With his companion at his side, Q watches the newly discorporeal former humans playing in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, zipping around the planet as trails of sentient energy, ducking and weaving through gaseous strata.
"Well, you made it," he says to his companion. "The next step of human evolution is finally under way."
"Did you doubt us?" the other Q, who was human himself a mere ten thousand years ago, asks.
"Not really. Though I'm actually kind of amazed it happened so early. I mean, when I told Riker that you folks were growing and evolving quickly, even I didn't guess you'd make it to a noncorporeal state within ten thousand years of achieving spaceflight. I think that beats out the last record."
"Well, if you don't count the Ocampa."
"Only six or seven Ocampa have made the changeover yet, and that's with generations that are ten times as fast as humans'. Their Caretaker really held them back; I expected them to have some massive changeovers occurring a few thousand years ago, but it never did."
"They look so… exuberant. So happy."
"Yeah, most beings are thrilled to achieve noncorporeality. It really is so much better than being made of matter." He looks at his companion. "Sorry you missed out. I wished you could have moved on with a whole cohort of other humans, rather than having to change species to achieve freedom from matter."
"No mortal, matter being has been able to endure living ten thousand years, Q. Even if you'd kept me alive, I'd be dead by now, or completely changed from the man I used to be." The other watches the former humans in their dance. It really is quite exuberant. "No, I'm glad you made the offer you did, when you did. I wouldn't have wanted to miss this."
"I'm glad I did too, Jean-Luc." Q smiles at his friend. In the Continuum, the "names" for individuals are icons, representations of the essence of the other Q as perceived by the Q who is speaking, and as such are tangled up in whatever emotion the speaker feels for the Q being addressed or described. Even though the Continuum has mellowed somewhat in its perception of strong emotion, Q still feels embarrassed using his friend's Q name in public, where others in the Continuum can see the intensity of the emotion he feels for the other, twined around his representation of the other's name. So, except in moments of private intimacy, he usually calls the other one by the wholly meaningless and arbitrary phonemes of the other's long-gone human name. "Did you doubt them? Or were you as certain you'd see this day as I was?"
"I'm a bit more familiar with the dangers that stood in humanity's way than you were, having made a career fighting off those dangers. But I always knew that if we managed to survive the Borg and the Kiohari and the Nesh'tot and all the other dangers we encountered, then yes, someday we would achieve noncorporeality. Someday, I was sure, we would become a Power. Although at the time I didn't actually understand much of what that entailed, of course."
"Right. Everyone comes along thinking, oh boy, we have psi powers, now we're bodiless creatures of pure thought, great, we're gods now! And then they figure out that they're still pretty little fish in a very big pond."
"Well, not everyone can be the Q. Not as long as the Continuum continues its current policies, at least."
If Q were human, he would be drawing a deep breath now. "Do we have to start talking about that now? Come on, Jean-Luc, just savor the moment for a few. You made it. Humanity's undergoing the changeover to a lesser Power."
"It's very exciting, yes." Jean-Luc's aura changes slightly, reflecting a bit of melancholy, a bit of wistfulness. "Although it is a little bit saddening as well."
"Saddening? What do you mean?"
"Well, obviously, the majority of humanity hasn't made the changeover yet. There's the resistance to it, the fear of the unknown many of them are experiencing. It'll be quite some time before every human being has become bodiless. And… honestly… those that have made the changeover aren't really human, are they? Any more than I am. So much of the human condition was being mortal, finite, made of mere matter. The species that birthed me, that shaped me, that created all the cultures I knew when I was growing to adulthood… soon they will be no more."
"I suppose that is a bit sad when you think about it. It's not very easy for me to relate to, since we were already Q when I was created, but some of the oldest must be familiar with that feeling. But then, few changes are wholly pleasant. Even your decision to come join us wasn't exactly something you had unmixed feelings about."
"Oh, I remember that well." Jean-Luc smiles, reminiscing. "There were many times I regretted my decision. Especially when I had to stand by and watch innocent people being destroyed. It was easier to accept the Federation's Prime Directive, since it's unilateral. The very fact that sometimes the Q do interfere made it very hard to bear the times that you wouldn't, or the fact that you wouldn't let me take action you hadn't all authorized."
"Even though that's exactly what you demanded we do to you before you'd agree to join."
"Yes, even so."
Q didn't make the offer right away – he'd led up to it in stages. First, when Picard was an old man, alone on Earth and retired, with next to no contact with the friends he had that were still alive, Q came to him and offered him what Picard the starship captain would always have turned down – the opportunity to explore the universe with him – and that Picard, an old man with nothing left to look forward to but death, had had nothing left to lose. He accepted.
For over a hundred years, Picard remained Picard, human, anchored to the age he was when he first met Q, traveling the universe with Q and seeing what there was to see. Eventually, though, the differential power dynamic between the two of them became problematic. Picard felt blackmailed by Q's power, unable to risk having a serious argument because Q might simply abandon him in a galaxy where now almost none of the people he'd once cared for were still alive. Q felt limited by Picard's humanity. So Q petitioned the Continuum for what he wanted, and given his changed status in the Continuum since winning the war, he'd gotten it -- the right to offer Picard membership in the Q.
Picard was not tempted by omnipotence; in fact he still feared it. The idea of being Q's equal was attractive, but not attractive enough to give up his humanity. But Q had come up with an argument that Picard couldn't resist. For the past hundred years, Picard had been listening to Q complain about the Continuum, how everyone walked on eggshells now because they didn't know diplomacy, they didn't know tact, they had never needed to learn to get along without hurting each other because they'd never had the ability to hurt each other, only now there were guns and everyone lived in terror of them being used again. So when Q argued that the Continuum needed Picard's skills, needed to learn the arts of making peace now that they'd introduced themselves to the art of making war, Picard listened. And when Q argued that the Continuum needed new blood to avoid stagnation, and that this meant that aliens needed to be invited to join the Continuum to bring their cultures and unique perspectives lest the Q continue to die a slow death of boredom, Picard nodded. And when Q pointed out that if Picard were a Q he could bring his own philosophies, his own ideals, to the Continuum and try to convince the Q as a whole to adopt them, Picard was sold.
He had worried about going mad with power, about losing his ethics and unleashing a godlike raging id on the galaxy. So the Q had agreed to place him on a thousand years of training and probation, where he would not be permitted to directly interact with or intervene in the lives of any mortals, anywhere, for any reason. Since the Q also weren't awfully fond of the notion of companions having mentor/student relationships, almost all of his training had been conducted by other Q; "his" Q had been able to provide moral support and hang out with him during free time, but was entirely uninvolved with training him. Which, Q thinks now, was just as well. Even now, Jean-Luc believes in obeying the rules unless there's very good reason to break them, breaking them only after long thought and analysis of the pros and cons, and, in fact, doing things in general only after long thought and analysis. His entire style of being a Q is much more like what the Continuum has traditionally respected and valued than Q's own, and that helped to cement his position in the Continuum early on, something that might not have happened so quickly if it had been Q who trained him.
Of course, the hilarious thing is that for all his rule-abiding, Jean-Luc is more of a maverick, more of a game-changer, than Q ever imagined he would become, and Q had had hopes in that direction. In fact, Jean-Luc's ideas are so revolutionary they terrify Q, and he has lived for change for millions of years.
"So." Jean-Luc says, focusing on him. "We've savored the moment, as you suggested. Are you ready to discuss moving forward with our plans, yet?"
No. Q isn't ready. He's not sure he'll ever be ready, and if he's not ready the Continuum cannot possibly be ready. "I don't know. What you're proposing is huge, Jean-Luc. I don't even think you're aware of how big a step it is."
"Of course it's a big step. You've been alone here for billions of years, used to having the place, and the power it grants you, all to yourselves. Of course the thought of changing that is frightening." He leans forward. "But you know it has to be done."
"I do… I just don't know if now is the time."
"When will be the time, then?" Jean-Luc gestures, taking in the newly transformed energy beings who've made Jupiter their home. "How long will they have to wait, or the Zakdorns, or the Siluri, or the Unity, because you were too afraid even to bring our proposal to the Continuum? How long will the Q retard the development of the other Powers of the universe to avoid ever having to share?"
In the beginning, billions of years ago, the Q created the Continuum, an oasis of order floating in the sea of chaotic, negentropic energy at the heart of the multiverse, out of all their minds in concert. It was, and it remains, the single greatest creation of any species anywhere in the multiverse. The Continuum contains a database of literally everything in the universe, collected painstakingly by the Q over the course of billions of years, and it contains algorithms for doing anything from teleporting to creating pocket dimensions, that any Q can draw on without actually having to think through the details of what they're doing. With the power granted them by the Continuum, the Q can raise the dead, can construct identical copies of sentient beings or programmed, non-sentient simulacra that can, within defined parameters, think and feel. They can move fluidly in time, while still understanding and being able to use linear time and causality. They can make a mortal a Q, granting all of their powers, and they can take those powers away and make a Q into a mortal. Their range of abilities and the power levels they can access are greater than those available to any one other race of Powers in the universe.
The Continuum is, and has always been, solely for the Q. And the Q have never allowed another species to create something similar. Oddly enough, Jean-Luc actually agrees with that particular perspective – two Continuums might be able to compete with each other for control of reality in a way that no other two Powers can compete, and the conflict could tear the universe apart. Plus, the Q trust themselves to wield their power because they've integrated many checks and balances into their control over their own members; they cannot necessarily control another species that doesn't share their ideals. There can only be one Continuum – that is safest, for the preservation of the reality all sentient life must share.
But the Continuum also has a framework of law, and rules, and a tradition of debate, analysis and study. The Continuum has a history of bringing in new individuals from different cultures, who must be governed by the laws that govern all Q. Other Powers are collective minds, fully in harmony with one another, sharing all thoughts and goals, such as the Melkotians, the Thasians, the Vash'ta; or they are scattered, disparate, with no overarching structure, trusting to the ethics each individual was trained in, such as the Douwds, the Kalaydjians, the species that beings such as the Nagilum belong to. There is no other Power with so much structure for both accepting and controlling diversity, no other Power which holds as an ideal that many minds with totally different personalities and opinions should come together under the structure of law to form a unified whole.
The Q have long attempted to aid the growth of other species, helping others progress on their evolutionary path toward becoming a Power; but there is a wall they keep in the way, the roadblock that they will not permit any other to pass, and that is that no one else is allowed to make a Continuum, or anything like it. The old Powers of the universe were content with this; the status quo has been that the Q do not share their own unique privileges for so long that no one who has been a Power for billions of years feels any particular loss. They have all achieved their own perfection, and unlike the Q, they feel no need to strive to become more than they are. Only the Q suffer pain when they stagnate, because only the Q designed themselves to contain minds and personalities, like Q's own, that constantly crave new knowledge and new experiences.
But the Q are not the only beings in the universe capable of feeling that pain. The new Powers coming up in the universe – the Zakdorn, the humans, the El-Aurians, the beings that were once the Borg until they stopped assimilating by force and became the Unity instead – they will not be content to hit a wall. They will want to be everything they can possibly be. Especially the humans. And the Q cannot allow them to create a new Continuum.
So, Jean-Luc proposed one day, why not open up the Continuum to them, and share it?
It was so audacious, so stunning, so transformative a plan that Q still feels a desperate desire to make passionate love to Jean-Luc for being an entity that could come up with such an idea, every time he thinks of it… and yet, he's terrified. For billions of years only the Q have shared the Continuum. Open it up to others? Allow not just one or two aliens who can be transformed into Q, but alien Powers that are not Q at all, to join in with the overmind of the Continuum? Be first among equals instead of dominant among gods? He knows the Continuum needs such a transformation, and oh, he craves the disruption, the chaos, the uncertainty it will cause, the opportunity for everything to be new again, to work out everything all over again and there will be conflict and there will be argument and there will be things worth building once more and it will be glorious. But he's still a Q, even as much as he wants change, and the idea of radically transforming the Continuum in such a way frightens him as much as it excites him. Things have been a certain way for billions of years, and he can complain about being bored all he wants but if they change, he won't know everything anymore, he won't be in control or be able to predict what's going to happen anymore. The fear is almost paralyzing.
How can he bring such a plan before the Continuum? He himself craves change more than any other Q (well, perhaps except for his son), and this idea terrifies him. What will the more conservative, the more staid, the more enamored of the status quo in the Continuum think? And given that he is perhaps the strongest proponent of change, doesn't that mean that all of them will react with even more fear and far less delight than he has? Oh, he's been down the road of making proposals to the Continuum that no one wants to listen to before, and for himself, maybe the thought of becoming a laughingstock, again, wouldn't be so appalling, but the idea that Jean-Luc, who's such a young and untried Q and had such promise, could more or less ruin his credibility with the Continuum for the next several million years is deeply upsetting.
"I understand what you're saying. You know I agree with you. But… I'm going to be brutally frank here, this proposal scares me. And if it scares me, it's going to scare the others even more. And then they'll just tune out everything we have to say for the next several aeons."
"Then we'll have to make them listen." Jean-Luc is calm, focused. "Q, of course I understand what a drastic step this would be for all of you. I can understand why it frightens you. But it has to be done. For the sake of the newer Powers, for the sake of preserving the Continuum from stagnation, for the sake of preventing future wars between Powers. It was terrible enough that you had a civil war; do you actually want to get into a conflict with a fellow Power because they feel that you stand in the way of their evolution?"
"Of course we don't, but… this is a huge, huge thing you're proposing. I really don't think you comprehend the magnitude of your suggestion. You grew up in a Federation. The idea of daily dealings with aliens, of sharing your resources and your legal system and even your DNA, with them is natural to you. It's been billions of years that we've been isolated in our own Continuum."
"And yet the majority of you spend as much time as you can outside the Continuum, because the presence of the others has simply become too dull to be borne. Even with the children who've been born since I joined, so many of you prefer the company of anyone who isn't a Q to anyone who is. That's a serious problem for any species. Wouldn't it be better to invite other species to join in the Continuum than to hide away from the Continuum all the time out of contempt for and boredom with your fellow Q?"
"You don't need to convince me. It's them you need to convince. Or, that we need to convince. And I'm not sure we can."
"We do have allies. Your son will agree with us. Amanda. Q your elder sister, Q the inventor, Q your brother… those that most strongly agreed with you during the war, those that fought by your side… they will stand by the proposal, even if they're afraid."
"Q. Don't be impatient; we have eternity. We bring the proposal before them now, and begin the discussion. Most likely, most of them won't agree. But we let them begin to think about it, and some will come to terms with the idea and recognize that it is, in fact, the best solution. And then we bring the proposal again, and again. And each time, we'll have more support, until, eventually, we'll win."
"You're very optimistic, mon ami."
"Of course I am. I was an optimistic human, ten thousand years ago, and see where it's brought me now." Jean-Luc smiles broadly. "Hasn't everything in my existence argued that in the long run, optimism usually is proven correct?"
"In the long run, maybe."
"Well, we can afford to look at the long run. But we can't afford to delay beginning that long run. If it's going to take us thousands of years to get the Continuum to accept our proposal and open itself to the other Powers… shouldn't we get started right away?"
Q shakes his head, laughing. "Who would have ever thought, when you and I first met, that you could come up with a plan to transform the Continuum that makes me and my ideas look positively stodgy? You always played by the rules, you always did what was expected of you, and yet, you're more revolutionary than I even dreamed of being."
"Of course. That's what you wanted when you brought me here, wasn't it? That I would bring new ideas, new perspectives to the Continuum?" Jean-Luc's smile turns wry. "As you pointed out earlier, this isn't a new or revolutionary idea at all from my perspective. I grew up in a political entity made up of hundreds of alien worlds and different cultures. It's only a novel idea when it's considered for the Q Continuum."
"How many more such radical ideas lurk in that formerly human mind of yours, I wonder?"
"I suppose, sooner or later, we'll find out. But this one may be the most important. You agree with me that the stakes couldn't be higher – it's not just the stagnation of the Continuum or the arbitrary roadblock we place in the path of the younger Powers that's the problem, it's the fear that someday it may lead to war."
"And if it does come to war, the younger, hungrier, more driven Powers will have the advantage," Q says somberly. "It's why we wanted to study humanity, why we were concerned that someday you might surpass us. Because if those creatures currently playing tag in the Big Red Spot someday take it into their head that they want their very own Continuum, I am not completely sure that we'll know how to stop them."
"And that's why we have to give them ours. Because the Q are right that there can't be two Continuums in the multiverse. But you designed it from the beginning in a way that could accommodate those that aren't Q, if you ever chose."
"I don't think anyone ever thought of it that way, at the time."
"No, but that's why I'm here. Because if anyone's going to have a new idea after billions of years, you'd have most likely had it already. You needed someone new to think of what you couldn't."
"And I love you for it, you know that."
"Yes. I do." For a moment Jean-Luc brushes his energies against the surface of Q's pattern, in the Q equivalent of a kiss. Then he draws back. "But we have work to do at the moment."
"Right." Q tries, very hard, to relax, and fails. He's excited, and thrilled, and scared out of his mind. He couldn't be more nervous if he were a mortal, with nerves. "I'll call the meeting."
"It will be all right, Q." Again Jean-Luc's energies caress his, this time in a longer, slower, deeper movement that's more akin to a hug or a backrub or even holding hands than a kiss. "Neither of us are alone in making this proposal. We have each other, and we have all the allies either of us would traditionally have had. It's not going to be either of us against the entire Continuum."
"No, just most of it."
"Wasn't that the story of your life, before the war?"
Q laughs, because it's true. Ridiculous that a mere ten thousand years of actually having the Continuum respect his ideas and listen to him could have taken his edge off, make him unwilling to offend and frighten people. "True. I suppose I'm doing better now than I was then." He disengages his energies from Jean-Luc's, and grins. "Ready to go shake things up?"
"Now that's the Q I remember from my human days. Lead the way, old friend."
He sends out the message, calling a meeting of the Continuum so that he and Jean-Luc can make the proposal. And he thinks, Who would have thought, ten thousand years ago, when he was human and telling me to get off his starship, that he'd ever agree to come join me, or that he'd bring even more radical ideas to the Continuum than I ever did? Who'd have thought that I'd embrace the idea of turning the Continuum into something like his Federation, and inviting other Powers to join in?
Really, Quinn, you shouldn't have died when you did… I suppose it was necessary, that none of the changes would have happened without it, but you should see what we've become since your sacrifice, what we still have the potential to become in the future.
Truly, the possibilities are endless.
And then he and Jean-Luc teleport into the meeting place at the heart of the Continuum.
Author's Notes and Dedications:
Does anyone remember the "Five Things" meme? People in many fandoms were writing stories called "Five Things That Never Happened To So-and-so" and then the story would be five separate alternate universes for that character.
Well, Q is a character of endless possibilities, so firstly, he wouldn't accept "never happened to". I had to change it to "might have happened to." And secondly, he wouldn't settle for just five. I picked 17 because Q is the seventeenth letter of the alphabet. If I'd been able to do just five I might have gotten this posted in 2005 or thereabouts, but we all know how slow I am. :-)
This story is dedicated to Atara Stein and Jeanita Danzik, two Q writers who have both sadly passed away -- Atara in March 2008 and Jeanita in June 2005. This whole story would probably not exist without Atara's "Q-Struck" and its repeated theme, "the possibilities are endless". And one of these pieces owes its current format to Jeanita; I had planned to kill off Picard at the end of one of these stories, and Jeanita threatened to kill me if I did. :-) Well, I did kill Picard off in at least one of these pieces, but not the one I had originally planned; in the new version of the story I discussed with Jeanita, Picard lives. I deeply regret that my friends will never get to see me finish the unfinished projects they helped me with, such as Only Human, and I dedicate this story to their memory.