I opened my eyes slowly, but apparently not slowly enough as a wave of pain overtook my senses. Eyes closed again. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “just check the instrument readout. Just be sure it is displaying correctly.” Wincing from the pain, I looked down at the shuttle’s instrument panel. The display flashed what I already knew in the back of my mind to be true. Environmental Systems: 27 minutes until failure Thrusters: 25 minutes until failure Impulse Engines: Offline Warp Core: Ejected Closing my eyes again, I reclined my head in the pilot’s chair. I thought of the shuttle’s capabilities. It was drifting at high impulse, for sure; combine that with the explosion from the warp core, and the shuttle was drifting at a fairly good clip. With just thrusters, slowing or maneuvering was going to be nearly impossible. Could I land? I had confidence in my skills but I had no idea if we had arrived in a system when the warp drive needed to be ejected. Long-range sensors had been down ever since abandoning the USS Inghram. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I needed to land the shuttle, or do something to draw attention to ourselves. Opening my eyes once more despite the pain, I looked to the co-pilot’s chair. Megan was dead. Turning my head gingerly, I tried to see if anyone else in the crew had made it this far. I didn’t need a medical tricorder to tell me, I was alone in the shuttle. Looking out the front of the shuttle my eyes bugged. Not three hundred kilometers away was a planet! Class M from the look of the atmosphere. My mind raced. I could survive… contact Star Fleet, tell them about the accident… The accident. “Now do you see?” The memory of the voice I heard during the experiment haunted my memory. No, I couldn’t dwell on it now. If others had made it into shuttles or escape pods, they could be counting on me. Tapping the thruster control, I started to maneuver the ship, slow the speed and angle myself towards the planet. I can do it… carefully land… The shuttle started to tremble under me. Her hull was not going to last much longer, I knew it. Integrity warnings flashed across the navigation panel. A rumbling sound grew as the thrusters strained to maneuver the careening shuttle. “Warning! Hull breach imminent. Structural integrity field cannot compensate for the current maneuvers,” the computer calmly stated. I cut the thrusters, my hands trembling. No, I couldn’t land; the shuttle was in worse condition than I thought. As my mind raced, the Class M planet grew larger in front of me. The shuttle would tumble on re-entry, and break up in a matter of seconds. I had to act fast! Turning my chair, I checked the engineering panel. Transporters were online! How the hell they had managed to survive was beyond me, but I knew it was my only chance. Grabbing the remains of the medkit that was laying next to Megan, I clutched on to it like a life preserver. “I’ll do what I can honey. I’ll make things right…” I whispered, looking at her amazingly peaceful face, “Computer! Reroute all systems to the transporter. Emergency beam-out procedure eleven-mark-five.” “Command acknowledged” A blue haze filled my vision moments before the shuttle’s front turned red from hitting the atmosphere. As the blue faded I looked up in time to see a shooting star—my friends, my crewmates, my wife. I stood paralyzed by the horrific beauty of it; a cremation in the sky. Tears were finally streaming down my face as the ball of flames broke into several pieces. “Goodbye…” *** Hours later I woke with a start. Twin suns—distant in the sky—illuminated the dusty ground. The medkit lay open in front of me, and I sat up and shifted my position to have my back against a nearby rock. Last night I had managed to treat my wounds before curling up in the ditch that provided me a modicum of cover as I slept. I checked for the Type I phaser that I always carried and stood, not quite prepared for what greeted me. It was… a gate, no a portal. It was definitely a portal sitting in front of me, perhaps ten meters high. A monolithic portal that did not appear to lead anywhere. Suddenly realizing my surroundings I let out a gasp. On top of a plateau, I could see for miles around in all directions. An alien jungle spread itself out before me in all its beauty. The plateau was smaller than I had thought, maybe 50 meters around in its entirety. In my state the night before, I had barely bothered to get my bearings. I tried not to recall too much of the day before; some things were better left forgotten. “The accident.” “Exactly, the accident.” I muttered. I cautiously approached the edge of the plateau, wondering just how high I was above the jungle. It’s maybe a kilometer high, so this is much less of a plateau and more of a— Startled, I wheeled around, phaser drawn and ready. I had responded to a voice and not even realized it. Nobody is there, just the portal, I thought to myself. I breathed a sigh of relief, but it came a moment too soon. I felt the ground giving way beneath me and before I realized that I was falling I was gripping a new edge of what was apparently more a spire than a plateau. I glanced down to see my phaser disappear into the distance. No, no, no, my mind panicked. Struggling, I pulled myself back on to the top of the spire and hugged the ground, legs trembling as I panted. I could not get down… I was stuck on the top of this spire and I was going mad. I had lost everything: my research, my future, and my wife. “I must be going insane!” I said, laughing into the dirt. The burning shuttle filled my memory and I cried again, coughing on the alien dust that I inhaled with my sobs. It was getting dark already. I could feel the chill evening wind pick up as the twin suns set on the horizon; it would have tossed me from the spire had I been standing. As darkness fell I did not even bother to get back in my ditch. *** “You are pathetic,” boomed a voice, waking me from my slumber. “Uh… huh?” I lifted my head from the dirt. It was afternoon again, I felt overheated in my black uniform, its tattered sleeves flapping slightly in the breeze. I was glad that I had not ended up here during the storm season. Dirt was caked to my face; I rolled over and reached both hands up, feeling the roughness of the dirt as I rubbed it off. “Crying to yourself. Pathetic.” I opened my eyes and sat up; I was still dangerously close to the ledge. Quickly I scrabbled away in terror until my back was against the portal. I cleared my throat, not wanting to sound cowardly in my response to… Wait, just who was talking to me? “Who are you? Where are you?” I asked cautiously. “Behind you.” The voice was a deep basso; I swear I could feel it. Yet standing and turning around I saw no one. All that was there was the portal sitting in front of me, looming above me. I blinked, not grasping the concept at first, but slowly my fatigued mind realized exactly whom I was talking to. Awe overcame me. “Good, you have finally grasped the importance of the situation.” That voice, it left me feeling weak in the knees. “A—a living… portal?” “I am the Vanguard. You have not earned your position before me. Your presence is a sacrilege.” “I didn’t ask to be here.” The ground shook, almost as if the portal’s voice was laughing, “You did not ask? Do you know nothing of your own actions?” “It was an emergency transport… I didn’t target…” I stammered. What was this thing? Why was I even explaining myself to it? “SILENCE!” the voice boomed, “The question was rhetorical; you have no need to explain yourself.” I paused. It could read my thoughts, or more accurately my impressions. I shuddered momentarily not exactly sure what I should do next. I had no secrets, and it… the Vanguard seemed angry with me. What could I have done to earn its anger? Maybe there was a holy ritual for the people of this planet, perhaps they had to scale the spire to speak with the Vanguard and I had broken that ritual. “Okay, so my being here is a sacrilege… how can I leave? How can I undo what I have done?” I asked, hoping to get more information from the Vanguard. There was no response, and after several minutes, I sat down on a rock looking towards the horizon, starting to feel hatred toward the portal. I did not ask to be here, like it seemed to claim. If anything, I wanted to be back onboard the Inghram. Hours passed in silence between the Vanguard and myself. I went back to my ditch, wishing as the sun set for the third time that I had thought to salvage some fashion of blanket from the shuttle. The night wind chilled me to the bone. *** Smiling, I curled up against Megan, feeling her warmth as I tuned out the sound of the computer’s morning alarm. She patted my hand and I opened my eyes looking around our quarters on the Inghram. Sitting up, I looked down at her and smiled. “Morning dear.” Her voice sounded happy as she looked up at me. “Sleep well?” “Not really. I’m as excided as a kid before his first day at Academy. Today is the day you know!” “Oh I know. Breakfast before we get started?” she asked. I was pretty sure she had a hint of sarcasm in her voice with that first comment. I nodded, already getting dressed. Zipping up my black overcoat I looked at myself in the mirror, fixing my hair. I stared at my Lieutenant’s insignia for a moment. “You know dear,” I said, “If this succeeds they are going to promote me. I can finally transfer back to Earth.” “I know! You said that five times already!” she laughed, setting down the freshly replicated breakfast. “Just excited. That’s all.” After breakfast, I gathered in Science Lab 2 with Megan and the research team. My assistants had already prepared everything. I beamed as I looked at the fruit of three years hard effort. Today, with the Inghram positioned less than 2 kilometers from a black hole, I would prove my theories correct, and the Federation would enter a new era of exploration. Commander West—the representative sent to observe the experiment—nodded to me as he approached. “I hope everything goes well today. A lot is riding on this experiment, Lieutenant.” “I realize that, Commander,” I smiled. “No need to worry; you saw the results from the simulations.” He nodded and did not respond. I cleared my throat and positioned myself at the command station that had been set up for the experiment. Looking around I felt a moment of nervousness. The experiment had to succeed, otherwise Starfleet was going to cancel the research and assign me to a deep space exploration mission… charting comets. The thought sickened me. This before me was real science. “Are you positive dear?” Megan whispered in my ear, “The 3% chance of—” “It’s an acceptable risk.” I whispered back, thinking that it was, indeed, worth the risk. It was also my only option… The comm in the science lab beeped, and Captain V’tel spoke. “This is the bridge. We cannot hold our position much longer, so you should conduct your experiment soon, Lieutenant.” “Understood.” I replied. The holo-imagers were running. This was a historic moment. “Initiating the tachyon sequencer, deflector control is coming online.” “Sir, we are getting an abnormal spike in the 6th differential,” warned Sarah, my lead assistant. I swallowed hard. That was the indicator… Megan made eye contact with me and I ignored her. We had come too far and I had worked too hard… Besides, there was still a large margin of chance for success. “This is deflector control, tachyon buildup is at maximum. Ready to initiate the device.” The moment of truth was upon us. I entered the final command and watched the holographic display as the Inghram’s deflector dish shot the altered tachyons into the black hole. At first nothing happened, then a flash of bright light filled the room, and as time slowed to a stop, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. “Now do you see?” said a voice in the lab I had never heard before. I heard another voice, again not one from any of the crew yet sounding more familiar, speak. “I caused this to happen. It’s my fault.” *** I opened my eyes and looked at the Vanguard. Where there was once just emptiness, there now was an image of the Inghram’s science lab. I saw myself, my assistants… Megan. All of us were shielding our eyes from the light that filled the room. I stood, and slowly approached the Vanguard, my hands trembling as I looked upon the final moments of the experiment. “Now do you see?” “I caused this to happen.” I said, my hand shaking even more as the realization finally hit me; how had I been in such denial? “It’s my fault.” For several moments there was no response, and I felt tears again, no longer for what or who I had lost, but for what they had lost. “My arrogance, my pride. I thought I could control time, to send Starfleet into the past, the future… to boldly go…” I studied the moment, suspended in what was the open space of the Vanguard. My failure was not the experiment alone; my failures were many, too many to list. I lowered my hand and stepped even closer to the Vanguard, my face so close to Megan’s. She was pregnant, she had told me the night before. I promised that after… after the experiment we would raise our child on Earth. It had meant so much to her. “I can stop this, can’t I?” No answer. I smiled and closed my eyes for a moment, then opened them. “I understand now.” Taking another step forward, I entered the Vanguard. For one moment, I was there with them, time and space frozen around me. I kissed Megan on the cheek, one last time, before I did what I had to. *** Megan felt James kiss her cheek. Why is he kissing me now?! It’s all gone to hell! The bright light faded and slowly, she lowered her hand from her eyes. Turning, Megan barked the first order. “Report! What happened?” Sarah was quick to answer as she looked over her terminal’s readouts. “There was a catastrophic overload of the deflector array, and the temporal matrix was starting to run interference… it had looked like the worst case scenario.” She trailed off in astonishment; if the worst had happened, the Inghram would have been completely destroyed. Megan nodded in response, and looked around the room. James was missing! Panic raised the volume of her voice as she shouted. “James! Where’s James?” she cried, looking desperately around the room. All the assistants looked back to her, dumbfounded. Megan’s heart sank. She put her hand against her cheek as she absentmindedly looked out the window and towards the black hole beyond. “Goodbye…” she whispered.