I found David Dvorkin’s Timetrap, first published in 1988, in the bottom of a moving box last week. Its cover features a particularly young and dewy-looking Kirk standing next to a woman with an incredibly impressive eyebrow in front of a fleet of Klingon Birds of Prey. The story is a subtle blend of problems: it deals with what is true and what seems to be true, with how we see the dangers around us, with the relationship between the Klingons and the Federation, and with the way the world changes over time. And my sister describes the plot as “completely bananapants.”
The basic premise of Timetrap is that Kirk is kidnapped by Klingons who try to convince him that he has travelled in time to 100 years in the future, and must return to his present with them to play a crucial role in brokering the Great Peace which will bring the Klingons and the Federation together. This, they helpfully remind him, will be the beginning of the alliance the Organians predicted back in “Errand of Mercy.” Kirk and Kor were both skeptical about it then, because they hated each other’s guts and were dedicated to depriving each other of control of Organia. As that episode reminds us, things are not always as they seem. The Klingons would like to remind Kirk of this, because their master plan—which is world-spanningly epic—is contingent upon things seeming to be other than they are. The Empire has invested a great deal of time in cultivating illusions—for example, the illusion of time travel. They didn’t go anywhen. How did they convince Kirk they did? Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.
Kirk got himself kidnapped in the middle of an attempt to rescue the crew of a Klingon ship that was caught in some kind of space storm thing near Tholian Space. He and a security team beamed aboard the Klingon vessel, the Mauler, to attempt to rescue the crew because they believed the ship was breaking up. Instead, it completely disappeared. And then Kirk woke up on a Klingon base, where Klingon commander Morith explained “what had happened.” Kirk feels surprisingly well for a man who’s been through a shaky extraction from a damaged ship in Tholian space. His apparent health seems like it could be evidence of Klingon claims to possess advanced medical technology, or alternately, like some fairly intense painkillers. Kirk believes in option one, partly because a lot of things make sense when you’re on fairly intense painkillers. For those gaps the drugs can’t fill, Morith introduces Kirk to Kalrind, the woman who will be his new Klingon girlfriend.
Morith and Kalrind claim to be New Klingons, a group that has worked to achieve peace and suppress the aggressive nationalist impulses of the Old Klingons in favor of their enlightened acceptance of space internationalism. They claim to have been in power in the Klingon Empire for most of the century since Kirk hopped forward to their time. They’re still Klingons—they assert that a segment of the population still has warlike impulses—they still play klin zha—but they’re ashamed of the aggression that characterized Klingon culture of centuries past, and they’re past that now! They’ve got Ayleborne the Organian along for the ride to show that their intentions are truly sincere. Ayleborne may be the only character involved in this plot who isn’t drugged, because he’s also not there. Pro tip: If your super-advanced species looks like a cheap special effect, it is tragically easy to impersonate using cheap special effects.
In fact, the Klingons don’t have any special medical technology. They haven’t even patched Kirk back together very well. We will later discover that he’s roaming around—punching Klingons, taking walks, having sex—with massive internal injuries, but too high on painkillers to notice. He experiences periods of energy and euphoria followed by periods of inexplicable fatigue. He does not report any symptoms of physical trauma, including obvious contusions, abrasions, fractures, lacerations, or pain. Given McCoy’s later report on the extent of his injuries, I have to think he’s just failing to notice—our boy Jimmy is easily distracted by the ladies.
Kirk falls for Kalrind pretty hard, and finds himself surprised by “the strength and depth of his feelings for her.” Which is what they call it in the 24th century, I guess. Kalrind alleges that she is a Klingon historian. She has many, many questions for Kirk, because she’s so intensely curious about the past. Like historians are. The documents available in the Klingon archives are tragically incomplete, even after a century of sharing information with the Federation. She has a lot of gaps to fill.
If there is one thing I resent about the historians of the future proposed by the Star Trek universe, it is their failure to pursue any kind of coherent analytical perspective. They are obsessed with efforts to clarify the details of the historical narrative, which is not a horrible or worthless project, it’s just also not the sole purpose of the field—it’s overly simplistic. If you’re ever trying to figure out if someone who claims to be a historian from the future is telling the truth, all you really need to do is ask her about her dissertation. If the answer sounds like “I explained some stuff that happened” you are not talking to an actual historian (or at least, not talking to an actual historian who has any interest in having a conversation with you). We’ve already established why Kirk isn’t doing this—my best guess is that the Klingons have discovered heroin. Why is Kalrind doing this? Again, drugs.
To make a Klingon woman fall in love with, and appear lovable to, Captain James T. Kirk, you need a lot of drugs. Kalrind, we will ultimately discover, is up to her amazing unibrow in something mood-altering. This mysterious substance is also responsible for implanting her memories and personality, so I can’t compare it to a 21st century Terran product.
Although the strategies involved are limited, the scope of the Klingons’ plan is vast. Not only do they have a ship full of Klingons who have been drugged so that normal Klingons social interactions don’t alarm Kirk, they have Klingon agents spread throughout the Federation. These agents were smuggled into place and given identification papers hailing from the locations of conflicts and natural disasters that destroyed local records, rendering their identifications difficult to verify (If this seems like a twisted future argument for “extreme vetting,” please be assured that they all posed as citizens of the Federation). Like Kalrind, the Klingon agents in the Federation are using mood-controlling drugs, this time to help them pass as human. This led me to assume that everyone Dvorkin described as short-tempered was a secret Klingon—an assumption which, alas, was not borne out within the pages of the novel. I’m still convinced it’s true though. The Federation has been pretty thoroughly infiltrated, up to the highest levels. I’m not real clear on where those Klingon agents are getting their drugs. I infer that the Klingons are also into trafficking.
Like all good science fiction, Timetrap deals with the historical context of its creation just as much as the imagined future of its setting. The combination of the cultural masochism with a plot clearly intended to show young fans how drugs will make them sell out to the Klingons resonates with the era of “Just Say No!” and concerns about the future health of the East German women’s swim team (and to be fair, my memory of those concerns comes entirely from the 1994 movie, Junior). It also opens up a series of fascinating questions for readers now. Questions like “How does one carry out covert surgical repairs on a patient with internal abdominal injuries?” I thought the attending physician’s explanation for anesthesia was weak, but the lethargy caused by the patient’s internal bleeding limited the need for pre-operative counterintelligence measures. For obvious reasons, surgery itself was not described in the patient’s report, but the surgeon probably used a laparoscopic approach to minimize scarring at the incision site. The patient was permitted to over-exert himself during post-operative recovery, leading to re-injury; This, in combination with serious ethical concerns, suggests that covert approaches to trauma surgery should be used only when all other non-fatal options have been exhausted and consent can be obtained from a third party who takes responsibility for the patient’s post-operative care.
I am pleased to report that my children found my dinner table conversation about this book very enlightening, and now we all know where our spleens are—the most fun we have had with a Star Trek novel since I bribed them to eat pizza crust-first as part of the research for my review on Vonda McIntyre’s novelization of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Sometimes a plot that’s completely bananapants is the best kind.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.