Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Everything Right Is Wrong Again”
By Alan Decker
After spending the last eight years running two very different departments on Waystation, Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter was not a man who was well acquainted with free time. At least in theory anyway. In reality he had a fair amount of free time. The station was in reasonably good condition, so the Engineering/Operations side of things wasn’t that big of an issue. And really Waystation didn’t have much to speak of in the way of a Sciences department. Yes, there were a few science labs and a number of science officers stationed aboard, but with Waystation sitting still and the Bermuda Expanse remaining dormant for the most part, the station wasn’t exactly a hotbed of scientific discoveries. Most of the Sciences staff either requested a transfer soon after they arrived and realized how dull the place was, or they were the type who really just wanted to be left alone to work on their personal research projects.
Porter was okay with that…mainly because he had his own personal project that he was working on. Still, knowing that he was basically on call 24-hours-a-day for two departments made it a bit hard to concentrate sometimes.
Today, though, was different. This morning he’d been as focused as he’d been in a long time, getting up early and tinkering with the device he’d been slowly constructing in Science Lab Two (Actually Porter would take offense at it being called tinkering. He was working. Hard. Sorry about that.). Not only that, but he hadn’t had so much as a comm in the last three hours, which meant that he could…
“Jones to Porter.”
Me and my big mouth…er…keyboard.
“Porter here. What do you need, Tina?” Porter replied, trying to keep the sigh out of his voice.
“Um…could you come to the Welcome Center for a minute?”
Porter was very close to protesting. Exceptionally close to asking if it could wait. But there was something about Yeoman Tina Jones’s voice that made him think better of it. She didn’t sound scared or nervous as such, but something had definitely rattled her.
A few minutes later, he jogged into the Waystation Welcome Center on the first floor of Starfleet Square Mall and found out why the hard way. The exceptionally hard way. As in the slamming smack into a large metal object kind of hard way.
“Ow,” he muttered, his face resting against a smooth cool surface before he slid down to the deck. Ah yes. There was the solid object he’d just slammed his shins into. Hmm…whatever it was appeared to be supported by four rounded black objects that seemed to be manufactured from a substance resembling rubber. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say…
“It’s a car.”
Okay, so he went ahead and said it anyway.
“It’s a herbie,” Yeoman Jones said, helping Porter to his feet.
“It looks like a car.”
“The herbie is the name of the car. They usually come with stripes and the number 53 on them, but this definitely is a herbie. I looked it up.”
“Okay. I’ll take your word for it. What’s it doing at the entrance of the Welcome Center?”
“I found it when I got here this morning. Slammed my shins right into it just like you did.”
“Uh huh. You could have warned me, you know,” Porter said.
“Sorry. I was kind of surprised by the car thing. I think…” Jones trailed off, biting her lower lip.
“You think someone drove it in here last night as a joke?”
“No. I think maybe…well…you know I’ve been getting those presents for months now.”
“And you think your secret admirer has moved up from fruit baskets to ancient automobiles?”
Jones leaned in conspiratorially. “Herbie’s nickname is The Love Bug.”
“Ahhh. Would anybody know that without doing the research you did?”
“Maybe he knew I’d do the research.”
“And then comm me to come check it out. How romantic,” Porter said.
“I’m sorry, Craig. I just didn’t know what to do. Where did he get this? And how did he get it in here?”
“So you want me to investigate. We have a security office for that kind of thing.”
“I know, but this seemed more weird and…sciency. It’s not like a crime was committed.”
“Littering?” Porter offered.
“I really want to know how he did this, Craig. Can you check into it?”
“Were you busy?”
“I was kind of working on something before my duty shift…” He glanced at the chronometer on the wall behind the semi-circular Welcome Center reception desk. “…which starts in ten minutes. So much for that.”
“What were you doing?”
“You remember that fake time ship the captain’s sister had? I’ve been reverse-engineering the chroniton storage panels she built, and now that I have one working, I’ve tied it into a chamber kind of like Doctor Azar’s, so that I can… Your eyes just glazed over.”
Jones shook herself back to alertness. “No, they didn’t.”
“Oh yeah they did. You’d hit full-on glassy.”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s okay,” Porter said. “I’ll try and check on your herbie problem while I’m in Ops. In the meantime, move it away from the door.”
“I don’t know how to drive.”
“You and most of the rest of the people in this century. I’m sure you’ll figure it out, though. You’re about to be a Starfleet Academy graduate. You can handle this. Just don’t run over anybody. I’d hate for you to be responsible for the first pedestrian flattening in Waystation history.”
Porter stepped out into the mall concourse…
…and was immediately flattened by some kind of large conveyance.
Jones was beside him in a flash and helped Porter sit up as he groggily tried to focus. A mass of blue was suddenly thrust in front of his eyes. It took another moment for him to see clearly enough to recognize the blue mass as Ih’mad, proprietor of the Ic’hasssssst V’kelsnet Andorian Restaurant, located a short distance down the mall concourse from the Welcome Center.
“You have delayed my spleen!” Ih’mad shouted before leaping back into the vehicle that hit Porter, a hover-lift carting a rather large crate of what Porter could only assume was fresh spleen.
“Okay, so he beat you to it,” Porter said to Jones.
After refusing Jones’s repeated urgings to take him to the Infirmary and promising to look into her secret admirer issue repeatedly as well, Porter took the turbolift ride through the remainder of the upper saucer before ascending the narrow connecting tube into Ops for the start of his shift.
Commander Walter Morales turned to greet him, but stopped before he could get a word out. “What the hell happened to you?” he asked finally.
“Spleen waits for no one,” Porter said, limping over to his post at the Operations/Science console, where he relieved Lieutenant Mason.
“Are you okay?” Mason asked.
“Oh yeah. I’m walking it off.”
“Anything exciting happen overnight?”
“Not a thing,” Mason replied.
“Then get out of here.”
“You have things covered?” Morales asked.
“Absolutely. Go get yourselves some breakfast. The captain and Sean will be up here anytime now.”
“If you’re sure,” Morales said as he headed into the turbolift with Mason. Porter was alone for just a few seconds before the turbolift doors opened and Captain Lisa Beck stalked out onto the bridge.
“What the hell happened to you?” Porter asked, spouting the first thing that came to mind.
“I spilled my damn coffee,” Beck said, patting a napkin at the massive wet patch across her mid-section.
“You think?” Beck shot back.
“At least you were in uniform. In civies that burn might have been bad enough to send you to the Infirmary.”
“Yea, Starfleet fabric,” Beck said. She finally took a look at Porter. “Forget about me. What the hell happened to you?”
“Ih’mad ran me down.”
“What’d you do to him?”
“Nothing. I was just an innocent standing between his kitchen and his spleen.”
Beck winced. “Bad place to be. You’re lucky he didn’t eviscerate you right then and there.”
“Yeah. Lucky me,” Porter said, rubbing his aching skull.
“Maybe you should see Doctor Diantha.”
“I’m fine. You’re the one who tried to burn off your…never mind.”
“If you don’t say it, you’re going to be thinking it all day.”
“I’m okay with that,” Porter replied with a smirk just as the turbolift opened again depositing Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell into Ops.
Porter and Beck glanced over at the newcomer and…
“What the hell happened to you?”
“I wanted a fruit smoothie from Wok A Chodok for breakfast,”Russell replied.
“And they wanted your pants in return?” Beck asked.
“Damn blender,” Russell muttered, the shreds of his uniform pants fluttering around his legs as he went to his post.
Porter frowned. “How…”
“And I think Wok A Chodok may be closed for the next few days.”
“You could have replicated some new pants and just come straight to the morning staff meeting, you know,” Beck said.
“I didn’t want to be late.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” Porter said. “He just wanted to show off his legs.”
While Federation President Bradley Dillon generally frowned upon people trying to blow him up (not that he’d been the intended target of the explosion in Starfleet Square Mall a few months earlier), he did have to admit that the bombing of Krilik’s Klingon Formal Wear Shop did have an unexpected benefit for him. At the time of the explosion, he’d been trying to convince Captain Beck to give him a space in the mall for his campaign headquarters, even if she had to evict one of the current tenants to do it. She was disagreeable to the idea (as she seemed to be to most of his ideas), but the explosion ended up taking care of the issue for him. In the aftermath, the proprietors of Treasures of Triskelion (not to be confused with Trinkets of Tellar. They got VERY angry when people mixed the two stores up.) closed up shop and fled the station, saying that it had become far too violent. Bradley was able to snap up the abandoned lease on the storefront on the mall’s lower level and set up Dillon Re-election Headquarters.
After those initial steps, though, Bradley had tried to keep his distance from the place. It felt unseemly to be too directly involved in campaigning for votes. He would put in appearances around the Federation, give speeches, and so on. The day-to-day business of the re-election campaign did not belong in his sphere of interest. That was what campaign managers were for.
And he told his as much after being urgently summoned to Dillon Re-election Headquarters.
“Maybe if you’d take a meeting with me in your office every once in a while, I wouldn’t have to resort to things like this,” the campaign manager in question, a pacing coil of energy named Donna Lymon, shot back before adding a quick “sir” in a failed attempt to make her response sound less testy.
“When I accepted the Federation Party’s request to be their nominee, I was of the understanding that their designated representative, namely you, would be handling campaign matters. If you had not realized it, I have a Federation to run. Do you have any idea what my day is like? I start out with a briefing from my Chief of Staff back on Earth before I even get breakfast. Then I have additional briefings on Federation security, the legislative activities the Federation Council is working on, and whatever the other governments in the galaxy are up to. I occasionally have briefings about briefings. Add to those the briefings I get about Dillon Enterprises’ dealings, and you end up with an incredible number of briefings in a day, all of which require that I respond with decisions that could affect the direction of this government and my business. Despite all of this, I have gone to the events you have scheduled for me. I have responded favorably to the speech writers you brought on board. I have even accepted a few of your fashion suggestions. I have been more than accommodating. So I am failing to see what could possibly be so urgent that you required me to rush down here.”
“We haven’t talked about Janeway!” Donna Lymon said, stopping her pacing long enough to wave her hands in Bradley’s face. It was almost enough to make the two Special Secret Section operatives guarding the entrance to go for their sidearms.
“Do we even need to?” Bradley asked dismissively.
“She’s your opponent. I would think we’d want to talk about her.”
“I have several opponents in this election.”
“Fine. She’s the only serious opponent. I don’t know how the Republicrats talked her into running, but it was a genius move. Now we have to figure out how to counter it.”
“Counter it. I’m sorry. What exactly are we countering?”
Lymon froze, her eyes widening. She looked rather close to grabbing Bradley by his lapels and shaking him until he passed out. “Do you know who Kathryn Janeway is?” she asked, her voice low and intense as she stalked over and brought up a picture of Janeway on a wall monitor.
“Of course. She’s a Starfleet admiral. She was a captain. Her ship got lost, but they came back.”
“In the eyes of the voters, Kathryn Janeway is everything you’re not.”
Bradley laughed. “I wasn’t aware that I had so many deficits as President.”
“Our polls show the average citizen thinks you’ve been fine as President. You’re popular, as far as it goes.”
“How far does it go?”
“Until it runs into her,” Lymon said, pointing at the picture.
“And what, pray tell, is so magnificent about her?”
“She’s a hero. She took a crew, half of which weren’t even in Starfleet, and brought them home from an impossible situation. That alone gives her a boost, but she’s also former Starfleet.”
“She had to resign her commission in order to run. Still, in the minds of most voters that background makes her far more qualified than you to handle galactic affairs.”
“The galaxy hasn’t exactly gone down in flames during my presidency,” Bradley protested.
“No, but you haven’t had to deal with any real crises.”
“What about the Collectors?”
“They were a local threat. No one outside of Waystation even cared.”
“The Multek Enclave opened up to us while I was President.”
“Again. It’s local.”
“Shinzon and the Romulans were stopped from destroying Earth!”
“And when that happened, you were off on the Explorer looking for the Bast. You missed the whole thing.”
“Ha! While I was on that trip, I helped the Directors prevent an attack by the Critics!”
“Yes, but none of that happened in the present where the voters could see it. Also, the Explorer was involved…”
“So?” Bradley asked.
“Well…they don’t play so well in the media. Now if you’d gone with the Enterprise…”
“Never mind. So Janeway has Starfleet experience and people think she’s a hero.”
“She’s also got dignity, serious hair…”
“I’m dignified! And what’s wrong with my hair?”
“Nothing,” Lymon said quickly.
“My point is none of that means she’s qualified to run the Federation.”
“I don’t disagree, but I’m not the one you have to convince. We could go with attack ads, but that’s not going to be an easy road. You’ll be smearing a hero.”
Bradley frowned. “I will not lower myself to attack ads.”
“We have to do something. She’s got image points to spare and…”
“A debate!” Bradley declared.
“I want a debate. As soon as possible.”
“We’re still six months away from the election. It’s way too early.”
“It’s never to early to show the voters who the best man for the job is. Schedule it. If the Republicrats balk, leak it to the press. I will face Janeway whenever and wherever she likes.”
Lymon shook her head a bit too emphatically. “No no NO! We will negotiate terms. She doesn’t get to dictate to us.”
“Just handle it,” Bradley said before striding away, his Special Secret Section operatives falling into step beside him as he exited Dillon Re-election Headquarters into the mall. He absently waved at passers-by while his thoughts focused on the debate to come. This was exactly what was needed in these circumstances. Sure this Janeway character sounded good with her Starfleet career and all, but the voters needed to see who she really was and, more importantly, how vastly unqualified she was for the presidency. The dangers of uncharted space were nothing compared to facing him. When the day of the debate came, he was going to destroy her.
“I thought I had it,” Porter said, patting his uniform pocket.
“Had what?” Russell asked as he and Porter stepped out of the turbolift into Starfleet Square Mall after their shift in Ops had ended for the day.
“Just a data chip. I downloaded some internal scans to try and help Tina out.”
“Is this for her classes?”
“Nah. She’s got a herbie problem. I’m going to run back up and get it,” Porter said, reentering the turbolift.
“What the hell is a herbie?” Russell asked. Porter just shrugged as the doors closed.
Russell turned to head toward the food court and found himself staring into a pair of stunning blue eyes. He did a quick once-over glance of the rest of the package to make sure it was equally stunning, which it indeed was.
“Hey there,” he said, flashing a smile at the gorgeous female in front of him. “Can I help you with something? Or take you to dinner? Preferably both.”
“Who was your friend?”
“The cute guy who just got into the turbolift.”
“Oh, he’s just a friend. Now where would you like to eat?”
“Someplace you’re not,” the woman said, spinning on her heel and walking away. Russell watched her go, appreciating the rear view. Oh well. He’d find someone else to spend his evening with. Too bad Porter had left that chip in Ops. If he’d been there, he might have had a heck of an evening.
A few moments later, Porter returned, chip in hand, and the pair made their way toward the food court. They were just about to get in line at Sandwich or What? when they heard a cry of pain from below. They ran over to the railing looking out over the lower concourse and quickly spotted the source of the wail. Commander Walter Morales was doubled over, clutching his sensitive lower bits as in front of him a young child continued swinging a toy bat’leth around wildly.
“You’re supposed to block the incoming strike, Commander,” Porter shouted.
Morales glared up at them and gave them a forced thumbs-up.
“Why don’t I believe that’s the finger he really wanted to show us?” Porter remarked with a chuckle.
“It’s his own fault for not watching where he was going,” Russell said, starting to head back toward the food court. The words were no sooner out of his mouth when he realized he was about to plow into an elderly Andorian woman. He quickly dodged right, hit a puddle of spilled Slug-o-Cola, lost his footing, and slammed to the deck on his back.
“Yeah. Watching is a good thing,” Porter said.
“She came out of nowhere,” Russell groaned.
“Don’t blame your oafish fumbling on me, snrazzty-boy!” the wrinkled Andorian snapped, following it up with a swift kick to Russell’s side.
Porter was moments from laughter when she turned on him. “And don’t mock your injured friends!” she said, reaching up with lighting speed and twisting both of his ears so hard he yelped.
“That hurt!” Porter cried.
“Oh yeah? Just be glad you don’t have antennae!” the Andorian said before shuffling off.
Porter helped Russell to his feet. “Think anybody saw that?” Russell asked.
“Only the hundred or so people in the food court who are currently snickering at us,” Porter replied.
“Somebody’s got it in for us,” Russell said.
“There’s a rational response.”
Another cry of pain echoed up from the lower concourse. Porter and Russell dashed back over to the railing. Below Commander Morales was clutching another body part, a shin this time. A crewman was frantically trying to help him up and making apologetic gestures toward an anti-grav pallet hovering nearby.
“Told ya,” Russell said.
Porter knew that there were better ways that he could be spending his evening. More entertaining ways at any rate. He could be in Victoria’s having a pint. He could be at The Gravity Well enjoying the music and watching the dancing. He could be on the holodeck. He could even have a chance at meeting someone tonight.
Instead he was in his quarters alone looking through scans of the Welcome Center.
Not surprising considering the size of the vehicle, it was beamed in. What disturbed Porter was that whoever had done it was able to perform a large transport without a single trace of it remaining in the transporter logs or setting off an alert in Ops.
But then he put the pieces together. The expensive gifts. The ability to get things done without setting off alarms. There was really only one suspect.
It’s not like the president’s affection for Tina was a big secret. He’d gone so far as to offer her a job the previous year.
Honestly, Porter was surprised Jones hadn’t figured it out by now.
It wasn’t his place to give away Bradley’s secret, though. He was sure the president would reveal his feelings for Tina in time. Porter could at least assure her that the presents weren’t a big deal.
He’d go see her tomorrow and…
What was that?
Porter peered closer at the sensor playback from earlier in the day at the Welcome Center, which had continued running on his screen. How in the name of the Great Bird of the Galaxy could there be chronitons…
The time stamp.
If chronitons showed up there this morning, there was only one possible source.
“All right. Where are you, Mister Leak?” Porter said, running his tricorder along the surface of the large cylinder standing vertically in Science Lab Two. “You’re supposed to store chronitons, not drip them on me.”
If he’d been trailing chronitons around the station…
…well, nothing really. There weren’t enough on him to do anything. It was barely enough to show up on the sensors. Still, leaks were not something he was real happy about. It was a professionalism thing. He’d stay here and track down the leak if it took him all night. He would not rest until…
Hunh. No leak out here. Maybe inside the cylinder.
Porter grabbed a sonic screwdriver out of his tool kit and opened the door of the cylinder. Porter’s design had been inspired by the time pod built by Dr. Derrick Azar years earlier, but Porter had no illusions that his device could actually cause people to travel in time. He simply wanted to store and control the release of chronitons for research purposes. Some small (very small) experiments could even be performed inside the cylinder if a chroniton-flooded environment was required. Okay so experiments wouldn’t be very practical in the space available, but he could work on that in the next version.
Right now, though, he needed to find that leak. Which wasn’t turning out to be easy. There wasn’t a sign of the smallest trickle at the moment. Well, he could stand to adjust the seal between these two chroniton storage panels. They weren’t leaking, but they weren’t exactly right.
He activated the sonic screwdriver and…
“What the hell happened to me?” Porter groaned. He quickly realized he wasn’t where he thought he was. Instead of feeling the cool, smooth surface of the inside of his chroniton storage chamber, he was laying on his back on something soft. He slowly opened his eyes. Please let this be the Infirmary. Please let this be the Infirmary.
The feathered features of Dr. Diantha moved into view above him.
“You’re awake,” she said matter-of-factly.
“What happened?” he asked.
“As far as we can determine, there was an energy surge inside that device you have cobbled together in your lab. You were standing in the middle of an uncontrolled discharge of chroniton radiation. Frankly, considering what could happened, you’re lucky you didn’t blast yourself a few centuries away from here.”
“That couldn’t have happened,” Porter said, not quite convinced himself. “How long was I out?”
“At least six hours. Do you have any idea what could have caused the surge?”
Lieutenant Commander Russell suddenly rushed up to Porter’s biobed. “I’m already on it, Craig. Don’t you worry. We’ll find the guy who did this!”
“You’re looking at him,” Porter said weakly.
“I did it, Sean. There’s no mystery. I remember now. I put the sonic screwdriver on the wrong frequency setting. It was just a dumb mistake. No permanent harm done.”
“We hope,” Diantha said.
“Can I go?” Porter asked, sitting up and draping his legs over the side of the biobed.
“I suppose. But if you get unstuck in time, let me know.”
“Er…yeah…I’ll do that,” Porter said getting to his feet.
“Do you want to grab some breakfast before the morning staff meeting?” Russell asked.
“Uggh. I can’t just go back to bed, huh?”
“I’m sure the captain would give you the shift off for getting blown up. She missed a shift or two after she got blown up.”
“I wasn’t blown up. It was just…bad luck.”
“Still, you could get some time off for it.”
“Nah. I’m okay. I’ll take the breakfast, though. And coffee. Lots of coffee.”
They caught a turbolift to the upper concourse and made their way toward the Beanus Coffee Hut that had opened a couple of months earlier.
And suddenly Porter’s world went into rewind.
A split second later, he was back in the turbolift.
“The hell!” he cried.
“What?” Russell asked as the turbolift doors opened out onto the upper concourse.
“Nothing,” Porter said, shaking it off. He was really tired. Maybe he’d just drifted off and dreamed that he was walking out of the turbolift when he actually hadn’t left yet.
Oh yeah. Like he really believed that one.
Before he had much time to think about it, Captain Beck stormed toward them from the direction of the Coffee Hut, another large wet spot spreading across the front of her uniform.
“Again?” Porter said.
“Yes!” Beck shouted. “Glad you’re okay.”
“Me too. I’ll see you in Ops.”
“Take your time. I’m going to change,” Beck said.
“Unbelievable,” Porter chuckled once Beck was gone.
“Oh no,” Russell said, staring off down the concourse.
“That Andorian lady. The one who kicked me yesterday. She’s on a hover rascal!”
Porter saw her break through a crowd of people a ways ahead of them. Upon spotting Russell and Porter, she leaned forward on the handlebars of the hover scooter and surged ahead…as much as it would surge anyway.
“Is she charging us?” Porter asked in disbelief.
“Sure looks like it,” Russell said, making for the wall.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Get out of her way!”
“No. This is ridiculous. I’ve had more than my fill of being tormented by the elderly this year! She’s going to have to go around me! It’s a matter of principle now.”
Porter stood his ground as mall patrons passed on either side of him, oblivious to the oncoming threat.
When she was about two meters away from him, it became very clear to Porter that the elder Andorian had no intention of slowing down or changing course.
Principles were one thing, but this was about to hurt.
Porter leapt to the right and let her zoom by, which she did, sending a rather unfriendly hand gesture in his direction.
And then suddenly Porter’s world rewound again.
The hover rascal-riding Andorian was two meters in front of him.
This was about to hurt.
He leapt to the left, slamming into a rather large Klingon (weren’t they all?) in the process. The Klingon grabbed Porter by the front of his uniform and pulled his face close to the human’s. “If I did not have so much shopping to finish, I would KILL you where you stand!” He tossed Porter aside, slamming him against the railing overlooking the lower concourse, and stalked onward.
Russell was beside Porter a moment later. “Why the hell did you go that way?” he laughed.
“I didn’t,” Porter gasped, the wind knocked out of him.
“I just saw it.”
“No!” Porter said. “I…I can’t even explain it. You didn’t feel anything weird just now?”
“I didn’t feel anything. That was the point of getting out of her way ahead of time,” Russell said.
“Some security chief you are.”
“I pick my battles.”
“You’re scared of Andorians.”
“Am not! Now what about your weird feeling.”
“Never mind,” Porter said. “I just want to eat and get to Ops before anything else happens.”
Despite his hope for an uneventful meal, Porter experienced two more time rewinds before he made it to Ops. In neither case, though, did anything different happen to him when time started forward again. Maybe the thing with the Klingon was just an anomaly. Not that feeling time rewind every so often wasn’t anomalous in itself. It was probably just a residual effect from his exposure to the chronitons, though. It didn’t seem all that serious and would probably go away on its own soon enough. In the meantime he’d document the effects and see if he could get a paper out of it for the Temporal Physics Symposium coming up in a couple of months on Starbase 92.
He was already composing the introduction to the paper in his head as he sat in the Ops conference room waiting for the morning briefing to start when Commander Walter Morales limped into the room.
“Are you still hurting that badly from yesterday?” Porter asked surprised.
“No. This is new.”
Captain Beck stalked in a few moments later. Porter stared at her for a few moments. Something was different. What was…
“Did you get a haircut?” he asked. The captain’s normally long red hair was suddenly shoulder length and no longer in its usual pony tail.
“Yes,” Beck grumbled.
“Since breakfast?” he asked. When he’d passed her earlier, it was long. He would swear it.
“It’s shorter. Fire was involved. Let’s not talk about it anymore, okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Porter said. Russell, Dr. Diantha, and Yeoman Jones arrived at that point, allowing the meeting to start and distracting Porter from any further thoughts on the matter.
By the end of his shift, Porter had managed to jot down everything he’d observed about the time rewinds, but he hadn’t experienced a single one since before the morning briefing. He needed to hurry up and get some scans of himself completed before the chroniton residue disappeared altogether. Hopefully Dr. Diantha had performed some detailed scans when he was brought into the Infirmary as well. That would hopefully be enough to analyze what had actually happened to him.
Before heading to Science Lab Two, he stopped off in the mall to grab a quick bit of take-out from the Double D diner. Sure he could have gotten something out of the replicator, but he was having a craving for a DBQ burger and real fries.
The diner was crowded, as it usually was around dinner time, but the staff was doing their usual efficient job of moving people through. Of course, having a Betazoid staff that knew your order before you got up to the counter helped immensely. Morivo, the evening shift manager, handed Porter his take-out container a few minutes later. Porter turned to go…
And then time rewound again.
He was back at the counter waiting for his order. Morivo picked up the take-out container from the kitchen pass-through window, took a step toward Porter, slipped and sent the container flying at the surprised officer. It slammed into Porter’s chest, burst open, and splattered to the ground, leaving a trail of barbeque sauce and melted cheese as it went.
“I’m sorry!” Morivo exclaimed. “I can’t believe I did that. I really apologize. I…I…why aren’t you angry?”
“What?” Porter said in a daze.
“I just threw your dinner at you.”
“And all you can think is ‘That’s weird.’”
“Okay. I can get you another order.”
“Please,” Porter said, not moving. Why then? Why did time rewind right then?
A short time later, Morivo handed Porter a new meal. Porter didn’t move for a few seconds.
“Is there a problem?” Morivo asked.
“Just checking something.”
“Sure. Take all the time you need.”
“You might be right.”
“Thank you,” Porter said. He turned to go…
And time rewound again.
He was back at the counter and Morivo was handing him his order and he took it and he started to leave and…
Time rewound again.
He was back at the counter and Morivo was handing him his order and he took it and a patron sitting just down the counter suddenly cried “HOT!” A split-second later, a partially chewed and very hot bit of a meatball sub smacked into the side of Porter’s face having just been ejected from the patron’s mouth and flung away as fast as possible.
Porter stood completely still for several more seconds.
“Napkin?” Morivo asked finally, holding one out to Porter.
“Thanks,” Porter said, taking the item and wiping his face, lost in thought.
“Would you like a free dessert? For your trouble.”
“I don’t think I should risk it,” Porter said. “Thanks, though.”
“Well…have a nice day,” Morivo offered weakly.
Porter forced a smile back then turned to go…
And this time he was actually able to get to the exit. Not wanting to press his luck, he sprinted for the nearest turbolift and got the hell out of there.
In the morning briefing the next day, Porter was still focused on what had happened at the Double D. Hopefully Captain Beck and the others weren’t talking about anything that was relevant to his departments because he was not even half-listening. The evidence was there. It led him to only one conclusion. It was crazy, but it was the only thing that made any kind of sense.
“We’re under attack,” he said, not fully realizing that he’d just spoken aloud.
“You concluded that from Ensign Tyler’s cracked rib?” Dr. Diantha asked pointedly. Evidently he’d interrupted the medical update.
And now everyone was staring at him.
“Russell, are you hiding an assault from me?” Captain Beck asked.
“I don’t think so,” Russell replied confused.
“Then you’re going to need to explain that assessment, Commander,” Beck said to Porter.
Explain? How the hell was he going to explain this? “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Beck’s bemused look shifted to concern. “Are you okay, Craig?”
“Are you have residual effects from the chroniton exposure?” Diantha asked. “I will take you to the Infirmary.”
“Hang on a moment, Doctor,” Beck said. She’d known Craig Porter a long time, and she couldn’t remember a time when he looked this…bewildered. And upset. Porter never got upset. Angry occasionally, sure, but this was an entirely different kind of upset. The “I’m losing my mind here” kind.
“Just talk it out, Craig,” Beck said kindly. “Whatever it is.”
“You’re going to think I’m nuts,” Porter said.
“So nothing will change,” she replied with a smile, putting her hand on his.
Porter took a deep breath. “I think we’re under attack. Not the station. The four of us. You, me, Russell, and Commander Morales.”
“No one’s attacked me,” Russell said. “There was that Andorian woman but…Her! She’s out to get us! Wait until I…”
“Not her,” Porter said. “Maybe it is, but…”
“Wait,” Morales said. “I haven’t been attacked either…unless you count a kid with a toy bat’leth…or that anti-grav pallet I ran into…or the planter. But they were accidents. Bad luck.”
“You’ve had a lot of bad luck in the last couple of days,” Porter said. “We all have. Captain, you had your coffee problems. Then your hair.”
“That Andorian woman,” Russell muttered.
“And before her you slipped and fell,” Porter said.
“So you’re being attacked by bad luck?” Yeoman Jones asked, trying to understand.
“They do seem like a bunch of random incidents,” Beck said.
“Random,” Porter said. “Exactly. For any one of them, they could have either happened or not happened depending on chance. What if originally they didn’t happen?”
“Originally. This is suddenly starting to sound like time travel,” Beck said unhappily.
“Time manipulation. I just have no idea how it’s being done,” Porter said.
“How can you possibly know this?” Diantha asked.
“Chronitons. I detected some around the Welcome Center while I was checking on something for Tina. I thought it was a leak from something I’m working on in the lab, but it wasn’t. And now I’m finding chroniton dribbles all over the station. I think it’s the residue from the manipulation.”
“But if time is being altered and none of us know it, why do you?”
“The chroniton surge in my lab. Ever since I got hit, I’ve had these…rewinds.”
“Define rewind,” Morales said.
“Just what it sounds like. I’ll be going along, time will suddenly rewind, and restart a few moments earlier. Most of the time nothing is different, but the other times things get worse. It wasn’t until I ended up wearing my dinner and part of someone else’s at the Double D last night that I started realizing an intelligence was behind this. This could have been going on for a while now, but the chroniton surge somehow made me aware of the timeline changes.”
“But you said most of the time nothing was different,” Russell said.
“For me, but that’s probably when it’s happening to the rest of you. Like yesterday morning. You and I walked out of the turbolift. Then suddenly we were walking out of it again. A few seconds later, Captain Beck came by covered in coffee.”
“Somebody made that happen,” Beck said through gritted teeth.
“I think so,” Porter said.
“How do we protect ourselves?” Morales asked.
“Stay in Ops. It doesn’t seem to happen when we’re all up here.”
“Forget protection,” Beck growled. “How do we find the son of a motherless k’vraatz who’s behind this?”
“I don’t know yet,” Porter said. “I’m still at the part where you all don’t think I’m crazy.”
“My scorched hair and I are giving you the benefit of the doubt. Let’s start looking for some kind of pattern. I want all of you to give Craig the details of any bad luck incidents you’ve had over the last week. When it happened. Where it happened. Anything you can remember.”
“Us too?” Jones asked.
“Might as well. You and the doctor can be our control.”
“Oooh! I love it when you break out the science talk,” Porter said.
“Don’t get used to it. Dismissed,” Beck said, getting up from her chair.
“Um…don’t we need to finish the staff meeting?” Morales asked.
Beck immediately sat back down again. “Oh yeah. That. You were saying, Doctor?”
“Ensign Tyler suffered a fracture of two ribs on her right side as a result of…”
Porter zoned out again. He had a feeling this whole leaping into action thing would be a lot more effective if they were…well…leaping into action. Damn meetings. They ruined everything.
The leaping into action part actually did start as soon as Captain Beck adjourned the staff meeting. Of course, the leaping looked an awful lot like sitting around a table jotting notes into padds. Porter and the others went through every bit of the last seven days, minute by minute, trying to remember anything that happened to them that could possibly be classified as bad luck.
At the end of the exercise, Porter looked over the padd combining everyone’s lists.
“Falling. Tripping. Stubbed toe.”
“That’s mine,” Jones said, raising her hand. “Unless anybody else stubbed their toes.”
Porter continued, “Slips. Spills. Fried hair. Craig missed a gorgeous woman who wanted to ask him out. Woah! When did that happen?”
“Some woman asked me about you when you had to go back up to Ops for something,” Russell said. “That might not count, though.”
“YES, IT COUNTS!” Porter cried.
“Porter,” Beck said.
“Yeah yeah,” Porter said. “I’m plotting the locations of the incidents now.” He brought a schematic of the station up on the wall monitor of the conference room. A series of blinking red dots appeared indicating each reported incident.
“Well, I think we know what this means,” Beck said.
“Craig has another excuse for his inability to get a date?” Russell offered.
“NOT what she meant,” Porter said.
Russell grinned then stated the obvious, “The mall.”
“So there’s somebody stalking us when we’re in the mall just waiting to revise our timelines until he finds one where bad things happen to us?”
“That’s the theory,” Beck said.
“What are we going to do about it?” Morales said. “Wander the mall until something bad happens to us and hope we spot the guy?”
“Was he volunteering?” Beck asked Porter.
“Sounded like it to me,” Porter replied.
“Oh crap,” Morales muttered.
“What are we supposed to be looking for?” Ensign Brendan Shust asked impatiently.
“Just watch him,” Lieutenant Mike Waits replied, trying to look nonchalant as he leaned against one of the incredibly real- looking sculpted fake trees rising up in the middle of Starfleet Square Mall’s lower concourse, clam chowder-on-a-stick in hand.
“I’m watching. I’m watching,” Shust, who was seated on a bench near Waits, groused before taking a lick of his chili-on-a- stick.
Above them Commander Walter Morales strolled along the upper concourse for the sixth time in the last hour. So far the closest he’d come to bad luck was Baughb trying to drag him into McBaughb’s for a free sample of his new svannitz-kabob sandwich.
“Hey there, hot stuff,” a sultry voice said, sliding up next to him.
“Steph!” Morales exclaimed.
Shust practically leapt off of his bench. “The worm has caught a fish! I repeat, the worm has caught a fish!”
“That’s his girlfriend, you nimrod,” Waits spat.
“Well, if I knew what I was supposed to be looking for…”
“Just keep watching.”
Back on the upper concourse, Stephanie Hodges frowned. “That sounded like a bad ‘Steph.’”
“No! Not bad. It’s just…now isn’t a good time.”
“Any particular reason?”
“I’m…in the middle of something.”
“Steph, please. I don’t want anything to happen.”
“Is something going to happen?”
“I don’t know,” Morales said, noticing a stray bit of cloth on the floor and stepping over it. Someone must have dropped a handkerchief. Good thing he saw that or else…
Porter’s world suddenly rewound. Shaking his head to clear the disorientation the effect inevitably caused, he slammed his hand down on his console in Ops, activating a preprogrammed sequence of commands.
Across Ops at tactical, Russell bolted upright. “What? Did you feel it?”
“Oh yeah. Porter to Waits! Is anything happening down there? Can you see Commander Morales?”
“Yep. I can see him all right,” Waits said looking up at the upper concourse railing, the very same railing Morales was currently dangling from, several feet above the lower concourse. “He just slipped on something and fell over the railing.”
“Is he okay?” Porter said.
“He hasn’t lost his grip…yet.”
“Walter!” Hodges cried, grabbing onto Morales’s arm. “I’ve got you.”
Morales craned his neck toward Hodges. “Don’t try to pull me up!”
“Why? I can do it!”
“Just watch your footing. I hit something and…”
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Hodges screamed as her boot hit a discarded handkerchief that neither of them had noticed. She slipped backwards, losing her grip on Morales, and hit the deck directly in front of an oncoming hover rascal driven by an elderly Andorian woman. The Andorian, who was really starting to hate the people on Waystation, veered off to avoid hitting the fallen Federation Marine. In all honesty, she only veered off because Hodges’ fall surprised her. Under normal circumstances, she would have run Hodges right over.
But instead she veered, lost control, and slammed the hover rascal into the railing, jarring Morales, who lost his grip and plummeted to the concourse below with a bone crunching thud.
“The worm is squished!” Shust announced. “I repeat, the worm is squished!”
Porter and Russell looked up in surprise as Captain Beck walked into the Security Office from the lower concourse of Starfleet Square Mall.
“How are we doing?” Beck asked, then, seeing the expressions on their faces, “What? What is it?”
“You walked here?” Russell said.
“Through the mall?”
“That’s kind of the way. How did you two get here?”
“Transporter,” Porter said.
“Paranoid are we?”
“But they’re watching us!” Russell exclaimed.
“We’re up to a ‘they’ now?”
“Don’t know,” Porter said. “We’re going through the vids from Commander Morales’s incident. Is he okay?”
“There were multiple fractures, but Diantha mended his legs. He’ll be up and around soon,” Beck replied, stepping to the other side of Russell’s desk so that she could watch the playback.
“It looks like he slipped,” Porter said.
“Handkerchief,” Beck said. “Steph told me.”
“Whoever it was had to know the handkerchief was there,” Porter said.
“Do you think it was dropped intentionally?”
“I doubt it. It was probably just there. And since I had a rewind, I’m guessing Morales missed it the first time through.”
“That guy,” Russell said pointing at the screen. Porter and Beck followed his gaze to the indicated individual, a human male with shaggy salt and pepper hair and a thick mustache carrying a large Freight of Rigel box in his arms. He was leaning against the wall opposite the railing where Morales took his fall, but he didn’t seem to be paying any particular attention to Morales’s approach.
“When did he get to that spot?” Beck asked. Russell rewound the recording, revealing that the man, who seemed to be struggling under the weight of his purchase, made it to the wall about thirty seconds before Morales and Hodges approached.
“I think he’s just resting, Sean,” Porter said.
“No. He’s the guy.”
“Why him?” Beck asked.
“I feel like I’ve seen him before.”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
“Computer, search security logs from Starfleet Square Mall for the last week and return any images of the man shown in section A-2 of the monitor.”
“Working,” the computer said flatly.
“It’s him,” Russell said confidently.
“It’s a hunch thing, huh?” Porter said.
“Search complete,” the computer said.
“Bring up the earliest image,” Russell ordered. The monitor shifted to show the same man walking along the lower concourse in front of Nandegar’s Secret.
“So he’s only been here today,” Beck said. “He’s got the box.”
“This was two days ago,” Russell said. “Told you I’d seen him before. Him and the box.”
“Maybe he really likes Freight of Rigel,” Porter said. Russell scrolled forward through the returned images. In every single one, the man was carrying the large Freight of Rigel box.
“We need to see what he’s toting around,” Beck said.
“I can detain him,” Russell said, starting to rise from his chair.
“Woah. Hang on a second,” Porter said. “This guy is possibly carrying a device that can alter timelines. If you go at him head on, he could just start jumping timelines until he finds one where he gets away or worse. We need to take this slowly.”
Beck nodded, “Okay. I’ll give you that. And I really don’t need anyone screwing around with the space-time continuum if we can avoid it. Starfleet wants lots of paperwork for that one. Let’s find out who he is.”
“According to station records, he rented a room under the name of Peter Thompson,” Russell said.
“How nice and generic.”
“It’s going to take a while to find out who he really is if that’s all we have to go on,” Porter said.
“Then let’s get a bit more,” Russell replied.
“Excuse me, sir. My name is Yeoman Tina Jones, and I’m with the Waystation Welcome Center. Would you be interested in filling out a brief survey about your impressions of your visit to Waystation today?”
“I don’t think so.”
“We’re giving all survey respondents a ten credit gift chip to McBaughb’s for your trouble.”
The box-carrying man considered this a moment. “Will it take long?”
“Only a minute or two.”
“Okay. I guess.” He put the box took down and took the proffered padd from Yeoman Jones. “Am I happy with my accommodations? Yes. Is the replicator selection satisfactory? Yes.” He trailed off, muttering the questions to himself and he ticked off his answers with the padd’s stylus. Less than a minute later, he held it out to Jones. “Here you are…OW!”
“OH!” Jones exclaimed horrified. “Did it scratch you? I’m so sorry. I’ve been warning everyone about that, and I forgot to tell you. I’m SOOO sorry. We kind of get the hand-me-downs in the Welcome Center, and this padd been well loved. Here. Take two gift chips. Again, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” the man replied, pocketing his gift chips before scooping the box back up and striding off.
“Thank you for your time,” Jones called after him.
She turned around and found herself looking at a grinning Efrosian woman. “Can I take a survey?”
“Um…sure,” Jones said, handing her the padd. “Just watch out for the pointy bit there.”
An hour later, Porter, Russell and Beck were back in the Security Office, looking at the monitors once again.
“We’ve got him,” Russell said.
“Funny how fingerprints and a DNA sample can narrow your suspect field down so quickly,” Porter remarked.
“Isn’t it?” Russell said.
Beck peered at the screen. “Doctor Jarvis Grint of the Pakled Institute of Making Things Work.”
“It’s a…less prestigious institution of higher learning,” Porter said. “They do have a Federnet site, though, which is pretty astounding for a place on Pakled. Doctor Grint is a professor of engineering and applied science or, as the Pakleds call it, building new stuff.”
“Okay, but none of this explains why he’s been attacking the four of us. I’ve never even heard of him.”
“Neither have we,” Porter said.
“Uh oh,” Russell said as he continued to scroll through the information in front of him. “According to the campus news, Doctor Jarvis gave a well-attended lecture last night called ‘Fixing Stuff in Your House.’”
“He does home repair, too. What a guy,” Porter said.
“And he can also be in two places at once, which is pretty damn impressive,” Beck said. “Unless you’ve got another explanation.”
“It’s time to get that box,” Porter said.
“Beck to Russell.”
“Baughb says Grint is in the restaurant now.”
“Acknowledged. I’m going in.”
“Be careful,” Porter’s voice said, breaking in to the comm. “Try not to tip him off.”
“Are you trying to make me nervous? I’ll handle it. Russell out.” Waystation’s Chief of Security strolled casually into McBaughb’s and made his way toward the counter, stealing a sideways glance at Grint, who was seated at one of the tables close to the exit, the box resting on the table in front of him. From this angle, it appeared that one hand was actually inside the box while the other was putting food in his mouth. Russell bought a drink, wandered over to the soda dispenser, and filled his cup.
“Rewind!” Porter’s voice said in Russell’s earpiece. What rewind, Russell wondered. He was just about to fill his soda cup. What could possibly…
He pressed the soda dispenser, which sent a spray of cold liquid into his face.
Russell slammed the cup down and whirled around toward Grint, who was trying to hide his chuckling.
“That’s the last time, you son of a…”
Grint’s eyes widened in panic as he shoved his free hand into the box in front of him.
“Rewind,” Porter’s voice cried in Russell’s earpiece.
Rewind? Why would they be rewinding now? Russell hadn’t even gotten into McBaughb’s yet. Dr. Grint, box in his arms, suddenly darted out of the restaurant and rushed off down the concourse.
“Russell to Security. He’s bolting! Go to Plan B! Plan B!” he shouted, taking off in pursuit.
With the announcement of Plan B, two of Russell’s security officers, Ensigns Tom Jacob and Laru Hassna, rushed out from their hiding place inside of The Frugal Fabrini right in Grint’s path. They reached out to grab him.
“Rewind!” Porter shouted.
Russell had just started chasing Grint down the concourse. Grint was still in front of him. What was the problem? Russell could see his officers charging out of The Frugal Fabrini.
Grint suddenly raced left and ducked into the turbolift.
“He’s in the turbolifts! Shut them down!” Russell shouted.
“Rewind!” Porter’s voice said.
Ahead of Russell, Grint rushed into a turbolift.
“He’s in the turbolifts! Shut them down!” Russell shouted.
“Too late!” Lieutenant Mike Waits’ voice reported. Waits was monitoring the situation from Ops. “He just went down to the lower concourse.”
Russell ran to the turbolift, Ensigns Jacob and Laru joining him.
“I’m restarting them. It will be a second.”
Russell rushed over to the railing and looked down. Not surprisingly, Grint was out of the turbolift and running away from the direction of the Security Office.
“Russell to Shust. He’s heading your way.”
“We’re ready, sir!” Shust’s voice replied.
On the lower concourse, Grint dashed past Haute Horta, just barely avoiding Ensign Shust and Ensign Stockman, who had been waiting within. They continued on, passing in front of Krilik’s Klingon Formal Wear Shop, which was still being rebuilt following the explosion earlier in the year.
Krilik’s voice could be heard booming from within. “Be cautious with that paint cannon, you worthless pitakh! If you…”
The inside of the front display window was suddenly filled with oozing yellow paint.
Grint could hear the footsteps of the security officers right behind him.
“Rewind!” Porter announced.
Shust had no idea what that meant, but it wouldn’t matter. The target was right in front of him. He’d have this Grint person in hand before he made it past Krilik’s.
Krilik’s voice could be heard booming from inside the dress shop. “Be cautious with that paint cannon, you worthless pitakh! If you don’t…”
A wave of yellow paint gushed out of the open door of the Krilik’s construction site, engulfing Shust and Stockman on its way to slamming them against the opposite wall of the concourse.
“Ow,” Shust groaned, sputtering paint.
Grint continued onward. Up ahead, a turbolift opened, depositing Russell, Jacob, and Laru onto the lower concourse. Damn sideways moving turbolifts!
“Rewind!” Porter’s voice called over Russell’s earpiece.
“Come on. Come on!” Russell said, smacking the turbolift door in front of him impatiently. Finally it opened, allowing him, Jacob, and Laru to race out into the lower concourse.
Grint was nowhere to be seen.
The reason for that was that Grint had changed course and run down an access hallway leading to the rear corridor running behind the mall stores. He turned the corner to get out of the view from the concourse and…
“I’ll take that,” Porter said, snatching the Freight of Rigel box right out Grint’s hands.
“NO!” Grint screamed, diving at Porter. The pair hit the ground in a heap. Porter lost his grip on the box, which slid several feet down the hall. Grint scrambled over him, digging several knees and boots into Porter in the process, but Porter was able to grab onto his leg. Grint kicked back with his free leg, catching Porter in the forehead with the side of his boot. The edge was enough to break the skin, not to mention cause Porter some serious pain on impact. Still Porter held on until…
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” Captain Beck shouted, firing a phaser blast between Grint and the box for good measure. “GET UP!” Porter let go, allowing Grint to get to his feet as Porter did the same. “Are you okay?” Beck said, stepping up to the pair.
“Couldn’t be better,” Porter said, breathing heavily as he wiped off the blood dripping down his face from the gash in his forehead.
Russell came jogging up from the concourse a moment later. “Hey! Plan B worked!” he said happily, producing a pair of binders from his pockets and approaching Grint. “By the way, you’re under arrest.”
“This…this was a plan?” Dr. Jarvis Grint stammered as Russell spun him around and smacked the binders around his wrists. “How? You couldn’t have known…”
“…that you were changing timelines more often than I change my socks?” Porter said. “Normally you’d be right, but you see I had a little accident in my lab. Somehow I set my sonic screwdriver to the wrong setting. That never happens to me. A real piece of bad luck there. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
Grint frowned, but didn’t speak. “Let me guess,” Russell said. “None of us were in the mall that night, so you picked somebody to follow and torment in their quarters. Porter ended up going to his lab, so you set up shop outside.”
“And then you kept hitting your timeline switcher over and over until something happened to me,” Porter said. “Good one. I got dosed with enough chronitons to protect me from these changes you’ve been making.”
Grint began to quiver with rage. “No! Not again! It can’t end like this again! YOU!” He charged Porter, but with his hands bound behind him, he didn’t get very far before Russell grabbed him and yanked him back. “Even if you could sense the changes,” Grint seethed, “how could you catch me? It was like you were waiting for me!”
“We were waiting for you.”
“But you couldn’t predict what would happen, what timeline I would choose!” Grint protested.
“I didn’t need to,” Porter said. “I just limited the choices until you ended up here.”
“Assuming that we weren’t able to get the box away from you in McBaughb’s, which we evidently weren’t since you went running out of there…”
“He tried to attack me,” Grint said, glaring at Russell.
“I did? I don’t remember…”
“Different timeline,” Porter said. “But when you ran out of there, you saw Russell coming from one direction, so you took off in the other direction. Two choices.”
“Three. I could have run back into the restaurant,” Grint said smugly.
“And get trapped? Two choices.”
“Fine. Two choices.”
“Thank you. Then you saw more security ahead of you, so it was get captured or go into the turbolift. Two choices. Then we ordered the turbolift shut down. You had enough time to make it one floor. You couldn’t go up because you’re not authorized to get out on the Dillon Enterprises level, so you had to go to the lower concourse. Once there, you could either go toward the Security Office or away from it. You, of course, went away from the place full of lots more people waiting to capture you. We sent two more security officers out behind you to keep driving you along. I’m not sure how you ditched them…”
“Paint explosion,” Russell said.
“Ah…where did… No. Never mind. I’ll find out later. Anyway, Russell and more security were coming ahead of you, so you had to get off the mall concourse. This hallway was the only option. From there it was just a matter of what direction you’d turn at the intersection. The captain and I each covered a corner, and here you are. We herded you right into our waiting arms.”
“Damn you!” Grint screamed, making another useless attempt to get to Porter. He finally broke down, collapsing at Russell’s feet. “I’ve waited so long,” he wailed. “So long. And it ends like this? THIS?”
“We need to talk about this whole waiting thing,” Captain Beck said. “We don’t know who the hell you are. What have you been waiting for? And what does it have to do with us?”
“I’ve been waiting for revenge,” Grint said. “What else is worth waiting for? And it has everything to do with you. In about three months, the me that is currently on Pakled is going to quit my…his teaching position and come to this station determined to start a new life…of CRIME!”
“Well that’s over dramatic,” Porter muttered.
Grint got to his feet and began to pace. “I’d had enough of the Pakleds. Can you imagine trying to teach them to tie their shoes much less advanced engineering concepts? Why do that when I could come here and take whatever I wanted?”
“Because we would stop you,” Russell said.
“You had to know what was happening first,” Grint replied. “And you wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for me.” He looked at Porter. “And you. You were one of my main reasons for coming here. I’ve read your work on temporal physics. Wonderful stuff. Inspiring really. It’s a field I dabble in as well. I never took the time to publish, but when I showed you my work, you were immediately interested. It was a wonderful setup. Temporal research by day. Theft by night.”
“You used some kind of temporal manipulation device in your robberies.”
“And you figured it out,” Grint said. “You, Mister Russell there, and Commander Morales captured me, and then your captain…” (This word was spat with particular venom.) “…had me shipped off to a rehabilitation colony for the next thirty years!”
“Thirty years!” Beck exclaimed surprised.
“I don’t rehabilitate well,” Grint said.
“I never would have guessed.”
“It gave me lots of time to plan my revenge, though. I designed the timeline selector based on our work together,” Grint said to Porter. “And after my release, I was able to construct it and find a way to get back here before my younger self arrived. All that remained was to enjoy the hell I put you all through before I found a timeline in which each of you died. Well, except you, of course, Craig. You’d be emotionally devastated by the loss of your friends, I’m sure, but our work would help you heal. And this time, you wouldn’t find out about my…other activities.”
“But that would wipe you from the timestream,” Porter said.
“Which him?” Russell asked confused.
“The one we’re talking to now.”
“I know,” Grint said. “And it will be more than worth it to give myself a better life. So send me to a rehab colony. Go ahead. When I am released this time, I’ll try again!”
Porter thought about that for a second. “Actually, you won’t,” he said finally.
“YES! I will!”
“No because you won’t be here. Since we know that the younger you is coming, we can intercept him and prevent any of what you told us from ever happening. And if it never happens, he won’t live the life you did, so he won’t have a reason to come back here, so you won’t be here, which means you’re about to be wiped from the time stream anyway.”
Grint smiled evilly. “But if I never come back here, none of this will have happened, which means you’ll have no way of knowing that the younger me is coming and what his plans are, which means that everything will happen again just as it has. You already know what that means, don’t you Craig? We’re in a dead-end timeline. Any second now, this one will disappear, replaced by a timeline where you are blissfully oblivious of what’s to come. And who knows, maybe our existence here will nudge the new timeline enough that things happen a little differently. Stranger things have happened. One thing is certain, though: that little rinse of chronitons you got won’t protect you from this kind of timeline shift.”
Porter’s fists clenched. Grint was right. They would go through this again in a new timeline because the chronitons…
“Porter to Waits. Emergency transport to Science Lab Two!”
“Now?” Waits’ voice asked over the comm.
“That’s why I said ‘emergency’!”
“Craig, what are you doing?” Beck said.
“You can’t stop it,” Grint crowed.
But Porter was already dematerializing, Grint’s cackling echoing in his ears.
He reappeared in Science Lab Two moments later. He had no idea how much time he had left. Seconds. Less. The others could already be shifting to the new timeline, their memories of the last couple of days erased. If it happened to him, young Grint would arrive in three months, and the whole cycle would start again. Grint had used him to learn more about the nature of time and then used that knowledge to hurt Porter and his friends.
NO! Not again.
Porter dove into the chroniton storage chamber and slammed the door shut, the exertion sending a fresh trickle of blood down his face. He just had to hope there was enough chroniton radiation remaining to do the job.
Porter activated the chamber.
“And that’s how I got this cut on my head,” Porter said, leaning back in his chair.
Across the table they were occupying in the Starfleet Square Mall food court, Lieutenant Commander Russell stared back at him blankly.
“That’s just nuts!” he said finally.
“No, you don’t. I mean it’s insane. As in crazy. As in you’re delusional! It never happened!”
“Yes, it did. You just can’t remember it because the you from that timeline ceased to exist when the timelines shifted. I was protected by a chroniton field, so only I remember it.”
“So the timeline shifty machine…”
“Was wiped out when the timelines shifted.”
“And you’re here.”
“What about the you who was already here?” Russell asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you were here for the last couple of days when none of that stuff was happening, but now you’re sitting there saying that you’re from a different timeline where all of that stuff did happen. So what happened to the other you? The one I had breakfast with this morning.”
“Um…I replaced him.”
“What do you mean replaced?”
“He was here, and now I am. I took over his place in the timeline.”
“So you killed him!” Russell said.
“No, I didn’t!”
“You’re not him. He doesn’t exist anymore. Sounds to me like you killed him. And since he’s you, you killed yourself! You committed suicide right under my nose!”
“That not how it worked.”
“Don’t give me that. You went and offed yourself! You couldn’t have talked to me about it first?”
“Some friend you are. Hell, you aren’t my friend! At least not the one I knew this morning. How do I know that you really are even you?”
“Fine! I slipped in the shower.”
“The cut on my head. I slipped in the shower. Happy?”
“So you made all of that other crap up.”
“Sure. Whatever,” Porter replied. “Some Starfleet officer you are. Can’t even handle an alternate timeline,” he added under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. Eat your soup…on a stick.”