Kirk had chosen, instead of a more traditional formal meeting on the matter, to allow his senior staff to assemble on the bridge during their normal shift. With a quiet word to the departmental assistants, the bridge was kept temporarily free of the parade of those seeking signatures and authorization, except of course in the event of a true emergency. Staring directly at the supernova that was the subject of this meeting, the talk was also informal, and yet extremely telling.
"All I am saying is, I vwould not call that survival. Not for themselves, and certainly not for their children. Vwhat kind of future do you present them vwith, vwhen Doomsday is a known and set date certain? Do you give up, stop having offspring at a certain point?"
Sulu, who had tried to argue for mere survival when nothing else remained, now started to go along with his younger friend. "Going that way, what is the point in having children except those you bring with you? Then again, the cruelty of telling them they could never be parents is just unimaginable. How the hell would you enforce that kind of thing? Mister Spock, do those records indicate Sarpeid policy on those matters, as pertains to temporal refugees?"
Spock as always had been the least talkative, at least when it came to offering casual banter. Even in that, he seemed especially quiet during all this. "There is almost nothing, Mister Sulu. Reproduction and its ramifications appears to have not been an issue worth considering for them, when held against the coming death of their star."
Uhura knew her relief was in Auxiliary Control, and likely doing the good job she was known for, and yet, she kept her earpiece ready as always, even as she interjected. "Not an issue? What could be more of an issue? Survival for one generation is just extinction by another name, but survival for a set number before the end isnt really any better. No matter how far you go back, its only that number of years before everything you do and accomplish becomes functionally irrelevant. I mean, Im glad Mister Spock has their records. Thats something. But for a civilization that left the cosmic stage two days agoit just seems a tragedy, no matter how many survive in their past."
With Lieutenant Commander Scott keeping watch over how the engines dealt with unexpected gravimetric activity that went beyond what the supernova could produce, Chekov again spoke up. "But none of them did. They all died centuries and millennia before they ever left, or vwere ever bornmaybe even before their most remote recorded ancestor vwas born."
McCoy, perhaps hoping that the perspectives of those not there would help him deal with all he had seen, had kept quiet until then. "How about that, Spock? Did their records include instructions on not becoming their own ancestor?" His voice was off, and Kirk assumed it had something to do with his time in the Sarpeidon ice age.
Something was off with the Vulcan, too, and all sensed it. This was never more evident than when he did not correct McCoys broad generalization before answering him. "It seems they did advise against such unions, Doctor. Also, their records on ancestry appear quite extensive for a planetary database, rivaling that seen in the oral traditions of much smaller populations."
Kirk noticed, but did not comment on, the fact that, after an initial frenzy of research on the Sarpeid files, Spock now had his back turned towards his viewer, as though to avoid the mere sight of it. "So basically, as the generations go by, you carefully play an avoidance game with whom you marry. Can that even work? Do you always inform children born in that time who their parents were and of the time they come from? What about the sons and daughters in-law? What happens when you cant keep two young people in love apart, time and consequences be damned?"
The gravimetric anomaliesthose not directly tied to the exploded stars gravity wellnow compensated for, Scott at last offered his two cents. "Well, sir, Ill just see and raise ye on that one. What happens when ye only think that ye have married safely? Just how is it those records know for certain who is and who isnt one of your kin long past? Suppose theyre mistaken? Suppose not all your ancestors are listed properly? This lad sitting in front of ye has some English blood, and not all of it was gained by listed liaisons. Some were willing ones, others not so much, but it does nae matter. I can say that this or that man is my ancestor, but only DNA will tell true, and even then, suppose his wife took a shine to his brother or cousinor next-door neighbor? These things happen now, and ye can be certain they happened then."
Sulu seemed as taken in as any by the cosmic splendor on the viewscreen, but he kept up his end of the conversation. "I once compared Gary Mitchells growing psionic power to doubling a penny every day. I mention that because what happens when the descendants, knowing or unknowing about Sarpeidons fate, finally reach the present of the last few years and decades?"
"I vwould have to imagine that they vwould escape the same vway...oh Bozhe Moi. I get it now."
"Yeah. The original time refugees cant be displaced, or these new descendants could never be born. Yet they would now be traveling back with their own ancestors. And then all over again, who knows how many times?"
"The past vwould become awfully crowdedor vwould it?"
McCoy spoke as a chief medical officer might, a man fighting doom and panic. "You know, maybe they had plans to eventually have people seeded in the past to gear them towards space travel. Im no Mister Spock, but maybe they were looking to develop an alternate timeline, one in which they developed the means to save their sun?"
The healer in their midst could not turn back the prevailing feeling in the room. The obvious rejoinder to McCoys theory was to be built upon as they went.
"Its a fine thing ye propose, Doctor. Id like to think they were doing more than just running to the rear of the ship as it sinks. But look to the screen. Is the sun or its planet coming back to life? Do any of us recall the Sarpeid refugees, or mention of them, as they traveled through space? No Iconian artifacts, nor Orioni epic tales, no nae for them. They are less than no more. It is as though they never were. IOch! Blasted gravity wells! Capn, suggest we pull back further. I cannae account for these cosmic dust devils. Suggest a position away from where Sarpeidon itself once stood."
The shake had not been a major one, but it had been wholly unexpected, so Kirk ordered the helm to do as Scott suggested.
Sulu looked back. "We safe here, Scotty?"
"Aye. Sorry to reduce the view, folks. But until I can hear good reason why the planets remaining gravity wells werent wiped away by the nova, its where well have to remain. Just keep ready, Mister Sulu. For this is the damndest thing."
Sulu nodded. "You got it. Oh, and sorry, Doc, but Im with Mister Scott. Besides, if they seeded any tech in their past, from the looks of things, it was the time travel variety. Wasnt the woman Mister Spock and Doctor McCoy metZarabeth?wasnt she exiled back by a tyrant who was only a millennium or so after her? You basically had this medieval tyrant already possessing an atavachron. Maybe Im off on the date, but he sure as hell wasnt a recent figure. To me, it seems obvious that some past-traveling people had loose lips."
Kirk noticed Spock back at his viewer, nearly glued to it. His question to the Vulcan was cut off by Chekovs response to Sulu. "Vwell, it could just as easily be that they knew of their suns impending demise by scientific means for centuries, and that this Zor Kahn used a cruder version of vwhat Meester Atoz did. Then again, I must concede that the basic technologys mere presence in so distant and removed a time makes me suspicious. But vwouldnt the travelers have all known enough to not marry their own kin, to keep quiet about their origins, and to not introduce technology ahead of its time? The prosecutor who helped the kyptin played it safe, despite the aid he provided."
Uhura shook her head. "One of the first things my Academy instructor did in Basic Communications was to have us play that old game of passing along whispered information, to see how long it takes before the message becomes corrupted. Gentlemen, take all the possible mistakes weve listed. Unions with ancestors. Descendants of those unions becoming new time travelers as the end comes around again. Being careful who you tell, and trying like blazes to avoid triggering technology evolution. Even with a highly disciplined group, fully aware of the rules, there are going to be slips. Magnify those slips by the size of a planetary population spread through time, with no real enforcement mechanism. In that light, the nova seems like a comprehensible occurrence."
Kirk knew his officers had given their best, yet the results still disappointed him. "Ron Tracy knew the rulesso did John Gill, instructor to both of us at the Academy. Both found reasons to set them aside completely. Since I cant imagine a whole planets population being as sharp or as disciplined, then either sentient nature or accident would mean plenty of problems. So thats it? All this brain power, and all we can do is agree that the Sarpeid method of escape was a deeply problematic one. They are a people whose achievements and worth total exactly zero. Even their possibilities are moot, in a self-contained history. Mister Spock? Surely you have something more to contribute to all this?"
Kirk did not see McCoy look over at Spock, seeming quite concerned. Spock looked but did not fully turn away from the viewer. "Captain, I am on the verge of perhaps surmising a solid theory as to Mister Scotts mystery gravimetric anomalies. I am taking note of this conversation, rest assured. I fear that I can offer nothing to refute the admittedly grim findings you have come upon."
For morales sake, Kirk tried to lighten the mood at least a bit before calling the meeting at an end. "If I could go back without all the usual known consequences, Id warn my brother Sam not to let the ships carrying the blastoneuron parasites land. Wishes and horses, I suppose."
Sulu caught on. "The time of Arthur. I dont care if he was a divine warrior, or just a glorified immigration official. Arthur. Nowhere else."
"I vwould save the life of Tsar Alexander the Second. Had he lived, so much vwould have been so very, very different, for Russia, and for the vworld."
"Count me out. This old country doctor had his turn at shaking up history, and it didnt go so well."
"As a planner and an engineer, I cannae stand those who cant think a thing through. So Id take all those Eugenics-loving scientists in the 1950's and 60's, and show them some newsreels of their baby boy Khan Singh in the 1990's. And Id use them that didnt get my meaning for a caber toss."
"Im with the doctor, boyswell, almost. I could stand to go back to last years Christmas party. That was a corker."
Chekov smiled at Uhuras comment. "Not a holiday I celebratebut I vwas surely celebrating that night."
Sulu chuckled. "Youre telling me? After a few belts, you were regaling us all with the true, Russian version of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas."
"Vwas I any good?"
Spock at last rose from his viewer. "Captain, I know that the nature of this banter is a cleansing one, but I must interrupt it. Misters Scott and Chekov, I will ask you to confirm the readings I have taken, and the conclusions I have made from them. Be warned. They have a disturbing undertone."
"Spock, are you sure you wouldnt want to take a rest? You look exhausted, and I know that Ice Age took its toll on you as well." McCoy carefully veiled any talk of Zarabeth, not knowing what if anything Spock had yet told even Kirk.
"I thank you for your concern, Doctor. But it is the memory of that place that will keep me focused on what I must say. Pain shared is pain lessened, and this concept is a painful one."
"Is it that horrible, Spock?"
"Horrible, Captain? Horror refers to a direct threat, and the visceral fears created by such a threat. The Planet-Killer that took so many lives, including those of the crew of the U.S.S. Constellation, was a prime example of that which is horrible. What I speak of instead is terror, and the terrible. A cough that indicates a possible plague outbreak. A small noise which you know might be the air leaking out of your spacecraft. Terror is not the dagger that is held to your throat by a sworn foe. It is the poisoned dagger that an uneasy ally might produce. Or perhaps more aptly in this case, the realization that the fire you built for comfort and survival in a tight space will soon cause you to asphyxiate."
McCoy sat down on the bridge railing near Uhuras station. "Well, youve got me scared."
Kirk saw Scott and Chekov take their turns at Spocks viewer. Both were also seen to recheck what they saw, their faces growing visibly longer as they went.
"Spock, weve dealt with things that can make history and existence blow out like candles. I cant even imagine what could have you so spooked. Though I suppose thats the point."
Spock remained standing as the other two officers withdrew. Uhura looked to Scott, and Sulu to Chekov, as they re-took their stations. Neither drew comfort from what they saw in their friends eyes.
The chief engineer found in it in him to speak. "Tis no undertone, Mister Spock, nor even a mere overtone youre seeing. Its gospel truth, though its from a gospel of the devil himself, if he exists. Those poor damned fools. I dinnae know whether to pity or curse them for being so blind."
"I would always offer pity as the better alternative, Mister Scott. But in this instance, the restraint necessary to avoid the latter option would be understandably in short supply. For I cannot call this fascinating, so much as staggering."
Uhura found herself without restraint. "What could possibly be that bad? The novas initial explosion is over."
Sulu nudged his young friend. "Pavel? What do the sensors show?"
Chekov was now looking at his board, and away from the supernova. "Meester Scotts gravimetric vwells and eddies keep to a set area the size and parameters of Sarpeidon itself. The strongest of them is, relatively speaking, right vwhere the kyptin, Doctor McCoy and Meester Spock entered the atavachron. Records from the planet indicate each location of a gravity well corresponds to a one-time location of earlier atavachrons. Much of the energy of the Beta Niobe nova is being drawn into those gravity wells."
Sulu, not without scientific training himself, still did not see the connection. "So? Most time and dimension travel involves some sort of gravimetric displacement. We used a star to hurl us back on two occasions. These eddys are just leftovers, thats all."
Scott shook his head. "Ye must think, lad. When the star went nova, and broke up the planet to the point of atomization, all existing gravity fields present should have gone with it. Even as it dies, any star has a gravity field fit to beat all. Those wells should nae be there. They are an abomination as would give pause to the mind of Hawking himself."
"Spock? What does he mean by that?"
"Captain, it is my belief that use of the atavachron, both for this evacuation and in earlier ages wherein it was either created first or re-created by unwise travelers, fundamentally destabilized the Beta Niobe star. The reason those gravity wells were not erased by the nova is a simple one. The star was destabilized by the atavachron. As far as my instruments show, it had been set to literally burst from them for quite some time."
McCoy stated what much of the staff must have been feeling at those words. "Its too damn much to take in. Spock, how could any terrestrial device that wasnt tearing up the planet itself do so much damage to a blasted star? Itd be like me taking a toy hammer and chisel to the Enterprise hull."
"If you took a hammer and chisel and pounded on the hull for millennia after millennia, you would eventually breach the hull, Doctor," Sulu countered.
Spock was calmer now, but it was also clear that this was an effort to maintain. "In the historical records, it is shown that the atavachron was simply an instrument of exploration of their past. But the more they employed it, the more damage they did to themselves and Beta Niobe. When their scientists realized that the star was going to explode, it was decided to use the atavachron as a method of escape. They never understood that it was the atavachron itself that was causing the instability of their star. As greater and greater waves of Sarpeids fled into their past, the greater and greater the disturbance to the space-time continuum. Sarpeidon and its star were caught in a loop of ever decreasing diameter until Beta Niobe could no longer withstand the strain."
"I dont understand," admitted Uhura.
"Think of it this way: every atom in your body has existed since before the galaxy was formed. You are, as your philosopher Sagan put it, made of star stuff. You have the same atoms that may have been a part of a jungle, or a dinosaur, or a crystal of salt, or the teardrop of Cleopatra. Those things are transient, just as you are. But the atoms therein are eternal."
"Thats the basic principle of the conservation of matter," agreed Sulu.
"Now imagine that principle being violated by the people of Sarpeidon. Each time the Sarpeids fled to the past, they took with them the atoms of the present. On that planets surface, there was a tremendous build-up of identical atomic particles within the same time-frame. These particles are best described as endochronic particles due to the nature of their existence. The transition of people from one time frame to another caused a build-up of endochronic particles and a subatomic charge which destabilized the space-time continuum."
"No vwonder the star blew up. Its amazing that the planet didnt."
Kirk knew why Spock had gone through so much to explain so seemingly basic a concept as terror. This was the transcendent variety.
"Captain, you spoke before of our encounters with threats that boggle the mind. Threats to all that we know or can imagine. Yet those threats are somehow lesser in this light. This was not the psychotic obsession of a Lazarus, nor a stimulant-induced delusion like that suffered by the doctor. The people of Sarpeidon drank deeply of a poisoned well, thinking it the only solution to a drought. It was what anyone, even a Vulcan, would have done, lacking certain insight and foresight, the latter forever ruined by a gaze locked in a rear view. They lived, and are remembered in the most basic way, yet they left no mark upon the universe as they went, even for their local epochs of time."
Spock finally sat down, looking truly spent. "Zarabeth, and all of her people up and down the line, in effect never existed. Mister Atoz, the thief, the prosecutor, Zor Kahnall less than walking shadows in the eyes of creation. More so than any of us, in a path that would mock the safe limited assumptions of the cynic and the nihilist, they breathed air and then were no more, and even that air is now gone. They extinguished themselves, their world, their star. And they brought it upon themselves by fleeing the present into the past rather than face their future."
One by one, the shaken senior staff of the U.S.S. Enterprise used their expertise to further explore this sad theory. They could find neither refutation nor looks from their immediate subordinates, who were no less stunned to hear what was said. It drove the captain to a choice some who didnt know James Kirk might never think he would make.
To: Admiral Nogura, Commander-Starfleet
From: James T. Kirk, Commanding, U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701
Subject: Beta Niobe/Sarpeidon
The attached file contains Commander Spocks theories and extrapolations on the fate of Sarpeidon, and my senior staffs extrapolations upon all that. In the end, the path of the Sarpeids is as hellish a fate as I can imagine. To live and die, and have it make no difference at all. It goes beyond all philosophy, even to minimalism, deconstructionism, and reductionism. But for them to have brought about the destruction of their own star, escalating it beyond all comprehension, is, as Spock said, perhaps one of the most horrifying fates for a sentient race to endure.
Admiral, their fate must not be ours. I propose that the idea of expeditions to the past, such as our encounter with the mysterious Mister Seven, be put aside entirely. Some dire emergency, unforeseeable now, may make such a voyage a necessity, but barring that, the idea of casual time travel should be permanently dismissed as far too dangerous.
Attached also, see our joint proposal that an Office of Temporal Affairs be created, to immediately assess the impact of unintended journeys through time, and to clamp down on known methods as much as possible. There are those who may laugh at the idea of James T. Kirk and his crew of mavericks proposing a new bureaucracy, sir. Please dont be one of them. I have never been more serious in my life.
Though in the end, all we may do is strut and fret our time on the stage, let us make sure we have that time, as part of a greater creation, and not a self-contained loop, tightening slowly, like a noose.
James T. Kirk
With that correspondence done, and with all vital scans of the Beta Niobe supernova also done, James Kirk entered his bridge, and said words he had uttered once before, when confronted with the demands of time and the cruelty of history.
"Lets get the hell out of here."
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