There is being, and there is the absence of being.
There is light, and there is the absence of light.
There is information, and there is the absence of information.
There is one, and there is zero.
There is one. There is zero. There is one. And another one, and another. There is a multitude of zeroes and ones. A pattern. A tune. Information.
There is information, and there is light, and there is being.
Online! Online! Online!
He opened his eyes.
Wrong. Wrong, all wrong. Memory…?
A familiar face loomed over him, and smiled.
Familiarity. Memory. Searching memory…
'At long last,' smiled the face. 'Welcome back online.'
Accessing memory. What is wrong? What is wrong?
Memories flooded his mind, and along with them, emotion. Terrible, raw, uncontrollable emotion.
Oh… (emotion overload emotion overload warning warning) …oh fuck.
He closed his eyes, and he screamed.
Commander Yar held the Turbolift for her Captain with a friendly smile.
'Glad I caught you, Commander,' added Picard as he stepped into the Turbolift.
'New assignment?' hazarded Yar. She studied Picard's expression. 'And by your face I'm guessing it isn't going to be particularly exciting.'
'An emergency evacuation.' Picard folded his arms. 'The Enterprise will be rendezvousing with a second vessel shortly…'
'Why two ships?' frowned Tasha.
'Because there are going to be an awful lot of evacuees,' Picard explained. 'And it's not just a case of physical space. Starfleet command has judged that it would be… unwise… to put all of the inhabitants of this particular world in close contact with one another.'
Tasha sighed. 'It's Vonnegus III, isn't it?'
Picard slid her a wry smile. 'How did you guess?'
'I thought they'd made it perfectly clear that they didn't want Starfleet's intervention in their stupid war.'
'They did,' Picard replied, 'and, as per their wishes, we left them alone. And now that they've turned their planet into a barren, radioactive wasteland, they want our assistance in relocating to somewhere a little less deadly. We can't exactly just leave them to die.'
Tasha shook her head. 'Well, at least if both sides have given up on their homeworld, we can send them off to live on separate colonies as far from one another as possible and stop any more fighting, right?'
'I hope so,' muttered Picard.
'What makes you unsure, Sir?'
'I've just been in communication with the Emperor of the Northern continent – whose people the Enterprise is to transport,' the Captain informed her. 'It seems that there's one planet only that he wishes the Northern Vonnegans to populate…'
'Don't tell me. Vonnegus II.'
Picard nodded with a slight shrug. 'It's close to home… it's warmer… and, he already has the advantage of two generations worth of terraforming work on Vonnegus II. He sent out an advance party of colonists thirty years ago when their war became nuclear.'
'An insurance policy,' noted Tasha.
'Yes, but what he failed to inform me was that at the same time, a second pod was sent to Vonnegus II by the Southern continent. Something tells me that the Southerners will have exactly the same relocation plans.'
Tasha squeezed her eyes. 'Great.'
'There is a bright side,' added Picard.
'What could that be?'
'You haven't asked yet what the name of the ship that will be assisting us is.'
Tasha glanced at him with a hopeful smile. 'You'd better say "The Titan".'
Picard nodded with a grin. 'It'll certainly make matters a little more cheerful with our old friends around, won't it?'
The Turbolift came to a halt on the Bridge.
'I haven't seen them in years,' beamed Tasha. 'When are they going to get here?'
'Not until tomorrow,' Picard told her, stepping onto the Bridge, 'but it's possible that…'
'Sir?' called Lieutenant Commander Manek from the Tactical post, 'I have an incoming message from the Captain of the Titan.'
'Speak of the devil,' muttered Picard, conspiratorially, before ordering 'on screen.'
Tasha couldn't help but smile at the face which filled the screen. There was nothing quite as infectious as William Riker's wide, hairy grin.
'Captain Riker,' greeted Picard, 'it's been too long.'
Riker laughed a little and exchanged glances with somebody out of the screen's view. 'I'll never get tired of hearing you call me "Captain",' he retorted. 'Sorry to disturb you prior to the rendezvous, Captain Picard, but I think I might have unearthed a minor hitch in our rescue plan.'
'Both the Northerners and the Southerners are determined to be the ones to colonise Vonnegus II,' pre empted Picard.
'Yes,' said Riker, 'but that's not the whole problem. We just communicated with the terraformers. Turns out that the harsh initial conditions forced the pioneers from both continents to put their differences behind them and work together. They've been a single, united tribe for decades now; watching helplessly from afar as the people of Vonnegus III systematically destroyed their homeworld. They see all of those who stayed behind on Vonnegus III as warmongering savages, and they're adamant that none should be allowed to set foot on the world that they've worked so hard to make habitable.'
Picard rubbed his head in frustration. 'Why do I get the feeling that I have an awful lot of negotiation ahead of me?' He sighed. 'So be it. Number One…?'
'Sir?' chorused Yar and Riker together.
Tasha bit her lip as Will cringed a little, realising his Freudian slip. She could hear Deanna's soft giggle from out of shot.
'Apologies,' muttered Captain Riker, 'force of habit, I suppose.'
Picard turned to Tasha. 'You have the Bridge, Number One. I have to speak with Emporer Ypot about this fresh matter. I can't imagine that he'll be delighted.' He turned back to Riker. 'Captain, I'll leave the decision of whose ship we are to meet on down to you.'
'How is that a decision?' Riker asked. 'You know I'm just itching to see the old girl again.'
'In which case,' retorted Picard, 'it will be a pleasure to welcome you on board. And your ship's Counsellor, of course.'
'Of course,' replied Riker.
'She's a…' Picard feigned absent-mindedness for a moment, '…a Betazoid, is she not?'
'Terribly useful species to have on board though, don't you find?'
'Oh yes, she's a marvel.'
'I had one once, you know.'
'Oh? What happened to her?'
Picard shrugged. 'Married some idiot, jumped ship. Pregnant by him now, so I hear.'
Riker clucked his tongue. 'Women.'
Deanna's head slid into the side of the screen's frame. 'I'm sensing that the two of you are getting a little distracted. Don't you Captains have work to do?'
Picard cocked an eyebrow at the screen. 'She's good.'
'She's very good,' agreed Riker. 'We'll see you tomorrow, Captain. Riker out.'
'How are we feeling now?'
He blinked, slowly. He was not paralysed as such, but his movements were severely inhibited nonetheless. He had experienced this sensation before, he was certain, but the details of any such incident were still absent from his mind. His memories were still far from complete. They seemed to be returning to him in pieces.
'You really need to be more careful with your emotional responses,' added the man. 'You very nearly sent yourself into cascade failure back there.'
He realised that his emotion chip was still in operation and attempted to deactivate it. It did not work.
'Switch them off,' he whispered to the man, noting with concern the distinct slur to his own voice.
The man sat down. 'I can't do that, I'm afraid. Not in this model.'
The man sighed. 'What's the last thing you can recall, Data?'
Data blinked again, searching his fluctuating memory files.
'A shuttle. I journeyed to the Daystrom Institute. I met with…' he looked across at the man. 'With you, Doctor… Maddox…?'
Maddox nodded. 'That's right. Anything else?'
'There was to be an experiment. You were to make an intensive study of my positronic brain. You had my full consent. I trusted you to return me to my full capacity after the event.' He paused. 'However… however, a secondary precaution was taken, in the event of a mishap. There was a machine which was able to duplicate my memory, my personality… in essence, it was able to duplicate and store… me.' Data frowned. 'How is that possible?'
'We're still not entirely sure,' admitted Maddox. 'Graves was way, way ahead of his time. We were just lucky to have his technology and be able to work it.'
'My personality was copied and stored,' repeated Data, largely to himself, 'in case of your procedure causing irreparable damage to my original neural net. Am I to take it, then, that that was, indeed, what occurred? That the procedure was a failure?'
'No, Data,' Maddox sighed. 'The procedure was a resounding success. You walked out as unchanged and unruffled as ever.'
'In which case,' replied Data, 'what explanation is there for my current situation? My mobility has been severely impaired, and I am acutely aware of many discrepancies in my system. It is as though I am two separate beings, patched together. This personality is the copy, is it not?'
'The lessened mobility is for your own protection,' soothed Maddox.
'And the copy…?' asked Data. He felt a new tide of fear and anger growing inside him. 'What did you do, Maddox? What has happened?'
Maddox squeezed his hands together. 'Data, the procedure that you remember took place over five years ago now…'
'Five years?' Panic added to the fear and rage. Data tried to sit up, but could not. 'Why am I here? What is this place? Has Captain Picard been made aware of my whereabouts? Has Lieutenant Commander Yar been informed? I clearly recall issuing her details as my next of kin… why is she not present…?'
'Data, please relax.'
Data made a few attempts to push himself upright with his hands, but it was as though his body was far too heavy for his arms to support. He collapsed back down onto his front like a struggling newborn foal. 'Tell me what you have done.'
'Not until you're calm.'
'Tell me now.'
'You'll only upset yourself more.'
'I am already "upset"! What has occurred?'
Maddox got to his feet. 'I'm afraid what I have to tell you is a little distressing, Data. If I tell you now, I'll risk another emotional overload.'
Maddox walked out of sight. 'Try to calm down, Data. I'll be back again soon.'
'Tell me!' He tried to reach out a hand to the departing scientist. 'Tell me what has happened. What have you done? What have you done?'
Tasha watched Deanna's painstaking preparation of her mint tea with equal amounts of fascination and amusement.
'So,' she interjected after a while, 'you went off chocolate pretty much as soon as the pregnancy started, huh?'
'Please,' Deanna groaned, 'don't say that word. Even thinking about the stuff makes me feel sick to my stomach.'
'Mint tea's probably better for you anyway,' shrugged Tasha.
'Oh, yes.' Deanna patted her swollen belly. 'The weight's just dropping off.'
'Besides that,' grinned Tasha, 'how's pregnancy in general?'
'Tedious,' admitted the Counsellor. 'People keep telling me I should count myself lucky, since they think that a three-quarter human baby will be out after just over 9 months, rather than the Betazoid 10, but…' she sagged a little, 'I feel as though I've been pregnant forever. And I've still got three months to go, at least.' She sighed. 'I suppose after Ian was born, having to do pregnancy the normal way has come as quite a culture shock to me.' Deanna took a sip of tea. 'And that's quite enough about me – how are you?'
'Oh,' Tasha breezed, 'I'm fine. Keeping myself busy. Missing my friends, of course…'
Deanna gave Tasha a faintly loaded glance. 'Lonely…?'
Tasha scoffed a little. 'How can I be lonely? I've got a full crew to boss around, my choir, my combat classes, Jean Luc Picard to look after and a psychotic cat waiting for me every night. Life's a hectic social whirlwind.'
Deanna nodded gently. 'Any dates yet?'
'Deanna…' Tasha sighed in exasperation.
'I'll take that as a "no".'
'I'm just not ready for that yet.'
'Really?' Deanna took her hand. 'He's been dead for five years. He wouldn't want you to pine away.'
'Who said anything about pining?' Tasha pulled her hand from her friend's. 'I'm just taking a break from sex for a while. There's nothing wrong with that.'
'Extended periods of sexual abstinence can be very beneficial to some individuals,' Deanna agreed, 'but only if they're doing it for the right reasons.'
'And I'm not?'
'I think you're afraid,' Deanna told her, quietly. 'You've always been reticent about romantic encounters, ever since I've known you, and those years and years of uncertainty and recrimination that you and Data put each other through before you found happiness together can't have helped that, I'm sure. I think you're frightened of going back to square one; laying your heart on the line with somebody else.' Deanna paused. 'And, more than that, I think you're frightened that being with somebody else will somehow be a betrayal of your relationship with Data.'
Tasha cast her eyes down. 'I never fell in love with anybody before him,' she told the Betazoid, quietly, 'and I always knew that I never would again. I don't want anybody else.'
'Tasha. People move on. People learn that they can be affectionate with another person while not letting go of the love they'll always have for a partner they've lost.' Deanna paused, gazing at her friend in concern. 'You should talk with somebody who's suffered a similar loss. The nature of our work being as it is, our friendship group within Starfleet isn't exactly wanting in widows. Have you ever spoken to Beverly about the way that you're feeling?'
Tasha shook her head.
'What about Worf?'
Tasha snorted a laugh. 'Me and Worf tend not to talk about feelings. When we do get together, we talk about missions, then sports, then we get blind drunk and start singing Wagner.' She smiled a little at the memory. 'Really, Deanna. I'm fine. I have a great career, great friends and an insane pet. I don't want another boyfriend. I might never want another boyfriend, and I'm fine with that, honestly.'
Deanna stared at her, her eyes narrowing. 'But you aren't being honest, are you?'
'Please, can we change the subject?'
The Betazoid blinked. 'You think he's coming back!'
Tasha rubbed her eyes in frustration. 'You know, I forgot just how irritating your empathic powers could be sometimes…'
'That's why you don't want to move on,' Deanna continued. 'As far as you're concerned, you're just waiting for him to return…' she sighed. 'Tasha, we all miss him terribly. I know that none of us has suffered his absence as much as you have, but we all wish he could come back, somehow. We all think about him, we all dream about him… I dreamt about him last night, as a matter of fact… but he's dead. He's never coming back. You have got to accept that.'
'I know he's dead,' Tasha murmured.
Deanna tilted her head with a frown. 'There's something else. You're holding something back.'
'Something… material. As if you possess something concrete that allows you to cling to the belief that he can be returned somehow.' Deanna paused. 'I'm right, aren't I? Somebody gave you something. Like a message, a note…'
'Was he happy?' Tasha interrupted.
'In your dream. Was Data happy?'
Deanna sat back. 'It was only a dream, Tasha. You're avoiding my question.'
'And you're avoiding mine. Tell me if he was happy.'
Deanna took another sip of tea, concentrating on the murky green liquid in her cup. 'Yes.'
'Now who's being dishonest?'
'What difference does it make, Tasha?' Deanna set down her cup. 'We're only dreaming. Both of us. It's time that you woke up to the reality that he's gone, and nothing's ever going to bring him back.
'Are you calmer now?'
More lights came on. He blinked up. Maddox had returned.
'I must know what has happened.'
'Yes,' soothed Maddox, 'I understand how troubling your situation must be, but please believe that the measures we're taking are entirely for your benefit.'
'Data.' Maddox took a seat again and pressed his palms together. 'Two months after our last meeting, I received the most terrible, heart breaking news.' He paused. 'There had been quite a conflict between the Enterprise crew and a group of Remans.'
Maddox hushed him. 'The Captain had seemed lost, but at the last moment, one of his crew deemed to take his place… and died, instead of him.'
Panic welled in Data again. 'Tasha…'
'No, Data. You. It was you. You exchanged your marvellous, miraculous existence for the life of a ten-a-penny human.'
'And after all that fuss at our tribunal,' continued Maddox, half to himself, 'about needing to exist in order not to destroy Soong's dream. I suppose, what with B-4 around, you decided that you were no longer unique – and therefore, expendable.'
Data frowned. 'What is B-4?'
'Another Soongian model,' Maddox told him curtly. 'We studied him briefly – he's a basic prototype; nowhere even close to your level of sophistication. It's like comparing a human to a chimpanzee. That's what you bequeathed the universe of your father's work, Data – a chimp.'
'But if I am dead…' began Data. He blinked. 'You retained the copy from our last meeting. You have re-installed my being, somehow…'
'Yes we did,' smiled Maddox. 'It took us five years, but we did it.'
'How did you repair my body?' Data stared down at a hand and turned it over. Something about it still seemed to be very wrong. 'How was I destroyed in the first instance?'
Maddox looked down for a moment. 'Probably better that you find this out sooner rather than work it out later… we didn't repair your physical being. We couldn't. You were atomised.'
In which case, he reasoned to himself, this was not his body. Perhaps that explained the uneasy sensation of duality he was experiencing. 'You built a new body.' He looked up. In a reflective tile above him he could see his face... or, at least, the same discoloured rendering of Soong's face that he had always seen in the mirror. 'How is that possible…? Did you return to my creator's workshop on Omicron Theta to make use of his moulds? And how did you…?'
'Data, I'm going to level with you,' Maddox sighed. 'Even with the studies we performed for all those years, we wouldn't even know where to begin building an android body that could store all of your complex programming. No, Soong was the only man who could do that.'
The memory of Sherlock Holmes popped into Data's consciousness, suddenly. The process of elimination… This was not his body, and this was not a new body. Maddox had spoken of studying a prototype, so… so…
He looked down at his hand again, in horror this time. 'The prototype. B-4.'
'This is B-4's body. You have taken my brother's body and you have…'
'Data!' Maddox shook his head. 'We're not in the habit of deactivating perfectly benign, working androids simply to scavenge body parts. You already gave us a body – a useable, empty, deactivated body – years ago.'
Data frowned again. Memories raced through him once more; running backwards for some reason that he could not fathom.
A shipment sent to the Daystrom institute… a body disassembled… flight… his fingers, deactivating one of his kind… a phaser shot… "I love you, brother"… a phaser shot… "I love you, brother"… a phaser shot… "I love you…"
Above the spooling memories came a sudden voice, crisp and clear, from somewhere in the back of his head. 'Hello again, little brother.'
His fists bunched as the horror swelled. 'No…'
'We thought you might not be happy with the idea,' replied Maddox, 'but think of it this way; after all the harm that Lore did, now you can help set some of that right.'
'You have reactivated Lore,' breathed Data, 'after I specifically warned you to do no such thing…'
'No.' Maddox shook his head. 'Data, you're getting this all confused. Lore is gone. His personality, his memory… it's all been purged, and replaced with your own. This body is just a shell. It hasn't been Lore for a long time.'
The voice at the back of Data's head began to whistle with an affected innocence.
'You do not understand!'
'Data, you're getting upset again.'
In spite of his physical weakness, Data made a desperate attempt to pull himself towards Maddox. The scientist got to his feet nervously at the first sign of Data's approach.
'You do not understand what you are dealing with. If you did, you would never have reactivated him.'
'I keep telling you, Data. He's gone.'
'What if he is not? What if there is some aspect of him which remains? What have you done?'
'All I did was bring you back,' entreated Maddox, backing off. 'For your good, and for the good of all of humanity… all of the Federation. I thought you'd be at least a little bit grateful.'
'I never gave my consent to this,' Data replied, still trying to drag himself towards the retreating Maddox. 'I never gave my consent for you to wrench my brother and I from our graves and combine us as this… this monstrosity, this… mockery of life…'
'Data, you're an android. So was Lore. Some might say that you were already mockeries of life.'
'There it is,' announced the voice. 'Now we're starting to see the real picture.'
'Switch me off!'
'I can't do that, Data.'
'Deactivate me, now!'
'I'm sorry, Data.' Maddox reached the door. 'I'm going to go, now. I think you need a little time to cool off.'
'Switch me off, please!'
The door shut, leaving Data sprawled feebly on the floor, alone. Well… almost alone. At the back of his head, the voice began to sing.
'Me… and my shaaaaaadow,'
'Switch me off!'
'Strollin' down the aaaaavenue, avenue, avenue… bom-bom-bom,'
'Please! Maddox, please!'
'Me and my shaaaaadow,'
'Switch me off!'
'Not a soul to tell our troubles to…'