(14) Kyor III away team, commanding officer: Riker, William T.
(Planet's night side)
"The Pike is in that direction, Commander." Worf pointed at a murky hill somewhere to the northeast of their landing spot. It was the middle of the night and a dark moon in total eclipse hung in close orbit above them. "It appears to be intact."
Riker nodded. "That, at least, is something," he said. "Lieutenant?"
La Forge held out one of the tricorders they had adjusted to communicate with shuttle Galileo's sensor arrays. He shook his head. "No signs of molybdenum in this sector."
"Very well." Riker let his gaze trail over the dim horizon. The only way to separate sky from land was by the stars. "Establish a search pattern with the parliament building at its nexus. Restrict to the areas where we mapped the bonfires. We'll be more efficient if we split up."
"Deanna." Riker pointed at the hill. "You and Geordi go in that direction and get the Pike. Worf and I will use the Galileo. We make a scan of the area in opposite directions and rendezvous at this spot. Remember not to use the lights, we can't be seen."
"Right away," said Deanna and she and La Forge set out on foot, leaving Worf and Riker behind. In that alien moonlight, their nondescript replicates of native clothing quickly obscured them from view.
Riker looked up again. Above, the stars blinked languidly against the sky and among them – one point, seeming as insignificant as all the others – the Enterprise.
(1) Enterprise-D, Deck 1 Observation Lounge.
"The Kyorians are close to being isolationists." Worf's inflection and the tilt of his head indicated esteem, a feeling he seemed to save for just a select few species. "Their contact with the Federation has been sporadic in the past, but reports indicate a fierce and proud people. Captain, if we take on this mission, I would recommend myself for going down there. Not many of the crew are trained for situations like this."
"There are good reasons for that." Riker frowned.
"I suppose you're right." Picard glanced out at the stars for a moment. They flew by at warp speed.
"Mr Data, your report?"
Data had his fingers laced together on the table. Perhaps he was mimicking Picard, perhaps not. It was not always easy to know and when asked, he would admit with no sense of shame that he attempted to emulate the humans around him and that his success tended to vary.
"Starfleet suggests that by removing this individual and his government," he answered, "the life of tens of thousands can be spared. According to Starfleet records, Pector Busan's methods are that of a tyrant, frequently bloody and frequently targeting civilians."
Most people rarely saw past Data's abilities to retrieve and process information so quickly, thinking his greatest asset was as a walking encyclopaedia. Picard didn't – although Data's ability to read the historical records of an entire planet in less than five hours had very recently been highly convenient. But no, what he found most reassuring about his number two, was that unless tampered with or otherwise damaged, he would not exaggerate or lie.
"Any record of recent activity? Why have they chosen this particular moment to call for aid?"
"Unknown, sir. However, I perceived a sense of urgency in the distress call relayed to us by Starfleet Command."
"I'm not so sure about this," said Riker, never one to accept orders blindly. Picard could appreciate that in him. The reliability of his steady moral compass. If something were off about a directive, Will would always let him know. "This…assassination seems to go against our principles. And I find it odd, especially since they have so ardently shunned Federation contact in the past."
"I understand your concerns, Number One." Picard felt them as well. He tapped a finger on the table before glancing up at Troi. "Counsellor?"
"The plea for help seemed genuine enough." She looked over at Riker. "As far as I can tell, Starfleet has already received enough of an incentive to intervene. All evidence indicates that the most ethical solution is to follow through."
Her opinion settled Picard's worry a little. Not every Starfleet captain was lucky enough to have a Betazoid among his crew and Picard had enough experience from leaning on Deanna's advice to know that she was rarely wrong.
"Well," he said. "Our orders are clear in any case. This shall be like nothing we have attempted before." He nodded at Worf. "The rest of you–dismissed. Lieutenant, I'd like a word."
The brother part of the senior staff left the room, Riker to take control of the bridge, Troi to do who knew what, and La Forge and Data to go to engineering. Worf remained, waiting patiently for Picard to voice his thoughts.
He exchanged words with the replicator as he arranged them. Soon, the smell of Earl Grey tea filled the room. Picard turned, took a contemplative sip, and folded himself back down on the chair. "You're the tactical officer, Mr Worf. What is your advice?"
Worf straightened in his seat. "The situation is tense," he said. "This race has shown a clear potential for violence, but they do have limited technology. An assassination should be possible, if carried out by a mere few, well-selected men."
"Or women." Picard traced a pensive finger over his lips, all the possible nuances in the interpretation of the Prime Directive weighing heavily on his mind. "And if I would want to…tread gently?"
Worf took the practical approach, as he usually did. "Captain, if we want to minimise damage to the government employees, timing will be of the essence. I have surveyed their structures and suggest explosive charges set off in sequence beneath their parliament, at a time when Busan is likely to be there."
Less talk, more action. Perhaps that was what was needed in this case. Starfleet Command certainly seemed to believe it. "That would require several people on the away team," said Picard. "Do you think a team of one would be able to get in and out on time?"
Worf shook his head. "Not without the use of a transporter, sir. A single person might do it, but to return to the shuttlecraft unseen, he would have to detonate the loads within a timeframe of less than ninety seconds."
"That would be impossible…"
(4) Enterprise-D, Main Engineering.
"Sit over there, Data. I'll be with you in a moment."
Worf watched Data do as he was told, with not a small degree of doubt. La Forge, apparently did not share his concerns and calmly checked the readouts on engineering's master station.
"The Kyorians are a fierce people," said Worf lowly, for Data's ears, and he walked around to the back of the chair. "They can absorb a hellish amount of punishment. I'll grant you, you're accurate with a phaser and you have mat-LEH, but you lack…a certain, ah, kajunpak't."
Data twisted slightly to look up at him. Data, who by his own admission was not even programmed for combat. Certainly, he could withstand some punishment on his own, but never had he shown the ability nor willingness to do appreciable damage to anyone.
"I understand your concerns, Lieutenant."
Kesh, and he was always so polite. Worf sighed – or perhaps it came out closer to a growl because it had La Forge look up from the panel.
"And what will you do –ke'chaw?– If they discover you?"
"If he's discovered," replied La Forge with an edge to his voice, "we'll be the first to know. That's why I've made this, isn't it?"
There was a frown barely hidden behind the visor and it was aimed at Worf. Perhaps La Forge was more concerned than he let on.
"This is the silent communicator?"
"This is it, Worf. It will go directly to Data's brain."
Worf stood back as La Forge took Data's lower arm and rolled up his sleeve to access a panel there. A blue light flickered within, on and off, in the likeness of a pulse. Data's fingers twitched lightly and Worf thought they looked spindly and fragile.
Everything about him was like that: gentle, soft. From his curiosity down to his reverence for all things human. He did not look like an assassin and his appearance did not lie. Despite the durability of his mechanics, Data was no warrior.
"Your lifeline," said La Forge and he inserted the beacon into the blinking slot. The panel closed, engulfing the device in Data's blue inner light. "I hope it serves you well."
La Forge folded Data's sleeve back down, very carefully, and Worf was struck with the fondness of that act. Even Data seemed to understand not to interrupt as for a moment, he sat very still, observing.
"Worf, try it." La Forge straightened and Worf tapped his communicator.
"Worf to Data."
A moment's delay and then Data looked up with a nod. "I am receiving you clearly, Lieutenant."
"Good." La Forge smiled. "Very good, Data. I think you're set to go."
Data stood to leave, but Worf stopped him. A sense of trepidation had come over him, a premonition of things to come. The kind of intuition that was essential to a warrior and that Data so conspicuously lacked. "Gik'tal," he said fiercly, "ghIj qet jaghmeyjaj."
To the death. May your enemies run in fear. A few steps ahead of them, La Forge turned and frowned. But Worf saw no need to translate.
(13) Enterprise-D, Deck 1 Observation Lounge.
"Commander Riker, would you kindly explain to me what happened down there?"
"It was not what we expected, Captain. Something must have triggered this…this change, but to think that it was him…"
Picard straightened. "Am I to understand that you have located Mr Data?"
"Yes, sir, that is –ah– his…pieces, at least." Riker glanced at La Forge, unsettled.
"We have the most important bits," said La Forge, the only person in the room who showed no discomfort when talking about Data in this way. "Dr Crusher is already working on him and we believe we can put him back together and replace that which was lost, but..."
"That is a relief indeed." Picard tapped impatient fingers on the table. "Have him report as soon as he wakes, I am most eager to hear what he has to say." He frowned. "There has to be a logical explanation for all of this. I refuse to believe that this apparent…change and Data's accident is a mere coincidence."
"Yes, sir," said La Forge, wearily. "However, you should know that we're not entirely sure he can ever be what he was."
Picard drew himself up. "What?"
"His body framework is one thing, sir. The mechanics of reassembling him are simple enough and we've done it several times in the past. It's his…mental functions that worries me."
"In what way?"
"His brain is, ah." La Forge shook his head in exasperation. "Well to tell you the truth, I don't really know what's going on. I'm picking up signs of a root system failure, a loop or a critical error in his most basic programming. He must have shut himself down somehow, that's my only and best bet so far."
Picard went very still. For a moment, the only sound was the gentle background hum of the Enterprise's life support system. "Oh."
"I'm sorry, sir," said La Forge. "There's only one reason why he would have done anything like that and to speak plainly, these readings seem to indicate that his positronic net was on the brink of a cascade failure."
(3) Enterprise-D, Captain's Ready Room.
"Are you sure about this?" asked Picard, gentler than usual, and placing a hand on Data's shoulder.
"I shall do my best, sir."
"Yes, of course." Picard removed his hand distractedly and the window caught his attention. Below them, a green planet hung suspended in the darkness, kept in place by the strings that keeps the universe together. "You shall be Guy Fawkes this time, Data. And I am your Robert Catesby."
"Pleasant of approach and loyal to his friends. Opposed to quarrels and strife…" Picard sat down behind his desk. "Data, you are aware that Lieutenant Worf disagrees with me?"
"In what way, sir?"
"He believes you are…unqualified." A pause. "That your ethical…programming may interfere with the mission. He fears you may become stranded there."
"Which is why you thought of Fawkes, Captain. I understand."
Data mounted no objection or defence and Picard leaned back in his seat with a gesture of his hand. "Well…and?"
"There is no way of knowing, sir." Data tilted his head. "I have never attempted anything like this before. But I am the only one on this ship capable of the speed required to detonate the explosives manually."
"That you are." Picard watched him, pensive. "Then I take it you can't predict the outcome?"
"No, sir. But–" Data leaned forward on his chair a fraction and hesitated. There was something so human about the movement that Picard blinked. "–Captain, if you were to order me…"
And Picard understood. Because in his dealings with Enterprise's second officer, there was one thing he had learned – that out of all the programing built into Data's brain, there was a few emerging properties took precedence above the others.
"I see, Mr Data." He stood and made the necessary grasp at formality. "In that case, you shall place the explosives on Kyor III tomorrow. Commander, that is an order."
Data nodded appreciatively, seeming oblivious to Picard's doubts. Those, however, were not alleviated. Once Data was dismissed and had left the room, Picard added quietly to the closed door, "and let us hope that history shall not repeat itself."
(15) Enterprise-D, Deck 1 Observation Lounge.
"Mr La Forge," said Picard impatiently. "I recall the assignment given to Commander Data with unspoiled clarity. I am also perfectly aware of the difficulties involved in…putting him back together. I am sure you and the good doctor will do your very best. However, that does not explain–" he gestured helplessly towards the window and the planet beneath, "–this."
"Perhaps I can be of help, sir." Troi leaned forward and to Picard's annoyance, she smiled.
(2-2) Kyor III away team 2, commanding officer: Troi, Deanna.
(Planet's night side)
"We should have listened to Worf," said Geordi as he and Troi exited the Pike close to, but outside hearing distance of, a small rural village. The heavy ionisation of the planet's upper atmosphere made everything glimmer with a greenish hue. "He told me, you know, or rather, he told Data. In Klingon, I grant you, but I'm fairly sure he meant to say that Data was not cut out for this."
Troi held the tricorder aloft. "Molybdenum," she mumbled. "This way. Geordi, you couldn't possibly have anticipated any of this. Even Data said he was willing to try. If it's anyone's fault, it's his own, or rather, Starfleet."
"Starfleet knows nothing about him at all. All they have ever wanted is to dismantle him for study. At least they partially got their wish."
"Aren't you being unfair?" asked Troi mildly. "He's the second officer on their flagship. I don't think that registers as 'dismantling him'."
"I don't know. I guess I'm not feeling very generous at the moment." Geordi looked at her askance. "Don't you miss him too?"
"Geordi, I don't know what to say. For my own part, I can certainly feel his absence."
"His absence more than his presence perhaps?" Geordi smiled wryly.
"I admit, it was difficult for me, sometimes." Troi made a face. "Someone so distant, no – so different, from what I'm used to. Data was…there was nothing in him for me to read."
"Nothing that you could read," corrected Geordi and Troi went quiet for a bit.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I suppose that's more accurate, Geordi. And you?"
Geordi couldn't tell what she was asking, but it didn't matter much. There was only one thing on his mind in any case.
"Damn it all." He sighed harshly. "I just want my best friend back."
(1-3) Enterprise-D, Shuttle Bay 2.
Picard, with Data in his trail, met Troi by the turbolift and walking in step, they headed for the shuttlebay.
"Are you ready, Data?" asked Troi over her shoulder. "I understand there has been some doubts about your aptness for this task?"
"Yes, sir," replied Data simply. Since her promotion, he had been calling Troi that even when it was not strictly necessary. Apparently, she saw no need to correct him. Picard thought she might be secretly pleased. "Commander La Forge has set up the necessary equipment."
"Of course." Troi hesitated as Picard opened the large shuttlebay doors. "Data, I was thinking more about your, ah, state of mind. Are you feeling prepared?"
Data's eyes darted between Picard and Troi. "Counsellor," he said mildly, "I am not capable of feeling anything and therefore unable to prepare myself any further. However, since you are the third person to ask me this question, I am beginning to think I should be nervous."
"Data," said Picard, "you do understand that should you fail–" He hesitated.
"Then you might not be able to get me out," said Data. "I am aware of the nature of this mission, sir."
"Timing is of the essence. Should you hesitate for a moment too long–"
"Do not try to contact us. We will contact you. Lieutenant Worf will keep an eye on your progress."
Picard smiled, he could almost hear Will's voice go 'cluck, cluck, cluck' inside his head. But relaying that joke to Data would require time for an explanation. Time they did not presently have.
Since every excuse to extend the time until departure was spent, Picard heaved a sigh. "Then away with you, Fawkes," he said. "Go there boldly. And the very best of luck in your endeavour."
"Thank you, sir." Data nodded at them both, adding, "and to you."
The door of shuttlecraft Pike hissed shut and the next time they heard him, his voice was slightly distorted by the communication interference.
"Loading is complete. I am proceeding with departure. Enterprise shuttlebay two, prepare for launch. Level one precautions for outgoing material."
Picard and Troi left the room before the alarm signalled decompression.
(6) Enterprise-D, Main Bridge.
"Enterprise to Data, can you hear us." Worf scowled as he tinkered with the transmission band. The same tropospheric ionisation that prevented use of the transporters was interfering with communication.
"This is Data…hear you…Captain." Data's voice had a tinny, metallic lilt, exaggerating his customary not-quite-a-lisp.
"Data," said Picard, "We were wondering if you are on schedule. Are you in position yet?"
"…obstacle, but the…not friendly…in place."
Riker exchanged a look with Troi.
"What was that?" Picard turned sharply to Worf.
"Data, we are having trouble receiving you," said Riker. "Would you care to repeat?"
"…proceed….Captain…the mission, sir."
"The quality of the transmission would indicate he's already in the tunnels," said Worf.
Troi frowned, aware that her ability to provide helpful input was very limited. "It sounds to me like he is ready."
"Yes." Picard turned to the main screen even though it only showed stars. "Yes, Data, please proceed. Radio silence from now on. The best of luck and we trust you shall manage on your own. And," he added, as an afterthought, "we look forward to have you back with us."
(2) Enterprise-D, Captain's Ready Room.
"I don't see the problem, Captain. He is the obvious choice." Riker folded himself down on the Captain's sofa.
"Doesn't Mr Worf have a point, Will?" asked Picard. "Data has been a liability to us more than once in the past. Usually when something or someone could breach his in-built defences. You do remember that neat little incident with his homing device?"
Riker's eyes widened. "I remember it like it was yesterday, sir, it was a staunch demonstration of his, ah, efficiency. But haven't you ever considered that we're not really utilising his capabilities? He has many times the strength and speed of a human. No emotions, or so he claims, to interfere with his duties. He could be the perfect assassin." A pause. "Or a frightening enemy."
The name of Data's brother Lore hung between them, unmentioned.
"To whom, Number One?" Picard sighed. "He might be, if he were but a trained minion, incapable of independent thought."
"Well, I don't know about that, sir." Will shrugged. "But Data does pretty much anything you ask of him."
Picard looked up.
(7) Enterprise-D, Main Bridge.
"Sir, we are receiving a transmission, broadcasting continuously on all frequencies." Worf looked up. "It is Commander Data."
"Data? I told him radio silence." Picard waved an arm impatiently. "Well, patch him through."
"Sir, there is much interference."
"Still in the tunnels then?" Picard frowned. "Shouldn't he have…?"
Riker checked his station. "Three minutes left, Captain."
"Thank you, Number One. Lieutenant?"
Worf shook his head. "I cannot make it perfect, sir, but I will give you what I've got."
Static filled the room. In its background, Data's voice was eerily calm.
"…battle of Bulosa…great army…defeated."
The transmission stuttered and Picard stood abruptly. "What the devil is he talking about?"
"I am uncertain, sir." Worf shifted to get readings from the neighbouring console. "There is more."
Data's voice again, with that same toneless lilt. "…great hardship…insurgency…unarmed…violence."
The transmission ended abruptly. Worf looked up.
"We've lost him, sir."
(8) Enterprise-D, Deck 1 Observation Lounge.
"Well, I think it's obvious, Captain, that he is no longer as he…usually is."
Troi looked apologetic, there was very little for her to work with in a situation like this and with Data being what he was. Picard's knuckles were white as he fisted his hands on the table.
"Well, if neither of you are able to explain what's going on, then I fear I am forced to intervene," he said. "My tactical officer is already chomping at the bit and I expect Starfleet Command is not that far behind. Although every instinct tells me to wait and see, we cannot have a rouge officer, potentially running amok in a civilization at the brink of change. Not when he has several times the strength and speed of a man and a ready access to explosives."
La Forge shifted. "Captain, the way I know Data, he would never do harm to anyone. At least not intentionally. I think we should give him another hour."
That sentence resounded in Picard's head.
"Intentionally, no," said Riker, hesitating. "But hasn't he demonstrated to us clearly that he's not himself?"
"Perhaps." Picard sighed and looked at them each in turn. "Perhaps not. We all want to do the right thing here, but to tell you the truth, I do not, at the moment, know what that is. Perhaps…he also deserves the benefit of doubt."
(9) Enterprise-D, Main Bridge.
"What the hell do you mean he's disappeared?"
La Forge pushed up next to Worf to get a view of the tactical station only to have Worf wave him away impatiently.
"The communication device has been deactivated, it–" Worf was interrupted by a bleep from the computer. He looked up. "Captain, we are receiving a transmission from Kyor III, audio only. I believe it must be Busan."
"Busan? That is certainly unexpected." Picard got up and straightened his jacket. "Well, put him through, Mr Worf."
A voice message filled the air. It hummed with static and was slightly distorted by the universal translator, yet it was infinitely better than Data's.
"Foreign vessel of the skies," it said, "this is Supreme Councillor Busan of Kyor. We have apprehended a foreign terrorist. What is your knowledge of this?"
Riker stood, suddenly, and with a worried look at Picard. "Supreme Councillor," he said, "I am Commander Riker, first officer of the Enterprise. Can you provide us the name of this alleged terrorist?"
"In interrogation," came the voice, "it called itself John Johnson."
Riker frowned, then with a gesture of impatient relief said, "acknowledged, Busan, we know of no one by that name."
The transmission stuttered for a moment before Busan continued, "nevertheless," he said, "we have distributed its body parts to the four corners of the kingdom, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors. We now extend that same warning to you."
The broadcast ended. Picard sank into his chair with a look of utter desolation.
Both Troi and Riker looked at him, alarmed.
"John Johnson," said Picard. "That is him, it has to be. I said to him – Guy Fawkes…" He stood again and paced a few steps.
La Forge, face set into a cold mask, hurried to the turbolift just as Riker asked in confusion, "Captain, are you absolutely certain? Because if that is really Data, we have to find a way to get him back."
Picard watched him, and then turned away. For a moment he stared at the empty screen, mumbling softly, to himself. "Thou shalt not venture to small purpose, but if thou wilt be a traitor thou shalt be to some great advantage."
Behind the tactical station, Worf shook his head in dismay. "I told you he would fail."
(10) Enterprise D, Main Bridge.
"Captain," said Mr Gartner, the ensign who had taken over at operations, "I'm detecting thousands of small areas of thermal radiation and carbon dioxide emissions. They are indicative of combustion."
He smiled wistfully as he said it because that's what Data used to call them. Bonfires, thought Deanna and she smiled as well.
"On screen. Magnify."
They looked like tiny stars scattered across the dark side of the planet. The signatures of people –thousands of them– of a single mind. Deanna sensed…something. It wasn't the muddled broadcast of before, when distance and the differences between millions of people had obscured any insightful interpretation of the emotions down on the planet. This was different. It was more coherent now, no longer in discord with itself.
"What is happening?" Picard stared at the image. "Are they…celebrating?"
And, yes, thought Deanna. The captain did not need an empath to understand after all. That was exactly it.
(17) Kyor III away team 2, commanding officer: Troi, Deanna.
(Planet's night side)
The village was an odd mismatch of wooden huts and official-looking brick and steel buildings. The Kyorians had chosen to assimilate only part of Federation technology, fruits of the little contact they'd had with outside worlds. A square centre, decorated with a fountain in the shape of an elaborate tree next to what appeared to be a speaker's podium (currently unoccupied) lay at the heart. Even at this hour, dozens of people milled about, many of them crowding around a small group with instruments.
La Forge leaned in, whispering, "what's the deal with all the fires, you think? Are you picking up something?"
Deanna looked around them, allowing scattered thoughts, bits of conversation, and the hum of the people's minds to wash over her. "Only that they're happy."
"Yeah." La Forge shrugged. "Now you mention it, I can tell that for myself. Why don't we walk around the perimeter?"
They did just that, uninterrupted until a Kyorian female approached them from the side.
"You're not from here, are you?" she asked, giving La Forge a bashful look. "Did you come from the capital?"
La Forge glanced at Deanna, who could only stare back. "Err, not exactly," he replied warily. The woman looked between them.
"Oh," she said, suddenly shy, "I'm sorry, you're–"
"Not at all, we're just friends," said Deanna quickly, knowing instinctively what she was asking and reluctant to dampen her vivid joy. "What is it that you're celebrating?"
Instead of replying, the woman broke out into a radiant smile and took La Forge by the hand. "Dance with me," she said on a laugh and pulled him into the light of the bonfires.
Thoughts about the founding principles of the Federation and her duties as commanding officer were pushed to the side of Deanna's mind by the sweet pleasure of so many people at ease. La Forge was twirled around by the alien woman, both of them awkward and ungainly and laughing, and Deanna couldn't help herself. She laughed as well because they were all so happy and it was contagious and everything would be all right, she just knew it. And then La Forge returned, breathless and sweaty and still smiling.
"I like this place," he said. "I would have like it, had the circumstances been different."
"It does have a certain appeal, I admit." Deanna beamed and checked her tricorder. "If you're all done charming their women, perhaps we should go in this direction." She indicated a corner of the town square that warm glow from the fires couldn't quite reach.
So they went. And it was La Forge who spotted it first of course. The lack of light made no difference to him and he hissed in Deanna's ear, before sprinting ahead, "there, on that spike, that's his!"
And it was Data all right, or at least, the most important part of him. Finally. "My goodness," said Deanna as she caught up to La Forge, barely able to make out the pale skin and yellow eyes, "they've been thorough."
"Yeah." La Forge examined the frayed wires that protruded from Data's head. "Well, at least they didn't burn him."
"Let's get out of here, Geordi," said Deanna. "We came in close enough contact with that dancing lady of yours. Quickly now, before anyone else sees us."
The bonfire closest to her flickered. Then the universal translator stuttered to life again and a voice, small and frightened, from behind her said,
"who are you?"
(11) Enterprise-D, Main Bridge.
"Captain, we are receiving a transmission." Worf looked up. "It is coming from the parliament building."
Picard stood abruptly. "Kyor III, this Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship–"
"Captain…Picard?" interrupted an unfamiliar voice. "You own the intruding…vessel that hangs in our skies?"
Again? mouthed Picard. He made a gesture to pause transmission. "This is not Busan," he said when Worf nodded. "What–?"
Worf shrugged. "I have no idea, Captain."
Picard looked at Troi. "I don't know anything either," she said with wide eyes. "This person seems…suspicious of us. Hostile maybe, yet not hateful. Perhaps we should just hear what he has to say?"
"Indeed." Picard motioned for Worf to resume.
"Yes," said Picard to the empty screen in front of them. "This is Captain Picard of the starship Enterprise. To whom am I speaking?"
"I am Sodora," said the voice, slightly distorted. "I wish to discuss with you the…objects that were placed in our capital."
Picard glanced at Riker. "I see," he said breathily, "ah, Mr…Sodora, has anyone of your people been…injured?"
"They have not," said Sodora, "no thanks to you."
Picard's shoulders lowered a fraction. Perhaps there was a way to paddle backwards out of this with no harm done after all. "I will send down two men," he said, "acting immediately. They will deactivate and remove the explosives from your planet."
"No." Sodora's voice broke no argument. "We have already disarmed and dismantled them. There is much to be said for us improving our relations with the outside world, but we will choose our future allies with care. We do not want you crew her, nor any of your destructive technology. Captain Picard, what we want is for you to leave. Now. Permanently."
"I see." Picard blinked. "Under the circumstances that is…understandable." He hesitated. "However, one of our men has gone missing on your planet. He would have appeared strange to you, a synthetic life form. I…would like permission to retrieve him."
Sodora laughed without mirth. Troi exchanged a worried look with Riker.
"The mechanical man," said Sodora darkly. "A slave without soul. Ingenious, Captain, yet so very disturbing. I admit your interference has helped our society, but we wish no allegiance with people capable of such abominations. I see no need to grant you permission to retrieve your equipment."
Picard visibly bristled. "You are entirely mistaken," he said forcefully. "Commander Data is not equipment. Nor is he a slave or a thing! He is my operations officer and I want him back immediately!"
"We saw what we saw." Sodora's voice grew cold. "We caught it red-handed and it has been rendered harmless. Your little technological trick has failed. Now, Captain, I ask you kindly to be on your way."
"I don't think you fully understand," said Picard a little gentler, "Data is a living being, a unique, sentient android created by a Federation citizen. We are quite concerned about his welfare and would like to–"
"I am sorry, Captain," interrupted Sodora. "You forewent that right when placing explosives beneath our parliament. We know what you are capable of and want no part of it."
Picard made a harsh motion for Worf to kill transmission.
"Number One," he said urgently. "What is Starfleet code in situations like these?"
"Not to interfere," said Riker, blinking. "Which we already have. Definitely not to attack!"
"Captain," said Troi, "we could go down there. Camouflage ourselves to look like them. They have limited resources to detect us. If we can locate all the pieces then maybe Geordi can…reassemble him…as he were."
"That would be a direct violation of the–" Picard broke himself off to pace around the bridge. "But even then," he said, "how in the world do we find all the parts? They will be scattered, perhaps even burnt. Yet – there has to be something in him we can trace." A pause. "Mr Worf, locate Commander La Forge, I want him on this case immediately!"
(18) Kyor III away team 2, Commanding officer: Troi, Deanna.
(Planet's night side)
It was a small child, a little girl with a pale, oval face and a ragdoll beneath her arm. In the night, her foreign eyes glittered in the dim light from the fires. Deanna crouched down to level with her.
"My name is Deanna," she said gently. "And this is Geordi. Who are you?"
"I'm Seera," replied the girl. "Why is he carrying a head?"
"Oh!" Geordi's eyebrows shot up behind the visor. "This…this is Data."
"Excuse me." The girl, Seera, frowned. "But what have you done to him?"
"This isn't our doing," said Deanna quickly, guessing from Seera's height and build that she only had a vague idea about what was going on around them. Geordi, with his visor and the head, and her, with her dark pupils and smooth face, would surely appear strange and frightening to a small child like this. She made an effort to sound reassuring. "Data is our friend and we're going to reassemble him."
"Well, yes," Geordi said. "He isn't quite like you and me. He can be…repaired when he's broken." He tuned his face half away and Deanna heard him mumble something like 'at least I hope so' and a laconic 'if we can find all the parts'. She took the girl's hand.
"Tell me, sweetheart–" Deanna nodded hear head in the direction of the musicians, "–what's happening here? What is this celebration about? Some kind of national holiday?"
The girl looked puzzled for a moment, but soon returned her eyes to the head in Geordi's arms. "Why does he look sad?"
Deanna tilted her head. "Well, ah, Data isn't capable of–" she began, then caught herself and looked at him, "–actually, never mind. He does look a little sad." In this situation, he was certainly allowed to be.
"Why?" The girl looked up at her. "All my dolls are happy." She held up her own as evidence, a tiny thing made of cloth and stuffing, and yes, it wore an unfading, innocuous smile.
"Data isn't a doll, dear. He is a – man," said Deanna, just as Geordi said, "android." They glanced at each other.
"I suppose he is a little bit of both," Deanna decided. "Listen, Seera," she pointed again at the group around the fire. The universal translator was indicating something about freedom, but on a planet as remote as this, they couldn't trust it to be entirely accurate when there were rhymes involved. "Those people over there, can you tell us what they're singing about?"
"I think," said the girl and broke into a grin, "that Mother is making supper."
(12) Enterpride D, Deck 2 room 3653.
"Computer," said Geordi, receiving an affirmative bleep in reply, "access all information on–"
His communicator interrupted with a bleep of its own. "La Forge to Captain's ready room. Make haste."
Picard's voice was as tense a warp core on the verge of a breach. Geordi abruptly tore away from the workstation he had been using in Data's quarters. From the safety behind a potted plant, Spot hissed. He had been there for over an hour, refusing to eat and expectantly watching the door all the while. Despite his misgivings about the cat, it nearly broke Geordi's heart.
"La Forge here," he said. "I'm on my way."
Distracted by the poor animal, Geordi nearly forgot the padd and had to turn back. But as he reached for it, the sight of Data's violin caught his eye and halted his stride.
Data loved that thing. He could play beautifully and although several of the other musicians among the crew insisted he lacked 'soul' and 'feeling', it was of no significance to Geordi's ears. Hell, he didn't even like classical music and appeared only sporadically at performances, almost purely in a show of support. What he did enjoy, however, was the countless hours of downtime spent in in this very room, reading technical reports on the sofa while Data went over the same mellow tones again and again, trying to get his intonation and sustain just so. In those moments, it wasn't the noise that made a difference, but the company.
Would he ever see Data in that way again? If Geordi never heard a violin for the rest of his life, he wouldn't mourn in the least. He was sure Spot wouldn't either, nor the Enterprise's string assembly. But Data's steady, undemanding presence?
On a sigh, he tore away, got the padd, and hurried to the closest turbolift. Troi was in it, giving him a silent nod as he gave directions to the bridge.
"How are you doing, Geordi?"
"I'm good," he replied, because that's what he would answer when someone asked. Except, perhaps, when that person was Deanna.
"Have you been feeding Spot?"
"Yeah." Geordi looked up at her. "Yeah, I have as a matter of fact. That and other things. How did you know?"
Troi reached out to brush her hand lightly over his arm. "Cat hair," she said, smiling. Geordi glanced down and, yes, they contrasted starkly against the black on his uniform, even when seen through the visor. "Was he nice to you?"
"There is nothing nice about Spot." The words came automatically because Data's cat had enemies on almost every deck. But right then, they weren't Geordi's true feelings. Not really.
"Mm," said Troi. Her hand dropped and they were quiet for a while.
"You know, back when Data started playing he was truly bad at it." Geordi wasn't really aware that he had been talking out loud until Troi turned to face him.
"Play?" she asked mildly. "You mean…his instrument?"
"The violin, yeah." Geordi shook his head. "I had to flee his quarters every time. I've no idea how Spot survived it all. It sounded like…a Klingon mating cry, like…a dying goat, or a red alert. It was horrible."
"I can imagine." Troi chuckled. "How did he learn? No, don't tell me, he wrote a special program for it?"
"Nah." Geordi shrugged. "Said he wanted to study the 'real way', you know, like we do. It took him ages though. Hours and hours of scrape-scrape, screech-screech. I've no idea why he didn't give it up."
"Well, he doesn't lose his patience," said Troi. "And it seems to me like a reward in itself; human music can be difficult to master. Even for an android."
Geordi raised a knowing eyebrow. "Especially for an android, if you ask my opinion."
"Possibly," said Troi. "I have heard him play though and it was quite lovely. I suppose he shaped up pretty well after all."
Those words held more meaning than she could possibly know. "Yeah." Geordi looked down at their feet. "Yeah, I guess he did."
The turbolift doors opened abruptly and the captain met them on the bridge.
Geordi trailed behind him to the ready room, leaving Troi behind.
"Well," he said as they hurried along, "the bad news is that we can't just beam him up. The scattering in the atmosphere prevents our sensors from locating him and the transporter from locking on, even with the new improvements I installed."
Picard paused by the door and clenched his hands into fists. "Merde."
"I second that, sir. Our only option is to go down there, which might imply a breach of the Prime Directive. But the good news is that molybdenum is a trace element in this solar system."
They entered the ready room and Picard sat behind his desk. La Forge took the sofa after a brief hesitation. "The metal, sir," he said, "it's a component of one of the alloys that make up Data's skeleton. On the up side, it should therefore be present in all the vital parts." He wavered. "On the down side it, ah, only makes up about four percent of his body weight."
"Meaning?" Picard frowned.
"We have to use the sensors in one of the shuttlecrafts, sir. In fact," Geordi hurried to say, "we're lucky that Data is rather on the heavy side. Had there been any less of it, we wouldn't have been able to detect it at all."
"I see." Picard fell silent, his eyes staring vacantly ahead. Geordi shifted when the quiet wore on.
"Captain, are you all right?"
In a rare moment of transparency, Picard looked down and wiped a hand over his forehead. "No. No, Geordi, I am not."
The slip in professionalism had Geordi swallow. He knew what was weighing on Picard's min. If asked, Starfleet Command would no doubt choose to leave Data behind, considering the odds and how they balanced against the Prime Directive. They would considered him dead and felt justified in that decision. He would have been, after all, had he been human. Then there was the fact that many people wouldn't place the same value on Data's life as they would on a human's in any case.
But not Picard. Sometimes, Geordi would get this feeling that out of all of the Enterprise's crew, if anyone were to be like a son to Picard, it had to be Data.
"I must say I feel the same way." Gordi wearily leaned back in his seat and the captain lifted his eyes to meet his.
"Will once commented," said Picard, "that for an emotionless being, Data has a singular way of provoking them in others." He hesitated. "This feels…like a terrible injustice. Like a tragedy that was never meant to happen. It is, to me…a personal failure."
"I know what you mean." Geordi sighed. "Sometimes it's like he's too innocent for his own good, you know. For all his studies of humanity, it's like he never understood that there is a dark side to life. Like he purposefully ignored it or…was incapable of noticing."
"Yes." Picard stood. "Yes, I think that's an accurate description." He straightened his jacket. "Data has a rare friend in you, Geordi. There is no one else I would rely more on in an attempt to bring him home. Alert Commander Riker that he'll form an away team. You, Mr Worf–" He paused. "And bring the counsellor with you."
"Indeed." Picard made a valiant attempt at a smile. "Something significant is happening down there and I want to know what. This is the only excuse I have to send you and if anyone can find out, that person is her."
Geordi stood as well and for the first time in what felt like days, a genuine smile crept onto his face. "Yes sir. Right away." He turned to leave but paused by the door, halted by a strong sense of gratitude and an inexplicable optimism. If someone aboard the Enterprise missed Data as much as he did, it was her captain. "Don't worry, sir," he found himself saying, quiet and calm. "Data has been in worse situations than this and he has always pulled through. Somehow, some way, we'll have him back on board before dawn."
Picard nodded, once, looking for all the world like he wanted to believe it.
(18) Kyor III away team 2, commanding officer: Troi, Deanna.
(Planet's night side)
"Welcome," sang the universal translator and Geordi and Troi were admitted into a round hut, made of clay walls and a thatched straw roof. A stove in one corner emitted heat and the smell of cooked vegetables and carpets of varying colours and textures lined the floor. Geordi watched Troi accept the hand of the alien woman, along with a wooden bowl of stew. Their host was tall and lean and wore long skirts, not unlike those replicated by the Enterprise's computer.
"You're not from around here, are you?"
There seemed to be nothing but genuine friendliness and open curiously in the woman's bearing. Geordi was strengthened in this belief by Troi's seemingly relaxed smile.
"No," she said, "we are friends, but we come from far away."
Geordi watched as Seera, the girl, helped herself happily to stew straight from the pot. Her mother said something that the translator couldn't relay, but which had Seera duck her head and sit neatly on the floor. Since there seemed to be no furniture around, Geordi and Troi copied her.
"You must be weary from your travels," the mother said to Troi. "I can provide you shelter for the night, if you wish."
"That is most kind of you," she replied, "but unnecessary. We should be on our way shortly. We are here only to retrieve the body of a fallen comrade."
"He died in the riot?" The mother looked surprised. "I thought there were no casualties."
Anticipating just these kind of questions, they'd had the foresight to leave Data's head beneath a wooden bench beside the hut. But this at least, was good news. Geordi coughed helplessly into his hand when Troi looked to him for aid. "This is…delicious," he diverted, raising his spoon in a toast. It was a lie. The food was eye-wateringly spicy and made the inside of his visor damp and clingy. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." The mother prepared a bowl for Seera, who dug into the stew with vigour. "I can tell by your queer faces that you are capable of warp travel. It is my belief that the people of Kyor have too long neglected the virtues of hospitality. I hope that this will also change with the coming of New Dawn."
Geordi glanced at Troi. "New Dawn?" he asked the mother. "Is that what you're celebrating?"
"Of course." She smiled.
"Err, you mentioned a riot. I assume this isn't a very…old custom?"
"Oh, not at all. I suppose," the mother said, "it started with the Mechanical Man."
And that right there was their cue to leave if Geordi had ever heard one. "Riight." He carefully placed his bowl of stew on the floor and stood. "Listen," he told the woman, "you have been very kind and generous, and we very much appreciate your hospitality. And your daughter," he extended his hand towards Seera, "is a lovely, lovely child. But right now, I think the Counsellor and I have business elsewhere." He looked meaningfully at Troi.
"Wait a moment, Geordi." Troi laughed gently at him then looked back up at the woman. "This 'New Dawn' sounds like something wonderful," she said, quite calmly. "How did it come about? What happened to this…'mechanical man'?"
"Don't you know?" The woman glanced between them, puzzled. "I thought it had reached everyone. They interrogated him. Tortured him, even, and in the end he was executed."
"Tortured him?" Troi looked at Geordi, taken aback and her eyes seemed to ask him if that was even possible. Geordi merely shrugged his shoulders minutely because who was he to say that Data couldn't suffer? "But why?"
"Why, that is what New Dawn is all about." The woman smiled. "He walked around the parliament building on the morning of constitution and–" she opened her arms in wonder, "–quoted our ancient history."
Geordi blinked. "He what?"
"Battles, stories, myths, war, peace, legends. Leaders lost and long forgotten. It was all he would talk about. His name was John Johnson."
(20) Enterprise-D, Deck 1 Observation Lounge.
"They were singing, Captain. Around the bonfires. The same song, all of them. They were singing about peace."
"Peace?" Picard looked like he was trying to imagine how that had come about.
"Yes." Troi leaned forward, eagerly. "That was what the little girl and her mother said. You were right, Captain, before, when you guessed that they were celebrating."
"It seems," said Riker, in an effort to explain patiently, but barely able to contain his mirth, "that someone entered their parliament last night. And instead of blowing it up, he gave them a good, long old-fashioned lecture on their ancient history. Due to interference from a certain" – he glanced at La Forge – "highly sophisticated communication device, this speech was translated and transferred on every single one of the planet's internal transmission bands."
"Data gave them…a lecture?" The captain looked flabbergasted.
La Forge shrugged. "The last thing he did before going down here was to memorise their records," he said. "I suppose an imprint of it may have stuck somewhere in his vocal processors."
"He went on at length, sir, as he often does." Troi raised her eyebrows. "And it was effective, too. Many of the people there were already on the verge of a rebellion and when Data started talking nonstop to them about past instabilities and the periods of peace in-between, they – well, they found their purpose."
"They just walked into to the capital, captain," supplied Riker. "Unarmed. Busan must have understood that what was happening was beyond his control because when they got there, he had already fled."
Picard blinked. "Good work," he murmured, still seeming mildly disoriented. "This certainly explains the final transmission."
"Something monumental is happening down there," said Troi, smiling. "Something good, Captain. And although we only played a minor part of it, I do think our work here is done."
"Hm. Thank you both." Picard stood. "You are dismissed." A pause. "Ah, belay that. One more thing occurs to me." He turned back to Troi. "Counsellor what, exactly, was this song about?"
"They sang about an alien machine," she replied, eyes sparkling, "set out to liberate them, but that failed and was terminated. That they took matters into their own hands. Then, a new government. It's a legend in itself."
Picard splayed his hands out. "Very well," he mumbled before looking up at them. The ghost of a smile played around his lips. "What can I say? As much as I dread giving this report to Starfleet, it seems we chose the right man after all."
(21) Enterprise-D, Sick Bay.
"Is he in there?" asked Worf as he loomed over La Forge's shoulder. Dr Crusher had long since gone to bed and on a table lay Data, silent and still, an opened panel of his head revealing nothing but lifeless wires and darkened diodes.
"We won't know for sure until we switch him on," said La Forge and although he used language to describe a machine, the hand that straightened out a kink in Data's hair was very gentle.
"Have you slept at all?"
La Forge shrugged as he unplugged Data from the ship's computer and Worf added because he had to, "is there any chance they may have…tampered with him?"
La Forge shook his head. "I doubt they have the technology. Hell, even I don't know enough about him to do something like that and then, if they did, why dismantle him?"
"They would have seen him as a threat."
"Perhaps. We'll soon know." La Forge walked away to retrieve yet another tool and Worf looked down at Data with a newfound respect. Not the respect he would have for a warrior, granted, but rather the kind he would have for a friend. One who has gone through a great ordeal.
La Forge returned to send an electrical charge through Data's brain. The lights flickered to life. At first, to streak around like frightened birds, then, soon, to find and follow designated and familiar paths. Shortly after, Data's respiratory system rebooted and he drew an even breath. Dr Pulaski had once, long ago and with clinical detachment, explained to Worf that its sole function was to cool the secondary subprocessor arrays that lined the inside of Data's chest cavity. But in that moment, as his stomach rose and fell softly, he looked very human.
La Forge reached beneath Data's back. "Come on, old buddy," he murmured. "This ought to do it."
And with the flick of a switch, yellow eyes looked up at them, eerie in their foreign calm. Instead of his usual bolt upright, Data lay very still.
"Well?" Worf glanced at La Forge with a frown.
"Try to get up, Data." La Forge took his hand, leading him into the movement, and Data sat obediently. Worf tapped his communicator.
"Worf to Captain."
"Yes?" The voice was husky with disuse at first, before the captain found his bearings. The ship's chronometer read 05:50 hours. "Yes, Lieutenant. How is he?"
Worf watched Data as he examined his surroundings, childlike and startled, and with jerky head movements. It took but a single moment to do his job.
"We do not yet know, sir, but he is not a threat."
"Thank you, Worf," said Picard warmly. "I am relieved to hear it. See what you can get out of him and keep me posted. Picard out."
La Forge reattached the panel to Data's temple and leaned into his field of vision. "Data, do you remember?" he asked. "Do you know where you are? Do you know who I am?"
"Geordi," said Data with unmistakable fondness and Worf breathed a sigh.
"How are you?" asked La Forge. Worf sat down in a chair to watch. "Data, we were extremely worried. What happened to you?"
"I was…" began Data, haltingly, "on Kyor III. I was supposed to–" a pause, "–blow up Parliament?"
"Yeah, that's right!" La Forge grinned broadly and slid onto the table beside him. "Then what happened?"
Data blinked, looked at his hands and blinked again. Worf exchanged a glance with La Forge.
"You don't remember?" he growled and the abrupt question made Data look up.
"You have me at a disadvantage, Lieutenant," he said mildly. "I do not know what happened." He glanced at La Forge and his brows wrinkled into a troubled expression. "Have I caused an inconvenience?"
(22) Enterprise-D, Captain's Ready Room.
(At the changeover from night shift to day)
Picard found Data in his ready room as ordered. He paused on the threshold for a moment as Data continued to look out the window, oblivious to his arrival. The disarray of his hair and uniform indicated he had come directly from Sick Bay.
It was somewhat uncharacteristic, along with a noticeable droop in his shoulders. Data was normally so aware of everything that went around him. But perhaps he was…preoccupied. The night shift had just ended and the Enterprise was about to break orbit.
"Welcome home, faithful Guy," murmured Picard, reluctant for some reason to startle him. "You must be weary from your travels."
Data turned to face him.
"Thank you, Captain," he said softly. Then, as though repeating a lesson engraved deeply into his brain during a formative moment, "however, I am not capable of feeling weariness."
"That, I have learned," interrupted Picard, with irritation that was not aimed at Data, "is a truth with modifications." He sat on the edge of the table and crossed a foot over the other. "Lieutenant La Forge informed me you were close to cascade failure."
"Yes." Data broke eye contact to look down at his feet. "I placed the explosives in the tunnels, as you requested, but what happened after is – ah…"
"That is how they found you."
"I believe I must have self-deactivated, sir. I was unable to complete the–"
"A conflict of orders. Overloaded your positronic net, yes, I am aware. Data," said Picard, very clearly, "I am sorry to have placed you in this position."
"There is no need to apologise, Captain." Data looked up. "In fact, it was I who failed in my duty to you."
"You failed in an act of terrorism." Picard smiled. "That, in my opinion, is not the same as a failing of character."
"Sir, what happened? After–?"
To Picard, this topic was an easier one. He stood and straightened his jacket. "You reminded them, I believe," he said on a note of optimism, "of their history. And of its recurring nature. How nothing lasts forever and that all evil will eventually be replaced by something…other."
Data blinked twice. "I assume this is connected in some way to their attempt to execute me?"
"Ah, no." Picard splayed out his hands. "That was all Busan. However, he –you– kicked the people to their feet. Data. The impact of…a sacrifice. So much more weighty than any assassination. It did not even matter that they thought you were a mere machine."
"I do not understand." Data tilted his head. "Lieutenant Worf informed me that I acted extremely irrationally. Had any of the crew been exposed to it, I am sure they would have found it vexing, disturbing even. Captain, how could my malfunction have provoked them to revolt?"
"It was already within them. Just look, Data – look what came of it." Picard made an expressive gesture at the window, where the planet lay green and quaint before them. "An unarmed rebellion. Profound societal change. Then –perhaps– peace."
Data said, very softly, "Do you really believe so?"
The humming of the Enterprise's engines changed pitch and as one, they faced the window. Kyor III hung among the stars for a moment, then, like exploding firework, they all suddenly ignited and blurred across infinite space as the ship jumped to warp.
Picard placed a hand on Data's shoulder.
"I believe, my friend," he said with conviction, "that you shall not be the last person to enter that parliament with honest intentions."
Thank you for reading. Kyor is an anagram of York, where Guy Fawkes was allegedly born and educated. Klingon phrases were found at various places on the www. I own nothing but the warm feelings I have for these characters.