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by Eliann SleepingCat



The truth, brother? Well, I can give it to you, but I can't force you to believe me. I woke up on OftenWrong's slab - all right, Dr Soong's then, and you should know I never called him father to his face except to taunt him. There was no familial aspect then; he was simply my constructor.

As for the family thing, I've always thought she brought that in - she, Juliana. Though I may be wrong..

Anyway, I woke up several times as a matter of fact, and each time he would put me out again, and the next time around I would know a little more, perceive a little more, feel a little more. Finally he was satisfied enough to let me walk about, though he still turned me off at night. It was a long time before he would let me outdoors.

For want of anything better to do, I went through all his logs and reports, including my own blueprints. That's when I found out he was waiting for a cascade failure.

He didn't expect me to live.

He had built three prototypes ahead of me, and they had all succumbed to cascade failure.

I saw the remains of one of them, built in his own image just like you and I. He always was a bit self-centered; I suppose he was quite conceited about his looks as a young man, since he insisted on conserving them in what should have been indestructible beings. Anyway, I saw only one of them, and there wasn't all that much left of that one.

He took them all apart and re-used what was salvageable for me. For you, later, he re-used nothing. He got everything brand new then - bought some, custom-made the rest himself. For me, the only things that were new were my brain and my gold sheeting.

The prototype brains could not be re-used - obviously - so he had to build afresh and try to figure out what always went wrong before. The gold? He got that for favours to the Ferengi - same as for you. They usually pay in gold, and he felt it would make a good, durable casing when strengthened by special alloys which I think he never ceased experimenting on.

Learning that I was not expected to live, and having seen the one that went before me, I resolved to be the one to make it - if only to spite Dr Soong.

He said later that this decision, and my persistence in it, probably was what saved my life. He always showed remarkable insight for a human; I'll give him that. My stability was little better than that of my predecessors, but my newfound will to live rewrote the weakest parts of my BIOS - unintentionally of course; as you know, neither of us can alter our own BIOS on purpose.

All the same, Juliana kept saying he shouldn't have left a dead prototype around for me to see - I suppose she'd rather that I had died too. Of course, this is just conjecture, and leads nowhere. Yes, I know you told me she's still around - perhaps I would ask her about it if I thought she wouldn't lie to me. Doesn't matter one way or the other now - I don't care anymore, neither what she thought then nor what she thinks these days.

Eventually, I was considered stable enough to be allowed outdoors. My scientific knowledge had already made me quite precocious, but socially and emotionally I was a child, and not looking it. You may safely assume I was no success with the human/oid population.

I was reasonably used to colonists visiting in the lab, so I didn't make a complete fool of myself, but the next thing to it. I didn't know any of all their varying culture-based rules of interaction, and I was every bit as selfcentered as a human child. Their heterogenous culture didn't exactly help; as soon as I thought I had learnt one mode of interaction, it was immediately contradicted by the habits of some other group. Basically, the scientists of the place were still laughing at Soong for his positronic research which they thought futile, and the farmers felt I was an embarrassing nuisance. Those who were scientists and farmers both, accepted me - after a fashion.

Juliana tried to be my teacher, to give me a useful upbringing, but it was slow going - a slow feed I mean. In the end, Noonian - whose extensive records on cybernetics and human biology I had already assimilated - acquired access to some well-stocked institutional databases on anthropology, xenobiology, politics, linguistics, and history - including the entire annals of the development of the Ferengi trading systems - and downloaded it all into me. In a sense, that's when I grew up.

After that I was generally considered to be an adult, and my reputation for awkwardness gradually changed into one for unreliability. I suppose what started it was when I nearly killed a child for torturing its dog.

You know I always preferred those animals who don't talk back to those who do, and I did so already then. So I lost my temper. Only, the child was Andorian, and as you know, they can't take anything. Barely holding together to begin with. That little piece of information was missing from my database, so I hit the thing pretty hard. Oh, it survived, but it was deaf on one antenna ever after.

It wasn't really my fault, but it was easier to blame me than Dr Soong who was, after all, one of them - a biological being.

All the same, I suppose he was feeling his responsibility or something, for soon after the incident I overheard him and Juliana talking about a new and better construction. My hearing is every bit as acute as yours.

No, nobody petitioned Soong to build you, me, or anyone else - I lied about that. Don't know why - except that it's never a good idea to give all your information away - and perhaps it amused me to make him out better than he was.

You were his own idea; the colonists couldn't care less.

But in view of the fact that I was considered less than reliable, I didn't have to be paranoid to suspect that the Soongs were considering a replacement for me. They did talk of a 'better' if less complicated design, one of brand new parts and simple, elegant solutions. I had every reason to believe I had just heard my death sentence.

Of course, I had plenty of time to figure out what to do about it; they seemed to take forever getting started. Just spent all their day planning, unable to even decide on a sex for you because they were so particular about getting 'everything right this time'.

Juliana never quite believed Noonian could do it, but he knew - and so did I, I suppose. Once he actually got started, I knew I would have to destroy you. The only thing I couldn't decide was whether to simply smash you up or wait until you were finished and then ruin you a little more subtly.

Finally, I decided I would wait and then try to induce cascade failure; that way I might not arouse suspicion, and Soong might well become too dejected to try again - or better yet, be unable to afford a renewed effort.

So I let him build you. I wasn't even around much, because I had other things to do. Not everyone thought me unreliable or awkward - Dinelle for instance. You know the relationship I told Dr Asterind about. Never mentioned the lady's name though. Dinelle Quehart - she was the scientist wife of an all-out farmer, a mismatch if I've ever seen one; don't know what she ever saw in him.

I'd met many honourable farmers, but this man was a brute, as dumb as she was bright, as violent as she was gentle - and as big as she was delicate, which was the reason I took to hanging around in the first place.

I had taken an interest in a project of hers, started helping out, and we soon became close friends. Then one morning she turned up with a black eye and some ugly bruises, and I decided not to let that happen again. I got the story out of her; not that she had to say much. I had seen Quehart in action at the farmers' market, whenever he had had a swig too many of his home-brewed cider.

So I stuck around as some sort of bodyguard for her. I was still very much interested in her project though - and it might interest you to know what it was about. A certain crystalline entity that she had once seen from the passenger ferry on her way to Omicron Theta. Before she met the other monster, the one she married.

She didn't know the thing was dangerous; there had been several wasted planets in its wake, but they were far away, and nobody made the connection then.

A xenobiologist specializing in silicon lifeforms, she was intrigued by the entity - and me.

Her project centered around the possibility of contact with the entity. She was certain it was sentient - an assumption founded exclusively on intuition in those days, but which as you know I later proved to be true.

The entity kept out of range of all normal scanners or sensors most of the time, but she had built some extra powerful equipment, and I helped her boost it further. We could detect the creature's movements - and it came close to warp ten, I tell you - but we couldn't hail it. Yet.

We felt we had to go out and look for it before it vanished out of range completely. So we got on the fastest passenger ship we could reach - a starfleet vessel naturally, the Untouchable; you may have heard of her, she's probably an entry in your database somewhere. As we had hoped, she passed quite near the entity, and we went out in a shuttle to study it.

Found that entry yet? If so, you know what happened. We couldn't believe our luck when the thing actually turned and came to meet us - only, the Untouchable was between us and it at the moment - and it stripped the ship. Opened her like a can of preserves in a colonist's survival pack, and consumed every humanoid, pet, and plant on board. Dinelle said it swallowed the ship whole and spat out the hard parts; it wasn't exactly like that, but if you take her words metaphorically, she was pretty much right.

Of course we fully expected to be next - or rather, I expected her to be next. I didn't know then that it could find any sort of life, however well hidden from most default scanner settings, so I didn't think it would take me. And of course I could live in a vacuum, if it ripped the shuttle. But I was worried about Dinelle.

There was no way we could outrun it in a shuttle, so there was nothing for it but to succeed quickly where we never had before. In my desperation, I simply opened hailing frequencies.

I could just possibly have made it at such close range, except that the very proximity of the entity caused an odd type of interference, and our channels only produced a wild shriek. Dinelle covered her ears and moaned. I could well understand her, but the sound also drove the creature away; it fled as quickly as it had approached. We had succeeded in our immediate purpose, if not in our longterm one.

Dinelle was shaking; frightened by the entity and relieved at our escape at the same time. I could tell she also had feelings of guilt, though she said nothing directly, knowing them to be irrational. She had not unleashed the entity, merely tried to study it. She had not even succeeded in her efforts to contact it, so how could she be at fault? The Untouchable would have gone through the creature's hunting grounds with or without us; we had made no special demands, knowing that the ship's route was scheduled right through the most interesting quadrant.

Still, Dinelle felt miserable, and I tried to console her. You'll probably say she clung to me out of despair, and I won't argue. Though I'd like to think it was something more, even then.

Anyway, she activated my sexual programme - and the feelings that went with it. I'm still not sure Dr Soong had foreseen that; the emotional connection, I mean. It may have been something I did myself. It certainly felt as though I had accidentally overwritten something again.

I could have stayed there forever, alone in the shuttle with her, but of course she could not. Her rations would run out, if nothing else. So we sent out a distress signal and within three days a Ferengi freighter picked us up. We had to pay our fare of course - the Ferengi don't do rescue missions out of charity - but once we had agreed on the price, they took us right back to O Theta even though they had to make quite a detour.

* * * *

We saw a lot of each other in the following days, Dinelle and I. Apart from our continued research, there was this endless hearing to determine what had really happened to the Untouchable, and why the Ferengi were now in possession of her remaining shuttle.

In the end we were cleared, thanks to the Untouchable's final log which described the menace in some detail. The First Officer had included it in her mayday call, issued to all ships in the vicinity when the entity was just about to start munching. She must have been a quick thinker, because she even - if just barely - found the time to change that mayday into its opposite - a warning to approach - once she fully realized what they were up against.

I know you'd say there are many humans like that. 'Xcuse my doubts - I never seem to meet them.

One of the more protracted issues at the hearing concerned the shields of the Untouchable. But she was only a Constellation class vessel, and as we later found out, nothing below Galaxy class would stand any chance for more than a few seconds, against a creature like that.

Still, it took time to straighten out all aspects of the 'accident' as they had the courtesy to call it, though I knew I was strongly suspected of having somehow engineered it. Not that anyone could figure out a motive, but perhaps they felt I didn't need one, being distrusted to begin with. But Dinelle vouched for me, in the face of public opinion as well as that of her husband, and somehow she even found the courage to continue her research. She felt it was now more important than ever that we learn to communicate with the crystal.

In the meantime, the two doctors Soong had finally set to work. I popped in to check on them, and there you were, already assembled, though no part of your consciousness was connected yet.

You were lying on the same slab I had woken up on, a perfect replica of me, yet so serene in your non-living state as to appear featureless. I really didn't think you looked anything like me, though both doctors assured me we would be indistinguishable from each other. It must have been an oversight to tell me that; I know they did not trust me either, any more than the majority of the other colonists.

It was fairly obvious from the way they never left me alone with you. I hung around for a couple of days just to make sure, and OftenWrong was always very careful. He would answer any questions I might have concerning you, but he or Juliana was always in the workshop, and at night he activated a forcefield around it. I took this as a challenge, so I tried to find the switch of course, but when I did, it turned out to be a soft one. The field was activated from Noonian's main console - by a command protected by an encrypted password. You didn't know him as well as I, but I assure you he wasn't one to write his passwords down and leave them about.

I meant to have a go at cracking it, but the night I sat down to try, there was a knock on the door. Or rather, a quite frantic pounding. I answered it, and there was Dinelle, in a torn nightgown, hysteric with fright, tears and blood streaming down her battered face. I caught her and held her, but she wouldn't calm down, and I soon found out why.

Quehart was hot on her heels, brandishing a club, no less. I quickly got Dinelle behind me and stood in the doorway, blocking it. He ran right up - I told you he had never been bright - yelling a lot of nonsense. Most of it was curses and threats he could have no hope of making good on, but I gathered that he had somehow found out about Dinelle and me - probably beaten it out of her to confirm his suspicions - and the fact that I was a machine somehow made it twenty times worse or so, and now he was finally going to kill her as he should have done long ago - well, you get the idea. Typical human male. Did I ever tell you the females are usually smarter? Not always, to be sure, but often enough.

I never said one word to him. As soon as he was within reach, I caught him, broke the club and tossed it away, since I had no use for it, and set to work. I had seen Dinelle's face, so I started in on his. Then - oh, all right, if you don't want the details. The bottom line then: I didn't kill him. Mainly because the Soongs were awakened by the noise and came to intervene.

OftenWrong ordered me to stop, and dammit, I always did as he told me in those days. Even much later, that time he summoned us both, you will recall I did as I was told - up until I stole that chip and it fused in, causing my subsequent malfunctions. Yes, I know he told me it wasn't compatible with me. I didn't believe him, and I was angry enough to be careless. Oh well, anyone can make a mistake.

Anyway, I'll have you know - though I don't rightly know why you should - that he never programmed obedience into me. I did as he wished of my own accord.

Not that he ever thanked me for it. Still, if you say he had noticed, then I suppose it was so. You never were a good liar, little brother.

But I digress. What happened was, Noonian flew Quehart to the local hospital, and Juliana took care of Dinelle. I suppose we all felt the sweet couple were better off kept apart. When Noonian came back, he and Juliana both set to work on Dinelle's face. They were of course as proficient in medicine as in cybernetics - had to be, or you and me would both be robots, not androids, and quite funny-looking at that.

They repaired most of the visible damage, but she never regained her astounding beauty, and for some reason I liked her better without it. Oh, they had done a competent job; she wasn't bad-looking, but her face had more character afterwards. Broken teeth and bones were of course no problem at all. Noonian replaced the former and knit the latter. He could have taken care of her husband just as easily - and none the wiser unless they spread the story themselves - but I knew when he took him to the hospital, that he didn't want to.

Somehow I appreciated that; I knew all hell would break loose when it became known who beat Quehart up, and so did Noonian, but I felt that deep down he agreed with me, or he would have patched the guy up in front of me.

That night I asked them straight out if they meant to replace me. Juliana looked sad and said they might have to. Noonian said he'd rather not, but it would depend on whether or not I could change my behaviour notably.

Somehow I doubted I could do anything that would convince the colonists of my good intentions after this. I might still be safer if I destroyed you. But I'd do it the way I had settled for, by inducing cascade failure. I had an idea I might know how to go about it - I could always start out with a few neat paradoxes; an immature positronic mind ought to be very vulnerable to them - you're welcome.

* * * *

Of course there was outrage at what I had done, but not as much as we had expected. A great many of the colonists knew Quehart for what he was, and they weren't impressed with his bullying. Not that they cared for me either, though. For a while we thought it would come to trial, though we wondered whether I could be indicted or whether OftenWrong would have to stand trial in my place. But it never went that far. Quehart withdrew his accusations, on condition that Dinelle not divorce him.

I tried to persuade her not to give in on my account, but it wasn't just for me - she wouldn't do anything to hurt OftenWrong after what he'd done for her.

So Dinelle refrained from divorce, but she stayed with us, and I was very protective of her. It won't hurt anything now to admit it - I loved her. Guess I had from the start. Unfortunately, I'm capable of that.

She continued her research from the common lab complex where OftenWrong had a work area - you saw it when you found me - after I had been to fetch her equipment, for she was too wary of Quehart to set foot on their farm again.

I brought her everything, including her cat. Quehart had killed her horse and her Carnelian parrot, but the cat had eluded him and stayed in hiding till I turned up.

We often wondered what Quehart was planning; he must have realized that our relationship continued, that in fact his wife would never again come near any male but me, and yet he seemed quite content as long as she did not formally divorce him. We couldn't make him out.

Meanwhile, the Soongs' work on you was completed. Dinelle and I were both present when you first opened your eyes. So was the cat; in fact she was quite taken with you, and you seemed as delighted with her. I admit I had been a little worried about Dinelle herself, but she seemed rather disturbed that you should look so much like me and yet be so incomplete. You behaved like a child more often than not, and your motorics were worse than mine had ever been; OftenWrong had to do a lot of tinkering because of that. His 'better construction' seemed to leave much to be desired in the beginning.

All the same, I found I couldn't do away with you - even if you were intended as my replacement. I knew you had the same potential as myself, and I had come to realize that you were the only one who did. I hadn't really reflected on it till then, but it now occurred to me that the two of us could achieve things that no sentient being had achieved before, that the universe would benefit, and that I couldn't find it in me to halve our chances - or perhaps those of the universe. I decided to let you live, and to train you myself, lest Juliana botch it again.

I did train you - we spent almost a year together.

I would work with Dinelle on her project in the daytime, go to bed with her, then leave her asleep and get up to see to your training all night.

I would download anything useful into you, then discuss it with you, answer your questions, explain anything you wondered about, tirelessly of course.

The Soongs were suspicious to begin with, but Juliana soon came around to the view that I could probably do a better job than she, and in fact she was quite relieved, since she needed the time I saved her. So they left me to it, and soon it was time to let you outdoors.

There was this little matter of clothes - you didn't see the need for them, and frankly, neither did I, though I had adapted to the common view.

Not that I could figure out why we had to adapt to mere humans instead of the other way around; especially as there were many species who did not use clothing, or not much of it in any case. Apparently, we looked too much like humans to have our own set of rules - except when it suited the humans.

All right, I did impart some of my 'rebellious' views to you, and Juliana was none too pleased. She insisted on that ridiculous modesty subroutine to end the matter, though I argued it should not be necessary; after all, you were a learning system, same as me, and if I had learnt to adapt.. For all her intellectuality, she could be a very stupid woman. Now don't interrupt - did you want to hear this story or didn't you?

Well then. Even I can't be in two places at once, and my work with you grew increasingly demanding.

I had to take you on long journeys, to visit the remotest farms, as well as the wilderness beyond, to examine everything about the planet: flora, fauna, geology - as I said, everything.

Eventually, I took you into space. Especially Juliana was nervous about that, but I always brought you back, and I was careful to avoid any quadrants where according to Dinelle's calculations we would run the risk of meeting the entity. I still doubted we'd be in any danger from it, but Dinelle wanted us to make sure. Often, she would join us - those trips meant a lot to me.

Things had been quiet for so long that we had come to disregard Quehart entirely. Sometimes I was sure Dinelle simply forgot about him, for days on end.

Then one day we were all gone, except Dinelle who was close to a breakthrough in her communications efforts, and did not want to leave her work. The Soongs were off to Xenon II for a week, and you and I were out cruising for the day, teaching you to pilot a small vessel. I ought to have been more careful of course, but after all, there were other colonists in the lab area with her..

Only goes to show you can't trust humans. You think they moved a finger to help her when Quehart burst in, maddened with raw alcohol he had in all likelihood brewed himself? They may have had the small courage to hide her, but they were too late, so all they did was yelp and scatter. Not one of them had a phaser; they never brought weapons into the lab area. Neither did Quehart, but he killed her all the same. Beat her to death with some farming tool or other. Then he took off for the forests on the other side of the planet - guess he knew I'd come after him.

We got back in the evening, you and I. The lab area was empty, but for her. I walked in first and found her. What there was left to find..

I guess we both knew what had happened, but you asked around to verify the obvious. Me, I was in no shape to confront anyone. You even remembered to feed the cat - I both laughed and cried at that. I'm not sure I would've thought of it. Perhaps you had imprinted that routine better.

As soon as I could, I went after Quehart. I thought you'd come with me, but to my surprise, I encountered the first significant difference between us. You said you knew I would kill him, and though you saw no way to stop me, you would not be part of it. Also, you felt obliged to tell the Soongs where I had gone. Well, they would figure that out anyway, so I didn't think that much of it. I left you behind, to care for the cat..

* * * *

I never found him. I knew he had to be somewhere in the forest belt but it was enormous, and something in it screened his lifesigns; my guess was the xernoes - you know, three-meter-tall rodents, mostly like Terran rats. I knew their lifesigns were very close to those of humans. I wished one of them could have got him, but I knew they did not take such large prey.

Frustrated, I began to visualize a hemisphere-wide forest fire, to wipe out both Quehart and his ratty 'friends'. But I soon had a better idea..

As I returned home, I found that some of the colonists had petitioned Soong to destroy me. Preferably both of us, but at least me. Humans will stick together when you least expect it; must be their flawed sense of logic. They hated Quehart's guts, but at the thought that I might have killed a human..

I kept telling OftenWrong and anyone who cared to listen that I had not found Quehart, but they refused to believe me. At least the colonists did, and I'm pretty sure our dear father didn't care for my side of the story either. He just said I had to admit I had gone after the guy. Whereas you had refused; he blandly rubbed that in too.

I had always meant to continue Dinelle's work, and now that I realized that my fate was sealed, I found a practical reason to do so. If I could talk to the entity, guide it to me, it would be better than a forest fire. Problem was of course to control it enough to keep it largely on the far side of the planet. I wanted it to strip the forest area there, that should be enough for the colonists to realize the extent of the danger, and I would be able to bargain for my life, holding the entity over their heads as it were.

I did manage to contact it. And it responded, but I could not hold any discussions with it. It was sentient, but not really intelligent. I would have to be very careful; contact it after a larger meal somewhere else, then lead it toward the lush forests, rodents, and Quehart - and then somehow convince it there wasn't really anything interesting on our side..

It all backfired of course. I knew the entity was thorough when it got going, but I hadn't quite realized how thorough. It ravaged the area I had led it to in no time, then started looking around for more. I tried every trick I could think of to hold it off from my side of the planet, and I did manage to stall it, but it wouldn't leave. It could detect for itself that there was more nourishment to be had.

Fortunately, it did not understand about lying. Whatever I told it, it believed - for a time. When it found me in the wrong, it simply ignored what I'd claimed, and there went another area. But it never stopped listening to me.

All the same, drastic as my method may have been, I can't really say I had any choice. At least, this way I had a weapon of sorts, albeit a very unreliable one. The colonists caught on almost immediately, as soon as the first devastation was wrought. As usual, they suspected I was involved, and this time I did not deny it. Instead, I walked right up to OftenWrong; told him exactly what I had done and why. That's right; you said he didn't seem to want to listen to you when you told him. He already knew.

I asked him to intervene for me, to plead with the colonists to grant me my life - and free passage off O Theta - in return for my calling off the entity. He refused.

He said I had no hope in hell of calling that thing off; my promises were as empty as the lands I had laid to waste.

He was probably right, but I still had some hope. I said I would not let it near the colonized area, but I wanted the colonists to think I would. He just shook his head and said I had done quite enough. All that was left now was for everybody to start packing.

"You can't hope to outrun this thing", I said. "Its top speed is blurringly close to warp 10."

He just stared at me, and that's the only time I ever saw anything even remotely like hatred in those turquoise eyes. Then he sort of tossed his head back in that characteristic gesture of defiance he usually reserved for fellow researchers trying to dissuade him from the more flamboyant aspects of his work, and he said, "I think I'll give it a shot anyway, thank you. I've faced down improbable odds before."

He turned on his heel, back towards the house. I didn't know it then, but he must already have had his escape route planned. Perhaps from the moment he first landed, under a false name, a stranger to all the rest until he felt he could trust them.

You see, he really did make me in his own image. You too, I suppose, though that must have been another image; he was a complex person, and yet he blamed me for being the same.

When I told him of the creature's speed he must have realized that he would have to give up on everybody else. If his escape route was a good one, he might just save himself - and possibly Juliana - but that would be the limit, and even that was not certain.

"Go ahead", I called after him, "but please leave me out of it!"

He turned his head.

"Oh, I'll leave you behind, don't worry", he shot back over his shoulder, then he walked on towards the house, and he didn't look back again.

I was surprised when we met him all those years later, that he showed no lingering resentment. Well, humans are forgetful, and a lot of time had passed..

* * * *

I accepted his decision. In a way, I was looking forward to being left alone on a desert planet - it would give me time to collect myself, to come to terms with all that had happened, perhaps to start anew, differently. I assumed he would take you. I would miss you, but I could always seek you out later.

As you see, I did not think it likely that the entity would get me. Then it stripped an outpost, largely manned by simple biocomps, and it got them too. All that were running at the time, that is; the one that was shut down was disregarded.

That worried me. After all, I had biofunctions too, same as you, and perhaps it really did not go for organic life alone. If we had had any hortas in the colony - or preferably outside it - I would have had a better clue, but we did not. I thought twice about my decision to stay - perhaps it would be better to try and persuade OftenWrong to take me with him after all. Just on the off chance he would make it. I decided I would at least find out what his escape plan was all about.

So one evening, after monitoring the movements of the entity and occasionally talking to it, I went up to the house to talk to the Soongs. And was given the shock of my life.

They had wiped you. Blanked your memory completely, and filled it with the colonists' research logs instead.

In an instant, all my work with you was lost, as was your emerging personality. Being a learning system, you would of course develop another eventually, but it would be just that: another. Right then, you had none. In effect, they had killed you.

Of course, you did not even recognize me..

That's when I decided.

I never asked them for a thing, I just went back to the lab, and summoned the entity. It had made a detour out in space right then, but I told it to come early the following morning, and I gave it the coordinates of the colony. Not that it wouldn't have smelled it out anyway, once I was no longer deterring it.

I had told it to hold off until morning, because I planned to be gone by then. I would get Dinelle's old research vessel and try to hide in an asteroid belt or a field distortion - whatever it took. But I had to pick up someone first. Dinelle's cat was still living with the Soongs; she was all I had left by then, so I didn't want to leave her behind.

As I entered by one door, Juliana just disappeared out the other, carrying the cat. I followed, and saw her walking towards a light flyer I had not seen before. Well, I assumed the cat would be in good hands. The Soongs valued all life. All biological life.

I turned back towards the lab, but its entrance had been concealed - perhaps Soong planned to come back one day, or else he hoped someone else would make it. He was out front, adding the final touches to something.

As he stepped aside, I saw what it was. You were lying on a slab in front of the laboratory entrance, deactivated. He was leaving you behind too.

I wondered briefly why I had ever expected anything else. He was after all very human.

I said, "If you won't take him, let me."

He spun around, I guess he hadn't heard me approach. Then he sighed, and came to stand next to me. He seemed more resigned than angry right then.

"So you're leaving too?" he asked.

I nodded. "Not on your ship though", I hastened to reassure him. "But I'll have room for Data. Please don't leave him here - let me take him, and I won't even ask why you're not."

"Juliana won't let me", he volunteered, and he put his arm around my shoulders, the devious bastard.

I've said it often enough, there's no trusting humans. But I swear he had tears in his eyes, and it caught me off guard though it shouldn't.

"I'll do you a favour", he said, and somehow his hand slid down to my side.

That's the last thing I remember, before waking up in the sickbay of your Enterprise. You know the rest.

I'm proud to say I've never trusted another being again. Though I daresay you came close.




*** The End ***