Chapter 14.
Once the personnel were back in their positions, Commander Riker sat back in his chair, and ordered Data to set course back to the wormhole, and head there at full speed. Deanna sat with him, while Lieutenant Selar and Beverley attended to setting up the sick bay again.
Riker switched on the intra-ship communication, and said, 'Attention, all crew. We should find a different future than we left. It would be too much to hope that such a major change in the past would have no ripple effect, but with luck it may be a future in which humanity exists again. If it's too bad, we may have to come back again, and perhaps have a really good search for Revi and Pachek, to make sure they are dead, or take them back, but I'm hoping we may see a recognisable future. I'm afraid we may all have to find new places in it, though. I doubt anyone we know will still exist.'
'You may be overly pessimistic,' observed Data, as he switched off. 'The artificial comet did contain exactly the correct mass. It would all be converted to energy when it struck.'
'I hope so,' said Riker, unconvinced. He had a thought. 'Worf, is there any sign of those other ships Beverley saw last time we were going back?'
'None,' replied Worf, after a scan. 'If they are about, they are nowhere near here.'
'Did they come from our time, or an alternate future?' Riker mused.
Mary Anne sat in her seat idly reading a book, when there was a knock on her door. She hastily hid it, put her feet on the floor, and opened the door. It was Glock.
'Shouldn't you be in your turret?' she asked.
'There's no need till we go through,' he said. 'I did a wordsearch on your bible. It's like I said. The message is the same.'
'What sort of a wordsearch?' she asked suspiciously.
'I looked for 'profit',' he said. It was there forty four times. Look, here are some. 'Isa 30:5 They were all ashamed of a people [that] could not profit them, nor be an help nor profit, but a shame, and also a reproach'.'
She looked dubious. He said, 'I don't know why they wrote words in brackets like that. Here's another. This one is pretty straightforward. 'Isa 48:17 Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I [am] the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way [that] thou shouldest go'.'
'I don't think it's really the same,' she said doubtfully. 'What about, 'What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul'?'
'I didn't understand that one,' he admitted.
Soon the wormhole was right ahead. Beverley Crusher had returned to the bridge, more interested in what lay ahead than in the organisation of sickbay.
'No sign of those ships you saw before,' said Riker.
'Oh!' she said. 'I don't know if that's bad or good. I'll explain later. It's not important for now.'
'How are the shields?' asked Riker.
'Not good,' answered Worf. 'They are at only thirty per cent capacity. They could be recharged in another day.'
'The Romulan ship came through with no shields at all,' said Riker. 'I can't wait to know. Let's do it. Mister Data, set course through the wormhole!'
'Course set,' replied Data.
'Go!' said Riker, his heart beating faster than the norm.
'If we had waited another day,' observed Data, free to gossip once more, 'there is always the possibility that the wormhole may begin to contract. The better chance lies in going back now.'
'No, it's not about to contract,' said Beverley absently.
'How do you know that?' asked Riker incredulously.
She smiled wanly. 'Intuition. I'll explain that later too.'
There was no time for more discussion. They were in. The starfighter had turned and suddenly they were in the familiar state of timelessness.
Once again there was a disjointed feeling, and they felt a short period of being displaced, although the artificial gravity, and in some cases their seatbelts, kept them in place. The pattern of stars changed.
'Intriguing,' observed Data. 'Although there is a feeling of time passing, the ship's chronometers and my own register zero passage of time as we passed through.'
'Check the star maps,' said Riker. 'Make sure we are where we started. And at the same time.' A shiver ran through him. He would almost have preferred to be attacked instantly than to continue in ignorance.
Data fiddled with the computer for a few seconds.
'We are, sir,' he said. 'According to the star charts, this is the time and place from which we began. Computation is somewhat inaccurate because there are no stars nearby.'
'Well, I guess we head back for where Federation space should be, and see what's there,' said Riker, his breath oddly short. 'Set course for starbase 44. Where it should be, anyway.'
The Pinball Wizard set out at Warp One, still hoping not to attract attention while in the Neutral Zone, but this was not to be.
'We have company,' commented Worf after a few minutes. 'It is a Romulan starship. Of standard configuration. They are hailing us.'
'Onscreen,' said Riker.
'Federation starfighter,' said the Romulan captain, without wasting time on pleasantries, 'can you give me one good reason why I should not blast you to atomic particles for this unauthorised intrusion into Romulan space?'
'Well, those two minutes of peace were nice,' sighed Deanna.
The Pinball Wizard hung in space like a table tennis ball in front of the huge but gracious bulk of the Romulan warbird.
A feeling of joy welled up in William Riker's soul. This was recognisable peril. He might be in a fight in a few moments, without any useful shielding, and be destroyed along with his crew. But it was normal peril. If he lost, the galaxy would go along as normal, and Worf, at least, would go down happy.
In her cubicle Mary Anne's heart leapt too. She kept one hand on her weapon, but put a call through to engineering.
'Malcolm,' she said, 'we're home. If we don't manage to get ourselves blown out of the sky, you can get to be husband number only! If you're interested.'
'I think we could discuss this at some length,' he said. 'I'll talk to you later.'
'Would you believe that we entered a wormhole near earth,' Riker asked, 'and it came out just here?'
'I would find that difficult to believe,' answered the Romulan, 'since I have no information of a wormhole anywhere near.'
'Well, would you believe that I don't much care what you believe?' Riker felt that the Romulans had no intention of actually attacking, or they would have done so by now, but never trust a Romulan. 'If you feel like blowing us to bits, we will try and stop you, but we would just as soon be on our way.'
'Commander Riker?' asked the Romulan suddenly. 'Of the Enterprise? Have they realised how out of your depth you were on a ship that size, and given you this bathtub to command?'
'Sarel?' exclaimed Will. The two had had a confrontation near the Neutral Zone once, while Riker was temporarily in command. After some huffing and puffing both had gone on their way. Riker's heart leapt. Here was further proof that the Universe was back as it ought to be!
'I did refer to you as Commander Riker, in deference to your new... command. You might give me my due as Tribune Sarel. I see they have found something small enough that you might be able to manage it. Now, will your first act as commander of this rowboat be to surrender it to me?'
Riker knew that this was byplay. Sarel knew of the armed might of the starfighter, although his lieutenants would probably have analysed the poor state of his shields by now. He had no particular desire to fight, but he knew that, apart from the general odium involved in surrendering a craft, surrender to the Romulans was likely to lead to extended torture and degradation. The Romulans regarded pain and its incitement as normal for prisoners.
'You may find this hard to believe, Sarel, sorry, Tribune Sarel,' he said with a smile, 'but I will die quite happily in battle with you. My crew will back me up.'
'Hear, hear!' echoed Worf heartily.
'Speak for yourselves,' muttered Glock unhappily.
'Yes, speak for yourselves,' echoed Sela, moving into view of the Romulan captain. 'We don't all agree with your macho posturing.'
'Yea, tell them, sister!' agreed Mary Anne, with her communicator turned off of course.
'Lady Sela?' said Sarel in surprise. 'What are you.. I mean, what you are doing there is your business, of course. Are you a captive of these brigands? What would you instruct us to do?'
'A week ago I would have instructed you to blow us all out of the sky,' she said, 'but things change. As a matter of fact, not only am I not a captive, but these humans.. saved me. Escort us to the edge of Romulan space. I will remain on board here until then, and transport over to you at that stage. There is also a Romulan named Dovor on board. He will return with me. How is it,' she continued, 'that you do not know of the wormhole? It was discovered by the Vardan Rak some weeks ago. I would have expected its existence to be known to all ships in the area.'
'The Vardan Rak is certainly in the area. I will contact it instantly, and confirm what you say,' Sarel replied.
The Vardan Rak was on its way back to Romulus. At Sarel's call, Tripeg appeared.
'Tribune Sarel,' he said, 'to what do I owe this pleasure?'
'I have received some information which I would like to confirm Tribune Tripeg,' replied Sarel.
'With pleasure. What do you wish to know?'
'I have heard that you have discovered a wormhole,' said Sarel without further preliminaries. 'Is this true?'
'Communications must be very efficient!' exclaimed Tripeg. 'We have sent a message to that effect to the High Command only fifteen minutes ago!'
'One likes to be in the forefront of information,' replied Sarel. 'My thanks for your information.' He said his farewells, and turned back on the communication with the tiny starfighter.
'My lady,' he said, 'the Vardan Rak say they have just recently concluded their explorations here, and have just sent the report to the High Council a few minutes ago. It is only a short time since they have made the discovery.'
'Impossible!' said Sela with a frown.
'No,' said Beverley Crusher, 'I think I know what has happened. Do you remember that the Romulan fighter came out of the wormhole before us after entering after? And when we were coming back we saw three ships? I think they were us, and the two Romulan ships! In fact, I'm sure. We sent a message when we were leaving, and I received it after we went back! I think that the two ends of the wormhole are traveling through time in opposite directions!'
'How can that be?' asked Mary Anne. 'Do you mean that if we go into the wormhole and return, we arrive back before we left?'
'Exactly,' said Beverley. 'In fact, I've been doing a few calculations, and if I'm right, the Romulan ship that discovered the wormhole would have arrived in the past after we left! That's why I was confident it wasn't about to close. I wonder whether they recorded a big asteroid or a comet?'
Sarel had become intrigued by all the happenings, and was quietly anxious to find out all that had happened. However, he was too polite to insist in the presence of Sela.
Riker and Sarel continued discussions but the hidden venom had died out of their byplay. Riker gave him only a vague outline of what had happened, but he was clearly intrigued.
'Before we depart for Federation space,' observed Sarel, 'it would be advisable to record what else we can of this wormhole. It may disappear before others arrive to investigate.'
Both ships flew through space to the appropriate coordinates and turned their attentions to the wormhole.
For a few hours both scientific teams accumulated data about it. Then Riker contacted Tribune Sarel.

On to Chapter 15, or back home.