Author's Note: Hey all! Welcome to Day 92 of the 42-Day West Wing Fic-a-Thon! While I have enjoyed writing a fic or fic chapter every day since September 27 very much, and it has certainly been good practice, all good things must come to an end. The Fic-A-Day will now end on January 4, 2017, on Day 100, because it's such a beautifully round number. Don't worry, I'm absolutely not going to stop writing! I have too much still in mind to write, plus my works in progress to finish! But I plan on taking the luxury of two and sometimes even three days to write things! It's going to be amazing. I never would've gotten this far without the encouragement of my readers, so thanks again to all of you! You are the best.
Today's prompt is a very unusual one, and it comes from my mother, who asked for "Toby Ziegler on the Starship Enterprise." Thanks, Mom! I had no idea how to write this one, but she asked for it about five times and finally it just took root in my brain and this happened. Hope you enjoy, feedback is welcome!
The holodeck doors opened onto a sunny dining room decorated in classic mid-twenty-first century style, stainless steel with copper accents, no curtains on the broad windows, and smooth curves everywhere. Everything streamlined and simple, reflecting the values of a people who had lived through strife and were looking towards the future. The sole occupant of the room was a poor match to the décor, wearing a suit that must've been antiquated even at the time this scene was digitized, slumped and rumpled, bald and bearded. To twenty-fourth century eyes, he was probably well past his first century, but in reality was probably no more than eighty. He was hunched over a primitive tablet computer, holding the stylus in crabbed fingers and attempting to use it like a notebook and pen. He looked up when the visitor entered. "Who are you?"
"My name is Data." The android entered the simulated room and sat down in a chair opposite the simulated man. He received a suspicious stare for his troubles. "You are Tobias Zachary Ziegler?"
"If you happen to be my angry mother," the man answered sardonically. "May she rest in peace. What are you doing in my house?" He seemed more exasperated than frightened or curious, as though Data were just one more unwelcome interruption. "Did my daughter send you? Has this got something to do with the digitization thing?"
"In a way," Data agreed unflappably. "It is Molly Ziegler-Eriksen's work in digital preservation that made it possible for me to speak with you now. I have several questions for you about your work in the American government at the turn of the twenty-first century."
"You and a thousand other people," Toby muttered. "Read my book. Hell, read all three of them. I could use the money."
"I have done so," Data assured him. "They were most elucidating. The evolution of the narrative of a post-war presidency through the course of your work was seminal in the field-"
"It wasn't the evolution of a narrative!" Toby snapped. "It was the revelation of a war that nobody knew about till years after it was over! Half a dozen people in the Lassiter administration eventually went to jail for concealing knowledge of Singh and his attacks, even from those of us who needed to know the most! Narrative, nothing," he scoffed. "It wasn't until I wrote the second book that any of us knew there'd been a war!"
"I see," Data replied, his tone conciliatory. "That is fascinating, but not relevant to the questions I wish to ask you. They are of a more personal nature."
One shaggy eyebrow went up. "If you want to know more about the secret lives of the Bartlet staffers, you need CJ Cregg or Donna Lyman. They're the ones who know all the dirt, and Donna might even remember it."
"I will endeavor to determine if it is possible to access their knowledge," Data promised, "but I wish to speak to you as one of the preeminent speechwriters of your day. I am currently attempting to write a commencement speech to the next class of Starfleet Academy graduates, but I have been told that my work thus far lacks warmth and true emotion. Contemporary accounts suggest that you are a cold and unfeeling person yourself, and yet the speeches you wrote are collected even now as examples of the oratorical arts. I wish to understand how you accomplished it."
Toby stared at Data for a minute, looking as though he didn't know how to take the android's words, or what to think about him at all. Data simply waited, accustomed to such scrutiny. "Starfleet Academy? Whatever happened to schools with normal names? City College used to be more than good enough," he grumbled. The simulation was not designed to be curious about anachronisms; unless Data pressed, he would rationalize or ignore any oddities. After a few long moments of silence, Toby leaned back in his chair and ran a hand over his beard. "It's the difference between seeming unfeeling and having no feelings," he finally said. "Sometimes the more feelings you have, the less you can show them."
"Please explain," Data asked. He had no padd or stylus, but he hardly needed one. Every moment of the conversation was being recorded in every detail for later recollection.
"Great emotion is a blessing and a curse," Toby told him, though it seemed as though Toby weren't speaking to him directly. It might have been some artifact of the digitization and later holocreation process. "It inspires us to great words and great deeds. A man can have all the facts in the world, all the learned opinions anybody could ask for, all the money and power and influence necessary to change the world, but if he hasn't got the heart to do it, he'll never be a great man. But that kind of emotion is exhausting, it'll wear you down and it'll kill you. To let that kind of emotion be on display all the time, that's like ripping your own beating heart from your chest and pinning it to your jacket. The bigger it is, the faster it'll destroy you."
He looked even further away now, obviously a quirk of the simulated man himself, not the programming. "CJ, you know her, don't you? Everyone knows her."
"Claudia Jean Cregg, called CJ," Data agreed, "press secretary under President Josiah Bartlet, later first female White House Chief of Staff." He had done his research before beginning the simulation, finding the often-overlooked lacuna of peace between the Eugenics Wars and World War Three unexpectedly fascinating. "Executive Director of the Hollis Foundation, nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2022."
"She was robbed," Toby cut in before Data could recite the rest of the curriculum vitae. "Nobody cares enough about roads and infrastructure is the problem. But she had the biggest heart of anybody I've ever known. Massive and full of feeling and incredibly loyal. She did great things. Would still be doing them if human minds and bodies weren't so goddamn fallible." He looked down at his own form with evident disgust. "But working in the White House with a heart like that, it chipped bits of her away. By the time she got out, she was a shadow of what she'd been, needed years to recover. I may have left the White House in disgrace and under indictment, but I did it in one piece, with everything I went in there with. It's easier for writers. We don't have to put the feelings out there, we leave that to the ones who do the talking."
"You espouse a philosophy like the Vulcans, then," Data surmised, "in which control of the emotions is paramount to avoid receiving and causing unnecessary suffering and in order to achieve optimally logical results."
"Hell, no," Toby scoffed. "You can't control emotions! They're what control us, that's the entire point! You just don't display everything you feel for anybody who wants to have a look. Let them think you're cold, let them call you a bastard, what does it matter? Pour them into the words, let that speak for you."
"But I have no emotions," Data admitted. "I have nothing to pour into a speech. I have analyzed over seven million works of English oratory deemed to be worthy of emulation, and have synthesized the similar themes and structural frameworks from them to use in my own work. By any objective measure, my work should be above reproach, and yet it is universally judged as inadequate. Is it impossible for a being without emotion to create an effective appeal to those who possess it?"
Toby thought about that for a moment, cogitating as the computer's sophisticated AI combed through dozens of hours of digitized interviews that had eventually been synthesized into this simulacrum. "What do you want to tell them?"
Data paused. He found it unusually difficult to convey his intentions for the speech, perhaps because they dealt in areas of his consciousness that tended to defy simple categorization. "I wish to present a useful and uplifting commencement speech," he told Toby. "The commencement ritual is an important part of the transition from Starfleet Academy to Starfleet itself. When I listened to my commencement speaker, I experienced satisfaction from the uplifting rhetoric and pleasing vocal cadences used to deliver it. I wish to provide the same experience to the cadets this year."
That explanation earned him nothing more than a raised eyebrow. "So you want to deliver a good speech," Toby summed up. "Congratulations, so does every hack out there. What do you want to say? What do those kids need to hear that only you can tell them? If you haven't got that, you haven't got anything."
"I think that I should tell them to have courage," Data decided after another few milliseconds of intense thought. "I am incapable of courage myself, but it is an emotion I have observed many times, and it almost invariably brings out the best qualities in Starfleet officers. I wish to remind them to pursue scientific investigation in a spirit of openness and curiosity, as I have seen Starfleet officers pursue it for many years. I wish to-"
"Good," Toby said with a nod. "That's where you start from. Knowing the style is good, god knows that you need some sentence structure and maybe a few verbs every once in awhile just to keep things interesting. No emotions of your own, huh?"
"None at all," Data confirmed.
"Then you're going to have to get it from the people who do. You said you've watched people you want these kids to be emulating. Go to those people and get the emotions from them. Let them tell you about why they do what they do, and then boil it down with all that syntax and structure and make a speech out of it. Great writers steal from everybody."
Data cocked his head, considering this idea. "That is excellent advice," he decided. "Few people are more passionate about their fields of study than my shipmates on the Enterprise. I am sure they can provide me with words to pass along to the cadets. Thank you, Toby."
"Don't mention it," Toby said gruffly, waving him off. "If you see my daughter, tell her I'm too tired for more interviews today, would you? Damn things are useless anyway. Who's going to watch old tapes of an old writer anyway?"
"I would encourage you to continue with the digitization process," Data advised him, despite the fact that it was much too late for any such thing. "I believe that it may prove more useful and far reaching than you believe. Computer, save program and end." The man and the sunny room faded away, replaced by the black and gold box of the empty holodeck. Data paused a moment, rearranging his perceptions for the next task, then exited. There was a great deal of work to be done.