Judgement Day: The Partisan
An old woman gave us shelter
Kept us hidden in the garrett
Then the soldiers came
She died without a whisper
There were three of us this morning
I'm the only one this evening
But I must go on
The frontiers are my prison
When they regrouped, the Youngest was no longer with them, and the lockdown had happened. The new rulers of the Continuum had found the bits of their essences that they had left with their leader when he died, and in the absence of authoritative information from the node, assumed that they had all died, that the five of them had immolated themselves to avoid being captured and to destroy the fifteen of the enemy pursuing them. They had promptly declared victory and set out to make sure that nothing like this could ever happen again, that no species could be allowed to interfere with the security and the pristine pureness of the Q Continuum, throughout all eternity.
The Borg were destroyed, divided back into who they had been and sent to their original homeworlds. Since in most cases those original homeworlds were dead ruins that could no longer support much life, quadrillions of former Borg died of starvation, thirst, suffocation or exposure.
The Zalkonians, the Ocampa, any other species where some individuals but not all had spontaneously mutated into a powerful energy form, they were all placed in lockdown in their solar systems. However, few of these had spread beyond their solar system in the first place, and the entity known as Suspiria was permitted to go with her personal set of pet Ocampans back to the creatures' original homeworld, where she would help them adapt to their ruined planet. The El-Aurians were permitted to continue, as most had either been killed by the Borg or killed just now by the Q freeing them from the Borg and dumping them on their lifeless gouged-out homeworld, and the survivors were deemed an insufficient threat, at the end of their evolutionary significance. The Travellers were allowed to continue but were forced to yield their apprentices of dangerous species.
The one that really angered her, though, was the blockade on the humans.
Humans were politically very important in their little corner of the galaxy, and removing them would destabilize the rest of the species there more than the removal of any of the other species-- except possibly the Borg, and the Borg really were dangerous. The thing that galled was not that humans were important in their petty little way but that they were so damn unimportant. Oh, a few had spontaneously evolved to higher stages of being, but the numbers were infinitesimal in comparison to the size of the human population as a whole. Despite what her lover had thought, they just weren't that advanced, or that interesting, or that dangerous. Yes, they'd inadvertently triggered the war by allowing a Q to kill himself, but that had really been the Continuum's fault for letting them make the decision. Yes, they'd seduced two Q into abandoning their responsibilities, trying to live as mortals without pushing their powers away, and having unauthorized offspring, but those two were going to find a way to screw up sooner or later. Otherwise they just weren't significant enough to be worth blockading. It was spite, pure and simple, and it was spite directed at a Q who was dead and beyond being able to tell that they were spiting him.
She found that repulsive. But then, she found pretty much everything about the enemy repulsive now.
The Youngest had probably gone to fight the blockade of her foster species, as their leader had suggested before he died, and had probably been killed herself, judging from the fact that the blockade was still most decidedly up. In any case, if she lived there was no way to contact her; they had only ever stayed together by literally staying together, since the enemy's strength of numbers had more or less allowed them to hijack communication within the Continuum. So now there were three of them left.
She had nothing left in her but hate and anger. She was indifferent to her own continued life, except that being alive allowed her to continue to fight. She no longer thought they would win; she just wanted to kill as many of the enemy as possible before they took her down. Her companions noticed, but taking care of her emotionally wasn't their job and they were both as damaged by the war as she was. At this point they'd follow her into hell if it gave them a chance to get revenge.
For some time they laid low, returning to the Continuum to do research on new weaponry. When they finally developed node bombs that didn't need to be triggered by a living Q's will, she almost broke down and wept. It had been possible, after all. But it was too late. All she could do now was use the new bombs to avenge him.
Believing their enemies to be dead, the new leadership of the Continuum hadn't put any sort of controls on the nodes. They'd been more concerned with consolidating their power, pulling the Continuum back together and reshaping it in their image. Moving quickly, the three of them planted four bombs at four nodes, set to blow the moment they disconnected from the node. The Continuum had started to heal, the discontinuities caused by the hate and the deaths and the disagreements fading now that the Q who were left could draw themselves together. The four blown nodes sent cracks through the Continuum, shattering it again, diminishing everyone's power and killing twenty-three Q at once, the largest body count of any action during the war. The fact that twenty of those twenty-three had in fact been uncommitteds who had never raised arms against any other Q no longer mattered. The uncommitteds were also the enemy, because they had let the enemy win. There were no more innocent Q, if there ever had been.
The forces for change had become the forces of chaos, quite literally.
The Continuum leadership quickly moved to protect the nodes. They couldn't, however, send agents to protect the node whose position in the Continuum corresponded very roughly to the location of the Organians in mortal space. The Organians were suspicious of the Q-- a civil war on such a scale had never occurred in any of the Powers' species-- and had requested that no Q approach their space. The new leadership of the Continuum, devoted to order and following rules, agreed.
The forces of chaos didn't need to listen to the rules.
There were six Q, all uncommitted, attached to the node near Organia when they blew it. In addition, the massive instability caused by the destruction of the node spilled out into mortal space and destroyed the Organians' sun. It served them right, she thought, for being such hidebound creatures that they insisted on continuing to live on a planet. The Organians found this terribly upsetting-- none of them had been or could have been killed by something like a supernova, but they had had great sentimental attachment to their home solar system, and while they could rebuild it it would take some time. This, needless to say, left them thoroughly pissed off at the Continuum, not quite comprehending the concept of "rogue Q" since rogue Organians were more or less impossible. In other words, the mission was a complete success.
Embarrassed in front of the other Powers, the Continuum stepped up its efforts to find the three of them. They had to switch nodes constantly, as whatever they were attached to was still recording everything they did and now the Continuum had agents monitoring the nodes, looking for them. They took up eating, not for disguise but for energy that would be unrelated to a node. The suns they devoured had no inhabited planets but that was less because they were actually avoiding inhabited planets than because most of the suns they ate were blue-white giants at the Core and the Core was full of far too much radiation to support a lot of matter-based life.
They were clever, and careful, and knew how to look small. But the resources of the entire Continuum were being brought to bear on finding them, and while the damage done to the Continuum had forever destroyed its omniscience, still, the Q were formidable at finding things out. Time and again they were ambushed, barely staying one step ahead of their foes. The uncommitted Q considered them terrorists and would offer them no help-- not that they expected any. But even so, they were run to the ground, exhausted.
They hadn't been able to manage any sorties in some time. They needed time, needed distance from their enemies. She took them to Betazed, where a haunted, broken woman tended a bar. The woman had been the enemy of her lover, once, what seemed to her now like a million years ago. And her lover had gone to the woman, asking for a distraction so he could reach a certain human who was being watched by the enemy. And this certain human had been the woman's dear friend. So she had refused.
The woman was an El-Aurian adept. They had certain powers over time, powers the Q did not entirely understand and could not duplicate. As a general rule these powers seemed only to involve being able to perceive changes in the timeline, and that was mostly all the Adepts used them for, seeing their other uses as anathema. However, they did have other uses. Among them, an El-Aurian Adept could, to some slight extent, control destiny, influencing the behavior of anyone who came in contact with the goal they were directing the universe towards, including Q. They could create pocket dimensions outside time which were invisible to Q perceptions and which, apparently, Q could neither break into nor break out of. And they could protect their thoughts, hiding them from powerful telepaths, including the Q.
What her lover had wanted from this creature was for her to create a pocket dimension for him to meet with his favorite human and recruit that human's help in his ridiculous plan to conceive a child in order to prove the value of change. What the warrior wanted from her now was to create a pocket dimension to hide the three of them in from the rest of the Continuum, for a short while. She knew well that the woman was unlikely to agree easily, and she didn't have very much time to convince her. Any other hope would have been better. But there was none.
The El-Aurian was cleaning glasses, back turned to the bar, and didn't turn around when the warrior flashed in, wearing her preferred, default Klingon form. "Haven't you people done enough damage?" she asked bitterly. "Leave me alone."
"Oh, yes, you'd like that. You've always wanted to be left alone. Even when your involvement could have saved your dearest friend and the species that saved your miserable little life, you wanted to be left alone." She flashed in front of the woman, physically interposing herself between the back table full of glasses and the El-Aurian's hands. "It doesn't work like that."
The woman threw up her hands in a warding gesture, stepping backward out of such close physical proximity, and she felt the faint pull of the woman's power starting to press against time. "Oh, grow up," she said sharply. "I'm not here to hurt you. I need your help."
"Why should I help you?" the El-Aurian almost snarled. Her eyes narrowed. "Is this another one of his games? Because I'm not interested in playing. I told him my answer already."
"Oh, yes, you did," the warrior said, softly, leaning into the woman's space. "And because of that--" She lunged forward suddenly, grabbing the El-Aurian physically and shoving her up against the bar-- "he's dead. And your darling favorites are in hell, the man you swore was more to you than friend or family very likely dead or insane. And a billion of your own kind were freed from the Borg and then killed, because the people currently in charge of running the universe do not give a damn whether any mortal lives or dies, so long as their precious superior skins stay intact."
The woman's emotions shifted, from rage and fear at being pushed into her own bar to slowly dawning horror. "You... you're saying he's had nothing to do with this. With what they're doing?"
"If you call dying in a desperate and failed attempt to stop it nothing, why then yes, he had nothing to do with it."
"So they exiled him again?"
She flashed away from the woman, reappearing on the customer side of the bar, so she might be slightly less tempted to commit physical mayhem. As infuriating as this creature was, she was also the rebel Q's best hope. "You stupid, stupid creature. They did not exile him. We're having a war. And we're losing."
The woman's eyes narrowed. "He mentioned a conflict."
She laughed bitterly. "Oh, that was so much like him. Downplay everything in front of the mortals. If he'd told you it was bloody combat and your friend was the key to his best plan to stop it, would you still have refused to help? Did you want him dead so very badly that you deliberately refused, knowing your refusal was all you needed to set into motion to make sure he'd die? Or was it all of us you wanted dead? Did you see the bloody genocide, the death of over a third of our people, and snicker that it was our just desserts for what we'd allowed to happen to your kind?"
"Over... a third?" the woman whispered. "He... I didn't know. He said nothing about this. What about Shyovan? Did she--?"
"Dead. Mind eaten from the inside out, transformed into something else, sent behind our lines to betray us all, and now dead. I hope you're really happy with this, Adept. You can't take a step in the Continuum anymore without walking in the pools of blood. And the people who are winning?" She smiled brightly. "It's so good for you that your people were already mostly murdered by the Borg, because otherwise they'd have broken the treaty and put you in lockdown just like they did the humans."
The woman's brown skin had taken on an ashy color, as if all the blood that animated it and warmed it had drained away. "I swear to you, I saw none of this. I didn't even know there was a war. And if I had I'd have thought he'd be on the wrong side, with all his gratuitous meddling and chaos-causing."
"You know what? Your planet was very, very orderly after there were no more people, or buildings, or trees to mar the nice neat clouds of dust. The annihilation of existence is very orderly. No muss, no fuss. Life is a balance between chaos and order. Did you forget?"
"I thought the elders of your people were advanced. I never imagined you capable of having a war. Or of him being on the wrong side from the ones who'd destroy out of vitriol and spite. I thought beings like that were rare among you Q."
"Not nearly as rare as they should have been," she whispered. "Not nearly as rare as I believed for billions of years."
"Ancestors," the woman whispered. "Ancestors, what have I done?" She shook her head. "Every other time he showed up he tormented Picard. When I realized that others were guarding Picard, that he couldn't get in, I thought it was for Picard's protection."
"But he told you otherwise. And you didn't believe him."
"Because he lied to me! He lied to me constantly! He spent four years doing nothing but telling me lies-- how was I supposed to believe him this time? Why didn't one of the ones I trusted come? Shyovan-- I assume she had to have been on your side-- or Derith--"
"Derith was on the side of the enemy."
"Derith would never have stood for putting an entire species behind a barrier because they might someday be a threat."
"Derith's dead too. We killed her."
"Ancestors." The woman pulled out a bottle and poured a glass from it. "This is... unbelievable. How did any of this happen?"
"One of your precious humans ruled that a Q who wanted to kill himself should be allowed to. And that ripped all the old schisms open again, and the effect snowballed, and people panicked, and then some old fool created a weapon that one Q could use to kill another Q on the grounds that the very idea was so horrible it would stop the conflict. See how well it worked."
The El-Aurian drank deeply from the glass she'd poured. "And do you think Picard could have stopped this?"
"I have no idea. Personally I doubt it. But he thought so. He came to you for help in stopping the war, and as usual with every other time he's asked for your help, you spat on him."
"Look, I'm not going to speak ill of the dead, but as far as I knew that was the first time he ever asked me for help, and if you know something different then maybe I've been misunderstanding what's been going on the whole time, at least some of it. He didn't tell me anything that would make any rational being want to help him. He told me that it was a matter of great importance and the consequences would be on my head if I didn't help him, but not what the consequences would be, or why I should perform an act I've always considered just shy of anathema to help a person who stood there and mocked me when my entire civilization was destroyed."
She was so tired. She could feel the pressure of the Continuum, the enemy's minds searching for her, scanning the universe, and the "we're-not-here" semblance she and the others were maintaining could only work so long. The warrior sank down onto a stool in front of the bar. "He was such a fool," she whispered, the voice of the Klingon form she'd defaulted to harsh and almost breaking. "He told you nothing. He told his human nothing. He probably told the human he died for nothing, too. Why did he involve mortals if he was too proud to actually tell them the truth about what was going on?"
"I can't say I'm surprised."
If only he had involved her from the beginning, so she could have advised him. Except he'd tried and she'd refused to take sides. If only she hadn't refused, if only she'd taken the threat seriously. It seemed no one had taken the threat seriously enough. Not him, not her, not any of the mortals he'd contacted. "Will you help us now?"
"Do you know you've got company?"
She nodded, and gestured. The other two manifested into corporeal form. "What's the deal?" the youngest one left asked. "Will she help us?"
"Ask her." She pointed at the El-Aurian.
"Tell me why. What is the war about? Who's fighting it? What will you do if you win?"
"It's about the freedom to think for ourselves instead of being controlled by the Continuum," the young trickster said.
"It's more than that," the teacher/inventor said. He sat down on the stool next to the warrior. "As time has gone on the Continuum has become more and more rigid, while those whose role in life was to try to question and push boundaries had to become more and more extreme. Some of those extremities verged on or went into genuinely criminal behavior, which were punished harshly. Executions, exiles from the Continuum, condemnations to mortality, imprisonments... In essence terror tactics. Some of the punishments were well-deserved. Others, plainly trumped-up charges. Telling people that they will be permitted to keep their unauthorized offspring if they live among mortals, but that using their powers while living among mortals is punishable by death, and then sending a tornado to kill the offspring, forcing them to use their powers to save their child and thus forfeit their own lives... it was a setup, and it was set up in such a way that even many of those who would have approved of giving Q the freedom to reproduce had to vote to remove their powers and let them die."
"And I'm supposed to approve of the side that 'verged on genuinely criminal behavior'? When I was the victim of that kind of behavior?"
"Under the terms of the treaty he owed you no warning at all," the warrior said harshly. The part of her that had died with him twinged with pain and grief. "Nothing he did was against our laws, that time."
"My friend is somewhat biased in our deceased friend's regard," the teacher said. "But she's right. What the people currently in power would have considered the appropriate thing to do would have been absolutely nothing at all. No warning. Not even a vague one intended to cause you pain. Some of your kind lived, and some of those lived because of the warning he gave. Did you know, after he died and they took official control of the Continuum, they broke the Borg apart? They could have restored your world, your civilization, when they put the people back. But they did nothing except send the people home... to a radioactive, ruined wasteland where the dust from the Borg attacks had kept any sunlight out, kept anything from growing, for a century."
"I knew that. Yes." The El-Aurian poured herself another drink. She was shaking, very slightly, but blocking her mind so the Q present couldn't read her thoughts or emotions. "They're still better off dead than Borg."
"Yes. But it would have cost our enemy nothing to restore the planet before sending the El-Aurians home. If they wished to undo the Borg they could have restored life to ten thousand worlds, let fallen civilizations thrive again, save lives. It would have cost them nothing except the minimal consideration needed to think that mortal lives are worth saving. They let your people die, suffocating on dust, starving, their minds broken and tormented from a hundred years of being Borg, for nothing. No reason. They just didn't care. Multiply that by ten thousand."
"We would have preserved the El-Aurians," the young trickster said eagerly. "I mean, we'd have preserved all the mortals. Mortals are interesting. And really, how hard is it to fix a planet before you send people there? They even did that with the humans, they gave them an extra moon and a new planet and everything. But they couldn't be bothered to do it for you."
"We stand for change, for growth, for individual freedom. They stand for fear, for reactionary fascism, for trying to impose a uni-mind on a species that rejected that path billions of years ago and doing it by killing everyone who disagrees with them. They put every species they thought might someday be a threat to them in the next hundred thousand years into lockdown, except for your kind, because after they broke up the Borg and let a billion die the remaining few thousand survivors don't seem significant to them. That's why we came to you. You may be one of the few beings left in the universe who can help us," the teacher said.
"And if you don't, I will tell you the consequences," the warrior said. "Because you refused to help my lover when you had the chance, every Q you knew as friend is dead, every human you knew as friend is trapped, every other being you knew as friend is about to be embroiled in the war that will break out when the Federation, lacking humans, falls, and people who have so little concern for mortals that they let a billion of your own people die are running the universe. Help us hide from them, and maybe, just possibly, we might be able to reverse the damage you've done. If we win, we'll free the humans, maybe even go back and fix your planet so your people don't die. If they win, no one will be permitted to evolve to threaten them, throughout eternity. And if you don't hide us, they'll win."
"I didn't know," the woman whispered, staring into her drink. "He never told me."
"You know now. Help us."
"All right." She looked up. "All right. Stand in the middle of the room, together."
"They're very close," the warrior said. "I doubt you need to keep us hidden more than a tenday or so."
"Two tendays, then the box will open and automatically release you. If your friends are here waiting for you, you might have some element of surprise, if you keep track of how much time is passing in this universe. I know you can count a timeflow you're not bound to."
"Yes," the inventor said, "we can. Thank you. We're very grateful."
"Once we win," the young trickster said, "I promise, we'll do something about what they did to your people. That's... that's just wrong. We'll do something to fix it."
The warrior wondered dully how the youngster had managed to hold onto any of his idealism. He was the only one of their group to be in the original movement, the last survivor of the faction for change that the faction for order had tried to suppress, and thus started the war. Even if the Youngest was still alive she hadn't been in the movement at the very beginning. It blinded him, she thought; he genuinely believed they could win. She remembered being that naïve once. It seemed like a very long time ago, though.
"I appreciate the thought, but I'm not doing this so you'll save my people. They were dead from the moment the Borg took them in the first place. I'm doing this so you'll save the universe from what your Continuum's turned into. If you can."
She gestured, and time turned inside out, and they were nowhere and nowhen, anchored to nothing.
In the darkness there was absolutely nothing to do.
There was no sensory input except what they could provide each other, and there was nothing new in that regard that any of them had to offer after billions of years of sharing the same Continuum. It was painfully difficult to hide their thoughts and emotions, here, and their thoughts and emotions were uniformly dark. They were siblings in battle, forged together in fire, but every little thing they didn't like about each other could no longer be repressed in the close proximity and the lack of anything to do except bitch at each other. They deliberately staged arguments about nothing important because that was the one form of entertainment the Q could always fall back on, but there were too many important things to argue about and it didn't help. By the time the universe outside opened to them again and let them free, they would have welcomed a bloody gunfight with enemy lying in ambush, just to break the monotony.
But there was no one there. In fact there was no bar left, only a blasted ruin.
The Q could read the imprint of past events on time, and this was what had happened, what they saw:
Their enemies had come to the woman in force, seven of them, to be sure of overpowering any rebel Q they might find. They had seen plainly that the trail stopped at the woman; they knew what her powers could do. They demanded she reveal where she had hidden the rogue Q. The woman had refused, shielding her mind. But these had grown accustomed to torturing their fellow Q for information; to rip apart a mortal's mind to get at information underneath shielding was something they were perfectly willing to do. They began. And the woman moved to create another lockbox, to trap the seven Q outside any universe with meaning to them indefinitely. And they had lived hair-trigger for several years of war, and they had learned fear, and none of the Q had ever been comfortable with the notion of mortals that had the power to harm them.
One of them had acted. The woman and her entire establishment had been vaporized, annihilated far more thoroughly than they'd needed to, destroyed so completely that there was no bringing her back. The others had chastised that one, and they had left, knowing that they had lost the trail, knowing that without the El-Aurian to tell them what she'd done with the three rogues they would never figure it out.
In the present, now, the young trickster wept for the woman. Neither of the other two did. The warrior didn't know and didn't care why the inventor didn't weep; for herself it was because she didn't care. She hadn't liked the El-Aurian much anyway. Besides, no one's death could possibly matter very much to her anymore, not even her own.
They made good use of the mortal's sacrifice. It wouldn't be long before their enemy picked up their trail again, but the fact that there were only three of them left had made the enemy somewhat complacent. A Convocation had been called, a meeting of the entire Continuum-- or entire surviving Continuum, in this case-- and although they were not of the Continuum any longer they were still Q. They still heard the call, still knew the way.
So they dropped down straight into the Convocation with their weapons and shot as many Q as they could, some of them elders of great age and power, before the startled Q could return fire. Then they fled, though not quite in time. The young trickster took a fatal wound, though it would take some time to kill him. So they hit another node, not a very well-guarded one, and killed the one Q guarding it, and they left their friend there with a bomb, to die the way his beloved older brother, their leader, had died.
She rather wished she could feel something about that, but it was probably better that she couldn't.
They'd successfully killed nine Q with the element of surprise on their side, including two elders, specifically two of the major instigators of the crackdown that had led to the war. The enemy was no longer being complacent in any way. They couldn't return to the Continuum right away and they had to make absolutely minimal use of their powers. So they stayed in mortal forms, her as a Klingon, him as a Vulcan, and they used the same forms of transportation that mortals would use while they made their plans.
They were two of a kind. Both had lost their loves to this war. Both had nothing left to live for but vengeance. They shared pleasure with each other, the violent overpowering physical passions that the mortal bodies they wore were capable of, and gave each other's mortal bodies pain and ecstasy so they would have something to feel. Sometimes they shared pleasure as Q. But they never joined. Their loves were dead, but they were hollow inside, and there was nothing worth joining with inside them.
The young Sibrinan actress turned, smiling, as they entered her dressing room. "Hello! I didn't hear you... come..." She trailed off as their other-nature became apparent, and her own other-nature flared within her. The warrior was impressed. She had only caught the faintest whiff of Douwd before coming here. It had been a guess, albeit an educated guess, as to what the Sibrinan really was. And even now, most of the creature's power was held in reserve, deep within, where it was not at all obvious how much of it there was. If she hadn't been Q, and well-acquainted with all the capabilities of the various Powers of the universe, she might well have thought the Douwd a match for her.
"Why are you here?" the Douwd asked, defensive shield firmly in place.
"Stand down. We mean you no harm, Douwd," the warrior said.
"My name is Sit'ka. Unlike you, we actually use them. And I have heard reports that trouble me, about your kind."
"They're all absolutely true," the inventor assured her. "And that's why we're here."
"Because the reports are true?"
"Because they are true, and we've come to ask for your help in doing something about it."
"What help could you possibly need from me?"
"We want your help in fighting the Continuum," the warrior said.
This was plainly not what the Douwd had expected. Her aura radiated confusion. "My... help? How can I help to do that? And why... who are you?"
"Obviously, we're Q," the warrior said. "But the Continuum has torn itself apart in civil war. We're the last remnants of the side that lost. Now, consider the reports you've heard. What do you think that means?"
"She's a Douwd, not a mortal, Q," the inventor said. "For the sake of all, don't patronize her." He spoke gently to the Douwd. "For the aeons of the Continuum's existence we struck a balance between being that which you are and that which the Organians are. We encouraged conflict, disagreement, but we were continuous as you are not. There has always been a balance between the rights of the individual Q to live life as they please and the need for the totality of the Continuum to enforce order and control. That balance was tipping back and forth, rocking, and then one of our number killed himself. To many, this meant that change was vital, was necessary, or we would all die of boredom. To many more, this meant that change was fatal and would kill us, that individual rights must be subsumed to the needs of the Continuum as a whole. And the schism exploded, and we have had a war."
"And we've very much close to lost," the warrior added.
"Now, the majority of the Continuum was still not drawn into this conflict, but they are afraid. All of them are afraid. And in their fear the ones who want to stop all change have sought to infect the others with their fear, so that they will agree with anything the faction-for-order seeks to do to protect the Continuum. They slaughtered most of us. They put every species they considered a future potential Power into lockdown to prevent their evolution. If they fear the future Powers, what must they think of the Powers that exist now? And if they fear the Powers that exist now, who will they most fear? United, orderly, unified entities such as the Organians or Melkotians? Or independent, free-thinking entities such as the Douwd?"
"But... we're peaceful. We hold killing and fighting to be anathema. Why...?"
"Because they need someone to be afraid of," the warrior said. "Right now it's us. They don't dare fight a war on two fronts. When we're dead, though, they're going to need to invent an enemy to keep the uncommitted Q afraid and willing to turn to the ones who've fought a war for protection. And everything I can see indicates that the Douwd are number one on the enemies-to-be list."
"I see," the Douwd said softly. She looked at her hands. "You realize, there isn't any way I could persuade the Douwd as a whole to mobilize against the Continuum. I'm finding it very hard to believe that you, one of the oldest of the Powers, even had a war. Such a primitive thing to do. I know you're sincere, but there's no way I could persuade enough Douwd to put together anything that might resemble... what? A mortal army? Some sort of war force? We are Powers. We've never needed such things."
"Neither did we. Until we did."
"We're not asking you to mobilize the Douwd," the inventor said. "We know that'd be quite impossible. We're asking you to join us, and fight by our side. We know how the Douwd feel about killing. Believe me, I felt the same way, until they destroyed my companion of three billion years for having the temerity to refuse to give up his right to be an individual. I don't want to see such things happen to the Douwd. Our civil war was terrible enough. If we can keep harrying them, they won't dare extend the war beyond the Continuum's borders."
"It goes against everything I have been taught to believe," the Douwd said. "But I have also been taught to make up my own mind. I see your sincerity, and I have already begun to fear your people. I will kill, to protect the Douwd and the universe as a whole, if it must be done."
"It must," the inventor said.
"Then I'll join you. But I do have a concern. Won't they use the fact that a Douwd is fighting them as an excuse to begin this war on my people?"
The warrior laughed. "Illusionist, why do you think we went to a Douwd first? Your abilities at disguise are even better than ours. We think you can fool them into thinking you're a Q, or at least, not recognizing what you are."
"Then I agree. I'll go with you."
The Douwd were biologically very similar to the Q, their major difference being that they lacked a Continuum and thus were less powerful. Fiercely independent creatures, they reproduced at need, trained their children rigorously in ethics, and then let them go. It largely worked; the Douwd had never needed to exert the level of control on one another that the Q always had.
The warrior hadn't lied; she believed quite truly that this would make them the Continuum's first targets. The existence of the Douwd proved that individuals of the Powers could lead free, self-regulated lives. If they had been willing to kill a hundred Q to keep the Q from seeking the same, how could they not target the Douwd, eventually?
They had long ago lost the ability those of the Continuum had once had, when the Continuum was whole, to create a linkage and connect other species to the Continuum, make of them new Q. But the Douwd were already so similar, it was easy to do. She and the inventor connected the young Douwd to the power of the Continuum, making her, for all intents and purposes, a Q with the life experiences of a Douwd. The Douwd were even better mimics and shapeshifters than the Q, if such a thing was possible; the young one could impersonate particular Q without having to eat them first if she was drawing energy from the Continuum. And when she wasn't, she was smaller than Q, not as invisible as mortals but not at all dependent on the nodes, able to fire the weapons and able to disguise her movements from the Continuum in a way no born Q really could. It made the young Douwd tired and very hungry to fire the weapons while not connected to the Continuum's power nodes, but she could do it.
This made her phenomenally valuable to them, and it made the warrior decide to seek out another Douwd. Sit'ka had been a lucky accident; she hadn't even thought of the fate of the Douwd until she'd sensed one so dimly on the world where she and the inventor were hiding. Now that she was thinking of it, though, she knew of another Douwd who'd proven willing to kill. Her lover's pet humans had encountered him.
On Delta Rana IV, Kevin Uxbridge refused to let them into his home. The shadow he'd constructed of his dead wife clucked at him, insisting that it was good to see new people after so long, and she'd never turned anyone away from her home. The warrior, impatient with being forced to listen to the chatter of a created thing, said bluntly, "We're here to see a Douwd, not a pretense of a human. Send her away."
"And if I don't? I won't let you take her from me."
"Kevin, what are they talking about?" the shadow asked, its voice pitched to convey anxiety. "They can't send me away!"
"If she were alive, she would be gone," the warrior said brutally. "All that has preserved her is the fact that she's not real. All of the actual humans in the universe have been sent back to Earth."
Kevin Uxbridge dematerialized the shadow of his wife with a thought, angrily. "It's no concern of mine."
"So it doesn't matter to you that her people, people just like her, people just like the ones she died to protect, have been imprisoned on Earth."
"It matters," he ground out. "But there's nothing I can do."
"Yes, there is," the young Douwd with them said. "I've been doing it."
"Because they haven't just kidnapped the humans, they haven't just destroyed the Borg and left the people they de-assimilated to die. They're going to be going after the other Powers. And I think they will start with the Douwd."
"Why?" Uxbridge asked. "We're no threat to them."
The inventor explained to Uxbridge the same thing he had explained to Sit'ka. Uxbridge, however, was not interested. "I will not kill," he said. "Not to protect the Douwd. Not to save the humans. Not for any reason."
"Your moralistic posturing is a little hollow," the warrior said. "You already have killed. Billions. To avenge a human who was already dead."
Sit'ka projected shock and horror. "What?"
"The Husnock," Uxbridge said softly. "One of their warships destroyed this colony, and the woman I loved. So I..."
"Killed. Them," Sit'ka whispered. "How... how could you..."
"Because high morals are all very well and good, but when terrible things happen to good people who didn't deserve it, who you loved, and you have the power to do something, you will," the warrior said. "Pacifism is useless in the face of violence. War should be a last resort, but if you're faced with people who want to kill you, and all diplomacy has failed, it should be a resort." She paced around the older Douwd. "You could have destroyed the Husnock warship," she said. "About 300 people would have died, then. But no. 11,000 people, including your greatest love, had to die because you wouldn't kill. Until you did."
"I was... enraged. I was weak... and I have never stopped paying for it."
"You haven't paid for it at all! What you're paying for is letting her die!" She stalked up to his face. "You sit here with the shadow of your love, hiding from any who could pass sentence on you, wallowing in your guilt. You have done nothing of any value to anyone. You haven't paid!"
"You're already a killer," the inventor said softly. "Do you think you can undo the death on your hands by vowing never to kill again? It's already too late. By standing and doing nothing as tyranny consumes the universe, you hold far more culpability for death than if you killed to stop it."
"Do you think that because I failed once, that would make it right for me to fail again?" Uxbridge asked angrily. "I will not kill. I failed in my principles once. And I am tainted by that forever. But that does not make it acceptable for me to fail again."
"We could give her back to you," the inventor said.
The warrior held the breath she didn't need to breathe. It would be very difficult to do what the inventor was suggesting, not because resurrecting the dead was all that difficult for Q power, but because drawing the power to do it would attract the Continuum's attention. She wasn't sure winning the Douwd to their cause was worth it.
But her partner was continuing. "All you've been able to do is recreate a shadow. I can pull her essence out of time, give her back her life, not as a created thing but as herself. And then what? What do you think she would think of your refusal to do anything to help her people?"
"She wouldn't know I had the power to do anything."
"She'd learn, when the Continuum took her by force and threw her back to Earth to drown in the teeming trillions of her people trapped there, without you. She'd understand, at the least, that you were never human. Would you do anything then? When they came to take her, would you try to stop them?"
"I would hide her. But I wouldn't kill."
"Would you hide them?" Sit'ka asked.
He turned to look at the younger Douwd. "What do you mean?"
"I have fought a battle in their war, and killed. But what they need as much as allies in battle is someone to hide them from their enemies. Would you do that?"
"I don't see how I could. Q are far more powerful than..." The younger Douwd dropped her semblance, then, and the older one saw what she had become. "They've given you their power!"
"Access to their power. Yes. It's not the same thing-- I'm not bound to it as they are. I can connect to it and disconnect from it at will. But when I'm connected... they can't tell me from a Q. Can you?"
He studied her. "You're small, for a Q."
"We've had smaller," the warrior said.
"Then, no. You look like a small Q."
"They're like us, Kevin. But they're not used to being able to deceive each other. An illusion that would never fool a Douwd will get you close enough to a Q to kill... or to distract, if that's the goal. They're not as specialized in the art of illusion and disguise as we are." She approached him and took his hand. "I won't ask you to kill. But I will ask you to help me, and help them. For the sake of the Douwd, for the sake of the humans. Is that within your moral compass?"
Slowly he nodded. "Yes. I won't take a life. But I'm willing to work to preserve it. If my illusions can protect you in your war..."
"When it's over, if we and you survive, we can bring her back for you," the inventor said softly.
The Douwd looked at him hard. "Do either of you actually expect to survive this?"
"Not particularly," the warrior said.
"I've done too much. I'm more afraid of eternity living with what I've done, and without Rishon, than I am of dying. As much as anything else, that's why I will help you. But don't tell me what you'll do when we all live through this. We all know better."
"One can have hope," the inventor said.
Once in the Continuum, the older Douwd proved as invaluable as his younger species-mate, in a different way. He would not carry the weapon. They made him memorize it in case he needed it, but he insisted he would never materialize it, never use it. It didn't matter. He could fully impersonate Q if given the memory of their pattern, and of course both the inventor and the warrior knew the pattern of every living Q intimately, as well as all the dead ones. He could weave illusions out of the stuff of the Continuum that no Q could penetrate while distracted; a quiet mind and time to focus could uncover his deceptions, but they were quite willing to keep the enemy from having either. Sometimes he impersonated dead Q and harangued living enemies in the voice of the dead and while they were panicking and trying to penetrate his disguise the two rebel Q and the young Douwd could easily shoot them down. He didn't seem to have a moral problem with luring Q into situations where they could be killed, only with actually pulling the trigger.
The younger one, on the other hand, had no trouble pulling the trigger, and was nearly as deadly as the Youngest had been. This gave the warrior an idea.
Douwd weren't Q, but they could use Q weapons. El-Aurians were mortal, but their Adepts could destroy the Q. What if it was possible to reconfigure Q weapons so creatures like El-Aurians could use them?
What if it was possible to reconfigure the weapons so that any mortal could use them?
It was a thought so audacious, so overwhelming, she could barely believe she'd had it. But the Klingons' mythology was all about killing their own gods. What if that were possible? What if she could make a gun, or a bat'leth, or whatever, that mortals could use? The fact that they had been able to bring that human to the Continuum at all meant that mortals could function in the Continuum with an appropriate translation metaphor. And if that were possible...
...then an army of four could be an army of four hundred, easily, and overwhelm the Continuum through sheer force of numbers.
And then she remembered her lover's last plan, and the human he'd resurrected and left in stasis. What could such a mortal do, if he had weapons that could be used against the Q? She wasn't all that fond of humans in general, but she knew war heroes. She had attached herself to thousands of them, standing at their side in battle. She knew what such a mortal could do, in combat.
Oh, if only it could be possible!
This time the research went slow. They were able to spend very little time in the Continuum, which was where they needed to be to do the research. The two Douwd were good companions, but they couldn't help with research that involved studying the structure of the Continuum itself. And the older one's skill at weaving illusions and disguising them all only went so far. After all, the Q had spent billions of years creating and breaking illusions themselves.
They had sorties, and a fair degree of success at doing things like killing agents looking for them, but the two Douwd refused to help them blow up nodes on the grounds that it would take the life of uncommitted Q. To the warrior that was the point, but she had to bow to the will of her new allies. So most of the time their life consisted of sending the younger Douwd to scout and having the older one conceal them in an illusion-pocket while the two last rebel Q worked on making a weapon that mortals could use.
And then the younger Douwd was killed.
And the Douwd who would not kill broke in his resolve, manifested a weapon for the first and last time, and shot down three enemy Q before they brought him down.
The warrior could not afford to have the enemy learn that her mysterious allies had been Douwd. She and the inventor retrieved the two bodies, the torn and broken energy-patterns, and departed with them under fire, both of them sustaining injuries. Then they ate the bodies in their entirety so no one would find them and realize there had been Douwd helping them. In doing this, in incorporating their essences into her, she learned how the Douwd managed their disguises, and learned how to mimic a mortal so thoroughly that she was near-invisible to other Q, the same trick the Youngest had learned.
The day they finished the prototype weapon, she needed that skill.
They could no longer hide. The illusions she created just weren't as good as the Douwd's had been, and the Q had learned to penetrate those illusions anyway. And it might have been the spike of triumph, the sharp emotion of success, that tipped the enemy off to their location. They had determined that their prototype worked only moments before they were attacked.
Shields were thrown up to keep them from escaping, but there was a hole and a single moment, and she took it. Behind her she heard her partner scream, and die in a rain of gunfire. Maybe if she'd stayed to fight he'd have lived. More likely, though, both of them would have died. And the prototype could win the war. Even if there was only one Q left to fight, even if their other powerful allies had fallen, with a weapon that mortals could use she could still win. Could still avenge her lover and her dead partner and all the others that had died along the way. But it meant she had to live.
She fled into the mortal universe, bleeding from a hit to her manipulative capacity, and took the form of a Satri, a small energy-based life form that lived in space in amidst clouds of other Satri. When the enemy came out looking for her all they found was a cloud of Satri, with no apparent connection to the Continuum, and they assumed she had fled.
As a Satri, she traveled with the cloud a short distance until the constant lies she needed to tell to explain where she'd come from and what she was doing here got on her nerves. She then took the form of an Acantha, a giant living ship capable of high warp speeds, and headed toward the world where her lover had sent the human he'd resurrected.
It would take some time to get there, and she didn't dare teleport. She didn't dare return to the Continuum, ever, until she had reinforcements. There were no more tricks she could perform, no more disguises she could wear, no more allies to fight by her side. There was nothing but her, and the shape of a gun in her mind, a gun that mortals could wield in the Continuum.
She would empower mortals to destroy gods. She would burn down the entire Continuum, let the mortals raze it to the ground, kill any Q they found. There was no more mercy in her and no more hope for the Continuum's salvation. Everyone she had loved, everyone she'd even cared for, was dead, except for the ones who had made her hate them through their hate or their indifference. There was no way to save the Continuum from what it had become and no reason why any Q should live, now.
Including her. But she would see them all die first.
Of course, even a weapon that would let mortals kill Q wouldn't equalize the odds. A Q could think a mortal dead in the Continuum or anywhere, Q could move faster than mortals and Q reacted faster than any mortal could hope to. She would still need a lot of mortals. And she would need a hero who could inspire them to throw their lives away in waves for her cause.
Her Acantha form would get there, sooner or later. And there, she would find such a mortal.
And he would help her destroy the Continuum.
Oh the wind the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come.
Then we'll come from the shadows...*
*Song lyrics from "The Partisan", Leonard Cohen (based on a World War II French Resistance folk song).
Next: The engineers keep the planet alive.