"Lal suffered complete neural system failure at 23.00 hours."
Data: The Offspring
It was quiet in the Ten Forward lounge. Few people were around due to the lateness of the hour. Guinan moved slowly and methodically from table to table, apparently preoccupied by the process of clearing up. But had anyone been watching her closely they would have seen that her attention was really engaged in observing the figure standing before the viewing port.
It wasn't unusual to find Lt. Commander Data in Ten Forward but his behaviour tonight was markedly different from the norm. Usually he was either talking to people or observing them. Tonight he'd done neither, merely stood for the last half hour, motionless and silent.
Guinan's course took her, quite naturally, to within a few steps of the android.
"Are you looking for something, Data?" she asked conversationally.
"I do not know." He turned to face her. "I have observed people engaged in this activity when they are troubled or confused. They appear to find meaning in it."
"I like to think it shows them a new perspective," Guinan said. "Could that be what you are looking for?"
Data considered. "Perhaps it is." There was a pause.
Guinan waited for him to say something else. When nothing was forthcoming, she said: "You know, talking to someone can also help put things in perspective. And I'm a very good listener."
"So I have heard," Data returned.
Guinan sat down at the nearest table and motioned for him to join her. "So, what's your problem."
"Lal is ... " He paused, to find the right word. "Dead."
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry." There was genuine sadness in her voice.
"I am troubled by my reactions to that event. As I explained to the captain and the others, her presence so enriched me that I have re-incorporated her programming into my own. I now possess her memories. And yet ... " he hesitated, a look of puzzlement on his face, "... I find it is insufficient to reconcile myself to her loss. Everywhere we were together feels so empty now. And even though I am equipped with total recall so that my memories of her will not fade with time, I cannot stop thinking that these are all I will ever have."
"You miss her," said Guinan.
"Yes, but I believe that response is inadequate. I would like to grieve for her but I am incapable of it. As I was incapable of loving her." He turned his head away as he said the last, his manner suggesting that he interpreted his behavioural responses as flawed, therefore making him inferior to her. "I failed her," he added quietly.
"In what way?"
"She developed the ability to experience emotions. Almost her last words to me were: "I love you, father." I wished to tell her I loved her in return but I could not do it. It would have been a lie, and she would have known."
"And was she hurt by the omission?"
"No. Her memories tell me that. She said she would feel for both of us and thanked me for her life. But not hurting her does not absolve me of failure."
"So what is your definition of love?" asked Guinan, quickly adding, "And I mean your own definition, not a list from your memory files."
He frowned, a human gesture which now became him naturally. "As yet I do not have one. It appears a highly complex emotion that covers such disparate areas of human life. There is love between males and females of the species, and between parent and child, and between friends and comrades. And yet it is not exclusively between one being and another. People can love their homes, their worlds, painting, music ... even food. As yet I can see no resemblance between these areas. A man who loves a woman does not have the same behavioural responses as a man who loves chocolate sundaes."
"Well, that's certainly true," acknowledged Guinan with a smile.
"And that does not even touch upon the religious and philosophical aspects of love," Data added.
"What does this variety of love suggest to you then, Data?"
"That there are different forms and expressions of it." A slight inflection in his voice suggested a query rather than a logical deduction.
"Precisely. And real love is expressed in the doing rather than the saying - guiding, teaching and sharing experiences. Words are nice but they are not always necessary."
"But I could not use the words because I did not feel the emotion."
"You mean you didn't feel a human emotion."
"What other emotion could there be?"
"Has it never occurred to you that as you are unique you have your own set of unique emotional responses?"
"But I cannot experience things the way that humans do, therefore, even if I do have unique emotional responses they cannot be valid."
"No? Then why did your relationship with Lal inspire a human emotion in her?"
Data frowned again. "I do not know."
"Maybe you should think about it. Try a new angle. Look at it from a new perspective. If you are completely devoid of feeling in any form, how could Lal have enriched your life? Why did you see the two of you as father and daughter and object to Starfleet's wanting to break up what you regarded as a family? Why did you retain her memories so that she'll always be with you and why is it important to you that you can remember her with clarity - or a cause of regret that these memories are all you'll ever have? Surely no feelings at all would mean indifference to her existence - and to her death."
She paused to observe the effect of her argument. Data's expression revealed that he was considering it but was still not convinced. "If it's not too personal, are there any particular memories that are special to you?" she enquired, trying a new tactic.
"She had observed that holding hands was a human gesture of affection, so she put her hand on mine."
"And what did you do?"
"I returned the gesture."
"It seemed appropriate." His face took on a look of intense thoughtfulness, as if he was on the brink of a new discovery. "Holding hands is included in my programming of love-making techniques and I have used the gesture in that context. But this was different. Lal held my hand as an expression of genuine affection, as her memories reveal that she was already experiencing the beginnings of true emotion. And I simply responded. There was no deception and it was not part of my programming."
"A spontaneous human-like reaction, in fact?" Guinan suggested.
"I had not considered it in that light." Data's expression seemed to brighten as he mulled over her words. "I returned a gesture of affection in the spirit in which it was meant. I have never done that before. Hmmph." Data's eyebrows lifted and he nodded almost imperceptibly to himself.
Guinan observed this series of angular movements that were pure android, reflecting that these human mannerisms which had begun as artificial had now transcended the machine and become so natural to Data that they were now an expression of his unique individuality.
"Thank you for listening," he said, rising to his feet.
Guinan smiled. "You're welcome."
A moment after Data had left, Deanna Troi entered. She glanced around the near-empty lounge with an expression of perplexity and then made her way over to Guinan.
"The computer told me Data was here."
"You just missed him," Guinan told her, noting the conflicting feelings revealed in the Counselor's face at the news. They suggested that Deanna had prepared herself for a difficult task and was now suffering a degree of anti-climax, relief that the task had been postponed and guilt because of that relief.
"Did he seem ... all right?" the Counselor asked.
"Ah, a professional visit," Guinan deduced.
Deanna sighed. "Yes, but ... " She hesitated, confusion and uncertainty showing through her usual calm poise.
"How do you counsel an android?" Guinan completed with a sympathetic smile that suggested she didn't think it an easy assignment.
Deanna nodded. "It's so difficult knowing how to proceed. He maintains that he doesn't experience emotion and I have never felt any from him. But the way he acts and reacts to things ... " She frowned, trying to find the right words. "It's as if he feels without feelings ... if that makes any sense."
"It makes a lot of sense," Guinan said, reassuringly, and motioned Deanna to the seat that Data had so recently vacated.
Deanna sat down. "But it makes my empathic abilities somewhat redundant," she explained.
"I doubt if that makes you the first Counselor in galactic history who couldn't monitor their subject's inner state," Guinan pointed out gently. "Empathy must be a great asset in your profession," she went on, half musing to herself, "but if I was troubled I don't think I'd care to be counseled by someone who could read me like a book but who lacked all knowledge of psychology, understanding and common sense."
Deanna looked a little taken aback for a second or two and then she realised what Guinan was getting at.
"You're right. What I should be asking myself is what a man in Data's position would be feeling - irrespective of whether or not he actually has those feelings as such."
"And what would he be feeling?" Guinan enquired.
"Much as I did when I lost Ian," Deanna said, sadness at the memory clouding her eyes. There was another pause before she continued: "It's strange, but there are so many parallells. Did you know Data was there when Ian was born?"
Guinan smiled in fond remembrance. "Yes ... in fact it was the subject of one of the first conversations I ever had with him. He was so full of childlike wonder at the event he was nearly overloading with the need to talk about it. For all that he's a walking encyclopaedia where humanoid biology's concerned, actually seeing a new life come into being was like witnessing a miracle for him ... and he was so grateful to you for allowing him to be present."
"He returned the compliment," Deanna said softly. "I was one of the first three people he revealed Lal's existence to and he invited me to the holodeck to help her choose what appearance and gender she would adopt." She paused again. "And we were both parents for such a short time except ... " Her eyes momentarily glistened and there was a tremor in her voice as she added: "Ian didn't really die, did he? He was a pure energy being who reverted to his true form."
Guinan smiled her most enigmatic smile. "Don't most religions say essentially the same thing about death?"
"Yes, but ... Ah, I think I see," Deanna said, as if not entirely sure that she did. "Belief in survival after death can be a great comfort to the bereaved but it doesn't make the loss of a loved one any easier to bear ... And even though Ian didn't die as such, I still lost the child I'd carried and given birth to." She blinked her eyes rapidly, then paused a moment to compose herself. When she spoke again it was with her usual serenity. "So, even though I cannot pick up emotion from Data I can offer any support he might need as someone who knows what it is to lose a child."
"Which is an experience no amount of theoretical knowledge can equip any of us to deal with," Guinan observed. "Right now, you're probably the only person on this ship who has any true understanding of what Data is facing."
"And I must be there for him if he needs me." Deanna straightened, suddenly resolute. She tapped the insignia on her uniform. "Computer - present location of Lieutenant Commander Data."
"Lieutenant Commander Data is located in his quarters."
Deanna stood up. "Thank you, Guinan."
"My pleasure," Guinan returned.
With the departure of the Counselor, Ten Forward was all but empty. And Guinan rose slowly to her feet and continued clearing up against the background of stars.