A Question of Fate
When: Before mission briefing
Where: Weapons Array, Breen Freighter
Ash had found a somewhat quiet space to sit down and get his report together from the away mission to recover the freighter. He had 6 separate PADDs spread out around him on the floor and had his back pressed against a bulkhead. It was cold but he'd started to get used to it. Scrolling through the sensor data he had downloaded from the security office Ash noticed something odd, something out of place and yet somehow familiar. Realising what he'd found he set all his PADDs aside, got up to his feet and pressed his commbadge, "Sullivan to Reynolds."
"What do you need?" was Arthur's exasperated response.
"Where are you lieutenant, we need to talk." Ash replied.
"Right in front of you." Indeed, Arthur had been walking toward the freighter's weapons array to carefully inspect the tactical systems up close. By the time Ash had asked the question, Arthur was already at the doorway with a toolkit in one hand, a PADD in the other, and a tricorder strapped to his belt. Say what one could about him, Arthur at least made every effort to be as efficient at his job as possible. At least it beats staying in my quarters all day writing scathing reviews of some poor sod's life's work, he thought to himself as he stepped in and started looking for a place to 'set down' and get started. While that took his attention away from where Ash was sitting, he said in an off-handed manner, "Hope you don't mind if I get started on this inspection while you talk. I've got a busy day ahead of me."
Ash was surprised to see Arthur so quickly, almost like he knew what Ash had found before he found it. It was more than a little unnerving. "Of course, and maybe I can help. I was a weapons tech before I got transferred to the Portland." Ash suggested. "But the reason I contacted you was something I found when I was going through the sensor data I'd downloaded from the station."
For a moment, Arthur only looked at him with a slight frown. He'd hoped for some time alone, but when he turned back to focus on carefully scanning one of the bulkheads with his tricorder, he said in a level tone, "Then you might as well make yourself useful. Grab an isodine coupler from the toolkit and you can start creating new circuit pathways where I tell you to."
A very beginner level job but Ash understood, "Certainly." He replied picking up the coupler and walking to where Arthur had began working. "So you remember the discussion we had before this mission started. About a theft from your quarters. Well I went over the sensor sweep and analysed the warp trail that was left by your... future counterpart." Ash explained grabbing one of his PADDs from the floor, "The signature matched a federation runabout and was headed towards the badlands. I reached out to some friends of mine, discreetly, and discovered that the same warp signature was seen exiting the badlands and heading into Breen space."
"Now Breen space is pretty big. However I just found this on the station's sensor logs that I downloaded while we were there." Ash continued, offering the PADD. "A shuttle, heavily modified to disguise its appearance, was at that station the same time we were. Look at the warp signature, its a match to the one your counterpart stole."
That gave Arthur reason to pause and glance back at Ash. He took the PADD and gave it a look of concern. But it wasn't really because he wondered what his counterpart was doing there. Instead, Arthur couldn't believe he'd forgotten to check for the shuttle's warp signature like Ash had. For once in his life with Starfleet, at least ever since graduation from the Academy, Arthur made a careless mistake. He didn't care whether or not Ash had pulled the rabbit out of his hat - he just wasn't happy that he himself had neglected to do so earlier.
After mentally cursing himself for that, Arthur lowered the PADD to his side and looked up at the ceiling. He had to take a deep breath to steady himself so that by the time he fixed his gaze on Ash again, he wouldn't have the look of an angry, temperamental marine instructor.
"When did you first notice it? Was it before or after we escaped with the freighter?"
"It was just now. I didn't have a chance to look at the sensor data while we were at the station. We were a little busy trying not to die." Ash said, sounding a little more sarcastic than he had intended. "I figured any information we could obtain on this sector would be helpful so I downloaded as much of the station's sensor data as I could. I've spent the last few hours going over the data, sorting it to try and get an idea of what threats we might come up against out here. I called you the second I found that warp signature."
Arthur ignored the sarcastic quip and stopped for a moment to contemplate what this could mean... and then got back to work. "Start an isodine relay between isolinear circuits--" He checked his tricorder as he walked along the periphery of the giant phaser array. "5024c and 9401a. If we can bypass the dual sensor redundancy module, we can increase the speed of getting a target lock by 50% through the main relays. We'll boost main sensor efficiency by over 20% by widening the sensor pad by four meters and building a variable band optical imaging cluster for the array."
"Yeah that should work." Ash said as he began following Arthur's instructions, though he was fairly certain Arthur wasn't looking for confirmation.
For a while after that, Arthur didn't say anything else on the matter of his future counterpart or his mission. If he had the luxury, he'd have let the topic die then and there. But as he silently continued to scan through the circuit pathways connecting the array to other related systems, he knew he'd have to touch upon the subject again or it'd come back to haunt him. What else could he say? He searched for the right words, but nothing seemed adequate. How did one approach a situation like this? In all his years, nothing like this had ever happened to him.
Finally, he looked up from the tricorder, his gaze distant and unfocused. "He stole a data rod containing navigational data of the Yridian ship I infiltrated. That ship had erased its sensor data of the sector... but they couldn't erase the data on the spectrometer." With a blink, he returned his focus to the present, if only briefly, while he continued to put his thoughts into words. "The Yridians stole some data from a Starfleet outpost near the Breen sector. By the time I got to them, they'd already sent the information to somebody. I downloaded their navigation logs from the spectrometer." He scoffed and looked back down at the tricorder, pursing his lips briefly. When he continued, it was with a far more bitter and sarcastic bent. "Then some 'future me' stepped in and stole it before I could use it to trace the Yridians' flight path. How's that for irony?"
Ash had been working in silence, just waiting for Arthur to say something. He thought he would be excited to hear that they had a lead but it seemed almost like he wasn't interested until he finally responded. "There was one other thing I wanted to ask you. Do you think it's possible that this future version of you has some knowledge of what you're going to do and where you're going to be? Maybe he stole that data dos so that you wouldn't get caught with it, and he's just waiting for an opportunity to give it back. The reason I ask is that... According to this sensor data, by the time we left the station the shuttle had already departed and its warp trail was headed on almost the exact same course we are now on. Maybe this future you is actually looking out for you."
Arthur froze, though his tricorder kept beeping as it scanned the relays unperturbed. When he looked over at Ash, it was with his brow furrowed in deep thought. A moment later, however, he looked away, but found he couldn't focus on his work anymore. Without a word, he quietly set the tricorder on standby and nodded ever so slightly. "When I asked myself why I'd go back in time, one of the reasons I could imagine would be to correct a mistake." Though he didn't say it out loud, he couldn't help but think of the incident that got him assigned to the Portland in the first place. It was a decent ship with an interesting crew... but what he lost to get here could hold him back in his career forever. And with the plans he had for making Admiral, he didn't want that to happen. "But then I'm forced to wonder... why did he choose then? Why didn't he go back to Montgomery and stop the Yridians there?"
Ash assumed the question was rhetorical and remained silent, waiting for Arthur to continue talking or continue working.
Despite his own self-doubt, Arthur shook his head and finally turned his attention back on Ash, somewhat angrier now. "And what if he isn't? He took away the only chance I had to make amends to Starfleet. The data those Yridians stole could've been vital... and I let them go!" Catching himself, albeit too late to take back those words laced with barely constrained fury, Arthur calmed himself before continuing. "Something was supposed to happen to me, Ash. Something would've changed. I had a decision to make... to share that data with Starfleet or investigate it myself. But then a man I don't even know swoops in and takes that choice away from me." With a scowl, he raised his tricorder again and got back to making scans. "I don't care what his reasons were. My future belongs to me... not the other way around."
"There may not be anything you can do but let this take its course." Ash said, almost apologetically, "I'm no expert on temporal... anything, but assuming this is really a future version of yourself, that means some time in the future you, the you that you are now, is going to get a chance to time travel. Doesn't that mean you've got an infinite number of second chances between now and whenever you travel back in the future. Maybe this is a good thing." He continued, trying to be positive about the situation.
"How? You think I can just go back again and stop him? Because the way I see it...." Arthur sounded positively irritated. Although Ash had tried to lighten the mood, it looked like the surly CTO wouldn't budge. Instead, he focused on putting the tricorder back on his belt, then reached up to violently pull a panel off the side of the phaser emitter, his next words spoken through angry grunts as he worked "Whoever that man is, he's not me. Whatever he did, it's done. And wherever he came from, it isn't here." With that last word, he successfully wrenched the panel off, exposing a series of manifolds and wires. He glanced at Ash and added, "Start there."
Ash did as he was told, without continuing the conversation. The Breen had very different computer systems to the federation but the basic circuitry of all their systems was quite intuitive. In fact it shared striking similarities to the Borg technology he'd studied at the academy, albeit with a much more prominent organic component.
Arthur didn't bother to keep an eye on Ash, so caught up in his own thoughts as he pulled the tricorder from his belt and started sweeping the room again for the ideal circuit pathways. It seemed like he had nothing more to say, but then, "I've done things I regret. Most of it's not pretty." His voice had grown quiet, almost introspective. He even looked distracted, eyes focused over the tricorder at the massive phaser emitter. "But I only got this far by living in the here and now. Not the past and..." A sigh escaped him, and he looked back down at his scans. "Not the future." After a brief silence, he concluded it by saying, "I won't be that man out there, Ash. It would ruin everything I worked for."
"I think I understand." Ash said in an almost consoling tone as he pulled himself away from his work. "I'll keep looking for this future counterpart, Arthur." Ash said slowly coming around to the CTO's preferred lack of formality. "We'll find him and I'll help you fix whatever it is he's done." Ash paused, leaving the room silent for a few moments. "In the mean time... Once we've finished here of course, how about a drink? I think this freighter was hauling alcohol amongst other things before it was sold. I found a few bottles of Saurian brandy stashed away while I was trying to map out the lower decks earlier."
Ash's offer didn't go amiss. When all was said and done, Arthur briefly looked lost in thought before raising his gaze to look at the security officer he barely knew in surprise. Then, when Ash mentioned the brandy, Arthur cracked a smile, though he tried to hide it by looking back down at his tricorder and focusing on the job at hand. Almost as soon as it appeared, that smile vanished. "Sounds good," he acknowledged in that rather neutral tone of his, but then he added with what may have been an attempt at humor: "The Breen won't be needing it anytime soon."