His Brother's Keeper
The kid was wearing a mortal form, lounging on an asteroid and watching a space battle some parsecs away with an expression of boredom, as if he were so enormously bored that he had to turn for entertainment to something as pathetic as this. His elder brother knew better. The kid had always been morbidly drawn to the darkness in mortal souls even as he searched for the good in them, cynically certain he wouldn't find any, but searching anyway.
They were a lot alike, the kid and his brother. Oftentimes, that was exactly how the brother felt.
"To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of this visit?" the kid asked lazily, not bothering to focus more than the tiniest peripheral thread of his attention on the other.
"I'm afraid you've got only yourself to blame this time." This was hard, so hard. The elder brother felt an overpowering urge to pace, to release the energy he had barely contained in mortal form, but he sat down instead, lying back to watch the battle, as if by doing so he could establish a camaraderie between them. His little brother was closed to him, shields at maximum strength, and it hadn't always been this way. Once they had been close.
Once he had tormented the kid mercilessly, of course, but then that was what elder brothers did. The younger didn't hold that against him, he knew that. It was something else that kept the younger one's shields up at full strength.
"They're talking about you, you know. You're beginning to worry a lot of people."
"Beginning?" The kid smiled sardonically. "I've been worrying people for millennia. Hardly anything new there."
"Yeah, you've got a talent for it," the elder brother acknowledged. "But it's getting worse. Every time I turn around, I have to field some silly question about you."
"Why ask you?" The kid looked at his brother hard. "You don't know me any better than the rest of them."
"Oh, I'm not the only one. All your friends are getting the same kind of interrogation. You know-- 'what does he think he's doing? doesn't he realize how disruptive he's being? how long does he think we will tolerate this behavior from him?' That kind of thing."
"Ah. The same things they ask me, only they think you'd have some sort of great insight you'd be willing to impart to them that they can't get from me? They know why I do it as well as anyone does."
"Boredom isn't sufficient excuse to go about torturing lesser beings, you know."
"What excuse would you prefer?" The kid stood up. "I'm teaching them valuable lessons about the unpredictability and danger inherent in exploring the universe. I'm providing a wake-up call. I'm kicking them in the complacency and making them question their petty little lives. Isn't that my function? Am I not supposed to challenge other beings to question their beliefs?"
"You're supposed to be doing that at home. Not out in the universe, and not as brutally as you're doing it. What about the Calamarain? You may have wrecked their political system for the next several thousand years, and what have they gained from it?"
"They'd have gained an understanding of how idiotic their little internal prejudices were, if they weren't so stupid as to waste their time railing against me instead of recognizing the value of what I taught them."
"They weren't ready."
"Says all of us. And how about these humans? You're the one that wanted so badly to observe them, you're the one that broke the rules to make one of them one of us, and now you throw them up against the Borg? Because you're annoyed that they wouldn't let you join them? What kind of nonsense is this?"
"If you're just here to give me a lecture, spare me. I've heard it the last twenty thousand times, and it hasn't changed much."
The elder brother sighed. "You are just determined to be difficult, aren't you?"
"It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it."
"But you're not doing it right." He dematerialized and reappeared in front of his younger brother, cutting off the other's restless pacing. "Look, I can get behind your desire to challenge the status quo. That's what you're here for. And I admit, the Continuum's been getting more and more hidebound, and more and more boring, for centuries now. But running around throwing tests at lesser races that they can't possibly pass in an effort to vent your frustrations-- and this is about venting your frustrations, not about helping them any-- is not making you look any more credible to the others. How are you supposed to act as an advocate of change if you just look like an immature brat?"
"How am I supposed to act as an advocate of change when we drown out any advocacy of change by chanting The Rules at any such advocate? Change isn't change if it's change within the tiniest, narrowest bandwidth of parameters that they set in their eternal, hidebound wisdom. They created me-- and you, and all the younger generation of the New Age-- to see what they cannot, to change what they made static, to challenge the status quo. And then they made status within the Continuum incumbent upon how well you uphold the status quo. I am a laughingstock. And so would you be, if you hadn't changed sides and joined them. Congratulations, where do you want me to send your thirty pieces of silver?"
"You aren't making matters any better for yourself by using your powers irresponsibly." He sighed. "Q, we both know damn well that you tested the Jin'en to near-destruction because you were frustrated with the Continuum; we both know that you were so upset and lonely when we told you to stay away from home for the next hundred years or so because of your spectacularly stupid stunt with that human that you tried to go join those humans, just like Q and Q did and got executed for, and when the humans quite rightly told you to go fly a kite you threw a temper tantrum and exposed them to the Borg. You--"
"They needed to be exposed to the Borg. You weren't there, Q. You didn't see Picard's complacency, his arrogance, his certainty that his little species and its little values were the be-all and end-all of sentient evolution. For one thing, the Borg are already planning on assimilating them-- they were next on the list after the Romulans-- and without any kind of warning, their species is doomed--"
"Yeah, but that isn't why you did it. Admit it, Q. You've just convinced the Borg that they're a much higher priority target than they originally thought, you've given them a preliminary exposure to the technology and capabilities of your Federation pets, all because you got angry. You know damn well that's not allowed. You have to control your temper when dealing with lesser races-- you can't stoop to their level, you can't make pets out of them and then start to actually care what they think about you, or you're just setting yourself up to abuse your power and demand worship, and you know that's wrong."
"Worship? I don't want to be worshipped. I can't imagine anything more tedious."
He was entirely sincere-- even through his shields, the elder brother could detect a complete disgust with the thought of being worshipped, stronger even than most Q would feel. "Then you want to be friends with them."
"Why ever would I stoop to that level?"
"I don't know; you tell me. Maybe because you're spending all your time shutting the people who are supposed to be your friends and family out of your head? Maybe because you're running around doing idiotic things that are going to get you kicked out of the Continuum, and you know it?"
The kid snorted. "I haven't done anything worth kicking me out."
"I'm not about to do something that stupid."
"Q, you've already been stupid. You haven't been covering your butt properly. There's a lot of people who'd like to see you taken down, and you're playing into their hands." He sighed. "I wasn't going to tell you, but I hear talk that some people are agitating for your destruction."
"Some people always have been."
"Some people are getting an audience with extremely influential Q. Look, I've already lost two siblings this century! I don't want to risk losing you, too!"
"You needn't worry. They can't touch me. I haven't done anything like agitate for the right to kill myself or try to procreate without permission. Maybe I've gone a little over the top with some of my lesser species, but hey, that's the way they created me. If they didn't like it, perhaps they should have thought harder before making me what I am."
"You're abdicating personal responsibility. You are in charge of your own actions now, not the Continuum as a whole. And, short of uncreating you, they can't re-make you now-- and if I were you, I wouldn't present an argument whose most logical response is 'well, gee, we guess you're right. We made you wrong; better uncreate you and fix it.'"
"They aren't going to do that either. Don't worry about me, Q. I can take care of myself."
"They'll never try to destroy me just for messing about with some lesser beings. I mean, they're only mortals-- it hardly matters what I do to them. It's not like I've done anything to any Q."
"You're wrong. You are completely wrong, and I just can't believe how wrong you are. They can, and they will, because they're looking for an excuse. You're still the loudest and most rebellious of the surviving younger ones; there's a lot of people who'd like to silence you. Just because they created you in the abstract belief that the role of questioner and challenger was needed doesn't mean that when it comes to it, they really want to be questioned or challenged. They would love to shut you up, Q, and you're just playing into their hands this way."
"The way I see it, you're the one that's played into their hands. You were a rebel once too, but they scared you into being a good little Q and toeing the line, and now you're trying to tell me to do the same thing. Well, they need someone to challenge their ideas of what's appropriate. So I get my hands dirty messing around with mortals? They at least have a potential for change, for growth, if someone just gets them to get their heads out of the sand. I can argue that everything I've done has been justified--"
"Yeah, you can argue that, but you won't win."
"But I will. Because I am justified. Regardless of my personal motives, the things I've done to shake these little mortal species up have been desperately needed derailings from their complacent little ruts."
"That's arguable, and it's your personal motives that will come under the most fire!"
"Go whine at someone who cares, Q. This conversation has rapidly become entirely too tiresome to be supported."
The kid vanished. For a moment the elder brother considered following him, trying to talk sense into him again. If he kept going the way he was going, he would be destroyed. There was no question about it-- many of the elders of the Continuum were just looking for an excuse, and while his childish behavior with mortals would have been overlooked if he'd just done it with one or two species-- hell, several of their kind enjoyed the thrill of being gods with particular mortals of their own-- the fact was that he did it to all mortals that interested him, and many of them didn't survive his interest. He was way over the top, and getting moreso, and there was considerable evidence that he was trying to make ties with his new favorite toy, humans, in ways that just couldn't be allowed. Q and Q had committed unauthorized procreation, but the crime they'd actually been executed for was their attempt to live amongst mortals while retaining Q powers, their attempt to relate to mortals as if they were Q. That couldn't be allowed, for the sake of the mortals involved and the sake of the Continuum itself. And it looked like Q was doing that, or planning to do it, now.
He had to be stopped. He had to be made to see how serious this was, before it was too late.
If he were executed, no individual Q would be granted permission to resurrect him, not when the entire Continuum had decreed his death. But if he were merely exiled, stripped of his powers and made mortal-- that was a sentence that could be rescinded. If he learned his lesson in time. If he realized how deadly serious the game he was playing against the Continuum was.
In order to save his brother, he had no choice but to betray him, to denounce him to the Continuum and demand his excommunication. And if it worked-- if his brother learned his lessons in time, if he lived through this experience and learned to behave himself, to toe the line as he must-- his camaraderie with his older brother would be gone forever. There would be no more friendship, only the relationship of mentor and recalcitrant student. But it was the only way.
The older brother flung himself home with the speed of thought, his heart heavy. In order to save his little brother, he had to lose him forever.