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Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with bachelor’s degrees in physics and history from the University of Cincinnati. He has written critically acclaimed Star Trek novels as well as shorter works including stories in anniversary anthologies. Beyond Star Trek, he has penned the novels X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder. His original work includes the hard science fiction superhero novel Only Superhuman, as well as several novelettes in Analog and other science fiction magazines. More information and annotations can be found at home.fuse.net/ChristopherLBennett, and the author’s blog can be found at ChristopherLBennett.wordpress.com.
Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco, North Am, Earth
Stardate 3113.7, Old System
“I think you’re wasting your time here, Antonio,” said Commodore Burton Kwan. “This story Kirk and his crew are spinning is just too ludicrous.”
Commodore Antonio Delgado stroked his short, grizzled beard as he considered his colleague’s words. “Did you verify it in the ship’s computer logs?” he asked the younger man.
“Well, yes, but . . . the computer . . .”
“It kept calling us ‘dear.’ If you ask me, the whole thing’s an elaborate practical joke.”
“Well, how else do you explain the Enterprise suddenly appearing in the Oort cloud, braking hard from high warp, just hours after disappearing without a trace from Sector 006? We’ve confirmed the presence of that ‘black star’ Kirk advised us of—it appears to be some new class of singularity. And we have found a passing reference in records from the period to an ‘unidentified flying object’ sighting by a Captain John Christopher, United States Air Force.”
“So you’re saying this is possible?”
Delgado hesitated. “I’m not saying anything on the record. And neither are you, is that clear?”
Kwan scoffed. “I’m happy to be left out of it. And even if I weren’t, I know better than to cross someone who plays golf with Admiral Comsol himself.” He came to a halt outside the door to Briefing Room 14. “They’re in here, waiting for you. I leave them and their mess, whatever it turns out to be, in your capable hands.”
Delgado shook his balding head as the younger commodore strode away. Kwan was the same kind of small-minded bureaucrat as the ones who’d dismissed the Enterprise’s first report of time travel earlier this year—an alleged seventy-one-hour backward jump resulting from a cold restart of the vessel’s warp engines to escape the breakup of planet Psi 2000—as a mere time dilation anomaly. If Kirk’s claim had been taken seriously sooner, valuable time might have been saved.
Delgado chuckled to himself. Then again, if this pans out, I may have all the time in the universe.
He entered the briefing room, and Captain Kirk and his first officer, the renowned half-Vulcan Commander Spock, rose to greet him. “Captain Kirk,” he said, shaking the younger man’s hand. “I’m Commodore Antonio Delgado, deputy chief of Starfleet Science Operations. Commander Spock,” he appended, merely nodding at the Vulcan, who returned the greeting in kind. Despite his executive position, Spock wore the blue tunic of the science division rather than the command gold worn by Kirk and Delgado, reminding the commodore that he served as Kirk’s chief science officer as well—a doubling of responsibility that would be difficult for anyone but a Vulcan to pull off. Delgado may have been second-in-command of Science Ops himself, but his role was chiefly administrative.
“Pleased to meet you, sir,” Kirk said, though his impatience was clear. “If I may, I’d like to ask—”
Delgado held up a hand. “I know you’re eager to get back to your ship. We’ve put you through enough of a runaround already, and I’m sorry to add to it. But I can tell you that this time, you will be listened to, and you will be believed.”
Kirk’s eyes widened, his stance easing. “I’m . . . glad to hear that. I appreciate that it’s an extraordinary thing to ask someone to accept, but we’ve offered you the data from our ship’s computers, and Mister Spock’s sworn testimony as well as that of the rest of my crew.” Kirk’s tone conveyed particular disbelief and offense at having the Vulcan’s account called into question. Delgado respected that level of loyalty and trust. It had been rare enough in his own experience. Political loyalty was something he knew how to bargain and barter for, but he knew it came and went as expediency demanded. Personal loyalty, the sort he sensed here, was far more elusive.
“Well, you understand we needed time to verify the corroborating evidence. It’s essential to be absolutely sure of something like this.”
“Naturally,” Spock replied, his voice a rich baritone. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
“So with that in mind, I hope you won’t mind going over your account one more time for me.”
Kirk suppressed a sigh. “Of course, sir.”
The three men sat around the polygonal briefing table and Kirk began. “As I said in my log, the Enterprise was en route to Starbase 9 for resupply when we were caught in an intense gravitational pull from an uncharted black star. Like a black hole, but different somehow.”
“As though its gravitomagnetic effects extended into subspace,” Spock added. “Even at warp, all subspace geodesics tended to spiral in toward the singularity. Only by employing maximum warp power were we able to reverse course and break free.”
“We hurtled out of control,” Kirk went on. “Most of us blacked out from the acceleration. When we recovered, we found ourselves inside Earth’s atmosphere. We were lucky we didn’t crash into the surface. Attempts to contact Starfleet Control failed, but my communications officer picked up a broadcast on an old EM band, announcing that the first manned moon shot would launch the following Wednesday.”
“And from that,” Delgado asked, “you concluded that you were in 1969?”
“Not from that alone, sir,” Spock told him. “It only reinforced the conclusion I had already drawn from reviewing the sensor logs. Our trajectory on breaking free of the singularity was consistent with the theoretical predictions for a closed timelike curve around a Tipler object, which the dense, rotating mass of the singularity might well approximate. My scans of Earth and the Sol system revealed no traces of antimatter use or transtatorbased technology, no orbital facilities or habitations beyond Earth, and no verifiable indications of extraterrestrial life on Earth itself. The configuration of the stars and planets established a date of July 12, nineteen hundred and sixty-nine Common Era in the Gregorian calendar—four days before the launch of Apollo 11.”
“We then detected the approach of a military aircraft of the period,” Kirk continued. “We attempted to retreat to avoid detection, but our systems were damaged, sluggish. The aircraft was armed with missiles, and from what I recalled of the tense political climate of the period, I knew we were in danger of being preemptively fired upon. I ordered the tractor beam activated to hold the aircraft at a safe distance.”
“Were you aware that the aircraft might be damaged by the tractor beam?”
“To be honest, no, sir, it didn’t occur to me,” Kirk said. “Since the aircraft was small enough to fit entirely within the beam, I assumed it would simply feel a uniform attraction, no shear or strain.”
“In the captain’s defense, sir,” Spock pointed out, “few people today are accustomed to dealing with non–antigravity-based aircraft.”
“But you recognized the danger, Commander.”
“Yes, Commodore. Considering the relationship of gravity, thrust, and lift in the...