Locks and Keys, Part I: Locks
Kiss me once and kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again
It's been a long, long time
Haven't felt like this, my dear
Since I can't remember when
It's been a long, long time…
Ensign Natalie Soong stopped short halfway down the ramp from the turbolift, feeling her back tense up with a growing sense of mortification. Surreptitiously, she glanced around the bustling bridge, wondering if anyone else was hearing what she was hearing.
You'll never know how many dreams
I've dreamed about you
Or just how empty they all seemed without you
So kiss me once, then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again
It's been a long, long time…
Her father's first officer, Captain Akira Kinoshita, stood by the tactical station, talking over the new security training schedule with Lt. Commander Devna, the Enterprise-G's Orion security chief. Rudy Rudo was up from main engineering, hard at work at the computer terminal on the upper bridge. They and the half-dozen other busy bridge officers seemed entirely oblivious to the sounds of singing emanating from Commodore Data's briefing room.
Only the Vulcan Operations Officer, Lt. Commander Asil, met the young android's bemused stare. She could only hold the ensign's eyes for a moment, though, before turning her head to stifle her surge of amusement with a brief, strangled cough.
Natty hurried to her side.
"Aunt Asil, tell me he's not…" Natty whispered.
"Oh, he is," Asil confirmed, her eyes fixed on her console.
"Good grief…" Natty pressed her hand to her lips. "He's crooning? In the briefing room?"
"Only for the past four point one nine minutes," Asil said.
Natty winced, glancing at the doors to her father's office.
"Guitar and all?"
"Indeed. He has also been whistling and tapping his fingers," Asil informed her, her twinkling eyes belying her dead-serious expression. "But don't worry – human hearing is not nearly as acute as that of Vulcans—"
"Or androids," Commodore Data said, leaning against his office doorway with his arms crossed and a wry expression on his face.
"Dad!" Natty gasped. "But you were just—"
"Singing?" Data quirked an amused eyebrow. "My ship, Ensign. Call it Commodore's Prerogative. But, so you don't come to think your father is a complete eccentric, I was just recalling an old holodeck program I developed for some friends of mine, long, long ago. The memories made me a little…sentimental. Hence, the music. And, speaking of sentiment…"
He strode forward and pulled his daughter into a warm embrace.
"Welcome home, Natty! We've missed you."
"Dad…!" the young android protested, wriggling out of the hug, her pale face flushing bright red as her gold-flecked green eyes darted around the bridge. She grabbed Data's hand and pulled him into the briefing room, waiting for the doors to close before she snapped: "Why do you have to embarrass me like that?!"
"I am your father, darling," Data said, affectionately tucking a stray wisp of auburn hair behind her ear before bending slightly to kiss her pale forehead. "It is my job to embarrass you."
"Yes. And you do it ever so well…" Natty said drolly, rubbing the spot he'd kissed. "But, Dad… I'm not a kid anymore, you know. I'm an Ensign – an officer. Just like you, and them!" She gestured to indicate the bridge crew beyond the doors. "I think I've earned a little respect."
"And hugging your father is not respectful?" Data inquired.
"Dad, you're missing the point."
"No, no, I understand," Data said, circling his desk to settle his guitar back in its case. He took a seat and gestured for Natty to do the same. "You wish to be treated as an adult and you believe being seen embracing your father in public would undermine the mature image you are attempting to cultivate. But, Natty," he said, folding his hands on the polished desk, "is it not one of the hallmarks of maturity to show your loved ones how much you care for them?"
Natty cocked an eyebrow.
"Is that why you've been so lovey-dovey with Rayna Kapec lately?" she retorted.
Data knit his brow.
"Rayna and I have not—"
"Exactly!" Natty pounced before he could finish. "You're all warmth and affection with me and my kid brother Isaac and even our family cat, but with Rayna you're always Mr. Formality. Especially in public! If it's a hallmark of maturity to show you care, why don't you go hug her once in a while and treat me like a real, grown-up officer?"
"Natty," he said, "have you and Rayna been talking about me?"
"The topic's come up now and then in holochat," Natty said, leaning back in her chair and weaving the paintbrush end of her waist-length French braid between her fingers. "She thinks you shut her out."
Data cocked his head, confusion creasing his pale face.
"I don't understand," he said.
"She thinks that's the reason you two aren't really going anywhere," Natty said, still playing with her hair. "Every time she tries to get close, you step back. I mean, she likes you and everything, but seriously, Dad, you've been going out with this woman since I was a first-year cadet. If you're not really serious, I don't think it's fair to expect her to keep—"
But, Data was shaking his head, his expression undeniably staggered.
Natty straightened slightly, his strong reaction catching her off guard.
"Dad?" she queried. "Are you OK?"
But, Data was too preoccupied to acknowledge her concern.
"What do you mean, I 'step back'?" he asked, his voice strangely tight. "Rayna has expressed no such complaint to me. And, as for whether I am serious about our relationship…"
He stood and began pacing back and forth in front of his fish tank, blinking rapidly.
"I was not aware she felt this way. I thought…" He sank back into his chair, his amber eyes lost and distant. "I thought everything was fine between us. I thought our love for each other…that it spoke for itself…"
"Oh, Dad…" Natty said quietly. "Dad…I'm sorry. I thought…"
"No…no, do not apologize," the commodore said distractedly. "It is better that these issues be discussed. Especially when the observation is entirely correct. I have been stepping back."
He stared at her, his amber eyes wide and searching.
"Natty… Why have I been stepping back?"
Natty shrank a little in her chair, not liking this sudden role reversal. The open, child-like confusion on her father's face made her feel much more like the ten year old android she was than the mature officer she strove to be.
"I…I don't know, Dad," she said awkwardly. "I'm your daughter, not your shrink. Maybe you should talk with Counselor Elbrun about this."
"But, you are the one who provided the insight," Data said. "And you have discussed the matter with Rayna. I trust your opinion, my daughter. Please, tell me your thoughts."
Natty pursed her lips and sighed.
"Look, Dad…" she tried. "All I can think of is… Well… If you do love Rayna, and you genuinely want this relationship to grow, but something keeps holding you back from expressing that wish..." She twiddled her thumbs against her fingers. "That something could be fear. I think you might be scared."
"Scared?" her father repeated. "Scared of what?"
Natty shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
"This is too weird…"
"Please, Natty," Data said, "If I am to address this situation with any efficacy, I require information. Go on. I promise, you will not upset me."
"Yeah, right," Natty muttered, but she pushed her braid back over her shoulder and leaned forward over the desk, resolved to address her father as one adult android to another.
"Dad," she said, meeting his wide amber eyes with her green ones, "Isaac and I…and Rayna too… We've only ever known you as you are now: a high-powered Starfleet Commodore, commander of the Federation's flagship. But before that, before us, before the upgrade that granted you your mortality and all those synthetic organs and tissues that so closely mimic organic structures, your situation was quite different. I mean, you're still pretty pale, but I've seen images of how you used to look, with white-gold skin and bright yellow eyes. I've read through your early schematics and diagnostic records. I know about your struggles with that weird emotion chip, and how, without it, you were only able to process your feelings in an intellectualized, highly abstracted way."
"Then, you should also know that is no longer the case," Data said. "Since my upgrade, my emotions are fully integrated. As are yours and your brother's, since I modeled you both after my current design."
"Yes," Natty said. "But that's now. I'm talking about then. We're all of us shaped by our early experiences, Dad, good and bad. And when it comes to the really bad ones… Well, we can learn to build around them, and even overcome the more major upsets, but that doesn't mean the memories of those bad events won't continue to affect how we approach new situations and new relationships…even if it's not always on a conscious level."
"Are you saying that's what I have been doing?" Data asked. "That some trauma from my past has subconsciously been influencing my responses to Rayna, causing me to maintain emotional distance despite her clear, and welcome, overtures of affection?"
"Well, Dad, what do you think?" Natty asked. "I mean…how many romantic relationships did you have before Rayna? Like, real, serious romantic relationships? I can't think there've been too many."
Data blinked at her, his mouth opening slightly in a hurt sort of surprise.
"No! No, Dad, I didn't mean it like that! I just...that is..."
Natty sighed and shook her head.
"You're a fantastic father," she said sincerely. "A great friend, and a brilliant commander. Seriously. I love you Dad, more than anything, but you do still have trouble sometimes processing and expressing your feelings. You intellectualize and analyze. Your feelings tend to take a back seat to that. And romantic relationships...well..."
She winced, and shrugged a little helplessly.
Data rested his chin on his palm, his amber eyes sliding from side to side as he contemplated his daughter's words. After a moment, he stood and walked around his desk to take her hand in his, drawing her to his side as he said, "Natalie, come with me. There is something I would like to show you."