by J. Rosemary Moss
Picard stared down at the corpse of the young ensign. He was laid out in sick bay, soon to be prepared for burial. He looked strangely alive lying there, as if he would awake at any moment. But that was an illusion, Picard thought bitterly. In truth, the lad was dead—and he was dead for no good reason.
The boy had not given his life in battle; he'd had no opportunity for such heroics. Instead, he'd been killed by an aneurysm that Dr. Crusher could not even account for. A freak occurrence, it seemed.
"Upsetting, isn't it, mon capitaine?"
Picard's eyes shot up at that. Q had materialized opposite him. He was standing on the other side of the body, dressed in an elaborate suit of mourning that would have been appropriate on earth in the late Victorian era. He even wore the black gloves and top hat to match. And he carried a handsomely carved walking stick.
Picard took a deep breath and forced himself not to roll his eyes at the entity. "What do you want, Q?" he asked, somehow keeping his voice even.
"Why, merely to comfort an old friend," Q answered, raising an eyebrow.
Picard took another deep breath and managed a small smile. "Thank you," he said. "But there's little comfort you can offer, I'm afraid, in the face of such a senseless death."
"Why Jean-Luc," Q chided, slanting his eyes at the captain, "surely you don't doubt that the Almighty Himself can offer comfort under any circumstances?"
This time Picard did roll his eyes. "You are not God," he insisted. "And if you were I wouldn't want comfort from you—I'd want to call you to account!"
Q rubbed his hands together in delight. "That's the spirit! Ooh—what next? Shall I manifest to you as a voice from a whirlwind?" He paused to adopt a mock-thundering tone. "Where were you, Jean-Luc, when I created the multiverse and your pitiful little earth? And where were you when I set the stars in motion and the planets spinning? Do you think that you, a puny biped without a shred of cosmic perspective, are entitled to call Me to account?"
Another reluctant smile escaped Picard at this adaptation from the Book of Job. He almost envied Job at the moment. However much that character had suffered, at least he had his opportunity to put the Almighty on trial, so to speak, for all the injustices of life.
"As I recall, Q, that voice from the whirlwind was not displeased with Job," Picard pointed out, "despite the Job's presumption."
"No, He wasn't," Q agreed. "But neither would He explain to the puny human why things happen the way they do—and Job came to accept that. Charming story, isn't it?"
"'Charming' isn't quite the word I'd choose," Picard returned dryly, turning his attention back to the boy.
Q sighed and snapped his fingers, transforming himself back to his customary uniform. Apparently he'd grown weary of the Victorian outfit.
The entity stared down at the corpse and furrowed his brow. Then he stroked the boy's hair with what appeared to be genuine tenderness. "It does seem a waste, doesn't it?" he mused. "For a such a pathetic race, your kind is surprisingly endearing."
"He was a promising young man," Picard said softly. "Now if you'll excuse me, Q, I must send word to his family."
"Of course you must," Q agreed, moving to the captain's side and placing an arm around his shoulders. "But I'll remain with you, Jean-Luc. I wouldn't dream of deserting you in your hour of need!"
Picard inhaled sharply. "That is quite…unnecessary, I assure you."
But Q shook his head condescendingly, as if he knew best. Picard opened his mouth to protest, but suddenly found himself seated at his desk.
"There," the entity said as he took a chair opposite the captain. "Now you can figure out what to say to the boy's loved ones. I'll sit right here, quiet as a mouse, ready to lend you whatever succor you require."
There was a sharp retort on the tip of Picard's tongue—but somehow he couldn't bring himself to utter it. In the face of such a pointless tragedy, he decided, he needed all the comfort he could muster.
Even if it came from Q.