Everything You Ever

The Delta Quadrant was, as nearly as he and Seven had been able to tell, 90,000 light years from Scorpius' home in Peacekeeper territory. The team of techs and soldiers he had come through the wormhole with had all died when they'd crashlanded on the hot desert planet, each of the crash survivors succumbing to Living Death, and he himself had only survived because of his cooling rods. The memory of the loss still gave him pain (Braca drooling, vacant-eyed, his skin burning up when Scorpius had broken his neck in mercy and half an arn later Scorpius had found the oasis and if Braca had only been able to hang on just that last little bit, he would have lived). There was a significant chance that he'd jumped four hundred years in time as well, since these people had records of John Crichton, astronaut, and their records said Crichton had disappeared four hundred years ago, so either he or Crichton or both had traveled into the future. So there was no credible reason to believe that anyone Scorpius knew from home could possibly be in his quarters.

Which was why it came as a great shock to see John Crichton sitting on his bed, in the leather pants and jacket he'd last seen the man wearing. "Hey, Scorpy! How's it hanging?"

"Crichton?" He lunged forward, and then reason caught up with reaction. That's not Crichton. He pulled himself up short and said so. "You're not John Crichton. Who are you?"

"What makes you think I'm not John Crichton?" the person who looked exactly like John Crichton, except not, said with a smirk.

"Your heat signature is wrong."

"There's nothing wrong with my heat signature," not-Crichton said, pouting in a very un-Crichtonlike fashion. "I think you don't even know what you're seeing."

"I know that you are not John Crichton," Scorpius said. "Is it really important, how I know?"

Not-Crichton smiled. It was not a nice smile. "I think so," he said. "Because my heat signature is just peachy."

And then, for a moment, Scorpius felt a sense of overwhelming presence, a psychic force so powerful he staggered. His psychic sensitivity was naturally very low for a Scarran, although with training and meditation he had made himself more aware of his sensitivities than most Scarrans; he had never in his existence felt something so... so much. It was as if he'd been standing in a library center, with the soft whisper of people's headsets and the faint ticking of occasional typing, and suddenly he was dumped into the center of a marketplace in the middle of a spaceport, with the shouting of vendors and the babble of crowds and the occasional roar of a ship taking off.

And then it shut off. In the quiet, Scorpius realized that the being was right. His heat aura was, actually, entirely correct for a human; what Scorpius had picked up was that he had no psychic presence whatsoever, like one of the non-sentient holograms that ran in short-lived programs on the holodeck. Apparently he had a touch of synesthesia, misperceiving people's psychic auras as part of their heat signature aura. "I see that now," he said. "You have the ability to mask your psychic presence completely. I hadn't realized that that was part of what I was perceiving. But this doesn't answer my question. Who are you?"

The being fairly hopped off the bed and bounded over to Scorpius before he could quite react, took his hand and shook it vigorously. "Call me Q. All my other pals do."

"I know of you," Scorpius said. "You're in Voyager's database. Why have you chosen to look like John Crichton and not your usual form?"

The Q turned so he was standing at Scorpius's side and grabbed him in a sideways hug. "Admit it," he said. "You think this body is hot. Come on, we're all guys here, you don't have to be shy."

With a growl, Scorpius pulled free. "Why are you here?"

The predatory smile looked wrong on Crichton's face. "Do I really need to explain my reasons to you, mortal? I do what I do because I choose to do it. Therefore, if I'm here, there must be something here that interests me."

Scorpius tried to remember everything he had read about the being. He had gone through Voyager's database, reading thousands of entries. Even for him, most of it blurred together. The only reason he remembered anything at all about Q was that it had struck him as rather amazing that a being with the literal powers of a god should have interacted with the Voyager crew as if he were just another alien being, and he'd strongly suspected the entity wasn't nearly as powerful as it claimed. Of course, "not omnipotent" didn't mean "safe to deal with", so he was cautious as he said, "According to what I've read, you usually deal with Captain Janeway. Since you're here in my quarters instead, I presume that I'm what has caught your interest?"

Not-Crichton laughed. "That would be horrifically arrogant if it weren't true. Yes, Scorpy, you've definitely caught my eye. Firstly you're here from a region of the galaxy I haven't been near in millennia, despite the fact that no one back in your hometown has the technology to get over here yet, and secondly... you're actually unique. I'd never heard of a successful Sebacean-Scarran hybrid before, so I went and checked it out. You're the only one in the universe. That was unusual enough to intrigue me, I must admit." He paced around Scorpius, studying him with eyes too predatory to be merely curious. At first Scorpius tried to follow him with his eyes, but when he realized that the being's circular path would force Scorpius to spin in place, he simply stood still, arms folded, putting an expression of long-suffering patience on his face. "And then there's the fact that you held onto your individuality for three hours after being assimilated. I can't remember the last time I've seen a mortal hold out for longer than, oh, twenty minutes or so. Of course you were about to crumple like a wet paper napkin when Voyager pulled you back and their holo-doc neutralized the Borg nanites, but the impressive thing is that you held out at all, not that you would have eventually buckled in time." The Q came back around to Scorpius's front and looked him in the eyes. "So I've come to... investigate you."

That didn't sound particularly pleasant. "I must imagine that my entire life is an open book to one such as you," Scorpius said. "What is there to investigate? My understanding is that you're supposed to be omniscient."

"How dull would that be?" the Q said. He leaned back against the wall. "I am the closest to an omniscient being you're ever likely to meet, but while I can read your mind and your past with equal expertise, I cannot tell what you would do in a circumstance you've never encountered. I can make informed guesses, of course. Make predictions. But I can't know what you'll do until you do it. So... I've come to offer you a deal." He pushed off the wall. "Once-in-a-lifetime offer, Scorpy. Here's the deal. Ask me for one thing. One impossible thing, one thing you want more than anything else."

"At the moment, what I want more than anything else is for you to stop looking like John Crichton. It's irritating." Of course the entity knew it was irritating, and in fact Scorpius wasn't nearly as annoyed by the entity's impersonation of Crichton as he was implying; he simply wanted to see how far he could push the being, and get this ridiculous business of making a wish off the table. Scorpius knew better than to take gifts from gods.

The Q made a comically disappointed expression with John Crichton's face. "That's it? That's all you want? Oh, come on, Scorpy. Look, I'll throw that one in to sweeten the deal." He snapped his fingers, and was suddenly taller, with similar skin tone but darker hair and eyes, and a completely different face, wearing a Starfleet uniform rather than the leather Crichton had been affecting lately. "Now can we get down to business?"

"There is nothing I want from you," Scorpius said. "The information I've studied regarding you seems to imply that you are... somewhat less than reliable. I prefer to achieve my desires with my own skills."

"And yet all the skill in the universe won't bring Rylani Dellos back," the entity said, snapping his fingers, and a blonde Sebacean woman stood next to him, her expression pleading and confused. She had a heat signature and showed stress and fear in it and in her psychic presence. Scorpius' eyes widened. If this was an illusion he couldn't see through it no matter how hard he tried.

"Please," the woman said in a voice he had only ever heard on recordings. "Please, help me. The Scarrans... they killed my husband, and they..." She swallowed, obviously unwilling to speak further. "Please, help me escape?"

Scorpius swallowed, and cursed himself mentally for showing so much weakness in front of the entity. "She's dead. This must be some sort of illusion."

"Didn't read the whole file, did you, Scorpius?" the Q said. "Or... didn't believe it?"

The latter was more true. "Stop it."

"She's entirely real," the Q said, walking over to Rylani. "Don't worry, my dear, it's going to be all right," he said to her kindly. "You're free of them."

"How can you tell her that?" Scorpius asked. "If she's not an illusion, then you must have pulled her out of time somehow, before her death."

"You know, it's remarkably cruel to talk about her death, or whether or not she's real, right in front of her, even for an accomplished torturer and murderer such as you," the Q said in a conversational tone.

"If she isn't real, it hardly matters, and if she proves not to be an illusion, I'll apologize later."

Q snapped his fingers and she froze in place. "I suppose I'll just have to put her on hold," he said. "I have taken her directly from the moment of her death, Scorpius. The Scarrans just ripped you out of her corpse. I reconstructed a new body for her, and gave her a bit of amnesia to help her deal with the shock. Do you want her? One deceased mom, hale and hearty, returned to life and in your custody. Do anything you want with her. Tell her who you are, beg her forgiveness, solicit her motherly affections... work out your Oedipal issues, for all I care, though I imagine dear Seven would have something to say about it if you got too overt with that."

Scorpius stared at the woman who was either Rylani or an illusion of Rylani for several seconds before turning back to Q. "What would bringing back one woman solve?" he asked harshly. "91 women died in the project to create me. Countless others have been raped and murdered by the Scarrans simply for their amusement. The war between the Scarrans and the Sebaceans has been going on for over thirty thousand cycles. How many Sebacean women have the Scarrans raped and killed in that time? How many Sebaceans, men and women, were innocents murdered like my mother's husband? And how many more will fall? Saving my mother alone accomplishes nothing."

"What, so you want me to bring them all back?" Q raised his eyebrows. "Ambitious, aren't you?"

"You couldn't possibly resurrect every Sebacean who was killed by the Scarrans."

"Oh, I could, but where would you want me to put them all? Over thirty thousand cycles of war, we're talking about several billion people here. Even if I limited it to the women who were raped by Scarrans and then killed, that's a few million, and I don't know of any of your worlds that could support a sudden influx of a few million additional people."

"And they would be torn from their time and place, brought to a world that has changed beyond their recognition," Scorpius said softly. "Kinder to let them stay dead. Not all are as... adaptable... as I am."

"So, you want your mom back anyway? Or hey, what about that Braca guy?" Suddenly Braca was standing there, next to the frozen Rylani.

"Sir?" Braca said, startled, and then froze in place the way Rylani had. Q looked at him assessingly.

"You had a whole team of Peacekeepers with you when you went through the wormhole, and because you have cooling rods in your head and they don't, and you wake up after heat delirium knocks you out and they just become zombies, you survived long enough to reach an oasis, and they didn't. You're the kind of guy who doesn't like to lead loyal minions to their death if you can help it. Want them back?"

"What I want is an end to the Scarran threat," Scorpius snapped. "I want my people to be safe, and I want the Scarrans punished for what they have done. Can you do that?"

"Wipe out the entire Scarran species? Sure. Just a snap of my fingers." Q smiled maliciously. "It does say something about you that you'd rather kill the living for the crimes of their kind than bring back the dead and nullify the crimes in the first place, though. Not really as... audacious... as I had expected from you."

And that gave Scorpius an idea. The Q wanted him to be audacious? Very well. He'd push the entity into admitting defeat, because there was no possible way Q would be able to accomplish this. "No. Wipe them out retroactively. Make them have never existed."

Q was plainly taken aback. "Okay, I stand corrected. That is audacious. You want me to retroactively alter the universe so that the Scarran species never existed."

"But the Sebacean species did, and was unharmed. Yes. That is what I want."

"Well. That certainly is intriguing. You sure that's what you want?"

Scorpius smiled, thinly. "I would... if it were possible. But I cannot imagine how you could do it. If you were to retroactively wipe out the Scarrans, I would never have existed, and therefore I could never have asked you to do it. Paradox makes my suggestion impossible."

"Oh, hardly impossible, Scorpius. I'm omnipotent. By definition I can do anything. But would you actually want me to? Being as that you would, y'know, cease to exist, I could see why you might want to reconsider that choice."

"Explain, then, how you would resolve the paradox?"

"I wouldn't," the Q said smugly. "There is no paradox. I don't exist in relation to your time frame. Yes, from the perspective of your timeline you cease to exist... but from my perspective, I talked to you, I revised a few paragraphs in the history books, and you vanished. See? No paradox whatsoever."

"I see," Scorpius said, feeling a sudden, almost sickening and yet exhilarating, surge of hope and terror. To undo his own existence, save his mother and every other Sebacean ever killed by the Scarrans...

Scorpius was a survivor. Since early childhood he had fought for his life as hard as he possibly could. And yet, from the moment he learned the true fate of Rylani Dellos, he had known his life was stolen, that he had taken it from an innocent woman at the moment of his birth, and he had never been able to escape the guilt he felt for that. Seeing the woman who have been forced to give up her own life to give him his tortured and raped in a recording as old as he was, hearing her screams... nothing had affected him as deeply before or since. Normally he didn't have much empathy for victims; he felt sorry for them, if they weren't his victims, but really, the universe was a dangerous place and those who weren't strong didn't survive. But somehow, his own mother had been different. Perhaps some part of him had recognized her, from the womb, or perhaps it was only how very much she was the opposite of Tauza, the only mother figure he'd actually known. Her cries had stabbed him in the heart and left deep hidden wounds that had been with him his entire adult life.

He was a survivor, but he would give up his existence if it meant that neither his mother nor any other woman would suffer the way she had, if it meant that she could have kept the life he stole from her. And if the Q could actually do it... of course he couldn't. No one could do something like that. But if he could... if Scorpius was faced with actually being able to expiate the guilt of his own existence by ceasing to exist, and by his sacrifice avenging himself against the Scarrans completely, and saving his chosen ancestral species...

He had to take it. He could not be who he was and reject such an offer. Even though it meant his death. And what he felt was equal parts fear and hope, because of course he didn't want to die... in fact, it would be worse than that. No one would remember him. He would never have existed. Nothing of the things he had done in his life would remain... except the one terrible, wondrous thing he would have sacrificed his existence for, the end of the Scarrans, the salvation of the Sebaceans.

"What would happen to these people, here? To Voyager?"

"Nothing," Q said. "The Scarrans have not made any impact whatsoever on any of the species of the Alpha or Delta Quadrants, and your absence would just make things go a little differently here for the past year or so." He appeared to think about it for a moment. "Well, Seven might end up dating that big lunk of an Indian in a year or two if she hasn't got you to solve her little virginity problem for her, but frankly, from my perspective that's all to the better, because if Commander Chuckles takes up with your Borg girlfriend, Kathy might finally get it through her head that she can't keep refusing people indefinitely and still have them available later on, and then she might recognize what she's missing out on by denying herself a fling with moi."

Scorpius stared at the entity. The only thing more ridiculous than the idea that some being could possibly have the power to rewrite reality the way the Q was talking about doing was the notion that such an entity could have a genuine sexual interest in a mortal woman. "You are not contemplating a dramatic alteration to the universe simply to make Captain Janeway more amenable to a liaison with you."

Q grinned. "No, I'm not. But I admit it'd be a nice bonus." He gestured at the frozen Rylani Dellos and Braca. "So do you bring these two back or wipe yourself out of existence? What'll it be?"

"Eliminate the Scarrans," Scorpius said, closing his eyes. "From the dawn of time."

"Despite the fact that if I do that, you will cease to exist."

"Yes. Despite that fact."

"Methinks someone has some issues. A touch of survivor's guilt, perhaps? You know, you could get therapy for that. It'd be a bit less final than wiping yourself out of existence."

"Can you do it or can you not?" Scorpius asked sharply, opening his eyes and glaring at the Q.

Q sighed. "That's not the question. Yes, I can, but do I want to? You are, as I mentioned earlier, unique. Far too few things in this universe are. And I don't think I can bring myself to destroy something unique. Besides, I'm here to study you. Making you cease to exist would seem to defeat my true purpose here."

"Ah, so in the end you can't do it after all."

"I'm beginning to think you think my credentials are somehow fraudulent. If you read about me, did you miss the part about godlike power?"

"I suspect that these humans may be too quick to put down to godlike power what could simply be explained by more advanced technology."

Q laughed. "Well, of course it's more advanced technology, Scorpy! What else would it be, magic? Doesn't change the fact that I can do virtually anything." He plopped down in the chair in Scorpius' quarters and tipped back in it. "I tell you what, though. I'll give you a really sweet deal. I'll wipe out the Scarrans for you, and protect you from the paradox, so you continue to exist in the revised timeline. That way you get to have your genocide and eat it, too." The entity's use of colloquial Earth expressions made some of the things he said completely incomprehensible, even moreso than Crichton's usual speech. How could one eat a genocide?

"How could I exist in a reality where the species that created me does not? Unless I was an ordinary Sebacean, perhaps... but then I'd hardly still be unique."

"No, no. You'd still be you."


"Are you sure you want to know? To explain how I can pull that one off, I'm going to have to explain to you some extraordinarily complex concepts. Some of them pertaining to your favorite hobby. Well, your second favorite hobby after torturing people. Think you've got the intellectual chops to comprehend things mere mortals were never intended to know?"

"I presume by my favorite hobby you mean wormholes?"

"You presume correctly." There were too many teeth in the Q's grin. Neither Sebaceans nor humans smiled like that to be friendly.

"Then of course. If you're willing to teach me something about wormholes, I'm eager to hear it. Even if it... stretches my ability to comprehend. I've always tried to push my intellectual limits... when I could find something that could challenge them at all."

The Q laughed. "Think a lot of yourself, don't you, Scorpy?"

"That seems to be a trait we have in common."

"Yes, but in my case it's deserved. We'll just have to see if you've got as much on the ball as you think you do." He began to pace. "Wormholes, as you know, can transit more dimensions than just the traditional spatial three. You've discovered yourself that they can transit time as well. But what you haven't yet learned is that wormholes can be gateways to alternate timelines. Now, do you understand the role of sentience in shaping timelines?"

"I didn't know there was a particular role for sentience, no."

"At the quantum level, uncertainty is a given. Every action could, and does, happen differently. But on the macrospatial level, where you live, physics is utterly predictable. No matter how many quanta blip in and out of existence, no matter how uncertain the location of an electron in a cloud, at the macro level objects do exactly what you expect they will do. When you calculate the movement of spatial bodies in relation to gravitational forces, you can predict with fair accuracy how they'll move for the next hundred thousand years. Even on planetary surfaces, where weather may exist and occur kind of randomly, events are usually quite predictable if you have enough information. You, the explorer wandering through caves, may not know enough to know that you're about to be buried in a cave-in, but if you had access to all the data about tectonic stressors and the positioning of the rock above your head and the fracture lines carved by water and gravity, you could, in fact, know with certainty that the cave-in was about to occur. These are not the events that cause alternate timelines, because they are determinate. In the absence of sentient life acting on these forces, the events will occur. With me so far?"

"You are suggesting that sentient life is not deterministic, then?"

"Correct. The quantum level does have an effect on the machines you mortals are, on the processes churning through your consciousnesses. A single atom losing its electron to its neighbor now instead of later might change the decision you make. While mortals' behavior can be understood fairly accurately at a statistical aggregate level, even a being such as myself can never fully predict exactly what a mortal mind will do, because you have free will. Constrained by your nature, which is shaped by your experiences, certainly. I am quite sure there's no alternate reality anywhere where you decide the appropriate response to this conversation you and I are having is to put on a long flowing robe and sing a Delvian aria."

Despite himself Scorpius smiled slightly at the image. "I believe that is probably an accurate guess, yes."

"So intelligent beings shape time and events in a way that non-living things do not, and the more intelligent a being is, the more impact it has. Consciousness, in particular, has a profound impact on time. Any one event that involves sentient beings could go differently because the sentient beings have free will and they interact with one another in multiple combinations. The multiverse is full of quantum realities, timelines that are separated from others just because something went differently. But most of those timelines didn't really happen."

"Didn't really happen? What do you mean by that? Surely either all of them happened or none of them did."

"Nope. Reality is shaped by sentience. Generally speaking, the most likely event to occur, did. There are primary timelines, stable realities full of minds that hold that reality in place. And there are shadow timelines, unrealized realities, alternatives that are less likely and therefore did not happen... unless they are observed by sentience. Go through a wormhole the wrong way, and you can end up in an unrealized reality... a timeline that didn't happen until you were there to observe it. You become the omphalos of that reality, pinning it to existence by the fact that you observe it, and eventually it gets enough momentum that it takes on a life of its own, at which point all the other sentient beings inside it are themselves real enough to keep it alive. At that point, you become absorbed into it; you lose your identity in the new reality you are observing. You become the person you always would have been in that reality."

"The navel of reality? What does that mean?"

Q sighed. "I don't know which I hate more, the Federation universal translators or your translator microbes. The Sebacean language hasn't got this concept, so I'm using the humans' language. 'Omphalos' literally means navel, but its connotation is metaphorical. You become the birthplace of reality. Your existence, and your ability to observe the reality, make it real around you, until the reality takes on a life of its own and absorbs you."

"This is difficult to believe. How can one mind create a reality?"

"You don't create the reality. It was already there. It was a possibility, which you brought into being by observing it. And that's how we'll solve your little problem. I will foreground an unrealized reality for you, where the Scarrans never existed. You will not cease to exist in that reality because you will be its omphalos; it cannot exist without you, so it will make a place for you. And if you don't die before the shift happens and the unrealized turns real, it will overwrite the reality you know. You'll lose your memories of having lived here, most likely, unless the reality can find a way to create a role for you where you could have kept them, but you'll remain yourself... just with the memories of the existence you would have had in the new reality."

"And who will I be in the new reality?"

Q shrugged. "I have no idea, but it'll be fun to find out, won't it?"

"If you're the one who creates this reality, why would it depend on my existence to be realized?"

"I exist outside the entire plane of your reality. I can't be the omphalos of an unrealized reality, because I can see them all. All I'll do is what you could have done for yourself if you'd succeeded in getting all of Crichton's wormhole knowledge, and provide transport to an unrealized reality that meets your specifications, just as you could have done by traveling through a wormhole. It will be your existence as an observer that fixes the reality into existence and overwrites the old reality, because you'll be part of that reality."

He was dubious about Q's arguments about the nature of reality, but the thought of making the universe free of the Scarran menace, of destroying the species that had made him and yet still surviving to live in the new world he would have created, was too enticing. It was a dream he had never before even dared to think of as his greatest dream, because it had been beyond the realm of possibility, but he found himself hoping beyond hope that this wasn't a trick or an elaborate illusion, that the Q really was as powerful as he claimed and that he could do what he was offering Scorpius. But Scorpius could not help but be suspicious. "Why would you do such a thing for me? Even if you have the power, you can't possibly do such things very often or the nature of reality would be shifting around us constantly. Why such a thing for me?"

"How do you know the nature of reality isn't shifting around you constantly?" The Q grinned. "But you're right, this is rather a large change. The truth is, mortals never ask me for anything this big. I'm merely here to satisfy my curiosity. And if I find your audacity entertaining, why shouldn't I give you what you want? The Scarrans are nothing to me. Rather a dull species, really, and to be honest I'm rather offended that creatures that are so stupid they need to eat flowers to maintain their basic sentience have managed to achieve the prominence they have. Move 'em out of the way and let something more worthy, something genetically further developed with greater base intelligence, take their place. And it'll shake things up. I like messing with the status quo."

This was almost certainly a bad idea. Trusting an entity that claimed to have godlike power never went well. But the records Scorpius had read of this being had painted him as... well, not harmless, but almost friendly, more inclined to come to Voyager for assistance with his own people's political problems than to torment or trick anyone. Besides, he remained almost certain that the Q couldn't actually do what he claimed he could. Wipe the Scarrans out completely, yes, perhaps, but wipe them out retroactively? Why would a being with such power waste its time dealing with the likes of him and the Voyager crew? So most likely it would not happen. But if the Q could do it, and was willing to do it... Scorpius could not possibly turn this offer down.

"Very well, then. If you're willing to do that, I accept your offer."

"Oh, I was so hoping you'd say that," the Q said, and before Scorpius had the opportunity to rethink his decision, the entity snapped his fingers.

And suddenly Scorpius was on a small craft, in the middle of what he recognized as Luxan space, on a course for Peacekeeper space. He smiled in sudden delight. While his time aboard Voyager had been enjoyable in many ways, he couldn't help being pleased about being home. Well, not quite home, not yet, but close. He'd have to figure out who he was in this universe -- surely he wasn't the commander of a Command Carrier or a Gammak Base in this world, with the Scarrans nonexistent -- but he was confident he'd be able to figure it out.

A Peacekeeper gunship was approaching. "Small craft, identify yourself," they hailed him.

He opened a video channel to respond. "This is a private vessel," he said. "I am--"

But before he could even speak, the voice snarled, "Alien!", and the gunship powered up its weapons.

Scorpius had not survived for cycles in the Uncharted Territories and Tormented Space by standing around to have arguments with people who were trying to kill him. He immediately threw his craft into reverse, spun it head over tail and fled at maximum hetch.

It seemed the craft Q had put him aboard was faster than the average Peacekeeper gunship. The gunship fired at him as he fled, but he outpaced it and its weaponry in minutes.

Why had that happened? He had done nothing threatening, he wasn't in Peacekeeper space... well, perhaps he was in Peacekeeper space, since who knew how far they had been able to expand without the Scarrans to hold them back? But the Peacekeepers had never gone about shooting down unarmed private vessels unless a known enemy was aboard, and Scorpius couldn't possibly look like a known enemy, in a universe where there were no Scarrans and he wouldn't look like anyone else at all.

He would have to proceed carefully. The Luxans were dangerous, violent beings, and without the Scarrans to help keep them in check, perhaps any being coming out of Luxan space was viewed as a potential enemy by the Peacekeepers now. Although the Peacekeepers he remembered didn't go about shooting down potential enemies, either. But the Uncharted Territories might all be Peacekeeper territory, and he was much too far from Tormented Space to try to make it there right now.

Well. He had to start somewhere. He decided to head for Natira's Shadow Depository. In any universe, he felt certain, Natira would be a dangerous, backstabbing, criminally minded woman, but she would have information and he was fairly confident he could get it from her one way or another.

As he approached the planet, Peacekeeper identification buoys told him the planet was Sebacean territory, called Ompaja in this reality. Well, that was different. Sebaceans had barely had a presence on the planet before. Mindful of what had just happened, Scorpius disabled the video component of his transmitter, and when the planetary border patrol hailed him, he responded without visuals, identifying himself as Kebb Trennos of Shonnar. Of course his command of Sebacean Universal, the main language spoken by the majority of the Sebacean people, was perfect, and even through translator microbes any Peacekeeper could hear that he sounded exactly like one of them, so they waved him through and gave him the frequency to connect to, to pull planetary maps and directories to his shipboard computer so he could arrange things like lodgings on-planet before he disembarked.

The Shadow Depository wasn't there.

He looked over the data four times, and when his descent into atmosphere was low enough that his shipboard cameras could pick up details on the ground, he actually searched for it visually. The building just wasn't there. There were small shops instead. Plainly, he wasn't going to find Natira here. In fact he had no way of figuring out where she might be, if she even existed in this timeline.

It was beginning to sink in at a visceral level. This wasn't his home. Nothing was necessarily the same. He had changed the course of history for at least thirty thousand cycles; of course everything was going to be different. Without the Scarrans' influence on history, who knew what had happened? But at least, he knew what hadn't happened. The races the Scarrans had enslaved, that they'd made extinct, the people the Scarrans had tortured and murdered... they were all still alive.

Well, there was no sense staying here. This world seemed to have been colonized by the Sebaceans. He needed information, and he needed it from a relatively neutral source; if the Peacekeepers had tried to kill him on sight, he needed to confirm why before he allowed himself to be seen by any Sebaceans. Perhaps this universe had gotten around the problem of his inability to exist by creating a race of beings similar-looking to him. Although he rather hoped not. Scorpius had grown used to being unique.

He checked over his supplies of fuel, food, oxygen and weapons. The ship Q had given him appeared to be well supplied with everything he'd need for a month or two except answers. The Royal Planet, in the Breakaway Colonies, had been largely unaffected by the various Sebacean wars with the Scarrans over countless cycles, so perhaps it was a good place to get his bearings and stabilize his knowledge. Scorpius took off again, on course through Hynerian space toward the Royal Planet.

Throughout the Uncharted Territories, there were no ships that weren't Sebacean.

In Hynerian space, he saw no Hynerian ships.

Had everyone started using Sebacean-designed craft? But that made no sense; the Hynerians weren't physically shaped like Sebaceans and would never choose to use a Sebacean craft unless there was no choice, and the Luxans actually had superior shipbuilding technologies. Besides, Scorpius didn't even see any Leviathans. The trip took him four days, and in that time, all he saw were Sebacean civilian and Peacekeeper crafts.

Perhaps all of this territory belonged to the Peacekeepers. But conquering the Hynerian empire would be virtually impossible given the rate at which the Hynerians bred; the Peacekeepers had never had any thoughts of actually taking Hynerian territory, only of setting up a puppet Dominar of their own who would support their interests in Hynerian space. The only way to actually take the territory would have been to wipe out the Hynerians, and such a genocide would have taken hundreds of cycles to accomplish, and without the Scarrans to drive them to protect themselves with ever-expanding borders Scorpius couldn't see why the Peacekeepers would even want to do such a thing.

The Sebaceans had been a peaceful people before the Scarran conflict. All the histories Scorpius had read, and he'd read many, said so. When the Scarrans had threatened, the Sebaceans had formed military forces which had grown into being the Peacekeepers, dedicated to maintaining order in the galaxy -- or, at least, the part of the galaxy that the humans' Federation called the Beta Quadrant and the Peacekeepers called Known Space. And yes, perhaps their mission had become slightly corrupted over hundreds of cycles and they were less dedicated now to maintaining peace, more dedicated to maintaining Peacekeeper power, but how were they to protect trillions of Sebaceans from the Scarrans without strong alliances with alien races and well-understood military superiority? Without the Scarrans, the Peacekeepers should be what they'd originally been, a peacekeeping force maintaining order in the galaxy, the way the humans' Starfleet apparently did.

By the time he reached the Royal Planet, Scorpius was feeling quite frustrated. He landed, using the same pseudonym he'd used earlier, and attempted to disembark. The moment he left his ship, however, people stared at him, and whispered to each other, and backed away, leaving him a very, very wide berth that got steadily wider. And then a couple of obvious Peacekeepers came up to him.

"We've had some... reports," the female one said. "An unusual looking man in the spaceport. Can you come with us?"

Scorpius blinked. "I've done nothing wrong," he said, mildly. "If you're concerned for my appearance... I was exposed to a form of radiation that damaged my skin and made me significantly more vulnerable to heat, so I'm required to wear a specialized cooling suit to avoid heat delirium."

"Do you have identification?"

"Back in my ship, of course, but I hadn't realized I'd need it to go out for some fresh planetary air."

The two Peacekeepers looked at each other and nodded. "We'll need a DNA scan from you, then."

He frowned. "Why?"

"It's just a formality. We need to confirm that you're Sebacean and not an alien contaminant."

He could not pass a DNA scan looking for pure Sebacean genetics. "Of course," Scorpius said. "Lead the way, officers. I'm happy to cooperate."

As soon as one of them turned away from him to lead the way, he backhanded the other, snapping the man's neck. The woman turned, pulling her weapon, but not as quickly as Scorpius could move. He kicked her arm, sending the gun flying, and when she dove for it he pulled out his own weapon and shot her. Then he fled back to his ship.

The stress was getting to him, his temperature rising. This was not ideal. The doctor on Voyager had been able to give him cooling rods that were significantly more efficient than the ones Tocot had developed, so he actually hadn't had to deal with exchanging the rods in some time. More Peacekeepers poured into the docking area, shooting at him. The body armor took one hit, and none of the others landed. He was in his ship with the gangplank up and in the pilot's seat, taking off, before any of the small Peacekeeper craft in the area could lift off to pin him. At least Q had given him a good ship. Which didn't quite make up for putting him in a universe where apparently the Peacekeepers had no tolerance for alien life whatsoever.

Pursuit took off from the planet mere monens after he hit atmosphere. One was never supposed to engage hetch in atmosphere, but Scorpius' somewhat dissolute youth in the Uncharted Territories and Tormented Space had taught him various techniques for surviving the things one was never supposed to do that sometimes one needed to do. Scorpius gained as much altitude as he could before they got into shooting range, and then engaged hetch for two microts. The very brief period of faster-than-light in atmosphere superheated his hull, but two microts wasn't long enough to heat it to melting point, and once hetch was disengaged he was far out of atmosphere. He couldn't descend back into atmosphere after the hull damage he'd taken; he'd need to get repairs at a space station or carrier. Which, he was beginning to think, might be more difficult than he'd assumed.

More Peacekeeper ships were coming to meet him. All of this just for him? Did they have nothing better to do? Of course, he had killed two Peacekeepers. Perhaps he'd made the same mistake Crichton had, and one of the two Peacekeepers he'd killed had been the younger sibling of the local commandant, or something. Once again he engaged maximum hetch, and outpaced them.

He would head into Nebari space this time. That was a terrible risk; the Nebari had been a profound threat in a universe where the Scarrans existed, almost as dangerous as the Borg back in the Delta Quadrant, and for similar reasons -- their technique of enforcing brainwashed conformity on their people and their visitors was not something he was looking forward to dealing with. But his ability to read auras gave him a great deal of acting ability, since he could see how others were reacting to him and adjust accordingly, and his mental defenses should protect him well against being mind-cleansed. The important thing here was to flee into the territory of some race powerful enough that he could be certain they still existed, given that so far, all the Sebaceans he'd met wanted to kill him for being alien.

"This isn't what you promised me, Q," he snarled at the air, knowing that the Q could hear him if it chose. "These are not my people. Something else must have happened, something beyond the lack of the Scarrans."

Q appeared in a flash of light, smirking at him. "On the contrary, Scorpius. I've given you exactly what I promised you. This is a universe without the Scarrans."

"Then where are the other species? Why have I met no one but Sebaceans, whether I was in the Uncharted Territories or Hynerian space, and why do the Peacekeepers want to kill me simply for being alien?"

"Oh, come now, you're supposedly a very intelligent mortal. You know the answer to that. You just don't want to admit it to yourself."

Scorpius shook his head. "I knew I shouldn't trust you. You've rigged this somehow to prove a point."

"I didn't need to. My point is well proven by reality." Q grinned broadly. "But you don't believe me, do you? You didn't believe me when I told you I had the power to do this, and you don't believe me that this is exactly what a universe without Scarrans looks like." He bounced on his toes. "Oh, but you haven't seen the best of it yet. Go on, keep exploring. This ought to be good."

Scorpius scowled at him. "This is not what I bargained for. Change it back."

Q's grin got even bigger. "No."

Scorpius sighed. "Of course. I shouldn't have expected differently."

"Not going to beg?"

"It rarely accomplishes anything worthwhile."

"If you say so."

He looked at Q. "Would it actually accomplish anything if I begged?"

Q thought about it. "It might be hilarious to watch."

"I'm afraid that's not really a good motivator from my perspective."

"Well, if you change your mind I'll be around." He vanished.

Scorpius turned back to his console. Despite what Q said, he was certain that this was rigged somehow. Q had done something to make the Peacekeepers even more bigoted than they'd been. It wasn't exactly a secret to Scorpius of all people that Sebaceans tended to be hung up on racial purity, but they weren't Scarrans. They weren't genocidal.

The Nebari would have the history of this region of the galaxy, most likely. He'd probably have to pretend to have succumbed to their mind-cleansing to access it, but he could manage that. It would be difficult, but doable.

Nebari space was not close by. It took him a weeken and a half, and several times he had to dodge Peacekeeper pursuit -- they always hailed him and demanded that he transmit his identification. At least his ship could run. But he had burned through half his supplies by the time he reached what had, in his timeline, been Nebari space, and he hadn't seen a single non-Sebacean craft anywhere.

Three days in Nebari space revealed no Nebari. Nothing but Sebaceans.

In desperation he headed toward Tormented Space. Surely the spatial anomalies and other navigational hazards of Tormented Space would have prevented unchecked Sebacean expansion. Unfortunately the distance was considerable enough that he would be running out of air and fuel long before getting there. He had to find a place where he could refuel and get repairs, before he reached Tormented Space and the dangers there.

There was an asteroid mining installation he remembered that would be on his route, a place he'd never actually been because the temperature there was so frigid. Scorpius headed for the mining station, transmitted a different pseudonym for his false identification, requested repair and refueling... and before disembarking, he changed out of his cooling suit.

This was dangerous. His Scarran musculature couldn't handle cold much better than an actual Scarran could; cold wouldn't shut down his brain as it would a Scarran's, but becoming paralyzed wouldn't do him much good even if he could think through it. The ship was equipped with standard Sebacean thermal outfits for cold temperatures, including a hooded coat and a scarf he could wrap around his lower face. With makeup, he was able to look like a Sebacean with a skin disorder, not a scaled hybrid, and his eyes were entirely Sebacean. In normal thermal gear, he could pass -- and normal thermal gear should keep him warm enough, given his body's heat generation, that he wouldn't lock up. He might move stiffly, but he could claim to have arthritis.

This time he pulled it off successfully. No one challenged him or threatened him; he was able to use the funds Q had apparently stocked his ship with to buy fuel, food and replenishment air, and get his ship repaired, with no questions asked. But there was no one aboard the installation but Sebaceans, bundled in warm clothing. He saw evidence that perhaps there had been accommodations for aliens at one point -- ceilings high enough to comfortably accommodate very tall beings, passageways that had to have been cut for very short beings -- but no such beings were in evidence any longer.

While he was on the station getting his ship repaired, he purchased history chips and downloaded them, reading rapidly through thousands of cycles of recorded history. And when he was done, when he had the fuel and food and air and his ship was restored, he took off again, put his cooling suit back on, and only then, in space where no one could see... he smashed his fist against the wall of the ship mess, again and again, until his hand bled and the wall warped and twisted under the blows. The heat built inside him alongside the rage, until it overwhelmed him and he collapsed against the wall in a wave of internal heat, his cooling rod popping out of his head.

Someone took the rod out of his head and put a fresh one in. He turned as soon as he had full control of his muscles again, knowing who had to have replaced his cooling rod, given that no one else could suddenly be aboard his ship when he'd been alone moments before. "Q," he said softly, because if he didn't speak softly he would snarl in rage.

"Feel better now? Got your temper tantrum out of your system?"

He wanted to smash the entity's human-looking face in, snap his neck or at the very least his nose and teeth, make him bleed and scream. He also knew that this would either be impossible or pointless; if Q let him do it at all, it wouldn't hurt the creature in the slightest. "Why?" he asked.

"Why would you feel better?"

"No. Why did you do this?"

Q looked taken aback. "Did you, or did you not, specifically ask me to do this?"

Scorpius stood up. "Yes, I asked you to wipe out the Scarrans. But you have turned the Sebaceans into genocidal monsters! Worse than the Scarrans ever were! At least the Scarrans spared races they found useful as slaves; Sebacean history in this reality is a never-ending catalog of pointless genocides, the slaughter of every other species they ever encountered simply for not being Sebacean! That isn't what my people are; it cannot be what my people would be!"

"Of course it's not what your people are, Scorpius. Your people had the Scarrans to deal with. Did you think that had no impact on you?"

"Yes, it had an impact! It made us more violent, more suspicious, more warlike. It necessitated the creation of the Peacekeepers. It didn't prevent this!"

"Ah, yes. Because you were there, thirty thousand cycles ago. Because you know exactly how Sebacean history has gone since the dawn of time!"

"I've read our histories extensively."

"Written centuries after the fact. Influenced by whatever the government at the time wanted to promote. Affected by the biases and perceptions of the historians of the day. Not the truth, Scorpius, and even to the extent that they were true, they couldn't possibly have had any insight into what reality would have been if things had been completely different."

Scorpius shook his head. "No. You've done this. You've twisted this history around to prove some sort of point, or to gain personal amusement at my expense. This is your vision of our history. You've engineered this!"

"Really?" Q said, and his voice was ice cold. "You think I have nothing better to do than make up an alternate reality just to torment you with?" He smiled tightly, cruelly. "From the moment you met me, you didn't believe I have the power I do, you didn't believe I'd do the things I said I would, you didn't believe in my motives or my abilities, you read everything you needed to about me and yet, because I didn't fit your belief as to what an entity like me should be, you didn't believe any of it. I resurrected your mother and your lieutenant in front of you and you still didn't believe I could do what I claimed."

"And you decided to punish me by throwing me into a reality where you'd made the Sebaceans into genocidal maniacs!"

"No, no, Scorpius. That wouldn't have been funny. Bullying you by creating a reality to my personal specifications to mock you would be beneath me... not when it was soooo much easier to let you be the architect of your own destruction. And you know it, deep in your heart. Oh, you want to deny it; you've spent much of your adult life denying it. But tell me... after you were tortured by the Peacekeepers because you wanted to join them, didn't that make you have the tiniest bit of a second thought about your decision?"

"I was a Scarran hybrid. They were within their rights."

"And they were in their rights to ignore you, hold you back, make you fight three times as hard as any full-blooded Sebacean would have to achieve the same success? They were within their rights to overlook your vastly greater intelligence until you metaphorically beat them over the head with it? Sure, after fighting and clawing your way to power for tens of cycles so you could have the ability to try to save them from the hordes lurking on the borders, now you're tolerated, sort of... if you overlook the fact that Sebacean women are routinely killed for having children like you if they aren't good little girls who take care of it themselves by committing suicide. If you overlook the fact that just being too friendly with aliens can sometimes lead Peacekeepers to be declared contaminated and executed. If you overlook the fact that they look down on and despise scientists and technicians precisely because intelligent people are more likely to get along with members of other races than your average PK grunt, so you had to populate your entire wormhole study team with aliens, and half your Peacekeepers shudder with horror every time they take an order from you. But Sebaceans are wonderful, kind, tolerant people!"

"No," Scorpius said helplessly.

"Sticking your fingers in your ears and saying 'la la I can't hear you' isn't going to change reality. Not after you've already asked me to change reality for you."

"Change it back."

"You already asked that."

"You said no."

"And you think my answer's going to be different now?"

"Please. You can't -- this is not who we are. This isn't what we should be. If the Scarrans were necessary to make the Sebacean people into a force for order, people who would protect alien races rather than wipe them out, then the Scarrans need to be brought back."

"No, they don't. This universe works just fine. Admittedly, there's a little less diversity in this part of the universe than there used to be, but who's counting?"

"I am!"

"Not after the reality becomes fully realized. Then even you won't remember the way it used to be." Q's smile was cold and cruel.

"Please. Please... I -- I beg of you. I... I supported the Sebaceans over the Scarrans from the beginning because the Scarrans are genocidal and the Sebaceans are not. This... cannot be."

"And yet you had no problem with the concept of committing genocide on the Scarrans. How many trillions of Scarrans ceased to be when this reality was foregrounded, Scorpius? Thirty thousand cycles' worth of Scarrans is a whole lot of Scarrans, don't you think?"

"Given the choice between painless nonexistence for all of them throughout history, to save the lives of all they killed, and their destruction of billions of currently existing Sebaceans, a slaughter that will come with no end of pain and fear... I thought I was making the right choice. And yes, I'm willing to commit genocide on a genocidal species. I am what I am, and I'm half Scarran. I have their violence, their cruelty, as part of my makeup. That doesn't mean the Sebaceans would do what I would do."

"No, because you're smarter than approximately 99% of them. They're not a particularly cruel people -- they just don't want aliens to infect or contaminate them. They don't want to enslave and dominate because it's fun; they want to do it to protect themselves. And if there hadn't been Scarrans to protect themselves from, it would have been everyone else in the universe they'd have wanted to protect themselves from, and no one else could have stood up to the Sebaceans. Despite their physical weakness, despite their vulnerability to heat, despite breeding slower than the Scarrans or the Hynerians, Sebaceans have one talent that most of the other species in your part of the galaxy lacks... they're utterly single-minded. Well, two talents. They're really, really good at stabbing friends in the back. Without a species that's bigger, stronger, has a weapon tailored to destroy them in particular, breeds faster, and has psychic abilities... admittedly an overall much dumber species, but still... to hold them in check, the Sebaceans and their paranoia would have overrun your home turf thousands of cycles ago, and wiped everyone out. Because Sebaceans are capable of cooperative behavior to a degree that no Scarran can match, because they look harmless and can easily make friends and lull other species into complacency before bringing the hammer down, because they can focus utterly and obsessively on their goals... Yes, Scorpy, you do come by your obsession with revenge honestly. You're very, very Sebacean that way. I'm sure that cheers you up no end."

Scorpius stared into nothing as Q lectured him. Everything the entity said was true. He couldn't bear to believe it, that if not for the enemies he had spent his life hating, those who had made and discarded him, who had given him tough love and adequate care and then snatched it away in favor of endless abuse and degradation... no, the Sebaceans couldn't be monsters too. He had to have a side he could be proud of. He had to have ancestors whose side he could support. He had to have someone he could fit in with. If they were both monsters...

His Sebaceans weren't monsters. Rylani Dellos had never committed genocide. Captain Molayne had never slaughtered an entire species just for being alien. Crais might have declared Sun irreversibly contaminated because she'd supported the specific alien that killed his brother, but then he'd run off and bonded with a Leviathan hybrid. Braca had been loyal and supportive despite Scorpius' half-alien ancestry. His Sebaceans still deserved his loyalty. But these weren't his Sebaceans. Without the Scarrans, they'd become something twisted and monstrous, something far worse than even the Scarrans had been. "You have to put it back," he said, desperately. "Please."

"You know, I don't. I really don't have to do anything."

Scorpius snapped. Rage overwhelmed him and he grabbed the entity, shoving him up against the wall, slamming his head into the bulkhead. A Scarran snarl escaped him. "Fix it!"

"Or what?" Q smirked at him, looking completely unconcerned with Scorpius' attack, and lifted a single finger. He made a flicking motion, and Scorpius was flung across the room, slamming into the bulkhead on the far side. Q vanished, and reappeared standing over Scorpius, who had fallen to the floor as he crashed into the wall. "This isn't my problem, Scorpius. You asked for this. I gave you what you wanted; the fact that you decided you didn't want it after you'd gotten it is hardly my fault. You could have thought this through; if you hadn't gone through your entire life with blinders on as to exactly how much your precious Peacekeepers hate you for existing, you might have been able to figure out that letting Sebaceans have free reign of the galaxy with no power that can check them available anywhere was a bad idea. But no. You're a very smart man who's spent much of his life being very, very stupid about this particular issue, and while stupidity from stupid beings is the bane of my existence, I can't really hold it against them. Whereas stupidity from beings who could be intelligent enough not to make such a mistake... oh, that offends me deeply. You created this situation, Scorpius; you hold all the responsibility here. All I did was bring the reality you wanted to the foreground. You're the one who's making it real." He stepped back. "But I'd better stop distracting you. The Peacekeepers are on your tail again. Someone on that mining station got a wanted beacon from the Peacekeepers, matched it up to the specs for your ship, and now they're closing in on you again. You'll have to go do something about that." He vanished, and stayed gone this time.

Scorpius stood up. He noted with detachment that he was shaking. Odd. That didn't usually happen unless he was overheating.

The Peacekeepers were closing in on his craft, but given the speed of the engine Q had given him, he could easily get away. Go to maximum hetch and flee into Tormented Space, where it was doubtful they'd follow him. He could be there in a handful of weekens. There might be aliens there, beings who had survived the Peacekeeper genocides by hiding amongst the spatial anomalies of Tormented Space. And sooner or later, he would lose his memory of the way things should have been, the way they had been before he'd asked Q to change reality, and this reality would overwrite the one he knew, and quadrillions of people who had lived before would die. But neither he nor anyone else would ever know. Only Q, who didn't care.

The Scarrans had deserved to be wiped out. But the Sebaceans he had given his loyalty to were gone, destroyed by his actions as surely as he'd destroyed the Scarrans, to become greater monsters than the Scarrans had ever been. And everyone else, every species he'd ever encountered and all the ones he hadn't, the Diagnosans and the Luxans and the Hynerians and Natira's people whoever they were and the Kalish and the Nebari and the Mitoki and the Pilots and the Sevarin and everyone, all of them, gone.

"Unidentified craft, transmit identity and proof of Sebacean DNA!"

"...You will not cease to exist in that reality because you will be its omphalos; it cannot exist without you, so it will make a place for you. And if you don't die before the shift happens and the unrealized turns real, it will overwrite the reality you know..."

Q was right. This was Scorpius' responsibility, and if the entity had been telling the truth all along, it was in Scorpius' power to fix the situation. What he had to do to restore reality the way it should be, to bring the Scarrans back and make the Sebaceans into the Peacekeepers he remembered and save the lives of every alien being these monstrous versions of his Sebaceans had taken, was very simple. And in terms of the effort required from him, very easy.

He sat at the controls, hands clasped in front of him to try to keep them from shaking, as the Peacekeepers hailed him a second time. He didn't engage hetch, didn't transmit false identification, didn't try to bluff or flee. He just sat there, head bowed, breathing deeply.

Oddly, his temperature wasn't rising. Normally fear did that as easily as anger did. But then he'd never before faced death with the grim certainty that not only would he not survive, but he shouldn't survive. He had risked his life to achieve his objectives before, but direct suicide had never been a path he'd chosen before. Which made sense, of course, because normally a being would only choose to die to accomplish his goals once. People didn't usually survive killing themselves for a cause. Scorpius laughed quietly at the absurdity of his own thoughts.

When he'd thought that he would cease to exist if he wiped out the Scarrans, and he'd believed it was the right thing to do anyway, he'd been prepared to die. How could he do any less to undo the terrible mistake he'd made, in making that choice?

"If you do not respond in five microts, we will fire. Five... four... three..."

Scorpius looked up at the viewscreen. He would not look away from his fate. "Undo all that you are," he whispered. "Let all be as it was, as it should be."

"Two... one."

Even knowing they could not hear him, he said softly, "Do it."

The world went white and very, very hot.

And he was lying on his bed, in his quarters aboard Voyager.

Shocked, Scorpius sat up. He was... alive? And somewhere in the room, someone was applauding.

"Congratulations," Q said, from where he stood against the wall. "You did figure it out. I hoped you might."

"What was the point of any of this?" Scorpius asked. He tried to make his voice calm, reasoned, keep the Scarran rage out of it. But that wasn't actually what he needed to guard against. His voice cracked as if he were dangerously close to weeping. Scarrans had no tear ducts, and Scorpius' Sebacean tear ducts didn't appear to be influenced by his emotions the way a full Sebacean's would have been -- no matter what he felt, his eyes could not fill with tears any more than the environment required. But his breathing could grow ragged and his voice could crack with emotion, like any other Sebacean's.

"I told you. You're unique, and you interest me. So I'm studying you." His eyes swept over Scorpius as if he really were conducting some sort of examination. "And you passed my first test. You should feel honored. Very few beings ever do."

"This is what you are, isn't it?" Scorpius said softly. "All that with asking for Captain Janeway's help, and your war, and your child, and attempting to seduce her... all the things in Voyager's logs of how you've acted here, specifically... that part is the put-on. Some sort of act, for some incomprehensible reason of your own. What you've just done to me... that's truly what you're like. I should have known; the records even said that you used to do this sort of thing, but I considered Voyager's more recent experience more valid than the records of people I have never met, sometime in the past. That was my mistake."

"No. Your mistake is trying to put me in a box, Scorpius." Q approached him, eyes dark and intent. "I'm an unimaginably powerful being, vastly more advanced than you, and vastly more intelligent. But I'm not a god. I'm not a supernatural being who exists solely to express some truth about you, to represent some facet of yourselves to yourselves. I'm a sentient being, with a mind and motives of my own, not a personification of some aspect of your reality. And if I choose to have friends who are inferior, lowly mortals, I can do that. It won't change how I interact with other mortals, any more than you having a pet vatik would keep you from killing other members of its species if they were vermin infesting your ship." He shook his head. "Humanity passed my tests, and earned my respect. You... haven't. Yet. Though you're doing a good job so far! Pass the next few and maybe you and I could be buddies someday, just like me and Janeway."

"I doubt it," Scorpius said coldly.

"Oh, you never know. Some of my best buds would have said the same thing, a few years ago." Q grinned. "But I suppose it all depends on if you can pass the next test, now doesn't it?"

"And when will that be?"

Q slapped himself in the forehead. "Oh, come on, Scorpy! Don't you know it's no fun if it's not a surprise? Where's your sense of adventure?" He looked into Scorpius' eyes and smiled. "When I'm feeling bored, when I'm overworked at home and stressed out and looking to let off some steam, when my curiosity gets the better of me and I just have to find out what you'll do next... I'll be back."

And he was gone.

Scorpius sat back down on the bed. The chronometer showed the same time it had been when he'd arrived at his quarters the first time. He wondered, for a moment, if he should tell Janeway or Seven what he'd just experienced, and decided not to. Whether or not Q really considered Captain Janeway a friend, as he claimed, or not, it was very doubtful that Janeway could intercede with Q and get him to leave Scorpius alone in the future, and if she couldn't do that there wasn't much point to telling her about any of it.

But he'd study the entity's history with these humans more carefully. And he'd be ready, the next time.