Geordi stared into the eyes of the android sitting in the lab. Bright golden eyes, like Data's. But not like Data's, for Data's eyes showed wonder at life, intense loyalty, and kindness. B-4's eyes were blank, even when he was activated. Data was exploring, searching, growing, making every moment of his life important. B-4 was a blank puppet, whose intelligence was limited to simple sentences. Data was not lively, but he was so very alive.
Data was alive.
Even in his thoughts, the past tense constricted Geordi's throat. It wasn't fair! Geordi knew that that was the cry of millions of people who had lost a friend, but that didn't make it any less true. Why should the blank B-4, a stupid android if there ever was one, live, while Data, a deep, complex individual with friends who cared about him, die? Why didn't B-4 die in the Scimitar explosion and leave Data alive?
Because B-4 would never have beamed aboard to save Picard, Geordi answered himself. Only Data, with his loyalty and self-sacrificing nature, could have. Only a person who cared could. And B-4 would never care about anything like Data cared about his friends.
Something flickered in B-4's eyes, and Geordi started. It reminded him of Data, because it was a flicker of life. A bubble of foolish hope swelled inside of Geordi. Then he remembered that even prototype androids with limited neural pathways looked alive when activated.
"Geordi," B-4 said in his strange voice, which seemed to exist just to remind Geordi that B-4 wasn't Data.
"Yes?" Geordi forced himself to say.
"Data is gone."
Geordi choked. "He is."
"He sacrificed himself to save the captain." The words felt unfamiliar to Geordi.
"I understand," B-4 said haltingly. He tilted his head in a gesture Geordi guessed he'd learned from Data. "Data and I are brothers."
"Yes," Geordi said, wondering about the sudden topic switch.
"Data wanted to help me," B-4 said. "Data helps."
"Yes, he does—did," Geordi caught himself.
"You help Data."
"Yes," Geordi said.
"You and Data are brothers."
Geordi nearly leapt backward at the silly conclusion. But it was logic, however inaccurate, and couldn't be scoffed at, considering B-4's usual intelligence level. "We're not. We're good friends. Were good friends. Friends help each other too."
The android stood up. "Good friends. Like brothers," he said slowly, looking down at the engineer.
Data was always taller than Geordi.
Stop thinking about Data! Geordi told himself. He isn't Data. But that logic was more advanced than anything he'd come up with before. Maybe Data's memory transfer was having an effect.
B-4 walked over to the other side of the room and faced the wall.
Geordi followed him, confused. "B-4?" he asked.
"Never saw the sun, shining so bright,
Never saw things, going so right,
Noticing the days, hurrying by,
When you're in love, my how they fly," the android sang in a clear, pure tenor, no trace of his speech glitch.
"B-4?" Geordi repeated.
"Blue skies, smiling at me,
Nothing but blue skies, do I see," he finished. He turned around and smiled. Geordi braced himself for some simplistic comment about how he'd learned to imitate.
"Hello, Geordi," the android said. Like his singing, his voice had no trace of the speech glitch.
It sounded like Data's voice.
"Looks like your speech glitch fixed itself," Geordi said.
B-4 laughed. No, that wasn't right. B-4 didn't laugh.
"Geordi, it is me," he said.
He rolled his eyes in a way that indicated a bit of impatience but not true annoyance. "Not B-4."
Geordi's head started spinning. If he wasn't B-4, then who...No, it couldn't be...could it?
Geordi looked up into the bright, twinkling golden eyes, and tried to take a breath. It didn't make it in, and his head spun faster.
Then his world went black.
"Geordi. Geordi," a voice said urgently in the engineer's ear.
Geordi's eyes popped open, and he wondered why he was lying on the ground facing the ceiling.
"I am sorry to have frightened you," the voice continued.
Everything came back in a rush, and he got to his feet angrily.
"You were in B-4 the whole time?!" he yelled at his friend. "We thought you were dead!"
Data looked slightly guilty. "It was difficult."
"Yes, but it was you just now and I thought it was B-4! I suppose you thought it would be a great joke, to pop out of nowhere and scare me like that!" Geordi took a breath, which Data took advantage of.
"Does this mean you are not happy to see me again?" He raised an eyebrow.
Geordi had opened his mouth to yell again, but he closed it and sighed. "It's good to see you again." Data smiled. "But you need to explain yourself."
"Understandable," Data said, nodding. "You remember when I transferred my memories to B-4."
"Yes, but that couldn't have done this."
"No," Data agreed. "But that was when I set up a link between our neural nets so that when I created a memory, he would receive it as well. I had escaped so many near-death situations that I feared I would not escape another. B-4 would allow me to be 'unkillable' for the interim."
"So you beamed over there knowing that you'd survive through B-4, and you still let us grieve?" Geordi said skeptically.
"I could not be sure it would work, so I did not raise your hopes," Data said.
"But you were in B-4 and you didn't show yourself until now!"
"It took me time to assert myself over B-4's programming," Data explained. "You see, I was there. In B-4's mind." He paused, and his brow furrowed. "Or perhaps I was not, and I had to arrive."
Now Geordi was confused too. "What do you mean?"
Data stayed thoughtful for a while, his eyebrows so pressed together they formed a unibrow. Geordi smiled at how familiar that face was to anyone who knew Data, and it seemed to solidify the fact that Data was back.
Then Data's eyebrows separated, and he laughed.
"Data?" Geordi asked.
"I was dead!" he said, still laughing.
"What was it like?" Geordi asked curiously.
Data's shoulders twitched in a very Data-ish shrug. "Inexplicable. At any rate, I did assert my programming over B-4's, but I thought I would let you all figure it out for yourselves." He chuckled to himself. "I suppose I should have expected that you would all try to 'move on' and therefore dismiss any signs of my return as wishful thinking."
"Come to think of it," Geordi said thoughtfully, "B-4 did seem more intelligent, but I wouldn't have guessed it was you."
"Because you did not think I would return. Understandable, but rather irritating when I thought I had made it very clear."
"I guess you did," Geordi agreed. "But did you have to scare me like that?"
Data smiled. "Do you remember when we went to the holodeck and acted 'The Adventure of the Empty House'?"
"What does that have to—oh!" Geordi said, and he laughed. "You wanted to be Holmes. If I remember correctly, Watson fainted too."
"Yes, and Holmes apologized for his unnecessarily dramatic reappearance," Data said, nodding. "I am sorry, but—"
"—you just couldn't resist the opportunity to truly be Holmes," Geordi finished. "It's okay." He clapped his friend on the shoulder. "It's good to have you back, Data."
A/N [insert standard disclaimer here]