Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco, North Am, Earth
Stardate 3113.7, Old System
“I think you’re wasting your time here, Antonio,” said Commodore Burton Kwan. “This story Kirk and his crew are spinning is just too ludicrous.”
Commodore Antonio Delgado stroked his short, grizzled beard as he considered his colleague’s words. “Did you verify it in the ship’s computer logs?” he asked the younger man.
“Well, yes, but . . . the computer . . .”
“It kept calling us ‘dear.’ If you ask me, the whole thing’s an elaborate practical joke.”
“Well, how else do you explain the Enterprise suddenly appearing in the Oort cloud, braking hard from high warp, just hours after disappearing without a trace from Sector 006? We’ve confirmed the presence of that ‘black star’ Kirk advised us of—it appears to be some new class of singularity. And we have found a passing reference in records from the period to an ‘unidentified flying object’ sighting by a Captain John Christopher, United States Air Force.”
“So you’re saying this is possible?”
Delgado hesitated. “I’m not saying anything on the record. And neither are you, is that clear?”
Kwan scoffed. “I’m happy to be left out of it. And even if I weren’t, I know better than to cross someone who plays golf with Admiral Comsol himself.” He came to a halt outside the door to Briefing Room 14. “They’re in here, waiting for you. I leave them and their mess, whatever it turns out to be, in your capable hands.”
Delgado shook his balding head as the younger commodore strode away. Kwan was the same kind of small-minded bureaucrat as the ones who’d dismissed the Enterprise’s first report of time travel earlier this year—an alleged seventy-one-hour backward jump resulting from a cold restart of the vessel’s warp engines to escape the breakup of planet Psi 2000—as a mere time dilation anomaly. If Kirk’s claim had been taken seriously sooner, valuable time might have been saved.
Delgado chuckled to himself. Then again, if this pans out, I may have all the time in the universe.
He entered the briefing room, and Captain Kirk and his first officer, the renowned half-Vulcan Commander Spock, rose to greet him. “Captain Kirk,” he said, shaking the younger man’s hand. “I’m Commodore Antonio Delgado, deputy chief of Starfleet Science Operations. Commander Spock,” he appended, merely nodding at the Vulcan, who returned the greeting in kind. Despite his executive position, Spock wore the blue tunic of the science division rather than the command gold worn by Kirk and Delgado, reminding the commodore that he served as Kirk’s chief science officer as well—a doubling of responsibility that would be difficult for anyone but a Vulcan to pull off. Delgado may have been second-in-command of Science Ops himself, but his role was chiefly administrative.
“Pleased to meet you, sir,” Kirk said, though his impatience was clear. “If I may, I’d like to ask—”
Delgado held up a hand. “I know you’re eager to get back to your ship. We’ve put you through enough of a runaround already, and I’m sorry to add to it. But I can tell you that this time, you will be listened to, and you will be believed.”
Kirk’s eyes widened, his stance easing. “I’m . . . glad to hear that. I appreciate that it’s an extraordinary thing to ask someone to accept, but we’ve offered you the data from our ship’s computers, and Mister Spock’s sworn testimony as well as that of the rest of my crew.” Kirk’s tone conveyed particular disbelief and offense at having the Vulcan’s account called into question. Delgado respected that level of loyalty and trust. It had been rare enough in his own experience. Political loyalty was something he knew how to bargain and barter for, but he knew it came and went as expediency demanded. Personal loyalty, the sort he sensed here, was far more elusive.
“Well, you understand we needed time to verify the corroborating evidence. It’s essential to be absolutely sure of something like this.”
“Naturally,” Spock replied, his voice a rich baritone. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
“So with that in mind, I hope you won’t mind going over your account one more time for me.”
Kirk suppressed a sigh. “Of course, sir.”
The three men sat around the polygonal briefing table and Kirk began. “As I said in my log, the Enterprise was en route to Starbase 9 for resupply when we were caught in an intense gravitational pull from an uncharted black star. Like a black hole, but different somehow.”
“As though its gravitomagnetic effects extended into subspace,” Spock added. “Even at warp, all subspace geodesics tended to spiral in toward the singularity. Only by employing maximum warp power were we able to reverse course and break free.”
“We hurtled out of control,” Kirk went on. “Most of us blacked out from the acceleration. When we recovered, we found ourselves inside Earth’s atmosphere. We were lucky we didn’t crash into the surface. Attempts to contact Starfleet Control failed, but my communications officer picked up a broadcast on an old EM band, announcing that the first manned moon shot would launch the following Wednesday.”
“And from that,” Delgado asked, “you concluded that you were in 1969?”
“Not from that alone, sir,” Spock told him. “It only reinforced the conclusion I had already drawn from reviewing the sensor logs. Our trajectory on breaking free of the singularity was consistent with the theoretical predictions for a closed timelike curve around a Tipler object, which the dense, rotating mass of the singularity might well approximate. My scans of Earth and the Sol system revealed no traces of antimatter use or transtatorbased technology, no orbital facilities or habitations beyond Earth, and no verifiable indications of extraterrestrial life on Earth itself. The configuration of the stars and planets established a date of July 12, nineteen hundred and sixty-nine Common Era in the Gregorian calendar—four days before the launch of Apollo 11.”
“We then detected the approach of a military aircraft of the period,” Kirk continued. “We attempted to retreat to avoid detection, but our systems were damaged, sluggish. The aircraft was armed with missiles, and from what I recalled of the tense political climate of the period, I knew we were in danger of being preemptively fired upon. I ordered the tractor beam activated to hold the aircraft at a safe distance.”
“Were you aware that the aircraft might be damaged by the tractor beam?”
“To be honest, no, sir, it didn’t occur to me,” Kirk said. “Since the aircraft was small enough to fit entirely within the beam, I assumed it would simply feel a uniform attraction, no shear or strain.”
“In the captain’s defense, sir,” Spock pointed out, “few people today are accustomed to dealing with non–antigravity-based aircraft.”
“But you recognized the danger, Commander.”
“Yes, Commodore. Considering the relationship of gravity, thrust, and lift in the operation of a fixed-wing aircraft, I realized that altering the effective gravity vector with our tractor beam would throw off the balance and cause the aircraft to tumble out of control. I promptly alerted the captain to the risk, but at that point the tractor beam had already been engaged, and the aircraft quickly began to break up.”
Delgado turned back to Kirk. “So you felt you had no choice but to beam the pilot aboard.”
“Captain John Christopher, yes. He was only in danger because of my mistake, sir,” the captain told him. “I couldn’t let him die.”
“So instead you thought it was a good idea to give him a guided tour of a starship from centuries in his future. Thereby exposing him to knowledge far beyond what his society was ready for.”
“Naturally I considered beaming him back immediately, before he knew what had happened. But if he arrived intact on the ground before his aircraft even crashed, I knew that would raise a great many questions.”
“Did you consider sedating Captain Christopher until he could be returned to the crash site? Perhaps with some minor injuries consistent with ejecting from a crash?”
Kirk frowned. “With all due respect, Commodore, he was a human. A military pilot from the same country that first put humans on the Earth’s moon. He was a spiritual ancestor, perhaps even a literal ancestor for all I knew. I’d wronged him enough tearing his ship out from under him. I wasn’t going to knock him out and give him a beating as well.” He took a breath, gathering himself. “I felt I owed him an explanation. And owed it to myself to assess what kind of man he was before deciding on his disposition.”
“And the temptation to meet a ‘spiritual ancestor’ wasn’t a factor?”
The captain gave a wry smile. “Would you have felt any differently, sir?”
Delgado’s expression softened marginally. “Probably not, Captain.”
As Kirk’s account continued, it became more and more a comedy of errors. Every attempt he and his crew made to resolve the situation only made things worse, leading to the point at which a second individual from 1969 had been accidentally beamed aboard, Kirk had been captured and interrogated by the United States Air Force, and several USAF personnel had been attacked and rendered unconscious in order to rescue the captain. The only solution had been a total reboot. Spock had computed that the original “slingshot” effect could be re-created using the Sun’s gravitational field, with the Enterprise’s warp engines configured to amplify the Sun’s relatively feeble frame-dragging effects and re-create the closed timelike curve. In the process, they would regress further back in time before moving forward again on the escape trajectory. This would overlap Christopher and the sergeant with their own past worldlines, and Spock had had the inspired insight that beaming them into their own past bodies, superposing the same particles in two different quantum states, would cause those states to recollapse into a single individual apiece, with the quantum information incompatible with their reality—the experiences the two men had had aboard the Enterprise—erased from their memories.
“I’ll be honest with you, Captain,” Delgado said when the account concluded. “You bungled this situation in almost every possible way. Without Commander Spock’s creative problem-solving, the consequences could’ve been disastrous.” Kirk bristled and began to speak. “However,” Delgado stressed, cutting him off, “I can’t see that any other Starfleet officer in the same situation would’ve reacted any differently. I can’t realistically expect you or any starship commander to be prepared for dealing with a time-travel scenario.”
“It is an unprecedented occurrence,” Spock agreed.
Delgado smiled. “Well . . . almost.”
Kirk and his first officer stared. “Are you saying people have traveled in time before?” the captain asked.
“There are no records,” Spock observed, “of any such occurrence prior to the Enterprise’s own experience at Psi 2000.”
“You’re right up to a point, Commander. The Enterprise—your Enterprise—is the first known Federation starship ever to travel through time under its own power. But—and this is classified information I’m about to give you—Starfleet has had evidence that time travel was a reality since the time of your ship’s namesake over a century ago.”
“Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise?” Kirk asked.
“Yes. Archer became aware of the existence of individuals or groups from future centuries that were attempting to intervene in events of his own era through native agents and intermediaries, including Archer himself. A Temporal Cold War, they called it.” Once he’d given Kirk and Spock a moment to take this in, he went on, “These interventions seemed to end around the time of the Earth-Romulan War. There’s been virtually no evidence of visits from the future since the Federation was founded. But given the potential dangers of time travel, Starfleet Command of the time classified the knowledge that it existed as more than a theoretical construct, lest someone figure out a way to invent time machines of their own. There have been occasional isolated encounters with temporal phenomena in the century since, but nothing repeatable or controllable.” He recalled all the case studies from Starfleet Intelligence files. A starship flung two years into its future by a natural warp that collapsed around them, almost crushing them and leaving them no way back. A Tellarite ship discovering ruins of what appeared to be a time portal on a remote planet, long ago smashed by a raiding party that came through it from the past. A civilian trader who’d gotten rich off future knowledge she claimed to have gained from an alien artifact, but who’d failed to predict her own death and the artifact’s destruction in a firefight between Orion and Klingon agents seeking to possess it. “Starfleet buried the stories, and where evidence existed, it buried that too.”
Kirk studied Delgado. “You don’t seem to approve, Commodore.”
“I think they were shortsighted fools. Imagine what we could learn about our history, our future. Imagine the potential for preventing or correcting great disasters. Captain, I’ve devoted much of my career to exploring the possibilities of time travel. That’s why I left Starfleet Intelligence for Science Ops, so I could actually research the possibilities rather than just sitting on the knowledge that they existed.
“And now you’ve brought me the answer to my prayers, gentlemen. A starship that’s actually traveled in time, on two separate occasions. And a science officer who’s actually managed to achieve time travel on purpose.”
“I hesitate to go that far, Commodore,” Spock demurred. “Theory suggests that a temporal displacement creates a connection, known as a Feynman curve, between the displaced object and its origin point in spacetime. All I did, essentially, was determine how to follow that curve in reverse. Had it not been formed already by the initial accident, I would have had no way of creating it. There is still a great deal I do not understand about how the slingshot effect came about in the first place. The theoretical basis is a simple matter of general relativity, but by all rights, the unbounded accumulation of Hawking radiation at the horizon of the temporal warp should have vaporized the Enterprise before it could travel back in time.”
“But the fact is, your ship has done it—three distinct times. Whatever made it work, it’s repeatable.”
Kirk furrowed his brow. “Commodore, if you’re saying you want to take my ship apart for study, I must protest. We’re in the middle of an active patrol tour. There are colonies out there that need our protection and support. Especially now, with tensions rising on the Klingon border. The Enterprise is needed on the frontier.”
Delgado held up his hands. “Don’t worry, Captain. I understand your obligations. But you’ll need at least two weeks in port to repair the buckling your warp nacelles sustained in your return to the present.”
“Three,” Spock amended. “We also require a wholesale overhaul of our computer system to correct the . . . anomalous behavior resulting from its servicing at Cygnet XIV,” he finished with a sour expression. Delgado remembered what Kwan had said about the computer’s affectionate attitude, and suppressed a chuckle. It wasn’t the first practical joke the Cygnetians had played on Starfleet, whose power structure they found insufficiently matriarchal.
“That would take three weeks at a typical starbase repair facility,” Delgado countered. “But Earth Centroplex has the finest technicians in the Federation. If I authorize the resources and personnel, and order the Enterprise moved to the top of the priority list, you’ll have her back to fighting trim within two weeks at most. And believe me, I can get that authorization with a single communication.” There was no disbelief in Kirk’s eyes; he knew how well-connected Delgado was. “All I ask in exchange is that you allow me and my team to study your ship and its engines and work with your science and engineering teams to learn what we can about how your journey through time was achieved. All right?”
Kirk looked reassured, even pleased. “When you put it that way, how can I refuse?” He smiled. “I have to admit . . . it was a thrill actually standing on Earth at the dawn of the Space Age, the time of the pioneers. What I wouldn’t have given to meet Armstrong, Glenn, Leonov, Tereshkova.”
“I envy you the experience, Captain Kirk. If we can reconstruct what the Enterprise achieved twice by sheer accident, it could open the door to a whole new kind of exploration.”
Kirk’s eyes turned outward in a thousand-year stare. “Just imagine the possibilities. . . .”
Gamma 400 System
When Antonio Delgado next met James Kirk, he found the captain a very different man. The commodore had rushed to Starbase 12 to debrief the crew as soon as Starfleet Command had received the log transmissions detailing the Enterprise’s great discovery. But rather than sharing Delgado’s excitement at the find, the captain was subdued, closed off, leaving his first officer to do most of the talking. “Tell me what happened,” Delgado said to the Vulcan.
Spock steepled his fingers before him. “Using the new chronometric sensor protocols developed in cooperation with your research teams, Commodore, we began to detect a series of temporal distortions propagating through space like ripples on a pond.” Delgado nodded. The new protocols for detecting temporal anomalies had been the first payoff from studying the sensor readings taken during the Enterprise’s journeys through time. Delgado was thrilled to get positive results so soon. “Over the ensuing six days, we plotted multiple such ripples and were able to triangulate their source, a planet in an ancient, uninhabited red dwarf system. Our intention was to beam down a landing party to investigate the origin point on the planet’s surface, once we had finished charting the distortion fields so the ship could navigate them safely. At that close range, the spatial distortions were quite pronounced and hazardous.” Spock narrowed his lips. “However, our chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy, sustained an accidental cordrazine overdose as a result of the turbulence, causing paranoid delusions which compelled him to flee the ship via the transporter, which we had already locked onto the nexus of the time distortions.
“Pursuing the doctor, we discovered that the distortions originated from what appeared to be a simple megalith—a stone construct in the form of an irregular, upright toroid whose central opening was large enough to admit the passage of several humanoids. It seemed to pulse with energy, but I was unable to determine a source or method of generation.
“However, when the captain mused aloud as to its nature, the megalith . . . responded.”
“Yes, Commodore. It spoke in English, identifying itself as the Guardian of Forever. Though it was . . . evasive . . . as to its nature and origins, it became evident that it was in fact a portal to other times. It seemed eager to be used as such. Of its own volition, it offered us an accelerated display of Earth’s history within its central orifice.”
Delgado leaned forward. “But it was more than just images.”
“Correct. It was an actual bridge through time, as we soon discovered to our peril. Doctor McCoy, still deranged from the cordrazine, leaped through the time vortex, and in so doing, evidently altered the entire history of the Federation.”
“What do you mean?” the commodore asked, frowning.
Kirk spoke up at last, his voice taut. “The ship vanished. Between one eyeblink and the next, it was gone. According to the Guardian, our entire history was gone. Wiped out by McCoy’s actions in the past.”
“So why were you still there?”
Spock took a breath. “I can only surmise, sir, that the temporal effects emanating from the Guardian insulated it and its immediate surroundings from the transformation. In any case, this afforded us an option for repairing the damage. I had belatedly remembered to begin recording the Guardian’s display on my tricorder shortly before McCoy jumped through. This enabled me to compute his approximate time of arrival in Earth’s past. The Guardian claimed to be unable to alter the speed at which it displayed the past, but by asking it to restart and jumping at the correct moment, the captain and I were able to arrive shortly before Doctor McCoy.”
Spock went on to explain how, by comparing the two sets of tricorder readings from the Guardian’s displays before and after the historical alteration, he had discovered the nexus point that McCoy had altered, a social worker named Edith Keeler who, had she not died in a traffic accident in 1930, would have started a pacifist movement delaying America’s entry into World War II and allowing Nazi Germany to perfect the atomic bomb and conquer the world. “At the crucial moment,” Spock finished, “we were able to locate Doctor McCoy and . . . negate his interference. With history restored to its proper path, the Guardian automatically returned us to our own time.”
Delgado studied Spock. His account seemed uncharacteristically lacking in detail when it came to this Edith Keeler. “What specifically did you do to restore history? You said Keeler was supposed to die in an accident. Did you . . .”
“The details are of little relevance, Commodore. Suffice it to say—”
“I held him back,” Kirk said.
Delgado turned to him. “Excuse me?”
“Bones—McCoy—he tried to save her. I had . . . I had to stop him. I held him back.” He went on, haunted but deliberate. “I held him there on the sidewalk while he watched Edith Keeler die in front of him. I let her die.”
The briefing room was silent for some time. “Captain . . . Jim,” Delgado finally said, “I can’t imagine how hard that must have been.”
“No,” Kirk replied. “No, sir, you can’t imagine.”
The commodore cleared his throat. “Still, it was clearly necessary. You . . . we all owe you a great debt.”
“Then you can repay it,” Kirk said, “by declaring that planet off-limits. Making sure nobody ever steps through that damn thing again.”
Delgado was stunned. “Captain, think about what you’re saying. Remember what we’ve discussed before. The possibilities for exploration, for discovery. Just the data in Spock’s tricorder is going to improve our knowledge of Earth history immensely.”
“And what about the possibilities for disaster, Commodore? A single well-intentioned gesture at the wrong moment, and billions of lives are wiped out. But how can you ask any decent person to go back and watch passively while good people die? No one should have to live through that.”
Delgado sensed that there was something deeper beneath Kirk’s words, that he’d gotten to know Edith Keeler rather more closely than Spock’s account had indicated. He was tempted to pry, but decided it was none of his business. Whatever Kirk had felt, he had still placed his duty first and done what he needed to do. Delgado could respect that, and sympathize with the pain that came with it.
But that was exactly why he couldn’t let the possibilities here go unexplored. What about the regrets and failures that could be undone? The suffering that could be prevented? Not his own, no; he accepted that it was too late for that, that he was too much a creature of duty and politics and would only make the same mistakes if he could go back and try to keep Elisa from leaving him, their daughter from hating him. But if he could master the power of time travel to help others undo their own failures and losses, maybe that would let him atone in some way for his own.
“Rest assured, Captain Kirk,” said Delgado, not without kindness, “your recent experiences have underlined the importance of not rushing in where this Guardian of Forever is concerned. But ultimately it’s Starfleet’s call, not yours, what happens next. And in order to decide whether or not to use the Guardian, we must first study the Guardian. You say it’s talkative, cooperative, even eager. Well, that means we can learn a great deal even without stepping through it.”
“Perhaps not, sir,” Spock said. “Its assertions about its nature are Delphic, couched in cryptic verbiage and needless poetry. It claims that its nature is beyond human or even Vulcan ability to comprehend.” Had Spock not been Vulcan, Delgado would have said he was insulted.
“Still, the attempt must be made. Jim, I’d prefer it if you and your crew were involved, so we can maintain the circle of security.”
“No,” came Kirk’s blunt reply. “Sir. I gave you the same answer last time. My ship is needed out there.”
“The Klingon threat has subsided. The peace treaty is being finalized as we speak.”
“There are always other threats, Commodore. The Romulans, the Tholians. We’re still not sure where we stand with the Gorn.”
“Bottom line, Commodore, we’re space travelers, not time travelers. I . . . respectfully request that you find someone else to study the Guardian. I want nothing more to do with it.”
Delgado sighed. He was tempted to remind Kirk that he could make the captain’s career very difficult if he so chose. But he didn’t want to go that route. He still hoped to win Kirk as an ally. And he could be patient. “Very well, Captain. Commander Spock?”
“I am needed aboard the Enterprise, sir.”
“Of course.” He was unsurprised by Spock’s ready loyalty, given how carefully he’d protected his captain’s feelings in his account of their sojourn in the past. One rarely saw that kind of empathy from a Vulcan, save toward those they considered family. Delgado was pleased, and a bit envious, to see that Kirk had at least one relationship he could rely on. “Still, I trust you’ll compile a detailed report of all your findings and theories on the Guardian for the use of my research team.”
“Naturally.” Spock handed him a data card. “I anticipated your request, sir.”
Delgado chuckled. “I admire your efficiency, Mister Spock. Your captain is lucky to have you.”
“There was no random chance involved, sir. It was Captain Kirk’s own choice to appoint me his first officer.”
“Then he chose well.” He wished he could prolong this conversation, but out of deference to Kirk, he said, “Thank you, gentlemen. Dismissed.”
Once they’d left, he twirled the data card between his fingers, studying it. The secret to mastering time could be right here. And I owe it all to those men. Delgado couldn’t believe it was the last time he would work with them on this project. Kirk’s recent experiences may have made him reluctant to continue exploring the timestream, but Delgado hoped he would come around. That this single ship had made three such world-shaking temporal discoveries in the course of a single year . . . and the namesake of Archer’s ship, no less. . . . Well, he wasn’t one to believe in omens. The progression of the Enterprise’s discoveries made logical sense. According to his science team, whatever had happened to the ship’s engines at Psi 2000 had probably enabled it to survive the Tipler slingshot at the Black Star; and it had been the data gathered in those two events that had led Spock to discover the Guardian. It would be foolish to read this chain of events as evidence of destiny.
But who knew? Time worked in mysterious ways. One of his lead researchers, Doctor T’Viss, insisted that the forward progression of time was an illusion arising from the lack of sufficient data to compute the entire wavefunction of the universe. And quantum theory had long proposed the idea of advanced waves, patterns of energy and probability propagating back from the future—usually canceled out by the retarded waves moving forward, but maybe, just occasionally, surviving and acting to determine their own past. So Delgado couldn’t completely rule out the possibility that this string of discoveries was building toward something. Something quite extraordinary.
If that was so, Delgado knew, he would let nothing stop him from doing his part to bring it about.