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Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment
Star Trek is not mine and I make no claim on it

A Matter of Timing

Stardate 46136.2

As the door sighed shut behind her most difficult client, the ship’s counselor headed towards the replicator in search of comfort.

Waiting the scant seconds while the hot chocolate materialised, Deanna rotated her shoulders wearily. She couldn’t shake the nagging conviction that she had not made a very good job of that counselling session. It was so difficult, being unable to sense anything from him, it was like working blind. And on top of that, having to try and maintain scrupulous logic, when she was more at ease with intuitive understanding—it was hard work.

But this one had been particularly difficult, and, sitting on the plush sofa and sipping meditavely at her hot drink, Deanna doubted whether she had been any help at all.

Data seemed to be able to counter all her arguments, and her suggestion that Dr Soong had not said he loved his android son simply because he was too inhibited to reveal his emotions... wasn’t an explanation that satisfied her either. In fact, when she considered the matter, it was difficult to find any evidence that Soong had loved Data. Soong had abandoned him—and Lore, though that was perhaps more understandable—and then summoned him back ruthlessly, without a moment’s thought for the problems this might have caused. Had caused, indeed. He had tried to provide Data with rudimentary emotions, it was true, and there seemed to have been some kind of approval embedded in this new dream program, but...

"Couldn’t you at least have told him you loved him?" she said aloud, exasperated. "Euphemisms don't work with Data!" No human being had ever told Data that he—or she—loved him. That would have struck her as unbearably sad, if not for the fact that Data was incapable of feeling the loneliness it entailed.

It was strange, though. Data had almost seemed to want to believe that his father had not loved him. He had certainly countered her suggestions very neatly. And today, Deanna’s own logic had been faltering.

Ah, Data. Humans are too complicated.

Love is too complicated.

Perhaps she needed a counselor to counsel her. No, no, she knew what the questions were, she even knew what the answers were, it was just believing them that was so hard. She felt as though she’d been travelling through time, back eight years to when Will was still Bill and her imzadi in truth as well as name, back to the heady sensation of being loved, passionately and comprehensively loved.

Trouble is, that I’m not the same person I was then. I’ve grown wary. I’ve grown up.

There was also the strange perception that, while Thomas Riker was still the man who loved her—and left her, just as he had done eight years ago—the Deanna Troi of the here and now liked the Will Riker she knew today better than the man she used to know. Even though he no longer loved her, he was her friend. Solid strength, a warm shoulder when she needed one, a teasing smile.

But oh, to be loved like that again.

Deanna’s chocolate was nearly gone. She grimaced at the emptying cup. It wasn’t really enough bolstering for the trial ahead, but she didn’t really want another, and unfortunately, she couldn’t put it off any longer.

A message from mother. No doubt Lwaxana would breeze in like a loving hurricane, scatter Deanna’s emotions and leave her breathless and overwhelmed, as usual. What would it be this time—some new, unexpectable trouble, or just a repeat of the favourite theme? My Little One must find herself a husband and start producing the next daughter of the Fifth House, someone to hold the Sacred Chalice and wear the Holy Rings seventy years from now. Hah, Deanna thought rebelliously, just wait till you have to introduce some handsome new man to your grandchild, mother, then see how you feel about it!

She reconsidered. Mother would probably be delighted to flirt with a new prospect and show off her grandbaby at the same time. But I’m not ready for that yet, she told herself. I have other things to do first.

Only, it would be nice to think that, one day... It wasn’t something she could admit to her mother (who probably knew it anyway), but she did hope that somewhere in her future was a lover who wouldn’t leave, and a child who would grow up.

Better see what she has to say, Deanna told herself bracingly, but was reprieved.

Senior staff to the Observation Lounge for a briefing in thirty minutes.

Deanna smiled.

* * *

There was an air of concern in the Observation Lounge. All the ship’s senior officers were gathered for the briefing: this had the potential to be a rather delicate mission, and unfortunately, whoever went on the Away Team would be working, if not precisely in the dark, certainly in the twilight.

"The Veldor system consists of five roughly earth-sized planets and one gas giant," Lt Cdr Data explained. "Of the smaller planets, one is M-class, the third from the star. It has one large satellite, 20% of the —" the android’s head gave a tiny, surprised jerk as he stopped, mid-sentence. Round the table, heads swivelled to see, at the far end of the room, a red-uniformed Ensign materialise from the familiar silvery blue shimmer of the transporter beam.

"What are you doing here, Ensign?" Picard snapped, getting to his feet. "Explain yourself!"

"Certainly, Captain Picard," the stranger replied. He was tallish, lightly built, with high cheekbones, a riot of dark red hair, and a nose that had plainly been reset by some doctor with a strange sense of humour. No-one had ever seen him before.

"In my left hand," he continued, almost conversationally, "I have a hypospray. In my right, I have a bomb." He opened his palm so that all could see the small, dull brown slab he held. "Miklonite and nitro-glycerine, a primitive combination but highly effective. Don’t —" he gestured towards Lieutenant Worf, who was half-rising from his seat in taut Klingon alertness, "— don’t even consider coming within three metres of me. I promise you, this little concoction is sensitive enough to react to any sudden movement, and more than powerful enough to blow the top deck right off the Enterprise."

"Lieutenant." Picard’s flat voice held an implicit order. Slowly, reluctantly, Worf lowered himself back into his seat.

"You will find," the unknown Ensign continued, "that your communicators have been disabled. I assure you this is only a temporary measure; they will be back to normal when you require them again."

So much for a cry for help, thought Will Riker.

"Doctor Crusher." The invader turned to the CMO, sitting immobile and very angry between the captain and Data. "You will please deactivate Lt Cdr Data." The silence took on, if possible, an even more horrified quality. How did this interloper know about Data’s off switch, and more, how did he know that Beverley was able to use it?

"What is it you want?" Picard asked carefully. "Surely there is no need for —"

"Quiet! Just do as I say."

With extreme reluctance, Dr Crusher reached an arm round behind the second officer and felt for the off switch. The android officer sagged gracelessly onto the table.

There was a telling hiss, and Lt Cdr LaForge slumped onto the table. Bypassing Counselor Troi, the strange ensign swiftly rounded the table and applied the small medical device to Cdr Riker’s neck, to the captain’s, and then to Dr Crusher. Then he returned to Deanna’s side and placed the device on the table in front of her before stepping back a pace. "Use it, please, on your head of Security." As she hesitated, he gestured with the hand that held the explosive. "A double dose, if you please." Helpless to discover an alternative, Deanna rose from her seat and took the hypospray round to Worf, held it against his neck and squeezed the trigger. "Again." She complied.

The intruder took out a tricorder from his belt holster and carefully scanned up and down the table. Then he sat down, waved the astonished Counselor back into her chair, and smiled.

Deanna was completely confused. This stranger, this... terrorist? beamed into the senior officers’ briefing, threatened to blow the lid off the Enterprise, and he was sitting down as calm as you please, and feeling... amused?

"Who are you?" she asked. "What is it you want?"

"My name is not important. As for what I want..." he smiled, an attractive, if somewhat rueful smile. "At the moment, what I want is a couple of hours’ quiet conversation with you. Unfortunately, I only have a few minutes, and that’s shockingly self-indulgent. Chocolate?"

"What?" She watched in astonishment as he broke a piece off the block of explosive, and offered it to her. Shrugging, he placed it on the table between them, and broke off another piece for himself. Disbelieving, Troi inched her hand towards the lethal brown chunk and picked it up. It looked like chocolate, smelt like chocolate, tasted like chocolate... the Enterprise had effectively been hijacked by a man wielding a slab of confectionery! No wonder he was amused.

"Please, Counselor, don’t worry. Your friends will wake up in less than thirty minutes with no ill effects. And so will you. But before I have to put you to sleep as well, tell me, where do you come from and do you have any children?"

Deanna’s extrasense had been giving emphatic notice of the stranger’s interest, so the questions did not surprise her. Nonetheless, he was definitely taking liberties, whoever he was. But she sensed no hostility, no malice, and though there was a definite firmness of purpose in his thoughts, there was no desire to cause any harm. Rather against her will, she found herself beginning to like this stranger. He certainly had a disarming grin. It reminded her of something of... Will?

"I’m half human," she answered, "but I was born on Betazed. I get my empathic abilities from my Betazoid mother, and no, I don’t have any children."

"Betazed. Mmm. Do all the women there have eyes like yours?"

"Everyone does."

He said nothing further, just stared at her, gazing with patent masculine admiration into her mysterious dark eyes, until with a sigh he reached for the hypospray and stood up. "I’m sorry about this, Deanna," he apologised, and drawing her thick mane aside, applied the anaesthetic device to her neck.

* * *

Picard and his senior officers filed back onto the bridge and resumed their seats.

"Helm, set course one zero five mark three two," the captain instructed. "Warp two. Engage."

A few minutes later the conn ensign announced that the Enterprise was approaching the Trigan system, and was ordered to slow to impulse.

Data scanned his ops panel. "Sir, sensors are detecting unusual activity in the vicinity of the fourth planet of the system. I am reading high levels of dolamide and ultritium dust, most likely explanation, weapons discharge."

"Continue analysis, Mr Data. On screen as soon as we are within range."

Data’s console revealed, and the viewscreen confirmed, that the two vessels currently engaged in battle around the third moon of the gas giant Trigo Four were an Antican hero-class ship and a Seli marauder. Even as the Enterprise hastened closer, the antagonists sent out a devastating exchange of fire and within seconds, both exploded into shards of useless wreckage.

"Mr Data, were you able to identify the ships?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Please inform the Seli and Antican governments of the incident. Mr Worf, prepare a modified photon torpedo casing. All stop."

"Answering all stop, sir," the conn ensign replied dutifully.

"Fire when ready, Mr Worf."

"Firing, sir."

They watched the screen thoughtfully as the disarmed torpedo impacted on the moon ahead.

"Helm, resume course for the Veldor system. Warp five. Engage. Senior staff conference," Captain Picard announced and led the way to the Observation Lounge.

* * *

LaForge was the first to waken, groggily coming back to consciousness and remembering with a flood of adrenaline why he had been sleeping during a staff briefing. But the mysterious ensign was gone, and the other officers round the table were gradually beginning to stir. Except for Data. Geordi suppressed a shudder as he looked at his friend’s frozen form. Quickly he located the switch on Data’s back and reactivated him.

"What the hell was that all about?" Riker expressed the confusion they all felt.

Deanna was still asleep, sprawled in a graceful tangle of curls. Slightly concerned, Dr Crusher moved round to take her friend’s pulse, and was relieved to see the ship’s counselor begin to come round.

Everyone’s attention focussed on the captain. His face was set, and not one of his officers would have relished being the target of that veiled fury. "Mr Worf, instigate a ship-wide search. If that Ensign is still aboard, I want him found. If not, I want to know how he got here and where he went. Mr Data, run a full analysis of all ship’s systems, see if anything has been affected and what exactly has been happening while we’ve been in here. Mr LaForge, I want an inspection of everything in engineering to see if there has been any tampering. Dr Crusher, examine this room for DNA traces and anything else that might provide us with some clues to his identity. Now, let’s get back to the bridge and find out where we are." Stiff-backed, the captain strode back to his bridge and seated himself firmly in the command chair. Riker and Troi flanked him and Data resumed his station at Ops while the other officers crossed to the turbolift to get on with their tasks.

"Helm, what is our course and position?" said Picard brusquely.

The Ensign seemed confused. "Heading 246 mark 37, sir, speed Warp Five. We will arrive at the Veldor system in twenty-three hours."

Picard and Riker exchanged glances. Same heading and speed as before that curious incident... What in heaven’s name had been the purpose behind that unknown Ensign’s visit?

* * *

Three hours later the officers reconvened to report on their investigations.

"We have found no trace of the intruder, sir," Worf snarled with barely-pent frustration. "He was not aboard the Enterprise at zero hundred hours, he did not use the Enterprise transporters to beam on or off the ship, and he is not aboard now."

"There’s no trace of any interference with the transporter logs, Captain," LaForge offered. "Nor anywhere else, as far as I can tell. I’ve run a full scan of all crucial systems, and I’ve got two teams checking through every inch of wiring on the ship to see if we’re carrying anything we don’t want to be carrying, but so far, the ship’s clean."

"I can find no faults in any of the ship’s functions," stated Data, his calm tone contrasting with the chief engineer’s mellow, musical voice, "although it appears that all computer functions in the Observation Lounge were disabled while the intruder was in there, as there is no record of his having been present aboard the Enterprise. However, there is one unexplained matter. According to the navigation logs, while we were unconscious, the Enterprise altered course to investigate an anomalous reading on the far side of the Trigan system. A photon torpedo was fired."

Worf bristled with fury. How dared anyone fire one of his torpedoes!

The captain leaned forward. "On whose authority?"

Data hesitated for an instant. "On yours, sir," he answered matter-of-factly.

Picard sat back incredulously. "On mine?" One hand smoothed over his scalp. "Could we be talking about some sort of shapeshifter? Dr Crusher, your analysis."

"I wasn’t able to pick up many traces, Captain," she replied, "but there were fingerprints and a few cellular remnants on the hypospray, which incidentally," her eyes flashed angrily, "came from the Enterprise Sick Bay. Whoever he was, all his genetic traces register him as fully human. If he was a shapeshifter, Captain, he must have been an extraordinarily capable one."

"I don’t believe he was a shapeshifter," Counselor Troi interjected at this point. She was as baffled as the others, but unlike them, could not regard the intruder with unremitting hostility and suspicion. "What I sensed from him was in essence what I sense from all of you. I mean, from the humans on board. I’d say he was an ordinary man, Captain."

"Then what the devil did he want?" Picard said irritably.

"I don’t know, sir, but..." Deanna hesitated.

"Please go on, Counselor."

"From what I sensed from him, I’m convinced he had no wish to harm anybody on board. In fact, he could not have hurt us."

"But the bomb? Miklonite and nitro-glycerine would pack a hell of a punch," Riker interrupted.

"Yes, Commander, but what that Ensign brought on board was not miklonite and nitro-glycerine," she replied mildly. "It was chocolate."

Troi was beginning to find the whole incident rather funny, but it was apparent from the explosions of wrath around the table that she was alone in that view. The reactions she was sensing from the Klingon security chief almost scorched her extrasense. To be held up by a bandit wielding a bar of chocolate was not something that appealed to Worf’s limited sense of humour. Then again, nobody else seemed particularly amused either.

"All right!" said Picard, quieting the noise. "So we have an undetected intrusion by an non-existent human being who put the ship’s senior officers out of commission for two hours, apparently so that he could take the Enterprise a few million kilometers off course, fire a photon torpedo, and then leave! Can anyone think of any logical justification for any of this?"

Everyone was blank.

"Then I propose we return at once to the site of — "

Lieutenant Powell to Captain Picard. Sir, we’re detecting a temporal — no, wait, a ship has just appeared off our port side, matching us for speed.

"On my way." The captain swung himself out of his chair and made for the bridge. The others followed.

"Let’s see it."

The ship that appeared on the viewscreen was like nothing they had ever seen before. It appeared to be a small torus with a sunken but filled-in centre: its diameter was barely larger than a shuttlecraft, facetted with gleaming hexagonal panels.

"Analysis, Mr Data."

The android worked at his console, and his brow furrowed.

"I cannot scan the ship, sir," he announced. "There appears to be some kind of shielding in place... I am attempting to recalibrate the sensors to rescan. Captain, I am unable to define the size of the ship or its power capacity, or to locate its weapons, if it has any. It does not appear to match any known technology encountered by the Federation..." His voice tailed off unexpectedly, and his hands flickered over the console once again. "Sir, I believe I have discovered a correlation. Some of the readings do bear a resemblence to the ship we encountered on Stardate 45344.1, the ship piloted by the person who called himself Rasmussen."

Picard stilled as the realisation swept over him. "The time traveller!"

"Yes sir. That ship is not of the same construction as Rasmussen’s vessel, but there appear to be certain common factors. I believe it is a ship from the future, sir."

There was a moment of profound silence on the bridge.

"So what the hell do they want with us?" muttered an uneasy Riker.

"Captain," Worf’s voice, rich with apprehension. "We are being hailed."

Picard drew in a deep breath. "On screen."

The face that appeared was as human as his own, and even more worried. The man was perhaps sixty years old, with a grizzled beard.

"Am I addressing Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Enterprise?"

Picard swallowed his surprise at being hailed by name, and nodded.

"Captain Picard, may I come aboard your vessel? There is a matter of extreme importance which I must discuss with you."

"And who are you, sir?" Picard was in no mood to allow any more total strangers aboard his ship. Wherever, or whenever, they might come from.

"Captain, there are reasons, compelling reasons, why I must speak to you in private. Please..."

On the other hand, it did not look as though he was going to get any explanations via the communications system. And the captain had never been one to believe in coincidence. Perhaps this incident was connected to the disruption in the Observation Lounge. "Very well, you may beam aboard. Mr Worf, please go to Transporter Room Three to receive our guest. I’ll be in my ready room."

The transmission ceased. Leaving the bridge to his first officer, Picard went to the replicator in his ready room. He felt an overwhelming need for a nice calming cup of tea.

When he turned round, cup in hand, he was not alone.

"Captain Picard," said the grey-bearded man. "Forgive me, I thought it would raise fewer questions in the long run if I circumvented your transporter system. My name is Thomas Thurssen."

Picard stared at the newcomer for a long, uncomfortable moment. "Would you care for some tea?" he enquired, at last, seating himself behind his desk.

"Thank you, no. Captain, I — what I have to tell you — oh dear, it is all going to seem so fantastic to you, I am not sure where to begin."

"Perhaps you should start by telling me where you are from." Picard took a leisurely sip of his Earl Grey. "Or should I say, when?"

"Ah." The other man looked relieved. The captain waved him to sit. "Then you have already recognised that my ship is from your future?"

"We have encountered a similar technology before."

"Quite. Well, my pilot assured me that this was the case, but I am heartily glad to have confirmation. You see, captain, we have certain rules, analogous to your Prime Directive. In essence, we are not supposed to make it possible for anyone from the past ever to know that we have been in their vicinity, and we must never interfere with any actions, we may only observe. I have always observed these rules, always, and yet this time..."

"This time you have chosen to reveal your ship to my crew, and to come aboard to talk to me. I assume there is a reason." Picard was beginning to grow impatient with this fussy creature. Surely this could not be a future Starfleet officer? His loosely-hanging beige garments did not appear to constitute a uniform, but who could tell where fashion’s vagaries would lead in the future? Whoever Thomas Thurssen might be, Jean-Luc Picard wished he would get to the point.

"I need your help, Captain Picard." Thurssen leaned forward, an imploring expression in his pale blue eyes.

Now that was unexpected. The captain found himself sipping thoughtfully at his tea as he considered.

"You had better explain," he prompted the alleged time-traveller.

"Yes. Quite. Well," Thurssen rubbed his hands together. "My mission — I am a, uh, let me say, a scientific historian." He looked cautiously at the captain. "I had made an application to observe... a certain event which occurred on one of the moons of Trigo Four. It’s an uninhabited system... Anyway, when we came out of, uh, when my ship, I mean, when we arrived, there was a battle in progress."

"A battle?"

"Yes, I don’t know what ships they were, it doesn’t matter anyway, the point is, they destroyed each other almost the instant that we materialised in our chosen site. Unfortunately, we had, uh, miscalculated our celestial position by a fraction, a small fraction, captain, really, almost insignificant, and we were hit by a, uh, projectile from the Seli vessel."

Worf to Captain Picard. Sir, there is no sign of the--

"It’s all right, Lieutenant," the captain responded. "Our... guest has already arrived. Please return to the bridge." He could almost hear the Klingon’s snort of anger, and stifled a grim smile as he turned his attention back to Thurssen. "Was your ship damaged? Do you require our help with the repair?" He found it hard to credit. How could his engineers help repair a ship they could barely even analyse?

"No, no, no, no, we sustained no damage. The projectile was absorbed by our shielding device, so my pilot tells me. No. The point is, that it shouldn’t have been."

Picard looked at his increasingly unwelcome visitor. Thurssen cringed, and continued his disjointed tale. "What should have happened, what I was in fact present to observe, was the projectile impacting on the moon. It had some, er, highly interesting consequences, and I wanted to see..."

"And instead, by arriving in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, you have prevented the event from occurring at all," Picard summarised.

"Yes," said his visitor, miserably.

"So... in what way can the Enterprise be of assistance?" He was beginning to see where this was leading.

"Ah, yes. I need you to fire a suitable projectile at the third moon of Trigo Four. That will bring things back into their proper order," said Thurssen eagerly.

"I see." The captain thought for a moment. "I will have to discuss the matter with my senior staff."

Thurssen seemed to shrink within himself. "I suppose... since you have already encountered a, uh, time traveller..."

"The concept is hardly beyond our understanding," said Picard dryly. "Come with me."

He swept back on to the bridge and straight across to the briefing room, summoning the senior staff with a jerk of the head and slapping his commbadge to call Dr Crusher to the Observation Lounge.

Once his officers were assembled, Picard gave a succinct summary of what he had learned from Thurssen. Then, noting with some satisfaction that the hostile demeanour of his head of Security was having an unnerving effect upon their visitor, he continued: "I think our first order of priority is to satisfy ourselves that this man really is who he says he is. After all, our last visitation by a time traveller very nearly had disastrous repercussions."

"But Captain!" protested Thurssen.

"I have no intention of committing an act which may profoundly affect the future, at least, not unless I have very good cause to believe it necessary."

Their visitor sat, slack-mouthed with dismay.

"Captain," ventured Lt Cdr Data, "I am not sure that it will be possible for us to verify that Mr Thurssen —"

"Doctor Thurssen," came a weak protest.

"— Doctor Thurssen is indeed from the future. We have no means by which to verify any information he may give us from beyond our own present,"

"I wouldn’t tell you anything anyway," came the rather sullen rejoinder from the foot of the table.

"Isn’t there some procedure to follow in this situation, Doctor Thurssen?" asked Riker, masking his distaste.

"Of course not! This situation is not supposed to occur!"

"Mr Worf, would you escort our visitor to my ready room for a few moments," the captain requested mildly.

As the Klingon loomed out of the room in close proximity to the understandably nervous Thurssen, Picard looked round at his remaining officers.


"As far as I can tell, he’s exactly who and what he says he is, Captain," she replied. "He’s very unsure of himself, but I think that comes from being in a situation he’s not equipped to deal with."

"I must say I would have expected someone a little more competent," commented Riker. "This man hardly seems like an authority. I’d have thought only the very best would be allowed to travel through time."

"Rasmussen was more convincing," mused the captain.

"And more annoying — by a whisker," added Commander Riker.

"All right, so we’ll agree to take him, cautiously, at his word. The more pressing matter remains. Are we to solve his problem for him?"

Riker looked grim. "I’m not sure that we should, sir. Our mission to Veldor is important, we already know that. People may be dying there. He’s talking about an uninhabited moon orbiting an insignificant planet in a galactic backwater."

"I think it’s more significant than that," said Troi. "He’s very frightened."

"Hmm," said Picard thoughtfully, "I get the impression he’s at least as worried about what his superiors will say when he gets home as he is about rearranging the future."

"That may be true, sir. He is a small man, self-obsessed, but I think he is concerned about the bigger picture here."

"We need another perspective," the captain mused. "I wonder who else is on that ship? Mr Data, please hail the ship," Picard commanded.

"Yes, sir," said the android, his fingers moving with rapid grace over the control panel. "I am sorry, sir," said Data, "I am receiving a reply but it is audio only."

Picard looked grim. "Very coy, these time travellers. Very well. This is Captain Picard of the Enterprise. Please identify yourself."

Jake Edwards.

The captain’s face tightened. "Mr Edwards. I assume you are familiar with the reasons for Dr Thomas Thurssen’s presence on this ship."


"I am not prepared to grant his request unless and until I am convinced that it is genuine," Picard snapped. "Please make yourself available to answer some questions. In person! Picard out!"

A moment later, a new visitor stood at the foot of the table. There was a collective intake of breath. He might now be clad in a shimmering grey jumpsuit, but with his red hair and once-broken nose, this was unquestionably the mysterious Ensign who had burst into their lives not six hours ago.

"Captain Picard," said their new arrival, identifying the captain without hesitation. "I’m Jake Edwards. Pilot of the Taurus." His face registered alarm as he took in the blatant hostility from all the faces at the table. Even Data’s mechanical body was poised to suggest accusation.

"Then, Mr Jake Edwards, I think you owe us all an explanation," said Picard, evenly.

The pilot swallowed, and squared his shoulders. "I assume Doctor Thurssen has given you his explanation of the navigation error," he began. "There was nothing I could do to avoid the collision. The projectile was less than two kilometers from our shields when we downlined, and—"

"That can wait, Mr Edwards!" Picard thundered. "I require an explanation for your previous excursion to this ship! You boarded the Enterprise without invitation, threatened the lives of my officers, drugged us all into unconsciousness and—" he broke off. The time traveller was gaping at him in patent bewilderment.

"I’m sorry, captain," said Jake Edwards, "but I haven’t the vaguest idea what you are talking about."

"He’s telling the truth, captain," Deanna contributed. The pilot stared at her... and kept on staring. Startled by the intensity of amazed adoration, the Betazoid turned her head elegantly aside and tried not to blush.

"Wait a minute!" exclaimed Geordi. "Maybe — maybe he hasn’t done it yet! It happened a few hours ago, for us, when we were a whole lot closer to the Trigan system, but for him, maybe it’s still in the future."

"Sounds good to me," muttered Edwards.

"Now, just a minute," Riker said angrily. "If you think you’re going to take over the Enterprise and do what you like and get away with it — " he broke off, feeling more than slightly foolish, with the realisation that Jake Edwards apparently would do, or had done, exactly that. And there was nothing any one of them could do to prevent it.

"A moment," Data began. "Captain, we know that Mr Edwards has beamed onto the Enterprise, rendered us all unconscious, and used the ship to fire a photon torpedo. But," his voice grew firmer and more animated, "we also know that none of the ship’s crew appeared to have noticed that anything unusual had occurred during our enforced absence." He stood up, and began to pace. Riker and Dr Crusher looked at him askance, but Geordi, recognising that detective air, had to hide a grin.

"What is more," continued Data, "we know that the Captain himself authorised the firing of that torpedo. We can therefore deduce that Captain Picard will be transported through time to take his rightful place on the bridge, while his earlier self was incommunicado, here at this very table." He thumped the back of the chair with a flourish, and sat down again, triumphant.

"Can we also deduce, Mr Data, whether the rest of us were also transported through time to take our rightful places on the bridge?" asked Riker, verging on sarcasm.

Data cocked his head in thought, but answered in his usual, gentle voice: "I cannot say for certain, sir. But since none of the other officers on the bridge made any reference to our extended absence, it would seem likely that we were."

"Well," said the captain, taking a deep breath. "It would seem that, one way or another, the Enterprise is going to comply with Doctor Thurssen’s request."

"Thank you, captain," their intruder said quietly. "Thurssen is a confounded nuisance, and if it were only a matter of his career I wouldn’t ask anyone to lift a finger to help him. But there is rather more at stake here."

"Which I suppose you are unable to reveal to us," the captain replied with understandable annoyance.

Jake Edwards grinned disarmingly. "Correct."

"Mr Edwards," Picard went on as a fresh thought occurred to him, "from something Doctor Thurssen told me I get the impression it was your advice which led him to approach us for help. How is it that you were aware we have had some acquaintance with travellers from the future?"

"Captain! You logged the event. It was all on file. Just as well the historian whose ship was stolen by your previous visitor was a mudgatherer who didn’t bother to read Starfleet records. Imagine the confusion if he’d decided not to take the fatal trip!" He paused to let this sink in.

"This is giving me a headache," moaned LaForge under his breath.

"I, on the other hand, as a mere pilot, like to know a bit about the people who’ve been out there before me. I’m also fascinated by prior technologies. Have been since I was a kid. I still have my collection of model starships, starting with the primitive Soyuz and Gemini rockets, and my Constitution and Galaxy models both carry the name Enterprise. Naturally I read up on the actual ships. I can’t swear I could put names to all of you, but I could recite you the full roster of captains for all the Enterprises if you asked me to, and I bet it would surprise you how much I know about your missions. I can’t begin to tell you what a thrill it is actually to be here!" He gave a crestfallen grin. "Even though I absolutely shouldn’t be. But... there you were, mere light-minutes away from where we needed you to be, and probably the one ship in Starfleet we could contact without telling you anything you didn’t already know!"

Picard felt stirrings of sympathy with this Edwards character, despite his reference to a ‘mudgatherer’ which he had a shrewd idea was a derogatory term for an archaeologist.

"Mr Worf," he announced to his communicator, "you had better bring Doctor Thurssen back in here."

"What do you want him for?" asked Edwards in honest amazement. "I can give you the co-ordinates you need, and run the transporter. And frankly, you don’t want to depend on his calculations. That’s how we got into this mess."

The door opened to admit a still simmering Klingon and a thoroughly cowed time traveller, whose gratitude on being told that the Enterprise would co-operate was pathetic to behold.

"Mr Data, I want you to liaise with pilot Edwards on the precise timings and co-ordinates of every aspect of this operation. Check everything, and I mean everything. Mr Data’s calculations," he assured the two visitors pointedly, "are absolutely reliable."

Arrangements were made with dispatch. Jake Edwards transferred back to the Taurus, from where he assured them he could transport the bridge crew without the slightest difficulty.

"I’m looking forward to seeing what the inside of a ship is going to look like," LaForge confided to Deanna. "It’s sure gonna be crowded in there, though."

He was both disappointed and bewildered, upon transport, to find that the Enterprise group had been brought to a spacious, hexagonal, comfortably furnished room which plainly served as a relaxation area. There was no sign of any technology, futuristic or not. But the room ought, by LaForge’s calculations, to take up most of the volume of the tiny doughnut-shaped ship. Where were the controls? Where was the bridge? What about sleeping quarters, relaxation areas? The head?

Jake Edwards, when asked, chuckled wickedly but declined to explain.

"Data and I have arranged to put you back into the Enterprise’s Observation Lounge fifteen minutes after my arrival. That will ensure that all of your earlier selves are well and truly asleep. Except for Mr LaForge; he and I will beam into the transporter in your shuttlecraft one, slightly ahead of you, so that he can put me into position to anaesthatize your earlier selves. When I’m done, I’ll get back here ready to collect you all. Now, let’s check through it one more time. What exactly do I do when I beam in?"

* * *

Picard and his senior officers filed back onto the bridge and resumed their seats, ready to assist in maintaining an unknown future.

"Helm, set course one zero five mark three two," the captain instructed. "Warp two. Engage."

A few minutes later the unsuspecting conn ensign announced that the Enterprise was approaching the Trigan system, and was ordered to slow to impulse.

"Sir," said Data, scanning his ops panel with particular interest, "sensors are detecting unusual activity in the vicinity of the fourth planet of the system. I am reading high levels of dolamide and ultritium dust, most likely explanation, weapons discharge."

"Continue analysis, Mr Data. On screen as soon as we are within range."

Data’s console revealed, and the viewscreen confirmed, that the two vessels currently engaged in battle around the third moon of the gas giant Trigo Four were an Antican hero-class ship and a Seli marauder. Thurssen might have volunteered that much information, at least, Picard thought, but forbore to comment. Even as the Enterprise hastened closer, the antagonists sent out a devastating exchange of fire and within seconds, both exploded into shards of useless wreckage.

"Mr Data, were you able to identify the ships?" Not that it mattered greatly, Picard reflected. Those two worlds never could settle to a negotiated peace. Despite the Federation’s best efforts, someone always managed to spark off another ‘incident’. But, he supposed, their governments would be able to inform the next-of-kin.

"Yes, Captain."

"Please inform the Seli and Antican governments of the incident. Mr Worf, prepare a modified photon torpedo casing. All stop."

"Answering all stop, sir," the oblivious conn ensign replied dutifully.

"Fire when ready, Mr Worf."

"Firing, sir."

They watched the screen thoughtfully as the disarmed torpedo impacted on the moon ahead. Why was it so important to the people from the future?

"Helm, resume course for the Veldor system. Warp five. Engage. Senior staff conference," Captain Picard announced and led the way to the Observation Lounge.

* * *

It was very strange to look down at one’s own self, closer than a mirror image, deep in slumber. Riker shuddered. It was not an experience he wanted to repeat.

"Let’s get on with it," he said abruptly to the pilot in his borrowed Starfleet uniform who was waiting for them.

"Sure." In the blink of an eye, they were back in the hexagonal lounge.

"Tell me something," Riker asked. "Why didn’t you just fire your own torpedo? You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get us to do it."

"We don’t carry weapons. Of any kind." Jake Edwards shrugged. "This is a timeship, Commander. Our shields are pretty well impregnable, if something should hit us. And most of the time, you wouldn’t even know we were here. But since there are no circumstances whatever in which we would be justified in firing on any vessel from our own past, we are not equipped to do so. So we had to have your projectile. Now, you’d better excuse me. I have to get you back where you belong."

They didn’t notice anything happening, but moments later the pilot returned and informed them it was time to send them back.

"Doctor Thurssen is very grateful. Really. He’d come and thank you all if he wasn’t so busy trying to convince himself none of this ever happened." Jake smiled at them all. "You have my deepest thanks. It’s possible some of you may live long enought to discover why. And it’s been an experience I’ll never forget." His eyes shone. "Living history!"

Picard advanced to shake hands with the pilot. He repressed a pang of envy as he said goodbye. One by one, the others shook hands with Edwards, until Troi came to face him. Instead of offering a handshake, she took both his hands, and leaned forward to press a gentle kiss on his mouth.

"Betazed, right?" he said with a wry smile.

"Goodbye, Jake."

And they were back in the Observation Lounge once again.

"This room is starting to give me the creeps," muttered Geordi. "When the hell are we? I’ve forgotten..."

"Stardate 46136.8," Lt Cdr Data informed him politely. "We are on course for the Veldor system and will arrive in nineteen hours and forty-seven minutes."

"Thank you, Mr Data," said Picard. "I think we all need a little time to re-orient ourselves. We will resume the briefing in one hour."

* * *

There was no longer an air of concern in the Observation Lounge. The ship’s senior officers, gathered for the briefing, were glad of the opportunity to undertake a temporaly straightforward mission, even if the information on their imminent task was scant enough to leave them working, if not precisely in the dark, at least in the twilight.

Lt Cdr Data was explaining from the beginning again. "The Veldor system consists of five roughly earth-sized planets and one gas giant. Of the smaller planets, one is M-class, the third from the sun. It has one large satellite, 20% of the — "

"I don’t believe it!" exclaimed LaForge.

A figure had appeared at the foot of the table. A tall man, his red hair streaked with distinguishing grey at the temples, clad in dark blue, and smiling broadly.

"Hello," he said simply.

"Hello, Jake," replied Counselor Troi.

Picard got slowly to his feet. "What can we do for you?" he asked slowly.

"Nothing, captain, nothing at all. I just came to say thank you."

Everyone was too taken aback to speak, except Data. "Is that not in direct contravention of your time travel regulations?" he enquired.

"Oh, it is, but I have reason to believe this is an exceptional case." Edwards grinned, and the soul of that breezy young pilot showed in his smile. "I knew you would all be assembled in here, just as you were before. And there was no chance of getting it wrong this time. My brother-in-law’s calculations are absolutely reliable." He moved to stand beside the Counselor’s chair. "I wanted to let you know, Deanna, that it took me nine years to find her, but I did. She’s a daughter of the Fifth House, holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx and Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed." Deanna’s mouth fell open. "We’ve been married for fifteen years, we have four sons and a little girl, and—"

A small girl, perhaps five years old, with an angelic face, huge black eyes and a wild mop of curly black hair, appeared beside her father, and emitted a squeak of excitement.

"Xani! What are you doing here! You’re not supposed — who sent you across?"

The child took no notice of her father, but scurried round the table and climbed with irrepressible determination onto Lt Cdr Data’s lap. Then the child flung her arms around his neck and whispered something into his ear that caused his eyebrows to elevate and his eyes to glaze for a full second.

"Lwaxana!" thundered her father. "Come here!" With an unrepentant giggle the beautiful little girl clambered off Data’s lap and scampered back to her father. He gathered her into his arms, trying to look stern, but she dimpled at him and he sighed ruefully. "These Betazed women are impossible to live with. See how miserable I am? I’d better go. I want to have words with my navigator. Goodbye, Enterprise, and thank you again, all of you." And they vanished.

"Poor man," murmured Riker provocatively. "It must be hell..." Deanna snorted.

Picard stroked his head meditatively. "Let us hope that provides the final postscript to our excursions in time. Perhaps we can resume our briefing. Mr Data?"

Data’s head twitched. He appeared to be processing information.

"Data? Are you all right?" asked LaForge in concern. "What did she say to you?"

"Yes, Geordi. I am fine," the android replied. His brow furrowed, and he raised confused but shining eyes. "She said, ‘I love you, Uncle Data.’" A small, satisfied noise, the most fleeting of smiles, then his face cleared of expression. "I am sorry, Captain. I will continue with the briefing."

It was fortunate, Deanna Troi mused later, that she was not required as a member of the Away Team for this mission. Jake Edwards’ visit had given her a lot to think about. Daughter of the Fifth House... The memory of a little black-haired sprite, of all the unlikely people, saying those precious words to Data, played across her mind like a blessing.


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