Earth, the early 21st Century
Washington, D.C., United States of America
Rock Creek Park
"I WILL NOT murder an innocent person, Q!"
Jean-Luc Picard held a phaser to Kate Todd's forehead while Leroy Jethro Gibbs pointed a pistol at Picard's head.
Picard, the stoic captain of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise from the future, struggled with all his might to keep his thumb from hitting the trigger. As long as he could help it, Picard would not commit an act that violated everything he believed in as a human being, a Starfleet officer and a representative of his era's United Federation of Planets.
Gibbs, a former United States Marine and current U.S. federal agent, gave Picard his most withering glare. Gibbs also was trying to give the man a bullet through his head but was unable to pull the trigger. He couldn't even move his body to shield his subordinate, teammate and friend.
Kate, a former U.S. Secret Service agent now working under Gibbs at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, could not move anything below her eyes. She could only look -- first at the man who clearly wanted to bring no harm to her, then at the rage in the man who had taught her so much about work and life, and then at a man who somehow was manipulating all this madness.
Q, as he called himself, was arrogant, irritating and either insane or, as he claimed, omnipotent. Given his behavior, Kate believed he was all those things -- especially as he was floating ten feet in the cool night air -- yet he also was contradictory: Q said he was like a god, yet needed Picard to kill Kate to restore the future, and seemed both unapologetic and sorry to demand it.
All three of them wanted to put a round through the bastard's head, but they all were at Q's mercy, and no matter how hard they fought him, right now they were puppets on his string.
"Mon capitaine, I'm truly sorry," Q said. "If there was ANY other way--"
"There is," Gibbs interjected. "Let us go. Let HER go."
"There MUST be another way, Q," Picard said. "This...barbarism is beneath you."
"The choice is yours, Jean-Luc," Q replied, abruptly appearing, and peering, over Picard's shoulder. "Choose carefully. The fate of everyone and everything you know and hold dear depends on it."
Sweat poured down his face as Picard fought to keep from firing the phaser and ending Kate's life. Picard was in the no-win situation he desperately tried to avoid and there was nothing he could do to change what Q was about to force him to do.
As he struggled to keep from pressing the trigger, Picard's thoughts suddenly went backwards to right before this madness began...
The 24th Century
U.S.S. Enterprise, Earth orbit
Captain's Log, Stardate 44032.8: The Enterprise has completed repairs and refitting at Earth Station McKinley. We are preparing to leave Earth orbit, and the solar system, for our next destination, Terra Nova.
Officially, the Enterprise is continuing her mission. Personally, after recent events nothing will be the same. However, I have been cleared to return to duty, and the Enterprise is needed more than ever. Starfleet feels I am equally needed as captain, despite the atrocities at Wolf 359 the Borg forced me to commit as Locutus.
It will be good to return to my life as captain of the Enterprise. I welcome the opportunity to resume our exploration of new worlds and civilizations. And, to move forward from that which cannot be changed.
In his ready room, Picard looked out the window at Earth. He saw western Europe, a large cloud front stretching from Scotland to Denmark, and clear skies everywhere else, including his native France.
A glance at his PADD told him it was five minutes after noon in the village of La Barre. He had returned there for the first time in two decades; the short visit had gone a long way in healing his relationship with his brother, Robert.
Picard walked over to the replicator. "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot," he said, and within moments the replicator brewed the tea and produced a cup to contain it. He then took the cup, sipped the tea and looked around his ready room.
After briefly checking on his lion fish Livingston, Picard took his cup and walked out of the room onto the main bridge of the Enterprise. He first noticed crewpersons busy at the science, mission operations and engineering stations to his right, and at the operations and flight control stations in front of the large viewscreen to his left.
Only his captain's chair in the middle, along with the first officer and counselor chairs flanking it, were empty. He walked to his chair, put his cup of tea in the holder on the side, and then sat down.
"Status report, Mr. Data," he said to the lieutenant commander sitting at ops station.
"Sensors indicate that all systems shipwide are functioning normally," said the android officer after turning to face his captain. "All personnel are on board as well, sir."
"Where are Commander Riker and Counselor Troi?"
Data's fingers flew across the touch-screen console in front of him. "Both are on the turbolift. They should be on the bridge in 28.23 seconds."
Picard nodded. In the three-plus years he had commanded the Enterprise, Data had proven himself as a top-flight officer. The android had gone to great lengths to learn what it was like to human; Picard thought that Data was much closer to his goal than he realized.
The doors to the turbolift behind Picard's left shoulder, next to the engineering station, opened. Riker and Troi walked out and to their chairs next to Picard's: the commander to his right, the counselor to his left.
"How was Angel Falls, Number One?" Picard asked Riker.
"In a word: glorious," Riker said of the Venezuelan waterfalls. Picard had come to regard the affable, professional and loyal second-in-command as the finest officer he'd served with in Starfleet.
"But how does it compare to Janaran Falls?" asked Troi. The half-human, half-Betazoid empath had proven herself both as the ship's counselor and as a trusted advisor to Picard himself.
"Favorably," Riker said of the famed waterfall on Troi's home planet of Betazed. "Too bad you couldn't make it down. You'll have to ask Dr. Crusher what she thought about it."
"I'm sure she thought it was glorious as well," Troi replied.
Picard stood and turned to address the tall, strong Klingon standing at the operation's station. "Weapons status, Mr. Worf."
"Phaser arrays are operating normally," said Lieutenant Worf, the Enterprise's security officer. "The ship has a full complement of photon torpedoes, all fully functional. Shields are at 100 percent." Picard could think of no one he trusted the security of his ship and crew to more than the only Klingon officer in Starfleet.
"Very good, Mr. Worf," Picard said as he hit a button on the communications panel on his chair. "Mr. La Forge. Engine status."
"Engines are fully operative, the warp core's fully functional and the ship's ready to go at your command, Captain," La Forge said from Engineering. Blind at birth, the Lieutenant Commander wore a visor that gave him a form of sight. His adaptability, focus and talent placed him among the elite of Starfleet's chief engineers.
"Thank you, Mr. La Forge," Picard said. "Well then. There is an old Earth saying which goes like this: 'there is no time like the present'. Mr. Crusher, please set a course to Terra Nova, at impulse power until we reach the Kuiper belt."
Lieutenant Wesley Crusher, sitting at flight control, would pilot the ship out of the solar system and to its next destination. Although he was the son of Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher, 18-year-old Wesley had to earn his position on the bridge. Picard made him an acting ensign once he became aware of the young man's genius and expertise in engineering. Having become a very competent ship's pilot, Wesley would soon return to Earth to attend the prestigious Starfleet Academy.
"Course laid out for Terra Nova, Captain," Wesley said. "We'll be at impulse power until we pass Pluto."
"Mr. Crusher, inform Earth Station McKinley of our departure."