SPOILERS: If you don’t want to know what happened or what is being surmised in the next episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, READ NO FURTHER.
Your final warning. Turn back, here there be Time Dragons…
Philippa Georgiou, Empress of the Terran Empire has traveled to the future with the crew of the USS Discovery. Upon arrival, she began to suffer from a temporal aphasia which shows that she was out not only out of phase with her Universe, but temporally displaced as well. Having one or the other of the conditions, being temporally displaced or being universally displaced were bearable by an organism.
But with both conditions being met, the Universe attempts to correct itself by erasing the displaced anomaly. Time travelers need to stay in their own Universe if they want to live.
After several periods of mental dysphoria and extreme physical discomfort, Philippa has decided to self-destruct as all good Terrans do when they are approaching the end of their lives. Before she can go out in a blaze of glory, she is offered an opportunity to save herself when Zora (the name the Sphere Data will give itself one day) suggest they travel to a planet and deposit the Empress there.
There is no other explanation other than this will offer her a 5% chance of survival, which is better than 0%.
Traveling by the spore drive, Burnham and Georgiou beam to the planet and meet the enigmatic carl complete with early 20th century appearance, dapper hat and a newspaper with Edith Keeler on it. Just pretend you didn’t see her and you will be fine.
Carl is sitting in front of a door. With no front or back and he begins a series of statements which in and of themselves mean nothing useful. The encounter is similar to the first time the original series Enterprise crew met the Guardian of Time.
- Is Carl the Guardian of Time?
- Is Carl just ONE Guardian of Time?
- Is Carl an artifact of the Temporal Wars?
- Is Carl a Q (or insert other Star Trek god-beings here)
- Is Carl another machine intelligence like Zora, monitoring time?
Who is Carl, Reader of Papers, Wearer of Bowlers?
My supposition is: Carl is an artificial/machine intelligence. I base this supposition in his responses to questions. Almost all of his responses are couched in statements about causality.He also does not seem inclined to support or refute her decision, much like the Guardian did in the past. He does appear to have the capacity to span the inter-reality rift separating the two Universes, denoting VAST power under his control.
Given the vast power necessary to bridge the Universes, the first thought which comes to mind is that Carl could be a Q. But why the pretense of a name? Why the newspaper? Why the trappings of early 20th century Earth? Q has the capacity to help, but not the general motivation. Why send Georgiou back to the past and the parallel Universe? What does it know that we don’t?
For the record, I don’t think he’s a Q. He’s not nearly annoying enough. We also don’t know if the Q can move things and people between realities. To be honest, we don’t know if the Q survived their own challenges all those years ago. Is Carl an unknown unique god-being found thousands of years ago in the Sphere database? If it IS a machine intelligence, it might be helping for its own reasons, recognizing Zora by some unknown form of subspace communication.
Carl is not surprised she is there. Carl knows where she wants to be. He sends her. That is quite a lot of information for an organic to process. The variables alone would be astounding. But if you were a supercomputer on a frozen world used to keep the temperature low and the processing capacity high, maybe you could keep a bootleg doorway to the past open, just in case.
There were Temporal Wars in the 29th to the 31st centuries. Was this an instigator? Was this a provider of bootleg time travel? Was this another device like the Guardian of Time, another super-intelligent result of a species who could travel through time?
Is he the Guardian? Not sure. Since the Guardian’s planet was in the Starfleet database, it should have been mentioned by name. Since no one in the future mentioned it, but they have mentioned the Temporal Wars, so if it WAS the Guardian, they should have already noted it.
But renegade time travel exists in the Star Trek Universe. The Sarpeidons lived on a planet whose star was about to go nova. They created a means of sending their people back in time to distant temporal frames where they could survive the sun’s demise. While their technology may have been gone, the Enterprise did get to scan that technology and it may have gone on to become a piece of what would later initiate the larger Temporal Wars.
The Sarpeidons’ technology was precise, but not magical. Georgiou appears exactly where she thought she should be, exactly at the moment where she could have the most effect on the Terran Empire, the crux point.
The Sarpeidons would have had to travel to that point and observe it. This removes a more organic hand in this analysis. Could the technology have been found by Section 31 and hidden, reverse engineered and then used to spy on the Terran Universe? Possibly. But requires a lot of technological capacity and a bunch of people to remain quiet.
Not my first bet.
My perspectives on the identity of this new temporal player:
Out of story: Scriptwriters are to blame. They needed to get Philippa back home to be in her own series, Section 31. Carl is nothing more than a MacGuffin being used to solve this problem and giving the cast the opportunity to enjoy themselves playing dress up in the bad-ass Terran Universe.
I think it is too bad because she adds a particular perspective the crew of Discovery needs: dynamic pragmatism. Sometimes you are going to have to kick someone’s ass and there is no getting around it. No speechifying, just beating them down and moving on. There’s going to be a need for that when she is gone.
In story: Carl is a friend (assuming machine intelligences engage in friendships like we do) of Zora. It makes sense there would be machine intelligences with the capacity of the Q, who develop amazing technologies and utilize them to study the Universe/Multiverse in their quest for knowledge.
If Zora sent them to Carl, it makes sense it would have knowledge of his behaviors and prediction what might be the outcome of such an interaction. They may have already had this interaction and know of its outcome. In fact, they may have had to arrange this, for the outcome to exist at all. When you live on the edge of causality, act and outcome are not always in the right order which is something Discovery is learning in the future.
Is it possible for Carl to be a Q with more manners and less flash? Certainly. Could it be another god-species (see Trelane or the Organians) making a bid to repair the Universes? Perhaps. Sending Philippa to the past means it can change the entire relationship between the two Universes, because like it or not, Philippa now knows something she didn’t before: The Terran Empire dies a horrible death, not a glorious one.
As strange as it sounds, I believe Philippa has had a taste of a future better than the one she believed was possible. I think she is trying to get it and if Carl or Zora thought that was necessary. They may be more manipulative than the Q ever were.
No matter what happens, I am going to miss Philippa Georgiou and look forward to her revival in her own series, Section 31. She gave me a new appreciation of the merits of the Terran Universe, few though they may be.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.