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All Good Things, Part I

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Lynch's Spoiler Review: "All Good Things..."

WARNING: Spoilers lie in the near future, or the present, or ... oh, the heck with it -- not very many lines down for TNG's finale episode, "All Good Things..." If you haven't been spoiled yet and don't want to be, avoid the article.

Whew. So that's it. Not perfect, but very strong, and more than enough to make me sentimental about the end of an era.

"All good things must come to an end," indeed -- but first, they get the living hell synopsized out of them.  :-) See you when it's over. Maestro:

Troi and Worf are leaving the holodeck after a romantic evening, and Worf is becoming concerned that he may be hurting Riker's feelings. Troi reassures him that it's more appropriate just now to deal with _their_ feelings, and Worf bends to kiss her --

-- only to be interrupted as Picard rushes on scene in his bathrobe, urgently asking what the date is. When Worf replies that it's stardate 47988, Picard seems very puzzled. When pressed, he tells Troi, "I don't know how or why, but I'm moving back and forth ... through time."

He can't describe exactly where he's been moving to and from, but he knows he's been both in the past and the future, by a matter of years in both instances. Troi suggests that the vagueness might mean it was a dream, but Picard is adamant that the feelings and images were entirely too vivid to be anything unreal. He adds that whenever he switched time periods, he briefly felt disoriented, but that then it ended, "as though I *belonged* in that time. But, I can't --"

Suddenly, Picard finds himself in a vineyard as an old man, where he is tying up some vines. He hears Geordi's voice calling to him, as Geordi strides onto the scene, complete with both a mustache and regular, functioning eyes. "Captain, we've got a problem with the warp core, or the phase inducers, or some other damned thing," he laughs. The two haven't seen each other in nine years (much less the twenty-five since they were all on the Enterprise), and catch up on old times for a short while. Then, Picard gets down to basics: "So what brings you here?"

Geordi claims to have just dropped by for a visit, but Picard is skeptical -- it's too long a trip. "So," he muses, "you've heard." Geordi agrees: "Leah has some friends at Starfleet Medical ... word gets around." Picard has recently come down with Irumodic Syndrome, a neurological disorder, but is adamant that he is *not* an invalid. He and Geordi walk and talk, discussing both cooking styles and Geordi's recent novel, but then Picard sees something out of the corner of his eye and turns to look. He sees vagabonds in the field jumping up and down, pointing at him and taunting him. He stands transfixed, as Geordi tries to get his attention. "Captain, are you all right?"

"Captain?" It's no longer Geordi addressing him, but Tasha -- and Picard now finds himself in a shuttlecraft en route to take command of the Enterprise. Telling Tasha that he was distracted, Picard asks her to continue. She sings the praises of the ship, then asks if she's done something wrong, concerned at his distant manner. "No," he assures her, "it's just that you look very familiar." The shuttle reaches the Enterprise, and Picard gets his first look...

.. as he finds himself back in his quarters in the present, with Troi looking on, concerned. He tells her where he just was, then sits in a corner of the room, worried that he's losing his mind.

In sickbay, all the evidence suggests that Picard has not hallucinated, and has also not left the ship in quite some time. Beverly sardonically comments that Picard just likes waking them all up in the middle of the night, and then shoos Deanna out. Once alone, she tells Picard that although she found no traces of Irumodic Syndrome, she did find a small defect in his parietal lobe that would make him susceptible to that ailment. She assures him that it's only a possibility, nothing more, but her worried look betrays her feelings. Picard reassures her that she's "going to have to put up with me for a long time," as Worf calls with a priority message from Admiral Nakamura.

Picard takes it in Bev's office, and is ordered to the Neutral Zone border, where no less than thirty Romulan warbirds are heading as well. There is some sort of spatial anomaly in the Devron system, and both sides are converging to the closest location they can to get a look at it. The Enterprise is to wait at the border, but *only* wait -- they cannot cross. Nakamura signs off, and Picard gets up to leave --

-- and finds himself back in the vineyard with Geordi, stumbling. "This is not my time," he mumbles to himself: "I don't belong here." Geordi is now extremely worried, but Picard scoffs at any suggestion that he's wrong: "I'm not senile, dammit! It *did* happen!" However, when pressed, he admits that the details are extremely hazy and growing hazier by the minute. He remains convinced that his situation is real, however, and is convinced that they must go see Data to find out what's happening. Geordi grudgingly agrees, and they set off for Cambridge (though not before Picard again sees a vision of the vagabonds he saw earlier, and discovers that Geordi sees none of this.)

In Cambridge, Picard explains the situation to Data, who now holds the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at the university, uses contractions fluently, seems more human than ever, and has recently put a touch of grey into some of his hair to lend "an air of distinction." Data listens patiently to everything Picard has to say, but inquires about Picard's recent doctors' visits and confesses that the possibility of this all being a delusion has occurred to him. However, with no proof that Picard's memories are not real, Data is willing to buy into the story, and begins to make preparations to use the biometrics lab on campus to do some tests. Picard stands to thank Data --

-- and promptly finds himself in the shuttle bay of the Enterprise, about to formally assume command. He reads the text of his orders haltingly, interrupted by more visions of the vagabonds that only he can see. When they become too overwhelming for him to bear, he orders an immediate red alert. Everyone stands stunned for a moment, but Yar quickly whips them in line: "you heard him! MOVE!"

Picard decides not to inform this group about his time-hopping experiences, not wishing to contaminate this time with knowledge of future events. At a staff meeting, he finds that there are no signs of any alien presence (even after he tells Troi specifically to search for signs of something "acting on a level of intelligence far superior to our own"), and no signs of any security problems. He orders Worf to start a security alert, then corrects his order after Tasha notes that *she* is the security chief, not Worf.

Picard proceeds to the bridge, where Starfleet has just ordered the ship to cancel its Farpoint mission and proceed to the Devron system to investigate a spatial anomaly. Picard, however, is convinced the answers lie at Farpoint and orders the ship to continue on its mission, much to the surprise of all the officers on board. He then orders and accompanies Chief O'Brien down to Engineering to work on a problem with the plasma inducers. There, he assures O'Brien that he is more than capable to the task at hand. O'Brien orders others to join him, and notes that they'll all be "burning the midnight oil." "That would be inappropriate," notes the newly arrived Commander Data, taking the statement far too literally. Picard greets Data enthusiastically and puts him to work just as quickly.

"Jean-Luc, what's going on?", Beverly asks, snapping Picard back to the present. He tells her he's had another time-shift, and a scan reveals that he's picked up an extra two days of memories in just the past few minutes! Everyone now believes he's shifting, but no one knows why -- and no one remembers the altered past that Picard is currently living, either. As the ship continues towards the Neutral Zone, Riker asks Deanna to join him for dinner and is surprised to hear that she and Worf "have plans."

After returning to the bridge and instructing a distracted Riker to take command if he becomes disoriented, Picard retreats to his ready room for a bit, with Beverly following shortly afterward. She gets some warm milk (a "prescription") and orders Picard to get some rest, then gets very depressed about Picard's prognosis: after all, he's *been* to the future and knows that he does indeed come down with Irumodic Syndrome. Picard says that he doesn't consider that future cast in stone, and reassures her: "A lot of things can happen in twenty-five years." Bev ponders this, then leans down and kisses him gently. "A lot of things can happen..." she says, and departs. Picard muses...

..and is woken by Geordi in the future. The lab is ready for Data's tests, but Picard is no longer interested in them -- rather, he insists that they must go to the Neutral Zone and look for the anomaly in the Devron system. Since it's in two timelines, it must be in this one as well, he reasons, and important. Geordi is willing to play along, but reminds Picard that there currently *is* no Neutral Zone: the Klingons took over the Romulan Empire and have abolished the Zone, becoming less than enchanted with the Federation in the process. Picard acknowledges this, but wants to go anyway, and decides to call Admiral Riker to get a ship.

Riker, however, is less than forthcoming: the borders are closed, and scans have shown no sign of an anomaly. He bluntly says he can't help and closes the connection. Picard gripes about Riker's current desk mentality, and wonders where they go from here. When Data suggests hitching a lift with a medical ship (as they are currently allowed to cross over to treat a plague on Romulus), however, Picard cheers up, and asks Data to locate the USS Pasteur. "I have some pull with the captain ... at least, I used to have."

The Pasteur soon arrives, commanded by Beverly: Beverly *Picard*, Jean-Luc's ex-wife. She says his idea is absurd, "but then I never could say no to you," and agrees to take him to the Devron system. Geordi suggests contacting Worf, one-time member of the High Council, to get permission to cross the border, and Picard enthusiastically seconds the idea. Picard leaves for his quarters to rest (after a great deal of coaxing), and Bev inquires to the others about his state of mind. She's no more sure she believes him than the rest of his old crew, "but he's Jean-Luc Picard, and if he wants to go on one last mission, that's what we're going to do."

Picard exits the turbolift on the Pasteur, right onto the past Enterprise, which is nearing Farpoint station with no sign of Q or the barrier he erected at one time. Picard, confused, orders the ship to hold position and heads for the ready room --

-- ending up right in Q's kangaroo court, where Judge Q smugly says that he thought Picard would never come. Q refuses to "connect the dots" for Picard, but will allow Picard to figure out what's going on for himself; he will answer ten questions, as long as they're yes-or-no only. Picard agrees.

"Are you putting mankind on trial again?" "No." "Is there any connection with the trial seven years ago and what's happening now?" "I'd have to say yes." "The spatial anomaly in the Neutral Zone ... is it related to what's going on?" "Most DEFINITELY yes." "Is it part of a Romulan plot -- a ploy to start a war?" "No and no." "Did you create the anomaly?"

Q giggles almost hysterically. "No, no, no! You're going to be so surprised when you find out where it came from -- if you ever figure it out."

"Are you responsible for my shifting through time?"

Q becomes more serious at this question. "I'll answer that question if you promise you won't tell anyone." He leans in closely, and stage-whispers, "YES."

"Why?" "Sorry! That's not a yes or a no question; you forfeit the rest of your questions!"

Q then informs Picard that the trial never ended, until now -- and that the Continuum has found humanity guilty "of being inferior." He says that they've had seven years to show they were capable of expansion, and have chosen to waste those years instead with concerns on Riker's career, Data's quests for humanity, and "Troi's pedantic psychobabble."

Q gloats once more that the end has come for "your trek through the stars." When Picard becomes confused about what the actual sentence is to be, Q pounces, saying that humanity is to be denied existence. Picard is shocked, and accusatory, but Q will have none of it. After all, he points out, *he's* not the one who destroys humanity -- PICARD is. "May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul," Q says, and Picard finds himself in his present-day ready room.

Departing, he calls for red alert and a senior staff conference. At that conference, everyone is skeptical about Q's sincerity except Picard, who is convinced that Q was in deadly earnest this time. After a decision not to second-guess every action Picard takes, they theorize that Picard's time-shifting might be Q giving him a chance to correct whatever it is that he does. The ship approaches the Neutral Zone, and Picard returns to the bridge. There, they find several Warbirds on the Romulan side of the Zone, and Picard hails the flagship. They respond --

-- only now it's the future Worf that the aged Picard sees on the viewscreen. Worf is sympathetic to their needs, but has to deny the request for their own safety, grumbling all the while that it wouldn't be a problem had Admiral Riker given them a cloaked ship. Picard, however, manipulates Worf's sense of honor to shame Worf into giving them permission. Worf complains about this, but grudgingly gives that permission -- as long as he is allowed to come along.

Beverly makes it clear that if major opposition arrives to challenge their presence in the Zone, the Pasteur is *leaving*, no doubt about it. They head for the Devron system, but Beverly asks Picard to give the order, which he does. "Engage."

"Engage to where, sir?" asks O'Brien on the past Enterprise. Picard quickly clarifies that they are to head to the Devron system to investigate the anomaly, despite the fact that it is *in* the Neutral Zone. Troi asks to speak to Picard privately, and expresses her concern that the crew isn't sure how to react to Picard's rather bizarre orders thus far. Picard is appreciative, but says that at the moment he can't explain his reasoning. After a brief subspace conversation with Riker (and then an interlude where Troi tells Picard about her and Riker's prior relationship), he orders Earl Grey tea. The computer professes ignorance of the beverage, and Picard smiles --

-- only now he's smiling at Tomalak, who is glaring at him from across the Neutral Zone. Picard offers that each side send one ship to investigate the anomaly, to which Tomalak agrees. They reach the system and see the anomaly, which is already very large. The Enterprise begins scanning...

..while in the past, the Enterprise also reaches the system and begins scanning -- only here, the anomaly is far larger.

"On screen, on screen! Let's see it!" yells the future Picard, with the Pasteur *also* in the Devron system. Unfortunately, this time he is disappointed: "As you can see, Captain," says Data, "there's nothing there."

Repeated scans and alternate ideas prove equally fruitless, and with word coming of Klingon cruisers en route to expel this "intruder", time is running out. Data suggests that an inverse tachyon pulse *might* help locate any temporal disturbances, but notes that modifying the deflector dish and scanning the entire system would take fourteen hours. Bev allows six, much to Picard's chagrin -- but when he tries to protest, Bev virtually drags him into her ready room and informs him *never* to question her authority on her own bridge. Once he apologizes, she acknowledges what is at stake, but also asks Picard to acknowledge the possibility that all of this *might* simply be a delusion created by Irumodic Syndrome. Bev leaves, and Picard tries to, but hears a voice behind him.

It's Q, seemingly as old as this Picard is, and playing the "old and feeble" role to the hilt until Picard becomes enraged. He then tells Picard that there *is* an answer for everything that's been going on, but that Picard has to find it himself. He also assures Picard that he has help: "what you were and what you are to become will always be with you." With a final taunt, however, Q again reminds Picard that he destroys humanity.

In the present, the Anomaly is 200 million kilometers long and a major source of temporal energy. The sensors aren't penetrating it, so Picard orders the tachyon pulse, which impresses Data to no end. Data and Geordi work on and initiate the pulse, but Geordi experiences sudden pain in his VISOR and is taken to sickbay, where Bev finds that he is miraculously growing new eyes!

Others report in that old scars are healing, and Data theorizes that the Anomaly has something to do with it. He considers it a pocket of "anti-time", which when colliding with normal time might cause the disruption they are witnessing. Picard asks, "what might have caused this eruption of time and anti-time?"

"Anti-time, sir?" queries a very confused past-Data. Picard instructs Data to set up the tachyon pulse and also tells him what will be found, ordering him to then theorize what could have caused the pocket to form. He discovers that the rift is twice as big here, which he finds perplexing. Picard heads for his ready room --

-- and emerges on the bridge of the Pasteur, currently coming under heavy fire from two Klingon cruisers. They attempt to flee and then to surrender, but neither works. The ship is heavily damaged, when the Enterprise decloaks and comes to save the day, commanded by Riker himself. "We'll see if we can get the Klingons' attention," he says with understatement, as the Enterprise comes up from *under* the Klingon ships and punches half a dozen holes in one until it explodes. The other ship disengages, and the Pasteur crew is beamed off their ship as a warp-core breach becomes imminent.

Riker grumbles that he knew Picard wouldn't listen, and harshly upbraids Worf for allowing them to cross the border in the first place. Worf will have none of it, however, insisting that had Riker given them a good ship in the first place and acted with honor, all would be fine. Riker prepares to leave for Federation space, but Picard insists that they stay and investigate. When Riker proves adamant, Picard's demands turn to raves, and Bev sedates him. He sags --

-- and picks himself up on the present Enterprise in a corridor en route to sickbay. In sickbay, he finds that Nurse Ogawa's fetus has reverted to less developed tissue, in another temporal reversion. Bev says that before long, this effect may end up killing all of them. Picard calls a conference and orders Data to start looking for a way to collapse the Anomaly safely. Once everyone leaves, Picard broods, only to have Q arrive and note the enormity of the decision ahead of Picard. Q offers a different perspective...

..and whisks Picard away to the dawn of life on Earth. However, the Anomaly is present here as well, now filling an entire quadrant; and it soon becomes apparent that with it present, life does not and cannot form on Earth. Humanity is not destroyed; it never exists in the first place. Picard quickly realizes this, and Q congratulates him for it, as Picard finds himself back on the past Enterprise.

He asks Data to find out how the Anomaly was formed, but Data says only a tomographic imaging scanner would let them penetrate the interference around the center -- and such a scanner is still in the theoretical stages.

In the present, however, it exists, and Picard promptly orders its use. At the center, they then find three tachyon beams converging at a single point, and all three bear the same features, as if all were sent by the same ship!

In the future, Picard wakes and heads for Ten-Forward to find Riker. In Ten-Forward, the old crew are relaxing and thinking about old times -- except for Worf, who is sulking at a distant seat. Beverly and Geordi urge Riker to heal this rift with Worf, which began because Riker could not accept that he would never get back together with Deanna (who is now dead).

Picard reaches Ten-Forward and tells Riker agitatedly that they must go back to the Devron system, because he now knows that *they* caused the Anomaly in the first place, with the tachyon pulses. "We set everything in motion ... it's like the chicken and the egg, Will!" Riker is incredulous, but Data sees what Picard is talking about, and discusses the paradox of their having created the very thing they were searching for -- the three pulses in three time-frames converged and tore a rift in subspace, creating this pocket of anti-time, the effects of which move *backward* in time rather than forward. Riker now agrees that they must go back and orders a course -- and asks Worf to lend a hand to boot...

The future Enterprise reaches the Anomaly and sees it this time, in the very early stages of forming. The first order of business is to stop the other two pulses that are sustaining it, and Picard's time-jumping allows him to do so in very short order. However, nothing has changed, and Geordi realizes that the rupture must be *repaired*, and that this involves entering the rift itself and creating a static warp-shell around it, thus collapsing it and hopefully returning things to normal. However, it has to be done in all three times, and as Picard notes the difficulty of this, he finds himself ordering it done in the past.

This time, Tasha, O'Brien and others are wary of the order and want an explanation. Picard, however, says he can't give one. "Frankly, we may not survive," he says, "but I want you to believe that I am doing this for a greater purpose, and that what is at stake here is more than any of you can possibly imagine. I know you have your doubts about me, about each other, about the ship. All I can say is that although we have only been together a short time, I know that you are the finest crew in the fleet -- and I would trust each of you with my life. So, I am asking you for a leap of faith; and to trust me."

The past Enterprise plots a course and heads in.

In the present, Data suggests the same course of action. "Mr. Data, you are a clever man -- in any time period," grins Picard as he orders it done.

All three ships enter the Anomaly, and all experience major system fluctuations upon doing so. All three reach the center, and see their counterparts there as well. The static shells are initiated, and begin to work -- but the temporal battering the ships are getting takes its toll on the warp cores.

The past Enterprise loses antimatter containment and goes up in a blaze of glory.

The present one rapidly follows suit.

"Two down, one to go," notes Q on the future ship. The Anomaly is almost completely collapsed, but the future Enterprise is about to explode itself. "Goodbye, Jean-Luc; I'm going to miss you," muses Q. "You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."

The Anomaly collapses, and the Enterprise explodes -- simultaneously --

-- and Picard finds himself back in the courtroom, his head in his hands. "The Continuum didn't think you had it in you," he hears Q say, "but I knew you did."

When Picard presses Q, Q admits that it worked, and that humanity is saved once again. Picard in turn thanks Q for giving him the chance to get humanity out of this fix, but Q notes that it was the Continuum that got him into it in the first place.

Q continues, however, reminding Picard that "the trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons ... and for one brief moment you *did*."

"When I realized the paradox."

"Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. THAT is the exploration that awaits you: not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence."

Picard presses Q for more information, and Q nearly tells him, but then smirks as he begins to depart. "You'll find out. In any case, I'll be watching; and if you're very lucky, I'll drop by to say hello from time to time. See you -- out there..."

.. and Picard finds himself in the corridor near Worf and Troi, back in the present, and back in his bathrobe. All is well, but he's the only one that remembers any of it.

Later, the poker game is assembled, with all but Picard and Troi present. Everyone wonders why Picard told them as much about the future as he did, given the cautions they've always had about mucking with time. Since the temporal nature of this crisis has already altered the future, however, Data speculates that the future is very changeable here -- and Riker suggests that this time they can change it "so that some things never happen."

Troi arrives for the game, and then Picard does as well, much to everyone's surprise. "I should have done this a long time ago," he muses, as Troi assures him that he was always welcome.

"Well," he continues on, "five-card stud, nothing wild -- and the sky's the limit..." And as the game goes ever onward, so does the Enterprise among the stars.

[Commentary in part 2 of 2]

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