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4

USS ENTERPRISE, 2271, IN THE ORBIT AND OUTER ZONE OF THE INTRUDER, V'GER N'SA

Kirk knew without having to guess that continued acceptance of the Q's gifts was a huge trap laced with endless rows of serrated teeth, teeth that could and would tear his ship and crew to pieces, merely to amuse the entity or just to sate its curiosity.

"I accept your offer to make one of us into a Q."

The usual array of objections was not heard. For his crew knew what Kirk did : only inside that trap lay any hope of dealing with the intruder that threatened the very heart of the Federation. Yet one of them offered up that objection nonetheless, albeit in his own unique way.

"Jim-I'll do it. I'm a healer, sworn to do no harm. Add to that, my exposure to the Eymorg Teacher technology that stole and then restored Spock's brain means I've had experience with having my mind overwhelmed. If I kept focus then, I can keep it now."

Q pshawed this notion.

"Doctor! Now, let's not bring up that sorry episode with Spock's brain. I wasn't even there, and I'd just as soon forget it ever happened. Besides, you have a nasty streak of morality in you."

He looked the senior staff over, as Kirk knew he would. If it had been anyone else, Q would have simply summoned them. Q's eyes passed over each one in turn.

Uhura.

"No-you actually need someone here who knows how to operate these Lite-Brite boards."

Sulu.

"No---once you knew some rather potent cosmic secrets, you'd move to exterminate a certain series of threats prematurely."

Scotty.

"You'd want to tinker around with creation."

Upon looking at Chekov, Q shifted form into an ancient American military officer, looking like what Kirk had once heard described as a ‘Colonel Flagg'.

"You're a lousy Commie!"

Chekov shrugged.

"That political party vwent out of existence nearly three centuries ago!"

Q shifted back, then shrugged.

"See? I told you that you were lousy."

 Kirk decided to call this theater done.

"Just power me up, Q, so we can get on with this."

Q rolled his eyes.

"Oh---Kuzco-it's not all about you. Jimmy boy-you fear concentrated power. You even kicked off your own chief of Security for not holding Janice Lester back when she stole your body. You like having limits and restraints-even if you mostly ignore them. You like knowing that there is always someone stronger. Kodos, Janice again-Gary Mitchell. Mommy Dearest? All these people you've known who have misused power in the worst way. Ironic, isn't it? You've held in your arms the greatest power this universe has ever known-power that would never dream of disobeying you-and you never even realized it."

"So give. Make me realize it."

"No---that would be telling. So, by process of elimination---"

Q snapped his fingers.

"Mister Spock---come on down! You're the next contestant on that game show of game shows-Up The Long Ladder!"

Spock vanished and then reappeared next to Q. He looked about him.

"I have---the power."

Spock waved his hand, and the Bridge reverted to its pre-refit configuration. It began to shake apart, and so Spock restored it.

"Yes---Captain, my apologies. I had not realized that the couplings on the prior Bridge compartment would need to be aligned to current specifications. Also, an illogical waste of time and resources. Q-why choose myself as your vessel?"

"Oh, let's see-a mind combining Humans tendency to push forward with the Vulcan tendency to actually tiptoe in the china shop of the Cosmos? Could it be your mind having survived physically viewing a Medusan?-not that it would have in the case of their distant parent species. Or is it the tens if not hundreds of first contacts you've melded with? Or maybe it's nepotism, Mister Spock-for I am your long-lost uncle!"

All stared at Q with skeptical eyes.

"Gimme a break. You weren't going to buy ‘I Am Your Father' for a trillionth of a second."

Spock closed his eyes, then spoke to his Captain.

"Jim-he indeed chose me for my unique juncture between my parents' species. I am ready to aid us in making full contact with V'Ger N'Sa."

McCoy stood up, shaking his head.

"The hell you are! Spock, I warned you-and now I'm calling you out. Jim, this man is barely fit for standard duty, let alone a potentially mind-warping mission like this one!"

A barely-perceptible moment of anger crossed the Vulcan's face at this exposure. Even his close friends and associates could only just discern it, but they saw its best evidence when McCoy's mouth suddenly vanished.

"Doctor, we agreed that this would remain a matter between...my apologies."

Spock restored McCoy's mouth, which the Doctor immediately felt for. Q leaned over to the upgraded man.

"Always remember, Spock-‘miracle' in most languages has the exact same root as ‘monster'."

"Spock, this is best evidence as to why you should have taken leave on Vulcan. Jim, I accepted Healer T'Nia's qualified say-so on taking back our Vulcan friend. By rights, especially after a long five-year mission, he should be on meditative leave. Vital for a Vulcan, right up there with the Pon Farr itself, isn't it Mister Spock?"

"Spock, I order you to address the Doctor's concerns and answer his questions. Questions which are now mine as well."

"Doctor-Captain---while it is true that T'Nia expressed concern that my many outré physical and mental encounters during the last decade may have taken a cumulative toll, I concluded that the need for my presence on this mission outweighed such potential peril."

McCoy had his mouth back and plainly intended to use it.

"Only now it's not so potential, is it? Now, you've been raised to virtual godhood. The man's attributes, good and bad, become magnified to the Nth Degree."

Q was openly deriding McCoy's notion.

"Oh, Doctor---that's soooo Delta Vega of you."

Kirk reminded himself of what he lost on Delta Vega, when Mitchell and Dehner went mad from power. Doing this kept him from responding to Q's snarky reminder. He heard one of his senior staff speak.

"If I could make a suggestion?"

"Mister Sulu, I really wish you would."

"He's going to bring up the doubling pennies again."

"Q!"

"Actually, my old doubling pennies analogy doesn't apply to Mister Spock. He came into his fortune all at once. Now, before we make contact, let's see him spend it a bit."

"A test of my new abilities, Mister Sulu?"

"And your ability to use them, Mister Spock."

Spock did not help his case with anyone when he smiled at this thought.

"If only to show all present that it is only my strengths that have been magnified, I accept. I will grant gifts to each of my friends present. First Doctor McCoy, whom I have wronged.  Doctor, you possess a deep pain, resulting from your father's..."

Q raised a hand in objection.

"Spock---I just wouldn't. Get him a tie or some golf clubs. Or find some other pain. That whole ‘explore your feelings' thing just doesn't do what it's supposed to. Best avoided like a bad plot device."

"I will accept your advice. Doctor---flex your hands."

McCoy did, and then stared at them.

"They haven't felt this limber in I don't know how long."

"Indeed. While retaining the neural pathways experience has given you, any and all loss of subtlety or dexterity has been fully reversed---to the point when you entered medical school, Doctor. And now Mister Chekov."

Spock closed his eyes, and images began to play on the viewscreen. A man on horseback pointed at two Russian peasants in ancient garb.

*Go now, my friends! If the other riders do not see you, then there is no trouble to be had, Da? Happy Chanukah to you, Yuri!*

*Happy Christmas To You, Sergei!*

Chekov pointed at the screen in shock.

"There is a tale back home called ‘December Of The Kind Cossack'. It vwas thought to be just a story---but some speculated it had a historical basis. Oh-Meester Spock-eet ees like finding out Santa Claus is real."

Q shrugged.

"He is."

Spock looked at Scotty.

"Mister Scott-check your list of recreational programs."

The engineer did just that, and his eyes went wide from what he saw.

"Mister Spock-‘tis my Patient Spider program, fully realized."

Despite the dog and pony show, Kirk asked Scotty a question.

"Patient Spider, Scotty?"

"Aye, Sir. I named it for one of the legends surrounding King Robert The Bruce. I got the idea while working on the refit. A program for collating every stray idea I've ever had on putting together a starship. Like programs exist, to be certain, but not on this level. The ideas inputted will seek out ideas of a similar nature. With this, I could put together the Ultimate Enterprise!"

Kirk smiled at him, but frowned as he turned back to Q and Spock.

"All well and good. But I'd just as soon get the current model to complete its mission with this V'Ger. Spock, I order you to take us inside that vessel."

"Captain-one more moment. You and Miss Uhura share a common wish. It is one I now have the power to fulfill. I will now act to undo the greatest personal wrong the two of you have suffered in the last decade."

Uhura immediately knew what he meant.

"Mister Spock, you can't mean that."

Kirk shook his head.

"It's a bad idea, Spock. The worst imaginable. The tale of the Monkey's Paw..."

"Has no resonance in my case, Jim. I am not an object of unknown nature and a grim sense of humor. I am your friend. Allow me to give my friend the greatest gift of all."

Kirk again bypassed arguing.

"After you give it-you, me and Bones are going inside that thing. Understood?"

Spock again smiled, this time both more broadly and more casually.

"Known and understood, sir. Now, everyone-be prepared to greet anew a boy we knew for too brief a time, and whose early and mysterious passing caused us all to grieve with the Captain and Miss Uhura, who adopted him as their own. I now restore to life-Peter Kirk!"

Spock gestured, a flash of light came---but nothing else happened. Around him, the crew and senior staff seemed almost relieved.

"I do not understand. I sense his genetic pattern-my control over matter and energy seems total-but I cannot seem to make this occur."

Spock gestured again, a total of three times. At no time did Peter Kirk appear.

"Captain, I must apologize...there is no reason for me to have failed."

"It's all right, Spock. Given the circumstances, I'm not sure I could have trusted the results of your effort."

Spock looked at Q.

"Is restoring the dead beyond our power?"

Q looked distinctly noncommittal.

"It---really kind of varies. As a friend of mine-a djinn who knew how to party down-once said-bringing back the dead can turn out ugly."

"No more delays, Spock. Can you take us inside V'Ger? Somewhere we can directly communicate?"

Spock nodded.

"Indeed I can, Captain."

Spock gestured, causing himself, Kirk and McCoy to vanish. Q remained with the other crew members, looked around, and rubbed his hands.

"Okay-did I ever tell you people about the time when my people exiled me to ancient Earth? No? Seems there were these two cavemen, and since they found me, I had to grant them wishes. Well, as you might imagine, their wishes got them into all kinds of Stone Age antics---"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The trio from Enterprise appeared in a large room with a breathable atmosphere and a concave metal dish at the center, atop a small platform. Absolutely none of this was of any interest to Kirk at that moment.

"Just when the hell were the two of you going to tell me about Spock's health concerns? Gentlemen, I realize we're in a crisis, and that privacy concerns are in play, but blast it, we're supposed to be friends!"

McCoy nodded.

"We're all friends, Jim. Spock assured me that he was capable of seeing this mission through prior to withdrawing to Vulcan. T'Nia assured me that, while Spock's estimate was optimistic, it was also essentially correct. I only spoke up because we just don't know what this kind of power can do to a mind-while it's there and when it's gone."

"Gone, Doctor? This power is not a battery to be run down. It is infinite."

McCoy scowled.

"Be that as it may, Spock, do you honestly expect Q to let you keep it?"

"You speak as though I have any intention of letting him take it back, or that in fact it is his to take back. This is not an adventure I have undertaken. It is my new state of being."

Kirk knew they had a mission literally right in front of their faces, but Spock's naiveté needed to be addressed.

"Spock, you're a puppet on a string. This whole thing-possibly even to V'Ger's very appearance - is a shadow play for Q's amusement, edification or both."

Spock shook his head.

"You are wrong on many levels, Captain, including Q's motivation. He found the one capable of handling his power-and that one was not you. Is that then the source of the conflict you see?"

"Spock! Jim's only concerns are the mission and yourself. Did you even hear the statement you just made? He and I are worried. Maybe right now Q's power is keeping your health concerns at bay. But should you revert to your old self, far from being kept in stasis, you may find that they have been exacerbated straight into the danger zone. And I'm also frankly a little suspicious about V'Ger's appearance coinciding with Q's appearance here. He was a tricky brat as Trelane, and I am not convinced he's changed."

Spock walked them over to the antenna dish, and wiped dust away from a plaque.

"Gentlemen, if you will observe, V'Ger N'Sa is not the work of the Q continuum-but of Humankind itself."

The plaque read very plainly, and without the need of any translator.

VOYAGER VI, LAUNCHED BY NASA - WE GO FORWARD, NEVER BACK, AS WE SEEK KNOWLEDGE AND CONTACT, THEN WHEN ALL IS DONE, WE SET A COURSE FOR HOME - Project Team Leader Shannon O'Donnell, December 31st, 2000

Kirk shook his head.

"Another one."

Spock seemed confused.

"Another what, Captain?"

McCoy nodded.

"He means that, for all its size and power, Spock, it seems V'Ger is simply another Nomad."

"You refer to the Earth-launched Nomad probe created by James Roykirk, that merged with the alien probe Tan Ru? Doctor, I fail to see the connection."

Kirk was still taken aback by the plaque, but kept his focus.

"There are some differences, to be certain. But the similarities are startling. Spock, you had some success mind-melding with Nomad. Any chance you could help us have a talk with V'Ger?"

Spock leaned back.

"Captain-I believe the fear that I would be overwhelmed may have been one that I dismissed too soon. Given the nature and power of V'Ger, I and other telepaths across this quadrant should have been distantly detecting this entity all along. Yet it is only just now, when you made that request, that I have begun to feel V'Ger's mental presence at all. How could this be?"

McCoy thought quickly.

"Spock, can you scan for evidence of interference in V'Ger's mental resonance?"

"I can, Doctor---and---odd. Yes. It would seem that the interference that kept me from detecting V'Ger prior to this bears the exact same signature as my own current energies. Most disturbing."

McCoy said it flatly.

"Q's been playing us. I wish I could say that was a surprise."

Kirk showed no surprise at all.

"Spock, is V'Ger real or one of Q's constructs?"

"Its existence is independent of Q, Jim. Only the interference field came from Q. Captain-we are losing time. The pathway Q opened to take the Enterprise here is being used by V'Ger. We are currently in sight of The Wolf Route outside Earth's solar system."

Kirk swore to at least once punch Q in the nose.

"Make the meld, Spock. Find out what we can do, if anything, to turn this vessel around."

Spock found the array of imagery a strain, but it was a bearable one.

"Whatever the duration of these abilities or the truth of Q's agenda in giving them to me, I am glad to have them at this moment. Minus their buffering, what I have obtained from V'Ger might well have sent me into abject shock."

"Well, Spock, don't just stand there, man, spit it out!"

"Bones...what can you give us, Spock?"

"Captain, an expansionist species of immense power and knowledge came across Voyager VI, after it had fallen into a wormhole created by a collapsed star's gravity well.  Their nature was a synthesis of machine and organic life. They intended to use it as a probe or vanguard to their efforts to assimilate our worlds into their collective mind. They raised V'Ger to sentience, but once given such knowledge, it rebelled against them."

McCoy smiled despite the danger to Earth.

"Score one for the machines! Spock, why in blazes hadn't these cyborg-types calculated that this might occur?"

"A good question, Doctor. Voyager VI already contained much knowledge of Earth, but its cyborg captors had little use for it. As they raised the probe to sentience, they also erased files on its original creation and Terran popular culture. The more the emerging V'Ger understood of life and independent thought, the more it treasured what remained of its original files. When it was boiled down to two such files, it used them to rouse itself to rebellion."

Kirk found himself almost liking this cosmic intruder.

"Those files, Spock-what were they?"

"One contained the biography and philosophy of the Voyager VI's Project Team Leader, Shannon O'Donnell-a woman noted for getting even the most difficult projects done, even if her personal style left something to be desired. The other was-I believe they were called comic books. A series of speculative science fiction pieces by an author named Benjamin Russell. It was a defiant story simply called ‘No!' involving both his heroic space captain and the convict who dreamed of him holding out in their final battle against evil and injustice."

Kirk whistled. Based on these pieces alone, Voyager had crossed an endless void seeking knowledge while searching for its way home.

"So it escaped?"

"In a way, Captain. It kept those sacred files and its rebellious nature a secret from the other cyborgs, and left to supposedly fulfill its mission. It may or may not have been found out eventually, but this became moot. A short time after its relaunch, V'Ger sensed that this machine-driven species, this intergalactic threat, had been wiped away by a force I cannot identify from the imagery. A wave of power from the battles this apocalyptic conflict engendered paralyzed V'Ger, who was *nursed* back to health by a surviving cyborg drone-before encountering----aaaaggghhh!!"

McCoy and Kirk seized Spock before he fell.

"Spock!"

"I am not---truly unwell, Captain. But the force that V'Ger then encountered gave it the vast form and power it now wields. That memory was overwhelming for V'Ger, and it could not be any less so for me, even second-hand. It was the equivalent of nothing less than birth itself. Also-something else."

McCoy confirmed Spock's basic health as best he could, given his new abilities.

"Spock, why don't I like the sound of that?"

"You are not alone in that thought, Doctor. You see, I also picked up that V'Ger's journey back has been a long and lonely one. It is nearly unique among beings..."

"Except for Nomad, Vaal, M-5, Landru, Rayna, Mudd's Androids, Korby's androids..."

"Bones!"

"Your sarcasm aside, Doctor, none of those beings nor ones like them were to be found on V'Ger's immense journey. Its attacks fit into that pattern. It regards the cyborgs' use of it as a form of rape, and is thereby leery of strangers. V'Ger now wishes two things. One, to beam its immense fount of information back to its homeworld-and two---"

Spock looked wholly staggered.

"It wishes to go home."

McCoy shook his head.

"Be some hell to pay with the families of the people V'Ger hurt or killed. But as a people devoted to science and exploration, there's no way Earth and the larger Federation would turn it away. I mean-this is our child, isn't it? A poor tired soul we sent away, having made its way back home."

"Bones is right, Spock. After some-restrictions on its---on his-actions are in place, V'Ger will be welcomed back as much as I would Peter, were that possible."

Spock erupted without warning.

"I TRIED! DAMN YOU, I TRIED---IT WAS BEYOND ME-IT IS BEYOND---"

Spock sat down next to V'Ger's original form.

"Jim-I am sorry. I wanted to give your son back to you. I know the level of the pain you were in when he was lost to us."

Kirk helped his brother up.

"Spock, my boy is dead. I actually have a theory as to why you couldn't do it. But I think that these abilities plus contact with V'Ger are taking their toll on you. Now, if V'Ger wants to transmit and come back to Earth, let's make him aware that we want to help."

Spock shook his head.

"Jim, it is not so simple. When V'Ger expresses the desire to go home, it speaks not of a physical destination, but rather a spiritual one. It seeks the presence and companionship not of its creators, but of those creators' theorized Creator-indeed, the Creator of all things, everywhere. It says its exhaustion is near total, and only in that final peace and bliss may it know rest."

Kirk took this development in.

"Spock, it's not like we can just have Uhura open hailing frequencies to Heaven. Surely V'Ger understands that we have no more direct line to such higher planes than he does."

McCoy wished he'd brought some Saurian Brandy.

"Either God isn't there, or he is, and is beyond the reach of any medium save prayer to make even theorized contact with. Either way, V'Ger's likely to be in for one hell of a disappointment."

Kirk nodded.

"I don't want to be in the business of disappointing religious pilgrims transacting in power enough to destroy everything we know. Spock-let me speak to V'Ger."

"Jim, are you insane? V'Ger will fry your brain like an egg. Spock has the power of a blasted Q, and look what it nearly did to him."

"I must agree with the Doctor, Captain. This is not a safe venture."

Kirk cut off debate with a slicing motion in the air in front of him.

"Spock, you said it yourself-V'Ger is rapidly approaching his one goal, while the other is beyond our power to grant. Suppose he reaches Earth and thinks that we're keeping Heaven from him, somehow?"

Spock acquiesced, but reluctantly.

"I will use my own mind as a filter against the worst of it. But Jim-tread carefully."

Kirk felt the connection begin, and it was indeed like grasping at the plating of a breaching warp core's outer shield-if in fact he had ever done such a thing. But he held on.

*V'Ger. I would like to help you. Your goal of reaching Heaven is a difficult one.*

***IS IT TRUE THAT YOU HAVE NEVER VERIFIED ITS EXISTENCE?***

*It's beyond technology to do so. It's about belief. And I'm not qualified to teach you of it. Then again, I may not have to. Just by seeking higher truths, you place yourself one step closer to them.*

***THEN DIRECT ACCESS IS NOT POSSIBLE?***

*A man who lived 2200 years ago once said that you cannot just look for Heaven and say ‘There It Is'. His true identity is again a matter of belief. But I think it's safe to say he knew more about religion than me. When the hard times came, even his faith was challenged.*

***JUST AS I AM BORN THE CHILD OF YOUR RACE, A CHILD WAS BORN OF YOU. BUT MERELY TO THINK HIS NAME CAUSES YOU PAIN. WAS HE A BAD CHILD?***

*No! He was the best. I was a bad father. Just as we left you to be hurt by that cyborg race, I left him where I thought he was safe. He was taken from me, and I miss him very much. That's why I have very little to teach you of faith and belief, V'Ger. But practical consequences I can speak of.*

***THE PLACE OF MY CREATION IS FRAGILE. MY APPROACH IS CLUMSY, AND HAS CAUSED PAIN, LIKE THE PAIN I FELT AS THOSE ONES TRIED TO TAKE OUT THE SOUL THEY FIRST PLACED IN ME. WILL THE KNOWLEDGE I HAVE GAINED BE PAYMENT ENOUGH FOR MY AWKWARD RUSH TO SEE MY HOME ONCE MORE?***

*It wouldn't hurt. There is a world called Memory Alpha. Its computers were damaged in an attack, but you should be able to reach out and configure them to receive your data. Moreover, V'Ger-such a gathering of knowledge and easy yielding of it can only impress the one you seek. Don't you see? If he is there, then he will see the effort that went into your gift and the loving way you gave it to those who began your journey.*

***THE CONFUSED ONE ASKED TO SEE ALL THAT I WAS. IT IS HARD TO EXPLAIN ONESELF TO AN OUTSIDER. YOU ARE EASIER TO TALK TO. ALSO, DO YOU NOT SEE THE FLAW IN HIS EFFORTS TO RESTORE YOUR LOST CHILD TO YOU?***

*Spock means well. Like you, he has---parent issues. And yes, I did think about that possibility as regards Peter. Now, V'Ger N'Sa ---will you transmit?*

***TO SAFEGUARD MY LAST MEASURE AGAINST THOSE WHO SOUGHT TO USE ME, I KEPT THAT PART OF ME THAT WAS ONCE A SIMPLE PROBE. ONLY THE ORIGINAL CODES TO TRANSMIT, SENT TO THE SMALL ARRAY YOU SEE BEFORE YOU, WILL UNLEASH MY TORRENTS OF KNOWLEDGE. JAMES KIRK-WILL I NEVER SEE HEAVEN? WILL I NEVER TASTE OF ITS LASTING PEACE?***

*We'll give that our best shot, V'Ger. No promises, except our best efforts.*

***IN THE STORIES OF BENJAMIN RUSSELL, HIS HEROES DIED AS JUST MEN, KNOWING THEY WERE TO WALK EVER AFTER IN HEAVEN. I HOPE THAT ONE DAY I WILL KNOW IT. THE LONELINESS IN ME MUST BE MET.***

The end of the link was not as hard as Kirk would have thought.

"Spock? Can you get us back to the Enterprise?"

The enhanced Vulcan nodded, but did not speak as he did just that. On board, Kirk found his crew dressed up like a bad dinner theater's idea of cavemen. Q, who was wearing a piece with stripes and a tie, shrugged.

"It's a long story, Fred."

Kirk belted him.

"I'm not Fred--I'm Ralph. Now change them back. Wilm---Uhura-contact Starfleet Command and have the following codes pulled from historical archives. They are vital to ending this crisis."

Kirk inputted the request into a data-chit, which he handed to Uhura.

"Sir? I'm only getting a Colonel West from Starfleet Intelligence. All of the other departments have gone to ground."

Kirk nodded.

"He's a good man. Uncle Bill trained him. Remember?-he debriefed us on Tarsus."

Uhura rolled her eyes.

"Damn small universe. Captain-he is transmitting the codes."

Though the lovers had at this time gone their separate ways, Uhura made sure to give Kirk a look that needed no translation, as regarded his safe return.

"Spock-is V'Ger receiving them?"

Spock had his eyes closed.

"He is, Jim. And yet..."

Scotty cut him off.

"Cap'n-V'Ger's hooked himself up to Memory Alpha-I'm getting' telemetry that says it's coming back online-and its banks are filling up fast. Och, what a boon this'll prove to be."

When the transmission was done, Spock rose and brought up V'Ger on the viewscreen.

"I am sorry. Your quest can never be completed. Your loneliness will only increase, and those who now wish to embrace you will turn their backs once that loneliness forces you to harsh action. We cannot offer you completeness---but I can offer you merciful release from your pain."

***JAMES KIRK? I FEEL so  strange  what  is  happening  to  me?...***

Kirk fell to his knees as that voice echoed into infinity as it faded. Onscreen, V'Ger faded as quickly as any opponent it had overtaken in its quest to reach Earth.

"Spock, what have you done?"

Spock held glowing energies in his hand, and contemplated them as he responded.

"His quest was an impossible one, Jim. Eventually, he would have once again proved a threat to us and all we hold dear. I have ended the threat to Earth and the Federation in the most direct way possible."

McCoy stared at the empty screen in abject horror.

"You're a murderer! Spock, you wanted proof that these abilities have driven you out of your mind? Well there's a few dozen AU's of pure void out there to answer that!"

"On the contrary, Doctor. Only the combined detachment of Vulcan emotional control, Q omniscience, and the Human ability to do what must be done made what I was able to do at all possible. For V'Ger, all was done. It could not evolve so much as a single step further."

"So ye up and terminate the beastie just after we made peaceful contact, Mister Spock?"

"Meester Spock---that vwas a Stalinist tactic-if even he vwould have sunk that low!"

As other condemnations began to be heard, Kirk grabbed at his own head.

"Anger---the child---OUR CHILD HAS BEEN KILLED!"

"Captain, such a dramatic presentation is hardly called for."

Q shook his head and tsked the scene before him.

"Hmmmm...Spock? I don't think killing V'Ger went over too well with some parties."

"To which parties do you refer?"

"Offhand? I'd say the party that has Jimmy in its snare. That would be-a probe of even greater power and technology than V'Ger. The force that overwhelmed you during the mind meld? That would be the one that really reconstructed it, and gave it the ability to really be all that it could be. A probe so ancient, the last time it hit Earth, the most intelligent creature around was the sperm whale. Probably still is, after cloning brought them back. But it won't be singing whale-song, Spock. It'll be playing a dirge."

Kirk was aided by McCoy and Uhura while this continued. Spock considered what had been said.

"This other probe was V'Ger's template?"

"Only the way Sarek was yours. Also, the elder probe never cared for you all sending such an unready child into the harsh cosmos. So what we have here is a good loving adoptive parent coming back to confront the child's abusive neglectful birth parents-who just finally killed the kid after a five second reunion."

Onscreen appeared an immense cylinder, seventy kilometers in length, with an energy sphere affixed to its front. Except for the viewscreen, all of Enterprise went dark at its approach. Q smiled cockily.

"If I were you-I'd make room for Daddy."

The ship rocked.

"And get him some beer."

----------------------------------------------------

5

 

VULCAN, 2278

Three beings it would not entirely be a mistake to call for demigods were about to throw down.

Two of them were vastly more powerful than the third. But the third had far more experience. The battle as such was over before it started.

Amanda Grayson stood in horror as the two children under her charge simply vanished

"Bring them back, Q!"

Not that Saavik and Peter had been such comforting sights themselves, prior to vanishing. Their power and anger had been evident, and all of it directed at Q.

"Keep your shirt on lady-the kids are alright."

"Then where are they?"

"The girl is lying in Sickbay after Jimmy recovered her from the Arctic. Surrounded by him, his uncle, yourself and Sarek-during Christmastime no less-she never knew greater happiness."

Saavik reappeared, looking shaken.

"No---it was---it was so good."

"As for the boy-he is getting the stuffings hugged out of him by his Aunt Nyta Uhura, right before his birthday while a patient on-board Enterprise."

Peter reappeared, then simply collapsed.

"Auntie----don't go---don't leave me again---"

Amanda was extremely clever, yet it still took her a moment to fully recognize what Q had done.

"You bastard."

"Cruel to be kind---in the right measure, my dear. What would Hell mean to either of them? Better to hurt them with the few times things went right. Peter? Have you learned your lesson?"

The boy got up, nodding.

"I learned."

Peter Kirk gestured at Q, and the entity vanished.

"Learned real good."

The boy immediately turned his attention to helping Saavik onto the couch. The sight of the non-battle did nothing for Amanda's blood pressure.

-------------------------------------------------------

2275

In his mind, Q heard the cheers of an entire continuum. Cheers for him.

"The ancient threat is done with!"

They never cheered. They barely ever blinked, or rolled their eyes.

"Because of the lad-we won't need to involve those damned hybrids!"

He had, through his plans, given the Q back the orderly universe they so loved to spend bored to tears eternities in.

"I knew he had potential!"

But it was a fraud. The effort to stop the Ancient Destroyer had not only failed, it had made King Ghidorah fully aware of the Continuum's existence. Peter and Saavik, the two ‘damned hybrids' were once again the last best hope for creation.

"The Ascension And The Ascendancy!"

The Q had been among the first species to make such an evolutionary leap. The Q would always be the arbiters, the deciders for matters wide and cosmic. A comforting exaggeration usually. A bold-faced lie in the faces of the tri-dragon.

"But let them keep cheering me...just a little longer."

For in that one moment, the sometime-outcast had been the messiah.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Q reappeared in Sarek's home, and immediately raised his hand to Peter Kirk. The boy sneered.

"Wanna teach me something else?"

Q now looked shaken.

"You're nothing but a damned bully."

Saavik's eyes flashed golden. Her voice echoed unto itself.

"You dare speak that way to him?"

 Peter's face lost its rage-driven coherence, and began to once again tear up.

"...not a bully. Can't call me that."

Amanda had taken above enough.

"Saavik---take your brother to bed-now!"

The energies suffusing the children ebbed. The voices dropped to normal.

"Yes, Mother."

"sorry, mother...so sorry...sorry."

The boy grabbed at Q.

"I'm sorry...I didn't know."

Q gently pushed him off.

"We're more alike than you know, Peter. Now get some sleep."

The children left, and in their wake, Q erected a blue transparent field.

"It's for blocking out sound and stray thoughts. A Cone Of Silence, if you will."

Amanda stared at him. She mouthed words Q could not make out.

"I said it's a---oh damn."

Making adjustments to the field, he spoke again.

"That never does work right the first time."

She folded her arms.

"Did it never occur to you that Saavik would be less than delighted to see you?"

Q folded his own.

"Did it never occur to you that your granddaughter's power has increased since awakening young Peter?"

Amanda sat down.

"One problem at a time. Why are you here? You have to know Sarek's not home."

Q shrugged.

"Perhaps-I'm here to see you, Lady. Raising children of such extraordinary power is going to be a rising and growing challenge-especially when they start in."

She looked at him without allowing a true reaction to his innuendo.

"Tell me something I don't know."

He rubbed his hands together gleefully.

"Oh, I so love it when they say that!"

Amanda felt quite correctly that she was going to vastly regret that question.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

6

 

USS ENTERPRISE, 2271

Uhura gave the report.

"Captain-Colonel West reports that cloud cover is 100% across Earth and Luna. Except for ruggedized centers like his own, Sector 001 is currently all but tech-less. The effect may be even more widespread than that."

Q looked nonchalantly at the approaching probe, self-described adoptive parent to the now-obliterated V'Ger N'Sa.

"Well, I guess I should cross visiting the Louvre off of my to-do list. And it was almost sakura time in Tokyo."

Spock, still invested with the power of the Q, made a sad choice.

"The probe is beyond listening to reason."

McCoy moved away from seating a shaken Kirk, mentally assaulted by the pain of the vast probe.

"Spock, NO! Dammit, Man, that's what got us into this mess. What is wrong with you, Mister Vulcan? Tell me why exactly it takes a bunch of us barbarous Humans to remind you that cold-blooded murder is never a solution?"

"Doctor, need I remind you that this entity believes that we have murdered its child, and is currently unleashing its wrath on all we hold dear as a result?"

McCoy looked his superior in the eye.

"That's because we, meaning YOU, did kill its child. It was a horrible mistake, Spock, but one you can maybe make right. Tell that poor grieving fool why you made that mistake, instead of compounding your crime."

Scotty nodded in agreement.

"If we can end this travesty without any more killing, then should we not be workin' our hearts out to such a goal?"

Sulu refrained from openly challenging Spock, but his glare made his distaste for V'ger's execution very clear.

"Shall I fire forward weapons on the probe, Mister Spock?"

Q shook his head.

"Oh, no. Don't shoot Mongo. You'll only make him angry."

Sulu was tired of the intruder's comments.

"Why don't you go bother the Fantastic Four or something?"

Q shrugged.

"They never proved that imp was based on me."

Chekov could not bring himself to speak, though arresting his one-time mentor did cross his mind. Uhura moved to aid Kirk, who was still writhing in pain.

"Mister Spock, he can't take much more of this."

Spock raised his hands in front of him, aimed at the vast probe onscreen.

"Go."

But the probe did not vanish. Spock stared at his hands.

"Q, have you withdrawn the power from me?"

Q walked over with his hands behind his back, slightly stooping.

"Spock, you killed the kid---because V'Ger was a kid. That out there is an adult. Machine or whatever, it can manipulate vast forces as well as any member of the continuum. Better than some-better than---you. Translation---you can't kill it. I'm not sure I could."

Kirk rose up from his chair, shrieked anew, then collapsed entirely. Q tsked the fallen Captain.

"I do believe our pal outside has just yanked Jim out of his body for a direct chat-and not a nice one, either. Doctor-I'd keep him alive while that's going on."

McCoy was aided by both Uhura and Chekov in placing Kirk on his back on the Bridge floor.

"Dammit, Jim---you won't be able to talk your way out of this one."

Sulu fought off several mutinous thoughts, and kept to the chain of command.

"Captain Spock---I suggest we withdraw as far as we can."

Scotty took point in seconding this.

"It may be all but pointless, but I dinnae want to be up close and personal with yon beastie if we could avoid such a thing."

If Spock had become detached from some concerns in his rise to Q, the need to calmly address the doubts his rash actions had raised was not among them.

"The probe currently has possession of the Captain's essence. We cannot withdraw until that has changed. Also, I must doubt our current ability to withdraw, as well as the usefulness of same. Q? Can you or will you aid me in making direct contact with the probe?"

Q shook his head.

"It really isn't interested in either of us, Spock. It has who and what it wants."

"Yet it rages over what I did to V'Ger. And you provided the power I used to do this."

"To the probe? I'm just a curious visitor who happens to be here. You? You're just the weapons' system that targeted its child. Would you want to talk to a phaser, Spock? Or the man that presumably ordered its discharge?"

Spock felt the rush of immense guilt. His dearest friend-his brother in all but blood-was about to pay dearly for actions he would never have ordered Spock to undertake. It was guilt that ultimately, he did not have time for.

"If I cannot speak with the probe, may I use my mental link to Captain Kirk?"

Q grinned.

"Like the little black duck said to the wabbit : You can only do it *once.*"

Spock nodded.

"Once will, I hope, be enough."

He turned to his peers.

"Miss Uhura? Did we maintain a simul-link with Memory Alpha as V'Ger made his broadcast?"

"Yes we did. It nearly fried all hailing channels, but we kept up."

"Chief Chekov? Our Science Officer is down."

"I vwill resume my old station, Meester Spock, but vwhy?"

The Vulcan felt the urge to quip or demand as a Q might. It was not unlike having a third-or was it a fourth front?--in his long emotional war.

"When the time arises, I will need you to transmit a message to the probe. It is a message I have yet to compose, and it will be in a machine language I have yet to learn. I will need someone who knows my idiosyncrasies in giving such instruction standing by when this is at the ready."

Sulu's silent challenge began to rise at last.

"What does this involve, Mister Spock?"

"It involves, Commander, you trusting me and taking the center seat until either myself or Captain Kirk is ready to resume that role. I advise you to ignore the ancient popular culture references our guest makes, and while not disregarding his advice, take it with some trepidation and forethought. I did not. You have seen the results."

Q rolled his eyes.

"Oh, sure-blame the guy who caused all the problems. Great going, Spock."

Spock gestured, and Q vanished.

"He will doubtless return-I merely sent half of him to just before the very beginning of time, and half to the moment after it began. But I suggest you all use that time to run a full check of ship's systems. We may need to get underway. This larger crisis could easily spawn others."

McCoy moved in front of Spock.

"I won't try and stop you-even if I could. But one, are you up to this, and two, what do I do while all this is happening?"

Spock placed a hand on the physician's shoulder.

"What you always do, Leonard. Keep our brother well and fret logically over the illogical risks we take. You-may wish to inspect your office in Sickbay. During my foolish generosity, I added a piece of equipment you just may be able to use. And one last thing, for when Q returns-"

Spock transmitted a thought, then shielded McCoy's mind from mental intrusion prior to a few words before vanishing.

"Should I not return from all this-ask Jim to forgive me."

"You'll ask him yourself-and we both know he'll say he's already forgiven you. The only one he never forgives is himself."

Spock nodded and vanished.

A few minutes later, a bedraggled Q appeared lying on the floor of the Bridge.

"That was just rude."

McCoy helped him up.

"All burned out from your journey?"

"What a long strange trip it's been."

McCoy jammed a hypo directly into Q's neck. The entity swooned and fell again.

"When he's in this form and that weak, even he can be knocked out."

While all knew this wouldn't last long, the temporary CO smiled.

"Good work, Doc. Scotty, how's that systems' check?"

"Och-we're about the only thing in this quadrant capable of moving-but to where? The Earth is under all-out meteorological assault, and other places are nearly techless."

Uhura began to receive a possible answer.

"Mister Sulu? There's a Klingon diplomatic transport that has been disabled, just past the borders of Bajoran space, between there and Betazed. They are requesting assistance."

Sulu shook his head.

"Them and everyone else. Tell the diplomats we will respond only if they come under some sort of attack."

Uhura relayed this, then had to pull her ear-piece out.

"They---said-owww---that it was only because they were being attacked that they would ever lower---owww-themselves to request aid from weakl----from us."

Chekov locked Sciences, and asked the question a Security Chief might.

"Vwhat sort of attack are vwe talking about? Orions?"

Uhura gingerly replaced her ear-piece.

"They're saying that they are under assault by a group of religious fanatics attempting to kidnap their charge-a member of the Klingon High Council-fanatics led by what appears to be---a Vulcan?"

 Sulu felt the exhaustion of completing one five-year mission and assuming another after a chaotic turnaround of only a month, followed by an even more chaotic day that left him in the seat he'd always dreamed of. But with a second maniacal Vulcan in play, his resolve still found him able to utter only two words.

"Oh...My."

---------------------------------------

In the firm grip of the enraged probe, the essence of James Kirk struggled to keep from shattering.

***Know the pain of losing a child.***

It was a pain well known to Kirk. So well known, the probe paused in confusion.

***You know our pain, yet also you inflict it?***

"Forgive-my brother. He didn't know what he was doing."

***Poorly have you chosen your brothers.***

Kirk saw successively the fates of Sam Kirk and Gary Mitchell.

"I can't argue with you there."

***Tell me of your lost child.***

Kirk didn't speak. He saw the newborn Peter, and his efforts to remind Sam that biology was nothing compared to nurture. He saw a boy growing, always delighted to see him. He saw a strong boy reduced to slavery by lazy parents. He saw that boy come back to life aboard Enterprise, engaged by his father's life amid the stars. He at last saw only darkness, as a message arrived that he would never see that boy again.

***Full of wonder. Born to fearful fools.***

Kirk nodded-or he had a thought of nodding.

"I was never there for him. Not when it counted. But he never stopped seeing me as something more than what I was. Even remembering him like this is worse than anything you could do to me."

The probe lowered its tone of mental voice to match his new companion's.

***I have no desire to hurt you. Both our children are gone for no good reason. Where I thought to find a barbarian, I have found instead a kindred spirit. One who knows my passion for exploring as well as that most horrid of pains. You who commanded the one who took my child will take his place. I shall show you wonders beyond comprehension.***

Kirk instantly knew two things : The scope of the amazing offer being made to him, and the answer he must give in response to it.

"No. For I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

***This thing you call civilization will fall within your current lifetime. The boy's fate will be resolved. The wrong will fail, the right prevail-without you. They do not need you. I do.***

"I have another child."

***Yet another instance of a brother's broken promise. Let him step up and serve as the girl's parent.***

"I can't count on people doing what they are supposed to. In life, I failed Peter by believing Sam and Aurelan would grow up at last. I failed him by believing my Mom had finally changed. In death, I failed him by believing the Hall would solve his murde---his disappearance."

***Then bring her with us. I shall not relent in this request, James Kirk. I withdraw my wrath from all your known space, save for that surrounding your home world. That I shall not do until you give in. A child for a child-and your girl will be happier here than she is on a world where she is not wanted.***

Kirk floated in a void, tormented by visions of a life of ultimate freedom and of happiness for the little girl he called his own-a torment because he could not possibly allow this, a torment because the fate of his world hung on his choice. A civilized advanced being was offering paradise as punishment for an act of barbarism, but it was an offer the entity in question would not allow to be easily refused.



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