BABY, BABY

By Lorraine J. Anderson

Q sat on a rocking chair in space and watched Terra's sun explode. Then he watched it explode again. And again. And again. And…

"You know," Q said, appearing in a lounge beside him, "Don't you think this a bit extreme just because you're annoyed with Picard?"

"But it feels good," Q muttered.

"No, it doesn't."

Q sighed. "You're right, of course, Q." He watched the sun explode one more time in slow motion, watched Terra glow white hot, then disappear, then reform, blue and white, pathetic little ants on it living their pathetic little lives -."

"Now, now," Q said. "you won't get anywhere thinking that way."

"I won't get anywhere without moving," Q muttered.

Q ignored him. "Maybe we should have sent you to the Vulcans…"

"Oh, puh-lease," Q said, rocking back. He rocked forward and brightened. "Now, maybe if I went to educate the Andorians." His dark hair turned white, his skin turned blue, and ear-stalks appeared out of his head.

Q shook his head and waved his hand. Q turned back into a human. "No – I think not. You'd enjoy that way too much, I think."

"You have no sense of humor."

"Oh, no." Q's eyes twinkled. "We have a great sense of humor. "Why do you think we picked Picard?"

"Mmm," Q grunted, rocking.

Q sat back on his lounge and watched Terra revolve. "You know, it is a pretty little planet. Doesn't it remind you of…"

"No."

"It does to me…"

"That planet's long gone."

"Not," Q said, tapping his blonde head, "if we remember it."

Q rolled his eyes. He looked away, then looked back. "So, why have the Q Continuum deigned to notice me this time?"

"Not the whole continuum, just Q. She's worried about you."

"Why didn't she just come here, then?"

"She couldn't find you."

Q grunted. "Oh. Right. All seeing, all powerful, all knowing – except with each other."

"But not infallible."

Q looked over at Q. "Don't let the Continuum hear you say that, you heretic. You don't want them to be on your back, like they are with me."

"They want you to settle down with Q." He grinned. "Failing that, they want to send you to live with the Organians for a while."

"Oh… Q," he snickered. "You slay me. Can you imagine me among the Organians?"

"Or the Metrons."

"Another group of self-satisfied, peace-loving, self-righteous prigs. I'd rather find Apollo."

"Gone. As you know."

Q looked up and stared at Q. "You're not thinking that I was thinking about…" he shook himself. "….leaving."

"No! No," Q squirmed. "Yes. Your mood has been rather, well, dark, to use a human term. Soooo… your wife and I have decided to give you a task."

Q cocked an eyebrow at Q. "Something good?"

"Wellll… it's a lesson and a task in one."

"Not interested." Q looked at the sun, wondering if he should start the process over again. No, that was getting rather boring.

"You don't have a choice."

Q sighed. "How surprising."

Q waved a hand. A room formed around the pair.

"Well, the colors are rather pastel." Q waved his hand. "I prefer something more… vibrant." Nothing happened, and he stared at the offending hand.

"You'll be human for this week." Q pointed out the wall replicator, the bed, the bathroom. All were in corresponding pastel colors, with – Q looked closer –

"Are those Terran animals?"

"Very good!"

Q looked up at Q. "And besides having my fashion sense offended, what am I supposed to do for this week?"

Four cribs appeared, followed by four startled babies, all of which started crying. "They are all three months of age. Your job is to take care of them for a week. You have diapers; you have food; you have toys." Q smiled down at the four. "And you need to know that these are real babies. Mostly human. Their parents will want them back"

Q looked at them, started to say something, then looked at them again. One had light brown hair; another had dark brown hair. The third had dark, almost black hair; the fourth's hair seemed a bit reddish. They were all just in diapers. "Why babies?"

"You need to learn to care."

"And Q is giving me a hint. A week with these noisy things…?" Q had disappeared. "I don't even know their names."

Q popped his head in. "I'll give you a hint. Who's your favorite human?"

Q rolled his eyes. "You're kidding." He looked at the four. They were still crying, their eyes shut. Gradually, they opened their eyes. He looked into them. "Oh." The clincher was the baby with black hair and black eyes. Pointing a finger at each child, he named them off. "Picard. Crusher. Riker. Troi." He pointed his finger to the sky. "You have a lot to answer for, Q!"

The Troi jerked, startled, and looked at him. "Oh, yeah, Betazoid. You may not be empathic yet, but you're certainly sensitive."

They looked at him, then lost interest.

He looked at them, sighing, then watched as one after another, the babies started crying. He sniffed. Then sniffed again. He remembered that smell. He smelled that smell the last time he was human. Human waste. Not that humans didn't smell most of the time, anyhow. But why was he smelling this? Poking carefully at the nearest baby, he lifted up it's shirt, then pulled down it's diaper. He got a new whiff. "Oh, Q," he said, screwing up his face. "What am I supposed to do with this?"

A stand appeared in front of him. A monitor screen, perched on top the stand, spelled out with big letters. "Change the babies."

"Into what?" Q looked puzzled.

Q stuck his head in. "Oh, you are helpless, aren't you? This is the last bit of help you get. You need to replace the babies' diapers. And don't forget to clean the babies. Humans are rather delicate that way." He tossed a book at Q, who caught it. Q read the

spine. "'Q's Care and Feeding of Human Babies.'"

"Read it," Q said. "It has illustrations."

Q winced. "Gee, thanks." He looked up. Q had disappeared. "Ok, let's see how we do this." He flipped through the book. "Oh. Oh, I see. Q, this is disgusting! Wash my hands often. Of course!" He looked at the four. "Well, I'll get no rest until I…" he grimaced… "change them."

He held his nose, pulled off the diaper, then put it in the disposal chute in the wall. The little boy looked at him, then started crying again. "Oh, stop whining, Riker," Q said. He looked around; where were the wipes? Oh, there. Pulling three out, he gingerly dabbed at the baby's bottom. Nothing much seemed to be happening. Q sighed and rubbed harder. The boy stopped crying and looked at him. "Cold, huh? You'd be much colder if I had my way." His fingers slipped, and he made a noise. He dropped those wipes down the chute, pulled three more out and wiped his fingers.

He leaned back over the baby. Riker smiled toothlessly at him, then wet the front of Q's shirt.

Q closed his eyes and resisted the impulse to smack the baby. This was going to be a long week.

#

Q was sitting in a rocking chair, half-dozing, with a sleeping baby in his arms, when Q popped in. "Aw, doesn't that look sweet."

Q glared up at him. "Don't… wake… the… Troi. I've just spent two hours getting her to sleep."

"Learning anything?"

Q rolled his eyes. "I've learned that they're just as annoying when they're young."

"So were you."

"You should know."

"That's cold, Q."

Q shrugged. "I'm tired. I couldn't think of a better witticism."

They heard a coo from one of the cribs. Silently, Q got up. The Picard baby was looking up at him. Q poked a finger at him. "And you are annoying. Even with hair."

Picard caught one of his fingers and smiled broadly. "Don't smile at me. It makes me think you're up to something. Like a dirty diaper."

Picard smiled again, and Q heard something like a giggle. "Don't you laugh at me!"

Q stood over his shoulder. "Human babies aren't that complicated, Q. I think he likes you."

"Yeah, well…" He poked his finger at the baby again. Again, a smile and a giggle.

"You like that, huh?" He did it again.

"Q! You're playing with the baby!"

Q looked sternly at him. "I am not. I'm torturing the Picard."

"Hmmph. Never knew Picard was such a masochist." Laughing, Q disappeared.

Q smiled as he laid Troi down. Then he realized what he was doing and looked sternly down at the babies. "I swear you're going to pay when I get hold of you in the future."

Picard smiled toothlessly.

#

Q was lying down in the adjacent room, sleeping, when he heard the growl. "Oh, Q, at this hour? I just got them all sleeping." The growl was repeated. Q's brow furrowed. It didn't sound right.

He bolted up. "This is an artificial environment created by Q. How could there be predators…" Nonetheless, he felt his heart stop as the babies started crying. He bolted out into the main room.

The animals were morphing off the wall.

"This isn't funny, Q!"

Q appeared, his face pale. "I'm not doing this!" He gestured towards the animals, and - nothing happened.

"Then who is?"

Q didn't answer. A club appeared in his hand, and a matching spear appeared in Q's hand. "Does it matter?"

"But the Q can't hurt the children. That would change the timeline!"

"It's happened before." He swung at one of the animals.

Q was right. He felt a sudden compassion for the babies. "At least wait until they're old enough to be annoying!"

Q glanced over in the midst of his swinging. "Why Q, I believe you do care."

Q poked a spear at a bear. "Damn, Q, why do you think I get so exasperated at them?" He had a sudden realization. He did care about humans. He had always cared about humans. Why had he showed them the Borg? Why had he poked and prodded Picard so often? Why did Riker and Troi get under his skin? Why did Crusher annoy him so?

Because he liked them, and he wanted the best out of them.

"And if you tell them, you're a dead Q, Q."

The animals disappeared. "Did you do that?"

"Not me." But he smiled. "I bet it was your wife, Q."

Q opened his mouth, then closed it. It didn't matter.

The babies disappeared, the room disappeared, space appeared around them. Q looked somewhat crestfallen.

"The babies have been returned to their own times," Q said.

"Ah."

"Your powers are back."

"Oh." Q looked at Terra, then his shoulders went back.

"Don't thank me, Q."

"Wasn't going to." He snapped his fingers and disappeared.

The blond smiled.

#

Picard looked up from his bed and glared into the face of Q. "Q," he growled. "What are you doing here?"

Q smiled. "Just seeing if you were comfy, mon Capitaine."

Picard looked puzzled and still a little angry. "I'm fine."

"Good." Q disappeared, but still looked into Picard's bedroom. Picard rolled his eyes and laid back down. He let the room fade out.

All was right with his universe.

At least, until Picard did something stupid again.

He sighed. A parent's job was never done.

-End-