The crew on the bridge were all present as the Enterprise approached Starbase
44. The starship dropped out of warp about ten thousand kilometers away,
and proceeded on impulse. Picard brought up their destination on the viewing
The starbase was a huge station, with the number 44 painted on it in letters
almost a kilometer high. Most ships approaching would not have any doubts
about where they were headed, unless they were lost, but the station had
to have a coating of radiation-resistant paint over metal shields, so it
pleased someone to design the large numbers into the paint scheme.
If truth be told, the franchises producing holographic postcards for the
station's floating population rather liked this. It gave their postcards
more distinction, and the crews were more likely to buy souvenirs.
As the Enterprise was on approach, Captain Picard routinely contacted the
Starbase Commander, Admiral Wrigley. Instead of the Commander's face, however,
a secretary's face appeared.
'I'm sorry, captain,' he said apologetically. 'I'll find the Admiral. There's
been a bit of a flap, but he'll be here soon.'
'Very well,' said Picard, disturbed. He did not know what the 'flap' involved,
but it was somewhat unseemly for the approach of the fleet's flagship to
be answered by a secretary. He felt it was a poor example for the officers
on his bridge. None of the officers shared his view, except perhaps Commander
Riker, who was beginning to think like a captain. It was quite understandable
to them that a starbase commander would be at the scene of some emergency,
instead of greeting arriving starships. They were also consumed by speculation
about what might be wrong. Would it be something affecting them?
Picard decided to take the message in his ready room, and left Riker in
charge of the bridge. He transferred control to his own terminal, and waited
for a minute, looking at an empty seat. Shortly afterwards, Admiral Wrigley
came into view, and sat down, puffing. Not fit, thought Picard sympathetically,
that's what a desk job does to you. Wrigley brushed off amenities.
'My god, Picard,' he said, 'it's bedlam at the moment. Your first mission
is aborted, well, I suppose it was anyway, but you can get on with the new
one without any worry. All the worries are mine!'
Jean-Luc was surprised with the informality of the opening, but admirals
were allowed some latitude. And life on a space station tended to make surprises
less normal than for a starship captain.
'Calm yourself, Admiral,' he began, and realized that was not an appropriate
response to an admiral. He was glad he had taken the call in private, as
such a reply would have been improper in front of the crew. Wrigley, however,
was so overwrought that it slipped by him.
'It's a disaster,' he said. 'They will never forget it, the Cardassians,
I mean. We guaranteed his safety!'
'Why, admiral, what's happened?' Picard asked. 'Something has happened to
'Assassinated!' gasped Wrigley. 'A Bajoran terrorist stabbed him. We were
on the lookout for all sorts of technology, but he got him with a simple
'You have compressed your information somewhat more than necessary,' Picard
said, with a touch of irony. 'You are saying that the ambassador has been
killed, and that we will not have to worry about whether to take him home
or not. That seems somewhat understated. The murder is a tragedy, and likely
to have enormous repercussions with the Cardassians!'
'They're paranoid enough already!' exclaimed Wrigley. 'They have minds like
mazes, always looking for conspiracy.'
'You have the perpetrator?' asked Picard.
'Yes, but he's small potatoes,' sighed Wrigley. 'The Cardassians aren't
going to care who he is. And they aren't going to believe we didn't look
away somehow. Who would believe a plastic knife?'
'The lower the level of technology, the easier it is to be overlooked,'
said Picard. 'These days it's almost impossible to get away with murder,
but if the assassin doesn't mind being caught, it can be done!'
He wondered, in passing, whether this might prove the case with the supposed
'In any case, Picard, welcome,' said Wrigley. 'I'm sorry for the holdup.
We'll have everything set for you when you arrive.'
'No holdup so far,' Picard assured him. 'If I hadn't been sitting here waiting,
I would have been sitting on the bridge looking at the viewscreen.'
'Thank you for your forebearance,' said Wrigley. 'I'll be waiting at the
He disappeared from the screen, and Picard switched it off thoughtfully.
From his point of view, this simplified matters considerably. Any stressful
encounter with the ambassador was obviated, but the stress was passed on
to Starfleet, who would have to pacify the Cardassians. It would certainly
suit them. They would regard the loss of an ambassador as well set-off against
the chance to harass Starfleet. He sighed, and returned to the bridge.
'Open a channel to the crew, Mister Data,' he said, after settling into
his chair. When he had the channel he began.
'Attention all personnel. This is the Captain. You all know that our mission
was to have been a simple transport of a Cardassian ambassador. That mission
has been changed. The ambassador has been murdered. However, even before
we learned this, I had just received word of a covert mission which the
Enterprise is to undertake. As we will be going into dangerous territory,
we will take only a basic crew. All families and non-essential crew will
remain on Starbase 44 until we return. Exact details will be given by Commander
Riker in a short while. In the meanwhile, families should prepare for an
extended stay on the Starbase.'
He switched off, and speculation and excitement swept the ship. The destination
of the 'covert mission' was not too much a secret, since the starbase was
on the periphery of the Neutral Zone, and there were no other nearby dangerous
areas. Those who might not consider themselves essential reacted with either
disappointment or relief, and families began to think in terms of a holiday.
The holiday thoughts were always tempered with the thought that the Enterprise
might not come back to get them, so there was an undercurrent of tension
in their preparations. Those who were not going to possibly lose close relatives,
could lose good friends.
The Enterprise arrived to find matters had settled down. In fact, apart
from late and purposeless extended security, things seemed normal. Picard
met with Admiral Wrigley and tried to calm his distress. The Enterprise
crew briefly had some 'shore leave' while the ship picked up both Ambassador
Spock and two small ships, a starfighter and a small but speedy harrier.
The starfighter was of unusual design. Most ships in space were designed
for aesthetics. Since there was no friction or resistance the shape of a
spaceship was unimportant, but most were designed to look beautiful and
streamlined. It did have one advantage. If a ship crashed into an atmosphere
the streamlining might give it some survival potential, but fortunately
this was a rare requirement.
Some races, such as the Romulans, and then the Klingons, chose to build
their ships for psychological purposes, to look frightening. Building them
long and slim also meant that by turning side-on the ship could present
very little surface to fire on. But mainly, designers liked to design beautiful
The Pinball Wizard, the Federation starfighter, was basically a sphere,
with orifices for propulsion and firing. With the advances in technology
a small silhouette was little use against a programmed missile, and the
main defence was shields. Since the shields produced a spherical field it
seemed logical to build a spherical ship to sit inside it.
In addition, a spherical shape is the strongest, and it offers very little
flat surface, so that energy weapons can be made to bounce off more.
The ship was quite small, compared to a starship, but surprisingly roomy.
All the weaponry and defence was around the outer skin, so that the inside
part was able to be used for quarters, medicine and recreation, including
a good-sized holodeck. A number of rooms were set aside as quarters for
the small crew, and a few rooms were designed as cells for prisoners captured
in battle. These were now empty, but in practice often became extra store
rooms - always a nuisance when prisoners were occasionally captured! The
bridge was dead center, all communication being by instruments.
Captain Picard and Commander Riker watched as the sphere drifted in under
the effect of the Enterprise's tractor beams, and developed a trio of small
legs to stand on in the artificial gravity of the larger vessel. The pilot
climbed out and symbolically wiped his hands as he handed it over.
'Isn't it a beauty?' he asked, adding quickly, 'Sir,' as he saw their insignia.
'It is a revolutionary design,' said Picard.
'Oh, very good, sir,' laughed the pilot, then stopped short when he realized
that Picard had not meant anything. 'Oh, I thought you meant... something
to do with it being round. Sir. Spinning round. Revolutionary.'
He stopped short, glumly, but Picard was not offended.
'At ease,' he said. 'You can probably tell us more about this quickly than
we can learn from a technical manual.'
The pilot immediately recovered his poise. A week's familiarity had made
him feel an expert. He quickly pointed out the functions of the various
'These are the openings for phasers,' he said. 'Can point any direction,
with a quick spin of the ship. These are the photon torpedoes. The whole
thing is very well equipped for its size. Nothing near the computational
or sensor capacity of a starship, but it does what it is designed for very
well. It's a bit more quickly manoeuvrable than a starship.'
This levity produced not a smile.
'It can take a normal crew up to twenty for a longish run, but it can actually
be operated by one person if he does a lot of work. Do you see these lines?
There are two escape pods. They fit in like pieces of a jigsaw.'
'Like slices in a spherical pie,' said Picard admiringly.
'Exactly, sir,' he replied. 'They slide in and just become part of the outer
'Thank you, lieutenant,' said Picard, 'you have been very helpful.'
'Not at all, sir,' he replied. 'Would you mind if I had a quick look around
before I beam back? I've never been on the Enterprise.'
He received his permission, and walked off.
Riker climbed into the underneath hatch, and hoisted himself in.
'With all this technology,' he said, 'you'd think they had a better way
to get in!'
'They will, Number One,' answered Jean Luc seriously. 'We'll..'
'Er, that was a joke, sir,' interrupted Will, politely.
He stood inside the command center of the starfighter, and looked up, but
decided to leave exploration until later. In the gravity of the Enterprise
the odd angles of the outer areas of the ship seemed unbalancing. In space,
with gravity designed around the shape of the vessel, each room would have
its own orientation. The only unsettling thing for those unused to it, would
be the changing from one area to another.
'At least it's good to have something to do,' Riker remarked. 'A pity to
come out all this way for nothing.'
'I hope it's not too traumatic a new mission, Number One,' said Picard.
'We may have to take back the body of the Cardassian ambassador when we
are finished in any case. I wonder what exactly happened?'
'Oh, I can tell you all the details, sir,' replied Riker. 'It was about
the only topic of small talk about the station!'
In his cabin, Lieutenant Worf was watching a direct subspace transmission.
On the screen dreadful carnage was occurring.
Two groups of combatants were waging a fierce battle. They employed a diversity
of weapons, similar only in that they were all clean blades, that is, there
were no barbs or serrated edges. As he watched one of the figures on the
screen received a spear in the throat, and fell. He was trampled as other
fighters milled around, until a pair of stretcher-bearers picked him up
and fled the battlefield.
Other wounds were taken and given, and blood flowed freely. Suddenly one
of the combatants was struck from behind, and nearly decapitated. Worf leaped
from his seat with a cry. 'A cowardly blow, a foul blow!'
The man was carried off, obviously in a bad way, but the battle continued
with no let-up.
Suddenly Worf's communicator shrilled, and the voice of Commander Riker
penetrated his consciousness. 'Lieutenant Worf, please report to the Conference
An imprecation sprang to Worf's lips, but he obediently touched the communicator
and replied, 'Acknowledged.' He made his way to the Conference Room.
Picard and Riker had changed their clothes, cleaned themselves up, and had
called a meeting of Ambassador Spock and the senior officers of the Enterprise.
These included Worf, Counselor Troi, Commander Data, Commander Geordi La
Forge, and Doctor Beverley Crusher. As Worf approached Riker greeted him.
'How are you, Lieutenant ?'
'You picked a terrible time to call me, Commander,' replied Worf. 'Ten minutes
to go in the last term of the Homeworld Superbowl, and scores even! Fortunately
I was recording it in order to study the finer points of play later.'
'As long as you don't let any of the ship's minors see it!' laughed Riker.
He had once accepted an invitation to watch a Klingon sports event. One
The group entered the room, and sat quietly gossiping until Captain Picard
and Ambassador Spock entered. They stood until the two were seated.
'This is an unusual mission,' began Picard. 'It is based on a rumor. I will
let Ambassador Spock introduce it, and then we will have further discussion.
Spock rose to his feet, which was not the custom normally in conference.
'I have been part of a secret underground movement on Romulus for some time,'
he said. 'Fortunately, some of our members are of high rank, or we may not
have heard this story. It seems that a Romulan science vessel discovered
a wormhole, which is rumored to go back in time, and exit near earth. One
of the members of the High Council who has a particular hatred of earth
decided to gather a gang of extremists and travel back in time to do earth
some harm. In fact, a second rumor circulated that one of the extremists
had boasted that they would destroy the human race.'
There was a murmur of shock.
'It appears that this group has acquired a vessel of some sort, and has
departed for the wormhole.'
'This seems a fantasy,' Jean-Luc told the assembled group in the conference
room, 'but both Ambassador Spock and Starfleet Command take it seriously.
We will be in Romulan space soon, and trespassing. However the area of concern
is somewhat off the beaten track, and Spock is confident of taking us there
'I'm puzzled by what the renegades hope to achieve. Even in the early days
of man the Vulcans were in space around us, unseen. The energy required,
and the time, to destroy a planetary surface would have attracted them quickly.
It seems the renegades do not have a heavily armed warship.'
'I too am puzzled.' interposed Spock. 'The energy required to raze a planet
would be quite significant, and easily attributable to its source. The Romulans
would be the pariahs of the galaxy, albeit this group is a small band of
malcontents. Their hatred of humanity must be great enough that they would
destroy the honor of their own race as well.'
'If the wormhole is large enough,' added Picard, 'the Enterprise
will go through, even if we have to separate the ship. Otherwise Commander
Riker will fly the fighter we have picked up. He and I will select a crew
after this meeting. If the wormhole is very small we may have to use the
'If the wormhole is very small,' observed Geordi, 'that might be why they
have taken a small ship.'
'Speculative fiction has often considered what would happen if the past
were changed through time travel,' interposed Data. 'If we were in the
past and some action led to a change in our history, would we cease to exist?
Or would we return to a future where our friends did not know us, and our
parents had never existed, but we still did? Both ideas lead to paradoxes,
but one must be true.'
'Indeed,' said Spock, 'there might be a third possibility, where we might
continue to exist in the past, but cease to exist on returning to our present.
There may be some other variation we have not considered.'
'Well, I believe that if our ancestors ceased to exist, so would we,' said
Riker. 'The fact that we still exist means they haven't succeeded yet. In
fact, I think this whole mission is unlikely, but I don't mind a trip through
'It is possible that this whole venture is a rumor built up into a fact,'
agreed Spock. 'The difficulty is, the possibility that it may be fact is
so overwhelming that it should be investigated. A parallel might be made
with the discovery of the deterioration of the atmosphere on earth some
centuries ago. Few were absolutely certain that a problem did exist, but
the chance could not be taken that it did not. As a consequence the earth
was saved, after some years of turmoil. If the story proves unfounded it
is still worthwhile investigating the wormhole for its own sake. I do not
believe the Romulan authorities will trouble us. They would most likely
be pleased for us to investigate the problem for them, and undertake the
danger as well.'
'The starfighter can take a crew of from six to twenty,' said Commander
Riker. 'We'll take along about a dozen if we use it. The harrier only takes
two, so if we have to use that it will just be myself and Commander Data.
'I hope it does not come to that. If we do go back in time, I'd like to
have a few specialists who could do some exploring as well as being able
to fight if necessary.'
'Will, remain here for a while,' said Picard, rising to his feet. 'and Ambassador
Spock, if you will. The rest of you get prepared and get some rest.'
When the others had gone, Picard asked Riker who he wanted as crew on the
starfighter, should the need arise.
'Data certainly, and Worf. We will need crew to man the phasers and photon
torpedos. I would like to take Deanna as well, and a medical team. I don't
know whether Ambassador Spock would be willing to come, but if he wants
to, I would welcome him. He would have some familiarity with the Romulans
'I would be very interested in the whole investigation,' said Spock, 'whether
a threat exists or not. The chance to see the universe some years in the
past would be intriguing. However, if I am not useful, I would prefer to
return to the matters which have become my major interest lately.'
'Surely your knowledge of the Romulans could not help but be useful?' said
'My knowledge may be duplicated by Lieutenant Selar,' replied Spock. 'She
has made a special study of Romulan culture and history, so that her knowledge
is likely to be equal to mine, and she will presumably be going in any case,
as part of the medical team.'
'Why Deanna, Will?' Picard knew quite well why, but gave Riker the chance
to explain, and perhaps elicit comment from Ambassador Spock.
'First, because we may have to deal with the Romulans face to face, and
I would like some clue as to their truthfulness. They are as impassive as
Vulcans, but not as noted for their honesty. The other reason is that I
would like to have a number of non-human personnel. If it does happen that
the renegades succeed, and all humans blink out of existence, I want some
people left who might either retrieve the situation or at least avenge us.'
'Counselor Troi would not qualify on that account,' observed Spock, 'as
part of her heritage is human. But the principle is sound. A crew including
many non-humans would be a practical choice.'
'Excellent thinking, number one,' said Picard. 'We will invite all non-human
personnel to take part, on a voluntary basis.'
'Not the hairdresser, perhaps,' grinned Riker. 'I don't think he'd have
much to contribute.'
'I doubt that Mr Mot would volunteer,' said Picard. 'He likes to give his
tactical advice from behind his barber chair.'
On to Chapter 4, or go