Last Q Emily Hanson The initial setting is several months after Last Knight. Disclaimers: Star Trek is owned by Paramount. Forever Knight is owned by Sony Pictures. This story wasn't written for profit, just enjoyment. Permission is given to archive at the FTP site and whoever else wants to archive this. Note: Thanks, Kyer for challenging me to write this story and beta-reading. I was inspired by a recent thread on Forkni-L (some of you may recognize the beginning.) Part 1 Q appeared in the loft with a bright flash of light, startling Nick Knight. The newcomer was dressed strangely, and gave off no blood- scent. But he wasn't a vampire, either. Weird... "Who are you?" Nick asked, confused. "I am Q." "Q who?" "Q, the omnipotent, immortal, and all-powerful being who's going to take you to the Enterprise," the entity replied arrogantly. "What? Why?" Nick asked, looking slightly paler than usual. Who was this man? The power to simply appear wherever he wished - and how did he pull that off? - meant that Q was probably more powerful than LaCroix or the Enforcers. The blonde vampire shivered at that thought. Q snapped his fingers, and he and the vampire appeared on the Enterprise-E bridge. Stars and planets whooshed by on the view screen at faster-than-light speed. Nick had the disconcerting realization that he was in outer space and far from home. Captain Picard glared at the entity. "Q! What are you doing here?" "Oh, I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop in. I brought a guest," Q replied nonchalantly, gesturing towards Nicholas. "For his own good, of course." Nick glanced around. These surroundings were unfamiliar. It was like something out of a science fiction movie. Maybe he shouldn't have had that pig's blood instead of cow for breakfast, but there was a shortage of cow lately. "Where are we? Why don't I feel so good?" The vampire sniffed the air. "What is that weird smell?" His blue eyes turned golden as his control slipped from the stress of the situation. The vampire knew blood when he scented it, but this was definitely not human plasma. "Q, I demand that you and your companion leave this instant," Picard exclaimed. "Not likely, mon capitan. Nicholas de Brabant needs to learn a valuable lesson, and he's staying until that's done." Q sounded adamant. "What's that smell?" Nick asked again. He looked very queasy. Suddenly, the vampire's fangs dropped. Grimacing, the blonde vampire clenched his stomach. "You aren't used to extra-terrestrials yet. I imagine that's the Klingon and Vulcan blood making you faintly ill." Q yawned, pretending to be bored. Nicholas de Brabant was actually very entertaining. Why hadn't the entity thought of testing vampires sooner? "Aliens? You've got to be kidding." Nick's jaw dropped, revealing gleaming white fangs. "No. I'm not human either." Nick shook his head in disbelief. "I really need to get back on cow, pig blood is obviously driving me insane." "Q, get off my ship!" Looking hurt, the entity replied, "You wound me, Picard." But he snapped his fingers, leaving poor Nick on the Enterprise bridge. Nicholas pinched himself. As a vampire, he couldn't feel pain, but he thought the idea might work to snap himself out of this strange dream. Unfortunately, it didn't. "I'm not waking up. Why is that?" "You're not asleep," Jean-Luc Picard informed him, curious now that the annoying entity had disappeared. He picked up a nearby tricorder and looked puzzled as it spit out data. "What species are you? This tricorder doesn't recognize any of your vitals. Are you a Q, too?" "No. You'll never believe me if I tell you." "Counselor?" Deanna Troi shifted in her chair. "He's not lying, but he's hiding something, Captain. Beyond that, I can't tell you much. His mental shields are too enhanced for me to get through." Nick looked surprised. "You can read minds?" "I am half-Betazoid and half-human. Betazoids are a telepathic and empathic species. Where are you from?" "I'm from early twenty-first century Earth." "But you're not human, and there are no records of extra-terrestrials on Earth at that time," Picard said. "There is an explanation. I'm, uh . . ." What if there were Enforcers in the future? Could the alien Q protect him from them? He didn't think this man would accept anything but the truth. Hopefully, Q would take him home before the Enforcers staked him. "I'm a vampire." "That's absurd." Nick went into full vamp mode. "Oh, my." Picard took a step back. "Forgive me for doubting you. It's just . . ." "Unbelievable, I know." The vampire looked normal again. "I'm over 800 years old, I was born in the year 1193." "Incredible. Where are you from?" "Originally, the region of Brabant. It became part of Belgium eventually. I live in Toronto, Canada and work as a police detective." "A vampire detective?" Picard wondered what books Arthur Conan Doyle would have written if he'd known vampires existed. He imagined Sherlock Holmes with glowing red eyes and fangs, peering through a magnifying glass. Police officers in Nick's time had better technology, but the idea was still too incongruous. "Do you drink human blood?" "Not often, and certainly not from live subjects. We had blood donations back then, you know. What year is it, anyway?" "This is Earth year 2380, on your calendar. We use a different dating system now." Picard frowned thoughtfully. "Mr. De Brabant . . ." Why did that name sound familiar? He decided to have someone research the ship's history banks. "Please, call me Nick," the vampire said with a smile. "All right. Nick, do you know why Q brought you here?" "No. He just appeared, introduced himself, and said he was taking me to the Enterprise. Where is the Enterprise?" "This is it." Jean-Luc gestured. "My starship. We are approximately 900 light years away from Earth, traveling at six and a half times the speed of light. Welcome aboard." "You know, if I'd said in 13th-century France that ships would travel to the stars like this, they'd have laughed and called me insane. Even in the 20th century, faster-than-light speed is still science fiction." So this was the future. He'd always wondered what it would be like. Granted, the vampire would probably live to see it anyway, but a preview was welcome. Nicholas wished he knew what Q had in store for him. So, Nicholas de Brabant was just another victim of Q's, Picard thought. At least, they had something in common. The captain permitted himself a smile. "Perhaps, but not for much longer. Since we don't know how long you'll be here, you might as well make yourself comfortable." Jean-Luc called for security to escort Nick to guest quarters. To the security team, the captain said, "He's from the past. Q kidnapped him. You'll have to show him how to use the basic facilities and the replicator." "Understood, Sir." Floating in space, unseen to the mortals on the Enterprise and undetected by their sensors, Q peered through one of the ship's windows. Well, Picard may have wanted him off the ship, but the captain didn't say anything about not staying nearby. He watched and waited until the security team had escorted Nick to his quarters. Then the entity snapped his fingers, for it was time to let the vampire find out why he was there. Nick jumped and let out a growl as Q materialized in front of him. "Don't you ever knock?" "No. There is a reason why you're here, my fanged friend. You will be faced with the most difficult choice you've ever had to make." "What choice is that?" Q gave an infuriating I-know-something-you-don't smile. "You'll see. The point is, what you decide depends on whether or not you go back to your own time." Nick sighed. "Great. I don't suppose you'll give me any hints." Q laughed. "Of course not, that would be too easy." Suddenly, the entity cocked his head, as if hearing a voice in the distance. "Just a nanosecond, Q. As I was saying, I'll be nearby." He brought up his hand to snap his fingers. "Wait. How do you do that disappearing trick?" "It's really quite simple. I think, therefore I am. The power of the mind is underestimated by mortals. And yes, that includes vampires, for you can die. Now, I really must go." Q snapped his fingers and vanished. Nick sighed and wondered what he'd gotten into. An hour later, Deanna was reading a file when her comm badge signaled, "Captain Picard to Counselor Troi." "What can I do for you?" "I'd like you to spend some time with our guest and try to find out as much as you can about him and his kind. This is an incredible learning experience; we mustn't waste it." "All right." Part 2 Nick was lying on the bed when the door chime sounded. "Uh, come in." He'd been briefed about the technology by the security team, but was still a little uncomfortable with the idea of talking to computers, especially computers that conversed as easily as humans. He recognized the telepathic woman from the bridge. She was really quite attractive. "Hi," Nick said and gave a boyish smile. "Hello. I'm Counselor Troi, but you can call me Deanna. The captain wanted to make sure you weren't having any problems adjusting." "Oh. I'm fine." She noticed that there was an empty glass on the counter. "Did security show you how to use the replicator?" "They did. Is there a way to make something other than solid food?" "Certainly. I'll show you." Troi stepped in front of the machine. "One cup containing human plasma at normal body temperature." There was a whirring sound and a flash of light, and the beverage appeared. Nick's nostrils flared from the scent. "That's obviously real, but it's not taken from a person?" "No. We can transmute matter into nearly anything." Nick's eyes widened. "Amazing." He took a sip. It was good, but had none of the strings attached with real blood. The vampire grimaced, thinking of Alyssa. If only such a blood substitute had been available so long ago. "You don't like it?" Deanna asked, misunderstanding the vampire's expression. He was, like Q, nearly impossible to read. She had to rely on her physical senses. "Actually, I do. The fact that there's no memories . . ." "What do you mean?" Nick explained, "When vampires drink blood from humans or an animal, we also gain their memories, even when that blood is donated and in a bottle or other container. You feel what the mortals felt and learn what they learned. In essence, you absorb a small part of them." His voice betrayed him by wavering. "It can have an intoxicating effect. You crave more and more, and it becomes difficult to stop." Deanna Troi was beginning to understand. "You don't like being a vampire." "No." "Why not?" "Because, a long time ago, I had to kill to survive. I still have that same capacity for violence, but I struggle against it every day. When I'm in a room with humans, I have to make a conscious effort to restrain myself. If I had one wish, it would be to regain my humanity. I was born human, and became the way I am because of a stupid decision." "It is possible that with our technology, you wouldn't have to be a vampire any more. I want you to meet Dr. Beverly Crusher. I'm sure she'd be willing to take a sample of your DNA and see what she can do." Incredible. If they could actually cure him . . . Natalie would have been thrilled. A red tear welled up in Nick's eye at the memory of losing her, to his own lack of control. Concerned, Deanna asked, "Are you all right?" "When you get to be my age, Counselor, most of your memories are not happy. A good friend of mine tried to cure me once. It didn't work out." "Well, maybe it'll work this time. Would you like to try?" "Sure." Beverly Crusher looked up to see her friend, Deanna, and a complete stranger entering sick bay. "Deanna." "Yes." "This is Nick de Brabant," Troi said, not realizing that 'Nick' referred to the vampire's current identity. "Q brought him here against his will." "Sorry to hear that." Beverly shook hands with Nick and wondered why he felt so cold. Picking up a tricorder, she scanned him and frowned. "That's odd. I'm not reading any life signs." "Captain Picard tried to use a device just like that on me. There is a reason for it not working. I'm a, uh, vampire." "What?" "Nick's telling the truth, Beverly," Deanna assured the doctor. "You mean this man has deluded himself into believing he's a vampire?" Dr. Crusher was skeptical. How could such a thing be real? "Go ahead, show her what we all saw on the bridge." Nick vamped out. "Please don't be afraid," he lisped through gleaming white fangs. "I don't bite." Beverly nearly dropped the tricorder in surprise. "Oh!" "Now, we still don't know why Q brought him here," Deanna said as the vampire's face returned to normal. "But Nick has told me that he was human once. Isn't it possible that his current state could be the result of a rare illness we haven't heard of yet?" "Well, I'm willing to try and find out," Beverly said. "Great. What do I have to do?" "Hold out your arm so I can get a DNA sample." Dr. Crusher took an instrument and hovered it a fraction of an inch. So quick that Nick barely caught the movement, a needle pierced his skin and then retracted. "I will let you know what my tests come up with. It'll be a few hours." "Thank you, Doctor." "Would you like me to show you the rest of the ship?" Deanna asked. "I'd love to see it." "Ok." An hour later, Deanna escorted Nick back to his quarters. So far, Q was keeping his word and hadn't showed up. Nicholas was amazed by the technological advances that had been made over the years. The transporters, the Holodeck, replicators, the warp drive . . . everything was incredible. He pinched himself again, to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Nothing happened. Nick replicated himself a mug of plasma and sipped it. The door chimed. "It's the captain," Jean-Luc said. "May I come in?" "Certainly," Nick answered, wondering why the captain was taking the time to visit. Surely Picard had more important things to do. The doors swooshed open and the captain strode in confidently. "Mr. De Brabant . . . Nick, I was wondering if you'd care to talk with me. You see, history has always been one of my favorite subjects and I don't often get the chance to converse with someone who's lived through it. Our Holodeck has representations of historical characters, of course, but it's not the same thing." Nick nodded. "What would you like to know about?" "For starters, what did you do back in the 13th century?" Picard waited to see if Nick's answer would confirm his suspicions. His assistant had discovered a birth record of a Nicholas De Brabant, who had fought in the crusades. There was no mention of him afterward, the man had simply vanished. "I was a Crusader, though not by my own choice." Nick told Jean-Luc the story of how he'd gotten involved with a woman who worshipped the ancient gods, how she was murdered, and that he was forced to either take the blame or join the Crusades. Then he told Picard about meeting Janette and LaCroix for the first time, and how he was tricked by them into becoming a vampire. Nick mentioned a few tidbits about his early life, and then went straight to the twentieth century and his life in Toronto. The captain listened with growing interest. He found himself in awe of the vampire pursuing good against all odds and who wanted nothing more than to become human. It was highly likely that this was the same Nicholas De Brabant who had disappeared right after the Crusades. "That's quite an amazing story. There are really others like you?" "Yes, but I don't know what has happened to them now." "Incredible." It was like a holonovel plot. The vampire had lived through so much. There were aspects of his story that bothered Picard, though. The fact that the vampire had glossed over his brief marriage to a mortal, saying that it hadn't worked out, made Jean-Luc wonder what really happened. Not to mention that the vampire skipped over six centuries as though they hadn't existed. What had happened then? The captain started to ask his questions, but suddenly, the computer on the wall spoke. "Dr. Crusher to Nick." "I'm here," the vampire replied. "Can you come to sickbay?" Nicholas looked at the captain questioningly. "Go ahead," Jean-Luc said. "I'll walk you down there." "I'll be right there," Nick answered. "All right." The computer went silent. Part 3 "It appears that your condition is the result of a virus," Beverly told Nick, as he and Captain Picard arrived. "The virus is only transmitted through direct contact with the blood stream, which explains why it's so rare. Now, I've analyzed your DNA structure and come up with a plan. I've designed a genetically-engineered antibody that will attack your virus until it is completely diminished. One injection a day for the next three days should do the trick." "Great," Nick replied. "Excellent work, Beverly," Captain Picard said. "Hopefully, Q will let our guest stay that long." "We might as well give it a shot," the vampire replied, grinning at his own pun. "All right. Hold out your arm." Nick complied, and winced as Dr. Crusher injected him with a hypospray. He felt a surge of nausea then, and doubled over. Grabbing his arm, Beverly led him to the metallic table that served as a bed for sick patients. "Lie down." Suddenly the vampire hissed as pain raged through his arm. His eyes turned blood-red. Beverly set restraints in place and held her breath as her patient struggled against them, spouting curses in French. Captain Picard grimaced. Nick's French might be archaic, but four- letter words hadn't changed much with time. According to legend, vampires were incredibly strong. To be on the safe side, Beverly raised a force field surrounding the bed. Slowly, Nick's eyes returned to their normal blue color. "I'm sorry, Doctor," he said weakly. "Vampires don't make very good patients." "It's all right," Dr. Crusher answered. "Do you need sustenance?" Strangely, Nick was thirsty, but not for blood. "Water would be nice." Captain Picard gave him an incredulous look as Beverly replicated a glass of water. She had to lower the force field to hand it to her patient. "Here you go." "Thanks." He took a tentative sip. It had been years since he'd drank plain water. The liquid normally made him queasy. It was clear and refreshing. Nick drank the whole glass and set it down. "Well, my stomach isn't doing somersaults yet. That's a good sign." Dr. Crusher smiled. "I recommend you go back to your quarters, but get plenty of rest. Drink as much water as you need to. If you feel hungry for solid food, by all means, eat. I'd like to see you again at 09:00 tomorrow for your next injection." "Thank you, Doctor. You've given me more hope than I've had in ages." Nick went back to his quarters and rested on the bed. Suddenly, Q appeared from out of nowhere. "Enjoying the future so far?" The entity asked with a sneer, folding his arms across his chest. "Q!" Fervently, the vampire hoped the annoying alien wouldn't send him back to the twentieth century. Not when he had the cure in his hands. "Don't worry, mon ami, I'm not sending you back yet. I just thought I would drop by." "How did you . . ." "Know what you were thinking? I'm telepathic. Your pitiful mental shields may be enough to keep certain mortals out of your mind, but they are no match for my omnipotence," Q arrogantly replied. "Pitiful!" The vampire was up on his feet now, glaring at Q. "Yes. If you'd like, I can show you how to use them more effectively." "Why would you do that?" Nick asked, skeptical of the irritating alien. "Oh, it would be so much fun to see how your master reacts when he can't read your mind. Entertainment is my reason for existing, after all." The entity's eyes twinkled mischievously. The offer was tempting, but if the cure worked, Nick wouldn't need LaCroix anymore. "Go away. Don't you have someone else to bother?" "As a matter of fact, no. Not at the moment. But I will leave you alone because I feel like it." The entity vanished. The vampire let out a sigh of relief that Q hadn't teleported him back home, and relaxed again. Soon, sleep overcame him. At 09:00 sharp the next morning, Beverly heard the doors whoosh open. Her latest patient walked in. "Good morning, Nick." "Actually, it's night for me, but I slept most of the evening through, so I'm wide awake." "Have a seat, I'll be right with you." She prepared his hypospray. As a safety precaution, she'd programmed a new force field that could be raised with a verbal command, if the need arose. "Ok, you know the routine by now." Nick chuckled and held out his arm. Once again, the hypospray went in. The pain wasn't as bad this time. He only felt slightly queasy. Ready for any trouble, Beverly watched for signs of the vampire's fangs emerging. When there were none, she smiled. "Easier the second time around?" "Much," her patient acknowledged. "Thanks, Doctor. I really appreciate this." "Just doing my job." "Is there anything I can do for you? I used to have a charitable foundation. Maybe it still exists. If it does, I could repay you for all your efforts." "That's all right, you don't have to. I don't accept monetary compensation for my services, except through Starfleet. However, I appreciate the thought." "All right. What time should I come back tomorrow?" "How about 16:00, if 09:00 is late for you?" "Sounds good." Nick returned to his quarters. He passed the time by reading a few 20th century novels, which Counselor Troi had provided him with. Doing a computer search for any of his vampire companions would be fruitless, because they would have taken new identities by now, anyway. It was unlikely that he'd recognize them by their names alone. Later that day, Nick went to the mess hall and tried eating solid food. He successfully ate chicken noodle soup and a ham sandwich, but when he tried a piece of chocolate cake, Nick felt slightly queasy. Deciding that he'd had enough food for now, the vampire went for a walk. He met Lt. Commander Data in the hallway. The strange being greeted him in a friendly manner. Data was dressed in clothes that would have been in fashion during the 18th century. "Hello, Mr. De Brabant. I am currently off-duty, and I'm going to the holodeck to work on my Sherlock Holmes scenario. Would you care to join me?" "Holodeck?" "A facility that can project solid holograms. It has many uses, including recreation. In your time, motion pictures were projected onto flat screens. Such stories are now recreated in holodecks and holo- theaters. The holodeck is also used for military training and scientific testing." "Oh. I once met Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." The vampire couldn't figure out why he wasn't able to hear Data's heartbeat. Was the cure working? Or was Data an alien similar to Q? "Did you really?" "Yes. Have you read the Hound of the Baskervilles?" "Several times." "Then perhaps you'd be interested to know where the author got his idea for that story." Nick proceeded to tell Data about the vampire dog. "Fascinating," the android said after Nick was finished. "So your condition can be spread to animals." "Only by direct contact with the bloodstream, as in humans. And contact with animals is discouraged." "Ah," Data said. He came to a panel and punched in an access code. The holodeck doors slid open. "Is sunlight real here?" Nick asked, suddenly concerned that he would burn to a crisp after stepping inside. "It is normal light, magnified by the computer's image processor. It does not have ultra-violet radiation. I am familiar with various legends of vampires. Does the sun actually burn your skin?" "Yes." The android nodded. "I shall keep that in mind. Computer, activate program Data 413-b at the beginning of Chapter One, and set the time five hours ahead." An 17th century office was revealed. "My character is Sherlock Holmes," Data said. "You are Watson." Nick was familiar enough with the stories, so he nodded. "Which book is this from?" "It's a scenario of my own creation. I am endeavoring to become more like humans, and creating things is one way to do that. The vampire could understand that. "Are you an alien?" "No, I am an android, and so far, the only one in existence." "You mean, like a robot?" "A very sophisticated robot," Data said. Nick wondered if he'd hurt his feelings. Did the android have feelings? "Sorry," the vampire hastily apologized. "An apology is not necessary. You were simply making an analogy to technology you are familiar with. Now, in this scenario, the captain of an English Naval vessel is killed while attending a play with his wife. There are several possible suspects, which the computer chooses at random, as well as the clues. We are about to hear from Scotland Yard." For several hours, Nick played an old-fashioned detective with the android. It was quite entertaining. He wished such technology was available in his time, but Data told him it wouldn't be invented until the late 22nd century. Data gained an appreciation of the vampire's detective skills as the program went on. No doubt, he was very good at his job. After all, De Brabant had 800 years of experience to draw on, not to mention his vampiric abilities. Unfortunately, they were useless on holograms, Nick explained, after attempting to whammy a suspect. Nick grinned as Data stopped the program. That had been fun! "I see you enjoyed this," the android said, pleased. "Oh, yes. Especially the part where we foiled your villain. That character reminded me of my own master, Lucien LaCroix." "Master? I was unaware that slavery still existed in the 20th Century." After Nicholas explained about vampire masters and fledglings, Data was even more intrigued. He asked the vampire if he wouldn't mind sharing enough knowledge of his sire's personality and physiology to make a holographic profile. Nick hesitated. He wasn't too sure about having his master here, even if only as part of a program on the holodeck! But Data was persistent, and really, what harm could it do? So Nicholas relented. Then, he went back to his quarters and relaxed. Part 4 "It is 1500 hours and 45 minutes," the computer informed Nick. The vampire yawned. Time for his third and final treatment. Would it work? There was only one way to find out. Beverly Crusher looked up as Nicholas De Brabant entered. "Good afternoon," she said. "How do you feel?" "Good." Nick grinned. "Earlier, I had soup and a sandwich. It stayed down." "That's wonderful! Have a seat, I'll be right with you." The doctor picked up a hypospray. "So, when was the last time you had solid food?" "A few years ago. A doctor on Earth tried to help me, but her treatments didn't work," he replied sadly. Natalie, I hope you can see me now, wherever you are, Nick thought. She would have been ecstatic to learn that he'd eaten. "Well, hopefully this will." Nick held out his arm, and she pressed the hypospray plunger. "That's it," Beverly said with a smile. Nick felt the darkness vanishing from him, as if it had never been there. Tears of joy welled up in his eyes. "I think you did it, Doctor Crusher." Suddenly, Q appeared. "Yes, Beverly, you did. Now, De Brabant, the choice is yours. Do you wish to stay here as a human, or return to the past? If you do, you'll still be a vampire - but you'll regain something else that you've lost." "What?" Nick wondered aloud. "Your precious Natalie, who died so tragically in your arms." Nicholas felt anger surge at this alien, who was playing with his life and Nat's death. "Natalie's probably happy where she is. Even if you have the ability to bring her back, would she really want to come back? Especially after what I did?" "What did you do, Nick?" Beverly asked softly. "He drained her," Q said matter-of-factly. "It wasn't entirely his fault, though. The little vixen had so enticed him, that he couldn't resist her blood." The entity smirked as if the whole thing was funny. "Natalie did nothing of the sort," Nick shouted. "Oh, come now. You're telling me that she wasn't enticing in that lingerie?" Q made a lewd gesture. "How do you know what she looked like?" "I can read your mind, remember? In any case, you must make a decision to remain human, or be a vampire again." It was a difficult choice. Should he stay in a future he knew nothing about, or go back in time, where LaCroix would probably plague him for all of eternity and he might never become human again. "Can I at least have some time to think about it?" "Time? You've had over 700 years to regret your last bad decision and you want more time to think?" Q replied, incredulous. "Just a few minutes." The entity snorted. "Given your past history of making poor choices, I'm going to let you have an hour. At least, then you won't spend the next eight centuries angsting over it and claiming I misled you." "Fine." Though he was human, Nick came very close to snarling at the alien. "I'm going to the holodeck." "You want to relax at a time like this?" "No, I want to talk with LaCroix." "Well, why didn't you just say so?" Q snapped his fingers and LaCroix suddenly appeared. The elder vampire's black silk pajamas and mussed-up hair made Nicholas wonder if Q had teleported him out of bed. If so, LaCroix was not going to be happy. Nick took a cautious step back. "Nicholas, what is going on?" The elder vampire demanded. "I must be dreaming. What is this place?" "Welcome to the starship Enterprise," Beverly said. "I'm Doctor Crusher." Enterprise . . . wasn't that in a science fiction show? Not that the General would waste his time watching such a thing. "Now I know I'm dreaming," LaCroix declared, and tried his best to wake up. Q snickered. "You're not sleeping anymore, Lucius of Pompeii. This is reality. Well, it's a possible reality." "Who are you? Why did you bring me and Nicholas here?" "I devised this little test for Nicholas. You see, certain things have happened recently that the Continuum decided should be corrected. However, since I like the way this timeline has turned out, I proposed a test to my superiors, and they agreed. Should De Brabant decide to remain human, he will stay in the future and everything will continue on this path. If he decides to go back, history will be rewritten." Q wiped a tear from his eye. "Kind of sad, isn't it, Beverly? I know I'll miss Jean-Luc and this ship. You may still exist, depending on how events occur, but things will certainly be different." Whether he was exaggerating about missing them or not, Crusher couldn't tell. "You mean we're not supposed to be here, Q?" "I mean," he replied as if explaining things to a three-year-old, "that Nicholas' actions in the past have messed up the timeline quite thoroughly. Humans were supposed to know about vampires by now, for example. Obviously, something has gone wrong." "Can you give me and LaCroix some time to talk, Q?" Nick asked. "Of course. You have 56 minutes and 18 seconds left." Q snapped his fingers and vanished. Nick and LaCroix went to Nick's quarters. "So, who is this Q?" the elder vampire wanted to know. "A very powerful alien." "Alien?" LaCroix's eyebrows shot up. Surely Nicholas was joking. But then, he'd sensed nothing from Q -- no blood, no heartbeat, nothing. It was quite possible, he supposed. Surely no vampire could simply disappear like that, or abduct him and Nicholas from the past. "Yes. We are in the 24th century, LaCroix. They have remarkable technology. Imagine equipment that could manufacture just about any item you wished to have, including human plasma." "Does it taste any good?" "Well, since it's not taken from a live source, you don't get the memories. It's more edible than cow." Nick replicated a glass and watched his sire taste it. "Not bad," Lucien admitted, "but I'd still rather have the real thing. Tell me, Nicholas, do you really wish to stay here?" "Yes," Nick replied. "I'm human, in case you haven't noticed! I don't want to go back to what I was. Do you know what else Q's planning to do? He said he'll take me back to the night Natalie died and bring her back." "Can he do that?" LaCroix asked. It was a wonder the strange being didn't demand to be worshipped! The vampire would have commanded Beverly to kneel at his feet, had he one tenth of the alien's abilities. Had he that much power in ancient Rome, LaCroix would have conquered all of Europe and taken the throne for himself. Typical, Q thought with disgust. Though he was invisible, the entity could see and hear their conversation perfectly. What a primitive creature this LaCroix was, bent on having authority over others and dominating them. It would be interesting to give him what he wished for as a test, but Q feared the vampire would go insane and destroy everyone in his path. No, this one should not be tested in that manner. Perhaps a different test, though, Q mused. "He's given me no reason to believe otherwise." "But, isn't that what you want?" Nick stared at his sire incredulously. "Natalie's probably having the time of her live in Heaven. You want me to drag her back from there?" He shuddered at the thought of how that would weigh on his soul. Surely he would never be forgiven that sin, and Natalie would never forgive him. "Oh, Nicholas." LaCroix shook his head. "You are truly pathetic. I thought I was making progress." "Let me guess. You're going to tell me there is no Heaven?" "No, I've learned long ago that I'll never win that particular argument with you. However, if this Q has offered to bring Natalie back, then it won't be on your soul, it'll be on his. Assuming that it's even a sin in the first place. I've certainly never heard of such a thing happening before." Nick had to agree. "But how can I justify it? It'll be a completely selfish act on my part. What if she comes back and hates me for the rest of her life?" "Didn't you hear what Q said before, Nicholas? The timeline is 'messed up'. Therefore, Natalie was not supposed to die in the first place. You won't be doing anything that wasn't already supposed to happen." Unable to resist, LaCroix whispered into Nick's ear, "and perhaps, since you won't have killed her, you won't have that sin to worry about." Nick sighed. "What about our deal?" "Ah, yes. I was wondering when you were going to get to that. Let's call it even. Your love did die, after all. Unless this Q wipes our memories when he takes us back, that is. You are going back, aren't you, Nicholas?" Nick nodded. "Yes, LaCroix." Part 5 "I'd like to go home," Nick said. Q's eyes twinkled mischievously as he appeared out of nowhere. "There are still 7 minutes and 35 seconds left. Don't you want the rest of your hour?" "No, Q. I've decided." "Very well." Then Q snapped his fingers, and Nick was back in the loft . . . only Natalie was there, in his arms, and he hadn't drained her. His memories of the Enterprise were quickly fading. "Nick, I . . . I'm sorry. We shouldn't be doing this. You're right," Nat said. "What?" Q was correct, Natalie was very enticing, Nick thought. His fangs emerged. "Until you're cured, or you can control your impulses better, we shouldn't do this. I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking." He touched Natalie's shoulder and wondered how she could be real. "Okay. When we're both ready, I'll be here." Nick gave her a brief kiss and went into the kitchen to get a bottle of cow's blood while Natalie changed. Was that really the future he'd been shown? Or just a possible glimpse of it? There was no way for him to know. Natalie was alive, they had another chance, and that was what mattered. As Nick's last memories of Q vanished, the entity grinned from his relaxed position on Nick's black leather couch. The vampire couldn't see or sense him, of course. "My work here is done," Q said and disappeared with a flash of light. The End!