I cannot promise to finish this this week. I *can* promise to get my originally planned 13K in, and I can promise that aside from ficathon stories I've already committed to, this will be the only story I work on until it's done, but the damn thing wants to be much, much longer than I expected, and because of all the logistics, not to mention that I've never been to France and have to look everything up, it's going slower than other stories have.
So here is the first part of Judgement Day 13: Churchill's Black Dog. (The significance of the title won't become apparent until parts I haven't written yet.)
The sound, like a distant roaring of a crowd, filled the bridge. Picard saw Troi double over, hands on her head; heard Riker's "Deanna!" before he was even able to react. He knew this sound; he'd heard it twice before. And both those times, it had done what it did now -- grow louder and louder, very rapidly. And then Troi said, "Captain, it's the same thing I was sensing at Farpoint right before we met Q, but it's even more overwhelm--" and before she could quite finish her sentence, the world vanished in white light, and he was standing... on the lawn between his family's home and the vineyard. The roaring had quieted somewhat, but it hadn't gone away.
"Q!" he snapped. "What is the meaning of this?"
There was no answer. But he noticed people, everywhere. People on the lawn, people milling in front of the house, people in the vineyard glimpsed through the clusters of grapevines. There had to be at least two dozen people on his family's property. No, more. And he didn't recognize any of them. And they were all talking, and all of them were saying some variant of "What's going on?" or "Who's responsible for this?"
Picard took a step forward. Three of the people he could see had Starfleet uniforms -- one blue, two yellow. He couldn't read their pips from here. Most of the cacophony of confusion was in Standard, but some of the people were speaking French. "Ou sommes nous?" "Q'est-ce que c'est?" Where are we? What is this? Flashes continued, people appearing out of nothing in any spot that wasn't yet dense with human beings.
"Q," he said again. "I demand an explanation. What is going on?"
Still no answer. Both times that he'd heard the sound, it was connected with Q being punished -- snatched back by the Continuum after failing to convince Riker to become a Q, and being deposited naked and powerless on the bridge of the Enterprise. Maybe Q couldn't answer. But why would the Continuum involve him in Q's punishment, if that was what it was? The other possibility was that the roaring sound was simply the signature of the Continuum, the combined voices of the political body that ruled the Q entities, and the thought made him cold. He could deal with Q -- had, on many occasions. By now he was almost certain that Q would do him no permanent harm without a good reason, and would even offer him help in dealing with things imposed by the Continuum. But he was not nearly so sanguine about dealing with the Continuum as a whole.
And then the roaring sound grew horribly loud again, and with it came voices. The voices spoke in almost-perfect harmony, desynchronized from each other just enough that they did not sound quite like the Borg, and they were a mixture of masculine and feminine, childish and aged, as if the entire vocal range possible to humanoids was represented by the speakers in the chorus. It was impossible to distinguish any one voice.
"WE ARE THE Q," the voices said. "WE HAVE JUDGED HUMANITY, AND FOUND YOU TO BE A DANGEROUS, CHAOTIC, IMPERIALISTIC SPECIES OF PRIMITIVES. WE HAVE THEREFORE CONFINED YOU TO YOUR SOLAR SYSTEM UNTIL SUCH TIME AS YOU PROVE YOURSELVES MATURE ENOUGH TO BE TRUSTED IN YOUR RELATIONS WITH OTHER SPECIES."
"What?" Picard said, appalled and horrified. "Q, we passed those tests! You told me we passed!"
The voices ignored him completely, and Picard could see from the reactions of the strangers all around him that they were hearing the voices too. The message was for all of humanity, not for Picard personally. "WE HAVE BEEN MERCIFUL. BECAUSE YOUR SPECIES HAS SO RAPIDLY OVERPOPULATED THROUGHOUT SPACE, WE HAVE GRANTED YOU ADDITIONAL LIVABLE WORLDS WITHIN YOUR SOLAR SYSTEM. THE PLANET YOU CALL VENUS HAS BEEN ALTERED TO MEET YOUR SPECIES' NEEDS. WE HAVE ADDED A PLANET TO YOUR SYSTEM WHERE YOUR ASTEROID BELT WAS PREVIOUSLY; IT HAS ALSO BEEN ALTERED TO MEET YOUR NEEDS. YOUR WORLD HAS BEEN GIFTED WITH A SECOND MOON AS WELL WHERE YOU MAY LIVE. THE NEW WORLDS ARE YET EMPTY. COLONIZE THEM FREELY AS YOU CHOOSE, BUT YOU MAY NOT LEAVE YOUR SOLAR SYSTEM."
"My daughter! Where is my daughter?" a woman was shouting. "What happened to my little girl?"
"AS NO HUMAN MAY LEAVE THIS SOLAR SYSTEM, NO NON-HUMAN SENTIENT MAY BE CONFINED WITHIN IT. YOU ARE ALONE. YOU WILL NOT SPREAD YOUR CULTURE AND YOUR CONTAMINATING INFLUENCE TO OTHER SPECIES."
"Q, talk to me," Picard said softly. "Was there another test? One you didn't tell me you were conducting? Why didn't you tell me?" He looked up. It was daylight, but he could see the moon. And then he realized that the small object he was seeing up there wasn't the moon, or rather wasn't the original moon, couldn't be. It was smooth, unmarked, still entirely round with no dark patches of craters on it. "Give us another chance. Another test. Please, Q. Don't do this."
"My daughter's a Bajoran. I adopted her. She's a refugee. Where is she?"
"You mean... no aliens? But my wife! What about my wife?"
"That's not the moon, they're telling the truth, look up there! That's not the moon!"
"YOU ARE FREE TO DO AS YOU LIKE WITHIN YOUR OWN SOLAR SYSTEM. WE WILL RETURN IN THIRTY THOUSAND YEARS AND ASSESS YOU AGAIN. UNTIL THAT TIME YOU WILL NOT LEAVE."
And the roaring stopped.
"Is this another test, Q?" Picard shouted. "Are we expected to jump through your hoops again before you free us? Or is this one of your imaginary timelines, not something that's truly happening at all? At least show yourself. Tell me something, anything! Why are you doing this?"
There was still no answer. No one had noticed Picard, either; everyone was talking at once, babbling or shouting their own questions to the heavens, and in the general cacophony one more human voice did not stand out.
He turned around and went inside the house. He was the only person here who could; when Marie had had the house renovated after the fire, in preparation to sell it, she had installed the latest modern security and monitoring systems... too late, sadly, but at least the tragedy that had claimed Robert and Rene wouldn't happen to another family here. And she had added Picard's DNA as an authorized family profile to the door security. "Until the deed passes out of my hands and into the buyer's, Jean-Luc, I consider you as much an owner of this place as I do. If you want me not to sell it..." she had said, and he had assured her that his place was in space, so she should do as she saw fit with the property... she was a Picard by marriage, but in his opinion the work and time she had put into this house trumped his blood tie to it, since he had left.
Inside he saw Marie, standing pressed against the window on the side of the room. She jumped as he entered, spinning to face him -- and then her face lit up with relief as she realized who he was. "Jean-Luc!" Unselfconsciously she ran to him and threw her arms around him. Either she was terrified, or the years without Robert and Rene had changed her, Picard thought -- Marie had never been this demonstrative or emotional before. "I'm so glad to see you! What's happening? Who are all these people outside?"
"I have no way to know for certain, but I believe I might know what's occurring," Picard said. "Did you hear the message everyone outside did? The message from the Q?"
"Yes, but it doesn't really explain anything. Who are they? What are they talking about, we're primitive and contaminate other cultures?"
"I actually have some familiarity with the Q. They're an alien race with control over space, time, matter and energy... the power they wield is frankly godlike, though personally I would not suggest worshipping them." He smiled slightly at that, then grew serious again. "Several times, a specific representative of their race has tested humanity by challenging my crew and me. He has, on various occasions, created completely imaginary scenarios that are more real even than a holodeck, or borrowed scenarios from history, or created alternative timelines and transported me into them. This could be all imaginary, and once we solve whatever riddle faces us, we'll return to our normal lives. Or..." He hesitated. But he wouldn't hide the truth from Marie. "They could be telling the truth -- that somehow, at some point, we failed a test we didn't know we were taking, and they've decided to confine us to the solar system. It was the first thing the Q threatened to do, when he first tested us."
"So where have all these people come from, and why are they on our property?"
"If the Q are to be believed, and they really have sent all of humanity back to the solar system... Earth had a population of 2 billion people, but there are six trillion humans in the galaxy. The additional people must go somewhere. Enough of them were speaking French that I presume the Q felt they belonged here, for some reason."
"Do you think they really did create a new moon? And another planet? I couldn't imagine that being true, but if they have godlike powers..."
"Yes, it's certainly within their capabilities. I have witnessed a Q restore an entire collapsing planetary eco-system to normal in a moment, with a thought, and she was a juvenile of the species." The horrible thought suddenly occurred to him that if this had been a test, Q's tactic would have been to make it as awful as possible. Not just a different life, but a dull and meaningless one; not just Earth wiped out by a temporal anomaly, but the entire Alpha Quadrant. Q did not pull his punches, during tests. But the Q had provided extra planets to relieve the population pressure... something he feared very much they would only have done if this were real.
But Q hadn't appeared. Hadn't gloated, hadn't explained, hadn't dropped hints or made vague but dire warnings, hadn't responded at all. The last Picard had seen him, three years ago, he had come to the Enterprise to retrieve Amanda, and from what the two of them had said, there was unrest in the Continuum and possibly even physical danger. Had they been executed? Or had the Continuum decided to solve its internal problems by uniting against a common enemy, and they'd picked humanity as their scapegoat? Picard found it hard to believe that Q would not show up, under these circumstances, if he could -- if he was responsible for this, he would want to rub it in Picard's face -- but it was, theoretically, possible that he couldn't. Perhaps he'd been thrown out of the Continuum again. Or threatened with it if he tried to help humanity. Or, of course, he could have orchestrated some test, not told Picard about it, and now he was gloating privately, waiting until his appearance would have maximum impact before he showed up to sneer at Picard. There was no way to know.
He took a deep breath. "We need to do something about those people. Has the barn been rebuilt?"
"Of course... the harvest isn't in yet, so it's empty, right now." She closed her eyes. "I couldn't bear to replace the horses. We have stables, but they're empty too."
"Well. That will be of some help. With your permission, of course, I'd like to give any children, elderly people, parents of small children and people who are ill or frail places to sleep here in the house, and set up tents and temporary quarters in the barn and outside."
"I... of course, Jean-Luc." She smiled wanly at him. "Do whatever you think you must to bring order to this chaos."
He went to the replicator --Marie had finally managed to install a full-size one; he wondered if she'd ever agreed with Robert's traditionalism, or if the modern appliances she'd renovated the house with were a reaction to the fact that Robert's traditionalism had killed him, and their son -- and got a megaphone. Then he turned to Marie. "I'm sorry to impose on you like this, but we will need these people to be calm and relaxed. Can you please replicate some platters of pastries, pots of coffee, pitchers of water, that sort of thing? If we can offer them something simple to eat and drink, it will normalize the situation and make them feel that someone is paying attention to their welfare."
She nodded. "Of course. I'll bring out a few of the folding tables."
"I appreciate it." He went back out into the summer afternoon and lifted the megaphone to his mouth. People were still babbling at each other, calling to missing spouses or children, looking panicked. Several people were apparently trying to make their way out of the vineyard the wrong way, pushing through the grapevine rows instead of walking to the end of them.
"ATTENTION EVERYONE," he called. "PLEASE REMAIN CALM AND DIRECT YOUR ATTENTION TO ME. CAN EVERYONE HEAR ME?" Of course the people who couldn't hear him wouldn't know he'd asked, but if those who could hear responded, he'd know how far the megaphone was carrying his voice.
Several people turned toward him. Others were still calling frantically for family members. "IF YOU COULD ALL TURN YOUR ATTENTION TO ME. WE WILL BE MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE AT FINDING LOST FAMILY MEMBERS IF WE ARE ORGANIZED PROPERLY."
"Who are you?" one man asked.
"I'M JEAN-LUC PICARD. THIS IS MY SISTER-IN-LAW'S HOME. SHE'S PREPARING REFRESHMENTS INSIDE. NOW I SEE THAT THERE ARE CHILDREN HERE, AND SOME SENIORS, AND I'D LIKE TO BE ABLE TO OFFER THEM PLACES TO SLEEP IN COMFORT TONIGHT. IF YOU COULD ALL COME FORWARD, CLOSER TO THE HOUSE, SO I CAN SEE YOU AND HEAR YOU PROPERLY... THANK YOU."
Marie came out of the house with three inflatable tables, which she popped out of their sealed canisters and allowed to expand on the lawn in front of the house. "Hello," she said to the people who were gathering. "I'll have water, coffee and snacks for all of you in just a moment."
"Can everyone hear me now?" Picard called, putting down the megaphone... the crowd had gathered close enough to the house that as long as they remained quiet, they should all be able to hear him. "Good. Thank you. Now, I suspect you all heard the same message I did, but as it happens, I have some experience with the Q. I'm a captain in Starfleet, and I actually first encountered the Q on a mission... thirteen years ago." My God, has it really been so long? "For seven years, in most of our repeated encounters, the Q conducted several tests on my crew, which the representative of the Q claimed were tests of humanity. This may well simply be another such test. If that's so, our best chance of getting through this is to demonstrate that humanity can remain true to its ideals, even in the face of this adversity. We must remain calm, and do our best to restore order. Even if it's true that all of humanity has been returned to a single world, civilization must endure, or we will destroy ourselves."
While he was talking, Marie came out with the snacks and set them up on the table. "Now, I'd like everyone to take something to eat and drink if they'd like, and we'll recruit volunteers to help set up sleeping arrangements for everyone."
"Why don't we just call the police or the authorities for help?" someone asked.
Picard hadn't even thought of that, as used as he was to being isolated in space with only the resources of his ship and crew to draw from. But before he could say anything, Marie spoke. "I tried calling the police as soon as people began appearing on the property," she said. "I had a connection for five seconds at most -- not even long enough to explain the problem -- before the communication failed, and I haven't been able to make contact with anyone since. Every time I try to call I get a message that says 'Due to high call volume, your call cannot be completed. Please try again later.'"
Picard tried to imagine how many calls would have to be made at the same time to overload Earth's comm. network. Although perhaps it was just LaBarre that was affected. His communicator would route through Earth's comm. network if the Enterprise was not in orbit, so he tried it. "Picard to Commander Riker. Come in, Commander Riker." Nothing. "Picard to Counselor Troi. Picard to Commander Data. Come in." Still nothing. He looked up. "I feel it's safe to say that the communication network is in fact down. For the moment, we're on our own."
In the crowd, he noted a few people in Starfleet uniforms. "I'd like anyone currently serving in Starfleet to step forward," he said. Three people -- a blue-shirted woman with Lieutenant's pips, a yellow-shirted man with Ensign pips and a yellow-shirted woman with Lieutenant Commander pips -- stepped forward. "Give me your names, your specializations and where you were serving when you were brought here."
"Gisele Montague, Sciences, aboard the Sagan," the blue-shirt said.
"Kevin LeClair, Engineering, Station K-3."
"Madeleine Bankard, Security, the Yamato."
"All right. Lieutenant Montague, please take a census of the people here. Anyone who is in frail health, over the age of one hundred thirty, pregnant, under the age of 13, or is responsible for a person under the age of 13, should have their names, ages and any special accommodations they require recorded. If we can possibly manage it, I'd like for those people to be able to bunk in the house until we can make more permanent arrangements."
"Ensign LeClair, please assist my sister-in-law Mrs. Picard in converting the barn into sleeping quarters for the able-bodied. Request assistance from any able-bodied adult who is willing to help you with the project. And Commander Bankard, I'd like to give you my megaphone and have you go through the vineyard, find anyone who may be lost or has chosen not to find their way to the house, and have them come here."
Both nodded and acknowledged the order. "Is there anyone else here with area knowledge who might be able to assist Commander Bankard?" Picard asked.
A man came forward to the front of the crowd. "I believe I might," Picard's second cousin said dryly.
"Claude!" Picard was delighted -- he hadn't seen Claude in twenty years or so. When he'd been sixteen, Claude's mother's latest get-rich-quick-in-space plan had failed, and she had moved onto the vineyard, in one of the very old servants' quarters on the property, with her husband, Maurice Picard's first cousin Charles Picard, and nine-year-old son Claude. Jean-Luc hadn't had much interest in Claude back then -- he really hadn't ever liked children -- but when he came home from Starfleet Academy on summer and Christmas semester breaks, Claude had been old enough to be interesting. Eventually his mother had gotten back on her feet and figured out a new wild scheme, and they'd all moved back to space. Since then Picard had only corresponded with his cousin occasionally; the man had become a mathematician, of all things, living on whatever colony world his mother's scheme had finally landed his branch of the family. "I'm delighted to see you, although the circumstances could be better. Where's your wife, or the children?"
"I don't know." Claude shook his head. "I've been wandering about on the vineyard, but I haven't seen them. But many of the people I've talked to have also had wives or husbands or children who didn't arrive with them."
It might be a systematic problem, then. Perhaps the Q hadn't bothered to keep families together. "Once communications return, we may be able to find them somewhere on Earth. In the meantime, would you assist Commander Bankard in flushing people out of the vineyards?"
Claude smiled. "No problem, Jean-Luc."
LeClair and Marie came back out of the house. "The power's out, Jean-Luc," Marie said, worriedly.
Silently Picard gave thanks to his father and brother and their stubborn insistence on clinging to antiquated technology. "Does the solar water pump still work?"
"It does, yes."
"So we'll have running water and working toilets, then." Toilets aboard ships disintegrated waste, transferring it via micro-transport to the matter tanks that fed the replicators. On Earth, most modern toilets did something similar, but not on the Picard estate, where Jean-Luc's grandfather had actually torn out the toilets that had been modern for the 23rd century and replaced them with expensive water-based antiques, on the grounds that he didn't trust the technology in use at the time. The water-based toilets still fed into the matter tanks for the replicators, of course, but they used the solar-powered water pump to work, so the power being out wouldn't create a sanitation disaster. Of course, what appeared to be several hundred people on the property all attempting to use the three toilets in the house and the one in the servants' quarters Claude had grown up in could create a sanitation disaster, but Picard would deal with that later. "Do you still have the wood-burning stove?"
"Yes, and also the canned supplies. They were in the basement when the fire started, down next to the wine cellar, so they weren't affected."
"So if the power doesn't return, we'll be able to feed everyone for at least a day or two. Is there anyone here who's patient and speaks quickly? I'd like a volunteer to sit by the replicator, and if the power comes back on even briefly, order as many bulk staples as it can produce in however much time we have before losing power again."
"Do you expect to lose power frequently?" a man in the front asked, not quite belligerent but challenging.
Picard replied politely. "If it's true that all of humanity has returned to the solar system, there could be as many as six trillion people on Earth, using a power grid that was optimized to support ten billion at most. We may lose power completely." Which would be disastrous. The planet didn't currently contain food stores sufficient for six trillion people. Without replicators, there would be chaos, starvation and death. Once he had these people settled, he'd have to get to the LaBarre power station and find out what was being done to handle the spike in power needs.
He deputized more people to assist. Over the next several hours, they made up makeshift bunks in the barn, opened up the inflatable tents that generally housed the seasonal workers who came in to help harvest, and got the portable toilets, also used by the seasonal workers, up and running. Picard had actually forgotten about them. But there were usually only about thirty to fifty seasonal workers, and the census coming in for the number of people on the Picard lands seemed to be about six hundred or so, many of them having turned out to be in the extensive vineyards. Marie gamely used the wood stove for hours to cook stew for everyone, assisted by as many people as Picard could usefully deputize to her aid, but the kitchen just wasn't big enough to be producing meals for six hundred people on a regular basis. The power flickered back on twice, so they were able to replenish their stores of pasta, rice, potatoes, carrots, bread, and bouillon, enough to feed this horde for an additional two days. That meant that with what Marie already had in stores, there was food enough for five days. In five days anything could happen. In five days the test could end.
You won't break us, Q. We won't die, we won't starve, we won't descend into chaos and anarchy. This is the most difficult test you've ever set us, but we will prevail, and we will maintain our beliefs and ideals as we do.
He refused to believe that this was actually permanent. It was far, far too cruel. Q would never do such a thing, or allow the Continuum to do such a thing, without talking to him. Gloating, perhaps, or sneering at the pathos of humanity, but he would come and he would talk, if this was a final judgement. And he hadn't come. So it had to be a test. And Picard had beaten most of Q's other tests; he'd beat this one too.
Supervising the work to convert the Picard lands into a temporary camp for six hundred people took all of the rest of the day and quite a ways into the night. By the time Picard was able to stumble to his own bed -- in the barn, because he'd given up his own old bedroom to two women and the three small children they had between them -- he was utterly exhausted, and should be able to get to sleep easily. But he spent perhaps as long as an hour staring up through the rafters at the large window in front, looking at the two moons and the faint haze around the stars.
At the power station the next day, the head engineer was not sanguine about being able to consistently provide enough power for the vastly increased number of people needing it. "It's not so much what the station can put out, per se -- we could go up to three, maybe five times as much power generated, if we were willing to burn our supply of antimatter that quickly. The real problem is the grid -- the power grid just doesn't have the capacity for more than double the average amount of power. So if there's really several hundred times as many people around here... you're just going to have to ration, really tightly, or the power will keep blowing out."
"There needs to be some sort of general directive to that effect from a central authority, though," Picard said. "Do you have the ability to transmit on the emergency channel?"
"No, even the emergency channel is down. Since people started appearing yesterday all comms have been completely jammed."
"Then it won't be possible to set up rationing until the communications grid is restored."
"I'm the power guy, Captain. I wouldn't know how to go about increasing communication capacity."
The engineers at the communications center were already working on the problem. "There's a lot of capacity in the old terrestrial radio networks," the director of LaBarre's communication switching station told him. "A lot of those towers were knocked down during the post-atomic horror, of course, but there are still radio towers and transmitters for what they used to call 'cellular phones' all over the place. And there are even a large number of hardlines, the fiber-optic or copper cables that used to transmit signals for telephones or computer networks."
Picard frowned. "Why did they call them cellular phones? Were they organic somehow?"
She laughed. "No, I'm fairly sure they weren't, but I have no idea why they called them that. A lot of that capacity has been well-maintained; we have hobbyists all over France who have nothing better to do than preserve the 20th and 21st century technological networks, so despite the fact that much of the capacity is over 300 years old, it's amazing how much of it still works. The real problem is that nothing is set up to use those frequencies, so what my people and I are working on is a way to set up a translation between the subspace frequencies that the communications grid runs on, and the wired and radio frequencies of the older technology, so we can offload a lot of communications capacity onto the old systems. But to do it we're going to need to be able to make contact with all the other comm centers, and share with them the switching protocol. Some of them may be trying the same stunt, too."
"I'm sure some of them are. If I could provide manpower and horses, would you be able to get the protocols onto PADDs that can be manually transported to the nearest communication centers, so we can at least get communication with Paris back up and running?" Paris was the seat of numerous governmental levels; the government of France itself, the European Alliance, and the Federation all held their capitals there, though it was ambiguous how much the government of the Federation mattered if humanity was trapped on Earth. Picard could get in contact with the mayor of LaBarre easily enough, and in fact that was his next stop on his itinerary, but LaBarre couldn't by itself affect power consumption over a large enough area to make a difference.
"Horses?" the director asked, puzzled.
"I only have access to one car," Picard said, referring to the aircar he'd come here in, "but my cousin is currently negotiating with a horse farm near my family's property." Once upon a time there had been horses on the Picard lands, because horses were actually more efficient for covering the territory of the entire vineyard slowly enough and close enough to the vines to observe the state of the grapes than cars could possibly be, but they'd died in the fire and Marie hadn't replaced them.
"That could work," she said dubiously, a "maybe" implied in her tone. "We've got the protocol pretty well worked out. I'm not sure we'll have the computer capacity for processing all the signals anyway, but right now our limiting factor is the density of subspace radio traffic, so if we can offload it should help a lot."
"Please focus on getting the emergency channels back up, at least. If there's any way to block those to any but authorized users..."
She looked dubious again. "People need to be able to call for medical attention or first response services."
"Yes, but you know as well as I do, the reason the system is so overloaded that we can't even push a broadcast message through it isn't because everyone is making legitimate calls to first response. It's because people are trying to re-route their communications equipment to run on the emergency frequency so they can try to call out of LaBarre and find out what's become of friends or family."
"You have a point. We may be able to implement an override on the emergency channel so only first responders and government authorities can use it, at least temporarily."
"That would be an excellent idea." He couldn't very well simply tell the director to make it so; he had no legal authority outside of his family's property, and technically, only had the authority there that Marie was willing to grant him. But it didn't seem that others had stepped up to meet the leadership challenges this situation was causing. Hopefully that was only true because of the difficulty in communicating; he had hopes that he would find a command center at LaBarre's city hall, and that the mayor had had the same or preferably better and more ideas than he had had.
He returned home with PADDs with the protocol, and maps to the closest five communication centers. Claude had gotten the horses, in part it seemed by trading on Jean-Luc's own reputation. When reporters had bothered him for interviews after some of the incidents where he and the Enterprise had saved the Earth, Picard had considered them almost completely a nuisance, and only his desire not to be openly rude had led him to give them anything at all. Now, though, it seemed that those interviews were helping him; the Desmarais family, owners of the horse farm, had been thrilled that Maurice Picard's dreamy little boy had grown up to be a hometown hero, and had been happy to lend Claude half a dozen horses on Picard's behalf.
Picard gave the car to Commander Bankard, a policewoman from Deneva named Jacqueline Broussard, and a doctor from an independent medical ship, the Blackwell, named Brian Lefevre, with instructions to go to Paris and assess the situation, and make contact with the French government or the European Alliance government if possible. Picard was fairly sure that Federation government, which had no specific jurisdiction over internal Earth affairs, wouldn't necessarily be very helpful right now, although it was likely that the Palais de la Concorde would have an emergency channel to Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco. But contacting Starfleet was lower priority than getting people safe and stabilized here.
He sent five volunteers who declared themselves experienced horse riders out with the maps and PADDs to the nearest comm centers. Picard himself took the last horse into LaBarre to talk to the mayor.
LaBarre's town center was distressingly overcrowded. There were people sitting on the street, people occupying every sidewalk bench, people on building stairs and stoops, people in parked aircars on every roof. Most of them looked dispirited, tired and worn. Some were actively weeping. The bakeries and fishmongers and butcher shops and small grocers were all closed, some even boarded up with hastily emplaced plasteel -- with this number of people looking for food, they had probably had to close their doors very quickly after all the people had appeared, and with the power grid down there was no way to replicate more inventory
City hall was barricaded. There were three armed police officers in front of the building. "I'm sorry, sir, you can't go in."
"I'm Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and I've just come from the power station and the communications center. I'd like to talk to the mayor about protocols to get the power back online." He looked around the street. "These people are likely to riot when they're hungry enough, and all the food sellers seem to have closed up and barricaded themselves. We need to restore power or there will be anarchy."
"I'm sorry, sir. The mayor and the city council are working on the problem. You need to leave."
"Well, I'd like to coordinate with them. I know that all communications are down, including emergency communications, so the mayor most likely hasn't been talking to the power and communication directors as recently as I have, and I have information the city council and the mayor would probably find useful."
"I'm sorry, sir, you're going to have to leave."
Picard took a deep breath. "Very well, then. I'm sorry to have intruded."
There were also officers on the roof, he noted. It wasn't going to be particularly easy to get access to the LaBarre government if it was in hiding. But he had some ideas.
Firstly, he had to make sure these people didn't start rioting. He returned home -- the mare he was riding could handle the distance back to the family estate in half an hour at a fast canter without getting terribly winded -- picked up his megaphone, and notified Marie that they would possibly be doubling the population. Ensign LeClair and Lieutenant Montague had some ideas as to how to temporarily get the replicators working by rerouting power from some of the self-powered wine-making equipment. The power supplies wouldn't last very long under the burden of running the replicator, but it might be long enough to get some staples. And if Picard could actually get in to see the mayor, he could get access to the stores of emergency rations that every city kept in reserve in the event of natural disasters. There should be two months' worth for the normal population of LaBarre, which might translate to only a few days for the current population, but it was a few days more than the people in the town center had now.
When he returned to the town center, it was with the megaphone. As his mare trotted him through the town, he repeated an announcement over and over. "CITIZENS, THERE IS FOOD AND SHELTER AVAILABLE AT THE PICARD ESTATE, TEN MILES DOWN THE ROAD." He gave directions, and then repeated the message.
People crowded around him. "Who are you?" "Are you from the government?" "You're Starfleet, aren't you?" "What's happening? How did we get here?"
"I'M CAPTAIN JEAN-LUC PICARD OF THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE. I INVITE ALL OF YOU TO MY FAMILY'S ESTATE; MY BROTHER'S WIDOW OWNS A LARGE WINERY AND VINEYARD, AND WE ARE FEEDING AND HOUSING PEOPLE ON THE ESTATE. WE HAVE BEEN TRANSPORTED HERE BY A POWERFUL ALIEN RACE CALLED THE Q, POSSIBLY FOR SOME SORT OF TEST; IF WE WISH TO REGAIN THE STARS IT'S VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT WE MAINTAIN ORDER AND DEMONSTRATE OUR CIVILITY AND OUR HUMANITY TO ONE ANOTHER. IT'S TEN MILES AWAY; A TWO OR THREE HOUR WALK, I'M AFRAID, BUT I HAVE NO MEANS TO TRANSPORT LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE... ALL I HAVE IS A HORSE. ANYONE WHO WISHES TO MAKE THE WALK IS INVITED TO MY FAMILY'S HOME FOR FOOD AND SHELTER." And so on.
Before long the police approached, with megaphones of their own. "CITIZENS, DISPERSE! THIS CROWD IS UNLAWFUL! RETURN TO YOUR HOMES!"
"My home's on a space station!" "Drive me to the spaceport, and I'll be happy to go home!" "Our homes aren't here, how can we go home?"
"I AM INVITING THESE PEOPLE TO MY FAMILY'S ESTATE FOR FOOD AND SHELTER," Picard responded, overriding the furious babble of the crowd. "THEY DON'T LIVE HERE, SO THEY CAN'T DISPERSE TO THEIR HOMES."
"THE CROWD MUST DISPERSE," one of the police said. "WE ARE AUTHORIZED TO STUN."
"AND THEN WHAT? YOU'LL HAVE A STREET FULL OF STUNNED UNCONSCIOUS PEOPLE? WILL YOU KEEP STUNNING THEM TO AVOID A RIOT? HOW MANY TIMES BEFORE THEY SUFFER STUN-SHOCK OR OTHER PERMANENT DAMAGE? HOW MANY TIMES BEFORE IT BECOMES CLEANER JUST TO SHOOT TO KILL? THESE PEOPLE HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG; THEY ARE ONLY ASKING FOR INFORMATION."
"SIR, WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO ASK YOU TO LEAVE."
"Why should he leave? He's offering us more than the mayor or the city council did!" "You heard him! We didn't do anything wrong!" "We want food and shelter!" "We have no homes! Return us to our homes!"
"CITIZENS, YOU MUST DISPERSE!"
"LET ME FORWARD," Picard asked the crowd, and they shifted out of his way. He approached the police, who held phasers at the ready on him, and looked down at them from the vantage point of his mare. Without the megaphone, he said, "There are unimaginably powerful, well-nigh godlike beings watching us right now. You heard them, just before we all were sent here from space. They call themselves the Q. I've had dealings with them. I can tell you that it is very likely that we're being tested. That how we behave toward one another -- whether we slide back into barbarism, or continue to demonstrate our ideals and our level of civilization in how we deal with one another. Now, I'm sure you've been given orders to maintain control, and I'm sure the sudden appearance of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in the city center was very disturbing to you. You must be very concerned with how to do your jobs, how you can keep people who are starving and homeless from rioting in the street."
At least one of the phasers trained on him wavered slightly. He was getting through, a little bit. "But threatening people for trying to learn what is happening in this horrible situation we all find ourselves in, for trying to obtain their basic necessities of food and shelter... that's barbaric, and you know it. And if we are being tested, such an act might cause us to fail. Do you truly want humanity's final fate to be decided on the basis of your actions of inhumanity? Do you want us to be forever denied the stars, or annihilated, because you were too frightened and desperate to maintain control?"
They looked at each other. Picard felt slightly ashamed of bringing up the possibility that they were being tested -- firstly, because it might not be true, although he desperately wanted to believe that it was; secondly, because he preferred to try to handle Q tests the way he'd told Riker they would handle the one at Farpoint. "We'll do exactly what we would have done if they weren't watching." On the other hand, there were people who might die here, or be injured, and if shaming these police officers with the thought of being watched by judgemental alien powers worked to save lives, so be it; Picard would do what he had to.
One of them said, without using the megaphone, "I'll check with the mayor." She left, leaving the other two police officers there in their awkward standoff with Picard, shifting nervously and watching the crowd grow more restless. The officer who'd left wasn't gone for long; she returned, saying, "The mayor wants to see you now," to Picard.
Picard turned to the crowd and picked up the megaphone again. "I'M GOING TO SPEAK TO THE MAYOR. ANY OF YOU WHO WISH TO WALK TO MY FAMILY HOME ARE WELCOME TO GO ON AHEAD; MY SISTER-IN-LAW WILL PROVIDE YOU FOOD AND SHELTER. THOSE OF YOU WHO WISH TO STAY, I WILL BE DISCUSSING WITH THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL HOW BEST TO PROVIDE FOR YOU. I SHOULD RETURN WITH MORE NEWS WITHIN A FEW HOURS." Hopefully not too many of them would decide to wait it out; as little thrilled as he was at the notion of doubling or tripling the population at the estate, he had lost a lot of confidence in the leadership of the town of LaBarre's ability to provide for these people.
The mayor of LaBarre was not the same one who had wanted to have a parade in his honor, years ago, after his assimilation by the Borg. He was a tall, blond, handsome man with a scowl marring otherwise attractive features. "What do you think you're playing at, Picard?" he snapped. "You come marching in here as if it matters here on Earth that you're a bigwig in Starfleet, and try to take everything over. It doesn't matter that you're a Starfleet captain; you're nothing here in LaBarre! Do you understand me?"
"On the contrary," Picard said, quietly but with an edge in his voice. "I am a citizen of LaBarre, and it hardly seems responsible of a democratically elected mayor to consider that 'nothing'. In addition, I am currently responsible for the six hundred people living on my estate; their safety and welfare is paramount for me, and would be endangered by riots breaking out in town."
"We are handling the situation," the mayor said, almost but not quite shouting. "You don't need to waltz in and take things over; we will resolve the problems facing the citizens of LaBarre!"
"Including the new ones?"
"The new citizens of LaBarre. The people who were transported here by the Q. As nearly as I have been able to determine, everyone who was sent here descends from people who lived in LaBarre at one point or another. At least until they can return to their homes on the colony worlds and alien worlds and space stations and freighter ships and starships that they come from, they are citizens of LaBarre now. And I believe that you have been ignoring them in favor of protecting those who were here before the new people arrived. I believe you were hoping that if you did nothing, they would simply go away. That is not likely to happen."
"We don't have the room, the power, or the food to handle the number of new arrivals. Am I supposed to starve the actual citizens of LaBarre so that we can feed all these new people?"
"It shouldn't be necessary to starve anyone. Open up the emergency ration reserves."
"Those are for natural disasters!"
"This may be unnatural, Mayor, but it is most certainly a disaster. If all of humanity was transported back to Earth, there could be as many as six trillion people on the planet. That is over 1000 times as many people as there were two days ago. Everyone is going to have to make sacrifices, or we will all starve. And when people begin to starve, they will resort to violence and lawlessness to get what they need to survive. And that will not be at all safe for the citizens who were already here."
"The emergency reserves are supposed to feed the population for two months. That's not even 500 days! If we open the reserves we can feed people for what, one day?"
He had a point. "The reserves are supposed to feed the entire region of LaBarre. You can feed the people in the town center for a few days, with that. And if we can get the power back on, we can replicate more rations. The chief engineer at the power station told me that we can restore power if we can ration it; LaBarre alone rationing power won't do us any good, but I have a team headed into Paris to make contact with any of the authorities there, and the communications director at the LaBarre center said that she thinks they can place an override block on the emergency channel so that it can only be used by centralized authorities, such as yourself. If we set up some sort of power rationing directive via the emergency channel, it might actually be possible to use the power long enough to replicate food for everyone."
The mayor seemed to brighten when Picard mentioned the emergency channel. "Well. A way to communicate with all the people in LaBarre would actually be very useful."
"Obviously you'd only be able to communicate with those who have homes and comm units. But they're also most likely the only ones using power."
"How can I get in contact with the communications director?"
"I took an aircar over to the center directly," Picard said dryly. "That may be the only way, until they can increase capacity."
Back at the estate, he found to his delight that Marie and Claude had talked to Amelie Deneuve, one of the Deneuve sisters who ran the orchard up the road. Amelie was one of the technology hobbyists the communications director had been talking about, and had had in her possession not one but two bulk reconstituters -- a technology that had never been popular on Earth, but had made space travel possible in the days before replicators. A reconstituter took organic matter, only, and reconstituted it into other things made of organic matter, only. Because it did nothing at the atomic level, and relied heavily on enzymes at the molecular level, it could take organic waste and make it into food at a fraction of the power requirements of a replicator. The food wouldn't be very good -- reconstituted food was bland and oddly textured -- but it would be food. She'd given one of her two reconstituters to the Picard estate, and was using the other one to feed all the people that had shown up on her and her sisters' orchard.
So now Marie had organized people into teams to dump organic matter into the reconstituter's hopper. Mostly they were dumping the portable toilets -- which were starting to overflow anyway, in the absence of transporter power to move their contents to the replicator matter tank -- but she had teams of children going out through the vineyard to collect broken vines, fallen grapes, and other organic matter, and if maybe they ate a few of the early-ripening grapes, well, she didn't have a problem with that. The power requirements were low enough that the self-powered machinery in the winery could easily power the reconstituter instead, and LeClair and Montague had already gotten it hooked up. They were now currently churning out loaves of bread.
"I wonder if I should dump the wine into the hopper as well," Marie said to him. "It hardly seems as if now is the time to worry about making wine, of all things."
Picard thought he might agree with her, but before he could speak, Claude shook his head. "We may need the wine for barter," he said. "People will be under a great deal of stress, and even after their need for food is taken care of, they'll still want something to drink. Besides, if the sanitation systems break down and we have to start digging latrines, putting a little bit of wine in the drinking water will help kill any bacteria that could cause dysentery."
Dysentery. Oh, God. Picard hadn't even thought of that; diseases of poor sanitation were so far in Earth's past that he had almost forgotten that the breakdown of sanitation would have worse consequences than a disgusting smell and impact on morale. "That's a good point," Picard said. "Save the wine, and save the grapes to whatever extent you can -- if wine turns out to be valuable in the future we won't want to lose our ability to make it this year. The reconstituter has something like a 95% efficiency rating in reclaiming waste matter; we shouldn't need anything more than the wastes we're already generating to produce enough food to feed everyone for some time."
Marie smiled. "Yes, it's rather disgusting to think about and I don't envy the teams working on dumping the tanks, but I do know how these work. Organics are organics; it's just like the process of composting for fertilizer and then growing food from it, except instantaneous."
"I'd like to switch over to producing ration cubes," Picard said. "Admittedly, that'll produce a lot less reclaimable waste, but since a ration bar is almost entirely nutrition, they'll take up a lot less time to produce than enough bread or other staples to feed the same number of people."
Claude frowned. "I lived on ration cubes for a month once when Maman bartered our warp engine for a cloaking device and we had to limp to the nearest station on impulse. They're really horrible. Are you sure that's a good idea? We have to maintain morale as well as keep people fed."
Picard hadn't heard the story of Claude's mother bartering a warp drive. He'd have to get his cousin to tell him the whole thing, later. "I was thinking that if people are rationed out half a ration bar, one full meal, and one light meal per day, it'll stretch the actual food supplies considerably without the negative impacts that making people live on nothing but ration cubes would cause."
Emergency rations were nothing but the nutrients the average human needed to survive in a day, in timed-release form, with chemicals in them to trigger the satiety centers of the brain so people would feel full after eating them, even though their actual mass was not equivalent to the mass of three separate meals. They were supposed to come in flavors, such as oatmeal flavor or meatloaf flavor, but in fact they all tasted rather like chewy cardboard, and because they had so little excess non-nutritive mass, they caused gastrointestinal problems if they were the sole source of food for too long. Humans could eat them for about three weeks before starting to suffer frequent intestinal cramps or diarrhea, although most humans would get so sick of them after less than a week, no one ever wanted to eat them long enough to develop problems. But Picard had found in the past, during incidents aboard the Stargazer where power had been drastically limited for weeks until they could return to Federation space for repair, that one could eat ration bars as half one's daily food intake indefinitely if the other half was real food. The food that the reconstituter could produce wouldn't be exactly good food, but it would have the bulk of real food, and that was what was needed to avoid stomach problems.
"Do you think the reconstituter could produce edible cheese?" Marie asked. "Gisele Deneuve was willing to trade us half of her stores of canned fruit in exchange for wine, so we could have fruit, bread and cheese for our light meals, if we had any cheese."
"I wouldn't attempt to reconstitute Brie. Something less delicate, like cheddar or Swiss, could possibly work."
People from LaBarre trickled in over the hours. In late afternoon, Bankard, Broussard and Dr. Lefevre returned from Paris with the car. "It's insane down there, Captain," Bankard reported, shaking her head. "There's massive rioting. Every food shop we saw has been smashed open and looters are taking everything; we also saw looting of clothing stores, bedding stores... people were dragging mattresses into alleys. I counted maybe twelve plainly dead bodies." Dr. Lefevre had recruited some assistance in getting two injured people out of the back of the car. "We went down for injured people at first, but when we tried to get the third one we saw, someone smashed the windshield with a rock." The windshield, being transparisteel, had not broken, but it had warped badly enough that where the rock had struck it, the steel was no longer fully transparent, shot through with so many opaque white streaks that it would be dangerous to try to look through it.
"Were you able to get to any of the governmental agencies?"
"The Palais de la Concorde is closed. We couldn't tell if there was anyone in there at all. Le Monde is barricaded." The World Building, better known to the French as simply Le Monde or The World, was the headquarters of the European Alliance, the political entity that stretched across all of Western Europe. "The Palais-Bourbon had a long line of people trying to get in, and we never got to the presidential or mayoral buildings, because traffic was awful. Everyone with an aircar was fleeing the city."
"Which is stupid," Officer Broussard interjected. "Where are they going to go? If they had homes in Paris they should have stayed there."
"The crowds were horrible," Bankard continued. "It was like Mardi Gras, cubed. I don't think we saw a single spot of public space that didn't have people in it. I suspect people are getting trampled, but there's no crowd control worth speaking of."
Of course. LaBarre was a peaceful farming town, home to family concerns such as the winery or the Deneuves' orchard or the Desmarais' horse farm. Paris was one of the leading lights of the world, with a major spaceport rivaling San Francisco's, and a much higher population density. Most of the people who lived in LaBarre, who had historically lived in LaBarre, didn't have or hadn't had a great deal of desire to leave it. So if the people the Q had dumped in LaBarre were indeed descendants of those who had left or people who had left themselves, that implied that LaBarre might have actually gotten off easy in the number of people returned. Paris produced émigrés to space the way Picard's family produced wine. The sheer number of people dropped into the already-dense population of Paris must have brought the city to its knees within hours.
Picard made a decision. Paris had to be saved. If there were any centralized authority that could take control of this situation and restore order in France -- or, possibly, throughout all Europe -- it would be there. "Marie, you've been running the reconstituter for some time now. How long will it take us to create ten thousand ration bars?"
Marie stared at him. "Ten thousand... Jean-Luc, I think that will burn through all the matter we've got."
"We'll get more matter. Empty the replicator matter tank, since we're not going to be using the replicator. We'll send teams over to the Desmarais' horse farm to collect as much manure as they're willing to give us, and offer them half the ration bars we generate from it in exchange. But we need to restore central authority. Paris is rioting, and I don't have sufficient trained manpower here to go in there and restore order; I need to get to the government buildings, and I need to be able to disrupt the riots enough to do that. Dropping food is the best way I can think of to distract the crowds enough that we can get in."
"How would you prevent stampedes, sir? Dropping food from an aircar might make the problem worse," Commander Bankard said.
"We'll have the megaphone, and we'll perform drops in numerous places in the crowd, not just a single location. Largely, though, I intend to make announcements of where we're going to drop and how much, and tell people that if they stampede the drops won't continue."
Bankard looked askance at him. "You've got a lot of faith in human nature, sir," she said in a tone that indicated that she didn't.
Q would have said something like that as well, more sarcastically and with less deference. If Q had bothered to show up. "I have to, Commander," Picard said quietly. "If we can't have faith in human nature, what hope do we have?"