Remembrance and Regrets

Firewall

"So, Data," Commander Riker teased, his beard failing to hide his smirk as he set his drink down and straddled the chair across from the android. "How's it going with Lt. D'Sora? I hear you two have become quite the item."

Data lowered his padd to the softly glowing table and gave the commander his attention.

"Ship's gossip notwithstanding," he said – rather primly, Riker thought, "it is true that, largely on the strength of your advice, I decided to 'follow' Jenna's 'lead' in this matter. I, therefore, indicated to her that I would not find pursuing a romantic affiliation to be entirely inappropriate at this time. She concurred, and we both agreed to formalize our relationship."

Riker quirked an eyebrow.

"And in plain English, Data…?"

The android regarded him.

"Sir? Would you rather I spoke in English instead of Federation Standard?" he asked confusedly. "If so, it would be helpful if you could please specify whether you would prefer I employed one of Earth's regional dialects or one of the colonial variations that—"

"No, Data, it's just an expression," Riker said, holding up his hands. "Standard is fine. I just want to know how you're doing, that's all."

"Ah," Data acknowledged. "I am fine, thank you. All programs are operating within established parameters."

"Good," Riker said. "Great to know. And Jenna?"

"She is also well."

"That's it?" Riker joked. "Just 'well'?"

Data's golden eyes flickered to the side, then down to his padd, before returning to Riker. It was just a split-second flash of movement, barely noticeable, but it triggered Riker's concern.

"Data?" he asked. "Is something wrong?"

"No, sir. As I said, we are fine."

"Fine," Riker repeated grimly, and took a sip of his drink. "Look, I know I encouraged you to go for this, but if something's not right you can tell me. Are you happy pursuing this relationship?"

"I cannot feel happiness," the android stated, looking directly at him.

Riker rolled his eyes slightly, and grabbed his glass.

"All right," he said, starting to get up. "Data, I'm sorry I bothered you. Just know, if you ever do want to talk, I—"

"Commander…"

Data's voice was oddly quiet. Riker frowned and sat back down.

Data's pale face remained entirely blank as he spoke.

"Please understand: I am not trying to block or avoid your conversation, and I apologize if that is how you perceived my responses," he said. "I am merely telling the truth. I cannot feel happiness or love. Nor am I capable of feeling pleasure, desire, or pain. As long as that is the case, I do not believe it is possible for Jenna and myself to experience the close emotional connection you endorsed."

"Then why pursue the relationship?" Riker asked. "She kissed you, after all. You had every right to tell her you'd prefer to stay 'just friends'."

"It is because I would like to preserve our friendship that I agreed," Data said.

"OK, you lost me now," Riker said. "Jenna's made it clear she wants to get romantic with you. You say you can't get romantic with her. Yet, you think leading her on will somehow preserve your friendship?"

"I have no intention of 'leading her' anywhere," Data said. "I have been, and will continue to be, entirely honest with her regarding my abilities and my shortcomings. In fact, I have developed a special subroutine for the behavioral program I designed to guide my responses in social situations – a 'program within a program,' if you will – tailored specifically to process and interpret Jenna's unique input."

Riker frowned.

"Wait…you have a program for that?"

"I do," Data said.

"Since when?"

"Since stardate 442—"

Riker waved him off.

"And Jenna's OK with this?" he demanded.

Data shrugged his eyebrows.

"She seemed quite flattered when I informed her."

Riker shook his head, not quite sure what to make of what he was hearing.

"Data… Do you do this with everyone you meet? Write programs to interpret their individual input, then act accordingly? Are you doing that with me right now?"

"No," Data said. "Not entirely. Jenna is a special case. Why do you ask?"

"I don't know, Data," Riker said. "It just seems…a little cold to me."

"Cold?" Data inquired.

"Yes," Riker said. "Cold. False. Fabricated."

Data furrowed his brow.

"I do not understand."

Riker sighed.

"Data," he said, "people don't like to think that their overtures of friendship – that the experiences and thoughts they share with others – are being met with, well, pre-programmed responses. I always thought you strove to be more than that."

Data blinked.

"I do."

"Then what's with this new behavioral program?"

Data's lips tightened and he averted his eyes, looking pointedly at the starscape beyond Ten Forward's sweeping transparent aluminum windows.

"I designed and implemented the program because I have been proven vulnerable," the android admitted, his voice undeniably tight. "My inability to read other beings, my lack of intuition, emotion, even basic empathy, has repeatedly allowed dangerous and unstable individuals to play on my 'handicap,' if you will, to infiltrate and endanger this crew. The behavioral program I designed is, therefore, as much for your protection and the protection of the ship as it is for my own."

"You're talking about individuals like who? Like Lore?" Riker prompted.

"That is correct."

"And like Ishara Yar?" he pressed further, the significance of the stardate Data had mentioned suddenly clicking into place.

Data shifted slightly in his chair.

"It would be highly irresponsible of me to continue to allow my social and emotional shortcomings to endanger our ship, and my friends, without installing precautionary measures to compensate," the android stated flatly.

Riker sighed through his nose, feeling a deep and tangled milieu taking shape between them. The question was how to navigate it without pushing the android even deeper into self-doubt.

The commander shook his head. Who knew an android who professed to have no feelings could be so sensitive, or so easily, and profoundly, hurt?

"Data…" he tried, then sighed again. "Have you talked to Deanna about this?"

"No," Data said. "What would be the reason? This is a matter of programming and system maintenance."

"Have you talked to Geordi, then?"

"No," the android repeated. "Again, I saw no reason. My functions are not impaired. If anything, this behavioral program is designed to enhance performance."

"Right," Riker said, and pursed his lips. "Look. What I'm hearing from you… It sounds to me like this program of yours… It's like you're putting up a firewall to guard your systems against…well…against us."

"I do not believe that to be the case," the android stated.

"All right," Riker said. "Then, why don't you explain it to me. Just what do you expect to gain from this program? How do you see this playing out between you and Lt. D'Sora?"

Data lowered his eyes again, his thumbs twiddling against his folded fingers. Riker wondered, as he often did, whether that little twitch was one of Data's practiced human affectations, like yawning or sneezing, or something he didn't consciously control.

"My primary aim is to guide our relationship toward a mutually beneficial outcome," Data said after a brief, contemplative pause.

"And what exactly does that mean?" Riker pressed. "In plain, Federation Standard."

Data stopped twiddling his thumbs and lowered his folded hands to his lap.

"Although you quite fervently advised me to pursue this relationship," he said, "Geordi and Counselor Troi presented me with differing, though mutually cautionary, perspectives. It was this advice, that I should proceed only with due care, that most closely matched the conclusions presented by my behavioral program."

"Yet, you went with my advice?" Riker asked.

"As Geordi pointed out, Jenna came to me in the wake of a 'bad situation,'" Data said. "Although she initiated the 'break-up' with her former boyfriend, the experience has shaken her confidence in herself and in her self-perceived value as a romantic partner. If she turned to me 'on the rebound,' it is not necessarily because she is genuinely in love with me. Numerous related case studies, novels, plays, holodramas, popular songs, and so on, as well as past experience, strongly suggest it is far more likely that she views me as someone 'safe;' a friend she can lean on for moral support while she reconstructs her self-image. Given the situation, I cannot, therefore, trust that she truly wishes to establish a sustainable romantic relationship with me. After all, I am an android, not a man, and Jenna is fully aware that I am incapable of returning any romantic feelings."

"Then, you agreed to pursue this relationship to…what? To prop up her ego?"

Data tilted his head, considering.

"Perhaps, to some extent," he acknowledged. "But I believe it is also in my own interest to proceed."

"How so?" Riker asked.

"As I said before, my priority is to preserve my friendship with Jenna, as well as our working relationship," Data explained. "It is with that goal in mind that I designed and tailored my behavioral subroutine to help guide my responses to her largely nonverbal communicative cues – cues that all too often contradict her words and even her actions. It is my hope that this subroutine will prevent me from inadvertently misreading her intentions and, thereby, unintentionally angering or hurting her, until she comes to understand that she does not love me and agrees to resume our friendship as it previously stood. In the meantime, by initiating this relationship, Jenna has offered me a rare opportunity to gain valuable behavioral insights into human romantic roles, practices and customs."

Riker frowned.

"Then, in your view, by allowing this behavioral program of yours to lead your responses in this relationship, she gets to rebuild her self-image in a safe environment and you get to experiment with romantic stereotypes? And, once she realizes she really doesn't need you to prop her up, everything between you will just go back to the way it used to be?"

"In a sense," Data allowed, looking slightly confused.

Riker sucked in his cheek and shook his head.

"It all sounds pretty rational, doesn't it," he said. "But feelings just don't work that way. I'm telling you, Data, this program is more of a minefield than you know. All walls have two sides, even firewalls. If you use this 'nonverbal-behavior-interpreting' program to keep yourself on one side and Jenna on the other… Well…you can't expect you'll both walk away unhurt."

"My intent is only to help Jenna regain her confidence," Data asserted, his eyes wide and sincere.

"Then, Data," Riker said, "maybe you should consider working on restoring your own self-confidence before you offer yourself as a prop for others."

Data's expression fell from puzzled to woefully confused.

"My…? But, Commander—"

"Data, don't start with the denials – you wrote yourself a human behavior-interpreting program for God's sake, not to mention a little sub-program specifically for Jenna! Clearly you don't trust yourself in this type of social arena, or your ability to navigate this relationship on your own. Now, I'm not sure if Jenna's the woman to help you here – she's very bright, but she is in a vulnerable place and word is she tends to be rather…emotionally demanding…of the men she's with. But a healthy relationship – romantic or otherwise – has to take the needs of both parties into consideration. If you want to help her overcome her shortcomings, you'll have to be willing to let her help you tackle yours. Without that protective firewall between you. Do you understand me, Data?"

"I am…not certain," Data said, his expression intense and disconcerted. "I will need time to consider your words."

"You do that," Riker said, and stood. "Good luck, Data," he said. "I really mean that."

"Thank you, Commander," Data said, but his tone was distracted. He picked up his padd as Riker strode away, but soon put it down again and turned to stare out the window, replaying his recent interactions with Jenna from the context of this new perspective the commander had offered…particularly their last meeting in her quarters. Jenna had asked him to kiss her and he had complied, but when she'd asked him what he was thinking his honest, if somewhat lengthy, reply had seemed to upset her.

"I'm glad I was in there somewhere," she'd said, yet despite her words, he was now certain he had caught something...else...in her voice, her eyes…

But, his program had assured him human women statistically stated a preference for honesty over polite fictions when asking personal questions of their significant others.

Unless…

Could her query have called for a less literal response? Might her intent have been less overt - shielded by her words rather than revealed by them? Was it possible that, with that seemingly innocuous question, Jenna had been seeking, not to know his thoughts, but to ask if she was special to him?

As Tasha had been. Even, Ishara…

Data dropped his gaze to the table, his forehead creased in thought.

Commander Riker had been correct about Data's reaction to Ishara's betrayal: he had not been prepared for that blow, and it had hit him much harder than anyone had expected...particularly, Data himself. But, was Commander Riker correct now? Had Data allowed his behavioral program to govern his responses to Jenna, not to protect her from inadvertent injury, but to protect himself? Was the program itself a symptom of a lack of confidence, of trust in his own abilities, his own judgment?

Could he have made a mistake? Had his negative experiences with Lore, Ishara…even with Tasha's denial…have precluded him from allowing Jenna the benefit of the doubt? Why had he been so quick to dismiss the possibility that Jenna could feel more than simple affection for him? That she might actually view him as…

Special.

There were too many questions, too many variables for Data to find any reliably valid solution to this twisted Gordian knot of a puzzle. If Riker was right in his assertions, it was quite possible Data had wronged Jenna, even hurt her, by erecting this programmatic wall between them; a wall he had only strengthened as their relationship had progressed. If that was so, it was likely he was missing out on a valuable social connection, a shared bond of trust and mutual affection he had attempted before but – most discouragingly – never managed to sustain for any significant length of time.

Then again…what if his initial assessment of the situation was the correct one? That, to Jenna, he was more 'safe' than truly 'special'? If he deactivated his 'firewall' only to find that she—

A thought struck him, and Data's shoulders straightened. There was a way to test Riker's hypothesis, and his own. If his plan worked out, perhaps…

Perhaps, he might risk inviting Jenna to share his sunrise program with him. If it turned out that she did truly care for him, that she honesty wished to assist him in his quest to comprehend, even share in, the human condition, her input would certainly only enrich the program…a program he had feared permanently tainted following Ishara's betrayal…

Data grabbed his padd, stood, and strode from Ten Forward across the hall to the turbolift.

"Deck Two," he ordered, then tapped his combadge. "Data to Lt. D'Sora."

"D'Sora here," came Jenna's voice.

"Jenna," Data said, indicating by his use of her first name that this was to be an informal conversation, "Would you be free to share dinner with me tonight?"

"Dinner? Yeah. Yeah, sure, Data," Jenna said. "I'm off at six. But...um...yeah, I'm sure you know that. Should we meet at my place?"

"No," Data said. "Tonight, I would appreciate the opportunity to host our rendezvous. Would you meet me in my quarters at 1830 hours?"

"Sure. OK. Your quarters. That's great Data. It's...it's just great. I need to... We need to talk anyway..."

"That would be acceptable," Data said, encouraged by the fact she had so easily agreed to his proposal to change their usual routine. "There is something I believe I would like to discuss with you as well. I will look forward to our meeting."

"Yeah. I'll see you then, Data. D'Sora out."




"Well, Spot," Data said, peering out at the white-capped waves from the catwalk of the lighthouse he and his daughter had designed...it seemed so long ago now. "It appears my initial premise regarding Jenna was valid after all. I was only ever her 'safe' someone. Never her 'special' someone. And now that she no longer requires my support as a partner, we are once again 'just friends.' A positive resolution overall, would you not agree?"

"Mrew," Spot responded and slid back inside, out of the wind. Data followed the reddish cat down the twirling staircase and out onto the rocks. There, he swept the cat into his arms and carried him up to the main island, past Lal's soaring castle to the lichen-spotted boulder by Tasha's bench.

"And yet," he mused as he walked, "I must admit to a sense of...disappointment...at the way things turned out. I had anticipated such a pleasant evening. I very carefully chose the lighting, decor and menu with Jenna's tastes in mind...and yet, she did not stay long enough to share the meal. I do not even know if she realized I deactivated my behavioral program before she arrived. The entire program, not merely the subroutine designed to interpret her input which, as you know, Spot, I have since erased."

He climbed onto the boulder and stared up at a pair of terns swooping through the rose-gold sky. After a moment, he gracefully lowered himself into a cross-legged position, attempting to settle the restive cat in his lap.

"Come now, sit nicely," Data said. After a slight, half-hearted attempt to slink out of the android's grasp, Spot seemed to reconsider his escape and instead curled up against Data's leg, purring as the android gently stroked his warm, soft fur.

"Thank you, Spot. For staying with me," the android said. "I believe it is good that I can share this program with you. Perhaps I shall compose a poem for you. An Ode to Spot. Would you like that, my friend?"

The cat continued to purr, his golden eyes closing as Data rubbed his ears.

"Yes, I can tell you like that. You are a good cat, Spot. A very good cat."

Spot shifted position, climbing up Data's middle to snuggle against his chest. Data gathered the cat up in his arms and touched his pale nose to Spot's pink one, looking him straight in the eyes. The cat licked his face, and Data held him close, rubbing the feline's head.

"There really is a you in there, Spot, is there not," Data observed, looking into the cat's face. "You have a personality, an identity, all your own, and that should be recognized. Even celebrated. How about this," the android said, and began to compose: "Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature."

"Mew?"

"Yes, that is correct," Data assured him. "To continue: you are an endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature."

"Mew..."

"Yes, Spot, and I would appreciate it if you would refrain from interrupting. I can assure you, these facts are reliable. I did specialize in exobiology at the academy."

"Mew..."

"Thank you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming. Now, where were we... Ah: Your visual, olfactory and auditory senses contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses."

Spot pressed his head against Data's shoulder and started up a thrumming purr. Data stroked the cat's lean back and rested his head gently against Spot's, feeling the vibrations from the purr and the thumping of Spot's regular heartbeat resonate through him...a most agreeable, even comforting, sensation.

"I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations," he said softly. "A singular development of cat communications that obviates your basic hedonistic predilection for a rhythmic stroking of your fur, to demonstrate affection."

Spot's purring deepened, and Data briefly buried his nose in the cat's warm fur.

"So, you like that part," he said. "All right, then. We will keep it in. Spot?"

"Mrew..."

"You are my very special cat, Spot. I want you to know that. Now, to the third verse. Would you like to hear the third verse, Spot? So would I. What should it be..."


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