Author: Anthony Butler and Alan Decker
For everyone in the past, present, and future that made this possible, and for the beautiful fabric of time, which I have kneaded, torn, and destroyed herein. Thanks.
To “The Crew,” for making my time on this planet interesting, and to Jennifer for making that time worthwhile.
“Time is the fire in which we burn.”
Dr. Tolian Soran
“Time is the beauty of the road being long.”
John Popper, Blues Traveler
“Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Stardate 51546, the crew of the Starship Secondprize followed the hijacked Starship Defiant back through time to the year 1995. Their mission was to stop an insane woman from killing Captain Alexander Rydell’s twentieth century counterpart.
This woman, Rebecca Singer, the Secondprize’s former Chief Medical Officer, had become obsessed with Captain Rydell, vowing to kidnap his ancestor and bring him back to the present.
Singer landed one of the Defiant’s micro-shuttles on Earth, tracking down Rydell’s ancestor, along with the 20th century Travis Dillon and Carl Jaroch, to a place called Norfolk, Virginia. Upon finding out that the twentieth century Alex liked her even less than the twenty-fourth century Rydell, Singer went even more insane and attempted to kill all three ancestors, thus jeopardizing the future of the Secondprize’s respective officers. Luckily, Rydell and Dillon were successful in finding and stopping Singer, who, after a long and perilous chase through a crowded shopping mall, was finally taken into custody, thus preserving the timeline. The twentieth century Alex, Travis, and Carl were taken to the Secondprize, where the day’s adventure was wiped from their memories, and they were returned to their places on Earth. What the crew of the Secondprize did not know, however, was that the Defiant’s shuttle remained in the secluded forest near the mall, and that a security camera had captured the harrowing chase through said mall. If that wasn’t bad enough, memories of the traumatic event still lingered on the periphery of Alex, Travis, and Carl’s subconscious, screaming to be released. And if that isn’t confusing enough, keep reading.
THE PREGAME SHOW
BARGAIN BILL’S FLEAMARKET SALISBURY, MD SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 1995
“Thanks again.” David Conway said, giving his customer the correct change and tucking the five dollar bill he had received into the roll of bills that had grown steadily in his pocket as the morning had progressed.
“You know, Dave, I could be working on my Philosophy paper right now.” Andy Baxter said, sitting back behind the table and watching as David meticulously organized his stock of NASCAR memorabilia. He also had some Star Trek merchandise, but the morning’s profit had taught him that the flea market set wasn’t exactly a group that thrived on Trek. As a matter of fact, some didn’t even know what planet they were on.
“Go, then.” Dave said moodily, taking a swig from a steamy Styrofoam cup of coffee. “I sure as hell don’t need you here.”
“You need my truck to haul all this crap out of here later this afternoon.” Andy replied.
“I’m planning on selling everything.” Dave said flatly.
“Well then you’ll need a ride home.”
“And be subject to sadists, murderers, and serial killers?” Andy asked. “I think not.”
“Then what do you want from me?” Dave asked.
“I want some excitement.” Andy said, folding his arms. “That’s one thing that obviously isn’t abundant around here.”
“I thought you wanted to work on your Philosophy paper.” Dave said.
“No.” Andy corrected. “That’s what I could be doing right now, not what I want to do right now.”
“Now the great philosophy minor will lecture me all about semantics,” Dave said, rolling his eyes. He turned toward the woman who was eyeing some of his Star Trek figures. “May I help you, ma’am?”
“It’s not semantics at all.” Andy said quietly to himself. “It’s just the way of things.”
“Yes, you can definitely help me.” The woman said, her eyes lighting up as they met with David’s. “I’m looking for some Star Trek items. I just love Star Trek, don’t you?”
“Y-yes,” Dave said, looking the woman up and down, trying to mask his disgust.
“Always a pleasure to meet a fellow Trekkie!” the woman said happily, reaching out to shake Dave’s hand. Initially he tried to pull back from her, but she managed to search out his hand, grab it, and shake it vigorously. “Irma.” The woman said, “Irma Wilson, of Hampton Roads, Virginia.”
Irma Wilson was your average two-hundred pound white female Trekkie, chocolate gobbler and fervent Jerry Springer watcher. The only thing she was missing was an equally fat, drunken husband, who Dave assumed was lurking around somewhere nearby.
“Dave Conway.” Dave said weakly. “Uh, where you looking for anything in particular?”
Irma leaned forward conspiratorially. “I heard they were going to be marketing a new phaser soon.”
Dave leaned back, trying to put some distance between him and the Trekkie. “You mean the one from the movies? Yeah, that one’s due out in the spring.”
“Really!” Irma said excitedly.
“Yeah, um…” Dave said, turning around and glancing over at Andy. He was deeply absorbed in the latest Star Trek novel, some piece of rubbish written by William Shatner. “I’ll tell you what, why don’t you talk to Andy…he’s our resident weapons expert.”
Irma clapped her hands. “Oh, joy!”
Andy looked up. “Were you talking to me, Dave?”
“Yes.” Dave grunted, taking up a position behind Andy. “Help this lady while I go get something out of the car.”
“No.” Andy whispered. “This is your stupid stand.”
Dave turned away from the woman. “Please. Just keep her busy. You like to talk.”
Andy glanced over to Irma then back to Dave. “Not to freaks. No deal.”
Dave moved away from Andy, smiling broadly at Irma. “Andy’ll be right with you. Pleasure to meet ya, ma’am.” With that, Dave was off in a cloud of outdoor Flea Market dirt.
“The car’s locked, Dave!” Andy called out.
“I’ll break in!” Dave shouted back.
Andy turned his attention back to the customer, smiling weakly. “You had a question, Ma’am?”
“Please, call me Irma.” Irma said, batting her eyes. “My, you’re taller than the other guy.”
“Um, I was born that way, Irma.” Andy said. “Now what can I do for you?”
“Do you know the contractors that were rebuilding my bathroom quit on me?” Irma said, suddenly changing the subject quicker than a rat could pass a turd.
“Umm…” Andy said.
“And I paid them up front. Fifteen hundred dollars!”
Irma walked around Dave’s table, getting directly in Andy’s face. “And the worst part is, I can’t even find them. They changed the name of the company and moved out of state. I talked to a lawyer, but he didn’t seem to be much help. Do you know a good lawyer?”
Andy tried to move away, but he was caught in this woman’s tractor beam, and he just couldn’t get out. “Oh, well,” the woman said, not waiting for Andy to answer. “I just love lawyers. I was so mad when they canceled LA Law. Arnie was my favorite character. Do you know he was on Star Trek? He played Q. Well, the other Q. What was his name?”
“Q two?” Andy offered.
“No, that’s not even close.” Irma said. “Anyway, back to the contractors…”
THREE HOURS LATER…
After devouring an entire large pizza and checking out some of the other stands, David returned to his own stand, assuming that Irma would be long gone. To his surprise, and horror, however, she was still there, standing, arms at sides, right in Andy’s face, and running her mouth like there was no tomorrow.
And all Andy could do was sit there and listen, his face a mask of complete horror and dismay.
“…so I took him to the vet, and the vet said that the only solution was to either remove Bilbo’s urinary tract, or have him put to sleep. Well, needless to say, I had a hard time deciding what to do. I had Bilbo for ten years at that point, which is a long time for a sheepdog to live, but still…” Irma said, her mouth moving a mile a minute. Dave was about to run away again, when Andy suddenly snapped out of his shock and cried out. “D-dave! There you are. We were just talking about you!”
Dave stopped, turning slowly. “You were?”
“We were?” Irma asked.
“Uh, yeah.” Andy said. “Remember…you wanted to know the price of the Spock doll?”
“Oh,” Irma said. “Yeah. That was like an hour ago!”
“I…um…have a good memory.” Andy said.
“It’s eleven bucks.” Dave said. “Gotta go!”
Andy grabbed the collar of Dave’s shirt and dragged him back. “Not so fast, Conway.”
“We were just having the greatest discussion!” Irma said, glad to see another victim enter her grasp. “We were talking about my dog, Bilbo, and his urinary tract infection. Well, anyway, he really likes cheese, so I used to stick cheese in my pockets to get him to obey me, and well, when we decided to put him to sleep, I stuck a lot of cheese in my pockets…you know, Limburger, sharp cheddar, extra sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, American, Monterey jack…”
“MAKE IT STOP!” Dave cried, raising his head up to the heavens.
But, evidently, the fates weren’t smiling on David or Andy on that day, because Irma just kept on talking. And later on that month, David and Andy would find that Lady Fortuna would go through several such mood swings. And as strange as it seems, this strange, grossly overweight woman, a child of the Television Age, would play a major part in the scheme of time, and in the lives of a valiant crew who would not be born for over three hundred years.
OLD DOMINION UNIVERSITY NORFOLK, VA
He was running scared. He wasn’t sure why he was running or who he was running from, but he was definitely scared. His surroundings were indistinct, but he could hear lots of voices and see lots of lights. Suddenly, an impenetrable mass of people was in front of him. Panicking, he tried to force his way through. He was about to be caught; he had to get through.
Travis Dillon jolted awake dripping with sweat. He was back in his bedroom at Old Dominion University, and everything seemed quiet. Across the room, he could hear his roommate, Alex Rydell, breathing. Travis looked at the clock. It was six-thirty in the morning. He didn’t plan on getting up for another three hours, but Travis was pretty sure that he wasn’t going to be getting anymore sleep.
Why was he so scared? It was only a dream. He didn’t even see who was chasing him. Why was this bothering him so much? His life was boring. Nothing ever happened to him.
Alex Rydell woke up for the sixteenth straight day with the feeling that something was wrong. He had no idea what, but something was just not right. It had started the morning after he and Travis had spent an entire day at Carl’s apartment playing video games. A whole day playing video games, and for some reason that neither he nor Travis could figure out, they had driven to Carl’s in separate cars even though they came from the same place and were going back to the same place.
That whole day was a little fuzzy, though, which was unusual for Alex. He normally had an excellent memory for events, but all he could remember of that day was going over to Carl’s to watch Spiderman, playing some Mortal Kombat 3, then driving home. The middle of the day just wasn’t there. Since that Saturday, though, Alex had been troubled. Something was just plain wrong, and he had no idea what. Although he had noticed that he had become kind of jumpy around certain women, more specifically, women with long, black hair. What that was or what that meant, he had no clue. Maybe he was developing some new type of phobia. Alex looked over at the clock. Seven o’clock. He didn’t have to be up for class for another two hours. Something else was wrong, though. He looked over at Travis’s bed and was surprised to find it empty. Travis never got up early. Alex crawled out of bed and walked out into the living room. Travis was curled up in a chair reading a book. “What’s up?” Alex asked sleepily.
“Nothing,” Travis said. “I just couldn’t sleep.”
“You couldn’t sleep? That’s new.”
“Yeah well. I’m fine. Go back to sleep.”
“No point. I’m awake now,” Alex said taking a seat on the couch. Travis knew that he was lying. Alex was capable of falling asleep at a moment’s notice. A minor disturbance like this would not even phase him.
“Weird,” Alex finished.
“Yeah. Exactly. I just have no clue why.”
“That makes three of us,” Travis said.
“I ran into Carl at lunch on Friday. He hasn’t been feeling right either. It’s nothing physical. He just said that he hasn’t been sleeping well for the last couple of weeks.”
“Me either. It’s probably just stress,” Alex said, not really believing it. “You’re graduating at the end of the semester. We graduate in May. A lot is going on.”
“You’re probably right,” Travis said, not meaning it. “I’m just glad we’re getting a few days off. Thanksgiving break couldn’t have come at a better time.”
“When are you heading home?”
“Tomorrow after sociology,” Travis said. “What about you?”
“Wednesday afternoon probably.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Travis yawned. “That’s it,” he said, standing up. “I’m going back to sleep if it kills me.”
“That’s the spirit. Sleep awaits.”
FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON, DC MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1995
Agent Dana Scully rubbed the last bit of sleep out of her eyes as she stepped up to the door of the office that she shared with Agent Fox Mulder. Their office, located in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover building, was the home of the X-files, unsolved and unexplained cases that were the life work of Agent Mulder.
As Scully stepped into the office, Mulder was pushing a cart that contained a television and a VCR into place beside a movie screen. His face, as always, was inexpressive. Only the speed and intensity of Mulder’s movements told Scully that he was excited about something. Of course, the fact that he had called her in at six in the morning on a Monday was a pretty good clue as well.
“You had better have not called me in here this early just to see this weekend’s episode of Unsolved Mysteries,” Scully said, taking a seat to watch whatever multimedia extravaganza Mulder had prepared for her.
“It was a rerun,” Mulder replied with a smile. “I thought that we’d watch some of my home movies instead. Did you ever see my tenth birthday party? We had everything…even a pony.”
“Mulder, its early. Please have pity on me.”
“OK. It won’t be as fun though.” He picked up a remote control and activated the VCR. The television screen flashed to life showing a grainy, black and white image of the inside of a mall. There was no sound, and patrons were milling about normally going about their shopping. “You’re looking at the Greenbriar Mall located just outside of Norfolk, Virginia,” Mulder said. “This is surveillance footage from the mall’s security cameras.”
“Don’t tell me. Aliens were seen buying shoes at Lady Footlocker,” Scully said.
A moment later, three male figures, one black and two white, ran into the picture from off to the right. All three of them appeared to be quite frightened. Suddenly, a bright glowing beam flashed by them, originating from the direction they just ran onto the screen from.
“Oh my God. What was that?” Scully said, leaning forward in her seat. Mulder just smiled.
A white woman with long black hair ran into the image holding a small rectangular device in her hands. She shouted something at the three fleeing males and raised the rectangular device in their direction. Another glowing beam flashed out of it.
“It’s some type of laser gun, but how…”
“We don’t know,” Mulder said.
The film continued, obviously taken from different cameras around the mall. The three males ran from the woman, who was in turn being chased by two other males, one white and one black. The entire group eventually ran behind a barrier blocking off an unfinished store, then the tape ended. Mulder stood up and walked over in front of the projection screen.
“Who were those people?” Scully asked.
“Good question. Nobody knows. Mall security entered that storefront five minutes later and found no trace of anyone. That footage was taken on November Fourth, and not one lead has come up.”
“November Fourth, and you just got it!”
“No, I got it a week ago. Since then, I’ve been trying to identify the people in the footage.”
“I haven’t been able to find anything on the woman or the men chasing after her. I was a bit luckier on the three men being chased though,” Mulder said as he switched on the slide projector sitting on the table in front of the projection screen which showed a picture of a large group of people. Three heads in the crowd were circled.
“This is a photo of the members of the Old Dominion University Academic Honors Program taken this September,” Mulder continued. “It turns out that all three of the men being chased are in this program.”
He went ahead to the next slide which showed a close-up of the first man. He was a white male, about twenty years old, wearing glasses.
“This is Travis Dillon. Twenty-one years old. He’s from Salisbury, Maryland, majoring in English, and writes for the campus paper. He currently lives in Apartment AA6 in an apartment complex on campus.”
Mulder clicked to the next slide showing a black male, also about twenty and also wearing glasses.
“This is Alex Rydell. Also twenty-one years old. He’s from Pocomoke, Maryland and is majoring in psychology. He also lives in Apartment AA6.”
“Travis Dillon’s roommate,” Scully said.
“Yes. He has been for the last two years,” Mulder replied, clicking ahead to the next slide. This slide was of a white male, about twenty, with long hair tied into a pony tail.
“This is Carl Jaroch. Twenty-three years old. He’s from Clinton, North Carolina and is majoring in physics. He lives in…”
“Apartment AA6,” Scully finished.
“No, but wouldn’t that be convenient,” Mulder said. “Actually, he’s married and lives less than half a mile away from Greenbriar Mall.”
“And you’re sure these are the three guys from the tape?” Scully asked.
“I had a feeling you’d ask that,” Mulder said, clicking ahead to the next slide. It was an enhanced image from the surveillance tape showing a close up of the three men being chased. It was definitely Travis Dillon, Alex Rydell, and Carl Jaroch. To further hammer home this point, Mulder had placed the images from the honors program below the image from the tape.
“It’s them,” Mulder said.
“That still doesn’t explain why they were being chased,” Scully said.
“I know,” Mulder said. “Let’s go ask them.”
“I should have known this was coming.”
“So what’s the plan, Mulder?” Scully asked four hours later as they drove down Interstate 64 into Norfolk.
Mulder pulled a couple of folded up papers out of his pocket. “The Old Dominion registrar was kind enough to fax me copies of the class schedules for our friends. Alex and Carl will be in class when we arrive, but we should catch Travis at home.”
“None of this makes any sense.”
“What? That three unknown college students should be chased through a public place by a woman firing a laser gun?”
“I suppose you have a theory.”
“Maybe they prank called her, and she got pissed.”
“And she just happened to have a laser gun?”
Travis Dillon sat down at his computer and stared at the blank screen in front of him. His word processing program almost seemed to be taunting him. Come on. Write something. I dare you. Travis couldn’t take the dare. Writer’s block was standing in his way again. He just knew that there was a great story locked up somewhere in his head. Finding it was the problem. Travis sighed and just started typing his stream of consciousness into the computer.
helpme help me I need to write something. Come on. Idea Idea Idea. I want a story about something. Maybe a man and a woman. A strong man, heroic, and a woman with long black hair and a laser.
Travis stared dumbfounded at the last bit he had typed. Where did that come from? And why was he feeling so scared all of a sudden?
Four sudden loud knocks on the apartment door almost made him jump out of his skin. Calming himself down, Travis walked out into the living room and answered the door. A well-dressed man and woman were standing outside of his door.
“Travis Dillon?” the woman asked.
“Yes,” Travis said hesitantly.
“I’m Agent Dana Scully,” she said, pulling an ID out of her trench-coat. “This is my partner, Fox Mulder.” Travis looked at the identification card. These two were with the FBI. What did they want with him?
“Could we come in and ask you a few questions?” Mulder asked.
“S-s-sure,” Travis stammered nervously, stepping out of the way to let them enter.
Mulder and Scully stepped into the living room, which was almost wallpapered with movie posters.
“Who’s the movie buff?” Mulder asked.
“That would be me,” Travis said. Mulder’s eyes fell on the Twin Peaks poster in one corner.
“Twin Peaks, huh? I loved that show,” Mulder said.
“Me too,” Travis replied, feeling a little better since they were discussing a topic he was comfortable with. “I was sorry to see it canceled.”
“Could I get either of you a drink?” Travis asked, heading toward the small kitchen of the apartment.
“I’m fine,” Scully said, taking a seat on the sofa.
“Nothing thanks,” Mulder said, sitting down on the other end of the sofa.
“Oh,” Travis said. He walked over and sat down in the chair across from the sofa. This was the most frightened he’d been since…well, since he could remember.
“Mister Dillon, could you tell us where you were on November Fourth?” Scully asked.
“Uhh…what day of the week was that?”
“Saturday. Two weeks ago,” Mulder said.
“I spent the day over at my friend Carl’s apartment, then I came back here and hung out with my roommate,” Travis said. He relaxed a little. If they were going to accuse him of something done that day, he was safe. He was with Alex and Carl all day.
“Was Alex Rydell with you?” Scully asked.
“Yeah, the whole time,” Travis said. Why were they asking about Alex? “Is he in trouble?”
“That’s what we’d like to know,” Mulder said. He pulled a videotape out of his trench-coat and walked over to the TV and VCR. “May I?”
“Sure,” Travis said. Mulder played the surveillance tape. Travis watched it confused. Why were they showing this to him? The three guys on the tape kind of looked like him, Alex, and Carl, but it couldn’t have been them. He would have remembered running from some crazy woman with long black hair and a laser. Long black hair and a laser. That was weird. He’d just typed that a few minutes earlier.
Mulder stopped the tape.
“Who were you running from, Travis?” Scully asked.
“Me? That’s not me. I admit it kind of looks like me, but I wasn’t there. I swear.”
“We want to help you. If there’s somebody with that kind of weapon after you, you’re in great danger,” Scully continued.
“No, I’m not, because I’m not the guy on the tape,” Travis insisted. “I think I’d remember something like that.”
“You don’t remember this?” Mulder asked.
“Have you ever experienced missing time?” Mulder asked.
“Mulder, I know where you’re going with this, so stop,” Scully said.
“Many victims of alien abduction have memory loss and missing time,” Mulder said.
“Aliens don’t usually go chasing their abductees through crowded shopping malls either, Mulder!” Scully said.
“Aliens?” Travis said, almost laughing. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“We are not joking, Mr. Dillon,” Scully said. “There is a woman out there with a very dangerous weapon, and we have to find her.”
“I wish I could help you. I really do,” Travis said. “Psychos like her definitely don’t need to be carrying lasers, but I really wasn’t there.”
“You’re sure,” Mulder said.
“Then, thank you for your time,” Scully said, standing up and heading for the door. Mulder pulled a business card out of his coat and handed it to Travis.
“If you should think of anything, call us,” Mulder said. The two agents left the apartment.
“Thanks for the waste of a trip, Mulder,” Scully said as they walked back toward their car.
“He was the one on that tape, Scully. I’m sure of it.”
“I believed him. I don’t think he had a clue what we were talking about.”
“That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t there.”
“You aren’t still on this alien abduction thing, are you?”
“No. He doesn’t show any of the other signs. But someone did erase his memory.”
“Who?” Scully said skeptically.
“I don’t know, but I have a feeling that either Travis Dillon, Alex Rydell, or Carl Jaroch has the key to this whole thing locked inside of his head. All we have to do is unlock it.”
Mulder turned and started walking in the other direction.
“Where are you going?” Scully asked.
Alex Rydell set his backpack down on a table in Webb cafeteria in the student center at Old Dominion and fell into a chair exhausted. Getting up early to talk with Travis this morning was catching up with him. He needed something with caffeine and fast. After checking to see how much cash he had on him, he decided to head down to the coffee shop at the end of Webb.
“Alex Rydell?” a male voice asked from behind him just as he stood up. Alex turned around and saw a well dressed man and woman holding FBI IDs in front of him.
“I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder. This is my partner Dana Scully. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Uhh…Okay,” Alex said.
“Is there somewhere more private we could go?” Scully asked.
“Yeah. I was just waiting for my friends to get here.”
“Is Carl Jaroch among them?” Mulder asked.
“He’s one of my friends, but he’s not coming to lunch. Why do you want Carl? What’s going on?”
“You are not in any trouble, Mister Rydell,” Scully said. “We just need to talk to you and Mister Jaroch.”
“Alright. Let’s go over toward the coffee shop. I needed some anyway.”
Alex picked his backpack back up and led Mulder and Scully down to the coffee shop. Travis and the others would just have to start lunch without him.
After purchasing a large mug of coffee, Alex sat down in an empty part of the large lounge area located across from the coffee shop. Mulder and Scully took up positions in the two chairs facing the sofa he was sitting on.
“Mister Rydell, two weeks ago, three college-aged males were chased through the Greenbriar Mall by a woman firing a laser gun of some type. She, in turn, was being chased by two other men.”
“Really? A laser. I didn’t know about this.”
“We believe you do know something,” Scully said.
“How would I know anything?”
“Because you were there,” Mulder said, pulling a couple of photographs pulled from the surveillance tape out of his trench-coat and handing them to Alex.
Alex looked at the photos for a couple of minutes. They were black and white and a bit grainy, but it certainly looked like him and Travis and Carl. There was no way it could have been though. He would remember being chased through a mall by a strange woman firing laser blasts at him. His gaze fell on the two men who were chasing the woman. There was something very familiar about them, but Alex just couldn’t place them. He shook off the feeling. It wasn’t a great picture. There was no way that he could know those men.
“That’s not us,” Alex said, handing the pictures back to Mulder.
“Think hard, Mister Rydell,” Mulder said. “Is there anything about this that might seem familiar? Do any of these people strike you?”
“Yeah, those three guys who look like me, Travis, and Carl.”
“Other than them.”
“No. I’m sorry, Agent Mulder. And I’m pretty sure that I’d remember something like that.”
“Not if your memory was erased.”
“That’s not possible,” Alex said. “We don’t know enough about how memory works to erase specific memories like that over such a long period.”
“Is that your expert opinion after a few college psychology classes?” Mulder asked.
“Mulder,” Scully said. “Thank you for your time, Alex. Here’s my card if you should think of anything that could be of use.” She handed Alex her card as he got up to head back to the cafeteria.
“Thanks, but don’t expect to hear from me,” Alex said. “I don’t know anything.”
Alex walked back into the main cafeteria and looked around for his friends. Travis had grabbed a lunch table and was sitting with Trina, Andrea, and Craig. The chair between Trina and Travis was empty waiting for Alex.
He headed over to the table and sat down silently. “Are you okay?” Trina, his girlfriend, asked, concerned.
“Yeah,” Alex replied. “Don’t worry about it.”
At that moment, Mulder and Scully sat down at a table a little ways away from theirs. Travis looked at them for a few moments, a look of concern filling his face. Alex noticed the look and followed Travis’s gaze over to Mulder and Scully. “Are those two watching us?” Andrea said suddenly.
“Who?” Craig asked.
“The guy in the suit and the woman,” Andrea replied.
“What is it with us being watched by people in suits this month?” Craig said.
“What do you mean?” Travis asked, confused.
“Come on. You don’t remember those two guys a few weeks ago who seemed to be watching you? They were in your apartment.”
“What guys?” Alex asked.
“The building inspectors!” Craig said exasperated. “You caught them in your room. Travis, you knew one of them.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Travis said. “Me either,” Alex said.
“I don’t believe this,” Craig said. “You really don’t remember?”
Alex and Travis shook their heads.
“You two need help.”
“I’m not sure that following them to lunch was such a great idea, Mulder,” Scully said.
“You’re probably right,” Mulder said.
“Why are we here?”
“Watching them in their natural surroundings. Maybe we’ll learn something.”
Thirty minutes later, when Alex, Travis, and the others got up to leave, all Mulder and Scully had learned was that Travis ate like a pig, the five of them talked about television a lot, and that Andrea had a physics test that day.
“Well, that was productive,” Scully said as she and Mulder walked out of Webb Center.
“Actually it was,” Mulder said.
“It proved to me that they really don’t think they’re in any danger,” Mulder said.
“But you still want to talk to Carl Jaroch anyway.”
“How’d you guess?”
After an hour of trying to track Carl down, Mulder and Scully finally found out that Carl was working in a physics lab across the street from the main part of Old Dominion’s campus. They found him hard at work in front of a computer working on some type of graph. The lab was fairly empty except for a large device gathering dust in a far corner of the room.
“Carl Jaroch?” Scully said. Carl turned to look at them.
“Yeah,” Carl said. “Can I help you?”
“We’re with the FBI, Mister Jaroch,” Mulder said, pulling out his ID. “I’m Agent Mulder. This is Agent Scully. We’d like to ask you a few questions about a disturbance in the Greenbriar Mall a couple of weeks ago.”
“Disturbance? What kind of disturbance?”
“Three men were chased through the mall by a woman who was being chased by two other men.”
“Why do you want to ask me about it? I wasn’t there.”
“Yes, you were,” Mulder said, putting the pictures down in front of Carl.
“No, I wasn’t,” Carl said. He looked at the pictures. “Sure looks like I was, though.”
“We believe that your memory of this incident has been erased,” Mulder said.
“Erased? By who?”
“We don’t know,” Scully said. “We were hoping that you could tell us.”
“Have you ever been hypnotized?” Mulder asked.
“No, not really,” Carl said.
“I would like to try hypnosis to attempt to get at this blocked memory.”
“You really think that I was there?” Carl said.
“Yes, I do.” Mulder replied.
“Then, go ahead. If I was getting chased around, I’d really like to know about it.”
“Relax. Relax. You are becoming more deeply relaxed than you have ever been before. Going deeper and deeper until you are even more relaxed,” Mulder said softly. “Can you hear me, Carl?”
“Good. Now, I want you to go back, Carl. Go back to a time when you are in great danger.” Carl went back, back, back. Back to a time of great danger, just as he was instructed.
Carl started shifting quickly in his seat as his expression became agitated.
“What’s happening, Carl?” Scully asked.
“You will die, T’Mak!” Carl screamed suddenly leaping out of the chair. Mulder had sent him back too far, and now J’ter, the long dead warrior-prince of Yyns, was in control.
“Mulder, what did you do?”
“I have no idea,” Mulder replied. “I’m not a professional hypnotist.”
“You will both perish, puny mortals!” Carl said. He grabbed Mulder by the trench-coat and hurled him across the lab. Mulder hit the cement block wall with a thud and collapsed to the floor.
“Calm down, Mister Jaroch,” Scully said quickly. “You’re safe.”
“There is no Carl, woman,” Carl/J’ter said. “I am J’ter.”
“Mulder, I could use a little help over here.” Scully only received a soft moan in response.
“Carl!” a woman’s voice shouted suddenly from the doorway. Scully turned and saw a tall redhead enter the room. She walked straight over to Carl and put her hands on the side of his head. “Come on, Carl. Calm down.” The rage slowly disappeared from his expression.
“Hi, beautiful,” Carl said weakly.
“What the hell were you doing?” the woman said, turning on Scully.
“Trying to get some information,” Scully said, showing the woman her ID. “Who are you?”
“Lisa Jaroch. I’m his wife.”
Mulder groaned from across the room. Remembering her partner, Scully rushed over to help him up.
“Perhaps we could continue this conversation later on this evening,” Scully said.
“You aren’t going to try to hypnotize me again, are you?” Carl asked.
“No. Definitely not,” Mulder said.
“Well, I’ll be here in the lab until about eight tonight.”
“Then, we’ll see you at six,” Scully said. “Thank you for your time.” She helped Mulder out of the lab.
“What was that?” Scully asked as she and Mulder headed back to their car.
“If I had to guess, I’d say we just hit a past life,” Mulder said.
“Does anything have a normal explanation for you?”
“Not if I can help it.”
Travis Dillon put his duffle bag into the back seat of his Ford Escort and pulled the seat back so he could get in. Alex Rydell leaned up against the car as Travis pulled his keys out of his pocket.
“See you in a couple of days,” Travis said.
“Say hi to Rachel for me,” Alex said, referring to Travis’s fiancee.
“I will when I see her. She’s got class tonight until ten, and then one of her clinical exams all day tomorrow.”
“I’m sure she’s thrilled.”
“Oh yeah. Ecstatic,” Travis said as he got into the car. “So what are you going to do?”
“I figured I’d probably call Andy tonight. And something will probably pop up for tomorrow. Maybe the FBI will come raid Rachel’s apartment or something.” Alex laughed. “Wonderful thought,” he said. “Have a good trip. See you Sunday.”
“Sunday it is,” Travis said. He closed the car door and started the engine.
Travis spent most of the two and a half hour drive back to Salisbury trying to remember anything connected with what Agents Mulder and Scully had told him. It was hard to believe that maybe he’d been there. Actually, it was beyond hard to believe, it was impossible. If there was one thing Travis knew, it was his mind. There was no way that he was at that mall. He laughed wondering how he even could have considered it.
Nothing that interesting or exciting had ever happened to him.
FBI HEADQUARTERS - NORFOLK BRANCH MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1995
Scully set to work running background checks on the other people involved with the lives of Travis Dillon, Alex Rydell, and Carl Jaroch, hoping that she’d get lucky and find out that one of them had some kind of military background. She thought Craig Porter was the key since his father was Navy, but that quickly led to a dead end.
She walked into the office Mulder had set up shop in a couple of hours later feeling like this whole case, if it could even be called that, was a waste of time. Mulder, on the other hand, looked like he’d found something, but he just didn’t know what to make of it.
“Take a look at this, Scully,” he said, putting four pictures on the desk in front of her. Two of the pictures were taken from the surveillance tape and were of the two men chasing the dark haired woman. The other two seemed to be pictures of the same men, but not from the tape. “You found out who these guys are?” Scully said hopefully.
“Maybe, but I don’t think you’re going to like the answer.”
“What do you mean?”
“Those lower two pictures are of Travis Dillon and Alex Rydell,” Mulder said.
“What? That’s impossible.”
“I aged Travis and Alex about ten years with the computer. This is what came out.”
“I don’t even want to think about where this is going,” Scully said.
“Time travel, Scully,” Mulder said.
“There’s no other explanation.”
“There are about fifty other explanations, Mulder. The top one being that this is just a coincidence.”
“There are no coincidences.”
“I don’t believe I’m listening to this.”
“Just think about it. Why else would there be that kind of laser technology, the memory wipes, and the fact that they disappeared without a trace?”
“Fine, they’re time travelers. Can we go home now?”
“No way. I think I’ve got an idea what’s going on now, and, if I’m right, Carl Jaroch is in great danger.”
“What kind of danger?”
“I think that woman was from the future, and she’s trying to kill him.”
“Why Carl? Why not Travis or Alex?
“I’m not completely sure yet, but I’d bet that it has something to do with whatever he’s working on.”
Mulder and Scully walked into Carl Jaroch’s lab later that evening, after leaving the Norfolk FBI branch and having a quick dinner. Carl looked at them warily and turned off his computer.
“Hello.” Carl said flatly.
“I would like to apologize for what happened earlier today,” Mulder said.
“Yeah, me too,” Carl said. “I didn’t mean to toss you across the room like that.”
“Don’t mention it,” Mulder said, rubbing his still sore shoulder.
“Now why do you want to talk to me? I already told you that I’m not the guy in those photos.”
“I believe that you believe that, Mister Jaroch,” Mulder said. “But I think that the evidence speaks to the contrary. I also think that you hold the key to this whole thing.”
“Me? I don’t think so. I’m just a college student.”
“Have you developed any scientific theories or built any inventions?” Scully said, trying to play along with her partner’s idea, but having a hard time sounding sincere.
“I think I have the General Theory of Everything sitting around here somewhere,” Carl said. “Seriously, I don’t have anything, and the only thing I ever built didn’t work right.” He pointed at the large, dusty device in the corner.
“What is it supposed to be?” Scully asked as Mulder walked over to examine it.
“An electromagnetic telescope, but it didn’t work. The image didn’t make any sense. I tried looking toward Mercury and got a screen full of asteroid-looking chunks. It wasn’t even close. I’m sure it wasn’t really even space. I was getting gibberish.”
“Mind if I see?” Mulder asked.
“I guess not,” Carl said. He walked over to the box and moved it over to his lab table. After plugging it in, he flipped the power switch. Lights flickered across the face of the telescope as power hummed through its systems.
“Has anyone else ever expressed an interest in this device?” Mulder asked after Carl turned it off.
“No,” Carl replied. “Well, Alex and Travis came to see it just after I finished it.”
“Why did they come by?”
“I’m not sure, but they were very interested…especially Alex. I think I had a contact loose in the machine though.”
“What do you mean?” Scully asked.
“Well, I left the room for a minute, and when I came back, Alex was on the floor babbling incoherently about Star Trek. I had to help Travis get him back to their apartment.”
“How did Travis react to this?”
“Funny you should ask that. He wasn’t real concerned. He just said that Alex would be fine once he got some sleep.”
“And you didn’t ask him about this?” Mulder said.
“No. Travis seemed confident everything was under control. He’s not confident about a lot of things, so when he is, I tend to believe him.”
“I see. Thank you,” Mulder said. He fell silent in thought for a moment trying to put the pieces of this puzzle together. The telescope, time travelers, Travis and Alex, Alex’s collapse. What did it all mean? Most X-files challenged his ability to form a theory, but this one was by far the most convoluted he had ever encountered. The time travel was a stretch in itself, but it was the only thing he had to go on, and it just felt right. Now, he just had to decide on the next step.
“Thanks again for your time, Carl,” Scully said. She tugged on Mulder’s coat sleeve and headed toward the door.
“Could you build another one of those devices?” Mulder asked.
“Another one? Why would you want…”
“Can you do it?”
“Sure, I’ve got the plans on disk.”
“What if you didn’t have the plans?”
“Maybe, but I doubt it. Definitely not from memory.”
“I want you to turn that device and the plans disk over to me.”
“What are you doing, Mulder?” Scully said angrily.
“Why do you want it?” Carl asked, annoyed.
“It’s for your own safety, and I’ve got the authority to take it. Hand it over.”
“Sure. Fine. Whatever,” Carl said irritated. He flipped through his disk box and handed Mulder the plans disk. “Take the damn thing.”
Mulder picked up the telescope and left the lab followed by a confused and angry Dana Scully.
“Would you tell me what the hell you are doing?” Scully demanded.
“I don’t know completely,” Mulder said. “But every instinct I have is telling me that this supposedly non-working telescope is at the center of this.”
“You’re taking a bunch of unrelated events and forming some bizarre conspiracy theory, Mulder.”
“I don’t think so, Scully,” Mulder said. “And I have a feeling that the next couple of days will prove me right.”
THE DELTA QUADRANT STARSHIP AEROSTAR NOVEMBER 20, 2374
Stardate 51621.7. We have been holding position in an anomalous gas cloud for more than a day now, trying to pick up transmissions from a Flarn science vessel that has taken orbit around a moon in the Tervellan system, which is, by treaty, Sulani property. We have been sent to determine the extent of the threat that this ship poses.
Addendum for personal log,
Needless to say, after spending seven hours pacing the bridge, I’m quite ready to retire to the holodeck for my dinner date with Counselor Peterman. We’ll be joining Lt. Commander Richards and Doctor Browning for what Richards says is a “special surprise.”
Captain Andy Baxter winked at himself as he straightened his tie. Richards had asked that they all wear period outfits, and Baxter had decided on an early twentieth century suit, similar to the type worn by the American Mafia in the nineteen twenties. The computer referenced it as a “zoot” suit.
Baxter straightened his tie, watching Counselor Kelly Peterman sneak up behind him and wrap her arms around him.
“Gotcha,” she giggled.
Baxter smiled. “That’s my Kelly, always surprising me.”
Peterman continued to look over Baxter’s shoulder. “Well, are you ready? I told Janice we’d be there at 1900 hours.”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Baxter said, turning around and smiling. He looked over Peterman’s glittery flapper dress and boa with enjoyment. “Nice.”
“Thanks.” Peterman said, offering her arm to Baxter. Baxter took Peterman’s arm and led her out of his quarters.
Baxter and Peterman walked down the corridor towards the holodeck in virtual silence.
“So what did you do today?” Baxter asked, breaking the silence.
“Nothing spectacular.” Peterman said. “I just met with a few appointments. A schizophrenic, a multiple personality, an obsessive compulsive, and a claustrophobic.”
Baxter shook his head. “I didn’t realize we had so many nut cases on board.”
Peterman just laughed. “What ship have you been on for the last eight months?”
“I ask myself that same question every day.” Baxter said as they came to the holodeck door.
“Hey, guys.” Doctor Browning said. She was twirling her hair and chewing gum, which somehow seemed to complement the poodle skirt she wore.
For his part, Richards was wearing a shiny, baby blue silk suit, from the mid nineteen hundreds, approximately the fifties.
“Shall we?” Richards asked, gesturing at the holodeck doors.
The group filed through the holodeck doors into a world far removed from that of the Aerostar and the Delta Quadrant. Baxter was immediately stricken by the appearance of the Maitre d’. He was a short man, with dark hair, and a small, dark mustache.
“Adolph Hitler at your service,” the short man said, bowing. “Four for dinner?”
Baxter looked at the man in astonishment. “What kind of restaurant is this?”
Richards smiled and looked down at the Fascist dictator. “Welcome to ‘Continuum’. The only restaurant that features a full cast of historical and cultural personalities as its staff.”
“Hmm, the ultimate theme-restaurant,” Counselor Peterman said half-heartedly.
“Aryan or non-Aryan?” Hitler asked impatiently.
“Um…” Baxter said, looking around the restaurant.
“Just say Aryan, Andy.” Richards warned. “Trust me.”
“Ha ha. Just give us a booth, Adolph.” Baxter said with exasperation.
Hitler led the group to a booth and handed them their menus. “Your server will be here momentarily, please enjoy your meal. Seig Heil.”
“Same to you,” Baxter said, gesturing for Peterman to take a seat and sliding into the booth next to her.
“Isn’t this a nice place?” Browning asked, scooting into place across from Peterman.
Peterman looked around, noticing a small stage in one corner of the room that featured beheadings from the French Revolution. “It’s very…interesting.”
“I thought you’d like it.” Richards said, eyeing the low cut on Joan of Arc’s armor. “What about you, Andy?”
Baxter was intently looking at his menu. “This is extremely bizarre. I wonder how the Hindenburg souffle is?”
“A disaster, dear, simply a disaster,” a woman said, walking up to the table.
“Joan Collins!” Peterman exclaimed. “I loved your movies.”
Collins smiled. “Why, thank you. I’d like to think they made a long-lasting effect on the ages.”
“Give me a break,” Baxter muttered, still staring at his menu.
Peterman nudged the Captain with her elbow. “Hey, don’t insult the waitress!”
“Honey, I’m not a waitress, I am an actress,” Collins huffed.
“Sure, sure, Joan. Could I see a wine list?” Baxter asked.
“Of all the…” Collins cried, running off.
“There goes her tip,” Baxter mumbled, continuing to look at his menu. “I think I’ll have the Voyage to the Bottom of the Seafood Chowder.”
Richards looked to Browning. “Have you decided yet, hon?”
“I don’t know. The Chicken a la King Louis sounds extremely good. I’m so hungry I could eat sixteen of them.”
“Well, I’m getting the Irish Potato Famine,” Richards said, putting his menu down.
“Here’s your damn wine list.” Joan Collins said, returning to the table. “So are you guys ready to order or not?”
“I think so,” Baxter said, looking to Counselor Peterman. “Have you decided what you want, pookie?”
Peterman stared at her menu. “I think I’ll have the Post Atomic Hamburger.”
Collins pulled out a notepad and chomped on a piece of gum. “Good choice, sweetie. Would you like that Chernobyl or Three-mile Island?”
“Medium,” Peterman said with confusion. She was never very good at history.
“Three-mile Island it is.”
Dr. Browning made her order and handed her menu to the former movie star. “I have to go to the bathroom. Are you coming, Kelly?” Browning asked, indicating the general direction of the bathroom.
“Uhh, sure, I guess.” Peterman replied.
“It’s just not working.” Doctor Browning said, with tears welling up in her eyes as Counselor Peterman followed her into the ladies’ room.
“That’s just not true, Janice!” Peterman said, checking her makeup in the mirror. She really did look good. “I think this is a charming restaurant.”
Browning grabbed a handful of paper towels and locked herself in a stall, sitting down on the toilet and sobbing. “I’m talking about Christopher” Browning finally said through sobs, using the towels to blow her nose.
“Richards?” Peterman asked.
“YES!” Browning said with exasperation.
“But you guys look so happy together!” Peterman said, reapplying her lipstick.
Doctor Browning looked down at the tiled floor. “Sure we look happy. That doesn’t mean we are happy.”
“So you’re fighting?”
“No, we’ve never really fought,” Browning said, looking around at the interior of the stall. She noticed a few messages carved into the interior wall of the stall. Phrases like “Churchill was here”, and “For a good time, call Josephine Bonaparte.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“The first few weeks were fun, but since then, it’s like we’re a married couple. All the fun, the romance, the excitement …it’s gone!”
“This is a tough one,” Peterman said worriedly.
“And what’s worse, we’re known throughout the ship as the first human couple to get together in the Delta Quadrant. Do you know what that means? We’re supposed to be perfect! We have to make everyone think that we’re happy together, and we’re not. It’s like they need something meaningless like that to hold on to, so they can ignore the fact that we’re seventy thousand light years from home.”
“If you’re not happy together, you can’t be thinking of what everyone else will think,” Counselor Peterman said, once Browning had stopped rambling long enough to continue her sobbing. “How does Chris feel about all this?”
“He doesn’t feel anything! It’s like he couldn’t care one way or the other.”
“I’m sure he cares, Janice.”
Browning stepped out of the stall, staring at her tear-streaked face in the mirror. “I don’t know what he feels any more. I don’t even know how I feel.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Janice.” Peterman said. “You’re usually the one counseling me.”
“Well, Kelly, you are the counselor, you know.” Browning said, splashing some water in her face and drying off.
“All right. This is what you do. Sit down with Commander Richards and tell him how you feel. Tell him exactly what you told me, and tell him you want to either work on the relationship or give up on it. It’s that simple.”
Browning quickly checked her makeup and headed for the door of the bathroom. “If it was that simple, I wouldn’t be having this problem.”
“Well, are your noses all powdered now?” Baxter asked as Peterman and Browning took their seats, standing up with Richards in order to let them back into the booth.
“None of your business.” Peterman said firmly. “Where’s the food?”
“It should be here any minute.” Richards said. “But you guys just missed the Beatles.”
“Oh, darn.” Browning said, staring down at the table, as if she was trying to think of something to say.
Peterman took the cue and grabbed Baxter’s arm. “Gee, Andy, why don’t you come over to the bar with me. Maumar Khadafi is the bartender.”
“Oh, really?” Baxter said, following Peterman out of the booth. “This I’ve got to see.”
Just as Dr. Browning was about to open her mouth, the ship’s communication system chirped. “Commander Conway to Holodeck Two. We’ve picked up some activity from the Flarn ship.”
“Damn,” Baxter said. “We’ll be right there. Go to Yellow Alert.”
“I better get down to engineering.” Richards said, sliding out of the booth.
“But…I really needed to talk to you, Chris…” Browning protested.
“Later,” Richards said, heading out of the holodeck.
“Bye, honey.” Baxter said, kissing Counselor Peterman on the cheek. When he did, he whispered in her ear, “Is there something going on with Richards and Browning, or is it just my imagination?”
“I’ll tell you later,” Peterman whispered back, holding on to Baxter’s fingers as he moved off toward the holodeck arch.
“We’re doomed,” Browning said, propping her elbows up on the table and putting her head in her hands. “It’s over.”
“Jeeze.” Peterman said. “I think that’s the first time I’ve heard someone say that without fearing for my life.”
“Why don’t I find that any comfort?” Browning asked, briefly looking up from her hands.
“What have you got, Lieutenant?” Commander Conway asked, peering over Lt. Ariel Tilleran’s shoulder.
Tilleran studied her panel. “I’m not sure. Hold on…they’re just dumping their garbage.”
Still in his zoot suit, Captain Baxter stepped onto the bridge. “Garbage?” He asked, walking around to the front of the bridge and staring at the ship on the viewscreen with scrutiny.
“Yes, sir, waste products, disposable materials…”
Baxter looked back at Tilleran, annoyed. “I know what garbage is, Lieutenant, but why did they decide to dump it right at this moment?”
“Their refuse hold was full?” Tilleran offered helpfully.
“I’ve been in one of those things before, Lieutenant, they’re pretty damn big.” Baxter replied. “I think there’s more to this picture than meets the eye. I want you to zoom in on that ship.”
Tilleran pressed a few buttons. “What are we looking for?”
“That.” Baxter said triumphantly, pointing his finger to a small, moving dot on the viewscreen. “Close in on this dot, maximum magnification.”
When the screen flickered again, Baxter smiled. “There you go.”
Conway just grunted, walking to the front of the bridge. “And what exactly are we looking at?”
Baxter smiled. “A probe. Big enough, even, to conceal a shield generator…possibly even a garrison of troops.” Larkin studied her panel and made a few calculations. “I am having trouble getting any readings on the probe, Captain…there seems to be a jamming field in place.”
“Do you think they were expecting us?” Ford asked uncomfortably from the helm.
“I wouldn’t doubt it.” Baxter’s face was now clouded with worry. “I want a secure channel to Sulan. We’ve found what we were looking for.” Baxter said, looking back at Lt. J’hana.
J’hana let out a low growl from the tactical station. “Communications are blocked, sir. The jamming field seems to be large enough to encompass most of the system.” Conway looked at the panel near his chair. “How can that little ship produce a jamming field of that magnitude?”
“Maybe that ship isn’t the one producing the field.” Ford said helpfully.
“Then…” Baxter said, now even more worried.
“Flarn warship off the port bow!” J’hana suddenly barked.
“Red alert.” Baxter said, returning to his seat. “All hands to battle stations.”
“The science vessel is leaving the system sir, and the warship has made an intercept course for our position.” Larkin said.
“How the hell could we have missed a ship that big?” Conway asked.
“Apparently,” Larkin replied, “they were hiding on the opposite side of the planet Tervel.”
“Get us out of here, Mr. Ford,” Baxter commanded.
“Aye, sir,” Ford replied, touching a control at the helm. “We can’t exactly make a hasty retreat, sir. In addition to being a good hiding place, this gas cloud is extremely volatile. If we use the impulse engines, the whole thing could blow.”
“Then steer us out of the cloud, in the opposite direction of the Flarn vessel, maximum thrusters,” Baxter replied. “And I’ll welcome any suggestions on how to handle that Flarn ship.”
“Maybe we can use the gas cloud to our advantage.” Lt. Tilleran offered.
“That’s the stupidest…” Conway began.
“No, she’s right,” Baxter suddenly said. “Ready aft torpedoes, Lt. J’hana.”
“Yes, sir.” J’hana said, happy for the chance of some real combat.
“What exactly are you planning on doing?” Conway asked, now turning to Baxter.
“You’ll see. Larkin, what’s the distance of that warship?” Baxter asked.
“Forty thousand kilometers and closing fast, sir,” Larkin replied.
“Can they steer around the cloud?” Baxter asked.
“Negative. Because of the cloud’s size, they would not be able to intercept us before we reached the other side.” Larkin said.
“Good. Then they’ll have to enter the cloud.”
“So?” Commander Conway asked.
“So, all we have to do is blow up the cloud,” Baxter said, smiling triumphantly.
“Are you nuts? You’d be…”
“Lighting the biggest fart in the galaxy,” Baxter finished, smiling even broader.
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Conway grumbled.
Ford shook his head. “Well, stupidity has gotten us this far.”
“The Flarn warship has entered the cloud. They will be within our weapons range in thirteen seconds,” J’hana announced.
“One question,” Lt. Tilleran asked. “What’s to stop us from getting blown apart along with the Flarn vessel?”
“Fate,” Baxter announced finally.
“We are now within weapons range,” J’hana said from tactical.
“They will undoubtedly wait for us to clear the cloud before firing,” Larkin stated.
“Yeah, by then they’d be right on top of us and we wouldn’t be able to escape,” Tilleran continued. Baxter stood up and strolled over to the helm control, resting his hands on the back of Ford’s chair. “Listen carefully, Ensign. As soon as I give J’hana the order to fire, I want you to hit the warp engines.”
Tilleran raised an eyebrow. “Sir? Are you sure that’s a good idea? We don’t know what effects a warp field will have on this type of anomalous gas cloud.”
“Do we know what effect Flarn anti-proton beams will have on our ship?” Baxter asked, glaring at Tilleran in annoyance.
Tilleran sank a couple of inches behind her station. “Good point, sir.”
“Glad you see it my way. Fire torpedoes, J’hana.” J’hana stabbed the aft torpedo control, sending two gleaming red torpedoes streaking through space towards the pursuing Flarn ship, leaving a trail of exploding gasses in their wake.
“Now, Mister Ford!” Baxter shouted, as the Aerostar pitched forward in the torpedoes’ fiery wake. The Aerostar’s nacelles glowed blue as it stretched forward, leaping through space.
As the ship engaged into warp, the gas cloud exploded in a bright wash of light, causing the Aerostar’s warp field to momentarily fluctuate.
“Something’s wrong!” Lt. Tilleran shouted, as the ship’s superstructure whined and screamed around them, and sparks exploded from nearby panels.
“Richards to bridge. The engines are malfunctioning. I can’t maintain a warp field. What the hell is going on?”
“I’ll let you know as soon as I find out, Richards,” Baxter shouted, trying to maintain his balance. “Divert power to the structural integrity field…try to…!”
“We’re caught up in a wormhole!” Tilleran suddenly shouted. “We’ve fractured space!”
“Now you’ve done it, Baxter!” Conway shouted, as the Aerostar bucked one more time for good measure, tearing its way through space and time.
Doctor Browning finished off the last piece of Chicken a la King Louis, patting her stomach with satisfaction. “Eating always makes me feel better.”
“Obviously. You ate half a pound of chicken,” Peterman noted, playing around with the lettuce on her plate with a fork. “You must feel a hell of a lot better.”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I do, however, feel like having a nice long talk with Chris. Maybe we can sort out…”
Suddenly there was a rumble, as the ship rocked, and the holodeck scene began to flicker, being replaced by the static orange and black grid.
“What the hell is happening?” Peterman asked, looking around.
“I don’t know…” Browning replied, standing up. “But I have to get to sickbay. Whatever it is, it probably means casualties.”
Peterman followed Browning out of the holodeck just as another severe jolt shook through the ship, throwing her forward into a bulkhead. After that, everything went black.
SALISBURY, MD MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1995
“I saw her again, Andy.” Dave said over the telephone, in his usual tone of extreme annoyance.
Andy Baxter leaned back in his chair and stretched, holding the phone between his shoulder and his ear as he continued to work on the Philosophy paper that was due the next day. “Saw who?”
“That woman! The one we saw when I had that table at the flea market! The one that wouldn’t shut up. I tell you, Andy, she’s stalking us!”
“That’s ridiculous, Dave, and you know it. She’s just a lonely lady who found a couple young, handsome guys that shared her interests.”
“Yeah, right. Well, if I see her at Wal-Mart again, I’m going to call security,” Conway said.
“Do whatever you want. Hey, by the way…did the new figures come out yet?”
“The ones from ‘Voyager’? No, not yet.”
“Oh. I wonder when they’ll get around to releasing those?”
“I don’t know. Are you going to watch ‘Voyager’ tonight?”
“I don’t think so, I’m going to finish this paper and get some sleep. I have a 9:30 class tomorrow morning,” Baxter replied.
“Suit yourself. It’s supposed to be a good episode tonight.”
“Yeah, right. I don’t even really like ‘Voyager’. It’s the most unrealistic Star Trek series yet. I mean, how likely is it that a starship could be tossed halfway across the galaxy by some strange phenomenon?”
Captain Baxter winced in pain as he lifted himself up off the deck. “Status report?” he asked, looking around the bridge. His people were strewn about the deck, half conscious, all moaning in pain as the ship drifted, God knew where, through space. The emergency lighting cast a dim glow on the only fully functioning member of Baxter’s bridge crew.
Lt. Larkin studied her panel. “My systems were momentarily thrown off by the space-time flux. However, it seems that we have undergone a quantum sub-space displacement of great magnitude.”
“And that means…”
Lt. Tilleran pulled herself up, wiping the soot from the burnt out relay that sparked nearby off of her science panel, and stared down at the readouts in shock. “I don’t believe it. We’re home. The Alpha Quadrant, sector zero-zero-one.”
By this time, the rest of the bridge crew had once again taken their stations, most of them nursing small injuries.
“Home…” Baxter collapsed into his chair. “Is it possible?”
“So it would seem,” Larkin said, looking over her readings.
Ensign Ford rubbed the cut on his forehead and surveyed his helm control. “There has to be a catch somewhere…I mean…” He stopped. “Wait a minute. These readings are all wrong.”
“There’s a good reason for that,” Lt. Tilleran said, drawing the bridge crew’s attention towards her station at the rear of the bridge.
“And what’s that?” Baxter finally asked.
“We’ve also experienced a time displacement.”
“Oh, shit,” Conway said.
Baxter held up a hand. “Wait a minute, maybe it’s not that bad. Where in time have we been thrown to?”
“Three hundred seventy-eight years into the past,” Tilleran said slowly.
“I guess shore leave is out of the question,” Ensign Ford finally said.
An hour later, the senior staff of the Starship Aerostar gathered in the conference lounge, in a futile attempt to make some sort of sense out of their new plight. Lt. Larkin stood at the front of the room, pointing to a schematic of the Tervellan gas cloud, indicating the cause of their mysterious jump.
“As you can see here, our warp field caused a rip in the fabric of time space, causing a temporary worm hole to be formed, joining this point in time space with our own. Also note the considerable…” Unfortunately, no one was able to hear Larkin over the din of voices that echoed throughout the room. Captain Baxter stood at the head of the table, trying to gain some semblance of control over the meeting, finally slamming his hands down on the table and shouting,
Everyone at the table, Conway, J’hana, Richards, Browning, Peterman, Tilleran, and Ford shut up and looked at the Captain.
“You wanted to say something, Captain?” Conway asked, his face creased with annoyance.
“I wanted to say…” Baxter began, “that arguing won’t go any farther towards getting us back to our own time.”
“That’s just the thing, though,” Conway said. “I’ve talked to some people, and many of them think we should just stay here.”
“You’re kidding,” Browning said, looking at Conway with amazement. “We can’t just show up on Earth and ask for a couple hundred rooms at the Holiday Inn!”
“I never said anything about going to Earth. Some of the crew think that we should just go to another planet. Vulcan, or Bajor, or some other planet that’s near our level of technology. We could explain our situation and ask for help. Maybe they could even help us get home.”
“That’s not an option,” Baxter said finally.
“Well, maybe it should be. I think some people would be happy enough just being back in the Alpha quadrant. You know, find a peaceful out of the way planet to settle down on,” Conway said.
“Is that how you feel, Mr. Conway?” Baxter asked angrily.
“Of course not, I’m just saying…”
“No, we will not lie down like dogs.” J’hana said, causing everyone to look in her direction. “To settle down, so far from success, would be unacceptable. I would be forced to commit ritual suicide.”
“Look, no one’s committing ritual anything here,” Baxter said. “We’re going to find a reasonable way out of this, I promise all of you.”
“Why not just slingshot around the sun and go back to our time?” Ensign Ford asked.
Baxter shrugged, looking back to Larkin. “Well,
Larkin inclined her head a moment in thought. “Our scanners indicate that although we are, in effect, in the past, we are in an alternate past, one that is intimately in contact with our own future. To more succinctly state a lengthy narrative…”
“Too late.” Dr. Browning said quietly.
“…we would be traveling to a future that is not our own. However, what we do in this timeline will have an effect on our own future.”
“Damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” Ford muttered. “However,” Larkin noted, “I do believe it is possible to re-open the now dormant wormhole and return our place and time in the Delta Quadrant.”
“Providing that the wormhole is still open on the other end,” Tilleran said.
“Good. I want you to get to work on that, Lieutenant Larkin,” Baxter said.
“I’ll help,” Tilleran offered.
“Excellent. Mr. Richards, how long until repairs are completed?”
Lt. Richards thumbed through the small padd he had with him. “Not long, sir. Main power was compromised when we went through the disturbance, so we’ll have to re-align the warp field and re-initialize the core, but other than that, we got through this relatively safely.”
“Tell that to Peterman,” Browning muttered. “She has a bump the size of a tribble on her head.”
“I’m fine, really,” Peterman said, looking around. “Really, I’m okay.”
“That’s good to know, sweetie,” Baxter said. “In the meantime, though, I want you to compose a status report for the crew. One that will put their minds at ease and keep them from going nuts over this. The last thing we need is everyone losing their cool.”
“Well, what exactly am I supposed to say?”
“Think of something,” Baxter said, turning to Dr. Browning. “What about casualties?”
“Well, other than Peterman’s head, just a few cuts and bruises,” Browning said.
“Great, well…if that’s all…” Baxter said, standing up.
“Captain…” Ford said.
“What is it, Ensign?” Baxter asked.
“Do you think I could do Titan’s turn…just for old time’s sake?”
“No,” Baxter said flatly, heading out of the conference room. “Dismissed.”
Dr. Browning followed Lt. Commander Richards to the turbolift that would take them from the bridge to their respective places. Once the lift doors closed and it began to move, Browning cleared her throat.
Richards looked over at her. “What?”
“I was just wondering, you know, how you were.”
“I’m fine,” Richards said, resuming his intense study of the turbolift door.
“Computer, halt turbolift,” Browning said angrily. “Why did you do that?” Richards asked.
“This is senseless, Chris! Why can’t we just be adults about this?”
“About what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Browning just shook her head. “That’s just it. You don’t know anything! You don’t think about anything! You don’t care about anything!”
“That’s not true,” Richards protested.
“Well, then…what did we do on our last date?”
“We went to the ‘Continuum’.”
“I mean the one before that one.”
Richards thought a moment. “Uhh, I think we had dinner in the Starlight lounge…and we watched that movie Mirk showed.”
“That was the second to last date we had. The last date we had was the parachuting trip on the holodeck. Remember? We went with Baxter and Peterman. Andy almost got attacked by an M-113 Salt Vampire. Remember those rough trade winds?”
“Oh, yeah. I knew that!” Richards said. “I don’t see what you’re all ticked off about.”
Browning slumped up against the turbolift wall. “I don’t know.”
“Well when you find out, tell me. Until then, I have work to do,” Richards said, turning away from the Doctor. “Computer, resume turbolift.”
“So Janice thinks that Chris doesn’t care about her. She thinks there’s nothing left in the relationship,” Peterman said, sitting on the desk in Baxter’s readyroom.
“Thank goodness they got replicators back up, I was getting really thirsty,” Baxter said as he carried a cold glass of grapefruit juice to his desk.
“Well, what do you think?” Peterman asked.
“About what?” Baxter replied.
“Chris and Janice!” Peterman said.
“Oh, them. They have to sort out things themselves. If the relationship is over, then it’s over. They have to decide that, hon.”
Peterman shook her head. “I don’t buy that for a minute. If they had followed that advice, we may not be together now. They can’t just break up.”
Baxter sighed. “I’m afraid they can, Kelly. Listen, I know you want to help Chris and Janice. Well, they’re my friends too, and if they’re unhappy in a relationship, they should get out of it.”
Peterman walked around the desk and wrapped her arms around the Captain. “I know. I just get scared when I see a relationship like theirs in trouble. I mean, what if something like that happened to us?”
Baxter pulled Peterman into his lap. “Never.”
Peterman smiled, snuggling closer to Baxter. “Good. Promise me that then. Promise me, no matter what happens out there, we’ll never lose each other.”
Baxter kissed Peterman’s cheek. “I promise.”
“Captain…we’re nearing Earth,” came Conway’s voice over the comm.
“I have to go to work now, hon,” Baxter said, “And you need to get down and start composing that message for the crew. They’re probably storming the bridge as we speak.”
Peterman got up and followed Baxter out onto the bridge. “Yes, sir. I’ll see you tonight?”
Baxter sighed again. “I hope so.”
Peterman smiled at Baxter as the turbolift doors closed, and the lift descended towards her office on Deck Eight.
Baxter headed back to Lt. Tilleran’s station. “What have you got for me, Lieutenant?”
“I’m picking up multiple warp signatures, for one thing. Three are pretty recent, only about two weeks old. And one is very faint–about ten years old, which I’ve identified as a Bird of Prey, from Captain Kirk’s voyage back to the 1980’s.”
“Oh, yeah, the whale thing,” Baxter said. “What about the others?”
“No idea. I think they both came from Federation starships though, one small one, and the other significantly larger.”
“Maybe those incidences occurred since we left the Alpha Quadrant,” Conway offered. “Or, they could have come from far into our future. Anything is possible.”
Baxter rubbed his eyes. “I hate time travel. I hate it to death…in any case, Lieutenant Tilleran, I need you to jam whatever sensing devices Earth has. If they pick us up, we could seriously contaminate the time stream.”
“I’ve got the EM bands filled with noise, sir. They’ll probably think we’re a far off pulsar, if they detect us at all.”
“What about that space telescope they have? The Huddle or something. They had that in the nineteen-nineties didn’t they?”
Tilleran smiled. “I’ve accounted for that as well. I’ve had Ensign Ford adjust our course so that we are out of the telescope’s line of sight at all times. We should probably take up a geocentric position on the dark side of the moon just to be on the safe side.”
“Very good,” Baxter said. “Make it so.”
Baxter walked around to the command area, where Commander Conway was looking over some scans. “Seems we have to be extra careful today, Captain. The Discovery is out there.”
“You don’t say,” Baxter said, rubbing his chin.
“What’s the Discovery?” Ensign Ford asked, turning around.
Larkin looked up from her panel. “The Space Shuttle Discovery. A Twentieth Century Earth ship, built by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It was quite primitive by our standards, but it represented the pinnacle of Earth technology at the time.”
“They had to pee in their space suits!” Baxter said with amusement.
“Yeah…at least they have an excuse, Ford–there were no bathrooms,” Conway said wryly.
Ford was about to reply when Lt. Tilleran suddenly yelped in shock.
“Something to report, Miss Tilleran?” Baxter asked, turning back to look at the science officer.
“I don’t believe it, Captain.” Tilleran said, her voice filled with surprise.
“Believe what?” Baxter asked.
“I think I have an explanation for one of those warp signatures. I’m reading a Starfleet power source down on Earth.”
Andy Baxter pulled his Ford Bronco into the parking lot of Travis Dillon’s apartment complex and hopped out of the car, slamming the door. He really felt bad about putting off finishing the philosophy paper in order to go hang out at Travis’s, but he figured that he would only hang out there an hour or so, then get back to the dorm at ten…leaving him plenty of time to finish it.
“Hey, Andy. Come on in,” Travis said, welcoming Baxter into the apartment. “I haven’t finished unpacking, so things are still kind of a mess.”
Baxter laughed, leaning down and patting Travis’s poodle, Lady, on the head. “That’s okay, it’s a lot cleaner around here than Brian’s side of the room.”
“I thought you said Brian was a pretty good roomate?” Travis said, getting he and Baxter a can of soda from the fridge.
Baxter opened the can and took a quick gulp. “I never said anything about him being neat. You can actually see where my side of the room starts and his ends.”
Travis chuckled at this. “Me and Alex never had that problem. We’re both slobs.”
“I’ve seen worse. So how is old Alex?”
“Old Alex is fine,” Travis said, plopping down on the couch and surfing through the channels. “Boy, what depths will UPN sink to next? They’re having Kate Mulgrew from ‘Voyager’ guest star on ‘Moesha’.”
“Nothing that network does surprises me any more. So, what’s been going on the last few weeks?”
Travis seemed thoughtful for a moment. “Gee, not much. I took a couple midterms, hung out with Carl, Alex, Trina, and Andrea. Nothing that exciting. How about your friends…Dave, Chris, Janice…how are they all doing?”
“Well, you know how Dave is, he’s as neurotic as ever. And Chris and Janice…I guess they’re doing as well as can be expected.”
“Give them time. They have a lot to deal with. So how about you? How’s the first semester of school, Mr. Freshman?”
“Hmm. I guess it’s going okay. I thought college would be more of an…adventure.”
“College is whatever you make it, my friend,” Travis replied mystically.
Baxter took another swig of his Pepsi. “I guess you’re right, Travis. You just have to take things as they come.”
FBI HEADQUARTERS - NORFOLK BRANCH MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1995
“What to you make of this thing, Dr. Cross? Is it an evil alien weapon, or part of Mattel’s new Christmas line?” Mulder asked with a grin, as he and Scully bent over the strange contraption they had confiscated from young Carl Jaroch earlier that afternoon. They had hooked it up and switched its power supply on.
Dr. Benjamin Cross, the head of technological research and development at the Norfolk branch of the FBI studied the machine with intense interest. “It’s hard to say, exactly, Agent Mulder. It’s definitely designed to act as an electromagnetic telescope, but the configuration is all wrong. And this picture we’re getting is completely wrong for the area of space I’m targeting. It’s also putting off a lot of radiation, and I can’t understand why.”
“Is it dangerous?” Scully asked with concern on her face.
“Oh, no, it’s not even radiation, per se, more like concentrated particles. Perhaps neutrinos, quarks, or some other microscopic particles. They’re definitely not harmful to us, but I can’t even begin to understand what this device’s true function is.”
“That’s what we have to find out, Doctor,” Mulder said gravely.
“I’ll keep running tests, and let you guys know if anything else turns up in the morning.”
“Thanks, Doctor,” Mulder said, heading out of the lab, with Scully hot on his tail.
“So, it emits microscopic particles, what does that prove?” Scully asked.
“Only that there’s more to this thing than meets the eye. A lot more,” Mulder said, as they rode the elevator to the ground floor.
“So what’s our next step?”
Mulder stopped his stride out to the parking lot just long enough to flash Scully a quick smile. “Tonight we’re going to get some sleep. Then tomorrow, we’re going shopping.”
“It’s a shuttle alright. From the USS Defiant. Its power systems are on standby mode, but it is undamaged,” Lt. Tilleran reported from the science console.
“How the hell did one of the Defiant’s shuttles get there?” Conway asked with amazement.
“Good question. One I’d sure as hell like to know the answer to.” Baxter said, staring at the tiny shuttle on the viewscreen.
“I’m trying to access the shuttle’s databanks now, sir,” Tilleran said, concentrating on her panel. “Hmmm. That’s strange…the shuttle’s power systems have been locked out. I can’t do anything from here.”
“Then we’re going down there. Have Mr. Richards meet us in Transporter Room One,” Baxter said with resolve, heading for the turbolift.
Conway followed him. “You can’t be serious. You’re not going down there!”
“I sure as hell am. There’s a Federation shuttlecraft parked in a forest, in Norfolk Virginia, in 1995, and I want to know why.”
“What if you do something to screw up the time stream! You could get us all wiped off the face of time!”
Baxter stared down at Conway with annoyance. “The time stream’s already fucked. What if some kid jumps in that shuttle and figures out how to operate it? I’d like to see the United States government explain that one.”
“Well, if you insist on going down there, Captain, I’m going to have to insist I go down there with you, First Officer’s prerogative.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I feel the Captain’s life may be in jeopardy.”
Baxter laughed. “Oh, that’s rich. That’s really rich. Fine, fine. You can come along. But just remember, I’m heading up this away team.”
Conway nodded, following Tilleran and the Captain into the turbolift. “Whatever you say, sir.”
Baxter glared at Conway as the lift doors closed. “Larkin, you have the bridge.”
“All hands, this is your Ship’s Counselor, Kelly Peterman. I’m here to help clarify some of the news you are no doubt spreading among yourselves. Let’s see, how should I put this…we’ve traveled back in time four hundred years…” Peterman shook her head and switched off the recorder. “Nope, too blunt.”
Suddenly there was a beep at her door.
“Come on in.” Peterman said half-heartedly, staring at the screen of her terminal, as if it might explain exactly how she would break the news of the Aerostar’s latest plight to the crew.
“Hey,” Dr. Browning said, plopping down on the couch next to Peterman’s desk. “Wow, nice office.”
“Thanks. Why are you here?” Peterman asked, walking around to the chair next to the couch.
“Chris and Andy went down to the surface. Something about bringing back some Federation technology found down there.”
“Federation technology? On Earth in the twentieth century? How odd.” Peterman said.
“Not as odd as you think. I did some research. It turns out that Starfleet vessels and crews have had a lot more run-ins with the twentieth century than you might think.”
“That so?” Peterman asked, trying to decide how to add this latest news to her shipwide announcement.
“Yeah. They’ve visited the twenties, the forties, the sixties, the eighties, and most recently, the nineties.”
“Wow, that’s close to the point in time we came back to. What happened?”
“It involved the Secondprize. Captain Rydell had his brain switched with an ancestor of his in the year 1993. It had something to do with an electromagnetic telescope that one of Rydell’s ancestor’s friends had invented.”
“Tell me about it. The twentieth century Earth is a pretty screwed up place, and the two people we care about most are down there right now. And there’s nothing we can do to help them.”
“Don’t worry, Janice. I’m sure Chris and Andy will be fine. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“Ask Captain Rydell, Kelly,” Browning replied.
“Okay, everyone, let’s make this quick,” Captain Baxter said, as soon as he and the rest of the away team materialized in the secluded forest in which the Defiant’s shuttle had been found. “Get up, Conway,” he added.
Commander Conway had bent down to kiss the soil as soon as he had materialized. Upon hearing Baxter’s command, he immediately stood up and brushed himself off. “Sorry, sir. It’s just good to be back.”
“Well, don’t get used to it. We won’t be here long,” Baxter said, switching on his wrist beacon.
“Hopefully,” Tilleran added, switching on her own wrist beacon and moving forward through the foliage. “The shuttle is right this way.”
The group walked quietly through the forest, taking in the surroundings.
“Norfolk, Virginia,” Richards repeated to himself. “I think I was here, once.”
“My home town is only a hundred or so kilometers from here.” Baxter said, as he pushed through the branches. “A little town called Salisbury, Maryland.”
“How quaint,” Conway said, bringing up the rear.
“Shut up and keep moving, Conway,” Baxter said, continuing to push through the foliage.
“Here it is!” Tilleran ran a few feet ahead to where the tiny microshuttle rested between two, large, rotten oak trees.
Baxter knelt down and shined his light on the numbers scrawled on the side of the shuttle. “‘NX-74205’. It’s from the Defiant all right. Can you get in there Lieutenant?”
Tilleran studied the small panel near the shuttle’s hatch. “The entry code has been encrypted, sir. The tricorder should be able to break down the code in a matter of minutes.”
Meanwhile, Conway bent down to pick up something that had caught his eye, a few feet from the shuttle. “What do you make of this, Captain?”
Baxter studied the translucent, oblong object. “Looks like a container of some sort. ‘Milualkee’s Best.’ I wonder what that is?”
Conway smelled the container and immediately took it away from his nose, the disgust plain on his face. “It’s definitely beer, sir. And from the smell of it, not very good beer.”
“So someone has been here since the shuttle landed,” Baxter said, shaking his head.
“It’s amazing that the authorities aren’t crawling all over this place,” Richards noted, surveying the area. “Drugs were really big during this time, my guess is that there were some college kids around here and they were so high they probably just thought this thing was some sort of hallucination.”
“I wish this whole mission was a hallucination,” Richards commented.
“I’m in,” Tilleran finally said, as the hatch slid open. She immediately climbed in and began accessing the shuttle’s computers. “The computers are locked out too, which I guess shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.”
“Well, get that uplink set up as fast as you can,” Baxter said, looking around. “The sooner we get out of here, the less chance we have of contaminating the time stream.”
“I’m on it,” Tilleran said, sliding the computer’s access panel off and ducking her head inside.
The name tag on her shirt read “Mabel,” and she wasn’t an out of the ordinary cleaning lady at all. As a matter of fact, most of the agents on the tenth floor of the Norfolk FBI branch would say that she was pretty darn good. She was not, however, a temporal scientist, or for that matter, any kind of scientist. All she was concerned about as she dusted off Dr. Cross’ lab table was getting home in time to watch “Murphy Brown.”
That’s probably why she dusted the lab table with such a sense of urgency, not at all careful to avoid Carl Jaroch’s malfunctioning electromagnetic telescope (which was really a perfectly functioning neutrino emitter) that sat on top of the lab table, minding its own business.
Visions of Candace Bergen danced in Mabel’s head as she leaned over the lab table, stretching to dust the far corner. Unfortunately, she got her arm caught up in the electrical cord of the aforementioned neutrino emitter, and ended up knocking it off of the table.
Mabel let out a small squeak as she fell backwards, and watched the invention tumble to the floor, bouncing once, and coming to life with electronic beeps and whistles, lights blinking on and off all around it.
She heaved the bulky machine back onto the counter, checking to make sure that it had not been broken. She wasn’t much of an engineer, but it looked fine to her. The neutrino emitter beeped and blinked quietly as Mabel quickly finished cleaning the room, shutting off the lights and scuttling out the door, not giving the accident a second thought.
“Well,” Richards said, examining his tricorder readings. “The shuttle isn’t damaged. And the hull scans don’t show any signs of a firefight or temporal anomaly.”
Baxter thought a moment, rubbing his chin. “That means the Defiant had to come back through time with it.”
“That must have been since we left the Alpha Quadrant,” Conway interjected, “I mean, we would have heard about something like that.”
“I don’t see how that gets us anywhere,” Baxter said, studying the shuttle in mild annoyance. “Chris,
I need you to come up with a way to get this thing out of here in the most inconspicuous way possible.”
“U-haul?” Richards said with a smile.
Conway and Baxter stared at him, unamused.
“Sorry, twentieth century joke.”
“Got it,” Tilleran said triumphantly, watching the information whiz by on the shuttle’s small computer screen. “I’m uploading the shuttle’s data banks to the Aerostar now.”
“Great,” Baxter said, peering over her shoulder. “The sooner we get that information the sooner we can…”
“…get out of here.” Baxter continued, suddenly overcome with a wash of confusion. He was no longer in the woods in Norfolk, and none of his away team was nearby. He was in some sort of house, or apartment.
“What do you mean ‘get out of here’? It’s my apartment!” someone asked from behind him.
Baxter turned around. “Commander Dillon?” The person looked just like Commander Travis Dillon…but, at the same time, he looked different, younger. This was really weird.
“Not as far as I know, unless I’ve entered Starfleet and was unaware of it. I think you’re losing it Andy. Believe me, you’ll get used to college before long,” Travis said, looking at Baxter as if he was crazy.
“College?” Baxter asked, extremely disoriented. He looked down at his clothing. He wasn’t wearing his uniform…or his comm badge! Where the hell was he? “Where the hell am I?” Baxter asked.
“As if you didn’t know. You’ve lived in Salisbury longer than I have,” Travis said.
“Oh, boy,” Baxter said, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.
“Report, Commander,” a scratchy, guttural female voice said.
David Conway’s eyes snapped open, and he hopped off the bed. “Lt. Larkin, what’s wrong with your voice? And why did you transport us-“ He suddenly noticed there was no one there. Furthermore, he was in a small, dark room, with some sort of glowing screen in the corner. Conway squinted through the darkness in order to make out what was going on. It seemed like he was watching the flight recorder from some kind of starship, only occasionally music would play in the background.
“You heard me…get off my ship!” The gravely voice said.
Then the scene of the starship changed, to the interior of some sort of doctor’s office. A woman was sitting at the desk, staring out of the screen at Conway. “Do you have cramps?”
Conway was dumbfounded. “No.”
“Well, just like you, I suffer from the monthly agony of menstrual pain. That’s why I take Permasin. It cures my cramps, bloating, itching, bitching…”
“Where the hell am I?” Conway asked, staring at the TV and slapping it with his hand.
“David!” a voice called from beyond the room Conway was in.
“Yes?” Conway asked, almost afraid to answer the woman’s voice.
“Your dinner’s ready!” the woman said with joy. Conway could hear approaching footsteps. He steeled himself in a corner of the room, prepared for anything. Obviously this was some sort of trap.
A short, plump, woman with a pleasing disposition burst into Conway’s room, a steaming tray in her hands. “I made your favorite! Crabcakes!”
Conway collapsed onto the bed behind him. “Oh boy.”
“Hey, Chris! Come on in!” A short, balding man said, welcoming Chris Richards into a house that he was sure he had never seen in his life.
“Um,” he said, dutifully following the man inside. Where was he?
“Janice’s up in her room. She’ll be down in a second. You can wait in the family room.”
“Well, I uh…”
Richards was led into the house’s spacious family room. He decided to sit down on the couch and try to work out exactly what was going on. The last thing he remembered was that he was with Captain Baxter, Commander Conway, and Lieutenant Tilleran, trying to retrieve data from the Defiant’s shuttlecraft.
It was then that Chris felt something tugging at the back of his head…oh, it was just Janice’s cat, playing with his ponytail. Wait a minute…he had a ponytail! Since when did he have a ponytail?
“Hi, Chris! How’s the college life treating you?” A woman asked, descending the stairs behind the couch and taking a position behind Richards.
Richards turned around. “Um, well, I really don’t know…”
“That’s good to know. Janice will be right down. How about some antipasto?”
Richards shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Um, sure.”
“Gee, you sound quiet, tonight,” a voice called. Upon hearing the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs, Richards turned around. He would have known that voice anywhere, in any time. It was Janice.
“Hey,” Richards began, “What the heck is going…” By this time, Browning had just reached the bottom step. Richards’s jaw might as well have dropped to the floor.
He just stared on with an expression of complete shock as Browning waddled over to him and gave him a hug. “I missed you so much. And for that matter, so has your daughter. You should feel her kick!” Browning indicated her expansive tummy as she plopped down on the couch.
“Er…” Richards managed to choke out.
Browning patted her belly lovingly. “I tell you, Chris, I think she’s going to pop out any day now!”
Richards slid down farther into the couch. “Oh, boy.”
THE SIDE CHANGE
HAMPTON ROADS, VIRGINIA
Irma Wilson squeezed through her front door and waddled into her house, weighed down by grocery bags and shopping bags.
“Tribble! I’m home!” Irma called out, plopping the bags down and pulling a Pabst Blue Ribbon out of the fridge. Suddenly, a little brown poodle scurried into the kitchen, yipping and yapping. “Come here, Tribble, come to momma!”
Tribble obediently jumped into Irma’s lap and began licking the beer from her chin.
Irma poured some of the beer into Tribble’s bowl and yanked the National Enquirer out of one of the grocery bags. “Oh, my!” Irma said, looking at the cover. “OJ and Elvis finally got married. I tell you, Tribble, that was a fairy tale waiting to come true.” Irma flipped through the magazine some more, her eyes widening at the huge headline:
A L I E N S A R E H E R E
“Well,” Irma said, setting the magazine down. “It’s about time.” She reached into another shopping bag and pulled out a small package of pictures. “Come here, Tribble. I want you to see the pictures I took of my new friends!” Tribble looked on as Irma flipped through several pictures, one of what appeared to be an employee of Wal-Mart, working at a register. The view was partly obstructed by what looked to be the box from a 20-inch Toshiba Television. “I had to hide behind the storage shelves to get those,” Irma commented. “Pretty ingenious, huh?” Tribble just yipped, excitedly watching as Irma flipped through the photos.
“Anyway, that’s David. He works at Wal-Mart. This is Andy. He lives in a dorm at Salisbury State University,” the next few photos appeared to be of someone, around the age of the Wal-Mart employee, but this person was hunched over a desk, working at a computer. That view was partially obstructed by a window pane.
“I impersonated a maintenance worker to get those shots. I almost fell off the ladder at one point,” Irma explained, setting the pictures down carefully, as if they were quite powerful.
“And I managed to sneak inside the dormitory, posing as a pizza delivery person.” Irma said, reaching into her purse. “And I stole this hairbrush from Andy’s room while he was in the bathroom. Isn’t it cool?”
Tribble yipped again.
“And his hair is in it!” Irma said excitedly, reaching into her purse again. “And, when David went on break, I managed to get this cool Kleenex from out of the wastebasket.”
Tribble peered at the Kleenex, sticking her tongue out to lick it.
“No!” Irma said, slapping Tribble back. “I have to preserve their DNA, so that at some point, I can clone them. Too bad our technology hasn’t come that far yet.” Tribble just cocked her head quizzically.
“I’ve finally found the perfect friends, Tribble. And once my plans are complete, I’ll never have to let them go!” Irma cackled hideously, scurrying to her bedroom with the pictures, hairbrush, and Kleenex.
Tribble, for her part, decided to stick her nose in Irma’s purse, investigating the confines of the giant bag. Inside, hidden underneath a pack of half-eaten Malomars, Tribble found a tiny medicine bottle, inscribed with the words:
TAKE TWO CAPLETS EACH DAY TO PREVENT DEPRESSION, HALLUCINATION, AND HYSTERIA
Irma had lost the bottle in her expansive purse several days ago, and as the Prozac-free days flew by, her personality changed more and more. She felt much happier lately, much more sure of herself. Obviously, the quack who had prescribed her medication did not know what he was talking about. Dementia indeed.
NORFOLK, VA MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1995
Lt. Tilleran wasn’t sure exactly when things went completely nuts, but it was quite shortly after she began the upload to the Aerostar’s data banks. Right after that her mind was hit by a huge mass of confusion. The minds of Baxter, Conway, and Richards seemed to radically change …it was as if they had suddenly become totally different people. Tilleran had to fight to steady herself as she was hit by the wave of confusion put off by Baxter, Conway, and Richards.
“What’s going on?” Baxter asked with fear, looking around. “Where am I? And why am I wearing this outfit?”
“And why do you look ten years older?” Conway added. “This isn’t happening!” Richards shouted.
“I want to go home!” Baxter said.
“Let’s get out of here!” Conway said.
“Just hold on a minute!” Tilleran shouted, trying to gain control of the situation. “You all have to calm down. The tricorder says that we’re all experiencing a huge neutrino surge. I’m sure we’ll find out what the…”
“Tricorder?” Conway asked, his expression brightening.
“That has to be it!” Baxter finally said. “We’re on ‘Star Trek’! I’m dreaming. I have dreams like this all the time.”
“I’m the one dreaming!” Conway argued.
“No, I’m the one dreaming!” Richards said.
“NO!” Baxter shouted. “We’re all dreaming!”
“More like a nightmare,” Tilleran muttered, grabbing her equipment out of the shuttlecraft and tapping her comm badge. “Tilleran to Aerostar. We have a major situation down here. I’ve recovered the shuttle data, but the rest of the away team has gone nuts!”
“What is your recommendation, Lieutenant?” came the calm voice of Lt. Larkin.
“You better beam us up there before things get any worse. We can worry about the shuttle later.”
“Acknowledged, Lieutenant. We are beaming you up now.”
“Who was that?” Richards asked fearfully.
“Did she say beam?” Conway asked.
“This is so cool!” Baxter said as the away team dematerialized.
“You’ve lost it, Andy,” Travis Dillon said, shaking his head.
“No, I haven’t, Travis. Something is seriously wrong here,” Baxter said, rubbing his head and leaning back on the couch.
“That much is certain.”
“No, listen, this happened before. Captain Rydell…he went back in time and traded places with his ancestor. That has to be the explanation. But how?”
“Alex?” Travis asked. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Baxter thought a moment. He was working on board the Secondprize during the time of Captain Rydell’s famous jaunt back through time. Could it be that a similar thing had happened? Was such a huge coincidence possible? If anyone on Earth would know about that incident, it was Travis Dillon. “Come on, Travis…don’t you remember…your roomate, Alex, his mind was replaced by a future Alex Rydell, and you helped him mend his relationship with Trinian…I mean Trina, you helped save the time stream as we know it.”
“When was this?” Travis asked, now starting to feel extremely confused.
“Last year some time, I think,” Baxter said. “They didn’t do a mind wipe…so you’ve got to remember. Unless you blocked it out.”
“Mind wipe…” Travis said, his voice trailing off. —
Things went blurry for a moment for Travis Dillon. He wasn’t sure what was happening to him, but it was as if he was reliving things that he didn’t remember living the first time…
He was back in his apartment…with Alex…and two other people that were very familiar. One of them looked just like Alex, except older. And he was coming towards him…
“Travis!” he said warmly, walking over to Travis. “How are you doing? It’s been too long!”
“You know him?” Alex asked Travis.
“I know you?” Travis asked Rydell.
“It’s been so long, I’m not surprised that you don’t remember,” Rydell said. “I looked different then anyway. We met about two years ago. I was only in town for about a week. You helped me out a lot.”
“I don’t remember…”
“I’d become separated from my friends and had to get back to them. You helped me out and helped save a relationship in the process. Yes, it was a fine job. Worthy of a captain. You would have at least won second prize.” Travis looked at Rydell, confused. What the hell was this guy talking about? Two years ago? Captain? Second prize? Secondprize! Captain! It all fell into place. Travis’s eyes widened in shock.
“You!” he exclaimed. It had to be Captain Rydell from the future. Travis had almost convinced himself that the week in which Rydell and Alex switched bodies didn’t happen. Alex spent the whole week unconscious in the future, so he didn’t know a thing about it. He’d convinced himself that he was actually here that week and had just blocked it out because it almost cost him his relationship with Trina. Travis, on the other hand, had figured out that something was wrong and learned the truth. It was so bizarre though, that over time and with no one to reinforce that it actually had happened, Travis was almost convinced it was a weird dream. Not anymore though. Rydell was back and someone was with him. Someone who Andrea though had thought looked kind of like him. He looked past Rydell to Dillon. Was this his future self?
Suddenly Travis was standing outside the apartment, talking with the guy who looked like Alex, and that other guy that looked like him. He could hear himself talking, but he didn’t understand what he was saying. This was getting more and more confusing by the minute.
“What’s going on?” Travis asked. “Why are we in danger?”
“You’re not,” Dillon said. “Alex is.”
“Travis, this is Commander Travis Dillon,” Rydell said.
“So, you are me,” Travis said.
“Thankfully not,” Dillon snapped.
“He’s your descendant,” Rydell told Travis while glaring angrily at Dillon. “But he is correct. Alex is in danger.”
“A woman named Rebecca Singer who used to be on my crew. She’s gone wacko and thinks she’s in love with me. She attacked the Secondprize and then, when that failed, decided to go back in time to do something. What she’s going to do, we’re not sure yet, but since she came to this time, we think it has to do with Alex. In any case, we’re keeping an eye on him.”
“Let me get this straight. A crazy woman from the future is going to kill my best friend and roommate because you won’t go out with her,” Travis said.
“Pretty much,” Rydell said.
“Then, take her to dinner or something, for Christ’s sake!”
Now Travis was in his friend Carl’s apartment.
“Playtime’s over boys,” Singer said, taking a step toward Alex and Carl. She didn’t notice Travis behind her. He attempted to sneak forward and grab her from behind, but tripped over a shoe on the floor. He fell past Singer and hit the floor with a thud.
“Hi,” Travis said weakly as Singer aimed the phaser down at him.
“Get over there with the others,” Singer said, gesturing toward Alex and Carl.
“No problem,” Travis said, crawling quickly over to his friends.
“Nice form,” Alex mumbled.
“The landing was great,” Carl said.
“I hate you both,” Travis said.
Suddenly they were running.
Alex, Travis, and Carl ran into Greenbriar Mall and started frantically searching for a security guard. They found one standing near a bank down a corridor on the lower level of the mall.
“Officer…officer,” Alex gasped.
“Help,” Carl said.
“Woman chasing us,” Travis finished.
“What the hell are you boys talking about?” the guard asked, annoyed that he was being bothered by three lunatics. His annoyance was quickly ended as a stun blast from down the corridor knocked him unconscious.
“You can’t keep running from me like this,” Singer said.
“We’re sure going to try,” Alex replied as he, Travis, and Carl took off running again.
The next thing Travis knew, he was in a dark room, somewhere inside the mall.
“Are you guys all right?” Rydell asked.
“How did you get rid of Singer?” Dillon said.
“Uh…we didn’t,” Travis said, pointing past Rydell and Dillon. Rydell and Dillon looked at each other, then, fearing the worst, slowly turned around. Singer stepped out of the darkness holding a phaser on the group.
“How nice,” she said. “All of my annoyances are gathered in one place. That should make eliminating them very easy. It’s enough to bring tears to my eyes.” Tears started spilling down Singer’s face as she took another step forward.
“This woman is psycho,” Alex said softly.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Rydell said.
“And soon,” Singer said, her tears turning to laughter. “He won’t know anything at all, and I’ll have my real Alex back.”
There was a phaser blast…Travis lost consciousness…Rebecca Singer was now in the custody of the Rydell from the future.
“You three know way too much about the future now,” The future Rydell said. “I would have wiped Travis’s memory two years ago, but there was no way for me to.”
“You’ve known for two years!” Alex said, turning on Travis.
“Sorry,” Travis said.
“Rydell to Secondprize. Eight to beam up.”
“Hey, wait a second,” Carl protested.
“This is so cool,” Travis said.
“I’m going to get you for this,” Alex said. The transporter beam dematerialized them before they could say another word.
Alex, Travis, and Carl Jaroch almost had to be dragged to sickbay by Rydell and Dillon. The three college students gaped at their surroundings. Travis kept trying to get away and play with the computer panels.
“Come on, guys,” Travis whined. “I’ve wanted to see a spaceship my entire life.”
“Too bad,” Dillon said. “You have to get your memory erased.”
“You are a thoroughly unpleasant person,” Travis said. —
Travis was now running through the starship Secondprize. He saw corridors, panels…things he couldn’t even have imagined seeing in his wildest dreams.
“Get back here,” Rydell said.
“Yes, sir,” Travis said glumly. He trudged back to sickbay with his head bowed.
“Anyway,” Rydell said once they were back inside. “We need to make sure that they don’t remember anything about us.” He pushed Travis forward. “And see to it that this one doesn’t remember my visit here two years ago.”
“Three wipe and swipes coming right up,” Aldridge said reaching for her hypospray. “Don’t worry boys. This won’t hurt a bit…unless you try to get away from me. If you do that, I may have to use the less comfortable method. Now are you going to give me any trouble?”
“No ma’am,” Alex, Travis, and Carl replied nervously. “Good boys.”
“Travis!” Baxter shouted, shaking Travis urgently. “Travis, say something! What the hell is wrong with you?”
Travis opened his eyes. “The future…”
“You believe me?” Baxter asked, sitting down.
“We have got to talk…” Travis said slowly, trying to compose his thoughts.
“Get them on the bio-beds,” Dr. Browning said, as Lt. Tilleran, aided by Lt. Gellar and Ensign Saral from security, dragged the struggling forms of Baxter, Conway, and Richards into sickbay.
“Get the restraining fields ready, Holly,” Browning said, looking down over Lt. Commander Richards. “Chris, can you hear me?”
“Janice…” Richards said softly. “Where’s the baby? You’re older…what’s happening?”
“Baby?” Browning said in confusion.
“Where are we?” Baxter shouted.
“They’re delusional,” Nurse Holly Carter concluded. She was slightly taller than Dr. Browning, with long blonde hair. Nurse Carter had a unique way of getting to the point. “We better sedate them, Doc.”
“No kidding,” Browning said, grabbing a hypospray. “Good night, fellas.”
“Voyager! Voyager!” Conway ranted. “What happened to the Voyager!”
“It was lost in the badlands on stardate…” Lt. Tilleran began, until Dr. Browning held up a hand.
“They’re confused enough as it is, Ariel. We have to figure out what happened to their minds. I’m going to need the help of you and Ensign Saral.”
“Thank you, Doctor. He’ll be in bright and early tomorrow morning. Yes, uh-huh. That’s right. Thanks again.” David Conway’s mother said, hanging up the phone.
“The Aerostar! What happened to the Aerostar!” Conway yelled from his room. “Where am I?”
“You’re home, David. Don’t you remember where your home is?” Conway’s mother said, stepping back into the bedroom.
“I…I can’t remember…”
“Just go to sleep. We’ll have you all taken care of in the morning.”
“No…no…the Defiant…the Aerostar…Starfleet…” Conway’s mother closed the door to Conway’s bedroom and walked out into the family room.
“It’s all Star Trek’s fault. That show has driven my boy crazy.”
“Chris, are you okay?” Janice asked with concern. “You look a little peaked…”
Richards collapsed onto the couch. “I’m…I’m fine. I just feel very weird. I feel like I don’t belong here.”
“This is about college isn’t it,” Janice said, folding her arms over her huge stomach angrily. “We’ll talk about this later.”
“No…” Richards said, grabbing Janice by the arms. “This isn’t the right place for me. I should be up there…in space…”
“What are you talking about? You want to be an astronaut?” Browning asked.
“You’d never believe me.”
Browning grabbed Richards’s arm and dragged him up from the couch and up the stairs. “Try me.”
“So Rydell visited this time period twice…” Baxter said, following Travis around the house as he paced. “Yes. Once when Carl’s device switched his brain waves, and again when Dr. Singer came back in time to kill this time period’s Alex.”
“So the device must have switched the brains of me and my officers.”
“That’s all I can think of,” Travis said, continuing to pace. “We have to find Carl and the device. Before it’s too late,” Travis said, running for the phone.
“And we have to find Richards and Conway, before they get in too much trouble in this timeline,” Baxter added, watching as Travis dialed the phone.
Travis sighed as he held the phone. “Damn it. I got his answering machine. Carl…this is Travis. Remember that space telescope you were working on a couple years back? I can’t explain right now, but I need you to find it. And quick. Call me back as soon as you can.”
Baxter grabbed his coat. “We have to find Conway and Richards!”
Travis jumped up and grabbed his jacket and his keys. “Right. I know where David lives, so we’ll go there first. Assuming the same thing happened to him.”
Baxter followed Travis out the door. “If not, then we’ll have a lot of explaining to do.”
“And that’s exactly what happened. I guess you think I’m crazy,” Richards said.
Janice had brought Chris up into her room so they could talk in private. Now they sat across from each other on her bed. Janice stared out the window behind her bed. “No. I don’t think you’re crazy,” she grabbed his hands, placing them on her stomach. “Do you feel her kicking, Chris? That’s our baby. Or, well, mine and the other Chris’s. The point is, we’ve built a trust together, and we’ve made a new life…and I know that you…or he…would not lie to me.”
Richards was still shocked. “But you and him are only eighteen…how could this have happened?”
Browning continued to stare out the window. “Things happen for a reason. This child is going to be born very soon for a reason. You and your friends were sent here for a reason. You traded places with your ancestors for a reason. And you’ll get home for a reason.”
Richards looked out the window with her. “How do you know so much?”
“Call it a pregnant thing. Now…we’d better call David and Andy.”
“I’m sorry, Andy. David is sick, he needs his rest right now,” Mrs. Conway said solemnly, peering at Andy and Travis through the screen door. “You can see him tomorrow morning.”
“But Mrs. Conway, I really need to talk to Dave. It’s of the utmost urgency.”
“I’m sorry, Andy. He’s been acting really strange this evening, and I think it’s for the best that he doesn’t have any visitors right now.”
“We’re not getting anywhere,” Travis whispered.
“Well, thanks anyway, ma’am. I’ll be by tomorrow morning.”
Mrs. Conway seemed perplexed. “Are you okay, Andy? You never call me ma’am.”
“Uh…there’s a first time for everything, Mrs. Conway,” Baxter said.
“Nice meeting you,” Travis said, following Andy away from the doorstep.
Mrs. Conway smiled weakly, narrowing her eyes at the two as they hopped into Travis’s car. “Trekkies,” she said, turning around and shutting the door.
“What are we going to do?” Travis said, starting up his car.
“Simple. We don’t know where Richards is, and we need to get Conway before his mom has him committed or something.”
“So we’re going to break in and kidnap him,” Baxter said calmly.
“I was afraid you were going to say something like that.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Baxter,” Janice said, frowning. She put her hand over the receiver. “He’s not there. He’s at some guy named Travis Dillon’s house.”
“Commander Dillon?” Richards said to himself. “Get his number.”
Browning nodded. “And what’s his number? Right. Thanks again, Mrs. Baxter.”
“My mind with your mind. My thoughts with your thoughts. We are of one mind,” Ensign Saral said calmly, her hands placed gently on Baxter’s cheeks.
Meanwhile, Lt. Tilleran closed her eyes, placing her middle and index fingers on either temple, concentrating on the thoughts that were coming from Baxter, Conway, and Richards.
“Deep Space Nine…” Saral said. “College…English class…Philosophy class…Seinfeld,” Baxter mouthed out the words at the same time, his face a complete blank.
“What the heck does all that mean?” Dr. Browning asked of Nurse Carter, as the two watched the vital signs of the three officers.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Carter replied.
“He’s confused…He doesn’t know where he is…” Lt. Tilleran said.
“Tell us something we don’t know,” Browning said.
“He thinks he’s an eighteen year old college student,” Tilleran replied.
“Much better. But we’re still not getting anywhere.”
“Six minds…six bodies…none are where they should be,” Saral added slowly, looking up from her place beside Captain Baxter. “They must be put in their rightful places.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me. But how in the heck do we do it?” Browning asked, becoming impatient.
“We must find the other three bodies, with the minds of our fellow crew-members.”
Tilleran made for the door to sickbay. “I can use the neuroscanner. We should be able to track them down by their brainwave traces.”
Saral removed her hands from Baxter’s face, rubbing her eyes. “Excellent idea. This young boy’s mind is a disturbing place indeed. I cannot fathom what life on this planet must be like in this time period.”
“You and me both,” Browning said, staring down at Richards with concern.
“Rope…” Baxter said, staring down at a notepad.
“Check,” Travis replied, rummaging through the closet in the guest room of his apartment.
“This is the twentieth century, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess that’s it, then.”
Travis threw everything into a bookbag and tossed the sack to Baxter. “Are you sure we have everything?”
“I don’t know, I’m kind of new at this breaking and entering thing.”
Baxter put on the bookbag and headed for the door. “Well, I’m kind of new at this twentieth century thing, so I guess we’re even.”
At that, the phone rang. Travis ran over and picked it up.
“Andy,” he said. “It’s Janice.”
Baxter ran and grabbed the phone. “Doctor, how good to…I mean, hi, Janice. Is Chris there? He is? Great.”
Travis just rolled his eyes. “Ask her for directions to her house.”
Baxter listened for a moment with confusion.
“Foxchase? What the hell is that?”
Travis grabbed the phone. “It’s a subdivision, you idiot. Janice, it’s Travis. Yeah, I know where that is. Okay, we’ve got one little stop to make, and we’ll be right over and get this whole thing sorted out. Yeah, well, how much do you know? Really? I know, it sounds extremely hard to believe, but who would make something like this up? Right. Okay, bye,” Travis hung up the phone. “Let’s roll.”
Baxter followed Travis out the door and hopped into his Ford Escort. “You know, Travis, it’s amazing you’re being so helpful. Your counterpart is a total obnoxious jerk.”
Travis steered the car out of the parking lot of his apartment complex. “You don’t have to tell me. I met him. It’s amazing he’s related to me.”
“What about me? I mean the other Andy. Is he a decent guy?”
“I guess so. I think his only problem is he has no self confidence. He second guesses everything he does, and doesn’t believe anything he does will turn out right.”
“What a loser,” Baxter said uncomfortably. “I couldn’t imagine what that would be like.”
“They’ll be over soon,” Janice said, hanging up the phone.
“What a relief,” Richards replied. “Thank you so much for believing me, Janice.”
“What else could I do?” Janice said.
“You know, you’re really great.”
“I try to be. What about my future counterpart? Is she nice too?”
“Of course she is. I love her to death. But right now we’re having problems. Big problems.”
Janice smiled. “Well, tell me about them. If anyone can help you, it’s me. I mean, if this Dr. Browning chick is anything like me, she’s probably crazy about her Christopher too.”
“Hand me the crowbar, will ya, Travis,” Andy said, holding the flashlight in his mouth as he worked on Conway’s bedroom window.
Travis handed Baxter the crowbar, staring down at the ground absently. “You know, Rachel should be getting home about now.”
Andy pried at the window, trying to get it open as quietly as possible. “And she is…”
“My fiancee. We’ll be getting married around this time next month.”
“Thanks. I just have a feeling she’ll be extremely ticked off if she finds that I’m not there right now. She never comes home from class in a good mood.”
Baxter nodded as he worked at the window. “I know exactly how you feel. My girlfriend Kelly is the ship’s counselor, and she works with mental rejects day in and day out. It drives her nuts.”
“You know, that’s what Rachel’s doing. She’s working at a state mental health institution. She says the job is the pits, but the money and the benefits are good.”
“Things don’t always turn out how you want them to, I guess,” Baxter said, prying the window open and lifting up the shades. He squirmed into the window. “Dave? Are you in here?”
“Hurry up, Andy!” Travis whispered.
“Don’t move!” A voice shouted, as Travis felt the hard cold nose of a nine millimeter Beretta against the back of his head. “You’re under arrest.”
SALISBURY, MD TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1995
“I found out why Travis and Andy never got here,” Janice said, sitting on the edge of the bed in the Brownings’ guest room that Richards was currently using. They didn’t mind him spending the night for no reason, she just didn’t bother to tell them that it was because he had no idea where he lived or how to drive his car back home. “Turns out that Travis and Andy tried to break into David’s house. The woman that answered at Travis’s said that they were arrested and that she was going to go bail them out.”
“That is definitely not good,” Richards said, trying to rub the sleep out of his eyes.
“And when I called David’s mom, all she said was that David was going to be committed this morning. Since you guys got here things have gone totally nuts.”
“Great, just great,” Richards said, starting to get up. “We have to do something.”
Janice pushed him back into the bed. “The only thing we can do right now is wait.”
Captain Andy Baxter woke up and stretched, hoping that the previous day’s events had been nothing but a terrible dream.
Immediately he understood that was nothing but wishful thinking. He sat up on the hard bed and rubbed his head, taking in his surroundings.
“Oh, good morning, Andy,” Travis said, from the other side of the cramped prison cell.
“This isn’t happening.”
Travis got up and walked over to Baxter. “It is happening,” he said with a touch of insanity in his voice. “We’re in jail. Do you have any more bright ideas?”
Baxter stared at himself in the mirror. He was dressed in prison garb, obviously because he had been photographed, printed, undressed, showered, and deloused the night before. Not altogether the most entertaining experience he had ever had. “Give me a second. Things aren’t as bad as they look.” Suddenly the outer gate creaked open, and an overweight, balding cop entered. Baxter recognized him as the one that had thrown him on the hood of the police car the night before. Well, it was nice to see a familiar face.
“Right dis way, ma’am,” he said.
A tall, dark haired woman stalked in. Baxter immediately guessed who she was.
“You two are in so much trouble,” Rachel Kelley (soon to be Dillon) said angrily.
“I swear, honey, I can explain,” Travis said weakly.
“Let’s just get out of here, Travis. We’ll talk about it when we get home.”
The cop moseyed over to the cell and put his key in the door, yanking it open. “You guys are lucky to have such a caring, affectionate lady looking after you.”
“I’m really sorry, Rachel,” Travis said, as he and Baxter followed her out of the cell.
“Me too,” Baxter replied quietly.
“And that’s all you can remember, Officer Handy?” Agent Scully asked, sipping from a cup of coffee that the friendly folks of the Greenbriar mall security office gave her.
“That’s all. Some crazy dark haired lady ran in and shot me with some kind of laser. I woke up a little while later and there were police everywhere.”
“Interesting. But you couldn’t find the suspects?”
“That’s right. We looked all over for ‘em, but we couldn’t find ‘em.”
“And you handed the security tape over to the local authorities?”
“Yep. And that’s the last I heard of it.”
“Thank you, Mister Handy. That will be all,” Scully sat back and rubbed her eyes as she went over the testimony of the security guards and the handful of shoppers she had the opportunity to question. So far they didn’t have much evidence beyond what the security tapes had provided. She decided to go and find Mulder and see if he had found anything more conclusive.
Agent Mulder studied the burn mark that the mysterious dark haired woman’s laser weapon had made on the wall next to “Victoria’s Secret.” There was definitely something unusual about the mark, but he really couldn’t be sure until the lab had done a full range of tests on the burnt material.
“Found anything yet, Mulder?” Scully asked, looking over his shoulder at the scorch mark that held his attention.
“Yeah, panties are two for one today at Victoria’s Secret.”
“I’m not in the mood for games, Mulder,” Scully said tiredly.
“Well, how about this,” Mulder began. “There are scorch marks like this all over the mall. They were definitely caused by whatever laser weapon that woman from the videotape was using. I got a sample for the lab to look at, so maybe they’ll come up with something. What about you? Did you have any luck with the witnesses?”
“The same thing over and over again, a crazy woman with a laser chasing some kids.”
“I’m close to finding a theory, Scully. I just need one more piece to the puzzle.”
“I’m up for suggestions…”
“Are you up for a stakeout?” Mulder posed, turning to Scully with a conspiratory grin.
Travis walked into the guest bedroom of his apartment looking extremely frazzled. “You make a lot of commitments when you become engaged to someone, Andy. And I just broke almost all of them.”
“Was Rachel mad?”
“She wasn’t happy, that’s for sure. I don’t know why all this had to happen so close to the wedding. What if Rachel ends up hating me because of all of this?” Travis pulled at his hair frantically.
“Calm yourself, Mr. Dillon,” Baxter said. “No one’s going to end up hating you. We’ll take care of everything in good time. What we need to do now is find Conway and Richards.”
“And how do you expect to do that? The police impounded my car, I can’t drive your car, since it’s a standard shift.”
Baxter rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Where’s Rachel?”
“She went to the mall with a couple of her friends. She’ll probably be back in a couple hours.”
“Well, we have to get to Dave’s house somehow. His mom is going to have him committed, and if that happens…then we’re screwed.”
“So what are you proposing, we walk over there?” Baxter was staring out the window. A couple of kids were playing on small dirtbikes in the apartment complex across the street.
“This is really stupid, Andy!” Travis cried, trying to balance himself on the small bicycle. It was so small his knees almost touched his chin as he pedaled.
“It’s better than walking.”
“Not by much. Besides, when those kids tell their parents…”
“I took care of that. I told them if they told their parents we would beat them up.”
“Oh, real mature,” Travis said, huffing and puffing as he pedaled.
“Just pedal, we’re almost there.”
“It’s that Star Trek thing my boy always watches…it rots the brain,” Mrs. Conway said as the EMT loaded Conway into the back of the ambulance.
“It’s a common occurrence, ma’am. In these cases, the patient loses complete touch with reality. A few months in the Cambridge Mental Hospital should cure that right up.”
“I hate to do this, but I just had no choice,” Mrs. Conway said, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Someone’s going to swing for this…if I ever get back to the Aerostar!” Conway moaned as the sedatives began to kick in.
Andy and Travis ditched the bikes in a neighbor’s yard and took up a position behind the bushes in the Conways’ front yard.
“There they are, Travis, they’re loading him up now!”
“I see that, so what are we supposed to do?” Travis replied.
“We need a car,” Baxter said, looking around. “What about Dave’s?”
Travis pointed at the grey Chevy station wagon. “You mean that thing? I guess I can drive it. But we have to get the keys.”
“Follow me,” Baxter whispered, ducking into the house.
“This is a really bad idea,” Travis said, following Baxter. “Something tells me the police are even less gentle on the second offense.”
“Don’t be such a crybaby,” Baxter said, running back to Conway’s room. When he got there, he immediately noticed all of the Star Trek memorabilia. “Look at all of this stuff.”
Travis looked around. “I know, the twentieth century David is a Star Trek buff. He has all the toys.”
Baxter picked up a toy tricorder. “And they just happen to look like the real thing from our time.” Travis shrugged. “I guess it’s just one of those freaky coincidences.”
Baxter nodded. “Now we have to find the…”
Suddenly the two heard a door slam. Mrs. Conway must have come back in.
“We have to find those keys!” Travis whispered.
Baxter quietly sifted through all of the action figures, baseball cards, and plastic toys that had accumulated in Conway’s counterpart’s room. The keys to his car had to be somewhere in here.
“I hear her coming!” Travis whispered, standing by the door.
Baxter yanked the keys out of Conway’s desk drawer. “Got ‘em! Let’s go.”
“Who’s in there?” they heard Mrs. Conway say, as they made for the window.
Luckily, it was still lose from the night before, so they had little trouble climbing out.
Just as they had slipped out, Mrs. Conway opened the door. “Who’s in here? Oh, I guess it’s just the draft.” She walked over to the window and slammed it shut. “Now what to do with all these stupid toys?”
Outside, there was a faint sound of a car being started.
Travis slammed his foot on the gas, causing Conway’s car to surge ahead.
“The ambulance is probably taking him to Cambridge…my fiancee almost took a job there,” Travis explained, speeding up as he pulled the car around a corner.
“Just try not to get us killed getting there.” Baxter said, pressed up against the passenger seat.
“Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.” Travis said reassuringly, bent over the steering wheel.
“The purpose of this meeting is to inform all of you of what our science department has concluded about our dilemma,” Lieutenant Larkin said from her place at the front of her conference room.
Seated around the table were Lt. J’hana, Dr. Browning, Lt. Tilleran, Ensign Ford, Ensign Saral, and Ensign Stuart from Engineering.
“To begin,” Larkin said, pointing to the graphic on the conference room’s viewscreen, which showed the Aerostar, the Flarn ship that was following it, and the gas cloud. “The Aerostar was enveloped in an inverse warp field, caused by the implosion of the space around it, which was in turn caused by the detonation of a photon torpedo in an anomalous gas cloud. This warp field opened up a breach in space and time, through which the Aerostar traveled. The area we are currently located in is a locality just outside of our normal timeline.” Larkin indicated the viewscreen as the graphic became animated, showing the Aerostar’s path through the wormhole, and then a graphic illustration of the space-time continuum.
“This line represents our universe. The universe that we are in now is quite similar to an alternate universe. Similar in all aspects but one, and that is the fact that all causes in this timeline are directly related to effects in our own. Do not be mistaken by the fact that we traveled back through time. Strictly speaking, this is not our past. Merely a close relative to our past.”
“So we must destroy this timeline in order to survive,” J’hana deduced.
“Not at all, Lieutenant,” Larkin said. “We must insure that this timeline is unaffected. For anything we do here could have adverse effects on our own timeline.”
“You mean, anything like switching the brains of three of its people with three of ours?” Browning asked, with a hint of annoyance.
“Precisely,” Larkin replied. “That is why it is imperative that we rescue our comrades. Lt. Tilleran…do you have anything to report?”
“We are still trying to get a fix on them with the neurological scanners, but so far we haven’t found a thing.”
“Well, I suggest you keep searching. Once we find our comrades, we shall send a team down to rescue them, and hopefully put their minds back in order.”
“Tall order,” J’hana muttered.
“There she is!” Baxter said, pointing at the ambulance, as Travis weaved Conway’s station wagon through the traffic on Route 50, moving West through Salisbury.
“I see it. We’ll be right behind them soon. Do you have an idea of what to do when we get there?”
“Yeah, I have an idea, but I don’t like it one bit,” Baxter said resolutely.
“Well, what’s the idea?” Travis said, pulling the station wagon behind the ambulance.
“I’m going to climb out on the hood here, and climb over to the ambulance, and get Commander Conway out of there.”
Travis seemed astonished. “Wow, you must really like your first officer.”
Baxter rolled down the passenger side window. “Nope, I hate his guts. Do we have any weapons in here?”
Travis looked around. “Not that I can see. Wait a minute…” he stared down at Conway’s keychain, noticing the can of mace that hung from it. “How about this?” he asked, jerking the bottle of mace off the keychain.
Baxter examined the mace. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this? Freshen their breath?”
“No, it’s mace. You’re supposed to spray it in their eyes!” Travis replied.
“Oh, how quaint,” Baxter said, sliding out of the window. “Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need luck,” Travis said. “You need a miracle.”
“All units. Be on the lookout for a stolen vehicle of the following description…1985 Chevy Cavalier station wagon, grey, license plate Sigma-Tango-Watchtower 638, the drivers should be considered unarmed, but unstable and dangerous. Proceed with caution.”
The driver of the ambulance looked down at the CB. “Wonder why someone would just steal a car like that.”
The other EMT just shrugged. “You know, crazy kids, just wanting to assert their independence.”
“Yeah, I guess…” the driver said, staring in the sideview window. Funny, they were being followed by a grey station wagon. Must be a coincidence.
“Be careful!” Travis shouted, as Baxter inched his way onto the hood of Conway’s car.
“I must be insane for doing this,” Baxter said to himself, sliding his feet onto the bumper. “Get a little closer, Travis!”
“Man, I hate tailgating people,” Travis said, giving it a little more gas.
Baxter steadied himself on the bumper and put one foot on the back bumper of the ambulance, reaching forward and grabbing the door handle.
The door opened easily. A little too easily, because it flipped back, causing Baxter to swing back along with it. “Andy!” Travis cried. “Use your momentum! Swing it back and forth!”
“That’s easy for you to say, Dillon!” Baxter cried through gritted teeth, as he swung the door back and forth, holding on for dear life.
“Did you hear that, Harry?” the EMT said, looking at the ambulance driver.
“No, you’re hearing things, Stan.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. All the same, I’m going to check on our patient.”
Through an amazing feat of acrobatics, Baxter managed to swing himself onto the other side of the ambulance door, falling into the ambulance and breathing deeply, thanking his lucky stars that he had survived the ordeal.
He caught his breath an looked up to find Conway tied up to a stretcher.
“Commander! Can you hear me?” Baxter asked.
Conway didn’t respond. They must have sedated him. Baxter looked around the small compartment trying to formulate a plan on how to get Conway out of there.
The EMT suddenly ducked into the compartment, staring at Baxter with astonishment. “How the hell did you get in here?”
“None of your business, now suck mace!” Baxter shouted, emptying the mace bottle Travis had given him into the EMT’s face.
Stan screamed with horror, clutching at his face as the spicy liquid did its magic. “Harry! Harry! Pull over! We’re being hijacked.”
“Awfully sorry about that, friend, but you didn’t give me a choice!” Baxter said, tugging at Conway’s stretcher.
“Christ!” the EMT shouted, lurching about violently, trying to find Baxter. “I’m going to kill you!”
Baxter kicked open the ambulance’s back door. “Now now, no sense making empty promises.”
“Come on!” Travis shouted.
“Okay, how am I going to do this?” Baxter thought, looking down from Conway on the stretcher to the hood of his car behind the ambulance.
“Die!” the EMT screamed, lunging for Baxter.
“Oh, well. Here goes nothing!” Baxter cried, jumping on top of the stretcher and giving himself and Conway a push out the back of the ambulance.
“What the hell?” Travis shouted as the stretcher slid out of the ambulance and onto the hood of the wagon, with both Conway and Baxter aboard.
Travis slammed on the brakes, sending the wagon into a spin.
Dave Conway’s Cavalier slid across two lanes of traffic, skidded across the median, rolled a couple times, busted through a fence, and finally came to a rest upside down in the soccer field of the nearby Wicomico Junior High School.
As soon as Travis had applied the brakes, the stretcher shot off Conway’s hood like a missile, careening down the sloping section of Route 50 that led downtown.
Baxter looked up as he rode the stretcher, noticing that he was in the fast lane. “Shit!” he said, trying to lean the stretcher into a soft landing on the median. Unfortunately, he steered the stretcher too hard, steering it right across the median, across oncoming traffic and down a side street.
“Wha?” Conway said, his eyes fluttering open. “Where are we?” he moaned.
“Bad time to ask, Conway…hold on!” Baxter shouted, holding onto the stretcher for dear life, as they flew down the street, hitting a sidewalk at the end of the street and flying through the air a few moments, then touching down on grass, rolling through a section of the Salisbury Park, then rolling into the nearby Wicomico River.
Travis rubbed his bruised head as he dragged himself out of the flaming wreckage that once was David Conway’s car. “I sure hope he had insurance,” he said weakly, looking around for the hapless stretcher that had flown overhead moments before.
Travis watched as the stretcher disappeared in the distance, limping after it as quickly as he could.
The stretcher sunk to the bottom of the Wicomico River like a rock.
Baxter struggled with the straps that held Conway to the stretcher madly, knowing both of them would soon drown if he didn’t act fast.
Finally, mercifully, the straps gave way, and he lugged Conway up to the surface, gasping for air.
Baxter heaved Conway’s body onto the shore and choked out a lungful of water.
“There you are,” Travis said, rushing up to the edge of the river. “Are you guys okay?”
“I guess that could have gone better,” Baxter choked.
“Where the hell am I?” Conway asked groggily.
Baxter pulled himself up. “We’ll tell you later. Come on, we have to get out of here. The police will be looking for us.”
Baxter, Conway, and Travis made their way back to Travis’s apartment as quickly as possible, in hopes that they wouldn’t be seen.
“Do you see anyone following us?” Travis wheezed as he led the way through a winding patch of back yards and side streets.
“Only death,” Conway wheezed back, trying to catch his breath. He was still feeling a little sluggish from the sedatives, but the intense, haunting fear that he’d be returned to the custody of the twentieth century mental health officials helped dispel those effects pretty darn quick.
Travis held up a hand, stopping Conway and Baxter in their tracks, causing them to hit the ground in a wheezing mass.
“Are our other bodies this out of shape?” Baxter heaved, trying to catch his breath.
“I know of dead bodies that are in better shape,” Conway replied, shaking off the dizzying array of colors that filled his field of vision.
Travis peered through a thick of bushes. “We’ve got problems.” He pointed towards his apartment complex. “My apartment is surrounded by police.”
They could hear the voices over CB radios, as well as see the lights from the three or four squad cars that surrounded the apartment building that Travis and his fiancee lived in.
“So what do we do now?” Baxter asked, looking up from the grass in dismay.
“Okay, Timmy…remember…the cable man will be by soon, so you can let him in, but don’t let in any other strangers,” a woman said, emerging from a nearby apartment building across, the street from Travis’s complex. Travis peered around the side of the building, noting where the woman was coming from.
“I have a very risky idea.”
Travis knocked on the door, peering around suspiciously. A small boy of about four or five answered. “Hi. Who are you?”
Baxter elbowed Travis as he stood there, unsure of what to say.
“Cable guys,” Travis spoke up, glaring at Baxter.
“You don’t look like cable guys,” the boy said, glaring at them with suspicion. “How do I know you’re the real cable guys?”
“Because if you don’t let us in, we’ll take away Nickelodeon.” Travis said, smirking as the boy fearfully beckoned the group inside.
“Nickelodeon?” Baxter whispered to Conway.
“Don’t ask me,” Conway shot back, following Travis inside.
“The TV’s right there,” the boy said, watching as Travis, Conway, and Baxter gathered around the TV.
“Okay,” Travis said, staring at the TV. “You guys make sure the Mummanshanz device is properly connected to the flux capacitor.” Travis turned to the little boy. “Could I use your phone?”
“Sure,” the boy said, staring at Baxter and Conway with suspicion as he led Travis back towards the kitchen.
Baxter stared down at the TV. “So what do we do with this thing?”
Conway stared at it. “I don’t know. It’s a Magnavox, Model 210. Probably built around 1991. Picture in picture, stereo sound, and 136 channel cable compatible. Never thought I’d see one of these up close.”
“Don’t tell me, another hobby.”
Conway turned the TV on, pulling it back a bit and climbing behind it to get at the wiring. “Kind of.” Baxter stared at the TV. What the hell was he watching, anyway?
“Welcome to ‘A Current Affair.’” A woman on the TV said. “In our top story tonight, we’ll be taking a look at a mall in Norfolk, Virginia, where, two weeks ago, this shocking footage was taken, showing what appears to be an altercation between a group of kids and a woman with some sort of laser.”
Baxter looked on as the fuzzy footage played across the screen. He tapped Conway on the back, who was busy looking at the connections behind the TV. “Look at this, Conway…”
“Nine-One-One. Please state your emergency.”
“I…uh…I’ve got a whole class full of kindergartners held hostage in my condo, and I want to negotiate,” Travis said nervously, looking over his shoulder to make sure the little boy wasn’t listening.
“Stay right there…we’ll send someone over as soon…”
“No, I want police cars, lots of them,” Travis stammered.
“We’ll do our best…I can’t…”
“I have a…um…I have a blowtorch and I’m not afraid to use it. You’re going to have some crispy kids on your hands if you don’t get every unit you have over here. Now!”
“Okay, okay, whatever you say!”
“Wow, cool!” Timmy said, staring at the scene from Greenbriar Mall, watching as Rebecca Singer scrambled after Travis, Alex and Carl.
Baxter squinted at the screen. “One of those guys looks awfully familiar.”
Travis rushed out of the kitchen. “Well…we’re all done here. Ahem…come on guys, we have another call to get to.” Travis suddenly stopped short, staring at the video footage.
Timmy looked from the TV to Travis and back again. “Hey, you’re the guy from ‘A Current Affair’.”
“No, I’m not. Let’s go guys,” Travis said urgently, grabbing Conway and Baxter out by the backs of their shirts.
“I gave you some more channels, kid!” Conway shouted as the group rushed out of the apartment.
Timmy surfed through the channels, stopping at one in particular. “Cool! I get PLAYBOY!!!!!”
Travis dragged Baxter and Conway back around to the bushes they had previously hid behind. “We’ll find out if my plan worked very shortly.”
“What do you-“ Baxter asked, when suddenly, he watched with amusement as all the police cars that surrounded Travis’s apartment pulled out of the apartment complex, switched on their lights and sirens, and charged across the street to the condos that Travis, Baxter, and Conway had just visited. “Now!” Travis shouted, signaling for Conway and Baxter to follow him across to the apartment parking lot.
“Travis, get over here right now!” Rachel shouted, sticking her head out of the window of the apartment. “Not now, honey!” Travis began to panic, suddenly realizing that he was fresh out of plans.
“We’ve got to get down to Norfolk, find that shuttle, and find Carl and his mind switching device!” Baxter shouted, bringing things back into perspective.
“But we don’t have a car!” Conway said.
“Damn, that’s right,” Baxter said.
Rachel, meanwhile, was making her way down the sidewalk and towards the parking lot where the group had finally stopped running.
“We have Andy’s truck!” Travis suddenly said triumphantly.
“Oh, yeah,” Baxter said. “We’re saved!” They ran towards the truck.
“One problem,” Travis said, as they reached the doors. “I can’t drive stick. And I assume you guys have never driven at all.”
“Damn,” Baxter said again.
Conway smiled. “That’s what you guys think. ‘89 Ford Bronco, standard shift, V-8, three hundred and two horses under the hood, 5.0 Fuel Injected engine. I think I can manage.”
Baxter searched his pockets for the keys, tossing them to Conway. “You never cease to amaze me, Commander. Now, move it!”
Travis looked on as his wife approached. “Preferably as quick as possible.”
If she had been a cartoon character, she would have had steam coming from her head. She might have anyway. “You’d better come back here and explain yourself!” Rachel shouted.
Conway unlocked the truck and jumped in the driver’s seat, opening the passenger side door for Baxter and Travis. “All right, let’s blow this bandstand.”
“That’s popsicle stand, David, and that was an 80’s expression,” Travis commented, climbing into the passenger seat, as Baxter climbed in back.
Conway started the car. “Whatever.”
“Come back here!” Rachel shouted, as Conway backed the truck up and peeled noisily out of the parking lot. “Sorry, Rachel,” Travis squeaked, as Conway banked the car around a curb.
Several police cruisers followed in hot pursuit, sirens blazing, as Conway put his NASCAR training to good use.
“They’re gaining!” Travis shouted.
“Not for long,” Conway said, steering the Bronco through a parking lot, through a fence, and behind several large buildings. The cruisers endeavored to catch up, but none of the police that were in pursuit could match Conway’s driving abilities.
Baxter gripped the dashboard, watching the scenery fly by at blinding speed. “Remind me to let you steer the Aerostar more often, Commander!”
Finally, Conway yanked the Bronco onto Rt. 13.
“I think we lost them!” Travis said, staring out the truck’s back window.
“Yeah, now all we have to do is get to Norfolk and get our brains back in their rightful places without harming the time stream,” Conway said.
“Yeah, and how hard can that be?” Baxter asked, making a vain attempt at optimism.
“Aren’t we forgetting something?” Travis said, looking from Baxter to Conway.
“Where could they be?” Richards asked Janice, as the pair watched “The Young and the Restless” on TV.
“I don’t know. They’re your weird space friends.”
“You’re not making this any easier, Janice.”
“Hey, I’ve got enough to worry about as it is, smartaleck. Unless you couldn’t tell…I’m PREGNANT,” Janice replied.
“Yeah,” Richards said, looking down. “I, uh…”
Suddenly there was a rather urgent sounding knock at the Brownings’ door. Janice’s parents were at work and her sisters were at school (she was staying home, as early contractions were already setting in, and she was not in the mood to have her water break during English class). Janice heaved herself up. “I guess I’ll get it.”
Richards followed Janice as she waddled towards the door. Janice peered out the window. “Andy’s truck is idling out there. And Dave is driving!”
Baxter and Travis were standing at the door, looking rather impatient when Janice opened it.
“Hi,” Travis said, offhandedly, grabbing Richards’s arm. “You’re coming with us. We have to leave now. No time to explain.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said, staring at Janice. “I…uh, you’re, uh, I mean…”
“Yes, I’m pregnant, and I bear a striking resemblance to your Chief Medical Officer, and his ex-girlfriend,” Janice said. “And you guys have switched brains, et cetera et cetera. I’ve heard it all before, and frankly I’m in a great deal of pain right now, so if you could just take this Chris, put his mind back together, and bring him back to me so that he might father my child, I’d be ever so grateful.”
“Um,” Baxter said.
“Bye now,” Janice said, slamming the door.
“Nice to meet you, Janice,” Travis said sheepishly as the door slammed.
Baxter looked at Richards’s hair as the two climbed into the Bronco. “Nice ponytail.”
“Oh be quiet,” Richards said, as Conway gunned the truck’s engine. Once they were underway, Richards asked plaintively, “Could you guys please explain to me what the hell is going on here?”
Andy’s truck sped down Route 13, weaving in and out of traffic, as Baxter and Travis filled Richards in on the past days’ events.
“That’s really wild,” Richards said, sitting back in the back seat next to Baxter. “It’s amazing you guys weren’t killed.”
“It’s nothing us Starfleet officers haven’t come up against before,” Baxter smiled.
“Speak for yourself,” Conway grumbled as he drove. “This has been the weirdest couple days of my life.”
“I don’t know. I’m kind of having fun,” Travis said quietly.
Conway glared at him. “You can have my job if you want it.”
“Very funny, Conway. Just drive,” Baxter ordered.
THE DELTA QUADRANT TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1995
“We are entering the Tervellan ssssssystem, Lord Tamja,” the Flarn Navigator announced from the helm.
Tamja leaned back in his command chair and steepled his fingers. “Very well. Bring usssss to sublight speed, and begin ssssscans. We must find that Sssssstarship.”
“Are you sssssstill ssssssssore over that altercation near Garibid, my Lord?” Tamja’s first officer asked.
Tamja turned to face him. “And what if I am, Goran? They dissssshonored me, disssssgraced me. Killed my men…made a fool out of me and the ressssst of the Flarn Empire. They must be dessssstroyed.”
“But what if you fail?” Goran asked.
“I will not fail.”
Captain Baxter stared down at his Whopper with a look of dissatisfaction. “What on earth is this?”
“Just eat it,” Travis said, devouring a handful of french fries. “We’ve still got about an hour of driving to do.”
“It’s not that bad, Captain,” Conway said through a full mouth. “Once you get past the hideous aftertaste.”
“They used radiation to cook these things,” Richards said with disgust.
Travis looked over at Richards indignantly. “Not Burger King, they’re flame broiled here.”
“Wow, fire. That’s modern,” Baxter said, taking a sip from his drink.
“Anyway,” Richards continued, “Janice says that I have to declare my love to Janice, I mean, Dr. Browning, so that she knows how I feel. Janice says that Janice is probably feeling unsure of my feelings, only she doesn’t want to ask me straight out.”
“I guess she would know,” Baxter said idly, twirling an onion ring on the end of his finger.
Travis picked up his tray. “Well, we’d better get going.”
Conway stuffed the rest of the Whopper in his mouth and stood up. “I agree. The sooner we get out of these flabby, misfed bodies the better.”
“Hey!” Travis said, looking back. “I happen to like my flabby, misfed body.”
“Enough you two,” Baxter said, dumping the contents of his tray into a garbage can. “We don’t have time for this.”
GREENBRIAR MALL - NORFOLK, VA
Scully yawned, closing the book that lay across her chest and sticking it back into the glove compartment. “How long was I asleep, Mulder?”
Mulder sat in the driver’s seat, a pair of binoculars in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. “Not long. About forty-five minutes.”
“No sign of your friends from the future?”
“Not yet. Dr. Cross called a while ago. He says that there was some kind of power surge in his lab last night. He ran a check on Mr. Jaroch’s invention, and he’s convinced that it was the source of the surge. If that’s not enough, the Salisbury police department has an APB out on Travis Dillon. It seems he got in a little trouble up there.”
“And I guess you think that’s connected to this somehow?” Scully asked.
“How could it not be?” Mulder asked.
“I’m going back to sleep,” Scully said, curling into a ball and closing her eyes. “Wake me up when something interesting happens.”
The rest of the ride to Norfolk was, for the most part, uneventful.
Baxter spent most of it in the back seat thinking. Thinking about a lot of things. For instance, was there a Kelly Peterman in this universe? It seemed pretty likely. For that matter, there could be duplicates of the entire crew. Baxter’s senior command staff, a bunch of kids, hanging out in Burger Kings and going to “movies”…what kind of pathetic life was that?
“Andy…can you hear me?” a familiar voice said, breaking through the delirium. He wasn’t dead. Someone was trying to talk to him. “I know you can hear me. I know you’re scared. I’m here to help you.”
Or maybe he was dead, and this was an angel?
“I don’t know what you hope to accomplish, Kelly. They’re not from here. He’s not going to know you,” another familiar voice said.
He did know her. It was Kelly!
“He does know me. I just know, on his planet, there’s a Kelly Peterman that he loves very much, just like my Andy loves me. There has to be.”
“Kelly?” Andy asked, opening his eyes.
“I’m here, baby.”
Andy leaned forward and put his arms around her. “I knew we’d meet some day.”
“Andy I-“ Peterman said, tears beginning to well up in her eyes. She just patted him on the back as he hugged her.
That’s when the first anti-proton blast pounded into the Aerostar.
“Contact bearing 031 mark 085,” J’hana shouted from tactical, steadying herself as the Aerostar bucked under the hit it had just taken. “It is a Flarn vessel. Shields up, weapons at the ready!”
Larkin held herself erect in the command chair, not missing a beat. “Fire at will.”
Ford ducked as a nearby panel exploded. “How the hell did they get here?”
Fresca held onto her station as the ship shook. “I’ll give you one guess!”
“They came from the wormhole. They must have found a way to reopen it and follow us through!” Tilleran shouted over the alarm klaxon.
“We must lure them away from the Earth,” Larkin said, looking to Ensign Ford. “Lay in a course for Jupiter, full impulse.”
“Jupiter?” Ford asked.
“That is an order.”
“Incoming message from the Flarn ship,” J’hana called out.
The audio speakers flared to life. “Aerostar. This is Lord Tamja of the Lobrok. I’m pleased to see you again. What a nice solar system you have here. I take it this is the infamous ‘Terran System’ I’ve heard so much about?”
“Put a sock in it, Tamja!” Ford said defiantly.
“Silence, Ensign,” Larkin said, turning her attention to Tamja. “What do you require from us, Tamja?”
“Nothing major. Just your planet, and your Captain Baxter’s head on a platter, perhaps with a white whine and…what do you call them? String beans? I’d like to have some of those.”
“That show’s what you know, Tamja,” Ford said. “Anyone knows humans go better with red whine.”
Larkin looked over at Ford. “We will not bargain. Leave this system immediately.”
“Sorry. I see we’ll have to do this the hard way. I’ll destroy your vessel first. Then on to Earth. The All You Can Eat Buffet of the Flarn Empire! That’s what they’ll be calling it, you know!”
“Channel closed,” J’hana reported.
Fresca shook her head. “Boy this guy is nuts.”
Tilleran nodded. “How does he know so much about us, anyway?”
“I do not know,” Larkin said. “But that is irrelevant. We must hope that he does not know as much about the Terrans as he thinks he does.”
“We’ve reached the periphery of Jupiter,” Ford said. “Rig for silent running, and take us into the atmosphere.”
“May I remind you, Lieutenant, the Aerostar was never designed for any kind of atmospheric combat,” Tilleran commented.
“I am aware of that, Lt. Tilleran,” Larkin replied.
“Then what do you plan to do?” Tilleran asked.
“You will see,” Larkin said, as the Aerostar dove towards Jupiter.
“They are heading for a large planet in this system, Lord Tamja,” The navigator reported. “It issssss mostly comprised of gassss.”
“Follow them in. However; be cautious, we shall not share the fate of our sssssssssister ship.”
“Underssssssstood, my lord.”
“Lord Tamja. I am picking up another Federation sssssignal, from a shuttle on the Terran homeworld. It sssssseems to be quite small.” Goran reported from the weapons station.
Tamja rubbed his chin. “It could be sssssssome attempt at esssscape. No matter, we sssshall obliterate that chunk of rock soon enough. I want you to take three of your men there and sssssecure whatever ssssignal that is and bring it back here, along with a preliminary report of Earth’s puny defenssssessss.”
Goran nodded. “With pleasssssure, my Lord.”
“They are still following, closing at forty thousand kilometers,” Ford reported from the helm.
“Ready aft photon launchers,” Larkin replied.
“Ready,” J’hana said. “I hope you don’t expect the same success we had in the Tervellan system.”
“I assure you I do not. The methane gas within this planet is stable enough to support combat. I am more interested in this planet’s most distinguishing feature.”
“The red spot!” Tilleran said, snapping her fingers. “Actually, it is not a spot at all. It is a storm,” Larkin corrected.
“I knew that,” Tilleran said.
“The Flarn vessel has released some sort of shuttle.” Fresca said from ops. “It’s headed for Earth.”
“We have bigger problems right now, Ensign,” Larkin observed, watching the Flarn ship approach on the viewscreen.
“Incoming!” J’hana shouted, as more blasts rocked the Aerostar.
“Return fire,” Larkin ordered.
“We’re nearing the red spot,” announced Ford.
“Storm,” Larkin corrected.
The Aerostar rocked again.
“Shields down to sixty percent,” J’hana said.
Suddenly the rocking of weapons fire turned into a constant shuttering, as the ship entered the red spot, that is, storm. The hull of the Aerostar began to rattle like a rusty cage.
“Hold on!” Ford cried, as the tiny ship was tossed. “If this keeps up, the Aerostar will be lost!” Tilleran reported from the science console.
“Divert as much power as possible to shields and inertial dampers. Try to maintain attitude control,” Larkin commanded as the bridge shook.
“The Flarn vessel is having difficulty within the storm,” Tilleran reported.
“Like we aren’t?” Ford asked.
“Fire aft torpedoes, and take us out of the storm,” Larkin ordered.
“I thought it was a ssssssspot!” the navigator screamed, as Tamja plunged the ceremonial dagger into his chest. “I sssssswear, I didn’t know it was a ssssssstorm!”
Tamja grunted as he tossed the navigator’s body to the side. “I do not care for excuses. You!…” he said to Kevak, the science officer. “You are the new navigator. Get usssss out of here.”
“Yesssss, my Lord,” Kevak said nervously, taking the helm.
“Their shields are weakening!” J’hana reported. “But I estimate that it will take a significantly greater beating to disable them.”
“Then fire more torpedo spreads, Lieutenant. We must not let the Flarn near Earth,” Larkin said, as the Aerostar angled out of Jupiter’s atmosphere.
“Too late. The Flarn shuttle has reached the periphery of the moon’s orbit. They are within transporter range,” Tilleran reported. “Shall we send a security team to intercept them?”
“We cannot lower the shields,” Larkin stated. “We must defeat the Flarn ship first.”
As if to punctuate the urgency of that statement, another blast rocked the ship.
“Shields down to forty percent,” J’hana reported. “We have to do something!” Tilleran shouted.
“And that we shall, Lieutenant. Mister Ford, lay in a course for Venus, and make sure to keep us out of the way of Earth’s orbit.”
“What is this, a tour of the system?” Ford asked.
“I have another idea,” Larkin replied.
“They’re now heading towardsssss the second planet from the sun.” Kevak reported.
“Why mussssst they delay the inevitable?” Tamja sighed. “Follow them.”
“What do you mean, the FBI took it!” Travis exclaimed, pulling at his hair in dismay. “We NEEDED that thing!”
Carl sat back in his chair in the lab, looking quizzically at Travis. “What is this about, Travis? Why are you back from Thanksgiving vacation so early, and why are you so interested in my old invention? And why, for that matter, is the FBI so interested in us? Lisa said she saw one of them at the mall today.”
“I don’t have time to talk about it, Carl,” Travis said, marching out of the lab.
“Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me what’s going on?” Carl asked, returning to his experiment.
“What do you mean, the FBI took it?” Baxter asked, following Travis back towards the truck.
“I don’t know. We’ve been having some problems with the FBI lately. They must have figured out that the device has something to do with the time travel and confiscated it,” Travis replied.
“But it doesn’t.”
“Well, it had to do with the first time travel, when Rydell’s mind was switched.”
“This is just getting way out of hand.”
“If Mulder and Scully put all the pieces together, we could be in a lot of trouble,” Travis said.
“We’re already in a lot of trouble,” Baxter replied, climbing into the Bronco.
“Did you get it?” Conway asked.
“No,” Travis said. “The FBI has it.”
“So we have to go to the FBI,” Conway said, starting up the truck.
“No,” Travis said, “we have to go to the mall.”
“Land ussssss on the moon, and prepare the transsssssporter,” Goran ordered, as he watched the blue, spinning planet through the viewport. He smiled as he thought of the idea of finally capturing the humans and adding their miserable little planet to the Flarn empire. One thing was for sure, they would eat like kings! The Flarn shuttle landed on the moon, crushing the American flag in the process.
The Aerostar soared through the thick Venutian atmosphere, angling downwards toward the surface of the planet.
“The Flarn ship is still following,” Ford reported. Larkin walked around to Tilleran’s science station. “Lieutenant, I trust you are aware of the volcanic nature of this planet?”
“Of course,” Tilleran said, “what do you think I am, a first year cadet?”
“I want you to find a volcano that is just wide enough to admit the Aerostar, but narrow enough that the Flarn ship will get stuck upon trying to follow us.”
“You know what goes hand in hand with volcanoes, don’t you, Lieutenant?” Tilleran asked.
“If you are referring to the lava, I believe our shields will protect us sufficiently.”
“Let’s hope so,” Tilleran sighed.
“You think the Aerostar is a giant groundhog or something?” Ford asked, overhearing the plan.
“That is an adequate, though flawed analogy, Mr. Ford,” Larkin said, returning to her chair. “I will require you all to be at top performance. This promises to be a risky maneuver.”
The Flarn vessel came upon the Aerostar, continuing to rattle it with anti-proton blasts.
“Shields down to twenty-two percent,” J’hana reported.
“I’ve found a volcano. Feeding the data to the helm,” Tilleran said.
“Changing course,” Ford stated.
The Aerostar dove into the huge volcano, plunging past the rocky walls, directly into a bath of hot lava. “Our hull temperature is increasing exponentially!” Tilleran reported as the ship rattled away.
“Status of the Flarn ship?” Larkin asked.
“They’re following us in,” J’hana said.
“They think a little lava will stop usssssssss? It shows what they know of the mighty warship Lobrok. Thissssssss is nothing,” Tamja growled.
Suddenly the Lobrok shook violently.
There was a gulp from Kevak at the helm. “My Lord, we are ssssstuck.”
“SSSSSSSSSSTUCK???” Tamja growled. “Blasssst us out of here!”
“Um, Lieutenant Larkin!” Tilleran called out nervously. “This thing is about to erupt!”
“Ready tunneling phasers, J’hana,” Larkin said calmly. “Cut us out of here.”
“Aye!” J’hana said, lancing out at the walls of the volcano as the lava surged. “Tunneling phasers having no effect.”
“Everybody hold on!” Tilleran shouted.
There was suddenly a surge of lava, causing the Aerostar to hurtle towards the volcano’s opening.
“The Aerostar is coming back towards usssssss! The volcano is erupting!” Kevak shouted.
“Are we free yet?” Tamja asked nervously.
“Not yet!” Kevak screamed nervously.
There was an immense shutter as the Aerostar rammed into the Lobrok with a clang, causing both ships to erupt from the volcano and soar into the air.
“Stabilize!” Larkin called over screams and shouts and alarms as the Aerostar careened through the Venutian atmosphere. “Take us back into space!”
“We have to find that shuttle!” Baxter said, as Conway steered the Bronco into the Greenbriar mall parking lot.
“If I remember right, it should be that way,” Richards said, pointing. “But then again, it’s been awhile.”
Everyone climbed out of the truck, looking towards the thick forest nearby.
“Okay, you guys go try and find the shuttle, I’ll try and find Mulder and Scully and distract them. And maybe I can find the device,” Travis said.
“Good plan,” Baxter said, leading Conway and Richards into the woods.
Baxter ran into the woods, pushing past branches and small treelings, in search of the Defiant’s shuttlecraft.
“It has to be here somewhere,” Richards said. “We can’t be far, look at all the beer cans.”
Travis ran through the parking lot, stopping immediately when he found the unmarked car with government plates. What luck! This had to be Mulder and Scully’s car!
Travis peered into the driver’s side window, hoping to find some clue as to where they had gone.
What he found was Agent Dana Scully, dozing in the passenger seat.
Making every attempt to keep quiet, Travis inched the car door open and scanned the interior of the car. No device. Maybe it was in the trunk. Travis searched for the keys. He couldn’t find them among the sandwich wrappers and coffee cups. And FBI agents were supposed to be neat. As he squirmed around in the driver’s seat in an attempt to back out, Travis’s elbow accidentally leaned onto the car horn.
“What? Mulder?” Scully said, shooting up, her book falling to the floorboards.
“Nope, just little old me,” Travis said, jumping out of the car and making for the woods.
“Mr. Dillon?” Scully said, hopping out of the car and giving chase.
Travis struggled through the woods, turning back to see how close Scully was, and simultaneously slamming into a tree trunk.
Moments later, Scully was peering over the dazed college student with concern. “Are you okay, Mr. Dillon?”
“My, you’re beautiful,” Travis said wistfully.
Scully tried not to blush as she jerked Travis up by the arm. “You’ve got some explaining to do, Mr. Dillon. As soon as we find Agent Mulder we’re going to sit you down and…” Scully looked around. “Mulder?”
Fine time for him to answer the call of nature, Scully thought wryly, as she dragged Travis through the woods.
The Aerostar sailed out of Venus’ atmosphere, the Flarn warship close behind.
“We sustained moderate hull damage, and the shields are down to thirteen percent,” J’hana reported.
“The Flarn vessel is in pursuit,” Fresca added.
“I don’t see how we can hope to defeat them in this state, Lieutenant Larkin. We need some help. If only there was another starship…” Lt. Tilleran said.
“There will be,” Larkin suddenly said; she had been in deep thought for the last several moments. “Or should I say, there will have been. Helm, set a course for the sun. And find me a program in the computer core. A program called ‘Warpin’ 3.0.’”
Tilleran thought a moment, putting together what Larkin had said. Suddenly it all seemed to come together. “Oh, shit,” Tilleran said, as the Aerostar streaked toward the sun.
“There it is!” Richards said, pointing at the shuttle. It was right where he had remembered it being. Baxter ran towards the shuttle. “We can use its comm system to contact the Aerostar. At least we can let them know where we are.”
As the three got closer to the shuttle, they noticed that the door was still open. “I guess Tilleran left it open when we beamed back to the ship,” Baxter noted.
“They must not have had the time to decide how to get rid of the thing,” Conway said. “They’ve probably been looking for us this whole time.”
Richards ducked into the shuttle. “Well, we’re home free now.”
“Uh, Chris…” Baxter said from outside the shuttle. “What?” Richards asked, sticking his head out.
“Can’t you see I’m…oh.” Richards’s voice trailed off as he stared at the gun that was pointed at him and the others.
“Keep your hands where I can see them,” Agent Mulder said, his gun carefully trained on the three strangers. He had wandered off to take a leak and get a feel for the territory when he had heard rustling. “What is that thing, anyway?”
“It’s none of your business, Mister,” Baxter said.
“It’s our tree fort,” Conway suggested.
“Aren’t you guys a little old for tree forts?” Mulder asked, never taking his gun off the three.
“Not at all. Tree forts are fun for all ages,”
Richards said, trying to back Conway up.
“What about that truck you guys arrived in? Did you know there’s an APB out on it? That is your truck isn’t it?”
“Truck?” Baxter asked. “What truck? We came in a car. A real little car.”
“Yeah, it was a Volkswagen,” Conway added.
“Really?” Mulder asked, eyeing the group warily.
“There you are, Mulder!” Scully shouted, dragging Travis towards the shuttle. “Look who I found!”
“You guys know each other?” Mulder asked, even though he knew the answer to that question.
“Him?” Baxter asked. “Never seen him in my life.”
“Well isn’t this great,” Scully said, looking from Richards, Conway, Baxter, and the shuttlecraft, to Mulder, then to Travis.
“I guess none of you guys know about the surveillance tape, Mr. Jaroch’s device, space aliens, or time travel?” Mulder asked hopefully.
“Actually…” Richards said, before Baxter could jab him in the stomach.
“You guys are nuts,” Conway said, glaring from Mulder to Scully. “We’re just some college kids having fun at the mall.”
“I won’t eliminate that possibility,” Mulder said calmly. “But for right now, I think we should all go back to my office and sort this…”
That’s when Mulder heard the most fearsome, guttural, alien voice he had ever heard (which is saying a lot). “All of you, drop your pathetic weaponsssssss,” the eight-foot tall creature growled, stepping out of a thick of bushes, followed by three similar creatures. The voice seemed to emerge from a speaker that hung just under the creature’s massive, tooth-filled mouth.
Mulder’s finger trembled on the trigger of his .45, and all he could think was, Wow, I guess they don’t have big heads and big black eyes after all.
The Enquirer was wrong.
NORFOLK, VA TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1995
“Scully, duck!” Mulder cried out, hitting the ground and leaning up, holding down on the trigger of his .45, emptying the clip into the giant creature that loomed in front of him.
Okay, so diplomacy was out.
The bullets bounced harmlessly off the creature’s thick, insect-like exoskeleton. The creature growled, picking Mulder up with his massive talons and regarding him with disgust.
“Dissssssgussssting. But probably tassssty.”
Scully ducked behind a tree, pushing Travis to the ground in the same movement. “Be careful, Mulder!” she called out, as the creature sized him up.
“Hi,” Mulder said. “My name is Fox Mulder. I’m from Earth. Nice to meet you.”
“Save thisssss one for later,” the creature said to one of the other beings behind him, handing Mulder over. Next, the creature peered into the shuttlecraft. Baxter, Richards, and Conway were huddled inside it. The Flarn reached in and pulled two of them out. He regarded Baxter and Conway. “Cowardly humanssssssss. You will all be eaten after a brief interrogation.”
Richards quickly typed a sequence into the helm control of the shuttlecraft, jumping out of the hatch. The shuttle exploded in a wash of light, sending everyone in the area flying in several different directions.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ensign Fresca said, as Lt. Tilleran entered the necessary figures into her console. Warpin’ 3.0 was presently asking her if she was really, really, really sure she wanted to slingshot around the sun.
“I assure you, I am not,” Larkin said finally, tapping her comm badge. “Larkin to Engineering. I need you to ready the ship for a slingshot around the sun.”
“What?” Ensign Stuart replied. “Why are we going back in time? Haven’t we gone far back enough?”
“My reasons are quite good, and I assure you, I do have a plan. Now prepare the engines.”
Stuart let out a grunt of annoyance and closed the channel.
“I’ve programmed the computer to take us back to three minutes before the Flarn attacked,” Tilleran stated. “That should be sufficient,” Larkin said.
“The engines are ready, Lt. Larkin,” Stuart’s voice said over the comm system. “Well, as ready as they’ll ever be.”
“Understood, Ensign,” Larkin said, closing the channel with engineering. “Sound the allcall.”
“All hands, prepare for time travel.”
“I don’t believe they’re actually going to do it,” Dr. Browning said, staring up at the speaker in sickbay that carried Larkin’s voice as if it had insulted her.
“What about Andy!” Peterman said, staring down at Andy’s still form with concern. During the attack, sickbay had become pretty chaotic, so much so that Dr. Browning had to put Andy back under sedation, for his own safety.
“He’ll be in screwed just as much as the rest of us, I’m afraid,” Browning said, securing the few injured she was taking care of in their bio-beds, in preparation for a rocky trip.
Peterman frowned, looking down at Andy. “It’s just that…it’s not his fight.”
Browning stopped a moment, looking over to Peterman. “Well, strictly speaking, it’s not our fight either.”
Tamja watched with wonder as the Aerostar disappeared from the viewscreen, heading straight for the sun. “Run, you Sssssstarfleet sssssswine, run like the sisssssies you are!”
“Ssssshall we follow them?” The navigator asked. “No,” Tamja replied. “Enough gamesssss. Return to Earth. It is time to harvesssst thesssse pathetic humansssss.”
Commander Richards shook the dizziness from his head, trying to stand up. He had been thrown a good fifteen feet by the blast. He looked over at Conway and Baxter. They were in a similar state of disorientation.
Richards pulled himself up and grabbed Conway and Baxter’s arms. “Come on, guys! We have to get out of here!” Conway and Baxter stumbled after Richards in a half-conscious stupor.
“When exactly did things go so terribly wrong?” Baxter asked.
“About the second they got here,” Conway replied wearily, pointing in the direction of the stunned Flarn.
“Where’s Travis? And those two FBI agents?” Baxter asked.
“I don’t know,” Richards replied, looking around. “Well, we can’t just leave them,” Baxter said as they pushed through the woods.
“Wanna make a bet?” Conway asked.
“We’ve got to go back for them,” Baxter said finally.
“We will,” Richards replied, tossing phasers to Baxter and Conway. “I grabbed these from the shuttle before I blew it up.”
“Great,” Baxter said. “Let’s get the truck.”
“Come on, Scully,” Mulder said, pulling Scully up from the ditch she had landed in. “We have to get out of here, before those things come around.”
“Mulder…” Scully said half-consciously.
“I’m sorry I ever doubted you.”
Mulder began moving through the forest. “Don’t apologize yet. So far these guys aren’t exactly what I expected aliens to be like.”
Travis opened up his eyes, finding himself face to face with what he hypothesized to be a giant gnat.
“Where are the resssssst, human?” Goran asked, perturbed. “They musssst pay for what they did to usssss.”
Travis smiled weakly. “I thought it was kind of funny actually.”
Goran pushed Travis up against a tree. “Do you find death funny assss well, human?”
“No, definitely not,” Travis squeaked.
“Then you will tell us where your friendsssss are.”
“You got me!” Travis said, secretly hoping the others would hatch their master plan soon.
Andy’s truck roared down the street that ran parallel to the forest adjacent to Greenbriar Mall. Richards, seated in the back seat, peered around the driver seat at Conway. “You have a rescue plan, right?” Conway nodded. “Sure.”
“That makes me feel a lot better,” Richards said, leaning back.
“I’m going to plow into the forest and run those sons of bitches down.”
“Andy’s going to be ticked,” Baxter sighed.
Unceremoniously, Conway turned the Bronco hard left, right into the woods.
“Hold on!” Conway shouted, as the truck barreled through the forest, weaving around the bigger trees and crushing the rest.
“Well, the element of surprise is pretty much shot to hell!” Baxter said.
“Keep an eye on him, Neven,” Goran ordered, pointing a talon at Travis. “Me and Hokan will look for the othersssssss.”
Goran and Hokan disappeared deeper into the woods, leaving Neven with little to do besides stare with growing hunger at Travis.
“You know….” Neven said. “I’ve never eaten a human. I heard they tasssssssste like jerat. I can’t wait to sssssssee for mysssself.”
Travis squirmed uneasily under Neven’s gaze. “You know, we’re actually not that tasty, I mean we have a sort of gamey aftertaste.”
Neven let out another one of those annoying belch/laughs. “We ssssshall sssssssee.”
Suddenly, there was a growing rumble.
Neven turned his head slightly. Flarn didn’t exactly have ears, they had a bristly array of short, antennae-like sensory organs on their heads, and at this moment, Neven’s bristles were telling him that something fairly big was coming towards him. “Do you hear sssssssomething, human?”
Travis looked around. “Come to think of it, ya know…” Suddenly Andy’s truck burst through the brush, rumbling towards the unsuspecting Flarn. Neven scrambled for safety, but ended up getting hit, right between the Bronco’s headlights. Needless to say, Neven flew several feet, then smacked into a huge tree and slid to the ground.
Baxter opened the door and jumped out. “Travis! Are you okay?”
“Some rescue,” Travis muttered, as Baxter helped him into the truck.
Neven shook his head. “What the…”
“Punch it, Conway!” Baxter shouted, slamming the door.
Neven pulled himself up and lept onto the Bronco’s hood as it sped by. “You won’t get away that easssssssy, Sssssstarfleet ssssssnacks!”
“Brakes!” Baxter screamed.
Conway slammed on the brakes, sending the Flarn flying.
“Ahead warp factor one!” Baxter ordered.
Conway stomped on the accelerator, and clocked poor Neven again, just as he was getting up.
Baxter laughed triumphantly. “Same game, different arena. Now full reverse!”
Conway jerked the stick backwards and let off the clutch, sending the Bronco back over Neven.
Baxter rolled down the window and peered out. “Well, Mister, what do you have to say now?”
“I…” Neven gasped.
“Exactly. Bye bye then.”
“Sssssstop!” Goran screamed, scrambling after Mulder and Scully.
“Come on, Scully!” Mulder cried, as the pair stumbled through the forest.
Scully followed Mulder through the thick forest, just as a bolt of energy electrified the air around them, finding its mark in a nearby tree and sending it crashing down. Scully turned around briefly enough to fire a few shots at the approaching creatures.
“Just a little bit farther, Scully, we’re almost to open field.”
“Great,” Scully wheezed. “We’ll be easier targets.”
“Cursssssse. We are losssssing them,” Goran said, staring at Mulder and Scully as they fled. “Goran to Neven. We need your help in ssssssecuring the other humansssssss.” There was no response.
“Neven?” Goran asked again. “Go find Neven, Hokan. I’ll get the otherssssss.”
Goran took off through the foliage, breaking out of the forest and pulling out his blaster, stopping long enough to take aim. “Can you ssssssay flambe?”
Suddenly everything became dark, as if a giant cloud had blocked out the sun.
Goran looked up at the sky, his mouth widening in a toothy grin. “Tamja….”
The Flarn’s communitcator chirped. “Goran, thisssssss is Tamja. We’re bringing your party back to the Lobrok. There hasssss been a change in plansssssss.”
“Damage report,” Baxter said, as Conway pulled the Bronco back onto the street near the woods.
“Other than being a little banged up from the fight with Neven, I think we’re okay. They made these things pretty tough.”
“Wonderful, now all we have to do is…”
Suddenly a bolt of energy shot down from the sky and blew up the road in front of the Bronco. Actually, it was more than just the road, it was Greenbriar Mall, the nearby apartments, and a good deal of metropolitan Norfolk. Conway slammed on the brakes, bringing the Bronco to a stop right outside the huge crater where the mall used to be. “Holy crap,” Richards exclaimed.
Baxter just stared in horror. “This is going to seriously screw up the timeline.”
“The timeline?” Travis screamed frantically. “What about the town I went to college in for four years, and my friends? Most likely they’re all DEAD!”
“This could be bad,” Baxter said. “Conway, turn us around and get us the hell out of here.”
Mulder opened his eyes, trying to adjust to the darkness. He had been running through a field only minutes previous, and was now in some strange, dark metal room. He tried to move, but soon realized he was chained to his chair.
“Oh, your awake. Fantasssssssstic. You’re jusssssst in time to see the death of your puny world. I hope you won’t miss it too much,” Goran said, peering over Mulder’s body.
Mulder glanced over to the chair next to him. Scully was lying there, still unconscious. Oh, well, maybe it was for the better. Seeing Earth’s distruction would probably be a huge downer.
“This summer, on July third, the planet Earth will be invaded, just in time for…INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!”
“Give me a break,” Alex Rydell said, sipping at his drink disinterestedly as he watched the movie trailer. How pathetic could you get? An alien takeover of planet Earth. Like that wasn’t totally over-
Alex didn’t get a chance to finish his last thought, since the movie theater (along with most of Norfolk) was blown up by an anti-proton beam from an invading Flarn ship.
Irony is a bitch.
“The ship has been identified as a huge, menacing flying battleship, bristling with weapons, laying down a fiery trail along the east coast. We can only guess as to what this angry visitor could want, but, it is the judgment of this reporter that it has something to do with worldwide holocaust. In entertainment news, Roseanne is at it again…”
“Oh, dear,” David Conway’s mother said, watching the TV screen with horror. “We’re being invaded, and I haven’t kept the bomb shelter stocked since the sixties.”
“…and now, we’re going live to CBS news,” the news anchorwoman’s picture was replaced with Dan Rather. “Hello. I’m Dan Rather, here with CBS’ two part miniseries, ‘The End of the World: All it’s Cracked up to Be?’ All I can say as the menacing, otherworldly vessel lays waste to our beautiful world, is, why on Earth am I still a virgin?”
Betty Conway gasped as she saw footage of vaporized towns. She patted a spot on the couch next to her. “Come on, Goldie. Sit with mama. We’re all going to die!” The small, fluffy, white Cockapoo obediently jumped on the couch and snuggled next to Conway’s mother, licking her hand lovingly.
“…reports indicate that the vessel is heading towards Washington, DC, heading straight through Maryland…” Rather continued.
“Oh, hell,” Betty said, looking down at her dog. Shortly thereafter the entire town of Salisbury was obliterated.
“What’s wrong, Janice?” Janice’s mom asked with concern as Janice sat on the couch, staring blankly at an empty TV screen.
“I’m worried about Chris. I’m afraid he’s going to get himself killed.”
“Come on, Janice,” Janice’s mom said. “He’s just a guy. It’s not the end of the w-“
The Browning household was suddenly vaporized, along with the entire city of Salisbury.
On the Lobrok’s viewscreen, the White House exploded in a cascade of flames and smoke, embers falling to the earth, as the Flarn ship continued along its path of destruction.
“Target desssssstroyed, Lord Tamja,” the weapons officer reported.
“Very well,” Tamja replied. “Dissssssssspatch the fighterssssss and secure all of Earth’s military basssssssses. And begin filling our holdsssss with assssss many humansssss as we can carry.”
Hundreds of Flarn fighters scoured the Earth, as hundreds of anti-proton beams raped the Earth’s surface, scorching the ground and destroying every building in their path. Those that didn’t die in the massacre would end up on the menu in some fancy Flarn restaurant back in the Delta Quadrant.
Lord Tamja laughed as the world was consumed in flames and tortured screams, briefly wondering what had ever happened to the Aerostar.
THE TERRAN SYSTEM TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1995
JUST A LITTLE WHILE AGO
“Their shields are weakening!” J’hana reported. “But I estimate that it will take a significantly greater beating to disable them.”
“Then fire more torpedo spreads, Lieutenant. We must not let the Flarn near Earth,” Larkin said, as the Aerostar angled out of Jupiter’s atmosphere.
“Too late. The Flarn shuttle has reached the periphery of the moon’s orbit. They are within range of their transporters.” Tilleran reported. “Shall we send a security team to intercept them?”
“We cannot lower the shields,” Larkin stated. “We must defeat the Flarn ship first.”
As if to punctuate the urgency of that statement, another blast rocked the ship.
“Shields down to forty percent,” J’hana reported. “We have to do something!” Tilleran shouted.
“And that we shall, Lieutenant. Mister Ford, lay in a course for…”
Suddenly, J’hana interrupted, staring at her panel in disbelief. “Lieutenant! Another vessel is entering the area, bearing 002 mark 008. It is a Federation starship!”
Larkin cocked her head. “That is not possible.”
J’hana scrutinized the readings further. “They are making a run for the Flarn ship.”
“Identification?” Larkin asked.
Tilleran’s eyes grew wide as she stared at her panel. “NCC-83835…USS Aerostar.”
Larkin cocked her head again, in the opposite direction. “Again, this is not possible. Lt. J’hana, open a hailing frequency to the Federation ship.”
Larkin stood and approached the viewscreen.
“Federation Starship, please identify yourself and make clear your intentions.”
The entire bridge crew gasped, as the view of the Nebula-class vessel was replaced with the view of the Aerostar’s bridge, complete with an identical bridge crew. It was like looking in a mirror.
“Aerostar. This is Lieutenant Kristen Larkin, in command of the Starship Aerostar. As hard as it may be to believe, Lieutenant Larkin, we have returned from the future to aid you in fighting the Flarn ship that is attacking now. It was my assumption that it would be easier to beat this vessel if we combined our efforts.”
“I see,” Larkin said calmly. “We will do all we can to help you.”
“Excellent. The future timeline depends on it.
“Lord Tamja!” Kevak said suddenly. “There is another Federation Sssssstarship entering the area. It hasssss the exact same ssssssspecifications as the Aerostar, only it ssssseems sssssslightly more damaged.”
Tamja beamed at the other vessel. “How isssss thissssss posssssssible?”
Suddenly there was a rumble, as photon torpedoes collided with the Lobrok’s hull.
“Neverthelsssssss, my Lord, they are both attacking ussssssss.”
Tamja seemed annoyed. “Then dessssssstroy them both!!!!!”
“We can’t take much of a beating, Larkin,” Ensign Stuart said, taking the aft Engineering station and transferring engineering control. “Beyond all the damage we took around Jupiter and Venus, the warp core was made extremely unstable by the slingshot maneuver. I don’t see how we’ll be much help.”
“Your observations have been noted, Ensign. However, I assume that we will be just strong enough to defeat that Flarn vessel.”
“I don’t like the way she phrased that,” Ford whispered, leaning over towards Fresca.
“Bearing down on Flarn vessel,” J’hana reported from tactical.
“Fire all weapons,” Larkin ordered.
“Concentrate fire on their port quarter,” Larkin ordered. “It appears our future counterpart is attacking the starboard quarter.”
“They are faltering under the dual attack, Lieutenant,” J’hana reported from tactical.
Larkin grasped at the arms of the command chair. “Excellent. Helm, initiate tactical maneuver Larkin Alpha Five on my mark.”
“Aye,” Ford responded.
Both Aerostars laid into the Flarn vessel, with unrelenting torpedo and phaser attacks.
“They are too much for usssssssssss!” Kevak reported. “Shields are collapsing!”
“We musssssst hold our ground!” Tamja ordered. “Make a run for Earth. Perhaps we can convince them to sssssssurrender by jeopardizing their puny sssssspace misssssssion.”
“They’re headed for Earth!” the Tilleran from the future reported from the science station.
“We must stop them,” Larkin said resolutely. “Set course to pursue and overtake.”
“We can’t keep this up. Engines are straining as it is!” Ensign Stuart reported from the engineering console.
“We will not have to keep it up for long,” Larkin said. “Tactical…continuous fire, all weapons.”
“The other Aerostar is following the Flarn vessel,” J’hana reported. “What shall we do?”
“Pursue them both,” Larkin said. “Concentrate fire on the Flarn engines.”
“The shields are just too strong, Lieutenant,” J’hana said. “We cannot hope to stop them before they reach Earth.”
“….cannot hope to stop them before they reach Earth,” the other J’hana said, upon making the same discovery as her counterpart.
“That is not true. Computer…” Larkin said, “Prepare to initiate self destruct sequence. Authorization Larkin Phi Eta One Five.”
Tilleran ran around her station and down the steps to the command arena. “You can’t be serious! You can’t just destroy the ship!”
“You will resume your position or I will have you removed from the bridge, Lieutenant. J’hana…sound the allcall.”
“All hands, this is Lieutenant Larkin. It has become necessary to destroy this ship in order to save both the past and the future. In less than three minutes, we will collide with the Flarn vessel threatening Earth. Please take the allotted time to say your good-byes.”
Doctor Browning collapsed into a chair near to the main cluster of bio-beds in sickbay. “We’re going to die?”
Counselor Peterman cradled Andy’s head in her lap. “I guess so.”
Browning got up and held Commander Richards’s hand, even though the brain currently inhabiting Richards’s body was not his own, he wasn’t conscious, so it didn’t matter much either way. “I’m going to miss you, Chris. No matter how much of a jerk you were.”
Peterman grabbed Browning’s hand with her own free hand. “I love you, Janice.”
A tear trickled down Browning’s cheek. “Yeah, I love you too.”
A couple moments passed as the two looked on in silence.
“I really like your hair that way, Janice,” Peterman finally said.
“One minute until detonation,” the computer said unemotionally.
“Collision course, uh, laid in,” Ford said hesitantly from the helm. “We can always abort!”
“That will not be necessary,” Larkin said. “I intend to carry out my final order.”
Lt. Tilleran fought back tears as she tapped her console nervously. What would happen when they died? If they were successful, the Flarn ship would be destroyed, and the future that she was a part of would no longer exist. If that was so, then wouldn’t they all be eradicated anyway? They would still be alive, just in an alternate future. But that didn’t seem to matter right now. All Tilleran could think as the ship’s computer counted down the seconds until destruction was that she was going to die, and there was no use in rationalizing that.
“Thirty seconds until detonation,” the computer reported.
“It was nice working with all of you,” Larkin said as she computed the exact magnitude of the explosion they would cause. She hoped it would be enough.
“The Aerostar is on a collision course with the Flarn vessel,” J’hana reported.
Tilleran ran over to the tactical console, leaning over it and staring at the viewscreen with wonder. “They’re destroying their ship in order to save our own!”
“So it would seem,” Larkin said. “Increase strength on the forward shields and ready a tractor beam. We will have to pull back on the wreckage before it nears Earth’s field of view.”
On the viewscreen, the Aerostar bore down on the Flarn vessel.
“It is coming towardssssss usssssss!” Kevak shouted. Tamja pounded his chair with frustration.
“Evasssssssive maneuverssssss! Do not let them hit usssssss!”
“It issssss no ussssse, they are coming at usssss too fasssssst.”
“Idiotic humansssssssss. Do they think our ship will be sssssssusceptible to the explossssssion of their tiny ssssssship?”
Kevak watched as the Aerostar came towards them. “We sssssshall sssssee very sssssshortly.”
“Collision in approximately twelve seconds,” J’hana said.
“I can’t believe this,” Ford said with wonder, staring at the viewscreen. “Goodbye, Fresca. I want you to know, I always thought you were a hottie.”
Fresca smiled. “You’re a dickhead to the very end, Ford. And now you’ll die knowing you never got in my pants.”
Ford smiled back. “There’s always another lifetime…”
“I feel sorry for the other J’hana,” J’hana said. “She will not have the glory of dying as heroically as I.”
“Small comfort,” Tilleran sniffed from the science console. “I just hope that this isn’t all in vain.”
“If we die, then it will not be in vain,” J’hana said, smiling as if she’d said something extremely eloquent.
Andy’s eyes fluttered open. “Am I still on the spaceship?”
Peterman looked down at him and smiled. “Not for long, sweetheart. Not for long.”
Likewise, Chris’s eyes opened. “Janice…”
“Not exactly. Go back to sleep. We’re about to hit some turbulence.”
Quiet seconds passed.
“Goodbye,” Peterman and Browning said silently.
Suddenly David’s eyes opened as well. “Hey, what’s going-“
And just as suddenly the computer’s countdown hit zero.
The bridge of the Aerostar was awash with white light as the other Aerostar exploded with a huge blast against the Lobrok’s hull.
“Lock on the tractor beams!” Larkin commanded loudly as the ship rocked with the shockwave from the explosion. Suddenly the Flarn vessel exploded in another wash of white light, its wing struts and forward section spinning away in opposite directions.
“Both vessels have been destroyed,” J’hana said from tactical. “Our shields remain at forty-nine percent, and the main navigational deflector is nonfunctional.”
As J’hana said this, Tilleran and the ensign at the Engineering station stepped forward, watching the field of debris float quietly on the viewscreen. Ford, Fresca, and Larkin all stood respectfully.
After a few moments of silence, Larkin said, “I think we all understand the gravity of our sister ship’s sacrifice. Now it is up to us to make sure it is not in vain. Prepare to collect the debris from both vessels and beam it into the cargo holds. Then set a course for Earth.”
The space shuttle Discovery shook slightly.
“Did you hear that, Tom?” one of the astronauts asked. “No. You’re imagining things, Ed. Now go back to your soil samples,” Tom replied. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in space, and there’s not exactly a lot of life out here.”
NORFOLK, VA TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1995
“Curssssssesssss. We are losssssing them.” Goran said, staring at Mulder and Scully as they fled. “Goran to Neven. We need your help in ssssssecuring the other humansssssss.” There was no response.
“Neven?” Goran asked again. “Go find Neven, Hokan. I’ll get the otherssssss.”
Goran took off through the foliage, breaking out of the forest and pulling out his blaster, stopping long enough to take aim at the two FBI agents. “Can you ssssssay flambe?”
Seeing the huge creature aim his weapon, Mulder pushed Scully down roughly, jumping on top of her just as the trees around them were incinerated.
Mulder dragged Scully up. “Was that good for you?”
“It was fantastic,” Scully said, wincing as another blast hit close to them. “Let’s get out of here!” The two scrambled for the main road as fast as they could.
“Damage report,” Baxter said, as Conway pulled the Bronco back onto the street near the woods.
“Other than being a little banged up from the fight with that Flarn, I think we’re okay. They made these things pretty tough.”
“Hey, it’s those FBI guys!” Richards said, watching as Mulder and Scully ran out of the woods, waving their arms wildly.
Conway pulled the Bronco up next to them.
Baxter rolled down the window. “Fancy meeting you guys here. Care for a lift?”
“They’re following us!” Mulder shouted.
“Let us in!” Scully added.
“Roll down the back window, Conway,” Baxter ordered. Conway hit a button and rolled down the back window to allow Mulder and Scully to quickly climb in.
At the same time, Goran emerged from the forest, shouting, “Ssssstop, humansssss!”
“Punch it, Conway!” Baxter yelled.
The Bronco peeled out, as Goran fired his weapon, missing it by inches. As the Bronco passed by, Goran grabbed on with his huge talons, sinking them into the roof and holding on for dear life.
Mulder and Scully, still in the way-back, ducked down as Goran’s claws tore through the roof. “He’s forcing his way in!”
“Try to shake him, Conway.”
“That’s a tall order, Captain!”
“Then roll down the back window again.” Baxter pulled out the phaser Richards had given him and set it to kill. “You two!” he motioned to Mulder and Scully. “Get down!”
Baxter fired his phaser directly at Goran, knocking him off the roof.
Scully peeked outside, looking down. “He’s still on the bumper!”
“Not for long!” Conway shouted, turning the Bronco hard to the right and running it into a ditch, causing it to very nearly flip.
“He just won’t let go!” Scully shouted.
Mulder’s eyes widened as he saw a crowbar in the way-back, along with the spare tire.
Mulder quickly grabbed the crowbar and stabbed it down into Goran’s claw.
Goran screamed out in pain, letting go of the bumper and falling away into the ditch.
“I got him!” Mulder shouted triumphantly.
“Thank God!” Conway said, steering the Bronco back onto the road. “Where to next?”
Baxter stared at Mulder and Scully with annoyance. “We’re going to the FBI Norfolk branch. You guys have something there we need.”
Mulder smiled. “Mister Jaroch’s invention! I knew that had something to do with this.”
“Damn right it has something to do with this. It’s the whole reason we got in this mess,” Richards said.
“To put a finer point on it,” Travis said, in a vain attempt to be diplomatic, “you’re the whole reason we got in this mess.”
“Sorry,” Mulder said, looking at Scully innocently. “What can I say? At least I was right.”
FBI HEADQUARTERS - NORFOLK BRANCH
“Hello, Agent Mulder,” the security guard said idly, checking Mulder’s ID. “What’s with the truck?”
“It’s on loan from a friend we have down here,” Mulder said, taking his ID back and driving off.
The security guard nodded, smiling disinterestedly. He watched as the Bronco drove off, wondering what had caused the huge gashes in the back.
“Let’s make this quick,” Baxter whispered, walking quickly into the lobby, behind Mulder and Scully, a phaser in his pocket, pointed at their backs.
“Believe me, the weapon is not necessary, Mister Baxter,” Scully said, as they approached the elevator.
Stepping into the elevator, Mulder glanced back at Baxter. “If I might ask, what is that weapon? Is it the same one that was used against Travis and his friends three weeks ago?”
“You may ask…” Baxter said.
“Well?” Mulder asked impatiently.
“That information is…how do you guys say it? On a need to know basis.”
“You’re from the future,” Mulder said with pride. “Aren’t you?”
“Very good, Sherlock. You get bonus points,” Baxter said as the elevator rose.
“I knew it.”
“Don’t celebrate yet, those things are probably still after us,” Scully said.
“That will be taken care of,” Baxter said reassuringly. “You can trust me.”
“And why should we trust you, Mister Baxter?” Scully asked.
“Because I said so,” Baxter replied confidently. The elevator opened up, and Scully and Mulder stepped out, followed by Baxter.
The three stormed into Dr. Cross’ lab in unison. Dr. Cross was looking over some reports and nibbling from a box of donuts when they entered. He brushed off his fingers and stood up. “Agents Mulder and Scully! To what do I owe this visit?”
“We have been instructed by our supervisors to take that device we gave you back to Washington. It’s an issue of National Security,” Mulder said evenly, staring down at Carl’s contraption.
“By all means, take it. It hasn’t done me any good. My analysis is that it’s a defective electron telescope.”
“You’d be surprised, Doctor,” Mulder said, unplugging the device and sticking it under his arm.
“And who’s your friend?” Cross asked.
“A vital witness in our case,” Scully said, darting her eyes back at Baxter.
Baxter suddenly realized that he was now in the body of an eighteen year old. “Yeah, I think this FBI stuff is neat.”
“Okay, Andy, we’ve got what we came for. It’s time we took you home,” Mulder said, heading out of the lab.
“Bye, Doc!” Baxter said, following Mulder and Scully out of the lab.
“That was easier than I thought it would be,” Baxter said, as the three walked quickly out of the building.
“Now do you mind telling us what this is all about?” Scully asked.
“Yeah, you owe us at least that much.” Mulder said.
“What would you say if I told you I was from an alternate future, the Captain of a powerful starship that was lost in another quadrant of the galaxy, that was sent here through the magic of a strange wormhole phenomenon, then brain-swiped by this crazy machine?”
“I’d say you were a raving lunatic,” Scully said.
“And I’d ask you were you parked your starship,” Mulder said, his smile broadening. “You’re from the future. The woman from the surveillance video had a weapon similar to yours, so she must have been from your time too.”
“Right again, for what it’s worth,” Baxter said, gesturing Mulder and Scully into the Bronco.
“So what do we do next?” Mulder asked.
“We radio my starship for help,” Baxter said, gesturing for Conway to drive.
“One problem,” Richards said, as Mulder and Scully climbed into the back of the truck. “I never thought to get a communicator out of the shuttle.”
“We’re going to have to access a communications satellite,” Baxter surmised.
“We’ll need Carl’s help,” Travis said. “He’ll be able to get us access to Old Dominion’s satellite dish.”
“Then Old Dominion it is,” Baxter said. “Hop to it, Conway.”
“Goran! Goran!” Hokan cried, running over to Goran’s still body. “Talk to me Greatnessssss, talk to me!”
Goran pushed himself up. “The humanssssss have outsssssmarted me for the lasssssst time. We will dessssstroy this world. Contact the Lobrok.”
Hokan studied his communicator for a moment. “No ressssponse.”
“Curssssssse. We musssst asssume that Lobrok is destroyed. We will have to take Earth oursssssselves. Once we have done that, we ssssshall take the Aerostar and get home, with thousands of ssssssucculent humans sssssstocked in the cargo holdsssssss.”
“But how sssssshall we overtake the Earth?” Hokan asked.
Goran crawled out of the ditch and walked onto the road, putting his one still functioning talon into the air. “We sssssshall hitch-hike.”
“Carl! I need your help!” Travis cried, running into Carl’s lab.
Carl paused his game of “Doom” and looked up at Travis. “What do you want now? I thought you went back to Salisbury.”
“Well, I didn’t, and I don’t have time to explain. I need access to ODU’s satellite dish.”
Carl stood up and turned off his computer. “Whatever for?”
“No time to talk about that. Just get me to that dish.”
Carl shrugged. “Okay, no problem. Just promise me you’re not going to try and blow up the world with it.” Travis quickly followed Carl out of the lab. “Trust me, quite the contrary.”
Conway tapped the steering wheel of Andy’s truck nervously. “What the devil’s taking them so long?”
“Calm down, Commander. Travis has only been gone a few minutes. Give him time,” Richards said.
“Time is a luxury we do not have,” Baxter said, looking from Richards to Conway.
“Go on with the story, I’m finding it quite interesting, from a psychological standpoint,” Scully said, looking at Baxter.
Baxter glared at her. “You still don’t believe me?”
“I believe the courts will buy an insanity plea.”
Baxter looked to Mulder. “What about you?”
“I’ve heard stranger things,” Mulder said with a smile.
Baxter just laughed. “Then you haven’t heard the whole story.”
Irma Wilson carefully steered her sky-blue Ford Festiva onto the shoulder of the road.
“Hello!” she said cheerfully.
The huge creature bent down and glowered into Irma’s window.
“We require transsssssssportation,” Goran said evenly.
“I don’t know. I don’t usually take hitchhikers. But what the heck. You two look like a good risk. Come on, fellas!”
Goran laughed heartily. “I told you thissssssss would not be hard, Hokan.”
Hokan grunted agreement and squeezed himself into the bucket seats in the rear of Irma’s tiny car.
Goran squeezed into the passenger side, his head causing a dent in the roof.
Irma adjusted the rearview mirror, straightened the “Jesus” medallion on her dashboard, and plucked the fuzzy dice that hung loosely from her rearview mirror. “Where to, guys?”
“We need accesssssss to your nuclear weaponssss,” Goran hissed.
The woman thought a moment. “Hmmmmmm. The only place I know of in this area that would have nuclear weapons is the Norfolk Naval base. We keep a lot of battleships there.”
Goran looked back at Hokan quizzically. “Very well.”
“Oooooh, sailors!” Irma said excitedly, pulling the car onto the road. “I think we’re going to have a nice little ride.”
Irma turned up her radio as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” played on.
Carl unlocked and opened the door to the currently vacant communications lab and switched on the lights. “So why do you need this thing, Travis?”
“I have to send a signal out to space,” Travis said, running over to the communications panel at the center of the room. “Now how do you work this thing?”
Carl switched on a computer and typed in some commands, then ran over to a wall that was lined with several lights, buttons, dials, and switches. After adjusting some of the settings, he sat down at the communications panel and switched on the microphone. “I’ll worry about that. Just talk into the microphone.”
Travis thought a moment, then leaned forward and spoke into the mike. “Aerostar. Captain and friends need help. At Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA. Hurry. Flarn here.”
Carl switched off the receiver. “What the hell did you need to say that for? And who is Flarn?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Travis said.
Carl turned around. “Are you trying to contact aliens again, Travis?”
At this, Travis seemed offended. “Of course not. I’m just bouncing a signal into space as part of a course I’m taking.”
“Well, what’s an Aerostar, and what the heck is a Flarn?”
“One’s a minivan, and the other is…a dessert.”
Carl just shrugged. “Okay, if you say so. I’m sending it through to ODU’s communication’s satellite and bouncing it back here on a repeating loop. If there are any Klingons out there, they’ll pick it up.”
Travis crossed his fingers. “It’s not the Klingons I’m worried about.”
“We’ve beamed all the debris into a cargo bay,” J’hana reported from tactical. “We can return to Earth at any time now.”
“Excellent,” Larkin said from the command chair. “What is the status on our repairs?”
“Shields are back up to sixty-five percent, and the hull has been patched up for now,” J’hana reported.
“Very good. Mr. Ford, set a course for Earth, full impulse.”
Ford tapped the commands into the helm. “Aye, Lieutenant.”
Once the ship was underway, Larkin stood up and walked around to Tilleran’s science console. “Lt. Tilleran, I need you to begin scanning again for the brainwaves of our crew-mates.”
Tilleran began to work on her console. “You understand, Lieutenant, that I’ll have to basically start from scratch, using their last known coordinates as a reference.”
Larkin nodded. “Do your best, Lieutenant. Also search for anything that might resemble a distress call. Perhaps our crew-mates are trying to contact us.”
“If they’re even alive,” Ford said from the helm.
“You’re making that up,” Mulder said, for the first time all day.
“I’m serious!” Baxter said in surprise. “The planet was full of women, and one of them wanted me like you wouldn’t believe. She was really hot too.”
Mulder turned to Scully. “Do you believe this?”
Scully shook her head. “He lost me as soon as he got to the Penguin people.”
“I could write a book about this,” Mulder said, smiling. He was obviously in his element.
Baxter looked at Richards and Conway and all three suddenly broke into a bout of uncontrollable laughter. They were just beginning to recover when Travis ran up to the door.
Baxter stepped out of the truck and helped Travis in, as he excitedly relayed the news. “Okay, I sent the message. If they’re up there, they’ll get it.”
“If they’re even looking for it,” Richards said.
“So what do we do next, Captain?” Mulder asked. He was really enjoying this.
Baxter sat back in his chair. “We wait. Maybe you two could tell me your story.”
Mulder looked at Scully, then back to Baxter. “I’m afraid anything we’d have to say would be dull in comparison to what you guys have been through.”
“Sure it would,” Scully said dryly. “Tell ‘em about the volcanic plant spores, or the mind invading ice creatures.”
“Lieutenant! I’ve got something!” Tilleran said excitedly from the science station. The Aerostar hadn’t been holding position near the moon for more than five minutes. Larkin walked back to Tilleran’s station.
“What have you got, Lieutenant?”
Tilleran hit a control on her panel, playing the message.
“Aerostar. Captain and friends need help. At Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, USA. Hurry. Flarn here.”
Larkin cocked her head as the message played.
“Strange. The voice is quite familiar.”
“What should we do, Lieutenant?” Tilleran asked eagerly.
“We must prepare an away team immediately. From the sound of the message, we do not have much time.”
Fifteen minutes later, Lt. Larkin, Lt. Gellar, and Ensign Ford entered the transporter room, decked out in what, Larkin believed, was “nineteen-nineties” regalia. Lt. Hartley almost fell over the transporter console in hysterics. “Where the hell are you guys going dressed like that?”
“We are going to Old Dominion University,” Larkin replied. “I believe Lt. Tilleran fed you the coordinates.”
Hartley just covered her face. “I can’t believe people used to dress like that.”
Larkin was wearing a stylish beige pantsuit with a small, gold penguin broach on the lapel. “I believe we shall fit in quite nicely.”
“These…sneakers…are actually pretty comfortable,” Gellar commented.
“I’m still not sure that my outfit is from the nineteen-nineties,” Ford said. He was wearing a completely white suit, with a purple t-shirt underneath. The computer had referenced something called “Miami Vice.”
“You look like an idiot,” Hartley said with a giggle. Lt. Tilleran rushed into the room. “Sorry I’m late guys. I couldn’t quite figure out how to work the zipper on my jacket.”
Through the jacket, Hartley could discern a “Betazoids Do It With Telepathy” T-shirt.
Larkin and the others grabbed phasers and mounted the transporter pad. Tilleran and Larkin also stuffed tricorders into their “purses” and slung them over their shoulders.
“You may energize when ready, Lieutenant,” Larkin said, after fumbling a bit with the strap of her purse. Hartley entered the coordinates and ran her fingers up the slidebars. “Have fun down there, guys.”
Irma Wilson crashed through the check-in gate at the Norfolk Naval base shipyards complex. Almost immediately thereafter, a large horde of MP’s were after her. “Take care of the human resisssstance, Hokan,” Goran said calmly, fingering Irma’s fuzzy dice with interest. “Thessse are quite excellent.”
“Thank you,” Irma said as Hokan busted out her rear window and began shooting his blaster at the pursuing vehicles.
“Now,” Goran said. “Where are those battlessssssships?”
Lt. Larkin, along with the rest of her away team, moved carefully across Old Dominion’s campus, taking in the scenery and trying their hardest not to look conspicuous. Ford and Gellar had immediately donned sunglasses, upon materializing, as the ship’s computer had told them that it was the “cool” thing most twentieth century Terrans did.
“Wow,” Ford said, looking over his sunglasses at the bearded college student that walked by. “Lieutenant Craig Porter. That’s the third Secondprize crew-member I’ve seen pass by in the twenty minutes we’ve been here. That’s not a coincidence. It’s just plain weird.”
“I assure you, Ensign, that was not Lt. Porter,” Larkin said. “The fact that he resembles Lt. Porter is just a normal side-effect of parallel reflection.”
“Do what?” Ford asked.
“You should keep up on your temporal theory, Ensign. Study is the greatest weapon a Starfleet officer could have. Knowledge is power.”
“I’ll have to remember that,” Ford said, staring at the rear end of one college student in particular. “Wish she had been on the Secondprize.”
“I’ve zeroed in on their brainwaves, Lieutenant,” Tilleran said, staring down at her purse. “That way, at approximately three hundred meters,” Tilleran said, pointing towards the parking lot of one of the buildings in the distance.
“Then I suggest we pick up our pace,” Larkin said, moving down one of the campus pathways hurriedly.
“I don’t see what the hurry is,” Ford said. “The Flarn were all blown up.”
“Not all of them, Mr. Ford,” Larkin said. “If you recall, the ship released a shuttle shortly after entering the system.”
“I guess Flarn running helter skelter around Earth isn’t that good for the timeline is it?”
“No,” Larkin said patiently. “It certainly is not.”
“An aquatic vessssssssel?” Goran guffawed, staring at the battleship Missouri, which was docked at the shipyards for an overhaul. “This is what Earth hasssss to offer as a mighty warsssssship?”
“You were expecting maybe a starship?” Irma asked innocently, staring at the Missouri as it floated there quietly.
Goran shook his head. “I sssssssuppose it will have to do. Hokan, as ssssssssoon as we are aboard, find their ballisssstic weaponsssssss and sssssee if you can figure out how to operate them. I will sssssee if I can get the enginesssss working.”
Hokan nodded, following Goran aboard. Goran then extended a lanky talon and helped Irma aboard.
“What can I do?” Irma asked.
Goran thought a moment. “Can you work thessssse deck gunssss?”
Irma looked at the rotating turret. “Gee, I think so.”
“Good. Usssse them on anyone that attacksssss us.”
Irma saluted, smiling. “Yes, sir. I’ve always wanted to go sailing!”
“That’s them!” Conway said, livening up and pointing at the four people approaching from the other side of the parking lot. Baxter jumped out of the truck and ran up to Larkin, giving her a hug and twirling her around. “You don’t know how glad I am to see you guys!” he said.
“This does not help the situation, Captain!” Larkin said as Baxter swung her around. “As a matter of fact, I believe it is throwing off my internal timing mechanism.”
Baxter put Larkin down. “I guess you were wondering what the hell happened down here.”
“The thought crossed our minds,” Ford said.
Tilleran looked Baxter over. “So you’re in the body of someone loosely related to you?”
Baxter shook his head. “I don’t know, I feel pretty damn closely related to him right now. But explanations can come later. We have a machine in the truck over there that will hopefully put everyone’s brain’s in the right body.”
“What about the Flarn?” Tilleran asked.
“I don’t…” Baxter responded.
“Aerostar to Larkin,” Lieutenant J’hana’s voice said from inside Larkin’s purse.
Larkin pulled out her communicator. “What is it, Lieutenant?”
“Something has…come up. We picked this transmission up from the Naval band…”
There was a slight crackle as J’hana played the message. “…‘Captain of the Aerosssssstar…thissss isssss Goran of the Flarn…I have sssome wonderful Nuclear weaponsssss here that I wissssh to detonate. If you would like to negotiate with ussssss, I may consssssssider taking your sssssssstarship and the misssserable livessss of your crew in exchange for the destruction of this pitiful planet.’”
J’hana stopped the recording. “And that’s it.”
“Damn,” Baxter said. “J’hana, this is Captain Baxter. Can you get a fix on that signal?”
“Yes, sir, it’s coming from an American battleship, the USS Missouri. I picked it up sailing north out of the Norfolk Naval harbor.”
“Great. Have a security team standing by to beam down to it on my command.”
“So you just want me to wait up here?”
Baxter smiled. “You heard me. Enjoy the command experience while you can get it. Baxter out.”
Larkin put her comm badge back in her purse. “What are you going to do, Captain?”
Baxter gestured for the group to follow them back to the Bronco. “They don’t know you guys found us, or that you’re even here for that matter, right?”
“Correct,” Larkin said. “But I do not see how that helps us.”
Baxter climbed in the passenger seat of the Bronco. “We have to take every advantage we can get. We’re going to track down the Missouri and me and my friends here are going to board her the old fashioned way. I’ll take a comm badge with me, so that I can signal for you guys to spring a surprise attack.”
“This is a dangerous plan,” Larkin surmised, squeezing into the back of the Bronco, followed by Ford, Gellar, and Tilleran.
“Things are getting crowded in here,” Richards said, as Ford and Gellar squeezed in.
“Tell me about it,” Travis squeaked, as Ford squeezed in on top of him.
“Aww, look at Commander Richards, he’s just a wittle teenager,” Ford said sweetly.
“Can it, Ford, I can still kick your butt,” Richards grunted, as Travis’s elbow continued to crush his ribs. “Let’s get going already.”
“You heard him, Conway, let’s find us a battleship!” Baxter said. “Mr. Richards, why don’t you introduce everyone?”
“Erg,” Richards said, trying to free up one of his arms. “I’d be glad to,” he added, with clenched teeth.
USS MISSOURI TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1995
“I have wired the weapon controller to my sensssssor device, Goran!” Hokan said, squeezing through the tiny hatch and onto the Missouri’s bridge.
“Very good. I have plotted a courssssse up towardssss the capitol of this puny country. I will destroy the easssst coassst if Baxter doessss not show.”
“What if he tricksssssss usssss somehow?” Hokan asked.
Goran stared out the front window of the bridge at Irma, as she pivoted the huge cannon around, searching for enemies to blow away. “Not with our friend Irma on watch. Ha ha ha ha! She isssss a mossssst unusssual human! Ssssssssuch honor and valor!”
An hour later, after much griping over road maps and Lt. Tilleran’s tricorder, and over many protests that half the group in the truck had to go to the bathroom, Conway had found the Missouri’s course.
“They’re still heading North. Right up to the Chesapeake Bay,” Tilleran said, staring at her tricorder. “I’d bet anything they’re heading for the Potomac. And Washington, D.C.,” Mulder said.
“Good bet,” Baxter replied. “Get us to the bay bridge, Mr. Conway. We’ll board her there.”
“We are approaching a very large bridge!” Hokan said, looking out over the water.
“Isssssss there a way under it?” Goran asked.
“No, but there isssss a break in the bridge right there!” Hokan pointed towards one of the two underwater tunnels. “That mussssst be where the sssships go through.” Goran rubbed his chin in thought. “Hmm. If Baxter is going to try ssssssomething, it will probably be there. Be on guard.”
Hokan nodded. “I will alert Irma.”
Conway steered the truck into the rest stop near one of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge’s two tunnels. On either side of the rest stop was a rocky bluff that surrounded the entrance to the tunnel.
Captain Baxter climbed out of the Bronco and surveyed the area. “Where is she?”
Lt. Larkin stuck her head out of the front window. “My tricorder is picking up Flarn life forms approaching from that direction.”
Baxter looked towards where Larkin pointed. Sure enough, steaming towards them at flank speed was the battleship Missouri.
“Can we have the Aerostar beam us over there?” Baxter asked.
“Negative,” Larkin replied. “The Flarn have put some kind of jamming field in place around the ship.”
“Then we’ll have to find another way,” Baxter said thoughtfully.
“Gee, why don’t we just jump on as it goes by?” Conway asked sarcastically.
“Actually, that’s not such a bad idea,” Baxter said. “You and Richards are with me. We’ll disable the jamming field and then you guys can beam aboard.”
“What about me?” Travis asked, jumping out of the Bronco and following Baxter, Conway, and Richards to the rocky bluff that overlooked the Chesapeake Bay.
“Wait for us with Larkin and the rest,” Baxter commanded, leaping over the railing.
Larkin hopped into the driver’s seat as Travis climbed back into the truck. “They can’t be serious about this, can they?” he asked.
Ford smiled. “We’re Starfleet officers. We’re pretty serious about our stupid ideas.”
“And you think the twentieth century is backwards?” Travis asked, looking on as Baxter climbed across the craggy bluff.
“It’s getting closer,” Richards said, looking at the tricorder Tilleran had loaned him. “About three hundred meters and closing.”
“Get ready,” Baxter commanded. “There should be something for us to grab on to on the side of the ship.”
“I don’t feel good about this,” Conway muttered as he crossed over several rocks.
Suddenly, a huge battleship pushed through the gap in the bridge, steaming past the rocky bluff.
“Now!” Baxter screamed, throwing himself through the air and grabbing a rope that hung loosely from the battleship’s deck.
Conway and Richards followed suit, flying through the air. Richards was able to grab a section of rope right below Baxter; however, Conway was not as lucky. He missed the rope by about a foot and smacked right up against the hull of the ship, making a dull “clang.”
Conway slowly slid down the side of the ship and into the churning water below.
“Oh, hell!” Baxter exclaimed as he gripped the rope.
“Conway went into the drink!” Ensign Ford shouted, as Larkin drove the Bronco back towards the end of the Bay Bridge.
“Larkin to Aerostar. Please lock on to Commander Conway and transport him back to the ship,” Larkin said, as the truck continued along the low bridge, over the marshland at the periphery of the bay.
“This is Lt. Hartley. If you remember, Commander Conway’s comm badge, along with his body, is in sickbay right now. What the heck am I supposed to lock on to?”
“I had not considered this,” Larkin said. “Continue to try to find his brainwaves, Lieutenant.”
“I’m not promising you anything. Hartley out.”
Larkin thought a moment as they proceeded over the marshland. “We will have to alter our plans.” With that, she heaved the Bronco to the side and busted through the bridge railing, onto the marshland.
“Hold on everybody!” Ensign Ford called out, as the truck bucked through the marsh.
“Could someone tell me what the plan is, here?” Agent Mulder asked. For the last half hour, he and Scully had been almost totally ignored.
“I do not recall getting your name,” Larkin said as she drove.
“Special Agent Fox Mulder, with the FBI.”
Larkin turned her head back. “One of Earth’s many ineffective security agencies. Interesting.”
“Listen, madam, we have a duty to insure the security of the United States.”
“That is quite admirable of you, Agent Mulder; but at the moment, we are not only attempting to save the United States, but the entire planet as well.”
“That’s it, they’re ecologists gone mad,” Scully said. She had been silently trying to find a logical explanation for all of this for the last half hour, with little luck.
“Ecologists?” Larkin asked. “That would be a false assumption…”
“…Agent Scully, we are in fact from the future. The preservation of the timeline and the sanctity of the Prime Directive prevent me from saying more.”
Scully looked closer at Larkin. “You’re not human, are you?”
Larkin shook her head, still looking back. “I am not.”
“You’re an alien too?”
“Again, no. I am an android.”
“Please, watch the road…I mean the marshland!” Travis shouted from the passenger seat, as Larkin and Scully conversed.
“I have the situation under control, sir,” Larkin said.
Scully looked on in amazement. “You’re kidding…”
“I assure you, I am not,” Larkin said, bringing the truck to a stop at the edge of the bay. Instead of going into a long dissertation on robotics, Larkin simply held up her free arm, opening up a panel and showing Scully the blinking circuitry within. “The optic fibers transfer kiloquads of sensory data through my body to my positronic brain.”
“Fascinating,” Scully said, staring at Larkin’s arm. “We don’t have much time, Lt. Larkin,” Tilleran said. “I’m picking up several aircraft heading this way!”
“No doubt your American Navy on their way to recapture the Missouri. We must make sure they do not discover the Flarn.” Larkin turned to Travis. “Do you know how to drive a standard shift vehicle?”
Travis shook his head.
“I can!” Scully said, moving to the front of the truck. “I used to have a Honda that was stick shift.”
“Very well. I need you to perform some sort of diversion. The Navy must not get to the Missouri before we apprehend the Flarn.”
“Take Mr. Dillon with you and try to keep him safe. He is a civilian.”
“Hold on, Mr. Dillon. We’re going for a ride,” Scully said, starting up the Bronco. “It’s been a while, but I still remember where the clutch is.”
Larkin turned to her three officers. “I want you three to have Lt. Hartley beam you directly to the Missouri’s deck as soon as the jamming field is dropped. I shall endeavor to save Commander Conway.”
“Gotcha,” Tilleran said, tapping her comm badge. “What about me?” Agent Mulder asked.
“You shall stay with Agent Scully and Mr. Dillon,” Larkin said.
“I’d like to help you guys if I could,” Agent Mulder said. “I have a score to settle with those ‘Flarn’.”
Larkin considered this. “Very well.” She handed Mulder her phaser. “I must urge you to use caution. You will be combating creatures unlike anything you have ever dealt with.”
“Believe me,” Mulder said, checking the setting on the phaser as Larkin dived into the surf. “I know.”
Not for the first time in the last few months,
Commander Conway felt as if he was right within the jaws of death. As he was tossed like a sack of potatoes through the churning wake of the Missouri, Conway could actually feel an angel grab his hand and lead him towards the light…
“Larkin to Aerostar,” the angel said. “Beam Commander Conway and I directly to sickbay.”
What an odd thing for an angel to say.
Captain Baxter grunted as he pulled himself onto the deck of the Missouri. The first thing he noticed once he got up was how beautiful the sun looked as it disappeared behind the shimmering waters of the largest saltwater estuary in the world.
The next thing he noticed was the grinding sound of the Missouri’s forward deck gun as it turned towards him. “Andy! How nice to see you!” some large woman with glasses said, her finger poised on the gun’s trigger. “Here for the Star Trek convention?”
Baxter hit the deck as the gun went off. “What the hell are you talking about, you insane bitch?”
“Don’t you want to talk a minute?” the woman asked, aiming the gun downward.
Baxter got up and bolted across the deck. “What are you doing here, lady?”
Just then, Richards pulled himself onto the deck as well. “Hey, Andy, what’s going-“
Another shot went off, almost plucking Richards right off the ship.
“Holy crap!” Richards cried as he dove for the deck and bellycrawled over to the safe position that Baxter had taken up.
Baxter heaved a breath as he leaned against a bulkhead. “That woman out there is nuts!”
“Where are the Flarn?” Richards asked, pulling out his phaser and setting it to kill.
“No idea,” Baxter said. “But I assume they’ll be making their appearance any…”
The deck suddenly shook as one of the Flarn lept down from above Richards and Baxter.
“Thanksssssss for joining usssssss,” Hokan said, grabbing Baxter up in his huge talons.
Agent Scully maneuvered the Bronco back onto the road and headed back over the bridge.
“Do you have a plan, Agent Scully?” Travis asked, in the passenger seat, holding on for dear life.
“Not exactly, Mr. Dillon,” Scully said, speeding up, weaving across the “no passing” line and passing a semi.
“Just call me Travis.”
“Not exactly, Travis, but if you have any suggestions, feel free to offer them.”
“Can we flag down the helicopters?”
“Not from here. See if there are any flares back there.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Travis said, hopping in the back seat.
“Well?” Scully asked, as Travis climbed back into the front seat.
“No flares, Agent Scully. Can I call you Dana?”
“Sure,” Scully said, still trying to figure out a plan.
“Well, Dana, I just wanted you to know that I think you are really beautiful. I mean, in a strong, intelligent way. I’m engaged, so I don’t mean anything by that, but I just thought I’d tell you.”
“If my life wasn’t in danger right now, I’d be very flattered, Travis.”
“I have one of them, Goran!” Hokan screamed in triumph. Goran stuck his head out of the side window, up on the bridge.
“Sssssssuperb work, Hokan. I will deal with them in a moment. Oh, and I am ssssssorry about the death of your compatriot, Captain…Baxter, isn’t it?”
Baxter blinked. “How did you know that?”
“The Emperor wantsssssss to perssssssssonally devour the human responsible for causssing us sssssso much trouble. He’ll handsssssomely reward whoever bringsssss you to him grilled and ssssssseasoned with a bit of hinja root. And, assss ssssssoon as I take the you and the Aerossssstar back to our quadrant, he will get his wissssssh.”
Baxter grimaced as Hokan tightened his grip. “We’re not through yet, you big…roach!”
Goran laughed. “Of coursssssse you’re not. You haven’t been properly cooked yet! You know, my major was in military sssssscience, but I minored in cooking! Thissss will be fun indeed!”
While Goran taunted Baxter, Richards climbed a ladder up to the top of the bridge. Up where the CB, sonar, and other equimpent were, there was a large, blinking object that looked distinctly Flarn. Richards was sure that was the device blocking the Aerostar’s transporters. Knowing time was short, Richards wrenched the device free and hurled it into the water.
Moments later, four beams of light coalesced in front of Hokan, and Baxter, forming the bodies of Tilleran, Gellar, Ford, and Mulder.
“That was amazing,” Mulder said, checking out the surroundings.
“Consider yourself zapped, zippy!” Gellar cried out, firing his phaser at the hulking Flarn and vaporizing him. Hokan emitted a loud, piercing, shrill squeal as he vaporized, dropping Baxter to the deck.
Gellar blew on the end of his phaser and remarked, “You wanna go to war, we’ll go to war!”
Baxter pulled himself up, gagging at the retched burnt smell that still lingered from the vaporized Flarn. “What the hell did you have that phaser set on, Gellar?”
“I guess you can kill those guys with phasers, which leads me to ask why we didn’t just do that to begin with,” Baxter choked. “I’m going to get Goran.”
“I took care of the jamming field, guys!” Richards cried from his perch atop the ship’s bridge.
“Good job, Chris!” Baxter called out.
Suddenly Goran emerged from the bridge. “You will pay for your insolence!”
The Flarn reached his talon up and jerked Richards’s legs out from under him. The engineer fell forwards, clambering over the Flarn and plummeting towards the deck below.
“I’ve got ya, buddy!” Baxter cried, as Richards slammed into him and knocked him off his feet.
“Thanks,” Richards said, rolling off Baxter.
“No problem,” Baxter croaked.
“You burnt my buddy!” Irma cried out, swinging the deck gun around to face Baxter, Gellar, and the rest. As soon as the landing party had been beamed to the ship, Mulder had noticed Irma lying in wait, and had discreetly circled around to the other side of the gun. Irma was about to unleash the deck gun when Mulder lept onto her back.
Irma gasped, pulling at Mulder’s hands as they closed around her neck, spinning the deck gun around as they grappled.
“You are too late!” Goran cried, looking down from the bridge. “This blassssssssted world will come to an end in fifteen minutessss!”
“You’re bluffing, Goran!” Baxter cried.
“Oh, yesssssss? Why don’t you sssssssend one of your friends down to check on the nukessssss?”
“Tilleran…” Baxter said worriedly.
“Right,” Tilleran said, opening her tricorder and ducking down a gangway to the lower decks of the Missouri.
“Ssssstill think I’m bluffing?” Goran asked angrily.
“Yeah, and you know why?” Baxter asked.
“Why?” Goran asked.
“Because, I happen to know that they don’t keep nuclear warheads on surface battleships,” Baxter said proudly.
“Actually, they do,” Mulder said as he battled Irma.
“Doh!” Baxter said, slapping his head.
Lt. Larkin and Commander Conway materialized in sickbay, drawing glances from Browning, Peterman, and the rest of the medical staff.
“Get him on a bio-bed immediately,” Larkin said, as Nurse Carter placed Commander Conway on a bio-bed right next to his body.
“This is really weird,” Dr. Browning said, looking from Conway to Conway.
“He is in need of immediate medical attention,”
Larkin said, looking down at her soaked pantsuit. “And I could use a towel.”
“Tilleran to Larkin. We have a slight emergency down here.”
Larkin tapped her comm badge. “What is the nature of the emergency?”
“There are about half a dozen nuclear bombs down here that are going to go off in…uh…thirteen minutes.”
“I see,” Larkin said. “If you will excuse me, Doctor…”
Browning nodded nervously, “S-sure, go ahead, we’re okay here.”
“We are going back to the Aerossssssssstar,” Goran said, hopping down to the deck, plunging his gun into Baxter’s back. “Immediately.”
“What if we refuse?” Richards asked.
“Then I will vaporizzzzzzzze your friend as that fellow did to my subordinate.”
Just then, Lt. Larkin appeared behind Goran and Baxter, ready to disarm the nuclear warhead.
“Get ‘im, Larkin!” Ford cried, when he saw the android materialize.
Larkin quickly grabbed the Flarn by the talon and hurled him into the churning water below with unbecoming strength. Unfortunately, he took Baxter with him.
“Perhaps I made an error in judgment,” Larkin said, watching Baxter and Goran splash into the Missouri’s frothy wake.
“We have bigger problems right now, Larkin!”
Richards said. “Get down there and help Tilleran!”
“Acknowledged,” Larkin said, sliding down the ladder that led below.
Meanwhile, Mulder continued to grapple with the infamous Irma.
“Who are you?” Irma asked, ash Mulder jerked her back.
“Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI,” Mulder said. “Now please, get off the giant gun!”
“The FBI! Have you seen aliens?” Irma asked, sliding out of the seat and pushing Mulder down to the deck.
Mulder picked himself up and straightened his jacket. “Well, a few.”
Irma wrapped her arms around Mulder and stared at him lovingly. “I want to hear all about them.”
Mulder gulped, and cleared his throat. Everyone had to make sacrifices in the line of duty. But talking to this woman was definitely Congressional Medal of Honor material.
“Where are we going?” Travis asked, as Agent Scully made another unauthorized U-turn in the middle of the Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The Naval helicopters were approaching the bridge rapidly.
“I have no idea,” Scully replied. “But we’ve got to do something about those helicopters before they get to the Missouri.”
In the distance, the Missouri meandered through the water as if no one was steering it. Travis had a strong suspicion that no one was. And if they didn’t have time to steer, they surely didn’t have time to deal with helicopters. “I don’t suppose Mr. Baxter has a CB radio in this thing?” Scully asked.
“Sorry,” Travis replied.
“I didn’t think we’d be that lucky.”
The two fell into silence as they watched the helicopters approach.
“Tow truck!” Travis suddenly shouted.
“My car broke down here about a month ago when I was on the way back to Salisbury. They towed me off the bridge with one of their own tow trucks. I bet they’d have a CB radio.”
“Great thinking, Travis,” Scully said, steering the Bronco around and racing back to the small patch of land leading to the bridge’s North tunnel. Sure enough, parked along the side of the entrance was a white tow truck inscribed with the bridge-tunnel’s seagull insignia.
“Bingo,” Scully said. She pulled up next to the tow truck and lept out of the Bronco, with Travis close on her heels.
“Stand back, Mr. Dillon,” Scully said, withdrawing her gun and smashing it into the side window-pane. Scully picked up the radio, setting it on an emergency band. “Sometimes, Mr. Dillon, you have to use extreme force to get the job done.”
Travis walked over to the other side of the truck and opened the passenger-side door. “Or you could just open the door on the other side.”
“Whoops,” Scully took a deep breath and flicked the button on the CB mike. “This is Agent Dana Scully, to the Naval unit proceeding across the Bay Bridge. I have orders directly from the Deputy Director of the FBI that you must stand down.” Scully thought quick. “…The Missouri is conducting top secret government maneuvers in the bay. It is essential that you cut off your strike in order to maintain national security.”
Scully watched the helicopters cut across the bay, nervously crossing her fingers in anticipation. She let out a breath of relief as the helicopters stopped in their tracks.
“Agent Scully. Please state your clearance code and tell us how to proceed.”
“It worked!” Travis cried.
“So much for the Navy,” Scully said.
“Now all we have to worry about are those eight foot tall aliens,” Travis said, the air of victory disappearing from his voice.
Baxter and the Flarn warrior were tossed through the churning bay like two bobbing crab pots, dislodged from their anchors.
“Give it up, Goran!” Baxter shouted as his head rose above the water.
“Never!” Goran gasped, pushing Baxter down.
Meanwhile, the Missouri slowly chugged by.
“Watch where you’re steering, Ford, you’re about to hit the Captain!” Gellar cried, as Ford scrambled over the many switches, dials, levers, and buttons throughout the Missouri’s bridge.
“I’m doing the best I can!” Ford said, rapidly punching buttons. “I’m used to steering some of the newer models.”
Gellar peered out of the opposite window, noting that Mulder was under siege by the infamous Irma. Her mouth just kept moving, and it seemed as though Mulder was entranced. “Mulder’s in trouble, too.”
“Well, do something genius,” Ford said as he worked.
“Like?” Gellar asked, turning back angrily.
“Oh, I get it, Mr. Big Security Officer can give orders, but he can’t do anything heroic, huh?” Ford returned.
“Wanna make a bet?”
“I want the Aerosssssstar!” Goran shouted over a rush of water.
“You can’t have it! Find you’re own way home!”
Baxter cried, swimming after the Missouri as it passed. Goran sunk his great talon into the Missouri’s hull, pulling himself up. “You have no choice, human!”
“Oh yeah?” Baxter said, jumping on Goran’s back and trying to get a grip on him, hoping to break some part of the huge creature.
“Here you go, Captain!” Richards cried out, throwing down a lifesaver.
The lifesaver hit its mark around Goran’s neck.
Baxter looked up, incredulously, grabbing onto the lifesaver. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this? I don’t want to save him, I want to kill him!”
Richards looked down as the two struggled. “Sorry!”
“Throw me a freaking phaser!” Baxter cried, as Goran grabbed him with his free talon, slamming him up against the hull of the Missouri.
“You will sssssssubmit!” Goran cried, slamming Baxter into the hull.
“This is not good,” Richards said, watching as his friend was pummeled. The engineer scanned the deck of the ship in search of a way to rescue Baxter. Suddenly he saw what he needed.
There was a giant crane towards the rear of the ship, which Richards imagined was used to lower munitions and supplies into the cargo hold. He quickly climbed into the cockpit and steered the huge claw over to the side of the ship.
“What do you make of this thing, Larkin?” Tilleran asked, as Larkin examined the control panel of the Missouri’s nuclear stockpile.
“The Flarn programmed the launcher and then smashed the control device,” Larkin said, looking at the smashed equipment.
“But you can stop the launch, right?” Tilleran said uneasily.
“Perhaps,” Larkin said, sliding underneath the control panel. “But it will take some time.”
“Fine,” Tilleran said. “You’ve got six minutes.”
The crane clutched several times at Goran’s head as he pounded Captain Baxter. Each time it barely came up short. “Get him, Richards! Come on!” Baxter commanded.
“I’m trying!” Richards said. “This is harder than it looks!”
“Try harder!” Baxter yelled.
Richards was suddenly put in mind of an old fashioned arcade game, where one would use a crane to grasp at a prize. “Come on, cupie doll!” he cried.
Suddenly, the crane latched onto Goran’s head, causing him to stop pummeling Baxter for a moment and grasp at it, trying to loosen its grip.
“Up, Richards, up!” Baxter shouted. “You’ve got him!”
The two suddenly rose, twirling like insane puppets in the wet night sky.
As he rose, Goran squeezed Baxter tighter with his claw. “I don’t know what you hope to accomplissssssh, human!”
Mulder saw Goran rise over the edge of the ship’s railing, hanging precariously from the crane’s teeth. The appearance of the horrifying creature momentarily shook him from the deep funk Irma had put him into.
Irma kept on gabbing, evidently aroused by Mulder’s involvement with UFOs. “I looked up, and there was this blinking light up in the sky. That’s happened almost every night lately. Do you think that was a UFO, or just a helicopter? They look so much alike! Anyway, I took a picture,” Irma said, diving into her purse.
Seeing his chance, Mulder squeezed over Irma’s generous stomach and grasped for the trigger of the deck gun.
“Hold on, Mr. Mulder!” a voice cried out from above. Suddenly Lt. Gellar swung down from the window that looked down from the Missouri’s bridge, clobbering into Mulder and knocking him to the deck.
“You’re not helping matters,” Mulder said, looking up at Gellar angrily.
“Whoops,” Gellar said.
“Leave the FBI man alone!” Irma cried, ramming into Gellar with all of her weight and pushing him back into the side of the deck gun.
In a frantic attempt to escape, Gellar climbed up the side of the gun, Irma in hot pursuit.
“Come back here, you scrawny little punk!” Irma cried, shaking her purse menacingly at Gellar.
The barrel of the gun rattled under Irma’s weight as she lumbered after Gellar. The officer suddenly lost his footing and fell to the deck, barely grabbing the barrel in time.
“This never happened to the guy in ‘Close Encounters’,” Mulder said with exasperation, as he climbed back up to grab the trigger of the deck gun.
Irma squirmed on her hands and knees out towards Gellar as Mulder swung the gun around to face Goran.
“Pop a cap in him, quick!” Gellar cried, as he dangled from the barrel of the gun.
“I hate bugs!” Mulder called out, squeezing the trigger and holding it for several seconds.
Goran was riddled with shells from the massive deck gun as he rose through the air, shrieking in pain.
“Nice shooting!” Richards cried as Mulder brought the cannon upwards, following the rising pair and trying to stay away from Baxter as Goran swung him around.
Lt. Gellar and Irma had been shaken loose and were now scrambling around the deck like two wild animals. “Hold on, buddy!” Ford shouted out, climbing down from the bridge. “I just found the auto-pilot.”
“Couldn’t you have just found the brakes?” Gellar asked, trying to regain his bearings after the fall he had taken from the deck gun and the pounding he had received from his hefty enemy.
Ford grabbed Irma’s arm and yanked her off of him. “Don’t get picky.”
Suddenly Irma tossed him aside like he weighed nothing. “I have a special surprise for both of you!” Irma shouted, reaching into her purse and approaching Lt. Gellar.
“Ford?” Gellar asked uneasily, as Irma approached.
Down below, Larkin labored away at the controls of the nuclear detonator.
“I am having little luck,” she said from under the console, as Lt. Tilleran stared down at the deck, after noticing a squishy feeling in her boots.
“There’s water coming in here!” she said, looking at the bowling ball-sized hole made by Goran’s talon.
“This further complicates the situation,” Larkin surmised as the counter reached two minutes.
Meanwhile, as Mulder laid into Goran with the deck gun, Baxter was able to work himself free of the Flarn’s grip, jumping down to the deck below and falling on his face. At that moment, the crane barely missed hitting him as Richards swung Goran around into the side of the ship, unwittingly shaking the Flarn loose and causing him, in turn, to fall to the deck.
“Watch out, Andy!” Richards yelled.
“Duck!” Mulder cried, bringing the massive deck gun to bear, shooting the Flarn some more. “Take that you oversized roach!”
The deck gun ripped into Goran once again, and at the same time, it blasted into the moorings holding the crane. The crane unceremoniously tipped forward to the deck, with Lt. Commander Richards along for the ride.
Goran, Richards, and the crane’s wreckage collapsed to the deck in a messy heap.
Baxter crawled across the deck, grabbing for the phaser that Lt. Gellar had obviously dropped in the as yet unfinished scuffle with the hefty Irma.
Checking that the phaser was still set on ‘fifteen,’ Baxter swung the phaser around to the wreckage of the crane. “Come out, come out, you ugly bastard.”
Goran squirmed out from underneath the crane with Richards in tow. “Now, Captain, you wouldn’t want to hurt your little friend here, would you?”
“Something tells me it’s a trick question,” Richards said weakly as Goran tightened his grip.
Mulder was about to swing the deck cannon around and slam it into Goran, when a hand grabbed him and pulled him out of his seat.
“Agent Mulder, I have a secret mission for you!” Irma said in an insane voice.
“What have you done with the two people that were attacking you?” Mulder asked, looking around.
Irma scooted closer. “I took care of them. Now, let’s see about performing some…special…operations.” Mulder looked into Irma’s expectant eyes uneasily. It appeared that he was backed into a corner.
Meanwhile, Gellar and Ford emerged from the covered dinghy Irma had stowed them in.
“Do you remember what happened?” Gellar asked groggily. “Not too well, but I feel really happy for some reason, like all is right with the world,” Ford said, examining the bottle in his hand. “What’s Prozac?”
“I don’t know,” Gellar said, examining the bottle he found in his hand and rubbing his head. “What’s Permasin?”
Ford grabbed the bottle and looked at it. “Hmmm. It just says it’s for cramps. Must be a pain reliever.”
“I don’t know,” Gellar said, dragging himself out of the dinghy. “I feel really weird.”
Lt. Tilleran burst out of the lower compartment, followed by Lt. Larkin. She looked slightly frazzled. “It’s flooded down there!” Tilleran gasped. “And the nukes are about to go off!”
“I could do little to stop the countdown. I have failed, Captain,” Larkin said, not seeing the angry Flarn behind her.
“Great, Larkin. Well, as you can see, I have my hands full right now in this little stalemate thing with the Flarn here,” Baxter said, looking up at Goran.
Goran laughed. “You are defeated! In ssssseconds, the nuclear missssssles will launch from their sssssssilossss and the world will be dessssstroyed.”
It seemed that all was lost. The world would be destroyed and Baxter and his friends would die.
Baxter felt extremely inadequate as he glared at Goran and Richards, who hung helpless in his grip. Baxter’s eyes then wandered down to the big, orange ‘X’ scrawled right underneath Goran’s feet.
“Uh, Lt. Larkin, where are those things going to launch from?” Baxter asked.
Larkin examined her tricorder. “According to the direction and placement of the missile in its silo, I would estimate that it should fire from-“ Larkin’s finger made its way over to where Goran was standing, “there.”
Goran was only seconds late in making this crucial calculation. “Oh, Sssssssssssssssshit!” Goran screamed, as the silo busted open and one of the three nukes hit home right in the middle of his large Flarn gonads.
Richards, for his part, was thrown forward into Larkin as Goran ascended.
Goran streaked through the air at rocket speed, impaled painfully by one of the missiles, headed for Earth’s upper atmosphere.
“Say ‘hi’ to the man in the moon for me, Goran!” Baxter said, waving goodbye.
Larkin politely pushed Richards off her and tapped her communicator. “Larkin to Aerostar. Red Alert. You must intercept those nuclear weapons and change their course immediately.”
Lieutenant J’hana rapped her fingers on the arm of the command chair nervously as the Aerostar plunged into Earth’s atmosphere. “We read you, Lieutenant Larkin…we are moving into position now. I just hope the Discovery doesn’t spot us.”
“Slowing to thrusters,” Ensign Susan Madera reported from the helm.
“Now you are positive that you have done atmospheric maneuvering before, Ensign…” J’hana said cautiously. “Sure…” Madera smiled weakly, “with a runabout.”
“Good enough,” J’hana said, turning to Ensign Saral. “Missiles are targeted and the tractor beam is at your command, Lieutenant,” Ensign Saral reported calmly from tactical.
“Stay on mark,” J’hana ordered, crossing her legs. This should be fun. “Engage tractors as soon as we’re in range.”
“Shields holding…hull temperature rising, adjusting tractor beam to compensate for atmospheric interference,” Saral stated, holding her position at tactical as the Aerostar rattled through the atmosphere.
J’hana watched the missiles soar towards them. “Grab them, Saral!”
“Aye, sir,” Saral said, entering the commands into her panel.
“Helm, pull up, z plus forty degrees, increase power to holding thrusters and inertial dampers,” J’hana commanded quickly, leaning forward excitedly in the command chair. Ensign Madera deftly manipulated the controls as the bridge crew stared in awe at the viewscreen. The landscape of the planet Earth came into view and just as quickly disappeared.
“Sensors indicate the weapons are armed and will explode in ten minutes,” Ensign Fresca reported from ops. “Set a course for the sun and engage at full impulse, Ensign Madera,” J’hana barked, as the Aerostar sailed past the Hubbell telescope, making a bee-line for the sun. And as she squinted at the viewscreen, J’hana could swear she saw a tiny figure writhing about on the front end of one of the missiles.
THE CHESAPEAKE BAY BRIDGE-TUNNEL TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 1995
“Actually, I considered going into the Navy,” Travis Dillon said, amiably conversing with one of the Naval helicopter pilots as he stood by his chopper, waiting for further orders.
“Naval dispatch to C-one,” the helicopter’s transmitter chirped.
The pilot turned from the still chattering Travis to answer the call. “C-one here, go ahead.”
“Agent Scully’s clearance has gone through. Report back to base.”
“It was actually in the ninth grade that I realized a writer had no place in the armed forces; I mean, can you write someone to death?”
The pilot ignored Travis, hopping into his chopper. “I copy, dispatch, we’re heading back.”
Travis looked on as the chopper filled back up with troops, who had been busy scarfing up apple pie in the rest stop’s diner.
“Come again soon!” He waved as the choppers took off. Scully emerged from the diner. “You know, a few of those pilots were pretty nice.”
Travis looked at the dark shapes moving around in the distance, trying to figure out whether or not Baxter and his friends were winning the battle against the Flarn. He had managed to distract the chopper pilot long enough to mask the carnage going on, which wasn’t easily discerned from their vantage point anyway. All Travis knew for sure was that there was a lot of gunfire and phaser blasts going on, not to mention the small fact of the nukes launching, which Travis only assumed was being handled by Baxter’s ship.
“I guess the Navy bought our training maneuvers story,” Scully said, standing next to Travis.
“Yeah, I suppose you guys are used to handing out misinformation.”
“You didn’t hear that from me,” Scully replied.
“Get off him!” Baxter shouted, yanking Irma away from Mulder. “Are you okay, Agent Mulder?”
“Not a minute too soon,” Mulder said, straightening his tie and standing up.
Larkin hauled the struggling Irma back. “I want him! Let me have him! He knows the truth! HE KNOWS THE TRUTH!”
“Diagnosis: whacko,” Richards said with a twirl of his finger.
“Her mind…it’s an…an emotional maelstrom,” Tilleran said, staggering back. “It’s overwhelming. I’m being pummeled with information.”
“Die, robot!” Irma cried, crunching back into Larkin and slamming her into the deck railing.
“Irma!” Mulder called out, as Larkin pushed her to the deck.
Irma scrambled to her feet and came at Mulder again. “I’m the only one that will ever understand you, Fox! I’m the only one that will ever know!”
“To use a colloquialism,” Baxter said, resetting his phaser to stun and aiming it at Irma. “Step off.”
Irma staggered back as the phaser beam hit her, shaking her head. “Wow, that was invigorating!”
“Again!” Richards cried.
Baxter upped the setting on the phaser and zapped her again, this time sending her farther back.
“Take her out, Spanky!” Gellar said weakly, stumbling over from the dinghy with Ford at his side.
Another blast, and Irma staggered back a little bit more. “We mean you no harm…” she hissed.
“Smile at your brother, try to love one another, right now!” Ford said deliriously, collapsing to the deck with a thud.
“Irma…” Mulder said quietly.
Baxter blasted her again, this time sending her reeling back over the railing.
“This is just like Star Trek!” Irma cried as she descended.
Baxter just looked at his phaser in amazement as Gellar, Richards, and Mulder ran over to the railing. “I’ve never seen any human being take phaser blasts like that.”
Lieutenant Gellar bent over the railing, staring down into the swirling waters. “I don’t see her, sir! Guess ol’ Irma bought the farm.”
Lt. Tilleran helped Larkin up, examining her to make sure Irma hadn’t caused any permanent damage. “I can’t sense her, but that isn’t conclusive. She greatly disturbed my abilities, and gave me a hell of a headache.”
Gellar turned to Tilleran and stuffed a bottle into her hand. “You can try some of this if you’d like. But it didn’t do much for me.”
“Brian, this is-“ Tilleran said, examining the label on the bottle. She stopped herself. He was probably better off not knowing what it was. “-very thoughtful.”
Baxter approached Mulder and Richards as they surveyed the beautiful waters of the Chesapeake bay. They were still visible in the last glints of light from the disappearing sun.
“She was one of a kind,” Mulder said thoughtfully.
“Thank goodness,” Richards said. “She almost killed us.”
“Do you think you’ll ever understand what that strange, hideous woman was about?” Baxter asked, looking over to Mulder.
“I doubt it. But, the unknown is what the X-files are all about.”
“In that case, our friend Irma is a walking X-file,” Baxter said.
“That she is, that she is,” Mulder said, turning away from the railing.
Baxter looked around at the wreckage of the Missouri’s deck. “All right. Let’s get this unholy mess cleaned up.”
An hour later, the Missouri was put safely back into its harbor at the Norfolk Naval Yards, pretty much none the worse for wear.
Mulder had contacted Scully via cel phone, directing her to meet them at the Naval yards, where they would attempt to sort out the previous days’ events.
“So you guys were able to take care of the aliens?” Scully asked, as everyone climbed into the truck.
“You could say that,” Baxter smiled. “However, we have a lot of work still ahead of us. We have to make sure the planet is more or less the same as it was when we got here.”
“That’s going to be next to impossible,” Travis said. “We couldn’t have been more abusive to the timeline if we tried.”
“I agree,” Mulder said. “Unless you do something like…wipe all our minds…” he trailed off as everything began to click together.
Baxter smiled again. “That is exactly what we’re going to do, Agent Mulder. Only this time, we’ll make sure it sticks,” he added, glaring at Travis.
“Hey, if my mind wipe had stuck, I wouldn’t have been able to help you,” Travis said.
“Good point. Take us back to the Greenbriar Mall, Agent Scully,” Baxter ordered, leaning back in the passenger seat.
Scully pulled the Bronco out of the Naval Yard’s parking lot, looking around at the crowd in the rear of the truck. “Where’s Mr. Conway?”
“Safely aboard our ship…which is where all of us will be very shortly,” Baxter said, closing his eyes. That sent a chill right down Agent Scully’s spine. She looked back at Mulder, who just smiled.
“This is going to be great, Scully!”
After lugging Neven’s body into Baxter’s truck and picking up the debris from the Defiant’s late shuttle from around the forest adjacent to Greenbriar Mall, Lt. Larkin contacted the Aerostar, asking that the whole kit and caboodle be beamed to one of its cargo bays.
Agent Scully looked around as she materialized, not quite sure what to be amazed at first: the transportation process she just went through, or the strange and wonderful ship she had just been transported aboard.
“Can you believe this, Mulder?” Scully whispered in awe.
“Yes…it’s fantastic!” Mulder said, looking around.
“We can give you a tour…” Baxter said, sliding out of the truck and stretching, unspeakably happy to be back aboard his ship, if not back in his own body, “…but you’ll all forget about it by the time you get back to Earth.”
“Sounds like fun…” Travis said, looking from Scully to Mulder. “I don’t remember much about the last ship I was on.”
“Meanwhile,” Richards said, climbing out of the truck. “I’m going to get together some of my engineers and see if I can bang some of the dents out of this old Bronco for Andy’s counterpart.”
Mulder stared at the Bronco. “They’d better be pretty good engineers…that thing is pretty banged up.”
Richards smiled. “It will be like an art project for them, Agent Mulder. A piece of cake.”
Tilleran was still rooting around in the truck’s back seat. “And Larkin and I will try to figure out how to…uh-oh.”
Baxter peeked into the truck. “Did you say ‘uh-oh’?” His question was answered when he stared at Carl’s brain switching device, which had evidently been smashed during one of the Bronco’s many bumpy rides.
Counselor Peterman was really tired of waiting around in sickbay for some word from Earth. She’d been standing vigil over Andy’s body for what seemed like several days…in actuality, it was only two days, but who was counting?
Commander Conway (in Dave Conway’s body) was recovering quite nicely, and was already up and complaining. This made Peterman want to get out of sickbay even more.
As far as the bodies of Baxter, Conway, and Richards, they showed no change. They kind of just laid around sickbay like lumps of clay, occasionally eating and then going back to sleep. Something told Counselor Peterman that this wasn’t much different than their normal routine.
Peterman was just about to give up and head off to bed, when the doors to sickbay opened.
“Andy!” Counselor Peterman cried, as Captain Baxter walked into the room, in his slightly out-of-shape eighteen- year-old body.
Baxter ran over and embraced the Counselor. “Kelly, I thought I’d never see you again!”
“The feeling is mutual!” Peterman cried, as Baxter swung her around.
Baxter and Peterman then took several passionate minutes to kiss hello, as Andy woke up and looked over. “Hey…” he said. “Watch what you do with my body!”
“Shut up, Andy,” Baxter said, picking Counselor Peterman up and carrying her out of sickbay.
Dr. Browning looked on, wondering where the heck Richards was.
SALISBURY, MD WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1995
Janice Browning had been wanting to see the movie “Goldeneye” for quite some time. Originally, Chris was supposed to take her, but, since he was off hanging out on some spaceship right now while his body ran around Salisbury and who knows where else, risking his life, she had gone to see it with her parents.
Janice tried not to think of that as she sat down and munched on a handful of popcorn.
Shortly after, Janice’s mom and dad sat down next to her.
“I really like James Bond movies,” Janice’s dad said excitedly. “I just hope Pierce Brosnan does a good job in the role.”
“Nobody can outperform Sean Connery,” Janice’s mom said resolutely. “I’m positive of that.”
“We’ll see,” Mr. Browning said, as the previews started up.
Janice said nothing, munching quietly on her popcorn and wondering what had happened to Christopher. She was really concerned. Not only for her boyfriend, but for the crew of that ship from the future. Janice couldn’t help but feel extremely nervous about the whole thing. She was so worried, in fact, that her stomach was in knots.
“Oh, look, a sequel to ‘Homeward Bound’ is coming out!” Mrs. Browning said with excitement. “Janice, your little sisters will just love it! We have to bring ‘em.”
Janice rolled her eyes. “Ugggggg…”
Mrs. Browning seemed rather downtrodden with that. “What’s wrong, Janice? You don’t like Michael J. Fox?”
“Ugggg….” Janice repeated, clutching at her stomach. Mr. and Mrs. Browning looked at each other, panic stricken.
Popcorn went flying as Janice grunted a third time.
“And this is our final stop in our class on the miracle of child birth!” The instructor said cheerfully, strolling through the maternity ward at Peninsula Regional Medical Center of Salisbury. “And if you look to your left, you’ll see the actual rooms where our happy mothers give birth!”
At the back of the group, Rachel Kelley muttered a curse under her breath. “I hate this freaking class.”
She was extremely angry at her fiancee, and rightly so, since she hadn’t seen or heard from him since he took off in Andy’s truck, and the police had to call off the manhunt because of some stupid four car pileup. That had increased Rachel’s anger even more…the sense of closure was not there. She loved Travis, but at the moment she just wanted to wring his neck.
Rachel tried to push all of that out of her head as the instructor demonstrated the proper way to sit in the stirrups, but she just couldn’t concentrate.
“Now place the patient’s legs into the stirrups, and spread them wide open. You should get quite a view!” The instructor chirped, riding high in the stirrups. “Any questions?”
The group collectively shook their heads. The class had run late tonight, and everyone just wanted to get out of there.
“Okay, then, I guess you guys can go. I hope you’re all ready for your exam on Monday morning. Have a happy Thanksgiving!”
The class immediately dispersed, all making for the sparsely populated parking lot in front of the hospital. Rachel fumbled with the keys to her car, smiling and waving disinterestedly at the instructor as she hopped into her cherry red Miata and sped out of the parking lot. The woman didn’t have the faintest idea what she was talking about.
Rachel was about to hop into her car when she saw a minivan tear into the parking lot, pulling up to the front door. A guy jumped out and ran around to the side door, pulling it open quickly.
Rachel closed her car door and walked over to the minivan. “Excuse me, sir…most of the staff has already gone on vacation. Is this an emergency?”
“You could say that…” Mr. Browning said, helping Janice waddle out of the back seat. “My daughter is in labor.” Rachel gasped as she took stock of Janice’s condition. “That kid could come out any minute. How far apart are the contractions?”
“T-twenty minutes!” Janice gasped.
“We have to get you into one of the labor rooms!” Rachel said urgently.
“Are you a nurse?” Mrs. Browning asked, hopping out of the minivan.
“As a matter of fact, I am.”
“Well, we need a doctor now!” Mr. Browning said as he helped Janice to the door.
Rachel followed them to the door, helping Janice through as best she could. “That may be a problem. Last time I checked, there was nobody back there. I think they’re on break.”
“You’re kidding! How could a hospital be that negligent! There has to be someone on duty back there!” Mr. Browning said as the group moved through the lobby.
“You must not know hospitals very well.”
Janice reached up with one free hand and grabbed the front of Rachel’s shirt, pulling her down. She looked almost rabid. “I…must…give…birth!”
“Right…” Rachel said slowly, trying to sound confident. “Well, I’m no expert, but I’ll do the best I can to help you.”
Stardate 51623.6. After a restful night with Counselor Peterman, I can put young Andy’s mind at ease that his body has not yet been corrupted. As much as I would have liked to, I just couldn’t. What I could do was sleep off the last two insane days of weirdness, which is exactly what I did. Repairs to Andy’s Bronco are proceeding according to schedule, along with the repairs to David’s station wagon, which we were nice enough to take from its resting place in the soccer field on Earth. Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully, as well as our friend Mr. Dillon, have been hard at work concocting lies and misinformation that will clear up any damages we might have done to this timeline.
“Here’s a letter to Andy’s professors at Salisbury State University, explaining his absence as a…family emergency,” Travis said, showing the paper to Mulder and Scully, who had taken over the bridge observation lounge as their base of operation.
Mulder looked the letter over. “Excellent work, Travis. You’d make a great government agent.”
Travis smiled sheepishly. “Gee, thanks.”
Scully looked over the letter to David’s manager at Wal-Mart. “If we’re successful, not only will these guys be clear of any criminal charges or trouble at school and work, they’ll probably end up better off than before.”
“Thanks to their friends from the twenty-fourth century,” Mulder said, smiling.
“And the twentieth century…” Scully corrected. Travis was busy staring out the viewport, at the Earth as it spun far below.
“Something tells me it’s going to be harder to smooth things over with Rachel than it was to erase mine and Andy’s criminal records.”
“Don’t worry, I hear Dr. Browning does a damn good mind wipe,” Mulder said.
Just then, Captain Baxter stuck his head into the room. The uniform looked a little weird on him, Travis thought, since this was still the twentieth century’s Andy’s body. “Are you guys ready to break for dinner?” Baxter asked. “Mirk has some extra special twentieth century goodies ready for you guys.”
“Almost,” Mulder said. “How’s the work on the mind switcher going?”
“Slow…” Baxter sighed. “However, Larkin and Tilleran are busy trying to see if they can adapt any of the parts that we have here to the device.”
“It must be really weird not being in your own body,” Scully said.
“Actually,” Baxter smiled. “This isn’t the first time this type of thing has happened. I think I’m starting to get used to it.”
Travis stopped looking out the viewport for a moment and turned around. “Andy-I mean Captain,” somehow that title made more sense now that he was on Baxter’s ship, “would it be possible for me to access a phone line so I can check the messages on my machine?”
Baxter thought a moment. “We could probably do it. But you can’t tell Rachel where you are. We’re in enough trouble with her as it is.”
“I understand,” Travis said solemnly.
“Then follow me out to the bridge,” Baxter said, gesturing for Travis to follow him.
“We’ll finish up here…” Mulder said, as the two left.
“That’s very sweet of him, checking up on his fiancee like that,” Scully said, returning to her letter.
“You know, you’re handling this quite well,” Mulder said, sitting back down at the conference table.
“What, writing these letters and falsifying records?”
“No, I mean being on this ship! A ship from the future no less!” Mulder exclaimed, gesturing around him. Scully smiled back. “Well, Mulder, what can I say? I’m a scientist. I have my empirical data…I need nothing else to believe.”
“But when they wipe our minds…we’ll be right back where we started from: You’ll need your proof and I’ll continue looking for it.”
“Such is life, Mulder,” Scully said. “Maybe it’s better that way. I mean, if we knew all the answers to all the galaxy’s questions, why would we want to stay in the business we’re in?”
“Ensign Fresca…” Baxter ordered, walking out onto the bridge. “Tap into a communications satellite and get an open channel to Travis’s phone line.”
Fresca turned around in her chair, staring at Baxter incredulously. “And when did I start taking orders from kids? Isn’t it past your bed time, little guy?”
“You’re talking to a little guy that can bust you down to inventory faster than look at you. Now tap into the freaking communications satellite!” Baxter responded, prompting Fresca to turn around in her chair quickly and tap in the necessary commands.
Baxter looked around the bridge. “Anyone else feeling frisky tonight?”
“Unique command style, Captain,” Travis said, suppressing a giggle.
“Shut up and give Fresca your phone number,” Baxter said, slumping into his command chair.
Fresca looked Travis up and down. “Yeah, maybe I can give you a call some time.”
“Not likely. I happen to be engaged.”
“And?” Fresca asked.
“And show me where to type in my freaking phone number,” Travis said, taking a hint from Baxter.
“Fine, fine, fine,” Fresca said with exasperation, pointing at the numerical keypad. “A girl can’t have any fun around here anymore.”
Travis punched in his number, thrilled to actually be touching the operations panel of a real Federation Starship. That thrill soon passed as Fresca entered some more commands and he suddenly heard the ringing sound over the bridge speakers. Travis sat down in the seat next to Baxter as the phone rang.
“I guess nobody’s home,” Baxter said, when the answering machine clicked on.
“Hi, we’re not home right now, but leave your name and a message, and Rachel or I will get right back to you,” Travis’s voice said over the speakers, followed by several more beeps.
Travis jumped up and walked up to Fresca’s panel, punching in some more numbers.
“And what the heck are you doing?” Fresca asked indignantly.
“Checking my messages!” Travis said.
There were a few more beeps, and then finally the machine played Travis’s messages:
”**Beep** Travis, it’s your mom. Where are you guys? Well, give us a call. Oh, and we’ve got some of your mail. Bye.”
”**Beep** Travis, it’s Rachel. I doubt you’ll get this message, but I’m trying anyway. This is just to let you know…as if you cared…that I’ll be home late tonight. I have to deliver a baby!”
There were sounds of grunting and screaming in the background, and then Baxter heard something else in the background that sent chills down his spine: “Push, Janice, push!”
Baxter thought a moment. “How many girls named Janice do you think are pregnant in Salisbury right now?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?” Fresca asked.
“Shut up Fresca,” Travis said, still listening to the message.
“So get your butt home and pray I forgive you for this mess!” Rachel shouted.
“Cut the channel,” Baxter said, standing up. “We have to get Daddy down there before that kid is born.”
“And I need to be with my fiancee!” Travis said, as the two headed for the turbolift.
“Affirmative. We’ll get you down there, Travis, don’t you worry about that. It’s Richards that may be a problem,” Baxter said, stepping into the lift. “Fresca, you have the conn.”
“Come on, Janice, breathe!” Rachel ordered, holding Janice’s hand as the contractions continued. “You’re not fully dilated yet, so you can’t push yet, no matter how much you want to!”
Janice gripped tighter on Rachel’s hand. “You don’t seem to understand…whoever the heck you are. I…HAVE…TO…PUSH!” Rachel mopped Janice’s forehead, trying to keep her calm, when she heard Mr. Browning’s voice in the waiting room, talking to someone else.
She looked to Mrs. Browning. “That might be the doctor now.”
“A friend of whose?” Mr. Browning said, his voice getting nearer. “I’ve never heard of Rachel Kelley,” he said, walking into the delivery room with Travis Dillon.
Rachel looked up for a moment, shocked to see Travis standing there.
She quickly regained her composure. “Travis Dillon. What the hell do you think you are doing standing there like that, as if nothing was wrong, when you know very well that you’ve been the crummiest damn fiancee in the world the last few days!”
Travis stepped closer to Rachel, trying to avert his eyes from the scene before him. “Hi, Janice.”
“Hi,” Janice grunted.
“Listen, Rachel, I’m sorry. You’d never believe the story I have to tell, not for the world. But trust me, I’ve been saving the world as you know it…trying to save you and several of my friends…it’s such a long story.”
“You are so full of shit!” Rachel shouted.
Janice squeezed Rachel’s hand even harder. “Trust me…” she said through clenched teeth. “He’s telling the truth! Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to continue giving birth here!”
Rachel looked down at Janice. “How do you know about-?”
Janice shook her head. “Don’t worry about that, I just do! Now, about…that…baby!”
Rachel looked back up at Travis–they were now standing on either side of the delivery table, staring into each other’s eyes with Janice panting in between. “You’re not lying…” Rachel felt compelled to take the word of a woman in Janice’s current state.
“No, I’m not lying. And I’m not lying when I say I love you, and I’d never hurt you in a million years if I could help it!”
“Oh, Travis, that’s the sweetest…” Rachel said, her eyes welling up with tears.
Janice pointed at her stomach with exasperation. “THE…BABY!”
“Oh, yeah…the baby,” Rachel said, looking back down at Janice. “Let’s keep timing those contractions.”
“That’s so sweet…” Mrs. Browning said, looking up lovingly at Mr. Browning.
“Okay, guys, I need some suggestions now,” Captain Baxter said, pacing back and forth in the laboratory. “We have to reunite Mr. Richards and his girlfriend before she gives birth, which could be any minute now.”
Lt. Tilleran, Lt. Commander Richards, Lt. Larkin, and Dr. Phillip Kerridan were gathered in the lab, trying their damnedest to fix Carl’s device.
“It isn’t an entirely complex device, Captain, though I can’t even explain why it works. Your neurons should be a scrambled mess right now,” Kerridan said blandly. “They might be,” he added under his breath.
“All we have to do is expose ourselves to the same conditions that we were exposed to when the brain switch first happened…” Richards said with exasperation.
“But that will be kind of hard, since the device is fragged,” Tilleran said. “And none of the replacement parts we have here are doing the job so far.”
“What about the Neurological Transmitter–the thing that combined my brain with Dillon’s a couple months ago?” Baxter asked. “I’m assuming it operates on a similar principle.”
“Well, I hadn’t thought of that…” Tilleran said self-consciously.
“We’d have to repair some of the burnt out parts, but it’s worth a try,” Kerridan said.
“Then we must get to work immediately,” Larkin added. “There is little time to waste.”
“Agreed,” Baxter said. “And I’ll help in any way necessary.” He glared at Kerridan, who immediately smiled. “Except being your little guinea pig.”
“No, sir,” Kerridan said, smiling broader. “This time you’re the main event.”
Baxter didn’t like the way he said that.
Janice labored long into the night, Rachel patiently monitoring her signs. The dilation was going slightly slower than usual, but Rachel saw no reason to worry about that. Janice seemed healthy, and, as far as she could tell, so did the baby.
Meanwhile, Janice’s parents, along with Travis, looked on in amazement. Rachel assumed that birth seemed much more magical to someone who hadn’t been studying it for months. “That’s it, Janice, breathe!” Rachel said encouragingly. Suddenly Janice’s hand gripped down even harder on Rachel’s, as she let out a piercing shriek of pain. “Ooooh…” Rachel said worriedly.
“What’s wrong?” Travis asked, as Janice’s parents looked on in concern.
Rachel looked down at Janice and quickly took stock of the situation. “The baby is in trouble. I think she’s wrapped up in the umbilical cord. We need to get her some help quickly if this baby is going to survive.”
“Excuse me,” Travis said, hurriedly running out of the room.
“Dillon to Baxter. We’ve got problems,” Travis’s panicked voice said, as Baxter worked in his readyroom.
Baxter tapped his comm badge. “Define ‘problems’, Mr. Dillon.”
“The baby could die.”
“Hoo boy, that is a problem,” Baxter sighed. “All right, we’ll take care of the situation. Stay with Janice and your fiancee and stand by.”
“You have to help that child, sir,” Travis said gravely. “Just wait there. Baxter out,” Baxter said, standing up and running out of his readyroom.
“You want me to what?” Dr. Browning asked incredulously, looking up from the life signs of Lt. Commander Richards’ body.
“You heard me, Janice. You have to deliver Janice’s baby. It won’t survive any other way,” Baxter said urgently.
Browning thought a moment. “You realize that this will affect the timeline…”
Baxter nodded. “We can’t let that child die when we have the power to save her, and you know that.”
“You’ve got a point,” Browning said, crossing sickbay quickly and grabbing a medkit, loading it up with several instruments and hypospray cartridges.
Commander Conway shook the sleep out of his eyes as he entered the lab. He had been discharged from sickbay early last evening, and was now ready to return to duty, after a long nap and a harrowing couple of days. He was also about ready to return to his own body as well, hence the visit to the lab.
He arrived to find Larkin, Tilleran, Richards and Kerridan hard at work on Carl’s brain changing device. “How are the repairs going?” he asked, surveying the area.
“We’re using Kerridan’s neurotransmitter for parts…” Tilleran said offhandedly as she rooted through the cube-shaped device, pulling out several yards of opticable. “…it should be ready for a trial run in several minutes.”
“Kerridan’s device, huh?” Conway asked, glaring at Kerridan. “Wonderful. Maybe both our minds will be stuck in one body. That’ll be a lot better.”
Kerridan regarded Conway with a blank stare. “I’ll try not to take your criticism personally.”
“Oh, please do,” Conway said, taking a seat. “Where’s Baxter?”
“He was in his readyroom,” Tilleran said, still working. “Until he found out about the problems with the birth.”
“Birth?” Conway asked with confusion. “What birth?”
“You mean twentieth century Janice’s?”
“Affirmative,” Lt. Larkin said. “She is experiencing what is commonly known as umbilical trauma.”
“Sounds painful. Poor kid,” Conway said.
“Well, Dr. Browning should be able to help her,” Tilleran replied.
“Dr. Browning?” Conway asked. “You’ve got to be kidding me! After all this trouble, we’re going to purposely screw the timeline!”
“Get a grip, Commander,” Tilleran said. “Would you like to have that child’s death on your conscience?”
“Remember what happened to Kirk? What was her name? Edith Keeler? If he’d let her live, we’d be Nazis right now. Would you want that?” Conway asked, running out of the lab.
“Have Sickbay prepare for an emergency transport if necessary, and have them prepare the other bodies for the mind transfer,” Captain Baxter said to Ensign Fresca. “And have some cigars made up.”
At that moment, Commander Conway burst onto the bridge. “Captain, we need to talk…in private.”
“I don’t have much time…” Baxter said, leading Conway back to his readyroom.
“No, you have too much time. We all do,” Conway said as the readyroom doors wooshed shut.
“Whatever do you mean?”
“You know damn well. Sending Dr. Browning down there to rescue that baby, so we can be heroes, save a life, when that life was never meant to be saved! Who are you to change the course of time?” Conway said, pacing the readyroom. Baxter approached Conway, staring him directly in the face.
“Who’s to say that baby should die? Fate? I don’t believe in fate, Conway. I think we’re here for a reason. All the random events that worked together to bring us to this point–I have to believe they happened for a reason! We’re here to save that child! We have to be. Who else could do it? And who would want an innocent baby to die!”
“So you do believe in fate,” Conway said, sitting back and calming down measurably.
“You said all the random events have conspired to bring us to this point, so we could help that baby, or maybe so we could give Travis Dillon the adventure he always wanted, or maybe so we could let Mulder finally convince Scully that there’s more to space than just stars and comets! Or maybe we’re in the Delta Quadrant to stop the Flarn from taking over the galaxy, or to help Mr. Mirk realize his true potential, or to free the Maloxians, or convince the Sulani that isolation may not be the answer! It’s all fate! All this weirdness happened for a reason!” Conway said, holding his hand in the air like an impassioned southern preacher. “Isn’t that what you’re saying?”
Baxter sat back down. “That’s exactly what I’m saying, Commander. I’m glad you agree with me.”
Conway stood there a moment, his finger raised in protest. “But…”
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a baby to be saved.”
“I don’t know what to do!” Rachel said, trying to appear calm for the sake of Mr. and Mrs. Browning. “I can’t perform the operation this baby needs. We need to find a real doctor.”
“And there’s none around here?” Mr. Browning asked angrily. “Well, then, we can’t just sit here!”
At that moment, Travis quickly walked back into the room, followed by a strange woman with horn-rimmed glasses in a blue uniform and white labcoat, carrying some kind of strange, plastic purse.
“Who the heck is she?” Rachel asked suspiciously, eying Travis.
The woman shook Rachel’s hand vigorously. “I am Doctor Br-um, Brittingham. I’m here to help. You’re lucky your fiancee here found me as I was coming back to get my…um…stethoscope.”
“Can you help our daughter?” Mrs. Browning asked hopefully.
The woman put her hand reassuringly on top of Mrs. Browning’s. “Your daughter and your grandchild are in excellent hands, ma’am. Now if all of you will leave me alone in here, I have some very delicate work to get to.”
Travis, Rachel, and the Brownings hurried out.
“You look very familiar!” Mr. Browning called out as Travis ushered him out of the delivery room.
Dr. Browning took off her labcoat and fake glasses and opened up her medkit. “Okay, let’s get to work.” Half conscious, Janice looked up at Dr. Browning, her eyes wide with confusion. “Wh-Who are you?”
Browning put a hand on Janice’s forehead. “You just relax, dear. I’m a friend.”
Simultaneously, a hypospray was injected into Janice’s arm, causing her to instantly lose consciousness.
Captain Baxter tapped the surface of his desk nervously. Almost an hour had passed since he sent Dr. Browning down to Earth, and still they had heard nothing. Suddenly, his doorchime beeped.
“Come,” Baxter said half-heartedly.
As soon as Counselor Peterman entered the room, Baxter stood and crossed the room, grabbing her and hugging her tightly.
“I love you too,” Peterman smiled, taking a seat on Baxter’s couch. “Any news on the baby yet?”
Baxter frowned and sat beside the Counselor. “I’m afraid not. This waiting is killing me.”
“Tell me about it,” Peterman replied. “I’ve told everyone aboard about the baby, and the whole crew sends their best hopes. They’re really worked up about this.”
“Good for them,” Baxter said, leaning back on the couch and closing his eyes.
“That’s it, Nurse Carter, put him right there,” Lt. Tilleran said, as Holly placed the body of Lt. Commander Richards in the chair next to the body of the twentieth century Richards.
“Are you comfortable, Commander?” Larkin asked, adjusting the straps on Richards’ brain-switching helmet. “I’m fine, let’s just get this over with,” Richards said, trying not to look over at his motionless body. It was just plain spooky.
“We’ve done everything we’ve can do to adapt the Neurological Transmitter to Carl’s device,” Tilleran said, eying Lt. Commander Richards’s readings on the wall. “It’s this or nothing.”
“Then let’s proceed,” Kerridan said, observing the operation with much interest. “I’d like to see if my invention has not been totally useless.”
“If this works,” Larkin said, “I assure you, it will have been quite useful.”
“Just throw the switch already, Tilleran,” Richards said impatiently.
Tilleran walked over to the control panel and tapped several buttons. “Okay, here goes nothing!”
Energy surged through both Richards as the lights in the room flickered, and both bodies shook violently. Larkin observed her tricorder. “That should be sufficient. Any more will overload the main power grid.” Tilleran nodded and switched off the device.
Everyone in the room held their breath as the two bodies slumped back into their respective chairs. The twentieth century Chris groaned softly. “Ouch. What happened?” He looked around, eyes fear-filled. “Where the hell am I? This isn’t Foxchase!”
“Put him down, Nurse Carter!” Tilleran said with glee. There was no doubt now, the operation was a success. Nurse Carter plunged a hypospray into Christopher’s neck, causing him to once more fall limp.
Next, Carter stuck another hypospray in the twenty-fourth century Richards’s neck, causing him to sit up suddenly.
“Am I-“ He began feeling himself all over, checking to make sure everything was where he left it. “I am!” He shouted with glee.
“Get this one to sickbay and prepare him for the mindwipe,” Lt. Tilleran said, indicating the younger of the two Richards. “And since Doctor Browning is otherwise occupied at the moment, I will perform the procedure.”
“Come on, Janice, push!” Doctor Browning said, once she had freed the baby from its entangling umbilical cord. “You’ve got it, hon, you’ve got it! Just push a little harder!” Janice had since awaken, to realize that, almost magically, the baby was now coming out unencumbered. Not wishing to ask any questions at the moment, Janice decided to follow the Doctor’s orders and push like hell.
“It’s coming, it’s coming!” Browning shouted with joy. “Push some more Janice, I can almost see the head!”
Christopher Richards woke up in his car, in the parking lot of the Peninsula Regional Medical Center, with a throbbing headache, a memory block, and only one, seemingly relentless thought on his mind.
Janice’s giving birth! You can’t miss it!
Realizing where he was, Chris jumped out of his car and ran towards the hospital.
Upon entering the waiting room, Chris found Mr. and Mrs. Browning, and two people he had never seen before. “Hi, how is she?” Chris asked.
Travis looked at Chris carefully. Was this Commander Richards, or Chris Richards? How could he be sure?
“It’s really weird,” Chris said. “I can’t remember anything that’s happened in the last couple days.”
“You haven’t been getting enough sleep, Chris!” Janice’s mom said. “I’m sure that’s what it is.”
Confident that the Aerostar crew had come through just in time, Travis grabbed Chris’ hand and dragged him towards the delivery room. “Come on, Chris, you don’t have much time!”
“Travis, where are you going?” Rachel asked, following after Travis and Chris. She was shortly followed by both of the Brownings.
“Come on, Janice! Push!” Dr. Browning said enthusiastically. “I see the head!”
“Uh, Dr. Brittingham…the father is here!” Travis said, dragging Richards into the delivery room quickly. Browning narrowed his eyes at Chris. She knew her Chris well enough to know that it wasn’t him she was looking at.
“Well, it’s about time. Get over here and watch your daughter’s birth.”
Meanwhile, Travis crept out of the delivery room unseen.
“Everything went fine, Captain!” Travis said joyfully. “Dr. Browning saved Janice’s baby, and it’s coming out as we speak!” came the voice over the bridge speakers. When the call came, Baxter was just checking an engine report that an ensign had handed him, and when he heard the news, he threw down the padd with glee.
“That’s great news, Travis!” Baxter said, as the bridge crew broke out into cheers. Even Commander Conway clapped. “Drinks at Mirk’s are on me tonight, everybody!” Baxter said happily.
Commander Conway took Baxter aside for a moment as the bridge crew continued to cheer.
“You made the right decision, Captain. Thank you for ignoring me.”
Baxter smiled. “Well, it’s nothing I wouldn’t normally do. Now come on, it’s time we got our original bodies back.”
“So what are you two going to name her?” Dr. Browning asked, carefully stowing away her equipment in its case. Janice and Chris looked at each other lovingly, as they huddled around the tiny, beautiful little girl.
Janice looked down into the little girl’s eyes. “I don’t know. Do you have any ideas?”
Dr. Browning thought a moment. “I’ve always liked the name Kiersten. It’s the name of a ship I used to serve on…in the, um…Navy.”
“Kiersten…” Janice said aloud, smiling. “I like it.”
“Yeah,” Chris said. “It sounds good to me.”
“Take good care of her,” Dr. Browning said to Chris as she put on her labcoat and glasses. She smiled mystically as she headed for the door. “Both of her.”
Browning smiled briefly at Mr. and Mrs. Browning as she left the delivery room, saying softly, “I think all three of them will be just fine.”
Browning walked out into the darkened lobby, just as the morning light began to shine through the windows. She stared out at the rays of light shining in, momentarily caught up in the beauty of the world outside. “Doctor…” a voice said quietly, “…over here.” Browning turned to see Captain Baxter, Lt. Commander Richards, and Counselor Peterman, all dressed in twentieth century professional clothing, sitting quietly on a couch in the lobby.
Baxter stood up, shaking Browning’s hand. “Great work, Doctor, I take it the birth was a success.”
Browning looked up at Baxter incredulously. “Yes, it was. And my, you’re looking older.”
Baxter smiled. “We were successful in putting everyone’s marbles back in order.”
Browning’s smile faded as she looked from Baxter to Richards. “That’s just wonderful.”
Peterman stood up and grabbed Baxter’s arm, smiling. “Yeah, I don’t feel like a cradle robber anymore.”
Richards had been quiet up to this point. “You did a good job, Janice.”
“Thanks,” she said coldly. “Let’s get back to the ship, already.”
Baxter looked around the group. “Okay, I don’t see any need for us to linger any longer than necessary.” He tapped his comm badge. “Baxter to Aerostar. Bring us up.” The group silently dematerialized, leaving the lobby empty.
Rachel entered the waiting room and collapsed onto one of its small couches, drained.
Travis stuck his head in. “I guess we can go home now, huh?”
Rachel looked up at Travis. “What’s going on here, Travis?”
Travis came in and sat down. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”
“Who was that woman that delivered Janice’s baby? You knew her, and so did Janice. I’m not stupid, Travis.” Travis put his arm around Rachel. “I know you’re not, Rachel. That’s why I’m going to explain everything to you.”
Still in their twentieth century garb, Baxter,
Peterman, Richards, and Browning joined Mulder and Scully and the rest of the senior staff around the conference table. “Okay,” Baxter began tiredly. “I know some of us haven’t gotten much sleep of late, so I’ll keep this brief. We have several people down there on Earth,” he looked to Mulder and Scully, “and up here, that have a unique knowledge of the future…a knowledge that cannot be allowed to compromise the time stream. The question is, what do we do about it?”
“Obviously,” Dr. Browning said, even more tiredly, “a mind wipe.”
“Where do we stop?” Conway asked. “How many people were affected down there?”
“Quite a few,” Richards said. “Chris, Andy, David, Janice, Travis, Travis’s fiancee, Carl, Mulder, Scully, David’s mother…am I forgetting anyone?”
“Sickbay is going to be a very busy place shortly,” Baxter said, looking over to Browning, who just sighed woefully. “I think we can do it, sir. We’d have to erase the memories carefully, and construct artificial memories to take their place. That’s one of the reasons Travis, Alex, and Carl’s mindwipes weren’t successful in the first place. There was a gap of missing time they couldn’t account for.”
“And we’re already working on creating hard evidence to back up the false memories,” Mulder said, looking to Scully. “Government agents excel at constructing misinformation.”
“Thankfully,” Baxter said. “All right, then, we have a lot of work to do, and not a lot of time. We need to start planning beamouts of everyone involved in this, and gearing up for the mind wipes.” Baxter turned his gaze to J’hana. “Lieutenant, I want you to coordinate with Lt. Commander Richards and Lt. Larkin to form away teams to go down to the planet, incognito, and arrange for this whole thing to…disappear.”
J’hana smiled wickedly. “Understood, Captain.”
THE CONWAY RESIDENCE SALISBURY, MD THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1995
Betty Conway hadn’t slept well the last two days, since her son had gone missing. Still, Betty decided to make the best out of Thanksgiving day, getting up early to put a turkey in the oven for her and her dog, Goldie. She had just finished stuffing the turkey when the doorbell rang. Betty took off her apron and ran to the door.
“I wonder who that could be at this hour?” she asked herself, opening the door.
“Hello, Mrs. Conway,” a thin, blonde man with sunglasses and a suit said. “Can we take a moment to speak to you about the Lord?”
Mrs. Conway motioned for the man to come in.
“Certainly. I’ve never been one to turn down a guest.”
“Thank you,” he said, stepping in, followed by another suited individual. Upon entering, the man pulled out a small, grey cylinder and jabbed it into Mrs. Conway’s neck, causing her to immediately lose consciousness.
“Gellar to Aerostar,” the man said above the din of Goldie’s barking. “Mrs. Conway has been taking care of. Ford and I are proceeding with phase two.”
“Should have brought a hypospray for this damn dog!” Ford shouted.
THE JAROCH RESIDENCE
Carl turned restlessly in his sleep, rolling over and hitting the floor noisily.
“Are you okay, Carl?” Lisa Jaroch asked, half-asleep.
“Yeah,” Carl said, pushing himself out of bed. “I’m just having trouble sleeping.”
Carl stumbled into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of orange juice, then poured the glass of orange juice down the drain and refilled the glass with whiskey.
Carl sat down on the couch and took a sip of whiskey, considering turning on the TV, when an oddly familiar swirl of blue appeared before him.
“Hello, Mister Jaroch. We’re going to take a little trip,” a strange woman in a blue, grey, and black uniform whispered as she materialized. “Tilleran to Aerostar. Two to beam up.”
Carl shook his head as he dematerialized. He must still be sleeping.
FBI HEADQUARTERS - NORFOLK BRANCH
After making sure, with a careful tricorder sweep, that no one was around, Lt. Larkin proceeded to creep through Dr. Cross’ dark laboratory, Carl Jaroch’s infamous invention in tow.
It had been decided that the memories of Mulder and Scully’s investigation would not be totally erased, as that would surely take a great deal more work than simply fixing it so the investigation turned up inconclusive.
Larkin felt her job was made easier, as most of the staff of the FBI Norfolk Branch was off for Thanksgiving holidays.
Larkin simply altered the components of Carl’s invention so that it seemingly functioned as it always had, without ever having that notorious brain switching side effect again.
If time had allowed, Larkin would have preferred to have more time to study the device, but the android understood that time was precious in this case. The tricorder readings she took would have to suffice.
THE DILLON RESIDENCE SALISBURY, MD
“Come on, Travis, grab your shoes,” Captain Baxter said hurriedly as Travis dressed. “It’s time to wipe your brain.”
“Hold it down!” Travis whispered. “Rachel’s still sleeping.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll lock on to her and beam her directly to sickbay. She’ll never even know what happened,” Baxter said reassuringly.
“I wish I didn’t have to forget about this again,” Travis protested as he tied his shoes.
“Think about it as having a free brain cleaning,” Baxter smiled, quietly tapping his comm badge. “Baxter to Aerostar. Get us out of here.”
PENINSULA REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER SALISBURY, MD
“So how many cases like this do you get, Lassie?” Ensign Stuart asked the nurse on duty, in the best Scottish accent he could effect. It was his notion that, in order to add to the deception he had to carry off, he should have a fake accent. And, being an engineer, of distant Scottish descent no less, Stuart had always been eager to work on his brogue.
The nurse smiled. “Holiday births are quite common, as well as other types of medical situations. But for some reason this hospital still feels that the employees would be happier having Thanksgiving off,” she said. “Where are you from, again?”
“Edinburgh, originally. And you?”
“Oh, I’m from New Jersey,” the nurse said.
“Are ye now? And where, might I ask, is that in relation to Scotland?” Stuart had never been good at geography.
The nurse looked at Stuart quizzically and continued to go over her medical charts. She wasn’t sure what to think of this mysterious, if somewhat stupid, Scotsman.
“Janice?” Lt. Commander Richards asked, creeping into the room. “Are you awake?”
Janice rubbed her eyes, looking up at Richards in the darkness and straining to see him. “I am now. Who are you?”
“I’m the future Chris…I got my original body back,” Richards said, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“I figured as much,” Janice said, indicating the chair beside the bed, where Chris was out cold. “The poor guy sat and rocked the baby for hours, and ended up falling asleep before she did.”
“Well, we’re going to give him a drug that will make him sleep a little longer while we erase your memory.”
Janice thought about this. “That’s right. You told me about that. I don’t know if I should be thankful or not.”
“It will make your life a lot easier, trust me,” Richards said.
Janice looked over at the baby. “It’s not my life I’m worried about. It’s Kiersten’s.”
“She was given the best medical care a resident of the twentieth century has ever received,” Richards said. “I’m sure of it.”
Janice thought a moment. “So that woman that helped me…that was your Janice?”
“Yeah, well…she’s not my Janice any more.”
At that, Janice smiled. “I’m not so sure about that. If she’s anything like me, she still loves you. No matter how stupid some of the things you do are.”
“Any time. Now beam me up, Scotty.”
THE WILSON RESIDENCE HAMPTON ROADS, VIRGINIA
“Would you look at this place?” Commander Conway said, as he and Ensign Saral rummaged through Irma Wilson’s house. “No wonder this woman was nuts.”
The Wilson residence was a monument to all that is low, pathetic, and base about Star Trek and Science Fiction Fandom as a whole. It was wallpapered with posters, covered with toys, filled with rabid cats of all kinds (and an overzealous poodle), smelling of sour milk and stale casseroles, and filled to the brim with the stink of unbridled obsession.
“It is quite illogical to live in such a slovenly state,” Ensign Saral said, wading through the clothes-strewn bedroom towards the closet, as Conway rifled through thousands of TV Guide’s, Enquirer’s, and Entertainment Weekly’s.
“Yeah, tell me about-“ Conway said, interrupted by Ensign Saral’s gasp of alarm.
Conway ran into the bedroom (because it’s seldom to hear a Vulcan gasp, and that usually meant something pretty darn urgent), to find Ensign Saral staring, mouth agape, at one of the weirdest things Commander Conway had seen in his long Starfleet career.
“My…God,” Conway said, staring at the shrine that Irma had constructed inside her wardrobe with awe and disgust. “She worshiped Andy and Dave as if they were gods.”
“The question seems to be why, Commander,” Saral said. “Why these two in particular?”
Conway picked up what he surmised was Irma’s journal and read a few lines aloud. “‘…Andy and David reek of Star Trek, nay, they ARE Star Trek. They constitute the very genetic structure I have been seeking. And not only that, but they seem to take interest in my plans. I think I will let them into the Babylon Five Anti-Shadow War Council, but only if Ambassador Delenn thinks it appropriate. They seem trustworthy enough, but I can’t believe that our combined forces would be enough to beat the Kazon. In short, it seems I am forced to trust the rebels, without which, the Empire would surely succeed in taking over the Mutara Nebula, with Captain Spock’s help. I will add them to the Nova squadron quite soon then, in hopes that we will be able to find the Maquis traitor.’”
“How strange,” Saral said. “What could that possibly mean? There seem to be references to our timeline, but, surely that could not be.”
Conway just rubbed a hand over his face as he stared at the newspaper clippings, photos, drawings, amateur clay sculptures, Internet printouts, and various other oddities that concerned Andy and David. “Evidently, in this universe, there is an entertainment phenomenon known as Star Trek that is very similar to our universe. Obviously this woman was waaaaaaay too obsessed with it.”
“Apparently,” Saral said. “So what should we do?”
“Well,” Conway said, putting his hands on his hips and looking around. “The lady’s dead. This place is a mess, and the police will most likely have a field day with all this stuff on our present day counterparts.”
“What would you suggest?” Saral asked.
“Start getting these damn cats out of here,” Conway said, tossing the cats off Irma’s moth-eaten couch.
Ten minutes later, everything living at Irma’s house (not counting the stuff lurking in the fridge) was evacuated, except for her poodle, Tribble.
“GO!” Commander Conway shouted, pointing at the yard outside, holding the rickety screen door open.
Tribble just looked up at Conway and yelped.
Conway bent down, staring the poodle right in the eyes. “Listen to me…” the First officer examined the poodle’s nametag, squinting at the tiny printing. “‘Tribble.’ This is a scary place for a little doggie to grow up. Get out while you can. There’s still time for you to live a normal poodle life, but you have to leave now. Go! Be free! Run like the wind!”
Tribble obediently turned around and scampered off in the direction of a nearby garbage can.
Commander Conway walked inside, wiping his hands together and looking around with a satisfied smile. “Listen, Ensign…what I’m about to do will save us a lot of trouble, but it will also be a slight, um, stretching of the Prime Directive, if you get my drift.”
Saral nodded as Conway made his way into Irma’s disgusting kitchen. “I will look the other way, Commander.”
Conway smiled. “Glad you see things my way, Saral.” Giving one last, disgusted look at the place, Conway nonchalantly bumped his hand up against the dial on Irma’s gas oven, listening for the satisfying sound of hissing gas. Next, he went into Irma’s bedroom and located the huge stack of sci-fi magazines and tabloid rags. Finding a pack of “I Grok Spock” matches, he dutifully set fire to the whole pile.
“I think you and I are finished here, Ensign,” Conway said, emerging from the bedroom and putting his hand on Saral’s shoulder, leading her out of the house.
“I understand that human cooking methods of this era were fraught with danger,” Saral noted as they made their way down the walkway and out onto the sidewalk.
“Yeah,” Conway said. “You never know what can happen when you cook with gas.”
Saral and Conway continued to converse, seeming almost oblivious to the giant explosion behind them.
Conway turned briefly to regard the burning, smoking wreckage of Irma’s house. “Whelp, guess we should head back.”
“Indeed,” Saral said, raising an eyebrow.
Inside Irma’s burning house, her life-sized cardboard cutout of William Shatner twisted and burned, in a beautiful dazzle of flame.
Captain Baxter banged his head on the conference room table for the third time in an hour. Since returning from Travis and Rachel’s apartment, he had spent that hour organizing the away teams, phone calls, and mind wipes that were necessary to make sure everything “went away,” for lack of a better term.
“Well, Lt. Larkin,” he said wearily, “If Andy’s philosophy teacher won’t excuse the philosophy paper, then write him one and hand it in. You’re pretty darn advanced, I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
“Socrates is quite outdated in his thinking, Captain,” Larkin suggested. “It is a shame they will never know the theories of Surak of Vulcan or Deltrin of Cardassia.”
Baxter looked up at Larkin. “Just write the damn Socrates paper and get Baxter an ‘A.’ No use in staining the perfect Baxter tradition.”
Larkin cocked her head quizzically. “But did you not fail your Starfleet Officer’s exam a total of three times before successfully passing?”
“It was the parallel parking that messed me up. Now get the hell out of here, Lieutenant!” Baxter barked, annoyed.
“Yes, sir,” Larkin said, hurriedly leaving the conference room.
Baxter tapped his comm badge. “Baxter to Browning.”
“Browning here. Make it quick, sir.”
“I just wanted to get some idea of how much longer this will take. Some of those people have families that will miss them today.”
“It’s slow work, Captain. I’m going as fast as I can.”
“Come on, Janice, it’s not exactly brain surgery,” Baxter giggled.
“Very funny. Now if you don’t mind, I have a hippocampus to irradiate.”
“Gee, sorry,” Baxter said, returning to the pile of padds sitting on the meeting table.
Counselor Peterman peeked into the conference room several minutes later, while Baxter was deep in thought, creeping up behind him and tickling him under the arms. “Surprise!” she said with glee.
Startled, Baxter yelped and jumped up, causing padds to fly everywhere.
Regaining his composure, he straightened his uniform and picked up the padds. “Can I help you, Counselor?”
Peterman smiled. “I have good news. Mulder and Scully were successful in closing down the Salisbury Police investigation and eliminating Andy and Travis’s police records. Coincidentally, it seems Commander Conway’s descendant had a preexisting record. Something about chasing after little kids with a bee-bee gun.”
“What a whacko. Now we finally know where the Commander gets his quirky side,” Baxter said, laughing. “Any other news?”
“Well, the pictures of us and the baby came out wonderfully,” Peterman said, pulling out a padd. “See for yourself. Kiersten is beautiful.”
Baxter thumbed through all the pictures that Nurse Carter took of he, Peterman, Browning, Richards, Conway, Larkin, J’hana, Ford, and some of the other crew-members, posing next to Janice’s baby, giving her noogies, rubbing her feet, and doing other various cutsie baby things. “Aww, how precious,” Baxter deadpanned.
“And the crew love the whole idea. A baby is great for morale. They’ve even thought of designating Kiersten’s birthday a shipwide holiday. And she’s already been nicknamed ‘Janice’s little quantum torpedo.’”
“One more thing,” Peterman said. “You won’t believe who Andy’s roomate down on Earth is.”
“Someone on the crew?”
Peterman sat down and leaned towards Baxter conspiratorially. “It gets weirder. I did some research, and found out that Andy has a friend named Kelly Peterman.”
“You’re kidding. Are they close?”
“Yes and no. That’s the weird part. They’re like best friends, but she lives on the other side of the country, in California.”
Baxter’s face darkened slightly at this. “How sad.”
“Tell me about it. I called, under the pretense of being the twentieth century Kelly, and talked to Mr. Gellar. It seems Andy is about as unlucky at love as you are-“ Peterman corrected herself, “well, were.”
“How nice,” Baxter said, deep in thought.
“It’s not nice at all, Andy. It’s sad. Andy and Kelly are thousands of miles apart, and it seems they’re as destined for one another as we are, only not as lucky.”
Baxter laughed wryly. “Who ever thought someone would be less lucky than us?”
Peterman then leaned forward and kissed Baxter, only pausing to add, “stranger things have happened.”
An hour later, Baxter and his senior staff joined Travis, Mulder, and Scully in sickbay, as Dr. Browning prepared to do the final mind wipes.
Baxter shook Travis’s hand warmly. “I want to thank you for all your help. And as thankful that I am that Dr. Aldridge’s mind wipe didn’t work, I hope like hell that this one does.”
“Well, if it means a good night’s sleep for the first time in quite a while, I won’t mind it either.” Travis smiled, hopping onto the bio-bed.
“And I want to thank you guys as well,” Baxter said, turning to Mulder and Scully.
“That’s quite nice of you, Captain, seeing that Scully and I were ready to send all of you to the nearest mental institution.” Mulder suppressed a laugh.
“I’ll try not to take that personally,” Baxter said. “And I hope you never solve every mystery.”
Mulder looked to Scully as they hopped onto their respective bio-beds. “Me too. I think.”
“And I hope you guys find your way home some day,” Scully added.
“Don’t hold your breath,” Baxter said. “Okay, you can proceed, Dr. Browning.”
“Remind me to tape Unsolved Mysteries when we get back,” Mulder whispered to Scully as Dr. Browning pressed a hypospray into his arm.
“Very funny, Mulder,” Scully said, as she was injected with a similar hypospray.
“Goodbye, Travis,” Baxter said, when Dr. Browning had come to him. “It’s been fun.”
“Alex used to have a saying. It’s been real, it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been real fun,” Travis said, smiling.
“Well, the grammar leaves a little to be desired,” Baxter replied, as Browning injected the hypospray.
“Bye, Captain. Thanks for the adventure,” Travis said as he lost consciousness.
“Aren’t you going to thank me for the memories?” Baxter joked. Travis almost got out a laugh before he went out cold.
“Okay, everybody. Show’s over,” Dr. Browning said, ushering everyone out of sickbay. “I’ve got work to do.”
“Fine, fine,” Conway said. “Could you at least give Travis a neuroses of some sort while you’re playing around in his head?”
“Get out, Conway,” Browning said, as she pushed Conway through the opening doors to sickbay.
After being ejected from sickbay, most of the senior staff headed for the bridge.
“Well,” Baxter said as he, Conway, J’hana, and Larkin rode the turbolift to the bridge. “I guess we can finally get back to the Delta Quadrant.”
“Whoopee,” Conway said half-heartedly.
“I know. Well, we got here once, we’ll get back here again,” Baxter said hopefully.
“Yeah,” Conway huffed. “Preferably in the right century next time.”
“Damn right,” Baxter agreed.
Supplemental. I am pleased to report that Dr. Browning has completed Dillon, Mulder, and Scully’s mindwipes and returned them to their proper places on Earth. Most of today’s patients should, at this moment, be enjoying peaceful Thanksgiving dinners with their families, although some may be a little more peaceful than others. Meanwhile, the Aerostar is heading back to the site of the wormhole that brought us here, and, speaking for the whole crew, I’d say we have a lot to be thankful for, especially after reading Larkin’s report on the “other” Aerostar. I guess things could have gone a lot worse. As for our friends from the twentieth century, and what will happen to them after we leave, well, I guess only time will tell.
“Initializing neutrino pulse,” Lt. Tilleran reported from the science station, as the rest of the bridge crew looked on, holding their collective breaths. “The neutrino pulse has breached space,” Lt. Larkin said, staring at the black expanse of space on the viewscreen. “Holding for thirty seconds.”
“Effects?” Commander Conway asked nervously.
“The wormhole is beginning to reform,” Tilleran said. “Width is at fifty meters and expanding.”
“Get ready everyone,” Baxter said cautiously. “This is it.”
“Wormhole is now at four hundred meters,” Tilleran said. “I recommend we cut the neutrino pulse and proceed.”
“You heard her, Mr. Ford. One quarter impulse power,” Baxter ordered, reaching to his left and grabbing Counselor Peterman’s hand. “Engage.”
The Aerostar crept towards the wormhole slowly, until it became engulfed by the blinding light that emanated from it.
The ship rocked violently as it pressed through the wormhole’s rough eddies.
“Increase power to the structural integrity field,” Conway ordered, as he held on to his chair.
“Shields beginning to buckle,” J’hana reported from tactical.
“Hold on, everyone!” Baxter cried, as the Aerostar’s hull shrieked and moaned around them.
And just as soon, the ride was over.
“Report, Lieutenant Larkin,” Baxter said, getting out of his chair and walking over to ops.
“Sensors have been effected by the wormhole’s interference,” Larkin stated, “but I can say, with a one percent margin for error, that we have returned to the Delta Quadrant.”
Cheers erupted all over the bridge.
“I don’t see what everyone’s so happy about. We’re right back where we started from,” Ford complained.
Baxter looked over at Ford. “You have to learn to savor the small victories, Mister.”
“It is not a small victory at all, Captain,” Larkin said. “We have succeeded in traversing a great expanse of time and space in less than a minute. Indeed, this is quite an achievement.”
“Good point, Larkin,” Baxter said, returning to his chair. “Now, Lt. J’hana, if you would do the honor of closing the barn door.”
J’hana nodded, stabbing a button on her panel. “Probe is launched.”
The Aerostar fired a tiny blue probe into the wormhole, which engulfed it as quickly as it had engulfed the ship. “I am receiving telemetry from the probe, sir,”
Larkin stated. “It has reached the other end of the wormhole. Firing antineutrino pulse…now.”
Everyone waited for several more seconds, until, finally, the wormhole mercifully disappeared from the viewscreen.
“The wormhole has disappeared, sir,” Larkin reported. “With no chance of being reopened. It seems our modified probe was successful.”
“Great,” Baxter said, taking Peterman’s hand and standing up. “In that case, Alpha shift is dismissed. Take the day off, everyone. You’ve earned it.”
Later that night, Baxter, Peterman, and Browning returned to the ‘Continuum’, to continue the dinner that had been interrupted three days prior.
“Richards couldn’t make it,” Baxter said, through a mouthful of souffle, “something about the warp core. But he did have something interesting to tell me.”
“Do tell,” Browning said, alone on the other side of the booth, as Baxter and Peterman playfully picked at Baxter’s souffle.
“Well,” Baxter said, wiping his mouth. “He was able to wring a confession out of Mr. Stuart. It seems he went above and beyond the call of duty while he was down on Earth.”
“What do you mean?” Peterman asked.
“Well, his job was to distract one of the nurses…and…well…”
Browning just shook her head. “No, no, no…”
“Yes. He distracted the hell out of her…in a vacant hospital room. Test tubes flew everywhere, from what I’m told.” It was obvious Baxter was making a concerted effort to keep a straight face, which failed miserably as soon as Peterman busted into laughter, almost falling out of the booth.
“You’re kidding,” Browning said. “That’s horrible. What if she has his baby!”
“Well, let’s just hope she doesn’t have it on a national holiday!” Baxter said between laughs.
“Are you finished with your plate, Madam?” Adolph Hitler asked primly.
“Yeah, sure, take it,” Browning said, handing over her plate.
Suddenly the holodeck doors opened, to reveal Lt. Commander Richards, who looked twice as dapper as Hitler in his tux.
“Hi, Janice,” he said, offering her a huge bouquet of flowers. “Can we talk?”
Browning stared, wide eyed, at the flowers, then regained her composure and glared at Richards. “I suppose. If you really want to.”
Baxter looked at Browning and Richards, and then at Peterman. “Well, it’s been nice, but we have to go. We have a…”
“…a thing,” Peterman said quickly, grabbing Baxter’s hand and scooting out of the booth.
“Yeah, a thing…somewhere else,” Baxter said, throwing some replicated money on the table and hurrying out of the holodeck.
Richards slid into the booth, across from Browning, taking her hands into his. “There’s a lot I want to talk to you about, Janice.”
“Me too,” Browning said unsteadily.
“Me first,” Richards said, his face widening in a smile. “Computer, load musical program Richards Alpha Nine.”
On the stage at the front of the restaurant, Elvis Presley was replaced with a man that Browning didn’t recognize. “It’s Billy Idol,” Richards said, noticing Browning’s uncertainty. “Computer, play musical program.”
Idol launched out into one of his many hits, “White Wedding.”
Browning listened to the song for several moments, as the realization set in. “Christopher, is this what I think it is…”
Richards smiled. “What do you think?”
A tear rolled down Browning’s cheek as she squeezed Richards’s hand tightly within hers. “I think you’re nuts.”
“Then you’re right,” Richards said.
Browning wiped the tear from her eye, smiling back at Richards. “You want us to get married?”
“Darn right,” Richards replied.
“It’s a nice day for a white wedding…” sang Idol.
“Well, then, I guess that makes two of us,” Browning said, as Idol rattled on. “But Billy has to go.”
“It’s a nice day to start again…”
VIRGINIA STATE MENTAL INSTITUTE NORFOLK, VA THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1995
“Thanks for coming in so quickly, Doctor. I know the holidays are a tough time to be on-call,” Nurse Dottie said, ushering Dr. Sinclair down the hallway of the “Severely Mental Really Really Really Whacko” wing of the Virginia State Mental Institute.
“That’s okay,” Dr. Sinclair said, checking the chart Dottie had given him. “Sounds like a simple case of multi-infarct dementia to me.”
“Wait till you see her,” Dottie said, in a tone that gave Dr. Sinclair the chills.
Dottie led Sinclair to a large, heavily armored door. Sinclair peered into the tiny window. “I don’t see her.”
“She likes to hide in the shadows,” Nurse Dottie explained. “A couple fisherman found her washed up on the beach near the bay bridge two days ago. They called 911, and an ambulance came and brought her to the ER. When she came to yesterday, she was babbling nonsense about Star Trek, and about big bug creatures. Since they had no way of finding out who she was, they remanded her to our custody.”
“The Andorians maybe?” Sinclair asked with interest. “Pardon?”
“Big bug creatures,” Sinclair repeated. “You said she was babbling about Star Trek and big bug creatures.”
“I’m sorry, I never watched Star Trek,” Dottie said, a little embarrassed.
“Oh, well, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a great show.”
“Only problem is, it produces whackos like this lady,” Dottie muttered.
“Hey, not all Trekkies are fruitcakes. Take me for example.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Dottie said, deciding to keep quiet before she said anything more offensive. “Would you like to see her?”
Dottie carefully opened up the door and turned on the light. “Someone’s here to see you, Ms. Doe.”
Dr. Sinclair walked over to a corner of the room, where a large woman sat, eyes closed, rocking back and forth quietly in her straight-jacket, whistling the original “Star Trek” theme to herself.
“Hello,” he said warmly. “My name is Dr. Albert Sinclair. I hear you’re a Star Trek fan.”
The woman’s eyes snapped open. “Did you say Star Trek?”
Sinclair instinctively moved back a little at the woman’s sudden movement. “Uh, that’s right. You know, I’m a fan myself.”
The woman’s eyes lit up. “You are? That’s wonderful. I think you and I will have lots and lots to talk about!”
FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON, DC THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1995
Mulder and Scully walked back into their office in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington DC feeling totally exhausted. Four days of investigation had turned up absolutely nothing. Scully collapsed into her chair and sighed.
“That thrilled, huh?” Mulder said.
“Oh, yeah,” Scully replied. “Four days running in circles. Wonderful.”
“At least we got our exercise,” Mulder said walking over to his file cabinet. He pulled the surveillance photographs from Greenbriar Mall out of his trench-coat and stuck them in a folder.
“What are you doing?” Scully asked.
“Filing this,” Mulder said.
“Filing what?” Scully demanded. “Those are trash. There’s nothing there, Mulder. You’ve got some grainy photos of some kids running through a mall. We couldn’t even confirm if those guys were the college students we talked to. Frankly, I have no idea why we went after this thing.”
“I thought there might be something more,” Mulder said. Something more. Why was he interested in this case to begin with? All he had were a couple of photos of three guys being chased by a woman with black hair. Nothing was all that unusual.
“Let’s go, Mulder,” Scully said impatiently. “It’s Thanksgiving.”
“You going to your mom’s?”
“Yes. My brothers are even going to be there. What about you?”
“There’s a turkey special at O’Grady’s,” Mulder said. “All you can eat.”
“I don’t think so,” Scully said, standing up and walking over to Mulder. “Put the photos and the videotape away and come on. We’ve got room.”
“Thanks, Scully,” Mulder said, turning back to the file cabinet. He stopped in the middle of putting the folder away. “What videotape?
“What do you mean what videotape? There is no videotape.”
“You just said videotape.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. What videotape? There’s something wrong here Scully.”
“Yeah. We’ve slept in motel beds for four days and haven’t had anything even close to a decent meal. Let’s go.” She reached forward and closed the file cabinet, almost catching Mulder’s hand in the drawer, and pulled him toward the door.
“Okay, okay. You win,” Mulder said. “Do you think Star Trek’s on tonight?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“I just feel like watching it for some reason.”
“Shut up, Mulder,” Scully said, pushing him out the door and shutting off the office light.
SALISBURY, MD DECEMBER 29, 1995
Travis Dillon pulled uncomfortably at his tuxedo jacket as he walked across the reception hall at the Green Hill Golf and Country Club. Across the room, his new bride, Mrs. Rachel Dillon, stood talking to some of her relatives. Travis couldn’t help but smile. He was sure that he’d had the same smug grin on his face all evening. Everything was perfect.
He stepped up beside Alex Rydell and Carl Jaroch as they stood watching the room.
“Gentlemen,” Travis said. “How goes it?”
“It goes well,” Alex said. “How about yourself?”
“Never better,” Travis said. Travis surveyed the room. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and talking to each other. Then his eyes fell on a table across the room. Andy Baxter sat there with David Conway, Janice Browning, Chris Richards, and one-month-old Kiersten Browning, and there definitely was not a lot of conversation going on.
“Some people don’t seem to have the party spirit,” Carl said, vocalizing Travis’s thoughts.
“Well, they don’t really know anybody here,” Travis said.
“Then go mingle,” Alex said. “You’re the groom. It’s your job.”
“Yes, sir. Captain, sir,” Travis said, smiling. He headed over towards Andy’s table. Something in his brain tugged at him. Captain. Why did it seem so right to call Alex that? He looked back at his Best Man and Carl as they stood side by side watching him like the three of them just belonged together. Carl’s wife Lisa, Alex’s girlfriend Trina, and his friends Andrea Carr, Craig Porter, Emily Sullivan, Scott Baird, and Monica Vaughn joined Carl and Alex. Yes, they all just belonged together. They were…a crew. Travis arrived at Andy’s table and sat down.
“You folks had better quiet down. You’re disturbing the rest of the guests,” Travis said warmly.
“We’ll try and tone ourselves down,” Dave deadpanned. “Would you guys perk up? I just got married here.”
“And I have nobody,” Andy and Dave said in unison.
“How’s the baby?” Travis asked, turning to Janice. He was sick of listening to Andy and Dave feel sorry for themselves.
“Sleeping like a…well, you know,” Janice said. “Your wife has a lot to do with that.”
“Yeah. Her and Dr. Browning,” Travis said.
“I’m Browning,” Janice said. “The doctor’s name was Brittingham.”
“Oh yeah,” Travis said. Why did he say Browning? It was Janice’s last name, but that just didn’t seem right. “Well, anyway, that kid’s got quite a future ahead of her. I should get back to my bride.”
He walked away from the table just as Dave and Andy started discussing last week’s episode of Star Trek: Voyager. They were debating what they would have done at the end of the episode. From what he could hear, Travis liked Andy’s plan better. Make Andy Captain and Dave First Officer, he thought to himself. Travis stopped in his tracks again. He looked back at the table of Andy and his friends. They were definitely…a crew. A separate crew from the one he had with Alex, but definitely a crew.
Suddenly, the lights dimmed as Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” started playing. Alex and Trina, Lisa and Carl, Chris and Janice, and several other couples worked their way out onto the dance floor. Travis turned to look for his bride. She was on her way over to him, a big smile covering her face. They met and began to dance.
“I love you,” he said softly.
“I love you, too.”
“Sucks to be alone, huh?” Dave said as he and Andy watched the couples dancing and kept an eye on Kiersten.
“For now,” Andy said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She’s out there, Dave.”
“The perfect woman for me. It may take me several lifetimes to find her, but she is out there.”
“Right. And I’m a champion NASCAR driver,” Dave said, taking a sip of his punch.
“There’s not a romantic bone in your body, is there?”
“Nope. Not a one.”
“Your loss,” Andy said as he continued watching the dancers. He could almost see himself out there. He’d be in better shape and in a tux and she…she’d have long, dark hair, sparkling green eyes, and an incredible personality. She was out there. He may have to cross space and time for her, but she was out there.