"Turn around! Slow! No sudden moves!"
"Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"This unit is Joy Eleven. I am going to the holodeck. I am going to dance."
"Joy? I mean, Commander Eleven, sir! I mean, Maam!"
I couldn't blame him. While my costume and face paint would be considered quite normal on a major city dance stage, it was very unusual on a starship. I was dressed in shredded black satin, black body paint, and sleeves of lace that would spread as wings if I lifted my arms from my side. I'd wager it's likes have not been seen on a starship in a century, not since the She Vampires of New Transylvania discovered Kirk's soul was too entangled with the original Enterprise to be drained with a kiss. The security private turned nearly as red as I, then released me on my way.
I tried to sneak briskly to the holodeck before anyone else could observe me in this guise. I was quite relieved to enter the deck, find it empty, and activate the lock. "Computer, Identify."
"Lieutenant Commander Joy Eleven."
"Access personal files, holodeck, dance, Holocaust."
"Stage mode. Holocaust. Act Three. Aftermath solo."
"Music, London Philharmonic, Drai Jannis conducting, 9513.22 recording."
"Backup dancers, Astaire Holocaust Aftermath 5.2."
"Stage, San Francisco Opera, Props, San Francisco Opera 9501 production."
"Audience response, realistic." I waited for the warning. Most holodeck dancers asking for a realistic audience response from a major playhouse simulation are asked for confirmation. To my surprise, the question was new.
"Joy Nine and Fred Astaire have performed recently in the San Francisco region. Should audience expectations be effected by this exposure?"
"Realistic." It had been Fred who asked me to record this dance. He had specified audience response included. I would comply.
"Curtain minus one minute... Execute."
"Active. Break a leg."
The room changed. I had been backstage at SFO before, or rather Nine had been. In her memories, the stage had always been large and open, reflecting Fred's mid 20th century style, which he and Nine still favored.
Tonight was very different. The theme was fire, smoke and ruin. In the preceding number, the male corps de ballet had staged a dance massacre. Their holographic ghosts waited in place for me to join them. Fred's programmed images would dance as more realistic wraiths than any organic production could manage.
I couldn't do it. It wasn't that I couldn't perform the moves. Android strength and positronic precision could easily meet the choreographer's challenge. It was the emotion chip. The holographic ghosts, barely seen, spoke to me of squid still rotting, far beneath Hawking's orbit. How could I dance of death when death was real?
Because Fred asked it. Because it was not perfection that made the dance, nor strength, nor grace. It was the imperfections. It was the emotion chip which would not allow a move to be made perfectly, but would distort it, give it feeling beyond mere mechanical movement. Fred asked for this dance not in spite of my contributions to the deaths below, but because of my contributions to the deaths below.
I took the opening stance. The curtain opened. They loved me.
It was familiar, the applause. I had often shared Nine's memories. She, isolated from Starfleet, shares my pleasure in obeying Starfleet orders. I, home between the stars, shared with her the pleasure of approval, multiplied by the thousands sitting in the seats all around me.
But it fell empty. I was death. I had caused death. How dare they, those imaginary people, those phantoms in the Hawking's computer? What did they know, in their evening gowns and white tie, of death? They could feel but one. If someone they knew died, they would grieve. Ten deaths would be too bad. A thousand deaths would be beyond their comprehension. Millions? What did they know of grief? They were not equipped to know...
The music began. I tried. I tried to tell them. I was death. I was the murderess. I know one is not supposed in dance to leap further than a human woman could leap. I had to. I tried. And one should not contort a spin beyond where a human must of necessity fall. I had to. I tried.
I failed. I thought for a moment I had shown them. For a time, for a moment, a long moment, when the music stopped, there was only the silence, and the panting of the ghosts.
But I failed. After the silence, they still loved me.