Author's Notes: This is part of my series "West", stories exploring Janeway's fate after what happened to her in the bookverse. It's actually envisioned as the second story; Strange New Worlds is currently the first, although it's a placeholder and I intend to expand it. Also, while it probably goes without saying I feel the need to say it: I'm very grateful to my beta, Rocky, for her assistance with this work, but any mistakes are my own and anything you don't like about the story is my fault. :-)

Disclaimer: This story is set in the Pocket Books universe; it takes place after "Before Dishonor" by Peter David, and draws on events from "String Theory" (a trilogy by Jeffrey Lang, Kirsten Beyer and Heather Jarman), "Star Trek: Destiny" (a trilogy by David Mack) and "Full Circle", a novel by Kirsten Beyer. There's also a throwaway reference to "Q-Squared" by Peter David, although most of that novel was jossed by Voyager canon, and another to the events of the Excalibur series by Peter David, and specifically to the concept behind the short story "Q'uandary" by Terri Osborne in "No Limits", the Excalibur anthology, although I do not consider the exact details of that short story binding on my fictional universe. Bookverse stories or novels that I have not specifically mentioned may or may not be "canon" for this universe; since books contradict each other and get jossed by canon, I pick and choose what parts of the bookverse to treat as "canon". Of course, as always, this story is based on "Star Trek: Voyager", which is owned by Paramount Pictures. All characters are created by Paramount, except q, created by Heather Jarman, and Queria, q-ling and the asshole Q, all created by me.

Warnings, spoilers, pairings: This is not a pairing-fic, but it's not entirely gen either; there are background and/or flashback pairings of Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Paris, Janeway/Q, Picard/Q, Janeway/Picard, Q/"Lady Q", "Lady Q"/original female Q, Harry Kim/q (young female Q created by Heather Jarman in "String Theory"), and Q Jr unsuccessfully hitting on q. There is non-explicit het sex in flashbacks, including sex between giant sentient salamanders. There is also canonical character death, multiple times. Consider all the books named in my disclaimer to be spoilered except "Full Circle" and "Q'uandrary".

they flutter behind you, your possible pasts
some bright-eyed and crazy, some frightened and lost
a warning to anyone still in command
of their possible future, to take care...
--Pink Floyd, "Your Possible Pasts"

Being dead wasn't boring, Janeway had found, but it was frustrating and lonely.

She didn't know precisely how long it had been since she'd died -- assimilated by the Borg, made into their Queen, and restored to herself with Seven's help for just long enough to help Seven destroy the cube she was on, resulting in her physical death. A Q -- not the one Janeway and humanity in general were most familiar with, but the one who'd presented herself as that one's jealous lover, the first time Janeway had met her -- had warned her, in a maddeningly vague way, against going to the Borg cube to study it after Picard and his crew had killed the previous Queen. Of course Janeway hadn't followed the warning -- there had been no details beyond "you'll die if you go there", and quite aside from the ethics of taking warnings from semi-omnipotent aliens in the first place, she hadn't trusted the Q, who she'd referred to in her own mind as Lady Q to distinguish her from her more famous companion. And when she'd been assimilated, Lady Q had shown up to say "I told you so", and when she'd died, Lady Q had appeared to her and offered her... something. An extension of existence, a new form of life. She had explicitly not offered Janeway resurrection, but implied that Janeway had some sort of great destiny ahead of her as something new, and said that she couldn't restore Janeway's human life because destiny didn't move backward, and mortals don't return from the dead.

Janeway had pointed out that the famous Ambassador Spock had managed to return from the dead. Lady Q had dismissed the idea.

But any kind of existence was better than nothingness, and where there was life, or unlife, or whatever this was, there was hope. So Janeway had taken her up on it, and had ended up in the Q Continuum, viewing it through the lens of metaphor as she had the last few times she'd been here. The metaphor for "ordinary existence" in the Continuum turned out to be surprisingly mundane. She had a house, though it varied as to whether the house was her quarters on Voyager or her apartment at Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco or her mother's house in Indiana, where she'd grown up. When she traveled the Continuum with Lady Q or her son, who'd proven very eager to show his Aunt Kathy around his home, the spaces between "houses" looked like 21st century California freeways or cobblestoned Main Streets or winding country roads past stately manors or busy city thoroughfares, and there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to exactly what representation she was going to see at any given time. The bottomless cups of coffee Lady Q had promised her before she'd come here were available from her house's "replicator", as was any other foodstuff she could think of, but she never felt hungry or thirsty or sleepy, and she never felt full or jittery or over-caffeinated; she could eat or drink anything she wanted, for the taste, and never fill up on it, but she never needed food or drink. And she didn't need to shower or use sanitary facilities of any kind. And she didn't need, and hadn't been able, to sleep.

As an alien world to explore, the Continuum was fascinating, and she had enjoyed traveling around it and meeting various other Q. She'd met Lady Q's new mate, a Q who had apparently had dealings of her own with humanity and had asked to be called Queria, and their new baby, an energetic little girl who alternately manifested as an infant and a toddler, and she'd ended up playing with the baby who she called q-ling -- because her parents were turning a blind eye toward the child doing things like kidnapping hapless Romulan Commanders to be her "dolly", and it was obvious someone had to teach the poor thing how to respect mortals, because her parents clearly weren't going to. She'd met a Q who referred to herself with a lowercase, as q, who seemed to be some sort of perpetual college student and had had mysterious dealings with Tom Paris and Harry Kim that they'd never told Janeway about. She'd met Amanda Rogers, the Q who had been born in human form. And there had been several others she'd been introduced to as well.

The one being she hadn't seen that she had expected to see was Q, himself. Since she came to the Continuum, he had apparently been refusing to answer anyone's attempts to communicate with him. The other Q didn't appear to think this was anything unusual, but she was surprised at how... rejected she felt about it. Lady Q had claimed her primary motive for saving Janeway's life had been Q's interest in her, and yet, Q hadn't even shown up to say hello. Not that she particularly wanted to deal with the annoying entity, but she was here on his home turf now; the least he could have done was to acknowledge her presence.

Most of the time, the Q left her to her own devices, in her lonely "home". At first, she'd used the resources of the Continuum to look in on the people she'd left behind. She'd seen Chakotay's devastation when she hadn't made it to their anniversary rendezvous, and Mark had come in her place and told him the news. She'd seen her mother crumple up in her grief, seen her sister weep, seen B'Elanna howl for her. She'd seen Tom and Harry and Tuvok and the Doctor all grieve for her in their separate ways, and Seven retreat into her shell, colder and more inhuman than ever now that the person who had given her back her humanity had died at what Seven believed was Seven's own hand. And she couldn't communicate with any of them.

It made her want to scream, want to beat her head, or preferably Lady Q's, against the wall. She was alive, at least in some sense, but she had no way to tell any of the people she loved. And she had seen the Borg preparing to mass against the Federation in a wave of genocidal fury, and she couldn't warn them... and hadn't known what she'd tell them if she could, because she hadn't honestly known what they could do to stop the Borg. The trick that she and Seven had used would take out one cube, at best, if the Borg hadn't already adapted to it, which they probably had.

In the end, she watched as the Federation defeated the Borg by sheer luck, making contact with the beings who had accidentally created the Borg and persuading them to help -- which had resulted in the Borg being absorbed into a gestalt with pacifistic highly advanced aliens who had come much closer to the Borg ideal of perfection than the Borg themselves had managed thus far, the individual drones freed of mindless conformity and allowed to return to their separate identities, but still part of a communal whole. After that Janeway had stopped watching her world so much. The sense of urgency she felt, the desparate need to see how the conflict with the Borg turned out, had been fulfilled... and now all there was to do was to see how her loved ones reacted to her loss, and how they lived on without her, and it was just too damn depressing and isolating. So now she spent her time exploring the universe from the safety of her living room, using the resources of the Continuum -- which manifested to her as a computer she could query, just like the ones at home except with vastly more knowledge available in its databanks, and rather more of a personality -- to see and learn about places that no human had never been.

Right now, she was studying one of the Milky Way's distant neighbor galaxies, the Greater Magellanic Cloud.

There were no humanoids anywhere in the Greater Magellanic Cloud. Janeway had always known that the prevalence of humanoids in the Milky Way galaxy was largely an artifact of some species that had seeded the worlds with life like themselves, or perhaps with some sort of genomic template to guide evolution to create life like themselves, but it was amazing to actually see what a galaxy without that seeding looked like. The types of life in the Greater Magellanic Cloud were far more varied than what she was used to in the Milky Way -- there were methane-breathing bags of gas and plasmoid sun-dwellers and more creatures of crystal or silicon than she had imagined could exist. As she surveyed world after world of incomprehensibly alien life on the viewscreen in her living room, with text annotations that provided additional information popping in and out all over the images as she thought questions about what she was seeing, Janeway's heart hurt with a bittersweet mixture of joy and pain. Here she was with access to probably the universe's most comprehensive database of everything, able to explore strange new worlds and learn anything she had the time and desire to find out from the comfort of her living room... and she had no one to share it with and no way to visit any of those worlds in person.

She was imprisoned in a scientist's paradise, but it was still a prison. So far none of her attempts to send a message home, or persuade a Q to do it for her, had worked -- most of the ones she'd met had been friendly enough, but they'd all been quite clear on the concept that she was dead in her home universe, and not permitted to transmit information out of the Q Continuum, or leave it. But she hadn't given up hope yet. Somehow, someday, she'd find a way to let her loved ones know that she still existed, or find a way to return to them.

The chime of an incoming call, sounding exactly like a door chime on Voyager, rang out. Startled, Janeway looked away from the giant viewscreen in front of her. "Who--?"

"Hey, Kathy, I know you're in there. Come on over, I've got a present for you."

Janeway was on her feet in an instant. "Q!" She had half expected him to teleport into her living room, but no, that was only his voice, on what her mind insisted on perceiving as a Starfleet-like comm system even though she was well aware that it was probably a telepathic transmission or something. "Where have you been? I've been trying to contact you for--" The habit of trying to count time in units like weeks and days hadn't died in her yet, even though there was no way whatsoever to mark time in the Continuum. "--ever since I got here. All I or any of your friends have been able to get is your answering message."

"Yeah, I know. I'm done with my project. So why don't you come over? I'll show it to you."

Why, exactly, had she wanted to see him anyway? "Perhaps you'd forgotten this, but I'm human, Q. I can't make my way around the Continuum without help." It wasn't that she couldn't leave, it was that she couldn't find her way around. The Continuum looked different every time she saw it, and she couldn't form a mental map of the place because the places she wanted to go seemed to change their spatial relation to each other at random, as if they moved around within the Continuum.

"Oh, just go out your side door. You'll get here."

"You can't come to me?"

"I could, but I come to you all the time. You've never come to my place. So here you are in the Continuum, so the least you could do is come visit me now that you can. Don't put all the social obligation on me."

She wanted to wring his neck, but that was hardly a new feeling when dealing with Q, and it wasn't as if she had enough friends in the Continuum that she could alienate what could very likely be her most powerful champion simply because he was an annoying asshole. Most of the Q ignored her completely; the handful that were willing to talk to her were nice enough -- well, except for Lady Q, who seemed to take pride in her own insufferable arrogance -- but only Junior acted as if she was anything more than a mildly amusing guest to be polite to for a time, and Junior was a child and had no influence on the rest of the Q. Oh, and q-ling doted on her, but q-ling was a baby and had even less influence than her older half brother. She hadn't seen Q since she'd come to the Continuum, a fact she'd found deeply unnerving given that, next to his son, he was the Q she knew best, and in theory Lady Q had brought her here because of his interest in her, which made it almost frightening that he'd been holed up someplace refusing to see her. The only thing that had made her feel better about it was the fact that apparently he'd been refusing to see everyone. If he wanted to see her now, well, she was still afraid she might need him here. So she sighed, and said, "Fine, I'll go out my side door. How will I find you after that?"

"I think you'll find it surprisingly obvious."

So she went out of the living room, which looked like her ready room on Voyager except with a large viewscreen, the size of the one on the bridge, and her mother's comfy old sofa in front of it, and over to the kitchen, which was an exact replica of the tiny kitchen from her apartment in San Francisco, except that it had a side door which looked just like the side door from her mother's house in Indiana. Today. Tomorrow it might all look different. If "tomorrow" even made sense in a place where she never slept and there was no day or night. Janeway opened the side door and stepped through it.

Usually when she went through any of the doors she ended up in a place that was, at least, recognizably outdoors. A small-town main street, a quiet suburban boulevard, a jungle wilderness, a farm, a back yard, a snowy hill, something like that. This time, she ended up in what looked like a brightly lit machine shop, with all sorts of equipment she had no hope of recognizing. She passed a table that had what looked like a terrarium on it, with a rolling green field punctuated by jagged tall rocks on which roamed particularly vicious-looking miniature doglike animals, the size of tiny children's toys, and a handful of golden-skinned aliens the size of her thumb trying to fight off the creatures with glowing crystalline weapons. On another table there was a bin with bits of glowing string tossed in it. She reached out for one of them.

"Ah-ah, don't touch," Q said, smacking her hand away as if she were a toddler.

He hadn't been behind her a moment ago. Janeway turned to face him. "What are they?"


"Yes, I can see that, but--"

"No, you don't get it. They're strings."

"Oh." She nodded in sudden comprehension. "As in, string theory?"


"Why are the fundamental building blocks of matter and energy lying around in a box on a table in..." she looked around. "What is this place, anyway?"

"It's my workroom, and I keep 'em around because you never know when they'll come in handy."

That was remarkably uninformative, but she really didn't expect much better from Q. "You said you had something to show me? An explanation for why you've been practically hiding ever since I got to the Continuum?"

"I'm touched you were actually looking for me. Miss me, Kathy?"

Janeway refused to rise to the bait. "I'm here in your home dimension, presumably at your behest, and yet you didn't seem to have any interest in helping me settle in. If you were completely uninterested in me, why would you have had Lady Q save me?"

"Does she know you call her that?"

"Who? Lady Q?"

Q snickered. "I assure you, dear captain... or it's admiral now, isn't it? Q is not by any stretch of the imagination a lady."

"I have to call her something. Everyone here is named Q. It's hopelessly confusing if I don't give some of you different names."

"And yet you have no problem knowing nineteen separate humans named Thomas."

"I only know two of them well, and they have last names if I need to distinguish them. I can't very well be calling you folks Q Smith and Q Jones."

Q laughed. "No, I admit that would be utterly ridiculous. But do me a favor, don't call her Lady Q to her face. I'll never hear the end of it if you do."

They approached the center of the workroom, where there were multiple computer workstations, and a small blue planet hanging in mid-air above one of them. "Why am I seeing computer workstations in here, Q? What could you possibly be doing that would translate into a metaphor of workstations?"

"Running simulations. I have six different model universes going. Don't bang your head on Sevorin Nine."

Janeway looked at the planet. "Is that really a planet, or just a representation of one?"

"It's really a planet. Don't touch it."

"I'm surprised that the ninth planet in a solar system could possibly look so much like Earth."

"Binary system."

"Or it was, until you removed it from its solar system and brought it to the Continuum?"

"Oh, it's still there. But it's also still here. I'm not done making the thing yet. There are explorers heading toward the Sevorin system to try to colonize it, and I want to have a really nifty surprise for them."

"Rather like the surprise you have back in that terrarium?" She motioned behind them.

"Oh, those guys. The ones fighting the giant caninoids?"

"Yes. Those."

"Yeah, maybe someday they'll figure out that treating every alien species as if it were an animal, and exterminating all the animal species they encounter, is not such a good idea. The caninoids haven't got opposable thumbs, but aside from not being tool users they're very smart. Well, for mortals, anyway. The Methidar could have gotten a lot farther if they'd tried to play nice with the caninoids, but if they'd done that I guess they wouldn't be Methidar."

"I suppose it's too much to ask that you don't transport sentient beings into terrariums in your workroom to be devoured by sentient wild dogs because they don't understand how to make friends with other species."

"You're right, it's absolutely too much to ask. I don't criticize your hobbies. And since yours have a distressing tendency to kill you, I think I have a lot more room to talk than you do." He walked around the computers and picked up a glowing ball from a table. "Here."

"Here? Here what?"

"Here it is. It's taken me quite some time to put this together for you, so I hope you appreciate it. I don't usually put a lot of work into making people presents, you know."

"Why would you make me a present?"

Q shrugged. "Perhaps I feel guilty about my role in your death."

"You didn't have a role in my death. You weren't there."

"Exactly!" Q said. "I told Q, I wasn't going to get involved. I wasn't going to watch, I wasn't going to try to persuade you, I wasn't going to fruitlessly entangle myself with your impending demise. I'm done with trying to talk Kathryn Janeways out of rushing headlong into oblivion. And, of course, she went to do it instead for some incomprehensible reason, and you refused to listen to her, and you died. And I can't help but think, if I'd been there, maybe I could have gotten through to you. You had no good reason to trust her, but maybe you'd actually have listened to me. ...Of course I know better, but I can't quite overcome feeling just a bit remorseful over the fact that I refused to get involved at all and now you're dead."

"I thought Lady Q had come to get me because you wanted me here," Janeway said carefully.

"I'm omnipotent, Kathy. Why would I need to work through a proxy? If I wanted to get you, I'd have gotten you myself. What made you think Q was doing it for my benefit, anyhow?"

"She said... that she didn't care what happened to me, but that you did, and that meant that she had to care."

Q snorted. "Thus implying that she cares what I care about. Which would contradict oh, pretty much everything she's said to me for the last five thousand years, but who's counting?"

She thought of what Lady Q had said. "What Q says and what Q feels are two entirely different things, and you never heard me say that." It had sounded much less antagonistic, much more loving than the relationship Q had painted when he'd brought Junior to Voyager as a teen. Even when Lady Q had revealed that she had a baby with another Q, she had still made it sound as if she genuinely cared about Q. Now Janeway was completely confused. "I take it the two of you are not in fact together," she said dryly.

"What was your first clue?"

"The fact that she'd had a baby with a different Q was a bit of a tipoff."

Q rolled his eyes. "Oh, that doesn't mean anything. Queria's been jonesing for a baby for millennia; I'm not surprised she wanted to have the second one ever, and I'm not surprised she asked a Q with experience to co-parent, and I most certainly was not going to do it. No, it's really got much more to do with her viciousness when she told Junior that she was disowning him and disavowing both of us because I'd ruined him." He shook his head. "Why are we talking about her anyway? This isn't a present for her." Q held it out to her. "Don't you want to open it?"

There were images in the ball, shifting constantly. She saw Harry Kim with graying hair, Voyager badly damaged and in disarray, aliens she had never met, Chakotay weeping over Seven's blackened body, B'Elanna's body lying in sickbay, the Borg Queen... "What is it?" she asked.

"Your possible pasts," Q said, his tone uncharacteristically somber.

"My... possible pasts? What does that mean?"

"You're familiar with quantum realities, of course."

It wasn't a question. "Of course," she said. "Every time we make a choice, it's supposed to create an alternate timeline, a branch in quantum reality."

"Right," Q said. "But, of course, there's another way to make an alternate timeline. And you, personally, did it many, many times while you were in the Delta Quadrant."

"An alternate timeline? I know of ways to change the timeline..."

"No, you don't. You know of a way to create an alternate timeline; you just think it changes the timeline. Pretty much every time you've traveled in time, it hasn't actually changed the timeline you originated from; it just spins off a new timeline, but since you remain in the new one and can never return to the old one, you never know."

"That makes no sense. If that were true, every time someone travels in time they'd disappear, forever."

"You'd prefer to believe that reality is constantly shifting around you and you have no control over it? Because if you've been involved in as many temporal incursions as you have, imagine how many occur all over Starfleet. Now multiply that by every sentient race in the galaxy."

"So it's not possible to change the past? All you can do is create a new timeline?"

"Pretty much, yes. There are ways to do it, but not the way you do, blundering helplessly through time like blind infants crawling in a field of broken glass and landmines. You have to know what you're doing and you have to have a precise level of control over time itself. So every time you, or any member of your crew, has gone back in time to try to change things, all you've done is to spin off a new timeline. There might have been one or two exceptions here and there, but for the most part, it's all you're capable of."

"And the alternate admiral Janeway? The one from the future?" Janeway asked. "Was she one of the exceptions?" Q shook his head. "So it was all for nothing, then. She came back, warned us, and died to change the past... but that time still exists. She didn't change anything." She was surprised at how depressing that thought was.

"She knew that before she left," Q said.

Startled, Janeway looked up at him. "She did?"

Q looked out into the open space of his workroom, his expression oddly melancholy. "I told her myself. With words of one syllable. And pretty pictures. I'm quite certain she got the concept." He turned back to Janeway. "Really, Kathy, did you honestly believe you were selfish enough to wipe out twenty-six years of history, erase children who would thus never be born, just to get home faster? I know your little trained minions were willing to wipe out fifteen years to save you, but that was to save your entire ship and they'd all had pretty miserable lives, aside from Chakotay's finally getting a girlfriend. And that was a Maquis and Mr. Hey, Reality's Not Stable Anyway Kim. But you! You're such a stickler for the rules. Did you really think you'd break the Temporal Prime Directive, erase Samantha Wildman's little granddaughter and every other child conceived in those twenty-six years, just because Chakotay was miserable before he died, Tuvok became demented and Seven died?"

"Then why did she do it? Why sacrifice herself to simply create a new timeline, when she couldn't actually affect any of her own past?"

Q's expression grew dark. "She had her reasons," he said sourly. More brightly he added, "And you can find out what they were, if you want. All you have to do is take my gift."

"Is that... the other Admiral Janeway's memories?" A girl who had to be Miral Paris, except she was six or seven, was showing off a crayon drawing of a stick figure with a red shirt, black pants and crayon-red hair.

"Some of them are, yes." Q stood in front of her, looking intently down into her eyes. "These are all your possible pasts, Kathy. Your career in the Delta Quadrant was marked by a virtually endless series of temporal loops, repeated incursions, quantum duplications, near-exact copies, and all sorts of other events that created iterations of you who collected memories that you did not inherit. Remember the time you and Paris were investigating a planet that blew itself up, and you found yourself transported back a day before the destruction and managed to stop the disaster?"

Janeway frowned. "No."

"Of course you don't! Because in your timeline it never happened. You changed it. How about the time you fought the Krenim maniac with the timeship?"


"Exactly. Then there was the time you blew up your ship to prevent being captured by the Viidians and allow your other ship to get away. You remember that, right?"

"I remember that we had decided her ship would be the one to survive, because it was in much better shape... and then the Viidians invaded her ship, but couldn't detect ours. So she sent us Harry and Naomi, to replace the ones we'd lost, and self-destructed her Voyager."

"She's in here. How about the bio-mimetic copy of you who died trying to make her way back to Earth?"

"I don't know anything about that."

"Well, now you can. Every copy of you, every temporal iteration, every you who got her fool self killed doing something anyone with common sense would have known better than to do because you were so damn obsessed with getting home... you can experience all of their memories. They won't feel like your own, of course. They'll seem like... hmm... extremely realistic dreams, perhaps. Things that happened to you, that you can remember happening to you, but you'll be able to feel that they didn't actually affect the course of your life. You won't get confused and start thinking that Tuvok's going senile or something; the memories of your own timeline will still be marked to you as more important, more relevant as the Borg would say. But you'll know all the things that could have happened to you except that you or someone else traveled in time to stop them... or, viewed from another perspective, you'll know everything you did where you lost the memories because you changed the timestream."

"They don't sound like pleasant memories."

"They aren't. You die in the vast majority of them."

"I die in my own, real memories, too."

"Well, then you're used to it."

She looked up at him. "This is a gift? No strings attached? I'm not going to come back later and find out this was some sort of horrible test and I failed because I trusted you to actually give me a present and it was some kind of trap instead?"

He smiled wryly. "I don't test you, Kathy. Picard's the Exemplar of Humanity and I don't test humanity anymore anyway. It's exactly what I said it is. Your memories, for good and for ill. And if you regret taking them, I can always take them back."

"Then I accept." She reached out, and he placed the ball in her hands. She looked down into it, watching from the perspective of her own eyes as Tom Paris, and presumably she, had dealings with some alien race she didn't recognize. "Thank you, Q. How does it work?"

"Put your face against it, and the memories will melt into you. Then you'll be able to remember them at your leisure. They might jump around a bit at first, but you'll get the hang of it."

Janeway looked into the ball. "How long are they? I know the admiral's memories must cover 26 years, but do any of the other sets have so much?"

"No, that's the longest one. Most of the others are no longer than a year or two, some of them merely a day or a few hours."

"Then can you separate out that set of memories? I want them -- eventually -- but twenty-six years is more than half my life. That's a lot to absorb at once."

"Tell you what." Q took back the ball and started fiddling with it, poking something that looked like a screwdriver deep into it. "I'm fixing it so that each time you touch it to your head, you'll get a different set of memories, in what passes for sequential order when you're talking about time loops. So the first one will be the first temporal event you encountered in the Delta Quadrant, and so on, until you get to the last, and that will be Admiral Janeway... well, the other Admiral Janeway."

"That sounds good. Thanks." She took the ball back from him. It was warm, and a little bit tingly. "Have you really been working on this the whole time since I came to the Continuum?"

"Well, you have to understand that from my perspective, with all the alternate timelines I can access, it's difficult to tell the difference between a timeline you created by making a different choice and a timeline someone created with a temporal incursion. So yes, it took me quite a bit of effort to isolate these, specifically. These are only the ones that loop back into the timeline you exist in -- or in the case of the duplicates, the ones that happened in your timeline."

She was at a loss for words. "...Thank you." Q had attempted to give her presents before -- bribes like returning to Earth, flowers, puppies -- and had once allowed Junior to give her information that would shave time off her journey. But he'd never come up with anything this thoughtful before, or anything that seemed like it had cost him any effort at all. It made her nervous, and she thought of pointing out that this did not establish any sort of romantic relationship between them, but by now she knew enough other Q that if he got any inappropriate ideas, she could go to one of his friends and family to intercede on her behalf. "This is very kind of you."

"You're welcome," he said. "Door's that way."

"What, you're not going to walk me to the door?"

The moment the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. There were people she could be teasing, almost flirtatious with, but Q wasn't one of them -- or at least hadn't been in the past. When he'd come to her for help with Junior, he'd shown no sign of romantic interest in her at all, to the point where he'd teleported into her bathtub while she was bathing, naked, and had shown every sign of not even noticing her nudity. In fact, as much of a relief as it had been that he hadn't taken the opportunity to hit on her, she'd also found it oddly disappointing, almost unintentionally insulting, that he had acted as if she were asexual, although she'd pointed out to herself that really it was more that he was acting like he was asexual, which he probably was. How compatible could a species that reproduced by touching their fingertips together actually be with humans? Maybe Q had only had sexual desires until he had offspring. Or maybe he'd never had them at all and he'd been faking it because he'd wanted a child and thought he had to be with a human to get one. He'd certainly never really seemed all that interested in her, despite the things he'd said. Humans who were aroused had dilated pupils, faster heartbeats, sweatier palms -- all things that Q's human form hadn't had on the occasions when he'd tried to seduce her.

"If you're going to play helpless Southern belle, I'm going to put you back in that dress I had you wearing during the war," Q said, amused.

"I'm not a Southern belle. I'm a Hoosier. We fought for the Union, you know."

"Of course I know. Why would I have cast myself as Union if you'd really been a Southerner? Realistically, we were the rebels. Though we were fighting for freedom, not the right to enslave others."

"Why didn't you pick the Revolutionary War, then?"

Q shrugged. "I liked the costumes better. Come on, I've got stuff to do. I'll walk you back to your home." He headed back through the workroom, and she followed.

"I appreciate it. There don't appear to be any stable landmarks I can recognize in the Continuum."

"You'll get the hang of it. Oh, hey, would you look at that?" He was looking into the terrarium. Janeway followed his gaze, and saw two golden-skinned aliens sitting around a campfire with half a dozen caninoids, all of them tearing meat from the bones of something she hoped hadn't been sentient.

"Did they make friends?" she asked.

"Two of them did, in the end. The rest, sadly, are deceased. I'll let them integrate a bit more, experience more of caninoid society, and then I'll send them back home to make their report and we'll see how it goes from there."

"Why do the humanoids have a name for their species and the caninoids don't?"

"Because you couldn't pronounce--" and here he made a sound that sounded exactly like a cheerful bark, with a tiny bit of growl mixed in at the end of it.


"Cheer up, the caninoids can't say the word 'human' either. Here's the door. Your house is back on the other side of it."

"Thanks," Janeway said. "Are you going to disappear again, or will I be seeing you around?"

Q shrugged. "I'm a busy guy. But I'm sure we'll run into each other sooner or later."

She didn't know quite what to make of Q's nonchalance, given how emphatic he'd been about interfering with her life in the past. But then, in the past, Q had only come to her when he wanted to see her. Maybe he was actually a largely antisocial entity who only bothered to come interact with mortals on the rare occasions when he felt the need for some companionship... okay, that probably wasn't true, but it certainly did change the power dynamics between them somewhat that she could come to where he lived rather than vice versa. Besides, maybe he actually was busy. She had ample evidence from the time she'd already spent in the Continuum that he did have a life outside of tormenting humans... though judging from his workroom, at least some of that life seemed to involve tormenting species that weren't human.

Janeway went through the door with a last nod at Q, and found herself in her living room this time, although the side door had been in the kitchen when she'd gone through it. The couch had also morphed from Gretchen Janeway's threadbare old thing from her childhood to a plush, soft, enormous semi-circular sofa that could have fit the entire command crew of Voyager sitting around it, facing the viewscreen. The giant sofa made her feel acutely lonely -- she had no one to sit on that giant sofa with her. Even when other Q came to visit, they took her out of here to go on trips; they never stayed in her home with her.

Instead of sitting down on the inappropriately large sofa, Janeway went to her bedroom, where her equally inappropriately large bed was at least no lonelier than her bed had been for the past nine years or so. She wasn't tired -- she was never tired anymore -- but she felt an instinctive need for the additional privacy of a bedroom before she undertook this, even though it wasn't as if there was anyone else in the house who could walk in on her. She wished her boots off -- whenever she wasn't paying attention her clothing turned into a replica of the Starfleet uniform she'd worn as captain of Voyager for seven years, but she could remove or alter any part of her clothes just by thinking about it hard enough -- and sat down on the bed, cradling the ball in her hands.

Time to learn the things she'd forgotten in the shifts of time. Janeway pressed the ball to her head.

The shockwave alerts her that something has happened. Voyager investigates, and finds that an entire planet has just wiped itself out with a dangerous form of energy. They're out in the middle of nowhere, in a region they know nothing of, and even if their original charter hadn't been exploration, knowledge is power and power is safety; she needs to know if this is a threat to Voyager, so she takes an away team and goes to the planet's surface. Paris reports seeing people alive for a moment, and Tuvok reports that subspace has fractured; Paris just nearly fell through a hole in time. Janeway orders transport, but she and Paris both fall through time themselves, landing a day before the disaster.

Fortunately the people look more or less human, and the only one who sees them appear out of nowhere is a little boy. They use their first contact training to get by, but end up getting swept up in a protest against polaric energy, the dangerous energy form that will destroy the planet tomorrow, and then they're taken captive by the protestors, who believe them to be spies. When Janeway sees evidence that possibly these protestors might be accidentally responsible for causing the disaster, she makes a decision -- influenced, she has to admit, by the presence of the little boy who fancies himself an intrepid investigative reporter, who's been following them around and checking their stories for holes, the little boy who will be wiped out in an instant along with everyone else on this planet -- to try to stop the disaster. There's a very good chance that it's the presence of Paris and herself here that will cause the disaster; the protestors who are planning something or other have moved up their timetable in response to the unknown that Janeway and Paris present. Originally they'd planned to do whatever they're going to do in a week. If there's any chance that she and Paris caused this by their presence, they have to do what they can to stop it.

The protestors end up shooting their way into the plant because she won't help them, and Paris takes a bullet to save the little boy. At his insistence, she leaves him behind, and goes after them with a weapon, to force them to stop. Her crew have been intermittently contacting her through the fractures; perhaps she should have expected them to try to launch a rescue right before the detonation point. The subspace fracture widens, becomes visible, and she realizes that Voyager is trying to open a fracture in subspace large enough to pull her and Paris through... and, with horror, she realizes she was right. It's the rescue attempt that will cause the disaster. The subspace fracture is going to cut through the polaric energy conduit and this entire world's death will be on her hands.

She grabs her phaser from the bag one of the protestors is holding and fires into the widening subspace fracture, knowing that the energies her phaser produces will counteract the energies Voyager is generating, blocking the opening of the subspace rift. It closes and --

Janeway blinked and looked around herself. That was... a trifle disorienting. The clock said it had been less than a minute... which meant nothing, because clocks in the Continuum weren't reliable, but some inventor friend of Q's had made her the clock and told her that while it was in her home, it would more or less keep accurate time to what she expected. Except that it ran 12 hours, not 24 -- literally; it didn't even use AM/PM. Apparently the inventor hadn't thought she needed more than 12 hours in a "day", since she no longer slept and no one else in the Continuum paid any attention to time at all. Still. It felt like she'd lived an entire day in a moment... but Q was right. It was dreamlike. The memories were rigorously logical, unlike the bizarre nature of dreams; they felt like something that could have happened, but not exactly like something that actually had.

If Q was right, and it was impossible to literally create a new timeline, then what had happened to her and to Tom Paris? The memories stopped at the exact moment she had done what she'd believed would wipe out that timeline. If it hadn't, then the planet would have still been destroyed. But it hadn't been. She remembered that planet, remembered Kes reporting a dream that everyone had been killed. Neelix hadn't known anything about the planet and scans had revealed it to be likely pre-warp, so they had given it a wide berth, although they'd shown it to Kes on the viewscreen to reassure her. If she hadn't wiped out that timeline, if she'd just created a different one somehow through her actions, that didn't imply that she would transit into that timeline -- did it? How would she move through time without actually committing an act of time travel, unless she had reset the timeline completely?

She'd have to ask Q. Later. Right now, she was curious. What was the next memory?

Again, Janeway touched the ball to her head.

She is feverish, burning. She can barely breathe. The being who tends to her is her crew, son of her mentor; that, she remembers. At moments she recalls that he did this to her, that he brought her to this place where everything is here and at the same moment and she can see everywhere and she can't comprehend it, it overwhelms her, she is omnipresent and she is attenuating, drifting apart, her mind stretching to the breaking point and she wants it to stop and she wants it to never stop because she wants it all, everything there is to see, everything there is to know...

Then he makes it stop. He takes them to a planet. She is angry and grateful. He did this to her; he made her something else. It's hard for her to remember, physically, exactly what she used to be. Most of her earlier memories have been discarded; they don't fit properly in her new brain. What does fit is the cosmos. Not all of it, not at once, not the way it was -- that almost drove her insane. But she remembers the entire universe spread out below her, remembers being apart from it and above it and flooded with knowledge, and she retains much of that knowledge.

She is a god.

He gave her this. He tore her from her old life, and for that she's still angry at him, so when she rewards him for giving her the cosmos by fucking him, she pins him down with her dominance, using her mind to hold him almost, but not quite, helpless. Telling him mind to mind, as she controls his body into position, that she is going to take him, and she will be in complete control, and he will love every moment of it.

Everything she says comes true. He submits to her willingly. He could have resisted; he couldn't have won, but if he'd put up a fight she'd have let him go. She isn't a rapist. But he wants her, and he wants her to dominate him completely, to make him do everything that he wants to do. His mind is not made for dominance, it's made for flight. He grasps the pattern of the universe even more than she does; he can hold it in his mind, he can navigate it, but he cannot control another being with the force of his will, as she can. He doesn't want to.

They return to their realm, the realm of everything, and he takes them where she directs. There is a blue planet that for some reason she thought it was important to go back to, but when she gets there it's covered with the same bipedal life she sees everywhere else and she can't bring herself to care, can't even remember why she wanted to be here. A hot, dry, rocky world of deserts is even less appealing. They go farther, farther. To the dark between the galaxies. To other galaxies, teeming with life that isn't bipedal, and she finds it fascinating, but there will be more time for study later. She's pregnant with a litter now, and the vastness of the universe is all well and good but she wants a place of safety for her babies. Besides, there are other realms, realms outside the realm of everything, and while it may seem paradoxical to imagine that there is something outside of everything, it's a paradox she grasps with ease. The universe is layers upon layers, dimensions inside dimensions, and she is ambitious. Everywhere in the universe she has come from isn't enough for her; she wants to know what lies outside the universe. But she needs her young to grow up first.

She orders her mate to take them to a world near the place and time where first they became what they are, a warm wet world. There are predators, but with the power of their minds she and her mate easily defeat anything that threatens them. They themselves are not predators. The rich flora of the swamp offers everything they want, everything they need.

When the babies are born she is pleased that it's done with, but dissatisfied somehow. Her mate is besotted with them, playing with them endlessly. She's not sure what he sees in them. She loves them, of course, and she feels protective of them, but... they're lumps. They can't yet grasp the fullness of the cosmos as she can, and they're holding her back. She can't travel the universe as long as she has them to worry about, because they can't transit yet. And dimly, she remembers that she never wanted offspring, that in her old life there was some way, some technique she used, to fuck and never get pregnant. She can't remember what it was. She also remembers that in her old life she spent a lot of time surrounded by attractive males and not fucking them. Maybe that was what she did. She regrets having to do it again, but she doesn't want another litter; these burden her far too much already. When they're grown, when they can travel, maybe then she'll enjoy them. Right now, though, they are a responsibility she dislikes.

When she senses the bipeds approach, it is a relief. They are the beings she knew, in her old life, before her mate kidnapped her and opened the door to everywhere. She wants a life of exploration and adventure and discovery, not a life of looking after young. They will help her, she thinks. They'll take her and her mate and their babies back to... the place they used to live, the flying metal box... and she will show them how to transit, and they will all become like her. And then there will be beings who can watch her children for her while she and her mate transit, and more importantly, many beings who share her love of discovery, who will enjoy seeing the things she can show them.

They take her and her mate away. She tells her children she and her mate will be back for them. And then they put her in a room and bathe her in some sort of radiation and she

Janeway jerked to a sitting position. She hadn't even been aware of lying down in the first place, but the memory was even more powerful, more overwhelming, than the last one had been, and

"Oh, God," she whispered. Her children. The offspring she had joked about with Paris, because she hadn't been able to remember anything at all of what she'd been and they'd looked like salamanders or something and she'd thought they were animals and when the Doctor said their DNA was stabilized as the new form of life and there was no human template to revert to she'd been relieved because what kind of human could you get from turning creatures who'd been giant salamanders all their lives into people? Would she have had mentally disabled babies, beings who looked human but weren't sentient? Better to leave them -- but no, no, they'd been sentient, they'd been able to talk to her telepathically and oh god she'd thought they were a burden she'd wanted to rid herself of them, dump them on babysitters but not like this, not abandon them.

"Computer. Where are my children?"

It would have been a ridiculous question to ask the computer aboard Voyager, which wouldn't even have known she had children and certainly couldn't have had any clue where they were, but the "computer" here was the metaphor she used to communicate with the Continuum as a whole to get information. And the fate of her children would be known to the Q Continuum. That, she was sure of.

In the voice of the Starfleet computer, but with considerably more snark, the computer said, "Oh, so you finally noticed you have some? That took a while."

"Where are they now?"

"Wait a minute, I've got a message for you on this subject."

The computer voice was replaced by Q's voice. "Ah. So you finally got to the part about your children."

"Goddamnit, Q! If you've known all along I had children, why didn't you tell me?"

"Kathy, Kathy, Kathy. Why are you arguing with a recording? I can't really hear you -- well, okay, maybe I can if I'm paying attention, but honestly, I'm probably not. You're not talking to me, you're talking to a message I left for you."

She took a deep breath. Okay. She was essentially talking to a holoprogram of Q, not the entity himself, and it wouldn't be able to answer any of the questions Q could. "Then give me the message."

"First of all, you need to talk to Q." A mental image formed of a youngish Caucasian male human, maybe in his late 20's or early 30's, with light brown hair, wearing a lab coat and a light summer shirt with the slogan printed on it "I DON'T HAVE AS MANY ETERNITIES AS IT WOULD TAKE TO EXPLAIN EXACTLY HOW DUMB YOU ARE." "He's an asshole, even if his politics are in the right place," Q's recording continued, "and he's going to be difficult for you to deal with, but he has the answers to the questions you haven't thought to ask yet about the whole thing. As for the question you're actually asking, though: they don't want you to find them, and the Continuum will honor their wishes. I'll tell you this: all three are alive, and relatively happy, and not salamanders any more... well, not most of the time anyway. But you are not going to meet them or even find out where they are until they decide they want to see you."

Of course. She had promised them she would come back, and she never had. They weren't human; the kind of being she had been, from the memories, did not understand technology, but their psionic powers and ability to understand pure conceptual physics was far beyond human. They would have known she wasn't dead, but they hadn't known how to transit, they had never been at Warp 10 themselves, and they wouldn't have understood that she'd been turned back into a human and lost all memory of them.

"Where is Q?" she asked the computer, meaning the one that Q's message had directed her to.

"Out of town," the computer said, unhelpfully.

Janeway clenched her fists in frustration. So the Q that "her" Q -- her Q? Humanity's Q, maybe -- wanted her to talk to, to learn the answers to "the questions she hadn't thought to ask" (and what the hell was that supposed to mean?), was not currently available. And if Q called him an asshole and said he was difficult, Janeway wasn't entirely sure she even wanted to meet the guy. But her children didn't want to see her, didn't want to hear her explanation, and without talking to the other Q Janeway couldn't even begin to imagine how she could track them down to beg their forgiveness.

She took a deep breath. Which was ironic, since she was dead and didn't actually need to breathe -- she'd tested it, and found that she could hold her breath indefinitely if she chose, but if she stopped concentrating on not breathing she'd eventually forget and start breathing again. "Let me know when he's back in town," Janeway said. "I want to talk to him."

"No, you don't," the computer said. "Really."

Her eyebrows went up at that. The personification of the knowledge of the Q Continuum was warning her off this guy? How bad did he have to be for other Q to think he was that big of an asshole? "You're right, I really don't, but Q says he has information I need."

"It's your life," the computer said, the way a human might have said "It's your funeral." "You'll be notified."

"Thank you." There was no point in thanking the computers back home, but she thought there was a reasonably good chance that the personification of the Q Continuum's database was sentient, and it never hurt to be polite.

She got up and left the bedroom, heading out to the living room with the viewscreen. "Computer, show me Tom Paris."

The screen lit up. Tom was with a white-haired woman she didn't recognize... no, wait, she did. That was Sveta, an old Maquis comrade of Chakotay's, walking through a forest.

"I thought... he'd have come to terms with it," Tom was saying. "I mean, the Borg attack was hard on everyone, and I know he never really got over Admiral Janeway's death, but... he's right, isn't he? He's not ready to come back to Voyager."

Sveta shook her head. "He's not the man he was once. I don't even know who he is any more."

"I don't know if that's fair..."

"I do. The Chakotay I remember wouldn't wallow in his pain."

"Go back," Janeway instructed the computer. "I want to see the start of Tom's conversation with Chakotay."

The view jumped back in time. Tom was coming up on Chakotay, who looked like some sort of wild man, his hair long and unkempt, his beard thick and rough. She'd never seen Chakotay look like this. It was as if he'd given up any attempt at personal hygiene. "His life signs are strong," Tom was saying, looking at a tricorder, failing to notice that Chakotay was practically in front of him.

"Probably because I'm right here," Chakotay said.

Their conversation was tense. Tom reported that Voyager was under new orders, big ones, and if Chakotay wanted his command back, he'd better put his demons to bed and come back. Chakotay retorted that he and his demons still had things to work out, but whether or not he came back shouldn't affect Tom's decision about his own level of participation. Sveta accused Chakotay of wallowing in his past, and suggested that he go lay down and die if he was so eager to stop living, and stormed off; Tom gave Chakotay a combadge, insisting that he take it so he could come back quickly if he changed his mind, and then left as well.

Janeway's guts twisted. She didn't want to watch this anymore. She had hit her head against the brick wall of the Q's unwillingness to let her send a message home ever since her death, and while she hadn't given up, she had come to acknowledge that there would be no quick or easy way to communicate with them. Watching Chakotay destroying himself, in part because of what he'd been through during the Borg invasion, but mostly because of her death, was an agony she simply couldn't put herself through, not while she was powerless to talk to him. "Turn it off," she told the computer, and felt guilty about doing so, as if she should be putting herself through the hell of watching Chakotay's self destruction because it was her fault for dying, or not being persuasive enough when she tried to get the Q to help her, or something.

She'd wanted to see what Tom was doing, because of the memories she'd just acquired, but now she didn't want to see anything that would remind her of what was happening to Chakotay because of her death. She needed something to distract herself. Janeway went back to the bedroom, where the ball of memories was still lying on the bed. Better to learn about the past than to try to watch the present she was locked out of.

She lay back on the bed and touched the ball to her head again.

After Torres begins the proton burst procedure, the antimatter drain reverses, and power levels start to come back up. And then Janeway sees herself, a ghostly image crossing the bridge of a woman from a war zone, looking like hell. Kim tells her there was a slight spatial fluctuation for a moment there. She has him run scans, and goes to check on Ensign Wildman's baby. Mother and child are healthy and happy. But there's a duplicate of Kes, unconscious, in sickbay.

The second Kes tells her a horror story, of a hull breach on deck 15, where Kim had discovered a spatial rift. Harry Kim, dead. New baby Wildman, dead. The power supplies draining and not restored, while the ship took damage from proton bursts. Janeway has Torres stop the proton burst procedure immediately, recognizing that the damage to the other Voyager is likely being caused by her own.

Chakotay, Kim and Torres have found evidence that there is in fact another Voyager, a quantum duplicate somehow occupying the same space-time they are. She remembers experimenters at Kent State demonstrating that matter -- but not antimatter -- can be duplicated by a divergence of subspace fields. The two ships are identical copies but are using the same antimatter, which is somehow caught between them.

They find a way to communicate with the other ship. The other Janeway is suspicious, but Janeway tells her enough to prove her bona fides -- the events they both just lived through, the events she knows the other ship experienced because Kes told her, childhood memories that neither of them had shared with anyone else. They coordinate and attempt to merge the two ships, but that just makes matters worse.

There are no good options. She has Torres investigate the possibility of completely dividing the two ships. But that won't work because if they try to disrupt the antimatter supply, both ships will be destroyed. Doing nothing will also destroy both ships. The other Janeway has had her Torres investigate the possibility of evacuating to her Voyager, and it won't work -- when she goes to the other Voyager to discuss options with her counterpart and she brings it up, the other Janeway tells her that Torres' research indicates that moving more than five to ten people across the rift would destabilize the whole thing and kill them all. The other Janeway makes a largely pointless suggestion, mostly to get Janeway off her ship, and Janeway realizes that the other is going to destroy her own ship. She argues that the other Janeway should hold offthere has to be a way to save them all. The other Janeway insists that it is her decision. Janeway demands fifteen minutes to try to come up with an alternative, and her counterpart agrees. She returns to her own ship.

While they are still trying to come up with a plan, they are invaded by Viidians. They have no weapons, no shields, no way to protect themselves, and they are quickly overrun. The Viidians march through the ship, harvesting organs and killing her people. She realizes, horrified, that they have no hope. But there's the other ship. If her ship cannot survive anyway, then she'll be the one to take the step of self-destruct. She has Harry Kim take New Baby Wildman to the other ship, to replace the Kim and baby that the other ship lost. She sets the self-destruct in silent mode, so the Viidians won't know what she's planning. And when the Viidians finally reach the bridge, moments before the destruct sequence engages, she smiles at them in triumph and rage, and welcomes them to her bridge, to their deaths.

Self destruct initiates.

This time she screamed as she returned to herself, caught in the memory of being blasted apart -- something that the version of herself who had actually died that way could only have experienced for a fraction of a second, but she who was both dead and alive could feel it long enough to form a scream.

And then she came fully to herself, lying on the bed, which had changed while she was lost in the memory. Now it was the small bed she had slept in as a very little girl, when Phoebe was still so small she was in a crib. The bed was in fact far too small for Janeway now, and her legs were hanging off the edge at the bottom. Irritated, she swung herself around and sat up. She didn't sleep anymore, not since she'd died, but if she was going to lay down on her bed and let her consciousness become otherwise occupied, the least the bed could do was not turn into something she couldn't fit into any longer while she wasn't paying attention.

That one had been hard. Much worse than the last two. But Q had warned her, after all. "The vast majority of them end with your death." And she'd figured she could handle it, because hadn't she died already? What was another death?

But the other Janeway hadn't just died. She'd taken her entire crew with her -- except for Harry and Naomi, who'd come from that other reality. Janeway herself had expected to be the one to do it, with her damaged ship and some crew already dead. The other one hadn't seen it coming, hadn't been steeling herself for the possibility already. The sudden invasion of the Viidians had taken her by surprise.

Would she have fought back harder, if there hadn't been another crew, another set of lives she could save by destroying her ship? Janeway was fairly sure she would have; killing herself and the crew to take out the Viidians would have made very little sense so early, with so few alternate options for defeating the Viidians explored, if one of them hadn't had to destroy themselves anyway. The other her had seen it as pressing the reset button. So many of her crew were already dead, overwhelmed by the Viidians. Let the ship that had lost only Harry and Naomi survive, with the copies of Harry and Naomi that had been on her ship. Sending more would create an imbalance, and would be unfair, since it wasn't possible to send them all. Let there be just one of each member of Voyager's crew again.

That could have been her. It would have been her. If the Viidians hadn't come, she would have blown herself up and the other Janeway would have been her, and now she would be here in the Q Continuum reviewing the memories of her counterpart, just as Janeway was now. There was almost literally no difference between them only the experiences of that day. And now, the Janeway that still existed had those memories, so now there was no difference at all.

She remembered when she'd been aboard the Federation timeship, and they'd "integrated" her with earlier selves, putting memories from multiple different timelines into the same person. Was that what Q was doing now? Was his gift a way to integrate herself? She would recover the pasts she had overwritten, and they, the other Janeways, would exist again in her?

Abruptly she felt restless. She stood and left the room, heading for the front door of her "house." The memory of that death was raw in her, and she needed to do something to prove that she was still alive. Even though technically she wasn't. But the other Janeway had ceased to exist at the moment of death, and she had not, so this was at least something like a life. Perhaps she couldn't sleep and she never needed to pee and she never felt hungry and she could eat for the taste as much as she liked without ever growing full, but she could think and see and hear and feel. It was good enough.

The world outside her door was filled with light, despite the distinct lack of a sun anyplace. There were no shadows; the light was bright but indirect, coming from everywhere at once. Today the sky was an eerie gold, a color she'd only ever seen on worlds unsuited for human life, and her home looked like a cottage in the center of a vast meadow, a winding path leading through exotic gardens full of plants in hundreds of different colors that were not even mostly shades of green, out to a "road" that was actually a conveyer belt. Janeway blinked; this was new. A couple of Q were laying on the belt in lawn chairs, one in a bikini and lying on her stomach as if she were trying to get a tan on her back, the other dressed like the hero of a romance holonovel about pirates and reading a book while drinking Romulan ale. Janeway stepped onto the belt, and it sped up, which should have made her stumble backwards, but didn't. Physics was sometimes optional in the Continuum.

The belt rolled past "houses", each with a more bizarre and alien architecture, until she reached a large open field with a lake in the center. There were beings -- she assumed they were all Q -- sitting around on the grass or playing some sort of sport with each other. She spotted Junior and q, sitting on a picnic blanket. q noticed her and waved wildly at her. "It's Janeway! Hey, kiddo, it's your aunt! Janeway, come on over!"

Janeway stepped off the conveyer belt and headed over to the blanket in the grass. "Hello," she said. Junior looked slightly disgruntled. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

q smiled a mischievous, we're-getting-away-with-something grin. "We're going to have lunch," she said, putting an emphasis on the word that made it sound much more sordid than an actual lunch could possibly ever be. Janeway remembered the Q predilection for public sex, and decided to make excuses and leave.

"Well, I'm sure you'd prefer to be left alone to it, then," she said.

Junior rolled his eyes. "It's just food, Aunt Kathy. You eat all the time." He opened up the picnic basket, stuck his hand in, and lifted out what looked suspiciously like a tiny white star, which he popped in his mouth. q put her hand to her mouth with an expression of delighted horror, as if he'd just done something totally socially inappropriate and she found it shocking and exciting. "No big deal," Junior said with his mouth full.

"I'm missing something," Janeway said. "Did you just eat a star?"

"Right from the galactic core," q said proudly. "Harvested just before nova. They're delicious that way."

"I dunno, I like the red giants," Junior said. "They're so... fluffy."

"Yeah, but you gotta admit the pre-novas are the juiciest."

"If you like them juicy, yeah. Me, I've got all the juice I need right here." He flexed his arm. Janeway was absolutely sure something was getting lost in translation here.

"I'm going to have one," q said, conspiratorily, and plucked a sullen yellow star out of the basket. She put it to her mouth and sucked on it, drawing tendrils of solar flare into her mouth with an expression of bliss. Junior watched her with the universal teenage male goggle-eyed fixation of a boy with a crush watching the object of his desire doing something overtly sensual.

"I really don't know what you two are actually doing, but I think the metaphor is breaking down somewhere," Janeway said. "And I suspect I should probably be moving on."

"No, come on, stay here! We've never had a picnic," q said. "You can give us advice. Do we need ants?"

"I've had plenty of picnics where there were no ants," Janeway said.

Junior took something that looked like a chocolate-frosted cupcake covered with oregano out of the basket and handed it to Janeway. "Here, this is human food. I think. Anyway it can't kill you, so try it, Aunt Kathy."

She looked suspiciously at the cupcake. "This isn't some sort of stellar phenomenon, is it?"

"No, it's dremouillin. It's kind of like a cupcake." He grinned. "The first time I ever used my powers I made one of these."

"Your dad used to joke about your sweet tooth," q said. "Didn't you once pretend to be some species' god and demand that they give you cupcakes?"

"Something like that, yeah. And then they tried to pass off these crappy burned things, and they told me their gods had always been happy with crappy burned things before, so I set their fields on fire and asked them how much they liked to eat burned food."

"That was terrible!" Janeway said, appalled that Q and Lady Q had actually let Junior do that much damage to some hapless mortals.

"Oh, relax, Aunt Kathy, I fixed it after they groveled enough. Then they made me some really nice ones. See, I didn't have the hang of making food that actually had a taste yet, and if I was in a body I always liked to taste things, so I needed other people to give me stuff like cupcakes." He held it out to her again. "Come on, try it. I don't want us to be the only people eating here."

She took the cupcake. "Are those... real stars? They don't have inhabited planets, do they?"

q shook her head. "They're real, but no, they don't have inhabited planets -- nothing in the galactic core does. The radiation's too severe." Again she grinned in illicit pleasure. "Too bad you can't try one. They're marvelous." To emphasize her point, she sucked on the star again, which apparently drew 110% of Junior's attention.

"What am I missing here? You two are acting... well, oddly."

"Nothing much." Junior laid back on the grass, sprawled out in an elaborate pose of unconcern. "Lots of older Q think it's really scandalous to eat. So, you know, maybe someone looking at us sitting here munching on stars might be all like 'oh my, I can't believe they're doing that', but you know what? I totally don't care. Let them be all embarrassed or offended or something. I'm gonna eat if I want to." He grabbed another star out of the basket and bit into it, long strands of solar plasma dripping from his lips and from the center of the remains of the star, still in his hand. It looked like he'd just bitten into a giant ball of melted mozzarella cheese, if mozzarella cheese looked exactly like a star.

"Didn't we see some Q having sex in public the last time you took me out to one of these open spaces?" Janeway asked.

"Why, were you looking for something erotic?" q asked. "Because I can recommend watching the Si'yaath in their yearly mating season, if you want to watch something that gets most humanoids really aroused. Deltans aren't bad to watch either, but those Si'yaath, they're like poetry in motion. Really hot erotic poetry." She glanced at the field. "No one here seems to be getting it on at the moment, but I'm sure if you sit here long enough someone will... but you miss so many of the nuances of Q relations when you're viewing it through your humanoid metaphor, I'd really recommend watching the Si'yaath instead."

Janeway felt her face to be bright red, and wondered idly how that even worked now that she was dead. "Uh, no, no thank you, that's not what I meant," she said. "I was just thinking how odd it was that you have no privacy taboos about sex, but you're uncomfortable with eating in public."

"We're uncomfortable with eating at all," q said. "You're supposed to get all your energy from the Continuum. Drawing energy from an alternate source is... well, back in the day it just wasn't done."

Junior finished off his star, smacking his lips. "If I'm going to be totally weird, I'm going to go all the way," he said. "I don't need to care what a bunch of dried-up, overly evolved, stagnant old farts think of me. I'm the wave of the future, baby."

"Sure," q said, sounding like she was trying to convince herself to be as cavalier about it as Junior was. If Janeway remembered correctly, q was much, much older than Junior, despite her youthful appearance; she was the youngest of the original Q, the last to be created by the Continuum before they gave up reproduction entirely, so only Amanda, Junior, q-ling and the few Q who had been brought in as mortals were younger than she was, but that still meant she was hundreds of millions of years old. Janeway wondered if her college-woman act was entirely a put-on or if she really did think of herself as someone barely out of adolescence, despite being so much older than the only adolescent Q in the Continuum. She might be desperate to reject the beliefs she and the other Q had held for aeons, simply to prove to herself that she was young and relevant. "And anyway, the Continuum runs on sex, more or less. The joining of individual Q to one another, in pairs or larger numbers, helps us remain... well, continuous."

"And that's why I think you should teach me all about it," Junior said, trying to sound suave... Janeway thought, anyway, because he was failing at it pretty badly, so it was hard to be sure exactly what he was going for.

"Right, kiddo, because I have nothing better to do than screw around with babies," q said, amused.

Junior looked offended. "You had sex with a mortal! He was much younger than me!"

"And yet he was present when you were conceived," q said. "Which goes to show, it's not the years, it's what you do with them. Besides, if I had Q for my dad, I would not go about trying to make a thing about other people having sex with mortals."

"This has nothing to do with my dad. I'm talking about you and me."

"There is no you and me. You're too young for me."

"I'm too young for everyone! Even my babysitter turns me down, and she was only a few hundred years old when I was born!"

"Yeah, but she fought in the war. That makes her more of a grownup than me."

"I totally see the Continuum staging another war just to give me a chance to get taken seriously as an adult and get laid finally."

"Yeah, that's not happening," q agreed.

Janeway sighed. They both seemed so damn young. How could an entity several million years old possibly seem like such a child? It had to be an act. Although, Junior's father was pretty damn immature sometimes too. Maybe it was a Q trait. With no adversity, nothing to test themselves against, they simply stayed at the same maturity levels for millions, perhaps billions of years. "I'm going home, children. Enjoy your stars."

"Hey, you never tried my dremouillin," Junior complained.

"Maybe later," Janeway said, and carried it with her back to the road... which was no longer a conveyer belt, or in fact a road at all. There was a bank of doors with signs above them, saying things like "Home", "Q and Queria's Place", "The University", "Someplace You're Not Allowed To Go", "Central Database", and "The Middle Of Nowhere", among others. She was a bit curious about "Someplace You're Not Allowed To Go", but decided not to push her luck, not without a Q accompanying her. What she was really interested in was "The Middle Of Nowhere", curious as to how any part of the Continuum had earned that designation, but again, she had no reliable transportation home without a Q accompanying her. But she didn't simply want to head home; she was still restless, still... well, honestly, somewhat lonely. With the memory of death cold in her brain, reawakening memories of her own recent death, she wanted to go somewhere that there would be people, who would pay attention to her and not spend all their time in such intensive flirting she was concerned they'd actually start making out in front of her, given the complete lack of any sense of privacy that the Q seemed to have.

And Q had claimed the Q didn't have sex. She was beginning to think that nearly everything he'd told her about the Continuum during the war had been, at best, half-truths.

Janeway went through the door to "Q and Queria's Place", finally. She ended up in a nursery, walls decorated with incomprehensible hieroglyphics in bright primary colors. Queria, a Q who manifested as a tall human woman with curly dark hair, dark eyes and Mediterranean skin, was sitting in a rocking chair, wearing a single-breasted gown with a distinctly Ancient Grecian look to it, with q-ling in infant form nursing at her exposed breast. q-ling looked like a six-month-old, all chubby pink cuteness with a faint dusting of reddish fuzz on her head. "Kathryn," Queria said, smiling at her. "What brings you here?"

"I was coming back from the park, and this was one of the few options that wasn't going home that I was confident about getting home from." There was a soft plush armchair across from Queria's rocking chair, and she sat down in it. "I was interested in some company, but Junior and q at the park seem mostly to be interested in each other. And in eating stars."

Queria laughed. "Oh dear. q is so hopelessly immature. Maybe spending some time with an actual adolescent will kick-start her growth out of arrested adolescence; Amanda was never pushy enough to force herself on q, so Junior's the first adolescent Q she's really had dealings with."

"Has she really been... well, a college student... for a billion years?"

"She's only a few hundred million years old, honestly, and no, for most of that she was decidedly more immature. We don't seem to grow up unless we have to. Q, for instance, has behaved for most of his existence as if he was barely into his twenties, if that, by human standards." She meant the Q Janeway was most familiar with, "humanity's Q" as some seemed to call him. "He's matured tremendously since the war... which probably has as much to do with becoming a political leader and having a child to raise as it does with the war itself."

"I suppose. I've only spoken to him three times... well, on three occasions, since the war. The time he brought Junior to Voyager and demanded my advice, another incident involving Junior looking for advice himself, and very recently."

"He finally came out of hiding?" Queria leaned forward as he rocked. "Did he give it to you yet?"

"The 'present' he had for me? Yes. It's been... interesting, living memories of my own that I never had."

"I'm sure it is," Queria said. "Are you done with it?"

"No, I'm sure I have quite a few of them to go. He put them in... well, not chronological order, but I suppose the order in which the loops closed, in my life. I've only gotten through three."

"Only three? Oh, you're missing all the best ones."

"What do you know about it?" Janeway asked, curious.

"Everything Q does. I'm a Q, remember? What one of us knows, we all know... if we care. Which I do, of course."

"Do you all share memories, the way... well, like the way the Borg can access memories provided by each other on assimilation?"

"Mostly, but memories are tagged by identity, whereas the Borg strip identity markers off their shared pool of memories... and mark most of them as irrelevant. In our case, nothing is irrelevant and the identity of the Q who provided the memory is critical." She leaned back. "So why stop at three?"

Janeway shrugged. "I was feeling restless. I wanted to explore a bit, but I can't really make my way around the Continuum on my own. I found my way to a park where I met Junior and q, but when I tried to get back... well, there were doors, leading different places. I was actually interested in going somewhere I haven't been before, but I couldn't be sure of getting back."

"That's you in a nutshell, isn't it, Kathryn?" Queria said, her tone calm and mild but with the faintest hint of a rebuke in it. "You want to explore strange new worlds, go places no one has ever been... as long as you can be sure you can get back home again. Not very adventurous, for an explorer."

"I don't just explore for my personal amusement; I do it for humanity, for all the worlds of the Federation, to increase our knowledge in general. If I can't get home, then it doesn't really matter so much what I've learned."

"It's not enough to learn for its own sake?"

"I'm not an island. No human is. I'm connected to all the people I care about, all the organizations I belong to, all the responsibilities I have." They weren't actually discussing her desire to go through the door labeled "Middle of Nowhere" now at all, Janeway knew. This was about Lady Q's declaration that she couldn't return to her life, and her determination that somehow, some way, she would.

"Don't those obligations ever end?"

"Not as long as I have consciousness, and as long as I remember who I am."

"I used to be human," Queria said. She leaned back and looked away. "Many of us play games where we take mortal form for a time and put aside our powers... we can use the powers, but it's considered cheating, so we don't. I took it a step further. I incarnated myself as a human infant, blocked off all my memories of who and what I was, and arranged to be raised as a human being. If Q hadn't shown up on my doorstep and forced me to regain my memories when I was in Starfleet Academy, right around the time that Amanda had been born, I might still be there, living a human life, thinking I was human."

"You ended it when you learned the truth?"

"No, I ended it when I heard about the war. I lived as a human, knowing that I was a Q and that I would be all-powerful when I died, for... oh, it must have been over twenty years. I stayed, because I had friends, and family, and lovers, and responsibilities... and when it came time, I died as a human. And all those connections broke, all those responsibilities ended. None of those people will ever see me again. It doesn't mean I don't love them or miss them, but I have become something other than human, and it would be wrong of me to try to relate to them the way I did when I was human."

"But you were coming home. Maybe you were leaving people behind, but you were coming home to people you'd known much longer -- people you thought of as your own."

Queria laughed. "Touch." She removed q-ling from her breast. As soon as the baby was detached, q-ling vanished in a flash of light and reappeared in the form of a toddler with wild red curls. "Aunt Kathy!" The child flung herself at Janeway and hugged her leg fiercely.

"Hello, q-ling."

"I'm going to go play now bye!" The child ran off.

"What are you really doing when it looks like you're nursing her?" Janeway asked Queria.

"I'm afraid I don't understand the question."

"Everything I see is a metaphor. I understand that. I couldn't make sense of what the Continuum actually looks like, so what I see is metaphors that make it understandable to me. But sometimes the metaphors break down, and sometimes they don't make sense. If the Q don't eat, why did it look like you were breastfeeding q-ling?"

"Because I was. Well, not breastfeeding, technically, but an infant Q requires a processed feed of energy from the Continuum to survive; they can't handle linking to the Continuum and taking it directly like we do. Q and Q figured out that they could keep a Q infant alive in the Continuum with shields around him to keep him from dissolving into the Continuum, but that meant he couldn't absorb energy, so they had to feed it to him. It's similar to the way we exchange energies with each other, but much more controlled, with a much narrower feed."

"And... Q did this, too? With Junior?"


Janeway grinned. "If I had seen him do it, what would the metaphor have shown me?"

"Well, either you'd have seen a man breastfeeding or you'd have seen Q in female form, whichever you were more able to accept, I suppose. We don't actually have gender. Or sex roles in reproduction, for that matter. At the very end of the creation process for Junior, when he was almost fully made, Q separated from him much too early and left Q stuck with the final steps, and Junior almost dissolved back into her as a result, so his separation from her as an individual entity was actually much more painful and difficult than it needed to be... but she was never pregnant with him."

"Why am I not surprised that Q left Lady Q stuck with the hard part at the end?" Janeway murmured.

"Oh, don't be so hard on Q. He has a really serious phobia of losing his individuality in another Q; as soon as Junior was recognizably a separate person Q started to panic, because the nature of the connection between the parent and the child required the parent to be completely open to the child. He held out as long as he could. It isn't as if any of us foresaw how it would work before the two of them got into it, and there are always mistakes with prototypes."

"Junior's not a prototype, though. He's a person."

"Yes, and I think he's turned out surprisingly well, given how little any of us knew about what it means to rear a child. But I do think q-ling will benefit from having parents who've learned what mistakes not to make."

"I hear the second child is usually easier," Janeway said. "Experience does help. But she'll be different because she's a different person, so you'll make different mistakes with her than Q and Lady Q did with Junior."

"True enough." Queria put her hand on Janeway's shoulder. "So. How badly do you want to go exploring the Continuum without dragging a chaperone with you?"


"You've had the critical memory. The experience you had as one of the... well, there isn't a name for them, is there? As a hyper-evolved amphibious sentient. With the memory of the perception of reality, of time and space, that you had at that time, I can give you the ability to navigate the Continuum on your own power."

"Will that... change me?"

"Every experience we have, every ability we acquire, changes us. But it won't turn you into a salamander, if that's what you're afraid of. You'll be able to perceive the, hmm, the spatialness of the Continuum the way we do -- see where things are in relation to other things, see the connections that will allow you to go from place to place. It'll still be cloaked in metaphors, though, and most of your thought process will remain exactly as it is now."

"Do you know where my children are?"

Queria stepped back. "That doesn't exactly sequit, now does it?"

Janeway took a deep breath. She liked Queria well enough, but the entity did seem to go out of her way on occasion to use the most pretentious vocabulary possible. "Q said there's a particular Q I need to talk to, who's not in the Continuum at the moment. And that the children I had when I was, um, an amphibious sentient... don't want to talk to me."

"Well, they don't," Queria said.

"So you know where they are too."

"Everything, remember?" Queria looked away. "Before I would allow you to play with my daughter, of course I needed to know everything possible about the children you had, and how it is you came to abandon them."

"I didn't... not deliberately. I thought... none of us knew that Tom and I had become a different kind of sentient being, or that the children were sentient. When we were reverted, we had no memories of what we'd been. I didn't know--"

"I know. Do you think I'd have let you touch my daughter if you had deliberately and with forethought abandoned your children?" Queria said sharply. She moderated her tone. "I know it wasn't your fault. To be honest, so do they. But it's not my place to forgive you for it. It's theirs, and what they know intellectually is very different from what they feel to be true, and they think you are probably too alien for mutual understanding, anyway. Which might have been true before, but now that you're in the Continuum... I'll tell them that now you know about them, and you want to meet them. Perhaps it will change things."

"Thank you," Janeway said.

"But it will help you to understand them, if you accept the ability to travel within the Continuum. It will make you just a tiny bit more like them, while still remaining yourself."

Janeway looked at her hard. "It will make me just a tiny bit more like a Q, as well, won't it."

"Just a bit," Queria agreed. "But it's not as if you're entirely human any more anyway. You did notice that you don't quite have biological needs anymore, didn't you?"

"I did." Janeway sighed. Her only reason to refuse this was to cling to her humanity. And if Queria was telling the truth, simply the fact that she could remember being the being she had turned into would enable her to absorb this new ability; if it entailed any loss of humanity, taking in those memories of being a non-humanoid sentient had already triggered the loss. "Go ahead."

Queria took her hand. Janeway didn't feel any different, but Queria said, "It's done. Go on, see if you can go somewhere."

"There was a sign before that said 'The Middle of Nowhere'," Janeway said. "Where does that lead to?"

"Look at your memory of the door."

And she did, and she could see behind it, trails through aether like the paths she and Tom had transited when they had been something other than human. Abruptly she felt a sense of knowing, a spatial sense of where she was in relation to everything around her the way she knew where everything was in her hometown in Indiana. A mental map. And what she could visualize, in the Continuum, she could have.

She opened the door from q-ling's nursery and looked out onto a vast expanse of desert. "The Middle of Nowhere," Queria said behind her.

"Is it dangerous?"

"No, just boring."

"I'm up for boring," Janeway said, and stepped through the door.

The desert was hot, but not uncomfortably so; in fact the warmth felt good in her muscles, which made her wonder if she actually had muscles. She felt like a real human, with a real human body, but the lack of excretory functions and ability (or need) to sleep clearly indicated that whatever she was right now, she wasn't completely human. And yet it felt like she had muscles that could relax in the warmth of the desert like she was walking through a sauna.

Janeway thought of her spirit animal. Would it be possible to invoke it here? If the "spirit guides" of Chakotay's beliefs were actual entities, then probably not; if they were somehow mental representations of the person invoking them, then perhaps. She wasn't sure she wanted to subject Chakotay's religious beliefs to the rigorous scientific scrutiny that would be required to check, though.

This really was the middle of nowhere. It wasn't even a rocky desert like most of Vulcan or the American Midwest; just endless hot reddish sand rising and falling in dunes, an occasional wind lightly brushing the sand into slightly different patterns. Janeway lay down in the sand, hands behind her head, and looked up at the sky. Everywhere else, the Continuum's sky either looked like a blue Earth sky, or a white Earth sky like an overcast day with bright sunlight being filtered and spread out by a solid white cloud cover, or a gold sky like nothing she'd seen on a class M world ever. Here, the sky was black. Solid black nothing, no stars, looking more like a ceiling than any sort of sky, too dark for her to perceive either depth or lack of depth in it. There was light and heat everywhere but no apparent source of it; perhaps it was coming off the ground in some way, because she had no shadow.

Abruptly Janeway had a revelation. For a dizzying moment, the black was below her and the sand at her back was the sky and she was on the top of the universe looking down, and the black was a dark pool reflecting the desert, and the desert was a bright wasteland reflecting the darkness. They were the same. For Continuum weapons to have effects on specific, individual stars, there needed to be some rough correspondence between locations in the Continuum and locations in her universe. This was the dark between the stars, the endless expanse of nothing between galaxies.

Sand ran through her fingers. If she wanted, could she shape the sand into something? What did it represent? Just what she expected to find in a wasteland? But no, that would be a lunar landscape, barren rock. Sand was something. You could create with it, but your creations would be impermanent.

The sand was matter, she thought. The substance of her reality. The Q could build anything they liked out of it, here in the dark between the stars or anywhere else, but it did not last as they did; nothing of her universe lasted the way the Q did.

Were they even from this universe? Quinn had tried to hide from Q at the Big Bang, but had the Q already existed then, or was it simply that time was their playground as much as space was and they could go anywhere within the lifespan of the universe they liked? Lady Q had made a comment about being five billion years old, but she could have been employing hyperbole; after all, practically everything Q had said during that incident turned out to be not entirely true.

She saw the future and it dizzied her. Her choices were to find a way to return to the world of mortality, and death, and end as she had already ended, although hopefully a bit further in the future... or this. Eternity. The universe she came from, ephemeral as sand sculpture, as she herself went on and on.

They didn't act eternal. They acted like people. Goofy kids in love. New mothers who were trying to reconcile with the ex-husband they'd hurt and the child they'd left behind, now that they had a new child to set an example for. College kids. Inventors and anthropologists and database administrators. Explorers. Ordinary people, who just happened to have godlike powers and live forever.

Junior had once told her it was all an act, that every time she saw a Q doing anything at all they were acting. "Most of the time it's a true act. Like, you can't actually understand what we really are, so we translate our feelings and our behavior into something that you'll understand, and sometimes you'll understand it better if it's not technically 100% true. So we might be kind of lying in order to express something that's more true, that you wouldn't get if we told the truth. Or, you know, we might just be putting on a show because we feel like it." Already, in spending time with them, she'd seen ways in which they were less human than they'd seemed when they were randomly showing up aboard her ship demanding sanctuary or child-rearing advice. But all the ways in which they seemed less human were ways she was familiar with from dealing with alien species. Things like public sex and a taboo on eating and the fact that Lady Q seemed to think that a good way to reconcile with her ex was to bring him the mortal she had been jealous of once upon a time. Hera -- presumably a fictional creation of humans, although since Apollo had turned out to truly exist, perhaps that wasn't the case -- wouldn't have acted like that. At the same time, in other ways they were very human indeed, very much like every mortal species she'd encountered except the Borg and Species 8721. Q was angry that Lady Q had disowned Junior. Junior was pretending his new baby half-sister didn't exist. Queria had always wanted children. q flirted with a younger boy while telling him that she wasn't interested in him. q-ling wanted attention and people to play with her. They might as well be any mortals with a somewhat odd culture.

If she stayed here, would she come to understand them? Would they seem more different from humans as they dropped the act around her, or would she become more different from humans and find the Q more comprehensible, the way she had found her memories of her own humanity incomprehensible when she'd been the amphibious sentient?

If she could have been an amphibious sentient who couldn't comprehend technology but who could encompass the vastness of space in her mind, who longed to explore and didn't want kids but was protective and loving toward the ones she had even though they burdened her... who had sexual tastes for being in control, for god's sake, the way Janeway herself did... was humanity necessarily a defining trait of Kathryn Janeway? That being had been her. Her human taboos and her human culture and her human understanding of technology had fallen away, but what had been left behind had been recognizably the core of her self. Could she cease to be human and still be who she was?

Maybe that was the point Q had been trying to make with his gift.

Janeway got up. She was done with the deep thoughts for now, done with exploring the Continuum for the moment. Now she wanted more of those memories. What else could she learn about herself from the lives she couldn't remember?

She visualized her "home" in the Continuum, saw in her mind's eye where she was in relation to it... and transited, as she and Tom had when they were salamanders.

When she reappeared in her home, she felt cold and exhausted. For the first time since her death, she was actually tired. She stumbled to her bed. Maybe she shouldn't teleport in the Continuum; transiting when she'd been a living amphibian had made her very, very hungry and sometimes quite tired, as if she'd been doing hard physical work. Now that she wasn't alive, where was the energy that sustained her coming from, and what would happen if she drained it?

She changed into a nightgown with a thought -- the thought being "I want to be wearing my blue nightgown" -- and crawled into bed. Could she actually sleep, now?

It turned out, she could.

In the morning -- or when she woke up, anyway, there being no 'morning' here -- she felt much better. So apparently there were things she could do to run out of energy and need to sleep. After her thoughts yesterday about how human she still was, it was actually reassuring that she might still have to sleep sometime -- although, hadn't Q slept after he got shot, during the war? He'd been unconscious, anyway. She'd have to ask somebody, sooner or later, how her biology, such as it was, worked now. The replicator made her delicious dark black coffee and she drank three cups of it, not because she had to -- unlike when she was alive, she woke fully rested and alert, and actually didn't need the coffee -- but because she liked it, and it made her feel like something, at least, hadn't changed completely.

And then she turned to the memories again.

The first time she remembers encountering the Krenim timeship, Kes stays, purging herself of her power and forcing herself back into an Ocampan form by force of will, and does what she can to help the new former Borg drone acclimate again to being human. And then she comes onto the bridge to warn Janeway of the Krenim and their chroniton torpedoes, in the middle of the battle, and Janeway gives the orders to take evasive maneuvers. Then a console explodes in front of her, and there is a searing bright pain and--

Right. Kes had told her about that, that she had died in the opening battle with the Krenim timeship.

The second time she encounters the Krenim, Kes is gone, and Seven is adjusting on her own. She has the information she was given by Kes, so she knows what this is as soon as she hears the name 'Krenim.' This time she isn't killed in the opening battle. They find a way to keep the timeship from erasing them from existence, but the ship takes more and more damage, and the Krenim grow more and more threatening with each temporal incursion. Finally Chakotay and Paris buy her the chance to destroy the timeship, to save the universe, perhaps to undo everything it has done -- the math suggests that the timeship itself is somehow maintaining the alternate timeline it has created, and destroying it might cause the universe to revert all the changes. But she has no weapons anymore. Voyager is falling apart, doomed anyway, and there is no autopilot.

She makes everyone else evacuate, and sets course to ram. A captain always goes down with her ship.

"Time's up."

This time dealing with her own death was easier, less of a shock to her system. She remembered four deaths now -- her actual one when Seven's virus destroyed the Borg, the other Janeway's destruction of the Viidian-invaded Voyager, and two times at the hands of the Krenim. "Most of them end with you dying," Q had said, and he hadn't been exaggerating. Five alternate lives, three alternate deaths, and counting.

In a weird way, this was almost fun. There was nothing enjoyable or pleasant about remembering the Year of Hell and everything she had been through in that horrible year, but it gave her perspective. That was a worst case scenario that made her own recent death look positively benign. At least she got her people home, and none of them had died in the Borg assault.

She picked up the ball again and pressed it to her head for another one.

She is Captain Janeway, but she's not. She knows what she is. She is a mimetic life form, native of the planet her other self had called a "Demon-class planet". But she is also Kathryn Janeway, captain of the starship Voyager, and a life trapped on a planet seems impossibly empty. The mimetic surface touched Voyager; it is more than bio-mimetic. It can duplicate anything. She talks it over with her senior crew, and they all agree -- they don't want to be pinned down to a planet either. They induce their homeworld to make them a ship, a copy of Voyager, and they sail off into the stars, intending to explore.

It takes hardly any time at all before the urgency, the reality of Kathryn Janeway's memories, the utter Janewayness of what she feels herself to be, overrides and eventually wipes out her knowledge of what she truly is. At first she remembers almost all the time, and loses it only in occasional wistful daydreams of what she'll do when they get back to Earth, only to be brought up short with the memory that she is not the real Janeway and cannot go back to the real Janeway's life. And then she forgets about half the time, and it's a cold shock every time she remembers, and it's unpleasant and she doesn't want to think about it. And then she only remembers when Tuvok and Seven remind her. And then, three months after leaving their home, she doesn't remember at all, and neither does anyone else. They have always been the crew of Voyager. Occasionally the Doctor notes the medical anomalies of their identities, and she remembers again, but it's like a dream, a nightmare forgotten shortly after waking up. It's too hard to accept. She knows she is Kathryn Janeway, and the objective truth that she is not is too painful to bear.

So she doesn't. She forgets it. Again and again. When they upgrade the warp drive with technology bought from an advanced species, she is overjoyed; their journey home will be much shorter now. They're within a handful of years of reaching the Alpha Quadrant. People are having babies. Tom and B'Elanna get married.

And then her people start to die.

They learn the truth of what they are. She can't forget again; the evidence is right in front of her, in the form of B'Elanna's cold body. The enhanced warp drive is killing them. But they have to get to Earth. She can't give up that dream. They need to stop at a class Y planet and make repairs, change their atmosphere to be compatible with what they truly are, and as the Doctor suggests, find the original Voyager. If they do that they can all live again, even poor dead B'Elanna. Her 'silver blood' still lives; it just can't hold its cohesion in the form of a living half-Klingon half-human. They could re-imprint her from the real B'Elanna. They could re-imprint all of them, and survive to make it home.

Paris points out that Earth isn't home. Janeway won't listen.

They can't use the closest class Y planet; the aliens manning it won't let them. And then, as Chakotay is arguing with her about the need to return to their actual home, to the Demon Planet... he dies. The shock floors her. Her obsession with getting home is killing her people, and there's no guarantee they can find the real Voyager, no certainty they will all live again.

They have to go back.

But there's no guarantee they'll make it to their real home, either. People are still dying. Janeway orders a capsule to be prepared, information to be sent to the real Voyager. If they're all going to die she wants her real self, all of their real selves, to know what happened to them, to know they existed.

And then the deflector shields fail. And then she dies. Her last desperate thought as she falls into oblivion is that she trusts Harry Kim, and she wishes she had promoted him from Ensign after all. He'll make a good Captain someday. Or the other one will. But she trusts him, and she has confidence that he'll get the survivors back home. To Voyager to live again, or to the Demon Planet to return to the silver blood, but he'll make it somehow.

They had never received any kind of capsule or any message. And then Janeway realized the dates, and her blood ran cold. They'd received what had seemed like a Starfleet distress signal, but there had been nothing but debris, not even bodies, when they'd gotten there. No one had checked the debris field for the biomimetic life forms of the Demon Planet; why would they have? She had recorded that the ship's log buoys and identifiers had all been destroyed, and that even if it had been a Starfleet vessel there would be no way to know which one, and had gone blithely on her own journey. She had never realized that the people who'd died there had been her and her crew.

The other Janeway's dying confidence had been misplaced. The other Kim hadn't made it. They had all died. Killed, largely, by her obsession with getting home. B'Elanna's death hadn't been her fault, but if she had turned the ship around the moment they had learned they were biomimetic lifeforms from the Demon Planet, maybe they would have made it. Maybe some of them would have survived the trip.

It hurt. The joy they'd all felt at B'Elanna and Tom's wedding... Ensign Harper's new baby, who had truly been new life, who hadn't had an equivalent duplicate on Voyager... and all of it had fallen apart into horror and death, so quickly. Had she, herself, been as dangerously obsessed as the copy? Had the other Janeway been partially deranged by the radiation when she'd made the decision to keep going... or would Janeway herself have made the exact same decision under the same circumstances?

She needed another one, one that was truly her. She needed to forget being someone she never was -- well, not forget, but put aside the memory, stop thinking about it for now. Perhaps this next one would include every bit as much death and pain, but it wouldn't include the horror of realizing that she was not who she thought she was, at least.

It begins simply enough, with anomalous readings from a nearby planet, Monorha, and Seven's report of wormholes like Borg transwarp corridors all through that region of space. It turns into a mission of mercy, as they encounter an unusual alien craft full of refugees. And it turns into horror, when their offer to tow the refugees to the planet they are seeking to reach ends in disaster, the refugees and their ship splintering into subatomic particles before them, the laws of physics themselves so different in the space they evolved in that they cannot survive out of it any more than a hologram can survive off the holodeck without a mobile emitter.

They return the survivors to the planet, and take a handful of the Monorhans' leaders aboard, only to be blasted into a subspace pocket where molecular cohesion and the sanity of sentient beings begins to fail. A Bolian crewmember dies, dissolving into blue taffy in Sickbay. Harry Kim puts his hand through a console as if either he or it are not real. Chakotay leaves a pressurized shuttle for the unpressurized shuttle bay because he didn't, in that moment, think oxygen was important. And Torres and Seven are lost, left behind on the planet... they hope. Lieutenant Carey does his best, but by his estimates, the shields that protect their sanity and molecular structure will hold for only fourteen hours.

It's long enough. They find their way out of the subspace pocket, an adventure in itself that involves an alien saboteur and a few more bouts of going insane, and Janeway concludes that the pocket was somehow artificially created -- a patch on reality, explaining why the system is so anomalous. Life forms within range of a highly radioactive white dwarf star, laws of physics that vary from place to place, stars that exist in subspace as well as normal space... things like this aren't natural. Someone created this place, and from the jury-rigging feel of it, she thinks it was someone who was in a rush and didn't have the time or resources to actually do a good job.

She comes up with a plan to save the aliens by collapsing the white dwarf star with trilithium. It comes close to backfiring when the star instead collapses into a small singularity, but it's far enough from the planet that the people are safe. One of the aliens gives her an artifact called the Key to Gremadia, a legendary realm of godlike entities, saying that his grandfather appeared to him and told him to give it to her. And then Tuvok, after suffering some sort of psychic backlash, flees the ship.

They investigate and discover an array, like a city in space, out beyond the collapsed white dwarf. In the meantime, Janeway's sister Phoebe has suddenly always been aboard Voyager, and an electromagnetic surge in Janeway's quarters, that she initially puts down to Phoebe working on the replicator (but Phoebe hasn't always been on the ship... has she? No, Janeway clearly remembers that she has), destroys the corpse of the Caretaker, stored in Voyager's morgue. Naomi Wildman nearly dies, the Doctor is replaced with a very old backup, and the artifact known as the Key to Gremadia vanishes. When Naomi recovers, she tells Janeway of a monster aboard... and describes a Nacene, one of the Caretaker's kind.

The Doctor is able to determine that Neelix and Samantha Wildman and Janeway herself all show signs of memory implants... but not Naomi, because her molecular structure is very slightly out of phase with theirs. If Phoebe is a Nacene who has altered Janeway's memories to make her think her sister has always been on Voyager, and her illusion cannot work on Naomi because of the molecular phase variance, then her power won't work on Harry Kim, either. So when he returns from rescuing Tuvok, Janeway has Kim come with her to confront Phoebe.

Shooting her just gets Kim knocked unconscious. Janeway is forced to negotiate with the entity that wears her sister's face. Phoebe explains to her, to the extent that she can, the nature of the Nacene; that at one point they dwelled in a realm outside Janeway's universe, called Exosia, where they held some sort of control over or responsibility to the strings, the basic building blocks of reality. Phoebe demonstrates her story by taking Janeway to some sort of representation of Exosia, where she is temporarily granted the power to control the strings, and finds it a terrifying and tempting ability, with enormous potential to wreak havoc in her own dimension. It's a graphic demonstration of what happened when some of the Nacene found that they could manipulate the strings to control matter in Janeway's reality, and played with reality like children with phasers, heedless of the damage they were doing. One of those was the Monorhans' god, the All-Seeing Light, an ironic name given that photonic energy was inimical to existence in Exosia, who had created life in this distorted space and either was unaware or uncaring that the life he created was bound to Monorhan space by subtle differences in the laws of physics here. Monorhan space itself was as terribly distorted as it was because it had been the location of the gateway from Exosia, where the Nacene had done the most damage.

The Others, the Nacene who had remained behind in Exosia, closed the gateway aeons ago, Phoebe tells Janeway. The Key is the means for the Nacene to return, to open the gateway, made from the remains of hundreds of Nacene that fell in the great battle between those that left Exosia and those that stayed behind. If the Key is not used within three days, the Others will open the gate themselves, and destroy Phoebe, Janeway, Voyager and possibly the Monorhans as well in their effort to keep Exosia free of the exiles' contamination. If the Nacene who left Exosia are ever to go home, it must be now.

When she returns from her travels with "Phoebe", Janeway learns that Tuvok has been infected with a life form that is transforming him, that in fact all of the Monorhans who came to this array, who had been thought dead, were so transformed as well, and that he wants the transformation, although it will kill his physical body. One Monorhan alone was not transformed -- Assylia, the leader of the group that fled to the array. She has been residing in the array's computer systems all this time, driven nearly mad by loneliness and the apparent death of her people. Tuvok helps her to understand what has actually happened to her people, but a delayed self-destruct she set a long time ago is triggered, and the array will be destroyed... and with it, the Nacene's only way home.

When Janeway takes the Key to the array, preparing to open the gateway, she learns that matters are more complex than she has been told. The life forms that transformed the Monorhans are spores created for the sake of the Nacene, which should be used by them to make them compatible with existence in Exosia once again. Nacene who are not transformed by the spores cannot go home, but the spores have been largely used by the Monorhans, who were accidentally infected and transformed when they came to the array. Phoebe wants to destroy the Monorhans to free up spores for Nacene, or at least to hold off on using the Key -- let the array be destroyed, but the gateway remain, to be used later. Janeway does not consider either a viable option. The Nacene are immortal; they can find another way home. But the Monorhans will be killed when the array explodes unless the gateway to Exosia is opened.

At the last minute, Phoebe warns Janeway that the gateway requires her life force to open it. Janeway doesn't hesitate. She's already made her decision, and her own life is a price she's willing to pay to save all these people.

At the last moment, as she feels her consciousness fading, another consciousness impinges on hers -- the sense of Assylia, the one who is responsible for self-destructing the array. In guilt and gratitude, Assylia pushes Janeway aside and takes her place as the conduit, her own life force being consumed. Janeway senses that much. And then everything is dark.

Her head hurt. Janeway sat up. There was no explanation whatsoever she could think of for why she didn't remember any of this, why what she remembered from that time period was simply that they'd entered a lightless region of space and she'd become inexplicably and deeply depressed. The memories didn't tell her when the timeline had changed, assuming they had and this wasn't just another duplicate of her. For a moment she was tempted to call Q to demand an explanation; the people she actually wanted an explanation from, her crew, were not here to ask. But she didn't want to be beholden to Q for help. She'd ask the help of various other Q in getting around in the Continuum if she had to -- although with Queria's gift, thankfully, it didn't look like she'd have to anymore -- because she was a stranger in their world. But she wasn't going to ask Q a personal question about the memories he had given her.

The memory of the entity that had impersonated Phoebe reminded her of her family, a sharp sorrow. She could see Phoebe any time she wanted to, but after watching her own funeral she hadn't been able to bear it; she'd stopped looking at her family, in particular, because it hurt too much that she couldn't talk to them, couldn't make them see her. And unlike her crew, her mother and sister hadn't been fighting the Borg, hadn't been an integral part of the tale of the war that had claimed Janeway's own life.

Angrily she got to her feet. She couldn't make the Q send her home. But maybe she could make them tell her where to find her children. If they could go back and forth between her dimension and the Continuum, or if she could get someone to take her to see them, maybe they could carry a message for her. There had to be some way to reconcile with them, some way to make them understand that she simply had lost all memory of them when she'd been turned back human.

"Computer, is Q back in the Continuum yet?" she asked, meaning the being "her" Q had told her to go see about her children.

"You're in luck. If you can call it luck. He's back."

"Show me."

An image came to her mind of the Q in question in a laboratory setting. She focused her mental image of him, and wished herself there.

The Q did not look up as she appeared in his lab; he had an insane number of monitor screens up in front of him, all showing him various tabulations and scan results, and he was leaning back in a chair reading them. She walked up to him, hands on hips, and waited for him to notice her. Sometimes it took Q a while to notice her; she was apparently very small and hard to see in the Continuum.

When she'd been standing there for a couple of minutes, though, she cleared her throat, hoping to draw his attention. It didn't work. He still ignored her.

"Excuse me," she said. And then when that didn't work, she took a step closer and raised her voice slightly. "Excuse me."

He waved a hand at her idly, and she found herself standing "outside" on the road metaphor that seemed to dominate public spaces in the Continuum, in front of what looked like some sort of top secret laboratory building, square and beige brick with no windows and solid grey doors. The doors, of course, did not slide open when she approached them.

Angrily, she summoned up her focus again, and transited, holding it in her mind the way she had when she'd been a salamander. She reappeared next to the Q. He turned toward her, a look of startlement on his face.

"Q told me to go to you because you could answer my questions about my children," she snapped. "He said you were difficult to deal with, but he never said you'd completely ignore me."

The Q, who was wearing a lab coat and a 20th century t-shirt that showed the finger of God pointing at an exploding planet with the caption "So many idiots... so little antimatter", looked taken aback. And then he grinned sharkishly. "You're that one! I never made the connection before."

"What connection?"

He scowled at her. "I don't care if Q is the head of the faction or not. Any debt I may owe him for his self-interested pursuit of goals I wanted to achieve as well doesn't translate into my being his lapdog. I don't jump when he says fetch."

"I'm positive he knows that," Janeway said sharply. "But perhaps he assumed -- as I did -- that you would be a responsible and mature being, who would actually have a conversation with people who've come to talk to you instead of teleporting them out of the room."

"Just because Q thinks you're a person doesn't mean that those of us with sense agree," the Q said, leaning back in his chair. "I don't need to have a conversation with Q's pet just because he thinks I should pretend it's worth talking to."

"You said Q is the head of the faction. I presume that means you're a member of the Freedom Faction. Are you aware that my crew of mortals are the only reason you didn't lose?"

He snorted. "Yeah, I knew about Q bringing in a bunch of mortals with weapons that would work. Who doesn't? Scared the shit out of those fat cats, but it's not like you people did anything. It was all Q's doing for giving you the weapons, and it's not like even the faction wants to give her the time of day for it. I mean, there are ways to win wars, and then there are disgusting ways to win wars, and she picked door number two."

"I don't think you'd have won without resorting to her disgusting strategy."

The Q shuddered. "Better that than Q's disgusting strategy, at least. When he told us all his brilliant plan was to procreate with a mortal, I nearly threw up. I mean, winning by mating with meat is kind of like one of you people winning a sheepfucking contest. Sure you won, but now you're a sheepfucker."

Q had warned her the guy was an asshole. And she'd realized at the time that if Q thought he was an asshole, he had to be really bad. So she was able to keep her temper, barely. "You had a better plan?"

He shrugged. "If I'd had a better plan, I'd have implemented it millennia ago and then I'd be the head of the faction. It's not like Q's all that. People just listen to him because he was louder about it than anyone else, earlier than anyone else."

"In other words, people listen to him because he was willing to stand up for the things he and apparently you believe in, long before it was popular enough to be safe. Sounds to me like that's a damn good reason to make someone the head of your movement."

The Q rolled his eyes. "You're just going to make noises at me all day until I tell you this story, aren't you?"


"Who the fuck taught the meat to teleport?"

"I'm not exactly meat any longer."

"Oh, marvelous. You're dead meat. That's so much better." He sighed. "But hey, I'll tell you this story, 'cause it's hilarious and I never get tired of telling it. And then you'll go away and I'll never have to look at you messing up my nice clean Continuum again, got it?"

"If you don't want me messing up your nice clean Continuum, I'd be perfectly happy to leave. Just give me back a living body and send me to Earth and I won't mar your Continuum a moment longer."

"Naah, Q would kick my ass if I did that. That bitch is scary. You know she gives up her powers for fun? And goes and fights meat with bladed weapons? And gets herself cut? We should have kicked her out of the Continuum for being totally bugfuck nuts millions of years ago, but she used to know how to suck up."

"Well, if you won't send me home, then I can't promise you that you'll never have to see me again. But I assure you that I won't willingly talk to you again after you tell me what Q wants you to tell me."

"Good enough, I guess." He sat up straight in his chair. "So here's the thing. Q plays like he's all hard and ruthless and badass, but it's a shell that's approximately thirteen picometers thick and the inside is so squishy it might as well be plasma. I'll give him that he's brave enough to stand up to the entire Continuum and demand the right to be a meat-loving perv, but it doesn't change the fact that he gets way too attached to you things. For a while back there we all thought he'd gotten past that and toughened up, so when the top dogs wanted humanity to get a smackdown, being that you people were getting massively too full of yourselves, they sent him. But damn, did he ever roll over and turn into a pussy. First he gives you a cakewalk, and then when we tell him go back and do the test right, he gives the Continuum a big fat F U by making the test all about a human joining the Continuum, so even if he wins, we lose. I mean, I'd have thought it was a sweet prank to pull on those sanctimonious assholes in charge, except he was serious about it."

"I'm not sure any test Q subjected humanity to could be described as a cakewalk."

"Oh, come on. Is the space station a freaking energy jellyfish just like the jellyfish that's attacking it, and is the attacker hostile or just pissed at the meat who took its pal captive? How stupid would you have to be not to get that?" He sighed. "So then Q cashes in every favor anyone owes him so he can get the right to test humanity for sentience, despite it being blatantly obvious that you're not ready, and he actually gets his votes. Even Q voted for him, and Q hates him. Word is, they cut a deal involving Q performing unspeakably sordid and degrading sexual acts in exchange for Q's vote." He waggled his eyebrows. "But then, it shouldn't shock you of all people that Q's a whore."

"Does any of this character defamation have a point?" Janeway asked, her voice steel.

"Sure it does. See, Q got you declared sentient, after playing hardball politics and then practically giving the answers away on the test, and if you're sentient then no Q can cause you harm... unless you infringe on the Q. And that is the really sweet loophole that you fell through."

"I don't understand."

"Of course you don't, you're meat. The universe isn't actually large enough to contain a description of just how stupid you are."

If she had actually needed to breathe, Janeway would have taken a deep breath. But that was giving him too much power over her, given that she didn't have a physiology that actually required air. "I don't understand because I am not telepathically connected to a database that contains all the information in the universe. Q aren't particularly more knowledgeable than humans when deprived of that particular advantage. So instead of complaining about the fact that I don't already have the information I'm asking you for, which is foolish since it fails to recognize that if I already had the information I wouldn't be asking for it... why don't you just give me the information. What loophole are you talking about? We didn't infringe on the Q."

He grinned widely. "Oh, yes, you did." The Q stood up. "You don't know anything about how the universe works, do you?"

"I know quite a bit about how the universe works, but I'll acknowledge that you know more than I do."

He rolled his eyes. "All right, let's see if I can come up with a metaphor that your primitive brain can grasp." As he spoke, he paced and made gestures. It reminded Janeway of "her" Q, the one who had sent her on this errand, the way that siblings who didn't physically look much alike and didn't think highly of each other still had similar patterns of speech and body language. "Think of an onion. The outermost layer is your universe, realspace. And the constraint on realspace is that there's a discontinuity at c. As you approach the speed of light, your mass increases and your duration decreases, until at c those numbers are infinity and zero."

"Yes, I am in fact aware of all of that."

He ignored her completely. "Subspace has a different discontinuity point. As you approach Warp 10, if you don't drop down to a lower layer of the onion like transspace or slipspace, duration doesn't change and neither does mass, but the energy needed to do it approaches infinity and space approaches zero. You define Warp 10 as infinite speed, but that's incorrect; Warp 10, if you could get there, which you can't, is infinite energy and zero space, meaning that you are simultaneously everywhere at once. But of course you can't get there because you don't have infinite energy."

"There are ways to get around the infinite energy requirement."

"No, there aren't. You just think there are. Just as you can't actually travel at c in realspace, you can't actually travel at Warp 10 in subspace. As you approach, consuming more and more energy, you destabilize the fabric of subspace, punching a hole through the layers of reality. You see, infinite energy is a defined state, and we call that state the center of reality, or sometimes, the Heart of the Storm. Just as your asymptote to c has next to no time distortion down at the lower levels of realspace speed, like your impulse drive, but starts to become more and more massive and use less and less duration as you go up the asymptote, your asymptote starts to get weird around Warp 9.9. The energy levels you consume and the shortening of subspace you commit can actually bring you through the layers of the onion, which is why you think of transwarp as something you get to by going really fast rather than something you get to by shifting to an entirely different layer of reality. Use enough energy, fast enough, and you jump through the layers, just like an overly excited electron can jump two or three shells at once."

"So instead of achieving Warp 10... we jumped through the layers?"

"Correct." His grin got even wider. "Your lackeys actually found a way to jump into the outer corona of the Q Continuum. See, where we are is the energy state of infinite energy and no space; the numbers right here, right where you and I are standing, aren't actually infinity or zero, but they're damn close, close enough that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. So when you jumped up to a near-infinite energy state... you ended up here. Well, not in the Continuum proper, not in the parts we live in, but the outer edges of it."

If the Continuum had virtually zero space, she wondered how it was possible to have location. When she had been a salamander-being and she had transited, she had felt the sense of being everywhere at once, of there being no such thing as location, but when she transited in the Continuum she had the distinct sense that things existed in places. She was not, however, going to ask this particular Q to clarify. "Is what Tom and I sensed what we would have sensed when we went to the Continuum with Q if he hadn't provided us with a translation metaphor?"

"Who knows? You were in the outer corona, in a spaceship. Not quite the same thing as being on the main thoroughfare. The point is... there you were. Infringing on the territory of the Q. Which made you fair game." He laughed. "Really, I was doing Q a favor. He got so pissed off that I was playing with humans without notifying him, but honestly, I was just adding to his body of research on the species, doing the experiments he's not hardcore enough to do himself. I mean, he's interested in human evolution, right?"

Horror went through her as she suddenly understood. "It wasn't a natural property of breaking the Warp 10 barrier. You did it to us."

"Yup." He beamed at her and sat down, propping his legs up on his console. "I did just a teeny bit of tweaking your pilot guy's DNA, to see how close I could get you people to being Powers. Amazing how little I needed to do, really. And then I wondered, what would happen if he bred, with the new DNA? Would the children, born as members of the more evolved species, be able to take that final step? So I gave him a compulsion to mate. He was gonna go for that half-Klingon thing, but the experiment was human DNA, and anyway, I'd rather piss off Q than Q... like I said, she is one scary bitch, and Klingons belong to her. So I had him go for you instead. Needed something that passed for brains and analytic ability at the human level, and you were the smartest female full human on the ship at the time... which is kind of like saying the most attractive slime mold, but hey, you got a lot smarter once I fixed you up."

"You forced us to mate! To produce children that we ended up abandoning because we couldn't even remember them!"

"Hey, it's not my fault that your crew didn't appreciate your evolutionary journey. And I didn't force you to mate, human; I didn't need to. Once I made you into something that couldn't remember all those stupid-ass rules you humans put around who to reproduce with and when, you were hot to trot. I'd have had to use mind control or mess with your hormone levels to keep you two from going at it."

Her faced flamed with embarrassment (why, oh why, did she still have that reaction when she was dead and incorporeal?), but she kept her voice level and hard. "Where are my children? What happened to them?"

"Shit, why would I care?" He shrugged. "Once the Continuum identified them as proto-Powers, they passed the sentience test easily, and then I couldn't do any more experiments with them. So, y'know, they're someplace. I really don't care exactly where."

"Experiments?" Fury made her see red, and it was all she could do to keep from grabbing him and shaking him. "What experiments did you perform on my children?"

"Oh, you know, the usual. Dumped a handful of Hirogen on the planet to chase them, dropped a Borg scout pod on their planet, sent Viidians after them, blew up their planet to see if they could figure out how to transit off of it... that kind of thing. They lived through it, though it was kind of touch and go with the youngest when I infected them all with the Drovis plague." He sat up and looked at her, a small smile of cold amusement on his face and his dark brown eyes completely hard. "That answer all your questions?"

She wanted to ask how he lived with himself, how he dared think of himself as a superior being if he did such things to innocent children, but he'd already made it crystal clear that he had no respect whatsoever for mortal sentience. She wanted to threaten him, to tell him that he would pay someday for what he'd done, but he probably wouldn't; even if someday she became a Q, she wasn't going to start a second civil war just to punish one psychopath, and she already knew that outside of the context of the war, inter-Q violence was practically unheard of. She wanted to demand, again, the location of her children -- as a Q he could know anything in an instant if he wanted to -- but clearly he didn't want to, and for all she knew the Continuum might have forbidden him to know their location as punishment for his harassment of beings they had later decided were proto-Powers. The Continuum decidedly operated on the assumption that some life forms were more equal than others, and Powers -- incorporeal beings, or corporeal ones with extraordinary psionic abilities -- rated higher with them than ordinary mortals did.

If she couldn't say any of that, then there was nothing left to say. "Yes," she said in a clipped, sharp tone.

"Then we're done here." He waved his hand again, and once again she found herself outside the laboratory.

The rage she had had no outlet for while she was actually talking to the being swamped her. "You son of a bitch," she snarled under her breath at the blank wall of the lab. "Treat me like an object, experiment on Tom, mind-control Tom into kidnapping me, turn us both into some completely different form of life... I don't honestly expect much better than any of that from a Q. But you experimented on my children!"

The concrete she was standing on shattered, crumbling into dust, and the dust rose around her, swirling in a cyclone. She had the dim sense that the cyclone was under her control, that she could make it stop if she wanted to, but she didn't want to. The rage was all out of proportion to anything; it was the buildup from however long she'd been here, of well-meaning, patronizing people who wouldn't let her go home and being treated as invisible by most of the people she met and being virtually powerless in the land of gods, weaker than a baby, and none of the clocks ran on time and the topography made no sense and she was so frustrated. This Q and what he'd done to her lost children was just a convenient target. The dust cyclone tore at the building, ripping at the blank beige brick, as more and more of the sidewalk she was standing on ripped off and flung itself into the winds spinning around her, and she felt power flow through her, red and dark like blood, like a sandstorm on Vulcan, like fury itself.

"Aunt Kathy, stop!"

There were hands on her arms, pulling them away from her sides, opening her fists. The power drained away, the cyclone falling to the ground, and Janeway suddenly felt woozy. For a moment she saw the concrete torn to bits around her, the damage to the brick building in front of her, and Junior's friend q standing, surveying the damage with hands on hips and raised eyebrows, saying, "Wow. A human did this?"

And then everything spun. She saw Junior's face above her, and then she fell backward against him dizzily. "She's badly drained," q said.

"Should I--?"

"No, you'd probably step on some human taboo. I'll get Amanda."

Everything went dark and cold.

When time resumed, Janeway became aware that she was warm, and something was flowing into her like liquid light pouring directly into her veins, making her body expand behind her skin and fill with vitality. Somewhere, someone was quietly moaning in sensuous pleasure, and at moments Janeway could feel that pleasure, as if it was a patch of sunlight on the river and she was on a moored boat that kept floating into it for moments at a time. But it wasn't her pleasure; even at the moments she felt it, she felt a keen awareness that someone else was feeling it, that the thrilling bits of ecstasy that darted in and out of her consciousness weren't hers, but were coming in... through the light in her veins? Something in her blood. Someone else's blood. She was...

She became conscious of where she was. She was fully dressed, curled on someone's lap as if she were a sleeping child, and her head was resting against someone's chest. Someone's naked chest. Someone's naked, female chest. In shock and embarrassment, Janeway jerked fully awake, to find herself sitting on Amanda Rogers' lap.

The Q was naked, laying back against a couch, and had apparently been holding Janeway nestled against her body while Janeway slept. Her long blond hair draped over the arm of the couch, where she was resting her head on a pillow. As Janeway got to her feet, Amanda made a complicated gesture with her hands, almost spinning them around each other, and she was suddenly dressed as a Federation civilian doctor, in a tight light blue jumpsuit with black boots, and a white lab coat over it, a medical tricorder and emergency hypo kit attached to her belt.

"What's going on?" Janeway managed, face flaming with embarrassment.

"You ran out of energy," Amanda said. "q and Junior thought it best to call me in and have me feed you, both because I'd be more adept at a fine-tuned energy feed without hurting you than most Q would be, and to avoid stepping on human sexual taboos any more than necessary." She grinned, and sat up. "Q would have been just as skilled at controlling the feed as I am, but q suspected there was a very real possibility that you'd rather have your existence cease than give him a thrill."

"Give him... a...?"

"Providing energy to another Q is a sexual act, for us," Amanda said, her tone totally matter of fact. "But as the only other heterosexual female in the entire Continuum, I can promise you that while I have no control over whether or not it felt good, I didn't actually take it as anything other than a necessary medical treatment." She smiled slightly.

Janeway blinked. "I'm not a Q," she said, focusing on that part and trying to ignore any other implications of what Amanda had said.

"No, but for a moment you were," Amanda said. She drew her legs under her on the couch, sitting with one folded down and one up with her knee near her head, and she leaned her chin and folded arms on that knee. "We're not like humans or Vulcans. I hate the analogy, but the closest thing to what we are that you're familiar with is the Borg... not that we're like the Borg. We keep our individuality and we don't bring anyone in by force. But we aren't defined by our, well, genetics, or our physical shape or biology... if you can talk about biology for noncorporeals. What defines a Q is the ability to draw on the Continuum for power. I was born with that ability even though I was born biologically human, so I have always been a Q. There are five other Q who were born mortal and who were given the ability to draw on our power, and Will Riker almost became number six."

"And I'm a Q because I drew power from the Continuum? How?"

"You're not a Q, no. You don't have the power permanently. But for a moment you were like a Q. You see, you're made of Continuum energy, the same as the rest of us. You're just made of less of it."

"I'm made of what the Q are made of?"

Amanda sighed. "This is hard to explain. Think of a hologram."


"Holograms can't exist outside a holodeck or holo-emitter set. They can be sentient -- you'd know that better than most people -- but their consciousness is housed in coherent light, and outside of projectors for that coherent light, they can't exist. Matter, what you used to be made of, cannot exist outside a universe that supports the physical laws that hold matter together."

"Like the biomimetic copies of us," Janeway said. "Or the Monorhans."

"The Monorhans are a better example; the biomimetic copies of you could have survived indefinitely if they hadn't been exposed to radiation that wouldn't have affected your biology. But the Monorhans simply couldn't exist outside their own system. Those who went through your transporters were reconstructed in a form that could exist under the primary laws of physics as well as the laws in Monorhan space, like you could, but those that weren't transported simply dissolved." She unfolded her legs and stood up. "The difference between you and a Q like I was when I came to the Continuum is that a Q has been granted the access to power needed to leave the Continuum and reconstruct ourselves in matter. Continuum energy doesn't exist in your universe; we literally cannot leave without reforming ourselves into something that does exist in your universe. And when Q brought you here, she didn't give you that ability. But since you had the knowledge of how you had traveled through the edges of the Continuum when you were an amphibious sapient, Queria was able to grant you the ability to draw small amounts of power to travel freely within the Continuum. And since you have the memories of manipulating the strings as the Nacene do, from when you traveled with the Nacene you called Phoebe, you now have the ability to draw power from the Continuum to manipulate the Continuum. You always had the ability to alter the metaphor you perceive the Continuum with, but now you actually have some ability to literally affect the Continuum."

"I hardly spent any time at all manipulating the strings. And the power was given to me artificially. I only had it for moments, and when I lost it I lost all knowledge of how to use it. Phoebe was just demonstrating to me how easy, and tempting, it was for the Nacene to create such enormous damage to our space."

"Yes, but when Q gave you back the memories, all of the experiences were recorded in your mind permanently... you no longer have a human brain to limit what you're able to remember. Things you couldn't have grasped if the structure of your brain was still humanoid -- like Warp 10 transit, for example -- you understand, now that you're given back the memories of the moments you understood them."

"So... because I had these experiences, and now I can remember them... now I've become a Q?"

Amanda shook her head. "If you were a Q, you wouldn't have fainted. You need vital energy, the energy that fuels your existence, in order to summon dynamic energy, the type of Continuum energy that gives us our powers. We, and you, are made of static energy -- energy that takes a shape, energy that behaves more like a plasma state of matter than like the energy in your universe -- and static energy radiates vital energy, fueling you. Because you're a representation of a human consciousness, not a Q consciousness, you are made of a lot less static energy than a Q, and therefore have a lot less vital energy. So when you used that energy to open a channel to the dynamic Continuum energy all around you, you used up your own life force. If I hadn't restored you, you might have died; static energy disperses without vital energy to bind it into a shape."

This was a representation of someone's house, in the efficient but homey style common on colony worlds where resources were low. Janeway went to the window. It was a bright, sunny day outside, looking out over a field of riotous purple flowers everywhere, on reddish stalks. "And that's why people keep telling me I can't leave the Continuum because I'm dead. The thing that I'm made of, now that my matter-based body has been destroyed, is essentially the same thing that Q are made of, but I don't have enough of it to be able to reconstruct myself in matter and go to my universe. Is that correct?"

"Yes, basically."

She turned, angrily. "So tell me why Lady Q did this to me!"

"Gave you life?" Amanda sounded sincerely puzzled.

"Gave me this life. I know you Q have the ability to make matter at will. She could have reconstructed me a matter-based body identical to my old one. Instead she brought me here, in a form that can't leave the Continuum. She didn't have to give me a new life at all; she chose to do this. She chose to resurrect me in a form that traps me here. Why?"

Amanda shrugged. "I don't know her motives."

"I didn't know the Q could keep secrets from each other."

"They're all very good at keeping secrets from me," Amanda said. "I'm not the Q you ought to be asking. But I'm not sure anyone knows what Q's motives are, anyway. There's something she knows that she doesn't seem to be sharing... and yes, that's possible, it's just not easy to do."

"I'm sorry." Janeway took a deep breath. "I shouldn't be shouting at you; I'm grateful for your help, and I know you probably know less than most of the others. But I'm just getting tired of secrets. I've just learned that I had three children, and no one will tell me where they are or what happened to them, except that the Continuum identified them as... proto-Powers? I assume that means something like Kes, on the verge of becoming noncorporeal?"

"That's usually what it means, yes," Amanda said.

"Right. I'm told they don't want to talk to me, but I'm not even allowed to know where they are. I can't send a message home to tell my family and friends that I'm not really dead, and no one will tell me why not, except to repeat that I am dead. And I don't even know why I'm here. Lady Q spoke as if she was saving me for Q's benefit, but I've met Q precisely once since Lady Q brought me to the Continuum, and he seemed to think that Lady Q has no concern for his personal feelings. Mostly I seem to be babysitting q-ling and exploring the Continuum. That's not exactly the grand destiny Lady Q implied."

"I know why you're not allowed to tell your friends and family that you're not dead."

"Oh? Are you allowed to tell me?"

"It's because you are dead." Amanda grinned at Janeway's expression. "Sorry. But I'm kind of serious. Embracing the belief that there are no supernatural, benevolent beings overseeing humanity and protecting you was considered a major step in your cultural evolution, a necessary part of making you capable of what you've achieved over the last three hundred years. So what happens if people find out that a human was resurrected from the dead by incomprehensibly powerful nigh-omnipotent entities?"

"We already know the Q exist," Janeway argued. "My people aren't about to start worshipping you just because they know you brought me back."

Amanda sighed, and joined Janeway at the window. "When I first embraced my power, I stopped a reactor from overloading on Tagra IV, and I cleaned up their ecosystem and restored their planet to an unpolluted state. They had already come to understand how their actions caused the damage to their planet, and they had been working to try to reverse that on their own. It's been only ten years, and there are politicians and lobbyists on Tagra IV who are arguing that the problem wasn't that bad, that the protocols they've put in place to keep the planet from being polluted again cost too much, and that the goddess of mercy -- who no one seriously believed in, except as a metaphor, before I took action -- will protect their world from disasters if they only have faith. Guess who they think the goddess of mercy is."

"They think you're her."

"Yes. I get prayers from Tagra IV a lot. 'Amanda', which obviously wasn't even a Tagran name before I did what I did, is now the most popular girl's name and the 23rd most popular boy's name on the planet. Several cults of the goddess of mercy -- who used to be named Rion -- have sprung up, and about half of them include the story of how she incarnated as a human girl and returned to Tagra IV in its hour of greatest need. I just did one thing, and now about a third of the Tagrans believe that I'm hanging around their planet, ready and willing to do it again. And these were Federation citizens, technologically and culturally advanced people. Do you think it can't be done to humanity?"

"I think Starfleet, at least, knows better. We've encountered many, many advanced alien species who could be mistaken for gods."

Amanda shook her head. "There's a man who embodies the 24th century human, and your ideals. He's compassionate, intelligent, sophisticated, a leader who truly believes in human self-determination and peaceful coexistence with other races and that humans need to accomplish things for themselves. And three times, in moments of despair and terror, he has called on the Q, mentally, begging for help in a manner that's completely indistinguishable from prayer. Despite the fact that he's seen a Q in human form whining about having a bad back."

"You're talking about Captain Picard."

"I am. Yes."

"Captain Picard might have reason to believe Q might aid him. Calling out for an acquaintance who has the ability to save you and might choose to exercise it isn't the same as calling on a god. Many people, in moments of despair and terror, call on their mothers or fathers, and they don't believe their parents are gods. Captain Picard calling to Q would be a lot more likely to work than calling to his mother would."

"Right. But Captain Picard is also more aware than anyone except you of the limitations of the Q and the reasons we can't really be relied on for pretty much anything, and he knows better than to trust Q, and he did it anyway. What would someone like your mother, who's never met the Q, do if we brought you back to her?"

"I don't think my mother would start worshipping anyone."

"Maybe not. But that's what they're worried about. Resurrect a well-known, heroic figure who's been in the news in the Federation a lot, whereas there's been relatively little news about the Q -- I'd certainly never heard of them before I learned that I was one -- and it could set back your cultural evolution and set up your people to start forming cults around worshipping us. It's the kind of thing that needs to be handled carefully, and it's not Q's specialty; she usually goes among mortals impersonating them, not as a goddess. She may not want the hassle."

Janeway sighed. "Well, if it's related to your equivalent of the Prime Directive and your unwillingness to tamper with my people's culture, I suppose I can understand it. I still don't accept it, because I think you're wrong about humans and about the Federation in general, and I don't think the danger is as great as you do... but at least you're trying to do the right thing." She looked around herself. "Where am I? I was unconscious when I was brought here, wasn't I?"

Amanda nodded. "Junior and q brought you to me. They've been waiting for you outside."

"Outside", which wasn't a bright sunny day in a field of purple flowers at all, but a cool, crisp autumn day on an indistinct New England university campus with quaint old buildings covered in ivy, she found q and Junior waiting for her, both dressed in late 20th century prep school costumes. Her own outfit had changed accordingly as well. Annoyed, Janeway concentrated and replaced the blouse and pleated skirt with her Starfleet uniform.

"Feeling better?" q asked.

She nodded. Junior whistled. "Aunt Kathy, that was impressive. I never thought I'd see a human actually wreck a structure in the Continuum. Q is going to be so pissed off when he looks up from his research and sees what you did to his workspace."

"How much damage did I do? I thought all I damaged was the sidewalk."

"You very nearly blasted a hole in his wall. Well, really, you very nearly warped a hole in the structure of the space of his pocket dimension, but y'know, same thing."

Janeway took a deep breath. "I shouldn't have done that."

"It was awesome!" Junior protested.

"I shouldn't have let my temper get the better of me. I just... I don't expect better of a Q I barely know than to perform experiments on me and my crew. It's what you do. But he did it to my children... after I left them behind, because I'd lost all my memories and I couldn't remember that they were sentient. And for all I know, they blame me for what he did, and that's why they don't want to see me, but I don't even know where they are, and he refused to tell me, and no other Q is willing to tell me..."

"I know where they are," q said. "They're at the university. One of them's in a class I was auditing before I decided it was really too basic for me."

Janeway turned her head to stare at the young entity. (Young in relative terms, anyway, she supposed.) "They're at the university?"

"Well, where else would they be?" q began to walk away. "Come on. I've got places to go."

Junior and Janeway both followed after her. "I'm afraid I've never been exactly clear on what the university is," Janeway said. "Why do omniscient beings need to go to a university anyway?"

"It's not about what you know," q said. "It's about how you think about what you know. How it all fits together. Modes of perception, ways of looking at the universe. Ethics. And most of the beings who go aren't even as close to omniscient as we Q are; the university was created for the benefit of the Q, but I'm actually the last Q still going, unless I can get Amanda or this guy--" she punched Junior on the shoulder, lightly, which made him grin goofily "to come with me. Right now my fellow students are all Powers, Lesser Powers or proto-Powers."

"How many of them could there be in the universe who would want to be trained by the Q?" Janeway asked skeptically.

"You'd be surprised. For one thing, anyone who attends Q University gets access to the Continuum database. We have more comprehensive information about the entire universe and more density of analysis than any other Species of Power. Lots of beings want a piece of that action."

"So the Q are... the most powerful of the beings of power in the universe?"

"Yes," Junior said promptly. "Did you doubt it?"

q shot him a look, and he grinned sheepishly. To Janeway she said, "It depends on how you look at it. The Prophets of Bajor, for instance, have no comprehension of linear time, but that means they aren't at all bound to a linear time dimension, whereas the Continuum has its own linear time we are all bound to, even though we can move freely in your time. The Douwds have no central authority they're tied to, and can't be weakened by being cut off from a power source. The Vash'ta are a full uni-mind and can act a lot faster than the Continuum, since they don't have the levels of internal debate we do. Oh, and yeah, we had a civil war. Lots of them think that automatically makes them superior to us." She sighed. "The war really hurt our prestige. Enrollment dropped tremendously during and after the war, and it's never really come back to what it was."

"So beings like... Kes, for example. If you had brought her to your University, she wouldn't have gone mad and attacked us the way she did?"

q studied Janeway for a moment. "You never did get those memories," she said. "Makes sense, I guess. You were unconscious at the time, so what's to remember? And then no one explained anything to you, because Kol's repairs wouldn't have taken otherwise."


"Kes's son. Also, my roommate; also, the guy who saved the universe after you managed to almost get it destroyed."

Janeway stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. "All right, I think that needs explaining."

"The memories you just got? About the Nacene, and the Monorhans, and the Key? You ended up in a coma, and things went on around you, and when they were all done and the universe was saved, Kol fixed your brain, but told your crew to keep quiet about all of it because otherwise you might suffer a relapse." She grinned. "Of course, that wasn't the real reason. Just remembering that bad things happened to you never stopped you before. It was because Phoebe gave you too much information; the knowledge you gained from her on the nature of the strings, and more importantly how to manipulate them, could have been dangerous in the hands of a human, and if your crew had managed to jog your memory about any of it, you might have remembered all of it."

"But Q's given me those memories back now."

"You're in the Continuum now. You're not exactly a danger to your surroundings anymore. Kind of the difference between a kitten in a box full of mice and a kitten in a house full of humans."

Well. That wasn't the most flattering analogy, but at least she was a kitten now and not a cockroach or something, like the Q responsible for Tom's and her transformation had treated her. "This has something to do with Kes? Kes was long gone from the ship by the time this happened."

"Sure, but she wasn't dead. See, the Monorhan god, the Light, had gone off to Ocampa after creating the Monorhans and building the array. Well, first he came here, to the university, and then he went to Ocampa, where his fellow Nacene were being their usual irresponsible selves. After studying with the Q, he'd actually figured out that doing anything you want, just because you can, is a bad idea."

"I'd never really noticed that philosophy being the hallmark of the Q," Janeway said dryly, although she remembered thinking during her adventures with the Nacene that even the Q were more responsible than they were.

"You hang out with the wrong Q." q looked at Junior again, who had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "Anyway, he fell in love with an Ocampa -- a general named Lia. One of the Nacene in Exosia sent your Doctor to Ocampa to occupy the body of Lia's chief adjunct--"

"Wait, what?"

"Well, when you opened the gateway to Exosia, photonic energy was drawn in, and since he was sentient photonic energy, he got pulled into Exosia. So she sent him back in time to kill the Light, but he figured out that he was backing the wrong side when he realized that the Light was in love with Lia, also that the Caretaker and Suspiria were on the side he'd been sent to help and he knew what they'd done to Ocampa."

"What does any of this have to do with Kes, though?"

q frowned at her. "You're very impatient."

"We like her that way," Junior said.

"Lia was dying," q said. "She and the Light wanted to have a child, an Ocampan-Nacene hybrid who wouldn't have the limitations of the Nacene and would be able to free the Exosian Nacene from being enslaved to the strings. But she wasn't going to live long enough to carry a child. So the Light read your Doctor's mind, noticed Kes in his thoughts, and called her through time to merge with Lia. Kol my roommate -- ended up as the child of two Ocampan women and the Light. There was only one Ocampan body involved, of course, but on a psionic level he's as much Kes' child as Lia's or the Light's."

"So Kes was sent back in time."

"Well, sent, went, hard to make the distinction. So the Q took Kol to the university to study, but he racked up some pretty serious gambling debts and took off to try to make them up at exactly the wrong time, so Q grabbed your Tom and Harry and took them off to look for him. Which is how I met them; they stopped by my place at the university to look for him, and when I told them where he went, Q was going to send your guys to the casino to go look for him on their own. I figured I'd tag along and help them out; Kol was my friend, and I didn't want to see him lose his chance to do what he'd been born to do just because he liked gambling just a little too much, and since Q couldn't go I was pretty sure that a couple of mortals weren't going to get anywhere on their own."

"Wait, Q sent Tom and Harry to a casino for... what? Omnipotent beings? Noncorporeal beings? And he sent them on their own?"

"It wasn't like he could go. Q's been banned from that casino for millennia."

"Do I want to know why?"

"Cheating, of course," q said. "What else would it be?"

Janeway could think of all sorts of ways Q could theoretically have created trouble at a casino for powerful beings, but decided not to say anything.

"Hey, no one ever proved anything," Junior said defensively.

q rolled her eyes. "No one needed to. Just because no one can figure out how he warped probability without anyone being able to see him do it doesn't mean it wasn't obvious that was what he was doing."

"All right. So you, Tom and Harry went to the casino?"

"Right, and we recovered Kol, and he opened the gateway to Exosia again to let the Nacene pass on to a new dimension, where hopefully they wouldn't cause quite as much trouble. Kes went with him, but she was attacked by Phoebe, in Exosia, after the rest of the Nacene had left. She was joined with Lia at the time, and if they ended up trapped in Exosia, Kes would be able to get out, eventually, but Lia couldn't. So she separated herself from Lia and transported Lia out, defeated her enemy, and got stuck in Exosia for what was by your terms a couple of years. Lia, meanwhile, couldn't handle the damage she'd taken; she went crazy with Kes' memories, thought she was Kes, and attacked you folks."

"And no one told me about any of this because... Kol told them not to?"

"Right. So when you woke up, you folks were heading into a region of space that was lightless for many, many light-years; when Monorha was destroyed and the Monorhans fled to Exosia, all the photonic energy was pulled in as well, which included all the local stars. And you were depressed and moody because of the stresses you'd recently been under, like having your brain burned out and nearly dying of it, but you didn't know the reason for any of it."

Janeway took a deep breath. Now she knew where that part of her memory fit in. "And Kol didn't want me to remember because I'd learned too much?"

"Uh-huh. Quite aside from the trouble you personally could have caused with that knowledge when you were still corporeal, you were fighting the Borg every other week, and if there was any possibility that you might be assimilated, it was important to make sure the Borg didn't get what you'd learned. But now..." she shrugged. "There's no harm in it. At least I'm guessing Q decided there's no harm in it, because he decided to give you your memories back."

"I'm pleased to see you all assess risk so carefully before doing things that could endanger the universe," Janeway said.

q grinned. "We can usually fix our mistakes. But are you starting to understand why you can't just go back home?"

"I don't see why I couldn't have gone back home before Q started giving me my memories back. Or why I still can't; surely, if my memories are dangerous, you Q could remove them."

"Good luck getting my dad to agree to that," Junior said with a snort. "He hates wiping out people's memories."

"I just had the best idea ever," q said. She stopped in the middle of the path they were walking, right in front of an ivy-covered brick building with a high cornice roof, to face Janeway. "I can't do it right this minute with exams coming up, but I'd already planned I was going to throw a party as soon as they're over."

"And why is a party the best idea ever?" Janeway asked her, amused. At times she sounded as young as she appeared.

"Because I have every right to invite Tom and Harry to my party, given that we had that adventure together, plus I dated Harry. I--"

"Yeah, what's he got that I haven't got?" Junior interrupted, aggrieved.

"I didn't change his diapers," q shot back. "And his father is not my big brother."

"The entire Continuum is your big brother."

"Almost the entire Continuum is your dad's big brother, which makes you everyone's nephew. So I think you're out of luck until your sister grows up."

"What sister?" Junior asked, while Janeway was left wondering why a relationship with one's sister would be better than a relationship with one's nephew.

"Anyway, I can invite them. And if you'll take a few classes at the university -- which, I'm being brutally frank here, you really need to do anyway -- I can invite you. And I can invite your kids, because they're in some of my classes. So you can tell Tom and Harry that you're alive, more or less, and you and Tom can have a big family reunion with your kids, and I can demonstrate to Harry that I've learned how to have sex with mortals without accidentally killing them." It was a good thing Janeway wasn't drinking anything, because she would have choked.

"Rub it in, why don't you," Junior groused. "I never accidentally killed any mortals I was having sex with."

"Because your mom took you on all those no-powers roleplaying campaigns and your dad is the second-biggest mortal-loving pervert in the Continuum. But you should come to my party too. I know a cute Douwd I can hook you up with, and they're almost like Q."

Junior sighed. "It's not the same."

Abruptly they were in front of the door to the building. "Okay, Admiral, this is your stop," q said.

Janeway blinked. "Excuse me?"

"You want to get invited to my party, don't you?"

"I don't recall actually agreeing to anything."

"Well, if you want me to arrange a meetup with you, and Tom and Harry, and your kids, you need some training. And if you ever want to have any hope of being let out of the Continuum, same thing. Because now that you have an understanding of how to manipulate Continuum energies and travel instantaneously through the Continuum, you can't be let out without supervision unless you get training."

So it had been a trap after all. She felt sudden rage at Q, who had promised her that his gift contained no hidden strings, no entrapments, no tests. The whole thing had been a ploy to push her toward becoming... whatever it was the Q wanted her to become. Q pretended to have no interest in Lady Q's agenda any more, but they had to be colluding somehow. Just as Queria was colluding, by giving her the ability to travel at will within the Continuum. They were all trying to turn her into something she wasn't, force her into whatever the destiny Lady Q claimed for her was.

"And if I don't want to jump through the hoops the Q are laying out for me?" she said in a hard but quiet voice.

"No skin off my nose," q said. "But I can't invite you to my party if you don't go to the University for training."

"Come on, Aunt Kathy," Junior said. "It's not a bad thing, to learn how to control yourself, is it? I mean, you thought self-control was a good lesson for me to learn."

"It's not self-control I need to learn," Janeway said sharply. "You knew how to control your powers; you just didn't know how to control your impulsive desires to use them. If I have abilities that I never asked for, abilities that make me dangerous... I would rather simply have them removed."

"That's your call," q said. "I'm not the boss of you, so I'm not involved one way or another. Just saying... if you want to get a message home, or see your children, I think you're going to have better luck going through me and my party than you are getting Q to send you anywhere." She meant Lady Q. It never stopped being unnerving to Janeway that here in the Continuum, she always knew exactly who was being discussed when any Q said "Q". Or, for that matter, that she could hear that q used a lowercase letter for her name. The sounds she heard weren't any different, so how could she tell?

"Fine," Janeway snapped, and pushed the door open.

Lady Q was sitting at a work table, with one other chair next to the table. There was nothing else; the room was a whitish-gray mist, similar to the one she had ended up in when she'd died and Lady Q had offered her another form of life. "It's about time," the entity said.

Janeway's eyes narrowed. "You're my teacher?"

"I brought you to the Continuum, so I'm told I'm stuck with you." Lady Q stood up. "Believe me, it's not my preference either. This is all Q's fault. Trust him to precipitate a situation that requires my assistance without so much as word one to me about what he's up to."

"So he did this deliberately. He knew that giving me my memories would give me... what can I even call this? I don't feel as if I have superhuman powers; I can travel in the Continuum and I can apparently make small sandstorms, and nearly kill myself doing it."

"You don't have to call them superhuman powers if you don't want," Lady Q said. "Call them Joe if you must. I really don't care what words you put on the concepts. But yes, between them Q and Queria seem to have arranged for you to acquire abilities a human wouldn't normally have in the Continuum. Still vastly less than what any Q can call on; q-ling can overwhelm any meager abilities you could muster up."

"q-ling hangs planets she made as preschool art projects on your refrigerator door," Janeway said dryly. "I'd hope she'd be more powerful than me. I'm not ready for the ability to make planets."

"Neither is she, judging from some of those planets," Lady Q said. "I do realize that you humans believe that parents are supposed to ooh and ahh over every trivial and pathetic achievement your children accomplish, but I've had two now and I still find their childish attempts at creation to be tedious beyond belief."

"She's doing the best she can. You wanted a being who would be born as a child, and would have to learn."

Lady Q made a face. "Yes, yes. That doesn't improve the quality of her undertakings, though; it just makes the lack of quality forgivable." She walked behind the table. "But we're not here to talk about q-ling. The memories Q has given you back, and the perception of the Continuum that Queria granted you, have accelerated your development beyond what I expected when I brought you here. So you now have abilities you have no idea how to control, and a critical need to learn that control."

"I'd rather you simply took them away," Janeway said.

Lady Q gave her a long, scrutinizing look. Janeway recognized the trick -- it was a dominance ploy, the sort of look a teacher would give a naughty student. She kept her own gaze even and met Lady Q's eyes without blinking. "Are you a person or a thing, Janeway?" Lady Q said.

"I prefer to think that I'm a person."

"Do you prefer us to think that you're a person?"

It was plainly a rhetorical question, but Janeway answered it anyway. "Ideally, yes."

"Then I can't do that. No Q may remove memories from a sentient being as we define sentients, and when Q put Picard through his final exam, humans were classified as... well, to be blunt, people. Beings deserving of what we Q recognize to be the basic rights of sentient beings, and for that reason we can't remove your memories without proof that it would cause harm to you or other sentient beings if we didn't. And if we can prevent such damage by training you, we must take that step first. So if you demand to have your memories wiped, without first trying to solve the problem through training, you'd be declaring that humans are not people and can be treated as we treat mere potential sentients... can be frozen solid, stabbed with bayonets, thrown to the Borg..."

"You've made your point," Janeway said tightly, wondering why Q had claimed that he could take the memories away if she didn't like them, if his doing so would define her as a non-sentient being. "What do I need to do?"

Lady Q gestured at the table. Janeway gasped slightly as her mother's home appeared there, in miniature like a doll house. "What are you doing?"

"Training you," Lady Q said cryptically. She passed her hand over the house, and it unfolded, the roof lifting off as if it were on hinges, the three floors of the house separating from each other as if they were drawers pulling out of an invisible cabinet. Each floor was connected to the one beneath it only by a narrow strip where the south side of the upper floor rested on the north side of the lower one. The whole thing looked completely lopsided and as if it might topple over at any minute, but by now Janeway was used to the fact that physics was optional in the Q Continuum.

The thing that drew her immediate attention was a tiny representation of a woman sleeping in a bed on the third floor, neck-length gray hair mussed and wild. It was like an incredibly lifelike doll of her mother. And then the doll shifted restlessly in her sleep, and Janeway realized with a stab of shock that that was her mother. "Why is my mother here?" she asked, her voice just slightly too shrill, betraying the edge of her panic.

"Q's supposed to do this kind of thing because he's good at it," Lady Q said. "But he's been entirely too soft with you. You'd never believe that he'd actually do anything to make you suffer." She waved her hand over the first floor, and three Borg appeared in flashes of light in the living room.

Janeway lunged forward. Lady Q looked at her, and she froze in place, all her muscles but those of her face locking up. "What are you doing to my mother?!" she shouted, and hated that there was more fear than fury in her voice. She could face down the death of her crew, the destruction of her ship, even being assimilated by the Borg herself, with steel and fire, but a threat to her mother turned a hardened, experienced starship captain into a terrified little girl.

"Does it look like I'm doing anything to your mother?" Lady Q asked. "Humans are sentient. I can't harm your mother. The real question you want to ask is, what are those Borg going to do to your mother."

"That's semantics! You put them there!"

"These are Borg from the past, just so you know," Lady Q said, her voice hard and pitiless. "They're under the control of the queen your future self killed. You know, the one who hated you because you blew up her primary unimatrix and took Seven of Nine away from her? They are aware that this is the home of Kathryn Janeway's mother. And while I would never accuse the Borg Queen of being particularly knowledgeable about human emotions and family ties, she does know that assimilating or killing your mother would hurt you."

"Please," Janeway said, struggling to move. Her muscles were locked completely, unresponsive; she couldn't budge. "Don't do this."

"Stop them, Janeway," Lady Q said relentlessly.

"I can't! You won't let me move!"

"It would hardly matter if you could; your physical form can't have any effect on that dimension. There's nothing you could accomplish by moving. You need to focus power."

The Borg had found the staircase and were heading up it. They disappeared from the representation of the first floor and reappeared on the portion of the staircase shown in the second floor. "I don't know how to do that. Whatever I did before, it just happened because I was angry."

"I'd think you'd be extremely angry if the Borg assimilated your mother."

"I don't know what to do! It isn't under my control!"

"Then I suggest you bring it under your control, very quickly."

"I can't!" The Borg were spreading out, exploring the second floor, plainly scanning it. "What am I supposed to do?"

"What do you want to do?"

"Stop them!"

"Then do it."

"I don't know how!"

"Then get used to your mother's new name being Seventeen of Forty-Three."

She wanted to kill Lady Q. But attacking a Q wasn't going to save her mother, or, given how much more powerful Lady Q was, do much of anything, really. Instead she focused her attention on the Borg. What could she do? Why couldn't she feel the rush she had before when she'd been angry at the Q who'd experimented on her children? Why wasn't it just happening?

"This isn't a metaphor," Lady Q said. "You can change the form of the Continuum by wanting to, badly enough, but the universe you come from doesn't respond to mere willpower. You have to actually do something. Use the power to affect the universe."

"I don't know what I'm doing. Even if I had the power and I could direct it, how would I know what to do with it?"

"The same way Riker and Amanda knew. Ask the Continuum."

"Computer, how do I save my mother from the Borg?"

"Not like that," Lady Q said, exasperated. "Let go of the metaphor. It isn't helping you right now. You can't have the Continuum verbalize instructions to you; what you need to do has no words in your language. Just open up your mind."

The Borg were done with the second floor and were heading up the stairs again. Gretchen Janeway was asleep at the end of the third floor hallway, her bedroom door open. Janeway took a deep breath. Panic would get her mother killed. She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering being Borg. Remembering how, when she had been the Borg Queen, knowledge had just come to her, flowing through the Collective directly into her mind. She knew that was how it worked for the Q as well, as much as she disliked that analogy.

When she opened her eyes, she saw far, far too much. Each of the Borg was like a snapshot overlaid over a thousand other pictures, from a baby to nothingness. She saw energy flows all over their body, and she saw the elements they were made of as different colors, where if she focused she could actually make out the molecular structure of any part of them. It was too much information, and she reeled.

"Decide what you want to happen to them, and want it more than you want anything else right now. Stay open to the information. It's difficult to hold so much knowledge when you're a mere human, but if William Riker could do it you can too."

I can do this. Humans have done this before.

What did she want? Her rage, her fear, wanted her to destroy the Borg -- who were walking down the hallway to her mother's bedroom. Make them explode, vanish, cease to be. But she remembered Seven. Borg could be other than Borg. She didn't have to kill them to save her mother.

Make them not-Borg, she thought, and as if someone else was guiding the image, her focus narrowed onto the timeshadows, the multiple images of those three Borg overlaid over them that represented their past selves and future potentials. She chose the timeshadows where the Borg were last not-Borg, where they were of their original species still, and something that was partially under her control and partially guided, like an assisted piloting simulation in training at the Academy, selected those timeshadows and foregrounded them. She didn't feel anything -- like the cyclone, she knew that somehow she was controlling this but it wasn't like muscles flexing, more like giving orders with her mind and seeing reality comply.

The three beings, suddenly not Borg, looked around themselves in complete disorientation. They babbled at each other, asking where they were, how they'd gotten here. Gretchen stirred in her sleep, mumbling at them to keep it down, and Janeway realized that they were still a potential danger to her mother; she knew nothing about what these aliens had been like before they'd been assimilated. Aboard her ship, with Tuvok and a security team backing her up, she'd have offered them the hand of friendship and gotten them medical assistance, but they were in her mother's bedroom and she didn't have the security of an entire ship full of trained people who took her orders. She wanted them to be healthy and cared for and not in her mother's bedroom.

Home, she thought, with a sense of terrible longing for her own home, the childhood home spread out on the table below her. Go home, all of you. The sense of the universe, of everything and where it was and how it all connected, the knowledge she had gained as a salamander-being, filled her now, and she saw how their timeshadows connected back to far distant planets and she touched those planets with her mind as if she were pointing at items on a touch-sensitive holographic display. The three former Borg vanished in flashes of light, returned to those homeworlds they were connected to.

Gretchen sat up. "Kathryn? Kathryn, is that you? Are you there?"

"Yes!" Janeway shouted. How was her mother sensing her presence? Who cared? It was the first opportunity she'd had to send any sort of message to her loved ones. "It's me, mom, I'm still alive! I didn't die! Can you hear me?"

Gretchen shook her head, looking around the room. "Damn," she whispered. "Another one of those dreams again. I'm... never going to get it through my head that she's really gone this time, am I."

"No! Mom, I'm not really gone! I'm still alive!"

"She can't actually hear you," Lady Q said.

And suddenly Janeway could move. She rushed to the dollhouse, but her hands went through it as if it were a hologram. Her mother turned over and lay back down on the pillow, tears welling in her eyes, and Janeway felt as if her heart would break. "How do I make her hear me? You gave me the power to save her; give me the power to talk to her!"

"So much for 'wipe my memory and take my power away,'" Lady Q said acerbically.

Janeway glared at her. "I hope you never have the opportunity to know how she feels," she nearly spat at the entity. "Your children are immortal. And I'm glad they're immortal; I like them. I don't wish any harm on Junior or q-ling. But you're never going to know how much a mother suffers when her children die, or are believed to be dead. And since you don't have a mother yourself I know you'll never comprehend how I feel."

"Yes, I'm sure your mother would be thrilled to know that benevolent godlike aliens are watching out for her family personally, and went out of their way to scoop up and rescue her daughter from certain death. That would make dealing with her own inevitable death, or your sister's death, or memories of your father's death, so much easier for her."

"Yes, well, that's actually what happened. Why would it be so terrible for her to learn the truth? It's one thing not to have a blind belief in a God who watches over the entire universe, with no evidence of any such thing; it's entirely another to know that a powerful alien race saved your loved one's life."

"Right, and we'll be opening up an embassy to the Federation any day now." Lady Q shook her head. "You don't acknowledge us as powerful aliens. If you had been given a warning by the Vulcans that you shouldn't go onto the Borg ship--"

"The Vulcans would have been able to explain why. Something you never did. And if they couldn't explain why, I wouldn't necessarily listen to them. And if Kes had told me, I would have listened, although apparently she's also a godlike being now, because I trust Kes. I had no reason to trust you."

The dollhouse vanished. A tiny part of Janeway's mind keened at the lost opportunity, but the rest of her was just angry and shaken. "It doesn't matter whether you comprehend my reasons, Janeway," Lady Q said. "You are not nearly as smart as you think you are. I have experience in these matters you lack."

"Why didn't you just allow me to return to my old life?" Janeway asked. "You gave me a second chance at life, and thank you, I'm grateful, but why did you bring me here? You have all sorts of excuses for why I can't be allowed to send a message home, to tell anyone I'm alive, but half of them boil down to not wanting to reveal that the Q ever do anything benevolent for anyone, and I'd be perfectly willing not to tell anyone the Q were responsible. And the other half are related to my having too much knowledge now, but I was in the Continuum for what I'm sure must have been months before I gained that knowledge." She stepped forward. "You and Q and Queria. You have some sort of hidden agenda where I'm concerned. I even think q and Amanda might be in on it, or perhaps they're just cooperating because they've been told to. But you've brought me here, you won't let me go home, you won't let me talk to my people, and now you've given me knowledge that seems to have granted me Q-like powers. What are you doing? Trying to isolate me from my own kind? Make me a Q, like you tried to do with Will Riker, except that you're cutting off all my other options?"

Lady Q sneered. "Making a mortal into a Q is a singular honor, Janeway. We wouldn't have to maneuver and trick you into it; if you didn't want it, we certainly don't want you."

"That's not how it worked with Will."

"I realize you're getting this information from log entries and you weren't actually there, but you did realize that we threw Q out shortly after he pulled that stunt, didn't you? Did it ever occur to you that there might be a causal connection there?"

"Then why are you doing this? What are you trying to do to me?"

"We're done here," Lady Q said. "Go home."

She waved her hand, and Janeway found herself in her "house" again.

The ball with her memories was still sitting on the bed. Janeway picked it up, concentrated, and opened the door to her house onto the Middle of Nowhere. She flung the ball into the shifting sands there, as hard as she could, and shut the door. It didn't matter how much she wanted those memories. Q obviously had had some sort of ulterior motive in giving them to her; he and Lady Q and Queria were colluding to turn her into... something. Someone else. Someone she wasn't. And she wasn't putting up with it any more.

As she turned back toward her living room, she felt a sense of emptiness and loss. She had no idea what to do next. Before Q had given her the memories, she had spent her time here in using the Continuum's database to explore the universe from her living room, but it seemed hypocritical to refuse knowledge from the Continuum because it was turning her into something she didn't want to be, and then spend her time acquiring different knowledge from the Continuum.

And then her doorbell rang.

Startled, she turned around and opened the door. There was a man with a round, ruddy face and thinning blond hair, holding her ball. "Hey, you dropped this," he said.

"Thanks, but I was actually getting rid of it. You can put it back. Or take it if you want it."

"Any reason why?"

"I don't have to justify myself to you," Janeway said tightly.

"'Course not, but I'm curious. Q put a lot of work into creating that thing for you. Seemed to me that you were enjoying it. So why toss it in the middle of nowhere?"

Janeway took a deep breath. "I don't enjoy being lied to or manipulated. Q is colluding in some way with Lady Q and Queria; his gift seems to be responsible for... changing me. Giving me some sort of powers, which are being used as an excuse for why I can't go home, even though I wasn't permitted to go home before I was given this gift. I don't appreciate that."

The Q started to laugh. He half-stumbled into her home and flopped down on the couch, still laughing. Janeway glared at him. "What's so funny?"

"You... you seriously think Q would be colluding with Q in anything? In case you didn't notice, he's furious with her. If anything, he'd be likely to sabotage her plans."

Janeway blinked. "I... got the impression that she was trying to support him."

"Oh, she wants to get back in his good graces, no question. Of course she can't just apologize, that would make her look like she was wrong in the first place. But she'll do stuff she thinks he'll appreciate, sure. Such as saving you. That doesn't mean he's actually going to forgive her, or play along with any of her plans."

"Why is that?"

The blond Q sat up on her couch. "She got mad at him and how he was handling the kid, and shutting her out of handling the kid, so she told him he was ruining the kid and the two of them were losers, and she walked out on them both. Not like she hasn't done that kind of thing half a million times before, and he's always forgiven her before, so I could see why she doesn't get what she did. But Q isn't going to forgive her for hurting the kid any time real soon. He can put up with tons of abuse for himself, it's not like he doesn't dish it out just as hard. But Junior's his weak point. He can't handle someone hurting his son." He shook his head. "So whatever Q's hidden agenda is, you can be pretty sure it's not to play along with whatever Q wanted for you when she brought you here."

"But he does have a hidden agenda."

"Every Q does."

"Including you?"

"I'm a Q," he said, spreading his hands in a shrugging motion.

"So what's yours?" Janeway asked acerbically.

"Now how would it be a hidden agenda if I was gonna tell you what it was?" He stood up. "But I can tell you this much. Whatever Q's intentions were when he gave you that thing, he wasn't planning to make you into somebody else. He isn't interested in changing people into something they're not; he's more about getting people to realize their potential. Frequently, the hard way. If all he has to do for you to get you to become everything you can be is to give you a ball of memories, you're luckier than most of the people he likes."

"What if my definition of 'everything I can be' and Q's are different? The Borg certainly thought that I was improved by being assimilated and becoming their queen."

"Yeah, that's the Borg for you. You ever known Q to override what people think?"

"No, but--"

"Look, if this is what you're worried about... no one is trying to sneak around your back to make you a Q. Like Q told you, that's an honor we grant to very few, and it's always by choice. We don't want someone who doesn't want to be part of us; then we'd have to put up with someone who doesn't like us and doesn't want to be part of us for the rest of eternity, and who wants that? Would you force someone to be in your crew against their will?"

She hesitated. "I'm... not sure Seven joined freely. She had very little will of her own when we first de-assimilated her. I might have forced her into something she wouldn't have chosen otherwise."

"Well, if she had no free will, then it was gonna be you, giving her the space to develop one while she worked for you, or the Borg, keeping her from developing one, so you still came down on the side of her freedom. We don't do it differently here. You're alive because Q thought it would please Q that you were alive, and because she's got some idea of a thing she thinks you're needed for sometime down the road. You're here because we can't run around resurrecting people and letting them live when everyone knows damn well they're dead; maybe we could have fudged it if Seven of Nine hadn't felt you die, or if she'd died before she could tell anyone you were dead, but now everyone pretty much knows you're dead, which would make it a lot more of a hassle to send you back home than you think. And you've got a ball of memories because Q feels guilty that he didn't do anything to stop your death, and because he's all about people changing through growth and learning, and you can't learn squat from experiences you had if you can't remember them."

"What is it that Lady Q thinks I'm needed for?"

"You'd have to ask her. She's not telling us."

"She's not telling me, either."

"Then I guess you'll just have to wait."

"How is it that she can keep that information from you? I had thought you all knew anything any one of you knew."

"There's ways," the Q said. "If we really wanted to force her, we could, but no one really wants to push too hard on the being who invented the way for mortals to kill Q. I mean, if she came up with that on the spur of the moment just so's your crew could rescue Q and you, who knows what she could pull off if she actually got mad at us?" He grinned.

"If no one wants to change me into something I'm not, why do I have powers now?"

"You've only got'em in the Continuum, Janeway. If we did send you outta here, you'd be an ordinary human... with some pretty amazing knowledge locked up in a kind of inefficient brain for it, and you might be able to do some stuff with technological assistance that maybe humanity as a whole shouldn't quite be messing with yet, but you wouldn't be able to kill Borg with your brain, no. You can do that 'cause you've been given a limited ability to draw on and manipulate the Continuum, and you've been given that 'cause you live here, and it's sorta the minimum you need to get by here." He stood up. "If it makes you feel better, you aren't the first... we brought in a Vulcan doc to give us some advice during the war, and we gave her the same abilities to manipulate the metaphor and channel Continuum energies that you've got."

"What happened to her?"

"Ah, we sent her home after the war."

"And she wasn't harmed by the experience?"

"Nope. Stayed the same boring, super-logical Vulcan gal till she had a kid with an accelerated life span and went kinda nuts trying to extend his life, but that had nothing to do with us." He handed the ball toward her. "Look, you're not gonna turn into a Q by accident. If we make you an offer, which isn't certain at this point anyway, you'll have a chance to say no, with no hard feelings. We might help you to overcome some human limitations that you don't actually have right now, given that, y'know, you're not made of meat anymore. But we're not going to make you into anything you're not. We'd just help you to use the potential you do have. And trust me, you're not gonna become as powerful as a Q unless we actually give you the powers of the Q; what you can achieve with what you are right now might be way nifty by human standards, but it won't be much in comparison to us. It'd just help you be independent and hold your own so long as you live here."

Janeway sighed. "If I take the rest of the memories, will Lady Q threaten to kill my mother again? Or other family or friends?"

He laughed. "She's just trying to do Q's shtick," he said. "And she's not experienced with it like he is. Tell you what, once you've acquired all your memories, if you need some more training we'll give you the right to pick who you want to train you. Q's a lot better with it, but we figured you'd be better off at the moment with a teacher you don't half suspect of wanting to get into your pants."

"I'd put up with being sexually harassed if it meant the people I care about would be off limits," Janeway said.

"Sure you would, but would you learn that way?"

"If I had to."

"Well, it's your decision." He offered the ball again. This time she took it.

"Thanks for clarifying the situation," she said. She wasn't certain she could trust him, any more than she was certain she could trust any of the other Q, but at the very least, she thought he was telling the truth... and if he was telling the truth, she thought she could take the risk. She wanted these memories; how could she not want to know the things that had happened to her that she couldn't remember? They were still things that had happened to her... or to a her she could have been, to a different her so similar that the difference made no difference. What she didn't want was to give up her humanity. But if a Vulcan had had the abilities she was developing and had been able to return to her old life, then Janeway's fears that she would become something that could no longer be trusted around mortal humans were probably unfounded.

"Any time," he said, waved at her, and vanished.

She sat down on the couch. "Let's see what else you've got for me," she murmured, and put it to her head.

Moments after the com link to the Delta Flyer has gone down and Lieutenant Paris has tried unsuccessfully to shut down the slipstream drive, Seven of Nine raises her head and reports that she is receiving course corrections, via her Borg implant. Janeway guesses that Ensign Kim must have figured out how to transmit to Seven's implant directly, and instructs her to implement them.

They make matters worse. The variance increases. The ship shakes horribly. Paris reports that the hull is buckling. Shields don't help; inertial dampeners fail, as they drop out of slipstream and careen through normal space. Tuvok reports that the hull is breaching on multiple decks, and they must land immediately or be destroyed. They're only a few parsecs from the Alpha Quadrant. So close... but they've got to repair the ship. Paris reports a planet nearby, and Janeway orders him to head for that, intending to land there and make repairs.

But they're going too fast. They can't decelerate enough to make a controlled landing. Reverse thrusters do no good. "All hands, brace for impact!" she shouts. As the surface of the planet rushes up at her in the viewscreen, she knows that this will not be the sort of impact anyone can brace for.

She's failed to get them home. She gambled with the lives of her crew, and she lost.

And then there is bone-crunching pain and the sound of metal tearing, sparks flying, things flying through the air or maybe it's her and then--

Janeway dropped the ball, her hands trembling. That wasn't how it happened. The instructions Seven got through her implant caused the slipstream to dissipate harmlessly, and the ID code and timestamp on the instructions turned out to have come from Harry Kim, sometime between 10 and 20 years in the future. She'd known, then, that something must have gone wrong with the drive, that Kim must have come back in time to save them. But she hadn't felt it. Not like this.

It was an axiom of her time in the Delta Quadrant that she never gave up. She had single-mindedly sought a way to get her people home, no matter what. Oh, there had been decisions she'd made to forgo a possible route because the price was obviously too high or the danger evidently too great, but she had known of the possible risks with the slipstream drive, and she'd overlooked them, despite Tom Paris' warnings, because she'd wanted to get home so badly. Kim and Torres had both thought it would work, and she'd chosen to trust them over Paris because it was obvious that Paris himself wanted to believe them and not himself; he had brought Kim's suggestion about using the Delta Flyer to her attention in the first place. And because she'd wanted to get them home. And because she'd wanted to go home.

And she'd killed them all.

She'd known there was a risk. But she hadn't seriously believed in it. Not the way she'd have believed in a Borg cube being a threat, or Viidian ships, or the Devore. Even though physics was her field, she had believed that somehow, her own force of belief would get them through a dangerous situation, as if she had some power to bend the laws of probability to her own will. She hadn't articulated it to herself that way at the time, of course, or she'd have realized how ridiculous it was. But in comparing her memories of the bio-mimetic Janeway to the memories she herself had experienced, with the knowledge that if it hadn't been for Harry Kim sending a message through time, the same thing would have happened to her crew as happened to the bio-mimetic Janeway's crew... it was the same thing. She'd done the same thing, both times. She hadn't seriously wanted to believe in a physical threat she and her crew couldn't overcome, if it stood between her and getting home.

And she'd gotten them all killed. Janeway stood up and paced. This was worse than the memories of the mimetic Janeway, because as much as that person had believed herself to be Kathryn Janeway, Janeway herself knew she wasn't. That incident hadn't happened to the real her, only to a person who was an identical copy. But this incident had been all her. And the fact that the sequence of memory for the difference had been so short, that so much of that incident had been part of her own memories already and it was only the small piece containing all of their deaths that Kim's transmission through time had overwritten, made it seem far more real, far more visceral than the bio-mimetic copy's death. This time it had been her, specifically, decisions she had known she'd made before she put the ball to her head, that had killed them all, and if it hadn't been for Kim changing the timeline -- which, she imagined, Starfleet might have attempted to stop him from doing, given their beliefs about how time worked and the Temporal Prime Directive -- they would all be dead.

She'd thought it was a strength, that she had never given up, that she'd exploited every opportunity she could to get them home. But she had that luxury only because she hadn't gotten them all killed. And, in fact, she had gotten them all killed. Twice. But one hadn't really been her (but if it had really been her, a small voice reminded her, she would have made the same decision), and one, she'd gotten a do-over by the grace of the future Harry Kim. Had her single-minded determination to get home been a strength, or a deadly flaw?

What about now?

The Q hadn't explained to her why she couldn't go home in any greater detail than to suggest that it was a bad idea to set the precedent that the Q might bring mortals back from the dead, and it might end up in people worshipping them... which she didn't take seriously as a threat, and she couldn't believe they took it seriously either. But they agreed, unanimously, that she should not go back. Even Junior wasn't willing to send her home or let her send a message. She had been convinced that she should find some way around their prohibition, some means to get back home or at least transmit a message... and part of the reason she'd been so confident in her belief was that she'd been so confident in her determination to get home, and that had worked out fine. Being doggedly determined to achieve something had generally had good results for her. Except that it hadn't. At this point, given that she'd gotten them all home once, and gotten them all killed twice, one could even argue that her determination had been more detrimental than beneficial.

She sighed. She was going to have to give this more thought. And take in more of these memories. She needed all the information she could get.

She's very surprised to see the man she was sent to capture running around on her ship. She's even more surprised by his wild story about a temporal anomaly fracturing the ship into different timelines. When he takes her hostage, she lets him, despite his sudden declaration that his serum is poison, because the likelihood that Chakotay, commander of the Maquis ship Val Jean, has snuck aboard Voyager despite Tuvok being embedded as her spy in his crew, is actually significantly less in her opinion than the possibility that he's telling the truth. Who would ever make up a story like that, anyway?

As she and Chakotay travel around her ship, encountering numerous things that will happen in her future, she becomes more and more convinced that she's got to prevent this future coming into being. Her CMO is going to die. Presumably others. She and her crew will be stranded in the Delta Quadrant. They're going to encounter Borg, macroviruses, and apparently so many incidents where some sort of alien incursion knocks everyone unconscious that Chakotay isn't even sure which one this is, when they run into it. And then there are the two crewpeople she doesn't recognize, one of whom is the daughter of her crewwoman Samantha Wildman, who report that she and Chakotay died seventeen years ago. If she doesn't find some way to pull the entire ship into her time frame, there will be disaster after disaster and many of her crew will die.

Chakotay points out the beneficial things that have happened in the future she hasn't seen yet -- the rescue of two Borg and their transformation into valued crewmembers, the rehabilitation of the angry Maquis half-Klingon woman into one of the best chief engineers in Starfleet, young Ensign Kim uncovering his own genius, Tom Paris redeeming himself... for that matter, the Maquis crew integrating with her own, learning to work together with Starfleet again.

He intrigues her. She's been slightly obsessed with him, the target of her mission in the Badlands, and she's starting to think that maybe that obsession isn't entirely about bringing him to justice. Of course, she loves Mark. It's ridiculous for her to imagine that she might fall in love with a terrorist... but if they're stranded in the Delta Quadrant with no way to contact home, won't Mark think she's dead? What will happen to their relationship? What might happen with this man? She's not a clueless teenager; she recognizes the attraction she feels as soon as it's safe to feel it, as soon as she knows he's not an enemy, not now. If she feels it now, before she's begun to live and work with him for years, what will she feel later? And why the hell is she obsessing over what's going to happen in her romantic life in the future, when she's happily involved right now, and issues like the possible death of many of her crew... and the salvation of many people who are not currently in her crew, but will be... are at stake?

In the end, she comes down on the side of the Temporal Prime Directive. She doesn't have the right to try to change a future she knows so little about, not when it's already happened, from the perspective of the person telling her about it. If the plan works, the future they saw where Tuvok died, presumably the precursor to the future where the two crewmembers who would be children or unborn now told her that she had died, won't happen. Even Chakotay doesn't know what's going to happen after that, but he seems confident. Everyone she meets trusts in her to save them, to help them, to get this problem solved. Is that the answer? That whatever happens in the future, she'll be able to meet the challenge?

The last thing Chakotay tells her before he leaves for his own timeline is that although they have become close, "there are some barriers we never cross." She knows what he means by that, and smiles wryly. Well, that's too bad. But hopefully that means that Mark will know that she's alive, and wait for her. She knows that she'd never give up on him, no matter how long they are separated, unless he gives up on her and moves on.

"See you in the future," she says, and Chakotay vanishes.

Well. That was different. Actually rather pleasant, in comparison to so many that involved her own death. Technically she supposed she had died in this one, in one of the timeframes, but presumably had died the instant they hit the anomaly, because Q hadn't given her any memory of it. Perhaps her own memories of the anomaly appearing in front of them, and the energy discharge it had emitted, just hadn't gone any further forward than that. In the timeline she remembered, Chakotay had given orders to Torres to deflect the pulse moments before it occurred; presumably in the original timeline, she'd been killed instantly. In any case, she didn't remember it.

It was funny. Her previous self had been so confused by the time jumps. Before the Delta Quadrant, Janeway had never been involved in time travel. By now, with all her multiple sets of memories and her knowledge of the multiple temporal loops, and the experiences she'd been allowed to keep of time travel such as her experiences with the Relativity, she would have been much more adept at handling the shifts between timeframes. It was too bad she couldn't go back and redo it with what she knew now, she thought, and smiled to herself, because of course she didn't actually want to do that. What she actually wanted was to be out in the universe again, having experiences like that one, with the knowledge she had now, and the Q had made it clear that they didn't think that was a good idea.

She hadn't realized how early she'd felt an attraction to Chakotay. When he'd been the Maquis leader she'd been thrown into the Delta Quadrant with, and he'd been as prickly and mistrustful of her as she was of him, she'd kept her guard up around him. As they'd settled into a working relationship, it had been a working relationship, because she wouldn't betray Mark. But the Chakotay she'd been dealing with in the first two years in the Delta Quadrant wasn't the Chakotay of seven years in the Delta Quadrant, the one she'd met in the past in the flashback she'd just had; his far greater level of comfort and familiarity with her must have allowed her to open up to him in a way she didn't remember doing, or at least not that quickly, in the timeline she remembered.

She put the ball down next to her on the couch, and stood up. Chakotay. When they'd come back to the Alpha Quadrant, he'd been dating Seven; she'd had no idea he was doing so, or that he was serious about it, until Admiral Janeway from the future told her that they were going to get married. That had hurt, but she'd gotten over it. Admiral Janeway obviously wasn't bothered by it; she had talked about Chakotay and Seven's marriage, and the devastation of Seven's death, as if it simply hadn't occurred to her that her past self might harbor feelings of her own toward Chakotay. And then that timeline had been erased anyway -- well, not erased, if Q was telling the truth, but at least, the path had changed -- and Seven had broken up with Chakotay shortly after returning to the Alpha Quadrant, saying that she had too much work to do in integrating herself into Federation society to work on learning how to have a romantic relationship at the same time.

She and Chakotay had talked about it, after he and Seven had broken up amicably. The relationship between an Admiral and a Captain in Starfleet was theoretically just as much a superior-subordinate relationship as a Captain and First Officer, but admirals didn't have the one-to-one relationship with captains that captains and first officers did. There were many admirals, and any of them could command any captain, and usually their commands weren't actually coming from them anyway but were being transmitted from a decision made by the top brass. There were a lot more checks on the power of admirals to misuse power against captains than captains to first officers, because captains and first officers were out there in space together, whereas usually admirals were at home and captains were in the field.

They'd thought that perhaps it would work. She needed to settle into her role, to figure out exactly how much power she did have and how this was going to work. He needed to stand on his own feet -- a former Maquis made captain, he'd have to prove himself without rumors that he was sleeping with an admiral to get his crimes swept under the table. They'd been together once, in Venice, but he was going back into the field as Voyager's captain, and they couldn't very well make the relationship public yet. So they'd had to put it on hold, at least for a little while. And now a little while had become forever.

She had promised Chakotay that she'd meet him in Venice, for the anniversary of the day they'd acknowledged their feelings for one another by consummating their relationship, finally, taking that irrevocable step toward being lovers instead of just friends. She'd thought that nothing would prevent her from making that rendezvous... because she hadn't thought about dying, any more than any other healthy mortal did. But she hadn't made it. She'd gone to the supposedly dead Borg cube to study it, despite Lady Q's cryptic warnings, three weeks before she'd been supposed to meet with Chakotay again, three weeks before they would most likely have become engaged or at least announced their relationship to friends and family. And she'd been assimilated, and then she had died.

She wondered about herself and Chakotay in the alternate future. Had Admiral Janeway (she still could not think of herself as Admiral Janeway, although she had been an admiral for two years before she died) lost any romantic interest in Chakotay so long before she'd returned that she'd forgotten how her former self felt? Had she felt intensely guilty over Seven's death because she'd been jealous of Seven when she died, enough so that she'd been willing to go back and change time? Had she found another lover, so the memory of the feelings she'd never consummated for Chakotay had faded into the distance of time? Had it been too painful to bring up? Had she been secretly hoping that if she got Janeway and Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant before Chakotay married Seven, that what had happened would happen and Seven would leave Chakotay, leaving him free for her younger self?

Well, there was a way to find out, she supposed, looking at the ball. This one intimidated her. Twenty-six years was half again her life. All the experiences she had lived through had changed her; these extra memories had changed her. How much more would the extra memories of twenty-six years change her?

She was tempted to put it aside. Ignore it. Did she really need twenty-six years of a future that would never happen? Did she need to see Seven and Chakotay die, see Tuvok descend into dementia?

But she had to know. What would she have learned in the Delta Quadrant if she'd stayed those sixteen years? How had her previous self found the way home? Why had she been willing to violate the Temporal Prime Directive just to save three people? Those were her memories, even though she'd never experienced them because she'd looped through time. She needed to close the loop.

She sat back down on the couch, and put the ball to her head.

They dodge around the nebula with a large collection of wormholes because there are too many Borg, and they don't look back. Life goes on. They adjust to Neelix's departure, discover that his replacement Mr. Chell is an even worse cook, broker a peace agreement between two warring species, and playtest a new Tom Paris holocreation involving quasi-medieval fantasy in which Janeway, who thought she was to play a queen and get the action started and then be free to leave, ends up having to play a wizard with magical powers. Business as usual in the Delta Quadrant.

Three months later, Seven reveals to Janeway that Chakotay has proposed marriage to her. Janeway is shocked; she'd thought that Chakotay's "dates" with Seven were more along the lines of a friend and mentor, giving Seven some experience and confidence in the dating arena. She feels as if she has no right to be jealous Chakotay never promised to wait for her, and she'd made it clear that as long as they were stuck in the Delta Quadrant trying to make their way home, she couldn't get involved with a subordinate -- but it still hurts.

As she stews over the jealousy and hurt she doesn't want to admit to herself that she feels, Q shows up to once again express interest in her. He irritates her tremendously by suggesting that she doesn't really have any good alternatives, especially because it's true -- as long as they're out in the Delta Quadrant, as long as she strongly believes she shouldn't have a sexual relationship with someone under her command, the only long-term relationship she could have would be with a person who can travel interstellar distances to be on Voyager with her but doesn't live there. She is further irritated by his high-handedness, and bothered by the disconnect between what he says and his body language -- he doesn't look as if he's actually attracted to her. Telling Q any of this doesn't seem like it's going to get her anywhere with him, so she uses Lady Q as an excuse, saying that she doesn't want to take the risk of making Q's omnipotent lover jealous. Q insists that she wouldn't be, and promises to have her come by to assure Janeway in person, despite the fact that Janeway really would rather she didn't.

Lady Q shows up to "assure" Janeway that she's not jealous, but is sarcastic and bitter enough about it that Janeway can tell she and Q are having problems. At the end of their conversation, Lady Q gives Janeway a key and says she'll know what it's for. Later, Janeway returns to her room and finds Q, naked, gagged and shackled spread-eagled on her bed. She orders him to leave. After she pulls off the gag, not too gently, he says he can't because his powers are suppressed . She doesn't believe him. When she starts to walk back out the door, though, he panics and begs her not to go, and the terror in his voice gets to her. He's obviously aroused by her presence, and claims (with great apparent embarrassment) that this is a response to her, not a response to the situation, that he really doesn't want to be bound and helpless, and that he can't control his body's physical responses without his powers. It becomes clear that the reason he never seemed genuinely attracted to her is that he's been suppressing the physical reactions of the human form he takes.

If he's genuinely attracted to her, not playing some sort of game, and he's not going to be an arrogant ass with an overweening sense of entitlement about it... well, she's not made of stone, and his offer of friendly mutual fun with no strings attached would solve one of her more vexing personal problems. She talks to him about what he needs to do if he really wants to win her over, and then lets him go, with the key.

They explore a few spatial anomalies and a number of strange new worlds. In between missions, Chakotay and Seven plan a wedding. Seven is getting advice from Neelix over subspace comms, and Samantha Wildman, and Tom Paris. Janeway wants to let go of her anger at Chakotay enough to help Seven too, so she takes Q up on a couple of dates, one of which is a visit to a physics symposium on an alien world where the state of the art is just slightly more advanced than Federation physics, one of which is an exploration of (and picnic on) a lush alien planet. There are no strings attached. Q doesn't ask for sex and Janeway doesn't offer. She kisses him after he brings her home from the physics symposium, and lets him give her a backrub during the picnic, but she doesn't let it go any further than that, because she wants to test him and because she still isn't sure this is a good idea at all. There's no issue with taking too much help from him -- Q says he's not allowed to give her any material aid or assistance, and may not warn her or directly advise her about problems she faces, because the order faction were angry that they were threatened by mortals and have demanded as a compromise that Q may not do anything to help Janeway or her subordinates. She's not worried about his power corrupting her or making her weak or dependent on him, not now that she knows he's not allowed to help. She just doesn't know if she can trust him emotionally.

But the physics symposium turns out to give her useful information that comes in handy a few weeks later, and the alien planet he brought her to for a picnic is one they end up visiting to take on supplies. Janeway calls him on it, and he pretends he didn't know the information would be useful to her. She feels a profound sense of warmth and gratitude toward him -- he's doing what he can to help her, within the parameters his people are holding him to and the parameters she'll accept -- and begins to feel genuine affection for him. So she attempts to seduce him, but he won't let her go through with it on the grounds that he doesn't want her accusing him later of bribing her into bed with his help. As annoyed as she is with being thwarted -- Janeway's not used to being told no, sexually -- she's also pleased, because it means he isn't trying to bribe her into bed.

Eventually Janeway finds that she's able to get over her feelings of anger and jealousy, and is able to preside over their wedding with unequivocal happiness for them. Seven and Chakotay, after all, are two of her best friends. It helps that she sees them together during the wedding preparations, that she sees enough affection between them that she stops thinking of this as Seven using Chakotay to experiment with her newly awakened ability to feel attraction or Chakotay using Seven because she's young, blonde and sexy. If she'd feared that Chakotay was looking for a woman who was less stubborn, less strong than Janeway herself, and thought he'd found it in Seven, she's reassured by seeing how he dotes on Seven and even defers to her when it's not ship's business. Seven softens, becomes less harsh and abrupt, though she's still recognizable as the same person. Janeway knows that Seven has suffered from loneliness since she was separated from the Borg; it's good to see her no longer quite so alone.

It also helps that Janeway's got a secret of her own, that someone who isn't Chakotay finds her desirable and takes her out. Not long after the wedding, she does end up in bed with Q. She doesn't love him and he doesn't claim to love her, but he's there to help her relieve stress on particularly bad days, he takes her places to eat where the food's a lot better than what Mr. Chell is coming up with, and he shows her fascinating things, some of which turn out to be directly useful, some of which don't. She knows he can't aid her in any other way than he's doing, so she doesn't hold it against him when the ship is damaged or a crewperson dies and he does nothing about it -- she knows war in the Continuum would break out if he tried.

They have a few close tries at getting home -- one that shaves a thousand light years, a year of travel, off the journey, a few others that in the end don't accomplish much at all. They have adventures, fight pirates and slavers, get involved in some conflicts they'd really rather not have, save a world dying of a plague. They take on another trader/guide, an old woman whose persona is closer to a salty space dog than Neelix's endless cheer, but she knows the area. Miral walks, and talks, and gets lost in the Jeffries tubes on an average of once a month. Several other people get pregnant and have kids as well. And then Seven, of all people, joins them.

Chakotay is deliriously happy. He reveals to Janeway that he'd always wanted a child, but he hadn't wanted to have one aboard Voyager, so far from home; even as people pair off and the ship becomes a generation ship, he had thought it was selfish of him to want a baby so badly. But now Seven is pregnant with his daughter, whom they name Kathryn after Janeway. Janeway is delighted for them; she doesn't want children of her own, but she does very much enjoy the babies that her crew have. It's a way to enjoy loving a baby without having to suffer the problems that come with parenting one. When Chakotay is exposed to mutagenic radiation on an away team mission, and the Doctor is barely able to reconstruct his genetic code, it ensures that baby Kathryn Hansen will be the only child Chakotay will ever have. But Chakotay accepts that, because at least he will have little Kathryn.

Then they encounter L'harei.

The planet L'harei was once the center of an empire. Like the T'Kon empire, like the Iconians, their technology was so advanced it's hard to understand how they ever fell. Unlike the T'Kon and the Iconians, the L'har are still around, leading deceptively simple lives. They've kept their medical technology, but otherwise eschew anything more advanced than approximately Earth's 19th century, except where more advanced technologies are needed to prevent damage to their planet's environment, and they exile any of their people who are too driven to learn or understand; something terrible happened in their past, something related to their technology, and they want to make sure it never happens again. But they aren't hostile to Voyager's inquiries. If the Voyager crew want to explore the old ruins and see if the transilient gateways -- similar to the Iconian gateways, methods of opening doors between planets across unimaginable distances -- can be used to get them home, they're willing to let them try.

What seems like a tremendously hopeful opportunity goes horribly wrong when the Borg's sensors pick up the energy flux of the L'harei gateways starting to come on line, and they send a small, fast sphere to assimilate the L'har. Janeway is horrified; the L'har had been safe from the Borg as long as their tech was shut down in ruins, but Voyager's attempts to awaken it for their own purposes have drawn the Borg's attention, and now a peaceful civilization of two hundred million people may be destroyed by the Borg. And even worse, if it were possible to get worse -- the Borg would have the L'harei gateways. Instantaneous transport, anywhere in the universe. It cannot be allowed. No sacrifice is too great to protect the L'har and keep the Borg from getting the gateway technology.

But the Borg ignore Voyager's attempts to engage them in combat. They're single-minded, focusing solely on the goal. Several good crewpeople die in the attempt to keep the Borg from infesting the tech with nanites that will study it, map it and report its parameters back to the Borg. The attempt fails. Even though the drones making the attempt end up dead, they still succeeded in infesting the L'harei gateway technology with nanites.

Icheb does not have a cortical node. He can no longer interface on Borg frequencies. Janeway is forced to send Seven, seven months pregnant, over Chakotay's protests. Seven volunteers; she knows what it would mean if the Borg get the L'harei gateways. She consults the Doctor as to whether her baby can be removed and gestated elsewhere, in a surrogate mother, but the baby is infused with Seven's nanites... as is Chakotay, it turns out. Any surrogate mother would end up infused with the nanites as well, and end up mentally linked to Chakotay and Seven. Neither Chakotay nor Seven want that. So the Doctor performs a risky, rarely-done procedure to install a temporary womb in Chakotay's body and put the baby inside him for the moment. When Seven returns, the baby can be re-implanted in her, and if Seven doesn't return, they can perhaps perform a treatment to neutralize the baby's nanites and implant her in a female surrogate mother, but right now there's no time and it's easier to make Chakotay pregnant than it is to safely get rid of the baby's nanites.

Seven interfaces with the technology that the Borg are assimilating, hacks into the frequency transmitting the information back to the sphere, and blocks it, sending erase commands to destroy the data that the sphere's already gotten. The Queen, far distant, senses Seven's interference and transmits a self-destruct command. Seven cannot fight off the self-destruct and prevent the assimilation of the technology. She fights a brave fight, but something has to give... and because she is Seven of Nine and even death cannot stop her from accomplishing her goals, the thing that gives is her life.

Voyager has meanwhile found a secret group of L'har who haven't entirely given up on their technology. With their assistance, Voyager is able to destroy the Borg sphere, but the Queen has by now established a direct link to Seven, and nothing they do can block the Queen from telling Seven's nanites to kill her. The self-destruct sequences has already caused most of her organs to fail by the time she gets back to the ship. She dies in Sickbay, in Chakotay's arms, her skin turning black as if she's burning up from inside. The baby dies as well; as dependent on nanites as Seven was, she cannot survive the self-destruct command either, and she expires inside Chakotay. Chakotay survives, physically, since he was never dependent on the nanites, but he's not well. The L'har destroy the ancient tech to keep the Borg from coming back, and their current best hope for getting home goes with it.

Chakotay behaves as if he is half-insane with grief. He accuses Janeway of having sent Seven to die to get a rival out of the way. Janeway tells him finally of her relationship with Q, throwing it in his face to refute him, and she's furious at him for the accusation... but she knows he's not himself. Seven had formed a mini-Collective with Chakotay, and he'd felt her die. The loss is deranging him; the nanites must be purged, but nobody knows how to do that, given that they were never able to purge Seven's nanites. It's a month and a half before they find a way to cure Chakotay, and there has been some permanent brain damage done. He is diagnosed with clinical depression and needs to use an alpha wave enhancer to help him function on a daily basis. The combination of his wife's death in his arms, his baby's death inside him, and the damage done by the nanites when they were relaying the Queen's self-destruct command has broken him, and it's anyone's guess whether he'll ever be able to fully heal.

Q doesn't make an appearance, not for two months. When he finally shows up. Janeway screams at him because he wasn't there for her. Q keeps saying that he wasn't allowed to help, as if that was the kind of help she'd wanted, as if not being able to snap his fingers and make Seven live again was an excuse for not giving her the kind of comfort one expects from a friend. Eventually Janeway realizes that Q actually does believe this; that he has no idea how to give comfort short of teaching people brutal lessons in getting over it, or else solving their problem for them, and he does know her well enough to know the first is inappropriate. She can't handle teaching a clueless omnipotent being right now, so she sends him away. She tries to be a friend to Chakotay as much as she can be, although there is no chance of a romantic relationship now.

Then Tuvok's symptoms become noticeable enough that he has to confess his illness to her, and she is overwhelmed. Q finally returns, and she forgives him for not having been there before, since he's there now, and with both Chakotay and Tuvok being part of her problem and therefore unable to be her confidants, she has no one else.

Although technically Chakotay and Tuvok remain the first and second officers, Janeway promotes Kim to Lieutenant and starts grooming him to take Tuvok's place. She needs backup badly; Chakotay is functional, but the mutagenic radiation gave him cancer, and he keeps needing to go in for new treatments, which play holy hell with his depression treatment. There are days the Doctor simply has to use his mobile emitter to break into Chakotay's quarters and treat him because Chakotay won't get out of bed. Tuvok's condition is getting worse. Icheb takes Kim's place as navigator, Kim takes over Ops from Tuvok, and Tuvok nominally remains security chief but in practice relies a lot on his second.

They take on more crew -- a family of Romulans lost in the Delta Quadrant, an escaped slave, a few more de-assimilated Borg. They fight the Borg, again and again. Each time they barely escape by the skin of their teeth; each time they learn something new about the Borg and the Borg learn more about them. The Borg are actually divided in a sense, torn between destroying Voyager and studying it the way that a person might be so torn. The Queen has actually developed a personal obsession with Janeway, bizarre for an entity that is supposed to not have a personality at all but to be the executive manifestation, the "ego", of a collective mind. Q provides Janeway with historical knowledge about the Borg while continuing to pretend that this couldn't possibly be of any use to her right now, and hits her up for babysitting in exchange. By now he's become familiar, almost comfortable. She still makes sure to tell him that if she met someone else that she could love, she'd break it off with him, and he still makes sure to tell her that he doesn't believe in monogamy and in fact he's got another human lover in the Alpha Quadrant. One time, he even admits that he loves that mortal, whereas he never admits to loving her. What surprises her is that she actually feels a pang of jealousy over this, but she understands that she can't very well admit to being hurt when he's never agreed to be exclusive and in fact she herself keeps reminding him that this is merely a friends-with-benefits relationship.

The last few months are both the best and the worst -- they're so close to home, they're able to get subspace radio signals through. The hope is tangible, and sometimes almost heartbreaking. When a member of her crew dies, just two months away from Federation space, it almost breaks Janeway. But there's no choice but to keep going. And when they finally do come home, the joyful celebrations of their homecoming are marred, for her, by the knowledge of how many did not.

By this time Tuvok is suffering from severe dementia and Chakotay is very much unwell. Chakotay dies later that year... although he's been so sick for so long, Janeway almost feels as if he died years ago, and his actual physical death is a mercy. She is haunted by what happened to him, and to Tuvok, and the deaths of so many, and particularly troubled by the number of times she sacrificed her crew's well-being to save others, or stop the Borg. They promote her to Admiral, and give her medals, and part of her mind wants them to reject her, to drum her out of the fleet for her failures. Q tells her she's an idiot, and she knows he's right -- she did the best she possibly could. But she can't help how she feels.

With her experience in fighting the Borg, more experience than any other one person in Starfleet has, they put her in charge of the Borg task force. The Alpha Quadrant has been successfully fighting off the Borg for the 23 years Voyager was in the Delta Quadrant, but Janeway is horrified to discover how far behind the technology the Borg demonstrated in the Delta Quadrant the attacks in the Alpha Quadrant have been. She believes that the Borg are aware that the Federation adapts, just as the Borg do, and that they have been holding back the technologies they've developed over the course of the 23 years of fighting Voyager because they want to make a single crushing attack with tech the Alpha Quad has not adapted to. She knows the Queen better than anyone else, knows the Borg as a personal enemy rather than the faceless, soulless malevolence everyone else sees. Starfleet top brass calls her paranoid, but they leave her in charge of defense buildup against the Borg anyway.

She meets, befriends, and eventually becomes involved with Picard, the Alpha Quadrant's expert on the Borg. Though he is an ambassador, no longer involved with Starfleet's military operations, he agrees with her that the Borg have been holding back. She sends investigative sorties back to the Delta Quadrant using slipstream drive, to spy on Borg activities. They don't come back.

Janeway learns from Q that the Borg want the Federation so badly precisely because the Federation is so much like the Borg -- that the Federation assimilate and take the best of new cultures and alien technologies, that the Federation adapt to whatever is thrown at them -- and that the Borg have learned that they have to be strategic in facing the Federation... something they learned from Janeway and Picard. For a time the Borg were angry enough, as personified by the Queen, that they could have been drawn into a conflict before they were actually ready, but the fact that their primary challenger was a single tiny ship gave them the distance they needed to hold back. They are taking their time to be sure to deliver a crushing blow, and they will give no warning when it comes. Janeway sees, from Q, that had she returned to the Alpha Quadrant earlier, it would have triggered a massive Borg attack that would have consumed enough of the Borg's resources that, had the Federation beaten it back -- which they could possibly have done, because the Borg weren't ready -- the Borg could have been destroyed, once and for all.

Janeway talks about going back in time to fix it. Q points out that all this will do is create an alternate timeline. Janeway points out that if she was gone from this timeline, Q would be free to act -- the restriction that prevents him from aiding "Janeway or her subordinates" includes all of Starfleet now that she is an admiral, but if she were gone, he would be free to assist. He asks why she thinks he would bother, and she tells him she knows he loves Picard. Q says she shouldn't make any plans that depend on his assistance, because he doesn't generally help mortals. She says she trusts him. He says she shouldn't.

She has a final meeting with Picard, as she's getting everything together to make her trip to the past. She, Picard and Q end up sleeping together. When Q is gone, she tells Picard that Q is in love with him. Picard has been involved with Q for several years, but has never allowed himself to believe Q is all that emotionally involved. Janeway says that Q will do whatever his own laws and personal moral code will allow him to do for the mortals he cares about, and that Picard should keep this in mind.

Two days later her plans come through, she gets what she needs to travel in time, and she takes off for the past. Her plan is simply to get Voyager home. Draw the Borg's fire back to the Alpha Quadrant, betray the Borg, and get them riled up so they attack -- at a point where she has given her past self the technology needed to defeat them. She knows that she is simply creating an alternate timeline, that the odds are that the Borg will overwhelm the people she loves in the timeline she's from and kill or assimilate them all, but she's hoping that Q will help Picard to prevent that somehow. And if that doesn't work, then she's creating a new timeline, where Chakotay and Seven and Tuvok all survive, where Seven is available to help the Alpha Quadrant craft a defense against the Borg and Starfleet has the benefit of her advanced knowledge.

She cannot tell her past self that she's trying to provoke the Borg into a massive attack, that destroying the transwarp hub might set the Borg back far enough to let their natural tendency to be ruled by logic and expediency rather than emotion take ascendancy again. She tells her past self of the people who will be saved, the loved ones whose lives will be made better. She doesn't mention Sabrina Wildman, who may well never exist, or her relationship with Q, which almost certainly won't happen in this timeline, and she definitely does not mention that the Borg need to attack the Alpha Quadrant now. Her past self, knowing none of these things, does the right thing, the moral thing, and insists on blowing up the transwarp hub. This means that the Borg need to be livid -- they will hold back to recover from material damage, and if they hold back they may calm down and take the long view. She needs to stir up the hornet's nest. She needs to betray and kill the Queen, because new Queens are created to adapt to the circumstances that destroyed the old, and a Queen who is born to fight Queen-killers will be savage with the desire for revenge.

She knows this Queen from 16 years of experience with her that this Queen doesn't have with Janeway. She knows how to set a trap that the Queen will not be able to resist. Her last act is to betray the Borg by poisoning herself, knowing they will assimilate her, and through that, poison themselves. The Queen dies in rage, and Janeway dies satisfied.

Janeway dropped the ball, shaking. It bounced and rolled across the floor.

Her other self had planned this. The Borg invasion that had, in the long run, killed billions -- killed her -- had been the goal the older Janeway had been hoping for. She hadn't decided to break the Temporal Prime Directive just to save the lives of a few of her crew, although she had certainly been pleased at the thought of doing so. She had done so to trigger the Borg invasion... admittedly, in hopes that by triggering it early, it would be possible to decisively defeat the Borg, whereas in her timeline their only hope whatsoever was apparently riding on Q deciding to help out, a thin chance at best. But still. If it had been the only way to defeat the Borg, surely the older Janeway could have warned her? She had thought the other woman was completely selfish and obsessive, discarding everything Janeway herself believed in just to get a few of her crew home alive... and with the memories she now held, Janeway saw a continuity between what she had believed of her older self, and what she had actually done, or what her bio-mimetic self had done. Even when she'd met the older Janeway, she supposed she must have known, deep down inside, how obsessive she could be and how dangerous that obsession might become. Because when she'd met the older Janeway, she had, in fact, assumed that the woman was destroying time to save a handful of beloved crew members. And she'd felt, at the time, that it was wrong and yet that it was something she might become capable of, someday.

It turned out that that wasn't it at all. Older Janeway had been ruthless, much more ruthless than Janeway herself, but she had done what she'd done, knowing that it wouldn't destroy time, that all it would do would be to create an alternate timeline, because in her time the Federation was faced with destruction and it was the only thing she could think of to do, the only thing that had any hope of working. And it had, in the long run. Janeway had watched from the Continuum as the Borg had devastated the Federation, attacked Vulcan, destroyed Risa... but had in the end been defeated by the Federation and their own precursors, the Caeliar. Now they had been re-absorbed back into the Caeliar, effectively ending the threat of the Borg forever. But the cost! And her older self had known such a cost would occur, had known the Borg well enough to know the devastation they would wreak if she provoked them... and she'd done it anyway, without telling her younger self that that was what she'd been up to.

Her anger at her older self, however, was nothing in comparison to her anger at Q.

Twenty-six years of memory. More than half her lifetime, added to her life. Q had promised her that she would be able to tell the difference between her own memories and her older self's, and it was true, she could... but she couldn't help absorbing some of the emotional impact. The feelings she'd had for Chakotay, the desire, the wistfulness and even grief that the life she had expected they might make together would never happen now... that was overwhelmed by sixteen years of Chakotay being her good platonic friend who had been dying by inches for thirteen of them. She had mourned her own loss of Chakotay, in dying herself, since she came to the Continuum; now when she thought of him, all she could feel was relief that it was she who had died and not him. She had mourned her own loss of Seven; now she felt joy and hope, because Seven was still alive out there in her home universe, because the horrible death Seven had died would never happen now that the Borg were gone. She had been pleased that Tuvok had gotten the medical treatment he needed, and had felt grief that she would never see him again when she'd been told she could not leave the Continuum; now she felt profound happiness that he was alive and healthy, his mind intact. All of her feelings about the people she'd left behind were irrevocably altered by twenty-six years of a life she hadn't lived.

Even those who had had good lives in those twenty-six years had been facing a massive Borg invasion when her older self had left. None of them had known, not even Harry Kim, who'd made Captain finally. When the older Janeway had left she'd been sick with fear for them, knowing that there was no chance of beating back the Borg this time, that all she could do was free Q to act by removing herself from the situation, and hope desperately that he'd actually bother to do something to save them. Given his penchant for giving people the tools to save themselves rather than committing outright miracles, she wasn't even sure he would be able to save them, not without violating his own personal moral code. She had died, never knowing if her plan would work, never knowing if Q was going to take action in her home timeline or not, never knowing if what she had done to this timeline would save the Federation here.

With her memories, her emotions alive inside Janeway now, Janeway felt a profound sense of relief for all of her crew, all of her loved ones. By her own death, and all the sacrifices that had been made by far too many in that final conflict, the Borg had been defeated at last. If Harry was going to become captain and Tom was going to become a holo-novelist and B'Elanna was going to make ties with her mother's people and the Doctor was going to find love and a first name, they could do all those things now without the spectre of the Borg looming over them. Sabrina Wildman might never be born, but if she was, or if Naomi had different children, they would not face assimilation before they were older than Seven had been when she was assimilated. Since she'd come to the Continuum, she'd spent her time resenting her own death and trying to find a way to come back from it; this was the first time she'd truly felt, all the way down to her bones, that her own death had been an acceptable sacrifice for what had been gained.

And she could have felt closure. She could have enjoyed the contrast between the world old Admiral Janeway had fled from and the world she'd made for Janeway herself, accepted her own death finally and even felt joy at what her and others' sacrifice had saved those she loved from... if it hadn't come from Q, and if his motives hadn't been so obviously ulterior. Because her feelings about him had changed, too, and she was enraged at him about it.

Q had never been her friend. At his best, he'd been an acquaintance she wished well, so long as he stayed well away from her. At his worst, he'd been unbelievably irritating, inflicting his presence on her without thought to her wishes, making crude sexual innuendos she couldn't help but find belittling and upsetting, or demanding that she give him child-rearing advice and then forcing her to babysit his son. Her opinion of him hadn't changed much since coming to the Continuum, because she had only seen him once; she'd come to see the Q, as a race, as much more similar to the ordinary people she knew than she ever would have expected, but she'd always seen Q himself as a person, not an ineffable godlike entity, so her opinion hadn't changed any from seeing his home in more detail. He'd irritated her when his ex-lover had dragged her to the Continuum, presumably on his behalf, and he'd refused to see her or even answer his messages for what had felt like months; he'd irritated her when he'd finally made an appearance, and made demands for her to come visit him. The gift had been the first genuinely thoughtful thing he'd ever given her, she'd thought... except that she could see through him now.

Because Admiral Janeway hadn't seen Q that way at all. She'd started that way, of course, and when he'd tried to seduce her after Chakotay proposed to Seven, it had mostly just irritated and angered her. But she had come to see him differently over time. She'd never fallen in love with him, but she had come to genuinely like and trust him, had come to consider him a friend. After Tuvok and Chakotay had been consumed by their respective mental illnesses, he'd been the only confidante she had, and the fact that he turned up at most once a month and more usually once every three months or so had actually helped. He hadn't been there with her on a regular basis; Admiral Janeway had still managed most of those twenty-three years after Seven's death and the beginning of Chakotay's illness by herself. But he'd been there for her sometimes, which was better than she got with anyone else; she couldn't consider young Harry Kim a confidante even after he became her first officer. The age difference was too great, and she had a hard time not seeing the fresh young ensign whose mother had beseeched her to take care of him when she looked at him. And no one else had even been in the running. Command was a horrifically lonely place, all the more so with her first and second officers declining in front of her; Q had been all she'd had.

In Janeway's own memories, she cared for Chakotay, felt their relationship had been painfully truncated, and considered Q a nuisance, and not particularly physically desirable. In Admiral Janeway's memories, her feelings for Chakotay were long behind her, put to bed and resolved, and Q was a close friend she had sex with and found attractive. And even though she knew they weren't her memories, even though she could feel a difference, still twenty-six years was too long not to seep into every part of her mind and color the things she felt now. It couldn't be more obvious, in retrospect, what Q's motives had been in giving her the memories.

She concentrated, visualizing Q's "home" in the Continuum, the place where he'd given her the memories. Feeling out the connections between every point and every other point in the Continuum, singling out that particular connection. And then she opened a door and stepped through into Q's living room.

Q was lounging on the floor, which was covered with a colorful, spongy surface, against a pile of large furry beanbags that purred like tribbles. In the center of the room, there was a holotank, displaying a battle between Federation starships from Admiral Janeway's memories and a Borg cube. The starships outnumbered the Borg by twenty to one. It wasn't helping.

"Kathy!" Q jumped to his feet, his motions startled and almost guilty, as if he were hiding something. He waved a hand at the holotank and it turned off. "This is an unexpected pleasure. What made you decide to drop in?"

"You son of a bitch," Janeway snarled, and threw the ball of memories at him. Q dodged, and the ball shattered on the floor as if it were made of glass. "I never imagined you'd stoop this low."

Q blinked at her. "Stoop to what? What did I do?"

"You know damn well what you did." She didn't raise her voice, but her tone was harsh and angry. "Tell me, after I'd absorbed your lover's memories, was I supposed to fall gratefully into your arms again? You did all this -- gave me memories that granted me abilities that humans don't have, abilities that everyone tells me are one of the reasons I can't be released from the Continuum and you lied when you said you could take them away if I didn't want them, to trick me into becoming the woman you were sleeping with, now that she's dead? All this so I'd go to bed with you?"

Q's expression grew very hard, and very cold. She had never seen him like this. The other Janeway had, on rare occasions when he was angry and offended, and had recognized his expression from visual logs from Picard's Enterprise. "Oh, but there's a fundamental fallacy in your premise, Janeway," he said, and if it were possible for a purr to sound cold, he was doing it. "You're assuming that I want you."

"You had sex with my counterpart an average of once a month for twenty-six years. I'd think that would be fairly definitive."

"Except that you're not her." Q walked around her, circling her like a tiger with prey. She turned to face him, and had to keep turning because he kept circling. "She was a human woman, the captain of a ship and then an admiral of a fleet, a human at the height of her power. She knew who and what she was, what she was made of and what she could tolerate. She was fully realized potential in motion, the ultimate in what an ordinary living human could be, confident in herself and her abilities. But you?" He sneered. "You're a poor broken thing, a revenant crawling between heaven and earth. Neither fish nor fowl, neither dead nor alive. You don't even know what you are. When you're shown evidence that you have powers you never had before, you run away screaming. You command nothing, you fit in nowhere, you're a bundle of insecurities and nerves, and sex with you would be child molestation. Worse. q-ling is more confident, more knowledgeable about her own abilities and limitations, than you are. I'd sooner have sex with a Q toddler than with you as you are now, Janeway." He shook his head. "You aren't her. And it would take far more than a bundle of her memories to make you her, because she was human until the moment she ceased to exist, and you're a dead human who still exists. A ghost. You are not my Janeway, and you will never be."

The words chilled her, not so much for what he was saying as for the utterly cold and certain tone he was saying them in. "None of that is my fault," she snapped, angry. "I didn't choose to continue to exist after my death."

"Actually, you did. Q gave you a choice, and you took it."

"What, was I supposed to say no?"

"Why do you think fault has anything to do with this? Was it Kim's fault that even after she made him her second in command, she still saw him as so much younger than she was that she couldn't confide her problems in him the way she'd done with Chakotay and Tuvok? It isn't anyone's fault that they're too young or too weak or too unrealized in their potential to be attractive to some specific person, it just is." By now he was in her personal space, speaking into her ear. "In ten thousand years, if you choose to become a Q, maybe I'll find you beautiful again. But right now you're as attractive to me as a snot-nosed baby boy with spit-up on his bib would be to you. My Kathy is dead. Do not insult me, or her, by insinuating that you could possibly become her with any amount of memory surgery, now that you have died to the human world."

"Then why am I here?" she asked harshly. "Lady Q said in so many words that she was saving my life for your sake. If you didn't want me here, why would she have done that?"

Q laughed unpleasantly. "You persist in the belief that Q genuinely has my interests at heart. Until the moment of your death, I was under the same restrictions regarding you that I was under regarding my Kathy. I was no more allowed to interfere to save your life than I was to save hers. But Q isn't under the same restrictions, and even if she were, it's likely that no one would take her to task for it -- other Q are afraid of her. She could have saved my Kathy as easily as she saved you. Why do you think it was you that she saved?" He turned away. "Let's say for the sake of argument that she loves me and wants to give me something to make me happy, as a way of begging my forgiveness for her unconscionable treatment of our son. So why would she save you, the Janeway who can barely tolerate me, instead of the one who was my dear friend?"

There was actually pain in his voice. When he'd been looking at her he'd sounded malevolent, controlled but vicious. When he turned away, though, she heard a crack in his voice, and the memories of the other Janeway (Q's Kathy?) told her that he had turned away because he didn't want her to see him react emotionally. The older Janeway had known Q could feel pain, but it was a knowledge she herself hadn't fully integrated -- she'd seen him show fear, hope, triumph, unease, but she had never seen him show grief. It hadn't really occurred to her until this moment that he could.

"Because you loved her?" she said softly. "And no matter what you told... the other Janeway... about Lady Q not being jealous of me... the truth is, she is. Or she was. Jealous, of the other one, because you loved her, and you don't love Lady Q anymore."

"I'd be a fool to love a mortal," Q said. "They always die in the end, you know. Always. Everyone says I should stick with my own kind. Just get over the fact that she told Junior I'd ruined him, called him worthless, ran out on the both of us and then replaced him with a new baby, with a different other parent because obviously I was too much of a failure as a father to produce the perfection she expects in her child. Or get over everything the others have all done to me at some point or another and involve myself with one of them. Only an idiot would fall in love with a mortal."

Except that he'd admitted to the other Janeway that he was in love with a mortal. He'd just never admitted to her that he was in love with her, too. Any more than he'd ever admitted to the Picard of that timeline that he loved him; he'd told Janeway he loved Picard, but never told Picard himself. In the light of that fact, his protestations to the other Janeway that he didn't love her -- when she'd gone out of her way to remind him that she didn't love him -- took on a different meaning.

The other Janeway had known, she realized. She had known Q loved her, and that she didn't love him, and that she would use his feelings for her as a weapon against the Borg, her last-ditch effort to save her own timeline while she fled back through time to create a new one. Because for Q, that was the "real" timeline, the place where the mortals he loved lived. In this timeline, Picard was involved with his chief medical officer and Janeway would have been with Chakotay if they'd ever had time. There were no mortals in this timeline who were romantically involved with Q. But this was the timeline where the Federation had defeated the Borg on their own; the timeline where the mortals Q loved lived was about to be overrun. And the older Janeway had known that if she created a new timeline, the new timeline's Janeway wouldn't be Q's lover, and most likely the new Picard wouldn't either.

"Why did you let me stay, then?" she asked softly. "If I'm not the one you wanted... Lady Q only brought me to the Continuum because you wanted me here. Or so she said. Why didn't you refuse?"

He sighed and turned back to her. "I don't hate you, Kathy," he said. "Just because you're not my Kathy doesn't mean I wanted you dead. I wasn't allowed to give you any kind of warning, and I convinced myself I didn't want to anyway, because it didn't really matter what I told her... everything I told her that I intended to help her, she used as her reason why she had to go back in time and kill herself. So you know, I said, I'm done. Not helping any more Janeways. But it's a crock, because if I could have, I would have. You may not be her, but you're you, and the you who originally caught my interest is a part of both of you. You're both branches of the same tree. So, you know, if Q thinks she's winning any points with me by bringing you here... let her. I don't mind. It's not like I ever expected her to bring the other one; she was mortal, she died, I got over it. Mortals die, it's what they do. It's... nice, I suppose, having you alive and here. I just expected you were going to die too and then there wouldn't be a Janeway in either timeline." He shrugged. "Besides, my son wanted you here. He didn't handle the death of the other Janeway all that well... it's why we went back in time, when he started acting out, to before you split off from her, because before the split you were both you and her, and it was the only way he could have any part of his Aunt Kathy back. Of course, you didn't actually know him the way she did, so it didn't help as much as I thought it would, but I suppose it all worked out in the end."

"I'm sorry," Janeway said. "I didn't... I don't think of myself as different from how I was, when I was human. It never occurred to me that that would make a difference to you."

"Oh, it's not the only difference." He threw himself backward into the beanbag, flopping his head back to look at the ceiling. "Twenty-six years makes a difference. You may have her memories, they may influence you in ways you didn't expect, but they aren't your memories and you know it. And I knew you'd know it. Even if you were still human, giving you her memories couldn't make you into my Kathy, because my Kathy considered me her friend and you don't."

"I... It's not that I dislike you, Q..."

He lifted his head and looked directly at her with a smirk. "Oh, don't try to spare my feelings, Janeway. I'm a Q, and I'm telepathic, and I thrive on being an abrasive bastard. You really can't say anything about how you feel about me that would hurt my feelings." The smirk got bigger. "I irritate the hell out of you. Admit it."

"Yes, fine, you're incredibly irritating and you obviously know it. But it's still not as if I dislike you, Q. I always wished you well, just... to be well somewhere else."

He laughed. "Well, now you're stuck in the same Continuum with me for the foreseeable future. But I won't exactly be camping out on your doorstep, so I'm sure you have nothing to be afraid of."

She sighed, and found a chair to sit in. "So are you going to do it?"

"Do what?"

"Save her timeline. Do what she wanted you to do."

Q's expression went cold again. "She ran off and killed herself, despite my best advice, to change the timeline even though she knew it would do her own timeline no good whatsoever, and her only plan for how to solve her own people's impending doom was to trust that I would fix it for her despite my telling her repeatedly that I cannot be relied on to fix anything for anyone. I'm a whimsical creature. I help if I feel like it. And when someone who supposedly has some feeling for you deliberately abandons you by killing herself, I don't know why I would be supposed to feel like helping her out."

"But she knew all that and she trusted you anyway."

"I warned her that her trust was most likely misplaced."

"You also told her that you didn't love her."

"I would be an unparalleled idiot to love a mortal."

"You told her that you loved Picard."

"I told her lots of things."

Janeway sighed. "Yes, you did, and about half of them contradict the other half. But I saw you watching a battle against the Borg in her timeline. And if you couldn't bring yourself to watch me die, and I'm not even the Janeway you cared about, I doubt very much you could bring yourself to watch that timeline's Jean-Luc Picard be assimilated by the Borg. So I think you're doing something about it."

"You're really annoying, did you know that?"

Janeway laughed. "Now that's the pot calling the kettle black."

"Why do you care, anyway? It's not your timeline."

"I have her memories." She leaned forward in her chair. "She would have wanted to know if you were going to do it, and since she's dead, I'm the only one left to find out."

Q sighed. "I suppose that makes sense."

"If giving me her memories can't turn me into her, and if I'm so repulsive to you now that I'm dead, why did you give me the memories?" Janeway stood up. "At first I thought you were working with Lady Q's agenda, that this is part of that destiny she claims I have. But your... I don't know what to call him, the Q who claims to be your brother?"

"They're all my brothers. And sisters. But you mean the guy who got me thrown out of the Continuum."

"Yes. He claims that you would never do anything to cooperate with Lady Q's agenda because you hate her, and it certainly sounds that way from what you've said."

"Hate is such a strong word," Q said. "I don't hate her. I'm just still enraged with her. There's a difference."

"Now that I think about it, I think that was actually what he said. That you're furious with her, so you wouldn't go along with what she wanted." Janeway shook her head. "Then I got that last set of memories, and it seemed self evident what you'd been after all along. Except you say you have no interest in me that way anymore. And I don't really understand that, either -- why would you find me repulsive for being more like what you are?"

"I don't find you repulsive. Do you find babies repulsive?"

"Well, no, of course not--"

"Do you want to have sex with them?"

"No, of course I don't."

"Well, then." Q leaned back. "You've come up from the cave, and you're stumbling around blind making a fool of yourself. When your eyes adjust to the light, maybe you'll be attractive again, but right now you just look like an idiot."

"The cave?"

"You must be the only starship captain in Starfleet who never read Plato."

"My philosophy classes at the Academy were a long time ago, Q."

Q came forward off his beanbag to sit on the floor, looking up at her. "Plato said that all of human existence was merely being in a cave, watching the flickering shadows of the outside world cast on the cave wall. And he said that there are two kinds of blindness -- the blindness of coming from the light into darkness, and the blindness of coming from the dark into the light. Either one makes people look like fools, but only one's appropriate to laugh at. Going from the light down into the cave is a tragedy; coming up from the cave into the light is a joyous occasion, but the one who has come up from the cave is still stumbling around blind."

"And you see me as that."

"The person who has come up from the cave, and is now blinded by the light. Yes. That's exactly what you are. And until your eyes adjust, until you become a person who understands what she is and what she can do again, I can't find you attractive any more than I could find q-ling attractive. That doesn't make you repulsive, it makes you childlike. And I can rejoice for you that you now have vastly more potential than you did when you were limited to a mortal body, but you haven't realized that potential, and until you do, you're more like a child than an adult to me. And the thing one does with children is teach them."

"So the memories were your attempt to teach me something?"

"I wouldn't say 'attempt', Kathy." He leaned back against the beanbag behind him slightly, grinning. "My understanding is that you've learned quite a bit."

"And that's all it is. You think I'm a child and I need you to teach me things."

"You plainly need someone to teach you things. You're staggeringly ignorant about your own condition, and Q seems to have done as little to resolve that problem as she can get away with. I've noted that you've made good use of the Continuum to do a bit of armchair exploration of the universe, and that's all well and good, but no knowledge is particularly valuable without self-knowledge. Having been in a position where I knew most of the secrets of the universe but hadn't the faintest idea how my own biology worked or what the boundaries of my reduced capabilities were, exactly, I understand this from personal experience. All the knowledge of the Continuum will do you no good unless you know who you are. And to learn who you are now, after you've transformed into something new, you need to know as much as you can about who you were and what you've been capable of doing in your time."

Janeway took a deep breath. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he said, shrugging. "Still so eager to get rid of them now, or are you finally getting used to the idea that no one's trying to turn you into anything that you aren't already?"

"Lady Q said that the memories couldn't be removed; that doing so would declare that humans are an inferior species, or something like that."

"I gave them to you. I have the right to take them from you, with your permission. No other Q would have that right, it's true. But if you really, really wanted to get rid of them and go back to the level of self-ignorance you had before you took the memories..."

"No, it's all right. I don't..." Janeway walked away from the chair, looking at the walls of Q's metaphorical living room. Constant, chaotic frenzies of color and light raced across the walls, with brief recurring patterns popping up again and again, only to disappear into the chaos once more. "I still want to get a message home. To return to my world, if I can. But I've seen that my obsession with home is more dangerous than I thought it was, and I've seen that I left my family and friends in a much better position with this death than I did with any of the others, and... I can't choose not to know who I am and what I've done, if I'm given the options. I can't choose not to remember. It would be like... deliberately putting blinders on, wouldn't it?" She turned back to him.

"Now you're seeing things our way," Q said approvingly, which unnerved her slightly because she wasn't sure she should be seeing things the way the Q did. At the same time, though... what was she now, but her thoughts and memories? Wouldn't cutting off part of her memories be like self-amputation? Perhaps that was why the Q thought of it that way, she thought. What were they, after all, but their thoughts and memories?

"So what happens now?" She came back to the chair, but didn't sit down. "After I attacked the other Q's lab, the one who transformed Tom and me, and knocked myself out doing it, Lady Q seemed to feel the need to train me in using these powers I never expected to acquire... and she threatened my mother to do it. That was the main reason I wanted to get rid of these memories. I don't want to be in a position where my loved ones are threatened by what I do or don't do here, where I have to jump through hoops I may or may not be capable of jumping or those I care about back home will suffer."

"I can promise you that that won't happen again," Q said soberly. "Q was trying to emulate a technique I use, but you're too advanced already to need such a technique, and it's not at all the right technique to use on a mortal who's living among us as a friend. You'd be better off going to Amanda's Auntie, or to Queria, or to me, for that matter -- you need a Q with experience training young Q and other entities. I heard q invited you to join Q University."

"She did. She said that if I did that, she could invite me to a party, and invite Tom and Harry as well."

"She could invite you whether you go to the university or not; she just doesn't want to get in trouble with Q, since Q's your sponsor and you may have gathered that many of the Q in the Continuum are afraid of her."

"You're not."

Q shrugged. "I had a Q lover who tried to kill me once. That's not who Q is. For someone who enjoys violence in her games so much, she really is a very staid and respectable Q. Or she was, anyway. Before the war." He sighed. "If I let her, I'm sure she'd rip my heart out of my chest and dance on it, but she'd never do me any physical harm. So no, I'm not remotely concerned with her opinion one way or another."

"Should I go to the university?"

"If you want to, but I don't think you're quite ready. You need more time to acclimate to the fact that you're not entirely human any more. And I'm not sure they'd know what to do with you. "

"What would you recommend I do?"

"What, you're actually asking my advice?"

She smiled wryly. "You may be irritating, but you're probably the closest thing I have to a genuine friend here. I don't trust Lady Q's motives, Junior's just a kid, and I'm not sure any of the others really care what happens to me except in the abstract."

Q's face broke into a pleased smile. "Well, that's progress." He stood up. "My entirely biased personal recommendation is that you let me teach you. Queria's got q-ling to deal with, Amanda's Auntie was on the wrong side of the war and might be a trifle miffed at your role in it, Quinn's dead, and no one else has any experience whatsoever in teaching humans, or former humans."

"And you won't threaten my loved ones?"

"Dearest Kathy, I know better. Doing that sort of thing only makes you mad, and you hold grudges. I'm quite sure that someday when she least expects it you're going to get back at Q for that stunt."

"I wouldn't threaten anyone in her family."

"No, but you would convince q-ling to do something in direct violation of her mother's orders because you think it's the right thing to do, and the only thing that would hold you back from doing such a thing would be consideration for Q's feelings and reactions, and if you're angry at Q for threatening your mom, you'd weight her feelings a lot less heavily in the equation." He grinned at her.

"I suppose." She didn't want to mention to him that she'd actually thought of the possibility of convincing q-ling to send her home, at least temporarily... which would be doing exactly what he just said she might do. Perhaps his years with the other Janeway had led him to a better understanding of who she was, in the end. "As long as no one ends up at risk from you teaching me except myself, then I accept."

"Great." He put an arm around her shoulder. She would have been much more unnerved by the maneuver if she still thought he had a sexual interest in her, but his offense at the concept had seemed genuine, almost hurtfully so. She didn't want him, but being told she was a snot-nosed baby with spit-up on her bib wasn't the way she'd have preferred to learn that he didn't want her anymore, either. "So here's what we're gonna do. You're going to go back home, and rest, and spend some time integrating those memories. If q invites you to a party, or your kids decide they're willing to see you, or Junior drags you off on some adventure, so much the better. Go on with your life... or your un-life, if you'd rather look at it that way. Play around with the abilities you understand how to use, explore the Continuum, have fun. And when I'm done with this one project I'm involved with that's taking rather a lot of my attention, I'll come show you some new tricks, and we can see if we can expand your self-concept of what you can imagine yourself able to do."

"Would this project that's taking a lot of your attention involve the Borg and the other Janeway's timeline?"

He made a sour lemon face at her. "You really think you know everything, Kathy. Gotta work on that. If you're gonna act like a know-it-all, you'd better get working on actually knowing everything."

Janeway laughed. "Well, I'll let you get back to it. Let me know when you're ready."

"Oh, absolutely."

She concentrated, opened the door and walked through into her own home.

For several moments after the door closed behind her and she was alone again, she stood in the center of her living room, staring at the viewscreen, wondering if there was something she could pull up to watch or read or learn about. She thought about looking in on Chakotay or Seven or her mother and sister... but no. They didn't have the perspective she had now. They didn't know how much better it was that she was here than that they were dead, or facing the Borg. She couldn't send them a message, she couldn't let them know she still existed... so she'd have to let them go, to find their own way to the peace with her death that she'd finally achieved.

Which didn't mean she wouldn't still keep trying to find a way to let them know, or get back home. But she wasn't going to let it consume her anymore.

Instead, she took a deep breath, envisioned the park she'd seen twice on excursions with Junior and q, and concentrated. Time to do some exploration on her own, now that she could.

She opened her front door and walked out into the park.

...i cease to be a slave
i am finished with my own death
wrapped tight around my little lamb
i think it's funny

--Pet, "calmate!"