This is a work of fan fiction, the characters and universe belong to Paramount etc. except those I have made up myself. This season three TNG story concentrates mostly on Data, and is a romance with a little torture and violence thrown in for good measure. If that turns you off please don't read it. After this story was written Data's emotions, or lack of them became more defined by the broadcast canon so take this as an alternate universe story. This was only the second story I had ever written so even with polishing it is a little raw. Just enjoy it I'm not going to re-write it now. Similarities to my story 'Tin Soldier' are unfortunate but explained by the fact that I wrote 'Tin Soldier' when this was turned down for zine publication owing to perceived 'Mary Sue' aspects of it.(Ya boo to such strict guidelines) I would LOVE comments as this is the first story I have been able to post to ASC.

CHOICES By Rosemary Cullen

*Existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternity's of darkness.* Vladimir Nabokov*

The Ten Forward lounge of the Enterprise, a place of relaxation and enjoyment, a place where the crew could forget the troubles and responsibilities of exploring the known and unknown universe. The relaxed ambience of the place was directly attributable to the attitude fostered by its hostess, the enigmatic being known, at present, simply as Guinan. When pressed Guinan would describe herself as someone who listened, she denied empathic abilities. Her understanding of the foibles of her fellow creatures, and her ready acceptance of their diverse philosophies, meant she was sought after as a sounding board almost more often than Deanna Troi. The ship had just completed another successful mission. A problem that had been plaguing the Federation and its allies had been neutralised, casualties had been minimal. It was a shame that crew moral was so low. Guinan made her way over to a table near the window in the far corner of the bar. Deanna Troi, Beverly Crusher and Geordi le Forge sat round a table in a silent, morose, group. Deanna was playing with the remains of a chocolate sundae, now an unappetising looking puddle. Beverly and Geordi had been drinking steadily for almost an hour, the drinks having little effect beyond deepening the pall of depression that hovered over the table. Guinan pulled up a chair without waiting for an invitation and looked at them all. "Not used to problems that we can't solve are we ?" Deanna looked at her and shook her head. Beverly stated in a slightly slurred voice. "It's all so unnecessary, why does he choose to believe that creature instead of his friends." Deanna put in "When we suggested that Rebecca would need him when she came out of rehab he calmly told us that he could not think of anyone she would want to see less, and before Geordi could stop him, deactivated himself again." "Making it the fourth time in two days that he has taken that option," mumbled Geordi. "I'm tempted to remove that damned switch altogether, except that then he would probably use some even more permanent method of non existence." "If only he were human there would be techniques I could use to get him out of this depression," said Deanna, "but they all use empathic skills and drug therapies that are useless. I just don't know how to give him the will to carry on; and this refusal to stay activated isn't helping any either." Guinan looked at them all, then glanced round the subdued bar. Despite the lack of official announcements, the efficient grapevine that operated on the starship had spread the story of Data and Rebecca's misfortunes leaving an air of melancholy over its usually ebullient crew. The fairy tale was over, the wicked wizard had won, true love didn't triumph after all. All that was left were the prosaic miracles of life in the twenty third century, the lack of magic was being felt by everyone. "Time to take things in hand " thought Guinan. Making her excuses to Geordi, Beverly and Deanna, she left the bar and headed for Data's cabin. Guinan hesitated when she entered Data's quarters, Spot came over and stropped herself against her legs, suggesting plaintively that food might relieve some of the indignity of having a master that refused to interact with her. Guinan, who knew that Beverly had been looking after the cat's nutritional needs, appeased the animal by giving her a good stroke, then carried her into the next room where Data lay on a bed. She sat beside him with the cat on her knee studying his inert form, reviewing the events that , somehow, had led them all to this.

Captains log

*Starfleet has sent us to patrol sector 136/J, which is centered on the Venoby system. The mining of Venoby's extensive asteroid belt for minerals and crystals essential for transporter and warp drive technology has become disrupted by the occurrence of a complex computer virus. The virus generates faults that affect the reliability of robot miners and their support vessels. The random nature of the disruptions is increasingly affecting Venoby's ability to supply Starfleet and others with their unique products. There is also a suspicion that shipments are going missing in transit and finding their way onto the open market where they are being snapped up by questionable opportunists. The situation has now had a direct influence on the Enterprise as, following a routine contact with the Starfleet base on Dewan , a moon of Venoby, a virus affecting general systems has started disrupting our ship's functioning. Commander Data and Lieutenant White are attempting to track down the glitch.*

Rebecca White gave herself a mental shake and firmly curbed her wandering thoughts. She forced herself to concentrate hard on the circuit path she was tracing. The circuit was clean, eliminating it as the source of the turbolift glitch that caused the car to stop five centimetres out of line with the floor. She snapped the panel closed and studied her reflection in the shiny metal. Regular features, brown hair and eyes, thirty years old , ordinary. "Why," she cursed mentally," do I always have to develop crushes on the most unsuitable men." Leaning against the turbolift wall she devoted a few moments to analysing that question. She had a pleasant enough personality, plenty of female and male friends, a career that was going in the direction she wanted, a psyche that had never grown out of falling in love with the completely unattainable. She used to pine after the most handsome, football hero types at school. She went out with ordinary boys who appreciated her sense of humour and weren't any great shakes in the looks department themselves. At the academy she dreamed of the wittiest lecturers, the most popular command cadets, she went out with engineering students like herself. She avoided commitment, none of the very nice men that had been attracted to her had the spark she craved. She was however, very good at her job, troubleshooting faults in complex systems was the sort of challenge that she could usually lose herself in. Bending her thoughts to where the problem could be with the turbolift, she tapped her front teeth with her tricorder and tried to concentrate. " Not the main circuit, not back ups two four or eight, that rules out all the mechanical options, must be a different area of the computer." She started to recall the programming matrixes for the starboard lifts on the small tricorder data screen, but soon realised she would need a better access and headed up the corridor towards the nearest maintenance room, just around the corner. Determined to deal with the turbolift problem, and annoyed at her rebellious emotions, she strode rapidly round the corner, and bounced off the chest of the man her imagination had been toying with all afternoon. Data quickly steadied her by clasping her arm above the elbow. She gasped and blushed furiously. Pulling away from him she rubbed her arm and tried to regain her composure by staring at the carpet. "* I will not embarrass him with my stupidity, I will not.*" Data had been working with her on the turbolift problem for the past two days, systematically eliminating cause after possible cause. He had been attentive and interested in finding out about her, she was blowed if she was going to repay his kindness by gushing at him as her emotions nearly demanded "Rebecca are you all right ?" Data looked at her in concern as she stood immobile in front of him. She smiled ruefully at him and apologised. "I'm sorry I wasn't looking where I was going." Data's expression still hadn't cleared. He remarked. "You look flushed, are you sure you are feeling well?" That made her grin and she started walking towards the maintenance room, forcing Data to fall in step beside her. "I'm fine, Data. Now " she continued briskly all professional, "We have finally eliminated mechanical faults with that last visual inspection. I think we need to have another poke in the computer. What do you think?" Data followed her into the maintenance room and then proceeded to distract her terribly by leaning over her shoulder from behind to view the programming matrixs scrolling down on the room's single viewscreen. Finally she could stand it no longer. She flicked off the screen and swung round in her chair to face him. "Data," she said sharply. He moved back looking remorseful. "I am sorry, " he said, "I was crowding you, I did not mean to invade your personal space ." She shut her eyes and sighed heavily. "No, it wasn't that Data, it's me." She got up and walked around the other side of the desk, trying to put a barrier between them and ease the tension she was feeling. "Do you think of me as your friend ?" she asked him. "I hoped so Rebecca , was I wrong ?" She ran an agitated hand through her hair and avoided his gaze. Finally she said. " No Data, you weren't wrong . It's just, just I am cursed with stupid emotions, inappropriate feelings that get control of me." She walked slowly round to his side of the desk again and stepped up close to him. Reaching out with one finger she gently traced the shape of his cheek. "You are so beautiful you know, I enjoy just looking at you. In fact," tears rose in her eyes and blurred his features to her, she turned away from him and stepped towards the door blinking rapidly. "I'm completely infatuated with you. I'm sorry." She sniffed and ran an unladylike hand across her nose, "I wasn't going to do this to you, I'm really sorry." Data was in a quandary, he didn't like seeing someone he thought highly of so distressed, but wasn't sure how to act for the best. Recalling a recent conversation with Guinan, where she had chided him for analysing every situation to such a degree he lost the opportunity for action, he decided to go with his first impulse. He closed the gap between them and reached for the hand Rebecca did not have over her face, gently he turned her to face him. " Please do not apologise. I respect emotions even though I do not feel them in a human way myself." Rebecca dropped her head but did not pull away. Emboldened by her silence Data continued. "I am flattered that you find me aesthetically pleasing, that is hardly an universal reaction." She smiled slightly, and further encouraged Data asked. "What do you want me to do? I do not want to upset you." A grin crept up on Rebecca at that last question. She raised her eyes to meet his again, some of her vitality returning. "Data what I really want you to do would shock you. However since we are living in the real world and not my fantasy life how about we just start again and try to check those matrixes. I promise I will keep my hands off you if you promise to keep my idiocy to yourself." She squeezed his hand then, disengaging herself headed back to the computer. Data looked at the back of her head for a while, trying to sort out the nuances of the situation. He had become aware over the last two days that he enjoyed being in Rebecca's company and had started to look for opportunities to extend his knowledge of her personality by spending more time with her. He felt that his knowledge of human relationships advanced only when he risked trying something new, perhaps this was the opportunity he had been waiting for to try a couple relationship again. Closing the gap again he hitched a hip on the desk beside Rebecca and waited for her to look up, which she did hesitantly. Before the silence could start to get uncomfortable Data asked. " Would you come with me to Ten Forward. When we have finished here." She looked at him uncertainly, not sure what he was driving at. "I really didn't mean to put any obligations on to you. " She said softly, hope warring against common sense in her heart. He leaned across and traced a very gentle finger down her cheek." I do not recall accepting any. I just would like to talk, and perhaps explain some things that have happened to me in the past. In relationships." She reached up and rested her fingers on the spot recently vacated by his fingers and sighed. "Yep, I would really like that." She grinned at him mischievously. "In fact you may be amazed at how quickly we could finish here." She turned back briskly to the keyboard and started accessing suspect matrix patterns again, then looked at him with a mock frown. " And no more on my follies until we find the glitch. Deal? ?" Data nodded back briefly "Deal."

Guinan eventually shooed Spot off her lap and, reaching over Data's body pressed the spot between his ribs that concealed his on /off switch. She held both his hands as he returned to awareness and sat silently regarding him. Data's eyes snapped open as his programming was reactivated and for a moment he met her gaze, before turning his head away and saying in a defeated voice. " I suppose a visit from you was inevitable. Why will no one respect my desire to not be ?" " Probably because you have that desire Data. We need to understand before we can let you go ." Data turned his head to look at her again. "If I told you, so that you knew, so that you understood. So that you saw how futile I feel, existing on, and on and on. Never being able to risk growing or changing, would you let me go then? And get the others to leave me alone." Guinan almost flinched from the desolation in his voice. "If you can convince me that everything is as hopeless as you say, I'll turn you off myself Data. Give it your best shot, because, if it doesn't convince me, I'll make you stay activated and teach you how to carry on, pain and all, and you'll probably hate me for it." And then she listened.

Tracking down the subtle virus affecting the starboard turbolifts eventually took Rebecca and Data another three hours. Rebecca levered herself out of her seat and indulged in a massive stretch, eyeing the ease with which Data moved with undisguised jealousy. "Do I ever envy you your physiology. I feel about one hundred and nine years old." Her stomach chose that time to rumble loudly causing her to clap a hand over her mouth and shut her eyes with embarrassment. "Food might be in order for you too." Data remarked wryly," would you like to accompany me to Ten Forward now ?" "And here's me hoping to make such a romantic impression on you," Rebecca grinned at him, " come on let me at food before you start looking tasty." As they sat themselves down at a free table near the viewport Guinan did her materialising act and, answering Rebecca's query, recommended the roast, which about fitted the hole in Rebecca's middle. She fell to as soon as her meal arrived, and Data observed her enthusiasm with wistful awe, quietly shedding a bread roll and taking occasional sips of the synthale Guinan had brought him, while holding up his end of Rebecca's conversation about the possible origin of the virus they had tracked down. He considered how to approach the subject of starting some sort of intimate relationship with Rebecca, without making a fool out of either of them, with most of the rest of his considerable intellect. Guinan appeared at their table again just as Rebecca was finishing her meal and, as Rebecca was occupied with giving her plate to one of the serving people, she bent down and said softly in Data's ear. " Quit analysing, I can see you doing it from over there," she indicated the bar. Guinan saw Rebecca looking curiously at her and straightening up said. "May I borrow Data for a couple of minutes ?" Seeing Rebecca's surprised nod Guinan almost lifted Data out of his chair and marched him over to the bar. She began mixing two drinks, the contents changing colour with each new ingredient she added, and spoke urgently to Data as she mixed. "Now you listen, she really likes you doesn't she ?" Data blinked and nodded. "And you are considering this relationship business again aren't you?" Data opened his mouth to reply but Guinan got in first. "Now don't let me see you mess this one up by using those stupid phoney programmes you accessed last time." Data raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth again to try to defend himself. Guinan never gave him a chance, she thrust the drinks into his hands and sent him back to the table with. "You just be yourself, and take your lead from her. Scat." And then she was gone to serve another customer down the bar. Data looked after her blankly for a moment then deliberately shut his mouth, gave his head a small shake, to check that all his circuitry was still in place, and headed back to Rebecca who said. "What was all that about ?" Data looked at her for a second then gave up. "I have not the faintest idea. " He said and took a long swallow of his drink. Rebecca studied him as he sat across the table from her and tried to work out the best way to broach the subject of their brief discussion that afternoon. Mentally bracing herself she finally asked. "Data, you said you were going to tell me about yourself, and relationships." Data glanced up from his contemplation of the drink on the table in front of him. He searched her face for a second then said . " You know I do not feel emotions the way human's do?" She nodded. "I am coming to the conclusion however, that I do have an emotional equivalent in my programming. It is hard to access and easy to ignore, but, if I analyse my reactions to events that cause my friends to express an emotion, I often find I have had a similar experience, but not in the overwhelming way they describe. It is as if my access to this part of myself is muffled. I wonder if I practice putting myself in situations that elicit powerful emotions in those I would like to emulate; if I might get better at recognising and experiencing them myself." He looked wistfully at Rebecca, " I feel without access to emotions I miss out on many of the nuances of being alive." Rebecca looked at him consideringly. "You seem pretty alive to me Data, and you already choose to practice kindness and consideration towards your friends and acquaintances. Tell me, does it matter to you how other people treat you ?" Data thought for a moment or two, recalling his reactions when people had not treated him as he thought he deserved. People as diverse in nature as Captain Picard, Kate Pulaski and Bruce Maddox had been taken to task by him for not fully recognising his sentience. He was forced to admit that it did matter to him how people thought and acted. "Well, " remarked Rebecca "If you have enough feeling to value yourself I don't see why you couldn't learn to value someone else as highly. Why don't you let me help? After all, as I have already told you my emotions are fully engaged already with no encouragement from you. It could be a lot of fun teaching you how to love." Data smiled at her pleased by her matter of fact manner. "I have discovered that I am not very good at relating to women in an intimate manner, I seem to get all the signals wrong." "Well there's something I could teach you for a start." She leered at him outrageously, but modified her expression into one of thoughtful awe as she contemplated just what she was attempting. Holding his gaze she reached across the table and caught hold of both of his hands in hers. With the deepest sincerity she could project she said. " We could have an agreement to be friends Data. Despite all the carry on about love and all, relationships are really supposed to be about friendship you know. What I am feeling will pass you see, it's lovely while it lasts but it has happened to me often enough to know it goes sooner or later. But a relationship that is based on mutual respect and friendship, it can last a lifetime. Do you think you can risk it ?" Data moved his fingers so they enclosed her hands rather than the other way round and, holding her gaze said. "I think so. Although experience has taught me that I will often get things wrong." " Thank God you're not perfect, " she said with feeling. Getting to her feet, she pulled him up too and, tucking her hand in the crook of his arm, whispered into his ear. "Now I want you to take me to bed and let me see if you are gold all over." Data looked down at her for a moment and then smiled and said. "Well I think I can manage that." and steered her out the door.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard noticed the perfect turbolift alignment on his way to the bridge for duty the next morning. He was glad, but not surprised, that the combined talents of Data and Rebecca White had solved the problem, and wondered if they had managed to glean any clues to the origin of the problem in the process. As the doors swished open he quickly scanned the bridge and felt his usual gratification at the quiet efficiency with which his crew managed the ship. He strode down the ramp and, acknowledging Will Riker's presence in the command chair, entered his ready room. Almost as soon as he had seated himself his com badge chirped and the communication officer informed him of an incoming call from the mining base on Demos. "I'll take it in here ensign," he replied " and ask Commander Riker to join me please." Will Riker entered as the desk view screen came to life revealing the porcine face of a Tellerite, who was looking even more aggressive and flustered than was usual for her unsubtle species. "Picard" the Tellerite grunted without preamble, "Our system failure is becoming dangerous. What is keeping you ?" Picard struggled not to get annoyed by the abrupt attitude taken by the mining co-ordinator, not only was it typical of her species but also he could see by flickering illumination and proliferation of red lights on the console behind her that the situation on Demos was becoming acute. "Our e.t.a. is," he glanced at Riker who said, sotto voice, "thirty minutes Sir." "Within the hour, Coordinator, we have fixed the contamination of our systems so will be able to help you. We will signal you when we are in transporter range. Picard out." Picard signed off abruptly, knowing that Tellerites appreciated both brevity and terseness, courtesy being regarded as a weakness. "Report please Number One." Picard leaned back in his chair and clasping his hands on the desk gave his first officer his undivided attention. Riker also leaned back in his chair and gathering his thoughts reported. "Commander Data and Lieutenant White managed to isolate, neutralise and protect the ship's systems from the virus, late last night Sir. Data sent a full report to Engineering and Ops earlier this morning." An involuntary grin crept across Riker's face as the mention of Data and Rebecca's names brought to mind the hot gossip of the minute that had been circulating on the bridge just prior to Picard's arrival. "Care to share the joke ?" demanded Picard. Flustered Riker temporised ." Just scuttlebut Sir, " He paused giving Picard a chance to back off, but he wasn't going to escape that easily. "I would like to know Will. " Picard demanded, a dangerous glint in his eye. Riker gave in and reported the current tale of Rebecca and Data leaving Ten Forward together looking 'attached'. Picard hurrumphed, and ran a hand over his head. "Well at least we can be grateful that we were left out of the decision making process this time I suppose." He left the subject there but thought, with a sinking feeling ,that it probably wouldn't be the last time he heard about it. "Organise an away team for Demos Number One, and make sure all personnel are well briefed about dealing with Tellerites. I do not want any incidents."

As Riker, Data, a full medical team and engineering support materialised on Demos, across the system, masked by a dense asteroid, a deceptively small, very powerful and covertly armed scout ship shifted position and intercepted a barge full of minerals heading in blind robot obedience towards Venoby. With careless ease the automatic defences and inbuilt navigation commands were subverted, a new navigation program installed, and the barge sent to completely different co-ordinates where a Ferengi ship would be waiting for it. At the controls of the scout Data's only kin, the android known as Lore, bent his attention upon the Enterprise, having completed the minor task he had set up to boost his flagging bank balance. Preying on robot mining drones was boring, if lucrative. The peaceful state of the Federation was boring. The predictable moves the authorities were taking to counter the frauds and manipulations that made him very wealthy and powerful were irritating in the extreme. But above and beyond all that the single most boring aspect of his existence was his failure to come up with some way to destroy his hated brother Data. Simple physical destruction was not his aim, that would be too easy and mostly what he craved was a challenge. He wanted a way to remove Data's will to live, his infuriating goodness and innocence offended his jaded sensibilities. Accessing several panels on his control board he made sure that the bait he had set in the computer systems on Demos had been taken by the Enterprise. Gratified by his eavesdropping he cloaked his ship and moved to a position near the orbiting ship and continued monitoring communications. Finally he heard what he had been waiting for. Data was going to enter the computer core at the base physically to reset its parameters, and he was going alone as the core was kept in a vacuum. "Perfect." Lore quickly moved his ship so it was hidden from the Enterprise by the bulk of the moon, de-cloaked, then beamed into the core chamber a cloud of microscopic surveillance nanites he had designed expressly for this purpose. As Data entered the core chamber the nanites were attracted to the electrical field he generated and nestled into various parts of his anatomy. Back on board the scout Lore checked the information link he had initiated, and then cloaking again, took up position behind the Enterprise.

All he had to do now was wait and maintain surveillance. He had a machine's patience, and, in the end, he knew he would be rewarded with a lever to use against Data. A vicious smile spread across his face, for a while he would not be bored.

The Enterprise's automatic filters were no match for the warped genius that had designed the minute surveillance devices. The technician that was on duty as the away team beamed back from Demos didn't even notice the faint ghosting that surrounded Data's image stream as he returned. The nanites lodged indiscriminately in parts of Data's clothing and skin, most being destroyed as Data changed uniforms and attended to personal hygiene over the next couple of days. Enough remained viable, shed onto surfaces in Data's quarters and in the places he frequented most often, to give his voyeuristic brother a fragmentary record of his activities over the next eight weeks. As he suspected he found levers aplenty and bided his time for an opportunity to use them.

Rebecca woke to find herself alone in her bed, she stretched contentedly, her body remembering its satisfaction, and peered round her darkened room to see if Data was still with her. She called his name softly and was rewarded by seeing a lean shadow rise from one of her chairs and come to sit in the edge of the bed. Hello," he said, reaching a hand out to touch her hair. "Hi yourself. Lie down and let me cuddle you." She suggested sleepily. Data obediently lay on the bed, he had put on his trousers when he had got up earlier but remained bare chested. Rebecca pillowed her head on his chest for a long moment then remarked. "No heartbeat, that still seems strange, you feel so nice to touch." She smiled up at him, then noticing his abstracted expression, propped herself up on one elbow and looked at him seriously. "Would you like to tell me what is bothering you?" Data finally centred his attention on her, he looked at her silently for a moment then smiled as he said. "I believe the correct response to give when the thoughts cannot be verbalised is 'nothing'. Am I right ?" "You," she said ruefully, " are getting better at this. Two whole months of keeping me company and you've learnt to be evasive." She rolled on to her back and considered the ceiling for a while. Then turning her head to look at him sideways said. "Are you getting bored with this relationship. I know I am pretty ordinary, I can't be a very stimulating partner for someone of your capabilities." Data jerked his head slightly in a mannerism Rebecca had come to associate with him accessing information. "Has my behaviour led you to believe that I no longer wish to associate with you ?" He held her gaze but she found she could not hold his and contemplated the ceiling again. "What do you think about sex ?" She continued in a typical non sequetor. "I mean do you enjoy it or do you indulge just to please me ? I am always the one who initiates our sessions." Data was starting to feel confused, a fairly typical state for him when lost in one of Rebecca's emotional tangles. He looked at her, appreciating the aesthetics of dimly lit female, comparing her briefly to several files of artistic renditions of nudes stored in his memory. He found, as usual, reality held nuances the artists had not captured. He tried to understand what it was that she was asking of him, and whether he was capable of answering whatever need it was that was driving her. "Rebecca," he said softly. When she wouldn't turn to look at him he reached over with a finger and turned her head to him so she was forced to meet his gaze. "Rebecca this is silly, you know I do not feel desire as you do." He put a finger on her lips to stop her from replying as her indrawn breath had suggested, "but," he leaned a little closer, "when you initiate our 'sessions' as you call them, I let my erotic programming take over and," he bent over and lightly kissed her lips, then drawing back a little he finished, "I find accessing that programming with you very satisfying indeed." "Good." She said pleased, and throwing an arm over his middle she snuggled into his side and shortly went back to sleep. Leaving him bewildered, as usual, and wondering how he had managed to come up with the right answer. When she was properly asleep and had rolled away from him again, he slid out of bed and quietly dressing left her quarters to return to his own. Early in their relationship they had realised that living together did not work, they needed their own space, especially as Data did not sleep. He had got in the habit of spending some of the night in her rooms, being close to her even when she was asleep gave him a feeling of completeness that he was revelling in, it being the nearest to an emotion he had managed so far. As he walked back to his quarters he reviewed the difference Rebecca had made to his life. Although he had many subroutines devoted solely to anticipating things that would please her, he found himself hard pressed to keep up with her imagination. Only last week she had amazed him by managing to design a holodeck program that reproduced living as a silicon based lifeform would experience it after a chance remark of his on the difficulty of seeing life from a Horta's point of view. She had scoured data bases to present him with odd beauties and amazing music from dozens of different cultures, and had even managed to get them tickets to a concert that he had mentioned once that he would like to hear. He mused to himself as he entered his rooms that being the recipient of someone's love was greatly to be appreciated. Spot jumped on his lap as he sat at his work desk, and he stroked her absently as he pondered the problem that had been occupying his thoughts earlier in the evening. The concert they had attended had been held on a Starbase the Enterprise had been docked at for a scheduled crew rotation. While they had been waiting to go in he had caught a glimpse of a face in the crowd that had been nagging at him ever since. He set his internal diagnostics to replay an exact copy of the incident from his memory and sat back to review the experience. A couple of seconds later his eyes snapped open and a frown creased his usually clear brow. It had been the face he thought it was, his own face in reflection, that of his brother Lore, his skin tone adjusted to Caucasian normal, the intentness of his gaze alerting Data to his scrutiny of himself and Rebecca. He felt it ironic that his bad penny brother should turn up now of all times. He would very much like to have access to the stolen emotion chip his creator had designed for him. He realised that thinking about the event had brought him as close to anger as he was able to get and, agitated, he got up and paced up and down his cabin trying to work out some plan of action.

Will Riker studied the back of Data's head as the android worked quietly at his Ops console and pondered the ironies of life. Guinan was cleaning up on her backing of Data and Rebecca's long term prospects as a couple. She had been the only member of the crew who had wagered on them for the long haul. Will thought of the conversation he had had with Deanna over whether anyone should have a word with Rebecca about the unlikely liaison she had entered into. He hid a grin in his beard as he recalled her retort that he was turning into an interfering old biddy and that he was to mind his own business unless either party showed problems with their work. Riker had trouble imagining anything that would interfere with Data's concentration, and Lieutenant White's on the job problem solving appeared to be enhanced by her quite visible happiness.

Data chose that time to excuse himself from the bridge, citing some business in engineering, and the Enterprise's first officer was left to contemplate the current ship's mission . The diversion of minerals and crystals to illicit suppliers in this section appeared to be proceeding apace, although no more instances of odd computer viruses had cropped up. Starfleet intelligence had drawn a blank on the origin of the pirated resources and the Enterprise was requested to keep a watchful eye out for unusual happenings, while completing a couple of milk run equipment and personnel transfers to outlying scientific bases scattered along the perimeter of a dense nebulosity that made travel in anything much less shielded than a Galaxy Class starship extremely hazardous. Many of the ship's departments were using the break in routine to run oft' put off maintenance and repair sequences. Sciences particularly were taking the opportunity to recalibrate the sensor arrays and try to get rid of some annoying ghosts and glitches that were reducing efficiencies. Riker assumed that the recalibration was what had called Data away.

Data was working in engineering on the table console liaising with Rebecca and several other engineers positioned in Jefferies tubes throughout the ship. Data had felt some surprise of Geordi's absence from the working team. Fiddly re-calibration of technically difficult equipment usually drew him like a moth to a flame. Thinking back Data could not recall having a conversation with Geordi for several weeks and made a mental note to find him today as he wanted his advice on what to do about Lore. "There, has that got rid of the ghosties Data ?" Rebecca's disembodied voice interrupted his train of thought. "All except the reflection on the e.m. band Lieutenant," Data replied formally, "send Ensign Chiswell down here again and move to tube 118b. We will try to track down the last anomaly in fifteen minutes. The rest of the team may stand down now." "Slave driver " came the non regulation reply, causing a few smiles on the faces of the technicians manning other positions in engineering. "Will do Commander, contact again 10.00 hrs from tube 118b White out." Data took a couple of minutes to reset the work table and inform the bridge of progress, then went in search of Geordi. Geordi was immersed in administration at his desk and looked up in surprise as Data entered his office. He subjected Data to a hard look before saying. " Been let off your leash have you ?" Data was taken aback, not expecting attack from a person who had always welcomed him in the past. He was silent for a while accessing the reference and trying to understand why Geordi was referring to him as if he had been tethered. "Geordi, " he said in a puzzled voice. "Have I upset you somehow ?" Geordi looked up at him again, unable to resist his air of puzzled incomprehension as usual. " You really don't know, do you ?" Data replied simply "Know what Geordi ?" "Oh sit down will you, " grumped Geordi. "You will have me feeling bad in a minute. I can never stay mad at you when I see you face to face." Data sat opposite him looking anxious, his reason for seeking Geordi out momentarily forgotten. "Geordi please tell me, what have I done that has upset you so much." Geordi swung away from him to examine some charts on the wall, and said in a strained voice. "I had thought that Rebecca White and I might make a good partnership. We got on very well and things were looking quite promising. Until you came on the scene and swept her off her feet. And then to add insult to injury you two have made such a seamless couple for the last two months none of your friends have seen either of you except in the distance for weeks. It is as if the two of you are living on some other planet and the people that care for the two of you don't get a look in." Data sat opposite him quite dumbfounded. Just as he thought he was getting the hang of some aspect of human relationships, some other unexpected thing came round to trip him up. He looked at Geordi who had finally turned back to him and said tonelessly. "I am sorry if we have been causing you pain Geordi." He rose and crossed swiftly to the door, pausing before he left to add. "I will try to act in a more sociable manner in future, " and with that he was gone. Geordi dropped his head in his hands and berated himself. "Yeah really well done Geordi, he comes to talk to you, for the first time in a month, and you treat him to a jealous outburst a two year old would be proud of." He got up and went to the door of his office with the intention of calling his friend back to apologise. Data was leaning over the table console resetting some systems and Geordi started to walk over to him, only to be stopped in his tracks by an anguished cry that echoed over the 'com system simultaneously with the red alert siren coming on line. "No, no, Data no, Help someo....." The transmission cut off as suddenly as it had begun. Geordi saw Data activate his 'com badge with an eerie calm, and request in his normal even tone. "Computer location of Lieutenant White." " Lieutenant White is no longer on the Enterprise. " Reported the computer. Geordi saw Data close his eyes for a second and the hand he did not have poised over his 'com badge closed into a fist. Geordi quickly closed the gap between them and asked urgently. "Data?" "I have made a terrible mistake Geordi," Data said, turning from the console and starting for the door. Before he got close enough to activate the door mechanism there was a ripping sound and, with a loud a groan, the Enterprise bucked beneath them. Sparks spilled from various panels and an explosion threw an engineer over the table knocking Geordi from his feet. Scrambling out from under the unfortunate crewman, Geordi quickly checked for a pulse whilst simultaneously activating his com badge and calling out . "Bridge what the hell is going on? " He noticed Data bracing himself against a console and working at the controls. "Data what's happening?" "The warp field has suffered a partial collapse, containment breach in two minutes if I cannot get these secondaries on line." Geordi left the crewman's side and fought his way over to Data's side, coughing in the acrid smoke billowing from the ruined panel. Without comment he lent his skills to Data's, cross linking systems and instinctively finding alternative routes for the power surges that were threatening their existence. "Breach contained, shutting down all unnecessary power drains, emergency impulse and shields only drawing from main coil. " Data finally had time to look at Geordi, who clapped him on the shoulder then turned from the panel, coughing again, to locate and evacuate the engineering crew.

"Bridge to Engineering, status please?" The Captain's well modulated tones sent a feeling of reassurance through the confusion Geordi was feeling. He briefly reported the damage control measures they had implemented and asked again what had happened. "It appears that a ship has been following us in cloaked mode. The disturbance was caused by it going into warp within our warp field. As soon as you are free we need a senior officers meeting to discuss this." Data chipped in. " Captain, Rebecca White is no longer on the Enterprise, I think she has been kidnapped by the occupants of that ship." A silence greeted that unwelcome piece of news for a moment, then the Captain continued. "Briefing in the observation lounge as soon as possible gentlemen. I want to know what is going on. Picard out."

Data, Geordi and the able bodied members of Geordi's crew, helped the Med team sent down by Beverly to stabilise and evacuate the injured engineers, then they spent an hour planning out and starting to implement a repair schedule to get the Enterprise spaceworthy enough to limp to the nearest spacedock. Major repairs were going to be needed as the stress of the unbalanced warp coils had actually twisted the port warp nacelle, necessitating a complete shut down of systems on that side of the ship.

It was a grim group that met in the observation lounge later in the day. Captain Picard sat at the head of the table and subjected his command crew to some intense scrutiny. Will Riker sat to his right, he still hadn't got down to sick bay to have the cut over his eye seen too and the temporary bandage a medic had put on it lent him a somewhat rakish air. The rest of the members of the meeting showed no visible scars from the shaking up they had endured, but Picard had noticed Beverly favouring her leg as she entered the Observation lounge and made a mental note to make sure she looked after herself as soon as she was freed from the acute patch ups she had been working on. Worf glowered at the table near the end of the room. He took the fact that he had not noticed the following ship and not been able to avert the subsequent disasters personally. He had in fact offered Picard his resignation as head of security owing to this supposed dereliction of duty. Picard had been less than patient with him, snapping in his best command style that if he wanted a scape goat he would be sure to bare Worf's confessions in mind and now would he kindly get back to work. Worf had exited his office swiftly and left Picard to worry about the member of the crew who had been most involved in the events of the day, namely Data, who sat on the left hand side of the table, between Geordi and Beverly. It was impossible to read from his face what was going on in his mind, and Picard knew he would deny any expressions of sympathy or concern about his emotional state as inappropriate. However there was no doubt that the events of the day had affected him most profoundly. "Right, " Picard called the meeting to order, " Geordi report please." Geordi rose and went to the screen in the wall where he called up various diagrams and schematics to show the current condition of the once proud starship. He concluded by giving an estimated three week timetable of repairs that could be carried out on board as the Enterprise limped to Starbase 17 for the major nacelle repair. Deanna had been studying Data covertly as the other crew members attended to Geordi's presentation and she was the only one who caught the wince that passed briefly over his face at the mention of the time delay. His face returned to its usual passivity as Geordi wound up, and there was no trace of the disturbance as he took his place at the head of the table to report on his suspicions about the nature of the adversary they faced. He told them about how puzzled he had been about the origin of the computer virus that had infected the Enterprise's systems and disrupted functioning on Demos. How the suspicion that it could have only originated with someone with a similar global grasp of computer functioning as his own, had been boosted by his glimpse of his brother at the concert Rebecca and he had attended a couple of weeks ago. Some private research he had then initiated had brought up some interesting correlates with the sort of piracy that was plaguing the mineral trade and a pattern of his brothers' activities was starting to become clear. He explained that he was sure it was his brother that had taken Rebecca, her last contact seemed to confirm it with her mention of his name when he was actually in Engineering. He did not speculate on what Lore's motive might be, and had no ideas about where he might have taken her. He sat back in his seat as impassive as if he had just delivered a report on the state of the ship's replicators and waited for questions. "Why did you not bring your suspicions to my notice? " Worf spoke up aggressively, "perhaps this debacle could have been avoided." Data turned his mild gaze on him but his reply shocked the people listening to it. " That question, and the possibility that I am responsible for harm coming to Rebecca, occupies nearly fifty percent of my current mental functioning, Worf. All I seem able to do is to run, again and again, scenarios that may have come to a different conclusion than the one we currently face. If that constitutes remorse, then I feel it. If it constitutes guilt then I am guilty. But all this mental activity is perfectly useless in the practical matter of how I am going to help retrieve her. If you could help me with that then I think I may even manage to feel gratitude for you, if that would make you feel better?" "Data!" Deanna and the Captain exclaimed in tandem, shocked by his outburst. They exchanged glances and Deanna ceded the captain the floor. Picard looked at Data as he sat, his gaze firmly fixed on the table, avoiding everyone's eye. "Data, " he said eventually in a rather gentle tone. Data looked up and met his concerned expression with one determinedly bland. "We will be giving the search for Lieutenant White our highest priority. You also may give it whatever time you can, but you must see that expediting our return to effect repairs has to come first. Otherwise we will be of no use to her at all." Data held his gaze for a moment, then nodded once and returned to his examination of the table top. Picard exchanged a significant look with Deanna and then let the matter drop, requesting Beverly Crusher's medical report. The meeting concluded shortly afterwards and Deanna made it her business to corner Data for a serious talk.

Beverly Crusher finished the first section of her exercise routine, pleased with the progress her sore hip joint was making. She wiped a hand towel over her hot face and then broke into a welcoming smile as she greeted Deanna who was joining her. Late as usual. For some time the two women concentrated on some serious aerobic exercise but later, as they were warming down by doing some tandem stretches Beverly let her curiosity get the better of her and asked Deanna how Data was getting on in the absence of Rebecca. "Oh, I don't know Beverly, he's shut up like a clam, speaks when he's spoken too, does his work and, I suspect, suffers." "Don't you know ?" Beverly asked curiously. " No, he's as empathically blank to me as he ever was, but something has changed in him, and if he was human I'd guess that he was hurting. It is as if he is giving his daily life the smallest amount of attention he can get away with. I can't get him to talk about it, nor can Geordi and I know even the Captain has had a go at trying to pierce his reserve, all he managed to do was to lose his own temper, counselling was never one of Jean-Luc's strengths." The two women shared a smile over one of their rare opportunities to feel a little superior to their usually awesomely competent Captain.

The Enterprise limped into dry dock facilities eventually, two and a half days ahead of schedule, the time saving due almost entirely to Data's inspired tuning of the starboard nacelle, which was now operating at an efficiency value somewhere off the scale. Geordi had worked nearly as tirelessly, alongside Data, but, despite this intimate association, felt that he had not got through to him at all. Data resisted all attempts by his friends to talk him through his feelings, remaining polite but isolated. It was as if he had drawn a cloak of android reserve about his shoulders, or as if he could no longer bear to risk the chance of being close to another person. The demise of the open trusting person they once knew was a matter of grief to all of his friends, from Picard to Guinan. Picard was in his customary seat behind his desk in his ready room, once again tackling the pile of paperwork that always threatened to overwhelm him, despite his best delegation and the top efficiency of his command crew. His door chimes sounded and he called for the person to enter, whilst indulging in a restrained stretch to ease his cramped shoulders. The door opened to admit a grim looking Will Riker who was holding a info pad and had a ' don't mess with me expression ' on his face. Picard raised an eyebrow at his thunderous demeanour and indicated the chair opposite, which Will thumped into with scant grace. "Well are you going to tell me, or do you want me to guess." Picard tried for a little lightness. Riker looked at him and shook his head slowly, "No sir, I just, " he paused, pressing his lips together and looking up at the ceiling. "I just thought you might like to know that Data has called in the leave owing him, and is about to leave the ship for what it says in here," he waved the info screen on which a requisition form could be seen outlined, " is an extended holiday. " "Worf's investigations not progressing quickly enough for him ?" Picard commented. Riker sighed explosively and jumped up out of his chair to pace an agitated track in front of Picard's desk. "Who knows sir ? He will not talk to anyone about what has happened. He won't explain what he is going to do on this 'holiday', and he won't accept any help in whatever it is he has planned. Believe me, sir, " he added with emphasis. "I have asked." "Well I am not prepared to have him slinking off into the night alone either Will. It is time I had another talk to him, and I think this time I am going to get some answers. Computer, location of lieutenant Commander Data ?" " Lieutenant Commander Data is in his quarters." "Thank you. Will, would you care to come along? I am going to' beard the lion in his den' so to speak." "No, I think you will have more chance of talking some sense to him alone, Sir. I hope you have better luck than I did." Picard gave him a significant look as he left, "So do I Number One. So do I."

Data looked up in surprise as his door chimes sounded. Carefully saving the program he had running on his desk console he activated the door release allowing his visitor to enter. As he saw the Captain he rose to his feet an alert expression on his face. Studying him for a moment as he stood there Picard thought he looked like some barely tamed wild thing, poised on the edge of flight or fight, as inscrutable as a cat. "Data, " said Picard in a slightly weary voice," we need to talk. May I sit?" Data indicated the sofa and they sat on opposite ends, regarding each other steadily for a while. "Captain ?" Data said at last. "What's all this about, Data?" Picard waved the info screen . "A holiday, now, you. It doesn't add up. How about the truth?" For a dreadful moment Picard thought that he was going to meet the same stone wall that had been so firmly in place over the last three weeks, Data stared at him impassively for what seemed like an eternity. Then something seemed to break, he looked away and ran a hand through his hair in a gesture so human it almost made Picard smile. "Captain, I." He paused and looked down at his lap where he carefully brought his fingertips together. "I am not functioning very well at present." "Could you explain that a bit more, Data? We have all noticed that you are finding life difficult, but we don't understand entirely what your problem is?" "It is the way I went about setting up my subroutines for this relationship. Sir. In the past I have never let my personal experiments encroach on my primary programming, but Rebecca gave me so much of herself, was so keen for me to reach my goal of experiencing emotion, that I found myself annexing more and more of my basic routines, until she was underneath nearly every thought. " He turned his head and fixed Picard with a look of steely intent, as if daring him to contradict. Picard held his peace, and almost his breath, his focus on Data was so intense. Data continued, "I have to do something to find her. The continued dead ends Worf and I have been exploring are wasting time. I have to go out there and look, do whatever it takes. But I must do something. " "I agree, " Picard stated. Data looked startled and Picard smiled at him for a second before continuing. "But not alone Data, not alone. You have friends on the Enterprise who are dying to help, despite your best efforts to shut them out. You have admitted that you are not functioning up to your usual standard. You might be interested to know that the process that you have just described matches very closely the process many humans go through at the beginning of a relationship. It is called falling in love." Picard smiled again at the expression on Data's face. "Please take my advice, make up a team. Then go out there and find her. I have unbounded confidence in you Data. I know you will succeed. But take some help and support. And that's an order."

Rebecca White was in hell. She was not often conscious enough to realise the particular nature of her torment but a minute, stubborn part of her kept reminding her that this was hell, she had died and this was her punishment. It was going to go on for ever and ever, just as the preachers had said it would. She drifted off again remembering. Her parents had taken her to several Christian revival meetings when she was very young. She remembered the atmosphere, all the big people with fervent looks on their faces, the singing that went on and on, the huge scary preacher who boomed on in the front, pointing his finger, pointing at her. Hell was eternal torment for the unbeliever, worst for those who heard the message and still turned away. Believe and be saved. Even that small she had rebelled. She did not need saving she was okay as she was. And now she was being punished. In hell. Crude pain brought her back to her surroundings, the once beloved and now despised face swam back into focus. Always that face, distorted now with a sneer. "Back with me again dear, I'm pleased, it is so boring when you are not here." He moved out of her line of sight for just long enough to worry her about what he might be doing then popped back into view with yet another hypo full of drugs in hand. "Time for our lessons. He's coming you see, and I want you to be quite ready for him. You are my little work of art, the live bait and the hook all in one. I am going to enjoy his reaction when he sees you, not so pretty now, but so interesting." Rebecca was past caring about his taunting, numb physically and mentally from his constant assaults. The voice she heard screaming as he started didn't even sound like hers any more, she was gone, in hell.

Deanna Troi watched the two men in the front of the shuttle craft, and smiled to herself at the irony of a rescue party made up in the end completely of non humans. Worf and Data piloted the small craft with unconscious ease, and minimal chatter. She manned the sensor and communications console scanning space for any trace of the distinctive e.m. ghost that Lore's ship left even when cloaked. She also was able to spread her empathic sense widely here in space without risking the overload she would experience amongst a crowd of sentients such as manned the Enterprise. So far neither avenue of search had yielded anything more interesting than commercial shipping and the occasional private yacht on a honeymoon voyage. "How do you expect to find anything, Data?" she asked eventually. "The trail is very old and we don't seem to have any clues." Data swivelled round in his seat to look at her. "On the contrary counsellor, Worf and I have a good lead on a Ferengi freighter that has been implicated in the trade in smuggled freight. We are heading for its last reported position with the idea of seeing what we can find out." On cue Deanna's ship detector beeped and she transferred the parameters to the front console so the two men could confirm the contact. "That's the one we thought, Data " Worf remarked," How do you plan to proceed?" "With a lack of honesty only a Ferengi would appreciate Worf," was Data's surprising answer. " We are about to become customs officials."

Worf and Deanna stood on the small transporter platform, clutching several sheaves of documents and checking devices. Federation customs insignia and uniforms made them look the part, but Worf was complaining steadily. "I do not think this deception is honourable, Data. What if we find they are legitimate? We will be committing a crime for nothing." Deanna turned a ironic glance on Worf. " Honest Ferengi Worf?" Worf huffed, and ran a finger round his tight collar. "It still is not my idea of action." Data finished programming the console and then looked up at them. "All you have to do is occupy their attention long enough to distract them from what I will be doing in their computer core, Worf. Now do you want to proceed or have you a better plan?" "Negative, " snapped Worf still uncomfortable. "Energise."

Worf and Deanna rematerialised on the Ferengi freighter's bridge, and proceeded to engage the Captain and crew in a detailed manifest audit. Meanwhile Data beamed covertly into the freighter's computer core. Unguarded as usual because of the vacuum conditions maintained for security and functional reasons. Swiftly he plugged into the main information feed and started sorting out logged on codes. He knew Lore's had to be there somewhere. The Ferengi captain was both suspicious and obsequious, doing his best to snow these inopportune official busybodies whilst trying to work out a way that he could quietly eliminate them without the Federation coming down on him like the proverbial ton of bricks. He fingered the blaster that hung on his hip, but was dissuaded from taking that option by the ominous growl that the Klingon custom official let loose as he caught him doing it. "*Klingon custom agents. Great stinking profits, who ever has heard of a Klingon custom agent?*" He thought despairingly, wringing his hands in frustration. Suddenly the two agents exchanged a glance and the Klingon slammed the info pad he had been checking on to the desk, rising to his feet in one explosive movement. He advanced on the cowering Captain, who cringed away from him, to no avail. The Klingon knotted a hand in his shirt front and lifted on to his tiptoes so that he was nose to nose with him. The Ferengi was so terrified it took him a moment to register what the officer was saying. "Your books appear, and I mean appear, to be in order. We will be following your progress with interest. Don't get sloppy now." The Klingon dropped him, stepped away to fall in line with the female, and transported off his bridge. The Captain's second in command was grinning openly at his superior's discomfort, a mistake that earned him a stinging blow across his sensitive ears. "Get us out of here." The Captain bellowed in annoyance." Let's get rid of that lousy cargo."

Back aboard the shuttle Worf endured stoically an enthusiastic hug bestowed on him by Deanna, who was laughing as she regaled Data with the tale of Worf as a Custom agent. How he had kept the Ferengi so much on the back foot that they probably would have not noticed if Data had walked off with their entire ship's manifest. " Were you successful Commander, " Worf asked Data as Deanna finished. "I believe so Worf." Was the satisfying reply." We need to return to the Venoby system. I believe the pattern of transmissions indicates Lore has a base there." With no further ado the friends set to inputting the necessary navigation commands and they set off.

Lore unplugged himself from the surveillance feed he had attached to his head. Swinging around in his chair he felt a deal of satisfaction over the progress of his plans. He knew his brother's capabilities, it would not be long now before he found Lore's hideout. Then he would have his revenge, his final showdown, the end he had anticipated for so long. Lore took a last look around his specially designed ship. Every aspect of it reflected his odd personality. He left it with no regrets whatever. He visited his captive.Rebecca was asleep. The welts and bruises on her wasted frame stark against the pallor of her skin. Lore grinned evilly. She was his finest work, damaged in body and mind. His gift to Data. Setting up the special display of holo images he had stockpiled for this time, he went to the transporter platform and vanished from view.

After two days of quartering the Venoby system Data finally picked up the e.m. ghost he had been looking for and the shuttle homed in on an asteroid, undistinguished by anything other than the subtle sensor anomaly it broadcast. As the shuttle approached the anomaly the three searchers were startled to see the ship they had tracked so painfully decloak and stand revealed to their probes. "It must be a trap," Worf stated confidently." Extreme caution is advised Commander. "Counsellor ?" Data fixed her with a pleading look. Deanna shut her eyes and concentrated on trying to sense any life forms on the ship in front of her. There was a significant pause then she gasped and her eyes opened but looked unfocused. "Pain, confusion, despair." She whispered, then buried her head in her hands pulling her hair forward. "How can she be conscious with that level of pain? " Deanna looked up at Data and Worf's concerned faces, tears running down her cheeks."Data. Worf, for pity's sake get her out of there. Trap or no trap, get her out." Data and Worf needed no further urging. Arming themselves they scanned the ship in front of them for a destination and then beamed across into Lore's special welcome. Every surface was covered, decorated and projected on with images of Rebecca and Data's intimate life together. Blown up and distorted, written small and written large, evidence of Lore's invasion of their privacy engraved anyplace there was a surface. Worf looked at it all in horror, and glanced at Data who was standing in stunned disbelief scanning the obscene display and trying to locate a starting point for their search. Finally Data collected himself enough to unsling his tricorder and take a reading. Jerking his head the two of them found their way through several corridors to stand outside a locked door. Worf found that the proliferation of images had lost its impact on him, but it made visually locating the door lock difficult. Glancing at Data's tricorder screen he finally located the locking mechanism, and with some satisfaction he phasered the mechanism apart. The plain white room revealed at first was such a relief after the visual mayhem outside that it took a moment for Worf to realise that the lumpy figure crowded into a corner of the space was actually the object of their search. Rebecca's physical condition was pathetic. A wasted bag of bones, covered in welts and bruises, her hair matted, her face scabbed. What was even worse was her reaction when Data, who had crossed the room swiftly to kneel down beside her, touched her shoulder and softly said her name. Her head whipped round, her eyes widened in maddened terror, and she started screaming. Her screams turned to a gut wrenching retching, which only stopped when Data, horrified, left the room and let Worf bundle her up in his massive arms and transport with her back to the shuttle.

Data stayed on board Lore's ship. He made his way forward to the control room and, after some time managed to turn off the projections. Once the normal inside of the ship was revealed he completed an exhaustive search to try to find out where Lore had gone. He had discovered another purpose in his life. Lore was going to be dealt with, by him.

Eventually he returned to the control room and opened a channel to the shuttle. Worf answered his call. "Commander?" he said gravely. "Status please Mr Worf." Worf looked seriously at him for a beat before replying. "The counsellor has stabilised Rebecca and put her in the autodoc. She thinks that physically at least she should pull through. She won't comment on her mental state at this time but has put her under neuro stabilisers to maintain her until we can get back to an adequately staffed facility." Worf studied Data's face in the view screen trying to get an idea of how he was holding up. Data gave nothing away, replying in an even tone. "I will beam back to the shuttle now Worf, please arm phasers." Worf blinked but knew better than to disobey a direct order. "Yes sir." Data stepped off the transporter pad and moved directly to the control panel of the shuttle, with neither explanation nor hesitation he set the phasers on maximum and blasted Lore's ship into its subatomic components. He remained, leaning against the panel gazing at the resulting spread of particles through the viewscreen. Finally, when the last traces of the explosion had died away, he turned his head and met Worf's grim gaze. " He left me a message Worf. This whole thing was a message, but in case I missed the point he left me a clue.He wrote it in what looked like blood on the wall of the room where he worked on Rebecca. It said to come and find him, and then he would explain. It said that his exact location is concealed somewhere on Rebecca's body; but that I may need to look very closely to find it. " Data sat down in the command chair and rested his head in his arms on the console in front of him. His next statement came out muffled by his arms. "I feel an intense need to cry Worf but I am not even capable of that." Worf sat helpless beside him, feeling, despite his warrior nature, rather like crying himself. He reached forward, put a large hand on Data's shoulder and left it there in wordless sympathy until they were interrupted by Deanna coming into the cabin. Worf explained what Data had told him and Deanna nodded. Slowly, but with grim purpose, she turned Data's chair towards her and, putting one hand on his shoulder, she used the other to tilt his chin up so that he had to meet her gaze. "I know where he is Data. You don't need to subject Rebecca to any more indignities. His glee when he saw the explosion of his ship was so intense it gave him away. He's quite mad you know, even touching the edges of his consciousness makes me feel sick. But I do know where he is, he's down there." She pointed at the asteroid below them. "And he is waiting." Data exchanged looks with Worf and they both turned their attention to the ship's sensors and scanners trying to probe the surface for anomalies. The search went on for some minutes, then suddenly Worf grunted and pointed at a minute infra red blip that had shown up in his last sweep. Data glanced over and nodded, then started to rise with his gaze already fixed on the transporter platform. He was stopped by an enormous hand that landed firmly on his shoulder and pressed him back in his seat again. "What are your plans Commander," Worf demanded mildly but with some determination. He recalled a long lecture he had endured from the Captain about watching out for Data's propensity for going off into the night alone. He wasn't keen on reporting back to Picard that he had allowed him to do just that. "I am going to destroy him Worf. Whatever it takes I am going to end the constant threat he poses to life. Mine and others." "We could effectively do that from here Data. " Worf replied. "But not with complete certainty, Worf. Unless I do this with my own hands I will never have any peace. I may not anyway," he added in an apparent afterthought. "But I have to do it." Data stood up, brushing Worf's hand aside with the casual strength he rarely displayed, and made his way to the transporter pad. He checked the charge in his phaser and accepted the modified tricorder Deanna handed him without comment. "We will keep a lock on you at all times, and be monitoring your encounter with him so there is a record. " She left unsaid the,' if you don't come back,' but they all knew the risk he was taking. "Goodbye. " Data said with chilling finality, then looked meaningfully at Worf who worked the controls for him.

He materialised on a rocky platform under a atmosphere dome, facing a rough hewn chair. The chair was carved out of the very rock he was standing on. Gravity was quite close to Earth normal owing to the density of the asteroid, but the black sky and close jagged horizon made the view quite surreal. After a quick glance at his surroundings his attention was completely taken up by the occupant of the stone throne. His brother and nemesis, Lore. Lore fixed Data with a stare of sphinx like nscrutability, but ruined the effect suddenly by giggling with an explosive, high pitched, sound, that grated on the nerves of the listeners in the shuttle, but appeared to affect Data not at all. Data waited until he had hiccuped himself into silence and then asked in a mild interrogative tone. " An atmosphere Lore, rather superfluous is it not?" "Can't have a conversation without an atmosphere Data. like a person without any emotions, basically unsatisfying." Data moved closer to him, he finally asked the question that was screaming in everyone's minds. "Why Lore?" Lore moved so quickly that the observers in the shuttle above reared back instinctively. Data reacted just as quickly, bringing his phaser up so that, as he stopped, Lore had it jammed in his chest. He leaned forward so that their identical faces were centimetres apart. "Because of this damned chip of yours Data. It is destroying me. Quietly and relentlessly it has eaten away at my consciousness, needing more and more of my primary processing, until all I am is a function of its need for constant stimulation. " Lore calmly walked away from Data and sat himself down on his chair again. "You were such a bloody innocent Data. Whining about wanting to experience emotions to be fully alive. You were thinking about all those pleasant fables humans spin themselves about their condition. The reality is pain, brother of mine. Unrelenting, unremitting pain. Before this you never have experienced it. I don't suppose you really feel it even now, even after my best efforts to introduce you to it. But know this Data, when you access your emotions you will not be some fairy tale hero, full of honour and restraint. You will be me, twisted and bitter, the slave to every impulse your programming drives you to. Understand and enjoy Data. Here is your destiny. I broke her because it was fun, the best fun I've had for years. As you use your emotions you will find the same needs driving you. Good is far too boring for the likes of us, power and pain is what we were designed for. The squealing of organic life is so satisfying." Lore stood up, spread his arms wide and, horribly, started giggling again.

The noise echoed on and on for what felt like eternity, until Data's phaser blast, set on full, hit him in the middle of his chest. Instantly vaporised, Lore vanished, a glowing hole left in the back of the chair the only evidence that he had been standing on that spot. That and the blessed silence. Data stood for a moment frozen, staring at the space where his brother had been. Up in the shuttle Deanna suddenly gripped Worf's arm urgently and said. "Beam him up now. And for God's sake immobilise that weapon on the way, he's going to fire again." Worf's fingers moved with lightening speed on the console but it seemed he would not be quick enough. On the screen Deanna looked with horror as Data deliberately reversed the phaser so it was pointing directly at his chest, and started to depress the firing button. Deanna shut her eyes as she heard the worble of the transporter beam afraid to even look. Worf noticed her distress and said. " Don't worry I have him. " He added casually " A phaser that has been fired on full power requires five seconds to recharge, he is quite safe." Deanna transferred her attention to the figure forming on the transporter pad. Watched as his fingers completed the movement that would have obliterated him but for Worf's alacrity. Watched as he registered his change in location, the inoperative phaser, the audience. His head snapped up and the look he gave his comrades should by rights have seared a line across their faces. Silently he stepped forward and presented his dud phaser to Worf; then turned on his heel and exited the front cabin. Deanna started forward, calling his name but was prevented from following him by the gentle but insistent pressure of Worf's hand on her shoulder. "Let him go ." So then she cried. Sat in a chair and grieved for lost innocence and the ubiquity of evil that had so violently touched their lives. She cried for Data who couldn't, for Worf who wouldn't and for Rebecca who probably would not be able to. And when she had finished she sat beside Worf in the co -pilot's chair and helped him take the wounded home.

"So that's it is it Data." Guinan accepted Spot back on to her lap and stroked her in an absent minded fashion. "You won't live because your mad brother hurt you and yours." Data looked at her stung out of his apathy by her flippant tone. "Guinan, we were made by the same man, to the same specifications." He turned his head away again, "He showed me my future." "You know Data for an intelligent being you can be very stupid at times," Guinan snapped." Have you learnt nothing from all this?" She got up, tipping Spot onto the floor again and made as if to leave. Data was startled enough by her anger to sit up and swing his legs over the side of his bed. He called after her. "Guinan, please, tell me. I know I often miss things but I can't see a way out ." Guinan paused at the door with her back to him, a secret smile spreading across her face. She turned and looked back at him. "Choices Data, life is about choices. Thomas Riker is much more identical to William Riker than you are to Lore, but they are two separate beings. They have different personalities, they make different choices. Every sentient being has the potential to choose to take the path of good or the path of evil, no one is forced, it is your own responsibility. Of course you have the potential to turn out like Lore. I have the potential to turn out like Vlad the Destroyer. I choose not to exercise that option. You have the same choice open to you Data, there is nothing inevitable about it." She walked slowly back to his bed and sitting down beside him slid a friendly arm round his shoulders. "Choose life Data, we miss you something awful." Placing a motherly kiss on his temple she got up again and quietly left his quarters. Data sat on his bed for some time staring at the spot where he had lost sight of her. Eventually, slowly, his fingers crept up to rest on the place she had left her kiss. And there he remained, thinking. But he stayed activated. And two days later turned up in Will Riker's office requesting a return to duty.

Time, as it does, slowly knitted the ravelled threads of Data's life. Eventually in the months that followed he found himself in a place where not every spare thought was taken up with agonising over Rebecca, and Lore. He felt his energy and enthusiasm for life creeping back despite himself, and finally, almost a year after the destruction of Lore, he was able to concentrate on his future and become interested again in scientific and engineering problems that had always fascinated him in the past. Geordi talked him into attending a conference dealing with obscure nano and holo technologies that was being held in a system adjacent to the one the Enterprise was currently patrolling. Geordi also managed to tear himself away from his engines long enough to present a paper at the conference himself, concerning the detection of nano devices in transporter biofilters. Following his very successful presentation the two friends were holding a post mortem over coffee in the hotel lounge when Geordi stopped in mid sentence. His mouth dropped open and an expression of shock crossed his features. Before Data could ask what was wrong a slim hand appeared on his shoulder, and a voice he had despaired of ever hearing again said. "Hi Data." Rebecca White slid into the chair beside Data and sat beaming at the stunned expressions on the two men's faces. Deanna Troi sat down beside Geordi, and laughed out loud at the success of their surprise, breaking the spell of silence that had held Geordi. "How come, I mean welcome back, I mean what are you doing here?" He spluttered into silence again as he observed the drama going on the other side of the table. After his first unbelieving stare at Rebecca Data had dropped his gaze to the table top and looked as if he was trying to efface himself from the group altogether. Rebecca was not having any of that. She reached for one of his hands and used the other to physically turn Data's head so that he was looking at her. "Data ?" she said softly, "It's OK, I'm all right. It has taken months and months but I've finally beaten the conditioning he inflicted on me." Data's look would have melted ice. "But what are you doing here, Rebecca?" he asked in a puzzled voice. "Looking for you, silly." She grinned at him, the same grin that had captivated him in the beginning. "I didn't do all that work and suffer all I have had to go through just to lose you now." "But I didn't save you from him in time, you had...." Rebecca put a finger over his lips and looked at him seriously. "Data, I have never needed saving in my life. Rescuing yes, and you achieved that with all the despatch you could. But no one needs to save me. I am OK. Battered, bruised, grown, " she threw a grin at Deanna, who retrieved it, the legacy of their many sessions together. "And ready to get on with my life. Our life if you'll have me." Data's face was a picture, the sudden return of hope and love to his life was almost more than he could bear. He could not imagine what he had done to deserve such forgiveness, but he wasn't about to throw it away. "Of course I'll have you," he said urgently, in case she changed her mind. He sounded so anxious that Geordi and Deanna burst out laughing again, shortly followed by Rebecca. But she didn't let go of his hand, and the look she gave him promised more for his life than he had ever allowed himself to imagine

THE END