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'A Pet Makes A House A Home.'
The rustic-looking wooden sign had been strung over the back of an antique chair in the gift shop's main display window. Data stood in the bustling corridor of the space station and stared at it through the transparent aluminum.
"See something you like?" Geordi asked, retracing his steps to join the android at the window.
The two friends had been on their way to the food court, and Geordi could feel the savory smells of spices and sauces and fresh-baked bread drawing him toward the busy sandwich kiosk at the far end of the hall.
"Curious." It was almost a whisper. Data turned his golden eyes to his friend.
"Geordi," he said, "do you believe that statement to be accurate?"
"What, you mean the sign?"
Geordi ran his VISORed gaze over the kitschy antiques on display: roughly carved statues of birds and other animals; throw pillows with prints of various breeds of dogs and cats; colorful plaques and platters and mugs all festooned with clichéd puns like 'Life's a Beach' and 'Seven Days Without Chocolate Makes One Weak…'
The engineer grimaced.
"That stuff's for tourists, Data," he said. "I don't think it's supposed to mean anything."
Data's eyebrow twitched.
"I see," he said, and lowered his head.
"Data, is something wrong?" Geordi asked. "You've been a little…I don't know…down lately. If it's about that Ishara woman—"
"It is not," the android stated.
Geordi regarded him, but Data didn't return his gaze. Instead, he looked back at the sign.
"Do you consider your quarters aboard the Enterprise to be your 'home'?"
"Well, sure," he said. "Don't you?"
"I am not certain 'home' would be an adequate description," the android said, his calm voice entirely flat. "My…daughter…once defined 'home' as a 'social unit formed by a family living together.' While that may describe the Enterprise community, in a sense…my quarters are more of a 'work space.'" He seemed to be quoting someone. "'Not much room to live.'"
Geordi frowned. The android had barely spoken of Lal in the year since the system failure that had ended her life. Data had always held that he didn't feel emotions as humans did, that he was incapable of experiencing grief or hurt or loneliness as anything deeper than intellectual concepts. And while that may have been true, at least on some level, there were moments Geordi could swear there was more than just rational analysis going on behind those synthetic yellow eyes…
"Data…what are you getting at?"
"I am…not certain," the android said quietly and turned from the window, his odd hesitancy falling away as he resumed his usual perfect posture. "But, you are hungry, and I have delayed our lunch. Which type of sandwich did you wish me to sample?"
Geordi regarded his friend for a moment longer, but whatever contemplative humor had washed over him had apparently ebbed away. Data seemed bright, even eager, his customary curiosity soothing the engineer's concern.
"It's just over here, Data," he said, picking up the pace as they maneuvered through the lunch-time throng. "The flavor combinations these guys have come up with are so unexpected, and yet they actually work! Trust me, your sensors are in for a treat."
To Be Continued...