The power grid had been out for five hours. In the honeycomb warren of tiny boxlike rooms without windows, this meant thousands of people would die of suffocation long before hunger and thirst got them. Wesley Crusher paced restlessly in the confines of the box.
"They aren't working fast enough. People are going to be dying. Already I suspect it's affecting the elderly and small children."
"I doubt it will affect children as much," Amanda said, a twin in each arm, rocking them in the darkness. "They don't need as much air as adults."
"In absolute terms, no. Proportionately, they need more."
"I'm more concerned about candles. I think the material they built these out of is fireproof, but in my experience humans get panicked when they're left in the dark... and fire eats oxygen faster than people do and replaces it with something more noxious than CO2."
"Yeah, but who's got candles in this day and age?" The room was completely, unrelievedly dark, but Wesley knew where everything was, a necessary skill for living in a 7-meter-square box with a 2-meter ceiling. He paced without bumping into any of the absolutely minimal furniture of the room. "I've got to do something. Maybe I can go down to the power station and help fix the grid."
"That'd be drawing attention to us. If you swoop in and miraculously fix the grid they'll want to employ you. And then they'll want to know about your personal life. And then they'll find out about the twins."
"You're paranoid, Amanda. My personal life is none of their business. Besides, I could really use a job. I'm going stir-crazy living in a tiny box like this."
"You're going stir-crazy? How do you think I feel?"
"Yeah, well, it's not my species that put us all here!"
"Shout a little louder, I don't think all the neighbors heard you."
He lowered his voice. "Sorry, but it's true. You can leave any time you want to."
"Yeah, any time I want to be killed. Remember? I'm in hiding? I can't realistically leave any more than you can."
She had a point. He took a deep breath and let it out. "I'm sorry. You're right. It's just-- I can't stand living on the replicator dole. I have useful skills, I want to use them! I want to help. You know, for that matter you have useful skills."
"The most useful skills I have are going into these guys."
"Yeah, but... I can't help but think both of us could be doing more."
"How? Get a babysitter to watch our illegal twins? Each of us take a child to work?"
"That could work. Since you don't have to eat much we could afford replicator rations for one child's baby formula--"
"I am not feeding these children formula."
"You can't breastfeed them into omnipotence."
"The omnipotence is there. They just have to live long enough to access it. But as long as I'm breastfeeding them I can keep them free of disease, immunize them, all the services they couldn't have if the law knew there were two of them."
"So you're going to live in a box raising illegal children for eighteen years. And never go outside."
"Look, I'm trying to save the world. What are you doing? Aside from donating sperm to my cause, fun as that is?"
"I am going to go down to the power station and use my engineering skills to help get this grid on line so we can get light, and air circulation, and water, and replicators! I know what you're doing is important, Amanda--"
"It's the only important thing. Everything else is just treating the symptoms, Wes. There's probably only about 600 Q left and they won't reproduce because they're the ones who never want anything to change--"
"--Which is a remarkably stupid reason to kill other members of your race, given that that seems like a fairly drastic change--"
"--Agreed. But they won't reproduce. I was born human. I can think of these things. And twenty children with Q powers would make an army. As long as it continues to breed true, and it's doing okay so far."
"And you just have to figure out how to hide the fact that you're having twenty children in a world where you're only allowed to have one. I mean, Amanda, we're jumping through hoops to hide the fact that we had twins-- I was on board for the plan, but how are we going to hide twenty kids? We need to raise money and buy a spaceship large enough for a family that size because there's no way we can raise them on Earth."
"I just--" She took a deep breath. "Okay, you're right. Go help them with a grid, go get a job with the engineering corps. I'll be all right here."
"It's not that I want to leave you alone--"
"It's that you want to be away from me, and the kids. Natural human response to overcrowding."
"That's not it."
"That is it. I read minds, Wes, remember?"
"Read this, then. I was going to go into Starfleet. Can't do that. Then I was going to explore the universe. Can't do that."
"The Travelers may still manage to negotiate your way out of here..."
"Yeah, because the Q seem so receptive now to the opinions of other races." He snorted. "No. I can't do any of what I was raised to do, and as you pointed out I'm a sperm donor-- since you don't sleep and you don't let me feed them I'm not sure what use I am with Jeanne and Jacqueline. But I can fix things that break, and nowadays there are a whole lot of things that break. So let me go do something I know how to do."
"Don't be like that."
"Be like what? I'm not being like anything. Go."
"You're being short with me."
"I'm not being short. Go."
"Yes you are."
"Not until you tell me what's wrong!"
"It's nothing you can do anything about. I'm superintelligent and I'm going to be here, every day, reduced to babbling baby talk at creatures who can't even understand that much, and you were the only person I had to talk to. You're the only person I've had at all since I went into hiding. And it doesn't matter because we do what we have to do, and I chose to do this, and you're right, we need to get into space, so we need the money and I can't work and watch the twins at the same time."
"Hey." He found his way to her in the darkness and sat next to her, putting one arm around her shoulders. "Amanda, it's okay. I know you must be bored and lonely, but once the kids are older and not breastfeeding anymore you'll be able to get a job and we can switch off who's watching them. This won't be forever."
"I know. I know."
One of the two babies-- in the dark he couldn't tell them apart, in fact he had a hard time in the light-- began to fuss. "Hey, hey, don't cry, li'l J," he said, reaching out carefully to the baby through the darkness and stroking a fuzzy soft head. "Daddy's going to be back. Don't worry."
"She needs her diaper changed."
"You good on diapers with the replicators off?"
"Yeah, I have two stockpiled behind the toilet. Plus some wipes."
"What, did you see this coming?"
"No, I can't do that anymore. Anyway, if I had, I'd have stocked more, and some food for you. But I don't like to have to run over to the replicator every time."
"I get it." He kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I'm going, okay? Keep them safe."
The hallway was jammed with people.
They were trying to get out of the monad, trying to reach the transporter pads, which was utterly useless given that the transporters needed the power grid to work too. Wesley was bucking traffic, pushing against the tide of humanity and earning no small number of vicious curses for it, as he headed for the actual doors out onto the road, seven floors down and twenty-three blocks away. Since each block was comprised of ten dwelling units and each dwelling unit was 7 meters long, it was quite a ways to fight his way out to the road, where he planned to walk to the power station, since the likelihood that any of the monad's allotment of aircars were still available in the upstairs garage was about nil.
The traffic didn't lighten as he finally reached the bottom, although it did reverse direction-- those who were closer to the outer doors than to the transporter pad had headed that way. The road outside was jampacked with people spilling out of the monad. Mothers carrying babies, young man helping old men, pushy teenagers guiding smaller children, and independent adults clogged the road, all talking. The air was actually less fresh here than it had been in his home, where Amanda had been purifying the air by synthesizing carbohydrates in her body and breathing out oxygen like a plant.
"Scuse me, scuse me, trying to get to the power station, scuse me..."
"You think that's gonna help?" a middle-aged man asked him belligerently as he pushed his way past with his usual excuse.
"What, getting to the power station? I think I can help them get the grid back on."
"You work for the city?"
"No, but I was a Starfleet engineer." This was a fudge, of course; he had worked in engineering in his stint as Boy Genius on Enterprise, but had never formally been either part of Starfleet or the engineering department. "I think I can help. It's been off an awfully long time."
"Of course it has! You don't get it, boy. There's three million people in the monad. Three million people taking up space other people could be living in, using power other people could be using, breathing air other people could be breathing. If the grid goes down 'cause they overloaded it, well, all the city has to do is wait a day or two until half the people in it are dead."
"There's no way. The city would never do that."
"This isn't Starfleet, boy! Those fucking alien bastards took the stars away from us! Get your head out of the clouds and see life for what it is now!"
"They took down the power grid deliberately?" a woman with a child near them asked. "My kid almost suffocated in there!"
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't be surprised if that's what they all want."
"But my mother's still in there!" another middle-aged man protested.
"Well, you can't go back for her now."
"You're just spreading rumors!" Wesley accused the man. "You don't know anything of the sort."
"Yeah, well I hear things. We gotta reduce the number of people on the planet to a sustainable level, right? How the hell are they going to do that without killing people? Yeah, they've got the reproductive codes, but that just isn't gonna be fast enough for us to survive."
"They can't do this to us!" a woman shouted.
"Let's go to the power station. If they don't want to get the grid back on, we'll make them do it!"
Horrified, Wesley was swept up in the wave of humanity heading toward the power station. It was where he wanted to go, but the crowd was getting uglier and uglier, and he thought chances were very good they'd destroy the station and kill all the engineers there, thus dooming everyone inside the monad. Well, except for Amanda, who couldn't die, and the babies, who she'd protect, but it didn't console Wesley at all to think that of the three million people who would die at least his loved ones would be okay. He tried to shout over the crowd, tried to calm them, but they weren't having any.
If he could only get to the station first. For the first time, he tried to use his powers without trying to jump off Earth, trying only to step sideways through time. He could feel the power in him, could feel it working-- and lash back, making him stagger against the man behind him. Time was blocked in that way. Within Earth's blockade time could only go forward, and he couldn't stop it. He could try teleporting directly-- unlike Amanda, who didn't dare use any of her serious powers for fear of letting the Continuum know she was alive, his powers were innate to him, and since transporters worked he doubted the Continuum had blocked straight teleportation... but he couldn't do that, either. His power must relate closely enough to Time that the block affected it as well.
He started pushing his way through the crowd, desperately, pushing to the front. If he could get ahead of the mob, get to the power station before them--
A hovercraft loomed overhead with police markings. A voice boomed out of it, "RETURN TO YOUR HOMES! POWER WILL BE RESTORED!"
"We don't believe it!" one woman yelled raggedly.
"Show us the proof!"
"Get it back on!"
"RETURN TO YOUR HOMES! ENGINEERS ARE WORKING TO RESTORE POWER! IF YOU DO NOT DISPERSE WE WILL BE FORCED TO STUN YOU!"
Someone picked up something-- a rock? A broken piece of concrete from the road?-- and hurled it at the hovercraft. And then the air was full of such missiles as people threw whatever they could find.
The hovercraft started stunning people. The air was full of screaming. Wesley struggled, trying to reach the sidelines, get away from the stunners. The people in the front were surging toward the back, trying to escape the stunners, and the people in the back were still pushing forward, and he was squeezing his way sideways when a rock someone threw landed on his head and the world spun and he stumbled and they pushed at him and he fell and then the part of the crowd that was reversing direction trampled over him and he screamed and then someone fell down on his head and something went snap--
Inside the monad, Amanda Rogers bowed her head, tears welling in her eyes.
She had all of her senses. She could read minds, see outside her own body with clairvoyance, perceive energy fields no human eye could see. She had her immortality, so long as the Q didn't find her and kill her-- any form of energy that struck against her body would be absorbed, and she could actively manipulate the biochemistry within with the energy that suffused her person. She had her powers-- if she dared to reach for them. If she wasn't so sure that the moment she drew from the Continuum they would know exactly where she was and come for her.
Only one teleport, only one manipulation of space and she could bring him to her. Only one small manipulation of the matter of his body and she wouldn't have to watch him die, see the energies of life die around him as his head was crushed. And then they would come for her, and her children, and his people's last hope as well as hers would be gone.
She clutched her babies tightly in the darkness, rocked back and forth, and cried.
By the time the power finally did come back on, two thousand were dead in the riot outside, and another three hundred or so dead in the monad of suffocation or fear-related heart attacks. She watched them all die, and could do nothing or she'd join them and her children as well. She was stronger than her parents, she understood death as they had not, could not have. She had always known she could die, even when she was immortal. She would not use her powers. No matter what the temptation.
And someday, someday when she had enough Q children to fight by her side, she would get revenge for this day, and for all the days of wasted lives since the war began, since the blockade began. Someday.