I apologize for how this chapter turned out. I hope later chapters will be of better quality.
It was moments like this that Captain Jean-Luc Picard wanted to bash his head against his desk…or a wall, anything, really…but that would give the being before him some sense of satisfaction and the captain's pride could never allow that.
"Picard, mon capitain, I see you got yourself a new ship!"
"Q…" Picard groaned, his face resting in his hands. The gravity of their last meeting had made Picard believe it to be their last, but clearly he was in err and was seeking farewells where none were intended. Blast.
The omnipotent alien relished in the captain's discomfort and continued. "You'll be happy to know that, strangely enough, I have missed you. It's been so long! Well, long for you, time has little meaning for one such as I." He paused and looked around the ready room, frowning. "I miss your couch. What this new ship boasts in supposed technological improvements it certainly lacks in comforts! Oh well, you'll need it where you're going next."
Picard rose from his chair with enough force to nearly knock it over. "I have no time for your mischief, Q, we're on our way to an important meeting on Vagras IV and can suffer no delays."
"Oh please, Captain, when has that ever deterred me?" Q said, a smile on his face but a dangerous glint in his eye. Picard ignored him and pushed past onto the bridge, but with a flash of light Q was standing before him again.
The bridge crew turned as one, recognizing Q and knowing his appearance was a harbinger to some horrible new event. Commander Riker rose from his chair, preferring to face it on his feet.
"Ah, Commander Riker," Q beamed over his shoulder, "still no ship of your own? How disappointing."
"Q!" Picard snapped, "Whatever you have come here to say, do so and be done with it. I will not suffer you harassing this ship or its crew any longer."
"But it's a new ship, Picard! She hardly knows me," Q pouted, "but I suppose I'll be honest and admit that I am here by request, by one of your own crew, no less!"
"I doubt that," Riker muttered, arms crossed over his chest. Anyone aboard the Enterprise who knew of Q was all too familiar with the price that had come with associating with him; if not lives, then sanity was certainly at risk.
Q ignore him. "Truth be told, I wouldn't have even considered such a request except that I was promised boundless amusement and, I admit, I have a soft spot for the requestor."
Picard calmed himself and managed a faulty smile. Sometimes Q could be placated with politeness. Forced politeness. Sometimes.
"Q, I will gladly hear whatever it is you need to tell me about one of my crew at a later date. However, at the moment, we haven't the time…"
"Time?" Q brightened, "Captain, being astute for once, time is what this is all about! And don't worry, I am more than capable of making time." With a dark smile, Q snapped his fingers.
The Enterprise lurched and careened, shuddering madly and sending crew on all decks flying. Picard dropped into his chair and grabbed hold of the armrests so hard his knuckles whitened. It was similar to the time Q had sent them off to meet the Borg, to teach them of how little they truly knew, but this was much worse. The newly commissioned ship groaned under the stress, her crew hanging on for dear life. It was an eternity before the Enterprise stilled and, seemingly of her own will, slid into orbit around a planet that had not been there a moment before.
Amazing, Q actually did it.
I'm not surprised, considering what you promised.
And you have come, of course.
Where else would I be, my lord?
Where I am not.
Ah, but then you begin to worry at what I may be up to, don't you? It is a short leash on which you keep me.
You expected otherwise? You agreed to this arrangement.
After all this time, you are still so small.
Yet I am the power in this place. Go back to your darkness.
Out of sight, but forever there. You will always hear the song, for it lives through you now.
I could sing once…
You are gone? Good. The gate must be opened.
Welcome back, Captain.
The second Q appeared, Worf had to question his sanity in accepting Captain Picard's invitation to join his old crew on the first flight of the new Enterprise. How could he refuse? Strangely, that was the only answer he could come up with even as he hauled himself to his feet and punched up the ship-wide reports.
"Mr. Worf?" Picard called, jumping to his feet once the floor beneath them had steadied.
"All decks report no damage and no serious injuries."
"That's a relief," Picard muttered. He advanced on the omnipotent being still standing on the bridge as though nothing happened. "Q…"
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Q mused, gazing at the planet that had appeared below them through the view screen, "and barely touched, even now."
Indeed, it was a beautiful planet. It was similar in size and looked very much like Earth, though without a single sign of civilization. Snow-capped mountains, green forests, golden deserts, and deep blue oceans passed below them in a panorama of natural beauty. Except Picard did not know what planet this was and that only added to his anger.
"Where are we, Q?"
Q regarded Picard in near disgust. "Still so linear thinking, Picard. To think I thought you had even a glimmer of potential."
"Captain," Data began, fingers flying over his console, "I believe we are in the Sadrenet system, in orbit above the second planet. It is M class…"
Not good, Picard thought, the Sadrenet system was well outside of Federation space, far from anyone, really. Very remote and barely explored.
Data continued, "However, given the position of the stars and the planet's orbital deviation from our records, I would say we have been sent… three-hundred years into the future." With his emotion chip, the android was able to look as shocked as everyone else.
"I always liked you, Data," Q smiled, "figuring things out on your own before just demanding answers." At the last bit, he gave Picard a pointed look.
The captain was not in the mood for games, but reigned in his fury and regained the outward appearance of calm. "Why are we here, Q?" he asked as civilly as he could manage.
Q's smile broadened, showing teeth. "Why don't you go down to the planet and find out?"
"You know we cannot learn what the future will bring without influencing…"
"Every moment you exist influences the future!" Q snapped, "And who are you, Picard, to make claim of what is the 'correct path' that time should take? Such arrogance."
Picard stood his ground. "Send us back, Q. We cannot do what you want, we will remain on the ship."
Q was silent a moment, gazing about the bridge and determining the resolve of the crew. Long gone were the days of Q's dramatic raves and threats, replaced with a calculating menace that had proved far more effective.
Q shrugged. "As you wish, I can't force you to do anything," he ignored the indignant snort from Riker, "If it is your intent to remain here, then so be it. But it is my intent that you fulfill your role, and if you do not do so, well, I have no intention of sending you back. You'll never get home. Very well, stay here and rot."
A bright flash of light, and Q was gone.
"Do you think he'll do it, leave us here?" Commander Riker murmured to his captain, breaking the silence Q left behind.
"It isn't a possibility I can discount, unfortunately," Picard sighed. They could try to wait Q out; he'd surely get bored eventually and send them back. But when had that ever worked? More important, the longer they waited, the greater the chance they were discovered, and a confrontation with this time's peoples would surely cause more damage than could be contained.
"Sir?" Data called, still scanning the mysterious planet.
"What have you found?" Picard said as he and Riker moved to stand behind the android, watching as his dexterous hands flew across the screen.
"Overall the planet is unexceptional in its formation. Seventy-five point four percent of its surface is water and its atmosphere of nitrogen-oxygen is well within necessary parameters. There are two satellites in opposing orbits consisting of…"
"Yes, Data, what else?" Picard prompted. He did appreciate his third-in-command's thoroughness but the android had called him over for a reason.
"Sir," he continued, accustomed to the interruptions, "There is an abundance of unintelligent life with no signs that there is or was intelligent life. However, along the western coastline of the largest continent, I came across a shield that our scans could not penetrate."
The wall-sized view screen blinked from a gently turning atmosphere to a sharp contrast of a vibrant blue ocean mated to a gold, brown, and green coastline. Nestled against the ocean formed by a crescent of hills was a city, white and shining, and beyond the hills stretching outwards were colorful squares of farmland. The shield did not hide the city from view, but continued to block their scans.
"A colony," Picard marveled, and a thriving one at that.
"One that has been here for some time, Captain." Data had learned that the art of vague chronology was often appreciated by humans, one just had to learn to judge when to apply it. As Picard did not ask for specifics, he decided he had judged successfully this time.
"Captain, we are receiving a transmission from the planet, text only."
The urgency of Worf's voice had Picard turning from the view screen. "What does it say, Commander?"
Worf's confusion was obvious in his voice as he read. "'Welcome back, Captain Picard. We are waiting for you.'"
"This little jaunt down the rabbit hole just got a whole lot more interesting," Riker mused, trying for brevity in the face of his own frustration.
"Indeed. And it seems that there is no avoiding a visit, now."
"Sir, you're not thinking…"
"I am, Will. Counselor?"
Deanna Troi looked away from the view screen to her captain. She was more than the ship's counselor, even more than an empath who could reveal deceit, but a strength on which Picard could always rely. Even now, she maintained her calm mien. "There's not much I can determine from here, but I don't sense any maliciousness."
"We still don't know what's down there," Riker interjected, "Invitation or no, sir, I can't allow the possible risk to you."
"A given, Number One, and yet at this point it seems that our influence on this time is out of our hands. Prepare your away team."
The heat of the planet's sun beat upon their shoulders as William Riker, Deanna Troi, Worf, and Geordi LaForge rematerialized. It was midday, the sun at its zenith, and it would have been overly warm save the cool breeze sweeping in from the west, bringing with it a subtle scent of the sea. Long, green grasses with golden feathered heads bent in the breeze sending ripples through the low hills. Trees huddled in clusters where the land dipped, their numbers increasing as the hills rose up just west of them, and vanishing to the east that opened up to endless grasslands.
"It's beautiful," Troi breathed, a smile on her face.
They beamed down just outside the shield. While it prevented scans and transporters, Data had been certain that they would be able to walk through it. Just in case, they pulled out their tricorders and began looking for its edge, as well as generic readings or, more importantly, signs of life.
"It's right over there," Geordi said, pointing up a gentle slope. They began the ascent when the tricorders beeped the approach of life forms.
"Two of them, approaching quickly," Worf warned, his phaser already in hand.
They were humanoid, and running, weapons in their hands. When they were close enough to see clearly, Riker blinked in surprise. The smaller of the two was an adolescent, not much older than Wesley when he'd first come aboard, with dark skin and hair in braids under his wide-brimmed hat. The boy slid to a knee and took aim with his rifle. Standing over him, his rifle just as proficiently wielded, was an android, a pale contrast to his companion.
He was identical to Data.
"Go away, Starfleet! We don't want you here!" the boy shouted, his rifle aimed right for Riker's heart.
It was the android who shouted next, his aim undoubtedly far more accurate.
"Transport back to your ship now or we will fire!"