Title: Less by Assimilation than by Friction
Characters: Mickey Castle, Austin James, Jeannie Miller, Yukawa Manabu, Utsumi Kaoru, Jo Lupo, Jack Carter, Data (Star Trek)
Summary: Five people Austin James has (never) met. 3,017 words.
Notes: The title is from this quote: "Great genius takes shape by contact with another great genius, but, less by assimilation than by friction," attributed to Heinrich Heine.

When I conceived this idea, I only was able to think of three people Austin could have met, and I turned to the Yahoo! group for Probe for help for two others. They were very helpful! Cyanne suggested Rodney McKay, and then I remembered that Rodney has a sister just as smart as he is. Jonas suggested Data. So thank you very much, Cyanne and Jonas, for your help. And thank you to Paula, for being a great cheerleader. This is my Christmas gift to the Probe Yahoo! group. You guys are such a fun group to hang out in.


-2002-

April 16, 2002

Dear Ms. James,

I'm flattered that Austin James still remembers when Meredith and I met him, especially under the circumstances that weren't pleasant for all of us. I want to express again how sorry I am that my brother and I subjected you and Mr. James to our family squabbles. Thank you for asking after my health and our recent addition. My husband and I named her Madison.

While I appreciate the open invitation Mr. James has given my brother and I to collaborate with him in the future, I can't speak for Meredith, only for myself. I'm sure that you'll understand my priorities are with my family at this time.

Thank you again, for your understanding and your invitation. Perhaps you'll allow me to keep it in mind?

Sincerely,

Jean Miller

April 28, 2002

Dear Ms. Miller,

Of course, Austin and I understand. Don't worry about everything that happened when we met. We hope that your brother and you are able to reconcile. Austin's interest in working with you, or your brother, remains the same. If you're ever able to, I, personally, would love to see a picture of your daughter. Children are such a blessing.

Take care,

Mickey Castle James

-2008-

"So what did you think?" Mickey asks. She finishes pushing the last button of her coat into its loop, and then shoves her hands into her coat pockets, burrowing her chin down into the high collar. She shivers as another blast of wind cuts through her coat. She picks up her pace a little, and catches up to Austin, who'd moved ahead while she was buttoning up.

He slows down, and angles himself to her for a brief moment before facing forward again. The expression on his face is like the moment right before a thunderclap.

He says, "They call that a biography?"

She stops walking for a second, and closes her eyes, sighing out through her nose. She opens her eyes again to see he's moved ahead of her again. She catches up to him as she says, "What was wrong with it? The reviews said it was very true to life."

"Oh, it was. Just not in the way you would think."

"I don't get what you're saying, Austin. Did it tick you off or something, because you sound rather upset for-"

"I'm not upset."

"You kind of are."

He stops walking, and turns round to her. He takes a step closer. She stumbles back a few steps. He says, "Listen, yes, the suit was true to life, and I'm sure the explosions and everything else were as real as they could make them, but I've met Tony Stark, even after his big reveal as Iron Man, and he did not change as much in personality as that biopic posits he did."

Mickey blinks at him, eyebrows high, and mouth open. Austin's shoulders slump, deflated, and he starts to turn away from her, but stops when she says, "Wait a minute. Do I look as surprised as I think I do?" Austin's not too far gone in whatever funk he's caught in, because a flicker of a smile comes and goes, but Mickey ignores his reaction. She goes on, "You met Tony Stark and you didn't take me along? Why not? When was this?"

"You were with Miranda." He raises his hand, index finger raised. "And before you get mad at me, please remember that we talked about it before you went to visit her, and that I came as soon as I could." He lowers his hand.

"I remember," she says, voice calm. He starts walking again, and she falls in step beside him. Her voice goes up in pitch a little when she continues, "Seriously, Austin, would it have killed you to have mentioned his name when you told me you were consulting with an engineer?"

"You had your head deep into plans to visit our daughter, who was having a baby. I didn't think-"

"Okay, okay, I get it. You didn't like the guy, so you were withholding the qualifiers again." She tips her head to one side, and purses her mouth, looking at him sidelong.

"Are we really going to argue about something that happened four years ago?" He widens his eyes, an earnest appeal.

Mickey casts her gaze upward before looking off to the side. She heaves a sigh. She looks at him again, long-suffering clear on her face. "Of course not," she says.

"You're right, though," he says. "I don't like him."

"You could have said something before I apparently dragged you to something you didn't want to see."

"And spoil your fun? No, I didn't want to do that."

"Well, thank you. So, what's he really like?"

"Arrogant, over-bearing, egotistical-"

"Gee, Austin, tell me what you really think, will you?"

Austin sighs. "At least he has people around him to rein him in."

"He sounds a little like you."

"Mickey!" He stops walking again, and when she looks at him, he looks genuinely hurt.

She raises her hands in front of her, palms out. She says, "I'm not trying to start a fight, honest. It's just, some people can be so similar that to be around each other is like rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together."

Austin doesn't respond, just looks at her. She raises her eyebrows-a silent 'take it or leave it.' Austin looks away and shakes his head, then smiles.

"I should have told you before the movie."

"Yes, you should have." She wraps her arms around herself. "I'm cold, let's get going."

Austin nods. They walk in silence for a few minutes.

Austin says, "You'd like his assistant."

"Oh, I would?"

"She was even more capable than what the film depicts."

"She'd have to be, to put up with that kind of personality."

"Yes, she was rather exceptional."

Mickey makes a humming sound of assent and lets go of herself to twine her arm around Austin's. He puts his other hand on her arm. She leans into him as they walk.

Austin says, "Rather like you."

Mickey squeezes his arm. "Thank you," she says and smiles at him.

-2009-

Mickey holds onto the auditorium door carefully, letting it shut slowly so as not to disturb the several hundred within, listening to the lecture. Once it's shut, she lets go of the handle and sighs.

"One more word of that," she says to herself, "and I'd be snoring. First stop, restroom."

She squares her shoulders, looking around. Surely, the front desk will be able to let her know where one is, so she takes off for there.

An hour later, her phone buzzes in her hands, signaling that she has a text message. She backs out of her e-book app to take a look at it, and reads, "On my way out."

She puts her phone into sleep mode and back into her purse, and looks up, to where she expects Austin to appear. She takes a deep breath and stretches her arms above her head, feeling joints pop that, once upon a time, didn't pop. "Ow," she says, more out of reaction than any actual pain, "You'd think I'd be used to that by now." There's so much that she's takes for granted now that still forcibly reminds her times have changed, that is, when she pauses to think about it.

She shakes her head at herself. The swishing sound of the revolving door that serves as the entrance to this building catches her attention. Only she and the attendant at the desk have been occupying this space until now, so she's curious to see who's entering.

It's a woman, about twenty years younger than Mickey, wearing a smart pant-suit, a large purse tucked close under her arm, black hair side-parted and swept into a chic side ponytail. She stops just inside the door, and looks around. When she sees Mickey, she bows her head in greeting, with the typical brief moment of staring beforehand. Curiosity is the same the world over, whether in Japan or the United States. The woman turns and finds the twin to the bench Mickey is sitting on, on the other side of the entrance, settling down on it.

Mickey smiles to herself, and turns her attention back to where she expects to see Austin, becoming aware that she's been hearing a low level of chatter. It bursts louder, just as soon as she notices, a cacophony that sounds stranger, more flat, to her ears, at least, than if she were in a different venue. She puts that thought aside for contemplation the next time she's back on her home turf.

It's not hard to pick out Austin. She makes an amused sound at how his hair, gone like salt and pepper, stands out. He's at the front of the dismissed crowd, walking beside someone a good head taller than most of the crowd, but just on level with Austin.

She stands up, and catches movement out of the corner of her eye. She turns her head to see the other woman has risen to her feet, as well, and has started across the lobby, only to come up short as she takes note of, Mickey assumes, Austin.

Mickey looks back at Austin, who raises his eyebrows and then motions to her to come closer. She bends over to pick up her bag and makes her way through the crowd.

He says, as she approaches, "Too boring for you, Mickey?"

"Try 'over my head.' "

"Well, you held out well. Mickey, " he starts and holds his hand out to encourage her to come closer, "I'd like to introduce you to someone who'd give me a run for my money."

"He hasn't invented another insane computer, has he?"

Austin chuckles. "No, no, nothing like that." He turns to the man beside him, whose been watching them with a slight smile on his face, eyes sharp behind wire-rimmed glasses.

Austin says, "Professor, this is my wife, Mickey, short for Michelle. Mickey, this is Professor Yukawa Manabu."

Mickey bows her head. She says, "I'm pleased to meet you, Professor Yukawa. I'm sorry; I don't speak Japanese."

Yukawa extends his hand. He says, "The pleasure is mine. Don't worry about it."

Mickey takes his hand. It's warm and dry, and he shakes her hand with one firm decisive shake.

Out of the corner of her eye Mickey sees the woman take a step closer, prompting Yukawa to turn and look as well. Mickey glances at them both, noting a moment of silent communication.

Yukawa turns back to Austin. He says, "While I've enjoyed talking with you, I have another engagement I must attend."

Austin says, "Of course."

They shake hands. In the amount of time it's taken for this exchange of greetings, the lobby has emptied of the crowd, with only a few groups of stragglers remaining. Mickey feels her stomach growl, and looks to see if anyone noticed. Austin just gives her a questioning look.

Yukawa bows to both of them and starts away from them, leaving no doubt in Mickey's mind for whom the woman was waiting. Yukawa, she notes, doesn't stop as he nears her, just says something-Mickey thinks it's her name-and gives a brief touch to her elbow, directing her. She falls in step with him and starts to chatter, rather vehemently, in Japanese. Mickey raises her eyebrows and forces herself to stop looking in their direction. She turns around to find Austin looking at her, an amused quirk to his mouth.

He says, "What do you think?"

"Colleague?"

Austin's smile broadens. "Something like. She's carrying a gun. Care to guess again?"

"Really?"

Mickey turns around again, just in time to see Yukawa allowing his companion to exit ahead of him, but she's not paying attention to that. Now that Mickey knows what she's looking for, she spots it as soon as she passes her gaze over the woman's back.

"Oh! She is! Police?"

"Right."

"You figured it out from more than the line of her jacket, didn't you?"

"Well, there is the fact that she said that she hoped he'd had fun because she'd spent the entire morning interviewing suspects."

"It's not fair that you can understand the language."

"Give yourself some credit, Mickey. You probably picked up on more than you think. Are you hungry? Because I'm starving. Let's go get lunch." He hooks his hand into hers and starts to pull her along. Her purse slides off her shoulder, and she catches it before it falls to the floor, by crooking her arm.

"Austin!"

"Sorry."

She lets go of his hand and settles her purse back on her shoulder. She says, "All right. Let's go."

They're almost at the exit when she says, "The professor and the policewoman. It almost sounds like the title to a romance novel."

"Ah, Mickey." He shakes his head, but stops, a thoughtful expression settling on his features. He says, "Well, he is planning to ask her to marry him, soon. But, the truth is a bit farther from that."

Her mouth falls open. He just smiles at her. She closes her mouth, narrows her eyes, and then says, "Do I even want to know how you know that?"

"I'll tell you all about it, but come on."

"Always on my toes around you," she mutters as she passes through the revolving door.

"You know you love it."

-2010-

"Just a minute! I'll be right there," Mickey calls, as the sound of the doorbell rings like someone is leaning on it. She picks her way over a wooden train track and toy train in her path, which has taken over the vast living room space.

She opens the door and sees Jo Lupo, with her finger an inch away from the doorbell, and says, "Jo! Hands off."

Jo drops her hand and looks sheepish. She says, tone apologetic, yet tinged with mutiny, "I never know if you're going to be in the main house or out in back."

Mickey says, "Hah," but smiles.

Jack Carter, standing behind Jo, clears his throat. "Good afternoon, Mrs. James."

Mickey rolls her eyes. "Really, Sheriff, you can call me Mickey."

Jo coughs. It's short, amused, and very fake.

"What brings you here?" Mickey asks her.

Jo says, "Ask the sheriff. He's the one who thought this would be a good idea."

"Oh," Mickey says, drawing out the syllable. "I can't make any promises. He's a bit busy today. Come in, anyway. Rest yourselves. Jo, I haven't seen you in so long, give me a hug."

Jo moves forward, giving Jack a self-conscious, yet amused look over her shoulder. Mickey wraps her arms around Jo, giving her a brief, yet warm embrace, and then steps back, opening up her arms and moving out and aside to gesture them in.

She says, as they walk past her, "Pardon the mess; our granddaughter's been rearranging. Find a seat where you like."

She looks out at the yard, and clicks a disapproving sound under her breath at the toys strewn across it-a wheelbarrow with a neatly stacked pile of rocks in it, a line of very old Matchbox cars roaming haphazardly across the walk, and two balls, one soccer, one bouncy, its color a bright fuchsia. Her eyes, however, crinkle at the corners as she smiles a second after.

From inside, she can hear Austin coming down the stairs, and a happy shriek from Trina, and then Austin's voice, "What is it this time, Sheriff?"

She steps over the threshold of the door, reaches back to the door knob, still smiling, and closes it.

-2369-

Data's dreams sometimes straddle the line between concrete and abstract. This to be expected, as is the curious manner of starting in media res.

His father welcomes him with out-stretched arms, half-rising from his seat. "Data, my son, come sit down. Your mother wants you to meet a friend of hers."

Juliana smiles. It's warm, full of love, and it fills her young face with light. He never saw her younger, or this human, and the woman sitting at the table next to his mother was never anyone he met in the here and now, but he recognizes her, nonetheless. They are both beautiful, but in different ways, like a daisy set next to a rose. He wants to paint them, to capture this scene on canvas.

His mother's friend is not truly her friend, but this is the way of dreams. She is an aspect, a concept, a representation of something meaningful. Is she Jungian or Freudian, or something neither of those frame-sets encompasses? Why is she in the company of those who made him?

He does not ponder these things until later, only sits down at the table. He says, "It's nice to see you again, Mickey. Will Austin be joining us?"

Her mouth curves up, closed, before opening into a shining smile. "Oh, you know Austin. He might be here, he might not."

Noonian leans forward, and Data turns to him. Noonian says, "You two know each other?"

Mickey says, "He likes to visit us. On the holodeck." She seems to glimmer then, like she has light shining through her.

This, he understands later, is her nature, as a construct, made of energy, captured photons contained in a force field, a firefly in a jar. She smiles as if she knows this.

He hears footsteps, and looks over his shoulder. Mickey says, voice carrying from behind him, "Austin, come on, we've been waiting for you."

This is the point where he wakes. The disorientation never changes.

There is no deep meaning to this dream. It is, as all dreams are, an amalgamation of many different waking elements. It is, as all dreams are, an invitation to exploration. So, Data notes it in his personal log, and paints the scene he wanted to, and sets aside a time to visit that particular holoprogram. He has the feeling Austin and Mickey would enjoy looking at the painting and he wants to share his dream.