As Icheb walked across the grounds of Starfleet Academy, he sensed someone fall into step just behind him. Therefore, he was not surprised when that someone drew up next to him. He was, however, surprised when they spoke to him.
"So, Itchy, still have that annoying Kirk fixation?"
"Q-ball, what are you doing here?"
Ignoring the question, Q continued as if Icheb had said nothing. "Imagine my astonishment when I looked for you and Aunt Kathy and discovered you were in the Alpha quadrant. Actually astonished isn't the right word. Angry would be a better word."
"Angry, why were you angry we had returned to the Alpha quadrant? It was our destination."
"I wasn't angry at you, or the present Aunt Kathy. Mostly I was really ticked off at the meddling future Admiral Aunt Kathy for leading the intrepid Voyager crew home by once again defeating the Borg queen. How monotonous. The reason I went looking for Voyager was very simple. I intended to bring the ship home as a thank you present, to show my appreciation for all you did for me when I was on Voyager. It took me MONTHS to convince Dad I was sincere."
"Why would your father doubt your sincerity?"
"Are you sure you're not Vulcan? Q doubts everyone's sincerity. You know how it is. Your parents see you following in their footsteps and they try to make sure you don't make the same galactic mistakes."
"Have you forgotten, my parents bred me to be a Borg killer? I don't think they were overly concerned with any behavior problems I might develop."
"Well, aren't we just the perfect pair? I was supposed to be the savior of the Q Continuum, and you were supposed to be the downfall of the Borg. What were our parents thinking?! Don't they know a child can be ruined by unrealistic expectations? I say we should rebel."
"Do you remember the last time you wanted to break the rules? It almost killed me."
"So, we'll be more careful."
"Besides, I am very busy with my studies."
"By the way, where are we going? Does this perambulation of yours have a destination? Or are we just wandering aimlessly?"
"Classes are over for the day, and I am headed to the mess hall. Would you like to join me for the evening meal?"
"Goody, human food."
"I should say, you can join me on one condition."
"Let me guess, I can't call you Itchy in front of the other cadets?"
"Actually, no. I have noticed the other cadets use nicknames for each other almost exclusively, so the use of a nickname would be appropriate. However, you really should take off the Captain's uniform."
"Do they allow dining in the nude at Starfleet Academy?"
"Q, you know what I mean. You can't just show up in the midst of Starfleet cadets in a Captain's uniform, especially if you appear to be approximately the same age as those cadets. It would be very confusing."
With a snap of his fingers and a flash of bright white light, Q was wearing a cadet's uniform. "Itchy, you have no idea how humbling this is. I hope you appreciate it."
"What I appreciate is that I won't have to explain the youngest Captain in Starfleet history at mealtime. But since my classmates will not recognize you as a fellow cadet, perhaps some civilian clothing would be appropriate. Social situations are difficult enough for me."
"I am the first former Borg drone at the Academy, which does not make me the most popular cadet."
"Sounds like their problem to me." Q snapped his fingers again and was wearing a civilian outfit which would be right at home on Earth. "What will we be eating? Hunks of meat roasted on a stick over an open fire?"
"Q-ball, that isn't funny. Human cuisine is quite varied and sophisticated. I do, however, miss Neelix' cooking."
"I hope the little fur ball forgave me for that little incident. I was an unenlightened Q at the time."
"Little incident? You fused his jaw and removed his vocal chords."
"I said I was unenlightened at the time. By the way, why is he still in the Delta quadrant?"
"Aren't you omnipotent? Don't you already know?"
They had reached what Icheb insisted on calling the mess hall, but what Starfleet Academy called a cafeteria. Along the far wall were several replicators. Round tables with chairs around them were scattered throughout the large room in a casual fashion.
Even though the cadets all had access to replicators in the dormitories, Starfleet felt they should have a chance to eat and mingle in a more social setting if they desired. Icheb had been downplaying the difficulties he had encountered at Starfleet Academy. The other cadets weren't just wary of him, they were petrified of him. The class work was easy for him, but the isolation was difficult to adjust to. So every evening, he ate his meal in the mess hall hoping some of the other cadets would notice him and join him for dinner. This had not yet happened, but after his last communication with Seven, she suggested he invite some of the other cadets to join him, he just had not quite decided to do it yet. Due to Icheb's lack of initiative, his only real friendships were with the crewmembers of Voyager, so he was very pleased to see Q. Standing in front of the replicators Icheb asked Q, "What will you have to eat?"
"I don't know, just get two of whatever you were going to have."
Turning to the replicator Icheb ordered 2 hamburgers with fried potatoes, and 2 chocolate milkshakes. "This is something to which Tom Paris introduced me; he called it classic Earth teenager food. It has very little nutritional value, but I enjoy it, and don't eat it every day."
After they carried their food to an empty table, Q looked around and noticed they seemed to have captured the attention of most of the other cadets in the cafeteria. "Itchy, why are they all staring at us?"
Icheb looked around for the first time and realized Q had a legitimate question, practically everyone was staring at them, "I have no idea. They usually just ignore me." Icheb turned back to Q as if he had just remembered something. "When your father gave Captain Janeway the spatial flecture information, she told me she asked him why he didn't just send Voyager home. And he told her he would not be setting a good example for you if he did all the work for us. Was he really going to let you send Voyager home?"
"That's another reason I didn't come looking for your ship immediately. Dad and I argued about that for years."
"It hasn't been years."
"Itchy, it hasn't been years for you. For us, it was years. He tried to use the same argument with me he used on Aunt Kathy but I finally convinced him the crew of Voyager had been very generous to me, and I would not be an upstanding citizen of the cosmos if I didn't return the generosity. Another reason was, I wanted to make sure you could attend Starfleet Academy on Earth. I explained to Dad that since you are really the only good friend I have ever had, I would be robbing you of an important experience, going to school with people your own age, that sort of thing, if you grew up in the Delta quadrant on a ship with the same 150 people day after day. The monotony would be horrible. He didn't have an argument for that."
"It was very thoughtful of you to consider my future in such a manner. But, as you can see, we made it back to Earth, and I am attending the Academy. However, the monotony of life on Voyager is something I have been missing lately. Like I said, social situations are really difficult for me. None of the other cadets have really treated me as an equal. They seem to be afraid I am going to assimilate them or something. The transition from being a member of the Voyager community to the Academy has been, well, not as easy as I would have hoped. I was accustomed to interacting with the crew and they were accustomed to me being there and studying for my classes and helping out whenever I could. Now, I am here attending classes and my interaction with other beings is almost non existent. If the professors didn't speak to me during the course of my classes, I doubt I would speak to anything all day except the computer. Of course, I still keep in touch with Seven and the others from Voyager, but it isn't the same as being amongst them on a daily basis." Icheb realized the cafeteria had become extremely quiet while they were talking and when he looked up from their table he understood why. The room was completely empty save for himself and Q. "Q, where did everyone go? Did you do something to them? If you did, it won't make my life here any easier, if they don't throw me out of the Academy entirely."
"Calm down, I didn't do anything to them. One of your fellow classmates recognized me and called security who then evacuated the room almost soundlessly, it was really quite impressive. There are three Starfleet security drones outside the door. They have contacted Aunt Kathy and she is on the way here now. I thought it would be best if we just waited here for her to arrive, so the situation doesn't spiral out of control. I think I should get a pat on the proverbial back for my mature response to the way your classmates have treated me with suspicion. Wouldn't you agree?"
As he was finishing his self congratulation, the door opened and Admiral Janeway entered. When she reached their table, she just looked down at the two of them with one of her stern expressions on her face. She seemed to be waiting for something. Icheb and Q simultaneously asked, "What?"
"Did neither of you, as intelligent and omnipotent as you may be, anticipate the possible disquiet the sight of a former Borg drone and a member of the Q continuum casually eating in the cafeteria amongst most of the cadets at Starfleet Academy might inspire?"
They both started to reply at the same time, "Aunt Kathy…", "Admiral…" She held up a hand to stop them before they could really get started. As she pulled out a chair and sat, she addressed the young man whose application to Starfleet Academy she had sponsored, "Icheb, one of your fellow cadets who has familiarized himself with Voyagers logs recognized Q before the two of you even got to the replicators. Needless to say, the news spread through the cafeteria at warp speed. Starfleet security got 17 hails in less than 10 seconds alerting them to the presence of a 'hostile lifeform' in the cafeteria."
"Q, I'm not calling you hostile, just telling you what was reported to Security. Who then hailed me since the 'hostile lifeform' turned out to be my Godson, not to mention being in the company of one of 'my Borg drones.' So, instead of finishing up my work for the day in my office, I am here handling the situation you two have created. What have you to say for yourselves?" She looked from one young man to the other.
"Admiral, you have to understand, I had no intention of causing any trouble. When the other cadets have friends visit them, they always bring them to the cafeteria, and besides, Q showed up when I was on my way here."
The admiral's expression softened as she regarded the cadet. "Yes, other cadets bring friends here to share part of their Academy experience with them. However, the other cadets don't have members of an omnipotent group of super beings with a history of antipathy towards the Federation as their best friend. Gentlemen, why don't we return use of the cafeteria to the other cadets, and adjourn to my office. You are both finished eating aren't you?"
"Yes ma'am." Admiral Janeway smiled to herself as Icheb and Q spoke in unison again. They really were remarkable young men, both of whom she was immensely proud. As they left the cafeteria, she addressed the Security officers, "The situation is under control. We are going to my office if you have any further questions." As the trio set off for the closest transporter station, Janeway noticed the way the cadets in the area regarded the young men with barely controlled fear on their faces. She also noticed that the fear was not aimed solely at Q, but was directed at Icheb as well.
They made the trip to Janeway's office without any further conversation. Q was waiting for them when they entered the office. "So, this is how your vaunted Starfleet treats my son? All he was doing was visiting his little friend. Why is that cause for a military action?"
"I realize this is a very awkward situation. But the boys did not use a great deal of judgment when they casually walked into a Starfleet Academy facility." Admiral Janeway put her hand up to halt the wave of objections she was sure was coming. "Having said that, I understand why this shouldn't be an issue. My dealings with the Q continuum have been different from the previously documented encounters, and I am very fond of Q, and am glad he continues to think of me as his Godmother, and more importantly, of Icheb as his friend. In a perfect galaxy, it should not matter one bit if Q visits Icheb at the Academy. Unfortunately this isn't a perfect galaxy. His classmates have obviously familiarized themselves with Voyager's encounters with the Q, but they definitely don't have a proper understanding of Q's place in Icheb's and my life."
"Okay, that's it! This little incident is the straw which broke this Q's back."
Q senior looked as annoyed as Kathryn Janeway had ever seen him. "What in the world are you ranting about?"
"Ranting am I? I have had it with your silly little Federation's hypocrisy. You people and your vaunted Federation pretend to be tolerant, but from my point of view, you are just as intolerant as any group of beings I have ever met. Icheb, I assume you haven't assimilated anyone while attending Starfleet Academy?"
"Of course you haven't, yet isn't it true your fellow cadets treat you as if you are on the verge of assimilating them at any moment?"
"You don't have to answer that, I think Admiral Janeway noticed the way your fellow cadets were looking at you. Didn't you Kathy? They were looking at him with unadulterated fear. But why were they so terrified, because my son came to visit Icheb? I am quite sure most of the other cadets have had friends visit them without having to involve security officers and Admirals."
"Q, you know your son is likely to cause fear when he encounters most humans."
"Why? Didn't your crew have a great deal to do with turning Junior here into an upstanding citizen of the cosmos? Weren't you at all glad to see him? Did you greet him with a hug or a 'Glad to see you, Q'? No, you admonished both these young men for eating in a public place. I ask you, what kind of message does that send? That it's okay for the two of them to do things together as long as no one sees them? You are in fact telling them they were doing something wrong just by being together in a room with the other cadets. Humans claim to accept beings different than they are, but it isn't true. Right here on this planet, not so long ago in Korea a war was fought, and men from other parts of Earth went to help the locals gain their freedom, or whatever it was for which they were fighting. But if the visiting warriors had the audacity to mate with a local female, the child was not fully accepted by either community, in most cases. Before you try to argue this happened centuries ago, and would not now happen within the Federation, let me remind you of the Bajoran and Cardassian attitude toward mixed children who were conceived during the Occupation. I believe Bajor is now a member of the Federation, is it not?"
"Q, you may have a legitimate point there, but I am not ready to concede just yet. The Federation has examples of accepting species once thought to be enemies, as well. The Klingons for example, were once fierce enemies of the Federation, but are now one of our closest allies."
"How do you feel about the Ferengi? Don't you feel morally superior because the drive to amass personal wealth is no longer your main objective in life? Don't most races in the Federation feel as if making a profit is beneath them? Isn't it true the Ferengi are scorned purely on the basis of their economy?"
"Well, that and their subjugation of women," Janeway reminded Q.
"Sure throw sexism into the conversation. Because Human females have always been treated equally, haven't they? It appears to me if a culture doesn't evolve into some facsimile of Federation approved ideals, they are scorned, looked down upon, purely because they have different cultural mores and ideals. Can you honestly state, Kathy, these two did anything wrong? Eating dinner is generally considered to be a mandatory and sometimes mundane necessity of humanoid existence. And you have the audacity to say they weren't using good judgment, of course I may have misunderstood you and you were referring to their menu choices. In which case, I apologize. I think however you were referring to them eating in a public place.
"The Federation's image as an accepting tolerant society of like minded beings needs an update. Beings around the galaxy need to know the Federation is made up of hypocrites and is training the next generation to be hypocrites as well. It is quite obvious the cadets at the academy are taught to fear the Borg collective and the Q continuum en masse. Granted the Borg Collective as a whole should be feared, but one single individual who has been liberated from the collective and is endeavoring to better humanity by joining Starfleet isn't much of a threat. But do his fellow cadets see that? No, they shun him, ignore him and fear him. They do their best to isolate him so he has no opportunity to assimilate them when they are off guard, which by the way they never are around Icheb. It must be very lonely to be among so many beings your own age and be a pariah, to know they expect the worst from him at any second. Icheb is the first Delta Quadrant native to enter the Academy. He should be besieged by cadets and professors alike eager to learn firsthand about the Delta Quadrant."
"Wait just one minute Q."
"But Kathy, I have only just begun."
"Undoubtedly, but I would like to ask Icheb some questions."
"Checking my veracity?"
"Well, yes." The Admiral looked at the two young men who had been silent throughout Q's diatribe. "Icheb, I'm sorry I haven't been keeping as close a watch on your Academy career as perhaps I should, but is what Q is saying a correct representation of your experiences?"
"Yes ma'am. Although my class work is going quite well, and I am getting high marks in all my classes, I have not had more than a few cursory verbal interactions with my fellow cadets."
"Do you mean to tell me with your extraordinary comprehension of Astrophysics and Warp Field Dynamics, your classmates are not begging for your assistance with their class work?"
"No ma'am. Why would they?"
"It's an unofficial Academy tradition. Every class has students who are far above their classmates in some subjects. It takes the other cadets about a nanosecond to determine who the truly gifted students are, and beg them for help. It is usually a fair trade because each cadet has their strengths and weaknesses, so every cadet contributes to the collective class strength by helping each other. It has always been so. The Academy encourages it because it is good practice for life in Starfleet where one must rely on the knowledge and training of others, and work must be done in a cooperative environment. I find it hard to believe you have not been inundated with requests for assistance."
Q senior jumped back into the discussion at this point, "So, you see Kathy, I was telling the truth. Icheb has not been accepted here among the brightest youth the Federation has to offer. I believe my point has been made, thank you Admiral. The best way to atone for this example of Federation intolerance would be for each of the cadets who were in the room at the time to apologize individually to Q and Icheb. Should I bring them all here now?"
"No, Q you shouldn't. You are fond of mass apologies, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am. I would be very happy to bring all of them here and make them apologize."
"The basic flaw with that suggestion is they would be apologizing without understanding why. We need to address this in a broader more comprehensive manner."
"You mean you agree with me?" Q senior seemed shocked.
"Q, believe it or not, you have made a compelling argument. I am shocked to learn Icheb has been ignored by his classmates, and the second Q was seen with him, the entire corps of cadets turned on him. It seems to me the other cadets were simply using Q's appearance to take the opportunity to cause real trouble for Icheb. Icheb, Q, I must apologize for my initial treatment of you both this evening. I had no idea Icheb was being ostracized, and had I known my reaction would have been quite different."
Q junior and Icheb just gaped at Admiral Janeway and Q senior. Q seemed to find his voice before Icheb could. "Aunt Kathy, is there anything you can do to make Icheb's classmates treat him better? He really doesn't deserve to be treated like this."
"I agree, Q. However, I am not sure how to address this on a large scale."
"I'm telling you, mass apology."
"Q, we all know your opinion of what the solution to this should be. I am thinking more of something which addresses the base of the problem, not just the latest symptom."
"The first thing I would like to do, is see if this has been mentioned on any of the news nets." Admiral Janeway then turned away from the 3 men in her office and activated her desk viewscreen, then tuned into the Federation news feed. When she turned it on the sound was muted, but when she recognized the exterior of the Academy cafeteria she turned the sound up loud enough for all of them to hear.
". . . cafeteria today a Borg drone and a member of the Q continuum caused panic among cadets. We have been told that both beings are currently being held in a room at Starfleet Headquarters." The scene changed to the exterior of the building in which Admiral Janeway's office was. "Due to Starfleet Security procedures, our reporter was unable to get an interview with Admiral Janeway, who was called in to handle the situation."
Admiral Janeway turned off the news feed. "I feel we can safely assume word of this has been disseminated."
"Kathy did you notice how they referred to Icheb. Not as a former Borg drone, but as a Borg drone. I also didn't hear any mention of the fact that he is attending the Academy. They made it sound as if they had no reason to be there, as if they were trying to invade the cafeteria."
"This dangerous misinformation must be addressed now." She tapped her combadge, "Janeway to Admiral Ross."
The voice emanating from her combadge was obviously relieved. "Admiral Janeway, thank the Stars! We have been trying to reach you for thirty minutes with no success."
Janeway shot a meaningful glance at Q. He responded with no hint of remorse in his voice, "I didn't want us to be disturbed. We were discussing very important matters."
Admiral Ross's voice once again permeated the office, "Are you alright? Is everything under control there?"
"I apologize for the lack of communication on my part. It was something of which I was unaware until just this moment. Would it be possible for you to come to my office now?"
"I happen to be right outside of your office with a security detail. Do you need us all in your office?"
"No, we only need you." Before she completely finished her sentence, the door to her office was opening and Admiral Ross was entering. "Admiral Ross have you ever met Q, his son, or Icheb?" After the introductions were made, during which Ross was looking very confused, Janeway addressed him. "There is something we need to discuss, and it is of the highest importance. Today's incident at the Academy cafeteria has illuminated a situation of which I was unaware…"
A week later in the largest auditorium at Starfleet Academy, all the cadets were assembled for a special conference. This conference was to be broadcast on all Starfleet and Federation news and entertainment nets. In the first row of the audience sat the President of the Federation and the Head of Starfleet Academy. On the stage sat Admiral Janeway, Q senior, Q junior, Seven of Nine, Icheb, the members of the Voyager crew who were on Earth at the time, and the top brass of Starfleet.
Admiral Janeway stepped to the podium and addressed the audience. "My name is Kathryn Janeway, former captain of the starship Voyager which was displaced for seven years in the Delta quadrant. During our time in the Delta quadrant my crew and I liberated five drones from the Borg collective. One of those individuals was a young man named Icheb. While we were still tens of thousands of light years from Earth, he expressed an interest in joining Starfleet. He passed all the entrance exams, and began his basic course work while on Voyager. When we arrived at Earth he began attending the Academy. I am sure you are all aware of an event which occurred in the Starfleet Academy cafeteria involving Icheb. This event and the subsequent reaction to it illuminated the need for this conference. I am now going to let Icheb say a few words."
Icheb joined Janeway at the podium, then Janeway went and took a seat with her former crew. "As Admiral Janeway mentioned, I was once a member of the Borg Collective, but was saved by the crew of Voyager. My time on Voyager and my acquaintance with the crew inspired me to want to join Starfleet. I was eager to become a part of an organization which had such generosity and tolerance as one of it's driving forces. However, when I began to attend Starfleet Academy, I was treated much differently than I was on Voyager. The other students did everything they could to avoid me. It was quite obvious they were afraid of me. This perception of mine was reinforced when a friend of mine came to visit me at the Academy. I know you have all heard many stories of the Q continuum. I have had a different experience with them. Even though Q's rebellious spirit once put my life in danger, it was never his intention to do so. And after I was injured he did everything he could to save me, including offering to be punished for his actions before he knew what the possible punishment would be. I regard Q as a friend and was glad to see him last week. I would now like to introduce my friend, Q."
Q stepped up and joined Icheb but as Icheb turned to take a seat, Q stopped him. "Stay here with me, okay." Icheb wasn't sure why, but if Q wanted Icheb standing with him, Icheb would stay. Q addressed the audience, "My name is Q, and I am sure you have all heard about the many encounters my people have had with humans. As such, you probably think I would not be upset by the treatment which I received while visiting my friend. But you would be wrong. I was very hurt not only by the treatment I received, but by the way Icheb's fellow cadets treated him."
So began the first Starfleet Academy Symposium on Tolerance.