Although I have plotted "Burning Time" for some time, I prioritized it ahead of other stories because lt_kitty requested it in exchange for a donation to John Kerry on fan_the_vote.
The story as written so far is PG-rated, maybe even G, but eventually will end up R-rated for violence and one sex scene. The characters Jinn and Naomi Allen were created by Mercutio (blog_mercutio) in her series PropinQuity. Harry Roth and Dr. Sussman are mine. Everyone else is obviously owned by Paramount Pictures.
WARNING: This story is incomplete. I know, most of you probably got that from the byline being "Alara Rogers", but for those of you that don't know me... read at your own risk. I only promised 3,000 words for Fan the Vote and instead I wrote 7,000, but I may not get back to this for a while, since I have other stories that deserve some time. (Or, I may keep going, now that I've gotten into this one. No promises in any direction.) This section ends on a cliffhanger. Yes, I am cruel like that. Deal.
Q read over the listings for the week, stylus in hand. Having the right to refuse to see five percent of the people the Federation sent to him, in exchange for voluntarily taking on more hours and substituting people of his choice for the five percent, had made him feel a good bit better about his job. Scratching through one out of every twenty of the applicants to see him was a power he delighted in exercising. Really, if it were fully up to him, he'd be scratching off more like sixty percent than five, but at least this way he could protect himself from the worst of the potato heads, and give more of his time to those he considered worthy. Of course, Starfleet monitored him strictly to make sure his behavior was falling within their legal statutes for species discrimination; he wasn't, for example, allowed to refuse all Klingons on the grounds that Klingons were idiots. This was unfortunate as most Klingons were idiots, including some thought to be great scientists. Q worked hard to come up with clever little tricks to stay within the letter of the law; for instance, he had gotten hold of the Academy transcript of an extremely promising young engineer who happened to be half-Klingon, and had offered her a chance to come study with him. This filled his Klingon quota for quite some time, and left him free to reject all sorts of Klingons on the grounds that they were stupid. Which, in fact, they were. It wasn't his fault that described 99% of the Klingon species.
He didn't need to play any elaborate tricks this time; there were plenty of human idiots to reject on this list. Having gleefully scratched off five percent of the applicant list, he turned his attention to the list of the people he'd already agreed to see, the people who had actually arrived. He was permitted to prioritize these people, to put those who he deemed might need more of his time toward the start of the week. At least that was the theory. In actuality he prioritized the scientists by how much their projects interested him, so he'd get the good stuff at the start of the week and by the time the mind-numbingly dull rolled around, hopefully it would almost be the weekend.
One name in particular caught his attention, and he grinned broadly. He remembered when Tolian Soran and his project had come up on the applicant list in the first place. The man was an El-Aurian, but Q tried not to hold that against him-- the Continuum had always thought very highly of the El-Aurian race, and Q supposed he couldn't hold his one extremely horrible contact with an El-Aurian woman against the entire species. And the El-Aurians were, or had been, far more advanced than the Federation as a whole, though it hadn't helped them against the Borg-- they'd been too peaceful a people, too accustomed to manipulating potential enemies into allies to need much in the way of weaponry, and the Borg could not be manipulated. The opportunity to talk about science at a level that, while still primitive by the standards of the Q, would be much more advanced that what he was doing nowadays had appealed to Q greatly. And then there was the nature of Soran's project.
The Nexus. Oh, could he ever tell stories about that thing. This had promised to be downright entertaining.
He had flagged Soran's application to be expedited, and now gave him first priority, in private conference. Generally the scientists were clumped, people with similar questions being assigned to come in at the same time so Q could work with a group at once if needed-- which, given Q's reaction to having to repeat himself, was intended to protect both him and the scientists who'd be the target of his ire as well as saving time. However, no one else had ever asked about the Nexus, and Q doubted anyone else ever would, so it was obviously appropriate to arrange a private meeting. Besides, if they ended up discussing concepts of science that were familiar to El-Aurians but too advanced for the Federation, Q didn't want an audience.
With his work for the night complete, Q turned his attention to the serious question of what to do for entertainment tonight. He could go out to the Starfleet lounge with Harry Roth and make fun of the other customers. He could do one of the holoprograms he was assigned for homework. Or he could get one of his programmer friends to beta-test the holoprogram he was working on, the one that cast the user as one of three siblings trying to gain political control of a continent. Programmers wouldn't notice that the landscape, costume design and architecture was all from Ancient Kyreer, itself a rather obscure vacation destination near the Federation's borders, but they would notice if there were any glaring holes in the design or the plot.
Sighing, Q checked the notes his psychiatrist had forwarded. He was supposed to be practicing displays of gratitude toward people he cared absolutely nothing about. That was out. Maybe he'd just audit the code so he knew what the program did, and then pretend on Tuesday that he'd gone through it when he saw Dr. Sussman again. The other options were rather dependent on who was available. He pulled up a text window-- programmers wouldn't answer you if you tried to call them with a voice connection like civilized 24th century creatures. They demanded communication in text so they didn't have to take their attention from their work.
He addressed the message to Jinn and Naomi-- the others weren't people he'd share an unfinished program with. "Political intrigue in an ancient civilization is more important than recovering deleted files for morons. Y/N?"
The response from Naomi came back almost immediately. "Political intrigue with/without dinner?"
"If I say w/o I have no hope of a yes, do I?"
Jinn replied, "Morons are dumb, but you can eat while you work on their accounts."
"I suppose suggesting that you eat the morons would not be well received."
"Actually that's a great idea. Naomi? Can we eat the morons?"
"<laugh>I don't think T'Vai would be too happy with that."
"But if we ate them they would stop losing files *and* we'd get work done at the same time as dinner. It's efficient and logical! How could she disagree?"
"Haven't you ever heard you are what you eat?"
"If so why don't you look like a chocolate chip?"
"This is all very amusing but I still need to know if anyone wants to playtest my program," Q typed.
"Not tnite -- on deadline," Jinn responded. "Maybe you 2 can run along and play."
"I could. Political intrigue is fun."
Q sighed. This would never do. "I need at least two people."
"Aren't you a person?" Naomi asked.
"Besides me. I already know the tricks in the game."
"Oh. Well, if you'd like to get together and do something different..."
"No, that's fine. Another day, perhaps."
"Sure. When Jinn's free?"
"I'll have you know I am never free. Cheap, yes, but not free."
Q grinned. "Let me know when you're cheap, and perhaps you two can test my game for me. Since you're not available tonight, I'll leave you to get on with your tedious jobs." He signed off.
Because Jean-Luc Picard had advised him that such things existed, Q had attempted to get a tutor to teach him how to deal with humans, several months ago. It had not worked out so well. He and his psychologist had discussed why it wasn't working, and Q had realized that he couldn't bring himself to show ignorance to people he didn't respect, and he didn't particularly respect experts on human social behavior. He needed to know what they knew because Picard had promised him that if he studied it, Picard might let him aboard the Enterprise-- it wasn't something he was inherently interested in. Of course, he couldn't learn without displaying ignorance, so he was absolutely vicious to his teachers, and naturally, they all quit. Dr. Sussman, Q's psychologist, had suggested an alternative-- there were holographic training programs Q could use, in privacy, with no one to see his stupid mistakes. Then he could discuss what he'd learned with Sussman without having to reveal dire ignorance ahead of time.
Q had always avoided the holodeck. It seemed pointless to him to create fantasies of being somewhere else, doing other things, when the truth was that he couldn't escape the limitations of his physical body no matter what he did. His personal favorite fantasy couldn't be programmed into a holodeck. Plus, the Starfleet officers had priority on the Starfleet equipment and the civilian-use holosuites seemed seedy somehow, as if there was an unfortunate implication of sordid and indecent use hanging in the background anytime anyone went to one. But now that he had reason to use the holodecks, Q found that they irritated him for an entirely different reason. As a Q, he had created all sorts of pocket dimensions and constructed realities, and holodeck programs, in his opinion, lacked artistry. Particularly the tedious educational ones he was running. They lacked detail touches, such as accurate smells or fine-grain detailing on objects. They overused Earth history. The ones set on planets tended to Earth-centric perspectives, so every planet looked the same, with a similar distance to the horizon, similar greenery and so on. The constructed people in the program were really, really stupid. And so on.
His first thought had been "I could do better than this!" And, after he studied holoprogramming for a bit, he realized he could do better than this. The details he'd been capable of putting in as a Q-- accurate genetic information for living creatures, constructs that could think and emote, weather patterns and different gravities-- were things that, as a human, he didn't really notice the absence of. As a human he couldn't tell whether holoconstructs could think, only whether they behaved as if they did. And his experience as a Q meant that he thought of aspects of constructing a reality that humans, and other mortal holoprogrammers, never bothered with. So he took up holoprogramming as a serious hobby. In order to get assistance, and also to have a guinea pig to test his programs on, he had asked one of the Starfleet programmers for help and guidance.
Jinn (no last name, although he was human) was infamous for his skill at holoprogramming, as well as his practical jokes. He assisted Q with the technical side of the programming, and playtested some of Q's scenarios for him. Both men had an interest in witty repartee, practical jokes, and the detailed construction of imaginary worlds. It was enough to build at least a superficial friendship on.
What Q hadn't realized before befriending Jinn, however, was that it would inevitably make him the butt of one of Jinn's tricks. Jinn asked him to test an educational holoprogram designed for aliens who wanted to date humans. When Q had objected that he had no desire to date humans, Jinn had claimed that that made him perfect-- he would be able to evaluate the program objectively. It had taken Q twenty minutes to figure out that the extremely sophisticated program was not in fact a program at all, and the holographic human woman was a real person-- a co-worker of Jinn's, Dr. Naomi Allen, whom Jinn had suckered into the joke by claiming he was setting her up on a blind date.
Once the two of them had realized what Jinn had done to the both of them, they swore eternal revenge, which turned out to be modifying the program that controlled what Q could get out of the replicator so it attached to Jinn and didn't let him replicate anything but smelly socks for a week. After that, Allen frequently invited herself along when Q and Jinn were working on holoprograms, and Q put up with it because he enjoyed her company... rather too much, which was why he wouldn't spend time alone with her. Because of how they'd met, he knew Allen was physically attracted to him, but by itself that didn't bother him-- Harry Roth was also attracted to him, and Q was perfectly willing to spend time with him unchaperoned. He wasn't afraid of humans who found him attractive physically assaulting him; he had security protection for that. It was his own body and its ability to override his will he was afraid of. He didn't want to be romantically involved with humans-- it was disgusting, he didn't know what he was doing and would be humiliated, it was a weakness enemies could exploit, and it wasn't something a Q should have any need for. His body had other ideas, and sometimes its demands could drown out what he wanted and planned in favor of its own interests. Harry Roth was not someone Q found all that aesthetically appealing. Naomi Allen, unfortunately, was beautiful. Her total lack of dress sense, unkempt-looking hairstyle, and unwillingness to compromise her personal comfort in the slightest for fashion mitigated her appeal, but not enough. Q didn't trust himself around an attractive person who wanted him, so he avoided spending any time with Allen unless Jinn was along as a chaperone.
So, since Jinn was unavailable, Q decided to call Harry Roth. Fortunately, Roth would talk on the comms, like civilized people.
"Q? To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Q lounged back in his chair, posing for the mini-screen. The fact that he didn't find Harry Roth particularly attractive didn't stop him from enjoying the attention. "Why ask why? In the old days, if people questioned my benevolence I'd simply disappear."
"Well, we can't have that," Harry replied. "So you simply called to enjoy conversation with me?"
"It is slightly more entertaining than conversing with the morons I'm required to work with, yes," Q said. "More to the point, I'm bored. Do you have any non-sordid suggestions for correcting this state of affairs?"
Harry's face fell slightly. "I'm sorry, Q. I've got to finish this analysis by morning or Sekal will kill me."
"I doubt it. Killing people is illogical. He'll just smack you upside the head with a raised eyebrow."
"Well, yes, but his eyebrow is registered as a deadly weapon. Didn't you know?"
"If that's the case, why hasn't anyone asked me to register my wit?"
"I'm sure it's just a bureaucratic delay. You've only been human for three and a half years, after all."
Q shuddered. "Don't remind me, please." He leaned forward. "You know you'd much rather be eating dinner with me than doing some tedious analysis."
"That's certainly quite true. Unfortunately I do have a job. Some of us don't actually despise our jobs and would rather not be fired, you know."
"Perhaps I can speed things up for you. You want to send me the dataset?"
Harry shook his head. "This is boring, Q. It's iterative. And if you don't go through all the iterations we can't prove the results to the Science Division's liking, so don't suggest one of your shortcuts."
"You're in hell, Harry."
"You noticed. Thanks."
"So now I'm supposed to spend the evening twiddling my thumbs because Sekal wants you to run an iterative analysis? My mental well being is much more important to the Division than your analysis. Tell them you had to feed me or I wouldn't eat."
"While I suspect that ruse might work, I still do need to do this analysis. I'm sorry. Other people are depending on me."
"And what am I, chopped liver?"
"You don't depend on me, Q. You don't depend on anyone."
It was said in the same flippant, joking tone all of Roth's conversation with Q was in, but with just enough of an edge to tell Q that Roth believed it. And for some reason that hit him like an unexpected blow. It shouldn't have -- it just meant his carefully constructed façade was working -- but it reminded Q once again of how alien the beings he lived among really were, and how little they understood him.
Among the Q it was understood and expected that everyone would expend a great deal of emotional energy declaring their independence from one another, maintaining a prickly distance and in general insisting that they were worlds unto themselves, needing no one. Among the Q, it was also understood that this was always a lie. The Q were interdependent in ways that humans, with their separate physical bodies, couldn't begin to imagine, and the connections between them ran underneath the level of surface communication all the time, transmitting the baseline love and need they all had for one another without anyone ever having to admit to it. Q had thought Harry Roth was playing the same game he was, had thought that Roth had to know, deep down, that Q needed the company of others as much as he needed air. (More so in some ways-- he'd needed others when he'd had his powers and hadn't needed air.) But no. Roth believed in Q's façade of total independence. And that meant the closest friend Q had among humans didn't understand him at all.
"Q? Are you all right?"
Q smiled sardonically, masking the moment of pain. "Sorry, I was distracted for a moment by someone else's abuse of the written language. What were you saying again?"
"I was begging off the undoubtedly far more interesting and enjoyable night out you were suggesting because I have to work."
"You've got to get over this 'have to work' thing, Harry. Your species has advanced to matter replication. It's not like you'll starve."
"Most of us are motivated by actually liking our jobs and preferring not to be fired."
"What a horrible notion. Bad enough to do this monkey work, but to like it?"
"Don't forget, these are the jobs we chose. When you had a job you chose, you worked at it for millions of years, so I've heard. And you weren't awfully fond of losing it."
"My job was tormenting people. I still have it, I just lost the perks that went with it."
Harry laughed. "I do need to go, though. I'm sorry. Another time?"
"I suppose I'll forgive you just this once."
Q closed the connection and stared at the now blank screen for several long seconds, unable to think of what to do next. Things were better in general now, but largely only because he had a very few friends he could kill time with. When they weren't available, it was worse than it used to be, because now he had something to compare to. The thought of facing the tedium of the evening alone was unbearable. So he did what he usually did nowadays when facing something that seemed unbearable -- he called Dr. Sussman.
"Q. What can I do for you?" Sussman was a middle-aged blond man, human, approximately the same age Q appeared to be, with a pleasant unremarkable face and just slightly too much weight on his body to fit with the aesthetics of the era.
"I'm mind-numbingly bored and I can't think of anything to do for the next five hours before bed. Give me ideas."
Sussman tilted his head very slightly to the side. The mannerism reminded Q of Data, though of course the psychologist didn't do it to nearly the extent Data did. It was one of the reasons he'd decided he felt comfortable enough with the man to choose him. "Well, what have you considered and rejected so far?"
"I tried to get Jinn and Naomi to playtest the game I'm working on, but Jinn's not available. So I called Harry Roth and he's not available either. It seems like there's a plague of it going around."
"Was Naomi available?"
"That's irrelevant. I have no desire to spend time in the company of that woman and her googly eyes without a chaperone."
"You might go out in a public place with her. That should be adequately chaperoned for your purposes."
"Everyone would think I was dating her, or something sordid like that."
"Why is it that you don't care what everyone thinks when the question is their emotional attitude toward you, but you care so terribly that they don't develop misconceptions about your love life?"
"Because it's true that I'm not likable. It's not true that I'm dating anyone."
"That has the ring of self-fulfilling prophecy to me. You're in a position tonight where, because you have only three friends and you don't trust yourself alone with one of them--"
"I never said I didn't trust myself--"
"--you feel yourself to be faced with boredom and loneliness. Is that right?"
"Well, obviously, or I wouldn't have said so."
"If you had more than three friends this situation might not come up nearly so often. You should stop identifying yourself as an inherently unlikable person, and consider attitudes toward you to be at least as important as your embarrassment over being seen as a potentially sexual being. The truth is that most people simply won't care if you are dating someone or not."
That wasn't actually any more pleasant a thought than the notion that they did care. "I don't think you realize exactly how infamous I am on this starbase, Doctor. I'm quite certain no one has anything better to do than to make idle speculation on my personal life. If only because they seem to spend so much time doing it."
"How do you know?"
"What do you mean, how do I know?"
"Almost by definition, gossip is never shared with the object of the gossip. So how do you know people are talking about you?"
"I see the way they look at me, and I remember what it means from when I had the power to eavesdrop."
"That doesn't mean they're talking about you, or for that matter that they're talking about your personal life rather than the way you impact their lives. But that's not the point. You need to focus on what you can do to improve your situation. On Tuesday, we can discuss this reluctance to spend time with friends who happen to be female. In the meantime, since you don't have any friends to spend time with tonight... Have you done your homework?"
Apparently Q's wince wasn't well-hidden enough. "I take it that means no," Dr. Sussman said dryly.
"I don't see why I need to learn to show gratitude to people who're only doing their jobs. I mean, if they go above and beyond the call, yes, I suppose. But I thought the Federation economy worked on the basis that people enjoy their jobs, since none of you need to do this to keep from starving. So why should I thank them for something they presumably enjoy doing? Maybe they should thank me for giving them the opportunity to practice their craft."
"That's not how it works."
"Do you want to be alone the rest of your human life?"
"I have friends!"
"All three of them. And because two of them are busy tonight, you're alone. Is that what you want? Or more likely, do you want to be attacked again because people who risk their lives for you aren't happy about the lack of gratitude they're getting?"
Q sighed ostentatiously. "Fine. Whatever."
"Think of it this way. If you do the homework, you'll know how to show gratitude when you need to. That doesn't mean you have to do it, but it means you won't be ignorant of how to do it. I understand you're not fond of being ignorant."
"Anything else I can do for you?"
"I think you've done quite enough for one night," Q said, in a tone implying that what Sussman had done had been more akin to a child misbehaving than a therapist assisting a patient.
As usual, Sussman refused to take offense or even notice Q's implications. Q wasn't sure whether the man was simply dense or whether he was an excellent actor, picking up Q's undertones and completely ignoring them. "Then I'll see you on Tuesday at the usual time?"
"Yeah," Q said with bad grace.
"Until then, then." Sussman terminated the connection.
Well, that had resulted in a whole fat pile of nothing. No one to spend time with, nothing to do, and he'd been backed into agreeing to do the homework or else look as if he was voluntarily embracing ignorance. He thought momentarily about doing it tonight -- it would kill some time, after all -- but decided against it. It was far too boring to do when he felt like this. Besides, there was always tomorrow night.
He pushed back out of his chair, walked across the room, and flopped down on his bed, face up. Another endlessly dull night. Things were changing, but not fast enough, and the delay was incredibly frustrating to an entity who'd spent millions of years in a state of instant gratification. At least tomorrow would probably be interesting. At least it couldn't get more boring than another night alone in his room.
It was a matter of personal pride to Q that he was always late to work. The scientists who came to see him were supplicants, acolytes seeking the prophecies of the oracle, and as such their time was much less valuable than his, and he made sure they knew it. Being late was a way of putting them in their place. So it said something about how interested he was in having a conversation about something the Federation knew nothing about and he was an expert on that he showed up to his appointment with Soran only five minutes late.
Tolian Soran was a gaunt, white-haired man with intense, almost feral blue eyes. He wore basic black, which scored him a few more points than the rest of his species, in Q's book. He also fairly radiated something unsettling. Q wasn't sure what, or how to describe it-- only that there was something about the man, something like what he felt around Guinan. El-Aurians looked identical to humans, but it seemed that Q could tell what they were right away, even in his diminished state. It was as if the air around Soran had a slight charge, and Q felt a sense of heightened alertness, either excitement or anxiety or maybe both.
"Ra, el Ashke nai Rakheledy," Soran said in a conversational tone. Q didn't speak that language anymore, but he knew two of those words very well, so it took him a moment to parse out what Soran had just said. If he remembered, the word "ra" was used to introduce a question, and El-Aurians didn't bother to change their tone for a question since they had a word to do it.
The struggle to figure out Soran's question must have shown in his face, because Soran repeated himself in English. "Aren't you Ashke of the Questioners?"
"I heard you the first time," Q said. "It's just that I had so little interest in your species that I've completely forgotten your language. And why do you want to know?"
"Curiosity," Soran said. "If you are, I've heard quite a bit about you."
"Nothing good, I imagine."
"I spoke to Guinan. You have a history, I'm told?"
"I realize her act is excellent and I probably have no hope of convincing you of this, but Guinan is a liar. If she told me space was empty I'd wonder when it got full."
Soran laughed. "She is a sanctimonious prat, isn't she. I went to her for help with this project, and she was quite vocal in insisting that she didn't think what I was doing was wise, which of course translated into it being morally wrong for me to pursue it."
Despite himself, Q found himself warming to the man. Someone else who saw through Guinan was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Maybe it was because Soran was an El-Aurian as well, and wouldn't be taken in by the same Listener tricks Guinan used to convince everyone else of her wonderfulness. "I know. She has a seriously difficult time telling the difference between 'You are evil' and 'I don't agree with you.' And yet she manages to sucker so many people into thinking she's practically perfect in every way."
Soran laughed. "Practically perfect in every way? Isn't that from that Terran book about the nanny?"
Q smirked. "You caught that? Most Terrans don't. I'm impressed."
"The Terrans saved my life, years ago. I felt I needed to learn to fit in with their society, and so I read their children's literature. Did you ever read the one where the witch addicts the boy to a sweet so delicious, the more he eats it the hungrier he gets?"
"The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Yes, although I liked a later book in the series rather more. I thought the lion was entirely too transparent an allegory for one of their dominant mythical figures."
"Yes, but what do you expect of species which still have religious beliefs? The book was only written four hundred years ago, after all. The humans were hardly more than barbarians with nuclear weapons, then."
Q grinned, warming to the man further. He personally despised religion, to the point where he'd gone out of his way not to be worshipped in his time as a godlike being. "True enough. But The Voyage of the Dawn Treader seemed to me to be a more accurate story about... well, about what the humans truly are, for lack of a better term. Yes, the writer made it a mouse, but the notion of a being on a quest to the ends of his universe, because he has to know what's at the edge, even knowing that trying to learn will probably kill him... that's the kind of thing in their collective psyche that made me want to be a human, once I had no choice about being mortal. Whereas Lion was about their religion. The obsession with dying and coming back more powerful than before is understandable in mortals, but it's nothing but a comforting fantasy. It says nothing about what they really are."
"No. Death is death. There's nothing positive about it, no triumph, no great sacrifice." For a moment Soran's expression turned inward, vague, as if lost in some memory. "Time is the fire in which all mortals burn. That clock does not reverse; fire does not restore. The best we can hope to do is stop the spread of the flames."
"Is that your interest in the Nexus? You want to use it to... what? Stop time? Go back in time?"
"Can it be used that way? To go back in time, I mean?"
Q considered. "Not really. In theory it's possible, because it's not actually lodged within this temporal dimension, which is why it has those time-stopping properties... Look, before we go on with this you'd probably better tell me what you already know about the Nexus."
"I was there," Soran said. "I was aboard a refugee ship, the Lakul, fleeing the Borg. And then--"
"That's where you met Guinan! I thought you had met her recently."
"I spoke to her recently about the Nexus. But when I met her the first time, yes, we were both aboard the Lakul. How did you know that?"
"Oh, when someone has irritated you as much as Guinan has me, you don't pass up the opportunity for a little schadenfreude. I know of every misfortune that has ever happened to Guinan, believe me."
"I can imagine," Soran said lightly. "In any case, as you know then, we were drawn into the Nexus. And we returned to the times when we were happiest, before our loved ones were murdered, each one of us. But then the Federation starship Enterprise pulled us out--"
"Enterprise? Which one was it, I forget?"
"I don't know. Someone named Harriman was in charge."
"Oh, yeah! That was the mission Kirk got killed on!"
"Someone my little brother tried to make a pet out of. It didn't work out well for him. My brother, I mean, it worked out fine for Kirk in the end. I'd forgotten that he died rescuing Guinan. What a positively repulsive thought."
"You really dislike her. What could possibly have happened between you two?"
Q rolled his eyes. "Oh, where shall I start? The short version is that I went to her for help and she betrayed me. Also, lied, tried to destroy me, made a fool of me in front of my people, pretended to be my friend and then sold me down the river... are the details really that important?"
"Not really, no. She tried to destroy you? How could she have accomplished that?"
"She was an Adept. I don't know how much you know about your people's Adepts, but trust me, there are ways. She couldn't have killed me, but there are fates worse than death."
"And you just let her get away with that?" Soran asked disbelievingly.
"Oh, now, I never said that." Q smirked. "I think my revenge on her was more than adequate, actually."
"Really. What did you do?"
Q shook his head. "Too difficult to explain. Let's get back to your question. Do you know anything about the Nexus besides the fact that you were inside it and it was loads of fun?"
"I've studied it for the past eighty years. It travels on a nearly circular orbit through an area within our own galaxy on a track with a radius of approximately 12,500 light years. No one has been able to identify what it is orbiting, as there doesn't appear to be any gravitational phenomenon at the center of its orbit. It's believed to stand outside time, and it's known to destroy any ship that attempts to enter it. The only known way to survive entry into the Nexus would be to be on a planet when the Nexus engulfs it, but I've extrapolated out its orbit for the next several hundred thousand years, and it is never expected to intersect a planet. It also moves, sometimes shifting off its orbit and detouring by as much as fifty light-years, for no reason anyone has been able to determine. In fact, such a detour is how it swallowed the Lakul."
Q nodded. "That's all accurate as far as it goes."
"I want to know why it detoured to swallow us, and how to make it do that to intersect a planet."
"Why not? Why did it do it the first time?"
"How to explain this..." Q paced. "The Nexus has an interesting relationship with time and sentience. It was designed to be able to analyze any sentient mind and present that being with images of what that being would most greatly desire, whether that being actually knows what it wants or not. As you've determined, it's not connected to your temporal dimension. However, it does have a closer relationship to your spatial dimensions than it does to your temporal dimensions, which is why it's every time at once but not every place at once."
"It was designed? It's not a natural phenomenon?"
"Why would a natural phenomenon give you pleasant illusions?"
"They aren't illusions. They're real. I was outside time, in the time when my loved ones were alive."
"No, you just thought you were. Mortal senses are too paltry to tell the difference between the Nexus' visions, and reality. In your case, what you most wanted was to go back to a happier time that actually had happened, but a lot of people see things that never have happened, and occasionally things that never will. It's no more real than a holodeck."
"Yes, it is," Soran said stubbornly.
Q sighed. "If you say so."
"You haven’t said how it went off course."
"Well, Guinan did it, of course."
Soran blinked slowly. "You know, I thought that might be it. I have some slight familiarity with the abilities of an Adept, and when I confronted her about it she reacted as if she had the power to summon the Nexus for me, but was refusing on some misguided principle. How did she do it?"
"Well, to be honest I'm guessing here. I don't remember most of my research on Guinan and her powers. But I believe what happened was that the way Guinan's powers interact with time mimic the control codes that are used to govern the Nexus. The reason it never intersects a planet is deliberate -- the people in charge of will tweak its orbit every time it looks like it might hit a planet. Those commands have to be sent from this temporal dimension to the one the Nexus occupies, and I believe that dimension of time is also what El-Aurian Adepts access."
"So there are commands to summon the Nexus? You know them?"
"Firstly, they're not to summon the Nexus, they're to change its course slightly. Or do various other things, but the various other things aren't very useful unless you're already in the Nexus. You'd still need to be reasonably close to the thing, even if you had the commands and could send them. And secondly, it's of absolutely no use as to whether I know the commands to summon the Nexus, because I can't transmit them. An ordinary human can't communicate in alternate temporal dimensions. You may have noticed this."
"You're trying to go back there, I presume?"
"Part of me never left," Soran said, and for a moment there was a naked hunger in his eyes and voice, like the desperation of an addict. Despite himself, Q wondered if maybe Guinan had had the right of it, to tell this guy to buzz off. On the other hand, the Nexus was a harmless illusion, and if he wanted to spend the rest of eternity there, drugged by the Nexus' power and dreaming of his life as it had been before the Borg came, who was Q to tell him no? Q wasn't sure how he himself would handle the temptation of having his greatest desire seem to come true, and he knew the Nexus was an illusion.
"Well, first of all you’re going to have to wait close to two years, because that's how long it'll take the Nexus to get back here. Now, once it shows up you could theoretically correct its course to intersect some barren planet, but you'd have had to either find an Adept of your own species to do it, or find or devise some means of transmitting the control codes to a perpendicular temporal dimension. A sudden shift in gravitation might work if you can generate a temporary singularity or something like that-- the people who control the Nexus don't react all that quickly in this temporal dimension, as you might imagine, so you might be able to pull off a course change. Another possibility is that in two years, you might be able to work out a way to transport yourself into the path of the Nexus--"
"I already looked into that. It won't work. The energies of the Nexus would disrupt the re-materialization beam even more than they disrupt the structure of a spaceship."
"Oh, you'd need a totally different technology. Matter-energy conversion would never work, you're right. Iconian Gateways, transilience, or other forms of cross-dimensional transport are a better bet. Or you could work out a way to make a spaceship tough enough to stand up to the Nexus -- try a Dyson sphere or a moonlet with high-powered warp engines attached." He stopped pacing and looked hard at his visitor. "Or, you could try getting over it. The Nexus is an illusion. If all you want is to live in your own memories, there are drugs that can pull that one off and it'd be a lot easier."
Soran shook his head. "You were never there, were you."
"Of course I was."
"As a mortal, I mean. I wouldn't expect an immortal to truly understand time, not the way mortals do. But I know the Nexus' power. I have felt it. Within the Nexus, no one ever dies."
"That's true as far as it goes, but unless the people you lost to the Borg ended up in the Nexus, they're dead, and going there isn't going to help you help them. You can fantasize that they never died, but you can do that with a holodeck and it'd be a lot less effort."
Soran shook his head. "I don't expect you to understand."
Q shrugged. "What do I know? My people just built the damn thing."
"They did." Soran said it as if it was a confirmation of something he already believed.
"When you can have anything you want, instantly, the trouble becomes figuring out what you want. The Nexus is a self-help tool for immortals. The fact that it blows up spaceships and never intersects planets should have tipped you people off that it wasn't intended for mortals to use it, and that that possibly meant it wasn't a good idea to go ahead, but then I never said Guinan had any brains. And yes, the Q built the Nexus, which the rest of the immortal community has still not thanked us sufficiently for, although nowadays we pretty much ignore it and it's mostly a vacation spot for Kalaydjian and Douwds."
"This is exactly what I hoped to hear," Soran said.
He leaned forward and slapped something onto Q's chest before Q could react. Instantly, Q felt the temporary paralysis and vertigo of a transporter beam hit him, and the world started to fade out around him. Transporter beams were not supposed to be able to work on Starbase 56, except out near the docks-- something was terribly wrong here, and he tried to shout for help, but the beam had him and the world was going away.