Walker rubbed the stubble on his chin once again. Sixteen hours in the command chair wasn’t doing him any favors. After a tumbling ride through the Hobus shockwave—again—and a trip back to 23rd century Excalbia, he was more than ready to head off shift, but a captain’s work was never done. He thought, not for the last time, that with all the miraculous time-travel technology on the Pastak, someone should’ve invented a way to get a full night’s sleep in the blink of an eye.
“They’re moving again,” came the report from the science station. “Heading 112 mark 12… preparing for warp.”
Walker turned his chair slightly to glance at Lieutenant Lefler, but even his fatigue-slowed mind quickly picked up on the plot. “Tholian space. They’re bouncing all over the place. Helm, more of the same: Prepare to bring systems back up fifteen seconds after they depart, then give us a follow plot and find us a nice hiding place at the destination.”
“Aye, captain,” came the expected reply. Walker stood and moved over to the navigation station, glancing at the console. Excalbia was a risky place to be, as the Excalbians were a post-matter civilization with expansive powers. Though they might not be on the level of Q, they could still be extremely dangerous, given their ability to read thoughts and to reorganize matter, combined with their total lack of any moral compass in the 23rd century. Walker was glad to be leaving their world behind.
“Looks like they’re headed for interphasic space,” Walker mused aloud. He’d found that speaking his conjectures often prompted his crew to reply, and it helped him to refine his thought process.
“Yes, sir. Defiant will be disappearing there in about… two months from current local time,” said Lefler.
“They’re not messing around any more,” mused Walker as he turned and paced the bridge. “We don’t have any operatives in that area, I presume?”
“No, sir,” was the reply. “Not yet, anyway. Still no luck making any headway with the Tholians, and it’s just too dangerous for us to leave a long-term deep-cover operative there.”
“Damn,” Walker muttered. He took a seat just as the ship slipped smoothly into warp, following on the trails of the other vessel.
“So the Na’kuhl are dropping off their agents all through the timeline now—22nd century onward. Perfect time to destabilize the Federation,” Walker said, once again thinking the matter through out loud. “But Defiant isn’t exactly critical to that, except inasmuch as it affects the development of the Mirror Universe. But even that won’t be something that would derail the formation of our universe’s Federation. So what are they doing now?”
“I’m not sure, Ben, but Kirk’s Enterprise eventually responds to Defiant, and anything that disrupts Enterprise has a serious impact on the timeline. Seventeen temporal violations, you know,” said Commander Nereda. Walker paused and turned to face his Cardassian first officer, who smirked slightly, one of her crossed legs bouncing up and down languidly in the fashion that he’d come to realize meant that she was teasing him.
Walker chose to play along. “They’ve already dropped off agents in three different systems. Now they’re going to just… wait here for two months for the Defiant incident?”
Nereda shrugged and her smile became slightly wider. She inclined her head and replied, “Why not? Perhaps they could go back home and watch some entertainment media. Play a hand of Acquisition. Oh, but their homeworld’s sun blew up. I suppose it’s true, that old Earth saying: You can’t go home again.”
Walker closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. “It doesn’t make sense for them to drop an agent off here, now—or to send one further back with their stealth technology. There’s nobody in this part of space but the Tholians, and they don’t much care about anyone, Na’kuhl or otherwise. There’s nothing to do, nothing to see, nothing…” he trailed off.
Straightening suddenly, Walker turned toward the science station. “Wait. They’ve been seeding operatives just like we have, people dropped off throughout time so that they can nudge the timestream. Agents and counter-agents playing out the Temporal Cold War through history, which is the whole reason that we need eyes on the ground, since we can’t detect their stealth incursions. So why go this far back for something that doesn’t matter? Except… their goal is to topple the Federation.”
Nereda frowned and said, “So, what, they’re going to leave a couple of agents here doing nothing for years, waiting to get the Tholians riled up enough to fight the Federation in a war? We both know that even though such a war would be costly, the Tholians can’t destroy the Federation in the 23rd century.”
Nereda sighed and ticked off points on her fingers. “Such a war back then—local “now”— would lead to a two-front fight against the Klingons, but as soon as the Organians become involved they’d stop everyone long enough for the Federation to sort the mess out anyway. That breather reinforces Tholian xenophobia, they don’t go back to war, and everything goes back the way it was, albeit with a brief period when the Federation thought things looked bleak. The Na’kuhl aren’t going to go to Organia and try to blow up their sun or anything like that, because the Organians would certainly detect and neutralize them, so they really can’t do anything here of lasting value.”
Walker shook his head and punched up a record on the computer: DIVERGENT TIMELINES. “Remember, by the 25th century, this area of space is much more strongly under Tholian influence. The Na’kuhl can’t get involved directly in the timeline that they want to affect so they’re getting involved now to change things later. Look. Oh, it’s masterful indirection. Lefler, set up our sensors to scan for probes, containers, small cargo shuttles—anything that you could put someone in suspension in.”
Lieutenant Lefler nodded and started working as Nereda stood and moved over next to the captain, wearing a quizzical look. “I don’t quite see what you mean. They’re going to leave an operative here for a future problem? The next thing that the Tholians get tied up in is all of the Tox Uthat business, and we already know how that finishes. Turns out we were there,” she said with the hint of snippiness she employed when she knew that she was just slightly behind the curve.
“This,” Walker said, jabbing his finger at the screen. “It’s a divergent timeline where the Federation gets overrun by the Tholians. And… of course it’s the Enterprise. They’re leaving someone to disrupt the timeline two centuries later, when the Enterprise-C accidentally bounces into Tholian space as part of its trips through time before its ultimate end. Stop the Enterprise from correcting the timeline and suddenly that divergent timeline becomes the active timeline. All of the Federation enslaved. Alpha and Beta quadrants under the heels of the Tholians.”
Nereda pursed her lips, then said, “Doesn’t sound good. But we already solved that problem. We were there, too.”
“You know it doesn’t work that way. The cause-effect order is still sorting. If we leave them to their own devices, the Na’kuhl will reset that timeline and that… will be the end of us. Annnnd… there it is,” Walker said as the scanners registered the jettison of a small pod. He crossed back to the command chair, but didn’t sit. “Prepare to send an encoded message out. Have an agent ready to pick up that pod.”
The crew worked efficiently as Nereda crossed back to the command area and said, “We’d get more if we picked it up ourselves and asked a few pertinent questions of the occupant.”
Walker shook his head. “You know the rules. No direct intervention. Agents in this era will handle it. Contact Agent T’lerru. The Romulans of this era have cloaks; she can get a ship in and out without being noticed.”
Commander Nereda pouted momentarily and replied, “Yes, sir. I was hoping you’d change your mind for once, but I suppose there’s no harm in doing it by the book.” She took a seat and gestured to one of the junior officers in an easy “you-heard-the-captain” wave.
Walker finally sat back down in his chair. “What’s next?” he queried as exhaustion set back in.
Nereda tapped the pad on the corner of her seat, then answered, “The Na’kuhl ship is leaving at low warp. Wherever they’re going next, they’re not in a hurry. Possibly waiting for new orders, or perhaps they’re done with their immediate tasks. We still need to head to Romulus and backstep eight months to drop off Agent T’lerru so that she’ll be here for us today. She’s eager to return to Romulus’ ‘frontier heyday.’”
Walker nodded and stood once more, wearily. “All right. Commander, you have the conn. I’m going to take care of another urgent matter.”
“What’s that, captain?” said Nereda as she switched to the command seat.
“Sleep,” said Walker. “About a century’s worth.”
Staff Game Designer
Star Trek Online