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Geordi craned his neck up away from the padd, and his eyes met with Data’s.
“What is it, Data?”
“I was wondering- I overheard Ensign Smith and Ensign Klein discussing the shore leave on Risa this weekend, and…” Data paused, calculating how to bring up the delicate subject.
Geordi looked at Data quizzically.
“It’s all right, Data. You can ask me anything.”
“They were discussing… if I may put it in their terms, ‘getting high’.” Data said matter-of-factly.
Geordi’s face broke into a wide grin, and he started to chuckle.
“Oh, man.” he murmured under his breath, “No doubt referring to V’lar.”
“The Root of V’lar- a powerful hallucinogenic sedative similar to Earth ecstasy used by humanoid species both spiritually and recreationally. Grows in tall stalks near the polar hemispheres of Risa…” Data trailed off.
“If you’re contemplating reporting this to Captain Picard, don’t bother. What they do on Risa is their own business.”
“Ah. Like when Commander Riker-”
“Picard to LaForge.” Geordi’s combadge interrupted.
“Go ahead.”
“We seem to be having a malfunction in transporter room 1. I need you to get everything up and running immediately.”
“I’m on it.” Geordi began unscrewing the panel to his left, shifting into focus again.
“I will see you later, Geordi.”
Geordi waved, and watched Data turn on his heels and exit engineering. He could’ve sworn he saw a spring in his step.
“Aw, damn.” Geordi cursed.
“What is wrong?”
“Worf’s going to Epsilon 3 with Alexander, so there’s gonna be no-one to look after Spot.”
“This does pose a problem,” Data pondered, “On the contrary, Lieutenant Barclay seems to have an affinity for Spot. He is not going to Risa on account of that crowds make him nervous.”
“You’re the best, babe.” Geordi smiled and planted a kiss on Data’s forehead.
“I will inform him tonight.”
The couple continued to pack their belongings into their small, black briefcases. Data was done long before Geordi, so he sat on their bed to keep him company.
“I have been pondering our discussion yesterday.”
“Though I cannot say for sure, I have concluded that it is most likely that the root will not have any effect on my positronic system.”
“Data, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were disappointed.”
“Recreational substances, in both legal and illegal form, seem to be an integral part of the human experience.”
“Not necessarily. Some people go their whole lives without drinking or doing drugs.”
Data frowned.
“I remember when the crew were infected with the toxic spores. For those hours, I felt reckless. One could say unconstrained.”
“Or, free.” Geordi suggested.
Data’s eyes brightened at the suggestion.
“Yes, Geordi… I wish to feel it again.”
Geordi stroked his face tenderly.
“We’ll figure it out, baby. I feel good with you right here, right now.”
Data placed his hands at Geordi's waist.
“As do I.”
The woosh of the transporter sounded, and Data and Geordi materialized onto Risa’s calm surface. Geordi took in the surroundings while Data calculated the best route to their assigned quarters.
“Follow me.” said Data, taking Geordi’s hand.
The path Data chose was a narrow, winding gravel walkway that went through tall grasses and across rivers teeming with wildlife. They approached a thicket of tall, orange flowers with leaves wider than a human hand. Data paused to look up at the blooming flowers.
“Geordi, I believe these are V’lar plants.”
Geordi gaped, eyes wide.
“Well, we better keep moving.” Geordi finally said. He knew what they both were thinking, and now was neither the time nor the place.
Their quarters were much larger than those on the Enterprise. The walls were ornately decorated, and the bed was placed at the center of the room, adorned with numerous beads and veils. They set their suitcases down, and headed for the couch to play a game of chess.
Data had been thinking about the V’lar field ever since the moment he saw it. As he kept his husband warm that night, he wondered how he could alter the plant in order for it to affect his positronic net. V’lar was usually ingested in the form of a tea, but Data was sure he could modify it to fit his needs, if only he knew what those needs were. How could the plant create sensitivities to emotions that simply weren’t there? Wait a minute. That was it. He had found the answer.
“Morning, baby.”
“It is afternoon, Geordi.”
Geordi laughed.
“I slept in that late, did I?”
“You must have needed to rest.”
“I hope so, because we have a long day of relaxing ahead of us.”
Data hesitated.
“Actually, Geordi, I must go back to the Enterprise to retrieve something I forgot.”
Geordi was immediately dubious. Data never forgot things. He couldn’t forget things; that’s just how he was made.
“Data, if there’s something you’re not telling me, I need to know now.”
“I do not wish to alarm you.”
“Data…” he gave his husband a stern look. Data looked down at the ground, avoiding Geordi’s piercing gaze.
“I am going to retrieve my emotion chip.” he admitted.
“Your emotion chip?” Geordi almost couldn’t believe his ears. “I thought that you said it was too risky!”
“That assumption was false. Back then, I was still unsure about the effects the chip would have on my morality and psyche. However, now that we have been a couple for seven years, two months, and three days, I am sure that any possibility of my harming you is absolutely none. I was not ready for the chip then, but now, I am no longer afraid. I have no doubt I will always love you and treat you with care.”
Geordi took Data’s hand in his own.
“Come on,” he said softly, “let’s go.”
Geordi held the small grey box in his hands.
“So,” he asked Data, “How do you want to do this?”
“I believe our terrace on Risa would be a suitable location. People have always remarked how colorful foliage seems to stimulate emotion, and I am curious about that phenomenon.”
“I’ll have to run a full diagnostic on you first,” Geordi sighed, “But then we can get your chip up and running.”
Data nodded.
“Are you sure you wanna do this, Data?” Geordi said in a hushed voice, “I just don’t want this to change you. You know I love you for who you are, right? I don’t need you to be more human. Hell, I don’t want you to be human, because it’s just not you.”
Data paused, taking in his words. “It is true that I believed for a long time that I was somehow incomplete the way I currently am, but I no longer think that is the case. I merely want to share experiences with you. Though I cannot feel, I still have a desire to connect with you.”
“Isn’t desire a feeling? Curiosity? Confusion? Attachment? I’ve seen you experience all of those!”
“What do you mean, Geordi?”
“I mean that feelings may not be as clear-cut as you think they are, Data.”
“Then, are you suggesting my emotion chip will add to my current experience?”
Geordi sighed defeatedly. “I don’t know what I’m suggesting. I’m just scared.”
“If you are not ready…”
“No! I mean, no, it’s your decision. I just want you to do what makes you happy, but I guess I’m a bit bothered that you weren’t satisfied with things as they were.”
Data gripped Geordi’s shoulder reassuringly. “I am more than satisfied. The life we have built together makes me feel like I truly belong on the Enterprise.”
Geordi grinned. “I’m glad.”
The couple shared a quick kiss.
“Now, let’s get started on this diagnostic.”
Geordi and Data sat at a blue plexiglass table at the corner of the bar, each sipping on the same tall blue drink. Though the synthehol had little effect on Geordi’s system and no effect on Data’s, both enjoyed the intimate act of sharing the beverage. The exotic harp tune floated above their heads, making each more comfortable in their environment. Among the chatter, Data detected particularly strong instances of Federation Standard, Andorian, and Ferengi. It was a true display of humanoid revelry and indulgence that Data found absolutely fascinating.
“Data! Geordi!” Commander Riker’s loud voice startled them both out of their trance. “Never thought I’d see you here!”
They looked up at him to see that his arm was around a tall Andorian woman whose face also seemed to be a bit flushed.
“Hello, Commander.” said Data.
“Nah, you can drop that “Commander” stuff. We’re not on the Enterprise. Call me Will.”
“Hello, Will.”
“What are your names?” the Andorian inquired.
“I’m Geordi, and this is Data. Would you two care to join us?”
“Of course! I’m Mala, by the way.”
Will pulled out a chair for Mala and sat down across from his crewmates.
“So, what have you two been doing here so far? To be honest, I didn’t expect you to be in a place like this.” said Will, gesturing at the drunk, scantily-clad aliens.
“We have been experimenting with new technology.” said Data.
Will raised an eyebrow, and Mala smirked.
“He means- not that, he’s talking about how I’m trying to adjust his positronic net to be sensitive to V’lar root.”
Will’s eyes widened in surprise, and he then broke out into laughter.
“V’lar root? You, Data?”
“I believe it will be quite an interesting experience.” said Data.
“Data, your friend mentioned a positronic net. Are you an artificial life form?” asked Mala.
“Mala!” hissed Will.
“It is quite all right. Yes, Mala, I am an android. Since I wish to ‘get high’, Geordi is helping me in the process.”
Mala giggled. “I know a Ferengi who produces a particularly strong tea.”
“Thanks, but we’re making our own.” said Geordi, “I have to make sure it’s pure. I think I’ve got the formula down, but all that’s left to do is to test it.”
“Sounds like a fun time.” said Will.
“Homemade tea is a delicacy.” said Mala, “I’d love to try some, if you don’t mind.”
“Well, we’re gonna test it tonight, but I have to be alert to make sure nothing goes wrong. If everything goes well, I can invite you both over tomorrow to try it.” said Geordi.
“Agreed.” said Will as he raised his glass.