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Christopher Pike jerked awake to the sound of “Bridge to Captain Pike” coming over the speakers in his quarters. He groaned, rubbing his eyes, and glanced at the chronometer on the bedside table. Three hours of sleep was the most he’d been able to grab at once in a few days. Between investigating the Red Angel, chasing Spock across Federation space, and fleeing from the very people he thought he could trust, there hadn’t been enough time to get out of his uniform much less rest. He sat up and collected himself for a long moment before responding.

“Pike here.” A voice he didn’t associate with the usual bridge crew greeted him.

“We have a situation, sir. Request your presence on the bridge.” Pike sighed, face in his hands. What am I doing? My ship and crew are light-years away, I’m dancing on the edge of insubordination with Section 31, my first officer is accused of murder, and the fate of the quadrant hangs in the balance.  Who did I piss off to end up here?  He tried to clear his head before he straightened his uniform and moved towards the door.

“I’m on my way.”

-

As soon as the turbolift doors opened, he knew something was wrong. He had left Commander Saru in charge of the bridge after they had jumped to warp, but the person sitting in the captain’s chair had a head full of dark hair. In fact, everyone on the bridge did, with identical faces to match. It took Pike a second to recognize the face he saw.

“Q!” he shouted. The Q manning the station to the left of the captain’s chair visibly jumped before glancing back at him.

“Captain on the bridge!” he called, uncharacteristically formal. The rest of them turned to face him with six identical pairs of eyes. The one in the captain’s chair stood, and moved to one side with an expectant look on his face.

“Captain,” he began, with none of the usual mirth that marked visits from Q. “We’re six hours at maximum warp from the nearest starbase, assuming that’s where the nearest Federation ship would be diverted from to intercept us, but there’s a problem with the-”

“Cut the crap, Q!” Anger flaring, Pike strode to the captain’s chair, getting in Q’s face. “What is this? Bring my crew back now.” The man didn’t break character for a second, frowning in confusion.

“Sir?” he asked. The Q station at the helmsman’s console called out as the ship shuddered.

“Captain, we’ve just lost the warp field and dropped to sublight speed,” he said, hands moving over the console as if it was the most natural thing in the world. After a few seconds he shook his head and turned to the captain. “Cause unknown, sir. Best I can do is full impulse.” Pike, wide-eyed, attempted to blink the scene away. This has to be a nightmare.

“Q,” he said, turning to the nearest man who was still staring at him like he’d grown three heads. “End this please. I won’t play this game. We don’t have time.” The man at the communications station turned as his console beeped.

“Sir-“

What?!” This Q gave Pike the same worried look his “first officer” was giving him. He swallowed before continuing.

“Sir, we’re being hailed. It’s the admiral.” There was no Federation ship anywhere near the Discovery that could’ve caught them, much less be hailing them now. Pike took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of this nose for a long moment. This game was going to play him whether he wanted to or not.

“On screen.” As expected, Q in an admiral’s uniform filled the viewscreen. This time he looked just as characteristically smug as usual.

“Having trouble, Captain?” he asked, a picture of innocence. Pike stalked forward, back straight as a rod.

“Q, where is my crew?” he asked, working to keep stress and his lack of sleep from bubbling over. Q’s confused smile greeted him.

“You have a crew, Captain.” Pike stared for a long few seconds until Q relented, rolling his eyes. “Don’t worry they’re on leave, Christopher. They’ve just been through so much recently and have hardly had time to really work through what happened with Captain Lorca, the war, not to mention Dr. Culber’s death and, uh, return.” He shrugged, “I thought it would be good for them to take some time off.” Pike shook his head.

“No, no this is not going to work.” He turned around to avoid having to look at Q’s face only to find a whole bridge crew of it staring back at him. He closed his eyes for a second, willing himself calm before turning back around and addressing the viewscreen. “The fate of life in the quadrant is at stake and I need my crew.

“Captain, I assure you,” Q said seriously, adopting a stern, but understanding admiral’s voice, “you have the finest crew in the universe at your disposal until they get back.” It was all Pike could do to not entirely lose it. He settled for a choked laugh instead.

“Really? Since when do you take orders from anyone, much less me?”

I don’t, but that’s because I am an admiral and your direct superior.” Pike snorted, rolling his eyes. “But if they give you any trouble, Captain, believe me I will happily court-martial each and every one of them for insubordination. You just say the word.” Pike took a big breath before slowly letting it out.

“Q,” he said softly, “what is this about? Really?”

“If I told you, it would ruin the point,” Q smiled. “Better get a move on, or you’ll be in prison for treason before long. Admiral Q out.” The viewscreen changed back to the view off the bow. Pike turned to find the bridge crew staring at him expectantly.

“Your orders, Captain?” his “first officer” asked. This is going to be a long fucking day.