Q Who?

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Title: Q Who?
Creator: Jane Carnall
Date(s): 1996 or 1997
Medium: print, online
Fandom: Star Trek: TNG
External Links: Q Who?; WebCite
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Q Who? is a 1996 or 1997 essay by Jane Carnall.

It was originally an LoC for a Star Trek: TNG fic by Ruth Gifford and Atara Stein called His Beloved Pet. The essay was adapted as trib in an unidentified issue of the apa Strange Bedfellows.

"One of the major problems I assume any serious and canonical writer in ST:tng must have to deal with is the problem of Q."


I [...] dived into a story someone leant me expecting a wonderfully relaxing and quite unreal read. I asked to read it out of friendship, re-establishing lines of communication with a friend I hadn't talked to in a while. I realised at first glance it was Picard/Q. I have no idea whether it's been published, but the copy I have is definitely not circuit quality. So I'm not going to mention the name or the authors, and I'll try not to describe the story too clearly.

But I loved it. Partly this was because, as Shoshanna inimitably pointed out to me, I'm a slave story fan. (What she actually said was, "You're not a Next Gen fan, you're a slave story fan. You know it and I know it. Admit it." I replied "If you know it and I know it, why do I have to admit it?") But mostly it was the way the writers dealt with Q.

Q provides a framework for the series, making the series as a whole the story of Picard (representing humanity) on trial for humanity's manifold sins. Whenever Q shows up, no matter how Q chooses to present Qself, Picard is, in one way or another, on trial. (Q's offer to Riker of Q powers was clearly a fairly subtle test - would Picard be able to talk Riker down from the rush of infinite power?) As presented, Q is an omnipotent, omniscient being, able to do anything, but choosing never to force anyone's free will. In other words, Q is God.

All the Q/Picard stories I have previously read took care to avoid the issue of Q as an omnipotent and omniscient being; Q was used as if Q were no more than a trickster with powers of illusion and timebending. I had wondered if it were ever possible to deal with the problem of writing about a character who is a god. A god can't have the same motivations as a mortal, or as any being with limited powers. A god in a relationship with a mortal - with one of the god's worshippers? It's very Greek and mythy, but could it work as a story, without making either the god, or the mortal, a cipher?
Picard has a secret. It's a fairly predictable secret, though Picard never thinks of it on those terms; he has domination/submission fantasies. He's never acted on them, because who could he find to master him? Being the Captain is an essential part of being Jean-Luc Picard, or so he sees it.

Picard explains to Q (who already knows all of it, having read Picard's mind, read Picard's library, and checked back through Picard's life) that sometimes he has fantasised being the dominant, being able to give orders without having to think and care about his subordinate, but usually he fantasises about being the submissive, not having to make decisions, just do what he's told and take orders.

And Q offers to realise every one of Picard's fantasies. "Whatever I can imagine, I can realise. And whatever you can imagine, I can also realise." Q's night by night seduction of Picard is wonderfully laid out; and it takes one particularly neat S/M point and reverses it.

It's a classic of S/M that the bottom is really the one in charge, the one whose desires have control. I think the only way to tell whether a story is written bottom or Top is not whose viewpoint the story is told from, but whether the writer acknowledges who controls the scene. It's not immediately obvious; but to quote one of Avon's better lines about Vila "I guess I've got him exactly where he wants me."

In "bottom" stories the bottom in the story has chosen to submit to the desires of their Top. In "Top" stories, the two involved are very aware that the Top is doing exactly what the bottom wants. There are more stories of the first kind than the second.

While Q seduced Picard into making love with him by making all of Picard's unrealised fantasies come true, Picard believed that he was submitting, by choice, to Q's desire to dominate him. He had faith that Q desired him; he submits with "infatuation, awe, and gratitude". And of course, the sex is perfect, every time, all the time. Of course.

But eventually, obviously, Picard has to find out that it was not Q's desires he was responding to, but Q's realisation of Picard's desires. And equally obviously, no matter how infatuated, or how submissive, Picard isn't going to submit to a disinterested God.

But this story isn't about divine love, though one of the things which very impressed me about it is that throughout it Q holds to the principle of free will, the divine Prime Directive: Q will meddle with everything around Picard but not Picard's will to consent or to refuse. And further, Q holds to what one might call the sanity principle: God cannot undo what God has done, therefore Q cannot simply go back through time and make the moment when Q abandoned Picard to reality not have happened.

What this story is about is a God discovering not divine, but mortal love, including the necessary Incarnation for resurrection. Mortals who love Gods get burned; a God who loves a mortal must be incarnate as a mortal, out of free will and out of love, and must suffer in that incarnation.

The final moments, when Picard offers himself and Q accepts, both splendidly in character, are exquisitely touching without being overtly sentimental. Picard's closing line is almost a punchline, it fits the story, caps it, and reverses it. It's impossible to feel sorry for Picard after this, and you know that's exactly the way Picard would want it to be. "Only a god could master me."