Waving, Not Drowning

The Mermaid Oracle

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Public Post: Fic, "P, Q, R, S"
not a good sign
panjianlien
Behind the cut is a lengthy (approximately 10K words) piece of fanfic. It is not worksafe. It features not only various perversions, but consenting beings of legal age in their places of origin engaging in various kinds of sex. It references multiple fandoms.

Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear. The nearest exit may be behind you. 'Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.

You have been warned.




Disclaimer: These are not my characters or my universes. I’ve merely caused them to collide. Additionally, all real-world human individuals whose personae have been adopted as the basis for characters in this story are being employed here purely and entirely in the form of literary fictions. No meaningful or actual similarity to the real people bearing their names is indicated or implied.





P, Q, R, S


By Panjianlien

For sanj and ellen_fremedon, with apologies for tardiness.


i.

The knock at the study door was soft, polite, and ill-timed. All knocks were, though, these days. How did one carry on writing after a series of blockbusters so huge that they’d had to build brand new blocks for them to bust? Joanne was sure she didn’t know. She rubbed bleary blue eyes and grunted acknowledgement, then ran her hands through her hair.

The door opened a crack. Fiddy’s pale face appeared in the gap. The celebrated authoress twisted her hair into a knot and stabbed it with a freshly-sharpened pencil as she quirked an eyebrow at her assistant.

Fiddy pointed at the telephone on Rowling’s desk. “It’s Chris. He says he’s sorry but it’s a major emergency. It’s to do with Snape.”

Joanne was unsure what could possibly constitute an emergency where a fictional character was concerned. J.K. Rowling, on the other hand, knew better than to discount the possibility that yet again, a copyright suit was going to have to be filed and someone, somewhere was going to have to be taught a rather expensive lesson. She liked to be kept in the loop. Hitting Control-S with her left hand so that she wouldn’t lose the paragraph and a half that was all she had to show for the previous three hours of staring at the screen, she picked up the phone with her right.

“Chris darling, whatever is going on? Fiddy says there’s an emergency?”

“Do me a favor, will you, Jo? Would you go pull out the manuscript for Azkaban and look something up for me?”

The agent’s voice was far too calm. In fact, one could say it possessed a certain troweled-on smoothness, not at all normal for him. It frightened her. Joanne all but levitated to the filing cabinet that held the original manuscripts, At Chris’ urging, she flipped through the pages until she reached page 312, then scanned it.

“But that’s wrong,” she wailed. “Chris, this is… I never wrote… Snape isn’t bald!”

“No. No, he’s not,” her agent agreed. “Nor, uh… Jo?”

There was silence on the line as Jo Rowling turned the page and her jaw fell slack. Her disbelieving eyes raced along the lines, flew down the page. For a brief instant she recalled all the kerfuffle over the scandalous stills from Dan Radcliffe’s turn in Equus. But Harry Potter with his kit off was nothing, nothing compared to this.

She clutched the back of a nearby chair, her voice unsteady. “Christopher? What in hell is this?”

He had to admit he didn’t know. It made no sense, no sense at all. It wasn’t even possible, so far as he knew, for something like this to happen.

“It’s like one of those awful Internet fan fiction women is playing God, Jo. I don’t know how. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Have you read this, Christopher? This… this… whatever the hell this is? Harry… Harry Potter does not do that.”

Sitting on the edge of his desk in his darkened office, light from the high-definition monitor rippling across his face in various hues, Christopher Little took a deep, satisfying pull from the blown glass decanter of Glenmorangie he clutched in the hand not engaged in holding the phone. He’d been playing through the films ever since the inexplicable news had come in that things had changed in the Potterverse, that they were, indeed, continuing to change. There was absolutely no question whatsoever that despite his creator’s protests, Harry Potter as he now existed in the world did indeed do that. And a number of other things besides.

“Listen, Jo, I realize this is terribly upsetting. I promise you, I’m going to get to the bottom of this if it’s the last thing I do,” the agent vowed, wincing a bit at the unintentional coincidence of the word “bottom” and the larger-than-life display of same on the screen. “In the meantime, I want you to promise me one thing, okay, darling?”

A tiny pathetic noise, like one a kitten might make if you poked it in its sleep, came from the authorial end of the line, followed by the rustle of a turning page.

“Make that two things. First, I want you to promise me you won’t read any more, all right, pet? Just put the manuscript back in the box.”

“Yes, that’s probably best.” Rowling’s voice sounded fragile and distant.

Christopher waited until he heard the rustle of a manuscript box lid. “Now, Jo, the other thing. Promise me that no matter what you do, you won’t try to watch any of the movies, all right? I’m going to see if my people here have made any headway figuring this out. I’ll call you the instant I know something. But whatever happens, Joanne, don’t watch the films.”


ii.

“Captain? Are you all right?” The voice came from his left, a plummy, rich contralto. Rimmer winced. He had to be hallucinating. The only women on board Red Dwarf had been reduced to tiny piles of carbon dust three million years ago. Come to think of it, he did feel a bit dizzy. And he was pretty sure he was also imagining the sensation of a woman’s hand, gentle and warm, on his forearm.

Easy does it, old man, he told himself. It was probably just some… space thing. Made you dizzy for a moment. Just open your eyes, nice and slow. Hm. Hang on. Did she just say “Captain?”

Arnold Judas Rimmer’s eyelids flew open to reveal a brave new world. One with a great deal of cleavage in it. Cleavage that was right in front of his face, as a matter of fact, creamy and ample and packed into what appeared to be a skin-tight purple jumpsuit. The vista made his fingers itch and his mouth go dry.

Rimmer forced himself to look up. Up the breastbone, over the elegant clavicles, along the swanlike sweep of neck, into the thick fall of raven curls that framed the worried-looking face of a woman he’d never seen before. Her lips, so moist and kissable, were slightly pursed, and her eyes... were very strange. In fact they were downright weird, all pupil, no iris at all. But they were a package deal with the balcony you could do Shakespeare from, so Rimmer did his best to think of the eyes as being if not perhaps limpid pools, at least twin black holes into which a man could fall for days and days. Or something like that.

“Are you all right, Captain?”

Rimmer opened his mouth and a strangulated squawk fell out. Nodding frantically, he cleared his throat and tried again. “I’m fine. Fine. Nothing to worry about. I was dizzy for a moment, that’s all. Must’ve been some... some space thing.”

The black-haired beauty stepped back slightly, patting his arm once in a maternal sort of way. “Perhaps you should go see Doctor Crusher. You’ve been working yourself too hard, Jean-Luc.”

“Hmmm.” He tried to look as if he were considering it.

Rimmer looked around him, taking it all in. He was, he guessed, on the bridge of some magnificent starship. Gleaming screens and instrument panels covered the sweeping walls. Some poor albino guy in a bad wig was sitting at ten o’clock, watching displays and tapping occasionally at blips on a glowing sheet of plastic under his hand.

Jean-Luc? Who the smeg is that? No clue. Except obviously he’s the captain of whatever this is. And she thinks I’m him. Whoever she is. Aside from the local Hottie Tottie. Who has obviously got a thing for the Captain. Lucky bastard.

Wait a smegging second. I’m the captain! That means…

Oh. My. God. Please, God, if I’m dreaming, don’t let me wake up. Okay. I’ve got to play this right. Can’t let her know that I don’t know who she is, right? She’ll get all miffed. You know how women are. And then there’ll be no hot buttered crumpet after supper for Arniekins. Okay. Think, Arnold. Think. You’ve got to be strategic here. You can do this. Just play it cool.


He had almost thought of the right thing to say when a voice, gruff and masculine, came from above his head. “Captain Picard, Sir! We are being hailed.”

Rimmer twisted round in his chair. A brown-skinned fellow with shoulders like a bulkhead door and a forehead like an armadillo’s buttocks stood on a raised deck three feet above and behind him, waiting for a response. A heavy metal bandolier of some sort spanned the man’s chest. The dark man’s bearing and poise -- a cat’s, despite his bulk -- gave the impression that he was not merely a warrior, but could probably qualify as a one-man war.

Rimmer waved a nonchalant hand. “Ah, yes, of course we are. As I expected.”

It is a truth unexplained by science but well-established in nature that one can in fact feel it physically when several people stare at one in simultaneous disdain and disbelief. Rimmer had felt it often enough to be intimately familiar with the sensation. He still hadn’t learned to like it, though. Even the albino fellow had turned around in his swivel chair to join in. Giant puppydog eyes gazed intently out of a face that was eerily monochromatic, even for an albino.

His voice was also eerily monochrome. “Captain Picard, Sir, I am confused. Just before we exited warp drive, you noted that when we emerged we would be in a region where electromagnetic storms would likely render all long distance communications unusable. Yet now you say that the current hail we are receiving is an expected transmission. It is... puzzling.”

Inwardly, Rimmer -- Picard, he corrected himself, Captain Jean-Luc Picard -- kicked himself for having said what he did. Outwardly, he gave the albino man what he meant to be a humoring, indulgent little smile, as one gives to a child who has just given a well-meant but utterly uncomprehending answer to a complicated grown-up question. Suspecting that anything he said would only dig the hole deeper, Rimmer turned around to the big fellow with the bumpy head.

“Well, don’t just stand there, what do they want?”

The large man at the com tapped several controls, then made an unhappy face. “We’ve lost them, Sir. The electromagnetic disturbances are too severe. I’ll amplify all frequencies to see if we can raise them, Sir.”

Rimmer looked at the dark-haired woman. She was watching him carefully, her odd dilated-looking eyes scanning his face intently. He licked his lips. She raised an eyebrow, tapping the arrowhead-shaped brooch on her delectable bosom, and nodded slowly as she looked the captain squarely in the eye.

Oh yeah, baby. Come to daddy. She wants ya, Arnie.

He looked soulfully into her eyes and nodded back, his neck moving in undulating unison with her slow, deliberate movements. They were, he decided, like two pigeons in a mating dance, their heads bobbing with the animal compulsion of searing, primitive bird-heat. The thought inflamed him. His nostrils flared.

“Troi to Riker,” she said crisply, not letting go of Rimmer’s enraptured gaze.

God but she’s got a gorgeous voice. Hope she’s a screamer.

“Will, you’re wanted on the bridge. I think we’ve got a Starfleet Order 104 section C situation here, and as the Captain’s counselor, I think it is important that the Captain and I have… a few moments in private.”

Before Riker’s “on my way” had even finished, Rimmer found his hand in Troi’s. Her smile promising untold delights, she gestured toward the door. Rimmer stumbled after her, holding her hand, trailing behind like a child’s toy on a string. His mind whirred with excitement so intense he hardly noticed where she led him, and all the blood in his body was rapidly collecting somewhere so far away from his brain that he didn’t care.


iii.


It could be Azkaban, Snape supposed. He was wearing a hideous jumpsuit. The corridors were long and steel and empty, ringing endlessly under his feet. Every so often a window showed nothing but black, a few distant winking whitenesses in the far distance that could be stars or could, he supposed, be the lights of some massive cargo ship far off, barely this side of the horizon. He wondered how he had gotten there without knowing it. He wondered who was responsible. More than that, he wondered where the Dementors were. Could it be that it took them a while to find the fresh meat? He didn’t know. For the first time, it occurred to him that perhaps Albus had been right not to let him teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.

But the place didn’t feel didn’t feel like Azkaban. At least it didn’t feel like Snape thought Azkaban would feel. He flexed his fingers and touched the walls, the floor, ran his fingers over the recessed sheets of translucent plastic that glowed with light, lightly grazed the surfaces of panels full of buttons and knobs that did who knew what. There was a soft vibration, a gentle hissing of ducts, but no magic. Wherever he was, it was an entirely Muggle place, transistors and wires and tubes and engines and God alone knew whatever else the Muggles used to make places like this. Whatever it was. Wherever it was. But where was that? Snape paused before a window, and told himself firmly that regardless of what it looked like, it was flatly impossible for him to be where it looked like he was. He didn’t spend that much time in the Muggle world, true, but even he knew that space travel was still in its infancy. There simply weren’t any spaceships this big.

“’Ello, what’re you doing ‘round here, then, Mister Rimmer? Relivin’ the good old days unclogging the soup dispensers in the office suites, eh?”

Snape clutched at his chest, terrified. Panicked, he looked all around for the source of the voice, but saw no one.

“Oh, come on, Rimmer, it’s just me, Holly. You know there’re no screens up here, the brass never liked the reminder that they weren’t really running the place. C’mon back down to A Level, I’ve had the scutters out all day trying to find you.”

As the voice spoke, a gleaming black object the size of a breadbox whirred down the corridor toward him, its beaky head bobbing on a neck hinged like a desk lamp. Like a mouse-plagued housewife in a fifties sitcom, Snape yelped and leapt onto the nearest available platform, boots ringing loudly on the metal lid of a benchlike storage locker along the wall. Below him, an apparently robotic cross between a flamingo and a ladies’ cosmetics case looked up at him, beak snapping vigorously with what Snape could only assume was carnivorous glee.

“What,” he gasped, pressing himself against the wall to keep his toes out of nibbling range, “is that?”

The little black robot wheeled back several inches and cocked its head, eyeing Snape quizzically. Then, with a small metallic whine, it hung its head, turned, and rolled off down the hall.

“Oi, Mister Rimmer, now you’ve done it,” the disembodied voice burbled on. “You’ve gone and hurt poor Bob’s feelings. And after he spent so much time looking for you, too.”

Severus Snape had never handled fear well. Rage usually took its place in a matter of seconds anyway. If nothing else, he would rage because he was fearful, because something had had the temerity to behave in a frightening manner, because the world was not, in fact, under his express control.

Something horrendous had happened to him. Of that Snape was sure. He did not yet know precisely what, or how, or why, or whom he was going to have to kill or at least torture cruelly. But he would find out. And the first step on that path was to find whomever the person was who was shouting at him over the Tannoy and find out everything he knew.

Drawing himself up tall and slim, collecting his savoir-faire about him in lieu of his absent cape, Snape stepped gracefully down off the locker and bowed slightly in the direction from which the voice that called itself Holly had seemed to come.

“Very well then. If you will but show me the way, I will, as you put it, come back down to A Level. Whereupon I look forward to a productive, nay, informative chat.”

Holly’s cheerful voice now came distinctly from the end of a side corridor. “Lift’s just down here’s. You must've fetched yourself a knock on the noggy if you don’t remember where the lifts are. You should get that checked out.”

Snape had not and would not, but he stepped smartly in the direction of the voice, gritting his teeth at the incessant chatter, biding his time.


iv.

It had been a long, stupid, boring day at work, and Marjorie settled into her well-worn niche on the hand-me-down couch with a sigh of relief and pleasure. On the little folding table in front of her, the screen of a laptop computer glowed with reassuring notices: there was mail in her in-box, her Google Reader brimmed with bloggy goodness, and her Friends List had, it seemed, gone bananas. From the other side of the room the television segued from a commercial for diapers capable of soaking up a huge amount of blue water back to an rerun of Next Generation already in progress. Troi was talking over-earnestly to a baffled Crusher about how she didn’t care if Beverly couldn’t detect any anomalies in brain function, she was still sensing an alien presence inside the mind of Captain Picard.

“Oh, that one,” Marjorie said to no one, picking up the bowl of tomato soup she’d set out for herself on the coffee table and sprinkling in a handful of Cheez-Its. Trek writers never got tired of the alien mind control thing. She was pretty sure she’d seen the episode before, but she left it on as comfort TV and sat back with her laptop, curious to find out what all the LiveJournal traffic was about.


v.

Jean-Luc Picard tensed his buttocks, arched his back, shouted, and came, knotting his fingers in the hair at the nape of the neck belonging to the person responsible. It was, he reflected in the out-of-body moment before sheer nervous hypersensitivity slammed him back into his body, a hell of a way to come to.

It wasn’t that he’d passed out, exactly. But he’d felt a little lightheaded, and closed his eyes for a moment. Or at least he had thought it was a moment. His eyes were still closed, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t on the bridge any more.

Obviously Will and Deanna were right. He had been working himself too hard lately. Even Beverly’d been pushing him to stand down for some intensive, medically-enhanced R&R. He guessed she’d been right that he needed some. It wasn’t like him to go off duty, to make it all the way to his cabin -- with company, apparently -- and have no memory of any of it. Picard sighed heavily, biochemical contentment still just a bit too thick for the baffled annoyance to override it, and twitched as the as-yet-unidentified tongue upon which the shaft of his cock still lolled made an outrageous velvet rippling against his organ.

“Easy there,” Jean-Luc murmured, his fingers splaying out against the lightly stubbled cheek.

Stubble? Picard groaned inwardly and kept his eyes shut tight. It was worse than he thought. He hadn’t just gone to bed and not remembered it. He’d gone to the holodeck and not remembered it. Damn. The Captain of the Enterprise shouldn’t be doing that. The captain of a child’s tub toy shouldn’t be doing that.

All right. He admitted it. He really did need a vacation. He would even tell Beverly. And he wouldn't put it off any longer. Ignoring the soft-haired head now resting peacefully on his belly, willfully pushing away the sensation of the broad, warm palm that still cupped his empty balls, Jean-Luc took a deep breath.

“Computer, end program.”

The head shifted position slightly as its owner sighed. “If you want me to go, just say so, Severus. You don’t have to go invoking Muggle cultural references.”

Jean-Luc opened his eyes and immediately tried again. The world before him stubbornly refused to dissipate.

“Emergency Procedure Alpha Two,” he commanded. “Picard, authorization Alpha-Alpha three zero five.”

The other occupant of the bed rolled his eyes and sat up, swinging gangling legs off the edge. He was, Jean-Luc was reassured to note, quite a pretty thing, fair-skinned, dark-haired, no longer a boy, not yet fully a man. His memory might be going, but at least he still had good taste.

“I think I’d better go,” the young man said.

“No.” Picard lay his hand on the boy’s smooth young shoulder. “Please don’t. I... I need to ask you something.”

Picard scanned the room. It wasn’t a place he recognized, not the dormitories at his long-ago boarding school or the locker rooms at Starfleet Academy or even the shameful backroom of that bar he’d accidentally teleported into when they were hot on the trail of the agents who’d kidnapped the Cardassian envoy in Delta Quadrant sector B-prime. The walls were stone, the floors as well, the furnishings a shabby approximation of old Earth wood, and the lighting was awful. By the glow of a stubby candle on the bedside table and a couple of wan lamps across the room, Picard took in a landscape of scholarly clutter. Nearer the bed, dark fabric puddles testified to the haphazard and hasty nature of the undressing that had taken place a short while before. From beneath a shaggy fringe of dark brown hair, the young man looked at him as if he weren’t precisely sure whether or not Picard were sane.

Picard wasn’t either. He wasn’t sure he wasn’t simply trapped in the holodeck. It had happened before. But there was something about the place -- an indefinable sense of age, a faint sense that the air simmered with something more rareified that just the smell of sex -- that made him think that perhaps he wasn’t in the holodeck at all.

“So. Do we, er, know one another?” Picard cringed. There was just no elegant way to ask.

The boy took a pair of spectacles from the bedside table and slipped them on, the better to see his partner’s face. “Are you feeling all right, Severus?”

“Severus? Who’s Severus?”

“You’re Severus. Severus Snape. You’ve been my professor for five years. Remember? Potions? You keep trying to find a reason to fail me? You’re a right bastard to me in public because you don’t want anyone to know about what we do in private?”

Picard had rarely been so baffled, so confused, so utterly bereft of context. He looked at the young man, struggling to find a place in his mental files where any of this, any of it at all, made sense.

“I’m sorry. I... I’m very confused. I don’t know who this Severus Snape you speak of is. My name is Picard. Jean-Luc Picard. I’m the captain of the...”

Starship Enterprise,” the young man finished. “Yeah, sure, of course you are. Whyn’t you just ask them to beam you back up, then?”

Picard blinked. This young man knew about the Enterprise. But where was his uniform? His communicator? “You know my ship?”

“Everybody knows Star Trek,” the young man snapped. “You know I lived with Muggles ‘til I was eleven, Severus, I’ve watched telly. My uncle Vernon used to watch that programme all the time. Severus, really, what is the point of this?”

Picard grabbed the young man’s hand, more than a little desperate. “When I came into this room, I must have been wearing a small metal badge on my uniform. Looked a bit like an arrowhead. Where is it? You must tell me where it is!”

The young man got up, frustrated, and snatched three black fabric piles from the floor. He spoke as if to a particularly stupid child, holding out each item in turn.

“Look, Severus, this here? This is your shirt. These are your trousers. This is your vest. Everything else is around here somewhere. You weren’t wearing any uniform, and you certainly didn’t have some fake TV communicator thing. Now are you going to tell me what the hell you’re on about, or are you trying to drive me off? Because I don’t mind leaving if you’re going to keep this up, really I don’t.”

Picard leapt up, still naked, to stand between the young man and the door. If it was just the holodeck, maybe it didn’t matter if the young man left. But maybe it wasn’t. And maybe it did. That was the thing. Picard didn’t know whether it mattered or not. But he still didn’t want to be left alone. Not like this. Not here.

“Look, I know this sounds strange, but I have no idea who you are. I have no idea where I am. I don’t recognize any of this. Not the clothes, not the room, not the books, not even you, and I’m sorry, but it’s true. Please. I beg you, don’t go. I need your help.”

The young man looked at his professor, or at least the man he thought was his professor. Those words were not words that Severus Snape would say.

Student reached out for teacher, a gentle brush of fingertips from temple to jaw. “Legilimens.

A few minutes later the young man was convinced beyond even a hint of a shadow of a doubt that what the other had said was true. All of it. Whoever this man was, there wasn’t a shred of Snape in him. Not a memory. Not a thought. Not even any recognition of the name. Nothing. He genuinely wasn’t Snape, for all he looked like Snape always had, right down to the mole just inside his left hipbone. He really was who he said he was. And he hadn’t the faintest idea what had happened, either.

That made two of them. The young man took a step back and extended his right hand. Picard took it.

“Jean-Luc,” he said, “My name is Harry Potter. This place we’re in is called the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

“The what?

“Never mind,” Harry said gently, leading the older man back across the clothes-strewn carpet. “Look, why don’t we just get back in the bed? We might as well be comfortable. I’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”


vi.

Normally she liked being Rick Berman’s personal assistant. He was a good guy, and being PA to the head of the Trek franchise for Paramount was a good gig. The fans could be a little strange, sometimes, but it was a good job and usually, she liked it.

Just not today. She still wasn’t clear on exactly what had been going down. Rick had already been in an emergency meeting when he called her in desperation, and was in another by the time she’d screeched into the parking lot at a quarter to seven that morning. There was a pile of faxes three feet high in a box by her desk, all of them demanding to know what was happening and why. She’d already told the receptionist to hold all calls, but her phone still rang nonstop.

She poured four aspirin into her hand and washed them down with the remains of a Diet Coke. She checked her watch. Rick had promised her a press release by four o’clock. It was three minutes to four. In the conference room down the hall, a herd of journalists bickered and speculated and picked at the remains of the three enormous deli trays they’d had brought in. They were getting restless.

With thirty-four seconds to go, Rick emerged from his office, palefaced, smeary dark circles below his eyes. One hand clutched a sheet of yellow paper from a legal pad. The other held a coffee mug in a death grip.

“I’ll take care of it,” she said, taking the paper from his hand. She took it to her desk and read it through, shaking her head all the way. Her fingers flew over the keyboard as she typed it out, cleaned it up, made it sound smoother, as if they knew what they were doing. By seven past the hour she was standing over her printer watching it spit out hard copies, electronic versions already sprinting through the ether to her master list of contacts at the networks, the wire services, the webmasters and fan clubs.

At ten past she walked into the conference room. The guy from Variety helped her up onto a metal chair. He was always nice. She cleared her throat.

“In a series of events which we at Paramount are still working to explain, unanticipated changes have been made to numerous episodes of Star Trek franchise program Star Trek: The Next Generation. To the best of our knowledge, these changes occur in episodes beginning with Season Five, but not previous to that point. We at Paramount are working to resolve the issues and restore the productions to their original state as quickly as possible. We wish to emphasize that those responsible for the vandalism and defacement of Paramount Pictures intellectual property will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We apologize to all broadcasters and viewers for any inconveniences this may cause.”

A tidal wave of questions rose the instant she finished. “No questions! No questions!” she shouted as loudly as she could, jumping down from the chair. “No questions!”

Back inside her own office, the door securely shut between her and the roar of journalists in the hall, she slumped into a loveseat normally reserved for people waiting to see Rick. For the first time since she’d gone to work for Paramount she wished she were the sort of person who kept an emergency bottle of bourbon in her desk drawer.

No questions, indeed. No questions because there were no answers. No answers at all.


vii.

Severus Snape had been confounded by idiocy before, but it had never been so cheerful or so complete. In a cramped cabin on A-Level, he paced back and forth, attempting once again to explain himself. The entire bipedal complement of the Jupiter Mining Corporation ship Red Dwarf watched him do it. Holly’s floating head watched from the screen. Dave Lister watched from his bunk, sprawled on his side, his head propped up on one hand as he scratched his belly with the other. The toothy, gaudy gentleman who had been introduced simply as The Cat brushed imaginary lint from his scarlet trousers, and kept a close eye on the progress of the ironing. The being doing the ironing fascinated Snape most of all. The steam iron he used was attached via a corrugated tube to his groin. Snape tried not to think about that too much.

“I don’t know any of you, can’t you see that? You keep asking me questions and I don’t know the answers. I don’t know where I am or who you are. I don’t know who this “Rimmer” person is that you all claim is me. I don’t know his rank, I don’t know his position, I don’t know what “BSC, SSC” means, I don’t know who Yvonne MacGruder is, and I have no idea what “gazpacho” is supposed to be aside from a nice summer’s lunch. I’d prove who I am by magic, but magic doesn’t appear to work here. And none of you seem ever to have heard of the institution with which I am affiliated, although I suppose I’m not surprised. Is there nothing, nothing I can do to convince you people to listen to me?”

“Not if you keep talking smeg.” Lister yawned extravagantly and picked his teeth with a fingernail.

The Cat looked up from his examination of a freshly-pressed lace cuff. “We’re listening, Rimmer. It’s just that you’re not making any sense.”

“Yes, Mister Rimmer, Sir,” the creature with the steam iron crotch interjected. “We are listening, Sir. But the Cat is right. Nothing you have said so far makes the slightest bit of sense. Is your light bee functioning normally, sir?”

Snape threw up his hands. He had clearly gone straight down the rabbit hole. Any minute now, a giant white bunny with a stopwatch was going to hop on by, worrying aloud that he was late. Snape welcomed the idea. At least he would know where he stood.

At the end of a circuit of the room, Snape paused by the door. “I’m sorry, but did you just ask me if my 'light bee' was functioning normally? Is that some kind of euphemism?”

“Oh, no, sir,” the creature with the iron reassured him without so much as pausing in his painstaking work on a hand-smocked shirtfront. “It’s no euphemism. Surely you know that, Mister Rimmer, sir. Your light bee is what makes it possible for you to exist.”

Severus Snape sat heavily in the sole available chair. “Where I come from,” he said through clenched teeth, “what makes it possible for a man to exist is when his daddy loves his mummy very, very much, and they...”

Lister slid down out of his bunk. “Oh, can it, Rimmer. You’re a hologram, mate. You’re dead. Trust me, I’ve seen the video. T’wasn’t pretty. Not only are you dead, you’re the reason why everyone else on this ship but me is dead too.”

“Not me,” said The Cat, looking up from polishing the magenta rhinestone buttons on a mint-green frock coat. “If I was dead, I wouldn’t look nearly so fabulous!”

The laundry droid finished the shirt and hung it on an overstuffed wheeled rack. “Ah, not me either, Mister Lister, sir. Although technically speaking I suppose I cannot be said to be alive, being merely a service mechanoid.”

Snape leaned forward and put his head in his hands. A snippet of Shakespeare drifted to the front of his brain, a bit of The Tempest. Softly, so softly that no one else could hear, he recited it: They say there's but five upon this isle: we are three of them; if th' other two be brained like us, the state totters. Unless Snape could think of something that would convince them of his true identity, and soon, his personal state would totter badly indeed.

He tried to think what that would be. Snape could not imagine living with this in perpetuity. His regular students were quite idiotic enough. Gryffindors especially. This lot made even the most stupid Gryffindor look like unreconstructed genius. It was unbearable.

Then a thought struck him. Holly, the disembodied voice who had turned out to be a disembodied head, had also turned out to be a computer. The ship’s computer, to be precise. If Snape couldn’t convince the others that he wasn’t Rimmer, maybe Holly could.

Snape sat up. “Holly, I have a question.”

The floating head grinned idiotically. “Sure thing, guv.”

“Please report to me the location of Mister Rimmer’s light bee, Holly.”

Holly’s virtual forehead crinkled. “Oi! That can’t be right! That light bee isn’t anywhere on Red Dwarf.”

“Check again, Hol,” Lister said. “If Rimmer’s here, the light bee’s got to be.”

“I’ve just quadruple-checked, Dave,” the computer confirmed. “It’s not here, Dave. It’s not in this room. It’s not on A-Level. It’s not on any other level. It’s not in Starbug. It’s not in the cargo holds. The light bee’s not here, Dave.”

“You’re sure, Hol?” Lister marched over to Snape and jabbed him in the shoulder with a finger. Snape’s lip curled irritably as he swatted the hand away.

Holly was exasperated. “Yes, Dave. It’s not here, Dave.

Lister circled Snape, his steps slow and cautious. Snape’s lip attempted to uncurl itself, but the pungent aromas of Lister’s laundry hamper made this inadvisable. Slowly, Snape counted off numbers as he waited for the penny to drop. He’d just reached thirty-nine when Lister stopped pacing.

“If you’re not Arnold Rimmer, then, who the smeg are you?”

Snape took a deep, deep breath. “My name, as I believe I have mentioned before, is Severus Snape.”

“Severus Snape?” blurted The Cat, “What kind of crazy name is that? Where’d you come from, anyway?”

Snape opened his mouth, but Holly spoke first. “Severus Snape was the name of a character in a series of young adult novels from the twenty-first century, by some bloke called J.K. Rowling. They were bestsellers, back in the day. Seems he's supposed to be a wizard what teaches magic at some magic school called Hog’s Warts.”

“That’s ‘Hogwarts,’” Snape snapped. “And I don’t know what you mean by ‘character.’ Or 'novels.' As you can plainly see, I am just as real as you are. Just as real as Hogwarts is. And as for this Rowling person, I’m afraid I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

Lister stared at Holly, then at Snape. Snape stared at Holly, then at Lister. The Cat took out a tiny atomizer and spritzed perfume behind his ears. The mechanoid unfastened the steam iron from his groinal socket, put it and the ironing board away, and hooked on the vacuum cleaner attachment instead.

“Well, time for me to go hoover the carpets on H-Level,” the mechanoid chirped cheerily. “Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything!”

The Cat rose from the bottom bunk and pushed the wheeled rack of freshly pressed clothes to the door. “Time for me to go plan my wardrobe for the next week. Don’t hesitate to call if you find some fish.”

That left Lister staring at Snape, and Snape staring at Lister, and Holly whistling tunelessly to himself on the screen on the wall.

Lister’s grin split his face like a goofy Jack O’Lantern, wide and weirdly warming. He reached out and wrapped his arm around the other man’s shoulders, ignoring the fact that he stiffened at the touch.

“Severus, old chum, I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, this is a perfect time to get blotto. What d’ya say, mate? First twenty lagers are on the house.”

Snape looked around the room. There was nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. They believed him now. But it hadn’t changed a thing. He was, as far as he could tell, still marooned on the biggest spaceship he’d ever seen with the most profoundly addled set of people -- well, one of them seemed to be a person -- he could possibly imagine.

“Mister Lister,” he said, with more enthusiasm than he had ever dreamt he could muster for either the activity or the company, “right now, ‘getting blotto’ is more appealing than you can possibly imagine.”


viii.

Everyone looked at the doctor. She looked at her patient, supine and still on the medical lab table, the small device on his forehead keeping his vital systems stable even as it kept his brain activity down to the bare autonomic minimum. Beverly patted her unconscious Captain fondly right on the top of his curly head. She felt a little guilty about this. If Deanna hadn’t been so very adamant that there was some outside force that had taken over Jean-Luc’s brain, she never would’ve done it. But it wasn’t as if it had never happened before, and she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t happening again. Besides, what if it was contagious?

“Well, everything’s testing out at normal levels,” she told the assembled officers of the Enterprise. “And at least we know it’s not the Borg.”

Will Riker stroked his beard as he gazed worriedly at his fallen superior. “And you’ve screened for infectious agents? So it’s nothing like what we dealt with when Geordi brought that virus over off the S.S. Tsoikolvski? Or when I picked up that weird emotional vampire bug on Surata IV?”

The doctor shook her head. It was nothing like that. No one on the bridge had noticed them passing through a mysterious cloud like that time they were on their way to Parliament, either. Nobody had been experimenting with the warp field. There were no weird spores in the Captain’s blood, no traces of strange substances in his hair or his skin or even his breath. She’d run every test she could run and she’d called in every senior officer on the ship and made them run every test they could run, and she was still coming up with nothing.

“Well, at least it’s been a long time since we’ve been anywhere near Tarchannen III,” Geordi said, deadpan.

Crusher chuckled. “Well, that one was easy to rule out. He’s not blue.”

“And there’s nothing at all in the transporter logs to indicate anything odd,” the engineer added. “I had Miles check them very carefully. Not that the Captain had transported anywhere recently.”

Commander Data had been running recent events through his core processors since the instant Counselor Troi had escorted the Captain off the bridge. The Captain’s response to the hail they had received had indeed been most uncharacteristic. Scanning his memory of the events that had transpired on the bridge that day, he compared them meticulously to all logged events that had been even remotely similar. Nothing seemed to fit. It was a mystery. Fortunately Data enjoyed mysteries.

“Deanna,” the android said, “did you by any chance sense another presence on board, either during or just prior to the point when the Captain’s thoughts began to feel alien to you?”

She bit her lip and thought about it for a second, then shook her head. She hadn’t sensed anything unusual at all, or at least not any more unusual than the Captain’s fatigue. Any telepathic entity strong enough to have completely changed Jean-Luc’s personality would not have gotten past her unnoticed.

Data hmmmed. “You have said that what caused you to become alarmed was that the Captain’s emotions had changed dramatically, and almost instantaneously. Do you suppose that this change in his emotional state could have had to do with our dropping out of warp into an unknown and potentially dangerous quadrant?”

Will made a face. There was no way Picard’s mental state would be so badly shaken by something as simple, as routine, as leaving warp drive. As for the unknown and potentially dangerous part, that was practically the job description for the Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The Enterprise was the ship that boldly went where no one had gone before, sought out strange new life and civilizations, split infinitives no one had ever split before. All that stuff, just like they told you in the Starfleet Academy recruitment videos. Picard was the ringleader of the whole damn circus. Jean-Luc had been assimilated by the Borg, for heaven’s sake, and lived to tell the tale. Hell, he’d been Troi’s mom’s dinner date and lived to tell that tale, too. Dropping out of warp into a place he’d never been before wasn’t something that got an undue share of Jean-Luc’s attention.

Riker looked at Deanna. She had that look on her face that she got when she was trying to figure out how to explain something complicated and empathic in really simple, unintimidating, sharing-type words. He wished she’d just spit it out. She was a really smart, gifted woman. But that damn counselor-speak of hers made her sound like a fruitcake.

“No, Data, I don’t think that was it,” she finally replied. “What I sensed was... what happened in the Captain’s mind was... it was a total change of emotion and of personality, in a direction that was, in my experience of counseling Jean-Luc, totally unlike him. The only thing I have ever sensed empathically that was even remotely similar is the shift that a Vulcan undergoes when he or she enters pon farr. In fact, what I sensed in the Captain’s mind was very like what I sensed the one time I was near enough to a Vulcan experiencing the stage of pon farr known as plak tow, the blood fever.”

Crusher’s brow furrowed. “But isn’t that...”

“Yes. The stage of the mating cycle where a Vulcan becomes functionally insane, unable to speak or think properly, because the thoughts of impending mating are so... overwhelming.”

The doctor suppressed an uncharitable thought about her counselor colleague’s necklines and how maybe it wouldn’t kill her to try a turtleneck sometime. From the expression on his face, Will was also suppressing the desire to say something, although his was probably more along the lines of “and who could blame him?” Worf, who hadn’t said a thing the whole time, just stood by the door with his arms folded across his chest, his eyes resting easily on the firm but pliant curves of Counselor Troi’s ass. Troi knew what he was thinking, of course. But it wasn’t as if she hadn’t known about it for years. One of these days, she thought, she’d probably give him a chance. She’d always wondered if the things she’d heard about Klingons were true.

Data held up a finger as if he’d finally figured it all out. “Ah. Let me see if I understand you correctly. You were disturbed by the Captain’s sudden desire to, hm, what is the phrase? ‘Fuck your brains out’?”

Deanna blinked, her mouth opening and shutting silently like a fish. Crusher facepalmed. Riker’s ears turned bright red.

Geordi put his arm around the android’s shoulders and shoved him toward the door. “Data, I think you and I need to go have a little talk about these things called colloquialisms.”

Data fussed apologetically as Geordi led him out of sickbay. “Keep us posted, Doctor Crusher,” Geordi called as they turned down the hall. “We’ve got to get back to Engineering.”

The doctor promised, and one by one the others left, even the doctor herself. Finally Troi was the only one left in the sickroom. Looking down at the slack face on the table, she felt a pang of guilt. Maybe she’d just overreacted. Sure, he was old enough to be her father. But really, it was the twenty-fourth century, it wasn’t like anyone cared. And she wasn’t even Starfleet, so it’s not like anyone could’ve accused her of trying to sleep her way up. Will would’ve been jealous. But whatever.

Tenderly, Deanna reached out and touched the captain’s limp hand. “Sorry, Jean-Luc. Maybe I should’ve just let you.”


ix.

The cordless phone was already in his hand when it began to ring. He tapped the button and put it to his ear.

“Naylor residence.”

The voice on the other end was tentative. “Doug? It’s me, Rob. Sorry to call you at home.”

“Don’t worry about it. Funny, I was about to call you.”

There was a moment of mutually startled silence.

Then Rob Grant chuckled nervously. “Er, well, if it’s about the Next Generation episode with Rimmer in it, I had nothing to do with it. I was actually calling to ask you whether you and Ed had gone and fucked me over behind my back, or whether Chris was working solo.”

“The what?” Doug shook his head, not sure whether he was hearing correctly. “Chris is on Next Gen? As Rimmer? I haven’t even heard anything about this. But speaking of fucking people over, I was about to call you to ask about the new Dwarf special. Why wasn’t I informed?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t play dumb, Rob, I’m watching it right now. The Red Dwarf / Harry Potter crossover. With Alan Rickman playing Snape taking Rimmer’s place on Red Dwarf. Right now Lister's drinking him under the table, looks like. I have to admit it’s a brilliant idea. But you could at least have told me. Did Ed put you up to it? How much are they paying you?”

“Nothing! I know nothing about...” Rob Grant stopped short. Each man could, in the background, hear the tinny noises of the other’s television set. They listened hard for a long, long moment.

Rob was the first to chuckle. As his laughter gained intensity, Doug joined in, the chuckles turning to chortles, chortles to guffaws, until the two halves of the imaginary television writer known as Grant Naylor were howling hysterically, holding their stomachs as the inexplicable absurdity convulsed them, their cheeks slick with tears of mirth.

“It’s alive!” Rob shrieked into the maelstrom of laughter, doing his best Transylvanian mad scientist voice.

“Yes! Yes, Igor!” shouted Doug, cackling insanely. “The creature! Is! ALIVE!”


x.

Snape sighed with drunken pleasure as he pinned Lister to the floor, thrusting with all his might between the satisfyingly thick cheeks of the other man’s arse. Finally, something that felt familiar. He was in just enough control of himself to resist the urge to rush.

Beneath him, Lister panted and gasped and pleaded for more. For some reason, he kept calling Snape “Kochanski.”

But it felt too good, and both of them were far too drunk, for either man to care.


xi.

“Goodness gracious, Jean-Luc,” a revoltingly familiar voice whispered in his ear, “you certainly have gone native.”

Picard flinched, rearing back into the cock that was fucking him a little harder than he meant to. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. Lying next to him in the narrow dormitory bed in the spot that had until just that instant been occupied by Albus Dumbledore, was the being he had grown to loathe as Q.

With his impeccable knack for being as tasteless as possible, Q was wearing a wizard’s pointed cap, its tip rather badly bent against the pillows. He was also wearing Albus’ gold wire-rimmed glasses, his cape, and had produced a wooly white beard for the occasion. Worst of all, though, one of Q’s hands was under Picard’s body. He quite literally had him by the balls.

“Dammit, Q!” Picard’s face was quite the display of mixed emotions, a portrait of a man whipsawed by the rage in his head and the ecstasy in his ass. With the hypnotic stamina that only a young man on his fifth round can muster, Potter pumped him with diabolical precision, doing things to Jean-Luc’s prostate that he wouldn’t have been the slightest bit surprised to learn were in fact magically enhanced.

“What,” he gasped, “is the meaning of this?”

Q smirked and let his hand glide up Jean-Luc’s aching shaft. “You never would’ve let me get you in bed otherwise.”

Jean-Luc couldn’t argue with that. “But what about the ship?”

Q tut-tutted and gave Picard’s cock a squeeze. “As if I’d let anything happen to your precious Enterprise. As far as they’re concerned you haven't even left it.”

Harry’s hands stroked down toward Jean-Luc’s shoulders as he leaned over him. “You got quiet all of a sudden. This is still all right, isn’t it?”

Picard forced a smile. Of course it was. It was excellent, perfect even. Potter kissed him on the spine and went back to work, rocking dreamily in and out. Q chuckled softly into his beard.

“But why?” Jean-Luc hissed, throwing in a brief moan for form’s sake. “And why was Potter here so convinced I was their Professor Snape? And Dumbledore too, whatever you’ve done with him? I’ve looked in a mirror, I look the same as I ever did.”

Q relinquished his grip on Picard’s organ and pushed himself up the bed, propping himself against the headboard. Grandly priapic, his cock made a tent of a stray swath of Dumbledore’s robe.

“Really, Jean-Luc, you ask such tiresome questions. But I’ll make you a deal. You give me a happy ending and I’ll return the favor. Fair’s fair, no?”

Picard’s stomach sank. “Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes,” Harry breathed, picking up his pace. “Please? I want to watch.”

Picard looked up at Q, eyes narrowed to angry slits. Q flipped back the corner of the robe, his grin merrier even than the real Dumbledore’s. Jean-Luc swallowed hard at the sight that filled his field of vision. It was the sort of thing Michelangelo would’ve given his David had he only not been trying to be circumspect about the fact that he was a size queen. Naturally. Q would have a blue-ribbon stonker.

“Do at least try not to be a disappointment, Jean-Luc,” Q purred.

Picard sighed, closed his eyes, and got to work.



xii.

Beverly Crusher pushed a Titian-hued lock behind one ear as she reviewed the charts again. There was no good reason to keep him in hypnostasis any longer. Better to let him come to, and keep an eye on him for a while. Maybe Troi had been surprised that Jean-Luc wanted her, and gotten herself into an emotional feedback loop. Empaths sometimes did, though Deanna was well-trained. It was an occupational hazard.

Crusher turned to her new junior resident, a young Antedian doctor spending two years on the Enterprise as part of a diplomatic program. She looked rather like a cross between a catfish, a jewel squid, and an oxygen tank, but she had proven to be an excellent physician and a highly useful resource when it came to treating some of the more exotic species the Enterprise encountered.

“All right. I’m going to have you bring the Captain around. Keep a close eye on him. If he starts manifesting any signs of the problems Troi was talking about, let me know.”

The doctor went to do as she was told. Beverly would go check on Picard herself in a bit, once she was sure he’d be fully conscious. She went back to working on the chores she’d left undone, reviewing vaccines stocks and making a list of the crew she knew for sure needed updates to their xenobacterial protection.

Picard’s scream started as a full-throated bellow and rose from there. Running as fast as she could across the medlab, Dr. Crusher reached his bedside by the time it petered out, an echo of the bone-scraping falsetto shriek still ringing in the air. The Antedian stood helpless, her facial barbels twitching in shock as she stared at the shaking, hyperventilating man. He was curled into a ball, fetal and shivering, hugging his knees.

Doctor Crusher skidded to a halt at the bedside. “What happened?”

The Antedian didn’t know. Crusher was already looking at the vital signs monitor. Heart rate was sky-high, blood pressure ditto, every available index from perspiration to muscle tremors a textbook picture of a man in the midst of the mother of all panic attacks. It had started, the alien doctor explained, the instant his eyes had opened. She wondered if perhaps he had not recognized her, not remembered welcoming her aboard.

Rimmer kept his eyes shut tight. He didn’t dare open them in case that... thing was still there. Probably They all looked like that. It had had a grotesque instrument in one of its tentacles, too, all glittery and sharp. Probably it was about to perform horrible experiments on him. The ones on the bridge, especially the one who had been transmogrified into a beautiful woman and called him “Captain” had been nothing but bait, Rimmer realized now. Then he fell over an internal precipice, all reason gone, straight into the depths of gabbling terror. He screamed for his mother, pleading and sobbing for her to make the bad dream go away.

Doctor Crusher sighed and pressed the hypospray to the captain’s neck. She should have known better than to discount Troi’s expertise. It was even worse than Deanna had known. Fortunately he went limp without a problem, and she attached the stasis inductor again.

Beverly reassured her Antedian colleague, patting her on the moist, scale-glittered back as they made their way out of the room. “Don’t worry about this, okay? I’m sure it had nothing to do with you at all. It was my fault. I thought Deanna might have misperceived the situation. I didn’t realize it was so serious.”

The Antedian shrugged, and they both went back to work.



xiii.

Weirdly, Q’s spunk had tasted just like anyone else’s. Picard wasn’t quite sure what he had expected, galaxies maybe, or chocolate ice cream, or maybe hot pepper sauce. Spent in more ways than one, Picard sat next to Q in the bed, both of them propped limply against the headboard. Potter had already left, if a bit bowleggedly, to attend quidditch practice. Whatever that was.

Q produced a cigarette with a snap of his fingers, hand-rolled and fragrant and already lit. He took a drag, and held it out to Picard.

“You know I don’t smoke, Q. It’s a filthy habit.”

Q took another puff. “So’s fucking men young enough to be your son. I guess we all have our weaknesses.”

Jean-Luc stared down the bed, realizing with a bit of embarrassment that despite the amount of time he’d been there, he still wasn’t entirely sure where he was. He hadn’t left the room.

“So.”

“Mmm?”

“I kept my end of the bargain.”

Q sighed. “You’ve got a mind like a steel trap, Jean-Luc. I suppose you’ll be still wanting to know the whys and wherefores?”

Picard certainly did. Q rolled his eyes, stubbed out his cigarette, and began. He could tell Picard was tired because he hardly interrupted at all. At length, Q paused.

Jean-Luc wore a dissatisfied frown. “So what you’re saying is that every story is its own universe? And that what’s fiction to one universe is reality to another? Which is why Harry knew what the Enterprise was? So why did I look like his professor to him, then?”

“The same reason the person who took your place on the Enterprise looked like the captain to them. The same reason the person who took his place in his universe looked like the right person to his familiars. Because I’m omnipotent. And because people mostly see what they expect to see, no matter what universe they’re in. It’s simple to manipulate it, really.”

It made sense, Jean-Luc supposed. Still, he wondered. If his own universe was a fiction to this one, and this one a fiction to others, was there a universe where the people lived who originally created the fictions -- the universes? Or were there as many of them as there were universes? Was any given universe both a story to another, and a creator of still more? He tried to imagine it. It made his head hurt.

Q patted Jean-Luc on the thigh. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to put everything back to normal soon. But since we’re here, you wouldn’t happen to have the energy for another quickie, would you, Jean-Luc?”

Picard wanted to want to say no. But everything smelled of sex. And perhaps it was just Q being a manipulative bastard and tweaking him into it, but damned if Jean-Luc didn’t find himself getting hard at the thought.

Jean-Luc shrugged. “If you’ll tell me one more thing.”

Q beamed and shimmied down the bed, grabbed Picard’s legs, and pulled him down flat on his back. He tossed Jean-Luc’s legs into the air as he got to his knees, catching the starship captain’s heels against his collarbones.

“What do you want to know, Captain? Your wish is my command.”

Picard had never thought about it before, but it was certainly true that one of the benefits of having sex with an omnipotent being was that you never had to worry about where the lube had got to. It was always right where it was needed. In spite of himself, he groaned.

“I just want to know why.”

Q pushed in slowly, took a few meditative strokes. Then he smiled. “Just doing a favor for a friend.”



xiv.

Majel knew who it was when the phone rang. It couldn't really have been anyone else. Rick had been dreading making the call all day. He had put it off as long as he could. How did you break it to Gene Roddenberry’s widow that something so strange, so inexplicable, so wrong had happened to her dead husband’s dream world?

As it turned out, she already knew. She’d caught wind of it from a neighbor who’d seen a rerun in the waiting room at the Jiffy Lube. Ever since then she’d been scanning the channels, letting the remote control take her from one instant of astonished, cackling wonder to the next.

“You’re going to think I’m nuts, Rick,” she confided. “But I’ve been hoping for something like this ever since Gene passed.”

Rick reassured her that he didn’t think she was crazy. But he was still confused. “What do you mean?”

“Before Gene died we used to joke that whichever one of us died first, wherever we ended up after we died -- if we ended up anywhere, you know? -- if we ended up somewhere, the first thing we were going to do was look for Q. I mean, he’s like God, right? Immortal, omnipotent? And when we found him, we were going to ask him to do something to let the one who was left behind know that we’d done it. That we’d found Q. That there was somewhere out there that it was all really real.”

Berman removed his Bluetooth headset from his ear and blinked at it. Maybe the old girl had finally lost it after all.

He put the headset back on. “All right, Majel. I guess you know more than I do, then.”

She gave a pleased mm-hmmm. Rick chuckled uncomfortably, said goodnight, and hung up.

Majel put down the phone. She turned off the TV and got up from the couch. The sliding glass doors opened wide over the Hollywood hills, but she ignored the view. Standing on the deck in the cool night air, her hands on the smooth wooden railing, the woman the fans called “The First Lady of Star Trek” looked up into the stars, into the black infinities between them, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.



-- Fin --

Oh my everloving god. I'm not entirely sure what just happened, but I'm quite pleased it did.

Mercí. A lot. I'm glad this is public. Might I rec it to some friends?