the Machine is Jean's Data/Tasha
novel. It is Pt. One of what was
originally intended to be a two-volume novel,
the sequel never materialized, so only Pulse is
Contains mature themes, must be 18 or
(or the age of majority in your area) to
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Over 45 pieces of art in this version!
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(Preview —first chapter in its
Tasha Yar stopped in front of the
main holodeck entrance and looked at
course. What program were they
running, anyway? And, more
importantly, who was inside—and
would they leave her the hell
alone? Last night's baseball
game in a dusty field with
twenty-bezillion kids running around
had been enjoyable for all of about
half an hour. And that had
been last night.
She put a hand to
the back of her neck, working out
the kinks—the result of an
overly-vigorous workout during
yesterday's security muster—and
punched in her access code.
me which setting is currently in
baseball field. At this time,
there are no vacancies on either
team, but spectator space
availability is unlimited."
playing?" She wasn't about to
go inside, but she was curious,
currently at bat is comprised of
personnel from sciences and various
medical departments. The
opposing team is comprised of their
spouses. Do you wish to
request specific names?"
And I don't think I'll be going
inside. Maybe I'll go around
to the middle one—is it occupied?"
There was a small
pause. "Yes, Lieutenant Yar."
Dammit. "Who's in that one?"
"Holodeck 2 is
currently reserved by Lieutenant
Commander Data for a period of one
considered. Data wasn't
boisterous and there was only one of
him. Sometimes he talked too much,
but he was fun to watch when he got
wound up on a subject.
Still . . . .
The business with
his home world, his double—the whole
mes still felt somewhat uncomfortable
about approaching him. He had
seemed a little . . . lost,
somehow. And he had been
unusually quiet at his
station. She had meant to make
an effort to spend some time around
him, to establish that everything
was status quo, but he hadn't been
at the bridge poker game, and the
rest of the time—she grimaced,
wondering suddenly just how many of
his friends had `meant to.'
Even Geordi had been reticent
around him, now that she thought
about it. In fact, she hadn't
seen Geordi much in Data's company
this past week. She wondered
who was avoiding whom. Or maybe it
uncertain. If Data wanted to
be left alone . . . . Under
similar circumstances, she could see
herself craving solitude for a
while. But who knew what Data
felt or wanted.
No. He had
seemed withdrawn. She would
go, and if he wanted privacy, he
could say so.
At the entrance
to Holodeck 2, she once again
for occupancy. Data was the
only person present, and she bet
herself two million credits that the
setting was the forest pattern.
The doors opened
onto a lush woodland, complete with
the scents of old leaves in a carpet
underfoot and the sounds of a
Should've made it
ten million, she thought.
by her head, and she pulled back,
startled. Dragonfly or
She stood staring
at the panorama before her, at the
sunlight slanting i sunlight slanting in golden shafts
through trees that were beginning to
show autumnal hues . . . it was
beautiful. Another of the
dragonflies flew past with a sound
that was more a faint trill than the
buzz she usually associated with
them. Someone had obviously
gotten creative with the
Now, where was
She listened for
the sounds of tuneless whistling,
badly imitated sneezes, throat
clearing, or any one of an endless
stream of `humanisms' that Data
could often be found practicing—Data
was so weird sometimes—but obviously
he was either silent, or sh far away to hear him.
walking, and heard the doors close
behind her. After a moment,
she came upon the stream that she
had first heard. It was a
lovely thing, with water lilies
floating atop the pool that had
formed to one side, and vines
hanging down in graceful curves over
the clear water. More of the
dragonflies flew past—there was
something puzzling about them,
something not quite right—but she
wasn't really looking at them. There
was probably a trail around
somewhere; most of the forest
patterns had them.
It didn't take
long, and she smiled upon
long, and she smiled upon
discovering it—it was carpeted with
yellow leaves, and the branches
curved overhead to produce an arched
ceiling of dancing colors; red,
yellow, orange and sienna all
threaded through and lit from behind
with golden sunshine. She
stopped in wonder and simply gazed
in delight. "Beautiful," she
murmured softly. "Just look at
it." It could be a marvelous
spot for meditation. Reluctantly,
she began moving down the trail.
She had to hand
it to Data, he had great taste in
woodland patterns. This was
definitely better than
baseball. She climbed a low
rise and looked down, finally
off, sitting at the base of a tree,
his back to her. The tree was
so large that the roots rose up as
high as his shoulders in thick
gnarled ropes, and the limbs
branched off far overhead. She
observed Data for a moment from her
vantage point. He was very
still, and she wondered again if she
should intrude. Uncertain, she
headed toward him slowly, and
stopped as she drew closer,
He had put his
head down on his arms, which were
crossed atop his updrawn knees, and
there was something about his
drooping posture so different from
his usual controlled exuberance that
it touched her. He looked . . it touched her. He looked . .
Tasha bit her lip
absently. Could Data feel
loneliness? Or hurt? Or
unhappiness? Or was she simply
Anthropomorphizing, hell. It
didn't take any great empathic
talents to see that Data's unusual
reclusion for the past week
signified one big misery. She
and misery were old companions.
She held back and
swatted at another of the pesky
dragonflies as she slipped behind a
tree. Data generally
didn't seem very concerned with
saving face, but it was a point of
honor for her not to intrude on
someone when they were
vulnerable. Not unless the
relationship warranted it, and she
didn't think theirs did, the events
that had taken place during her bout
with the Tsiolkovsky virus
She grimaced, as
she always did when she thought
about it. Not that she could
remember much of it, beyond a vague
impression that it had been
enjoyable. It was just
embarrassing. If anything had
constituted a loss of face . . . !
Several more of
the dragonflies swarmed around her,
and she slapped at one, missing it
by a centimeter, while another dove
at her face . . . wait a minute.
A hard tug on her
hair coincided with her realization
that it was fair payment for her
stupidity. Not dragonflies,
she thought in amusement as she
studied the delicate winged thing
hovering before her. Someone
definitely had a sense of the
whimsical. Not dragonflies at
reaching without conscious thought
for the tiny thing, wondering who in
the galaxy had programmed fairies,
and sighed as the creature flittaway. Her eyes followed
it—her—to Data . . . and
widened. Not only was the
fairy joined by a companion, but two
tiny—perfect—dragons were coming to
light on the roots and on Data's
shoulder—one green, one golden as
it, she stepped out from behind the
tree, drawn, enchanted. Data had
given a start at the dragons'
arrival, now he lifted his head and
sat up carefully, dawning
wonder replacing the faint
frown with a hint of a smile.
One hand rose ever so
slightly—curious child—but the
scientist won out, and he lowered
it, content to look.
The little green
one walked along the root, sharp
delicate claws gripping the bark,
long tail lazily curling, and cocked
its head to one side to stare at
Data with equal curiosity, while the
golden one first tried to climb into
his hair, then skittered around to
his other shoulder and peered up at
him. One of the fairies had
lost interest and was now doing
acrobatics on a nearby leaf, but the
other one was fascinated with the
android's hair, and was tugging on
strands of it with the obvious
intent of disheveling it as much as
closer, charmed by the scene, and by
Data's reaction to it. It was
as though he had been presented with
an embarrassment of riches—the focus
of his attention shifted as rapidly
as the fairies'.
After a moment,
both fairies flew off to play
tag-and-tumble airborne, but the
golden dragonet curled itself around
Data's neck and grew heavy lidded;
the green one did the same on its
root perch. It was then that
Data slowly extended one hand to
touch the green's scaly neck.
It lifted its head lazily and
simultaneously emitted a red forked
tongue and a token hiss. Data
froz dragonet settled back unconcerned,
clearly allowing the contact.
Tasha waited a
few moments more, until both dragons
seemed lulled into slumber, then
took the few steps remaining between
herself and Data, and leaned down to
wrap one arm around his chest from
behind to immobilize him. She
clamped her other hand over his
"Guess who," she
said, deepening her voice.
stiffened, his unoccupied hand
coming up to close around her wrist,
but at her words he relaxed.
The golden dragon stirred, but did
not not awaken, while the green one
looked at her through slitted eyes.
Tasha removed her
hand from his eyes and punched him
lightly on the shoulder. "You
twisted to look up at her. "I
did not cheat. You are not
very proficient at disguising your
him and grinned, then straightened
up to gesture around them
vaguely. "This is
wonderful. Did you program
Data shook his
head. "Not all of it. I
did introduce the autumn phase, but
someone else must have programmed
the fantasy elements, and the forest
pattern was already in the holodeck
She squatted down
on her heels and indicated the green
with a lift of her chin. "Think I
could pet him?"
it. "Possibly. It did
not attempt to bite me when I did
out, but the green reared up, wings
spreading, and hissed in
earnest. She pulled back,
earnest. She pulled back,
disappointed. "It doesn't seem
to like me. You try again."
Data moved his
hand toward it slowly, and it
shifted, nervous, but again
tolerated Data's touch.
obviously likes you better than
me. You live a charmed life,
stilled against the green scales,
and Data looked at her. "The
phrase `charmed life' . . . I do not
think my ability to touch one
computer simulated creature warrants
such an expression." His voice
Foot-in-Mouth Yar. "Sorry."
Data gazed at her
for a moment longer, then looked
back to the green dragon. "Perhaps
you should try the gold one," he
suggested helpfully. "It seems
less fearful than this one."
She shifted to her knees, and leaned
partially across him, reaching, then
pulled back. "The question is,
is dragonbite fatal?" She
Data gave her a
`search me—could be interesting'
look, and said, "I do not know.
However, if you intend to set
yourself up as a yourself up as an experimental
subject, I would prefer to be at a
safe distance." He looked down
meaningfully at the dragon curled
around his neck.
dangerously," Tasha told him,
leaning across him.
"It seems I have
little choice," he commented sotto
one finger to stroke the golden head
with a feather-light touch. In a
movement almost too quick for even
Data to follow, the creature raked
one claw along her wrist and sunk
its teeth into her finger, then
snapped back into its former
hough nothing had
Tasha snatched her hand back,
annoyance and sheepishness warring
for dominance on her face. The
sheepishness won out. "Live
and learn, I guess." She stuck
her bleeding finger into her mouth
and found Data watching her with a
look of curiosity.
"You are still
bleeding," he pointed out after a
moment. "Are you all right?"
nodded. "Unless these are
poisonous, which I seriously doubt,
I'm okay. I'll put something on them
when I get back to my quarters."
"Are you leaving
"No. It's just a
"And a bite."
Tasha rolled her
eyes at him. "Yes,
technically, just a scratch, and a
bite. They'll wait."
He didn't push
it, but merely nodded and centered
his attention once more on the green
dragon, watching it as it watched a
fairy float in lazy circles
overhead. Tasha settled beside
him tailor-fashion and absently
sucked her finger.
Data looked over
at her and frowned as he noticed
what she was doing. "Would it
not be more effective to care for
probably. But I'd rather stay
Data scanned the
scenery around them and
nodded. "It is pleasant here,"
he agreed. "But you could go
back to your quarters now, and
return to this computer setting
anytime the holodeck is available."
"Data, are you
trying to get rid of me, or are you
arguing just for the sake of
arguing?" Tasha dem arguing?" Tasha demanded.
surprised. "Neither. I
am simply pointing out all of the
we covered them all now?"
mind. I don't feel like
leaving. Besides, you might
not be here when I get back."
His frown as he
met her eyes was curiously
vulnerable, his query
hesitant. "You came to the
holodeck to see me?" The
er obviously dawned on
him. "Ah. Your shower is
broken again." He had fixed it
for her two weeks earlier, and also
a week prior to that.
reproached him. "My shower is
fine—well, actually, it could use
some more adjustment—but that isn't
why I came in here. I hadn't
seen much of you lately, so . .
." Her shoulders lifted by way
then. "And I wanted you to fix
His look was
blank. "That is a joke . . ."
he ventured slowly. He didn't
lowly. He didn't
sound too sure.
Yar shook her
head, still smiling. "Yes,
it's a joke."
that bit of information absently as
the green dragonet flew off, then
looked at Tasha innocently. "I
heard a joke the other day."
"Oh, yeah?" she
said before she thought. Then
it hit her: Data was going to tell
her the joke.
The dismay must
have shown on her face, for the
android's expression became
positively predatory, and he
hurriedly began de setup. "There was this man,
and he was walking down the street,
and he ran into his brother.
He said, `Hi, how are you?' and his
brother said, `Fine. Where are
you going?', and the man said, `I'm
going to the barber shop,' and his
brother said, `I'm going to the
barber shop, too.' So the man
said, `Let's go to the barber shop
together.'" Data looked
Tasha. "And?" she prompted.
slightly puzzled. "That is
all," he informed her, shaking his
Tasha thought it
Tasha thought it
over. "I don't get it.
Are you sure you're telling it
it. "I have not forgotten any
of it, if that is what you mean."
Both of them
repeated the alleged joke mentally,
identical looks of confusion on
"`Let's go to the
. . .' I still don't get it,"
Tasha said, dismissing it.
brightened. "I did not either,
but I had assumed that it was my own
lack of comprehension. I still
le with humor."
The blonde shook
her head. "I think you try too
hard. That was an incredibly
dumb joke. Who told it to
The plot thickens. Motive:
revenge." Data smiled at the
"Speaking of Geordi, I haven't seen
you with him much lately. What
"Is something the
matter? You've barely
exchanged two words with him this exchanged two words with him this
week; it's been like a `what's wrong
with this picture?' puzzle."
Data frowned, his
introspective. He hesitated,
then seemed to change his mind about
answering altogether, getting to his
feet abruptly and walking a short
distance to gaze out over the
landscape. The golden dragon
unwound itself from his neck and
took flight, while two trilling
fairies swooped down, tangled
themselves briefly in his hair, then
"I would like to
explore this setting further," he
said, as though her question had
never been uttered.&nb to look at her, absently raking his
hair back into place. "Do you want
to accompany me?"
Tasha studied him
for a second or two, wondering at
his evasiveness, then
Data reached down
to pull her to her feet before
starting down the path. Absorbed in
brushing leaves off her uniform, the
security chief caught up with him in
a couple of running strides, and
impulsively reclaimed his hand,
lacing her fingers through his and
squeezing hard. She couldn't
for the life of her explain it; some
instinct had prompted the gesture,
had made it necessary that she offer
this small human contact.
Data did not
halt, but he directed a bemused
glance down at their clasped hands
and then at her. Unwilling to
give an explanation, she pretended
not to see his look, and peripheral
vision showed him to be mulling over
it as they walked, his expression
almost comical in its
perplexity. After a moment, he
seemed to dismiss it, then looked
down at their hands again, too
puzzled to let it go.
"Why are you
holding my hand?"
because. Do you mind?"
&n The android shook
his head. "No. But I do
not understand the significance of
lifted slightly in an attempt to
shrug off the necessity of answering
Data's query. "Um, it's
supposed to convey affection.
Friendship. Depending on the
situation, it can mean different
things at different times."
He pondered her
words for a moment. "As with
much nonspecific nonverbal
communication, it seems difficult to
necessarily. Maybe you're just
ly. Maybe you're just
not used to it." She swung
their hands a little as they
walked. "You know, you don't
have to answer my question if you
don't feel like it." The nice
thing about Data was that she knew
he wouldn't ask `what question?'.
"You can just tell me to shut up and
stay out of it."
eyes met hers and he looked mightily
tempted. Considering the
number of times that that particular
phrase had been directed his way,
she wondered suddenly if `shut up'
were two words he would give a vast
fortune to utter.
When it came,
however, the reply reflected his
usual po not spent much time with Geordi this
week, that is true. I believe
that it is the consequence of a
change in how we—in how I perceive
"Does . .
." Tasha hesitated, unsure of
just how much she could presume upon
their friendship without
overstepping. "Does that mean
you're not friends anymore?"
Data stopped to
look at her in surprise. "I do
not think so." A thought
seemed to occur to him. "Could
it be interpreted in that manner?"
uncertain. "I don't
know. know. Have you been avoiding
him, or have you both been avoiding
With his usual
restlessness, Data pulled his hand
free and moved a few steps away to
hunker down close to a tree root,
leaning precariously to one side to
look beneath it.
"The latter seems
a more accurate assessment of the
whatever was under the tree was
completely fascinating, although
Data also seemed to be giving due
consideration to the matter under
Tasha rolled her
eyes behind his back at his
cence, then relented. "So
. . . what, did you have an
argument?" she asked gently.
Data looked up at
her. "I would not call it an
"What would you
obviously choosing his words with
care. "A discussion that was
Sounded like an
He was looking
under the tree again. "It
dealt primarily with Geordi's
inability to accept my mechanical
frowned. That didn't sound
like Geordi. "But Data, Geordi
has always known that you're an
android; he's always accepted you
for what you are."
"He has always
known, but now he has seen. It
has made him . . . uncomfortable,
and, I believe, somewhat ambivalent
about our friendship."
Tasha frowned and knelt in the
leaves beside him, placing a hand on
his shoulder to get his
attention. "Are you
sure? Maybe you misinterpreted
something he said. Besides, I
thought you said that you were still
nodded. "I . . . the
possibility of my having
misconstrued some of Geordi's
statements is fairly high, but . . .
there were other things that he had
said which . . . seemed to suggest
confusion on his part as to my
sentience—or lack of same."
nbsp; "And you called
him on it—set him straight?"
It was almost a rhetorical question.
Data was seldom hesitant about
politely pointing out that he was
might say that the majority of the
disagreement was semantical."
dawned. Finally, something
that she could address with some
confidence. "Geordi said some
things that you didn't like, and you
set the record straight, and now
you've been avoiding each other,"
Data looked as
though now he might want to argue
though now he might want to argue
semantics with her, but he
settled for a skeptical frown and a
she amended, acknowledging his
dissatisfaction with her
wording. He smiled
slightly. She took a deep
breath—this wasn't so
difficult. "Maybe Geordi's
afraid of saying anything else to, I
don't know . . . hurt your
feelings. I think that's what
I might do. Maybe . . . he's
waiting until he has a little more
perspective—until he can be sure
he's not going to put his foot in
his mouth." She raised her
eyebrows and spread her hands in an
invitation for input.
slowly, surprised and genuinely
pleased at the admission.
"Really?" She seated herself on the
low root before him.
Data reached out
for her hand, a pause giving her the
opportunity to pull away and opportunity to pull away and reject
the contact if she so desired.
When she did not, he completed the
movement, taking her hand in his and
closing his fingers about it in a
brief, careful squeeze before
releasing it. "Really."
Tasha felt her
smile broaden absurdly and tried to
dampen it down somewhat, delighted
by his use of the newfound gesture
toward her, but a little embarrassed
at just how appealing she found it.
Yar—it had a nice ring to it.
She felt the ridiculously pleased
smile become a wry grin, and felt
much more at ease.
perspective situation now?" she
asked him lightly.
He took the
question seriously. "Slightly
better. I am wondering now if
. . . perhaps . . ." He
He drew up one
knee and rested his chin on
it. "If perhaps I should not
have been so quick to make my views
known, if I should have simply let
Geordi's words pass and waited to
see whether or not he repeated the
ideas. He seemed . . . unhappy
as I spoke to him."
you jump down his throat?"
Data looked as
bewildered as she had ever seen
him. "Jump down his throat?"
he queried incredulously.
Data. It means to, um,
reprimand someone in greater
proportion than their transgression
Data accepted the
explanation without much
comment. "Ah. Then I may
have indeed done so," he said
slowly. "And, if so, I should
not have. In some ways, Geordi
may have been correct."
frowned. "How so?"
bringing his other knee up and
wrapping his arms around both.
"In his inference that I lack
sentience. In some—"
"Hold on, hold
on." Tasha was
indignant. "Wait just one
damned minute. In the first
place, if I'm catching the gist of
this argument—discussion, whatever,"
she added hastily as he looked about
to protest, "correctly, it sounds
like Geordi didn't mean to imply
that at all. And in the second
place, you passed a test of
sentience, Data. That kind of
suggests to me that there's little
room left for doubt on the subject."
puts much faith in tests which can
be very subjective; however, I am
not contesting my own
sentience." A blue dragonet
landed on Tasha's shoulder,
startling her, and he interrupted
himself to say, "I wonder how many
colors of them there are within this
Tasha beamed as
the glistening blue wings folded and
the tiny scaled head rubbed against
her cheek. "Look, Data, this
one likes me." She stroked its
delicate, scaly neck without
hesitation and was rewarded by
complete, blissful immobility on the
Data turned to
look at the trail ahead. "We
had intended to investigate the rest
of this pattern," he reminded her.
Tasha shook her
head. "Let's not go yet.
I want to play with this one for a
while." She smiled down at it,
then looked back over at him, her
expression growing serious.
"Besides, I want to hear what you
were about to say."
He didn't look
particularly happy at the thought of
resuming their former topic of
conversation, but nodded.
Silence reigned for a time as Tasha
petted the little dragon, but
eventually Data said, "It is not
sentience which concerns me, but an
inability to comprehend the human
equation. In many ways, I was
designed to emulate humans, yet
numerous intrinsic human qualities
are missing from my
programming. Geordi's words
only served to emphasize that fact—a
fact that had already been brought
to my attention."
petting the dragonet and
frowned. "By Lore?"
about it for a moment before asking,
"But how much of what he said can
you believe? He lied about so
much of the information he gave
us—he might have said anything to
you, true or not. He was
The expression on
Data's face proclaimed that to be
the understatement of the
year. "I also believe that to
have been the case, but that does
not mean that he did not use the
truth when it could be
"But how would
telling you that you weren't
programmed to be human serve his
hesitated. "By . . . `hitting
me where it hurts most' is, I
believe, the phrase. If he
could distract me from what he was
doing with something that would
occupy my thoughts to a greater
degree, then he would be free to
continue with little danger of
hindrance on my part—a ploy which
was partially successful because I
did not see it for what it was."
Tasha looked at
him closely. Some indefinable
note in his voice conveyed more
clearly than words that he had been
hurt, that some measure of trust had
been taken from him and lost
forever, and replaced with caution
and uncertainty. Tasha
resented the thief; she wondered if
Data resented him as well.
"How do you feel about him, about
what he did?" she asked curiously.
Data stared out
into the woods as he replied slowly,
"I have had many feelings concerning
Lore. So many of them conflict
that they are difficult to
"I . . . regret
the necessity of his destruction, as
I regret the existence of whatever
caused his aberrant behavior.
At the same time, knowing what he
was, I am relieved that he is
gone." Data paused,
frowning. "He quite correctly
accused me of jealousy, and I
believe it was partially my attempts
to eradicate those impulses which
impaired my judgement of his true
character. He was
understandably bitter about my
having replaced him."
"You don't feel
responsible because of that, do
Data shook his
head. "No. I had no part
in my own construction, or in any
decisions made by the colonists or
Dr. Soong. Lore's actions at
the colony and here aboard the
Enterprise were his own—I had no
control over them. I could
only try to prevent them from
"Which you did,
but the next time I wish you'd call
security first," she reminded
him. She thought for a moment,
puzzled. "Data, I don't
understand. What reason would
you have to be jealous of Lore?"
Data opened his
mouth, then hesitated, clearly
uncomfortable with the question.
Finally, he said, "I believe that
Lore was telling me the truth when
he said that I had been designed
with far fewer human qualities than
"But, Data, so
much of that sort of thing—the
things that Lore was supposedly so
much better at—is social. And
social behavior is learned, not
inherited or programmed into
you. He just got it the easy
way, because programming could be a
substitute for learning in his
"I have little
trouble with the acquisition of some
social forms, but even human
language presents some
difficulty. Humor, for the
most part, continues to elude me,
and your expression when I asked why
you were holding my hand earlier
suggested it was something you
expected me to already know," the
android pointed out.
sighed. This was getting more
and more complicated. "Okay,
Data, I grant you that there are
probably a lot of things that you
don't know or don't understand about
social interaction. But there
are a lot of things that you do
know. When we left the
transporter room that day after
beaming Lore out, remember what
happened when Wes caught up with us
in the turbolift?"
"So do I, but
tell me anyway. I want you to
confused, but he complied.
"Wesley experienced a delayed
reaction to the emergency
Describe it for me, okay?"
"We had entered the turbolift.
Wesley called out for us to hold it
for him—which you did—and he ran to
get inside. Once he was
standing still, I noticed that he
began shaking, and I asked him if he
was all right. He nodded, then
shook his head . . ." Data
trailed off, getting her point.
that hammering it home wouldn't hurt
him any, and finished the incident
herself. "Exactly. He
turned around, threw his you and burst into tears. And
you put your arms around him and
held him until he was okay before
you took him to Sickbay. How
did you know to hold him?"
about it. "I am
uncertain. I just knew."
learned about it through a lot of
unrelated observations. You're
a scientist, Data. You know
enough about learning to realize
that it's accomplished mostly
through observation and
experience. Maybe you're
lacking in some areas because your
experience in those areas is very
limited. Do you think that I
knew how to act when knew how to act when I first left
"I do not
know. We were not yet
acquainted at that—"
question. Take my word for it,
I didn't. I had to
learn. I'm still learning."
that information silently.
Finally, she said softly, "Data?"
He looked at her,
and he looked far from relieved, or
convinced, or any of the other
things she thought he might
look. "I may not be able to
learn those concepts," he said
quietly. "I have been
wondering if there is something in
my programming to prevent me from
acquiring an understanding of
them—or if there is a limit to how
much I can learn. Difficult as
it has been, I have continued to
try—and I have continued to
fail. If I am inhibited from
gaining an understanding of human
nature by checks in my programming,
there seems little point in
swallowed. That was . . . she
couldn't put a name to it. It
hurt. She hurt for him.
He sounded so despondent. She
took a deep breath, absently
fingering the sleeping dragonet's
scaly whip of a tail. "Data, I
think you're wrong," she said
carefully. "I don't think you should
assume that you're predestined to
fail. Maybe some things were
simply left out of your programming
because it was felt that life
experiences were better than
She paused to
think, warming to the debate.
"Or, let's assume the worst.
Those colonists were scared.
After seeing what Lore was capable
of, I can't blame them. So
let's say that your programming does
include inhibitors against your
becoming `too' human. If so,
who's to say that you can't overcome
them? If they exist, then your
th to date
has been despite those so-called
failsafes, which would probably
operate most strongly on potentially
dangerous urges, anyway."
definitely on a roll. She
grinned slowly. "Besides, who
says you have to be a whiz at
everything? Everything else is
a snap for you, Data. You have
to have difficulty with something,
especially if you have a desire to
be human. Humans aren't
Data had been
listening to her intently, and now
he looked . . . intrigued.
"You may be right," he conceded
slowly. One corner of his
e corner of his
mouth tilted in a faint, lopsided
Her own smile
turned relieved. "I'm always
right," she informed him.
doubtful. "You are
exaggerating," he accused.
She shook her
head fondly. No shit,
Sherlock. "You've never heard
of discretion being the better part
of valor, have you, Data?"
"I have, but
there seemed little point in
applying the philosophy in this
instance. Valor did not seem
required," he said mildly.
Gods, he was endearing . . . and the
major part of his charm was that he
was totally unaware of it.
A rustling under
the root on which she was seated
distracted her, and she exchanged
curious looks with her shipmate,
then looked hastily down at her
feet, wary of non-amicable dragonets
in search of a snack.
she hissed at Data.
"I am not
certain, but I believe it may be
more of the fairies," he said, his
hushed tone matching hers.
"When I looked earlier, I saw
several small humanoid shapes
scurrying back into a depression
beneath the root, but it was too
dark to make them out clearly."
Tasha suggested. She swung her
knees to one side to give him an
He leaned over,
brow furrowing in concentration as
he peered into the dark, cave-like
space under the root, then shifted
onto his hands and knees, moving in
closer, and finally lay flat, his
head and one hand halfway
inside. Withdrawing, he tapped
her calf with his fingers,
move. Tasha pulled her feet up
onto the root, and he looked again,
pushing further into the cramped
"Do you see
anything?" Tasha stage-whispered,
leaning over to look.
There was no
reply, and she couldn't see anything
but his body lying prone; his head
and shoulders blocked her view of
the recess. She waited a
moment before nudging his shoulder
with her boot.
under there?" she said, her volume
He pulled his He pulled his
head out, his upper half shifting to
one side to look up at her, his face
lit with fascination. His hair
was disheveled; there were pieces of
bark and leaves clinging to it in
Tasha grinned and
reached over to remove the
flora. "So, what did you see?"
"There is a
rather faint light coming from the
depression in the back, and I saw
several of the fairies leaping down
into it with their wings
spread. I believe it must go
down some distance before leveling
off. If we could get a
periscope, we might be able to see
where it leads."
Tasha was torn
between possibly jostling her blue
dragon into flight and the desire to
see the light for herself.
"Damn. Scoot over—I want to
obligingly made room for her, and
she carefully slid off the root. The
dragonet awoke with a start, flapped
its wings nervously, and hopped back
to the root. Tasha looked at
it in disappointment.
"Don't fly off,"
she entreated, then got down flat on
her stomach and wriggled as far
under the root as she could.
than her male companion had gotten,
she realized as she ignored the
rough bark digging into her back
through her uniform, and gazed with
delight down into the light which
bathed a soaring fairy in a bright
white-yellow nimbus. The fairy
caught sight of her and dove back
down with an indignant squeak.
It took some time
for her eyes to adjust to the light,
and the scene still seemed fluid,
shifting—or what she could see of it
before it sloped down beneath the
earth which made up the opposite
side of the slender access shaft.
figures whirled and leapt in a dance
of joyful abandon, gossamer wings of
every size and shape catching the
light and reflecting it onto tiny
faces with huge fey eyes and
miniature Vulcan ears, on perfect
supple bodies and lengths of shining
hair that whipped around them as
they spun. They were male and
female, some wearing costumes of
leaves and flowers, others clothed
in their clouds of hair—and the
colors! Oh, gods, the colors
were every hue of the autumn
rainbow—golds, yellows, reds,
oranges, browns. Tasha drank
it in, her face lit with wonder.
sighed. Data hadn't seen it
yet. She took a final,
lingering look at the beauty of it,
and squirmed back out of the opening
to find him waiting patiently, but
with a look of anticipation on his
face that made her grin madly.
She rubbed absently at her back
where the bark had scraped it on her
way out, and said, "You've got to
see this—it's incredible."
"What was it?"
"You were right
about the fairies," she hinted,
still grinning like an idiot.
He waited for her
to elaborate, his face open, eager.
&n was . . . wonderful. It was
A faint smile
played about the corners of his
mouth as he watched her, half caught
up in her excitement, while
puzzlement tried to tug his features
into a frown.
"What did you
"It was . .
." She searched for
words. "It was a whole . . .
multitude of fairies, all dancing,
like some tiny magical
kingdom." It occurred to her
that she sounded ridiculous, but
this was fanciful stuff, and she was
enjoying it. Besides, she was
Besides, she was
safe. Data wouldn't razz her about
it, and from the look on his face,
he was enjoying it pretty much
"Like the `fairy
hills' of the ancient Gaelic and
intrigued. "I don't know much
of the actual folklore. I take
it you do?"
He shook his
head. "Only fragments.
However, fairy hills were considered
sites of fairy revelry by the people
of the time—entrances to the magical
kingdom of Faerie, if you
will. According to legend, one
could sp time merrymaking with the `little
people', and emerge years later in
real time. Or, if the human
guest were imprudent enough to eat
or drink with his or her hosts, that
person would then be trapped in the
kingdom of Faerie forever, often to
be used as a slave. Those on
whom the fairies bestowed their good
will left with spells of good luck
and pockets full of gold."
It's like they had an entire
cultural structure built around
nodded. "They did. The
legends were very detailed, although
often contradictory, and many people
and many people
of the time considered them fact
rather than fiction."
Tasha shook her
head, fascinated. "It's
certainly easy to see why they would
want to. I'd like to pursue
this a little bit—maybe you could
help me locate some material in the
course—later. Now, however . .
." He indicated the small
entryway blocked by her body.
She got to her feet and out of his
way, resuming her place on the root
and her acquaintance with the little
&n "Don't get
stuck," she advised as his head
disappeared and one shoulder
followed it — just barely. It
looked like a tight fit. "You
still haven't lived down the Chinese
His muffled reply
informed her that he would not get
stuck, and she grinned. He was
"Data . .
." She paused and
reconsidered, struck by visions of
him telling the wrong person at the
wrong time to take a stroll out an
airlock. "Never mind."
wasn't paying any attention to her
aying any attention to her
anyway. She held up a finger
for the dragonet to grasp.
"Let him look," she said softly,
half to herself, half to the little
scaled face gazing whimsically at
her. "He deserves it, after
this week." The tiny
wedge-shaped head cocked to one side
in curiosity at the sound of her
voice, and two fairies came in for a
landing on her thigh—one male, one
female—and peered up at her, hand in
Caught up in
watching them, she didn't hear the
footsteps approaching until Geordi's
voice hailed her, making her jump
violently, and scaring all three
creatures into flight.
bsp; She watched
him approach, her eyes narrowing and
her arms folding themselves across
her chest. "Thank you so much,
LaForge, you idiot."
"You scared them
"Scared who off?"
She simply waved
him off in disgust. "What do
you want, anyway?" she grumbled.
"Excuse me for
liv—what is he doing?" Geordi was
looking askance at the half-visible
I'm not talking to you,
cretin." She smiled despite
herself. The picture Data
presented was rather . . .
the grin, and squatted beside his
There was no
response, and after a moment,
LaForge quipped, "Looks like you're
not the only one who's not talking
Tasha caught the
faint note of resignation in his
"He's utterlygrossed in what's under there,"
she informed him. "I had to
kick him to get his attention."
"Just what is
under there? Do you know?"
"Yes, but it's
better if you see for
yourself." She wondered how it
would look to him through his
VISOR. "Have you noticed all
of the interesting little creatures
Yeah. I tracked a few of the
flying ones with infra-red.
They're really strange.
Dragons, or something pretty
incredible. How about the
fairies?" she asked.
repeated with good-natured
cynicism. "Who programmed this
setting, the Brothers Grimm?"
"Have you got
something against fairies?" Tasha
no. But why?"
"You have no
soul," Tasha said. She leaned
over to tap the android's spine.
"No, don't . .
." Ge hesitant about seeing his friend.
"Don't bother him if he's that
involved. It'll wait."
Data was easing himself out from
under the root, finding it necessary
to contort his arms and shoulders to
He pulled his
head clear and sat up. "I did
not get stuck," he stated for the
record, then looked over at Geordi,
who had retreated to give him room
to move. "My apologies for not
answering you, Geordi. I did
not want to frighten them."
like he was going to ask `frighten
whom?', but Data had not
finished. "It was not my
intention to suggest that we were
not on speaking terms," he said
uncomfortable. "I was just
kidding about that," he replied
quickly, but his grin was less than
convincing as he dismissed Data's
apology with a brush of his hand.
frowned. "Were you?"
Geordi looked as
though he were at a loss. He
thought for a second, then shrugged
slowly. "Maybe not entirely,"
he admitted carefully.
nodded. "Then the apology
stands. And I believe that I
also need to make amends for
`jumping down your throat', as Tasha
put it, earlier this week. I
interpreted your words too hastily."
obviously taken aback. His
head turned toward Yar, who felt
that at the moment invisibility
would be a great asset. She
ignored his look and studied the
ceiling of leaves above her.
Geordi sounded a
little muddled as he said, "Hey,
it's okay. You were justified.
I said some pretty asinine
'em the way they sounded."
how long they were going to
apologize to each other — and
whether there was any way she could
get the hell out of there without
"As you tried to
tell me at the time. I am
sorry." Data hesitated.
"Are we still friends?"
Tasha dropped her pretense of
watching the leaves overhead to see
stared. "What?" he said
softly. "Of course we
ftly. "Of course we
are. Of course we are." He
emphasized his words by gripping the
android's shoulders, and releasing
him with a hefty slap on the left
Data smiled and
put out his hand. Geordi took
it and grasped it in both of his
own, holding on tight. Slowly
copying his friend, Data brought his
other hand up to join them, and
Geordi grinned, giving them one hard
shake. "Awright," he said with
Again wary of
intruding, Tasha waited, hesitant to
say anything, but when Geordi
slapped Data on the shoulder again
and said, "Listen, I came in here tsk you something," she saw her
chances of getting Data's reaction
to the spectacle beneath the tree
dwindling. She opened her
mouth to interrupt, and Geordi
turned to her. "You, too.
You're never gonna guess what
Riker's got in mind."
She let out the
breath she had drawn and gave
up. "I don't know, a complete
point-by-point check of all ship's
systems." That sounded like
You're not even close. This is
recreational," Geordi clarified.
simulation in competition with
another starship?" Data guessed.
puzzled. "My body temperature
is . . ." He trailed off,
catching the looks on their
"It means you're
getting closer to the answer,
Data. Spill it, Geordi," Tasha
ordered. "We're not getting
gotta get back in a few minutes,
anyway." The blind man rubbed
his hands together in excitement,
grinning. "Get thi team from the bridge crew up against
Medical. We'll slaughter 'em
with Worf and Data on our
side. Practice is starting
right now in Main Holodeck."
looks with Data — hers unimpressed,
his mildly interested.
It was always like this at World
Series time — all the crew members
from Earth started wearing baseball
caps and getting argumentative about
things like RBIs and Series records.
"Fine," she said,
without much enthusiasm. "I'll
catch up with you later. I
want to change first."
"I know how to
play the game, Geordi. I do
not need to practice."
makes . . . you're right, you
probably don't need to
practice. But come help me
out. I'm going to need the
However, I believe that I, too,
shall join you later. I have
this setting for another eight
minutes and fifty-six seconds."
Geordi gave him
the thumbs-up. "Great.
He took off
toward the entrance, and Tasha
watched him go, making no move to
get up and fulfill her promise to
change and hit the practice field.
She leaned toward
Data conspiratorially. "I've
seen Medical's team," she told
him. "They're pathetic.
A group of arthritic little old
ladies in environmental suits could
beat them with their hands tied
behind their backs."
The expression on
his face was priceless in its
confusion, and Tasha grinned. "It's
not that I'm against playing, but we
need to find a more challenging
ind a more challenging
He was apparently
still working on the `little old
lady' crack and had not located his
Data. What did you think of
what you saw under the tree?"
His face lit
up. "It . . ." He
halted, his expression turning
thoughtful. "I do not believe
that my report would convey more
than the observable, measurable
phenomena. There was a quality to
the experience which defies
description." He considered
her request again. "It was . .
then shook his head, at a loss, but
seeming content for once to leave it
at that. Tasha grinned in
silence ensued, during which Tasha
laid her head on her knees and
simply soaked in the tranquility
around her, lazily watching two of
the fairies tiptoe out for a peek at
an oblivious Data, who was
apparently lost in thought. As
her eyes began to drift shut, she
heard him moving, and felt a touch
on her shoulder.
"Hm?" was the
most energetic inquiry she could
"We mus "We must leave
now, Tasha. I believe that
this holodeck is scheduled to house
a tropical landscape for a birthday
celebration in two minutes."
She was instantly
alert. "All right." She
stood up and stretched, taking a
last look around. "I hate to
patiently for her a few steps down
the path, and she moved to join
him. At the exit she sighed
and grinned ruefully. "Let's
play ball," she said, deadpan.
Data gave her the
thumbs-up. She started in the
dire at the sound of her name, turning
His eyes met
hers. "Thank you," he said
welcome." She held his gaze
long enough to see a faint answering
smile, then turned and headed down
End of Chapter One