Star Trek: The Ship of Fools
The Ferengi Commerce Alliance, having, for the most part, limited their involvement in the Dominion war, now enjoy new heights of prosperity and stability.The Ferengi are even seeking to woo the Bajorans who have laid claim to the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, away from the United Federation of Planets.
Yes, the new Grand Nagus Rom has continued to institute sweeping reforms within the Ferengi Commerce Alliance, there by improving relations and therefor trade, with their neighbors through out the Alpha Quadrant.And the new accords include provisions for renewed cooperation to curtail organized crime and new strategy for ince and foe all bringing down the Orion Syndicate in the Rigel system, to wit:
Seizure and forfeiture of assets in penalty for tax evasion. A directive affording powerful enemies within Starfleet the inventive opportunity to mete out the most dishonorable and humiliating punishment duty for the USS Anfortas, back from deep space, as transport and support for the Ferengi Liquidator Brunt, none too happy to be here either, at Rigel, along an interspacially fluctuating border into territory now claimed by, of all beings, the Tholian Assembly!
Brunt, easperated, kicked out a stack of empty bottle from behind the Captain's chair, screeching "You don't even like this stuff!" "What I like isn't important!" roared Khakhor, blearilly, painfully clenching his yellowed and pointy teeth not to wretch. "And you don't have to like it either!" "Once again you have brought USS Anfortas into unwarranted and extreme danger!" Sean Gotts accused Brunt.
"And you are insubordinate!" laughed Khkhor, with a rancid boozy belch, making ready to back hand Gotts. But the bellicose fat old Klingon only lost his balance. Captain Khakhor's eyes where dilating differently, one from the other, and tracking misaligned. He gasped and fought to keep his speech from slurring.
Exasperated and frankly terrified, Gotts started calling down to Sickbay to have Khakhor relieved and declared unfit for command once and for all! If he had to, Gotts once again stood ready to contest Khakhor according to Klingon tradition.
Anfortas danced in the cross fire between two star armadas, as they contended for possession of the damaged Federation Starship Myriad. The derelict was confirmed as the Myriad, not only as one among their own exploratory convoy, but one of the traitorous vessels that had ambushed the others at the Great Barrier. But what was Myriad doing here?
Khakhor cursed the traitors all in colorful Klingon gutturals, swearing bloodiest most protracted revenge!
"Captain!" declared Lieutenant Diotima Mantinea "Sensors confirm that both sides are launching time traveling chroniton missiles, presumably targeted at known vulnerable points in their target's past. And both sides are emploting special counter measures to confuse one another's missiles."
"I knew it!" gloated Brunt.
"Then it is inevitable that some time traveling chroniton missiles must go astray!" surmised Khakhor, shrewdly. Still, he was sick and looked like Hell!
"I have taken a sensor scan of the opposing vessels, and they are all equipped with chroniton shields, for protection against temporal fluctuations caused by the exchange of their retroactive weaponry, both the Orion pirates and the Tholians." reported Lilith "And, upon preliminary analysis, I believe that the Kelvan technology of our enhanced structural integrity fields can be adjusted for chroniton shielding, which would probably be a very good idea right about now!"
"Then do it!" barked Captain Khakhor, clenching his teeth not to wretch.
"The system is first generation. Automated reconfiguration is limited. Reconfiguration must therefore be accomplished manually." explained Lilith, opening the maintenance panels. "I can do it faster" offered Diotima. As her brow furrowed, the panels lifted and floated away as of their own accord.Following up the schematics changes called up by Lilith Cytock onto the monitors adjacent to the shields consoles, hot-swappable components danced about in the air, of their own accord, rearranging themselves in a flash!
"We are being hailed and warned off from a war zone." announced Darius, at the Radio Astronomy, communications and cipher array console he shared with his half sister Lilith. Abruptly, Brunt elbowed aside Darius to operate the transmission controls for himself:
"This is Liquidator Brunt of the Ferengi Commerce Alliance. You have been found in control of undeclared income, and in tax arrears. Under the Interstellar Extradition and Reparation Accords your property is here by confiscated in forfeiture as due recompense! Stand to and prepare to be boarded!"
Bo sooner said, than the Anfortas came under attack, sustaining mounting damage, from a volley of time traveling missiles locked onto them, that could not be seen coming in until after they had struck! The bridge rocked to and fro, until shields where down to almost nil with the last of the missiles bearing down upon them!
Suddenly Diotima rose to her feet, veins pulsing at her temples, and then collapsed, bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose! Then the missile mysteriously veered off course, hurtling into space-time, fading away into the past! "Pursue!" barked Captain Khakhor, as Sean Gotts called down to Sickbay for help for poor Diotima. And Anfortas found herself in the chroniton wake of the wayward missile.
"Forget the chump change! Let it go!" protested Brunt, picking himself off the deck. "That's an order! Turn about, now! I want to seize major assets on those reprobate tax dodgers!" Brunt let out a sharp gasp as a jet black box rose up from beneath the deck on a pedestal, and opened just a crack, as the clear red cylinder rose around it, shielding the eyes of the bridge crew from certain madness.
Lieutenant Diotima, struggling to her feet, took back the helm, and reached out to the mind of the Medusan navigator Kollos to plot a true course directly into the chroniton wake of the wayward time traveling missile. Then Diotima, bloody faced, collapsed once again, sprawled out on the deck of the bridge as Sam rushed to her side with a medikit!
In the twenty-third century, Harcourt Fenton Mudd was doubled over on his bar stool, melodramatically miserable! His ever so brilliant scam to cheat settlers on Pritex Five had fallen through because of an oh so tiny miscalculation, and he had been forced to make yet another hasty retreat before another rampaging mob determined to separate his head from his spinal column.
Now he was on safe ground on a planet which the Federation had designated Outpost 46, a reasonably pleasant world, but with next to no opportunity for a con artist of his particular stature to craft his trade.
That was because within UFP territory, he was still considered on probation for the previous swindle he pulled (the one that he got caught at, not the successful one), so if he was going to stay out of rehab therapy, he had to keep his nose clean...or at least get into something foolproof, this time.
And so, currently, he was drowning his sorrows in a frosty mug of beer at some nondescript civilian pub.
Looking over at the other clients sitting at the bar, Harry noticed one in particular. He appeared to be an adult human, except that he was the size of a child. Indeed, he had to perch feet over the edge of his bar stool, after having climbed and hoisted himself up.
Unless I am very much mistaken, ruminated Harry to himself, that is a dwarf. And the poor little fellow seems to have troubles of his own. I think I'll go over and strike up a conversation with him. I warrant that it may even prove to be rather interesting.
Harry scooped up his mug and squeezed his paunchy bulk onto an empty stool beside the dwarf.
"You're not from around here, are you?" Harry asked him, amicably.
"And what gave it away?" grumbled the taciturn little fellow right back, not even troubling a glance in Harry's direction.
"Well, one doesn't see too many citizens of the Federation with your particular, shall we say, physical distinction."
Then the little fellow turned a sarcastic look at Harry's great sagging paunch, retorting "I could say the same about yours, except I had no choice in the matter of my ...distinction."
"There, there, my friend, I meant no insult. Just stating the bloody obvious, as is my wont on occasion. Allow me to buy you a drink to make amends. The name is Mudd. Harry Mudd." he announced, extending a pudgy right hand to the grumpy little fellow.
The dwarf sighed and shook it. "Alexander is my name. Sorry if I seem edgy. I've always been rather sensitive about my height. I guess it's just a defense mechanism. If I perceive someone making fun of me, my first impulse is to strike back, likewise."
"Perfectly understandable. You know, I used to be just as touchy about my girth. Then I said to myself, this is who I am, and if nobody else likes it -- too bad! Is Alexander your surname or given name?"
"It's my only damn name. On my world we always found one name to be sufficient. I'm from a planet called Platonius."
Harry's smile broadened into something much more. He could scarcely believe his luck. A Platonian! Platonius was a rich source of kironide -- power, in its most distilled form. And so far as Harry knew, Platonius remained outside of Federation jurisdiction.
Something about different standards of Utopia...
"You are far from home then. I speak from personal experience when I say that a man willing to travel that far is either after something very valuable, or trying to get away from something very unpleasant."
Alexander nodded. "My people."
"Eh?" prompted Harry.
"My people. Extremely unpleasant. Lazy, arrogant, good-for-nothing pseudo-intellectuals. It's still all I can do to fight down my rising gorge whenever I remember them."
"Come now. They can't all be that bad. Can they?"
"When if ever you're the only one among them who isn't psychokinetic, you'll find out right quick enough. The hard way. Like I did," Alexander quaffed down another gulp of his drink.
"So, Kirk took pity on me, and took me with him when he left Platonius," continued Alexander, telling Harry his story. "His rosy descriptions conjured such heady visions of the Federation, like passage to the Elysian Fields without having to croak first. Oh, was I naive! Say, have you ever met Captain Kirk?"
Harry was taken aback. "Just why do you ask?" he blustered.
"Oh, just the sneer on your lips every time I so much as mention his name."
Harry cleared his throat and rolled his eyes. "We-ell, let us just say our paths have crossed on occasion. What was that you were going on about your naiveté?"
"I believed life would change for me for the better. But all it did was change. New faces, new customs, however people are basically the same wherever you go. On one planet they try to control you with telekinesis, and on the next they just try to bully you using anything more prosaic."
"Amen to that, brother!" Harry raised his mug in sympathy, then drained another gulp.
"You know, Alexander, it seems to me that you and I are two of a kind. Both unsatisfied with what fortune has dealt us so far. Both of us searching for that certain, oh, I-don't-know-what to make us happy. And that search would be that much less lonesome if we banded together."
"And do what?" demanded Alexander, suspiciously.
Alexander pondered the harsh reality of Mudd's words, deeply. "You know, I probably would not, knowing what I know now. In hindsight, I was a fool. I could have stayed home, and no one would have dared to make me their fool again."
"And Platonius is a big planet," added Harry. "You would never even need lay eyes on any of those thirty-odd parasites again, unless you wanted to. I can see you want to go back. What perplexes me is why you continue to let those Academicians intimidate you even from so far away."
Alexander gazed into Harry's eyes. "What makes you think I want to go back?"
"Because like the song says, 'Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.' Let me ask you something. Did you leave behind a Platonian girl, one who may be missing you right now, as we speak?"
Harry was grasping at every trick in the book he could think of to secure his Platonian guide for the kironide expedition he had already planned out in his head.
Alexander's face reddened slightly. "Now that you mention it, there was this one...No! She probably has a tall, properly Platonian husband by now. Although she was nice to me, it's sheer arrogance for me to think she could possibly be interested in a runty throwback like me!"
"Ah, but if she was nice to you even as a so-called throwback, imagine what her opinion would be of you when you return with twice the power of Parmen or whoever happens to be sitting on the throne right now. Don't you think it might be worth your while to find out?"
Alexander was almost nodding to himself, when he raised a brow at Harry.
"And you just want to tag along with me all the way back to Platonius?"
"When it's in the cause of true love, let it never be said that Harcourt Fenton Mudd didn't help out. If you are so inclined, I've got the spaceship all ready and waiting. What are friends for, eh? All I ask in return, is to be able to call upon you for a favor when that time comes. Whada ya say?"
Alexander winked at him. "Fifty percent of the kironide profits, and you have yourself a deal."
Harry toothy grinned like the Cheshire Cat. "Done!"
The chroniton missile continued plunging backwards through time.
"Diotima!" cried Sam. Before the disbelieving eyes of the bridge crew, not only did the bleeding from her face staunch itself, dry, powder, and unaccountably blow away and vanish into thin air, but then her features actually remolded and changed!
When Diotima sat up and blinked at her compatriots, she wore an unfamiliar new countenance.
Sam's mouth gaped in momentary hesitation, while she gazed back at him questioningly. Lycia stood over them, all business, at the ready for any threat. Sam, still in possession of the medikit, grabbed the spray hypo, and drew blood from Diotima, and displayed the vial. "Sam?" pleaded Diotima.
"Ouch!" "No, not the Changeling." agreed Lycia, zapping Diotima with the lightest touch. "I am quite sure that I connected with a Human nervous system."
"H-how did you do that?" sputtered Sam. "Do what?" demanded the new Diotima, seemingly quite oblivious to any change in herself what so ever. "Your face! It's different!" Demanded Lilith, a little hysterical. "Different?" blurted out Diotima, "What in Hell are you talking about?" And it was also becoming noticeable that her voice was distinctly different as well, as she spoke more loudly.
"What has happened?" demanded Lycia "I remember!" exclaimed Sam. "We where in the future...!" "Did we really experience the future?" wondered Lilith. "And who the Hell are you?" demanded Khakhor of Brunt, cringing before them. "The Ferengi was with us in the future, Sir." stated Gotts. "Yes!" remembered Khakhor, raising his back hand dangerously, "the irritating little... !" Burnt cringed, keening. "Keep your distance, you big bully! We may all have been retrogressed back into your past, but my mission and authority still take precedent!"
"We'll work out the chain of command in due course." Gotts interposed himself between them, adding: "Lieutenant Diotima, I must order you to report immediately to Sickbay."
"That's an order."
"Aye, Sir." The new Diotima rose sharply and marched herself into the turbolift.
When the doors slid shut, Gotts tapped his com badge:
"Sickbay, I want a complete Neuro-physical work up. And a Psychiatric evaluation, with in depth personality profile. -Make that two of each."
Because, by this time the Captain, most astonished of them all, was gasping and raving in Klingon, and swatting hallucinatory flies, as he tumbled out from his seat. Gotts was scanning him with a tricorder from the medikit, reaching over very gingerly. Because Khakhor's bleary eyes still glowered with the aspect of a baited predator!
Brunt cringed again, keening!
Meanwhile, the activation of the tricorder on the flight deck had automatically activated bridge internal sensors, automatically logged into the bridge recorder.
Gotts first sighed impatiently. Then he planted his feet and shot Khahhor an over-rehearsed dirty look. It was plain to all that Gotts was no less willing to take on Khakhor, uncivilized a proposition as that might be, if he had to.
Finally, the tired old warrior surrendered to indignity and necessity by motioning Lycia to help him to the turbolift. Gotts watched her bend down to help the surly fat old Klingon warrior. Lycia's face was like unto a very sculpture of perfect reproach. And her every move a flawless Aikido transition of stance.
"The Hu-mon is not, well, seasonal in reproduction. Much like the Ferengi, you Hu-Mons are still opportunistic by nature, vaunted ethics regardless." observed Brunt sotto voce. "But how did Deltans evolve to be constantly, well, in season?" "Because the hormones and pheromones of estrus open their sympathetic bio-synchronous connectivity, which is advantageous." replied Darius, dashing to help Gotts switch off the tricorder and quickly deactivating the internal sensors on the bridge, as the elevated function of the rest the entire male bridge crew began to register on the sensor station monitor.
"Why are you Federation Hu-mons so afraid of your vaunted self declared and legally canonized Deltan betters for being so randy all the time? Can it be that you might be anything less than one hundred percent sincere about the advantages of openness to diversity?" "I'm the wrong one to ask about the internal consistency of Federation ideals in application, Brunt." replied Darius. "I rather disagree." replied Brunt. "I know that you've actually delved into the question somewhat more deeply than just anyone."
But, God was Lycia was beautiful when she was angry! And emotion elevated her already potent pheromones. And that was already awkward enough. And Gotts realized that the women would be effected too, momentarily.
Indeed, just then, Darius caught sight of his sister Lilith, blushing and turning away.
Harry and Alexander made their way through the Outpost's shuttleport, where hundreds of surface-to-space vehicles their various owners' return to fly variously home. To Harry Mudd, it was a smorgasbord.
"Are you serious?" Alexander was asking. "You think you can just take off in any one of these ships, and just get away with it?"
"I've done it often enough, me lad. It's a piece of cake to someone like me. But it has to be the right one. Nice enough to do the job, but not so important to its owner that it's worth a hard chase to reclaim when it's easier to just wait for the insurance service to come with a new one."
"You must be joking. You can't tell me people in the Federation take theft of any spacecraft that lightly."
"I never said they took it lightly! The success of any operation always depends upon knowing all the surrounding pertinent values, and then putting those values to work for you,"
Harry slyly withdrew a black box with a carrying strap from inside his coat. It began whistling and chirping in harmonic measures of electronic cacophony.
"It used to be a surplus standard-issue Starfleet tricorder -- until I started poking around inside of it -- aha! Objective up ahead!"
Alexander had to run at nearly twice the rate as Harry was moving in order to keep up with him, but they both came to a stop beside a spacecraft that was clearly non-Starfleet in it's design and markings.
"A Leeding Eelbird Mark Seven!" enthused Harry. "And no one is on board! Perfect!"
Alexander rubbed his hands together. "Nice. So what are we waiting for?"
Harry restrained his new friend, while the small gadget continued to squeal. "Just triple checking for backup anti-theft devices that I mightn't already know about and haven't already nullified. Haste has it's proper place, Alexander, but larceny ain't one of 'em. Always remember that."
The screen of his small device had begun to blink "Access Code Search Mode," then "Access Code Found," then, finally, "Transmitting Access Code." The hatch on the near side of the vessel popped open at the top and lowered down to their feet, creating a convenient ramp for them to climb.
"Your carriage awaits," Harry bowed to his friend, after silencing the gadget. He extended an arm at the entrance in an "after you" gesture.
Alexander happily trotted up inside.
Back on USS Anfortas, Khakhor had been admitted to Sickbay. Gotts and Brunt arrived to be briefed.
But since their voyage had scarcely begun, with one crisis after another, Gotts had not yet met the Ship's Councilor. And to Gotts surprise, it was none other than Dr. Sigmund Freud! Indeed, Gott's had not remembered that detail from the future, to spoil his surprise at the discovery here and now. And Brunt, making no effort to hide his boredom, just didn't care. Of course, Khakhor showed no particular recognition of a figure from out of Terrestrial history and no clue just who it was that had been treating him for his episode of toxic dementia.
"Yes, this person still answers to the given name of Diotima, even though she obviously is a different person from the one you know," Freud explained.
"She knows all of us, though."
"Do you have any idea what happened to her?" queried Gotts.
"Dr. Gogol has a remarkable theory which seems to fit the observable evidence. He believes that something has changed in her ancestry. Time tampering somewhere along her family line has resulted in one of her ancestors being replaced by someone else. This new Diotima is the result of an alteration in her heredity."
"DNA Substitution," mused Gotts. "But how can you be entirely certain that time changing accounts for this?"
"Because she is the only one affected. Dr. Gogol and I compared all of her recent test results with the ship's computer records, and, of course, they differed significantly. This would be because our records were protected from the temporal change in the same way the crew was, by those improvised chroniton shields in the future, jah?"
"If Dr. Gogol is correct, then Starfleet records should agree more with who this new Diotima is."
"Interestingly, we still have just received further and extensive subspace uploads from our future selves. And so, I am sure that was no mere conjecture." "Indeed, it looks like we'll need to change things back again, if that's what we want to do." nodded Freud.
Gotts considered the accent Freud had placed on the word "if."
"What do you mean by 'if'? The life of the Diotima Mantinea we know is at stake."
(The following adapted, paraphrased, from "On Transience" (1916) [SE, XIV, 307] http://www.freudpage.com/en-us/freud/quotes1.html#1 )
Freud looked Gotts in the eye:
"War has always robbed the universe of its beauties. It destroys not only the beauty of the worlds over which sweeps and the works of sapience which it meets in its path but also shatters our pride in the achievements of civilization, our admiration for many philosophers and artists and our hopes for a final triumph over the differences between nations and species.
It tarnishes the lofty impartiality of science, it revealed our instincts in all their nakedness and let loose the evil spirits within us which we thought had been tamed for ever by centuries of continuous education by the noblest minds. It makes our Federation small again and the rest of the universe far remote. It has robbed us of very much that we have loved, and showed us how ephemeral were many things that we regarded as changeless.
"And war certainly changes people. The Diotima Mantinea you knew is gone. Indeed, she never was. The new Diotima is an orphan of time-war, a stranger among those who knew and loved her only the day before. It's not her fault she reminds you of the one you knew. And we are the only ones who knew her. To the rest of the universe, that person never even existed. Are you suggesting we wipe out the one who does exist now, in order to make way for another who doesn't?"
"The Starfleet Prime Directive of Non Interference clearly applies to Time Paradox." insisted Gotts, looking to his Captain for support. But Khakhor merely shrugged. "I am out of my depth, Mr. Gotts. I am only a warrior, too old, weary and battered for your damned effete Existential riddles. Keep your oh so civilized whining. Show me to glorious battle any day! Besides, this is Human history at stake, not Klingon, and therefore speaking of your vaunted Prime Directive, quite frankly none of my concern. I wash my hands, gladly! You wanted command, Gotts, it is yours for the duration of this particular problem."
"What?" exclaimed Gotts.
"Look, we don't need any fancy technology operated by such a gaggle of over eager Technocrats to tell either of us that what I need is more sleep, not stronger booze. So, I'm coming along quietly. Did you ever think you'd see the day? Imagine the Captain gold-bricking like this on the K'tryn! Good riddance to the lot! Come to think of it, I'm not really cutting any duty time, am I? -if we return from the past to the same moment we departed the future!"
Khokhor sat smugly in his bio bed, and folded his arms.
Freud stroked his beard "Is it really that simple to you, Mr. Gotts? Or do you only wish it was?"
"I realize that in reality it is a lot more complex than that. But in order to be consistent, I must make it that simple. What would you have of me? To go and talk with her? Get to know her? Appreciate what a decent person she is? I grant you that already! Does she equally deserve her own existence? Most certainly. But can I grant them both existence? No. I don't know how to do that. do you? And so, I must choose between one or the other. And I choose in favor of the one who has already been bumped off from the chain of existence against her will."
"By bumping this one off, as you so bluntly put it Mr. Gotts, are you are telling me two wrongs make a right?"
"Really? I thought I was telling you that righting a wrong makes it right again."
"We are now both now dealers in the repair of fragile things, Mr. Gotts." answered Freud "Wrongs can be compounded in setting the world right. We both know that from living through history. The Wheel of Life turns. Events and strange phenomena unfold beyond our feeble control and meager understanding. The Prime Directive applies there, too, Mr. Gotts. The Prime Directive is a warning of unforeseen and unintended consequences from fateful, sweeping and irreversible choices. And of action from values we only think we understand. I beg of you, take my personal and professional advice and leave well enough alone!"
By this time, Brunt found himself emotionally involved with the problem at hand, despite himself. "I must concur, Mr. Gotts. Drop it!"
"Out of the question!"
"Can we find no accommodation?"
"This matter will not be bartered!" Thundered Gotts.
Brunt glowered back at Gotts. "What a load of sheer grade-A Federation sanctimony we have witnessed!" retorted Brunt. "You have before us here and now no less than resolved to petition a conduct of trade in whole lives with the Divine Assessor Himself!"
Back on the stolen shuttle, Harry hacked into the ship's computer to obtain vocal samples of the ship's owner in order to program a synthesized voice to ask space control for permission to take off.
He also bypassed the computer's own voice recognition system, so that he could verbally command it without any problems, if the need arose.
All the while, Alexander marveled at Harry's skill at grand theft.
"It's a gift, what can I say?" explained Harry, as the ship warped off in a heading that was not bearing towards the planet Platonius.
Alexander noticed this. "Harry, I think you've entered the wrong coordinates..."
"Yes, but while we're coasting, wouldn't that give whoever might be after us time to catch up and spot us on their long range sensors?"
Harry's voice took on a certain gruffness. "You think you're dealing with an amateur, Alexander-me-lad? The cosmic gasses are not just a happy coincidence, but a precursor to sunspots. They travel out on the solar winds. I happen to keep track of the forecasts as to when stellar activity will promote subspace interference to smother all but the strongest of warp signatures. Trust me, the captain of any ship following us would need a pact with the devil to find our warp signature again once they've lost it."
Detective Sergeant Maurice LeBlanc of the Federation Interstellar Police Force unit housed at Starbase 4 in orbit of Outpost 46 materialized inside transporter room 12 of the main spacedock. Already waiting for him there was his partner, Detective Sergeant Tamela Funt. She handed him a PADD the moment he stepped down from the pad.
"What've you got?" he asked, scanning the data.
"List of possible suspects on the stolen Eelbird. I think you're familiar with who's at the top of the list."
LeBlanc's normally hard face lightened up. "Harry, again? Honestly, this guy's been through rehabilitation therapy more times than a Vegan ice eater has teeth."
"That's why they want us to apprehend him," said Funt. "You've brought him in more times than any other cop on the force. You seem to understand the way he thinks."
"I'm his personal devil," agreed LeBlanc. "Well, it certainly looks like his M.O. Let's get after him before his warp trail runs cold."
"On the bridge, we all witnessed the face of Lieutenant Diotima changing before our very eyes. She became a different person. Dr. Gogol suspects that temporal tampering with her ancestry was the cause. Fortunately, our hastily erected and failing chroniton shield protected the rest of us as well as our computer records of the old Diotima, from the change in the timeline, but not from the retrogression effect. (Except for Liquidator Brunt, because he was not originally with us here and now. Brunt is not destined for his tour of duty with us until some time in the future.) At any rate, comparing our own records to extensive LCARS data base uploads provided by our future selves, I have been able to pinpoint where in her ancestry the change happened.
Her maternal grandfather, alive now! is the difference.
In the original timeline, he was a dwarf named Alexander. In the new one, he was an Academician named Parmen. And the moment of divergence fast approaches!"
"Hmm," mused Lycia, and smiled. "Were we able to determine what specifically caused this particular alteration?"
"Not precisely," answered Gotts. "Originally, Alexander left his world with the intention of never coming back, but he was convinced to return by a rather notorious confidence trickster of that era, a man by the name of Harcourt Fenton Mudd. But in the new history, Alexander left home and never did return, his disappearance a total mystery. Mudd also vanished in the new timeline at about the same time, whereas in the old, he continued to lengthen his already quite extensive criminal record for some time yet."
"Receiving new upload from our future selves." announced Lilith.
"What, can it really be that you routinely receive communications from your own starship in the future?" wondered Brunt.
"Yes," answered Gotts "ever since we found ourselves separated from the Expeditionary Force and stranded back in history upon our hasty departure from the Lesser Megallanic Cloud, we have been aided in our compliance with the Temporal Prime Directive by just such advice of temporal divergence and how to avoid them, courtesy, it would seem, of our future selves. Weren't you fully briefed before being sent back in time to join us, Liquidator Brunt?"
"No." grumbled Brunt "Didn't work out that way. Bit of a rush job. Remember vaguely?" "Damn it, Brunt, let us rationalize before we all metastasize brain tumors!" "So sorry, thoughtless of me. Of course, the four lobed Ferengi brain is far more resilient to causality violation and tolerant of paradox than your own Humon-oid hemispheric neurological configuration."
But before Gotts could retort again, an alarm chimed on the transmission array console.
"Hm, now" mused Darius "here is a file of flagged as urgent, recovered from a distress beacon automatically jettisoned from a certain stolen vessel:"
And so saying, Darius cued the logs, to watch with his shipmates as, on the monitor screen, the stolen Eelbird spacecraft dropped out of warp near a tumbling giant asteroid. Despite how the viewscreen image was breaking up horribly, Harry managed a practically unpowered swing around the massive asteroid, throwing the ship in the general direction he needed be going, but the maneuver had put the ship itself into a spin. Alexander and Harry didn't get dizzy, because the inertial dampers regulating the artificial gravity field onboard where working overtime to compensate.
Still, neither one of them felt like staring at the scrambled viewscreen, anyway. Each time it did momentarily stabilize, all they could see were the same stars streaking around and around them.
When Harry saw that the picture was beginning to clear up, he knew they were leaving the gaseous pocket. It was time to straighten the ship out and ease her back into warp to strike that fine balance between hurrying away from the vicinity, yet keeping the warp signature faint enough to be smothered by the sunspot activity. Harry would kick it up to top speed in a few more hours.
An alarm went off inside the cabin.
"What is it?" yelled Alexander.
"I-I don't know," stammered Harry. "Proximity alert! Something out there is closing in on us!"
Harry got a picture of it on the screen. Zooming in on it, he could clearly see it was a missile of some sort.
"Can you get us out of its way?" persisted Alexander.
"I'm going to give it my best bloody try!" answered Harry, wide-eyed.
Harry revved the warp engines as high as they would go, shutting off all the safeties. He set the helm on manual. Nothing he tried seemed to matter a whit. The hellish device was clearly locked onto them. Mere seconds later, it exploded, scattering their atoms brilliantly across the heavens.
"Make the necessary course changes" ordered Gotts "What we have just seen must be prevented! Summon me back to the bridge before we arrive." commanded Gotts as he turned towards the turbolift.
Soon, Gotts was struggling to relax in his cabin, sipping a cupful of cleansing and nutritious sweet water growing plomeek algae broth, while listening to a formerly lost composition of Vulcan music and reading a formerly lost work by T'Plana-Hath in old Vulcan, recovered from an archeological site in the mountains of Gol. This had been a parting gift from Ambassador Spock.
Even though it was a far cry from the Kolinahr ritual, the meditation had the desired efficacy of easing Gotts into a the unperturbed serenity of a "Vulcan" mode.
"I should like to take an Interfleet exchange transfer onboard a Vulcanian Starship one day soon. Or even take shore leave on Vulcanis. To give my troubling emotions a rest and mingle among a rational people" mused Gotts.
Gotts door chimed.
The stranger calling herself Diotima entered. The rarified Vulcan atmosphere which Gotts had worked so hard to cultivate about himself abruptly burst like an ephemeral soap bubble.
"Computer, pause! Yes, Lieutenant?" asked Gotts, when the Vulcan strings and chanting stopped.
"I needed to ask you a question, Sir, regarding your intentions."
"My intentions relating to what?"
She was blunt. "Are you planning on erasing me?"
"Erase you," repeated Gotts, instantly suspecting that Freud had something to do with this. "What ever put such a notion into your mind?"
Her gaze was unwavering. "I'm not stupid, Sir. I know what happened just as well as you do. Maybe better. From your point of view, I've changed into a different person. Someone you've never even met before. Someone who has usurped the life of another person you knew and might've even cared about. But have you considered what it looks like from my point of view?"
Gotts shook his head and lied like a cheap rug! "I must confess that I haven't."
"From my point of view, it's the rest of you who have changed. Yesterday you all knew me. I had friends among this crew. Now you all look at me like I'm some kind of unwanted intruder. While I was in Sickbay, I had a chance to bone up on my personal files. Or should I say, those of the other me. And you know what I discovered? I'm a vast improvement over her! She was a kironide addict, who would die if she didn't get regular doses of it in her food. I suffer from nothing like that! Yes, my telekinesis diminishes, but I won't die from kironide withdrawal! She has throwback genes in her family tree, genes which could express themselves in her offspring! I do not. I like who I am, Sir. And in my best considered judgment, obviously it will be in my best possible genetic health that I can best answer the call of duty, wherever that may lead. I want to continue being who I am. That is my right as a citizen in the Federation of Planets, is it not?"
"It is," agreed Gotts. "However, consider this. Suppose she were here with us right now, standing to your immediate right. What do you suppose she would have to say to you or me on her own behalf?"
"Immaterial, since she is not here, Sir."
"All the more reason why she needs someone else to stand up for her rights and speak for her. But speaking is the most I can do at the moment, Lieutenant. Because I am not a renegade, I take my orders from my Captain. If Khakhor decide this alteration to your history is to stand -- and I believe this to be likely -- then my opinion on this matter also becomes immaterial."
She eyed Gotts suspiciously. "Why would you believe this to be likely?"
"Because Khakhor is a practical man. He may decide that this is not worth bothering with when we have other priorities. Review his service record for yourself, Lieutenant, it would hardly be the first time."
Gotts paused "Lieutenant, I have a thought..."
The Diotima Mantinea of the ship's records came into being before them. The holographic Diotima wore an identical Starfleet uniform to the one the new Diotima wore, but the face, -that once familiar face! of course, was different. There was no denying there was an almost sisterly resemblance, however.
"Sean, who is this woman?" asked the hologram. "She seems oddly familiar to me."
"She should," answered the Gotts. "She is the person you would have become if you had a different maternal grandfather."
The hologram smiled incredulously. "You're kidding me, right?"
Gotts frowned and gave her a single shake of his head.
"You're not kidding," the hologram's smile melted away. It looked over he new Diotima with a leery eye. "So where did we get her from? Some sort of alternate history?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact," answered the Gotts.
"What is this supposed to accomplish?" demanded the new Diotima.
"Computer, freeze simulation," ordered Gotts.
The hologram was suddenly motionless.
"Outside of appealing to a member of the Q continuum for help, this simulation is the best that I can do to introduce you to her," he explained. "Here she has solidity, a reasonably faithful presentation of her intellect and personality, and her own voice. In effect, your other self can speak for herself, now. All I ask is that you spend the next thirty minutes or so getting to know one another. Just talk to her with an open mind before you declare that you'd never want to be her. -No turning her off or freezing her or telling her she is holographic. And when I return, I intend to have a nice long talk with the both of you, understood?"
"Understood, Sir!" replied the new Diotima, crisply.
"Very good. Computer: resume."
Gotts stepped off the Holodeck, directly for Sickbay, "Vulcan" his fervent mantra, all the way there. Gotts prayed he would be able to be dignified and hold his rising anger in check upon confronting Freud.
Presently, Gotts found the father of modern Psychotherapy craning his head out from Sickbay, peering into the corridor, to greet him.
"You're not a Hologram???" Sputtered Gotts "And what gave me away?" queried Freud, ever so genially. "I assumed you where some possibly experimental upgrade to the Emergency Medical Holographic system, activating on it's own when we lost our ship's chief surgeon, Dr. Sular." "Yes, tragic. But fascinating, to coin a phrase, as a case study." "I know that Starfleet has been working on improving his bedside manner. So, I just figured that interface functionality had been expanded to include a Ship's Councilor persona for emergency personal crisis management."
"Isn't rationalization creative?" mused Freud. "But the holographic emitters for the Emergency medical Holographic System are only in Sickbay." continued Gotts. "Thus, the EMH, in any guise, is unable to leave the confines of Sickbay."
"Ah, yes," Freud paused. "A good reality test for your mistaken surmise. But Mr. Gotts" Freud got down to business. "What brings you here this evening?"
"Did you just come right out and tell Diotima that I mean to erase her from existence?" Gotts looked Freud in the eye.
"Something to that effect may have slipped out as I spoke to her, yes." admitted Freud "Why ever do you ask?"
"Then you are telling me it was an accident, rather than intentional?"
"Nothing of the sort. You didn't tell me to keep your plans for her a secret. So I didn't."
"Doctor, I expected more common sense than that. Not only have you made what I must accomplish more difficult, you have frightened that young woman unnecessarily."
"Good. Mission accomplished."
Gotts felt his blood pressure rising. Vulcan, keeping meditating Vulcan.
"Do you know what the penalty for insubordination is?" Gotts finally hissed.
"I can guess." Freud answered him coolly, "But have I specifically disobeyed any order of yours, Mr. Gotts? Do I address you as 'Captain' or 'Acting Captain'?"
"No, and no. But you are becoming a wise acre, aren't you, Herr Dr. Sigmund Freud?"
"If that is what it takes to uphold my oath, so be it. Mr. Gotts, you don't just send us a patient to find out what is wrong with her, only to tell me later that you intend to end her life!"
Gotts winced. Understanding had dawned. "So that's it. Of course. She is your patient, and you are duty-bound to save her life. Without thinking, I placed you in a difficult position."
"Without thinking, he says! In point of fact you pushed it clear out from your consciousness. Indeed, that you did not see what you did can have taken no small effort on your own part, Mr. Gotts."
"Have I fallen down a hole in my mind, then? Be that as it may, I take it that you, Dr. Freud, are a member of the crew of the Federation Starship Anfortas, also, and are there for duty-bound to follow orders." "Somehow, I get the feeling you are about to make this even more difficult," surmised Freud.
"Has she been declared fit for duty?"
Freud hesitated. "Yes."
"Then she is no longer your patient. I am placing you under strict orders to not discuss my plans for her with anyone. Is that perfectly understood?"
"I understand your orders, Mr. Gotts, though not your reasoning."
A wry smile came to Sean Gotts' face, as he left the office. "Good. Mission accomplished."
"What a difference granddaddy's sperm can make," remarked the holographic Diotima. "So, who was your granddaddy anyway? An Academician?" "Parmen, himself," answered the new Diotima, with more than a hint of pride.
"The top dog, eh? I always thought he already had a wife."
"That bitch didn't want to bear him any children. Even when the revolution came, she still clung to the belief that Platonians should keep their numbers down and rely on their longevity to carry on the race. The fool."
"You and I agree on that. Though it served our people for ages, it was still a stupid policy in light of what a hostile universe this is. It's obvious to me that there's more of a difference between you and me than just genetics. You carry yourself with a smug arrogant attitude, don't you?"
"Are you referring to my quite justified pride in myself? Strange, I was thinking something similar about you. It looks as if when you are the product of poor breeding you over compensate, and cultivate an irreverence in a vain effort to hide from all your shortcomings."
"So that's my problem," said the hologram. "Somehow, I always thought I just had a cheerful disposition. Okay, tell me, do you enjoy being an anal sphincter, or does that just come naturally to you?"
"Let me show you what comes naturally to me," the new Diotima dealt a telekinetic blow to the hologram's midsection. The holographic Diotima doubled over, apoplectic!
When Gotts returned to the holodeck, he found the new Diotima waiting for him with her arms folded in boredom. There was holographic blood all over the floor, and bits of the holographic Diotima were scattered everywhere, literally been torn limb from limb.
"Well, at least I didn't switch her off!" breezed new Diotima in her own defense. "I doubt she's in any shape to answer your questions, though -- unless you reboot her. Personally, I think you ought to wipe that program out, and fill that memory space with something more useful like Parrises Squares scores or Replicator recipes."
"Dismissed!" roared Gotts, infuriated.
No sooner had she marched off the Holodeck, then Gotts noticed Brunt, weasly eyes boring into his own. "Tough sale, Gotts. Inventive. But it only goes to show, never ask, when you can take. Rule of Acquisition number 24. You wanted command, so exercise it. Or I will. And I don't care one way or another, which Platonian lineage endures. Or Mudd, for that matter. I have a job to do, however miserable and ignominious."
Gotts was still conferring with Lycia as the senior staff filed into the conference room:
"I have poured over all the available data and have concluded that the situation with Lieutenant Diotima is indeed a symptom of an instance of Causality Violation" Lycia told him, softly, standing near Gotts so as not to be over heard. Gotts could scarcely contain the thrill! Thus, distracted, he got a nasty start, as Diotima's accusing eyes met his own.
"The focal point appears to be the chroniton-based weapon that we are pursuing," continued Lycia, softly "which was responsible for the deaths of Harcourt Mudd and also his companion, Alexander of Platonius. Both of these people, in spite of themselves, made enough important contributions to Federation history to warrant an emergency mission for it's preservation."
"The death of Harry Mudd has remained a mystery up until now, since chroniton technology had not yet been discovered, much less implemented, at the time of these events." began Lilith "If we neutralize the weapon before it can do any damage, history should resume it's previous course."
Khakhor was sitting in on the meeting. "It would be nice if we could bring the missile back to us for examination, so that we know what we are up against, in case there is another such incident. Which does seem likely, given what we have already seen, don't you agree, Liquidator Brunt?" offered Khakhor, almost jovial with unaccustomed breeziness, the heavy weight of command off his shoulders, just this once. "But I am sure that your priority, Mr. Gotts, will be the safety of your crew and the restoration of the timeline." He smiled his tarter yellowed carnivorously toothy Klingion smile.
"Yes, Captain." replied Gotts, curtly.
"Mr. Darius, tell us all about this rogue, Harcourt Fenton Mudd." ordered Brunt.
"Yes, Liquidator Brunt. Mudd had a police record longer than your arm. But according to history a few of his escapades had beneficial side effects to the Federation, and so it was clear that he must live to scam another day."
"So, how do we save Mudd with a minimum of temporal interference?" Gotts put the problem to the senior staff.
All the while, Sam said nothing, and avoided Diotima's gaze.
"Well, Sir" breathed Lycia, almost melodically. "As you mentioned that the ship was stolen, thus it would not be unusual for Mudd to assume the police would be after him, correct, Sir? If we where to counterfeit a broadcast from a police cruiser, Mudd would do one of two things. Either he'd try to make a break for it, in which case we'll have chased him away from where the missile was going to hit him, or he'd surrender, in which case we direct his ship into safe space."
"Yes, but that still leaves that cunning rascal watching." objected Brunt. "I want the Anfortas free to catch that chroniton missile." "If possible." interjected Gotts. "We may have to destroy it." "Now see here!" protested Brunt. "That will be my decision, alone!" "No, Mr. Brunt." Gotts was firm. "The integrity of Federation history falls some what out of the jurisdiction of the Ferengi Commerce Commission."
"Okay, how about this," interjected Darius, slyly. "Let's program the Holodeck to simulate the interior of the Eelbird, and then let's transport Mudd into it. Next we beam aboard and pilot the real Eelbird into our shuttlebay, leaving us free to focus on the missile, undistracted. With the crisis averited, we can put the Eelbird back into space and beam Mudd back aboard their stolen shuttle again, none ever the wiser."
"Won't this Mudd character see us coming?" inquired Brunt
"Not if I hack into the stolen shuttle's computer system not to register the USS Anfortas as we approach." volunteered Sam, falteringly, looking away from Diotima. "The Eilbird will also be programmed by us not to register the USS Anfortas when we depart, either, and the software will erase every trace of itself soon afterwards."
Gotts nodded. "Excellent. A plan with even less overt interference. Unless anyone has a better suggestion, I think this is the plan to go with."
No one disagreed. Even Brunt seemed favorably impressed. And so, Gotts dismissed everyone back to duty, to work out the logistical details. All filed out of the room but for Diotima, who lingered behind waiting for permission to speak.
"Yes, Lieutenant?" invited Gotts.
"Sir, I was wondering," began Diotima. "Has my fate been considered?"
"Only in so far as that the change in you was not enough to justify special attention. It appears you will be staying with us." Gotts lied to this stranger to gull her into a false sense of security until the moment she would never even notice being changed back into the one who had more right to be here. At least in his mind.
The stranger immediately brightened. "Thank you, sir! Permission to return to duty?"
He watched her leave the briefing room. "I just better make damn sure you don't find out who else we're rescuing besides Mudd." Gotts hissed under his breath.
The stolen Eelbird spacecraft dropped out of warp near a tumbling giant asteroid. Despite the fact that the viewscreen image was breaking up horribly, Harry managed a practically unpowered swing around it which threw the ship in the general direction he wanted it to go, but the maneuver had put the ship itself into a spin. Alexander and Harry didn't get dizzy, because the artificial gravity field aboard was working overtime to compensate, but neither one of them felt like staring at the scrambled viewscreen, anyway. Each time it did momentarily stabilize, all they could see were the same stars streaking around and around them.
When Harry saw that the picture was beginning to clear up, he knew they were leaving the gaseous pocket. It was time to straighten the ship out and ease her back into warp to strike that fine balance between hurrying away from the vicinity, yet keeping the warp signature faint enough to be missed by any pursuers. He would kick it up to top speed in a few more hours.
An eerily familiar feeling overtook Harry, like the sensation one felt when being transported, only much quicker and without the momentary paralysis. In panic, Harry looked around himself. Nothing had changed, however.
"Alexander, did you just get the feeling that..."
"...Something like I was in a transporter beam? Definitely. But we're still here!"
"Hmm. We may be just out of range of our would-be abductor's beam. I'm stepping up to warp drive now, my friend. It's obvious someone is already on to us."
"Nicely done." Gotts complemented Lycia, as they walked from the control panel in the hall way outside the Holodeck, and took the turbo lift to the Transporter Room. "Thank you, Sir." she demurred. "And the other matter?"
Even though the ventilation of the turbolift dispersed her potent pheromones efficiently, Gotts fought back the urge to instantly ravish the fetching little Deltan. "Dr. Freud's -is it?- files are sealed. Well, not to me, of course." "Of course" "But I thought better to ask you first, Sir." "Quite right. No, leave this well enough alone, for now." Gotts smiled idiotically, and thrust out his arm for support, as they walked up to the Transporter console.
Lycia beamed aboard the now-empty Eelbird, took the helm, and brought the craft into the Shuttlebay, where she found Kakhor waiting for her. "Captain" she said. "I would speak with you about Mr. Gotts. His challenge will not be without support. This is a threat to us." "Likia" replied Khakhor "we are no longer serving aboard a Klingon vessel. Which is really a good thing, because we have so much yet to do, and that is why I cannot afford the honorable death in battle that I come more and more to yearn for." "But Gotts..." "I have given Gotts his day. He may not like it, though. Do hurry back to the bridge and shepherd him through it alive for me." "Yes, Captain." "I'm just taking a walk for my constitution." added Khakhor conspiratorially. "I must return to Sickbay. Let nothing disturb my rest and recuperation. Especially not Brunt!" "Count on me, Sir."
The new Diotima was a damned good pilot, so it was no secret to her that their trajectory through space-time had taken them to a sector of space which contained her own home world, at a point in time just prior to her own birth. And when she asked the doctor what he knew about this coincidence, he had told her that he was under orders not to discuss the mission.
With suspicions in her mind and her heart pounding in her chest, she privately consulted the LCARS database about the man in the Holodeck, Harcourt Fenton Mudd.
The computer told her that he was a small-time crook, a Human, who's crimes were rarely injurious to anyone else but himself. So far, so good. It wasn't until she learned the name of the accomplice Mudd had during this era that she became enraged enough to cause the terminal screen she was using to explode. A Platonian dwarf named Alexander.
Diotima stormed onto the bridge, not even bothering to conceal her rage.
"Liar!" she accused Gotts, storming out from the turbolift.
"You have that runty little throwback in the Holodeck along with Mudd, don't you?!"
Lycia, entering from the other turbolift, immediately drew her phaser and trained it upon Diotima. But before Lycia could fire, her arm was violently wrenched back with enough telekinetic force to break it at the shoulder joint and tear the shoulder ligaments. As she cried out in pain, Lycia's hand weapon skittered across the bridge.
"Too slow, Lusk!" barked Diotima. Then the phaser rose from the deck, of it's own accord, levitated into the air and pointed itself at Gotts, who was seated in the Captain's chair.
"Answer my question, Mr. Gotts! Is Alexander on the holodeck with Mudd?"
"Yes, he is, Diotima." replied Gotts, truthfully. "And training a deadly weapon upon your commanding officer is still a court-martial offense. History appears to have remained consistent in that regard."
The phaser pointed upward and spun around to show him the setting. It was on heavy stun, then, by itself, it sprang all the way to the highest setting before resuming its aim at him. Not only would one shot totally vaporize him -- it would do likewise to whoever was in the line of fire on deck two.
"Don't make me laugh, you bastard! I don't need a phaser to kill you where you sit. But it is a cleaner way to go, I have to admit. You just get erased from existence, as if you were never born, you walking piece of shit! Just like what you are planning to do to me! Well, I won't have it! How about you?" her eyes narrowed. "Ready to die today, Sean?"
"If I must, I must," replied Gotts. "I take full responsibility for the plan to restore you. Since your quarrel is with me alone, may I suggest you adjust the phaser setting down a few notches? We don't need to hurt anyone below this deck."
"Point well taken," sneered Diotima. The phaser beeped a few times were it hovered in midair. "As for the rest of you, listen up! You can save the acting Captain's life, if you wish. I only have one demand. Eject Alexander out into space. It was meant to be his grave. Mudd and his stolen ship can continue on as you planned. Federation history is restored, and I continue to exist. We can come up with a plausible explanation for the Starfleet Command as to what happened, if and when we ever need to.
Cooperate with me, and we can all go home to my court-martial.
Resist, and I will kill Gotts and anyone else who stands between me and my continued existence!"
At that point, a proximity alert sounded from Diotima's vacant bridge station.
"Sounds like the chroniton weapon is arriving, right on schedule,"
surmised Gotts. "If you don't take your position, Lieutenant, and put some distance between us and it, it may lock on to us. In that event, we all will end up in Alexander's grave -- including you."
"No, Sean! You take the helm. If you care about your crew, then you save them! Now!"
Gotts nodded. As he rose up to take the helm, he noticed Freud emerging from the Ready Room with Sam, who was clearly distraught. "Was this your doing, Doctor?" queried Gotts.
"I didn't say anything to her, Mr. Gotts, as per your orders. Diotima isn't stupid. Did you expect her to react in any other way? She's only doing what she must in order to survive, as any of us would." Freud explained, as he moved to stand beside her.
Diotima smiled at Dr. Sigmund Freud. "I knew I could count on you to understand me." "I understand you very well, Diotima," Freud assured, looking warmly into her eyes.
Sam jumped to take the tactical station. "Object appears to be the missile, trailing a decreasing chroniton wake. It is altering its course. It's now heading directly for us!"
"I'm going to try some evasive maneuvers," said Sam, switching to helm.
"Object appears to have a lock on us!" he shouted.
"Do you think you can throw a tractor beam on it without detonating it?" queried Gotts. "Insufficient data on that, Sir! If we try and it does, the feedback could be enough to shake us apart!"
"Too risky." muttered Gotts. "I make its speed as warp eight point two." replied Sam. "I am matching warp velocity in order to keep relative distance constant; any less we'll be within its blast radius, any more and we could evade the lock it has on us."
"And that's a bad thing?" asked Darius.
"It is for what I have in mind!"
USS Anfortas altered course for the nearest star. Minutes passed, but the weapon following them showed no sign of running out of whatever was fueling it. The huge ball of fusion plasma soon filled the main viewscreen. The crew beheld the sunspots boiling on its surface.
Perspiration beaded Gott's forehead, even though the temperature on the bridge had not changed.
"Hard about helm!" barked Gotts at Diotima.
The chroniton missile continued straight into the star's corona, unable to break the massive gravity or block the intense radiation.
"Well done." Freud told her, and snapped his fingers. Suddenly, Diotima went glassy eyed and slack jawed. Then Freud noticed that everyone on the bridge had gone glassy eyed and slack jawed as well. "Oops!" breathed Freud. Everyone, that is, except for Lycia, watching with keen interest, despite the excruciating pain of her fracture, as the formerly levitating phaser tumbled to the deck from out of mid air.
Freud tapped his pocket watch: "Freud to Transporter Room, jah? Beam Diotima and Lycia directly to Sickbay." Then Freud addressed the rest of the Bridge Crew: "Awake!" He snapped his fingers again, and all awoke. With her one good arm, Lycia had Diotima in an inescapable Aikido hold, as they beamed to Sickbay.
"Make ready to beam Mudd and Alexander back onto their shuttle." ordered Gotts.
The Eilbird was immediately tractor beamed out from the shuttle bay, and deposited at just the right time, place, course and velocity, as required by history, and Mudd and Alexander where beamed aboard her. And, all according to plan, the Eilbird's computers had been reprogrammed not to register USS Anfortas, warping away. The new software then erased every trace of itself.
Even as Lycia found therself stumbling around in a darkened cargo bay, her com badge disabled. Meanwhile Diotima came to in the aft compartment of the Eilbird, smiling.
Captain's log, Commander Sean Gotts reporting:
Diotima has out foxed us! She had preprogrammed the ship's computers, not to beam her to Sickbay, but rather onboard the Eilbird, where she effectively holds Mudd and Alexander hostage!
Onboard the Eilbird, Diotima came forward to the cockpit and presented herself as stow away. But how could Harry and Alexander object? The shuttle was stolen, after all! She made herself pleasant, concealing her seething contempt for the two of them. Harry, irregardless of his exaggerated geniality, never actually let down his guard. But Alexander she found very open. And when she had him right by the airlock, and ready for a quick telekinetic press of a button or two, she relented, cursing herself secretly. But there would be another way, all in good time!
Harry observed, shrewdly. Well, none of his business!
And so it came to pass, that Gott's intercepted Diotima on Platonius and urged her to stop this foolishness instantly! Diotima looked him in the eye:
"Now that I've actually met Alexander, I've really tried to give him a chance.
But Alexander, though a nice enough guy, is a big looser hanging out with the likes of Harry Mudd. And, thank you, I'd still rather keep Parmon, with many substantial virtues for all his conceited callousness, as my ancestor."
"Our sensor scans have found Mudd and Alexander both very much alive and well. So, just what are you up to?"
"I have already revealed myself to Parmon and his concubine, Antimone. They are both over awed, and now the more determined to procreate. So, now I'll come quietly. The mission is accomplished, so far as I am concerned."
Unseen, Antimone, wiping away her silent tears, crept out from behind the tapestry to watch as Gotts and Diotima beamed back to the USS Anfortas, in hiding inside the tail of a passing comet. But, mysteriously, Diotima found herself stricken, and fell to the floor of the transporter pad! Her eyes looked up perplexed and imploring! Gotts explained:
"I saw to it that Antimone was eves dropping as you just denigrated Alexander, the dear friend of her childhood. For it had been thus, at that moment, all along, that she had first realized that it was Alexander she still truly loved. We are full circle. Destiny is fulfilled."
"Hypocrite! You have and will always embrace manufactured fate when it suits you, and scorn the lives it twists!"
"What are you talking about?" "Lycia, of course." "What?" "That's just precious! Your pathetic version of me never found out! Well, now you'll all just have to live with it!" And, with that scornful rebuke, Diotima finally lost consciousness.
The bridge of the starship USS Myriad was cgarredand battered bridge. The bridge crew had only just observed USS Anfortas attempting pursuit of a runaway chroniton missile, into the past. And now, from the frame of reference of Myriad, Anfortas was seen transfixed on the event horizon of the temporal wake of the chroniton missile. Then, suddenly, amazingly, Anfortas broke loose again from the event horizon on the temporal wake of the retrograde runaway chroniton missile, to veer sharply toward Myriad, helpless, wrecked and adrift in space. Anfortas swooped and veered into the cross fire between the two warring armadas!
"Mr. Gotts." It was Khakhor returning to the bridge. Gotts vacated the command chair for his Captain. And Captain Khakhor lead the Anfortas through a flawless set of evasive maneuvers on a brilliant targeting run for the damaged starship Myriad, the prize over which the opposing armadas battled for possession.
Suddenly, as Anfortas closed on the Myriad, on static filled subspace channels the traitors piteously begged for mercy. However Khakhor only laughed at them, wickedly! - to Freud's horrified fascination.
"But Lycia scanned them when we first arrived here." protested Sam "The Myriad was dead. No power. No life signs at all!" "Perhaps they cloaked their presence from us." surmised Brunt. "Or, then again, perhaps we did change the time line after all!" countered Darius. "Look!" cried Sam, zooming the bridge monitor in on what the sensors had just detected. There was a live chroniton missile imbedded right through the hull of USS Myriad!
"They're trying to disarm it." commentated Lilith, listening to the subspace transmissions through the crackling interference. "But they are way over their heads, aren't they?" surmised Brunt.
Kakhor grunted in agreement. "Putty in my hands!" gloated Brunt. But the Starship Myriad had already begun to waver and fade, stretch and buckle.
"No. The Myriad is about to be strewn as shrapnel to the ends of the universe and from creation to the end of days, unless we obliterate her first!" stated Khakhor, flatly.
The bridge crew fairly wept for pity, but they obeyed commands, as the pleading on the subspace became the more frantic and heart rending. Children cried, women wept, and gown men screamed! As Anfortas, weaving and dodging fire, closed upon the Myriad, Khakhor himself took Lycia's tactical station and manually targeted the wreck, with minute precision and obscene relish! On the bridge monitor, the wounded ship of the traitors was consumed in a blinding flash!
Brunt watched on, dreams of avarice dashed. "My career and my fortunes could have been restored all in one fell swoop. But now it's all lost!"
"Well, that butchery made us no friends." observed Darius, as USS Anfortas warped out, both the Orion pirates and the Tholians giving hot pursuit. Fortunately, they thwarted one another, combating even over the privilege of vengeance. Or else the Starship USS Anfortas would have never escaped. "-And didn't really solve the problem either." added Sam. "Stray chroniton missiles are still inevitable as long as their conflict continues." "But we prevented a catastrophe and kept Federation technology out of the wrong hands." replied Gotts, firmly, "It had to be done." as Anfortas made a clean get away.
"Specialist Cytock," Khakhor queried Lilith, brightly "Did we get a lock?"
"Survivors beamed directly into the brig, Captain." admitted Lilith, abashed. The bridge crew was visibly relieved. "Excellent! I will so enjoy a stimulating interrogation!" remarked Khakhor, delighted with humself, rising from his command chair and swaggering for the turbolift.
"He certainly has you Hu-Mons pegged for soft." observed Brunt." "Yes, smug SOB.!" agreed Gotts, in bitter sarcasm and self loathing. "And they swore no Klingon would ever be bucking for my job!" quipped Freud.
Khakhor turned about to address the bridge crew before stepping into the turbolift:
"The Myriad followed us here to Rigel, and I intend to find out why and how. And what has become of the expedition to Andromeda." "That's not your problem any more!" protested Brunt. "You have your mission. I am your mission! Just transfer the crew of the Myriad to Starfleet intelligence and let's get on with the gang busting and asset seizures!" "File a protest!" retorted Khakhor "And never challenge my authority in front of my crew again... -certainly not without a weapon in hand!" "If you find me insufferable now, Captain, wait until I have you audited!" "Hmm... Come with me!" Brunt yelped and cringed as Khakhor took him by the scruff of his collar. "You can soften up the traitors for Lycia!"
And at this, Brunt could actually be seen to perk up again. "An audit?"
Meanwhile, Gotts headed down to Sickbay to check in on Diotima, whom Gotts found there still sedated and restrained on a biobed with Lycia by Diotima's bedside, visibly moved to concern.
Lycia was rubbing her smooth right shoulder, just set and regenerated by Dr. Gogol, who was finishing up treatment. But only massive Gogol's alien appendages where visible reached into the chamber built for Humanoids. And now they where already retracting again. Lycia rose gracefully to her feet before Sean Gotts. "Fit for duty, Sir." she announced, clear and dulcet as a bell. "Very good. Carry on." replied Gotts, brusquely and still helplessly abashed for all of his dicipline.
And Lycia, turning on her sandal spiked heels, departed. "Take your time." Gotts called after her in after thought "The crew of the Myriad is busy sweating out Ferengi back tax forms about now!"
"Deltan females generally walk on the balls of their feet, the extended and languorous mating signals being their norm." observed Freud.
"French women are naturally flirtatious." replied Gotts "But Deltans are simply more comfortable in heat. Actually balanced by it, unlike the Orions, I'd say. And I'd actually be disappointed if those spikes aren't sharpened and baited."
"So why sandals?" "To show off her fused toes, would be my guess, like the absence of hair, but unusual even among Deltans, and prided by the Deltans as yet another sign of their evolvedness. Just another genetic roll of the dice." "Quite a specimen, yes. But I confess I that never really understood women." agreed Freud.
"But you certainly were correct in predicting what Diotima might try to do." countered Gotts. "Did she really take you so by surprise, Herr Dr. Freud? Your timing on the bridge was right on the mark. Although, I'm not quite sure how you pulled it off. And after some of the words you and I exchanged, I admit I became unsure of your loyalty."
"Well, as long as you where the commanding officer, in that capacity I obeyed your orders, as I am bound by Starfleet regulations so long as you are fit to command... -that is, unless and until you ever become unwell or unsound of mind, of course -- and even no matter how we may differ. And in the end, much as I strove to preserve Diotima's well being, in my responsibility, I simply could not stand idle while she became a threat to others."
"Did the alternate Diotima ever discuss other members of the crew with you? I mean, anything mission critical, not privileged confidences." "No. There wasn't much time. You discharged her from my care, remember? And why do you ask?" "A cryptic comment she made."
Gotts played back his last conversation with the alternate Diotima from the transporter room logs:
"Hypocrite! You have and will always embrace manufactured fate when it suits you, and scorn the lives it twists!" "What are you talking about?" "Lycia, of course." "What?" "That's just precious! Your pathetic version of me never found out! Well, now you'll all just have to live with it!" And, with that, the image of Diotima slipped into mute unconsciousness, and Gotts switched off the monitor.
"Perhaps" mused Freud "the change in Diotima's lineage was no accident. Could it possibly have been some round about way of guiding us to find out something about Lycia?"
"On who's part?" wondered Gotts "It boggles the mind! Have we no clues what this all might be about?"
"I am privy to this much" replied Freud "Lycia owes both her rapid career advancement and the price on her head, to her Starfleet entrance exam essay which was immediately classified and buried."
"What? How can that be?"
"Her paper was a speculation regarding the possible applications of the radical bioengineering technology of the Kelvans, by which it was possible for the Kelvan invaders to assume Human form, or any other shape they might have desired, to survive when their vessel was wrecked upon the shoals of the Great Barrier at the galactic rim."
"Evidently, someone influential approved heartily, and someone else, no less powerful, disapproved just as vehemently!" surmised Gotts.
"My own suspicion" confided Freud "is of fall out from the Temporal Cold War, the work of competing time traveling factions from the future or possible futures, in which the Kelvans have arrived from the Andromeda, bringing with them the technology by which any biological form can be given any other configuration at will."
"Well, for one thing, to share with all other life forms the Deltan defense against Borg assimilation."
"You see, the Deltans are innately imbued with the most sublime of Trojan Horse defenses against the depraved indifference of the impersonal Borg collective conciousness. Whenever the Borg assimilate a Deltan, they incorporate the profound connection of which Deltans are renowned, and therefore collectively suffer just the same as their victims! Naturally, Borg, even at the heights of Borg monomaniacal quest for perfection, are seldom known to assimilate Deltans, no matter the opportunity and despite every benefit they might hope to accrue by incorporating advanced Deltan evolution."
"How frustrating that must be for the Borg! But how would Kelvin Technology avail the rest of us of such protection?"
"By literally becoming Deltan at will! -Or anything or anyone else at all, virtually at will! Can you imagine the sociological implications of such a technology?"
No." gasped Gotts. "I can scarcely begin to. You where right, all along. I'm further out of my depth that could ever occur to me! I just put the uncomfortable completely out of my mind, depersonalized it all, and mulishly forged ahead. I wasn't at all as clear as I pretended. And I really pushed and pushed and pressed our luck all the way. I don't know how to thank you for intervening in the mess I almost made of things, Dr. Freud."
"But then, no one may ever adequately thank you for the responsibilities you shoulder, daily. No, no, I'm just a supporting bit player." insisted Freud "with no ambitions beyond that."
"Just out of curiosity, what exactly did you do on the Bridge?" Queried Gotts, as off handedly as he knew how...
"Well, I just...it's...it's rather clinical, Mr. Gotts." "I see. No I don't. But for whatever it's worth, Doctor Sigmund Freud, remember that she'll feel no pain when the timeline change finally catches up with her."
"Would your own execution be something all that much less to dread, if you knew it would be totally painless, Sean Gotts?" asked Freud.
But before the Gotts could answer, Diotima's face changed itself back to the way he remembered it.
"We call it the Doctors Dilemma, when we must choose which patients to save. And that's bad enough. But weighing the broader ramifications, making tactical decision at the cost of others one is quite another thing entirely." "Do you speak from experience, Dr. Freud?" "I do. And so much for the Olympian larger view, Mr. Gotts. That way lies the vanity and moral corruption of excessive detachment. Witness your own fantasy of becoming a Vulcan..." "How did you... ?" "Your current selections in culture and cuisine have not gone unnoticed by the crew, particularly not by your friends." Freud assured him.
"If you could, Herr Doctor Freud, would you really alter personal history for the betterment of each patient?" "Surely, that would be a remarkable tangible realization of all that Psychoanalysis has only accomplished symbolically. And, conversely, though as many as there are who have regrets in the past, I warrant that there may be as many others who at some point in their lives yearn just as much to see what will follow them, in the future, from the seeds they have sown."
"You know, Herr Doctor Sigmund Freud," nodded Gotts sagely, "I would not at all be entirely surprised."