Fandom: ST:TNG -- For gen_ficathon
Title: The Wizard of Q
Character(s): Crew and Q
Prompt: Q takes the crew on another "Qpid" style adventure through a work of classic literature.
Word Count: 7,740
Beta: bethynyc (and my Mom)
Author's Notes: See end.
Summary: Picard and Company must find their way out of a classic of children's literature.
"Captain's log, Stardate 47537.8. The Enterprise continues its survey of the previously unexplored Rylan star system -- previously unexplored because it's bloody boring -- " The captain sighed. "Computer, strike that last." While the life of a starship captain was often everything that Picard had hoped for as a youth, that excitement and adventure were often balanced by the tedious, routine mapping of new systems that didn't even have the virtue of having any indigenous life forms to catalog.
"Affirmative," the computer announced. Picard drew breath to continue his log entry, but was interrupted by his first officer's voice summoning him to the bridge. He popped up from behind his desk, then took the time to tug his uniform into place -- a habit that he knew the crew had started to call "the Picard Manuever" -- and cross his ready room at a decorous pace, so as not to let Commander Riker know how thankful he was for the interruption.
"Report," he said as he stepped onto the bridge.
"I thought you'd want to see this, Captain," Riker said, nodding at the forward viewscreen. Picard assumed the center position before he turned to look at the screen. He paused momentarily in surprise.
A sepia-tone scene appeared there but as Picard watched, a girl's hand reached forward and opened a door. A riot of bright colors and ridiculous vegetation filled the screen.
"What is this?" Picard demanded.
"The Wizard of Oz," Data answered, predictably, from his station at Ops.
"The Wizard of Oz?"
"It's an early example of a motion picture," Data answered, "from Earth's twentieth century. It starred Judy Garland as a young woman who traveled in her aunt and uncle's farmhouse from Kansas to the mythical land of Oz, where she had many adventures before returning home to Kansas, again." He cocked his head at the captain. "The movie was based on a children's novel by the writer Lyman Frank Baum."
"Indeed? And what's it doing on my viewscreen?"
"We're still trying to determine that, Captain," Riker answered. He waited for a beat until Picard assumed the center seat, then took his own station. "It just started playing, in the middle of the story."
All at once, a delicious smell permeated the bridge, and Picard found himself holding a flimsy cardboard box filled with fluffy yellow-and-white objects.
"Popcorn," Riker said, looking at his own box.
"Thank you, Commander, I know what it is," Picard said testily. He looked around the bridge, knowing already what he would see. He was...very much disappointed to be correct when the smirking form of Q appeared in the center of the bridge. He had brought his own divan with him, and he reclined upon it, delicately eating popcorn a single kernel at a time, apparently rapt in the movie.
"Q," Picard, at his most stern, said, "what is the meaning of this?" He stood and moved to the end of Q's couch.
"Shhh," Q said. He flicked his wrist and the lights on the bridge dimmed.
"Why are you here this time?" Riker asked, taking up a flanking position at the other end of the couch.
"Be quiet," Q replied, still popping kernels into his mouth. "I'm watching the movie."
"Why precisely are you watching a movie on my bridge?" Picard looked around the bridge, as if expecting more members of the Continuum to appear with their own divans and popcorn. "Computer," he said, "lights."
The computer acknowledged his command with a chirp and the bridge lights came back up.
Q sighed dramatically and looked away from the viewscreen, where Dorothy was even now backing slowly away from a large, pink bubble. "This is one of my favorite parts," he said. "I just love the way you humans portray the powers of the Continuum."
"Are you trying to say that your powers are magic?" Picard asked, cursing silently as he was drawn into the conversation despite himself.
"To you plodding humans, they are," Q replied.
"I thought you were giving Vash a tour of the galaxy," Riker said.
Q looked away. "Yes, well. We finished."
Picard could feel the eyes of the others as he took a deep, steadying breath. "You promised to keep her safe, Q."
"And so I did, mon capitain. We merely went our separate ways."
"So you've come here to tell me that?" Picard tried not to let any note of hope creep into his voice; Q would be quick to exploit any perceived weakness.
Q shook his head. "I came here to watch a movie," he replied. "You've got one of the best screens that I know of." He paused and glanced around at the bridge. His eyes lit up as Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher exited the turbolift. Crusher came to a halt as she noticed him, but Troi was intent on the captain.
"Captain," she said, "I sensed..." She stopped suddenly and looked over her shoulder. "Q," she finished.
"Yes, Counselor, thank you," Picard said at the same time that Q preened. "Very perceptive, Counselor."
To the captain, she nodded. The look she directed at Q was something more than impassive, but less than a glare.
"Well, Q, was that all you wanted? To watch this movie of yours? And then you'll go?" Picard knew from experience that the only way to get rid of Q was to fulfill his quixotic desires.
A malicious grin spread across Q's face and Picard braced himself. "No, mon capitain, I've just had a much better idea."
There was a flash of light, and Picard found himself standing in a village square, surrounded by a group of people clad all in blue. The tallest of them was no larger than a ten-year-old child.
"Q! None of your games!"
"Oh, Picard, when will you learn that I enjoy our 'games,' as you call them, too much to give them up?"
With a great effort of will, Picard calmed himself. "What is it you want, Q?"
Q flashed into existence in front of Picard. The little folk didn't seem to notice him. He raised his hand and a model of the Enterprise dangled from his fingers. "Find your ship, mon capitain," he said. "Find your crew and your way home. After all, it's traditional, and you do so value tradition. But I should warn you. It'll take more than clicking your heels together to end this game." And he vanished.
The little people crowded around Picard, clamoring -- in thanks, he finally realized. A flash of color where none should have been drew his attention to his clothing; his uniform had been replaced with denim coveralls and a blue gingham shirt. It seemed that he had been given the part of Dorothy in this little fiasco, a part he would have thought far more suited to either Dr. Crusher or Counselor Troi. He amused himself ever so briefly at the thought of Dr. T'Pen in a similar position, but decided that Vulcan logic would state that she should proceed in the manner dictated by the story. Unfortunately, Picard had only hazy memories of the story having been read to him once by his grandmother when he was quite young. Even as a lad, his taste in literature had run more to true adventure than to fairy tale adventure. And...which version of the tale was Q using? The original, the movie version, or any of a number of later adaptations? Picard suddenly wished for Data's expertise.
All at once, the little blue-clad folk cleared a space and an elderly woman stepped forward. This woman was no taller than the other folk, but dressed all in white, including her hat, which rose to a point nearly a foot above her head, making her appear much taller. Instead of making her ridiculous, the hat lent her an appearance of magisterial gravity.
"I greet you, stranger, and, on behalf of the Munchkins, welcome you to Munchkinland."
Picard, inwardly cursing Q, gamely put on his best diplomat's face. "And I thank you, madam. I am lost and far from home, and I wonder if you could direct me?"
"You have killed the Wicked Witch of the East," the woman said, looking beyond Picard, who obediently turned. A weathered farmhouse sat awkardly slanted, the remnants of someone's flower garden -- and someone's feet -- protruding from beneath it.
"Ah, yes. I'm terribly sorry about that, and the damage," Picard said, frantically trying to remember if this was part of the story or not.
"You have done all of Oz -- with the possible exception of the Witch of the West, anyway -- a great service," the elderly woman continued. Picard was certain that her eyes twinkled merrily for a moment before she continued. "I am the Witch of the North, and the Munchkins summoned me upon your arrival. What is it that you wish of us, stranger?"
"I only wish to find my friends and go home," Picard answered. "Can you help me?"
The woman nodded. "It may be that I can." She took off her hat, revealing a thick coronet of snow-white braids. She tossed her hat in the air. Picard watched its ascent until he could no longer make it out against the fluffy clouds. When he looked down again, she held a dark sphere in her hand, curiously marked with the mathematical symbol for infinity on a circular white field. "What must this stranger do in order to find his friends and his home?" the witch intoned. She shook the sphere slightly, then turned it so that the infinity sign was downward. Picard saw a flat surface on the bottom, like a tiny window into the sphere's depths. She peered into this window, pursed her lips, then tossed the sphere in the air. When Picard looked back, her hands were empty and her hat was on her head.
The twinkle was back in her eye, a twinkle Picard found familiar, despite the woman's vastly different appearance. "Guinan?" he asked cautiously.
The old woman nodded and suddenly the mistress of Ten-Forward appeared in her proper shape. The point of her white hat now towered over Picard. "Hello, Captain."
"Guinan, what are you doing here? Did Q transfigure you?"
"Yes, Captain. Q transfigured me and I'm playing along with his little charade."
Picard ignored the outraged sense of betrayal he felt at her words. All was not necessarily as it seemed. "But why?"
Guinan smiled her inscrutable smile. "Captain, the Continuum and the Q didn't just suddenly appear on your mission to Farpoint Station. They're as old as the universe, and other races have encountered them, too. They're not just your personal plague."
Picard nodded, accepting Guinan's gentle rebuke. "So why are you here, then?"
"You tend to forget that I'm a lot older than I look, Captain. I have owed a debt to the Q for a very long time and Q has chosen my participation in this game as the method of repayment."
"And once this is over with?"
"We all go back to the ship and laugh about it over drinks in Ten-Forward." She frowned slightly. "All except Data, of course. He really hasn't gotten the hang of laughing.
"And now, Captain, if you don't mind?"
"Of course, Guinan. Carry on."
"Thank you." She cleared her throat. "You must go see the Wizard in the Emerald City," she said. "Only he can help you find your friends and your way home."
"And how do I get there?" Picard asked.
"It is a long journey along the road of yellow bricks," Guinan answered, "but the road is a true one and will take you there directly. The Munchkins will give you provisions to help you along your road, for they are in your debt." She leaned forward slightly, in the manner of someone about to impart a secret. "And one last thing, Captain, from me to you. Oz is a lot like the Enterprise in some ways. Each division of the country, for instance, has its own color, like the uniforms on the ship. You're in Munchkinland right now, where the color is blue. Remember what you know about your people, Captain. That's very important."
"Thank you, Guinan. Are you sure you'll be all right?"
"Of course, Captain. The Q keep their word." She winked at him and slowly faded away.
"The honor of the Q," Picard said.
"You honor us by accepting our help," one of the Munchkins said unexpectedly. Like his fellows, he was dressed all in blue, but his clothing seemed to be of a richer fabric, and Picard took him to be some sort of headman, an impression that was strengthened when the man turned to the other villagers and began giving a series of crisp orders. Blue-clad people scattered everywhere, and before Picard quite knew what had happened, he'd been handed a rucksack containing bread and cheese and various other items and a water sack.
"We would also give you blankets, but I fear you are too tall for any blankets of ours," the headman said gravely.
"What help you have given is greatly appreciated," Picard said with equal gravity. "Now if you could just point me to this road of yellow bricks, I will be on my way."
The headman nodded toward the west. "Follow this street to the edge of town." A smile creased his face, making him look much less serious. "It's very difficult to miss a yellow road in Munchkinland." He waved his hand, indicating the prevailing color.
Picard smiled in response. "Thank you, my friend." He shouldered the rucksack and set off toward the west and the Emerald City.
Picard had to grudgingly admit that the road he followed was well-made. The bricks were set evenly and tightly with no gaps or holes, nor did weeds grow up between them. On the other hand, he'd expect that sort of tidy quality to a fantasy based on children's entertainment. However, the sun glancing off the bricks shortly gave him a wretched headache, so that when the energetic whirlwind came rushing out of the corn field onto the road, he was unprepared enough to be knocked down.
"Watch where you're going!" Picard irritably sorted his own limbs from those of the child -- it would be a child, of course -- who had bowled him over and climbed to his feet. He had to grudgingly admit that the boy was quite handsome with a mop of curly dark hair and luminous brown eyes. He had known women who'd kill for those eyelashes. The lad was wearing a shimmering teal tunic, rather than the more traditional Munchkin blue.
Upon seeing Picard, the boy threw his arms around the captain's waist.
"Here, now," Picard said, gently disengaging the lad's thin arms. "What's that all about?"
The boy opened his mouth, but no sound came forth. He tried again and again to speak, but could not make a sound. He turned frightened eyes on Picard.
"You can't talk." It was a statement, rather than a question, but the boy nodded vigorously, anyway. "Are your parents nearby?"
The boy shook his head.
"Were you in an accident?"
The boy shrugged, thought about it, then shook his head.
"Have you always been unable to speak?"
The boy shook his head again. No
"So normally, you can talk."
A nod. Yes.
Picard thought about it for a moment, positive that because of his unfamiliarity with this particular child's tale, he was missing something important. He glanced around. "I wish Data were here." He turned back to the child and put on his best dealing-with-children smile. "I guess you'd better come with me, then."
The boy nodded so vigorously that his curls bobbed in his eyes. Absolutely yes.
"Right, then." Picard turned to go in the direction he'd been headed before the small whirlwind had come rushing out of the corn. The boy stood a moment, until Picard held out his hand, then he eagerly took it, and they strode off down the road, Picard's headache momentarily forgotten.
They had not gone far at all when a cry for help -- in a very familiar voice -- reached them. The child started, pulled his hand from Picard's grasp and plunged into the cornfield, fortunately, in the direction of the cry.
"Number One," Picard called, "where are you?"
"Captain? Over here," Riker answered. "I'm stuck."
His first officer's voice held frustration, rather than fear, leading Picard to decide that he wasn't in immediate danger, but he hurried nonetheless.
Fortunately, he was not the sort of person to laugh at the misfortunes of others -- he'd have never been promoted to captain were he so -- but he was strongly tempted when he spotted Riker. His first officer had been kitted out as a scarecrow. His uniform had been replaced by the same sort of overalls that Picard himself was wearing, and straw stuck out of his sleeves and the neck of his shirt. His hair and beard were in disarray such as Picard had rarely seen; even when Riker answered a red alert in the middle of the night, he managed to appear on the bridge tidy.
Riker's problem was that he was mounted on a pole, apparently tied in place with his arms outstretched so that he could not free himself without help. The boy was circling the pole, as if trying to decide how best to approach the problem. He looked up at Riker's arms, and pointed imperiously.
"You want me to untie him?"
"Absolutely," Riker said as the boy nodded. "Who's your friend?" he continued.
"Someone I ran into along the road," Picard said. He reached up and untied first Riker's left arm, then his right. Having been in that position for some time, Riker fell heavily to the ground. He sat there for a moment, massaging his arms, then picked himself up and automatically tried to straighten his uniform top. He grinned sheepishly as the boy snorted his amusement. Picard looked sharply at the lad whose eyes were dancing with merriment. There was something about the boy, but Picard simply could not put his finger on it.
"I take it we have Q to thank for this," Riker said, straightening his shoulders and running his fingers through his hair. If he couldn't straighten his uniform, he'd at least straighten himself.
"Indeed, Number One," Picard said.
"Where has he stuck us this time?"
"You're standing in a cornfield in Munchkinland," Picard replied.
"Munchkinland?" Riker looked around, obviously at a loss. "Wait. Wasn't that in that movie that Q was watching?"
"Yes. I have it on very authoritative information that we are required to go to the Emerald City and speak to the Wizard. It seems Q has set us something of a quest this time."
Riker sighed. "Any ideas, Captain?"
"Follow the yellow brick road," Picard answered, "as it apparently goes directly to the Emerald City. I am not, however, as familiar with this particular bit of literature as I might be. I was hoping you'd be more so."
Riker shook his head. "I'm afraid not, Captain. Not really my kind of thing. We need Data."
"Yes. Well, we'll just have to hope we come across him during our journey."
Riker looked down as the boy tugged on his overalls. "And who is this?"
"I'm not sure, Number One," Picard answered, "but he wants to accompany us."
The boy looked from Riker to Picard and back again. He once again attempted to speak, then gave up in frustration. He stared intently at Riker for a moment, then tears welled in his eyes.
Riker went down on one knee. "Hey, big fella, it's not as bad as all that. We'll get to the Emerald City. You'll see."
The boy sniffled, wiped his tears away and nodded. He shyly took Riker's hand, smiling tremulously.
"Well, Number One," Picard said, not at all displeased to see the boy latching onto Riker rather than himself, "it's seems that you've found a friend."
"Indeed, Captain," Riker said. He glanced down at the boy in puzzlement. "Does he seem familiar to you?"
Picard glanced at the boy again. There was something.... "Probably just Q making sure we take the lad along. Coming, then?" Without looking back, he turned and made his way through the corn back to the road.
They had been traveling for several hours, the cornfields long since giving way to forest, when the boy suddenly dropped Riker's hand and ran ahead, disappearing around a bend. When they caught up with him, they found him crouching over a round, dark object at the edge of the road.
The boy looked up at them, his dark eyes serious. He rotated the object so that they could see the other side.
"Data!" Riker hurried to the where the boy crouched and picked up the android's head.
"Look around and see if you can find the rest of him," Picard ordered. They began searching the woods to either side of the road, and in short order had found Data's limbs and torso. They had assembled all the parts on the road when the boy began clapping his hands and gesturing excitedly to the clump of brush he stood before.
Riker glanced at Picard, then went over to the brush, where the boy was tugging at a large chest. Riker lugged it free of the brush and opened it. Inside were all the tools necessary to repair Data. "It seems Q is playing with us, Captain."
"We knew that, Number One," Picard agreed gravely. He glanced up and down the road. "I don't suppose wishing for Commander La Forge will make him appear?"
The boy closed his eyes and screwed up his face in concentration. Riker looked expectantly toward the road, but there was no sign of the Enterprise's chief engineer. The boy opened his eyes and sighed, then shrugged. Riker clapped his shoulder lightly. "Good try, though." The boy grinned. "I guess it's up to us, Captain."
Between them, Picard and Riker managed to get Data reassembled. While Riker held him upright, Picard jabbed the reactivation switch in the android's back. Somewhat surprisingly, Data was still dressed in his uniform, rather than the folksy country clothing that Picard and Riker wore. His eyes opened and he straightened. Riker let go.
"Hello, Captain, Commander," he said. He looked at their attire. "Have I missed something?"
"Are you all right, Data?" the Captain asked.
Data cocked his head, considering. "I am functioning within normal parameters, Captain." He thought about it a moment longer. "Yes."
The boy giggled silently.
"Hello," Data said. The boy waved, but didn't try to speak again.
"Where are we, Captain?" Data asked, getting to his feet.
"It seems that Q has stuck us inside that movie he was watching," Picard answered, "and since you are familiar with it, you can help us find our way to the Emerald City."
"It's simple enough, Captain. Just follow the yellow brick road." And to the Captain's surprise, the android started singing. "Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road. Follow, follow, follow, follow...." He broke off at Picard's stare of disapproval. "Sorry, sir. The Munchkins sing that to Dorothy before she sets off on her own journey to the Emerald City."
"Yes, well, I think we can do without the singing," Picard replied. "What can you tell us about the story? And didn't you say that the movie was based on a book?"
Data looked around the small party. "It would seem, Captain, that Q has cast you as the main character, Dorothy. So to speak. Judging by the chaff stuck to Commander Riker's clothing, I would judge him to be the Scarecrow, the first companion Dorothy finds along her road. I am the logical candidate to play the Tin Man, who was the second companion." He cocked his head at the boy. "I do not know what significance the boy plays, however, as he does not conform to any of the parts in either the film or the book."
"So Q is not sticking to the letter of the book, nor to the movie?" Riker asked.
"It would appear not, Commander. But if you'll recall, we were able to fairly easily defeat Q at our last encounter simply by following the rules of the Robin Hood tales and rescuing the Maid Marion -- Vash -- before she could be executed."
"Or married to the Sheriff," Riker said.
Picard cleared his throat. "Vash always lands on her feet. In any case, it would appear that Q has changed the rules somewhat." He closed his eyes, invoking the memory of Q. "He told me to find my ship, find my crew and find my way home." Data opened his mouth to speak, but Picard forestalled him with a raised hand. "He said that it would take more than clicking my heels together, Data."
Data shut his mouth.
"Well. What is next in the tale, Data?"
"The Cowardly Lion, Captain."
"Indeed? Well, then. Forward."
The forest grew darker, the trees closer together. The road here was not as well-maintained as it had been. They passed through no towns, villages or any other signs of civilization, not even a woodcutter's hut. It was, predictably, Data who heard the noise first.
"A growling," he answer the captain's query. "I do not recognize the species. If it's a lion, it is not a normal one."
As before, the boy ran ahead toward the noise.
"Data," Picard said sharply.
"Yes, Captain." The android ran after the boy and scooped him up, just as a huge figure came crashing out of the forest.
Dressed in the pelt of some animal or other, his hair wild about his head, and screaming a Klingon battle cry at the top of his lungs was the Enterprise's chief of security. He lunged for Riker, a tree branch raised as a club, but at the last moment, the Klingon suddenly recognized him and stopped. The tree branch was lowered to his side.
"Commander Riker," he said, with some difficulty. "Captain Picard. Commander Data."
"Are you all right, Worf?" Picard asked. "You seem...out of sorts."
"I have not been having a good day, sir," Worf said shortly.
"I believe we have found the Cowardly Lion," Data said, with his usual lack of tact, swinging the boy to the ground.
Worf turned toward the android, a snarl curling his lips. "That had better be a joke," he said carefully. "Commander."
"It is an observation," Data responded. "It seems that Q has assigned us all roles in The Wizard of Oz. I, for instance, am the Tin Man."
Worf sighed. "From Will Scarlet to the Cowardly Lion? I do not think that Q has a very high opinion of me."
"Nonsense, Lieutenant," Picard said. "At least he didn't make you Dorothy."
"Dorothy was very brave."
Riker smiled. "It seems we have a connoisseur, Captain."
"My mother used to read me the Oz books when I was very young," Worf explained. "They are also favorites of Alexander's."
"I can't quite picture you reading children's books to anyone, not even Alexander," Riker said.
"That is because you do not have a son," Worf answered brusquely.
"I can't argue with that."
"Who is the child?" Worf asked.
Picard was surprised to realize that the boy showed no fear of the Klingon, even though he was currently quite a bit fiercer than normal in the costume Q had chosen for him. "That is a mystery for later," he said. "I am certain we shall find out. In the meantime, if you'd be so good as to come along with us, Commander, we're headed for the Emerald City."
They wandered at last, dusty and footsore, through the gates of the Emerald City. It had been two days since they had encountered Worf, but no further members of the crew. The journey had been largely uneventful except for the moment when a vastly oversized white rabbit wearing a waistcoat hurried across their path consulting a pocket watch and declaring that it was late for a very important date. For once, even Data was rendered speechless -- for almost fifteen seconds.
Picard reflected that the city had been well-named; nearly everything was some shade of green. Even the inhabitants seemed slightly green, though that could just as easily have been a reflection of the ubiquitous verdigris. The yellow bricks gave way to green ones that appeared to have emeralds inset into them at random intervals. Houses of green marble lined the green streets. Picard was soon longing to see any other color.
Even without Data's access to both the movie and the book's text, Picard would have guessed that the Wizard would be found at the palace in the center of the city. Built of the same green marble as everything else, domed, crenelated, with impossible turrets, it was like a child's dream of a castle. They walked straight beneath the raised portcullis and into the courtyard.
The main doors, however, proved to be closed and locked. A tasseled bellpull hung next to a shuttered window in the center of the lefthand door.
"I believe we're supposed to ring the bell," Data said.
"Captain?" At Picard's nod, Riker tugged on the bellpull. The resulting gong was ridiculously out of proportion with the size of the bellpull. The boy pulled a face and covered his ears with his hands.
Before the reverberations had died away, the window was opened from the inside and a bewhiskered man thrust his head through the portal. "Yes?"
"We wish to see the Wizard," Picard said.
"Nobody sees the Great Oz! Not nobody, not no how!" And he pulled his head in and slammed the shutters in their faces.
"It's part of the formula, Captain. In the film, the doorkeeper was moved to tears by Dorothy's plight and opened the doors, promising to get her in to see the Wizard."
"Moved to tears."
"And how was this accomplished?"
"Dorothy and her companions recited their various reasons for seeing the Wizard. It was Dorothy's unhappiness at being stranded in Oz and never seeing her family again that undid the doorkeeper."
Picard sighed, almost audibly. "And what were the reasons for the other characters to visit the Wizard?"
"The Scarecrow -- that would be Commander Riker -- wanted the Wizard to give him a brain, while the Tin Woodman wanted a heart. The Cowardly Lion," and here, everyone very carefully did not look in Worf's direction, "wanted the Wizard to give him the courage he thought he lacked."
Worf's low growl rumbled, and an odd thing happened. The boy went up to the Klingon, took his hand and gazed up at him. Worf tried snarling at the lad, but the boy's dark, tranquil eyes remained fixed on the Klingon until he quieted. Only then did the teal-clad youngster let Worf's hand go.
Picard watched the silent exchange, an odd feeling tickling at the back of his brain. There was something about the boy.... But there was no time for such things. He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath.
"Oh," he said, "whatever shall we do? How will I ever get back to my ship without the Wizard's help?" He gestured sharply at Riker, who rolled his eyes, but demanded in a loud voice how he would get his brain.
Data bemoaned his lack of a heart with creditable fervor. Worf bared his teeth, but delivered his line.
Then it was Picard's turn again. "What shall I do? Where shall I go? My ship and my crew are all I have. Without them, I am nothing, lost, alone, adrift in a hostile universe. Oh, what shall I do?"
Riker looked at him in surprise. "Amateur theatricals at school, Number One. I played quite a popular Romeo in my day."
"I'm sure you did, Captain."
The shutters banged open. The bewhiskered man leaned out, his face drenched with tears. "Come in, come in. I'll see that you get in to see the Wizard somehow."
The doors swung open and the small party passed into the palace. They found themselves in a long hallway, empty save for a green carpet that ran along the center of the floor. They followed the carpet to the end, where another closed door waited. This one, however, swung silently open at their approach, and they stepped through into a huge, echoing chamber. The green carpet continued straight to the back of the hall where it climbed three steps onto a dais and stopped before a huge throne.
Occupying the throne was a huge flaming head. The eyes turned on each of them one by one. "Who dares disturb Oz, the Great and Powerful?" The thundering voice filled the throne room, throwing echoes everywhere until it was impossible to judge whether it actually came from the head or not.
Without waiting for Picard's order, Data strode to a small curtained recess to one side of the dais and drew back the curtain, revealing Q, who sighed.
"You know something, Data, you're no fun."
With a flash, Q vanished from the recess and reappeared lounging on the throne. "Well, Picard, I see that you've made it here, and that you've collected some of your crew."
Without even glancing at his officers, Picard approached the dais. "You've had your fun, Q. Now end this and send us home."
"Temper, temper, mon capitain," Q scolded. "In point of fact, you have not completed your quest. You haven't found your crew."
"What do you mean, Q? You can see them for yourself." Picard gestured at his officers, but was beginning to have a sinking feeling about where this was going.
"I see three members of your crew and a little boy," Q replied, smirking slightly. "I'm given to understand that there are over a thousand people aboard the Enterprise."
"One thousand, twenty-one at last count," Data replied promptly. "Though there are several pregnancies nearly to term at this time."
"Precisely," Q said. "Thank you, Data."
"Surely you don't intend for me to traipse all up and down this fairyland of yours in search of over a thousand people," Picard said. He tried to affect a reasonable tone, but he could feel his blood pressure rising -- as it always did in Q's presence.
Q stared down at him for a moment. "All right, Captain. I'll be reasonable about this. Find the heads of your departments, and I'll consider the rest as found." He held out his hand and dangled the Enterprise-shaped pendant from his fingers once more. Picard suddenly realized that it wasn't a pendant, but the actual ship.
"All right, Q, you win. Just don't harm the ship."
"Of course, not, mon capitain." The pendant vanished. "I won't even make you traipse up and down this fairyland of mine to find them. I'll make it easy for you. Through that door," he gestured to another curtained recess to the other side of the dais, "you'll find a series of rooms filled with trinkets and statuary. Your missing department heads are mixed in amongst them. Find them, and you win. You have only to touch an item and say 'enterprise'. If the item is a crewmember, they will be instantly transformed back into themselves and no harm done. I will give you as many chances as you have department heads."
"What's the catch?" Riker asked.
Q grinned. "Ah, the catch. Very astute, Riker. Yes, there's always a catch. If you do not find any of the crew, you become a trinket yourself -- but the next person to try gets one extra guess, and so on, until everyone has had a chance to try. Assuming, of course, Captain, that you intend to let your officers try as well? I'm especially anxious to see how Data approaches this challenge."
Data cocked his head at Q. "This scenario does not appear in either the book or the film."
"Very good, Data. No, it does not. I'm sure you'll work it out eventually, though."
"Let's get on with it, Q," Picard growled.
"Captain," Riker said. "Must I quote regulations about flag officers?"
"Very well, Number One," Picard said. "Proceed."
"Very good, Riker. Excellent first officer." Q waved a hand and the curtain drew aside to reveal a small door. Riker stepped through it and the door closed behind him.
The boy approached the door, but didn't try to go through it. He sat down on the floor next to it, his face intent, though his eyes appeared focused on nothing. Q ignored the child, but that niggling itch was back. Picard studied the boy. Perhaps he was the son of one of the crew? Picard did not recall ever seeing such a child around the ship's corridors, but he would be the first to admit that he did not exactly gravitate to the areas where the children lived and played.
All at once the boy's face crumpled and he began silently weeping. At the same time, a bell rang.
"Riker has failed," Q intoned. "Next?"
Worf stepped forward. "I will go, Captain."
Picard nodded, but his attention was still on the boy. He had wiped his tears on one teal sleeve and now watched Worf as the Klingon approached the door. He looked like he wanted to say something, but as before, could not speak. Worf disappeared through the door. Minutes later, the boy, his expressive dark eyes on Picard, shook his head. The bell sounded.
"So much for Worf," Q said.
Data went through the door. The boy watched him, as he had watched the others.
"Tell me something, Q. Who is this boy? What purpose does he serve in all this?" Picard did not want to continue watching the closed door. Data would either figure things out logically, or he would not. And if he did not, then it would be Picard's turn.
"Haven't you figured it out yet, Picard?" Q looked at the boy, who glared at him in return. "Oh, dear. No, this is just too delicious. I'm afraid that you'll have to tell me who the boy is, Picard. And if you don't, you'll have failed in your quest." Q's eyes glittered with malevolent mirth; he was already counting Picard as defeated.
The hidden chime rang.
Q clapped his hands. "Your turn, Picard!"
The boy scrambled to his feet as Picard approached the small door, standing stiffly, his eyes on the captain, who felt that niggling sense of familiarity once more. Ignoring Q, Picard crouched next to the boy, bringing his eyes on a level with the child's. Picard searched those dark eyes, but try though he might, he could not get any better sense of who the child might be. Unless....
"Are you one of my crew?" he asked softly.
Relief showed on the boy's face. He nodded.
"Who?" Picard asked.
The boy frowned and glanced over Picard's shoulder to where Q watched avidly. He did not again try to speak, however. He glanced down and fingered the cloth of his left sleeve with his right hand, a peculiar gesture that did nothing to enlighten Picard as to his identity.
Picard sighed. "I'll be back," he said to the boy, "and we'll figure this out then. All right?"
The boy huffed out a sigh of his own, then nodded. He put a small hand on the captain's, not a restraining gesture, but one of support and caution. "Be careful?" Picard guessed.
The lad nodded.
Picard smiled wryly. "Oh, I shall."
He stood, tugged reflexively at his overalls, and grimaced as he remembered that he was no longer in uniform, then went through the door.
The door closed behind him and Picard found himself in a room that he could not, at first, make sense of. His eyes took in the jumble of objects, without being able to sort them one from the other because of the sheer number. It was some moments before he realized he was in a sitting room because every available surface was covered with knick knacks. Little porcelain dolls, china figurines, brass frippery, vases, ash trays, incense burners, statuary from a hundred worlds and times, all crammed into one little room. Or, no. Through a half-curtained doorway, Picard could see even more objects littering tables and shelves and the floor.
There were seven rooms in all, and each just as stuffed as the last. Picard made a quick survey of the suite, but found nothing that he would associate with any of his crewmembers. Logically, he knew that the problem could be solved. Q liked to test him, but had never once set him a game or puzzle or test that could not be solved. Therefore there had to be a solution somewhere. He wandered back through the rooms, not really thinking or trying to analyze.
Guinan's voice came back to him. In her ridiculous guise as the Witch of the North, she had bade Picard remember what he knew about his crew. Well, what did he know about his crew? On an individual level, he didn't necessarily know that much about them. All right. Q had told him that he needed only find the department heads. So. What did he know about his department heads?
He sat down in a burgundy wing back chair to ponder the matter, carefully moving several smaller ornaments onto the floor as he did so. The chair was actually quite comfortable, and Picard leaned back into its support, drumming his fingers on the exposed ebony of the handrests.
The department heads were obviously all members of Starfleet. They were all experts in their various fields. They all...
Picard suddenly became aware that one of the arms of the chair was slightly higher than the other. Odd. Given the care Q had taken with the rest of his fairyland, it was strange that this chair wasn't perfect.
"Forget the chair and focus," he said aloud. All experts in their various fields. All wore Starfleet uniforms. All... He stared at the arm of the chair. Starfleet uniforms. In burgundy, gold and blue. Burgundy...and one arm slightly higher than the other.
He jumped out of the chair and turned to regard it. Yes. Yes, he was sure. He laid a hand on it. "Enterprise."
There was a flash, and Commander Riker stood before him, dressed not in straw-flecked overalls, but his uniform.
"I think I have it, Number One. Try any knick knacks that are the same color scheme as a Starfleet uniform."
"Uniforms, Captain?" Riker's tone indicated that he knew Picard was on to something, but he hadn't quite caught up. Being turned into a chair would do that to one, Picard supposed.
"Yes, Commander," he said impatiently. "You were turned into a burgundy chair with black accents. Burgundy and black, like your uniform."
Light dawned in Riker's face. "Ah. I see." He turned and started examining ornaments.
In short order, they had found a number of department heads.
"Who are we missing?" Riker asked, glancing around at the buzzing crowd.
Picard took a quiet census. "Doctor Crusher," he replied.
"Right. Everyone look around for something life sciences blue," Riker directed. The crowd scattered as much as it was able, but no one found anything suitable until Data brought a delicate blue spun glass rose out from under a table. He laid it on the floor at the Captain's feet.
Picard knelt down to touch the fragile thing. "Enterprise," he said.
In a flash, Beverly Crusher stood there, her hands in the pockets of her blue lab coat. "Jean-Luc?"
"Later, Doctor. Right now, we have something to finish."
Picard led the way back to the door they had first come through. There, they found Q still lounging on his throne, looking decidely sulky, while the boy faced him, his face a mixture of elation and defiance.
"All right, Q," Picard said. "The game is over."
"Not quite, Picard. You still haven't told me who this person is," Q said. "And you're not likely to guess, either."
The boy glared up at Q, then spun about, the hem of his teal tunic flaring and ran -- not to Picard, but to Riker. He took the first officer's hand and stared at the Captain, as though willing him to figure it out.
Picard laughed. He understood the child's gesture with his sleeve earlier, now. He'd been drawing attention to the color. The same color as a certain dress often worn by... "Counselor Troi," he said, and with a flash, she was standing there, holding Riker's hand. Riker looked at her in surprise and Picard was pleased to note that she was slow to let his hand go again.
And then with another flash, they were all standing on the bridge of the Enterprise.
"Very well, Picard," Q said, from the viewscreen, still in his guise as the Wizard. "You've won this game. Your crew are all here and all safe."
"I'm here, Captain." Guinan stepped out from behind one of the other officers. She looked decidedly out of place on the bridge.
"Your Listener is also safe, Captain, and her debt to the Continuum paid."
The viewscreen darkened, and after a few moments, Picard realized that Q was gone this time. The department heads, mostly unfazed after their years aboard the Enterprise, were already scattering to their stations.
"Thank you, Captain," Deanna said, as they took their seats on the bridge. "You have no idea how frustrating it was not being able to speak to you."
"I can imagine, Counselor," Picard said. "And I kept thinking that I knew you, but simply could not place you. Q disguised you well. Had he chosen to transfigure you into a girl, we would have guessed sooner, perhaps."
"That is undoubtedly why he chose a mute boy," Troi answered.
"But what about your telepathic abilities?" Riker asked.
"Also muted," Troi said. "Because he knew for certain that even if I could not speak to the captain, I would always be able to speak to you." She smiled fondly at Riker, who blushed.
Picard cleared his throat. "Well. Here's hoping we have seen the last of Q. Let's get on with our mapping mission, shall we?"
Around the bridge, crew members returned their attention to their duty stations, Guinan returned to her lair in Ten-Forward and the Enterprise sailed on her way.
- Originally, it was a toss-up as to whether I would send Picard and Company to Oz or Wonderland, but The Wizard of Oz was my absolute favorite book as a kid, and I was consequently more familiar with it. Plus, I knew right where my copy is, and I can't say that about my copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
- Obviously, I didn't stick right to the story, but did stick with Oz in general. The idea of disguising Troi as a boy came from The Land of Oz wherein the witch Mombi disguised Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz, as a boy. The trinket guessing game came from Ozma of Oz, in which Ozma and Dorothy have to rescue the Queen of Ev and her children from the Nome King who has turned them all into various objects in his parlor. They were eventually found when the hen Billina overheard the King telling one of his subjects that he'd turned them into color-based ornaments. Ozma and all her subjects, for instance, were turned into green ornaments because they were from the Emerald City.
- I had originally intended to disguise Dr. Crusher as an Alice figurine, since Alice is generally pictured wearing blue, thanks to Walt Disney. But then I decided to go for a pun that only the very, exceedingly, egregiously geeky will get. Hey, it amused me.
- I hope this was as fun to read as it was to write.
- Also, the length? Yeah. It got away from me, as often happens when I'm writing things with minimum lengths.
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