At long, long last, another chapter. I didn't think this was going to happen; the more I read about the Federation, the more convinced I become that it cannot possibly work. That's one thing.
The other- just to remind you again, I am an ex-Trotskyist; I actually left the (UK) Socialist Workers' Party as a result of a wierd flashbulb memory while attending a party conference at the University of London student union building. One of those moments that just pops into your head.
I had a pint tumbler in my hand, and I was on the union balcony looking out over the city as the sun was going down trying to sort the day's lectures and conferences out in my head, when I just had this moment- and I was three thousand miles away, standing on muddy, trampled grass in a close- packed crowd, looking up at a tall thin man behind a lectern; listening to Lincoln read out the Gettysburg Address.
Maybe it was just doubts crystallising, and I was due to do a course on American History the year after, but it just came to me that people were wierd, most of those at the conference didn't fit all that well into their own theories without a mallet being involved, that there were other paths to and ideas of the Good and people do all sorts of strange things for reasons more idiosyncratic than any formal theory understandable enough to believe in could account for.
I left, and I've never been able to drink Kronenbourg 1664 since.
Anyway, ch 2, and somewhat strange just about starts to cover it. Klingon Communism turns out to be about a gnat's wing off Makhno- esque anarcho- fascism for a start.
Intruders were, of necessity, flexible vessels. Replicators, synthesiser and holo- chambers made being prepared for all eventualities relatively easy, but it also left a wilderness of options, customisations, interior decoration and mood rooms.
On most ships, anyway. So far this one was strict Functionalist, neutral light grey with service markings for all cables and conduits, and would almost certainly stay that way.
The wardroom was better lit and friendlier, soothing blue- green, and most of the section leaders were there.
'Finally we move.' The gunnery officer, was saying. A Klingon of the old core imperial race, lean and long- limbed; most of 918-003's blower-uppers of things deemed unnecessary for the future were of his people. It was hard to stop them gravitating towards the role, even if it would be appropriate to do so- "from each according to their abilities" after all.
In fact there had always been a resonance there, between the Klingons' version of the concept of glory and the labour theory of value; both of them could be reduced to the idea that a thing was worth the toil and struggle, sweat and blood it had taken to get it.
'Under Kondratyev, again.' The intruder's Alternate Historian said; female human, and looked like she should be suffering from Dolph Lundgren Syndrome, the size of her muscles compressing her brain and reducing her intelligence. She wasn't- nobody whose job was to comprehend the branching of timelines could afford to. Did goof occasionally, though.
'You have to do something about those Freudian slips.' her friend the Psychodiagnostician gently prodded her. Even the Klingons had picked up enough human culture to get the joke.
The Alternate Historian blushed, embarrassed, before making the mistake of trying to impersonalise it, going on the attack- 'You know what he's like. Who he chooses to model himself on. He's simply not a socialist. Never asks, never discusses, never confers-an autocrat. I don't see how this can be ideologically sound.'
'You're wrong, and your theories are wrong.' The gunnery officer said. 'The prophet Marx lived in an age of inequality, it was obvious around him, and attempting to pretend that it is not so was not a favoured strategy- it poisoned and destroyed two centuries of progress.'
'That's a fascist concept!' She napped back at him. 'Exactly what I could expect from an unreconstructed imperial power.'
' "From each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs". I assume I don't need to remind you of the source of that.' The gunnery officer said, voice like hydrofluoric acid. 'Inequality is inseparable from being alive, and intelligent recognition of that, the individuality of ability, the individuality of need, is at the core of successful communism.'
'You can't separate communism from socialism.' The Alternate Historian demanded angrily.
'I concur with you on the subject of the human inability to do so.' the Klingon sneered. 'Children and fools with your begging bowls out. It was hardly worth saving you.'
Before it could get any worse- she stood up about to threaten him, not a wise move- a voice said 'Enough.' Executive officer, Captain's right hand man. Localisation specialist. Time heritage was his thing.
Shigeru Yermakeyevich Gurung was not a tall man, but his ancestors had stood on more than a few heaps of skulls- literal as well as metaphorical. Even the Klingons were willing to respect a human who fought with a katana in one hand and a kukri in the other. And when that didn't work he could always throw his horse at them.
'The constructors have already done the shakedown cruise, they warrant the ship is fully operational. We are operating on a minimum predictable path; we will depart for the transition zone as soon as all are aboard. To your stations.'
The wardroom emptied in short order; confused by the suddenness of it all, but no bad thing to avoid what would almost certainly have been blood spilled, and a bad start.
Gurung had actually initially set out to be a veterinarian; the whole edged weapon, discover your heritage thing had come relatively late in life, it was still something of a pose. As he suspected most Klingons went through their entire lives doing.
The boss- Kondratyev- had done something of the same; the community he had been raised in had believed that while it is good to have a natural talent, it is better to work hard at being something else, something needful. If nothing else then you have two options, the labour and the gift.
It would have surprised most and horrified many that he had chosen to become the control freak he was. Thinking of surprises, and control, and crew yet to join, their political officer was still adrift. Now do I prepare a pot of tea for him, Gurung thought, or simply check the edge on my sword?
In terms of personal weapons, Kondratyev was a pragmatist; easily enough of one to know that for all that there are right tools for the job, sometimes simple purpose isn't what it's about. Sometimes it is about the symbolism, the moral effect; the meaning of a weapon can be a force in it's own right.
There was something very profound and symbolic about a knife to the throat, for instance. Such as the one he was holding to the neck of his political officer, who was wriggling half way up the wall of the personnel pod that had just docked.
'You can't do this.' The political officer was saying, trying not to sweat too much; it was too late not to show fear.
'Which part? Threaten you or possibly let you live?' Kondratyev said. In fact he had wanted to do this to more or less every political officer he had ever met. Killing wasn't necessarily part of the plan. A Klingon wouldn't have done it this way, but he was feeling reckless.
'I simply don't need you on the trip out, you see. We cannot afford the luxury of ideological purity. We must grasp them in order to change them; learn their ways, assimilate their logic, predict them, find their vulnerabilities. It is necessary- necessary, or we are only drawing conclusions from a false social reality- to also understand them in their own terms, to see reality also from their point of view.
Only then, only by destroying them from within will we achieve the decisive victory of transformation, making them something good and glorious instead of a shattered ruin. The time of orthodoxy will come when we have to shake off the quantum dust of the other from our feet, and readjust to being good communists of the future again.'
That was not the sort of speech calculated to give a political officer heart; even if he half expected his to be cut out any moment. Could he get out of this by grovelling- was the loss of self respect even worth it- would cringing make him more likely to kill- how mad did the man have to be to be doing this?
'Of the future...that says interesting things about your sense of time, Captain. ' It was itself a stall for time, of course.
'True. For me "now" is the time when things are happening, when there is work to do. This century is just the home base we return to between moments of useful existence.'
'You're talking about useful existence and you're threatening to kill me?'
'When you chide a comrade for insufficient commitment, do you not have the apparatus of coercion behind you? Are there not knives, and needles, and slow maddening drip drip dripping in the dark? Consider this merely a gesture of equality.'
'This- this is not civilised.' The wriggling zampolit managed.
'Civilisation is the soft tissue of what is possible, what is feasible and good, but it cannot exist undamaged and untainted without the hard shell of what needs to be done.' more slight gestures with the knife.
'Civilisation requires barbarism? I don't recall that being one of the approved laws of history.' Another stall.
'You would not, as it is our job to break the laws of history- but you achieve truth by accident; unless stopped, the final degenerate form of capitalism, believing it needs no shell, regenerates itself by collapsing into feudalism and beginning the cycle over again. The process is obvious in the true history of the Orion peoples.
There are many paradoxes in time war; the most relevant of which is that war has its' own logic, and failure to think in it invites defeat against any opponent who is not also a hapless fool.
One of these is that people are pushed outwards from the norms of behaviour towards their best- and their worst. One is that centuries may depend on the tactical outcome, but it is split seconds that are vital.
Another is that collective responsibility is a very dysfunctional method of prosecuting a war. Do you recall the fate of the Yigael Gluckstein? No? An attempt at doctrinal correctness that resulted in fatal hesitation. "Comrades, convene the party cell" is not the correct response to "match generated bearings and shoot."
The Zhdanov? The command crew had separated into political factions and were no longer operating as a team. They were out reacted by early 24th century Starfleet- deaths do not get more embarrassing and shameful. The Malach isotai- Ch'rnr? Subverted on the inner front and defected to revanchist, imperialist Klingons.
The Eugene V. Debs? Computer converted to libertarian objectivism by the polytronic matrix of the Enterprise-R because none of the crew were intellectually flexible enough to understand and deflect the terms of the attack. The Saul Alinsky, the Bukharin, the Singaravelu Chettiar? Shameful failures- and many, many other partial and near failures.
In war, tyranny succeeds. That is why it persisted in human affairs for so long. I do run my ship as an autocrat and a tyrant- because it serves the objective. We fight for communism, not with it.' Not strictly accurate, but under the circumstances close enough.
He left a pause then added 'Now in the true spirit of Soviet Socialism, do you agree with me or do I have to cut your throat?' That was exactly the sort of joke Comrade (pfui) Stalin had told. The political officer's eyes rolled back in his head and he started thrashing.
He's either faking it- and a knee to the groin suggested he wasn't- or he really is having a heart attack. Now there is the effectiveness of symbolism. 'Medical? Anyone down there yet?'
'I have a body for you- the political officer's having a heart attack. He's the one in the transport pod who isn't me. Beam him down, and doctor; he's going to take a very long time to recover, and you may have to give him amnesiac drugs to reduce the psychological trauma. You may even have to put him in stasis.' Short pause. 'No, we don't have time to leave him behind.'
Almost everyone found their duty stations, and those that did not the ship was probably better off without them. Now we find out what weight we have, Kondratyev thought as he made his own way to the bridge. This is their- everyone but us- the last chance they have to stop us before we have an opportunity to change the past.
That conveys information, so the response will likely be non- linear; they, the late federation especially, have been known to massively over- react to prevent utter trivia like who becomes the leading spork manufacturer in a particular sector. We have also been known to manipulate such trivia to make the federation believe there is something to it when there is nothing, also.
Sometimes under- react, to make us think something was less important than it turned out to be; occasionally it worked, too, but it is an inherently dangerous game, one they loved to play- but learned not to play too often. Bluff has eventually to give way to honouring the threat, if there is reality to the threat at all- there is a bedrock of the logic of the situation they are bound to.
We are not entirely unlimited in time and space; always easiest to travel in space first and take evasive routings to the insertion point, possible that some attempts to block time intervention may simply have been unsuccessful.
Ach, ten thousand worlds- more, a hundred thousand all told- a thousand years and more, and the only constant is confusion. With a side dish of paranoia. This, I think, will be a hot one.
'Engels Control, this is 918-003 Nastoychivyy, we will depart in warp. Request runway. Weapons, external pod, zeronium mines, arm and make ready.'
That was a shock- to Engels Station traffic control more than to the gunners- but they could grasp the reason behind it; agreed. A section of the time shields took on a green heterodyned glow, rows of holographic dots of light appeared.
'Helm, impulse- sideslip, line us up with the runway; on my mark, direct to warp, minimum-time acceleration to factor eighteen.'
The helm and nav briefly boggled, before being glared into obedience. 'I've seen hot launches before, but this, Lenin lives? He'd have a heart attack if he saw this- aye, acting.'
Nastoychivyy was a new ship, but she was not looking as if she was going to be a well behaved one- cavilled, banked unpredictably and unbidden, dipped and twitched as her impulse motors propelled her over to the start of the runway. The helmsman looked at the captain in horror, but the word was given anyway. 'Mark.'
It was very far from a bold enthusiasm for the adventure ahead, but the helmsman pushed home the initiator, set the board for the run; Nastoychivyy leapt forward to warp.
We should have gone for a more aggressive name, he thought. This isn't persistence, this is bounce, dash, boldness. It wouldn't be honourable to call the ship "bouncy". Provornyy- Active- might have been better, but it is bad luck to change a ship's name.
We'll just have to run with it and hope to demonstrate that particular quality later in the mission. If we reach that far, because even with a running start, there is much in our way.
Sensors was calling out 'Contacts, port and starboard bow, beam, quarter- Breen, Romulan, Husnock, Orion- capital and supercapital-'
Exactly as I thought, if not worse; and no federation? Have they convinced their lackeys to do it all for them, or are the aftereffects counterproductive enough that that combination of forces has a special reason to stop us? 'Mines.' Kondratyev ordered. Klingon weapon officers seldom if ever hesitated when actually given the chance to kill something.
Nastoychivyy had left Engels Station under high warp precisely in order to flash through the ambush zone before fire could be exchanged; it had been expected, predicted, prepared for. Hence the mine pods.
A strap on, external load, the zeronium mines exploited something that did not, without special conditions could not, exist. A fluctuation into negative mass- energy, they could only be as a quantum anomaly; when they were scanned, or shot, or flown into by a careless pursuer, they collapsed and classically renormalised themselves by equalling out with their surroundings.
They sucked in energy, the more complex forms of it the better. In theory that could perhaps be survivable, but few ships tended to be able to cope with their structural integrity and antimatter containment fields shutting down, simultaneously with all the backups.
Romulan ships' quantum singularities passing below minimum sustainable mass and evaporating was if anything more entertaining, producing more interesting colours as it usually did.
'The prognosis is excellent.' Kondratyev said, looking at the flowers of light erupting in the ship's wake as the stealthed mines found targets and detonated. 'Several factions committing much to stop us.'
Factor Eighteen, over fifty- eight hundred lightspeed, was the ship's maximum battle speed- the peak velocity at which the deflection envelope still had enough reserve integrity to permit manoeuvre and torpedo fire.
Could push harder, but higher speed travel would be better served by going to Tau-II Warpdrive, what used to be called transwarp before they got it to work properly, a subspace within subspace; and perhaps might be advisable. Project 918 was essentially a battlecruiser, fast agile and heavily armed, but not built for a standing fight.
Not against peer opposition, anyway, equally advanced time- craft. The Federation's Relativity- class were cruisers; exactly what a battlecruiser was supposed to be capable of eliminating. The Principle class- Harmony, Freedom, Enterprise- R, so forth- they on the other hand were battleships. Too much to take on, unless you could sneak up on them, and time travel made that tricky.
He had expected trouble waiting for them; would tell the crew that he had felt it in his bones, but in practise it had been an educated guess. A smaller blocking force, he might have tried to round on and eliminate, but there were too many bruisers there, too many ships of force among the Husnock and Romulan contingents.
Best to flee. 'Comms, pass warnings to the station and the screening group about the intruders. Helm, Engineering, energise Tau-II drive and prepare for transition. Tactical History, anything?'
Engaged in battle up and down the time stream, it was possible to literally watch history in the making. Their world line took them through events that became externally clear, chaotic garble resolving into information;
'Yes, resolving now..."it is clear that this extraordinary gamble must have been motivated by dire necessity, most of the ships involved having little enough structural and energy integrity to survive the trip forward in time, and insufficient for demimillennial retrograde travel. For the overwhelming majority of the ships attempting to stop the Intruder 003, it was a suicide mission.
It should not have been surprising that-'
'Drop to warp 12, diving turn starboard, activate cloak, corkscrew port.' Kondratyev gave a rapid but carefully timed sequence of orders- that more by luck than judgement brought the ship stern on to a monstrous blue- white detonation that sent shockwaves rippling through subspace.
'I wondered where the Federation were, and now we know. They were the stop party, ahead of the conventional ambush. They are here, and if they are firing Tricobalt warheads at us, they are very desperate. Let us give them reason to be.'