Captain's log, stardate 50401.3. We have been ordered to the Sesteri system, out at the edges of Federation space, near the Bajoran system. Our orders are to retrieve the data from an automated observation outpost orbiting Sestera V.
There were no inhabitable planets around the star Sestera. It was a massive red giant that had eaten its inner planets millions of years ago. The automated observation outpost had originally been placed there for scientific reasons - outposts at the edge of Federation space were useful for light-spectrum studies of the distant stars from earlier points in their life cycle than the light that reached the inner planets.
Now, though, the outpost served a much more important purpose. Since the cold war with the Dominion had begun, the outpost had been collecting data on any ship traffic in the area. The Jem'Hadar went cloaked in any areas they knew of Starfleet presence, but this location was not officially claimed by anyone, and there was hope that perhaps they might be detectable when they believed they were unobserved. The Enterprise's mission had been to collect the data directly, in person.
No one had expected Sestera to suddenly destabilize.
"Captain," Data said, "telemetry from Sestera indicates that a nova may be imminent." His tone was not quite as calm as might have been expected from Data; by now he had become somewhat more proficient in using his emotion chip while doing his job.
"Raise shields and take evasive maneuvers, Mr. Hawk," Picard ordered.
"Why would Sestera suddenly go nova?" Riker asked. "Was there anything in the reports from Starfleet indicating that the star was unstable?"
Data suddenly shouted, "Supernova, sir! Shockwave imminent!"
"There's no time - we can't outrun it!" Hawk shouted, hands flying over the navigation console.
Troi suddenly screamed and came to her feet. "Will! Imzadi! No!"
And then the ship jerked, and the stars blurred.
"Data! Lt. Hawk! Report!" Picard snapped out, as Troi crumpled to her knees and Riker ran to her side.
"Deanna, Deanna, it's all right, I'm here, I'm here..." Riker murmured to Troi.
"Captain, we are traveling at-" The stars slowed. "The phenomenon is ending; however, we appear to have been thrown five hundred light years in ten point three seconds."
"All stop, Mr. Hawk."
"All stop," Hawk acknowledged, bringing the ship to a halt - or a relative halt, in relation to the rest of the galaxy, anyway.
"Oh, god, Will..." Troi was clutching onto Riker, trembling. "It was... it was so real, so overwhelming. Even though I could see you there... I felt certain I'd just seen you die."
"Counselor, I'll give you a moment to pull yourself together, and then I'll expect a report. Where are we, Mr. Data?"
"At the edge of the galaxy, sir," Data reported. "The galactic barrier is less than one hour's travel at warp six from here. This is not an area of the edge that any Federation species or ally has previously explored."
"Were we thrown by the shockwave?"
"Unknown at present, but highly unlikely. At such close range the shockwave from a supernova would have most likely destroyed the Enterprise, regardless of our shields. And at the moment we began moving, even the subspace compression wave that runs ahead of the realspace shockwave had not reached us yet."
Picard nodded, and turned to Troi, who was unsteadily getting to her feet with Riker's help. "Counselor, can you explain what you just experienced?"
Tears glittered in her eyes, but her face was composed as she looked up at him. "I saw Commander Riker die," she said, her voice still shaken. "Or... not exactly. I didn't see anything. I felt that my first love, my closest friend, had just been killed. And the grief, the disbelief and the horror and pain... it overwhelmed me so completely for a moment that even though I could see Commander Riker, I was still certain he was dead."
"I'm right here, Deanna," Riker said reassuringly. "I'm fine."
"I know, Will," she said, turning to him. "It wasn't my emotion." She looked back at Picard. "Captain, normally when I sense emotions that aren't my own, I can distinguish them from my own. Even when they emanate from particularly powerful minds, such as the beings we encountered at Farpoint Station, and they overwhelm me, I still know they're not my own emotions. This time, though... the broadcast, the mind transmitting the sensation, was so powerful that it annihilated my own sense of self for a moment. For a brief second, it was as if I was that person, experiencing their grief. And I received more detail than usual - most of the time I would only pick up that someone was experiencing grief. This time, it was very distinct - the person's... first love, or greatest love, or best friend... someone we Betazoids would call their imzadi... was the one who died." She shook her head. "It was so strong, Captain. If I were a full telepath and I'd received their thoughts, perhaps I would have lost my own identity and perceived the sender as if I were them, as Vulcans sometimes do after a mindmeld, but because it was only emotions, I... confused them with my own emotions, and felt as if the person who plays that role in my life had died."
"Are you still picking up sensations from that mind?" Picard asked.
Troi took a deep breath. "Right now I'm detecting the presence of Q. In your ready room."
"That would explain our rapid transit, Captain," Data said. "Our travel was similar in many respects to the transit we experienced when Q sent us to encounter the Borg."
Picard's eyes narrowed. "So Q has something to do with this. I hardly think it's coincidental that a star that previously showed no indications of ill health suddenly went supernova, and at the same time we were graced by Q's presence. You say he's in my ready room, Counselor?"
She nodded. Picard started toward his ready room. "Captain?" Troi called before he'd taken more than two steps.
Troi took a deep breath. "I don't usually sense Q. At Farpoint I sensed him, and of course the incident when he lost his powers... but I didn't notice him during the Robin Hood thing or even the incident with the Borg, although Guinan did. Normally I'd tend to think that if I'm sensing Q it's because he wants me to know he's here."
"But you think there's something else going on right now?"
"Amanda Rogers had an emotional presence like any human being up through the moment she left the ship, but as she embraced her Q identity more strongly the sense I received of her emotions became more powerful. Kevin Uxbridge, who was likely less powerful than a Q but a similar form of life, had to block me with the sensation of music playing in my mind to keep me from reading him. The Q have emotions, and those emotions might even exist on a frequency I can detect if they aren't deliberately shielding themselves, but they have such powerful minds, telepathically..."
Was there a point buried in her rambling somewhere? "What are you trying to tell me, Deanna?"
"I think those were Q's emotions, Captain," she said. "You can't go in there and... treat him the way you normally would, if what I suspect is true. You have to be more careful. Because if I'm right he's just lost someone he loved, and... I know this sounds ridiculous, if we're talking about Q, but be gentle with him until you've gotten him to tell you what's going on, at least."
Picard took a breath and straightened his tunic. That... did change things. He'd been planning to approach Q half-suspecting that Q was responsible for the suffering of whatever being Deanna had been picking up on. If Q was that being... the idea of Q loving anyone or grieving for their death seemed bizarre, but after all the only thing Picard knew of how he related to the rest of his kind was that they'd thrown him out of the Continuum once and that he had treated Amanda as if he was genuinely mentoring her, even though he'd been under orders to kill her if she failed to prove herself Q. The Q could die, if killed by their own or made mortal; perhaps someone he cared for of his own kind had been executed. "Thank you. That's very helpful," he said. "Number One, you have the bridge until I'm back."
Picard walked into his ready room to find Q sitting at his desk.
This was hardly unusual. What was unusual - and what suggested that Troi had been right - was his posture. Normally Q would be leaning back in his chair insouciantly, feet on Picard's desk, smiling up at him insolently. This time Q was sitting with both feet on the floor, hunched over slightly, staring down at his own hands, which were turned up and splayed out on the table as if he expected to see something cradled in them.
"Q?" Picard said. His tone wasn't exactly gentle - he suspected Q wouldn't appreciate being openly pitied by a lowly human - but it wasn't challenging either, merely questioning.
Q looked up at him. His face was gray and bloodless. "She's dead, Picard," he said, his voice almost a monotone.
The first thought that popped into Picard's head was "Who's dead?", but that was far too confrontational and abrasive a way to ask, and besides, he suspected he more or less knew who was dead, if Troi was right. Or at least who she had been to Q. "I'm sorry," he said instead.
"I was just... we were... she'd only come to help me. Because they had a stakeout on you and I wasn't going to be able to get through by myself. She wasn't even on my side. She was just doing this to help me, and they... they just killed her." He looked down at his hands again. "Since it started I've known I might die, but she... she wasn't even fighting in it. She was just here to help me. It never occurred to me... I never thought she could be killed."
Picard sat down in the wrong chair, facing Q across his desk. "Who was she, Q?"
"My..." He shook his head, spreading his hands apart in a gesture of helplessness. "I don't even know how to describe it in human terms."
"Counselor Troi thought you might have lost someone you loved. A best friend, or first lover."
Q smiled, a bitter mocking expression. "Trust Troi and her psychobabble to come up with some sort of description for what can't be described." He stared down at his hands again. "We don't... 'lover' has unfortunate connotations, since the sublime experiences we share with one another for pleasure have approximately as much to do with your humanoid habits of grunting and sweating as the acrobatics of a dolphin have to do with a human three year old playing in the kiddie pool."
"'Lover' may connote sex, but 'love' is universal."
Q didn't say anything for a moment. When he finally spoke, it was a hoarse whisper. "I suppose it is," he said. "We were... companions, I suppose you could call it. Each other's... your specific language doesn't have it, for all that you Frenchmen fancy yours to be the language of lovers, but Japanese uses the expression 'most important person' to describe what you would call 'beloved' in English. She was my... most important Q."
"Who killed her?" And did that have anything to do with the supernova? he wanted to ask, but that was too pushy. Seeking scientific knowledge about the relationship between an unexpected supernova and the death of an immortal, powerful being was within his mandate as an explorer, but there had to be a way to do it more tactfully when dealing with that being's bereaved lover.
"The enemy," Q said, unhelpfully. "Who else would have? We haven't exactly had a problem with friendly fire."
"Who are the enemy, Q?" At the impatient look that flashed across Q's face, Picard said, "Look, I'm trying to understand. I had no idea the Q had enemies or that it was possible for you to be killed by any means other than being executed by the Continuum or made mortal."
"Of course," Q said. "Kathy hasn't exactly been burning up the wires with messages home, has she."
"You don't know anything about this." He started to chuckle. "Who are the enemy, Picard? Who else? We're our own worst enemy. Who else can kill a Q but another Q?" What had started as a chuckle when he began turned into full-blown bitter laughter, and when he finally choked it off it sounded like it had been on the verge of turning hysterical.
"You have... enemies within the Continuum? Who are killing you?"
Abruptly Q stood, knocking over the chair he was sitting in. He left it toppled on its side as he paced over to Picard's fishtank, staring into it. "You got your calendar ready? You might want to record this one into your log."
"Record what?" Q was even more full of non sequiturs than usual; Picard wondered if he was actually shaken enough by his friend's death not to realize that he wasn't giving Picard nearly enough information to follow this conversation.
"Record that I'm apologizing to you," Q said, staring into the fishtank. "Because I am. I'm sorry. I mean, I was right, you are a grievously savage race, but we... we're not any better, are we." He leaned on the wall with both hands, head down as if he were still looking at the fish tank, but his eyes were closed. "I said this was a great opportunity. I talked about how we could change everything, how we could turn this conflict into a way to upend the status quo and have real freedom in the Continuum for the first time in about half a billion years. I said this could be a good thing-" His voice broke, and he stopped.
This time Picard didn't say anything. Even in his distraught state it had to be obvious to Q that he hadn't actually said what the thing he'd said could be good was. After a moment, Q said, "We're having a war, Picard. A revolution."
That didn't sound good at all, no. Picard had studied history. In human history, few revolutions had ever been successful in achieving the freedom or the improvement in the revolutionaries' lives that they had hoped for. Most ended up eating themselves, the inner circle of revolutionaries killing one another for control of the new government, and totalitarian dictatorships rose in their stead. There had been some successful ones - the Americans had pulled it off, but mostly because the government they were overthrowing was the shadow puppet of another an ocean away. Revolutions such as the one his own France had had, or the Russians, where the rulers were right there with the oppressed, hadn't generally ended well.
"I take it you're one of the revolutionaries," Picard said.
Q smiled mirthlessly, opening his eyes and looking up. "I'm the revolutionary. None of the others had the guts to stand up and demand that they stop trying to micro-manage our personal lives until I did it. This entire war is my fault, which I'm sure surprises absolutely no one."
"Did your war have anything to do with that supernova?"
Q looked back at the fish. "Our weapons... have repercussions in your dimension. Every time a Q dies, a star explodes. " He looked at Picard. "I don't think any stars with sentient life orbiting them have gone, yet. But I couldn't swear to that."
The sheer irresponsibility of beings holding wars that could kill billions of innocent sentient beings as collateral damage was infuriating, but Picard held his tongue. It didn't sound like Q was being as cavalier about those possible deaths as Picard would have expected. Still. "From what I know of your people, I assume this isn't because you've been deliberately keeping the major combat away from populated star systems."
"You assume correctly," Q said tiredly. "There's five times as many stars in the galaxy that don't support life in their systems as stars that do. We've been lucky. Or rather, you've been lucky, since whether there was life revolving around the star or not, the fact that it blew up still means a Q is dead."
"It can't go on, Q," Picard said, standing up and approaching him. "You can't allow it to continue. Your Continuum have never seemed to be monsters; your society has taken precautions before to avoid your people creating too much chaos for us mortals. Surely you don't approve of accidentally committing genocides."
"We have to win, Picard." He pushed away from the fish tank, to pace around the room again. "A Q killed himself - won the right to kill himself, and did it - because he thought our lives were far too stultifyingly dull to be borne, and... he was right. We can't go on for eternity this way. If they win, they'll lock down what few freedoms we do have, demand a level of conformity we've never had before, so they can maintain control. Instead of a continuum, a broad range of thoughts and ideas in entities that meld into one another but are themselves individuals, we might become a uni-mind. Like the Borg."
"So you'd sacrifice potentially billions of sentient beings to your desire for freedom?"
"You've sacrificed a lot more living creatures than that. To you, the line between life that deserves rights and consideration, and life that can be sacrificed to protect what you want, is drawn between species that can speak and have a consciousness of self, versus those that don't. But there's a lot less difference between you and Data's cat than there is between me and you. We don't draw the lines in the same places you do."
"Then why are you here? Data might pet his cat for comfort at a time of war, now that he has emotions, but he wouldn't explain to her why he's fighting, and I doubt he would risk a friend's life to be able to reach her if she was somewhere safe already."
Q threw his hands in the air. "I shouldn't have come. This is stupid. I should never have let Kathy talk me into this. This is all her fault; Q wouldn't be dead if she had cooperated."
Picard wondered, not for the first time, who Kathy was, but he couldn't afford to get sidetracked. "You must have had a plan, Q. Something you wanted to accomplish by coming here; something that was worth risking your life, your best friend's life. Now she's dead, and I must assume you don't have the power to bring her back. Will you let her sacrifice be in vain, and just vanish off without ever accomplishing what she died to let you do?"
Q's expression grew hard. "You presume to lecture me?"
"I presume to tell you that if you came here for a reason, you're turning your back on your friend's sacrifice not to follow through with that reason, yes."
For several seconds Q stood still, looking at him. Then he went back to pacing. "I don't even know where to begin."
"The beginning is usually a good place."
"Your ignorance is so staggering that even my intellect can't comprehend how to bring you up to speed in the time we have."
"In the time we have? You've never been under any sort of time pressure before; in fact you've stopped time when you felt like it."
"For you. Time goes on in the Continuum every moment of my consciousness, and I can't travel within its timeline except the way you travel in yours, one moment at a time. Stopping time wouldn't stop the clock I'm running on."
"Well, then, begin at the end, and answer my no doubt foolish questions as I try to get you to fill in the background. But begin somewhere."
Q sighed. "Oh, very well." He sat down on the desk. "There are two factions fighting, and I don't really have much hope that we'll ever get the enemy to shut up and sit down at the table; they're so afraid of Q dying and of things changing that they invented weapons and started killing Q with them, bringing about the most radical change the Continuum has been through in billions of years. And they don't see the fundamental contradiction there, or they don't think it's important, anyway. You can't negotiate with that kind of irrationality. But the majority of the Q aren't on one side or the other. They lean a bit toward the enemy's side, because if the majority of the Q wanted change we wouldn't have had to have a war to get it, but not strongly enough that they want to kill for it. They're just afraid, because Q's philosophy was that the change that the Continuum needed to survive was that individual Q need to embrace death. And most of us don't want to embrace death. We like living, thank you very much. We just want a life that's worth living."
"And you want some way to persuade the Q who haven't taken a side that your desire for change doesn't necessarily entail a desire for other Q to die?"
"Exactly." He hopped off the table. "I thought of the perfect way to do it, too. Change can be death, there's no denying that, but anything that can experience death can experience birth. And what better symbolism to counteract the image of death than new life?"
"Now, we've had a child before, but we killed her parents for it so she's not a very good symbol of new life at all. So I thought to myself, kill two birds with one stone here. The Q lack certain skills, largely because we've never needed them; we're not a very tactful, diplomatic species, for starters. We have a hard time feeling empathy for others, even for other Q who are suffering. We're terrible at compromise. So, I want to introduce new genetic traits to the Continuum, traits like empathy and compassion, while at the same time visually demonstrating that change can mean birth and growth... in fact, such things can arise out of death, and mortals represent death. If I have a child with a mortal, from a species that carries such traits without being hopelessly wimpy about it, I win the ideological battle, I demonstrate to the undecided Q that our beliefs can bring about positive change. They want greater freedoms, it's just that they're afraid that such freedoms might lead to death. I show them that they can live their lives the way they want, and experience things that are new and exciting again, without having to die for it... and they'll come in on my side and the war will just end, like that. Bloodlessly."
"Why would the enemy give up just because the Q who are undecided have joined you?"
Q smiled thinly. "Because if they're on our side, we have a quorum - a number of Q sufficient to wield the Continuum itself against our enemies. And if they continue to fight after we have a quorum, then we would be able to simply sever them from the Continuum, the way they wanted to do to us when all this started. They would cease to be Q."
"And you think you can accomplish all this just by... having a child?"
"Yes. It's brilliant, isn't it? I mean, we could kill them all, but quite aside from the fact that it's certainly possible that they'd kill all of us instead, it's... not an option I want to have to live with having implemented. These aren't mortals, they're not even a bunch of strange alien incorporeals. They're Q. I've known them for billions of years. I don't want to kill them all. But if I can get the Q who haven't committed to a side to agree with me, then I don't have to kill them all. Or any of them. They're not stupid; they'll settle down and compromise if they're forced to."
Picard nodded, slowly. "I... can't fault the logic, I suppose. Though I do have to wonder. Ideology can prevent wars, and ideology can cement a peace agreement, but... I've never heard of ideology actually ending a war. Do you really think a symbolic victory will be all you need?"
Q chuckled once, mirthlessly. "I haven't got anything else," he said. He spread his hands. "We're outnumbered, Picard. And as you might imagine, given that we're the freedom faction, the side in favor of change, and an end to regimentation and strict control... getting us to work together is rather worse than herding cats. Military discipline is a bigger oxymoron for us than human intelligence."
Picard ignored the insult. He thought it might be more of a reflex than anything else, anyway; why would Q have come here for help if his opinion of humanity was truly as low as he claimed? "Have you considered trying to negotiate for peace?"
"It can't be done. Picard... I don't think you understand. These people were so afraid of death and of change coming to the Continuum that they invented a weapon and started killing their fellow Q with it. There is no way to negotiate with that kind of irrationality... I need to outnumber them. I need the rest of the Q, the undecided ones, to take my side, because there is literally no other way I can win."
"So you haven't tried."
"Excuse me, but quite aside from the fact that I'm vastly more intelligent than you are, why do you think that you would know better than I would about what tactics will work in the Q Continuum?"
Picard frowned. "I assumed you'd come here for some sort of advice about negotiating. If you've never had a war before, I can't imagine that you're very good at negotiating a peace. In fact, didn't you just explain to me that as a species, you lack empathy and tact?"
"I can't negotiate until I have something to negotiate with. The order faction won't compromise. If they would, we wouldn't be fighting. They're the ones who fired the first shot, not us."
"I thought you said this war was your fault."
"I agitated for change, yes. I created a movement. I didn't exactly expect to get shot at. I'll take responsibility for the fact that the freedom faction wouldn't exist if not for me, and if it didn't exist, obviously they wouldn't be trying to kill us... but I didn't fire the first shot. I was... trying to negotiate, and they..." He trailed off. "It doesn't matter. None of that is the point, anyway. I can't sway the order faction, ever, without the numbers. And I can't sway the undecideds unless I have something I can show them, some symbolic victory as you said. Birth out of death, change leading to new life. They'll go for it, I know they will. They hate this war and what it's done to the Continuum almost as much as those of us who are dying in it do."
"Well," Picard said, "I'll take it for granted that in that respect you know what you're doing. The idea of winning a war by having a child still seems odd to me, at least in this context, but I suppose there have been many wars that have been stopped by the forging of a mating alliance between families on both sides, so I can see a certain degree of precedent."
"Exactly. I thought you'd see it my way," Q said approvingly. "Kathy didn't believe me. She thought it would work to have a child with another Q. As if that could possibly solve the problem that we don't have the traits we need to not have wars with each other, now that we have the means of doing so."
"Well, perhaps," Picard said, "but in the short term, why wouldn't it work? Change and new life coming from two Q would be just as effective a statement as a child coming from a Q and a mortal, wouldn't it?"
Q's expression turned dark. "That... might have been a possibility, maybe," he said. "I think my idea is better, but... if we could have figured out how to do it, maybe having a child with another Q would have had merit... except that Q is dead. And no one but me believes my plan will work strongly enough to have a child for that sake... and I'm not willing to try, with a different Q. Not now. She might have... but the point is moot, because she's dead."
"All right." Picard nodded, acknowledging Q's point. "Now, I assume that you're not actually turning to a mere imperfect mortal to get my approval of your plan, so there has to be some other reason you came here."
"That's right." He sighed. "I think the other parent needs to be a human. You people are the most stubborn, ethnocentric, self-centered species that's actually any good whatsoever with diplomacy that I know; you went from burning fossilized plants and tootling around your little planet on wheeled vehicles to dominating your sector of the quadrant in four hundred years, and you did it by making alliances and persuading people into being friends with you, not by conquest. I don't know any other species that's simultaneously that good at compromise and diplomacy, and also that capable of utter savagery in defending itself when that doesn't work."
Well, that was a series of back-handed compliments if Picard had ever heard any, but it made sense. For all his insults and his torments, Q was obviously fascinated by humanity, or why keep coming back here? And Picard happened to agree that humanity's capacity for forming alliances and friendships, for diplomacy and compromise, was one of his species' greatest talents, so he couldn't say Q was wrong about that. Actually, when you thought about it, it was flattering, that as low as Q claimed his opinion of humanity was, this species was still the one he turned to when he needed to save his own. "I suppose your conflict does demonstrate most of the traditional signs of being an apocalypse," Picard said, lightly, "so perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised to hear you praise humanity, or that I find myself agreeing with your opinion on the matter."
Q smiled wryly. "I don't think I ever actually heard you say 'The day I agree with Q about human nature I fully expect the stars in the galaxy to start spontaneously exploding...' but it does sound like the sort of thing you might have said."
Picard returned the smile, briefly, then grew serious again. "So I suppose I can guess why you're here, specifically. You say you want to have a child with a human; are you looking to me to advise you on how to court a human woman, or something like that? Because you must realize, whether or not you have any experience with human females romantically, that asking someone to bear your child is an entirely different thing than asking her to spend the night with you, or even to spend a few years with you." He had talked to Vash, once, since she'd left Q and returned to the Alpha Quadrant. Vash wasn't the sort to kiss and tell, so she hadn't given him any details or even made it clear whether or not she and Q had been romantically involved during their adventures... but the way Vash spoke of him had sounded more like an ex-boyfriend than an ex-business partner, so he assumed Q had probably had sex with a human woman before. But Vash wasn't interested in having a child, at least not at this stage of her life, so he doubted that would have ever come up except as a thing to avoid.
"That's what Kathy said. I pointed out that your culture made a fetish for two thousand years of a woman who agreed to get knocked up by a god, and she said she's an atheist and that human women don't do that kind of thing anymore, and it's somehow morally offensive to human women if someone asks them to have a baby when they don't know the guy, even if it's to stop a war that might possibly accidentally blow up their sun. Which frankly I can't comprehend; you'd think self and species preservation would override any sort of 'oh no, he's treating me like a baby machine like human men used to do 300 years before I was born and I can't have that' attitudes, but apparently human women care more about maintaining their feminist credentials than they do about ending wars."
"Q, who is Kathy?"
Q blinked. "You don't know." He laughed again. "Of course you don't know. You probably think she's dead. Kathryn Janeway. Captain of Voyager. The rumors of her and her ship's death turn out to be greatly exaggerated."
Picard stared. "Kathryn Janeway is alive? And her crew?"
"They're in the Delta Quadrant. I did offer to send them home if Kathy would just cooperate with me, but no, no, she has to be in luuuve with a man before she'll have his baby, even if he's not really a man and there's the existence of an entire alien species at stake because who cares about whether or not the Q survive, we're more advanced than you and therefore beneath your compassion, or something. And even if the whole war is her fault."
"How is a war between the Q the fault of a human?"
"Well, she was the one who ruled that Quinn should have the right to die." Q sighed heavily. "Of course, I was the one who declared humans sentient and then agreed to bind the Continuum by a human's ruling... and I gave him the poison, but only because he was going to hack himself up with a knife if I didn't. A knife! Billions of years old, one of our most ancient and respected philosophers, bleeding all over the carpet like any other useless mortal." He looked at Picard. "Actually, it's your fault. I would never have ruled humans sentient if you hadn't passed that last test."
"The one where the entire Alpha Quadrant would have been destroyed if I hadn't passed it?" Picard said dryly.
"Yeah, that one. Although actually I wasn't going to let it stand that the whole Alpha Quad would have been destroyed. They'd only ordered me to destroy humanity if you failed." He sat down again, heavily. "But then it's my fault again because I was the one who agitated to be able to perform the sentience test. But that was their fault because they wanted to destroy you people and I couldn't protect you from them indefinitely unless you were declared sentient. I mean, sooner or later all the Q who've gotten their britches in a knot over something I did to them were going to figure out that if they threw in their vote with the we-hate-humanity crowd they could outnumber the we-don't-care-about-humans-but-we-like-to-piss-off -the-stuffed-shirts folks, and then because I was assigned to humanity I'd have been the one to have to do it, and... no. You're much too entertaining for that."
Picard was aware that he was probably staring stupidly, and he really ought to avoid looking totally flabbergasted in front of Q, but the things Q was saying were, frankly, flabbergasting. "Are you telling me that the Q wanted to destroy humanity and you advocated for us?"
"Not the Q, some Q. Most of us didn't care. Actually, come to think of it, it more or less lined up with the sides that became the war. You're a fast-growing species and the changes you've brought to your little piece of your galaxy are honestly monumental given the time you did it in. Those of us who like change find it refreshing. The ones who are obsessed with the perpetual status quo were not so thrilled."
"And you advocated for us."
"Well, what? I was always the biggest agitator for change, what did you think I was going to do? Resign myself to stultifying boredom because some scaredy pants are afraid every time anything looks remotely interesting that oh dear, someday in ten billion years it might be a threat?"
"I... had never thought about it, honestly, because I had never comprehended that as ancient and powerful a species as yours could possibly have any members who were genuinely frightened of humanity."
"So when you said exactly that, that we must be afraid of you, after I gave Riker the powers, you were what, lying?"
"No, I just didn't believe that anything you were saying was necessarily true. And I've interacted with you often enough since then that I'm still having a hard time believing any of you could seriously be afraid of us."
"Again, I repeat: these people were so afraid of change and death coming to the Continuum that they invented weapons and started killing Q with them. What about that statement makes you think these Q are remotely rational?"
"So yes. I got the Continuum to give me the right to perform the test that would define you as sentient or not, because if you were defined as sentient they couldn't just wipe you out to spite me, and they dictated the terms of the test, which is why I was required to destroy your species if you failed. And you passed. So when Kathy's little tugboat found the comet we'd imprisoned Q in, and I went to go retrieve him and it was going to get very, very circular because neither of us wanted to go all out against the other, she suggested she could rule on the matter... and more fool I, I agreed. Because it wouldn't look particularly confident in my own judgment of humanity if I went and got you declared sentient and then refused to accept one of you as an arbitrator on the grounds that you're too stupid."
"Why was he imprisoned in a comet?"
"Because he wanted to die." Q stalked over to the replicator. "Does this thing make real alcohol or do I have to make it myself?"
"It doesn't, but you don't have to make it yourself." Picard went to the cabinet and took out one of the bottles of his family's wine. "I'm afraid this isn't our best vintage; I lost some of the bottles of the best years when the Enterprise D crashed on Veridian. But I can guarantee that it's the best you'll get here, given that firstly, I no longer have a lounge and a bartender, and secondly, Guinan would probably have refused to serve you anyway."
Q smiled wryly. "That's very hospitable of you, Jean-Luc. Yes, thank you."
Picard took out two glasses and poured one for Q, then one for himself. This almost felt surreal. He was finding it hard to believe that he was in his ready room pouring Q a drink. But then, Q's claims regarding the temporal anomaly test were upending much of his beliefs about his interactions with Q. Q could be lying, or self-servingly exaggerating, but Picard didn't think so; Q's emotional attention was focused on his war and his grievances with others of his kind. He wasn't trying to puff himself up in front of Picard, he was asking Picard's help with something... Picard presumed assistance with finding a mother for his child, though Q had not actually admitted to anything specific yet. And he seemed much more interested in ranting about the various stupidities of his opponents, which seemed to include their opinion of humanity, than actually making himself look good.
Which, if true, meant that Q hadn't merely helped him pass that final test. Q may have literally saved humanity from his own kind by forcing the test on Picard and then helping him pass it.
Q drank half his wine in a single gulp. Picard wondered if the wine actually affected him as it would a human. He supposed it had to have some effect or Q wouldn't have asked for it. Picard waited until he set the glass back down and then asked, "Can you explain why Q wanting to die led the rest of you to imprison him in a comet?"
"That's the whole reason for the war, Picard." Q sipped again. "Q thought that we needed to change, to grow, that we were stagnating... which I agreed with. But he thought the change we needed was that some of us needed to embrace death. That we needed to stop being immortal or we would never change. This... did not endear the concept of change to most of the Q."
"I can see why you would disagree with his philosophy, but why imprison him?"
"Because he was trying to kill himself. We thought it was the only way to save his life. We thought if we stuck him in there long enough, he'd give in and stop wanting to die." He stared down into his glass. "Q usually do give up and stop sticking to their beliefs if we leave them in there long enough. I did after six years. We had him in there for three hundred."
"It doesn't seem like imprisoning a person who is suicidal, away from any friends or family, without giving him therapy, would not be the best strategy for making him feel less suicidal."
"Yeah, well, we don't do therapy and most of the time we don't do suicide." He sat back down again. "Even when I tried it, I mean, I was miserable and I hated living as a human and I thought it would be easier, but I wouldn't have done it if not for the part where the Calamarain were going to kill me whether I wanted it or not, and the only question was how many extra mortals were going to go down with me."
"So Voyager accidentally let him out of the comet, he still wanted to die, you tried to retrieve him and couldn't, so Captain Janeway offered to rule on... what? Whether he should be allowed to die or not?"
"Exactly." Q downed the rest of his glass. "Your Federation doesn't let mentally ill people run off and kill themselves no matter how much they want to do it, because they're mentally ill, and if they were well they wouldn't want to do it. But you do allow people with incurable terminal illnesses choose to die before nature would have taken its course so they can die with dignity, without pain. Q's argument was that the ennui he was suffering from was an incurable illness causing him pain and he wanted to die because life was so mind-numbingly boring; I was arguing that he was crazy. I mean, I'm bored all the time and I don't want to kill myself."
"But Janeway disagreed."
"She decided he was a political dissident, not mentally ill, and it was a violation of his freedom to prevent him from choosing to die if he wanted to." Q looked at the floor. "And she was right. I should have seen it from the beginning, but... I didn't want him to die. I voted to lock him up, even though theoretically I was opposed to the Continuum impinging on our personal freedoms, because I didn't want him to die... but it was hypocrisy, because I am opposed to the Continuum impinging on our personal freedoms, so I was violating my own principles because... for purely emotional reasons, and I hate when people do that. So she was right."
"If she was right then how is the war her fault?"
Q sighed. "It's my fault. It all comes back to me. I let her make the ruling, I let it stand, I gave him the poison, I used his sacrifice to agitate for freedom because it's only a matter of time before all of us want to die if nothing changes and we keep stagnating, and I got people actually willing to stick their necks out and support me. Which terrified my ideological enemies, because they couldn't shut me up by getting the rest of the Continuum to mock me anymore, not if I had supporters. So this one oldster made a gun because he thought that the existence of a weapon would be so awful and frightening that we would stop arguing, kind of like how Alfred Nobel thought inventing dynamite would end all war. He didn't spend enough time hanging around mortals to know how stupid that was."
"And then, the existence of a gun allowed it to be used."
"Sure. Don't you know a gun hanging on the wall has to be used by the third act?" Q looked up at him. "See, what one Q knows, we all know, except that we were arguing so much and so viciously that the Continuum itself was fracturing, so no one could read the minds of the guys on the other side anymore. So old Granddad made the weapon, and fired it during negotiations, but he fired it over everyone's head to demonstrate he had it. And I was in the middle of negotiating and I thought it was all going to work out, finally, they're willing to come to the table, I knew he wasn't going to actually use the weapon. Except that everyone ideologically aligned with him knew how to make one too. And someone who absolutely hated my guts for purely personal reasons decided to shoot me. And a Q who wasn't even my friend, he just believed in my beliefs, he shoved me out of the way. So he got shot instead." Q's hands clenched on the table. "An event that has since happened with distressing frequency."
"Q being shot, you mean?"
"Well, yes, but I specifically mean Q being shot when the gun was aimed at me. He... was not the last one to suffer that particular fate." He looked down at his hands, opened them. "She was... she was undecided, she just agreed to help me because she might have been a goddess of war but that didn't mean she wanted it in our backyard, she had combat experience, she thought she could protect me long enough to get me here. And she was right. She could. It took her life, but hey, what's yet another Q dying in this pointless, stupid, fucking war so I can live on and keep fighting?"
His voice was breaking. Q, omnipotent, untouchable Q, was on the verge of tears.
"I understand," Picard said. He put his hand on Q's shoulder. He didn't know what else to do. He'd have done the same for a crewman or a fellow Starfleet officer who lost their wife or lover in combat, particularly if she'd been bodyguarding them at the time. "I'm sorry for your loss, Q. I know how much it hurts to see a friend die; I can't imagine how much worse it would be if you had spent your life expecting your friend to be immortal."
"It has to end," Q said, so quietly Picard could barely hear him. "I have to end it. But they won't listen, they didn't before and now that there's blood they most certainly won't, and even if I were willing to surrender, which I'm not, my supporters wouldn't, and... we've got to win. We have to win, or we will all die, and probably bring down a significant part of the galaxy with us."
"Yes. You're quite right. It has to end." Picard let Q's shoulder go. "So you came to me. But I'm not sure how much help I can give you. I do have more experience with human women than you probably do, but I've never wanted children, and I've never been in a position where I needed to have one to end a war. I'm sure someone might be willing, perhaps if she's infertile and wants children; perhaps I can help you find someone who would be interested."
"What?" Q turned in the chair, looking up at Picard, startled. "Oh, no no no. I didn't come here for a matchmaking service, Picard, Kathy already made it clear to me. It won't work that way." He stood up. "She said I have to be willing to make personal sacrifices. So. I'm going to take a female form, I'm going to endure what will undoubtedly be the nightmarishly hellish experience of pregnancy, because my expert advisor in human women says that that's what I'd need to do to get you to agree to do this."
"Get... me?" Picard felt, abruptly, as if he were falling down a rabbit hole.
"Yes, obviously." Q grinned, and there was his old self back in the grin, the insouciant, devilish smile Picard associated with Q's mischievous side. "I'm here to ask you to father my child."
Notes: This story is in the same continuity as "Plan B" (in the Voyager section), "A Doctor, A Q and a Baby", and Chapter 15: "Knitting" in "Seventeen Things That Might Have Happened To Q." It is multi-chapter. It is eventually going to become M rated but it isn't there yet so it's getting a T for now. And yes, this is another incomplete fic I have started, and maybe I should try to finish one before starting another, except no, I'm not gonna. This story will be Picard/Q pairing with Q genderswapped because personally I feel mpreg is silly and I like genderswaps; however Q in a female body is still Q and still kind of a sarcastic, snarky asshat. There will also be a major role played by Will Riker, and while the focus of this story is P/Q and not the Imzadi pairing, Riker/Troi is kind of sitting there in the background.
I didn't warn for character death because frankly I suspect I am the only one who will mourn her, but for anyone who actually cares... Suzy-Q is dead in this fic. She died heroically, she's not coming back, Q is really depressed about it. *I'm* depressed about it because I really, really like Suzy-Q, but this story required her to be dead, so she is. I think it's pretty clear who Q is talking about when he talks about his dead friend, but just to avoid any possible confusion, yes, it is the Q who in the canon continuity he had a son with.
Also, for the record: personally I think Janeway totally made the right decision. Q whining about her refusal to help him is Q being Q, not the author thinking Janeway should have agreed to mate with him. There is no Janeway bashing in this story aside from Q being an asshat, which, let's face it, it would be OOC if he wasn't.