A dry dusty morning in another alien desert, insects buzzing as I scoop the sand carefully away from my dig site. Not biting, so far. Otherwise, the planet is entirely uninhabited, has been for millennia. Might almost say that’s a bit of a disappointment. When you’ve chosen a career as a treasure hunter, or grave-robber as I’ve sometimes been called, the excitement of taking the prize right out from under the noses (or other appendages, depending upon species) of the local authorities certainly adds the most zest to the game.
Q never could understand the thrill of danger, of not knowing what came next. I’m sure many people would have jumped at an offer to join the Continuum, but to be frank (although I phrased my refusal a bit more diplomatically) I’d have expired from boredom within a week. Might as well spend the rest of eternity on a holodeck, with all of Starfleet’s safety protocols in place. Ugh.
No doubt about it — Q is a total wuss.
The metallic outline of the prize begins to take shape under my hands. It’s an Iconian dimensional portal, a technological marvel capable of wonders beyond description, or so the ancient texts hint. A scan of the device indicates that its power systems are intact and, as expected, are compatible with the specially fabricated power cells I’ve brought.
There?s no way of knowing what will happen when the portal is activated. It could allow travel into the distant past, or the future, or some bizarre alternate universe. Any normal and prudent archaeologist wouldn’t even think about working with it until a host of monitoring devices, force fields, and other safeguards had been put into place.
But of course, normal and prudent archaeologists are wimps.
I flip Fate the bird and power up the dimensional portal.
A faint hum begins to grow louder. Glowing lines of force appear in the doorway, in swirling, colorful patterns that eventually coalesce into what is unmistakably a woman’s figure. She steps free of the portal, with a look of confusion.
A gaunt blonde, gone mostly gray, she must once have been pretty in a waifish sort of way, but the harsh lines of her face make her look as if she’s begun to melt from the heat of an internal blast furnace. Her grim visage is both terrifying and pitiable.
“My name is Vash,” I tell her, feeling almost as if I’ve just introduced myself to one of the mythological Furies from Earth’s primitive era.
She hesitates before answering, as if it’s been a long time since she had any reason to use a name. Her voice is high and shrill, like a disturbed child’s. “I’m Kes. But you know that, don’t you? You’re from the Federation. How long have you been working with Captain Janeway to capture me?”
I have no idea what paranoid hallucination she might be talking about, but whatever it is, I don’t like the sound of it. Holding out my open hands to show that I’m unarmed, I answer calmly, “I’m just an explorer. No one sent me to capture you.”
Kes begins to laugh, a sound as brittle and cracked as a dry twig breaking. “Oh, yes, you’re all explorers, you Federation people, never staying in one place long enough to understand the harm you cause. More knowledge is always for the best, isn’t it? There couldn’t be any harm in taking a young woman away from her home and encouraging her to explore mental powers beyond her ability to control.”
A small sandstorm begins to whirl around her feet. The dimensional portal reflects the motion brightly, like a kaleidoscope.
“You don’t seem to be afraid of me,” Kes observes ominously, as the sandstorm sweeps into a wider arc. “You ought to be afraid. I could blot out your existence with a thought.”
I’ve had enough experience with the Q Continuum not to let myself be intimidated by another insecure, blustering entity with superhuman powers. “To be alive is a risk in itself, Kes. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
The sand swirls in erratic patterns as she begins to tremble violently. “I could destroy Voyager just as easily. Captain Janeway deserves to be killed, after what she did to me. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I ought to kill myself instead, before I lose all control, before I turn into more of a monster than I’ve already become. But I can’t do it. I’m so frightened.”
The lines of her face soften, for now, around her pleading eyes, and the sandstorm subsides. She’s really rather pretty after all, I find myself thinking, if you like waifish types; and I have to admit I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for that look.
Oh, what the hell. Why not. I slept with Q, after all.
I step forward and take her into my arms. She’s trembling like a fallen baby bird in my embrace, and I can feel the delicate bones beneath her skin. Nice bone structure, I think, as I lift a hand to stroke her hair gently.
“Kes, it doesn’t take any special powers to become a monster. Look at history. Ordinary terrorists have killed thousands. Ordinary soldiers who didn’t have the courage to question the morality of their orders have killed millions. But as far as I know, you haven’t killed anyone. You’re no more a monster than I am. What makes someone a monster is a lack of conscience.”
She doesn’t respond as I kiss her lips, which are dry and taste faintly of salt. When I start to touch her body, she flinches away from me, as if the very idea terrifies her.
“I’ve never . . .”
Just my luck, another sexually inexperienced super-powerful entity. Doesn’t make much sense, but then, the universe is a very weird place. Q wasn’t much more knowledgeable; for all his suggestive banter and his evident belief in his own irresistible sex appeal, Q didn’t even realize that a woman might enjoy oral sex, too. So I had to educate him on the subject. Apparently, none of his previous female partners, over God only knows how many millennia, ever had the gumption to say anything about it.
Now Kes, on the other hand, seems to be completely innocent, which is a much easier situation to deal with. “I can show you what to do. It’s not that hard to figure out,” I tell her.
“I can’t have a lover. I’m much too dangerous,” she proclaims earnestly, staring at me with her wide, childlike eyes. “Anyone who tries to love me will be hurt. I don’t want to hurt you, Vash.”
“Life isn’t supposed to be about avoiding pain,” I say. Geez, I sound like a goddamn Buddha, expounding on the meaning of life. Vash the All-Knowing Guru, who doesn’t even have the sense to leave an Iconian dimensional portal turned off.
Not surprisingly, Kes blinks at me in confusion.
“You can’t go through your whole existence worrying about what might happen,” I try to explain, in the hope that I’m making a bit more sense this time. “You have to live in the moment.”
And I go on to illustrate my meaning by kissing her again. She kisses me back, at first hesitantly, and then with a growing enthusiasm. A few minutes later, we’ve both stripped off our clothes and gotten comfortable on a blanket I’ve thrown down on the sand, exploring each other’s bodies. Kes, despite her total lack of sexual experience, turns out to be much better at giving oral sex than Q ever was. I’ve always thought it takes a woman to do it right.
Afterward, we’re snuggling cozily together, the sun has begun to dip toward a vivid orange horizon, and Kes says dreamily, “I wish I could go back in time and live my life all over again. There are so many things I’d do differently.”
Then her body becomes taut and she sits up abruptly, the wild look coming back into her eyes as she says, “Maybe . . .”
Before I can stop her, she leaps into the dimensional portal and vanishes.
“Kes,” I call after her, as her outline fades, “I trust you to do what’s right.”
I can’t tell if she’s able to hear me at all. I don’t have any way of knowing if she’ll be able to conquer her dark side, to make the right choices when the time comes.
But of course, that’s what makes life interesting, never knowing what comes next.