother gave me the engagement ring she received from my father, along with the instruction to ‘give it to Zoe when the time is right.'”

“I’ve seen that ring,” I said. Juliana had taken pity on me when the science-y stuff had threatened to overwhelm what should have been a pleasant visit, and we’d spent a lovely afternoon in her bedroom going through her jewelry box. She had an amazing collection of vintage pieces, and I’d found a few of them stashed in my luggage when we left – with a note thanking me for loving her son. “It’s an antique,” I added. “And it’s exquisite.”

“I am gratified that you think so.” He did not kneel, after all, but put the box on the coffee table and sat with me on the couch, taking both my hands in his. “More than once when I have attempted to bring up the subject of marriage, you have evaded the discussion, or given me a reason why you do not wish to make our relationship…official. While I am relieved that you have ‘changed your mind,’ I would like to know why.”

“It’s not that important,” I began, but he cut me off.

“Zoe, please tell me.” His eyes were wide, and fixed on my face. Very softly he added, “I need to know.”

I nodded. “When T’vek and Anjali came to see my show, we went out for drinks. Anj went to bed early, and sent Tev to lecture me on the care and feeding of androids.”

“I do not understand.”

“He asked why we weren’t already married, and when I told him he hit me with a clue-by-four and said I was being obtuse, and that if I didn’t talk to you about the real, well, not real, but the deeper reason I’d been avoiding the issue he’d do it for me.”

“Ah.” I hadn’t heard him make that sound in a very long time. “When should I expect his call?” His smirk was priceless, and perfect.

“Data!” If my hands had been free I’d have hit him with a pillow, just to make a point. “We’ve discussed almost everything we need to,” I said. “We’ve talked about my career and your career, we’ve pretty much figured out how to have two homes, and yeah, the distance and separations get hard, but I know that they’re not really changing what either of us feels.”

“You are still evading the real issue,” he said. He was rubbing his thumbs over the backs of my hands as we talked, and it was calming in one way and more than a little bit distracting in others. “You have stated that you do not wish to be a ‘Starfleet widow,’ but I suspect if that were truly an issue, we would not be here, now.”

“No,” I agreed softly. “We wouldn’t. Look, it’s stupid. It’s just…Dana is pregnant with her second child. Anj and Tev just found out that Anj is pregnant. I was convinced that marrying you would mean never being a mother, myself, and then I realized we’d never even discussed children. Do you even want to be a father again?”

“You know I cannot ‘father’ children,” he stated, tightening his hands around mine, though he loosened them just as quickly.

“I’ve been reminded that there are numerous ways to have a baby,” I paraphrased T’vek’s line, “‘for whatever value of ‘baby’ you and I deem appropriate.'” I watched his face as the thought penetrated his positronic brain. His eyes didn’t quite flicker the way they used to, but if you knew – as I did – what to look for, you could see that he was focused more inward than outward.

“Adoption,” he said. “Artificial insemination with donor sperm. In vitro fertilization. Black market sources…”

“You are not suggesting we buy a Dominion War orphan?” I’d heard the stories on the news.

“No,” he said quickly.

“You left out building one,” I said gently. “Well, not an actual baby, obviously, but you told me once that you wanted to try that again someday.”

“You would accept an android child?” He seemed both surprised and pleased by that notion.

“I would love your child, Data. Though, I would have a couple of requests if we went that route.”

He cocked his head, suddenly more interested, as if the notion was no longer theoretical. “Tell me.”

“You told me that you allowed Lal to select her own gender and appearance, but you never had that option, and organic children certainly don’t. There’s very little – if anything – I can contribute to the creation or upbringing of an android child. I’d be just an annoying human presence you and he or she would have to accommodate. I could learn to deal with that, but I’d prefer to figure out a way to be part of the process. At least, I’d like to be able to look at our child and see something of myself reflected. It’s actually the only way to have a child that reflects both of us.”

“That is a reasonable request,” Data said. “Though I believe you are underestimating your ability to contribute. You have met my mother. Even had she not been my father’s associate, I believe her input into social behavior and other, less specific elements of my…being…would have been invaluable.” He gave me a look that was one part reproach, one part wistfulness, and one part…something else. “Even androids benefit from someone with a ‘maternal instinct’ being there to guide them.”

I smiled softly. “Your mother told me that she’d lobbied for making you female. Selfishly, I’m glad she didn’t, but personally, I’ve often thought you would have benefitted from having a little sister to needle you.” I hesitated. “I don’t want us to have strings of children – I think it’s socially irresponsible, for one thing – but two feels right. One built…and one born? I mean, obviously we don’t have to decide it all tonight…but…”

“But it would be a reasonable balance.” As if he’d just realized he’d never answered my original question, he said very softly. “You would not let me adequately broach the subject of marriage so I chose not to address the possibility of creating a family together. It is something I very much wish to do. However, I am not certain I am ‘ready’ to embark on the creation of a new ‘built’ child just yet. I will gladly begin researching our options for artificial insemination, if you wish.”

I laughed softly. “Give the man a project…” but I added more seriously, “oh, I wish. I very much wish. But Data, you and me? We’re already a family.”

“Indubitably,” he said softly, and then, with a bit of nervousness in his tone, “Is there anything else holding you back?”

I laughed, teasing him just a little. “Well there’s the whole name-thing.”

“I assumed you would keep your name, at least professionally. The name ‘Zoe Harris’ is more widely known than I believe you realize. Also, I have no last name to give you.”

“I’ve always wondered why you never used ‘Soong’ once you actually met him.” I shrugged and let that pass. “The whole taking-your-husband’s-name thing is becoming an outdated tradition, but – ” and I gave him my sauciest smile ” – you know, you could always take my last name. ‘Data Harris’ has kind of a nice ring to it, and you could still be, you know, you professionally.”

“I will consider your suggestion,” he said lightly. He let go of my hands, and slid to his knee on the floor. “Speaking of rings,” he said, “you are correct in that we do not ‘need’ to be married. Our commitment to each other is already undeniable. However,” and he swallowed reflexively, “this is not about ‘need;’ it is about ‘want.’ I want the legal recognition of our status and the formal agreement that our lives are entwined.” He reached for the box, opened it, and took out the ring his mother had once worn. “I want to experience parenthood and family togetherness with you.” He held the ring to the light so I could see it properly. “I want you to wear this ring as a token of that commitment, and of our love for each other. I want to be your husband and for you to be my wife. Will you?”

Even after dancing around the issue for more than a year, let alone the conversation we’d just had – even with the knowledge that at least two people knew we were already (technically) engaged, I found myself breathless. Finally, I said, “Yes. Oh, god, yes. Yes, so much.”

He slipped the ring onto my left ring-finger, and I noted that it fit perfectly. He’d even found time to resize it. “Zoe,” he began, but I shushed him with a kiss, and my hands on the sides of his face.

“No more talking,” I said against his lips. “I love you, but no more talking. Just…take me to our bed.”


I woke up in bed hours later, rolling over and into Data. “You’re still here,” I observed, ever-so-brilliantly. “Is something wrong?”

Computer-glow revealed the shimmer of a nearly invisible optical cable attached to a port in his head. “I wished to remain near you,” he said, the words speaking volumes.

I was lying on my right side, so I lifted my left hand to touch him, catching the flicker of light from my ring. “I like it when you work in bed,” I said. “But you know I don’t expect it, right? I mean, honestly, one of the benefits of being with you is that most of the time, I get the whole bed to myself.”

“And I thought you loved me for my magnetic personality.” It was one of his worst puns, but it always made me smile anyway.

“Among other things,” I said. I traced his eyebrow with the tip of my finger, then did the same with his lips. “As long as you’re plugged in, would you mind sending messages to both my sets of parents – I never did that last night – and one to Deanna scheduling a coffee-date?” The first time I’d asked him to do such a thing I’d felt weird and awkward, until he’d finally hit upon the analogy that made it better, comparing it to asking someone headed to the kitchen to get something ‘while you are up.’ I still didn’t ask often, but at least I knew he truly didn’t mind.

“It is done,” he told me a few seconds later.

“Handy, that.” I said. “Thank you.” I nestled closer to him, resting my head against his left shoulder. “I’ve missed this,” I said softly. “Lying with you, dozing while you work. I mean, the sex is nice, too…” I trailed off, not sure where to go with my thought.

“I understand,” came Data’s equally quiet words. “I, too, find a particular contentment in these moments.” I heard the subtle click of the cable being unplugged, the nearly inaudible whir of his hair sliding back into place. He lifted his free arm and caressed my shoulder, my hip. Then he found my hand and twined his fingers with mine.

“You know, it wasn’t just T’vek’s conversation that made me realize I was ready for official commitments,” I told him. “It was seeing you on the screen in command red.”

“You have seen me in ‘command’ colors before.”

“Yeah, but I had this flash of you becoming Captain Data someday, and I realized I wanted to be there for it.”

“I am not certain I am meant to command others in that way,” he confessed. “But if I were to attain that rank, I would want you to ‘be there.'”

Pleasantly muzzy, I merely nestled closer to him. “Sleepy,” I said, half-yawning. “Love you.”

“I love you, also,” he said. “Please sleep. Tonight, I am not going anywhere.” I felt him kiss the top of my head, felt his hand release mine and find a resting place on my hip, and after that, I felt nothing but the bliss of sleep.


Stardate 54998.34

(31 December 2377, 9:30 AM)

U.S.S. Enterprise

The Happy Bottom Riding Club, formerly known as Ten-Forward, was fairly empty when I arrived to meet Deanna Troi for our coffee date. She was dressed in off-duty clothes, a burgundy jumpsuit I’d seen her wear more than once, and her hair was down. Beverly Crusher was sitting with her, in uniform, but with a casual posture: one leg bent against her chest with her foot on the chair.

I had originally wanted to be subtle, to see if they would notice my newly adorned ring-finger, but suddenly I wasn’t in the mood for game-playing. I joined them at their table, singing softly as I took my seat, “Today I met the boy I’m gonna marry. He’s all I wanted all my life, and even more. He smiled at me, and the music started playing ‘Here Comes the Bride’ as he walked through the door.”

Deanna grinned at me, reaching out a hand to squeeze mine, rather than getting up for a hug. “It’s good to hear you singing, Zoe. What’s got into you?”

“I think you mean who,” Beverly deadpanned. Once you were within her inner circle of friends, she could be surprisingly bawdy.

“Mmm, good point.”

“You two are bad, bad people,” I said, laughing. “To think they let you treat patients!” I waited a beat after teasing them, then added, falling into the pattern of a word-game I’d often played with my mother, “I’m thinking about words that start with the letter ‘f.’ Family…forever…” I made a show of using my left hand to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. “Fiancé.”

“Finally! Data finally proposed to you!” Deanna blurted happily. “He didn’t tell us, or we’d have planned something special.”

“He didn’t tell anyone,” I explained. “T’vek and his wife were on Erehwon, and came to my show. Afterward, I got a sort of come-to-Surak lecture.”

“But he did propose,” Beverly said. “Come on, let’s see that ring properly.” She smiled at me, as well, lowering her leg, so she could lean forward. I put my left hand in the center of the table. “Oh, Zoe, that’s lovely.”

“It looks old,” Deanna observed.

I lifted my hand so she could get a better view, and explained, “It’s an antique. When we visited Juliana and Pran a while ago, she showed it to me – it was the engagement ring she got from Noonien Soong – and apparently she slipped it to Data before we left. I think she said it was Noonien’s mother’s as well.”

“Why did you put him off so long?” Beverly asked gently. “You two have always seemed so connected. Even when you were dating casually before he installed the chip.”

“We weren’t dating before the chip,” I said.

“Right,” the doctor said, sarcastically. “You only had a standing engagement every time you came to visit your mother, and he just happened to invite you to any social events going on.”

“For at least some of that time, I had a boyfriend at Yale.”

“Who never came with you,” Deanna pointed out.


“Mmhmm. But back to the question at hand…why delay the inevitable?”

I signaled a server and ordered a mocha and a plate of chocolate-chip cookies. “Because,” I said softly, “sometimes I forget that we live in the future.” I gave them the salient points of my conversation with T’vek, and the subsequent one with Data.

Beverly was smiling the soft kind of smile that only people who have been parents can ever pull off, and Deanna was almost misty. “Data was a good father to Lal,” the doctor said. “I’m sure that together you’ll both be amazing parents.”

“Which reminds me – don’t be surprised if he shows up demanding information about artificial insemination. You know what he’s like when he has a new project.”

Our laughter came as a chorus, but as I was reaching for one of the cookies, Beverly asked gently, “Will you tell us, now, why you’ve lost so much weight?”

“Tag-teaming me,” I said to Deanna. “Really?” But I wasn’t really angry, more amused.

“I heard there were protestors outside your theater,” she said, by way of a response. “Does that have anything to do with it?”

I shook my head. “No. Well, it may have been a minor factor, but this is just a result of too much work, too much bad hotel food, too many late nights – there was this club down the block from the theater – and pining…”

“For Data…” they finished the sentence together.

“I was going to say ‘the fjords,’ actually,” I quipped, “but, yeah, Data, too.” I paused. “I’m completely pathetic, aren’t I?”

Deanna favored me with a fond smile. “No, you’re just very much in love.”

“Yeah, I am.” I said smiling, but I let the expression slip away. “And very much weirded out. Harb – the interviewer from FYE – suggested that there may be a connection between these protestors and the people from KEHL who were harassing us a while back.”

“Did you mention that to Data?” Beverly asked. “If he is investigates it, I’m sure a resolution will be found. His fondness for Sherlock Holmes isn’t just an affectation.”

“I know,” I said. “Oh, god.”

“What is it?” Beverly’s question had no small amount of maternal concern.

I said it out loud for the first time, tasting the words. “I’m getting married.” I said. And then, because it didn’t seem quite real, “I’m marrying Data.”

Deanna called over one of the servers. “Another round of chocolate for all of us,” she ordered. “We’re going to need a lot more chocolate, as well.”


“Are you sure I can wear jeans to this thing?” I asked Data for what was probably the eleven millionth time in the space of two hours. After trying on the vast majority of the clothes that I actually had with me on the ship, I’d settled on a forest-green sweater, black jeans, and a pair of ankle boots that had chunky heels of only an inch and a half in height, but I was still questioning my choice.

“Captain Picard was very specific that this was a casual gathering of the people he considers his closest friends.”

“Super!” I said, resorting to a level of snark I hadn’t used in quite a while. “You go, and I’ll stay here and drive nails into my arms while reading Tolstoy. In the original Russian.”

He arched his eyebrows in the way that meant even his tolerance was fading. “Zoe,” he said in his most patient tone, “I realize that your pre-Picard grumbling is something of a ritual, but – ”

“Oh, god,” I interrupted him. “It is. It’s totally a ritual. I don’t even mean it anymore.”

“I am confused.”

I sat on the couch, and patted the space next to me. He joined me, as I explained. “I grumble, or used to, because being around all of you made me feel impossibly young and ordinary and boring.”

“You have never been ordinary or boring.” From anyone else it would have been an empty compliment. From him, I knew, it was completely sincere.

“Compared to a room-full of big damned heroes? Yeah, I am. Or was. But…it’s like…it took me being away from the ship for a while, and then us officially dating before I ever asked for a proper tour, because I was stuck in the patterns of bitchy, teenaged me. My ‘pre-Picard grumble’ is the same thing. I’m actually not nervous around all of you together anymore, but I’m stuck in the pattern.”

“Then, how do I help you break out of that pattern?”

I smiled. “You already have; it just took me a while to realize it. But,” I teased, “you have to admit it takes special talent to try the patience of, well, you.

“You have many special talents,” he observed, and while that would have sounded delightfully dirty in any other situation, at that moment it was only sweet.

“As do you. But you’re still not getting your present until we get back.”

He reached for my left hand, lifted it to his lips and placed a soft kiss over my ring. “The only present I require, you have already given me.”

I wanted to say something equally heart-melting, but instead I just stretched to kiss him before saying, “Okay, let’s go.”


The captain’s gathering turned out to be just as casual as Data had promised it would be. Maybe it had been the knowledge that my nerves had become a mere habit, or maybe it was the ring I wore on my finger, but I felt much more at ease than I had on prior occasions. Then, too, the gathering was incredibly low-key, just the senior command crew, plus a few others, as well as Doctor Crusher, and Counselor Troi in one of the smaller holodecks for wine and cheese and soft conversation.

He’d even programmed a cozy winter hall, with fireplaces, and flickering candlelight, and a gentle snow falling beyond arched windows. It was lovely, and felt as magical as such settings ever do.

“Zoe,” the captain greeted me with European-style kisses soon after Data and I arrived. “Thank you for the video file. I enjoyed your performance immensely.”

“Thank you for having me,” I said. “I’m glad you liked it.”

“I thought the choice to set on occupied Bajor was inspired.”

“It got attention, at least.” I agreed.

“Do you know what your next project will be?”

“I’ve been reading scripts, but so far, nothing’s jumping out at me, but I’m pretty sure I want to do something a bit less…grim…next time. Maybe a comedy. A friend of mine from school started an improv troupe, and he keeps asking me to come be a guest performer, so I’m thinking about that.” I shrugged. “I don’t want to be out of work for too long, but there’s more than a little appeal in the concept of down time.”

I felt Data’s arm encircle my waist. “I was not aware you were considering improvisational theater,” he said. “Working without a script seems…daunting.”

I turned my head to catch his expression. “Have you ever tried improv?” I asked. “It’s not as scary as it seems. Once you accept the rules – and the idea that there are no wrong answers – it’s actually kind of freeing. But I’m considering a lot of things, including the fact that I really don’t want another three-month separation from you if I can help it.” I glanced back at the captain. “Pathetic, I know.”

He shook his head. “Not at all. But Zoe, you know you are always welcome here.”

“Thank you,” I said. “That much has finally sunken in, but it’s not so much a question of being welcome as it is of having something constructive to do.”

He smiled a softer smile. “I’m sure if anyone can figure it out, you and Mr. Data can.” His tone shifted from casual friend to host, “Please help yourselves to wine and cheese. There’s a Malbec I think you’ll enjoy particularly, Zoe. Will you excuse me?”

“Of course, sir,” Data answered for both of us, just as the captain moved off, presumably to spend some time with his other guests.

We spent much of the rest of the evening mingling, and sampling the wine and cheese – the Malbec was delicious. Reg Barclay was aboard, working with Geordi on some project or other, and visiting his girlfriend Sarah at the same time, and the five of us formed our own group, of sorts.

“Zoe, are you staying on the Enterprise for a while?” Sarah asked.

I glanced at Data before answering. “I’m not sure yet. I only finished my last gig the day before yesterday, and I need a break, but I don’t want to be in the way.” It was a different version of the conversation I’d had with the captain.

“Well, if you’re still here once classes resume, would you consider doing some acting exercises with the older kids? The members of the theater group aren’t unwilling, but they all have other responsibilities that make scheduling tough. Besides, you’re a real actress.”

“I’ve never really done much work with kids,” I answered truthfully. “Do you mind if I think about it and get back to you?”

“Oh, of course. Take your time. I hope I wasn’t imposing.”

I shook my head. “You weren’t…it’s just been an eventful couple of days. I’m surprised no one’s told you.”

“Told me what?”

I was about to tell her of the latest shift in my relationship with Data – and show off my ring – when a couple of duty-ensigns began circulating glasses of champagne, and the captain returned to the center of the room.

“While the stardate doesn’t quite match the turning of Earth’s year, we have chosen to celebrate that occasion tonight, anyway,” Picard began, his voice commanding our attention without being at all loud. “However, this evening, there is another event we are also marking, and I cannot help but believe it to be an auspicious beginning to the new year.”

“Please lift your glasses, and join me in congratulating Lieutenant Commander Data and Zoe Harris on their engagement.”

I reached for Data with my free hand, leaning close to whisper, “Did you put him up to this?”

“I did not,” he said. “But I am not surprised.”

“To Data and Zoe,” the captain intoned, and the rest of his guests repeated it, lifting their glasses toward us. We didn’t drink, of course, but we did lift our glasses in a return gesture to the friends – family, really – assembled.

“To absent friends,” the captain added, and this time Data and I joined in, as well.

“And to a new year full of peace and prosperity for all.”

The holographic sky lit up with fireworks shimmering against the snow, as we lifted our glasses one more time, and drank to the start of 2378.


Spot was in the center of the bed when we returned to Data’s quarters, sleeping peacefully. “Don’t wake her,” I said.

“But you are tired,” Data pointed out. He wasn’t wrong, I’d yawned at least twice just in the turbo-lift.

“Yeah, but I’m not ready for bed just yet. How about tea and couch-time for a little bit? I still have a present for you.”

“Mint or chamomile?”

“Surprise me.”

I went into the bedroom, kicking off my boots, and stripping off my jeans and sweater, replacing them with his old uniform shirt, got his present from the shelf inside ‘my’ part of the closet, and returned to find both Data and a mug of tea waiting for me.

I padded over to sit on the couch. “Kindly remember that you hadn’t proposed when I chose this,” I asked, handing him the notebook-sized flat package. “After that, anything is bound to be anti-climactic.”

I sipped the tea – he’d chosen mint, after all – while he carefully removed the wrapping paper. More than one of his friends – me included – had tried getting him to just rip open packages, but I’d finally accepted that he never would. “It is…sheet music…” he observed, examining the fragile paper pages.

“You’ll have to digitize it so the paper doesn’t get destroyed,” I said. “But it’s not just any sheet music. It’s a collection of music that I found when I was doing prep for playing Sally. The Interwar Duets for Violin and Cello.” I’d been listening to it nonstop during our rehearsal period, and then chanced to find a copy in a used bookstore. “I’m really rusty,” I added. “I pretty much haven’t touched a cello since…well, you know.”

“You wish to return to playing music?”he asked.

“I wish to return to playing music with you,” I said, shrugging lightly. “I thought this might be a good choice.” I waited a beat, watching him for a reaction. “Data?”

“Yes,” he said. “I would enjoy that.”

I didn’t mention that I’d need his help to be able to play even close to the level I had as a teenager, or that making music with him was what had changed my feelings from ‘just a crush’ to ‘something more.’ I didn’t have to explain it, but I did laugh and accuse, “You’re already creating a lesson plan to get me back up to speed, aren’t you?”

“It is…what I do.”

“Not all of what you do,” I said, setting my mug aside. “Not by half.” I slid across the couch til I was curled against him. “There’s a recording of it by Yegor Dyachkov & Olivier Thouin in the library computer. Let’s just listen a while.”

He instructed the computer first to dim the lights, and thento play the first piece in the collection. His arm came around me, and I settled into his embrace. As the first few measures wafted through the room, I lifted my hand to watch my ring sparkle in the soft light. “Data,” I said softly, “we’re getting married.”

“Yes,” he said, his breath teasing the top of my head. “We are.”

“I made you wait so long to propose…let’s not wait as long for the rest…”

“We will discuss it in the morning,” he said firmly, but gently. “Shh. Just rest. And listen.”

And we did.

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence
Another ‘Auld Lang Syn


NOTES: “Another Auld Lang Syne” is by Dan Fogelberg. The “Interwar Duets” are a collection of pieces tracing the changes in music between the World War I and World War II, and while they start out very traditionally “classical,” as the cycle progresses you can hear the influence of other cultures on the Euro-centric music. Cabaret is by Kander and Ebb, and takes place in Berlin just as the Nazis are coming into power (hence having Zoe’s production set on Bajor). The reference to barbed wire has to do with the ending of the stage version (which is MUCH grittier than the Liza Minnelli movie). At the end of the finale, the emcee strips off his leather duster to reveal that he’s wearing the striped outfit of a concentration camp prisoner, adorned with both a yellow star and a pink triangle. He throws himself onto the electric fence. “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry” is by Ellie Greenwich, Tony Powers, and Phil Spector. The most popular recording was made by Darlene Love. Data’s time on the U.S.S. Sovereign is taken from the game Bridge Commander, though I changed his assignment.


Auld Lang Syne: Part II

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything from canon; I own the rest. This takes place along-side and in-between “Crush” and “Strawberry”.

Auld Lang Syne – Part II

(30 December 2372 – 1 January 2373)

Saturday, December 30th, 2372, San Francisco, Earth

(Roughly a year after Generations, and a year before First Contact.)

When the bells all ring and the horns all blow
And the couples we know are fondly kissing.
Will I be with you or will I be among the missing?

Maybe it’s much too early in the game
Ooh, but I thought I’d ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s eve?


The rain-slick pavement was made more treacherous because of the boots I was wearing, not the sensible Starfleet-issue, flats of the man I was walking with, but a pair of black, suede calf-high fashion boots with heels that hadn’t seemed quite so spindly in the store. Fortunately, my companion was holding my arm with a grip that felt gentle, but that I knew was strong enough to keep me from any harm.

“Perhaps you should reconsider your choice of footwear in the future,” he observed, and while there was a hint of wryness in his tone, there was also concern. “Were I not with you, you would have likely sprained one or both ankles.”

The fact that, a year before, the same statement would have been made with no emotional nuance whatsoever, was not lost on me. For a moment I stopped walking. “Really, Data,” I teased, “that chip in your head has turned you positively obsessive about my footwear. Is there something I should know?”

He got the joke, such as it was, but answered seriously, “It is not the footwear that concerns me, but the woman wearing it.”

A year ago, he wouldn’t have said that either.

Of course, a year ago we hadn’t been more than close friends, and now we’d been dating since spring, him coming to New Haven to see me at school – I was a semester away from finishing my undergraduate degree at Yale – me meeting him at one of the dirtside restaurants at New York or San Francisco SpacePort as often as I could. Everything was easier when he was aboard the new Enterprise, the E this time, getting her ready for warp trials and then another extended mission, and more difficult when he was off on short-term assignments, but we had been getting better and better about making it work.

“I love it when you say things like that,” I said, smiling. I stretched up to kiss him, not caring that were in the middle of the sidewalk, or that we were supposed to be meeting people for dinner. “I love this, too.”

Public displays of affection had been a new experience for him, and I’d asked him more than once if he objected. He always said he did not, within limits. So, no snogging in the corridors of the ship, obviously, but when he was on leave, and the city was still dressed in Christmas finery? All bets were off.

“I enjoy this as well,” he said softly, returning my kiss. “But we will be late if we continue.”

“Spoilsport,” I grumbled good-naturedly. But I added, “Okay, let’s go.”


The restaurant, when we got there, was dimly lit and abuzz with many conversations. The clientele, I noticed, was mostly humanoid, and only about a third were wearing Starfleet uniforms. I’d noticed that fewer uniforms generally meant better, or at least more expensive, food.

Some of the friends we were meeting had already arrived, though – sidewalk smooching notwithstanding – we were not actually late. Data would never have allowed it.

“Zoe, it’s good to see you,” Deanna Troi stepped away from Will Riker to come and hug me. “I’m so glad you’re joining us tonight.”

“Thank you,” I said. “You look amazing,” and she did, in a deep blue dress that skimmed her figure before ending in a full, if mid-length, skirt. I was wearing classic black, but even if I’d been dressed to the nines, she’d have made me feel plain.

“Thank you,” she said. She released me but Riker was next, with one of his signature bear hugs.

“Hey, breathing is kind of important,” I said, but I returned the hug, laughing.

“Not often I get to hug college girls any more – ow!” Deanna had punched him in the arm. “How is school? You’re in the home stretch, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I confirmed, returning to Data’s side.”Classes don’t start again ’til February, but we start rehearsals for The Crucible on the ninth, so I’ll be there for intersession. I’ve been contacting agents, so it’s likely I’ll be going on auditions, too. Who else are we waiting for?”

“Just Geordi,” Data said.

“Actually Beverly said she and the captain might join us,” Deanna corrected. “Look, there they are!”

We all turned toward the door, and sure enough, there was the one and only Captain Picard, with Dr. Crusher at his side. Both were dressed in normal street clothes, which meant Data was the only one in uniform tonight. “Data, remind me to take you shopping sometime soon. You really need some decent civvies.” I made sure only he could hear.

“As you wish,” he said. It was his way of letting me know he would indulge one of my whims, despite not being totally supportive of it.

There was more hugging and the captain favored me with the European tradition of kisses to both cheeks, and then the server was leading us to our table, a round one in the back, near the fireplace. Geordi was running late, apparently, and Will and Deanna had theater tickets, so we didn’t wait to order.

“Zoe, you’ve been here before, haven’t you?” Beverly asked me, “Data said you were here last week?”

I nodded. “We come every year on Christmas Eve…well, every year since Mom and Ed have been together. Family tradition. The ravioli de zucco is very good, by the way, if you want something meatless. They use butternut squash in the filling and serve it with a butter and sage sauce that’s to die for.”

“That sounds delicious,” Deanna observed.

“It is,” I assured. “It’s actually my favorite thing here, but nothing is really bad.”

“Is that what you are ordering tonight?” Data asked.

“That depends. Are you ordering a meal, or do you just want to share what I have?” Dinner dates with a man who didn’t actually have to eat could be challenging, and we’d found that ordering one entrée and sharing it was often beneficial to us both. He got to both taste new things and blend in with the crowd, and I got to justify my love of dessert by not eating whole portions. It was win-win. “If we’re sharing,” I said, “then I’ll either get that or the aglio e olio. If not, I’m having the rosemary chicken.” That choice was another of our unwritten agreements, as Data did not eat meat.

“Are you sure you’ve only been dating for six months?” Geordi LaForge arrived, still in uniform, with that question on his lips. He touched my shoulder on his way to drop into the open seat on the other side of Data.

“Actually,” Data said, “it has been six months, twenty-eight days, and twenty-two point three hours since our relationship officially changed. Why do you ask?”

“Because you act married.” He was smiling when he said it.

“We do not,” I protested.

“Yes, actually, you do,” Captain Picard declared, surprising us all. “I never thought I’d see Data come to this point.” His tone wasn’t one that I could read, and a scan of the faces of those who knew him told me they were perplexed as well. “I have only one thing to say on the matter. Mr. Data, my friend, if you let this young woman go, I will personally deactivate you. Now, who wants wine? I’m buying.”

Stunned shock gave way to happy laughter, and Picard, who was sitting on the other side of me, touched my hand. “Zoe,” he said softly, “you and I don’t know each other very well yet, but I can see why Data is so fond of you.”

I wasn’t entirely certain, but I think it was his way of giving us his approval, so I just answered with the only thing I could think of. “Thank you, sir. That means a lot.”

Dinner became considerably looser after that – Data and I did end up sharing the squash ravioli – and Captain Picard did buy wine – a bottle each of a local chardonnay and a French syrah from a winery owned by a friend of his. Data chose the former and seemed surprised when I didn’t.

“I was under the impression that white wine was the preferred choice with meatless dishes,” he said.

“It depends on the dish,” the captain and I said together.

“With a sweet dish, a dry wine is better,” Picard continued. “And vice versa, but sometimes a spicy red will bring out the flavor in something like squash better than the white.”

“A friend of mine from school worked as a sommelier in his parents’ restaurant over the summers,” I added. “He said that while the red with meat and heavy pasta, white with fish, and lighter fare is a good guideline, it really comes down to ‘drink what you like as long as the flavors don’t clash.'”

“What do you recommend with the rosemary chicken, then,” asked Riker, who wasn’t a particular wine fan.

I glanced at the captain to see if he would answer, but he deferred to me. “Beer,” I told him. “As long as it’s a micro-brew, or hard cider. They have a pear cider here that goes amazingly well with that chicken.”

How old are you, exactly?” he teased.

I just grinned, and said “Old enough to know that if you don’t order dessert in the next ten minutes you and Deanna won’t make curtain. What are you seeing anyway?”

Fog City Blues,” Deanna said. “Do you know it?”

“Better than. The male lead was two years ahead of me at Yale; we had an improv class together when I was a freshman, and did a play together my sophomore year. It’s at the Orpheum, isn’t it? Where are you sitting? Can I see your tickets?”

With a somewhat confused expression, Will Riker handed me the data-card with his tickets on it.

“Mm. Upper orchestra. You’re not too far from center, which is good, but for this show, you’re kinda far back. May I borrow these for a minute?” I reached into the evening bag I’d slung on the back of my chair, and pulled my personal communicator out, “Sorry, I know it’s completely tacky to do this during dinner, but you’ll appreciate it, I promise.” I scrolled through my contact list until I found the one I was looking for, and keyed in the code to connect.

“You’re live with Marco. Talk fast.”

The voice from the speaker was tinny, but I wanted everyone to hear. Fortunately, the closest tables were empty by now. “Marco-sweety, wanna do a fellow Yalie a huge favor?”

“Oh my god, Zoificus. Haven’t you graduated yet? Are you in town?”

“That’s goddess to you, hon.” I said. “And the answers to your other questions are ‘not til May’ and ‘Yes.’ If I promise to take you to breakfast before I head back to campus, will you work some VIP magic for me?”

“For you, Zoe, anything. Whatcha need?”

“Friends of mine have tickets for tonight’s performance. I know it’s totally last-minute, but they’re in X-10 and X-11 and they really need something in the six-sixteen zone. Preferably center aisle if you can wrangle it.”

“Oh, sister, you know I can…hang on.” He was silent for a few minutes, then came back, “I need a name for will-call,” he said, “but if they bring their existing d-card they can swap those seats for J-1 and J-2 and collect vouchers for complimentary champagne.”

I muted the connection to glance up at Will, “Is that cool with you? I mean, your existing seats weren’t bad…” But he was laughing silently – so was Geordi, actually. “Perfect, hon, thank you. And the name you need is William T. Riker. Be nice to him, he ranks my SO.”

“Oooh, super nice. Let me know when you wanna do brunch – we’re dark Mondays. And you better come see the show before you blow.”

“I’ll try,” I promised. “My schedule’s kind of insane right now.”

“Senior year? I bet it is. Okay, hon. See you soon. Love ya! Mean it!”

I put the com unit away and returned the data card to Will. “Let me know if the show’s any good?” I asked.

It was Beverly who said what, apparently, everyone was thinking, “What did you just do?”

I shrugged. “Theater snobbery. Never sit closer than row six or farther back than row sixteen. And you can’t tell me fellow officers don’t do favors for each other when you can – switching duty shifts, and such -”

“She is correct,” Data confirmed. “We are just not accustomed to Zoe being the person with connections.”

Geordi summed it up best though, “Damn, I wish I had your connections when I needed spare parts.”

We had coffee and dessert and then began the process of leave-taking, and the divvying of the bill. Will and Deanna headed out to see the play, and the Captain and Doctor Crusher went off to wherever they were going. They’d mentioned dancing but I hadn’t been listening that closely, and to ask seemed like prying. “Zoe,” Beverly said as they were leaving, “we’ll see you tomorrow, won’t we?”

“Tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve,” I said. “Is there something else going on?”

“Ask Data,” she said, a wicked smile on her face. “And don’t let him tell you it’s a surprise.”

I turned to the man in question, waiting for a pause in his conversation with Geordi. “I need to use the restroom,” I said. “You have that long to figure out what to tell me about why Beverly thinks I’ll be seeing everyone tomorrow, and bear in mind that your answer will absolutely determine exactly how much shopping I’ll be subjecting you to.” I kissed him lightly on the lips and went to the back of the restaurant, where the facilities were located.

Of the three stalls, only one was empty, which was typical. What was not typical was the conversation I overhead while paying attention to other things:

Did you see that ‘droid? Flaunting its friendship with humans, even sharing a plate with that girl?!

– – Who is the girl, anyway? I recognized the rest of the group – the blind dude is the engineer on the Enterprise and the rest of them were all officers, too…but the girl…she looks vaguely familiar.

– I snapped her picture. We’ll do an identity match later.

– Thomas said it was kissing her outside. How sick do you have to be to let a machine kiss you? Do you think she’s sleeping with it?

– I miss the old days, when humans were the only people in town…you about done?

Under normal circumstances, I’d have burst out of the stall, and had words with those two women, but I was a little rocked by the realization that they were talking about Data and me. As well, a one-against-two confrontation in the bathroom wasn’t really on my to-do list for…ever. I heard one flush, and then two, followed by hand-washing, and finally, the clacking of heels and the door opening and closing. I’m sure they were still talking, but I was no longer able to hear anything except my own rage boiling inside my head. Still, I waited another five minutes after I finished my business before leaving the stall, washing my own hands, and walking out of the room.

Data was waiting for me when I got back, but Geordi had disappeared.

“I know I took long,” I said, “But I didn’t think it was long enough to drive Geordi away?”

“You did not,” he said. “Geordi is involved in a crucial engineering problem. He was needed back on the Enterprise.

I nodded. “Oh, okay. Can we go now?” I brushed by him, and out to the sidewalk, where I resisted – barely – the urge to gulp the rain-freshened night air.

The problem with dating someone who’s known you since you were fifteen is that they can always tell when something isn’t right. When that person is also also hyper-observant, there’s no way you can hide being upset. I wasn’t surprised, when Data moved in front of me so that I had to look at him. “Zoe, something is troubling you. What is wrong?”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about it…not here, I mean. It’s probably just me overreacting, anyway.” I slipped my hand into his, as we began the walk back to where his shuttle was parked (the Enterprise’s transporters were down for testing, and personal transporting was frowned upon). “I know we’d talked about that open-mic night, but…” I let the sentence trail off, then restarted it. “I don’t want to miss out on time with you, and I know you scheduled the night off specially, but I’d really rather just go back to the house and curl up on a couch.”

“The doctor was correct in that there is a special event on the ship tomorrow,” Data said. “I had thought to invite you to come back to the Enterprise with me. As you know, there is a couch in my quarters.”

I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “I know. If I wouldn’t be in the way, and if we can stop by the house so I can pack a few things, I’d love to spend the weekend.”

He smiled, then, the smile that I’d glimpsed now and again during my time living on the ship, only more. “You are never in the way.”


“Are you ready, now, to tell me what upset you at the restaurant?” Data asked. We were sitting on the couch in his quarters, and I was sipping lemon-mint tea. As soon as we’d arrived, I’d commandeered his bathroom to wash off my makeup, twist my hair into a messy knot, and change into a comfortably-worn Yale t-shirt and a pair of faded blue sweatpants, so it wasn’t as if I hadn’t had time to settle.

“I probably really was overreacting,” I said. “The women’s room had three cubicles, and two were already occupied. On a Saturday night, that’s not all that unusual. They were in the middle of a conversation, but, again, that’s pretty typical. But the conversation was about us, and while it might have just been gossip, something about it creeped me out.”

To his credit, he didn’t react to the phrase ‘creeped me out.’ Instead, he adjusted his position on the couch, so that his arm was around me. “I have observed,” Data said quietly, “that when tea and soft lighting does not help you to talk to me, physical contact does.”

“So, this is a carefully studied technique for eliciting confessionals from me? It brings a whole new dimension to ‘Ve haf vays of makink you talk.'” I was teasing, but I also moved into the curve of his arm as I said it. “I like it here,” I added softly.

“I ‘like it here’ as well,” he said. “But you are avoiding the subject at hand.”

“Brain the size of a planet and he uses it to be a noodge,” I complained to the ceiling, “Okay, okay. Either they didn’t hear me come in, or they didn’t care, because they were in the middle of a conversation about us. All of us – they knew who you all were, though they also said they didn’t recognize me.” I hesitated.

“Please continue.”

“I am. They mentioned that someone named Thomas had seen us kissing. They talked about how you were flaunting your friendships with humans. They said something about capturing my image for an identity match – can they do that?”

“Finding the name to go with any image is relatively easy,” Data confirmed. “Your identity will be more easily discovered than most, as you are the daughter of a celebrity, and have appeared on the news-nets in your own right.”

He must have been able to tell that I was confused by that statement. “I…have?”

“Reviews of your performances in various theatrical companies are archived.”

I made a mental note to ask him exactly when he’d been reading about me, as well as what…and why. “I guess they would be,” I allowed. “Anyway, they made rude comments about our relationship and then they clacked away.”


“They were wearing heels, and no, I don’t know what kind. The cubicle walls go all the way to the floor there, even the doors. I didn’t see them…I didn’t really want to, honestly…I just heard.”

Data was silent for a long time. Well, long for him, anyway. “Zoe,” he began, in tones even more measured than usual. “You are aware that I have often faced such prejudice. You yourself are no stranger to gossip. Why is this particular incident bothering you so much?”

I stared into my tea cup, willing it to answer for me. It refused. “What they said…. Data, they kept calling you ‘it.’ They said only someone sick and twisted would have an intimate relationship with a machine.” I paused, but he seemed to sense that I wasn’t done yet. “Did you know,” I continued softly, “that sometimes I forget you’re an android?”

His tone, when he responded, was oddly neutral, “And the overheard conversation reminded you?”

“No!” It came out almost as a shout, but I took a couple of deep calming breaths and kept going. “I don’t mean I literally forget, I just mean…when I look at you, when I’m with you…I don’t see ‘Data the android,’ I just see ‘Data the person’ or, more recently, ‘Data, the man I love.'”

I felt his arm tighten around me, heard the slight gulp of his reflexive swallow, and the sudden stillness when his breath ceased. “Zoe…” he began.

I cut him off. “Hearing them was like a slap in the face. It made me mad, but it made me feel like there was something wrong with me, because I look at you, and I just see…you.”

He didn’t say anything. He’d started breathing again, and his arm was still around me, but he was otherwise silent. Motionless. I pulled away from him so I could look at his face. Yellow tears trickled from the corners of his eyes, which were moving back and forth, the way they always did when he was processing something. “Data?” I asked gently. “Can you hear me?”

The REM flicker slowed, but didn’t stop, and he nodded once.

“Are you okay? Do I need to call Geordi? You know I will if I have to.”

A head-shake this time. Great, I was stuck in a game of charades, and I didn’t even know what the clue was. I reached up to touch his face, to brush the tears away with my thumb. I remembered a time, a few years before, when I’d been upset over something and he’d done the same. Then it had been a friendly gesture. Now, it was definitely more. I resettled myself, my head against his chest, closed my eyes, and waited.


Data’s voice calling my name was the next thing I heard. “Zoe,” he said softly, “please wake up.”

We were still on the couch, still holding each other. “‘m awake,” I said. “Are you back in the world of the living?”


“And I didn’t miss anything? No steam coming from your ears, none of your circuits melted.” I never had a filter when I first woke up, even if it was only from a nap.”

“I am…fully functional,” he answered, though his voice seemed a bit pinched. Nervous.

“How long was I sleeping on you?”

“Fifty-seven minutes, thirteen seconds,” he answered.

“You were crying.” I said. “I didn’t know you could.”

“My eyes are lubricated by tears, as yours are,” he reminded me gently. “But, yes, since activating the emotion chip, I have fund that I do cry as a response to certain emotional stimuli.”

“Seems kind of unfair that I was the one who was upset, but you were the one who ended up crying. Am I allowed to ask why?”

“You are always ‘allowed’ to ask,” he said. He dropped a chaste kiss on the top of my head.


“I am sorry if I caused you concern,” he said softly. “I was not expecting a declaration.”

“You mean that I love you?” I asked. “I didn’t really mean to dump it on you like that. Is that what made you go all internal?”

“Yes,” he said. “I was analyzing my reaction, considering our history, comparing heuristic responses…”

“You mean,” I interrupted gently, “you were trying to figure out how you feel.”


I tensed, and started to pull away from him. Suddenly, I didn’t want to know. Except at the same time, I did. I sat back so I could watch his face. “And?”

He took my hands in his, his thumbs making small circles over the pulse points on my wrists. “We have been friends for many years.”

I wondered how much it cost him not to give months, days, and hours. “Yes,” I said. “You accepted me as a friend pretty much from the beginning.”

“You have observed more than once that I seem to ‘get’ you. Others have told both of us that we seem to have a special connection.”

“True,” I said. I wondered when – if – he would get to the point.

“The general consensus among my friends, when I shared that our relationship had evolved to one of a more romantic nature was that such as shift was inevitable.”

“My family, and my friends who know you, said pretty much the same thing,” I agreed.

“Since the day Geordi helped me install the emotion chip, I have catalogued nearly a million distinct emotional states,” he said. “I believe I have identified what it means to feel friendship, loyalty, filial love…” he began. This time it was I who began to interrupt, and he who silenced me. “Until tonight, I had no certainty that I could feel romantic love,” he continued. “Now I know, Zoe, that this is what I feel for you.”

“In other words, you love me, too.”

“I believe I just said that.”

I stared at him for a long moment, and then moved again, this time to straddle his lap, facing him. His arms came around me, and I kissed him. “Have you,” I asked, “catalogued what it’s like when you feel desire?”

His eyes widened, “I have…not…yet…”

“Want to try?” I leaned my forehead against his.

“You are speaking of sexual intimacy,” he said softly. “Are you certain?”

Six years of friendship, much of which was spent dancing toward more. Seven months of dating. We hadn’t yet engaged in ‘sexual intimacy,’ as he called it, but it wasn’t for lack of willingness, so much as lack of opportunity. Even with the Enterprise at Spacedock, in geostationary orbit over Alaska, we hadn’t had the time to be able to go there and not have to rush away first thing the next morning. I knew his history with one night stands. I knew one night was not what I wanted from him. All of this raced through my mind at, well, not quite android speed, but pretty quickly.

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve never been more certain of anything else.”

He met my kiss this time, with more ardor than I was accustomed to from him.


I woke up alone in Data’s bed. Well, not quite alone. Spot had appeared at some point while I slept, and was currently curled up in front of me, kneading my abdomen with her paws. “Watch it, catling,” I told her softly, freeing my arm from the sheets so I could scratch her behind the ears. “Hit my bladder and we’ll both regret it.” Of course, that’s exactly where her paws aimed next. “Spot!”

“Ah,” I heard Data’s voice say, probably from his workstation. “You are awake.”

“Kind of,” I said. “Could you come get your cat so I can use the bathroom?”

“Of course.” He came, and lifted the orange tabby cat away from me. “Are you…alright?”

“Aside from feeling like I need more sleep, and having a desperate need to pee, I’ve never been better,” I said lightly. I lifted the sheets, slid out of bed, and brushed by him to the bathroom. Once finished with my most urgent need, I splashed my face with water, and untangled the hair tie that had never been removed the night before, detangling my hair with my fingers before I returned to the main room.

“What time is it?” I asked as I climbed back into the bed.

“Zero-four-hundred hours,” he replied. “If you are tired, you should rest more.” He’d deposited Spot on the couch, and, I noticed, was dressed only in the pseudo-Victorian dressing gown I’d teased him about on another late night. “I know you don’t sleep,” I said, “but if you come back to bed for a bit, I’ll make it worth your while.”

“It has already been ‘worth my while,'” he said softly, but his smile held more than a hint of seduction. He slid the robe off, and lifted the covers to join me.

I looked his nude body in the soft, indirect glow of computer displays, and couldn’t help but blurt, “God, you’re beautiful.”

His response came as a whisper of his breath on my skin. “As are you,” he said. “But I am not God, I am only Data.”

“That’s even better.”


A few hours later, the scent of coffee pulled me out of a deep and contented slumber, as did the sound of Data singing some ancient ballad I’d heard a couple of times before but didn’t really know. Even so, hearing his voice made me smile. “Sing louder,” I requested. “And tell me what I have to do to get some of the coffee I smell.”

“I cannot do both at once,” he said coming to the side of the bed. He’d already dressed in his duty uniform. “Coffee is on the table. I was uncertain about your breakfast preferences aside from that.”

“Are you on duty today?” I asked, following that question immediately with, “Could you toss me my t-shirt?”

He did the latter while telling me, “I am due on the bridge at zero-eight hundred hours, which is in approximately seventeen minutes. If you wish to remain on board for the next eight hours, I will grant you access to the holodecks – two and three are online. You already have computer access, should you require it.”

“Are the replicators online?”

“They are, with limited options. If you are hungry, I suggest you go to the lounge; Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher sent an invitation for you to join them for breakfast at zero nine hundred. ”

I pulled my t-shirt on, while I asked, “Data, does the entire ship know I spent the night with you?”

“That is doubtful,” he said. “While Deanna and Beverly are aware that you returned to the Enterprise with me last night, it is only because I contacted the counselor this morning that she knew you were still here.”

“You got me a pity-invite to breakfast?” I wasn’t sure if I should be annoyed or amused.

“No,” he said softly. “The counselor sensed your upset last night, and was concerned. I explained what had happened.” He hesitated then asked, “Do you regret our actions of last night and this morning?” I could see him fighting the desire to deactivate the emotion chip in case he didn’t like my answer.

I slid out of bed and stood on tip-toe to kiss him. “The only thing I regret is that it took me being upset to help us take our relationship to the next level. We probably need to talk about what it means and where we go from here – I still have school to finish, and you still have your career – but aside from that? Data, I love you, and I’m looking forward to many repeat performances.”

His arms came around me and held me for several seconds. “I love you also, Zoe,” he said into my hair. Then he kissed me and reminded me of the time before he left for bridge duty.

I retrieved the coffee from the table and put it in the replicator tray to be reheated – Data had already specified the amount of milk I usually used – then took it back to bed with me. “Computer, time please?” I asked when I was finished. I was informed that I had forty-five minutes to get ready, but I also needed to know, “Computer, recognize Zoe Harris. Has Commander Data added me to the access lock on his quarters?”

The disembodied voice replying, “Affirmative,” shouldn’t have made me giggle, but somehow, it did.


Whether you referred to it by its old name, Ten-Forward, the name Commander Riker was currently lobbying for – The Happy Bottom Riding Club – or just ‘the lounge,’ the crew lounge of the U.S.S. Enterprise was the one place where everyone belonged, and literally anyone could see or be seen – or even hide in a corner if not being seen was their thing. Knowing this, I shouldn’t have been at all trepidatious about entering. Nevertheless I spent a good five minutes dithering outside the doors, before finally gathering enough courage to face Beverly Crusher and Deanna Troi over the breakfast table.

They were, of course, already waiting for me.

“Zoe, I heard you had quite an eventful night,” the doctor greeted warmly.

“Excuse me?” I asked, with no small amount of alarm. “Exactly what did Data tell you about last night?”

The counselor took a hard look at me, and then smiled. “Only that something happened after the rest of us left the restaurant,” she said mildly. Too mildly. “Why? Is there more?”

A look passed between the counselor and the doctor, and suddenly Beverly Crusher was leaning closer into the table. “Come on, Zoe, share with your friends,” she teased.

“In point of fact,” I said, realizing that I sounded too much like Data when I used that phrase. “You two are my mother’s friends. I don’t even use your first names.”

“Well, you should,” the doctor said, her smile softening. “Especially now that you’re with Data.”

“Beverly’s right,” Deanna said, “and we should have let you know that months ago.”

“Besides,” Beverly added, “Your mother isn’t here, so we are stepping in as your…affectionate aunties…”

“Or older sisters…”

“I don’t like that word, ‘older,'” Dee.

“Not old-older. Just older than Zoe.”

“Oh. That’s alright then.”

“Would you like me to leave until you two come to a consensus?” I asked.

Both women laughed.

“You two,” I said, “Are made of evil.”

“What’s the expression your generation uses?” Beverly asked. “It takes one to know one.”

“Doomed. I am doomed.”

“Yes,” Deanna said, “You are.”

They cackled. They actually cackled.

Fortunately, at that moment that Jordan, the man who had taken over as bartender after Guinan left the ship, came to take our orders. “Coffee, please,” I begged. “Dopio con panna, if you can do espresso.”

In the more serious, more professional voice I was accustomed to hearing from her, Beverly added, “Zoe, you really should eat something,” before asking for her own coffee and a butter croissant.

Deanna asked for a mocha and some Betazoid dish that I wasn’t familiar with.

“Did you want something to eat?” Jordan asked kindly.

“A spinach and mushroom omelet and wheat toast would be lovely,” I said.

“Gotcha,” he replied, and disappeared behind the bar.

When the counselor spoke again, she also used her more serious tone. “We’re sorry for teasing you, Zoe. We’re just happy to see you and Data together. He really did only mention the incident at the restaurant.”

I shrugged awkwardly. “I was probably overreacting to that,” I said. “As to the rest…we’ve been together for seven months. It’s not like it’s new.”

“But you haven’t spent the night on the ship before,” Deanna said.

“No,” I agreed. “But it wasn’t for lack of being invited.”

“And, forgive me, Zoe, but it’s radiating from you – your relationship changed last night, didn’t it?”

I felt myself blush. “Yeah,” I said. “In a couple ways.”

Beverly asked in her best this-won’t-hurt-a-bit voice, “Are you okay with the change in your relationship?”

I blinked at her, confused. “Why wouldn’t I be? Data is…” Awesome? Phenomenal? Special? Thoughtful? Caring? None of those words were adequate. “Data is Data.” I said with a shrug.

Something must have flitted across my face, because Deanna asked softly, “Zoe, is anything wrong?”

Two of Jordan’s servers appeared with our coffees and food then, and I waited for them to step away before answering.

“He asked me if I had any regrets about last night, but I didn’t ask him.

Deanna touched my hand briefly. “I think if Data had regrets he’s comfortable enough to tell you. That he asked you speaks more about his past than any strong concerns about his relationship with you.”

I nodded. “We’ve done the whole compare-sexual-histories thing. I mean…you have to, don’t you? When you want more than a fling? He told me about Tasha.” Both of their expressions darkened slightly, “Oh, I’m sorry. I know she was your friend, too. Should I not…” I sighed. “I can’t talk about Data and me with my mother, because…you know…she’s my mother. I can’t talk about him with my girlfriends at Yale, because they lack the necessary context to really understand who he is. I mean, a couple of them have met him, but it was brief, and…god, I’m babbling as much as he ever did.”

Deanna and Beverly shared another look, this time matching indulgent smiles. “It’s fine, Zoe. We really did mean for you to be able to talk to us, if you needed – or wanted – to,” the counselor said. “And it’s better this way than in my office where things will become clinical.”

“If it helps,” Beverly added, “I’ve often recommended to my patients and my friends that all young women need an older woman who isn’t their mother to be part of their support system. And even if Wes were a girl, I couldn’t have this conversation with him.”

“What about your girlfriends from the ship? Are you still close with…Dana and Annette, wasn’t it?” Troi asked.

I nodded, “Yeah, Dana and Annette. Oh, we talk all the time, and whenever we’re close enough we meet for coffee or dinner or whatever. Dana, especially, since she’s also in university on Earth. But…to them, Data is still a teacher. An authority figure.”

Deanna smiled reassuringly from behind her mocha. “You’d mentioned Tasha…” she prompted.

I swallowed a couple of bites of my omelet before answering. “Okay,” I said. “I know it was a one-night stand. I know it was chemically triggered. I also know that he still has a holographic portrait of her. So, I guess, I want to know…if she hadn’t…if she had lived, do you think they’d have had a longer relationship.” I paused and tacked on. “Am I competing with a ghost?”

“I can’t deny we’ve all wondered about that,” Deanna said. “And the counselor in me wants to tell you to talk to Data about it if you’re truly worried. But as a friend…I don’t think there’s anything there that need worry you. If there was, Data would never have allowed your relationship to evolve the way it has.”

“You might ask him why he keeps her portrait,” Beverly suggested. “But I’m pretty sure the only person you’re in competition with is yourself.”

“Probably,” I agreed.

They let me eat in relative peace until I was finished with my food, chatting only about inconsequentials. Once I had finished, however, Beverly asked, “So, Zoe, there is one thing we’re dying to know…”

“What’s that?” I asked, pretty certain I didn’t really want to know the answer.

“How was Data?”

I thought about all the different responses I could make, but ultimately decided vague was best. “That,” I said, pushing my empty plate away. “is for me to know, and you to wonder about for all eternity.”

And after that? I fled.


When Data returned from his duty shift he found me sitting on his bed working on my padd. “Zoe,” he greeted, “I am home.” He came to my side, and I lifted my head to meet his kiss. “You could have used my workstation,” he observed. “I would not have minded.”

I shrugged. “I was going to take a nap, but I got a message about an audition and thought I’d update my resume before I sent it. I’d rather wait til after Crucible, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity. Anyway, this is more comfortable. Did you find any new life or save any worlds today?”

“Either of those scenarios is extremely unlikely while we are still in Spacedock.”

“On this ship? I’m not so sure about that,” I teased lightly. “Speaking of which, you never did tell me why Beverly assumed that I would be here today, and the subject didn’t come up at breakfast.”

“Then you did go?” he asked. “Was it enjoyable?”

“Depends on your definition of enjoyable. Parts of it were…other parts were…” I hesitated then decided to just go for it. “Data, you asked me, this morning, if I had any regrets about moving our relationship forward. I didn’t ask if you were okay with it. I mean…I sort of bulldozed you into bed.”

“Bulldozed?” His head-tilt showed just how much he didn’t understand that piece of slang.

“Forced, coerced, seduced,” I said, unintentionally imitating one of his oldest patterns.

“May I sit?” he asked gently. I resisted the urge to remind him that it was his bed, and just nodded, moving my padd out of the way. “Do you truly believe that I would have been intimate with you if it was not something I also wanted?”

“No,” I said. “But wanting and being ready for it are two different things. Intellectually, I know there’s no way I could force you to do anything you didn’t really want to do, but emotionally…?” I looked at the floor, the bathroom door, the ceiling, anywhere but at him.

He lifted his hand to my face, gently turning my head so that I had to meet his gaze. “Did we not, only last night, exchange words of love? Must I remind you again of your own observation that we ‘fit’ well together.” His soft expression morphed into the hint of a devilish smile. “Would it be easier for you if I simply demonstrated once more precisely how well we do fit?”

My concerns didn’t exactly vanish, but they certainly receded. “You know I’ve always responded best to a hands-on approach.”

He proceeded to ‘demonstrate’ until even the smallest doubt about his willingness had perished.


“So, is there going to be food at this thing?” I asked as I was putting the final touches on my hair and make-up. Data had let me sleep for several hours after his bedroom demonstration, and now, at ten pm ship’s time, I was both antsy and hungry. Especially hungry.

“It is likely that there will be hors d’oeuvres if nothing else,” Data answered mildly.

“And why, exactly, am I going?”

“Because it would be inappropriate for me to refuse an invitation from my captain.”

“No,” I said. “That’s why you’re going. Me? I could totally be hanging at my parent’s house watching the news feeds from New York until they drop the glass apple and eating delivery pizza.” It wasn’t that I was nervous, exactly. More like, anxious. And suddenly feeling extremely out of place.

“If you would rather to return to San Francisco, I can arrange transport. Alternatively, you may remain here. Either way, however, I must attend this gathering.” This was uttered in his best firm-but-polite tone, but he softened it with a more emotional plea. “My preference is that you come with me, Zoe. The Enterprise is nearly ready for final warp trials, after which we will be embarking on another extended mission. We will not have many more opportunities to spend time together.”

“There you go with the sense-making again,” I muttered. “I’m just a little nervous.”

“Ah,” he said. “Then this would be your pre-Picard grumble. Carry on.”

“Excuse me?” I left the bathroom and stalked toward him, giving him a look that – if it were a blade – would cut through bio-plas sheeting.

“You become nervous, agitated, and somewhat antagonistic before every social event where the captain will be present. I do not understand why you assume he either dislikes or disapproves of you. I can assure you that neither is true. However, experience has taught me that no argument I make will dissuade you from completing your ritual grump. Please be aware however, that if we do not leave within nine-point-seven-three minutes we will be late.”

For several seconds, I just stared at him. Then I burst out laughing.

“Have I said something funny?” he asked me, and for just a second he was the old, pre-emotion-chip Data I’d crushed on for most of high school.

I shook my head. “Not exactly,” I said. “It’s just…Geordi was completely right. We do act married.”

“If you say so, dear,” he replied, teasing me.

“Argh! Stop that.” I took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m done grumbling now, but I am a little nervous around the captain. Help me find a way to not be? I mean, holding your hand works some, but that’s a bit weird after about the first minute.”

“Perhaps, since you cannot hold my hand the entire evening, you would permit me to give you a talisman, of sorts,” he said. “We have been exchanging gifts on New Year’s Eve for many years, and though I enjoyed being there as you and your family celebrated Christmas, I find that our own tradition is equally important to me.” As if by magic a small blue box appeared in his hand.

I smiled at that, accepting the box but not opening it yet. “I brought you something, too,” I confessed. “Give me a sec.” I went to the closet where I’d stowed my overnight bag (Data was a bit of a neat-freak) and pulled out a wrapped parcel. “Here,” I said, handing it to him. “I didn’t want to give you this in front of my parents…it’s not personal, really, but it also is.”

He opened the parcel to find a burgundy knit shirt and a navy blue sweater. “Civilian attire,” he observed. “This is why you kept my spare uniform jacket.”

“Guilty,” I said. “I needed to know your size and didn’t want you to know. Though I did return it. You should consider investing in some Starfleet logo-wear sweats and tees so I can steal those instead.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I will wear them at the earliest opportunity.”

“Pictures or it didn’t happen,” I reminded him, grinning. Then I opened the box he’d given me. It was jewelry, and it was exquisite: the Greek masks of comedy and tragedy wrought in gold and suspended on a fine gold chain. “It’s lovely, Data, thank you. Put it on me?” I turned around so he could fasten the clasp.

“I am glad you like it,” he said. “We must leave now.”

I touched the metal of the masks then reached for his hand. “Okay.” I said. “Let’s go.”


If I had been expecting a fancy party, I would have been bitterly disappointed. The captain’s New Year’s Eve gathering was actually fairly subdued, and only one step removed from intimate. Held in one of the observation lounges, it featured muted lighting, soft music, and many “conversation groupings” of chairs and tables, as well as another table laden with various hot and cold foods and drinks.

Picard himself greeted us as we entered. Like Data, he wasn’t dressed formally, but wore a standard duty uniform. Beyond him, people mingled in an air of casual festivity, among them the senior staff and several of the ship’s department heads, both Starfleet and civilian. Will and Deanna were conspicuous in their absence, but I’d heard they were spending the evening with Commander Riker’s father. I wondered if missing this shindig had required special dispensation from the Admiralty.

“Mr. Data, welcome. Zoe, I’m glad you’re with us tonight.” His demeanor was a blend of holiday cheer and a bit of his typical reserve, a mix only he could manage. He leaned forward to kiss me on both cheeks. “Try the Cartesian crab puffs; they’re delicious.”

I wasn’t used to seeing him being so relaxed, but I was in no position to question such things, so I merely echoed Data’s polite “Thank you, sir,” and moved past him.

Geordi waved us over to the table he was sharing with his current girlfriend, a woman named Christy Henshaw he’d been on-and-off about for almost as long as I’d known him, Reg Barclay and his girlfriend, the ship’s new primary school teacher, Sarah Miller, and, wearing a cadet uniform, Wesley Crusher.

“I thought Wes was off flying through the cosmos without a ship?” I murmured to Data as we wove our way through the other tables.

“Apparently he has returned,” came his dry response.

Wes stood up when we arrived, shaking hands with Data and hugging me. “Did you come with your mom?” he asked, scanning the rest of the room.

“Zoe is here with me.” Data answered him before I could.

Wes either didn’t grasp the implication, or didn’t care.

“I’m not even sure if my mother was invited,” I added. “It’s good to see you though, and we should totally catch up but someone let me nap through dinner.” I turned back to Data, “I’m going to check out the crab puffs. Do you want anything?”

“I will accompany you.”

We browsed the buffet, returning to the table with a plate of crab puffs, coconut prawns, and spicy yellowtail sushi for me, and a small sampling of vegetable dishes for Data, as well as a glass each of red wine. He’d chosen the merlot, while I’d gone for the syrah.

“So, anyway, Commander Harris wrote me a nice recommendation, and they let me resume classes,” Wes was saying when we returned to the table. “I was hoping she’d be here so I could thank her.”

“Oh, so that’s why you asked about Mom,” I said as I sat down between Wes and Data. “She and Ed are in Paris for the holiday, but I’m sure she’d love it if you stopped by the house sometime and said hello. Ed almost always has students around, and Mom does, too, and you’d be surprised at how many Enterprise alums end up there.”

“Alums?” Data asked.

“Alumni,” I explained. “Slang, sorry.”

“The Enterprise is not a university,” he observed. “But, I believe your term fits the sentiment.”

“I’m glad you approve,” I teased. “Also, Captain Picard was right, the crab puffs are incredible.”

“I know! Aren’t they?” This was from Sarah, who had been pretty quiet up to this point. “Reg won’t try them. Says shellfish makes him itch.”

I shrugged, smiling, “His loss, our gain. Are you looking forward to having kids on the ship again soon?”

“I am!” she enthused. “Is it true you were a student here?”

“It’s true,” I said, “Wes was, too, actually – for longer than I was. For me it was only the middle two years of high school. Well, technically I was enrolled for my senior year, too, but I was apprenticing with Idyllwild that year, so most of my work was via correspondence.”

“That’s why you look familiar,” Christy interjected. She’d been having a side conversation with Geordi and Reg. “You were in that play with Data a few years back. Good Women or Little Wives, wasn’t it?”

Little Women,” Data, Sarah, and I said together, and laughed.

“I was so nervous,” I said. “I was only seventeen, and Doctor Crusher had cast me as Jo. And I had to kiss Data.”

“You didn’t cheat the kiss?” Sarah asked.

“We could’ve, I guess,” I answered. “But I’d been crushing on him for almost two years at that point, and I was on this weird edge of wanting to kiss him, but not wanting him to be able to tell how I really felt.” I turned to Data, who was suspiciously quiet. “Did you know?”

“I did not,” he confirmed. “My chief concern with regard to that play was whether I would adequately convey that the Professor was in love with Jo.”

“Considering almost every woman in the engineering department was talking about your performance the next morning,” Christy said, “I’d say you did a good job.” She peered at us, “But I thought you hadn’t been dating that long?”

I took a sip of wine before answering, “We haven’t. Data was never more than a very kind, very patient friend to me. It wasn’t even me who clued him in that I had been crushing on him.”

“We have only been dating for seven months,” Data said. “Fortunately, I have been allowed to remain with the new Enterprise for much of that time.” I shivered slightly when he said that, realizing again just how lucky we had been. “Zoe,” he added in a softer tone, “Are you cold?”

I shook my head. “No, sorry, I’m fine.”

“You’re at Yale, aren’t you?” Christy asked. After I nodded, she added, “What are you studying?”

“It’s an interdisciplinary program – performance and social justice with an emphasis on theater,” I explained. “By the time I graduate, I’ll have met the requirements for pre-law, but I haven’t decided if I want to pursue that or not. I’m kind of itching to be done with academia for a while. My advisor says I should take the LSAT’s, and spend the summer going on auditions, and do law school as a winter entrant if nothing pans out. I’ve sent my resume and headshot to about fifteen agents in the last month, so, we’ll see.”

“I was not aware law school was a serious consideration,” Data commented.

“It isn’t, really,” I said. “I’d love your insight though; can we discuss it later…alone?”

“Yes, dear,” he said, mischief creeping into his tone.

Everyone at the table laughed.


As the evening drew on, the conversation waned and the furniture was pushed back toward the walls for dancing. As host, Captain Picard had circulated among all of his guests, and now he returned to our table. “Zoe, may I steal you away for a dance?”

I glanced at Data to make sure he didn’t mind, but he and Wes had both joined the engineering chatter, and Sarah was in the restroom. “Thank you, sir,” I said. “I’d like that.”

The song wasn’t anything special…generic dance music that wasn’t too slow or too fast, and – big surprise – he was an excellent leader. “Have you been enjoying your time on the Enterprise?” he asked. “I know Data is glad to have you here.”

“It’s been a nice break,” I answered truthfully. “But a little weird. No offense, sir, but I never feel like I quite belong here, and now…I’m sorry, that’s really more than you wanted to know.”

“Not at all,” he said smoothly. “Did I overhear you mention the possibility of law school?”

“It’s really just a remote possibility right now,” I answered. “Actually being a working actor is my preference.”

“And if you did pursue law, is there a specific aspect of it that interests you?”

“Civil rights law would dovetail with my current course of study,” I said. “As the Federation expands, there are always kinks to be worked out with new cultures…some don’t have the same views on citizenship as most of us do.”

“And theater helps that?”

“Theater has always been used to draw attention to the flaws and foibles of society,” I said. “But I also chose my program because I wanted to make sure I did get a real education beyond accent mimicry and stage movement. It’s challenging enough not feeling like an utter idiot when I’m around, well…you, sir.”

“Is that why you feel you don’t belong here? Because you’re not an expert on starship propulsion or warp theory.”

“Data mentioned that, did he?”

“He suggested you might feel more comfortable if I reached out to you.”

“I’ll kill him.”

“I’d prefer that you didn’t,” he said drily. “He meant well, and he was right to bring it up. Let me clarify, then, Zoe Harris: you are always welcome here, and Data will not be the only person hurt if you avoid coming to visit.”

“Duly noted, sir,” I said, imitating a certain android. “And thank you…for the chat and the dance.”

“No, Zoe, thank you.” The song finished and he escorted me back to the table. “Make sure either you or Mr. Data lets me know when you open in The Crucible. If the Enterprise is close enough to Earth, I would enjoy seeing it.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

Data and I danced after that, and then I invited Wes to dance since he didn’t have a date, and then I danced with Reg, and then Geordi while Data partnered Sarah and Christy. Finally it was midnight – well, midnight, ship’s time – and Captain Picard,stepped to the center of the room.

“Friends and colleagues,” he said, “thank you for joining me in celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.” Servers had appeared and were handing out champagne. Data acquired two glasses, and handed one to me. “As we count down to midnight, please lift your glasses and remember those we’ve lost, welcome new members to our family, and toast to the future, and the good fortune of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and those whose lives are intertwined with hers.”

Numerous instances of “Cheers!” and “Happy New Year!” filled the room, backed by the strains of “Auld Lang Syne.”


Once the noise died down, and the champagne was gone, the party broke up. Data and I were among the last to bid goodnight to Captain Picard, and then we were out in the corridor and waiting for a turbo-lift. I caught his hand once we were alone inside a ‘lift, and kept it until we were back inside his quarters.

“Zoe, is something wrong?” His voice was laced with concern.

“Sorry, Data,” I said. “I’m just realizing how hard it’s going to be not seeing you every day.”

“We have made it through seven months of not seeing each other every day,” he pointed out. “I do not relish the thought of being apart from you for weeks at a time, either, but we must both have faith that our relationship will survive it.”

“Do you honestly believe we can make the long distance thing work?” I asked. I didn’t mention that my parents had tried and failed.

“Yes,” he said. “I do.” More vehemently he added. “I must.”

I kicked off my shoes, and pulled off the knit sweater I’d been wearing over a camisole all night, flopping onto the couch. “Then I guess I have to trust you,” I said. “After all you are the one who has the reputation for being infuriatingly right all the time.”

“Indubitably,” he said lightly, bending to kiss me.

“Do you have work you absolutely have to get done tonight, or would you do something for me?” I asked.

“You would like tea?” he guessed.

I laughed softly. “Okay two ‘somethings’. Would you play something for me on your violin? I miss hearing it.”

His lips curved into the softest, sweetest version of his smile. “I will be happy to. Is there anything in particular you would like to hear?”

“Surprise me.”

He brought me, not a dainty cup, but a proper mug of tarragon and mint tea, and I curled into my favorite corner of the couch, cradling the mug in both hands. After a moment to tighten his bow and tweak the tuning on the violin he began to play.

The first piece was a favorite of mine, something I’d even played on the cello, once upon a time when I thought playing music was all I wanted to do, Bach’s “Air on the G String.” He’d told me, once, that someone had written lyrics to the piece, a story about a boy finding his father’s cast-off violin in an attic, with only one string left.

As my tea dwindled down to only dregs, though, and sleep began to overtake me, Data surprised me with a modern tune, one we’d even danced to earlier in the night: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

Maybe I’m crazy to suppose
I’d ever be the one you chose
Out of a thousand invitations
You received

Ooh, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance:
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?


Notes: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” music and lyrics are by Frank Loesser. “Air on the G String” was originally the 2nd movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major (BWV 1068). The version most of us are familiar with is an arrangement by August Wilhelmj, who transposed the piece from D major to C major so that it could, in fact, be played entirely on one string. It’s become part of the typical repertoire for most bowed string players. There really are lyrics to it (I remember singing them in a concert in elementary school), but I only remember fragments and have never been able to find them online. I believe the vocal version goes by the name “One String Melody.”


Auld Lang Syne: Part I

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything from canon; I own the rest. This takes place along-side and in-between “Crush” and “Strawberry”.


Auld Lang Syne

Part I: (22-31 December, 2367)


22 December 2367 (Earth equivalent date) – Centaurus Central Spaceport

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

“You really don’t have to wait with me,” I told my companion as I fidgeted in my too-uncomfortable chair. It was bolted to the floor, one of a row of several similarly uncomfortable chairs. “I mean, I’m almost seventeen. I really don’t need a babysitter.”

He ignored my snarky tone, and reminded me mildly, “I promised your mother I would escort you safely into your father’s care.”

I rolled my eyes at that. “Just because some girl from the back of beyond managed to get herself sent to New Tierra instead of Earth doesn’t mean I’m that clueless,” I grumped. “I’m surprised she didn’t give you one of those kid-leashes to attach to my wrist.”

He blinked his yellow eyes at me several times, then tilted his head slightly, the way he always did when something quite literally did not compute. “Query,” he asked. “Kid…leash?”

“It’s a thing exasperated parents use with hyperactive children. You put one end around your wrist and another around the kid’s so they can be mobile but not able to go too far.”

“That would seem a simple, yet effective solution to a common problem,” he said. “But if you are too old for a babysitter,” he pointed out, “you are certainly too old for a kid-leash.”

“That was sort of the point, Data.” It came out more sharply than I’d intended. I waited a beat then added a soft. “Sorry.”

“There is no need to apologize, Zoe. I am aware that you are annoyed with your mother, and merely directing your annoyance toward me.”

“Have I mentioned lately that your habit of being right all the time is kind of frustrating?”

Data’s response was as calm and measured as ever, but it still changed the entire tenor of our conversation. “In the last five weeks, four days, and seventeen point six hours you have not ‘mentioned’ anything of import to me at all.”

“That’s not true,” I started to argue, but I had to admit, it kind of was. I’d picked a fight with him almost six weeks ago, just before I’d quit his class and killed my cello. “I’ve talked to you.”

“Shall I repeat every word that you have spoken to me since we left the Enterprise?” he asked, and I swear it sounded as if he was hurt – or even a little angry – at my recent behavior. “It will not take long.”

There were any number of responses I could have made, but the dirtside waiting area of a major spaceport wasn’t the appropriate venue, so I opted to excuse myself to the restroom. “I’ll be right back,” I said.

It’s really wrong when the toilets in a spaceport bathroom are more comfortable than the chairs in the waiting area. It was equally wrong that the only words I’d spoken on our shuttle trip – the seventeen point whatever hours in his list – to a man who had never been anything but kind to me – who even counted me as a friend and not just his student – were polite greetings and monosyllabic confirmations that I was comfortable.

I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and resolved to apologize to him and explain, but I still lingered for the space of three holiday played over the sound system. One was a classic Christmas Carol, one was about seasons in the sand on Risa, and the last one was an instrumental piece that I’m pretty sure my father had composed.

When I got back to our seats my father had arrived, and that he and Data were standing and chatting.

“Hey, Dad,” I greeted. “Love the jacket.” It was red, and suede, and swirled like a cape. “Very seasonal.”

“Ho, ho, merry, merry,” he replied, and pulled me into a one-armed hug. His other hand was holding my flight-bag. “Sorry for the delay; Gia was napping and I didn’t want to leave til she was awake.”

“Is she doing okay?” I asked. “I thought she was ready to pop.” I saw a confused expression cross Data’s face and explained before he could ask, “Gia is very, very pregnant.”

“Congratulations on the impending arrival of your son or daughter,” Data said.

“Thank you,” my father answered. “She’s got another month or so, and she’s tired a lot, but she’s fine.” He went on, then, continuing a conversation that had obviously begun before I’d returned. “So, Commander, you’ll join us at the house after your conference? You know the address?”

“I will be there,” Data agreed just before he turned away. “Merry Christmas, Maestro, Zoe.”

“Merry Christmas,” I murmured by way of a farewell, forgetting to add, “And thank you for the lift,” until my father nudged me.

My father waited as I watched Data walk back through the security checkpoint. I waited for him to be out of sight – and out of hearing range – before I asked, “Why would he need our address?”

“His conference ends before your vacation. I invited him to spend the last few days at the house.”

“With us?”

“Is that a problem?” He turned toward the doors and I followed, listening as he said, “For the last year and a half, you’ve spoken almost constantly of this man: ‘He’s the most awesome teacher, Dad. He makes theory so easy. My playing has improved so much…'”


“Then I hear that you threw a cello at him while your mother was on an away mission. That’s not like you, Zo’.”

“Stuff happened,” I said. “He sent her on that mission. And she was hurt. And then she was late. And then I got pissed.”

“You know he didn’t mean for her to be injured.”


“You know he’s given up hours of his time for you.”

I sighed. My father’s new relationship had turned him from a best friend with slight authority-figure overtones to a full-on parent. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“Is it? Because I’d hate to think that my beautiful, talented daughter was unleashing her inner bitch for no good reason.”


“Zoe!” He mimicked my shocked tone. “We’ve never had a typical father-daughter relationship, kiddo. We’ve always been honest with each other, yes?”

“Mostly,” I conceded.

“Your mom is worried. She says you’ve been withdrawn and sullen, and even a little mean since you broke up with that boy.”

“T’vek, Dad. His name is T’vek.”


I could see my father’s obnoxious green flitter ahead of us in the parking bay, and considered stalling until we were inside, but if he was going to yell at me, I’d rather not be in close quarters. “He left.”

“His parents were transferred. You know that’s part of the job of a Starfleet officer. Your mother’s been through it enough times.”

“I know, but – ”

“But what? Did Commander Data send them away?”

“Well, he cut the orders, but – ”

This was apparently going to be a conversation where I never got to finish a sentence. “But, what?” my father interrupted. “You can’t seriously be blaming the man for doing his job?”

“Yeah, Dad. That’s exactly the problem,” I snarked.

“Would you mind just telling me what’s going on? Zoe, I can’t help if you don’t talk to me.” He opened the boot of the flitter and tossed in my bag, leaving me to slide into the passenger seat. Once he was behind the controls, he softened his tone, trying another tack: “If you tell me, I’ll let you drive once we’re out of the port authority zone.”

“Wow, Dad, I’m only with you for fifteen minutes, and already the bribery begins.”

“Did it work?” he asked, the trace of a smile peeking through his otherwise-stern expression. We lifted off and headed away from the parking area.

I sighed. “It’s like this. I get dragged to this starship when I was perfectly happy at the arts academy here. Then I meet the one boy there who isn’t a hopeless mess or an officer wannabe, and things are really good – I mean really good. And then we had sex, and then he left.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I spoke, and my speech got faster and faster.

If the flitter had been in ground mode, there would have been a screeching stop. As it was, my father merely choked out, “Autopilot: engage.”

“You and mom had a long distance relationship for years, Dad. I thought…I really thought T’vek and I would last longer…”

“At sixteen, you thought you’d find the love of your life?” I couldn’t tell if he was angry or concerned. Probably, he was both. “And what are you doing having sex with anyone at your age? Does your mother know? Did he force you? You’re not pregnant are you?”

I waited, forcing a few calming breaths before I responded. “No, Dad. I just thought it would last longer than the week after my birthday, you know.” I tried to keep my voice controlled, but I could hear the shakiness of it. “And no, he didn’t force me. And, God, Dad, I’m not stupid. We used protection.

He, too, needed to breathe before he could speak again. I looked away from him, out the viewport. The day was deepening into twilight and the twinkle of holiday lights was visible on a lot of the houses.

“Does your mother know?” he asked again.

“No. Yes. I don’t know.”


“I really don’t. I mean, I think she might suspect, but I haven’t come out and told her, or anything.” I didn’t tell him about the time she’d caught us making out, half-undressed.

“No, you save that for me.”

I shrugged. “You’re less likely to march me down to a counselor for professional help,” I pointed out. “And when you yell at me, it’s louder, but it blows over faster.”

He rolled his eyes at me, and shook his head. “Crazy,” he said. “You are so delightfully crazy.”

I perked up. “Delightfully?” I asked.

“Deliciously,” he responded.

“Defiantly,” I said, and for the first time in what felt like forever, I allowed a real smile to emerge on my own face.

“About Data, though…?”

“Oh. That.” But it wasn’t hard to talk about it now. “So, we’ve been doing these Saturday morning sessions almost every week, and I guess for a guy with no emotions he’s gotten pretty good at recognizing when someone he spends a lot of time with is having a bad time. Did you know that android patience goes beyond forever?”

“Does it?” my father smirked. “Wonder if he could bottle it?”

“Dad…!” But I wasn’t really protesting. “Maybe you could ask him. Anyway, he kept ‘reminding me’ that he was ‘willing to listen’ if I needed ‘an ear.'” I could hear myself falling into my tutor/friend/confidante’s speech patterns.

“And you blew up at him.” He stated it; he didn’t ask.

“Kind of, yeah. But…Dad, he was being so frustratingly, awesomely, nice.

My father gave me a look that telegraphed both amusement and unconditional love.

“I guess I owe him a major apology,” I said. “And about a month and a half of back homework.”

“Will he let you back into his class?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I admitted. “But I think he’ll appreciate the gesture.”


For as long as I could remember, my father had thrown a major blow-out party on the last night of the year. The calendar on Centaurus doesn’t always match up exactly with the one from Earth, but most years it was close enough. This year, it was New Year’s Eve on both planets, which meant an even bigger party than usual. Or maybe it was that my father was anxious about his second child being born and needed to channel that energy into something creative.

Either way, anyone around the house risked getting pressed into service and I was no exception. Neither, apparently, was Commander Data, who – true to his word – had arrived at the Harris house the morning before the big day.

“Data! You’re here!” I bounced on my toes when I met him at the door, his arrival finding me both on my way out, and unable to contain my own nervous energy. “I’m really glad you came,” I said, and I met his eyes when I said it.

“Greetings, Zoe,” he said, the way he typically did. “Are you well?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Better than that, even. But right now I have to run into town to pick up the sparklers for tomorrow night. Wanna come?” I dangled the starter fob for my new flitter, my Christmas gift from Dad, in front of him. “I’ll show you your room first, and stuff.”

“Your father has already tasked me with the arrangement of the tables,” Data said. “Or I would accompany you. May I offer belated congratulations on passing the test?”

“Thanks,” I said, turning around. “Follow me, and you can leave your bag. I can’t believe he gave you a job before you even got here.”

“Your father is remarkably efficient,” Data observed.

I led him up the two flights of stairs to the guest wing – it was a very large, very old (well, old for a colony world) house – and showed him the room we’d chosen for him. “It shares a bath with the room next door,” I explained. “But no one’s using it this year…at least not tonight. Sometimes people crash here if the party gets too intense, or goes too late.”

“I am certain it is adequate,” he said.

“Towels are in the closet, extra bathrobes and stuff, too.” My father often rented the house to vacationers when he was away on tour. “Kitchen’s on the ground floor in the east wing, below the family quarters. Tonight’s pretty casual – we usually do pizza and movies in the living room for whoever’s here.”

“Noted,” he said.

I was babbling because it was weird having him here. Good-weird, but still weird. A chime on my pocket communicator reminded me of my appointment in town. “Gotta book,” I breezed. I turned to go, and then paused and turned back. “Data,” I said. “I know I’ve been kind of a bitch for the last four months, and I don’t know why you didn’t throw me out an airlock or something, but I really am glad you’re here.” Then I left, without waiting for a response.

I didn’t see him again until late that evening, long after the pizza had been consumed and we’d watched remastered-for-tri-d versions of both Casablanca – my father’s favorite – and Clue, which had been my choice. Of course, Data had merely sampled the different flavors – pineapple and sausage, mushroom and olive, fried gagh worms and spam, though the last was a hormone-induced combination invented by Gia.

It was long past midnight, and I’d all but given up on sleep. I’d been thinking, for over a week, about the apology I had to make, and I wanted to get it over with before my father’s party. Still wearing the t-shirt and jeans I’d put on that morning, but barefoot, I grabbed my padd, left my room and headed down the hall to the guest wing. There were three bedrooms on that side of the hall, and only one was currently in use, light shining from the crack beneath the door.

I knocked softly, knowing Data would hear, and he came to the door. “Zoe,” he said. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes,” I said. “And no.”

“I do not understand.”

“Can you come to the kitchen with me? I need to talk to you and that requires tea, and a neutral setting.”

“One moment.” He disappeared into the bedroom, and returned wearing a bathrobe – more a dressing gown really, and holding a small, square package.

“Basil Rathbone, much?” I asked, referring to his attire.

“Ah! You recognize the garb of the Great Detective!” One of Data’s rare ‘natural’ smiles lit up his features. “I was not aware you were a fan.”

“I like the stories,” I said, as I led him down the back stairs, through the butler’s pantry, and into the kitchen. “Not so much a fan of Basil Rathbone’s portrayal. If you’re into old-school, I think Jeremy Brett was much better. More recently, G’mer the Elder’s interpretation is pretty compelling. Dad took me to see him perform Holmes as a one-man show a couple years ago.”

We continued the light conversation as I busied myself in the kitchen, boiling water in an antique kettle that my grandmother loved, and spooning loose tea into a tea press. “Do you mind spearmint?” I asked. “It’s softer than peppermint, great for before-bed sipping.”

“I will be happy to sample it.”

I brought the teapot, honey, cups and spoons to the kitchen table, and sat in my usual spot, facing out into the back yard. Our house was on a bluff overlooking the ocean, and even though I couldn’t see the waves in the dark, I could catch the sound of the surf if I strained. “Join me?” I invited. And he did.

For a time, we sat in silence, just sipping the tea. Mint always made me feel better – more focused, more confident – and I let this blend work its magic, but then came Data’s gentle reminder, “You said that you wished to talk.”

“I wanted to apologize for the way I’ve been acting, and the way I treated you,” I said. “I could give you the whole explanation for it, but it’s easier to just say that I was childish and stupid, and I took advantage of who and what you are, and it would mean a lot if you would forgive me.”

“I have observed that humans, especially those in their adolescent stages, are often irrational. Research suggests that this is due to a combination of hormone imbalance and literal ‘growing pains.'”

“So, is that a yes or a no?” I asked.

“There is nothing for me to forgive, Zoe. I cannot empathize with your situation, but I believe I can understand the reason you directed your anger toward me. I believe the appropriate response would be ‘that is what friends are for.'”

His hand was resting on the surface of the table, and I darted my own out to squeeze it quickly. “Thank you,” I said. “I can’t honestly say I missed your math class, but I’ve missed spending Saturday mornings with you.”

“I had grown to anticipate our ‘Saturday sessions’ as well,” he said, using a phrase I’d coined. “Do you wish to resume them?”

“Yes and no,” I said, but I added before he could claim non-comprehension. “I wish to propose an alternate plan.”

His head tilt, this time, meant that his curiosity had been piqued. “Please explain?”

I slid my padd toward him. “My mother will insist that I complete the year in your tutorial, if you’ll have me back,” I said. “I spent a good chunk of my vacation catching up on assignments – Dana and Josh gave me their notes – so, there’s that.”

“I will have to review your work,” he said, keying in the sequence of commands that would send my files to his account. “However, I see no reason to deny your return.” He paused, catching my gaze and holding it with his own. “I am available if you require assistance.”

I nodded. “Okay,” I said. “That’s part one.”

“There is a part two?”

“And a three. And maybe a four, but that’s down the road a ways.”

“Go on.”

“I’ve been studying all the music theory stuff we were working on before I blew up at you. I think I’m ready for the final exam. Can I have my padd back?” He nodded and returned it to me. “I want you to give me the final, and then, if you’re willing I want you to help me with this.” I entered a couple of commands, then slid the padd back to him again.

“This is an open audition for the all-Federation youth orchestra,” he said after scanning the document I’d shared.

“It’s five weeks from now,” I said. “Which is likely forever for you, but not so much for me. Will you coach me?”

“I would be honored to assist you in any way I can,” he said, “though I am not certain what ‘coaching’ you require.”

“I have to pick two pieces to play. One has to be technical, one has to convey emotion. I have to have them memorized.” I looked down at the table a bit sheepishly. “We both know I only practice if I have someone to be accountable to.”

“That does seem to be so,” he agreed.

I grinned. “Two down. Okay, part three…a belated Christmas present. That’s on the padd, as well.” I turned it back toward me one more time, and brought up the file in question. “You don’t have very many photos – flat or holo. I guess maybe you don’t need them to remember, but Wes sent me this when he sent the notes, and I hoped you might like a copy.”

“This is from your recital. Thank you, Zoe.”

“It is. It’s us. I tweaked the background a little, enhanced the contrast, but…it’s us. I was so nervous that night. I didn’t want to disappoint you.”

“You did not,” he assured. “I didn’t have time to wonder if he meant that he couldn’t be disappointed or something else, because he presented me with the small box I’d seen him carrying earlier. “I also have a gift for you.”

“You don’t even celebrate Christmas,” I said. “You spent the holiday at a conference on a world where Christmas isn’t even a thing.”

“But as we have established, we are friends, and friends honor each other’s traditions, do they not?”

“Well, yes.”

“There was a vintage clothing store across the street from the conference center. This was in the window, and I recalled your growing collection of similar items. Please open it.”

I did as I was told, removing the lid and parting the lime green tissue paper to reveal a bundle of white cotton. “You bought me a t-shirt?” I asked. “Seriously.”

“I was assured it was not ‘just any’ t-shirt,” he said.

I unfolded it, and turned it so I could see the logo and writing on it. ” ‘Hard Rock Café – Shi’Kahr,'” I read. “They were only open for two years. This is rare in the extreme!” Impulsively, I rose from my chair to hug him. “Data, thank you! I can’t wait to wear it!”

His arms were stiff and awkward at first, and he stayed seated, but he returned my hug. “I am pleased that you approve,” he said.

He caught me yawning not long after I’d returned to my chair and quietly suggested that I go get some sleep. Wisely, I chose not to argue.


The party was as spectacular as I expected, and then some. It started with nibbles and mingling, but almost all of my father and Gia’s friends are musicians, so it was inevitable that a jam session would break out.

At one point, someone gave Data a clarinet, and he did a credible job on a jazz piece, despite the fact that improvised syncopation is really not his area of expertise. He gave the instrument back to its rightful owner just in time for me to corner him.

“Having fun?” I asked.

“It is an interesting confluence of events,” he observed. “I am afraid I have much to learn about jazz, however.”

“You have to let go a little, to play it right,” I said. “Dad’s all about classical, but jazz is his playtime.” Someone bumped into me, and I realized it was Gia, dancing very delicately with one of the flautists from the music school. I grinned at her, then turned back to Data. “Once the dancing’s started all is right with the world.”

“My daughter is right, Mr. Data,” my father said, coming to join us. “May I borrow her from you – it’s likely one of the last times she’ll be willing to dance with her old man.”

“You’re not that old,” I told my father, as he whirled me onto the dance floor, which was really the living room with all the furniture pushed back.

“No? Then why is my daughter practically a young woman.”

“Magic?” I suggested. “Or time travel. Personally, I wish I were older.”

“Because of a certain Starfleet officer whose circuits might just melt if he understood what you really feel for him?” The question was uttered in a teasing tone.

“Dad!” I protested. “He’s my…” but I couldn’t finish that sentence with ‘tutor’ the way I usually did. “…friend.”

He kissed my forehead. “Don’t be in such a rush to grow up, my Zoetrope. If he’s half the man he seems to be, he’ll wait til the time is right.” I blushed, but he just laughed his musical laugh at me. “Of course, he’s probably not quite ready either.”

“He’s a billion years older than me. And an officer. And…” I didn’t finish the thought. “And I’m just some girl who forgets he’s in charge, a lot, and kind of thinks he’s amazing.”

“As amazing as your dad?”

I laughed. “Sometimes,” I said.

The song ended, and the band switched to a slower tempo. Dad went off to find Gia, and I found myself watching Data dance with one of my second cousins. He’d worn his dress uniform, and if he wasn’t exactly the handsomest man at this party, he was certainly the most striking.

I snagged a glass of laced eggnog from a serving tray, and took a healthy swallow, feeling the alcohol make warmth flow all through me. Dad never served the fake stuff. I threaded my way back toward Data just as the song was ending.

“Zoe! Your math tutor is an excellent dancer,” my cousin informed me.

I grinned at her. “Preaching to the choir ‘Nessa.” To Data, I simply said, “My turn.” I passed my glass to Vanessa, who walked away smiling. “I mean, if you don’t mind?” I backpedaled.

I’d danced with him before, on the Enterprise, and now, as then, he simply guided me into the proper position, leading me in time to the tune that wasn’t quite slow enough to be romantic, but wasn’t exactly fast, either. “You are unusually quiet tonight,” he observed, applying enough pressure to my waist to indicate the direction of our next turn.

“Stayed up too late chatting with a really good friend,” I teased. “And…I don’t know, it’s weird being home without Mom, with Gia here, with you here. My father likes you, by the way.”

“He is an excellent musician and a gracious host,” Data said.

“He also has excellent taste in houseguests. Dressed the way you are, how have you not been fending every woman here off with a stick?”

He indicated another turn, this time under his arm. I’d had years of ballet and tap, but ballroom was still very new to me. “Step, step, change,” he whispered very softly, before raising his voice ever so slightly to answer me. “When your father initially proposed that I join your family for this celebration, he issued the invitation on your behalf.”

It was my turn to tilt my head in confusion. “So…you’re here as my guest? I didn’t realize. But then…he didn’t know I’d been such a bitch.”

“Language, Zoe,” he said, but he’d managed to soften it into a sort of teasing tone.

“I’m so spending the shuttle ride home swabbing decks aren’t I?”

But Data didn’t revert to our usual game of ‘playing pirates.’ He simply observed, “I have never known you to refer to the Enterprise as home.”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think, what with not-talking to you for a month, and being here for two weeks and all. I guess I decided that home isn’t so much a place as a state of mind.” I shrugged. “I’m incredibly lucky, you know. Some people don’t have any home. I have two.”

The song ended, but we didn’t move very far apart because it was almost midnight, and the servers were passing out sparklers. The band went silent, and my father gestured to the keyboard player for a chingaring.

“Beloved family and friends,” he said. “Shall we count down?”

“Do you know this tradition?” I asked Data very quietly. “Ten seconds out, they light the first sparkler. You pass the flame around the room, and exchange a kiss with whoever you’re close to.”

“Fifteen…” my father began, joined by more voices with every passing second. “Thirteen…eleven…ten…”

Someone clicked the lights off, but I heard the sizzle as the first sparkler caught fire, and watched as the tiny flickers of light began to traverse the room, from person to person.


It was Gia, who passed the flame to me, kissing me on the cheek, and whispering that she was glad I’d come to spend the holidays.


I turned to Data who bent his sparkler to mine. He was the end of the circuit. I stared at him, at the way his eyes seemed to glow in the heat of the flame, and I hesitated, realizing that the way I wanted to kiss him and the way I could kiss him were vastly different. Standing on tiptoe, I brushed a kiss across his cheek. “Happy New Year, Data,” I whispered in his ear. “Welcome to our family.”

The lights came back on as my father started singing “Auld Lang Syne,” and we all joined in on the first chorus.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give me a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Notes: “Auld Lang Syne” comes in many versions. The version we’re most familiar with was ‘collected’ by Robert Burns.