Disclaimer: I would never presume to lay claim to Q or to Star Trek: Enterprise.
I nearly slipped as I sloshed my way through the mud; I wasn't too concerned with my clothes getting dirty, nor did I try and keep my face dry as the rain came pouring down my face. The storm was getting stronger and the wind was picking up, but still I hiked up the path. Even the trees dripped sadly as I passed them, and all the world was covered in a silver haze. I realize with a pang that rain was beautiful and that I wouldn't see it again, but I shoved the sadness away when I remembered how utterly pointless my life had become. I was out of a job and out of money, days away from being kicked out of my apartment for being late with the rent. My boyfriend had left me last month to deal with his own issues, and all my family were either dead or weren't speaking to me. It seemed everybody was bailing out on me: my boyfriend, my landlord, my boss, my friends, my family. Nobody cared about poor little Natalia anymore; no one could care, not with all the problems I had. I was too hard to love.
I walked on, recklessly continuing up the mountain, until finally I reached the old ravine. The thunderstorm let up, dying down to a light drizzle, then only the occasional drip. But there was a river still raging twenty feet below me, cascading over the rocks like an unstoppable train. There was nothing down there to break my fall, nothing to cushion or comfort me. I stepped up to the ledge.
The wind whistled around me, breaking up the clouds in the sky and even letting some weak sunlight seep through, like watered-down lemonade. Instead of cheering me up, it depressed me further, and I set my gaze on the river once more.
I took a deep breath.
"Really, Natalia, I'm disappointed in you."
I twisted around at the voice that addressed me, but I found no one there. Tears sprung to my eyes; was I finally going crazy? Was the stress of my horrible life finally getting to me and messing with my mind?
"No, you're not delusional. Well, you are if you really want to jump."
I could not find the source of that voice, and I felt a shiver go down my spine; its comment implied that it could read my mind.
"I'm an omnipotent being, your mind is like an open book to me, Natalia," it said, and I could hear the smirk in its voice. "Now kindly step away from the ledge and listen. I have a proposal for you."
That voice...that voice was familiar somehow. Where had I heard it before?
With a flash of light, a man appeared a foot from my face, and I gasped. His smooth lips were curved upward into a knowing smirk, and he had his head tilted at me, quizzical, questioning. He raised one eyebrow at my gasp, and his brown eyes twinkled as he gazed at me. Those eyes were deep, and I felt if I stared into them too long, I would be lost in their depths forever...
"Q..." I breathed. He grinned.
"I'm surprised you didn't guess sooner. And what a poetic description of my eyes! You really do know how to flatter a man, don't you, my dear? That should come in handy where I'm sending you."
I took a step back. "This can't be happening..."
He quickly wrapped his arm around my waist and guided me toward him. "Ah, ah, ah...I wouldn't get too close to that ledge if I were you. This isn't a dream or a delusion, my dear. As I said, I have a proposition for you, and I can't tell it to you if you're stumbling backwards over the edges of ravines. Now...why don't you have a seat," with his free hand he snapped his fingers, and a high-backed Victorian style chair appeared with a flash of light, "and listen?"
He kept his arm around my waist as he guided me forward, and he gently lowered me into the chair, then sat on one of the arms and draped his arm over the back. With two fingers, he tilted my chin upward and gazed deeply into my eyes.
"All that potential, and you were going to throw it away," he said softly, leaning close. "Such a pity."
"What do you want?" I managed to say, trying to hold back my tears.
"Oh, don't cry, Natalia. Am I really that dismal that you must weep at the fact that I'm here? Or is it that you still aren't convinced that you're in full control of your faculties and aren't losing your mind?"
"The latter...why am I talking to you?"
He dug his fingernails into my cheek, and his expression hardened. "Does this feel like an illusion?"
I gasped, and more tears streamed down my face. "Stop it!"
He obeyed and smirked. "Now that I have your attention..." Q chuckled at me. "You were seconds away from leaping off of that ledge, Natalia. And here I was, watching, my heart distraught at your pain...and I decided to give you a second chance."
"What do you mean?"
He tilted his head mischievously. "You found life here pointless, dull, not worth the effort of getting up out of bed. How pathetic...There's nothing left to challenge you, nothing to strive for. Well, good thing I'm here or you'd have missed your chance."
"My chance for what?"
"To live for something better," he said, his voice nearly trembling in excitement, his eyes dancing in anticipation. He leaned over me and raised an eyebrow. "Why let something with so much potential, so much beauty go to waste?" he whispered, leaning down and nearly touching my ear with his lips.
I frowned and held in my tears. "What are you going to do?"
"You're right, life here is pretty dull. Your species has hardly begun to even guess at its own potential. So people like you sit here, wallowing in grief while governments are absorbed in petty wars...never realizing their own strengths."
He stood up and began circling me. "Although this may seem like a lot to take in, you need to listen very carefully to what I'm about to say. Several years ago, a man named Gene Roddenberry created a work known as...Star Trek. Heard of it?"
I looked up at him. "How else would I know you?"
He grinned. "Yes, but you didn't realize then that it is all quite real. You see, Gene was no ordinary human. He had seen many things, explored strange and marvelous worlds...then transcribed his adventures into a live action TV show. He saw the future and the potential it held, and he shared that hope with the world. Quite an admirable man, wouldn't you say?"
He paused in front of me, then turned and pressed his hands onto the back of the chair so that I was blocked in.
"I'm going to transport you to that future, at least an interpretation of that future, if for nothing else than for my own amusement. After all, you were about to give up your life. Who's to say that finders keepers doesn't apply here?"
"I belong to no one," I spat back, not knowing what else to say. He simply smirked.
"I could force you, but that wouldn't be nearly as fun as watching you deal with your own decisions. Here's the deal, my dear: you agree to come with me, and I'll transport you to a time where you can start over. You don't need anything except that obsession you had with the franchise, nothing else. Well, maybe some charm and sheer dumb luck. I'll be watching and directing you so that all my work doesn't go to waste. And you take it from there."
He pushed himself away and stepped back. "Or, you refuse this little escapade and I leave you in this dismal, dreary world...it's up to you, Natalia."
I hung my head and pondered all that he had told me. Gene Roddenberry was a time-traveler or space pioneer, and someone I thought was a fictional character was real and alive in front of me. It was a lot to take in, and I was still having a hard time buying it. I glanced up at Q.
"Think of it this way, Natalia...you have nothing to lose," he reminded me, and my gaze strayed to the ravine once more. I stood and walked up to him.
"Fine. I'll go with you."
"Understand that this is not without risk. But then, any game without risk wouldn't be any fun, now would it?"
"I suppose not. But you said you'd be watching and directing me."
"Well, you will need my help, at least at the start. Do you still want to go through with this?"
I nodded. "Like you said, I have nothing to lose."
He grinned and snapped his fingers, and my world disappeared in a flash of light.
I found myself in a spacious room, carpeted with light colored walls and metal sculptures on shelves. A sort of computer rested on a pedestal to my left, and directly in front of me was a large window, with a few of a bay. I wandered toward it, and once I got closer and I could see more, I realized I was looking at the Golden Gate Bridge.
"San Francisco," I murmured to myself.
Yes, yes, you're in San Francisco. Now listen up: Admiral Forrest is coming as I speak, and he'll want to meet Major Natalia Romano. You'll be briefed when he arrives.
I could hear Q's voice in my head, and I frowned. You put me in the military? I thought to him.
You'll find it interesting. Now, be a good little soldier and straighten up. Let's see how far you can get without my help.
Why does Earth still need a military? I didn't know they had anything but Starfleet here.
His laughter rang in my head. Oh, you poor, naïve child...
I sighed and straightened my posture, and I heard the door open. I turned around.
Three men walked into the room. The first was an older man in his 40's or 50's, with blonde hair and a receding hairline. I assumed this was Admiral Forrest. He was accompanied by a younger man with dark brown hair and another balding man with a mustache. The mustached man seemed to be about the same age as Forrest, maybe older. The admiral nodded to me when the door closed.
"Major Natalia Romano, reporting for duty," I said, somehow knowing what to do. I placed my hands behind my back and stared him square in the eye.
"Welcome to San Francisco, Major. This is Admiral Leonard and Commander Williams."
I nodded politely to them, and they nodded back. Williams even smiled at me, and Forrest led the others to a table on the other side of the room. They sat, and I stood.
"Although we'd rather not get the military involved in Starfleet matters," the admiral began, "there have been instances of violence against Vulcans on Earth. I'm sure you know about the public opinion about our space program and the Vulcans' involvement."
I nodded, not really knowing what he was talking about. I knew what a warp engine was (vaguely, at least), and I remembered that Cochrane flew Earth's first warp-capable ship. And I wouldn't be the Trekkie Q accused me of being if I didn't know who the Vulcans were.
"Since the public has a...negative attitude toward the Vulcans at the moment, Ambassador Soval advised increased security measures, so you'll be the Vulcans' escort to and from their compound. You'll be part of the security at all our staff meetings with them, and in the event we need to go off-world for diplomatic meetings and the like, you'll accompany us. Understood?"
"This job carries a lot of responsibility. The general said you were one of his best officers. I expect you to live up to his opinion."
"I won't disappoint you, sir."
"You'll receive a more detailed job description later. You start tomorrow; the ambassador is returning from Vulcan, and you'll escort him and his aids here. Report to me at 0800."
"Aye, sir." Inwardly, I cringed. One of the few perks of unemployment was that you could sleep whenever you wanted, and I was in the habit of sleeping until at least 10:00. This was going to be hell; I wasn't a morning person.
The admiral and the other two stood. "It's good to have you here, Major, but I hope you don't have a chance to show your skills. We'll be launching the new NX-class ship in two months if all goes well. Hopefully by then all this nonsense over the Vulcans will have died down."
I nodded, not sure what to say. The admirals came forward and shook my hand.
"Commander Williams will show you around the building, then escort you home if you like."
I followed him out of the room, and he proceeded to show me the floor we were on, in this case, the second.
"Briefing rooms are all along here. When you leave, you'll sign out at the desk in the lobby downstairs. You might recognize your fellow MACOs at the doors."
I nodded and followed him downstairs to the spacious lobby. I noticed Vulcans entering and exiting the building, and I suddenly felt nervous. Williams must have noticed, because he stopped and frowned at me.
"You all right?"
"I've never met a Vulcan before," I said quietly. Williams raised his eyebrows.
"I thought you must have met one or two, but I guess I was wrong. They're not too bad, I suppose," he murmured as one passed us. I took a good look, and sure enough, the man's ears curved upward to a delicate point and his eyebrows were slanted. He could have been a janitor for all I knew, but he still looked regal. A part of me didn't feel worthy to be standing near him.
Foolish girl. Vulcans are nothing special. Get over yourself, Q grumbled, prodding me onward. Your apartment is a few streets away, he continued. I relayed Q's directions to Williams, who led me there. It was in a multilevel complex, and my rooms were on the fifth floor. I found the key on my person, and after bidding him good night, I entered the apartment and closed the door.
It was small, but nice, definitely better than my old apartment. This one had a window that looked toward Starfleet Headquarters and the bay, and I could see the dying sunset over the water. The view was lovely, and I smiled for the first time since I couldn't remember when. I had a small kitchenette to myself, and a half bathroom with a corner shower. I sighed in contentment and flopped down on the bed, which was already made up.
I saw a flash in the corner of my eye, and I turned my head to see Q lounging in the armchair in front of the window.
"So...how's my protege liking her new living arrangements?"
Protege? I'd think on that later. "They're lovely, Q. Thank you."
His lips curved upward into a playful smirk. "Not many people thank me, and perhaps you shouldn't either. You haven't been here five hours. You haven't lived your life here yet."
I sighed. "Whatever. Anything's better than where I was before."
"Yes, that poor excuse for an apartment was quite dismal. And that landlord..." He grimaced, and I laughed.
"I'm so glad to be away from him. Again, thank you."
Q chuckled. "Oh, I think you'll find some people here will remind you a little too much of who you've left behind, my dear."
"Like who?" I asked. He simply smiled.
He made to snap his fingers, but then stopped and stood. He reached my bed in two easy strides and leaned forward as if to whisper something in my ear, but seemed to think better of it. He trailed his forefinger down my cheek instead.
"Sleep well, Natalia." He raised his hand, ready to leave.
He tilted his head.
"I haven't gotten up at 8 in six months. If I'm not up by say, 6 tomorrow, could you..." I trailed off, thinking it was a bad idea to get him involved. But it was too late.
"I most certainly will get you up, Major. We can't have you making a bad impression on the admiral, now can we?" he said with a delighted grin. "Until tomorrow, sweet lady..."
He blew me an over-dramatic kiss and disappeared with another flash of light.