Picard had heard the stories. It was the only thing anyone talked about—what you'd said, how they'd reacted. And Picard had not taken part in it—yet.
It was the last day of the conference, and he had agreed to be interviewed by the two senior cyberneticists. It was a captain's prerogative—being interviewed on the last day of the conference allowed him to speak for his crew as well as himself, and to know what he was dealing with.
Defending a crew member was not new to Picard. Defending this crew member from those who should be his greatest advocates was also not new to Picard. He had defended Data at the hearing to decide his humanity. He had defended Data and Lal's right to choose when Admiral Haftel tried to separate them. And he would defend Data again.
Only this time, his crew had nearly stolen his thunder.
He had had to reprimand Beverly Crusher for her treatment of Admiral LaRoach, and rumors circled the ship for days about Worf slamming a cyberneticist into a bulkhead (upon investigation, Picard had found that while the rumors were unfounded, the cyberneticist had "insulted Data's honor as well as mine and I would fight for my crewmates' honor as well as my own"). Such violent reactions in defense of someone so calm and gentle.
The door to Picard's ready room chimed.
"Come," he said.
In stepped Admiral LaRoach and Micaela Kelly. Picard smiled. "Sit down," he invited.
Micaela Kelly smiled back as she sat down, while Admiral LaRoach's attention seemed to be someplace else, as his brow was furrowed.
"Ask me your questions," Picard said.
Micaela picked up her data padd. "What do you think of Commander Data?"
A large, all-encompassing question. Best to start simple. "He's a very good officer, and his unique skills make him a valuable member of the crew."
"She means personally," LaRoach grunted. "Apparently, the android has friends."
LaRoach's reputation preceded him, so that comment was not unexpected.
"I don't see why he couldn't," Picard replied calmly. "He was programmed to interact with humans and expand his programming."
Micaela nodded. "From what I've heard, he's tried very hard to do that. What has he done, in your experience?"
"I'm sure you've heard plenty from others," Picard said. "In my experience, he's always listened very carefully when someone talks to him about something like ethics or morality that is very..." Picard paused in search of a word. "...philosophically complex, and doesn't necessarily fit into a logical pattern. He asks thoughtful questions that are difficult to answer. Some people give up, but I try to answer to the best of my ability."
"An android cares about philosophy?" LaRoach said skeptically.
"After all you've heard, Admiral, can you really be surprised?" Micaela asked, giving him a look. "So, he's curious about things that are difficult for his programming to process?"
"He's curious about everything," Picard corrected. "In that way, his name quite suits him. But he is most curious about things that are difficult to understand for him—emotional concepts, such as humor."
"I see," Micaela said.
Admiral LaRoach sighed exasperatedly. "All these questions about human characteristics, and all these answers about how human he is. Even from the little science genius! Am I the only one on board this vessel who knows Data's an android?"
"We all know that, Admiral," Picard said, his tone turning colder. "It's how we view Data that is different. You see him as a machine. I'm not denying that he is," he continued as LaRoach opened his mouth to protest, "What I mean is that you see him only as a machine."
"How else are you to see an android?"
Picard raised his eyebrows. "He was programmed to learn and grow. You could take that into account before judging."
"But he's still limited, isn't he?"
"No more than the rest of us are," Picard said. "All of us strive to be more than the sum of our parts, and that includes Data. In fact, sometimes I think he tries more than the rest of us.
"Surely you can't be equating him to a human?"
"Surely he can," Micaela put in. "His neural pathways are designed to function like a human's, only faster. Shouldn't you know that?"
"Well," LaRoach said, seeming to be at a loss.
"With the evidence all around you, can you deny that Data has become more than a machine?" Picard asked.
"I'm not denying that he's...progressed, but to the extent you suggest? It isn't—"
"Yes, it is possible," Picard said, his voice becoming louder and more powerful without becoming angrier. "If you would only look at the situation without your prejudices blurring your vision, you would see what we all see. But you cling to these ideas, because you think you can't change something you have believed in for a long time. But you can change your mind, as long as you open it."
"I'm not denying your points—"
"Yes, you have, on multiple occasions," Micaela said. "You've stuck stubbornly to your views, even when evidence is all around you that contradicts them. Captain Picard's right, Admiral. You're blind." She stood up. "Next time there's a cybernetics conference, you won't be invited to attend."
She walked out.
Admiral LaRoach watched her go, then turned back to Picard. "She's overreacting."
"No, she's not," Picard said. "If I had the rank, I would order you off my ship for disrespecting a valued crew member." He stood up and straightened his shirt. "As it is, good day, Admiral. I have a painting class with Data."
He strolled out, hoping that leaving Admiral LaRoach alone with the ideas Picard had imparted lingering in his mind would help change his mind, as many people's minds had to be changed before, in many situations where someone refused to see the truth, and where persecuted peoples and their allies had found their voice and spoken.
A/N At last, I'm at the end of this. Do you know how hard it is to keep two multi-chapter fics running at a time?
Though, for all I say about wanting to move on, writing this chapter has reminded me why I wrote this fic in the first place. It has to do with Admiral LaRoach.
You see, I was involved in an issue, let's just say, a social justice issue. The main opposition to the cause I was part of was an overweight, stuck-in-his-ways old man in an authority position whose last name was LaRoach. I had come up with this idea about the time I got involved with this issue, and when trying to think of a name for an evil admiral that was the one that came to me. A lot of Admiral LaRoach's characterization came from his namesake.
By the way, my sister has gotten an account as Janeway-or-the-Highway. She hasn't written anything yet, but she's going to be reviewing fics she didn't want to guest review, so if you see that name in your inbox, that's who it is.
Anyhow, thanks for reading!