A/N: It's probably been a good full year since I last posted a story. This one has been in the works for about four years, and it's my third long fic to focus on Data. This one covers Data's first year at Starfleet Academy, the obstacles that he faced and the friendships that he made. Be prepared for action, romance, prejudice and thrills! As always, I'd really appreciate feedback!

Disclaimer: Star Trek (except my OCs) is not mine

February 2338, Omicron Theta

They peered closer, closer still. What were they seeing? It defied all known science, all common sense, but a dead planet now had life.

"Captain?"

He turned around and looked at his second in command. Perhaps the whole crew was as bewildered, as fascinated, as confused as he himself was.

"Yes, Commander?" Captain Montgomery allowed. "What is your opinion?"

"Surely we aren't going down there?" she started, a look of uncertainty and anxiety falling over her face.

"We have to, Lewis," he said decidedly.

"I know, Sir," she agreed reluctantly. "But this planet... it should not be here."

He could not ignore the foreboding that her tone carried. "I understand your worry, Commander," he said finally. "But we have a duty to do, we have an oath to Starfleet."

"I know that, Sir." She sighed. "However, this is dangerous. Perhaps we should wait for reinforcements?" She hoped for the answer that she wanted.

He seemed to consider it, but in the end shook his head. "There might not be time enough to wait for back up," he explained. "Whatever this signal is, we have to investigate it. We are a science vessel."

She nodded then."Of course, Sir."

"Lewis?" he began firmly. "I am sure that your anxiety is unwarranted. After all, it could very easily be nothing."

Curtly, she nodded her understanding, her acceptance, but she did not want to yield completely. But he was her captain and she could not disobey her superior officer. She could state her opinion, as she had done, but not go against his ruling.

The Captain spread his hands on his knees and nodded to the officer at the Conn. "Enhance scanners," he ordered, about to order an away team to be sent but having changed his mind when being confronted with Commander Lewis' unsure look.

Science officer Johnson obeyed his captain and the ship's state of the art scanners began doing their job.

"Can you put it onto the viewscreen?" Captain Montgomery asked.

Johnson nodded and soon the view of those on the bridge was replaced with a collage of read-outs and maps and diagrams and graphs.

"That looks odd," he observed, a slight frown creasing his brow. "That graph, zoom in on it."

Johnson did so and the image of the graph was larger and more clear.

"Why, sir," Ensign Richards noted. "It looks like a homing beacon."

"It does give off all the specialised signals," the Captain added. "Very regular pattern, no blips or spikes in the readings. Are we sure that it's not faulty?"

"No, sir, I don't think so," Johnson answered. "I checked the scanning systems only yesterday and they were in tiptop shape."

"I do not doubt your ability," the Captain affirmed.

"Perhaps it is a computer of some sort?" Richards suggested. "It gives off all the trademark signals of such. I mean, there is even a slight amount of radiation being emitted. More so than organic material does."

"I'll second that," Johnson said. "There are no signs of respiration, no photosynthesis either. It cannot be organic."

"We can stand around and guess all day," Captain Montgomery said decidedly. "But it will get us no further than if we did nothing." He paused, then gave his crew a quick cursory look. "Lewis, take an away team to the surface."

"Sir, are you sure?" she asked, but she knew that the first officer was supposed to accompany and lead away missions. The captain's life could not be risked. So she set aside her anguish and worry and nodded. "Of course, Captain," she agreed. "Johnson, Vaal, Rogers, you're with me."

Then the science officer, the Vulcan and the second in command of Tactical Operations were relieved of their positions and left the bridge with Commander Lewis.

As Captain Montgomery sat back in his chair, a wave of regret and uncertainty washed over him. The away team rode the turbolift and ended up on level seventeen, where the transporter room was.

The USS Tripoliwas not a particularly big ship and so only had the one transporter room.

When her comrades had joined her on the transporter pads, Lewis gave an order and a nod to the transporter chief. They were sent down to the surface of the planet with nothing but their commbadges, their phasers and their tricorders.

When they had materialised as brilliant flashes of blue light, they checked their equipment.

Lieutenant Johnson glanced over at Lieutenant Rogers and smiled grimly. "At least our scanners were right about the atmosphere."

She nodded warily. "Yes, but it's barely M-Class here. What exactly happened here?"

Johnson shrugged and pondered that over before casting his gaze over to the Commander. "Commander, how can we be sure that... it's gone?"

"That what's gone?" she repeated, holding her tricorder aloft and ready.

"The Crystalline Entity," he replied. "How can we that it isn't hiding?"

She resisted the urge to smile. "I wouldn't worry if I were you, Lieutenant. The Crystalline Entity gives off such a massive power signature, we would have to notice it. It cannot be hiding." She said it to reassure herself as well as him.

Lieutenant Rogers was giggling by the time Johnson got back to her. "Hiding!" She laughed.

He folded his arms defensively. "It's not too far-fetched."

She gave him a wry look.

"It's not," he repeated. "The ground here is utterly white, as is the Crystalline Entity."

"Commander!" the deep voice of the Vulcan officer Vaal called, ricocheting through the cavernous landscape of Omicron Theta.

Commander Lewis adjusted her tricorder then ran over to the Vulcan ensign. "Yes, Ensign, what is it?"

He showed her his tricorder readings. "I do not know what is happening to it," he admitted, the slightest look of confusion on his face.

She took the tricorder and studied it. She called over science officer Johnson.

He jogged over and took a look at the dodgy tricorder for himself. "It's almost as if it's magnetising and demagnetising," he muttered. "But hundreds of times a minute."

"What could do this?" Lieutenant Rogers asked, having caught up with them.

Vaal shook his head. "I would say that the Crystalline Entity's effect on this planet is still not complete."

"I see," Lewis conceded.

"Just look at the flowers," Rogers said, pointing to shrivelled, ice-cold plants. "Or rather, the lack of flowers."

"It's as if the life has been drained out of them," Lewis said.

Johnson paled at the thought. "Where are all the people?" He didn't even want to think of what the answers could be. "I know they're dead, but some have gotten out."

"Really? Who?" Rogers asked him.

"There was a famous scientist," it was Lewis who replied. "He was called Dr Soong. He lived here and then fled when the Crystalline Entity came to this planet. Well, people say that he died, but I don't buy it for one minute. A fellow as clever as him would find a way out."

Meanwhile, Vaal had wandered off and had detached himself from the group. "My tricorder is working now," he shouted back.

The rest of them looked at theirs and sighed sighs of relief. Theirs were working fine too.

He waved to them and they came over. "I think," he began slowly. "The signal that we saw is coming from over here."

Lewis frowned. "It can't be," she sighed. "We had a fix on it when we came down. It originated due East, not West."

"I wish I could say that this is a faulty reading, Commander," Vaal said solemnly. "But I do not think it is."

Rogers nodded slowly. "Hmm. My tricorder says the same as yours." She showed it to the group.

"As does mine," Johnson said.

Lewis thought a moment. "Then we head due West," she said decidedly.

They marched on, slipping every now and then on the almost polar ground. The planet seemed dead, it was dead, for all intents and purposes, but they had a signal. And that signal was coming from somewhere.

As they continued with their jaunt, Rogers started to pay less attention. She yelped and slipped on the ice, falling flat on her face. The crew turned around, roused by her shout.

Johnson went over to her. He was a science officer, not in the medical field, but he knew enough to be of some assistance. He took out his tricorder, hoping that it still worked, then changed it to medical mode. He waved it over his fallen comrade and studied the read-outs.

"You've sprained your ankle," he told her.

She winced as she was helped to her feet by him. "That tricorder must be faulty. It can't just be a sprain." She gave him her tricorder to use.

He shook his head. "Nope. Still just a sprain."

"Lieutenant," Lewis began. "Are you well enough to continue? Do you need to be beamed back?"

"I'm quite all right, Commander, thank you," she said softly. "I am sure I can keep up."

"Good," Commander Lewis said. She and Vaal went on ahead a bit, with Johnson helping Rogers behind them.

Then Vaal bent down and waved his tricorder at something. Lewis took out her phaser just in case.

"It appears to be some sort of door," he observed.

By that time, Johnson and the wounded Rogers had caught up, with the latter resting on a boulder.

Lewis stepped forward. "A door?"

Vaal nodded. "Yes. This whole scenery here seems to be artificial."

Lewis took some tricorder readings. "Yes, it's metal. Aluminium."

"But this section," he said, standing up, pointing out a two by two metre wide part of the wall. "Is thinner. Still aluminium by composition, but not as strong."

"So it is," she said, taking a look at Vaal's readings.

"How do we open it?" Johnson asked. "If anyone's going to build a massive metal complex, they're probably going to have a security code or something."

Vaal considered and continued scanning the complex. He looked at the scans. "I do not think that phaser blasts could penetrate the walls. However, as Lieutenant Johnson said, there must be a password or encryption."

Lewis pondered this. "Any idea of what it could look like?"

Vaal shook his head.

"Hey! Over here!" Rogers called. They looked over at her. "I don't think we will have to think of a code. There is a window, up there." She pointed.

"Very observant, Lieutenant," Lewis said with a smile.

"But the window is quite high up, probably nigh on ten feet," Johnson said, rubbing his chin. "Wait a moment. Vaal, can you give me a leg up?"

He looked confused. "A leg what?"

"Yes," Lewis said in agreement. "What a good idea. Johnson, carry on with your plan, if Ensign Vaal is compliant."

Vaal gave a discreet bow.

"Well, Vaal, Vulcans are much stronger than humans, right?" he asked, to which Vaal nodded. "If you could boost me up, so that I am tall enough, I could probably get in through that window."

"Of course," Vaal consented.

"I'm still not sure about this," Lewis said. "It could be dangerous. We do not know what that signal is."

"There is no other way we could get in there," Johnson said. "We don't know the code, we don't even know where the keypad is. The door could be opened from the inside."

She nodded uncertainly. "Be careful."

He took a deep breath then was hoisted up by Ensign Vaal, who seemed to show no signs of buckling under his weight.

Johnson took out his phaser. "It looks like its been quadruple glazed," he shouted down to then.

"Can you break it?" Lewis asked.

He took out his phaser and struck the glass with the butt of it. It made a dent but glass had weaknesses, so he kept at it. After a time, cracks appeared, which then shattered. He leant back and then peered in through the aperture.

"It looks ordinary," he said to them. "Like a lab, a science laboratory."

"Can you make out what could be the source of the signal?" Lewis called up.

"No, nothing. No lights or sounds. The tricorder still reads something," he replied. "Wait, there's a table not far from the window. I could jump."

"No, Lieutenant," Lewis said. "I can't have two injured crewmen."

"It's really not that far," Johnson argued. "Probably a couple of feet, no more."

She sighed and rubbed her temples. "All right, Lieutenant."

Delicately, Johnson released himself from Vaal and swung his legs over the narrow window, ducking his head. The room was rather dark, but the broken window let some light in.

He gauged his jump and landed on the table. He regained his balance then hopped off the table.

Lewis pressed her commbadge. "Lieutenant, are you all right?" she asked.

No reply.

"Johnson?" she repeated.

No reply.

"Lieutenant?" she called, trying to project her voice to the window.

He dusted his uniform off. "I'm fine, Commander. Communication is difficult here."

"What do you see?" she called back.

He hunted around the room and found a light switch. He pressed it and the lights flickered on.

"Nothing unusual," he shouted back. "But this is all quite advanced. I mean, for its time."

"Can you open this door?" she asked.

"Wait, I've found a computer," he said. "I might be able to command the door to be opened." He sat down at the desk and typed in commands and waited for responses. At least it's in English, he thought.

He tried a few more moves, a few more calculations, then the computer beeped. The doors shifted and opened like garage doors.

On the outside, they had heard the doors opening and approached the entrance.

"The computer system is pretty standard," Johnson told them. "I think I have managed to get it to not start any booby traps."

"Well done," Lewis said with a smile.

"But I still cannot find the signal's source," Johnson said with a frown.

"I think I can," Vaal said as he gestured to a corner of the room.

Lewis went over to him and to the corner.

"Careful, Commander," Rogers warned.

Lewis stepped daintily. She looked at the large storage unit before her. It was a box, titanium lined and two metres tall.

Johnson approached her. "What is it? A bomb?"

"I am detecting no telltale signatures of the sort," Vaal said. "No excess radiation or plasma or explosives."

Johnson frowned and reached up to touch the box. He withdrew his hand instantly.

"What is it?" Lewis asked.

"It's cold," he said, looking at his wounded hand. "Freezing."

Then came a whooshing sound and the lights brightened. A computer monitor came to life and a mechanised voice started blaring warnings.

"It is a bomb," Johnson breathed.

"It can't be," Lewis muttered.

The casing of the box started to slide open, water vapour poured out of it. It opened fully.

They stepped back, aghast.

When the fog had cleared, Lewis waved the others back but stepped forward herself.

She didn't need to take out her tricorder. All that she needed to know was in front of her.

She reached out and touched what was in the box, ignoring the stone cold feel.

"It can't be," Rogers breathed. His eyes were transfixed on the ice-cold figure sleeping in what he would have called a coffin. It was human - or at least made to look human. But it could not be living. Surely it was not a robot, an android?

Vaal even looked vaguely surprised.

Johnson's mouth was wide open. "Sir," he began slowly. "What do we do?"

"We take it out," Lewis said decidedly.

So the away team came together and lowered the figure out of the box, its weight too great for just one of them to bear.

"This is magnificent," Lewis observed, scanning the lifeless, frozen, pale body.

"How do we know it isn't dangerous?" Johnson asked.

"We don't," Lewis replied. "But it's giving out no heat so it must be... off, whatever it is."

"Then let's get it out," Johnson said.

They dragged the body out and into the open.

"I wonder if the commbadges will work," Lewis pondered. She pressed hers and smiled. "All good," she said to her comrades.