It had been a busy day for sure. Sixteen hours ago, they’d just been starting the interrogation of the Mind Burner. Since then, Commander Lewis had been incapacitated by a black ops hit squad, stormed into Starbase 141’s Command and Control Center, debriefed his operators, blackmailed a Commodore, met some new staff, and worked a full bridge shift. He was more than ready to hit the sack as he stepped through the threshold of his quarters.
Duty wouldn’t be so kind to him this evening though. His combadge beeped, just as he was starting to unbutton his collar. “Lewis. Go.”
“Commander, Communications here,” began a young officer whose voice he didn’t recognize yet. There were many people he didn’t know yet and that frustrated him. “Sorry to disturb you sir, but I’ve got the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities on the line. They’re asking for you and Lieutenant Commander Brooks.”
Of course they call now. But why did they also want Brooks? “Alright, tell them we’ll call them back in ten.”
Commander Lewis tapped his combadge twice, first to end the call and then to start a new one. “Lewis to Brooks. My ready room,” he ordered as he spun on his heels and headed back out of his quarters towards the turbolift. “Ten minutes or less.” He’d better not run late this time.
Eight minutes later, Lieutenant Commander Brooks arrived panting at at the Captain’s Ready Room. Commander Lewis, for his sake, was already there brewing a pot of masala chai. The Commander had developed a taste for the Assam specialty when he attempted a summit of Baintha Brakk while waiting for the Algorab Commission to issue earlier this year. Even if it had been a frustrating period, he found the rich cardamom and cinnamon comforting.
“May I offer you a cup, Dr. Brooks?” asked the Commander as he poured a portion into two cups already arranged on his desk.
“Ummm… yes… sure… thank you sir,” Dr. Brooks said, taken somewhat aback by the Commander’s hospitality as he accepted the cup and took a seat. Last time he’d met the Commander, he’d been chewed out for being late to a briefing. “Forgive me sir, but I was just climbing into bed. It’s been a long day.”
Commander Lewis shot him a look devoid of sympathy. The pampered theoretical physicist had no idea what a long day was. The console on the wall above the desk chimed. “Let’s see what this is all about.”
The logo of the United Federation of Planets faded, replaced by the faces of two men that Commander Lewis recognized from his first meeting in San Francisco. One was Rear Admiral Michael West, the coordinator of the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, and the other was Mr. Leon Rice, the mysterious civilian whose title was never offered during their first meeting and who Lewis had been able to dig nothing up about since.
“Commander Lewis,” began the Rear Admiral with a smile, “a pleasure to see you again. Good work on your first mission. And Dr. Brooks, thank you for joining us as well.”
“It didn’t go exactly as planned sir,” interjected Commander Lewis. While he had promised Commodore Gorman he would not send the details to Starfleet Command, the confidential after-action report he sent to Rear Admiral West was very specific about what happened. It covered the obstructions by Starbase 141’s staff and the black ops team that assaulted them and killed the Mind Burner. The only thing he left out was his conversation with the Commodore. The fact he knew about Starfleet Intelligence’s involvement was something he wasn’t willing to share with Rear Admiral West, at least not until he knew whose side his boss was on. “I assume you saw my report?”
“I did. You and your crew are all intact, and the threat was neutralized.” The Admiral still looked happy with the result.
“Yes, but there was a second team Admiral.” Commander Lewis wasn’t willing to let it rest quite yet. “They murdered our suspect before we could learn much. All we got was that the Mind Burner was part of an illicit experiment to create human telepaths.”
“Not everything goes as planned, Commander,” the Rear Admiral responded evasively, “but ultimately, it all worked out. Sometimes a secret is best kept secret.”
Commander Lewis was long past beating around the bush. “Do you mean to say you knew about the second team?” he asked as the tenor of his voice rose. “Sir, the Activity will only be successful if we have all the facts before us.” His tone was firm and unrelenting. “If we need to remove someone, we certainly have the will and the capabilities to do that, but we need to know the full picture. We don’t need a second team stepping on our toes.” Lieutenant Commander Brooks, for his sake, squirmed uncomfortably. This conversation had gone awful dark awful quick.
“No, Commander, I did not know about the second team,” answered Rear Admiral West in as clear of terms as he could. It seemed genuine, but Lewis knew that West had run psychological warfare operations during the Dominion War. He could probably lie straight to their face of a Betazoid without them having any idea. “As I expressed to you during our first meeting, we need you and your team. We will do our best to enable you, but none of us is privy to every shadow in these halls. We have ideas, maybe, but nothing we can substantiate. If we can, you’ll be the first to know.”
Commander Lewis nodded. “That’ll work for now.” Maybe it was the truth or maybe it wasn’t, but there was nothing more he’d milk from the Admiral. “So what can we help you with this evening sir? I understand we’ve got new a new mission coming down the pipe?”
“Indeed. Mr. Rice, would you like to explain?”
The civilian, who’d taken up a spot behind the Rear Admiral’s left shoulder, stepped forward as West yielded the floor. “In a dark corner of Starfleet Communications, large computers churn through exabytes of collected data with a single goal: to find mentions of events out of order with the events themselves. The system rarely yields something of interest, but just a few days ago, it did.”
Dr. Brooks perked up, leaning in excitedly. Ever since those mysterious folks in weird uniforms showed up on Mannheim back in 2381 and accused him of crimes he hadn’t committed yet, Starfleet hadn’t let him anywhere near temporal mechanics. That didn’t stop him from reading every report and rumor about his lifelong passion though. He’d heard of the machine before. It was an old school approach for detecting temporal inconsistencies, an outgrowth of a program started at the Michigan Institute for Technology back in the 21st century. Its primitive nature, based only on downtime data, guaranteed it could never cause a violation of the Temporal Prime Directive. That benefit was also its deficit though. It could not detect an incursion before it occurred, the very thing he’d built and subsequently got in trouble for building.
Commander Lewis, for his own sake, flinched. Time travel. He hated time travel. The idea that someone could erase him before he had a chance to intervene disturbed him greatly. “And let me guess: we’re going to investigate.”
“Hit it in one Commander,” the Rear Admiral exclaimed. “And where you’re going, you’re not exactly invited… the Breen system of Sentek.”
Commander Lewis tweaked brow. “I see.” Sentek was a Breen system on the edge of their territory that had once belonged to the Cardassians. According to intelligence, it was one of the systems hit during the recent Cardassian advance and was now under Cardassian control. “What happened there?”
Mr. Rice fielded the question: “The Breen planetary governor knew about the attack before it happened.”
“Are you sure?”
Mr Rice nodded. “One day, six hours, thirty-four minutes before the Cardassian Fleet arrived in the Sentek system, our point of variance, Governor Jot ordered his son Vor from Orbital Platform 4 to Orbital Platform 6. His son objected. He had a little lady friend, if you can imagine that, on Platform 4,” Mr. Rice said with a chuckle, trying to imagine a Breen romance, somehow relatively unphased by the gravity of the fact he was claiming a temporal incursion occurred. “The governor pleaded with him that Platform 4 would be destroyed. Ultimately, he transferred Vor and his love interest to Platform 6. At variance plus one day, six hours, thirty-nine minutes, Platform 4 was destroyed. Platform 6 survived, simply disabled at variance plus one day, six hours, thirty-seven minutes.”
Commander Lewis listened intently. From what Rice was saying, three minutes after the Cardassians arrived in the system, Platform 6 was disabled, and two minutes after that, Platform 4 was destroyed. “While it sounds like the Governor knew the Cardassians would attack, that might be on account of intelligence or collusion. I’m not seeing how that implies a temporal incursion.”
“Because the Cardassians didn’t intend to destroy any platforms,” explained Mr. Rice. “They wanted to take the platforms for themselves. They shot to disable, not destroy, and did a good job of it. Platform 4 was the only one that blew up. An asset reports it was on account of a catastrophic failure in the platform’s damage control systems and definitely not intentional.”
“What’s our cover?”
Rear Admiral West’s answer was exactly as Commander Lewis feared: “You have none. You’re going to have to find a way to slip in and out. The Cardassians own that system now.”
“Let me get this straight. We’re going to violate the sovereign territory of the Cardassians, or the Breen, or both, because daddy wanted to protect his son and his son’s love interest?”
“No Captain,” interjected Dr. Brooks with a sort of confidence that Commander hadn’t expected from a man that thus far had come across as quite an airhead. “We’re going to do it because someone has access to uptime information. It may seem small, but it’s usually the small stuff that people slip on.”
“Dr. Brooks is correct,” affirmed Mr. Rice. “The reason Starfleet Communications pours through exobytes of ELINT isn’t to find the obvious incursions. Uptime usually addresses those without us ever knowing – sometimes because we get erased from time and wouldn’t even have a chance to do so.” Commander Lewis shook his head to try to clear the insanity of that statement. It didn’t work. The civilian continued: “But when it’s small, sometimes we detect it before they do – and then of course there are also the cases where the incursion occurs in such a way that there is no uptime to reverse it for us.”
“Commander, I’ll be straight with you here,” offered Rear Admiral West, chiming back in. “The Federation has a unit that often deals with these issues, but this is happening in space we have no permission to enter between two powers who have no agreements with that unit. We could send an advisor from that unit to join you but that would delay you several days – and you already have Dr. Brooks – so we’ve been authorized to deploy you at once.”
“Understood Admiral.” The Commander knew an order when he heard one. “Tell me. You mentioned an asset. Will we have access to this asset?”
“Unfortunately not,” answered Mr. Rice. The Commander’s face fell. “At least not at this time. Because of the situation on the ground, the asset can only initiate communication with us, not the other way around. But the asset will be in touch if there’s something the asset can provide.” It wasn’t the whole truth, but he couldn’t share the whole truth. One rarely could in their world.
“We’ll head for the border at once,” nodded Commander Lewis, “and brief the crew in the morning so we can start prepping our infil.”
“We’ll send over what we’ve got tonight. Keep us in the loop.”
With that, the link was cut.
Commander Lewis rose from his chair and stepped around the desk. “Alright Doctor, get some rest. We’ve got a big day ahead of us tomorrow,” he said as he put a hand on the time junky’s shoulder. “Let’s meet at 0900 to go over what they sent. We’ll brief the staff at 1000 hours.”
“Understood sir,” Lieutenant Commander Brooks said as he followed the Commander out of the ready room back onto the bridge.
“OOD,” Lewis said, turning his attention to his staff as Dr. Brooks headed for the turbolift to get some rest, “recall any crew still on the station and prepare for departure. As soon as we’ve got everyone and everything on board, take us out.”
The Commander paused for a moment. They didn’t actually have a plan yet. Might as well get as close to where they were likely going to need to be as possible though. “The Gaspar system. And notify the senior staff that we will be meeting at 1000 hours tomorrow morning to review our next mission.”
With that, Commander Lewis headed for the lift. Time to get some sleep before everything hit the fan again. They never told him this would be easy, but at least it would be interesting.