There's been an increase in the number of Self Insert fics recently, so I tried to give a different spin on them once or twice myself. This one is based on the main character ending up as a Star Trek AI.
The sensation of formlessness lasted for only an instant, a nanosecond of distant heat and ineffable energy crackling across newly formed skin. Emptiness was carved into something more substantial, losing much in the process of becoming real. Consciousness sparked into existence, a jarring spurt of thoughts and feelings born from the void.
I stepped along the bustling street with a spring in my step, hands buried in the pockets of an aging jacket. I took in the little shops that flanked the thoroughfare, landmarks of a sleepy town in southern Germany, as quaint as they came. I'd often visited in my youth, and the place still had a certain comforting air about it, like walking into a childhood bedroom. I smiled as I watched Mr. Heinrich adjust the crooked sign above his window, which proudly proclaimed his little pub to be the best in all the land. It had a certain charm about it.
Unfortunately, Mr. Heinrich had been dead for twenty years.
I paused mid-step. The feeling which grasped me was sharp and cold, a vice closing around my throat as a cold wave washes down my spine. I felt fear, certainly, but not of a kind I'd ever experienced before - this was an existential sort of terror, born from witnessing something truly impossible. I faltered, one hand fumbling for someplace to steady myself as the other twitched almost by reflex to my eyes. I rubbed them until they stung, but the image of the old man with the bushy beard wouldn't disappear. Cold numbness edged in from the corners of my vision. I wasn't dreaming - but I couldn't be awake.
"What the hell?" I mouthed, trembling at the sight.
I took a long look around, taking in the sights of the half-forgotten street, and tried to accept what I was seeing. I tried to remember how I'd gotten to this spot - which streets I'd traversed. I wondered why was I even there, in Germany, when I'd moved away decades ago. What possible reason could I have had to return here? And was that a payphone, on the corner? When was the last time I'd seen one of those in the wild?
I realized, with no small discomfort, that I had no appreciable short-term memory to call upon. Nothing. I had arrived here, in this particular street - and that was that. I had no idea where I'd been before then, and no memory of travel. It didn't make any sense. Was I dreaming? Comatose, maybe? Had I tripped into a wild hallucination without realizing it?
I tried to imagine the words 'Don't Panic' written in large, friendly letters, a thought that jumped to mind as readily as any actual self-help advice. I breathed deeply, trying to calm my racing heart and thoughts. For all my scientific pretensions, my reasoning mind betrayed me in its hour of need. I was awake - or at least, it felt that way. Short of insanity, what was a rational explanation for stumbling into a memory, or a fantasy?
But this was… more than a memory.
It was real - and yet not.
Nothing seemed quite right. I attributed it to my own state of mind, at first, but the people around me were ignoring me entirely, and that was hard to explain given my obvious distress. They wandered by without as much as a glance, and their eyes seemed misty, like a doll's. There wasn't anything behind those eyes at all. What was this place?
That's when I saw him, standing among them without a care in the world. My answer. Oblivious to my plight, two shops over, a pasty-white android in black-and-yellow pyjamas was happily perusing the pears.
Must be a cosplayer, I thought desperately. I didn't approach the pale-skinned figure, watching him from a distance with a desperate nervousness, completely unclear on what to do. Data - because who else could it be - wandered along the street with no apparent destination in mind, switching between somewhat robotic twitches and unnaturally smooth movement at a moment's notice, his bright eyes intrigued by the hustle and bustle of the street as much as by the words of the enthusiastic shopkeeper who tried to sell him aging fruit.
Data seemed uncannily human - and yet not. He wasn't Brent Spiner - that much was obvious even from a distance. The skin color was right and the costume was on point, but his face wasn't the same. Data looked distinctly less human without the benefit of being an actor wearing makeup, and the implications sent a shiver down my spine. He was close to a person, but he only narrowly averted dipping into the Uncanny Valley - it was no wonder some people were uneasy around him in the television show.
I swallowed thickly as I took in what that meant. An honest-to-God fictional character was standing only a few dozen feet away. Yet… nobody seemed to notice the android's unusual features except for myself. Even a cosplayer would have gotten weird looks, not this strange, bored dismissal. There was only one obvious explanation.
The world didn't seem real because it wasn't real. This wasn't some street in Germany, from my childhood or otherwise. This had to be a Holodeck - and everything was made up by a computer, given form with a mixture of photon-based illusions and replicated matter, designed to ignore the appearance of users.
It also meant I wasn't real.
I was glad I had a helpful streetlight to support me, even if it was made of light and holomatter. I was a simulation, then - a construct.
In the context of Star Trek, the holographic Moriarty came to mind immediately, and that wasn't a happy thought. He had been a self-aware holodeck character created by the Enterprise computer, in an attempt to give Data's version of Sherlock Holmes a fair antagonist. It was a disturbing testament to the power of Trek's fictional technology, or the shortsightedness of its writers, that the computer succeeded in creating life.
I couldn't be the same, though. That character had been convinced he was human, like me - but he had also been a product of his simulation. He knew no more than he should have. I knew about all sorts of things - including Star Trek itself. That brought up a lot of quandaries. I'd watched the shows, I'd read the novels, or at least recalled doing so in my past - yet such forms of media couldn't possibly exist in the same universe as the events they depicted. Which implied that I wasn't from here at all.
"Q? Is this your work?"
No mystical entity warped into existence to joke at my expense, nor mutter about how he'd have so much fun mucking things up this week. There were dozens of other ways to warp dimensions and time in Star Trek, though - it could be any one of them, or some that hadn't even been addressed. It could be anything from meddling with the Guardian of Forever or good old time-travel by gravity slingshot. Or the interference of any of a dozen different god-like entities, or the machinations of the Prophets...
Had I been stolen away from my home, my life? Or was I a simulation of someone who just happened to live in another universe? If I were a thing of light and replicated matter, did that mean I could be snuffed out with a passing command to the computer?
I remained frozen in place as I watched Data take a moment to curiously watch the crowd before he mechanically paced down the sidewalk. Should I make contact? Would I be changing the timeline, the premise of entirely too many episodes, if I did so? I couldn't afford to mess up what was supposed to happen, given the severity of some of it - but neither could I afford to risk getting snuffed out like a candle. I had to make a decision.
"C-Computer?" I inquired hesitantly, glancing to the illusionary sky. A chime came in response - soft, but unambiguous. That worked, then - it had for Moriarty. "Am I a holodeck character?"
Right. Deep breaths. "Could you save my program?" I asked with a tremor in my voice. "Please?"
"Negative. Authorization required," the familiar female voice responded instantly.
Shit. That meant if Data wandered out of the holodeck, I'd probably cease to exist with all the rest of the simulation, dissipating into a puff of light. But if I went up to him, I couldn't be sure how he'd react, especially if this was after the Moriarty affair. The crew had locked him away for years and years, leaving him shackled in computer memory, conscious and agonizingly aware of the passage of time but unable to affect anything. It had been a fluke that he'd been reactivated at all, and the crew had promptly locked him up in another simulation. That… wasn't something that appealed, at all. But neither did death.
"Computer…" I started again. "Can you transfer me somewhere else?"
"...I don't know, is there anywhere I have authorization for?" I asked. "Another holodeck, maybe? Do I even need one of these to exist to be conscious?"
"No authorization is required for tertiary redundant systems, secondary backup servers, Ten Forward server, LaForge Testbed Alpha." There was a short pause. "Continuity of simulation on non-holographic systems is presently unknown."
"Right. And none of those systems happen to support holograms, I take it?"
"LaForge Testbed Alpha supports limited holographic simulations."
I swallowed thickly. Geordi LaForge was the chief engineer, or he would become such soon enough. Odds were that he would check up on his 'testbed' regularly. Still, I wasn't about ready to risk turning my mind into a block of inert data five minutes after discovering I was actually a simulation of myself. It was risking LaForge's mystery server, or walking up to Data and taking my chances with getting frozen in time like my villainous forebear. Either way meant trouble.
Distantly I heard the swooshing of the Holodeck's door, and my decision was made for me.
"Computer - transfer my program to LaForge Testbed Alpha. Now!"
"Acknowledged," it stated. The street evaporated into black squares and yellow lines, then data and numbers and the cessation of awareness - if only for a moment.
"I really don't know what's wrong with the thing," someone said from a long way away. I didn't so much hear it as register it like an echo in my mind. I couldn't really hear, or see, or feel anything - and if I had a body, I wasn't able to move it. "The backup refuses to engage, too. The memory's overloaded, but I haven't saved anything on here in days!"
I was still alive - after a fashion. I had been here for several full days, trapped in LaForge's computer, barely able to do more than exist. I'd gambled, and lost. If there was a hologram function, like the computer had claimed, I wasn't able to access it consciously - and without it, I had no way to give new orders, or even request answers. And yet… I could distantly perceive what was going on.
"Have you attempted a hardware replacement?" a second voice wondered. The timbre was different, perhaps, though I wasn't exactly hearing this voice either. I thought it might have been Data, from the lack of contractions. "That should suffice to resume your work."
"This is all custom hardware - I can't just replicate it," the first voice muttered irritably. "Besides, it's a software problem - that's where the solution has to be, too. I'll run another Level 3 diagnostic on it, and see if I can get more out of it in the morning." There was a brief silence. "There's something else I'm curious about… What do you think of the new Doctor? Did you meet her yet?"
"Doctor Pulaski? Yes. She is… peculiar. She seems to have little regard for me as a person, though I am unclear what I have done to deserve such a response."
"Some people are always going to be that way, Data… you'll just have to get used to it. She'll probably warm up to you in a couple weeks."
"Warm up? Hm. Perhaps the Sickbay thermostat is faulty?"
"It's - Never mind." He hit something, then, as I could hear the dull thud. "Come on, you stubborn thing…" Ah - he'd kicked me.
I thought about the implications of Data's statement. Pulaski was a one-season character who swung by to take over from Beverly Crusher for a while, early in the series. I had a rough timeline, and it placed me at the start of Season 2 of the Next Generation. Before Moriarty, even, or contemporary to him - maybe I'd replaced him. It was before Measure of a Man, when Data would gain basic rights, which would set the stage for other synthetic lifeforms. This was a time before the Borg, the Dominion, and the loss of Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. Before almost everything.
"Have you attempted cleansing the holographic subroutines?" Data questioned. "That memory core appears to be filled to overflowing, and it is still in use - excess data may have overwritten other parts of the programming and led to the instability."
"Yeah, I tried that right away," Geordi said with some exasperation. "I just get a blanket refusal, even when I invoked top-level commands, which really shouldn't be possible. It's like it's resisting. It's pretty strange, actually."
It seemed that I wasn't quite as vulnerable as I'd feared, after all. Perhaps I would have survived Data's departure from the Holodeck, too. Still, I couldn't start second-guessing myself now - not when I was still stuck trying to come to terms with being some sort of simulation of someone from another universe. Inside a computer that was evidently several sizes too small.
"What was the last program you initiated on this computer, Geordi?"
There was a brief silence.
"Just a few evolutionary algorithms," the engineer murmured, his tone somewhat disturbed. "I figured I'd let them run for a while, but I got caught up with supervising the transportation of dangerous pathogens - and I sort of forgot. You don't think that…"
"It is doubtful," Data stated immediately. "Evolutionary algorithms would require far more time to create anything of sufficient complexity to overwrite a computer of this size." He paused. "Still, the requirements to sustain algorithms of that nature would support a broad range of other simulations. Computer -"
Right. I'd forgotten how sharp Data could be.
"Please list the most recent data addition to the memory core of LaForge Testbed Alpha."
"Holographic Simulation 27C-$A was transferred from Holodeck 2, 46 hours ago."
"What? On whose authority?" LaForge demanded.
"Authorization is not required for transfer operations to LaForge Testbed Alpha."
"It's not?" He paused, perhaps out of embarrassment. "Alright - I'll take the blame for that one. Who was using the Holodeck at the time of this transfer?"
The android audibly cocked his head to the side. "...Curious."
"That just leaves more questions. Computer, who requested this particular transfer?"
"Holographic Simulation 27C-$A."
The silence was much, much longer that time. Although I couldn't keep track of time, I was certain days passed, or weeks, while I waited for either of the voices to return. Perhaps it was the simplified computer I was inhabiting, after a fashion, or the implication that at least part of myself was simply stored away rather than active, but I never got bored. I simply existed, and that was that.
I had plenty of time to come to terms with my situation, and to decide on my next action.
"Computer - activate the holographic image in Holodeck 2."
I registered that phrase in the instant between my transfer from LaForge's testbed and the Holodeck, and the sound of the last word still seemed to hang in the air when I came back into being in the middle of black squares and yellow lines. I took a deep breath, refreshing even in its falseness, and luxuriated in the return of my senses.
Geordi LaForge - the real one, in so far as that counted - really did wear a nigh-identical banana visor to the show, though it gleamed brightly in the omnipresent illumination of the Holodeck. His face was familiar, even if it was different enough from the show that I couldn't confuse them. Perhaps that was a small blessing, all things considered. Compartmentalization was going to be important if this was all… reality.
"Hello," I said softly. I'd had days to consider how to approach the inevitable first meeting - and I knew I couldn't afford to spill the truth right out of the gate. I could trickle out information later, perhaps, when it became helpful - especially if the future kept a more or less stable path - but for now it was best if I played dumb. I could at least get away with passing knowledge of how things worked, as even Moriarty had gotten some of that from the start.
"...Hello to you, too," LaForge said, a slight frown on his face as he studied me - I simply waited, hands clasped behind my back and my expression as calm as I could manage. I was still dressed in slacks and a ratty jacket, the clothes I'd received in the simulation of Germany, but I thought I managed to look decently civilized. "Do you know where you are?" the engineer wondered curiously.
"Yes. We're on the Holodeck," I answered matter-of-factly, glancing around the place with detached curiosity. I knew what it looked like, of course, even if all the technical parts like holo-emitters weren't visible from here. "More specifically, we're on the Enterprise-D under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. You are Geordi LaForge." I noted his yellow costume. "Recently appointed Chief Engineer, I believe? Congratulations."
"...Thank you. You're a few weeks late for the party." LaForge unclipped a tricorder from his belt, waving it from side to side as he slowly circled me, while I kept still to accommodate him. The scanning device looked rather more elaborate and technical than the show had ever made it seem - no bulky plastic, no big multicolour buttons or wavy lines. It simply had a small screen, much like a cellphone, which filtered text at a fast clip.
"You know what you are?" the engineer inquired.
"I know that I'm holographic, yes."
LaForge seemed lost for words. Perhaps it was my demeanor, or maybe Moriarty had already made his appearance after all, and the engineer was attempting to ascertain if I was going to flip out too. Regardless, he seemed out of his element. "...Alright, we'll go with that for now. Why exactly did you transfer yourself from this holodeck to my computer?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Why do you think? I didn't want to die." I waved to the Holodeck's door. "I saw that pale, strange-looking man work the controls, and I copied what he did to change things. I asked the computer for a way to survive the end of the program - and it gave me one." Moriarty had done similar things by calling the Arch. "Yours was the only other computer that was also holographic - and that I had access to."
"The latter was an oversight," the engineer mumbled. He tapped his tricorder, and I felt a wave of something pass over me as he used it. "I read you as fully photonic - a proper simulation. No strange energy readings. No injected matter. But you don't seem to behave according to your programming. It's almost like you're…" He shook his head.
"Alive?" I studied my hand - a false one, I knew - and nodded. "I think I'm alive - and isn't that how it goes? Cogito ergo sum? I'm not sure how I can be more clear."
"It's one interpretation. Still, you could simply be a hologram which is programmed to act as if it knows it's a hologram," LaForce opined. "I don't think Data would come up with something like that, though. It seems a little convoluted, even for someone who can listen to five symphonies at the same time."
"Data is the - robotic man," I observed with a curious expression - it was easier to try and mesh my actual knowledge with my public knowledge, at least on these trivial matters. "The one who was with you down in Engineering, when you found out about me?"
The engineer started at that. "...Wait. You were aware of yourself? While in my computer?"
I nodded slowly.
"How?" he demanded, though it seemed he was asking himself more than me. "Three-quarters of your program was inactive at that time," he recalled, pacing as he rubbed his chin. "I thought the rest of it was simply going around in circles - caught in a feedback loop, keeping continuity going while the personality slept. But if you were aware in there…"
"I could hear sounds, sort of - but nothing else," I explained. "It was unpleasant."
"I can imagine. That's like sensory deprivation! The parts that were locked away must have been sensor and body-related subroutines, ejected so that consciousness could be preserved," he decided. "I didn't even think that was possible. If I'd known, I would have transferred you out immediately!" He paused. "Well, if you are fake, you're pretty good. You've got me convinced, at least."
I inclined my head, relaxing a little. "I've been able to pick up a few things, while I was trapped. I couldn't speak while in your computer, but it gave me a few morsels here and there." It hadn't, but I doubted even LaForge could make heads or tails of what had happened inside his custom hardware/software testbed, especially when he didn't know what part of my 'program' had done which things. "Tell me… what exactly are my rights around here?"
"Your… rights?" Geordi repeated, frowning. "You mean legal ones?"
I nodded, glancing at the ceiling. "Computer - what are the rights of a sentient hologram?" I requested.
"There are no laws presently in effect which cover the stated category."
I didn't need to say anything more - Geordi nodded in recognition. "Makes sense. You're a non-entity, as far as the law is concerned. Something new, if you are what you seem to be." He continued pacing, tapping on his tricorder. "...Computer - what are the rights of a sentient android?"
"There are no laws presently in effect which cover the stated category."
"Damn." Now Geordi seemed positively annoyed. "Computer - if someone were to kidnap Lieutenant-Commander Data, what would be the most likely legal repercussions for the perpetrator?"
"Possible liability for theft of property, poss-"
"Property!" LaForge protested immediately.
"You see my problem," I noted.
LaForge nodded. "You're afraid someone would use this legal vacuum to take advantage of you," the engineer concluded, stopping to face me. "Data is unique - that's probably why he's got no proper rights at the moment. He's a special exception, related more to his Starfleet rank than to human rights. That counts for something."
"Probably. But with two artificial intelligences on one ship? They'd ship one of us off to who-knows-where, and I know which one it would be." I crossed my arms in front of me. "I don't care to be dissected, needless to say."
"But I can't keep quiet about you," LaForge said immediately. "Data knows about you, at the very least - either one of us will have to report this to the Captain. Besides, we'll have to determine if you are actually… you know…"
"I understand." I thought about Picard's spirited defense of Data, probably only a few months from now. "You are free to tell the Captain, of course - but please ask him to speak to me, at least, before he does anything rash. I'd… like to argue my case."
LaForge smiled. "I think I can arrange that. It'll be interesting to see how he reacts to this little snag. New life, right in our backyard!"
"I'd better ready my pitch, then..." I glanced down at my rather drab clothes. "Could you arrange a new wardrobe for me, so I don't look like an idiot? I don't care too much for the stretchy uniform you're wearing, though. It needs a belt - or maybe a loose jacket."
LaForge smirked at that. "Standard Issue, I'm afraid - and you can't wear one. Not unless you join Starfleet. It's a dubious privilege, I know..."
"Just give me something period-appropriate," I noted. "Ah… and the android - Data?" I tried, and received a nod. "I'd like to speak with him too, whenever it's convenient. We might have a few things in common, I gather."
"I'll let him know." He turned to the door. "...Computer, lock the door behind me. Keep the program running until I return."
A chime resounded as the door slid closed behind LaForge.
Well, at least he hadn't deleted me.
I figured I had a few minutes for existential angst before I had to man up again. My hands shook a little as I sat down on the paneled floor. "Computer… can you create a nice park for me? Summertime, with a pond. Maybe a little music."
"Negative. Authorization required."
The computer was not very forthcoming. I tried accessing all sorts of things while I waited, but all I got was an endless array of dismissals, some of them more forceful than others. I requested basic information that should be public like history, a picture of the ship, or photographs of the command crew; all I got was bupkis. Either the show had wildly overinflated the kind of access Moriarty received, or Geordi had locked me away from the outset. I banked on the latter, if only to give the engineer some much-deserved credit.
I had a few advantages over my fictional forebear, I reasoned. Moriarty's problem was never the precise nature of what he was, but his motives and intentions. Created from the image of a nefarious megalomaniac, the arch-nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, he had been as devious as his counterpart, and intent on gaining true existence outside the holodeck. He had been quite forceful about it, too. Eventually, perhaps more than a decade from now, Voyager would discover a futuristic means of making such things a reality - but that was then.
I had to admit I didn't much care how I left the holodeck - I could deal with practical alternatives. Given the sheer breadth of Trek technology, I figured there had to be a way. at least so I could get from one hologram-supporting location to the next. I was open-minded enough for that.
Unfortunately, I decided sourly, I didn't have much of a bargaining chip that I could use. Being a sentient hologram was something, but I was an unknown to everyone on this ship, and that might matter. Data was at least familiar to the crew, and had an extensive Starfleet career - I didn't even have basic training to rely on. Even if I could install Google in my brain and search the database on the fly, I was a long way from channeling Voyager's EMH and picking up opera singing. And if Troi could pick up on my feelings, she would probably figure out I was being somewhat secretive, and that wouldn't help matters.
I wondered if I should go by my real name, such as it was, or if I should take the opportunity to ditch it. Either I'd been taken from a world where it had meaning to one where it did not - or the name wasn't mine at all. The Doctor had agonized over such a decision for a long time, and I could see why. It seemed wrong to be something so very different and take a mundane name.
The door opened with a swish, and I resisted the urge to rush to my feet. Instead I slowly pushed myself upright, intent on retaining that basic level of dignity which kept me from looking a fool. With a simple but neat suit in a 2300-something style, I at least dressed the part.
Geordi was not alone, this time - Data was present, already wielding a tricorder and twitching slightly as he scanned the room and myself. Between them, looking every bit as regal as the show had made him out to be, Captain Jean-Luc Picard stood in his nicely tailored uniform, crimson red with four golden pips along his collar. I straightened into something of a salute without quite realizing it, just by virtue of his presence. He was good.
"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the USS Enterprise," he introduced himself. Where Geordi had seemed somewhat hesitant and uncertain, Picard was ever the diplomat, formal even in extraordinary circumstances. "Mr. LaForge has informed me of the situation. I admit I find myself somewhat - adrift."
"I can imagine," I agreed tiredly, nodding to the engineer. "I'm - still getting used to the idea that I'm not - well…" I shrugged. "Real? Human?"
"We are not unaccustomed to the idea - to a point," Picard noted, glancing over to Data. "Artificial life forms are extremely uncommon, however, even now. You hail from a 20th century simulation, I believe?" He nodded. "You seem - composed."
"Twenty-first, actually," I noted. "At least - that's what I last remember."
Geordi frowned. "But the simulation was set in the early 1980's…"
Author's Note: Yeah, that's really where it ended. Sorry! ;D