by Alara Rogers and Mercutio

Section 5

The medical report was somewhat reassuring to Anderson -- Q had not been beaten brutally in public, as Dr. Allen had implied. He had some minor bruising from being tripped, and hitting the floor hard, and the medical officer on duty had been very adamant about stressing the need to check on any head injury immediately, rather than allowing it to go untreated. All in all, it wasn't as bad as she'd feared.

But it was bad enough. The protestors had tripped Q and knocked him to the floor, and Security had done nothing at all. Anderson's head pounded. How could this be happening? She could understand Security disliking Q -- she rather despised him herself. But that was no excuse for his bodyguards to ignore him being physically assaulted. She was utterly enraged at Security -- how dare they shirk their duty in this fashion? How dare they put personal feelings ahead of their orders from Starfleet?

In a meeting in front of the entire department, Anderson read them the riot act. She felt like a professor lecturing a class of surly teenagers; there were 2,000 security personnel on the starbase, and Anderson felt dwarfed by the size of the room large enough to house all these people. She knew she wasn't getting through, but short of promising harsh punishments for anyone who allowed Q to be abused in the future, there was nothing she could do.

Security needed a new head. Ohmura had been a wonderful man, far gentler and friendlier than your typical security agent -- which, Anderson was beginning to realize, might not have been such a good thing. What she had thought was a disciplined cohort had merely looked disciplined, out of loyalty to Ohmura. In some ways he had been too soft, had let behavior slide that he never should have, and counted on his own force of personality and charisma to keep his people in line. And it had worked, until he died. That had shattered discipline, left Ohmura's loyal men and women -- people who seemed to have looked up to him as a loving father figure -- with no one to keep them from running wild. And now they lashed out with orphan's pain at the person they blamed for that loss... who happened to be a charge under their protection.

The next time she would not make that mistake. Anderson had chosen Ohmura because of his extensive experience as a security chief for a scientific installation, dealing with touchy civilians. That had made sense, when she'd first assembled the personnel of Starbase 56. She hadn't realized then the extent to which the base could become a war zone, how tensions would run high and the reason for the base's existence would exasperate people to the point of wanting him dead. Now Anderson thought that her next choice should be someone all business and discipline, someone with primarily military experience. And she needed that person soon.

In the meantime, she felt she should take action against the protestors. Though she sympathized with them to some degree -- it made her a little sick herself, that the Federation was protecting Q from justice because he was useful -- the fact was that Q had been promised protection, and that included protection from fellow Federation civilians. Besides, they were disrupting the conferences. Today she had gotten ten complaints, and while eight of them had been about Q and his outrageous behavior, two had been about the hostile atmosphere caused by the protest group outside the conference chamber. Q's work with outside scientists was the lifeblood of Starbase 56; nothing could be allowed to interfere with that. So with a clear conscience she signed an order stating that the protestors were not permitted near the conference chambers, and forwarded a copy of it to Dr. Allen. Maybe that would shut her up.

Wonder of wonders, it seemed to Q that Anderson might actually have kept her promise. For three whole days, days in which he took Naomi with him as he walked to the conferences as if she were some sort of magic talisman against evil, there was no sign of any protestors near the conference rooms. Anderson had promised that they'd be kept away from there, and so far it looked as if it were true.

So far, anyway.

But he didn't suggest that Naomi stop coming with him. For one thing, the protestors were hardly the only people he feared. So far, no one in Security had physically assaulted him since the court-martial, but that didn't mean they weren't going to, merely that they were biding their time. He felt far more secure having Naomi with him anytime that he wasn't actually working -- he did know that Security wouldn't dare kill him in front of a bunch of visiting scientists, any more than they'd kill him in front of Naomi, so he didn't drag her into the conferences with him. That would have looked ridiculous, like she was a teddy bear he was clinging to, or his mommy, or something. Q had no desire to appear that helpless, that needy, in front of the scientists who came to see him. He didn't really want to look that needy in front of anyone, of course, but he didn't really have a choice.

For another thing, Q had very little faith in Anderson. Sure, she might be keeping her promise now, but perhaps she'd forget in a week. And besides, Naomi's company was enjoyable. Not since the disastrous relationship with Harry had collapsed, destroying their friendship. had Q had anyone to talk to on a regular basis. Naomi didn't know physics, but then, Q spent his workdays talking about that -- it was a relief not to have to talk shop, to be able to just banter freely, playing with words.

And the people in the corridors were still giving him dark, nasty looks. Naomi's presence was a bulwark against that, as she was against the spectre of Security's violence. Her being there reassured him to the point where he could almost pretend he didn't care that everyone else hated him.

And then Q had a day with no conferences, and he found out where the protestors had gone.

Harry Roth stepped out the door to the physics area with an expression of puzzlement that quickly hardened into anger. There was a small crowd of people, bearing placards, and more or less blocking the door.

"Ex-cuse me," he said in his best voice of cold contempt, "but what exactly is going on here?"

A hard-faced blonde woman spoke. "Lieutenant, do you think it's right that the Federation should build its advances in physics on the bodies of murdered sentients?"

"Why? Do you think we're using sentient experimental subjects in there? Sorry, we haven't much use for them; try the psych department."

"I'm talking about Q," the woman said, exasperated. Harry had, of course, known exactly what she was talking about, based on the placards her fellows carried, and it filled him with a rage he couldn't quite understand. Surely, after all this time and what had gone between them, he wasn't feeling protective toward Q. It couldn't be. It had to be simply anger at stupidity.

"Q's not an experimental subject," Harry said in his best confused voice. "And we haven't murdered him... yet." His voice hardened slightly, involuntarily on the last word, though he'd meant it to be flippant. Give it time, he thought bitterly, staring at the women. First Security had beaten Q senseless, and now this bozo and her cohorts would probably be delighted to finish the job. It was an effort to rein in his anger, to keep a facetious tone.

"He's a killer! He murdered 300 men, women and children because they got in his way! We should lock him up for life, not protect him!"

When Harry had first heard the story, Q had killed 45 people. Since then the number had been steadily growing. It would have amused him if it didn't make him so angry. "And where, might I ask, did you hear this?"

"One of his victims told Security," one of the protestors said. "Everybody knows it."

"The same victim who sent an assassin that killed Commander Ohmura? That victim? Oh, sure, I can see why you'd believe everything she said. I'm positive she was completely objective and truthful, and I'm sure the fact that she was trying to get out of being shipped off to a penal colony for the rest of her life probably had nothing to do her story."

"What are you defending Q for?" one of the protestors, a former boyfriend of Harry's, asked. How hae Harry ever thought he was intelligent? "I thought you hated him."

"And hating someone gives you every right to beat them up, demand they be thrown in prison on exceedingly scanty evidence and make it generally impossible for them to do their jobs? What century are we living in, Jack? The 24th or the 16th? I thought witchhunts went out of style 800 years ago."

Across the corridor, Q and Naomi could hear the sounds of an argument as they approached the physics lab. Q froze, seeing the protestors up ahead. "So much for dear Eleanor's assurances," he said. Of course, Anderson had only promised to keep them away from the conference rooms, not the physics labs. Q had some appreciation for the technique of doing only exactly what you said; he didn't have to like it, though.

Naomi's hand tightened around Q's, squeezing him reassuringly. "I guess she's off our Christmas lists this year."

Q was about to make a comment on Naomi's ridiculousness in implying that he would have a Christmas list at all when he heard Harry's voice. He stiffened further. What did Harry make of all this? Would he be sympathetic to the protestors? Q knew Harry didn't like him; would Harry choose to join in with his tormentors?

"I don't believe you people," Harry was saying. "Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the fact that the man has come from a radically different culture and completely alien species means nothing. Where exactly are you getting this notion that you can believe what the person who had Ohmura murdered says about him? Let me tell you something. I know Q pretty well, probably better than any of you, and I don't like him. He's obnoxious, selfish, thoughtless, a total asshole. But he's not a killer. He considers any kind of physical violence abhorrent. And while he might casually antagonize people for fun, he has a much stronger sense of moral responsibility than you think. If he really did kill Jihana Melex's crew, and didn't actually do something like, I don't know, try to warn them about something else bad and nasty, and they ended up disregarding his warning and then blaming him when they all got killed -- if, for the sake of argument, he did do it, then he had a good reason."

"How do you know?" one of the protestors shot back. "Did he tell you why he did it?"

"Frankly, I don't believe he did it at all. Q has a way of warning you about things that you end up feeling like it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't warned you. I said he's an asshole. But he has a conscience. And I know he does, because I worked with him on the Borg project, in which he saved humanity's collective derriere. Or have you all forgotten about that?"

"Yeah, you just want to fuck him," Harry's former lover said, not having the brain to keep quiet when he'd already lost the argument. But then, there was a reason why Jack was one of Harry's former lovers.

"Jaack. Do I look like the sort of masochist who'd get into a relationship with a selfish bastard like Q? Admittedly you don't speak all that well for my taste, but then you're just an intellectual poseur, not completely oblivious to the needs of others." Harry considered. "I don't doubt, though, that he'd be better than you in bed. If only because he could hardly be worse."

Q felt an immense sense of relief. Harry was actually defending him. He had never expected that. Better still, Harry was still keeping their abortive relationship a secret. Q had been sure he wouldn't, sure Harry would tell the entire starbase what an inept and selfish lover Q was, and the fact that Harry hadn't, and it seemed still wasn't, gratified him deeply. "He does that so well," he murmured to Naomi.

"Shredding morons to pieces? He isn't bad, no. I'd give it an 8.5."

"Now listen here--" one of the protestors said.

"No, you listen," Harry said, all trace of flippancy gone from his voice. "I don't care whether you think Q is innocent or guilty. But you have no right to block a member of the physics department from the lab, no matter what your opinion of him is--"

"Q's not part of the physics department!"

"A technicality. He might as well be. You're disrupting his work and you're disrupting ours. Now either you clear out of here, now, or I'm going to have Security here. And since I'm aware that lately Security won't give Q the time of day, I will make it quite clear that this complaint comes from the entire physics department. Am I making myself quite understood?"

Sullenly the protestors started to move off. They saw Q, waiting in the corridor behind them, and Naomi with them, and glared at them both, but did nothing. Harry stood there, arms folded, watching the protestors' every move.

As they finished dispersing, Q began to clap slowly and sarcastically. "Oh, well done," he said in the sort of half-mocking tone he used when he was complimenting somebody and wanted them to be uncertain if he was or not.

"What, tearing people to shreds? It comes naturally to me these days. After all, I had such an expert teacher."

Naomi listened, fascinated. It sounded like banter, and yet it didn't. There was a hard edge to it absent in her own banter with Q or Jinn, a sense of old hurts below the surface. She remembered Roth's declaration that Q was far too selfish to have a relationship with, and wondered if he knew that from experience.

"I see you're still winning friends and influencing people," Harry continued. He turned to Naomi. "Madame, I'm afraid I haven't had the pleasure. I'm Harry Roth." His Starfleet uniform clearly indicated he was a lieutenant, but Naomi found it interesting that he didn't say it. Most Starfleet types were all too happy to tell you their rank.

"I'm Naomi Allen, from the programming department," she replied, leaving off her title since he'd left the rank off his.

"Your graciousness knows no bounds, Harry," Q said. "I must thank you for dispersing those goons for me. It's so tedious, having to deal with them."

"I didn't do it for you," Harry retorted. He turned back to Naomi. "A pleasure, Naomi. I'm sure we'll run into each other again." And he walked back into the lab.

Naomi knew better than to ask Q any questions about the exact nature of his relationship with Harry. "I'll see you after work, then?" she asked him.

"If you insist," Q said, lightly, pretending this was all her idea, pretending that her presence wouldn't be vitally necessary to get him to venture into the halls at all.

Lt. Roth's complaint wearied Anderson beyond all measure. At the moment she hated her job, hated humanity and hated everyone on the starbase, herself included for not being able to stop this properly. She felt as if the reins of control were slipping from her hands, and couldn't understand why she couldn't seem to hold on. She always had before...

The protestors had found a loophole in her orders. They'd shown up to harass Q when he went to the physics lab, which he generally did on any day that he didn't have conferences scheduled. She'd only ordered them to stay away from the conference room, as the head of the protestors, a woman named Fannah Jackson, pointed out with barely restrained glee. Anderson, herself barely restraining a desire to punch Jackson through the bulkhead, ordered Jackson and her cohort to stay away from Q completely, and told her that any of the protestors found within a 100-meter radius of Q would be thrown in the brig. When Jackson began ranting about the protected right to free speech and peaceful protests and the like, Anderson exploded.

"Since when is tripping a man and knocking him to the floor a peaceful protest? You have the right to your opinions, you have the right to state your opinions, you even have the right to mail them to Q for all I care, but you do not have the right to harass a man, whatever you think of him, and you do not have the right to disrupt the business of this station! Give me an excuse, Ms. Jackson, any excuse. I would love to have you deported off my starbase."

She regretted her outburst later. A commanding officer should never lose control. But it had felt good at the time.

Solving the problem of the protestors didn't solve her other enormous problem, that of Security. This time, Q's guards hadn't been called on to do anything -- Roth had dispersed the protestors before any of them had interfered with Q. But it wasn't Roth's job. Security had stood there behind Q, listening to the entire exchange, doing nothing to keep the peace, to assist Roth in clearing the nuisance away from the physics lab. At best, it showed an abysmal lack of initiative. At worst, it indicated that Security was, despite her harangue a few days ago, doing nothing to keep Q's harassers away from him. Dr. Allen had practically moved in with him -- Anderson had reports that Allen was walking Q to and from work every day -- but it wasn't Allen's job any more than it was Roth's, and it disgusted Anderson's orderly soul that Starfleet could come to this, a tiny civilian woman protecting Q because his trained Security bodyguard was doing nothing.

Reluctantly she reassigned T'Meth's team to round-the-clock guarding Q. It would be just until the new Security chief arrived, she told them -- if it had fit her management style, she would have apologized. Not that T'Meth needed an apology, or would have admitted to needing one anyway, but Sev, Koratagere and Veloz deserved an explanation of why she was saddling them with Q on a regular basis.

The days settled into a routine. T'Meth was able to handpick one other trusted security officer to partner with Sev, Koratagere and Veloz, so that none of them ever had to take a shift alone; they would walk with Q to work, or stay outside his room, guarding him morning and late at night. T'Meth herself spent her shift in the late afternoon and evening, when Q and Naomi had returned from work, and took her shift alone, in the room with them. Since she was the only one Q thoroughly trusted and the only one who would be silent and unobtrusive, it was an arrangement Q himself was reasonably happy with. Especially because Naomi was still there. Even with the round-the-clock Security watch, he never suggested that she leave.

There was nothing in Naomi's own quarters to be worth leaving Q for, in her opinion. They were fairly spartan, barely even personalized, despite the fact that she'd been on the base longer than Q -- she'd never been a materialistic person, and didn't need to put a personal stamp on her territory. Q's couch was far less comfortable than her bed, of course, but Q had decided on his own that it was inappropriate for her to be sleeping on his couch (he claimed that she was wrecking his pillows, but Naomi had a sneaking suspicion there was a little more consideration than that in it), and had rearranged his furniture to make room for an ornate divan, backless and armless and piled with pillows that were considerably softer, fluffier and harder to wreck than his tapestried couch pillows. Lying on the divan, piled in among them, Naomi felt like an Eastern potentate from the Arabian Nights or something. The first time she'd woken up there, to see Q standing by the side of the divan, looking down at her, she'd had to restrain a fit of hysterical giggles. It wouldn't at all do to tell Q she was imagining him dressed in harem pants and feeding her grapes.

Normally, she worked ridiculous hours, staying at the lab until late at night and then working at home until she fell asleep at the keyboard or morning came, whichever came later. Walking Q home meant she couldn't stay late at the lab, but there was no reason she couldn't simply work from his room -- the advantage to being a programmer was that you could take your work anywhere. She cleared her plans with her supervisor, T'Vai, simply because it was polite to do so, not because she expected T'Vai to have objections. In fact, though, she probably was working a lot less, she thought wryly. When you had someone to talk to, someone to spend time with, the notion of spending every waking minute programming or exercising seemed less attractive.

On one such night, in the early evening, all of them were in the living room. T'Meth had a chair next to the door, and was perusing her datapadd, something she did for great lengths of time each day; Q had made Naomi giggle uncontrollably by suggesting sotto voce that she was reading romance novels on it. Q himself was on the couch with a padd, composing long and scathing letters to people who annoyed him, and occasionally reading choice bits to Naomi, who was seated next to him on the couch, trying to work on the terminal on the coffee table. T'Vai had suggested that if she was going to be spending her off hours at Q's quarters anyway, she should take a crack at figuring out why Q kept losing files. The answer to that had proven to be exceedingly simple -- Q had, under minimal pressure, confessed to Naomi that he generally deleted them and then changed his mind and wanted them back -- but in the process Naomi had discovered that Q's files were in the sort of mess only a person who had begun to dabble in programming could produce. She had volunteered to clean up the mess for him, and would be making a lot more progress on it if Q didn't keep making her crack up with particularly amusing lines from his letters.

Suddenly, an alarm whooped. T'Meth was on her feet in nanoseconds; both Q and Naomi startled at the sound, but neither tried to get up from the couch. Naomi reached out, seeking for Q's hand, and once she found it she squeezed it tightly, needing to give and receive comfort. The sound was a Red Alert signal, and there was only ever one reason for a Red Alert on Starbase 56.

Someone had come to kill Q.

Anderson's voice came over the room speakers. "Q, we've just been hailed by representatives of the Beryllian Empire. Do you know anything useful about them?"

By "hailed", she undoubtedly meant "they've called up and demanded that we hand you over to them to be tortured and killed." Q swallowed hard. Under normal circumstances the frequent alien attacks frightened him somewhat, yes, but since all of them so far had ended with the aliens in question being defeated and he himself surviving, he normally had a good deal of confidence in the starbase's ability to protect him. After all that had happened, though, he was no longer nearly as confident. Or rather, he had utmost confidence in Starfleet's ability to protect him... it was their motivation to actually do so that he questioned.

He didn't remember the Beryllians. He had lost so much, and so many of the aliens that attacked him had been insignificant little creatures, a month or a day of effort on his part in an endless lifetime, unmemorable and therefore unremembered. And the name the Federation called them was unlikely to be the name he knew them by, if he remembered them at all. "What do they look like?" Q asked, knowing better than to try to hide his ignorance, knowing every moment counted.

The terminal lit up with an image, Naomi's work vanishing behind it. The captain who had hailed Anderson appeared there, a humanoid female with true white skin, colorless and cold, and blue iridescent scales instead of hair. The image jogged Q's memory, but only slightly. He couldn't quite remember who these people were or what he had done to them or even when it was exactly that he'd last encountered them, but he remembered eggshell cities of force shields, and felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. "I dimly recall them. Highly advanced technology, very experienced with force shields."

"Any ideas how to defeat them?" Anderson asked tightly.

Q shrugged, though Anderson couldn't see it. "As the last time I encountered them, I was omnipotent, I really couldn't say. I leave matters in your capable hands, Commodore." The comment was sarcastic, but not entirely -- he would be awfully happy to be able to mean it.

The entire station rocked under some sort of weapons fire. "Capable hands," Q muttered. "She couldn't fight her way out of a wet paper bag."

Naomi held his hand more tightly. "There've been attacks like this before, haven't there?" she asked, trying very hard to be brave. It hadn't quite occurred to her that protecting Q from internal attacks would leave her at ground zero when there were external ones. Not that she had any intention of leaving him here to face it alone. Q's face was pale and drawn, and the answering pressure from his hand in hers told her quite how frightened he was. "And we've always come through them okay."

He turned toward the sound of her voice, as if some part of him had forgotten she was here and was just registering her presence now. It sank in on him then, what it meant that she was here. He didn't want her to leave, didn't want to face the inevitable terror of the long hours waiting to die without her support; he had done it for two years before he'd met her, but he felt far more fragile than he'd been then, and now he knew what he'd been missing, knew an alternative to facing the fear alone. But having her here entailed a responsibility as well. Naomi couldn't be allowed to see how frightened he was, how sure that Starfleet would fail him, that this particular set of aliens was too advanced for Anderson and her cohorts to deal with. She wasn't used to this, was dependent on him to know how much danger they were in. "Due to the rampant stupidity inherent in any species who would rather solve their problems by killing the messenger, this is true," he said in a tone far lighter than what he felt. "Dear Eleanor is hardly the universe's greatest strategist, but then I expect the Beryllians can't find their socks in the morning without computer assistance, so I'm sure she'll acquit herself credibly."

T'Meth had been talking into her combadge in a low voice. She turned toward Q and Naomi. "A Security contingent is on its way here. It will be a few minutes; apparently the Beryllians are interfering somehow with our ability to beam intra-ship."

"Delightful. Just what I've always wanted, a Security contingent of my very own."

T'Meth ignored that. "Dr. Allen, you should leave now."

"Leave? What for?"

"If the Beryllians successfully bring down our shields and board us, it will be Q they will be targeting. By staying with him, you risk being taken hostage or killed."

"And if I go anyplace else, I risk the Beryllians bringing down our shields and blowing the entire base up, just like everyone else does. The risk isn't much greater here."

"The fact that the risk is not 'much' greater does not change the fact that it is greater. You should not be here."

Naomi shook her head. "I'm not leaving Q."

Q stared at Naomi, an entirely unwelcome fear creeping in. He didn't want her to go. But he remembered n'Vala, skull shattered from a shapechanger's blow, staggering out into the corridor to die; remembered Ohmura lying on top of him, bloody and dead. An image of Naomi in the same state rose in front of him, and he would do anything to keep that from happening. "You should," he said harshly. "You don't need to be in danger."

He hadn't released her hand. Naomi felt sure that if he really wanted her to go, he would have. "I'm staying." She squeezed his hand again, to reassure him that she was here, she wasn't going to leave him.

There was another tremor, the base shaking wildly at the force of some blow... and two golden pillars of light began to materialize in the middle of the room.

T'Meth spun around, grabbed the bottom of the couch, and upended it, dumping both Q and Naomi onto the floor behind it as well as putting its bulk between the two figures and them. "Get in the bedroom!" she shouted, vaulting over the couch and kneeling on their side, training her phaser on the two.

Q had been in situations like this before, and as he'd once said, his natural reaction was not to freeze. He obeyed without hesitation, pulling himself to his feet and running for the bedroom door. As he cleared the door, Naomi nearly barreled into him, managing to dodge around him and into the bedroom just in time.

"Computer, lock door!" Q shouted, as the whine of a phaser beam sizzled through the closing doors, just over Naomi's head.

There was no answering beep, no click of the locking mechanism. Q backed away from the door in terror. If it wouldn't lock, there was nothing to prevent the aliens out there from simply walking in here and mowing him down except for T'Meth, and she, unlike the Beryllians, wasn't wearing body armor.

Naomi ran for the computer terminal -- Q had keyboards by all his terminals, because he didn't want his guards to overhear everything he was writing -- and flopped down at it, typing rapidly. After Security had overridden Q's door lock and forgotten or deliberately failed to reset it, Naomi had written a program that bypassed all the usual command codes, the ones that Security would have access to, to lock the door on Q's or her own voice commands or terminal input only. Q, meanwhile, attempted to raise Security, and then Anderson, to no avail.

"How ironic," he said, an edge of terror in his voice. "I might have expected they'd throw me to the wolves, but I really didn't expect them to sacrifice one of their own and an innocent civilian into the bargain. I suppose you and T'Meth sealed your fates by defending me."

"I hate to be defending them, but this time it's actually not Security's fault," Naomi said. She got out of the chair and went to him. "It looks like the Beryllians, or someone, has knocked out the computer's ability to process vocal commands. Since the communications system on-base runs through the computer, communications are out, and we can't tell the computer to do things like lock the door... not verbally, anyway." She put her arms around him. "It's a good thing you have a keyboard."

"Yet another example of how so-called 'superior' technology isn't," Q muttered. He let Naomi hold him, lightly resting his own hands on her shoulders because he was trying to resist the temptation to pull her close to him. Outside he could hear the whine of phaser fire, repeatedly. "You do realize that we've just locked ourselves in. If the Berylnazis out there have friends, they might just decide to beam in here."

"Can they do that?" Naomi asked worriedly. "I thought we had shields."

"The Beryllians are fairly experienced with shielding technology... can you get that thing to show us the status of our shields?" If the base shields were down, Q thought, he and Naomi were both dead. Nothing would stop the Beryllians from beaming away from T'Meth, resetting their coordinates, and coming down right in here.

Naomi released him reluctantly and went back to the keyboard, typing in a series of arcane commands. Q looked over her shoulder, trying to follow what she was doing; he had tried to train himself on computer technology, knowing that his superior intellect would give him no practical power whatsoever and that he had to learn something he could use to protect or help himself, and that theoretical physics wasn't it. He wasn't yet advanced enough to follow more than every third word or so of Naomi's typed commands, though.

The screen lit up with a display of Starbase 56's shields, and several figures displayed on the side. "Can you read that?" Naomi said, in a tone that indicated she would consider it a miracle if anyone could.

"Yes." He felt a rush of relief, and placed his hands on her shoulder, squeezing. "They managed to punch a hole in our shields briefly, but apparently we compensated. Even if they manage to bring down our shields, we're running a diffusion matrix now -- basically, if they try to beam through that their atoms will be scrambled into several trillion infinitesimal pieces of dust. They'll have to knock out our shields and the diffusion matrix to be able to beam in and get at us."

Naomi turned her head to look up at him, putting her hand on his. "So we're pretty much safe, then."

"As safe as one gets with--"

A female voice outside let loose a truly bloodcurdling scream.

For seconds, neither Q nor Naomi spoke. Finally Naomi said, trying to keep a brave face, "That had to be one of the Beryllians. Vulcans don't scream like that... do they?"

The look on Q's face chilled her to the bone. "They do if they're hurt badly enough," he said distantly. "And Beryllians never, ever send women into close combat situations like this. Women are the leaders and the strategists -- they stay on the ships. Always."

"Oh." Naomi swallowed. It had been T'Meth then. Probably dead. Naomi almost hoped she was dead -- she couldn't imagine the level of pain it would take to wrench a cry like that out of the impassive security guard. Either way, she probably wasn't doing much to hold off the Beryllians anymore.

Rescue could be right outside the doors of the suite. Or it could be twenty minutes away. There was no way to know.

There was a whine of phaser fire against the door.

Completely without conscious volition, Q pulled Naomi to him, terrified. He knew how long it took to cut through a door with phasers, and while it had seemed forever when it was Security cutting through the door to rescue him, the fact that the rescue had worked indicated that it hadn't been long at all. He probably had less than five minutes to live.

Naomi clung to him, equally frightened, needing his nearness and the warmth of his body to reassure her that she wasn't dead yet. Where there was life, there was hope. She had to believe that. She hadn't nursed Q through so much agony at the hands of people here on the base to see some aliens waltz in and take him from her. Or kill her too, for that matter. She would be very annoyed if that happened.

The whining hadn't stopped, and they could see a spot on the door beginning to glow slightly. Q looked down at Naomi. This was his fault. He should have made her leave when they had the chance; it wouldn't have saved T'Meth (why did people keep dying for him?), but it would have saved Naomi. He couldn't bear the thought that she, too, would die here. Convulsively he swallowed. There was only one way to save her.

Q released her, hating himself for doing so, wanting that comfort more than anything, anything except for Naomi's safety and continued life. "Get in the closet."

"What?" Naomi looked at him as if he'd grown an extra head. "Why would I want to do that?"

"You'll be safe there."

"Q, if you hide in the closet they'll tear the room apart looking for us--"

"No one said 'us'. You hide in the closet, and when they come in, they -- If they find me, they won't keep looking. They have no quarrel with you. You'll be safe."

"You're going to hand themselves over to them to keep me safe?" Naomi demanded.

"That was the general idea, yes."

"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard. I'm not going to let you die for my sake."

"You have a better plan?" Q snapped. Every nerve was screaming with fear, that any minute now the growing glowing spot would melt into a hole and the Beryllians would step through, and both he and Naomi would be gunned down without a second thought... he had to get her out of the open, get her to safety, he couldn't bear it if she died for him...

"Yup." Naomi looked around the room quickly, then made a beeline for a table of antique candlesticks. She picked up a large and fairly heavy one with some effort, and swung it. "We can defend ourselves. C'mere, take the other one."

"Defend ourselves with candlesticks? Are you out of what passes for your mind?"

"They're heavy. The Beryllians have got to come through the door to get us; we can stand on either side of the door and swing the candlesticks down on their heads." At Q's expression, she grabbed the other candlestick, wrapping both in her arms so she could carry the heavy items, and walked over to him, pushing one at him. "It's better than hiding in a closet waiting to die," she said challengingly. "Or standing here waiting for them, for that matter."

Bemused, Q followed her to the door, candlestick in hand, and took up position on the other side from her. This was ridiculous. Two untrained civilians were not going to defeat a pair of trained soldiers with candlesticks, however heavy. They should have enacted his plan -- then at least Naomi would be safe.

But as embarrassed as he was, as sure as he was that this wouldn't work, that he'd miss the head entirely or something equally stupid and then be phasered out of existence, part of him responded to this, to the notion of defending himself. He knew nothing of physical violence, despised the merest hint of it... and as a result, it had been used against him, time and time again, leaving him trembling with terror and long sleepless nights, because he couldn't defend himself from it. There was a part of his mind that hated that, the fierce rebel he had once been who would cheerfully have reduced someone to their component atoms for daring to threaten him or what he cared for, who despised the cringing, fearful creature he had become. If he had to die, it was perhaps just as well that he would go out this way, striking a blow against his murderers. Perhaps he could even manage to give one of them a concussion before he died.

They weren't simply phasering a hole in the door; they were cutting through the locking mechanism that held the two halves of the door apart. As they finished, the door sprang free, returning to its natural open state. Q flattened back against the wall, readying his candlestick. He glanced over at Naomi, hopelessly, and felt wholly inadequate next to the fierce courage he saw in her face. In a fair universe, she would survive this -- she was far too brave and noble to die this way. Of course, he himself would be the first to point out that the universe wasn't fair.

The Beryllians stepped forward. Q pivoted and swung down with all his strength onto one of the helmeted heads. He heard phaser fire, and closed his eyes convulsively, expecting to feel agonizing death any second now.

Death didn't come.

Terrified, Q opened his eyes, looking for Naomi. She was dead, she was dead and they would kill him next... No, there she was, quite alive, with a dead Beryllian slumped at her feet. There was another one at his, and a considerable dent in that one's helmet. But what had killed them appeared to be phaser burns under the jaw, fired from an angle below their helmets.

Q stepped out of the room, automatically tracking where the phaser fire had to have come from. T'Meth lay on the floor in a pool of bright green liquid -- no, blood, Vulcan blood was green, he'd forgotten in the centuries since he'd seen it -- on her stomach, with a phaser in her hand. His stomach turned over at the sight and the rich coppery smell -- he was experienced with death, had seen plenty of mortals die before, but when he saw T'Meth now, he remembered Ohmura bleeding to death on him, and suddenly none of his experience meant anything. He was going to throw up.

"I'll try to send a message to Sickbay," Naomi said, a tremor in her voice. Q turned for a second, and looked at her as she ran to the terminal. She had probably never seen anyone die, almost certainly not by violence, a sheltered child of Earth. And yet she wasn't throwing up. She was doing something useful. Certainly, someone who had watched entire species die could at least rise to her example. Q knelt by T'Meth, paying little attention to the green stains he was getting on his boots and pants.

Impossibly, she raised her head. "Q... well?"

"Naomi and I are both fine," he said. "You got them both before they touched us."

She nodded slightly, and lowered her head again.

"No, no. Not like that. You can't just give up on me. I won't have you die on me, T'Meth, not you too, do you hear me? Naomi is getting Dr. Li, and I'm sure he'll be here very soon, so you have to hang on. Do you understand me?" He grabbed her hand and clenched it. "You have to hang on!"

"Sekal..." she whispered, her voice muffled against the carpet. Then she didn't say anything else.

Q had no idea how one went about finding a pulse -- it would be someplace in your wrist, but where exactly was beyond him. And he wouldn't know how to interpret it if he found one. He took off his combadge and held its mirrored, shiny surface to T'Meth's mouth, and was rewarded by seeing it fog very, very slightly. She was still breathing, then.

In the bedroom, Naomi had tapped into the communications system. She located a text-to-speech translation algorithm and piped the results through the speakers in Sickbay, to send her message, "Medical emergency, Q's quarters, dying Vulcan." You were always supposed to say, when you called Sickbay, what the species of an injured party was if they weren't human, given that the base was predominantly human. And besides, she didn't quite trust Li to rush to the rescue if he thought it was Q that was injured. He should, given that Q's presence here paid his salary, but Naomi had figured out some time ago that Q's importance was a matter of lip service only to most of the people here, and that in fact many considered him the least important person on the base.

She then sent a similar message to Security -- maybe they would move their butts if they realized it was one of their own in danger -- and came back out to meet Q. "Is she going to live, do you think?"

"How would I know? Do I look like a doctor?" Q was standing in front of the door to the suite, which was not opening. "You didn't lock this one too, did you?"

"No... maybe when the Beryllians cut through the other one, they disabled it or something. You think we should try to get it open?"

"No, I love the notion of standing here helplessly while someone bleeds to death on my carpet."

Naomi took that as a "yes". "Well, I'll go see if I can send a manual override, but if they damaged the mechanism I won't be able to affect it with the computer. You should try to open it manually."

"Do I look like a circus strongman?"

"You don't need to be that strong to get the doors open," Naomi said helpfully. "It's a question of leverage. I'll help." She quickly verified that the door would not respond to an override sent from the computer, and went to help Q with the door.

Q, for his part, was trying to apply his superior intellect and vast knowledge of physics to the question of leverage, or how to get a human body that was designed for pushing outward to push laterally in two directions at once. The way Naomi had phrased the problem, he had to solve it, because she was right, it was a question of leverage rather than brute force and if he couldn't solve it, he would prove himself to be too stupid to. As soon as Naomi came and joined him, he realized what he should have figured from the beginning -- the human body was designed for pulling, not pushing at all. If the two of them both pulled on the halves of the door separately, perhaps they could get them apart.

Then they both heard a voice from outside. "Stand back. We're going to open the door."

Both Q and Naomi moved back with alacrity, as their rescuers put something in the door that forced it open with a loud bang. Li was out there, looking disheveled, and three Security guards had guns at the ready. There was a grav-float behind them. Li ran to T'Meth's side and ran the scanner over her. "She's alive but critical. Bring me the floater and help me get her on it."

Two of the guards assisted Li as another confirmed that the Beryllians were in fact dead. That one turned to Q and Naomi. "Who took them out?"

"T'Meth, after they'd shot her," Q said. "Apparently they thought she was dead."

The guard nodded once, curtly, and joined his comrades. "One of you needs to help me carry her to Sickbay," Li said. "We've got to get her on life support as soon as possible."

"Evans, you go with the doctor. Ngowe, you're here with me in case more of Q's friends show up," one of the guards said.

Evans and Ngowe -- the latter was the one who'd checked that the Beryllians were dead -- nodded. He and Ngowe gently lifted T'Meth onto the grav-float, and then Evans and Li left, pushing their precious cargo. Q felt particularly bleak. He sat down heavily in one of his chairs, noting a phaser burn across the armrest. Naomi and he were both alive, and that was something, but the one security guard he had trusted implicitly was critically injured and would probably die. It seemed a very poor reward for all T'Meth had done for him. But then, that was the way life worked. The people who hated him got slaps on the wrist, and the people who fought to defend him died for it.

Naomi went over to him, perching on the burned armrest and running her hand over the back of his neck, trying to loosen him up and comfort him at the same time. Q leaned into her touch, needing her, needing the reassurance that he was alive and safe and so was she.

A repair crew showed up a minute later to work on the door. They would have concentrated on the front door, but Q directed them otherwise -- it at least was serviceable, jammed partway open but capable of being pushed closed if necessary. The bedroom door was entirely broken, the mechanism that would have allowed it to shut sliced open by a phaser, and so it was useless to Q -- he wanted to go to his room, wanted to bury himself in his privacy, away from these cold-eyed guards, and he couldn't do it, not with a bedroom door that wouldn't shut. For a moment he thought of hiding in the bathroom, but Naomi could hardly come with him there, and right now he needed her, couldn't bear the thought of her leaving him.

"Shit," the guard in charge -- a junior grade lieutenant from his pips, the same as his apparent subordinate -- said with feeling. "I never liked T'Meth a whole lot -- she was too cold to really like -- but she deserved a hell of a lot better than this."

"She was a damn good detective," Ngowe said. "And a good officer. Dependable, someone you could always trust if she was commanding you. I mean, she was a hardass, but she could get you out of hell alive, you know what I mean?"

Q stared ahead, trying not to listen to the conversation, to the discussion of T'Meth in the past tense. Those men had seen the extent of her injuries more clearly than he had. Probably they knew she would die beyond a doubt.

"A damn fine officer," the other man agreed. "And it killed her. She wasted her life protecting scum like him because she followed her orders straight down the line."

Q stiffened. He didn't need to be told who "him" referred to.

Naomi didn't stiffen. She stood up and stalked over to the security guards. "Excuse me," she said poisonously, "but I couldn't help overhearing. Were you actually advocating that T'Meth should have disobeyed her orders and let Q die because you don't like him?"

The guard sighed. "Dr. Allen, you don't know Q. He's probably being all sweet and nice with you -- a little sugar will do that to a man. But those of us that he's not sleeping with know what he's really like. He thinks he's better than everyone else, that we deserve to die for him because we're not as smart as he is and we were born human, he doesn't feel any gratitude at all and he just doesn't care about the people dying for him. You know, three people were killed in this attack? Not counting T'Meth, who's probably going to be dead before the day's out. And I don't care how many scientific advances he's responsible for, he is not worth it."

Naomi took a deep breath. "I see. So you'd rather have been assimilated by the Borg, is that what you're saying? Because we could never have defeated them without Q's help. I was on the project, and I know. But I guess a smooth social manner and people saying 'please' and 'thank you' are more important than the freedom of the human race."

"That's not what I said--"

"That is what you said. You said Q isn't worth keeping alive, despite the fact that he helped save us all from the Borg and has improved Starfleet's defensive technology in general by, oh, maybe a ten years' jump, saving I-don't-know how many hundreds of lives when badnasties out in space attack our starships. So you'd rather all those people died, and that the rest of us were assimilated by the Borg, because Q didn't fall to his knees and beg forgiveness for living after Commander Ohmura did his job, a job he signed up for voluntarily, and died for it. I see. I'm so glad you've got your priorities straight, Lieutenant."

"She isn't going to understand," Ngowe told his comrade. "You heard what they said. She's got a hole in her head when it comes to Q."

"I think I understand perfectly well," Naomi said. "You feel perfectly free to harass Q, beat him almost to death, make up imaginary stories about his sex life to compensate for the dullness of your own lives, and even advocate disobeying your sworn oath to protect whoever it is Starfleet tells you to protect, because you don't like the fact that Q isn't polite. You also automatically assume that a woman who's friends with a man has to be sleeping with him, which leads me to believe you don't get a lot of female company, not without paying for it anyway. But then, I probably could have figured that, as I find it hard to imagine a woman who would be attracted to such disgusting, amoral, brutish so-called men like you, who think it's perfectly acceptable to break your oath and hurt an unarmed, helpless civilian. If there is such a woman, I hope they sterilized her at birth, because the idea that your genes might propagate in the human race make me want to seriously consider becoming a dolphin."

One of the guards started toward her. "You--"

"Oh, are you going to beat me up now, too? Not enough to get an unarmed, helpless civilian, now you're going to top that with an unarmed, helpless civilian woman half your size. Come on, then, show everyone how much of a pig you really are." Naomi was shaking with fury.

Q had come up behind her during her tirade. She hadn't noticed him until she felt his arms go around her, supporting her. "Ignore them, Naomi," Q said coolly, glaring at the security guards. It was entirely possible that they'd beat him up now, or Naomi, or both, and there really was no way he could stop them. But he wasn't going to show them he was afraid, and he wasn't going to let Naomi stand out there by herself, defending him and getting hurt while he stood on the sidelines and watched. If they wanted to hurt her for defending him, they would have to attack him first. Not that he could really defend Naomi, or anything like that -- though the thought of going back into the room for the candlesticks was mildly tempting, it would be entirely too useless and he'd look like a fool -- but she had done her best to protect him, even though she wasn't remotely physically capable of defending him. The least he could do was return the favor. "Their tiny brains probably can't process the polysyllabic words you were using. And they really aren't worth it anyway."

He led the shaking Naomi away from the two guards and into the bedroom, where they would be safe and away from the two brutes. The door crew had by now fixed the door and moved on to the front door, showing an admirable lack of interest in the proceedings around them, so he was able to shut the door behind him and lock it, giving them what little privacy they could have. It didn't occur to him until after he'd already done it what the guards out there would think. But then, since when did he care what Security goons thought? They already thought he was engaging in those sordid acts with Naomi, and he damn well wasn't going to leave her exposed to them and their entirely too cavalier notions about the appropriateness of physical violence just to keep them from thinking something they'd think no matter what he did.

Naomi barely noticed being led away. She was too furious. She knew what Q was doing, could hear his words, but everything was drowned in a red tide of rage. She wanted to take someone apart, more specifically those goons in the hall who'd dared blame Q for what had happened to T'Meth when he was probably more upset than they were over her injury. Briefly Naomi spared a thought for the wounded security guard, sending a prayer to her mother's god that everything would be all right and that T'Meth would not lose her life for her bravery and selfless actions.

But she couldn't help but feel like killing someone. "Did you see that? Did you hear those guys?"

"I could hardly avoid hearing them," Q said drily. "Their sort of high-pitched whining tends to carry."

Naomi wasn't listening to him. "How dare they act like that? How dare they say those kinds of things? None of it was true at all and even if it had been, it was horribly cruel and just as cruel if not more cruel than what they accused you of doing. I have half a mind..."


" go right back out there and show them what for."

"Oh, no you don't," Q said, looking alarmed for the first time since getting away from the callous guards. "You're not going anywhere near them. That larger one was about to hit you."

"Hit me?" Naomi asked scoffingly. "He wouldn't even try it."

Q raised an eyebrow. "And you've suddenly become some kind of kung fu master? If you were as good as all of that, why were we hiding from the Beryllinuns with candlesticks?"

Unfortunately his show of reason didn't seem to have any effect on Naomi, whose eyes were gleaming. "They could hit me, but the moment they'd hit me, they would have lost everything. No one in their position gets away with hitting an unarmed, defenseless female civilian." And then she was looking up at him, a scowl on her face. "You shouldn't have interrupted."

Q was not pleased by the way this was going. "You have no idea what you're talking about. You don't know what kind of brutes those men are."

"They're not gods."

"Tell me about it." For a moment his guard slipped, and Naomi could see something more vulnerable underneath, something she did her best to ignore because it didn't fit into the way she wanted to feel at the moment. "You... they're vicious, Naomi. They hate me, and they'd do anything to hurt me. Or you. If they thought that I cared about you..." his voice faltered momentarily, "...they wouldn't even think twice about hitting you."

"All the more reason to teach them a lesson then about why they shouldn't do things like that," Naomi said stubbornly, trying to hold onto her anger.

"Fine, be completely ungrateful. Go get yourself killed. See if it matters to me." Q stalked away from the door and over to the bed, turning his back on her. His back was taut, and he was waiting for the sound of the door opening. He didn't know what, if anything, he would do then. He couldn't abandon her, but he couldn't endorse the stupid ideas she was currently espousing. Torn, he waited in suspenseful agony for her to make her decision.

Then he felt hands tentatively touching his back, one pressed flat against him, the other on his arm. "I'm sorry, Q."

"Sorry? For what?" The words came out harshly, but he turned anyway, looking at her standing there.

"I lost my temper. I..." Naomi couldn't take it anymore. She'd given up her anger to make Q feel better, but without it, all the frustrated emotion was piling up inside her with no place to go. She felt tears stinging her eyes, and tried to choke back a sob, but it didn't help. "I'm sor-ry."

And then Q was holding a crying Naomi, wondering what was going on and wishing he could appropriately punish the people responsible for doing this to her. She had moved into his arms all on her own, and he was loathe to let her go, holding her tightly as if he was the one who needed comfort and not she.

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