Everything was white.
Q looked about, confused. Confusion wasn’t something he was used to, and he arched an eyebrow quizzically. He waited for something to happen. Nothing did. Patience wasn’t something he was used to either, and he started to walk around. No, he decided, there was nothing but white no matter which way he turned. That and a low thumping noise, like a mortal being’s heartbeat. If there had been dirt on the ground, he would have kicked at it just for something to do.
He considered this for a moment. With nothing better to do, he clicked his fingers to create some dirt to kick. Nothing happened. For the first time, he was worried. He’d lost his powers before, on those occasions when he’d disagreed with the Continuum. Of course, it had always been their fault, but this time felt different somehow. He hadn’t done anything wrong, he was sure of it. Besides, this wasn’t their usual style of punishment. Wherever he was, it lacked style.
“Hello?” Q called out to nobody in particular. He wasn’t expecting a response.
“It is a higher being,” a male voice said calmly from all around him. The voice sounded familiar to Q.
“Q?” Q asked. There was no reply. He thought about it for a moment, and decided to try a more… human approach. “Quinn?”
“It is confused. Inquisitive,”
“Yes, yes, I suppose it is,” Q said with irritation. “Tell me, do you always speak in such ridiculous broken sentences, or did you take a special course?”
“It is arrogant. Insulting,” the voice said from behind Q.
Q spun around, and suddenly found himself staring at the figure of Quinn, who had a strange aura around him. “You’re not Quinn,” Q stated angrily. “I knew him, and as insufferable as he could be sometimes, at least he had a way with words. So who are you?”
“We are of Bajor,” the being said simply.
Q closed his eyes and raised a hand over his face. “Oh, it’s you,” he said with a mixture of disappointment and frustration. “I should have known. The white light, that awful droning sound. It’s no wonder the Continuum wanted nothing to do with you. You’re boring!”
Another being approached, surrounded by a haze of light. This one resembled Kathryn Janeway. “We are non-corporeal beings.”
Q sighed, and looked at the being that wasn’t Janeway. He pointed an angry figure at it. “You’re boring, with no concept of time or space. A race of beings finally became enlightened and what did you do? You became a recluse, living inside a wormhole and cutting yourself off from the rest of the universe. That’s not progression, that’s stagnation. And stop looking like Janeway, it’s disturbing.”
Another being appeared, one who looked like Jean-Luc Picard. Q sighed, and threw his arms up in the air.
“You see? This is exactly my point,” Q said in frustration. “All I wanted was just a little peace and quiet from little q, I click my fingers and wind up here. And what do you do? You pull your usual cheap parlour tricks here and interfere with my powers. Well you may have those rubes down on Bajor thinking you’re gods, but a true higher being like me would never resort to such a pathetic ruse.”
The Picard-being walked directly up to Q and stared him in the eyes. “You have never claimed to be God?” it asked accusingly.
Q hesitated, suddenly uncomfortable. “That was a harmless prank, what I did to the real Picard, nothing more than that.
Besides, it made him appreciate the life he’s lived. He doesn’t even know if it was real or just a dream. Now why are you keeping me here? Give me my powers back, or there’s going to be trouble.”
The alien beings approached Q, and he felt instantly uncomfortable. While he had no problems invading the personal space of others –especially those pesky Humans- he found it rather disconcerting that these beings were invading his.
“We shall return your powers,” they said in unison.
“Well that’s more like it,” Q responded arrogantly.
“We desire to know more about corporeal beings” they stated simply. “The Sisko still puzzles us. It is confusing. Contradictory. The knowledge you have accumulated is required.”
“Ah,” Q said simply. “I get it now. I scratch your backs, you scratch mine. Is that it? Your house, your rules?”
“Your assistance is necessary. Invaluable.”
Q smirked at them, and backed away, starting to pace back and forth. “Well then, I suppose I should tell you that you’ll never understand what makes them tick. They’re illogical, stubborn and just when you think you’ve got them all figured out, one of them comes along and does something that makes no sense whatsoever.”
“This is confusing,” the representation of Picard said.
“You’re telling me!” Q said with a laugh. “It’s their individuality that makes them this way. But there are times when they come together. Like during holidays, for instance. I love seeing them during the holidays, all scampering around for a mutual cause.”
“What are… holidays?” the Janeway-alien asked.
“You know, things like Christmas. Oh, wait. You wouldn’t understand that, would you? For you, every day is the same. Such a shame, you poor things,” Q said, mocking them. He knew he shouldn’t be pushing his luck, but couldn’t help himself.
The wormhole aliens went quiet, and Q seized the opportunity to explain further.
“I love the holidays,” Q continued. “It’s really the time to see them at their best. I’ve even joined in a few times. Why don’t you do one of those parlour tricks of yours where you shift all reality into something that one of your guests has experienced? That way you can take a look at how I’ve enjoyed my time with them.”
Almost instantly, the vast whiteness altered around him, forming a familiar setting that Q had visited many times.
“Ah, the Enterprise, registration 1701-D,” Q said, sounding like a tour guide. “My old stomping ground. If you want to learn about the holidays this is as good a place to start as any…”
“It’s unusual for you to visit me on a professional basis, Data,” Deanna Troi said. “I’m curious as to what brought you here.”
Data shifted in his seat, uncertain as to how to proceed. Her office was a place he rarely visited, and while he wasn’t capable of feeling nervousness, the whole situation was still somewhat unfamiliar with him. “Is there a certain way that I should sit?” he asked. “I have learned that the patients of some counselors will lie down on a couch, as a way of being put at ease.”
Troi smiled slightly and asked, “ Aren’t you at ease, Data?”
Data regarded her quizzically for a moment. “I feel no comfort or discomfort. My body has been designed to perform at peak efficiency in a variety of situations and environments. I am merely… uncertain… as to how to sit. I have no frame of reference for this.”
“I can understand that. I’m curious about what actually brought you here.”
Data paused, determining the correct way to proceed. Finally he said, “I am having trouble understanding the nature of holidays.”
“Holidays?” Troi asked with confusion. “As in going on holiday? Data, you know that people – organic people – become tired from time to time. Usually, when a person becomes overly stressed through work or…”
“I am sorry to interrupt,” Data said simply, “but I am fully aware of the necessity for relaxation. I am instead referring to the concept of ceremonial holidays, such as those observed in cultures due to tradition, religion or custom.”
Deanna Troi leaned back in her chair. She hated conversations like this. She’d heard Riker mention before that Data reminded him of Pinocchio, the wooden boy who wanted to be human. At times like this she could agree with his point. Knowledge was one thing, she thought, but understanding it was something else entirely.
“Data, every culture on every world has their own beliefs. At times, they celebrate their beliefs by putting aside their differences and joining together for a common purpose.”
“I am aware of the specifics,” Data said. “In my research I have explored the traditions of various worlds, however since I have no specific culture of my own, I am struggling to understand how such things can create bonding experiences. I have been considering using the holodeck to assist me in learning more, and was curious as to what programs you may recommend.”
Troi thought for a moment. “I don’t really see what good that would achieve. No matter how well the holograms are programmed, it’s still artificial. Wouldn’t taking part in an actual holiday be more constructive?”
“It is possible. Do you have something specific in mind?”
“Let me speak to Captain Picard. Perhaps we can organise something,” Troi said. “In fact, it may be something that could benefit the whole crew.”
“We’re going to hold… a Christmas party.”
Captain Picard looked at the officers seated in front of him, waiting to see what their reaction would be to the news he’d just given them. They looked as stunned as he’d been when Counselor Troi had run the idea past him.
“Pardon me captain, but… this seems a little unusual,” Riker said with confusion.
“Not at all, Number One,” Picard said. “They used to throw Christmas parties on board Starfleet ships many years ago, back when they were more predominantly populated with Humans. The tradition may have become less commonplace, but there’s no reason why we can’t still do it.”
“What will this entail?” Worf grumbled. “I remember Christmases with my parents The Rozhenkos. They were very… decorative.”
“We’re not talking tinsel in ever corridor, Mister Worf” Picard reassured him. “But some areas should be decorated accordingly. Ten Forward, for instance. Guinan has already agreed to assist with the party, and it seems the most sensible place to focus on. Geordi, I’m hoping that you can help her. Remember everyone, this is a multi-cultural ship, home to aliens of different species. This is a party, but we still have to respect other peoples’ beliefs as they respect ours. Agreed?”
One by one, each officer nodded. Except for Worf.
“While I shall inform my security officers, I myself shall not be attending. My duties shall be keeping me busy.”
“That’s a shame, Worf,” Troi said with a wry smile. “I guess it means that you won’t be joining in with our Secret Santa plans. We could use your tactical knowledge.”
“Secret… Santa?” Worf said incredulously.
Riker grinned at him. “A Secret Santa is when everyone gets assigned to buy a present for someone chosen at random. We all get to play Santa Claus for each other.”
Worf growled. “I know full well of the exploits of Santa, his speed and prowess are legendary, and his exploits are indeed worthy of song. However, such things are for children.”
“You believe in Santa Claus?” Doctor Pulaski asked.
Worf looked confused by the question. “Of course,” he confirmed. “He is a mythical figure, much like those of Klingon history, and he deserves our respect. Yet over the years I have found his favouring of rewarding children over adults to be somewhat… biased.”
An awkward silence settled over the table, until Captain Picard stood up, adjusting his uniform. “Very well, it’s settled. A party it is. Counselor Troi shall organise the Secret Santa programme. Geordi, you’re assigned to helping Guinan. Any creative personal input will be appreciated. We’ve got a week to prepare. I’m sure that should be enough time for such a capable crew.”
He paused, looking at his officers with a small grin, before adding, “And remember everybody, let’s have some fun with it…”
Celebrations were underway in Ten Forward.
The lights were dimmed, and people were gathered around all in good cheer. Near a well-decorated Christmas tree, Riker was playing his trombone and as usual was struggling to hit all the right notes, but thanks to Guinan’s liberal serving of drinks nobody seemed too bothered.
“This is a wonderful party, counselor, “Picard said with a smile as he sipped his champagne. “It’s good to see so many people here in the Christmas spirit.
“Thank you sir,” Troi said graciously.
Picard looked at her confidentially and said, “You know, when I was a child, Christmas was always a special time. The night before Christmas, my parents would take my brother and I out to sing Christmas carols door-to-door. Of course, Robert was awful. Far too boisterous. It didn’t help that my hearing was overly-sensitive. “
Troi looked at him and smiled sweetly. “I bet you sang wonderfully,”
“Oh, naturally,” Picard said with a slight smirk.
“ Counselor Troi?”
Deanna turned and saw Wesley Crusher rapidly approaching. “Hello Wesley. Are you enjoying the party?”
“Very much so,” he said enthusiastically. “I just wanted to say thank you for the present you gave me.” He gave her a hug, and then quickly released her, unsure if he’d stepped out of line.
“I thought you’d like it,” Troi replied with a smile.
“What was it?” Picard asked.
“It’s a recipe for Thalian chocolate mousse,” Wesley said with a grin. “I had it when we went there, they make the most wonderful chocolate mousse you ever tasted, but the replicators on board the Enterprise can’t quite reproduce it properly. Now I can program it in and have it whenever I want.”
“I picked it up from one of the chefs there,” Troi explained. “I just haven’t had the opportunity to try it out yet.”
Picard chuckled a little, knowing full well of Troi’s sweet tooth. “I’m assuming that this new dessert will be made available for everybody?”
“Of course,” Troi responded. “You know, Wesley, I always say that the way to a woman’s heart is chocolate. You may find that out yourself one day.”
“ Aren’t there better ways to impress a woman?” Wesley asked.
“I’m sure there are,” Captain Picard said, “but it doesn’t hurt to have something that may tip the odds in your favor.” He took a drink from his glass of champagne. “Oh, and Wesley… just don’t tell your mother I said that,” he added. ”She’ll wonder just what you’re learning while she’s away.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” Deanna Troi said as she spotted Data handing a present to O’Brien. Picard and Wesley nodded politely, and she swiftly made her way over to him.
“So Data,” she said as she reached him, “how are you enjoying Christmas?”
“It is quite… interesting. I have just given transporter chief O’Brien a gift of a model ship. In researching his records I have learned that he enjoys building models. Based on this knowledge, it seemed most appropriate.”
“But how about Christmas itself?” Troi asked more insistently. “Has this helped with what we talked about last week?”
“When you asked to learn about social interactions during holidays –“
“I am sorry Counselor,” Data said with confusion, “but I have no recollection of any such conversation.” Data cocked his head, and Deanna recognised the familiar gesture as one that he did whenever he was checking the information stored inside his positronic net. Even though the gesture was presumably to mimic Human behaviour, she found it always looked unnatural.
After a few moments Data said, “It is very strange, Counselor. I appear to be missing a period of twelve minutes and thirty-seven seconds from my memories of that period. It is possible that the conversation you are alluding to happened during this time. I shall run a self-diagnostic later to ascertain the cause.”
“Well,” Troi said with a small smile, “I wouldn’t worry about it. It doesn’t seem to have led to anything bad.”
Back at the bar, something caught Picard’s eye. Resting on the counter was a gift, ornately wrapped. He walked up to it and picked it up. He’d already received his gift, a rather mundane book on goldfish from that nervous engineering lieutenant, Barclay. He studied this gift and noticed the small card attached. It said simply: Merry Christmas, Mon capitaine. From the man who has everything. Picard knew full well who it was from and sighed, as he started to pull at the wrapping paper.
Several decks away, Worf adjusted his uniform. It felt uncomfortable, but like a good warrior he didn’t complain. He still felt pride in wearing it, in particular the ceremonial aspects of it. Suddenly there was a chime from the door, and he turned to face it. “Enter,” he said in his typical Klingon growl.
The door opened, and Doctor Pulaski entered. She looked at him with a knowing smile. “It’s a shame that you’re not joining us,” she said sadly. “The others would love to see you.”
“Duty must always come first,” Worf said simply.
“I understand,’ Pulaski said with a nod. “May I join you?”
Worf looked around uncertainly. “I suppose. If you must.”
They made their way out of Worf’s quarters, with Worf pausing only to pick up his equipment. He led the way with a determined stride as they walked through the quiet corridors, an awkward silence between them, until they reached their destination.
“You know Worf, Christmas isn’t just a time for children,” Pulaski finally said.
“Perhaps not,” Worf conceded, “but they do benefit from it more than others.”
Worf leaned over and placed his equipment – a large sack containing presents – on the floor next to him, and adjusted his long white beard. The straps holding it on caught on the edges of his long red hat, and Doctor Pulaski quickly fixed it.
“You know,” she said, “you look good in red. How do you feel?”
“Like a warrior,” Worf said, staring down at his Santa uniform with pride.
With that he picked up his sack and entered the schoolroom, to the delighted cheers of the children inside.
“Peace on Earth, and beyond. That’s what I like to see,” Q said with a disingenuous smile. “Even micro brain could understand that concept.”
“You altered their destiny,” the Picard-alien stated.
Q folded his arms and paused. “Yes I did,” he said
eventually. “And what of it? If I hadn’t done that, then I never would have been able to give Picard his little gift. Yes, he may not have appreciated my little joke straight away, but how else could I have given him that head-polishing kit and gotten away with it?”
The aliens looked at each other with confusion. “Explain,” the said in unison.
“A joke’s not funny if you have to explain it,” Q said with exasperation. “Let’s just say that he never looked shinier.”
“It is… amusing?” the Picard-alien asked.
“Yes, it is,” Q said. “You know, maybe you’d loosen up if you had a few drinks in you. I know some beings who really understand that. It’s the best way to enjoy a party. There was this one I went to where I had a real blast even before it got started…”
The wind blew icy cold.
The away party looked around the desolate frozen landscape, struggling to make out the features in the distance. They huddled together, and despite their jackets and protective masks they still felt the cold biting down deep into their muscles. Delta Vega was a savage ice planet, and even though it was capable of supporting life, only one of the crewmen could understand why Starfleet had even bothered setting up an outpost on this barren world.
Spock pulled out his tricorder, and scanned the readings with his usual efficiency. He pointed off into the distance and simply stated, “The outpost lies 2.3 kilometers in that direction. I suggest a brisk pace so as to avoid detection by the indigenous lifeforms. Mister Scott, please stay close to the security officers. We must investigate what has happened there. This base is of strategic importance to the Federation.”
Montgomery Scott nodded and simply said, “Aye, sir.” He considered how he’d been lucky to avoid being posted to a world like this. He just wished that the Enterprise had been able to land them closer to that damned outpost, but the radiation levels from the base had made it impossible. He picked up his equipment and sighed.
“We’re lucky that we were so close to this planet that we could pick up the generator explosion when it happened,” Scotty said.
Spock considered this for a moment. They had been returning from Vulcan, where he’d been settling disputes with T’Pring. While he was free of the effects of the Pon Farr, he still preferred not to talk about the incident that had led up to his duel against Kirk that the captain had barely survived. “Indeed. It is most fortunate.”
The four heavily-armed security guards flanked Scott, doing their duty as they set off in the direction that Spock had indicated. It was tough going, but before long they saw a tower silhouetted in the distance.
As they approached, Lieutenant Parker turned to Scott and asked, “Is it always this cold here, sir?”
Scotty chuckled. “Aye lad, that’s what I’ve heard.”
“The weather doesn’t seem to be affecting Mister Spock at all.”
“Don’t you believe it, lad,” Scotty said with a grimace. “He may be tough, but his world’s like a bloody desert. If anybody’s feeling it the worst, it’ll be him. He just holds it all together better than most.”
Another security officer, Ensign Wyatt, asked, “Do you have any idea why the outpost would have had a generator explosion?”
“It could have been one of a hundred reasons,” Scotty replied. “Anything from a faulty power core through to sabotage. But it’s a damned certainty that those poor buggers that were stationed there are dead. If the explosion didn’t kill them, the radiation would have.”
“Are you sure that the inoculations Doctor McCoy gave us will keep us safe?”
“Aye, I’d stake my life on it. He’s never let us down yet.”
As they neared the entrance of the outpost, Spock suddenly signaled them to stop. Scotty and the security officers approached cautiously, as Spock checked his phaser. Looking at the entrance, Scotty saw what had worried Spock. A part of the building had been demolished.
“It looks like the explosion caused more damage than we thought,” Ensign Wyatt said.
“Impossible,” Scotty said. “The reactor’s in the far side of the building. The containment shields would have triggered instantly, there’s no way this could have been from the explosion.”
“ Klingons?” Parker asked.
“Unlikely,” Spock replied, “there are no blast marks at all. Also, the rubble is predominantly scattered inside, which points to a breach from the outside. It is unlikely that Klingons would have been able to do this without the use of weaponry. I recommend caution.”
They made their way into the base without incident, Spock scanning the whole time, while the security officers lit up the area with flashlights and remained on high alert. Scotty looked around, and noticed the decorations that had been set up. They had clearly been preparing for their Christmas party, with overturned tables littering the area. Bottles of alcohol and bowls of food were scattered about on the floor. Then he saw all the bodies lying about the place.
“Those poor devils,” he said mournfully.
Spock raced over to them and ran his tricorder over them in a cursory way. “Fascinating,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Is that all you’ve got to say?” Ensign Wyatt responded angrily. “There must be twenty people here, all lying dead, and you’re looking at them like they’re some sort of science experiment.”
“That’s enough, Wyatt,” Parker snapped.
Spock stared at his fellow crew members and raised an eyebrow. “I apologise for being dispassionate about the situation. I was merely expressing curiosity as to how they died. It appears that the entire compliment of officers were all gathered here, but did not die from radiation. Nor were they caught in the explosion, as we are still too far from the generator.”
“Then what happened to them?” Scotty asked.
Spock studied the body one of the fallen Starfleet personnel laying at his feet, an engineering officer. He noticed a strange mark on her hand, slightly bloodied. “I am unsure, but it appears that he was cut by some sort of creature.” Spock approached another body, and noticed a similar mark on this crewman’s neck. As he checked the bodies, it seemed evident that every single person on the base had suffered the same fate.
“Mister Scott, I suggest that you check the generator quickly. Evidence suggests that the creature that attacked may come back at any time.”
Scotty quickly took his equipment and made his way down one of the long corridors, flanked by three of the security officers, while Spock and Ensign Wyatt remained behind in the mess hall.
“I’d… like to apologise, sir,” Wyatt said after a few moments.
Spock nodded. “It is understandable, Ensign. You are young, and the situation is tense. However, in future you should try to keep your emotions in check.”
“Thank you sir, I’ll try my best.”
Spock nodded again, and continued studying the bodies. Even though he had medical knowledge, he would have preferred the assistance of Doctor McCoy on this mission, but since the Enterprise had picked up no life form readings it had seemed unnecessary at the time. He noticed several used hyposprays lying on the ground.
“It appears that they had inoculated themselves from the radiation as soon as the explosion occurred. However, when the creature entered, possibly as a result of the shields failing, they had no defense. No doubt they were caught unawares. This creature must move incredibly swiftly, and no doubt the confusion they were already experiencing left them vulnerable.”
Suddenly Spock’s communicator beeped, and he answered it instantly. “Mister Scott?”
Scotty’s panic-stricken voice came through the communicator. “It’s here, Spock! It’s bitten Ramirez and Hannigan! It’s HERE!”
Spock leapt to his feet and started bolting down the corridor towards the generator room with Wyatt at his heels. They drew their phasers and as they entered they saw Parker struggling with the creature. It was large and strong, like a giant muscular insect, and was clearly overpowering the security officer.
As Parker struggled with it, a long tongue shot out of its mouth, cracking back and forth like a whip, saliva flying in every direction. Spock instinctively fired his phaser at the creature, but the blast was absorbed harmlessly by the creature’s thick bone-like scale plating. The tongue suddenly hit Parker, cutting him like a razor, and the crewman slumped prone to the floor. The creature suddenly rounded on Wyatt and leapt at him, tongue flapping around.
Instinctively, Wyatt raised his phaser and fired, the burst of energy striking the creature directly in its open mouth. The creature barrelled into Wyatt, knocking him down and landing on top of him. Everything went suddenly quiet as the creature slumped down onto the floor, dead.
“PARKER!” Scotty yelled out, and raced over to the fallen security guard. He had a large cut running down his face, saliva from the creature making his skin glisten. Scotty cradled him in his arms. “Don’t try to move, lad.”
He turned to Spock and barked, “For God’s sake, get the man a drink! At least let him be comfortable in his last moments.”
Spock turned and went to the mess hall swiftly, retrieving a bottle of alcohol from the clutter on the floor. He returned with it and opened it up, passing it to Scotty. Scotty raised it to Parker’s lips and poured some of the liquid over his lips and down his throat as the man started to lose consciousness. “C’mon lad, just drink this. It’ll help ease the pain.’
Parker’s eyes closed, and the room fell silent.
Without warning, Parker sat bolt upright, gasping wildly and clutching his chest. Spock, Scotty and Wyatt stared at him with disbelief. Spock quickly ran his tricorder over him, as Scotty looked about with confusion.
“It appears,” Spock said, “that his sudden… resurrection… is due to the alcohol being assimilated into his bloodstream. It is possible that the creature’s saliva renders its victims unconscious, in a condition that resembles death.”
He took the bottle of alcohol from Scotty and approached the other fallen security guards, pouring a shot in each of their mouths. Within moments they responded as Parker had. “Most curious. Ensign Wyatt, please can you gather another bottle of alcohol from the mess hall and pour administer some to the personnel who occupied this outpost? If my theory is correct, they should all revive accordingly.”
Wyatt left, and within minutes they heard him cry out in success. Scotty helped Parker to his feet, while Spock assisted Hannigan and Ramirez. Other than being shaken by the incident, they appeared to be fine.
“I would suggest,” Spock said, “that we return to the transport site with the crew and return to the Enterprise. While the repairs to the generator are of clear importance to Starfleet, is it accurate to presume that repairs required could be performed by these officers once they have been tended to by Doctor McCoy?”
“Aye, that it would Mister Spock,” Scotty replied.
They headed through to the mess hall, where the revived officers were slowly recovering, regaining their senses. Spock informed them of his plan, and they all hastily agreed. Wyatt, with an enthusiastic smile, called out to Spock. “Sir, what should we do if we’re attacked again?”
Spock considered the question for a moment. “It would appear,” he stated, “that the most logical course of action would be to take several bottles of this alcohol with us in case such an incident happens again.”
Scotty picked up one of the bottles and studied it. It was unmarked, but a quick smell of it instantly told him that it was strong stuff. He held it up to the little light that was available and realised that it was green. He shrugged, placed it in his pocket, and took it with him as they all left. If they managed to avoid any more troubles like this on the way back, he thought, he’d add this bottle to his personal collection and save it for a rainy day.
Back on the Enterprise, Bones and several nurses escorted the injured personnel to sickbay while Kirk took Scotty and Spock to one side.
“Well gentlemen, it seems like Starfleet owes you a great deal of thanks,” he said with a small smile. “However, knowing Starfleet as we do, it’s probably safe to assume that such thanks will take the form of a small amount of paperwork and a debriefing.”
Scotty chuckled, while Spock replied without irony, “That is the standard procedure, Captain. However, if possible I would like to recommend a special commendation for Ensign Wyatt. Despite his youth, he did an admirable job down on the surface.”
“I’m sure we can sort something out,” Kirk said. “Oh, Scotty, are you up for returning there and helping with the generator repairs? I’m assuming that you never quite got around to it, and you are a miracle worker.”
Scotty thought about it for a second and shook his head. “I’m sorry Captain, but this is one Christmas miracle that’s not going to happen. If it’s all the same to you, I don’t think I could handle another party quite like this one in a hurry…”
“Why would you cause such an explosion?” the Quinn-alien asked.
Q mulled the question over. “Because I’m a party-crasher,” he smirked. “Well, if you really must know it was just my way of affecting the bigger picture in a way where nobody got hurt. Or at least not badly…”
“That is reckless. Dangerous,” the representation of Picard stated.
Q sighed with frustration. “Now I know why you live in a hole. You don’t take any risks. You’re just a big bunch of party-poopers, aren’t you?
“Oh, alright,” he continued, “if you don’t get the concept of parties then let’s skip all of that. There’s always the concept of just doing the right thing. Usually amongst these lesser beings it involves some sort of personal growth. They can be greedy sometimes but on occasion they can put the good of others ahead of their own.”
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?” the Janeway-alien asked.
“Oh, don’t start with that,” Q snorted. “It’s such a cliché. Let’s rather say that at certain times it’s good for people to offer others a little kindness. In fact, I’m sure you’ll be familiar with some of these people. You could learn a lot from them…”
“I can’t believe you did this, Quark. What were you thinking?”
Quark looked sheepishly at Captain Sisko and shrugged. “I got carried away,” he said simply.
“Carried away?!” Sisko said with exasperation. “I don’t quite see how you can break into a cargo bay that’s under quarantine, and then steal four containers that didn’t belong to you… and chalk it up to just getting carried away.”
“I thought it was my shipment of flame gems and Antarean glow water that my cousin Gaila was supposed to send through.”
Sisko sighed. “Those containers were clearly marked, Quark.”
“It was dark. I couldn’t see properly. You know, I could have hurt myself tripping over something.”
“It was dark because the cargo bay was under quarantine, Quark! Quarantine! Do you know how dangerous that was? You could have been killed, Quark!”
“I appreciate the concern, Captain. I’ve always said that you’re a decent man,” Quark said, turning on the charm.
Sisko started pacing back and forth, staring at Quark on the other side of the force field that kept the Ferengi inside the holding cell. “If I were that concerned for your well being you’d be in the infirmary right now. You’re just lucky that you didn’t pick up an infection. Chief O’Brien had finished decontamination a half hour before you made your way inside.”
“Don’t act so surprised. Constable Odo said that he found a medical scanner on you.”
Quark smiled. “That was just a happy accident,” he said. “I swear, I was just looking to pick up what belonged to me, without troubling anybody.”
“I see,” Sisko said, sighing again. “I’m just curious, did you know what was in those containers that you… mistakenly… tried to take?”
“I have no idea,” he replied. This was partly true, but he figured it was something important.
He knew that the containers were a shipment brought in with the latest wave of refugees that the war with the Dominion had caused. There were tens of thousands who had been scattered, the lucky few who had survived. While many had fled to neighbouring worlds and moons, an increasing number had been coming through the station.
While Quark had no idea what was in the containers that the latest refugees had brought, he knew it must be worth something. Ferengi Rule of Acquisition number one hundred and sixty-two said that even in the worst of times, someone turns a profit… and Quark knew that it may as well be him.
“Toys,” Sisko said.
“Excuse me?” Quark responded, confused.
“Toys,” Sisko repeated. “Children’s toys. Not that it would interest you, since I’m sure you had nothing but good intentions in mind, but their value is only sentimental.”
“Sentimental?” Quark scoffed. There nothing valuable about sentiment.”
Sisko rounded on him angrily. “There are a lot of children amongst the refugees, and those toys are all they have left of their homes.”
Quark looked down sadly. He rarely allowed his conscience to get the better of him – a good Ferengi businessman couldn’t afford to – but even during the Cardassian occupation he’d tried his best to help some of the unfortunate Bajorans on the station formally known as Terok Nor.
“I had no idea,” he said weakly.
”I’m sure you didn’t,” Sisko said grimly. “I seriously doubt that even you could be that much of a Grinch.”
This was a term unfamiliar to Quark, but he understood from Sisko’s tone exactly what it implied. “What’s going to happen now?”
“To the refugees? We’ll keep them for as long as we can, perhaps be able to find temporary homes for them on Bajor. It’ll take a while though; the local government is concerned about the influx of too many people. They’ve barely gotten back on their own feet. Until they can sort things out, the refugees will have to stay here.”
Quark nodded, understanding the situation. “And me? What happens to me? Surely you can see that it was just a misunderstanding?”
“Perhaps it was,” Sisko replied, “but you still broke the law. I was thinking though that perhaps we could avoid any legal issues and… cut a deal.”
Quark was instantly suspicious. He knew that no deal came without a price, and had a sneaking feeling that he would be the one paying it. However, since it was this or jail, he was open to at least hearing what was being offered.
“I’m listening,” he said cautiously.
“As you know, the refugees need help while the situation sorts itself out. The Federation has managed to send through some necessary supplies – food, clothing and so on – but the real problem here is that we’re understaffed. It would be appreciated if you could take on some extra duties, maybe making meals for them.”
“I already have a job,” Quark argued weakly.
“That’s true, and you’ll still do it. But once you’re done with that for the day, you can put in some extra hours helping the refugees. Consider it a form of community service.”
“For how long?”
Sisko smiled, and the effect sent a small shiver through Quark, reminding him that this Human could be quite cunning when he had to be. “Does it really matter?” Sisko asked. “It’s either that or you serve a much harsher sentence in a cell. And with Nog at the academy, and your brother Rom already being kept busy, who would run the bar? That would be quite a loss of profits.”
Quark started work amongst the refugees with a complete lack of enthusiasm. He made a few meals and dropped them off grudgingly under Odo’s close supervision. It was menial labour and something unworthy of his talents as far as he was concerned. He considered that some might take the smiles and gratitude that he received from the refugees as some sort of profit, perhaps even good customer relations that may pay dividends in the future. Some might, but not him.
“There you go,” he said as he wheeled a tray of meals into one of the quarters that had been allocated to a refugee family.
A young girl ran up to the trolley and squealed with delight. “Daddy, daddy! He brought jumja sticks! I had these down on the Promenade!”
Her father walked over to Quark and greeted him warmly. “Thank you,” he said appreciatively. “Kaben’s a picky eater but she always likes something sweet. I’m Renn B’nhart. This little lady is my daughter, Kaben.”
Quark shifted uncomfortably. “I’m Quark,” he said. He had no reason to get attached to these people. Regardless, Kaben suddenly gave him a big hug. Quark awkwardly put his arms around her.
“She’s hasn’t given out too many of those since we lost her mother,” Renn explained with some regret. “I’m sorry if it makes you feel uncomfortable.”
“It’s fine, really,” Quark said as graciously as he could. “It’s all part of the service. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must be going now.”
Kaben let go, and Quark quickly said his goodbyes and left. As he did, he could have sworn that he spotted someone familiar standing down the corridor, who appeared to be clicking his fingers. Quark glanced over in that direction again, but whoever it was must have disappeared. Instead, Odo was making his way over to him.
Suddenly Quark doubled over and fell to the floor. Odo raced over, showing him little sympathy. “What’s wrong, Quark? Did you eat some of your own cooking?” He asked with a wry chuckle.
“Odo, something’s wrong. I feel strange.”
“If you’re trying to get out of your community service, you’ll have to do better than that.”
Quark looked at him, pleading. “I’m not kidding, Odo. I need to get to sickbay right away.” Odo looked at him curiously, trying to figure out if it were one of his typical ruses. “What are you waiting for?” he asked. “Don’t you think if I were lying I’d come up with something more creative?”
Odo considered this and tapped his communicator badge. “Odo to Doctor Bashir, we have a slight problem in the Habitat Ring, level three section seven. It appears that Quark doesn’t feel well.”
“Doctor, what’s wrong with me?” Quark asked with concern.
Bashir looked at the reading on his medical tricorder thoughtfully and scratched his head. “Well…” he said hesitantly.
“This may sound rather strange, but it appears one of your internal organs is enlarged. To be more clear, your heart is growing. I’ve seen bio-regeneration in some species, but for a Ferengi there’s no reason why this should be happening.”
Quark gulped. “Tell me the truth. How long do I have?”
“Well, as long as you’d normally have. Longer, in fact. While it’s enlarged, it doesn’t seem to have had any negative side-effects at all. If anything, your body seems to have reacted positively to it. It’s essentially making you a better Ferengi.”
“Nothing I can take time off work with?” Quark asked optimistically.
“No, not at all,” Bashir replied. “It may feel a little unusual, but you’re fine. I‘d like to run some more tests on you, but there’s no reason why you can’t return to work straight away. This would make a fascinating paper, you know.”
“Really? And how much of a profit could we make from it?” Quark asked.
Every day for the next month, Quark went about his duty preparing and distributing meals, and at the end of every shift he felt more invigorated. Routine checks with Doctor Bashir showed that his heart was continuing to swell, yet astonishingly his other internal organs were accommodating the change with ease. He felt better, more alive than he’d ever felt before, even better than he’d felt when he’d accumulated his first bar of gold-pressed latinum.
He was wheeling a trolley of food to Renn’s quarters with a spring in his step when he saw them heading towards him carrying their bags.
“What’s going on?” Quark asked with surprise.
Renn smiled at him. “It seems that the Bajoran government has found us a place to live. From what we’ve heard, it’s a small area away from the major cities, but farmable. It’s not much, but it’s a place where we can make our home for now.”
“Oh,” Quark said, crestfallen. “That’s… well, that’s wonderful, of course.”
“I’d just like to say thank you Quark. I know it’s been a bad time, and we’ve probably been keeping you from far more important things, but everything you’ve done has meant a lot to us.”
“It was nothing, really,” Quark responded, and was astonished to find that he genuinely felt that. “I’d do it again gladly.”
Kaben gave him a long hug. “I’ll miss you Quark. Will you stay in touch?”
“Of course,” he replied. “I’ll talk to you at every chance I get.” Kaben let go, and Quark quickly took some jumja sticks from the trolley, giving them to her. “These should make your trip more pleasant. Trust me; some of that Federation replicated food is just atrocious.”
Kaben thanked him, and handed them to her father to hold. She opened her bag and rummaged around in it for a moment. Finally she produced a small cloth doll and gave it to Quark. “This is Gewinn. I want you to look after her for me. I think she likes it here anyway.”
Quark took the doll. It was old, and had clearly been through a lot. It was little more than a rag, he thought. But he held it close to his chest. “Thank you. I’ll treasure it,” he said, trying to hold back the tears he suddenly felt welling up inside.
He said goodbye and the family left for the docking ring. Quark put Gewinn in his pocket and continued with his duties, but couldn’t help but feel sad at losing this family. He’d grown accustomed to them. As he rounded a corner with his trolley, he saw Odo waiting for him. He saw a look on Odo’s face that he didn’t see very often: concern.
“Are you alright, Quark?” the constable asked him quietly.
“I’m fine,” Quark lied. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“What’s that you’ve got there, Quark?” Odo said, noticing the legs of the doll sticking out of the Ferengi’s pocket. “Have you been trying to steal toys again?”
Quark angrily took it out and waved it at Odo. “This is Gewinn, and she’s mine. You can laugh all you want, but I’m going to take good care of her.”
“Really? There doesn’t seem to be much profit in that. Or are you saying that it has some sort of sentimental value?”
“Maybe” Quark replied as he wiped away a tear. “And maybe right now that’s all I’m interested in.”
“Of course, I’d have expected nothing less,” Q said arrogantly, a confident smile on his face. “I put him right afterwards, naturally. I can’t imagine anything worse than an overly-emotional Ferengi, can you? But I always spread joy and moral messages everywhere I go”
The representation of Quinn looked him in the eyes with curiosity. “Always?”
Q rolled his eyes. “Well…” he said hesitantly. “Perhaps not always, but at least I’ve always had fun doing it. You should try it sometime; maybe change that droning hum you’ve got going on into a rhumba beat. It’d be good to dance to.”
The wormhole aliens went quiet, unsure of the meaning of Q’s words.
Q sighed with exasperation. “While you’re struggling to figure things out, why don’t I regale you with another story of how I help? It doesn’t just apply to Humans, you know. I helped give one of their loved ones one of the best times of his life, even if it did cost one of their gallant Starfleet captains a leg. I know, it may seem cruel, but I was on a roll that day.”
Around them, the white emptiness shifted to darkness, broken by pictures from the past…
“Where’s that money, you silly stupid old fool? Where’s that money?” George Bailey yelled at his uncle.
The screen flickered with the black and white images of It’s A Wonderful Life, and everyone gathered in the mess hall was captivated by the classic movie. Except for one crew member, who fidgeted a little. He looked up at the captain and wagged his tail. Captain Archer was too engrossed with the film to notice.
Porthos nuzzled up against Captain Archer, and distractedly the captain took a handful of popcorn from his bowl, lowering it down to Porthos who gobbled it up appreciatively. He looked around impatiently and wagged his tail again, desperate for attention. He looked up and whined, but the only attention he gained was a quick shush from his owner and a handful of popcorn tossed to him by Doctor Phlox.
He liked Phlox. There was something comforting about this person, despite the strange scent he usually detected from the alien. Yet whenever all of the crew members gathered together at times like this, Porthos felt somewhat neglected. He spent most of his time in the captain’s quarters, and despite the walks that Archer took with him around the ship and the occasional piece of cheese he was given as a treat, he still needed attention.
He got up and started wandering between the legs of various crew members, picking up the scents of all of them. He could recognise them instantly by their smell, Trip, Malcolm, Mayweather. He gave an extra sniff when he encountered the legs of T’Pol, who was almost without scent at all. He could tell that she was different, like Phlox, but there the resemblance ended. She was cold and there was something about her that Porthos didn’t like, and he knew it went both ways.
As he wandered around, he spotted something glistening in the corner and approached. It was a tree of some sort, although from a simple smell of the scent he knew that it was artificial. It was tall and pointy, and covered with shining lights and decorations. He liked trees, but this one held little interest for him.
Porthos moved about the base of the tree, trying his best to navigate around the small pile of paper-covered boxes with ribbons on them lying next to it. Something on the tree sparkled, a gold ball. He liked the shape of it, it looked like a toy that Archer used when he played with him. Archer would toss the ball, either in the cabin or down one of the corridors when they would go for walks, and like a good dog he would retrieve it for his master.
Porthos sniffed at the ball. It smelled different, but he pressed against it with his cold wet nose and it shifted on the tree’s branch. He leaned forward, and tried to wrap his small mouth about it. He couldn’t, it was slightly too large, and the ball fell off the branch to the floor. He nuzzled at it, and it rolled along the carpeted floor. Porthos quickly gave chase but every time he tried to pick the ball up it scuttled away.
He tried edging it to the wall, unseen by the crew members who were wrapped up in viewing their film. He nudged it along the edge of the wall until it reached the door, which opened up automatically as it sensed the Porthos’s presence. The ball rolled through outside, and Porthos followed, intent on fetching it.
Porthos ran at the ball as it made its way down the corridor, only his momentum simply made the ball roll away faster as he knocked it with his nose. The mess hall doors closed behind him, and now that he was in the brighter light outside he noticed the ball sparkling brighter. He chased after it, enjoying his new game.
The corridors were mostly empty at this time of the evening, and as Porthos scampered after the ball he barely paid attention to where he was going. Suddenly the ball veered off to one side, as if it had a mind of its own. Porthos followed it and reached another door which opened. The ball trundled inside.
Suddenly Porthos was overcome by a more familiar odor, that of food. He’s entered the kitchen, and while he usually was never allowed inside he knew instantly what was going on. Ignoring the ball for a moment, his attention was focused on a large well-cooked turkey that was sitting on a counter-top.
Porthos raised himself up on his hind legs, sniffing at the overwhelming scent of food in the air. He scurried around the other side of the counter, and suddenly realised that he wasn’t alone. There was someone wearing white cooking overalls standing with his back to where Porthos was, completely oblivious to his presence. Porthos was unsure of what the man was doing, but it seemed to involve cutting something. He sniffed the air again. It was a vegetable of some kind, he determined.
He picked something else up from the scent, and knew instantly which person it was. Daniels, he’s heard this one called. While Daniels had never showed him anything but kindness, there was something strange about him that Porthos didn’t quite like.
Quietly he hopped up onto a small stool next to the table. Cautiously he looked at Daniels, who was still busy chopping vegetables. Certain that he wouldn’t be noticed, the beagle leapt onto the table and quickly grabbed a drumstick from the turkey, yanking it off. With the food in his mouth, he hastily leapt down behind the counter again and started to pick at the meat. It tasted delicious.
He knew instinctively that he didn’t have long, and after he’d satisfied himself he turned his attention back to the shiny ball. He nudged at it, and it obligingly rolled back to the door which opened up. Porthos chased the ball outside, and he barely noticed Crewman Daniels finally turn around at the sound.
Porthos chased the ball around the corridors for another half an hour, thoroughly enjoying himself.
“There you are,” he heard a voice say from behind him. He recognised it instantly.
“The captain’s been looking for you, I don’t know what he’d do if he couldn’t have found you,” the reassuring voice of Hoshi Sato said to him. She had a way of speaking that always relaxed him, and as she leaned down to pick him up, he licked her hand and wagged his tail appreciatively. “I swear, if he’d lost you and we hadn’t found you, he’d probably send us all to an ice planet somewhere as punishment!”
Porthos relaxed in her arms, feeling well-fed and happy for the attention. Hoshi looked down at him and said, “Now what made you leave the mess hall? Were you chasing something?” She looked down at the floor. She was convinced that she’d seen something shiny there a moment before, and then a small sparkling light, but it wasn’t there anymore. Clearly it had just been her eyes playing tricks on her.
She walked back to the mess hall, cradling Porthos the whole way.
Once the movie had finished, the lights came back on and Archer looked down at the returned beagle with a smile. He leaned over and gave him a hug. “I love you, boy,” he said simply.
The mess hall was quickly returned to its usual condition, the crew sitting at their tables. The captain stood up and raised a glass in tribute.
“I know that we haven’t been out here long, but it’s been one hell of an adventure so far,” he said proudly. “I don’t know what the future will bring, but when I look at all of you I can’t help but feel honoured at the spirit and dedication of every single one of you.
“What I do know is that it’s Christmas. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I love this time of the year because it’s about exactly what we do as a crew. We come together, united. It’s also about peace and goodwill, something I’m sure even the Vulcans can appreciate.”
Several of the crew members chuckled a little, and T’Pol looked at Captain Archer with a raised eyebrow. “Of course. It is something we have always believed in,’ she commented stoically.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Enterprise, a toast: Merry Christmas, and may all our futures be bright.”
The crew raised their glasses and echoed his words, while the door opened and several of the kitchen staff brought in their Christmas meals. A tray with the large turkey was wheeled in by crewman Daniels and placed next to Captain Archer, while another crew member brought a separate vegetarian meal for T’Pol.
“I call dibs on one of those drumsticks!” Trip called out with a grin.
“Deal!” Archer said with a wide smile, and approached the turkey, picking up the carving knife. He looked down at the bird, succulent, juicy… and saw that it was missing a drumstick. He studied it curiously for a moment, and looked at Daniels.
“Where’s my leg?” he asked.
“Sir?” Daniels replied with confusion.
“This turkey’s missing a leg. I just promised Trip one, but… where’s mine?”
Down near Captain Archer’s feet, Porthos wagged his tail and licked his lips. Life on the Enterprise was sometimes dull, sometimes lonely for him. A dog’s life. But on days like this, it was a wonderful life too.
“No harm, no foul,” Q said with a wink.
The wormhole aliens looked at him quizzically.
“It’s a bird. A fowl. Never mind. I can see that my sparkling repartee is clearly lost on you,” Q said.
“This creature was corporeal,” the Picard-alien said simply.
“The dog? Well yes, I suppose he is. Or was. I’m sure by the end of his existence he was positively beaming.
“I’m not really much of a dog-lover, but these Humans seem to have a soft spot for them sometimes. I know one Human in particular who really likes them…”
Voyager sat stationary in the vast emptiness of space.
On the bridge, Captain Kathryn Janeway stared at the viewscreen with frustration. She hated having to cool her heels like this, but knew that she couldn’t risk taking her ship any further until she knew more.
“Who would have thought that the Delta Quadrant would have had so many spatial anomalies?” she mumbled to herself. “It’s like someone just keeps putting them in our way all the time just to make things more difficult for us.”
“Most explorers have encountered obstacles when venturing into the unknown,” Tuvok responded solemnly. “As the old Earth expression says, if it were easy, everyone would do it. Someone must always go first.”
Janeway looked up at her old friend and nodded in agreement. “That’s true. We just seems like seem to run into them all the time. Do we have any more information yet, Harry?”
At operations, Harry Kim checked his readings again with frustration. “I’m sorry Captain,” he replied. “ I’ve scanned the area over a dozen times, and every time I’m finding more gravitational distortions. They’re scattered around the area, trying to get past them would be like white-water rafting with sharp rocks all around.”
“All it would take is to hit one and we’d be finished,” Chakotay said sourly. “Well I suppose we could go around them, but it would take at least a week to get clear, plus then the added travelling time to move past. Do you think you can locate all of those rocks, Harry?”
“I can keep scanning, but I can’t guarantee that we’ll detect every single one.”
The bridge went quiet for a moment. It was a tough call to make, and Janeway knew that everyone was looking to her for answers. That was the burden of command. She hoped for some sort of distraction, just to break the tension. It was at that moment when the turbolift doors opened and Neelix entered, carrying a covered tray.
“I’m sorry to intrude, captain…” Neelix started.
Janeway raised a hand and cut him off, thankful for his timing. “It’s quite alright Neelix. What brings you here?”
“I noticed that we’ve been at a standstill for a little while, and thought that perhaps a light snack might ease the mood, if that’s alright with you?”
Janeway smiled. “That sounds just fine. As always your timing is impeccable. What have you prepared for us today?”
Neelix shifted a little. “Well, I was going through the computer database searching for new recipes,” he said, “and one said that cookies were appropriate for this time of year. I hope I’ve made them correctly, the shape was a little confusing.”
He pulled the cloth off the tray and Janeway’s smile widened as she saw them. Sure enough, they were cookies, cut into the shape of Christmas trees.
“I’d almost forgotten. Back on Earth it’s Christmas time,” she said, feeling a little melancholic. “With all we’ve been through, sometimes it’s easy to forget things like that.”
“It’s alright captain,” Chakotay said sympathetically, and rested a hand on her shoulder. “ We’ve all had a lot on our mind lately.”
“Perhaps,” Janeway said, “but maybe sometimes I’m so worried about this ship and her crew that I forget about the little things that make life worth living. Open a channel; I want to speak to the whole crew.”
Harry did as she asked, and Captain Janeway stood to attention, adjusting her uniform. She hoped that the right words would come to her, and took a deep breath.
“This is the captain,” she began simply. “I know that it’s been a rough year since we arrived in the Delta Quadrant. It’s been tough on all of us. Every single one of us has had to leave our loved ones behind, our friends and family, those who we held closest to us. We’re a long way from home, and sometimes it seems like the journey that lies ahead of us may be too long. We’ve had to make sacrifices every day just to keep ourselves going. For this I’m truly sorry, and respect everything that each and every one of you does that helps to keep us going.
“I was just reminded that it’s Christmas back on Earth. I know that not everybody is from there, but it’s a day that many of you still hold dear. It’s a time for family and togetherness. But I want to remind you that we’re a family too. Even though many of us were strangers until recently, we’ve all had to come together. We wear the same uniform, and our goal is the same: to get home.”
Janeway looked about the bridge, seeing her colleagues as more than just that but as friends, her new family. She felt pride in every single one of them. Young Harry Kim, still struggling to fit in but so full of promise. Tom Paris, always upbeat, trying to earn back the respect he’d lost over the years. Chakotay, the leader of the Maquis crew who had perhaps endured more than anyone, sacrificing his own ship to save Voyager. Tuvok, who missed his family despite his Vulcan stoicism. Neelix, their first ally since arriving in the Delta Quadrant, learning as much from them as they were from him. Even Ayala, a father of two who’d only become one of the Maquis to offer them a better future, now adapting to the Starfleet way of life.
“I’m proud of every single one of you, although maybe I don’t say it often enough,” she continued, holding back a tear. “Because of our circumstances, we’re unlike any other ship in Starfleet. You’re more than just the crew of a starship. I’m proud to call you all my family. Merry Christmas to each of you.”
She paused and put her hands on her hips. She turned to Chakotay and offered him a weak smile. “Did I leave anything out?”
Chakotay smiled back with genuine warmth. “God bless us, everyone?” he offered with a wink.
“Indeed,” Janeway replied with a slight chuckle. She signaled to Harry to end the transmission, and he did so. “Who knows? It’s a time for miracles.”
Suddenly Harry’s console lit up and signaled an alert. Everyone looked over at him, snapped out of their thoughts. “Captain, I’m getting strange readings from outside the ship,” he said.
They all turned to the viewscreen, and a golden ball of light filled the screen. It bobbed and weaved playfully.
“What is that?” Chakotay asked.
Harry checked his sensor readings. “I’m not sure, but its composition appears to be an incredibly small star of some kind, measuring approximately 350 meters in diameter. Yet it appears to have no mass. Its movement seems to indicate that it’s somehow sentient”
“A sentient star with no mass?” Tom said, turning to look at him. “There’s no such thing.”
“This star would seem to disagree,” Janeway said.
On the viewscreen, the star bobbed and weaved again, and flew away from Voyager.
It’s heading in to the affected area,” Harry noted.
Janeway mulled it over. “Track it,” she ordered. “It’s roughly the same size as Voyager. If it manages to get through without hitting any of the gravity distortions, we may just have found a route through. This could just be the miracle we’ve been hoping for.”
The bridge crew waited expectantly, breaking the tension by helping themselves to some of the cookies Neelix had made. They were dry and bland, and some milk would have helped wash them down, but they were better than nothing.
“Are they okay, captain?” Neelix asked nervously. “I had to improvise some of the ingredients.”
Janeway looked at him appreciatively. “It’s the thought that counts,” she said as diplomatically as possible.
“Captain, the star appears to have made it through,” Harry finally said.
Janeway approached Tom as he sat at navigation, and leaned over to give him the order to proceed. “Follow that star,” she said simply.
Later that night, after Voyager had made its way safely through, Janeway retired to her quarters. She was about to get changed for bed when she suddenly noticed something on her pillow.
It was an envelope, small, plain and white. It was unmarked, and she opened it curiously. The card had a simple picture on the front, one of a snowman. Janeway studied it curiously before opening it. The words were hand-written in a smooth, neat style.
Sending you my best Christmas wishes for all your voyages.
For all you’ve done and all you will do, thank you. Never give up hope.
You’re a real star. I’m one too.
Your secret admirer.
Janeway turned the card over in her hands thoughtfully. She debated as to whether she should contact Tuvok and alert security, but decided not to. Instead she placed it on her bedside table, and glanced at it occasionally as she slid in under the covers and drifted to sleep.
“And there you have it,” Q said with a grin. “I’m a miracle!”
The wormhole aliens approached him again. “We still do not understand this,” they said together.
“I know,” Q responded with a shrug. “They’re a confusing lot, but sometimes you just have to accept them, maybe even lend them a helping hand every once in a while. I promise, they do get better.”
The wormhole aliens looked at each other, uncertain. “You are patient with them. Understanding.”
“Yes, I suppose I am,” Q said with a mischievous smile. “What can I say, I’m just a good person, I guess.”
The representation of Quinn looked at Q dispassionately. “Thank you. Your powers are now restored to you. You may go.”
Q looked around and said, “Thank you. You know, there may be hope for you yet.” He clicked his fingers and grinned at them. “Merry Christmas,” he added. He clicked his fingers again and disappeared in a flash of light.
Slowly the glowing white surroundings of the wormhole aliens changed, almost imperceptibly. The aliens looked around, uncertain as to what was going on. Something was falling from the white glow above them. They all extended their hands upwards as the white became snow, and in the background the low droning beat started to speed up.
“This is unusual,” one alien said.
“Unexpected,” another agreed.
“Merry,” said the third, whose foot had started to tap against its will, as Q’s rhumba beat slowly took control of them.