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The Stars to Hold Our Destiny

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Captain Jean-Luc Picard took an absent sip of earl grey and frowned thoughtfully at the information displaying on his desktop monitor. Behind him, diluted light filtered through the window from Starbase 96 where the Enterprise was currently docked. Tomorrow, they would begin the journey to Farpoint Station, where they were set to rendezvous with the remainder of the assigned crew. On the surface, it seemed like an easy enough mission, but Picard was not convinced it was as simple as it initially appeared. He took another sip and opened the file on Deneb IV and the limited information that Starfleet had provided about the Bandi and their mysterious construction methods.

His perusal was interrupted by a soft chirp from his Ready Room door. "Come in," he called curtly without looking away from the monitor.

The door slid open with a soft hiss, and Picard looked up to find his second officer standing in the doorway. Picard set down his cup of tea. "Ah, Mr. Data, what can I do for you?"

The android approached, stopping directly in front of the desk with a PADD in his hand. "Sir, I have been reviewing my shift assignments for the next two weeks and I believe I have discovered several errors in my schedule."

Picard frowned as he took the PADD, aware of Data's strange, golden stare as he viewed the schedule that he had written up for his senior officers the previous day. Though it was odd, he had little reason to doubt that Data was correct. Yesterday, he'd seen the android at one of the science stations, the screen displaying information at a speed that rendered it nothing but a blur to Picard's human eyes. Data's record files had noted his exceptional abilities to process and analyze information with a speed and accuracy that no organic species could hope to achieve. If there was an error, Data was definitely the one most likely to find it.

No immediate errors presented themselves however as Picard examined Data's duties. It was a standard schedule, splitting Data's time between operations, science, and engineering. The only non-standard element was a higher assignment of night shifts than normal, due to Data's lack of need for sleep. However, Picard had explicitly discussed that point with Data himself yesterday afternoon, and the android had expressed no concern at being assigned the night shift more regularly than his co-workers.

With a brief shake of his head, Picard held the PADD back out to Data. "I'm afraid I don't see anything amiss with your schedule, Mr. Data. What is it exactly that concerns you?"

"Sir, I cannot seem to locate my assigned duties during these shifts." The android pointed to several of the shift slots on the PADD screen.

Picard's frown deepened a little. "Those are your off shifts, Mr. Data."

"Off shifts, Sir?"

Picard set the PADD down and leaned forward. "Yes, Mr. Data, your off shifts. The shifts during which you are not on duty."

"Ah," Data said, his brow lifting. But then he frowned slightly. "Sir, you are aware that I do not require sleep, food, or personal maintenance. Nor do I have the capability of growing bored. I can easily perform self system diagnostics while performing other duties. It would be reasonable for you, Sir, to provide me with assignments during all shifts."

"No, Mr. Data, it would not be reasonable." Data opened his mouth as if to say something, but Picard cut him off, gesturing to the chair across the desk from himself. "Please sit."

The android obeyed immediately and Picard leaned further forward in his own chair, resting his arms on the edge of his desk, as he fixed Data with a stern expression. "Data, you are a Starfleet officer and a valued member of this crew. Simple because you are physically capable of working non-stop does not mean that it is correct to require you to do so. Not only would it be a violation of Starfleet work regulations, but frankly, it would be morally questionable at best. You may not be human, but you deserve the same benefits as your human co-workers."

Data was quiet for a few seconds, his gaze lowered as he seemed to process what Picard had just said. Then his golden eyes flickered back up to meet Picard's. "But what should I do when I am not assigned on duty?"

Picard's eyebrows rose in disbelief. "Don't you have hobbies, Mr. Data? Personal interests and pursuits?"

"No, Sir."

Picard blew his cheeks out, glanced over at Livingston swimming lazy circles in his tank, then looked back at his second officer. "Well then, do you have any goals, any dreams, anything you want to accomplish, anything you want to explore?"

"I wish to be the best Starfleet officer I am capable of being," Data answered. When Picard made a slight harrumph in his throat, the android quickly continued. "However." He paused and his steady, emotionless gaze wavered for a split second as he hesitated. "However," he repeated and continued, his voice soft, "I have also always had a desire to understand humanity, and, if possible, to one day become human myself."

Picard had only met Data slightly over twenty-four hours ago, and the android's impassive face and eyes made him hard to read, but there was something about the way Data had hesitated before his admission, along with the way he was now staring at Picard even more intently, as if searching for a reaction from his captain, that gave Picard the sneaking suspicion that Data had been mocked in the past upon revealing this particular dream.

Something hard settled in Picard's chest. His hand balled into a fist on the desk as he leaned further forward, making sure he had Data's full attention, his voice stern. "Data, aboard the Trieste, were you required to work every shift?"

There was another slight hesitation from Data. Then he said softly, "Yes, Sir, I was. However, I was willing to do so. As I have said, it seemed reasonable to me to increase the productivity aboard the Trieste by utilizing my extraordinary abilities."

"Whether or not you were willing does not matter," Picard said firmly. "They took advantage of you, Data, and violated several Starfleet work regulations by doing so." Data opened his mouth, but Picard raised his hand. "And yes, I realize you are a unique situation, but that still does not make it right. The work regulations apply to all Federation species, and while you may be unique, you are still a living being with the same rights as anyone else aboard a starship."

His voice became low and earnest. "You say you wish to understand humans and to grow in your own humanity. Well, use your off duty times to do just that. Talk to your fellow crewmates, make friends, visit the holodeck, find things you enjoy doing. I don't know how possible your dream is, Data, but if it is possible in even the slightest degree, that is how you will achieve it, not by running scans and data analysis every hour of the day and night."

His gaze softened minutely. "Do you understand, Mr. Data?"

Data nodded. "Yes, Sir, I believe I do." He stood and gave Picard another polite nod of acknowledgement then turned back towards the door, clearly having calculated that the conversation was over.

For a moment, Picard thought it was as well. Then, almost to his own surprise, he found himself standing. "Mr. Data."

The android turned back towards him, eyebrows arched in a silent question.

Picard walked out from behind his desk and to his bookshelf. For a second, he skimmed over the row of books before he found the one he wanted and pulled it off the shelf. He smiled faintly, running his fingers over the brown leather cover and the engraved title on the front. Then he turned back to his second officer.

"This was given to me by one of my professors at Starfleet Academy. It's one of my favorite books and most valued possessions. I'd like to give it to you, Data."

Data took the book gently and examined the title. "Selected Works of William Shakespeare," he read.

Picard smiled. "One of the greatest playwrights and poets of Earth. You want to understand humanity, Data, well look no further. You'll find it all in there. Greed, Ambition, Despair, but also Hope, Humor, Love. The entire stage of the human condition."

Data looked up from the book. "Thank you, Sir."

"Read it," Picard continued. "But, not the way you usually read things. Take your time with it, think about it, think about yourself. And if you like, I'd be happy to discuss each piece with you and talk about what you discover."

"Yes, Sir. I would like that very much, Sir."

Picard watched Data exit the Ready Room, until the doors slid back closed and he was left alone once again. He took a sip of his tea, still gazing at the door, then turned back to his desktop monitor. The file about Deneb IV was still on the screen, but instead of continuing with the information for the mission, he opened a new screen.

Picard spent the next hour writing a very sternly-worded report to the work regulations department at Starfleet.