The Enterprise detached from the drydock station and headed away from Earth to continue its ongoing mission of exploration. A half-hour into its journey, the Enterprise was closing in on Mars, 12 minutes from passing the Red Planet.
The bridge was bathed in an intense light that emanated from a point in front of the main viewscreen. It momentarily blinded almost everyone on the bridge; only Data saw the being that abruptly appeared from its midst.
Picard’s sight returned moments later, as did everyone else’s, and he groaned when he saw the being — Q — standing where the light had just appeared. Q appeared in the same human male form as he had every time he encountered the Enterprise and her crew, dressed in a red Starfleet command uniform identical to Picard’s. This time, however, he levitated in the lotus position, halfway between Data and Ensign Crusher’s stations and the viewscreen.
“Q!” shouted Picard as he bolted out of his chair, then lost his footing when the bridge shuddered. The captain stumbled towards Data, who caught him as the ship shook again. That second shudder triggered the Enterprise’s red alert klaxion.
Picard regained his balance with Data’s help before returning to his chair. “Mr. Data–”
“Checking sensors now, Captain,” Data said. “The Enterprise has just been overtaken by some sort of energy wave. The wave is heading away from us at warp 3.7.”
“Is this your doing, Q?” Riker shouted. Q acknowledged the First Officer with an abruptly raised hand, palm outward, as his eyes stayed shut. Riker noted that Q seemed very tense, rather unlike the usual arrogant, sometimes mischievous persona the enigmatic being normally conveyed whenever he encountered Picard or one of his crew.
As omnipotent (allegedly) as the Earth gods of old, Q usually seemed to enjoy antagonizing Picard in a variety of ways, often with ‘tests’ aimed at judging some aspect of humanity. At the moment, however, Picard judged that Q seemed to be mentally fighting something on another plane of reality.
That, or Q was in the midst of pulling another one of his tricks.
“Captain, sensor readings indicate another energy wave on a direct course for the Enterprise,” Data announced. “This wave’s composition is unknown, but its path is 2.74 billion kilometers long and increasing 1.895 percent per second. This wave is connected to the previous wave and is much larger in magnitude.”
“Where is this wave coming from, Data?” Riker asked.
“The wave is emina–”
“It’s coming from EARTH, Riker,” Q interjected, still hovering as his eyes shot wide open. He looked hard at the captain. “Jean-Luc. You have less than two minutes for your people to secure themselves.”
Within the time Q spoke, Data had further analyzed the wave. “The wave includes quantum and temporal elements. It is on course to impact the Enterprise sternside in one minute, 50.088 seconds–”
“Data, can we outrun it?” asked Riker.
“The wave is moving at Warp 5.3 and increasing. Warp 5.3…now 5.6–”
“You’re NOT going to outrun it, Jean-Luc,” Q interrupted again. “Your best bet is to stop and hide behind your deflector shields.”
“Opinions,” Picard said. “Quickly.”
“Go to warp as quickly as possible,” Riker said. “At least, try to stay ahead of it.”
“This is Q,” Worf said. “How do we know this isn’t another one of his games?”
“I understand your skepticism, Commander Worf, but I sense Q is not playing any kind of game,” Troi added. “I believe this time we need to pay attention to him.”
“THANK you, Counselor,” Q said.
“A decision needs to be made quickly–” said Data, before Q interrupted him with yells of “Yes, yes, YES!”
Data spoke to Picard before Riker or Worf could say anything to Q. “We will not reach maximum warp before we are overtaken by the phenomenon. If we were to increase warp now, we would still be overtaken in 2.68 minutes at warp 7.2.”
“You won’t survive impact at warp, Captain,” Q said, still hovering in front of the viewscreen. “Stop and prepare for impact. I will be able to shield you and your people will not die. Right NOW, Captain. Five, four–”
“Mr. Data. Bring the ship to a complete stop,” Picard said, telling himself he was following Q’s directive based on logic and not intuition. The captain pushed a button on the touchscreen panel on the right arm of his chair, which activated the ship’s intercom. “This is the captain. All hands brace for impact.”
“Wise choice, Jean-Luc,” Q said before closing his eyes, appearing to return to his meditative state.
Wishing he had a cup of coffee or something to throw at Q, Riker glanced at Picard, who acknowledged the look of disagreement from his first officer. “Mr. Data. Time until impact.”
“Twelve-point-two seconds,” Data said. “The wave is gaining speed exponentially…Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two–”
Again, the bridge shook violently. Worf lost his footing and fell, as did two officers at the science stations behind him. Ensign Crusher’s panel briefly went out and one of the panels at Worf’s tactical station exploded in an array of sparks.
Ten seconds after impact, the violent shaking died down to a consistent but light rumble. Picard stood up from his chair and looked around. The two officers remained down near the science stations, while everyone else resumed their responsibilities.
“Status Mr. Worf,” Picard said while locking eyes on a still-levitating Q.
“Shields at 80 percent. Decks four, six through ten, 12, 15, 32 and 36 reporting minor damage and injuries but no casualties.”
“Medical team to the bridge. Two people down,” Riker said after contacting sickbay. “Data, where is this energy wave heading and are we close to passing out of it?”
“Scanning now, Commander,” Data replied. “The wave–”
“Is spreading out like a ripple from Earth,” Q interjected, opening his eyes. “It won’t be very long before we ‘pass out’ of it.”
“Q,” Riker said, “if you had anything to do with this I swear–”
“You’re going to THANK me for saving your life.”
“I’m going to–”
“Commander!” Picard said, sharply, while glaring at the still levitating Q. The captain then hit another button on his chair’s touchscreen panel that connected him to engineering. “Mr. La Forge. Status.”
“Captain, when that thing hit us the warp core went offline for an instant but it’s operating normally now,” La Forge replied. “We’re running diagnostics but so far from our end everything’s operating normally. Captain, does anyone up there have any idea what’s causing this shaking and when it’ll come to an end?”
Picard kept his eyes on Q. “Mr. Data is investigating the phenomenon. We know that it’s some sort of energy wave consisting largely of temporal and quantum properties. The ship is still in the midst of this wave.”
“We’re keeping an eye on things down here. If there are any changes you’ll be the first to know but it’d be nice to get this shaking stopped.”
“We’re still working on that, Mr. La Forge,” Picard said as Dr. Crusher and Nurse Martinez arrived on the bridge to attend to the injured crewpersons. “Picard out.”
Dr. Crusher held her tricorder over a crewwoman just now coming to. The Enterprise’s Chief Medical Officer and Picard were close friends who had known each other for years. Her husband, Lt. Commander Jack Crusher, served on the USS Stargazer under Picard’s command; after Lt. Commander Crusher died on an away mission, Picard accompanied the body back to Starbase 32, returning it to the commander’s wife and their son Wesley.
She joined the Enterprise as Chief Medical Officer when Picard took command, then spent a year as the head of Starfleet Medical on Earth before returning to the Enterprise. Picard held her, like his other officers, in the highest regard.
“How many injured are there, Doctor, and how badly?” the captain asked.
“One hundred and three, mainly bumps and bruises,” she said. “Five sprained ankles, a bruised collarbone and a teenager with a mild concussion. All easily treatable. Now, tell me what’s causing all this shaking and shuddering; are we under attack?”
Picard told her about the energy wave, and that Q — contrary to her and their initial suspicions — apparently didn’t cause the wave. Moments later, Q opened his eyes, straightened his legs and gently landed on the floor. The rumbling and vibrating then stopped.
“If Q didn’t cause it,” Dr. Crusher said to Picard, “did he stop it?”
“I did indeed, my dear doctor,” Q shouted across the bridge. “Mon capitaine, the wave has passed us by.”
Picard chose to ignore Q for the moment. “Data, report.”
“Captain, it appears Q is correct: the energy wave has in fact passed us,” Data replied. “Sensors indicate the wave — with Earth at its epicenter — is spreading rapidly throughout the system.”
“Checking…Captain, according to long-range sensors, the wave is passing the orbit of Neptune. It should be within the Kuiper Belt in 9.2 seconds–”
“Kuiper Belt???” Riker interjected. “Data. Double-check the long-range sensors.”
“Commander. Long-range sensors not only verify the previous readings but show the phenomena approaching the limits of our sensor range rapidly,” Data said, his fingers flying across his operations control panel. “The phenomena has now passed the limit of our sensors.”
“How fast is that thing going, Data?” Riker asked. The android ran the computations a hundred times through his positronic brain in under six seconds.
“At the rate the speed of the wave is increasing, my estimate is it will reach Alpha Centauri in 12 minutes, 48.6 seconds,” Data answered.
“Twelve minutes, 44.81 seconds–”
“You have NO idea what you’re dealing with,” Q shouted, abruptly.
“If YOU know what it is we’re dealing with, Q, now is the time to share your information,” Picard said, evenly and firmly as he walked up to Q, stopping when their noses were less than an inch apart. “And now is the time to inform me of any involvement you have in this endeavor.”
Q finally smiled for the first time since he arrived on the bridge, although Picard saw the nervousness in the being’s eyes. “Very well, mon capitaine. I’m learning about this thing in linear time, the same as you–”
“The time for games is over, Q,” Picard replied, maintaining his tone of voice and not breaking eye contact. “Is this your doing?”
“I SAVED you and this ship, Picard. Yes, I know more than you do because I am Q, Picard but…as loathe as I am to admit this…I don’t know much more than you.”
Picard raised an eyebrow. “Really.”
“Really, Jean-Luc. Now that I’m not preoccupied with keeping the Enterprise from becoming affected by the wave, information is coming to me in, how would you say it? Bits and pieces? How DO you humans manage without knowing everything at once?”
“We manage,” Riker said dryly. “Are you telling us this thing made you less Q?”
“Number TWO — Jean-Luc will always be numero uno in my heart” he said as Riker rolled his eyes, ” — I am no LESS Q than I was before this event. But I did not cause this.”
“Then by all means, tell us how you learned of it in advance, to ‘save’ us from its effects,” Picard said.
“Very well. I was conversing with Q, discussing matters far above your puny minds when a disturbance in reality manifested itself. What exactly it was, where it came from, who or what was behind it, not even we in the continuum could tell. Q, of course, wanted to continue her discussion but I thought of YOU, Jean-Luc and of your crew and realized if I didn’t intervene you would cease to exist along with the rest of your reality.”
Q looked around the bridge briefly, taking in the skepticism of the crew members, particularly that of their captain.
Picard kept eye contact with Q for a few more seconds before turning to Troi. “Counselor.”
“I sense no deception in him, Captain.”
“He’s Q,” Riker said. “He could be fooling you, Deanna. He could be fooling us ALL.”
“And yet I’m not,” Q replied with a sigh. “From here on out. I’ll tell you everything I…learn.”
“That goes without saying,” Picard said.
Captain’s Log, Supplemental: I have ordered the Enterprise to maintain its position while we attempt to determine if the wave has thrust us into an alternate reality, or changed the reality we know. So far, neither Mr. Data nor my other science specialists can come up with an adequate explanation of this event.
Q claims to be voluntarily and completely sharing information he continues to learn about this phenomenon. I had good reason to be skeptical of Q’s insistence that he was not the cause of it and of his offer for help. However, his abilities provide him, and ourselves, the best source of information on the phenomena. Over the objections of my first officer and likely the rest of my crew, I have chosen not just to take Q at his word but to trust him.
Adjacent to the main bridge, the lounge’s numerous large windows provide a spectacular view of wherever in space or time the Enterprise is. The lounge’s conference table also serves as a briefing room hosting the regular meetings of the ship’s senior officers.
As Picard walked into the room, he took note of the countless stars outside those windows, and thought of the family he had just left behind on Earth: his brother Robert, sister-in-law Marie and nephew Rene. The Frenchman briefly indulged himself with a feeling of gratitude for reconciling with his estranged brother. Before he could ponder his family’s fate, Picard’s focus was brought back to the present when he saw Q’s sullen countenance.
After the last of the senior staff, Dr. Crusher, sat at the table, Picard asked Q for a frank and honest appraisal of the current situation from his standpoint.
“I know your ‘phenomenon’ has affected the time stream and the universe itself,” Q said. “Multiple timelines and realities merging with ours. This ship and those in it are the last known vestiges of the former reality.”
“‘Former’?” LaForge said. “You’re saying the reality we knew…what? Changed? Vanished?”
“Altered, by something that both happened hours ago and in the distant past.”
“And that means what?” Riker asked pointedly.
“I cannot yet determine how your reality was altered: that will take some time. I’m having some…difficulty contacting the Continuum at the moment.”
“What does THAT mean?” Riker said as he suddenly was unnerved by the thought that Q was powerless against this temporal event.
Q looked at Riker without any of his usual arrogance and just a hint of uncertainty that unsettled the commander more. “I am reasonably certain I could return to the Continuum immediately. I am…less certain I could return to you, or go back and forth at will.”
“Because of the event?” LaForge asked.
“Yes. The event seems to have settled, but I cannot say with absolute certainty that there will be no more ripples from its point of impact.”
Picard turned to face Q. “Are you preventing it from affecting our own reality?”
“Yes. Nothing has changed here on the Enterprise.”
“If you left, would we be affected by the anomaly?”
“Possibly. This anomaly is beyond me. It’s as if something has arrived into reality as we know it from outside. For something THAT powerful to affect reality as it is, to cut off access to the Continuum…”
Q’s voice trailed off. Picard noted the confusion and shock in the expressions of his officers. Picard couldn’t read minds like he could expressions, but resolved to maintain his demeanor of control. His best people didn’t need to know his own discomfort at Q’s reactions to the anomaly, nor his growing alarm over being unable to reverse its effects.
“Deanna,” he said to Troi. “What would you say is the mood of the crew?”
She pondered her response. “Professional, ready, even eager to perform their duties, keeping their minds on their jobs,” she said. “I sense most of the crew assume that this will pass and we will return to our own reality.”
“And the mood in here, of the staff?”
“The staff’s mood is largely the same as that of the crew, although there’s some anxiety over the nature of the anomaly, even whether the ship will be able to return to the reality we knew.”
“It’s like we got blindsided by this thing and we’re learning about it after it ran away,” Riker said. “I don’t think we’ve had much time to think about what might happen, what might have happened. All we have is Q’s word–”
“I assure you, Commander, I am being as truthful with you as I can be,” Q interjected. “I am NOT playing games with you. This phenomenon is largely a mystery to me. Even now, I have learned only bits of information about it, and I am freely sharing it with you as I receive it.”
“Number One,” Picard said, looking at his first officer and shaking his head. “Mr. Data, what else have you been able to learn about the anomaly itself?”
“There is a large amount of reside from the temporal wave throughout the system. Imagine a tidal wave from an ocean hitting the beachside of an island or part of a continent; the wave recedes, but its aftereffects are seen in the objects affected by the water itself.”
“Wrecked beaches?” Riker asked.
“A more proper analogy, Commander, is ‘wet beaches’. In this case, the ‘wetness’ is equally dispersed. There are no drenched areas. The temporal aftereffects are equally spread out. Its origin seems to be Earth, but the phenomenon is spreading in all directions at an equal speed and leaving an equal amount of–”
“Data,” LaForge interjected. “No offense, but my head’s spinning.”
“All of us are spinning, Geordi,” Beverly Crusher said. “I look at Wesley, and at each of you, and see the anxiety in your expressions. Your training, and my own, are helping us stay focused. The last thing we need is to wander off mentally, or emotionally.”
“Agreed, Doctor,” Worf said, “but the prospect that reality as we have known it has been irreversibly changed is…quite disconcerting. Even more so than being at the mercy of YOU, Q.”
Q understood the distrust in Worf’s, and Riker’s, demeanors. The other senior officers weren’t as hostile to Q, but Q cared about the reaction of only one human in the room. And Picard, to Q’s surprise, appeared more receptive to Q’s assistance than at any previous time.
The captain looked around the room at the people he considered to be his family, and told himself they’d all find a way out of this situation. “Our readings indicate the phenomenon originated from Earth,” he said. “It’s logical, then, to assume that any point, or points, of divergence would have occurred there at some point in our past. Q, do you have any sense of when this divergence might have occurred?”
All eyes were on Q, as if he were God, or god-like. He hadn’t begun to explain the turmoil going on throughout reality; what he, as Q, barely understood would be incomprehensible to mere human minds. I don’t have the heart to tell them everything they knew has likely been rewritten, he thought. What a curious human emotion. Am I being rewritten as well?
“If only he had been this quiet all along,” Riker quipped.
“Number One,” Picard chided Riker. “Q, answer the question.”
“I actually may have a workable answer,” Q replied. “Your early 21st century, perhaps within the first decade. I suspect your answers are to be found there, and not here.”
“Well, that narrows it down,” LaForge said. “Start at 2001 and ten years max.”
“Enough,” Picard said sharply. “Our focus must be on what we CAN do, ‘we’ including Q.”
The captain briefly took in the reactions of his staff beginning with Riker, who looked at Q with a mixture of distrust and skepticism.
Worf glared at Q as if the Klingon would throw him out the airlock if Picard wasn’t there. Picard heard Dr. Crusher’s voice in his mind as he caught her look towards him: ‘I trust you, Jean-Luc, but you better be making the right call here’. Troi slightly shook her head while LaForge appeared incredulous.
Picard then looked at Data, whose usual mannerisms wouldn’t lend themselves to emotional expression. “Mr. Data? Do you have an opinion?”
Data glanced at Q before he addressed Picard. “Captain, under the circumstances, I agree with your rationale. Q’s abilities are invaluable both in discerning the cause of the anomaly and in determining potential points of divergence.”
“I see there is some…skepticism regarding Q’s involvement,” Picard said, looking around the table. “As Captain, this is my decision and, as long as Q works with us and acts appropriately, my decision is final. Now, our primary focus should be on determining how the timeline was changed, and how to restore it. Opinions.”
“‘When’ are we, for starters,” Dr. Crusher said.
“Astronomical charts indicate the current date to be Stardate 44012.5,” Data replied. “The time differential is consistent with our current position within the Sol system relative to the time frame between our departure from Earth and the present at impulse.”
“What about the system itself, Mr. Data?” Picard asked.
“The location of each object within the system, including its sun, is as would be expected, Captain. So is the location of the system relative to the parts of the Alpha and Beta quadrants we are able to directly observe.”
“So we’re not in a parallel universe?” LaForge asked.
“Appearances can be deceiving, Commander,” Data said. “You are familiar with the Palmer Theory?”
“‘There are very minute, but distinct, differences in the vibrational frequencies of atoms between objects from separate dimensions’,” LaForge said. “It doesn’t matter if one object is a living being and the other inert. What matters is they don’t come from the same dimension.”
“You’d need a sample of some kind to use for comparison to our ‘reality’,” Riker said. “We could scan for a random meteorite and beam it aboard for our sample.”
“Captain, Commander,” Worf said. “There is another matter: the Prime Directive.”
“Yes,” Q said. “Worf is right. I don’t believe you want the Enterprise to be seen here.”
Picard pondered Q’s response. He called him Worf and didn’t use an insult. What all has changed? “The Prime Directive certainly can apply to other universes, Q,” Picard said. “More uncertain is how it applies in an hypothetical instance where the prime timeline has been changed. The hypothesis has been debated, of course, on an academic and informal level, but has yet to be seriously considered by Starfleet itself.”
“Because if the timeline were changed, those within it wouldn’t notice,” Troi said. “Captain, as the highest-known ranking Starfleet officer, it appears you’re in the position to decide.”
Picard briefly looked out the observation room’s windows at the familiar, yet changed, stars and planets. “‘It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves’,” he said.
“Shakespeare never commanded a starship,” Q said.
“He most certainly did not,” replied Picard. “Nor did Shakespeare have to determine where reality went wrong and how to restore it.”