Chapter 11

After the successful conclusion of the negotiations over Angria, Picard was relieved as he said good-bye to the mediators and negotiators in the transporter room.  Before stepping onto the transporter pad, Augusta went up to Picard.  "Captain, I want to thank you.  You've been extraordinarily fair to someone who almost blew up your ship."

"Well, I'll thank you not to try it again.  I won't be so generous the second time," said Picard drily, trying to cover up for the unease that Augusta's presence stirred in him.

She leaned toward Picard, winking at Q over the Captain's shoulder, then bestowed upon Picard a long farewell kiss.  Then she turned around, stepped briskly onto the transporter pad, and remarked, "A parting gift."

"Thank-you," murmured Picard, "you're too kind."  As the transporter beam began to shimmer, Picard hastily strode out of the transporter room, thoroughly embarrassed, followed by by Q, who didn't know whether to be jealous or amused.  As they walked down the corridor, Picard snapped, "Just don't say anything, OK?  You and I both know what I'm feeling, so keep your witty observations to yourself."

Q mimed zipping his mouth shut, but his laughing eyes provided sufficient further embarrassment to the Captain.  "Well, you acquitted yourself admirably, Picard.  You're a fine diplomat."

"And a tired one.  Look Q, I've been neglecting Beverly shamefully . . . "

"Hmm, I can't imagine why."

Picard raised his eyebrows and sighed.  "And I owe her a drink."

"Don't let me stand in your way.  I'm sure she'll want to hear all about your touching farewell with Augusta."

"Q!" exclaimed Picard in exasperation, but the entity had already disappeared, leaving behind a disembodied mocking laugh.

The doctor did accept Picard's offer of a drink, but there was a marked coolness in her manner.  "And did you see Augusta safely off?" she asked.

"Yes, of course, diplomatic protocol and all that."

"Uh-huh.  I see."

"Beverly," said Picard with some irritation, "I don't need this.  Yes, she was stunningly attractive.  Yes, I found myself responding to her as did every other male on this ship.  Not to mention some of the women.  So what?  I'm human, and I have impulses like anyone else, yourself included.  It's not as though you're immune to the charms of attractive males.  Don't think I didn't notice you and Deanna eyeing Augusta's brother."

Beverly laughed, "You've got a point there.  He was something.  OK, Jean-Luc, let's forget our recent visitors, OK?"

"I'd be delighted to.  I've missed you, actually."  He reached over and took Beverly's hand, rubbing the back of it with his thumb.

"I've missed you too."

They remained for a while in an awkward silence.  Continuing to hold hands, they conversed for a while about more mundane matters, then Beverly paused.  "Jean-Luc, you look exhausted.  You need some sleep.  Doctor's orders."

He smiled, "Yes, sir.  You certainly like invoking your medical authority over me, don't you?"

"As a matter of fact, I do.  And you're so stubborn the only way I can get you to listen to medical advice is by ordering you.  So, get to bed, Captain."

Picard bowed.  "I hear and obey, only I would like to defer my fulfillment of your orders long enough to walk you to your quarters."

"Permission granted."

They lingered for a moment outside Beverly's door, then she quickly stroked Picard's cheek, gave him a quick kiss, then went inside.  He sighed, completely unsure of where this relationship was going, and headed back to his quarters.

* * *

Devastated by grief, the entity wandered aimlessly from solar system to solar system, trying to lose himself in continuous motion.  He tried to divert himself by viewing the most spectacular wonders the galaxy had to offer, stars going supernova, solar systems forming, violent celestial collisions, stellar flares, the works.  Nothing held the remotest appeal for him, and he could only think about the person who would have appreciated these sights with him had that person still been alive.  He tried resuming his old habit of tormenting weaker species, but that exercise too had lost its charms.  Not only did sadistic pursuits not bring him any joy, they did not even begin to stimulate him.  He tried switching tactics and doing good deeds, rescuing threatened planets from plunging meteors, preventing landquakes and subduing volcanoes, stopping wars between humanoid species, but these activities did not alleviate the numbing stupor that had settled upon him either.

Finally, in a paroxysm of despair, he cast himself upon a ledge near a mountain top on a planet in an isolated part of the galaxy.  He lay there for days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, overcome by an irresistable inertia, aware only of "A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear, / A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief" as some 19th-century earth poet had put it.  He was too apathetic to recall the name.  Occasionally, however, he was buffeted by a wave of memory and emotion, and a tear or two would make its way down his cheek, but inevitably numb despair would set in again.  Every few decades he would sense a voice reaching out to him from one of his own kind, but he would ignore the call.  His own kind held no interest for him.

After centuries had passed, the entity murmured to himself, "I can't go on like this," and was on the verge of collecting all his energies to make the effort simply to blink himself out of existence, when an inspiration flashed upon his soul.  "I can't believe I've been so linear.  I'm a Q, damn it!" he exclaimed.  He leapt to his feet, energy pervading his being, and stepped back neatly in time to a past centuries ago.  As the unsuspecting USS Enterprise NCC-1701 D made its way toward Farpoint Station, the entity hurled a gridlike, shimmering force field around the ship.  Appearing on the bridge, he announced in his most sepulchral voice, "Thou art notified that thy kind hath infiltrated the galaxy too far already.  Thou art directed to return to thine own solar system immediately."  A wave of emotion washed over the entity as he beheld Captain Jean-Luc Picard for the first time in centuries.  He felt an almost irrepressible joy mingled with an aching, yearning desire.  He maintained his stern demeanor, however, but inside he was tickled to death to behold Picard's staunch defiance in the face of his immense power.

Picard calmly replied, "That's quite a directive.  Would you mind identifying what you are?"

* * *

Picard stood outside Q's quarters, perplexed that Q had not answered the door chime.  Normally, whenever the impulse to speak to Q entered his mind, Q instantly appeared, but this time there had been no reply to his mental summons, even though the sensation of the connection with Q in his mind remained.  "Computer," demanded Picard, "override door lock."  He entered Q's quarters, to find the entity lying on his bed, eyes open, but his entire body unmoving.  Concerned, Picard sat down on the bed, shaking Q gently, "Q, are you in there?"

Q stirred, blinked, and sat up suddenly.  Much to Picard's surprise, he actually looked disoriented for a moment.  Then the entity shivered slightly and sat hugging himself.  "Jean-Luc," he spoke slowly, "I'm glad to see you.  You can't imagine how glad."

"I tried to call you, but you didn't answer.  Were you asleep?"

"No, not exactly."  Q was still speaking in a dreamy, abstracted tone.  "It was more like a waking dream, nightmare in this case.  Sometimes, while our current corporeal form remains in one time frame or universe, we get into a kind of reverie that would be like an elaborate daydream for a human--that's the closest analogy--but for us it's completely real while we're in it.  I may have appeared to be in a kind of trance, but my mind was living hundreds of years into a possible future.  It's a kind of exploration, really, a way of testing out possible futures for myself.  I don't know which one will happen in this time frame, as it depends partially on factors that are either out of my control or that I don't think it would be appropriate for me to control, but it's a way of living out some of the possibilities.  I may have been only lying here for an hour or so in your time, but I actually lived my own time line, a span of centuries.  That's why I seem so disoriented.  It was quite an experience."

Picard murmured softly,
"Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things."

"Wordsworth, right?" said Q.  "Met him once.  What an ego!  But he did have a facility for expressing certain states of mind that, as a Q, I found remarkably familiar."

"Met Wordsworth?" said Picard, but his mind wasn't on that subject.  He continued, "I had an experience like that once.  An alien probe, which had been devised by a people who did not want their history to be consigned to oblivion, took over my mind, and I lived half a lifetime--wife, children, grandchildren.  It seemed entirely real.  I still feel like those people are a part of my life."

"Well, they are.  They're in your mind, and they exist there.  Don't you see, Picard?  An experience like that should show you how limited your human concept of 'reality' is.  I've lived a number of different futures, and they're all equally 'real.'  I can live out this time frame, but I can switch to another one, or repeat portions of my 'past' and in the process, shape a different future.  The possibilities are endless."  Q paused, rubbing his face with both hands, then shaking his head.  "This one was a doozy, however.  I only wish you'd interrupted it a few centuries ago.  I think I could use one of Guinan's specialty drinks."

As Picard and Q walked to Ten-Forward, Picard asked, "So was Wordsworth really as self-enamored as his poetry would seem to indicate?"

"Oh, you don't know the half of it," laughed Q.  "That's why I find him so appealing.  He would have understood us:  'Our destiny, our being's heart and home . . .'"

"Is with infinitude, and only there," concluded Picard.

"Jean-Luc!" exclaimed Q, "Why, you closet Romantic, you!  What would your crew think?"

Picard smiled, "We'll just keep that our secret, shall we, Q?  Let's just get that drink, OK?"

Rounding a corner on the way to Ten-Forward, they collided with a small caravan of ghouls, witches, ghosts, and the like.  Startled, Q jumped backward a yard.  "What the hell is that?" he exclaimed as a chorus of giggles erupted from the small troupe.

"It's Halloween, Q," said Picard patiently.

"I knew that!"

Alexander, the leader of the group of children, apologized to Picard for running into them.  "Very well then, carry on," said Picard, and the children continued their progress.

"Since when do you let these creatures have the run of your ship?"

"I don't usually.  But Counselor Troi convinced me it would be salutory for them to observe some of the favorite childhood holidays, Halloween among them.  Many cultures have a similar type of observance, actually.  So on certain occasions, I do permit the children the run of the ship, except the bridge of course."

"I honestly don't see what you humans see in those undeveloped specimens of your species."

"Well, I don't have much use for children, myself," admitted Picard.

"So you're not an entirely lost cause," interjected Q.

"But I have found some of the children to be quite remarkable on occasion.  You should spend some time with them."

"No thank you," said Q, shuddering.  "I have to degrade myself enough to lower myself to the level of your puny intellect, Picard.  You can hardly expect me to consort with even more deficient beings."

"Yes, of course, I forgot your tremendously gracious condescension in coming down to my paltry level," said Picard, but he was smiling, quite used to Q's tactless methods of teasing.  "How foolish of me."

"See what I mean?" said Q with a wink as they entered Ten-Forward.  After they sat down at a table near the window and got drinks, Q said suddenly, "Jean-Luc, you've been working hard and deserve a break.  Let's do something fun."

"What did you have in mind?" asked Picard warily.

"A vacation.  I can give you an experience you'll never forget, and you'll only be away from the ship for an hour.  And should some crisis erupt, as it seems to do on this ship with frightening regularity, I can get you back here in an instant."

"What do you propose?" said Picard, interested in spite of himself.

"Oh, I don't know.  How'd you like to meet Shakespeare?"

"Shakespeare??!!" exclaimed Picard, aghast at Q's casualness.

"Yeah, Shakespeare.  You know, British guy, wrote some plays.  Sonnets too!"  said Q brightly, "'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' 'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun,' 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds . . .'"

"Enough!" snapped Picard.  He repeated, "*Shakespeare?*"

"Shakespeare." replied Q.  "He really did write his own plays, you know.  I can't believe people are still arguing about that."

"Meet . . . Shakespeare?"

"Is there an echo in here?  Why not, Picard?  He's a nice guy, knows how to relax and have a good time, which is more than I can say for you, Johnny."  Q had gotten into the habit, whenever he wanted to provoke Picard, of needling him with his academy nickname.  "Johnny" had been quite a bit more impetuous than his current incarnation.  "How about it, Jean-Luc?  We could see Hamlet or maybe The Tempest--with drinks with the cast afterward--that is it you think you can hold your ale.  It'll be the real stuff, not synthehol."

"I can hold my god damned ale," snapped Picard.  "You know how hesitant I am about altering time lines . . . "

"Oh, that again!  I promise you, we won't change anything.  I won't brainwash the Bard into any untoward revisions of the plays or sonnets, if that's what you're worried about."

Picard was clearly wavering.  "It's against my better judgment, but . . . Shakespeare!"

Q shook his head in amusement.  "Haven't you realized by now, Picard, that I'm your dark double?  I'm the one who gets you to do things against your better judgment.  And you need me.  You're too damned repressed and duty-bound.  You need me to talk you into occasional eruptions of undisciplined self-indulgence.  You know what happens when you repress your impulses all the time?  They simply emerge in a much more devastating manner--as we nearly witnessed at the Cardassian border a while back.  Even the great Jean-Luc Picard needs to let his hair down--so to speak--once in a while.  Admit it, Johnny, you really enjoyed reliving that fight with those Nausicaans.  When that Nausicaan called you a coward for a second time, and you replied, 'I thought that's what you said,' did you hear the satisfaction in your own voice?  Where would you be if I hadn't given you that opportunity?  The Jean-Luc Picard who follows his impulses and who could find the humor in being stabbed through the heart is in there somewhere, but you've become so completely self-disciplined that you need me to bring him out.  You may have 'great responsibilities,'" said Q in a mocking imitation of Picard's accent and inflection, "but you're entitled to have some fun once in a while.  That's what you thought you were getting with Vash, but I'm much better for you.  How about it?"

Picard looked up quickly at this comparison, which made no sense to him.  But then Q often said enigmatic things he couldn't make any sense of.  He replied, "You know, Q, you're absolutely certain you always know what's best for me . . ."

"That's because I do.  Did I encourage you to accept the powers of the Q?  You know I don't mean you any harm, and you ought to know by now that I will respect your compulsive and mindless attachment to the flow of history.  Come on, I know you're dying to go.  This won't be the holodeck; this will be the real thing, at least as far as you understand reality."

"You can still keep an eye on the ship?"

"Do I have to define the word 'omniscient,' Picard?"

"All right.  I'd love to go.  And I'd like to see The Tempest; it's always been one of my favorites."  Picard tapped his communicator.  "Picard to Riker.  I'm going to avail myself of Q's offer of a brief vacation.  You have the bridge, but Q will have me back here immediately if anything comes up . . . "

"I'll have your Captain back in an hour," interrupted Q.

"Okay, Captain," came Riker's response.  "Have a good time--you've earned it!"

* * *

Picard and Q materialized on a deserted road on the way to London, in the year 1612.  Picard noticed that he had acquired Elizabethan garb somewhere along the way.  "Oh, mon Capitaine," exclaimed Q with an impassioned gasp, "I'd forgotten how much I enjoy seeing you in tights.  Did it ever occur to you that that might have been the point of the Robin Hood thing?"

"What are you going on about, Q?" muttered Picard, as he looked around, trying to take in the fact that he was actually in Renaissance England.

"Oh, never mind."

As they approached the city, Q waved his hand in front of his face.  "At least your species has improved its methods of sanitation; of course, it wouldn't take much to improve on this."

"It is rather pungent," acknowledged Picard.  "But it's always difficult to imagine how people could bear living in more primitive conditions than those they're accustomed to."

"You're telling me!" declared Q.  "But you have to admit I've adapted quite nicely to your primitive little lifestyle."

"With the exception that you continously see fit to remind me how primitive it is to you," snapped Picard. Then, after a pause, he mused, "I don't believe this.  I am walking into 17th century London, and I'm wasting my time arguing with you.  How do you do this to me?"

"Well, that's what makes me special," smiled Q, "but you have to admit you have a unique talent for setting yourself up.  I couldn't ask for more in a straight man."

Picard sighed, and they continued on their way.  Picard was in a continuous state of amazement as he took in the buildings, the carriages, the clothes.  Turning a corner, he found himself looking at the Globe theater.  "It's the Globe!" he gasped.

"Of course, it's the Globe," said Q with a sigh of exasperation.

Picard delivered a backhand slap to Q's arm, and repeated "It's the Globe!"

"You know, Picard, time travel does not do wonders for your intellectual acuity."

Picard absently slapped Q's arm again and exclaimed, "Do you have even the faintest beginnings of an idea of what this means to me?"

"Of course, that's why I brought you here."

Suddenly, two men rushed out of the theater entrance.  Spotting Picard, one of them exclaimed, "Where have you been, laggard?  It is past time to dress!"  As the men began hurrying Picard into the theater, he whirled around to look at Q, who simply winked back.

A voice exploded inside Q's head, Q!  Damn it!  What do you think you're doing?  Q!

Q responded mentally, in a casual tone, Oh, did I forget to tell you?  Silly me.  You're playing Prospero.  Don't worry about your lines and cues--they're all in your head.  And they all think you're the regular guy, so you don't need to worry about changing history or anything.  He'll wake up tomorrow completely convinced he actually played his part.


Come off it, Jean-Luc.  You can't tell me that you've never dreamed of doing this.  You only live once--carpe diem, that's what I say.  Oh, and Jean-Luc?

Yes? came the sighed response.

Break a leg!

Picard turned in a stirring performance as Prospero.  Q was true to his word; the lines flowed easily from his brain when needed, and he delivered them with utter conviction.  As the epilogue concluded with Prospero's request for applause, "As you from crimes would pardon'd be / Let your indulgence set me free," Shakespeare's company, the King's Men, received a standing ovation, led by Q with shouts of "Bravo!"  After drinks in a local tavern, during the course of which Picard was thrilled to converse with the Bard himself, Q and Picard were walking down a deserted street.  Picard turned to Q, saying "I ought to . . ."

"What you ought to do," snapped Q, "is get down on your knees right here and thank me for giving you the experience of a lifetime."

"Well, I won't get on my knees, because God knows what's down there, but I do thank you, with every iota of gratitude I can muster," said Picard quietly.  "I owe you so much, and I don't know how I know this, but I have an intuition that some day I will be able to do something for you."

"You already have, Jean-Luc.  So, do you want to stick around or head back?"

"I'd like to see the theater again."

"No sooner said than done," declared Q, and Picard found himself back on the stage of the Globe.

He asked, almost breathlessly, "Is this real?  Was that real before?  I mean, the play."

"Haven't you figured out what a pointless question that is to ask me?  Yes, it was real.  You played Prospero.  This is the year 1612; next year, this theater is going to burn down and be rebuilt.  Here, maybe this will convince you, so you won't keep asking me foolish questions when we get back."  An actor's script materialized in Picard's hand.  "You don't need to worry," continued Q, "about affecting Shakespearean scholarship.  This particular copy was discarded, so no one will miss it."

 Picard was speechless.  He clutched the script in one hand and walked around the stage, tentatively touching the curtains and doors.  Almost whispering, he said, "Q, I don't know what to say.  Do you understand how grateful I am, how much this means to me?"

"Of course I do.  I can read your mind, remember?  I don't believe I've ever seen you have so much fun as when you were up there performing.  You're such a ham, Jean-Luc.  But you know, you were really good.  When you gave the speech, 'Our revels now are ended,' it gave me chills."

"Thanks.  But why didn't you take a part, my friend?  It's not like you to stay in the background."

"True enough.  But this was your moment, and I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing than watching you.  Ready to go back?"

Picard touched one of the curtains again, rubbing the fabric lightly between his thumb and fingers, then nodded.  In a flash he found himself alone in his quarters, holding the script.  Q knew him well enough to understand that after an experience such as that, Picard would want some time alone to absorb it.  Q joined him again later, however, and as they were walking down a corridor, with Picard adjusting his uniform and trying to get himself back into Captain mode, they ran into Riker.

"How was your vacation, Captain?"

"Excellent," replied Picard, while smiling at Q, "Let's just say it was a most . . . ah . . . dramatic experience."

* * *

The next morning, breakfasting with Beverly, Picard was still musing on the extraordinary experience he had had.  He had experienced time travel before, and he had been thrown into Q's scenarios often enough to adjust quickly when his fellow actors dragged him off to the dressing room, but the fact that he had actually been performing under Shakespeare's direction was mind-boggling.  He related the experience to Beverly in an awed tone and showed her the script he had brought back.  "I don't understand it," Picard mused.  "I don't know why Q goes out of his way to do these things for me."

Beverly simply shook her head and laughed, "Well, Q certainly is right about one thing.  You really are obtuse."

"I don't suppose you're going to explain to me what you mean by that," remarked Picard in an irritated tone.

"Not in a million years," laughed Beverly getting up.

Picard quickly grasped her wrist, exclaiming "Beverly!" but she freed herself with a quick twist of the arm, saying, "When it comes to Q, you're on your own, Jean-Luc."

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