Chapter 8.
Aboard the Pinball Wizard, Will Riker sat in the command chair, and tried to marshall his thoughts.
Mary Anne, Mendon and Arrg had moved out to man their positions, and Glock and the engineers had gone to theirs. All the others were still on the bridge.
"I'll ask for advice," said Riker suddenly. "I have to consider that I'm still affected by those damned pheromones. My impulse was to run back home and see if the future is affected. Is that the right decision? Should I stay and find those two?"
"I would agree with your decision, Commander," said Lieutenant Selar calmly. "Before solving a problem, we should know that the problem exists. If there has been no change to the future, nothing more needs to be done. If the future has changed for the worse, we can return through the wormhole and attempt to rectify it."
"Unless we come back to some other past," said Deanna.
"From any future, there is only one past," said Selar.
"All right," said Riker, glad to have had some confirmation of his actions. "Mister Worf, take our two guests and confine them in a cell. Doctor, would you take over the weapons and communications until he returns?"
Beverley quickly moved over and took Worf's position. He merely pointed his phaser at Dovor and Sela, and they rose to their feet and preceded him. Sela glanced meaningfully at Dovor's ring, but he replied, "I'm curious to see how this all plays out." Worf took them and locked them in separate cells.
Data steered the ship back toward the wormhole at high impulse. Beverley kept an eye on the scanners, and suddenly noticed an anomaly.
"Will," she suddenly called, "there are three ships!"
"Where?" he cried hoarsely.
"About fifty thousand kilometres away," she said. A puzzled look came over her face. "One of them is a starship. They must have sent us some backup. We're already a long way past them. I can't pick up what the others are. Worf might know them."
Riker paused, irresolute.
"I think we have to stick with what Lieutenant Selar said," he decided. "Let's go see if the problem exists. Send them a message, though."
"What message, sir?"
"Find and confine two Romulans on planet earth," he said. "If they do that, it's half our job done."
Beverley quickly sent a voice message in the direction of the ships. The Pinball Wizard was approaching the coordinates of the wormhole. Worf reappeared, and took over his posts. Data did not bother bringing up a semblance of the wormhole. Nobody wanted to look at it. They just wanted to go through it. He guided the small round vehicle swiftly but carefully into the center, and it appeared to just wink out of existence.
Strangely, this time there seemed to be no subjective long journey. Everyone was concentrating so much on what waited for them that the time passed instantly, and they popped out into normal space. There was nothing to see.
Silence reigned for a moment. Everyone had half expected some immediate revelation. Riker gathered himself, still tense, and ordered, "Mister Data, set course for home, warp two."
The starfighter was capable of greater speed, though not the speed of the Enterprise, but the greater the speed the stronger the signature, and the greater chance of detection. This was still a very empty section of space, so there was a good chance nobody would be about. For a few minutes they sped silently.
Suddenly Worf gave an explosive sigh. "We have company," he said. "The vessel is unfamiliar, and catching us rapidly. They are signalling us to stop. By firing across our bow."
"Damn!" said Riker. "Full stop. On screen."
"Their broadcasting system is also unfamiliar, Commander," said Worf. "But easily converted."
A picture appeared on the viewscreen. Riker's heart sank. The captain was obviously Romulan, but quite different from what he was used to. Like the Vulcans, Romulans scorned personal adornment, but this man had his hair arranged unusually, and wore a ring in the nose. He also had an obvious air of arrogance. The viewscreen showed nobody else, as it came from a narrow-focus camera. When he spoke his voice was incomprehensible, but the universal translator quickly kicked in.
"He was speaking a form of Romulan," observed Selar, "but not one familiar to me."
"This is the Federation ship, Pinball Wizard, under the command of William Riker. We apologise for our intrusion..." Riker began. He was interrupted.
"What is this? Some sort of galactic zoo? Our sensors pick up various races aboard. What race are you? And what is this talk of a Federation?"
"What are you talking about?" asked Riker, feeling the blood drain from his face.
"This is most interesting," said Data. "We still exist, though our forebears do not. One of the paradoxes of time travel is solved."
"Shut up, Data!" hissed a chorus of voices.
"I've destroyed the human race!" Riker whispered, his voice refusing to work properly.
"What species are you? You do not belong to the Empire?" asked the Romulan curiously.
Lieutenant Selar realised that Commander Riker seemed speechless, and intervened. "They are humans," she said. "From a planet you would probably know as Gellius Minor, since that is what the Vulcans first called it. They call it earth."
"Look it up," the Captain ordered someone offscreen. "And who are you? A Vulcan?"
"I am," she said calmly.
"Well, please ask your commanding officer to surrender his ship or be blown apart!"
Riker tried to gather himself together. He was outgunned, and humanity was dead. He felt a great weight, but he tried to respond. He allowed his resentment of anyone usurping his bridge to resurface, and deliberately moved in front of Lieutenant Selar. She graciously ceded back his bridge and moved back.
"We will not surrender, but we do not wish to fight. We have come from.."
"You will fight or surrender," said the Romulan pleasantly.
"We have Romulans aboard, commander," said Selar softly.
"Give me a minute to confer," he said.
"If that is a short period of time, certainly," responded the other. He saw the screen go blank.
"Shall we blast them, Tribune?" asked the gunner.
"No, I'm curious," said the Tribune. "I have never seen such a craft. Have you scanned it?"
"We were scanning it, but they have managed to prevent our sensors,"said the science officer. "Such an instrument would be worth having."
Meanwhile, Riker called out to Worf to bring the prisoners up. Deanna Troi was having to erect her mental shields. Both Will and Beverley were radiating a profound distress, and she wondered how they were managing to function. She could also feel emanations from the other humans on the ship, who had heard the exchanges.
Will Riker was the most disturbed. He had caused the disaster! The others were overwhelmed, but still functioning because they had specific jobs. Deanna knew they all needed her counseling services, but the time seemed inappropriate. However, she moved closer to Will.
"It may be appropriate to exchange our prisoners for our freedom," said Selar. "It would save the difficulty of returning them to justice, if that opportunity arises. A trial may be difficult."
Riker nodded. The opportunity to be rid of them was appealing. Worf arrived with the two prisoners, and they stepped forward curiously into view of the monitor.
"On screen," ordered Riker. The Tribune appeared again, and Dovor and Sela eyed him speculatively. It was obvious that this was not their universe, and a thrill of joy ran through Dovor's body. Sela was not so overcome. With hidden dismay she looked at the ornamented Romulan.
"We have called up the planet that the Vulcan mentioned," said the Tribune. "Are you trying to mock me? That planet is a center of Romulan life. We have occupied it for millenia, even before the great conflict."
"We will explain everything," said Sela, walking within view of the tribune. "It may amuse you. These are the only examples that exist of the human race."
The tribune's lip curled.
"What are you? Some sort of damned half-breed? An abomination! You mock the purity of the Romulan race! And how is a Vulcan slave walking free? What other offensive insults do you carry?"
Sela's face flushed.
Dovor showed himself. "I am Dovor," he said, "a pure Romulan. We are prisoners of these humans. I would be grateful if you were to rescue us from their clutches."
"We are willing to exchange these two prisoners for a chance to return the way we came," said Riker. The tribune ignored him.
"Prisoners?" he said. "How careless of you. If you are not killed in the conflict, we may set you free somewhere. The halfbreed will be killed before she propagates. The others are interesting. We may keep them to dissect."
"Commander, they are unloading a small fighter to get behind us," Worf called suddenly. Riker hesitated. Instead of reacting normally, he was slow, and felt it.
Beverley Crusher was not much better, and Deanna was overwhelmed by their anguish.
"Will," she whispered, coming up to him, "you must react. You are the captain of the ship. They are all waiting for you!"
This was not actually true as yet. All those not overwhelmed by the revelation were attending mainly to the byplay across the viewscreens. But he shuddered, and tried to focus his attention on what was happening. With a sense of hopelessness.
In their little rooms, Mary Anne and the others listened to the interchanges in horror. She because her race had been eliminated, the others at the prospect of being killed.
The Romulan tribune had reacted to the sound of Worf's words, however.
"Did I hear a Klingon?" he asked eagerly. "I thought there were none left in a century. They all fought to the last man in the Conflict."
"What was this conflict?" asked Lieutenant Selar.
"The slave dares speak!" cried the tribune in mock delight. "Ah, we shall have to have your tongue for that!"
"You.. we are not from here," said Riker, stumblingly. "We came from a wormhole, from... a long time ago."
"A wormhole! Where is this? I have never seen one! The Vulcans learned something about them, but we lost the knowledge when we eradicated them."
"Do I understand that you have wiped out both the Klingons and the Vulcans?" asked Selar calmly.
"All the Klingons, we thought, though obviously not. And there are many Vulcans left as slaves. Have you truly come from some place which is not the empire?"
"How is it that the Romulans know nothing of wormholes?" exploded Sela. "What has happened to the great thirst for knowledge of our people? Why are you dressed up like a popinjay?"
"If you say, 'our people' again, you half-breed sow, I shall have your tongue taken out in slices," said the Romulan calmly. "Prepare to be boarded, or destroyed."
"We would like simply to return through the wormhole," interposed Selar. Riker snapped to a sort of attention. He'd be damned if everybody else was going to take over his bridge.
"At ease, Lieutenant," he snapped, "this is my bridge. We would like simply to return through the wormhole," he repeated, "and return to.. another time."
"Commander, the Romulan fighter is slowly moving to starboard," repeated Worf, and this time Riker reacted. "Status?"
"Commander, their weaponry is quite amazing," said Data, "but they have no shields, or transporters. I do not know how effective our shields would be, but they appear to be defenceless!"
"Shields and transporters were human inventions," observed Selar. "Though I thought the Klingons also invented transporters. It is of paramount importance that we return through the wormhole."
In her cubbyhole Mary Anne suddenly realised what Selar meant. She became even more trigger happy than she had been, if possible.
"I have to survive!" she thought grimly. Then her irrepressible sense of humor came to the fore. "Wow! Mary Anne Smith the Earth Mother! Maybe the Bible will record Adam and Eve, secret identities, Mary Anne Smith and... William Riker."
"On the other hand," added Data, "I do not recognize the metal of which their hulls are composed. It may very well be impervious to our weapons."
"We're leaving," Riker abruptly told the Romulans. "I suggest you don't follow us through the wormhole. You won't fit. Mister Data, take us back, maximum warp!"
"The maximum warp of this vessel is only warp seven," observed Data as he keyed in the instructions. "It will be interesting to see whether they can match it."
The starfighter shot off back through the empty space.
"I do not recognize their method of propulsion," added Data. "They are not warp engines, since those were also a human invention, but they may be the equivalent."
As they set off the Romulan ship fired a shot, expecting the small orb to be instantly obliterated. It was deflected by the shields. The smaller Romulan ship shot after them, matching their course. The Pinball Wizard had equivalent speed, and kept ahead as it went to warp two for a short distance, then dropped to impulse as Data guided it unerringly into the wormhole. The Romulan fighter had kept with them, and it followed them straight into the wormhole.
"Tribune, our fire bounced off them!" said one of the Romulans in the bigger ship.
"Don't lie, you dog!" thundered the tribune. "You missed! The penalty is an ear."
"Tribune, forgive my intrusion, but it is true. I measured its path. It deflected," interposed another. "They have some type of invisible deflector. If we had it we would be invincible."
"We are already invincible," said the tribune.
"Actually, I meant, 'we, this ship', rather than 'we, the Romulans'," remarked the other.
"I like your thinking," said the tribune. "It would be nice to be more invincible. Did you analyse their armament?"
The bridge's second-in-command interposed.
"It was not familiar, but must have been inferior. If they could have destroyed us, obviously they would have. One does not spare an enemy if one has a chance at victory."
"True," grinned the tribune. "Set course and follow them!"
The Romulan ship turned quickly and followed the two smaller ships It was faster, but they had a few minutes start. They found the trail, and began to close.
"An interesting problem," commented a science officer. "If our weapons are deflected, how do we stop them?"
"We did not use much force," said the Tribune. "I doubt they could stand up to a full volley. In any case, if they are running for a wormhole, we will simply stand between it and them."
"We are closing," said the navigator. "Hello, they have both disappeared. The wormhole must be invisible to ordinary light."
"Do you know where it is?"
"Exactly," responded the navigator. "I have their exact path."
"Match their path and speed exactly." The Tribune was standing in his excitement. All this new weaponry and defence systems! When he had it his ship would be the centerpiece of the Romulan navy! He began to dream of a position near the Emperor. Perhaps one day, even...
"Yes, sir," said the navigator confidently. The great ship flew directly and accurately at the wormhole. The center of it passed through to the past of sixty million years before. The sides stayed in the present. The results were spectacular but devastating.

On to Chapter 9, or call it a day, and go home...