The Night The Day The War Began
They had retreated to an area on their own side of the discontinuity to nurse their wounds and mourn their dead, and he couldn't actually believe any of this was necessary. That any of this was happening. Q did not kill other Q, could not kill other Q. It was unthinkable.
But it had happened.
When he'd been in the moment, when it had all been happening around him, he hadn't acknowledged the horror of what was happening; he'd simply done what he'd had to do. Negotiations had fallen apart with the blast of a weapon and a Q who wasn't even his friend, but had been committed to his cause, had shoved him aside and been blown to bits in his stead. Had the other Q known? Had he willingly sacrificed his life for Q, or had he just reacted without thinking, not entirely comprehending that if he got in the way of the blast to push the revolution's leader out of the way, he would be the one that died?
Q was still covered in bits of his essence. He didn't entirely know how to get them off. He had never been at ground zero when a Q had been blasted to pieces before. None of them had.
He thought of the others who had died. Of Q on his side who had fallen to the guns, before the youngest Q had come over to their side to bring them the weapon. Of Q on the other side, that his people had shot. That he had shot. He watched in his memory, over and over, as he fired the weapon, ruthlessly, enraged, and Q who were his siblings, who might have been his friends long ago, burst apart because he had pulled a trigger. He remembered standing in the flow of slowly dissipating, ebbing energies that had once been contained in the pattern of a Q, now loose and chaotic and signifying nothing but death, flowing all around them. The lifeblood of other Q. Beings he had known for eternity, who were now dead. Some of whom he had killed.
The Q did not, quite, cry. But he rolled himself into a very, very tiny ball, imploding in on himself as if he were a black hole, trying to pull himself into himself as if he could possibly make himself small and dense enough as to cease to exist.
Something brushed against him, an insistent, intrusive probe. He could not imagine what Q would impinge on his distress in this way... or why any of them would want to, because they were all hurting as badly as he was, all as horrified and disbelieving of what had happened today. Q unrolled himself to meet the owner of the probe. "What?" he snarled.
The child stood before him, radiating with strength and confidence that right now no other Q could possibly feel. "You're hurting," she said, simply, a thing no other Q would say so baldly... but this was Amanda, the child Q, the one raised by humans. "I thought maybe I could help."
He laughed hollowly. "Can you undo time and make none of this have happened?"
She couldn't, obviously. Their power could easily accomplish such a thing for mortals, but they couldn't influence their own dimension's time in any way. A massacre of mortals could be undone by the Q. A massacre of Q... couldn't be undone by anyone. "Where I come from, no one can do that," she said. "We learn other ways to handle it."
"Oh, like you're so experienced with dealing with a massacre," he spat.
"I'm not. But I was thirteen when a mining tunnel on my colony world collapsed and killed ten people from my home town, and I had to help comfort friends who'd lost mothers or fathers in the disaster. I've seen death."
"I've seen plenty of death."
"Of your own kind?" She shook her head. "My parents, and Quinn, and... were there ever any others?"
"Technically," he pointed out, "none of them were Q when they died."
"Well, then there's my point. You've never seen another Q, at full power, die."
"Neither have you."
"But I thought I was human for eighteen years, and I saw humans die."
"Humans always die! You'd have to be an idiot not to know that humans die!" He's shaking, his entire essence buffetted by waves of grief and rage and pain in the closest equivalent to human sobbing that the Q had. "The Q aren't -- we aren't --"
"Not supposed to die," she finished gently, and touched him.
No other Q would touch a Q in such distress; giving comfort was not their way. The kindest thing any Q would ever do for another Q in pain would be to turn away, pretend they hadn't seen the pain happening so the other Q wouldn't be humiliated. It hadn't always been this way, and he had memories, billions of years old, of other Q surrounding him and flowing into him, buoying him with love and affection when he suffered momentary grief. Across the length of eternity they had learned not to be so open with each other, but Amanda hadn't learned to guard herself quite so intently.
Her strength shone at him. He and practically every other Q here were crippled, reeling in grief and horror and disbelief because Q were never supposed to die and never supposed to kill each other and this was a war, how could a war be happening in the Continuum? But Amanda didn't know any better. Where she came from, humans had wars all the time... not with each other, generally, not any more, but there were no shortage of hostile alien sentiences who were willing to kill humans and their allies. Amanda had wanted to go into Starfleet, where she'd have had to be prepared at all times to fight if necessary, though never as a first resort or as an act of aggression. She was upset that this was happening, but she wasn't paralyzed by it. Her universe wasn't turning upside down.
Q wanted that. He wanted her strength, her certainty, her ability to handle all of this without being broken under the weight of her own expectations and beliefs. But he couldn't. She was a child... well, maybe she wasn't a child anymore, not after bringing him the gun, not after killing fellow Q. Now that he thought of it, he was absolutely certain that if she hadn't been an adult before all this had happened, she was one now. But still, she was completely inexperienced and he'd be using her. It would hardly be fair.
"Don't," he said, pushing her touch away. If they had been human it would have been a whisper.
Amanda drew back. "You don't want to be touched?"
The fact that she was asking implied that she didn't know. Most of the time the Q would never ask a question like that, or if they did, they wouldn't expect a truthful answer. Truth was for the deep layers, the communication along the base frequency of the Continuum; the layers that translated as speech were almost invariably not precisely honest. But the deep layers were shattered by the discontinuities, and no one knew anything anymore, and... he wanted to be known. At this moment he was too weak not to admit to his weakness. "I want it too much," he confessed. "I... you deserve better than this."
"I'm hardly a blushing virgin, Q," she said, amused. "I've slept with something like 900 human or humanoid men since I came to the Continuum. Don't think I'm innocent."
"900? I hope you did most of them out of linear time, or I'd wonder when you found any time for training your powers."
She laughed. "Most of them, yes. I went on a sex tour of famous men in Earth history. Everyone told me that mortals who are suddenly granted Q powers have to do something obnoxious and taboo by their society's standards or everyone will expect them to snap later on, so I decided the least harmful thing I could do was to screw as many men as I wanted."
"But you've never been with another Q."
"They all keep telling me I'm too young."
"You are too young."
"My entire species is five billion years older than me. If I'm ever going to have sex with one of my own kind someone's going to have to get over the age difference." She grinned.
She had a point. And he wanted her -- the pleasure to distract him from his fear and anguish, the comfort of intimacy with another Q, and most importantly he wanted her ability to deal with all this. It still seemed wrong, though. "I'd be using you," he said. "You're not nearly as crippled by what's happening as the rest of us. I want that."
"Would you taking it prevent me from having it?"
"That's not how it works. I'd be copying traits from you, not physically removing anything."
She shrugged. "I don't have any objection to that. I'd be using you, too, anyway. I..." Amanda put up a filter shield, the Q equivalent of looking away as she spoke. "We could all die tomorrow. Or very soon, anyway. I'm... I might be better at dealing with it than most of you because I was raised to think I was mortal, but mortals don't want to die either, and... I want to know what sex is like with a Q. And if I might die tomorrow, then I'd better do it tonight."
Q laughed. "That sounds like a sensible ambition." If she was using him, that made him feel considerably better about doing this. He reached back to her, letting his energies flow against hers, touching but staying on her surface. She shivered in his embrace and returned the favor, flowing around him, almost encircling him completely. They were pressed together, pattern to pattern, mind to mind, a Klein bottle of energies where each was engulfing and engulfed, but neither of them actually inside the other yet. He made no attempt to keep the pleasure of her touch out of the information corona around his edges; with a different Q he might have concealed how much he wanted this, how good it felt just to be touched by another Q, but Amanda was completely open to him, her own emotions and sensations flowing to him freely, so he did the best he could to return the favor.
Gently at first, and then more vigorously, he rotated the energies on his surface, the parts of him touching her, with elements of his pattern from deeper within, varying the texture and flavor of his "skin" and the nature of the emotions in his aura. Amanda made the Q equivalent of a gasp. "Oh, that's good. How are you doing that?"
Amused, he said, "You know how I'm doing this. The knowledge is in the parts of me touching you; you just have to be willing to draw it in and absorb it. You don't turn your mind off when you have sex with a Q; this is as much about sharing information with each other as it is about pleasure." What the Q did that translated to the human concept of "sex" was not, of course, sex in any human sense at all; it was the joining, fully or partially, of two Q essences, with each individual's knowledge, personality, emotions and skills becoming available to the other one, to draw from and copy into themselves as they chose. The experience could be very, very intimate, or predatory, or purely practical, done for pleasure or love or for advantage over another, the same motives that drove human sexuality, but the point to it wasn't reproduction; rather, Q sex was the glue that held the Continuum together. Without the constant exchange of knowledge, skills and traits, often combined with a literal exchange of life force, that Q were encouraged by the pleasure of it to perform with each other, there would be no continuity between Q and no Continuum. Individual Q existed in a balanced tension between total submersion in the Continuum overmind and total individuality, complete separation from other Q. They pushed against each other to keep from merging into each other... most of the time. But if they never merged in any way or to any degree, they would develop into solons, unique and fully separated nodes of consciousness, and the Continuum would disintegrate.
He felt Amanda draw the knowledge of the technique he was performing into herself... and felt the results of her absorption of the knowledge, much more directly, a moment later as she tried to do the same thing to him. She was smaller, because she was younger, with far less life experience and accreted complexity to her pattern, so she simply didn't have as much texture to offer him as he did her, but all of what she had was fresher and cleaner, drawn in simpler lines with more vivid colors, than any other Q in the Continuum any longer. The feel of her raised nostalgia in him, memories billions of years old of when the Q had all been so much younger. At the same time it was a novel sensation, because when he'd last touched a young Q in this way, he had himself been equally young, and there'd been nothing unusual about it then. Now, it was something he hadn't felt in aeons, and in that respect was almost like something he'd never felt at all, changed by time and the experiences he'd had since then into an actual novelty. Q felt sudden desperate need, akin to human arousal, to take her, to feel that fresh youthful pattern inside him and know her completely.
Through the places where they touched, he sent, like a whisper against her ear if they'd been human, "Are you ready?"
"Oh, yes," she whispered back the same way. "Just... can we put up a privacy screen? People are watching."
He laughed. "Oh, you are so delightfully human sometimes. You want privacy to have sex?" But he put up the screen for her anyway, knowing that the human attitude toward intimate pleasures was very, very different from the Q philosophy about it. The privacy screen wouldn't keep the nodes of the Continuum from recording everything they did, everything they thought, but it would keep other Q from watching as it was happening and would tag the memories with a privacy lock for a short while before other Q could get at them.
"Thank you," she murmured. And that was something else human about her -- she wasn't ashamed to openly thank another Q, to acknowledge a favor done and a debt incurred. He liked humans in part because of these traits Amanda was displaying -- their openness, their honesty about things the Q would never admit -- and hearing a Q behave like a human hit his buttons in a way nothing had in quite some time. There were humans he liked much better than he liked Amanda, but they couldn't possibly touch him this way even if they were inclined, and it wasn't nearly so arousing to hear a human act like a human as to be holding a Q in his embrace and hearing her say things only a human would say.
He pushed into her, slightly, letting every part of him that was touching her sink a short distance under her surface. Amanda moaned, radiating surprise and delight and pleasure and hunger. She wanted more, and she writhed against him, but she didn't do the obvious thing he'd have expected from a Q enjoying his touch so much, and enter him. For a moment, it put him off, as it felt like submission, passivity, traits so un-Q-like that they disgusted more than excited him. And then he realized that that wasn't it at all. She was used to being a human woman. It might not have entered her mind that here and now, neither of them had gender, and that she had as much power to penetrate him as he did her.
"Dear heart, this isn't your vagina, it's your self. You can push it into me too, you know. You don't just have to lay there and let me do all the work."
He tempered the sarcasm with a touch of tenderness, a concession he'd never have made to another Q, but then no other Q would make such a mistake. She flared embarrassment, and then lunged into him just a little bit too fast, too sharp... and drew back again almost instantly as she felt the slight pain and irritation she had just caused him. "I'm sorry," she said.
"Just be careful," he said. "Go slowly until you learn your own strength... yes. That's it. That's very good. Now I want to show you something, and you can mirror it back at me once you've gotten it."
Slowly he reached inside her, making her whimper with pleasure, until he found one of the nodes of direct power exchange deep within her pattern, and hooked into it, drawing energy from her. She cried out. "Oh my god that's so good what are you doing?"
"You can read my mind, you know."
"Yes but I can't possibly concentrate oh god no don't stop don't stop just tell me what that is!"
"I'm drawing vital energy directly from you," he whispered into her mind, unpacking the concepts so she could understand what he was doing without needing to concentrate. An older Q wouldn't have needed to concentrate to perceive exactly what he was doing and read every detail in his mind, but an older Q would already have known. Vital energy was life force; the Q were made of static Continuum energy, woven into a pattern that comprised their essence and contained the data of their memories and personality, but they were animated by vital energy, a form of Continuum energy that was constantly generated by the individual Q. Dynamic energy was what they drew from the Continuum to fuel their powers, but vital energy fueled their lives themselves. "You're too small for me to continue to do this without hurting you unless you do it back to me. Let me show you--" and he guided a tendril of her essence to his own inner node, pressing her up against him and sending her the knowledge of how to draw energy. Ordinarily no Q could do any real harm to another by doing this, because they were equal in energy and power and the pressure of the energy flow would naturally equalize, turn two-way, before one Q could possibly drain the other. But Amanda was young and much weaker and smaller, with less personal vital force, than the average Q; if she didn't directly draw from him, he could actually drain her to the point where she would be seriously weakened before the pressure started to equalize.
Amanda began to suck his vital energies into herself, and he couldn't stop himself from moaning, from transmitting the sensations she was giving him back into her. "Oh, wow," she gasped. "That's a rush."
"Of course it is," he said, amused... though if he'd been human he would have been saying it breathlessly. "You might not want to pull quite so much, so fast. Not that I mind in the slightest, but I have considerably more vital energy than you do, and if you take too much too fast it'll act on you like a drug."
"I can get high off you?" she asked, laughing. "Literally?"
"Yes, but I wouldn't advise it. Not in the middle of a war zone, anyway." His mood took a sudden sour turn as he remembered what he'd been trying to forget, where they were and why.
"Don't think about it," she said, and pulled harder on him, momentarily blotting out everything else he was feeling or thinking with the pleasure of it. As the wave subsided, she said, "Tell me, why does it feel better to have you taking energy from me than for me to take it from you? This is a rush, but it's not... it feels more like riding a rollercoaster or a runner's high or something, while giving energy to you feels like... like getting oral sex, or something like that. Wouldn't it be more normal to go the other way around?"
"If it went the other way around, we'd all be vampires, trying to drain each other to death. The fact that what feels best is giving is why we can exchange enough energy to keep each other connected to the Continuum and the Continuum knitted together without eating each other. Q are hedonistic enough to prefer to do what feels good even if it's technically not quite as healthy for us as the alternative, and we have strong enough self-preservation instincts not to let ourselves be consumed fully even if it feels good." Most of the time. But he wasn't going to get into the subject of the exceptions with Amanda now.
Now that they were locked into an energy exchange circuit, their life energies flowing evenly between them, he felt it was time to take it to the next level. Slowly he pushed forward into her and encouraged her to do the same to him, so that more and more of their essence merged into one. She had no internal shields at all, nothing preventing him from pulling her completely into himself and devouring her. It was probably best that she'd chosen him for her first, then; he had never had any desire to have all of another Q inside him or be entirely consumed by another. She found his internal shielding, bounced back from its somewhat prickly texture, and asked him, "What's this?"
"Internal shields. Unless you want to risk literally becoming one with your partner -- which runs a serious risk of never being able to separate yourself out again -- you need to have them up during sex to mark how far you're willing to go in a joining." He fed her the information of how to make them for herself and where she should probably put them up, and then watched her do it. Those shields wouldn't hold against an actual attack, but since he wasn't attacking her they were fine for now. He pulled her closer, pushing his own essence into her as far as the shields and pulling her against his own, until they were merged as deeply as he was willing to allow, and then he moved around and within her, rotating all the energies of his essence through the places where they were one, letting her taste all of him but never all at one time. She tried to copy him. At first she was awkward about it, having difficulty concentrating on what was an unusual maneuver for her while her concentration was being drowned out with so much pleasure, but with practice it became more natural for her.
Q pleasures did not work the way human pleasures did, with repeated pulses of sensation building in intensity until they peaked and then subsided. Once fully joined, they didn't thrust; it was more as if they were spheres of gelatinous energy, spinning so the parts where they intersected each other were constantly moving through the other's essence, so the pleasure didn't come in pulses like the thrusting of human intercourse, but was instead a constant building wave. And there was no climax akin to human orgasm; while the closest analogy in human terms to the pleasure they felt was sexual, it behaved more like the pleasure of a cuddle in that it reached a plateau of intensity and then simply stayed there until one of the partners felt they'd had enough. Amanda's essence was fresh and clean and simple, and her emotional strength and ability to perceive their circumstances as a trial to defeat rather than a paralyzing horror was a balm to his shell-shocked mind. And she was an entirely new Q, one he'd never tasted this way before. Q stayed locked in her embrace, enjoying the way her young mind felt inside his essence, for much longer than he'd intended to, much longer than he probably should have given that there was a war on.
In fact he could have stayed there, delighting in her, for a lot longer if someone hadn't tapped hard on his privacy shield and sent a message through it, "You two need to finish up in there. They're coming for us."
Embarrassed, Amanda jerked away from him, too quickly, sparking a quick shock of pain through both of them before she was fully separated. "I'm sorry!"
"Don't be," he said. "You could learn to separate a little more carefully, but if they're coming you were right to pull away as quickly as possible." Gently he stroked the surface of her essence, letting the reconnection ease the pain of the rapid separation for a moment and sending gratitude and bittersweet happiness through their connection for a moment. One or both of them might very well end up dead in the very near future, with the battle looming ahead of them, but for now he was glad of the pleasure they'd given each other and the strength he'd drawn from her mind.
She responded for a moment, sending similar emotions back to him -- at least I won't die a virgin, she thought at him, and while she was trying to be funny and self-mocking, there was an element of sincerity to it. And then they broke apart and he dissolved the privacy shield, manifesting the weapon in his hand. Knowledge of where the enemy seemed to be came in fragments through the discontinuities that separated the two sides, and he turned in the direction they were probably approaching from. "Thanks for the heads-up," he said to the Q who'd interrupted them. "Does anyone here need to drop back, or are we all ready to fight?"
"I don't know about the others, but I'm tired of having hysterics because we're trying to kill them," the other Q said. "They started it. Let's finish it."
"I can scout ahead," Amanda said. "I got through the discontinuities yesterday." They all politely ignored her humanish use of temporal references, given that there was no day or night in the Continuum.
"You might not be able to now. When the fighting first broke out you were on their side, if only by default. Now that you've crossed the line to be with us... the discontinuities exist as much in our minds and psychologies as they do in the physical structure of the Continuum. But if you think you can try, go ahead." His instinct was to tell her to stay behind, to remain shielded and hide behind the rest of them, the way he'd told her to stay out of the Continuum and out of the conflict before the war had actually broken out, both because her youth had always made him protective of her and because of what they'd shared. But she'd killed, during that first fight, and he knew from joining with her that she was mentally more prepared to fight to defend herself than most of the Q that surrounded him. Her chances of scouting ahead, finding the enemy, and surviving to make it back to them were actually better than most Q.
"I'll try, at least."
"Good luck. Try not to get yourself killed."
She vanished. Now there was nothing to do but wait, for her return or for the enemy to arrive.