Jean-Luc Picard returned to consciousness, aware that something was different. The first of his gradually returning senses was smell. Instead of the dank, putrid aroma of his prison cell, he could smell wild flowers.
Then came hearing. He could clearly discern the sound of a gurgling stream and more faintly, as if from a distance, the splash of a waterfall. Overhead a bird shrilled reminding Picard of a day at the beach.
Beneath his fingers, he could feel the springy texture of grass. Cautiously he opened one eye. He was lying face down in the middle of a park or meadow. The sight was unbelievably beautiful to Picard after his long incarceration. Surely this was not a creation of the Q? It was like being back in the nexus again.
Picard rolled painfully onto his back and stared up at the incredibly blue sky until the blinding sunlight brought tears to his eyes. Yes this was definitely like the nexus - it had that same perfect daydream like quality about it. Picard managed to drag his hand up to shade his eyes. Now fully conscious, he looked around.
The Q sat under a gnarled oak tree, a blade of grass sticking out of his mouth. "Breathtaking isn't it?" he said with no real warmth.
Picard rolled onto his side, unable to find a position that was comfortable due to the extent of his bruising. He propped his head on one hand. Now that his eyes were more accustomed to the light, he could see hundreds of flowers and trees all around him, their scents intermingling on the gentle breeze. He heard a faint splash and turned in time to see a fish the size of a salmon, leap out of the stream and catch jade green dragonfly in its mouth.
Sunlight reflected off the fish's scales like a flash of antique silver. The ripples startled a deer drinking on the other bank. It bolted in confusion. A huge red and brown butterfly landed near to Picard on a sapphire blue flower only to take to the air again when a fat yellow bee staked its prior claim.
Suddenly a shadow fell over him. "It will be a shame to destroy such beauty, we have nothing like this in the continuum."
Picard squinted up at the Q. "Then why do it?"
Was it his imagination, or did his captor look tired? As Picard watched, the Q rubbed wearily at his eyes then sank down onto the soft grass beside the captain.
He sat cross-legged, staring off into the distance for a long time before fixing Picard with his ice-cold gaze. "Your mind has furnished me with this place - you call it 'The Garden of Eden' and it represents the beginning of mankind to you. I think it fitting that it should now also represent the end of mankind. This will be the stage from where I launch my final revenge."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Lien, although I fail to see what good the knowledge will do you. Very soon you will be dead. But first, I intend to bring Kirk here. He must also witness the end of every life in this Universe."
Picard shook his fuzzy head to clear it and immediately wished he hadn't. A sharp pain throbbed at his temples. Had the Q said he was going to bring Kirk here? Kirk was dead. The words themselves had been spoken with such deadly calm, that it was easy to detect the thread of insanity running through them.
Things began to coalesce in Picard's mind. Whatever he had allegedly done to this being, it had happened whilst he was in the nexus and he was growing more convince by the minute, that he was back in there now. But what was this about Kirk? Was it possible that the Q did not know that Kirk was dead?
The sun was beating down on Picard's head, making it impossible to think straight. His throat constricted tightly with thirst. The sound of the bubbling stream came into sharp focus until its melodic splashing filled his entire being.
He tried to haul his tired and battered body towards the sound, but Lien barred his way. "That's the spirit Picard, waste your energy crawling about on your hands and knees."
The Q laughed maniacally, but his mirth was short lived and dissolved into a fit of coughing. It took a long time for Lien to catch his breath and when he did, his eyes were red and watering. Picard was careful not to let his pleasure at the other man's discomfort show.
"Rest now mortal," wheezed Lien, "I will return soon...with Kirk." And Picard was alone in his own private paradise.
He pushed himself to sit up and weakly hauled his battered body over to the shade of the oak tree. Letting his back rest against its ancient trunk, he thought quickly. The Q's hasty disappearance suggested to Picard that it was he, not the captain that needed to rest.
Perhaps this could be used against him somehow. Picard's exhaustion began to cloud his thought processes again and he let his head tip back against the tree trunk.
He fought the effects as best he could but the gentle breeze and melodic sound of the waterfall had a soporific effect on the weakened Starfleet captain. This place really looked like the Garden of Eden all right. All it needed was.... he forced his eyes open and stared into the leafy canopy overhead - at a single red apple.
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