Data stepped back into what appeared to be the Assembly's headquarters, Geordi following closely behind. One and the rest of the Tolgorth Assembly were still deep in conversation – a conversation that to the two Starfleet officers sounded less like an actual language and more like a bizarre malfunction of the universal translator.
"It's probably a good thing they can speak English," Geordi whispered to Data. "I'm not sure if the universal translator could deal with that – it's like someone tossed every sound I've heard in my entire life into a blender."
Excellent hearing was apparently another of One's talents. "On the contrary, Mr. LaForge! Your translator, while quite limited, is still able to translate each class of sounds we use individually, and so would be able to translate the entirety of our language with the addition of a simple device to separate and then recombine everything."
"Good to know," said Geordi. "It's also good to know that you listen in on conversations."
"I'm sorry if I've offended you, Commander. I only thought you would want to know the full capabilities of your technologies."
Geordi and Data exchanged a look. "Thank you for the information," Data said, carefully maintaining an even tone. "In exchange, we will provide some information to you – members of the Federation usually prefer to keep their discussions private. You would do well to bear this in mind as contact between your species and others continues."
One remained stubbornly jovial about the whole business. "We will do our best. Now, shall we move on to more substantive matters, perhaps?"
Data nodded. "Of course."
"The table in the conference room of the USS Regius," One announced rather unexpectedly, and a long table made of dark glass materialized in the center of the room. The members of the Assembly rolled up to various positions around the table, leaving the position at the head of the table for Data. Perhaps they weren't quite as ignorant of Federation customs as they seemed, Geordi thought.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Have a seat." One gestured at two chairs, which had seemingly pulled themselves out from the table at the words 'have a seat.'
Data and Geordi cautiously approached.
"Oh, don't be so shy! I simply had a table replicated based on the schematics of your ship found in your databases, and then had the chairs transported slightly away from the table so you could take a seat. Don't be alarmed – we merely want you to feel at home."
"Oh. Thank you." Data sat down at the head of the table, with Geordi on one side and One on the other. Data paused, collected his thoughts, and carried on. "You mentioned that you chose to make contact when I was in the area because I am an android, like your species."
One deferred to the android seated next to him. "Ah, yes. This is Two. She is what you would perhaps consider my second-in-command, and has taken the lead on our new division of operations, extraterrestrial affairs. Thus she is best equipped to answer your questions, I believe."
Two nodded. "Yes. We thought it would be best to introduce ourselves to someone who could perhaps understand us and our situation a bit better, since we're hardly what I expect the average Starfleet captain is used to seeing. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Thank you," said Data. "I am also pleased to meet you all. It is understandable that you would wish to be speaking to someone similar to yourselves when first initiating contact. However, what made you decide to make contact at all? You seem to be doing very well on your own."
"You're quite correct in saying that we're doing rather well for ourselves. However… that's actually what led us to decide to contact the Federation. We're quite an old species, you see – a few hundred million years old, as opposed to your hundreds of thousands of years. We've had plenty of time to grow as a civilization, and those years have certainly borne fruit – I believe we can accurately label ourselves as highly advanced, despite the fact that our environment, while not quite inhospitable, has certainly not been particularly friendly to our development."
As Two paused to consider her next words, One interjected. "I assume you're eventually going to answer the good captain's question?"
"Of course, because jumping in and talking about things without putting them in proper context first has certainly been working very well for you so far! You gave these poor officers quite the shock with your pronouncements about our… research efforts," Two scoffed.
While Data had taken the lead on questioning the Tolgorth, Geordi had made sure to quietly observe. Two seemed to be much better at adjusting to outsiders than One, he thought. She was less supercilious, and at least appeared to be more genuine – not to mention her unexpected command of sarcasm. Still, Geordi couldn't help but think that he'd rather not end up on the wrong side of her. She reminded him of Lieutenant Atlee, the tactical officer back aboard the Regius, just with more tact and political sense – that is, until One went too far, and Geordi could hardly fault her for that.
"I am doing my best, Two, as are you. Do continue." One was clearly annoyed, which was an oddly reassuring change from his usual unmoved and unbothered self-satisfaction.
"I most certainly will. As I was saying – we're an ancient species. This, we feel, leads to a sort of stagnation if left too long without stimulation."
"I see," said Data. "You are experiencing something similar to the human ill known as boredom."
"Hardly," said Two, with some distaste. "There are always interesting new discoveries to be made in the field you consider computer science and we call biology, in mathematics, in understanding how this planet came to be, et cetera – you understand my point. However, what we're seeking are entirely new domains to explore – to branch out, or move beyond what we are now… are you by any chance aware of the human concept of wanderlust?"
"Wanderlust – a noun, dating to the early 20th century, from German. A strong desire to travel."
"Yes, according to the excellent New Oxford American Dictionary, early 21st century. However, I believe such a definition lacks the nuance of our situation."
"I am sorry," said Data. "I lack nuance."
"Certainly – but I think you have experienced these things to a greater degree than you give yourself credit for, even before your upgrade. Why else would you be here, captain of your own starship, rather than in a Starfleet laboratory or simply spending your days on some little Federation outpost as a glorified calculator?"
Data was quiet for a few seconds. "I think I understand – not being content with what you are, but with trying to discover what you can be."
"Precisely. While we are a very old species, we are still very young in terms of our encounters with others – in fact, you and your Federation are the first non-Tolgorth we have ever interacted with. However, we have increasingly adopted the viewpoint that a life lived in isolation is not worth living, and so here we are."
"I see. This is a new feeling among your people?"
"Not so much new, but newly stirred. For much of our history, pragmatism has had to define our philosophy, given the rather limited resources native to our planet. Now that our lives have become quite comfortable, we have begun to think of other matters."
"So you would be interested in further contact and relations with the Federation, correct?"
"Indeed. But to clear the air first, so to speak – we would like to apologize for our intrusions into your computer –"
One, who had seemed rather uncomfortable with not having said anything for several minutes, leapt into action. "Actually, we would not –"
"Yes, Captain, and my dear One, we would. We meant no harm – your customs are just thoroughly alien. Here on Tolgorth all information, whether vitally important or thoroughly mundane, is made available to everyone through our public database system. We were unaware that other civilizations were so different, you see. I assure you that we'll do our best to learn your customs to avoid future misunderstandings."
One just couldn't seem to help himself. "Just like I'm sure the Federation will also study our way of life," he said brightly.
Geordi suppressed a snort and glanced at Data, who also looked rather taken aback. Individually these two Tolgorth were quite formidable, but the combination seemed downright explosive.
Data stepped in. "Of course. I believe we have much to offer one another – your technology, and our community."
Both Tolgorth relaxed. "Excellent," they said in unison. The rest of the Assembly nodded in agreement. They had been oddly silent, Data thought – but perhaps they simply had different roles to fill, just like how One had said Two specifically handled what he called extraterrestrial affairs.
When Data next looked at Two she had somehow straightened and tightened, like a compressed spring. He couldn't quite explain how he sensed this change in an only remotely humanoid collection of metal, but it was definitely there.
Something was coming.
"Given the pronounced differences between our respective cultures, I think you'll agree that certain gaps must be bridged if we are to have a successful partnership," said Two, in an exceptionally crisp tone.
"Yes," Data said, but for some as-yet-unknown reason not quite wanting to agree.
"We believe that your dual identity as both an android and a human represents a remarkable opportunity."
Everyone in the room was focused on Two – the Assembly in expectation, Data and Geordi in apprehension.
"An opportunity for what, exactly?" Data ventured.
Two appeared to smile serenely. "For us to explore – both as civilizations and individuals. Specifically, for you to renounce your position in Starfleet, and join us on Tolgorth."
Geordi nearly choked. "To do what?"
Data was silent.
"To join your own kind," said Two. "To be who truly you are, my dear android."
A/N: Thank you again for reading, and I hope you're enjoying this! I'd love to read your thoughts thus far, if you feel like reviewing!