"This is borrrrrrring..."
"Pay attention." Maggie's watcher, her overseer, lightly cuffed her on the back of the neck.
She liked doing that, a little too much, Maggie thought – irritating, to put it mildly. Maggie wanted to turn her into a Dantari gutter worm then drop her into a black hole. The watcher wouldn't appreciate it, but that didn't soothe the urge. Increased it, rather...
But then, that was the point of this exercise – part of Q Prime's decree: to teach the younger Q respect for lesser lifeforms. They all had to learn it, he declared. At least they had the benefit of watchers, he said; he had learn the hard way... She suspected this was Q's way of getting revenge, for being forced to "shape up".
"There," the watcher said. "Did you see?"
Maggie thought, If I turn her into a dung beetle, would it be disrespectful to the beetle? She sighed. "Yes."
The watcher fixed her with steely dark eyes. "Don't lie."
Maggie didn't – not exactly. She saw... something. She just wasn't sure, yet, what she saw, or was supposed to see.
The watcher scrutinized her, her intense gaze drilling through the young Q. Rumor had it this particular watcher used to be Vulcan: stern, uncompassionate... hard as nails, cold as ice. "What did you see?"
They stood in one of the humans' flying boxes: containers called starships. 'Standing' was still new to Maggie, a strange way to occupy space and time, with physical appendages. None of the Q needed to stand, or use these things called 'legs'. These organic beings who used them for bipedal locomotion... They were so limited. So primitive.
And yet the Continuum took great interest in such things. They didn't act interested. In fact, they tried to act uninterested, as if it didn't really matter to them. But the harder they tried, the more clear it became: Bipedal beings, especially the ones called humans, intrigued them. Thus, Q often took human form, as Maggie did, and was forced to do. This container, this vessel in which they stood, she and her watcher (who, again, was rumored to have once been Vulcan... = bipedal!, shockingly), contained humans, primarily.
Answering the watcher's question, Maggie said, in a tone that made it clear as she could that she was bored (and wanted to be somewhere else), "The bomb exploded, and he's dead."
And what?, Maggie wanted to answer, but held her tongue and replayed the scene. There, the watcher had said; did you see? Maggie looped time, in that moment, continuously, repeating as much as needed, in order to discern the watcher's "there", unsure what she was meant to find. Such abundant energy flowed, so many possibilities and probabilities, following paths, like rivers in motion. Organics, humanoids, with their pitiful, pathetic, limited senses, could not begin to comprehend.
Maggie gave up and tried not to shrug. "He could've died. It could've killed the captain instead... or it could've failed."
"Follow it," the watcher said. "Remember why we're here."
The engineer's death saddened his friends; most acutely the ship's first officer. They didn't realize that his energy simply transferred into another medium. At the same time, alternate realities sprang into motion.
While Maggie endured this inane exercise, a tiny, subtle voice, like a distant whisper from a deep well far across the cosmos, filtered through the recesses of her awareness... an indeterminate voice, issuing words in a lyrical, sing-song tone:
Shiver, sliver, toil. I quiver, shiver...
When you're spilling blood, it's bound to get messy.
Oh, sliver, shiver... I think I like you...
I like Q.
I, like Q.
Maggie watched the watcher. The watcher seemed oblivious and unaware – but then, she was only a watcher, not Q. Watchers had no true power over Q; only the authority Q, the prime Q, that Q, granted them – as watchers, guides, teachers, instructors.
So Maggie didn't ask if the watcher heard. Obviously she didn't. And the tiny far-off whisper... something in it told her that this was not meant to be shared with lesser beings. Only Q.
Only her. Maggie.
"Your attention's wandering," the watcher said. "Focus."
Can I please turn her into a bug and squash her, Maggie thought.
"You would miss the point of the exercise," the watcher said, that dark-eyed gaze still upon her. "And I would have failed to teach you. So, no, you may not turn me into a bug."
Aw, Q, Maggie thought, you didn't give her the ability to read our minds...!
But, of course, Q had done just that. At least she could read Maggie's mind, this one.
"I don't understand 'the point of the exercise'," Maggie said, mocking her watcher by duplicating her voice in a derisive tone. "Maybe if you'd just get to it and stop wasting time..."
"Wasting time," the watcher said. "What is 'wasting time' for a supposedly omnipotent being, who can live for all of time and never die?"
"I just mean—"
"You're impatient," the watcher said. In that statement, she lost just a bit of her own patience. Only a trifle, but Maggie picked it up, the sudden edge in her demeanor. "That's exactly why we're having this exercise. Now as I said before: Look, and tell me what you see."
"Alternate realities... universes... timelines... whatever you want to call them," Maggie said.
"Except there are no such things," the watcher said. "Correct? Then how is it that you detect them? What, exactly, do you see? Are you certain of what you see?"
"Well, what am I supposed to see?" Maggie was getting irritated now.
"The form and method of sight, which you use to see – which all beings use to see, whether they use the eyes of an organic being, or the eyes of Q – determines what you see. That is what you are meant to see... to learn, and understand. It isn't only what you see, but how you see it."
"Were you Vulcan?" Maggie asked, finally fed up with not knowing the truth behind the rumor. "Before you became a watcher."
"What makes you believe I am not Vulcan now?"
"Because you're... a watcher." Maggie looked her up and down, gesturing. "It should be obvious."
"And what did I just tell you, about seeing?"
About to retort, Maggie jerked in abrupt shock when the watcher grabbed her face and turned it to the scene on this 'starship' they inhabited. "Look," the watcher commanded.
It was then that Maggie saw: Not herself... yet herself... another form of herself, her yet not her... hidden from the view of the bipedals inside this vessel, but not from her, not from Maggie herself; nor the watcher.
"What are you doing here?" Maggie said to her other self, surprised to see that she had been split in time. Q, in different times.
The other Maggie gave her a look that spoke volumes, yet said not a single word. This Maggie looked identical, but was older, much much older, in her 'eyes' (though Q lacked eyes in the organic sense, since they lacked organs altogether), in her countenance, in the way she looked at Maggie – looked at herself. This Maggie was wiser. Mature. Responsible. And had a purpose.
Maggie witnessed what she herself was doing: Taking one of those threads, those alternate outcomes that supposedly could not exist (for there was only one universe, one timeline, since the advent of Chronos), and looping it, just as Maggie saw the possibility of doing earlier; she took it and connected it, and the death of the human laying at their feet became a non-event. It did not happen. And yet, his body, this human, remained, mortally wounded and lifeless.
His name (humans loved names) was Charles Tucker III – nicknamed 'Trip'.