Disclaimer: As I understand it, some entity called 'Paramount/Viacom' “owns” the characters, features and ideas that make up the mythology known as Star Trek. I know I don't. Nonetheless, it is my steadfastly held opinion (backed up by a Mr. Henry Jenkins of MIT!) that the Star Trek Mythology has come to take a place among the mythologies of the new global folk culture -and as such I have every right to try my best to contribute something of my own to the myths and stories I love so well. As long as I don't try (goddess forbid!) to make money off of it.

By Any Other Name

By Taylor Dancinghands

I. Painful Endings - New Beginnings

         It was not at all clear in Jean Luc Picard's mind, in the weeks that followed Shinzon's defeat and Data's death, just who had actually been killed in the struggle on the Scimitar's bridge -Shinzon, himself, or, as he had fearfully believed from the start, both of them. Something inside of him had died when Shinzon died. He had seen the life fade away from the Praetor's eyes -inches away from his own- and it was as though he'd been looking into a mirror. He had left his own bridge at the end of that awful day, numb and in shock, and he had gone to seclude himself -first in his ready room, then in his quarters- to wait for the numbness to pass, and the pain to begin…but it never did.
                 Those eyes were all he could see and remember whenever he was left to himself, and tried to get a hold on what had happened. He could remember Data's last gaze upon him -painfully intense, as Picard himself had faded away- knew intellectually exactly what had happened, but he could not seem to bring himself to understand that Data was really gone. The idea was too enormous to grasp, and grappling with it just lead him back to the moment when he saw the light of life leave Shinzon's -and his own- eyes.
                  He'd moved through the many events that followed -Data's memorial, the departures of Will and Deanna, and of Beverly Crusher- like a sleepwalker, barely present. They surely knew something was amiss with him, but it had been too easy to put them off. They were all starting new lives, and he would never allow any old bit of unfinished business of his, from their old lives, to cloud their leave-taking.
                  He'd even, out of desperation, tested himself alone with Data's new brother, Be-four, but he had left that encounter even more disturbed than he had been before. It disturbed him that Be-four was so like the absent Data, and yet so utterly unlike him but, most of all, it disturbed him that he no more felt anything for Be-four than he did about anything else at the moment. The longer it went on the more he began to worry that he was headed for something very bad indeed, and by the time that nearly everybody who cared for him in the world had left the Enterprise, he felt very frightened, and very alone -when he thought about it. He labored at length not to.
                  Nobody expected Captain Picard to be anything but somewhat distracted and disengaged, as the Enterprise spent the next two weeks undergoing repairs. Geordi and Worf had more than enough to keep them occupied; he'd managed to play the cordial new Captain with his new Number One, Commander Madden, while still managing to keep his distance -which was just as the Commander probably expected- and the Enterprise's new C.M.O. and ship's counselor had not yet arrived. Nobody was there to notice that he wasn't eating, or sleeping, and Jean Luc took note of this with a sort of a dispassionate and helpless despair. He knew he was due to hit a wall soon, there wasn't a thing he could do to stop it, and there wasn't a soul in the world he could turn to for help.
         Then finally, about ten days after everyone had left, the universe granted him a portion of grace. He was alone in his quarters, as he had spent many an evening of late, not reading or listening to music but just sitting -as though waiting for Death to finally catch up with him- when a chime on the door startled him considerably. No one had come to visit him in his quarters in days, and he didn't really want to see anyone now, so he didn't answer. The visitor did not wait long, however, nor did she try the chime again, but addressed herself brusquely to the intercom (which should have, Jean Luc mused, been turned off).
         “Open the door, Picard!”
         It was not possible for him to refuse that voice, and as soon as the door responded to his spoken act of surrender Guinan entered promptly, without pretense. He had not risen, nor moved in any way except to command the door allow her entrance, and he gazed impassively at her as she crossed the room to sit beside him on the couch. Inside, he felt the terror of a condemned man finally facing his execution, and at the same time felt the beginning of a soul freeing relief, for an end was now, at last, in sight.
         She turned to face him, laying a hand on his shoulder, and met his devastated eyes with her ageless ones.
         “So,” she said after a long gaze. “here we are again.”
         With those word Jean Luc was suddenly and unexpectedly propelled many, many years into the past, to when he had first met Guinan (though not when she had first met him) and had been suffering, most grievously, from the very recent death of his one time lover and first First Officer, Jack Crusher. It took him a moment or two to find his voice.
         “No,” he said, roughly, still denying, helplessly trying to avoid the unpleasantness awaiting him. “It's not the same. Jack and I hadn't been lovers for years when he…when he died, and Data…Data wasn't following my orders -or any orders- when…” Picard stared down at his tightly clenched fists. “when he…If he had…if he'd just…just obeyed orders…”
         “Then you'd be dead now, instead of him.” Guinan finished for him, bluntly. “Is that what you really wish would've happened, instead?”
         He knew what she meant. It was wrong of him to wish to throw the gift of Data's sacrifice away. Data had wanted him to have life, had wanted to protect him, and he had succeeded. It was ungrateful of Picard not to appreciate that Data had saved his life (again) but…
         “I was ready.” He murmured, not knowing how to explain to Guinan what he felt, and unable not to try. “When I killed… him -Shinzon-… and saw him die, it was like watching myself die…And it was what I had come to do, …wasn't it? If he had only come a few seconds later I would have freed myself, I would have…I would have been the one…It would have been too late to stop me, but…I…I couldn't…I didn't…and then he… …” Picard felt the tears begin to fall, felt his voice begin to break, but he couldn't stop now.
         “Why?” he cried out, suddenly. “Why did he send me back? Why couldn't he have waited? Why couldn't he trust me? Why did he think his life was worth less than mine? It wasn't! He was wrong! It wasn't! I was dead already! I was dead already!
         He felt himself break open, felt the poison spill out. He'd driven it deep inside of himself this time and the agony as it poured out of him was almost more than he could bear. Guinan was right, though. They had been here before, he and she -even though it was much worse this time- and she held him close and kept him safe, now as then. Jean Luc wailed and wept in his agony, and she held him; when the pain was so awful that he wanted to beat his skull against the floor until it shattered, she was strong, and she held him tight; when he would have flown apart into a million broken pieces without her, she wrapped her arms around him and held him together.
         He clung to her as he had as a broken hearted young man, now a broken hearted old man, and did not drown in his grief, for her arms had made for him a life raft, and so he floated upon his sea of sorrow, rather than sinking beneath it. When he began to be aware of the deep and inexpressible gratitude he felt to this true and constant friend, he knew he was ready to live again.
         “How do you always know?” he asked, eventually, still wrapped in the shelter of her inexhaustible compassion “How do you always know when I need you?”
         “How did you know that I was going to need you, when I did?” she asked in response.
         “I didn't.” he replied, puzzled. “I was just doing what I always do, what needed to be done.”
         “Well, there you are.” she said. “That's all I do. Though I admit, I've had a few years more practice at it than you have, and you do learn a few tricks after a while.”
         He sought again to find a way to express his gratitude to her, but instead found another untapped pocket of grief, and only wept again, for a spell. He felt safe with her, as he never had with anyone else, in all his life, not even Data, for whom he had often had to be strong, and wise. Guinan had known him young and foolish, old and bitter, and yet had always seen through to his true heart, and had always come to its rescue, no matter what indignities he or his life had piled upon it. He trusted her as none other, to hold his naked and bleeding soul in her hands, for she had the hands of a healer, and had never failed him.
         Eventually, she coaxed him into taking some small nourishment, and then sleeping, which he did, with her at his side, for more than eleven hours. He awoke feeling chagrinned -for he never slept so long- drained, and a little weak, but most important, he woke feeling, and even the wrenching pangs he felt when he remembered his loss were a welcome replacement for the deadly numbness which had gripped him before.


         Returning to the bridge was a comforting return to some semblance of normalcy, free at last of the nagging dread that something might send him into a public meltdown at any moment. Not one person commented on his absence, though with the Enterprise still in space-dock, undergoing repairs, he was hardly required to keep regular bridge duty. Still, some business had accumulated during his absence which did require his attention, not the least of which was that his new First Officer had suddenly been called away on some family business, which looked to require an extended leave, so he had a new, new First Officer, arriving later on today.
         Commander Sunita Chandrasekhar, as it turned out, had served with Worf on the Defiant, and he had a high opinion of her -no easy thing to get from Worf. He and the Captain met her in the transporter room when she arrived on board, and it was clear to Picard that his two senior officers were going to get on together quite well. It was a good beginning, he mused, for the new 'family' of senior staff that the Enterprise needed very much to come together.
         Commander Chandrasekhar seemed a forward, self assured and genial person, Picard observed, as she was introduced to and chatted with Worf, Geordi and the other senior staff. She seemed inclined to treat him, however, with an almost reverential deference, which Picard found touching, but knew he would have to cure her of quickly.
         A few days after the change in First Officers came another unexpected change -they were no longer going to explore the Deneb System. Affairs on Remus apparently remained dangerously unstable, and though the Federation/Romulan talks were making good progress, there'd been a marked increase in Reman separatist (or supremacist) terrorist acts. The Reman authorities -the shambles of the Reman 'government' which Shinzon had set up- had agreed to let themselves be policed, but not by the Romulans. Will's new ship, the Titan, was ordered to stay within the vicinity of Admiral Janeway's ship, the Villa-Lobos, where the talks were taking place, so it would fall to the newly repaired Enterprise E to return to the site of her last battle, to help keep the peace.


         Along with their new orders came the last of the new senior staff -a Denobulan ship's councilor, named Dr. Kyrglipf, and for the Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer, an old friend: Dr. Kate Pulaski. Dr. Pulaski greeted Captain Picard warmly when she came aboard, the twinkle in her eye muted a touch, in deference for his recent loss. Picard knew that she would never get any more 'touchy-feelie' than that, for which he was decidedly grateful.
         Their new orders had them leaving in five days, and Guinan would leave in three. Jean Luc would have loved to have her sign on as 'bartender' again but knew she had other roads to travel, so he made sure to make the most of her presence while she remained. They dined together most every night after she miraculously reappeared on board the Enterprise, and Jean Luc thought he'd already made more use of her 'listening' these last few days than in all the years he'd known her.
         It was only a measure of her deep regard for him that she went so far as to draw him out, over their last dinner together, for there was one anxiety troubling him still, which he had been hesitant to share, even with her. She was neither to be fooled nor put off though, he was not surprised to find, so he was, in the end, forced to confess.
         “What” he finally asked, “am I going to tell Spock?”
         “Well, I imagine it'll depend on what her asks, don't you?” she responded with much too much good sense. “I'm pretty sure he's not going to hold you responsible for Data's life, though,” she went on, “which is what your first question sounded like to me.”
         “I suppose part of me does feel as though Spock left Data in my care,” Picard reflected, “in as much as he could not be with Data personally to look after him.”
         “I'll let you figure out how silly that reasoning is on your own time,” Guinan replied with a smile, “and just tell you that I'm pretty certain that Spock isn't going to see things that way.”
         “I know you're right.” Picard said, staring down at his hands, “but that doesn't help me answer my question: What am I going to say to the man?”
         “But you see, that's a different question.” Guinan pointed out. “Cause I can tell you the answer to that one. You'll say to him the very same thing he's going to say to you: 'I grieve with thee.' And then you'll take it from there.”
         Picard nodded, uncertain for a moment of his voice, and Guinan leaned forward to place a hand over his shoulder.
         “Spock cares for you, Jean Luc. He'll want to know what happened, and to grieve with you. That's all.”
         “You're probably right.” Picard said quietly. “He'll know the Enterprise is returning to Romulan space, too, unless I miss my guess, but I don't know how I can contact him safely.”
         “Didn't Data have some sort of regular correspondence with him?” Guinan asked.
         “Through a vulcan scholarly info net, called the K'keft Taa Forum,” Picard replied, “but all correspondence on the Forum takes place in old High Vulcan -which, as it happens, I don't speak.”
         Guinan nodded. “Still,” she considered, “you might want to check it.”
         Picard promised to give the matter further consideration, but in the end it was a number of days before he nerved himself up to doing anything about it.


         He had only entered Data's quarters twice since his death, and had been happy to let Geordi La Forge shoulder the burden of being Data's executor, as Data had named him. Picard felt a little guilty at leaving Geordi to carry that responsibility, along with his responsibilities as ship's engineer, so he gave Geordi all the time he needed to deal with Data's affairs, and for that reason Data's quarters were still largely as he had left them.
         It was a day or so after they had left the base for Romulan territories that Picard finally found himself standing outside of those quarters, with the intention of entering and accessing Data's correspondence. To his surprise, he found the door seal indicating that someone was already there, but he assumed that it must be Geordi, and so went ahead and entered. It was, in fact, the engineer, along with Be-four, and Geordi appeared to be trying to show the prototype how to feed Data's cat, Spot. Spot was not cooperating.
         Some cats, Picard knew, develop intense loyalties to one person, and one person only, and treat all others with contempt and hostility, and Spot, he had come to sadly determine, definitely fell into that category. Geordi and Picard watched as Be-four crouched in front of the bookshelf behind which the cat lurked, holding out the creature's food dish, and attempting to coax him out, after a fashion.
         “This is Spot's favorite, feline supplement number 75.” Be-four declared. “Spot is a good cat. Spot needs to eat his feline supplement.”
         Spot hissed, and retreated further behind the bookshelf.
         “I've tried, Worf's tried,” Geordi remarked to the Captain. “I swear to God, I actually found myself wishing that Reg Barclay was here. The cat actually liked him. Anyway, I figured it wouldn't hurt to let Be-four try, maybe he'd actually look enough like Data…”
         “No,” Picard said wistfully “Even a cat could tell. He's not Data. Still, I can see he's come a long way since I saw him…what, a week ago?”
         Be-four had given up on the cat and set the food dish down. Now Picard's presence caught his attention.
         “You are Captain Picard.” he stated, as if it were a revelation. “You were my brother's friend.”
         “Yes, that's so.” Picard said quietly.
         “This is Geordi. He was my brother's friend too.” Be-four went on, quite pleased with himself.
         “I think he knows that, Be-four.” Geordi put in, suddenly very conscious of his Captain's feelings.
         “And this is a positron emissions gage.” Be-four went on without missing a beat, identifying a device on Data's desk.
         “Ok, Be-four, I think that's enough.” Geordi said to the prototype, not unkindly. “He's been identifying things a lot lately.” he then said to Picard. “Almost like he's recognizing them. And his neural network is definitely expanding. I sure wish I understood what's going on better, but I don't think even Data knew what to expect from him.”
         Besides leaving him in charge of his worldly affairs, Data had also left Geordi in charge of his recently discovered older brother. Remembering his unpleasant encounters with Commander Maddox, Data had planned carefully, and had specified both that Geordi would inherit Be-four -should Starfleet chose to regard him as property- and appointed Geordi as Be-four's guardian -should Starfleet decide that he should be considered a dependant, or ward. Data had known that Geordi would never abuse his 'owner' status, and would take his guardianship most seriously. Picard could see that faith being justified in the way Geordi was caring for his charge, and it eased his own guilt, somewhat.
         “However he develops,” Picard said to Geordi now, “I know you'll do the right thing for him. You can be the person he needs in his life, and I'm very grateful for that, because I'm not sure I could be.”
         Geordi accepted the compliment with a smile and a nod, and then turned to usher Be-four out with him as he left. Their departure left the space suddenly quiet, but peacefully so.
         Picard crossed to Data's work station and sat there, giving himself a moment before he opened the comm screen. As he sat, Spot silently eased himself out from behind the bookshelf and hesitantly approached the food dish. He sniffed it, and then very tentatively began to eat. Picard watched for a few moments, surprised at the satisfaction he felt, just watching the animal take nourishment, and remembered that he himself had been similarly disinclined to take nourishment recently.
         “Good kitty.” He hazarded quietly, by way of encouragement, which caused Spot to look up at him briefly, and then return to eating. He felt an unexpected kinship with the creature, and considered, for a brief moment, adopting Data's pet himself. He quickly thought the better of it, his own professional standards strongly discouraging ship's captains from owning pets.
         He now turned his attention to Data's comm screen, and activated it. It took him a moment or two to remember where Data kept the K'keft Taa Forum access files, but remembered after wandering through Data's desktop for a while. He bought up Data's mail box, and there was indeed a message there, dated one day after his demise, and the subject heading was -in English!- 'Captain'. It took him another long moment to remember Data's password which would allow him to access the message. In that moment the cat finished eating, stretched, and leapt onto the bed to begin washing itself, and Picard remembered the password. It was the vulcan word for 'spot'.
         <<Captain Picard,>>
the message began.
         <<I grieve with thee. We must meet. Do not reply on this forum. I will know when you have received my message. Check this space regularly, and I will inform you of arrangements when I have made them.
         Your t'hy'tka>>
He had forgotten. The word meant 'lover's lover' -the relationship he shared with Spock- and on vulcan the relationship had traditionally been a respectable one in a large family, though the term, and the position, were a bit archaic. After Data and Spock had returned from the misadventure during which they had become bond mates, Spock had made every effort to show Picard his respect and regard, including inviting him to participate in a very old vulcan ritual, formalizing their relationship as t'hy'tka to one another.
         The ritual, the meal, and evening they had passed together afterwards had been most memorable indeed, but he had all but forgotten it in the wake of Data's death. Spock's note, and his use of that term of address reminded him, and the anxiety he'd felt about meeting Spock diminished considerably. In fact, he reflected, he thought he would very much like to talk with the vulcan ambassador again, if only to spend some time with the one person for whom Data's loss was nearly as profound as for himself.

II. Many a Slip Twixt…

         They made the Romulan System without incident, and took up random and wide patrols in the vicinity of the two planets and the Villa-Lobos, where the talks were taking place. They encountered little or no unauthorized activity -which meant that their presence was doing what it was supposed to- and Captain Picard, Commander Chandrasekhar, and Worf made use of the time to get used to working together on the bridge in a pleasant and calm environment.
         Jean Luc managed to check Data's K'keft Taa forum message box every couple of days or so, and after they'd been in Romulan space for about ten days, another message arrived. This message was even more concise, containing only a series of coordinates, a time and date, and a long string of numbers and letters which Jean Luc eventually discovered was the make and model of a type of Romulan shuttle. It gave enough advance warning that Picard could easily give a random seeming series of navigational directions and turn up at the right place and time with no one the wiser.
         This was just what the Captain did, in addition to assuring that he would be on the bridge when the tiny Romulan shuttle was 'mysteriously discovered', here in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, he was already on the bridge, about an hour before he expected to make that discovery, when another 'surprise' vessel turned up.
         “She is vulcan -a diplomatic courier,” said Commander Chandrasekhar crisply when he inquired about it, “and it looks as if she has another vessel in tow.”
         “That wouldn't be a Romulan TY-672 Shrike class shuttle, would it?” asked Picard with a troubling sense of fatalism.
         Both Worf and his first officer now turned and looked at him for an explanation, because, of course, that's exactly what it was. He asked the lieutenant at the comm to hail the Vulcans, and then explained to his officers that he'd been expecting to meet Ambassador Spock, whom the Enterprise had encountered in similar circumstances before. The Vulcans now appeared on the main screen.
         The vulcan captain greeted him with icy formality, and Picard didn't so much as bat an eye.
         “I have come here to meet the passenger of the ship you seem to posses.” Picard explained, in perfect politeness, making no assumptions. “ Can you tell me what has become of him?”
         “Spock, son of Sarek was the passenger of that ship.” responded the vulcan captain, using not one title of respect in the speaking of Spock's name. “And he is required to return to Vulcan, to answer certain questions for the High Council.”
         This was certainly an unexpected development, Picard mused. He was fairly sure that Spock had no desire to return to Vulcan if he could help it, particularly not now. He was also fairly certain that the Vulcans would not readily be persuaded to give him up, but he was determined that they would not, under any circumstances, be allowed to take him.
         It surprised him to realize how strongly he felt that last. He knew full well that he was contemplating actions that might be the cause of an enormous diplomatic incident between two of the Federations oldest members, and it mattered not in the least to him. He felt that sense of fatalism sweep over him again as he called his senior staff together to work out their options.
         It was Comdr. Chandrasekhar, Worf, Geordi, and Dr. Pulaski who gathered in the conference room with Captain Picard, to try and figure out a way to get Spock away from the Vulcans without starting a war. When Dr. Pulaski asked why it was so important that Spock not be taken back to Vulcan -a question most of the others, he could see, were curious about as well- Picard was honest.
         “I freely admit that the original purpose for my meeting with the ambassador were personal.” he told them. “He and Data were very close,” (nothing had been kept secret as any attempt to do so would have been futile, in the end) “and he has not yet, to my knowledge, learned the circumstances of Data's death.” Most of them knew, or had guessed this already, Picard suspected as he looked around the conference table.
         “I don't know what business the Vulcans have with Spock, and ordinarily the High Council's concerns would certainly come above my personal ones,” he went on. “but these are not ordinary times, and because of that, I find several things suspicious about the Vulcans' behavior. For one thing, Spock has not worked for the Vulcan government, or any other government as far as I know, for some time. He is not under arrest, nor wanted on criminal charges, or even wanted to give testimony, because if that had been the case, the Vulcans would have told us so. Why then, have they found it necessary to apprehend him in this manner? I find the whole thing suspicious, and I am not inclined to let it go without at least speaking to the ambassador in person.”
         A brief scan of the faces around the table told Picard that his officers were in agreement on this point.
         “I think I can persuade the Vulcans to allow me this,” he continued, “but if I learn from Spock that he is being taken to Vulcan against his will, I need a way to extract him without starting a fight. What are my options?”
         Picard could see right away, that this bunch had the makings of being every bit as good of a team as the last bunch. It helped that two of them had been part of that last bunch, and knew how it was done, and before long they had a good working plan. Dr. Pulaski would implant a sub-dermal transponder in the palm of Captain Picard's hand, which he could activate by closing his hand and pressing on it. Once activated, it would send a signal to the transporter room, to beam up the signal's owner (Captain Picard) and whoever he happened to be holding on to -presumably Spock.
         It was no simple task to get the vulcan captain to allow Picard to beam over and speak with his charge, and Picard found himself sorely missing Data, and his ability to quote 'chapter and verse' of any treaty signed by the Federation at any point in it's history. He knew perfectly well that there must be a clause somewhere that would allow a Federation Captain the right to meet with a Federation Ambassador -albeit a retired one- even when being held custody on a Vulcan ship, and he chided himself for letting himself get lazy about these things, and getting used to having others do his job for him.
         In the end, bluff and bluster got the job done, though it was rather artless, and Picard felt a little embarrassed about it afterwards. Still, the whole point was to get the Vulcans to drop their shields and allow him to beam over, which they did, so what was a little loss of dignity?
         Two utterly humorless guards met him as he arrived and escorted him to the holding cell where Spock was being kept. The vulcan captain was waiting for them there, in a small room with a desk and control panel at one end, and Spock, sitting on a bench at the other. The ambassador stood as Picard entered, and Picard could see with dismay that there was a force shield across the end of the room where Spock was. Getting to touch him would be a trick.
         “You may have ten minutes to speak with the detainee in person, Captain,” said the vulcan officer, “just as we agreed. Then you will leave us.”
         Picard nodded his assent, and the vulcan captain turned on his heel and departed. The two vulcan guards remained standing silently at the back of the room, near the control desk, and Picard crossed the room to address himself to the familiar face at the other end.
         “Ambassador,” Picard greeted him as he walked up to face Spock through the shield. “I am pleased that we are finally able to make our rendezvous, but you are not in the time and place you specified.”
         “Captain Picard,” Spock nodded to return the greeting, “I hope that you will forgive me for any inconvenience you have suffered. As you can see, a number of my plans have had to be …adjusted.”
         It was quite clear that Spock was not at all pleased to be here. Picard had to get him out, and to do that he had to persuade the vulcan guards to let him touch Spock. A terrifyingly mad idea began to form in Picard's mind -one so crazy he knew he'd never have the nerve to try it if he thought about it- so he didn't. With that sense of fatalism dogging at him again, he plunged ahead.
         “I cannot have a meaningful exchange with Ambassador Spock in this manner.” Picard said in a loud voice, without turning around. “I insist that you drop this barrier.”
         “What exchange would you partake in that this barrier prevents?” asked the guard, unhelpfully.
         “I require that we be allowed to touch.” said Picard.
         “Why do you require this?” They weren't going to make this easy, Picard could see.
         “I require that we be allowed to…to join minds.” Careful, now, Picard admonished himself, stay in character -act like you know what you're doing. Spock's gaze though the shimmer of the force screen remained impassive, but he had raised one brow at Picard's last request.
         “On what basis do you … require this?” the lead guard all but sneered.
         Picard took a deep breath, and a wild guess. “I claim the right to greet him as my t'hy'tka. You have no right to prevent it.”
         Both of Spock's eyebrows were raised now, but the look in his eyes was one of admiration. Had he guessed right…?
         “Is this human truly your t'hy'tka?” the lead guard asked Spock, utterly failing to mask his incredulity.
         Spock nodded -the very picture of dignified gravity. “Picard of LaBarre and myself had the privilege of sharing a bond mate who has recently passed away. We have not shared thoughts since that tragedy occurred, and it is our right.”
         There followed a hushed conversation in Vulcan, first between the two guards, and then, over the intercom with their captain. Those partaking in the conversations Picard could hear seemed not to be doing a particularly good job of controlling their emotions. After a few minutes of this the lead guard spoke to Picard.
         “You may have three minutes.” was all he said. Then he stepped up to stand close behind Picard and signaled the other to drop the barrier. Jean Luc saw Spock's features grow suddenly distinct before him.
         “I grieve with thee, my t'hy'tka.” he said, and lifted is left hand, two fingers extended.
         “As do I also, grieve with thee, my t'hy'tka.” replied Picard, lifting his own right hand, two fingers extended. Their fingers touched and he felt the strange connection form between himself and the vulcan -not a full meld, but the vibrating of a common thread between them. He looked up to meet Spock's eyes, saw that he knew what was to come, and pressed the transponder in his palm.
         He heard just the beginning of a real vulcan swear as the holding cell dissolved around them, and then he and Spock were standing in the Enterprise's transporter room, fingers still touching -the connection still vibrating between them.


         Picard had mostly gotten over his profound awe of Ambassador Spock -The Man Who Served With Kirk- but the crew hadn't. Commander Chandrasekhar, in particular, seemed unable to speak in his presence, but Spock was gracious as always, and did not trouble the crew with many public appearances.
         He had asked for some time alone to meditate and recover from his experience as soon as Picard brought him to the quarters they'd assigned him, some hours ago. He had come now, to Picard's quarters as arranged, that they might finally meet in private. Picard had brewed a pot of green tea for the occasion, and Spock received a cup gratefully when he arrived.
         “You had no idea of the rights and privileges afforded to a t'hy'tka, had you?” Spock finally asked when they had settled into Picard's living area with their tea.
         Picard shook his head, giving up a slight smile.
         “A 'hunch'?” Spock ventured.
         “A wild and desperate stab in the dark.” Jean Luc confessed, his smile broadening. “I knew I couldn't let them take you. I don't know why, really, but what the vulcan's were doing seemed terribly wrong to me, and I felt had to stop them. Do you know why they wanted you?”
         Spock frowned. “There is a great deal that I know, and have never told. Very old secrets. They are aware of what I know. They always have been, but they seem to feel that I might be tempted, in the current climate, to speak of things which I have never spoken of heretofore.”
         “I don't understand.” said Picard.
         “There are many parts of vulcan history,” Spock explained, “and the founding of Romulus -once known as the penal colony of Romulus- which my government would just as soon no one knew about, for good reason. In particular, there are a great many things about that history which they very much desire that the Remans never know. I am, I would imagine, much too close for their comfort.”
         Picard knew better than to ask Spock for specifics, and figured he was likely better off not knowing. “They never would have had a chance to get you if you hadn't come here to meet with me.” he said instead. “I'm concerned that I've put you at an additional risk.”
         Spock shook his head. “I take a more serious risk merely leaving and returning to Romulus, but it is one I willingly take. It is important that we meet, t'hy'tka. Our love is departed and I must make my peace with you. We must make it with eachother.”
         Picard nodded, and sipped at his tea, readying himself for a painful discussion. “What do you know?” he asked quietly, at last.
         “I felt him die.” Spock said, just as softly. “Suddenly, and at peace with his going … for the most part. Other than that I know nothing, as this is a relatively recent occurrence and it often takes many months before Starfleet news reaches me.”
         That Starfleet news reached him at all, on Romulus, was rather remarkable, Picard thought, and then took a deep breath to begin his tale. Spock, naturally, knew of the Reman coup d'etat, and knew the mysterious Reman allied human, Shinzon, to be it's leader. He had also heard that Shinzon had turned out to be insane, that he'd begun an impossible military crusade against the Federation, that the Romulan military had turned on him, and that he'd been defeated in a battle with them and a Federation ship.
         He didn't know that Shinzon was a clone of Picard, nor that he had built a biogenic weapon, and most significant of all, he didn't know that it was the Enterprise who had stopped Shinzon, and Data who'd stopped his weapon.
         Spock digested all of this solemnly as Picard told the tale, asking him only a few questions along the way. As he drew toward the end of it, recounting the Enterprise's desperate battle with the Scimitar, his decision to use the self destruct and it's failure, and his decision to go and stop Shinzon himself, his telling became more difficult and halting.
         Spock interrupted him, finally, as he was trying to describe, in objective and remote terms, his life or death struggle with Shinzon on the Scimitar's bridge, and finding it impossible.
         “If you are willing,” he said carefully, “you may show me…your memories. I do not say that it would necessarily be any easier, but…”
         Picard drew a long, deep breath, considering, and centering himself. He did not much relish the idea of reliving those moments, but describing them to Spock would have much the same effect in the end, and at least this way he wouldn't have to suffer through the process of trying to find words for what had happened.
         “I think,” he said, after another moment to collect himself, “that we'd best proceed that way. I'm afraid it's going to be painful in any event, and this way at least you'll be sure of knowing everything I know.”
         Spock moved to sit more closely to him, but before he began he laid a hand gently over Picard's heart. “You have great courage, Jean Luc Picard, and you have suffered much. I would not be the cause of any further suffering on your part.”
         “You would not be the cause, Spock. Reliving this will be painful, but sharing it,” Picard heaved a resigned sigh, “is probably a good thing, and you are nearly the only person I can share this with. It is a sorrowful gift, but one I offer freely.”
         “And one I accept with gratitude, t'hy'tka.” Spock said graciously, and lifted his fingers to Picard's face, coming to rest on the meld points, almost with a caress. “My mind to your mind…” he murmured. “My thoughts to yours…Our minds are one…”
         Each time Picard had experienced a mind meld, after his first one, he was always taken with how much more remarkable an experience it was than he had remembered from before. This time it bought back wonderful memories of the last time he and Spock had melded -the evening the three of them had spent on the holodeck engaging in some of the more pleasurable rites of ancient vulcan mages. Spock carried him a little ways in these memories of loving Data, and being loved by him, and it strengthened him for the journey he would shortly be taking.
         That journey began on the bridge of the Scimitar, with his hand to hand struggle with his double -his shadow, perhaps. He had been tired, and in pain, and desperate, and desperately afraid that if he didn't prevail everyone he knew and loved, and several other billion people that he didn't, would be handed an unspeakably horrible death. More than that, though, he had feared that if Shinzon won, then he would be right, his dark truth would triumph, and the failure would somehow be Picard's. That was the thing that truly terrified him, and drove him to his brutal victory.
         He was, as he now revisited the moment with Spock, shocked and appalled at the visceral pleasure he had felt in impaling Shinzon, and more than a little disturbed by the seething fury he'd felt at Shinzon's dying act of defiance, even as he strangled in his grip. Spock's presence in his mind was comfortingly constant, and implacably non-judgmental.
         Reliving the moment of Shinzon's death was so painful that Picard cried out. It was as if the feeling part of him had suddenly been ripped out at the moment of Shinzon's death -even the white hot fury he'd felt the moment before was torn away, leaving him gutted, empty -dead. And then, miraculously, horribly, Data had appeared.
         He had been stunned, and in shock, and had hardly even realized who it was that stood before him at first. When Data had reached over to him and planted the miniature transporter device on him, however, all had become instantly and painfully clear, but by then it was too late. In that moment he knew such helplessness, and such betrayal as he had never known before, for all of his options had been taken away. Data was gazing upon him with that last longing and sorrowful glance, and then he was gone, and Picard was left standing among the ruins of his own bridge, staring at the brilliant burst of light that was the destruction of the Scimitar and of Data.
         Picard found himself weeping again as he returned to the present moment, and felt Spock's fingers slip away from his face. He wiped his tears with the back of his hand and muttered an apology to the vulcan.
         “As you are human, it is only appropriate for you to express your sorrow thus.” Spock responded. “You need not ask my forgiveness.”
         Both of them rested in complete silence for some time. Picard drank his tea, now gone cold but still not unpleasant, and collected himself. Spock sat very still on the sofa, eyes closed, and unmoving.
         After a while Spock stirred slightly, and then after another moment Picard broke their silence.
         “I have wondered,” he began hesitantly, “if you thought it possible that Data might have a katra.
         Spock inclined his head in response, and thought about it for a moment before answering. “I would never say that it was not possible, but I would say that it is not likely.
         Picard glanced at Spock by way of asking for further explanation, and Spock graciously obliged.
         “Humans, for instance, have a complete psyche, according to vulcan pneumontology, but their katras are intricately integrated into the rest of their psycho-structures, unlike vulcans', which function separately, and detach themselves after death. Data, having been designed and built by a human, and his psycho-structure modeled on a human one, probably has a similarly integrated, and effectively inaccessible, katra. May I presume that there is something which has lead you to ask this question?”
         So Picard explained to him about Be-four.

III. A Missing Link

         They found Be-four with Geordi, in engineering. To Picard's surprise, Be-four seemed to be hard at work on something involving the warp relays, which seemed a fairly sensitive area for Be-four to be working in. Geordi was right there, however, and Picard could not imagine that anybody could be allowed to muck about in his warp relays with his knowing about it, but he was very curious, just the same.
         Geordi saw his curiosity as soon as he saw Spock and the captain enter engineering, and made to explain right away.
         “He's hand tuning the warp relays.” Geordi enlightened his captain. “Believe it or not, he'll do a better job than any human could, not because he can do a whole bunch of high speed operations all at once -Be-four's not up to that standard yet- but because to hand tune a warp relay you need to be able to completely focus for hours on end, on a really boring task, and still do really exacting, accurate work. That's something that Be-four excels at lately, and I think he finds it soothing.”
         Picard digested this new information with interest. “Should we not interrupt him, then?” he asked.
         “He oughta be done in a few minutes.” Geordi responded. “Would you like to wait in my office, Ambassador?” Geordi knew better than to be too nervous around Spock, but he didn't quite know what to do with him in engineering.
         “No, thank you, Mr. La Forge,” Spock answered, “but I would like to watch Be-four work, if I may.”
         “Sure.” answered Geordi, perfectly happy to have Spock occupy himself.
         “When he's done, we'd like to have a word with him in private,” said Picard, “unless you have some other vital bit of maintenance for him to do that can't wait.”
         Geordi answered Picard's smile with one of his own. “Nope.” he said, “ I haven't gotten to the point where I can't run the ship without him…yet. He'll know to come back and find me here, when you're done.”
         “He can find his way around the ship on his own?” Picard asked.
         “Yeah,” Geordi responded. “he's getting the hang of a lot of stuff lately -kind of like a young teenager, only without the hormones. Pretty amazing, huh?”
         “Two weeks ago, he barely knew his own name.” Picard explained to Spock, but also spoke to remind himself. This creature was not Data, and never would be.
         Watching Be-four work with the warp relay was in itself soothing, somehow, Picard thought. The android seemed in deep concentration which Jean Luc supposed he was -listening to the frequencies in one of thousands of relay junctions, adjusting it to harmoniousness, and then moving on to the next. As Be-four adjusted one relay, Picard knew, he was effecting the tonality of others, which he would have to be recheck, and readjust many times before he was done.
         The computer did a good enough job of keeping the warp relays tuned, but Geordi always maintained -and Picard didn't disagree with him- that the engines and reactor ran smoother when the relays were tuned by hand. A very few humans have the skill and aptitude to hand tune a reactor (most of them don't go into engineering, but become piano tuners instead) and Geordi had always tried to keep one person on staff to do the job from time to time. For many years that person had been Data.
         Reflecting on this, Picard felt an unwelcome twinge of jealousy, both that Geordi had found someone to fill, for himself, even one of the holes that Data had left behind, and that Be-four was in some way, usurping one of Data's rightful roles. He squashed the feelings, instantly and savagely, refusing to acknowledge that they had ever even occurred to him.
         Be-four now appeared to be finished with his work, for he began to close up the panels and put his tools away. When he stood to close the last big panel, he noticed Spock and Picard. His open and guileless gaze played over the both of them for a moment, and Picard could all but see him trying to formulate an appropriate greeting for his captain and this stranger.
         “How may I help you, Captain?” was what he finally said.
         “Be-four,” Picard said with a smile to tell him that he had made a good choice, “this is Ambassador Spock. He was another one of your brother's very close friends.”
         Be-four positively lit up at the mention of his brother, but seeing him do so was unexpectedly painful for Picard. Perhaps it was because he had so enjoyed it when Data had done the same thing. Somehow, Picard was discovering, an idiotic and childish Be-four was easier to take than an intelligent, feeling one.
         “You were my brother's friend?” Be-four asked, with a great deal of evident feeling. How was that possible, anyway, Picard wondered. If Be-four didn't have an emotion chip -and he was fairly certain Geordi would have mentioned it if he did- how was the unabashed pleasure and admiration he saw clearly painted on Be-four's features possible. Geordi must surely have noticed himself, Picard thought. He wondered if he had drawn any conclusions.
         “Data and I were bond mates.” Spock was saying to Be-four, never one to dance around the truth. “He and I could not be together very much, but we wrote each other quite often, and got to know eachother very well.”
         “Why were you not able to be together very much?” Be-four was still asking questions, Picard could see, but now they were more complicated ones.
         “Be-four,” Picard interjected, “Spock and I would like to talk to you alone, for a moment, and Spock will be able to answer some of your questions then, alright?”
         Be-four considered this for a moment. “I must ask Geordi first.” he said at last, “He has asked me to always let him know where I am going.”
         “Of course.” Picard answered, and called the engineer over.
         Geordi thanked Be-four for checking in and let him go, and then Picard, Spock and Be-four left engineering to find a convenient conference room, not far down the corridor. Spock guided the android to sit next to where he had found a seat, on one side of a conference table, and Picard took a spot across the table to watch.
         “My work took me to Romulus.” Spock was answering Be-four's earlier question, “while Data's was here, on the Enterprise.”
         “What work do you do on Romulus?” Be-four asked, pursuing his insatiable quest for knowledge, particularly knowledge about Data.
         “I am helping the Romulan people learn about their history.” Spock answered, honestly enough. Be-four considered this, and then quickly generated another question. Spock seemed to be willing to oblige Be-four's curiosity for a bit, so Picard sat back to watch.
         “How did you come to meet Data?” was the next question Be-four asked.
         Spock though about his answer for a moment before he spoke. “He came and rescued me from a Romulan prison, and he saved my life. May I ask you a question now?”
         “Yes, you may, Ambassador.” replied Be-four, obligingly.
         “Do you posses all of Data's memories?” Spock asked.
         “Data downloaded all of his memories into me,” Be-four answered promptly, “but I have not been able to access them all.”
         “May I know why not?” Spock asked sensitively.
         “My neural net is not yet complex enough to process many of the subroutines and ancillary programs which make up much of what was downloaded into me.” Be-four responded without prevarication. “but I am able to access more of the download every day.”
         Spock nodded, and when Be-four said nothing else, asked another questioned. “Be-four, do you know what a mind meld is?”
         The android's focus turned inward for a moment, and then he found what he was looking for. “Mind meld: a telepathic contact instigated by touch. A vulcan practice.” he said, and then frowned. Picard could see him thinking hard.
         Be-four looked directly at the vulcan. “Do you wish to mind meld with me?” he asked.
         Spock nodded, and Be-four smiled to discover he was right. “I do.” the vulcan said. “I melded with Data many times in the past, and I wish to meld with you now, to see if there is any part of Data residing within you. I need to make sure, however, that I have your freely given permission, to look into your mind.”
         Be-four thought about this seriously for a minute. “I have Data's memories within me,” he said, “You do not need to perform a mind meld to determine that, as I have just told you.”
         “No, what I would be looking for is not the same as the things which Data downloaded.” Spock said with infinite patience. “You are correct, Be-four, in saying that I need not meld with you to learn about those kinds of memories. I am looking for something different -a thing the vulcans call a katra, which is like a piece of his soul. It might have come with the memories he downloaded, but you would not recognize it as input, so I must search with the meld.” Watching this conversation with fascination, Picard marveled at how much of the truth Spock was able to tell with such simple words and concepts.
         “His katra…” Be-four puzzled. “I do not have that term in my data-banks.”
         “It is a term from vulcan mysticism.” Spock explained. “Data and I both practiced a form of vulcan mysticism, and this is why I have come to search for his katra.
         Be-four thought seriously for a moment more. “It will not harm me?” He looked across at Jean Luc as he asked this. He was a little disarmed by the naked trust he saw in that look.
         “No,” he responded firmly. “Spock would never harm you. You can trust him as much as you trust Geordi or myself.”
         Be-four seemed considerably set at ease by Picard's words, and promptly returned his attention to Spock. “Very well.” he said. “You have my permission to mind meld with me. What must I do?”
         “I thank you.” Spock said graciously. “You need only sit still and relax. I will touch your face to begin the meld, and then you may come to sense my presence in your mind, but it may be that you will feel nothing. Are you ready?”
         Be-four nodded, and lifted his face to the vulcan. Picard observed with interest as Spock reached across to touch Be-four's face, muttering the mantra, eyes closed in effort and concentration. He battled with hope, telling himself that even if Spock found something that could be called a katra, and Data's, he would still be dead, and in the end any katra of Data's would offer more of a comfort to the telepathic vulcan than to himself.
         After several minutes Spock lifted his hand away, lifted his head, and slowly opened his eyes. Picard hated the hope that sprang unbidden into his heart. It was a short lived hope, though, for Spock's first communicative act was to shake his head gravely, in a small, sad gesture.
         “No,” he confirmed after another moment. “Data has left no katra with thee, though he well might have.”
         Be-four nodded in response, and then, after another thoughtful moment asked, “Ambassador, may I ask you another question?”
         “Of course.” replied Spock, quietly.
         “You said that you were very close to my brother,…” Be-four began, “were you physically intimate ?”
         Spock raised an eyebrow, but made no further reaction. “We were, yes.” he began. Picard froze where he sat. Did he want Be-four knowing that he and Data had been lovers? Would Spock really tell Be-four, without asking Picard? He determined to trust the vulcan, kept his peace and waited to hear what else he would say.
         “We were intimate,” Spock said, “as we were bond-mates, but I was not Data's only love, and neither his first, nor his most important.”
         Be-four absorbed this new fact with evident fascination. “Who were, or was…” he began to try and formulate the question.
         “I think it would be best if you waited to access Data's memories concerning such things.” Spock advised, “as many of these matters will probably not make much sense to you right now.”
         Be-four nodded his assent. “I think you must be right, as many of the things I have just now learned already do not make sense to me. If you do not have any more questions for me, I would like to return to engineering to think about them.”
         Spock looked to Picard, and so he answered Be-four's question. “Yes, that's fine, Be-four.” he said. “Thank you very much for your help.”
         “You are very welcome,” Be-four replied, standing to leave. “Captain, Ambassador.”
         Spock turned to Captain Picard after Be-four had gone, his expression thoughtful.
         “There is nothing of Data in him?” Picard asked.
         “Nothing of Data, and very little of Be-four.” Spock replied. “It is as though he is only just barely become a 'person', and is still essentially, an automaton.”
         “He's more than that, surely.” Picard responded.
         “He is, but only just.” Spock said “He is most decidedly growing into full personhood with great rapidity, but he is growing into his own person -not Data, at least, not as far as I can tell.”
         Spock left after only a couple of days, going as soon as he could make arrangements for his clandestine return to Romulus. His parting left Picard only more aware of how lonely he was, and how much he missed Data. A mild malaise seemed to cloud his mood in the days and weeks that followed, though he strove to deny it.
         Having sorted his affairs out with Spock, it seemed to Picard that the last loose end from Data's life had finally been resolved, and so it also seemed that he should surely be ready to move on. He found, however, that he wasn't, and he didn't want to. At moments, he resented the very idea that he should ever be 'over' Data, but then at other times he found that attitude self-indulgent and embarrassing, and wished very much that he could just get on with his life. One way or another, though, that didn't seem likely to happen any time soon.

IV. Captain Lost

         There were, in fact, more forces in the universe, besides Jean Luc's troubled psyche, that were conspiring to deprive him of the ordinary and uncomplicated life which he so desired. The first sign of that arrived for Captain Picard in the form of a call from Star Fleet headquarters, a few days after Spock had left, and about a week after Picard's act of bravado on board the vulcan courier ship holding Spock. He had indeed, it transpired, upset the Vulcans a great deal (particularly for a people who, they repeatedly claim, do not get upset).
         The Vulcans hadn't actually told Starfleet exactly what Picard had done to set them off so, but he had, they took pains to stress to Starfleet, crossed several boundaries of decorum, manners and good taste. Picard could have explained the details of the incident to Starfleet himself, and probably would have received more moral support from them if they had known that he had acted to allow Ambassador Spock to continue on his mission (which Starfleet had always approved of more than Vulcan). He didn't really want Starfleet to know what he had done, though, and really didn't want to have to explain to them what a t'hy'tka was. It would be better anyway, he decided, if he let the vulcans take out their displeasure on him, rather than further destabilizing the all-important Earth-Vulcan alliance. He would take his chances with the vulcans, and let the cards fall where they may.
         Unsurprisingly, the Vulcans refused to treat with him directly, and so Jean Luc's calls from Starfleet began to become more and more frequent. They also became more and more serious. Finally came the call that signaled the end, a full two weeks after the first one. The Vulcan government had issued an ultimatum.
         “The High Council absolutely insists.” said Vice Admiral Casals, more puzzled than anything else. “They say that you're a material witness, as a confederate of Spock's. They say that Spock's being investigated for evidence of treason! We all respect your right to privacy, Picard, but isn't there anything you can give us -anything at all- that would refute these allegations?” he asked.
         Picard sighed. “Nothing that would make any difference.” he said with resignation. “I'm afraid that I really may have behaved in a very offensive manner to the Vulcans, but worse that that, I thwarted them, and that is something which I've discovered that vulcans do not endure very well.”
         “Well, they're sending a ship to meet you in two days.” said the Vice Admiral, “and I'm going to order you to stay where you are meet with them. That's all I'm going to order you to do -the Admiralty made this agreement under protest. Can you at least tell me what your plan is, Captain?”
         “Oh, I'll go quietly.” he said with another sigh. “I won't let my poor judgement imperil relations between Earth and Vulcan.”
         Casals regarded him over the screen with a mixture of admiration and regret. “I want you to know that whatever happens, it won't effect you career any more than it has to. We'll make Commander Chandrasekhar the Acting Captain of the Enterprise, and we'll leave it that way until we've got you back, if we possibly can.”
         That caveat at the end meant, Picard knew, that the Vice Admiral was guaranteeing nothing, but they would probably try, at first, to keep their promise. The longer he was held captive on vulcan, though, the less likely it was that he would ever get the Enterprise back. Neither Starfleet nor the vulcans had said a word about how long he would spend on Vulcan, but Picard had a dark suspicion that he was being held in lieu of Spock, or perhaps in order to draw him out and away from Romulus. If that was the case, Picard very much feared that he would spend the rest of his life on Vulcan, and never see the Enterprise again.
         Picard gave an almost despairing sigh, and laid his head in his hands, elbows resting on the hard surface of his ready room desk. There must, he anguished, be some way to solve this, some way to appease the Vulcans without giving up his freedom, but didn't seem to be able to get much out of his brain lately, except for black moods, and painful memories.
         He was still alone, too. In the past, he might have even sought Deanna out by this point, and more than likely she would have noticed something amiss in him long ago. Picard had hardly had one conversation with Dr. Kyrglipf, however, and though he had actually considered (briefly) talking to him, the realization that he would have to explain everything about himself, Data and Spock to the new ship's councilor made the idea much too daunting to entertain for long.
         The vulcans arrived as promised, right on schedule, of course. He'd told his first officer that they were waiting to rendezvous with the vulcans, but hadn't bothered to tell her why. He'd never have been able to get away with that with Will Riker, he knew, and he felt terribly guilty that he'd been such a poor captain for her in the short time she'd served with him. Now, to make matters worse, he was leaving the Enterprise in her hands, without a word of warning. The part of Jean Luc which had always felt jealously protective of the Enterprise squawked quite a bit at this, but it was quickly and terribly silenced by Picard's slowly growing conviction that he wasn't fit to command her any more, anyhow.
         Thus it was that events transpired on the Enterprise which her old command crew never would have allowed to happen. The Vulcans were given permission to beam aboard, and having done so proceeded directly to the bridge, named Picard a material and hostile witness in a treason investigation, clapped him in cuffs, and beamed off. No one moved to stop them, or object in any way. Of the old hands who remained, Geordi was, of course, in engineering and had no idea what was going on, but Worf did nearly have to be restrained when he saw the handcuffs go on. He restrained himself after only a moment, realizing that without him none of the original bridge crew would remain to look after the Enterprise, and determined not to give anyone any excuse to put him off it.
         Picard officially passed the command to Commander Chandrasekhar before he was taken away, and told her to await orders from Vice Admiral Casals shortly. The look on her face as the Enterprise's bridge faded away added more weight to the heavy load of guilt Picard already bore, but there was, he thought to himself with bitter satisfaction, nothing he would be able to do about it, or anything else, now, and it was probably going to stay that way for a while.

V. Greatness Thrust Upon Her

         Acting Captain Sunita Chandrasekhar looked at the six faces arrayed around the conference table, each reacting to the news she had just delivered. Two of them registered stunned shock, one scowled in anger -but then, he almost always seemed to be scowling in anger- two seemed sad and confused, and one just seemed confused. That one belonged to Geordi's strange little android, Be-four, and Sunita wasn't really sure why he was here at all, except that he seemed to go nearly everywhere with Geordi.
         With the big chair in the next room not yet grown cold from the absence of it's customary occupant, (she, herself, had not yet dared sit in it) the very newly appointed Acting Captain had called this senior staff meeting with the vague intention of throwing herself on their mercy. As she briefed them on the recent unexpected events, though, the weight of her new role began to impress itself upon her, and she realized that even now -especially now- it was important for her to retain her dignity.
         In addition, it was dawning on her that not all of her senior staff was terribly senior, either. They were the ones at the table looking sad and confused, and they, Dr. Kyrglipf and ship's navigator and brand new third officer, Tommy Ng, were just as lost as she was. The old hands, Geordi, Worf, and Dr. Pulaski, were the ones who looked ready to spit nails, and before she could ask for their help, she would have to calm them down. Welcome to your new job, she thought.
         “I can see that this has come as a shock to every one of us.” she said to them at last. “And I might speculate right now that each one of us has a lot of questions we would like to ask Captain Picard,” she paused for dramatic effect. “but he is gone now, so we cannot.” she concluded firmly, reminding them that they must now turn to focus on other matters.
         “So,” she continued after another long pause to signify a change of subject, “Starfleet informs me that I will remain acting captain, in Picard's stead, for as long as can be managed, and I want everyone to understand that I am altogether pleased to have it thus. I am very aware that this is still Picard's ship, and I want to keep it that way, but I am very new to her, and to many of you, so I will very much need your help. It is my goal that we all work together to keep this ship as Picard has kept it, so that when he returns it will be as though he was never away.”
         This, Sunita saw, had been just the right thing to say. The expressions around the table now seemed relieved and encouraged, even if some anger and disappointment remained.
         “Before I ask for your advice on how we should proceed on our current mission, however” she continued, encouraged herself by the effect of her oratory so far, “There is one thing that I've been meaning to tell all of you -something that I should have told everyone from the first day.” She took an anticipatory breath. “Just call me 'Chandra', will you? 'Captain Chandra' if you feel you need to be formal. It is what everybody has always called me from my first days in the Academy, and clearly, it is much easier for you poor northerners to get your tongues around. I'm quite certain it will make conversation on the bridge, considerably more efficient.”
         This got an outright chuckle from everyone except the android, so Captain Chandra congratulated herself for taking control of her first command, and then they got down to business. After their meeting, at which they'd pretty much decided to continue doing more or less just what they'd been doing, she'd asked Geordi (and therefor Be-four) to stay a moment.
         In truth, the question she'd wanted to ask them had been partially answered earlier during their planning session, when it transpired that the android could, at least, serve as an able data-base and instant research tool. She knew that there was a strong sentimental connection for many of the officers and crew -and especially the chief engineer- between the android and the Enterprise's recently late third officer, but she still didn't know why he was coming to senior staff meetings. That, then, was the question she had requested the chief engineer to stay behind to answer.
         “I kinda figured you were gonna ask me that eventually.” was Geordi's initial response, which assured the acting captain that her engineer hadn't been completely oblivious to how odd the android's presence might seem.
         “I guess there's a few reason's.” he continued, thinking out loud. “For starters, Data was my best friend, and he left me in charge of Be-four. So, it's kinda like he left me to raise a child of his. I mean, Be-four really was like a child in a lot of ways when we first got him, and he still sort of is now. But then, he's not anything like any regular kid, so I can't exactly enroll him in school with other kids.” Chandra nodded, beginning to understand the complexity of the situation.
         “The thing is,” Geordi went on, encouraged. “He's way smarter that any kid, or any human, and he can handle a lot of pretty complex things, like hand tuning the warp relays for instance -he's brilliant at that, and he really enjoys it. So what I've been trying to do is to expose him to environments which are as intellectually and socially enriching and stimulating as possible, while still keeping him out of trouble, and it turns out that a good way to do that is just to take him to work with me every day. He helps us out in engineering a lot, which, I admit, has him learning from people with some of the worst social skills on the ship, but I take him to Ten Forward a lot too…and as many other places as I can.” Geordi took a deep breath and hazarded tentative eye contact with his captain. He was rewarded with a smile, and so took heart and continued.
         “I confess, I never took him to a senior staff meeting before, but this one was sort of unexpected. He wasn't working on anything in engineering at the time, and I didn't want to leave him there without a project -that's usually when trouble starts- so I took him with me. I had no idea about Captain Picard … I can still barely believe it.” Geordi shook his head sadly.
         Captain Chandra looked over at the android in question, who was staring out the conference room windows at the passing stars. So her chief engineer had an idiot savant dependent, it seemed, but there was more to it than that, surely. She remembered something Geordi had said earlier.
         “You said he was more childlike before…so he is developing? -learning?” she asked him.
         “Oh, yeah.” said Geordi. “He was pretty much an idiot when we first assembled him, and his positronic network wasn't complex enough to handle more than a few of the simplest sub-routines. Then Data decided to download all of his own memory files into Be-four, hopefully to allow him to achieve a greater potential. I wish he could have seen how well his download worked. It's amazing how much he's developed in just a few weeks, and there's differences I can notice in him every day.”
         “So will he eventually turn into another Data?” Chandra asked, because it seemed the obvious question to ask.
         Oddly, Geordi's first reaction to this question was to throw a sharp glance to the android staring out the windows, and who seemed to be paying no attention to their conversation. “It's a shame you never got to meet Commander Data.” he said in answer. “He wasn't just a sophisticated machine -a lot of people never got that. He was a real, individual person, and there'll never be another person like him. Be-four will probably be a lot like him, but he'll be his own person, with his own memories and experiences.”
         Chandra laid her palms together over her heart and nodded graciously. “Forgive my ignorance.” she said with sincerity.
         Geordi shrugged. “It's a natural mistake.” he said amicably. “I really do wish you could have met him -you'd have gotten along great.”
         She let them go after that, following them out to the bridge as they left. She walked slowly across the back companionway, seeing the bridge as with new eyes. From the far side she drifted slowly towards the front, eyes on the big screen, on the conn -everywhere but the big chair. She stood behind it, leaned against it, grasped the top of the back in her hands. It was cool to the touch.
         You're mine now, beauty, Sunita Chandrasekhar thought to her ship, and I'm yours. He's gone, and I'll never be him, and we'll both miss him badly, but he's given me the job of keeping you safe till he gets back, and with your help, that's just what I'm going to do. Solemnly, Captain Sunita Chandrasekhar pledged her life and honor to that promise.


         It was coming on dinner time, so Geordi decided, as he left the bridge with Be-four, to head over to Ten Forward before finishing his day in engineering. Be-four generally enjoyed trips to Ten Forward because even though he didn't eat or drink, he enjoyed socializing a great deal, and he was frequently doted upon by other crew members. When Geordi shared this decision with Be-four now, though, he merely acknowledged the announcement in a distracted manner. A glance at his charge revealed an android in deep contemplation.
         “What's up, my friend?” he asked, as they stepped into the turbo-lift.
         Be-four regarded him with a puzzled expression, as the doors closed and the lift began it's descent. “Why will I not turn into another Data?” he asked.
         Geordi felt his heart sink. He had so very much wanted to avoid this conversation -forever if he could, and at least until much later when it was really a moot point. He heaved a sigh, attempting to conceal it as a moment of serious thought, and halted the turbo-lift so that they wouldn't be interrupted.
         “Well, you heard what I told Captain Chandra.” he answered. “You have unique memories that aren't Data's -they're yours alone. Those memories and unique experiences are what make you Be-four and not Data.”
         “But I have so many more of Data's memories, than I do of my own.” Be-four responded, not the least bit satisfied by Geordi's answer, the engineer saw with dismay. “How can Data's not come to have much more effect on who I eventually become?”
         “Data's memories didn't happen to you,” Geordi was working very hard at keeping exasperation at bay. “They happened to Data -to someone else. The experiences that really happened to you, they have to count for a lot more.”
         Be-four seemed even more perplexed by this answer. “I do not understand the difference.” he said. “All of these memories feel the same to me.”
         “What?” said Geordi, now also perplexed.
         “Data's sensory apparatus was identical to mine,” Be-four clarified. “Our physical structures are the same, very soon my neural net will be very nearly identical to Data's. After I have processed one of his memories I remember it as though it happened to me. How can these memories not have equal weight as the ones I have created here with you, as Be-four?”
         Geordi let his head fall back until it banged the wall of the turbo-lift, and clapped his hand over his eyes. He rested like that for a long moment.
         “Be-four,” he said at last, without lifting his hand, “Questions like that make my head hurt. I'm just an engineer, and that's a question for a philosopher, or a vulcan mystic, or some other kind of religious authority, not an engineer.”
         “Is there such a person on board the Enterprise?” Be-four asked.
         “Ya know,” Geordi thought out loud, as he started the turbo-lift again “I don't think that there is.”
         “Ah, well,” said Be-four. “I should have asked Ambassador Spock when he was here. Perhaps he would have known the answer. I must be sure to ask him if I should chance to see him again.”


         Later on that night, though, it became clear that the subject was still preying on Be-four's mind. Lately Geordi had been letting Be-four spend the nights in Data's old quarters (though he was beginning to rethink the wisdom of this), as it didn't seem fair to leave him locked in the engineering alcove at night any more. Most nights Geordi would accompany Be-four to Data's quarters just before he was to retire himself, and would leave him there with clear instructions not to depart until Geordi met him there in the morning. Be-four could be relied on completely to follow any clear and simple instructions like this, and he'd never had any trouble with the arrangement.
         It was while they were on their way to Data's quarters that evening, to drop Be-four off for the night, that he began a troubling line of questions. “Everyone on the Enterprise misses Data, don't they?” he'd asked.
         “Well, not everyone on the Enterprise knew him all that well,” Geordi began cautiously, “But those of us that knew him, we all miss him, of course.”
         “But Data made the Enterprise a better ship,” Be-four continued, “I have heard many people say so. If that is so, then everyone on the Enterprise was negatively effected in some way by his death.”
         They had just arrived at Data's quarters fortunately, and fooling with the door lock gave Geordi a moment to think. “Ok,” he said, blowing out a breath as the door opened and he went inside. “Data was an amazingly special person, and he did make the Enterprise a special place, but that doesn't mean you couldn't do the same thing, in your own way.”
         Be-four came in too, and sat on the sofa, listening with great attentiveness. A veritable sponge for knowledge and experience, Geordi had often mused, Be-four was always keenly attentive to something. “People do not miss me though, Geordi.” he said, seriously thoughtful. “They miss Data. If I became Data, then they would not miss him anymore.”
         Geordi rubbed his eyes, carefully, thinking hard. He began to pace slowly in the small quarters as he spoke. “Be-four,” he said, “I know this is hard for you to understand, but you can't be Data.”
         “But I can, Geordi.” Be-four insisted cheerfully, and would have gone on at enthusiastic length had not Geordi waved him to silence.
         “I know you can do all those things,” the frustrated engineer sighed, “but you have to let me explain why it can't work.” Geordi looked over at Be-four, but the android was all attentiveness again, so he went on.
         “You know that becoming more human was always Data's goal in life, right?” Be-four nodded. “Well, one of the things that really defines the human condition is that we grow old and we die, and then we're gone. It's scary and sad at times, but that's the way it is for us humans. Data didn't grow old, it's true, but he knew he would probably die one day, and when he died, he understood that it would be for good. That's what those of us who cared about him understood too. Bringing Data back…it would make him less human in a way, and it wouldn't be what he wanted, and it's not what we want either. As much as we miss him, it wouldn't be right.”
         Be-four frowned and puzzled very hard for a while. “I do not understand this at all.” he said eventually.
         Geordi sighed sympathetically. “Look, I know this doesn't make sense.” he said. “I'm not saying that it's rational at all, but it's very human. If you look at ancient earth myths and legends, from all over the world, in stories where someone seems to come back from the dead, it's almost always a bad thing. Even people who were good, and loved by a lot of people -even when they seem to have come back from the dead just like they were before, and everyone in the story is happy- it always turns out that they're not who they seemed to be, and they're something evil instead, a monster or a ghoul, or a vampire or something nasty like that.”
         “These are fairy tales you are speaking of.” said Be-four, clarifying.
         “Yeah, some of them,” answered Geordi, “but they had a moral, Be-four, and that moral was that when someone dies, they're gone, and it's a bad idea to spend too much time wishing for 'em to come back, and a good idea to get on with your life.”
         “But that moral pertains to humans,” reasoned Be-four, “why should people hold that same belief about Data, who is not?”
         Because,…” Geordi began, and then stopped himself. He knew a dead-end argument when he saw one. He started on a different approach, instead.
         “Okay, I'll give you an entirely different reason why you shouldn't try to be Data.”
         “Yes?” Be-four inquired eagerly.
         “Because he didn't want you to.” said Geordi.
         “How did Data know I would want to become him?” Be-four asked.
         “Well, okay, he didn't.” said Geordi honestly, “But he did want you to be yourself, Be-four, his brother. He was pretty clear about that.”
         “But he did not know that he would not be here.” Be-four pointed out.
         “No,” said Geordi, sadly, “he didn't, but you were pretty special to him. Family was real important to Data, and when we found you, he didn't have any family anymore.” Geordi stopped pacing and sat next to Be-four on the sofa.
         “That's why he downloaded his memories into you, Be-four.” Geordi continued with affection. “He wanted you to be able to have as rich a life as his, to be able to chose your own pursuits, your own adventures. He wouldn't have wanted you to throw all of that away just to bring him back.”
         Be-four took several long moments to contemplate this, and Geordi began to hope that he had convinced the android at last. The hope was soon dashed with Be-four's next question.
         “But is that not what Data did,” he asked, honestly perplexed, “to save Captain Picard?”
         Geordi had no answer for him.

VI. The Dream Awakes the Dreamer

         One week passed, and then another. The crew and officers of the Enterprise E became accustomed to the sight of Captain Chandra sitting in the big chair on the bridge or, as was more frequent, standing behind it, arms crossed over the top, leaning forward towards the main screen. She spent many of her on-duty hours standing thus, intent on the screen before her, and the ship all around her.
         A week or so after Picard's removal, Captain Chandra and Geordi had decided to give Be-four a number of regular duties around the ship -the kinds of things that Wesley Crusher had been assigned to do on the Enterprise D, many years ago. Be-four took great pride in these tasks and did them expertly and without fail. Having these responsibilities meant that he was out and about on his own more now, and that he mingled with the crew more frequently and on a more equal basis. He began to make new friends among the crew as well, most prominently, Dr. Pulaski.
         They now had lunch together twice a week, and it had become their custom to bring questions to ask each other -unstructured conversations being a little beyond Be-four's mastery yet. Unstructured conversations were one of the hard things, Be-four had come to determine. Warp harmonics were easy. Micro-millimeter fine motor control was easy, but conversations were hard. So were friendships.
         As he was getting more of his own life, Be-four was spending a good deal less time with Geordi, but they still had dinner together every night, and Geordi's opinions still meant a great deal to Be-four. When he needed help, or was troubled or confused by anything, Geordi was the one he went to for advice. He had learned of late, however, that he could not talk to Geordi about the one thing that was bothering him the most, because it invariably made his friend upset.
         The trouble was that Geordi seemed to know that it was bothering him anyway, because he kept bringing it up himself -reminding Be-four of how he was different from Data, how he needed to decide for himself what he was to become, and not just try to please others. Be-four agreed in principal, but wasn't convinced that there really was a decision to make, and if there was, he had no idea how he could make it. These things perplexed Be-four a great deal, but Geordi refused to accept the thesis of the first question, and refused to help with the second.
         With the addition of Be-four's conversational handicap, dinners with Geordi had been a bit strained of late. Be-four knew that awkward social situations can be a learning opportunities, but he hated seeing Geordi so distressed, particularly since he seemed to be the cause, and there didn't seem to be anything he could do about it. By contrast, Be-four had come to look forward to his lunches with Dr. Pulaski a great deal.
         He had come a little early, in fact, to their lunch about two weeks after the Enterprise's unexpected change of command. He had learned that it set others more at ease if he ate even a small amount when he spent a meal time with someone. He used the occasions to educate his palate, and so had chosen for himself today a small dish of something called 'Welsh Rarebit', which appeared to be some sort of cheese sauce poured over toast.
         He was contemplating his second taste when the Doctor sat down across the table, carrying a plate with a large salad. “Well, what do you think?” she asked as soon as she was settled. She always wanted to know what Be-four thought of the new food he tried.
         “It is very rich.” He said, because it really was.
         “It should be, if it's done right.” She approved. “I love Welsh Rarebit if it's done right.”
         “If consisting of a great deal of sharp cheddar cheese and eggs constitutes being 'done right',” Be-four replied, “then you should acquire a serving for yourself. Chef Bryant made it from scratch today.”
         “Oh, I don't dare, Be-four.” She demurred. “And I ought to write up the chef for serving something so fattening.” She finished with a wink which Be-four had come to learn signaled a joke. Feeling adventurous, he tried a riposte.
         “Oh, I hope that I have not gotten the chef in trouble.” He stated with mock alarm, “for he is an excellent cook, and prepares many rich and fattening meals which everyone enjoys.”
         “Very good, Be-four!” the Doctor said with a chuckle. “I believe you are developing a real sense of humor.”
         “Thank you, Doctor.” Replied Be-four politely.
         “Actually, that's quite a remarkable accomplishment.” Dr. Pulaski said frankly. “It's something that Data utterly failed to grasp when I knew him, but then that was before he had his emotion chip.”
         “I understand that Data came to have a great appreciation for humor, after he acquired the chip.” Be-four informed her.
         “But you don't have an emotion chip, do you?” the Doctor asked.
         “No, I do not.” Be-four replied.
         “Yet you have a sense of humor, enjoy rich food, worry about your friends…” she observed. “You seem to experience a whole range of emotions. I'm curious to know how that's possible. That's the question I'd like to ask you today.”
         Be-four took a moment to consider how best to explain something that came naturally to him, as Dr. Pulaski patiently started in on her salad.
         “I learned them from Data's memories.” Be-four finally said, stating the answer as simply as possible.
         Dr. Pulaski furrowed her brow in puzzlement. “How do you learn emotions?” she asked.
         “It is not the emotions which require learning.” Be-four clarified, “Any intelligence complex enough will naturally generate them; what Data learned from his emotion chip was how to recognize them and express them.”
         “But he needed the chip to do those things, didn't he?” asked the Doctor.
         “At first, he did.” Be-four answered, “but after some time the processes that the chip enforced became internalized subroutines.”
         “All right,” said the Doctor over a mouth full of spinach. “And how did you acquire these subroutines yourself, without the chip?”
         “All of the memories I have processed from Data have an emotional component.” Be-four explained. “When I process them I internalize them myself -both the memories and the subroutines which they may have involved.”
         Dr. Pulaski momentarily gave up chasing the olive around he salad plate to gaze thoughtfully at the android sitting across from her.
         “'Any intelligence complex enough' will generate emotions, 'naturally'?” she asked with amazement.
         “It is a standard maxim of artificial intelligence design.” Be-four stated. “The difficulty is generally in teaching the intelligence how to handle them. That can indeed be quite troublesome, and Soong's solution was to create an intelligence that did not recognize it's own emotions at all.”
         “Then later, when he thought Data had matured enough to handle emotions,” the doctor reasoned, “Soong had planned to give him the chip.”
         “That is my understanding.” Answered Be-four.
         “So what about you?” Pulaski now asked him. “How is it that you're 'mature enough' to handle emotions?”
         “I believe that by acquiring them through Data's experience and memory,” he speculated, “I am also acquiring the skills needed to 'handle them'. At least, that is how is has seemed so far.”
         “Fascinating.” The doctor remarked. Having finally speared and consumed her last olive, she sat back in her chair and regarded the android. “So what's your question for today?” she asked.
         “Ah.” Said Be-four, who was also just mopping up the last little bit of cheese sauce with his last little corner of toast. “My question.” He said, and then sat back as well.
         “My question is this:” he stated. “Of what use are dreams?”
         “Dreams?” she replied, leaning forward now, to think. “That's a complicated question -but then I asked you a pretty complicated question, so I suppose it's fair. Physiologically, dreams are what result from the neurons in the brain firing randomly during certain stages of the sleep cycle. The controversial part is in how the sub-conscious mind interprets those randomly firing neurons, and then in how the conscious mind interprets what the sub-conscious mind apparently experienced.”
         “I understand that part,” said Be-four, “but what use are they? Why would an intelligent organism have them?”
         “Well, they don't really have a use as such.” The doctor responded, puzzled by the question. “They're more like a by-product of human intelligence -a happenstance occurrence.”
         “Then why,” asked Be-four, most confounded, “Did Data have a dreaming program?”
         “Did he?” Dr. Pulaski responded, taken by surprise. Be-four nodded in confirmation, and she frowned.
         “Wait a minute,” she said after a moment's pondering. “I do think I recall reading something…That's right, it was in the Starfleet psychology journal, a few years back -an article co-authored by Data and Deanna Troy about a dreaming program that Dr. Soong had written. It's starting to come back to me now.”
         “Do you remember if it said anything about what the program was for?” Be-four asked.
         “I imagine it must have.” Said the doctor. “You'll have to give me a second to take off my doctor hat and put on my psychiatrist hat.” Be-four looked intently for these hats, with no success, till the doctor saw him doing so, and chuckled.
         “Just another quaint human metaphor.” She explained. She still appeared to need some time to juggle with these metaphorical hats, Be-four deduced, and so went to take his empty dishes to the recycler. When he returned to their table Dr. Pulaski's expression now suggested to him that she had drawn some sort of conclusion, so he took his seat again, quietly and eagerly.
         “Okay.” She said. “What I remember of the article was how Soong seemed to have intended that Data be able to use his 'dreams' in the same way that a psychoanalyst teaches their human patients to do. That is, to use them to monitor their subconscious, deriving information about the state of their subconscious from how it interprets the random neuron firing in the brain.”
         Be-four thought about this for a minute. “All of this would seem to imply that Data had a subconscious.” He said after a bit.
         “That it does,” the doctor replied, “and what's more, it implies that you must almost certainly have one too.”
         Be-four nodded, momentarily lost in the many and profound implications of that last statement.
         “In fact,” the doctor continued with enthusiasm “I'll bet that you asked me that question because you've come across the dreaming program in Data's download.”
         “That is correct, Doctor.” He answered.
         “Well, you'll want to give that article a read before you activate it.” Pulaski suggested. “I'll be sure to find it and send you a copy, before my shift's over.”


         The doctor was as good as her word, and a copy of the article had been deposited in the personal file he kept on the computer in Data's quarters when Be-four returned there, after he had completed his tasks for the day. It took him all of a minute to read it, and it confirmed, with many additional technical details, much of what Dr. Pulaski had told him over lunch.
         Be-four was a bit awed to think that he had a subconscious, and was, on the one hand, quite curious to know how it faired, and on the other hand, a little nervous about what he might discover. Eventually, he decided on a course of 'baby steps'. He would open and install the dreaming program itself, and make sure that it was compatible and functioning properly, and then he would run a few of Data's dreams -for the dreaming program had been necessary to access those memory files.
         The installation was simple and went without a hitch (though he did additionally end up accessing a memory of getting hit with an energy beam from some ancient and mysterious artifact). After that he had to select one of Data's dreams to access, and experience subjectively how the dreaming program worked. He considered for only a moment before choosing the first.
         Ten minutes or so later, he sat up in Data's bed -where he had lain to run the program just as Data had always done- and looked around the room with amazement. The pictures hanging on the walls, which he had observed without taking notice of for weeks now, had suddenly taken on profound new meanings. He rose to examine them more closely, drawn first to the painting of the corridor, then the bird's wing, the smoke, and then the cloud of birds. Lastly he approached the image of the blacksmith, hammer in one hand, wings in the other.
         Sometime between when he had first appeared in Be-four's dream and now, his memories had coalesced enough so that he knew who's image this really was. Inexplicably, the blacksmith Soong had addressed him in the dream as Be-four, rather than Data, though he was always seen and addressed as Data in all of Data's other memories when he processed them. Examining Soong's painted image now, Be-four suddenly understood something Geordi had tried to tell him about Data earlier.
         “Family was real important to Data.” Those words resonated in Be-four's mind as he lifted his hand to hesitantly touch the image of the man he'd spoken to in his dream. “Father.” He all but whispered. Though he could hardly have described it to Dr. Pulaski or anyone else, he now knew the nature and purpose of the wings the Dr. Soong had forged for Data and himself. It was a gift of inexpressible value, and he felt profoundly grateful for it.


         What he did end up telling the doctor at their next lunch date was that the dreaming program worked splendidly, and that he would certainly continue to make use of it. This he did, in the days that followed, accessing a sampler of Data's dreams, generally in chronological order. He even tried out one of the particularly bizarre dreams mentioned in the article Data and then Councilor Troy had written, and he did enjoy very much sharing his impression of it with Dr Pulaski the next day at lunch. When he came to the dreams which Data had experienced shortly after his capture by the Borg, however, he hesitated.
         He had processed those memories a little over a week ago, and that only after having read all of the official accounts and Data's own journals of those events. When he finally did access that set of memories he found them just as terrifying as he had imagined, but he was completely unprepared for the memories which followed immediately afterwards.
         Be-four had come to learn, in a round about way, that Data and Captain Picard had been lovers, but hadn't been able to discover anything else about it, as Captain Picard wasn't present to ask, and nobody else seemed inclined to discuss the subject. He had finally seen, in those memories, how they had been drawn together by their shared trauma after the Borg invasion of their ship, and discovered in eachother a soulmate.
         Realizing at last the depth of passion Data had held for his captain, and seeing the depth to which it was returned moved him to the core of his being. He had emerged from his reverie weeping, and had run to Geordi's cabin, waking his friend in the middle of the night to fall sobbing into his arms. Geordi forgave him, of course, though he never quite understood what had distressed his young friend so, and Be-four could never seem to explain.
         This memory had made clear to Be-four, for the first time, the magnitude of the tragedy Data's death had wrought. It had also made clear to him why he could never become Data -at least not as far as Captain Picard would be concerned. The whole experience had been a soul shaking one for Be-four, as it had been, in many different ways, for Data, and he was hesitant to invoke more of that sort of thing by processing one of Data's dreams from that period.
         In the end, though, he was compelled to try, for he would never have the nerve to try generating a dream of his own before he had sampled something like what might be the worst dream experience he could have. It was pretty bad, too, but what was almost worse was recalling the memory of Data's, which he had processed last week, which followed that dream. It was more of Data and Picard, first discovering their love for one another, and for Be-four, experiencing the intensity of it, while at the same time knowing that it was gone now, was almost more than he could bear.
         He let the dreaming program sit idle after that, for a day or two, but his curiosity asserted itself again, before too long, as he knew it would. Finally, at the end of his work day, about a week after he first asked Dr. Pulaski about the use of dreams, he lay down on the bed in Data's quarters and dreamed his first dream of his own.
         The dream ran for about twenty minutes, and it was not anything like what Be-four had imagined it might be. He rose at it's conclusion stricken with sorrow, and wept, alone in Data's quarters, for he could share nothing of it, he knew, with Geordi. In the end, though he found a manner of peace, because the dream had bought him that as well: now, at last, the great question which had been troubling him for much of his newly aware life was finally and irrevocably settled.


         If the tragic experience of his dream added a mild melancholy to Be-four's personality in the days that followed, it went unobserved in contrast to the new resolve the dream had left him with. He knew his course now, that was for certain, and with that in mind he added to his regular activities piloting tutorials in the holo-deck. Like his younger brother, he was an extremely fast learner and looked to have his license in a week or so.
         In addition, Be-four noticed, as he become more autonomous and came to take part in regular useful activities on the Enterprise, people paid less attention to him. Even Geordi, who was still a good close friend, knew he did not hardly have to 'supervise' Be-four at all any more, and so did not feel obliged to determine what was really going on with him all of the time. Neither he nor anyone else noticed any change in Be-four after his first dream, or if they did, they never spoke to him about it, but then, a few days after he began his piloting tutorials, events occurred which left everybody very much focussed on other things.
         The Romulan/Reman/Federation talks, on board the Villa-Lobos had been proceeding at a steady, if glacial pace for some three weeks when it was suddenly revealed that a number of Remans were distinctly dissatisfied with the pace of the talks, and with their own representation. They indicated this by infiltrating the serving staff on board the Romulan diplomatic vessel stationed next to the Villa-Lobos, and from this base, overran and captured the Federation ship, and taking it's crew, officers, and the other diplomats hostage.
         The Enterprise was ordered, following this mishap, to continue it's previous mission, but closer to the vicinity of the Villa-Lobos, in case she was needed in a hurry. Captain Chandra and Worf speculated at length on how they weren't hearing all of what was going on at the talks, but there was little more that they could do, save waiting for more news, and news there was aplenty. For the first day neither the Romulans, nor the Federation, nor the Vulcans (of the four Federation diplomats two were Vulcans and the other two were a human and a Betazoid) would talk to the hostage takers. On the next day, however, a peculiar offer of help was made.
         Shields were raised and weapons bought on line when the tiny ship first de-cloaked in between the Villa-Lobos, the Titan, and the Romulan warbird, T'rok, but they were quickly powered down when the unshielded and weaponless ship was fully revealed. It's sole occupant was, astonishingly enough, Ambassador Spock who, he announced, had come to exchange himself for one of the hostages.
         Everyone but the Vulcans thought that this was a fine idea, and since they could not give a good reason for their objection, they were overruled. The Romulans most certainly hoped that the Reman hostage takers would kill him, but the Federation hoped that Spock would be able employ some of his famous 'cowboy diplomacy', and so kept their fingers crossed. They weren't far from wrong, but it wasn't really on the Federation's behalf that he was acting.
         The Remans took Spock in and sent back one of the Vulcans, and then they heard nothing for another day. Then the Remans made a new proposal. They wanted a mediator, one of their choice, but that the Federation or the Romulans could veto. Their first nomination was Spock. Neither the Romulans nor the Vulcans would wear that for an instant, and so, after a half day or so, the Remans came back with another offer: the man who had served as the Klingon Arbiter of Succession, Jean Luc Picard.
         The Romulans were perfectly content, almost enthusiastically so, with this choice. Federation was perfectly happy with it too, but the Vulcans were not, and they were the ones who had Picard. The pressure for Picard to appear was weighty, though, and as they could not produce a logical reason why he could not come to Romulus, the Vulcans finally agreed to bring him. He would be bought in a lightly armed fast courier, and would arrive in two days. The Enterprise would meet him.
         This having been decided, tensions eased a little among the three ships, and then, unexpectedly, everyone learned just how fragmented the Reman government, and military really was. The ship that attacked the Titan was, thankfully, much smaller that Shinzon's Scimitar, and didn't have the heinous biogenic weapon, but it was just as able to fire without de-cloaking and, striking without warning, did serious damage to the Titan's port side before she could even get her shields up.
         The T'rok gave chase, but it was a hit and run attack, and the attacker was all but gone by the time the Romulans had the warp drive engaged. After that the Enterprise was ordered to join the Titan in guarding over the Villa-Lobos. Neither Captain Chandra nor Worf approved of this, and thought that it just gave the enemy a bigger target, but both had to admit that they weren't doing much good where they were either.
         This new arrangement raised the question of who was going to meet Captain Picard in the Vulcan courier. Captain Chandra made the case that they would need a fully armed escort even more, now, and that the Enterprise should still go. Starfleet Command thought it better to keep a lower profile, instead though. Their orders were to send a shuttle or other small ship, collect Picard, and send the Vulcan courier out of the area.
         That left Captain Chandra having to decide which of her much needed officers she would send away for three days to pilot the shuttle. The new bridge crew was finally beginning to work together really well, and to take a piece away now seemed to the Captain to be a bad idea. She didn't want to send any but the most capable officer on the mission to collect Picard, though, as the Vulcans were sure to give them a hard time, and there was still a rogue Reman battleship out there, too. She was sitting in the ready room, checking over the list of pilot's licenses issued that week when a possible solution came to her. She called Geordi up from engineering to run the idea past him.
         Geordi, as it transpired, was only barely aware that Be-four had begun working towards a pilot's license, and had not stopped to consider how quickly he would achieve it.
         “Are you serious?” he asked her when she told him her idea.
         “He passed the test -with a record score,” she replied. “That makes him qualified.”
         “You'd be giving an official Starfleet mission to a civilian,” Geordi countered, “Is that legal?”
         “Well, he is not exactly an ordinary civilian, and besides, you would be the only person likely to complain, and I am asking you now,” answered the captain. “Do you think it is a good idea to ask Be-four to take this mission?”
         “Well,” Geordi replied, thinking out loud, “There's no doubt he'll be able handle the shuttle, and the Remans are more likely to attack after he's picked up Captain Picard, so he'd be there to intervene in case Be-four was about to do something really bone-headed.”
         “Do you think he would?” asked the Captain. “Do something bone-headed, I mean.”
         “Not under any ordinary circumstances.” said Geordi with certainty.
         “And what if the Vulcans give him any trouble?” asked Captain Chandra. “Could they refuse to hand Picard over to Be-four because he is not Starfleet? Would they?”
         “You'll have to ask our legal department for the answer to the first question.” said Geordi. “Though come to think of it, you might ask Be-four -he can do an analysis of all of the diplomatic comm traffic between Starfleet and Vulcan for the last week, and answer your question, all in about three seconds. In fact,” he remarked, considering further, “he could produce the same evidence for the Vulcans as well, if they gave him any trouble.”
         “Well it seems as though Be-four could be the perfect man for the job, Mr. La Forge.” said the captain with relief. “Would you not say so?”
         “I guess he could be,” said Geordi, not entirely convinced. “but why don't you let me talk to him about it at dinner tonight? If it looks like he's good to go I'll have him come see you in the morning.”
         “That is what we will do then.” Captain Chandra said with a nod, and left Geordi to carry on.

VII. An Unexpected Call to Duty

         “So, the captain tells me you got your pilot's license yesterday.” Geordi mentioned over the dinner of spring rolls and stir fry that Be-four had made that night. Be-four had expressed a desire, a few weeks ago, to contribute more to the dinners he and Geordi shared most nights, and now they took turns cooking. Cooking was one of the few things which Be-four did without the benefit of any experience from Data, but after a few clumsy starts he had come to develop a fair knack for the activity. Something about discovering and exploring this new talent on his own pleased Be-four, though he couldn't say why.
         In contrast, Be-four had held few doubts about his ability to pass the pilot's test, and found this subject of much less interest. Still, he was quite proud of his score, so this was what he expressed to Geordi.
         “I achieved the highest score on the exam ever recorded in Starfleet.” he said.
         “And do you know who's score you beat to make that record?” Geordi asked, with a smile that said he was not surprised either, but proud of his friend, just the same.
         “A certain cadet Data, in his first year in the academy.” Be-four said, with pride now for both his brother and himself.
         “Well, you're a member of a very talented family.” Geordi said. “And that's a good thing, because we may have a need for some of those talents just now.”
         “I am always pleased to be able to place my talent's at the Enterprises disposal whenever and however I may.” said Be-four earnestly. “Are there more tasks around the ship you would like me to perform?”
         “Not more tasks,” answered Geordi, “what I'm talking about here is more of a mission.”
         “A mission?” Be-four, who had been finishing up in the kitchen, now came down to sit across from Geordi and listen intently.
         “Be-four, have you kept up with the news from the negotiations?” Geordi asked before going any further.
         Be-four gave a fairly succinct but thorough summation of the Romulan/ Reman/Federation talks over the last weeks, finishing with, “…and Starfleet has now ordered that the Enterprise remain with the Titan and the Villa-Lobos, and send a shuttle to collect Captain Picard instead, in hopes of evading the Reman's notice.”
         “That's great.” Geordi said, sounding encouraged. “And it's that last bit you may be able to help us with. Now, before I go any further, I want you to remember that you're a civilian, and the captain can't order you to do anything. She knows that too, 'cause it's important that you be certain that you're up to this, if you decide to do it, and that it's not a problem if you don't.”
         “You need me to pilot the shuttle to rendezvous with Captain Picard.” said Be-four, focusing directly on the matter of real importance.
         Geordi shook his head, still, somehow, frequently taken by surprise at his friend's quickness. “Yeah, we do.” he said. “But Be-four, did you hear the other stuff I just said?”
         “You wish me to be certain that I am capable of handling this mission.” Be-four said. “I am. I know that I will have to avoid being detected by the Remans, and I can evade them if we are. I know that I must be circumspect with the Vulcans, but firm, if they seem reluctant to release Captain Picard to me. I can do this Geordi.”
         Geordi considered all of this thoughtfully as he ate a spring roll. “Well, you certainly sound confident enough.” he said at last. “There's one more thing we need you to check on, though.” Geordi explained the captain's earlier concerns that the person receiving Captain Picard might have to be a Starfleet officer.
         Data did a quick scan, just as Geordi had said he would do, and turned up only one specific directive covering the identity of official to whom Picard would be surrendered. This directive named that person as “ an officer in Starfleet, or any other person designated by a Starfleet officer for that duty.”
         “Well, I guess that means you're our man for this mission,” Geordi said, and then paused a bit, “unless you can think of any reason why you might not want to take it?”
         The tone of Geordi's voice, as he asked this last question, and the direct look he gave Be-four, told the android that this was serious -that he was being placed in a position of great trust, and great responsibility, and that this position demanded complete honesty of him. Be-four understood, and returned his friend's serious gaze with one of equally serious respect.
         “I do believe that I have the skills and abilities needed to undertake this mission, Geordi.” he said. “I am also very excited to be able to contribute in this way, but I would not let that persuade me into to taking a mission I was not able to conduct. To do so would be to endanger myself, Captain Picard, and these peace talks, and I would never do that.”
         “All right.” Geordi said with a warm smile, and laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. “The captain'll want to talk to you first thing in the morning, and let me be the first one to wish you good luck.”


         Be-four presented himself at the captain's ready room half an hour into her watch. She was expecting him, and asked him to sit in the chair across the desk from her when he entered. Be-four was, in fact, quite excited, but knew it would not do to express it at this point, so, although it was no easy thing, he sat quietly for the few moments it took Captain Chandra to finish reading the report she'd been reviewing when he entered.
         “Thank you for waiting, Be-four.” she began at last. “Has Geordi explained about what we wish to ask of you?”
         “He told me last night that you need someone to pilot the shuttle that will collect Captain Picard from the Vulcan courier.” Be-four replied. “Is this correct?”
         “It is.” said the captain. “Is this a mission you believe you are capable of carrying out?” She was a bit brusquer than Geordi had been, but Be-four sensed that same tone of deadly seriousness in the captain's question, as he had in his friend's question the night before. He answered accordingly.
         “I believe that I am aware of the importance of this mission.” he began. “I know that Captain Picard's life is dependant on my commission of this task, and that the success of the peace talks may depend on my ability to deliver Captain Picard. I hope that you understand, Sir, that I would never do anything to risk the life of a Starfleet officer, or an important Federation diplomatic goal, and I would do anything in my power to defend them.”
         Captain Chandrasekhar nodded gravely. “You are a very interesting fellow.” she said after a bit. “I have not had the chance to get to know you well, though I hope to do so soon, but my chief engineer has said that we can trust you. I have come to trust him very much, and so I will trust you.”
         “I will not betray that trust, Captain, I promise.” said Be-four, meaning every word.
         “Very well.” said the captain. “They are prepping your shuttle now, in preparation for a departure at thirteen hundred hours. Can you be ready by then?”
         “I am ready now, if need be.” answered Be-four.
         “No doubt you are,” said Captain Chandra with a chuckle. “but thirteen hundred hours is when the shuttle will be ready, so I will meet you on the shuttle deck at that time. For now, you had best make any preparations you think necessary. Do you have any other question?”
         “No, ma'am.” replied Be-four.
         “Then I will see you on the shuttle deck at thirteen hundred hours.” said the captain.
         “Yes, ma'am.” replied Be-four, who took this, correctly, as a dismissal and left.


         Strangely enough, Jean Luc Picard's first day in Vulcan custody had been the worst. Not that the Vulcans had treated him badly on that day, or any other, but the fact was that although being removed from the Enterprise had been deeply, deeply painful, his state of mind had done nothing but improve since then. In retrospect, it was clear to see that he'd needed time away from his responsibilities, and though he'd never have taken it of his own choice, this perversely disguised bit of good fortune had taken that choice away.
         After only a few days of a regular schedule, simple, nourishing, vegetarian food, and absolutely no responsibilities, reason and order had begun to reassert themselves in Jean Luc's mind. He began to take comfort in the knowledge that his ship would be well taken care of by those he'd left in charge, however abruptly, and began to let go of the worry that she'd fall to some kind of mischance because he wasn't there.
         He also came to realize that Spock would never let him rot away on Vulcan (though nothing much actually rotted on Vulcan -desiccated maybe) without taking some action to free him. Spock had connections, Jean Luc knew; Spock could pull strings. He might not have any friends on the High Council, but his family was still an important one. And it wasn't as though Starfleet was altogether helpless either. They would be looking for some leverage to use against the Vulcans on his behalf, he had confidence, but he knew better than to expect any quick action from them. At the moment, Starfleet had other fish to fry -big ones.
         To pass the time until his eventual release, therefore, Jean Luc had lately fallen into the habit of investigating the various ways he could annoy his Vulcan captors. After his first day or so in Vulcan custody, Picard had noticed that whenever he behaved in a way that was more civilized or sophisticated than the vulcans had apparently expected, he or she would pause in what they were doing and look directly and piercingly at him for a moment. It was as though they were waiting for him to confess that he was kidding.
         He never did, of course, and he noticed over time that his vulcan keepers' demeanor, generally cool at all times, would become down-right frigid after one of these exchanges. The first time he had seen this clearly was an occasion just after his arrival on Vulcan, when the vulcan guard who bought him his meals had been conversing pleasantly with Picard, and happened to ask if he wished he could be served meat dishes, such as humans commonly ate. When Picard had answered (most sincerely) that he enjoyed his recent change of diet, and that he knew his health would benefit the guard had given him the 'pause and hard stare', and had then proceeded to spend the rest of his shift guarding Picard's 'secure dormitory room' (as the vulcans called it) without speaking another word to him.
         At first, Jean Luc had blamed himself for souring a potentially amicable relationship with one of his guards, but after he'd thought about it for a while, he'd realized that it was his failure to live down to his stereotype which had alienated the guard, and Jean Luc knew that he had no interest in befriending such a person. Alas, after a few days Jean Luc had to come to the conclusion that pretty much all the vulcans he came into contact with held similar attitudes towards humans, and so, since forming friendships was not going to be an option, Jean Luc Picard set about finding as many ways to disappoint these vulcans as often as possible.
         One easy technique had proven to be conversing with the vulcans in their own language. Picard was fairly adept in Vulcan, and got quite a bit better during his weeks of captivity. The vulcans, of course, continued to address him in Terran Standard, regardless of how he spoke to them, but Picard continued to act as though they were conversing in his host's language (always the polite thing to do). As a result, nearly all of his conversations with the vulcans were short and terse.
         This left him with a lot of time on his hands, so he began to request reading material. His first request for a classic work of vulcan literature -which they could hardly decline- was answered with the delivery of a terran standard translation of the work. He took great pleasure in discomfiting his guards by insisting on the original Vulcan version but, once again, they could hardly refuse him. A short time later they gave him a reader/player with limited but still quite extensive library access (possibly to avoid having Picard rub their noses in his cultured and refined tastes) and he discovered that listening to the Vulcan music he now had access to on the player annoyed them even more.
         The real coup in his campaign of good taste and civilized behavior, however, came when he decided to teach himself Auck'chektan-Hocht -the ancient and somewhat formal version of the Vulcan language. It was not an easy language to learn, but Jean Luc Picard had a lot of time on his hands these days, and this was just the kind of project he liked to occupy himself for long hours. He hadn't honestly considered the annoyance factor it would represent to the vulcans, but it soon became apparent that trying out little phrases and expressions in Auck'chektan-Hocht on his guards nearly always resulted in a shockingly black look from the normally impassive vulcans.
         As near as he could figure, among more conservative vulcans -which this bunch certainly were- anything that might remain from Vulcan's not-so-nice ancient past was considered best discarded and never spoken of. This prohibition, it seemed, was particularly stringent for non-vulcan's. It was almost as though these vulcans were ashamed of their past, and devoutly wished for all of it to be buried and forgotten. This, as Picard was certain Spock would agree, was all deeply illogical, for a past forgotten is a past whose valuable lessons are lost. He had fallen, it seemed among a faction of vulcans prepared with all enthusiasm to repeat the excesses and mistakes of their own past. As easy as it was to manipulate these people, it was, Picard reflected, rather sad.
         Finally one day, after a little over four weeks or so (Jean Luc hadn't really been keeping track) of these pleasant and diverting activities, a group of four fairly high ranking vulcans arrived, without announcement or warning, in Jean Luc's little corner of the world, entered his 'dormitory room' and told him he was going back to the Federation. Given no time to prepare, Jean Luc was brusquely escorted to a waiting courier ship, which lifted off the moment he was aboard.
         The courier's captain, Ch'ren, wasted no time in depositing Picard in his tiny and secure quarters, and locking him in. Not one of the crew of five vulcans said one word to him. Having come so abruptly, Jean Luc had decidedly mixed feelings about this turn of events, but after he'd settled down in his new quarters for a bit he had time to reflect that this was in all likelihood a good thing. With luck, he might find himself back with the Enterprise in a couple of days, and that was a very good feeling indeed.
         He had, of course, no idea what had transpired during his absence, but, recalling how fluid things had been when he left, he knew that any number of things could have happened since then. Though he had missed the Enterprise and his many friends and acquaintances in Starfleet, he'd schooled himself against imagining what was happening while he was in captivity for his own psychological well being, since the vulcans had not seen fit to deliver him any news at all. Now he took the time to refresh his memory of how things were when he had left, and speculate on how they might have gone in the intervening time. There were, he quickly concluded, an infinitude of possibilities.
         Still, these speculations passed the time, and it was after Jean Luc had noted that he had been served three meals and was expecting another soon (denoting nearly two of the vulcans' two-meal days) that he first felt something strike the ship. To be accurate, it might have been the ship striking something else, but when the ship was then shaken by a series of violent shocks, accompanied by the sounds of alarms out in the corridor, Jean Luc knew that the former was vastly more likely.
         His first reaction was a powerful desire to find his bridge -the first time he'd missed it in weeks. Any ship's captain suited for the job will always be convinced that -whoever else may be present- he or she is the only one who really knows the right way to handle any given ship's crisis. Jean Luc felt a fury of impotency at being locked in his quarters during a firefight, regardless of how amenable he'd been about it moments before.
         Rapidly pacing the tiny confines of his room, he felt the blows striking the ship come yet more frequently and more forcefully, and -objectively knowing that Captain Ch'ren was probably perfectly competent- began to consider the possibility that the vulcan courier was seriously outmatched. Then the power failed. This, thought Jean Luc in the dark, is a very troublesome development.
         He tried the door and found it unlocked, which came as both good news and bad news. Cautiously stepping into the dark, smoky and clamorous corridor, he saw no sign of the crew -another mixed blessing. He got the just plain bad news when he stepped around the corner, in what he thought was the direction of the bridge. Partway down the corridor he spotted the glimmer of an energy shield, and beyond that -open space.
         The whole front of the vulcan courier, it seemed, was gone along with, in all likelihood, her crew. The remaining portion, with Jean Luc it's helpless passenger, was drifting in space. A quick inspection revealed no escape pods accessible from where he was, which, Picard knew, was not as bad a bit of news as it sounded, as whoever had attacked the courier would probably fire on any escape pods as well. What that meant, though, was that he would either probably be killed fairly soon, when the attacking ship moved to obliterate the remaining portion of the ship with him in it, or he would die slowly when the batteries and life support in this portion of the ship failed.
         The fear that he had striven at length to hold at bay finally rose up in Jean Luc and he found that he could not put it aside any longer. He was not, in all likelihood, going to make it home, after all. Admitting this, at last, was like opening a horrible door though which all of the doubts and anxieties of the recent past poured in a cascade. There was no where to escape, no way to stem the tide and he felt himself drowning in his despair and defeat… and then he heard the sirens in the corridor falter and stop. He looked up and saw the field at the end of the corridor shimmer and flicker unsteadily and knew he was done, and gave up.
         He was dead, again, and only waiting …
         And then he felt the tingle of a transporter beam, and it all faded …

VIII. Military Crisis

         The person he saw, as he rematerialized, standing before him, operating the transporter, was the very person he automatically expected to rescue him, and at the same time, a person who he had never expected to see again. Even when, through his shock and confusion, he finally realized who it really was, Jean Luc could not, at first, remember his name.
         “You!” was all he could gasp out as he felt his voice return, and shakily stepped down from the transporter pad. A pale hand reached out to steady him, and sober amber eyes in a heartbreakingly familiar face regarded him carefully.
         “Captain Picard?” he asked. “Are you injured?”
         “No.” Jean Luc was able to manage. “Just a little…shaken up. You would appear to have your brother's knack for perfect timing.” Little by little the universe was reassembling itself inside of his brain, eventually becoming complete enough to contain a bit of curiosity and even a small measure of hazardous hope.
         “I am pleased that you think so.” said Be-four, a little dismissively, Picard thought. “But we must leave this area quickly. If the Remans have seen that this shuttle rescued anyone from the vulcan courier they will be certain to attack us as well.”
         “Remans?!” Picard asked as he followed Be-four through the shuttle into the cockpit, his curiosity now fully awake.
         “Have the Vulcans told you nothing of what has transpired while you were in their custody?” Be-four asked in turn, settling into the pilot's seat.
         “No, nothing.” Picard answered, taking in the sight of Be-four settling into the cockpit (of the ship in which he was a passenger!) with some difficulty. “How long have you have had your pilot's license?” he asked.
         “Since last week!” Be-four replied with a perfectly delighted grin, which did nothing to quell Picard's internal disquiet.
         “Flown quite a few missions since then, have you?” remarked Picard dryly.
         “In fact, this is my first” said Be-four, without missing a beat. “You may be comforted, however to know that on the final test I earned the highest score ever recorded in Starfleet.”
         Picard was mollified, somewhat, but he knew who's score Be-four had beaten to earn that record, and once again Picard felt rankled by the ease with which Be-four moved into roles that had once been Data's.
         Any further ruminations, however, were abruptly interrupted when the shuttle was dealt a violent blow by something Picard had no warning of.
         “Was that the Remans?” he asked, drawing the most likely conclusion and powering up the shuttle's meager shields and weapons.
         “It would appear so.” replied Be-four, managing some fairly sophisticated evasive maneuvers. “These Remans are able to fire while cloaked, just as the Scimitar could, but theirs would appear to be a much smaller ship. I am afraid I have been able to determine neither their maximum speed nor weapons range, but I will do what I can to evade them.”
         Picard had already hazarded a few phaser shots against the unseen Remans, but was fairly certain that even if he struck his target (which was extremely unlikely) he would do little or no damage. He wasn't giving up, though, and neither was Be-four.
         He had to admit that the android's evasive maneuvers were quite brilliant, and prevented the Remans from striking more than glancing blows for some time. At last, however, one of those glancing blows hit the port nacelle for the second time, and that put an end to much of Be-four's fancy maneuvering. After that it was a simple matter for the Remans to pound them to bits.
         Be-four saw this at once, abandoning his pilot's seat and urging Picard into the center section of the shuttle. The inter-section bulkhead doors were just closing as Reman fire struck the cockpit and the intruding vacuum pulled a little puff of air out of their section as the doors sealed. This was the most well protected area of the shuttle, Picard knew, but it would not withstand a direct hit from the Remans.
         Whatever mixed feelings he had about him, Be-four's presence meant that Picard was compelled to act the Captain. Had he had to endure these circumstances alone, and emotionally battered as he was from the events of the last month, he might have given up again, but having Be-four there meant that giving up was not an option. He wracked his brain for possible measures they might take, however desperate, and hit upon one that might just be desperate enough.
         Assigning Be-four to reconfigure the shuttle's shields so that they could mask their life signs, Picard went to work on a medical tricorder -rewiring it so that the device would emit them. They worked on these tasks while the Remans obliterated both the shuttle's nacelles and the remains of the cockpit, and permanently disabled the transporter, but failed to breach the more highly shielded central section -though it wasn't for want of trying.
         When they were each done with their tasks Picard started to explain the plan to Be-four and discovered that he had pretty much figured it out on his own.
         “You mean for the Remans to believe we have abandoned the shuttle in the escape pod, in the assumption that they will destroy the pod and leave the ship?” Be-four had speculated before Picard had gotten more than a sentence or two into the explanation.
         “That's the general idea, yes.” Picard said with chagrin. “Do you understand what needs to be done now?”
         “After the tricorder is placed in the escape pod, we must launch it and simultaneously activate the masking shield in the shuttle.” Be-four answered with confidence. “I think it is a very clever plan.”
         “Well, I hope it's clever enough to fool the Remans,” replied Picard. “and that they don't decide to shoot up the shuttle anyway, out of spite.”
         They carried out their plan without hitch, in spite of the hail of Reman fire which fell upon them as they launched their escape pod decoy. This volley took out the shuttle's sensors and the entire aft section, where the transporters and generators were, and then there was silence. Without sensors they could not tell if the Remans had fired on the escape pod, and even with sensors they could not tell if the Remans had left, and so all they could do was wait.
         The two of them sat in silence, in the dim glow of the shuttle's emergency lights as the seconds, and then the minutes ticked by, and nothing happened. Eventually it was Be-four who broke the silence.
         “It has been seven minutes since the last Reman shot struck us.” he announced. “Do you think it worked?”
         “Maybe.” Picard said cautiously. He stood to look around the small compartment, considering. If they had truly escaped the Remans they would need to do an inventory of supplies, asses the life support systems, and determine a way of attracting friendly ships to their rescue without attracting any more hostiles. There was a more pressing matter on Picard's mind at the moment, however.
         “If we have fooled the Remans then we have a few tasks ahead of us still,” he said after a bit. “but before we get to that there's something else I feel needs to be attended to immediately.”
         “What is that?” asked Be-four.
         “Be-four, what in heaven's name has been happening while I've been gone?” he asked. “Why are the Remans attacking Vulcan courier ships and Federation shuttles? What happened to the peace talks, for God's sake?”
         “There is indeed, a great deal to explain, Sir.” Be-four said. “At the moment one cannot speak of 'the Remans' as a unified group, as they appear to have broken into a number of differing factions, some of which support the peace talks to varying degrees, some of which do not. As for the peace talks themselves, the Villa-Lobos, along with her officers and crew and all of the delegates have been taken hostage by yet another faction of Remans.”
         “What?” said Picard, shocked.
         “I think that I had best explain all of these events from the beginning, Sir” suggested Be-four.
         “Perhaps you had.” answered Picard.


         Be-four did a very thorough job of recounting the events of the past several weeks as Picard began an initial resources assessment, and Be-four did little repair and damage control jobs where ever he could. Hearing of Spock's involvement Picard knew that he was right to have trusted him to find a way to secure his freedom, but he could never have imagined the way that Spock had taken advantage of the chaotic circumstances in order to accomplish that. He found himself both touched and awed by the brilliance of the ambassador's actions.
         Picard thought he heard admiration in Be-four's voice, as well, when he spoke of the vulcan ambassador, and wondered what Spock would make of him now, and of how much he had changed. He wondered a bit at that himself. The creature he watched now skillfully repairing some delicate and vital shuttle component was clearly as competent and intelligent as Data had ever been. He found it troublingly easy to trust him. He even felt a whisper of the old confidence he'd always felt when Data was with him -that no matter how tight a squeeze they were in they'd manage a way out, because together, the two of them were seemingly invincible. He didn't know how he felt about that.
         At the moment it was far simpler to contemplate the meager facilities with which they would have to survive until they were rescued. The central shuttle compartment contained a pair of bunks which converted to a table and benches -which were up now, the replicator -now useless, the atmospheric plant -which was rather vital, and the head -very convenient for him. While not having any use for the head, Be-four would also use far fewer of the consumable resources, which stretched their supplies considerably.
         They had both the full measure of the ship's emergency supplies of food and water, plus all of the stores put on for the shuttle's original mission, and this came out to about eighteen days worth. The air was another matter. Had any of the generators survived the Reman's attack they'd have been able to run the atmospheric plant virtually indefinitely. Now they were left only with the compartment's emergency batteries as a power source, and their reserves were quite finite.
         Presently Be-four was tweaking the atmospheric plant to make it run as efficiently as possible, and when he was done they would know how many hours of breathable air they would have.
         Objectively, Picard considered, even eighteen days is not terribly long if one is a small powerless shuttlecraft fragment hoping to be found by a passing patrol. They were on a regular route, but times were tense, and shipping traffic was down. He'd have felt a lot better if he'd known that the Enterprise was still patrolling the area, but Be-four had told him how the Enterprise had been ordered to stay with the Titan and the Villa-Lobos, and so he had not even that comfort.
         At last, he saw Be-four stand away from the atmospheric plant, and close up the open panels.
         “Five hundred hours.” he said, forestalling any questions. “I am afraid it is the best that I can do.”
         “It'll do, Be-four.” Picard said, after doing the math. “That's longer than the food and water will last, so that's all the longer it really needs to be.”
         “I suppose so.” replied Be-four, sounding unconvinced.
         Picard laid a hand on Be-four's shoulder, seeing the android do just as Data always had, in expecting far more of himself than was necessarily reasonable, and blaming himself when he 'failed'.
         “Be-four, you've saved my life half a dozen times today,” he said. “where most people would not even have managed once. You've displayed the kind of skill, intelligence and resourcefulness I'd expect from any Starfleet officer. You've done much to be proud of today, Be-four, and nothing to be ashamed of.”
         Seeing Be-four's face brighten in pleasure at his praise made Picard's heart hurt. His face was too much like Data's; his joy was too much like Data's, and the feelings that rose in him in response to Be-four were much too much like those he'd felt for Data.
         Apparently seeing his pensive mood Be-four turned now with concern, to his Captain. “How long has it been since you ate or slept, Sir?” he asked, perceptively.
         Even as Picard had been inventorying the food stores earlier the question of when he had last eaten had never crossed his mind. At Be-four's question he realized that he had no idea how long it had been, but it was very likely much too long.
         “Please allow me to prepare some food for you.” said Be-four, interpreting his lack of answer correctly. “I have been learning how to cook.”
         Easing himself into the bench at the table, his fatigue finally settled on him, and Picard realized how drained he really was. “Than you very much, Be-four.” he said. “That's an extremely generous offer, and one I'll accept gratefully.”
         “Of course, Captain. It is my pleasure.” he heard Be-four say, but he had laid his head on his arm in fatigue, and so that he would not have to see Be-four smile for him again.

IX. Identity Crisis

         Captain Picard ate and enjoyed the delicious meal which Be-four prepared for him, and them left him alone to eat. When he was done Be-four helped him convert the table and benches into a pair of bunks, and Picard climbed up to the upper one, and was soon deeply asleep. Waking, some eight hours or so later was strange, as his fortunes had changed so many times in the last twenty-four hours that he had to lie in bed for several minutes before he remembered how it had all turned out.
         Be-four greeted him with a 'good morning' as he lowered himself down from the bunk, and after he had returned from the head and began puttering about in the food stores, offered to make him breakfast. Picard suggested that he was capable of preparing his own breakfast, and then proceeded to prove it by activating an insto-heat container of 'hot breakfast beverage', and opening a package of 'banana-strawberry protein biscuits'.
         “And how did you pass your night, Be-four?” Picard asked as he settled in to an arrangement of storage crates to enjoy his repast.
         “I have spent the last several hours exploring strategies whereby we might attract the attention of Starfleet or Romulan vessels with out attracting the attention of the Remans.” Be-four replied from the lower bunk where he was ensconced.
         “Any success?” Picard asked.
         “Not yet,” Be-four answered hopefully. “but there are a number of avenues of approach which I have not yet explored.”
         “Keep up the good work then.” said Picard, over his hot beverage which was neither tea, nor coffee, nor anything else he could recognize.
         After finishing his dubious but nourishing breakfast, Picard spent some time tidying up the stores and supplies, looked out the window, fiddled (only ever so slightly) with the atmospheric plant, looked out the window again, climbed into his bunk, wished mightily for something to read, climbed down from his bunk again and began to pace, casually. Really, it was more of a stroll.
         Still, Be-four seemed to notice his restlessness, and interceded.
         “Sir,” he asked, a bit hesitantly. “Do you have a moment?”
         Picard chuckled a little. “Be-four, I would appear to have a great excess of moments on my hands just now.” he said as he pulled up a storage crate to sit on, next to the bunk where Be-four sat. “What can I do for you?”
         Be-four sat forward on the lower bunk and Picard could see, now that his face wasn't hidden in the shadows, that something was troubling him. “There is something that I need to tell you.” he said. “I had hoped that I would have time to speak to you on our journey, and although these are not the circumstances I had foreseen, this is still an issue… a very personal one for both of us… which I very much need to discuss with you.”
         “Go ahead, Be-four.” Jean Luc said gently -both curious and worried. “Tell me.”
         Sitting at one end of the bunk, Be-four drew his knees up to his chin -a casually human posture which Data would rarely have used, except in his most intimate and private moments. “I am sure you have not failed to notice how much I have developed since you saw me last.” he began.
         Picard smiled and nodded his head.
         “When I left the Enterprise two days ago Geordi informed me that my positronic net had developed to within 97 percent of Data's, and I have at this point accessed just over 95 percent of the memories he downloaded into me. You have probably also noticed that I share a number of Data's aptitudes and talents.”
         Again, Picard nodded, worried about where this was going but carefully not showing it.
         “Among the subroutines and programs of Data's which I have integrated in the last few weeks,” Be-four continued, “was the dreaming program, which I believe you are familiar with?”
         “Yes, I am.” Picard replied.
         “I researched it carefully first,” Be-four said, “to make sure that it was safe, and when it appeared that it was, I used it to dream…”
         Be-four trailed off here for a moment, but Jean Luc waited in silence for him to go on.
         “I saw Data in my dream.” said Be-four at last, “and he lead me…he showed me to where there was one more download, separate from the rest, and I understood, somehow, that it was important for me to access it right away, so I did.”
         Picard realized that he was hearing a tremor in the android's voice. “Are you all right, Be-four?” he asked.
         “I have to tell you,” Be-four said tragically. “I am very sorry, but I have to tell you what I learned. He sent me this download after the other one -an…an afterthought, or…second thoughts, perhaps…He sent it from the bridge of the Scimitar, by means of the extra data-port the Remans installed,…It was just after he sent you back,…just before…just before he died.” Be-four was weeping openly now, arms wrapped tight around his torso. Picard wanted nothing more than to go to him and give some kind of comfort, but he knew he couldn't.
         “When he saw…” Be-four continued, “when he saw your face,…when he realized what he had done,…how he had hurt you,…how he had betrayed your trust…He knew he had to find a way to make it right, but he could not…he realized that he could not undo what he had done…and he had done so many awful things...hurt so many people, so many of his friends…but there was nothing he could do…nothing…
         “And then he thought of me.”
         Jean Luc Picard felt a cold chill of horror sweep through him, but he couldn't speak, couldn't stop Be-four from saying what he had to say. He could only listen, helplessly, to the unfolding disaster before him.
         “So now I am the one who has to make things right,” Be-four continued quietly, “if I can. I have to take Data's place so that I can try to make amends for the wrong that he…that I did. If I can take his place, wherever I can…I know there are many instances where I cannot. I know that Starfleet will never grant me Data's rank and record. I will have to rebuild them from nothing…”
         “No.” said Picard, not even aware of an intention to speak until the words had left his lips. “You can't be Data.”
         “I know you will never accept that I could be Data. I understand that. I know…I remember what you and Data were to each other. I understand what you have lost…”
         “You understand nothing!” Jean Luc shouted, standing suddenly, and shocked at his own anger -unable to control it.
         “You believe that I am not entitled to the memories and motivations which were freely given to me by Data,” Be-four said, “but I cannot distinguish them from any others I have. I feel them just as deeply, remember them just as clearly. How can I not be Data, having seen what I have seen? I knew you would not receive this news easily, but please,…I beg you,…you must understand that I do not have a choice in this. I must try to redeem as much of Data's life as I can by living it. I must make these things right. I must! If I cannot…”
         Be-four had lifted his head to catch Picard with a desperate, beseeching look, such as he had never seen Data employ and yet which tore at his heart like a Nausicaan dagger. He was close to weeping himself, and he could not bear the though of loosing his composure (further) with Be-four.
         “Stop it!” he said, a bit more harshly than he'd intended. “I won't hear another word of this. Do not speak to me of it again.”
         “As you wish, Sir.” Be-four said in a quiet, broken voice, and did not speak again for many hours.


         In a fit of the most desperate boredom Captain Picard found a copy of the shuttle's technical specs and retreated to his top bunk to try and lose himself in them. He was well motivated, and actually succeeded in doing so for many hours. Hunger drove him forth eventually, but he collected his pre-prepared ham and cheese sandwich and cup of wine (this was real wine, a thoughtful someone had packed for him with the shuttle's provisions) without Be-four offering to cook for him again, and returned to his bunk quickly.
         Be-four emerged from the lower bunk a little while later and checked the atmospheric plant and batteries again, and apparently found nothing amiss for he returned to his bunk when he was done without saying a word. Jean Luc felt perfectly wretched for Be-four, but he had no idea what to do. Data was dead, and no one, no matter how similar, could ever replace him -he was certain of that. Why couldn't Be-four understand that? Why, for that matter couldn't he understand Be-four's motivations? How did reliving Data's regrets make him feel compelled to take on Data's life? Not understanding his motives, Jean Luc felt helpless to even try to persuade Be-four to change his mind.
         He fell asleep with these conundrums turning over in his mind, and woke feeling ill rested and with no answers. Be-four was out, he noted as he sat up in his bunk, examining the status display panel for the batteries. He must have heard Picard stirring, though, because he soon turned to address Picard up in his bunk.
         “I am glad you are awake, Sir.” he said. “I am afraid we may be having some difficulties with the emergency batteries.”
         This news rendered Picard instantly wide awake, and in seconds he was on the deck with one of the unidentifiable 'hot breakfast drinks' open, ready to address the problem.
         “They are losing power somewhat more rapidly than I had expected them to.” Be-four explained as Picard examined the status display himself. “And I have just now been able to determine that there is something besides the atmospheric plant which is drawing power from the batteries, but I cannot tell what. It may be something as simple as a short in the wreckage.”
         “Is it possible to stop it?” Picard asked, seeing that they now had enough power to run the atmospheric plant for about 300 hours now -around twelve and a half days.
         “Not without being able to access the exterior of the shuttle.” answered Be-four. “But I may have an alternative solution.”
         “Let's hear it.” said Picard.
         “I may be able to recharge the batteries myself, to a small degree.” Be-four suggested. “Not enough to restore all of the 175 hours which were lost -not at first, but as long as my own reserves do not fall under 65 percent my power systems are self recharging.”
         “So you can continue recharging the batteries as we go along.” Picard finished for him to show he understood. “Are you sure it's safe for you?” he asked to follow up.
         “It is well within my design parameters.” Be-four said with certainty.
         “Very well then,” said Picard. “Make it so. Do you need me to help with any of this?”
         “No, thank you, Sir.” Be-four shook his head. “It is a very simple procedure.”
         That being the case, Picard returned to the food supplies to try and find a package of 'protein biscuits' that came in a different flavor than the unpleasantly cloying one he'd had yesterday. He had not yet succeeded in this task when he thought he heard Be-four make an odd sound. As Picard turned to look back at the android, he gave a loud shout, yanking the cable running from his arm out of the battery systems access port.
         Picard's nose caught the acrid smell of burning plastic, he heard the sharp electric snap of the bright blue spark arcing from the end of Be-four's cable to the wall port. He saw the android stumble backwards and fall, and then he did not move.
         Picard leapt forward, loudly calling Be-four's name. He had enough sense to approach him cautiously, to make sure that he still wasn't carrying current, but the power end of the cable running from Be-four's arm was lying scorched on the floor. Seeing this, he knelt at the android's side, touching him carefully at first, but then laid his hand on his chest and called his name again.
         He stirred at last, opened his eyes and spoke so softly that Picard could barely hear him.
         “Be-four, what happened?” Picard asked.
         It took Be-four a moment to answer. “Please,” he finally managed. “please… help me up.”
         Picard lifted and moved him gently to where he could lean his back against the wall, then knelt at his side and waited for him to speak again.
         “There was a residual energy sink…” he finally managed, “…left from the Remans' weapons…I should have figured it out before…It was lodged in the batteries' capacitor matrix and I accessed it directly when I attempted to recharge the batteries.”
         This speech seemed to have exhausted Be-four, and he fell silent for a few moments. Picard said nothing, but laid his hand over Be-four's heart again, as though he wished to lend him his own strength. As though he had, Be-four now drew a deep breath and continued.
         “The energy sink discharged when I contacted it, and it instantly depleted the batteries by another 50 percent…but mainly it depleted my own reserves … by approximately 97.8 percent.”
         “What?” Picard cried, horrified. “How long will that allow you to continue to function?”
         “Approximately seventeen hours.” Be-four answered.
         Unexpectedly, Picard felt a wave of panic sweep over him with this news.
         “No,” he said, before he even realized he'd spoken. “No, you're not doing this to me again.”


X. Life and Death Crisis

         Turning back to confront Be-four, Jean Luc found the android weeping inconsolably.
         “I am sorry…I am so sorry…I did not mean…I never meant for this to happen…I do not know what to do.” he sobbed.
         Panic spurred Picard into action. He grabbed Be-four by the shoulders and pulled him up hard, almost shaking him.
         “Think, man!” he shouted. “You still have seventeen hours of the finest mind in Starfleet, dammit! Use it! Surely you can find a way to buy yourself a few more hours!”
         Compelled as much by shame as anything else, it seemed to Picard, Be-four swallowed back his sobs, shrugged out of the captain's grip, and bowed his head in concentration. After a long moment he spoke again, but without raising his head.
         “I can,” he murmured, barely audibly, “recharge my own energy reserves from what remains of the ship's batteries, but there will,… of course, be a cost to you.”
         “Yes?” Picard prompted.
         “Every hour of operating time which I gain will cost the equivalent of two hours of running time for the atmospheric plant.” he said, in a dead voice.
         “I see.” said Picard, a sense of doom beginning to steal over him.
         “How many hours of your life,” Be-four finally asked, when it was clear that Picard wasn't going to say anything more, “would you have me take?”
         Picard was quiet for a time. He could not possibly give any answer to that question. He realized that he was even angry at Data for asking it of him. Thoughtlessly, all he wanted was for Data to know his own dread.
         “What if I said 'all of them'?” he asked at last. “What if I told you that I had counted on your surviving, whatever misfortune befell me, to carry to Starfleet the news of the Reman attack on the vulcan courier, and a Federation shuttle?”
         Be-four raised his head, regarding Picard with a look so bleak that it chilled his soul. “If it is your determination that it is important enough …” he began in a deadly quiet and resigned voice. “If … if that is what you would have me do … then I will use all of the ship's battery power to recharge my own systems. That will be sufficient to bring my own power levels back to at least 65 percent, at which point my systems would become self sustaining … You, however…” he continued after an anguished pause, “Without the battery power to run the atmospheric plant, you … you will die.”
         There followed a long silence, during which both of the occupants of the crippled shuttle seriously contemplated that possibility. Unable to bear not knowing any longer, Be-four finally asked, “Is that truly what you wish me to do?”
         After another long, anxious pause, Picard shook his head. “No,” he said quietly. “No, I won't ask that of you.”
         In the quiet that followed Picard heard Be-four give a little sob, and then a few moments later, his voice barely steady, he asked, “How much should I take then?”
         It really was his call to make, Picard knew, though he very much did not want it to be. In the end he gave the only answer he could.
         “Make it even.” he said. “Make it so that we each have the same … amount of time.”
         “Yes, Sir.” Be-four struggled to stand, still quite weakened by his encounter with the power sink, and Picard helped him up. He found Be-four a crate to sit on near the power port and helped to scrape some of the carbon from his connector cable. Be-four's attempt at a power transfer proceeded without incident this time, and after a few minutes he stood, and detached the connecting cable.
         “We have a little under three days.” he said, without preamble. Picard knew that the odds of their being rescued before then were not good, and he imagined that Be-four knew it too. It was not out of the realm of possibility either, however, and that was the hope they would hold to until the very last.
         To keep this fragile hope alive, and keep other close pressing anxieties at bay, Jean Luc labored to distract himself with food (of which there was plenty) and sleep, but this was a thin regimen. Fortunately, Be-four soon discovered a small compartment wherein some decks of cards and other games had been stored, and the two of them quickly became deeply engaged in a variety of card games.
         Be-four, of course, had access to every regulation of nearly every card game known in or near the Federation. Their diversion supplies included a number of different types of decks of cards as well, but Picard preferred to stick to the classics, and that certainly left them many ways to amuse themselves. They played casino, bridge, gin -in many variations, and poker. They even tried a few types of competitive solitaire, but Be-four always won these.
         Be-four, of course, always promised not to count cards, and Picard trusted him to keep his word, but it was fairly difficult for the android not to calculate circles around Picard in many of the card games that they played. They were more evenly matched in games that involved more luck than strategy, but Picard tended to get bored with these sorts of games after a while. Searching among their diversion supplies for an activity which did not involve these computational conundrums, Be-four discovered a chess set, and set it on the table.
         “Would you find chess an agreeable way to pass the time, Captain?” he asked. “We appear to have a set.”
         The moment Jean Luc imagined what playing chess with Be-four would be like, he knew he was in trouble. It would be, he realized right away, much too much like playing chess with Data -one of the ways Picard had most enjoyed spending time with him. Their games had been intimate dances between their two intellects, and even imagining playing chess with Be-four felt like a betrayal.
         “No ... I'm sorry, Be-four.” he said after a moment. “I'm sorry, I can't play chess with you.”
         Be-four bowed his head in acceptance, his fingers lingering on the chess pieces. He was, Picard realized with shock, very likely reliving memories of those games himself. This thought so filled Picard with powerful and conflicting emotions that he turned away from Be-four, and walked to the back of the shuttle to stare out of their one tiny port, into space.
         After a long moment of quiet Picard heard Be-four say, suddenly, “You must be very angry with him.”
         “What?” Picard turned abruptly to face Be-four, his question having landed very dissonantly amidst the clamor of Picard's other turbulent emotions. “What do you mean?”
         “It seems that you are made uncomfortable by things that remind you of Data.” Be-four ventured hesitantly, “as though whenever you are reminded of him you remember only how he betrayed your trust in the end.”
         ”Data never betrayed my trust.” Picard objected, utterly lost in Be-four's reasoning.
         “But,” Be-four cried, aghast, “how can you say that? You left him in command, on the bridge of the Enterprise; you left your ship in his hands, and you had not been gone from the bridge for more than a minute when he chose to abandon his post.”
         Picard shook his head, not wanting to hear any of this, and unable to deny any of it either.
         “How can you deny what was in your eyes -in your face, as you looked upon me … upon him … for the last time?” Be-four went on, his distress growing by the second. “He betrayed your trust when he abandoned the ship, and he betrayed your love when he sent you away. He denied your sacrifice by throwing his own life away. And he did not do this out of any brave or noble motive. He did it because he was a coward -because he was afraid.”
         “No.” Now Picard was angry. “Data was never a coward!”
         Be-four's distress softened somewhat, but his sorrow deepened. “Perhaps he was only a coward once, but he failed you when you needed him to be bravest. The hardest thing anyone had ever asked him to do was to stay with the Enterprise while you went to face Shinzon alone. I … he understood what you were asking of him … He knew how important it was, but … my courage … failed me … I could not … he could not bear to do as you asked, and so I … he gave way to his fears. You never trusted anyone as much as you trusted Data -as a Starfleet officer, as a friend, and as a lover, and I betrayed you as every one of them. How could you not be angry?”
         Picard sat heavily, a sort of helpless despair descending over him, and laid his head in his hands. “I'm not angry with Data, damn you!” he said with resigned aggravation. “I'll admit I was, at first, for the reason's you've stated, but Data never … he never failed me. I was the one … I was the one who failed him.”
         Disarmed, Be-four stepped towards Picard, hesitantly. “How?” he asked.
         “I was a fool.” Picard said, voice dripping with self recrimination. “Shinzon played me like a sentimental old fool and I let him. I told myself I was over my obsession with 'the family line' and yet as soon as I discovered the existence of more Picard genetic material -regardless of the fact that he was a physically and emotionally crippled sociopath- I behaved as though I'd found a long lost son! I let myself believe that my genes would somehow provide this sorry creature with a moral center, and disregarded everything I knew to the contrary, for the sake of an egotistical, sentimental hope.
         “I let that hope blind me to his true motives; I let it endanger my ship, imperil the Federation, and when I finally found these absurd hopes dashed …” Picard found his voice becoming a little unsteady, and paused a moment to regain some control.
         “I gave in to the most despicable sort of self-pity,” he said, his voice trembling with self-loathing fury, in spite of his attempts to control it, “and I asked Data to do a thing that I had no right to ask him to do -as a Starfleet officer, as a friend, or as a lover, because I had allowed myself to be drawn into Shinzon's self destructive psychosis. I can hardly deny Data forgiveness for refusing my unreasonable demands …I do not know if I can ever forgive myself.”
         Jean Luc looked up to see that Be-four had approached to within a few feet of where he sat, and now dropped to his knees before him, fresh tears streaking his face. Hesitantly he reached forward to touch Jean Luc's hand in a gesture of helpless compassion.
         “Jean Luc, no …” he began, and then trailed off abruptly.
         Be-four had never before addressed him by that name. Within him, Picard heard the instant sharp retort: *Don't call me that again!* But it died in him before it found his voice.
         Be-four, too, apparently expected the same response, and waited, poised to cringe … and then the moment passed. Picard looked away, not willing to see Be-four's reaction to his reprieve, and the android stood, and moved to the far side of the shuttle compartment. Picard stood himself after a bit and, driven by a strong desire to be as alone as their limited space allowed, returned to the upper bunk, to at least pretend to sleep.
         He could not bear this for long, however, because sleep evaded him utterly, and lying awake in his bunk, all he could think about was how little time was left to both of them. He climbed down, at last, to find that Be-four had put away the table again, and was sitting, miserably hunched up, in the lower bunk.
         Picard returned to the food stores, and pulled out the remaining bottles of real wine which had been laid on for his return to the Enterprise. There were two unopened, and one with only a third drunk, remaining. He glanced over his shoulder, to try and spot a chronometer, and discovered that Be-four had been watching him.
         “We have a little under three hours left.” he said, guessing correctly what Picard had desired to learn. Be-four, Picard reflected, did not have the luxury of not checking the time, and from the dejected tone of his voice, Jean Luc guessed that Be-four had been able to think of little else for some while now. He took up the opened wine bottles and two glasses from the galley stores and walked back to the bunk where Be-four sat.
         “Will you join me in a glass of wine, Be-four?” he asked, sitting on the edge of the foot of the bunk, where Be-four sat hunched at the head.
         The android lifted his head at Picard's invitation, and found a filled glass being offered him in the captain's outstretched hand. He accepted it, carefully, and regarded the garnet colored liquid as it swirled around in the glass.
         “I have not had the opportunity to taste real wine before.” he said.
         “Then I am very happy to have a chance to correct this oversight.” Picard responded, and then lifted his glass in a toast.
         “Be-four, it has been an honor and a pleasure to serve with you on this brief and eventful journey,” he said. “and I wish to apologize to you, most abjectly, for the many times I must have given you the impression that this was not the case.” He then lifted his glass and drank a long draft from it. Be-four followed, drinking more deferentially.
         “Well, what do you think?” Picard asked him.
         Be-four swallowed his wine slowly, carefully savoring and analyzing what he tasted. “The flavors are most complex,” he replied. “and they interact in a much more sophisticated way than in synthehol.”
         “Yes, but do you like it?” Picard asked, letting a smile color his voice.
         Be-four took another deeply considered sip. “I believe I do, very much.” he said. “…and I must thank you, also.” he continued, raising his own glass, “for it has been an honor working with you as well. I only wish …”
         Picard shook his head, and Be-four understood, raised his glass and drank, as Picard did likewise. He drained his glass with this second toast, and poured himself another, gesturing towards Be-four's glass when he was done.
         “Drink up, my friend.” he advised. “We have two more bottles to get through before our time runs out.”
         Be-four took another, more ambitious swallow of his wine. “Why are we obliged to finish these bottles of wine?” he asked.
         “Because no Frenchman worth his name could go to his grave with undrunk bottles of halfway decent wine in the room with him,” Picard answered. “so I'm going to need your help.”
         This, at last, coaxed a smile out of Be-four. “I believe I understand, Sir.” he said, finishing his glass and handing it to Picard for a refill.
         They made their way through the first and second bottles of wine in this manner, toasting, discussing this wine and others and their various merits, and eventually they got around to opening the third. Picard thought that Be-four looked a little sad as he poured their glasses, and when Be-four lifted his glass and spoke before he drank, it became clear as to why.
         “One more hour.” he said soberly as he raised his glass.
         Picard lifted his glass silently and drank as well. The better part of two bottles of wine had mellowed him somewhat, as he'd intended, and given Be-four a bit of a distraction, as he'd also intended. Still, there was no denying that his life was very likely soon to end, and that thought saddened him considerably, even through the wine's pleasant fog. If he had any peace to make anywhere, Picard considered, it was not with anyone on the Enterprise or anywhere else, but here, with Be-four, for the android's sake as well as his own. He did not know if he could adequately explain himself to Be-four, but surely he owed him an honest attempt, at least.
         “Be-four,” he said with a sigh, “I do want you to know,… I am very sorry about my reaction to your … decision … about your identity. My emotional responses should have nothing to do with the choices you make about how you live your life. The fact is that you have options that no human being has, and it is inappropriate for me to impose values on you which are based upon human realities.”
         “But they are the only realities you know,” said Be-four, offering forgiveness almost without thinking, “and the fact that you applied them to Data -that you accepted him as human- meant a great deal to him. That is, in part, why his decision to work outside of those human realities was such a painful one for him.
         “To accept a Data who has returned from death would be to accept a Data who has chosen to sacrifice a little of his humanity.” Be-four said thoughtfully. “I can understand why you would not want to do that.”
         Picard looked over at Be-four, regarding him in the light of this last statement. He understood the sense of it, but the thought that came to him the most strongly was to wonder how this creature could truly believe that he was less human than Data, or anyone else. Was he not, as Picard had once said -most significantly- to Data, essentially human *in every way that mattered* as well?
         And if Be-four and Data were both human, in every way that mattered, even if they were both demonstrably not human, was it possible that Be-four was, in every way that mattered, really Data, even if he was demonstrably not? Jean Luc drained his glass of wine and poured himself another in silence as these thoughts turned over and over in his mind, and would not let him be. He finally had to glance over at Be-four and saw that he had set down his half full wine glass, and was staring desolately at nothing.
         Clarity came to Jean Luc Picard then, very suddenly and very certainly. It didn't matter who Be-four was. It didn't even matter who he was, himself, or who he had loved or lost. The being sitting next to him was alone and afraid, and he cared deeply for that being. It was painful to see him suffer, and knowing that, Picard realized in that moment of clarity, he knew all he needed to. Nothing else mattered.
         Jean Luc moved across the bed to sit closer to Be-four, but he was so lost in his sorrowful reverie that he did not notice until Picard gently laid a hand on his shoulder, and then he startled slightly.
         “Are you all right?” Jean Luc asked.
         Unwilling to speak, Be-four shook his head slightly, and Jean Luc stretched his arm out to invite his companion closer. Be-four accepted the invitation by drawing himself as close to Picard as he could, and laying his head on his chest. Jean Luc wrapped one arm firmly over Be-four's shoulders, and with the other reached across to take Be-four's hand. They sat like that, in silence, for some time, until Picard began to notice that he was feeling a bit dizzy, and not just from the wine. The air was starting to thin out.
         “Jean Luc?” Be-four had lifted his head, and by his expression Picard guessed that he was preparing to say something difficult. He hardly noticed how Be-four had addressed him.
         “Yes?” he said, clearing his mind to focus on Be-four.
         “I … I must tell you” he said, struggling to find the right words, “ … I need you to know … that I … my feelings … what I feel for you is no different than what I … what he … Data felt for you. I felt the same then … he felt the same … as I do now.”
         Picard could see that Be-four still half expected to be rebuffed, but instead, he said quietly, “I know. I love you too,” and leaned over to gently kiss him on the forehead.
         Be-four wrapped his arms tight around his love, laid his head against his chest and wept quietly. Jean Luc held him tight, stroking his hair, whispering soothing words that meant nothing, because they were both dying. He could feel Be-four growing weaker by the minute, and he was starting to gasp for air in earnest. After a little bit, though, Be-four swallowed back his tears and raised his head.
         “Captain,” he said, “my power reserves have dropped to .03 percent, if I am to have any hope of a restart …”
         They had discussed this before. Powering Be-four down, with his energy reserves below 65 percent was decidedly inadvisable, as a functional restart could not be guaranteed. He would still have a chance though, if he was powered down with reserves of at least .025 percent. That meant now.
         Be-four made as if to pull away from where he had been cuddled next to Picard.
         “Do you wish me to move away?” he asked.
         “No,” said Jean Luc, between increasingly ineffective breaths. “Right here is …just fine.”
         “Thank you.” whispered Be-four as he settled back under Jean Luc's arm.
         He felt Be-four's presence become a heavy, inert weight against his side, but held him close still, as his own vision began to swim. His last aware thought, as his consciousness began to slip away, was dismay that he wasn't going to get to find out what happened in the end.


XI. Reunions and Resolutions

         Sound returned to him first, then light, and then, in little dribs and drabs, awareness. He remembered who he was, and very soon afterwards realized who's voice it was that he was hearing. Pulaski, Dr. Kate Pulaski -that meant he was on the Enterprise but, he realized as the universe reassembled more of itself inside his brain, it was the Enterprise E, not the old D. Remembering why Dr. Pulaski was on the enterprise E bought the rest of everything back in a rush: the Romulans and Remans, Shinzon, Data, the Vulcans, his enforced sabbatical, and his return there-from, Be-four …
         “Be-four …” he was speaking the name even as he was realizing that the Dr. was instructing him not to speak. The attempt was painful and he did not try again.
         “The high concentration oxygen I had to give you means your throat'll be a little sore for a few days, like I said.” Dr Pulaski was explaining, “and I'll give you something for it in a little bit, but first I need you to lie back and relax for a little while longer.”
         Picard was perfectly happy to do so, except that he had to know if Be-four had survived or not. He knew better that to try and speak again, so instead he reached up and caught at Dr. Pulaski's hand, and when he had gotten her attention he mouthed Be-four's name again. Comprehension showed on her face as she gathered her thoughts to tell him what she knew.
         “Geordi's working on him in his lab.” she said. “I believe I heard him say that he'd managed to get him up and running, but that's all I can remember hearing. Do you want me to call down to the cybernetics lab and ask Geordi how he is?”
         Picard mouthed *please*, and tried very hard to let the depth of his interest show on his face. Either he communicated, or she intuited, or -as was more likely- both, for Pulaski commed the lab right away.
         “Geordi,” she called, when she heard him answer, “I've got the Captain awake here in sickbay, and he'd very much like to know how his pilot is doing.”
         “Good to have you back with us, Captain.” Geordi's voice sounded from the comm. “It looks like Be-four's making a full recovery too, though I don't mind telling you, he gave us a bit of a scare. He's doing a full recharge and full internal systems scan, so he'll be out of it for a while, but every thing seems to be running as it should now.”
         Picard felt an almost tangible wave of relief roll though him, and it left him, in it's passing, feeling free at last of some heavy burden, he knew not what, that it seemed he had been carrying for some time.
         “It looks as though you're finally ready to relax.” said the doctor, knowingly.
         Picard nodded, let his eyes fall closed, and drew in a deep, relaxed breath. It felt wonderful.
         “Excellent, Jean Luc.” she declared. “Just keep that up. I'll be back to check on you in a couple of hours and we should be able to let you go back to your quarters then -just to rest, mind you.”
         Picard barely heard her go, lost in pleasant thought. Though he could not have clearly explained why, he felt within himself a joyful sort of hope, such as he had not felt in some time. He did not really know what it was a hope for, but when he recalled his last few conversations with Be-four, in the new light of the two of them actually having a future, that hope burned even more brightly in him.
         Half dozing, half dreaming in this pleasant space, the time passed quickly, and soon Picard heard Dr. Pulaski approach his bed again.
         “How are you feeling?” she asked, seeing him stir as she drew near.
         Jean Luc lifted a hand to touch his throat, remembering the last time he'd tried to speak.
         “Go ahead and give it a try.” The doctor said. “It's probably not so bad now.”
         “I feel …” Picard cautiously attempted, “all right, I guess.” His throat felt rough, and his voice sounded fairly raspy, but it didn't hurt like before.
         “D'you want to try sitting up?” asked Pulaski.
         That sounded like a pretty good idea to Picard, and from there he proceeded rapidly to standing and then walking about sickbay. Before she let him go, the doctor made Picard promise that he would go straight to his quarters and attempt nothing more strenuous than eating, showering, or sleeping. Jean Luc had every intention of abiding by his promise in every way but one when she let him go, for he did not go directly to his quarters after he left sickbay.
         The cybernetics lab was, in fact, fairly out of the way of the route between sickbay and the captain's quarters, but Picard had to see him, before he could finally look forward to sleeping in his own bed. Even though he knew that Be-four would be deep in diagnostic mode, and unaware of his presence, Jean Luc needed to see him with his own eyes, and know he was all right, before he could let himself truly come home to his quarters at last.
         Entering the lab, Picard spotted Be-four, sitting tranquilly in the service armature in the center of the lab, right away. He spotted Geordi next, sitting before a console in a far corner. The engineer rose to greet him upon hearing him enter.
         “Welcome back, Captain Picard.” Geordi said with sincerity, reaching out a hand to clasp Picard's.
         Picard took it with pleasure, realizing, perhaps for the first time, all of what coming home really meant.
         “I know you said he was all right, and I know you said that he was going to be down for a while,” Picard said, looking up at Be-four, “but I just had to come to see him …”
         “I do understand, Sir.” said Geordi with a smile. “Its okay.”
         Picard smiled back in thanks, and continued to gaze at the quiescent android in the armature. At rest, his face should not have held any expression of person or personality at all, but this face, Picard was coming to the inevitable conclusion, was unmistakably Data's. The same face, on the same body, Picard remembered to himself, only a few weeks ago had been that of an idiot child, both conscious and unconscious. How was it possible that something so seemingly immutable as a face, at rest, could change so much and so meaningfully? Jean Luc was tired, though, and without intending to, he spoke his thoughts aloud.
         “He really is Data, isn't he?”
         “Boy, am I glad to hear you say that.” replied Geordi.
         Picard looked sharply at the engineer, not sure whether to be more surprised over his slip or Geordi's response to it.
         “I mean, I really did try, at first,” Geordi went on to explain, “to get him to become … well, who I thought he was supposed to be, who I thought Data wanted him to be… a unique person.”
         “Data changed his mind.” Picard said quietly.
         Geordi look over at him in confusion, then began to puzzle it out. “He must have found some way to tell Be-four.”
         Picard nodded.
         “And of course, as soon as he knew that Data had changed his mind, so did he.” Geordi reasoned.
         “They are literally of one mind.” Picard said, still thinking aloud somewhat.
         Geordi shook his head, marveling at all that had happened. “Be-four never really had a chance, then.” he reflected.
         “No.” Picard agreed, shaking his head sadly.
         “And if that's Data,” Geordi figured, looking up at the figure in the armature, “then the person whose life was really sacrificed on the Scimitar was Be-four, wasn't it?.”
         “Yes.” said Picard.
         “Does he realize that?” Geordi asked.
         “Oh, yes.” Picard answered.
         Geordi let out a long, dismayed sigh. “He'll never forgive himself.” he said eventually.
         “He'll need our help.” Picard laid a hand on Geordi's shoulder.
         “I'll do whatever I can, and I know you will too,” he replied, “but it won't be easy.”
         “No, not easy.” said Picard, “but still a very small price to pay have him back with us.”
         “You sure got that right.” said Geordi with another sigh, shaking his head. “I know I was willing to promise anybody a whole lot more, when we first got him back. Like I said, it looked pretty bad at first, and I didn't know if he was Be-four or Data, but I sure felt like I'd rather walk out an airlock than watch him die again.”
         “Again?” Picard noted.
         “Okay, so I guess I really must have thought he was Data.” Said Geordi, “or at least someone so close to him that it didn't make any difference as far as my feelings were concerned.”
         “Yes, exactly.” Picard said, almost to himself, and then, more clearly to Geordi, “Have you been with him all this time, since you bought him here?” That had been, Picard had learned from Dr. Pulaski, some twenty hours ago or more.
         “Didn't really want to leave him alone.” Geordi said with a shrug.
         This, Picard mused, from the engineer who had insisted, many times, that Data was utterly unaware of his surroundings while in diagnostic mode.
         “If you want to get some rest, I'll stay here with him.” Picard offered.
         “Oh, no.” Geordi smiled. “The doc called down here just before you arrived, said you might come down and check on things, which was fine, but that I was to send you on your way to your quarters before too long. And I definitely wasn't to let you stay here and sit up with Data.”
         Picard raised his hands in surrender. “I should have known better than to imagine that Dr. Pulaski wasn't watching my every move.” he said with a smile.
         “I suppose you'll be throwing me out now?”
         “Well, …” said Geordi, not willing to be so blunt.
         “It's all right, Geordi.” he said. “I really should be on my way. How much longer will he be here?”
         Geordi checked the time on a display panel. “About five hours or so.” he answered.
         Picard nodded. “I'll probably still be asleep.” he said. “Tell him I'll find him when I wake.”
         “Sure, Cap'n.” Geordi reassured him as he left. Bed and sleep were sounding increasingly tempting, and Jean Luc made his way to his own quarters without any further detours.
         Entering his suite at last, he stood for a moment in his own space, among his own furnishings and belongings, struck by the two conflicting senses that he had either been gone for years and years, or just a few moments. Casting his mind back over the events of the last several weeks to banish these two irrational impressions, he found that seeing his quarters and all of his familiar things, just as he had left them, was enormously comforting.
         His bed did look very inviting indeed, but so did the replicator and the shower. The shower came first, allowing him the opportunity to luxuriate in a silky soft robe while he commanded the replicator to provide him a light meal of favorite foods, and caught up on the last few weeks of ship's logs. Reading those logs he learned that the vulcan courier had managed to send a message probe as they were being attacked, and it was that message, intercepted by the Enterprise, which had directed them to search for Be-four and himself and their shuttle. He owed that vulcan captain his life, Jean Luc realized, and wondered if there was any way he might pay his respects to his family -in a Vulcan appropriate manner, of course.
         Finishing his meal of pate, toast and salad with a glass of red wine, he felt himself ready for bed at last. Settling between the covers, enjoying to the fullest the first human style sleeping accommodations he'd had in months, the thought inevitably crossed his mind of how it would be to share this bed with Data again.
         His feelings were still mixed. A part of him was still troubled by the idea of sharing intimacies with Be-four, even though he knew now that he wasn't really Be-four anymore -not where it mattered. The larger part of him, however, was on the verge of weeping with joy at the prospect of being reunited with his love.
         It was quite possible, Jean Luc suddenly realized, that Data, still deep in diagnostic mode, down in the lab, did not yet realize how Picard was ready to accept him as Data. In fact, since his own feelings had clarified a great deal only in the last few hours, it was very likely that he no idea. Now he had something especially wonderful to look forward to, he thought as he drifted off. When he woke he would find Data and tell him, and welcome him back as he should have from the start.


         Those pleasant thought were with him still when he woke, some ten hours later. For a few delightful moments he even had that childlike 'Christmas morning' feeling -an utterly uncomplicated joy of anticipation for the day. Maintaining his propriety and discipline, and an astonishing sense of comfort and luxury after his rather Spartan life of the last month, he dressed and breakfasted on croissant and tea -Earl Grey, hot- before he even asked the computer where Be-four (Data) was.
         Happily for Jean Luc, the computer informed him that Be-four was alone in Data's (his) quarters, for that was just where he wished to find him. He made his way there directly, and the door opened as soon as he signaled. The tableaux revealed to him, as he entered the room, arrested him utterly. The one he sought was there, standing still, in the center of the room, holding Spot affectionately in his arms, a look of quiet rapture on his face. The cat was rubbing the top of her head against the base of Data's chin, and Picard could hear her purring, from where he stood just inside the doorway.
         “Data.” he said, letting the sight before him fill his heart.
         “Yes.” The single syllable was so filled with hope and joy and confirmation, Data's voice could barely contain it, but the word rang like a carillon in both their ears. Spot intelligently made herself scarce, and Data hardly noticed as the two of them were drawn together, Data folding Picard into his arms as Jean Luc wrapped Data in his own.
         He managed to choke out, “Dear God, I've missed you …” before he lost the power of speech altogether, and Data cried out, “My captain!” and then they were silent. Picard clutched the beloved form to his own body, immersing himself in it's real solidity, proving Data's existence, and filling a long neglected need in Jean Luc, to hold his lost love in his arms. After some unmarked time the embrace transformed into a kiss, and the kiss lasted until, at last, one of them had to breath.
         They pulled back from one another, just enough so that they could gaze upon each other, and Picard felt himself trying to drink in Data's presence with every one of his senses -feeling the solid strength in his arms and against his body, tasting and smelling his mouth and breath, hearing his voice whispering his own name, and seeing his face, which really, really was Data's face some how now, when it had not been before.
         Gazing on that beloved and beautiful face, however, Jean Luc had something almost like a flashback, and for a moment he saw Data's face, full of love and sorrow, as he had last seen it aboard the Scimitar, transposed over the face he saw now. With that vision came the memory of the searing anguish he had felt, when he realized that he would never see his love again. His grip on Data's arms tightened as the painful recollection knifed through him, but unlike the many previous occasions in which the agony and depression following such recollections would last hours or days, he felt the pain of the memory break over him and pass away.
         He stood now, gasping a little, and a trifle weak in the knees, clutching with desperate strength at the lover he thought he'd never see again. Data -always strong, always safe- lead them both over to the sofa to sit, which made things a bit more manageable for Picard. Now Data reached his hand up to touch Picard's face, and it came away moist with tears he had not even realized he'd been weeping.
         “Jean Luc?” Data asked, the unabashed care in his voice making Jean Luc weep harder.
         “I haven't lost you!” he cried roughly. “I thought I'd lost you forever - thought I'd never see you, never touch you, never hold you in my arms again …” he couldn't speak for a moment, and Data reached behind him and produced a tissue from somewhere, to dry his tears.
         “But here you are!' Picard continued when he could. “In my arms, and alive … and I haven't lost you after all. You found a way to come back to me. You are a miracle, Data, and I love you.”
         They could not but kiss again, Data's lips straying from Picard's to kiss away his tears from time to time.
         “I love you, too … I love you so much.” Data murmured between kisses. “and I am so sorry … so sorry I hurt you, … I have caused you so much sorrow …”
         “Shhh, we're done with that now.” Picard hushed Data, taking his head between his own two hands and lifting him away a little so they could meet each other's eyes. “We've both done foolish things, and we've both promised to lean from them.” he said, tenderly caressing his love's face. “The rest we need to let go of. It's the past. Now is so much more wonderful, because right now you are here in my arms, and not long ago I never thought I'd do this again.”
         “Not long ago I did not think it likely that either one of us would be alive today.” Data reflected. “and I had great doubts as to whether you would ever accept me … as me.” Picard smiled and took one of Data's hands to hold between both of his as he listened.
         “You may feel that it overstates the case for me to call your change of heart … miraculous,” Data continued. Picard shook his head. “But from my own point of view …” Data seemed to grow bashful suddenly, and looked down at their joined hands as he spoke.
         “I had little hope that you would come to love me, as … as you had once.” he said softly.
         Picard shook his head, pulling Data close to lay against him on the couch. “I know why you would think that. I might have even come to the same conclusion if I'd been in your place. The thing is -and I could only come to realize this in retrospect I think- that as long as you are really Data, I'm absolutely bound to fall in love with you.”
         “Really?” Data lifted his head, eyes alight with fascination.
         “Indeed.” Picard answered. “One of the reasons I decided that you had to be … you, was because I had realized that I loved … the person I thought was Be-four, just the same way I loved you, even though I had really tried not to. My heart knew who you were, even when I was sure you were dead.”
         “Your heart knows me.” Data little more than whispered, with wonder, and then they kissed again.

XII. Diplomatic Crisis

         Things might have gone a good deal further had not other events intruded. Now that he was awake, out and about, and medically fit for duty, a number of parties were seeking Captain Picard, and acting Captain Chandra found him first.
         “Are you able to come to the ready room, Sir?” she asked over the room's comm. “Admiral Janeway has been trying to reach you all day, as well as the Romulans, and the Vulcans, and I believe the two of us would benefit considerably from an exchange of information before we proceed any further.”
         All of this was her way of very deferentially suggesting that Picard needed to report to her to be debriefed, and to let her brief him on recent events. Picard knew he was needed, but was now confronted by the fact that Data could not take part in this aspect of his life until he renegotiated his relationship with Starfleet, and that would take time. He had no desire, at the present moment, to leave Data's side, but he knew he could not be content to stay there, knowing as he now did how much he was wanted elsewhere.
         “They do very much need you on the Villa-Lobos, I am afraid.” Data remarked, seeing his captain's reluctance to return to his duties.
         “I'm certain they do.” Picard answered as he slowly stood to go. “Spock would never have been able to use this appointment to get me released from Vulcan had it not actually been a job which I was one of the few qualified to perform.”
         Data stood with him as he moved towards the door, and laid a hand on his shoulder as he turned to go.
         “Spock is on the Villa-Lobos as well, you know,” he reminded his captain, “and he will do what ever he can to help you. It seems to me that if the two of you work together there is little you could not achieve.”
         Picard remembered thinking much the same thing about Data and Spock a while back, and came to wonder what Spock would think of the 'new' Data. Would he come to the same conclusion Picard had -that close enough was the same as the real thing? More likely, Jean Luc mused, he would rely on other means to make his determination, but would that lead him to the same conclusion that he and Geordi had arrived at? Data must surely be terribly curious about that last question, he reflected, and determined to bring Spock and Data together in private as soon as possible.


         Back on his own bridge at last, he found himself reassuring acting captain Chandra that he was entirely pleased with the state he'd found his ship in, and entirely agreed with Starfleet's decision to leave Commander Sunita Chandrasekhar in charge there until his diplomatic duties had been fulfilled. It took some convincing, particularly on the last point, but the logic of his argument, and his casual, no-nonsense manner towards her finally compelled her to accept her responsibilities graciously.
         The two of them then moved to the ready room, where they met with Worf, Geordi, and Dr. Pulaski. Picard recounted for them all of the events which had occurred for him from the time he had been removed from the Enterprise, but spent more time on the more recent ones, in the hopes that his information would help in locating their attackers. Commander Chandra had a few questions for him after that, as did Worf and Geordi. Then, at last, it was his turn to ask questions.
         He began by recounting what he understood of events after his departure, from what Be-four had told him, and was able to have some of the details he was missing filled in, as well as having a few small misapprehensions corrected. Then he came to learn what had occurred after Be-four's departure to find him.
         “It was ten days after Be-four left that we spotted the message probe from the Vulcan courier.” Commander Chandra told him. “It included a number of data recordings from the battle, so that there could be no doubt of who the attackers were. We carried this news immediately to Starfleet Command, as well as the Romulans, and the Remans in control of the Villa-Lobos. Every one was outraged, including the Remans on the Villa Lobos.”
         “They were greatly ashamed by the behavior of their fellow Remans.” Worf concurred, “But they responded with an act of great honor and courage.”
         “Indeed?” Picard asked with great curiosity.
         “Indeed, Sir.” Chandra relied. “They surrendered control of the Villa-Lobos, and delivered to Starfleet the locations of two secret ship building bases in Reman orbit. Starfleet believes that one of them is the base where the Scimitar -and it's illegal weapon- was built, and they have occupied both them.”
         “Well, that's extremely good news.” said Picard with relief.
         “It is, Sir, and it gets better.” said the Commander. “Giving up their ship building bases was one of the Romulans' preconditions to negotiating with the Remans, which had been holding the talks up somewhat, so the Romulan/Reman talks have been allowed to progress somewhat. In addition, Starfleet's investigations of the Reman bases have revealed that no other biogenic weapons were being built by the Remans, and that most of the scientists responsible for creating it died on the Scimitar.”
         All of this news filled Picard with relief and he let it show in his expression. “Well, it hardly seems that I'm needed after all.” he said.
         “She said the talks were proceeding, not proceeding well.” put in Dr. Pulaski. “Frankly, I still think someone needs to knock their heads together.”
         Picard smiled. “That may be, but if that's really what's wanted, then I'm not the one for the job.”
         Commander Chandra rolled her eyes, having had, Picard could see, quite enough of the doctor's acerbic comments over the last few weeks.
         “What is really needed,” she said, “is a moderator. Spock has been advising the Remans, it seems, and Admiral Janeway has been trying to offer advice to the Romulans, but they are not often inclined to take it.”
         “But they've both agreed to abide by my council?” Picard asked.
         “That is what I have been told.” said Commander Chandra, carefully non-committal.
         Picard thought about all of this for a moment. His stint as the Klingon Arbiter of Succession was, in truth, the closest experience he'd had to what he was being asked to do now. He had been swept into that adventure so suddenly, though, that he'd hardly had time to consider the weight of the responsibility that had been unexpectedly thrust upon him. Now, however, he felt just as intimidated as he ought to have felt, when he was standing before the Klingon High Council.
         He could not, for the life of him, imagine why the Romulans and Remans thought that he, out of all of the mediators they could have selected, was the one man who could lead their two long-separated people into peace. Of course it was been Spock who had put the idea into the Remans' heads, but why had the Romulans agreed? The Romulans nearly always had an ulterior motive, as well -what could it be this time?
         Still, when he recalled that Spock was involved, and working with the Remans -who's trust he seemed to have gained, somehow- his anxieties eased somewhat. He would have to read the Romulans carefully, as he always did, but there would be no duplicity from the Remans -not as long as Spock was guiding them. Little by little, Picard's mind nibbled the job down to it's component parts, until he was no longer intimidated. He still felt the full weight of his responsibility, but he had the load well balanced now, and knew he could work with it.
         “Well,” he said at last, having thought things over thoroughly, “the only question left to ask is when they are expecting me.”
         “When ever you feel ready.” was the answer Commander Chandra gave.


         It was Admiral Janeway who greeted him when he arrived on the Villa-Lobos.
         “I can promise you that no one was more relieved than I was,” she said as they met, “when we heard that you had survived the Remans' attack.”
         “I do appreciate the sentiment, Admiral,” replied Picard, “but I'm still not sure I understand why my particular presence is so vital. Surely anyone from the Federation's diplomatic corps could have taken this position if I was not able to.”
         “In theory, that's true.” said the Admiral as she lead them into a small conference room. “But it's standard procedure for Romulan negotiators, as I am sure you have discovered, to use every delaying trick they can.” Janeway directed Picard to a chair and then chose one for herself across the table from him.
         “In this case, as soon as you went missing, the Romulans proceeded to make a great deal of noise about how it was you, and no one else, whom they had agreed to let act as moderator. They were insisting that if you were unavailable, then the talks would have to go on without a moderator -which, so far, had settled nothing of consequence.” The admiral leaned forward to address Picard frankly.
         “We had a bit of a breakthrough when Tseltac -he's the leader of the Remans who held us hostage- gave up the Villa-Lobos, and the Reman ship building bases after the news of your attack, but we ought to have gotten a lot farther than that since then, and we haven't. There's just too much bad blood between the Romulans and Remans, and they really need someone to act as a referee.” she said. “And since you're the only one that the Romulans have decided to accept in the job, we really need you.”
         “I believe I'm beginning to understand.” said Picard. “What else do I need to know about?”
         “There's quite a few things.” answered the admiral. “That's why you and I are having this conversation now, before you meet with the Romulans and Remans, at fourteen-hundred hours.” That was, Picard noted, a little over an hour from now.
         “Have you eaten lunch yet?” Admiral Janeway asked.
         They dined, in the conference room, on curried chicken salad and fresh bread while Admiral Janeway briefed Picard on the names and profiles of the three Romulan ambassadors, and the three Remans -though less was known about them. Among the Romulans that the admiral mentioned, Picard thought that one of them might prove to be an ally -or might at least be counted upon to act with consideration, and maybe even intelligence. Commander Donatra had been the captain of the Romulan ship which had come to stand with the Enterprise against Shinzon, and Picard knew that she'd had to make a number of difficult decisions before making that stand. She'd come to the right conclusion then, and Picard was willing to bet that she'd do it again, if push came to shove.
         He knew nothing about the Remans, of course, having never met any save for Shinzon's lackeys, and his mysterious Viceroy. Captain Janeway portrayed the ones who had held them captive as sophisticated, intelligent, and with very little to lose -circumstances which, Picard knew, can render any intelligent being dangerous and unpredictable.
         As little as they had to lose though, the Remans stood to gain quite a bit if they acted wisely, and, Picard reflected, if they really listened to Spock he would show them the way. The Romulans, for their part, would most likely obfuscate and grandstand as usual, and so his job would mainly consist of placating them at one moment, and scolding them the next, just to keep things moving. It wasn't anything he couldn't do, he reflected, or hadn't done before.
         The four Federation representatives, Admiral Janeway explained, were only there to observe for now, according to the minor agreement achieved between the Romulans and the Federation, before the Reman situation had proved the crisis of the moment. When the Romulans had settled things with the Remans, they had both agreed, then the Federation/Romulan normalization talks could proceed.
         Captain Picard quizzed Admiral Janeway on some of the minutia of Starfleet and Federation intentions as they concluded their meal with shortbread and tea, and then saw that it was nearly fourteen-hundred hours. Janeway noticed him checking the time.
         “Think you're ready?” she asked, a bit mischievously.
         “You must be joking.” he said with a momentary glower. “At any rate, it doesn't matter if I'm ready or not, does it? I'm the man the Romulans say they want to see -let's see what happens when they do.”
         And on that note Picard and Janeway left the conference room -striding down the short hallway to where the Romulan and Reman delegates were waiting for them.


         Data stood before the door to Geordi's quarters, but hesitated before signaling his presence. He had not seen or spoken to his friend since he had come to himself, at last, in his lab, and found Geordi there, barely awake, waiting to make sure that he recovered as expected. They'd spoken only a few words, assuring Geordi that he was in good order, and then they had parted -he to his quarters, and Geordi to bed.
         If he was to resume Data's life, he had concluded, then one of the prices he would have to pay was making amends for the several desperate and thoughtless acts he had committed in what he originally thought were to be the last moments of his life. After Captain Picard, it was assuredly Geordi who had suffered the most as a result of these actions, as he had all but forced his friend to aid in his dereliction of duty. The fact that Geordi had remained in the lab, to see that he was well, in spite of the long hours he had already worked, heartened Data to hope that he had not destroyed their friendship, but he would assume nothing.
         He had waited some hours, and checked with the ship's computer to assure that Geordi was awake, so he knew that now would be a good time to talk to his friend, but he was still terribly uncertain. Would Geordi even accept him as Data, or would he still insist that he must be Be-four? Retaining his friendship with Geordi mattered a great deal to him, and he was very much afraid that Geordi would now tell him that their friendship was no longer possible.
         Still, delaying the inevitable would not change it, Data knew, and so he signaled the door.
         “C'mon in.” Geordi called, as the door opened.
         Data entered, and found Geordi sitting at his table, having just finished breakfast, looking relaxed, and pleased to see him.
         “Every thing still working right?” he asked, evidently guessing that Data might have come to have him look at a malfunctioning system.
         “All of my systems are functioning perfectly.” said Data with gratitude. “And I believe that once again, I must thank you for saving my life. I know I owe you my life many times over, and have yet to find a sufficient means to express my gratitude.”
         Geordi smiled and shook his head. “I couldn't have done a thing if the Enterprise hadn't found you in time. Captain Chandra, and the Vulcans who sent that message capsule -they're the ones you have to thank.”
         Data moved to sit across the table from Geordi, and looked up to meet his gaze directly.
         “Perhaps in part.” he said. “But no one else in all of the Federation could have bought all of my systems back on line, from the condition they were in, except you. Geordi, even I am surprised that you were able to manage it.”
         The engineer smiled and looked away. “I've just gotten to know your systems pretty well over the years.” he demurred.
         “You have,” agreed Data, “and all in my service, and to my benefit. “You have helped repair and service me countless times, you have cared for me as a friend, and I … I have repaid your kindness and friendship very poorly indeed.”
         Geordi furrowed his brow, clearly puzzled by his friend's distress, and shook his head.
         “Boy, you must be Data.” he said. “Because here you are again, beating yourself up for something you supposedly did wrong, and I have no idea what you're talking about.”
         Data felt the direst of his fears began to dissipate within him and a powerful relief swept though him as it departed. He felt tears start in his eyes, and tried to blink them back.
         “Thank you.” he said very quietly, staring down at his hands so as not to show what he felt.
         Geordi moved his chair around the table to sit next to Data and gently laid a hand on his shoulder.
         “You're welcome.” he answered. “Now will you tell me what the hell you're talking about?”
         Data found his place again in the litany of shameful deeds he had begun before he had been momentarily derailed by Geordi's unexpected declaration of acceptance.
         “My last act as a Starfleet officer,” he explained wretchedly, still staring at the table, “was to commit an egregious dereliction of duty, but what is worse is that I made you an accomplice. You knew that what I was doing was wrong -I could see that in your face- but you did as I asked anyway, without question, because you trusted me, because you were my friend … but asking you to do the things that I did was a betrayal of that trust and friendship. I cannot think how I might be worthy of either of those things from you, ever again.”
         Geordi gave a long, sad sigh, and with his free hand, reached over to gently turn Data's head so that he met Geordi's gaze again.
         “Data, it's true that you violated Starfleet protocols by leaving the bridge when you did, but then so did Captain Picard.” he said. “And it's true that I was pretty steamed when I realized what you were doing, because I knew you were never going to come back after I let you out past those containment fields. But then I also didn't think that anyone from the Enterprise was going to survive past the next ten minutes or so, and I couldn't blame you for wanting to be with Captain Picard at the end.”
         Data's tears finally spilled over.
         “I was only afraid.” he confessed sorrowfully. “I did not think about who I was hurting, or what the consequences of my actions would be … I let my fears dictate my actions and my actions were disgraceful.”
         “Data, d'you know how many times I wanted to shoot myself afterwards, for not stopping you?” Geordi asked. “Because I could have, you know, but I didn't. We were all scared, and we all did boneheaded stuff -even the Captain. I just wish that the next time I'm that scared I could be half as smart as you were when you were that scared. Scared or no, you still saved our butts, Data, and then you even managed to save your own. Seems to me like every things worked out pretty well, all in all.”
         Data wiped the tears from his cheeks with the back of his hands and sniffed slightly. “Now that I know you are not angry with me, and that we are still friends, I am inclined to agree.” he said gratefully.
         “You really thought I'd still be that mad about it?” asked Geordi.
         “About that, and about Be-four.” answered Data.
         “Why would I be angry about Be-four?” Geordi seemed honestly puzzled.
         “You cared for him, for who he was.” said Data. “I remember that quite clearly, my friend. But he was sacrificed so that I could continue to exist… The decision to do so was made before he had even become the person you came to care for, but when I made that decision I never bothered to ask myself how you might come to feel for Be-four -even though I was well aware that I had left him in your care.”
         “I did care about him; you're right about that.” said Geordi. “And it's true that I tried my best to get him to evolve into his own person, but that was mainly because I thought that was what you wanted, and because that would have been the right advice to give to a human. But he wasn't human, of course, and it turns out that it wasn't what you wanted either. But that isn't anything you have to be sorry about.”
         “You are human though, my friend.” Data pointed out. “And you did care for Be-four. It was my decision that doomed his unique existence, and lost you your new friend.”
         “Maybe.” said Geordi. “But I'm beginning to wonder if Be-four could ever really have had that unique existence in the end -if without your download he never would have been anything more than an idiot, and with it he never could have become anyone but you.”
         This idea provoked the profoundest considerations from Data, who tilted his head ever so slightly as he did so, and communicated to Geordi the impact that the remark had made. Data could consider in seconds what might consume an ordinary human for many hours, and yet he was silent for a minute or more in his considerations.
         “I believe an alternative result might have been attained,” he said at last, “if the two of us had both been allowed to survive, but …” and here Data paused to think very deeply indeed, “… What is most distressing about all of this … is that now I will never know. I will never know if I might have had a special and unique brother, or if I might have instigated a disaster and caused him to become someone like Lore … but I can never, ever know, and that troubles me deeply.”
         “Well, Data,” said Geordi with a kind smile, “that's one of the basic constituents of the human condition. Nobody can know what would've happened if they'd taken the other road, and it's probably better to save your attention for the one you're on, anyway.”
         “Have I regained my humanity, then?” Data asked with a hopeful smile.
         “I didn't know you'd lost it.” said Geordi, frowning.
         Data looked away from his friend for a moment. “When I realized that I could die, and still live, when I made plans to do that, and when I carried them out … when I chose to usurp a life of unknown potential, in order to further my own … I felt it. I felt myself lose some of my humanity … and I felt terribly, terribly alone.”
         He felt Geordi's arm fall over his shoulders and draw him back to face his friend.
         “You're not alone, Data.” he said with conviction. “You're not! You know you've got the Cap'n and me, and lots of others besides us. You're part of our family on the Enterprise and you left a real big hole in it when you were gone. You've got friends and family all around you here, just like you always did.”
         “Thank you my friend.” said Data after a moment -his voice gone a bit unsteady again. “I cannot begin to express how important your friendship has always been to me …”
         “That goes both ways, you know.” said Geordi, pulling him into a hug. “'Cause that's the way friendship works.”
         In the place where he had felt a bit of his humanity die, Data now felt a small amount of it restored. Little by little, he came to realize, though the grace of his friends' forgiveness and his daily engagement in life on the Enterprise, his humanity could be gradually returned to him. As he realized for the first time that the losses he had incurred in this endeavor need not be permanent -as he had greatly feared they might be- he felt an unexpected peace fall upon him.
         His horizons were clear again. The lengthy and difficult negotiations between himself and Starfleet, which he knew lay in the future did not trouble him now, because he knew he had the resources and support to endure them. He felt that he really knew who he was again, and could therefor be certain of his goals and keep them in his sights, as he always had.
         He was terribly curious though, he mused, as his conversation with Geordi turned to lighter things, as to what Spock would make of him now.

XIII. Resolutions and Revelations

         There were three long tables, each facing the open center of the room Picard entered, following Admiral Janeway, and behind each sat three delegates. On his left were the Romulans, solemn and splendid in their dark and glittering uniforms. On his right, making a sharp contrast, were the Remans. These had not been any favorites of Shinzon's, it appeared, for they had no uniforms, but dressed in what looked to be some type of homespun, peasant clothing. They were clean, and well made, but colored only in the pale browns and grays of the original fibers used to make them -decorative dyes and colors being evidently inaccessible to the Remans. Behind the Remans, silent, unobtrusive, and almost invisible, stood Spock. As Picard had first looked around the room and noted Spock, the vulcan had caught his eye and gazed over him, intently and searchingly, as though ascertaining his well being was very important to him.
         Introductions were made. The leader of the Romulan delegation, Proconsul T'Retisk, met Picard's gaze with all but open confrontation in his own, even as he greeted Picard cordially. He had not, Picard guessed, expected him to return, and his presence here now meant an end to the Romulans' primary delaying tactic. Commander Donatra greeted him sincerely and with respect, and Picard made sure in his reply that she understood that the feelings were reciprocated. He would learn a lot, Picard considered, by watching to see how well she got along with T'Retisk.
         The third Romulan delegate was, Picard remembered being told, a great nephew, or some such, of the Praetor who Shinzon had assassinated. Senator S'Tintal was, Picard had heard, maneuvering himself to take his great uncle's place, but he had plenty of competitors, one of whom might well be Proconsul T'Retisk. S'Tintal was young and ambitious, and therefor liable to be reckless, and though he had not offered any kind of hostile looks as they were introduced, Picard knew that this fellow was the one most likely to dangerously destabilize these talks.
         Much less was known about the Remans, Tseltac, Krygri, and Enchnatl. They all three claimed to have worked in the mines, which was likely, but Tseltac was also said to have served as a teacher in one of the Remans' underground schools for the last several years. There was no one to verify this claim save for his two confederates, but Admiral Janeway had told Picard that in the time she had spent with him, he had revealed what was, to her estimation, an unmistakable school teacher's temperament and so thought that his claim was likely true. All three of them, upon their introduction, looked him over most thoroughly -Tseltac and Enchnatl doing so with a bit more intelligence than Krygri. Picard had a feeling he would enjoy getting to know Tseltac.
         Behind him, at the third table in the room, sat Admiral Janeway, Vulcan ambassadors T'Phon and K'Knek, and a Betazoid ambassador named Dr. Tamerlan Edifaal. They, along with everyone else sat as the introductions concluded, and it was left for Picard to make a few remarks if he liked. He thought about it for a moment.
         “I don't think that my opinions are what is called for here.” he said. “As I see it, I am here to help you understand each others opinions more clearly, rather than to add my own. To further that end, I would like to ask each of you, in turn, to tell me what the goal of your last session of negotiation was, and how things stood at their conclusion. That way I can learn from each of you what the issues and sticking points of these negotiations are. Is that acceptable to everyone?”
         Proconsul T'Retisk nodded, but the Reman Tseltac stood and asked to speak.
         “Forgive us, Captain Picard,” he said politely “for though we would ordinarily agree to this forum proceeding as you have suggested, we would, at this point, like to be allowed to make a statement.”
         “What kind of statement?” Picard asked, before Proconsul T'Retisk could find a more confrontational way of asking the same question.
         “Forgive my lack of clarity.” the Reman spokesperson answered. “The Reman delegation has agreed to allow Ambassador Spock to make a statement on our behalf, for the benefit of these proceedings.”
         “Can you tell us how this statement would benefit these proceedings?” Picard pressed.
         Tseltac and Spock exchanged glances, and then the Reman spoke again. “The statement touches on events in the first days of the colonization of Remus, and bears direct consequences on issues being discussed in these negotiations.”
         Picard furrowed his brow, looking over at Spock to see if the vulcan conveyed any of his intentions in his expression, but of course, he did not. He turned to Proconsul T'Retisk to learn his response.
         “There is nothing to be revealed from our illustrious history which will gain you any advantage in these talks.” the proconsul said.
         “Nonetheless, these are things we wish to be stated for the record.” Tseltac responded.
         “Proconsul T'Retisk, do you object to the Remans allowing Spock to make this statement?” Picard asked.
         The proconsul thought about it for a moment, then evidently decided it was as good a way to waste time as any, and that he could look magnanimous as well.
         “No,” he said, “I have no objection.”
         Picard then nodded to Spock, who came forward to stand next to Tseltac, but just then Picard became aware of some unrest among the Federation delegates behind him. He turned to see that both vulcan delegates had risen in their seats, and looked to be barely restraining themselves from leaping across the room and physically assaulting Spock.
         “Spock has no place in these proceedings, and no right to be here.” one of them finally burst out. “He must not be allowed to make this statement!”
         Picard and the other Federation delegates looked on in astonishment at the vulcan's apparent lapse of control.
         “The Remans have the right to present any evidence they like, Ambassador,” Picard said severely, “but you, sir, do not have any right to address this council at this time.”
         Seeing the Vulcans -forcefully encouraged by the other Federation delegates- reluctantly subside, Picard turned back to Spock and the Remans.
         “I offer my apology, Ambassador,” Picard said to Spock, stressing his polite use of the title which the Vulcans had not deigned to use, “on behalf of the Federation, and I assure you that it will not happen again.”
         “I accept your apology, Captain.” said Spock, graciously. “But I would not be so quick to guarantee the behavior of persons whose actions are not motivated by logic.”
         This was an extraordinary statement for one vulcan to make about another in public, and Picard though he sensed a subdued ruckus taking place among the Federation delegates behind him. He refused to recognize it, though, and so Spock knew he had the floor.
         “I have waited to make this statement until today,” Spock began, “when I could be certain that certain agencies on Vulcan no longer had any means to threaten me and enforce my silence.”
         Picard was shocked to realize that Spock was talking about him, and his recent captivity on Vulcan.
         “I have offered to make this revelation today,” he went on, “because I believe that no justice can be achieved either for the peoples of Remus, or the peoples of Romulus as long as they remain in ignorance of important and formative events which were pivotal in creating the situation which we are forced to endure today. It has been said that those who do not know their own history are denied the chance to learn from its mistakes, and it has surely been proved by many histories, on many worlds, that when great atrocities go unrecognized they do not fade into obscurity, as many have hoped, but cause a festering like an infected wound within a culture, which inevitably erupts into violence.”
         “In many respects, the whole colonization of Romulus and Remus was an atrocity -perpetuated in large part by the Vulcans. Not even on Romulus is it widely known that the vast majority of her first colonists were sent there from Vulcan against their wills. Likewise, we on Vulcan do not speak often of the purges which took place in the days of the Revolution of Logic. Though we do not fail to teach our children of these things when they are young, neither do we fail to impress upon them that these things are never to be spoken of in public, which is only a confession of our shame.”
         Behind him, Picard heard the two vulcan delegates get up and leave the room, and Spock waited a moment until the door had closed before he before he spoke again. Seeing as this looked to be a long speech, Picard stepped around to the Federation table, and took one of the chairs abandoned by the Vulcans. From this seat he could see the Romulans mostly trying to look as though they'd heard all of this before, and achieving various levels of success.
         “Along with the many opponents of Surak's revolution,” Spock now continued, “it was the unlucky, the unconnected, the criminal, the mentally unstable, and the poor who were forcibly deported to Romulus, and among these, it was the unluckiest, the utterly friendless, the stupidest criminals, the most dangerously insane, and the most abjectly poor, who were sent on to Remus. Both the Vulcans and the Romulans share the responsibility for this state of affairs.”
         The reactions of all three of the Romulan delegates to this accusation, Picard observed, were each different. Proconsul T'Retisk was clearly angered; to Commander Donatra this was an astonishing and entirely believable revelation, and Senator S'Tintal seemed to be trying to work an angle. Spock paid no attention to any of them.
         “By the closing years of the Revolution of Logic era,” Spock informed them, “the Romulan government was gladly accepting the exiles which Vulcan sent, as the building of their new colony required the labor of many hands, and did not require that the labor be done voluntarily. Relations between the two governments were, for this reason, almost cordial at the time when the arrest of Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna occurred.
         “Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna is said by many to have been the last, most powerful Kol'sh'harru -a sort of vulcan sorcerer- to practice on vulcan. It is also said, with some considerable evidence to back it up, that TiKlecht'ti'kna was a pioneering geneticist, and did much of the ground work leading to the scientific techniques that allowed me to be born -the child of a vulcan and an alien. There is also considerable evidence that Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna engaged extensively in the most heinous and inhumane practices in the course of his research, and thought nothing of experimenting upon sentient beings against their wills.
         “Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna was nonetheless a very powerful man on Vulcan, even after his practices were declared criminal, and he evaded capture for many years. Even when he was captured he still maintained powerful connections on both Vulcan and Romulus, and so was allowed to go into exile with everything he needed to continue his vile experiments. He was a notoriously unsavory character, though, and by the time of his capture his connections were not what they once were, so the place of his exile was determined to be Remus. Vulcan and Romulan authorities delivered the Tok't to Remus, and actually even assisted in constructing his new facilities there. Then they left him to do as he pleased, as long as he never left the planet. Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna had everything he needed on Remus, however, and it was more than he'd ever had on Vulcan.”
         Spock paused a moment to look over his audience. The Remans had evidently heard this before, but were listening raptly just the same. The proconsul's anger had lost it's focus and now he looked a little confused to Picard, as though he had really not expected to hear anything he didn't know, but most certainly was. Donatra was clearly fascinated, and S'Tintal still seemed to be waiting for Spock to give him an angle he could work. Picard had never heard any of this before and didn't imagine very many other humans had. He had an idea now of why the Vulcans had gone as far as they had to keep Spock quiet.
         “There were once,” Spock continued now, “intelligent aboriginals on Remus. They were still there, in great numbers, when the first Vulcanoid colonists arrived. They were not very advanced, and had not yet invented the wheel or any other rudimentary technology, but they had long ago mastered fire, animal husbandry, and possessed a complex language and social structure. Unfortunately, the colonists' desire to occupy most of the small amount of habitable territory on Remus caused an immediate clash between the two cultures, which the native Remans could only lose. Before long their numbers were much reduced, and they were driven the very edge of the habitable zone, where, not surprisingly, they did not thrive.
         “They were in a most abject state indeed when Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna discovered them. Though his treatment of them was unspeakably horrific, he made detailed documentation of their physiology, which is fortunate, since no native Remans exist today. They do, however, in some respects have countless numbers of descendants.”
         Spock glanced meaningfully to his left, at the three Reman delegates as he said this, and Picard finally understood the full import of Spock's revelation. Even as he realized it, he felt foolish for ever having believed the 'official' explanation that the Remans had evolved to their present form -in only a few long vulcanoid generations- as a result of the extreme conditions on the planet. This yarn violated everything Picard knew about the workings of evolution in sentient species and yet he, along with generations of Romulans, Vulcans, and Remans had believed what he had been told, without question. They had all been lied to, and they had all believed the lie.
         “Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna's experiments certainly hastened the native Remans' end,” Spock continued, “but he saw to it that some of their species' genetic material endured far longer than it might otherwise have. Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna, arguably the most powerful man on Remus in his day, did not labor long before he had created a vulcanoid/reman hybrid who was proven to survive the conditions on Remus much better than the Vulcan exiles now residing there. It was then a relatively simple thing for him to create and release a virus which would cause all of the children of those infected to be born with the reman hybrid traits. This is the true origin of modern Remans.
         “Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna's excesses eventually became so horrific that the surrounding community of Remans rose up and destroyed Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna and all of his facilities. The destruction was so thorough that today it is not known where Tok't TiKlecht'ti'kna's labs once resided. What little we know of him now is to be found in the records of his trial on Vulcan but not even his memory remains on Remus.”
         Spock stopped now to await the Romulans' reactions.
         Picard was beginning to suspect that Proconsul T'Retisk was not all that intelligent, for it took him a full beat or more before he seemed to realize the full implications of Spock's revelation, and leapt to his feet.
         “Are we meant to accept this fantastic prevarication as truth?” he exclaimed.
         Donatra, Picard could see with pleasure, had been thinking far more quickly.
         “The veracity of these supposed revelations troubles me as well.” she said. “We cannot allow these proceedings to continue any further without being given a chance to verify these allegations ourselves.”
         This was, Picard knew, very different from what the Proconsul had wanted, but the Commander had been very cleaver, and now he must follow her lead or look a fool. S'Tintal agreed as well, probably because a recess would give him a chance to see which way the political wind was blowing in light of these new revelations. With the Romulan delegates in agreement the Remans graciously concurred with the recess, and everyone agreed to meet again at the same time tomorrow.
         Now the meeting broke up with a flurry of formal interchanges and the various delegates promptly departed to their own ships or quarters. Then they were all gone and Picard found himself alone in the meeting room with Spock. The veteran vulcan diplomat looked him up and down, more openly now and finally lifted his gaze to meet Picard's with an expression of satisfaction.
         “I am please to see you looking well, Captain Picard.” he said.
         I am fairly pleased to see you myself, Ambassador.” replied Picard. “And I owe you a debt of gratitude as well, for managing my release from Vulcan. It was rather brilliantly done, Sir.”
         The vulcan shook his head. “That you were taken at all is to all of Vulcan's shame, and it was only my responsibility to see that your freedom was secured. You should have never been involved as you were. I trust that the High Council will not stoop to such measures again.”
         To Picard's surprise, he saw Spock's expression darken considerably as he spoke this last, and it was a shock to realize that the vulcan was not just angry, but furious with his planet's government.
         “Still,” said Picard, hoping to lighten the vulcan's mood, “I am returned, unharmed, and I think that your presence here has made a real difference for the talks, and gone a long way towards maintaining peace in this sector.”
         “Perhaps,” Spock demurred, somewhat mollified, “but if I have bought them forward at all, a considerable distance needs to be traveled yet.” He drew a deep breath then, and changed the subject.
         “How has the Enterprise managed in your absence?” he asked.
         It was with honest pleasure that Picard gave account of Commander Chandra's excellent management of his ship, and he also took the opportunity to invite Spock to follow him back for a visit.
         “I would be pleased to do so, Captain, but I'm afraid I must make arrangements with Tseltac first.” he replied.
         “Arrangements?” Picard asked.
         “I am officially still the Remans' last hostage,” Spock answered, “and may not leave the Villa-Lobos without Tseltac's permission.”
         Picard guessed that this has been agreed to when the Remans gave up their control of the Villa-Lobos, as a sop to their pride. He hoped that it would not interfere with Spock's visit to the Enterprise, for he very much wished to bring him and Data together there. Tseltac was quite agreeable though, and only asked that Picard promise to be responsible for their hostage, and promise on his honor to bring him back to the Villa-Lobos in time for the next meeting. Picard happily agreed, and moments later they were on board the Enterprise, headed for Data's quarters.
         “Now I hope you will reveal to me,” said Spock, “what it is that you have been so eager to show me all this time.”
         Picard smiled, not surprised in the least that Spock had sensed his anticipation.
         “I asked you when last you were here,” he said, as Spock walked down the corridor beside him, “to join minds with Data's prototype, Be-four, and you told me that he was still only a potential, as yet unfulfilled.”
         “Indeed.” said the vulcan.
         Picard took a deep breath. “I believe that potential has now been fulfilled, Spock, as does he … but both of us would like very much to know if you agree.”
         Jean Luc could see Spock working out the likely possibilities in his mind as they walked, but they reached their destination before he could ask any further questions.
         Data was at his workstation when the door opened, and he stood as they came in -his face lighting up to see the two of them.
         “Jean Luc!” he cried out, “Spock!”
         Picard stepped out of the way, leaving Spock and Data facing eachother across the small room. Data was clearly terribly nervous, but he lifted his head and met Spock's gaze fearlessly. Spock looked him up and down, just as he had looked over Picard earlier, and then stepped closer. Data did not move, and Spock slowly moved closer still, until he was more than close enough to touch the android -never once breaking his gaze with Data, and never once revealing any emotion in his expression.
         “You would be my t'hyla.” he said -neither a question, not an accusation, though it might have been either.
         And Data -Picard could see him drawing on every scrap of courage he possessed- said, “I believe I may be. Yes.”
         Now Spock dropped his gaze, seemed to take part in some internal dialogue, and then looked up at Data again.
         “Will you share your thoughts?” he asked.
         Data nodded, evidently uncertain of his voice.
         Picard found a chair and sat and watched silently, torn between hope and anxiety. He even prayed a little, after a fashion, for the both of them. After several interminable minutes Spock lifted his hand from Data's face, and drew a deep breath.
         “My t'hyla.” he said, in a voice that proved to Picard that vulcans are not immune to pure wonder.
         Data must have known from the first moments of the meld, but the moment the words left Spock's lips he threw his arms around the vulcan, and Spock responded with a tender embrace.
         “Thee are returned to me.” Picard heard him murmur, wonder still coloring his voice.
         Jean Luc knew a quiet but perfect joy, watching this most desired outcome. He felt real happiness for Data's sake too, for this would surely put an end of the last of his uncertainties about his identity. He heard Data call his name then, inviting him to join them, and Jean Luc was briefly embraced by the two of them, joining in their joyful astonishment that this reunion had been allowed to come to pass.
         After a little while Picard suggested to Data and Spock that they might like a little time to themselves and made to leave, but they both insisted that he stay.
         “Anything we might have desired privacy for was conducted through the meld.” Data explained. “I was thinking of asking the replicator for a pot of tea for the three of us.”
         Spock found the idea commendable as well, and the three of them took their pot of tea to the sofa in Data's sitting area to share in each other's company. As it was happily not necessary for Data and Picard to recount for Spock their recent traumatic exploits, instead they quizzed Spock on his insights into the Remans he'd been working with, and the Romulan/Reman situation in general. As always, Spock's insights and observations were most remarkable, and Picard would find many of these insights quite valuable in the negotiations, in the days to come. On that afternoon, though, the three of them discussed Spock's observations, and speculated widely on their import and long term ramifications in a free exchange of ideas, merely for the pleasure of it. Picard took great pleasure in it, indeed.
         After a several hours, and no less than three pots of tea, Spock declared with regret, that he had best return to the Remans on the Villa-Lobos, who would wish very much to know what Spock made of Picard's performance, and of the Romulans' reaction to his testimony. Data and Picard both accompanied him to the transporter room, and Picard commented that as long as the talks were likely to drag on, they might have the pleasure of one another's company on a regular basis for some weeks to come.
         “Indeed, the same thought has occurred to me,” replied Spock, “and I find it most pleasing to contemplate.”

XIV. Denouement

         “Are you hungry, Sir?” Data asked, shortly after they had made their farewells to Spock. Picard was positively sloshing with tea, but it had been some time since lunch, and food, he thought now, would probably help.
         “Now that you mention it,” he answered, “I find I could do with a spot of dinner. Will you join me?”
         “I would be happy to.” replied Data. “But will you let me prepare you something myself?”
         Picard remembered that Data, as Be-four, had undertaken to learn how to cook, and also remembered that the one other time Data had cooked for him was when they were trapped on the wrecked shuttle. He had, Picard recalled, cooked up a fairly tasty meal, and with a very limited selection of ingredients. Clearly, he was eager to show Jean Luc what he could do with a full pantry, and Jean Luc decided that he would be perfectly pleased to let him.
         Data out did himself, and Picard dined most royally, on crepes wrapped around a rich beef stroganoff, and garnished with real (deeply sinful) sour cream. Data enjoyed his own small portions as Picard consumed his meal, but would not stop analyzing his food in terms of his own intentions and expectations for it until Jean Luc told him to “Shut up and enjoy your dammed fine meal.”
         Picard had chosen a (replicated) sorbet for desert, and after that, extracted from his own personal stores, a bottle of vintage Port. They took their glasses of Port -swirling them gently and holding them up to see their color as light shone through them- over to the sofa and sat there together. Data and Jean Luc each sipped at their drinks, letting the dark liquor fall slowly over their palates, savoring it's flavor, the moment, and eachother.
         After a little while Data set his glass down and leaned against his captain, laying his head against his shoulder and giving a little contented sigh. Jean Luc set his own glass down then and wrapped one arm around his love, and leaned over to kiss the top of his head. In response, Data tilted his head back to invite another kiss and Jean Luc obliged with a will. They drew eachother closer, lips still joined, and Jean Luc felt Data's hands caressing his face and the top of his head. The feel of Data's fingers on his scalp sent a flush of heat throughout his whole body.
         “You have no further plans for this evening?” Data asked when Jean Luc drew away for a moment to catch his breath.
         “No.” he breathed, and then commanded the computer to put the room in privacy mode.
         Now,” said Jean Luc, holding Data's face between his hands, “let me show you how much I missed you.”
         Jean Luc ravished Data's mouth with such ferocity that Data was taken by surprise and completely gave way before his captain's will. Picard pushed him back to lie on the sofa and attacked his body with kisses on every part he could reach. He could not reach nearly enough, though, and so worked with diligence to remove Data's shirt. Data was pleased to cooperate, but insisted on reciprocating while Jean Luc's mouth went to work on Data's newly revealed torso. Jean Luc did not himself bother to make this task any easier for Data, as he was having much too much fun tasting Data's skin, kissing his slender neck and graceful shoulders, and pinching his tender nipples between his lips and teeth. This last trick interfered with Data's attempts to remove his shirt considerably, as it caused him to moan aloud and writhe under his captain, but he didn't care.
         Finally, Data tried another, more effective approach -sliding his hands under Jean Luc's shirt and caressing his chest and nipples so that suddenly he wanted to be rid of the clothing as much as Data did. In fact, it was time for all of the clothing to go, he decided, and once again he found Data entirely cooperative. When it was time to remove his trousers, though ,Jean Luc found he had to step away from the sofa for a moment. Thus distracted, he was taken unawares as Data suddenly reached over and pulled Jean Luc down to lie beside him. They both stretched out on the sofa and he joyfully clasped Data's unclad body to his own and moaned aloud at the pleasure of the contact.
         Data moaned as well and the two of them grasped at eachother, moved and thrust against eachother and somehow tried to simultaneously surround the other, and be surrounded by the other. They tangled arms and legs, wrapped tongues around eachother, mingled fingers and hair -and other fingers. Their two now rigid cocks stroked and slid by one another in the struggle, and began at last to demand the attention of those struggling. Data was quicker in his response, unsurprisingly, and Jean Luc found himself pinned to the sofa while Data's kisses suddenly moved much lower.
         He shouted out loud as he felt Data's lips on his sex, and all but sobbed as he slowly ran his tongue along it's length. Data kissed his cock again and again, from it's base to the head, and then slowly licked it once more, tonguing the head as he finished.
         “Dear God, Data!” Picard cried.
         Data teased his cock with more kisses and licks and little nips for a short while more, and them without warning engulfed the whole of it with his mouth. Picard shouted again, and thrust his hips to push his cock even deeper down Data's throat, and Data wrapped his lips around it and sucked. Picard was dizzy with ecstasy, and hardly knew what sounds he was making any more as Data's incredible mouth worked it's way up and down his cock. Just when he was sure that this treatment would send him over the edge, Data eased back, and when he could manage to make his eyes focus again he saw Data's lips just drawing away from his cock, leaving it coated with a thick layer of Data's special 'extra viscous' saliva. Yes, it seemed that everything was working perfectly.
         Now Data moved up to kneel, straddling his body as it lay on the sofa, hips suspended just above his own rigid and quivering cock.
         “Yes,” Jean Luc whispered, knowing what Data wanted, desiring it no less himself.
         Jean Luc lifted his hips as Data lowered his, and where they met Jean Luc's cock pushed against Data's opening, and then slipped inside. Jean Luc released a deep groan as he felt his flesh so firmly enclosed in Data's, and he heard Data give the deepest of heartfelt and contented sighs. He slowly settled his full weight upon Jean Luc, letting his lover's cock push deep inside him and closed his eyes -his face revealing a state of perfect bliss.
         Jean Luc began to move first, rocking his hips slightly underneath Data's. Data now began to sway his body to Jean Luc's rhythm, eyes still closed, fingers playing over his captain's chest and nipples. Jean Luc employed his own fingers gently stroking Data's graceful cock and was repaid as tremors of delight coursed though Data's body and his own. Pleased with his success, Jean Luc expanded on the idea. He lifted his open palm up to Data's mouth who demonstrated his keen intelligence by deducing his lover's desires instantly, and slowly dragged his tongue across Jean Luc's palm, leaving behind a generous layer of thickened saliva.
         Jean Luc grinned as he wrapped his lubricated hand around Data's cock and began to work it lovingly.
         “Oh, my captain!” Data moaned, and began to push himself onto Jean Luc's cock much more vigorously. Likewise, Jean Luc began thrusting back with increased enthusiasm, and now they had entered into an ever escalating feed-back loop. As Jean Luc felt Data's flesh contracting about his more urgently, so did he thrust more rapidly and forcefully, and work Data's cock more rapidly and with a firmer hand, and as he did these things Data moved around him more urgently, and so forth. Jean Luc had, by this point, utterly passed the point of awareness and was acting only as his ever increasing ecstasy compelled him to.
         He felt the wave of release coming as he heard the pitch of his own cries change, saw Data throw back his head and shout wordlessly, felt his lovers body seizing his sex with the tremors of his own release. Then finally the great wave of warmth and pleasure released from his sex overwhelmed him, coursed through his body, and released his spending into Data's trembling warmth.
         Awareness returned to him gradually with the sensation of a warm stickiness on his chest slowly growing cold, and of Data kissing his face and eyes. He kissed back and then spoke without realizing he was going to.
         “You are so very dear to me, Data.”
         At this Data gave a sigh so poignant it was almost a sob, and he curled himself against Jean Luc's side and laid his head on his shoulder.
         “I have gotten back everything that is important,” he said with quiet wonder. “everything that matters.”
         “You know,” said Jean Luc, smiling thoughtfully, “so have I.”
         Data smiled in response to this, and stretched out an arm to lay over his lover's chest -putting an elbow into the stickiness there that was no longer warm at all.
         “Time for a shower, then?” asked Jean Luc.


         In the shower they soaped and rinsed eachother, and enjoyed themselves immensely, but they did not spend too much time there, as Picard had had a long day, and it was late. Moving from the shower to the bedroom, Jean Luc saw, to his delight, that Data assumed he would join him in bed, without his having to ask. It was at this moment, as he felt Data 'spoon' up behind him in the bed, that Jean Luc realized he knew the most perfect happiness. The sex had been superb; seeing Data reunited with Spock had been wonderful; his own reunion with Data had been a sheer joy, but this moment, as he lay comfortable and warm in his own bed, with Data's arms wrapped around him, their two bodies closely entwined and yet relaxed, it seemed that all of the days happiness and joy somehow accumulated for this moment, and he knew the most profound contentment he had ever known in his life.
         It had been a terribly long day, and as comfortable and relaxed as he was, Jean Luc ought to have fallen asleep right away, but so much had happened, and there was so much to think about that his mind would not settle. It continued to work even as he began to slip into his dreams, and in that magical twilight state of mind it seemed he saw the near future unrolled for him in an orderly progression, though he would remember none of it in the morning.
         The Romulans, he saw, would learn that what Spock had told them was true, and in light of that fact, would agree to begin the talks anew, starting from nothing. They would make great progress in creating a semi-autonomous Remus under a Romulus that would begin to resemble more of a federation of sorts rather than an empire. Commander Donatra would take a leading role in the talks, too, he knew, and her success with them would be the platform from which she would launch a long and successful political career. They would see more of Spock too, as the negotiations continued, and they might even find the time to spend another evening in the holodeck, just the three of them.
         On the military front, it seemed clear that Starfleet would soon learn enough from their analysis of Shinzon's ship building bases to equip the Titan with a means of seeing through the Reman cloak and, thus equipped, she would go hunting the rogue Reman ship and make short work of her. This would also do much to bring about political unity among the Remans, and help to forward the Romulan/Reman talks.
         In Data's future he came to realize how certainly Geordi would help Data to make the case to Starfleet that he was -by every standard Starfleet used to identify it's officers- none other than Lieutenant Commander Data. As hidebound and resistant to the remarkable as they were, even Starfleet could be made to officially recognize this miracle, because they had the proof. Anything that Starfleet would set as a test, he realized, Data would be able to pass.
         That meant that there was a future for him, not long from now, where he would be once again standing on the bridge of the Enterprise with Data, his most trusted First Officer, standing at his side. That was the only future he wanted, for those were the only things that mattered -his ship, his love, and making a difference.
         Not long ago he'd thought he'd lost all of those things, and he'd had to learn how meaningless his life seemed without them. Having them all miraculously restored now threw them into a new light for Picard. Not only were all of these things infinitely more precious to him, but he'd come to see that the things he cherished also cherished him, and suffered without him as he suffered without them.
         He, Data, Spock, the Enterprise and Starfleet, together made a whole greater than the sum of it's parts. Together, they made bigger and better differences for the universe; together, there was nothing they could not achieve.



T. Dancinghands -2003