Kaylee had a hard time taking her eyes off the pale-skinned, golden-eyed man talking to the Shepherd. Or was 'man' the right word? His friends had introduced him as a 'him', and the way those black pants and sun-yellow shirt fit sure made it look like he was man-shaped underneath, but it wasn't like she'd ever met a mechanical person before. She didn't know the etiquette for such things.
She bit her lip, then glanced toward Inara, smiling at the sight of her friend sitting across the table from a dark-eyed lady with masses of wavy hair and a turquoise uniform styled like Mr. Data's. The two women were real caught up in whatever they were talking about, all elegant hand motions and bright, open smiles, as like as two peas, tea cups on the table between them. Even if Miz Troi was a Reader like River thought, there weren't no way she meant Serenity any harm.
The one with the forehead ridges who'd come with Miz Troi and Mr. Data and their Captain-- he might; he was awful fierce to look at. But for all he kept staring suspiciously at Jayne and had hardly but picked at his food over dinner, she'd noticed Zoë got along with him just fine, and Kaylee trusted Zoë's judgment of people a lot more than she did their merc's. Matter of fact, after being shot up by Reavers, Worf was a little dull for her first ever actual alien... well, either that, or he was like Jayne and his bald-headed Captain had told him to be on his best behavior.
Kaylee smiled again at the thought and glanced back toward the android. Mr. Data, now; he was more polite than any other guy she'd ever talked to, even Simon, and fascinating besides. She liked to fancy Serenity talked to her-- she had more heart than any other piece of machinery Kaylee'd ever tended-- but other than that time River'd hid herself and pretended to be a haunt, the ship hadn't never had an actual voice to talk back. Just the beating heart of her, keeping them all safe and close between worlds. Mr. Data might not have a flesh and blood heart, but it was plain to see he had all the rest; her fingers itched to see what he was made of.
She'd never ask to peek under his panels, though. That would be rude.
River looked up from where she stood next to Kaylee, then trapped a smile behind her hand and giggled. "He's a person, actual and whole," she said, in a whisper that didn't carry beyond the two of them. "Fully functional."
"You can read him?" Kaylee whispered back as Mr. Data turned to answer a comment of Book's, exposing his pale, perfect profile. "His mind's that much like ours?"
River shook her head, loose strands of hair flying around her face, though she was still smiling; she sounded fascinated. "His thoughts flash like fireflies, on and off; it would burn my hands to catch them."
Meaning one of his friends had thought that? Mmm, close friends. Kaylee bit her lip again, then took a deep breath and crossed the room, brushing nervously at the grease stain on her coveralls. Hadn't been any call for her frilly dress that night, and none of the other outfits she owned was ever totally spotless. Serenity was a working ship, though; so what if she didn't have a fancy uniform?
Book saw her coming and wrapped up whatever he was saying with an incline of his head; Kaylee beamed at him, then stepped up next to their visitor, tangling her fingers together to keep from reaching out and finding out more about him first hand. "So, Mr. Data. About, y'know, what we talked about at dinner. Our Radion Accelerator Core? I know she ain't a patch on y'all's engines, but she does the job. I thought you might like to see the workin's?"
"I would indeed," he said, blinking those pale, pale eyes at her. It made her want to shiver; he was the most exotic thing she'd ever seen. "You are able to access the core from inside the ship? We observed the flare of energy and the rotating motion on our approach; it seemed externally driven."
She grinned. "Sure. There's a few parts we have to service in suits, or wait 'til we're on-world, but most of her's inside where I can reach her. Only way to keep her flyin' if a part breaks out here in the Black. Ain't so much space we can afford a big fancy engineering compartment like what the Alliance have on those city-ships of theirs, but she's just the right size for us."
Data looked around then, taking in the kitchen space, the dining table where Miz Troi still sat with Inara, and the nook where the men and Zoe were gathered with a jug of the fine spirits the Captain liked to save for special occasions. "It does seem sufficient," he said, "for a spacefaring culture still driven by commerce. Is such a lifestyle common among the people of this system?"
Kaylee shrugged as she started leading him aft, walking toward the hatch to the aft passage. Mal raised an eyebrow at her, probably wondering if she needed backup; she shook her head in return, flapping her hand quellingly at him, and he settled again before their visitors took notice. "I don't know about common; it's like any other life, really. The Captain and Zoe and Inara didn't want to be planet bound no more; Wash went to pilot school; I've always had a way with the workin's of things; and the others... well, we've all got our reasons for bein' here. What about you? There a lot of androids in this Starfleet of yours?"
His expression didn't change, but he did look away at that. "I am afraid not," he said. "I am unique."
"Really?" Kaylee widened her eyes. There was only one of him? That made this chance to talk with him even more special. "That must be lonely."
"I do not experience loneliness as humans do," he told her, then paused, thoughtfully. "Though I do miss the presence of certain inputs-- certain people-- when they are absent."
"I know just what you mean," Kaylee told him, giving in to the impulse to reach out and pat him on the arm. "Serenity's never at her best when the Captain's off ship for long."
Data raised his eyebrows. "Does the ship have positronic neural circuitry, as well? I did not detect the presence of any such advanced technology when we came aboard."
Was that what made him tick, then? Kaylee had never heard of any such thing; and it must be awfully rare where he came from, too, if he was the only one of his kind. "No, she don't," she told him, thinking about what River had said about fireflies. "But just 'cause she ain't been programmed for it, don't mean she don't have feelings. Even if they don't look much like mine. Or whatever you've got. You can't slap a label on something like that."
He was quiet a moment; then he inclined his head to her, mouth curved just slightly like he wanted to smile but wasn't sure just how to do it.
"Miss Frye," he said solemnly, "you are a very discerning woman."
Kaylee beamed. "Why thank you, Mr. Data," she said. Then she continued toward the whole reason-- well, one of the reasons-- she'd dragged him back to her favorite space on the whole ship, and tugged him along with her. "Now, c'mon. I want to introduce you to her all proper."
And maybe, if she was lucky... they'd get to some more personal introductions, later.