By Rowena Zahnrei
"Hey, hold the turbolift!"
Lt. Commander Data obligingly kept his hand against the door frame. The Enterprise's navigation officer, Lt. Geordi LaForge, jogged up the ramp from his helm station on the lower bridge and through the lift's open doors.
"Thanks, Commander," the human said, and addressed the ship's computer. "Deck Ten." As the lift began moving, he said, "Sorry for shouting, sir. It's just, you always walk so fast – I wasn't sure I'd be able to catch you."
The pale android furrowed his brow. "Catch me?" he queried.
"Yeah," the man said. "I wanted to ask if you'd like to join me in Ten Forward. If you're not busy. I mean, we sit next to each other on the bridge all day, work side by side at the Science Stations and in Engineering, but we never get a chance to talk."
Data tilted his head. "I do not believe that to be accurate," he said. "Since our first meeting during the Farpoint mission, you and I have exchanged a total of seven thousand four hundred twenty-three words, including this current conversation."
The Lieutenant shook his head. "Exchanging words and talking are two different things, sir," he said.
Data looked a little lost. "But, Lieutenant, is not the definition of 'talk' to 'exchange words'?"
The blind officer raised his eyebrows high over the silvery VISOR that allowed him to see.
"Wow," he said. "I'm starting to get what those guys from the Trieste were talking about. Look, Data – is it OK if I call you Data?"
The android seemed to shrug. "We are off duty, and in an informal situation."
"All right then," the navigator said. "I'll call you Data, and you can call me Geordi."
"Very well, Geordi."
"Good," Geordi said, and smiled. "Good, I think we're getting somewhere. Now, how about a drink, Data? You and me. Maybe a game of chess?"
"I do not require rest or diversion," Data said. "It is probable that you will find your time in Ten Forward to be more rewarding if I were not to accompany you."
Geordi crossed his arms. "Yeah? And why's that?"
"I have been told, repeatedly, by humans that my presence is all that is required to 'kill' a mood. If you are seeking a jovial, relaxing atmosphere, I recommend you extend your invitation to Commander Riker. My company would be less enjoyable."
"Hm," Geordi said. "Because you don't 'require' fun."
The android stared blankly at the wall. "That is correct."
"I see." The blind man nodded slowly. "What about friends?"
"Yeah, friends. Companions. People you feel comfortable with. Who keep you from feeling alone."
"But, Geordi," the android said, glancing at him with his golden eyes. "I am alone by definition. I am the only one of my kind."
"Then so am I," Geordi said.
Data stared at him.
"But, you are human," he said. "You are part of a vast, dynamic culture linked together by biological and historical bonds."
"I may be human, but I'm also the only blind officer on this ship," Geordi pointed out. "And the only one currently in Starfleet who's been fitted with a VISOR. To most people I meet, I'm as much a technological curiosity as you are. I guess that makes us two of a kind."
The turbolift came to a stop as Data pondered that, the doors sliding open to Deck Ten. Geordi stepped into the corridor and waited for Data.
"So, you coming?"
Data followed, seeming oddly hesitant as they stood outside the doors to the officer's lounge.
"What's wrong?" Geordi asked.
"I do not know if I will be welcome here," Data said. "Ten Forward is a place where humans go to relax. As the ship's head science officer and chief of operations – the individual to whom all department heads must report – would my presence not remind them of their work?"
Geordi shook his head. "Data, it's not a problem. Even the Captain comes here once in a while, when he's off duty. I bet no one in there will even notice us."
"But if they do, Geordi? What if they share the opinion that machines belong in storage when not in use, not sitting at the bar, making everyone uncomfortable?"
Geordi looked horrified. "Did someone actually say that to you, Data?"
"Yes," the android said matter-of-factly. "It was a commonly held belief among many of the crew on my last post. I did not place myself in storage, however. I simply did not go off duty. My function was to head the life-sciences department and assist the chief engineer when necessary. I have quite a rapport with computers."
"Yeah," Geordi said, his mouth a thin line. "Well, you're not on that ship anymore, Data. You're here, on the Enterprise, and more than that, you're with me. And I want to play some chess. You up for a game?"
"If you wish, Geordi."
"Then come on," he said, and led the android into the bar. "You pick the table, and I'll get us some drinks."
Data was good. Really good. But, so was Geordi. While Data's chess gambits seemed consistently logical, even predictable, Geordi knew his talents had always rested on thinking around problems, coming at them from angles most other people couldn't see. He wouldn't say the two of them were evenly matched. There was no question Data had him beat in processing speed and analytical skills. But if Geordi could set up a trap, use the android's own straightforward nature against him…
"Rook to Queen's level two," he said. "I'd like to see you get out of that one!"
Data tilted his head and moved his knight. For a moment Geordi was confused – Data should have gone for his pawn – but then Geordi realized what he'd done. His clever trap had actually left his bishop vulnerable; the bishop he'd been relying on to check Data's king in two moves! If he moved the bishop to safety, Data's knight would still be in a position to threaten his queen. He'd have to take back that thought about Data's moves being predictable…
"Damn," he said, and smiled in admiration. There was a way out of this…he just had to think…
"You are not like other humans I have encountered."
Geordi looked up from the tower-like 3D chess board.
"What do you mean?"
Data kept his eyes on the board, his long fingers actually fidgeting until he folded his hands in front of him.
"The only other humans who asked to spend their off-duty time with me spent that time asking questions about my functions, or inquiring about various trivia. You have been in my company for nearly an hour and have not."
"Well, that's 'cause I want to know about you, Data, not your functions. I want to know who you are."
The android seemed confused.
"Who I am?"
"Yeah," Geordi said. "And I want you to get to know me."
"What do you mean, 'why'? Because I like you. I think we've got a lot in common."
"Well, we're in Starfleet, we're both bridge officers, we both have a talent working with machines…"
"I am a machine," Data stated.
"Yeah, but you're also a person, aren't you?"
Data lowered his gaze.
"I would not wish to be presumptuous."
"Now, what the hell does that mean?"
"Presumptuous? It means presuming, audacious, imprudent, cheeky, overreaching—"
"Stop that!" Geordi snapped, causing Data to blink. "Stop it right now. God, Data, what did those people on the Trieste do to you?"
"They did nothing to me, Geordi. I was left quite to myself."
"Obviously." Geordi shook his head. "Look, do you think you're a person?"
Data seemed to shrug, reaching out with a pale finger to push two of Geordi's captured pawns from side to side.
"I would like to believe so. But—"
"No. No buts. If you say you're a person, you're a person. End of story."
"I think you are oversimplifying the issue, Geordi," Data said quietly.
"No, it really is that simple. Just trust yourself, Data!"
"Yeah. Stop with all this 'diffident android' crap and believe in yourself and your accomplishments. I mean, look where you are! You're the second officer of the Federation's flagship! After the Captain and Commander Riker, you're the guy in charge. I don't think the Captain would have picked you for a job like that if he didn't think you were a person."
"The Captain does not yet know me."
"But he knows your service record," Geordi countered. "Your personnel reviews. Listen to me, Data. Serving here, on the Enterprise… It isn't going to be like your previous assignment. You're not going to be left alone, or shunted off to a corner somewhere. You're a command officer now. Your opinions matter. And if you don't lift up your head and grow some real self-esteem, and I mean fast, you know what's gonna happen?"
"You'll end up proving those Trieste jerks right. You're an android. Great! But you can't use that as an excuse not to take a place at the bar with the rest of us when you're off duty, or to hide who you are for fear of possibly offending some closed-minded bigot you don't even know! You've got talents and flaws unique to you, just like me and Riker and Worf and even the Captain. From this moment on, no one can hold you back but you."
"I do not understand," Data said, looking a little lost. "Should I not always endeavor to 'keep my place'?"
"Keep your—!" Geordi had to make an effort to unclench his fist before he sent the chess board flying against the window. "Data, you listen to me and you listen good. Your place is wherever you want it to be. You got that?"
"Yes, Geordi," the android said, a trace of wonder crossing his features. "Then you…you really do not mind that I am…artificial?"
"Heck, you look real enough to me," Geordi quipped, then sighed, sinking back into his chair. "Listen. It's not our differences that define us, Data. It's our attitude. Our outlook. The way we choose to meet the challenges life throws at us." He tapped a finger against his VISOR. "That's something I had to learn the hard way, but I learned it, and here I am."
Data nodded slowly, then turned his golden eyes back to the chess board.
"Geordi, may I ask a question?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
"If I checkmate your king with my next move, will you still wish to spend time with me?"
"What?" Geordi jumped up and stared at the chess board, then laughed. "Now, that's what I get for underestimating our resident genius. But don't worry, Data. I'll beat you next time."
Data stood and shot him a look that could be interpreted as sly. "I do not believe that to be likely."
Geordi beamed. "I'll take that as a challenge. Hey, have you tried out those new holodecks yet?"
"Yes," Data said. "There is one program I particularly enjoy. A simulation of a park on Earth. I believe…I believe I would like to share it with you, Geordi."
Geordi smiled and clapped the android on the shoulder.
"Sounds good, pal. Let's go."
"Pal…?" Data mouthed, letting the word roll silently over his tongue. He stared at his shoulder, then at Geordi, then back to the chess board, a soft glow seeming to spread over his pale face.
"Data?" Geordi said, a little concerned by the way the android had suddenly gone stock still. "Hey, are you OK?"
"Geordi." Data blinked up at him. "Do you really believe that I am…a person?"
"Yeah, of course I do. I told you that."
"A person can learn and progress. People can use their minds and experiences to rise above perceived limitations and make choices based on more than available facts and immediate stimuli. A machine, however, responds according to pre-set programming. Machines can never aspire to be more than the sum of their parts."
"What are you trying to say, Data?" Geordi asked.
Data looked over at him, his golden eyes deep with conviction.
"I aspire, Geordi. I wish very much to be more than what I am. And I..." He took in a breath, as if making a very deep and terrible confession. "I do not like to be alone."
"Well, you're not alone. Not anymore. Not ever again, if I have anything to say about it. Is that what's been bothering you?"
"No. There is more."
Data straightened, his head held high.
"I, too, believe that I am a person."
Geordi grinned. "Well, that's great!"
"Yes," Data agreed, and held out his hand. "Pal."
Geordi took Data's hand, then grabbed his shoulders and gave his friend a proud squeeze. Data seemed slightly abashed.
"I have never had a friend before. I am unsure how I am supposed to act. I do not want to do something wrong."
Geordi shook his head, amused.
"Data, let me tell you something about you. You worry too much. Now let me tell you something about me. I used to be exactly like you."
"You bet," Geordi said. "In fact, I was much worse."
"I find that difficult to believe."
"That's because I learned how to deal with those worries. To value myself, and my abilities instead of always harping on my shortcomings. And you'll learn too. It just takes experience, Data. Now, come on. I want to see the holodeck!"