Geordi took a long sip of his synth-ale, then sighed.
"Well, I can't say I'm surprised, Data," he said. "And it's not just because she's an android. Not really. See, people like you and Lal…well, you can be a little…intimidating…at first. Especially to a bunch of school kids."
Data canted his head, regarding his friend from across the softly glowing table. Ten Forward was bustling with its usual early-evening crowd: dayshifters just coming off duty, taking a few minutes to decompress with their friends before heading out to dinner or to other recreational events and activities. But, Data was too focused on the problem at hand to observe their interactions.
"Intimidating?" the android repeated with an air of concern.
Geordi shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he struggled to find words that would help his friend, rather than confuse him further.
"Data…" he said. "Let me put it this way. You're a very, very smart guy. Your talents and abilities are wide-ranging, and you draw on that when you try to connect with other people –which is good! But, you do it on a very intellectual level. Now, that's fine when you're socializing with specialists, like me and most of your other friends on this ship. But try it out on non-specialists…and it can be a bit much."
"Hm…" Data looked thoughtful. "Then, you are suggesting that the social isolation Lal experienced today at school was a product of miscommunication."
"In a sense…" Geordi said. "But, there's more to it, Data. A lot more. Lal may be two weeks old, chronologically, but she looks like a young woman, and her general knowledge, critical thinking and analytical skills must rate at least at a college level. Put her in a group with little kids, or a bunch of teenagers, and they're not going to know how to react to her. Is she a grown-up? Is she a kid like them? Add to that the way she talks – drawing on intellectual knowledge rather than common, relatable experiences – her lack of facial expression or emotional affect…and the kids are left with a confusing puzzle of mixed signals it's much easier for them to ignore than try to work out."
Data lowered his golden eyes, his pale face shadowed by a slight frown.
"Then, what would you suggest, Geordi?" he asked. "I am her father. It is my role to guide her development. But, what if Admiral Haftel is correct, and I am ill equipped for the task? I do not wish to confuse her, or cause her to doubt the veracity of my advice."
"That admiral's an idiot," Geordi declared. "Lal trusts you, Data. Maybe you should try trusting yourself. You've faced a lot of the same troubles Lal's going through. Why not talk to her about them, help her learn from your experiences?"
"Dr. Crusher offered similar advice when I consulted her," Data said. "She, too, suggested I share my own struggles with Lal, but looking back, I find myself doubting whether my own early experiences apply."
"Why?" Geordi asked.
"I was alone," Data said simply. "For most of my life, the humans around me could not agree whether I was truly self-aware, or just a very sophisticated robot. Since they were so uncertain, I was as well. But, since the trial that affirmed my status as a conscious, self-determining being, that situation has changed. As my daughter, Lal is now presumed to be self-aware. By the same merit she is, by default, part of an integrated social unit that includes myself and my friends and colleagues aboard the Enterprise. As a result, she is already far more self-confident and socially adept than I was in the months immediately following my activation."
"Then, maybe that's it, Data," Geordi said. "Like you, Lal is intellectually brilliant but her experiences and social skills just don't match up with those of the people around her. You're both so eager to learn and make friends, but, when it comes to reading people…to picking up on all the non-verbal nuances of a conversation… That's where you struggle. You have trouble determining the 'right way' to interact with people. So, they have trouble figuring out how to interact with you."
"But Geordi," Data said, "if I share the same social shortcomings as my daughter, how can I hope to teach her to overcome them?"
"Do what any parent would do," Geordi said. "Find a tutor." He smiled. "Who knows – in a few weeks, Lal may be teaching you a thing or two."
"An encouraging thought," Data said. "Thank you, Geordi. I will follow your advice and find a qualified individual to tutor Lal in social interactions and conventions."
He paused for a moment, considering.
"Might you—" he started, but Geordi cut him off.
"No way, not me, Data. I've got more than enough on my plate already," he said, and the android nodded. "But don't think this gets you off the hook."
"Hook?" Data inquired.
"Yeah," Geordi said. "Getting Lal a tutor is no excuse not to talk with your daughter about your own troubles with social interaction. I think she should know about the experiences that helped make her father who he is. And you might benefit from her insights too."
Data nodded slowly, carefully processing the engineer's input.
"Very well," he said. "I appreciate your help in this matter, my friend."
"Hey, that's what uncles are for, right?" Geordi said. He finished off his synth-ale and stood with a sigh. "Well, I should be heading back to Engineering. Meet you here for breakfast tomorrow?"
"Certainly, Geordi," Data said. "Should I bring Lal?"
"Yeah, of course!" Geordi said. "I'll just give this glass back to Guinan. Have a good night."
Data nodded, but his expression was thoughtful.
With her vast and varied repository of experiences, and her expertise as a 'listener,' Guinan would be the perfect choice to tutor Lal. And, with Ten Forward being so busy, perhaps Guinan would appreciate Lal's assistance in return for her help.
Having determined a satisfactory course of action, Data stood and strode off to set his proposition before his daughter.
"And that is why I believe my friendship with her represents a very important step in my personal development," Data said, his eyes fixed on the special bench he had set up in Tasha's memory.
Lal stood beside him, her straight, dark hair slightly tousled by the wind.
"Then, I understand why you chose to memorialize her," she said. "I did not realize the physical aspects of love and affection were as layered and confusing as the emotional aspects. Do you believe I should apologize to Commander Riker for kissing him in Ten Forward?"
"There is no need, Lal," Data assured her. "Commander Riker has told me he understands."
She nodded, then walked over to the lichen-spotted boulder, looking out over the rose-tinted waves.
"This sunrise program is quite aesthetically crafted," she commented. "Can we come here again, Father?"
"We can come as often as you like, Lal," Data said, walking over to join her. "I have enjoyed sharing this time with you, my daughter."
"And I with you," Lal said, and gently took his hand in hers. "I find the story of your life most intriguing," she told him. "Have you been very lonely, Father?"
"I do not feel the emotion of loneliness," he said, "but I have experienced social isolation, and I have learned that I prefer congenial companionship to spending my time alone."
"As do I," Lal said. "I am pleased to have you as my father. I would not wish to grow up not knowing what I am or where I came from, as you did."
"I am pleased I can be here with you," Data said, and gave her hand a squeeze. "Come, let us sit together. My shift will not start for another hour and twenty minutes."
"Yes, Father," Lal said, and joined him on the boulder, tucking her legs under her purple skirt.
"Father?" she asked after a while. "Why don't we require sleep, as humans do?"
"Because we are not human, Lal," Data said. "Our brains and bodies may be fashioned after the human model, but the way we process and use energy is quite different."
"Ah, yes," Lal acknowledged. "Human cells use ATP to transport energy for metabolism. Android bodies do not rely on that kind of enzyme-catalyzed reaction."
Data glanced at her.
"Is this the manner in which you spoke to the children at school?"
"Yes," she said, and blinked up at him. "Why do you ask?"
"We may have to add 'informal speech' to the list of topics Guinan will be teaching you," he said.
"Yes, Father," Lal said. "Father, do you like being an android?"
Data blinked and straightened, rather caught off guard by the question.
"It is not a matter of preference," he said. "I am an android."
"But, you have placed so much importance on me learning to emulate human behaviors and speech patterns," she said. "I'm curious. If it were a matter of preference, would you choose to be human instead?"
Data cast his eyes over the rippling water, considering his response carefully.
"I have been presented with such a choice," he said. "I chose to remain as I am."
Data smiled ever so slightly, recalling the day Commander Riker had been gifted with the power of Q, and the words he had used to decline the commander's offer to transform the android into a human being.
"'This above all, to thine own self be true,'" he said musingly.
"Shakespeare's Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 3," Lal identified at once.
"Yes, Lal. Very good," her father praised. "Can you tell me what it means?"
Lal's brief look of mild satisfaction faded, and her dark brows knit in concentration. After a moment, the young android tilted her head and said, "Given the play's historical context, and the character of Polonius, the man who speaks the line in the play, I presume the meaning to be inferred is that one should place one's own welfare and self-interest first. At this point in the play, Polonius would be taking the opportunity to advise his son, Laertes, against engaging in behaviors that could damage his reputation before Laertes embarks on his trip."
"Hm!" Data jutted his lip thoughtfully. "Quite a literal interpretation, but evidencing excellent contextual, extrapolative, and analytical skills. I believe Geordi was right to rate your abilities at a college level."
"Thank you, Father," Lal said.
"I now ask you to take it a step further – beyond the play and its immediate context. Given the question you just posed, how might Shakespeare's words apply to you and me?"
"This is very difficult, Father."
"Yes," Data acknowledged. "Subjects like philosophy and metaphysics were among the most difficult I encountered at the academy. Just give it 'your best shot.' I am interested to know your views."
Lal hesitated a while longer, then said, "I believe it means…you do like being an android. And, while you acknowledge the need to conform to human social and behavioral expectations in order to pursue your career, to be true to yourself you must be true to your nature. Anything else would be self-destructive, and self-defeating."
She furrowed her brow, her head tilting in concentration.
"Is that the lesson you wished to impart, Father? That, though we must learn to acculturate ourselves into human society in order to find acceptance, we must never devalue ourselves in the process?"
Data stared at his daughter, his yellow eyes wide with something very like wonder.
"Father?" she inquired. "Father, are you all right?"
"Yes, Lal. Quite all right," Data said, and gently brushed her cheek with his hand. "If I could feel pride, I believe I would be feeling it now. You are very special."
"May I ask a somewhat frivolous question?"
"Please do," Data invited.
Lal cocked her head, just slightly.
"What do androids do when they are not busy assimilating data or emulating humans? Or discussing the benefits and drawbacks of emulating humans?"
"What do you wish to do?"
"I wish for you to teach me how to construct a castle out of stones," she said.
Data wrinkled his nose.
"A castle? But—"
"Come, Father," she said, pulling him to the far side of the boulder, where numerous loose pebbles rattled under their feet. "We can use these."
"Ah!" Data's brows shot up as understanding dawned. "You wish to engage in creative play! Intriguing!"
"First, we can build a stone castle right here," Lal said. "Then you can show me how to program a holographic castle."
"And, where would you put this castle, daughter?" Data asked, already helping her sort stones by size and color.
"Over there," she pointed, indicating a rocky outcropping all but overgrown with briars and pines. "It can have tall towers and large windows, and a lighthouse out front, like in the story the teacher read to us that day I went to school."
"So, you did benefit from that experience after all," Data mused.
"Yes, Father," Lal said. "Father?"
"Why don't you read me stories?"
"I will, now that I know you are interested," Data said. "We can start with one of my favorites: Sherlock Holmes."
"I would like that," she said. "Father?"
"When I am older and more socially adept, will I be going to Starfleet Academy, as you did?"
"If that is your desire."
"It is," Lal told him. "I believe I would like to be a Starfleet Officer, like you. And like Troi. Perhaps I could become a counselor, as she is."
"I am certain that you could," Data said, and meant it.
"Oh…" Lal said. "But, to be a counselor, would I not first have to know what it is to feel?"
"Lal," Data said, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Let us concentrate on what we are doing, here and now. The future will come soon enough."
"Very well, Father," she said, and the pair of them resumed their play.
Lal's story book-inspired castle perched majestically on the craggy cliff side, an elegant, soaring, imaginative structure of large windows and delicate turrets. Data had enjoyed creating it with her. And, now that he held her memories, he was aware just how much she had enjoyed sharing the creative experience with him.
"I'm so sorry, Data," Counselor Troi said, her voice even softer than usual. "Did you two come here often?"
"No," Data said. "I only thought to share this program with her the night before Admiral Haftel arrived. We had time to build this," he gestured to a little stone castle about waist high that stood beside the large, lichen-spotted boulder, "and to design that larger castle and lighthouse together. But then, I had to leave for my bridge shift, and she to help Guinan with the breakfast rush in Ten Forward. Counselor…"
The android turned to her, his golden eyes oddly tight.
"Could I have missed something? Some deviation in her behavior patterns that may have indicated—"
"Data… Data, stop, don't do this," the counselor said, taking him by the arm. "Lal's system failure was not your fault. If anything, it was triggered by stress…the fear that she would be taken away from you, and her home aboard the Enterprise."
"I did not expect her positronic matrix to be so fragile," Data said, staring at the castle. "I should not have allowed the admiral to interview her without me present."
Troi lowered her head.
"Data," she said. "You have Lal's memories now. Did she blame you for her malfunction?"
"Not at all, Counselor," Data said.
"Then, do you think it's fair to her to blame yourself?"
"No," Data acknowledged. He pulled away from her gentle grip and strode along the narrow dirt path to the castle door.
Deanna followed, watching from a polite distance as the android brushed his fingers over a small plaque affixed to the stone wall. She could just make out the lettering:
"Lal was proud of this structure, Counselor," he told her. "I believe I will save this program, just as it is. Perhaps, someday, I will encounter another special someone to share it with."
Deanna's concern faded, and a warm, friendly affection for the android took its place.
"'Special someone,'" she repeated. "I like that Data."
Data nodded once, and lifted his eyes to the sky.
"Computer," he called out. "End program, and save to external disk."