She didn't know if this would work, but she had to try. Kes sat in her room alone, staring into the meditation candle Tuvok had given her, trying simultaneously to clear her mind and to open it.
The hum of voices all around, the sweet reassuring sound of life. And below it/above it, resonating, a sense of presence. The difference between conversations in another room and a booming bass drum in the holodeck when you're twenty meters away. Unimaginably loud, powerful, a music that could overwhelm her and sweep her away, annihilate her sense of self in its rhythm. She focused on the sound, letting it come to her. Push distractions out of the mind, push away the sweet lilting hum of the music of thought all around her and hear only one thing. Let the sound of the drum fill her world, let herself open to it. Chakotay and Tom had both played instruments like that in the holodeck, different musical traditions but percussions so loud they filled the world, took her over with the need to dance and shake. If you let yourself be swept into it you could start to hear the rest of the music, start to sing along, and then if you were musical you could "jam" and add your music to it. Kes couldn't play an instrument. This was her instrument, this was her music.
She let the booming thought fill her world, let its power surround her. She opened to it and let it fill her, drown out everything else. It was taking over all her senses. Flashes of light sparked behind her eyes in time with the thundering rhythm, and her skin prickled as if she sat in a cloud of electricity.
And then presence noticed her. She felt the unbearable pressure of a gaze turning, recognizing her, seeing her and through her and pinning her to reality with the power of nothing more than a look and she was drowning in it the pressure of the booming sound and the brilliance in her closed eyes and she screamed. "Q!"
Then all was silence.
Kes carefully opened her eyes. Her captain's visitor was sprawled on her bed, sideways, head propped on his hand. "Well, now. I didn't know any of Kathy's little pals could do that. Do you know exactly how close you came to burning your mind into a charred little cinder? That would've really endeared me to Kathy, I'm sure. 'You know that Ocampa nurse you used to have? Well, she tried to read my mind, and... I'm sure you could hold a very nice funeral for the scraps left over.' Oh, that'd certainly get me into her pants."
"I had to talk to you. I didn't know another way to get your attention."
"I hear opening your mouth and flapping your lips works wonders."
"I didn't know if you'd notice. You only seem to be paying attention to the Captain."
"Oh, well... there is that. I admit I'm a little distracted."
"You do know, it isn't going to work. You aren't going to ever get her to agree to have your child."
"O ye of little faith. I'm a Q. I can do anything."
"Are you going to rape her? Or control her mind?" Kes asked evenly.
Q made a disgusted face. "No. I said I'm a Q, not a Kazon. What sort of lousy mother would she make if she didn't agree to it?"
"She's not going to agree to it."
"Oh, and you know this because....? Are you claiming to omniscience now?"
"I don't think you're really omniscient. You know a lot, but if you were all-knowing, you'd have figured it out already. This isn't an easy universe to be a woman in. There are a lot of races like the Kazon, that don't think a woman can lead. And while humans don't have any trouble following a woman, they would think less of her if she gave her body to someone she didn't love, or even want, in order to get him to do her a favor, even if it was a favor that benefited all the humans here. The Captain can't do anything to jeopardize her command."
Q sat up. "You're trying to tell me starship captains can't have sex? That's absurd. Besides, I know it's not true."
"No, I'm not. The Captain could have sex with a man she loved, or liked a lot, or even someone she just desired. What she can't do is be a prostitute. She doesn't love you, she doesn't like you all that much, she doesn't desire you, and she doesn't want to have anyone's child in the first place. Captain Janeway wouldn't be a very good mother, and she knows that."
"Oh, to the contrary. I think she'd make a wonderful mother. She already treats this entire crew as her children."
"And that's why she can't have a real child. Either we'd suffer the loss of her attention or the child would suffer sharing her with a whole ship. The Captain wouldn't want to do that to a baby. Not even to stop a war. So no, she's not going to have your child, and it doesn't matter how many times you ask, or what you offer. Maybe if you'd made friends with her ahead of time it might have worked but now she'll always see an ulterior motive if you try."
His eyes narrowed. "And is that why you risked your life to summon me? Just to tell me give up, go home and get myself shot?"
"Actually I had another idea in mind." Kes got to her feet and went over to him where he sat on the bed, standing in front of him. Like most human males, he had automatically sat with his legs spread, making room for human-normal oversized genitals. She stood between his legs, close enough that if she leaned forward too far she'd be bumping her head into his. "I want you to have a child with me instead."
His eyes went very, very hard. "Do you think you need to offer yourself up as some kind of sacrifice in your captain's place? Because it's not impressing me."
"No, I'm not offering to sacrifice myself. I want to have a baby. With you." She reached out and touched his hair, lightly. "You can read my mind, can't you?"
"I'd rather not. Going about reading everyone's minds makes life awfully dull. I do, however, know quite enough to know you aren't in love with me, nor particularly attracted to me, so you are, as they say on Earth, full of shit."
She shook her head. "I didn't say I wanted your love. Or sex. I said I wanted to have your baby. I don't dislike you, Q; the humans all seem to be very angry at the idea of a powerful being who could put them at his mercy being anywhere near them, but I've been the slave of a god who thought he was helping my people by making us his pets, giving us no freedom. In the records I've read you've never done that. You never asked anyone to worship you, you never altered anyone's mind, you never imprisoned people for their own good. You once tried to make Captain Picard say he needed you but you didn't do it by enslaving him. I respect that."
He disappeared from the slightly compromising position she'd put him in and reappeared halfway across her room, leaning against the wall, arms folded. "Let me get this straight. You want to have a child with me because you respect me for being a powerful being who doesn't run around pretending to be a god?"
"Well, for all I know you do run around pretending to be a god, but as far as I know you seem to be more interested in helping the species you like achieve their potential and solve their own problems, not in taking care of them until they become completely helpless and dependent on you. So I respect you. But that's not the main reason." She sat down on the bed, looking at him. "I want a baby, and when I heard what you were here for, I realized you were my best chance of having one."
"Ah, yes. That sad little extinction pattern programmed into your genome, gone even more miswired than usual in your case."
"The Elogium is an extinction pattern?"
"It is if you can only do it once, in your lifetime, and bear only one child from it. Obviously your Caretaker did a bit more than simply make you helpless and dependent on him." He moved toward her. "And you, poor lost little exploring Kes, without the drugs in your food to restrict the Elogium to your time of full maturity, completely short-circuited. No baby for Kes. Probably ever. So sad. Is that what this is about? Your biological clock is ticking so hard you'll sleep with any random male-seeming creature who can snap his fingers and give you an Elogium back?"
"Not entirely. If I asked the Doctor to devote himself to finding a way to help me reproduce again I'm sure he could come up with something. But who could I have, on this ship? Neelix? I love him, I always will... but I've outgrown him. He was my first sweetheart, he gave me the universe, but he can't look at me and not see the naïve one-year-old I was when I met him. To him I'll always be a child, until I'm going gray and dying, and then it will be too late. Tom? Someone else? I might fall in love again-- I hope I do. But any hybrid child I have will either grow up so slowly that I'll have to leave them an orphan and never see them grown, or age so fast their father has to watch them die in a small fraction of his life, or maybe both. And what kind of heritage is that to give a child? If your mother had only not been Ocampa, you could have lived 120 years, but now you'll live a fourth of that, and she died of old age before you were into your adolescence? How could they not hate me for giving them such a heritage, such a life?"
"Somebody sounds bitter about her lifespan."
"I'm not bitter, but the life I've chosen is a constant reminder of how soon I'll die. I never thought there was anything strange about dying at nine, when I lived at home. Now I'm surrounded by people who will live another eight of my lifespans, on top of what they've already had. They talk about how hard it is to imagine spending seventy years getting home. If it takes them seven years I'll probably never see their home. With good medical care I might make it to fourteen or fifteen like Suspiria's Ocampa did, but it's still so short. I want to make the most of my life... but I can't." She looked at her hands, wringing them in frustration. "Being on Voyager has given me so much opportunity to explore the universe, to see wonders I'd never have seen if I'd stayed home. But I know I can be more than this. I can feel it. Yet... it's not like anyone discourages me, but they don't see me as I am. I'm a mature woman in her prime and the man I love sees me as a naïve adolescent and the man I work with every day sees me as a callow apprentice and no one sees that I'm adult. Or that I don't have as much time as they do."
"And if you gave me a child, you think I'd give you a longer life?" He circled her slowly, his eyes never leaving her face.
She looked up to meet his gaze. "I'm not asking for that. I'm asking you to give me a child who'll live forever. I'm asking for the opportunity to create something eternal. So even if I only live another five years or so, someone who loves me will remember me until the end of time, and the things I have done in my life will shape the universe forever."
He broke into a broad grin. "You're ambitious! You want to have my child because you want to be the mother of a god, don't you?"
"Doesn't every mother want her children to be the best they could be?"
"If that were true Kathy should have been jumping at the chance."
"Well... I think the Captain, all of the humans really, are afraid of change. Their species has come so far and done so much that they think that being human, being human the way they're human, is the best thing they could be. They'd embrace an alien, for love, but not someone as alien as you are. Not someone who represents such an incredible force for change. I'm not afraid of change. I know I can be more than I am, I know my people can be more than they are, and that's part of my goal in life, to become that, and maybe show others the way, if I can. And if I could have a child who'd be far far more than I could ever be, that's all right. I like that idea. I want it."
"You want to be more than you are," he said softly. "Interesting." He turned his head sideways, studying her, then straightened himself. "What's in it for me?"
"Well, you're fighting a war. That means you have enemies, and your enemies are also Q so they have all your powers and they can find out anything you know, right? So if you have a child with a mortal you're going to have to protect that mortal, and that child, or your enemies are going to figure out what you're trying to do and stop you. I mean, that's what enemies do. I also know that if a Q child is born in a mortal's form they don't get their powers until they're at the end of adolescence, at least if it always works the way it did for that human girl I read about. And I know time doesn't mean as much to you as it does to us, but wouldn't it be easier to protect a mortal child from your enemies for one year than for eighteen?"
"It might not work like that. I'd expected to take the child to the Continuum as soon as it's born."
"If you're really trying to get some new and different traits into the Continuum, that would be a mistake. You should let your child be culturally a hybrid if you really want him or her to bring new ideas into the Continuum. And... technically, haven't you already had a Q who used to be human? I understand from the records that she had two Q parents, not one, but if you were trying to introduce different traits into the Continuum don't you already have some human?"
"Not genetically. Besides. Humans are a very interesting species. Far more interesting than yours, I'm afraid. They've grown and expanded themselves to create an alliance of races spanning almost an eighth of the galaxy. What have you done lately?"
"What have we been allowed to do? Human gods weren't real. They didn't hold them back."
"Actually some human gods were real. But... you have a point about not holding them back. No human god or tribal god-image ever suppressed their lifespan or drastically reduced their reproductive capacity, at least not in large numbers. Such images were used to control their scientific thought, though, and their ability to explore the universe around them, and their ability to explore their own minds. And for the most part they threw off that control. Can you say the same?"
"I can say that to throw off the control of the Caretaker was literally to die or become enslaved. I wanted to expand my mind, to explore the universe around me, and I ended up a slave of the Kazon. If it hadn't been for Neelix and Voyager my explorations would have ended right there. Humans never had to fight something like that. I think we Ocampa could become far, far more than we are if we're allowed a planet where we can be self-sufficient, not the pawns of any gods or slaves to any conqueror races. I know the humans are your favorites, Q, but I think other species have potential too. And I think we Ocampa could have been so much more if Suspiria and the Caretaker hadn't interfered with us."
"So you want to have a god-child in the hope that they'll protect your people and give them that chance you want?"
"I don't know if the Continuum allows such things at all. But if it did, you'd be the right god to have such a child with. Because I can't imagine you raising your child to make favored mortals into helpless pets. That's not what you do at all. Is it?"
"No. It's not." He sat down next to her. "You've given this quite a lot of thought, haven't you."
"Yes. And that's another thing. If Captain Janeway ever did agree to have your child it'd be out of duty. That's a bad reason to have a child, and I keep thinking she'd resent that child, or resent the fact that when the child grows up it will go away and join the Continuum. If she had a child with you that child would never follow in her footsteps and go into Starfleet. If I had a child with you that child would follow in my footsteps, to explore the universe and learn everything they can. And I want to have a baby-- all by itself that makes me a better mother than Captain Janeway would be, and I would be able to devote all my attention to our baby, all of my time, because he or she would be the most lasting thing I would ever create and I would want to put everything I had into doing a job like that."
"Yes, I can see you're prime mothering material. The question is, can you be mother to a Q?" He leaned very close to her, speaking directly in her ear. "Compassionate Kes. Gentle Kes. Kes the mature adult woman who lets everyone on this ship treat her like she's barely out of adolescence. Where's the strength? The fire? The courage? Janeway has the passion and the stubbornness my child would need to have to survive in the Continuum. Do you?"
She twisted her head to face him. "I called an omnipotent being to my quarters to tell him why he should have a baby with me and you don't think I have courage, or passion?"
He laughed. "Touché. But how stubborn are you?"
"Stubborn enough to escape the Caretaker. That wasn't very easy. Stubborn enough to survive being a slave, and from what I've read about you getting turned into a human and losing your powers, I don't think you'd have survived that all that well. Stubborn enough not to do the wrong thing and have a baby when I wasn't ready, even though I knew I'd probably never have another chance. And stubborn enough to sit here arguing with a god that I'm stubborn." She turned around on the bed to face him, folding her legs under herself. "I don't like to hurt people's feelings, Q, and I want to make people happy. If I need to compromise a little, I will, if it makes people feel better. But I think those are the traits your Continuum actually needs if you're going to survive a civil war. And if I really care about something? I'll do it. No one can stop me if I truly believe I need to do something." She grinned. "Oh, listen to me. Apparently I'm also a lot more egotistical than I knew I was. Isn't that a trait you need a Q to have?"
Q laughed again. "Well, you've got that right, m'dear." He stood up, and offered her his hand. She took it, letting him help her off the bed. "Your arrogance is delightful. You may even be able to back it up. But I must ask." He circled behind her, and spoke directly in her ear again. Humans stood that close to people they wanted to have sex with. She hoped that meant she was getting somewhere with him. "Suppose I told you you had a choice. You can have my child, and be mother to a god. You get to stay aboard your happy little ship with all your happy little friends, and who knows, you may be able to talk our child into helping you help the Ocampa to help themselves. Or... you can evolve. Yourself. Embark on the great unknown. Achieve power, not the power of the Q by any means but far more than Suspiria's pets had. And to do it you would have to give up your body, leave your friends behind. You'd embrace the unknown, alone." He circled around in front of her again. "What would you choose?"
"Is that my destiny?" she asked softly.
"You have no destiny. Your life is what you make it into. Choose, Kes. Be mother to an immortal, stay with your friends, help your people. Or throw everything away and become something more than you are, yourself. What would you choose?"
She hesitated. "I... don't know. But... I think... I think I would choose to evolve. No. I know it. I would choose to evolve."
"Even if it meant you would be alone."
"If I can't be everything I can be, what would have been the point to being alive?"
Q smiled. It was a genuine, happy smile, as if he were proud of her. "Oh, well said. Congratulations, my girl. You are indeed worthy to be the mother of a Q."
"So it wasn't true?"
"Oh, it actually is. Except it's a trap. You have the potential within you... but unless you recruited a mentor from a more evolved species to help you through it, it won't do anything except destroy you. You can't make that transformation on your own... but you've just admitted you would try it, if the opportunity came up. And that is why you're worthy to be the mother of a Q. You don't happen to know that it would destroy you; all you know is that you must be everything you're capable of being. You hunger to evolve, to know, to grow."
He pulled her close to him, looking down at her fondly. "Even more than the humans, actually. I think they'll be more successful than your kind precisely because they don't burn for it like you do, but on the other hand you would never hold our child back like they might. And unlike some humans I could mention, you wouldn't turn down omnipotence to keep your friendships and your nice stable life and your Ocampan nature. You wouldn't try to break our child down to keep her at your level as some humans have been known to do to a Q child in their care."
"It'll be a girl. Mortal females seem to mature emotionally faster than the boys and seem to generally have a greater talent for keeping the peace. Do you object?"
"No. I'd like to have a girl."
"Then let's do this."
He snapped his fingers, and two things happened. First, his face and his smell changed, subtly-- he was still recognizable, but now he wore an Ocampan form instead of a human. Secondly, she was on fire.
The last time this had happened, she had had strange and desperate food cravings and violent mood swings and she'd turned ugly and she'd hated the way she'd smelled, so musky and strange. There had been nothing pleasant about it. Sex for her had always been a mild pleasure, something she did less because she was driven to it than because it made Neelix happy and she knew it would feel good if she bothered, but she'd never wanted it for its own sake, never needed it. The Elogium had been about terrifying bodily changes and strange pains, not about sex. She'd considered her reproductive options in an agonizing haze of wild emotions, but none of those emotions had been sexual.
This was different.
Kes gasped. "Is... is this what the Elogium was supposed to be? If I'd waited long enough to have it?"
"No, Kes. This is what your reproductive cycle would have been if the Caretaker hadn't interfered." She was naked, and so was he, and they were on a bed somewhere which wasn't actually her bed which was just as well because she really didn't want Neelix walking in, and she hadn't noticed when it had changed but it didn't matter because his hands were running over her body and she was on fire. She moaned. This almost hurt. But she wanted more of it. Was this what it felt like to need, like the humans did, like Neelix had every ten months or so?
Her own smell had changed but it wasn't unpleasant like it'd been last time, or maybe it just wasn't unpleasant to her. Parts of her body had swollen until the skin peeled back and when he trailed a finger along them she arched her whole body and screamed, filling up with so much sensation she didn't know what to do about it. Between her legs she was hungry, aching, needing something, and he smelled so good she wanted to devour him.
She threw herself on him, licking, biting, rubbing herself against him wildly. In between the waves of sensation she managed to gasp out, "Is this... should Ocampa have always mated like this? Or... you're doing it... with your powers?"
"No, no, this is all you. I only unlocked your genetic potential. Well, and skipped all the buildup. You were supposed to undergo three days of Elogium before reaching this point but who wants to wait that long?"
"Oh, please... I need... give me..."
Part of her mind was distantly shocked at herself. The Kazon had raped her when she'd been their slave, of course, something she'd never told Neelix. Kazon male organs were short but very thick, and they'd torn her. She'd never wanted anything inside her like that again. Talaxians had nothing but a very rigid, circular bone and a sphincter muscle; with a Talaxian woman the bones were supposed to interlock to make a seal, but since she had nothing like that all she had ever been able to do for Neelix was to rub her groin against his bone circle and the sweetly sensitive muscle inside it until it opened and he climaxed. Their sexual incompatibility had made him perfect for her.
But Ocampa were built more like humans, essentially the same in fact except that their male organs were longer and thinner. She'd never actually wanted either an Ocampan man or a human one; anything up inside her seemed like it would be too much like what the Kazon did. Now, though. Now every part of the inside of her seemed to be hungry to be touched, to press against something, to embrace. Oh, she needed it, and all Q was doing was teasing her, touching her everywhere except in the place and with the organ she most desperately wanted.
"Do you feel anything?" she whispered hoarsely. "Do you feel any of this?" He couldn't possibly burn like she did and still be teasing her like this.
"I'm not the one in a heat cycle," he said. His eyes were amused. "But I'm enjoying seeing how you react. It generally takes using my powers to get a human to this point."
She ground her hips into him, fingernails digging into his shoulders. He wouldn't stop running his hands over her swollen buttocks, sending shocks of fiery sensation all throughout her, almost pain but she wanted more, she wanted him to stop, she wanted him never to stop, she wanted him to fuck her and the words to that effect groaned their way out of her, too far gone to know how embarrassed she was anymore. Let him be amused, let him enjoy the power his body had over hers, if only he would give it to her now.
"I thought you'd never ask," he whispered. Q rolled her off of him, onto her stomach, and slid onto her back. Kes screamed as the wonderful silken weight of his thighs pressed against her sensitive buttocks, pushing them apart. It was too good. She would die. Oh please--
--And then he was inside her, riding her hard, shoving into the soft fleshy membrane at the far back of her vagina again and again, making the sphincter there release and let him up all the way into her womb, the tip of him running over the flesh inside her uterus again and again. The pleasure radiated all the way up her from her groin and buttocks to the middle of her abdomen. Thought was disintegrating, and the presence, the deep powerful rumbling mind of her lover, was growing to swallow her again and she was opening to it, barriers down, letting a thunderstorm rage into her mind and dash her sense of self to pieces as her body turned into nothing but a burning receptacle for pleasure, everything reducing down to the feel of his body against her and his penis all the way up inside her stroking her where he'd give her her child and the impossibly loud rhythm of his mind sweeping everything away. Stars. The abyss, forever extending. The fire of a sun. Thunder and lightning. A whirlpool, drawing her down.
She blacked out.
Slowly Kes came to herself. She was lying in her own bed, wearing a decorous nightgown, no sign anymore of the Elogium on her. But her scent had changed, ripened. She was pregnant.
Smiling softly she put her hand on her stomach, remembering the exquisite pleasure she'd felt there, the driving need. There was no more need. She felt boneless, strengthless, completely languid and sated. Like eating a huge meal and then soaking in a hot tub and then having a great massage, except better than all of them. If mating was supposed to feel like that for the Ocampa it was maybe not a wonder that the Caretaker had changed them; she felt completely sated, and yet she knew she would not be happy to hear she could never experience that pleasure in her life again.
"Well, the part about letting my mind overwhelm you won't happen again, obviously, and if you date human males you have to remember they're not quite long or prehensile enough to get the nerve clusters in your uterus. But you'll experience another Elogium every three months or so until you're seven, the way your people were supposed to. I'd advise birth control. Sibling rivalry could get really ugly when the older sib's omnipotent and the baby isn't."
She rolled over slightly. Q was sitting in the chair across the room, human again and wearing his favorite costume, the Starfleet uniform with a captain's pips. "I'll remember that. Thank you."
"And don't have sex with any more omnipotent beings. You have no idea how hard you made it for me not to accidentally burn out your mind, or devour you. Trying to join with me while you were so full of such delicious sensations... mmm." He shook his head ruefully, but smiling slightly. "You very nearly ended up a snack. It's a good thing I'm so fond of your Captain and she's so fond of you."
Kes smiled. "I wasn't afraid. I knew you wouldn't hurt me."
"Well. No, you're right. I wouldn't have. But there's really only so much temptation you should expect an entity to be able to take. Stick to mortals from now on, okay? I wouldn't want you to leave my bouncing baby daughter an orphan before your usual eyeblink's over."
"I'll definitely do that. Since I don't actually know any other omnipotent beings."
"Well, if you meet any? They keep their hands off. You're mine. Mine in the sense of 'other omnipotents keep off', of course, not in the sense of you can't have your fun with mortal boys. Or girls, or whatever."
"I think I'll prefer boys, in general."
"Your holo-doctor has a bit of a thing for you, did you know that? Or that he can reprogram himself to Ocampan, mmm, specifications if you want?"
Kes grinned. "I'll think about that. Right now... I think I want to sleep for a week."
"You do that. Need to keep your strength up for the baby, after all. Do be sure and tell Kathy what she missed out on, all right?"
Sleepily Kes said, "What will we name her?"
"You know, perhaps it's just tradition talking here, but I was thinking maybe... Q." He smirked. "You pick her mortal name, Kesling. Pick something awful so when she comes to the Continuum she's eager and willing to throw her mortal name away. You have no idea how confusing it is to be having a perfectly normal conversation with Q about Q, Q and Q and then have to say 'And then Amanda said...'"
Kes laughed. "I'll think of something."
"And don't name her after Neelix. That'd just be wrong."
"No. I won't do that."
He was standing suddenly by her bed, and the covers were tucked in around her. "Sleep tight." Q bent down and kissed her on the forehead.
The thought of being chastely kissed on the forehead by someone who'd given her such a thorough fucking only a few minutes before struck her as very funny, but she was too tired to manage more than a giggle before she had to close her eyes and snuggle under the covers. A bright flash of light against her eyelids, and the pressure of Q's presence going away, and she was alone again.
Not alone. She touched her belly. Never alone again.
Kes smiled as she fell asleep.