"What is it?" she asked.
"My first true abstract," Data responded, his eyes fixed on the canvas. "Since our interaction on the bridge this morning, I have found myself somewhat…preoccupied…by thoughts of your form, your grace of movement, your strength of character. This is the result."
He looked at her, his manner oddly hesitant as he asked, "What do you think?"
Ishara seemed off balance, her eyes wide and her mouth slightly open. She stared from the android to the painting, then back at the android.
"I've never seen anything like this before," she said, her voice rough. "Is this really how you see me, Data?"
Data cocked his head.
"No. This is not a representation of your actual physical appearance," he said, slightly puzzled. "It is merely an interpretation of—"
"No, that's not what I meant," she interrupted, her fingers reaching out to rest against his arm. "I'm just saying, it's amazing. I mean…this is really art."
The android's hesitation faded and, for a moment, his expression seemed to glow.
"Thank you," he said.
"Do you paint pictures of all your friends?" she asked him.
"No," Data told her. "Until now, I have mostly painted simple patterns and space phenomena. Recently, I have begun to attempt some basic still life and landscapes."
Ishara nodded slightly, and stepped away, looking over his quarters. She paused at his potted plants, the shelf where he kept his violin and Sherlock Holmes props, the stylized metal representation of a solar system hanging on the wall behind his couch…
"I like this place," she said. "It's really clean. Uncluttered." She smiled. "It suits you."
"I am pleased you approve," he told her. "I have tried to make it less…Spartan."
"Do you play this…what is this?" she indicated his violin.
"It is a violin," he said, striding over to lift it and its bow from its velvet-lined case so she could get a better look. "And yes. Would you like me to demonstrate?"
"No, it's OK," she said. "Maybe later."
Data nodded and gently replaced the instrument on the shelf.
"Ishara," he said, carefully observing her face. "Are you all right? You seem…subdued."
"I'm not. I'm fine," she asserted. But, when he didn't look away, she blurted, "It's just…you can do so many things. All this art and music and science. I just… Why would someone like you even want to be friends with a tunnel rat like me?"
Data lowered his eyes, her manner and expression again reminding him sharply of her sister, Tasha Yar.
"I do not understand," he responded quietly, aware he was speaking as much to Ishara as to the powerful memories she had provoked. "How could a woman as strong and as vibrant as you ever doubt her own value?"
He blinked and straightened, then reached for her hand.
"Ishara, would you do me the honor of joining me for breakfast tomorrow morning?"
Ishara glanced at his hand clasping hers, then at the earnest expression on his face, more than a little confused by the sudden invitation.
"Well…sure, Data," she said. "Would we be meeting in Ten Forward again?"
"No," he said. "I will 'drop by' your quarters. There is something very special I wish to share with you."
She cocked an eyebrow, her expression turning suspicious.
"Oh yeah?" she said. "What kind of something?"
"A holodeck program I designed, years ago, depicting a sunrise on Earth," he said, completely oblivious to any undercurrent in her tone. "I created it for Tasha and for Geordi. We shared several morning picnics there together. Before we embark on our mission tomorrow, Ishara, I would like to share a similar experience with you."
"Ah," she said, feeling rather stupid for suspecting the android's offer would be anything other than platonic.
"Will you come?" he asked.
"Sure," she said. "I'd like to see the holodeck."
Data's expression brightened noticeably.
"Excellent," he said. "I will 'pick you up' at 0520."
Ishara smiled at him, then stepped forward and pecked his cheek, as she had on the bridge earlier that day. He stood very still, blinking, and she could tell he was struggling to interpret her actions. Somehow, that only made her want to tease him again.
"Thanks, Data," she said.
He stared at her.
But she just shook her head, and squeezed his arm.
"Never mind. Well, if I'm going to be awake for the sunrise, I'd better get some sleep. See you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," he said, and watched as she strode out of his quarters.
Ishara stared out at the rose-gold clouds, then turned her eyes to Tasha's memorial bench and the roses that entwined its back and sides, her head resting comfortably against Data's shoulder as she picked the chocolate out of her croissant.
"This pastry thing is really good," she said. "And this place! It's so beautiful here, Data."
"Yes," he agreed. "It has been a long time since I felt it…appropriate…to run this particular program. I am pleased you like it."
It had been dark when they'd first entered the holodeck. Data had picked up a large, woven basket and carried it to a lichen-spotted boulder, already spread with a soft, red and white checked blanket weighed down at the corners with stones to keep it from blowing away. Before he'd unpacked their picnic, though, he had taken Ishara's hand and shown her the memorial he had created for Tasha, and the startling castle he'd once designed with his daughter – an android he'd called Lal that had suffered a fatal malfunction about a year ago. Data had seemed notably somber during the tour, yet upbeat, even hopeful as he had led her back to their picnic site, already bathed in soft, golden light.
"To friendship," he'd said, clinking his coffee mug against hers. "And new beginnings."
Ishara knew his mannerisms had to be a simulation, that the android sitting beside her was no more a real, feeling person than this little island park was a real place. He'd as much as said so himself when he'd admitted to her that he didn't have the capacity to experience emotions.
And yet, every action, every facial expression seemed to contradict his statements. She didn't believe he was consciously lying, to her or to himself. But still…
If he didn't have feelings, why bother to construct another android, let alone consider it a 'daughter'? Why design a memorial for a dead woman he'd known for less than a year?
Why go out of his way to spend time with that dead woman's sister, or appear so pleased when she called him her friend?
Talking with Data had seemed like a game at first. He had been so quick and open with his responses, it had been a snap to get in close to the Enterprise crew without giving away any of her own secrets. He had paved the way for her, supported her story at every step, even found a way to safely deactivate and remove the implanted proximity detector that had threatened to unravel her mission from the start. All that, for what? A few smiles, a couple of quiet talks, a quick peck on the cheek? She'd barely so much as held his hand, and already he harbored dreams of forging some kind of lasting relationship, helping her through the academy, working side by side…
How gullible could a person be?
Yet, Ishara was starting to suspect there was more to this peculiar android than circuits and programming, even if he couldn't see it for himself; something that made her believe the face he'd been sharing with her was subtly different from the face he presented to the rest of the crew. There was a depth to this machine, a sensitive, caring core that her link with Tasha had allowed Ishara to access from the start…and to manipulate. If she had truly been a stranger, she suspected she never could have gotten in so close, so quickly. But for the sister of his close and trusted friend, a friend he professed to miss every day, the android had dropped all defenses, lowered all shields...and he hadn't even known he was doing it.
It was a rather satisfying realization…to know the influence she held over this powerful and talented cybernetic device. To understand she could probably get him to do anything for her, as long as her act didn't slip.
She wondered if her sister had felt that too. If Tasha had managed to take the advantage…
Ishara sighed, and finished her croissant and coffee. If only she had more time.
"Data…" she said, speaking just loud enough to be heard over the sloshing waves and calling birds. "If you knew this was your last morning – your very last morning… What would you do?"
Data scooted over slightly so he could look her in the eye.
"Ishara," he said, "if you are concerned about our mission to rescue the kidnapped crewmen, I assure you: Worf, Commander Riker, Commander La Forge and I will do all in our power to ensure your safety. We do not want to lose you."
"Thanks," she said. "But, that's not what I mean, Data."
"Then…I do not understand," he said.
"Suppose," she said. "Just suppose. Say, I didn't plan to stay on this ship. That this really was the only time we had to spend together. What would you want to do?"
Data blinked a few times, struggling to process her questions.
"Would you alter your special program for me?"
Data regarded her curiously.
"Alter it how?"
Ishara moved in closer, watching the tiny, puzzled microexpressions crease his white-gold face.
"I've never seen the ocean," she said. "Not really. But, I've seen old ads, you know? I remember, long ago, there was this…this tattered travel poster in a broken window. It showed a man and a woman in bathing suits riding these 'jet ski' things through the water." She smiled a small, distant smile. "I used to dream about doing that. When things got real bad down on the colony…when our cadre was low on food, and… Well, I'd close my eyes and just…go there, you know? Go to that place, with the sun and the sea and those jet skis, and I'd just ride…"
She sat up and touched his arm, her eyes wide.
"Data," she said, "what do you say? Could we do something like that, right here? Is that possible?"
"Certainly," Data said, and stood, politely helping her clamber down from the boulder after him.
"It wouldn't be…you know…an imposition? This is your program, after all..."
"Ishara," Data said, taking her hand in his. "I designed this setting to share with my friends. Your valued input could only enhance the program."
Ishara's smile broadened, and she gave his hand a squeeze.
"Then, I want you to put a dock, right over there," she pointed to a sheltered little cove in full view of the bench, the boulder, and the towering castle. "And two jet skis. Blue ones. And some steps, so we don't have to climb down this brambly cliff to get to the beach."
"Consider it done," Data said, and called for the arch, his pale fingers flying over the controls as he translated her spoken wishes into solid, if holographic, reality.
Ishara stared in amazement at the altered landscape, then grabbed his arm and pulled him after her down the steps to the dock.
"Come on, Data," she said. "If I'm going to do this, you're going to do it with me. How do you drive one of these jet ski things, anyway?"
Ishara laughed as she and Data climbed back onto the blanket-covered boulder, allowing the sea breeze and warm, morning sun to dry their hair and clothes.
"Wow," she said, staring up at the clouds. "We sure scared the crap out of those sea gulls with our jet skis! I never imagined it was even possible to have so much fun! The colony is so enclosed, so dark… A place like this…it just doesn't seem real. Nothing has, since I came on board. Not even you."
She sat up and regarded the android, almost as if she were seeing him for the first time.
"I really mean it, Data," she said. "I've never known anyone like you."
Data seemed to shrug, his neatly swept-back hair still a little damp from their jet skiing adventure through the golden waves.
"Your observations are correct," he said. "This place is not real. And, in a sense, I am not 'real' either, since I am an artificial construct."
"There you go again," she said. "How can you say you're not real, that you don't feel anything, when I know for a fact you are the single most trusting man in this whole damn quadrant?"
"It is encouraging to hear you say that, Ishara," Data said, raising his eyes to her face. "Tasha, too, often referred to me as a 'man.' But, that is a term specific to humans and, as you know, I am a machine. Perhaps—"
Ishara had been staring at him with a strange, almost angry intensity while he spoke. Now, she interrupted his words by leaning in and pressing her lips to his.
He pulled back as if stung, his eyes wide and startled.
But, she leaned in again, kissing his cheek, then his forehead before sitting back.
Data stared intently into her eyes, as if trying to read something printed deep in her retinas, on the contours of her face. She met him stare for stare until, slowly, he leaned in and brushed her lips in careful imitation of her earlier movements. He started to draw back, curious and uncertain, but she rose to her knees and deepened the kiss, watching his golden eyes close as their arms entwined. As the kissing went on, she felt his breathing start to quicken, his fingers slowly sliding up to tangle in her hair…
She broke away and jumped off the boulder, taking in a deep, steadying breath as she looked out to sea.
"Yeah," she said. "Yeah, you're definitely a man. Look, Data… We'll be expected on the bridge soon. I have to go."
"Ishara…? No, please, allow me to explain," Data said, climbing off the boulder to join her.
"Explain what?" she asked.
"That I am sorry," he said, his expression sincere and oddly delicate. "Although I am...fully functional...my experience in these matters is limited, and I apologize if I misread your intent. My actions were meant only to assure you that…I do not object to the gestures of affection you have offered me. Although we have only known each other a short time, you have become very special to me, Ishara. I have come to anticipate, and appreciate, your unique input. Ishara…" He gently took her hand. "I would appreciate it if you did not leave quite yet."
Ishara stared at their joined hands and swallowed, hard.
She shook her head, then dropped his hand to brush her fingers against his cheek.
"You're the special one, Data. Not me. That's why..." She sighed and pursed her lips. "You really should be more careful."
"I told you before, Ishara, I do not intend to lose you," he said, misinterpreting her warning, as she knew he would. "My friends and I are pledged to do all in our power to keep you safe during our mission today. But, even if it were not our duty to protect you… There are so many fascinating things I wish to show you, to share with you…and so much you can teach me. I greatly anticipate helping you build a new life with us, aboard the Enterprise…so much so, that I find myself wishing the mission were already over, so we could look forward to spending many more mornings in each other's company."
Ishara struggled to avoid his intense golden gaze, her eyes darting around a landscape no longer soft and dreamy, but sharp and bright, the smells and sounds as real as the pulse she felt throbbing in the android's wrist.
"How many people have you brought here, Data?" she asked.
"Only Tasha and Geordi," he said. "My daughter, Lal. Counselor Troi accompanied me once, shortly after Lal's death. And now, you."
She nodded slowly.
"Then…this really is a special place for you, isn't it. Like…like a piece of yourself you just couldn't work out how to share any other way. And I…"
She stared at the dock, the jet skis, and they seemed intrusive, a blot of violent discord on an otherwise harmonious scene.
"I ruined it, didn't I."
Data wrinkled his nose.
"No, Ishara. The jet skis are a fine addition. You have introduced me to a new way of experiencing this program, of interacting with you and with the water, and I am pleased you enjoyed our time together. I do not understand why you would make such a comment."
"No… No, you wouldn't."
Ishara looked away, no longer able to meet his eyes. The machine…the toy…was gone, and so was the illusion. Suddenly, the man before her was all too real...and so were her traitor emotions...
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry. I can't stay here. I have to…have to get ready…"
Data blinked, his expression tight with confusion and concern.
"I can walk with you to your quarters if—"
"No," she said. "No, it's all right. Thank you for this morning, Data. For breakfast and the jet skis and…and for talking with me. I really…I've never known anything like this. I'll see you on the bridge, OK?"
"Very well, Ishara. Computer, save program and exit."
The rocky park faded, revealing the cube-shaped holodeck grid of black squares and yellow lines. Ishara headed for the heavy double doors, then turned back and pulled Data into a fierce embrace.
"I wish I could be the friend you deserve," she muffled against his neck.
"Ishara," he said gently. "You already are."
She stared at him, her mouth working slightly, her head seeming to tremble. She let him go and strode away without another word.
Data sat on the bench he had set up in Tasha's memory. He had been sitting there for several minutes, allowing his mind to replay every interaction he had shared with Ishara Yar from the moment she had first materialized aboard the Enterprise.
"Lies," he stated, staring out at the distant horizon. "It was all a lie."
The proximity detector Ishara had given him to remember her by was in his hand, as it had been since he left Commander Riker's quarters. He felt it pressing against his palm, smooth and flat and warm. Holding it close, he stood and walked forward, down the steps and across the slender strip of beach to the very end of the dock.
For a moment, he considered tossing the small device into the waves. Instead, his fist tightened around it, and he strode back to shore, turning his eyes to the sky.
"Computer," he said. "Delete dock and jet skis."
They faded in a slight shimmer of energy. Data stared at the place they had been, then climbed back up to the top of the cliff.
"Delete steps," he commanded.
The steps disappeared, leaving only a craggy, brambly rockface.
"Computer, save program to external disk, and discontinue."
His imaginary island faded to black, and Data strode across the holodeck's softly glowing grid to the access panel near the door. He transferred the tiny data disk that contained the program to a waiting isolinear chip, and held both the chip and the proximity detector in his fist.
One squeeze, with just the right amount of pressure, and they would both be nothing more than splinters.
But, Data didn't squeeze his fist. He didn't move at all. He just stood there, in the empty holodeck, staring blankly into space.
Data had pursued a false social connection that had ended in betrayal, much as he had with his devious brother, Lore. Yet, instead of learning from that mistake, he had again chosen to put his trust in a stranger without due consideration, and by doing so had proven himself vulnerable to her misdirection. Her manipulation.
If not for his inexcusable gullibility, Ishara would never have come as close as she did to completing her real mission: destroying her rival cadre, and herself in the process. Becoming a martyr for her thuggish gang. It was sheer good fortune Data had managed to track her down in time, to stop her before it was too late. To save the thousands of lives she would have ended without a second thought.
Including Commander Riker's...and his own.
Well, two such grievous errors were quite enough, and Data was resolved he would not make such a mistake a third time. Geordi kept telling him to trust himself, but Geordi did not understand what it meant to operate outside a shared emotional context, to continually wonder if his interpretations were accurate or skewed by his own non-human status.
If his lack of social acumen made him vulnerable to deceit, if his judgment had proven unreliable, he would design a program to more accurately guide his responses. To scan and interpret non-verbal signals for him, to ensure he never again misinterpreted another being's intent, never allowed his social shortcomings to endanger another mission.
He was an android, after all. A machine, not a man. It was irrational for one such as him to harbor the illusion that a human woman could consider him her special someone. Why else would Tasha have insisted 'it never happened' the moment she regained her faculties following their infection by the polywater intoxicant that had brought them so briefly together so many years ago? Why else would a skilled con artist like Ishara have chosen him as her mark, her target, rather than a savvy human like Commander Riker?
Data initiated a deep self-diagnostic and marched out of the holodeck, already framing the parameters of his new behavioral program as he headed for his quarters.