Disclaimer:Star Trek: The Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters and events belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.


Stardate 44669.52

(Saturday, 2 September 2367, 09:00 hours local time)

Starbase Twelve

Airports. Spaceports. Starbase transit lounges. It didn't matter what they were called, there were certain universal truths that applied to all of them, and when you were moving through one at the end of what was, for most of the worlds in the same sector as Earth, the last few days before the beginning of a new school year, there were a lot of families with kids returning from vacations, and a lot of students traveling on their own.

With my cello worn back-pack style (for easier transport) and my single rolling suitcase (anti-grav wasn't allowed in customs) I could have been any of the latter. Even my clothes: a t-shirt and jeans, vintage combat boots, and a sweatshirt tied around my waist, were almost a kind of uniform, the sorts of things worn by young humanoids for centuries. The colors might change, and the languages represented on the t-shirt slogans might be nearly innumerable, but the basic form was classic.

The difference was that instead of heading back to Earth or Centaurus, Vulcan or Corsica, or even Risa (home of the champion inter-collegiate beach volleyball team since 2359) I was headed back to school on a starship, and not just any starship, either: Starfleet's flagship, the U.S.S. Enterprise.

I was also traveling alone, as my mother and my once and future literature teacher were spending an extra week on Earth, after a week of something that was closer to a family vacation than anything I'd previously experienced. Not that I minded. My mother was greatly deserving of some personal time, and Ed, the teacher in question, was a great guy. I wasn't staking actual money on it, or anything, but I was betting there would be a proposal before the week was out.

"Next!" The voice of the transit officer in front of me roused me from my musing about Mom and Ed, and I stepped forward and presented my ID chit. "Name and destination?"

"Zoe Harris. I'm meeting the Enterprise," I said.

The blue-skinned, white-haired officer looked me over, his antennae bobbing slightly with the movements of his head. "You're a bit young to be Starfleet," he said.

I grinned. "A bit," I agreed. "My mother's in the science division there. Lt. Commander Emily Harris." She and my father had been divorced for almost a year, now, but she'd kept his last name. She was used to it, she'd explained. And changing records was a hassle.

"I have your records here," I was told. "Harris, Zoe. Bound for Enterprise, as you said. Here's your temporary comm-badge; it will give you access to station facilities and help them track you if you don't want to stay on the Starfleet deck. The ship's not due to arrive for several hours, but you're flagged as VIP status so I'm going to assign a room to you. Feel free to leave your belongings there while you roam around the station. There will be an announcement when Enterprise docks, but a transit officer will find you, even so. You're sixteen, which means we don't need to assign a companion unless you ask for one."

"I'm good," I said, feeling like a seasoned traveler. In a sense, I was, having been on tour with my father for a good chunk of my childhood, but those had always been commercial transports, and some minion had handled all the paperwork. "But thank you."

There was a scuffle a couple of aisles over, where people were standing with picket signs – digital displays on meter-long handles – reading Keep Earth Human and Humans First. They were chanting, as well, and waving the signs at anyone who wasn't obviously human.

"Charming people," I snarked. "They know they're at arrivals, right?"

Eyes and antenna turned in the direction of the noise, and then refocused on me. "You'd think they'd have figured it out," he said. "They're here almost every week. Mostly they're just annoying, but we've gotten a couple of bomb threats." His hand rose to clamp over his mouth in embarrassment. "Oops, sorry. I shouldn't have said that. Listen, I'm sure you'll be fine." He scanned my retina and fingerprints and pressed a few keys on his console. "Welcome to Starbase Twelve, Ms. Harris. Enjoy your stay."


Stardate 44669.78

(Saturday, 2 September 2367, 11:17 hours, local time)

The best thing about Starbase Twelve, I decided, was that there was a branch of my favorite café there. I was sitting at a window table at Red Sands, watching the people on the Starbase promenade and nursing my second café mocha of the morning, when a familiar voice interrupted me.

"Ah, Zoe. I suspected I would find you here."

I looked up into the yellow eyes and pale gold face I'd missed seeing all summer. "Where there's coffee…" I began, teasingly, but I trailed off, when I noticed the smirk on this man's face. "Oh," I said, trying to sound unperturbed, "Lore."

The facial tic he still hadn't completely eradicated confirmed my assessment. "Mind if I join you?" he asked, dropping into the other chair at my table before I could even answer. "Actually, it doesn't matter if you mind or not. So, little girl, happy to see me?"

"Thrilled," I snarked at him. "Ecstatic, even." We both knew I was only being sarcastic to cover my fear. "Shouldn't you be stalking women your own age instead of teenagers?"

He managed a snort. "If you allow for all the years I spent packed away in pieces, I'm closer to your age than you might think," he said. "Certainly closer than my dear brother. He's, what, fifteen years your senior?"

"Thirteen," I corrected, though I was pretty sure he'd known the real number all along. "Not that it matters, since we don't have a relationship beyond friendship."

"But you want one."

"This again?" I asked. "Really? Brain like yours, and you have nothing better to do than worry about who may or may not be crushing on your brother? Don't you have puppies to kick or worlds to conquer or something?"

"Or something," he allowed, but his smirk had only gotten bigger. "Look, little girl, whatever you claim your relationship with my brother is, you matter to him, and therefore you are extremely useful to me. Finish your drink, and let's take a little walk."

"You send me 'anonymous' notes, follow me around San Francisco, show up at my concerts, and now you want me to go on a walk with you? Are you sure your programming isn't glitching?"

"Oh, you are an amusing child," he said, the delighted smile he wore only making him seem creepier. He leaned across the table, so that anyone watching us would think we were having a romantic tête-à-tête instead of… whatever this was. "I need you to carry a message to my brother."

"Do I look like a carrier pigeon?" I asked, using irritation to mask the terror running through me. Could he see me shaking?

"Carrier pigeon?" his eyes flickered back and forth in much the same fashion I was used to seeing in Data. I didn't point out that his brother's searches never took as long. "Oh, very good," he commented. "No, you look like someone who wouldn't want to be responsible for the destruction of a Starbase and the death of the good people who inhabit it."

"You're right," I agreed. "Because I'm not. I'm just a student heading back to school. And you know if Starfleet finds you here…"

"The Enterprise is still hours away, and even if you signaled right now it would take transit officers seventeen minutes to get here…just long enough for you and I to have a little one-on-one time." He licked his lips suggestively. "You know you want to."

I stared directly into his yellow eyes. Nine months ago, I'd mistaken him – Lore – for his brother, my friend and tutor, Lt. Commander Data, and followed him into an unsavory section of a different Starbase. He'd ended our first encounter by kissing me and then knocking me out, leaving me with a new awareness of his brother in the process.

I still dreamed about that kiss from time to time.

Half the time, it was Data kissing me.

The other half the time, those dreams were nightmares.

"I know I don't," I said. "I also know that I wouldn't be responsible for whatever sick and twisted plan you've got up your stolen sleeve." I looked him up and down as I said it, taking in the fact that the uniform he was wearing was now out of date – the collar was all wrong, and the design of the sleeves had changed.

"Big talk from a little girl. Is false bravado your specialty?" He reached across the table and captured my hand, holding it with just enough pressure to restrain, while still making it very clear that if I made a wrong move he could easily crush every bone. His other hand reached for my chin, cupping it delicately, and when he spoke, his voice was a dark whisper in my ear. "Don't bother screaming, Zoe. If anyone sees us, they'll think we're engaged in something far more…intimate…then a mere conversation."

"I won't," I said. I actually had no intention of screaming, partly because I knew it wouldn't help, and partly because, stupid or not, I was curious about what he had planned.

"You have a room assigned. Let's take a little stroll to it."

"Okay." I knew it was a stupid move, but I also knew he wasn't going to rape me. It wasn't his style. He had something else in mind.

He kept hold of my hand as we stood up, though he let go long enough to wrap his arm firmly around my waist, instead, and we left the café, taking the lift to the hotel lobby, and then taking the hotel's lift to my room. When the door had closed behind us he pushed me onto the bed, and straddled me, bending his head close to mine.

His breath was hot and reeked of something like motor oil and battery acid, two things I was familiar with thanks to a life that involved boys with speedboats and souped-up fliers. "Seriously, have you been chugging flitter fuel?" I asked him, trying to roll out from under him, and failing.

"Silicone-based lubricant and generic nutritional supplement, if you must know. Plus fish oil. Helps the memory." He laughed, obviously meaning the last part as a joke. He leaned closer, his lips almost brushing mine as he spoke. "Want a taste?"

I shuddered. "Lips that drink Sili-Coat lube are not touching mine. You want me to deliver a message, fine, I'll be your courier, but I don't see why you're fixated on me. I'm just a student who happens to know your brother."

"You know my brother…intimately…."

"Hardly," I snorted.

"'Hardly,'" he mimicked. "Is it? Are you sure?" He cocked his head slightly, then started speaking in my voice. "'Technically, Data, our relationship is intimate. It's just not…it's just not sexual.' Need I go on?"

"How did you know about that conversation?"

"Ah-ah-ah. That's for me to know…and my brother to go crazy trying to figure out. Now do you want to deliver my message, or do you want me to start blowing up sectors of this 'base?"

"Do I want to? No."

"But you will."

"Yeah," I said. "I'll do it. It's not like you're giving me much choice. What's the message?"

"You don't honestly think I'm going to just tell you?"

Actually, I had. "Well…"

But he moved, then, using his right hand to span my throat, holding me immobile, while his left reached for something he'd hidden somewhere in his ill-fitting uniform. It looked a little like a small phaser blaster. "Stay very still," he hissed at me, "and this won't hurt a bit." He forced my mouth open with the muzzle of the not-a-blaster, pressed it against my tongue, and pressed the trigger. Almost immediately, he released my neck and replaced his hand on my shoulder. I still couldn't move, but at least he wasn't almost choking me anymore.

White-hot pain flooded through my mouth, and then receded, leaving me dazed and confused. "Wha' wazzat? Wha' di'you do?" I asked, though I'm not sure the words were discernible with my dry mouth and thick tongue. Something hard and metallic moved in my mouth, and I tasted blood.

"Data-solid in a tongue stud," he said, smirking. "Tell your parents it was an impulsive decision, when they ask you. And make sure my brother helps you remove it. That part's crucial, actually. And when he does, you remind him of what I said before. I had the first taste." He kept me pinned and spoke the next words against my mouth. "And the second."

As he 'favored' me with an acidic kiss, I remembered the conversation I'd had with Data in sickbay, back in February. Summoning all my courage, I raised my arms to grip at him, bracing against him as I lifted my leg and thrust my foot at his crotch with all the strength I could muster.

Thank god for all the hills, and all the walking I'd done in San Francisco that summer. And thank god for the fact that fashion-colored combat boots were a trend I'd actually embraced that year.

I could have lived without ever hearing the android version of a scream, though. I don't know if Lore was merely in shock or if he actually felt pain, but he released me and ran out of the room before I had entirely realized he was gone.

I went to the door and opened it to scan the corridor, but it was empty, so I let it swoosh shut, and locked myself in. Then I went to use the restroom, and to wash my face and hands. That accomplished, I checked out my reflection in the bathroom mirror, sticking out my tongue to see my new…accessory. The stud itself looked kind of cool, even if the reason for its existence was appalling.

I was shaking by then. I knew I should call security, but something told me it would be a bad move. Or maybe I just wasn't thinking straight. I picked up my padd to send a message to Data on the Enterprise, but just as I was doing so, the dual tones of an incoming message and something arriving in the replicator slot distracted me.

The message was from Lore. "Little Pigeon, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that if you warn anyone the results will be very, very bad. I've had a drink and some after-care instructions delivered to your room. Drink the entire glass, and don't worry…I wouldn't go through the trouble of piercing your tongue just to poison you right after. Oh, and give Data my love. I'm doing all this for him, you know."

I turned the device off and went to the replicator to retrieve the drink, which turned out to be a mild anesthetic. Drinking it made the throbbing pain go away, and calmed my nerves a little as well. I picked up my padd again, this time just sending a note to Data telling him where to find me, and then I stripped the bedspread off the bed, removed my boots, and curled up on top of the blanket.

The explosion came about ten minutes later, and lit up the area immediately beyond the window – the blinds hadn't been closed. From the bed, I could see bits of shuttlecraft and ships drifting outside the Starbase. A few minutes later, a second explosion rocked the entire base, lights flickered off and then back on, and emergency klaxons activated.

As I listened to the disembodied voice on the PA system telling Starbase personnel to report to duty stations, emergency services personnel to go to specific locations, Starfleet personnel to check in, and everyone else to stay either in their assigned hotel room or transit lounge, I sent a prayer to the universe that no one had been killed or seriously injured, that the Enterprise would arrive sooner rather than later, and that my mother wouldn't hear anything until I was safe.


Stardate 44671.10

(Saturday, 2 September 2367, 22:56 hours, local time)

I don't remember falling asleep, but I must have, because when I woke up everything was quiet, and the in-room comm-system informed me that nearly twelve hours had gone by. Also? The Enterprise was visible from the window, and I'd never felt so reassured by the sight of a starship.

My tongue was throbbing again, and I definitely wasn't thinking clearly, because I sat on the bed staring at the great ship outside for several minutes before it occurred to me that I should contact someone.

I looked around for my padd, but before I could activate it, or use the comm-system on the desk, there was a signal at the door, followed by my temporary comm-badge crackling to life. "Zoe Harris, this is Data. I am outside your assigned quarters. Are you alright?"

I tapped the badge. "I'm here, and I'm fine," I said, slurring the words a little because my tongue was swollen. "Mostly." The computer didn't respond to my order to unlock the door. "But I can't get the door open," I said.

"Starbase systems were damaged," he informed me. "I will open it manually. Stand away from the door, please."

"Okay." I stepped back from the door, watching as the edge of it bowed, and then marveling as a white-gold hand punched through, and then gripped it, and forced it to slide open. "Data!" I couldn't have stopped myself from running to him if I'd tried. I crashed into him, wrapping him in a fierce hug.

His arms came around me in the way that had become almost familiar, which didn't surprise me. What did startle me was that he let go of me with one arm after a few moments, and stroked my hair. It was the briefest of touches, but it was enough to make me draw back and look up into his eyes – eyes that were at once just like and nothing like his brother's.

Tears threatened but I forced myself to smile and admit: "Oh, Data, I missed you so much."

Then I fainted.

Notes: Ostinato is a specific type of crescendo involving a repeating pattern (it can also mean 'stubborn' or 'persistent'). (Revised. 6 November 2016)