"Why is this so hard for you to believe?" Tasha said, staring around the square table at Will, Geordi, Deanna, and Data. "It can't be that unusual."
"I just find it hard to believe that in the four years you spent on Earth, and in all your time in Starfleet after that, you never watched the sun rise. Even once," Will said.
"Why would I?" Tasha asked. "At the academy, I was always either asleep or training when the sun came up. And back at the colony…well…we didn't exactly go above ground much. Especially in the dark. What's the big deal, anyway?" She scowled defensively, fidgeting in place as she always did when confronted with memories of the chaotic, violent world where she grew up. "I'm sure I'm not the only one who's never seen a sunrise."
Geordi raised his hand, offering the blonde Security Chief a small smile.
"You can count me," the blind officer said and tapped his silvery VISOR, which translated the entire electromagnetic spectrum into signals his brain processed as a complex visual stew only Geordi had the experience to navigate. "I couldn't see a sunrise if I stared straight at it. Well, not the same way the rest of you would, anyway, with depth and shade and color…"
Data regarded him curiously, then Tasha, before turning his golden eyes to Will Riker.
"Does the act of watching the sun rise hold some significance for humans?" the young android asked.
Will looked as if he'd been suddenly put on the spot…which had not been Data's intention. He would never understand why his simple questions about human behaviors so often provoked these expressions of consternation.
The first officer leaned back in his chair and shrugged.
"Well," he said, a little awkwardly, "it's a beautiful natural phenomenon. But, beyond that, I guess it's usually seen as a romantic activity. For humans, a sunrise symbolizes new beginnings…a fresh start. A couple will often watch the sunrise after spending a night…in each other's company."
He glanced at Deanna, who looked away.
Data tilted his head, his eyes turning back to Tasha, who was still staring down at her clenched fists, then to Geordi, who seemed uncharacteristically gloomy.
"Then…to never have seen one—"
"Let's change the subject, Data," Deanna interrupted, sensing Tasha and Geordi's growing discomfort.
"If you wish, Counselor," Data said, clearly baffled, and observed his friends' expressions lighten as the topic turned to their upcoming shore leave.
But, the conversation had puzzled him, and Data found it…unsettling…when the humans around him seemed to be communicating together on some non-verbal level he simply could not read or understand.
That night, after his friends had decided it was late enough to leave the congenial atmosphere of Ten Forward and head off to sleep, Data spent some time researching sunrises and their socio-cultural significance at the enhanced computer console in his quarters. Only when he felt he had accumulated enough general information to warrant a satisfactory level of understanding did he push his chair back from the screen, his golden eyes unfocusing slightly as he applied what he had learned to the specific cases of his friends Geordi and Tasha.
Before long, an idea began to form in his mind. An idea he very quickly put into action.
"I don't get it," Geordi said grumpily, catching a tired yawn with his hand as he and Tasha trailed their android friend through the Enterprise corridors. "What's this all about, Data?"
"Yeah, Data," Tasha said, just as grumpily. "Morning shift starts in three hours. I was planning on a little more sleep before meeting my guys for calisthenics."
"All will be revealed in just a moment," Data assured them, somewhat troubled by his friends' unanticipatedly sullen reactions to his invitation. He stopped outside Holodeck One and tapped at the keypad.
"After you," he said politely, gesturing for the two humans to precede him through the sliding doors.
A moment later the doors closed, leaving the trio in almost total darkness.
"Yeah…" Geordi said slowly, frowning at the cool, breezy blackness all around them. "OK, Data, I still don't get it. What exactly aren't we looking at here?"
"No, wait, I think I hear something," Tasha said. "Insects? And water…we're near water. And, ah- the stars! I didn't see them for a minute because of the clouds."
"Yes, Tasha," Data said, slightly encouraged. "We are standing on a rocky cliff side overlooking Earth's Atlantic Ocean, from the vantage point of the southern New England coastline."
"The point being…?" Geordi prompted.
"You will begin to see in one minute, fifty-eight seconds," Data informed him, and turned to stare at the dark, rippling sea.
The two humans shared a long-suffering look and fidgeted, humoring their android friend as they waited…
…and waited for something to happen.
"Data…" Tasha said impatiently. "I really don't have time to—"
"There!" Geordi exclaimed, pointing straight ahead. "My VISOR's picking up…I'm not sure. It looks to be…a line of light at the horizon. It's weird: I'm not getting any of the usual electromagnetic activity…just that thin, yellow line. And a sort of…purplish haze just above it. Are you seeing this, Tasha?"
"Yes, Geordi," she said, and glanced confusedly at Data in the slowly brightening light. "Is this what you got us out here for?" she asked him. "To show us a sunrise?"
Data looked from her to Geordi, disquieted by the tone he heard in her voice.
"You are displeased?" he asked.
"No, not displeased," she said, and shook her head. "Data, is this because of what Commander Riker said last night?"
Data opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted when Geordi ripped the VISOR from his eyes and initiated a diagnostic cycle.
"Whoa…what-?" the young navigator exclaimed. "The VISOR's fine! Then…what's going on?"
"What do you mean?" Tasha asked, placing a concerned hand on his arm. "Is something wrong?"
Geordi slid his VISOR back into place.
"Tasha…" the young man breathed, his expression wide with growing wonder as he gently brushed his dark fingers over her pale, worried face. "I…I can see you. The way I saw you when Q— But…"
He dropped his hands from her face and spun on Data.
"What did you do?" he demanded angrily. "What exactly is going on here, Data?"
Data blinked, his entire posture radiating confusion and unease.
"I am sorry," he said. "I did not anticipate this reaction. I designed this program to emit light and energy in such a way that your VISOR would interpret only the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum…as it is interpreted by human eyes and the human brain. If this displeases you, I can—"
"But, why?" Geordi exclaimed, clearly agitated. "Why would you do this? God, Data, I can barely tell what I'm looking at!"
"My apologies, Geordi," Data said, rather helplessly, his white-gold features looking oddly flushed in the rosy light slowly overtaking the sky and sea. "I had no wish to upset you. Or you, Tasha. I thought…you would be pleased."
"Well, it was a nice thought, Data," she said, and glanced at the view: the rugged, rocky shoreline, the short, twisted pines and dark, overgrown forest beyond... "And, it's a very pretty program. But really, if you're going to do something like this, this early in the morning, we'd appreciate a little warning. OK?"
"Yes, Tasha," Data said quietly.
"Hey," she said, and gave his arm a little squeeze. "Hey, now, don't be like that. There's still some time before I have to go lead morning exercises. We'll stay and watch the sunrise with you, if that's what you want. Right, Geordi?"
"Yeah," Geordi said, but he still seemed uncomfortable and distracted, staring around at the pebbly sand and the scruffy little white and purple wildflowers that grew there, then following the path of a trio of seabirds across the rosy-orange sky.
Data's brow wrinkled.
"No..." he said, as if puzzled by his own realization. "This is not what I wanted."
"What do you mean?" Tasha asked.
Data straightened slightly, his clasped fingers twitching in front of him.
"I designed this program specifically with you and Geordi in mind," he said, his voice completely even. "You both have offered me your friendship, taught me to explore my own interests…even helped me discover a latent creative ability I never suspected that I possessed. I wanted to provide a similar experience for you. To that end, I drew on these new…talents…to make this program: a scenario with layered socio-cultural meaning the three of us could share as a social unit. But it seems now that I have erred. I will have to reevaluate my understanding of human social customs, interests, interpretations, motivations, relationships, and—"
"No, no, Data, stop!" Tasha exclaimed.
Data blinked at her and tilted his head.
"Data, you didn't err," she told him. "You wanted to surprise us with something beautiful and we just didn't understand, that's all. Don't let this experience make you start second guessing yourself. Sharing a sunrise with your friends...it's nice! A really nice thought. Geordi, tell him it was a nice thought. …Geordi?"
But the young navigator was shaking his head.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know! I never imagined the holodeck was capable of anything like this. Of allowing me…allowing me to see…almost the same way you do…"
"Almost?" Tasha asked.
"Now the light's brighter, I can see there's a…slightly unreal quality to everything," he admitted. "Like I can tell I'm standing inside a computer-rendered image. A really expertly rendered image, but…it's not like it was on the bridge that day… When I saw your faces…with my own eyes…"
"That may be my fault," Data said. "Perhaps your VISOR is interpreting the program as my optic sensors do. Holodeck images seem unreal to me, as well. I could attempt further adjustments—"
"No, Data," Geordi said, and shook his head. "I have enough to deal with as it is."
"As you wish, Geordi."
The android hesitated for a moment, then stepped closer to his friend.
"Has my program upset you, Geordi?" he asked.
"It's not the program, Data...or the thought behind it," he said. "It's… I guess it's me. I always wanted to be able to see the way the rest of you do. But…maybe it's like the philosopher said."
"Philosopher?" Data queried.
"You know," Geordi said. "That the having's not always so pleasing a thing as the wanting." He chuckled a little, and clapped his friend on the shoulder. "If you ever get your wish and become human…well, you'll know what I mean."
"I do not wish to be physically human," Data said. "Merely to comprehend…and possibly share in…the human condition."
Geordi regarded him, wondering if the android ever would understand.
"Sure, Data," he said, and looked out at the gilded waves. Gulls and terns played in the golden light, and leaping fish splashed sunbeams. As Tasha came up beside them, Geordi took in a deep breath of warm, salt air and stretched his arms behind his head.
"I guess I could get used to this," he said.
"I guess I could too," she said, and gave Data a friendly nudge. "Hey, maybe the three of us could do this again sometime. We could bring some breakfast, spread it out on that boulder over there."
She gestured to a large, flat rock right near the cliff's edge, sheltered by a particularly scraggly pine.
"Hey, yeah," Geordi said, brightening. "That would be fun. How about it, Data?"
Data looked from one of his close friends to the other, his expression noticeably lightening. For a moment, he almost seemed to smile.
"That would be acceptable," he said.
His friends laughed. Geordi clapped his shoulder, Tasha took his hand, and together the three of them watched the sky fade from rosy gold to pale, morning blue, enjoying the shared experience as a cohesive social unit.
Three weeks later, Data stood at the edge of the rocky cliff, his perpetually neat hair ruffled gently by the wind off the sea behind him. He heard the holodeck doors open, his friend's footsteps approach, but he didn't lift his eyes from the wooden bench.
"I thought I'd find you here," Geordi said, shaking his head slightly in disorientation as he adjusted to the very different way of seeing that Data's program allowed him to experience. He turned his gaze to where Data was staring, taking a moment to figure out the shape, depth, and color of what he was looking at.
"Is that a plaque?" he asked, leaning closer to the bench to try to read the words…another very different and rather disorienting experience.
Lieutenant Natasha "Tasha" Yar
Honored Officer. Cherished Friend.
2337 - 2364
"I have seen memorial benches in parks on Earth," Data said matter-of-factly. "Somehow, it seemed appropriate to add such a bench to this program."
He walked past the lichen-dotted boulder where the three friends had shared several morning picnics, and plucked a delicate beach rose from a bush that marked the footpath into the forest. Striding back to the bench, he tucked the flower's stem behind the metal plaque and stepped back beside Geordi.
"She'll be missed," the human said roughly.
"Indeed," the android agreed.
That was the last time Geordi ever joined him in that holodeck program. After six months of disuse, Data removed it from the main computer, but kept it saved on a tiny data disk in his quarters. The memories they had shared there together were too important to him to let him erase it permanently. And beyond that, he was not adverse to the prospect of sharing his sunrise program with someone else someday. A new friend he had yet to meet, with whom he could share his memories of Tasha. And, perhaps, that new friend would share her memories with him.
It was a pleasant thought. A hopeful one.
Yet, the program remained tucked away in Data's drawer for two years before he found an opportunity to run it again…