The Velveteen Bunny

To the best of my recollection, this story has never appeared any fanzines, or anywhere other than here. It was written in 1992, and I'm afraid that I didn't have much of a grasp of Q at that time. He is written somewhat out of character. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun writing it, I really wanted to do some slapstick, and this is it.

THE VELVETEEN BUNNY

It was comfortable, as roofs went; a dip amongst the peaks. A small flat area where he felt relatively safe and cozy, despite the fact that he had never even imagined it possible to get this wet without being in a bath. Rain cascaded down the roofing shingles so that with the flowing water over them they looked like fish scales. The rain had also soaked through his ceremonial robes and ornaments so that he had wondered, for a little while, if gold and diamonds and things went rusty when they got wet, and then he distracted himself by looking in the window beside him. It was an attic used for drying and storing plants, and was now hung thickly with the autumn's crop.

He watched a small drama unfold as a colony of pibs, little rodentlike creatures, ferried seeds to their nest, unaware that a feline was also planning its next meal. It had been minutes since the feline's last move. Crouched motionless in the shadows, its gaze was fixed on one pib, presently gorging itself on a large seed bearing flower that was hanging upside down, just above the window sill. The merest twitch of its tail betrayed the feline's intent, the pupils of its eyes dilated and its fur rippled as the muscles beneath tensed, ready for the pounce.

"Really, Your Highness, this is not what we had planned at all," said a voice behind him, making him jump and miss the conclusion of the scene in the attic.

"You have something planned for the rest of my life that I do not agree to at all," he said to Spigler, now standing in the pouring rain beside another figure.

"Captain Picard has come a long way, Prince Alefcit, and since your Father is unable to attend the wedding, he intends to at least make your departure a state occasion."

"How about we send Father to the wedding and leave me here," suggested the Prince.

"Come, your Highness," sighed Spigler, extending a hand to the Prince.

"Don't make them do this to me," said Alefcit, ignoring the elderly statesman's outstretched hand and turning to the drenched man in the Star Fleet dress uniform. "They are condemning me to a lifetime of boredom. Please, Captain Picard, take me on as your minion, I would be a lowly deckscurbber on your ship rather than suffer the ignominious brain death inherent in being royalty on Fon."

Jean-Luc Picard was a man of great discipline, it was not his habit to allow stray thoughts to distract him, but at this moment it occurred to him that Prince Alefcit's pleading for a berth on the Enterprise rather reminded him of an incident, years ago with an entity named Q. And for a moment, just a merest part of a second, it occurred to him that Q could probably liven up this young man's life.

A fruity, smug sounding voice warbled behind him, "I heard that, Picard!" it said.

Of course Picard recognized the voice instantly, it was pure reflex that had him turn to face Q, who leered over him, grinning like a rat trap. Picard wondered if Q could see well enough through the driving rain to register his expression of dismay.

"Prince Alefcit," said the entity, who was dressed in princely attire himself, and untouched by the rain, which dissolved into rainbows about his head, "I am the answer to your prayers."

He extended a hand to the Prince who reached up, and the instant their hands touched, the two of them disappeared in a flash of golden light that briefly turned the rain into rose petals. Q liked to do things with style.

Spigler turned to Picard, "Well, I must say, Captain, Star Fleet take to their assignments with a most efficient determination. The old King does usually like to make a fuss of these occasions, but I think, overall, this may have been the best way. Now the King can enjoy the celebration of the wedding without having to offend himself with Alefcit's sulking. I expect you will want to be on your way immediately."

"I expect I will," agreed Picard, who was not sure whether he should be relieved at not having to explain Q, who Spigler obviously thought was from the Enterprise, or whether he should be utterly dismayed, because after all, Q was involved.

Back on the Enterprise, Picard indulged himself between changes of uniform, while Chief O'Brien went about the business of beaming up the not inconsiderable Prince's Ransom that was going with Alefcit to Fon. Normally a sonic shower was all that was required for cleanliness, but Picard wanted to warm himself up after the drenching he'd received, so he opted for a steaming soap and water shower. It had a meditative quality, and he needed to do a lot of thinking.

Warm and dressed again, and with something like a plan of action beginning in his mind, Picard swept through the Bridge to his Ready Room, leaving instructions with Data to set course for Fon and taking Deanna Troi in his tow.

"You want to discuss your agitated feelings towards this mission," stated Troi as soon as the door was closed.

"No, Counsellor, I want to cure my agitated feelings, but to do that I must find Q. Have you any ideas?"

"Find Q?" the prospect of actually going out and looking for the obnoxious godling was as repellant to Troi as it was to Picard, she preferred to keep Q where he could not be seen, heard or felt.

"Deanna, it is not, as yet common knowledge, but Q has abducted Prince Alefcit, I don't know what he intends to..." he paused, suddenly aware that Troi was swaying in her seat and beginning to slump. He put out a hand to stop her falling and found instead that he was face down on the floor. He tried to speak, to touch his communicator and call for help, to do something...but it seemed that the air about him had taken on a cold molasses viscosity while his limbs were reduced to wet spaghetti. A buzzing, hissing sound overwhelmed his hearing and his vision was clouded over with a white haze.

Picard supposed he had been unconscious for a while, and at first he thought he was dreaming. Still at floor level, his vision was sending him confused signals; there was a bundle of dirty rags in front of him that a moment later resolved itself into feathers.

"It's a feather duster," he said out loud, convinced he was dreaming a childhood memory.

The feathers moved of their own accord, rolled over and fluffed themselves out, and then turned. Two very large black eyes looked at him, and then widened in amazement. It was the most beautiful little owl he had ever seen. The feathers on its breast were almost pure gold, edged with a creamy colour, those on its wings and back were a deeper gold with a rippling of black through them, and those glorious eyes were ringed with deep chocolate brown. He reached out to touch it.

"Captain, stay where you are," said Deanna Troi's voice, coming from the owl, "This is not a dream."

"Then where did the owl come from?" said Picard, not at all convinced that it wasn't a dream, but trying now to get up without panicking the owl further.

"The owl is me, Captain, courtesy of Q, I suppose, though I do not sense him at present. Please, Captain, let me see if I can fly to a safer place before you try to get up, you are much larger than I am and if you fall, I think I would be crushed."

"Well, I'm obviously not an owl, then," said Picard, looking at what were once his hands. His arms had become fine, making him think of bone china, and were covered in short, white hair that had a glowing iridescent sheen. The hair lengthened a bit where his wrists should have been, curling over the backs of what his hands had become; a dainty pair of cloven hooves. Golden cloven hooves.

The owl fluttered on to the back of the chair Deanna had been sitting in and adjusted a feather with her beak.

"What the hell am I?" said Picard, clattering to his feet now that Deanna was safe, "A quadruped of some kind...a sheep or a goat or something?"

"Nothing quite so ordinary," said Troi, "You're a unicorn."

"I'm a what!?" he turned so quickly that the horn, nearly a meter long slammed against the wall, making his head reel.

"Captain, be careful of your horn," cautioned the owl, ducking.

It was hard for Picard to get a good look at himself, not that he was at all sure he wanted to. As a unicorn he was rather short, more pony sized than horse sized, with an out of proportion horn, situated just above eye level so he was never quite sure where it was, and tended to bang it into things. The horn was golden in colour, the same as his hooves. He had a long tail more like that of a lion than a horse, and no mane at all until half way down his neck. Obviously Q thought that a Captain with very little hair should equate to a unicorn with only half a mane. He was, in his way, as beautiful as the owl, rainbows rippled across the sleek gloss of his coat.

"Captain, I don't suppose I need to say this, but I am picking up a great deal of confusion and distress, and I think..."

"The rest of the crew. More owls and unicorns?"

"We are dealing with Q," she reminded him. He nodded and stepped through the door onto the bridge.

The bridge of the Enterprise was filled with woodland animals. There was a very large mole sitting at Geordi LaForge's engineering station, and beside him was the most enormous wild boar. The razorback towered over the mole, black and brown bristles spiked along its spine like a wild mane and a pair of vicious looking silver white tusks curled around its snout.

"Worf, something's gone wrong with my VISOR," the mole was saying, using Geordi LaForge's voice, "Everything's gone sort of dim and shadowy, it's almost like being blind again. I think I should get to sick bay."

"I do not think Dr Crusher could do very much at all to help you," said the boar, using Worf's voice.

"Just try to stay calm, everybody," said the unicorn, now coming into the centre of the bridge.

"Captain!" called a strained voice from the turbolift.

Picard looked up the ramp, there was an enormous stag standing in the lift. He was a magnificent looking beast, tall and sleek, a seven pointer, and it was that aspect of his physiognomy which had been his downfall.

"I'm stuck," said the stag, his antlers, branching out in all directions, were wedged quite tightly in the door of the turbo lift.

"Number One?" said the unicorn, advancing on the stag.

"I blacked out in the turbo lift," explained the stag, "When I came to...this. It's obviously not hallucinatory," he tried to twist himself free, to no avail.

"No, Number One, not hallucinatory, Q," said the unicorn, inserting his horn between the door and the stag's antler and leaning hard. There was a terrible scraping sound before the antler popped free, and the stag nearly fell over.

"Come through sideways," said the unicorn, "And duck your head."

The stag made his careful way through the door and onto the bridge.

"Captain, is that you?" said the mole, who stood about knee high to the unicorn, "Request permission to go to sick bay, my VISOR isn't functioning properly and I...well, I just don't feel myself."

"Your VISOR is nowhere to be seen, Geordi," said the Captain, "And you have very good reason not to be feeling yourself. As far as I can see, nobody..."

"Crusher to Picard," interrupted a voice.

"Picard here, what...?"

"Captain, I need you urgently in sickbay. Crusher out."

"Captain, please," grunted Worf, "I request that you take Commander LaForge with you. I am afraid I might...step on him and injure him."

"Request granted, Lieutenant," said the unicorn, then found it impossible to pick the mole up.

"Let me help," said the stag, and he used his teeth to grasp the mole by the scruff of the neck, then lifted him and deposited him on the unicorn's withers.

"Hey!" said Geordi, while he was airborne. His little claws waved about.

"Hold onto my mane," said Picard.

"Your what?" said Geordi, "What's going on? What's happening here?"

The owl made a swift, silent flight across the Bridge and landed beside the mole, her talons gripped the unicorn's flesh and he inadvertently stamped his foot.

"It's all right, Geordi," said the owl in Deanna Troi's reassuring voice, "I'll try to explain..."

They stepped into the turbo lift, the unicorn had to hold his head at an awkward angle in order to avoid his horn from banging into the walls, and he had to step carefully to stop his passengers from sliding off.

"Take command, Number One," ordered the unicorn, and the lift door slid shut.

The stag made his careful way past the boar.

"Lieutenant Worf?"

"Yes, Commander," grunted the boar, it was Worf's voice, sounding resigned. The stag moved past science, there was a bat sprawled across the station.

"Lieutenant Brakes?"

"I'm afraid so," replied the bat in Brakes's voice, which was nearly as deep as Worf's, and sounded completely silly coming from a bat. It occurred to Riker that at least voices were unchanged, you could recognize people if you had your eyes shut, which was probably causing a lot of Geordi's confusion.

"Ensign Sharker?" said the stag to the apparently empty con station.

"I'm afraid I can't reach any of the controls, sir," said Sharker, and a hedgehog peeped up from her chair.

"At this point, Ensign, I wouldn't worry," said Riker, thinking that the hedgehog's prickles rather resembled Sharker's flattop haircut.

Ops also looked empty, Riker nudged the chair gently with his nose. For a fraction of a second a wizened reptilian face peered up at him, then jerked back into its shell.

"I'm not coming out," said Lieutenant Horkins, sounding very muffled.

"Quite frankly, in your position, I wouldn't either," said Riker. He looked at the chairs in the central Bridge position, "Data, where are you?"

"I am at my assigned station, Commander Riker."

Riker leaned down, "Oh, Data, what has happened to you?"

"Like yourselves, I have been transformed into an animal, though unlike yourselves, I am inanimate. Q has made me into a stuffed toy, Earth, Circa late nineteenth century, I think...though as I am unable to move, it is difficult for me to judge with any real certainty. It is an interesting paradox, that although Q has made me inanimate, I am still able to talk and think. I believe his making me into a toy animal, rather than a living one, is, in some way a joke."

"Yes, Data," agreed the stag, "Q has a twisted sense of humour. He's made you into a Velveteen Rabbit."

"Oh, that's such a lovely story," piped up Sharker, "I read it all the time as a child."

"Classic literature?" asked Data.

"Along the lines of Pinocchio," explained Riker, taking in the form that his friend had become.

Data did indeed appear to be made of velveteen. He was a blue toy rabbit with large ears, pink on the inside. One ear flopped over, the other stood up straight. He had front paws, but instead of separate hind paws there was just a solid base. Two yellow buttons were sewed on, as eyes, though Riker seemed to recollect that the Velveteen rabbit in the story had shoebutton eyes. The yellow buttons were, he suspected, just another example of Q's bent sense of humour.

Picard entered sickbay, wincing as Geordi's claws tangled and pulled at his mane and Deanna's talons raked and tickled his back.

A red squirrel was flicking its tail and jumping about in an erratic, agitated fashion on Dr Crusher's desk.

"What the hell are you supposed to be?" demanded the squirrel using Crusher's voice.

"It's me, it's Jean-Luc, Beverley."

"Oh," said the squirrel, settling down a little, "What's happened?"

"I don't know exactly, but I think we can safely put it down to one of Q's little aberrations."

"I suppose I should have guessed, really."

"He's turned me into a mole," moaned Geordi, "And I'm as blind as a bat."

"You are as blind as a mole," corrected Picard.

"You'd be better off in your quarters than here in sickbay," said Crusher, "You know the layout better. Also I have a very major problem, and Captain, quite frankly, I haven't the slightest idea of what to do."

Picard was about to ask the nature of the problem, when a terrible noise came from maternity, it was a sort of rumbling roar than ended in a scream. The kind of sound you'd expect Worf to make if a Hybertholian thunderbeast stood on his foot at the very same instant he had just become aware of somebody satirizing his love poetry.

"What the hell was that?" whispered Picard.

"That was Michelle Bowden. Michelle is presently experiencing a difficult and painful labour. We were about to begin augmentation when Q pulled his stupid stunt. Michelle got turned into a bear."

"A bear."

"A BEAR."

"Oh dear."

"My sentiments exactly, though I used slightly different words to express them."

"What about the child's father and the rest of your staff?"

"Mr Bowden is some kind of bird, he's got bright red feathers at the back of his head and he keeps running up the walls shouting encouragement at his wife. He's afraid to go near her, though. Dr Chapman, the attending midwife was turned into a snake and apparently snakes are deaf, because all he's done is shout and wriggle about a lot and then go and hide in one of the diagnostic units."

"As for the rest of my staff, I have a collection of deers, foxes and rabbits, all of whom I have confined to their quarters. The deers, because they are too big, and they're either going to damage themselves or my equipment, blundering into things. The foxes and rabbits because even though I am not entirely familiar with the ecosystem we're dealing with here, I do know a predator when I see one."

"So it's just me here. One little orange rat..."

"Red squirrel."

"...whatever. Trying to deliver a bear's baby. What am I going to do, Jean-Luc?"

The bear bellowed again.

"She's very frightened, and in a lot of pain," said Troi.

"I know that," snapped Crusher, "But what can I do? I tried talking to her, but she's so confused and panicked, she won't listen to anyone. I can't even give her medical attention because these stupid little animal hands are no good for anything," she waved her squirrel paws about, "And she's thrashing about so much in there, I'm afraid to go near her in case she accidentally hits me and squashes me."

"I will see if I can be of some help," said Troi, and she flew into maternity.

The bear had gone quiet, all they could hear was a peculiar tapping noise, and then a man's voice saying, "You'll be ok, honey, Doctor Crusher will be back in a minute."

"What we need is more bears," said the unicorn, and he pressed his nose against the companel. The squirrel ducked as the horn swept over her head, and she glared and twitched her whiskers at the unicorn.

"This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard to all hands. Many of you will have had experience with the entity known as Q. This would appear to be another of his games, and I ask that you all sit tight and stay calm. Wherever possible, would the larger quadrupeds please remain in their quarters. Would any female crew members who have been turned into bears and have personal experience with childbirth please come to sick bay immediately. Picard out."

"More bears?"

"I'm sorry, Beverley, it's all I could think of. Women who have had childbirth experience will at least know what to expect and presumably one bear can calm another bear down, or at least not be crushed if your patient hits out. They may be able to help you."

"A squirrel in charge of a roomful of bears. Wonderful. I wonder what the baby's going to be. I hope Q has the good sense to at least make the poor little thing the same species as its mother, that's assuming Q has any sense at all."

"...and Picard, you see, is a fantasy animal, and unique in the crew, as a captain should be," Q and Prince Alefcit stepped through the door. They didn't bother to open it first, they just stepped through it. Q enjoyed impressing people with childish tricks.

Q was dressed, if anything, even more sumptuously than he had been when he abducted the prince. His attire seemed to be entirely woven of jewels and he was wearing a large crown made of gold and purple metals. The prince, in contrast, wore a simple white smock and was shoeless.

"...And in each case you have taken some element of personality and used it for the basis of the animal," said the prince.

"Well, no, not always," said Q, taking on the airs of a wise old mentor, "You see, in some cases, such as the good Doctor here, there is no personality, so I have simply had to rely on an external characteristic; in her case, hair colour."

He waved his hand over the squirrel's brushy tail and Crusher reached up and sank her teeth into his finger. Q was caught off guard, he gave a yell, then the finger detached itself from the hand and a new one grew in its place. The finger in the squirrel's mouth changed shape and became a walnut.

"No personality! Hah!" said the squirrel in disgust, and she threw the nut at Q. It bounced off his forehead, making a hollow "bonk" when it hit him.

"Have you quite finished now, Q?" asked Picard, "You've played your game and impressed your guest. Now I would like you to turn my ship back into a ship, instead of a woodland glade and let us get on with the business of conveying Prince Alefcit to Fon."

"Oh, no," said Alefcit, "No, no," he addressed himself to Q, "If taking me to Fon is part of the deal, Q, then they should stay as animals. I do not want to go there."

Picard was totally exasperated, moreover he was frustrated. Like a good many bipeds, he liked to talk with his hands, and he didn't have hands any more. He stomped his feet and flicked his tail and tossed his head and kept banging into walls with his rump and horn.

"What is so wrong with Fon?" demanded Picard, snapping his head around so that Geordi LaForge almost fell off his back, and lashing his tail so that Beverley Crusher had to leap from her desk to her chair in order to avoid it.

The door to sickbay opened and the room began to fill with concerned looking bears.

"Captain," said the squirrel, "What you said about large quadrupeds..."

"Sorry, Doctor," he said, and moved toward the door, but took only a step before realizing that he was now in his ready room. Q and Prince Alefcit stood before him. Q hadn't turned a hair, Alefcit was jumping about with excitement.

"Isn't it brilliant the way he does that?" said the Prince.

"All part of the service, Picard, didn't want you damaging your ship."

"Does what?" said LaForge, still on the unicorn's back and wondering if he would ever get his fingers untangled from the mane, which was the only thing really keeping him on there.

"You see, Captain, I never wanted to be a king at all," began Alefcit, "Even on my own planet the position of king is that of a ruler with nothing to rule. Laws are set, judges do all the work, lawyers have all the fun, tax collectors get all the money. Not that I'm complaining, mind, I am a great believer in using tax money in a socially responsible way, and the royal family gets a very reasonable living allowance, it's just all so horribly boring."

"And as for Princess Halaga, well, it's not that she isn't beautiful and nice and all that, but that's a part of the problem, you see? She's just too nice. The woman's positively insipid. If you set fire to the very throne she sat upon she would first consult her director of Protocol in order to see if it was rightto scream and then run, or run first before screaming."

"I sympathize with your highness's plight..." began Picard.

"Yes, sympathy is all very well and good, but it does nothing. Q understands. Q empathises with my situation."

"Q? Empathic?" Picard couldn't help the derisive snort.

"Our situations are so very similar, you see, Picard," explained Q.

"And in order to show his highness how deeply you understood him, you turned my ship into a zoo."

"Stop calling me "your highness," I'm not going to be royal any more, I'm joining the Q continuum."

"Your Highness, it is my duty to take you and your Prince's Ransom to Fon, and I intend doing so."

"I told you he was good fun to play with," said Q to Alefcit, "He's such a very determined little human."

Picard lowered his head till the tip of his horn was on a level with the lowest point of Q's sternum, just above his diaphragm. He pressed lightly and the horn separated the jewelled strands of Q's garment and touched his flesh.

"Threats, Picard?"

"I'm feeling very tense, Q and revenge is good for tension. Not that I suppose for a minute that I could actually get rid of you so easily..."

"Of course not, dear Picard, and you wouldn't want to. Admit it, you love our little games. I am the wild card in the boring little hand life dealt you, just as you are one of my foremost entertainments. We need each other."

Picard pressed gently forward, "Just how badly do you think I need you, Q? Would you like to really find out?"

The scene changed and Picard found himself leaning into thin air. He stumbled forward a couple of steps before finding his footing. He was face to face with a huge tabby cat.

"Good to see you, Captain," said the cat.

"Guinan!" said Geordi, "How did we get to Ten Fore?"

"Can I offer you something, Captain? I don't think tea would suit you in your present form, how about this?" She turned to the food slot, "Computer, my specialty from HippoVavra Lea."

A plate covered in grasses and flowers materialized on the counter and the cat stretched her paw out, pushing the plate so that it was in front of the unicorn. Their enticing scent made his nostrils twitch and he had no control over the fact that his mouth was beginning to water at the smell.

"Thank you, Guinan, but I don't think..."

"You just make yourself at home there now, Captain. Put the old feed bag on and settle back. I have some business to attend to."

"Step right on in," whispered the cat, and she smiled slowly at Q. Her tail lashed from side to side and the pupils in her moon yellow eyes dilated. Alefcit, standing beside Q was only too aware of the cat's attitude, and he suddenly felt a deep empathy for pibs. Q said nothing, his face took on a strange, fixed expression it almost seemed that the entity was mesmerized by the cat's stare, and then the moment was broken by a terrible snarling, howling sound.

By the windows of the lounge three wolves were fighting. Picard swung around to look, realizing as he did that without knowing it he had taken a mouthful of flowers and couldn't actually say anything without spraying the place with semi masticated petals. The fight finished a moment later with no sign of bloodshed. Then red alert began to sound.

"We're on the Bridge," said Geordi, alerted by the change in background noise and general ambience.

"I like to be where the action is," admitted Q, who was hovering in mid air in the centre of the Bridge. He was lying on his stomach, hands tucked under his chin, legs folded over. Alefcit sat beside him, as though perched on the edge of a chair, swinging his feet. Alefcit's toes brushed the tops of Riker's antlers. Q and Alefcit both bore the avid expressions of children watching some complex game unfold.

"It is very exciting," agreed Alefcit.

"Number One, why are we at red alert?"

"Intruders, Captain, bearing one seven four."

"Identity?"

"We've tried hailing them, but no response, there's no question of their identity, though. On screen."

The bat that was Lieutenant Brakes scrambled across the ops station and the screen filled with the ungainly bulk of a Ferengi ship.

"The Prince's Ransom," said Picard. He turned to look at Alefcit, "They will attack us, of course."

"How wonderful," said Alefcit, his eyes glowing with the excitement, "And you will attack them back."

"No, Your Highness, we will not. Were I captain of this ship, a human over a crew of humanoids, I would undertake a defensive posture. I would use my shields and I would open discussion with the Ferengi. If that did not work, I would use evasive manoeuvres to try and escape from them. If none of that worked, and I was pressed, then yes, I would resort to weapons use in order to discourage."

"However, I am no longer a human with charge of a crew of humanoids, I am an animal, and my crew are animals."

"They always were," interjected Q, who was ignored.

"They look like animals," continued Picard, "and now they are beginning to behave like animals, as we saw in Ten Forward. I feel that my only option is surrender."

"To the Ferengi?" said Alefcit.

"To Q."

"To me? You can't do that," said Q, landing on the floor in front of Picard.

"Can't I? Just listen, Q: I, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, being of sound mind and body," and he stopped for a moment to snort and toss his mane and stomp his foot, "Do hereby relinquish my command of the USS Enterprise to the entity known as Q and henceforth resign for ever and ever amen."

"That wasn't a real resignation," sneered Q.

"It was witnessed by my Bridge crew. Witnesses?"

Various grunts, snorts and squeaks sounded from around the bridge.

"Witnessed and authenticated. There you go, Q, she's all yours."

"Now wait a minute," argued Q, starting to feel a little worried at the sudden responsibility, "Where do you think you're going?"

"I am going to steal the Captain's Yacht and find myself a nice little planet filled with green meadows and woodland glades and some more of those nice flowers that Guinan gave me to eat and I'm going to live happily ever after," said Picard. And then he neighed.

"But what about the Ferengi?" wailed Q.

"Not my problem," said Picard, headed for the turbolift.

Q flicked a finger and the lift door refused to open, "You can't go," he said, "I won't let you off the Bridge." So the unicorn simply leaned against the lift door.

"You can't just sit there and sulk, Picard, the Ferengi are going to take over your ship."

"No, Q, they are going to take over your ship."

"They'll sell you and your crew to the Orion slavers."

"Good. At least I'll be away from you."

"Picard I'm warning you..."

Picard snorted and whinnied again.

"You're just being childish," scolded Q, "All right, I'll do it myself. Helm, prepare to fire um...phaser torpedoes."

The bat, Lieutenant Brakes, squeaked at Q and fluttered away from the control panel, gaining height as he flew around and around the bridge, eventually finding a clawhold in one of the light fittings. He gripped the light fitting with his toes and hung there, upside down. Ensign Sharker, still a hedgehog, rolled herself up into a small ball and refused to even look at Q.

Q was getting desperate, he ran up the ramp to where Worf was standing, "Worf, old friend," he implored, "You are still head of security on my ship. You'll do something about this situation, won't you?"

"This situation?" grunted Worf, "H'm. Situation," he fixed his black little eyes on Q, "The situation is...you are now captain. Do you know what we do to captains on Klingon ships?" he began advancing on Q, his razor sharp tusks were about level with Q's midriff.

"But this isn't a Klingon ship," blustered Q.

"It will be," said Worf, "When I am captain."

"Could I be your first officer?" said a voice from behind Q, "I am very good at taking orders," and the entity was aware of a phaser pressing into the small of his back.

"I hope that phaser is set to "kill," Data," said Worf.

"Of course."

Q turned, on the rail behind him stood Data, still a blue bunny, but no longer made of velveteen. He had become real. The flat button eyes had been replaced by the gentle glow of Data's own eyes, and in his little paws he held a phaser. Set to kill.

"But how is this possible? I made you into a toy. You weren't even clockwork..."

"You forgot the story, Q," said Riker, "The velveteen rabbit got his wish. In the end he became real."

"As the other crew members have taken on the personalities of their animal types, I have assumed the characteristics of the rabbit in the story. What would happen to you, Q, if I did pull this trigger?"

"You'll never know!" crowed Q, and he vanished in a puff of swirling purple mist scented with a mixture of clove oranges and bovine excrement and filled with dancing gold flakes. As they watched, the mist expanded through the bridge, turning animals back into people as it touched them. Then it vanished into the atmosphere circulation system, presumably to do its job on the rest of the ship without being cleaned up by the air scrubbers.

Brakes fell from the light fitting and got up from the floor, rubbing his shoulder and staggering a little from dizziness. Sharker struggled to extract herself from her chair, where she was still rolled into a tight little ball. Horkins was sitting up in his chair, peeping out from between his fingers.

A muffled grunt came from the forward turbolift; "Get off me!"

"I'm so sorry, sir," said Geordi LaForge, who, as a mole sitting on the withers of a unicorn, had gone virtually unnoticed, but as himself, sitting on Captain Picard's shoulders was not welcome at all. The two of them were in a collapsed heap on the floor, Geordi clambered to his feet and helped Picard up. At some time or other he must have trodden on the Captain, because there was a big foot print in the middle of Picard's uniform.

"Is everybody all right?" said Picard, who probably looked the most dishevelled on the bridge. Various affirmations were returned as the bridge crew took their places.

"Shields up, open a channel to the Ferengi ship."

"Channel open, sir," acknowledged Worf, rubbing his face as though he could still feel the tusks.

"This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise. Ferengi ship, please acknowledge."

The leering face of the Ferengi DaiMon, all teeth and ears appeared on the screen. Brakes shuddered, he was too recently a bat to be able to take in those features without prejudice.

"This is DaiMon Habor. Show yourself, Picard, so that we may know it is truly you," Habor showed even more of the disarrayed mess of his teeth when he saw the untidy form of Picard on his screen.

"Picard, you do not look well. Perhaps I can help you in some way. I could assist you with that cargo you are carrying. Take it to Fon for you."

"Thank you DaiMon, most kind of you to offer," as he spoke, Picard's bearing returned, he actually seemed to gain height, "But the Enterprise is more than adequately equipped to cope with a little freight cartage. Is there anything I may help you with?"

The Ferengi's face twisted about for a few seconds and his shifty gaze swivelled all about before he said: "Nothing, Picard," and abruptly ended the transmission.

"Well," sighed Riker, "At least we'll get the Prince's Ransom to Fon."

"I still refuse to go," said Alefcit, who suddenly appeared in the middle of the bridge.

"But I will go," said Alefcit, who appeared beside himself. The first prince was dressed as he had been previously on the Enterprise, barefoot and in the simple white smock. The second Alefcit was dressed in the robes and jewells expected of a prince.

"Your Highness," began Picard to the simply dressed Alefcit.

"No. I am now just Ally, and I am returning to the Q continuum," he indicated the regally dressed man, "He's my highness now. I made him in my place, he's the son my father always wanted and he'll just love it on Fon. I'm sorry, Captain, but I just couldn't do it myself, so I decided to make myself do it..." and he vanished.

"Actually, I'm going to love it. I await with the most exquisite anticipation my wedding to the beautiful Halaga," said Prince Alefcit.

Picard was in no mood to argue. His job was to convey Alefcit and the Prince's Ransom to Fon, and it would seem that was exactly what he was going to do.

"Commander Riker, would you please show Prince Alefcit to his quarters."

As Riker and the Prince stepped up to the turbolift, Deanna Troi came out. She made a slight bow to the Prince as he passed her by.

"What did you pick up from him?" asked Picard as Troi settled herself beside him.

"From the Prince?" Troi looked mildly surprised, "It seems like an unusual change of mind, but he was very serene. He was happy, Captain, and almost overwhelmed by a deep feeling of fulfilment at the prospect of going to Fon. Do you know the reason for his turnaround?"

"We'll have a debriefing when Will gets back, and I'll explain it all to you then. As much as I understand, anyway. And you can give me a general run down on the state of the crew."

Deanna Troi passed a hand across her forehead as though she was trying to wipe away an unpleasant thought, then her face broke into a smile.

"Our newest crewmember is fit and well," she said.

"Oh, the baby, Mrs...um...and they're both well?"

"Not a problem in the world, they weren't even bothered by the transition from bear to human."

"Oh, good. Is it a boy or a girl?"

"A little boy."

"Does he have a name?" asked Data.

"I think the Bowdens have decided to call him Teddy," said Deanna.

the end

*:)

amanda.