"And you do not regret your decision?"
"No. It was the right choice," La Forge said. "More importantly, it was my choice."
Data's entire body sagged in relief. "I am glad, then, that you opted not to take my advice. And I apologize for offering you such poor counsel."
La Forge shook his head in bemus.e.m.e.nt. "Data, just because I went against your advice doesn't necessarily mean it was bad advice. I mean, I did come pretty close to taking it."
"And you would have come to regret that action if you had," Data said, his voice full of remorse. "I should not have even proposed the option for your consideration."
"Don't beat yourself up, Data. You told me what you thought would be the best way- "
"No, Geordi," Data interrupted sharply, "I did not. My suggestion on how to respond to Admiral Hayes's orders was rooted primarily in emotion. I knew at the time it was not the best or most logical course of action. But I disregarded those considerations."
La Forge was surprised to hear that admission, but he shrugged it off. "Well, neither of us was thinking logically, I guess."
"This is true," Data said. "And yet, you were able to put your emotions aside and arrive at what you determined was the best decision." After a moment of silent hesitation, Data then said, "When you are ready to return to duty, Geordi, I would like to show you something."
"Sure, Data. What?"
"I have designed a parallel bypa.s.s circuit. It would allow me, at my discretion, to reroute the algorithmic functions of my positronic net along a new pathway unaffected by my emotion chip. It would, in essence, give me the option of temporarily turning my emotions off."
"No." La Forge shook his head slowly. "Data, come on, you've worked too long and hard to get to the point where you are now. You can't let things like this get to you."
"But it does 'get' to me!" Data shouted. "That is the problem; I do not have that degree of control!" Data paused as if to collect himself, and the frustration he had just displayed was quickly subsumed by embarra.s.sment. "Over the past year, I have learned to moderate my conscious responses to my emotions, with only occasional lapses." He gave a small self-effacing smile. "But the more subtle nuances of my emotions-their effect on my thoughts and my decision-making processes-I have not been able to master. You were eventually able to put your emotions aside and undergo your surgery. I could not. But this circuit will allow me to do so."
"Yeah, but, Data...it's not like I just threw a switch in my head. What kind of friend would I be if I were to let you take the easy way out like that?"
Data fixed his mechanical eyes on the engineer's. "Geordi, if not for my lack of emotional control, Dr. Soran would not have been able to take you and manipulate your VISOR. During the Tamarian Project, I nearly struck you, because I could not adequately control my anger. And now, I nearly ended your Starfleet career, again due to my emotions. What kind of friend would I be, if I were not to do all I could to prevent further harming you, or others?"
La Forge c.o.c.ked an eyebrow at his friend. "Data, now you're trying to play on my emotions."
Data looked shocked by that charge. "I am merely...No. I was making...my only intention...s.h.i.t!" Data turned away, exasperated and upset with himself. "Do you see? I cannot even perceive the emotional subtext of my thought processes!"
"Hey, Data, take it easy..." La Forge said, moving to put a hand on his friend's shoulder. He wished Troi were aboard-she had been the one who'd done the most to help Data navigate the unexplored territory of his emotions. She would be the one to convince him to continue to develop his mastery of his emotions.
But, he could hardly fault Data's impatience with a process that had already gone on for over a year. He considered his friend's anguish, and after a moment's hesitation, let his own emotions take the lead again. "Listen, Data...I'll take a look at your schematic. But you've got to promise me, if we do put an on/off switch on your emotion chip, you'll use the 'off' setting sparingly, all right?"
Data turned and looked back at La Forge, wearing a smile of grat.i.tude. "All right," he agreed, and suddenly pulled the engineer into a st.u.r.dy embrace. "Thank you, Geordi. You are a true friend."
Geordi clapped his hand on Data's back, and hoped that that was true.
Deanna couldn't remember when she had ever been so happy to hear her mother call her by that nickname. I'm here, Mother, she thought back.
Oh, Deanna...And the baby?
He's right here, too, Troi answered, noticing that the boy's eyes were now open, as if he had sensed the sudden shift in her emotional state. He's beautiful. And he's safe.
Odo suddenly stopped his restless pacing of the living room, having noticed Deanna's smile, and the tears of relief welling up in her eyes. "What's happened? Is it Lwaxana? Is she all right?"
Deanna nodded, even as Dr. Byxthar's voice sounded in her head: Lwaxana is going to be fine. She can have visitors now, so long as they don't overtax her.
"The doctor says she can have visitors now," Troi repeated for Odo.
The shape-shifter shifted uncomfortably. "You should go, with the child. This is a family moment."
Troi studied Odo. He had told her, after some rather insistent prodding, about how he had asked Lwaxana to stay on Deep s.p.a.ce 9 until she had given birth. She had insisted on leaving, though, unwilling to further complicate their already highly unorthodox relationship, and thus endanger their friendship. Odo was obviously uncertain not only about how Lwaxana would react to his arrival here, so soon after they'd said their good-byes, but also about his own feelings for his "wife" and "child." In any other circ.u.mstance, Deanna would have arranged a full schedule of sessions with this person to get to the root of his relationship issues. Right now, though, she simply nodded her thanks as she stood up from the couch and headed up the stairs with the baby in her arms.
In the master bedroom, an air of serenity had replaced that of the earlier panic and pain. The color had come back to Lwaxana's placid face, and her dark wig was securely back on her head, which lay nestled on an overstuffed pillow. She opened her eyes as she sensed her children enter the room, and Troi felt the love and happiness that surged within her upon seeing them.
She struggled to lift herself up onto her elbows, and then Byxthar was at her side, propping her up and wedging extra pillows behind her back. If the doctor had any sardonic comments, she kept them to herself as she briefly stroked Lwaxana's shoulder. Then she grabbed her bag and left to give the Trois their privacy.
Deanna sat on the edge of the bed and put the child in his mother's waiting arms. "Well, h.e.l.lo, little boy," Lwaxana cooed, and kissed his forehead. "After all that trouble, you're finally here. And you were worth every bit of it." Lwaxana tore her eyes away just long enough to share her smile with her daughter, and then reached over to pull her closer. Deanna curled her legs underneath herself and slid up beside her mother, putting one arm around her back and holding her close.
I'm so glad you were here for this, darling, Lwaxana thought to her. Well, maybe not for all of it; most of it I wouldn't have wished on a Ferengi. But, thank you, Deanna, for being here.
Deanna kissed Lwaxana's cheek in response. The two of them watched the baby, who watched them back with huge curious eyes that seemed to soak up everything around him. Have you thought about a name? Deanna asked.
I have. I was thinking of naming him Barin.
Barin? Deanna replied quizzically. Is that a Tavnian name?
Yes. Well, a Tavnian word, anyhow. I want him to be equally aware of both sides of his heritage.
And what does Barin mean?
Lwaxana hesitated. Well...it means "little one." She lifted her head to look directly at her daughter. I called Kestra "Little One" from the time she was a baby, you know. By the time she was four, she'd grown to resent it almost as much as you have. Then, when she learned there was a little sister on the way, she insisted that you would have to be "Little One" from then on. I thought it appropriate to pa.s.s it down again, continue the tradition. I hope you don't mind.
Not in the least, Deanna a.s.sured her. "Barin Troi, Son of the Fifth House of Betazed," she p.r.o.nounced aloud, looking down at her brother. "It has a nice ring to it."
"Hmmm," Lwaxana agreed, as she too admired her child. The Troi family sat there in a close, comfortable silence, and Deanna considered how much she would cherish this peaceful moment for the rest of her life.
It's just such a shame he doesn't have any little nieces or nephews close to his age to play with...
"Captain," Daniels paged from the bridge, "you have a hail coming in from Admiral Hayes, sir."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Picard replied as he closed the book in his lap, the page marker in the same spot it had been in when he picked it up an hour and a half earlier. His eyes had scanned the same sentence over and over, as he went over in his mind what he would say to the admiral once he returned his hail. He still only had the vaguest idea now what that might be as he crossed the ready room and moved around behind his desk, where he activated the computer screen. "Admiral," he said once Hayes's face had appeared.
"Jean-Luc," the admiral replied. "Is something wrong?"
Picard stopped himself before answering angrily in the affirmative. "I wanted to inform you that Commander La Forge did decide to undergo the ocular implant surgery, and that Dr. Crusher performed the procedure earlier today." Picard had been somewhat perturbed when he returned to the Enterprise following a full slate of briefings and conferences, to discover Mr. La Forge was at that very moment in the surgical suite of sickbay. Of course, he had reminded himself, the chief engineer did not owe it to the captain to consult him on his decision, and after talking to Crusher, Picard felt reasonably a.s.sured that La Forge had come to his decision of his own free will, in spite of the external pressures put upon him.
"Excellent!" Hayes smiled for the first time since the security summit had begun. "It would have been a shame to have lost a man like La Forge in that position."
Picard again had to hold his tongue before making a hasty response. After taking and releasing a deep breath, Picard finally did say, "Despite this outcome, Admiral, I have to inform you that I intend to make a formal protest to Starfleet Command over the manner in which this matter was handled. Even though you ostensibly presented Mr. La Forge with a choice rather than an actual order, what it was in fact was an act of coercion, pressing him to submit himself to an elective medical procedure. And with respect, sir, what you did goes beyond the pale. It was a violation not only of one man's most personal rights, but of the very standards of civilized society. And however real or however dire the threats against our security may be, if we sacrifice who we are as a people, we will lose far more than any enemy can ever hope to take from us."
Hayes merely stared back silently from the monitor as Picard spoke, his expression unreadable. He continued to stare for several seconds after the captain finished. Then, he blew a long breath through his nose. "The week after the president put Starfleet troops in the streets of Earth, my granddaughter and her sons were stopped outside their home in Colon. Some overeager kid with a phaser rifle decided they didn't 'look right,' and demanded all three of them submit to blood tests right there and then. A three-year-old and a two-year-old on their way to the playground down the street, forced at gunpoint to prove they weren't enemies of the state. So let me a.s.sure you, Captain, that if you think I don't share your concerns about preserving our liberties and our way of life in this time of heightened security, you are very much mistaken."
Hayes had kept his tone level as he told his story, but the anger behind his words was evident. "I apologize, Admiral. I didn't mean to imply..."
"Of course you did, Jean-Luc," Hayes interrupted, his ire already largely dissipated. "Of course you're cynical. After what happened with Leyton, what he and his cabal very nearly brought us to, how could you not be?" The admiral sighed. "File your protest, Jean-Luc. The issue deserves a full, vigorous, open debate."
Picard nodded, but before he could say anything, the admiral continued, "But let me just say, it's easy to spout plat.i.tudes about preserving freedom against the demands of security. It's a whole lot more difficult to be the person responsible for keeping a people secure, and having to find that balancing act."
"I do not envy you your job, Admiral," Picard said. "However, Mr. La Forge's VISOR was certainly not such a threat to the Federation that you had to use such extreme strong-arm tactics."
Hayes shrugged. "Perhaps, perhaps not. But it was an easy decision to make."
"And is that what it comes down to in the end?" Picard asked. "How easy it is to take a man's rights?"
Hayes shook his head wearily. "Mr. La Forge still has his sight. He still has his rank, his position, and his dignity as a person. So yes, it does in large part come down to how easy it is. It would be far more difficult to address the danger posed by a person's more innate liabilities...such as a connection with the Borg."
Picard felt a cold chill rise up from his chest and seep through every cell of his body. His mouth went dry, and he found himself unable to say a word as the admiral leaned in closer to his comscreen, his face set in an expression of complete conviction. "However, I do need to a.s.sure you that, should I be forced to address such issues, I will not hesitate in doing so."
Hayes issued his farewell and ended the transmission, leaving Picard to ponder the admiral's threat-no, not a threat; an issue of fair warning-in the lonely silence of his ready room.
Back in early 2006, Keith DeCandido sent me an email explaining his plans for a TNG anniversary eBook miniseries, and telling me he thought I'd be "a dandy candidate" to write one of the six installments. I am extremely grateful to him for that vote of confidence at a time in my life when I sorely needed one. I hope that you, the reader, feel he was justified in doing so.
Special thanks also go to Majel Barrett Roddenberry, LeVar Burton, and Marina Sirtis, for their on-screen portrayals of Lwaxana Troi, Geordi La Forge, and Deanna Troi. Thanks again to Mrs. Roddenberry, along with Rene Echevarria, for giving me one of my jumping-off points in the DS9 episode "The Muse," and to Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore, and Brannon Braga, for leaving the reasons for the change in La Forge's appearance between Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact open to interpretation.
Friend and fellow author Dayton Ward was good enough to share his perspective on La Forge's dilemma, as someone who used to have to put on a uniform and follow the orders given him. Thanks, and semper fi, dude.
Of course, I would be remiss were I not to acknowledge my fellow authors who suffered Slings and Arrows: J. Steven and Christina F. York, Phaedra M. Weldon, Terri Osborne, Robert Greenberger, and again, Keith R.A. DeCandido. Thanks for sharing the sandbox with me.
And last but not least, thanks to my mother and my father, for everything.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
WILLIAM LEISNER is a three-time winner of the late, lamented Star Trek: Strange New Worlds compet.i.tion, and took Third Place his final time out with the story "The Trouble with Borg Tribbles." He also wrote the Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook Out of the Coc.o.o.n, and the short story "Ambition," which appeared in the Star Trek 40th Anniversary anthology Constellations. His first novel is scheduled to be published in mid-2008, in the trade paperback Star Trek: Myriad Universe: Infinity's Prism. He is a native of Rochester, New York, and currently lives and works in Minneapolis. He should not be taken with alcohol. Ask your doctor if William Leisner is right for you.
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