"Pet Peeve"
Pet Peeve
by Sandra McDonald

Twenty-three supply requisitions. Two transfer requests. A reminder to finish the overdue ensign evaluations. Will Riker would have much rather been off leading some dangerous away team mission, but he continued to plow through the notes in his queue. A preventative maintenance notification for the starboard Bussard collector. Re-calibration reports on the transporters. A complaint from Lt. Reee, the ship's geomorphologist, about the unacceptable temperature in his living quarters. A request from Data seeking permission to berth a Canis familiaris in his quarters.

A dog? Data wanted to get a dog?

Riker scratched his beard. The only biological lifeforms authorized as pets by Starfleet were fish. Captain Picard kept a beautiful Australian lionfish in his ready room, and one of the science classrooms had an aquarium filled with glowing Orion spinestars. The ship's most recent roster listed more than three hundred aquatic inhabitants of the Enterprise, from species as varied and exotic as their caretakers. Fish could be easily contained in small spaces, did not usually spread disease beyond their environments, and under most circumstances posed no threat to the ship's safety, sanitation or serenity.

But a dog? A yipping, barking, biting, hair-shedding, furniture-chewing animal? Picard would never agree to it. Three years after assuming command of the Enterprise, the captain still had reservations about children living onboard. And most children, at least, knew how to use sanitation facilities.

Had almost anyone else put in the request, Riker would have disapproved it immediately. But Data was a senior staff member and valued member of the crew. Not only that, his positronic brain retained Starfleet rules and regulations in excruciating detail. The android had specifically asked for something he probably wouldn't get, and Riker wanted to hear the reason for the request.

"For psychological and educational purposes, Commander," Data said later that day, having reported to Riker as ordered after his bridge shift. "I believe the unconditional love that dogs offer their caretakers will assist me in developing emotions such as affection and concern."

"Isn't interacting with your fellow crew members enough?" Riker asked.

"Interacting with the crew continues to be extremely beneficial, Commander, but I believe caring for an animal companion would be additionally valuable. I have done extensive research on the positive psychological aspects of owning a pet. Would you like to see it?"

"No, thank you." Riker most definitely did not want to see any research. His objection to Data getting a dog had nothing to do with psychology or personal growth. "Data, you're aware of Starfleet regulations regarding pets on starships. . ."

"Yes, sir."

"A dog is not a fish."

"No, sir."

"Before I make my decision, can you think of any extenuating circumstances that I should take into consideration?"

"I can think of precisely forty-two extenuating circumstances, sir, ranging from a relevance factor of ninety-two percent to thirty-seven point five percent."

Riker sat back in his chair. "Just give me number one on the list, Data."

"Yes, sir. Captain Picard is the one who suggested I get a dog. Would you agree that the commanding officer's suggestion is highly relevant to the situation?"

From anyone else, Riker would have suspected insolence. But Data was no more capable of being insolent than he was of being silly or vindictive.

"Thank you, Mr. Data," Riker said. "That will be all. I'll let you know what I decide."

Picard's schedule showed the morning blocked off for a safety inspection of Shuttlebay 3, an inventory review of ship's stores and a captain's call with the astrophysics department. The ordinary routine of a commanding officer. Even worse was the routine of the executive officer, who every day had to shovel through and screen out the several dozen requests, chits, evaluations, invitations, reports, complaints, reviews, schedules and reminders that rose steadily like bubbles through the chain of command. A good Number One solved minor problems before they became major ones, and relieved his or her captain of as much bureaucratic hassle as possible. Will Riker considered himself an extremely good Number One.

"A dog," he said out loud. He tried to imagine Data walking a dog through the ship's corridors. A giant Alaskan malamute, perhaps. Eighty kilograms of muscle and fur, a magnificent animal bred for the cold-weather rigors of the tundra. Restricting a malamute to the Enterprise's immaculately clean, temperature-controlled confines would be a cruelty, though. A dog like that deserved fresh air, wide open spaces and the feel of the sun against his fur.

Data must have misunderstood the Captain's suggestion.

"Engineering to Riker. We have a slight problem, Commander."

A slight problem. One broken Bussard collector. In the grand tradition of preventative maintenance programs across the galaxy, the work designed to keep a piece of equipment from malfunctioning had, in fact, caused it to malfunction immediately.

Riker went down to Engineering to take a look and stretch his legs. The collector belonged to the ramscoop. The ramscoop was an emergency system that could, if the ship ran out of deuterium, pull hydrogen from interstellar gas and keep the warp engines online. It could also be used for more unorthodox purposes, such as scaring the hell out of the Pakleds. Since the Enterprise had recently taken on a new three-year deuterium supply, and the Pakleds seemed to have pretty much learned their lesson, Riker didn't anticipate losing any sleep over the problem.

LaForge pointed at the display. "The beam emitter seems to be working properly, but the field generator isn't pulling in any charged particles. Either the coils are malfunctioning or the intake grills are clogged."

"That nacelle was damaged by the Borg," Riker said. Perhaps the problem could be traced to the workmanship or materials back at Earth Station McKinley, where the Enterprise had recently undergone extensive repairs.

LaForge shook his head. "I know what you're thinking, Commander, but I checked the repair records. McKinley didn't do any work on the collector. Besides, we've tested it twice since leaving Earth, and each time it's passed with flying colors."

Riker had no other immediate suggestions to offer. "Well, Geordi, I'll leave you to your diagnostics. Where's Wes, by the way? This looks like a problem he'd enjoy."

"Believe it or not, he's rehearsing. Beverly's cast him as one of the leads in her new play."

Riker grinned. "How did she talk him into that?"

"It's payback time," LaForge smiled back. "He still feels bad about trapping her in that warp bubble a few weeks ago."

The incident with the warp bubble just after they'd left Starbase 133 had been an accident, but Riker imagined Beverly Crusher took a certain delight in finally having her son as a leading actor. Even if she did have to resort to his guilty conscience to make it happen. "I missed the audition call," he admitted. "What are they performing this time?"

LaForge's attention had already turned back to the problem at hand. Distantly he answered, "A showcase of nineteenth-century Earth literary classics, especially adapted for the stage. Don't ask me what that means."

The amusing image of Wes in a powdered wig and pantaloons followed Riker all the way back to the turbolift. He debated returning to his office, but the idea of dropping by Beverly's rehearsals proved too tempting to resist. A quick check with the computer told him the drama troupe was in the ship's main auditorium. The lights were down when he slipped into the back. Two ensigns from the botany department stood on stage, calling each other 'Jim' and 'Antonia.' The projected backdrop showed blue skies and open prairie.

Riker bumped up against someone else standing in the dark. "Sorry, Captain, I didn't see you."

Picard raised a finger to his lips to command silence.

Riker watched the scene unfold, puzzling over the source material. Earth, Midwestern America, nineteenth-century. "Mark Twain?" he whispered after a moment. Maybe his one literature course at Starfleet Academy hadn't been in vain.

Picard shook his head. "Willa Cather."

The ensigns finished their exchange. Beverly stepped out of the shadows, offering words of encouragement and just a few handy pointers. The scene shifted from the prairie to the hills. Wes came out dressed in rough trousers, a ripped jersey and a wide brimmed hat. He carried a large yellow prop that he shook at Beverly.

"Mom," Wes complained, in the tone of a long-suffering teenager, "no one's going to believe this is Old Yeller."

Riker laughed out loud. The actors, director, stage crew and captain of the Enterprise all turned to look at him. "Sorry," he said, trying not to laugh again. "Private joke."

"I should hope so, Commander," Beverly said with a frown. "This is a classic coming-of-age story, not a comedy."

She turned back to the stage and started arguing with Wes over the prop. Riker told Picard about Data's request, which prompted a sigh from the captain.

"What I told him was that he should get a dog some day. I didn't mean during his tour on the Enterprise. We were standing right here yesterday, watching rehearsals and speaking informally."

"It's hard to speak informally with Data," Riker said. "Do you want me to deny his request?"

"The Enterprise is not a menagerie, Number One."

"I agree," Riker said, glad he could go ahead with disapproving the chit.

"Still," Picard added, his gaze fixed on the stage, "there's no denying that having a dog or some other pet might be beneficial for our Mr. Data."

Riker hid his surprise. Was that indecision he heard in Picard's voice? Over a small issue so clearly delineated in Starfleet regulations?

"Captain, you know as well as I do that if we allow one member of the crew to have a pet, it's only fair to allow all of them. Soon we'll be crawling with targs, tribbles, wildebirds, pot-bellied sniks - "

Picard cut him off. "Yes, Number One. I recognize the danger."

Riker knew his captain well. "I sense a 'but' on the way."

Picard looked at him. "What does Data want, more than anything else? To feel emotions. What can a properly chosen pet offer him? Love without condition, companionship without criticism, total acceptance. An opportunity to develop empathy, should Data's programming ever allow it. Perhaps the fact he wants a dog is a sign of growth in and of itself, and we should support him as best we can."

"Maybe Beverly could just give him Wes' part in the play," Riker suggested.

Picard ignored the joke. "Data's been through a great deal recently. Losing Lal, losing Dr. Soong, losing the emotion chip to Lore's deception . . . if he were anyone else, I'd order him to see Counselor Troi."

Data wasn't the only one who'd been through traumatic events. Picard himself had been captured and assimilated by the Borg, his flesh carved away for machinery, his mind raped for strategic gain. Even now, memory of the horror that had been "Locutus of Borg" could raise goosebumps on the back of Riker's neck.

"Do you want me to approve Data's request, sir?"

"I want you to explore every available option. See if there's any possible way we can accommodate Data without turning this ship into Noah's ark."

"Yes, sir," Riker replied glumly.

"Try to think small, Number One. Nothing larger than a Pomeranian."

After lunch, Riker added 'research Data's dog' to his list of things to do. He considered delegating the job back to Data - surely the android could produce as many loopholes as he could extenuating circumstances. But no, Picard had assigned the task to him, and so Riker would do it. Right after he took care of those overdue ensign evaluations.

Unfortunately, both tasks fell to the wayside during the next several days. A distress call from the freighter Arcos sent the Enterprise to Turkana IV. The effort to rescue the survivors brought Ishara Yar to the same decks and corridors her older sister had once walked as Security Officer. Ishara's presence stirred up bad memories for Riker. He lay in bed at night, staring at the overhead bulkhead, reliving the callous, casual way an alien had killed Tasha on a far distant planet. Such a waste. She'd survived so much in her life, overcome so many obstacles. Was it asking too much to find the same strength, determination and potential in Ishara?

No, not asking too much, but in the asking they blinded themselves to the ways Ishara differed from Tasha. She never had any intention of joining Starfleet. She used and betrayed the Enterprise crew, including Picard and Data. Data had been particularly close to Tasha, and Ishara's actions might have hurt him terribly if he'd actually been capable of being hurt.

Lal and Soong, both dead. Lore's hostility. Ishara's deceptions. Riker began to change his mind. Maybe Data did deserve something small, fluffy and loyal.

At the next poker game he threw the question of shipboard pets onto the table along with his losing hand.

Beverly shook her head. "Absolutely not."

"I think it's a good idea," Troi said, predictably.

Riker looked at Worf.

"Unacceptable," the Klingon growled.

Beverly's objections included the lack of a ship's veterinarian, the uncontrolled elimination of waste material, and the introduction of allergens into living quarters and workspaces. "Besides," she said, "I have two words for you: Lt. Reee."

Even Troi shuddered. "He's never forgiven the captain for not letting him bring his favorite plant along when he transferred here."

"His favorite plant was two meters tall and carnivorous," Riker reminded her. "Every six weeks he sends a request for a new one."

"Let someone else on this ship have a pet but not him," Beverly predicted, "and he'll be sending memos all the way to Starfleet headquarters."

"Lt. Reee is not happy unless he is complaining about something," Worf said.

The ship's Security Officer said allowing shipboard pets would only be further evidence of the Federation's overall decline in discipline, order and military readiness. "Although," he admitted, "I might find use for a pack of razor-toothed Arturian rawbloods in the Security Department."

Troi asked, "Who wants a pet, Will?"

"I'm just researching the issue," Riker answered.

Data wasn't at the game. He'd been persuaded by LaForge to take a walk on the starboard nacelle and inspect the broken Bussard collector. Their joint report appeared in Riker's queue the next morning, along with a Federation news update, twelve supply requisitions, a proposed modification to the Passive Subspace Multibeacon Receiver, a complaint from Lt. Reee about the replicator in his lab, an invitation to attend the primary school's graduation ceremony, a very brief letter from his father and a nasty reminder from Starfleet command about certain overdue evaluations.

The problem in the collector, LaForge and Data concluded, stemmed from an improper mix of cobalt, lanthanide and boronite in two of the six generator coils. They had been flawed since the original construction of the ship. Although they had functioned well enough over the years, repeated exposure to warp velocity had weakened the coils' structural integrity beyond the ability to maintain a magnetic field. The coils would have to be completely replaced, and the nearest shipyard qualified to do the work was in orbit around Utolis III.

Utolis III. A very nice place. Riker had spent several weeks there once, while the ship to which he was posted, the Potemkin, had undergone a retrofit on her anti-matter reactant injector. Riker immediately forwarded the report to Picard and added a recommendation to have the work done sooner rather than later. A day or two at the beach sounded like a great idea at the moment.

To motivate himself for his next task, he had the computer play the collected works of the great Vulcan trombonist Garc T'Rihl. But even the brash, brassy tunes T'Rihl favored couldn't put Riker in the correct frame of mind to critique Ensign Holbgi's poor navigation skills, or the way Ensign P'darni needed to work on her team attitude. He turned to look at the stars streaking past his window.

"Computer, quote me the regulation about pets on starships."

"No assigned personnel may possess a biological pet other than one belonging to any of the diverse and multitudinous species commonly known as fish. Exceptions may be made at the discretion of the commanding officer."

Well, that didn't help. A dog was still not a fish. 'At the discretion of the commanding officer' was a catch-all phrase that could be applied to just about any regulation in Starfleet. The commanding officer could, at his or her discretion, jettison the warp core, blow up a Romulan warship or try to negotiate peace with the Borg. But just because something was possible didn't mean it was recommended.

Riker tried a different tack. "State the regulation for berthing entitlement."

"All personnel are entitled to quarters commensurate with rank or position. Personnel with families are entitled to quarters commensurate with number of dependents. Exceptions may be made at - "

"I know. At the discretion of the commanding officer." Riker tried to find a loophole in that, but Data certainly was already a member of the crew. Picard could make the dog a member as well, but Starfleet would probably frown on that particular maneuver.

Frown, but perhaps not strenuously argue against. Commanding officers were allowed a little eccentricity now and again. On the other hand, Riker didn't think Picard would enjoy other starship captains snickering over the Enterprise's commissioning of a canine.

Inspiration struck. "What do regulations have to say about ships' mascots?"

"No regulation exists concerning ships' mascots."

Riker mused on the possibility of creating a regulation specifically for such a mascot. Data could keep it in his quarters and perhaps trot it out for official ceremonies. Maybe knit it a sweater with a Starfleet emblem on it.

"Now you're just getting silly," he told himself.

An interspecies ambassador. A medical prescription for loneliness. An aid to Data's continuing education. A privilege for Medal of Honor recipients. A robot dog, like the kind starship-bound parents gave to their children as gifts. Riker explored those and a dozen other options, but in the end he went to Picard and admitted that all the loopholes led back to one inescapable conclusion.

"If you let Data have a pet but deny them to everyone else in the crew, it looks like favoritism."

Picard stirred his tea. The strain of a long day showed in his face, even in the dimmed lighting of the ready room. "I suppose I knew that all along."

"You could authorize it anyway. To hell with the complaints."

"How very tempting." Picard watched the lionfish swim in circles. "But it would be unfair, Will. Families give up pets in order to come aboard the Enterprise. Do you remember Jeremy Aster?"

"Of course," Riker answered. Jeremy's mother Marla had been killed on an away team mission.

"They had a cat before Lt. Aster accepted her assignment here and had to find someone else to take care of it. Pitches? Patches? Something like that. Jeremy told me all about that cat after his mother's funeral."

Riker leaned forward. "Captain, why is Data getting a dog so important to you?"

Picard blinked. "It's not important to me. It's important to Data."

Riker raised his eyebrows and didn't answer.

The captain shifted in his chair. "We make so many demands of our people, Will. We take, take and take until there's nothing left."

"We don't take anything more than what our crew is willing to give."

"Do you believe that?"

"Yes," Riker said. "I believe that."

Picard turned his gaze back to the aquarium. After a moment of silence he said, "Give Mr. Data my regrets that we're unable to accommodate his request."

The captain seemed disinclined to make conversation after that. Riker made one last stop on the bridge before heading for his quarters. All he wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep for a good eight hours. Once in the turbolift, he thought to ask the computer where Data was. The answer came back immediately. Despite his fatigue, Riker went down to deck eleven and joined the holodeck program in progress. Data stood in a grassy field under a flawlessly blue sky, tossing circular disks to a half-dozen barking puppies. A pleasant breeze pushed at Riker's face, and the sky felt warm against his skin.

"I am practicing my training methods," Data said as the animals sniffed and inspected Riker eagerly.

Riker couldn't help but smile under the onslaught of noses and paws. He scratched holographic ears and petted holographic fur. "Six at a time, Data?"

"I am also experimenting with different breeds and training temperaments," Data said. In a stern voice he ordered, "Spot, sit."

The puppies blithely ignored him, tumbling over each other in their enthusiasm.

Riker scooped up a chocolate-colored Labrador pup. "Which one is Spot?"

"They are all Spot," Data replied. "My research has indicated that Spot is an acceptable and favored name for a dog. I have therefore numbered them sequentially - Spot number one, Spot number two, Spot number three - "

Riker remembered, with a pang, why he had come. "Data, I'm here to deliver bad news. I'm not able to grant your request to get a dog. It's just not fair to the rest of the crew."

"I understand," Data said. "Computer, end program."

The dogs vanished. The field vanished. The sun went away, leaving Riker and Data in the cool, flat light of the holodeck.

"You didn't have to end the program," Riker protested.

"There is no reason to continue it," Data said.

The android didn't sound hurt or angry. He couldn't feel hurt or angry, Riker reminded himself. "Data, I'm sorry."

"I understand," Data repeated. "If you will excuse me, Commander, I am due on the bridge shortly."

Data walked out.

Damn.

***

Tourists kept the class-M planet Utolis III prosperous. The northern continents, with their breathtakingly beautiful forests, mountains and rivers, had been designated protected reserves by the very first Federation colonists. The smaller southern continents, rich with raw materials valuable to starship builders, had become home to generation after generation of wealthy industrialists. Two hundred years later, the materials were depleted but millions of hectares of pristine wilderness remained. Pleasure ships regularly made planet fall, and more than one starship captain had invented reasons to have maintenance or repair work done in one of several orbiting shipyards.

Mindful of the planet's allure, Picard offered shore leave to all non-essential personnel for the seventeen hours the Enterprise was scheduled to stay in the yards. Beverly and Wes signed up for an overnight camping trip in the mountains. Troi opted for a vacation resort near the equator. Worf scaled the side of an active volcano. Riker hoped to get to the beach, but first he had to attend a mid-morning reception hosted by the very influential and boisterous Planet Administrator.

"My dear Jean-Luc! You must come here and meet my brother - " The Administrator had dropped Picard's title in the first few minutes of knowing him. A few minutes later, ringing above the conversation and noise of the banquet room, Riker heard, "My dear Jean-Luc, you must come over and meet my cousin - " Not fifteen minutes later, after Picard had apparently escaped, "My dear Jean-Luc! Here you are! Come meet my ex-wife - "

While the Administrator dragged Picard around the room, Riker stood on the balcony enjoying the sights. The unmistakable influences of the ancient Earth city Venice showed in the capital city's glittering network of canals and bridges. Spires, domes and arches rose gracefully toward the sky. Computer-driven ferries, hovercraft and gondolas carried commuters and tourists to and fro, discharging them into plazas full of mosaics and merchants.

Although in a moment or two he really would have to go back inside and be the diplomat Starfleet expected him to be, Riker was content to stand out in the morning sun. Data stood beside him, probably calculating the planet's mass or the parameters of its elliptical orbit.

"Beautiful, isn't it, Data?" Riker asked.

"Yes, sir," Data responded immediately. "Quite aesthetically pleasing. There do seem to be a great number of cats as well."

The cats, another legacy from Venice, enjoyed a protected status on Utolis III. Imported by the first colonists, they'd become an important part of the planet's mythology, music, religion and fine arts. At any time of day, one could expect to see them eating government-provided food, sleeping in sunlit squares or riding in the bows of gondolas. Even as Data made his comment, a small tabby leapt up on the balcony railing and peered at the Starfleet visitors.

"Greetings," Data said. The cat responded by sitting back on her haunches and cleaning her front right paw.

Riker felt a twinge of unease. Having just settled the dog affair, he didn't want Data getting attached to a cat. Not that Data could get attached. Before Riker could say anything, though, Picard's strained voice called to him.

"Quickly, Number One," Picard said, coming out on the balcony. "Hide me."

The Administrator, though, followed only seconds behind with a lovely young woman in tow.

"Jean-Luc!" he bellowed. "You really must meet my daughter Carine!"

"I'm so pleased to meet you, Captain Picard," Carine said, extending her hand. "Thank you for indulging my father in his determination to introduce you to every one of our many relatives."

"The pleasure is all mine," Picard said, with a brave smile.

"Carine's mother studied with Rachel Kincaid at the academy," the Administrator said, referring to the last captain of the doomed Enterprise-C.

"I'd be honored to tour the starship that continues the Enterprise's fine name." Carine gave a slight bow and threw a bold look Riker's way.

"I'd be honored to show her to you," Riker said, rising immediately to the opportunity.

As an economic boost to the tourist industry, local regulations required all visitors to use commercial shuttles to and from the planet. Riker, Data and Carine rode a small ferry to the offshore shuttle station. Eleven other members of the crew were already at the station, waiting to return to the ship with the fruit of their shopping expeditions. Lt. Reee stood at the check-in counter, complaining vociferously.

"This wait is unacceptable," he said, clutching a large bag to his side. His leaf-shaped ears flapped in agitation, and his green hide turned yellow in places. "Don't you people understand the importance of maintaining a schedule? This craft was supposed to depart fifteen minutes ago!"

"Lt. Reee," Riker said firmly, stepping up to the counter. "Is there a problem?"

Reee's bulbous nose swelled. "Commander Riker! Perhaps you could bring order to this chaotic operation."

"I'm sure the shuttle will be departing soon," Riker started to say, but cut himself off when he heard a small, plaintive sound coming from Reee's bag.

"Lt. Reee," Data observed, "you seem to have acquired a stowaway."

"I have no idea what you mean," Reee said haughtily. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sit down and wait for this woefully tardy shuttle to depart."

He tried to step around Riker, to no avail.

"Reee," Riker said, "what's in the bag?"

"Whatever do you mean, Commander?"

At that very moment a furry tail poked its way out of the top of the bag. "I mean that," Riker said.

Reee looked down in mock surprise. "Oh, my. How unusual."

"Get rid of it," Riker said firmly.

The geomorphologist sputtered and protested his innocence in the matter, but in the end he put the feline back on one of the ferries to the mainland. Riker apologized profusely to Carine, who said she took no offense at the attempted abduction of one of Utolis III's prized inhabitants.

"Everyone should be graced by the company of a cat," she assured him. "Your lieutenant was only acting out of desire for their wonderful presence."

Riker wasn't willing to be that generous, and filed away a mental note to put the incident in Reee's file.

Several minutes later, the shuttle lifted off smoothly and began its climb into orbit. Fifteen minutes into the flight, just as Riker was soliciting Carine's recommendations on the planet's best beaches, an explosion tore through the engine compartment and sent him slamming into a bulkhead.

"Fuel cell eruption!" someone shouted. "Hull breach!"

The last thing Riker saw before unconsciousness swelled up to meet him was Data and Reee fighting a rush of encroaching flames.

***

Data offered Riker a padd. "I sorted through your incoming queue, Commander, and processed three Starfleet digests, two press releases, thirty supply requisitions, thirteen personnel updates, eight shuttle maintenance reports, five requests to shift berthing, two inter-department transfers and the new update to the photon torpedo manual."

"Slow day," Riker muttered, grumpy from two days' worth of enforced bed rest in Sickbay. He took the padd. "I hope you were careful, Data. Some of this is very important, you know."

"Yes, sir," Data said. "You may also be pleased to know I finished the ensign evaluations."

Troi entered, saving Riker from the effort of a retort. "Ready to go to the ceremony?" she asked.

"Counselor Troi, I've never been more ready," Lt. Reee said from the next biobed. He gallantly struggled to his feet. "Sickbay is no place for heroes."

Riker clenched his jaw. The annoying lieutenant had suffered only minor burns in the accident. Beverly had tried to discharge him twice, only to be met with complaints about dizziness, fatigue or some other imagined ailment. Propped up by pillows, wrapped in his special non-irritating sheets, Reee quite enjoyed playing the part of the martyr.

"Get me out of here before I shoot him," Riker muttered to Troi.

"Careful," Troi said, putting her hand under his arm to steady him.

Riker had suffered a fractured skull, dislocated shoulder and five crushed ribs in the shuttle accident. The Administrator, grateful for the quick actions that saved his daughter's life, had decided to personally reward all of the Enterprise crew members onboard at the time. Picard initially refused - Starfleet personnel did not accept rewards. The Administrator would not be dissuaded. Riker, stuck in Sickbay with nothing but time on his hands, came up with the secret compromise that appeased both sides.

"After all," Riker had said to Picard, "how can Starfleet argue? You just tell them you didn't want to offend the Administrator."

Shuttlebay 3 had been converted into a gala hall, complete with a speaker's podium and the flags of both the Federation and Utolis III. In front of the assembled crew, Picard made the introductions and the Administrator launched into a long-winded, dramatic, somewhat overwrought speech. Riker, sitting on stage with Data and Reee and the other honorees, began to long for the comparative comfort and quiet of Sickbay.

"To each of these thirteen courageous heroes I present some of the greatest treasures my planet has to offer," the Administrator concluded, finally, and with a flourish he motioned to Carine. Carine in turn signaled a corps of neatly dressed men and women who brought forth thirteen golden carriers.

Inside each golden carrier was a cat.

A week later, fully recuperated and glad to be back in deep space, Riker stopped by Data's quarters. He found the android crouched on all fours, dragging a piece of string around the carpet while his new cat watched from a meter away.

"My research indicates cats are likely to enjoy this type of activity," Data explained, "but Spot seems uninterested."

"You named her Spot?" Riker asked, amused.

"Spot number seven," Data said. "I understand that you gave your cat to Lt. Ghang in Security. Were you displeased with her?"

Riker shook his head. "No, I'm just not ready to become a pet owner. It takes a lot of responsibility and care, you know."

Data sat back on his heels and considered the cat, who had begun to lick her hind quarters. "I have already programmed the replicator with more than two hundred nutritional meals. I have also provided for her biological needs, established grooming protocols and devised a schedule of activities to keep her in good spirits. Is there more?"

"You'll find out," Riker promised.

Spot settled on the carpet with her paws tucked beneath her. Riker thought she looked like the Sphinx. "Data," he said, "I'm on my way down to see the premiere of Beverly's play. Would you like to come?"

"No, thank you, Commander. I think I shall stay here and try to interest Spot in this bit of string. Here, kitty, kitty."

Riker went to the play and sat with Picard and Troi. The sets looked good, the lighting and music cues went smoothly, and the actors did a fine job with their parts. Wes was particularly convincing in his role as the young boy growing to manhood with the help of his faithful animal companion. When he shot Old Yeller, the auditorium went utterly still with grief. Riker distracted himself from the mistiness in his own eyes and thought instead of Data, playing on the floor with his cat, an android and his feline traveling the galaxy together. Perhaps by the time Spot died, Data would have recovered his emotions chip and understood, firsthand, the joys and grief love of a pet could bring.

The next morning, when he opened his padd, he found thirty requests for pet dogs.

THE END
Author's Notes: Thanks to Cindy Hudson, Angela Gabriel and Farquarson for their generous assistance. Feedback greatly appreciated!

Further reading: Check out my article on the next Star Trek series - Star Trek: Series V