When the alien burst into the Quest Compound's mudroom, Jonny's first thought was, really, with all the aliens we see, I should've expected this. The alien was brandishing something that was clearly a gun of some kind, and Jonny, caught completely flat-footed, slowly raised his hands and stayed very, very still.
"Jonny?" Jessie called. "What's taking you so-" She popped her head around the doorframe, took in the situation at a glance, then slowly moved into sight when the alien caught her eye, her own hands up.
Jonny desperately wanted to ask where Hadji was, but he also didn't want to give away any element of surprise. At least Dad and Race weren't here, he thought, though this was really more their thing anyway and Dad would totally be upset at missing another alien.
Jessie looked from the alien to Jonny then back again, steadily, and asked it, "Do you understand English? I hope so, because the only other language I'm good at is Spanish, which is just as unlikely."
The alien blinked. "I understand English quite well," it - he, Jonny thought at that deep bass rumble, though of course he couldn't be sure - replied. "And I am sorry to detain you, but we cannot take any chances."
Footsteps sounded from further inside the house, and Jonny started in surprise as humans wearing the same type of clothes as the alien came out, Hadji with them. He looked wary, but fine.
"Lieutenant Worf, at ease," the bald man said.
"Aye, Captain," the alien replied, lowering the weird gun.
Jonny and Jessie slowly lowered their hands as Hadji walked over, the bald man and a woman whose eyes were just a little weird following. "These are my friends Jonny and Jessie," Hadji explained cautiously. "As I said, we are the only three here right now, aside from Bandit, who you have already met." He smiled wryly at that bit.
Bandit, Jonny realized, was hanging off the arm of a man who looked human but yellow, who was shooting it the occasional perplexed glance. The bald man captured Jonny's gaze and half smiled. "Your dog is apparently quite taken with Commander Data," he said, and Jonny couldn't help the chuckle. Bandit perked up at that and let go of the intruder - was his name really Data? - and ran over to Jonny.
"Who are you? Why are you here?" Jessie was asking.
The four exchanged glances. "We ... are a bit lost," the bald man replied. "I am Captain Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise, and these are my officers, Commander Data -," the yellow man nodded, "- Commander Troi -," the woman smiled at them, "- and I believe you have met Lieutenant Worf." The most obviously alien one frowned and nodded. Captain Picard met Jonny's eyes squarely. "This will sound a bit strange, but we have been thrown backwards in time, and we are looking for the culprit, an alien entity of immense power."
"Okay," Jonny said, "but why are you here?" He waved his arm towards the main house.
"Because we have traced him to this general area."
The kids - and they were kids, Troi realized, no adults seemed to be present - had escorted them back inside. They were wary, but welcoming, and not alarmed by the idea of either aliens or time travel. Either the resilience of youth, who often had a way of accepting things that adults would find mind-breakingly impossible, or they'd encountered both before. The pitfall of being an empath and not a full-on telepath: you knew the emotion but not the explanation for it.
Either way, the lack of hostility was nice, and frankly better than they deserved. The defenses of the so-called Quest Compound were not insurmountable, but they were far better than expected for this time, and not having to fight the security system was a welcome break.
The blond boy - Jonny, he'd introduced himself as - was bustling about the kitchen, putting together some refreshment. Hadji, the other boy, and the girl Jessie showed them to a sitting room and watched them, both alert and not quite trusting, but the girl showing it more openly. Out of the corner of her eye, Troi noticed Worf evaluating the girl critically. He caught her looking and she gave a subtle nod of acknowledgment - the girl was trained to fight, and she'd bet the boys were, too.
One more reason it was good they were listening. She didn't want to hurt a bunch of innocent kids who were just defending themselves.
"It is a phaser," Data was explaining. At a nod from the captain, he showed his to the kids. Jonny drifted back in to see, a tray with steaming mugs held in his hands. "It has two settings, but standard Starfleet policy is to keep them set to stun unless there is a specific reason not to."
"So even if you had shot us we wouldn't be hurt," Jessie said, looking at Worf. He nodded.
"You might have woken with a mild headache," Picard added, accepting a mug of what Troi could now see was hot cocoa from the boy. "Most people don't get one, but it's a known side effect." He sipped his drink politely; Troi knew he preferred tea, but you couldn't tell from his expression.
"I can get you something else, if you prefer," Jonny offered.
Or maybe you could, Troi amended, accepting her own mug and smiling in thanks as Picard quietly refused the offer.
"My father tells me this is not a warrior's drink, only one for a cold day," Worf said, scowling fiercely at his mug. "But mother disagrees." He took a hefty swallow in appreciation.
Hadji's eyebrows raised. "They have chocolate on your planet?"
"Most planets are at least able to replicate it," Data replied.
"I was raised on Earth by a human couple," Worf explained. Hadji nodded.
Jonny, done passing out drinks, settled onto the sofa next to Jessie. "So, you said you were looking for another alien? How do you know he was here? What does he look like?"
Picard's lips thinned. "We are looking for an entity known as Q. He is immensely powerful and is capable of feats such as perfect shapeshifting, teleportation, and even reordering time itself." All three kids' eyes widened as they considered the implications.
"He also only ever leaves the traces he wants to leave," Troi added. "And he apparently has favorites among what he considers the lesser races, and likes to torment them in what he considers an amusing and educational fashion." A wave of embarrassment rolled off Picard, redoubling when all three looked at him.
...These really were some of the most astonishingly emotionally aware kids Troi had met, especially for human teenagers. They must've either had training or long gotten used to dealing with someone with tight emotional control.
Picard coughed. "Yes, as you have surmised, Q apparently finds me amusing. He appeared on our ship three days ago, by our own reckoning, and the encounter culminated with our being tossed backwards through time."
"To now," Jessie said.
"Wait, if he leaves no traces, how did you track him here?" Jonny asked.
"This Q must have wanted them to come here," Hadji said.
"The question is: why?" Picard said.
Data looked up from his tricorder. "Captain, I believe I may have an answer to that."
"We only used it once," Jessie said, staring at the time machine. "A madman tried to destroy the world with a nuclear warhead. We'd stopped him before, but he learned, and set things up so we couldn't, by the time we knew."
"Unless you went back in time," Troi said. She laid a comforting hand on Jessie's shoulder.
"Dad says it's broken and he won't repair it," Jonny said. "He only made it initially because he was grieving, but I guess he couldn't bring himself to destroy it even after deciding not to mess with history."
"It is not broken," Data said, rising from his investigation. "It is fully functional."
Jonny frowned. "Dad repaired it?"
Data looked at him. "It does not appear to have been broken in the first place."
"An effect of the time loop?" Worf rumbled.
"Do you really think Q brought us here because of this?"
Picard sighed. "Who knows what Q thinks. But it seems likely."
Footsteps echoed down the corridor. "Jonny? Jessie? Hadji? What's going on?"
Worf's hand went to his phaser, but Jessie stepped in front of him. "Dad! Don't worry, it's okay!"
"That doesn't ease my mind, sweetheart," Race Bannon said, entering the room cautiously. "Who are these people?"
Picard opened his mouth to reply, but before he could answer, a man with improbably orange hair stepped into the room, grinned at him, and drawled in a damnably familiar voice, "Why, Jean-Luc, I thought you'd never get here."
Worf was impressed at the speed with which Jessie's father moved. Q had barely finished speaking when Bannon had him by the neck, pressed up against the wall.
"Who are you and what have you done with Dr. Quest?" the man snarled.
Jonny was watching the whole thing with wide eyes. "Dad's possessed by an alien?"
Worf trained his phaser carefully on Q as Data said, "I do not believe so. I believe Q is masquerading as your father."
"So where's Dr. Quest?" Hadji asked, when Jonny didn't finish.
Q looked at the captain, wincing exaggeratedly when Bannon growled and tightened his grip. "Get this neanderthal off me and I'll tell you."
Grudgingly, Bannon let go and stepped back to stand next to Worf.
Q warped and shifted, turning into someone who was decidedly not Benton Quest. He looked squarely at Jonny. "Your dad's up in space with his alien girlfriend. Don't you remember?"
Four startled voices erupted at once, all echoing variations on one theme. "What girlfriend?"
"If you're talking about Alice Starseer," Hadji said, "Dr. Quest chose not to go."
Jonny looked confused. "That's right, isn't it, Hadj?"
Q shook his head.
"Wait," Jessie said. "We were all there. He turned her down! We'd remember if he left!"
"Jessie," Q asked, looking at her with almost fond pity, "how old were you when this happened?"
"I was..." she trailed off, looking confused.
"You are seventeen," Data added helpfully. He frowned at his tricorder. "Or at least that is what your quantum matrix suggests. Your telomere length, however, indicates you are only fifteen years old."
Q looked over at Picard and raised his eyebrows mockingly. "Now do you see the problem, Jean-Luc?"
"I still don't get why he can't fix it," Jonny grumbled around a screwdriver.
Picard, kneeling on the floor next to Jonny with his head inside the time machine's innards, smiled wryly. "He likes making people do things the hard way, from what I've gathered." He stuck his head out, reaching for a wrench. "Dr. Crusher - my chief medical officer - thinks it's his version of making us clean up our own problems."
Jonny grunted. "Still annoying."
"I didn't know starship captains were engineers," Jonny said after a moment.
"Many aren't. I always felt it was a good idea to at least understand the basics." Picard looked over at Data, Hadji, and Jessie. "How are the calculations coming?"
"We are having an unforeseen problem, Captain," Data replied.
"All our calculations are coming up differently, though Jessie's and mine nearly match," Hadji said. He looked uncomfortable. "I am guessing this is part of the time ripples you mentioned."
"It seems the most likely explanation for your deaging, and this problem confirms it," Data said mildly. "You detonated a nuclear device in the late Cretaceous period via this time machine, and it caused temporal distortions. At the far end, the distortion would be minimal; at this end, time is distorted by approximately fifty years."
"I ... You know, I wondered about that, when we went to Bangalore," Jessie said to Hadji. "I thought India was a unified republic since 1947."
Hadji shook his head, confused. "I find I think both that and that it is a collective of several kingdoms," he murmured back. "Also, I think I am having a religious crisis."
"Happens to all of us, Hadj," Jonny said. He scooted out from under the machine. "I think I've got all the bolts in, guys."
Picard carefully replaced the panel he'd removed. "We are waiting on the computer, Mr. Data."
Data looked at his two assistants. "Now that you have shown me the system, I believe it might be best for me to complete the calculations. My memories are from outside the distortion field."
Jessie and Hadji looked at each other, then stepped back. Jessie walked over to her father and Q, who were exchanging heated whispers with each other. Q had taken on his Dr. Quest form again, though his body language was decidedly not the scientist's.
"I don't care what your excuses are, you bring him back here right now."
"I try not to interfere with the express choices of others, Mr. Bannon," Q replied. Worf, hovering by the doorway to the lab, snorted. Q scowled at him, then turned back to Bannon. "He left of his own free will, he's off happily exploring the galaxy, he'll be back eventually. Do you really want me to yank him back home for no reason?"
Bannon made a frustrated gesture. "He'd want to be here! He'd want to know, and to help!"
"Oh, please. He knew exactly what kind of trouble all of you usually get into when he chose to go, and he figured you all could handle it." Q smirked. "Don't you want to prove him right?"
Jessie had heard enough. "Dad, drop it," she said when he opened his mouth. "You're right, but just, drop it. He's not listening."
"Smart girl," Q said.
She rounded on him. "For a supposedly all-powerful being, you are ridiculously childish," she snapped. "Either put up or shut up."
Q eyed her, snorted, then vanished with an entirely theatrical light show. "It's been fun, Jean-Luc," came his voice through the turned-off speakers. "Don't get lost on the way back."
"Agreed, Mr. Worf," Picard said tiredly.
"I don't think it'll work at that distance," Jessie said. "We had to be here to use it."
"Could we reconstruct this on the Enterprise?" Picard asked.
"I believe so, Captain," Data replied. "However..."
Hadji typed something into the computer. "From that far out, I don't think the time distortions will cancel each other out," he said. "You said your ship is on the far side of the moon?"
"We didn't wish to disturb your satellites," Troi said.
"So we have to fire this up here," Jonny said. "Again. And hope it works."
"Here goes nothing," Jessie said, and flipped the switch.
He was laying on the floor of the lab, and all the lights were out. Groaning, Hadji sat up, feeling his head. "Jonny? Jessie? Race?" He hesitated. "Captain Picard?"
Somewhere to the left of him, Jonny said thoughtfully, "I guess that means it wasn't a dream, then."
"I dunno, boys, I haven't ruled out collective hallucinations quite yet," Race said, flipping on the lights.
Jessie gasped and sat up. "The time machine is gone!"
Two people appeared in a chime of lights, and almost before they were solid Jonny was up and running. "Dad!"
Benton Quest wrapped his son in a bear hug. "Jonny! What trouble have you gotten into this time?" He laughed and reached out to clap Race on the shoulder.
Race smiled crookedly. "Promise me you won't try to go auburn, Doc, orange isn't a good look for you."
Benton looked puzzled, but shook it off with a smile. "What's been going on? Why are you down in the old lab?"
"The time machine's gone!" Jessie said again.
"A time machine, Benton?" Alice asked, looking at him.
He looked confused. "I never made one. It was only theoretical, after Rachel-" He cut himself off and looked over at Alice.
She hugged him briefly. "I'd be more worried if you never grieved for her, Benton."
They turned back to the other four, who were looking at each other in mild confusion.
"I guess it worked," Race said.
"India's a republic, right?"
Benton stared at him. "You should know, Hadji, you were born there."
Alice looked at the kids. "Are you all alright? You seem ... shorter."
They looked at each other again.
"It's a long story, Ms. Starseer," Jonny said.
"Jonny, please. Call me Alice," she said.
"What are we putting in the report to Starfleet?"
"I imagine the temporal distortions canceling each other out destroyed the time machine. Isn't that right, Mr. Data?"
Data looked up from where he was helping Geordi plug in the device. "Yes, Captain. I am assured this one up here is only a replica."
"Man, I would've loved to see that lab," Geordi said. "This machine is way more advanced than any tech they should have at this time."
"It was not the only extraordinary device there, Geordi."
"...Data, you are really not helping."
Data looked at the cable in his hand. "I thought..."
Geordi sighed. "Just plug it in, Data. I'll explain later."
Commander Riker's voice came over the comm. "I've seen off our guests," he said. "I am fairly sure they don't think we're from the future at all."
Picard frowned. "You said you discovered two aliens out here while we were gone?"
"That's what we thought, Captain. They were traveling in a strange manner through space, in orbs of light. I think we caught their attention and they appeared right on board. They didn't show any signs of hostility, only curiosity, so we proceeded as we would for a diplomatic encounter."
"What you thought, Number One?"
"They are apparently both human, and from this time," Riker replied. "I offered to beam them down after you came back, and they accepted."
"Why wait until after we came back, Number One?"
"Because they were heading to the same place you were, Captain. We thought it best to wait until you cleared out, to avoid any complications."
"Good thinking, Number One," Picard said. Your dad's up in space with his alien girlfriend. "Though this is one case where the interference might have helped."
"Unbelievable," Benton said.
"You got that right, Benton," Race said wearily. "I was here for it and I don't believe it."
Alice's eyes were wide. "Those people we met, on that spaceship. Benton, do you think-?"
"If they were near the moon, that's them," Jonny said. "The ship was called the Enterprise?"
Alice nodded. "They were very nice, though I did think it was odd that there were so many humans on board."
"You thought it was odd to find humans in space?" Benton teased.
Jessie had her head in her hands. "This is a logistical nightmare," she said. "We've now got our proper memories back, if not quite our proper bodies, but we're still missing nearly two years of life experience."
They all looked at her. "It's not that bad, sweetheart," her dad said.
She looked up. "Hadji can still have his driver's license, I suppose, since he was still old enough to have one when we lost years. But Jonny and I have permits when we should have licenses."
"Retaking the exam shouldn't cause too big a hassle, Jess."
"It just throws everything off," she exclaimed in frustration.
"I don't know," Hadji said slowly. "I think, even with the occasional logistical hurdle, I would not undo the experiences we have had."
"Yeah," Jonny said. "For one thing, we did get rid of Surd and Rage during that time. The time's not missing, Jess, it's just-"
"It's just that I'm fifteen instead of seventeen," she said. She went on ruthlessly when Jonny opened his mouth. "You're fourteen instead of nearly seventeen. Hadji should be eighteen by now, a legal adult, but he's got two years to go."
Jonny sighed. "We'll get through it, Jess." Hadji nodded, not looking much perturbed by the fact that he was only sixteen.
Jessie looked at them, then sighed. "I know." She smiled crookedly. "We always do."
Some time later
Picard looked at the captain walking beside him. "How did your future self go back in time, if you don't mind the question, Kathryn?"
Captain Janeway sighed. "Do you know, I don't recall if I ever asked for the details?"
Picard thought of Commanders Data and La Forge, working rapidly with their reconstructed time machine to cancel out a distortion wave before it rippled through Federation space. He'd have to double-check that the files were deleted.
"Oh, Jean-Luc, you overly cautious boy scout, you have no idea," Q said.