Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Light Fantastic
November 2385 (ACE)—The Present
The short-order cook finished wiping down the flat-top cast-iron grill with his kitchen cloth. He bent low to inspect the surface, like a billiard player lining up a shot, checking for dings or other small imperfections in the play surface. Some of the other cooks had the bad habit of smacking the flat-top with the edge of a spatula. He had been trying to dissuade them with both gentle reminders and terse threats, but he worked only the breakfast shift and couldn’t control what happened the rest of the day.
Still, he always liked to make sure the cooktop was clean and lubricated before he headed out the door. The diner owner, a Cardassian expat name Oban, didn’t mind paying him for the extra few minutes on his timecard, especially since the short-order cook was the main reason the business had been turning a profit for the past few weeks.
Before his arrival, the diner’s sole virtue resided in the fact that patrons knew they could sit at the counter and nurse a cup of tepid coffee or raktajino for as long as they liked without being rousted out, mostly because no one else wanted their seat. Now, thanks to the new morning cook, there was a line out the door most days, and the patrons weren’t only locals looking for a quick bite before heading to work. Word had spread through the food-lovers underground: Many of the patrons were tourists, eager to spend credits on eggs and bacon, waffles, and a strange delicacy called “chipped beef on toast.” Diners had started posting reviews on culinary sites, but only for breakfast. Sure, there was some spillover to the other shifts, but all the chatter was about breakfast, breakfast, breakfast and the wonder of this one cook who could crank out delicacies at a clockwork pace. In a world full of replicated fare, simple food made well was a draw, even if the customers had to find their way to a seedy little grease-stained pit in the middle of nowhere.
The short-order cook knew all about the buzz, but he never mentioned it. Oban paid him a decent wage, and the Cardassian was smart enough not to ask too many questions. Their conversations were limited to simple questions like, “You almost done there, Davey?”
The short-order cook didn’t respond. He was too absorbed with the process of re-lubricating the cooking surface.
The short-order cook looked up. Oban was standing in the narrow doorway that led to the prep kitchen and, past that, to Oban’s tiny office.
“Sorry,” the short-order cook said. “Wasn’t listening. You want something?”
“Yeah,” Oban said. “Come on back to the office when you’re done. Got something I need to ask ya.”
The short-order cook sighed. “Sure. Yeah. Be there in a minute.” He finished wiping down his workstation and collected his tools so he could drop them off in the dish room before leaving. Just before he left the kitchen, he pointed at the second grill station, the one where the lunch cook, an Orion native named Settu, was working. “Flip those eggs. They’re about to overcook.”
Settu pouted. “They’re fine. Barely been on the grill for two minutes.”
“Then you’ve got the temp too high. They’re going to go rock solid in 30 seconds.”
“How can you tell?”
Returning to the story begun in the novel Immortal Coil and continuing in the bestselling Cold Equations trilogy, this is the next fascinating chapter in the artificial life of one of Star Trek’s most enduring characters.
He was perhaps the ultimate human achievement: a sentient artificial life-form—self-aware, self-determining, possessing a mind and body far surpassing that of his makers, and imbued with the potential to evolve beyond the scope of his programming. And then Data was destroyed. Four years later, Data’s creator, Noonien Soong, sacrificed his life and resurrected his android son, who in turn revived the positronic brain of his own artificial daughter, Lal. Having resigned his commission, the former Starfleet officer now works to make his way on an alien world, while also coming to grips with the very human notion of wanting versus having a child. But complicating Data’s new life is an unexpected nemesis from years ago on the U.S.S. Enterprise—the holographic master criminal Professor James Moriarty. Long believed to be imprisoned in a memory solid, Moriarty has created a siphon into the "real" world as a being of light and thought. Moriarity wants the solid form that he was once told he could never have, and seeks to manipulate Data into finding another android body for him to permanently inhabit...even if it means evicting the current owner, and even if that is Data himself.