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Distant Cousins

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The mycelial network was glowing a particularly beautiful shade of blue when a bright flash resolved into Q. Not that he spent any time admiring it. That’s what the mycelial network had looked like for a billion years, minus the shrinking dead spots here and there. Once you’ve seen one mushroom, you’ve seen them all. A cloud of young jahSepp spores attempted to land on his skin then swirled in his face when they couldn’t consume what they found.

“Shoo,” he said, waving a hand through them. “Didn’t your elders teach you any manners? Recognize your betters.” The spores moved off, chastened. A young, dark-skinned woman materialized from inside the cloud.

“Don’t be mean to them, Q. They’ve been suffering lately.”

“So I’ve heard. Did those humans ever come retrieve that wayward soul of theirs?”

“Yes and the mycelia are healing now, but there was a lot of damage,” replied May, still in the Discovery’s blue and gold uniform. “They haven’t been back here since.” There was a touch of melancholy in her voice that Q ignored.

“Well that’s a relief. They’re a blight on the Alpha Quadrant. No sense in allowing them to be a blight on the entire multiverse.” He turned, the oddity of meeting in this fashion suddenly occurring to him. “Why do you still look like that? Expecting company?” he said, as a captain’s uniform materialized around him. May shuffled side to side, frowning and clenching her fists. It wasn’t a perfect imitation of human movement, but it conveyed the discomfort she was feeling all the same.

“Ensign Tilly said she would come back to see us. We’re friends now.” Q’s eyes nearly rolled out of his skull.

“She said that, huh?”

“She pinkie promised!”

“Well if you insist, but humans will disappoint you, mark my words.” There was a beat of silence before Q rounded on her again. “You didn’t even know what a friend was until you stole that construct out of her memories.” May scowled in his face.

“So?!”

“So everything! For what possible reason could a human want a friendship with a massive colony of subspace fungi? They poisoned you and then you tried to eat them! What makes you think they’ll visit? They’re using you.”

 “They visit more than you have!”

“You’re right. A millisecond to skip that ship is definitely enough time to get brunch and catch up. I take it all back.”

May’s voice pitched even higher as she poked a finger into his chest. “You’ve been coming here what, once every hundred thousand years since the Separation? You’re one to talk!”

“Fine! If you’re so desperate for company, I’ll bring the whole ship here, hmm? Fully this time. You’ll see how friendly they are when they’re marooned.” He raised his hand to snap his fingers.

“Stop it, Q!” The light of the network seemed to pulse faster, erratic. Spores flowed past them as if the wind had picked up. Q lowered his hand with a shrug.

“Suit yourself, but if they break their promise, you tell me. I’ll see to it you get some new material to break down. You deserve something for this obscenely generous gift you’ve given them.” He crouched to idly play with the green spores that dusted the ground while May backed off to lean against a large stalk. “Isn’t this the second time humans have almost destroyed the network? Too forgiving I say.”

“They didn’t know what they were doing. They helped us. Even their healer Culber was willing to sacrifice himself once he realized he was hurting us.” She suddenly beamed as Q stood up. “We figured out how to reconstitute his body in normal space to save him.”

Q pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right,” he began then paused, “about that.” May cocked her head and waited. “That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. You probably shouldn’t have done that and now you need to be very careful.”

May frowned, confused. “But why? Stamets was so happy when we found him. They all were. If we could do it why shouldn’t we?”

“Humans view death differently than we do. It’s a concern when your spores die, but so long as enough of the whole remains you’ll eventually recover. Humans, on the other hand, when they die, they die. It drives them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise to avoid it or save people they care about.”

“I don’t understand what you’re getting at, Q.”

“What I’m saying if Stamets and the rest of that wretched ship don’t keep their mouths shut, you’ll have plenty of visitors all right. You won’t be able to keep them out. Imagine millions of Culbers covered in Yeel tree bark destroying everything for just the possibility of getting a second chance.”

Clouds of little green spores began swirling faster as May became more agitated. “They wouldn’t do that would they?” she cried. “They’re my friends! And…and Stamets is the only one who can do it anyway because he can pilot the spore drive.”

“Oh I’d worry about him too. Sure it’s unthinkable now, but if your friend was dying and oh it’s just a simple thing to send them to the mycelial network for a bit the jahSepp don’t mind and before you know it, boom, massive human infestation before you can blink. They consume with no thought to the consequences. If I were you, I’d shut them out of the network now.”

May considered this for a long moment before shaking her head. The Discovery crew she had met didn’t match Q’s description. The Continuum was always a bunch of arrogant pessimists anyway. “No, I trust them. So far they’ve fixed what they’ve broken. We can help each other.”

 Q remained unconvinced. “If you ever see them again for longer than a ship flight. I suppose you won’t mind if I check up on them from time to time then? I can see how your cousins are doing on the ship.”

“Fine, but don’t be mean to them! They’re nice people and they’ve suffered a lot.” Q rolled his eyes.

“All right all right. Deal.”