Qubed by D. A. Houdek
“I find it hard to imagine I’m the next stage in human evolution,” Wesley Crusher said.
“Why is that?” the Traveler asked, his face radiating its usual combination of insipid innocence and knowing superiority. Sometimes Wesley found that expression vaguely annoying. This was one of those times.
Wesley sighed and leaned back on what he unscientifically thought of as “ether”. Before him towered plumes of flaming gasses studded with blazing infant stars. The plumes rose six trillion miles high. It was, to say the least, a grand sight.
He’d seen better. He’d seen… well, all the amazing things he’d seen while on the Enterprise didn’t even scratch the surface of wonders he’d seen in this galaxy and beyond. Curious how quickly the profound became the mundane, and how quickly the mundane became rare and elusive. Sometimes Wesley longed for the dull and ordinary. Maybe he wasn’t so evolved after all.
“Evolution,” Wesley said, “depends on the evolved passing on the superior traits…”
“Superior is subjective.” The Traveler liked to inject notes of humility into his conversations with Wesley. Recently Wesley had begun to find this annoying too, though he tried to take it in its intended spirit.
Wesley nodded, sighed, and tried again. “Evolution depends on the new or modified traits being passed on to future generations. In a word: Reproduction.”
The Traveler smiled blandly. “And your point is…?”
Throwing his arms wide, Wesley encompassed the cosmos, the nether-realm of thought and physics he’d explored with the Traveler these past years. It was vast. It was grand. It was glorious. It had, Wesley said in a tragic tone, “No girls.”
“Aaah,” the Traveler said, a genuine grin spreading across his face. “You feel the need to reproduce now?”
Apparently the blush reflex hadn’t evolved out of him, Wesley thought as he felt his cheeks burn. “Well, not exactly reproduce now, but I would like to, maybe, well… have a date.”
“I don’t know if…” the Traveler began.
“I do.” The new voice rumbled through the towering plasma, sending rippling waves through the fiery plumes. Using the young stars as a calliope to produce a literal “music of the spheres” a triumphal herald resounded.
Wesley shook his head in disgust. “Impressive, Q, but physically impossible. Sounds can’t transmit through the vacuum of space.”
Q appeared before Wesley and the Traveler, standing with his arms akimbo on a stray wisp of plasma. “Still the same smart-aleck brat you always were, young Crusher. So assured in your dazzling ignorance.” He leaned forward until he was face to face with Wesley. “So sure of physical laws yet here you are having a nice chat about how evolved you are.” He looked around grandly. “And where, exactly, is it you would be?”
“The realm where thought and…” Wesley began to recite then stopped, feeling yet another blush spread across his cheeks. Even though he thought of ether as having substance, he and the Traveler sat amidst nothing more substantial than vacuum. The physical laws he’d grown up believing were inviolable were the very things the Traveler and he shattered regularly, and with growing ease.
Still leaning close to Wesley, Q intoned (letting the pronouncement resound through the blazing towers spreading for parsecs, Wesley noted with annoyance), “Duh.”
“What do you want, Q?”
Q leaned back and smirked. “I’m here to help.”
“Help with what?” the Traveler inserted quietly.
Wesley noticed Q seemed startled as he turned toward the Traveler.
“You!” Q exclaimed.
The Traveler smiled gently. “I don’t believe we’ve ever met.”
Wesley grinned as Q’s indignity deflated.
“Oh.” Q waved his hand dismissively. “Well, you humans all look alike.”
“I’m not human.”
Wesley interrupted. “Q. Why are you here?”
“Why, to help you get a date.”
Hooting with laughter, Wesley gasped (never minding there really wasn’t any air there to gasp). “The Q Continuum is a dating service now?”
“Not the entire Continuum.” Q scowled. “Stop that caterwauling, Crusher. Do you want a date, or don’t you?”
Wesley choked down the rest of his laughter with an effort. “A blind date set up by Q,” he said thoughtfully. “This has got to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime, wildly improbable events that will make my autobiography a best-seller.” He looked up at Q. “You got a deal. Who is she?”
Young, blond, a little shy but getting more confident right along… She was supposed to be waiting for him here. But she wasn’t.
Wesley looked around. Apparently this was the Continuum’s idea of a human dating establishment – it looked like an ancient Earth malt shop from a holodeck program circa 1950. He frowned. Not his kind of era. The few computers that existed in this time had been impossibly huge and mind-numbingly slow. It was pre-civilization really. Still, he pondered, maybe just such a low-tech environment was perfect for a date, no distractions.
“What are you doing here?” Wesley asked the smirking immortal in the spiffy white uniform.
“Why, I’m the soda jerk,” Q answered brightly.
“Appropriate title,” Wesley muttered.
“Mind your manners, boy. There she is now.”
Wesley turned and stared, a smile creeping up his face. She was lovely, with a serene sort of elegance to her stance. Her golden hair was swept up and she wore a rose-colored gown that matched the malt-shop era. A shy smile twisted her lips as her eyes met Wesley’s. Never a believer before, Wesley decided the concept of love-at-first-sight wasn’t so far-fetched after all.
“Human Wesley Crusher,” Q announced grandly, “May I present Amanda of the Q.”
Wesley broke his gaze, glancing back at Q in surprise. “She’s a Q?”
Amanda stepped forward. “I am. But I was raised as a human.” She extended her hand toward Wesley. “And I believe we have some friends in common.”
Captured once again by her shining eyes (goodness, it had been a long time since he had a date!), Wesley took her hand in his and impulsively raised it to his lips. Apparently his impulse was good for Amanda smiled with obvious pleasure.
Seating them face-to-face in a booth, Q activated a gigantic mechanical music device, placed one chocolate malt on the table (two straws) and with a snap of his fingers disappeared. Wesley, though only peripherally aware of Q’s actions, sighed, “Alone at last.”
It was perfect, he decided. Amanda and he chatted about the Enterprise. She told him of her discovery that she was actually a Q, the product of two Q who broke Continuum rules and reproduced while in human form. They talked of the Enterprise and the people they both knew. It did strike Wesley at some level that she seemed to know rather more about Commander Riker than she did about any of the others, but he was too smitten by Amanda to be troubled by it.
As pseudo-night fell beyond the malt shop windows, Wesley and Amanda danced. Pressed close together they danced to a slow, sentimental song.
Finally drawing apart, Amanda whispered, “I think it’s time for me to be going.”
“Curfew in the Continuum,” Wesley said with a chuckle.
Amanda laughed. “Something like that. I guess the human in me says to stop now. I… uh… I would like… if it’s okay with you, that is…”
“I would like to see you again.”
Wesley smiled. “Me too.”
Strolling idly along a super string fragment, Wesley described his date with Amanda enthusiastically. The Traveler smiled indulgently (though not insipidly, Wesley noted).
“So you were fond of the young lady?”
“Fond? Enamored, enthralled, entranced… She was wonderful, beautiful, intelligent. And,” he added waving his finger at The Traveler, “she’s not bound by physical law either. Heck, we could do the cosmos together just like you and I do. That’s not something you find in most girls.”
“None like Amanda. We’re meeting again tonight. Any idea where I can get some flowers? Real flowers?”
The Traveler’s expression grew serious. “Wesley, you do remember she is a Q, don’t you?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t matter.”
“No…” The Traveler said slowly. “Not to you. Maybe not to her. But what about to Q? Haven’t you wondered what it is he wants out of this?”
Wesley’s slack-jawed expression clearly said he had not.
Slicking back a wayward lock of hair, Wesley paused to take a bearing on the malt shop. It wasn’t at a fixed location in physical space so the mark headings he’d learned to use so well at the helm of the Enterprise were of no use to him. This course he couldn’t steer by the stars. Amanda waited for him, instead, in a portion of space existing as much in thought as in physical reality. At the moment, however, Wesley would have gladly traded all his increasing mastery of this realm for a good, solid road sign to tell him just where the heck that glorious malt shop of love was.
He couldn’t find it.
He wasn’t lost. He couldn’t be lost.
Reaching both inward and outward, Wesley let a staggeringly complex mathematical formulation flow over him as though it were a musical score. With a certain smugness, confidently focused on his goal. No Q could do better, he was certain.
“Q!!!” he bellowed (in the virtual sense, of course).
“You!” Q exclaimed when he appeared.
“Do you say that to everyone you see?” Wesley grumbled more that a bit petulantly. “Where’s Amanda? What have you done with the malt shop?”
“How should I know? And why aren’t you with her?” Q matched Wesley’s petulance admirably.
Wesley stared at him. “Well, so much for omniscience. That omnipotence thing just so much P. R. too, Q?”
“Mind your tongue, insolent brat. I could still obliterate you with a flick of my…”
“Q. Knock it off.”
“You’re not afraid of me, are you, young human?”
Wesley was pleased to see that Q appeared set aback. “Got news for you, Q. None of the humans are afraid of you. You passed our fear threshold and got us well into annoyance a long time ago. Now, shut up and tell me what you’ve done with Amanda?”
“I’ve done nothing with her. She left the Continuum to meet you. Why aren’t you with her?”
“I can’t find her,” Wesley said.
“Ah ha!” Q exclaimed brightly. “Your puny, primitive abilities have failed you. I, the mighty, immortal, omnipotent — and don’t you forget it, you miserable insect — shall guide you.”
Wesley braced himself as Q raised his arms with a grand flourish and…
“Like hitting a brick wall,” Wesley said dully as Q threw himself at the malt shop window once again. Inside, Amanda sat in the booth she’d shared with Wesley, talking animatedly. She smiled, she laughed. She…
“She stood me up,” Wesley moaned.
“Impossible,” Q said.
“But there she is. Obviously with someone else. Having fun. Laughing. Talking. And not with me.”
Q smirked. “At least I know I don’t have to worry about you as competition in the omniscience department. Young moronic Crusher… Amanda is in there, but with who?”
“Whom,” Wesley corrected automatically. He did a double take. “Right. With whom? Do you know? And why can’t you get in? Is Amanda blocking you?”
“’No’ to half of the above and ‘I don’t know’ to the other half.” He paused while Wesley computed his answer and gave a grunt of understanding. “Someone is in there, and that someone is pretty powerful.”
Wesley pressed his nose against the glass. Though she appeared so near, Amanda apparently couldn’t see them outside the malt shop. With a swirl of skirts, she stood and moved out onto the checked tile floor. A figure rose and followed her. A male figure. A decidedly familiar male figure.
Wesley and Q exclaimed in unison then turned to cast accusing glares at each other.
“It’s not me,” Wesley said. “It just looks like me. And Amanda must think it is me.”
Q plastered his face against the window. “She could be in danger.”
Had he had a horse, Wesley would gladly have donned armor at that moment and ridden to his lady’s defense. Lacking those accouterments of nobility, however, he did the next best thing; he called for his second.
“You!” Q said as The Traveler appeared.
The Traveler’s patient smile seemed to Wesley tinged with uncharacteristic annoyance as he faced Q. “Yes, me. And this time we have met before.”
“Yes, well, whatever,” Q said dismissively.
Impatiently, Wesley explained the problem. The Traveler studied the malt shop, watched the dancing couple for a moment, then smiled sadly. “Ah, yes. I should have seen this coming.”
“What is it?” Q demanded.
The Traveler smiled again. Never before had Wesley seen such a self-satisfied gleam in his friend’s eyes before as The Traveler faced the Q.
“A letter beyond Q,” The Traveler said.
“Huh?” Wesley and Q said in unison.
Young, blond, a little shy but getting more confident right along… That was how The Traveler described her, and that was how she appeared. Had he not met Amanda first Wesley decided he could easily have become smitten with this lovely alien woman. Her voice was melodic, her manner soothing, and she could traverse the cosmos with ease. A winning combination in a female, and apparently not quite as rare as he’d thought.
“Human Wesley Crusher,” The Traveler said, “meet Kes of the Ocampa.”
“You!” Kes exclaimed, ignoring Wesley to stare at Q. Just as well, Wesley thought glumly, he had fallen for Amanda first.
“Have we met?” Q asked seemingly without interest.
“On Voyager,” Kes answered.
Q waved his hand. “So many ships. So little consequence.”
Kes sighed and turned toward Wesley with a smile and extended her hand. Wesley melted inside. He, Amanda, and Kes… Happiness cubed. He shook himself. What was he thinking? Kes was looking at him far too maternally for such thoughts. Wesley smiled and took her hand.
“Pleased to meet you. Can you help us get Amanda out of there?”
Kes glanced at The Traveler.
“I think we can all get in,” The Traveler said, “if we wait for a moment of distraction inside, then all concentrate at once.”
That moment of distraction came all too soon for Wesley’s tastes and nearly ruined his concentration (recovered by a sharp smack from Q). It… the being with Amanda… kissed her. He hadn’t even kissed her yet and here this thing was doing so using Wesley’s own face.
“Amanda!” Wesley cried as the four appeared in the malt shop.
“Wesley,” Amanda said, looking from one Wesley to the other with alarm on her face. “Who…?”
“Amanda, it’s me,” Wesley said. “I’m the real Wesley.”
“Get out of here,” the fake Wesley cried. “I won’t let you ruin this.”
“Who are you?” Q demanded, grabbing the fake Wesley by the face. “You’re not Q. Where do you get this power?”
“I told you,” The Traveler inserted quietly, “X.”
“Charlie,” Kes’s soothing voice inserted as she stepped forward. The Wesley face melted away leaving a lean, dark-haired adolescent staring with confused eyes.
“Janice? Janice, you came back to me,” Charlie X said, staring at Kes. He extended his hand toward her, quivering pathetically.
Kes took his hand, smiling softly. “My name is Kes. Would you like to take a walk with me?”
Charlie nodded eagerly, stopping just short of slobbering, Wesley thought. Still, it seemed likely Kes could handle him. She had a serene confidence about her. The two stepped away and disappeared.
Wesley reached for Amanda, pulling her into a comforting embrace. He didn’t know if she needed it, but he did.
“Who, or what, was that?” Wesley demanded of the others.
Q answered, “Charlie X. Hyper-intelligent, pesky human boy with super-powers who caused havoc on the Enterprise. The first Enterprise. Sound familiar?”
Wesley frowned but failed to make the connection. “How do you know all that?”
Q tapped his temple. “Omnipotence and omniscience. Concepts too big for your puny brain.”
With a snort, Wesley said, “Right. Selective omniscience.” To The Traveler, “Thanks, but if you don’t mind, Amanda and I are overdue for a date.” He turned to Amanda. “Shall we?”
“My pleasure,” she said as they stepped off into the nether-realm together.
“Well, well, well…” Q said, not looking displeased. “All’s well that ends well, as the humans say.”
The Traveler stared at him with an expression not at all placid or insipid. It was, in fact, positively fierce. “And what’s in it for you, Q? Why did you arrange for Wesley and Amanda to meet in the first place?”
Q smiled, put his arm around The Traveler’s shoulder and gestured philosophically toward the cosmos. “Think of me as Noah with a vast, cosmic ark.” The Traveler looked at him quizzically.
“And so off they go, Q by Q.”