by E. L. Zimmerman
Glancing out across the myriad of shimmering equations, floating in sky-blue block letters about the open space before him, Q crossed his arms gruffly. Watching the traffic before his eyes, he frowned. It wasn't making any sense, and he wasn't seeing, forcing, or finding any patterns to the flow of universal constants. "No," he said definitively, with finality in his voice. "No, no, no! This isn't right at all."
"It could be right," Q observed.
"I say it isn't."
"But it could be."
"No," the first Q retorted quickly, curtly, hoping his very tone would squash any further argument, however unlikely the supposition. "There isn't a doubt in the universe. In my universe, in any event." He tilted his head, watching the data streaming by like water gurgling through a tiny brook on some insignificant planet anywhere in the Alpha Quadrant. "No. Definitely. This," he said, pointing, "this isn't right at all."
Rising from a golden throne adorned with carvings resembling the facial features of the hundreds of species that populated the universe, a third Q joined the exchange. "I wouldn't be so quick to judge, if I were you."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"What do you think it means, oh mighty ... oh omnipotent ... oh omniscient Q?"
"I'm not liking what you're implying."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "All I said was that I wouldn't be so quick to judge ... if I were you."
Well," Q1 interrupted with a false smile. "You aren't me now, are you?"
"No, she's not," Q2 agreed. "It's spatially impossible."
"Thank you, Q."
"And," Q3 interjected, realizing she had been mildly insulted, "might I say, thank Q for that."
"Shall we just ignore it?" Q4 asked, reaching out and fingering one of the equations. The numbers tilted in the air, spiraling momentarily, before coming to rest in the middle of another equation, completing altering the context of the information in ways only a Q could fathom.
"It," Q4 theorized aloud. "The conundrum."
His eyes wide, Q1 queried, "How do we do that?"
"Like this," answered Q3. As Q had done, she crossed her arms and dropped back down belligerently on her throne. "There."
"There," she repeated soundly. "See? I'm ignoring it."
"That'll accomplish nothing," Q2 argued.
"Nothing," Q1 agreed, "or everything. In either case, it's still galactic chaos, in the meantime."
Poking curiously at another of the wafting equations, Q4 observed aloud, "We already are suffering galactic chaos."
Visibly perturbed, as was his nature, Q1 scoffed at the idea. "Don't be so obtuse. The conundrum's only just begun. This isn't chaos. This is far from chaos."
"Then what is it?"
"It's a riddle wrapped in an enigma buttered between two slices of bread."
"A riddle for what?"
"A riddle," Q1 repeated, "for us to solve."
"As we've always done," Q2 offered.
"Since time began?" asked Q3.
"As I've always said, would you please all stop being so obtuse!" Q1 shouted, raising his voice towards the heavens. "For those of you who with limited outlooks on the universal constants of the Continuum, let me remind you that time began when we began."
"So that means that this riddle had to have begun far before it appeared before our eyes, and so that means that it has already been solved long before we'll reach its inevitable conclusion." He shrugged at his colleagues. "What remains for us to do is place the pieces to the puzzle in the proper order, and all will be well with the universe once again, thank Q very much."
Angrily, Q1 spat, "So the observation is unnecessary ... and patently absurd!" Mumbling, he added, "As are you."
"Take that back."
Stifling a laugh, he replied, "I won't."
"You will," Q3 ordered.
"You can't make me. As I recall, you couldn't even make a simple binary star cluster."
Defiant, Q3 stepped forward. "You will take it back this instant."
"You will face banishment."
"Banishment?" he intoned incredulously. Q laughed, clutching his stomach falsely, before eventually righting himself. "Banishment? Again? How unoriginal of you. How utterly droll. One would expect so much more of a true Q, if you catch my meaning."
Q2 stood firm, his arms raised in the air.
Inadvertently, he had struck several more of the angelic equations. Many of them were now twirling out of control, colliding with one another and falling into sequences with yet others.
"Must we always forget that we are Q!" he stated with emphasis.
"Oh, dear, I do so much hate having to ask, but your point would be what exactly?" Q1 chided.
Demonstratively, he pointed at the lumbering, tumbling, twirling, rising, and falling sequences of numbers, letters, and symbols.
"My point is that ... this ... well, it would be the same as yours, Q. My point is that solving this conundrum is not beyond us."
"It may be," Q4 debated.
"I say it isn't," Q2 countered.
"Remember?" Q4 continued to make his point. "Remember what happened last time?"
Q1 threw his head back and sighed heavily into the darkness over his head. "How many times throughout infinity are we going to go through this again! We've already covered what happened last time! We've covered it in more permutations, variations, and postulations than I'm quite certain any of us care to recall!"
"But remember?" Q4 insisted, his voice almost seething.
"Yes, yes, yes!" Q3 bellowed, perched on her throne. "Yes! We all remember! It was chaos!"
"It is chaos!" Q4 explained.
"That's precisely the point of the exercise!" Q1 elucidated.
"We know that."
"Do you really?" Looking around at the other Q from where he stood, he demanded, "Well, do you?" Composing his emotions as best he could, he tried, "Isn't the point of any conundrum to establish order amidst the chaos? To, once again, yet prove ourselves to be the Q that we are? Isn't the point to, as one of those insufferably stuffy Vulcans might say, to bring logic to the illogical?"
"But ... this!" Q4 nearly shouted, his arms abreast.
"This! It's too similar to the last time!"
Shifting in her throne, Q3 nodded. "In fact, I'd say it's worse."
For a moment, the member of the Continuum enjoyed the silence. They stood watching the information before their eyes continue on its course around their tiny pocket of the cosmos.
"We're going to need help," Q4 concluded.
A rasp of disgusted air slipped between Q1's lips. "Tell me you're not serious!"
"We needed help last time."
"Last time was different," Q2 reminded them.
"Yes, and, if memory serves as it always has, the last time we triumphed over the conundrum," Q1 observed.
"Not withstanding a little insight from an expert on ... shall we say ... human nature?"
Narrowing his eyes at her, Q said, "Nobody's perfect."
"And I'll grant you that the last conundrum is over," Q3 interrupted once more, shifting again on her throne. "This time, however, I think we will need help once more ... but ... but ... perhaps not to the extent to which it was required previously."
Surrendering to his colleagues, Q dropped his arms angrily to his side.
"No, we're not agreed," Q explained. "I'm practicing the art of concession, if you hadn't noticed."
"You know, now that I look at it," Q2 began thoughtfully, "this is looking rather different than the last conundrum."
"Enough already!" Q1 conceded, his voice firm. "The point has been finely drawn, thank Q very much!"
"I was making an observation," Q2 defended himself.
"You were being pedantic."
"What's wrong with being pedantic?"
"Nothing, if you're one of the Bynars."
"Was that an insult?"
"Au contrare," Q replied. "I was merely making that point that being pedantic isn't very Q of you."
Again, an eerie silence fell upon the group whilst the space twirled with life that took the form of unimaginable equations.
"Q, isn't there a fellow you know?" Q3 asked.
"How astute. There are, in fact, many ... fellows ... whom I'm acquainted with. Could you be a touch more specific?"
"That isn't what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?"
"That ... fellow? That captain?"
"To whom were you referring?"
"You know. That ... one."
"Which one?" Q1 demanded.
"The one!" she insisted, rather belligerently. "Don't play games with me, Q. You know the one I'm talking about! The one! The ... bald one?"
"The Andorian?" he taunted arrogantly. "The Zell?"
"The Earthling," she spat back at him.
Chuckling, Q1 replied, "You have to be joking."
"Yes," Q4 agreed. "She's right."
"The one in Starfleet," Q2 joined.
"That captain," Q3 said. "What's his name?"
"Picard?" Q admitted incredulously.
"What of him?"
"Stop that this instant, Q," she challenged. "You and I both know that he's far more insightful than you've ever let on."
"He may be able to assist," Q2 agreed.
"At the very least," Q4 tried, "you should talk to him."
"To Picard?" Q asked. "What does he know of universal constants?"
His arms waving at the lights that fluttered around the room like airborne dilithium crystals, Q4 said, "Perhaps he can be of some ... assistance."
Disappointed, Q placed his hands firmly on his hips. It had been some time since he had called on his old friend, Jean-Luc Picard.
And perhaps the conundrum was a good enough reason to pay the Frenchman a visit.
"All right," Q finished. "I'll do it under cloak of secrecy so as not to disturb the fabric of this riddle. It is, however, against my better judgment. It shows us as weak and frail. It shows we're not up to the challenge that the universe throws our way once every few millennia."
"The Continuum thanks you, Q," Q3 offered her condolences.
"But," he interjected, "you can take my word for it if you ever have before ... Picard isn't going to like what I have to say one bit."