"Ah, good morning. You must be Lt. Yar. I'm Kate Pulaski, the new Chief Medical Officer."
Tasha gave her a grin. "I can see you've been studying your files, doctor."
Kate Pulaski returned the smile. "I admit I haven't gotten through everyone's yet. But I do check the ones from the people with whom I have an appointment that day – that way I'm acquainted with the medical background of at least some of my patients." She raised her eyebrows. "You didn't bring your daughter?"
"No." Tasha frowned in confusion. "I thought she wasn't due for a check-up until next week?"
"I know, but I thought – since she's still too young for the nursery..."
Tasha gave her a surprised glance. "She's with her father of course."
Dr. Pulaski blinked. "With her father? With that... that... that robot man?"
"Data is not a robot; he's an android." Tasha tried not to be affronted by the doctor's evident disgust. During the past year, she'd witnessed enough to know that initial wariness of Data's capabilities as an independent being was not uncommon for humans who'd only just met him. Especially if they were over a certain age – like the new doctor.
"What's the difference – it's still a machine," the doctor gave back.
"A machine designed to be as human as possible," Tasha explained, trying hard to remember how Data usually handled these prejudiced assumptions. And wishing even more that he was here to take over his own defense. "In many things, Data is more human than we are. And he's perfectly capable of taking care of his daughter."
The doctor arched an eyebrow. "If you say so. Of course it's none of my business how you choose to raise your daughter. But I must admit I'm rather appalled by how you young people attribute human qualities to a machine nowadays. To the point where you start thinking it really is human."
Tasha bristled despite her best intentions for patience and tolerance. "What's that supposed to mean? Data is more than just a machine! He's got a real personality, and he's one of the kindest men you'll ever meet!"
"Well, I rest my case! It consists of nothing but electronic circuits and computer chips, and you pronounce it to be one of the kindest men you've ever met!"
"Because that's exactly what he is! Ask anyone on board." Tasha took a deep breath to try and control her temper. "And may I suggest that you get to know him first, before passing your judgement on him?"
Dr. Pulaski shrugged. "I've met him."
"I said, 'get to know him'," Tasha insisted. "Your reaction upon first meeting him is not uncommon, believe me. But there are very few who don't revise their opinion of him once they take the time to get to know him better. I'm sure you'll find he's the perfect gentleman. And friend."
The doctor capitulated. "Alright, alright. I'll get to know him. It would be hard to avoid anyway, seeing that we are working on the same ship. But let's get down to business, shall we? You didn't come here to quarrel with me about your android boy-friend."
It was about an hour later that Tasha stormed into Data's quarters with her indignation boiling over – only to find the cabin deserted.
"Computer, where is Commander Data?"
"Lt. Commander Data is on holodeck 6."
So with her adrenalin still running high, she barged into holodeck 6 a moment later, and froze on the spot. She hadn't checked what kind of program was running, but this... this was beautiful...
As the door hissed closed behind her, she made out Data's voice from among the overwhelming chirping, whistling, crowing and twittering around her. "Hello Tasha."
She didn't reply. There was simply too much to see. The low trees with their large purple and red leaves, large flowers in a radiant blue tone, the gurgling stream, and birds, birds everywhere.
Slowly, she walked over to where Data sat cross-legged in the pale pink grass, with Myrna in his lap. "Data..."
She lowered herself onto the grass, still trying to take it all in. "What is this place?"
"It is a recreation of a fragment of the Purple Jungle on Zarnod V. It is a planet with a very unusual atmosphere. Comprised of a mixture of 56.4 percent nitrogen, 26.4 percent helium and 17.2 percent zyrkonium, it does not support human life. However, a vivid flora and especially avifauna has developed on the planet's surface, successfully adapting itself to its environmental conditions."
"It's beautiful," Tasha breathed.
Data nodded. "I believe that to be an accurate description. It is the reason I brought Myrna here. Instead of reading to her about the many varieties of avifaunal life on Zarnod V, I thought she might benefit from seeing it first. To give her a proper frame of reference to which she can then relate Dr. Mokoleli's exobiological essay." He looked down at his daughter. "She does seem to be fascinated indeed. But I have not yet been able to determine whether it is the ornithoids' movements, their colours, or their sounds that hold her main interest."
Tasha had a smile. "Maybe it's just... everything. The whole picture."
"Yes. That is a distinct possibility, too." Data turned his face toward her. "Tasha, was there something you wanted to tell me?"
"I noticed you came running in here in a manner I would describe as 'urgent'. Yet none of your utterances since then have conveyed to me what the reason for your apparent urgency was."
"What? Oh!" Tasha sighed. "It's that new doctor. She really pissed me off."
Data's expression turned to as close an approximation of disbelief he could muster. "Dr. Pulaski squirted on you?"
Tasha chuckled. "Idiom, Data. It means I'm really angry with her. Though it's not the kind of expression you'd want to teach Myrna."
"Then I will refrain from using this particular phrase in her presence. May I inquire what the cause of your anger was?"
Another sigh. "She said some pretty rude things about you."
"I see. Could you perhaps provide me with an example of the rude things she said?"
Yet another sigh. "The usual stuff people say before they really get to know you. You know: that you're only a machine. A robot. A walking, talking computer. And I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm crazy for leaving Myrna in your care."
"Did she pronounce you to be fit for duty?"
Tasha looked up. "Yes, she did. She says I'm at about 90 percent of my top condition – well, compared to what it was before I got pregnant. So if I clear the marksmanship- and combat-test with Worf this afternoon, I'm cleared for at least on board duty."
"Then I am certain Dr. Pulaski does not regard you as crazy. If she would, she would not have cleared you for duty," Data pointed out.
Tasha snickered a little. "Alright, touché – she can't really think I'm crazy. I just..." She heaved a sigh. "I just hate it when people don't give you the credit you deserve."
Data regarded her for a moment. "Tasha, I assure you that I was well aware of Dr. Pulaski's present opinion of me. In fact, she has voiced this openly in my presence. But please remember that I have no feelings that can get hurt. Her opinion of me does not affect me. So why should you allow it to affect you?"
"Because, Data..." Tasha pushed back her fringe in frustration. "It does hurt me when people think ill of my friends. I hurt for them, you understand? I'm not asking her to like you; I'm only asking that she'd treat you with the same respect she treats every other crew member on board."
"Based on my previous experiences with such behaviour, I would say the probability of that happening within three months of her acquaintance with me is 94.162 percent."
"Okay, okay." Tasha gave him a playful prod. "I just hope she won't voice her opinion of you in my presence again then. At least not until it's improved."
She lay down with her hands folded under her head. Through the giant purple leaves overhead she could see glimpses of a bright lime green sky. Birds of the most wondrous kinds floated, flitted and darted past in all directions, their tweeting and quacking blending in with the murmur of the stream, and with Data's voice apprising Myrna of all there was to see. A peaceful place, despite the noise from the birds.
She sighed. To be honest, there was one more expression of Dr. Pulaski's that itched her. The doctor had referred to Data as her boy-friend...
Was Data her boy-friend?
The juvenile term alienated her. It sounded too much like walking hand in hand in the moonlight, gazing into each other's eyes, and stealing kisses behind the bushes. Things she'd heard her fellow students at the Academy drool about, but never had she felt the urge – or even the curiosity – to explore such nonsense herself.
The term also seemed to imply that she'd be in love with Data.
Never having been in love before, all she had to go on were – again – her observations of others. And fortunately, they all suggested that there wasn't a spark of love between Data and her. They were mates. Companions for the next twenty or so years in the project called 'raising Myrna' that they'd started entirely by accident.
And the fact that – in the process – they were more or less functioning together as a family unit was merely out of practical considerations. It had nothing to do with love. Besides – Data didn't have emotions, so there couldn't possibly develop a love relationship between the two of them.
Well, so much the better. She had enough on her mind; the last thing she needed right now was a complicated love affair.
Suddenly another memory surfaced, and abruptly she sat up. "Data?" she began at the first convenient pause in his exobiological recital.
"Did you bring any bread to feed to birds?"
Data furrowed his brow. "Why would you want to feed holographic ornithoids? They do not require sustenance."
"Because that's what people do! People with young children, that is. You remember that pond with the fountains behind the Academy?"
"There were always people with young children there, feeding the ducks. Now we can do the same with Myrna." She didn't wait for his approval. "Computer, give me a bag full of old bread."
A plastic bag filled with green mould appeared in front of her.
Tasha wrinkled her nose, and Data commented, "I do not think this is healthy food for any mammal."
"Computer," Tasha spoke up again. "I didn't mean ancient bread; I mean like bread rolls from yesterday."
The mouldy bread was replaced by four much tastier looking bread rolls covered with sesame seeds.
"Computer," Data spoke up now. "Give the ornithoids the digestive system of their terran counterparts, in order for them to be able to digest terran bread and seeds."
Tasha chuckled. "You think of everything, don't you. Can't have the holographic birds dropping dead at our feet, can we?"
Data nodded. "So what do we do now?"
Tasha handed him one of the bread rolls. "Break off some crumbs and throw them a few meters away from us. And once the birds come and eat them, we try to coax them into coming closer."
Data did as he was told, and they waited expectantly for the alien birds to come.
But nothing happened.
"Are they blind perhaps?" Tasha wondered.
"There is no indication in the available exobiological texts of the Zarnodian avifauna being collectively blind," Data told her. "But perhaps they are simply not hungry. Computer, increase the ornithoids' appetite by twenty percent."
Immediately the chatter surrounding them got more excited. And there, hesitantly, came the first daredevil to investigate the promising crumbs in the pink grass.
Cautiously, he hopped closer, and closer... Other birds watched him from afar as he approached the three alien forms not far from the possible food source.
"Keep very still," Tasha murmured.
Closer and closer ventured the big brown bird. He peered distrustful at those wingless aliens. Another hop. Another...
But Myrna chose that very moment to wave her arms about and crow with delight at the sight of the big bird so close to her, and the startled animal fled as fast as his wings would carry him.
Tasha let go of her breath, while Data instructed Myrna to keep very quiet and still whenever one of the ornithoids would venture close to them again, in order not to frighten them.
It took several minutes before another daredevil ventured closer, but again Myrna's all too audible enthusiasm chased the bird away.
"This doesn't work." Tasha sighed. "Computer, decrease the birds' timidity by fifty percent."
Instantly, the birds were everywhere. One sat on Data's head, five others perched on his shoulders, and Tasha had birds all over her arms and hands, trying to pull the rolls out of her hand.
"Computer, freeze program!" Data called.
Suddenly, the jungle was filled with a deafening silence, in which only Myrna's startled crying echoed back and forth between the trees.
"Oops..." Tasha grimaced.
"I do not think this was your intention," Data commented.
She had an awkward grin. "I guess I was too impatient."
Neither of them had a hand free to comfort the crying Myrna, till Data called for the computer to increase the ornithoids' timidity by thirty percent. Immediately, most of the birds were gone from their vicinity, and Tasha leaned over to wipe away Myrna's tears.
"It's okay, sweetie. It was a bit scary. That's what happens when Mummy gets too impatient. But I promise it won't happen again. The birds will behave themselves from now on."
Data's gently rocking her did the rest, and once Myrna had stopped crying, they ordered the program to continue – this time with a workable mix of the birds' timidity and appetite.
Tasha returned to Data's quarters later that afternoon with a huge grin on her face.
"Hello Tasha," he greeted her. Only to cock his head and add, "You look happy. Are you happy?"
"You bet. Starting tomorrow morning, I'm back on duty. Worf said I performed 'adequately'."
"That is high praise, coming from Worf," Data agreed.
"Actually, I beat him in the phasertest." Tasha grinned. "I've already talked with the Captain. I'm back in a coordinating role to begin with, but as soon as Dr. Pulaski declares me fully fit, I'll be back for real." She heaved a sigh. "Weird. Only last week I wasn't so sure if I was ready to go back to work. But now that it's come so close, I simply can't wait!"
Data nodded. "Your work used to be the most important part of your life. I do not think it odd that you look forward to resuming it."
"Yeah, well..." She took Myrna out of his arms. "You better get going, or you'll be late for your shift."
"I still have three-point-five-two minutes – that should suffice to get to the bridge." He hesitated. "Would you still like me to come and spend the night with you after my shift?"
"If you don't mind... I'd appreciate it very much, yes." Tasha's tone was a lot more serious all of a sudden. "It's not just that you come in handy for the nocturnal nappies and bottles – though I can't believe I never thought of that before by the way! But it's also... It gives me a sense of security to know that you are there, watching my back for me. I don't think I've ever slept so well as these past nights. Just because I know that with you watching over me, I don't have to stay alert in my sleep."
A nod from Data. "Then I will join you in your quarters shortly after midnight. But I had better leave now, before the Captain empties his bladder all over me."
On that stupefying note he left, leaving a flabbergasted Tasha to stare after him, trying to figure out what on earth could have been the original expression someone had tried to teach her android friend...