Remembrance and Regrets

Locks and Keys, Part II: Keys

Natty leaned over the balcony wall, peering down at the tall, elegant lighthouse, then resting back on her elbows to stare up at the soaring towers of her sister's storybook castle.

"Wow," she commented. "I'll bet Lal could have been a pretty great architect, if she'd lived."

"She told me she wished to be a counselor," Data said quietly, walking slowly to his daughter's side. "And a Starfleet Officer. Like you."

He smiled a small, gentle smile, and Natty briefly rested her head against his arm.

"I guess that's your influence, Dad," she said. "I'm training to be a First Contact Specialist, though, not a counselor. Still, I haven't discounted the command track. I might like to become a Commodore someday. Maybe even an Admiral…" She grinned at her father. "If I were an Admiral, you'd have to salute me."

"If you were to become an Admiral, Ensign Soong, it would be my privilege, and my pleasure, to do so," Data told her.

"Aye, sir," Natty said teasingly, and squinted out at the rose-gold sky.

Data watched her for a moment, noting how she stood so confidently in her officer's uniform, the salty wind blowing tendrils of auburn hair around her pale face, and a look of introspection flickered across his eyes.

"Natty," he said. "How did you know…that you were female?"

Natty glanced at him, tucking some loose hair behind her ear.

"What do you mean?"

"I am curious," her father said. "Did you or your brother ever wonder why I thought it so important that my children should have the opportunity to select their own gender and appearance?"

Natty frowned a little, clearly confused.

"I don't know," she said. "Because we're androids? We're not beholden to the whims of genetics and biology."

"True enough," Data said. "We are constructed mechanical life forms, not organic beings. And yet, although we are not part of the biological gene pool, gender identity remains a significant factor in our lives, not only with regard to our own self-image, but to how we relate to and are perceived by others."

Natty squinted at him.

"What exactly are you asking me, Dad?" she asked.

"I just want to know," he said, "what is it that makes you so certain that you identify as female? What makes Isaac certain he is male?"

"It's a brain thing, Dad," Natty said. "You know that – way better than I do. But…I guess it's emotional too. I mean, when I see a guy…I know I'm not a guy. And…when I see a really hot guy…"

She shrugged, clearly feeling awkward confessing these things to her father.

"Well, I know my sense of gender identity goes way deeper than just my outer appearance, if you get what I mean."

Data frowned thoughtfully and gave a little nod.

"I see…"

"But that's- I mean…not that I ever…" Natty stammered, flushing up to her ears. "I mean…OK, I've been out on dates, but that was mostly a social thing, in groups, and…yeah, I kissed this one boy…not that it went anywhere since we knew we were graduating soon and we'd be off to different assignments but…"

She wrinkled her brow and studied her father's odd, distant expression.

"That's not really what you're asking about, is it," she said, starting to get a little concerned. "Dad, come on," she said gently. "What is this all about?"

Data snorted a little, his amber eyes rather wistful.

"You amaze me, my daughter," he said, and smiled. "Your social acumen is as acute as any healthy, intuitive, well-socialized human's…and I could not be prouder to be your father. You must have come as quite a surprise to your academy instructors."

"Not so much," Natty said. "Most of them didn't even know I was an android unless I told them and the ones who did know were, like, it didn't matter. It's the same way now, at the Embassy. My bosses and colleagues don't really care that I'm a machine, or that my brain is made of silicon rather than gray matter. They all know I'm a living person, just like them."

"Exactly my point," Data said, and leaned back against the balcony wall, staring up at the clouds through the spires of Lal's castle. "Our circumstances have changed…so very much…over the years… Where once Starfleet viewed an android as property…as a mere product of cybernetics research… Enough to…seize…an infant from her father…"

His expression clenched involuntarily, and his pale fingers tightened against the stone wall.

"Today, the fact of our personhood is all but a given," he went on. "And, while you and your brother may thrive in this new twenty-fifth century atmosphere of…unthinking tolerance… For me, the trust required to accept this new reality…not just to acknowledge there have been some notable shifts in attitude, but to truly accept them…"

He sighed, and turned his gaze to the brightening horizon.

"I never had the opportunity to choose my gender or appearance," he said, his voice low with a very old hurt that, though it no longer stung, remained a prominent ache. "They were assigned to me by my father…a man I never truly had the opportunity to know or question. He abandoned me to a galaxy that viewed me as a technological curiosity, left me entirely alone without the capacity to process and experience intense, human-like emotions, never mind navigate the largely non-verbal social networks humans build around themselves. Adrift in this awful sink-or-swim scenario, it took me nearly three decades to manage to develop the confidence…and, perhaps, the courage…to consider myself a person, a life form, let alone a 'man.' And, the moment I did start to believe that…perhaps… Perhaps my masculinity was more than a convenient pronoun humans could employ in place of 'it' when they wished to seem polite or considerate…"

He took in a sharp breath, then opened his eyes and pointed down to the rocky cliff below, indicating a small wooden bench gracefully entwined with roses.

"Do you know why I created that memorial, Natty?" he asked.

Natty regarded him, her eyes tight with compassion as well as confusion.

"You said it was for Tasha Yar. The first woman you ever…well…"

"Loved?" Data supplied. He glanced at her and shook his head, rather sadly. "No. I did not love Tasha. Nor did she love me. We were friends. Good friends. Never anything more."

"Well…she did die…"

"Yes," Data acknowledged grimly. "But she was not the first colleague of mine to perish in the line of duty. Not even aboard the Enterprise."

Natty frowned.

"OK, then why did you program that bench?"

Data pursed his lips, then turned to face his daughter.

"Natty, how would you respond if I were to tell you that you are a beautiful, intelligent young woman?"

Natty's frown deepened.

"I'd tell you that goes without saying. Why—"

"That is why."

Natty shook her head.

"OK, you totally lost me here, Dad. Just…what exactly are you getting at?"

"The first time I truly considered myself to be…male…" he said. "The first time I realized my…external anatomy…may not simply have been the arbitrary assignment of a man who wished only to construct an android in his own image…"

He sighed.

"It was the moment I saw Tasha walk through her bedroom doors."

Data spoke very quietly, his amber eyes distant with memory.

"I watched as she moved toward me with that…look…in her eyes," he said. "She…touched me… And I knew. I knew I was male, inside as well as out, and I wanted her to know that too. The polywater intoxicant may have been at work, but for me… Knowing that she viewed me as the man I suddenly felt myself to be… That was the true intoxicant. In that one, brief moment when our eyes locked, our fingers met… My personhood, my masculinity… It was more than a program, more than any...mechanical response..."

He swallowed and lowered his eyes.

"It went without saying."

Natty's expression widened in comprehension and she reached for her father's arm. He patted her hand, but his eyes remained distant.

"Still," he said, "as Captain Scott once cautioned, one should never get drunk unless he is willing to pay the price the next day. Without emotional backing, my epiphany was not enough to sustain a romantic relationship. Tasha's denial of the event seemed a denial of my realization and for a long time I doubted my perceptions. After all, we had both been highly intoxicated. And then, Ishara…"

He broke off and shifted position, his eyes drifting to the stretch of beach and water where the dock and jet skis had been.

"Ishara was Tasha's younger sister, right?" Natty asked.

"Yes," Data said. "I brought her here once, to this island… Showed her Lal's castle, Tasha's bench… She knew I was an android but, when she looked at me… Somehow, she managed to convince me that, in her eyes, I was a man. It was there when she touched my hand…when she smiled at me… It was like a validation. When she took my hand, she did it in public, in Ten Forward. When she kissed my cheek…we were on the bridge. Tasha had never shown any public signs of affection for me, but Ishara… It was as if she went out of her way to…flirt with me…in front of my colleagues. The attention she showed me brought back that sense I'd experienced with Tasha…that belief in my own masculine identity. I...valued that, valued her, the input she afforded by treating me like...a man... She became so special to me, so quickly... Her betrayal…"

He ran a hand over his face and turned away.

"Well, it set me back quite a bit," he admitted. "After that…I no longer trusted myself or my self-perception of myself as anything other than a machine in the shape of a man. And no one around me seemed much bothered. In fact, some months later, when I confessed to Counselor Troi that I had not yet discounted the possibility that I might, someday, marry… She seemed so surprised! As if the possibility had never occurred to her."

He shook his head, his eyes fixed on the turbulent waves.

"Her reaction didn't hurt at the time, of course, and I certainly don't blame her for it, but it was…most unsettling, and only contributed to my self-doubt. I am afraid I have projected this self-doubt to subsequent relationships. It was one of the primary causes of my break-up with Jenna D'Sora and a reason there really have been no other…special…women in my life…until I met Rayna. With her, now, after all these years… I honestly feel that I have finally met someone who understands me, who loves me for who and what I am, who undoubtedly perceives me as a man, not just a machine wearing the shape of a man… And yet, I hold back. I shut her out, duck away when she gets too close…"

He looked back at Natty, his expression frank, and a little resigned.

"You are right, my daughter," he said. "I am afraid. Afraid of being wrong about myself, about her, of misinterpretation, of…being rejected…again…after all I have accomplished, all I have struggled so hard to become… And I don't know what to do. I do not want her to leave me. Nor do I wish to push her away. But, either of these scenarios may happen if I continue to behave…as I have been behaving. I realize I am being irrational, but emotions are irrational and I…I just don't know how to make this awful terror go away!"

"I think you do," Natty said. "In fact, I think you're practicing right now."

Data tilted his head in befuddlement, and Natty smiled at her father, her gold-flecked eyes brimming with warm affection.

"Tell her," she said. "Bring her here. This place, this island of yours…it's a metaphor, Dad. If you want to open your heart to her, let her into your world…bring her here. Like you brought me."

Data's clasped fingers twitched and he winced a little, his expression vulnerable.

"Really?" he said. "You think… That is…the program is not too…?"

"What?" Natty said. "Old? Dusty? Outdated?"

"Ouch," Data said, but he was beginning to smile.

Natty moved closer, leaning her head against his shoulder as they stared out at the sea together.

"You're not too late, Dad," she said. "In many ways, your life – all our lives – are just beginning. You've locked this program – this place – away long enough. You let me in. Now, extend the invitation to Rayna. Let her see the man you've shown me before either of you begin to discount your relationship."

Data nodded, gently resting his cheek against his daughter's hair.

"And…if I were ever to, perhaps, ask Rayna to—"

"Marry you?" Natty looked up at him and smiled. "I'd be all for it, Dad. Me and Isaac both. Trust me, we—"

"Bridge to Commodore Data."

The two officers shared a look, then stepped apart so the commodore could answer the call.

"Data here," he said.

Captain Kinoshita's voice continued: "We are receiving a message from inside the globular cluster, sir. But the nature of the signal… Well, it's like nothing we've encountered before."

"I'm on my way, Akira," Data said, and broke communications, his amber eyes already shining with curiosity.

"What do you think, Dad?" Natty asked, her green eyes exhibiting a similar gleam. "Could we be looking at a first contact mission here?"

"Unknown. But, if so, this could be your lucky day, Ensign," Data said, and took her hand, the pair of them sharing a broad, excited grin. "This, Natty, is why I love commanding the Enterprise. Let's go see who's out there!"




Two weeks later, Data was met by a ball of flying orange fur as he strode into his quarters.

"Tigger!" the android greeted his beloved cat. "Bounced again!" He gave the cat a quick snuggle, then placed him back on the sofa from which he'd sprung.

"Hello!" he called into the large, rather eclectically cluttered cabin. "Anybody home?"

"Father!" his son's voice called back. "I'm in here!"

Isaac's room was a walk-in tribute to the young android's love for music and advanced mathematics. An artistically rendered, geometric representation of the Euler formula graced one window while pi spiraled out like a galaxy from the center of the ceiling, fading into the busy holographic posters that adorned the walls, depicting Isaac's favorite groups and artists ranging from Brahms and Mozart to the icons of Romulan reggae. Piles of computer parts, holoprojectors, and musical instruments littered the floor, and a palindromic musical score was imprinted in black on Isaac's white bedspread.

"I see you've cleaned up a little in here," Data said wryly.

"Father, Father, you've got to see this," Isaac said, grabbing Data's arm and pulling him deeper into the room. The commodore followed with affectionate amusement, unable to help noting how, with his rumpled clothing, wild brown hair, and bright, blue eyes, the boy bore a striking resemblance to his grandfather, Noonian Soong.

"The research is really starting to come together now. I'm actually beginning to think I can pull this project off!" Isaac grinned. "I'm telling you, Father, that PhD is as good as mine. And once I graduate, we'll have a whole new Dr. Soong in the family!"

"I have every confidence in you, my boy. Please, show me your work," Data invited, and watched curiously as his son efficiently manipulated the complex computer console he'd been modifying for the past several months.

"As you know," Isaac said as he worked, "my research has its most basic roots in the twentieth-century notion of graphical sound, or drawn sound, techniques in which optical, polyphonic sound tracks would literally be drawn on strips of film. When the film was played, viewers would hear the sound and also see the drawn shapes, rather like an animated work of abstract art. What I'm trying to do is bring that idea into the twenty-fifth century through advanced mathematical modeling and holographic technology. In theory, if my designs pan out, we will be able to listen to starlight…hear the differing electromagnetic rhythms of life-bearing planets and lifeless moons…read the music our galaxy has been beating and pulsing and dancing to since its inception!"

Isaac took a deep, awe-filled breath and beamed up at his father.

"Here we go…"

Within moments, Data was sharing his son's awe as the pair of them watched a startling holographic light show burst to life in the center of the cluttered room. Peculiar wheezing, wending whistlings gave way to lower thrums and piquant splashes of color and sound. Data gasped at the strange, surreal beauty and, as it faded, turned his wondering gaze to his son.

"What was that?" he asked.

"A recording I borrowed from Stellar Cartography," Isaac said. "One point one six minutes of our own ship's energy residuals as we travel through space." He grinned. "It's still pretty raw but, if you think that's cool, you should see the clip I'm rendering from that pulsar we passed three weeks ago!"

Data stared at him, unable to contain his amazement.

"Isaac…this is… Well, it's incredible. When do you think you will be ready to write up your results?"

"It won't be long now," Isaac told him. "So, you really like it? You think this sort of research could be useful someday?"

"Isaac," Data said, "I think your work here has myriad valuable applications – from exploration to medical research to straight-up art. What you just showed me… It's beautiful, son. Absolutely beautiful."

Isaac's smile turned shy and he ducked his head.

"Thanks," he mumbled.

Data bent down to kiss his son's head, then affectionately ruffled his already unruly hair.

"Keep working," he said, and squeezed Isaac's shoulder. "I have to find Rayna. Is she here?"

"I think she's in the den, but she could have stepped out. I've been…sort of busy…"

"As have I," Data said. "Which is, admittedly, a large part of the reason I must find Rayna. But, busy as you are, son, do not forget to join us for dinner. Natty may have returned to the Embassy with the Oortnoid delegation, but that's no reason for us to stop sharing our family meals all together."

"I'll be there," Isaac said distractedly, clearly absorbed in his work. "Love you, Father."

Data paused by the doorway, his lips creased by a smile.

"I love you too, Isaac."

The family den, which Rayna often used as a sort of home office, was the next door down. If she was in there, her android hearing had no doubt registered his return home. Data steeled himself for a moment, quickly going over the invitation he'd been rehearsing over and over again in his mind, then strode straight in...only to catch a glimpse of her computer screen before she had the chance to blank it out.

He furrowed his brow, a strange, heavy sensation clamping around his heart.

"Was that..."

He frowned and moved closer to her, staring from her pensive face to the blank screen.

"Rayna," he said. "Was that an application to join the research faculty at Stanford University? On Earth?"

"What if it was," the blonde woman said, drawing herself up in her most regal pose. "Can you honestly tell me you'd notice if I left this ship?"

"Rayna..."

Data stared, his head trembling ever so slightly. Then, slowly, he sank to the floor and buried his face in his hands.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I know... I am aware I have given you the impression that..."

He swallowed hard, pressing his palms against his stinging eyes.

Rayna regarded him, her dark eyes softening with confusion, and even a little concern.

"Data," she said. "Data, come on, get up. How are we supposed to have this fight with you huddled on the floor?"

"I do not wish to fight with you, Rayna," Data said, shifting heavily from the floor to a chair. "Your anger is entirely warranted."

"Yes, it is," she said. "Which is why I do want to fight with you! We need to have this out, Data, once and for all! To that end, I've been sitting here, rehearsing in my mind all the things I've been wanting to scream at you-and now you go and concede before I've barely said a word? Do you have any idea how frustrating that is? How unsatisfying?"

"I'm sorry," he apologized, then winced at the glare she shot him. "It's just...the thought that you... That I caused you to... Just because I..."

He lowered his head, seeming to be speaking more to himself than to her.

"Natty promised me it was not too late..."

Rayna wrinkled her brow, thoroughly confused.

"Data, what are you talking about?"

"I am talking about my insensitivity," the android admitted, his voice heavy. "To your feelings and to my own. Natty has made me aware of how foolish I have been. She accused me of...hiding...behind formality, of stepping back... And it's true! I allowed my fears and doubts to cloud my trust in you...in us...and, consequentially, unknowingly erected an emotional barrier that left me on one side...and you on the other. My resulting behavior has been callous and inexcusable and if you now wish to leave me for an environment you believe would more fully embrace and respect you, I do understand. But, before you make that decision..."

Data took a deep, somewhat shaky breath and rose to his feet.

"Rayna Kapec," he said. "Although I have been alive for over eighty years now in one form or another, you are the first woman I have ever truly loved and the only one I know has honestly loved me back. The thought that I have hurt you...however inadvertently..."

He swallowed, and reached for her hand.

"Can you forgive me, Rayna?" he asked.

Rayna pursed her lips and gave his hand a squeeze, but her eyes were deep with sadness.

"Oh, Data..." she said. "I do love you. And I love your children. I can understand if you've been anxious. Even...afraid. After all, the relationship we've been trying to build here...it's admittedly new territory for both of us. But, suppose I say yes, that I will stay, that I will forgive you...even without our fight. How can you assure me you won't fall right back into the same insensitive behaviors as soon as things get busy around here again?"

Data released her hand and ran his fingers rather helplessly through his slowly graying hair.

"What do you want, Rayna?" he asked her. "Tell me, please. What sort of relationship - what sort of life - would make you happy?"

Rayna walked from the computer console to the small couch and gestured for Data to sit beside her. As he did, she curled up against his side, resting her head on his shoulder and reaching across his chest to entwine her fingers with his.

"We're nearly the same age, you and I," she said, a little smile playing at the corners of her lips. "It was your discovery on Omicron Theta that inspired my father to try his hand at building an android one last time... We both spent our early years in social isolation...me on my father's beautiful, but empty world...you on your crowded, but friendless, starships... But our lives have been so different, Data. You've had a chance to prove yourself, to forge a career, find friendship, build a family of your own. My father kept me close, claimed he needed me, that it would hurt him too much were I ever to leave. If he hadn't found Juliana...if she hadn't fallen in love with him... I might have lived my whole life right there, never having the chance to travel the stars, to pursue my own life, my own work...my own love..."

She sighed, and dropped her head to his chest, listening to the beating of his synthetic heart.

"I can't live like that, Data. Not anymore, not ever again. I don't want to be alone, but I will not be taken for granted. You may be the celebrated Commodore, commander of the Federation's flagship, but I am a scientist at the cusp of my career. I won't sacrifice my liberty for the perceived safety of a relationship, especially a partnership as unequal and unfair as ours has been. However much I care for you, Data, however much I love living and working here aboard the Enterprise, I can't let myself become just...an addendum...to you, your crew, and your family."

Data closed his eyes and rested his chin against her soft hair.

"This is my fault," he said. "I have caused you to feel less important than you are, and there is no excuse for that. But Rayna, you are not an addendum. Far from it. I only wish I could show you..."

He straightened, and looked down into her dark eyes.

"Rayna, will you accompany me to the holodeck?"

She squinted at him and sat up.

"The holodeck? Why?"

"Please," he said. "There is something very important I need to share with you and...I just can't say it all here. But, perhaps, once you see... You will understand how much you mean to me. How very special you truly are."

Rayna shook her head.

"Pretty words, Data," she said. "And you're often pretty full of them. But actions speak louder. I can't—"

"No, no, please, just listen," he said. "I know I've behaved coldly, even dismissively at times, but I am aware of these behaviors now as well as the cause and I refuse to allow my ancient, outdated fears to continue to impact our relationship. Now, if you are concerned about my duty to my ship - that it might take priority over us - just know that the safety of the ship includes the welfare of my family. And you are a member of this family, Rayna. Isaac and Natalie have both assured me that they love you and look up to you as a mother, as I am sure you know. If you are concerned about the nature of our relationship, whether we can share a living, breathing partnership without losing the romance, the love that initially brought us together, or without coming into conflict over issues of authority, over how to advise and raise the children..."

He pursed his lips and clasped both her hands between his own.

"Partnership involves listening and being open to the fears and concerns of each loved one," he said. "I know, I trust, that our love is real. We share a common desire to be a family, to share a lifetime of experiences...to strive to become more than the sum of our parts. And, Rayna, we can do that together. Sharing a love, a real love...it has the potential to make us so much more than we are. A family is its individual members, yes, but when those individuals come together, they have the ability to form a loving gestalt of mutual support and respect. If that is our goal, to live as a We, an Us, while respecting the I..."

Data cut himself off and dropped her hands, turning his head away.

"Words," he said, and offered her a sad little smile, blinking back the tears stinging his eyes. "You're right: I'm just full of pretty words. What right have I to these words when it is I who kept this gestalt from forming..."

He swallowed hard and walked toward the door.

"Rayna... I apologize. Again. I am truly dismayed at how very selfish I have been...how selfish I am still being! You are a free, brilliant woman. I will respect any choice you make and, if you choose not to stay with me... I will understand."

Rayna frowned.

"What are you doing?" she said. "Am I supposed to feel sorry for you now? You shut me out, you make me feel superfluous, but somehow I get to come off as the insensitive jerk?"

"That is not my intent, Rayna, and I would appreciate it if you would refrain from twisting my meaning," Data said, striding back to her. "I came to a realization while Natty was here, a realization that opened my eyes to a weakness in myself that I am not at all proud to admit. I was not aware of it before, but now I understand that it was covering up this weakness, this shameful self-doubt, that caused me to raise this emotional wall between us. I ask only for the chance..."

He sighed.

"I want to tear it down," he said. "I want to let you in, to open my whole heart to you. But, unless you're willing to help me learn how..."

He shook his head a little helplessly.

"I don't know," he said. "I guess... Perhaps we have reached the point where..."

"Where what, Data?" Rayna asked, searching his expression with her piercing dark eyes.

"Where we either break up..." He looked up at her, meeting her eyes with his own. "Or move forward."

Rayna held his gaze, moving closer until their faces were nearly touching.

Data felt a powerful urge to close the distance, to press his lips to hers, but he refrained, concentrating instead on maintaining their intense, unbroken stare.

Slowly, Rayna smiled and tapped his nose with her finger.

Data blinked several times, then tilted his head.

"Rayna?" he asked. "Does this mean...?"

"Ask me later," she said. "After dinner. Then, maybe, I'll go to the holodeck with you."

Data nodded, barely able to contain his grin as he turned toward the door.

"Oh, and Data...?"

"Yes, Rayna?"

She moved in close again, rising to her toes until her nose just brushed against his.

"My gender and appearance were also assigned to me by my father," she told him. "I never chose to be female. But since I've known you..."

She kissed him, gently at first, but with passionate sincerity, and he didn't hold back, allowing himself to melt fully into her embrace. When they finally parted, his limbs felt oddly weak, but his heart and mind were soaring.

"Ohmygod, I love you," he mumbled into her golden hair, holding her close against him as she stroked her hand up and down his back. "Rayna, I love you. I love you, I love you."

"I know," she whispered, and smiled up at him. "Dinner?"

"Mmph," he said and, quite reluctantly, loosened his embrace enough to let her go. "So, am I to take it that Natty told you of our chat in the holodeck before she left?"

"Only because she cares about you," Rayna said.

"About us," he corrected.

Her smile broadened and she took his hand in hers.

"Come on, Commodore," she said. "It's family time now. How much do you want to bet our boy's still locked away with his research?"

"Isaac does have an internal chronometer that should-"

Data paused, and blinked at her.

"Our boy?" he said, a smile pulling at his lips.

Rayna raised her eyebrows.

"You object?"

"Oh, far from it," he said, a broad, beaming grin gripping his face and refusing to let go. "Rayna?"

"Yes, Data?"

"I love you."

"I love you too."

"Rayna?"

"Mm hmm?"

"Will you marry me?"

~fin~


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