It took about a day for Data to return to peak operating efficiency. It was almost as though he had never had the virus. He returned to his duties as soon as possible, but still took some time to hang out with Katina.
About a week later, the Enterprise reached the outer boundaries of Noznian and Lylatian space. They were still a few weeks from Noz, but they would be passing a few neighboring star systems, including the Lylat system, since that was the last known location of Katina's uncle.
"Captain, we are being hailed," Worf announced, "It is from General Klopford."
"Where is it coming from?" Picard asked, "There are no ships around here."
"It is coming from the Noznian military headquarters on their home planet," Worf replied.
"Quite an impressive long range communication system they have…" Riker commented.
"On screen," Picard ordered.
An older, yet very athletic looking man with short, spiky gray hair appeared on the screen. The sash on his uniform was highly decorated with various medals and ribbons and he had five stars above his nametag.
"General Klopford, what a pleasant surprise speaking with you so soon," Picard said.
"Hello, Captain," General Klopford replied, "I trust Katina is well?"
"She is doing quite well here, and even making friends with a few of my staff," Picard said, "Is there something we can assist you with?"
"Yes, there is, actually," the General replied, "I have a mission for Katina. A test of her abilities. If she is to take command anytime soon we need to be sure she is capable."
"And how are we supposed to help test her abilities without revealing that she is to become your successor?" Picard asked.
"Quite simple, really, and she'll be eager to jump at the chance," the General explained, "I want you to send her with one of your crewmembers to survey a nearby planet. I'm sending you the coordinates now. Tell her it's a good learning experience. This planet in particular once hosted a conflict between the Noznians and the Wardons. As a matter of fact, this battle was the one my father died in. If she does indeed have the abilities we're looking for, she will find something very special there without even knowing beforehand that there was once a battle. All you need to tell her is that this planet could possibly have once been a Noznian colony."
"And which member of my staff should I send?" Picard asked.
"Anyone you feel she would be comfortable with," the General said.
"Very well," Picard replied. "Mr. Data, would you accompany Katina on this mission?"
"Gladly, sir," Data nodded.
"The android, eh?" Klopford commented. "Hmm, my granddaughter always made interesting choices in friends. Oh, and Starfleet wanted me to pass along this message: They want you to survey other M-class planets in this area in the meantime. Might like to set up a few colonies along the Noznian border someday after all this business with the Wardons is over. We'd be happy to accept them here, and I'm sure our Lylatian neighbors would appreciate some new friends."
"Do you think it wise for us to leave your granddaughter behind on some alien planet?" Picard asked.
"THAT is why I wanted you to send a crewmember with her, to supervise and protect her. And since you're sending her in a shuttlecraft they can return once they're done down there without having to wait for you guys to get within transporter range. Recent scans have shown no indications of intelligent life down there for the last decade anyway, and atmospheric conditions have always been fairly calm," Klopford explained.
"Very well," Picard said, "we will send her with Commander Data when we arrive at the planet. Picard out." The communication was closed.
Picard faced Data. "Mr. Data, please go inform Katina about her mission. Tell her that we wanted to send someone down to investigate what could be an ancient Noznian colony and that we thought she might like to assist. You will be departing from shuttlebay two at 1500 hours."
"Aye sir," Data acknowledged, getting up from his station and heading toward the turbolift.
(a few minutes later)
"C'mon in," Katina called out when she heard her door chime go off. Data entered the room. "Oh, hey Data," Katina greeted him, "I was about to get a snack. Care to join me?"
"No, thank you," Data replied.
"Well, have a seat or something at least," Katina said as she walked over to the replicator. "Beef jerky," she ordered, and a plate full of pieces of dried meat appeared. She took them over to the table and sat down. Data sat down with her.
As Data was about to speak, Katina stood up again. "Dang, forgot to get a drink," she said. She walked back order to the replicator and ordered "a glass of blockberry juice."
"There is no pattern on file for that item," the computer replied, "Please provide a molecular sample."
"Gah! Fine then, peppermint hot chocolate," Katina turned around and glanced back at Data, leaning against the wall. "Y'all don't have blockberry juice?"
"I have never heard of a blockberry before," Data replied.
Katina grabbed her drink and sat back down. "Really? Geez I keep forgetting how little you know about our planet. A blockberry is a big, blue, rectangular berry. It kinda tastes like a raspberry from Earth, only it's sweeter. The exterior is kinda tough and thick and really fun to chew, and inside is a pocket of the best tasting juice you could ever get from a fruit. You don't even have to add preservatives, sweeteners, or even food coloring to it. It's extremely good right from the berry. I'll have to get some for y'all when we get to Noz." She picked up a piece of jerky. "So, uh, what did you want to see me about?"
"We have found a planet that may have possibly once been home to a colony of Noznians," Data explained. He had been working on how to best "lie" about the mission while walking to the room. "Starfleet wants us to check other planets in the area as well, so Captain Picard has ordered me to go to this planet and survey it. He has also asked if you might want to come along."
"Heck yes I'd want to come along!" Katina exclaimed, "An old Noznian colony? Cool! And if there's no one down there now… I bet there was a battle!"
Data could see what the General meant now. He was surprised at how quickly Katina's thoughts turned to the possibility of battle.
"We're taking a shuttle, right? I hate transporters…" Katina asked.
"Yes," Data said, "We will be departing from shuttlebay two at 1500 hours."
"Can I help fly the shuttle?" Katina asked eagerly.
Data thought for a moment. "No," he replied, "You do not have the proper clearance to operate one of our shuttles."
"Aww, you're no fun!" Katina said.
Data thought about it a little more. "I could explain the functions and controls of the shuttle to you on the way if you wish."
"Eh, better than nothing," Katina replied.
Data's combadge chirped. "Commander Data, please report to the bridge."
"Acknowledged," Data replied. He stood up. "I must return to my duties now."
"Ok," Katina said, "See you later then!"
At the pre-arranged time, Katina met with Data in shuttlebay two, and they both boarded the shuttle. Data initiated the launch sequence, once again a perfect model of proper protocols and procedures. Once they cleared the shuttle and were on their way to the bluish gray planet below, Data began to explain the controls to Katina. She did her best to follow his highly technical explanations, and was even able to guess a few things herself.
"You seem to have a great deal of knowledge for someone so young," Data said, impressed at one of Katina's guesses as to what a certain display meant.
"I have my own plane at my grandpa's house," she explained, "I was a licensed pilot at the age of 8. Not unusual for most children on Noz to start pursuing more… 'grown-up' pastimes. I assume you know about our military?"
"Yes, I do," Data said, "A rather fascinating idea."
"I was going to join," Katina said, "But then dad got called to the starbase since they needed his engineering expertise on something, and he took me with him since he didn't want us to become separated for so long." She glanced out the windows and continued. "Most kids my age would have already completed the basic military training in their schools and been assigned to a division by now."
"Do all children on Noz have to participate in this training?" Data asked.
"It's mandatory for Noznian children, but optional for humans," Katina explained, "If a parent doesn't want their kid to do it, all they have to do is tell the school no and the child will go through a normal human education. Most kids want to participate, since they think becoming young soldiers like their Noznian counterparts is really cool, but the parents always have the final say. Surprisingly to most outsiders, a lot of parents will actually approve of their kid joining the military so young, since most kids these days are the children of parents who served as kids themselves, and are STILL SERVING as adults. My mom was in the military, of course. She was supposed to take Grandpa's place as General, since she was his oldest child. Dad didn't want to be in the military, and wasn't too keen on the idea of me joining either. Sometimes I think that's one of the reasons why he brought me with him to the starbase…"
Something beeped on Data's console, indicating that they were on the final approach to the planet's surface and that autopilot would soon be disabled. Data took the controls once again and began their descent, advising Katina to buckle up "just to be safe."
As they flew down, Data also performed a scan, which basically told them everything the General had said before: No signs of sentient life, though there was some vegetation. What intrigued Data about the scan was that it indicated an odd energy source, which Katina suggested was simply something the Noznians or the Wardons may have left behind.
They landed very smoothly in a clearing amidst some rocks and trees. Once Data had confirmed that the air was indeed breathable, both he and Katina left the shuttlecraft.
An odd, yet powerful feeling overcame Katina as she set foot on the grayish soil. She stood very still and silent for a moment. "There's something… something around here. It's very important that I find it."
"What is it?" Data asked.
"I'm not sure," Katina replied, "It's a strong, almost urgent feeling. Nothing dangerous, but it's like something is calling to me, drawing me near."
She began to walk towards the forest of trees. Data quickly followed her. "It is not wise to go off on your own," he said.
"I assumed you'd follow me anyway," she said, continuing to walk forward. "And if this feeling I have is right, you're in for a really awesome experience…"
"What is this feeling you have?"
"There was most definitely a battle here… in this very forest," Katina replied, "And we won it. I never thought I'd get to see this for myself…"
"See what?" Data asked. He was really confused by this point.
Katina turned and looked at him with a grin on her face. "The Spirit Charge," she said.
Chapter End Notes: ZOMGWTFCLIFFHANGER!!! Hehe, not really. The next chapter will probably be posted before this one even gets validated.