Literary Challenge #52 : Hello, again, Q
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Join Date: Jul 2013
10-16-2013, 04:52 PM
The sky was a featureless dome above them, grey and overbearing and so smooth that Joanne Roslyn kept expecting to see the team reflected in it. There was no single light source, instead a uniform dim illuminated everything, washing out shadows and colours. The ground was covered with grey regolith, a powder so fine and dense that it gave the impression of walking on a really thick carpet - if pieces of the carpet came off with each step. The dust clung to their trousers and boots, and Joanne could feel it settling on her skin when she rubbed her fingers together. Apart from their small circle of footprints, the ground was as undisturbed as freshly-fallen snow, and there were no geological irregularities of any kind. In the distance, the curvature of the horizon was clearly discernible, a constant reminder of the size of this world. With a comforting regularity, the bright shape of the
would rise above the hard line of the horizon, climb maybe a quarter of the sky and then dip again. From what Joanne heard from Commander Taallir during these short periods of communication, they still couldn't tell exactly what it was that their Admiral was standing on, or how it managed to have both a surface gravity of one perfect
and a very fresh, breathable atmosphere.
Again, Joanne wished she had her tricorder.
Everything had happened so fast, Commander Corspa Eide hadn't even had time to grab a phaser, and that said something. One moment, they'd been well on their way after a biannual maintenance check, and the next,
had been on the bridge.
Dressed in a red 24th century uniform, looking impatient and like all those pictures in the Starfleet databases had been taken just yesterday, he had looked at them, calculating. Joanne's first instinct had been to get angry -
what was that stunt with the Borg, all those months ago
- but then her mind had helpfully supplied half-forgotten content from compulsory evening lectures on near-omnipotent beings at the Academy.
Never challenge the entity.
He hadn't let her form a response to his appearance anyway, just raised one arm and snapped his fingers.
Behind her, somebody sneezed. Joanne turned around and looked at her small team. Q had just dropped random members of her crew on the surface of this object, giving no clue as to his intentions. Corspa was there, for which Joanne was immensely grateful, rubbing her nose. The other three were Nurse Koan, whose blue Bolian skin stood out starkly against the grey surroundings (contrary to Corspa, who just looked pale), and two young Human crewmen from teams usually working deep in the bowels of the ship, both in worn yellow engineering coveralls, looking scared.
Koan looked from Corspa to Joanne. "We should return to the ship as soon as possible, Admiral, before we breathe in more of the regolith."
Corspa nodded, sniffing quietly. "If I didn't know better, I'd say we're on the moon - Earth's moon. I'd recognize this stuff anywhere."
Joanne frowned. "This sort of material is very common. How can you be sure?"
"The taste and smell are
distinctive," Corspa said, then sneezed again. One of the crewmen offered her a piece of tissue.
"It doesn't matter," Joanne said. "We've got enough of it on us to get it analysed in the lab. Let's beam back up next time the
Everyone nodded eagerly, relieved at the prospect of getting back to the relative safety of the ship. They were on edge, still waiting for something to happen, something that would explain why they'd been dropped here. Was this a test? A game? Would something burst out of the dust the second they made a false step?
But the greyness around them remained unchanged as they waited for the
to complete its orbit around the small world, and as the transporter engaged, Joanne felt a deep uneasiness settle in her at the thought of leaving their footprints etched in the dust on the otherwise unmarred surface.
After the transporter had gotten most of the dust off their clothes, they had samples taken of the rest and then, at the insistence of her chief engineer ("This stuff gets
"), they went through a quick decon. More than half an hour went by before the Admiral and Commander Eide returned to the bridge, which showed no signs of Q, and where Joanne finally learned more about the strange object she'd visited.
"It actually has the exact dimensions of Earth's moon," Ensign Banks explained, prompting Corspa to wiggle one antenna at Joanne, "meaning it's possible that it was built by humans. However, our sensors cannot penetrate the surface, so we don't know if the high gravity is caused by its mass or a piece of machinery inside it. The atmosphere is, most likely, artificially created and contained. The artefact shouldn't have one, not out here."
Joanne turned around from where she had been looking at schematics and data on the viewscreen. "And where is here, Ensign?"
Banks took a deep breath, and Joanne became aware of the tension in the room for the first time, too thick for it to be just because of Q's sudden appearance. When Ensign Banks answered, her usually so collected expression gave way to an open helplessness, betraying her age.
"We are out of the plane of the galaxy by some sixty-three degrees, and above it by almost ninety-three thousand light-years, Admiral."
. A cold fear clawed its way up Joanne's spine. Ensign Banks was still talking, but her words came to Joanne like she had thick wads of cotton on her ears, meaningless and mute. Q could probably send them back home in an instant, but what if they failed to do whatever he had brought them here for? Was the entity that malevolent? In a flash of quiet hysteria, Joanne remembered how, as a child, she'd thought the journey of the
was the ultimate adventure, and had spent hours pretending to be Captain Janeway, guiding her crew home through the vast unknown. Now she knew with crystal-clear certainty that she could not do it. There wasn't even anything out here in the galactic halo, no planets, hardly any stars, just tons of hot gas, that could help get them home.
When she realised that the bridge crew was expecting some sort of reaction from her, she fought her way through the numbness on her mind and schooled the expression on her face into something vaguely confident. She was still struggling for words when Taallir saved her.
"But that's not even the most interesting part," he said, "look."
Joanne turned around towards the viewscreen just in time to see it light up, the picture taking her breath away.
The Milky Way filled the screen, surrounded by the deep black of intergalactic space. But it looked different from the composite images they had, and different from similar spiral galaxies they had seen - it was
, embedded in a dim sphere of stars, giving it an almost orange glow. The central bulge was bigger, nearly a quarter of the disc's diameter, and awash in warm, yellow light. The spiral arms seemed thinner, bright blue threads wrapped tightly around the core, and were dotted with individual stars, like grains of salt on the picture.
"That's... that's not our galaxy," Corspa said.
"But it is!" The fear had fallen away from Joanne at the sight, replaced by calming awe. Her mind was taking in the colours and returning numbers, information. "It is, but over
seventy million years in the future.
Corspa threw up her hands and returned to her station.
The data they were getting was invaluable, Joanne knew. When they returned home, it would entertain scores of physicists for decades, herself included. In her head, Joanne was going through cosmological models and theories that now were shown to hold true for a time-span of several tens of millions of years, while at the same time trying to clamp down on her excitement. She took the immensity of what they were seeing as proof that Q would take them back home, since it was unlikely that he cared about things like temporal directives. It made Joanne wonder. Was there still civilization, after all this time? Had the galactic community endured throughout the millennia, or was the little artificial moon they were still orbiting the last remnant of humanity?
Taallir was now pointing out different features across the galactic disc, massive bubbles of hot plasma and supernovae, sketching out the history and fate of the galaxy. Corspa was still doubtful, so he told her that the Milky Way's nearest neighbours, the Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda galaxy, were exactly where they should be, taking into account their known motion and the expansion of the universe.
Joanne was only half-listening, her eyes darting back and forth over the screen, feeling more and more like Q had given her a great gift.
"But why," Corspa said impatiently, addressing what Joanne should have been most concerned about, "why are we here?!"
At that, Q popped back into existence. He was now wearing the Admiral's coat that Joanne favoured, pacing back and forth in front of the viewscreen. There was none of the usual "dangerous playfulness", as it had been described in the notes on him, but instead his eyes were too bright, his gestures too wide. Once again, Joanne felt inadequate, consciously resisting the impulse to shrink back when he walked up to her.
it?" He was walking around the bridge, looking at each crew member in turn. "Can you see it happening? Why
is this happening?
His obvious haste, his confusion, scared Joanne. Weren't the Q omnipotent, all-knowing? What could possibly provoke such a reaction? He seemed to come to a decision then, looking almost disappointed. With a shake of his head, he raised his hand again.
In a flash of light, they were home.
Joanne had only been poring over the data they had collected for about an hour, after having been extensively debriefed by Starfleet Command, when the message came in.
A second ship had been taken across time by Q, and brought back. Over the next few days, a steady trickle of ships was flung into the future, only to be returned shortly after. Each captain reported the same Joanne and her crew had seen; a galaxy of ageing stars, watched over by a relict covered in moondust, and the entity Q becoming more and more distressed over something that no one seemed to be able to figure out.
When it stopped, there was some more speculation, but even that died down after a while. Maybe the clue was hidden in the sea of data they now had, maybe not. The greatest thinkers of the Alpha Quadrant came to the consensus that, although there certainly was some great discovery to be made, it would happen so far downstream that there was no rush to get to the answer now.
After all, there was time enough to worry about it.
Last edited by jonnaroslyn; 10-21-2013 at
. Reason: just fixed some bits and pieces that annoyed me