Q-Logy

Q-Logy

By Jeff Stoneking

CHAPTER ONE

So this was what it was like to be dead?  Consciousness dissipating as the void all around stretches endlessly and no escape is in sight, and an unsettling feeling that there may be no God after all?  Or perhaps there was a God, a single Creator who had deemed that the entity was destined to spend the rest of eternity separated from Him.  Maybe this was a transitional phase in reincarnation, or perhaps the mythical place commonly referred to as purgatory by corporeal life forms.  Being dead for the first time, and seeing that none other of his species had experienced death, the entity didn’t really know what to expect, though various books, religious and secular, had postulated theories throughout the millennia.  For all he knew, the entity would just as well end up in Heaven or Hell, Sto’vo’kor or Gre’thor, or in the Divine Treasury or the Vault of Eternal Destitution, or simply no where at all.  After all, being part of a species that never died, would any of those places welcome him willingly?  He once was a God, so what God would want him to spend eternity with Him?

“I think,” the entity thought, recalling that was the tell tale sign of being simply a being.  However, the thought took no substance, and seemed to touch nothing in time.  The entity was pulled out of all that was called home, all that was called familiar.  The entity thought, but only unto itself.  “I think yet I think not; I think not and I am dead.”

With this thought, there was no substance, no root of any kind or reality.  The entity reached out beyond itself into the deep reaches of the cosmos.  If there was an afterlife, the entity was determined to find it.  Unfortunately, nothing answered back.  For the entity’s entire life, there had been a multitudinous array of voices in his head.  The entity had been part of a great societal experiment, never being alone, never being without reach of the arms of comrades or beyond the grasp of their words.  Now the entity was all alone, thinking what might have been the last thought.  Why was the entity being punished so horribly?  Was the execution?  Excommunication?  The entity forgot the details that lead up to this horrific solitude.  There was the vibrancy of life, the wonderment of it all, then nothing.  Emptiness, space, and silence. Would these be the companions of the entity though the rest of eternity?  The entity always wanted to live forever, and kept on telling others that it would live forever, but now the thought of a true eternity terrified the entity.  The entity cried, and it cried out to whoever might listen, but would anybody hear?

Guinan, off duty and soaking in the beauty of the arboretum, noticed something slightly awry.  She gazed over at Keiko O’Brien, who was fixing her attention on planting seeds she received from Forchin.  Keiko had complained about the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables aboard the Enterprise, stating that replicator technology had a far way to go.  As she was planting yet another seed, her eyes lost their lock on her work and she looked up at Guinan.  There was something awry.

“Guinan,” Keiko started, “what brings you up here?

Guinan had entered the arboretum after Keiko and, apparently, Guinan had not noticed Keiko, as her concentration seemed to be broken slightly with Keiko’s question.  “It’s peaceful up here,” Guinan replied with a smile.  “It’s one of those few places one can go on the ship and forget that you are in space.  It’s a nice retreat.”

“I suppose so,” smiled Keiko.  “You must be reminded all the time you are in space working in Ten-Forward.  Of course, there always is the holodeck.”

“Oh, I don’t go into the holodeck much unless Jean Luc or somebody else might invite me along for an adventure.  I prefer to relax in more realistic settings,” Guinan replied.

There was something awry.  Keiko could sense unease in Guinan, as if she was making small talk but there was something charging through her mind at that moment that caused her to be detached from the present.  She felt Guinan had not simply come to the arboretum to be away from the feeling of being on a star ship, but something was preoccupying her, and even though Guinan replied to all of Keiko’s comments, Keiko still felt as if Guinan was not even talking to anybody in particular, really.  Guinan could not even keep in eye contact with Keiko and were in constant gaze out the windows.  Keiko turned her head up and looked out the window.  It was simply a star field, an odd choice for somebody to focus on when they just claimed they wanted to get away from the feeling of being in space.  “What is it?” Keiko asked, hoping to get responses out of Guinan that were perhaps more truthful.

“I don’t know.  We’re on route to Wadi Besor,” Guinan replied, “but I feel as if we shouldn’t go.  I felt something earlier, a disturbance of some sort.  I can’t describe it entirely, nor even understand it myself.”

Keiko nodded.  She could not describe in concrete language either, but she sensed something was unusual, as if things were not the same anymore.  “Something is happening but I don’t know what.  From what I’ve seen, everything appears to be status quo.”

“Yes,” Guinan nodded.  “Status quo.  That’s what they want us to think, anyway.”

Keiko did not know what to say to that, or how to even how to think she should take it.  At that moment, Miles O’Brien came over Keiko’s com badge, “Keiko, I can’t get off of duty right now to get Molly from the day care.  Do you think you could get her now?”

“Sure thing, Miles,” Keiko replied, relieved that she had a chance to get away from Guinan.  “Sorry, Guinan, but I have to go,” Keiko said awkwardly as she excused herself.

Guinan just nodded as if she was unattached from the moment.  As Keiko took her leave of the arboretum, Guinan simply continued to watch out the window as if looking for something, or perhaps expecting something.

It was not first in the arboretum that Guinan felt this way, however.  It first occurred to her moments after she left Ten Forward, as she walked down the halls of the Enterprise.  Every curve of the corridors, the nuance of each computer console, down to the locations of the Jefferies Tubes caused an odd sensation to course through Guinan’s being.  Yet, all was the same as it has always been.

“Computer,” Guinan said with hesitation in the arboretum, not sure what to expect, “what ship is this?”

“This is the USS Enterprise,” the computer spoke back, “registry number NCC-1701-D.”

That is exactly what Guinan thought she would hear, yet she almost expected to hear something else.  “That,” she said softly and slowly through her lips, “is not right.”  She paused with unease, worry, and confusion forming in her brow and then said, “Computer, locate Captain Picard.”

“Captain Picard is deceased,” the computer responded as if giving a weather report.  “Date of death: stardate 44741.9.”

Guinan leaned up against the nearest wall and the words of the computer had barely penetrated her mind and her thoughts.  Something more ominous seemed to emanate from somewhere outside the ship, something she felt and heard all around her, inside her.  It was coming closer, though she could not yet see it.  Out there, beyond the blackness of space, something was coming and it felt terrible.

“Miles!” Keiko called out down the corridor.  He was walking out of the transporter room, apparently just getting off duty.  Keiko had Molly in her arms as she quickened her pace to meet up with her husband.  “I was just with Guinan in the arboretum.  She is acting awfully strange.”

Miles chuckled, “As if that’s a surprise?”

“Seriously, Miles!” Keiko continued.  “I know she can be rather eccentric, but she really has me concerned.  She really seemed to be concerned about our recent mission to Wadi Besor andÉ”

“Wait a minute?” Miles interrupted.  “How does she know about that?”

“I don’t know,” Keiko replied.  “I didn’t think I should even ask.  What’s the big deal?”

“Well, our destinations aren’t usually broadcast over the ship,” Miles replied, “and this destination has been kept quiet among the senior crew.”

“Why?  What’s on Wadi Besor?”

“It’s the home world of the Taecate,” Miles answered.  “I don’t know exactly why we are going there, but I do know that Captain Tutizi was stationed there on the Federation outpost there, and that he and the Captain were good friends.”

“Captain Tutizi?” echoed Keiko.  “Wasn’t he murdered?”

“Exactly,” Miles affirmed, “and as far as I know, his killer is still at large, which is why our trip to Wadi Besor isn’t being made public for the time being, in the event the murderer is on board the ship.  The security team is still investigating the potential that the killer may be on board.”

“Oh, that’s absurd,” Keiko said.  “The Enterprise was nowhere near Wadi Besor at the time of Tutizi’s death.”

“They are just keeping the possibility open, Keiko,” Miles said.

“I don’t care,” insisted Keiko.  “It makes no sense to mark the Enterprise crew as a ship of suspects.  What about all the other ships in Starfleet?”

“To tell the truth, Keiko, I am not entirely sure of all the ins and outs of this investigation.  What little I do know came from the official channels, which I can assure you.  Nobody is being charged as a suspect yet.  Nevertheless, that’s all beside the point.  I still cannot understand how Guinan knows we are going there.  UnlessÉ”

“Miles, don’t trail off like that.  You know I hate when you do that.”

“Well, it’s just that I helped out in stellar spectroscopy earlier today.  Commander Data and I were investigating an anomaly recently located near Wadi Besor.”

“What kind of anomaly?” Keiko asked.

“I don’t know,” Miles said.  “But I did see something like it before on one of our missions, I am almost certain of that.”

“And what are you doing helping Data?  You’re not a science officer,” Keiko wondered.

“It’s just stellar spectroscopy,” Miles replied.  “It’s pretty elementary stuff, really, and besides, I think it could help me in that promotion I am gunning for at Deep Space Nine.  It never hurts to broaden your horizons, so they say.  As a matter of fact, I am scheduled to go on duty in stellar spectroscopy in an hour.”

“But you just got off of duty!” Keiko countered.

“I might have to pull a few double shifts in the next few weeks,” O’Brien mentioned.  “Sorry, but this training for my promotion at Deep Space Nine is killing me too.  I am sure once we get to Deep Space Nine, we will have much more time to ourselves.”

CHAPTER TWO

The entity searched through the expanse of nothingness.  Searching for something, perhaps another dead soul wandering though this…this limbo?  The entity did not know what it was.  The blackness stretched seemingly from east to west, with no end in sight.  No throne, no God, no Prophets or wormhole aliens, no vaults or hordes of honored Klingons within any imaginable grasp within this void, not even an angel or a lesser deity made by humanoid hands.  No light, no door, no escape; the entity just drifted through nothing, and with each passing moment grew more weary and more depressed.  Where were the parties?  The fanfare music?  The singing choirs of seraphim?  The hordes of welcoming and willing virgins?  The entity began to question exactly where the eternal resting place would be.

Unexpectedly, almost frightening the entity, something came up behind it.  The entity refocused his attention and could have smiled if it had a mouth:  It was another disembodied entity, and the entity recognized the second entity.  At last, a friend?

“Come,” the Captain said, hearing his door chime but not looking up.

The door slid and a silent presence flowed into the Captain’s ready room that made the Captain uneasy.  He looked up and saw Guinan standing there, as if she were trying to find the words to say.  “Guinan,” he began softly, “what can I do for you?”

“How did Captain Picard die?” Guinan asked carefully, fearing she was going mad.

“Guinan,” Captain Riker said with slight hesitation, “Captain Picard was assassinated seven years ago at an archaeological conference.”

Guinan knew this but she also knew that it was horribly wrong.            In her mind, she was trying to place the pieces of the puzzle together, trying to reconcile what she felt was wrong with what she had known to be reality for all her life. She remembered how Commander Riker received the command of the Enterprise, which took place shortly after Captain Picard’s death.  She could clearly recall each step Riker took the Enterprise along the way:  She remembered how Riker confronted Soran, how Riker found himself in the Nexus and opted to go back far enough in time to save the Enterprise-D from destruction.  These were all things that she could remember as it was reality, but it was reality construed.  However, there was something deep inside her telling her that she had just talked to Captain Picard that morning, though her conscious mind had no recollection of the event.  “What?” she asked, almost as if she was merely arguing with her mind and not even talking to Captain Riker.

“He was giving the keynote address and an assassin had bypassed security and made his way in with the team that had gathered for the conference.  The alien killed Captain Picard.”

Guinan steadied herself and looked Riker straight in the eye.  “Captain Riker,” she said, the words sounding unnatural as they came out, “this isn’t right.”  She paused.  “The bridge, the people,” she said as she shook her head and looked around.  She paused a moment and added, “The ship.  What kind of ship is this?  What is its purpose?”

“The Enterprise is a science vessel,” Riker replied.  “It has been ever since the peace treaty was made with the Vulcans and the Romulans.  Ambassador Spock had brought unification to the two worlds and the Klingons have focused their forces against the Cardassians.”

“I know that,” Guinan conceded.  “Yet, I know that this is all wrong. This is a ship of exploration, yes, but it also a ship of peace and of defense.  It has greater potential than being a science vessel.”

“Guinan,” Riker began, “I believe the stress is getting to you.  Perhaps you could talk to Counselor Troi and…”

“No” Guinan said, as if unattached from the conversation all together.

“You have gone through a lot in your grieving process since Jean-Luc passed away,” Riker stated.  “I think if you would just talk to her then…”

“Look,” Guinan said as she backed off, “I’ll get it worked out.  Don’t worry about it.”

“Guinan, if you should ever want to talk, you can come to Troi or me,” Riker offered.

Guinan smiled politely and stepped out of the ready room.  “Ten Forward,” she spoke as she entered the turbolift.  Guinan felt inside as if something without was coming towards her, as if something was coming for her…

“Death has always interested me,” the entity spoke to the approaching entity.  “I thought I was going to be out here alone for an eternity.  Or maybe this is the prelude to some sort of judgment?”

“You know me?” the other entity spoke.  “How is this possible?  I’ve encountered others but they seemed to be too caught up in personal grief to even notice me.”

“Ah, good friends are friends forever,” the entity said, “mon capitaine.”

“Q!” the other entity spoke, recalling at once that he was Jean-Luc Picard.  “What madness is this?  What have you gotten me into now?”

In a flash, the blackness vanished and Q and Jean-Luc were standing on a hillside, the breeze blowing, the trees waving, the grass beneath them, and the sun shining high in the sky.  It reminded Jean-Luc of his home in France.  “What is this?” Picard demanded, finding that now he had a body, or at least a representation of what was his body.

“You’re dead,” Q replied, “and your life is about to pass before your eyes, starting with your old stomping grounds.”  He yawned.  “I’m sure it will be as droll as you; wake me when it’s over.”

“Dead?” Picard echoed.  He remembered being shot, Worf immediately firing upon the assassin, Beverly looking into his eyes during his last moments of life, floating up, seeing his body with Beverly over him along with the other people who had gathered to hear his address, and then he floated out of the ship. He floated out past the stars, into the blackness where he met Q.

“Deader than a door nail,” Q replied.  “This is my first time dead, too.  You know, I was rather concerned at the start of it all.  I thought I was in human Hell, what with that horrible feeling of isolation and all, but I had no idea why your God would want to send me there, especially since I had done so much work to help His poor, pathetic people.  Then I saw you and I knew that I must be in Heaven.”  Q smiled warmly as he approached Jean-Luc and put his hand on Jean-Luc’s right shoulder.  “Just think, mon capitaine, an eternity together!”

“You were right the first time,” Picard grumbled as he removed Q’s hand from his shoulder.  “This must be Hell.”

Q rolled his eyes.  “For once you think you would show a little gratitude!  After all, I was trying to help you out!”

“You can help me out by returning me to my ship!”

“I am just as human as you, Picard,” Q replied dryly.  “Don’t you remember?  I came aboard your ship seeking to help you after the Continuum stripped me of my powers but you whined and put me in the brig then the Calamarain came.  They took me, tortured me, and left me for dead on some God forsaken moon.  After that, I was passed from race to race, species to species, being tortured not only for things I had done but also for things the other members of the Continuum had done.  I was actually relieved when the Taecate executed me.”

“I hope you’re satisfied, Q,” Picard said irately.  “You always wanted to find out all you could about humans and now you get to find out about death.  I hope you’re learning something.”

“None of this would have happened if you had been more cooperative when I came aboard your ship,” Q advised.

“What do you mean?” Picard demanded.

“I came aboard to help you, Picard,” Q stated.  “You know, a funny thing happened to me on my way to eternity-the Continuum showed me what things might have been like had I lived.  One thing that would have been different is that you would still exist in your limited existence in time.”

“Q, I am not interested in…,” Picard began to say.

“Oh, but you should be, mon capitaine,” Q replied.  “If I had lived, it would have meant that somebody from your crew was able to save me from the Calamarain and then the Continuum would have restored my powers.  I could have been there to save you from your assassin.”  Picard looked at Q with unbelief.  “Trust me.  That is the way it would have worked out.”

“I’d rather see you dead and out of our way,” Picard said with a sardonic smile.  “I guess if I had to die as a result then that is a small price to pay.”

“There you go again, Picard,” Q sighed.  “You do wound me.  I have only wanted to help you; I have always held your best interest in mind.”

“Thank you for your concern, Q, but we can manage just fine without you,” Picard asserted.  “The last thing humanity needs is your superior attitude directing our lives!”

“You know,” Q said nostalgically, “that is exactly what John F. Kennedy told me just before he decided to go on his joy ride through Dallas on November 22, 1963.  When he died, I was swimming in the waters of Orxim Theta.  Where were you?”

“Q…,” Picard began irately.

“Humanity has never appreciated me,” Q continued.  “I tried to tell Hitler that he could make it as an artist but do you think he listened?  Humph!  You and he have a lot in common, Picard.  I remember when…”

“Q!” Picard yelled.

“Don’t interrupt me, Jean-Luc,” Q said sharply.  “You know, you humans have such a problem in submitting to a higher power for direction in your lives.  You weren’t always that way.  I remember being aboard NASA’s Apollo 8 when they actually read Scripture to the world.  It was admirable, at least.”

“We do just fine by ourselves,” Picard insisted.  “Now, if you would stop this silly game and return me to my ship…”

“Hard, isn’t it, mon capitaine?” Q asked.  “I mean, not being in control and all.  Death has a way of doing that to a person.  You know what?  I could care less.  For century upon century I have seen the human race think so highly of themselves.  They actually once thought their Earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around them.  Then it dawned on them that they revolved around their sun and they eventually came to realize that their sun revolves around something.  Then they realized that even all the galaxies in the great universe revolved around something other than their puny world.  Humans!  They are slow but you got to hand it to them!”

“I suppose that you’re going to tell me that this Ôsomething’ is your Continuum,” Picard said.  “Are you going to tell me that you are God?”

“Pshaw!” exasperated Q.  “You don’t seriously think that I would want to be a God to such a thing as humans?”

“No, of course not,” Picard replied.  “If you were then you would realize what precious thing humanity is in this universe.  The God of humanity is mindful of us!”

“Claiming an allegiance to a higher power, are we?” Q raised an eyebrow as he considered Picard.  “That is quite un-autonomous of you, Jean-Luc.”

“I’m just…” Picard began to say, only to be distracted by a shuttle flying overhead.  The shuttle landed beyond the hill and he stepped forward to see what it was.  Stepping out were two people that he recognized as his parents and they were carrying a baby.  He realized that Q was right; his life was beginning to replay in front of his eyes.

“Awww,” Q said as he stepped beside Picard, “you were weally a cute wittle boy!”  Picard just glared at Q as he gave a tiny wave to the baby below them and smiled.

CHAPTER THREE

“It’s an anomaly of particularly unusual readings, sir,” Spevack B’kor, an ensign science officer under the training of Commander Data, reported as Data looked over his shoulder at his findings in stellar spectroscopy regarding the unusual readings they discovered near Wadi Besor.  “It appeared to be local to Wadi Besor but it is growing in size.”

“Is the planet in any danger?” Data inquired.

“Possibly,” B’kor replied.

“Sir,” Miles O’Brien broke in, “the anomalous presence appears to defy all logic and rules of astronomy.”

“Can you please elaborate?” Data inquired

“It’s like it’s a gateway of some sort,” Miles reported.  “Within the gateway, I am reading some incredible readings, as if all elements of matter and anti-matter are coexisting within this gateway, resulting in a portal in space that could potentially take us to any point in time or space, and it could just as potentially take us to any point in an alternate reality as well.”  Miles paused for a moment to take in what he was reading on the sensors.  “Sir, it’s literally like a gateway to eternity.”

“Hmmm,” Data began softly as he perused the readings.  “Twenty-six dimensions are being detected.”

“Affirmative,” B’kor nodded.  “It has been long postulated that twenty-six dimensions compose the fabric of space and time, though it has yet to be solidly proven.”

“Sir, perhaps we should delay our arrival at Wadi Besor,” Miles suggested.

“I’ll mention your recommendation to Captain Riker,” Data said.  “However, I feel that we should go to Wadi Besor as planned and continue our scans there.  If the world does indeed become imperiled, our presence there may be their remaining hope.  I will advise the Captain to use evasive maneuvers in the mean time.”  Data turned his attention away from stellar spectroscopy and ordered, “Ensign B’kor, you will accompany me to the bridge so we can investigate this further.  Chief, report to engineering and assist Commander Argyle in preparing the Enterprise for an encounter with this anomaly.”

All that she dread, all that she had anticipated in terror, came cascading upon Guinan in an instant, resulting in a cacophony of turmoil and disdain as she worked in Ten Forward.   The anomaly that Data had detected was not merely a disruption in space or just another routine anomaly; the Continuum had arrived, and not all was well.

Guinan had known the Continuum before, as well did her species, the El-Aurians.  For reasons she preferred to keep to herself, Guinan held the Q Continuum in contempt.  The race of so-called proclaimed gods had tried to rule over the El-Aurians before, trying to toy with them as they had with several other species of the universe, but the Continuum had failed to realize the true origin of the El-Aurians.  Guinan, the wisest and the most powerful of the El-Aurians, was able to thwart Q’s plans to intervene in their society.  Q felt they knew better than everybody, and were more powerful than all the races in the universe, but for all their proclaimed universal power and knowledge, they failed to consider the El-Aurians.  Together, the El-Aurians were just as powerful as and stronger than Q had ever hoped to encounter.  For the first time Q met an equal, and it terrified him.  Q desired for centuries to find a way to control the El-Aurians, and had long avoided them as to avoid embarrassment and keep face with all the other species of the universe they felt they could control.

Now it was different.  Guinan did not feel the surge of power in her that she could use to fight against Q.  The entire Continuum was coming for her, and her alone.  Together with her people, perhaps she would have a hope of a good fight, but unfortunately, the Borg saw fit to put an end to that hope.  Guinan was now of a dying race and the Continuum was moving in for the kill, or so it would seem.

Moments before the Continuum began to invade Guinan’s being she managed to tap her com badge and stammer the words, “Guinan to sickbay.”  They were trembling words, words that sounded to Doctor Beverly Crusher to be the final words before a hopeless demise.

Beverly Crusher and Doctor Selar rushed into Ten Forward, immediately kneeling on the floor, scanning Guinan’s body with a tricorder.  “This is unlike anything I have encountered,” Doctor Crusher announced after a few moments scanning Guinan.

Commander Data rushed in behind the medical team and looked down at Guinan.  She was unconscious, and she hardly seemed to be alive.  “Is she dying?”

“Her vital signs are present and fully functional but they don’t seem to be her own,” Beverly reported.

Commander Data looked up and saw Ben, Ten Forward’s citizen barkeep, looking onward, concerned and concentrating.  “Ben, what was Guinan doing before she collapsed?”

“She was rambling about something coming to the ship,” Ben said.  “I came back to Ten Forward because of her erratic behavior earlier and I found her in a worse state, making no sense.  I can’t say that I fully understood where she was coming from, but I got the impression that she felt the ship was in trouble or that some kind of disaster was waiting to happen.  She then became quiet and collapsed.”

“This is most curious,” Dr. Crusher breathed.  “I don’t think that this hypothesis is correct but I’ll check it in sickbay.”  She turned to Doctor Selar and said, “We have to get her to sickbay immediately.

As Doctor Selar began to tap her combadge to ask a transporter chief to transport them and the patient to sickbay, a flash of light enveloped Guinan, momentarily blinding all on lookers, and once the flash was gone, Guinan was gone with it.

“What just occurred?” Data asked as he turned to Dr. Crusher.

Beverly gasped as she read her tricorder readings.  “There is no way that….”  She broke off in mid sentence, turned to Commander Data, and said, “It has got to be something with that anomaly you were investigating earlier, but I don’t see howÉ”  Dr. Crusher’s mind seemed to be working ahead of her speech, and she was clearly having difficulty in processing what she thought she knew.  She tapped her combadge and said, “Captain Riker to Ten Forward immediately.”

The review of his life took Jean-Luc to his fateful day, stardate 44741.9.  “Mystery.”  Captain Picard stood ceremoniously at the podium as he considered his audience.  “It is the mystery of Tagus III that brings us here together today.  It is a mystery that has invited more argument, more deduction, more speculation than the best works of fiction.  And, if you would excuse the conceit, I want to tell you about my detective story.”

As the Captain gazed over the watchful eyes of the crowd, he was oblivious to the maroon skinned alien sitting in the front row.  His eyes wandered to Vash, and his eyes could not help but hold their gaze upon her eyes for a moment or two as his eyes swept over the room. It was the disagreement they had that preoccupied him the most, the argument that made her say that he did not want her aboard the ship.  He was sorry he did not resolve that situation before the address.  As he spoke of one mystery, he found his mind engrossed in the mystery of relationships.  He could figure out the mystery of Tagus III in due time but the mystery of Vash may forever go unsolved.

“For several years now,” the Captain continued, “I have been trying to unravel the secrets of Tagus III.  Needless to say, I have not succeeded.  However, I have, I believe, turned up some new information that, if nothing else, only raises a new set of mysteries and I hope that we can discuss them here together.”

Those eyes!  Picard found himself stopping at Vash’s gaze once again, finding her eyes containing a new set of mysteries that he hoped that they could discuss together after the meeting.  He looked at her as if to say that he had been trying to unravel the mystery of her.  He never noticed the deceit in the eyes of the maroon skinned alien that sat in the front row.

Picard continued professionally.  “There have been nine-hundred and forty-seven known archaeological excavations conducted on the planet’s surface.  Of those, some seventy-four are generally believed to have revealed findings of major importance.  The earliest were some 22,000 years ago…”

“Captain!” Worf cried out in Klingon fierceness.  Coming to full height, Worf lunged at the maroon alien in the front the instant he detected the disruptor.  Picard broke his gaze with Vash and witnessed the last moments of his life:  Worf taking the alien down, the disruptor discharging, Beverly, Riker, and Troi rushing to his side, and the charge that hit immediately killed him.

“That’s all, folks,” Q said dryly as a wide eyed Captain Picard ceased having his life pass before his eyes.  They now stood in an empty Enterprise conference room.

“If I could do it all over again…,” Picard began.

“You would get a security chief that had communication skills beyond two tone grunts?” Q guessed.  “If you ask me, Worf is highly overrated.  I mean, look at his shooting skills.  On the holodeck, yeah, he might be good, but in combat, well….”

“Enough!” Picard asserted as he turned towards Q.  He suddenly grew sullen and reflective.  “I wouldn’t have been distracted by that woman.”

“If I had been there, Jean Luc,” Q smiled, “I would have protected you.”

Picard flashed his eyes at Q.  “Oh, I’m sure you would have,” he said sarcastically.

“Really, mon capitaine,” Q replied.  “I would have been there for you.  I would have been your tutelary saint, your guardian angel.  I, Picard, would have saved you from that assassin and from the coldness of that female.  But you put me in the brig the last time I tried to help and look where it has gotten us.”

“If you wanted to be of service to us, then you wouldn’t have interfered in our affairs in the first place,” Picard said.

“My, my, Jean Luc,” Q shook his head slowly.  “You just do not see, do you?  If you only knew how richly I have blessed your meager existence, how I have poured blessings on you when you least deserved them, never knowing it was me. I did it out of my love for you, Jean Luc.”

“I’m not spending my eternity bickering with you, Q!” Picard stated as he began to walk towards the door, which obediently parted at his presence.  “I’m going back to being alone.”

“Drop a line every now and then,” Q said.  “I still do love you, mon capitaine!”

Expecting to walk out into the empty corridor of the vacant Enterprise, Picard suddenly found himself floating again in the emptiness of a vast space.  He was mere energy again, his soul seeking for rest.  Q was nowhere to be seen, but Jean Luc could see in the distance the appearance of a horizon of some sort.  Not a landscape, per se, but a horizon of a rift.  A horizon of energy strings that were tattered and growing disorganized.  Moreover, they were moving towards him.

CHAPTER FOUR

“Captain Riker, we have reached Wadi Besor,” Worf spoke over the com.  “Admiral Hetzett is waiting.”

“Acknowledged,” Riker replied.  “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”  Captain Riker returned his attention to the computer console that Dr. Crusher had brought him to.

“The DNA is different,” Beverly began, “but Guinan’s neurological readings that I was able to get before she vanished are strikingly similar to these here.”  She pointed to the screen.  “I have only seen two other people with such unusual neurological readings.”

“Impossible,” Riker whispered when he saw another neurological reading come up on the display.  “When did you make those scans on him?”

“When he came aboard claiming he was human,” Dr. Crusher replied.  “Guinan is displaying unusual Q like qualities in her entire physiological being.”

“She has become part of the Continuum?” Riker asked, in shock.

“It appears so,” Beverly replied.  “Her readings are also strikingly similar to yours when you were endowed with the powers of Q.”  She brought up Riker’s previous neurological scan on her console.

“Then it appears that we have more on our hands here than we ever bargained for,” Riker replied.  “I thought we were through with dealing with Q after he died.”

“There is not much more for us to do now.  You need to go to the funeral,” Beverly said.

“You’re right,” sighed Riker.  “Make sure you contact me if any other signs of Q’s presence arise in the ship.”

“Maintaining standard orbit, sir,” the ensign at the helm reported as Captain Riker strode onto the bridge.  Below the ship was the N-class world of Wadi Besor, characterized by the fact that 96% water covered the surface.

“What is the status on the anomalous gateway?” inquired Captain Riker, turning to Commander Data and Ensign B’kor at the science station.

“It has not proven to be stable,” Commander Data replied.  “The gateway is beginning to buckle and the tethering beams of matter and anti-matter spewing out of it are growing stronger and stronger.  It’s is hard to determine how long we can hold our position here.”

“And what about Wadi Besor?” Captain Riker wondered.  “How much danger are they in?”

“If the planet gets caught in the anomaly, it could be swept away into an alternate reality, and will probably destroy all life on the planet.”

Riker rubbed his brow with weariness.  “And you say you think it’s the Q Continuum that is responsible for this anomaly?”

“We believe the anomaly to be the Q Continuum, Captain,” Data replied.  “The tethering beams of energy are the same that collided with our ship and attacked Guinan.”

“If one of those tendrils collides with the ship again, what are the potential consequences?” Riker asked.

“It depends.  There are varying degrees of power and matter and anti-matter within the tendrils,” Data said.  “Worst case scenario is if one of the tendrils with the maximum amount of anti-matter strikes the Enterprise, we would be destroyed.”

“Have the Taecate been advised of the situation?”

“Negative, Captain.  However, I do understand their own science officers have been investigating the anomaly, but we have yet to share our findings with them, and they likely have no idea what they are looking at, as if I am sure they never encountered the Q like this before.  The only reason we are able to make such conclusions regarding the anomaly is that this is the same Continuum energy matrix that contacted us in our mission to Farpoint.”

Riker nodded, turning his attention to the communications officer on duty. “Open hailing frequencies.”

On the screen, a maroon skinned alien appeared within an undersea office.  The alien had ridges that looked as if they were carved into his skin, rolling up and down like tiny hills and valleys.  By elaborate design, the ridges that characterized his face curved up his head, meeting at the apex of his skull, where they all met together to form a high ridge that extended over his head and down his neck.  He wore a formal Federation admiral’s gown.  “Captain Riker, welcome to Wadi Besor,” the alien breathed out of gills.  He was apparently a sea mammal that could live on land or in the sea.  The forced English out of his gills made him sound muffled with a heavy accent.  He had had the forming of a mouth and six gills, three on each cheek.

“Thank you, Admiral Hetzett,” Captain Riker replied, “and I am greatly grieved over the death of Captain Tutizi.  However, I have graver concerns on my mind at this time.”

“Understood,” Admiral Hetzett nodded knowingly, as he already seemed distracted by the anomaly threatening the planet.  “We would appreciate it if you shared with us any information you have on the anomaly.”

“Naturally,” Riker replied.  “I will bring down all information I can when I come down.  Regarding the funeralÉ”

“The funeral has been postponed for the time being,” Admiral Hetzett informed.  “The planet has been placed on world wide alert until this anomaly can be brought under control.  The sooner we can get to work on this the better, Captain Riker.”

“I concur,” Captain Riker nodded.  “I do not undermine the urgency of the situation.  I do have to ask, however, if anything has been uncovered regarding the mysterious murder of Captain Tutizi.”

“Not a solitary piece of evidence has been uncovered.  In all my time in working with Starfleet and Starfleet Security, every crime has some kind of evidence left behind.  I have never seen one perfect crime, ever,” Admiral Hetzett said.

“Nor have I, Admiral,” Captain Riker replied.  “My science team has informed me that they have collected all the data on the anomaly and we are ready to share the information with you,” Riker stated.  “When would you like me to beam down?”

“At once, Captain,” Admiral Hetzett replied.  “My science officers haven’t given us much time to get this situation resolved before we may be forced to evacuate the planet.”

“Understood.  Riker out.”  Riker began to walk to the turbolift.  “Data, you have the bridge.”

Captain Riker passed by Data and collected a data disc containing the findings on the anomaly.  He did not even look up as he entered the turbo lift, as he was walking with great urgency.  As he heard the doors slide shut behind him, he realized that he was not in the turbo lift, much less aboard the Enterprise.  He looked around and recognized the surroundings from the visual he had with Admiral Hetzett; this was the admiral’s undersea office.  Looking towards a vast view port, Riker saw the admiral’s desk and the admiral sitting in a large chair, his back turned to Riker.  Did the Taecate have the ability to transport people with such efficiency?

“Admiral,” Riker said as he approached the desk.  The admiral swung his chair around and it was not Admiral Hetzett.  The figure, clearly a humanoid with no distinctive markings, peered at Riker as if they were close acquaintances.  “What the…?” Riker breathed in a whisper.

The man, characterized by his blond hair with a few unruly strands hanging down over his left eye, smiled at Riker.  “Now,” he said, “we can get down to business.”

“Q!” Riker shouted angrily.  “I should have known that only you would try to pull something like this!  Damn it Q, we do not have time for this!  The fate of the world hangs in the balance!”

However, it was not the Q entity that the Enterprise crew knew so well.  It was Q2, the blonde haired Q who loved even more to meddle in the lives of various species, but Riker could recognize the Q qualities of this being and knew he was the same as the Q who had tormented his crew in the past..  “Blah blah blah balance this balance that blah blah blah,” Q2 yawned.  “That’s the problem with you Starfleet types, Captain:  You’re always taking yourselves too seriously, thinking the entire fate of the world and the universe itself rests in your hands, as if the meaningless actions of your miniscule crew can actually have an everlasting effect on the events in this universe.”

“The fate of Wadi Besor hangs in a delicate balance, Q!” Riker shouted angrily.  “While you’ve been conjuring up foolish games and tricks to play on me, an anomaly-YOUR Continuum-has been threatening the fabric of space and time itself, and hangs dangerously close to Wadi Besor and threatens the very fabric of life on the planet!”

“See what I mean?” Q2 pointed out.  “Fabric of space this, fabric of life that, planet this, time that.  Really, Captain, sing a new song already; the band is tired of playing the same old tune over and over again.”

“I don’t think you are listening to me!” Riker said, more angry and leaning in threateningly close to Q2.

“I don’t think you have ever listened to us,” Q2 replied, this time in a more serious tone, which set Riker back a tad, as he was used to Q being more taunting, playful, and annoying.  “And that’s the problem:  You want to solve Wadi Besor’s problems, and perhaps gallantly save the universe while you are at it, but what you don’t realize is that the problems you are witnessing here with this so-called anomaly are not a creation of the Q or anybody else outside of your control, Captain.  No, sir, the problems you are witnessing with this so-called anomaly were created none other than by your hands.”

“My hands?” Riker echoed more forcefully.  “What in the worldÉ”

“Your hands, humanity’s hands, it’s all the same in the eyes of the Q,” Q2 clarified.  “I think you misunderstand me.  I am not trying to Ôpull’ anything.  I am not here to play tricks or games, nor am I here to prevent you from doing your job.  My dear Captain, if I knew your mission to Wadi Besor would fix things with your so-called anomaly, trust me-I would let you and Admiral Hetzett work together in peace and without interruption from me.  However, you do have to trust me when I say that things will not change one iota either way.  If you went to Wadi Besor or stayed on the ship and flew to parts unknown, the result would be the same:  Wadi Besor would be decimated by the so-called anomaly, and certain high ranking officials would be able to evacuate the planet, but most of them would be unable to escape, leaving billions of citizens on the planet alone to die unnaturally in their span of time.  And things may stay the same if I am to take you under my wing, but I am hoping that some how, some way, they do not and that I can affect a real change, a change that your crew and your pathetic science team playing with their elementary school calculations could never conjure up on their own.  I am simply trying to clear things up.  After all, you were the one asking if they had been able to solve the murder of Captain Tutizi yet.  Of course, left to mere humans, the murder will never be resolved.  But I think it’s come time for you to learn the truth: Captain Tutizi was murdered by the Q.”

Riker stepped back, shocked and stunned, at a complete loss for words.  In all of his dealing with the Q, they have shown themselves to be a menacing species, yes, but not in a bad way, but more of an annoying way.  He never knew that murder, deceit, or anything like that could comprise their moral make up.  “HeÉhe was my friend,” Riker stammered out after he was able to gather his thoughts.

“And he betrayed you, Will,” Q2 claimed.  “He betrayed the entire Federation.”

“How?” demanded Riker.  “How do you justify the murder of an innocent man?”

“Innocent?  My dear Captain Riker, innocent was not a trait of Captain Tutizi.  I sincerely hope you did not include that trait in your eulogy for him.  No, no.  Captain Riker, he betrayed you and the Federation because he murdered Captain Picard.”

Joining it and being caught up in it was an experience Jean Luc Picard would be least likely to forget, especially if he were yet alive.  He was not alive in his natural sense but he felt a new life pulse through him as he was joined with the string fragments as they tore through the spatial dimension that the disembodied occupied.  A new life and a new consciousness were vibrant through his entire being.

However, he felt a new death coming on.  The anomalous string fragment that he had seen and now had become a part of contained elements of dimensions that were previously alien and unknown to him; the dimensions of the universe were cascading and splintering into a set point in time, space, and dimension, resulting in a wave of anomalous energy that ruptured through all known point of time, space, and dimension.  The string fragments themselves were dying, as well was the universe.

Collecting the myriad of thoughts present within the string fragments, Jean Luc could sense the presence of Guinan, though she gave off a strong feeling of resistance, so strong in fact that Picard highly doubted that she knew he was there.  Also present was Q.  Now he only needed to learn how to communicate in this existence.

“What is this?” Jean Luc thought within, the thought immediately joining the thoughts of the others in the string fragments.

“We are continuous,” a collective replied.  “We are the Q.”

“Q!”  Jean Luc exclaimed as if uttering a filthy expletive.  “If this is another game for your amusement…”

“Mon capitaine,” a scolding voice spoke back to Jean Luc, “I assure you that I was just as dead as the best of them.  I am as perplexed as you are.  Or should I call you Q as well?  We seem to be one big happy family now.”

“Guinan!” Picard thought out furiously, grasping to receive an answer.  “Guinan!  Why in the world doesn’t she respond?”

“That’s not her name,” Q replied.

“What?!?” Picard blurted out.  He was silent to himself for a moment then at last called out, “Q!”

“Yes, Q?” Guinan’s voice replied, directed towards Captain Picard.

Picard asked,  “Why am I here?”

“I brought you here,” the voice of Q Guinan replied.  “We need your help.”

“Guinan?” Picard said again in confusion.  “Q?  Is that you?  How did you get here?”

“For the first time, I fully realize what Q fears.”  She said the words as if Jean-Luc were not there, as if she was speaking to a whole rather than to the one.

“Guinan…QÉ”

“Q fears being heard,” Guinan continued, as if thinking aloud.  She turned her attention to Jean-Luc and said, “Q, what do you know my race as?”

“I-I…,” Picard tried to understand where she was coming from.  “You’re from a race of listeners,” he finally surmised.

“You and so many other superficial species assume that I simply listen to people as a counselor listens to people.  It goes deeper than that, so much deeper.

“Jean-Luc,” Picard was surprised to hear Guinan use his actual name, making him wonder if any of his true identity was still intact in this Continuum, “I have held the truth from you for quite some time because I was afraid, afraid of my heritage and my personal history, and even the history of my people.  Long ago, there was God, and He created the Universe.  There was unrest in His Kingdom.  Had his first creation, a human, failed Him, but his angels not only rebelled and were sent to Hell.  God, in His Infinite Wisdom and Glory, spoke and created a new race, not human nor angel, not seraphim nor demon.  God created Q and A.  The Q would be the eyes and hands of God, responsible for maintaining order in the universe.  It wasn’t that God couldn’t do it Himself, but God knew the task was tremendously burdensome if He took it upon Himself all alone.  Q had many of the same powers of God, but were not God.  God did not allow the Q to rebel against Him as the angels had, so Q did not have free will to serve or turn away from God.

“A served as the ears of God.  A would listen for those who needed the most help in the entire Universe.  Q and A were of the same creation, brother and sister if you will.  Together, they were a force that brought stability to the fallen entropic universe.  Furthermore, as brother and sister, Q and A shared the same level of powers, and neither was superior over the other.

“A was the compassion of God, and understood the failings of so many of the species God created.  Q, on the other hand, was more judgmental, toying and laughing at God’s creations as if they were the ones superior and the created minions should serve them.

“Whenever there was a problem in the Universe that God wanted us to take care of, A would hear the cries, A would feel the pleas of the lost, the sick, the hurting and downtrodden.  A was responsible for informing Q of where the help was needed.  Q, however, failed in the compassion department.  They would mock and laugh at the failings of God’s created mortals, and would at times add to their misery.  In the end, Q was good at heart, and often would help the mortals in the end, but not without a price to pay.

“God, needless to say, was not pleased with Q.  Neither were the A.  A had a falling out with Q, and a battle ensued in the Heavens that took up the span of three millennia.  In the end, God intervened and A filed for a divorce from the family they belonged to with the Q.  The angels heard the case, and ruled in favor of the A, but God saw to it that it was not without a price to the A.

“God cut down the years of the A and made them mortals.  Giving them a world of their own, God released A from their services as listeners for the Q.  This did not mean this was the end of A’s involvement with Q.  The sibling rivalry continued, and now the A, which decided to call themselves El-Aurian, which means “the listeners” in their native language that God gave them, found themselves at the mercy of Q’s whims.

“Over the years and the centuries and millennia, the El-Aurians kept the powers that God gave them as sisters of the Q, but we often chose to not use them, not on other life forms.  We would use them, however, to ward off the Q.  Q became afraid of us and eventually left us alone, moving on to other species to delight themselves with, such as the humans.  The El-Aurians always knew Q was seeking a way to bring A back into the family, and now is the time.  We have been weakened over the years by our last encounters with the Q and with the Borg invasion of our home world.

“I have heard so much since I have arrived here.  As a listener, I can hear things beyond the normal perceptions of man’s ability.  For a long time now, I have heard, with acute awareness, the weakness of the Q.  A’s return home is not a welcome change for us; we hear the heartbeat of the Q and now we are the ones terrified.  I can hear more, such as a Q telling a Vulcan named Tuvok that the Q may appear omnipotent but they are not.  One Q alone is a pitiful and inexcusable form of life, and this is something that the A know too well.  It has distanced the Continuum from is as they seek out superficial and weak races to torment and to control.  It has also grossly attracted the Q to my people because we alone know their faulty heartbeat.  It was this that attracted Q to me.”

“Attracted Q to you?” Picard asked quizzically.  “Guinan, what do you…?”

“Come, Q,” Guinan said to Jean-Luc.  “We have much work to do.”

CHAPTER FIVE

“Estimated time that the anomaly will tear into our present coordinates: one hour, thirty-six minutes and five seconds,” Data reported from the Captain’s chair.  He turned his attention to the science station, where Ensign B’kor was continuing his work.  “Ensign B’kor, your equations?”

“These equations have only been theories up until now, Commander,” B’kor replied.  “Generations past, when Forchin was rich in computer technology and exporting to many different worlds, Q visited quite often.  From time to time, he chose to play games with our computer programmers, take them to his fantasy worlds.  At first, it appeared as if it all was occurring in our time, in our universe, but a few computer scientists, who were fluent in many of the equations the universe uses to operate, theorized and drew up equations based on how the Q Continuum operated.  It was soon discovered that the Q Continuum uses its own Continuum to create worlds and alternate realities, using it’s own portal to an eternity of alternate realities and their own portal to key points in the time line to make it look like as if they were the omnipotent ones, when all the Q were are aliens who learned to use the tools they had.  Our scientists that reckoned the equations of the Q Continuum put it all in a science journal.  I studied many of these science texts when I was in school.  The Forchinians never attempted this theory, but I believe it will work, though for the time being I am waiting for the results to complete their computations.  For now, we are still in the dark.”

“That would not be a problem, Mr. Spevack,” Data said as he turned back to the view screen.  “My optical sensory inputs provide me with automatic dilation in inadequately lit areas.”  He paused for a moment then said, “Mr. Worf, hail Captain Riker.  We want him to be updated on the situation and to find out if he feels we should stay or not.”

Worf was silent for a few moments then sighed with frustration, “Sir!  Something is blocking our hailing frequencies!”

“Odd,” Data replied.  “Wadi Besor contains no atmospheric disturbances that would block a hailing frequency.  Could we beam Captain Riker out of there if necessary?”

Again, Worf replied with frustration, “Our transporters cannot penetrate the atmosphere of the planet!  The cause is unknown.”

“Then the only reason we know of is the Q,” Data replied.  “They somehow must be preventing us from contacting the Captain.  Perhaps a shuttle…”

“I’ll pilot the shuttle,” Worf offered.

“I will not allow it,” Data insisted.  “We all know what happened to Geordi the last time we sent a senior officer on an away mission.”

“Sir, if the Captain is in danger…,” Worf protested.

“We have no prior record of Q ever putting our Captain in danger,” Data replied.  “The worst Q ever did to Captain Picard was to taunt him from time to time but never did Q put the Captain in danger.  I believe that Chief O’Brien should pilot the shuttle, and I will assign Ensign B’kor to the mission seeing that he has a prior understanding of how the Q Continuum works.”  Data tapped his com badge, “Data to Chief O’Brien.”

“O’Brien here,” the Chief replied.

“Chief, I want you to pilot a shuttle with Ensign B’kor down to Wadi Besor to investigate why we cannot reach Captain Riker.”

“Sir, are you sure?” Miles asked, not wanting to second-guess Data’s orders, but hoping to find reason in all of this.

“Chief,” Data replied, “if you want that promotion, you are going to have to take more missions like this, I am afraid.  Besides, I know you already have more than a passing familiarity with the anomaly we have been studying.”

“I’m on my way, sir,” Chief O’Brien replied as he departed from his post.

“Ensign B’kor shall accompany you,” Data nodded to Ensign B’kor, giving a silent nod as an approval for him to leave his post at the science station..

“Yes, sir,” B’kor said has he started towards the turbo lift.

“But Worf was thorough in his investigation of the assassination of Captain Picard,” Captain Riker insisted.  “The Taecate aboard that assassinated him was Hamzira Bomani, a lone bounty hunter.”

“And who hired him?” Q2 asked.

“Nobody,” Riker stated.  “He was working alone.”

“Funny,” Q2 mused.  “I thought you claimed Worf was thorough in his investigation.  If he had been thorough as you claimed, he would have discovered covert connections between Hamzira Bomani and Captain Tutizi.”

“Captain Tutizi was my friend,” Riker said forcefully.  “You damn well better have evidence to back this up.”

“And even if I do, would you believe me?” Q2 said.  “Sure, I could take you to all the points in time where Tutizi met with Bomani and show you all the detailed meetings they had to devise a method and a time to assassinate your precious Captain, but I doubt even then you would believe me; you would probably accuse me of manufacturing the images you saw.  I could show you how Captain Picard had uncovered treachery and corruption at the very core of Starfleet, and how that knowledge made him a marked man from that point forward.  Moreover, if you do not take my word for it, we are in Admiral Hetzett’s office, and I can grant you full access to his computer and data files and you can see for yourself, if you dig deep enough, the treachery and wickedness he and Tutizi were involved in.  Captain Tutizi was involved deeply in the corruption of Starfleet, and he gained your trust and Captain Picard’s trust for the sole purpose of getting the Taecate to be granted admission to the Enterprise where, once on board, they would contrive of a way to silence the knowledge that Captain Picard stored away in the depths of his memory.  Captain Tutizi knew the assassination must take place during the archaeological conference but knew the assassin would be signing his own death warrant. That is why he hired the bounty hunter Hamzira Bomani, a Taecate who kept his history well hidden, buried in the depths of Taecate records where not Worf or even the top intelligence officers of Starfleet could ever uncover them.  Captain Tutizi only put up the front as your friend to cement the deception, knowing that the truth could never be uncovered, and trusting that you would never question it from such an Ôinnocent’ and Ôtrustworthy’ man as him.”

Riker could only gaze in unbelief at Q2.  The information was far too much for him to process all at once.  “How do I know this isn’t an elaborate prank?

“To what end?” Q2 asked.  “Seriously, Captain, what would I have to gain from this?  If you search in your heart, you will find the words I speak to you are clear and true.  The Q Continuum came to learn of the truth behind the assassination of Captain Picard after the Taecate came in possession of the human Q.  As you know, we stripped Q of his powers and the Calamarain took him to torture him, and they passed him from species to species, all the species that Q had tormented in the past.  This served as justice to the various species Q had tormented, as they each felt they gained justice when they tortured and tormented the now human Q.  He was powerless to defend himself, and he was out of protection of the Continuum as well.  When it came time for the Taecate to get their turn at justice, they unceremoniously executed Q.  Why?   They knew what would happen if Q was allowed to live:  If he had learned his lessons we wanted him to learn, we would have restored his powers, and with restored powers, Q would have continued to be a presence in the life of Captain Picard, protecting him and serving him for the rest of his life.  That was not a gamble the Taecate could take, so Captain Tutizi and Admiral Hetzett ordered Q’s execution.  Never learning what we hoped he would learn, the Continuum was unable to restore his powers, and thus he died.”

“Then you are just as guilty as the Taecate are for his own death!” Riker insisted.

“On the contrary,” Q2 insisted.  “We are every bit the victim Q was when he was executed.  We were unable to grant his powers back before he died because justice had to be served.  Our Continuum must rely on rules and regulations to exist.  I am sure you at least understand that concept, Captain Riker.  Otherwise, the Continuum would experience treachery and corruption the likes the Federation are experiencing even at the moment we are talking.

“Like I said, though, when Q died, we suffered as victims as well.  A piece of the Continuum had died, Captain Riker, and a piece of the Continuum had never died, not in its entire span of existence, and the consequences were unimaginable.  Yes, Q had left us before, but never once did they die as Q.  Only after did they serve their time without powers were they judged if they learned their lessons or not, and if they had not learned their lessons, they were made fully mortal, with no connections to the Q whatsoever, and their fates did not affect us.

“However, with Q, it was different.  He was in the process of being judged when he was killed.  At that point, other Q came more and more unruly, bent on revenge and destruction of the species that had contributed to the demise of Q.  Revenge and destruction are not in our nature, and the introduction of these into our Continuum changed us forever.  We were forced to excommunicate other Q, banishing them away from the Continuum in hopes of restoring our unity and peace, but with each passing Q we excommunicated, the Continuum grew that much more unstable and that many more Q rebelled and started to act as they wanted to act.  That disrupted the entire Continuum and we are now what you see today: unable to hold our own form, splintering into the fabric of time and space, threatening everything we come in contact with.

“It is not by mistake that we are at Wadi Besor, either.  The rebelling Continuum has worked against me and has promised revenge against those who executed one of their own.  But it won’t end here, Captain Riker; the Continuum will continue to splinter and tear apart into the universe, destroying all they come in contact with until the very fabric of time and space you so gallantly try to defend will truly be threatened beyond repair.”

“Then how is this of my hands?” Riker asked.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You said when you brought me here at first that all that was happening was due to the hands of humanity.”

“This is true,” Q2 affirmed.  “When Captain Picard refused to help Q in his humanity, Q was unable to learn the lessons he was to learn before we could restore his powers.  If we were able to restore Q’s powers, the Continuum would have continued without the motives of revenge and the introduction of evil into their heart and the Taecate would be merely your problem, and not a concern of the Continuum.  Had humanity done its job when it needed to, things would have turned out vastly differently.  But then again, helping Q in his humanity isn’t as gallant as saving the universe or saving the fabric of time and space, as you are so prone to proudly point out whenever you think you do those things.  It would have been a far more humble and less noticeable action, and never would have generated any attention to Picard nor would have it helped in his quest for the Admiral’s chair he desired at Starfleet.  Because of the shortsightedness of humanity, all now suffer greatly.”

“If that’s the case, what can I do now?” Captain Riker wondered.

“You can restore the strength of the Continuum,” Q2 stated.  “Before Q had his powers stripped, he feared that the inevitable result of his humanity would be his death, and he left this: a will.”

“What in the world is going on here?” Riker demanded as he approached Q2.

“Will.” Q2 smiled as he rose to his feet, “It’s a legal thing.  No pun intended, of course”

Riker narrowed his eyes.  “What are you talking about?”

“It’s this will,” Q2 said as he extended a scroll of paper.  Riker looked at the scroll with suspicion.  “What?!  That is what you are here for, is it not?  To bury someone?  This will was meant to be given to you.”

Wordlessly, Captain Riker took the scroll of paper in his hand.  He removed the gold ribbon that held the scroll together and rolled the scroll back.  “To my friend William Riker,” the handwriting read, “I request that you give the eulogy at my funeral in the unfortunate occurrence of my death.  Belovedly yours, Q.”

“A will for Will!” Q2 laughed.  Riker found no humor in this, and scowled quite fiercely at Q2.  Q2 just shrugged and said, “I will never understand what the Continuum saw in your species.”

“I am not playing this game!” Riker shouted as he shoved the scroll back into the hands of Q2.  “We have far more serious things to be concerned about at this time!”

“Has my talk with you been of no profit at all?” Q2 seemed deflated.  “We’ve gone over that already: Wadi Besor and your precious fabric of time and space are doomed no matter what you do.  Give your science findings to Admiral Hetzett or sit on an egg and pivot; it makes no difference in the end.  Now, if you listen to me, you can help matters tremendously.  You have to do exactly what the will requests.  Q requested that you give the eulogy at his funeral.”

“That would require me to say something good about the deceased one in question,” Riker replied.  “You have the wrong man for the job.”

Q2 rubbed his brow with weariness.  “I know, I know,” he sighed.  “Q wrote up 5,000,000,000,000 such requests to his Ôfriends’ all throughout the universe.  Every one of them has turned me down.  You were the last one on the list.”

“I’m touched that Q remembered me,” Riker said.  “Now, can you get me to Admiral Hetzett?  We have an important matter to discuss.”

“I’ll get you there, Riker,” Q2 said, “and you won’t even notice that any time had elapsed.  You see, I can take you back in time if I need to.  I have forever to wait for you to agree to give the eulogy.  You, on the other hand, might age a bit.”

“I think I got a few gray hairs since this started.”  Captain Riker’s patience was wearing thin.  “To whom would I give this eulogy to?” Riker demanded.  “If 5,000,000,000,000 different species wouldn’t give the eulogy, then who is going to attend the funeral?”

“Truthfully, the wake wasn’t well attended,” Q2 said.  “Well, an Alterian gnat did show up, but his small cranium size led me to believe he flew in completely by mistake, not even realizing who Q was, or where he was for that matter, as the Alterian gnats are probably among the simplest of life forms in the galaxy.  I have more hope for the funeral.”

“Great,” Riker sighed, “I’m going to give a eulogy to bugs.”

Q2 smiled and shrugged.  “We do what we have to do.”

“And exactly what will this eulogy for Q achieve?”

“If an appreciation for Q can be found in the heart of one species, it will restore faith in the Continuum, it will bring an end to the rebellion and the lust for revenge, and peace to the universe will be restored.  If you write the proper eulogy, Captain Riker, you will have managed to save the fabric of time and space you have futilely strove to protect up to this point in time.  I understand this eulogy won’t get you the attention you crave, nor will it help you become an Admiral later in your life, nor will it even be mentioned in the annals of Starfleet history as a footnote.  It will humble you and it may go a long way in teaching the rebelling Q the lesson that Q needed to learn, the lesson that would have saved the Continuum had he learned it before he was executed.”

“Give me some time to come up with something to say,” Captain Riker said.

“Take all the time you need,” Q2 replied.

“You said you can take me back in time if the need presents itself?” Riker asked.

“Yes.”

“Good.”  Riker departed from the office, knowing that this was going to take some creativity to come up with something good to say about Q.

The anomaly grew closer to Wadi Besor.  On the view screen of the Enterprise, the string fragments appeared as a tattered garment.  From the view of the shuttle Resolute, the string fragment anomaly was above them.  Ensign Spevack B’kor had piloted the shuttle into the upper atmosphere of the planet and the anomalous fragment was enveloping the planet from above.

“We have lost communication with the Chief’s shuttle,” reported Lieutenant Vaith from ops.  “The anomaly is wreaking havoc with our sensors and communications.”

“Data,” Deanna Troi began, “I feel a mass of great confusion, hurt, and anger.  A myriad of emotions and responses are present within that anomaly.”

“Sir!” Worf exploded.  “The string fragments are tethering towards the Enterprise!”

“Evasive maneuvers, Mr. Worf,” Data ordered.  “Take us out of range of the anomaly.”

It was futile to attempt an escape.  The tethering strings of energy pulsed into and through the hull of the ship, shorting out computer systems on all decks.  On the bridge, energy surrounded the crew, blinding most of them, and causing others to kneel in fear.  Standing to his feet, Data walked towards the energy that was crackling near the view screen.  Focusing his eyes, Data almost thought he could see a familiar form in the crackling energy.  It almost appeared to be Jean Luc Picard.  Extending his hand to the ghostly figure, Data simply whispered, “Captain?”

Picard could only mouth Data’s name before the energy dissipated and the image of Jean Luc Picard likewise dissipated.

Turning to Worf, Data said, “Analysis?”

“There are reports of injuries coming in from engineering,” Worf replied.

“Mr. Worf, did you see…?” Data began, only to note a befuddled look on Worf’s face.  “Never mind.  I will be in the ready room.  Commander Troi, you have the bridge.”

Aboard the Resolute, Chief O’Brien worked frantically at the helm to avoid an oncoming energy pulse.  “Report, Mr. Spevack!” he exclaimed.

“The string fragments are tethering apart, disintegrating at ever-increasing increments,” Spevack replied.  He slammed his fist into the top of his screen.  “Blast!  Q, just show yourself and get it over!”

“The energy is following us and increasing in speed,” Miles updated.

“It has to be the Continuum,” Spevack replied.  “Perhaps they are going to answer my request.  All stop.”

“Mr. Spevack, I am not sure if that’s the best idea!”

“Trust me Chief.  Remember, my people have had centuries of dealing with the Q Continuum, and I feel this is the best thing we can do right now.  All stop.”

Though Spevack was an ensign, Chief O’Brien complied and brought the shuttle to a complete halt, orbiting above the vast ocean of Wadi Besor, trusting that Spevack was indeed the most qualified person aboard the Enterprise to deal with the unpredictable Q.  Realizing that if the energy harmed the shuttle at all, it was a long way down to the surface of the planet and even further to any kind of land mass or even to any oceanic bases.  “Shields up,” the Chief ordered said.

The energy plunged into the hull of the shuttle.  “Shields are ineffective,” B’kor announced, hardly surprised.  The Q could penetrate anything.  “The energy is penetrating the hull.”

The energy culminated behind B’kor and O’Brien and took form; it was Guinan.  “You have entered into the Continuum,” she announced.  “You must join us or be destroyed.”

“Guinan!” B’kor shot to his feet.  “If you can allow us to contact the Enterprise…”

“The Enterprise shall be dealt with in due time,” Guinan announced.  “You would make a formidable Q.”

Spevack B’kor stood in helpless silence as he felt a new energy pulse through the fullness of his being.  He began to tremble in a state of ataxia and collapsed to the floor, ushering the aide of Chief O’Brien to his side.  It was futile.  “Let him be,” Guinan spoke.

“No!” insisted O’Brien.  “Get away from him!”

Spevack B’kor looked up with hard eyes into the soft gaze of Guinan.  Somehow, he felt as if he was about to die, as if his body was going to explode with the power that was inside of him.  In addition to that, he felt his personal identity slip away, melting away into a river of yesterday, as if he felt he was being called by a new name, a name that could only identify him now:  The name of…

“Q,” Guinan said as she extended her hand, “resist no more.”

A flash caught Chief O’Brien off guard.  As his eyes quickly refocused, he saw that both Guinan and Spevack were gone.  He nervously recalled that Guinan had said that he must join the Continuum or die.  He noted that the surface of the ocean was coming closer to him.  In a moment, he knew that he could continue in the shuttle and be exposed to the Continuum again and potentially become the next candidate for the Continuum, or he could be given the chance to die.  He chose death, allowing the water to envelope his shuttle and resisting not at all as the pressure of the ocean cracked the hull of the shuttle like the shell of a nut and water came cascading in to the shuttle, condemning Miles O’Brien to a watery grave.

CHAPTER SIX

As Data sat at the desk in the ready room, his fingers darted quickly over the computer console.  On the screen, a new mathematical formula was being calculated.  The chimes of the door then rang.  “Come,” Data replied.

It was Deanna Troi.  “Data,” she began softly as she approached the desk, “I felt something on the bridge while the energy was striking the ship.  I know you saw something that the rest of us couldn’t see.  It was Captain Picard, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, Counselor,” Data said, as he paused his calculations. “Could it be possible that he’s still alive in the Continuum?”

“I can only sense that he is dead,” Deanna confessed, “yet for a brief instant I felt as if he was trying to reach beyond his imprisonment of death, and I do believe he was using the Continuum in an attempt to do that.”

“Ensign B’kor calculated an equation that confirmed this anomaly is the Continuum,” Data said.  “I have downloaded all the mathematical equations on record in the history of Forchin, and I believe that there is an equation that will allow us to travel into the Continuum.  It will take recalibrating the sub-space field emitters but it is just a matter of a few equations.  It’s actually quite simple.”

“What will be the benefit of going into the Continuum?” Deanna asked.

“If we stay here, we will die,” Data replied.  “If we move in the only way we can now go, we may find that Captain Picard has an answer that we need.  I believe he’s trapped within the Continuum, Counselor, and I feel that he knows the reason the Q are doing this and why this is happening, and I feel he was reaching out with a solution to the situation.”  He finished working on the computer console and abruptly stood up.  “Now I must take the helm.  This will be a matter of instant by instant corrections to the equation if we are to be successful.”

Frustrated, Will Riker crumpled another piece of paper and tossed it to the far side of the room.  It was his 589th attempt at writing a eulogy for Q, and it was also the 589th time he felt as if he was bold face lying.  To say anything nice about that renegade god was a bold face lie.  Amazingly, he never seemed to run out of paper.  There were always two sheets of paper on his desk.  It was a trick of Q2’s, no doubt.  “This is useless,” Will Riker was enervated, throwing down a fountain pen, the only writing utensil that he had been given to write his eulogy.  “Q was enough of a pain in the neck when he was alive; I never imagined it would be worse when he died.”

Feeling as if he was at the end of his strength, Will gathered enough within him to shout, “Q!” He hated shouting to nothing to get the attention of someone who apparently could hear everything.

A flash appeared to Will’s left and Q2 materialized, leaning against the desk.  “Writer’s block?” Q2 replied with a smile.

“I refuse to play this charade any further!” Will exploded as he pushed himself away from the desk and stood up, facing Q2 at eye level.

“Well,” Q2 began apologetically, “I am sorry to hear that.  You see, the fragments of your universe are falling apart.  That is where I have been in the meantime-with the other Q-and we have determined that we are all dying anyway.”

“What?” Will asked, eyes narrowing with unbelief.

“It’s above your head, trust me,” Q2 replied, “but capable Q are working to solve the problem.”

“Just exactly what is this problem?” Will inquired.

Q2’s face became uncharacteristically solemn for a moment.  “You,” he replied deadpan.

“What on Romulus are you talking about?” Riker demanded.  “Get me back to my ship and…”

“Ah, not quite yet,” Q2 replied.  “You may be the problem but you are also the solution.  You need to write this eulogy, Will.”

“Saint Paul couldn’t even find anything good to say about Q!” Riker yelled.  “It’s futile.”

Q2 shrugged.  “Have it your way.  Before I go, though, don’t forget this:  if we can find at least one life form in this universe that can show appreciation for Q by writing a proper eulogy, we would restore his powers and the Continuum could work together again, restoring the entire universe to normal again.  It’s up to you now, Will Riker.”

Q2 flashed out of the room and Will shouted in frustration, picking up the remaining two sheets of paper off the desk, crumpling them, and throwing them to the pile of other paper.  When he flashed his angry eyes back towards the desk, two more pieces were waiting for him.

“Well,” a voice behind Riker said, “I believe this must be Wadi Besor.”

“The Taecate?!?” exclaimed another voice, also familiar to Riker.  “They are such an intolerable race!  After all, they are the ones that killed me!”

Riker turned around and gasped at the sight of Captain Picard and Q.  “What the devil…?”

“Number Two!” Q beamed.  “Oh, it is so good to see you again!  How about a great big hug?”

“Will, what is going on here?” Picard asked.

“It’s the Q,” Will said.  “Again,” he added with disdain.  “They are playing a game, threatening that the universe is in danger unless I find something good to say about Q in a eulogy!”

“A eulogy for me?” Q was astonished.  “Oh, really, you shouldn’t have gone out of your way.”

“I’ll agree to that,” Riker said.  “But it was your accursed will that forced me into this situation.”

“Really,” beamed Q.  “I am so happy the Continuum remembered that I wrote that!”

Picard was incensed.  “Q,” he began furiously, “if you have used your powers to do any of this or can use your powers to stop it…”

“Picard, you buffoon,” Q scolded.  “Are you a sophisticate or a primate?  I told you that I lost my powers and I can no more make them come back than you could make yourself grow hair.”

“I for one refuse to play this game,” Riker said, throwing his fountain pen to the far side of the room and taking the chair behind the desk.  He promptly folded his arms and leaned back, smiling smugly.  “I say if the universe is dying, let it die.  Death is better than life with Q any day.”

“Your sentiments touch me,” Q mumbled sarcastically.  “I don’t believe I have ever encountered a race as stubborn as the human race!”

“I’ve never encountered a race so self centered as the Q!” Picard insisted.  “To think that the life and death of the universe would hinge on whether or not a eulogy is written for you is ludicrous!”

“Mon capitaine, don’t you see?” Q asked.  “This isn’t about which race is more superior or more worthy of veneration; it is about us working together for good.”  Q leaned in towards Picard and whispered into his ear, “We have come to appreciate you, and have learned to appreciate all species.  If you cannot find appreciation for us, how can we ever have a good working relationship?  To tell you the truth, it has long been a concern of the Continuum that you are so unwilling to cooperate.”

“You mean cooperate as a race as when the Taecate killed you?” Picard retorted.

“No!” Q insisted.  “I mean the Q and humans, working side by side.  I’ve told you time and time again that we have always had your best interest at heart.  Haven’t you learned anything since your untimely demise?”

“Like what?” Picard insisted.

“I told you I could have been there to prevent your death,” Q said.  “Geordi LaForge is also dead, which is a direct result of me being taken out of circulation.  He died on Tagra IV when installing a field modulator to prevent a reactor overload.  A certain Amanda Rogers had the potential to save him but I wasn’t there to help her realize her true powers.  Will you ever see just how cursed humanity is without me?”

“People live and die without you, Q,” Picard said.  “Who is to say a reality without you is less valid than a reality with you?”

“Enough of this,” Riker insisted.  “This is helping neither of us!  How can we get out of here?  It seems that Q2 has locked me in here.”

“I suggest that you get writing,” Q replied as he pointed at two fresh sheets of paper on Riker’s desk.

“Argyle to bridge.”

“Data here.”

“I’ve reconfigured the sensors to penetrate the anomalous globe,” Chief Engineer Lt. Commander Creighton Argyle reported.  “I’m reading a massive interwoven network of string fragments.  Now, I don’t have anything to compare this to but if I had to make an educated guess I would have to say that we are in trouble.”

“Explain,” Data’s voice returned.

“Simply put, the interwoven fragments are fragmenting.  It looks like the Continuum is falling apart.”

“Creighton,” a familiar voice said.

The voice caused Argyle’s throat to swell and for his mouth to dry up instantly.  It was from the grave, from beyond the dead.  It was from Jean-Luc Picard and the sight of the Captain in Argyle’s peripheral vision confirmed this.

“Creighton, listen to me,” the Captain continued.  “I don’t know how long I can manifest myself in this way to you.”

The chief engineer turned slowly.  It was the Captain, all right, appearing as real as if he had never died.  “Captain,” Argyle whispered hoarsely though dry lips, “how can this be?”

“I don’t know,” Picard replied.  “I’ve seen many things, but I don’t know what truth is and what fantasy is anymore.  Guinan brought me here under the power of the Q.  She is Q now, Creighton, as well as Riker.  The Q is doing this in an attempt to restore the Continuum.”

For the first time, Argyle moved towards the Captain, walking slowly, almost thoughtlessly, towards Picard.  Before he knew it, he was closer than he intended to be but he was paralyzed with shock, unable to step back.  “What can we do?”

“Prepare, Creighton.  Tell Data and the others to prepare.  The Q are coming for you next.”

With that, Picard vanished.

CHAPTER SEVEN

At the helm of the Enterprise, Data worked frantically to calculate the exact equation that would make travel into the Q Continuum a reality.  “Report, ops,” Data said.

“The energy string fragments seem to be reacting to what we’re doing,” Lieutenant Vaith reported from ops.  “They are closing in to our coordinates.”

“They feel defensive,” Troi reported.

“Sir,” Worf announced from tactical, “energy strings are penetrating the hull!  Shields are ineffective!”

“Remodulate shield frequency and see if you can find something to keep them out,” Data ordered.  “I’ll need a few more minutes.”

“Crusher to Data!” the doctor’s voice exploded over the com.

“Data here.”

“Commander, much of the crew is taking on Q like qualities, much like we registered in Guinan before she vanished from the ship, only it seems that nobody can handle the power that is taking over their body.  I have death reports coming in from all decks.”

“Acknowledged,” Data replied.

“Sir, we must abort the mission!” Worf insisted.  “The safety of the ship is your paramount concern and if…”  Worf suddenly collapsed as an energy string plunged into his body.  It was the Continuum attempting to bestow the power of Q on Worf, only Worf’s body was unable to handle the overload of power to his sensory and physical being, and his body rejected the attempt to give him the power of the Continuum.  The result was Worf’s sudden death.

“We must continue,” Data said, unflinching in the wake of the disruption on the bridge.  “While many may die now, this may be the only thing that saves the rest of the universe.”

In the midst of the attack, Dr. Selar was meeting with Keiko O’Brien, who was trying to come to grips with the news that was received a short while ago regarding the crashed shuttle Resolute and the news that her husband was declared dead.  As they talked together, a wave of energy beams tethered through Selar’s quarters, at once cocooning both Selar and Keiko in balls of energy.  Both of them were submerged in the power of the Q Continuum, both of them were astonished by the power and might of the energy.  Keiko embraced the new power, but Dr. Selar was not as fortunate.  As Keiko entered into the Continuum, Dr. Selar was unable to grasp the logic of the sudden change in her physical and spiritual body, and died of an aneurysm.  So many others resisted the power of the Continuum and were unable to handle the power, but Keiko took it all in, but apparently for different reasons.

The same power that endowed Keiko moved suddenly to the bridge, where Data’s second in command officer became threatened.  Keiko felt drawn to Deanna Troi because of the pain she was feeling over her husband’s death, and she felt Deanna would help ease the pain.  Even in the Q, Keiko felt the need to reach out to somebody else, she embraced Deanna in the power of the Q, and Deanna accepted it.

Once endowed, Deanna was relieved.  She realized that she was bestowed with a gift that few could handle, and resolved to use it to the best of her ability to end the war that raged between time and space and the Continuum itself, or so she hoped.  She at once vanished from the Enterprise.

Keiko, on the other hand, reveled in the power of the Continuum coursing through her being.  She likewise took her instant leave of the Enterprise, but it was with a vengeful smile on her face; she now realized she had the power to stand up to those responsible for taking her husband’s life.

As Data worked at the helm undaunted by the disruptions among his bridge crew, energy strings of the Q fragmented and composed themselves in front of him.  Looking up, Data saw Captain Picard, but only faintly.  “Captain!” Data gasped.  In an instant, the image was gone.  Returning to the equation, Data was determined to find a way to save Captain Picard.

In the engineering section, all was silent as a tomb, as the members of the crew had succumbed to a strange disease: their mortality failing to incorporate the immortality that was forced upon them, with the exception of Chief Argyle, who now joined the Continuum and found within the Continuum great turmoil and pain.

Within the giant casket of the engineering section, human eyes never saw the energy strings surging through the computer systems, equating and calculating as they went along, fighting to come to a concluding sum:  To stop the Enterprise from entering the Continuum.  These were the Q who were bent on the revenge against the Taecate, the Q who were determined at all possible costs to exact revenge against those who wronged them, but their vision was distorted, their goals were askew, and their determination was misguided.  Another Faction fought against the Continuum, a Faction of the Enterprise crew who were bestowed with the power of Q and who could take it and use it; they formed together to unite a new Continuum, rebelling against the unity that made them strong, and it was sure that the house against itself was going to fall.  Also joining with the Faction were the A.

“It must be stopped,” the Continuum spoke.

“We will not allow it,” the Faction replied, consisting, among others, former Continuum members once known as Guinan, Troi, Argyle and B’kor.  “What you are doing is wrong; they are of no danger to you.”

“They must not stop us,” the Continuum insisted.  “Their mission is to be aborted at all possible cost.”

The war continued, and over a simple ship that would serve no purpose to either side.  However, if the Enterprise was allowed to the core of the Continuum, the remaining crew could become acutely aware of the weaknesses of the Continuum, as had the Faction when they had become Q.  It was in the Continuum that the Faction had joined up with the collective conscience of the Continuum, realizing the truth of the words of a Q in his last moments of life in the Delta Quadrant, words that this Q had spoken to a particular Vulcan named Tuvok: “We may appear omnipotent to you but we’re not.”  It was a weakness that the Q struggled to hide for millennia.

Guinan had realized it before, but never fully understood it.  As a member of the A, she perhaps took her abilities for granted, never realizing what it would be like to not have them, and perhaps not even honing them to their fullest potential as others of her race had learned to do.  It was only more recently that she learned to listen to the Q Continuum again, and to hear the faulty, dying heart beat of a race that once believed them selves to be Gods.  Q knew this of the A, and they feared and respected it at the same time.  Even as the El-Aurians, Q found that being in the presence of an El-Aurian was like being stripped naked and having your inner thoughts probed.  The Q have always known that they, alone, were pathetic and miserable creatures, but the Continuum hid that, made them collectively stronger and powerful, and as long as they avoided the El-Aurians, they existed just fine.  This relationship repelled as well as attracted them to the El-Aurians.

A similar attraction drew them to B’kor.  It was the race of Forchinians alone that handled the equations of the universe so well that even their holy books were not written in a readable language but are written in complex mathematical equations that only the mathematically advanced could understand.  The Forchinians alone had it within their ability to calculate an equation that would allow them to travel to the Continuum, every Q’s nightmare for it would mean that then outsiders would at once know how weak they were.  Therefore, they chose B’kor to become Q, feeling that he and Guinan had tremendous potential to restoring the Continuum to its former unity, as were their intentions in recruiting other members of the Enterprise crew into the Continuum.  What they failed to foresee was that this Faction joining in a collective conscience had more potential for these formidable foes of the Continuum to disrupt the unity even further.

The battle in the engineering section ensued.  The Faction knew that the former glory of the Continuum could not be restored by initiating new members, as they had tried to do once with William Riker.  It had to come from a reconciliation among themselves; it had to be that they came to a place that they realized that they had erred erroneously against themselves when they treated their fellow A harshly.  They had to come to the realization that they should treat each other with more patience and long-suffering, not responding to fellow Q by stripping them of their powers or by imprisoning them.  They had done this enough that they now had lost their unity, and it was not the fault of humanity, the A, or any other species that the Continuum was in tethers and ruins today.

On Wadi Besor, they were trying to force a mere human to perform a trick by getting him to write a eulogy for one of their fallen comrades. However, the proper eulogy was to be written by the Continuum for the Continuum, for it was the Continuum that was killing itself as they selfishly pursued after their individual mortality, and in turn killing the universe and its multitude of dimensions.

Q observed the unfolding of events from the darkness of solitude that postulated his life.  “All because of me,” he muttered to the nothingness.

The nothingness replied, “No, because of them.”

Q was startled for a moment.  Had the void a voice, an utterance to give company to the lonely trapped within its maw?  “Who are you?”

A flash appeared within Q’s vision and Guinan appeared.  “You know me all too well,” Guinan replied.  “Or should I say that I know you all too well, Brother?”

Q scrutinized the appearance of this female.  “A?” he queried in astonishment.

“I go by that name as well now,” Guinan said.  “It is because of your death, because of your passing into humanity that the Continuum is passing away.  Once you died, millions of other Q wanted an end to the suffering of agelessness.”

“You can go back and tell them mortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Q mumbled.

“The Continuum is dying and in its final hours they are trying to reach out and recruit more Q, trying to put an end to the cycle of death that has now cursed them.  They even brought A back home, but A has decided to rebel and join the Faction of Q that is rising up against the Continuum.  Soon the universe will be caught up in the destruction.  What Q does not see is that their own selfish ways will in turn destroy them.  Their plan will bring too much power to the Continuum and they will be burned up from within.”

“My Sister, what exactly do you want with me?”

“I can restore your powers, for a time at least,” Guinan explained.  “Come back with me and maybe, just maybe, we can halt the course of events.”

Q considered it for a moment and replied, “I’m busy on Tuesday.  I don’t think so.”

“Admiral Hetzett is there,” Guinan mentioned, noting the glimmer in Q’s countenance.

On the bridge of the Enterprise, Data took note that the members of his crew were now dead and the members of his crew that simply vanished to become part of the Faction; he alone controlled the ship.  He also noted that computer control was being taken from him by the alien energy that had invaded the ship, and that the energy was tearing with tenacity at the hull of the ship.  He made his analysis, he did his diagnostics, but he came up negative on the result of his search for any sort of feeling for the situation.  He didn’t fear and he didn’t want to run; he didn’t laugh and he wasn’t distressed; he was neither, simply devoid of emotion.  He lacked the urge to act, an urge that simply had been programmed in him to benefit others, but there was no longer anybody else to benefit.  He even doubted it would benefit Captain Picard to bring him aboard a ship that had no crew.  It was a program that he erased 10.794 minutes ago.  He simply watched.

“Hull breech on deck five, section 7C,” the computer voice said.

This meant nothing to Data.

“Hull breech on deck fifteen, section 21.”

No matter.

“Emergency force fields are losing integrity,” the emotionless voice said as if it were giving Data the location of his cat.  Data did not have a problem with that.

“Inertial dampeners failing.”

So?

“Warp core breech in forty-three seconds.”

Data simply stood and watched as the Enterprise plunged towards the crackling core of energy that comprised Continuum. The battle was won by the Continuum.  As the Continuum departed from the ship, the Enterprise plunged towards the impenetrable surface of the energy anomaly.

In a brilliant flash, Data saw what he believed was his last moment of awareness.  He blinked one moment and was surprised the next.  Time, it had appeared, was frozen all around him.  In a moment, he was going to be erased from existence, joining the Enterprise’s computer in the abyss of deleted programs.  Soon he would have no life, no existence, and completely gone.  He would find that there was no afterlife for androids, that perhaps the speeches of the likes of Dr. Pulaski or Commander Maddox had made arguing that he was, after all, simply a computer and only a computer, was terrifyingly true.  He would be gone, forgotten, and the anomaly and the cosmic garbage would remain, out living him, proving themselves to be more viable than he had ever been.

Data blinked. Surely the fourty-three seconds had passed by now?  The brilliant flash subsided and Data was surprised to see Q and Guinan standing before him.  They were the only three, apparently, that time had not frozen.

“What is happening?” Data inquired, trying to process the facts that he knew Guinan was dead and now she was standing in front of him.

“My long lost sister restored my powers, Data!” Q smiled.

“Data, you were the only one who was pure among this ship of fools,” Guinan said.  “In all my listening, there was none as pure as you were.”

“Now you are on the precipice of death, Data,” Q said, “and you never got your ultimate wish.  I have to admit I mocked you for quite some time for your desire behind your back.”

“It is all right, Q, I understand,” Data replied.  “My desire to be human was, at best, foolish.  I should have calculated in my positronic brain already that the chances of that happening were impossible.”

“But not improbable,” Guinan smiled.

Together, brother and sister waved their hands in front of Data and again there was a brilliant flash.  Finally, the life long dream of Data was realized: he was human!

Laughter filled the bridge.  Joyous, robust laugher, unlike Data had ever known before.  Even with his emotion chip, he realized that he had never truly experienced emotions before.  As it was with Captain Riker’s organic cooking, replicated food was no substitute for the genuine thing.  It was this way with emotions, Data realized:  Synthesized emotions were not any substitute for the real thing.  And all his life, Data had experienced synthesized tastes, smells, breathing, emotions, and the whole gambit of the human existence.

“I never thought I would welcome this!” Data smiled as he looked at his flesh and blood arms and legs.  He secretly wished for a mirror and, in a flash, Q had put a mirror in Data’s hands.  Data saw his blue eyes, his human hair, his human face, and all his human features for the first time.  For the first time he was glad, not synthesized glad, but genuinely and honestly glad.

“It is because this time it is a gift from us in love,” Guinan replied.

“Not like before when I was just flaunting my powers,” Q admitted.

“But why?” Data cried.  “Why now?  You give me humanity moments before my death!  Is this to torment me?”

Guinan replied, “I heard that concern in you before we even came to see you.”

“We have a life for you, in another universe all together, where you have a chance to live your life,” Q said.  “It is a world much like Earth, but far simpler, much more relaxed than what Earth could ever hope to be.  You will go back in time there, live as them, and perhaps in time the world will end with the rest of time, but we are working on finding a solution for that problem.”

In a flash Data was gone.  Q and A likewise departed from the Enterprise and time became fluid again.  The Enterprise collided with the Continuum, and was consumed in a brilliant ball of varying hues and intensities.  The Continuum remained unaffected.

On a distant world, Data found himself standing among a crowd of villagers.  The world he found himself on was, as Q put it, much simpler than Earth.  He could sense no turmoil among the population, and everybody appeared to be at ease.

Data stood in what he determined to be the city square.  The buildings were formed out of the giant trees that grew up all over and all around him.  Trees that were mightier, larger, and more majestic than even the giant redwood trees of California.  The people were all humanoid, and Data felt he blended in quite well.  In fact, Q had supplied him with clothes to wear that would assist in his blending in.

In the pocket of his jacket, Data felt a lump.  Inside there were identification cards and permits to work, own a home, and to live in this community.  Also, Q had supplied Data with alien currency, which Data concluded would help him get on his proverbial feet, though at the time, Data was uncertain how long his currency would last him.

In spite of all these advantages being given to Data, somehow he felt incomplete.  The initial joy of becoming human passed and he was now realizing the consequences of his actions.  He suddenly felt sluggish, and was unable to comprehend why.  Before, he simply ran a quick self-diagnostic and was able to fix his own problems.  If he felt a pain now or felt as if something was wrong with him, he had no idea how to tell what it was.  Not to mention that his structure of tripolymer composites, molybdenum cobalt alloys, bioplast sheeting, polyalloy, cortenide, and duranium was powered by biochemical lubricants and regulated microhydraulic power through out his entire body.  It was a superior structure, able to exist in vacuums, under water, and in the most inhospitable places that average humanoids could never go.

The melting point of his android body was 2,617¡C and his boiling point was 4,612¡C.  He could exist in sub zero temperatures as well.  Now he was susceptible to the slightest burn and to frostbite.  His structure now consisted of bones, tendons, muscles, cells, blood, arteries, cartilage, a central nervous system, brain cells that degraded over time, organic organs, and other elements that was causing his body to break down and eventually die.  He once faced a future where he could theoretically be the only one who lived past the  years of all his friends, but now his life, his years, were dramatically cut short.  How long did he have now?  Thirty years?  Maybe fourty if he was lucky?

Data tried to think about it all, to process it all at once, but that too was a laborious task.  He once had a memory storage capacity of eight-hundred quadrillion bits with a total linear computational speed measured at 60 trillion operations per second, however Data feels that there were times he was able to increase that speed, but nobody was registering his computational speed in those instances.  Now he faced an existence with a human memory capacity, with short-term memory that decays rapidly and has a limited capacity.  Data often observed his fellow crewmates using PADDs to help them recall information later, and often wondered why they would require such a seemingly useless device.  Now he finally understood it all.  He did not have the capacity, nor the speed at which to process the information he was presented with.  Calculating how much currency Q had supplied him with, for example, took considerable work for Data where before it would have been a matter of mere milliseconds for him to calculate the sum total.

Data was not pleased anymore.  He would have rather died on the Enterprise.  Even if he had been a computer program deleted in the cosmos, no more eternal than the ship’s computer, he would have rather died knowing he was standing doing his duty, doing what he loved.  He looked around at the people he was placed among and pitied them.  Once emulating them, once aspiring to be more like them, Data was now despising of them.  He was angry at their shortcomings, furious at their acceptance for not being as much as they could be, and he decried the notion of spending his life in such a limited capacity.

“Is this what you wanted, Q?” Data thought to himself, wondering if Q meant for him to be mocked for the rest of his life.  Q mentioned that the destruction of the Continuum might jeopardize his existence on this planet in the distant past, but did mention that him and Guinan may succeed at their efforts to put a stop to the universal destruction of time.  Data decided he could not wait to find out what happened.

Then he noticed there was a lump in another pocket.  This time it was an ancient handgun.  It may have been there from before and perhaps Data had not noticed.  He did notice none of his senses were what they were when he was an android either.  Or was Q watching over him, waiting for him to fall and was placing temptation in his hands?  No matter, Data decided.  If nobody was watching, it would be for the benefit of Data, and Data alone, but if Q was watching, he was about to get a great show that he could tell the rest of the Continuum for the remainder of their existence.

Data already had enough and it was time to put an end to the misery of being human.  He placed the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  There was no memory after that, no dark expanse that Q and Jean Luc Picard had to endure, nor was there a version of Heaven waiting for him.  Had Data been able to be aware past the moment of death, perhaps he would have known that in the end Q did give him what he wanted, to be an android again, with all that entails.

CHAPTER EIGHT

On the surface of Wadi Besor, in the belly of the Federation outpost, in the middle of the vast ocean covering the planet, within the command center of the outpost, Captain Picard appeared, trying to reach out to Captain Riker, but was finding himself unsuccessful.  He was trying to reach out in his disembodied form to tell Riker the words to write in his eulogy in an effort to save the Continuum and to save the universe, but his words were coming to his mind but not to his mouth, and not to Riker’s ears.

“You’re out of your league, Picard,” a dry voice spoke out of the air.  In an instant, the manifestation of Q2 appeared to match the voice.  “It’s futile for a dead man to war against a dying entity.  Your hope is lost; you have nothing to gain by victory.  We, on the other hand may have nothing to lose but we have our very existence to gain.”

“You have everything to lose, Q,” Guinan said, appearing in the command center.  “Hear your heart beat, Q, hear the last of the fading beats towards oblivion.  Face it: your days of immortality are over.  If that is worth losing to you, then, by all means, continue this war of yours.  Better yet, give up this war of yours against those who wronged you, put aside the vengeance and the revenge, and accept the terms of your own justice system, even if it means becoming mortals yourselves.  It just may save the universe.”

“Such sound advice but it falls on deaf ears,” Q said, appearing by Guinan’s side.

“What madness is this?” Q2 exclaimed.  “Q, you’re dead.”

“Sentence revoked,” Q replied.  “Listen to her, Q.  Our sister speaks wisdom; mortality is far more acceptable than clinging to an endless, painful existence.  Come and learn the sweet taste of death.”

“NEVER!” Q2 exploded.  “I’ll never allow you two to shatter our plans!  The Continuum will be purged of the dissenters!  The Continuum will be restored to its former glory!”  He raised his arms and when he brought them down, a dozen members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were riding horse back around the command center, encircling Guinan, Q and Picard.  “Arrest them!  Throw them in the brig!”

Guinan considered this scenario for a moment:  A being of unlimited power trying to throw beings of equally unlimited power into a brig?  She ignored the surrounding Mounties as she listened.  Wadi Besor was, at the very moment, being wrested from normal time and space into the gullet of the marvelous representation of the Continuum.  Q2, as was the case with the remaining true Qs, was feeling the weakening in their inter-structure.  To the observer, the enormous gateway anomaly was falling apart, the string fragments trailing out and away from the core of the Continuum.  The interlinking powers that connected Q2 with the remainder of the Continuum were falling away, leaving Q2 with less than a positive advantage.

The Mounties tarried in their duties.  “Arrest them!” Q2 again shouted.

Q, who had been interlinked with Guinan in the string fragments, fought to remain interlinked with her.  He could likewise sense the decaying of the Continuum and knew that he must reach out to others to try to get them to join.  Q interlinked with Guinan’s unique power to listen and he inclined his ear towards the Qs formerly known as B’kor and Troi and Argyle.  They were part of the Faction that formed against the Continuum, and Q beckoned to them, calling for them to join Guinan, to unite with her in this hour to fight against the Continuum.  At once, the Faction joined Guinan and Q, united against the Continuum.

Jean-Luc knew what was occurring.  The fundamental integrity of Wadi Besor was decreasing with each passing of the final minutes of time as the fragile planet was pulled towards the gravitational force of the Continuum’s core.  “It’s over, Q,” Picard asserted to Q2.  “Give up your hold on this planet and on my ship orbiting above and on humanity before the Continuum’s destruction obliterates everything!”

“Brave words for a dead man,” Q2 replied, denying the darkness that was welling up within his being.  “Don’t you know your ship has been destroyed?  What power would you have over me if I were to resist you?”

Picard, with the strength of the Faction supporting him, was as physical in this moment of time as he had ever been and he knew that he must act upon that before he was pulled back into the void of Hell.  “Surrender your hold on reality!” Picard insisted.  “It is futile for you to force your powers upon people that were never meant to be Q.  It is a desperate act that is damaging you more than you could possibly realize.  Let me have my crew back and use whatever power you have left to allow us to leave this Hell and to go and do something in the past that could prevent this from ever happening again!”

At that moment, The Faction manifested themselves to Q2.  Q2 trembled within at the sight of the Faction.  They were linked, and their linking provided them with far more power than the millions of remaining true Qs that existed now as separate entities, each seeking their own mortality and end to a miserable existence.  The Continuum was torn apart, the fury of the Continuum anomaly had the all of reality trapped, and an implosion of space and time was inevitable.  Q2 knew that soon his life would be ceasing.  That did not mean he could not go out fighting.

“Picard, you speak as boldly as you do foolishly,” Q2 taunted.  “Without the Continuum, there is no time, no universe, and no multiverse.  The Q orchestrates it all, and without us, there can be no future.  Without us, there can be no past.  We are time, Picard, and take us away and there is timelessness.  A void.  Absolute nothing.  I will give your prized ship back, pull it from the maw of destruction it faced, if you will, but you will be flying it in a vastness of nothing.”

Picard stood to his full height.  He could feel Guinan and the others reaching out to him, adding their strength with his own.  He leveled his gaze with Q2’s and squared his jaw.  Firm and determined he said with the intensity of his voice doubling with each word, “How many times do I have to say it, Q?  Get damn filthy hands off reality!”

Q2 threw up his arms and a blue flash that encircled Picard, a flash that was not only to remove him from the command center but was to remove him from all time and space completely.  It was intended that Picard would be confined in a frozen moment of timelessness, neither dead nor alive, neither in life or after life, ever gone and ever forgotten.  However, the Faction of four bound together and wielded a power that surpassed that of Q2 and the flash ricocheted off Picard and struck Q2 in his chest.  He was sent backward against the wall, where he lay silent and still.

At this time the atmosphere of Wadi Besor encountered the Continuum anomaly, resulting in storms and hurricanes and electrical activity in the air that had an anti-affect on the unusual construction of the anomaly.  There was a deadening implosion; all the string fragments of the rebelling Continuum imploded and then a subsequent explosion resulted, sending the fragmenting Q apart from one another, shattering them through out all of the known past and future.  Alone, they perished for they had nothing else from which to draw their power.  The end of it all occurred within a fraction of a second.  On Wadi Besor, the resulting implosion and explosion caused typhoons and tsunamis and the electrical energy in the atmosphere charged the waters and killed all life within.

In the Federation outpost, Q2 found himself alone, but only for a moment.  As he came back to consciousness, he saw a frantic Admiral Hetzett rushing into the command center.  “Attention outpost personnel, evacuate the planet immediately!  I repeat, evacuate the planet immediately!  This is NOT a drill!”

“I also have been waiting for this,” Q said, appearing next to Q2.

Q2 smiled broadly, almost with an evil glint in his eye.  “Q, I knew you could not forsake me!”

“To face off with the master mind of our demise, how could I depart at such a time as this?” Q inquired.

If there was one man that had failed to prepare for this Armageddon, it was Admiral Hetzett.  He wanted to run, to get off the planet, but he knew he was trapped within the Federation outpost.  “Blasted Q,” he blamed.  He knew the remaining Continuum would soon come for him.  He frantically ran through the station.  As he tried to find a hiding place, he wound up in a shuttle bay, hoping to steal a shuttle, as if that would help him escape the omnipresent Continuum.

As he entered a shuttle bay, he noticed aliens in triplicate appearing literally out of thin air; a male, a female, and a babbling child.  They were similar in species to him: aquatic. Their physical features included scales of flesh color, gills, and three fleshly antennae sticking up out of their skulls that had a crimson ball at the end of each of them.  They were barely dressed, with minimal attire covering their mid and upper torsos.  All the females wore necklaces made of large pearls.  And those eyes, unlike any aquatic species known to Hetzett, were wide and insanely happy.

A new trio of aliens appeared approximately every thirty seconds and each trio appeared the same.  Red alert klaxons were already beginning to screech throughout the entire outpost, alerting the Taecate crew to make their move to the shuttle bays, lest they be trapped, but Admiral Hetzett knew that with this weather and the electrical storms, they were indeed trapped.  Before Hetzett could consider the situation any further, a dozen and a half Taecate soldiers flooded into the shuttle bay.

Oblivious to the Taecate soldiers, the aliens closed in on Hetzett.  “Sir, are these more Taecate?” a security ensign inquired of Admiral Hetzett.

“I don’t know!” Hetzett cried in cowardly terror, admitting his limited knowledge of the alien race.  “I have no idea where they came from or why they are here!”

Admiral Hetzett flashed his eyes at his fellow Taecate and shouted, “Protect me!  Set your phasers to kill!  That’s an order!”

The soldiers submitted.  As alien fired upon the alien male closest to Hetzett, the security ensign was stunned by a plasma blast that was fired at him.  The blast only hit his hand, knocking his phaser from his grasp.  “From where…?” he growled as he looked for the attacker.

The babbling baby with the parents gurgled happily as he shook his rattle.  He aimed at another security officer and a plasma burst emitted from the seashells.  The officer was hit and felled to the floor.  The baby laughed with bubbles in his mouth and the father and mother just smiled serenely, all the while their eyes looking as if they had not a care in the world.

“Concentrate your fire on the children’s’ weapons!” Admiral Hetzett shouted.

As a blaze of phaser fire began to fire upon the children, not to kill them but to disable their rattles, a new alien appeared.  A solitary male, with eyes focused exclusively on Hetzett, appeared to be the leader of the families of three.  As of this moment, there were ten families of three.  The solitary male called out over all the noise of phasers and rattles exchanging fire.  His voice, strong and distinct over all, uttered a string of sounds and noises that the Taecate could only assume was the native tongue of the aliens.  It seemed to be directed to the males of the families because they all broke off from their families and encircled Hetzett.  The wives began to rip their pearls from their necks and proceeded to throw the pearls at the soldiers.  Each pearl detonated on contact, causing an explosion that brutally injured members of the security team and left others for dead.  Admiral Hetzett found himself the victim of shrapnel from these explosions

“What are these aliens?” gasped Hetzett as he fell, noting an explosion had blown off his left leg.

“I think I recognize them, sir,” a dying ensign said at Hetzett’s side.  “You know those ancient Earth comic books I collect?”

“What of them?” snarled Hetzett impatiently.

“I’ve seen creatures like them drawn back on several of the books,” the ensign continued.  “I believe they are Sea Monkeys.”

“May the Federation obliterate them!” Admiral Hetzett exclaimed.

Nervously, Hetzett watched the approaching ten males.  He looked around desperately and saw no standing security officer.  Across the shuttle bay, he saw the solitary male, and those eyes…those eyes were unlike any of the other males.  Those eyes were so familiar.  “Q!” he gasped.

A flash momentarily blinded Hetzett.  When he could see again, he saw those eyes just inches away from him.  “Admiral,” the cold, dry voice said.

“I knew it was you!” insisted Hetzett.  “You’re always creating some mad parody of my people, always mocking the Taecate.  But I…”

“You gave the order to have me executed,” Q finished.  “I should be dead.”

Hetzett’s lips only stammered in shock.

“I am dead,” Q said, “and soon you will join me.”

Q snapped his fingers and a flash enveloped them both; Hetzett’s scream echoed in the shuttle bay for many moments after his departure.

In the atmosphere of Wadi Besor, Q and Q2, strong in the power of the remaining Continnum, held Admiral Hetzett within an energy field, tossing him back and forth like a rag doll.  Their anger raged with their fury displayed in unflinching horror; even the electrical storms were fearful of the power the Q were exhibiting over the planet’s surface and avoided them all together.

“Time for your judgment has arrived, Admiral Hetzett,” Q said gravely.

“Your treason and treachery against the Federation and humanity and the all species has been exposed,” Q2 added.

“I have done nothing wrong!” screamed Hetzett as he flailed about in the grasp of the Q.

“You masterminded the assassination of Captain Picard,” Q stated.  “You and Captain Tutizi orchestrated the darkest of conspiracies at the heart of the Federation.  You together make the corruption and deterioration at the heart of the Continuum look quite healthy in comparison.”

Q2 broke in, “With the death of Captain Picard, you signed the death sentence of the Q Continuum, and with that you signed the death sentence of the entire universe as you know it.  Captain Tutizi has already paid his price, but your cowardly ways have caused you to avoid your trial and sentence for too long now.”

“If it is all over for the universe then why not just let me be?” pleaded Admiral Hetzett.

“Justice would not be served otherwise,” Q said.

“Does the accused have anything to say for them selves?” Q2 asked.

“I am sorry!” Admiral Hetzett cried, beginning to sob tears of bitterness.  “I never knew Captain Picard’s death would ever culminate in destruction on such a massive scale such as this!”

“He gave his confession!” Q stated.

“Now is the time for judgment!” Q2 replied.

With their remaining last power, the last of the Q Continuum hurled Admiral Hetzett into the upper atmosphere of Wadi Besor.  His final plummet to the surface caused him to burn as he re-entered the planet’s atmosphere, and as he re-entered, electrical charges from the storm pulsed into his body and charred him.  A burning rock is all that remained of him as his remains plunged into the swelling ocean below.

As the remaining Continuum fought their final battle with Admiral Hetzett, at the core of the Continuum, at the finite moment of timelessness, a wave of power and judgment came against the Continuum.  The new power in this battle was a renegade Q, a Q who had not sided with the Faction, the remaining Continuum, or A.  This Q was a renegade, with their own agenda for revenge and justice.  This renegade Q once was Keiko O’Brien, but she hung on to enough of her former identity to know the reason she embraced the power of the Continuum: to end the Continuum, the very ones that were ultimately responsible for the death of her beloved husband.   Keiko, strong in her own power, which was undiminished as the Continuum had wearied themselves with war and strife, transformed Q2 and Q and the remaining Continuum into a comet and sent them flying uncontrollably through time, to a point where they would explode and die a violent and painful death.  It was cruel, it was previously unthinkable, but it was poetic justice.

Alone, Keiko found herself separated from all Q, and alone she ultimately perished for she had no other Q from which she could draw power.

Earth, Siberia:  The inhabitants near the area of the Tunguska River, on the day of June 30, 1908, witnessed the death of the final Q.  The final Q streaked over the daytime Siberian sky, and exploded over the Tunguska River, releasing energy that killed animals and flattened trees for kilometers in diameter.  People of Earth would come to identify this as an unsolved mystery, and postulate the origin of the explosion for centuries to come, never realizing the truth.  With this, the Q promptly ceased to be, for the Continuum existed no more to hold the past and future timelines together.

In the midst of space, the remaining energy anomaly that was the Q Continuum exploded, shattering the fabric of eternity into shards.  The mouth of Hades spewed opened and released the heat and the fire, much to the relief of the imprisoned demons and sinners.  As the fires rose from the depths of the bowels of Hades, they scorched Heaven.  Seeing an opportunity for escape, Satan himself called for his followers to fly out of Hades in an effort to perch themselves in the heights of Heaven, where they felt they would be safe from the consumption of fire in the physical worlds they once tormented.  As they left their eternal punishment, they flew straight ahead into time as it was rolling back.

The angles of Heaven, feeling the fires of Hades scorch their paradise, flew out of the Heavenly gates and towards the worlds below which they were assigned to serve, seeking to subdue the fires and save the physical world as well as Heaven.  Meeting the demons as they escaped from Hell, the angels had to fight the demons for their survival.  It was a face off and none would survive.

A heard the cries of the warring spiritual beings as time was ending.  However, A was caught up in the Faction, and struggling for their own survival.  Q, of course, was no longer alive to mediate for the warring angels.

God, in His Infinite Wisdom and Grace, looked down.  He had realized that His Heavenly Home had emptied out quite fast and was curious to know why.  He looked down and realized that Q was dead, the angels were falling into mortal death as they entered time, and A had forsaken Him.  He looked ahead and the future was no longer.  Time had scrolled out before God like a papyrus, and at once God could see all the ages of time in one glance.  At the end of the scroll, a flaming inferno was burning backwards, threatening to extinguish all the ages that had come and gone before.

As time unraveled, God realized His Great Experiment had failed.  God yawned, and said, “Oh well, back to the drawing board.”

So this was what it was like to be dead?

CHAPTER NINE

Captain Picard was disoriented.  He had found himself on Wadi Besor and he felt his conscience taking on a new life among the Faction.  He had felt a physical presence on Wadi Besor but he also felt a part of him reaching towards something beyond the present time.  The need to reach was now gone, for he knew his ship was gone.  Reaching out beyond himself, he knew that the rest of the universe was gone.  Had it come down to this?  Had the Q chosen to save Wadi Besor only to leave it to be destroyed in a final terrible display of treachery in reply to the Taecate killing one of their own?  Or had the Taecate already been annihilated?  He only found himself in the room again with William Riker.

“Unsuccessful?” Q said to himself in astonishment.  Picard and Riker exchanged puzzled glances.

“I witnessed your demise, Q,” Picard stated.  “You were thrown back in time and destroyed.”

“And this is true, Jean Luc.  As I speak to you now, I am on my way to meet my ultimate demise, never to return from the dead again.  The Continuum will soon be a non-entity.  I am using the last of my power to reach out to you, mon capitaine,” Q said.  “You should be honored.  In their last minutes, people often reach out to the ones they love the most.”

A flash appeared before them, Q2 appeared before them, his face ashen and grave.  “The unity is disbanded,” he announced.

“Q!” Q smiled when he saw Q2.

“I just came to tell you that it is over,” Q2 continued.  “The Continuum is in its last moments of life.”

“I’ll believe it when I truly see it,” Picard insisted.  “I thought I already witnessed it once!”

“Believe it,” Q2 replied.  “Unity has been destroyed.  Since the rebellion of the Continuum, it has been a downhill slide.  With unity dissolved, there is no Continuum.  With no Continuum, there is nothing governing the unity of the universe and all its various dimensions.  And you all have Q to thank for it.”

“Figures,” Picard grumbled as he glanced over at Q.

“Mon capitaine!  Don’t believe him!” Q said in defense.  “Little ol’ me responsible for such destruction?  I think not!  After all, it was you, beloved Q Continuum, which stripped me of my powers.  If anybody is responsible for the ruining of unity in the Continuum, it is you, my beloved brethren.”

“And you know why we stripped you of your powers, Q?” Q2 replied.  “It was because of your rebellion, for instilling in the heart of the Continuum that their powers could be used frivolously, for self gratification.  Oh, we stripped you of your power all right, but only in an attempt to teach your students a lesson.  But other Q joined in the rebellion even after you were gone, some rampaging uncontrollably throughout the universe and giving the Q a bad name.  The most radical would rebel to the point where we had to strip their powers and then they turned and killed themselves.  They never forgot you, Q, and the last hope of the Continuum was to see if there was any appreciation in the heart of any species for you.  If there was, we would have restored you, but there was none.  5,000,000,000,000 species had been contacted and asked to write your eulogy and there was none to be found.  Alas, poor Riker, the last man at the end of time, will be confined to this room for an eternity, forever cursed with two pages of paper waiting for a kind word to flow out of his pen about you, Q.  I suspect that there will be none written but if any truly kind words are written, his curse will be ended.

“We even attempted to initiate other members in to the Continuum, but the most worthy of becoming Q were the ones that despised you the most, and the ones that rebelled the worst.  We just excommunicated the last of them.”

Picard knew that he spoke of the Faction.  “To where?”

“Backwards in time,” Q2 replied.  “Of course, the destruction of this universe will backlash through space, time, and dimensions, and will eventually take their lives, but their punishment is fitting.  We Q consider it a relief to rid our immortal coil while the Faction will have to keep running back in time as fugitives until their just reward will eventually catch up with them.  It is now time.”

“Time for…?” Picard asked but never finished his sentence.  He was removed from all existence.  In the last moment he was cognizant of his being, he realized that the end of time had come for him and all those in that period of time, that the back lash the Q spoke of had already started and would have a rippling effect for all eras of time.

Wadi Besor remained in an expanse of nothing.  It remained only to mark the grave of where a Q once died, placed by God in a futile attempt at a memorial for nobody.  It was the final tomb of a once great but now forgotten species.

On its surface, some millennia later, Will Riker remained, a man without death, yet wrinkled and gray, his hair and beard trailing to the floor.  He was at his desk, two pieces of paper were in front of him, and all he had to do to break his curse was to find something good to write in a eulogy for Q.  Maybe, just maybe he told himself, if he was able to break this curse, the rippling effect of the destruction of time and space would be reversed and all could be restored.  Or perhaps the final waves of destruction of time and space would finally give him a release from a horrific life of solitude on an alien planet.  Yet the pages remained blank, his fountain pen remained full, and the crumpled pieces of paper of begun and failed eulogies had been cast into the vast sea of this ocean world, where the paper absorbed much of the water.  The paper tossed had been countless, and only a few lakes and rivers remained on the planet.

The last road to travel makes for no turning back.  There were no forks to choose from, no turn offs or detours to another road.  There was only one road remaining and this was the only road to travel, and it was upon this road that Guinan and her Faction now found themselves.

Disembodied, cast away from the Continuum for rebellion, Guinan stood with her united A, B’kor, Argyle, Troi, and others who lost their lives to the Continuum and decided to fight.  They made their choices, their destinies secured.  “This is the road that Q had taken when he was cast out of the Continuum,” Guinan said.  “This is the road all Q take at the end of their immortal lives.  It is here that we chose what we will become to live the rest of our lives.”

“We could become human?” Troi asked.

“We can become whatever we want,” Guinan replied.  “We must, however, choose to become Calamarain.”

“Calamarain?” echoed Argyle.  “Whatever for?”

“You shall see,” Guinan said.  The Faction’s choice was cemented and they were cast backwards in time.

Stardate 43559.1:  “Mr. Worf,” Captain Picard said as he tapped his com badge, “hail the Bre’el IV science station.”

“They’re standing by, Captain,” Worf responded over the com.

Captain Picard stood in his ready room with Commander Riker, the periled world of Bre’el IV and their deteriorating moon in sight just outside his window.  They had finished discussing whether Q was telling the truth that he had been stripped to being human, and Captain Picard was determined to forgo with their mission at hand as if Q were telling the truth.

The Captain reached to his personal view screen on his desk and swiveled it to where he and Riker could see it.  Activating the screen, Picard brought up the two inhabitants of Bre’el IV that had been in communication with the Enterprise regarding their moon.  “Yes, Captain Picard?” the alien sitting asked as his view screen was filled with the image of the Captain and his first officer.

“I’m sorry,” Picard began reluctantly, “but our first attempt to restore the moon to its proper orbit has failed.”

The alien breathed a heavy sigh, swung his head down in heavy disappointment, and showed signs of the stress of the situation.  Looking back up, he breathed desperately, “We have less than twenty-five hours before impact, Captain.”

Commander Riker leaned in slightly and said, “Our chief engineer is looking for ways to reinforce the tractor beam.”

“So there is hope,” Picard added immediately, “but if you have an evacuation plan…”

“We have already started moving people from the coastal areas of the western continent,” the alien reported.

Picard nodded.  “We are going to make another attempt shortly.  Picard out.”  Reaching down, he deactivated his view screen.

Riker turned to Picard and said softly and gravely, “I’ve got to tell you: Geordi is not at all optimistic.”

Suddenly, a strange noise surrounded the two officers.  Beginning to look around, all Picard and Riker could see was a brilliant, but not blinding, white light.  “What the devil…?” Picard began.

The two officers promptly walked to the bridge and found the same white light emanating from everywhere there as well.  “Data?” Riker asked as he approached the second officer at ops.

Data replied, “Sensors are showing broad band emissions, including berthold rays.”

Riker was momentarily alarmed.  He had known that berthold rays were deadly to carbon-based life forms if found in high concentrations.  “Lethal?”

“No, commander,” Data said.  “Over all exposure is under 75 REMS, very low intensity, more like a soft medical scan.  I would speculate that we are being probed.”

Outside the ship, the Calamarain, an alien race comprised of an ionic cloud of energetic plasma, remained undetected.  Infiltrating them at that point were new Calamarain, and these were the transformed former members of the Faction, including Guinan, Argyle, Troi and B’kor.  At first, the Calamarain sensed no deceit.  Aboard the vessel they sought was an entity that had toyed and tormented them throughout the centuries.  It was Q, and in human form, a much more decidedly frail form than he had been in during previous incarnations.

Guinan had already discussed it with the Faction before they joined the other Calamarain.  They were to set out to stop the Calamarain from harming or from taking Q, which would only lead to jeopardizing the Continuum in the future.

The Calamarain went for the ship.  Going ahead of them were the new members of their cloud, yet the other Calamarain gave little notice to this as they sought to bring revenge on an old, old foe.  As the Calamarain entered the brig, the Faction was already there.  A war ensued over the slumbering former demigod.

Tapping into the strength she received from the others, Guinan and the Faction held the forces of the Calamarain at bay.  They only hovered over Q’s sleeping body, unable to touch him.  “Who are you?” they asked Guinan.

“It doesn’t matter,” the Faction insisted as she held her ground, holding off the Calamarain.  “You must not kill this man or harm him.”

“A traitor in our midst!” one of the native Calamarain insisted.

“We must take care of these traitors before we can continue with our plan!” another Calamarain said, to which the others fully agreed.

Taking the Faction from the Enterprise, the true Calamarain absorbed the ionic energy of the traitors into their own selves, leaving them dead, detectable now only as space dust at best.

EPILOGUE

Guinan, off duty and soaking in the beauty of the Arboretum, noticed something slightly awry.  She gazed over at Keiko O’Brien, who was on leave with Chief Miles O’Brien from Deep Space Nine, and they were taking some time to visit old friends on the Enterprise.  Keiko had complained about the lack of ripe fruits and vegetables aboard the Enterprise, stating that replicator technology had a far way to go.  As she was planting yet another seed, her eyes lost their lock on her work and she looked up at Guinan.  There was something awry.

“Guinan,” Keiko acknowledged with an incline of her head.  “What brings you up here?”

Guinan had entered the Arboretum after Keiko; obviously, she had not noticed her presence.  “It’s peaceful up here,” Guinan replied with a smile.  “It’s one of the few places one can go aboard the Enterprise and forget that you are in space.  It’s a nice retreat.”

“There is the holodeck,” Keiko offered.

“Oh, I don’t go into the holodeck much unless Jean Luc or somebody else might invite me along for an adventure.  I prefer to relax in more realistic settings,” she replied.

Keiko O’Brien could sense unease in Guinan, as if she was making small talk but there was something charging through her mind at that moment that caused her to be detached from the present.  Guinan’s eyes did not stay in contact with her eyes but followed up and out the window.  Keiko turned her head and looked out the window.  It was just a starfield.

Turning back to Guinan, Keiko asked, “What is it?”

Guinan shook her head.  In a moment’s breath, the feeling of dread and something foreboding was gone, as if its passage from time and space back to her ceased.  “I don’t know,” she sighed.  “I guess it was nothing.  Nothing at all.”

Captain Picard sat in his ready room of the Enterprise-A, looking over routine reports of the day, when a flash appeared in the chair in front of his desk.  He knew who it was before he looked up.  “Q!” he shouted irately.

“Mon capitaine,” Q smiled, “just checking up on you.”

“What brings you here, Q?” Picard probed.  “Exactly what do you want?”

“Only to share with you, Jean Luc,” Q said, still smiling.  “You see, I had the most wonderful opportunity to review key events in my life.  I think you would be most interested in knowing just how much you and your crew have come to mean to me.”

“I am not interested in…,” Picard began.

“Interested or not, you’re getting it,” Q said.  He waved his hand and in an instant, a rush of understanding flooded into Picard’s mind.  At once, Picard knew of an alternate reality just as if it had happened to him.  He at once knew of the treachery and corruption of the Taecate government and their involvement with the corrupt faction of the Federation and their desire to have him assassinated.  He knew of the sacrifice members of his own crew made so that the time line he was a part of could be restored, as well as saving his life, and he knew of the weakness and frailty of the Continuum, an incredible secret that he knew Q wouldn’t share with just anybody.

Picard was stunned for a moment.  He put down the PADD he was examining and looked at Q with astonishment.  “Q…,” he began to say.

“You don’t need to say it, Captain,” Q said.

“Q,” Picard began again, “I-I appreciate…”

“Yes, Jean Luc, I know,” Q said.  “You have learned your lesson well, but I came to share more with you.  I just wanted you to know how I have come to appreciate the humanoid race.  It was one thing when that android of yours saved me from the Calamarain but it was something else entirely different when I came to realize that members of your crew lost their lives to save me and if it hadn’t been for them, Data’s efforts would have been for naught.  You and your crew have my deepest gratitude.”  With that, Q was gone in a flash.

In the Arboretum, Guinan paused.  She looked up, hearing a familiar voice in her ear that Keiko did not seem to hear.  “In due time,” the voice said, “I shall repay you the worthy reward, my sister!”

It was Q and he was eternally grateful.  Listening intently to the undetectable, Guinan could hear a peaceful heart beat within the Continuum.  She heard the cries of others that had lost their lives in another reality, and she heard the backlash of destruction was going to come back and destroy her but had ceased.  For saving his life, she understood in her unique sense, Q saved her life, and yet there was a reward coming.  She smiled to herself, much to the bewilderment of Keiko O’Brien.

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