"I can't believe Picard left you in charge of me," Q complained. "Isn't that the classic fox guarding the henhouse scenario?"
Guinan looked down at the tiny formerly omnipotent being, who was glaring up at her. He was doing a better job of hiding his terror than an actual seven year old would have been, but that wasn't saying much. "Let's not forget that the last time all the senior staff had to leave the ship for an away mission, they left you with the elementary school teacher, and you locked her in a supply closet."
Q scowled. "She got off easy. If I had to listen to one more minute of that stupid 'educational' program..."
Guinan, having had to deal with the exact same "educational" program while trying to help Picard stop a Ferengi invasion, laughed. "True, but now you can't complain that you've been handed over to me."
"Why can't they just leave me by myself? I'm not actually a small child, you know. I'm still millions of years old, and a fully adult entity!"
"You made your bed, Q," Guinan said. "You're the one who thought it was a good idea to manifest as a child"
"I was running out of energy. I couldn't make enough mass to take an adult human form, and if I didn't incarnate then and there I ran a serious risk of discorporating completely, and dying. Which, I'm sure, would have distressed you not in the slightest."
"And you needed to make a brain that was compatible with your new form, of course."
"It wasn't like I was trying! I didn't have any humanoid child forms memorized... all I could do was de-age the one I usually use. How was I supposed to know my standard humanoid form has attention deficit disorder or whatever you call it?"
"I don't think it's your physical form that has the attention deficits, Q. But putting the mind of an irresponsible million-year-old entity with a short attention span and very poor impulse control into the body of a seven year old human boy, with a seven year old human boy's brain, calibrated to match that entity's personal... deficits... well, it wasn't the best idea you ever had."
"I'll have you know that a short attention span is an advantage for a Q whose role in life is to seek out new knowledge for the Continuum. It's not a deficit at all."
"Except when it leads you to turn into a seven year old human boy because something you ran into out there successfully kicked your butt and cut your ties to the Continuum, and you had to take the first physical form you could think of and you couldn't even manage enough mass to do it right. And if you had better impulse control, maybe you could have resisted the temptation to take apart the replicator in your quarters the one time you were actually left completely on your own the way an adult would be."
"It wouldn't let me replicate what I wanted."
"That's a software issue. Taking apart the replicator wouldn't change the fact that you have a child's voice print and are restricted from certain things."
"Yeah, well, it wasn't like I knew that until I tried it, now did I?" He looked around himself, suddenly, startled. "Hey, where are you taking me?"
"We're going to the holodeck."
"Oh, no." Q backed up. "I don't know what kind of nefarious torment you have set up for me there, but I'm not going along with it."
It was interesting how the completely immature behavior that had alternately infuriated and terrified her when he had his full powers and had manifested in an adult shape just struck her as funny now. "'Nefarious torment', Q? Practicing your vocabulary so you won't sound the age you look?"
"I'm not going to the holodeck! You could do anything to me there!"
"I'm not going to hurt you."
"Yeah, right. I'm physically small but I'm still not stupid, Guinan." As she reached for him, he bolted, but didn't go very far; he ran a few meters down the corridor, and stopped to look back at her. "You're going to put me through some kind of horrible scenario and then tell me it was 'educational' and I'm being a hypocrite for objecting and what's sauce for the goose and all that, and I'm not putting up with it!"
"Fine, I'll just tell Picard you refused to listen to me. I suppose he'd have to start confining you to quarters with your voiceprint locked out for anything other than calls for help, when no one he can trust to watch you is around." Guinan turned to the holodeck and opened the door.
"Wait! I can't just be confined to quarters like I'm under arrest or something! I didn't do anything wrong!"
Guinan ignored him and stepped into the holodeck. As she had rather expected, he followed her, racing in at top speed. "Guinan, pay attention to me for once in your life. You can't treat me like I'm actually some sort of juvenile delinquent. I'm not really a child!"
"My understanding is that yes, you really are... not a seven year old, but not really a fully adult Q either," Guinan said.
"I don't know who told you that, but they were lying. I am a full adult!"
She shrugged. "It doesn't matter much right now, does it? Survive to puberty, and your powers should kick in right around the same time Amanda Rogers' powers did, but until then, you're a human child and you're not above exploiting it when you choose. Locking a woman in a supply closet would have been assault if you were an adult, and you'd have ended up in the brig. Instead you get a stern lecture and me watching you the next time neither Troi nor Data are available. So do you want to be treated like an adult, Q? You want to go to the brig for what you did to Ms. Chen? Be thrown off the ship for your temper tantrums and stunts like disassembling your replicator? Or do you want to be forgiven for your childish behavior, and treated like someone smaller, less in control of themselves, less dangerous, less responsible and less competent than an adult?"
"Those choices are all lousy," Q grumbled.
"Welcome to the universe the rest of us live in. Computer, run Guinan Gamma 3 A."
"Why does the computer system automatically assign names to all the holodeck programs and keep people from picking something that would actually be meaningful?" Q asked, as the room filled with trampolines, monkeybars, foam climbing walls and inflatable plastic bounce arenas, some of which had obstacle courses, climbing nets and slides associated with them.
"I'm not a computer expert. Try asking Data when he gets back." She noted that his eyes had gone wide, looking around the room. "Anything out there look like fun?"
He folded his arms in front of himself. "No," Q said sulkily.
"No? Sure about that?"
"What, am I not talking loudly enough or is it just your brain? I AM NOT REALLY A CHILD. I don't want to play on a playground thingy like I'm actually some pathetic human brat instead of an aeons old entity trapped in a human child's body. I can't believe you thought something like this would entertain me! In fact I'm absolutely certain you came up with this just to humiliate me."
"That must be it," Guinan agreed, sitting down on the floor and removing her boots.
"What are you doing?" Q asked.
"I can't bounce with my shoes on, Q. The material might be hologrammatic, but it's still more fragile than that. And it's not nearly as much fun with shoes." She removed her hat as well. Sexually mature adults were not supposed to see her without her hat unless they were family, or her lover, or there was medical necessity, but Q was in the form of a child and anyway, he used to torment her by showing up when she didn't have her hat on, all the time, or making it vanish, on the grounds that he thought her customs were stupid. He was neither her family nor a lover, and technically he really wasn't a child, but technically he wasn't really humanoid.
"You don't actually want to bounce. You just want to make me think you want to so I'll go do it. This simple attempt at reverse psychology is really beneath you, Guinan."
"Definitely," Guinan agreed, and climbed, barefooted, up onto one of the larger, plainer bounce arenas. She tested the flex for a moment, giving it just the smallest amount of up and down, before launching a real jump.
Down on the ground, Q glared up at her. "Do you have any idea how stupid you look?"
"Do you have any idea how chicken you look?" Guinan responded.
"I - what?"
She grinned down at him. "You know the Earth expression as well as I do. Chicken. Scaredy cat. Yellow bellied lily livered. You're scared. That's the real reason you don't want to play."
"Scared of what? We're in the holodeck! And this is a playground anyway! What would I be scared of?"
"You're scared of everything, Q," Guinan said. "You're mortal now, until your powers re-activate, unless the Continuum figure out what happened to you and care enough to come fix it." His sour expression told her she'd hit a nerve. "You've got maybe nine or ten years to live through without your powers, being smaller than everyone, being weaker than everyone, and without the control over your own emotions and impulses that you expect to have. So yes, you're scared. You're afraid you'll hurt yourself, and you're afraid you'll look childish." And he was afraid that if he liked it he would have to admit to himself that Guinan wasn't out to get him, but she didn't see any value in pointing that out. "So you're just going to stand there, pouting and looking twice as childish as you could ever look if you tried to play, because that way you don't have to take any risks. You're a coward."
His small fists clenched. "Reverse psychology again. I don't have to listen to you!"
"Then don't listen to me. Just stand there and be bored. I'm going to climb that net."
"In those robes? You look like an idiot!"
"Oh, thanks for reminding me." She took off her overrobe and tossed it over the high inflatable wall of the bounce arena. "That'll work better." With huge leaps, she bounced over to the net, and began clambering up it.
Q couldn't stand being bored. Exactly as she'd expected, he came running up the ramp into the bounce arena. "Okay! But I'm only doing this because as mind-numbingly boring as it is to play in some kind of children's playground, it's even more boring to stand still and do nothing."
"Watch out below."
Guinan let go of the net, near the top, and fell down onto the bounce floor, with sufficient force that she was immediately catapulted up several centimeters again before falling back down. The bounce floor oscillated underneath her. "Whoa! That was a rush."
"Did you just fall off that net?"
"Fall, let go, there isn't a lot of difference, I suppose."
Q's eyes were wide. "Why did you do a thing like that?" he almost shouted.
"Because it was fun." Guinan bounced over to him. "I hear you used to know how to have fun without hurting other people, but I'm not sure if it was just a story or not. I'm sure it was long enough ago that you don't remember how to do it."
"I know how to have fun," Q said, scowling.
"Doesn't look like it to me. Looks like you know how to glare pretty well, though."
"This isn't any fun!"
"Of course not. Now I'm going over to the obstacle course with the slide. You can stay here and pout if you want."
"I am not pouting!"
"If you say so."
He raced ahead of her, jumped up on the obstacle course's bounce platform, grabbed onto the cable swing and swung across the gap between two bounce platforms onto the far side, where he scrambled up onto a giant foam rock. "See? I'm not pouting. And I beat you over here."
"Yes, but you can't beat me to the slide."
"I've got longer legs," Guinan caroled.
"Yeah, but I weigh less, and I've got the rope swing, so physics suggests I should be able to avoid half the obstacles between me and the slide anyway!"
"Less taunting, more racing, or I'm gonna beat you."
"No, you're not!"
Guinan put on a burst of speed over the foam rock wall and jumped for the rope ladder for the slide, scrambling up it just ahead of Q, who had indeed figured out how to use the rope swing to bypass most of his obstacles. She sat down on the top and grinned down at him in triumph. "See? I told you I'd win."
Q looked up at her, his expression of anger and frustration slowly replaced by something more mischievous. "I thought you'd throw it."
"Throw a competition? To you? You could be a newborn infant and I'd still enjoy beating you at pretty much anything."
"So this is a real contest, then, not you humoring me," Q said, and grinned. "Good. Because you cannot possibly beat me to the trampoline." With that he climbed over her and launched himself down the slide at full speed.
"We'll see about that," Guinan said.
She was still in the holodeck, with Q sleeping curled up on one of the bounce platforms, a blanket conveniently provided by the holodeck when she'd requested it, by the time Picard came back from the mission.
Picard looked over at Q. "He almost looks harmless when he's sleeping," he said wryly.
"Oh, admit it, Picard, he's adorable. When he's seven years old. And powerless. And napping."
"I'm sorry to have to saddle you with him, but"
"Stop apologizing. I've had more experience with Q than any of you, and more experience with children, and I admit I'm a little surprised myself to see how much the two sets of experience intersect."
"Yes, but I know how much you dislike him."
Guinan looked over at the sleeping former entity, now small boy, again. "When I met Q I knew he was an immature member of his species," she said softly. "But he took the form of an adult, and he had too much power, and too much willingness to use it. I tried not to let him get to me... I knew, if I could just get him to talk to me, I knew he'd come to me for help with something. But he wouldn't do it. He was too defensive, too attached to his own posturing... I couldn't get through to him, and the whole time, he treated me like a toy to be played with. And then I just snapped. And everything that happened between us after that, happened because I did a thing that couldn't be taken back."
"So this is your way of... what? Apologizing?"
She shook her head. "I'll never apologize to him, and it'll never be necessary. The Q don't apologize, in general. They deal with their long lives by trying to focus on the present and the future, or they'd drown in the past. It's not how we do it, but then, as long lived as we are, we're not even on the same scale as they are." Guinan picked up her boots and put them back on. "It's more of a second chance, to try to deal with him the right way this time. If he's got the mind of an adult but the brain of a child... he has emotional needs he can't pretend he hasn't got, right now, and he simply can't muster up the defenses he did before, and... he's not all powerful. Believe me, that helps a lot." And, she had to admit, having the form of a child helped as well. When Q had been powerless and vulnerable, but still adult, still looking exactly as he had when he was powerful, she had taken far more pleasure in his suffering than she felt a good person probably should. But her maternal instincts just wouldn't allow her to even want revenge on a little boy. He was even more vulnerable than he was the last time, and this time, he looked it.
"Most of the time, yes. Though I have to confess, there are times when I would rather have him back as he was before, omnipotence and all."
"Let me guess. During his temper tantrums, in particular."
Picard smiled slightly. "Yes, I have to admit... those make me very uncomfortable."
"They make him very uncomfortable, too. He's younger than we were when we were de-aged, Picard, and I don't know about you, but I think I felt things more strongly when we were temporarily made into children than I do most of the time. The brain pathways just aren't wired up for all the same defenses adults are capable of. He thinks he should be in control, and then his emotions just get away from him completely... not that he was ever as much in control as he thinks. You just have to remember that. As embarrassing as it is for you to deal with, remember - it's worse for him." She stood up. "Besides. His temper tantrums as a Q may have been much colder and more controlled, but the consequences were much, much worse."
"Oh, you don't have to remind me of that, Guinan. I know." He looked down at Q again. "I don't think either Data or Troi have ever gotten him to take a nap. I know I haven't."
"The great thing about being, physically, a small child, is that your body might be small and weak, but it's full of active, kinetic energy and you just can't store it up. You've got to release it, in physical motion. And gravity and time haven't beaten up your body yet, so physical motion is easy and pleasant. Q didn't want to believe that an adult could possibly find a playground fun, but he didn't realize that any humanoid would find a playground fun if their bodies were in optimal condition for running and jumping and climbing. Once I talked him into trying it, I couldn't stop him. And once he burned out enough of that energy... well, there's a reason kids take more naps than adults." She walked toward where she knew the holodeck door to be. "If you want to move him back to his quarters, I suggest either beaming him or carrying him. As soon as he wakes up, he's probably going to want to pretend he never intended to take a nap in the first place."
"I'll have him beamed over." She could see almost the ghost of a tender smile on Picard's face. Children might make him uncomfortable and she didn't think he was well suited to have any, but he really needed to spend more time with his nephew, she thought. Picard really needed to spend more time with kids. Other people's kids, that he could give back after a few hours.
"Let me know if you need help with him again."
"Oh, I'm sure I'll have to take you up on that," Picard said.