This is for Yashida, who made a point of asking for it. I apologise for the lateness. I am absolutely crap when it comes to updating. Ask anyone who's almost given up waiting for updates on my longer HP stories. Basically, I'm telling you to enjoy this while it lasts, which is presumptuous in the extreme, as it may be complete crap and no-one's actually reading at all. Oh well.
PS: after some tiny piece of research into star trek timelines (Hallelujah for the internet!), decided that this is set 2377 AD, after Q2, before Nemesis. Hope that further obvious mistakes don't offend too many people.
Disclaimer: I'm counting this story as disclaimered from now on. I include all subsequent chapters in this disclaimer. I don't own Star Trek. I don't even know who does. Okay?
Fair Maiden's Honour
"Tag. You're it!"
White light flashed around them, once, twice, three times in rapid succession. Jean-Luc felt his gorge rise in reaction, some sense of momentum and impossible distance twisting his gut in panic. He made absolutely sure not to let it show, but he thought he might actually hate the Q method of interstellar travel. A transporter beam was fine, but jumping clear across the galaxy at a moment's notice was something he doubted he'd ever get used to. Which was just as well, really.
The star-hopping paused after the third jump, and Picard took the opportunity to drop back into the safety of his chair. Blinking to clear his vision, he barked out a request for their location. Data, unflappable as always, was quick with an answer.
"We appear to be somewhere in the Delta Quadrant, Captain," the android stated calmly, running a professional eye across his instruments. "There is a starship off our port bow." He turned to face them. "It's the Voyager, sir."
"Voyager!" Riker exclaimed. Picard understood his surprise. The Federation had known for some time that the ship they'd thought lost was stranded still in the Delta Quadrant, under the capable command of one Captain Janeway, but it was somewhat surprising to drop by via Q. What could the unpredictable entity want here?
"Back in a moment, Jean-Luc," said entity warned. "If our friend drops by before I do, call me, won't you?" He flashed out before Picard could think up an appropriate answer.
"Captain, Voyager is hailing," Data informed him.
"Onscreen." The curious face of Captain Kathyrn Janeway appeared onscreen, a pensive expression in her eyes.
"Enterprise? Not that we aren't happy to see you, but what are you doing in the Delta Quadrant?"
Picard frowned slightly. "Q," he explained tersely. It appeared to be all the explanation she required. Voyager had obviously had first hand experience of their misanthropic friend. A hint of humour flicker briefly in her eyes.
"I see," she smiled. "My condolences. Any idea what he wants?"
"We're in serious trouble, Kathy," Q's voice sounded. Picard glanced around for the signature light, before realising that the entity had manifested on the other bridge. Janeway appeared supremely unconcerned about his impromptu appearance, but his words brought a quick frown to her face.
"What kind of trouble?" she asked brusquely.
"Quinn, times ten, and homocidal to boot," Q explained. Jean-Luc frowned. Quinn? But Q went on, obviously sure that Janeway understood him. "He's trying to destroy me, and my humans."
"Your humans!?" Picard and Janeway barked simultaneously, sharing a quick look once they realised what they'd done. Q only rolled his eyes ostentatiously.
"Yes. My humans. Enterprise first, but I wouldn't bet on him ignoring you, and after what he tried with Jean-Luc, I'm not taking the risk. Junior and I are taking the lot of you to a safe place."
"Safe place?" Voyager's second-in-command asked incredulously.
"Junior?" Will spluttered. A light flashed beside him, and to a man, every member of the bridge crew jumped to their feet to face the enemy. The youth who emerged from the light, mouth open to say something sarcastic, paused in surprise. Picard stared.
"Um, Dad?" the new arrival muttered. "Little help?"
Q sighed. "Enterprise, meet Q Jr. My son. Q, the hairy one at your shoulder is Riker, the bald one in the chair is Jean-Luc Picard, the black-haired babe is Troi, off limits, if you please. The guy with the grill on his face is LaForge, and the man-machine is Data. Don't annoy them. The only one with a sense of humour is Data, whatever sense that makes."
Picard resisted the temptation to drop his head into his hands only with difficulty. Various expressions of affront, resignation, and curiosity formed on his crew's faces. Janeway looked on them in commiseration. Vintage Q introduction, designed to offend as many people as possible. And if this youth was Q's son, a concept Jean-Luc still had a hard time grasping, then odds were he was a chip off the old block. It really was amazing. Fleeing for their lives, after a rather traumatic experience, and the primary emotion he felt with Q was still exasperation. In a strange way, it was almost reassuring. Despite all the bizarre things tossed at them through Q in the last few hours, at least that was consistent.
A hand appeared in his line of sight, and he looked up quickly. The younger Q was offering to shake. Picard blinked once, then accepted the gesture firmly.
"Pleased to meet you, sir," Q Jr. said respectfully. "Father's told me so much about you. He's quite impressed with you. Personally, I think no-one can top Aunt Kathy ... I mean, Captain Janeway, but he says you're quite good, for a human."
Picard stared. He couldn't help it. The mix of respect and arrogance in the youth's tone was putting him off a bit. A Q, being polite? Then he got his explanation.
"Sir!?" Q repeated, incredulously. "Kathy, darling, what have you been teaching this boy? I sent him to you to pick up a sense of responsibility, not an obsequious manner like that! Are you trying to ruin my reputation?"
Ah. The thought was visible in his crew's faces, as if the word was floating in big letters over their heads. Jean-Luc's respect for Janeway climbed another notch. No mean feat, teaching a Q manners.
"Q," Janeway interupted. "Interesting as this introduction is, hadn't you better explain what's going on? If this threat is as serious as you say, hadn't we better get moving?" Picard nodded his agreement.
"Can't we fight him, Dad?" Q Jr. asked abruptly. Q looked at him, an odd expression on his face. Q Jr. continued hurriedly. "I mean, after we get Aunt Kathy and the Enterprise to a safe place? If there's only one of him, and two of us ... Because we can't let him get near them. I mean ..."
The expression on the boy's father's face had resolved itself into a mix of pride and exasperation, with a touch of sorrow skulking below the surface. Q smiled warmly at his son, and opened his mouth ...
"What are you, an idiot?" he barked, sharply. "Do you think I'd be running over half the galaxy if I thought I could fight him. It's Q, for pity's sake! The strongest will in the Continuum, and you think you can just go outside and poof!, he's toast!? Well, you must be getting that kind of stupidity from your mother's side, because I was never as much of an idiot!"
"Q!" Janeway reproached, but the object of the entity's scorn butted in.
"Yeah, well, I didn't know basic maths was beyond you, Father!" the younger Q snarled right back, head up and chest out so far he was within an inch of falling backwards, the whole of him vibrating with righteous fury. "One plus one equals two, you geriatric abacus, and two versus one equals victory! Want me to repeat it slowly for you?" The sarcasm practically dripped from his tone.
"Well, he's definitely Q's," Will said in an undertone, a slight twitch of his eyebrow betraying his humour. Jean-Luc was compelled to agree, as, apparently, were the crew in the bridge on the other side of the viewer. Janeway's face was conspicuously devoid of any emotion, but the corner of her mouth was twitching slightly.
"Impetuous little brat, isn't he?" a cold voice drawled, as yet disembodied, and Voyager blinked out of existence. Picard leapt forward automatically. Ships didn't usually up and disappear in front of you. "Data!" he snapped anxiously.
"Don't panic yet, Jean-Luc," Q admonished, appearing at his side. "That was my doing, not his."
"And which you are you?" Picard growled back. Q turned to face him, staring him in the eyes calmly, giving him time to assess the entity. Then Q's lips curled slightly, mischief and worry in his face.
"Much as I enjoy this, and believe me I could stare into your eyes for eternity, Jean-Luc, we have to move. Junior!" He spun to face his son. "Get the Enterprise out of here. Join Voyager, and wait. I'm going to slow him down."
"What!?" Q Jr. asked, angrily. "If you think I'm leaving you alone ..."
"And how do you plan to slow me down, Q? Do tell." The entity who'd chased them appeared, with no flash to warn them, beside Will. His first officer whirled into a defensive crouch, Geordi ready with a phaser beside him. But the intruder, still in Q's form, had all his attention on Q Jr, much to the consternation of the boy's father.
"The first Q child in the New Era," the stranger mused. "And you have to be the spawn of that pathetic excuse for a Q," he nodded dismissively at Q, "and his airheaded mate. Such a pity, really. You could have been great, had you had better parents."
The young Q didn't respond well to that, anger flashing in his eyes. He took a vibrating half-step towards the older entity, before an angry snap of Q's wrist stopped him. "Maybe," Q's son growled menacingly, "if anyone else in your stupid, stilted Continuum had had the guts and brains to do anything besides sit there or kick the hell out of each other, if they'd had the basic intelligence required to make the jump to another solution, you wouldn't have that problem! But since you were all such a bunch of self-righteous, semi-evolved idiots after all, I guess you'll just have to lump it, won't you!"
"Yep. Definitely Q's," Will muttered under his breath, braced for the backlash to that defiant, if ill-advised, statement. Jean-Luc was busy staring at Q, who was wearing an expression of such stunned bemusement and reluctant caring that the phrase 'gobsmacked' was probably applicable, and suddenly a smile sprang unbidden to the Captain's face. Q was completely, utterly, and undeniably a Dad, and a proud one at that. Who would have thought it?
The strange Q was nowhere near as impressed. Distilled, liquid rage poured over the features he'd borrowed from Q, twisting the familiar face into something terrible and undeniably foreign. Again, Picard had that sense of time crystallising.
The entity raised a menacing hand to the young Q, deadly intent glittering in his eyes. Q raised his own hand in desperate defense. Q Jr, fear suddenly leaping into his face, tried to backpedal. Will, latent paternal instincts kicking in, moved to get between the boy and the threat. Deanna moved to protect Will. Everyone seemed to be in motion, but slowly, so very slowly, and soundlessly, to Picard's senses. Then two sets of ersatz fingers snapped, several voices cried out, and once again white light wiped the universe away.
When reality returned, if indeed it was reality, which could be difficult to determine when Q was involved, even the languid pace of the previous moment was gone. Time seemed to have stopped, a genuine moment frozen in time, trapped in the amber of a Q's will. Or Qs', plural. His body wouldn't move, a distant anchor only tentatively connected to his mind, and one extremely petty part of Jean-Luc was glad of that, because motion sickness had definitely set in. But most of him was preoccupied with the silent scene before him.
The ship sat in a frozen glacier of time, the starfield beyond the viewer static and electrified, like a freeze-frame on an ancient television set. If he stared at it, shifting eddies seemed to ripple through it, refracting reality into splintered shards then smoothing them away, flows of power straining against each other, unable to gain ground. While part of him knew that this was only an analogy, a desperate atempt on the part of his mind to translate what was happening into an experience it could understand, still the sight sent a shimmer of fear through the core of him, and he turned his attention away, to the cause of the problem.
The two Q faced each other in the center of the bridge, their figures the only life-like things in this new, static world, each a sketch of concentration, determination, and strain. Around them, bathed in the weird other-light of timelessness, stood caricatures of his crew, bodies unmoving in a grisly game of musical statues, made strange and ugly by the lack of life. A phrase of Q's sprang to mind, "a normal, LUMPEN human being", and here they seemed so, devoid of the enlightening characteristics of the personalities that drove them. Even Q Jr, his powers apparently overwritten by one or both of the older Q, was presented in that hard, ugly light, calcified in that unworthy attitude of fear.
But beyond that reality, beyond the intrinsic hideousness of those corpse-like figures, lay something else. Overlaying the waxen features were ... shadows, coloured and scintillating, auras that seemed to name themselves in his mind, and Jean-Luc realised he was seeing their minds, or a translation of them, the personalities that Q timelessness had stripped from their physical forms. For a second, he balked at the thought, knowing that he was no telepath, that it was impossible, but soon his rationality kicked in, putting the phenomenon down to a side-effect of the otherworldliness of the Q, and focusing on what the hell was going on.
You cannot hold me forever, Q. The stranger's 'voice' sounded, a bitter whipcrack across his mind, and the other shadow-minds flinched away from it, a spiked ripple across the static stars echoing the movement. Q seemed to falter, a weight pressing down on him, but then Picard caught a flicker of movement, somewhere in his mental blindspot, and the stranger retreated slightly. A strained grin appeared momentarily on Q's face.
You'd be surprised, Oh Fearsome One, came the reply, an impish sally across the mind-field. But I have no intention of making the attempt.
Why not? A tinge of panic edged the demand.
Because our audience is due, my fearless foe, any moment now.
Fear and rage flashed over the twisted features of Q's doppelganger, and a vicious shard of reality launched itself ... backwards, towards the younger Q's immobile form, and Q roared in sudden fury, eddies of power whipping out from the shadowed corners of refracted reality to converge on that underhanded assault and bear it down, pulling it forcibly away from his threatened son. Q roared again, this time in pain, as one arm seemed to crumple against his side. Picard's mind, unused to operating on these terms, struggled to figure out what had happened, but focusing on the backdrop of reality, realised that the stranger had driven a spike of power through the vacuum left by Q's defense of his son, and torn a chunk out of Q's side of the mind-field.
Face gone pale with strain, Q straightened and focused. His enemy flinched, and the intruding force seemed to flicker ... The enemy regrouped and reality seemed to bend, somehow ... Q's side of the mind-field contracted and suddenly bloomed with vicious spikes ... A hammer-blow flattened the reality between them, and Q moaned with pain ... Eddies swirled back and forth, flickers of motion so fast they lost all meaning ...
Jean-Luc felt like screaming. He couldn't see what was going on. His mind wasn't translating fast enough, his analogies inadequate for the task, and he could feel his thoughts stretch unbearably in an effort to encompass the situation. He could sense the others, minds darting agitatedly, plagued by similar problems. Only the young Q seemed to grasp what was going on, and his agitation stemmed from far different concerns. Namely, that Q was losing the battle. Even if he couldn't grasp why, Picard could see that. And there was nothing he could do about it. He was helpless in Q hands.
Then Q straightened, raising his hands as if to force all foreign influence away from him, and his 'voice' lashed out across the mind-field, a command so deep and strident that even his enemy obeyed.
Silence crashed down around them, stillness seizing even the edgy flickers of power in a grip so profound it seemed nothing could break it. And in that stillness, Picard sensed the descent of a presence, a pressure of attention that forced reality to bend before it, and he realised that Q's 'audience' had arrived. Or at least deigned to finally start paying attention. The Continuum.
Three figures materialised on his bridge, a bridge that he couldn't help but feel was becoming overcrowded. Aged, steeped in dignity, the trio frowned at the scene, and in particular the two taut figures at its center, their conflicting presences a magnet for the attention of even these powerful beings.
"Q," one of them began, and Picard realised with a start that she was speaking aloud, the humanoid way, and on the heels of that realisation came the sickening sensation of his consciousness plunging back into his body, all extra-sensory perceptions ripped away and replaced by a tumultuous rebellion by his suddenly existant stomach. He dropped into his chair as if his strings had been cut, and around him his crew staggered, sat down, or simply dropped where they stood, the same expression of stunned nausea on all their faces. Only the six Q were unaffected, and of them, one was a young man whose face was rapidly turning green, and two were poised in positions of wounded readiness that belied any attempt at calm. The three newcomers were an island of calm and dignity in their midst.
The female Q raised an imperious eyebrow at the consternation her word had caused, and after a moment began again, as if annoyed that human fraility had necessitated the repetition of one lousy word. Picard knew a moment of instantaneous hatred for her, that settled into mere dislike in moments as his more diplomatic nature reasserted itself. But he felt a flicker of wry acknowledgement in the back of his mind, and caught Q's knowing eye.
"Q," she went on, and Picard knew that she meant the other Q, although he still couldn't say how. "This has gone far enough. And you, Q. You are beginning to impinge on the Continuum."
"Naturally," Q smirked, as if that had been his aim all along, and of course it had been. Only the Continuum could stop this other Q, so of course he'd gotten their attention. The three frowned severly at him.
"You will return with us to the Continuum, and you, Q, will remove that starship you so cavalierly placed in our midst."
Picard started at that. In the panic, he'd forgotten all about Voyager. Q shrugged, smiling that vaguely condescending smile of his, and raised his hand to snap ...
"No!" his doppelganger snapped. "I will not allow it."
Pressure dropped on them, a pounding presence on all sides as the other Q pulled power to himself, and Picard felt reality compress, as if it were being gathered up into a bunch. The trio of aged Q started violently, consternation and panic flashing through them, and Picard realised that they, too, were afraid of this other Q. Even the representatives of the Continuum itself feared him. What the devil was he supposed to do, then?
"A game, then!"
The cheerful voice chopped through the building pressure, cutting through all that power like it was butter as the stranger turned to face Q in shock. He wasn't alone. The trio were staring at Q as if he were some strange specimen that had suddenly crawled out from under a rock, Q Jr looked to be trying to convince himself that he hadn't actually heard his father say something so stupid, and Picard could see Will thinking 'Idiot' loudly to himself. He knew his own features were poised between shock, disbelief, and a kind of wild humour that had suddenly blossomed inside him.
Q preened under their incredulous gazes, exulting in the attention even with an arm crumpled messily at his side and features pulled taut by strain. He tilted his head coquettishly, and smiled that Puckish grin at the aged trio, arrogant challenge in every line of him, and Jean-Luc repressed a sudden urge to order the computer to capture an image of the moment, to capture that childishly defiant figure in all its irrepressable glory. He had no idea where the impulse had come from, but it burst inside his consciousness like a bombshell, and he was left cradling an unknown feeling that compressed his heart in his chest and shunted his mind sideways for one endless, dangerous moment. Then reality snapped back into place, leaving him wondering what the hell had happened.
"What!" the stranger demanded, echoed a nanosecond later by the trio. Q grinned, sliding a knowing smirk in Jean-Luc's direction before responding.
"Really, it should be obvious, even to you." Insult dripped from the tone, and it was so familiar to him that only when Picard noticed the quiver of shock that went through the aged trio of Q did he realise what Q was doing. He was addressing his superiors the way he would address Picard or any other 'lesser' being. It was only then that Picard realised how truly angry Q was. Everything that mattered to him; his son, his humans, his life; were all being threatened, and Q did not forgive that. He was as furious with the Continuum as he was with the strange Q, and that was a very dangerous emotion for a weakened, renegade Q to indulge in. But the knowledge of his apparent weakness did nothing to stop him.
"I propose to give everyone here a chance to get what they want," Q continued, gesturing grandly with his usable arm. "To give Q here a chance to wipe me out, to give my son a demonstration of what his father can do, to give the humans a chance at safety, to give the Continuum the entertainment it so desires."
"How?" the female demanded brusquely.
Q smiled. "A game, of course. With rules and everything." He shot a mocking look at his enemy, who snarled.
"Explain." Again, the demand.
"Simple. I propose that you, my son, and Enterprise adjourn to the Continuum, where you can join Voyager and whatever Q want to watch the show." For a second, the smile turned bitter, then returned to its usual challenging self. "Meanwhile, Q and I shall remain in normal reality, and ... work out our differences. In single combat. The only rules being that neither can use sentient beings to further their cause, and whoever wins has to repair all the damage caused by the game."
"And the loser?" the other Q cut in, hunger in his eyes.
"Why, the loser is remanded to the custody of the Continuum, of course," Q smiled, but there was a darkness behind it, a glimmer of sinister intent that would have worried any sane opponent, and did worry Picard. Quite a lot. But the strange Q was oblivious, and the aged Q simply huffed as if it were their due and only common sense.
"Well? How about it?"
"Agreed!" the stranger snapped readily, and shot a glare at the trio, who nodded grudgingly.
"Agreed. We will monitor you from the Continuum, and if either of you break the rules ..."
"Yes?" the strange Q sneered, nastily, and the female fell silent.
"Then it is agreed!" Q clapped his hands in childish glee, and turned to snap his fingers.
This time the white flash was all-encompassing, and seemed to last far longer than ever before, and Picard shut his eyes against it. He felt strangely reluctant to open them again afterwards, knowing that he'd be inside the Continuum itself, and not trusting his mind to cope after all the strain it had gone through recently. Then he felt a hand on his arm, and opened his eyes to blink in startlement at Deanna.
"Look, captain," she said softly, and as she moved off to help Will, he did.
He stood on what appeared to be a platform encased in transparent aluminium, orbiting a deep-space docking station. Enterprise hung serenely in space at his side, rubbing shoulders with her weary, Delta-marooned sister as if to lend Voyager her strength. In contrast, on the platform, it was Voyager's crew who moved to support the frazzled Enterprisers, sitting them down on scattered seating or proping them up against railings. It appeared to be only command crew on this platform, and with a flash of concern Picard turned to search for the rest of his crew.
"They're below us," came a steady voice at his side, and he turned to face Cpt. Janeway. The woman radiated strength and calm assurance, and for a moment Picard felt an irrational burst of jealousy for her poise, swiftly replaced by what looked to be an induring respect. He followed her pointed finger, and found a larger, lower platform tethered beneath and before their smaller one, the second tier in the orbital arrangement. Like an old-fashioned theater, he mused, with the commoners in the stands while the aristocracy take the box seats. Then Janeway, seeming to catch his thought, pointed upwards and to the rear, and there, of course, were the true 'aristocracy'.
Reclining in elegant seats on the smallest of the platforms, those members of the Continuum who deigned to show up gazed regally down, past the command platform, out beyond the 'stands' and into the shimmering 'viewscreen' that stretched for a lightyear or two out beyond the station, presumably where they would view Q's struggle. At the center of the 'royal' platform, all but enthroned, sat the trio of ancient Q.
No. Not the theater, he thought darkly. The Roman Coliseum. We've come to watch the bloodsport.
"Pretentious, aren't they?" Someone asked from behind him, and he glanced sideways to see a pair of strangers. Janeway blinked at the red-headed female, while the blonde male seemed to focus on Picard. "You'd think after a couple of billion years they'd get over themselves. But don't tell them I said that."
"Who ...?" Picard blinked, and the man started and shook his head as if shocked at his own rudeness.
"Sorry. I'm Q, and this is Q. She's Q's mate, you know."
"Was Q's mate," the female interupted snittily.
"Oh, yes, forgive me ..." the new Q started to apologise, when Janeway interupted coldly.
"Yes, after you abandoned him and your son when you found rearing a child took up too much of your 'valuable' time," Voyager's captain drawled disgustedly, and her Q counterpart stiffened angrily.
"It was Q's decision as much as mine!" she snapped.
"Yes! Q decided to stick with his son! He even swallowed his pride enough to ask for my help when he figured out that he couldn't do it alone! You, on the other hand, left the moment things looked like they were getting difficult!" Janeway pratically quivered with righteous anger, and Picard decided to step in, calling on every diplomatic reserve he had.
"Captain. Q. I realise this is an old issue between you, but we do have other issues at present ..." he trailed off, quailing before twin frigid glares, while the blonde Q looked at him with a mix of respect and what could only be described as a 'better-you-than-me' look. Thankfully, or not, depending on your point of view, the 'viewscreen' chose that moment to flicker into life, and all other concerns paled as Jean-Luc turned to see Q.
Poised arrogantly in space, magnified against a backdrop of galactic proportions, Q faced his enemy. He'd fixed his arm, and all other traces of strain were either gone or cleverly disguised as he lounged back against a white dwarf in instinctively nonchalent pose, a quiet smirk glimmering in the shadows of his face.
"He's taken a dip from the well," one of the Q muttered beside Picard as the captains' party maneuvered its way to the front of the platform, the rest of the command crew ranged behind them. Picard caught a glimpse of Amanda standing with Beverly, and Q Jr with a group of Voyager crew. But his attention was soon rivetted back to the scene that began to play itself out before their eyes.
The stranger had dropped his facsimile of Q's human form, taking instead that of a powerfully built man somewhere in his fifties, with an ugly look of triumph about him. Premature, Picard would have said, if he hadn't seen Q almost pulped by him earlier. As it was, his stomach was quietly twisting itself into a french braid inside him, and only the memory of that sinister look in Q's eyes helped allieviate the fear that Q was about to get himself killed. And even that was cold comfort, because any plan of Q's could only serve to get them all in trouble, and Picard was having serious difficulty seeing how things could get any worse.
Some invisible signal was given, presumably from the 'royal box' behind him, and the two Q straightened, Q into an easy stance, a vertical lounge, while the other squared himself combatively. Ready, steady ...
"Q!" the other called out, before the final signal could be given. "One thing?"
Q tipped his head to one side with a lazy grin. "Yes?"
"Before, when you said you'd give everyone what they wanted?" There was a nasty smile on the stranger's face.
"You never told us what it was that you wanted, renegade."
Q paused, and a slow, sinister smile crept over his features and seemed to pull all the darkness of space with it. "Oh, that," he said softly. "That's really quite simple, Q." He inclined his head in a mocking little bow.
"As the harlot said to the apostle, I want your head on a platter."
End chapter 2. Hope that went okay.