First Born Son

His father stood in front of him, arms folded over her ample breasts, her humanoid features locked in a scowl. "I'm waiting here," she said impatiently. "Well?"

With an aggrieved sigh, Q manifested as a skinny blond girl with close-cropped hair and a flat chest. "Fine. I'm a girl. Satisfied?"

"Not really." Q's father stalked around the female form he'd just manifested in, inspecting it. "You're going to run into problems with that one. Unless you girl it up with some bigger breasts or a softer face there, people are going to peg you as a boy who's impersonating a girl. Let me remind you that the penalty for that with these people is being stoned to death?"

"Because I totally care if they throw rocks at me."

"I care! We're practicing going incognito here! If they throw rocks at you and you don't die, that rather spectacularly blows our cover, now doesn't it?" She sighed. "Why are you making this so difficult? Just copy my form and de-age it."

Q looked askance at his father's statuesque, voluptuously feminine manifestation. "I just don't feel comfortable looking like that."

"Well then for the sake of the Continuum, pick a better form for yourself! Do you really want to be having to drop your pants on a regular basis to prove you're a girl, or else blow this entire exercise? Sometimes I think you want to fail."

"Well, I don't really want to be going to some stupid Amazon planet incognito! What's the fun if we can't throw our powers around and startle the natives a little?"

"I don't know. Yet. And we're not going to find out if you can't figure out how to take a convincing female form, here." She sighed again. "Look, when you're an adult, if all you ever want to do is interact with them as a Q, more power to you. You can limit yourself that way, if you really want to. But as long as you are a child, and as long as I am training you, you'll do what I say, and I say that impersonating mortals and being able to walk amongst them without revealing yourself is an important skill that every Q should have, and unless you want to go to these festivities as my slave instead of my kid, you're going to have to be a girl. And I can't believe you're giving me such a hard time over this. It's a body made of meat. Why does it even matter what gender it is?"

"It just does," Q said sullenly. "I don't like female forms."

"Well, give yourself the most feminine features you can imagine and a penis, then, if you're so desperate to have a male form. No one will bother to check if you've got an hourglass shape."

"You're missing the point," Q mumbled. "I don't want to look like a girl. The penis isn't really the important part."

Q's father shook her head. "I truly don't understand you." Ostentatiously she looked upward. "This is my punishment, isn't it, Q? Somehow you all managed to collaborate behind my back to make sure that my child would be just as stubborn and recalcitrant as I was, only in completely different ways, just to make sure he would irritate me every bit as much as I irritated all of you. It's a really neat trick, given that I thought Q and I were solely responsible for his creation. Someday you'll all have to share with me how you did it."

"I don't even want to go," Q complained. "I don't care about some stupid Amazon planet and their stupid gladiator festival."

"Did you or did you not tell me that you thought your mother's fetish for wargaming was deeply intriguing and you were eager to experiment with playing at combat?"

"Yeah, in a war! Not a gladiator festival thingy!"

"You know, the last time I brought this up, you said you were thrilled at the notion of watching so many scantily clad humanoid females try to almost kill each other."

"That was before you told me I'd have to go in a female form because the guys are all slaves and they don't get to fight. Why can't I go do a gladiator festival thingy on some planet where the warriors are men, like, oh, I don't know, ninety-seven percent of all the planet with gladiator festivals out there?"

"Because you're giving me a hard time with this. A Q can't be limited by the gender of their chosen form any more than we can be limited by the species."

"But it's okay to be limited by always having dark hair, when you're in a species with hair."

Q's father sighed ostentatiously, and the hair color on her body changed from dark brown to flaming red. "Fine. See, I don't argue for half an hour when someone points out that I'm being limited in my form choices. I just change the form."

"I just don't want to do it anymore."

The humanoid features of his father's face grew very hard, and the emotions projected on the outer surface of her aura shifted to genuine anger and grim determination. "And that is exactly why you're going to. Now take a decent form or I will choose one for you."

Q could just imagine what sort of form his father would come up with for him at this point. Probably a six-year-old girl, or a tiny little thing with disproportionately sized female accoutrements. "Fine," he groused, and made the form he was wearing just a little bit more female looking, with slightly larger breasts and a slightly softer face, while changing his tunic to one with a deep V to expose what little cleavage he was willing to have. "Is this girly enough for you?"

"Perfect," his father said. "Now let's go watch the show. If we're very lucky, one of the mortals will do something egregiously stupid and die in a particularly hilarious way."

"Do we get to laugh if they do?"

"Not where the mortals can hear it, kiddo. Just laugh to me privately."

Q had to admit the gladiator festival was kind of fun, particularly the part where his father insulted some woman's mother, grandmother, clan and general intelligence level, the woman challenged her to a duel, and instead of his father actually fighting her, Q himself stepped in and beat the woman in combat for her insults of his "mother". His father actually praised him, telling him he handled the combat "gracefully", making it look as if he really did have to work to win the fight instead of being implausibly perfect.

Afterward, his father, as usual, had better things to do than to continue to hang around with him. Which was fine by Q. He had better things to do than hang around with his dad all the time, either. Feeling rather pumped up by having managed to do so well at the festival, he decided to drop in on his mother, an activity he preferred to engage in only when his self-confidence was at its highest.

His mother was wargaming again, sitting in a bar in the form of a Klingon warrior slugging down bloodwine and eating phaser-scorched targ with his d'tagh blade and teeth. Q didn't materialize directly in front of him, since his mother would be royally pissed off if Q broke his character in front of the other Klingons; instead he appeared outside the bar, in the form of a teenaged male Klingon, and walked in.

His mother was ignoring him, ostentatiously paying attention to a bard singing some sort of obnoxious, interminable song about Klingons killing other Klingons several centuries ago. So Q strolled up to him insouciantly and said, "Hey, Mom, I wanna talk to you."

Instantly his mother was on his feet, shoving Q back up against the bar with the d'tagh blade at his throat. Which wouldn't have mattered so much, except at the same time he had also crushed off Q's feed from the Continuum, blocking his powers, so if he beat up or killed the body Q was wearing it was going to hurt, a lot. "What did you say to me, insolent boy?" his mother snarled, playing the part.

Q wanted to roll his eyes. If his mother hadn't wanted Q calling him "Mom", maybe he could just have erased everyone's memory of it instead of attacking his own son with a knife. He shielded, and since his father had some of the strongest shields in the Continuum and had trained him in creating his, he successfully blocked his mother's perception of what he was about to do. Then he kicked his mother's kneecap out.

The ersatz Klingon warrior roared with pain, his concentration broken for a moment, which allowed Q to get his powers back. He stopped time, teleported a short distance away, then resumed time and made all the mortals who were watching think he'd dodged quickly. "Yo, wasn't that kind of a rude way to greet your only son?"

"How dare you call me your mother, boy!" his mother snarled. "If you were not my only son, I would kill you where you stand." I am trying to game here. If you make me break character, I swear I will kill your avatar half a dozen times in a row and make you feel the pain each time!

Excuse me, I forgot that you don't know how to do something simple like erase all the mortals' memories, so they don't know you broke character, because you're only like five billion years old. "You can try it, old man," he said aloud.

Yes, I could stop time or erase their memories, but why should I have to? "What do you want, brat?"

"I just want to talk. What, I can't talk to my own father any more?" You're really obsessed with this stuff, aren't you?

"So talk, boy." You don't sound very Klingon. You won't convince anyone by sounding so flippant. You can be disrespectful, but not flippant. The Klingons take themselves very seriously.

I don't care about sounding like a Klingon. They're idiots. "I don't want to talk in the middle of a crowded room. Can we talk privately?"

Impatiently his mother waved his hand, and time stopped. "You are ruining my game. If you don't want to properly stay in character when you interact with me, why should I talk to you?"

Q rolled his eyes. "Because you're my mother?"

"Clearly a mistake. And why do you keep saying 'mother'? I did not carry you in my abdomen; I didn't lay you as an egg. Q and I performed the exact same role in your conception. I am as much your father as your mother, just as Q is. So when I am in a male form, why do you ruin my game by publicly calling me mother?"

Q shrugged. "Dunno. You were in female form whenever we were mortals most of the time when I was a baby. I guess I got used to it." He took a deep breath, although he didn't actually need to breathe. "That's part of what I want to talk about, actually."

"Then talk, child. My time may be infinite, but my patience is not."

Now that he'd gotten to it, he was nervous. Q paced restlessly. "Dad says that it's a big deal that I don't want to take female mortal forms. I don't understand why it's such a thing. I mean, he usually takes forms with dark hair when he takes forms that have hair at all, and no one thinks that's any big deal."

His mother looked at him like he'd manifested a second head. "Any mortal species that has multiple genders involved in reproduction tends to view gender as the primary mode of classifying sentient beings. If you can't take whatever gender would work best for the role you want to play, it handicaps your dealings with mortals. Think. If I was unable to take a male form, I'd be severely limited in what species I can wargame in, and if I could not take a female form, Janeway would never have talked Q into turning to me and you wouldn't exist. Her limited human mind would never have drawn the conclusion that Q and I could reproduce if I'd presented myself as a man."

"Yeah, but so what? Maybe I don't feel like messing with matriarchal societies. There are, like, quadrillions of species where being male works out just fine for any games I want to play. So why does it matter?"

"It wouldn't, if it didn't indicate something wrong with you," his mother said. He stalked around Q, circling him like a warrior sizing Q up for weaknesses. "No Q born Q is limited by a concept of gender."

"Amanda's a girl."

"Your babysitter was born in a mortal body. She may always have been Q, but spending her formative years in a single mortal form has warped her. We forgive the Q who were brought in as mortals and granted our power for their atavistic belief in their own original gender because their minds formed before they were Q, and we knew when we inducted them that they would have these limitations, possibly for eternity. But no Q who was created as a Q has such a limitation."

"Okay, but who cares? I mean, let's just say for the sake of argument, what if I did feel like I had a gender? Why would it matter? I'm still omnipotent, right? So it's not hurting me, or anyone else."

His mother smiled a very nasty smile. "It would hurt Q considerably," he said, meaning Q's father. "You'd be an embarrassment to him, and it would essentially destroy his chances of persuading other Q to do as we did and reproduce, if you were to have such a flaw."

It didn't matter how often Q came up against what he saw as the stunning illogic of his forebears; it was always a shock. And this one in particular hit him where he lived. His father's ambitions and goals, most of which he agreed with, would be thwarted; his father would be deeply disappointed in him, again; and his own desire for there to be other Q his own age, or close to it, would be threatened. Q kept his shields up so his mother couldn't see his sudden fear and despair.

"Good to know," he said lightly. "Thanks, Mom. You've been loads of help." He snapped his fingers, simultaneously putting lacy dance costumes on all the Klingon warriors in the room, unstopping time so they'd all be aware of it, and teleporting away, laughing. Now his mom would have to erase their memories, or his game would be ruined.

Served him right for being such a jerk anyway. Not that Q expected differently, not since the day his mother had stormed out of both his and his father's lives, declaring that his father had ruined him and she was disowning him because she couldn't stand to see him turning into his father.

He hovered aimlessly in space for a while, trying to decide what he should do next, or where he should go. Obviously his mother was not going to be any help, and his father was part of the problem, but there was no way to keep secrets in the Q Continuum; he couldn't go to any other Q without the risk that it would get back to, well, everyone, and cause whatever blowback on his father it was going to cause. As annoying as his father could be sometimes, Q did share his father's political beliefs, mostly the Continuum was in desperate need of change, and the sooner the better. If he did something to humiliate or embarrass his father again it would damage the cause they both believed in. Besides, as much as he wanted to be flip about it and distance himself from any real feeling... he didn't want to disappoint the only Q who actually seemed to give a damn about him.

He needed advice. If the mortal timeline hadn't wrapped around itself in a circle, he'd know where to get it; ever since his father had started trusting him not to turn her into a newt, he'd gone to his Aunt Kathy whenever he'd had to deal with something that his parents couldn't help him with. But she'd died, going back in time to contact her earlier self, change the timeline to bring her ship home earlier, and save several of her most beloved crew members... as well as saving the Federation from the Borg, the true motivation that she hadn't actually shared with any of the other mortals. Since then, Q had gone back to visit her before the timesplit, on the memorable occasion when his dad had ended up making him mortal for a week and he'd become friends with Icheb, but now that the timesplit had happened, the Admiral Janeway who existed now wasn't the same being as his Aunt Kathy, and he didn't have the history with this one that he'd had with the one who'd spent seventeen years more in the Delta Quadrant than this one had.

But any port in a storm. She was still fundamentally the same person, right? She just didn't know him as well, but on the other hand, after he'd been mortal for a week on her ship, how well did she really have to know him to be able to advise him?

With a thought, Q teleported across millions of light years, materializing himself in the Admiral's office while she was doing paperwork. "Hey, Aunt Kathy! How's it going?"

Admiral Janeway looked up, startled. "Q?"

"I've got a question for you." He sat down on the edge of her desk.

"Don't sit on my desk," she said. "If you need to sit somewhere, why don't you use that chair?" She gestured at the other chair in the room.

"Because it's ugly," Q said. "But I guess I could fix that." He snapped his fingers and teleported into the chair, which he had transformed from a stationary office chair into a spinning chair. Right now he was sitting on it backwards, leaning his elbows on the back of it. He spun around in it a couple of times and ended up facing Janeway. "That better?"

"That's fine," she said. "What was your question?"

"How do you know that you're a woman?"

Her expression got hard, and he could tell she thought this was some kind of setup for a sexual joke. As if. She was his aunt. Well, technically, she was his godmother. Which, come to think of it, was an awfully strange expression given that he was the god and she was the mortal, but whatever. "I'd think an omnipotent being would understand basic human anatomy," she said in a clipped voice.

Q snapped his fingers, turning Aunt Kathy into a man. With first a look of startlement on his face, and then a look of rage, Janeway surged out of his chair, coming to his feet, and shouted "Q!" in a husky baritone voice.

"So, are you a man now?" Q asked.

"Change me back this minute," Janeway snapped.

"Why? I mean, if you were a woman because you had a woman's basic anatomy, now that you've got a man's you should be fine with being a man, right?"

"It doesn't work like that! Does your father know you're here?"

"Actually, no, he doesn't. I've got a privacy shield up. So tell me, Aunt Kathy, are you a man or a woman now?"

"I want you to return me to my normal, female form right now."

"So you feel like you're really a woman, even though you've got a penis?"

Janeway scowled at him. "Yes, Q. I'm really a woman even though you changed me into a man, and if you changed me into a rabbit I would still think of myself as a human, and when you were a human... or an amoeba... you still thought of yourself as a Q. So change me back. I strongly doubt your father will appreciate these shenanigans."

"Here's the question, Aunt Kathy. Why are you a woman? Your body's male, your DNA's male, you could be a dad if you got it on with some woman, so exactly why are you a woman?"

Janeway sighed, his tone sounding deeply put upon. "I've been a woman all my life. That isn't going to change because I spend a few minutes with male anatomy."

Q snapped his fingers and restored Janeway to herself. "So you're a woman because you've always been a woman?"

"I suppose so."

"But aren't there humans who are born feeling like they're boys even though they're girls? So if you were one of those people, you'd feel like a man even though you've been a woman all your life. Right?"

"Well, yes, but if I felt that way they'd run some tests in early childhood and as soon as they could confirm that my self-concept was fully male they'd perform a sex change, preferably before puberty. We don't make people live with the wrong bodies now that we have the technology to make their bodies match their self-concept." She walked around her desk and looked him in the eye. "Q, what is this line of questioning about? Is this just idle curiosity about human gender constructs?"

He shrugged. "We don't have gender in the Continuum. It's an interesting thing."

Janeway looked skeptical. "If you don't have gender in the Continuum, how is it your parents were able to have you?"

Q rolled his eyes. "You don't get outside your box much, do you, Aunt Kathy? Did it look to you like my parents had sex to have me?"

"Well... no. It looked as if they touched fingertips. They did seem to enjoy it, but no, it certainly didn't look like sex."

"You do know that all that stuff was a metaphor, right? No one was really dressed in Civil War uniforms? There weren't really any trees? No one ever really pretended to be a scarecrow?"

"You weren't even born when I went on those trips to the Continuum, Q."

"Yeah, but the thing about being omniscient, see, is that I know everything. Including the things that happened before I existed. I know what you think you saw, and I know what it really was." He got out of his chair and paced. "The way my parents made me was more like the way you'd... uh... I don't know, weave a rug? Or a tapestry. Anyway, it's more like weaving. They took parts of their own, um, I don't know what you'd call it... their essence? Something like that. And they wove those parts together into me. It used to be, when the Continuum needed new Q, the whole Continuum would do that, sort of spontaneously generating a new Q out of the, uh, the fabric of the whole Continuum at once."

"I thought the Q never reproduced."

"No, that was just my dad's line of extra grade bullshit. Come on, Aunt Kathy, how does anything exist if it never got made in the first place? The Continuum didn't always exist, we evolved, like you. Only a lot longer ago and with a lot more success at it."

"So the Q did once... have children? In the past?"

"If you could call them children. When the Continuum did it, they were... well, like I am now, without going through the whole part about being a baby. They just got made as teenagers, poof. But the Continuum had a lot of control over exactly what they were going to be like. More like your doctor guy, programmed to have a certain personality, so as they got older they could get more experience and stuff and their personalities could get more complicated, but they started out being something that the Continuum pretty much knew what they were going to be. My dad's great idea was to put it on just one Q, or a couple of Q, to reintroduce randomness, make it more of an art than a science, and plaster his big ego all over the Continuum 'cause what the Continuum totally needed was more of him."

"And why did that stop the war?"

Q parked himself in the chair again and spun around. "Oh, come on, Aunt Kathy, you were there! I didn't stop the war, you did. Well, your crew. And my mom. She gave your crew weapons that mortals could actually use, 'cause up to that point only Q could use the weapons, and because mortals are really tiny in the Continuum and hard for anyone to see, the other Q had no idea how many of you there were around pointing weapons at them, and they weren't dumb so they surrendered. I was just supposed to be proof that change can be positive. Everyone thinks I'm supposed to figure out how to make the peace permanent, except that's totally stupid because that comes from my dad's first idea, the one about having a kid with you. Having a half-human kid might bring new traits to the Continuum that would've helped us learn diplomacy and stuff, but I don't have any traits the Q didn't already have, so where's this idea that I'm going to figure out stuff none of the people who are billions of years older than me could figure out come from? I'm just a symbol, that's all. And unless more Q decide to have kids, I'm a pretty useless symbol."

"I see. Is that why you wanted to talk about human gender? You want other Q to have children?"

"Well, no, not exactly. We don't need gender to have kids. One Q could make a child, although it'd probably come out as practically a clone. Six Q could make a kid, if they could keep from fighting about it. We don't have sperm and eggs and stuff. We just combine the energies from our patterns. So my mom is not female and my dad is not male, which neither of them apparently ever get bored reminding me, and if my dad had done the smart thing and hit up his bald captain dude for a spermly contribution to the baby making thing instead of asking you, he could have had a half human super diplomat kid instead of a screwup like me."

Janeway almost choked on her coffee. "I don't really think Captain Picard would have been any more eager to have a child with Q than I was."

"Shows what you know. They're totally doing it. I mean, okay, they weren't before the war, 'cause falling in love with a mortal was against the rules in those days so my dad was trying to pretend he had some plausible deniability even though everyone in the Continuum knew he had it bad, and I think he picked you because he could tell everyone he just wanted you for your DNA, whereas no one would've believed him if he'd tried to tell that particular whopper about Picard. Also, he was too chicken to be pregnant himself, 'cause the way you human women make babies inside you? That is totally gross."

Janeway blinked repeatedly. "Captain Picard is sleeping with your father?"

"Technically I don't think any sleep is involved, but that's really got nothing to do with my question."

"Which is what? I'm still not sure what your point is, Q."

"I already said." He swung himself out of the chair again and paced over to the wall, where he grabbed an imaginary skyhook and used it to walk halfway up the wall, then kicked off the wall, flipped around and landed in the chair, which spun around several times as he hit. When it stopped spinning he said, "I want to know how you know you're a woman. I mean, you say it's because you've had a female body all your life, but there's those humans we talked about who feel like their bodies aren't the right gender, so how can that be it?"

She sighed. "I don't know. I never really thought about it, since I do feel my body and my sense of self are in accord. You'd be better off asking a human who's had a sex change."

"You know any?"

He could hear her think about her childhood friend Bill, who had been a girl named Andrea until they'd both been about 8 and who had had the reassignment procedure and name change done then. Then she thought about how Bill, who she hadn't seen in years, would likely react to an obnoxious teenage entity turning up on his doorstep to ask all kinds of intrusive personal questions about a decision he'd made when he was 8. "No," she said, "not really."

Q considered calling her on it, but he decided that he really didn't want to have a conversation with this Bill guy anyway. "Right, I can see you offering me a veritable plethora of choices of people to talk to who aren't you."

She sighed. "Why exactly does this topic fascinate you so much? This seems like a little more than mere curiosity."

That was kind of what he'd been afraid she would ask. Q swung himself around in the chair so that instead of sitting facing the back of the chair with his arms on the back, he was sitting with his back against the back of the chair. He tipped it back as far as it would go before gravity would unbalance it, and then tipped it back farther than that, using his powers to keep it from falling over. Looking at the ceiling, he said, "I, uh, I think I might, uh..." Oh, great. Tongue-tied. That certainly made him look sophisticated and powerful. He took a deep breath and blurted, "I think I'm a guy."

"Well, you are in a male form."

Q hit himself in the head ostentatiously. "Aunt Kathy, could you have missed the point any harder if I'd fired it off in the opposite direction, twenty million light years away from here? It's got nothing to do with being in a male form. I'm in a male form because I think I'm a guy, not the other way around."

"Okay." Janeway got up and walked over to him, crouching down next to the chair so she was still on her feet but much closer to eye level with him. "Why is this idea upsetting you? You feel as if you're male, so you're in a male form. I don't see the problem. Your people can be any gender they want."

"Right, what we look like to you. But what we really are, we don't have a gender. I haven't got anything any other Q hasn't got. Well, except parents but I'm talking about dangly bits, innies versus outies. When my parents made me, they used their entire essences to do it; we don't have genitals, so we can't have gender. So I'm not male."

"Yes, of course."

"Except I am." He stood up suddenly, the chair almost smacking Aunt Kathy in the nose as it suddenly fell over without his power sustaining its lack of compulsion to follow gravity's rules. "I can't explain it. But I just feel like I'm male. Even though, physically, in my true form, I'm not anything."

"Why is this a problem? Your father seems perfectly content to be seen as a man."

Q stared at Janeway, the staggering weight of her misconception appalling him badly enough to leave him tongue-tied again. He almost flashed out in utter disgust at her mind-numbing stupidity, until he realized that in fact, Aunt Kathy had only ever seen his father in a single form. He sighed. It was so hard to remember that mortals didn't know everything, and that you couldn't hold their ignorance against them because it wasn't their fault they were primitive weaklings.

"A week ago, my dad and I went to this gladiator festival thingy on the planet Sereles, in the Beta Quadrant, way waaay out there." He gestured in the general direction. "Men are slaves there and women are warriors, so we had to go as women if we wanted to see the fighting. Then I went and had a conversation with my mom, who's wargaming in the avatar of a male Klingon warrior, and he practically slit my throat just 'cause I called him 'Mom' to mess with him. Because, if you want to get technical about it, my dad is not my dad and my mom is not my mom. They're both my parents, but the only reason I call one dad and the other mom consistently when I'm talking to you is you don't know who I'm talking about when I say Q."

"I'm sure your father... or if you prefer, the parent who originally wanted you to be born in the first place... is perfectly comfortable taking female forms, but he and your other parent did sound as if he's most often male, when they talked about their history."

"What, you mean the part where he claimed to be tomcatting all over the galaxy and she claimed to be all jealous and stuff?"

Janeway blinked. "I'm fairly sure she really was jealous."

"Oh, totally, because a mortal who's gonna live, like what, a century tops, is such a threat to an immortal omnipotent being who goes for ten thousand years at a time without saying hi to her supposed loverboy."

"Well, jealousy doesn't need to be rational."

"I think I know my mom better than you do, Aunt Kathy. She wasn't jealous like, 'I'm a woman and this mortal skank is macking on my man!' She was jealous like 'You do all this to try to convince me that I should join your side in the war, and when I tell you I need to think about it because I'm not sure I believe in your cause, you run off to try to get a mortal to help you! Whatever happened to actually trying to persuade people instead of giving up on them and turning to mortals instead?' Of course she wasn't gonna explain all that, so she just short-handed it. When you see two Q talking to each other in front of you, we're using metaphors and translations so you can understand us, and if it would take a long time to explain the real reason we're mad at another Q, we'll just make something up that's plausible and expresses the emotion we wanna express in a way you'll understand it. And then my dad played along with it because you human women are more likely to mate with a guy if other women are interested in him than if you think he's a total loser who couldn't get laid for money."

"So your mother was never actually jealous of your father's interest in me?"

"Well, she was, but not because he wanted to sleep with you. She wouldn't have cared about that. She was jealous of the fact that he was going to you for help. But if she said that in front of you then oh noes, the mere mortal would know the mighty Q can actually get their feelings hurt, so she turned it into something she wouldn't have to explain or look bad about because you'd expect that kind of thing."

"And your people do this... often?"

"All the time, Aunt Kathy, all the time." He plopped himself down on her desk. "What you don't get is, it's all an act. I mean, most of the time it's a true act. Like, you can't actually understand what we really are, so we translate our feelings and our behavior into something that you'll understand, and sometimes you'll understand it better if it's not technically 100% true. So we might be kind of lying in order to express something that's more true, that you wouldn't get if we told the truth. Or, you know, we might just be putting on a show because we feel like it." Janeway had walked over toward him, as if she were heading back to sit at her desk. He looked up at her. "My dad takes male form with humans because he started out taking male form with humans and if he changed it now, you might not be able to get your tiny mortal brain around the idea that it's still him. Also, he takes male form with a lot of humanoids because a lot of humanoids think men are scarier and he's usually trying to make people scared when he first makes contact, because that's what he does. But that doesn't mean he is actually male. If he's got a role that would work better if he was a woman, he'll be a woman. Or an androgyne. Or a giant cloud of soul-sucking energy. Or whatever." Q shook his head. "But I'm different."

"So what you're saying is that your parents, and all of the rest of the Q in fact, have no inherent sense of gender, and just pretend that they have one to make it easier for us mortals. But you, in fact, have a sense of yourself as male."

Q looked at the floor dejectedly. "Um... yeah. Yeah, that about sums it up."

"All right, I think I understand what you're saying so far... but I haven't heard yet why this is a problem."

"Because," an adult human male voice said, "only mortals and primitive throwbacks have genders, and if the first child born in the Q Continuum ever were to show such a tremendous defect, it would call into question the entire decision to allow reproduction and suggest that the Continuum is on the verge of de-evolving."

Q whipped around the moment he heard the voice. How had he not sensed his father reading through his privacy shield, let alone coming in? "I had a privacy shield up! You're not supposed to be listening!" he yelled, rather more shrilly than he'd wanted to.

His father gave him a very patronizing, condescending look. "The next time you want some privacy from me, you might possibly want to consider not dragging yourself and your privacy screen into an area that I'm frequently watching? For example, one of my territories? Like, I don't know, my second favorite human ever? Just maybe, you'd think, seeing a giant Q privacy screen suddenly block my ability to see one of my favorite mortals might possibly tip me off that there's a Q there who doesn't want me to see what they're doing? Do you think?"

"You're supposed to leave a privacy screen alone!"

"You're also not supposed to intrude on another Q's territory. Which meant that either the Q I couldn't see was breaking the rules and quite possibly up to something nefarious that I would have to investigate to protect my interest in these mortals, or it was you, and you're not supposed to hide what you're doing from me."

Janeway took a deep breath. "Q, I appreciate that you're concerned for your son, and I'm glad you came to investigate to make sure we weren't being attacked by any renegade Q, but you do have to give your children some space to seek advice from adults who aren't you. If Junior had wanted to come to you with his problem, he would have."

Q's father rolled his eyes. "You're thinking of mortal children and mortal needs, Kathy. The Q have no real expectation of privacy from one another. Junior's been there for any number of things I'd have preferred to shelter him from."

"Yeah, like all that weird stuff you did with the other"

"That's quite enough of that, thank you," his father interrupted. Q smirked.

"Still, if he'd wanted to discuss the problem with you I doubt he'd be here. Why would a Q go to a human for advice if he felt he had any other options?"

"Because he doesn't like his other options, which are to stop telling fantasy stories about himself, or itself, or Qself to be accurate, and quit pretending that he's the oppressed last bastion of masculinity in the Q Continuum or something like that." His father glared at him. "I should be impressed. I wouldn't have thought you'd be able to come up with a way that would irritate me nearly so much without actually breaking any laws."

"Because I'm totally doing this just to irritate you. My entire life is all about you, after all."

"Well, why else would you be doing it? You can't possibly be sincere. The Q don't have gender."

"None of you do?" Janeway asked. "You don't feel the slightest preference for a male form? No Q has a preference for being one sex or the other?"

His father scowled. "I have a strong preference for a male form when dealing with humanoids, because the fact that your males are bigger, stronger and not burdened with childbearing, coupled with the fact that you are all primitive barbarians who think might makes right, means that in most humanoid species the males enslaved the females for millennia and even some of the ones that have warp technology haven't fully gotten over it. I rather prefer that mortals' first assessment of me is not generally based on how well I conform to their notion of the ideal servant and sex toy. But that's not my problem, that's your problem. As for Q with gender, all the ones who are rigidly attached to some notion of what sex they are were actually born mortal. We have five Q who were mortals given the power of the Q and inducted into our ranks, and one child who was born in a mortal body and naturally manifested her Q nature as an adolescent. It's understandable, even forgiveable, in them that they can't quite get past what they imprinted on in their early development. But Junior here was born a Q, in the Continuum. He has no excuse."

"No human looks at women as ideal servants and sex toys anymore, Q. You're going to have to do better than that if you're trying to explain why you always appear male. And if the Q are capable of having a perception of gender... why couldn't a Q be born with such a perception? Humans can be born with a sense of gender that doesn't match their bodies, or a sense of having no gender, so why can't a being that has no biological gender be born with a sense of one anyway?"

"Because the Q are vastly more evolved than you are. And I think you would have an entirely different opinion of humans if you could read minds."

"I've met plenty of Betazoid women who don't seem to think that humans all consider women to be inferior. And wasn't the entire point of fighting your war to introduce new things, new ideas to the Continuum? Didn't you have a child to bring change and transformation? So now he's brought a change, a sense of having a gender, and you don't like it. Well, tough, Q, no one ever said change would always be changes you like."

"This is not a change the Continuum needs!" his father shouted. "I wanted a child so we could stop de-evolving into primitives like we did with the war, not so we could find new and different ways to regress to your level!"

"Q, neither your son nor I asked you to come here, and if you're going to stand in my office screaming at me the least you could do is restrain yourself out of consideration for your son's feelings!"

Q had to interject there. "Yeah, Dad, wasn't arguing with Mom in front of me about whose fault it was I'm such a screwup good enough for you? You gotta do the same thing with my godmother too?"

Q's father actually winced, and his aura flashed a momentary spike of guilt and pain before he closed himself off again. "Fine." He turned on Q. "Go. Get. The grownups are talking here."

"I was here first!"

"And as you clearly expressed that you don't want to listen to me arguing with someone about you, again, I'll spare your oh-so-sensitive feelings. Go."

"It's all right, Q," Janeway said gently, this time to him and not his father. "Your father's right; if we're going to have this conversation it should be privately. And since he insists on having this conversation, it would be better if you left."

"Fine," Q said, ostentatiously rolling his eyes. "It wasn't like I wanted to listen to the two of you blathering anyway."

He left, and his father put up a privacy screen. But, of course, he did want to listen to the two of them blathering. He was a Q he couldn't willingly blind himself to information. So he turned on the recording function of the cameras and other scanning devices in Janeway's office, and re-routed the feed directly to his mind; Starfleet had a full complement of recorders in every room in their facilities that wasn't a bathroom or sleeping area. It was generally standard Q protocol to disable the recorders to prevent from being interrupted by random security grunts who somehow thought their phasers would do something against a Q, so Q had turned off the feed when he arrived, and the fact that he'd been the one to turn it off meant that he could easily turn it back on surreptitiously without his father noticing.

Getting nothing but sound and visual, nothing of what they were really thinking except what he could guess from their words and body language, was irritating, but not as irritating as being shut out completely would have been, and they'd be more honest if they thought he wasn't watching. His father and mother fighting about him when he'd been a little kid had hurt still hurt, to be truthful but he was a big Q now and he had defenses. He could handle the truth.

Janeway was saying, " adamant that this is a step backwards? Honestly, I don't see what impact it could possibly have. So he feels like he's male... why is this even an issue?"

"You can't possibly grasp the nature of the challenges we face as Q."

"Maybe not, but you and Quinn managed to explain to me the nature of the challenge of immortality. How hard can the challenge of gender be to explain?"

His father paced. "All Q are equal. It's the fundamental underpinning of our society. We're all the same, deep down. There isn't supposed to be any hierarchy, any class system... admittedly honored more in the breach than in the fact, but that's why we had a war, and I don't want to see another one start. It's vitally important that all Q be able to fully and completely empathize with every other Q, or we will suffer discontinuity interruptions in the Continuum, breakage points that allow us to develop enough hate and mistrust of our fellows that we can actually bring ourselves to take up arms. And now that the arms have been invented and actually used, it's even more critical that we avoid anything which could create artificial distinctions between Q."

"I'm with you so far."

"Well, that's the crux of it. Gender is a totally meaningless distinction that every mortal species which has one makes an enormous production out of, and nine times out of ten a caste system results where one gender dominates the other. A mere four hundred years ago, Kathy, you would not be an admiral, or a ship captain, unless you had disguised yourself as a man and your disguise was so perfect that it had lasted for years. You think you have problems with isolation in your romantic life now, imagine never being able to express love for anyone because it might give you away."

"Yes, but humanity isn't like that now."

"No?" His father looked at Janeway hard. "Tell me, Admiral, what percentage of starship captains in the Fleet are female?"

"22%. It used to be a little higher, but I was promoted out of the captain's chair and Captain Riker was promoted to it, so the numbers have shifted a bit."

"And how many cadets at the Academy are female? Percentage-wise."

"53%, but not all of them enter command track. And not all of them are human."

"What percentage of the human cadets are female?"

"I don't know, I've never seen that statistic."

"56%. A number of the alien species have serious imbalances in favor of male cadets. What percentage of officers are female?"

"I think it's very close to 50%."

"Yes. 51% of Starfleet officers are female. But 22% are captains. What's that tell you?"

"That no one thinks a pregnant human should be out there risking herself in the captain's chair, so when captains decide they want to start a family they are promoted to admiral or made commanders of starbases and stations. We don't have a shortage of women in the captain's rank, Q, we have a shortage of women who are actually captaining starships, and that's just biology."

"Really? I was unaware that being pregnant was so strenuous for your species. I suppose that's why Commander Troi just got exiled to Betazed to have her baby. Oh, wait, no she didn't. She's still serving aboard the Titan with her hairy beast of a husband as her captain.. And I clearly recall how you told Samantha Wildman that she should stay behind on Deep Space Nine because her medical record showed that she'd just become pregnant. Oh, wait, I'm sorry, that didn't happen either. In fact I think she took a total of four weeks off her job, and this was after she'd suffered the trauma of watching her baby die in front of her, so regardless of acquiring an alternate universe replacement baby right away you'd think she would have had a bit of psychological dysfunction to work through before being able to return to work. But no, she picked up the reins and went back to her job right away."

"Yes, but it's different when you're the captain."

"Given that the captain is supposed, according to regulations, to stay safe aboard the ship while the first officer takes all the risks, why? A starbase isn't any safer than a starship for a person who never goes down to a planet to get shot at by aliens with bumpy foreheads."

"Q, starbases are much safer. That's why we allow children and families aboard starbases, and not aboard starships generally."

"And that's why starship captains who are fathers all drop out to command starbases." Q's father smacked himself in the forehead. "Wait, I'm sorry, they don't! They continue to run gallivanting around the universe and let the mother of the child raise the kid back on that safe starbase. Unless the mother is dead, and then they take that lateral almost-demotion to a starbase. So would you like to tell me why the rules are different for mothers versus fathers, and how it ends up that the proportion of men to women changes from one-half to almost four-fifths by the time you get from Ensign to starship captain, and yet human beings don't distinguish between their sexes at all?"


"Or how about your name? Isn't it sweet how when Gretchen Conway married Edward Janeway, they gave you his name and your little sister Phoebe her name? Oh no, I'm wrong about that too, aren't I? It's Phoebe Janeway. For that matter it's Gretchen Janeway. Because despite the fact that Gretchen Conway's parents did all the work of raising her, the fact that she was marrying a fellow was more important than marking her ancestry, even though supposedly that's what you have those extra names for. And despite the fact that she did all the work of pregnancy and donated her mitochondrial DNA to you and did most of the work in raising you... you have your father's ancestral name. But human men and women are exactly equal!"

"Fine," Janeway said, her tone clipped and sharp. "Perhaps humans have some way to go before we achieve full equality between the sexes. But there must be some species that manage it. What about the Vulcans?"

Q's father laughed. "That has to be the worst example you could have thought of, Kathy. Just because they hide the ways that they keep half their race enslaved to the biological needs of the other half doesn't mean they don't do it. Were you aware that by Vulcan law, a married woman can't leave the planet without permission from her husband? Oh, they get permission all the time, but on principle a Vulcan man could trap his wife on their homeworld. Or how about the fact that a Vulcan man or his family can call off a marriage before it happens, but if the woman doesn't want to marry the fellow she's betrothed to, she more or less has to get a boyfriend to go kill him? And she'll end up the property of whoever wins that fight, with no acknowledged rights as a person?"

"That can't be true."

"Oh, but it is. Ask Tuvok. He'll probably tell you they don't talk about it to outsiders, but ask him anyway. But why am I only picking on males? The Hamalki have such advanced physics, they've been known to create proto-universes, but they can't be bothered to figure out a way to avoid having their females eat their fully sentient male partners during mating. Who knows how far they could have advanced, if half the species didn't have a fraction of the lifespan of the other half due to being eaten by the other half? And then there's the Beryllians, who agree with most humanoids that males should be the warriors, but derive from this the notion that the females should run everything because they think if warriors are in charge all you'll get is war, and men are expected to go fight and die on the orders of mothers and sisters who will never personally risk themselves in combat. And if they think this is a bad idea, they're strongly encouraged to castrate themselves, wear women's clothes and declare themselves female, whether they 'feel' like women or not."

"All right, fine, there are a lot of species with gender that do some degree of segregation or oppression based on it. But there are some that don't. Why do you assume the Q Continuum would fall into a pattern of segregation that you don't already have? For that matter, why do you assume that just because your son feels like he has a gender, it means that any other Q would? If this isn't a trend, if it's just how he feels, then what difference could it possibly make?"

On the video screen, Q saw his father sit down heavily in the chair he himself had created. "Because if this is real, and not some elaborate joke on me he's invented solely to embarrass me in front of the Continuum... the only way it could be real is if there is in fact a natural tendency for Q to have gender, a tendency the Continuum has been suppressing as it creates us. Which would mean that if our species starts reproducing by procreation as I have been arguing for... we're going to develop genders. And if we do that it's only a matter of time before one of the genders starts trying to oppress the other." He shook his head. "And that means that my opponents are right, and my strategy for bringing change and growth to the Continuum really will destroy us."

"It's just one Q. Couldn't it be a natural variation?"

"That comes up the absolute first time anyone tries to procreate? He's the only Q created by procreation within the Continuum."

"Well, procreation does tend to involve gender. Maybe your species has some means of reverting back to a gendered nature if you start using sexual reproduction to produce children instead of... whatever it was you used to do."

"I can't see why procreation needs to involve gender. I mean, yes, for mortals making sex cells it makes sense to have one cell mobile and one cell stationary, or they'd tend to miss each other completely, but the Q don't do it like that. Why would we need to specialize roles when we're quite capable of reproducing without having inherent gender?" Q's father looked up. "And it's a clever trick, kiddo, but I know you're watching. You may as well come in."

Q teleported in, trying not to look sheepish. "Hey, I'm not the one who bugged her office. If the mortals in the security office can look in, why can't I?"

"Because I told you not to, but that's beside the point." His father glared at Q. "Just explain something to me. What exactly does it mean that you feel like you're male? You are aware that biologically you have no determinate gender, right?"

"Duh, dad. That would be kind of hard to miss." He struggled to come up with a way to explain to a being who had no idea what it was like to feel fundamentally male or female what that would mean, and came up with a blank. "I can't describe it, okay? Either you get it or you don't. I'm just... the same way you know you're a Q, I know I'm a male Q."

"Except there's a slight problem with that. Biologically, you are a Q, and so am I. Biologically, you are not a male Q."

"Yeah, but when I was human I was still a Q. For that matter when I was an amoeba I was still a Q. The Continuum made you human once, didn't you feel that way? Like it was wrong to be so, so small and limited?"

"Well, of course it's wrong. Who would want to give up power and immortality?"

"Riker did, dude."

His father's aura flashed embarrassment. "That was different. Jean-Luc talked him out of it. Jean-Luc could talk anyone out of anything. I'm rather surprised he wasn't able to talk the Borg Queen out of attacking Earth."

"I don't think it is different. Riker didn't want to be a Q because he wasn't a Q. Amanda decided to be a Q because she was a Q even though she'd never known she was a Q before. You and I want to be Q because we are Q... yeah, and because it's infinitely cooler than being a mortal, but like I said, Riker didn't think so. So if you are something, and it's what you feel like you are, and then you turn into something different, it doesn't feel right."

"But no one turned you into a genderless being. You were born that way."

"Yeah, and Amanda was born a human, but even after you spilled the beans on the Continuum killing her parents she decided to be a Q because she was a Q, even though she thought she was a human. Right?"

"I didn't tell her about her parents, Picard did."

"That's not my point!"

"Your point?" Now his father was angry. "Your point is that you have any number of elaborate rationalizations but when it comes down to it, you can't explain why you feel 'male' or in fact what 'feeling male' entails, and since you're as Q as I am I have to conclude that your inability to explain yourself to me means there's no there there. You can't explain what doesn't exist. You're making all of this up solely to embarrass me. And your mother, I suppose, although she's beyond being embarrassed by you. And I can tolerate the ridiculous stunts, I can tolerate the general havoc and chaos you like to cause, I can even tolerate your playing with the Borg even though I must have told you twenty thousand times not to touch them, but if you're going out of your way to publicly humiliate me in front of the Continuum I will not tolerate it!"

"You know, the whole universe doesn't revolve around you, Dad. It's all about I'm publicly humiliating you, I'm going out of my way to annoy you. Why would I even do that?" Q started out calmly enough, but as he went on, his human voice got louder and more agitated, and his aura projected more and more of his anger and hurt. "In case you didn't notice, you're like the only being in the entire universe that cares about me at all! You're definitely the only Q who gives a damn whether I exist or not, so why would I even want to go out of my way to humiliate you? You think I don't want what you want for the Continuum? You think I wouldn't love it if some other Q would hurry up and have kids so I wouldn't be such a freak, being the only one? You seriously think I'd do anything on purpose to prevent that?"

He was furious enough that he used his human avatar to grab his father's body's upper arms and yell directly in his face, though he knew better than to use any Q-specific means to express his extreme displeasure, since his father could still beat him in a powers fight. "Look, you stupid excuse for a parental unit, I know you're the only Q in the Continuum that loves me! You think I wanted to disappoint you? Make it hard for you? You are such an asshole! It's not all about you, dad, sometimes my life is about me! Did you ever think that maybe sometimes my life is about me?"

The human body was tearing up, eyes watering and chest getting tight. With a thought, he controlled it, but he couldn't stop broadcasting his distress in his Q aura. "This is real. I'm not making it up. I wouldn't, not something like this. I don't want to be a bigger freak than I already am, but I'm not gonna spend eternity lying about what I am either. And I thought you taught me to be honest about who and what I am and not be a big hypocrite. Were you the hypocrite all along? Did you want me to try to lie to the Continuum about what I am? Or just to you?"

"I can't deal with this," his father muttered, and vanished.

Q stared for several seconds at the space where his father had been, not really seeing anything, trying to bring up his shields and block off his emotions so the whole Continuum wouldn't know how upset he was.

Janeway put her hand on his shoulder. It was a measure of his distress that he hadn't actually noticed her coming up behind him. "He'll come around," she said soothingly. "I'm sure this is hard for him to deal with, but he really does love you."

"Yeah, so did my mom. Didn't stop her from disowning me for being a fuckup," Q said bitterly, and teleported away. He didn't need a human mouthing platitudes at him about how everything would be okay. He knew better.

For a long time he floated in nowhere, not doing anything in particular, just watching the universe go by. Someplace there had to be something interesting to do, something going on worth watching, something that would distract him from the vast emptiness he felt. He should have known it was only a matter of time, after all. Probably the whole Continuum was laughing at him for letting himself be hurt by something that could have been predicted from the moment of his birth. When one of the most selfish members of a fundamentally selfish species is the only person who loves you, you should know that it's conditional and it won't last forever. His father had been willing to put up with him for exactly as long as it took Q to find something that upset or embarrassed him too much to endure his son's company anymore, and it wasn't like it would matter to a Q that it wasn't Q's fault.

Someone was behind him then, but it wasn't his dad (or his mother, as if there was any chance of that happening), so he didn't care. "Go away."

"That was fast. Don't you want to know why I'm coming to see you?"

It was an older Q, one of his dad's faction. "Honestly? Not really."

"Yeah? How come?"

Q sighed. Ignoring older Q never actually got them to go away, but he lived in hope. He focused his attention on the older one. "Aren't you the guy who got my dad kicked out of the Continuum?"

"Sure, for about a day. Only took him that long to decide to kill himself." The older Q grinned. "I gotta hand it to you, kid, you totally beat your dad out in that department. You stuck it out a week, with a lot less whining and complaining, and you even managed to make yourself a real friend. Pretty impressive considering that your dad folded like a wet paper napkin."

Part of Q warmed at the praise. Another part squirmed at the embarrassing description of his father. Regardless of his father's opinion of him right now, the entity was still his dad, and he didn't like to think of his dad's faults and failures except as they directly impacted him. On the other hand, the reason he'd done so much better than his father was that his mother enjoyed wargaming in mortal forms and had taken him on several of her campaigns when he was little, so he actually had experience going without his powers, experience his father had never had because his father had never voluntarily gone without power. But if he actually mentioned that, he would be acknowledging that his mother had ever done anything good for him whatsoever, and he wasn't willing to do that. So he shrugged elaborately. "You buttering me up for something? 'Cause if you're hitting on me, I'm totally not interested."

The other Q laughed. "Hitting on you, kid? Trust me, as weird as you think the idea of joining with one of us oldsters is, it's nothing compared to how weird it would be to think about doing it with someone you saw making himself out of a seed." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "'Course, that must make it rough on you. Seeing as how you're the only Q of your generation, and the only one who even comes close used to be your babysitter. It's gonna really suck to be you if no one ever has another kid."

It already really sucks to be me, Q thought morosely, but didn't let the emotion out into his aura. "You got a point here, or are you just rubbing it in?"

"I'm doing an assessment," the other Q said. "You said some pretty interesting things today."

"Fine. I'm sure the whole Continuum is laughing about my little delusion, right?"

"What, that you're male? Naah, most of the Continuum really couldn't care less. No, the part I thought was interesting was the part where you think that your father's the only Q who cares about you. I guess I never thought about how it looked to you."

"How what looked to me?"

"Oh, kid." The other's aura was warm with emotions one almost never saw from a Q tenderness, affection, all the things he hadn't gotten from anyone since his mom walked out and his dad had decided he was too old to actually see any direct affection from any other Q and he needed to learn to read between the lines like all the other Q in the Continuum did. "You're the most interesting thing in the Continuum in a billion years! Well, the most interesting thing that isn't killing us all, like the war did, anyway. Most of the freedom faction and half the uncommitteds have been practically in love with you since you were born. We're all interested in how you're doing, we're all practically in awe that you even exist. But in case you didn't notice? Your dad is kind of a jealous ass. After he managed to push Q away from you so he could have you all to himself, and she was actually your mother, we all figured none of us would have a chance to develop any kind of relationship with you until your father backed off."

If Q had been in human form, he would have blinked. This... was not what he'd expected to hear. "So how come the Continuum almost kicked me out for good?"

The other Q shrugged. "You know we don't have the numbers, and the order faction really does hate your guts, you're not wrong about that. It's not about who you are but what you are... although frankly who you are doesn't help. But did you ever check up on the stunt your father pulled to get you reinstated?"

"He said he threatened to quit the Continuum."

"Like that would have worked all on its own? No, he went to us, and we rallied behind you. We all threatened to quit... or, more precisely, create our own Continuum, which would pretty definitively have started the war up again." He grinned. "You're not exactly the savior of the Continuum anyone was expecting, but you've never been boring, and for that alone you've probably held the Continuum together your entire life. None of us want to start the war back up if there's any chance that would mean we don't get to see you grow up."

Q was totally confused. His entire life, it had been an openly known fact within the Continuum that no one wanted to babysit him because he was a brat and too much work. The idea that no one had wanted to babysit him because, as much as his father begged other Q for help with him, they all knew that if he showed any sign of being personally attached to them his father would take it out on them, was completely new. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Just this," the older one said. "He's the only father you've got, but he's not the only Q who gives a damn about you. And he knows it, even if you don't. I don't care how freaked out he is by your supposed grand revelation there, but most of us aren't nearly as invested in trying to believe you're perfect; we know you're weird. You're the first child we've ever had; you couldn't help being weird. I'm gonna admit, the idea of a Q who thinks he's male is pretty freaky, but that was kind of the point to Q making you; you were supposed to bring new things to the Continuum and teach us stuff about ourselves we didn't already know, and no one ever promised anyone it'd all be stuff we'd be happy to learn. So none of us care nearly as much as he does about you being a bit odd. If he doesn't figure out how to accept you for what you are... he's gonna lose you to us, the way Q lost you to him, and he's never gonna put up with that."

The idea that there were other Q who would fight his father for his attention if given the opportunity was actually sufficiently appealing that he was having a hard time believing in it. "So if I, say, went up to one of you guys and wanted to tag along with what you were doing, you'd be okay with that?"

"Sure, long as you remember that if you're the tagalong, then the senior Q's got authority over the project and can tell you what to do if you want to participate."

Q grinned, then lost it. "Even if it's true, my dad isn't going to believe it. He acts like he thinks you all hate me."

The older Q smiled broadly. "Oh, he's gonna believe it. No worries on that score."

"How do you know that?"

The other's smile got bigger, almost malicious, though the malice wasn't directed at Q himself. "Because I'm transmitting this entire conversation directly to him."

His grin became more focused on Q himself. "So if I were you, I'd be expecting a visit from your dad very shortly. If you don't get one... I'm building a planet out of an asteroid belt over in the Andromeda galaxy. Feel free to come help out if you want."

He vanished.

It was, by mortal standards, an hour later when Q's father showed up, which by Q standards was virtually instantaneous. "Has Q been trying to seduce you into his planet-creating project? I have to warn you, the whole thing's hideously dull."

It did sound hideously dull, actually why bother to make a planet out of an asteroid belt, when you could just snap your fingers and make the planet out of nothing? but Q wasn't going to say so. "I don't know, it could be cool."

"I think you'd appreciate my idea a lot more," Q's father said. "I need someone to pose as the son of the incarnation of ultimate evil on the planet Kadysta, and I'm already being ultimate evil so it'd be a lot less entertaining to play against myself."

"What's on Kadysta?"

"They've got a repressive theocracy trying to stifle space travel, population control, and anti-pollution measures. We're going to insert ourselves into it and then reveal that we're behind it. Completely discredit the theocracy, support the dissident religions, drop some hints to the atheists that actually we're evil aliens and not really demons at all, save the planet and have lots of fun tormenting people while we're doing it. Sound like fun? I saved the antimessiah role for you because I know you like to actually get down and dirty with the mortals."

It was tempting to take the offer not the explicit offer, he was obviously going to take that since his father was right, it sounded like a lot of fun but the implied offer that they would just sweep the entire conversation under the rug and pretend it hadn't happened. But that wouldn't exactly be honest, and after his whole speech to his father about not being a hypocrite, he wasn't going to knuckle under and pretend to be something he wasn't just to make his father more comfortable. So he looked askance at his dad. "Are we just pretending we didn't have that conversation earlier today, or did you actually want to retroactively alter the timeline?"

His father sighed. "Would either one change anything about you?"

"Uh, let me think. Hmm. No."

"Well, then what good would it do?"

"It'd make you feel better. Apparently."

"Look." His father did the Q equivalent of throwing up his hands, half peace gesture, half exasperation. "I've had it pointed out to me that if this is a joke, I'm falling for it; if it's a phase you're going through, you'll grow out of it; and if it's real... well, if it's real it's not as if I can exactly change it, now can I? So my choices aren't, have a son or have an appropriately ungendered child; my choices are, have a son, or have a son that hates me and wants nothing to do with me. If I am absolutely stuck with having a son... well, I've already dealt with the fact that your basic pattern is heavily modeled on me, and I'm convinced that somehow the Continuum planned it that way as revenge, so I would be forced to raise myself. Next to that, I suppose the gender thing is objectively fairly trivial."

"If it's objectively fairly trivial, it's funny how you acted like it was going to destroy the entire Continuum."

His father looked at him intently. "The faction for order thought that allowing a Q to choose death would destroy the entire Continuum, and we're all still here. I'll be keeping an eye on you, mind, and if others choose to procreate and the children end up gendered, I suppose we'll have to do our best, as the adults in the situation, to prevent you all from deciding to oppress each other. I'm not happy about this development. But" he shrugged. "You're right. Your life is about you, not about whether I'm happy or not. And if I can't change you by disapproving of what you are, then there's really not much point to me doing it, is there? It's not as if you can change it just by wanting to, or you would have by now."

Q wasn't honestly entirely certain of that. The Q considered it a horrific taboo to change another Q by force, or even with consent, and it was axiomatic that a Q couldn't change their own fundamental nature, but if he were suddenly granted the power to change himself into someone else just to please his father, he wasn't at all sure he would take it. What upset him was not that he was what he was, but that his father and possibly a large number of the Q in the Continuum would have a hard time accepting what he was, and he'd rather they changed their attitudes than that he changed his nature. But since as it happened no Q actually did have the power to change their own nature or consent to be changed, the issue was moot, so he didn't point it out. "You think everyone's going to be so shocked and bothered by it that they won't want to have kids?"

His father smiled sardonically. "I'm hoping to spin it in such a way that it inspires them to try to have children to prove that they're better breeding stock than me, or something."

"Didn't work the last time you tried that."

"Last time I tried that, the problem was that you were a brat. The thing about your little gender issue is that, since there's nothing I can do to affect it, it doesn't actually require any extra work out of me. Whereas you being a brat made everyone think about all the work they'd have to do."

Q grinned. "I'm still a brat, you know. Just because I'm a boy brat doesn't change any of the rest of it."

"I'm well aware of that, believe me." His father made a face. "But you're my brat. Which means that when I'm looking for someone to help me out and participate in one of my little games, you've got a better than average chance of being interested in it. So?"

"I always wanted to be an antimessiah. Can I call myself the Prince of Darkness?"

"Once we do the big reveal, absolutely."

"And I don't have to play a woman at any point in this game?"

"These people've got that oppression by gender thing going full blast. They'd never believe in a female antimessiah, or a female of any high rank in the theocracy anyway."

"Well, then, count me in. Do I get to start any wars?"

"No nuclear ones, or any using weapons that would devastate the biosphere. Otherwise, the more the merrier. I mean, they're supposed to believe when we're done that their theocracy serves their personification of evil. It's rather hard to be a servant of the personification of evil if you won't start any wars."

Q's grin got broader, and he had to restrain himself from practically bouncing with excitement. "This sounds like it's going to be awesome." Maybe it was true that his father was falling all over himself to make peace only because he was jealous, and afraid that Q would find other Q to spend his time with, but he wouldn't be jealous if he didn't care, right? His mother had never tried to make peace with him or mend fences. If his dad was reaching out, obviously the being male thing wasn't the dealbreaker for his dad that being a total brat had been for his mom.

"Let's go, then," his father said, and they both vanished.