THE PARADOX GAME

by Trekmaster47

Striding out of the turbolift, Captain Kirk walked to the Enterprise-A's science station. "What is so important that it needed to interrupt my lunch, Spock?"

"Captain Kirk." he said, turning around in his chair with his fingers steepled. "Commander Uhura has detected a distress beacon in the area."

Kirk turned to her. "Have you been able to isolate its location?"

"Yes, sir," she said, "It's not a race we're familiar with. The vessel's design doesn't match any type we know of."

"But, they're obviously familiar with the Federation and our distress signals," Kirk said, walking toward his command chair. "Do you have a visual?"

Spock tapped a few buttons on his console, and the viewscreen lit up, showing a large, disc-shaped ship pocked with portholes. "The vessel's mass is approximately one thousand, two hundred fifteen point seven times the mass of the Enterprise."

Chekov turned to Sulu at the helm and mouthed the word BIG.

"Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, plot an intercept course," Kirk ordered as he sat in his chair.

They both began pressing buttons on their consoles, and when they stopped, Sulu said, "Course plotted and laid in, sir."

"Best speed." Kirk said, then turned to Uhura. "Open a channel to the ship."

She worked at her station for a moment, then said, "No response, Captain."

Looking thoughtfully at the ship, he said, "Keep trying." He turned to his right. "Analysis, Spock?"

"Sensors are unable to penetrate the ship's hull, Captain, but I believe their propulsion system is much like ours, judging by their plasma emissions. There is an unusual background radiation present on the ship that is clouding sensors, but should not be harmful to a boarding party."

"Is there anything wrong with the ship, judging by their plasma emissions?"

Spock looked through his sensor hood, then said, "There are subtle differences in their exhaust trail. I am uncertain as to whether they are design differences or results of a malfunctioning engine."

"Any theories on how to adjust the sensors?"

"I would need full use of the science section for four days to calibrate our sensors accurately."

"Thank you, Mr. Spock." Kirk said as Scotty entered the bridge and took his place on the portside engineering station, never once taking his eyes off the screen. "Tactical analysis, Mr. Chekov."

Working his station, he answered, "Captain, some of the ship's emitters have a radioactive residue that indicates recent weapons fire."

Any evidence of other ships in the area, destroyed or otherwise?"

"None, Captain." Chekov replied.

"Slow to half impulse," Kirk said, "Full stop at 20 kilometers."

"Captain," Sulu said, "something else is registering on the short-range sensors."

"What is it?" Kirk asked.

"It appears to be some sort of distortion."

Spock assessed the sensors and said, "It is a rift. A hole, if you will, in the fabric of time and space. Elements in and around the rift also correspond with the radiation on the ship's navigational deflectors."

"So, our mysterious ship created the rift?"

"Precisely, Captain."

"So the radiation isn't from weapons fire," Kirk said, leaning forward in his chair, "In a way that's a relief, but where did the ship come from? The other end of the galaxy? Or a different time altogether? Any response, Commander?"

"None, Captain." Uhura said.

Spock interjected. "They may be injured or dead, Captain. We have no way of confirming with sensors."

"Suggestions, anybody?"

Scotty said, "We're not going to be able to beam in the usual way without sensors. The only hypothesis I have is that we may be able to beam a transport-enhanced platform inside using visual sensors to find a place to put it. We'll have to experiment first."

"Have an experiment arranged." Kirk said. "In the event we can't transport through, what else can we do?"

Sulu said, "Since there don't appear to be any airlocks, we can create one by cutting into the hull. A shuttlecraft should be able to form a hard seal with the equipment it already has, and we can transport to and from there."

"Any other suggestions?" None were ventured. "If the transport experiment fails, we'll go with Mr. Sulu's idea. Set up whatever you need, Mr. Scott, and do it quickly. These people need help."

:-:

Scotty entered the transporter room ten minutes after Kirk's order and started preparations for beaming in a transport-enhanced platform into the alien ship. If he could find an open space near some windows, he could use navigation coordinates to beam it in.

He opened a channel with the bridge and the shuttlecraft Schrodinger, where Sulu was starting a slow orbit around the alien ship, pointing visual sensors into each window, hopefully enabling Scotty to find an empty room to beam in the platform.

After three minutes of window shopping, he opened a channel to the bridge. "Stop it there, Mr. Sulu. I think I've found just the place."

On the bridge, Kirk said, "Give Mr. Scott pinpoint coordinates, Mr. Sulu. Energize as soon as you think you are ready, Scotty."

"Coordinates received." Scotty said as he manipulated the controls, beaming the platform from one of the engineering bays.

:-:

From the screen on the transporter console, relayed from the shuttle, Scotty watched it materialize, then small lights started flashing, rotating around the base.

"It's in there, and it's broadcasting a clear signal."

"Excellent work, Mr. Scott," Kirk said.

"Don't thank me yet, Captain. We only know that inanimate objects can be beamed in, but now we have to rate it for biological transport."

He grabbed a small canister and placed it on the transport pad. "If this jar of biological matter comes back in one piece, we can transport aboard."

Taking the controls once again, Scotty beamed the canister, then after seeing it materialize aboard the platform, beamed it back. He then grabbed a tricorder and analyzed the canister. "We got lucky on the first try, Captain. The module is also reporting an oxy-nitro atmosphere on the ship, not too much unlike ours. Ready to beam aboard on your command."

:-:

Kirk rotated in his chair to the right. "Spock, lead a team onto the vessel. Chekov, yourself and five guards. Hand phasers only. Scotty, beam yourself and five of your best engineers over. Bones, have you been monitoring?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Medical team of five, including yourself."

They all said, "Aye, sir" as Spock and Chekov left the bridge via the turbolift.

Less than a minute later, Kirk saw the teams materialize on the transport platform. Spock took out a communicator and spoke into it.

:-:

Uhura turned and said, "Captain Spock is signaling from the ship, sir."

"Put him on speakers."

"Transport complete, Captain. We shall endeavor to help the ship's crew if any are still alive."

"Good luck. We'll monitor from here. Kirk out."

On board the alien ship, Spock closed his communicator as Scotty ventured out into the corridor beyond the beam-in point. Soft illumination activated as he passed room after room, showing nothing but empty chairs.

Spock looked at them and said, "This species would appear to be humanoid."

McCoy looked into the room. "How do you figure that, Spock?"

"The chairs are suitable for a bipedal form, with one pair of armrests, indicating that they have two arms."

Scotty saw a panel set into the wall and popped it open. He saw some light blue wires, and analyzed them with a tricorder. "These appear to be some sort of duotronic data cables." He pulled one out and looked at it.

Just then, the ship lurched, and everybody steadied themselves against the wall.

"Scotty, put that cable back!" McCoy said.

Spock's communicator chirped. "Spock here."

Kirk's voice filtered through. "Spock! What did you do? The vessel's come to life!"

On the Enterprise viewscreen, the alien ship turned in a leisurely arc and propelled itself away. Green energy glowed from its forward emitters.

Sulu turned around. "Captain, that's the same energy that it used to form the anomaly!"

Kirk was about to reply, but the emitters released their energy and carved a hole in the space in front of the ship, then proceeded through it.

Sulu asked, "Captain, should I lay in a pursuit course?"

"I want to know where it's going first. Analysis on the star fix on the other side of that hole?"

Chief Peart, Spock's replacement, pressed a few buttons on the science console, and looked at the screen above the station. "Captain, it appears to be the same point in space, about 80 years in the future."

"Uhura, send a message to Starfleet, coded General Order 45. Tell them we need backup, at this future point in time. Sulu, pursuit course. Full impulse."

The Enterprise followed the ship through the anomaly as Kirk wondered how his actions would be viewed by Temporal Investigations. He looked at the alien ship on the viewer, seeing it increase speed, then turn and enter warp. He ordered Sulu to match every move it made.

"Captain," Chief Peart said, "a Federation ship is entering sensor range on a parallel pursuit course. It is broadcasting identification code, identifying itself as..." He turned around, surprise on his face. "It's the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, hull registry NCC-1701... D!"

Kirk wondered what had happened in the intervening century, that his ship had been destroyed, and that the same fate had occurred to two subsequent ships with the same name.

"Captain, we are being hailed by the Enterprise-D, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, commanding."

"On-screen, Uhura."

The viewscreen shifted from the alien ship to a static-filled haze which resolved itself into the image of a bald man wearing a red uniform and a gold badge with the same arrowhead style on it that Kirk's had.

Kirk rose and stood behind the helm console. "This is Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship..." He paused for a second, gathering his thoughts, "Enterprise-A, though I'm sure you're already familiar with me and my ship."

Picard smiled and nodded. "Indeed we are, Captain Kirk. I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and this is my first officer, Commander William Riker." A bearded man also in red entered the picture.

"Pleased to meet you, Captain, Commander," Kirk said. "Have you been briefed on what we're doing here?"

"Not fully, Captain, for this mission has been classified and encrypted at the highest level. We were requested by name to come to this point in time, and that is all we know."

Kirk's eyebrows climbed his forehead. "I didn't request the Enterprise-D by name."

"That is what our records show you did, though it was probably entered as soon as you returned from this mission."

"So we did return from this mission."

"Yes, Captain," Riker said, "though it would be in your best interest if we didn't elaborate further."

"Understood," Kirk said. "Do you know where this ship came from? Which race is flying it?"

Picard glanced down and to his left offscreen, then back. "That information has also been encrypted. We know as much as you do at this point."

:-:

On the alien ship, the security detail preceded the rest of the team, looking through every door they passed for threats. All they saw were empty rooms filled with rows of chairs, bolted to the floor.

"The ship appears to be deserted." Spock said to McCoy. "We have yet to encounter any members of its crew."

The doctor harrumphed as he looked up from his tricorder. "Damned bulkheads must be made up of whatever the outer hull's made out of. I can only scan this corridor, nothing beyond. I don't get anything else except when we open a door." He poked and frowned at his scanner again.

"What is it, Doctor?"

"It's what I don't see that's bugging me. I'm continuously running an intensive scan for DNA spoor, and I'm picking up nothing. In all my years of xenomedicine, every life-form I've encountered leaves a residue behind it wherever it goes."

"Spoor? You mean, like a trail that a dog or stalking cat could follow by smell?" Chekov asked.

"Exactly. The medical tricorder can pick up any residue, even if it's only one part per million. I'm reading absolutely nothing at all."

"Any DNA spoor eventually breaks down after a significant period of time," Spock said, "Sooner if the starship's atmosphere scrubber is self-cleaning."

"So these sections of this ship have been abandoned for a while?" Scotty asked.

"This section has, at least," Spock added, "Somebody is piloting this ship, that much is logical, but they apparently have never come down here for what would appear to be decades."

"What do you think about what we have been encountering in these rooms so far?" Chekov asked.

"Chairs. Evidence of bipedal lifeforms, but we have neither encountered beds nor workstations. Logically, this ship was never intended for deep space exploration. Perhaps its use was for a mass exodus of thousands of people."

McCoy said, "It looks like whatever their destination was, they reached it a long time ago."

Chekov said, "Well, they're obviously using it again. I wonder what its use is now?"

:-:

Something was niggling at the back of Kirk's mind as he conversed with Picard, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He found it interesting that he was being shown this glimpse into the future, and no doubt Kirk would be interviewed by the Department of Temporal Investigations when this mission was completed, as Kirk had been several times before, but what would happen when he told them about Picard? Should he withhold the fact that there will be three additional ships named Enterprise? He thought about what would happen to his Enterprise-A if there was eventually going to be an Enterprise-B, what happened to it if there was going to be C, and so on for the D. The reason there was an NCC-1701-A is because he was forced to destroy the original NCC-1701. So what happened to my ship? Kirk asked himself. It must have been destroyed. Was she destroyed under my command? With me still on the bridge? This glimpse into the future opened up whole cans of worms that could quite possibly alter the future. So why are we allowed to see it?

Sulu interrupted Kirk's thoughts. "Captain, the alien ship is building up power again."

"We see that the ship is going to make another rift, Captain Kirk. Should we attempt to intercede?"

"I don't think we want that strange temporal radiation directed at either of our ships."

A voice spoke to Picard on his bridge. "Captain, part of the file from the 23rd Century has decoded itself. We must allow the ship to form another rift."

"Whose orders are these?" Kirk asked, annoyed at having to follow orders from a decoded file.

Picard leaned over to his left and read the console of the crewman who spoke. "The signature on the report is Kirk Epsilon Delta Five Blue."

Kirk leaned forward in his chair, his brows knitting. "Well, that's interesting. Who am I to argue with myself? No intercept course. Let it go for now."

More radiation erupted from the alien ship, formed a rift and proceeded through. As the Enterprises followed, the crew winced as a shrill whistling penetrated the air of both ships while in transit. Kirk clapped his hands over his ears.

:-:

On the D, Captain Picard shut his eyes at the pain the noise was causing. But just as soon as it started, it tapered off and stopped. He looked at Riker, and his left hand covered his eyes as he rubbed his temples with his thumb and fingers.

Picard turned to Troi. "Counselor, can you sense any lifeforms aboard the alien ship?"

She narrowed her eyes and stared at the far wall, seeing beyond it. "Only the nine members of Captain Kirk's crew."

"Nobody else?"

"None."

Picard turned to Riker. "The ship is automated?"

She said, "Or it is crewed with lifeforms undetectable to Betazoids. Remember that our brains cannot read Ferengi and a few other races."

Riker added, "Or they have some method of shielding."

"Captain," Enisgn Ro said from the helm.

Picard looked at her, then saw she was looking at Data, whose head was reclining back on the headrest of the chair at the ops console.

Riker stood and walked toward the android, whose eyes were open and staring at the ceiling. As the first officer looked more closely, he could see that Data's left eye was twitching. He looked at the aft of the bridge. "Geordi, Data needs you."

The VISORed chief engineer came down from running a check on the computer and engines at the console behind Worf and looked at Data. "He appears to be rebooting his systems. Whatever that sound was, it overloaded his neural net. He should be back online after it completes, which only takes two minutes."

Ro spoke. "Captain, we're approaching a star system."

"Where are we?" Picard asked. "When are we?"

Ro tapped buttons at her console. "Astrogation is computing, but it's taking a while."

Picard ordered another connection opened to the A. As Kirk appeared, Riker swung Data's ops console to get a better look at the sealed orders. "We're several million years in the past. The star is listed as 40 Eridani A."

"We're in the Vulcan system?" Picard said as Kirk looked off to his right with a concerned expression on his face. "Captain, your first officer is Amb–- er, Captain Spock, am I correct?

"Yes," he replied, "and he's on the alien ship."

"Scan the system," Picard ordered. "What's happening on Vulcan now?"

Ro said, "There are currently no life-forms on the planet, Captain, just a sea of primordial organic elements."

Suddenly, alarms rang on both ships. Both Kirk and Picard said, "Report."

Ensign Ro said, "The alien ship is firing its weapons, but not at either Enterprise."

Worf said, "They're firing at the asteroids beyond the fifth planet in this system."

Riker looked intently at Data's console. "Another portion of the sealed orders has been revealed, Captains. Most of the asteroids in this area will introduce large amount of heavy metals into Vulcan's environment."

"The alien ship is going to kill the Vulcans before they can evolve into what they are today." Kirk said. "We need to stop them. Sulu, put us between the ship and the asteroids."

Picard said, "Captain Kirk, our ship has stronger shields and can absorb the weapons fire."

"My ship is smaller and my experienced helmsman can dodge the beams."

Riker stood up and put his hand on Picard's shoulder. "I have a better idea."

:-:

The alien ship continued to hammer away at the asteroids with its multiple weapons emitters when the Enterprise-D approached the field of fire with the Enterprise-A close to the D's ventral hull, both starships' shields combining and strengthening each other for the coming onslaught.

Whomever was firing the ship's weapons noticed the starships and directed its fire elsewhere.

Both Enterprises turned and entered the field of fire again.

Once again, the ship turned and continued firing, and the Starfleet ships followed.

After doing this twice more, the D fired a brace of photon torpedoes. They struck the alien ship's shield just above the particle emitters.

The ship stopped firing and pulled away, accelerating to full impulse power.

The A and D separated and gave chase. Once the ships cleared the Vulcan system, the alien ship went to warp, powering up its time portal energies.

"Here we go again," Kirk said as he turned to the officer manning the science station. "Mr. Peart, what elements were the stray asteroid fragments composed of? Will Vulcan's evolution survive them?"

Lieutenant Gary Peart lifted his head from the viewer, turned and said, "They were composed of copper, Captain. As we all know, Vulcans are copper-based life-forms. This element will help, rather than hinder."

And we were there when it happened, Kirk thought.

The alien ship created another portal. As the three ships crossed over into whatever space was on the other side, Data, having recovered from the last portal crossing, heard a high-pitched sound that increased in volume as they proceeded through the rift. He shut off his hearing internally before it overloaded his positronic net again. He looked behind him and saw his crewmates clapping their hands around their ears and slowly falling unconscious to the deck because they didn't have the same shutdown function.

He ran a scan on the Enterprise-A and saw fluctuating life signs. The same phenomenon was happening to them.

The three ships emerged onto the other side of the rift and began drifting.

Data carefully restored his hearing in increments, hoping the sound had gone. He had fully reinstated it when a message appeared on his console from Captain Kirk's classified file. He read the short series of numbers and realized it was the Enterprise-A's prefix code. He entered the code, sent it through communications to the A, and tied in both computers.

"Computer." The D's computer signaled readiness, and he continued. "Release chemical compound A.D.T.H. at four parts per million, into the atmosphere of both ships."

There was a slight hissing noise, and a moment later, the crew started waking up. Data checked the sensors, and the same thing was happening on the A.

"What happened?" Picard asked.

"The rift emitted a signal that rendered the crew of both ships unconscious. Captain Kirk's crew is waking up as well."

Picard saw the alien vessel on the screen. "That ship is drifting. Is the shield still intact?"

"Aye, sir." Data replied.

"What was that phenomenon that knocked us out?" Riker asked, "And can it be replicated?"

"Why would you want to replicate it?" Ro asked, "I still have a headache."

"Look," Riker pointed at the screen. "Nobody's steering that ship. Perhaps we can use that sound to stun them again."

"External and internal sensors were engaged when the sound manifested. "Data said. "I believe the circumstances can be replicated, but it would take both science and medical personnel to analyze it."

"And engineering staff to rig it to be used," Geordi said.

Tones emitted from Worf's console. "Sir. Captain Kirk is taking this opportunity to retrieve his crew."

On the screen, the Enterprise-A began a strafing run on the vessel's shields.

Picard said, "Mr. Data, Mr. La Forge, have your teams work on the sonic blast. Contact Dr. Crusher as needed." He watched the alien vessel for signs of life for a moment, then said, "Mr. Data, anything from the database?"

Ensign Ro piloted the D to the other side in order to avoid being hit by the A.

:-:

McCoy returned to consciousness as the ship quaked around him. He looked up at the Denobulan face of Nurse Drel, who removed a hypospray from his neck, then he looked at the other members of the boarding party, who were also unconscious. "What happened?" he asked.

The nurse said, "There was a noise, and everybody dropped to the deck except for me."

McCoy reached into his bag and pulled out his hypo. "You take the engineers, I'll get the security officers."

Moments later, Chekov stirred and brought a hand to his pounding head. "Anybody get the hull registry of the dreadnought that hit me?"

"Help us out here." The doctor handed him a spare hypo. "Inject yourself first."

They all administered to the rest of the team as the floor bucked underneath them. Spock took out his communicator and talked to Captain Kirk, who confirmed they were rendered unconscious by a sonic pulse, and that whomever was piloting the ship appeared to be out as well.

Scotty looked at more computer consoles. "This big alien beastie runs on duotronic technology."

Chekov looked surprised. "This ship runs on Federation technology? How did they get it without the Federation noticing? Or did we give it to them?"

"Aye, that's the big question. We would be familiar with this race if we gave it to them willingly."

"They might have taken it from a wrecked Starfleet ship, but all wessels are currently accounted for."

"Are ye thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Espionage? That's a frightening thought."

Spock flipped his communicator closed. "Captain Kirk says not to sabotage the ship if at all possible. We need to make our way to the life-forms piloting it."

"But where would the bridge be?" Scotty asked.

"Well, if it is made with 23rd Century Starfleet technology," Chekov said, "I'd assume it's engineered like a Starfleet ship."

"Bridge on the top center? That'll be a climb."

"Then we should proceed quickly," Spock said as he approached a ladder.

:-:

"Captain," Data said, "we have a contact on extreme sensor range. It is moving at warp 1.5. The astrogator puts our current space-time position inside Sector 002 on the 19th of October, 2084."

"We're rather close to Earth, and it's 20 years after First Contact," Riker said.

"Could that be a ship from Earth, Commander?" Picard asked.

Data said, "Confirmed, Captain, but not from the sensors."

"From Captain Kirk's message?"

"Affirmative." He then perused the decoded log with a confused expression. "It specifically says here, 'Tell Uhura about the Tutankhamen.'"

"Commander Uhura is Captain Kirk's chief communications officer," Riker said after a moment's thought.

"Mr. Worf, hail the Enterprise-A."

Kirk appeared on the viewscreen, saying, "We're rather busy here, Captain Picard."

"We have received information from your future self that we need to relay to a member of your crew, Commander Uhura."

A woman in the background turned in her chair and said, "To me? What is the message?"

"It says to tell you about the Tutankhamen, whatever that is supposed to mean."

"The Tutankhamen? The ship sent to investigate the planet that would eventually be Earth's first off-planet colony?" Her eyes widened in surprise. "When and where are we?"

Data replied. "Year 2084, in Sector 002."

"One of my ancestors was one of the engineers aboard the Tutankhamen in this time and place."

"Our sensors are picking up a vessel at extreme range. Perhaps it is the ship you describe."

"Then we need to intercept that vessel, because I know exactly what happened to that crew in the year 2084."

Kirk turned in his chair. "What happened?"

"Their food supplies became contaminated because of a radiation leak. My ancestor, Donald Sloan-"

Picard interrupted, "A descendant of Lily Sloan? Zefram Cochrane's business partner?"

"Yes. Donald claimed to have a vision from the future, in which he received the technology for the food synthesizer."

Data cocked his head at an angle, then said, "It was alleged that he was psychologically compromised because of prolonged periods of isolation during this journey, but he was the inventor of record."

"Isolation?" Kirk asked, "Didn't you say there was a crew onboard that ship?"

"They're all in chemically-induced hibernation because of the food shortage. Donald chose to remain awake in order to pilot the ship and resolve any problem that the computer wouldn't be able to handle. There was only enough food remaining for one."

"You're saying that we are the vision he had?"

"He claimed to see a UFO, which he was taken aboard, then the technology was given to him by his descendant."

"The Department of Temporal Investigations is going to have a fit about this, if it's true," Kirk said.

Picard saw Riker roll his eyes, remembering his own experiences with the DTI.

Data looked at the readout on his console. "Captain Kirk's log says that this is exactly what is supposed to happen."

Picard said, "We had better take the commander aboard this vessel. We can intercept the Tutankhamen faster."

"Wouldn't doing that be altering the past?" Uhura asked.

"That ship has sailed. Now we need to minimize," Riker said. "We could beam her directly to Deck Seven."

The holodeck, Picard managed to refrain from saying aloud. "What program would we use?"

"I suggest Meditation 2-B," Troi said.

"Agreed," Picard said, "Captain Kirk, we'll send over beaming coordinates."

"Commander, report to the transporter room." Kirk turned back to the viewscreen. "We'll stay here, monitor the alien ship, and notify you of any changes."

:-:

Donald sat on the bridge of the Tutankhamen, alone with both his thoughts and company.

I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse... I must be going stir crazy if I'm actually considering eating a horse... Where's that crossword puzzle book? Naw, I finished that last month... I wish I could listen to some music, but I wore out my mp3 player in the first few weeks since they went under... I could steal Desiree's... No, I promised her I would never go into her quarters... Besides, she's in there right now, pale as a ghost and still as the dead. That would be too creepy... What's she hiding in there? Do I want to know? No, I want to respect her privacy... But I'm so curious, I'm dying to know... She won't notice if I just take a peek... No, Donnie! You promised! Oh, here I go again... Wait, what was that? Could have sworn I saw something moving in my peripheral vision... There it goes again! Am I hallucinating? It's moving at incredible speed! It's getting bigger! I hope this is a Vulcan ship like Zef and Grandma said they saw... Oh... My... Goodness... that thing is huge! What's that written on it? U.S.S. Ent...

He screamed, screwed his eyes shut and raised his arms as a bright light appeared and overwhelmed him, then died as soon as it appeared. He opened his eyes and saw that the ship had disappeared. He then looked down and saw the ship he was sitting on the bridge of was also gone.

I'm in deep space!

He started hyperventilating, then noticed that wherever he was, there was air. And gravity. And a floor.

This is impossible!

"Jam'bo, Donnie," said a voice behind him. He turned around and saw a woman wearing red and black standing there.

"Who are you? You speak Swahili? Where am I?"

She raised her hands in a placating gesture. "Slow down and relax, Donnie."

He slowed his breath, but his heart kept hammering.

"My name is Uhura."

Freedom, he thought, She does speak Swahili.

"Donald Sloan."

"I know who you are, Donnie," Uhura said, "I know where you are going and what you will do when you get there."

He became confused. "You have seen my future?"

"I am from the future. The far future. What you and your crew will do in the months ahead will become legend."

"Time travel? Uncle Zef and Grandma Lily said they met people and other beings from the future."

"Do you believe them?"

"Zefram recanted his story publicly, but Grandma said they were all true. I thought she was having a 'senior moment'."

Uhura laughed.

He gazed at her blankly. "So you know the truth?"

"Yes, I do. But since I'm from the future, there is very little I can tell you."

"Well, what can you tell me, Uhura?"

"I am going to tell you how you can resolve your problem with your food supplies."

"How can you do that? Wouldn't you be altering the future?"

"Actually, I would be preserving it. Our history books say you invented this technology."

He furrowed his brow in confusion.

"I know, Donnie. Temporal mechanics confuses me, too. Just take this technology and say you invented it."

"Just like Uncle Zef? The newsnets said he was crazy before he disappeared. I don't suppose you know anything about that particular mystery, would you?"

"My commanding officer solved that mystery. I wasn't there."

Sloan shrugged. "You and your tantalizing riddles, Uhura. It's giving me more of a headache than temporal mechanics." He looked up. "And this dizzying backdrop for our conversation, too. How is this possible?"

"It's a holographic simulation on the starship you saw. We're not really exposed to space." She rapped her heel on the floor, and part of the starfield briefly pixellated.

He saw it, then turned around and gazed in wonder. "So what is this technology you're going to give me?"

"It's called a food synthesizer. All you need is a basic organic substance, and you can create any food you want by slightly rearranging its molecular structure."

"Like goulash?"

"If you know its molecular structure, yes."

"What kind of organic substance is required?"

"The planet you are about to arrive at has a plant similar to soy that will be all you need."

He glanced around again. "Where is this machine?"

Uhura smiled. "I'm not just going to give you one, Donnie. You're going to pass this off as your invention, so you're going to have to build a synthesizer out of spare parts. That way, you will be familiar with it when your crewmates wake up."

"Well, at least I'll have something to occupy my time for the next four months."

"That's a good man." She took a deep breath and sighed. "Look, I have to go. As soon as you return to the Tutankhamen, I'll upload the schematics. I really wish I could spend more time with you, but the crew of this ship is involved in a mission, and we need to get back. Good luck, Donnie."

"Thank Providence for such good fortune." He glanced around once again, then said, "Just one more thing. Some of the crew want to name this colony New Earth, and others think it's too hackneyed. What do we wind up calling it?"

She looked thoughtful for a second. Donnie wondered whether the gears spinning in her head was about whether to tell him or not. Then she said, "When I want to name something, and English fails, I choose another language. Remember what your brother said. 'Compromise.'"

"You didn't answer my question, but thank you, Uhura."

He embraced his descendant, still marveling at this twist of fate. As soon as they separated, the blinding light took him again. He recognized the flight deck of his ship once more, except this time, there was a flashing light on the console to his left. He sat down and pressed a button. On the screen, a progress bar appeared, signaling the transfer of an electronic file. The hollow bar filled in from left to right, counting up from 0 to 100%.

When it finished, the magnificent ship slowly passed over the dorsal hull of the Tutankhamen from back to front.

Sloan saw it accelerate, then break to starboard and disappear in a flash of brilliant light. His gaze lingered on that region of the stars for a moment, then he called up the schematic.

"Time to get to work." But what was that she said about my brother Willie? Compromise? I don't remember him saying that... He was a lawyer... But he always sounded smart... Why did he always sound smart?... Because he spoke occasionally in Latin, res ipsa loquitur and all that... Uhura also mentioned something about other languages as well as compromise... Hmmm... New Earth... In Latin...

Sloan transferred the schematics to a tablet, then got up and walked to the ladder that would take him down to the engineering section.

"Terra Nova. I like it."

:-:

The A was still trying to batter the alien ship's shields down with limited success when Ensign Lifeson, the relief communications officer, reported that the D was on her way back and signaling mission accomplished.

"Let me know when Uhura is back onboard," Kirk said, "I hope that Picard joins us in attacking the ship," he said to no-one in particular.

"Incoming hail, Captain." Lifeson said.

"Put it up, Ensign."

Picard appeared again and said, "How are we working on that shield, Captain?"

"Mr. Scott says that the ship's computer control is centralized, and inaccessible except for key points. They still have yet to find any interfaces with direct access."

Picard rubbed his chin in thought, then said, "We have to get that shield down." He looked behind him. "Mr. Worf, target photon torpedoes, full spread."

A deep voice said, "Firing."

:-:

On board the alien ship, everybody lost their footing as the deck heaved.

Scotty jumped off the ladder he was two rungs up from the deck, then opened his communicator. "Scott to Enterprise-A! We're tryin' to work over here!"

"Sorry, Scotty." Kirk said. "Picard used a brace of his photon torpedoes."

"I have no idea why anybody in the future would need to pack a wallop like that!" Suddenly, the console in front of him lit up. "And that wallop just woke up our hosts!"

:-:

The alien ship came back to life and leapt to full impulse power, once again warming up its particle emitters. The Enterprises gave chase as another hole was rent in the fabric of space-time.

As all three ships emerged on the other side, Picard opened a channel with Kirk before Ensign Ro said, "Captain, the astrogator does not recognize our position. We're in unexplored space."

Data tapped at his console. "Captain Kirk's log offers no coordinates, but it is giving a warning about the planet we are approaching. The inhabitants are highly industrialized and warlike. Approach with caution."

Worf's console gave its own warning. "Captain. The alien ship is powering up its weapons."

"This could get ugly," Kirk said. "We could start a war, and we haven't even said hello yet."

Picard stood and walked between the helm and ops consoles. "The D will fly ahead, make peaceful contact and warn of our rogue ship. You do what you can to slow it down."

Kirk, clearly unused to having decisions made that he did not come up with himself, said, "Of course. Your ship is faster. Do it. Kirk out." The screen winked off, showing the A taking up position in front of the alien ship.

"Ensign Ro, best speed for the planet. Engage."

The D warped off as the other ships began exchanging fire.

:-:

30 seconds later, the D arrived at the planet the alien ship was heading for. It looked like some sort of planet-wide industrial complex with all sorts of military ships in orbit and under construction on the surface.

"Captain," Data said, "This used to be an M-class planet. There are large amounts of greenhouse gases in the air. No traces of ozone in the upper atmosphere. There are dilithium mines on the landmasses and oil drilling in the oceans."

"Just like what would have happened on Earth in the 21st Century if sustainable energy was not developed," Riker said.

"And encouraged by the right people," Troi added.

Tones emitted from Worf's console. "We are being hailed."

"On-screen," Picard ordered.

The view of the planet was replaced by a brown-skinned alien wearing an armor-plated environmental suit.

"I am Overlooker Tesna. What is the meaning of this intrusion?"

"My name is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Enterprise-D. We come in peace, but we have to warn you that a ship whose people we cannot make contact with is approaching this planet with its weapons armed. Our sister ship is trying to halt their aggressive advance. Is there anything we can do to convince you not to destroy it?"

"There is probably very little you can do if their intentions are hostile," Tesna replied. "I will protect this facility from attack. It is very valuable to our civilization and alliance." Picard could see small graphics being projected on his suit visor's heads-up display. The alien paused to examine them, then said, "The technology of all three of your ships is similar. How do we know you are not here to declare war upon us under the guise of some foolish squabble amongst your own people?"

"There is little I can prove to you in the time it will take for the larger vessel to arrive. I can only advise you to trust your own instincts. Our sister ship, the smaller one, has members of its crew aboard the larger one. They were trying to investigate the larger ship before it adopted an aggressive posture and left their mothership behind."

"How many of this ship's crew are aboard?"

"Fifteen," Picard said, wondering where the Overlooker was going with this question.

"Our sensors detect a group of fifteen life-forms in the lower part of the ship, and a group of five in one room in the top center."

Picard was incredulous. "Your sensors can penetrate the ship? Ours cannot. You say there are only five besides ours?"

"Yes, and the five are similar to each other, whereas there is much diversity among the fifteen. But both groups differ from each other."

"We appreciate this information you have given us."

Tesna looked to his left and said, "Order all available ships to my location. Battle formation woznari!"

Data spoke up. "The alien ship has entered the system. ETA in one minute."

Picard's pulse raced as he searched his mind and training for a resolution to the impending situation. He looked up and said, "Tesna, if there is nothing we can do to appease your battle instincts, may I beg of you... please... not to fire the first shot?"

Wedge-shaped ships from all over the planet made a formation around the ship the transmission was coming from, energy weapons heating up on every one of them.

Tesna said, "Your request is granted." The screen returned to the view of the planet.

Picard said, "Ensign Ro, remove us from the line of fire."

The D moved off. The A broke off its attack and maneuvered to join it.

The bridge officers of the D seemed to collectively hold their breath as they awaited the impending attack.

Data announced the kilometers separating the fleet and the alien ship as it closed distance.

"Five hundred thousand kilometers... Four hundred thousand... Three hundred thousand... Two hundred thousand... Captain, the alien ship is slowing."

Both sides in this potential conflict seemed to stop, pause and stare each other in the eyes, daring the other to blink first. Pregnant moments elapsed with the promise of mutual destruction, and the deaths of Kirk's crew. Picard, tugging at his uniform collar because of his rising internal temperature, was reminded of similar times in history, one in particular where a man drawing his sword to kill a nearby snake was the flashpoint for a bloodbath between opposing nations standing on either side of a battlefield.

He could feel his heart hammering against his chest.

"Captain!"

Starting at Ro's exclamation in the silence, Picard looked at the screen, where the alien ship broke to port and then warped out of the planetary system.

As the A turned to give chase, Worf rumbled, "Message from Overlooker Tesna, Captain. It says, 'Consider yourselves lucky this day.' It also contains a program for sensor calibration."

Picard walked back to his seat. "Reply with, 'You have our gratitude. I hope the next meeting between our peoples is less eventful.' After that, implement that sensor program." He sat down and straightened his uniform shirt. "Ensign Ro, pursuit course, best speed."

Data was typing furiously at the Ops console, and pages of calculations were scrolling past at blinding speed. All of it stopped, and he turned around. "Captain, the science and medical departments and I have managed to develop a program that replicates what the time-hole accomplished before we encountered the Tutankhamen."

Picard said, "You mean we have the means to render the pilots of the alien craft unconscious?"

"Here we go again," Ro said, "Another time-hole."

"Yes, Captain. With your permission, I will send the file to Commander La Forge for immediate installation into the main subspace antenna."

"Captain Kirk is signaling," Worf interjected.

"Open a channel into this conversation," he said to Worf, then to Data, "Make it so." Picard tapped his commbadge. "Picard to Engineering."

"La Forge here."

"Commander Data has just sent you a file. How soon can this program be implemented? We need to render the aliens unconscious as soon as possible."

"I can have it done in ten minutes. We're going to need to evacuate the forward saucer section above the antenna grid from Deck 13 down in order to execute it, or everybody in those sections will be affected as well."

"Understood. Install the program." He looked to Worf and said, "Coordinate the evacuation with Doctor Crusher."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk said, "Did I just hear that you can knock out the aliens in ten minutes?"

Picard said, "Correct, Captain."

"How do you suppose we're going to be able to knock out the ship's shields before they regain consciousness?"

"It's going to take a lot more firepower," Geordi replied.

"Aye. I agree. At least three ships," Scotty burred from the alien ship, "but I might have something to say about that if the plan I'm formulatin' goes through."

"Captain, we're back in Federation space," Ro said.

"Position report," Riker ordered.

"Two light-years Galactic East from the Endicor system. Stardate 42547.1." She turned from her console to look at Picard. "That's three years ago."

"This place sounds familiar," Riker said. He tapped at his console, calling up the LCARS library. "Captain, we've been here before." He sent the data to Picard's armrest screen.

Picard signaled Worf to mute the audio as he looked at the log, then remembered what they did here at that time.

The duplicate shuttle El-Baz, carrying a duplicate of me from 20 minutes into the future, drifting in space.

"Mr. Data," he asked, "do you remember the time-hole we encountered in this region?"

"Aye, sir. I have been scanning for it since Commander Riker mentioned our previous presence in this system. It is not registering on our sensors. That is, if it still exists."

"Remember, we couldn't detect it until it was too late." Picard looked at the screen and mused for a moment. "My decision to break that loop may have dissipated it. I have a feeling that the alien ship is somehow responsible for that anomaly."

"Negative, sir." Data said as he turned around to look at Picard. "The exotic energy is the same, but according to my analysis, the alien ship did not create it. The hole was too small to accommodate such a large ship."

Picard looked at Data with bewilderment. "I thought we had no record of the time anomaly. How were you able to compare?"

"The Federation has no record of it other than my personal memory banks."

"Understood." He motioned to Worf to re-open the channel. "We need options as to how we can disable that ship's shield."

Scotty spoke. "Starfleet had devised a protocol for routing the ship's phasers through the warp core 13 years ago. It worked, but it created an instability in the warp drive. I improved it by routing the energy through the deflector dish, but deemed it necessary for use only in emergencies."

"This is definitely an emergency," Kirk added.

"Geordi, you remember our similar emergency?" Picard said, remembering the deflector dish blast they tried to use to destroy the Borg ship just before the battle of Wolf 359.

"I remember, but I agree with Mr. Scott. It's going to take at least three ships to deactivate that shield."

Scotty spoke again. "It's do or die now. We canna let that ship disrupt any more of our history."

"Scotty, you said you had a plan?" Kirk asked.

Worf said, "The sensors have been recalibrated. We can now see inside the alien ship."

Data said, "The sonic weapon is ready, Captains."

"Thank ye, lads. Captains, it will take too much time for me to explain now. Trust me, I'll make that third ship available. Direct that sonic blast at the alien bridge now, then take down that shield!"

"Captains," Geordi said, "it's going to take all available energy from both ships to shoot down the shield, including auxiliary, life support, sensors, every last erg!"

"Make it so, Mister La Forge."

"Scotty to engineering. Chief DiFalco, implement emergency protocol Scott Omega-four-seven-Theta."

"Fire the sonic blast," Picard ordered.

Ro said, "I have no idea what other ship Mr. Scott is referring to. There are none in this sector."

"I have faith in my Miracle Worker. Kirk out."

"Firing antenna burst," Data said.

The sonic blast was directed at the alien bridge, and the ship began drifting again.

In Engineering, Geordi worked his panel in front of the warp core. He called out, "Thirty seconds to full power!"

The warp power on both ships funneled through their deflector dishes. The lights on both ships went dark, and all both crews could hear was a humming sound, growing in intensity.

:—-:

In Ten-Forward, Guinan walked to the floor-to-ceiling windows and watched the weapons do their work. The A's beam hit first, then the D's. Then, to her amazement, a third beam came out from somewhere off the A's port side.

:-—-:

Seconds later, the alien ship's shield fell. Kirk and Picard, operating on optical sensors, maneuvered their Enterprises inside of the ship's shield perimeter before it could be re-established.

As the main lights came back on, Kirk stood up and ordered, "Sulu. Destroy those shield nodes. Fire!"

:-:

Picard ordered, "Target shields. Fire!"

:-:

The shield node exploded under a hail of phaser energy and photon torpedoes.

:—-:

A puzzled look appeared on Data's face. "The source of that third deflector beam was... the Enterprise-A."

Picard was puzzled. "The third beam? Don't you mean the second one?"

"Negative, Captain. Observe."

The main viewscreen shifted to show two identical starships next to each other, both bearing the same hull registry of NCC-1701-A.

Ro turned around. "Receiving a signal from Captain Scott. He wishes the away team to be beamed back aboard the A immediately."

"Make it so." He stood up, walked to Data's console and said, "How is this possible?"

"Perhaps Captain Scott is precisely the miracle worker Captain Kirk purports him to be." He looked up at Picard. "An explanation should be forthcoming."

:-:

Scotty and his team materialized on the pad of Transporter Room 1 on the A. He took the turbolift to main engineering, where he inserted his tricorder into a slot in the main console. A progress bar popped up on the status board as he toggled the communications switch. "Scott to bridge."

"Kirk here. Scotty, I can't believe my eyes. Are you responsible for this duplicate?"

"I will be as soon as this program uploads and main power is restored. We're gonna be doing a little time-traveling of our own, Captain."

"How far, Scotty?"

"Twenty minutes into the past."

"How did you come up with the technology for time-travel through that length of time?"

"I didn't, Captain. I stole it from the aliens. I noticed that their technology is based on ours. They managed to harness an exotic particle they call a chroniton, which allows them to travel through time. I've set their emitter to leak chroniton particles, which our Bussard collectors are scoopin' up now. All we need is to funnel them through the deflector dish."

"But that's not all you're going to need."

Scotty turned around in shock at the unfamiliar voice and saw two people he had never seen before, one human man with black hair and one tall, thin, pale-skinned humanoid alien that looked like the people he had seen in the memory banks of the ship he just left.

:-:

"Scotty tells me that as soon as the appropriate program is uploaded and the relevant energy absorbed, we'll need to be underway at a moment's notice," Kirk said.

Picard nodded. "Understood, Captain. I guess I'll be speaking with you as soon as everybody has recovered on board the other Enterprise."

On the screen, Sulu turned to Kirk and said, "Scotty says we're all set to go, and we're receiving help from two people who have appeared and assured us they are not intruders."

"What is he talking about?" Kirk said, "The intruder alarm hasn't gone off."

Suddenly, the transmission ceased, and the A went to warp.

Picard asked to nobody in particular, "Intruders? What was he talking about?"

"He was talking about us, Captain," said a familiar voice from behind him.

Everybody turned around and saw Wesley Crusher walking down from the rear of the bridge. Everybody smiled as Picard stood up and shook his hand. He turned to Wesley's left and said, "It's good to see you as well."

The being known to the Enterprise-D crew as The Traveler bowed formally. "I am pleased to see you again, Captain."

Worf grasped Wesley's shoulder in greeting, then tapped his commbadge. "Doctor Crusher to the bridge, please."

"Is there an emergency, Lieutenant?" came her reply.

"No, but you should be here."

"Not that I'm not pleased to see you, but why are you here?" Picard asked.

"We will explain everything to both your crews as soon as the crew of the Enterprise-A recovers, which should be right about now."

On the viewscreen, the running lights on the remaining A started blinking again.

"Hail them, Lieutenant."

Worf tapped at his console, and the bridge of the other ship appeared, with Kirk in the center seat just like a few seconds ago, but being examined by Doctor McCoy.

"Captain Picard," Kirk said, "These two gentlemen said you know them."

The viewscreen panned to the right to show an identical Wesley and Traveler standing on their bridge as well. Both Wesleys and both Travelers waved at each other.

"If you would do the honors, Wesley." Wesley said.

"Please, Wesley, we insist." the other Wesley said, graciously, holding a hand out entreatingly.

"As you wish, Wesley."

At that moment, the port turbolift door opened to admit Beverly Crusher. She stood there for a moment, her mouth agape, then she ran to him. "Wesley!"

When their hug ended, she looked at the viewscreen in confusion. "And Wesley, too?"

"Hi, Mom."

"This is all very heartwarming and confusing, but if we could please get on with it?" McCoy said, irritated.

"Yes," Enterprise-D Wesley said. "We've been following both your ships all over this strange journey you've been taking, but you've never really been in one place long enough for us to reach you until now."

Enterprise-A Wesley spoke up. "The alien ship you've been chasing all over the place is currently a training vessel for young Tau Alphans."

"Tau Alphans?" Kirk said.

"Yes, members of my race." The A Traveler said. "We come from the planet Tau Alpha C, but as nobody in both timelines knows, we did not come from there originally."

D Traveler said, "Yes. Our native homeworld was destroyed after our sun turned into a red giant. We foresaw this coming, so we built a ship to ferry off those young and old of us who could not travel by... phasing, as you called it, Wesley."

"Yes, we witnessed that on our ship as you and young Mr. Crusher enabled us to travel backward in time twenty minutes," Kirk said.

"So why was the ship careering through time as if it were out of control?" Picard asked.

The A Traveler answered ashamedly. "Five Tau Alphan youths who were learning to phase and meld with technology took it out for a... 'joyride,' as Wesley referred to it."

"This is outrageous," Picard sputtered, "They could have caused who knows how many temporal paradoxes if it weren't for Captain Kirk's crew and ourselves. I want to beam over immediately. Number One, you have the bridge, Mr. Worf, you're with me."

All eyes followed Captain Picard as stormed off the bridge.

:-:

The transporter released Picard and Worf on the bridge of the alien ship. Seated on the floor in the middle of the area were five young Tau Alphans, being looked over by a third pair of The Traveler and Wesley Crusher.

"My, you two certainly get around," Picard said to them, then turned to the other five, saying, "You all should be ashamed of yourselves."

"We were just playing a game," the oldest of them said.

Picard reddened. "A game? Your rash actions could have caused irreparable temporal paradoxes. You could have even caused one of the most noble races in the Federation to have ceased to exist. The Vulcans are one of our founding members."

"But..."

"Do not attempt to excuse your actions." He looked around. "This is duotronic technology. Since this ship was registered by Captain Kirk as unidentified, it is obvious that your race stole this technology."

The others had the sense to look penitent, but the adolescent Tau Alphan that spoke before looked with fear at the intimidating presence of Worf, then plaintively regarded Picard. "Our race did what we had to in order to survive!"

"That may be so, but this very technology was supplied, however involuntarily, by the Federation, which you almost destroyed because you wanted to have fun!"

Worf approached Picard and placed a hand on his arm as the tirade continued. "You might very well have destroyed yourselves by commandeering this vessel!"

The Traveler stepped forward and said, "Captain, please collect yourself. Rest assured that appropriate punishment awaits them on Tau Alpha C."

"No, I believe that they should be interviewed by the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations, and given a full account of what their actions could have caused if both Enterprises had not intervened."

Wesley said, "Captain Picard, please. I think your point has been made."

Picard looked at him, then at the Traveler, then at Worf. The look in his eyes told him that this outburst was irregular even for the Klingon's standards.

Picard gave the five youth one last reproving glare, and noticed that the one had spoke now stared at him in open defiance. He turned to look at Wesley, straightened his uniform top, then tapped his commbadge and said, "Enterprise-D, two to beam back."

:-:

On the Enterprise-A, Kirk and McCoy were standing and speaking to Riker and the strange, golden-skinned being named Data as Picard re-entered his bridge and sat heavily in his command chair.

Continuing what he was saying before the interruption, Kirk sighed and said, "You're sure this has to happen, Commanders?"

"Yes," Data replied, "Your log states unequivocally that we are required to erase your memories of our ship and our crew."

"I was wondering, throughout this mission, why you had chosen to reveal yourselves, although it would have been difficult to work with you if we hadn't seen your faces."

"Our ship is equipped to shield any and all scans from ships from the past from any references to the future, but you also stated in your log what you said just now."

"Funny, I don't remember making this log."

Riker smiled. "You haven't yet. You're going to have to record it before we erase your memory of us."

"You're sure you will only remove those specific memories?"

Beverly Crusher said, "Yes. My staff has the techniques and the technology."

Kirk looked at McCoy, who said, "I don't doubt them. Besides, I feel comfortable in the hands of such a beautiful colleague." He turned and looked at Beverly.

:-:

The medical staff of the D interspersed themselves throughout the A, working on each individual crewmember to erase their memories of the Enterprise-D and placing them under sedation on their beds.

Kirk was in his quarters, having finished the log Picard's ops officer would use, then specifically classified it and all of his crew's recent logs under General Order 45, temporal lockdown, to be revealed 80 years hence.

The door to his quarters sounded.

"Come in."

Beverly Crusher and Leonard McCoy walked in. "It's time," McCoy said.

"Oh, very funny, I think you missed your calling as a comedian, Bones," Kirk said with a smile, "I should have guessed you would be the last one to have this procedure done."

"I wanted to supervise the whole process and make sure it was safe. Especially for Spock, who went down with more than a few questions about the procedure."

"I endeavored to answer them, even though they would eventually be erased," Dr. Crusher said.

"Who did you say invented this procedure, again?"

"Dr. Katherine Pulaski. Hearing her name repeatedly is not going to make it more difficult for me to remove it."

"Sorry. Maybe I just like hearing the sound of your voice."

She looked at him with a mock-reproving glance. "Doctor McCoy, really. Flirting with a woman young enough to be your great-granddaughter?"

Kirk laid down on his bunk. "Before I go, maybe I have a question. That Lieutenant Commander Data. What race is he from?"

Crusher took a hypospray from her kit. "Let's just say... he's a very complicated person."

The sedative was injected, and Kirk's eyes closed.

:-:

La Forge tapped his communicator as he sat at the operations table of the D's engineering section. "Bridge, this is engineering. The Bussard collectors have absorbed the Traveler's prescribed amount of particles, Captain."

"All medical personnel have returned from the Enterprise-A. So, I guess we're in your hands, Mr. Crusher, both of you, since you're currently manning the helm on board the Enterprise-A," Picard said, "Our courses are laid in. Let's get out of here before they wake up."

"Aye, Captain," Wesley said from the Traveler's side, both of them also at the table.

La Forge looked at him and smiled.

Wesley smiled too, sheepishly. "Yes, it's been a long time since I've been in Starfleet, but when you hear that commanding voice, it's hard not to fall into old habits."

As the warp core increased its steady pulsing, La Forge said, "Now, you're absolutely sure it was us that created that rift? We can't figure out any other way to get back to our time?"

The Traveler exchanged glances with Wesley and said, "We are certain. The rift you encountered last year on Stardate 45652.1 in the Typhon Expanse is necessary to get everybody back to their original times."

"I've reviewed the log. We all did. I still can't believe we were stuck in a temporal causality loop for 17 days." Geordi shook his head. "Now you're suggesting we're about to go and create it?"

"Yup," Wesley said. "You remember the U.S.S. Bozeman? The ship you encountered that was 80 years out of service once Data stopped the loop? That part of the rift is how the A gets back to her own time."

"And the loop was caused by us getting back to ours? It makes a weird sort of sense."

"Wesley!" said a voice behind him.

Crusher turned around and smiled at the face of his old friend, Reginald Barclay. He was wringing his hands together nervously.

Wesley exclaimed, "Broccoli!"

Reg's smile faded. "I asked you not to call me that. The name got around so quickly, the captain accidentally called me that while we were on the bridge."

Wesley shook his hand. "I'm sorry... Bar-ccoli," he said quickly and with a big grin, "We really need your help."

Barclay eyed The Traveler. "You... need my help?"

"Yes. Do you retain any of the knowledge download given to you by the Cytherians?"

Barclay's eyes widened at the thought of merging with the Enterprise's computer two years ago because of mental contact with an advanced alien race. "No. They took it all back and returned me to normal."

"Well, what could be considered normal for you, Reg," La Forge said teasingly, and with a smile.

Barclay gave him a brief glance with no expression.

"Did you record any logs during that time?" Wesley asked.

"Those were taken, too."

"There has to be some record of your thoughts."

"Why do you need them?" Barclay asked.

"We need to get the Enterprise-D back to her own time. Transporting this ship and her crew across space is something we can do," he said, gesturing to The Traveler, "but across time takes more doing. Seeing anything the Cytherians left behind might help."

"Wait a minute," La Forge said, "I remember you were spending a lot of time on the holodeck at that time, but you weren't showing any symptoms of holodiction."

Barclay's eyes lit up. "The Einstein program. I was talking with Albert at length for several hours. I saved the program."

:-:

The heavy holodeck doors parted, and La Forge, Barclay, Wesley and The Traveler entered.

Barclay paused at the arch and said, "Computer, continue Barclay/ Einstein program 2A. Display all chalkboard materials."

The simulacrum of Albert Einstein appeared, as well as twenty-four green chalkboards filled with mathematical equations.

Wesley and The Traveler walked among them, searching for anything useful.

The hologram of Dr. Einstein that was extrapolated from pictures and video from the 20th Century stood frozen, waiting to be addressed.

La Forge looked at it. "Why don't you go and say hi, Reg?"

Barclay started nervously wringing his hands again. "There's really no point."

"Why not?"

"We don't have anything to talk about anymore."

La Forge examined one of the equations. "Did he really neglect to account for the fact that space also moves?"

"I honestly don't remember."

After about five minutes, The Traveler said, "I believe these twelve will do, Wesley."

"Yup." Wesley transferred the holographic algorithms to a padd. "That one looks very interesting," he said, pointing at one of the boards. "Apparently Barclay attempted to explain the biological chemistry of love."

Something I wish I had retained, Barclay thought to himself.

:-:

Once again seated in engineering, Wesley, The Traveler and La Forge opened a channel to the bridge.

"We have arrived at the coordinates in the Typhon Expanse."

"We're ready down here, Captain."

"Excellent, Mr. Crusher. Proceed."

Wesley and The Traveler sat facing each other across the status table. They closed their eyes and concentrated, with Wesley's hands on the padd and The Traveler's hands on the edge of the table.

The warp core started pulsing faster. La Forge pressed a few buttons and said, "I'm releasing the chronitons. They're gonna wreak havoc with the dekyon particles that exist naturally in this region."

Wesley and The Traveler started phasing. La Forge stared at them, always having marveled at how certain horizontal slices of them disappeared while others remained. He then looked up at the warp core, which was pulsing far much faster than normal.

:-:

On the bridge, everybody looked at the screen. A cloudy rift in the fabric of space/time was opening. Ro remembered it from the first time they encountered it. Unconsciously, her mouth dropped open in awe and fear.

Unbidden by anyone, the Enterprise-D moved forward and through the rift. Ro looked down and saw that none of the thrusters were firing.

She looked up again, and saw that the rift had disappeared. She checked the astrogator, which recognized their position. She turned around and looked at Picard and Riker. "We're right back where we started."

Work checked his instruments. "Starfleet buoys confirm. The time is Stardate 46343.1."

Picard tapped a button on his armrest. "Engineering, we have returned. Well done, Mr. Crusher."

"La Forge here, Captain. They're gone."

Picard paused and exchanged glances with Beverly, seated next to Riker. "Until next time, Wesley."

Beverly smiled. "Hopefully sooner, rather than later."

Worf's console beeped. "Captain. Receiving a messaage from Starfleet Command, DTI branch."

"They don't miss a trick," Riker quipped.

"Transmission includes rendevous coordinates with the DTI-assigned U.S.S. Bozeman."

Picard sighed. "Morgan Bateson's ship. Wait until he hears what rift we just created."

"Coordinates relayed to the helm."

"Let's face the music. Ensign Ro, warp five." He turned around. "Mr. Worf, are you looking forward to working with Agent Lucsly again?"

Worf groaned and rolled his eyes.

Straightening his uniform shirt, then motioning forward with his right hand and two extended fingers, Picard said, "Engage."

:-:

Captain Kirk woke up with a slight headache and looked at the chronometer. It had been ten hours since Dr. McCoy put him out. Was it Dr. McCoy? He thought about why he was sedated, but certain thoughts were incomplete.

Those incomplete thoughts were interrupted by the intercom bosun's whistle, followed by an unfamiliar voice. "Good morning, crew of the Starship Enterprise. Hope you enjoyed your naps. We apologize for such extreme measures, but they were necessary, and we will explain. Captain to the bridge, please?"

:-:

Kirk, Spock and the alpha-shift bridge crew arrived on the turbolift and found two people waiting for them.

"Who are you, and what are you doing on my ship while we were all unconscious?"

Crusher had altered his face so he wouldn't be recognized visually in this century or the next, by camera or memory. The Traveler altered himself to appear human for the same reason. "My name is Wes. Call my companion The Traveler. As of right now, you are in the 24th Century. We have been sent by Starfleet to return you to your original time, 80 years in the past. Your memories of this century have, by necessity, been modified."

"That appears to be a logical necessity, though the gaps in my memory leave me in a state of confusion," Spock said as he took his chair at the science station.

"We were chasing an alien ship that could travel through time. We sent aboard a landing party," Kirk said.

"Yes. You received backup from another Starfleet ship from this century. Your logs have been locked under General Order 45, and will be sent to Memory Prime."

Sulu checked his instruments. "Astrogator does not recognize our position."

"This area will not be explored until 80 years from your time," Crusher said, "As such, your subspace radio has been locked out from communicating with any beacons or relays until you have returned to the 23rd Century."

"Confirmed, Captain," Uhura said, tapping buttons.

Kirk turned to The Traveler and said, "So you two are here to help us get back to our century?"

"You are correct, Captain," he replied.

"Are you both human?"

Wesley and The Traveler exchanged glances, and Wesley said, "More or less."

"So, how do we get back to the 23rd Century?"

"It's complicated, but we can create a rift in space-time with the aid of our powers, the chroniton particles your Bussard collectors have in store, and... Mr. Spock."

Spock regarded them from behind steepled fingers and lifted an eyebrow. "With... my help?"

"Yes," Wesley said, "We both are not thoroughly familiar with this technology, so we need to enlist your knowledge of it via mind-meld."

"A mind-meld would be inadvisable. Both minds would be fully open to one another. Since you are from outside our time period, any knowledge you have erased from our minds and have also sequestered under General Order 45 would be accessible to me."

"I have received advanced training that would deny you access to my knowledge. I would only have access to your own."

"I must profess curiosity about this technique. But the most experienced officer on this ship regarding its technology would be Mr. Scott."

"I know, but I can't mind-meld with him."

"And thank heaven for that," Scotty huffed.

Kirk, Uhura, Chekov and Sulu almost burst out laughing.

"Where would this meld have to take place?"

"In engineering, because we have the power to meld with technology as well."

"Oh, that's pretty much the same thing." McCoy said.

"The good doctor would have to monitor us, in case he should need to use his beads and rattles."

"Now look here, you-"

"It would seem we have no choice in the matter," Kirk interrupted, "Are you up for it, Spock?"

"Indeed."

Kirk got out of his chair and headed to the turbolift. "Then let us repair to engineering."

Chekov put a hand over his eyes and groaned at the bon mot.

:-:

Wesley and Spock sat in front of each other in front of the warp core, and The Traveler perched himself at Wesley's right, with his back to the core.

Spock raised his right hand and placed it on the meld points on Wesley's face. All three closed their eyes as Kirk, Scotty and McCoy watched intently.

"My mind to your mind," Spock began the Vulcan mantra, "My thoughts to your thoughts."

The warp core started pulsing quickly for a few moments, then started oscillating between high and low frequency.

Kirk stared in amazement as horizontal slices of The Traveler's body started phasing in and out. Wesley and Spock started grimacing in what appeared to be pain.

"Whatever it is they're doing, it doesn't look like it's working," Scotty said.

McCoy went over and started scanning Kirk and Wes with his medical tricorder. "You're right. The meld isn't working. I'm going to need to separate them if this continues."

The Traveler stopped phasing and opened his eyes. "You are correct. Mr. Spock's knowledge of engineering is vastly superseded by his knowledge of the physical sciences." He went back to his concentration.

McCoy remembered the days after the Genesis planet exploded when Spock's body had been reconstituted, and his mind and body needed to be re-fused back together. The meld between him, Matriarch T'Lar and the doctor was difficult back then, just as it appeared to be now. It lasted for hours.

McCoy left his reverie and walked over to Kirk and Scotty.

"That's it! The mind bridge!"

Kirk was nonplussed. "What are you talking about?"

"T'Lar was skilled in the mind bridge! A mind-meld between three people! Spock and I were melded with her when she was extracting Spock's memories from me. If I was exposed to that technique, Spock was too!"

"You're not saying..." Scotty mumbled.

"Yes! He can meld with you and Wes at the same time!"

Scotty's hands dropped to his sides. He had never melded with a Vulcan before, and his trepidation was written all over his face. "I really dunno about this, but if it will help get us back to our century..."

He pulled up a chair next to the Traveler, sat in it, and brought Spock's left hand up to his face.

After a moment, the warp core's oscillation stopped, and the pulsing increased.

All four of them; Spock, Scotty, Wes and the Traveler started phasing in and out like the latter did earlier.

The intercom whistled, followed by Sulu's voice. "Bridge to Captain Kirk. I don't know how we're doing it, but we're being pulled toward the rift. The thrusters are not engaged."

Kirk punched the intercom button. "Do not resist, Mr. Sulu. We're going home."

The Enterprise-A entered the rift and emerged on the other side. Sulu worked his console to confirm their position and said, "Captain. We've come back to the coordinates and time where we first encountered the alien vessel."

Uhura opened her intercom and said, "Our sealed records have been sent to Memory Prime and the Department of Temporal Investigation office in Greenwich Village on Earth, relayed through Starbase 86."

:-:

Kirk switched off the intercom and looked back at the four. The Traveler opened his eyes first, then Spock, then Scotty, then Wes. Wes's first expression was one of relief. They all stood up, and Spock and Scotty walked over to Kirk and McCoy.

"I have received word that we are back in our proper time and place." Kirk smiled. "Thank you. Can we give you a lift anywhere? I imagine the DTI is going to want to interview you."

Wes spoke up. "We appreciate it, Captain. But... thanks but no thanks." Both he and The Traveler phased, and soon disappeared from view.

McCoy's tricorder whirred. "Both of you appear to be experiencing no ill effects from the meld, though you appear to be a bit shaken, Scotty."

"These are typical effects from one's first meld. They are to be expected." Spock said.

"'Typical', he says," Scotty retorted, looking at the deck beneath them, "There was nuthin' typical about that."

Kirk addressed Sulu again. "Helm, take us to Starbase 86, ahead warp 7. Tell Commodore Parsons to expect us. I suppose DTI is going to want to stop by for an interview."

"If your definition of 'interview' means a rigorous round of the third degree, then yes," McCoy said, rolling his eyes.

Kirk headed for the turbolift, saying, "Spock, Bones, let's go mind the store."

:-:

"The Enterprise has successfully docked, Commodore," the lieutenant in charge of the hard dock reported.

"Acknowledged." Commodore Parsons was looking at the navigational sensors, examining the coordinates when Enterprise first reported seeing the alien vessel, sent a General Order 45 packet, vanished, then reappeared at different coordinates and sent yet another packet.

"These readings don't make sense," he said to nobody in particular, though his first officer was sitting nearby. "But I suppose they will make sense in the context of General Order 45. I need to make sure there are no more unidentified vessels in the area." He turned to his right. "Commander, what is the nearest vessel we can send to check out this phenomenon?"

"The U.S.S. Bozeman, sir."

"Bateson's boat. Soyuz class. Those improved sensors we've just installed will be perfect for this mission. That salty old dog will have the time of his life. Open a channel."

"Aye, sir."

:-:

On board the Tau Alphan ship, the third set of Wesley and The Traveler, as well as the five adolescents, were preparing to return to their home space.

The eldest youth - the one that protested against Captain Picard's stern lecture - was sweating from the temperature of his rage. He didn't like being shouted at like that, and now he faced unknowably severe punishment for organizing this joyride. He didn't want to be punished. He was angry at this Picard for scolding him and his friends, and threatening him with interrogation from the Federation time police.

He couldn't concentrate. His hands were shaking. He had to escape. He stood up and looked at The Traveler and his human companion defiantly.

They looked up at him in puzzlement.

He gave them a cocky grin as he phased and disappeared from the bridge of the ship.

His phased body and consciousness sailed through the void until he found the time tunnel the older Federation ship made that only extended twenty minutes into the past. He merged with it and waited for this Picard to come back.

He didn't have to wait long...