“Found an off switch yet?” Samantha Michaels asked as she sat herself down in the seat next to W’a’le’ki. The two-seat console had a hard clear sign on top designating its purpose in the alien script, but all the screens had finally converted to Federation Standard. And the control room, mission control as someone had referred to it when she asked where W’a’le’ki was, was now a fair bit brighter than it had been when they first boarded the station.
First boarded. For the thirteenth or fourteenth time.
“I’ve found three,” the blue-skinned woman said in response, though the purple scales around her eyes were a very weird contrast as they reflected the monitor before her just enough. It was oddly entrancing how the lights flickered and danced as W’a’le’ki breathed and simultaneously went through screen after screen.
“Really? Then why haven’t you told the Commander?”
“Because all three of them result in catastrophic explosions.” W’a’le’ki’s fingers brought up details on the screen in front of Sam’s seat and she looked it over as W’a’le’ki sat back, rubbing at her eyes. “We do any of these and Ensign Krek is going to have to share the title of Starkiller with us.”
“Forced subspace harmonic feedback resulting in localised suppression of electrostatic resistances,” Sam scrolled over the contents of the warning before her for a second. “Wait, the entire star overcomes the electrostatic barrier and fusion takes place at all layers at once? The explosion would be –“
“One of the largest supernovas in recorded galactic history. And only thirty-five lightyears past the Cardassian border. The nearest colony world is about fifty lightyears so would be safe but a few military installations would need to have their shielding reinforced in a few decades before the first light arrives.” W’a’le’ki had tilted back to stare at the ceiling, swivelling her chair side to side as she continued to work the problem.
“Who else is looking at this?”
“Every engineer we brought with us and a working team back on the ship. And every scientist with a relevant field.”
“So,” Sam said, joining her companion in staring at the ceiling, “can’t just turn it off or it feedbacks into the star. Can’t blow it up as it feedbacks into the star. Can’t disable the firing controls because safeties kick in and feedbacks into the star. These people really knew how to build a better mousetrap.”
“Oh, I think I figured out why they did it as well.” W’a’le’ki sat forward and brought up some information. Both women crowded around a single monitor as a document came up, then flashed as it was translated so they could read it. “Here we go. The Ministry of Defensive Isolation – Project Windback.” A few more taps as she searched through the document quickly for keywords. “In the event of xenos contamination of the home sphere, in order to preserve the purity of our kind, be it technological, cultural, ideological or biological, the purpose of the facility will be to undertake a temporal reversion of the home sphere to a state prior to xenos contamination. It has been determined that upon reversion, quantum fluctuations in decision-making will result in sub-intelligent xenos undertaking a different course of action and avoiding the home sphere.”
“Sub-intelligent xenos?” Sam said with a scoff. “Charmers these folks were.”
“I read the whole document. There’s a whole section about fears that intentionally destroying a ship would result in outside investigations, which would mean more ships, and then more contamination would occur. And it appears they thought they were the only true intelligence in the universe and anything else would merely be clever animals or lucky sub-intelligent creatures. Basically, they thought the universe was full of Pakleds.”
“So these people were isolationist and xenophobic to the point of building a time machine to wind back their entire star system to before first contact?”
“Not just their star system,” W’a’le’ki said, bringing up a diagram on the master display of the control room. “Three lightyears, local measurement. Works out to about two lightyears, five lightmonths by our measurements. They wanted a really big buffer around their star.”
“They had warp drive, a damn decent understanding of temporal mechanics to the point of building this,” Sam waved her arms all around, “and they never wanted to travel and meet the rest of the galaxy?”
“Not everyone wants to explore. Not everyone wants to conquer and not everyone could build a Federation.” W’a’le’ki smiled at Sam’s confusion. “You humans are all the same. Why isn’t everyone like you, wanting to explore the majesty of the galaxy, the universe? Because sometimes the universe needs a homebody.”
“Yeah, well, look where it got them. Deader than dead and their only functional relic being a giant time machine that only goes backwards a single local day.”
“What if it didn’t?” W’a’le’ki asked.
“Okay, repeat that plan one more time now I have everyone aboard Atlantis that’s been helping with it here,” stated Captain Theodoras.
The bridge of the Atlantis was on full display in mission control, each figure was a massive giant version of their real-life counterparts thanks to the whole massive wall being a monitor. To the left of the captain sat Commander Gantzmann, and to her right sat Commander Velan. A gaggle of engineers and scientists were just past Velan, all with a padd in hand.
“Shutting down the station properly is going to take weeks if not months. We can’t do it because we would constantly end up triggering the auto-reset these people built into it. But, their infosec is sloppy.” Sam had been given the honour of presenting the initial findings by both Commander MacIntyre and W’a’le’ki, which instead of fearing she relished. A chance to be front and centre.
“Lieutenant W’a’le’ki discovered that we can access the settings for the reset function. While we can’t make changes to the reset that’s in progress right now, we can make changes for the next reset. Even implant commands for the station to action on the next loop. And with that in mind, and with what we’ve learned about the situation that took place here, we’ve got a rather audacious plan.” She tapped at her padd, half the display in mission control now taken up by a short bullet-pointed list which was hopefully being duplicated on Atlantis.
“We implant the commands and setting changes into the temporal memory core. The main system constantly queries the temporal core so that after a reset it knows what happened. Then we high-tail it out of the system as fast as Commander Velan can coax.” Sam looked to the chief engineer who was smiling.
“Not a problem,” he answered. “We’ve done all the checks after our sprint, we’re good to go on my end.”
“Once the current reset triggers, the station then checks the temporal core, gets the setting updates and then implements the commands we give it.” Her second bullet point blossomed into a diagram of the star system, then the red circle for the current range of the temporal reversion and a much smaller blue circle just surrounding the star system. “The new settings resize the effective zone of reversion to only include the star system, not some massive piece of the current sector. It also changes the reset period from one day to thirty years.”
“You want to revert the entire star system thirty years?” the captain asked.
“They want to revert it to the start of the Motu Maha cycle,” MacIntrye said out loud, throwing his own weight behind the idea. “Gives the Telarook a chance.”
“Won’t they just redo their self-destruction?” asked Gantzmann.
“We implant messages into the station and have it transmit them to the Telarook.” W’a’le’ki stepped forward. “We identify all the individuals in those messages Fightmaster found and include them in our message as people who need to be stopped. Hopefully, they can stop them in time and we essentially undo the catastrophe they suffered.”
“And,” Sam moved the presentation on to her next step, “the station then enacts its next programmed action which starts the automation onboard to begin a controlled shutdown of the station and its temporal drive. It’ll stop it from triggering until the Telarook can get aboard and retake control, so hopefully, some time to think over the warnings we’ll leave behind.”
“Sounds like we’re stepping on the Prime Directive in here somewhere,” the captain muttered.
“I prefer lightly trampling actually,” MacIntrye said in response. “Yes, we’re interfering in their time machine madness, but we’re bringing back an entire dead civilization if we get this right. And undoing some unintentional influence that caused them to destroy themselves.”
“And dooming them to repeat their deaths if we get it wrong,” Gantzmann replied.
“Letting them die, or the survivors remain frozen until proper help can arrive versus giving them a second chance and removing their time machine for a while,” the captain said, thinking out loud in the mass meeting. “Is the machine able to even do thirty years?”
“Just barely,” Gabrielle spoke up again. “But we’re not pushing it that far, just near the limits. It should be fine.”
“I agree,” Gérard Maxwell said from beside Gabrielle. “Our assessments aboard station indicate it should be capable of the task.”
“It’s a lot of shoulds,” Velan said from Atlantis. “But this lot,” he indicated the team behind him, “agree with the engineers Gérard has on the station. And from the technical specifications we’ve read over, any danger would be just as the reversion starts, so even if the station does blow itself up, it’ll just revert the system it what it was programmed to just as it’s exploding. Which will conveniently reset the explosion as well.”
“Not entirely true,” W’a’le’ki cut in. “There is a small chance it’ll still cause the forced subspace harmonic feedback all of my first ideas resulted in.”
“How small?” asked the captain.
“Two per cent,” she answered.
There was silence as the captain thought, as everyone did in fact. Glances around as everyone tried to judge what their colleagues were thinking, reading facial expressions or trying to portray their own thinking wordlessly.
“Captain, we should do it,” Sam spoke up after only ten seconds. “A fighting chance is better than nothing and there’s a ninety-eight per cent chance this will work.”
“Lieutenant, I appreciate the enthusiasm but –“
“But nothing ma’am!” Sam burst out. “It’s either this or waiting on ice until –“
“That’s enough Lieutenant,” MacIntyre cut her off, maintaining a stare long enough for her to get the message.
Silence reigned supreme before the captain stood, up and took a few steps across the bridge, closer to the pickup. She loomed over the mission control and its assembled personnel. “I understand your position, Lieutenant,” she said with a calm tone, even a slight smile. “You want to help; you want to help a lot. We all do. But we need to weigh the odds of some of the Telarook definitely surviving versus the complete obliteration of a star system. We don’t need another Ensign Starkiller.” That got a wry chuckle from a few people, a glower from the Tellarite ensign in question at the back of the bridge.
“If I may ma’am,” W’a’le’ki spoke up. “That two per cent chance is initial assessments. We’ve got a few hours left. Let us keep working the numbers and see if the odds improve.”
“Captain,” T’Val, the Vulcan helmswoman spoke up, “we will need to depart the system within the next hour if we wish to escape the sphere of effect from the station.”
The captain thought about it for a moment, then wrapped her knuckles across the front of Rrr’s operations console. “Get everything back aboard ship right now.” The Gaen nodded before she turned to the screen once more. “Mac, get everyone back on Atlantis now. And triple-check, I don’t want any mistakes.”
“Camargo, you, W’a’le’ki and Michaels get back here right now. You’ve got priority on computer resources. I want the best odds possible in twenty minutes. And two sets of instructions ready to go. One where we go with the plan just proposed, and another wherein we simply reduce the zone of effect to reduce the hazard.”
“Understood,” said the Science chief. “We’ll be over right away.”
“And the timer starts now. Atlantis out.”
As the comm channel closed and the wall screen went back to its collection of readouts, MacIntyre spun to face Samantha Michaels. “Lieutenant –“
“Don’t be like Linal, I know,” she cut him off abruptly, then stopped and shook her head. “Sorry, that was…” she trailed off.
“Rude and unprofessional,” he finished for her. “But Doctor Terax did warn us after he and Counsellor Hu came to their conclusion. So, with that in mind, I’ll excuse it, for now. Be better. Understood?”
“Aye sir,” she answered. “Permission to leave sir?”
“Dismissed Lieutenant. See you back on Atlantis.”