A schematic of an explosive device appeared on the display monitor of the main briefing room. Grabowski explained the schematic to some of the senior staff gathered around the meeting table. Limis was seated at the head of the table, resting her right hand up against her right cheekbones with just the forefinger up trying to maintain an air of optimism amid her own doubts around her subordinates.
Kozar was standing to her right and Morrison to her left. Carson and Markalis were seated on one side of the table and Tarlazzi was on the other side, all of whom were exchanging awkward stares wondering why they were summoned to this briefing.
“Your goal will be to smuggle the explosive into the central core,” Grabowski explained. “Once it is detonated, all electromagnetic activity throughout the Dyson Sphere will be disrupted.”
“An EMP device,” Kozar offered.
“In a manner of speaking, Commander,” the temporal replied. “But this device does a far more thorough job in neutralizing a target so repairs won’t be simple matter of replacing computer circuits and components.”
Limis still couldn’t help but remain skeptical. “So it can’t be rebooted in a matter of weeks or months,” she wondered.
“Precisely,” Grabowski confirmed with a nod. “Of course, the trick will be protecting your ship from the pulses.”
“The shields can easily be modified with your shield upgrades used in our encounters with the Death Stars,” Morrison chimed in.
Grabowski shot a befuddled glance at Limis. “Death Stars?” he asked.
“Twentieth century Earth science fiction,” Limis explained. Then to Morrison, the captain added, “Make sure the weapons arrays are at optimum power as well.”
“Done and done, sir,” Morrison acknowledged as he headed back to his seat to the left of the head of the table. Kozar seated himself on the opposite side of the table. And Limis swung her chair around to face the rest of her officers.
“Mister Tarlazzi, you’ll need to reinforce the metal alloy in the sub-dermal transport enhancers,” Limis instructed the acting chief engineer. “You’ll also be responsible for placing a virus in the central computer core that’ll corrupt all secondary backup generators. Doctor Markalis, be ready to implement emergency radiation protocols. Even with the metaphasic shielding, we can’t guarantee it’ll protect us from the star’s radiation.”
Aurellan just nodded demurely with no verbal acknowledgment.
“Lieutenant Carson,” Limis continued, “plot a course that avoids the Romulan patrol ships.” She picked up a padd perched at the edge of the table and reached across to hand it to Sara. “These are they’re standard patrol routes. And it’ll take some crafty maneuvering on your part to slip us through the subspace fold. They’re not going to let us just walk through after the last time we were there.”
“I think I’m up for it,” Sara retorted.
“All right, people,” Limis proclaimed to all her officers in the briefing. “We have just over sixteen hours. Let’s all get to work.”
Erhlich Tarlazzi was in the engineering lab staring into an electron microscope, encasing sub-dermal transport enhancers in a second layer of its metal alloy. Once the second layer had become solid metal, he scanned the device with a tricorder to make sure it was still detectable and its basic functioning was not compromised. He looked up from the microscope and loaded the tiny metal pellet into a hypospray vial when he saw the reflection of another person on a nearby console.
“Busy as usual, aren’t we?” Q rhetorically asked. “Would you still be so tied down in your work if you knew your ‘other half’ is with child?”
Tarlazzi scoffed and shook his head while turning his attention back to the job at hand. “What are you talking about?” he asked, certain his uninvited visitor was simply being a pest. He removed another metal pellet from a petri dish with a set of tweezers and placed it on the microscope tray.
Q walked over to the microscope station and seated himself in a chair, leaning on the table to Erhlich’s right. “Did your parents not sit you down and tell you how babies are made?” he quipped. “Your Andorian woman is pregnant.”
Tarlazzi stared into the microscope saying, “She would have told me if I had gotten her pregnant.”
“Oh, would she? Let’s examine her actions over the last few months, shall we? She forsakes her marital arrangements. Then she engages a Klingon captain in one of his race’s ritualistic sex romps, but then says she has no intention of marrying him. And now, like tribbles and Earth soap opera characters, she’s expecting so soon after hopping into bed with you. Or for all we know, that hulking Klingon is the daddy, and he’s even more the fool than you.
Tarlazzi turned off the microscope and looked straight at Q. “The captain says you’re nothing but trouble,” he recalled of Limis’s announcement that this omnipotent individual was on board. “So whatever game you’re playing, find someone else to play it with.”
“This is no game, Tarzie,” Q replied, leaning in closer towards the lieutenant. “I’m a father who barely sees his child, so I can easily relate.”
Tarlazzi scoffed and then walked over to another console, trying to avoid being reeled into an argument with him. “Why would immortal beings need to procreate?” he wondered aloud.
“You’re right that there doesn’t seem to be any practical benefit. But members of my race can die. We lost a lot of our greatest minds during the recent civil war. Of course, at the rate that one of us dies, we are far from facing the possibility of extinction.”
“What do you want of me?” Tarlazzi demanded. “I’m busy right now, so can you cut to the chase?”
“There’s that word again: busy,” Q retorted as he stood up and approached Tarlazzi. “No one around here has time for little old me. Then I’ll ‘cut to the chase’, as you put it.
“Ever since my mate and I separated, she’s had principal custody of our child. I hardly ever see the little guy these days. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you. You have certain parental rights. Are you willing to fight for them?”
Q then disappeared in a flash. Tarlazzi now found he could not focus on his work as he was left with even more difficult decisions to consider.
Limis was staring at her desk monitor when the doorbell rang three times in succession. She appeared completely oblivious to the chiming until after the second one. “What?!” she snapped after a sigh of annoyance.
“Vircona, I need your help,” Tarlazzi said as he was stepping through the doors before they had fully parted. “I just went to sickbay to see Lieutenant sh’Aqba, but the doc says it’s past visiting hours there. That crazy bitch even threatened to call security on me.”
Limis gave Tarlazzi skeptical stare, certain that the picture Erhlich was painting in her mind was a complete exaggeration.
“Shinar’s pregnant, and I might be the father,” Tarlazzi continued. “But this is not about wanting to start a family with her. It’s been the farthest thing from our minds. It’s about not wanting to cross paths ten or fifteen years later with a son or daughter I didn’t know existed.”
Limis turned off the monitor and clasped her hands on the desk, giving Tarlazzi her undivided attention. “What do you want me to do about it?” she asked. “You know I can’t order her to share this with you.”
“I… don’t know,” Erhlich stammered. “I do have certain paternal rights even if I’m not married to her.”
“You’ll have to work this out with her,” Vircona assured him. “All I can do is suggest you read up on Rigellian and Andorian laws applicable to this situation. As far as I know, when and if she tells you about it is her decision. But how did you find out if Markalis isn’t letting anyone see Shinar after visiting hours?”
“It was that Q fella.”
Vircona looked away from Erhlich with a look of both disgust and a lack of surprise. “I see,” she said plainly. But then looking back at her friend, she added, “Any problems with modifying the transport enhancers?”
“No, ma’am,” Erhlich responded with a light shake of his head.
“Good. Then I’ll let you get back to it.” After Tarlazzi had left through the side entrance, Limis took a look around the ready room to make absolutely certain no one else was in the room. “Q?” she called out. “Where are you?!”
Almost instantaneously, Q appeared in front of Limis, lounging on the sofa. “You rang?” he asked jovially.
Hardly in a jovial mood, Limis rose from her seat and looked Q straight in the eye. “Where the hell do you get the nerve meddling in my crew’s personal affairs?” she snapped.
“Meddling?” Q repeated with a look of feigned surprise. “Is that what I’m doing? Is pointing out the truth meddling? Is warning of a possible future meddling? What you call meddling, what you call interfering, may have saved the Federation and the rest of this galaxy from the scourge of the Borg. Not that Jean-Luc or Benji or Kathy would be caught dead giving me any credit.”
Limis circled around the desk while maintaining a confrontational expression. “Expediting first contact with the Borg is a far different thing from interfering in people’s personal lives,” she countered. “I would imagine your superiors in the Continuum won’t be too happy about that.”
“You let me worry about that. Now think about this, Limmy? How can you be so sure Grabowski is who he claims to be? For all you know, his motives aren’t as pure as he claims.”
“He hasn’t given me reason not to trust him. He helped me escape the Sindareen. He stopped me from surrendering myself to the Dominion in order to preserve his timeline, even though that backfired. He still helped me to make things right. And he’s given us a means to defend ourselves against advanced ships from the future.”
Q grinned, as if finding Limis’s reasoning flawed. “That doesn’t necessarily follow that victory in the Dominion War is part of the ‘correct timeline’,” he offered. “Remember what I said about greater divine plans.”
“I could not care less about a far future’s ‘correct timeline’,” Limis huffed while seating herself in one of the guest chairs. “I only care about the present and the more immediate future. And a future living under Dominion rule is not one I want to live in. Even if I did know the outcome with a hundred percent certainty, I still wouldn’t roll over and let it happen.”
Q walked towards the desk and sat down in the other guest chair. “As you keep saying,” he responded in a hushed tone, “we make our own futures, with a little help from us, along the way.”
“Are all the Q such narcissists or just you?” Limis snapped. “And come to think of it, just a few days ago, you were telling me to ‘do what needs to be done.’ Now you’re making me doubt that I’m taking the right course of action. This is just another one of your sick games.”
Q wagged his forefinger in her direction. “Oh, you’re good. I’m simply making sure you are doing the right thing for the right reasons.”
“And what if I weren’t doing the right thing for the right reasons?”
“Just be thankful I don’t need to answer that question.” And after that cryptic reply, he snapped his fingers and disappeared in a flash.
Limis scoffed and rolled her eyes. Right now, she was not really concerned with whether all the Q were as obnoxious as this one. To him, she was just performing for his amusement—something to which Limis did not take kindly.