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The transformation had been a massive undertaking, made possible with help from the Vulcans, the first offworld species to make contact with humans. That memorable meeting had taken place in 2063, the year Zefram Cochrane had launched the first warp flight and alerted the spacefaring Vulcans that Earth was ready to take its place in the interplanetary community. Kathryn had studied all that in her history class. How Cochrane's revolutionary discovery had lifted Earth from the chaos it had endured in the early part of the twentyfirst century, how the arrival of the Vulcans had forged an alliance that carried Earth into a technological renaissance that eventually resulted in the creation of such now familiar conveniences as replicators and transporters. But the first great project was the colonization of Mars, and she was not clear on the details. However, she was not about to admit that to her father, and so she affected a nonchalant attitude and informed him, "I know all about that, Daddy. We studied it in school." And so there was no more discussion of Mars, even though Kathryn would love to have heard the details. Soon they docked at Utopia Planitia, the huge orbiting space station that also served as a shipbuilding facility for Starfleet, and then were transported into an operations center on the surface. It was a large room full of equipment-consoles, monitors, what seemed like thousands of blinking colored lights -- and people busy manning that equipment. Kathryn was fascinated. She wanted to stay in that room and try to figure out exactly what everyone was doing, what function all those blinking lights served. But that was not to be. "Mr. Data, would you please give our young guest a tour of the colony? You're familiar with the place, aren't you?" Kathryn noted that Admiral Finnegan's Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he spoke. "Indeed, sir. I completed an engineering honorarium here a year ago. I am thoroughly familiar with the colony and its environs." The cadet turned to Kathryn. "I would be pleased to act as your guide, Miss Janeway." Kathryn smiled inwardly at the man's formality, but she would never show her amusement -- that would be impolite. Solemnly she looked at him and said, "Thank you, sir." Kathryn looked at Daddy, who was already moving off with the others, heads together, in deep conversation. She felt a momentary twinge of something she couldn't identify as she saw him walking off. She was alone here, on another planet, and Daddy was leaving her. She felt her heart start to beat more quickly, and there was a funny sensation in her stomach. Then she heard the cadet's quiet, placating voice. "Strictly speaking, Miss Janeway, it is not necessary for you to address me as 'sir.' I do not outrank you, for you have no Starfleet rank at all." "Then what should I call you?" "Data would be satisfactory." "Data?" Kathryn tried to find a polite way to phrase her next question. "Is that a common name among your species?" "I have no species. I am an artificial intelligence, and so far as I know, the only one of my kind." Kathryn stared at him. She knew she was being rude, but she could hardly believe her ears. "Are you saying... you're not real?" "I assure you I am quite real. However, I lack any true biological component. I was constructed and then programmed." And, to demonstrate, he snapped open a portion of his wrist. Kathryn almost jumped. Revealed under his skin -- skin? -- was a mass of circuitry, a complex web of optical fibers and blinking lights. She looked up at him, amazed, and dozens of questions began flooding her mind. "Who made you? And programmed you? Where did it happen? How did you get into Starfleet Academy --" Suddenly she stopped and covered her mouth. "I'm sorry. I'm being too curious. Mommy says I have to be careful or I might hurt people's feelings." "I have no emotions which might be wounded, so you may feel free to ask me any question you like. I shall be happy to respond." And as they toured Mars Colony, Data began to tell her about his unique origins. Within minutes, Kathryn had lost her anxieties, and found that she was in fact comfortable asking him anything and everything, for he seemed to know more than anyone she'd ever met, even Daddy. "Terraforming Mars was a viable concept by the end of the twentieth century," he told her. "But all the theorizing was done envisioning only the technology that existed at the time. No one ever imagined making contact with the Vulcans, or what a technological breakthrough they would help us establish." They were walking outside in a Martian atmosphere that no longer required spacesuits or even O2 concentrators to breathe. Before them swept a vast plain studded with oak trees -- genetically engineered, to be sure, but recognizable just the same -- that grew to towering heights because of the low Martian gravitational pull. Beyond that lay the deceptively gentle slope that led to the top of Olympus Mons, the highest point on Mars (and three times as high as Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth); it, too, was covered with trees, though pines predominated at the upper elevations. "Warming the planet was accomplished in a fraction of the time twenty-first-century scientists had predicted. Water and oxygen were liberated from the subterranean permafrost and genetically engineered bacteria were introduced into the terrain. This began the terraforming process. There were colonists living on Mars as early as 2103, but they needed atmospheric suits in order to breathe outside a biosphere. Not quite one hundred years after that, Mars possessed a breathable atmosphere." They had approached a huge, man-made quarry that, Kathryn noted, contained water. "These are quarries left by the first mining projects on Mars," explained Data. "The earliest colonists utilized local resources, mining the elements to build habitable structures." Some of Kathryn's history lesson came back to her. "They mined something that helped them make concrete...." "This is correct. Basaltic regolith exists in large quantities on this planet. Refined and mixed with water, it forms a crude concrete. This process was far more efficient than trying to bring building materials from Earth." "Why is there water in the quarry now?" "When the quarries were abandoned, they filled with water from the underlying cave systems. Mars had quite a wet beginning, you see; rivers, streams, and lava flows carved caves just as they did on Earth." The pale being stared down into the clear water of the quarries. "In summer these quarries are quite popular as swimming sites." He glanced down at his small charge. "Although I am told that adults frown on children utilizing them in that way, since they are not serviced by lifeguards." Kathryn smiled to herself. This fascinating person said things that were funny, yet she was sure he didn't intend them that way, or even realize that's how they came out. But her mind had filed away an interesting piece of information: children weren't supposed to swim in the quarries. Why that seemed interesting, she wasn't sure, but it did.
Copyright © 1997 by Jeri Taylor