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Charlie eased himself into the tub. Not for the first time he congratulated himself on buying this extra-large indoor jacuzzi bath; it was the best thing he had ever done. No…one of the best things. Marrying Amita undoubtedly topped the list. But it probably came next. And he owed it all to Larry Fleinhardt, who had extolled the virtues of thinking in the bath, even while he hogged the Eppes’ bathroom during his homeless period.

“The quality of one’s thinking is never quite the same elsewhere, Charlie,” he had said. “We must not forget Archimedes.”

At the time, Charlie had dismissed it as one of Larry’s eccentricities; but as he aged in his career, Charlie remembered it time and again. Not that he was old precisely by most people’s definitions. But, professionally, he was well beyond his prime. Mathematicians tended to make their great discoveries in their youth – the work that pushed the envelope, that stretched the accepted body of knowledge, that inspired other mathematicians, that was incorporated into other disciplines and pushed them into new areas of research. Charlie’s last truly original work had been several years ago on cognitive emergence theory. Since then he had refined and revised, but not broken really new ground. And taught, of course. He did enjoy teaching, which not all mathematicians found to their taste. But year by year he watched bright young students grow in their understanding; he had helped their careers take off, just as years before Larry had supported him. They were passing him by now. (If he was honest with himself: they had passed him by quite some time ago.)

Except one – not that Charlie had ever actually taught him. He had only met the young man briefly once. But he had watched out for him, that eager young mathematician who had approached him for an autograph: Pavel Andreievich Chekov. He had expected to see it in a journal; it was an unusual name, difficult to forget….

* * * * *

“Ensign, could you please explain just what made you think this kind of unauthorised use of interdicted and highly experimental equipment would be a good idea?”

Outwardly Chekov maintained his rigid parade stance and strict silence; inwardly he squirmed. His collar felt far too tight. How could he have known the machine was forbidden? True there had been a warning sign on it. But there were warning signs of one sort or another on every piece of equipment in the lab! If he wasn’t allowed even to be curious why put it in the student’s laboratory at Star Fleet Academy?

Oh, dear! It seemed he had not just thought that, because the Commander Kramer’s eyes flashed fire and Admiral Howell seemed to swell with indignation before Chekov’s gaze.

“Are you trying to be impertinent, Ensign? Or are you merely too stupid to realise the trouble you have just landed yourself in?”

“No, Sir,” Chekov replied woodenly, his usual ebullience flattened.

“And did it not occur to you that you could alter the timeline?”

“By asking for an autograph?!” Chekov had resolved to say nothing; after all, a good soldier accepted it when he was given a dressing down. It did not do to be subordinate. But to suggest his simple hero-worship had changed some critically important pivot-point of history was just too much!

It was not easy being on the receiving end of dagger-glances from two senior officers.

“Sorry, Sir.” Contrite: that he could do (had to do if he were to save himself). Chekov was all too conscious that he was on the thin edge of the wedge where graduation was concerned, after the debacle of the Aslan Industrial Station exercise. He might achieve exceptionally high marks on written tests but that counted for less than his judgment in field situations, which had been conspicuously faulty.

* * * * *

Charlie murmured a sigh of utter contentment. He did like snuggling with Amita in the bath; but sometimes it was nicer to be on his own. She was teaching a late class tonight and would not be back for at least two hours, which allowed him time for nice long soak - and to adjust the temperature to suit his own preferences. (Amita tended to like the water slightly too hot.) He was catching up on back-issues of journals he had been too busy to read during exam period and had just finished an article about orthogonal symmetry. The author had nicely built on Charlie’s earlier work, which was all very gratifying, but hardly earth-shatteringly original. Charlie reached for the next copy of the Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications and started an article about the P versus NP problem. But he could not settle into it. Too derivative, he thought: real-life experimentation which proved the dead-ends Charlie had identified years before through master’s-level equations. It did not hold his interest. Now this looked more promising: “Explorations in the Mathematics of Cosmic Strings, Wormholes, and their Relationship to the Space/Time Continuum.” As Charlie read his eyes began to sparkle in amusement. HG Wells move over!

The water was quite cold by the time Charlie climbed out of the bath, wrapped a towel round his middle, and made his way down the stairs, making a mental note to thank Larry for the tip about watery thoughts. Years ago, the garage had been converted into a self-contained flat for his father; but, unwilling to lose his workshop completely, when the conversion was done Charlie had added an adjoining room lined floor to ceiling with whiteboards. Charlie selected a brand-new whiteboard marker and began to write.

When Amita returned an hour later she found him there, absorbed in the equations which covered the boards – writing furiously fast, then rubbing out, and re-writing as he thought.

“Charlie?” She touched his shoulder gently.

“Amita!” He gave her an absent-minded kiss, then turned back to the whiteboard before him, contemplating the equations, hand on chin.

“Do you see it?”

“I see something, but I’m not sure what.”

“I just realised, today,” Charlie explained. “It started years ago when a young mathematician asked me for my autograph. He knew all about my work on cognitive emergence theory before I published it. It was a paradox, but now I can see it.”

“See what, Charlie?”

“The future…the future is ours – and the past – and now. It’s all one big string and I am on it, and you, and he was too – at two different points simultaneously: here…and here!” Charlie pointed to two segments of his last long equation. “And I owe it all to Pavel Chekov, wherever he may be, whenever he may be.

* * * * *

“Well?” Kramer asked the Lieutenant who sat before a bank of computer screens.

“I’m not sure…”

“This is important, Lieutenant,” barked Admiral Howell. “We need you to be sure; Starfleet needs you to be sure. The universe needs you to be sure!”

Less melodramatically but no less firmly, Kramer said, “come find me once you have finished your searches,” and he gestured to the Admiral to follow him out.

Back in Admiral Howell’s office the two men sipped coffee while discussing assignments, for the most part quite straightforward. The ensign who had shown a real flare for navigation was assigned to a science and exploration vessel. The good all-rounder who excelled at nothing in particular but had the knack of getting on with everyone was assigned to command track on a diplomatic ship. The hesitant med-tech whose confidence needed boosting became part of a busy Galaxy-class starship plying the established routes between Vulcan and Earth. The young man who had won the intramural championships at hand-to-hand combat was allocated a security posting on the Lexington. “Wesley is just the man to temper his boisterousness.”

And so it went, until they were down to the last few graduates and a discrete trill signalled someone was at the door.

“Come,” called Commodore Kramer.

“Sir, I have the result of my searches,” reported the Lieutenant, offering him an electronic notepad.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant, that will be all,” Howell dismissed, making sure the door was fully closed before he turned back to Kramer, who sat scrolling through the screen, eyebrows raised.

“Well?”

“See for yourself,” Kramer handed over the notepad, “toward the bottom: an interview with a certain octogenarian mathematician who had just won the Nobel Prize in Physics and was explaining what influenced his innovative lines of enquiry.”

Howell’s frown cleared and a wide grin spread across his face as he read. Finally, he laid the notepad gently down on the coffee table between them, got up, and went to his sideboard where he poured a finger of Saurian brandy into two glasses.

“I think this news demands more than mere coffee,” he said, handing his colleague one glass, and lifting his own in silent toast.

“Should we tell him?” Kramer asked Howell.

“Tell that cocky young know-it-all we are already a part of an altered timeline and that his trip back in time was necessary for Professor Eppes to invent the mathematical formulas that would lead to the very time travel machine that enabled Chekov to go back to the 21st Century?” Howell shook his head firmly. “Not in a million years. Let him stew.”

“We still have the knotty problem of his assignment,” Kramer pointed out. “Which star ship captain do we inflict with his over-enthusiastic curiosity?”

“No problem at all,” Howell said. “There’s really only one person.”

The two men looked at one another, identical grins spreading across their faces, as they spoke at the same time, “Jim Kirk.”