Millions of light years away from home, Chang picked up debris from the remains of the Tanaka's bridge. He looked through a hole in the hull to see a barren landscape outside, and he noticed Geordi Laforge stepping inside. "How bad is it, Mister Laforge?"
"It's pretty bad, sir. We had to eject the warp core with the manual override on the way in, and we lost the main computer, the impulse engines, and the warp nacelles."
"So we're not going anywhere soon."
"We're not going anywhere ever, sir. If it weren't for the automatic crash-landing routines, we wouldn't even be standing here now."
"Did you find the transport?"
"Yes. It's also a wreck, but it soft-landed. Jacen left it without any pilots, but the children survived. The ship must have had an automatic crash-landing routine just like ours."
"Thank God. Set up a distress beacon."
"Um, that may not be useful, Commander. According to astrometrics, we're nowhere near our galaxy. And we're not picking up any subspace comm traffic at all. Wherever we are, there's no intelligent life for more than twenty light years in any direction."
"How about this planet? Have you found anything?"
"No signs of intelligent life, sir."
"How about plant and animal life? The replicator supplies won't last forever, so we've got to live off the land."
"Well, the planet obviously has a breathable atmosphere, and we've found some plant life. However, it's all toxic so far. We can't eat it, but the Tanaka's got a full botanical lab. We should be able to seed this planet with useful plant life. We also have some animal life on the transport. Jacen apparently picked up some livestock animals from Earth, including some horses."
"Sounds like we've got to become farmers."
"Yes, sir. I'm no farmer either sir, but it could have been worse. With the ship's crew and the children from the transport, we've got more than enough genetic diversity to start a viable colony. We can build something here."
"Yes, I suppose we can. It's too bad Picard didn't make it. He probably would have enjoyed the idea of being an administrator. As for me, I'd rather be out there." Chang said, pointing up at the stars.
"It might be a few generations before we're exploring space again, but I know we'll do it sooner or later." Geordi said with an optimistic smile. "By the way, you never explained exactly what happened to Picard. Do you know where he went?"
Picard sat alone in his shuttle, holding the portable stasis chamber and looking out the cockpit window at Earth. The planet was as beautiful as ever, and it glowed brightly in front of him. He had a nasty lump on the back of his head and he rubbed it absent mindedly.
An unwanted visitor appeared in the shuttle with a flash of light. "Shouldn't you be in a better mood?"
Picard turned around slowly. "Q, I'm in no mood for this."
"Of course not, Jean-Luc! You've never in a good mood. I've begun to suspect that you take some sort of perverse pleasure in being a sourpuss. Am I right?"
"Just leave me alone."
"Jean-Luc, you should really learn to take advantage of your opportunities. You have an omnipotent, omniscient being in front of you, willing to help you and answer your questions. Must you be so rude? Come on, Jean-Luc. I know you're full of questions. Ask me anything."
"There are a lot of things I want to know, but I don't want to hear the answers from you!"
"All right, fine. Be that way. But just in case you're curious, Kanos is going to keep his word. And I know you don't want to raise that child."
Picard's expression became one of tightly controlled anger. "Stay out of my head, Q. This is none of your business."
Q looked hurt. "Au contraire, mon capitaine! It is my business. I'll let you in on a little secret, Jean-Luc. I've taken it upon myself to shepard the human race. And I won't have all of my hard work go to waste."
"Hard work? You don't know the meaning of the concept! And if you're our sheperd, you haven't done a very good job."
"Oh, but I have. When I found you, you were an arrogant, prideful race. Complacent. Painfully overconfident. Unprepared for the future. So what did I do? I introduced you to the Borg!"
"The Borg? You think you helped us? The Borg killed or assimilated millions!" Picard shouted.
"Yes, yes, they killed or assimilated millions." Q replied impatiently. "But they did help you. They gave you a much needed kick in the seat of the pants, didn't they? Thanks to them, you increased military spending. You increased military research. You started aggressive new recruiting programs."
"Necessary evils. Hardly something to be proud of."
"Wrong again, Jean-Luc. It prepared you for the Dominion War."
"But not for the Empire."
"What's wrong with the Empire? They're human, just like you. And thanks to them, humanity will eventually dominate this entire galaxy."
"You think we should be proud to conquer other civilizations? It's barbaric."
"You should be proud for each day that your species continues to survive." Q retorted. "War is nature's way. Survival of the fittest, and all that. But we've been over this ground before. The human race must either continue to evolve, or it will die. You can either accept this fact or you can bury your head in the sand."
"Why do you care whether I accept it?"
"You disappoint me, Jean-Luc. Haven't you ever wondered why I spent so many years following you around? Do you think it was the scintillating conversation? You are more important than you realize, Jean-Luc. You have a destiny. And that destiny is in that stasis chamber you're carrying. He represents the next step in human evolution, as long as you do your job."
"What's so special about this child?"
"You'll find out, Mon Capitaine. Or should I call you Daddy?" Q said with a wink and a smile. "You can't hide things from me, Jean-Luc. I know you've always secretly envied fathers, and you'll finally get to find out what it's like. And now, I'm afraid I must bid you adieu. Riker and Data will be here soon, and they brought their furry friend Worf with them. You know how I hate Klingon body odour." He disappeared in a flash of light.
Q reappeared with another flash of light. "You called?"
"Q, I have to know. What happened to my ship?"
"Oh yes, your ship. Always fretting over your ship. I can't believe you obsess over such things. I just told you that you have the singular honour of helping humanity take the next step in its development. But do you thank me? Do you-"
"What happened to my ship, Q?" Picard asked again, raising his voice.
Q threw his hands up in mock despair. "All right, fine. You really must learn to lighten up, Captain. But if it will make you feel better, your little ship survived. It crash-landed."
Q smiled. "A better question might be where and when, Mon Capitaine."
"All right, where and when did they crash-land?"
Q leaned closer. "Let's just say they ended up in a time long ago. In a galaxy far, far away. On an uninhabited planet that will someday be known ... as Coruscant."