“Now will never come again”: Time's Arrow


Writing fanfiction was probably the earliest way I ever dynamically or critically interacted with media. I guess I always found it the most intuitive and instinctual to express ideas and concepts through the voices of particular characters. Perhaps it's something like Lwaxana Troi said in “Cost of Living”: All those little people who live inside of us, each of them voicing a different facet of ourselves. I suppose part and parcel of being the sort of person who undertakes a project of this scope and magnitude is that these particular characters, or at least versions of them shaped by my own perspectives, readings, interpretations and projections, are always going to live inside of me.

In a sense, this is nothing more than an extension of the way we read. The overall impact a text is going to have on you is largely contingent on the positionality you bring to the text itself. When we're talking about speculative fiction, we're talking about a genre that, perhaps more than any other, is designed to stimulate and inspire imaginations. And a hallmark of storytelling has always been its mutability: That multiple storytellers can and do take familiar characters and stories and tell them in different ways, bringing something a little bit new and different along with a piece of themselves into the tapestry of myth.

“Time's Arrow” is a good episode. More of a straightforward adventure story than maybe some other episodes, but well done. The two things that have always stuck with me are the Devidians themselves and the part at the beginning when the time travel stuff is first introduced, which dovetails into what's actually a quite good allegory for mortality for what it is (Deanna rather aptly uses the term “terminal illness”, and her cute little imitation of Data is another sign of her current status as a character because that's not at all Deanna Troi, but it's pure Marina Sirtis). It's a fitting way to close off a season that's dealt so heavily with time travel (indeed, time becoming unbound, which will return with aplomb next season), death, the afterlife and counterfactual alternate realities exiting simultaneously and coming into contact.

So here's a small alternate reality of my own. When I was watching the scene where Geordi and Data are talking in ten forward about Data's imminent death, I still had “The Next Phase” fresh in my mind, so my thoughts drifted back to Laren and how she might take all of this. And then all of a sudden, this exchange popped into my mind. Laren isn't in “Time's Arrow”, but this is something I thought she might say given everything that's been going on lately. I imagine this scene taking place just before the one between Geordi and Data. I swear this isn't even the kind of fanfiction I normally like to write-I typically couldn't care less about filling in blanks in aired stories or adhering to the televised canon of events too terribly much, and I actually surprised myself that I came up with this. But it's an exchange I felt compelled to write, for whatever that's worth.

Geordi is sitting alone at the bar. He's clearly pensive, trying to work through the events of the past few days. Trying to figure out what to think and what to say. From behind him in the background, Ro enters and takes notice of Geordi. She stops herself in her tracks, hesitates for a moment, then moves into the foreground. She comes up to Geordi. 
Do you mind if I join you?
Oh...Hi, Ro. Sure.
I hope I'm not intruding or anything-You look like you'd rather be alone. But, well...You also look like someone who wants someone to think they'd rather be alone, but secretly hopes that will get that person to come talk to them anyway. Now I could be wrong...But Guinan tells me that nobody comes to Ten Forward to be alone.
Ro sits down across from Geordi and looks straight at him. He turns away from her, shakes his head and grins.
Well, I guess you've got me figured.
I speak from experience. Trust me.
They are silent for a beat as they look down at their drinks. It's Ro who speaks up first.
I heard about Data. I'm so sorry-We were all his friends, but I know you were really close with him and...
Ro suddenly catches herself and realises what she's saying.
“Were”? Listen to me, going on in the past tense. He's not even dead yet and here I go talking like he's already gone.
Don't worry-This has been hard on all of us. But yeah...Data was the first friend I made on the Enterprise. We met working together on the bridge...
He thinks for a moment, and tries to force joviality to lighten the mood, however briefly.
I used to have your job, actually-Did you know that?
You were a pilot...? I know Captain Picard said he met you piloting a shuttlecraft, but...
Yeah...Started out as one, but always wanted to work with propulsion. Was lucky enough to make chief engineer our second year out.
A beat, as they both realise this tangent isn't going to take.
You know, what always struck me about Data is that for someone who claims to have no human emotions or desires, from the beginning he always seemed to have such...an imagination. He sees things differently, hell, probably better than anyone else, but he's always eager to learn from us. He probably doesn't consider himself an artist, but he is – He's always trying so hard to express himself and share what he sees...Sometimes in spite of himself.
Maybe that's why you get along with him so well.
He does not pick up on the message she's trying to send him. He continues
It's like...You build up so much of your life used to always being around some people. You're with them every day, coming and going and living, day to day. I guess you could say you almost take it for granted. And then suddenly...They're not there anymore. I guess it makes you think.
I've been thinking about it a lot lately too. I mean, we've been dead. That's bound to change your perspective, right? But I was also thinking about the Captain's experience with the Ktaan probe.
Really? What about it?
I was listening to him in sickbay talking about this...whole other life he had lived. For years, decades. Do you remember what he told us he had told his daughter...well, I guess it would really be Kamin's daughter...when they found out their sun was going to go supernova? He told her to “seize the time”. To “make now always the most precious time”.
There is a beat, and she continues
My people believe it's very important for the dead to make peace with their past lives. I'm starting to believe we can do that when we're still alive. I think Kamin was right. Maybe we all need to remember to always live in the now, and to treasure the time we spend with each other for what it brings us, because those moments will never come again.
Geordi considers Ro and her words for a time, then smiles.
People come in and out of our lives all the time, and each one has something to teach us. I guess it's up to us to make the most of whatever time together we have.
It looks like he's about to say something to her, but then Data enters from behind them. Ro notices him, and gets up to leave.
I'd better get going.
Wait, Laren...I'm going to be free again in a couple hours. Maybe...we could get together to check out a holodeck program or visit Miles and Keiko in the arboretum or something?
She looks down at him and smiles.
I'm going off-duty at 0700. See you then?
With that, she turns to leave, gently squeezing his shoulder on her way out. She passes Data, who looks at her quizzically before moving into the foreground to the bar. As Data comes up to Geordi, Ro moves into the background and leaves ten forward, the doors closing behind her.


K. Jones 5 years, 1 month ago

Of course, they had to end a season with this.

It strikes me a little odd that Time's Arrow is nobody's favorite season ender/opener. I admit it's trying to do a hell of a lot. Not just near Whovian time-travel dynamics, Guinan's bootstrap paradox, Data's mortality (which is ultimately more of a Hitchhiker's Guide scenario), and so on and so on. But this season had to end this way, and there had to be a season ender that focused on Guinan.

One of the first elements I like is the reintroduction of out-of-phase technology, an organic element from "The Next Phase" that we actually see Data and Geordi being a bit savvy with now. But more importantly there it brings that same level of "ghosts" and magic into the narrative.

Strange aliens, we hear them called, but we know that the Devidians are malicious ghosts or spirits or demons, feeding on the souls of dying humans. Dying humans from San Francisco - the heart of the eventual Federation.

And we know that Guinan, a space witch (seriously when Picard comes to see her she's literally crafting a potion and using potionmaking as a metaphor to describe cosmic bootstrap paradoxes - or rather synchronicity, chance, luck, equating ritual with a change in the course of events. Chaos magic.

What is Guinan's interest in the human species? And is it really all that different to the Devidian ghosts? She's a listener. A story-siphoner. Alternately a shaman, dispensing advice alongside tonics to the Enterprise travelers ... and a puckish figure pulling on the strings of their destinies.

This is assuredly another dip into the realms of space magic and faerie-legend before you layer the Who-esque element. But Mark Twain is a wholly appropriate figure to factor in, not just because probably the writer's room are all total Twain fanboys, but because when you're dealing with space devils that eat human souls, well, "who prays for Satan?"

And in the case of Samuel Clemens, one of the early adopters of modern time travel storytelling, one of the ultimate writers of contextually modern parable, well, he's one of Star Trek's forefathers, living in Star Trek's heartland, and so these soul-vampire space ghosts are attacking him, too, in a way.

Mark Twain on witches:
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry.....There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

Mark Twain on travel:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.

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K. Jones 5 years, 1 month ago

The mere mention of a witch was almost enough to frighten us out of our wits. This was natural enough, because of late years there were more kinds of witches than there used to be; in old times it had been only old women, but of late years they were of all ages—even children of eight and nine; it was getting so that anybody might turn out to be a familiar of the Devil—age and sex hadn't anything to do with it. In our little region we had tried to extirpate the witches, but the more of them we burned the more of the breed rose up in their places.

Lovely as he was, Satan could be cruelly offensive when he chose; and he always chose when the human race was brought to his attention. He always turned up his nose at it, and never had a kind word for it.

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Froborr 5 years, 1 month ago

I dunno, I never felt like the Devidians worked here. I think the time travel shenanigans get in the way of the haunting.

The moment at which I realized that STO was actually pretty good, albeit complicatedly problematic (in the original sense of "presenting problems which must be worked through" rather than the more recent sense of "I don't want to call you a bigot, but you're a bigot") was when the Devidians showed up a few hours in, and were UTTERLY TERRIFYING.

Man, after K. Jones' epic comment of amazingness I'm almost embarrassed to post this.

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Josh Marsfelder 5 years, 1 month ago

Don't worry, K makes all of us feel inadequate. Myself included :-)

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Daru 5 years ago

Me too :)

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Daru 5 years ago

I really deeply enjoyed your scene Josh. I feel you just nailed the voices and wanted to continue reading more - well done!

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Josh Marsfelder 5 years ago

That means a lot to hear, thank you!

Perhaps someday I'll write more...

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Daru 5 years ago

I genuinely hope that you do write more Josh as I feel you are able to touch the core of these characters.

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