Part Twenty-Seven

Soong Residence

One day later…

The melody drifted up the stairs, down the halls, filling the Soong home with rich, sonorous melancholy. Thea peered out the window of Dee's room to see Dr. O'Donnell, Dee's mother, seated on a stone bench overlooking her rose garden, her back turned to the house and her viola tucked snugly against her collar bone as she bowed and swayed with the music.

"That's really beautiful," Thea said, looking back at the bed, where Dee was thoroughly focused on sorting through a pile of clothes they'd spent most of the morning collecting. Why he wanted them, Dee had yet to explain, except to say it was vital to his plans for solving the case his mother, Tom Handy, and Eileen Forrester had pulled him out of school to investigate. "But, it's really sad too," she noted. "Almost like the viola is crying."

"Yes." Dee straightened and blinked his golden eyes, his head tilting just slightly as he listened. "It is a piece she composed following the loss of her son. It is likely the recent deaths of two boys from our school has revived some of that pain."

"Her son?" Thea frowned in confusion. "But, I thought— Oh!" She brought her hands to her mouth. Even the newest colonists had been told about Danny Soong: the first among the community to die and be buried on Omicron Theta Science Colony. "Oh, that's right. Dee, I'm so sorry. But… No, no, forget I said anything."

Dee looked at her, his brow furrowed. "What is it, Thea?"

"Well," Thea said, and grunted. "It's just… Aren't you her son too? I mean, if your mom's feeling like that viola sounds, don't you think you should, you know, go out to her or something?"

"Father says when Mother gets stuck in one of her moods it's best just to leave her alone," Dee parroted, moving to the window to gaze down at Juliana, noting the tender way she cradled her instrument, how tightly she'd closed her eyes. "He says it's no good trying to talk to her when she gets like this. However…"

Dee's pale eyebrows raised with sudden inspiration, and he headed for the hallway. "Thea, come with me," he said. "I believe I have an idea."

"What kind of idea?" she asked as she followed him down the stairs.

"There may be a way to initiate communication that does not necessitate 'talk'," Dee said without pausing or slowing his stride. "I require an instrument."

Dee found his mother's violin stuffed in the living room closet above an old checkers table he'd never seen anyone in his family use. Thea hung back on the porch, but Dee stepped out into the yard. Brandishing the violin, the android walked right up to his mother, smoothly matching her playing note for note.

Juliana twitched and opened her eyes. She met Dee's yellow gaze with a look he couldn't read, but she didn't stop her playing. Instead, she improvised, the tune growing cold, bitter, like angry spears thrusting out to force him back, make him go away.

Instead of simply copying her or retreating like she'd expected, Dee responded to her clear attack with a high, soaring note. The sound carried an undeniable plea, but Juliana frowned, refusing to relent to this peculiar intrusion. Turning to a different tactic, she shifted the melody to a minor key, improvising variations up and down the scale. Dee blinked and returned in kind, not repeating her playing but devising a harmony she found he could use to anticipate her. Like a leading partner in a dance, she took him for a wild spin but couldn't throw him off until she suddenly shifted to echo him instead, challenging Dee to take the lead as she bared her teeth in a 'now I've got you' grin.

As she'd expected, the moment the onus of originality fell on him, the android returned to the original melody. Yet – no, it wasn't quite what she'd written. Suddenly, instead of one voice crying, there was room for two to twine in harmony or branch into chords. No longer a solo, the melancholy piece began to change, each instrument supporting, uplifting the other without encroaching or sparring to dominate its partner's unique sound.

He's painting our family, she caught herself thinking. The way a family's supposed to be. But this isn't who we've become, Noon and I, and Lore. Have the lot of us really grown so angry, so isolated from one another in our hearts, that even young Danny can— My god, what am I thinking! It's D-7! D-7!

Juliana gasped sharply and dropped her viola to her lap, a terrible shudder running all through her body.

"Mother?" Dee queried, but Juliana waved him away, getting up to increase the distance between them.

"Get away from me," she whispered huskily. "Go back inside."

"If I have done something to upset you, I—"

"No, Dee, it's not anything you did," Juliana snapped in frustration, keeping her back to him while, slowly, the baffled android turned to go. "Wait!" she called, spinning on her heel against the grass.

"Yes, Mother?" Dee asked.

"Tell me why you did that," she demanded, holding her viola close. "Why did you come out here?"

Dee blinked in confusion. "I wished to converse with you," he said.

"With a violin?"

"It seemed to me a way to communicate that does not require words," Dee said. "Was I wrong, Mother?"

Juliana stared at the android for a very long time, her blue gaze seeming to trace over every aspect of his face; the concern tightening his eyes...

"No," she said slowly. "No, you weren't. Dee, you are not to tell your father about this. I don't want him to know what happened here."

Dee tilted his head. "I do not understand."

Juliana pursed her lips, her expression setting hard and firm.

"What you showed me, just now," she said, gesturing to the violin. "What you accomplished — here, with that instrument..." She took in a sharp breath and shook her head. "It's a gift, Dee. A means of sharing that runs very deep, and very true. This gift... It's something your father never had, never understood. It's a talent he can't dissect, and I won't have him destroy it while trying with his damn incessant tinkering! So, put that violin away and leave it there, right back where you found it. And remember, Dee: this never happened."

Dee blinked again, his head twitching.

"I do not understand," he whispered. "But I will do as you say. Please, enjoy your afternoon, Mother."

"Well, that sure got intense," Thea said once they were back in Dee's room.

"What do you mean?" Dee asked, straightening the lapels of his rumpled raincoat, then turning to his closet mirror to muss up his hair.

"That...thing...between you and your mother," she said and flopped down on the bed, toppling the clothes he'd sorted neatly into piles. "Does your father really still tinker with your brain?"

"I am not certain 'tinker' is an accurate description," Dee said, scrunching his hair a bit more. "But he does insist on adjusting my programming and evaluating my progress on a fairly regular basis."

"How regular is 'fairly' regular?" she pressed.

"Father issues a summons for me come to his lab about three or four times a week," Dee told her. "Usually after dinner. Unfortunately, many of the upgrades he installs require a systems reboot." He blinked and looked briefly down at his hands. "I have come to dread being summoned to enter that lab."

"Can't you say no?" Thea asked. "Let them know how you feel?"

"I have tried," Dee said. "Father does not seem to consider my preferences valid. Moreover, the 'summons' he issues is not something I can choose to resist. It is spurred by a homing device my father can activate whenever he wishes my immediate presence in his lab. Once the device is triggered, I have no memory of my actions or anything that happens to me until it is deactivated. Only then do I 'regain consciousness', as it were."

"Hmm," Thea grunted. "Does Lore have one of these homing things too?"

"No," Dee said, then furrowed his brow. "I don't know. If he does, I have never seen it used."

"Wow," Thea said. "Then... No, that's not right, Dee. I mean it, your father shouldn't be allowed to jerk you around and knock you out whenever he wants."

"Neurosurgeons anesthetize their patients," Dee pointed out, selecting a brown tie and looping it over his collar then into a somewhat off-center knot. "But, I am a machine, Thea, and I understand my father's desire to improve my performance and ensure my systems continue to function within established parameters. While I do find his times, I am confident he has my interests at heart. Now..." He slouched his shoulders a bit and squinted one eye in a crafty, knowing smirk. "How do I look?" he asked, putting on a fake, raspy voice.

"Depends. What are you supposed to be?" Thea asked, still not sure how she felt about Dee's confession but willing to go along with the game.

"A fictional twentieth-century detective," Dee told her, scrunching his dark hair a bit more. "Lieutenant Columbo."

"OK," she said, smiling a bit as she looked him up and down from his messy hair to his scuffed brown shoes. "OK, I get it. The town grups recruited you to play detective for them, so why not look the part, yeah? Especially since they pulled you out of theater club right after you got that leading role."

"Quite," Dee agreed, stuffing his coat pockets with old fashioned pencils, pens, and a pad of actual paper left over from the days before the colony's central computer system was up and running. "But it's more than that, Thea. I have been given a serious responsibility, but very little guidance. If I am to succeed, I require a role model."

"And since we don't really have law enforcement professionals here on this colony," Thea realized. "You turned to the classics."

"Specifically, a technique for uncovering the truth known in psychology as 'The Columbo Method,' or 'The Columbo Approach,'" Dee told her. "According to my research, the character Columbo adopted an unassuming persona designed to encourage witnesses and suspects to drop their guard around him. He employed a system of basic questions spaced out over time to discover any discrepancies or inconsistencies in their stories - key details he then used to undermine the perpetrators' confidence that they had committed a 'perfect crime' and eventually elicit a confession."

"You think that could work here?" Thea asked.

"I think it is a place to start," Dee said. "As you have pointed out, Thea, many of the colonists, both adults and children, conflate me with my brother, Lore. As a consequence, they do not trust me. I am concerned if I approach them directly, as myself, it may be difficult to convince them to answer my questions. But, if I approach them in costume, as Columbo, they may be more willing to drop their guard and talk with me. In addition, any guilty party I may uncover may be less likely to perceive me, or my investigation, as a serious threat until it is too late."

"Dee," Thea said. "You're an absolute nut. But, a brilliant nut." She smiled and jumped up from the bed, leaning in close to peck the rumpled-looking android on the cheek. "Come on, Detective," she said, pulling at his hand while he blinked in startled amazement. "Let's get this investigation started."

To Be Continued...

References Include - TNG: Inheritance, Brothers, Datalore, The Ensigns of Command, Lonely Among Us, The Naked Now; TOS: Miri; Columbo (TV series and movies); "The Psychology of Columbo" in Psychology Today (Feb.2018) by Mark D. Griffiths, Ph.D.

The attack is on the horizon, but there are still so many questions to address! What's Lore been up to all this time? How did Data end up with his memory wiped and the colonists' journals in his head? How did Lore end up in pieces inside a hidden lab? What did happen to those two boys, and what's Lore's role in the horrors still to come? For answers to all this and more, stay tuned for the upcoming final chapters of Often Wrong! :)

I hope you enjoyed this chapter! Thanks so much reading, for your patience with my slow updates, and especially for your comments and reviews! It really helps to know that you're reading and what you think of my story! Thank you! :D