Chapter 10

Unspeakably furious at being caught off-guard, Q materialized in a small cabin on Augusta's ship.  As soon as the transporter beam ceased to shimmer, he found himself bound and paralyzed, as Augusta and two of her most powerful lieutenants focused their mental energies on restraining him.  "You kidnapped me?!" gasped Q incredulously.

"I've been reading up on your encounters with the Enterprise over the past several years.  It seemed like a tactic you'd be familiar with," noted Augusta with a deliberate nonchalance.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Woman?"

"Achieving a more balanced equation by removing you as a factor, sweetheart.  It's too bad we have to keep you restrained.  You'd be very impressed with my ship here.  Surprised?"

"How did you conceal this from me?"

"Well, I've learned to protect parts of my mind from being probed, even by you.  The fact that you were so awestruck by my charms back on Gondal helped of course.  The existence of this vessel was a piece of information I thought best to keep to myself."

"You're going to regret this, Augusta.  You caught me off-guard, and you've won this battle--and I have to give credit where credit is due, I'm impressed as hell--but no more kid gloves with you, sweetheart, you can depend on it."

"Well, at the moment, you can't move your hands, so it's rather a moot point, isn't it?"  Augusta summoned another guard, a young man with the same pale blue skin and a mane of long black hair.  She turned to Q, laughing at his all-too-obvious reaction, "A feast for the eyes, isn't he?  You're far too susceptible to your aesthetic sensibilities, sweetheart.  Anyway, he's my baby brother, so behave yourself."

"That's Alex?  My, how you've grown, young man."

Alex sighed, "Look, I didn't like you when you were here before, and I don't like you now, and I especially don't like being appraised like a piece of meat.  My orders are to keep you restrained, and you can be sure I'll do just that."

"Yes," said Augusta, "be sure all three of you do just that.  He's very resourceful."  She turned and left the room.  Q mentally probed his three guards, concluding that he at least had a chance of overpowering them, but for the time being, he decided to play along and try to figure out just what it was that Augusta was up to.

* * *

"We are being hailed by the enemy  vessel," announced Worf.

"On screen," said Picard.

"Hello, Captain, we meet again."

"Under increasingly inauspicious circumstances.  What have you done with Q?"

"Oh he's all right.  He's under guard, and he's not too happy about it.  I wanted to give you a small sample of our abilities.  Aside from the fact that I can paralyze your ship with my telekinetic powers, this baby is just riddled with firepower.  We've acquitted ourselves very well technologically, considering we were dumped on a barren rock with only our ingenuity to rely on."

At this moment, Picard heard a familiar voice in his head:  Well, I'm certainly embarrassed.  I told you she was formidable.  Play along with her for the time being.  I think I can get us out of this, but find out as much as you can in the meanwhile.

Picard glanced back at the screen.  "What is it you want from us?"

"I want you to stay the hell out of our solar system.  The dispute between the Angrian government and my people is an internal affair, and Federation intervention is not necessary or wanted."

"The Angrian government has petitioned for admission into the Federation.  I cannot simply ignore their request at the coercion of terrorists."

"Now, Captain, that's not a very nice word."

"But an accurate one. . ."

At this point, Augusta interrupted, "I believe this conversation could be conducted so much more amicably in person, don't you?"  Without waiting for an answer, she activated her ship's transporter beam, and whisked Picard off the Enterprise and into a small lounge-like room on her ship.  "Can I offer you a drink, Captain?" asked Augusta as she entered the room.

"No, thank-you.  I would prefer to return to my ship," replied Picard icily.

"Well, that may be a problem.  You see, my only interest here is convincing your Federation to keep out of our solar system.  As I see it, the best way to do that is to convince Starfleet that protecting the Angrian government is simply not worth the loss of life and the destruction of your fleet I can cause.  I suppose you could call those terrorist tactics, but I have just as legitimate a claim to govern Angria as my cousin, the current Sovereign, does."

"And it is precisely that type of dispute the Federation has experience mediating.  It seems to me that both sides in this dispute have valid claims, and both sides are far too willing to gain their objectives through violence.  You want to rush in, wipe out the current government of Angria, destroying many innocent lives in the process, without even attempting to talk and negotiate.  I don't understand that at all.  I would urge you to consider Federation mediation."

"My so-called uncle didn't avail himself of any mediation when he dumped my mother and her followers on Gondal," snapped Augusta.  "And the current government did not inform you of their real reason for seeking Federation involvement.  These are not people who are going to listen to mediation.  The first opportunity they have to get adequate technology, they will destroy what we have built over centuries. . ."

"Just as you intend to destroy them," interjected Picard.

"I can be very selective in my offensive capabilities.  I am simply going to eliminate the people who are obstacles in my path, and I am going to govern Angria in a just fashion, unlike my cousin."

"You cannot found a just government on murder and terrorism!" exclaimed Picard.

"Look, I'm tired of this conversation.  You're my hostage, Captain, and you're going to convince the Federation to deny Angria's petition and to stay out of our solar system altogether.  If you cannot get them to agree to that, then I'm going to destroy your ship as an example of what I can do."

"The Federation will not cave in to your demands any more than I would.  But they will do whatever is possible to work out an equitable resolution to your dispute . . ."

"No!  There's no such thing.  I am going to contact the Federation Council now, and you will deliver my ultimatum, Captain, or lose your ship."

"It won't work," said Picard quietly.  "The Federation will never capitulate to terrorist demands, lest it encourage more terrorist activity in the process.  There must be another way."

"You are a very stubborn and foolish man, but perhaps I can instill a little more flexibility in your character, Captain."  Augusta strode over to a covered viewport, pressed a button, so that the cover slid open, revealing a view of the Enterprise.  Her hand flashed through the air in a slashing motion, and to Picard's horror and disbelief, one of the warp nacelles simply sheared off the ship and drifted away into space.

* * *

Q, during this dialog between Picard and Augusta, was rapidly concluding he had heard enough.  He returned his attention to his own situation, assessing the mental energy of his three guards who were entirely focused on keeping him restrained.  He noticed that their energy was mostly concentrated on the restraints around his wrists and ankles; the restraints were strengthened by the telekinetic powers of the guards, which were impressive to say the least.  But he was a Q, damn it!  He allowed all the fury that had been building up at his kidnapping to wash over him.  With an explosion of mental energy, he burst his restraints.  The guards tried to reassert control over him, but Q had achieved the optimum level of determination.  His arm whipped through the air, and he rapidly enveloped each guard within a small version of his trademark grid-like forcefield, then teleported himself onto the outside of Augusta's ship.  Moments after the warp nacelle sheared off the Enterprise, Q replaced it.

* * *

"What the hell is that?" exclaimed Riker as the red alert siren began to peal and an object drifted by on the viewscreen.

"It is the starboard warp nacelle," remarked Data calmly.


"Someone on the other ship seems to have used telekinetic abilities to shear off the warp nacelle.  As warp engines are already down, there is no immediate danger."

"Commander, look!" exclaimed Worf.

As if in reverse motion, the warp nacelle returned the way it came, apparently reattaching itself to its support pylon.  Moments later, with their characteristic thrum, the engines started up, with all power restored to the ship.  "Shields up now!" declared Riker.

* * *

Augusta did not handle frustration well, and the sight of the warp nacelle reattaching itself enraged her even further.  "All right, Captain, I've had enough.  You may think having Q on your side assures the safety of your ship, but I can give him and you a run for your money."  Augusta fixed on the Enterprise with an intense stare.  Then she spoke into her communicator, "Elinor!  Fire missiles now!"

* * *

"Shields are down!" exclaimed Worf.

"Geordi, we need those shields!" barked Riker.

"I'm sorry, Commander," replied La Forge's voice over Riker's comm badge, "controls are completely frozen the way they were bef . . ."

La Forge was cut off, by Worf's exclamation, "Incoming fire sir!"

In horror all watched the viewscreen, as a spread of missiles headed toward the ship.  Then, suddenly and inexplicably, the entire spread of missiles veered off in a completely different direction.

When enough air had flowed back into his lungs to allow him to speak, Riker gasped, "Increase magnification, Mr. Data."

As the bridge crew watched, the missiles exploded harmlessly a considerable distance from the ship.  Riker collapsed back into the Captain's chair, just in time to feel the Enterprise lurch into motion and start careening dizzily through space, a motion he and the others had come to recognize as the work of Q.

* * *

After diverting the attack on the Enterprise and sending it safely out of the range of Augusta's ship, Q materialized in the room where Augusta and Picard were, in shared amazement, watching recent events.  As soon as he appeared, Augusta fixed Q with a glance, trying to immobilize him.

"Two can play at this game, my dear," said Q casually, "and I'm still better at it than you."  He snapped his fingers, and Augusta stood, frozen, her arms apparently pinned at her sides, her feet unable to move.  Q kept one hand pointed toward Augusta, but closed his eyes.  Picard could hear the ship's engines whine to a halt.  Q remained with his eyes closed.  When he opened them, he announced, "I'm afraid your engines are off-line--in fact, they seem to have dematerialized altogether--and your weapons systems are thoroughly disabled.  It's one of the perils of space flight.  Otherwise reliable technology just goes," he paused, "kaput now and then.  Isn't that right, Captain?" he asked, turning to Picard.

"Indeed," said Picard grinning, "in my experience ships' systems sometimes just shut down inexplicably.  Damned annoying when it happens."

"Captain," responded Augusta grimly, "I wouldn't invest too much trust in him.  He might betray you too, some day."

"I'll have to take my chances," snapped Picard.

"Now," said Q, "are you willing to consider the possibility of Federation mediation?  I can completely cripple you technologically, and I'll do it if I have to.  You may be able to repair anything on this ship with your powers, but I know you can't create the parts you need out of thin air.  I told you these people were not going to be hurt, and I meant it."  Q released Augusta, confident she would not pose a further threat.

Picard frowned.  "I'm not sure if my offer of mediation still stands.  She tried to destroy my ship."

Inside his head, Picard heard Q.  Actually, I suspect that was partially a bluff.  She knew I had replaced the nacelle and had the capacity to protect the ship from a missile attack.  If she was really serious about destroying your ship, she would have used her powers.  Jean-Luc, it may be that she doesn't deserve another chance, but people do desperate and reckless things in the pursuit of otherwise just causes.  Need I remind you again that you almost obliterated an entire Cardassian fleet?  You were insane at the time, but what Augusta and her people have suffered would be enough to drive anyone insane, particularly once they acquired the power to get back at their oppressors.  And you're the one who cares about the value of individual lives.  A whole lot are going to be lost if you simply leave these people to their own devices.

Quite right, Q.  I never expected you to be the voice of reason and moderation.

Sometimes I surprise myself, replied Q.

Picard turned to Augusta.  "I'm willing to offer you Federation mediation of your dispute with the government of Angria.  There has to be a satisfactory solution that will allow your people to return.  In return, however, I demand a pledge that you will not interfere with Federation vessels.  You have tremendous powers, but you must learn to use them wisely, or you may find yourself committing actions that you will come to regret."

Augusta considered briefly, then replied, "Captain, I apologize for my recklessness and callousness.  We've been waiting so long, that when the opportunity came for action, I let my impulses override all other considerations.  You may not believe this, but I am a just and equitable leader of my people, and I am acting in their interest.  Your mediators will be hard pressed, however, to convince my cousin's government to share power with us.  They have always acted on self-interest alone, with very little concern for the welfare of their people.  They have utterly controlled what information is released about conditions on Angria, but there is unnecessary hunger and homelessness, while the Sovereign and his Council and their families live in luxury.  If your mediators can convince them to sacrifice their own power, comfort, and prestige to share power with us and to improve living conditions for all the inhabitants of Angria, then they will be miracle-workers indeed."

Picard nodded.  He could communicate more with a simple nod than any other human being Q had observed.  He could tell that Augusta was reading the understanding, thoughtfulness, and sympathy Picard was projecting.  Picard then spoke, "Well, we'll try our best."

"You have my word, Captain, that we will not interfere with any vessels that come into our space unless they pose us a direct threat."

"Very well," said Picard.  "I will arrange for a team of Federation mediators to arrive as soon as possible, and I will communicate to the government of Angria that due to the false information they have provided us, their petition for admission will be put on hold."

Q asked, "Would you like me to restore your ship to working order, sweetheart?"

Augusta nodded.  Within moments, the engines had been replaced and powered up, and all systems were restored.  She looked at Q, then spoke in a low tone, "Come here."  Surprised, the entity complied.  Augusta continued, "You are absolutely the most aggravating individual I have ever encountered and probably ever will encounter, but you do have a few good qualities."  She reached over, grasping a handful of Q's hair and pulling his head toward hers for a long kiss.  "Don't take it personally," she then murmured, "but I really hope I don't see you back here for a good long time.  You're cute, but you're a royal pain in the ass."

Q smiled graciously and bowed, saying modestly, "I try to make the most of my endowments.  Good-bye, Augusta."

She then turned to Picard, who was trying to figure out the peculiar sensation that had wrenched him when Augusta kissed Q.  It hadn't occurred to him that it could be jealousy, but he was soon too distracted.  Augusta went up to him, tracing one finger along the side of his face.  She said, "You, Captain, on the other hand, are welcome any time.  I'll try to provide you with better hospitality."

Picard merely nodded, then said, "Getting acquainted with you has certainly been an experience, Augusta of Gondal, but it's not an experience I'm in any hurry to repeat.  I wish you a satisfactory and successful resolution and a speedy return to your home."  With that Q snapped his fingers, returning himself and Picard to the Enterprise.

As they materialized in Picard's ready room, Q was already convulsed in laughter.  "Red alert, mon Capitaine.  She almost had you there.  It's a good thing your Dr. C. wasn't there to witness your physiological reactions."  Q clucked reproachfully, shaking his head.  "You're an animal, Picard."

Picard turned around, gazing steadily at his companion.  "Speaking of red alerts, my  omnipotent friend, what happened to you?  And you call yourself all-powerful?"

"I'm utterly embarrassed," admitted Q, spreading open his hands in an apologetic gesture.

"So you should be.  You're not much good to us as a protector if you're going to let yourself be kidnapped by various and sundry ex-girlfriends around the galaxy."

"Touché," replied Q, clutching his chest as if he had just received a thrust to the heart.  "My ego has taken a severe blow.  I'm just going to have to make overwhelming displays of my power until I feel my old self again.  Are you sure you don't want me to deposit you naked in Augusta's bedroom?"

"Quite sure.  Now about these displays of your powers . . . "

"They won't be disruptive, Captain, I assure you," said Q in a mock-serious voice, "but keep your eyes open.  I love the element of surprise."

"Well, you'll have to surprise me later.  I have some work to do."

"Carry on."  Q vanished only to reapppear in Ten-Forward.  He wanted to drown his embarrassment in a drink, perhaps lament to Guinan about the foibles of ex-girlfriends and bald starship Captains.  The lamenting was not to be.  Almost as soon as Q sat down, Riker came into Ten-Forward in search of him.

"Well, well, well, my mortal enemy, the redoubtable Commander Riker.  What brings you here?"

"May I?" asked Riker, trying to ignore his rising blood pressure.

Q gestured grandly to a seat.  "What can I do for you, Commander?"

Riker cleared his throat, rubbed his beard, took a breath, then said, "I've come to apologize.  You saved our lives.  I don't know why I haven't been able to bring myself to trust you, but it's finally sunk in that you're on our side.  I don't know why . . ."

"Nor do you want to, but my ulterior motives are quite harmless.  Pray continue."

"Well, Q, I'm sorry.  And apologizing is not one of my favorite activities."

"Then we have something in common, Commander.  Listen, I've been as guilty of giving you a hard time as you have of mistrusting me against all evidence to the contrary.  When you wouldn't join the Continuum--and it was good decision on your part; it's a stultifyingly dull place--I was embarrassed before my superiors just as you were embarrassed in front of Picard and the crew.  It's understandable that you and I would not be too fond of each other."

Riker nodded.  "I don't expect I'm ever going to lead your cheering section, Q, but I'm willing to put all that behind us and try to get to know you better.  Just to learn a fraction of what makes you tick should prove very interesting."

"It's a deal."  Q reached out his hand to shake Riker's.  When Riker winced from Q's grip, the entity remarked, "Didn't want you to think I was getting soft."

"No need to worry about that.  Although your ex-girlfriend took you for a bit of ride, didn't she?"

"Yes, and I came in here to forget about that.  I may be omnipotent, but I'm not perfect."

"That's for sure," came a voice from behind him.  Guinan had glided up, bringing drinks.  She turned to Riker, "Did you know he once blew up an entire solar system by accident?  Fortunately it was uninhabited.  I believe he was experimenting with thermonuclear reactions in the sun's core.  It was an impressive explosion."

"Oops!" laughed Riker.

"Yes, very funny," muttered Q.  "You know what the problem with your people is, Guinan?  You live too long and remember too much.  And you personally always seem to be around when I screw up--why is that?"

"Somebody's got to keep an eye on you."  Guinan smiled and returned to the bar, leaving Q and Riker to their drinks.

* * *

Soon thereafter, Picard had another diplomatic triumph to his credit.  Both sides in the Angrian dispute agreed to Federation mediation, which the Sovereign realized was preferable to having Augusta and her followers take over the government by force.  Governing was getting tiresome to him anyway--all those annoying protestors always demanding one thing or another.  If his damned witch of a cousin thought she could do a better job, then he was happy to let her try.  He negotiatied a safe and comfortable retirement for himself and his ministers on Risa.  Augusta's arrival was greeted with acclaim by the majority of the population, who had little fondness for the outgoing government.  Augusta set to work immediately at rectifying the economic inequities on Angria, insisting that eliminating hunger and homelessness had to be her government's first priority.  Pleased with the fairness of the Federation mediators, Augusta resubmitted her planet's application for admission, which was soon accepted.

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