A/N: I haven't read any of the books that take place after Nemesis, so this is probably completely incompatible with them. C'est la guerre.
It was in the left-hand column of the current events feed. A small, unobtrusive headline that read: "Eccentric Genius to Wed Holographic Lover." Not the kind of gossipy news that Deanna Troi, diplomatic officer of the USS Titan, usually bothered with. But there she was, thumb hovering over the padd, hesitating to select the item and read the details. One thought repeating itself over and over in her mind:
Please don't be Reg. Please don't be Reg. Please don't be Reg.
She pressed down.
The story opened.
It was Reg.
They'd used the same photo of him that was on the Starfleet Academy brochures for his seminars on the Borg. The one where the photographer had told him to smile and look natural. The best thing you could say about it was that it wasn't the least flattering picture of Reginald Barclay ever. The worst thing you could say was that he looked completely deranged. His eyes were wild with a mingling of terror and hopeful intensity, and his lips were curled strangely in something that was almost a grimace but could have been him trying to interrupt the photographer with a question. It didn't look good.
Lieutenant Reginald Endicott Barclay III, expert in the field of communications research and champion of drafting new legislation governing the rights of holographic intelligences, has announced his intention to wed a hologram of his own creation. The program was constructed on Jupiter Station, initially to assist in difficult calculations and high-risk repairs to an unknown project in development at the time. It has been active for a period of two years, and Barclay maintains that in that time it has developed a level of individuality comparable to that of the notorious EMH program of the Voyager mission.
Barclay himself was known to have an influential hand in publishing the controversial holonovel Photons Be Free, allegedly penned by the EMH itself. Since that time, he has been active in asserting new Federation level legislation to secure various legal rights for high-autonomy programs…
It went on after that to give more of Reg's background in Starfleet, use a few quotes that described his social difficulties in an unflattering way, and also to editorialize a bit more about whether or not a hologram was a person. Deanna didn't care for the slant of the piece, but that was irrelevant.
The door opened with its usual pressurized woosh, and Will Riker strolled into her office with a smile on his face.
"Ready to get some lunch?" He asked.
"I can't right now," She shook her head, "I have to call Reg."
"Reg? Did something happen?"
"He's getting married to a hologram."
Will's smile broadened and his blue eyes twinkled. He was trying really hard not to laugh, and it was very obvious.
"Don't." Deanna advised him.
"I wasn't going to," He shook his head, still grinning like a fool, "Say hi to him for me. I'll see you later."
When the door shut again behind him, she tossed the padd onto her desk and took a deep breath. Geordie used to joke about this exact situation. Most of them did. But she never really thought she'd be confronting it one day. Then again, artificial intelligences had come such a long way, and it was difficult to judge a situation like this without knowing the whole story.
She called him.
His face lit up when he saw her on the screen. He was a good friend and good person. She wanted him to be happy, but she wanted that happiness to come from positive and healthy relationships. It was all just a matter of making sure that this was the best thing for him.
"Deanna!" He said, "What a pleasant surprise!"
"You're not too busy to talk, are you?" She asked.
"No, not really. Just finishing up a few things here and there. Don't be surprised if you hear a big announcement from the CRC soon!"
"I already heard a big announcement today," She said, "I read an article about you."
"Oh," His expression fell, "That. They weren't supposed to print that. They weren't even supposed to know about it! I was going to tell you myself, of course, I was just trying to find the right time, and I knew you'd be concerned because of my… problems in the past. I wanted you to meet her! Get to know her! Then once you liked her, I was going to tell you that she happened to be a hologram. Sort of. That was my plan, anyway."
"I know what you're thinking!" He said defensively, "I do! And I know that you're just concerned, and I appreciate it. But you don't know her! She's… she's… not just a hologram. She's a woman. She has so much individuality and-and free will! Her personality far exceeds her original program! She's so much more than what people think of when they think of a standard hologram. I know you can understand."
"I do," Deanna smiled fondly, "What's she like?"
"Oh!" Reg beamed, "Well! She was originally intended to be my assistant, so I based her program off of people I felt comfortable with, using various percentages to determine her initial traits and her appearance. She's actually eighteen percent you! So I'm sure you'll get along great!"
"That's… really something."
"Yes! And of course, as time went by she started to branch out. I wanted her to be able to experience personal growth, but I never expected her to blossom this much! And then, one day, we were recalibrating, um, something classified, and she told me that she was in love with me. Which was very, very unexpected. It took me awhile to adjust to the idea, but why not?
I mean, there's no reason to shun a person's genuine feelings because of how they came into existence. And she's good for me. She really is. So, after I'd thought about it for a few days, I decided to propose."
"A few days?" Deanna tried not to sound disapproving. She failed.
"It's a big decision, Reg," She told him, "Hologram or not."
"I'd like to come visit, so I can meet her and see the two of you together. There's no reason you need to have a wedding right away, is there?"
"Good. Let me organize my schedule, and I'll call you back later," She said warmly, "But I don't think I need to be too worried. Congratulations, Reg."
He smiled and nodded and ended the transmission. When his face disappeared from her screen, she leaned back in her chair and allowed herself to relax a little.
Maybe it wasn't such a terrible thing after all. There was all kinds of love in the universe, and she sensed that he was genuinely happy in a way he hadn't been for a long time. Perhaps this time, it would actually work out for him. Still, she was a little irked that she owed Geordie drinks now.
For awhile there it had looked like Reg might actually not build his own wife from scratch.
She was hoping Will would be in the mess hall, and he was, walking from the replicator to an empty table. Deanna caught up with him just as he was sitting down.
"That didn't take very long," He said cheerfully, "False alarm?"
"No, he's really engaged and she's really a hologram," She slumped into the chair across from him, looking a little beleaguered and a little amused, "I said I'd go meet her."
"You should. Knowing Reg's track record with women and his track record with holograms, I wouldn't be too surprised if her personality matrix malfunctioned and she tried to kill him."
"Will!" Deanna scolded.
He just tossed her a shrug, completely unrepentant.
"You know what's strange?" She said, "I actually wouldn't mind if this worked out for him."
"That's the thing about having unusual friends," Will reminded her, "They tend to do unusual things. And, after a couple of decades of it, it's the normal things that seem out of place."
Deanna groaned quietly enough so that nobody at the nearby tables would notice, stretched her arms onto the table and hung her head. He was right.
"Maybe we can make a few boring friends," He said, "Then we could talk to them about their work schedules and their kids. Maybe their gardens."
"It's not worth it." She said with a smile, and she meant it.