The sea rippled in the wind, and the ship creaked as the sails were turned.
"Captain," said the first mate, "We can't go on like this."
"What do you want me to do, Will? Stop and ask for directions?"
"It's not just that. When we go into battle, we can't have you and the rob'ut shoveling coal."
"There's so much more to it than that."
"Well then? That's my point. We've got to replace O'Brien. I know you were holding out hope, but when we dock at the ninth port again, sure he'll sing songs, and welcome us like old friends, but he's not gonna be convinced to go back to the life of a corsair. Not now that he found someone who could love that ugly mug of his."
The Captain sighed. "You're right. But Data knows this ship better than anyone—"
"The rob'ut can't fix himself, Picard," Riker spat. He steeled himself and tried to speak more respectfully. "We need a new crew member. Even if he doesn't know the engines, if he's got a mind to learn, if he can figure Data's gears, he can pick up slack. Because we need you both on deck, sir."
"Captain, I'm afraid I have to concur." The gears in Data's shoulders creaked as he turned the wheel and changed their course. "Not only that we need an extra crewman, but that we should stop and ask for directions."
"Data…" Picard said, frustrated, "Who do you suppose we ask. A siren?"
"I propose we anchor along this approaching landmass," replied Data. "There are signs of life."
Picard removed his spyglass from his pocket and took a look at the approaching shore. There was smoke in the distance and a path cut through the trees. There was no way to tell if these people were friendly, but they were certainly people.
But Captain Picard was nothing if not an adventurer. If he had been afraid to meet new and mystical species on faraway shores, he never would've found Data, or Worf. Even Troi was half Elvin, and they'd all learned to live with her mind trickery. While the old girl, Enterprise, was just beginning to take on this diversity, Picard suspected there were pirate and privateer ships in which humans were the minority.
When they anchored a few hours later, the crew was informed to sit tight while the Captain and Worf sought out the people to make sure it was safe.
The first thing Worf noticed about the locals was that they didn't seem all that mysterious. They looked human. The only difference being that his humans kept themselves better trimmed.
"Trespassers," said one of the men.
"We mean no disrespect," said Picard, putting his hands up to show his open palms. "We've only lost our way. We don't mean to intrude."
"You have a Klingon with you," said one of the women.
"This is Worf," said the captain. "He is a friendly Klingon. He wasn't even raised on the mountains of Kronos. He was raised among humans."
Worf nodded. He resented his trustworthiness being equated with how human he may be, but now was not the time to be offended.
"What are you doing here?" asked the man.
"We're lost," said Picard. "We've been tasked to find the Goblin homeland. They've stolen some inventions—"
"They'll gut you for your latinum."
"Alas, we have none at the moment. We will be paid for retrieving the machinery."
"They won't stop to find out what's in your pockets. They'd sell the clothes off your corpse."
"We are familiar with the goblins, and their confrontation tactics," said Worf, "Money is no doubt the reason for their thieving, not a hope for technological advancement. However, were they to sell to an enemy, the human government would not be pleased."
"I see. Privateers then?"
"You could say that," said Picard with a smile.
"Hmm, the kind of privateers who are also pirates, or the kind with a certain code of conduct?"
Picard and Worf shuffled their feet.
"It depends on your definition of pirate," said Worf. Picard shot him a look that told him to keep his mouth shut.
"We definitely have a code of conduct," Picard assured them. "You have nothing to fear from us. We're only asking a little help…"
"You've gone too far," said the woman.
"Excuse me?" asked Picard, wondering what he could have possibly said to prompt this response.
"You've gone too far," she repeated. "That's how you got confused. You went too far north. It happens. Goblins are southeast of us. We could maybe mark it on a map, but can't say how accurate it would be. None of us are cartographers."
"If you're willing to look at a map that would be great. But you've already helped. Thank you," said Picard.
"You look weary," said one of the men.
"You might stay," said the other. "Assuming you are not pirates."
"Oh, oh that's very generous, but we should be on our way," replied Picard.
"Suit yourself, but Jeham used to live the ship life, and any chance to spend a moment on land was cherished later when the chances didn't come. If you would like to stay a short while we would not object."
"Well… I don't know how much time we can waste. But we will tell the crew that they are free to explore for the time being."
"Explore?" asked the woman.
"Would that be a problem?"
"No," said the man. "But there are some areas that are… not as safe."
Picard nodded, not wanting to make a fuss. "Worf, why don't you go back to the ship and let the crew know we're welcomed."
"I'm sure I'm safe with our new friends, Mr. Worf."
Worf looked back and forth between them, nodded, and disappeared through the trees.
"I never asked your names. I am Jean-Luc Picard."
"I mentioned Jeham," said one of the men, pointing a thumb to the other. "And my name is Di."
"And I'm Reese," said the woman.
That evening they sat around a large fire. Some stood, some walked around, but they fit nearly 200 people into a clearing, Picard's salty crew mingling idly with this sandy group of families. The doctor had disappeared somewhere. The Captain hoped she was having fun. Data stood very close to the circle around the fire, wanting to be included, but not wanting to take a warm place to sit from someone who would be comforted by it.
"May I ask you a question?" said Data quietly.
"Only if we can ask a few back," said Reese.
"Of course, please do. I was wondering, you do not look terribly different from us, and you speak human, but—"
"We are human," replied Di.
"This is only a settlement," said Jeham. "I used to work on a ship too, but I'd been looking for an out for a while when my ship stopped here. I decided to stay, after I met everyone."
"Most of the originals came to get away from the black fog of the big cities. We live a little simpler here," said Di.
Data's face fell, if only minutely, and he said, "You came here to get away from machinery."
"Perhaps, you could say that," said Reese, "But we have no problem with machines. Only the smell of industry."
"What are you?" asked Di, standing up to look more closely at Data's skin, "A robot?"
"Who made a thing like you? Is he with the crew?" asked Reese.
"No. My creator was lost at sea many years ago."
Di reached out and ran a finger along Data's forehead and down his nose. "You're not like any robot I've ever seen."
"I wouldn't imagine we're up on the latest trends, Di," said Reese.
Di continued trailing his finger down Data's face, and Data resisted the urge to shudder when he reached his lips. Though he would've preferred Di ask permission, he couldn't deny that in some ways Data enjoyed the stimulation to his- his what, he wasn't sure. He had speculated that he had artificial nerve endings, but it was far beyond the realm of any science in the land. There were rumors on the ship that Soong had not just used engineering, but magic to bring Data to life. But if it was true, that didn't change that the robot still needed to be wound.
As the feel of Di's fingers on his neck suddenly became absent, Data realized he had shut his eyes. He opened them abruptly and whispered. "I am… one of a kind."
The captain cleared his throat. "Perhaps we should do a little exploring in the morning before we leave. Get some exercise before we have to be cooped up on the ship. If you could suggest any trails…?"
"We could take you to look at some pretty areas, but you shouldn't go off alone," said Reese.
"Oh, I'm sure we could handle any animals that might come our way."
"It's not that," said Di. "You don't want to go very far from shore. You don't want to get near the water."
"Water?" asked Worf, "What do you mean near water but away from the shore? That does not make sense."
"There is something of a lake, but it drains in from the ocean and it is quite deep."
"Everyone on our crew can swim… Except for Alyssa," said Data.
"It's not about that either. This is the good water." Di gestured behind him. They couldn't see the shore through the trees but knew it was in that direction. "It's mighty shallow. Just stay away from the rivers and estuary. They're deep."
There was an awkward silence as they tried to figure out if they should keep asking questions, and then there was another voice in the darkness.
Troi walked up to the fire seemingly out of nowhere. Her skin appeared to glow in the fire light, and they could see the smallest bit of her brazier at the opening of a men's collared shirt that was a little too big for her. She whispered, "I get the sense you don't actually want us to know why we shouldn't see these deep waters."
"It's the creatures," said Jeham.
"Jeham," warned Di.
"What kind of creatures?" asked Picard.
"I'm sure you've heard of sirens," said Reese.
Data cut in, "The captain mentioned them this morning."
"Then you know."
"I know of myth," said Picard. "I know of imaginary creatures,"
"I doubt you're so cynical. With a Klingon, and your mechanical man. You would question the possibility that sirens exist?"
"An entire race that is solely female and dedicated to killing sailors? I'm afraid it does cast some doubt."
"They aren't only female," said Jeham. "And they're not sirens… They're merfolk. They're just a species like any of the ones we've seen. We've all met groups of people that seemed scary," he glanced at Worf, "and we've all met people with a special ability or two." Now he looked at Deanna but looked away when she caught his eye.
"Well, now you make it sound like they're just new friends to make."
"No," said Di. "People have tried. The merfolk seem friendly sometimes. But this is where the siren myths come from. They're intelligent. They make you feel things. They can control your emotions."
"I have no emotions," said Data.
"They could not possibly control my emotions; I am not capable of feeling emotions, as I am a machine."
Di sighed. This conversation had gone on longer than he would have liked.
"Fine," he said, "Chance it, Robot. But don't blame me when you are dragged into the sea."
"Well, perhaps if we have time," said Data.
Troi slid into the circle and sat down in front of the fire. "Now what are the chances that you lovely people happen to have marshmallows?"
Things had stayed friendly and hours later, after everyone had agreed to call it a night, Data sat in front of the dying fire.
Since he didn't sleep, he was often presented with extra time to occupy while those around him were unconscious. On the ship he usually continued navigating.
There was a pull on the gears of his ticking brain. Almost a tingle to his mind. He wondered, if he were human, would this be the need to be rebellious? After all, he was never a child, neither a teenager.
He needed, like an unquenchable curiosity, to go find the deep waters Di and the others had spoken of. He wasn't afraid of what he might find there, for he couldn't feel fear. Even if he could, he also couldn't feel pain, so there was really nothing to be afraid of.
He got up quietly after the fire had gone out. He didn't want to ruin their fire pit by extinguishing it or leave it unattended while burning. But now, in the light of only the moon he got up quietly and crept beyond the clearing, heading away from the shore.
It might have taken a biological being a few hours to navigate through the many trees and over jagged rocks, but Data did not tire, and found the estuary before sunrise.
The water here seemed different than that which he had sailed on for many years. This was eerily calm, and the moon shone off it in such a way that made it appear to glow.
Data sat down at the edge of the water, and waited. Nothing happened, but that was okay. He thought about navigation, and the mission they were on, and watched the sunrise.
Just as he was thinking perhaps he should return to the clearing, something in the water moved. Slowly a dark face emerged, with completely gray eyes, like nothing Data had ever seen.
"Are you waiting for someone?" the being asked.
"I suppose I was waiting for you," replied Data.
"I've never heard your voice," he didn't look directly at Data as he spoke. "You don't live here."
"No, I'm a corsair."
"I… I'm afraid I don't know what that means."
"I sail… on an independent ship."
"You're a pirate," said the man in the water.
"… We don't like to hurt people."
"I'm not here to judge you."
"What are you?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"You are a merman?"
"If the name suits you."
"Do you have a name?"
"My name is Data."
"A name befitting a mechanical man."
"You knew I was a robot?"
"I can hear your body tick."
"But you cannot see me."
"Merpeople don't see the same way land folk do."
"Oh, I understand."
"Mm, I doubt that."
"Well, it is true that I probably cannot imagine how you process sensory input, but I also can't imagine how any biological being does such things."
"You experience your senses differently than everyone you meet, don't you?"
"I have yet to meet anyone like me. Other robots do not…"
"They do not compare."
"I suppose not. Some people think my creator was a genius. Others think he was mad. I'm sorry to say I am sometimes in the latter category… You never told me your name."
"Is that a common merfolk name?"
"I understand that you see differently than humans, but it appears as though you do not see me at all."
"I saw you when I approached, but we are adapted to the water. We lose certain things above it. But others change. Everything is louder above water as well."
"If I were human I would get in with you."
"I would hold my breath, and swim with you, so we could see each other properly. But I can't get water in my gears."
"Sailing seems like an odd job for someone who can't get wet."
"Well, I can get a little wet. But it could be troublesome to be fully submerged. It's correct that if I fell overboard, I would most likely die, but that is true of most of the crew when on the high seas."
"You're quite the interesting device, aren't you Data?"
Data didn't respond.
"I'm sorry," Geordi said suddenly. "That was rude."
Data smiled even though he knew Geordi couldn't see it. Just acknowledging that it was possible to be rude to him was more than some people gave him.
"I've been called worse than a device," said Data. "And definitely worse than interesting."
"Well, you are. Interesting, I mean."
"I find you fascinating as well."
"I'm really interested in mechanology. I hope you don't mind me saying. It's just, that sort of learning is limited when you live in water."
"I would imagine."
"I'd love to get a look inside you. I mean… that came out wrong."
"You do not have to worry about offending me. I have learned over my time as a corsair, that it is not the words, but the feeling behind them."
"Well, I mean, I can't really get a look."
"Figure of speech, I assumed."
"Yes, well, I'm sure it would be terribly invasive to… to…"
"Examine my mechanics? If it were something you would enjoy, and you would not change anything—"
"Oh, of course not! I would never tamper with you without your permission."
"Then you may open the compartment on my back," Data said, unbuttoning his doublet. "I only ask that you dry your hands first."
Geordi's eyes widened. "Yes, yes of course I will." He floated awkwardly for a moment before scrambling to get up onto land with Data. He fumbled as he couldn't see the edge of the rock. Hands reached out and took hold of him around the waist. If he hadn't known any better, he would've guessed them biological hands. The only sign that there was a difference was how effortlessly Data lifted Geordi out of the water, and sat him gently next to him.
Geordi's tail hung off the edge and into the water but the rest of him was visible, and Data took in the details before handing Geordi a handkerchief and turning away from him.
He pulled the silk shirt he'd been wearing under his doublet over his head, not bothering with the buttons. Geordi finished drying his hands and felt out in front of him. He slid his hands down Data's smooth back, finding in the middle, something like a key.
There was that feeling of Data being touched again, but this time it was invited.
"Does this keep you going?" Geordi asked, fingering the key.
"Yes, turned clockwise it winds my gears, but if you turn it counterclockwise—"
"I can unscrew it and open this hatch. And it won't cause you any problems?"
Geordi did as Data said, placing the key off to the side, and sliding open a door in his back. Data had of course been worked on and examined before, but this was somehow different. Geordi had to feel the parts to understand what was in front of him and Data could almost feel it himself. Geordi's soft slick hands running along the springs and wires.
"There's lots I could do back here," Geordi said lazily fumbling over some screws. "Are you always so trusting with people you've just met?"
"No," Data replied, eyes closed, "Never." And it almost sounded breathy to Gerodi's ears.
"Well, I'll take this as a compliment… Ow." Geordi pulled his hand away abruptly.
Data glanced back and saw Geordi put his finger in his mouth.
"You have burned yourself."
"Nah," said Geordi. "Just hurt for a second." He went back to his examinations. "I see, so you breathe to keep this cool right here."
"It's like you've got a little engine roaring away inside you. It's amazing."
"Do you… know anything about engines?"
"A little. I'd love to learn more."
"Data!" said a voice in the distance. It was the captain.
"I have to go now," Data told Geordi, like he was telling a playmate that his mom said dinner was ready.
Geordi nodded and shut the compartment. He felt around for the key before fumbling to screw it back in for Data. Once it was in he kept turning.
"All wound up."
"Thank you," Data whispered.
"Data?" shouted Dr. Crusher.
"I am here," replied Data pulling on his shirt. "No need to go any further, I will come to you."
He buttoned only a few of the buttons on his doublet before going to stand, but Geordi stopped him while he was still on his knees. He reached out and took Data's hand.
"Will you be back?" Gerodi asked.
"Will I see you again? I've never met anyone like you."
It wasn't lost on Data that the merman called him one instead of thing. Data had to admit that though he had only known the being for all of 20 minutes, he wanted to promise he would be back. But it was not a promise he knew he could keep.
Data debated whether he would be overstepping a boundary for .3 seconds, and then decided to place a hand on Geordi's cheek. "I will try," he said honestly. Geordi shivered. "You are cold. You should return to the water."
"Data, please inform us of your location," said the captain.
"I will be right there, Captain."
Geordi stayed on land for a few more moments to listen to the sound of Data's footsteps as he walked away.
Beyond some rocks in the thick of trees and vines, Data found the captain and the doctor searching for him.
"I apologize for the inconvenience, Captain."
"Out looking for mermaids, Data?" said the Captain with a smirk.
"Of course not, Captain. I would never go looking for something someone told me could be dangerous." Data had recently begun to master facetiousness. He found it easier than sarcasm, because it didn't require the same bite.
"Oh!" replied the doctor with a smile, "Of course not."
"Well, I hate to interrupt our recreation, but we're trying to get some maintenance done as quickly as possible so that we can be back on the sea before noon."
"Captain, will we be coming back?" asked Data.
"To this shore…"
"There were no plans to. I know this is no concern of yours, but it depends on where our next meal is coming from."
"I understand, this little village, of sorts, is not particularly profitable."
Data was silent for the rest of the morning as they prepared to leave. He spared one passing glance at the shore as he steered the ship back onto the high seas.
With the locals' changes to their maps they were able to find goblin territory faster than they expected. They came into port in the late afternoon as the sun was setting, and they had a plan before midnight. Goblins were ruthless, but they were also easily scared.
They would beat them at their own game, and retrieve the technology from right under their noses. Under cover of darkness, the captain, Riker, Data, and Worf, crept through the city. They took along a few crewmen who were new to the seas but could provide a little muscle. All of them pulled up their hoods against the rain. They'd been told before they came that it never stopped raining in goblin territory. But they hurried despite their discomfort. They could not be seen under any circumstances. This was not a place they could blend in. Their height alone would make them stand out to any goblin.
They inched into the building where they'd heard it was being held. They were fairly certain the goblins they'd interrogated were telling the truth. It had taken what little latinum they had left, but every goblin has their price.
Inside there were many locking mechanisms, but it was nothing Data couldn't handle. Though he hadn't been designed for theft, thieving from thieves brought exceptions. Being a corsair brought oh so many exceptions.
Coming down a hall, lit only by a torch, was the final door. Behind it should be the stolen machine. It was wood, and shorter than human doors, as had been all the doors in the building. It was covered in chains which the goblins no doubt thought were strong. Worf took a chain in hand on one side, and Data took it on the other. Pulling against each other like they might play tug-o-war, one of the links near the middle gave way and opened, and the chains fell apart.
The captain pushed the door open and ducked into the room. The device's silhouette was monstrous in the darkness of the room, but Picard could tell they could get it through the door if they carried it on its side. After all, the goblins had to have gotten it in here somehow.
Squeezing it through the door and down the hall with the strength of a robot, a Klingon, a Bolian, and 3 humans was easier than expected. They shuffled out of the building, and were almost home-free when they heard a footstep.
A little clay colored boy with the biggest ears they'd ever seen screeched and pointed at them. Suddenly the sound stopped and the boy was on the ground. Worf had put down his corner of the device and hit the little goblin in the back of the head. He flinched as he looked at him. No one on the ship enjoyed when their adventures came to such things. Stealing and defending oneself was one thing but hurting innocent people never felt good.
"He should be fine," whispered Data.
Worf nodded and picked up his end again and they were able to get it onto the ship uninterrupted.
As they rushed out of dock, wind in their sales, it almost seemed too easy. The simplicity was almost dreamlike, being so unsettling and anxiety inducing, that it was almost a relief when they heard goblins shouting in the distance. Something about profit.
And then, there was just enough light from the moons to see a ship gaining on them. It was a strange looking ship, with little cohesion, different colors and shapes that reminded them of other races they'd met along the way. It was almost as if the goblins had built the ship from spare parts of other ships they'd come across, purchased, or robbed.
The word Ferengi was messily painted on the side. It must've meant something in the goblin language, but they didn't know what, and didn't have time to think about it.
There was yelling and swift conversations as they heard cannons go off. Were they out gunned? Could they call someone for help? Goblins had always seemed so cowardly, but there had been a feeling in the air, and now it seemed inevitable that they had underestimated them.
While people on the Enterprise were loading cannons, Riker took the wheel, and the captain told Data to go change the direction of the sails. Data nodded and ran to the ropes. Just as he was finishing, he heard Troi shout, "What's going on?"
"The goblins," he replied. "Help with cannons!"
Looking at her when he spoke, he was caught off guard when the entirety of the Enterprise shook with a particularly well aimed cannon ball. The ship lurched, and Data tried to grab onto the rope, but his hands missed it by a centimeter. Data went toppling into the water, Troi running to the railing after him, but knowing there was nothing she could do.
"Data!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.
He could hear faintly the water muffled warbling of Troi explaining to someone, "The robot, he's gone overboard!" before he became waterlogged and shut down.
Data assumed this would be the end of his experiences.