Read an Excerpt
from Chapter 1
The room was dark except for a single circle of illumination on one wall. Within that circle, the shadow of a dog's head took form. The dog's mouth opened and closed, opened and closed, in a silent barking spree. It wiggled one ear, bobbed up and down a few times, and then its tongue
At least, that was what Data tried to make it do. The problem was that his fingers were already so twisted up he couldn't quite find a free finger to make a tongue.
"Data, I be in your presence," came a voice through the darkness.
Data already knew that the voice belonged to his roommate, Zhu Lniuhta'bihd, and he turned his head to see the small Tangonese cadet standing in the doorway. Data had said time and again that his android ears could hear Zhu's approach from halfway down the hall, and he could even recognize the pattern of Zhu's footsteps, as there was a slight shuffle to his walk because of the higher gravity on Earth compared to that on Tangoni IX. But Tangonese courtesy required Zhu to alert anyone alone in a room to his presence, even when entering his own dorm room.
Zhu stared at Data's contorted fingers, held up against the light. "What be you doing?" he asked curiously.
"I am attempting to form a shadow canine," Data explained, and to illustrate, he made his dog bark again. "However, I seem to be in need of more fingers."
Zhu chuckled. "You be very odd. Everyone else in the dorm be breaking their skulls studying, and here be you playing with your fingers."
Data lowered his hands. "On the contrary, my present activity is part of my extracurricular studies. At various times in Earth history, the manipulation of shadow images has been considered an art form."
"As I understand, so be spitting," Zhu countered.
"Really?" Data quickly searched his memory banks. No records related spitting with art forms, however. The android shot Zhu a quizzical stare. "Are you certain?"
The Tangonese chuckled again. "Data, you be very entertaining. I be glad you be my roommate." Data wasn't sure exactly what that was supposed to mean, but before he could ask, Zhu continued, "I be here to ask a favor. I must take an astrophysics exam tomorrow, and I be wondering if you have time to help me."
"Help you what?"
Again Zhu chuckled. Data noted how often Zhu chuckled in his presence and wondered if the Tangonese chuckled as much in the presence of other cadets. "Help me study. What else?"
"Oh. Certainly." Data tilted his head up. "Computer, normal illumination, please." The lights gradually came up. Data switched off his desk lamp. "What aspect of astrophysics do you wish to review?"
"Actually," Zhu replied, taking a firm hold of Data's arm, "my notes be in the study lounge. May we go there?"
Data barely managed to say, "Of course," before Zhu pulled him out into the hallway.
By now the android was used to helping his dormmates study. At least once a day somebody came to him with a class-related question. "What year was the Treaty of Algeron made?" "What is the atomic weight of eitanium?" "How can I solve Fermat's last theorem?" Since Data usually had time to spare, he was more than willing to help. He thought it only fair, since many subjects that cadets found difficult were easy for him, such as math, engineering, history, and hard sciences.
On the other hand, in the three months since his arrival at Starfleet Academy, Data had noticed that the subjects most cadets found easiest were the hardest for him. Philosophy, cultural studies, and interspecies diplomacy, for instance, often baffled him. Data possessed no emotions, and he struggled with abstract concepts like art, belief systems, or even fashion. He hoped that, in time, he would experience enough in his own life to finally understand the behavior of living beings, humans especially.
Data and Zhu reached the study lounge on the opposite end of the dorm building. Zhu stepped forward to activate the automatic door. When it whooshed open, he politely gestured Data inside. "After you."
"Thank you." Data stepped through to find the lounge filled with the usual assortment of cadets seated at tables, slouched on couches, or even sprawled on the floor, every one of them engrossed in study. But suddenly they all whirled to face him.
"Surprise!" Party hats appeared from under desks and behind stacks of data padds. Several cadets threw confetti in the air, and Cadet Cynthia Gallingston dashed over to Data and plopped a bright red party hat with a goofy green tassel on his head.
"Happy birthday!" she said, and kissed him on the cheek.
Copyright© 1998 by Paramount Pictures