Chapter 4

In a flash, Q and Picard materialized in the Captain's ready room.  Picard was sitting in his chair trying to reassert his authority and his sense of himself, while Q sprawled comfortably on the couch.  Returning to the ship made them both fall back into their familiar patterns of interaction; neither one was comfortable with wrenching emotions of the experience they had just shared.

"Just a minute, please, Q," said Picard, "I'd better let them know I'm here."

"I have all the time in the universe, remember?" said Q lazily, draping one leg along the top of the couch.  As Picard walked out, Q perused Picard's Shakespeare volume, remembering ruefully, although not without regret, that he had once thrown it at him.  Picard had good reflexes, however, and had caught it undamaged. Ugh, he thought to himself, I really blew it that time.  And a good thing too.  Imagine Riker as a member of the Continuum!  No, I can't.  What a revolting prospect.

Picard emerged from his ready room and was instantly surrounded by the bridge crew besieging him with questions.  He waved them off wearily, and said, "I'm fine, really.  I need some time though.  Number One, you have the bridge for a while longer."

Riker said, "Captain, I think you should be escorted to sick bay."

"No, Will; I'll go let Beverly take a look at me in a little while.  Right now, I need not to be disturbed."  And Picard returned to his waiting companion.  He felt a compelling urge to cover his own humiliation by asserting his authority.

As the doors slid shut, he declared, "Listen Q, omnipotent or not, if you're going to stay on this ship you have to abide by certain conditions."

"Yes, Captain."

"First of all, you have to respect others' privacy.  You can't just keep materializing in people's rooms.  Try announcing your entrance first.  There's a device known as a door chime."

"Yes, Captain."

"You have to make an effort to be civil to and respect the members of the crew.  You may be omnipotent, but you are not a Starfleet officer, and you can't simply take over and start ordering people around."

"Yes, Captain."

"You can't go around playing your little tricks on people and disrupting the ship.  My crew is here because they have jobs to do.  If you want to show off, you may do so when your intended audience is on their own time, and only with their permission."

"Yes, Captain.  I do so love it when you speak sternly to me."

"You have to . . . Q!  I hate it when you lie there acting as if you're not listening to me."

"Would this be an improvement?"  Q was lying in the identical position, but suspended two feet above the couch.

"Q, your parlor tricks . . . "

"Amuse the hell out of you, but you hate to admit it."  Q sat down on couch, looking attentive, and Picard couldn't repress a quick grin.  "Please continue, Captain."

"Fine.  You have to realize that I am the Captain.  I can't have you undermining my authority on my ship and questioning my decisions.  Nor can I have you simply taking over when you think we're doing something the wrong way.  Humans learn from their mistakes, as I am in the process of doing right now, and you have to allow us to make them."

"Yes Captain, I will obey your every command, and I will defer most respectfully to your august authority."  Q's voice then took on a serious edge.  "But I have two conditions of my own.  One, if I ever perceive you and this ship being in a life-threatening situation, and I perceive that that situation is beyond you and your crew's ability to handle it, I am going to step in, and I'm going to take over.  I don't think mistakes have a whole lot of educational value if you're too dead to learn from them."

"Understood," noted Picard.  "I would ask that you give us every opportunity to try to solve whatever the problem is ourselves, but if it's clear that we cannot, then feel free to give us the benefit of your powers.  What's your other condition?"

"Honesty.  I want you to be honest with me, Picard.  The most advanced Betazoid's telepathic powers are nothing compared to mine.  Not only  can I read your mind and your feelings, but I can read every layer of your mind, conscious, subconscious, unconscious, repressed, whatever.  I have access to every memory of everything that has ever happened to you and everything you have ever thought or felt.  I can explain to you motives for actions you've taken that you're not even remotely aware of on a conscious level.  I can replay what you were aware of in the womb after you became at all sentient.  I can read you from the inside out and all the way through.  In fact, I rebuilt your mind for you after you surrendered the powers back; you wouldn't believe what abysmal shape you were in.  I know you better than anybody else does, including yourself.  I will make a real effort to respect your privacy, difficult as that may be for me, but when I see you playing games with me, I'm going to call you on it.  For instance, at the moment, you're trying to convince me that you're barely tolerating my presence on 'your ship.'  You're trying to make me think that if I screw up at all, you're going to demand my departure.  But inside, inside, Jean-Luc, you are overjoyed to have me here, not to mention grateful that I saved you from your own worst impulses.  How about, 'Welcome aboard, Q.  Make yourself at home'?"

"I figured you'd do so whether I said so or not," replied Picard, who was feeling more than a little disconcerted at Q's description of his telepathic capabilities and didn't know what to make of Q's claims about putting him back together.

"All I'm saying, Jean-Luc, is that I would appreciate it if, when we're alone at least, you stop being such a stiff, when you and both I know you genuinely enjoy my company and the diversion I provide.  Remember when I took you back into your own past?  You had a fine time confiding in me about your youthful misadventures.  I used to think you lacked a sense of humor, but what I've realized is that you just repress it most of the time.  The stern schoolmaster routine doesn't go over well, Jean-Luc; it just brings out the worst in me.  I'd rather I didn't have to invade your mind to find out that you're glad to see me; I'd like to hear it once in a while.  Just remember, you can't fool me, so don't try."

"You're right, Q, I'm sorry, but I think we've both fallen into patterns of how we react to each other from our first meetings.  You must realize that the crew will only accept your presence here if they feel like I'm keeping you in line, and even though we both know I have no way of actually doing so, I'd appreciate it if you'd help me sustain the illusion.  In turn, I will try to relax my demeanor in private."

"It's a deal.  My public behavior will be exemplary."

"Well, don't be offended if I say I'll believe it when I see it, but . . . Q, I really am happy to have you here.  I don't know how I can ever express my gratitude for all you've done for me, but you've proved yourself a true friend, and you're right that I do find you a most entertaining companion, even if it's often against my better judgment.  Welcome aboard the Enterprise."

"Thank-you, Captain.  I feel most honored to be here.  By the way, you should know that I have established a permanent telepathic link with you.  That way, even if I'm not around, I'll know immediately if you decide to go wreaking havoc through the galaxy again.  The bad news, for you, is that I can read your mind even if I'm on the other side of the galaxy."

Picard went slightly pale at this reminder of Q's telepathic ability.

"The good news is," the entity continued brightly, "that if you ever need me, you can just summon me in your mind, and I'll be back, literally, in a flash."

Picard responded thoughtfully, "Why is it, Q, that whenever you tell me something designed to be reassuring, you always have to include information that is unsettling, to say the least?"

"Well, mon Capitaine, I don't want you to take my newly-acquired virtue for granted.  For all my good intentions, there are some temptations I'm simply unable to resist.  Self-discipline has never been my strong point."

"Q, you agreed . . . "

"I agreed not to undermine your authority in front of the crew except in life-threatening situations that are out of your control.  I meant that.  But that doesn't mean I'm never going to give you a hard time.  I like giving you a hard time--it's so satisfying, and the results are always so entertaining.  But if I do, I promise it will be in a way that no one else is aware of it."  For instance, we can carry on entire conversations without opening our mouths.  Q had stopped speaking aloud, but Picard heard every word clearly, in Q's voice, inside his head. You can answer me the same way.

Picard thought back his response, I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but I do know one thing.  Having you on board the Enterprise certainly won't be boring.

I'll make sure of that, Picard.  Now would you like to show me my quarters?  I know you have work to do, and I'm going to be kind enough to let you get back to it.

"Work, hell," said Picard out loud, "I need a drink and some time to myself.  You understand, don't you?"

"Of course.  Tough day at the office.  I understand."

* * *

After showing Q to his new quarters, Picard had returned to his own.  Collapsing with more than usual lassitude into an armchair, Picard felt himself enveloped in a rising panic.  He was horrified at what he had almost done, but he was more urgently beset with a sudden terror at the notion of having Q remain on board the Enterprise.  It was clear enough that Q had been trying to help him; their visit to the Continuum confirmed Picard's dawning realization ever since Q had saved his life that Q really did have some concern for him and was willling, as he now had on two occasions, to intervene between Picard and his less humane superiors.  But at the same time, Picard could not forget that Q was an unpredictable, capricious, and volatile being with a ferocious temper and very little tolerance for human frailties.  Promises of good behavior notwithstanding, there was no telling what he might do if sufficiently provoked.  I have to trust him not to harm me or anyone else, thought Picard.  There's absolutely nothing I can do about it, other than asking, very politely, for him to leave.  Picard's discomfort was further exacerbated by the realization that he really did not want Q to leave.  He was feeling uncharacteristically unsure of himself, and Q, surprised as Picard was to admit it, seemed to offer a kind of support and reassurance Picard could not get anywhere else.  No one else on board would have any real understanding of what he had gone though, except, perhaps, Riker, but Riker had not been granted anywhere near the power Picard had wielded.

Picard's feeling of dependence on Q frightened him further.  Q's presence on the ship would be a constant reminder of his own inadequacies.  Normally he felt secure enough in his own abilities and in his faith in human progress to defy Q's derision and misanthropy.  But now he was overwhelmed by the conviction that Q may have been right after all.  Picard jumped up and began to pace; usually, even in emotional distress, he was much more contained, but his feelings about Q were in such conflict that his anxiety needed an outlet.  Suddenly, he stopped pacing, having been brought up short by the realization that Q could have been following this entire internal debate.  Picard recalled that his anxiety had started to rise when Q had described his mind-reading abilities.  That was what he was really worried about.  Any damage Q might cause if he lost his temper Q could as easily repair, but the thought of the total lack of privacy Picard was now subject to horrified him.  At any moment, Q might be reading his mind, probing his thoughts, unearthing his self-doubt, his insecurity, his areas of vulnerability.  Most of the time he could repress undesirable emotions; Picard was an extremely disciplined individual.  But Q would have access to everything he was thinking or feeling, even what he needed to push to the back of his mind.  This thought was initially terrifying to Picard.  He felt the knot of panic in his chest begin to tighten even more.

But part of Picard's self-discipline was the capacity to force himself to deal with whatever he couldn't change.  He remembered that Q did not need to be on the Enterprise to read his mind; therefore, Q had probably already probed him on any number of occasions without him knowing it.  Picard couldn't see any reason to believe that Q had used that knowledge against him.  And Q had promised to try, at least, to respect his privacy.  Picard sighed.  He had the ability to see multiple sides of most issues, and it occurred to him that this particular power of Q's had the potential to be fairly liberating for him.  Even with Beverly, Picard could rarely entirely relax and be himself.  His own natural reserve and his position as Captain necessitated that he keep a certain amount of distance from his crew, even those he felt closest to.  He had to be able to wield his authority, to give orders and expect they would be obeyed, regardless of the feelings of the crew member about those orders or any personal relationship.  Since Q was, by definition, a being he could not begin to control at all, there was no need to maintain the reserve and distance his command required.  And as Q apparently already knew him inside out, he had nothing to lose. Well, he thought to himself, in a mood of resigned determination, since I have no way of getting rid of Q, and I can't do anything about his powers, I might as well make the best of it.

Suddenly a voice in his head startled him.  Very good, Jean-Luc.  You've just learned the first lesson about dealing with me.  Have the grace to accept what you can't do anything about and make the most of what I can offer you.

And there's another lesson, too! snapped Picard in reply.

What's that?

You have absolutely no manners!

I do so!  I just have horrendous manners, retorted Q, but genially.  I really will try to keep out of matters that don't pertain to me, but it's impossible for me not to read your mind when I know you're thinking about me.  That's just inevitable, Jean-Luc.

"Wonderful," muttered Picard, but he couldn't help smiling to himself.  Almost as much as his self-discipline, Picard's sense of humor, although often kept under wraps, was his saving grace.  The absurdity of trying to deal with as powerful and as unpredictable and as alien a being as Q on a daily basis struck his fancy.  It wouldn't be easy, but it was bound to be educational, if nothing else.  Feeling reconciled, for the time being at least, to the presence of his omnipotent  visitor, Picard moved to his terminal in order to inform Starfleet of this development.

* * *

Despite his undeveloped sense of empathy, even Q could figure out that Picard was going to need some time to absorb the events of the day and get back to the business of running his ship and being an ordinary mortal again.  He spent several hours decorating and redecorating his quarters, selecting and rejecting furniture from a variety of time periods, styles, and civilizations.  When he was finally satisfied with the result, he proceeded to the next order of business--creating a suitable wardrobe befitting a visiting dignitary (That'll be the day, he thought to himself) from the Q Continuum.  Q really was anxious to give Picard some evidence of his good intentions, and he decided to stop wearing the Starfleet uniform that irritated the Captain so much.  As far as Q was concerned, he had earned it; after all he had more knowledge and ability than every Starfleet officer put together, but it seemed a minor concession to make.  Q's taste in clothes was like his taste in furniture--not excessively ostentatious or flamboyant, but designed to attract notice.  He dressed in an eye-catching purple and black ensemble, then he had to turn to the serious business of figuring out what he would do with himself when the Enterprise was not engaged in some sort of entertaining adventure and when Picard was not available to amuse him.

Outside of Picard, Q was most intrigued by Data.  The incongruity of the android's clear superiority and his intense desire to be more human was puzzling to Q, and anyway, Data was the only one who could come close to matching a portion of Q's knowledge.  He resolved to cultivate Data as a friend, particularly as he knew Data was less likely than the other crew members to prejudge him or judge him based on his earlier actions.  But meanwhile, he thought he had better not go announcing his presence to Data or anyone else until Picard was ready.

He decided to see if any of the games and challenges in the computer could possibly be any match for him if he didn't use his powers, but limited himself to the human form he had adopted.  Even so, he had created himself in an ideal form, his reflexes were perfect, and his intelligence was awesome.  He slaughtered the computer at the highest level of every game he tried. Bor-ing, thought Q to himself, maybe I'll try some of the fencing and martial arts programs on the holodeck one of these days.

He had cast himself on the bed, in a position of utter boredom and lassitude, when the door chimed.  It was Picard.  "I'm sorry, Q, I didn't mean to keep you a prisoner in here, although I must say I'm really impressed with what you've done with the place."

"Interior decorating is a hobby of mine.  It's good to see you, Captain.  I didn't think you'd want me wandering around the ship, having touching reunions with my old chums, before you had a chance to think of how you were going to inform your crew about your change of heart.  They're bound to be a little puzzled given your previous reluctance to welcome me as a long-term guest."

"No doubt.  I've called a meeting of my senior staff, and I would, of course, like you to be there.  By the way, Q, what happened to the uniform?"

"I got the distinct impression that you never liked me wearing a Starfleet uniform, and I also thought it might smooth my relations with your crew a little if I didn't wear it.  You humans are so touchy about things like uniforms and rank and all such trivia."  Q was just about incapable of making a considerate gesture without relapsing into his usual sarcastic mode.  Taking into account how others felt was pretty new to him, and he didn't want to be accused of going soft.

"Thank-you, Q," said Picard, "that was very considerate of you.  I appreciate your making concessions to our fragile human egos."

Both men smiled; this type of banter was already growing natural to them.  And Picard understood perfectly well that Q prided himself on his incorrigibility, his defiance of authority, and his insistence that he was a law unto himself.  Instead of his usual mode of deriding human inferiority and making grandiose displays of his powers, Q was, instead, going to have publicly to submit to Picard's authority and make an effort to generate goodwill among a group of people who were bound to resent his presence.  Given the image he'd been projecting of himself so far, it was understandable that Q would be embarrassed about making concessions to a species he had previously treated with utter contempt, and it was understandable that he would try to cover that embarrassment with sarcasm.  As far as Picard was concerned, Q could be as sarcastic as he liked as long as he didn't interfere with his running of the ship.

"Your amateur psychologizing is getting a little annoying, Picard," snapped Q, who had been unable to resist reading the Captain's mind, particularly as he knew he was the subject of Picard's ruminations.  "You can't possibly begin to account for my feelings and motivations, so don't try.  And if you could, you be overwhelmed by what you'd find out.  If you're thinking of taking up counseling, I'd suggest you don't quit your day job."

Picard couldn't help smiling.  Q's embarrassment and discomfiture were so utterly plain that they were written all over him.  "Listen, my friend," he said, "I really appreciate what you're trying to do.  I don't exactly understand why you're making this effort to accomodate yourself to us, but it does mean a lot to me."

As they walked out the door, Q announced grandly, "Aprés vous, mon Capitaine," and touched Picard lightly on the arm.  Picard took in his breath sharply, then hastily tried to act as though nothing had happened.  Gotcha, mon Capitaine, thought Q to himself.

Q really was anxious to please Picard, although he was not at all ready to admit how anxious, and he really did want to make as easy as possible for the Captain to handle his advent on the Enterprise.  To that end, he was willing to humble himself, to make proofs of his sincerity, such as shedding the offending Starfleet uniform, but he had no intention of humiliating himself.  He might make concessions to these humans, and he might restrain his behavior, but he wasn't going to let them forget who he was either.  For Q, to be taken for granted was death.  He wanted to able to electrify a room every time he entered, and to do so, he had to convey a certain aura of danger and unpredictability even when behaving like a model citizen.

He definitely hadn't appreciated Picard trying to analyze his behavior though.  Q much preferred to be the one in control, and it perfectly suited him that he should be able to read Picard's mind without being read in return.  Picard's ability to pinpoint his emotional confusion was annoying.  There was nothing Q hated worse than being patronized, even indulgently.  He restored his own equanimity, quickly, however, by reminding himself that even if Picard was getting some insight into his behavior and emotions, his own ability to penetrate every recess of Picard's mind, to unearth every thought and emotion, gave him a distinct advantage.  With a few notable exceptions, including his interlude with Vash, which he hadn't taken dreadfully seriously (until she had decided to leave him--the nerve of that woman), his romantic relationships had been confined to members of his own kind.

Although some members of the Continuum seemed capable of an eternity-long commitment, more often than not, Q relationships tended not to last more than a couple centuries.  Since both beings involved always knew everything that was going on in the others' mind, a telepathic bond that was strengthened by proximity and emotional connection, it was impossible to conceal one's ambivalence about the other, those inevitable moments of revulsion when, despite all one's positive feelings the rest of the time, one looked at the other and and inwardly gasped, My God, what have I done?  The ability of both partners to penetrate the other telepathically was terribly exciting in the initial stages of a relationship, and Q himself used his superior telepathic skills as a  means of seduction, but after a century or two or three, it became harder and harder to gloss over the disillusion and disenchantment, every instance of which was instantly revealed to the other.  Q particularly resented the lack of mental privacy, even though he had very little respect for others' desire for it, and he usually spent his time after the inevitable conclusion of a relationship wandering the galaxy with no fixed goal other than being away from his own kind and keeping his mind to himself.  At least now, he would definitely have the upper hand . . . he hoped.

* * *

As they walked to the observation lounge, Q, as usual, felt impatient, a paradoxical quality in an immortal being, but a large component of Q's character.  He would have just as soon teleported both of them there, since walking seemed like a waste of time, but he had enough understanding to know Picard would want to enter the room on his own power.

"Jean-Luc?" said Q, "I have a small problem of my own that perhaps you can help me with.  I've demolished every game in your computer, and I'm guessing the holodeck isn't going to offer me much more challenge, even if I restrain my powers.  I already know everything about the workings of the Enterprise, and while I have some suggestions, I get the feeling they wouldn't be greeted with universal acclaim just yet.  What I really need is a genuine challenge to occupy me.  Any suggestions?"

Picard didn't know what to make of Q's asking him for advice, but he did get a flash of inspiration.  "Well, I do have an idea . . . but no, that probably wouldn't work."

"Jean-Luc, you'd better say what you're thinking, or I'll just get it out of you my way."

"Good point.  What I was thinking was that if you genuinely do want a challenge, you try to reconcile your differences with Guinan.  Your tenure aboard this ship will be a lot more enjoyable for everyone if you can make friends with her."

"Jeez, Picard, I wanted a challenge, not an unattainable goal."

"Well, my omnipotent friend, if you think you can't do it . . . "

"Oh, I'll win her over; it just might take me a few decades."

"You're immortal, remember?  You could spare a few decades in cultivating what could be a very valuable friendship for you."

"Well, I'll give it a try, Jean-Luc.  Thank-you.  My life has purpose now."

They had reached the observation lounge, but Q paused for a moment.  Jean-Luc, I want you to know that I'm really going to make an effort to get along with your crew and behave myself.  As you've figured out, trying to adapt myself to others doesn't come easy to me.  I'm used to being utterly self-absorbed and getting away with it.  So I'll do my best, but if you don't expect too much you won't be disappointed.

Picard replied in the same fashion, No one expects you to be a saint, least of all me.  But just the fact that you're making the effort to interact with others instead of merely dominating them will make a difference.  I don't expect Worf or Riker to become your best friends right away, but give it time.  Data will react to you with a completely open mind, and Deanna is not one to hold onto grudges if she sees you trying to change.  It's inevitable that they won't trust you at first; you've caused us a lot of pain and grief, and you've repeatedly insulted us as a species and as individuals.  But I  believeyou're sincere in your efforts to reform, and eventually, they will too.

Yes, dad, sighed Q in return, I suppose this is the kind of situation where profuse apologies for prior behavior are in order.  Just don't expect me to enjoy it.

Picard put a hand on Q's shoulder, I know, mon ami.  I'm convinced of your sincerity, although that's probably one the last things I would have imagined myself saying to you.  Ready to face the lions?

Maybe.  And they walked in together.

The senior officers were not only surprised to see Q walk in with Picard, but they were more surprised at how relaxed their Captain was with his erstwhile antagonist.  Picard gestured to a chair, and Q thought it best to sit there rather than reclining on the table or hovering in the air.  He looked grim and felt tense. How could I possibly be so transfixed by a human, of all things, to degrade myself like this? thought Q, I hope Q isn't watching me now--I'd never hear the end of it.  At this reminder that he could be under the observation of his fellow Qs, Q erected a type of telepathic zone of privacy around himself; the Continuum would not observe or communicate with him except in an emergency or unless he was really drawing attention to himself with large-scale misbehavior.  He glanced skyward momentarily, Bye, guys.  I'm on my own.  He then crossed one leg over another, leaned back in his chair, lightly pressed his fingertips together, tent-fashion, and waited.

Picard spoke, "I've called this meeting to inform you that Q will be remaining on board the Enterprise for an extended visit.  I have informed Starfleet that I consider this an opportunity for the exchange of knowledge and understanding, and after I explained the circumstances, they agree.  I understand that our prior experiences with Q have not been conducive to the development of harmonious relations, but I believe Q to be sincere in his desire to get to know us, without causing us trouble or interfering with the running of the ship . . ."

"On what basis, Captain?" snapped Riker as Worf simultaneously opined, "I don't believe anything he says."

Q shot the Klingon a look of pure menace that froze Worf momentarily and left him furious with himself for feeling fear, but Q did not speak or otherwise move.  Self-control, that's the ticket, self-control, he thought to himself.  Q also noted that, Picard did not reveal the least bit of concern that Q might vaporize Worf; a quick check revealed that Picard really didn't feel concern either.  Jean-Luc's got more confidence in me than I have in myself; that's a new one, thought Q, best try to justify it.

"I am not willing to explain the circumstances, but Q got me out of an extremely dangerous situation when I was absent from the ship during the conflict with the Cardassians.  He acted out of concern for the well-being of others as well as myself, and he proved himself a true friend to me.  We might be at war right now if it weren't for his actions.  And I might add, that this is not the first occasion that Q has acted in our best interest.  You may not like his methods or his demeanor, but we, and I in particular, owe him a debt of gratitude.  In addition, Q has secured a promise from the Continuum that they will cease to put us on trial; they will no longer interfere with us or set up tests for us to pass.  They will continue to observe us closely, through Q, and I'm afraid they have good reason to do so, but they will keep hands off.  Q has been our advocate in this regard, and this isn't the first time he has interceded between us and them.  He has given me his word that he will respect the chain of command on this ship and will not interfere with our missions or operations unless we're in a life-threatening situation that has escalated out of our control.  In that case, I would venture to observe we ought to be grateful for his interference."

Crusher looked surprised, Troi was trying to discern whether Picard had been brainwashed or not (she concluded he hadn't), Worf was muttering to himself, and Riker and La Forge looked unconvinced, but Data remarked, "Q, I observed that you are no longer wearing a Starfleet uniform.  I take that to be an emblem of your intention to redefine your relationship with us."

"Quite right, Commander.  That is my intention."  Q stood up, and looked around at a conference table full of suspicious faces.  "Thank-you, Jean-Luc, for your kind words in attesting to my character.  Look, I know you have good reason not to trust me, and you have good reason for anger at my actions in the past.  I'm sorry.  Believe me, apologizing is not a skill that comes naturally to me, but I am indeed sorry.  I realize I'm acting in what seems to you to be a completely uncharacteristic fashion.  I'll confess that I don't entirely believe it myself sometimes.  But I am completely sincere in the promises I made to the Captain to be on my best behavior.  I don't know if I'm capable of being a completely model citizen, but I'm going to try.  In addition to my commission to observe you from the Continuum, I have my own personal interest in human behavior.  You were right a long time ago, Riker; we are fascinated and intrigued by you.  You have qualities that are undeveloped in us or that we have dissipated, and you've provoked our curiosity.  The Continuum does take it upon themselves to oversee the development and evolution of what we see as 'inferior' species; I realize that this sounds imperialistic and patronizing to you, but we do maintain a kind of balance and order in the universe in ways that I couldn't begin to explain.  Besides which, I have developed a fondness for this ship and crew, and this is where I really want to be.  I've realized that the only way I'm going to begin to understand humans is to get to know them as individuals."  To himself he mused, Not bad, if I say so myself, and not entirely untrue.  It would hardly be politic to announce that the sole reason I'm here is to pursue their noble Captain.

Riker broke in, interrupting his musings, "I'm sure that's all very well and good for you, Q--you'll get to satisfy your curiosity about us.  But what do we get out of it?"

Q turned, gazing at Riker as if he were examining an annoying insect.  Slowly and emphatically, he replied, "I do windows."

At this Picard had to fight to repress a grin.

Q continued, "You, if anyone, Commander Riker, ought to be able to figure out the benefits I can offer you."  Q tapped his head, "Just try thinking for a change instead of reacting.  But since I have to spell it out for the intellectually challenged among us, I will.  In the case of certain species you will encounter, forewarned will be forearmed.  In other cases, you will encounter beings that are so utterly different in composition from you that you will not be able to find any way to communicate with them.  I can help you there.  There are natural phenomena, spatial and temporal anomalies, quantum distortions in the fabric of the universe, and so on that will utterly overwhelm your instruments.  I can help you there too.  There are beings out there more powerful in certain respects than we are.  I'm willing to share with you my knowledge and my powers when you have need of them.  You have to realize, as well, that having me here renders your ship virtually indestructible; I can't protect you against everything that's out there, but I can protect you from most of it.  And I might add, you're just going to have to trust me and take me at my word, because you can't get rid of me."  He folded his arms and smiled.

Troi was the first to speak.  "To the extent that I can read him at all, I read him as sincere."

"I appreciate your confidence in me, Counselor," replied Q.  "I am being sincere, but in all honesty, I need to tell you that you should never rely on your empathic abilities with a Q.  I'm perfectly capable of making you believe that I'm feeling whatever I want you to believe that I'm feeling.  And there are a good many species out there, less powerful than us, but with the ability to block out empathic receiving or to project false emotions in a way that would deceive the most powerful Betazoid.  That's just one example of what awaits you as you explore further into the galaxy.  And by the way, Counselor, I can teach you how to screen out your mother if you like."

Troi was not entirely surprised; she had been thinking, as Q spoke, about how convenient it would be to be able to escape her mother's scrutiny on occasion.  "Well, Q," she laughed, "I may have to take you up on that!"

Data spoke up.  "Having Q as an ally could potentially be very beneficial to us.  And as he says, we have no way of physically removing him from the ship.  I believe that I could certainly learn a good deal from having him here.  There is so much that we do not know.  The knowledge he offers and the interaction between his species and ours are precisely compatible with our mission.  This is an excellent opportunity, and I would like to accept Q's offer to get to know him better."

Two down, thought Q, then turned to Data, "Thank you, my professor of the humanities.  Not only did you save my life several years ago, but you have shown an open mind.  I anticipated that you and the Counselor would be the most willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.  As to the rest of you, you're just going to have to put me to the proof of what I've promised.  You don't have a choice."

Riker turned to the Captain, "We still don't know what happened to you during our confrontation with the Cardassians.  Perhaps our confidence in our guest would be enhanced if we understood the circumstances you were referring to earlier."

"Undoubtedly, that is the case, Number One," replied Picard, "but I have reasons for keeping those to myself."  Picard glanced briefly at Q and spoke mentally, Q, I need to talk to you in private after this.

I'm yours to command, mon Capitaine.  A quick smile flitted over both their faces.  Troi was observing both closely.  She had sensed that some type of communication had taken place between Q and the Captain and that there was a trust and harmony between them she had never sensed before, but the content of the exchange was hidden from her.

"I have a question," noted La Forge, "Q, did you have anything to do with disabling our weapons systems?"

"Indeed.  Yours and all the others.  The Cardassians were about to violate their own deadline by several minutes, so it seemed prudent to me to allow both sides the opportunity to cool off.  I'm sorry to have created so much extra work for you, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  If you like, I can expedite your repairs."

"I appreciate the offer," said La Forge softly, "but my staff is learning a lot in the process of putting everything back together.  They could use the experience.  If we need to get out of here in a hurry, though, I'll certainly ask for your help."

Q nodded in acknowledgment, but Riker was still fuming.  "How do we know you didn't start the confrontation in the first place?  If you're looking for gratitude you're not going to get it."

Picard was about to speak, but Q gave him a glance indicating that he could handle this.  Q spoke, "Well, you can't know, can you?  If you can't bring yourself to trust me, there's no way you can ever know anything about me with any certainty.  That's just something you'll have to get used to.  And believe me, I'm not interested in your gratitude, Commander.  If it was just your life I had to worry about, I probably would have let the Cardassians fire away."

Picard spoke again.  "Well, I am grateful for Q's intervention, and the rest of you should be as well.  Q is now our guest.  While I hope you will all eventually afford yourselves of the opportunity to broaden your horizons, I leave that up to you.  I expect that you will treat him with cordiality and otherwise go about your business as you normally would.  Dismissed."

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