Not an Island
Summary: Some missing and augmented scenes from the Fifth Season episode 'The Next Phase', exploring Data's reaction to Geordi's fate. Potential spoilers therefore up to the end of Season Five, and for that episode in particular.
Disclaimers: I have made no money from writing this story. I do not own anything connected with any of the Star Trek franchises, which all seem to belong to a complex combination of CBS, Viacom and Paramount. Neither do I own either Commander Data or Brent Spiner – if I did, you think I'd be wasting my time typing???
A/N: Please read my 'Threshold' stuff too - we have to keep the spirit alive!
* * *
He had seen it done thousands of times. He knew the exact number, though that was unimportant now. Almost always nothing had gone wrong: this time, everything had gone wrong, and two people had died.
He had not witnessed the event, so he had not known immediately. He wondered if he would have sensed something had he been human. Had he let Geordi down at the moment of his death by not realising?
When he had heard Transporter Chief Bossmer's broken-voiced transmission informing them that Commander Geordi La Forge and Ensign Ro Laren had been lost while transporting between the stricken Romulan science ship and the Enterprise, he had not known how to react. Where before there was something, now there was nothing; where before there had been his friend, now there would be only memory; where before there had been Geordi, now there was no-one. Incapable of expressing grief, he was nevertheless aware of an emptiness in that part of his hard drive reserved for Geordi and Geordi's friendship, and he immediately locked off and backed up the data so that there would be no danger of losing it. There would, after all, be little more to be saved there. Having completed the operation, he stared blankly at his instruments, unable to think of anything else to do.
"Mr Data, begin a level one diagnostic. All transporter systems offline until further notice." He had to process Captain Jean-Luc Picard's request twice, although no human would have noticed the delay. "Could they have materialised anywhere else?" the Captain continued. He checked his console, an odd surge in his circuits as he processed the thought that Bossmer might be mistaken. The results were like a slap in the face.
"Negative, Captain. Sensors are unable to locate them anywhere within transporter range." Perhaps, he wondered, they might be beyond it? Even as he had convinced himself of the possibility, he turned and saw Counsellor Deanna Troi's subtle shake of the head, and heard Commander William Riker demanding replacement personnel. He heard Picard tell him to go and, although he would have preferred to carry out the diagnostic that the Captain had ordered – anything that might offer even a shadow of a chance that Geordi might be found – he obeyed without question. With nothing more than a fleeting thinning of the lips, he was out of his seat and striding towards the turbolift as if this was just a normal day, and not the one on which he had lost his best friend. His face was now, as usual, without expression.
Androids do not cry.
* * *
Off-shift after dealing with matters aboard the Romulan ship, Data remained in his uniform: Picard had told him to be available at a moment's notice, and the proximity of their old enemy made such readiness prudent. On any other day he might have asked Geordi to join him, to discuss the day's events and mull over their impact and meaning. Now he would have to rationalise alone: Spot offered very limited possibilities for conversation.
Stroking her soft, bright fur, he unlocked the files he had earlier rendered off limits and scanned their contents. The oddly empty internal space he had previously experienced fluctuated a little.
He remembered everything. It was all as clear and distinct as if it had happened yesterday, untempered and unsoftened by time. He would always remember everything like this: Geordi's laughter, the way he slapped Data on the back, that twitch of his mouth when an idea was forming, the expression in his voice when excitement overtook him… There was so much, all in sharp, unforgiving focus. It would be as precise in two hundred – two thousand – years as it was now. For some reason he could not unravel, Data was not sure if he could bear it.
Investigating the cause of Geordi's death was a useful distraction: immersing himself in the work prevented him devoting all his processing resources to the futile consideration of recent events. It was not enough, however, so he skilfully programmed a selection of two hundred notoriously difficult, avant garde and discordant musical pieces from several disparate cultures for simultaneous auditory input and analysis. It was more than he was capable of doing without utilising extra memory and a great deal of concentration, and for a time he was unable to think of anything else.
Inevitably, however, the music faded, and the memories returned. Perhaps, he thought, he ought not to avoid this experience: it would have been easy to delete the files so that Geordi had effectively never existed, but that would not be the human way. It would also render him unable to offer assistance to any colleagues should they wish to discuss their grief: humans, he had noticed, frequently benefited from such debate. In addition, he was who he was as a result of his accumulated experiences, and Geordi had contributed significantly to those. To delete him might make Data operate marginally more efficiently for a while, but would be inappropriate.
Instead, he opened the drawer that contained those possessions he did not keep on public display. His hand settled on the small pedestal that formed the base, when activated, of Lieutenant Tasha Yar's portrait, and he placed it on his desk.
One learnt from experience, he knew, so he recalled the details of Tasha's death, hoping that it would enable him better to cope with Geordi's. But it was not the same: it was just as painful, but in a completely different way. No two deaths, he reasoned, are ever alike, as no two individuals are ever alike; he would have to deal with the loss of Geordi from first principles. But it did remind him that he no longer dwelt on Tasha's death as much as he had done in its immediate aftermath, and he realised that, while the grief might not lessen, new experiences filled up the available storage and made it less prominent.
He ran his fingers around the pedestal, noting its symmetry as something that would have pleased its occupant. It would soon, he thought, have a companion.
This was a disturbing notion: that he should anthropomorphise inanimate representations of dead people in this way. He did not seem to be himself, and quickly ran a diagnostic to ascertain the nature of the fault. There was none. Puzzled, he held Tasha in his hands, but when another unexpected thought intruded – that, android as he was, it was likely he would accumulate a large drawer-full of such portraits before he was done – he put it down as though it hurt.
"Computer," he said. "Location of Counsellor Troi."
"Counsellor Troi is in her quarters."
"Is she asleep?"
He would not wake her. She had enough work counselling the human crew, without worrying about the artificial crew as well. Data felt very alone. He looked again at Tasha's pedestal, then activated the portrait so that she stood before him, hands clasped, eyes smiling, always unchanging. Data's brow creased as he watched her, and he reached out a hand to the holographic image before shifting his gaze away to the empty middle distance. "Geordi," he whispered.
Geordi could have shouted his reply, but Data would never have heard it.
* * *
Summoned out of his reverie and back onto the bridge, Data swiftly and efficiently continued his work on the transporters from an aft science station. His fingers flew over the displays, creating a delicate tracery of movement with their dexterity as he edged closer to an answer. None of this would return Geordi, but it would ensure that no-one else suffered a similar fate. With a conscious effort, he recalled that Ensign Ro had also died, but her death was only a matter of general regret to him: Geordi's was hard and bitter agony.
Or would have been, had he been human.
As he worked, he maintained his constant awareness of the positions and activities of those around him, and wondered that the absence of an apparently vital member of the senior staff seemed to have so little direct impact on the functioning of the ship. That was a tribute to Geordi's skill and training, of course: Data knew that every good leader's first task is to render himself redundant.
An Ensign at another science station was clearly confused by the display in front of him, and Data moved across to help. It occurred to him that such support should have been the Chief Engineer's job, and a glance at the young Ensign's face showed tired, drawn features. Others were mourning their dead friend, too.
Thoughtfully, he resumed his post. In the centre of a confrontation such as this, no-one had any time to think about marking two people's passing. He, however, could devote a substantial subroutine to it and not suffer impaired efficiency. His hands still dancing over the panel, he considered the possibilities. Humans needed a ceremony at a time like this, and he thought it appropriate that he should seal his friend's death with something more than private musings.
A very little consideration was required to conclude that he was the best candidate for the task. He had the time and the resources, and he knew Geordi well. What gave him pause was the thought that others might not accept his assumption of the role. Perhaps it should be a human who remembered – perhaps only a human could? His fingers slowed, but imperceptibly. Then a new thought crept into his mind: was he in fact worthy to remember Geordi?
Now he did stop working, for a whole half second. He knew that, compared to humanity, he was flawed. His social skills were learned rather than innate, his empathy was improving but still not instinctive as a human's would be, and his ability to act as though influenced by emotion was not accompanied by the emotion itself. Perhaps only a fellow human being, someone great of heart and mind, should take on the duty of officially remembering such a man as Geordi had been? Picard stood beside him, watching the display and speaking to Riker: for a moment, Data knew an almost overwhelming yearning to be like this man, not because he commanded respect, not because he was so well-loved, but simply because he was whole.
And yet… If he was unable to experience grief, why did this sense of loss persist: why did that empty space within him not dissipate instead of remaining, filling him with what he could only describe – in human terms – as a dull ache? Was he perhaps more human than he realised? And if he was, why was the notion, as well as being exciting, vaguely alarming?
With unexpected clarity, he realised that he was indeed unworthy either to remember or to celebrate Geordi, but not because he was an android. He was unworthy simply because no individual can ever truly be worthy of another: because no individual ever deserves friendship, but must accept it as a gift and return it in kind. Several hundred rarely used positrons fired at the idea, and he turned to his Captain with a new sense of purpose. "Captain…"
He could not do it at first: Picard's clear gaze unnerved him. Smoothly asking an unnecessary question relating to the transporter imaging scanner, he wondered at his behaviour: it was most unlike him and, if he had not already run a full diagnostic, he would have done so now. Picard having answered his mundane query and turning to leave, he tried again. "Captain…"
If he had expected a momentary irritation in the other man's eyes, he was disappointed. Beneath its sternveneer, Picard's face showed nothing but gentleness, sadness and compassion. Not only was the Captain suffering, but he knew that Data was suffering too. "I have a personal favour to ask. I considered Commander La Forge to be – my best friend. I believe it is my responsibility to plan and conduct the memorial service. May I have your permission to do so?"
Holding Picard's gaze, and prepared to be rebuffed, he immediately saw that the suggestion was not only acceptable, but was actively welcomed. Picard's hesitation, he realised, came not from disapproval, but impotence in the face of an enemy far more powerful, and far more absolute, than any Romulan. "Permission granted." The Captain sighed. "Make whatever arrangements you think are appropriate."
"Thank you, sir." He moved towards the turbolift, his processors considering the twin problems of the transporter and Geordi's memorial in roughly equal measure. Both, he was determined, would be satisfactorily dealt with, whatever it might take.
* * *
"Data – I'm so sorry I didn't come to see you earlier. The computer logged your query, and I realised that you needed to talk."
Data paused. Walking along a corridor and previously deep in thought, he had not been prepared for a conversation with Troi, and logically he knew nothing they could say would improve the situation, but it seemed unkind not to talk to her. His experience of human nature, limited as he felt it was, understood that humans needed to be doing something, especially in situations where, in truth, they could do nothing.
"I am uncertain as to what I should be feeling," he began, as they tucked themselves into a side corridor away from the main flow of traffic. "I have been considering my relationship with Geordi, and its value and contribution to my existence. There is no reason why his absence should make any difference to me, since I cannot experience grief, but I find that it has."
Deanna smiled. "How would you define your relationship with Geordi, Data?"
"He was my colleague. He made the effort to talk to me when he need not have done so. I took pleasure in his company, and – I believe he took pleasure in mine." He looked at Troi. "He was my friend."
"And how would you define friendship?"
"I would define friendship in several ways, Counsellor. As I experience certain sensory input patterns my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent. But there is a deeper aspect: friendship is reciprocal, and I miss Geordi not only because of his physical absence, but because of what he gave me when we were together. I do not need his presence, but I do want it."
"But you will always remember him, and with far more clarity than the rest of us."
"That is not an unadulterated blessing, Counsellor. I have observed that time dulls the sharpness of human grief for the loss of a loved one. Sometimes it can negate it altogether, leaving the bereaved with only pleasure when they think of the deceased. I have no such mechanism. I will always recall Geordi as clearly as I do today."
Deanna looked him for a moment. "Would you have it any other way?"
Data considered. "No, I would not. Geordi is worth remembering."
"Even if is causes you pain?"
"I do not experience pain, Counsellor."
"Then why are you here?"
Had Data been human, he would have smiled sardonically. "I understand. I will endeavour to recall him with pleasure rather than otherwise. I will attempt to compensate for his absence with saved experiences from my memory banks. Thank you for your help, Counsellor."
Deanna watched him walk away, and smiled wanly. She was not sure she had helped very much.
* * *
"You're going to what?"
"I am intending to celebrate Geordi and Ro's lives, rather than mourn their deaths, with music and laughter, Commander. I considered all the available forms, and the most fitting and practical I found was a ten-piece jazz band. Geordi enjoyed hearing you play, and I believe jazz would have appealed to Ensign Ro's anarchic nature."
Slowly, a smile spread over Riker's face, as the notion took root. "It certainly would," he said. "It's an inspired idea, Data. How did you think of it?"
"Geordi had an extensive collection of recorded pre-twenty-first century media, sir. He used to share it with me occasionally. Although much was – very strange – I remembered a sequence in which a funeral was conducted through city streets with a large jazz band playing as one he particularly enjoyed. Although the context was quite different, the idea seemed apt."
"It's brilliant. I assume I'll be playing?"
"I had hoped so. I assume you have decided what you are going to say about Ensign Ro?"
Riker sighed. "I'm getting there. I tried writing something down, but it sounded stilted and insincere. I guess I'll just wing it."
Data took a few milliseconds to process the colloquialism. "I have observed that it is not always advisable to – wing it on these occasions, Commander. When faced with an audience, and in emotional situations, unrehearsed words may not come readily until too late."
"I'll manage." He stood up. "But if I'm going to do Geordi justice, I'd better go and practice – if I can find five minutes with all that's going on. Twenty-three hundred?" Data nodded. "I'll see you then."
As Riker left, the memory of Geordi's affectionate sarcasm at one of Riker's perennial wrong notes played itself through Data's circuits before he could stop it, and he came very close to feeling the pain he had denied to Counsellor Troi. But he had succeeded in improving Riker's mood simply by giving him something to do, and he was pleased with his accomplishment.
He wished, right now, that dealing with his own responses was as easy, and hoped that after the service his reactions would cease to be so acute.
* * *
"Did you see that, Mr Data?" In the midst of all the noise in ten-forward, Data heard Picard's astonished, desperate voice as clearly as if they had been surrounded by silence. The flickering forms had been so strange – so unexpected – that he could hardly process the information. It was directly opposed to everything he knew to be true. It was, according to the laws of the universe, impossible. It was – he searched for the word – a miracle. He felt his mouth open slightly in astonished disbelief.
"Those were not ghosts – what did we see?"
Geordi was dead. Data knew Geordi was dead. The world had reordered itself around the fact that Geordi was dead. The thought that he might still be alive was nothing more than the all-too-human trait of wishful thinking: the denial of truth that is one of the most basic reactions to death. And yet… And yet, the swell of hope that shivered through his circuits like a physical thing was far too strong to ignore. He had seen something – heard something – and so had the Captain. The statistical probability that both had shared an hallucination born of grief and desire was almost infinitesimally small. Which meant – several thousand more positrons began to fire now, and something in Data found the discomfort strangely welcome – that there was a chance Geordi was alive.
Alive. Alive, alive, alive… And Data had to do something about it. Every circuit, every subroutine except those necessary to preserve his physical integrity was turned over to the problem. He almost trembled with the effort. "I believe I may know what has happened, sir…" More calculations completed, more pieces falling into place, more questions answered. "It would explain the mysterious chroniton fields, if they were – cloaked in some way…"
Picard, his own brain taking in this new information only as fast as humanly possible, nevertheless made the connections with surprising speed. Disbelief and hope mingled in his voice as he asked the unaskable question. "Are you saying that they're still alive?"
Data, becoming more and more sure as he continued to process the situation, nodded. "If I am right, then they are – and in this room. Their brief appearance coincided with the anyon sweep. Perhaps the anyons neutralised the cloaking effect." He was aware that his voice was rising in volume and pitch as he found his way through the maze, and sought to control it. "Chief Brossmer."
"Set the anyonic beam to its highest level, and flood ten-forward."
He glanced at Picard: the tension was almost visible. If the two of them could have brought Geordi back into existence by the mere strength of their wills, he would have been compelled to appear. As it was, their wills were not needed: as Brossmer obeyed his order, Data became aware that the shapes that had previously flickered before him were appearing again, but this time with substance and completeness. As it became obvious that Geordi and Ro were indeed back, Data felt overwhelmed. He assessed that there was not a single positron not firing madly at its neighbours, and almost staggered as he watched their wonderful, agonised return.
Was this, he briefly wondered, what joy felt like?
Lying on the floor, solid and disorientated, Geordi's eyes sought him out. "Data," he gasped, "do you see us?"
Data deactivated the positrons: they interfered with his ability to function and, at this moment, it was clear that Geordi needed him to function. Whatever his friend required, Data would ensure he had. "Of course," he replied, his calmness so effective as to make him sound almost matter-of-fact.
He reached down and, feeling their human warmth, pulled them to their feet. He would like to have held on to Geordi's arm for a few milliseconds longer, just to convince himself – irrational as it was – that the man was real.
Against all the odds, Geordi was home.
* * *
The crisis over, the danger from the Romulans' deception averted, the astonishment beginning to be replaced by belief, Geordi and Ro were surrounded by crying, laughing friends whose arms and hearts were as warm as those of the friend he thought he had lost. He watched them for a moment, then quietly moved back to make way for those who had more right to be there than he. Realising that he would need to update Geordi's file again, he accessed and redesignated it as live, being careful to leave a copy in backup just in case.
Outside the circle of happy humans, still experiencing the aftermath of that massive positron activity, Data was acutely aware of his isolation. He accepted that this was how life would always be – even acknowledged that, virtually alone of his kind, he should always be separate – but that part of him that strove so hard to be human registered a sharp regret. But this was his place in the world, and he had to accept it if he was to develop and grow. Maybe, with years more experience, he could learn to be worthy to be included in that human joy.
Showing no expression, he suddenly thought that it might seem that he was waiting for recognition or thanks. He needed neither: Geordi's return was all that mattered. That empty place, which some strange form of self-pity had threatened to expand exponentially, was flooded with new input, and disappeared. If Geordi had needed him, he would have stepped forward and joined his colleagues, but he did not: with so many other friends, Data was superfluous, and would be better occupied back at work.
These thoughts had only taken a few seconds; the crowd was barely beginning to gather, and he was about to turn away when Geordi came towards him, and laid a hand on his shoulder, as if whatever he was feeling went too deep for words. Unwilling to embarrass his friend by any inappropriate reaction, Data remained unmoving. But when he met Geordi's eyes, he read there an unsuspected intensity of emotion and understanding, as if he somehow knew exactly what he had been experiencing. He himself did not have the language to convey the bitterness of those experiences, so he simply said, "Geordi, it is good to see you."
Geordi paused, perhaps to find his own voice. "Thanks, Data." He looked around and smiled. "I've never been to a better funeral."
The two looked at each other again for another second – to Data, time to process a wealth of information – and then nodded, and Data realised that Geordi was tempering his reaction in deference to Data's own. In that moment, he knew without a doubt that he was indeed unworthy of this man's friendship – and was very glad to find himself so. This, he thought, must be what humility feels like.
He stepped forward to join the laughing crowd, and was soon swallowed up among them. Briefly, he truly knew what it was to belong.