Chapter One

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAPTAIN’S LOG, SUPPLEMENTAL: The Starlight has docked at Starbase 83 for repairs after our encounter with the Velora.  While damage to the ship was nominal, the unfortunate loss of our warp core has made the past few weeks incredibly difficult.  Commander Tompkins, in his last official act as chief engineer, estimates the new warp core will be online within six hours…

In seven hours, the Starlight will set a course for Talon IV.  I’m reasonably certain Praetor Tomalak will grant us access to the Iconian ship in the Pretorian Cluster—but I can only hope that Talyere finds what he needs in the ruins.  I suppose we’ll know soon enough.  In the meantime…

 

 

 

Alan Christopher sighed.  Shaking his head, he shoved himself away from the sleek obsidian desk in his ready room and bolted to his feet.

 

He began to pace.

 

Christopher did not like change.  In moderation, it could be a good thing—new uniforms were almost always welcome, a new hairstyle perhaps—but much to his chagrin, the changes Christopher had to face in the coming hours were more substantial than a new pair of pants.  And as he glanced at the chronometer on the nearby computer screen, he could practically feel the winds of change blowing through the room.

 

It was time.

 

He quickly fastened his pristine white dress uniform and headed for the transporter room.

 

 

 

Five minutes later, Christopher stood in the transporter room aboard the USS Columbia.  It was a good thing he wasn’t claustrophobic, because the room was a veritable closet—little more than the transporter platform and a console to operate it.  Even the ensign working the console looked small.  Of course, with only ten decks, the Columbia wasn’t exactly a luxury cruiser.  It was, however, very advanced.

 

The console opposite the transporter platform had about twice as many controls as the equivalent aboard the Starlight.  Christopher was curious to see what Starfleet could have possibly done to make for such a complicated workstation, but before he could begin to torment that poor ensign with a deluge of questions, the door parted with a hiss, and Matthew Harrison strode inside.

 

“Alan,” he happily greeted.  “Welcome aboard the Columbia!”

 

“Matthew!”  Christopher’s interest in the transporter console immediately waned, and a wide smile crept across his face.  “This is the most impressive closet I’ve ever seen.  I think it’s just a little bit bigger than the one in my quarters back on the Starlight.”

 

“Only a little?” he inquired.

 

Christopher flashed Harrison a devious grin.  They both knew that closet space was not among the many luxuries aboard the Starlight—not that it was really needed.  Clothes could be replicated at will, and while Christopher had plenty of excess junk that could have gone into a closet, he found most of it either floating around his quarters or shoved under the bed.

 

The pair remained in the transporter room only a few moments longer.  Harrison took a few seconds to thank his transporter chief for the job well done, and then led the way into the corridors.

 

They were a bit more severe than Christopher was accustomed to.  The ambient lighting seemed a bit harsh, the carpeting was a darker shade of gray, and sleek black bulkheads lined the walls at regular intervals.  It was a far cry from the muted tones aboard the Starlight; Starfleet apparently hired some new interior decorators.

 

As they wandered through the corridor, Christopher made a few frivolous comments about the décor.  He was more than content to run with that particular train of thought, but all things considered, it was probably not something Harrison wanted to discuss at the moment.  So Christopher forced himself to shift gears.  But he did so grudgingly.  “Four years we’ve served together, Matthew…  Four incredibly short, terribly long years.

 

Harrison arched a curious brow.  “An oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one…”

 

“Time is the ultimate enigma,” Christopher reminded.

 

“Indeed it is,” Harrison readily agreed.  There was no need to recount the Starlight’s myriad instances of time travel.

 

At least not right now.

 

Of course, as he wandered into the future, Christopher found himself eager to look upon the past.  He wanted to somehow preserve the past four years in his memory because they were as close to perfection as one could hope to get.  Yes, there were many great tragedies, but so much good had come from those years, a part of Christopher—a very big part of him—was sad to see them coming to an end.

 

“You’re not taking the holodeck program.  Are you?”

 

Harrison arched a curious brow.  “I was going to,” he sheepishly admitted.  “The Columbia has but a single holodeck, but it is state-of-the-art.  Admittedly, I was looking forward to continuing our epic quest in the newer facilities—but in retrospect it is our epic quest, Alan.  Try as I might, I do not honestly believe I could finish it without you at my side.”

 

Christopher could feel a raw lump forming in his throat.  Those very same thoughts had been running through the back of his mind for many weeks—and while he was definitely saddened about the unresolved quest in the holodeck, Christopher found himself more upset about losing Harrison as his first officer.

 

And as a friend.

 

These moments were probably the last they would spend together for quite some time.  It was a certainty that they would cross paths in the future, but this relationship they had cultivated over the past four years… it was destined fade into shadow.  No more holodeck adventures together.  No more lunch or stupid jokes.  Or staff meetings.  Or anything.  Their paths were diverging, and there was no going back.

 

Christopher placed a caring hand upon Harrison’s shoulder.  “Matthew,” he said, forcing a smile upon his face, “I sincerely hope I’ve said this before… but just in case I haven’t, I just want you to know that you are the finest friend I have ever had.  You’ve somehow managed to put up with my ego and sense of humor for the past four years.  You’ve kept my head screwed on straight when times were tough—you have always been there for me.  And now that we are journeying into the unknown, I want you to know that I will always be here for you.  So if you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”

 

Harrison paused just outside the doors to the Columbia’s mess hall, and though he said nothing, the warm smile upon his face was all that Christopher needed to see.  “As I understand it, we have about six hours before the Starlight is scheduled to leave for Talon IV…”

 

Christopher immediately caught Harrison’s drift.  “The Battle of Mount Hyjal awaits,” he excitedly stated.  “Then let’s get this over with… Captain.”

 

The mess hall doors promptly slid apart, thrusting Christopher and Harrison into the midst of a considerable crowd.  Though almost every face was familiar, it took a moment for Christopher to pick out some of his closer friends—Keller, Tompkins, Reinbold—but everyone on the Starlight was a friend to him in one way or another. 

 

The Columbia’s crew was less familiar, but Christopher had met Commander Robinson once before, at some sort of command seminar on Trill a few years ago.  They exchanged a few pleasant words, but nothing more.

 

Ian Meade also managed to catch Christopher’s attention.  Technically speaking, the two had never met, and if it hadn’t been for one small incident last year, Meade would have avoided Christopher’s radar altogether.  It was about a year ago when a future version of Kendall Johnson appeared on the Starlight’s bridge; he quickly called out to an individual named Meade, and then vanished—only to reappear several months later with some urgent mission to stop a man by the name of Illidan.  Christopher couldn’t know if this Meade was the one Johnson had referred to, but…

 

“What took you so long?” Erin Keller playfully inquired as she made her way through the crowd.  “Usually you are waiting for me!”

 

Christopher glanced down at his uniform.  “I had to replicate a new one,” he said.  “The old one was feeling a bit tight around the chest.”

 

Keller grinned.  “Those big muscles of yours were just bulging right through the seams?”  Her voice was literally dripping with sarcasm.

 

But as far as Christopher was concerned, the sarcasm was unwarranted.  “I think you’ve had a little too much to drink,” he stated, easily matching Erin’s sarcastic tone.  “And in front of the Admirals?  If O’Connor had been here, you would have been busted back down to Ensign.”

 

Keller’s lips parted, but the tart reply on her tongue remained unspoken.  With a quick nod, she motioned toward the door.

 

Christopher came about just in time to see Admirals Janeway and Nakamura strolling into the mess hall.  Nakamura was quick to join the Starfleet brass near the windows, but Janeway headed straight for Christopher, Keller, and Harrison.

 

“Captain Christopher,” said warmly greeted.  “It’s good to see you again.”

 

He nodded politely.  “Likewise, Admiral.”

 

With a wide smile upon her face, Janeway quickly offered her congratulations to Commander Harrison before turning to address the rest of the crew.  When she was confident he had their attention, she reached into her pocket and withdrew a sleek black padd.  She quickly gleaned its contents and then handed the padd to Captain Christopher.  “The honor is all yours, Captain.”

 

Fervently suppressing the wealth of emotions brimming just below the surface, Christopher graciously accepted the padd.  “On the way here, I was just telling Commander Harrison that the past four years have gone by with incredible speed.  We’ve laughed—mainly due to my jokes…” He paused to allow for the subsequent roar of laughter, which turned out to be little more than a few scattered giggles.  “We’ve cried—also due to my jokes…” This time there was a bit more laughter; Erin giggled quite a bit, and even Janeway chuckled.  “We’ve been through a lot together.  But I have to admit, I haven’t been looking forward to this day.  Matthew Harrison is the best first officer Starfleet has ever seen, and I am going to miss having him at my side.

 

“But that said, Matthew is going to make one hell of a good Captain.  I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Columbia is in very good hands.  And so without further ado…” Christopher’s bright turquoise eyes fell upon Janeway’s padd. 

 

“To: Commander Matthew Harrison,” he read. 

 

“From: Starfleet Command. 

 

“You are hereby promoted to the field rank of Captain, and are requested and required to take command of the Federation Starship Columbia, effective stardate 76188.7.

 

“Signed, Rear Admiral Kathryn Janeway, Starfleet Command.”

 

Christopher slowly lowered the padd and allowed his proud gaze to linger upon the newly christened Captain Harrison.  He would definitely miss his friend, but nobody deserved this promotion more than Matthew. 

 

Standing nearby, Janeway discreetly pulled something from her pocket.  She quietly wandered over to Harrison’s side and, wearing a wide smile upon her face, placed a fourth pip on his collar.  “Computer,” she said once the pip was secure, “transfer all command codes to Captain Matthew Harrison, authorization Janeway-pi-1-1-0.”

 

The computer promptly bleeped.  “Transfer complete.  USS Columbia is under command of Captain Matthew Harrison.”

 

Until that moment, Harrison had been fairly calm.  He conveyed little in the way of emotion, simply standing by in observation of the proceedings as if someone else had been promoted—but the second the computer announced his name…  an undeniable smile crept across his face.  He turned to Janeway.  “I relieve you, Admiral,” he said extending his hand.

 

Janeway nodded politely, and shook the new Captain’s hand.  “I stand relieved.”

 

 

 

Jayla Trinn had served aboard the Starlight for six years—she came aboard about the same time as Harrison and Keller, but as a junior officer assigned to engineering.  It was never her intent to stay aboard the Starlight for six years, nor was it her intent to become its chief engineer.  Earlier in her life, Jayla had spent years preparing for a career designing and building new starships; the Starlight was going to be little more than a stepping-stone to her next position.

 

But more than years had passed.  And Jayla Trinn was now the Starlight’s chief engineer.  Designing starships now seemed like a faraway dream—but in all reality, it was probably closer than ever.  As a chief engineer, Jayla had the clout necessary to get such an illustrious position; all she had to do was go for it…

 

However, as she strode into main engineering, Jayla’s eyes were immediately diverted to the new warp core.  On the outside, it was virtually identical to the old one: a giant cylinder that stretched from the floor to the ceiling and beyond, pulsing with a pale blue and violet light.  The inside, however, was an entirely new design.  It was a prototype that would allegedly use dilithium more efficiently.  In fact, if the schematics were to be believed, this new warp core would require half the dilithium of the old one.  Trinn, of course, didn’t believe those schematics for a moment; prototypes never worked perfectly, and she knew that she would be spending a lot of time working on this new warp core.

 

Her warp core.

 

“McGuire,” she called as she approached the master control station, “how much longer until the core is online?”

 

He glanced at the padd in his hand.  “Less than an hour,” he stated. “Installation has gone perfectly.”

 

“Good.”  Trinn immediately brought up the core’s schematics on her console—and already she saw several items in need of repair.  “We need to get the plasma injectors working more efficiently, and the magnetic constrictors look like they could use some maintenance…”

 

McGuire quickly made note of the desired repairs and then retreated into the aft part of engineering to start work.  For her part, Trinn stayed at the master control station.  She wasn’t quite happy with the warp coils as of late.  Tompkins had insisted they were fine, but now that he was gone—Trinn was going to get them running perfectly…  No matter how long it took.

 

 

 

Lucas Tompkins didn’t usually stop and think about getting dressed.  It was just something that didn’t require a lot of thought.  But today was different; it was his first day as the Starlight’s first officer.  His first day wearing the red uniform—and that was definitely something to stop and think about.

 

So as he pulled the smooth red undershirt over his head for the first time, Tompkins couldn’t help but smile.  He had been content as chief engineer—it was his dream job, after all—but after so many years in the position, Tompkins had to consider the possibility that he had become just a little too content with the status quo.

 

The notion hadn’t crossed his mind until a few weeks ago, when Captain Landsberg brought it to his attention.  At first, Tompkins was content to ignore Landsberg’s words of wisdom, but then came that fateful moment when he finally glimpsed Jayla with another man.  She had moved on with her life; Lucas, obviously, had not.

 

He immediately resolved to change that, and now, Tompkins stood in his quarters, wearing that pristine red uniform for the very first time.  It was an exhilarating feeling, one that he hoped might eventually elevate him to the rank of Captain…  He still had a lot to learn about command, but one day, he was confident that Captain Tompkins would have a ship of his own.

 

The sentiment brought a faint smile to his face.

 

 

 

Kendall Johnson was a changed man.  After so many years of confusion, it was truly liberating to finally have a life with purpose.  In the back of his mind, Kendall knew that his purpose was somewhat dark, but… if he wanted to spend all of eternity with Erin Keller, he would have to somehow eliminate Alan Christopher.

 

Though it had taken four years to reach the conclusion, Kendall was somewhat surprised that, when the realization suddenly struck, it came to him so easily.  Back on the Ii’zyyr’aa ship a few weeks ago, in the blink of an eye, Kendall Johnson’s life suddenly had purpose.  Just like that.  He had to eliminate Christopher.

 

There had been a few moments of doubt in recent weeks.  Every once and awhile, when Kendall found himself struggling to perfect the temporal technology needed to erase Alan Christopher from the universe, he began to have some reservations.  Christopher was a decent man, after all—he just had the misfortune of falling in love with Erin Keller.  Kendall didn’t really want to eliminate Christopher, but it was the price he would have to pay if he wanted to spend the rest of his days with Erin.  And in retrospect, that was definitely a price that Kendall was willing to pay.

 

He didn’t know exactly how close he was to completing his project.  Over the years, Kendall had created temporal probes that could scan the space/time continuum; he helped devise some rudimentary temporal shielding; he even found a way to make some miniscule changes to the timeline…  But he was at least several months away from sending himself back in time.

 

Thankfully, the temporal science lab had been relatively devoid of activity today.  Commander Kerrigan had stopped by earlier in the morning to remind Kendall about Harrison’s promotion to Captain.  At the time, Kendall indicated that he would indeed be present aboard the Columbia when the time came… But he lied.  The ceremony ended more than an hour ago, and Kendall had yet to remove himself from his work.

 

In retrospect, Kendall couldn’t remember his last break.  He was reasonably certain that he stopped to eat lunch… yesterday—but it could have been the day before.  He was in the sonic shower sometime last week, but even that was a blur.  Not that it mattered.  Kendall was only concerned with his work.  All other needs were secondary.

 

Kendall was flat on his back, diligently working to realign the tachyon relays beneath the temporal science lab’s primary workstation—when the sound of parting doors interrupted his train of thought.

 

“Commander Johnson?”

 

It was not a voice that Kendall recognized.  He knew that a few new officers transferred aboard the Starlight from Starbase 83, but none of them had been assigned to the science lab.  So… what was the meaning for the interruption?  Kendall frowned, and wearily crawled away from the workstation’s underside.  “Yes?”

 

The intruder stood near one of the secondary workstation, indolently admiring the interface.  It was a human male of average build; he a round face, short dark hair, and pair of wide, curious eyes.  “I am Lieutenant Commander Ian Meade, from the Columbia.”

 

Harrison’s ship—but this was definitely not the science officer.  Megan mentioned a few weeks ago that the Columbia’s science officer was a Xindi primate.  “What can I do for you?”

 

Meade shook his head.  “Nothing in particular,” he stated, his voice pleasant.  “Before my posting to the Columbia, I was the science officer aboard the Damocles… So I’ve heard a lot about your work in the temporal sciences; I’m just curious to see what you’ve been working on, that’s all.”

 

Kendall suddenly paused.  A part of him very much wanted to ask this Ian Meade to leave so that he could get on with his work.  That, however, would be incredibly rude… and it would also deny Kendall the ally he was destined to acquire.  This was undoubtedly the very same Meade that Kendall’s doppelganger contacted when he visited the Starlight last year…  Thus, Kendall took complete advantage of the situation.

 

“I’ve been working on perfecting our temporal shielding,” he lied.  While the shielding was a part of the equation, there was so much more… “We should be able to test it in a few weeks.”

 

Meade’s eyes were wide with curiosity.  “I’d love to see your data.”

 

Kendall flashed a devilish grin.  “Of course…”

 

 

 

Alan Christopher was just about ready to head down to the holodeck when the door chimed.  For a scant moment, he thought about ignoring the pleasant little chirp, but better judgment quickly kicked in.  He would just have to make this conversation a quick one.  “Come in.”

 

The door parted with a hiss—and Admiral Janeway promptly stepped inside, immediately validating Christopher’s decision to chat with his visitor.  “Captain,” she warmly greeted, “I apologize for the intrusion.  I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

 

Actually, this was quite an interruption, but Christopher knew a rhetorical question when he heard one.  He shook his head.  “No, Admiral, of course not.”

 

Janeway, however, seemed to detect the little white lie.  “Then I’ll keep this brief,” she said, promptly seating herself on the soft gray sofa near the desk.  “The Starlight is almost ready for departure—I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how important your mission is to Starfleet and the Federation, but Admiral Riker insisted.”

 

Christopher hoped his cringe wasn’t as noticeable as his white lie.  Riker was one of the higher-ranking admirals in Starfleet—and was not too terribly fond of Christopher.  There had been an unfortunate incident between the two of them aboard the Titan some twenty years ago, and those wounds had yet to heal.  “I will try not to disappoint the Admiral too much.”

 

Janeway smiled.  “See that you don’t.  We need strong ties with both Tomalak and Talyere.  Since you’re already on good terms with both men, you are the obvious choice for this mission.”

 

Christopher detected the slightest bit of desperation in Janeway’s voice.  She was definitely concerned about something.  “Are you having second thoughts about me, Admiral?  You haven’t been reading through Admiral O’Connor’s log entries, have you?  The good Admiral tended to cast me in an unfavorable light.”

 

The faint smile upon Janeway’s face began to fade.  “No… I assure you that’s not the case, Captain.  You have done an extraordinary job aboard the Starlight, regardless of Admiral O’Connor’s opinions.”

 

That was a definite relief—but Christopher didn’t let his guard down just yet.  “So what’s the problem?”

 

Janeway shook her head.  “Nothing I can discuss in depth,” she stated, her voice barely a whisper.  “But very soon, we are going to need every ally we can get: Romulan.  Klingon.  Cardassian.”

 

“The Elorg?” Christopher guessed.

 

Janeway nodded.  “Long-range surveillance scans have detected fifty-two new shipyards inside the Bloc.”

 

Christopher’s jaw nearly hit the deck.  “Fifty-two shipyards?” he exclaimed.

 

“And all of them appear to be devoted to the construction of new destroyers and warships,” Janeway solemnly confirmed.  “By the end of the year, we expect Xi’Yor will have more than four hundred thousand ships to command.  If we don’t start forging new alliances, by this time next year, the Federation will cease to exist.”

 

The words to convey Christopher’s awe simply did not exist.  He knew there a fight was on the horizon—but he had not expected four hundred thousand ships, nor did he expect to be told of their pending arrival.  “I thought you couldn’t discuss this, Admiral?”

 

“That reminds me…” Her smile briefly returned.  “One last thing, Captain…”

 

And the words would forever change Christopher’s life.

 

 

 

Proceed to Chapter Two

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