Time Travel in Star Trek: Prodigy (PRO)

"Temporal what?" (Rok-Tahk, PRO: "Time Amok")


PRO: Time Amok

The temporal anomalies in "Time Amok" come about by a tachyon storm that affects gravity on the USS Protostar, which in turn destabilizes the protostar drive. A temporal ripple travels through the ship, isolating the single crew members in their own time frames and leaving Janeway as the only connection. Moreover, a core breach of the protostar drive is about to happen. Jankom Pog's passage through time is so fast that the ship explodes immediately after he states that there are still ten minutes left. Rok-Tahk, on the other hand, is on a so much slowed down level that she has many days, possibly months to fix the engine core. Depending on which reference we define "fast" and "slow", we may want to switch it because, if they could see each other, Pog would stand still from Rok-Tahk's point of view, while she would move around at incredible, maybe imperceptible speeds for him. However, I will stick to the nomenclature from the episode in the following.

Although it is a show for kids, the temporal effects in "Time Amok" are tricky and don't allow swift conclusions. The story is reminiscent of VOY: "Shattered". The two have in common that each of the characters only exists in exactly one time frame. In the Voyager episode, Chakotay could travel from one frame to another. In the Prodigy episode, it is Janeway whose program is adjusted to operate in every frame. It looks like her consciousness exists in only one frame after another at a time. But since she is a piece of software, this may be a matter of interpretation.

The effect of the temporal phenomenon in "Time Amok" is explained as different speeds at which time passes. This too sounds familiar because much the same happened in TOS: "Wink of an Eye" and in TNG: "Timescape". Moreover, Rok-Tahk has plenty of time to fix the ship thanks to her being on the slowest level, in a similar fashion as Spock did in the TOS episode.

The question whether there is a real time travel in "Time Amok" and whether someone or something actually went to the past is not immediately obvious. In "Shattered", it was very clear that Chakotay traveled back and forth through time, although it remained uncertain if he could have changed the past because his main concern was to put the ship back together. There was no time travel at all in "Wink of an Eye", but time simply passed at different speeds. Finally, in "Timescape", time's arrow was reversed only occasionally, for a few seconds, which was plot-driven to avert the warp core breach. In "Time Amok", the existence of the Janeway hologram on every level somehow allows a transfer of information between all these instances of Janeway. The "fast" Janeway, who is with Jankom Pog, stays with him all the time until the ship explodes. The Janeway of a different, "slower" time level, where the disaster has not yet occurred, knows what happened or what would happen because it is the same program. So this is some sort of a time travel indeed because information is sent to the past.

The question may arise whether the Protostar splits up, or whether it would rather remain the very same physical environment and only the characters experience the different passages of time. In the VOY episode it was a major issue how the ship could possibly exist as a fraction of itself, with other sections and other crew members being at a different time in a wholly different region of space. This dilemma shattered its credibility. In TOS and TNG, on the other hand, it was always clear that everything and everyone existed only once. The latter is also the case in "Time Amok". Janeway explicitly states that everyone is still on the same ship, although the illustration she shows to Rok-Tahk looks a bit like copies of the Protostar separated in time. If there is only one ship, the communication between the Janeways would be plausible, after all they would all be one and the same holographic system that tunes the speed of its user interface. Still, it would have to include a transmission of information to the past, either inside the ship's computer itself or through the internal sensors.

There is solid evidence of a "nominal" time level in the episode. When Pog says he has ten minutes left and the engine blows up immediately after his words, it is clear that his passage of time is accelerated relative to a reference, in which the engine core itself and probably the whole ship resides. Rok-Tahk, in contrast, is on a time level that is considerably slower than the ship. So for all intents and purposes, the ship is on the nominal level, and it's ten minutes until the core explodes. Additionally, the damped sine wave that Zero draws up shows how fast time passes for everyone on the ship. It almost looks like time possesses a wave function. Although it doesn't hold up to further scrutiny, this is quite an ambitious concept for a TV show for kids. Anyway, Pog is far above the centerline of that curve near the first maximum, Rok-Tahk is below it in the first minimum. I take it the centerline denotes the nominal ship level. This doesn't really work out mathematically (at least not with a linear y-scale), but it nicely illustrates that there is just one ship, and that only the characters are off. The issue why only characters are affected by the phenomenon, and not technology, remains unanswered though.

Let us look next at what happens with time when Rok-Tahk fixes the engine core. First of all, the warp matrix does more than simply avert the core breach; by stabilizing the protostar drive it also removes the root cause for the split and makes the time levels converge again. Let us assume that everything that happens in terms of time travel is that Gwyn sends the information about the pending warp core breach and the schematics back in time to Rok-Tahk. The little girl now has lots of time left to build and install the warp matrix until the ship explodes in her own frame, which is simultaneous with all other frames and a bit less than ten minutes away in nominal time. But here is a problem: The ship has evidently already exploded in Gwyn's time frame, as we can see in her message to Rok-Tahk. Gwyn's frame is below the y-axis that is meant to denote the frame of the ship, and hence slower than nominal too. Consequently, the ship has been destroyed in nominal time as well. The question is to which state the Protostar would be restored if not to the nominal one. We see (probably from Rok-Tahk's viewpoint, because only on her level the ship still exists) how the Protostar changes to another state as timelines are combined again, but we can't tell what time it is now. My best guess is that the ship would appear like the version that exists or existed in nominal time, at the very instant in her time when Rok-Tahk undoes the effect. Yet, this doesn't really work out on all accounts. We see how the mess that Rok-Tahk created is cleaned up in an instant but she is still in engineering with the warp matrix. So some things are reverted to how they should be and some are not.

As for the characters, if the activation triggers an immediate convergence of the single time levels, it should bring back the "fast" Jankom Pog from a time when he was trying to fix the warp core, and everyone else from a respective later time in their own perception. It initially looks just like that, as Dal is in his quarters again (he was a bit "faster" than nominal and may not yet have reached the time he would be apprised of the situation by Janeway, considering how very "slow" Rok-Tahk was).

So, how is it possible that Jankom Pog, Zero, Gwyn and Dal remember their own deaths? For one thing, this would be biologically impossible, unless they are all somehow revived by the time anomaly. Only if we neglect this issue, we may find a possible alternate explanation in the explosion, that may constitute a special instant, and could be the actual point of convergence. So from Jankom Pog's viewpoint he may just die in the explosion when Rok-Tahk's repair some time in the ship's past takes effect and transfers him to a new common timeline that starts just now in his perception. In other words, there could be a time reset indeed, one that effectively takes place when the ship explodes or would explode. Overall, however, going by the visual evidence it seems more plausible that the memories of their deaths are just some kind of echoes, a bit like in TNG: "Cause and Effect".

As in all stories with characters on accelerated or on slowed down time levels, there are the usual issues with red shift and blue shift of radiation (such as from light sources or from computer interfaces) and with temperature, which are already discussed in the articles on "Wink of an Eye" and "Timescape". Jankom Pog, for instance, wouldn't see a red alert when the engine is going to blow up, but an X-ray alert because everything around him happens so awfully fast. The tool that Janeway tosses to demonstrate how slow everything is would have to be infrared for Rok-Tahk, and everything else on the ship as well. "Time Amok" seems to raise the additional question why no one among the crew can see anyone else. But perhaps Rok-Tahk, for instance, is just too blue-shifted to be seen?

Overall, this episode is quite a treat as temporal phenomena are concerned.

More on a side note, according to producer Aaron J. Waltke, the stardate at the beginning of the episode (607125.6) is off due to the proximity to the time anomaly (and to foreshadow things to come).

Classification: multiple time frames with different passages of time

PRO: A Moral Star II

In PRO: "A Moral Star II", the Diviner reveals to Gwyndala that he is a time traveler from the future. Some 50 years after the first contact of his homeworld Solum with the Federation, which has not yet taken place as of 2384, the planet is in ruins after a civil war, or so he says. The Diviner travels back in time to avert the first contact, and also to take revenge for something that has not yet happened but for which he blames Starfleet.

It is uncertain at this point how much the Diviner has already changed history. He is responsible for kidnapping the "Unwanted" and making them work in the mines on Tars Lamora, to find the USS Protostar that was buried beneath the surface. Also, Gwyn wouldn't exist without him.

We know from "Kobayashi" that Gwyn was born some 17 years ago in our timeline, which would be around 2367. So the Diviner, who came from at least 50 years into the future, must have traveled back in time at least 17 more years. The same likely applies to the USS Protostar that he has been searching for all along. In any case, for obvious reasons the ship can't have gone on the mission under Captain Chakotay prior to Voyager's return from the Delta Quadrant in 2378. It is still unknown at this time of the series how it happened, but it seems that after the Diviner initially hijacked the Protostar, someone or something must have triggered the ship's time travel, upon which it crashed and he lost track of it.

Classification: past incursion of so far uncertain extent

PRO: Preludes

This episode clarifies the sequence of events and establishes that the Protostar initially traveled to the future and was not intercepted by the Diviner in the present. Anyway, the whole story goes like this, in the logical order of events:

About Chakotay's timeline, we know from "Asylum" that he went on his mission some time before that episode and that he is already missing by now (2384).We can't tell exactly how many years the Protostar traveled to the future. The Diviner speaks of 50 years in "A Moral Star II", but that may just as well refer to the time until he himself entered the wormhole on the search for the ship.

The sequence of events with two directions of time travels is a bit more complex than previously assumed, but overall makes sense. It seems that as long as the various Vau N'Akat that go back in time only change the history of the region of space they arrive in and leave Solum alone, we need not worry about the grandfather paradox. It may still be a remote and/or isolationist planet in 2384. On the other hand, now that the Diviner and the Vindicator are about to be uncovered, it likely has consequences for the mission that may or may not establish first contact decades into the future. Also, if it is not possible to destroy the Federation, maybe it would be a good idea to warn Solum (or Starfleet), considering that any outcome would be better than a destroyed civilization?

The question if and how the time-traveling Vau N'Akat accounted for the grandfather paradox in case they succeeded may be a minor issues because "temporal shielding" is quite a common concept in Trek's time travel stories.

Classification: time travel to the future and past incursion

PRO: Supernova II

After the explosion of the USS Protostar, an officer replays a message that was sent by Chakotay 52 years in the future and that arrived through a wormhole created by that very explosion. He shows two graphic representations of wormholes, the one that originally caused the USS Protostar under Chakotay to travel to the future and the one caused by the ship's explosion. They are congruent.

The exact congruence of the two spatial phenomena has to be considered artistic license. Still, it is a totally incredible coincidence that the two wormholes could be match, considering the huge number of variables involved. It may make some more sense only if variables were dominant that could be the same, for instance if the first wormhole had been created by the Protostar as well (rather than having an external origin).

Interestingly, Chakotay's timeline is explicitly called an "alternate future" in the episode. Considering that the actions of the Diviner and the Vindicator have definitely changed the past, including the destruction of many Starfleet ships, Chakotay may arrive on a totally different Solum, under the assumption that first contact between the Federation and the planet will not happen or will be completely different.

Classification: Possible past incursion


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