The Last Word

Captain Zaliel Sel and Chief Engineer Wimini Zolwink pushed into the crippled engineering section of the USS Brahe; but, it wasn’t their Brahe. It was the one from twelve years ago: 2408, during the last major Klingon War between the Empire and the Federation. Outside, the 2420 Brahe fought a desperate battle to keep the Klingons off the older ship until it could escape.

The room smelled of ozone and burnt hair. There were bodies everywhere: some in Starfleet uniforms and others in Klingon armor. Dark stains covered surfaces and Zaliel was grateful the lighting was so low. Even so, what she could see, smell, and feel was enough to put a hand to her mouth. “Oh my god,” she uttered reflexively.

Zolwink surveyed the room casually, as one scans the produce section at the farmer’s market, until her eyes landed on target. “Here, move this body,” she instructed.

Zaliel complied, recognizing that the meter-high engineer wouldn’t be able to do it. The body belonged to a young ensign. His sandy blond hair was matted in sweat and grime, a gruesome slash punctured his chest. There was no hope for him; for any of them. She moved the ensign gently, as if he were only sleeping, and smoothed his hair slightly as she laid his head on the floor.

“You’re taking too long,” Wimini chided. “We’re on a schedule.” She opened the hatch the body had covered and began checking the internals. “Just as I remembered.” The engineer retrieved tools from her kit, some of which Zaliel didn’t recognize. When she asked what they were, Wimini interrupted impatiently that Zaliel wouldn’t understand anyways so there was no point explaining.

The room was too quiet and too occupied for Zaliel to wait comfortably. She fidgeted, her hand brushing the phaser on her hip regularly, just to make sure it was still there. “Who was the ensign?” Zaliel asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” the engineer replied curtly without pausing in her work.

The captain frowned and moved to one of the engineering stations. The console flickered rapidly, occasionally going completely dark. The ship was badly damaged with some sections only held together by the weakening structural integrity field. “I’d almost forgotten how bad it was,” she said, remembering the first time she saw the Brahe, powerless, hanging in the low orbit of some uncharted moon. “Hey,” Zaliel added a moment later, “it looks like there are people trapped on Deck 5–,”

“—Section 3, they aren’t your problem,” came an impatient snap. “Start the reactor prefire sequence.”

Zaliel hesitated. She looked at her colleague, half bent into the floor hatch. “Now,” Wimini added sternly when she saw Zaliel’s pause.

“Starting prefire,” the captain said as she tapped at the console. “I’ll start the anomaly scan as soon as the system comes online. Listen,” the she said softly, “I appreciate this is hard for you; no one could come out of this in one piece.”

“Spare me your textbook command-school counseling,” Wimini replied, her voice full of bile. “Just because you took a few steps through my nightmare doesn’t mean you know me.”

Zaliel flushed, first abashed, then angry. “Why is it every time I reach out to you, you slap me for it?” she asked, a familiar bitterness raising. “For ten years, you’ve treated me with contempt and scorn and all I’ve done is the best I could for you and the ship.”

“I see we’re in the ‘Zaliel wears her big captain’s pants’ timeline. And your best is far from good enough. No—don’t bother, I don’t care. Prefire status?” A beat, “Prefire! Status! ” she yelled so loudly it startled Zaliel and snapped her attention back to the console.

“Eighty percent,” she replied with a quick glance at the display. “How many times have you done this?”

“Cold start a warp core with only seconds to spare? A lot.”

“You know what I mean,” Zaliel said as she thumped her console back to life. “How many times have you done this cycle of the timeline?”

Wimini yanked a component from the floor and replaced it with one in her engineering case. “Too many times.” For a moment, Wimini sounded old. Older than Zaliel could imagine. Again, she wanted to reach out to her in the hopes that being here, at this point in time, would help build the bridge that never existed. Wimni haphazardly tossed the old component over her shoulder. It clattered and slid under some rubble, which seemed fitting.

Zaliel looked at Wimini with a pained expression. She wasn’t sure what to say, so she said nothing until her console beeped. “Prefire is complete.”

“I’m done here,” Wimini said as she slammed the hatch back into place. “Start the core.”


With a shudder, the warp core came online. Lighting was immediately restored and many of the darkened panels sprang to life. “Where’s the Wimini from this timeline?”

“It’s hard to tell; maybe in a tube or tending to the fat man in the sickbay.”

“Fat man? You mean Captain Palakiko, don’t you?” The Brahe’s previous (and original) commanding officer, Captain Palakiko was the only person Wimini ever spoke fondly of—aside from herself, of course. Zaliel knew the story of what happened when the Brahe was nearly destroyed: he was injured rushing to the bridge and stuck in a turbolift for days. This actually saved his life, both from the bridge’s forceful decompression and the life support failures on the decks above him. Palakiko was eventually saved by Commander Zolwink, who went on to take command of the Brahe for months until they were rescued by the ship Zaliel was serving on at the time.

It wasn’t the only war story Wimini was willing to tell, but she had a way of stopping it just short of Zaliel’s arrival. The captain didn’t mind. Zaliel’s entry to the narrative was the part where the war story ended and the slow, methodical work of putting the ship back together began. No one wants to hear stories about the tedious bureaucracy, the careful selection of replacement crew, and the late hours reading technical reports.

Wimini didn’t answer Zaliel’s question about the “fat man”. Instead, she flicked her wrist and a holographic display appeared before her, highlighting information about the ship and its status. “The core is stable, and the articulation frame is recrystallizing. Warp should be restored in a few minutes.”

Zaliel turned to the workbench and began scanning for the variances Wimini had brought her along for. “I don’t see any anomalies, why did you need m—,” but the captain didn’t finish her sentence because a Klingon struck her hard from behind. The Trill fell to the floor under the weight of the blow with barely the strength to roll on her back and reach for her phaser.

It wasn’t there. Unholstered by the violent movement, it had skidded away, out of sight, leaving Zaliel to face the warrior unarmed. She scooted backwards as the man tried to impale her with a makeshift spear. It missed skin by millimeters, slicing her trousers as she kept pushing away in fear.

“Wimini!” Zaliel called. If there was an answer, she didn’t hear it. She spared a moment to look for the engineer, but that was a mistake the Klingon was waiting for and the spear cut her thigh to the muscle.

Zaliel howled in pain and rolled away again as soon as the Klingon yanked the weapon out, poising to strike again.

She called for her chief engineer again and still no answer came. “We don’t have to fight!” she pleaded with the Klingon.

The Klingon laughed heartily. “Trill, this is no fight. It is like killing a mewling targ.”

“Can’t be any honor in that!” she suggested. Zaliel had scooted against a wall where a panel had been left open. Her hand felt inside, groping for anything useful. Something sparked and she felt the tingling current of an exposed power relay.

“We hunt targs for sport,” the Klingon smiled as he raised the spear.

“Was this very sporting? I mean, I never even threw a punch!” she was reaching, she knew, but anything to stall the Klingon was worth it. Her mind was flailing, and her thigh was wet and burning.

“I could listen to your bleating all day, but there is more interesting sport still left on this toy ship.” He drove the spear once more, this time into Zaliel’s right shoulder, only inches above the breast. She scream and cried hot angry tears, but this was her chance, her last desperate chance. As the Klingon relished and twisted the spear, Zaliel drove her right hand into the current.

It was only there a moment—anymore and it would have killed her—but it was enough to send a shock that drove the Klingon back. He stumbled to a knee and shook his arms which hung limp before him.

Bracing against the wall, Zaliel stood. With a cry of agony, she pulled the spear from her shoulder. Her stomach was barely holding her lunch in—damn those funnel fries—she was so scared, but the gift of adrenaline was with her. She raised the spear over the Klingon, who flopped angrily on the floor. Zaliel knew he would regain feeling at any moment, she knew he would try to kill her again. But she saw anger—and fear— in his eyes.

Zaliel spared a glance for her phaser—there it was, only a few meters away. Using the spear as a cane, she limped toward the weapon. With it, she could stun the Klingon—better and more reliable than the spear, she reasoned. The ship groaned and rumbled and the blood was pounding in her ears, like the beating of a huge bass drum.

There was a loud clatter as the spear hit the deck as Zaliel fell to a crawl, each millimeter becoming harder and harder. She tried to think of the people and things she loved. The friends she had made and lost, the sacrifices her career had demanded of her, and the rewards for staying true to herself. It was all starting to come together, her life, and it would end almost where she thought it had begun.

The scrapping of metal behind her told her the Klingon was up and had reclaimed his spear. Over the memories and fears, the part of her brain that was too afraid to die lunged once more, seized its prize, turned and—

The Klingon raged with fury; a terrible sound that froze Zaliel’s blood. He leapt, the spear in both of his hands, driving forward the sum of all his bloodthirsty hate. Zaliel could only watch, mortified, her eyes wide and unable to turn away. This was it. She was going to die.

And the Klingon, smiling with victory, vaporized.

Zaliel lay on her back, confused and exhausted.

“Who’s that?” she heard a voice ask.

“My dummy captain,” came a reply.

“Not—?” asked the first voice.

“No dumb-dumb, why do you think I’m here?”

Zaliel heard a pair of soft footfalls and Wimini’s head appeared above her. “Typical,” the head said contemptuously. Another Wimini appeared. “Oh no, no, no, bring back the Klingon,” Zaliel managed, feeling more nauseated than before.

“Nice to see you too, Zaliel,” the older Wimini chuckled. For the first time, Zaliel saw the Wimini she knew was older than her younger counterpart. It wasn’t in the skin or hair, but the self-assured way she carried herself and the way she appraised the world around her: she knew the past and the future and everything was going exactly according to plan. There was boredom in there, too. An ennui brought on by the cycle of reliving the last decade again and again.

The younger Wimini, on the other hand, was living in the present: her ship and crew needed her and, whoever Zaliel was to her future self, she needed medical attention now. Zaliel marveled at the differences between them: as the older Wimini returned to whatever arcane work had brought her here, the younger one broke out a medical kit and in seconds both painkillers and dermal regenerator were patching the damage the Klingon had done. All Zaliel could manage was a weak, “Thank you.”

"You’re welcome,” the younger one replied. The words hung in the air over her louder than the Klingon and the blood-thumping marching band that was still making its way out of her head. “I’m sorry?” Zaliel asked, not sure she understood what she heard.

“I said ‘you’re welcome’. They still say that in—?”

“Twenty-four, twenty,” Zaliel replied, reeling again from the sound of Wimini saying ‘you’re’ toward Zaliel and not immediately following it with a pejorative which eventually involved dogs of a particular sex.

A wry grin crept onto Wimini’s face. “You weren’t supposed to tell me that,” she said in a hushed tone. “Temporal Prime Directive, you know?” and she touched her nose.

“Uh-hu.” It was the most pleasant interaction Zaliel had ever had with Wimini. And all it required was a violation of a major Starfleet order and a near-death experience. Which was, on immediate reflection, precisely how Zaliel would have expected it to work out. “Are you okay?” Zaliel asked, noticing for the first time that the younger Wimini was also injured. Her uniform was caked in sweat and pink or dark-red stains, and she had several cuts and burns on her hands.

“No,” she admitted quickly. “The older me says she has a plan to ‘make things right,’” she went on. “Do you know what she means?”

“I,” Zaliel paused. “I’m not sure,” she replied honestly. “She always does what she thinks is in the Brahe’s best interest.”

“Hrmph, and she,” the younger pointed to the older, “told me you didn’t know anything about me.”

“Not much, no. I know you’re brilliant but also capricious and impatient.” Zaliel paused. “And I suspect that you’re in love with Captain Palakiko.”

“I see.” The dermal regenerator stopped. “That’s the best I can do with this,” Wimini said as she placed the tools back in the medkit. “You’ll need a real doctor to fix the rest.”

The older Wimini approached. “I told you not to waste your time,” she chided.

“I’m not a sadist,” the younger spat. “And I don’t care what time you come from; right now, I’m the captain of this ship, and we don’t leave people bleeding on the deck–”

“–it stains the carpet,” Zaliel completed, having heard her Wimini say it may times before. Both looked at her with surprise.

A beeping from the older Wimini’s wrist drew her away for a moment. As she focused on the holo display, the younger began packing the medkit. “Why didn’t you kill the Klingon when you had a chance?” she asked as she carefully cleaned the handle of the dermal regenerator with a sterilizing wand.

Zaliel tried to form a response—wanted to explain her actions; defend them, even. Her initial reaction was to take a moral position that killing was wrong, or demand that either Wimini defend why they had killed him needlessly. She opened her mouth, then closed it. Taking in the devastation, destruction and, more immediately, the weight she saw on the young engineer’s shoulders, she felt a deep empathy for what Wimini had gone though. The Brahe had been her home for ten years—she knew these people, worked with them every day.

Then someone came and took it from her. All she could do was survive and try, desperately to reclaim what she’d lost. But, Zaliel recognized that this deep-drive didn’t exist to answer Wimini’s question. It only served as a distraction. There was only one real reason why and, at the risk of her ego, Zaliel answered honestly:

“I was scared,” the captain admitted. “I froze.”

Wimini blinked with surprise.


“She told me to expect a sermon.”

Then it clicked. “She set me up—the Klingon, it was some test, wasn’t it?” With shaky legs and sore arms, Zaliel braced against the wall as she stood. “You didn’t need me here,” the captain called to the older Wimini. “You wanted to see if I’d kill that man,” she gestured where the Klingon had been.

The younger Wimini also stood and moved off to the side, so that the three women formed an uneven triangle.

“Twenty-seven times,” the elder said. “Twenty-seven failures. Though, you did better than last time,” she added nonchalantly.

“Twenty-seven?” the younger asked the elder. “And what’s wrong with her?”

“She’s not good enough—not that I think she ever will be.” The older Wimini drew her phaser. “Maybe twenty-eight will be the charm.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Zaliel barked in a tired voice. She was losing the battle with her body. Adrenaline had left her and was slow to rebound. All she had was exhaustion and fear.

“The loop goes on for the whole decade,” old Wimini said, drawing a small circle in the air. “You can change a lot about a person: push and pull them. A posting here, a romance there.” A pause. “Marc was a mistake,” she considered. “He made you soft, made you pine when you should have been leading. Oh, and that Captain Derenzis: a real pain in the ass. If you aren’t pining for Marc, you’re waxing poetic about exploration or tea or whatever you two get together and cry about.”

Zaliel could only listen in horror. “Why?” she asked. So lost for words, she asked again. Like the Klingon, talking was the only tool she had.

“Because no matter what I do, you become the Brahe’s next captain,” she took a few steps forward. “You drag us down with your mediocrity, your indecisiveness, your fear. I don’t hate you, Zaliel,” she seethed. “I loathe what you are and what you represent: a captain in rank only. A sad, lonely office worker who failed her way up to unseat a real captain, who knew we were more than the butt of every size joke in the fleet.”

Tears feel from Zaliel’s eyes, though she couldn’t turn from the woman and, more aptly, the phaser pointing at her chest.

“You know,” Wimini continued, slowly inching closer. “I really don’t get tired of telling you this. All the waiting over the years as you flop all about my ship. See you next time, Za—” but her words were interrupted by the shot from a phaser. Her tiny body crumpled on the floor; she looked toward the ceiling and gasped once, twice, a third time. It looked like she was trying to say something. Then she was still, her last expression somewhere between surprise and fear, mouth still open in half-speech.

Zaliel turned slowly toward the source: the younger Wimini who seemed to share her counterpart’s surprise. She was neither stoic nor heroic as she holstered her phaser beneath the flickering lights and soft blue glow of the warp core.

Wimini broke the silence first. “The only way she could repeat the next ten years,” she reasoned, “is if she took my place.” She looked from the body to Zaliel. “Given her timetable, she would have killed me next.”

“And she’s?” the captain asked, not able to finish the question.

“Dead, yes,” Wimini replied evenly.

“The timeline—everything she’s done—if she doesn’t repeat the cycle,” Zaliel’s mind was racing. How could it be saved? Should it, even? What would happen if things changed?

“I’m sure you have a million questions,” the remaining Wimini said. Zaliel noticed she was breathing hard, like someone uncertain of what she had done. “But, they’ll have to wait.” Wimini flicked her wrist and pointed at Zaliel. She quickly manipulated the holographic display and activated Zaliel’s combadge; engaging the emergency beacon. “Good luck, Captain.”

Zaliel felt the tingling of a transporter. She tried to cry out—to say something, anything—but that was it. Wimini had the last word.