In a flash of visible light, she dopplered out of the matter-based universe and into her own private corner of a place that wasn't a place. For years (linear, Amanda, linear, her teacher would have chided her for thinking of years) of subjective time, she'd been in the matter-based universe practicing with her powers, jumping around space and time and learning to comprehend the ineffable. She was no longer in the mood for ineffable- her mind felt stretched and overtired with the effort of comprehending things her human life hadn't prepared her for- so with a thought, she restructured her private pocket of the Continuum into something a human's mind could grasp easily, a teenager's bedroom. Posters of famously attractive people from throughout human history decorated the walls, loud music from the mid-21st century blared from nowhere, and articles of clothing materialized strewn all over the furniture. At this point she was material, physically manifesting as an adult human woman in her 20's, with lustrous blonde hair cascading down her back and aggressively sensual, but comfortable, clothing hugging her body. With a gesture, she brought three frisky dogs from the planet of dog delights where she kept them. Immediately they leaped on her, lavishing doggy kisses on their goddess. Amanda laughed. "Down, down! I know you're glad to see me, you don't need to get me soaking wet!"
After playing a vigorous game of fetch involving tossing small squeaky animals from her imagination past her dogs, down what she'd just transformed into a wild garden, and setting the dogs to run after them, and doing various other things guaranteed to win the love and affection of her dogs forever, she sent them back to the planet she'd created. They were happy in their packs, running wild with other dogs on a planet where game was endless and predators and hardship were nil, but she wanted to make sure they didn't forget their mistress. It was one thing to play with mortal sentients- something generally frowned on by the Q, and particularly by Amanda herself, who'd been raised as a mortal sentient- but she doubted anyone in the Continuum could object to her interfering with the lives of stray dogs and making them happy.
As if the thought had opened her to it, she became aware of an unease in the Continuum, a shifting murmuring in what was normally an even harmony. Amanda flopped down on her bed and tried to ignore it. If she asked anyone about it, they would probably just tell her it was Continuum business, and she was too young to get involved. She no longer needed to sleep, but she felt tired- a holdover from her human years, her teachers told her, and something she would outgrow. With the implication that she had better. She wasn't going to do something like blow up a planet in her sleep- she hadn't when she thought she was human, and she certainly was better trained now- so there was no reason not to, she thought. It would make her feel better, whether or not she actually needed to do it. So she curled up and went to sleep.
And woke uneasily after the briefest of naps, aware suddenly of a change in the Continuum's tenor. She could feel energies massing, swirling around her little pocket. Amanda sat up and opened her mind cautiously, reaching out to sense whatever was there.
brought change, brought destruction, it's all falling apart and it's your fault, human, you
defiler of the sacred
you have no place here
Disapproval, rage, disgust radiated out from the massed minds of the Continuum, directed at her. Amanda trembled, feeling suddenly very fragile and very small. What had happened? Why was there hatred swirling around her private pocket of the Continuum, as if to block her from escaping its malicious intent? What had she done?
flaunting your humanity
This, because she had decided to go to sleep? She'd slept in the Continuum before, and never felt this reaction. Amanda was no stranger to the taunts of others, the little cruelties, the hazing and the games they played with her- the Q were, for the most part, enormously bored, and harassing the first new Q they'd had in millennia was something to pass the time- but the hatred was new. Or, if not new, it had always been well-shielded before. What had changed?
not a true Q
do not deserve to be among us
She bit her knuckles. The pressure of the massed minds was increasing, as if the haters meant to crush her room and her within it. Theoretically, she was immortal- but the Continuum had killed her parents, and for the first time since coming to the Continuum, she began to fear for her own life.
"Please, " she begged. "Please, I do belong here. I'm the child of two Q. I'm Q, not human- I'm just young. Please, give me time. "
no child of ours
created thing, mortal thing, nothing of ours
you do not belong
The pressure mounted, a chanting litany of hatred growing from a murmur to a roar. Amanda clapped her hands to her ears in a human gesture, flinging up inadequate barriers to keep out the corrosive force of her fellows' hatred. She screamed. "Stop it! Stop it, stop it!"
And then the energy coalesced, like a lightning bolt materializing out of thunderous air, and struck, warping her little pocket, annihilating the human furniture and the posters and the stuffed animals. Amanda screamed again, as the hatred blistered her shields-
-And was enfolded in warmth, a sense of love and care projected at her. She clung to the entity that had rescued her, sobbing. "What do you think you're doing?" the Q who had saved her snarled at the gathering- in Q mindspeech, so there were overtones and undertones, emotional currents far more expressive than human tone or human body language would have been. The currents expressed fury, disbelief, contempt for those gathered, and fierce protectiveness toward Amanda. "This child has done nothing!"
"Nothing except contaminate us and bring us to ruin," a Q hissed back at her.
"Q sought death for far longer than this little one has been alive. Don't blame her for his poor choices. She has no relationship to the stormcloud upon us at all. Now begone!"
They left, shamed but unbowed. Amanda shuddered.
The energies of the entity that embraced her coalesced into the form Amanda found most comforting- a plump human woman with graying hair, an apron and the faint scent of fresh bread about her person, the essence of grandmotherliness. "Auntie," Amanda sobbed, clinging to her- gender was nonexistent among the Q, but she, who had been raised in a world of genders, tended to perceive her older fellows as gendered in some fashion, and those that cared for her humored her. She had dubbed this Q "Auntie" after the Q who had brought her to the Continuum dumped her off on this one for training, and the Q was sufficiently amused by the nickname that she wore a form to match it when she wasn't requiring Amanda to stretch out her new Q perceptions. Amanda still related best to Q in mortal forms she could perceive with the senses she was most familiar with.
"There, child. It's all right- they won't bother you again for a while. That the Continuum could come to this kind of harassment... it's just terrible." Auntie stroked her hair, holding her.
"What happened?" Amanda wept. "Everything- everything was okay when I left for my lessons- and now I come back and everyone hates me..."
"'Everyone' doesn't hate you, child. But there's a lot of fear and uncertainty in the Continuum now." Auntie frowned. "Q fought for, and won, the right to kill himself to protest the stagnation of the Continuum, only a short while ago." Though her mouth spoke the word "Q", she used mindspeech as well, sending the true name of the being she spoke of- an avuncular entity, kindly but distant, a philosopher and philanthropist too lost in his grand concerns to live in the moment anymore, who had faded, and faded, and finally regained his passion by protesting for the right to die. The story came to Amanda in an instant through the link she shared with all the Continuum- how Q had been imprisoned for his own protection after several suicide attempts, how he'd accidentally been rescued by humans, how the humans had tricked her old mentor Q into accepting their judgment in mediating between the Continuum and the philosopher, and the ruling had gone in favor of the philosopher, who'd promptly killed himself. The resulting discontinuity had sent ripples of chaos through the Continuum, and now many of the Q were outright terrified, clinging to the status quo and the "purity" of the Continuum as if what had happened threatened to rip out the moorings of their sanity.
"But why do they blame me?" Amanda wailed.
"Well, your species gave Q the right to kill himself-"
"Not my species. I'm Q."
"That's not how they see it. And your parents voluntarily removed themselves from the Continuum, causing a discontinuity almost as severe as Q's death, and all this has happened, in our terms, in such a terribly short period of time. And also, you're the first new Q in a very, very long time, since the dawn of the New Age, and a lot of Q see you as a threat. Coming on top of so many changes... it's too much."
"We're supposed to be better than this, though! I might expect this of- of 17th century humans, or present-day Romulans, or something, but not the Q!"
"Yes, well, I can't stand seeing what all this has done to the Continuum. We're on the verge of fragmenting irrevocably, and some people are just irresponsibly fanning the flames for their own political gain." She sighed, and kissed Amanda's forehead gently. "Amanda, it isn't safe for you here anymore. Not right now. Leave the Continuum and wait for the whole thing to blow over, that's my advice."
Automatically Amanda reached out to locate her other protectors and defenders, the few Q she'd made friends with, the Q who had brought her to the Continuum. No information came. Frightened now, she cast her net wider, searching with her own senses rather than relying on the communal knowledge of the Continuum- and still there was no sign.
"Where's Q?" she asked, suddenly on the verge of panic again.
No information came from Auntie. In fact, Auntie went completely blank at the question, no information passing from her at all. This was a highly unusual state for a Q, and agitated Amanda further. "Is he dead? Is Q dead, too? And the others, my friends, where are they?"
"I can't tell you that." Auntie's blankness grew tiny chinks, where small mindspeech overtones of warning and disapproval leaked through. In human speech, her voice was clipped and sharp.
"You can't?" Amanda's voice was shrill, and her own overtones leaked her complete panic. "Why can't you? What's happened?"
"Forget about Q, lovey. I know you cared about him and he's helped you in the past, but he's gotten himself into a great deal of trouble. It won't help your case with the rest of the Continuum any if you remind people of your friendship with him."
"What kind of trouble?"
"It's better that you don't know. Now listen to me. Stop crying- everyone in the Continuum knows you're scared, but it's a sign of weakness to broadcast it all over, and it just makes you look more human. I want you to go back out to the material universe. It should only take a century or two for everything to get back to normal, barely an eyeblink."
Amanda stared at her. "A century or two?"
"You're being linear, child. You're a Q now. That's hardly any time at all."
"I- but this is my home! Why should I have to leave it when none of this is my fault?"
Auntie sighed. "Amanda, you're expecting the universe to be fair. That's a very human concept. It doesn't matter that it isn't your fault; people are frightened and they're looking for a scapegoat. You'd be safest if you let everyone pretend you don't exist until all this is done with." She manufactured a handkerchief and wiped Amanda's face. "Come on, little one. Dry your tears and be a Q. It won't be so bad. You can catch up on the mortals you knew once."
"I thought that was forbidden."
"Living with them as if you were mortal yourself is forbidden, but there's no law that says you can't visit. Go on."
Reluctantly, Amanda hugged her mentor and left, returning to the material universe.
Where could she go? Her parents- she thought of them now as her adoptive parents, not true parents at all- had been shaken by the revelation of their adoptive daughter's identity. She hadn't been able to avoid seeing it. And she wasn't terribly willing right now to go to them when she wasn't sure if they'd accept her. But the only other place for her to go, the only people she could explain her dilemma to, was the Enterprise and its crew, and that was another Q's territory. The Q were fiercely possessive of the mortals they'd claimed as their own; intruding on another Q's domain was impolite at best... though if Q was really in such terrible trouble, he probably wouldn't notice. And if he did notice, and came for her, she could ask him what was really going on.
Mind made up, Amanda flashed herself onto the Enterprise-E, outside the door to Beverly Crusher's quarters. "Doc-"
And gasped, "I'm sorry!", flashing back out of existence, as she realized Dr. Crusher was dressing. Stupid, stupid, you've totally forgotten human politeness! she cursed herself. Every bad thing Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard had said about Q arrogance was true. She had totally screwed that up. There was no way Dr. Crusher would want to speak to her now.
"Amanda? Amanda, was that you?"
Though she wasn't physically present there anymore, Amanda's attention was still enough on Dr. Crusher to hear the woman calling after her. Cautiously she reappeared outside the door to the doctor's quarters, and rang the bell. "Doctor? It's me- Amanda. Can I come in?"
"Yes, go ahead."
She walked through the door this time. Crusher was standing there in a bathrobe. "I'm sorry," she said miserably. "I didn't mean to burst in on you like that- it's just-"
"Amanda," Crusher breathed. "You look terrible. What have they done to you?"
The human came forward, and Amanda broke. She flung herself into Dr. Crusher's arms. "They hate me," she sobbed. "They hate me, and I don't know why, I didn't do anything..."
"You poor girl," Crusher said softly. "It's all right." She stroked Amanda's back and hair, holding her tightly, letting her cry. It wasn't all right and the thought that a human could make it so was nonsensical, but Amanda needed the comfort, meaningless as it was.
They sat down on Crusher's bed. Eventually she was able to talk enough to explain her situation to Crusher, who listened with narrowed eyes. "It sounds like good old-fashioned mob rule to me," she said.
"That's what I don't understand! We're supposed to be better than this. No one ever warned me the Continuum could, could put together lynch mobs. Q said we were superior to humanity, to nearly everyone else- but humans don't lynch people anymore!"
"No, we don't," Crusher said. "Maybe Q's been deceiving you."
"He can't. I'm Q too. And my Auntie's said the same things, and I know she wouldn't lie to me-"
"Your Auntie? Did your parents have- siblings?"
"No, it isn't like that. All the Q are brothers and sisters. But- well, she's always been taking care of me, training me in my powers, like a mom, but I already have a mom. So I call her Auntie." Tears welled in Amanda's eyes again. "She cares about me, I know it, and I think Q likes me, your Q I mean, and I have some friends, except they're all missing and Auntie won't tell me what happened to them. She says it's better if I don't know. And I'm so scared. I can't believe any of this is happening... everything was normal when I left. Oh, people made fun of me, and a lot of them were mean, but I could handle that. But no one wanted me dead... they didn't call me 'contaminant' or things like that..."
"They don't sound superior to anything. Amanda, have you considered coming back? It doesn't sound as if the Q Continuum is the right place for you. If you're going to have to put up with this sort of prejudice for millions of years, maybe you should consider coming back to humanity?"
"I can't. I- the things I've seen, Dr. Crusher, the things I've learned... it's so incredible. I can go anywhere, do anything, learn anything about anything." She tried to smile, aware of how ghastly she must look with the tears streaking her face. "I wanted to join Starfleet because I wanted to explore the universe. Well, I could be in Starfleet all my life and not learn a fraction of what the Continuum has to offer me. It's like the universe is open before me, calling me to run in and explore. And not just the universe- all the universes, all the realms of possibility. I can't go back to being a mere human- I won't. I don't care how much they hate me, I'm Q and I won't let them take that away from me." At Crusher's expression, she felt a stab of guilt. "I'm sorry, I don't want to sound like I'm lording it over you just because I'm more powerful, or that I look down on humans or anything. But I really am more than human now- I can't go back to being less than I am, don't you see?"
"Of course I do. It would be terrible to waste your potential . But how badly do you want to spend eternity with these people, Amanda?"
"I don't know. I thought I was fitting in, I thought people were accepting me, and now this. And it's so horrible- we're supposed to be better than this, but everyone's acting so... well, no offense, but they're acting like a bunch of mortals. And I don't know why. Yes, they told me it's because Q killed himself-"
"What?" Crusher's eyes went wide.
"Oh, sorry. A different Q. In English we're all Q- it can get confusing if you're not a telepath."
"Of course. For a moment I thought you meant the Q we know."
"Yes, I'm sorry. But see, I don't understand why him killing himself is my fault, or why I'm a contaminant. I'm a Q. I've always been Q, I was just raised as a human. So why? And how can they hate me so much when I never did anything to them?" She clenched her fists. "I want to fight back! I want to show them I'm worthy of being a Q- but Auntie's just told me to hide out here . So I can't do anything to convince them I belong..."
"I don't know if you could do much about that kind of prejudice anyway, to be honest, Amanda. So, what's next for you, as long as you're in our universe anyway? Are you going to drop in on your parents for a while?"
"No, I- can't I stay here? Just for a while?"
Crusher thought about it. "You'd have to ask the captain. I trust that you'd be able to keep from interfering in ship's business, but it isn't my decision."
"I'll be good. I won't get in the way, I promise."
Crusher tapped her combadge. "Crusher to Picard."
"Jean-Luc, I've got Amanda Rogers here, and she wants to ask you a question. Would it be all right if we dropped by?"
She smiled at Amanda. "There you go. Let's go talk to him."
"Thank you," Amanda said, smiling, and gestured. She and Beverly were suddenly outside the door to Picard's quarters, Beverly dressed in her uniform. Amanda had cleaned up her own appearance, disposing of the tear streaks on her face and removing some of the shaken, haggard look. She rang Picard's bell.
"Am I intruding, Captain?" she asked.
"Not at all. How have you been, Amanda?"
She took a deep breath. "Until very recently, I'd have said 'wonderful'. I've been learning so much, experiencing so many things... in a lot of ways it's all been like some kind of dream come true. But... but a little while ago..." She would not cry. Amanda applied her powers to controlling her human incarnation and finished. "A little while ago, I came back to the Continuum after being away in training, and found that... everyone hated me."
"What do you mean?" Picard asked.
"Well, not everyone. My mentor doesn't hate me. There are others that stayed out of it. But there was- the only way to describe it is a mob on my doorstep. Like the peasants coming to drag me out to the guillotine- except that they think they're the royalty. They hate me for having been human- and I couldn't find my friends, or the Q you know, the one that brought me to the Continuum. And my Auntie- my mentor, that's what I call her- she wouldn't tell me what had happened to him, or the others." She shivered. "I'm afraid he- he might be dead."
"Do you think the Continuum might have executed him?" Crusher asked. "Like-"
She choked it off, but Amanda could read minds, and even if she hadn't heard the thought, the completion of the sentence was obvious. "Like my parents, you mean?" she asked softly. "I wondered. Auntie said he was in a lot of trouble and I'd be better off not knowing the details. She also said I should stay in the material universe- here, away from the Continuum- until the danger passed."
"What sort of danger?" Picard asked, his thought clearly, what sort of danger could affect the Q Continuum?
"I don't know! Not exactly. A Q committed suicide, and everyone's really shaken up about it, but there's something more than that I can't quite figure out. So," she took another breath, "is it okay with you if I stay here for a while? If I can't go back to the Continuum I don't know where else to go..."
"Why not your parents?"
Amanda shook her head. "They... never accepted my being Q. It scared them. I don't want to go someplace else I should belong, and don't."
"You do understand, if you were to stay aboard I would ask that you not use your powers for anything short of the imminent destruction of the ship. I can't have you using your powers and being disruptive-"
"I wouldn't. I promise I wouldn't."
He smiled slightly. "Then I see no objection to your visiting us for a short while."
"Thank you!" She clasped her hands and tried not to bounce. "Thank you so much, Captain!"
"Pathetic. Simply pathetic."
Amanda spun. Had the humans heard that? She hadn't sensed him coming in-
"Q," Picard said, with a mixture of resignation, annoyance and- almost, anticipation? That was in the emotional resonance, not his voice, and Amanda had to force herself not to pry. She herself was simply overwhelmed.
"You're all right!" Unselfconsciously she ran the half-meter or so to where Q had appeared and flung her arms around him. "I was really worried about you! Where were you?"
"Remember when Q told you it was better that you didn't know?" he asked her chidingly.
"You should have listened to her."
"Q. What is the meaning of this?" Picard asked. "Why is Amanda in such danger in the Continuum?"
"None of your concern, Picard. You just go on worrying about your little ship and your little species and your self-important little missions. None of this has anything to do with you." He turned to Amanda. "A whole universe to play with and you chose to come here? Whatever possessed you?"
Amanda ignored that. "What's going on, Q?"
"Didn't Q tell you not to worry about it?"
She breathed an exasperated sigh. "I'm as Q as you are. I have the right to know-" Instinctively she reached out to probe Q for the knowledge, and recoiled in shock. "You're discontinuous!" She couldn't read him. The essential fabric that bound her whole species together had a giant rift in it, severing him from her. "How-"
"That's what's happening, stubborn child. The Continuum is fracturing. Our unity of understanding, our essential oneness, is breaking apart."
"All because Q killed himself?"
"Well, no. That was the trigger, but the fracture's been there for hundreds of thousands of years. The Continuum has been kicking people out before they could aggravate the fracture, but that couldn't go on forever. This conflict was inevitable."
"Then why is everyone blaming me?"
Q shrugged. "No one's ever accused me of claiming that half the Continuum aren't morons."
"Is this your much-vaunted superiority, Q?" Picard asked quietly, coldly. "Beings who would scapegoat and assault a child for a conflict that was none of her doing? You accused us of being a grievously savage child-race. Who tries the Q Continuum for the same crime?"
Q gave Picard a look. "Picard, I'm not here to listen to your sanctimonious declarations of human superiority. In case you hadn't noticed, I have a crisis on my hands. Now." He turned back to Amanda. "You have my permission to remain on Picard's dreary little ship as long as you like- I don't think anyone will bother to come after you. But I absolutely forbid you to come over to our side of the divide. Things are getting dangerous, and I don't want you hurt."
"Am I supposed to stay on their side? They're the ones who want to kill me!"
"Not all of them. In fact, most Q haven't taken a side yet. You stay with them. You're the first new Q in millennia and you're too young to defend yourself if things get worse."
"How can things get worse than this?" Amanda demanded. "What's going on? It's supposed to take the entire Continuum to destroy a Q, but that didn't stop them from trying to kill me!"
"It doesn't take the entire Continuum to destroy a Q. Just a whole lot of them. And I've heard rumors... well, never mind. Just don't worry about it."
"Rumors of what?"
"Stay out of trouble," Q said, and vanished.
Amanda's eyes narrowed. "I am getting so sick of everyone treating me like a child," she muttered.
"Well, to be fair, Amanda, you are a child," Picard said. "At least by their standards, although you'd be an adult human by now if you'd stayed. I can't say I disagree with Q's desire to see you remain in a safe place, away from whatever this conflict is."
"But it's not fair! I'm Q too, and they're not even telling me what's going on! We're all supposed to have equal access to information- it shouldn't even be possible for Q and Auntie not to tell me what's really happening. But I can't even read Q any more. I mean, I'm not even hitting his shields. It's like he just wasn't there."
"Is that what you meant by calling Q discontinuous?"
"Yes. We're all connected to each other; anything one of us knows any other can find out, unless it's personal and then we can hide it behind shields, but not if a lot of other Q want to know. Except now, I guess. It's… I can tell that he's still a Q, I can feel the power he's using, I can even follow his trail through extradimensional space… but I can't feel him. It's like there's a giant gap between our minds and I can't cross it." She shook her head. "That must be why I can't sense any of my friends. They're not dead, but they're on the other side of this… discontinuity."
"It must be awful for you," Dr. Crusher said. "Is there anything I can do?" She smiled wanly. "If you just want to talk…"
Amanda shook her head. "No. I know what I have to do now." She turned to Picard. "Thank you for offering me class=msodel0a sanctuary, Captain… but I can't hide here while my home is being torn apart. I have to go find out what's really going on."
"Are you sure that's wise, Amanda?" Crusher asked.
She smiled wryly. "Probably not," she admitted. "But when I chose to be Q, I didn't choose to be Q only when it's convenient. They're my people, and I can't watch them tear themselves apart and do nothing."
"I certainly understand your feelings," Captain Picard said. "And I would want to do the same as you, in your place. But has it occurred to you that your presence might make matters worse? If showing yourself in the Continuum will inflame this conflict, is it the right thing to go back?"
"I'm going to go to my Auntie, and I'm going to demand an explanation. If it seems to me that the best way I can help re-unite the Continuum is for me to exile myself for a while, I'll come back here. But I need to know what's going on before I can decide what I should do."
She hugged Dr. Crusher. "I'll come back to let you know I'm all right once everything's all worked out," she said.
Crusher hugged her back. "Just take care of yourself, Amanda," Crusher said softly.."
"I thought I told you-"
"You did tell me. I came back." Amanda projected determination and will at Auntie. She knew she couldn't hope to influence an older Q, not directly, but by showing herself to be completely focused she could perhaps convince Auntie to stop leaving her in the dark. "I need to know what's happening. I'm a Q as well."
Auntie sighed, projecting exasperation and resignation. "If you insist, but I want you to promise you'll stay out of it. You are far too young to be involved in this."
"I won't make any promises until I know the situation."
"I won't tell you anything until I have a promise from you."
"If I can stay out of it, I will." At Auntie's look, Amanda said, "Some Q just tried to hate me to death, remember? I can't promise I'll stay out of it because they might bring it to me."
"Oh, all right." Auntie suddenly seemed far too weary to be a Q. Amanda had never seen any of the Q be less than vital, charged with all the energies of omnipotence and the emotional force that went with that. But Auntie seemed suddenly very, very tired, like a human pushed to the edge of her psychic endurance. "They want everything to change."
"You know perfectly well who. Q and his cohorts. They believe that Q's death means that we need to radically transform the Continuum. Remove all existing power structures. Allow any and every personal freedom. Run riot."
"Like what? What do they want to do?"
"You know Q." She meant the Q for humanity, the one Amanda had just talked to on the Enterprise. " You know what he wants. He sees any attempt to control his behavior as some sort of totalitarian infringement of his rights. If he wants to run around tormenting lesser species and pretending he comes with the authority of the whole Continuum behind him, he thinks he should have that right. And his friends are just as bad. They want the Continuum to allow them to do anything they want."
Amanda frowned. She did know Q- she got along with him reasonably well now, but she hadn't forgotten how obnoxious he'd been to her when she'd still thought of herself as a mortal, nor how cavalierly he'd treated the lives of the mortals aboard the Enterprise- testing her with stunts that, had she not been able to counter them, could have destroyed the entire ship. Not to mention what she knew he'd done to the Enterprise before she'd awakened to her power, or to millions of other sentient species throughout the aeons. The idea of Q, and his friends and sympathizers, having total personal freedom to do as they willed was an unpleasant one to an entity who cared for the lives of innocent mortals. And yet… "How is this different from usual? I thought Q was always complaining the Continuum restricts our freedom. But you and Q have both warned me to stay out of this. Isn't argument and debate normal in the Continuum? Why is this one so serious?"
"There's too many of them. They're causing a severe discontinuity, tearing the Continuum into pieces, but we can't remove them because there aren't enough of us to agree."
The only way to kill a Q was to sever that Q from the Continuum, and the only way to sever a Q from the Continuum was through an overwhelming majority action on the part of most of the Q in the Continuum. It had been done to her parents, the second before they were killed in the tornado the Continuum had sent. It had been done to the Q for humanity, before she'd met him, and reversed before he could actually be killed. It had been done, reluctantly, to the Q who wanted to die, because a human starship captain had ruled that he should have the right to die if he wished. Amanda realized that Auntie was saying that she and like-minded Q had attempted to remove Q and his supporters from the Continuum for demanding freedom and change, and that they couldn't get a quorum to agree with them to raise the power to do it. For the first time in the Continuum's history, there was a faction of Q large enough to act as a secondary nexus of power and authority, and those who had held power in the Continuum from time immemorial had no ability to do anything about it.
No wonder so many of them had lashed out at her. None of the Q could handle losing power and control very well. They must be terrified, and enraged, and willing to take it out on anyone they could.
"Why can't we negotiate some sort of compromise?"
"Compromise? These Q won't compromise. They have no concept of it. If they don't get everything they demand, unconditionally, they'll tear the Continuum apart."
If Q was so unwilling to compromise, why had he seemed so disturbed by what was happening to the unity of the Continuum? And if those that had always held power in the Continuum were so reasonable, why had they killed her parents instead of removing their powers, or threatened to kill her for not being a proper Q instead of inducting her into the Continuum as Q had tried with Commander Riker once? "Has anyone even tried?"
Before Auntie could answer, Amanda heard the call- the overwhelming pull of the Convocation, the voice of many Q speaking as one summoning all Q to return to the Continuum. There would be an official debate on this matter, and *all* Q- including her- were being compelled to come and listen, if not speak. Inwardly Amanda sighed, relaxing slightly. They had to mean to compromise, somehow. Given that neither of the two factions had enough collective power to throw the other faction out of the Continuum, they would have to. And while the debate might take an enormously long time, it would inevitably result in this being smoothed out and the Continuum being united again. That was how these things worked. The collective memory she could access held no recall of any debates this ferocious or polarized, but they had had many debates and that was always how they resolved.
The Convocation was usually fairly loud and cacophonous; the Q were a species of strong opinions, strong wills, and very little inhibition about saying whatever they thought, with the result that every meeting of the Continuum as a whole started out with everyone talking at once. Had she been human, Amanda would have been overwhelmed, but the truth was the Q could freely interrupt and talk over each other because they were capable of listening to and participating in several hundred threads of discussion at once. What was supposed to happen with a Convocation was that the arguing would slowly die down as the opinion of the Continuum began to coalesce around certain of the opinions being expressed, until, eventually, the Continuum was of one mind on the subject, or close to one mind anyway.
This was not what was happening.
If anything this Convocation was getting louder, and more obnoxious. Personal insults began to mix in with the attacks on others' opinions. Some Q began shoving each other- no one Q could cause any real harm to another Q, but a telekinetic punch still smarted. A miasma of hatred and rage lay over everything, and it wasn't dissipating. It was thickening.
Sides were forming. Instead of the Convocation coalescing into one point, it was coalescing into two, leaving many, many Q out on the sidelines. Auntie, Amanda saw, was on the edges of the group arguing for the preservation of the status quo. Since, after all, the status quo did include her now, and since Auntie had a good point that giving any Q total freedom would result in a lot of gratuitous abuse of mortals, Amanda edged closer to that group herself, even though at its core were the people who had tried to hate her to death. They weren't focused on her now. The two sides were building up violent levels of hatred and anger toward each other, like the energies she'd been attacked with earlier, and the energies blistered and coiled against each other, seeking to break through and overwhelm the other side.
She was watching the destruction of the Continuum.
And then a strange pain ripped through her, and through everyone there, as something tore a hole in the fabric of the Continuum.
One of the eldest of the Q stood at the center of the group for preserving order, holding…
Holding a weapon?
"I trust I have everyone's attention," he said sharply, detaching himself from his group to move to the front of it, facing the Q - for - class=msodel0 change and freedom. "I cannot believe that we have been driven to this, but it is obvious that if we allow this to go on, if we allow this chaos to overwhelm us, we will be destroyed. The Continuum has lasted too long, is too important, for us to allow it to be so easily shattered! I am therefore driven to an ultimatum. Either those who stand for change, stand down, or-" he gestured at the weapon- "you will be destroyed."
The Convocation erupted again. "This is an outrage!" "Weapons? In the Continuum?" "What are we, savage mortals who must resort to war?"
"It is necessary!" the elder thundered. "We cannot cast out those who would cause this discontinuity, those who would sever the Continuum from itself. We have no choice!" He focused on the Q-for-change, glaring. "Either you return to the fold, stop your ceaseless agitating for pointless change and freedoms you know we cannot afford to give- or we will have no choice but to annihilate you."
"Oh, and that will certainly bring the Continuum together," the Q for humanity said sarcastically. He came forward, approaching the elder. "In order to preserve the Continuum as it is, you would bring us murder? Weapons of war? Oh, yes, that's exactly what I think of when I think of preserving the Continuum."
"Do you think of preserving the Continuum? At all?" the elder retorted.
"Believe it or not, I have thought of nothing else since Q ended his life." He addressed the entire Convocation. "You see what we demand as chaos? It is nothing less than sheer survival. One of our best has died to prove to this body how empty our lives have become, how rigid the structures we live under. There was a time when we embraced change, when we actively sought new information, explored the boundaries of the universes we touch and who and what we are. We have lost that. We accepted our fate, our boredom, as inevitable. What happens to the beings who exist to question everything in the universe, when everything is known to them already?... But it's a fallacy. We've cut ourselves off from everything we could still learn by declaring it off-limits! Anything we don't already know, we've decided that there is no value in learning, and restricted those who might choose to explore it from doing so." He shook his head. "Everything that lives either evolves and grows, or it stagnates. Everything. We arrogantly believed that we would be immune, that no change would be needed because we had achieved perfection. We were wrong. We're not immune, we're not perfect, and if we don't change we will die. Or worse, live, forever, wishing we could die. That's not how I was planning to spend my eternity."
"Chaos is not the answer! We can change, if needed, slowly. Carefully. Not this disruptive revolution you and yours seek!"
"Revolution? I'm not the one holding a gun!" He came closer. "You don't want to use that thing, Q. I know you too well. You know as well as I do that killing people isn't going to solve any of our problems. Now, if you want to negotiate, we are willing to discuss matters, regardless of… past reputations. We hardly need to get everything we demand in the next picosecond; we are willing to wait a reasonable length of time, if we see that change is actually happening…"
He was standing in front of the elder now, radiating confidence and assurance plainly enough that Amanda could see it even through the discontinuity. The elder obviously did not, in fact, intend to use his weapon- he had created it to try to force the Continuum into resolving this issue, one way or another. The opening of serious negotiation was exactly what he wanted. The Q for humanity was right- it had always been a bluff.
Unfortunately, what one Q knew, all Q on the same side of the discontinuity knew. Which meant the elder wasn't the only Q who knew how to construct that weapon, now. And not all of the Q for the side of order were as willing to see compromise.
Neither of the Q at the center of the discussion saw one of the Q-for-order manifest the weapon and aim it directly at the Q for humanity. Amanda saw it, but could not scream a warning through the discontinuity.
The gunman shouted, "No! We end this nonsense now!" and fired.
Seeing the danger, another Q-for-change teleported directly into the line of fire, tackling the Q for humanity, presumably to get him out of the way, while shouting, "Watch out!"
The weapon tore through him, narrowly missing the Q he'd protected. He screamed in agony, and exploded, his pattern of energies rupturing and showering the entire Convocation.
For a moment the entire Convocation, or the parts of it that Amanda could sense, registered nothing but numb horror. For the first time in the history of the Continuum, a Q had been killed without being severed from the Continuum first. For the first time, a Q had been murdered.
The moment of numbness didn't last long. The side-for-change boiled over with grief and righteous rage, transmuting into the kind of hatred that made a weapon in and of itself. They turned the blistering force of their fury against the gunman, and to a certain extent the entire side-for-order. The gunman crumpled under the attack. Some of the Q-for-order, caught in the backwash, manifested the guns and began firing into the side for change. Terror and pain didn't work as weapons nearly as well as hatred and rage; the force of the side for change's attack was blunted, distorted, by the sudden violent deaths of several of their number and the rest of them realizing that they were actually being shot at.
Why don't they shoot back? Amanda wondered, staring at the violence in utter horror. And then she realized they couldn't. They had no weapons.
Anything one Q knew, all knew- except those on the other side of a discontinuity. The Q-for-change didn't know how to manifest the Q-killing weapons, because the elder had created it after the discontinuity had formed. A Q could instantly make anything it had the knowledge of- but only those on the same side of the discontinuity as the elder who'd invented the weapons had that knowledge.
The Q-for-change weren't entirely helpless- they could still teleport, they could still shield, they could still turn their hate and pain into a force to blast their enemies with. But many had simply fled, and those who had remained to fight were, essentially, doomed. Several Q, working together, combining the force of their emotion and concentration, could use rage as a weapon against a single Q. One Q, using the weapon, could kill as many Q as it could hit. It was a completely imbalanced and unfair fight.
"This must be," Auntie whispered, horror and grief and numb resignation choking her mindspeech. She held part of herself against Amanda, trying to give comfort. "Once… once this is done… the Continuum will be restored."
Once everyone who dissented was dead, in other words.
Her parents had been executed for dissent against the Continuum. Amanda had never been able to believe that they had deserved that. It didn't matter that she didn't necessarily trust the Q-for-change with all the freedom they wanted; they didn't deserve to die, shot down like fish in a barrel, for having had the temerity to ask for greater freedom. The Q for humanity had wanted to negotiate- and as a being raised by humans, Amanda could not believe that it was ever right to kill an enemy reaching for peace. Or right to kill people for wanting and asking for freedom.
"I'm sorry, Auntie," she whispered. "I can't stay out of this."
Before Auntie could stop her, she teleported out of the Continuum, back to the Enterprise, where she found Q's trail back to the Continuum and followed it, to the other side of the discontinuity.
She came out next to him, of course, having followed him specifically. He was startled enough that he had to work to maintain the shielding he was trying to hold up. "Amanda! What are you-?"
Wordlessly Amanda grabbed him, and before he could struggle or even fully realize what she was doing, planted the packet of information that comprised the Q-killing gun into his mind. His first reaction was shock- Amanda was obviously the last Q he expected to be dominating him, even briefly. And then he realized what she'd done.
He shook his head, smiling. "Oh, you stupid, wonderful child. Humanity's completely corrupted you. You're as idiotic as Picard is, and I love you for it." He then dropped his shield and fired back at the enemy, simultaneously sending to his side- her side, now- "We have the weapon! We can fight back!"
Amanda lifted her own copy of the weapon. Had she gone into Starfleet as she'd intended, she would have one day probably held a phaser and fired it to defend crewmates, innocent people or her way of life. She had certainly never expected that she would end up doing the same thing in the Q Continuum. But alone of all these people, she had grown up with the expectation that she could die, that those around her could die. She was not crippled with the terror of sudden mortality as many Q on both sides were. She was not overwhelmed with horror at the notion of such violence- she hated it, but she hadn't had billions of years to come to believe it would never happen here. She was aiming at those who had ordered her parents' execution, at those who had tried to hate her to death, not the family and friends and lovers of several billion years' time.
Of all the Q, she was the best suited to this battle. And as a human as much as a Q, she couldn't do anything but fight for freedom and the right to dissent.
Standing next to her first mentor, she aimed at one of the Q on the other side, and fired.
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