After showering and changing, Picard stepped squarely back into a businesslike demeanor. He consulted with La Forge about the ongoing repairs to the weapons systems, made some suggestions to Worf about security for the upcoming negotiations with the Cardassians, and otherwise made his presence felt on board the ship. The Enterprise would be ready to depart Rydal in a few days, and it was time to shake off the lethargy the long layover had caused in most of the crew.
As Picard was finishing up his log entry at the end of the day, a message popped up on his computer terminal. It read, "Jean-Luc, would you care to join me for a drink in Ten-Forward at 2100 hours? Beverly." He smiled; she had left him about 20 minutes to finish his work and freshen up, and he was quite happy to get out of the confines of his ready room. He wondered momentarily what Q was doing with himself, but he figured Q was an adult (or some approximation thereof) and didn't need to be amused every minute.
Joining the doctor in Ten-Forward, Picard ordered drinks, and asked, "And was your meeting with Dr. Reynolds informative?"
"Yes, his research is quite fascinating. And I was very impressed with the facilities at the university. Medical students certainly have it much easier these days. But what I'm curious about is your hiking trip. How did it go?"
"Very well. Q is a very diverting companion. I keep surprising myself at how relaxed I can feel with him."
"Do you trust him, Jean-Luc?"
"Yes, actually, I do. Although these are the last words I would have ever imagined myself using to describe him, he's being really quite considerate and thoughtful. When I awoke this morning, he had a mug of tea waiting for me. Granted, doing me favors is effortless for him, but he seems genuinely concerned about my comfort and welfare. I do have to warn you, though, if we're talking about him, he's probably eavesdropping, and if I say too many nice things about him, he's bound to cause some sort of trouble later, just so he can't be accused of getting soft."
"I'm having a hard time imagining the two of you chatting together. What do you talk about?" asked Beverly as she sipped her drink.
"Well, much of it is comparing perspectives. I guess I almost feel sorry for him. Since he has seen so much, and since he can pretty much create anything he wants, he doesn't have the capacity to be moved or awed by anything in nature. I told him I don't envy his condition."
Beverly nodded. "Deanna's finding him easy to get along with too. I don't know, Jean-Luc. I can't quite bring myself to trust him. He's caused us so much suffering."
"True. I don't believe he ever meant to harm us, though. Get a reaction, yes. Try to force us to acknowledge his superiority, yes. Teach us a lesson of his own devising, yes. But I don't think he really intended harm. He's also had to act as the representative of the Continuum. As we have seen with Q, they can be quite coercive when one of their own doesn't acquit himself according to their dictates. And, if you recall, they were prepared to assassinate Amanda if she didn't meet their standard. I suspect many of Q's attitudes arise from the fact that he is as much a product of his environment as we are. He is changing though. As I said during the conference, he has made himself the mediator between the Continuum and us, and he has taken our side against them on more than one occasion."
"What happened, Jean-Luc, during the border confrontation with the Cardassians?"
Picard put his head in his hands. "I'm sorry, Beverly, I don't know if I'm ready to talk to you about it. I did something very foolish, I let my pride get the better of me and then I . . . well, I think I wasn't myself. I can't . . ." Beverly put her hand on Picard's, and he clasped it tightly. Picard continued, "but Q has earned my lifelong gratitude. I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for him."
"Well, in that case, I have reason to be grateful to him as well."
The Captain and the doctor smiled at each other, their hands clasped. Beverly was extremely uneasy at Picard's reluctance to confide in her, and she was additionally uneasy at Q's obvious attraction to Picard. But as to the first cause of her uneasiness, she knew she had to trust Jean-Luc to know what was best for himself, and as to the second, she had no intention of being the person to enlighten him.
Q, meanwhile, was lying on the saucer section, chin in hands, eavesdropping, as Picard had suspected, on the Captain's conversation. He decided to keep his reactions to himself, however. When Picard and Crusher clasped hands, Q felt a surge of jealousy lurch through him. He tried to distract himself by wondering what would have happened if he had, as he once told Picard he should have, appeared as a woman. He wouldn't have found it too difficult to provoke Picard's interest, he figured. It would have been easy enough to create himself as the type of woman Picard would be attracted to--both intelligent and attractive, independent, self-sufficient, passionate, and challenging. He took a kind of wickedly sadistic pleasure in imagining Picard's reaction if he had seduced the Captain in female form then resumed his usual appearance. Picard would have been utterly horrified, and Q had no intention of violating Picard's growing trust in him to that extent. But he was not above finding the notion perversely amusing in theory even if he didn't intend to put it into practice. At any rate, Q really couldn't envision himself remaining content in the form of a human female. Even though gender did not have anything like the same significance in the Continuum, he had always envisioned himself in masculine terms.
Q turned his attention away from his reflections long enough to observe that Picard kissed Beverly good-night, but did not follow her into her quarters. Q felt relieved and then immediately felt furious for feeling such a human emotion as jealousy. He passed his fingers over his lips with a very human-sounding sigh, then returned in a wrathful mood to his quarters.
* * *
Q was reclining on his bed, staring at the ceiling and replaying his hiking expedition with the Captain in his mind. Suddenly he sat up with alarm and rematerialized instantly in Picard's quarters, fortunately remembering to acquire some clothes in the process. Picard was in the throes of a nightmare and was obviously distressed. Q sat near the head of the bed, gently waking him. Picard's eyes opened suddenly, but as soon as he recognized Q, he began to relax. "I was dreaming . . . the Borg . . ." he murmured incoherently.
"I know," said Q softly, holding Picard's hands. "How often do you have these nightmares?"
"Every two or three months, I think. It's either the Borg or my captivity with the Cardassians. I don't take to helplessness and violation very well, apparently," replied Picard, trying to assume a forced nonchalance.
"I can stop the nightmares from coming back. It won't erase your memory of the events--you just won't dream about them."
"I'd appreciate that."
Q stared intently at Picard for a moment, then relaxed his gaze. "No more nightmares. Courtesy of Q."
"Thank-you," said Picard, with a palpable relief.
Q got up and began to pace, running his fingers through his hair. "I feel responsible for what happened to you with the Borg. The Continuum wouldn't let me help you, and I was too much of a coward to defy them, when I was already on parole. I don't think I can ever begin to convey to you how sorry I am, both for exposing you to the Borg in the first place and for not stopping them from hurting you."
"If you feel responsible for that," returned Picard bluntly, "then you ought to feel responsible for the lives of almost 11,000 people who were killed in the Borg attack. What happened to me is utterly trivial by comparison."
"I know that, but I don't have it in me genuinely to understand the significance of the lives of 11,000 people. I'm sorry, but that's just how I am. Your suffering ripped me apart more than anything I've experienced in centuries, but my attachment doesn't extend to your species."
"When the Continuum was testing me last time, with the temporal paradox, you were only helping me? The elimination of an entire species didn't concern you?"
"Not a whole lot, I'm afraid."
"Well, Q, I do hope that you learn the value and significance of human life, and I am going to take it upon myself to educate you as long as you reside on board my ship. You have a lot to learn, my friend."
Q gazed raptly at Picard. With a small burst of light, a notebook and pen appeared in his hand. "Oui, mon professeur, when do my lessons start?"
Picard smiled. "You know, I didn't mean to be harsh, Q. I don't hold you responsible for the Borg incursion. Undoubtedly it would have happened much later if it weren't for your fit of pique in Ten-Forward, but when it did happen, we would have been completely unprepared. The results might have been even more catastrophic when the Borg did show up."
"That's very kind of you, Captain. But I don't often feel guilty, so allow me to indulge myself in this matter. I've caused you a lot of grief, and I do regret it . . . "
"Although you enjoyed yourself thoroughly at the time."
"Data suggested the same thing, but it wasn't really enjoyment, Jean-Luc. I was trying to alleviate a boredom so pronounced you can't begin to imagine it, but I can't say I found tormenting you exactly enjoyable. Stimulating, yes, but not a pleasure in a positive sense. You know I really was sincere in my desire to join your crew."
"You offered to renounced your powers."
"Yes, in a moment of weakness. I was that desperate for companionship. Having actually experienced human frailty, however, I'm infinitely relieved you didn't take me up on my offer. And speaking of my powers, you look like you could use some rest, Jean-Luc. I can guarantee you a restful sleep for the rest of the night."
"Well, I think I'll take you up on that."
"What time do you want to wake up?"
"Consider it done. Good-night, Jean-Luc."
"Thank-you, Q. Good-night."
* * *
Within a few more days, the repairs to the weapons systems were complete, and the Enterprise was dispatched on its delicate diplomatic mission with the Cardassians. Once those talks were complete, the Enterprise was to return to Angria, to complete the process of evaluating the Angrians' petition to join the Federation. En route, the ship and its personnel returned to normal routines, and people were beginning to take Q's presence as a matter of course. Guinan, Data, and Troi were quickly becoming friends with him, although Crusher, Riker, and Worf remained wary and suspicious.
Geordi La Forge was quickly learning the benefits of having Q on board the Enterprise, however. Several hours after their departure from Starbase 329, Q suddenly materialized in Engineering. La Forge looked up curiously, as Q hadn't shown any interest in Engineering before. Q leaned back against a wall, folded his arms, and announced, "You might be interested to know, Mr. La Forge, that your navigational deflector is about to go."
As La Forge hastened to check the appropriate panels, Data's voice came over his comm badge, "Data to La Forge, we are experiencing navigational deflector failure."
"I'm on it, Data," replied La Forge. "Damn! All three generators are down--somebody screwed up during the repairs."
Q asked casually, "Would you like me to effect your repairs?"
"Thanks, but I'd like to find out the source of the problem. It would be helpful if you could . . . umm . . . substitute for the deflector for a while."
"I'm already doing so." While Q was speaking he was continuously monitoring the Enterprise's hull, diverting any number of interstellar particles away from the ship. He quickly grew bored watching La Forge and his crew at work and rematerialized on the bridge. He stood for over two hours, legs apart, arms folded, maintaining his own version of a deflector field around the ship until the necessary repairs were performed, at one point moving a a fairly sizable asteroid out of the Enterprise's path.
After La Forge had dressed down the members of his staff who had failed to doublecheck and triplecheck the deflector system and had profusely apologized to the Captain for this lapse, he headed to Ten-Forward for a much-needed drink. Q was in his now-regular position at the bar, chatting with Guinan and materializing drink orders out of thin air. La Forge went up to the bar, greeted Guinan, and asked, "Q, care to join me for a drink?"
Q smiled, turned to Guinan and remarked, "I am the soul of popularity these days," and joined La Forge at a table.
"How did you know the deflector was going before the computer alerted us?" asked La Forge.
"Call me over-cautious, but I'm monitoring most of the ship's systems all the time. I could hear the generators suddenly powering down before the computer registered it."
Geordi shook his head in amazement. "But how?"
"I'm omniscient, remember? My mind can focus on any number of things at the same time. For instance, Picard is in his ready room, reading. Dr. Crusher is giving Ensign Calderon a prenatal exam. Worf is checking Alexander's homework, and Alexander is protesting vehemently. Riker and Data are rehashing last night's poker game, and Data is commenting on the relative probability of the same person achieving a full house and four of a kind in subsequent hands. Counselor Troi is counseling. The computer is running a Level 5 diagnostic of the warp propulsion system. At the Utopia Planitia shipyards, the USS Navratilova is being commissioned. At the colony on Alcindor, the final game of a basketball tournament is taking place. At the moment the Quasars are leading the Comets by 14 points in the third quarter. In the Gamma quadrant, a star is about to go supernova--if you people weren't keeping me so busy here, I'd go check it out. Shall I continue?"
"No, that's quite sufficient," remarked Geordi in amazement. Though I wouldn't mind the final score of the basketball game. My cousin Mark's fiancée is one of the forwards for the Quasars."
"Can do," remarked Q.
La Forge hesitated a moment. "Q, I want to thank you for catching that deflector failure for me. It's pretty reassuring to know you're keeping an eye on things."
Q smiled, "Just one of the many services I'm happy to provide. By the way, would you like to watch that game?"
"Sure!" exclaimed Geordi, and instantly on the tabletop there appeared the image of a basketball game as if on a viewscreen. As the game progressed, several other Ten-Forward customers wandered over to La Forge's table to watch. Q had no interest in the game itself, but he was fascinated by the intense interest La Forge and his shipmates took in a game which seemed utterly pointless to him. Even Data, who had come in in search of Geordi, was watching curiously. Q could see that a certain amount of athletic skill was required to throw a ball from 40-50 feet away into a net that was 12 feet high, but he still didn't see the point of either engaging in such a frivolous activity or watching it. The Ten-Forward patrons had different ideas however. As the fourth quarter progressed, exclamations of "What a shot!" "Nice play!" and "This game is in the refridgerator!" reverberated around the table.
"In the refridgerator?" asked Q.
"Old Earth expression, 20th-century," replied Data. "First attributed to basketball broadcaster 'Chick' Hearn. It was an indication that the outcome of a given game was beyond doubt. A refridgerator was a device to keep food cold and prevent spoilage."
"I have to give it to humans," remarked Q, "they have a talent for creative metaphors. And you, Data, are a font of useful information."
At this point Picard walked into Ten-Forward. He glanced at Q, automatically assuming he was responsible for the crowd gathered around Geordi's table. In response to Picard's glance, Q explained, "Basketball game. The Quasars are leading the Comets by 23 points in the fourth. Geordi's cousin's fiancée is on her way to her career high-scoring game."
"I see," said Picard, walking over to the table. He glanced briefly at the game, commented, "Nice shot," then turned back to Q. "Q, you're an entertainment system unto yourself."
"The possibilities are endless, Captain. Can I buy you a drink?" Picard nodded, and a drink instantly materialized in his hand. He sat down with Q at an adjoining table, and they chatted, while Q simultaneously continued projecting the basketball game.
* * *
Q was proving useful in a number of ways. While the ship was en route to Angria, Picard mentally summoned Q to his ready room, and Q, ever obliging, appeared. "At your service, mon Capitaine."
"Hello, Q," Picard smiled. "I've just received a message from Vash. She's being held prisoner on Elgin III, something about plundered artifacts."
"She's a creature of habit, apparently. I believe her life is in danger, but I would have a hard time explaining to Starfleet why I'm committing the resources of a starship to getting her out. It would constitute interference in the internal affairs of another culture. I was hoping you might not object to the role of knight in shining armor, acting as a private citizen of course. I have to say, I have no idea how she managed to get a message out."
"She's very resourceful," remarked Q wryly, "only not quite resourceful enough to keep herself out of trouble. So are you mooning over her again, Picard?"
"You know perfectly well that I am not. I have no interest in rekindling a relationship, but I don't feel like I can abandon her entirely." Q knew it was true; unfortunately for him, Picard was much more preoccupied with his advancing and retreating relationship with Beverly. Picard added, "How about you, my omnipotent friend? Are you mooning over her?"
"No, of course not. I feel about the same as you; there's a little nostalgia for good times, but nothing more. But I agree; I do feel responsible for her. We'll be back in a jiffy."
Q appeared moments later in Vash's jail cell. She was pacing furiously when Q materialized in a reclining condition on her bunk. "Well, well, well, the eminent Vash, adding yet another career highlight to her distinguished resumé. Really, Vash, the accomodations here are dreadful. Didn't you think to tip the concierge?"
"Q! Are you responsible for my getting caught?"
"Moi? I don't understand why it is that whenever anything bad happens to anyone in the entire galaxy, even if it's clearly their own fault, I'm responsible. I may be omnipotent, but I can't be everywhere at once, and frankly, you shouldn't flatter yourself that I'm interested enough in you any more to devote the energy to get you punished. No," he said in a bored tone, "I'm here to get you out of trouble, once again. You're lucky I'm immortal; anyone else would get really tired of devoting this much time to helping you clean up after yourself."
"If you're so uninterested in me, then why are you here?"
"Oh, I've developed a sense of responsibility, hard as it may be for you to comprehend, and anyway, a mutual friend of ours asked me to help you out--he wasn't willing to devote his starship to doing so."
"Look, Q, as far as I'm concerned, both you and Jean-Luc Picard are ancient history. You're starting to sound as stuffy as he is. But I wouldn't mind getting out of this place. I want my things first, though."
"Woman, you are incorrigible. I'll retrieve your personal belongings for you, but I won't be a party to your plundering this place. Any artifacts you stole will have to remain here."
"Fine! Have it your way! What has gotten into you, Q?"
"Can't you tell? I've reformed--I'm the soul of benevolence and charity, spreading goodness about the galaxy. You should try it some time. I've never understood the appeal of unfettered materialism anyway. My vices were a little more creative. Shall we go?"
Q turned his hand palm upward, and Vash's knapsack appeared on it. He draped it over her neck and shoulder, offered her his arm, and snapped his fingers. Within moments they had appeared in Picard's ready room. "Where do you want her, Captain? A little visit to the brig might do her good."
"Hello, Vash," said Picard. "Still promoting multicultural understanding, are we?"
"What is with the two of you? Since when are you such buddies? Did the prospect of ganging up on me allow you to overcome your animosity?"
"Ganging up, my dear?" queried Q. "I'm still waiting for profuse thanks for saving your unscrupulous little life. Jean-Luc, I begin to grow tired of this. Can I please send her to Earth? It's such a dreary place, it would serve her right."
"Good idea, Q, but wait a moment. Look, Vash, Q and I do feel responsible for you, but we cannot continue to get you out of situations you bring upon yourself, and I cannot condone the raiding of archaeological treasures and artifacts from the cultures which created them. We're going to send you back to Earth, where you can try to put your talents to a more constructive use, but if you get in trouble again, don't come crying to us."
Vash was still fuming, but conceded, "Thank you both for arranging my rescue. You have my infinite gratitude. I accept your offer of transport to Earth, but I make no guarantees as to my future behavior. I promise I won't trouble you with my problems. By the way, I can see why I'm no longer inspiring the same regard in either of you. I can't believe I never realized how well-suited the two of you are for each other. You make a cute couple, boys."
"Will you get her out of here, Q?" snapped Picard.
"My pleasure, Jean-Luc." With that Q waved his arm, and sent Vash on her merry way.
Q, of course, couldn't resist probing Picard to discover the full range of his reaction to Vash's final remark, and he was exceedingly pleased to note that Picard was far more embarrassed than he would have been if the comment had not had a grain of truth. Beginning to feel a little guilty at this violation of Picard's privacy, Q decided to revive the Captain with a touch of male complicity. Picard was still shaking his head at Vash's departure, and Q nodded sympathetically, saying, "Women--you can't live with them . . . " and then to himself, and I wish you could learn to live without them. At this, he collapsed on the sofa in a fit of giggles.
Picard looked at him, grinned, and asked, "What am I going to do with you, Q?"
"Anything you want, mon
Capitaine," declared Q, opening his arms expansively, "anything you want."
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