INANIMATE

A terrible keening wail, louder than any human voice could possibly scream, pierced the doors of the sickbay and reverbrated throughout the surrounding corridor. Inside, the senior staff of the Enterprise D were gathered around a bio-bed, all wearing protective gear over their ears. The metallic shriek continued unabated, as the one producing it did not need to breathe.

The thrashing being held down on the bio-bed by force fields was none other than Lieutenant Commander Data.

Looking down at the android, Lieutenant Geordi Laforge reconsidered their options for what seemed to him to be the millionth time. He felt that it was somehow unfair to deactivate Data. That it somehow reduced his humanity. At the same time, he didn't think there was much he could do to help while his friend was in this condition. LaForge tried to separate his emotions as Data's friend from his duties as Chief Engineer. He failed. Miserably.

Finally, with a sigh, he motioned to Dr. Crusher. She moved in close to Data, reached under his back, and depressed a well-concealed button. Abruptly, the shrieking stopped and the android fell still. Reaching up to remove his ear protection, LaForge glanced up from Data's motionless yellow eyes to see Captain Picard's looking gravely back at him.

"I dunno what happened, Captain. He just... lost it."

The Captain took a deep breath and looked to his first officer.

"Number One, what exactly were you doing when this started?"

Commander Riker thought for a moment then answered gravely, "Nothing out of the ordinary. We beamed back down and did a sweep of the compound. I had Geordi and Data look over the main computer to see if there was anything we'd missed the first time through. I went to go get a better look at the external damage, but I heard Geordi shout something and then..."

He trailed off and gestured to the bio-bed, ending the sweeping movement with his hand over his mouth. Picard looked back to Laforge.

"We were looking over the computer, just like the commander said, and Data said he felt dizzy. I asked if he was okay and he said no. He seemed to lose control of his servos and fell down, and that was when I called for Commander Riker. Then Data just started making that awful noise. The way he was twitching; it was just..."

LaForge turned away, arms folded. There was an uncomfortable silence. After a moment, Lieutenant Worf spoke up.

"Captain, our scans indicated nothing unusual about the Kohi base other than the damage caused by the Tolahr's plasma weapons."

Picard looked around at the senior staff. They were accomplishing nothing standing here and lamenting, and there was absolutely no sense in wasting time.

"Dr. Crusher, I want you to run diagnostics on Mr. Data. Check every system, every subsystem. Commander Riker, you will lead an investigation on Kohar with Mr. Worf and a team of engineers. If you should find any irregularities or unusual conditions that were previously overlooked, report them to me immediately. I'd like a report from everyone within the next few hours. I'll be on the bridge."

With that he turned to leave, but LaForge quickly caught up to him and, somewhat hurt, asked, "Captain...why haven't I been assigned a duty on this mission?"

Picard looked at him, a bit surprised.

"Well, Geordi... I thought you needed a reprieve. This has been hard on all of us, and seeing as you're Data's best friend, I thought-"

"Look, Captain. I don't mean to be rude, but I can't just sit here and watch him lay there like that. I need to do something, get my mind off of this. I need to help Data."

The captain studied LaForge for a moment, smiling slightly at the man's resolve and undying loyalty.

"Of course, Geordi. You will report to Commander Riker with the rest of the away team."

LaForge gave a sort of pained, bittersweet smile to the captain and made his way to the sickbay's exit, trying not to catch any unnecessary glimpses of his inanimate friend. Just before he reached the doors, Picard called out to him.

"And, Geordi..."

"Yeah, Captain?"

"Good luck."