She was standing in her garden, obsessing over the care of her silly plants. Honestly, how a sentient being could possibly lavish so much attention on something so mindless was incomprehensible to him. For all the intellectual and emotional capacity of a plant, she could be keeping a rock garden. Just as attractive and a lot less work.
Her head came up, her face tight and her eyes searching. So she knew he was here. He came very, very close to simply turning around and going home. Surely there was nothing he really needed from her. He could figure this out on his own. He didn't need the help of a mortal, and certainly not help from her. And what were the odds that she would help him anyway?
But the shard of his own future corpse burned in his mind with the recorded memory of a conflagration, explosion, death. 129 years. He'd expected to be around for billions more. 129 years was nothing. He had to know everything he could, to make sure that what had become of him in one timeline would never happen here.
So he materialized in front of her, in his default male humanoid form. "Hi, Teyande," he said, with a cheer he didn't feel in his voice. "Miss me?"
Her eyes narrowed. "I knew it was you," she said, almost a snarl, her hands falling into a defensive posture.
He sneered at her. "Don't even bother. That trick won't work twice."
"I know more than one trick," she said coldly.
"Bully for you. Aren't you even going to ask why I'm here?"
"I don't care why you're here, Ashke. I want you to go. Now."
"We all want things we can't have." He stepped forward, looming into her personal space, and smiled brightly down at her. "Would you believe I came to do you a favor?"
"I know, I know, it hardly seems believable that I would stoop so low as to do something benevolent for such a limited and pathetic species as yours. But that is, in fact, why I'm here." He stepped back, snapped his fingers, and created a lawn chair, which he then teleported himself into, leaning back and relaxing. Oh how he wanted to threaten her, frighten her, play games with her, dance around his point and drag things out... but he had no idea how many of those 129 years he would need to change his future, or if it could even be done at this point, and he was desperate. So he backed off, adopting a calculatingly non-threatening posture... a mocking one, to be sure, but not a threatening one. "See, in forty years your entire species is going to be wiped out. And I've come to offer you information you can use to save yourselves. Maybe even a way out, if you play your cards right."
"Out of the goodness of your heart, of course," she said sarcastically.
He laughed derisively. "Oh, no, no. Believe me, there's a quid pro quo in here."
"Then I'm not interested."
He goggled at her, coming to a sitting position with his eyes wide, as if shocked. "Teyande, are you telling me you hate me so much that you'd rather see your entire species destroyed than do me a teeny, tiny favor?"
"That's not my name anymore. I'm Mairi."
He shook his head. "You people change names like you change hats. How many have you had? Guinan, Marrakeet, Zeroa, Nysalla, Teyande, now Mairi... am I missing any?"
"This, from the being I had to name because he would give me no name but his species?"
"Questioner, or some variant of it, works fine for most species. You El-Aurians just think you're special and you have to give us names because you know so many of us. And because you're positively obsessed with naming things. And you're dodging the question. Do you really want your entire species wiped out just to spite me?"
"If I actually believed you that my species was even in danger, then no, I wouldn't. But I can't imagine you coming to me for a favor unless you were desperate..." Her voice trailed off, and a cold small smile grew on her face. "But you are. Aren't you."
"What? Desperate? I prefer to think of it as highly motivated. Fundamentally I'll confess you're not entirely wrong; I would normally rather spend the next twelve centuries cleaning out the black hole at the center of the galaxy than ask you for a single thing. But I need information, and I need it more quickly than I can get it for myself... and fortunately for me, your species actually is in dire straits, which means I have coin to offer that you can't possibly turn down."
"You think I can't?"
"I think if you let your entire species die because you didn't want to believe me, you'll either die with them or vaporize your own head when you realize you could have saved them now and you didn't."
She walked over to him, looking down at him where he sat on the lawn chair. "Suppose I believed you. What is the nature of this threat? And for that matter, what's the nature of the favor?"
He stood up, not particularly liking having her hovering over him, and paced. "You feel anything different?"
"Changes. Eddies, in time. Notice anything changing?"
She frowned. "No... I haven't. There's been some sort of... temporal incursion?"
"Ever hear of the Vulcans?"
"Of course I have. You know how extensive my research in that area of the galaxy was. They're quite an interesting race."
"They were, yes. Then the guy from the future imploded their planet," he said.
She stared at him. "Imploded... their planet?"
"With a black hole," he said cheerily. "Oh wait, excuse me, it wasn't a black hole until it ignited. It was red matter before that. Proto- strangelets. I think there's... maybe? twenty thousand Vulcans left in the universe, tops?"
Mairi's eyes were wide with horror. "A time traveler just destroyed the planet Vulcan?... Is that what we're faced with?"
"Oh, no, Mairi." He smiled darkly, coldly. "What faces you has nothing to do with the future, well, aside from the fact that it hasn't happened yet. And it's far, far worse. The Vulcans died cleanly, in seconds. What awaits the El-Aurians is not nearly so kind."
"But you want information about the change to the timeline."
"Yes," he said promptly. "I will take you there, and show you the surviving time traveler, and have you read his lines. Tell me who he connected to, and give me as much information as you can about the timeline he comes from."
"The man who imploded Vulcan?"
"No, he's dead. This is the guy whose spectacular failure to fix things promptly enough back in his home timeline led the other time travelers to decide to implode Vulcan just to get back at him. They were going to do Earth, too, but some of those little starfaring humans put a stop to that."
"And if I do this for you, you'll tell me what is coming for us in forty years, and how to stop it?"
"I very much doubt there is a way for you to stop it. I will show it to you first, and when you realize what you're up against, I expect thorough cooperation in learning what I need to know. And if you perform to my satisfaction... I'll save your world." At the moment he had no idea how he was going to go about doing that; the word had come down from the Continuum elders that the El-Aurians should be left alone to be destroyed by the Borg. The fact that Mairi -- Teyande, then -- had been able to take him hostage, lock him outside space and time and demand that the Continuum swear to a treaty that bound them from any interference with any El-Aurians, ever, without explicit permission... that frightened the Continuum. With good reason. It had terrified him, when she'd done it... and she was the most powerful El-Aurian Adept, but by no means the only one. There were perhaps a hundred El-Aurians who could threaten individual Q.
But there wouldn't be in forty years, not after the Borg came. Locking individual Borg out of space and time really wasn't going to help them. The Continuum could not sanction committing genocide on a species that could be a threat... but passively letting them die was another story entirely. And none of their gifts, neither the time-sensitivity of the Adepts or the basic El-Aurian skills at empathy and persuasion, would save them from the Borg.
It would be deeply, deeply ironic if he had to go back to the Continuum and make the case for saving the species that the Continuum wanted destroyed because it had threatened him. But the shard of memory spoke of a far, far worse threat.
129 years from now, Spock of Vulcan had stopped an incursion of raw chaos-energy spilling into the universe by dropping red matter into it and consuming it, despite the fact that he and the rest of the Alpha Quadrant's scientists had mistakenly identified it as a supernova. The Questioner that had been named Ashke to the El-Aurians, and who Spock had called Q, knew better. Because when he'd gone to investigate the interesting temporal incursion, he'd found a mortal man, a Vulcan/Human hybrid who knew him as, almost, a friend, unwittingly carrying a tiny piece of his own shattered, dead essence. And the memory in the piece suggested that there had been a bomb in the Continuum.
There could not be a bomb in the Continuum. The notion was laughable, absurd. But his future self hadn't thought so as he was dying; he had been shocked, as most beings who died by violence were, but he hadn't been surprised. One of his last thoughts, laden with cynicism, had been that he should have expected this.
In 129 years, the Q Continuum would change to the point where a bomb could be set off within it, kill he didn't even know how many Q (including, most importantly from his perspective, himself), and the walls that separated it from the raw energy of creation that fueled it would tear open, spilling energy out into this universe and consuming nearly a quarter of a galactic quadrant, including most of the Romulan Empire. And a mortal man would speak to him as if they were old acquaintances, without fear or awe, and have enough of an affinity for him that a fragment of his dead essence could gravitate to and stick to the man. Such things were unthinkable, but the memories from his future dead self could not lie. They would happen. Unless he found a way to stop them.
With the Continuum's existence and the lives of untold Q at stake, he thought he could get permission to do whatever he needed to, to study and identify and prevent the threat. If that involved saving the El-Aurians to win back the goodwill of the enemy who had humiliated him tremendously... he didn't want to die. He'd do favors for whoever he had to if it meant he wasn't going to die in an explosion in a mere 129 years.
Mairi took a deep breath. "I'm probably going to regret this," she said. "But show me."
He grinned, snapped his fingers... and took her to observe the Borg in action.