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Commander
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 457
# 11
02-08-2013, 06:57 AM
Personal log: Tylha Shohl, officer commanding USS King Estmere NCC-92984

"Hold still," Samantha Beresford snaps at me. I can't help but flinch a little as the cold mist from the applicator brushes my closed eyelids. "And the legs," she adds, sternly.

I open my eyes to glower at her, but I see the need. The fashion for female clothing, in this time period, at this place, tends towards knee-length skirts; leg-concealing trousers or long dresses are a possibility, but they're unusual enough to attract attention... which is the last thing we want.

So Samantha applies the plastiskin spray to my lower legs, while I pick up the hat. The hat has a curly brim, with artificial flowers and fruits and a half-veil; it is complicated and fussy with decoration, so much so that no one will spot a pair of Andorian antennae poking through it... we hope. The half-veil makes it look as if I'm trying to hide the scars on my face... people will respect that, and won't stare too hard. That's the theory, at least.

I put on the hat, and the neat grey jacket which goes with the skirt, and I step into the shoes. At least I don't have to wear those extraordinary, punitive high heels. I am too tall already, a few extra inches would be a bad move. Samantha has sprayed my hands already, but I draw on a pair of gloves, then pick up my shoulder bag.

I look around the room. It's a small room and a crowded one, in one of those buildings they call tenements; it was all we dared take. Soledad Kleefisch, exhausted after another night shift, is still sleeping on the couch; F'hon Tlaxx is sitting by the window, looking out at the city. His face, like mine, is covered in human-coloured plastiskin; the wig covering his bald Bolian head looks ridiculous. Zazaru, too, hasn't escaped Samantha's sprayer; somehow, she looks younger now that her Trill spots are covered up. She is working on the sensor apparatus. I reach into the shoulder bag, touch my tricorder, reassuring myself that it's still there. Zazaru looks up.

"I'm... still working on it, sir," she says, softly. "If you can give me a baseline reading from your tricorder, I may be able to triangulate...."

"If I'm far enough away," I say, "and if we're close enough to the source.... Well, I'll be at least a kilometer away, and staying more or less still for an hour or so... will that give you time?"

Zazaru shrugs helplessly. The sensor device is a bodged-up machine, the best we could manage with what we had. We aren't entirely sure it works at all. "I'm getting a feed from Sirip's tricorder now," she says. Sirip is working at the city's docks; a simple woolen cap, pulled down at the sides, is all we have to hide his Vulcan appearance.

"I'll be off, then," I say.

"Take care," says Samantha. "Seriously, sir," she adds in an undertone. "If you were to get hit by a car, and taken to a hospital...."

First contact would come early, and the timeline would be hopelessly compromised. "I won't get hit by a car," I promise her.

---

Six floors down, and out the door, and here I am; the human city of New York, stardate... I can never remember how to convert stardates to pre-contact format. The Earth date is October 12th, 1948. The sky is a clear blue, the air comfortably cool. There's not a jet contrail in all the sky; no shuttles, no air trams, even the sight of a propeller-driven craft is unusual enough to make people look up. The humans all look... human. Their clothes are weird, complicated, old-fashioned; half of them have little burning cylinders stuck in their mouths. A drug, nicotine, an addictive substance that's socially acceptable here and now. They breathe the drug in with the smoke of the burning; the by-products cause all sorts of diseases, and the smell is repulsive.

There are a lot of smells. The city is crowded with internal-combustion vehicles, and it is full of people, full to the brim and beyond, it sometimes seems. There are odours of people, of industry; odours of foods, from a dozen different culinary traditions; odours of animals, and sewage, and I don't know what else. It is a crazy place. I don't know how so many people can manage, here, without modern conveniences. When we first arrived, I kept doing double-takes, looking at those towering buildings and remembering, suddenly, they were built without industrial replicators or anti-gravs....

The streets are crowded, and few people spare me a second glance, which is as I want it. Let them ignore the tall woman with the silly hat and the scarred face... let them not realise I'm not human, or that the bag on my shoulder contains technology enough to turn their world upside down. I have hours to kill, while I traverse the city and - hopefully - gather the data Zazaru needs. I walk, steadily and purposefully, through the melee of humanity. It is busy and loud and smelly and incredibly alive.

In other circumstances, I'd think myself lucky to see it.

It takes too long to walk from the Lower East Side to Central Park. I have a little currency, enough for a bus fare. I sit silently in a corner, nobody notices me.

The Park is a lovely sight, a patch of greenery in all this urban exuberance. It must look even lovelier in summer, though I hope I'm not still around to see it. It's not my final destination, though. That lies a couple of city blocks to the south, a comparatively small building among the skyscrapers, but quite grand and ornate enough for me. It even raises a faint smile of recognition, when I arrive. I've been to Carnegie Hall before. That is, I will have been to Carnegie Hall before... in the future.

I have to be somewhere reasonably far off, to give Zazaru a decent baseline for triangulation. And I saw this particular performance was coming up... why not, I thought, enjoy myself, while I do what's necessary at the same time? So, I buy a ticket, and I make my way into that resplendent concert hall. It's not particularly full, but I make sure I sit at the back, in any case. I don't want anyone asking me to remove my hat.

The orchestra makes that weird, not-discordant, not-organized sound that they make, tuning up. The rustle of programmes and the murmur of conversation dies away. At the back of the hall, unseen by anyone, I break into a huge grin as the stately opening chords sound, and the voices of the chorus ring out in those words I know so well:-

Hearken to me, gentlemen, come and ye shall hear,
A tale of the boldest brethren, that ever born y were,
The one of them was Adler young, th' other King Estmere....


---

Holst, Shostakovich, and Aaron Copland. Kind of an eclectic mixture, but when I'm marooned in the wrong time zone and scanning for exotic chronitons, that's the sort of music that takes my mind off things. I'm still humming quietly and happily to myself when I get off the bus, on my way back to the apartment.

Then a voice behind me says, "Well, well, Miss Shoal! You sound in a good mood this evening."

I turn. The human behind me is tall and heavily built, wearing a dark blue paramilitary-styled uniform, and carrying a sidearm; his face is all one big friendly grin, though. "Officer Murphy. Hello. Yes, I've - I've been to a concert -"

"Call me Pete," he says, "I'm off duty now. It's a good thing to see you looking cheerful, though! Most days, you look like you've the weight of the world on your shoulders."

We tried to get to know local law enforcement; it was a calculated risk, we didn't want to attract attention, but we didn't want to arouse suspicions either. Pete Murphy... is local law enforcement, basically. People like him, and he seems to like us, which is good. Now, he steps forward and takes my arm. "Let me walk you home," he says. "The nights are getting shorter, and we don't want you walking into any trouble, now, do we?"

I have my phaser in my bag next to my tricorder, and besides, I've spent most of my career not so much walking into trouble as sprinting into it. This is not the time to say that, though. "Thanks, Pete," I say.

"Any time," he says. We stroll along the darkening street, arm in arm. Pete is a very big man, taller than me, and I'm a head taller than the average human female in this time and place. Another complication.... "Truth to tell," he says, "I don't mind this at all. And I'd like to get to know you a little better, Miss Shoal, or may I call you Teela? That's your name, isn't it?"

"Close enough, I guess," I say.

"Ah, am I not saying it right? That's one thing I wondered at, you see, I never could place your accent...."

"I'm from a long way away," I say, "you wouldn't know it."

"Well, now, why can't I be the judge of that? Why don't you tell me anyway?"

What harm can the name do? "Gimel Vessaris," I say.

He laughs. "You're right, then, I don't know it... Somewhere in Europe, maybe?" His friendly eyes narrow slightly. "Is it, maybe, the same place you got those scars?"

"That's right," I say. "In the war." No need to specify which war.

"You're still a fine-looking woman," he says, "and there's many around here who'll be jealous of me for this. And you should smile more often... you've a lovely smile."

I tense, and try not to let him see it. Complications... this is one complication I hadn't expected. "I enjoyed the music," I say, neutrally.

"You should enjoy yourself more," he says. "You know the Rosenbaums' little girl, in the apartment below yours? She's got names for all your little... gang. There's the doctor lady, the pretty lady, the serious lady, the big fellow, the bad wig fellow. Do you know what she calls you? The sad lady. Now, why should you be sad, Miss Teela?"

"I don't know," I say. "I never thought of myself as sad." We tried to be on good terms with the neighbours, too. Human adults... they see what they expect to see. But human children are curious, and they watch.

"I can't figure you out, Miss Teela," says Pete. "I mean, I fancy myself a good judge of character... and I know you and your friends are good people, I'm sure of that... but I just can't figure you out."

"Maybe there's nothing to figure," I say.

"I don't believe that for a minute," he says. "But here you are, in the greatest city in the world, the greatest country... we licked Hitler, we licked the Japs, and even though FDR's gone, I reckon we could still lick the whole world if we wanted to. So, here you are at the heart of the world, and you've got friends around you, you've got talent - old McCutcheon says you're the best teller he's ever had at his bank - so what would it take to keep that smile on your face?"

I don't know what FDR is. Federal Deposit Rationing? Those words all seem to be important. "I guess I'm just - busy, Pete. Things on my mind, you know how it is." He means well, I know it, but now I am desperate for this conversation to end. I look up. We're on the right street, nearly at the tenement building....

"You shouldn't let stuff get you down, Miss Teela," Pete is saying, but my attention isn't on him. The windows. The windows on the sixth floor are dark. It is dusk, the lights should be on. "Now, if you need a shoulder to cry on...." His voice tails off; he's noticed I'm not listening. He follows my gaze.

"The lights ought to be on," I say. "They'd need light to work by...."

"Something's wrong, maybe," says Pete. "Well, now, I guess I'd better see you all the way home, then."

I have a dreadful trapped feeling. How do I get out of this? I hope that it's just a burned-out filament in these archaic incandescent lightbulbs... but I know it's not. I let Pete lead me up the stairs. My hand reaches carefully into my shoulder bag, touches the butt of my phaser.

The door is ajar, the rooms beyond dark and vacant, the furniture disarranged. Zazaru's sensor device is gone; the contents of Samantha's medical kit are strewn over the floor. Pete draws in a sharp breath. "I'll call this in," he says.

"No!" I say. "No, Pete - you can't. Let me -" I'm trapped. "Let me explain." I take a deep breath. "I'll need your help."

"I should call the precinct," Pete says obstinately.

"You mustn't. I -" My eyes rove wildly round the room, until I see what I need. "I'll explain. And you'll know why you mustn't. Pete, I'm going to have to show you something -"

"Show me what?" Pete's voice is angry now. I reach down, and pick up the solvent spray.

"The real me. Pete, promise me you won't scream, or faint."

"Scream and faint? Now what do you take me for?" Pete demands, but I'm already spraying the solvent across my face, and for good measure I rip away the hat with my free hand. There is a faint prickling sensation as the plastiskin reacts and oxidizes to nothing.

Pete doesn't scream, or faint, but his eyes are wide and round as saucers.

"That's why you mustn't call the precinct," I say.

---

"We're explorers," I say, while Pete very slowly makes his way to the couch, not looking away from my face the whole time. "We were out in space, tracking an anomaly - something odd that showed up on our scanners. It caught our shuttlecraft, pulled it through a time distortion - I'm not just from outer space, Pete, I'm from the future as well." Pete sits down on the couch, hard.

"We arrived in New York about six weeks ago," I continue. "We did our best to settle in, got basic living quarters, took some basic jobs... we had some diamonds, we used them for an initial stake." No point telling him we made the diamonds in the shuttle's replicators. "We've been trying, ever since, to find the source of the anomaly. Something brought us here, Pete, and it wasn't natural. Someone in New York has... well, a time machine."

Pete finds his voice. "Holy Mary, Mother of God," he says. "And here was me thinking I was a good judge of character."

"You're a fine judge of character, Pete, just not as good a judge of species. Listen." I cross the floor, take his hands in mine. He doesn't react, but he doesn't pull away. Maybe that's a good sign.

"We've been scanning, trying to find the time machine. My guess is, the others have succeeded, and whoever built it detected our scanning beam and came for them. Pete, I have to find them. We could - the whole timeline could be in jeopardy. And they're my crew, and my friends."

"Your... crew?" he says slowly. "Are they all like you?"

"No," I say. "I'm the only Andorian here. Samantha and Soledad - the doctor lady and the pretty lady - they're as human as you are. Zazaru - serious lady - can pass with a little makeup. Sirip, the big guy, we just had to hide his ears. F'hon - well, the bad wig covers a multitude of sins. He's blue, though, like me, so we have to paint him up, too."

"Why?" he says. "I mean, why... why are you hiding? Why not go to the government, or...?"

"Because we daren't change history," I say. "This is the past, for us, and anything we do here can change that. My guess is, somebody wants to change that. Pete, a couple of hundred years from now, your people, and mine, and a thousand others are going to do wonderful things. We're going to go out into the galaxy and make a civilization there, a place of freedom, and justice, and infinite horizons. We can't risk doing anything that would change that. Even being here is a danger.... Pete, you can't tell the precinct, you can't tell anyone. Not ever. But here and now, I need your help."

He is quiet for a long worrying moment, then says, "What did you say you were, again?"

"Andorian. My people come from Andoria, a planet of the star you call Procyon."

"And... the others... you called them your crew?"

"Yes. I'm an officer in Starfleet, commanding the United Star Ship King Estmere. We were on the way back to the ship, when... it happened." I smile. "If my ship was here, we'd track down the bad guys and deal with them in no time at all."

"What's she like? Your ship?"

My smile grows broader. "You should see her, Pete. Half a mile long, and since we had the new gear put in, she's gleaming bright from stem to stern... fast enought to cross a star sector before you've had time to blink, and as for firepower... finest ship in Starfleet."

Astonishingly, he gives a shaky laugh. "Well, whatever else you are, you're navy, all right," he says. "Never met a navy guy yet who didn't serve on the finest ship in the fleet."

---

When I turn on the lights, something gleams on the cheap sideboard. Samantha's data monocle. She sets it facing the door, maybe it was running.... Pete is still sitting on the couch, his expression still dazed, but there's a little more colour and animation in his face. Maybe this will work out. Maybe. Too many maybes....

"What's that?"

"Data monocle. Um, a sort of...." They don't have electronic computers yet, not outside a few academic and military institutes. "Sort of like a camera, I guess." I look around. A PADD has scooted half-way under the couch. I fish it out, start to set up the connections. "It might have caught what happened."

It did. A whole lot of nothing for the first hour or so; I fast-forward through it while Pete gapes at the images. Sirip comes back, there is another spell of nothing... and then the door bursts open.

I can't see everything, but I see disruptor beams flash, and I pray they were set on stun. The gunmen are hulking brutes, apparently human... but I know how little that might mean. The one thing I have is, before the shooting starts, one of them says, quite clearly, "Mr. Manning wants a word with you guys."

I look at Pete. His face is thoughtful. "Manning," he says. "I know that name."

I wait for him to explain. "Cyrus Manning," he goes on. "Big shot, so they say, and only come to town lately. There've been all sorts of rumours about the guy, and there's some precinct captains would dearly love to see what's inside that big place of his out in Queens. And, well, no one sees him. I don't know of anyone who's ever seen him." He looks sidelong at me.

"Sounds like a good place to start, then." I stand up. "Let's go."

"Mother of God!" Pete surges to his feet. "Not like that, girl, you'll start a riot."

"Oh. Yes." I look around. "Plastiskin applicator. That one there. And I'll need my hat."

---

We hail a cab. It'll eat most of my reserves of currency, but maybe I won't need them again. And the roaring and jerking of the internal combustion drive will take years off my life, but never mind that.

We settle into the back seat, and Pete gives the driver an address. Then, quietly, he says to me, "I've got a whole lot of questions, Miss Teela."

"I'll bet. And I can't answer them all. I daren't. I've told you too much already."

"Miss Teela. Are you... are you even a woman?"

"Sort of. Andorians have four sexes. I'm... one of the female ones."

He shakes his head. "Every time I think I might get a handle on this, you pitch me another curve ball."

"I'm sorry, Pete," I say. "Um.... if it's any help, I have no clue what that means."

"You don't have baseball, where you come from?"

"We don't."

He explains about baseball. It takes the rest of the trip.

---

Cyrus Manning's place is a big brown block, ten stories tall. There's a night watchman on duty. Pete talks his way past him with a phony story putting me in the role of a wronged woman out to make an "arrangement with Mr. Manning". It's kind of a good improvisation, at that. I'm starting to warm to Pete.

The night watchman lets us into the building's elevator, and I say to Pete, "Stop two floors below where he tells us, we'll walk up."

He nods. "Makes sense, I guess."

The interior of the building is... off. It's all impeccably furnished, with the facilities of a big hotel, maybe... but there is no sign of occupation, no sign it's ever been used. It's like a stage set. My skin is crawling with nerves, under my fake human complexion. The night watchman says, sixth floor. We get off at the fourth, and look for a staircase. When we find the stairwell, I pull out my tricorder. Perhaps I can risk some passive scans -

"What's that?" Pete asks.

"Scanning device," I say.

I don't have time to say anything else. Above us, a door crashes open, a big figure silhouetted against light beyond.

I move as quick as I can, my hand diving into the bag, dropping the tricorder, coming out with the phaser. The stairwell lights up with orange light and sick green as the two of us fire, together. He misses. I don't. I take the stairs up, three at a time, while Pete gasps, "What the hell -?"

"Pete. I'm a monster from outer space. Of course I've got a death ray."

I reach the landing, kick the inert body over onto its back. "Or, if you really want a monster...."

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," mutters Pete, looking down at fangs and warts and dead black eyes. "What is it?"

"Nausicaan," I tell him.

Pete boggles. "Those build time machines?" he says. "I would have thought... well, that one doesn't look bright enough. But I shouldn't judge on looks, maybe?"

"You'd be right, though, this time. Nausicaans... most likely just hired muscle. Goon squads."

Pete looks sharply at me. "You sound like you don't like them."

"I don't." I point to my face, to the scars. "One of them did that."

"With one of those ray guns?" I nod. Pete looks at my face, at the disruptor in the dead Nausicaan's hand, at the scar the beam cut into the brickwork. "Your head must be a lot harder than it looks, Miss Teela."

"I was lucky." I take the Nausicaan's gun, flip it, offer it butt-first to Pete. "Take it. It'll be more effective, but you just pull the trigger, same as your thirty-nine."

Pete accepts the weapon gingerly. "Um," he says. "My Police Special? It's a .38, actually."

I frown. "Thirty-nine's an important number, isn't it? I'm sure I've heard that somewhere." I look down the corridor the Nausicaan came from. The lights are on, but there's no sign of life. Stage set, again. We make our way down the corridor, weapons out, nerves taut, jumping at shadows. I don't dare risk a scan, not now.

At the end of the corridor, an imposing set of double doors, the sort of thing that announces whoever's behind this is important. My antennae quiver. Motion behind those doors, two people at least, maybe more. I gesture to Pete, and he gets the idea. We move to flank the doors. I take a deep breath -

And I explode into action. Kick in the door, dive, and shoot. The first Nausicaan guard takes my beam full in the chest, and falls. The other has time to get off a shot at me, but it goes wild, and then Pete's shot takes him down. I get to my feet. The air is sour with the smell of scorched flesh, the feel of expended energies.

Two Nausicaan guards flanking a huge, imposing desk, and behind the desk -

Pete gasps. "That's Cyrus Manning? No wonder he never shows his face."

The Ferengi, ridiculous in a 1940s business suit, snarls, "You're not so handsome yourself, hew-mon."

I take a deep breath. "No," I say. "Nice guess, Pete, and it's what you're meant to think, but no. This is a Ferengi, and just another mercenary. Absolutely mercenary. A Ferengi'd sell you his own mother for ten strips of gold-pressed latinum."

"Ridiculous!" the Ferengi growls. "For my mother - no less than fifty bars!"

"But -" Pete gestures with the gun; I start to wish I'd shown him where the safety was. "But - well, you can paint your skin, but he can't - I mean, those ears, that nose - he can't hide -"

"We had to improvise," I explain. "They came here on purpose, and they came prepared. Holo-emitters, Pete, a perfect disguise. This guy can look like - like Rita Hayworth, if he wants to." Things are falling into place in my head. "The only reason Cyrus Manning never appears... must be if he's got just too much to hide. Like, say, a completely non-human appearance, and life support requirements - like, if he can't breath Earth's air, or live at Earth temperatures." The Ferengi turns pale, and I know I'm on the right lines. Time to run a bluff, to act like I know my guess is right. Temporal tech, non-human, life support, there are several species it could be, but one is most likely -

I ram the emitter grid of my phaser right into the Ferengi's forehead.

"Where's the Tholian?"

---

The top two floors of the building have been gutted, making space for the gantries and the scaffolding that support a huge glass box, filled with the glowing mist that is Tholian air. Beneath it are devices, some familiar - data consoles and the like - some less so.

And there is a framework of white metal with glimmering force field lines across it, and behind that, five familiar faces, and my heart lifts to see them alive and unharmed. Sirip looks faintly embarrassed, though. Well, so he should, a Starfleet security officer knocked cold by a couple of Nausicaan goons in holo-emitters.

I shove the Ferengi ahead of me and mutter, "Keep an eye out," to Pete. Then I call out, loudly. "Show yourself!"

For an instant, there is no answer; then there is a skittering sound from the glass box. I'm relieved. If the Tholian had had time to get into an EV suit of its own... there's no way I have the equipment to take on one of those, now.

The Tholian emerges from the mist, and I hear Pete gasp. It's a big one, I'd guess commander level at least. Its glowing eyes gaze down on us, and one foreclaw reaches out to tap on the inside of the glass. There is a chittering, squeaking sound: Tholian speech.

An expressionless voice says, <Vice Admiral Shohl.>

"Release my people," I say, and I raise the phaser.

<If you fire that weapon,> the voice says, <you will release Tholian atmosphere directly into this area. You will not survive the resulting explosion.>

"Neither will you, or your technology here," I say, "which means the timeline is preserved. And that's what matters."

Of course, I'm bluffing. Probably. I'm betting the Tholian won't call it, though.

<As a gesture of goodwill, then,> the voice says. A claw fondles a control crystal. The forcefield lines wink out.

"Sorry, skipper." F'hon is the first to speak, as they step out of the cage. "I guess we messed up."

"Don't worry about it." I shove the Ferengi into the cage. "Turn the field back on."

<That is unnecessary ->

"Turn it back on!"

The orange lines come back, and the Ferengi looks daggers at me through them. I ignore him, and walk out to where I can look at the Tholian again. "Congratulations," I say, "you've brought peace to the galaxy."

<Explain.>

"The war with the Klingons will end. They, the Romulans, the Cardassians, the Dominion, even the damned Hirogen will drop everything, now - at least long enough to wipe out the Tholian Assembly. Self-preservation. If you're tampering with the time lines, everyone has to stop you. We could probably even get the Borg to join the fight."

<Even if you return to your own time to make a report,> the Tholian says, <that need not necessarily occur. This is a unique opportunity - and I am acting outside the consensus of the Assembly in exploiting it.>

"You're a rogue agent?" Sirip and Soledad have found weapons, are watching the big room's entrances. I almost begin to think I might be in control of this situation. Almost. "Convince me."

<The data consoles hold all the records of my research station,> the Tholian continues. How I wish I could read Tholian expressions... the mechanical voice conveys nothing beyond the bare words. <You will see that much of my equipment is Ferengi in origin. Daimon Rabb, here, has supplied most of the funding for my project - I have had no official support from the Assembly. And the subspace inclusion that allowed me access to the past was, and remains, unique.>

From behind the forcefield, Rabb says, "Tholians are worse than hew-mons when it comes to smelling profit!"

Zazaru is scanning a Tholian console, brow furrowed in concentration. "He might be telling the truth, sir," she says. "There's a small asteroid near the epicentre of the subspace disturbance that swallowed our shuttle. And it reads within a light-minute of King Estmere's last recorded position -"

"He saw us coming and he panicked," I say. "All right. What's our best option for fixing this?"

<That is not in your hands,> the Tholian voice says. <It is now in the hands of your human associate.>

---

I turn to Pete. He has put down the disruptor pistol, and he has picked something up, a cylinder of metal with a gleaming control panel set in its side. He stares at the Tholian, and I stare at him.

Crystal feet scratch and squeal on the glass floor as the Tholian scuttles over to look down on him. <I do not know your name, human,> the voice says. <I am Inyrene, and I would like to make a proposition to you.>

"Pete," says Pete. "Pete Murphy. Patrolman Pete Murphy."

<Patrolman Murphy. Admiral Shohl has undoubtedly painted a glowing portrait of life in the Federation of her future to you. Might I propose an alternative vision? My intention has always been to bring together human drive and ingenuity, Tholian technical mastery, and Ferengi commercial acumen at the right place and in the right time. Together, we could rewrite history, obliterating centuries of destructive warfare, and making this world, this city, the centre of the greatest commercial empire that the galaxy has ever seen. No politicial ideologies vying for supremacy, merely trade and commerce, free, unfettered, with your planet at the heart of it all.>

The heart of the world. My mouth goes dry.

<The device in your hands,> the Tholian continues, <is a chroniton inverter. It is set to a directional beam at present, though it can be converted to a spherical field. Activate the device, and the subspace inclusion which brought us to your world will be reverted. In practical terms - point the end of the device at something from the future, press the button, and that object or person vanishes, back to the future.>

"And you think I should point it at Miss Teela, do you?"

<Have you seen her true face?>

Pete looks at me, now. "There's nothing else, underneath the blue," I tell him. "I don't know what I can do to convince you of that...."

"So," Pete says, "I've got to choose between the blue lady with the feelers, or the big chandelier up there, have I?"

<That is, essentially, the choice.>

"Well, now," says Pete. "Miss Teela's not been entirely straight with me, has she? But I guess I understand why - she doesn't want to mess things up by changing history. I can sort of see how that might work."

<I want to change history. For the better.>

"See, I reckon I'm a good judge of character," says Pete. "Miss Teela and her friends, they came here, they settled down into ordinary jobs, good workers too, from all I've heard. Good neighbours, as well. But you, and this guy here with the ears? Every time I hear about Cyrus Manning, he's been linked to half the dirty rackets in the city."

"Your hew-mon regulations get in the way of profit!" shouts the Ferengi.

"I don't know about visions of the future," Pete continues, obstinately, "but Miss Teela and her people are decent folks. And I guess, when it comes down to it, I'm on the side of the decent folks."

He raises the cylinder, points it at Inyrene, presses the glowing stud at the side. There is a thunderclap of displaced air, and the Tholian vanishes, his whole life support box going with him.

Rabb wails. "Oh, shut up, you," says Pete, and presses the button again. Then he lowers the device, looks at me, and says, "So did I do the right thing?"

"I think so, Pete," I say. I look him in the eye. "I... hope I can justify your faith in me. Thanks, Pete."

He lets out a deep breath, shakily. "So what happens now, then?"

Time to take charge. "Zazaru, download everything from the data consoles before we send them back. Then we'll sweep the building, spray it with that thing so that every bit of future technology's gone. Then... some of us go back to the apartment, do the same there. The rest of us catch a few hours' sleep, we'll need it."

"You're not going straight after him?" Pete seems amazed.

I smile. "That thing will send us back to the moment in the future we left. We can spend as long as we like cleaning up, here, we'll arrive at the same time Inyrene does." I step forward, take a closer look at the device. "It's rather like... remember that thing Franklin Drake fitted on the old Sita?"

"The thing you were specifically told not to look at?" Zazaru smiles, for the first time in six weeks.

"That's the one. We'll have to fit it into the shuttlecraft, then we can all go back home. Pete - you could give it to one of the others, you'll need some rest." I smile. "Tomorrow morning, we're going on a boat trip."

---

She stands there, monumental, in the light of a grey watery dawn. Behind her, the buildings of the city are taller and grander, but the concept she embodies is larger than all of them.

"If you have to build a big green statue," I say aloud, "Liberty's a good thing to build one to."

"Why are we here?" Pete is a little green himself. Not a good sailor, it seems.

"Well," I say, "when our shuttle arrived, we couldn't leave it on display, could we? So we set its holo-emitters to generate... ah, you don't need the technical details. We turned it invisible." I lead the way towards one of the buttresses of the massive statue. "A wise man once said... first rule of active camouflage: park somewhere you'll remember."

The seven of us are alone in the dawn light. Pete starts as I key the command sequence on my tricorder, and the entry ramp lowers, a doorway opening in thin air. He gazes at the interior of the shuttle. "So that's what the future looks like, is it?"

"Some of it." I turn to the others. "Get that thing installed and set for a spherical field. And set up the call to the King Estmere on automatic - I want her moving as soon as we hit our own time." There are two nice warm cells in Facility 4028 just waiting for Inyrene and Rabb.

Pete stands silently while the others move. Finally, he speaks. "Could I... could I go with you?"

I shake my head. "It's impossible, Pete."

"Because I'd change history? I'm not that important."

"Everyone's important. Besides... the reverter only affects things that come from the future. You're not from our time... if we turned it on, the shuttle would just disappear around you. At best, you'd fall into the bay."

"It's too cold a day for swimming, all right," he says resignedly. "I guess this is goodbye, then."

I snap my fingers. "That reminds me." I turn to the shuttle and yell, "Currency!"

"Currency?" Pete seems nonplussed.

"We made our own clothes and things," I explain, "but we couldn't manufacture money, could we? It's... unethical." I hastily collect green notes, little brown and silver discs. I'm already starting to forget what each one's worth. I hand the whole lot to Pete. "We can't take it with us, and we don't need it anyway. Give it to the Rosenbaums, they're always short of money. Tell them it's a - what's their word for it? - a matzoh."

He snorts with laughter. "I think you mean a mitzvah, Miss Teela."

"Whatever." On an impulse, I step up to him, and kiss him, briefly, on the mouth. Human lips are cool, but not unpleasant... not in the least. I step back.

"Be a good person in the future, Miss Teela," he says.

"Stay a good man in the past, Pete," I reply.

I step aboard the shuttle. The entry ramp closes, shutting out my last sight of this world. The next time it opens, Pete Murphy will have been dead for centuries.

I turn to my command. "Thrusters to takeoff levels. Ready impulse engines. Activate the reverter on my mark. Let's go, people."

The shuttle lifts off. Into the future, into our home.