Contains Spoilers for Star Trek Discovery through episode 14: The War Without, the War Within
With all the hot topics being political lately, I’m having a hard time coming up with a topic that isn’t politics for this week. I don’t want this to turn into a political blog. Fuck knows, there’s a lot to say, a lot that needs doing, so if I wanted to make this a political blog, I certainly would have enough fodder. I’d also feel obligated to spend a whole hell of a lot more time reading up on political stuff, and I just don’t have the energy to do that. Particularly the emotional energy because so much of what’s going on lately is so frustrating or heartbreaking. So, let’s talk about something a lot more light hearted today. As I mentioned in Time and Divergence, I run a Star Trek RPG online called The USS Joshua Norton. We use a content management system called Nova, and the game is very much a collaborative writing project. For the most part, players come up with a character they wish to play within the setting, and craft a bio, then they either write by themselves or with others about events that happen in the setting. The command team function similar to how the Game Master (Dungeon Master, Storyteller, whatever) does in a tabletop game, but without dice involved, we focus more on the overarching plot and the bulk of the NPCs, though the players can, and often do, write some of these too!
Currently, we have a murder mystery on the side of our official mission. The official mission is pretty simple: we have a visiting Romulan Delegation on Earth, and the crew’s job is to keep an eye on them and see if any useful information comes up. Nothing unexpected has come up, which is why when the CO’s brother, Noah, shows up asking for help because some strangers are trying to kill his friend who saw the strangers kill a retired intel agent, Amelia picks a few of her crew to look into it. So far it smells of a cover up, and one of the mysterious men killed himself rather than be interrogated. A Ferengi overheard some information, which he sold to the Romulan delegation, and now we’ve got a race between them and the crew to reach evidence hidden by the dead retired intel officer. To add to the stakes, the crew has reason to believe that the big secret the retired intel officer was murdered over was the true story of how Captain Sisko brought the Romulans into the Dominion war — something that even though Starfleet HQ knew some of the story, they didn’t know the whole of it, and even the partial story could be enough to unravel the delicate peace between the Romulan people and the Federation.
Here’s a sample of one of our recent mission logs: “Want Some Whiskey In Your Water?” I like to use song lyrics for log titles, that one comes from Three Dog Night’s Mama Told Me (Not To Come).
Zola settled down at her terminal in her quarters, and opened the secure channel with the Latinum Star. She knew Catalina was off the Emperor, and guessed she wouldn’t be back for a while, but she’d set up a notification in the computer in case her roommate beamed back. Negotiations were delicate work, and though her brother was better than some of their species, someone he didn’t know, particularly a female, would put him on the defensive. Also, he’d spend more time leering than talking. Zola needed information, so it was a risk she couldn’t take.
“Ah, Zola, my favorite little sister,” he cooed at her as the channel connected, his wrists pressed together and his fingers curled in front of his chin as he nodded his head in greeting.
“Ah, Nug, my doddering senile younger brother. I am still the eldest, even if I found a shortcut you didn’t,” she returned in kind, extending the same gesture of greeting. He bared his teeth at her with a growl, and she smiled wide. “How’s business?”
“None of yours.”
“Funny you should say that, as Broq apparently did make it my business,” she returned. A frown passed Nug’s face, and Zola lifted her hand within view of the screen. She slowly let the gold pressed latinum tumble from her fist. “My friend acquired this from Broq, or at least I assume it was Broq, since he’s usually not stupidly aggressive unless there’s latinum already involved. I was told he was spitting in my friend’s face.”
“So they were Starfleet,” Nug said, and Zola laughed.
“Return Broq’s property.”
“Rule of Acquisition number one, brother,” she chastised, waving her finger at him. “We could negotiate what the return of his latinum and other property is worth to you though.” She settled back in her chair, crossing her arms as she waited for his response. He frowned and chewed his lip as he considered. “Though I’d be happy to give you what was his if you just push him out the airlock instead.”
For a little context: Zola and Nug are twins, with their Moogie having raised Zola, and their father having raised Nug. Presently, Zola has lived fewer year, despite having been born first, due to an unexpected one-way trip through a time traveling worm hole. Their Moogie had collected on Zola’s life insurance and bribed her way into the divine treasury long before Zola’s reappearance, so in order to avoid being brought up on fraud charges, she continues to act as if Zola truly is dead. The only family who acknowledges her as alive are her brother and father. She doesn’t really miss Ferengi society, because she’s never understood the drive to collect profit, so she’s been just fine continuing her career in Starfleet since the wormhole incident.
I run an online Star Trek RPG known as the USS Joshua Norton, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with this form of role play game, it’s pretty much a continuous work of collaborative writing. Like a Tabletop RPG, a game master (or rather the command team in this case) lays out a plot line for the characters to encounter and fills in details like major events that occur and additional characters needed to flesh things out. Which is to say that as someone involved in creating these plots, I spend some time thinking about the established lore of Star Trek.
While talking with crew on telegram (You should be using telegram, it’s a great program. Go download it on your phone, I’ll wait.) the topic of time travel came up. Not surprising, really, given that it’s been a theme touched upon since the original series — one of the best known episodes is City on the Edge of Forever after all — and it’s been a popular topic ever since then. Even outside Star Trek, time travel is often touched upon, with one of the best known classics being H. G. Well’s The Time Machine.
One debate that comes up if you delve into the topic much is whether time is stubborn and tends to stay mostly the same even if you try to mess with it, or is it fluid and susceptible to ripples from the smallest change. I read a story once that involved a guy trying to stop his own death, but the universe was so determined to not change the time line it sent a little asteroid right through his forehead where a bullet originally went to kill him. (If anyone knows the title and author of this story, please remind me in the comments!) The other extreme is the originator of the term the butterfly effect, A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, where a guy steps on a butterfly and changes everything when he’s returned home. Doctor Who likes to dance between these two with its talk of fixed points in time intermixed with wibbly wobbly balls of timey wimey.
Star Trek seems to lean middleish, though more towards Sound of Thunder, but I believe that all these theories don’t have to be at odds. Start by looking at how Star Trek has handled divergent time lines, particularly Mirror, Mirror and the JJ ‘verse, one major event can split off a noticeably different alternate time line. From there, consider that at any given moment there are any number of situations occurring where there are multiple potential outcomes: for example someone steps off a curb and there may be a car coming or not, if there is a car the driver could react or not, maybe not even see that there’s someone there, the speed of the car upon impact can affect the chance of the hit person surviving, as well as variables like health, which people are on scene to render aid if anyone, which doctor is at the emergency room to offer care. If we assume that each of these variables caused a fork, that these options — and more than we didn’t list — played out by spawning a new time line, that’s a whole hell of a lot of time lines spawning every moment of every day.
How does this mesh with Sound of Thunder and Time Is Stubborn? Well, with every outcome producing its own time line, both scenarios play out as well as everything else in between. It’s just a matter of which line you observe as to what you are inclined to believe. There are bound to be time lines where all observed divergences are Sound of Thunder type ripples, and others where everything stays on the straight and narrow path of things not changing at all because the universe finds a way to nudge it all back on course with creative solutions. Statistically speaking, most time lines out there are going to be exactly what we’ve been shown in the Star Trek universe: a mix of predestination Paradoxes, time being stubborn and falling back into line when events are nudged back close to what they were before, and the smallest events changing causing the largest differences.
I want to write-up an entry on the Norton’s LCARS about time travel, but I suspect that it’ll take some more thought before I can craft something of particular use to my crew. I may revisit this topic again another week.