Chapter VIII: The Edge of Forever

Personal Log; Gregorian 2355: "Time is an illusion, linear time doubly so."

Commander Grom hit the entry chime, and the sound it produced wasn't what he'd come to expect on a Federation Ship, but rather something that grated on his ears and vaguely sounded like nails on a chalkboard not that he'd ever actually experienced that sound. He wasn't surprised, Lieutenant Sharra was the kind of guy who'd do something as simple as modifying his chime to annoy any solicitors still, the Captain recommended him for the mission and when the captain "recommends" something it's an order.

"Come!" The stiff order that gave him permission reverberated along the hallway and Grom tiredly opened the door of the lieutenant's quarters.

He was greeted by him as well, not dressed in standard Starfleet uniform, but rather a grey "T-Shirt" with an odd logo of a porcupine emblazoned on its front and dark blue pants that were made out of an uncomfortable looking fabric Grom didn't recognize, though the most striking thing was that he was barefoot and deliberately clenching and unclenching his toes on the carpet, a gesture which broke all manner of proper decorum, but since he was off-duty and these were his quarters Grom couldn't actually complain without making an ass of himself.

"Can I help you with anything commander?" Sharra asked airily, still doing the thing with his feet inadvertently drawing Grom's attention and going by the quick upturn of the lips the Tellarite commander managed to catch he knew it too.

He sighed internally, "As a matter of fact you can, the Captain said that you had some experience with Xenoarchaeology."

The Andorian raised one of his eyebrows, "I do, but I very much doubt it's in the capacity you would need."

Grom shook his head, "Actually from what I hear, your focus is on cultures that completely predate the evolution of most Federation species, or at the very least predate when the Vulcans discovered Warp, and given what we've found on the M-Class Planet below, you're just the person we need."

His toes stopped wiggling, "Show me."

Grom passed him the Pad displaying the information on the odd structure they had discovered on the planet below and he noticed Sharra's features shifting in an almost kaleidoscopic way, shock, followed by confusion, followed surprisingly by anger of all things before finally settling on a kind of childlike excitement as a smile, a real genuine smile overtook his features.

"Tell me, was this the course that Starfleet planned for us?" Sharra asked, still glancing at the Pad all the while.

"Why is that important?" Grom asked feeling slightly annoyed, his species had been trying to disprove the stereotype that they argue simply for the sake of being confrontational, but Sharra's entire demeanor made it much more challenging than it needed to be.

"Just answer the question, sir please it may be important," Sharra answered for once his features being a picture of perfect seriousness.

Grom sighed and relented, no matter how troublesome of an officer the Lieutenant was and there was no denying that he was just that, he was also an invaluable member of the crew having single-handedly raised the efficiency of engineering by a staggering amount, though the Chief Engineer will dispute that.

"No, the Captain decided to take a detour when of our probes detected a hitherto unknown M-Class Planet, but our original destination was Starbase 404."

Sharra nodded in comprehension while he continued to assimilate the information that their sensors had gathered.

"Any idea if this is an extinct space-faring civilization we're dealing with?" Grom asked after he noticed that Sharra had stopped.

Sharra nodded sharply, "Commander, I'll have to go down there to make sure, however…"

"Yes?" Commander Grom prompted.

"I'm pretty sure we're dealing with an 'extinct' Type-7 Civilization here."

Grom's breath hitched, he knew about the botched First Contact with a Civilization far more advanced than them that the previous Captain of the Helsinki had instigated and the response it had provoked, and safe to say he wasn't eager to make the same mistake, but on the other hand, if they were extinct…

"How does a civilization with so much power go extinct?" Grom asked genuinely curious.

Sharra shook his head, "They usually don't unless a more powerful civilization decided to wipe them out for some reason, but in this case, I believe extinct is the incorrect word, transcended would be more accurate."

"Transcended?" the word somehow made the First Officer of the ship even more nervous.

"Yes, they've collectively transcended what we view as life, into something akin to godhood and therefore no longer have any use for their technology or cities they've left behind," Sharra said in much the same manner as an experienced professor lecturing a group of students, "However, I doubt we'll get much if any technology to reverse-engineer."

"How so?"

"Because from what I can tell sir," Sharra began nervously, "this is the oldest structure ever found in the universe, predating Earth's sun by over four and a half billion years, everything usable has probably already decayed, but as I said I'll have to go down to make sure."

Eyes bugged in in surprise over this declaration, "Make it so lieutenant, assemble your own away team and beam down to the planet once you're ready."

Sharra nodded seriously and as Grom was about to leave asked, "Sir, permission to institute specialized uniform code for the duration of the mission?"

He was tempted to say 'No!' on reflex especially considering the number of times Sharra had argued with his superiors on what he viewed as the 'ridiculousness' of the Starfleet dress code, but thought better of it, of all the complaints one could levy at this particular officer incompetence was not one of them and in this area he seemed to know what he was doing much more than anyone else on the ship.

"Granted. Don't make me regret this Lieutenant."

"Um, sir, why are we wearing these Gas Masks?" Ensign Rodriguez asked me experimentally poking and prodding at the mask made out of dark leather, a material that funnily enough was very rare in clothing during the twenty fourth century and while the other members I had selected for this particular trip didn't ask the question their rude stares gave away the fact that they weren't exactly pleased by me having them wear something that wasn't part of a Starfleet uniform.

The real answer to the question was of course, "Because I want my coalmine canaries to be dressed for the occasion," but since I couldn't exactly say that, I needed an excuse and judging by the restless looks these asshats have been giving me ever since Rodriguez asked the question I was going to need one fast.

"Because of the dust," I said simply and nearly cracked a smile at the confused looks they were giving me.

"The dust?" Ensign Chun repeated oddly, but I got the meaning anyway.

"Yup," I said nodding and popping the 'p', "The city down there is mostly constructed out of huge monoliths and while they're not exactly falling apart, they're so old that parts of them have entirely been eroded to dust by the wind and said dust is currently floating around everywhere, it's an unknown material which means we don't know if its nontoxic or any other properties it may have, so breathing it in might not be the smartest thing to do."

This explanation seemed to placate the dumber than average Ensigns I picked out from Security and for a moment I was eternally grateful to my upbringing in the 21st Century which taught me the uses and abuses of bullshit.

However, the third one, an Ensign Thorland if I wasn't mistaken asked the obvious question, "But sir, if that's the case why are you also wearing a leather jacket and cowboy hat, and why do you have a whip for that matter?"

"Because it's one of my fantasies," I answered irreverently, which set off a new round of them grumbling under their breath. Funny that the truth should disgruntle them more than the lie, I thought, and since they don't know Indiana Jones, they probably think this is all a part of some weird-ass fetish.

"Alright, quiet down!" I exclaimed clapping my hands and using my telepathy to project a very slight amount of killing intent, which turns out was very much a real thing in the world of telepathy and something predators in the animal world frequently made use of.

Once they had quieted and stood still on the transport pads, I nodded and looked over to the glorified bellhop.

"O'Brien, beam us down," I ordered.

"For the last time, my name is not O'Brien, I don't even think there's a tech with that name posted on the ship, my name is-" He began.

"Oh, just do it!"

A few mumbled swear words, a high-pitched whine and a lot of sparkly lights later we found ourselves on the surface of a planet that looked quite similar to Mars before it was terraformed, except for the large city surrounding us of course.

"Wow," Chan mumbled under his breath and I couldn't help but agree with the sentiment.

All of the buildings were huge monoliths crafted out of what at first glance looked like gold, the architecture was very Greco-Roman, but it had a sort of elegance and magnificence to it that I hadn't seen in any other city before, every wall seemed to have different depictions carved in them, whether they were of the people who lived here or something else I couldn't quite say, but with every step I took I saw something that could've passed for a world wonder anywhere else, which only managed to further confirm my suspicions.

"What is this place?" Rodriguez whispered to herself, and in my head I answered her question, The City at the Edge of Forever, an old TOS episode where McCoy gets high as balls and accidentally uses a Star- or I guess Time-Gate and accidentally wipes out the human species before Spock and Kirk go to the 1930s and fix everything. It was understandable that the Federation would make the contents of this planet classified, that didn't mean I wasn't going to abuse it for myself though.

I pulled out my modified tricorder, which was slightly bulkier than the standard Starfleet version, but in exchange, it had more battery life, better sensors, and overall more functionality, hell, I could play the entire Gameboy, NES and Turbografix 16 libraries on this thing!

I switched it on to be able to detect something I dubbed Chronometric Disturbances, a treknobabble sounding word I coined with Data to describe differing phenomena which were able to significantly alter the flow of regular time in a localized space, what "localized" actually meant was up to the user, but in this particular case it meant on the planet's surface and sure enough the little "radar" I had coded for the program rapidly pinged and showed me where I wished to go.

"Follow me," I said and began marching towards the place, and a few minutes later we reached it, a large gate made out of a quartz-like substance looking like it was carved by a blind man with parkinsons.

Everyone circled the odd structure in the middle of the glorious city we had found, no one looked particularly curious or impressed, everyone except me looked disappointed, not to say I looked excited if anything I looked apologetic at what I was about to do.

"For what little it must be worth, your sacrifice will not be in vain." The three Ensigns turned to look at me like I had grown a separate head and I could tell Thorland was about to say something, before he could do so however, the canisters that the three Ensigns had in their gasmasks containing a very specifically calculated amount of anti-matter ruptured after I'd pressed the button on my Tricorder, wiping them out, the only clue as to them having been there were their slightly damaged uniforms and intact communicator badges, the latter of which I proceeded to place in my pocket.

It was an odd thing, this was the first time I had ever killed someone in either life, I felt bad for not feeling bad rather than for actually doing it, maybe I was too desensitized because of all the holodeck sims, maybe it was my Augmentations or maybe it was because I knew it had to be done. I could've knocked them out and wiped their memories afterwards, it would've been more complicated but far from not doable and yet some words I had heard a lifetime ago filtered back into my head.

"Gold buys silence for a time, death buys it forever." And this was something that had to remain secret if I didn't want the "Time Cops" on my back.

I tentatively approached the structure, hands clasped firmly behind my back, my whole demeanor practically exuding respect and why wouldn't I? This structure was the place where every single timeline in the Milky Way galaxy converged. Briefly, the Doctor's speech about the untempered schism made its way from my distant memories to the forefront of my mind and I swallowed the cold lump that had formed in my throat.

"Are you willing to answer my questions?" I asked seemingly at thin air.

"I am." The Guardian of Forever responded in the same monotone voice it had used in TOS, glowing every time it pronounced a syllable, it's consciousness pressing against my own through my telepathy, the only way I could describe it was that it was powerful and ancient, like a venerable oak tree, but one that could break time and space if it wanted.

"What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?" I asked with a small smile despite myself.

"The answer is one you would not comprehend, so instead I shall give you the one you seek, 42."

I howled with laughter for a few seconds but composed myself quickly. As odd as it might sound, I didn't wish to waste the Guardian's time. Now the real meat of why I'm here.

"Will you open a portal to the place I seek and back?" I asked crossing my fingers in a childish gesture of hope and some ways prayer, this action wasn't crucial to my ultimate plans, but it would speed them up by a considerable margin and if the guardian doesn't do it three deaths will have been in vain.

Rather than answering me, the Guardian opened a portal leading towards a jungle. I took a deep breath and told myself it would be fine, I hadn't planned for something like this, but when a golden opportunity that could save untold amounts of lives is handed to you on a silver platter you don't hesitate, you grab that son of a bitch as hard as you can.

I took several deep breaths and sprinted through.

Excerpt; Lieutenant Sharra: After Action Report Stardate 42356.71

"…Having arrived on the planet's surface the away team set out to explore the ruins of the large city, uranium dating from our sensors placed its creation around one and a half million years into the past, however, upon closer examination utilizing the Yusupov Method it turned out that the city predates the formation of Wolf 359's sun by about 5 Billion years. It is thus no surprise that apart from the unknown material utilized in the construction of their buildings and their impressive artwork and architecture, little was salvageable. The only still working piece of technology was sadly what brought 3 out of the 4 members of the away team to their deaths, a machine in the shape of an Arch calling itself the Guardian of Forever that claimed to have been disturbed by humans for the second time, thus killing the human members of the away team, Ensigns Rodriguez, Chan and Thorland, while sparing me as it had yet to encounter an Andorian. It proceeded to show me images of several significant events in Andorian history, before telling me in no uncertain terms to leave, by which I mean striking me with enough force to fling me several meters back and tear my clothing. Therefore, I believe it is a machine meant to catalog the history of other civilizations by extracting it directly from the minds of its members…"