Afro-Futurist story of Harriet Tubman in a post-racial Star Trek
Lt. La Forge – Personal Log 2365
When we first met, you were bleeding from a gunshot, clutching a tree as men unleashed their dogs into the forest. You gripped my uniform, balled it in your fists, pulled me close and asked – Are you going to let them kill me?
I touched the communicator on my chest, “Two to beam up.” In seconds the Enterprise, far above the planet aimed a beam that broke our atoms to glitter, shot them upward like a bolt of lightning and put each atom back in place on the transport pad. When I opened my eyes, I saw Chief O’ Brian’s mouth drop.
The Temporal Prime Directive – he thought. It flashed in his face like a silent alarm. I told him to put you in sickbay. For nearly three weeks, you stayed on the Enterprise. I learned your name was Harriet Tubman, we knew you as the Moses of Her People. You were a faded photograph in our Early Earth History Class.
But in the woods, I knew you as a scared woman running for her life. On the Enterprise, I knew you as a singer and as a lover. Now you are home in the 19th Century and we returned to the 24th Century. But it feels like those five hundred years are cut through by the faint peach odor you left on my hands.
The Daedalus Ring
Meeting you was an accident; it began with Star Fleet’s time travel experiment. On bridge, I stood with Captain Picard and Commander Riker as Data put on the large view screen, the Daedalus Ring, a giant 50 kilometer circular time travel station. It looked like a metal hula-hoop against a backdrop of stars. Around it, I saw lights flashing as if fireflies circled it.
“Magnify,” Captain Picard said. Instantly workers in space suits filled the screen, they bobbed near open hatches, laser torches flaring white.
“Geordi,” the Captain turned to me. “What are the chances of this working?”
“Good,” I said. “Once it turns on, we'll be able to see through it to the past and send probes and security beacons. But if one blade of grass is bent or one action changed in the past it’ll send a temporal shockwave to us in the present.”
Riker's jaw was grinding, "And if that happens?” I turned to him, “We will live in different reality. People who were born may not be; inventions that were created may not be. What if Zeframe Cochrane never made the warp engine or Earth, never discovered by the Vulcans. Our history would be changed but we’d never know it.”
Riker scratched his beard, “Why, why, why?” Data turned, his eyes flicking, “Commander, I believe Starfleet is conducting this experiment to secure Earth’s history from Romulan time pirates who could also build a temporal jump chute and destroy our history.”
Chuckling, Riker clapped Data on the back, “It was a figure of speech.”
“Look,” I said as on the view screen, space-workers left on shuttle craft, “The experiment is going to start.”
Sweat streamed from my underarms. Picard's face twitched. Ensigns left steamy hand-prints on computer screens. The Daedalus Ring lit up like an immense electric coil as within it, space-time rippled like a pond after someone threw in a rock. Stars bobbed from their place. Before our eyes was Old Earth, a dark blue planet wrapped in white clouds. No cities erupted with light like electric volcanoes, no satellites whizzing around in low orbit; we stared at the 19th Century from the 24th Century separated by a few thousand meters.
A vast wave of space-time expanded beyond the Daedalus Ring. I squinted as Data turned to me with the words “Energy shock wave,” on his lips. The floor buckled and darkness swallowed us. Someone’s elbow slammed my VISOR sending a sunrise of pain through my head. Floating over the seats, I grabbed a chair.
“Gravity’s lost” I yelled and punched a back-up code into the terminal. Starfleet training, ground into us like a second instinct kicked in and we knotted into a human chain to not float around and then we crashed to the floor. People rose, cursing but dashing to their positions to read reports on the ship’s status.
“Giordi,” Riker barked from a bloody mouth. “We’re getting reports of a warp core breach in stage two.”
Fuck – Fuck – Fuck, I thought and ran to the Jeffrey Tube. As the doors closed, I saw them moving in front of the static filled view screen like people struggling through a snowstorm. My body felt weightless as the tube plummeted down to engineering and when it opened smoke scalded my face. Red emergency lights created portraits of horror. A man cradled his face with burnt hands. Out of the smoke, two ensigns carried a woman whose leg dangled behind her held on by a string of uniform and meat.
Ensign Lander jumped in front of me, “Lt. if the warp core isn’t stabilized in five minutes the ship will explode.” The engine room filled with white gas. Orange sparks showered us. Lethal – I thought. One breath and my lungs would fall like soggy bread on my stomach. Above the toxic fog was the warp core, a bright tower on the edge of exploding. At its base was a console and with a few codes the back-up coolant system would blow the pressure out and save the ship. I grabbed a mask from the wall but couldn’t feel it. My fingertips felt cold; my body was a pile of snow. Ensign Lander stopped me.
“I can stabilize it,” he shouted.
“My ship Lander,” I snarled, “My responsibility.”
He did not move, “It is your ship Commander and it needs you more than it needs me. We both know this.”
We stared at each other and did the same math. The ship needed repairs I could do and he could not. I felt relief and guilt at the relief. He was so young, a cherubic face, eyes radiating panic and confidence. My VISOR lets me see chemicals and he was red in his face but a deep purple in his brain like a watercolor spilling in the skull. Glucose and amino acids flooded his brain. His Star Fleet training made him capable of focusing through fear. I touched his face with my fingers and felt the minor shakes that in him were earthquakes of terror.
“I’ll monitor you from here. We have four minutes,” I said as he took my gas mask and stood at the engine room, turned back, nodded and walked into the churning white clouds. Electricity shot from the warp core. Lander dashed back and forth in the toxic fog. Whatever he touched was turned on. Under my fingertips the console lit up and overhead lights blazed in the room.
“Lander you’re doing it,” I shouted as the computer screen showed the shell layering the warp core going from red to yellow to green. The energy circuits cooled. The metal of the room, at one point aching at the seams was now bending back to shape like a lung releasing air. The ship was saved.
“Lander come out,” I said but no answer. A throng of ensigns ringed the door, standing on tiptoes, hands on shoulders, peeking inside the Engine Room. I elbowed them out of the way, hit the vacuum code and entered. Behind me someone shouted the radiation was too high but I opened the shield door as the vents sucked the toxic fog away. It looked like a blanket being pulled off. On the floor, curled in a fetal position was Lander. His face was swollen. Puss oozed from his burned eyes and bone poked through charred fingertips. He was shaking and in pain.
I knelt down and took his hand in mine. The neurons in his brain were dwindling fireworks. He was dying. “The needs of the many,” he said through purple lips, “Outweigh, outweigh…”
“The needs of the few,” I finished for him. It was the famous quote from Admiral Spock. We all learned it in Starfleet. And then the light in his mind vanished. He was dead. “Or even the life of the one,” I whispered in his ear and rocked him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The Captain’s Chair
In the Jeffrey Tube, I leaned on the wall as scenes from the day flashed in my mind; Data walking through fire in Ten-Forward carrying a burn victim, Riker and Picard in sick bay with medical monitors on their foreheads like butterflies, a hull breach in the nacelles whose ripped walls showed a star filled space. But it was sickbay that shook me. It was filled with the dead, covered with blankets
I pressed stop on the tube and took off my VISOR. My chest tightened as if someone turned a corkscrew in it. Trembling, I rubbed my hands on my face. “Get it together,” I ordered myself, “Get it together.”
I pressed continue, the tube ascended and opened to the Bridge where Worf, Deanna Troy and Data huddled near the captain’s chair. “Captain La Forge,” Data said.
“Are Picard and Riker dead,” I stammered. The ensigns looked at us from the corners of their eyes. “No Geordi,” Deanna stroked my shoulder, “They’ll live but they suffered serious injuries. Beverley said they won’t be awake for weeks. And the ship needs a captain.”
“According to Starfleet regulations,” Data began, “When the Captain and the First Officer are incapacitated and the rest of the senior crew are equal rank, the duty of helming the ship goes to who has the most relevant skill set. If we were in war…”
“I would be captain,” Worf barked, “But if it was a diplomatic mission…”
“I would be captain, “Deanna said, “Or if it was a scientific test…”
“They duty would fall to me,” Data looked at me, “But since the ship is in need of repairs, you are the one with the relevant experience.”
Everyone on deck turned and stared. I could see their brains pulsing with hormones. My VISOR reads chemicals on a color spectrum; hate is white; rage is red, pain looks orange and anxiety is yellow. Green is calm. Blue is happiness. Indigo and violet are intense focus and love. My vision, expanded into the infrared, sound, electromagnetic and ultraviolent spectrums of energy created portraits of everyone. And standing on deck, I saw their anxiety like yellow lava flowing through them.
“Lt. Lamar you have bridge,” I ordered and waved at the senior staff, “Captain’s Ready Room.” We walked into the room, its lights blinked on and off, no screens worked as we sat around the table.
“Status report,” I asked.
“The energy shock-wave crippled the ship. We have no warp, no weapons, no functioning teleport or navigation. The damage is not to each system but the underlying control grid,” Data said, “We can repair the grid but it will take at least three weeks.”
Three weeks – I thought – Three weeks as captain is three weeks too long. Everyone looking at me for leadership. Everyone asking what to do next. Everyone leaning on me.
“One more thing,” Data said, “One of the monitoring beacons for the Daedulus Ring was knocked out by the shock-wave and fell to the planet.”
Worf growled, Deanna covered her face and I just took off my VISOR and rubbed my temples. “Data did you just say that a piece of 24th Century technology just plummeted to 19th Century earth?”
Data glanced at our faces, “Yes.”
“And our sensors are off-line?”
“So someone could be tinkering with it right now and possibly destroy our history?”
Deanna laughed bitterly as Worf pounded his fist on the table. “We need to go down there right away,” I put my VISOR back on, “Assemble an away team. I’ll lead it since I know the technology.”
“Captain,” Worf tried to wedge his voice in.
“Don’t tell me about a captain’s duty,” I waved him off, “Who else can get that satellite. And if anyone finds it, get’s shocked to death by its exposed energy coil; we may not have a history to go back to.”
“Captain,” Deanna rapt the table with her knuckles, “It’s very dangerous for you because of your skin color.”
My forehead creased and I stared across the silence at her, “Excuse me Lt.?”
“The satellite fell into a nation state called the United States,” Data said, “At this time in early earth history, slavery was legal and in that nation, millions of African people were stolen and forced to work. If you go down there…”
Worf barked, “They will think you are a slave.”
I leaned back and remembered my Early Earth History lessons with Immersive Learning. After reading a slave narrative by Frederick Douglass, we entered a simulated plantation on a holodeck. Around us, haggard faced slaves bent over white tufts of cotton, plucking and stuffing burlap bags. Above them, a man rode a horse with a coiled fist in his whip. The holodeck was on Third Person Mode, so we walked around being ignored by them but able to touch. One of my classmates, snuck behind a slave and mocked humped him. The teacher pulled him by the collar back to the group of giggling students.
But thousands of kilometers below, it was no hologram, it was real and the men with guns would aim their barrels at me. I turned my hand over slowly; I did not “see” color like they did but now I had to go back in time to a nation where being brown was a mark of servitude. My skin felt like a suffocating, wet blanket and I fidgeted in my chair.
“Captain,” Dianna said as if raising my silence like a curtain. Looking up I saw she and Worf were nervous, so much anxiety that their brains glowed like yellow light bulbs.
“Computer patch me into the intercom,” I said, “This is Captain La Forge.” I knew everyone was kneeling at a broken part of the Enterprise, tearing out frayed energy coils, typing code into half working computers, patching together a ship that was a thin egg shell against the vacuum of space. I knew them, knew their faces, knew their lives and that they were waiting to hear the captain’s voice. Whatever I said had to carve a way forward through the fear. I breathed and wished the medical monitor that looked like a butterfly on Captain Picard’s forehead would fly through the halls and rest on my head. I wanted him to tell me what to say.
“Captain Picard and First Officer Riker are in sickbay, until they the assume their duties I am acting captain of the Enterprise,” I said and felt myself in their place hearing only Star Fleet protocol, not what needed to be said. Closing my eyes, I searched the fear inside me and visualized drilling it open.
“The ship is crippled and many of our friends our dead. Let’s take a moment of silence to remember them,” I breathed slow, let the moment stretch large enough to fit their memory. What I learned in that moment was how a captain must give themselves to those they lead, let them enter his or her mind and from the collective consciousness forge a direction that everyone can see.
“Our ship is badly hurt but it can be repaired,” I said, “Switching to four-four rotation shift we can get the Enterprise working in three weeks. Even as we mend the ship we must defend our history against Romulan time pirates if they appear. We must recover a lost satellite on earth all while fixing the Daedalus Ring so we can go home. I know this sounds nearly impossible. We are hurt, we are tired. But we are also the most highly trained crew in human history on the most advanced ship ever created. And the love we have for lost loved ones and for each other is a source of strength. We are capable. We are Starfleet. Let’s get it done, Captain La Forge out.”
I switched the com-system off and saw Deanna smiling and Worf nodding. I felt the crew inside of me, breathing out fear, seeing what lay ahead and bending back to work. “Okay,” I said, “Let’s go to Earth.”
Hours later, I was wearing an itchy burlap shirt and rough cotton pants. Standing in the Jeffrey’s Tube, I scratching at my slave clothes. They were "period correct” for the 19th Century. Even my VISOR was gone, replaced by low-resolution contacts. Around me, crew members crisscrossed the halls, bolting hoses into walls, studying a 3-D image of the ships interior and thrusting hands into circuitry. They were putting the Enterprise back together, I was proud of them. I walked past the broken telepads. “Going to a costume party sir”, asked Chief Operator O’ Brian. Data stood next to him, dressed in a blazer, black pants and a riding crop.
“Ha, ha, ha,” I said.
“The captain is dressed as a slave,” Data told him, “And I am dressed as his master in order to avoid detection in the United States.”
“Oh even better,” O’ Brian smirked, “I heard about you captains and your fetishes.”
“Why don’t you fetish the teleporter and get it working again,” I said and waved Data over. We got into the shuttle, its counsels blinked and engines hummed. Ensigns Jul and Cente stood to salute me.
“At ease,” I said, “And don’t salute me on earth or you’ll get us killed. Remember you’re white, I’m black. And I’m a slave.”
“Yes sir,” they said.
They sat, I took the helm punched in the flight code. The bay doors opened and we stars. I looked over my shoulder as the shuttle lifted, watched crew members waving goodbye, it seemed as if they stood on a porch in a dark country night. It was an optical illusion. You could be inches away from the blood boiling vacuum of space but safe inside the invisible walls of a shield.
Earth was below us. Heavy fear sat in my gut. Data angled the shuttle down and we rocked as if on a rollercoaster. “Captain,” he said, “I’m picking up an energy reading that matches the satellite. It is diffuse but we can land nearby.”
“It’s more important that we land where we can’t be seen,” I turned to the team, “Jul. Cente. Use the hand-held tractor beams to lift and guide it back to the shuttle.” Unbuckling my own device, I held it between us; heavy and shaped like a glove it could move tons of material. They took theirs out. “Remember the Temporal Prime Directive, do not talk or touch or meet anyone. We slip to the crash site, get the satellite and we get out.”
They nodded, Below us were vast green mountains. We stared quietly at the beauty of 19th Century Earth. Data found a bald patch in the woods and we felt the shuttle land. Then we looked at each other. Fear shot through our faces, I could see it in the twitch of the lips, the pulled back squint of the eyes and feel it in my galloping heart.
I hit the exit button and the shuttle doors opened, fresh air filled us and with one step we traveled five hundred years into the past. Holding our tricorders, we split up into two teams, hiking deep into the forest, I could see their glowing silhouettes in my contacts and heard the crunch of feet on branches until even that faded and my breathing echoed in the still.
Data was with me, waving his tricorder like a wand, grimacing and waving it again. The signal was blurry. Trees crisscrossed trees and leaves spun down. Still no fix on the satellite. But then we heard a cascade of snapping twigs and branches. Two men jogged through the forest, each with a gun, each ablaze with hate and rage. In my contacts, I saw their brain chemicals as white and red as if they were enflamed demons from some medieval painting of Hell.
“Is this your nigger,” one panted to Data. I flinched as he stared at me like an animal.
“I said is this your nigger,” he nudged me with his gun barrel and his finger convulsed near the trigger. My body felt like ice. He spoke a very old form of English that I could barely translate but I knew he wanted to kill me. His partner wiped his sweating head with a cloth.
“He is my slave,” Data said and laid a hand on my neck, “Is it proper to assault a man going to his manor with his slave. Custom has more hold on us that I hope.”
“No offense,” the other said and signaled his partner to lower the gun, “We’re looking for a runaway.”
“Pray tell,” Data said and jerked me by my neck, “We can’t have that now can we boy?”
They smiled and asked if we’d seen a woman named Harriet, a 100 dollar bounty was on her head and any man worth his salt was on her trail. Data said if he came across some such woman hiding on his land he’d clip her, chain her and turn her in. Nodding they began to move on, touching their hats and bumping my shoulder as they went by.
“Data,” I turned to him, “What did they call me?”
“In the 19th Century nigger was a slur used for slaves of African descent,” he said, “After the Civil Rights Movement it became increasingly unacceptable in public life until in the late 20th Century a musical genre know as Hip Hop spread it back…”
“Okay, okay Data,” I shook my head, “I just want to get off this planet and out of this time.”
“Captain La Forge,” a crackly voice blared from my communicator and I tapped it.
“We found the satellite,” Ensign Jul said, “We’re taking it to the shuttle now. Hold on sir, we here someone coming…”
I held breath, pulled the communicator from my chest to ear to hear what was going on and then gunfire cracked in a loud series of shots like firecrackers.
“Jul! Cente! Status report,” I shouted, “Status report!” The line was dead and I turned to Data. “You can run faster,” I said and pointed in their direction, “Go now and I’ll catch up.”
Data dashed over a tangle of bushes, flashed between the trees and disappeared into the forest. I ran after him, swiping claw like branches out of the way, hearing more gunshots and hot metal whiz past my ear. Ducking, I heard a gurgling moan. Oh no, oh no – I thought one of my team had been hit.
Behind a tree, I saw an arm fall on the ground and as I circled it, I saw you for the first time, Harriet, a woman with blood bubbling from her mouth. You grabbed my collar and lanced your eyes into mine and asked if I was going to let you die.
I knelt down, your chest was soaked red, I pulled up your shirt and saw a bullet hole gushing blood. Staring at you, my memory clicked; Harriet Tubman, you were Harriet Tubman. You rescued slaves and brought them up North, you were an agent in the Civil War, if you died your actions in time would vanish and an endless series of changes would like a giant tsunami wash over history and possibly destroy human civilization.
If she dies, we die – I panicked as your grip weakened. I put my hand on your wound and pressed, began ripping my sleeve off to make a tourniquet.
“Captain,” Data called.
“Tell me good news,” I panted, holding the torn cloth over your wound.
“We got the satellite into the shuttle,” he said, “The team had to sever communications when the two men we saw earlier began firing shots. But they were not shooting at us but into the forest at someone…”
I saw your eyes rolling back into your head and yelled, “I know Data, I have that someone else right here. Data I need you to get that ship over here now.”
The communicator beeped and Chief O’ Brian was on the line, “Captain!”
“Data hold. O’ Brian report,” I fingered your neck for the pulse and it was a faraway drumbeat, low and sparse.
“Captain we have teleport ability,” he said, “We can beam you up.”
“Data fly the shuttle to the Enterprise,” I yelled and tasted panic in my mouth as your face loosened, your fingers opened and feet stopped kicking. You were dying. “O’ Brian, two to beam up and have Beverly there with an emergency medical team.”
“NOW DAMN IT, NOW!”
Holding you to me, I felt the familiar whirl of spinning lights, the routine black out and then I blinked my eyes open, saw the telepad and Chief O’ Brian’s face staring at me with one thought silently screaming in his brain – The Captain just broke the Temporal Prime Directive.
Healing the Past
“Will she live," I asked.
“Yes, captain she…”
“Geordi, call me Geordi when it’s just us Beverly, “ I leaned over you, Harriet. Eyes closed but twitching, you were deep in dreams. What are you seeing in your sleep Moses?
“Geordi the nano-robots are cleaning out her bullet wound and repairing tissue. But more importantly, she has a serious head injury,” Beverly pointed at the screen to show bruises in your brain. “A projectile of some sort,” she said, “broke her skull and caused hemorrhaging that if left untreated will lead to increasingly serious seizures.”
“It was a weight,” I whispered, “An overseer hurled a two-pound weight at her head and cracked it.” We locked eyes and shook our heads. In the 24th Century, few empires had slaves but it was a mark of shame, one that cast them to the fringe of intergalactic government. We both had treated rescued slaves, taken from a cargo ship that had trespassed Federation space. More than once, Captain Picard had Data scan a ship, find it held illegal captives and blast its engines with phasers, we then boarded it and freed the prisoners.
One time, I was in the transporter room when they hobbled from the telepad, eyes brimming with fear, slave owner marks branded on their skin or scales or tattooed on tentacles. It took weeks for Beverly, a translator and Counselor Troy to massage testimonies out of closed, terrified minds. Now she and I were standing over you, Harriet, a reminder of our own brutal history and it shamed us.
“Geordi because of the injury to her frontal lobe, I can’t erase her memory,” she said and waved a medical tricorder over you, “If she wakes up, whatever she sees, she will remember.”
“I understand,” I said, “Keep her sedated. It took three weeks for her to reach Pennsylvania, a free state, if she heals before then, we can teleport her to where she would have been and history will go on as it should.”
“Geordi,” Beverly took my arm and walked me to her office door, “You’re taking a big chance here.”
“If I let her die in those woods,” I felt anger heating my voice, “We can kiss our lives goodbye when we return. Everything will change if we don’t get her home on time.”
“Geordi, I didn’t mean to…”
I walked away, “Sedate her Dr. Crusher. That’s an order.”
“Captain La Forge!”
“Captain La Forge!”
“What,” I woke up and reached for my VISOR, automatically it gripped my head and a familiar voltage filled my eyes as colors and shapes appeared.
“Patient 1130 is gone.”
“What do you mean – gone?”
“Her bed in sick bay is empty and the computer can’t locate her.”
“Why,” I was yanking on my uniform, “Why can she not be found, did she disappear down a wormhole?”
“Dr. Crusher did not tag her saying any change in her body might have long-term consequences,” the ensign said. Of course – I thought – Any identification implant might mark Harriet and lead to questions.
“Computer, account for all human beings on the ship,” I ran out of my quarters into the hallway, “Now isolate the one without an embedded personnel tag by a heat signature, it should be female.”
“Location acquired,” it said, “Unidentified person is on deck 41.”
“Lt. Worf,” I yelled, imagining you, Harriet running through a starship and knowing we could not erase your memory and what you saw would mark you and possibly our history forever. Each moment swung like a razor pendulum, cutting our timeline into ribbons.
“Yes Captain,” he answered.
“Security team on Deck 38. Follow computer directions and subdue female patient 1130,” I was sprinting to the Jeffrey Tube, got in, punched 41, felt it lift, “Be careful Worf, subdue her but don’t injure or leave marks. Stun only.”
“Understood,” he said.
The doors opened and my feet felt like coils springing me forward faster and faster, I turned the corner and saw you, Harriet and Lt. Worf circling each other. He lunged for you and you leapt on the wall, ran a half circle on it, jumped on his back, knocked him down and punched Worf, spraying blood from his face.
“She fights like a Klingon,” he shouted and pulled you off, you bit his arm. Worf twisted you like a pretzel as more security ran to us, kneeing your neck and pinning your arms. One took her phaser, set it on stun and aimed it at you.
“STOP,” I hollered.
They stood frozen into a portrait of absurdity. A team of sleek uniformed 24th Century security, stood over a 19th Century black woman, pinned to the ground as one aimed a phaser at her back. “But captain,” Worf looked at me, “The Temporal Prime Directive must be…”
“Stop,” I repeated, softer and motioned them to stand you up and they did. Walking slowly to you, I held out my hands and said, “Harriet you are free.” Nodding to the security team, they let go, hands left your body like an octopus letting go of its prey. Remembering my lessons in American English, I said again, “Harriet, you are free and you are safe. No one is going to hurt you here.”
You stared at me, shivering. Your eyes wild and streaming tears, hands balled into fists. I felt you ready to lash out at anyone who moved.
“Harriet,” I lowered my voice like carpet, “Remember me from the woods. Remember…” Your breathing eased. I waved Worf and the security team back and slowly extended my hand and pointed at my skin, its color and then yours. “I understand.”
“Who are you,” you said through gritted teeth.
“Where is this,” you looked around, forehead creased in confusion and then back at me, “Am I dead?” Your hand went to your chest, your head, your groin, your mouth and eyes, touching the solid presence of your body as if sculpting yourself from the terrifying strangeness of my world.
“Am I dead,” you asked again, “Am I dead? Am I dead? Am I dead?”
“No, no, no, no, no,” I stepped closer, palms up but curving slowly down to reach you, “You are not dead, Harriet.”
“But where,” you stroked the air like a veil, “Where is this? Where is this? Where is the bullet?” You palmed your navel, where you had been shot and wiped at it with your fingers, feeling no bullet, no pain and then looked up at me, holding out your clean hands and asked, “Why am I alive?”
You legs buckled and I caught you, “I got you. I got you Harriet.”
The Centuries Between
“So this is not a dream,” you said.
I sat on the edge of the bed, studying your body, which my VISOR saw as a rainbow of heat. I saw bruises on your neck from the fight with Worf. Afterwards, you gripped my arm and did not let go, even after I walked you to sickbay, to your bed and promised that you’d be cared for but you would not let go. Finally, I took you to my room. Even there you still did not let go, until we sat on the bed and you fell asleep.
Over the next few days, I watched over you, fielding calls from departments on ship repairs, skimming more of American slavery, reading more about you and how were at the turning point of a nation, bending it with your will in a time of war. I placed my hand on your shoulder and felt the immense river of history flowing through you, a tiny, elf-faced woman, breathing quietly in my bed. When you woke up, you looked around and then at me said, "I'm not in dream." Without answering, I thought – It’s only real because of you but if we don’t get you back it will become a dream, one that vanishes in the infinite stretch of time.
“What’s that on your face,” you asked.
“I was born blind,” I took off my VISOR, handed it to you, felt your work roughened fingers and wondered at the hard life of fieldwork, “It gives me sight”. I felt your hand on my face, “You’re a Negro?” In my blindness, I smiled, “I am not a color. We left behind racism centuries ago. But I understand that you were treated badly because of it.”
“No,” you said in a hard voice and withdrew your hand, “No you do not understand.” Silence froze the air and then you place my VISOR into my hands. I put it on, the magnets clamped on my temples and vision brightened my mind.
“You speak strange,” you hugged your elbows as if to hold your self together. “We don’t use American English now,” I got up and touched my VISOR. It was my nervous reflex after being blind even if only for a moment, “I learned to speak it before the trip.”
“Where am I," you asked and stood up, walking firmly as if to test the floor.
“Have you ever seen a bird fly in the sky,” I said and angled my hand up, “Imagine someone studying it and building a giant bird made of metal that people can live inside of and fly above the clouds.”
“We are in this bird," you said and looked out of the window into space.
“Yes,” I said, “Except this bird can fly between the stars that you see at night.”
You got up and walked in slow circles, focusing on your steps and looked at me silently for a long time. “Nothing like this can be in my lifetime,” you said, “So I should really be asking, ‘when are you from.” I can see why they called you Moses – I thought – You are so smart.
“Five hundred and sixteen years in the future,” I waited to see you go numb with disbelief but you nodded your head.
“And you’re not a slave,” you asked with an infinite hopefulness that I never heard before.
“Oh Harriet no,” I said, “I’m the captain of the ship. Slavery has been long gone and so has racism. No one even thinks in those words anymore.”
Your mouth puckered in relief. While wiping tears from your eyes, your voice rattled, “They’re not killing us anymore?”
“There is no us or them, no black, no white,” I stood next to you, “We see each other as human only. No war, no slavery, no poverty, no crime to speak of, Harriet, the horror you lived in has long been over, partly because of you.”
“Free,” you repeated, “We’re free.” You rocked back and forth, saying in a near whisper, over and over again, those words until they became prayer. Far inside your self, seeing, hearing and feeling a life I could not understand. You saw your skin as a moving target and wore it like an iron blanket. I saw skin as heat or chemicals. I did not have slurs branded into my brain. I was never a slave and could not know the pressure that wracked your body as you said the words, “We’re free.” We both were brown; both from Africa, both close enough to touch but hundreds of years spanned between us.
“Show me,” you demanded, “Show me what happened. Can you do that?” As we walked out of my quarters, into the hall, you trailed your fingers on the wall and muttered, “A giant metal bird.”
I took you to the holodeck. Standing in front of it, I said, “Computer, give us – American – slavery – antebellum – African-American focus – summary format from 19th Century to First Contact – Third Person viewing – safety protocols on.”
The doors opened, you let go of my hand and walked into a sun lit field of cotton, labored over by dark slaves, who sang in low tones as a man on a horse trotted by, a gun in his arms. Stepping into the fields, you hummed with them, delicately touched a shoulder, wiped sweat off a brow and stared at me quizzically and said, “Computer?”
I nodded and stepped back. “Computer,” you said, “Hurry it along.”
The sky dimmed as red flashes of cannon fire made silhouettes of soldiers. Armies clashed in the Civil war. A river of former slaves, feet swollen and weary eyed fled plantations. Black soldiers thrust bayonets into white soldiers. The battle dissolved and on a stage, Frederick Douglass lectured to thundering cheers, again the scene dissolved as President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment, jubilee erupted and you, Harriet danced with them, your smile flashing like sunlight.
The scene dissolved into white mobs of Ku Klux Klan holding bright torches in the night, riding horses and burning homes as black people fled on trains to Northern cities. Even in the cities, white mobs cheered over charred black bodies. White only signs hung over doors and you, Harriet, tried to yank one down but the scene dissolved again into the Civil Rights era as black marchers were pummeled by cops, hosed down the street, bitten but pushing, pushing, pushing until finally the white only signs were gone.
And the scene dissolved again, black people in broken homes, lighting pipes and inhaling until their eyes closed in bliss, black men in handcuffs, working inside jails in chains and you stood there Harriet, shaking your head.
Again the scene dissolved into a black man on TV elected president, again people cried and danced in the street but men in suits at Wall Street panicked as a line with numbers zigzagged down. Black people sat outside with their furniture as for sale signs were nailed on their homes. And around the world, poor people, rioted for food or slept on sidewalks, begged or stole. It was the World Crash of the 21st Century.
The scene dissolved again to show scientists in labs, squeezing droplets into test tubes, injecting fluid into women and the babies growing, maturing into tall, cold-eyed men and women who rose to power, shouting orders and pointed across the horizon as millions of people cringed at their commands. It was the Eugenic Wars, where genetically enhanced humans seized control of the planet.
Harriet, you spun around as missiles arced across the sky and cities glowed with fire. The gene enhanced leaders were jailed and the scene dissolved again, then a bright flash as nuclear mushroom clouds blasted human beings to ash, leaving their shadows as scars on walls.
From the ruins, a ship launched into the sky and in the glitter of space it seemed to stretch and then shoot into the distance. It was the first warp drive ship that rose from the rubble of war like a phoenix. When it returned, following it was another ship, long robed people with pointed ears and sharp eyebrows stepped on to a ragged, hungry mob of people.
The Vulcans and humans erected new buildings, cleaned the ash from the sky, purified the water and land. Inside schools, children sat in meditation as numbers and words flashed on the walls around them. More ships rose from the earth, shooting into the far corners of space and one, the Enterprise, flew the longest and as the years passed, the ship changed into newer and newer versions until it was my ship. The holodeck focused on a window, entered the its maze of halls to enter the holodeck were you and I, stood and stared at the swift passage of time and then the program ended.
“Computer,” you said, “Harriet Tubman – antebellum era – American slavery.” An image of you flashed on the floor, a gun in one hand and a lantern in the other, hurrying slaves through a thick forest.
“You see Harriet,” I said, “You are a part of history. You rescued a thousand slaves, helped scout for the Union army. Your life has had innumerable impact on our timeline.”
You circled yourself, touching the historical Harriet Tubman as she waved to the group to keep moving. You watched your future self vanish into the night dark forest.
“The war will happen without me,” you said, “Freedom will come without me. I don’t need to go back.”
I flinched as if her words punched my stomach, “Harriet what are…”
“You don’t know what you’re asking me to go back to,” you said in loud echoing voice, “You’re not even black.”
“As painful as it is,” I tried to push through her anger, “You have to return.”
“Computer,” you said, “Show Harriet Tubman as a teen, place her on the floor of a barn, naked.” It did and you appeared. “Have five white men surrounding her and one raping her. Make her scream.”
Your voice cut the air like a knife. “Raise the volume,” you said and it did, “Raise it again.” It did and the loud shrieks pierced me. “Again,” you said and the screaming pounded my head like a hammer, I covered my ears but the force of it pushed through and stabbed my mind.
“Again,” you yelled as your teen self’s screaming filled the holodeck like a hurricane, “Again,” you ordered and stared at me with hate, “AGAIN!”
A Rip in Time
“We have been getting strange readings next to the Daedalus Ring,” Data said and on-screen a wave of tachyon particles created a bubble.
“I’ve seen this before,” I said and leaned in, Data, Worf, Beverly and Diana knotted around me as I pointed, “This isn’t a natural phenomena.” Reconfiguring the sensors, I boosted the tachyon field and had the computer create and magnify it; a Romulan war bird appeared like a hawk floating in space.
“Like a giant metal bird,” I muttered as the senior staff gasped. We all walked to the window, looked at the Daedalus Ring and knew right beside it was a Romulan starship that could destroy us or the Daedalus Ring itself and leave us stranded in the past or go to Earth and alter history.
“We must obliterate them,” Worf stared at each of us. It was his first reflex and holding his warning in mind, I motioned us to take seats at the table. “Thoughts,” I asked.
“If they have stayed in cloak this long,” Data offered, “It may be that they were sucked through the Daedalus Ring with us and also suffered damage to their ship.”
“Maybe,” I said, “But now we have to deal with them. We can’t fire on them or risk damaging the Daedalus Ring, we can’t leave them here to send a few photon torpedoes and destroy our timeline and we can’t alert them to our knowing they are there or they will fire on us and our weapons are still off line.”
We each mulled ideas, quietly, feeling the stakes of each action like weights balancing on scales when an image of Harriet flushing the toilet in my quarters, over and over stuck in my mind. Turning to the window, I looked at the Daedalus Ring and remembered the sound of water swirling.
“Flush them,” I said, “Let’s turn on the temporal jump and suck them into oblivion.”
They scrunched their eyebrows and glanced at each other. Worf smiled, “That is how a Klingon thinks. We should check your ancestors, you may have Kahless in your family.”
“Captain is that wise,” Beverly asked, “Won’t we send them further into the past?”
“No,” I said, “If we just turn on the energy generators but don’t set a date it will rip the Romulan war ship apart.”
“We’re just going to kill a whole crew,” she blurted.
“They are in Federation space,” Worf growled, “In Federation time and have already committed an act of war. Romulans are without honor. They will strike unless we do first.”
“Odd as it is,” Diana jutted in, “I agree with Worf in the course of action should be offensive. The closest analogy to what I sense from them is the enraged self-sacrifice of the kamikaze pilots of World War Two. They are not planning to go home. They are planning to destroy ours.”
Blowing out a long breath, I leaned back then forward, “Computer patch me to the repair team on the Daedalus Ring.” Loud beeps from the speakers and then the panting of a worker in a space helmet, “Yes captain.”
“Lt. Elar what is the estimated time of repair for the Ring,” I asked and nervously fidgeted with VISOR.
“Ten hours,” she said, “It will be operational then but the safety protocols are on and needs level 1 clearance to re-activate.”
“And the booster rockets to move it?”
“On-line captain,” she said.
“Thank you Lt, good work, Captain La Forge out,” I said and turned to the staff, “In nine hours, Lt. Worf and I will join the repair team on the Daedalus Ring, reposition it near the Romulan war ship, turn it on and flush it into oblivion.”
“Captain,” Data leaned in, “Is it wise for you to go? Your place is on the bridge. The ship needs your expertise.”
“Data,” I said, “You’re right but only three people on this ship have the hand-print signature to restart the Daedalus Ring, Captain Picard, First Officer Riker and me, the Chief Engineer. I have to go and restart it manually.”
“Captain this is your second away mission in less than twenty four hours,” Diana said, “You’re pushing it.”
“We all are,” I said, “But this is the price we pay when we join Starfleet isn’t it. You have your orders, dismissed.”
Everyone got up, Beverly lingered, “Captain?”
“Yes Dr. Crusher.”
“About patient 1130,” she said, “I understand she is staying in your quarters which is good to keep her isolated as much as possible from the rest of the ship.” I nodded.
“When I checked her brain scan, I noticed an unusual thickness in the neural pathways and connections,” she said.
“That explains how quick she is,” I said, “And maybe her outsized role in history. She’s smart.”
“Captain,” Beverly raised her eyebrows, “Her processing speed is off the scale. Excepting Data, she’s smarter than anyone on this ship.”
Standing in front of my quarters, I heard a guitar being strummed and then you singing, “We had it bad so this is pretty good.” When the doors opened, I saw that you were on the bed, guitar in your arms, eyes closed as you sang. I leaned against the wall and listened to you say, “With the faith of a mustard seed…” then you stopped.
“Welcome back Captain La Forge,” you said in perfect Starfleet, I blinked and nearly choked.
“You speak Starfleet,” I blubbered.
“I learned it from the computer,” you said and put the guitar down, “And this here,” you patted the wall, “Is the U.S.S. Enterprise and in a few hours you are going to the Daedalus Ring to destroy the Romulan ship off your starboard bow.”
She is more than smart, she is scarily brilliant and might be hard to control – I thought – Easy to see how she rescued so many slaves.
“No you won’t control me,” she said as if reading my mind, “I seen that tension in faces before. When I thought too fast and my master knew I knew what was coming down before he did. People are like an open book to a slave. Most of us have to know whites better than they know themselves if we going to live. Well I can do it better than most. You should know that Geordi before you start cooking up plans for me.”
You beckoned me to come to the bed; I walked over and sat down. You took off my VISOR, told me to sleep, you knew exhaustion when you saw it and no man or woman was worth anything to anyone else if they couldn’t think straight. I flopped on the bed and you slipped next to me, a faint peach odor rose from your skin and I sank into sleep, feeling your heat all the way down.
Nine hours later, the alarm rang, I got up, knew you were gone by the coldness of the bed and the thickness of the silence. I put on my VISOR, showered and shaved, slipped on the uniform and left my room with your face in my mind.
Where are you now Harriet – I thought while walking down the hall, standing in the Jeffrey Tube as it went to shuttle bay, as I waved to Lt. Worf and to the away mission team, as I put on the heavy space suit, strapped a phaser and jet pack on, stood on the platform with them as the bay doors opened and star speckled space filled my eyes. We launched forward, propelled to the Daedalus Ring, which looked like a gigantic roller coaster loop.
Where are you now Harriet – I thought as we radioed the repair crew, as I eyed the blank space near us, knowing an invisible Romulan war ship stalked us from within a cloak, as I floated to a ladder, greeted Lt. Elar as Worf and the five other personnel set down on the Deadalus Ring.
Turning around, I stared at the Enterprise then Earth and felt how fragile, how small both were against the infinite void of space. Each one was a small shell of air and light and outside was radiation that cut DNA to shreds, an airless universe that boiled the blood, meteors that hit planets and black holes that inhaled whole stars.
All of life, all that I loved was inside that ship and that ship came from that blue planet wrapped in white clouds. I thought of you Harriet, how you did not want to return to Earth because of the torment you endured but also how were you were a vital link in time to the Earth I saw before me and the Earth we would become.
Harriet I love you – I thought. Turning back to the Daedalus Ring, I opened the hatch and went inside, remembering your hand on my chest, your smell, your voice rising like a bubble in water up to my mind where it popped open.
The team maintained radio silence because the Romulans could be listening; I pressurized the control room, took off my helmet and punched in the re-activation code. On-screen, an outline of a hand appeared and I put mine on it. A row of lights flickered on and a deep rumble shook the Daedalus Ring.
“Captain the Romulan ship is de-cloaking,” Worf yelled over the line. Switching the feed, I saw stars bobbing up and down as the hulking shape of the war bird appeared, one of its hatches opened and Romulan soldiers jumped out, I saw the bright flare of the jet packs as they flew toward us and shot green Disrupter fire that hit the Daedalus Ring as my team took cover and fired back.
On screen, I saw more Romulans leave the war bird until nearly thirty were flying toward us. My team were only four and the repair crew five, I watched them duck then two stand and were hit, green Disrupter pulses burned a hole in them and they spun into space leaving bubbles of blood spiraling behind them. Romulans fired on my area and sparks erupted in the control room but the Deadalus Ring was blazing with energy.
“Get back! Get back,” I yelled into the communicator, “It’s going to suck the ship in and anything else within 5 kilometers. Get back!”
“Captain,” Worf yelled, “We have to get you.” Yellow flames covered the wall, I put my helmet on and tried the hatch door but it was locked. I kicked it, pushed it, shouldered it, went to the other side of the room and threw myself at it. Nothing. And the flames were bright, so bright they blinded me, I shook, screamed and fell as a wave of terror broke me.
I heard my parent’s voices, saw the flames and everything was metling together, the past and present, my house, I was in my childhood house, it was on fire. Where’s mom? Where’s dad?
Something yanked me, I was outside, pulled by a team member who fired a phaser at the Romulans, locked his arm in mine and thrust off. We jetted away from the Daedalus Ring as it filled with a whirlpool of blue light that caught the Romulan war bird and dragged it in, spinning slow, back to front, nose down, the Bird of Prey shook as orange explosions blossomed from its shell, it crumpled and broke apart inside into the Daedalus ring where it vanished.
The shockwave hit us as my rescuer and I flew apart. Shrapnel pelted me but I saw a sharp chunk of metal, slice open the arm of his suit. Air steamed out.
“Geordi it’s Harriet,” you said over the line.
“Geordi I can’t breath,” panic shocked your voice and I saw the crew member who rescued me was you, tumbling away into space. In a minute you would lose oxygen, a minute after that your blood would boil and you would begin to die. I aimed myself at you and pressed the jet pack thrust to full power.
“Computer give me a read of her oxygen levels,” I said as the meter read two kilometers between us.
“Forty seconds left.”
I thrust forward, seeing you as a white dot in the distance, almost indistinguishable from the stars. One kilometer. “Oxygen level,” I asked.
“No oxygen is left.”
“Harriet,” I hollered, “Harriet!” You did not answer but I saw you larger now, spinning fast and slammed into you, clasping you tight and as we spun, I opened a valve from my suit, took out a cable and plugged it into yours and redirected my air to your suit, while squeezing shut the hole in your arm.
“Harriet please,” I said as your eyes closed, “Harriet?”
The Long Way Home
“Hello captain,” you smiled weakly. “Hello, Lt. Tubman,” I smiled back, held your hand and kissed you.
Dr. Crusher cleared her throat and left. I leaned over you on the sickbay bed, your face was blue from the near asphyxiation and your lips were chapped but you'd be fine. The next day, I officially entered you in the personnel roster as Lt. Tubman, gave you rank, quarters and a work shift in the archive division. But you never went to your room but mine.
You sang to me, took off my VISOR and guided my hands around your body. You chased me around the room. You beat me with pillows. You laughed as you put on my VISOR and gave me orders. Later, you sat with me in the night and heard how as a child in the African Union, my parent's house caught fire, I was trapped inside and I thought I was going to die.
I confessed that on the Daedalus Ring, I was paralyzed with fear when the fire filled the control room and I heard my parents yelling even though they have been dead for years. You kissed my broken eyes and listened to my fear of being captain of the Enterprise and the weight of thousands lives on my mind and how I punished myself by not sleeping and gulping energy pills.
And I listened to your body with my blind hands, feeling old pain in your muscles when you described seeing a slave you knew, hung on a tree, his genitals cut off and given to bystanders as tokens. I felt you wince when you described the gang rape in the barn. Later you climbed on top of me and rode me as if to pound out the memory of their invasion of you, you rode me from that pain into the present and were back in your body, filled with bliss. We climaxed together, stroked each other’s faces, laughed and cried and collapsed down, down, down.
You told me of feeling like a vagabond, of how your father was scared of your intelligence and temper and beat you because you could put your family in danger. I told you of never being at home in the world, of seeing through everyone, to the chemicals lighting up their bodies and knowing they saw me as a freak.
Finally, one night, I said to you, “Harriet the Civil War and the 13th Amendment are going to happen with or without you. The repairs are almost done. You can stay with me and we'll go to the 24thCentury together.” We pulled the sheets over us, knotted ours limbs, said we were matter and anti-matter, entangled particles bound for all of time, a love five hundred years old. A week later, I finished a repair shift in engineering, nano-cables looped around my arm and a utility belt on my hips when Diana rushed up to me in the hallway.
“So we have a Lt. Tubman,” she tried to step in front of me but I swerved around and kept going.
“Captain she has to go back to Earth,” Diana said louder, “The ship is almost ready and the time when she is supposed to reach the free state is coming up.”
“Counselor, I don’t need your advice,” I said over my shoulder and kept walking fast, straight and forward. “She can’t stay Geordi,” she cupped her mouth to boom her voice, “You know she can’t stay.”
Two days later, Diana sent me a recording of you in the hallway, playing your guitar for crew members who gave you holodeck credits in return. “THIS IS A PROBLEM,” Diana wrote in the message and I wrote back, “FUCK OFF.”
Later I got a message from you, “My entangled particle, come to the holodeck.” It was between shifts and the Enterprise was sleep-quiet, only a background hum filled the halls. The holodeck doors opened and I saw you kicking your soapy legs, in a swimming pool sized bathtub brimming over with bubbles. You waved me to join you and I jumped in, uniform on. “My captain,” you smiled.
But when I went to the bridge, I felt a rising tension in the crew. They had questions in their eyes but silenced them. They lingered after I gave an order as if to say something but swallowed it. Shift after shift, I felt it until Beverly asked to speak to me privately. We walked into my ready room.
“Captain,” she said, “The crew is scared.”
“Why,” I said and sat in Picard’s chair feeling the power to distance myself from everything but my own whims.
“Captain you know why,” she thumbed her forehead, “People are talking about your affair with Harriet, not a lot but enough and it scares them because the longer she stays on the ship, the more in danger you put our history. They’re scared that when we go home, they will disappear because our timeline has changed. They just don’t say it because they respect you so much, especially after you defended us against the Romulans.”
I silently glared at her. “Captain please,” she begged and I felt her voice thaw out a strange coldness inside me and began to nod. “I understand Dr. Crusher,” I said, “I know what I have to do.”
“Beverly,” she offered, “It’s Beverly, come on, we’ve known each other for years.”
“I love her.”
“We know,” she said and held my shoulder, “We know.”
Later that night, I came to my room and saw you, Harriet, standing inside, hair in queenly braids and wearing a Starfleet uniform. We studied each other silently and then I sat down in front of you. I did not say anything but told you with my eyes of the immense sorrow I felt. You sat down to.
“I have to go back,” you said. I felt tears and blinked them back, I reached out my hand; you held it then took off my VISOR and caressed my face. "I’m so sorry,” I said.
“I’m not. I love you so much,” you said, “And I love this world. No one has cursed me or hurt me. No one looked at me bad. I walked the halls and felt free to be me, to talk and touch without fear. It was like heaven. And almost as high up." You looked out of my window to the stars. "And most of all, I love you and if going back to that world means you get to be born and not be called black and hurt and this world can come to be then I want to go," you sat next to me, "I want to look at the night sky and see the stars and know I am one of the reasons you’ll be flying to them someday.”
I openly wept and gripped you as you, Harriet, held me. Later I woke up and began to dress, put on my VISOR. “Where you going,” you asked.
“In a few days, we jump back to the 24th Century,” I said, “And tonight is our celebration. A big dance is going on. Why don’t you come?”
“What kind of music,” you asked.
“Umm, house music,” I said, “It was a form that began the late 20th Century and somehow just lasted. We joke around that the only thing that survived World War Three was cockroaches and house music.”
“I’ll pass,” you said, “But come back soon, we still have some time before I go back.”
I smiled and left, walking the halls to the biggest holodeck on the ship, it could fit the whole crew and it’s where we held mass gatherings. The doors opened and everyone writhed to music, it was the surface of the sun program and the harder our feet stomped the floor, the higher the solar flares that looped far above us and rained down as gold colored plasma. Most of the crew were topless, many were naked; quite a few were on hallucinogens, eyes dilated like black balloons, feet and arms driving on the relentless rhythms.
They clapped me on the back, smiled and hugged me. Wild joy shined on their faces. They knew we were going home. The music lowered and a space opened around me, a thousand pairs of eyes stared at me, asking in an animal way for the Word. I waved my arms above my head and said, “When I first became captain, I was scared, so were many of you. But today, we stand on the precipice of going home. And I can tell you, my family, I was proud to serve you and look forward to giving back this command.”
The laughed and I waited until it ebbed, “Soon everyone on this ship,” and your face, Harriet rose in my mind, “Every one of us will be going home.” My shoulders fell and head slumped as they cheered and the music shot up again, sweaty crew members lifted their hands and danced.
I cut my way through the crowd, left the holodeck, made my way to my quarters and when the door opened, I saw your Starfleet uniform on the bed. “Harriet,” I called out, “Harriet where are you.”
I knew you weren’t there but looked anyway, “No, no, no, no, no.” Grabbing the uniform, I smelled your peach odor and ran out of my room, down the hall, took the Jeffrey Tube up to the teleport station. Chief O’ Brian was on duty and glanced at me, then down at his hands.
“Where she’d go,” I demanded, “Tell me!”
“Captain…” he said, “She said it was better this way.”
“Chief,” I pointed at the door, “Out. Now.”
He left and I checked the log, programmed the timer, replaced my VISOR with contacts and put on a slave’s clothes, jumped on the telepad and closed my eyes. I felt the familiar swirl of energy and when I looked again, I was staring at the flatlands of southern Pennsylvania.
“Harriet,” I yelled, “Harriet!”
I heard laughter behind me and when I turned, a face swooped too close, too fast. He had a jackal like smile and then a thud on my head. I fell into a black hole.
All Night Forever
“Damn good night.”
“Lost one nigger, got another one.”
“We aint got papers”
“We got cash that’s all the paper we need.”
Where am I – My hands are tied – What are those two saying – They think I’m a slave – I looked around and saw others bound, my low resolution contacts translated their neuro-chemicals into color, hate made them look white like spirits from the afterlife trapped on earth. But whenever the slave-traders said, “nigger”, it re-ignited rage that my contacts saw as red. The word seemed like gasoline thrown on a fire, every man and woman I scanned had bright rage buried in their brain under fear.
“The new one’s awake,” one of the traders said and pointed at me, “Where you from nigger?”
I didn’t say anything; I had to leave as little a trace on this world as possible. A word, a gesture, a single displacement could send a wave of transformation through time.
“I asked you a question,” he snarled and kicked me in the chest, “You think this one’s simple?”
“Naw, jus’ scared,” the other said, “Niggers get scared when they first get snatched. A few months in the field, some whippings and he’ll sing you opera if you ask him.”
They laughed and it sounded like ice being broken. When I saw their jaws moving, I saw death hungry and waiting to eat. The other slaves tried to snuff out the questions in my eyes with their own panicked stares. It was as if they said – Don’t look them in the eye. Don’t rile them up or you put us all in danger. Stay low. Speak low. Look low. If you need help, hold on to one of us but don’t raise yourself around them. They will cut us all down.
Glancing at my body, I saw my shirt had been torn off and with it the communicator was gone. My crew could not find me and beam me up. I stared at the sky and imagined the Enterprise flying far above the clouds and wanted to walk its halls again, to sit in my chair, to be in my world.
“Nigger where you from,” the slave trader yelled at me, grabbed me and punched me furiously, the blows rocked my skull. "I done asked you a question,” he yelled, hate and rage flared in his brain, his head lit red and white as if he was in flames. Around me, it was the same. It looked like everyone was on fire, as if we were in Hell. Yanked back and forth, I kept my mouth shut as he punched and punched me down into the dark.
When I woke up, I leaned over and spit out a tooth from swollen lips. Laughter and gunshots cut the air. I looked and saw the slaves standing, a chain hung between them, they were dark silhouettes in front of a fire. And in the inferno was a man screaming as flames crackled over his skin, charring him, his eyes rolled up in agony and mouth stretched like an endless cave until he rocked back and forth then slumped over.
The slave traders took turns shooting his body and afterward, one leaned down and cut his genitals. “Want some nigger dick,” he laughed as he wiggled the penis and tossed it around. Hate rose inside me, I wanted to take a phaser and blast them to ash, I looked around and the slaves again stared at me the same demand – Speak low. Think Low. Look Low. Don’t let them catch you watching them in the eye. Don’t get us all thrown in that fire. Don’t get us killed.
In the morning, they had us shuffle in chains to a market where a raucous crowd gripped money and shouted. My feet were sore, my hands ached, my teeth were loose but I could run nowhere, hide nowhere because my skin made me a moving target, I wanted to rip it off and disappear.
We sat in the pen. A slave scooted over to me and asked, “Where from?” But I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t risk wrecking the timeline, so I stared into my hands.
“You new,” he asked with a gentle tone, forgiveness already in his eyes if I chose not to answer. “No worries,” he leaned over and forced me to look at him, “Whatever happens you remember your name. No care what they call you, remember your home name, the one family love you with.”
He scooted away and I felt his words sink into me and realign my emotions. Seeing the slumped shoulders of those chained with me, I knew where you, Harriet, got your strength from, how it wasn’t just yours alone but carried through time by our people. And then I realized I used the words, “Our people.”
“Get out darkie,” the slave trader hauled me up and shoved me across the yard to the auction block. Whites in hats, dresses and suits yelled out to the auctioneer higher and higher numbers. Another man, plied my lips, yanked at my genitals, swatted my limbs with his stick to point at my muscle tone. I felt his fingers invading me and hated they stain it left on my body, as if he stole whole swaths of me and soiled it so bad, I didn’t even want it back anymore.
“His name is Toby ladies and gentleman,” he rattled off numbers, “Going for $400 dollars.”
“420 says the man from Westbrook,” he shouted, “Any other calls. Turn around Toby, let them see your calves.”
I didn’t turn, just stared like a knife at him. He ordered me to turn again but I spat on the ground and stared at him. The desire to kill bubbled in my mouth like acid. Silence fell like a curtain on the crowd. White men jumped on-stage and when they touched me, I snapped and kicked them, wrapped the chain around one man’s neck and twisted it like a tourniquet until his tongue popped out. Dragging back and forth, I tried to snap his neck bone and the rage pulsed through me was joy. And then they locked my arms and legs down, carried me to a post; strung me up as a crowd gathered around.
“Toby is your name nigger,” an overseer said behind me, “Say it. Say your name is Toby.”
I sucked my mouth in. A searing pain ran across my back, a crack and a burning in its wake. They’re whipping me, these fuckers are whipping me – I thought but my mind shattered with the next whip crack, a slicing pain, crisscrossing the first opened my back.
“Say your name,” he yelled, “Say TOBY!”
I breathed long and slow, focusing myself to feel through the terror and not say a word. The timeline –I thought – Have to protect our timeline.
Another whip crack, a new wave of pain overlapped the last one. My body glowed with hurt. He whipped and whipped, digging into my shoulders, my arms, my back and with each strike, I rocked back and forth on the post, face smashed against the wood pole as I blinked in and out of consciousness.
“TOBY,” he ordered, “Say your name. It’s a good name. When the master gives you something, you take it. Now what’s your name?”
I stayed silent and another whip strike lit my flesh like a match dragged until it ignites. I screamed and screamed, he whipped and whipped. It seemed the louder I yelled the more he struck me until I felt blood washing down my legs, mixing with the dirt at my feet that I slid around in.
“Say your name,” he demanded but it sounded like it came from a great distance, “TOBY, say it, say your name!” The sun seemed to grow brighter and hotter, I felt my thoughts crumble and I tried to hold them together.
When I woke up, I was in a pen, hands bound, my back sizzling with pain. No one was with me. A cool air blew through cracks in the walls. I’m going to die here – I thought.
It was better that I die then destroy the timeline. Looking at my shoe, I knew there was a cyanide pill in the heel. It would be quick to swallow and it would be necessary. I began using one foot to pull off the shoe from the other when a swirl of energy surrounded me. When it faded, I was on the telepad, in the Enterprise. Beverly rushed to me, injecting me with painkillers as her staff cut off my shirt and hauled me on to a gurney. As they rolled me out, Worf and Data appeared on both sides of me.
“My name is Geordi,” I said to them, “My name is Geordi.”
The Captain’s Return
While I was in sickbay, Captain Picard woke up, was diagnosed as fit to serve and visited me. “Captain,” I said from the bed, smiling weakly, “The ship is yours again.”
“Giordi,” he smiled, “We have a lot to talk about. Report to my ready room when you're fit for duty.” When he left, Beverly came up to me, “You should be good to go by tomorrow. How do you feel?”
“A little stiff,” I smirked, “But relieved.”
“The computer noticed an odd coincidence,” her voice lifted and she nervously flicked her hair, “You and Harriet Tubman have shared DNA.”
It hit me like a bright camera flash. Slowly, words fell back in place. “Does that mean,” I began.
“Harriet Tubman is your great-great-great-great-great and more greats than I can say, grandmother. She is your ancestor which raises certain questions.”
“But how,” I fumbled.
“I think we know how,” she laid a hand on my shoulder, “You should talk with the captain.” The next day, I went to the Captain’s Ready Room; he was waiting for me, sipping on Earl Grey tea. We studied each other, knowing my Starfleet career was hanging by a thread.
“Giordi,” he motioned for me to sit, “You saved humanity. Not many people can say that for themselves.”
I nodded, my fingers played on me knee. I was waiting for him to say the words court marshaled. “Giordi I understand we had a very special visitor,” he said.
“Yes we did captain.”
“And you know about the Temporal Prime Directive.”
“Yes I do captain.”
“And how seriously Starfleet takes keeping our timeline safe.”
“You should also know,” he stood up, “Of a special protocol that only those in the captain’s chair are privy to.” He smiled at me, “Computer, captains’s protocal, delete all records of patient 1130, crewmember Harriet Tubman and her DNA records.”
“Captain,” I sat up but he waved me to relax. Immense love and gratitude crushed my voice. I stood there, not knowing what to do or say until he reached out his hand. “Giordi,” he said, “You will make a fine captain. And that’s all that anyone in Starfleet needs to know.”
The day we went back through the Daedalus Ring, I watched from the bridge, staring at 19th Century Earth and knowing you, Harriet were on it and that once we crossed, you’d be five hundred years in the past.
It glowed like a giant electric coil and space rippled like a translucent pond, stars bobbed out of place and the Enterprise went through. In less than a second, we were back in the 24th Century, the Daedalus Ring dimmed again, and I stared at Earth, feeling empty, feeling alone.
Later that night, Counselor Troy asked permission to enter. Just knowing she could read my emotions made me feel helplessly transparent. Everything surged up my throat into my voice but I twisted my lips to choke it.
“Beverly says you recovered very well,” she said. “Removed most of the scars,” I said and patted my back, “Some I will carry with me forever.”
Diana sat down as I wrung my hands, trying to hew meaning out of the strangeness inside me.
“On the surface, I was captured by slave traders,” I said, “They took me and tried to sell me. Along the way, I witnessed a brutal lynching of a man and then they put me on the auction block. When I lashed out at them, it felt good. I wanted to kill them for hurting me, for hurting Harriet, for hurting all the people who share my color. But they overwhelmed me, tied me to a post and whipped me.”
“You said that in your report,” Diana confirmed.
“What I didn’t put in the report was that each time he whipped me,” I shifted in my seat, “He demanded that I accept the slave name Toby.”
“But you didn’t,” she said.
“No but I was going to. I was going to say anything to stop the pain,” my hands shook, “But more than that, towards the end, after hours of being whipped and bleeding out and hearing him over and over again, I truly believed my name was Toby.”
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