ROLLERCOASTER

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Il Pleut.

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It's raining in the fairground. The place is all but deserted, save for a woman, slumped and crying, and a man, watching from a distance with concern. This is how Wonderland finally came to an end.

'It's raining.' Tasha was sure that the Captain had already noticed that, but she felt it was necessary to note it anyway. 'It never rained here when he was alive. It's like this place knows that he's gone.'

'Il pleut... il pleure,' replied Picard, quietly. 'To rain and weep – it's practically the same word in French.' He gave a tiny smile. 'It's reason number 56 why French is the finest language in civilisation.' He paused. 'I was making a list in case anyone ever asked,' he added, then paused again. 'It's a work in progress.'

There was another long pause.

'I think we gave him a good send-off,' added Picard, forcing conversation.

Tasha nodded. 'Can't believe how many people came.'

'He touched a lot of lives.' Picard hesitated again. 'Will you be coming to the wake tonight? It's just going to be a handful of us – a very private affair.'

Tasha scowled down at her knees. 'Will that thing be there?'

'Oh, Tasha.' The Captain sounded woefully disappointed. 'Tell me that isn't how you think of B4. You know Data saw him as a brother. He'd be horrified to hear you speaking like that.'

'I know,' Tasha breathed, 'I know, but I can't stand it. You don't know what it's like to keep looking into that face – his face – and think for a moment that it's him, and then see those eyes… so empty. So empty and cold…'

'I loved him too, Tasha. We all did. He would have wanted us to embrace B4… if not as a part of our little family, then at the very least as a person – an equal.'

Tasha sighed, guiltily. 'I know. And maybe in time… I just… I can't bear to look at him right now. I can't bear to think of him as anything but an empty vessel – a shell of what Data was.'

'I understand,' Picard replied. 'Yes, B4 will be at the wake. But I hope you will, too.'

'All depends on how long this takes, I suppose.'

At the memorial service, they had discovered that some time ago, Data had recorded holographic messages to each of his friends, in case of the worst unexpectedly happening. Tasha had been the only exception. His hologram had told her that he had programmed a special simulation into the Wonderland projection, which would be activated in the event of his death. All that she had to do was to enter Wonderland, and wait.

That wasn't all she'd done, though. She was through with Wonderland now that he wasn't around to share it with her. She'd told Barclay that as soon as the special programme of Data's had run its course, she wanted him to delete the entire projection – to purge Wonderland from the holodeck computer's memory banks. However, so far, nothing seemed to be happening except for the rain.

Then, from off in the distance, came a sound through the rain. It was an odd, electronic wail – a shrill 'woooOOOOoooo'. Tasha frowned at Picard. She picked herself up and followed the noise, with him trailing behind.

All of Wonderland's attractions were dark and still in this simulation. The once merry, luminous giant ferris wheels and big dippers now stood like solemn, shadowy mountains in the deluge… only, through this leaden landscape, Tasha could see one block of flashing green and red lights which beckoned her down a narrow pathway towards it. From the direction of the lights issued the strange electronic howl again. As she passed a row of large, empty stalls, the source of the light and sound came into view.

It was a ghost train.

'Very funny, Data,' she murmured.

'Last car for Tasha Yar,' called a voice. Tasha looked up and saw a tired looking old man in the ticket booth, rendered in double size as was the rest of Wonderland. He pointed at her. 'Last car.'

She walked up to the booth. 'I was told there was a message for me here.'

'More than just a message,' the booth operator told her. 'It's all inside. Last car, Miss Yar.'

Tasha shook her head. 'Data and his flair for the dramatic.' She nodded at her Captain. 'I blame you for that, Sir. You and your Shakespeare.'

Picard smiled wistfully. 'My apologies. Did you want me to go in with you?'

Tasha shook her head as she approached the single car waiting under the awning of the ghost train. 'I think this is for me to do alone.' She got in to the car, and the bar fell down over her lap. 'See you on the other side.'

'I'll be waiting,' called Picard over another electronic wail from the ghost train as her car shuddered into motion and began clanking its way into the dark tunnel.

For a moment, she was enveloped in total blackness. How fitting, she thought, that this ride that Data had made should mimic the bleakness and isolation that his death had left her with. Then, she was bathed in Ultraviolet light, and she saw him sitting next to her in the car, his white skin luminous under the UV.

He smiled, fondly. 'Hello, Tasha.'

Tasha started to cry.

'Tasha.' He put his hand on her shoulder. 'I am so very sorry. I do so dislike to see you upset.'

Tasha couldn't stop her tears, but she took his hand in hers, gratefully. So that was why she needed to come to the Holodeck. That was why she needed a special simulation. All of the other farewells had been recorded messages. This was an interactive programme.

'Data,' she breathed, 'Data, why did you do it?'

'When I set about recording tributes to my friends, I found that I could not adequately do so for you,' the holographic Data explained. 'Our relationship was too complex, and always in such a state of flux… I felt that the only way to give you the farewell that you deserved in the event of my death was to programme a simulation of myself that you could interact with, which I would regularly update…'

'I don't mean the hologram,' she replied. 'Why did you go and get yourself killed? You had so much ahead of you… we both did, together. And now you're gone. Why did you leave me?'

'I am sorry,' the hologram told her. 'I do not know. I last updated this programme the day after we acquired our cat. I was so happy living with you, and I was eagerly anticipating what was to come. I do not know what might have motivated me to allow myself to be destroyed, as you are suggesting happened.'

'You did it to save the Captains life,' Tasha replied.

'I see. And surely, you have just answered your own question.'

'I'd just proposed to you,' Tasha told him. 'You'd promised me that you'd do everything within your power to make sure we got married without a hitch. I loved you. I needed you. I treasured your life so much…'

'I treasure my existence too,' said Data, 'as well as our relationship together. I am certain that my decision to sacrifice those things must have been very difficult for me. You have my heartfelt apology for breaking my promise to

you.'

Tasha sobbed as their car clanked through the darkened ghost train. 'What am I going to do, Data? How am I supposed to get by without you?'

'You will persevere,' he replied. 'You are an independent, tenacious woman – those are traits that I have always admired in you – they are part of what I love about you. I know that you love me – I am so glad that you love me – but you do not need me.'

'Yes, I do.'

'No, you do not. I have faith in you to live a full, accomplished life without me.'

'Accomplished, maybe,' Tasha conceded, 'but "full"? Without you?' She shook her head. 'I don't think I'll ever be able to fill the hole that you've left in my life.'

Holographic though he was, Data sniffed a little. 'Then, I have left you damaged. Do you wish that you had never loved me?'

'No! No, not at all.' She kissed his hand. It felt heartbreakingly real. 'This hurts – this hurts so badly. But falling in love with you, and having you love me in return was one of the best things I ever did. I'd never wish that away. Never.'

'Loving you, and being loved by you in return was the best thing that I ever did – the single finest accomplishment in my existence,' Data told her. 'You have always challenged and stretched my interpersonal capabilities, and the rewards for meeting those challenges have been beyond measure.'

Tasha found herself smiling through her tears. 'Same here.'

She could see the red and green lights of the ride's exterior shining through cracks in a door ahead of them.

'Is this the end, Data?'

'We can go around again, if there is more that you wish to say.'

'I could sit here and talk with you for the rest of my life,' she replied.

'I would advise against that. This is only a hologram.'

The doors swung open and they trundled out into the rainy fairground again. Jean-Luc Picard was still standing outside, waiting as he had promised.

'I'm all too aware of that, Data,' Tasha told him. 'I think, then, this is where we get off.'

The ride shuddered to a halt, and Tasha allowed the holographic Data to help her out of the car.

She nodded to the Captain. 'I'm ready.'

'I'll tell Lieutenant Barclay to commence with the deletion.' An arch appeared over Picard's head, and he quickly disappeared through it.

'Are you going to leave, now?' Data asked her.

'No. It's this world that's leaving. I'm sorry about destroying Wonderland, Data, but it just isn't right without you.'

'Then, I shall stay until it is gone,' the hologram of Data replied. 'Although, I am afraid that, since this projection is a part of the Wonderland simulation, once that is purged, this hologram will be, too.'

Tasha nodded.

They stood quietly for a moment, in the soft rain.

'Care to dance?' Tasha asked.

'I thought that you did not dance.'

'Slow dancing. It's different. You just hold each other and sort-of sway.'

'There is no music.'

'Nothing for me to be out of time with, then.'

They held one another close and slowly swayed, the way that they had done at the Rikers' wedding. She buried her head into the hologram's shoulder. She noticed after a moment that it had stopped raining, and as she looked up, the limpid summer twilight returned to the sky, and the rides and stalls of Wonderland sprang back into gaudy, noisy life.

'What's happening?'

'The memorial programme is coming to an end,' the hologram explained. 'Goodbye, Tasha. I love you.'

And indeed, no sooner had the lights returned to Wonderland, they started going out again – but it wasn't just the lights, this time – it was the whole simulation. Chunk by chunk, the world was switching off… only in the distance, so far, but Tasha knew that it would soon be coming closer.

'No,' she murmured, then pleaded louder, 'no. No, I've changed my mind. I don't want to lose it. I don't…'

She trailed off. The whole of Wonderland now consisted of just a few hundred square metres, then about 50, then 10… the attractions right next to her blinked out of existence, leaving just her in the Holodeck chamber, clinging on to the hologram of the one person she'd loved…

And then he was gone, too, and all that remained was Tasha Yar, slowly swaying with her arms wrapped around herself, with no music, no partner – no Data.

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EPILOGUE

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She went back to the quarters they'd shared together. For a while she just stood with her back pressed against the wall and her head in her hands, feeling the emptiness of the place without him there – listening to the silence left by the absence of his voice.

She felt a soft, sleek something wind its way around her ankles. She took her hands from her eyes and looked down. Her cat nuzzled at her shoes with a soft 'Maowww'.

In spite of everything, she faintly smiled. 'Just you and me now, kiddo. A single parent family.'

The cat stopped her winding and sat looking up at her with a quizzical 'Brrrrow?'

Tasha stared back as the cat they had chosen – almost entirely black, save for white patches on her front socks and face – seemed to tilt her head slightly at her, as though in contemplation.

Tasha shook her head. 'Even the damn cat reminds me of you,' she told the otherwise empty room.

She replicated a bowl of feed for the cat and set it down with a soft 'There y'go, Fido.'

As the cat merrily ate, she turned her attention to Data's ornaments on the shelves. She set a sculpture flush with the line of the shelf here, picked a speck of dust up from his violin there. She turned and gazed absently at her dresser… then froze.

There was something there – there, on top of the dresser – something that definitely hadn't been there before. It was a smallish white rectangular prism – a box, it seemed, on closer inspection, and one that glimmered faintly, like Mother Of Pearl. She brushed a fingertip over it – it was cold and smooth, like marble.

She turned to the cat with a frown. 'Someone leave this in here during the memorial service, Fides?'

The cat didn't answer – didn't so much as look up from her dinner. Tasha always locked the door to her quarters when she was out, to keep Fido from escaping. How could anybody have possibly just snuck in?

She turned her attention back to the box. There was a clasp at the front. She undid it and lifted the lid, standing warily back as she did so, almost expecting a large flag with "BANG!" written on it to leap out at her. No such thing happened. Instead, a tiny figurine on a mechanised spring wobbled upright close to the hinge and began to spin to a tinny, clockwork tune.

She frowned. 'What…?'

There was something recognisable about the tune, she thought, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. The white music box was almost entirely empty. All that it contained was a single card – like one of the old fashioned business cards she'd seen Picard use as Dixon Hill – resting neatly in the plush black lining. She picked it up and read the single word embossed upon it. Then, she turned it over. There were two more words written on the other side.

'What?' she repeated.

She set the card back down in the music box. Still the little dancing figure turned and turned on the spring. She peered at it. The figurine was of a tiny fairy, all in blue. But there was something very strange about it – very out of place.

'I see,' she told the empty room. 'I see. OK then, I'll wait.'

She shut the box. She could sleep, now. She could face the emptiness knowing that there was something else going on – even if she didn't yet understand what that "something" was.

The blue fairy in the music box had been wearing a Sombrero.

Now you`ll dream of a new Carioca,
Its theme is a kiss and a sigh.
You`ll dream of a new Carioca,
When music and lights are gone and we`re saying goodbye.
Goodbye…

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TO BE CONCLUDED IN "ORPHEUS"

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A/N – So, this is The End. Only, it isn't. Early on while plotting this story I decided that I wanted it to end with the Canon – with Tasha dancing all by herself on the Holodeck, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted a proper, all-guns-blazing resolution. So I'm going to try to have my cake and eat it here. This is where Rollercoaster comes to an end, with the end of the Canon and the end of Wonderland, and readers who are happy with a wistful and bittersweet farewell can leave it at that. However, there will be a sequel to this story arc – Orpheus – which I felt, due to its length and its continuation away from the Canon timeline needs to be posted separately. It won't be as lengthy as Rollercoaster turned out to be, but it will be much longer than any of the component short stories that have made the story arc up!

If I went through all the Author's notes that I could think of and point out all the cultural references and inspirations throughout the story, we'd all be here forever. I do have a handful of notes on some of the OCs, though…

Nurse Rocco DiMaggio – Human, from Venice, Italy, Earth. Named in part after the much-derided boyfriend of an old acquaintance, and partially after John DiMaggio, the actor who voices Bender, along with many other characters on Futurama. Naming OCs after actors famous for playing robots became my biggest injoke while writing this. We never actually "see" him, he just gets referred to a lot. He's supposed to be big, burly, good looking but thoroughly dull.

Aldous & Algernon Bloom – Holograms. Family name is after Leopold Bloom from James Joyce's Ulysses (I often stare at my bookcase for name inspiration). Algernon was plucked from mid-air, Aldous is after Aldous Huxley. They're two pretty stereotypical Noir villains – Algy's a Spiv with good connections, Aldous is just Sidney Greenstreet in a different hat.

Dollis Hill – Literary character. Heavily based on Nancy Drew. Dollis Hill is a joke name I enjoy using in general – for those unfamiliar with London, it's a small area of North London. I originally got the name from a Tube map. The fact that Dollis Hill is situated within Brent Cross made me even happier, since Dollis really does make Data cross.

Lieutenant Lester Llewellyn – Human, from Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, Earth. I'm Welsh, and despite loving that Star Trek has had an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman as major characters, wish that there'd have been a Welsh one, too. I picked Merthyr because I've got family near there and they always describe it as a bit of a dive (sorry, Merthyr-dwellers!) and I wanted Lester to be a boy from the sticks. He's named after Robert Llewellyn, the actor who played Kryten in Red Dwarf. "Lester" is just because I liked the alliteration. He's Gay because I felt the Enterprise needed a Gay officer. At first it was just a random name given to a door guard in an early chapter, but I ended up using him every time I needed a Security underling, and got very fond of him. It was a tough decision to kill him in the Borg attack. We actually ended up with a very light casualty list of named characters after the second Borg attack – I'd known Jenna and Lester were going to go out the way that they did for ages, but originally I was going to cull lots of other canon secondary characters – we were going to lose Commander Shelby, Kyle Riker and Leah Brahms as well, at the very least. In the end, it just wasn't necessary to the story to lose all those people and deal with the additional grief their deaths would cause.

Nikolai Yar – Human, from Turkana City. Initially, Nikolai was going to have been one of IVF triplets; the biological children of Tasha and Geordi's sperm-in-a-cup. Not only that, but I originally had it that it was Nik who died and his sisters Nadia and Anoushka who survived. As it turned out, Tasha and Data going to all that trouble just so Tasha could be a biological mother ended up not making much sense to me, especially since they were both abandoned. I felt it would make much more sense that they'd seek to adopt Turkanan refugee orphans. Anoushka was taken out of the picture because she was unnecessary, and Nadia and Nik had their fortunes switched. However, since my initial idea about Geordi being the biological dad, Nik has always been mixed race to me. It didn't feel important in the narrative to bring it up, but that's the image I have of him. And yes, as he's lived in Cambridge since he was a toddler, he has a South-East English accent.

Morton Baker – I never really decided what species/mix of species Morton is, but it doesn't really matter. He's named after Kenny Baker – the actor who played R2D2, though. I wanted someone who was just an average guy for a bit – not a fancy Officer. I had no idea he was going to end up so Chippy!

Marven – Ba'ku. Named after Marvin the Paranoid Android, and about as close to the antithesis of his namesake as he could get! I wanted someone to spark jealousy in Data but easily, happily step aside once our tormented couple admitted they loved one another – Marven's character grew around that. I love how free and easy he is – he was a joy to write. Marven, for those interested, is just under 450 years old.

Lieutenant Priti Manek – Half Human, half Vulcan, from rural Sri Lanka, Earth. Only name-checked in Rollercoaster, but she's going to be more important in Orpheus. Yes. Another joke name. So sue me.

Thanks to all of you for reading, to those who've reviewed, or dropped me a message – much love to the people who I've discovered have reccd the story and massive hearts and flowers to my fabulous Beta Realmlife.

Scribbles

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