1. Stone Cold Irony

A dark sheet of clouds hung ominously over the planet's uneven surface. The moisture in the air collected on everything from the jagged cliffs to the tiny reptilian life forms that unsuccessfully took refuge in their crevices. This left every surface cold and wet. In fact, that seemed to be the whole theme of the area…cold and wet.

Suddenly two columns of bright blue shimmering light appeared at the base of one of the crags. As the flickering brilliance faded two very different figures formed against the rough backdrop of the cliff-face. The shorter of the two glanced down at the device he held in his dark hand. His skin was almost the same rich chocolate-brown as the surrounding rock. He watched casually as the monitor displayed a constant flow of information. He saw it, not with two biological eyes, as some are accustomed. Instead a gold and silver band stretched from temple to temple over the bridge of his nose, covering his true eyes completely.

The other form stood in stark contrast to his companion. This man was about half a head taller than his comrade. His, almost black, perfectly combed, hair complemented his equally perfect posture. An almost overly alert pair of golden eyes looked intently out from the man's pearl colored face. Even in the shadow of the overcast sky his white cheeks seemed to glow.

The shorter man let out a weary sigh.

"Is something wrong Geordi?" The pale face cocked slightly to one side, eyes now resting on the other man's VISOR. When Geordi didn't answer immediately his comrade continued. "I ask because, in my research of human emotions, I have learned that a sigh, such as the one you just voiced, is most often an indication of exasperation, boredom, or sadness. All such emotions are negative."

Geordi looked up at the face so many had described as constantly deadpan, numb or just plain expressionless. He knew better, though. He recognized a look of concern on his friend's face when he saw it. "I'm fine Data. It's just that I know this is going to take awhile to find all the samples." He shivered slightly as a cold breeze dampened his face. "Oh, why'd it have to be us?"

Data watched his tricorder as he answered. "I believe your previous statement is the exact reason why it has to be us. It may take awhile for us to do it but for anyone else it would take longer." Geordi nodded and unhooked one of the containers that hung from his belt. Data persisted in his explanation. "With the aid of your VISOR you are able to see far beyond the spectrum of normal human vision. Therefore you can perceive the needed specimens quite quickly."

By now Geordi wasn't listening. He was trying to scan a small insect he'd discovered crawling on a rock.

Data was not thwarted by his friend's apparent preoccupation. "My posotronic brain allows me to concentrate on many things at a time. I can process information as fast as the ships computer and between the both of us we should be able to complete the task most quickly and efficiently."

Geordi LaForge smiled inwardly. He already knew all of that. Though, at times he seemed to forget the fact that his friend was an android. "I just don't like doing the dirty work."

"We will be taking soil samples but that dose not mean we will inevitably get dirty."

"It's an expression."

"Oh." He cocked his head to one side, considering the information. "You were referring to the unpleasantness of the assignment, not the involvement of unclean substances."

LaForge began to turn to make a reply but the ground was slick and his feet slid out from under him. He landed on his back, sending bits of slimy muck flying in all directions. "Now that you mention it," He said, good-naturedly as Data helped him to his feet. "I must have been referring to both." He tried to wipe the stuff off but only succeeded in smearing it over the rest of his uniform. He thought his friend's choice of words was a gigantic understatement. 'Unclean substances' yuck!

As Data watched his fruitless efforts he tried keeping the bright side in view. "Things could be much worse." As if on cue there was the distant rumble of thunder and closely following it came the sensation of being bombarded by tiny drops of liquid. Yes, it was raining. "I was correct." The android stated flatly.

Geordi suddenly burst out laughing. His hysterics were so severe he had to sit on one of the nearby rocks to catch his breath.

"I do not see anything amusing." Data was not trying to dampen his friend's mood (the man was damp enough already). He was honestly pondering the humor of the situation. "First, you were disheartened at our location, then you fell in the mud, and now it is raining." His head inclined to one side. "Which one of those events do you find humorous?"

When Geordi finally came to his senses he realized it would be close to impossible to explain the irony of the whole situation. So he tried the easiest aspect. "Don't you know that you're never supposed to say 'it could be worse'?" Through Geordi's VISOR Data appeared to be standing in a golden halo. He knew he was really seeing was the electromagnetic energy that emitted from his mechanical components but he loved to tease him about being some kind of guardian angel.

"I do not see what difference it would make weather I voiced my opinion or not."

"It's because whenever someone says 'things could be worse' they always do get worse."

"I believe that is a superstition."

"I swear, that's just the way it goes." He turned and began a quick scan of the cliff. There was a steep incline of stone rubble that led up to the vertical face. Suddenly his eyebrows lifted high above his VISOR. There, on the cliff wall, just above where the pile of rubble stopped and the more solid structure began, was a large patch of, well, something. "Data, do you see that?" He said pointing.

His metallic optics scanned the area Geordi had indicated but saw nothing more than a slight discoloration in the rock. He voiced his observation.

"Whatever it is it's emitting an unusual quantity of radiation." Geordi said, staring intently.

Data was just about to scan it with his tricorder when their communicators chirped. They opened the channel by touching a gold and silver badge that adorned both of their uniforms.

"LaForge here." Geordi acknowledged.

"Or sensors show that you two are having a bit of a shower down there." This new voice seemed to come out of nowhere. "I was wondering if you would like to postpone your survey until the weather clears."

Geordi's drenched features morphed into a smug grin. "You mean like a 'rain check'?"

The Captain didn't laugh but LaForge could hear the smile in his voice. "That's exactly what I mean."

"I think we can hold out a little longer Captain." He couldn't believe he was saying this. Just a moment ago, given the chance, he would have exited this planet at warp 10. But now that his curiosity was pricked even the Enterprise tractor beam couldn't have pulled him away from this mystery. "We may have found something interesting."

"Very well, Lieutenant. When you're ready O'Brian will be happy to beam you out of that soggy mess."


"Enterprise out."

As soon as they broke contact Geordi began to clamber, rather awkwardly, up the slope. "C'mon. Let's check it out."

"Check…it…out." Data spoke the words slowly and deliberately. He followed the Engineer's lead, though in a much more dignified fashion. His internal gyroscope kept him in perfect balance at all times. "To investigate, research, examine. I have not even a proposal of the origin of this expression. The words 'check it out' seem to have no relation whatsoever to their meaning."

By this time Geordi had reached his destination and was looking closely at the rock wall. It was fortunate that the subject of study was slightly sheltered by a ledge that protruded from the cliff face about ten meters up. So the Engineer was protected somewhat from the watery onslaught.

Data, on the other hand, was perfectly content to do his landscape scans completely exposed to the relentless weather. LaForge watched for a moment and almost felt sorry for him but then remembered that his friend's artificial coating was much more waterproof than his own organic skin.

He turned back to the source of the radiation and used his microscopic vision to get an unbelievably closer look. "It's a mass of some sort of microorganism." He mused aloud. "I don't think—" Data interrupted his voiced thoughts.

"I am detecting some seismic activity." As if in response to his words the ground began to shake violently beneath them. The android, of course, held his position quite well. Not so with Geordi. The rock he had been standing on was slick from the rain. His right foot slipped off the wet surface and into a tight fissure between two of the larger stones. This action caused one of them to shift slightly, completely trapping his foot.

The quake stopped as abruptly as it started.

The next two seconds were a frightful blur of activity. He made one tug at his foot to no avail. It held fast. There was an ominous cracking sound above him and as he looked up he could see the ledge directly overhead beginning to give way.

Data saw it too and with speed only an android could manage he dashed to Geordi's side. By that time the whole overhang was tumbling down towards them. With one swift motion Data jerked the foot free and gave the Engineer one giant shove that propelled him about fifteen feet from the danger zone. He landed hard on his back, knocking him nearly senseless. He recovered only in time to look up and see his best friend disappear under the pummeling assault of the many pieces from the broken cliff-side.

As Geordi watched, the boulders continued to tumble down the slope until they reached flat ground at the base of the cliff. Apparently Data had gone down with them because he was no longer in sight. "No!" He would have screamed it his lungs had not yet recovered from the lifesaving blow to his chest so the word came out as no more than a whisper.

It took only a moment to catch his breath before he began stumbling down the hill ignoring the pain from his already swelling ankle. He fell to his knees when he reached the bottom where the remains of the ledge had settled. He started clawing desperately at the loose rocks. He knew Data was under there; through his VISOR he could make out the android's metal frame. When he'd finally removed enough of the rubble to get a good look at his friend's condition he was horrified. For one thing Data's aura was so dim that his VISOR could barely make it out. A panel on the side of his head had been completely torn off revealing the circuits underneath. It wasn't that the mechanisms were uncovered that bothered him. He should have been seeing little lights blinking all over in that area. Almost like a mechanical pulse. The circuits were completely dark.

"DATA!" He screamed, shaking him by the shoulders as if this would stir him to consciousness. "Wake up! Data, please! Don't do this!" The android stayed limp as a rag doll in Geordi's arms. "Listen to me!" Suddenly his badge chirped and Captain Picard's voice spoke.

"There was a quake down there. Is everything…"

"Beam us up!" He yelled hysterically without even a thought of interrupting his superior.

The Captain blinked in surprise at the sudden outburst. He instantly regained himself and tapped his commbadge. "O'Brian! I want the away team out of there!"

"Yes Sir." Said a voice over the intercom. "Uh," There was a slight pause. "There's a bit of interference. It might take me a second to lock on to them."

Picard glanced at Deanna Troi who was sitting left of the command chair. Her hands were clenched so tightly on the armrests that her knuckles were beginning to turn white. She looked up at the Captain with agony in her ebony eyes.

"Number One, you have the bridge. Dr Pulaski, meet me in transporter room one." He shouted his commands at his first officer and over the intercom then turned to Troi. "Counselor, come with me." She nodded and followed him into the turbo lift. Once inside he turned to her. "Well…?"

"It was fear, Captain. Fear and helplessness, very intense and agonizing. It was not a self-preserving fear, but fear for the welfare of another." Her gorgeous dark eyes looked as if she was experiencing those feelings herself, and he knew she most likely was.

"You mean for Commander Data?" He asked as they exited the lift.

By now every inch of Geordi's body was drenched and shivering. He was so cold yet his lungs felt like they were on fire. Every breath was a great effort and the screaming he'd done seconds earlier had only heightened the pain.

At least it had brought him out of his hysteria enough that he could now think somewhat rationally. As an android, Data could take a beating much easier than any human. Maybe something triggered his off-switch in the fall. Mentally crossing his fingers he reached around Data's back and tried to switch him back on.

The golden eyes snapped open. Geordi sighed in relief, even though it hurt.

"…id I…arm…ou…en I pushed you aside?" Data's voice box was obviously malfunctioning. But that could be easily fixed.

"No, no. I'm fine. You didn't hurt me." He lied. He also would have questioned Data's use of the word 'push'. The biggest understatement of the century. But this was definitely not the time.

"The rain…" He began to say but stopped when there was a loud 'zap' and a tiny explosion of sparks flew from his exposed components. The eyes closed and he was silent once more.

"No." Geordi whispered again. Then he realized what he'd been trying to say. Data's skin may have been waterproof but the vital components inside were not. Now that the protective coating was breached the rain could seep inside and do more permanent damage deep in the positronic brain itself. LaForge put his hand over the reviled circuits trying to prevent any more harm. Even though his lungs felt like they were going to explode he kept talking. "Data. Don't do this. Do you hear me? We're going to get you to Engineering. Just hold out 'till then. I'll fix you! I promise!" Great relief came over him as he felt the tingling of the transporter overwhelm his senses.