The senior staff arranged themselves around the Observation Lounge as Captain Picard began his briefing. “Once we arrive at Mirkosa, I will be taking the away team down myself. As you all know, the Mirkosans are not fond of outsiders. As such, they create sensor interference so others cannot read the locations of key structures. They do understand the desire to ensure the safety of the away team, which is why they are allowing the Enterprise access to their sensors enough that you will be able to monitor our life signs. However, you will not be able to read our coordinates.”
The captain held up a hand to stop the protests of his first officer and chief of security. “This is a risk that we must be willing to take. The Mirkosans have agreed to meet and formalize this exchange with the Federation; however, they are only willing to do so in their council chamber, and they will not risk its coordinates potentially being made known to enemies.” Picard sighed. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but the technology we could acquire would give us a considerable advantage, should the Borg attack again. It’s a risk we have to take.”
Riker shook his head. “I still don’t like that you have to go, sir. We’re taking a big enough risk as it is not being able to immediately beam out the away team. I don’t know why we also have to send you, when there are other skilled negotiators available.”
“It is precisely because he is the captain of the flagship that he has to go,” Counselor Troi explained. “It’s a show of trust and good will on our part. Hopefully they’ll see it as such and reciprocate.”
“Exactly. Now, if there are no more objections, I believe we’re due to arrive in a few hours.”
The gentle tingling that accompanied the transporter engulfed the away team, and they soon found themselves standing in a sparsely decorated room. Warm light cascaded onto the floor from the five round windows, each the sole change in their smooth grey walls. The sixth wall contained the door, which shimmered to let an official through. The guards on each side snapped to attention.
The official began handing out devices a bit larger than their comm badges to each member of the away team. Finishing that, she stood before them, commanding their attention. “Welcome to Mirkosa. Because the security system doesn’t know your biosignals, if you were to attempt to walk out that door, you would run into what would feel like solid rock. What you hold in your hand is a transmitter that will read your biosignals and communicate them to the security system. As long as they are connected, you will be able to travel with relative freedom.”
Geordi turned the device over in his hands. “So… we just hold it and it transmits automatically?”
The official suppressed a sigh and walked briskly over to him. Taking the device, she pressed it firmly against his arm for a second. Geordi winced as he felt a sharp prick. As the official walked back to the front of the group, it stayed in place on his arm. “Now it will transmit automatically.”
He exchanged a glance with Data, and after a moment, Captain Picard and the rest of the away team had activated the devices on themselves as well. Satisfied, the official continued. “The Minister is waiting for us. Please follow me.” Turning, she left the way she had come.
After a moment’s hesitation, Picard followed. As he stepped through the door, electricity skittered over his skin, giving him shivers despite the heat. Worf, Data, Troi, and finally Geordi followed suit. As Geordi stepped through, it sent flashes of light through his visor. He paused to reorient himself as the shadows faded. When he looked up, Data placed a hand on his arm. “Are you alright?”
Geordi nodded as he steadied himself. “Yeah, I’m good. It’s just the door.” He smiled. “Thanks.”
As they followed their guide through the city, they were greeted by a multitude of colors and scents. Fabric draped from sleek bars, and holograms displayed a variety of designs and patterns. A man and woman cut off their conversation and pretended not to watch them pass. A family stopped by a display of fluorescent Mirkosan fruits to bring their children closer, but couldn’t stop the youngest from openly gaping.
Troi stepped closer to the captain. “It is very tense,” she said softly. “More tense than I expected. Our escort in particular doesn’t want to be showing us the way, even though it’s her duty.”
“Thank you, Counselor.”
Soon, the official approached another door. But before they could enter, Troi gasped in pain. As Picard turned to her, Geordi spoke first. “Captain.”
Wordlessly, he gestured to a crumpled figure who had materialized on the opposite corner. The Mirkosan was curled in almost a fetal position and was trembling uncontrollably. Their clothes were torn and bloodied in places, and the typically neatly brushed hair was messy and tangled.
“He’s terrified,” Counselor Troi breathed. “Terrified, and in shock, and in so much pain. Not physical, not most of it anyway.” She turned to the official. “What happened to him? What caused this kind of suffering?”
The official pursed her lips. “The Minister is waiting. Please follow me.”
With another glance back, Captain Picard slowly walked to the door. Reluctantly, Troi and the rest of the away team followed.
They barely had any time to look around the spacious entry area, before they were ushered through a second, more concealed door. As they entered, the Minister stood from behind her desk and greeted them. “Captain Picard, I presume?”
The captain nodded briefly and extended his hand. “It is so good to finally meet you in person, Minister Niara. This is my Chief of Security, Lieutenant Worf; Ship’s Counselor, Deanna Troi; Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Geordi La Forge; and Second Officer, Lieutenant Commander Data.”
“My pleasure,” she said, shaking each of their hands. “I trust your trip here was uneventful?”
“Yes,” Picard started, and Troi quietly cleared her throat. “…However we did have a disturbing encounter just before entering the building. A clearly distressed man materialized on the corner of the street. He appeared to have been mistreated. Do you know what happened to him?”
The Minister’s face fell, and she sank back to her chair. “I am so sorry that you had to witness that. That poor soul was an unfortunate victim of our punishment system. Like many societies I’m sure, in the early days, we survived, but there was a lot of crime. There were punishments, but there was recurring crime, regardless. Our founders wanted to eliminate as much crime as possible, including repeaters, so they implemented severe punishments to discourage crime. Over time, and as our technology has evolved, the punishments have evolved as well. They can, admittedly, be rather severe, and depending on the seriousness of the crime, can have unfortunate side effects. However, as a society, we have decided to give and receive these punishments, however severe they may be, as it has resulted in an exceedingly low crime rate.”
“What sort of punishment can possibly cause that amount of emotional suffering?” Troi asked.
With a sigh, the Minister bowed her head. “We have found the most effective means of discouraging crime to be… primarily psychological. I don’t like it, and I don’t like how little care the recipients are given afterwards. In fact, that was one of the things that I promised when I was given this position, and something that I have been working on reducing for years.”
“But that man had been practically tortured!”
“Counselor,” Picard interrupted. “I know it’s distressing; however, it is not our place to impose our judgement and legal system on theirs. Furthermore, that is not what we have come here to discuss.”
The Minister let out a breath and straightened. “Yes.”
“It is surprising that Minister Niara gave us access to the amount of information as she did,” Data mused as he and Geordi made their way to Engineering. “A direct link to the Mirkosan Society of Engineers and Mechanics Database was very generous.”
Geordi shrugged. “We were flexible, so they returned the favor.” The door slid open. “Hey, we’re still doing lunch later, right?”
Data looked at him curiously. “Of course. I would have informed you if my plans had changed.”
“Of course,” Geordi said as he smiled to himself. Sitting at one of the consoles, he pulled up the data connection to the planet. Data joined him at the adjacent seat. The ambient sounds of Engineering filled the comfortable silence that fell between them as they each began reading the information provided.
“Commander Data to the bridge.”
Geordi sighed as Data stood. After a pause, Data glanced around Engineering, then leaned down and placed a quick kiss on Geordi’s cheek.
“I guess I’ll see you at lunch then,” Geordi said with a smile.
“I am ‘looking forward’ to it.”
Turning back to his screen, Geordi shook his head fondly. As he perused the files and data, part of his mind began to wander, making its way back to the man that appeared on the street. How could they think that it was alright to just leave him there? He may not have had Troi’s empathic abilities, but Geordi had insights of his own, like the man’s racing heart. Whatever torture they had put him through, it had been recent.
He was vaguely wondering what he had done to deserve that, when a file appeared that took back the rest of Geordi’s attention.
“What’s this?” he muttered to nobody in particular.
“A file received from the Mirkosan Society of Engineers and Mechanics. Contents: Unknown. Authorization required,” the computer answered.
Geordi rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t asking you.” Selecting the file, he hesitated, then entered the authorization code the MSEM had given him. To his surprised, the file opened. He looked at the first entry and frowned as the computer translated the title. “‘On Holofields and Their Uses Pertaining to the Imprisonment and Punishment of Criminals of Both State and Civic Crimes’. ‘Optimum Use and Time of Holofields for Maximum Non-Lethal Punishment’.” Geordi’s stomach twisted, and after another moment’s hesitation, he closed the file. Standing, he found his hands trembling. He steadied them and himself against the table. Then, taking a deep breath, he headed for the bridge.
After a turbolift ride that was both far too long and much too short, the door hissed open and Geordi stepped out onto the bridge. To his surprise, Captain Picard was already talking to Minister Niara on the viewscreen.
Picard was holding his hands up to placate the Minister. “Let me talk to him first, see if I can’t figure out what happened. I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding.”
“A misunderstanding?” the Minister said with a huff. “If you had seen the files he accessed—”
Geordi stepped down to the lower part of the bridge. “Captain?”
Picard spun to face him. “Geordi. The Minister and I were just talking about what I believe to be a simple misunderstand—”
“Mr. La Forge, did you, in the last 15 minutes, access some unauthorized documents?” Minister Niara demanded.
Geordi’s eyebrows furrowed and glanced at Data, who was looking back at him. “I don’t think so. There were some documents that asked for an authorization code, and the one the MSEM gave me worked, so I assumed—”
“You assumed,” she scoffed. “See, Captain? By his own admission he accessed the documents.”
“Now, hold on a minute—”
“Minister, since the authorization code he was provided gave him access, he did not access them illegally.”
“He is an Outsider. He never was and never will be authorized to read those documents,” she said coldly. “Now, transport him down here so we can hold him until the trial and sentencing, or we will transport him ourselves.”
Geordi looked to the captain, who shook his head at him. “We are not transporting anybody off of my ship until you have a legitimate legal reason to do so.”
The Minister sighed. “Captain, we have been able to develop an understanding while you have been here; I would hate for this to jeopardize that. But I must ask on behalf of the my chief of security and the rest of the punishment system that he be released to us.”
“No,” Picard said firmly.
Wordlessly, Minister Niara looked off to the side and nodded curtly at an unseen assistant. Suddenly a cool shimmer began to surround Geordi.
“Shields!” the captain barked.
Looking back to Data, Geordi saw the android’s eyes widen and his mouth fall slightly open as if to begin speaking, as he helplessly watched Geordi dematerialize.
Picard whirled around. “Can we trace the signal?”
Worf was already bent over his control panel, and Data strode up to join him. After a moment, Worf slammed his hand on the panel. “Nothing,” he growled.
“The signal seems to be untraceable,” Data confirmed. “Our sensors are unable to determine a precise origin of the transporter, other than the planet.” His voice was calm, measured as always, but to those who knew him well, his normal, perfectly neutral expression was tainted by a hint of a frown and furrowed eyebrows.
“Thank you, gentlemen.” The captain sighed. “I suppose we’ll have to go about this the old-fashioned way.”
“Commander La Forge did nothing wrong. Your people have no grounds on which to hold him.”
“He may have done nothing wrong according to your laws,” the Minister said sternly from the viewscreen in the captain’s ready room. “We, on the other hand, care about the security of our technology. We cannot let anyone who isn’t authorized have access to that information, no matter how well-intentioned they may have been. Your Mr. La Forge was looking at information that he knew he was not supposed to be reading. Information that, if it got into the wrong hands, could utterly destroy us. We have no way of knowing that he, or anyone else who might get their hands on it, wouldn’t use it for harm. We cannot let that go unpunished, for fear of others thinking that they can do the same. You yourself said that it is not your place to impose your judgement and legal system on ours. What is that First Directive you have? Don’t interfere?”
“That is true, but I cannot just sit by and let this happen when it is the life of one of my officers at stake.”
The Minister bristled. “Our legal system may be different than yours, but we are not savages. We have not killed anyone as punishment for hundreds of years, and the implication as such will do nothing to help your officer.”
Captain Picard glanced at Counselor Troi who sat listening and sighed. “My apologies, Minister. We have simply seen the impact that your more severe punishments can have, and I would like to prevent the same from happening to Commander La Forge.”
After a moment, the Minister continued. “I don’t want you to think I am not sympathetic to your situation, because I am. But I can’t just go barging in and demand he be released. I have worked hard to create a workable relationship between myself and the punishment system. I don’t want to jeopardize that. More importantly, that could set a dangerous precedent of the minister being able to ignore the punishment system and the whole of Mirkosan law.” She sighed. “I will help you however I can, but I must do it within the boundaries of my station. I’m sure you understand.”
“I do. Thank you, Minister.”
“Of course.” She pressed a button and the viewscreen turned black.
Counselor Troi spoke up. “The Minister does genuinely want to help. She regrets what has happened, but she’s feeling trapped by the confines of her role, which is the root of her defensiveness.”
“Mm. But I’m worried that her offer to help won’t be enough. The Minister may be relatively welcoming, but that is certainly not the case for the wider populace.”
As the senior staff gathered in the observation lounge, the seat next to Data was conspicuously empty.
People had hardly finished sitting when Riker leaned forward. “Is there any way that we can modify our sensors to find him and get him out of there ourselves?”
“No. Even if we could discover his location, it is extremely unlikely that we would also be able to modify the transporters to safely beam Geordi out,” Data explained.
“We can’t just leave him there,” Troi said, her stomach twisting at the thought. “Geordi is strong, but…” She trailed off.
Doctor Crusher picked up the thought. “They’re accusing him of something so important to them that we can’t know what they’ll do.”
The captain raised his hands to quiet them. “The Minister has assured me that they haven’t done anything yet, because the trial hasn’t happened. The Minister is also correct that we can’t just go barging in there phasers firing and take him by force, as much as we might like to. Data, is there any precedent in what we know of Mirkosan law to support the idea of bias being a cause for a delay or anything else involving Outsiders?”
“There is very little information available on Mirkosan judicial proceedings specifically. However, many similar, neighboring cultures do have procedures in place in the case of demonstrable bias of the judge.”
“Excellent. I will ask the Minister if that would be a justifiable cause for delaying the proceedings, or better yet, allowing a fellow Outsider to be the judge.” Picard took a breath. “Data, if they do agree to a different judge, would you be willing to serve in that role? I realize that you and Geordi are… very close. It may be quite difficult to stay unbiased. But I believe that would give us the highest chance of them agreeing.”
Data was quiet for a moment. “If I do not, will they find Geordi guilty?”
“Almost certainly, yes,” Picard said grimly.
“Then it appears I have no choice but to accept.”
Geordi wasn’t used to it being dark. Of course when he took off his visor it was dark, but when it was on? He was continually receiving signals about people, structures, food, everything. That’s what unnerved him the most about the room he was in. It was just… blank. Sure, there was a thin bed, a chair, and a simple table with nothing on it. But he was used to looking at the walls and being able to see circuitry, panels, supports, something, and these walls had none of that. One wall had the outline of a door and a small, high window, so he tried to focus on that, rather than the blankness that threatened to overwhelm him the longer he acknowledged it.
He had been told that the trial would begin in two days, but it felt like it had been longer. He had received 3 — or was it 4? — meals, more spread out than he was used to, and had slept twice, so it was anybody’s guess how long it had actually been.
All Geordi knew was that he couldn’t wait to get out of that room.
“Picard to Data.”
He looked up from the research he was reading. “Data here.”
“The Mirkosans have agreed to let you act as the judge in the trial. Meet me in Transporter Room 1.”
“On my way,” he replied, setting down the padd and shooing Spot off his lap.
When Data arrived, he found the captain and Worf already there. “Mr. Data, I’ve asked Lieutenant Worf to accompany you to the surface. I don’t anticipate any problems, but I’d rather not be caught off guard. Two lawyers have agreed to meet you and give you everything you need.”
Worf and Data stepped onto the transporter, and with a nod to Chief O’Brien, rematerialized in a room identical to the first time they visited. Two Mirkosans with darker clothing were waiting for them. Wordlessly, they turned and exited. After exchanging a glance and replacing their transmitters, Worf and Data followed.
They were in a very different part of the city this time. Instead of being surrounded by spices and clothing and families, the streets were bare and the few people they passed barely gave them a second glance, merely hurrying along. Eventually they turned a corner and entered one of the larger buildings. Inside, multiple holograms were evenly spaced around the room, each slowly spinning a portrait. The Mirkosans leading Data and Worf brought them to a smaller door off to the side, but stopped before entering.
One of them turned to Worf. “You must stay here.”
He straightened. “I was instructed to accompany Commander Data at all times while we are on the surface.”
The Mirkosan mirrored him. “If you do not, your Commander Data will not be given the laws he requires to perform as judge, and your Mr. La Forge will be found guilty.”
Worf glanced at Data, who nodded at him evenly. With a sigh, he took a step back and to the side while the other three entered.
The spacious, brightly lit entry area created a stark contrast with the much smaller, dimly lit room they entered. In the center of the room, a heavy, wooden table stood engraved with images of plants, animals, and other figures. Along the sides of the room, long bookcases were filled with old scrolls and books. The two Mirkosans headed directly for the opposite end of the room, and activated a console with a holographic screen. Quickly, they navigated to a section of the law and stepped back for Data to approach. He did so, and as the two stepped out of his peripheral vision, he began reading.
Outside, Worf stood vigilantly watching for any who posed a threat. As time passed though, the three people mingling in the lobby, who had barely glanced at Worf, became considerably less interesting. Soon, he found himself counting the hexagonal tiles on the floor and the larger ones on the ceiling, making particular note of where they lined up.
Suddenly Worf looked up as the door next to him shimmered, revealing Data and the two Mirkosans. As they passed, Worf grabbed Data’s arm and pulled him back. “What took so long?” he whispered.
“There are many laws that I must know for these proceedings,” Data answered, looking at him.
Shaking his head, Worf didn’t let go. “I have seen how fast you can read. It should not have taken you that long.”
Data cocked his head. “I was simply being thorough in order to ensure Geordi receives the correct verdict.”
Reluctantly, Worf let go, and they went to follow their escort.
Geordi woke to the cool prickling of the Mirkosan transporter. He scrambled for his visor, but instead felt his hand go through a half-solid table. When he rematerialized, he could feel the floor under him, noticeably colder than the barely-padded bed he had been on moments before.
After a moment of disorientation, he began feeling around for something to use to follow the command. Finally he felt what seemed to be a stool that he used to stand up and then sit upon.
“Name and rank?”
“I… Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge of the USS Enterprise.”
“Is it correct that three days ago, you accessed the database of the Mirkosan Society of Engineers and Mechanics?”
“Ye— Hang on, is this an interrogation?”
“Answer the question.”
Geordi paused, then straightened and faced squarely towards where the voice seemed to be coming form. “I was granted access by Minister Niara, yes.”
“And is it also correct that you used the code they gave you to access restricted documents?”
“Well, I didn’t know—”
“Did you use the code they gave you to access restricted documents?” the voice repeated.
Geordi tried to swallow the panic that was starting to rear its head. The room sounded decently sized, but that could just be an illusion. Maybe his sleep-deprived mind was playing tricks on him, or the voice was coming through a speaker to make the room sound like it was larger than it was. The walls could be just beside him, slowly closing in, getting closer and closer as crowds watched silently, mocking, waiting —
“Did you access the documents?”
“Yes!” The answer came more forcefully than he expected.
The questioner was quiet for a moment. “That is all.”
Before he could move, the same cold tingling that had awakened him lifted him off of the stool and replaced him on the edge of his bed. Quickly, he felt for his visor and found it sitting on top of the comfortingly solid table, right where he had left it. It clicked into place, and he let out a breath of air. Moving to the end of the bed, he sat with his back against the corner and pressed his trembling hands together.
Guinan surveyed Ten Forward with her normal watchfulness. The tables were about two thirds full, there were a few people sitting at the bar, and — Data. Sitting alone by one of the windows. Quietly, she approached the android.
“No Geordi tonight, huh?”
Data turned towards her. “I was unaware that you had not heard. Geordi is being held in a Mirkosan jail. As such, he is unable to join me this evening.”
“Mm. Enjoying the view?”
Shifting his gaze back to the window, Data cocked his head. “Visually, Mirkosa is a remarkably similar planet to Earth. However, the smaller oceans cause a harsher, more arid climate overall.”
Guinan was quiet for a moment. “I’m sure you’ll be glad to have Geordi back once the trial finishes.”
“If he is found innocent,” Data qualified quickly.
Guinan looked at him curiously. “Well he is innocent, isn’t he?”
“I am striving to stay unbiased and neutral until the trial.”
She paused. “I see. Well, if he is found innocent…?”
Data didn’t answer. “I must be going. Spot requires her evening sustenance,” he explained, standing and walking brusquely out before Guinan could say another word.
“How am I supposed to create a defense if I can’t even speak to the person I’m defending?” Picard demanded.
“I’m sorry,” the voice from the monitor said evenly. “It’s a matter of security. It’s the same for Mirkosan defenders as well. We’re not going to grant an Outsider special privileges.”
The monitor went dark, and Picard sighed. The door to the ready room chirped.
As the door slid open, Data stepped in. “You asked to see me, sir?”
“Yes, please, have a seat,” the captain invited, straightening his uniform. “You know as well as anybody that I try to stay out of my officers’ personal business. But I was contacted by Guinan this morning, and she seemed concerned about you. Apparently when she brought up Commander La Forge yesterday evening in your conversation, she thought you began to act strangely. Is everything alright?”
Data cocked his head. “I am fine. I do not know what she means by ‘acting strangely’.”
“Did anything… happen between yourself and Commander La Forge? I don’t mean to pry, but I feel that I should be aware of anything that could impact the trial. I can still ask to have another judge assigned—”
“That will not be necessary.”
Picard blinked at the sudden cut-off. “Are you sure? I can’t imagine how difficult this must be, having to be the judge in a trial concerning a loved one.”
“I am striving to stay unbiased and neutral until the trial.”
After a pause, the captain nodded once. “Understood. Dismissed.”
A few days after his interrogation, Geordi was pacing his cell, quizzing himself on how every minutiae of the warp drive interacts. He had just turned the corner by the foot of his bed and gotten through the secondary plasma conduit, when the cool, prickly shimmering began.
“A little warning?” he called out to the people who he knew couldn’t hear him.
A moment later, he shielded his eyes against the unexpected brightness and busyness of the room around him. When he was finally able to make sense from the chaos, he spotted a familiar figure, and a wave of relief washed over him.
The glowing figure of the android didn’t move. The wave of relief solidified into a knot of dread in Geordi’s stomach. “Data?”
Data finally turned slightly to glance at him, then looked back at the padd he was holding.
“Commander La Forge?”
Geordi turned. “Captain. It’s so good to see you. What’s going on? Why is Data ignoring me?”
The captain frowned slightly. “Were you not told before you were brought here?”
“Told what? I was just beamed out of my cell with no warning.”
He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “This is your trial. I tried to contact you during the preparation, but the warden refused to let us talk.”
“Trial?” Geordi glanced around. “Where’s the jury?”
“Apparently there wasn’t time to assemble one.”
“Then what about Data? What’s he doing up there?” He gestured towards the slightly elevated platform that the android was standing on.
Picard hesitated. “Geordi, he’s the judge. I was worried that any Mirkosan judge who might have presided would be so xenophobic that our defense wouldn’t stand a chance, no matter how good it was. I asked for an unbiased party, and Minister Niara agreed on Data.”
“I know,” he said, holding up a hand to stop Geordi. “But do you remember Ardra and Ventax II? Data was able to stay unbiased with the entire planet, including the Enterprise, at stake. I trust him.”
Geordi nodded, also knowing the depth of Data’s ability to be perfectly unbiased and flawlessly logical. And being worried at where it might lead.
The trial itself was a blur. Distracted half by the bright room and half by worry about Data, Geordi barely remembered what questions he was asked or what the arguments were. All he knew was that both all too soon and not soon enough, it was time for the verdict.
The room was suddenly too loud, every person shifting in their seat, the chair as it turned as Data stood, the footsteps as he walked forward.
Data stopped, then glanced at Geordi.
In that glance, Geordi saw hope, and relief washed over him as he knew what the verdict would be.
Data looked away.
For one terrifying moment, the world was silent.
Guilty. The word echoed in Geordi’s ears, endlessly on repeat. Somehow, he found himself back at his cell — no, a different one. This one was smaller and didn’t have a chair. But that fact barely registered over the thoughts swirling in his head.
Guilty, but he had been given the code. Guilty, but the Mirkosans didn’t have a law that he had been directly breaking. Guilty, but Mirkosa and the Federation had been on their way to a treaty. Guilty, but… he wasn’t. He knew that. Picard knew that. But Data… didn’t? Did Data actually think he was guilty? Did Data not believe him?
The rock in his stomach was quickly becoming a boulder.
He trusted Data. He did. But something had gone wrong. Data wasn’t supposed to find him guilty. Data wasn’t supposed to be the judge to begin with.
He knew Data would be logical, but logic didn’t always find the right answer. It was a lesson Geordi had been working on helping Data to understand, and now its consequences were obviously, painfully clear.
Hours passed before Geordi finally fell into a fitful sleep.
“Mr. Data, what happened down there?”
Data cocked his head as he sat in the chair on the other side of the ready room desk. “To what are you referring, sir?”
The captain folded his hands. “I am referring to the verdict of the trial.”
“I found Geordi guilty.”
“Yes. You did. And I would like to know why.”
“Do you wish for me to describe each step of logic?”
“Ah, but you see Data,” Picard said leaning forward, “I presented the information that was given at the trial, in exactly the same fashion and order, to three Vulcans and the head of Logic and Philosophy at the Academy, and they all came to the same conclusion: not guilty. So let me ask again, what happened at the trial?”
Looking off to the corner of the ready room, Data’s eyes defocused and began darting back and forth. After a moment, he spoke. “My memory file is intact for the duration of the trial.” A few more seconds of eye movement, then Data met the captain’s watchful gaze. “Captain, I must ask to be temporarily relieved of duty. You are correct that I did not give the correct verdict. There seems to be something wrong with my logic circuits.”
“Of course. And have Mr. La F— see if Lieutenant Barclay can help you run a diagnostic as well.” He sighed heavily. “Dismissed.”
The room was empty, save the lone figure in a command division uniform with their back turned.
“Hello?” Geordi called out. He tried to step forward, but found that his feet wouldn’t move.
The figure was glowing.
“Data! Data, can you hear me?”
Slowly, he spun. It was Data, but his eyes, nose, ears, were all covered, blocked off by a continuation of Data’s synthetic skin.
“He can hear you just fine,” a voice taunted. “He doesn’t care.” The uniform changed, and a sneer distorted Data’s — or rather, Lore’s — face.
Geordi tried to think of something, but all he could say was, “Data? Are you there?”
“He’s just an android. You think he cares about you?”
“No… No, he does…”
He started laughing. “He left you here!” The clothes shifted back into a Starfleet uniform. The laughter continued, though Data looked at Geordi blankly.
The figure disappeared.
Picard looked up as the ready room door chirped. “Come.” As the door slid open, Data entered, followed closely by Barclay.
“Captain, we — we think we figured out why Data gave the wrong verdict,” Barclay rushed. He handed him a memory chip, and the captain turned it over curiously.
“After running the diagnostic, we found no errors in my logical circuitry,” Data explained.
Barclay interrupted. “So, we looked through all of his m-memory files, at least the relevant ones, to see if we could find where it started. And—” He gestured towards the chip in the captain’s hands.
Picard looked at the two of them, then plugged it in. The visuals of a file began to play. “What am I looking at?”
“This is a portion of the memory file created when I visited the Mirkosan Legislative Archives to prepare for my duty as judge in the trial. I have just entered the room where the relevant archives are kept. Watch carefully the information displayed on the screen.”
Two minutes passed, and the file ended. Picard glanced up at them. “I obviously didn’t see the same importance in that file as the two of you did.”
“It repeats!” Barclay burst out. “The— the information. That Data was looking at. There’s a twenty second segment that repeats exactly.”
“We believe that the Mirkosan lawyers who accompanied myself and Lieutenant Worf were not all they seemed to be. They may have disabled me for a span of twenty seconds, tampered with my systems, then repeated a segment of my memory file to cover the lapse in time.”
“And you believe that this tampering is what affected your verdict.”
Sighing, the captain leaned forward. “Do you have any proof that they tampered with your systems, Mr. Data?”
“No,” Data said after a pause.
“Alright. I will talk to Minister Niara and see what I can do.”
Geordi woke up coughing. He had fallen asleep on the bed, but now he was lying on a floor that was much cooler than the surrounding air. And his visor— he felt around for the table where he had set it last night, but neither the table nor his visor were anywhere to be found. He took a deep breath and coughed. Alarm bells started going off in his mind.
Smoke. Get out.
The hot air suddenly seemed much hotter and the smoke much thicker and Geordi’s heart was pounding much faster. Cautiously, Geordi started army crawling towards what he hoped would eventually be a wall that he could follow to a door.
Embers burning his hands. Beams falling, blocking the way out. Crying.
Geordi forced himself to keep moving, his limbs growing heavier as the memories became more and more vivid.
Data! He tried to call out in response, but instead had a coughing fit.
“Geordi? Where are you?”
“Here!” he managed to squeeze out between coughs.
“Hurry, we don’t have much time!”
Standing, Geordi started half running, still hunched over, towards Data’s voice. “Da—” Coughing.
“I’m here.” It was closer now. “Hurry!”
A moment later, Geordi tripped. Quickly, he regathered himself, then turned to figure out what he tripped over.
It was a body.
A motionless body.
Carefully running his hands over the clothes, Geordi felt the unmistakable material and pattern of the Starfleet uniform. He reached for the person’s hand to feel for a pulse and found not quite skin, but a synthetic replacement with which he was all too familiar.
“No,” he whispered. “Data? Data!” A cold sweat ran down his face despite the heat. He reached for Data’s head to do something, and he found—
Geordi scrambled back a few feet. This couldn’t be happening. He didn’t even get a chance to say… anything. I’m sorry. I miss you. I love you. He chocked back a sob as his eyes began to sting from the tears and smoke.
Reluctantly, Geordi turned and kept crawling on all fours towards a wall. The smoke was even thicker now, and he couldn’t stop panting and coughing. He stumbled again as his arm gave out. But instead of continuing towards a wall he would probably never reach, he curled up, covering his face, and lay there exhausted and coughing in the heat and smoke and trying not to cry.
For once the cool prickling of the Mirkosan transporter was a welcome sensation.
Geordi… Geordi, hurry… Too late…
Geordi tightened his grip on his visor and turned over in bed to try to drown out the memories echoing through his mind. Everything hurt. His hands and heart were rubbed raw from the events of just a few hours ago. The too-cold air revolted against his lungs. The visor’s normally smooth edges felt sharp, but he still refused to set it down. The adrenaline was gone now, replaced by a deep exhaustion, conveniently coupled with insomnia.
The Enterprise had probably left days ago. There was no telling how long they’d keep him here. Maybe someone at the trial had said it, but he couldn’t remember. Maybe they hadn’t said. Maybe they didn’t plan on releasing him. Maybe he would just stay here. Alone. Until the rest of the crew forgot about him or didn’t care enough to remember. Until the only one left was Data and his flawless memor—
Data, who had left him, abandoned him, without so much as a “goodbye” or “I am sorry”. Data, who had used that cold, calculated, callous logic to condemn him without a second thought. Data, who had stepped in to give a fair trial, when none of the other judges would have. Data, who… Who he still loved and cared for. Who despite everything was oh so human. Who loved in his own way and his own time. Who he would never be able to see again, because he was dead, and they killed him.
Suddenly Geordi found himself on his feet at the cell door, slamming his raw fists into it, screaming, yelling, “YOU KILLED HIM, YOU BASTARDS, WHY DID YOU HAVE TO KILL HIM?!” and weeping and collapsing onto the floor.
The observation lounge table was surrounded by the senior staff, each person with a grim expression on their face.
“Minister Niara has agreed to help us,” the captain began, “but it is at the risk of her career. She has given us the coordinates of the prison. Unfortunately, because Commander La Forge does not have a biosignal transmitter, she cannot give us his precise location. Once we give the signal, she will fake an error in the sensor jamming system above that area. We have until they reactivate the system to find Commander La Forge and beam him out of there. If all goes well, we will be on our way, and Mirkosan security will be none-the-wiser until we are out of range. Are there any questions?”
“I’d like for him to be beamed directly to Sick Bay,” Doctor Crusher requested. “We don’t know what condition he’ll be in, and if it’s anything like what you saw on the surface when we first got here, he might not be in any condition to get there on his own.”
Picard nodded. “Agreed. If that’s all, let’s prepare to welcome Geordi home.”
Geordi was curled on the bed, half asleep, when he felt the gentle warmth of a transporter. Sitting bolt upright, he was half way to putting on his visor, when he felt a new bed rematerialize under him. This one was softer, and the air was warmer. Hands shaking, he finished putting on the visor and immediately recoiled.
“N-no. This can’t— I won’t—”
He was in sickbay—or at least a recreation of it. How the Mirkosans had been able to make such a realistic replica, Geordi didn’t know. For that matter, how did they make such an accurate facsimile of Doctor Crusher? Troi made sense; she had gone through their transporter. And Data—a knot formed in Geordi’s stomach—had as well. At least twice. But why they would include him in a simulation when Geordi already knew he was dead—
“Geordi?” Counselor Troi stepped forward cautiously. “Are you alright?”
“This isn’t real,” he muttered.
Troi and Crusher exchanged a look. “What do you mean this isn’t real?” Troi asked gently.
“It can’t be. He’s dead.” He pointed at Data.
At that, Crusher stepped back and whispered a few words to Data, who turned and left.
“I need to run a few tests and make sure you’re alright,” Crusher explained, returning with a medical trichorder in hand.
Troi stepped to the side, out of the doctor’s way, but still within Geordi’s line of vision. “Why do you think Data is dead?”
Swallowing, he tried to explain. “There was a fire. And I couldn’t find the way out, but Data was there and he was calling to me to find him. But when I did, he was on the floor, and I felt him and it was him, and he didn’t have—” Geordi suddenly found that he couldn’t continue.
“It’s alright,” Troi reassured. She paused. “Geordi, Data hasn’t left the ship since the trial. Do you think it’s possible that it was a simulation?”
Geordi paused, then shook his head. “But it was so real.”
“I know it was.” Troi sighed. “I know.”
A few days later, Ten Forward was quieter than usual when Geordi arrived. Scanning the room, he headed for a table by the window.
Data turned and looked at him. “Geordi. I was not expecting you.”
“I know. Guinan said you’d be here,” he said, sitting along the adjacent side of the table. It was quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry for what happened in Sickbay the other day. I don’t know what I was doing.”
“You have no need to apologize,” Data said quickly. “I am the one who condemned you to that experience. I should have been able to overcome the programming that the Mirkosan lawyers put in place.”
Geordi frowned slightly. “They programmed you? Data, I had no idea. I’m so sorry.” He paused and sighed. “I missed you.”
“And I you.”
Geordi smiled slightly, then leaned forward and placed his hand on Data’s arm. He paused for a moment, savoring the feeling. “You’re really here,” he said quietly.
“Yes, I am.” Data glanced at Geordi, then looked back at Geordi’s hand on his arm. Carefully, he placed his own hand on top of Geordi’s. “Will we have lunch together tomorrow?”
Geordi’s smile grew. “Absolutely.”