Power Corrupts

It was the trial of the aeon. The entire Q Continuum was there to sit in judgment, even those few who actually didn't care about the case one way or the other. For the first time, the Continuum had called to judgment, not a member of a lesser species to be assessed by a single Q, and not a member of their own kind, but a Being of Power.

The Being -- an Ocampa, evolved beyond her people's nature -- stood, in flesh form, in the center of the gathered entities. One Q, who had chosen to defend her, stood by her side. The Q opposite, the one who had chosen to make the Continuum's case against her, was ironically the only one she personally recognized, the one known to have a personal interest in humans. The hypocrisy outraged her. She had defended his favorite species, saved them from an implacable threat, yet she was on trial here and he was charging her with genocide. As if the Q Continuum had never destroyed a species themselves.

"We object to these proceedings entirely," her advocate said. "Kes is not a Q. She should not be subject to our laws and codes in the first place."

"Are you arguing that morality is subjective?" the Q for humanity asked, in an insinuating tone. "That because our little Ocampa is not a Q, she couldn't possibly have known that annihilating an entire species is wrong?"

"I am arguing that it's ridiculous for you to hold me to your standards!" Kes said. "Where were you when I was stuck between dimensions, when my body was aging and I couldn't control my transformations between matter and energy, when I was going mad? Where were you when I needed help learning how to be a Being of Power? You never helped me, you never trained me, you knew of my existence -- you, personally, were monitoring the ship of humans I made my first transformation on. You didn't offer to help me. My human friends saved your life, helped you win your war, but you did nothing for me. So why do you stand in front of me now and dare argue that I should be subject to your laws? That you have the right to try me for an act no one ever told me was forbidden?"

"You're seriously trying to argue that because I personally didn't take time out from raising my son to take you aside, teach you how to stop aging, and, oh, by the way, tell you that sending a couple of quadrillion sentient beings into nothingness is a bad idea, that the Continuum has no right to enforce that Beings of Power don't go willy-nilly causing chaos? This isn't about me, my dear. You shouldn't have needed anyone to tell you that genocide is a bad idea. You're a Being of Power. Ignorance is no excuse."

"But Kes raises a point, personal attacks to the side," her advocate said sharply. "When Kevin Uxbridge of the Douwd destroyed the Husnock, we did nothing. When Y'Gr of the Qu'hoth devoured the Modalians, we did nothing. When the Phoenix sent D'Bari nova and killed the mortals on its worlds, we did nothing. Why do we act against Kes, then? Why do we demand that a non-Q follow our laws now, when we didn't then?" She leaned forward. "You are prosecuting this Being, who is not of our kind, because of what she did to two of your pets. Not because it is acceptable for us to try a non-Q."

"What she did to Janeway and Picard isn't relevant here... not while we're talking about our right to try her for her crimes, anyway. We have a long history of trying species who disrupt the balance of power in the universe. In fact, we have previously tried both the Borg and the Humans for their crimes against other species or their own. What you're trying to say here is that Kes should be immune from prosecution because she isn't acting as a representative of all Ocampa, and all Ocampa do not share in her crime... and on that narrow level, I agree. Kes is not the Exemplar of the Ocampa and they should not be held accountable for her acts; the genocide of the Borg was the act of a Being of Power, far beyond the scale that the Ocampa are capable of.

"But that means she has no species to hold her to task. Kevin Uxbridge could have been tried by the Douwd, and should have been. There is already a Power that could try him for his crime. It's not our business that they're too laid-back to actually punish anyone. The Qu'hoth don't consider genocide a crime; short of going to war against another Power to try to impose our vision on them, which after our experiences with civil war I'm sure all of us are eager to avoid, how would you suggest we remove the Qu'hoth's dominion over one of their own kind? And besides, we worked through mortal proxies to see Y'Gr destroyed the next time he tried to feed. The Phoenix, like Kes, was an Evolved Being of Power, from a species otherwise comprised of mortals, but nonetheless, they and another mortal species did try her and carry out her punishment.

"And we have a precedent. When 0, the Gorgon and The One destroyed the T'Kon Empire, we did step in. All were stateless Beings of Power, without Powers they belonged to who could control their behavior. We stepped in. We filled that void. We tried and punished them."

"Because they seduced a young Q into giving them transportation through the Continuum to the places of their attacks. Who was that again?"

"And again, this isn't about me! I'm not on trial here, Kes is. You, the Continuum, could have punished me for transporting dangerous Beings of Power through the Continuum and collaborating with them in the genocide of a mortal species; instead You acquitted me and punished them. The crime wasn't involving a Q, the crime was genocide, pure and simple.

"My fellow Q, the questions before us are not as complex as my colleague, the advocate for this misguided young Being, wants to suggest. She is inviting us to believe that our laws, our beliefs are entirely relative -- that there's no good reason for the Q prohibition against genocide, it's just a random law we made up to follow, and that therefore we should not expect other Beings of Power to follow that prohibition. And, in the past, she might have had a point. In the past, we did have plenty of random laws we just made up. I'm sure no one has forgotten that we forged a new Compact, with new laws, after the War. And that all our laws were agreed to unanimously by the entire Continuum. And that we presented, and agreed that there were, compelling reasons for every law we adopted.

"If we believe that our laws are just, then we believe that they are universal. They should apply to all Beings of Power. Our experiences with our own Civil War, and the fact that such a conflict would cause far, far more damage than it could possibly prevent, keeps us from going to war with Powers who are more cavalier about disciplining their Beings than they should be. And we will not interfere with the internal affairs of another Power; if it becomes necessary to stop a Being who belongs to a Power that refuses to intervene, we can always work through mortals to accomplish the same result.

"But what of Evolved Beings, or other stateless Beings? Who polices the Beings of Power that belong to no defined race, or whose race is not a Power? There's no question of interference in the business of another Power, or the risk of a war. So there is no reason whatsoever why we shouldn't try an Evolved Being, such as Kes here. The question isn't whether or not we have the right -- I argue we have the moral obligation. The question is, should the fact that we never took her aside and told her that it was wrong to obliterate a few quadrillion mortals be considered a mitigating factor in her crime? And I say, no. She had the power... she had the obligation to use it correctly."

"If we are the judges, then who judges us?" Kes' advocate demanded. "We have annihilated other species, because we judged them and found them too dangerous to the rest of the universe. Kes judged the Borg too dangerous to live. Yes, our decision was different than hers. But we have never lived in fear of Borg attack. We have never been vulnerable to them. Perhaps we should consider Kes' experience, as a former mortal, and acknowledge that perhaps she had as much right to judge and condemn the Borg as we have ever had to judge and condemn any sentient species. If we consider her acts a crime, why do we give ourselves pats on the back for our own actions?"

"Well, let me see here. Good fellow Q, do you think that the actions of a Q, trained and experienced, billions of years old, with all the relevant facts at hand, and with the Continuum behind them to assess their decision and reverse it if it's found to be incorrect, can be compared to the sudden, impulsive act of a ten-year-old Being with no training whatsoever in this matter?"

"Who says it was sudden or impulsive?" Kes asked. "I thought about what I was doing. I considered alternatives. I tried to persuade the Queen to stop what she was doing. But the Borg wouldn't stop. They'd keep trying to assimilate humanity, and every other species in their path. Without our Caretaker to protect us, sooner or later the Borg would have come for the Ocampa. They'd already begun encroaching in the region of the Delta Quadrant I explored while I was mortal; I saw them take and assimilate a Vidiian long-range scoutship. You can say that you tried the Borg for their crimes against other mortal species and acquitted them, but on what grounds could you have possibly acquitted them? They destroy every species they touch. It needed to stop.

"You're right, I'm only 10. But I've seen death. My own kind live only nine years on average; if I hadn't learned to free myself entirely of a physical form and stop aging, I'd be dead by now myself, most likely. You cannot know what it means to have family and friends at risk of death, or worse, because an invincible, implacable predator exists out there who will sooner or later hunt them down and devour them no matter what they do. The only time any of you has ever risked death is at each other's hands. You can't imagine what it is to be mortal, and face something you can't reason with, something intent on destroying you. Given a choice between annihilating the Borg, and them destroying more innocent victims, I made the decision I thought was right. And when you make your decisions, with your training and your experience and your billions of years of life behind you, you still don't have the experience I do -- the experience of actually knowing you can die, of having friends and family and lovers who have died or can die. You let monsters loose in the universe, free to do whatever they wanted, because you decided to judge them worthy of living. All those deaths are on your hands. Who judges you for that?"

"Innocent victims like the ones you destroyed?" the Q prosecutor said. "Or did you forget that every single Borg became Borg through an act of violence? That not one of them chose it? And that once they were pulled into the Collective, they were transformed in such a way that their will became irrelevant? The Borg were acquitted of crimes against other species in the first place precisely because they could demonstrate that any action against the Borg Collective as an entity that didn't take care to avoid punishing the individuals who were once Borg would be unfair -- and because as disruptive as their actions were, they were also a force for change and growth. They drove other species to improve themselves; they themselves formed a repository for phenomenal amounts of information and knowledge. Had they been allowed to evolve to the point where they developed a consciousness of empathy, of the rights of other mortal beings, they could have achieved the status of a Power. Instead they have been cut short -- their journey toward perfection, a goal they explicitly sought, truncated before they could achieve any of their potential. All the sacrifices, all the mortals killed and swallowed into their Collective, rendered naught."

"So I was supposed to let them kill more people? Assimilate more people? Just so someday in a billion years they could evolve to a new stage of being and then it'd all be worth it? Individual mortal lives have value! You don't just keep throwing them away like garbage, hoping that someday all the sacrifices will mean something; you put a stop to the killing, even if it means having to kill right now, because in the long run it's a lot more lives you're saving."

"Individual lives have value? This coming from the Being who just murdered some of her closest friends?" The Q prosecutor gestured. "I call the human Tom Paris to the stand."

"I object," her advocate said. "We are all already aware of the facts of this case. The question is not of the facts, but whether or not they imply guilt, and therefore a mortal witness is of no use."

"Oh, but Kes' defense appears to rely on the notion that she was mortal herself, and therefore is better qualified to make life and death decisions for mortals than we the Q are. I call this witness to clarify whether or not this contention is true."

The looming presence of the Continuum overmind spoke with its thousand voices. "The witness is allowed."

With a flash of light, Tom Paris appeared in the gathering. He blinked, and looked around himself in confusion, and then focused on the prosecutor. "You!"

"Me," the prosecutor admitted cheerfully.

"Q! What do you have to do with my wife disappearing? And Admiral Janeway, and Chakotay, and Seven, and Tuvok, and Icheb--"

"-- And Captain Picard, and every other mortal being who ever interfaced directly with the Borg Collective for any reason? Absolutely nothing. But tell me, Tommy boy, do you recognize this woman here?"

"Uh -- yes! Of course. That's Kes. Kes, what are you doing here? What do you know about everyone vanishing? Is this some kind of Q thing?"

"Don't bring him into this," Kes pleaded. "Send him home. He doesn't need to be here."

"Yes, he does," the prosecutor said relentlessly. "Can you tell me what happened the day your wife disappeared? What was her name again? Banana?"

"B'Elanna," Paris grated out. "B'Elanna Torres. As if you don't know."

"Pretend I don't. Come on, helm boy. What happened the day she disappeared?"

"She was -- talking to me. I was in the middle of diapering Miral, and she was talking to me about a job offer she'd gotten, to be chief engineer of a long range starship. And we were discussing it, and whether we wanted to take it, and she reached over to ruffle Miral's hair -- and then she was just gone. Vanished. Pop. And I'm absolutely sure you had nothing to do with that." The last was said with venomous sarcasm.

"B'Elanna wasn't a Borg," Kes said, white-faced.

"No, she wasn't," Paris agreed. "But what does that have to do with..." He trailed off.

"No, she wasn't," the prosecutor agreed. "But she had been, once upon a time. She accepted Borg implants as part of a scheme on her captain's part to infiltrate the Borg Collective, on a mission to rescue her crewmate Seven of Nine. Who, I might point out, despite being constantly misidentified by her fellow humans, wasn't Borg either. Both individuals, and I use that term deliberately -- individuals -- were not part of the Collective overmind. But both had a lingering connection to the Borg, a channel the Borg could, on occasion, force open. And because that connection existed, when this careless child-Being identified all the existing Borg at the moment before she sent them into nothingness, she struck not just actual, active members of the Borg Collective, but anyone who had a potentially active link to the Collective.

"Oh, Kes's goals were noble. Save humanity, save all the other mortal species that were threatened by the Borg. But she took not only every actual Borg, but every former Borg. Including some of her closest friends. Kathryn Janeway, who helped us forge peace in the Continuum -- Borg implants from the same Unimatrix Zero adventure that got B'Elanna Torres her Borg connection. Tuvok, Kes' former friend and mentor... same mission. Chakotay, Janeway's second in command... Borg link from working with a colony of freed, individualized former Borg. All of whom also went. Seven of Nine, Janeway's protégé, a former Borg who'd spent years recovering and regaining her humanity... Kes thought she was the same as an active Borg, and sent her into nothing. Icheb, a young Brunali who was sacrificed by his own family to the Borg as a Judas goat, who was freed by Janeway and was making a new life for himself on Earth... gone too." The prosecutor's voice had become more and more raised and impassionate as he spoke. "Jean-Luc Picard, my chosen Exemplar for Humanity, the mortal whose successes in the tests we Q set for him defined his species as sentient to us... taken by the Borg by force, assimilated, freed by his crew years ago... gone."

Kes put her hands to her face. "I didn't know... I wasn't trying to take people who weren't currently Borg. I overshot... I didn't mean to!"

She cringed inside as Tom looked at her with a growing expression of horror. "Kes... you did this? You made B'Elanna vanish, and Ca- Admiral Janeway, and Chakotay, and Seven, and all the others? That was you?"

"It most certainly was," the Q prosecutor said. "Not only did our Kesling decide to commit genocide, she didn't even do it right. The people I have mentioned aren't the only collateral damage, not the only former Borg to be annihilated by Kes... they're just the ones Kes herself knew, or heard of, or her friends knew and cared for."

"Or the ones you cared for!" the advocate shouted. "Yes, Kes made a mistake. But we've all made mistakes -- you were even thrown out for yours, albeit temporarily. The real issue here is that you feel guilty. Because one of your mistakes led to Picard being assimilated. And then Kes destroyed him by accident, collateral damage in her attempt to free the universe from the horror of the Borg -- friendly fire, as it were. Do you think Picard wouldn't have willingly given his life to save the universe from the Borg? But no, because of your mistake and hers he's dead, and you have to crucify her for her mistake so you don't have to face your own!"

"This is NOT ABOUT ME!"

"Wait, dead?" Paris stared at Kes' advocate, and then looked back at Kes, pleadingly. "If you just made them all vanish, can't you bring them back? Are they really dead dead? You can't just, I don't know, snap your fingers and make them come back?"

"I can't," Kes said softly. "Destruction's easier than construction -- entropy works one way. I can't bring them back."

"Well, but you could!" He turned to the Q prosecutor. "You guys -- the Q -- we know you have the ability to bring people back from the dead, or whatever. I mean, Quinn sent me and all of the other guys in the crew into nothingness, like Kes just did, and you brought us all back. You could just undo what Kes did, couldn't you?"

"Not on this scale," the prosecutor said stonily. "Listen, Paris, you fought in our war. You know we're not actually all-powerful -- just as close to it as you're ever going to meet. We cannot bring back two quadrillion, seven hundred and fifty-two trillion, nine hundred thirty-seven billion, four hundred sixty-six million, three hundred forty-two thousand, one hundred thirty-nine mortals... not without rolling back time, which would create a massive strain on the space-time continuum and could possibly be more disruptive than all those people being vanished in the first place. The Borg are dead. They're not coming back. And the collateral damage? The little baby that Voyager rescued from that ship full of Borg children? The former Borg who'd worked together to create their own society, who used their own personal Collective to end a civil war amongst themselves? The people who took Kes here in, saved her from slavery, gave her access to the universe and opened up her mind so she was capable of evolving from a mortal to a Being of Power? We aren't going to be waving our magic wands and resurrecting them. A small handful of people, sure, we could have done that. One entire planet? Maybe. All of the Borg? Even we can't do that. They're dead, and they're going to stay dead."

Paris looked utterly stricken. "But B'Elanna... she didn't even do anything. The mission to Unimatrix Zero was to rescue Seven... she was trying to help. She didn't even do anything wrong."

"And neither did any of the other two quadrillion, seven hundred and fifty two blah blah blah," the Q prosecutor said. "That is my point. They weren't born Borg. It wasn't their intrinsic nature, it wasn't in their DNA. They were victimized by the Collective, and then victimized again by Kes when she decided the universe would be a nicer place without those mean nasty Borg in it. None of them had free will after they were assimilated; they were victims as much as the people they killed or assimilated in their turn. B'Elanna Torres did nothing to deserve being annihilated... and neither did any other Borg. The Queen, as an entity, maybe. None of the others had a will, or a choice. Any one of them could have been rescued, as Seven was, as Picard was, and restored to themselves at any point. The only difference between them and Torres is they hadn't been as lucky, yet, at the point where they all died."

"Then why didn't you do something about that?" Kes asked wildly.

"Excuse me?"

"You decided not to annihilate the Borg yourselves because they didn't have free will. Any of them could have been rescued and returned to themselves. All right, then, why didn't you do that? I didn't think of it because I'd never personally met anyone who'd been Borg and turned back. I didn't know Seven after she developed an identity as a human, I didn't know Icheb, and I remember Chakotay talking about the planet of former Borg but I didn't really think of it at the time. I didn't know Captain Janeway and Tuvok and B'Elanna got assimilated to infiltrate the Borg. But you did! You knew the Borg could be turned back into their former selves, so why didn't you do it? Your whole rationale for why you acquitted the Borg was that they didn't have free will, so you couldn't kill them for their crimes. Why didn't you just rescue them?"

"Because," the prosecutor said, as if talking to a mildly retarded child, "as I explained earlier, we determined that given time, they could evolve into a Power."

"And that excuses it? It's okay that they murder billions -- as you said, quadrillions -- of mortals, that they assimilate and steal the free will and identity of quadrillions more, because someday they might become omnipotent beings? I killed them because I didn't realize there was another choice that would still protect people from them, but you knew. You knew the Borg could be dissolved without killing, that you could just take those people and free them from being Borg. Maybe not even all of them at once -- you said you have limits. Maybe only a few billion at a time. But you could have contained the Borg -- they were afraid of you. The Queen asked me if I was one of you, at first, and I saw it in her eyes and in her mind. If I had been a Q and I had demanded that she leave Earth alone, she might have obeyed."

"Oh, Earth was all that mattered to you? I thought you were so worried about your fellow Ocampa."

"If she had agreed to leave humanity alone, I would have known there was room to negotiate. I might not have had to kill the Borg if the Queen would be reasonable. But she wasn't. She wasn't afraid of me because she didn't know what I was. She would have reasoned with you, but you didn't do anything to contain the Borg. You were too eager to see them turn into little copies of you, no matter how many they killed in the process. Isn't that true?"

"In fact," Kes' advocate said, "I believe you said exactly that when we discussed whether or not to destroy the Borg, the last time we put them on trial."

The prosecutor shrugged. "I might have."

"You might have?"

"The Q Continuum is not on trial here, Kes. You are. I'll admit it -- I advocated for the dissolution of the Borg when we tried them for their crimes. And if you had dissolved them, instead of destroying them, you wouldn't be here today. And perhaps the Q Continuum could have done as I suggested in the first place and force the Borg to assimilate technology only, restrict them to natural reproduction rather than the wholesale devouring of species. But the fact that the Continuum did not do that in no way justifies the fact that you killed them all."

"Yes, it does. You wouldn't take any action to protect the universe from them -- the Q were perfectly content to let them run around killing and assimilating anyone they wanted. What I did saved more lives than it took, in the long run; now the Borg won't kill anyone else, now they won't enslave anyone else. I'm sorry that I killed innocent people -- I killed my friends, do you think that means nothing to me? It was for their sake I did it! I never meant them to be destroyed, too! But their homes, their species, their families and friends are all safe from the Borg now. You didn't do anything, so someone had to, or the Borg would have kept killing. And because you didn't do anything, you left a void that, as you put it, a ten-year-old Evolved Being with no training or experience stepped into, and I made a terrible mistake. But I wouldn't have made that mistake if the Continuum had done the right thing and contained the Borg in the first place. And you didn't do it because you didn't care how many mortals died.

"This isn't about my breaking your laws. This isn't about genocide. This is about, you personally want me dead because I killed Captain Janeway and Captain Picard. And the rest of the Continuum want me dead because for some reason you guys liked the Borg. You thought, if the Borg just kill and assimilate enough mortals, they'll magically become just like the Q. You saw yourselves in them -- I don't know why, did you get to be the way you are by killing and assimilating others?"

"This isn't helping, Kes," her advocate said.

"I don't care if it helps or not, it needs to be said! If you got the way you are by doing what the Borg did then you're just as bad as they were and I don't acknowledge your moral superiority over anyone. If you didn't, then you were mistaken when you thought the Borg could grow up to be just like you. Either way, you considered the development of another Power worth the sacrifice of any number of mortal lives. You can destroy me if you want, but don't pretend you're doing it because you have some higher moral authority.

"What I did, I did to save lives. You have done the same -- taken actions that destroyed individual mortals in order to save a larger number of them. In this case, you abdicated that responsibility, that you took on yourselves in the first place, because you liked the Borg better than the quadrillions you let them kill. And now you want to destroy me for protecting the universe from the Borg, because you'd rather have had the Borg than those mortals still living. Or for killing the humans you loved, in your case," she said directly to the prosecutor. "But you can't admit this is about revenge, so you pretty it up with morals and laws and talk of genocide. The Q Continuum can't annihilate a fellow Being just because you're angry; you have to have a justification. So you came up with this trial. But if you find me guilty, it'll be nothing short of hypocrisy, because I didn't do anything that many of you haven't done.

"And I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't think to dissolve the Collective and restore them to their former selves rather than send them into oblivion. I'm sorry I took people who weren't currently Borg. I'm so, so, sorry about Captain Janeway, and Chakotay, and B'Elanna, and Tuvok -- they were my friends. I never meant to hurt any of them. But all of them would have been willing to die to save the universe from the Borg. And so am I, if it comes to it. If you kill me, I accept that as the price I pay for the countless mortals whose lives I saved. But you won't be doing it out of justice. It'll just be revenge."

For several moments no one said anything.

"The defense rests," Kes's advocate finally said.

"So it's okay?" Tom Paris said, in a small, almost broken voice. "It's okay to... to annihilate innocent people, people who did nothing wrong, because hey, more lives got saved that way? We've got some kind of cosmic balance sheet going? We're going to weigh everyone the Borg would have killed vs. everyone Kes just killed, and that's how we decide who's right? B'Elanna would have given her life to save the universe from the Borg, yeah, if anyone had asked her. But she was just -- she was just reaching for our baby, she was just talking to me, and then she was gone." He shook his head, staring into nothing

"You're all wrong about one thing here." He looked up at Kes, her advocate, and the prosecutor, and then up at the gathering. "It wasn't the Continuum's job, or Kes's job, to protect us by destroying the Borg, or dissolving them, or whatever. We aren't pets, we're people. If there wasn't any Continuum we'd still have had the Borg to fight -- as long as you didn't create them it wasn't your responsibility to save us from them. It was ours. Maybe we're not all-powerful, but we're grownups, and we're supposed to fight to defend ourselves. We don't need to be asking godlike beings to do things for us." He looked over at Kes. "They're right about this, Kes. I'm sorry. I don't want them to kill you, because that's not going to bring B'Elanna back. But if they can take your powers away and make you a normal Ocampa again, then they should do that. Or lock you up until you learn not to go around wiping out species because you think it's the right thing to do. Because it wasn't the right thing to do, and you abused your power. You should have left well enough alone."

"The prosecution rests," the Q prosecutor said, and gestured. Tom Paris vanished in a burst of light.

"Will he -- remember? When you called Will Riker as a witness, he didn't remember..." Kes's voice trailed off.

The prosecutor smiled coldly. "That was an internal Q matter and no business of his. Tom Paris just lost his wife and several friends because of this incident. Yes, he'll remember."

One of the gathering stepped forward, dressed and shaped as an Ocampan Elder. "We have a verdict on this matter."

That was faster than she expected. Kes looked up at the pseudo-Elder.

"You're absolutely right," the Q-Elder said. "We want revenge. Many of us have been working with the Borg, guiding them, trying to help them in small ways to achieve their goal of perfection while attempting to minimize the disruption they were causing to the universe. You have destroyed work some of us have been doing for thousands of years. And yes, it is not acceptable for us to execute you because we are angry and want revenge.

"It is true also that the Q who has served as the prosecutor for this case volunteered for the job, despite his own past history with making mistakes while meddling with mortals, because two humans he cared for were among the former Borg that Kes destroyed. That, however, does not negate or affect the value of his arguments; it was the will of the Continuum that someone should speak for the prosecution, and he has done so well.

"Such personal matters must be put aside when considering justice. It is true that the act Kes committed is one that the Continuum would have considered lawful, had the entire Continuum debated and agreed to it. It is true that Kes is not a Q, and was never trained or taught by us. It is also true that the reason the Continuum did not commit the act Kes did is that we believed it would, in the main, be unlawful and immoral by our standards. But it would have been impossible for Kes to know that, as we did not give her access to the knowledge of our deliberations, as we have done for our own young.

"For this reason we deny that this is a question of morality at all. Kes does not deserve to be punished for her act. To punish a non-Q for an act the Continuum has, upon deliberation and agreement, occasionally committed is indeed the height of hypocrisy.

"However, there is the argument raised by the human Tom Paris. Kes believes that what she did was justified. Clearly it was not. She believes that her perspective as a former mortal gives her a better understanding of when it is correct to intervene and destroy mortals to save others. Tom Paris, a current mortal, disagrees with her. As do we. A former mortal has less perspective, less comprehension of when it is correct to intervene, because a former mortal is more likely to be driven by an emotional reaction. Just as we do not permit our prosecutor to annihilate Kes outright for destroying humans he cared for, we cannot permit a former mortal to annihilate species for threatening species she cares for. Mortals are, for the most part, to be left alone to protect themselves. We are not their gods. Kes was set a poor example by the Caretaker of the Ocampa, who 'protected' her species, and stunted their evolution.

"It is not a question of punishment, but prevention. If Kes believes in the righteousness of what she has done, she is likely to do it again. She is not a Q, so we cannot simply take her powers from her. Should we imprison her? For an immortal being, imprisonment is crueler than death -- we would have to believe there is some likelihood that she would learn maturity and control during her imprisonment for it to have value. Simply holding her in a comet or a planet would not offer her any learning opportunities. She would not change or grow, merely become more bitter, more set in her ways.

"Therefore, we offer Kes a choice.

"You may join the Continuum. We have the power to make a mortal a Q -- we should be able to do the same with an Evolved Being. Give up your own nature, and join us as one of our children, that we may teach you.

"You may accept exile to your homeworld, to take on the role your deceased Caretaker held previously, as guide and protector of the Ocampa. The Ocampa have lived under the control of a more advanced being for thousands of years; it will not retard their development any further to give them to you. After you have acquired sufficient experience and perspective as their protector that we judge you no longer a threat, you will be freed, and they will be free of you. If you make unwise decisions as their protector, only your own people will suffer for it.

"Or you may die.


Kes swallowed. "You said that our Caretaker stunted our evolution. If I became the new Caretaker, would I be responsible for doing the same? Would I keep other Ocampa from becoming as I am?"

"That would be your choice."

"I don't want to be my people's god. But I don't want to be a Q, either. You're all hypocrites. And I would rather not die." She took a deep breath. "I choose to go home. I will protect my people."

"Oh, come on, now," the prosecutor said. "You were willing to throw me out of the Continuum, strip me of my powers and leave me to die, for transgressions considerably less serious than annihilating an entire race, let alone one composed of trillions upon trillions of mortals. She wipes out the Borg and she gets a free pass to go home and play god to her own species? That seems absurdly unfair."

"Fairness is a human concept, Q," the Elder said. "Your love for your favorites has blinded you. Our purpose is not to be fair; our purpose is to prevent further transgressions on the part of this Being of Power."

"Well, fine then. Overrule me. But I wouldn't want to be an Ocampa now, I can tell you that. What happens when she ruins them completely?"

"I won't," Kes said. "I won't let that happen."

"Yeah, and you didn't want to kill Kathy, either, but somehow that sort of happened on your watch. The humans have a saying -- 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions?' You mark my words, you'll end up destroying the Ocampa with the best of intentions. But then, perhaps that's the most suitable punishment for you after all. Too bad on your non-evolved fellows, but then, as my fellows have just reminded me... the universe is hardly fair."

"Be quiet, Q," Kes's advocate said. "The trial is over, the verdict has been handed down." She turned to Kes. "I chose to be your advocate because he would have stomped all over you if I hadn't -- we have too many years of experience fighting each other for me to believe anyone else could have gotten you a chance. And I believe in giving people a fighting chance, at least. But I also have to admit, I don't like the idea of prosecuting a child for a crime we never educated her about to be unpleasant. I have a child myself--" she glanced at the prosecutor again -- "and I wouldn't want to see him treated this way."

"Kes. Are you prepared to begin your sentence?" the Elder asked.

Kes nodded. "Yes."

"Then let it be done."

And in a moment, she was standing on the damaged surface of her homeworld, looking up at the sun. She could feel a barrier, invisible but binding, around the planet, holding her here.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, to Janeway and Tuvok and all the others she had accidentally killed in destroying the Borg. "It will never happen again. I promise."

She turned her attention to her people. If she wanted to do better than the Caretaker, if she wanted to be a guide and not a god, she needed to pay careful heed to what would protect and preserve them physically, what would challenge them mentally and spiritually, and the difference between the two.

Author notes:

The story of Phoenix and the D'Bari is based in X-Men Comics canon, although presumably if this happened in the Star Trek universe Phoenix wasn't a human mutant at the time.

The story of 0, the Gorgon and The One destroying the T'Kon Empire with the unwitting help of a dumbass young Q was in the Pocket Books "The Q Continuum Trilogy" by Greg Cox. Normally I don't take the books as canon, but the situation so perfectly fit I couldn't help myself.

As for Y'Gr, the Qu'hoth, and the Modalians -- I made all of them up.