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Data Finds (Another) Friend

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Second Officer’s Personal Log

Stardate 44297.9

In orbit of Tikledia III

The Enterprise has been ordered to report to the Tikledian system for shore leave. It has been some time since our last respite between missions, and I believe the crew is looking forward to spending time on what I have heard referred to as the “idyllic” beaches of Tikledian III. I have decided to take the opportunity to explore an aspect of humanity I have long been fascinated with: the enduring bonds I have observed develop between humans and other, lesser lifeforms, commonly referred to as “pets”. I am hoping that my exploration of this connection will aid in my understanding of human familial relationships as I have often heard beloved pets referred to in such a way by crewmates.

 

Geordi lay back, letting the sun beat down on his face, eyes closed, visor resting against the garish print of his vintage Hawaiian shirt instead of snug against the ports at his temple. The complete darkness was a relief he seldom allowed himself outside the confines of his quarters, but there was something inherently soothing about these beaches. The calm waves, the clear blue water, the warmth of the sun seeping into his bones. Just as he was descending into the deeper darkness of sleep, a voice interrupted.

“Geordi, are you asleep?” Data, looming over him, blocking the warmth of the sun on his face.

“I was about to be,” said Geordi, unable to keep the slight testiness from his tone. Giving up any hope of rest, he set his visor back against its ports with perhaps an over exaggerated sigh. Data shone above him, the sudden burst of his aura wiping away the last vestiges of annoyance. “What have you been up to, anyway? I haven’t seen you all morning.” The two were staying at the same beach house while on leave.

“I have been attempting to procure a companion, but it has not been going well.” Data, seeming to realize his looming was slightly irritating, sat in the sand by Geordi’s chair. “I was wondering if you had any advice on the proper acquisition-”

“Wait, wait, what?” Geordi interrupted. “A companion? Data, you don’t procure companionship. And, I mean, if that’s the kind of thing you’re after, I am definitely not the guy to ask for advice.” He shuddered, thinking of his own recent failings in that department. Data cocked his head to the side, his features twisted in evident confusion.

“Geordi, I am not referring to the solicitation of prostitutes. I am in search of a companion animal, what is commonly referred to as a ‘pet’ by humans.”

“Oh,” said Geordi, then he laughed. “I’m not sure I can help you with that either. Do they have pet stores on Tikledia?”

“I have been to the local market, but the only animals there were intended for consumption. I do not believe those types of animals would provide the appropriate bonding opportunities.”

“Ah, yeah. Fish aren’t very fun. Although they’re pretty good pets for a starship.” He was remembering his own childhood, sequestered on spaceships, the goldfish in the living room his only true animal companion. It hadn’t really bothered him at the time. After all, he’d always had more of an affinity for the mechanical than the biological. He smiled fondly down at Data, still sitting by his chair, knees pulled up in a semblance of casualness, gaze analyzing the swelling waves.

“That is true. Captain Picard would no doubt advocate for such a choice.”

“But you want something a bit more friendly,” Geordi finished for him. Data looked up, serious gold eyes wide.

“My goal is to understand better the social bonds that are formed within a family. I have found in my research that pets are an important part of family life, one I have yet to experience. I have had a father, briefly, and I have had a daughter, two experiences which have greatly enriched my life. I believe an animal companion may do the same.” Geordi nodded thoughtfully, considering his options. Stay here and soak up the sun to the sound of gentle waves crashing and the distant cries of children playing in the surf, or help his android best friend go pick out a pet. No contest, really. He got up, brushing the sand from his shorts, slipping into his sandals. Data followed, an inquiring tilt to his head.

“Well what are we waiting for?” Geordi said, flipping his towel over one shoulder. “There’s gotta be a pet store around here somewhere.”


It turned out Data had already done his homework. “I performed a search of the directory list of the businesses on Tixltla Island and came up with two establishments which may serve our needs. One advertises Tikledian native fauna and the other “exotic” alien lifeforms. I propose that we visit both, since I see no obvious advantages to either.”

“Okay, fine by me,” shrugged Geordi, sliding into the driver’s seat of their borrowed ground car. It probably made more sense for Data to drive, since he knew where they were going, but Geordi was still reveling in the novelty of piloting a vehicle on land, rather than in the vast stretches of space. The car hummed to life, repulsors lifting them a few inches off the ground. Geordi disengaged the autopilot, turning the car in the direction of the main road to town.

The roads on the island were little more than beaten pathways, but it made no difference to the hovering vehicle as they sped along, Data chattering about his research into the many benefits of companion animals. He’d just gotten to the well documented beneficial effects of pet therapy on sick children when they reached Main Street, which passed straight through and stretched the length of the tiny island town.

“Which way, Data?” Geordi interrupted.

Data tilted his head as if reading an internal map, then nodded at a fast approaching intersection. “Turn right here, then left at the third street down. It should be on the left-hand side of the street. There is a sign on the front which reads ‘Tikledia’s Finest: Pets for the whole family.’” Geordi tapped the controls just in time to make the turn, although the tiny vehicle gyrated wildly at the abuse. Data side-eyed him.

“Perhaps,” he said, “since I am the one who has access to the directions, I shou-”

“No way,” Geordi interrupted. “You’re the navigator, I’m the pilot. And anyway, since you just gave me the directions…” He turned onto the appropriate street, passing a few ambling pedestrians.

“I do not understand your fascination with this vehicle. It is a standard, old model ground car which is vastly inferior to the Enterprise, or even a more recent model from Earth.”

“Exactly,” said Geordi, grinning. “It’s old, it frankly handles like a lumbering elephant, it’ll probably break down if we look at it too hard, but that’s the appeal, Data.” It also didn’t hurt that whenever he did have access to ground vehicles someone else usually insisted on driving, not because they knew the way, but because they considered the unique vision provided by his visor inadequate to the task. Geordi did not agree.

“I still do not understand.” Data shook his head as if lamenting the insanity of humanoids. Or perhaps his own inability to understand them. Geordi was about to go into more detail when he spotted the pet store up ahead. He parked the car on the opposite side of the street, undoing his safety harness and shoving the credit chit he’d left in the car in the pocket of his shorts. While money was unnecessary for food or clothes or shelter in the Federation, there were some things that were nonrenewable by a replicator. Geordi assumed pets definitely fit that category.


Entering the store, the smell hit him first. A vague, musty scent of fish in aquariums and an indescribably tangy smell which tickled his nose. The store was filled, wall to wall, with aquariums. Fish of all kinds and sizes, with strange looking patternings and stranger looking appendages swam in each tank.

“Uh, somehow, I don’t think you’re going to find anything to cuddle with here,” said Geordi, looking at a contorted, octopus-like creature. Data nodded forlornly, but before he could answer a Tikledian had suddenly appeared before them.

“Gentlemen!” he said, a slight accent to his Standard. “Welcome, welcome. What can I help you with today? Perhaps looking for a reminder of your stay on our lovely planet? A bit of our marvelous fauna to take home as a gift?” He bowed slightly, the gill slits at his neck vibrating gently.

“I am looking for a companion. One with which I might share my life and create valuable, familial bonds,” said Data, gazing intently at one particularly intelligent looking cephalopod.

“Ah, well,” said the Tikledian, little fins on the side of his head flexing in some sort of agitation. “I’m not sure I can help you there, sir. Tikledians keep pets either for aesthetics or what use they might be for hunting, not companionship. Although that one, sir, is a particularly fine example of its species. I’ve seen him net ten fish in as many seconds.” As they watched, the cephalopod Data was observing with such intensity jerked wildly revealing numerous limbs which had been concealed by the silt at the bottom of the tank. Geordi jerked back in surprise as the limbs slammed rather limply against the glass. The Tikledian shopkeeper and Data did not react, except for the Tikledian emitting a slight chuckle.

“He also has a sense of humor, as you can see.”

“Fascinating,” said Data. “I did not know that lower lifeforms could possess humor, something I find difficult to master. Tell me, what has made you determine this particular creature possesses a sense of humor?”

The Tikledian’s bulbous eyes slitted in surprise, protruding mouth opening and closing as if lost for words. “Well, sir, I suppose I don’t know for sure. But it seems to me he likes scaring the tourists, you know.” He waved a webbed hand toward the tank, indicating the cephalopod's recent actions.

“Fascinating. I would like this one please. How many credits?” Data straightened, reaching into his pocket for his own credit chit.

“Whoa, whoa, now hold on a minute, Data.” Geordi drew his friend aside with some urgency, far enough away that the delighted looking Tikledian could not easily overhear them. “Don’t you think you should look around a little more? See what your options are?”

“But I wish to study this creature. If what Mr. Artklx says is true, he could very well be a valuable resource for understanding not just the processes of lower lifeforms, but the more base instincts of higher ones. Humor, for instance, I believe-”

“Data,” Geordi interrupted before he could really get going on the finer points of organic beings’ funny bones, “Data, I’m pretty sure that Mr. er, Arteekle, is doing nothing more than anthropomorphizing that thing. The giant octopus doesn’t have a sense of humor, okay?” He flailed slightly to emphasize his point. Why couldn’t Data just get a dog like everybody else?

“But Geordi-”

“No! Data, look, you came on this mission to find an animal you could bond with, who could be a part of your family. If you just want to study it, that’s really not a good foundation for creating familial relationships.”

“I see,” said Data, slowly, in that way he had right before he was about to drop some uncomfortable truths. “Does that mean my relationship with Lal was not truly familial? I created her as a daughter, but I also wished to know if I could replicate my father’s work. In that way, our relationship was based on a study. For that matter, I am the product of my father’s research, does that make him not truly my father?”

“Uh, no, of course not, Data. You’re overthinking this. Let’s just… go get a dog or something, please?” Geordi tugged Data towards the door, making his swift apologies for taking up the Tikledian’s time to the shopkeeper as he hustled Data out the door.

“I suppose it would be impractical to house a creature of such size and needs on a starship,” said Data, sounding forlorn as he climbed into the passenger seat of the car.

“Exactly,” said Geordi, still feeling vaguely uncomfortable at Data’s earlier words. He wasn’t sure how to answer the android’s insecurities; perhaps it was true to some extent, that every bond Data had ever had was tainted in some way by scientific curiosity. Normally, Geordi wouldn’t consider this a bad thing, but maybe in some way, Data did. He shifted his grip on the steering wheel, wondering how to broach the topic before realizing he had no idea where he was going.

“So, Data, the other pet shop?” he prodded. Data had been uncharacteristically silent up until now, but he perked up at the request for more data.


The other place was less of a tourist trap. It was set far back in a large building filled with other shops, what Geordi thought might resemble Earth’s old malls. A sign in Tikledian outside read “Exotic Animals, Sold Here” but there was very little other advertising. Data stopped before entering to look through the window at a collection of what Geordi assumed were gerbils squirming around in a sod covered cage.

“Curious,” was all he said before pushing the door open. Geordi wondered if he was sulking over not getting his first choice, but that wasn’t exactly like Data. Geordi followed quickly, the smell of the place assaulting him first, even before the noise. It smelled musty with a certain earthy after tone that reminded him of a farm he’d visited with his family on a different leave. Then the noise hit, a raucous cawing and hooting and barking and growling, all seemingly initiated by Geordi and Data’s entrance. The shopkeeper, a human by the looks of her with short brown hair and a sullen expression, glared at them from behind a data pad.

“What are you looking for?” she sounded almost accusatory.

“I am searching for a companion to develop familial bonds with,” said Data.

“Good luck,” she snorted before returning to her datapad, paying them no more attention.

“Wow, I guess service really isn’t what it used to be,” said Geordi under his breath. Of course, Data heard him, but did not acknowledge, or probably understand, the joke. A few minutes of uncharacteristically listless browsing on Data’s part, and Geordi’s valiant attempts to steer him towards one of the smaller breeds of puppy, brought them no closer to a decision.

“Alright, Data,” said Geordi, finally giving up, “if you really want the damn octopus, we’ll get the damn octopus okay? We’ll make it work, somehow.”

“I do not wish to procure the cephalopod, Geordi. I am beginning to think I should not procure any creature.”

“What do you mean, Data?”

“My intent is to study the bonds that form between humans and their companion animals.”

“Yes, so? What’s wrong with that?” Geordi felt his impatience rising. If he were a slightly worse friend he’d probably be headed back to the beach by now, but this was Data, and Data was obviously upset about something, in his own way.

“I am incapable of forming such bonds myself. Surely these animals would be better served with a being who is able to love them? My attention would be purely scientific in nature, and, as you say, that is no way to form a family.”

“I didn’t say that, Data. And if I did in some way imply that, then I was being an idiot. There’s no one way to form a family, Data! I mean, look at you and me.” Data immediately gazed between them, puzzled. Geordi was about to say he’d meant it rhetorically before deciding that he actually hadn’t. “Why do you enjoy spending time with me?”

“You are my friend, Geordi,” was Data’s immediate response before he stopped, frowning. “I believe I see the analogy you are attempting to create. But, Geordi, you are not dependent on me for your social needs. I am not your only friend or your caretaker. The fact that I cannot love you does not negatively impact your life. Does it?” he sounded uncertain suddenly, and Geordi quickly stepped forward to reassure him.

“No, Data, no. I know you care about me in your own way. Just like I know you loved Lal, and your father, and even Lore probably. Just because it’s different, doesn’t make it worse, or insufficient, or whatever you’re thinking isn’t good enough. Trust me, any of these animals would be lucky to have you.”

“I-” he hesitated, looking at an orange cat curled up in the back of its cage, eyeing them warily. “I believe I understand.” He reached out a tentative hand to the bars of the cat’s cage, receiving a low hiss for his troubles.

“Maybe a more friendly one,” said Geordi, inching his way back to the puppy cages.

“No,” said Data, head tilted to the side as he watched the cat arch its back, claws extending. “I want this one.”