Picard had received orders from Starfleet that, as soon as the repairs were completed at Starbase 329 (a process which would take a couple of weeks), the Enterprise was to pick up two senior Federation ambassadors and a team of negotiators and take them to a spot near the Cardassian border where the ship would serve as host for a new round of peace talks. Although Q had prevented the battlefield holocaust Picard had been about to initiate, he had been too occupied with Picard to erase the memories of all involved. Now Picard's actions in the prison camps were having longer-term repercussions. Although both sides did not have any real desire to engage in a full-scale war, the recent events had escalated their suspicions of each other, and the Cardassians were still insisting that Starfleet had to be involved in the release of the prisoners. No one but Q and Guinan knew of Picard's involvement. In the meanwhile, both sides were preoccupied with repairs to the weapons systems of their ships.
While Worf reported to Picard about the security arrangements for the visiting dignitaries on both sides and the potential for terrorist activity on the part of either the Cardassians or Bajoran operatives looking for an opportunity to revenge themselves on their erstwhile oppressors, or for that matter, the Maquis trying to derail the negotiations, Picard was distracted. He forced himself to pay attention, made a few suggestions, then retreated to his ready room, his mind in turmoil.
Instantly Q appeared and perched on the edge of Picard's desk with a concerned look on his face. "What's the matter, Jean-Luc?"
"Q, do you see what I've done? If we're not extraordinarily careful, this may lead to war after all, and I'm responsible. I've violated any number of Starfleet regulations, and I would have completely overturned the Prime Directive if you hadn't prevented me. I don't see how I can keep functioning in command. I think I should turn myself in . . . for a court-martial."
Q was livid; it was all he could to restrain himself from hurling Picard's nearby edition of Shakespeare across the room, if not out into space altogether. "Jean-Luc, that is the most ridiculous and absurd thing I have ever heard! Can't you ever drag your restricted little mind out of its military mindset? You have a lot more important things to deal with than upholding the sanctity of the Starfleet chain of command. And if you think I'm going to let you destroy yourself, you're sorely mistaken. Picard, you are so god damned infuriating--if I hadn't promised not to hurt you, I would be shaking you until your teeth rattled in the hopes of jolting some sense into you!"
"Damn it, Q! I violated a peace treaty, and I may end up having started a war! Does that mean anything to you? I can't just keep this to myself and not take responsibility for my actions."
Q's eyes glared, and he ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, finally placing his face immediately in front of the Captain's. "My actions! It never ceases to amaze me what absolute depths of imbecility you are capable of, Picard." Q's voice then switched into an exaggerated version of the inflection and tone of a kindergarten teacher. "Now, take a deep breath, and listen to Q, and he will try to explain this in terms you can understand." He continued in his normal voice, "When you had the powers of the Q, Jean-Luc, you were, to all intents and purposes not yourself. Dr. Crusher, for instance, with her feeble instruments, would not have been able to register you as a human being. Counselor Troi would not have been able to sense your emotions. You had the basic elements of your personality intact, just as I did when I had my powers removed, but you were not the Captain of the Enterprise; you were, to all intents and purposes, a Q. We are so far superior in our knowledge and ability that we transcend your human laws and regulations; it would be ridiculous for us to be subject to them. When you had our powers, you were operating in an entirely different dimension; it's absurd to say you should have been accountable to Starfleet rules. Your situation was so far beyond what those rules were designed to cover, that they simply don't apply. You were a god, Jean-Luc Picard, if a pretty damned lousy one," Q noted in that tone of affectionate bemusement that always perplexed Picard, "and you want to subject the actions you took to a Starfleet military tribunal? Uh-uh." Q switched back into kindergarten teacher mode, "Now, let's see if we can find a more constructive way of dealing with this problem. Can you say 'constructive'?"
Picard was speechless with anger but slammed his hand into the desk, gasped, and began shaking it in a fury while Q mercilessly laughed at him. "You're so beautiful when you're angry," he said in a seductive tone, then added, "Jean-Luc, sometimes you're so hopeless I honestly don't know what I see in you. What happened during your stint as god for a day is history, at least in the limited sense in which you understand it. Ancient history. Now my humble opinion is that the most constructive way you could deal with the consequences of your godlike misbehavior would be to direct your attention to the future. You have a serious diplomatic mission ahead of you, and I'd suggest you get your act together, get a grip on yourself, and make sure you don't screw it up." Unable to resist the impulse to torment Picard further, Q continued in his most infuriatingly patronizing tone, "Come on, Johnny, make me proud of you. Give me something to write home about. I'm sure the Continuum will want to hear all about it."
Picard sat silently looking at Q for a long time. He began shaking his head slowly with his forehead furrowed in a frown, but after a while, a tremendous smile broke out on his face. "Q, you are an absolute bloody bastard. It's a damn good thing you're right . . ."
"Aren't I though?" interrupted Q with a smile.
"But you're still a bastard. At any rate, I will try to put my misguided attempts at godlike intervention behind me and focus on these negotiations."
"Jean-Luc, I'm probably not supposed to tell you this, but the original skirmishes on the border were caused by the Continuum. They wanted to give you a serious situation and see how you would react to it. And the rest is history, as they say. But you should realize that this entire situation was artificially produced in the first place, so you really aren't responsible for your actions. Unfortunately the Continuum's meddling has created an actual diplomatic crisis that you have deal with, but it isn't your fault." Q paused for a moment, got up and paced, then returned, perching on the edge of Picard's desk. His demeanor grew even more serious.
"There's something else, Jean-Luc. And it looks like I owe you at least a partial apology for losing my temper with you. Guinan has theorized that if another member of the Continuum had made the offer to you, you would have refused. But from me, it was like a challenge you couldn't pass up."
"I would say that's an accurate assessment," mused Picard.
"In that case," continued Q, "then I'm a good deal more responsible for what happened than I thought. It simply didn't occur to me to turn you over to one of my colleagues. I figured I was responsible for you. But if I had been less territorial, none of this would have happened. You're still a damned fool for accepting the offer, even from me, but I certainly share some of the blame for not anticipating that. I shouldn't have blown up at you to the extent that I did, but as you've probably noticed, my temper tends to get the better of me. I'm sorry."
Picard smiled, "Apology accepted. It sounds like we both reacted predictably; it just goes to show that neither one of us is perfect . . . "
"Even if we usually convince ourselves we are," Q finished for him. "Now I believe you have some work to do, Captain."
"Q, thank you again and again and again. I . . . ah . . . I'm a little unsure of myself these days, and I'm really grateful to have you around. Even if you are a bastard, you're a tremendous help to me."
"That's me--service with a smile. Later, Captain. If you need me, I'm at your beck and call." There was the usual flash, and Q was gone.
* * *
As it turned out, Picard did not have too difficult a time placating the Cardassians when the peace talks finally took place. He appealed strongly to their self-interest, urging the benefits of remaining at peace with the Federation. He convinced the Federation ambassadors to sign any number of guarantees that the Federation would not interfere with Cardassian internal affairs. Q had already made a point of reversing Picard's godlike attempts at brainwashing, so the prison officials and guards were back to normal, with the exception of having no prisoners to guard, although they would undoubtedly have some in the near future. Q's actions in disabling both fleets' weapons systems helped persuade the Cardassians that there were larger forces involved. Picard hinted that the Q Continuum had a hand in provoking the original border skirmish, and the Cardassians were so incensed at this interference by another species, that it dissipated some of their hostility toward the Federation. If it was the case that the Continuum was involved, the Cardassian negotiators speculated among themselves, then it was entirely possible that they would interfere in any future battles as well. The Cardassian military certainly didn't want to spend the next several years devoting all their resources to repeatedly repairing the monumental damage Q had inflicted to their ships.
Much to Picard's relief, a stronger peace treaty, with more specific provisions for dealing with perceived violations, was signed and ratified by the respective governments. He could finally put this whole episode behind him and move on. It continued to haunt him for days and weeks, however, leaving him feeling uncharacteristically unsure of himself. Somehow, whenever he felt hesitant or shaky, that now-familiar voice would turn up inside his head, offering him reassurance and strength. Q seemed to know exactly how to handle Picard; having used his powers to put Picard's mind back together, he had an understanding of the Captain that was, of course, light-years beyond that of any human intimacy. On certain occasions, Q simply teased Picard out of his feelings of weakness; on other occasions, he would offer firm but gentle encouragement. Gradually, Picard began to feel more and more himself, and he began to enjoy Q's company more for its own sake and less for the psychological boosts the entity amply provided.
Q, of course, was not simply operating out of compassion, lest this behavior on his part seem too out of character. He determined to shower Picard with benefits on the one hand, while making periodic reminders of his powers and superiority on the other; he wanted to make himself utterly indispensable to the object of his affections, but at the same time, he didn't want Picard to take him for granted. Q was determined to retain the upper hand, not having learned from his experience with Vash that most humans are not comfortable in relationships where the power is entirely on one side. Q's only experience in relationships where both partners are equally matched was with his own kind, and he could only imagine two kinds of relationships: an equal one that involved an utter loss of privacy or one of absolute dominance on one side, preferably his. Romance was either a contest or a conquest; as yet, he could not conceive of some sort of middle ground.
He knew that Picard was preoccupied with Beverly Crusher. He knew as well that Picard's feelings for him were deepening and strengthening daily, but it hadn't entered Picard's mind to think of Q as a potential romantic partner and most likely never would--friend, mentor, protector, yes; his foil in a battle of wits and wills, yes; lover, hardly. Q had been unable to keep his resolution of respecting Picard's privacy. He inserted himself into the Captain's dreams, testing Picard's unconscious reactions to a kiss or a touch on the arm or neck, then eradicating all the details of the dream before his subject woke up. There was definitely something there, some reaction, some response, however undefined. Picard would wake up, troubled, aware that he had been dreaming about his omnipotent companion, but unable to remember anything more specific. Picard actually found himself musing about Q quite often. What the entity somehow completely failed to realize was that with every telepathic contact he initiated with Picard, whether the Captain was conscious of it or not, Picard was, without understanding how, becoming more and more aware of Q's presence in his mind.
* * *
In the meanwhile, repairs to the weapons systems were proceeding at Starbase 329, and most the crew were getting rotating shore leave on Rydal IV, the planet below, as it was only the engineering staff who were busy. On board the Enterprise, when Q was not engaged in his frustrating pursuit of Picard, he found Data and Guinan to be his most diverting companions. Data, like Q, did not require sleep, and he was quite happy to share his free time with a being as knowledgeable and complex as Q. One evening, he dropped in on Data in his quarters, while the android was playing with his pet cat, Spot. The cat and the entity were instantly intrigued by one another. Q had absolutely no experience of pet ownership, and he was both confused and unsettled by this small creature that roamed imperiously around Data's quarters. Spot, with the usual perversity of cats in the presence of people who are uncomfortable around them, headed straight for Q and began rubbing her head against his hand, as he sat rigidly on the couch.
Data noted, "I am surprised. Spot is not usually that friendly."
"She's not being friendly," replied Q. "She knows I'm not comfortable around her, and she's deliberately exacerbating that feeling. Why do you do that, Beast?" It was not a rhetorical question. After a moment, Q continued, "She says that cats seek out people who don't like them on purpose; they enjoy the feeling of power they get from making someone nervous. I'm actually beginning to like this animal!"
"Can you communicate with her?" queried Data, with surprise.
"Of course; she's as sentient as the rest of you; she just has a much more narrow range of concerns." Q turned his attention back to Spot, who had stopped nuzzling, and was sitting directly in front of Q, looking at him warily. "Nobody ever really listened to you before, did they, Beast? Tell me more." After another pause, Q translated, "She doesn't have much use for people; she thinks they think much too highly of themselves. As far as she's concerned, they're slow and uncoordinated, and they don't spend enough time thinking about cats' comfort. She resents the fact that humans regard cats as property, when it is cats who are gracious enough to allow people to pay cats the homage they deserve. She likes you well enough--apparently she feels you treat her with the proper respect due one of her exalted station. But she's somewhat incensed that you don't spend more time with her; she can't imagine that you have anything more important to do. This animal is remarkably egotistical and self-centered, Data--are they all like that?" Q turned back to Spot, saying, "You're OK, Beast. I think you and I are going to get along just fine."
Data replied to Q's question by noting, "I believe that cats are valued for their independence and self-sufficiency. I have observed that humans tend to have a preference for either cats or dogs, perceiving them to have entirely different qualities."
"Interesting," mused Q. "I don't understand this whole pet ownership business anyway. Can you explain it?" Suddenly he looked back at the cat, "Yes, Beastie, I know he doesn't own you; you own him. Now will you please let us talk?" Spot indicated her assent by jumping into Q's lap, curling up, and falling asleep. "Now, of course," noted Q, "she expects me to stay here until she sees fit to wake up. Data, what do you get out of sharing your quarters with this small tyrant?"
Data responded, "I do not know if I can quantify it exactly. I find Spot to be a very relaxing companion. She is demanding in certain respects, but she has no expectations about my behavior. I find when interacting with humans I am frequently conscious of how my actions are perceived, or if I am doing the right thing. My friends treat me as if I am human like them, but I can never forget that I am different. With Spot, those issues do not arise. We simply enjoy each other's company."
Q was absentmindedly stroking the cat. When he realized what he was doing, he remarked, surprised, "Well, it is relaxing. I suspect I have the same proprietary attitude toward certain humans that Spot resents in humans having toward her. I used to, or maybe I still do, expect humans to perform for my amusement. I expected them to be grateful for my exalted attention, even as I accorded them no respect."
"Well," commented the android, "it sounds as though you have begun to understand humans' reactions to your treatment of them, just as you have showed me how Spot perceived me. I certainly did not realize that she had the degree of sentience you described. No wonder I have been so unsuccessful in attempting to train her."
"I know just how you feel," replied Q wryly. "I have to tell you, Data, talking to you is most enlightening. If you don't mind an abrupt change of subject, can you tell me why you risked your life to save mine when I was without my powers?"
"I cannot tell you exactly. My programming includes injunctions to preserve life. If you had been threatening a member of the crew, I would have done the opposite. But I did not perceive you as an enemy. You were defenseless, and I am programmed to protect."
"Can you separate your programming from what you think of as your identity? Or is your programming your identity?"
"That is a difficult question. When my brother Lore disabled my ethical programming, I lost the capacity to distinguish between good and evil. I felt anger, and I felt pleasure at killing. It was very disorienting to realize my behavior could be so easily modified by someone with evil intentions. My goal would be to transcend the limitations of my programming to the extent that I could prevent that from happening again."
"In that respect you're very human, Data. Isn't that what humans are trying to do? To transcend their genetic and biological programming? And I can tell from recent experiences that humans similarly can act in a completely uncharacteristic fashion given extreme enough circumstances. You shouldn't feel responsible for what happened to you."
"Thank you for telling me that. I do not exactly feel responsible, but I would like to use that experience to protect myself, and others, from a similar circumstance. If you do not mind, I would like to ask you why you gave us such a difficult time in our early encounters. I perceived that you seemed to derive enjoyment from the fear and anxiety the crew experienced."
Q nodded, "Not enjoyment exactly, but stimulation. Let me give you a bit of history, although I'll have to oversimplify, as I'm covering eons here. Early in our development, before we called ourselves the Q Continuum, we were more driven, more ambitious, more like humans. My species was motivated by an intense desire for evolution and progress--we were eager to transcend the limitations posed by space and time, and over time, we did. We became nearly omnipotent. This all occurred before I became conscious. As the Q became more powerful, on the whole, they lost most of that ambition and drive. We took it upon ourselves to oversee the development of more primitive species, but that has become what you might call an administrative function. We research other species and occasionally take steps to guide their development in directions we think are appropriate, but on the whole, the Q don't do a whole lot. When you can have whatever you want whenever you want it, effortlessly, there certainly isn't much to aspire toward. Most of us are pretty content and set in our ways; some take a genuine interest in the details of maintaining a certain type of order in the galaxy. Mostly we travel and study other species, report back to the Continuum, and have endless meetings about whether a particular species warrants more involved research than mere observation or needs some kind of action taken to nudge them in the right directions.
Well, as I said, most of my fellow Q are fairly content. I've always been an anomaly--I've always had an excess of what you might call mental energy. You couldn't call it ambition or aspiration, because there's nothing I can aspire to that I can't get the moment it occurs to me to want it. But I've always had a kind of restlessness that didn't permit me to fit into the routines of the Continuum. I still don't understand this entirely, but I think I mostly harrassed less-powerful species for lack of anything better to do. I didn't have enough of a sense of empathy to see them as anything but toys for my amusement, just as a child might collect insects. Of course, in the process I was giving the Continuum a bad name throughout the galaxy, and I think that was part of my motivation too. I found the complacency of my fellow Q really irritating, and I was trying to rebel in some fashion, only I've never found a really constructive way to do so. When humans came to our attention, it was the opinion of one of my colleagues that I be assigned them as a research project. The idea was that my own restlessness might give me a better handle on humans' drive to explore, but I think the real reason was just to give me something to do, and even more specifically, it was a form of punishment for my misdeeds. My first two encounters with you were set up in such a way that I was guaranteed to fail. I was too arrogant to acknowledge that humans had any competence whatsoever, and I think the Continuum wanted an excuse to discipline me. They've been concerned about human development all along; what they didn't realize is that I would become as interested in humans as I did. They certainly have their liabilities, but they're a good deal more diverting than my fellow Q are. So here I am. Frankly I feel more at home on the Enterprise than I ever did in the Continuum."
"That cannot be from the welcome that has been accorded you," remarked Data bluntly but accurately. "Forgive me for asking, as I believe this would be construed as a very personal question, but is not the interest in humans that you describe directed at one human in particular, rather than the species as a whole?"
Q laughed, "Mr. Data, I must commend you on your powers of observation. But if I were to start talking to you about my fascination with your Captain, you'd miss your next shift on the bridge, which I believe is coming up shortly. Let's save it for another time. Good evening, Data."
"Good evening, Q. This conversation has been very informative."
* * *
Data was not the only crew member who was finding Q to be an intriguing and informative companion. Deanna Troi decided to take Q up on his offer to help her better control her empathic abilities, and she cornered him the following evening in Ten-Forward, while he was talking to Guinan. "You're so popular these days," remarked Guinan, and Q raised his eyebrows as he turned to follow Deanna to a table.
"What's that you're drinking?" he asked.
"Valerian root tea."
"Ugh." Q gestured toward Guinan. "I might as well be sociable and join the Counselor in a drink."
"And what will that be?"
"Anything but that," he said, gesturing toward Deanna's tea; "surprise me."
Guinan smiled and returned to the bar to make Q's drink.
Q turned to Troi and said, "If I'm going to work with you on your empathic capacities, you're going to have to surrender a good bit of privacy. I have to probe your mind so I know just what you're capable of and what needs work. I'll try to avoid any secrets though, and if I stumble on any, I'll keep them to myself."
"I understand," noted Deanna, as Guinan returned with Q's drink.
"That's quite a color, Guinan--what do you call that?"
"It's a Eustacian berry daquiri. Enjoy."
Guinan returned to the bar, while Q explained, "This whole eating and drinking thing is new to me. I had to give myself taste buds to see the point of it at all, and I do rather enjoy it occasionally."
"And you don't have to worry about your weight."
"True. Another advantage of omnipotence that hadn't occurred to me."
Q sipped his drink absentmindedly while probing Troi's mind. After a few moments he remarked, "That experience you had in the nacelle tube must have been frightening."
"You're telling me," replied the Counselor. "I almost jumped into the plasma stream the way Lieutenant Kwan did. The whole experience was overwhelming--it felt so real, but it was only going on inside my mind."
"Well, in a certain respect, it was real, but that's another matter. It told you something about your feelings about your Klingon friend, didn't it? But what we need to work on here is strengthening your ability to block and channel what you receive empathically. Your problem is that you don't merely sense others' emotions, but you frequently allow yourself to experience them as well. You're just asking to be overwhelmed. You're leaving yourself far too open. Any being with half-decent telepathic ability could easily convince you to kill yourself or someone else; they could simply flood you with their desires and emotions. The blocks you do have just aren't good enough."
Deanna nodded seriously. What Q was saying was true enough. And she knew she had no way of preventing an even moderately powerful telepath from reading her mind. At the same time, she didn't particularly enjoy being reminded of her vulnerability. "There are drugs which help . . . "
"Uh-uh," Q interrupted brusquely. "The drugs your friend Beverly has strengthen your defenses a bit but only at the price of losing some of your capacity. Look, I know you're a counselor--it's important to you professionally to be able to empathize with others. But humans have that capacity without being empathic. What you want to be able to do is use your ability to sense emotions (and more perhaps eventually), while keeping them separate from yourself. You have to read them without feeling them yourself. You want to be able to erect defenses without compromising your ability to read what others are feeling. You need to construct a mental image of a barrier that you can see through or over, but that protects your mind from being invaded. You have to make that image real, and every day you need to work on strengthening that barrier." Q closed his eyes for a moment. "Let's try this. I just sampled your mother's mind-reading capacity. . . "
"You did what?"
"I just briefly probed your mother's mind to sense how powerful her mind-reading abilities are. She's fine, by the way. Now pay attention. I'm your mother . . ."
Deanna smiled, then apologized, "Okay, I'm paying attention."
"Good. It's about time. I'm your mother, and I'm trying to find out any number of sordid details about your love life, whether actual or potential, and I'm bound to tease you about them at the next family gathering, if not try to make you change your mind altogether. I suspect your mother would be even less impressed your current romantic interest than I am. So I'm Lwaxana, and I'm trying to get all the information I can, and your job is to keep me out. You need to visualize some kind of barrier that you can maintain. Since we're just starting, I'm telling you ahead of time. Ready?"
Deanna nodded. Amazingly, insistently, she felt her mother's powerful mind intruding upon her own. Q was sitting across from her, but in his mental projection, he was her mother. Deanna forced herself to concentrate. She envisioned a two-way mirror, whereby she could observe the other person, who would only be able to see his or her own reflection. She felt her mother's mind trying to see through the mirror, and she continued to project her mother's image back, keeping her own mind free from invasion. This worked for a few moments. She sensed her mother trying to dart around the mirror, to catch her by surprise behind it, and she forced herself to make the mirror wider, longer, and taller. Deanna had completely forgotten she was in Ten-Forward, her concentration was so intense. Suddenly, with a sound of shattering glass echoing through her mind, she felt her mother break right through the mirror and begin raiding her private thoughts. "Damn!"
"Not bad, actually," remarked Q, breaking the telepathic connection he had made. "This is going to take some work, but at least we have a foundation to build upon. I liked the mirror thing, but you should experiment with some others too."
Deanna was a little shaken. "How did you do that? I mean . . . "
"What? Oh, your mother. I can do just about anything. That was easy." Deanna blinked. For an instant she saw Lwaxana sitting across from her in Q's place. Then he changed back to familiar form. "I can mimic anyone. I can probe another person so thoroughly that I can replicate that person down to the smallest detail of both appearance and behavior. During our little test, I didn't see any point in taking on your mother's appearance, so I simply mimicked her mind-reading abilities and the way she would react if you tried to keep her out. You know, if you do get better at this, she won't take it kindly."
"I know," laughed Deanna, "but I would like the privacy."
At that moment Worf entered Ten-Forward. He was not pleased to see Q and Deanna at a table together. "Deanna!" he exclaimed as he strode up to the table, "You should be careful. He's not to be trusted." Then he glared at Q, adding, "If you do one thing to harm her . . ."
Q sighed, shaking his head, "If I had it in mind to harm her, there's not a single thing you could do to stop me. I could turn you into a bowl of Klingon gagh with a thought. You're wasting your breath making threats you can't fulfill."
"Worf!" snapped Deanna, half-annoyed and half-flattered at his protectiveness, "I believe I can spend my free time talking to whomever I choose. If you're worried, I have no romantic interest in Q. He's helping me improve my empathic skills, and you should be grateful. Don't you remember? I almost killed myself when I was investigating Lieutenant Kwan's suicide, just as he did. If Q can help me be less susceptible to being overwhelmed by empathic experiences like that, I'll be a lot better off."
Worf's demeanor softened, and he said gently, "I'm sorry Deanna. I just don't trust him, but you are of course entitled to make up your own mind."
Q was about to make some sarcastic rejoinder to Worf, when Picard walked in. Instantly he forgot about his tablemates. Picard was far more interesting than Worf and Troi combined.
"Hello Q, Lieutenant, Counselor," Picard greeted the three in turn. "Having a little party?"
"Not exactly," growled Worf. Just then Worf received a summons from Riker to the bridge and departed reluctantly, glancing back at Deanna.
"I'll see you later," she smiled.
Q, meanwhile, had invited Picard to join them. As the Captain sat down, he asked, "Q, are you giving Worf a hard time again?"
"Moi? I was giving our fair Counselor a lesson in focusing her empathic abilities, when the Lieutenant came charging up, once again opining that he doesn't trust me. I believe I've been exercising remarkable restraint at these provocations."
Deanna remarked, "Well, for my sake, try not to vaporize him, all right?"
"I'll do my best," replied
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