"Q!" Picard growled at the uninvited guest he found sitting on his couch, reading one of his datapadds and sipping a blend of his favourite tea.

"Well now, Jean-Luc," the omnipotent alien chastised, "is that any way to greet an old friend?"

"We are not friends!" Picard indignantly retorted. "We never have been and we never shall be!"

"That's as maybe," Q said, setting his cup down on Picard's end table, "but you and I have a lot to discuss. After our last meeting ooh, ten years ago? Time can get so confusing when you don't experience it in the right order..."

"What could we possibly have to discuss?" The starship captain asked, his mood calmed slightly.

"Well, your impending retirement, for one," Q said with an air of mock sadness in his voice. The ethereal being smiled as he looked into Picard's face. "Seventeen years ago when we first met- or at least, when you first met me- you'd have asked how I could possibly have known about that."

"A lot has changed in seventeen years," Picard conceded, at which Q nodded in agreement.

"Not least yourself," Q smirked. "I told you I'd be watching, and for the first time in a very, very long time, I'm actually seeing signs of potential. Not just in yourself Picard, but in humanity as a whole."

"Is that why you're here?" Picard asked incredulously. "To give the whole of humanity a pat on the back?"

"Well I figured I owed it to you," Q stated nonchalantly. "After all, you did pass my last two trials, setting a third one would be a little redundant given your current state of development, and besides- as much as it pains me to say it- I enjoy your company, Jean-Luc."

"The feeling is NOT mutual," Picard bluntly stated, sitting down behind his desk, not for one second taking his eyes off of his uninvited guest.

"I suppose I can't blame you for that attitude," Q snarked. "I always thought Starfleet Academy needed a sense of humour module. Or fewer Vulcans. Or both."

"That was rather uncalled for," Picard chided.

"What, the jibe at the Vulcans?" Q laughed. "Let me put it you this way, Picard. If I asked you to describe the Vulcans, you would say they were a logical and peaceful people. If I asked you to describe the Klingons, you would say they were a proud and warrior-like people. If I asked you to describe the Romulans, you would say they were a paranoid and warlike people. If I asked you to describe the Ferengi, you would say they were a greedy and conniving people." Q leaned back on the sofa, a broad grin on his face. "Describe the human race." Picard paused for thought, racking his brain for an answer to Q's conundrum. Picard's mental struggle only caused Q's grin to widen.

"You can't, can you?" Q asked smugly.

"Not immediately, no," Picard conceded, slightly embarrassed.

"Good," Q said, his smug grin changing to a warm smile. "The more you pigeonhole a race, the more likely that race is to either wipe themselves out or inbreed themselves into extinction. Admittedly the whole 'seeking to better oneself' is something you really need to take a species-wide review on but it's certainly better than giving your personality a lobotomy. Five billion years from now, long after Earth has been burnt to a cinder and your Sun has burnt itself out, if humanity is still out there- and it might- it will be purely because of humanity's refusal to define themselves."

"Is that how the Q evolved into what you are now?" Picard asked, every passing second growing more and more intrigued by Q's arguments.

"Well it's not a billion light-years away..." Q conceded. "Okay, you've probably guessed by now, the Q aren't entirely perfect..."

"The reports I read of your recent civil war would certainly back that up," Picard said, adopting a smug smile of his own that vanished within milliseconds as Q roared with laughter on his sofa.

"Civil war?" Q asked with a manic grin on his face. "Oh dear me, did poor, dumb Kathy really write that up as if that was what actually happened? That whole scenario was a test. A test to see if humans have evolved beyond seeing things from a purely human-centric standpoint. Sorry Jean-Luc, this time you and your whole race gets an F! Though I do genuinely wish you well for your next test. I mean really now, what would a race like the Q need with civil war? Or war of any variety? Or sexual reproduction? Or, for that matter, sex?" Picard merely glared at Q as the alien finished his long, drawn-out gloat.

"Oh, don't feel too bad," Q chortled. "Humanity's got it within itself to eliminate war, violence and sex. To bring it back to an earlier point, can you imagine the Klingons ever reaching that point?"

"Given the proper encouragement, anything is possible," Picard retorted.

"A very... human answer," Q said with a smile. "and for possibly the first time ever, I mean that as a compliment."

"I took it as one," Picard bluntly stated.

"Well," Q said, staring at a watch that had only materialised on his wrist nanoseconds earlier, "it's almost time for me to be heading along. Humanity isn't the only civilisation I keep tabs on, you know. In a universe that runs parallel to your own there's this one species that has developed technology that would make the Enterprise look like a Vespa. Ships whose interiors are infinitely larger than their exterior and can travel almost instantaneously to any point in space and time... Of course, the whole species itself is doomed, but there's this one individual amongst them who... I've said too much. We will meet again, Jean-Luc."

"I would say I'm looking forward to it, but I dread what the circumstances will be," Picard replied, smiling genuinely for the first time since discovering Q in his ready room.

"You won't have to wait long," Q said with a warm smile. "By cosmic standards, at least. See you... out there!"

And with a click of his fingers, Q was gone.