"I'd like to talk about the Empress Hoshi Sato," said the docent, who had an arm patch on the side of her uniform that said E. Daniels. Eleanor was an expert on the Terran Empire, particularly the lifetime of the notorious Empress Hoshi Sato and her offspring. "She had five children. There were four sons and one daughter, all the children of members of her senior staff. Kira was the eldest, the son of Tactical Officer turned babysitter Aidan MacKenzie. This knife was given to Kira on the occasion of his first birthday, and his earlier sitter, Elizabeth Cutler, helped train him with it – until, that is, he stabbed her with it repeatedly, when he was five years old. She was the first person he ever murdered."
She paused for a moment, as if shaking something very, very slight off herself, perhaps a grain of dust or sand. Then she continued. "As I was saying, this knife was owned by the Empress Hoshi Sato's first born, Jun, who came from unknown parentage. He was the first of her six children, five sons and one daughter. While he was a killer – like many of the denizens of the other side of the pond are – he never killed anyone with this particular knife. He used different instruments."
"I, I guess I wasn't thinking."
"You're bloody well right you weren't thinking! Richard, going and doing that! What the hell am I going to do? How will I explain this? I can't, I can't be saving your bacon all the time like this! You need to help me out here!"
"I'm, I'm sorry."
"Sorry? Jesus H –! Richard, we have just barely gotten the mirror government to sign the temporal accords! They are going to back out; I just know it, because of your, your carelessness! They will scuttle this department, and you and I will be thrown out of work because you couldn't keep it in your pants!"
Rick sighed. She was right. When she was right, she was right. "Do you want me to, to resign?"
Carmen looked at him. She was still livid, but her demeanor softened a little. "I, please, Richard, I have been, perhaps, far too lax, and have looked the other way before. And this is how you repay me?"
"I didn't think the decision all the way through."
"You're damned right you didn't. And don't think there aren't some effects. There are some, even if they're not very large. When you, you hooked up with Lucretia Crossman, earlier this year, it did have some minor effects. There were little inconsistencies in the master time file, and they were put there by your actions, Richard."
He remembered Lucretia. For her, it had been 1699, and it was in what was going to become Pennsylvania. She was a Quaker widow in Penn's Woods and he was, so far as she was concerned, a lonely surveyor. It was not meant to be a terribly difficult assignment. He was just escorting some historians, watching William Penn. It was so much easier than an assignment he'd had in 3098, when he had gone to Pompeii in August of AD 79. For that assignment, he had run through streets that were rapidly turning into lava beds, and had watched people screaming. Men, women and children – it didn't matter – they were all meeting their deaths due to the wrath of Mount Vesuvius. And he wasn't allowed to save any of them.
And it had gnawed at him, as he had also watched the Enola Gay fly over Hiroshima, and witnessed the Charge of the Light Brigade and the equally hopeless siege of the Alamo and even Custer's Last Stand and more and more and more. People died, either clear-eyed and aware, or cringing and blinded. It didn't matter. They were still done. It ate away at him, and it pained him, as he watched the good, the bad and the in between all succumb to history. His job was, perhaps, to be a professional witness, and he was beginning to hate that.
So when he was in 1699 Penn's Woods, and an attractive young widow flirted with him, and he had some free time, he found himself suddenly in bed with her, and it made it all worthwhile again. He didn't love her, but it didn't matter. They parted positively and he was suddenly on that track.
"But Lucretia turned out all right," Rick insisted.
"I don't dispute that. But she wasn't supposed to be playing doctor with a surveyor. She was supposed to end up with her neighbor, Roger Allgood. And you apparently delayed that by around a year."
"I guess I did," he admitted.
"And then there was, let me see, ah, yes, Phillipa Green." Carmen banged away on a PADD in order to check the specifics.
That mission had been to observe a man who the crew of the old NX-01 had referred to as Future Guy. He – Jim Horan – was busy giving orders to the Suliban in 2151, as a part of the Temporal Cold War. And he had an assistant – Phillipa – who just so happened to be a descendant of the notorious Colonel Phillip Green. She was not just Horan's assistant. But Rick had made it a point of spending more than a little time with her, and it had naught to do with his actual mission.
"Yes, I was with her," he said.
"Right. And she and Horan were supposed to ride off into the sunset and stop their nonsense. That, too, was delayed, but by less time, at least, than how the widow Crossman was put right. Oh, and then, Dana MacKenzie, am I right?"
"Yes, on the Enterprise-E." More angry smacking away on an innocent piece of equipment.
"And she was lured away from First Officer Martin Madden for a few weeks there. Little changes, yes, but these are changes to the master time file nonetheless. But not as bad as Betty Tyler."
"Right," he sighed, "That was; I'll admit that was a bad one."
"1929, New Jersey. All you were supposed to do was watch the Stock Market crash and, instead, you spend your time looking up that little flapper's feather boa. I don't suppose it'd've been such a problem except the poor girl tried to overdose on opium after you left."
"I know, I know," he said, "but I went back and then all I did was observe that time, and that fixed it. Am I right?"
"You are," Carmen allowed, "so are you saying that if I send you back to January of 2156, you'll look and not touch when it comes to the Empress? Or at least you'll take the damned birth control shot before you head in? Because I'm telling you, Richard, the mirror government's liaison, you know that he gets the readouts of temporal changes, just like we do. They are watching us like a hawk. And they know that you have begat," she chuckled a little at using the biblical euphemism, "a temporally paradoxical child."
"Let me, let me think about it. I need to speak with someone."
"Richard!" she exclaimed, "This is highly confidential." She shook her head.
"My sister. Can I talk to her? I'll swear her to secrecy, all right?"
"All right," Carmen said finally, sighing, "but you tell no one else, and I mean that. Or you'll be gone from here and we'll go back and repair everything without your knowledge or consent or complicity. Capiche?"
"Sure," she said, putting the little knife back in its case. "I've just been talking about Jun; the Empress Hoshi Sato's first born."
"Yes, Jun. He's, uh, he's a bit of a cypher. No one seems to know who his father was. But the other five, those are fairly well known, or can be reasonably guessed at."
He steered her over to her office. "What can you tell me about Jun?"
"He was Emperor after Hoshi died, and he had killed all of his male siblings. His name – the Empress, she had been a linguist, and so all of her children's names were meaningful. Jun means truthful."
"Is there a picture?"
"Sure." She produced one on her PADD. "Why such an interest in what I do for a living?"
"Uh, El, can I tell you something in confidence?"
"You always can. What's the big mystery?"
"I, uh, I know who Jun's father was."
"Oh? Then you've solved a great historians' puzzle. The press will be very interested."
"No. No one can know."
"You look strange, Rick."
"El, I'm his father. I'm, uh, I'm Jun Sato's father."
She burst out laughing and then looked at his face and saw how serious he was. "Wait, you're not kidding."
"No, I'm not. Nobody can know. Not even Mom and Dad. They can't know they have a grandson who, uh, who probably died a good seven hundred years ago or so."
"More like nearly eight hundred fifty. He died in 2258." She sat down at her desk and motioned to a chair on the other side of it. "Look, I remember when you confided to me about Betty Tyler. But this, this is so much more. What, uh, they are allowing it?"
"I don't know if they will," he said, "but, uh, I didn't, I mean, I didn't mean for Hoshi to get pregnant. And I was stupid. It was barely a choice. She just, she beckoned and I followed. But, damn, I could've prevented this."
"She could have stopped it though, too, right? And she did not. So here you are. I am guessing we're in the middle then, right? Where you don't know what the Temporal Integrity Commission will allow."
"It's not them as much as it's the mirror government. This changes the history of the Terran Empire. Kira is supposed to be Emperor. He is supposed to be the first born, and not Jun. He, he killed his babysitter Beth Cutler and some others, but he let his brothers live."
"That's different from Jun. He murdered all of them. And Beth Cutler was, well, she was just a Tactical crewman. She was nothing to him."
"El, I never thought about this before. I never thought about the consequences of my actions. And this is one big, fat consequence. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that Jun, well, he didn't ask to be automatically put into a predicament like this. I, I think I want him to live. But I'm not sure about how to go about that."
"He's a paradox, right? Older than you."
"So if he had kids, that would compound things, right?"
"I don't know anything about what the mirror government might want, but I can bet you anything that they don't want this all to be compounded exponentially," Eleanor said.
"Right. I, uh, I should go. And you're giving me some food for thought. But no matter what, I figure, if I'm going to make a case for him to survive, he'll have to be sterilized." Rick shook his head. Taking that away from Jun without so much as a by your leave was giving him a headache and making him even more uncomfortable.
"At the very least, I'd say."
"Not a clue," Rick fiddled with his collar, frowning at his own reflection in a wall mirror.
"Ray Jimenez, at least the one from our pet universe, was my predecessor. He was drummed out of the Temporal Integrity Commission for too many distracting nights in an affair with a high-up Federation official. It was a gay affair, too, and the official was married to a woman at the time. Very big deal, lots of nasty, gossipy press. The Commission and the Federation both hate that. So every time I see the Jimenez from the other side of the pond; I can't help but to think about that. I do my damnedest not to burst out laughing, thinking of our side's Ray playing at, well, you don't want to know."
"Huh, why does the mirror even have a liaison with access to the master time file? None of the species we work with have that." He kept playing with the collar, and it was refusing to cooperate.
"They're paranoid," she said, "They think we're out to ruin their timeline. And, well, this kind of an incident only serves to fuel that paranoia. Richard, I recognize that this job comes with a lot of nasty moral problems. And I admit I've been less than sympathetic, and have just thrown you back out there, over and over again when perhaps you'd have done well to have taken a little time off. I'm certain that finding comfort in the arms of the women you meet is your means of coping."
"It is," he admitted, "I have to watch people die. I have to watch them be ruined. Except for Penn's Woods, it seems as if no one ever wants to observe happy history. They only want to see suffering. And then the historians go on their merry way. I think they see it as a movie or something, like it isn't real. Well, it is. It's real. I can never shake that knowledge, that I'm watching very real people at their worst."
"Your humanity's now gotten us into a spot of trouble. But at least you are human. I do wonder 'bout Jimenez and his kind sometimes."
"All right," he said, "I'm as pretty as I'll ever be."
"Which way do you want to go with this?"
"I want Jun to live, Carmen. Can you help me?"
"Huh. On the other side they have the Y Chromosome Skew, as you know. Three-quarters of their children are male; everyone's heavily dosed with testosterone and all of that. It's highly likely to be the cause of much of their aggression. But they can also be old softies when it comes to their children. It's one of the few things to recommend the other side, for much of its history. Perhaps an appeal to him based on that would help. I don't know. We'd have to play it by ear."
"Carmen, I don't know what to say."
She sighed heavily. This was not going to be easy. "Just let me do most of the talking."
"No one will be here. I even got that amateur Ferengi gardener to lay off," Ray said.
Now Rick knew it was even more serious, for Von hated to leave roses in bloom, even to time travel.
"Now, you'll go back and undo everything, right?" Ray said, "And then we'll be all set. Just sign here, here and here." He presented a PADD.
"What's this?" Carmen asked.
"It's a promise that he never pulls a stunt like this again in our universe. Whatever you might do on this side of the pond," he sniffed a little, with the implication being that it was somehow the inferior side of things, "well, that's your mess. But you don't screw up the Terran Empire. Just clean up this little irregularity and we'll call it square."
"Irregularity?" Rick asked, bristling a bit. "My child isn't just some irregularity."
"Now, now, Richard," Carmen said, "It was a poor choice of words. Really, Mister Jimenez, do try to be a bit more sensitive."
"No matter how I dress it up, this is still a problem, and it still needs to be fixed, post haste. That child cannot be allowed to live."
"So you'd just have me erase him from existence? Just go back, spend my time in the Mess Hall instead of with Hoshi and that's it?"
"Not a chance. I want Jun to live."
"It messes up the timeline! Don't you see? Admiral, this man is supposed to be a Senior Temporal Agent, is he not?" Carmen nodded, so Ray continued, "So why the hell is he acting like a newbie?"
"He is affected," she said, "on your side; I know that you have a lot of very good fathers. Don't tell me that a bonding doesn't happen between a father and his child. I happen to know that it does. Have you not felt it?"
"I have no children," Ray said, "and I was tested – I don't have the Y Chromosome Skew. There are still plenty of us left who don't have that three thousand year old genetic mutation. But even if I did, I would recognize that this is wrong. Are you, do you imagine you'll marry this woman? Are you … is it," he sneered, "love or some other weak and soft motivation?"
"We don't prescribe to your Five Signs of Weakness," Carmen said, "and even if we did, it would not matter. Your side acts to preserve children. You do it to forward the interests of your state. So why wouldn't the existence of Jun Daniels – pardon me, Sato – why wouldn't that further the state's own interests?"
"Kira MacKenzie Sato is the one, true successor Emperor after the Great Empress. There is no one else. The existence of Jun kills off Kira's ambitions completely. Hell, it kills off Kira himself. We cannot have that. Not to mention the fact that the whole thing risks all sorts of rips in the timeline."
"You mean the fact that he can father a child," Rick said.
"Precisely," Ray said, "there may be an illegitimate child in there, to challenge the next Emperor, Hoshi's daughter Takara's grandson. We're not sure, but the percentage chances favor that possibility."
"What if Jun were sterilized?" Carmen asked, "Would that be enough to allow him to live?"
"No," Jimenez said.
"Why the hell not?" Rick asked.
"We considered that first, and have run every possible scenario. He still murders Kira."
"What if we shored up Kira somehow?" Carmen asked, "Maybe found some way to make him more, I dunno, more confident?"
Jimenez punched a few keys on his PADD. "No, no, it's not enough. Kira is still killed in over ninety percent of the scenarios."
"What if Kira's father was around more?" Rick asked. "I know my own father being around has helped me, and probably in ways I can't imagine. Kira's father had the skew, right? And I don't."
"Yes, Aidan MacKenzie had the skew," Jimenez confirmed, "And it can be of some help but," he hit a few keys on a PADD and it compiled the scenarios quickly, "we're still at a nearly eighty percent chance that Kira would be killed by Jun."
"What are the differences?" Carmen asked.
"There are thousands," Ray said, "really, you're stalling. We cannot be wasting our time going through every possible little scenario."
"Just the big differences," she said, getting as annoyed with him as she was with Rick, "I don't give a rat's arse if they ate different breakfasts on some random Thursday in 2173."
"Hmm," Ray checked, "Cutler is one difference."
"What happens if the difference is split, and Cutler becomes the sitter for both of them?" Rick asked.
"Huh, that's odd. In several scenarios, Cutler's gone not too long after Jun turns one. It looks like she escapes off the Defiant to some planet."
"And then Kira has no chance to knife her, right?" Carmen said. She began checking her PADD as well. "Looks like our odds are a bit better, closer to seventy percent now."
"It's still unacceptable. We're wasting time."
"We have infinite time, don't we?" Rick said.
"I suppose," Ray conceded. He clicked around some more. "Taking away Cutler, and making her only Jun's sitter doesn't help anything. Jun is still overly confident, and goes after Kira first when he seizes power after Hoshi's death."
"Wouldn't he be less confident if his father were never around?" Carmen asked, a plan forming in her head.
"What?" Rick asked, "This is my kid we're talking about. I want to try to be there, in some way or another."
Ray ran a bunch of scenarios. "If Jun's father is absent throughout his life, Jun apparently becomes less confident in his ability to rule on his own. Hmm, it looks like, this is interesting."
"Ah, ha!" Carmen smiled, looking at her own PADD.
"Clue me in, all right?" Rick said.
"Tandem rule," she said, showing him her PADD. "We don't get one Emperor after Hoshi's death. We get two, if we sterilize Jun and keep you out, Aidan in, and Cutler departs just after Jun turns one. They rule together until Kira's death, then Jun rules on his own until his own death. He's succeeded by the right person, their sister Takara's grandson."
"What does this mean?" Rick asked.
"It means you never contact him. If you wish for him to live, that will have to be the condition, that you never have contact with Jun, ever. I'm sorry," she said.
"He's my son!"
"And he's temporally paradoxical," Jimenez reminded him. "These are the consequences of your carelessness, Agent Daniels."
"It does bring it down to only a twenty percent chance of Jun killing Kira. Those are very good odds, you know," Carmen said.
"It would be best if that number were zero," Jimenez sniffed.
"Now wait a second! I thought we were all set!" Rick was beginning to feel queasy. Nothing seemed to be going right.
"You created this mess," Jimenez said, "and I am not going to rest until it's fully resolved. Now, let's see, the chances of Jun killing Kira are considerably higher when Jun is, hmm, eighty-nine years old."
"Eighty-nine?" Rick asked, "What could possibly happen then that would trigger that?"
"Hang on," Carmen said as she clicked. "There. It's Hoshi's death."
"It's not just her death. It's a visitor to her death bed." Ray ran the scenarios. "It's you, Daniels. It seems like you never learn to stay away."
"It looks like there are a lot of chances that you would go there to make your good-byes, and then your boy gets his mojo back," Carmen said.
"We can't have that," Ray said, "One of the conditions will have to be that you never, ever contact Empress Hoshi during her lifetime. Not even at its very end, or even before she conceived Jun in the first place. We also don't want to risk another child being created, you know."
Rick swallowed hard. "So, let me see if I've got this straight. Jun becomes sterile. He and Kira and the others are mainly raised by Kira's father as the babysitter. And I don't get a chance to ever see Jun or Hoshi, ever. Is, is that it? Or do you want another pound of flesh out of me, you SOB?"
"Now, now, Richard, Mister Jimenez here is doing his best to be accommodating." Carmen turned to Ray. "Are you absolutely certain?"
"There's a zero percent chance of Kira dying any way other than in his own bed," Ray said, clicking and looking over the figures.
"I could see to the sterilization myself, personally," Carmen said, "Oh, don't look at me like that, Richard. I've time traveled before, you know. I'll even give a cover story so as to fake your death. Then we'll have crossed the Rubicon and you really won't be able to go back, ever. Are we in agreement?"
"My government will accept this," Ray said.
"And you, Richard?" Carmen asked, again, in a surprisingly gentle tone of voice.
"I, I guess so."
She awkwardly patted his arm. "There's a good soldier."
"Yes, our fox-faced friends never suspected a thing. It was all nicely burned up, and they certainly didn't want to go nosing around in there. The story is that your shuttle crash-landed there. The Empress accepted it. Funny, the Empress called you Ritchie, not Rick."
"Yeah, she called me that."
"Did you love her?"
"No," he said quickly, "but I can't help but to love my own child."
"Understood," Carmen said, again surprisingly gently. "I'll have to hire someone, at some point, to handle mirror universe missions during Jun and Hoshi's lifetimes, but I don't see any reason why you can't go to that side of the pond in, say, 500 BC or some such."
"Right," he said, and walked with her back to their offices, as he decided that, any time he was in the mirror, from then on, that he would remember and, in commemoration, he would call himself Ritchie.
A Tandaran man in her tour group asked, "For most of the Empress's children, paternity is known, or can be inferred. But not for her first born, Jun. Does anyone know who his father is?"
She looked beyond the Tandaran, straight at Richard, and said, "His father is unknown, and probably always will be. A pity, for a child should know his father. And the father, I am sure, wanted to know his son."
Rick swallowed hard. He'd have to live with the consequences. But at least there would be a Jun. It meant truthful – an absurdity considering the number of lies being told to assure his survival. Rick looked at a museum display of pictures of the Empress's family, lingering on one such photograph. "My boy," he said softly, "My first born."