Author: Anthony Butler
It felt good to be back.
Captain Andy Baxter stepped out onto the bridge of the U.S.S. Explorer and took a deep breath.
Yes, indeed, it felt good to be back.
“Status check,” he said easily, as he stepped down to the command chair, nodding at Lt. J’hana at tactical as he sat down.
“We are on course for the Unari system, to chart a subspace anomaly.”
“Excellent. Anomalies are excellent,” Baxter said, steepling his fingers as he watched reports from department heads. Looked like everything was in order on his ship. Everything in control.
Beside him, Counselor Peterman was checking her hair in the mirror she’d installed in her console.
“Thanks for kicking Commander Vansen off the bridge, honey,” she said, grasping his hand. “I really do appreciate it.”
“It was the least I could do.” Baxter chortled. “Did she really think she could run things while we were gone? Pshah! She’s lucky they didn’t bust her all the way down to ensign.”
Commander Chris Richards, who was seated at his right, nodded vigorously. “I wonder how she’s doing.”
“I don’t know,” Baxter said with a chuckle. “Maybe one of us should walk down to Inventory and check on her.”
“Inventory!” Peterman squealed with laughter. “That is a laugh.”
“It is indeed a laugh,” Baxter said, wiping a tear of laughter from his cheek. “Wow. I really missed the Explorer. It’s…”
“Good to be back?” Richards asked, then guffawed and slapped his thigh.
“Yes!” Baxter said, wordless with laughter. “Good to be back!” he said, laughing so hard he ran out of breath. “Good…good to be back! Sheesh…I swear, you guys crack me up. I love you guys.”
“We love you too, Andy,” Doctor Janice Browning said, turning around in the seat at helm. She stood up and walked toward him.
“Well…you know how I feel, Janice,” Baxter said, as Browning reached her hands out to him. The Captain stood, embraced her. “I…”
“Shush. Shush your mouth and dream sweet, sweet dreams,” Browning said softly, and leaned forward and kissed him.
EARTH BALTIMORE, MARYLAND TUESDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2003
“Yes! NO! I mean no!” Captain Andy Baxter shouted, sitting up ramrod straight, and bumping his head on the bunk above him in the process.
Several voices in the room moaned in response. Seems he’d awaken a few of his hundred roomates.
“That better not be you again, Andy,” the groggy voice of Commander Chris Richards groaned from the bunk above.
Baxter put his hands behind his head and stared up at the bottom of the bunk. “I’m sorry. I…had a bad dream.”
“Sounds like it was pretty good to me. You were laughing like crazy. Then…well…it sounded like you were kissing your forearm.”
Baxter looked at his forearm, which was resting above the covers, and slightly sticky. “You know my habits way too well, Richards.”
“We’ve been friends a long time.”
“Yeah,” Baxter said. “Anyway, it was nothing.”
“Well get some sleep. I have the distinct feeling we’re going to get our asses kicked if we keep this up.”
“Oh, c’mon. This isn’t Rura Penthe,” Baxter said.
Richards yawned. “No. It’s the YMCA. Whatever the hell that is.”
“Well,” Baxter sighed. “Let’s try to go back to sleep. We have a big day ahead tomorrow.”
“Yes. Looking for work. I can’t wait.”
“Looking for Bradley,” Baxter grumbled. “Bradley Dillon. He’s the one who got us into this mess.”
“Whatever you want to do. Let’s just get back to sleep. We have to meet the girls at some ungodly hour.”
“Funny choice of words,” Baxter said with a small chuckle. Then he decided it was time to finally shut up and go to sleep. He wasn’t sure, but he had the distinct feeling someone nearby was breathing on him.
Counselor Kelly Peterman sighed. “Rice again?”
Janice Browning shrugged as she dipped two fingers into her wooden bowl, as the bells chimed outside the dining room at St. Claire’s Refuge for Troubled Girls. “I kind of like it. The nuns put a little nutmeg in it in the mornings. Gives it some…kick.”
“Maybe you could go back into the kitchen and whip up a quick sauce. You know, nothing fancy. Some parsely here, a little rich cream there. Some Ynaran devilspice.”
Browning sighed. “Kelly. Remember, this is the twenty-first century. There is no Ynara. Well, there is, but it’s very, very, very far away, and there’s no way for us to get there.”
“No Ynara. No warp speed. No sonic showers. No nothing.” Peterman leaned her elbows up on the table and rested her chin on her hands. “Man. This sucks. We need to find a way back to the future. Like, now.”
“Yes.” Browning nodded. “I can see how losing all those things must be very hard on you.”
Peterman pushed her rice bowl away and yawned. “You’re not kidding.”
“I wouldn’t know what that’s like. Missing something you left in the future, and all.”
Peterman looked at Browning askance. “Am I detecting sarcasm?”
“Oh!” Peterman said, suddenly leaning forward. “Plato!” She grabbed Browning’s hands. “I’m so sorry. Of course you miss your son. That must be so…so stressful for you.”
“Relax, Kelly. There’s no ship here, so you don’t have to be ship’s counselor.”
“This isn’t the ship’s counselor talking. This is your friend. I know you’re hurting. I want to help.”
“I’m not…hurting…” Browning said, looking down at her bowl. “I know he’s okay. He’s safe, on the ship. I’m sure everyone is taking very good care of him. I just…miss him.”
“Of course you do.” Just then, someone tapped Peterman on the shoulder. “Just a moment. I’m talking to my friend.” She looked back at Browning. “Of course you do. But you know we’ll find a way back there soon. And, with the peculiarities of time travel, we’ll probably end up coming back five minutes after we left. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Browning inclined her head in the direction of the woman standing behind Peterman, a nun in black garb with arms folded, her wrinkled face pursed in annoyance.
“Yes,” Peterman said, slinking down a little in her chair.
“Your cot has been left unattended.”
“Yeah,” Peterman said in a small voice.
“As has your child.”
“Oh. She’s napping. She’ll be fine.”
“Nevertheless, it is not becoming for a young woman to leave her child unattended.”
Peterman blushed. “Young woman? Aw, that’s so sweet.”
The nun huffed. “Please see to your child. Her crying is disrupting activity hour.”
“We’re missing activity hour?” Browning asked, her head lifting.
“As for you,” the nun said, narrowing her eyes at Browning. “I have been instructed by the kitchen to tell you that two bowls of rice is more than enough for one sitting. We have many mouths to feed.”
“Oh,” Browning said sheepishly. “Right.”
“I’ll be back,” Peterman said, rising from her seat. “Young.” She chuckled. “You just made my day, lady.”
“It’s Sister Margaret!” the nun called after her.
An hour later, Baxter and Richards met Peterman and Browning at the tall, iron gates of St. Claire’s. Each still wore their Starfleet uniform, but they had discarded their outer jackets and converted the under-tunic into “polo shirt” mode, so as to fit in better with the style of the twenty- first century.
Peterman cradled Steffie in her arms as she glanced over her shoulder up the hilly driveway that led back to St. Claire’s. “You’ve got to take Steffie tonight, Andy. I think she wore out her welcome at the Refuge.”
Baxter held up his hands. “No can do, hon. We’re persona non grata at the yumca now.”
“I told you, it’s YMCA. It’s an abbreviation,” Richards muttered.
“Anyway, we’re not allowed there anymore.” Baxter stared at his feet. “I sort of got into a fight.”
“Andy…” Peterman sighed.
“This guy tried to lick my face.”
Browning rubbed her eyes. “Holy sh…” She glanced back at the Refuge. “Shucks. I mean shucks.”
Peterman grimaced. “Great. Just great. Now what are we going to do with you two? You think Janice and I like our living conditions? Sister Margaret has been giving me looks ever since we walked in there.”
“I think that was more of a transitional type place than a permanent residence, anyway,” Browning said. “At least that’s what Flo told me.”
“I told you not to talk to Flo,” Peterman snapped. “She was no good, that woman. Did you see the markings on her skin? A knife. Someone painted a knife on her arm. Do you want to know that kind of woman?”
“I can do what I want,” Browning said defiantly, folding her arms.
“Well forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but the four of us need to stop beating around the bush and find someplace to live,” Richards said.
“Agreed,” Baxter said. “And I for one am not going to sleep under that bridge again.”
“Baltimore smells bad,” Peterman said. “Couldn’t we have landed on a better smelling part of Earth?”
“I think they all smell equally bad in this time period,” Baxter said. “It’s supposed to be quaint. Charming.”
“Well, they do call this ‘Charm City,’” Richards said. “At least that’s what that free newspaper said.”
“No place that allows people to lick other people against their will should be called ‘Charm City,’” Baxter mumbled, staring again at his shoes. “I want to go home.”
“Everybody does,” Peterman said. “But we’re stuck in this craphole for the moment and we’ve got to deal with it.”
“You just wanted an excuse to curse,” Browning said with a giggle.
“Yes. Because Sister Margaret wouldn’t let me. F***ing bitch.” Peterman shifted Steffie from one arm to another. “You didn’t hear that, baby.” She stared at Baxter. “Okay, Andy. You’re the captain. Figure something out.”
“Well, I have to admit my knowledge of this time period is somewhat limited. But I think we need jobs.”
“We’re going to need some new clothes if we’re going to find jobs,” Richards said. “I think my uniform is starting to smell.”
“You always…” Baxter began, then decided to let sleeping dogs lie. “All right. So the first order of business is to find clothes. Then we get jobs. Do you know where we could find another one of those free news report thingies, Chris?”
“I think I saw one down on the corner, there,” Richards said, pointing down the treelined street that was home to St. Claire’s.
“Bye, Saint Claires,” Browning said softly, as the group headed off down the street.
“Say,” Peterman said. “In all this, have we ever considered it might be a good idea to find Bradley Dillon? I mean, it’s been over a week since we landed here, and we haven’t heard a peep out of him yet.”
“Maybe he’s trying to find us,” Browning suggested.
“Maybe not,” Richards said. “I don’t think we can depend on Bradley Dillon for anything..”
“But we need to find Bradley anyway,” Baxter said. “We need to figure out why he wanted to come back here in the first place.”
“And we have to stop him, before he screws up the timeline,” Peterman said. “Am I right?”
“Couldn’t have put it better myself,” Baxter said. “But to find Bradley, we’ll need resources. And to get resources, in this time period, you need a job.”
“What can we do?” Browning said, as Richards stopped by a small, square metal box that held several of those “free” news reports.
“Look though the want ads,” Baxter said, glancing over Richards’s shoulder as he paged through the “City Paper.”
“I mean, what can we do?” she asked. “We’re not from this time. How the heck are we supposed to find work?”
“They had doctors in every time period,” Peterman said. “And counselors too, for that matter. We’ll be overqualified. We have skills nobody here has. The trouble will be finding something for these two to do.” She thumbed at Richards and Baxter.
“Well…psychoanalysis was perfected a hundred years before even this time period,” Browning said. “But you’re right about the medical stuff.”
“Fine. There have been no major advancements in counseling in five hundred years. Rub it in!”
“Hold on,” Richards said, thumbing a square on the paper. “I think I just hit the jackpot.”
Baxter squinted at the writing. “How so?”
“What do all of us have that the residents of this time period don’t?”
“Perfect teeth?” Peterman suggested.
“Knowledge!” Richards said. “We’re going to be teachers.”
“I thought we were going to be teachers,” Dr. Browning said, sitting beside Richards as he tapped on a computer in one of the private study nooks in the Baltimore County Public Library. “There’s nothing but books around there. How’s that going to help us with teaching?”
“Shh,” Richards said as he worked. “I need to focus. I’m connecting to the internet.”
Richards turned to face Browning. “The internet. It’s a primitive linkage of computers that spanned the planet. It linked resources and information, and allowed people to communicate with each other. From this terminal, I can connect with an unlimited supply of informational resources. Even though it’s primitive, it’s still incredibly powerful.”
Browning nodded, and pointed at the monitor. “And, apparently, it will tell you how to double your penis in size.”
“What?” Richards looked at the screen, and the bright, colorful ad that had just popped up on it. “Wow.” He looked at Browning sheepishly. “Maybe later. Anyway, let’s get on the University computer system.”
“Yes. Baltimore University. They had several job openings in the paper. I should be able to log into their human resources system and give us a little…edge…in the application process.”
“Isn’t that…sort of wrong?”
“Do you want to get back to our time or not?” Richards snapped.
“Point taken, point taken,” Browning said, and stared at the ground a moment as Richards typed. “Say…how do you know how to do all this?”
“I’m an engineer,” Richards said flatly. “Plus, my parents gave me an internet to play with when I was six. It was a lot of fun.” He stared at the screen. “There! I’m in.”
Browning watched as Richards typed fast, moving from screen to screen in the University database system.
“Let’s see,” Richards said. “We’ll start with you. Credentials…hmmm…”
“I got my M.D. from Federation University.”
“F.U. hasn’t been built yet,” Richards said. “Hmm…I’ll just put in University of Maryland. I’m sure there is one.”
“Give me two degrees. I always wanted to study history.”
“Okay. Hmm…University of…”
“Sure.” Richards continued typing. “Wow, this is easy. Your specialty?”
Richards nodded as he tapped on the keys. “Right. Internal medicine.”
“You really think this will work?”
“Don’t you trust me?” Richards asked with a smile, and put his hand over Browning’s.
Browning looked at his hand. “Yeah.”
“C’mon…eat this…whatever this ‘gerber’ stuff is,” Baxter said, spooning orange mush into Steffie’s mouth as he sat on a bench outside the Baltimore County Public Library. Using some cash Peterman had stolen out of “Flo’s” wallet while the large woman had been sleeping, they’d gone to pick up some baby food, deodorant, and mouthwash. Necessities. And a chocolate candy bar for Dr. Browning.
Peterman walked up to Baxter and sat down beside him, as the sun shone over the bustling Baltimore city street. “Well, that does it. I want out of here.”
“Someone just…relieved himself…in the alley back there. I told him there was a bathroom in the library, but he just laughed at me.” She shivered. “He smelled like the swamp on Shaloma Three.”
“Eeew,” Baxter said, wrinkling his nose. “This is a disturbing time period.”
“We need to get out of here, Andy. Before we go crazy, get committed to an institution, and get stuck here…forever.”
Baxter draped an arm around Peterman as he held Steffie in the crook of the other arm. He squeezed them both tight. “Don’t worry, hon. We’ll get out of this. And if there’s any consolation, it’s that Bradley Dillon is out there somewhere, and I’m sure he’s just as miserable as we are.”
“More caviar, sir?”
“I don’t mind if I do,” Bradley Dillon said, sitting on the patio of the Baltimore Hilton Suites, eating a light lunch and reading the local paper, the Baltimore Sun, while a flute ensemble played light water music just inside the double doors of the hotel’s streetside cafe.
As he scanned the paper, Bradley’s eyes stopped immediately on a name. It wasn’t the name he really wanted, not Lexi, but one that was no less of interest:
BALTIMORE LOCAL BRADLEY DILLON TO HEADLINE
PERFORMANCE AT LYRIC OPERA HOUSE.
This was just the piece of news he was waiting for. He leaned forward, jiggling the table, and his chai tea, just a little, as he flipped to the second page, scanning for further mentions of his name. This was his past counterpart. The one he’d seen in the picture with Lexi, that picture he’d found on Waystation, the one he just knew the Directors had shown him. Why they did it, he didn’t know, but that wasn’t important. He knew when and where Lexi was, and even though her apartment had been a dead end, he knew if he monitored current events long enough, and stayed patient, he’d get the break in the case he needed. And here it was.
“He sings opera?” Bradley asked aloud, to nobody in particular. It wasn’t that surprising. His family was a cultured group, and he figured that it was only logical that good taste stretched back even to this primitive time.
The 21st Century Bradley’s performance was tonight, part of a recital featuring local music talent. Apparently, there was an influential music school in town, name of Peabody Conservatory, and according to the article, Bradley taught a music class there once a week.
“Good thing I have no plans tonight,” Bradley said again, to himself, and smiled as he folded up the paper and finished his chai tea. “I believe a night of music would do me a world of good.”
Truth be told, Bradley felt lonely. He knew that was the risk of this undertaking. Probably the least of a number of risks one took when traveling back in time to try and find the love of his life. Was he crazy for attempting this, or was this the only truly passionate thing he ever did?
Bradley considered all this as the well-manicured waiter scooped his dishes and cup off the table and nodded politely as Bradley pressed a $100 bill in his jacket pocket. Good thing the 21st century economy worked off something as simplistic as draft checking. All Bradley had to do was create one exquisitely forged check, made out for $2 million. Perhaps it had been excessive, but he would leave nothing to chance. He wired that check, on arriving, to an offshore bank account he’d researched before leaving the 24th century; one that was inconspicuous enough to be to his liking. Then he merely sat back and tapped into his account through a local bank branch, drawing down whatever sum he needed to get through the week.
Bradley stood, picked his trench coat off the nearby chair, and slipped it on, stepping off the brick patio and into the bustling street and the crisp autumn day.
All things considered, his trip was moving along nicely.
“A student assistant?” Baxter demanded, as Richards and Browning stepped down the library steps and joined Peterman and Baxter at the bench outside the library. “Are you kidding me?”
“It’s all they had left,” Richards shrugged. “You’re not really qualified for anything else. Unless you think you can teach eighteenth century Nordic literature.”
“I could have given it a try,” Baxter muttered.
“Just be glad you have a job,” Browning said. “Me and you are the only ones we could find slots for.”
“Great!” Peterman said. “On top of everything else, I’m a stay-at- home mom.”
“With any luck we won’t be staying at home for long,” Richards said. “These jobs are just temporary, just to give us some spending money while we search for Bradley, remember?”
“Exactly,” Baxter said, and glanced at Browning. “What’d you get?”
“Professor of Forensic Science. Forty thousand a year.”
“Thousand what?” Baxter asked. “Oh. Right. Dollars. Is that a lot?”
Browning grinned, handing Baxter a sheet of paper Richards had printed off, describing the student position. “It’s a lot more than you’re making, Andy.”
“Fine. Rub it in,” Baxter muttered, handing Steffie to Peterman and reading his page as the group walked off down the sidewalk. He read the list of duties. “Distribute promotional items. Set up student events. File. Fax. Copy.” Baxter grimaced as he read the report. “I’m a captain! And that’s the closest you could find to my work experience. Sounds like I’m damn secretary!”
“They were also looking for a Vice President for Academic Affairs. Think you could have done that?” Richards asked.
“Very funny.” Baxter looked up from his print-out. “How about our housing situation? Did you use that web thingy to get us something nice, maybe a six-bedroom mansion overlooking the Chesapeake bay?”
“First of all, the Chesapeake bay is forty miles away,” Richards said. “Second of all, I’m not a miracle worker. I got us into an apartment in the student housing complex across from main campus.”
“Just one apartment?” Peterman asked, clutching Steffie. “For four adults and a baby?”
“It’s two-bedroom,” Richards replied.
“Oh, well nevermind then. Sounds lovely.”
“We need to stick together,” Browning said. “The last thing we need is to be separated for very long. Who knows when the cavalry will come rescue us from the past. We want to be in one place when they come so we can get back to present day as soon as possible, right?”
“And the less we split up, the less likely we are to seriously damage the timeline,” Richards continued.
“Brilliant,” Baxter said. “Did you guys make any other unilateral decisions while you were in there?”
“Christopher downloaded some pornography,” Browning said with a smile.
“I did not!”
Bradley Dillon sat in the audience at the Lyric Opera House that night, stunned, as he watched his past counterpart sing.
It was truly beautiful, this man who looked remarkably like him, singing a perfect Verdi, complete with profound bass rhythms and a soaring accompaniment by the pit orchestra. Bradley was moved.
As his ancestor’s riveting performance concluded, the audience stood en masse, giving him a standing ovation. Bradley stood too, and clapped hard.
After the performance, Bradley waited in the alley behind the Opera House, glancing about from time to time to make sure no security officers were about. If being President of the Federation had taught him anything, it was that security was everywhere. Especially when there were important people about.
True, Past Bradley was only a local talent, and hadn’t reached even regional notoriety with his singing, but Future Bradley already liked him. The man had pure talent, and was obviously cultured and refined. He’d be extraordinarily helpful in finding Leximas. Of this, Bradley Dillon was sure.
The heavy metal doors at the back of the opera house opened up, and a man Bradley’s height stepped out, clad in a black trenchcoat and scarf. He glanced at Bradley as he stepped out toward Maryland Avenue. There was a flicker of recognition in his eyes.
“Bradley?” Bradley asked innocently.
The other Bradley’s eyebrows raised. He pushed his scarf down. “Yes. Do I know you?”
“It’s me. Your cousin! Frederick.”
Past Bradley scratched his head. “I’m not sure I know a cousin Frederick.”
“Of course you do. Aunt Elma’s son. The one who went away to Canada to study photosynthesis.”
“Ah,” Bradley said, nodding. “It’s starting to ring a bell.”
Research was a beautiful thing, Bradley thought with an inner grin. He stepped forward to shake Bradley’s hand. “I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your performance. You were terrific. I was in Baltimore on business and when I saw you’d be singing tonight. I just had to attend!”
“You’re too kind,” Past Bradley said smoothly. He stood there a few moments in silence. “What are your plans this evening? Would you like to get a cup of coffee? There’s a nice place just down the street.”
“Excellent idea,” Future Bradley said, wrapping an arm around Past Bradley. “I think we’ll have a lot to catch up on.”
Meanwhile, two streets over, Captain Andy Baxter looked up at the six-story brownstone on St. Paul Street and sighed.
“This is the best you could do,” he said flatly.
“When I have two hours and no money to work with,” Richards said. “Yes. This was the best I could do.”
“I think it’s cozy,” Browning said.
“Steffie just pooped,” Peterman pointed out.
“Shall we?” Richards asked, pointing toward the brownstone’s front door.
“What’s all that noise over there?” Browning asked, craning her neck to look down Mount Royal Ave. at the throngs of people milling about outside the downtown opera house.
“Some kind of performance letting out,” Baxter said, standing at the door and looking at the crowd. “I’m sure it was terribly dull.”
“Yeah,” Browning said, following Baxter up the steps. “You’re probably right.”
“Fascinating,” Bradley said, sliding the plate of watercress sandwiches toward his ancestor. They’d walked a few blocks over from the Lyric to a quaint Cafe on St. Paul Street, complete with dim lighting, wood paneling, and brass fixtures. The typical 21st Century locale. So…natural. “You say you’ve been singing since you were sixteen?” Bradley asked.
“Yes. I started during prep school.”
Bradley actually felt a little choked up. “Prep school. You’re such a Dillon.”
“Nothing. Just…I like you. You’re a good man.”
Past Bradley cocked his head. “Thank you. I’m…sure you are as well.”
“That remains to be seen,” Bradley said lightly. “So…you live alone?”
“Yes. In a small apartment a few blocks from here. Teaching and the occasional performance don’t allow for much more.”
Bradley arched an eyebrow. “Friends?”
“Do you have a good network of friends? Surely you must have a busy social life.”
“Practicing and preparing lesson plans keep me busy. There was…somebody…for a while, but I’ve been on my own for the most part since I moved here after college.”
“Tell me about this somebody?”
“Not much to tell.” Past Bradley smiled wistfully. “She was quite amazing, though. A one of a kind woman.”
“I know the type.” Bradley leaned forward, clasping his hands in front of him. “Continue, please.”
“Lexi was…well, she had a…” He took a breath. “How should I put this? Otherworldly quality.”
“I can only imagine.”
“You must think I’m quite mad.”
“Not at all. I’ve known an otherworldly woman or two in my life.”
“She and I became very close over the last few years. We met in such odd circumstances. I came across her on a street corner, being accosted by a police officer. She seemed disoriented, like she wasn’t sure if she belonged.”
“On that corner. On that street. On Earth.” Past Bradley shook his head. “She seemed detached. And I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had to intervene on her behalf.”
“And you became friends…” Bradley had already read all this in his family journals. The very journal his ancestor would one day make entries in.
“We became very good friends. A better friend I’ve never had.” He stared off beyond Bradley now, looking out into the wet night. Rain had begun to patter down. “She was probably my best friend. Those are hard to come by.”
Future Bradley nodded. “They are.”
“You do what you can to keep them, but in the end, some people are only in your life for a short time and then…poof!” He made an explosive gesture with his fingers. “Gone.” He smiled wistfully. “She was like that.”
“And you haven’t tried to find her?”
“Why would I?” Bradley asked. “I know just where she went.”
Future Bradley’s eyes went wide. This was where the holes were in his records of 21st Century Earth. He didn’t even know Lexi had left, much less where she’d gone. It was as if that part of history hadn’t been written yet. “Where? Where did she go?”
Past Bradley eyed his descendant strangely. “Do you…do you know this woman?”
“Only others like her. Now, I need to know. Where did she go?”
“Why do you care?”
“Because I know, if I were you, I’d want to find her.”
“She doesn’t want to be found. She wanted to disappear,” Past Bradley said. “And I’m willing to let her. One day, quite recently, she just…left.” He looked away a moment, as if gathering memories. “Yes. She told me she regretted leaving, but that an urgent matter had come up, and that her obligations were elsewhere. I respect that.”
“Elsewhere where?” Bradley asked.
“Montana,” Bradley said. “A place called Ismay.”
Future Bradley raised an eyebrow. “Ismay, you say?”
“But whatever she’s running from, I hope it doesn’t find her. And I hope, however illogically, that I might one day see her again.”
“Me too,” Bradley said, and stood. “I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’m…needed elsewhere.” He tossed a $100 bill on the table. Allow me.”
“That’s not necessary, Frederick,” Bradley called after him as he dashed for the door of the small, dim cafe. “This is too much money. You don’t have to leave so soon, I…”
But Bradley was already out the door, and his ancestor was left standing there, staring at a crisp $100 bill. “Was it something I said?” he asked quietly.
Bradley walked briskly down St. Paul Street. He had some thinking to do. His ancestor was hiding something, to be sure. And the last thing Bradley wanted to do was squander this vital contact. He needed to let Past Bradley stew in his juices for an evening. Perhaps more about Lexi’s disappearance would occur to him.
At the appropriate time, Bradley would visit his ancestor again, and extract the appropriate information. It was like a corporate takeover. Neat, tidy. A surgical affair. Past Bradley had the information he needed, and he’d get it. His plan was still viable. No reason to worry.
That’s when Bradley heard the squeal of a baby crying from a building on the other side of the street. It wasn’t just any baby’s cry. It was a very famliar, high-pitched, nagging squeal. One he’d heard many a time during his senior briefings, every other Wednesday, when Captain Baxter had drawn babysitting duty.
Bradley glanced uneasily up at the open third floor window, and the woman who leaned over to shut it. It was Counselor Peterman.
His eyes widened. Damn them! In the whole city, how could he come this close to them?
Briefly, Bradley felt a twinge of regret. He hadn’t meant to drag Baxter, Peterman, Browning and Richards, not to mention the child, back in time with him. But they’d followed him of their own accord. He wasn’t responsible for them. They were resourceful folk. Look, they already had an apartment! They would be fine. And, eventually, the Explorer people would probably come back in time to find them. It was just a matter of…time.
Bradley shrugged as he quickened his pace to get around the corner and down the street as soon as possible. He was too close to success to be spotted now. And who knew what kind of reception he’d get from Baxter and company.
The fact was, he’d have to work quickly. Because, even if Baxter and the others didn’t get rescued, they’d be looking for him. He couldn’t risk being found.
The others could labor away in Baltimore a while longer. They wouldn’t hurt anything. And, if they were still stuck here when he completed his mission, he’d just swing back by and collect them. He still had his time travel device, and had every intention of using it to get back once he had Leximas. Then the whole group, Leximas included, would return to the 24th Century. Everyone would get what they wanted.
The U.S.S. Explorer’s Red Alert klaxons rang loudly in Captain Baxter’s ears as he sat in the command chair, gripping the arms as the massive vessel lurched.
“Emergency power to shields. Protect the flanks!” he ordered Lt. J’hana, who worked quickly at tactical to carry out his orders. “Helm: Offensive pattern Baxter Gamma Three. Engage!”
“Andy, we’re outnumbered,” Counselor Peterman said from Baxter’s left, gently touching his knee. “We should go.”
“Yes,” Doctor Janice Browning said, from Baxter’s right, also touching his knee. “Andy, we should go.”
Baxter stood, stepped forward. “No way. I’m going to see this thing through. On screen. Let’s have a look at who we’re fighting.”
On the viewscreen, a massive, rectangular grey vessel floated in space, an array of blinking red docking lights (or possibly weapons?) along its black face.
“Load quantum torpedoes and fire when ready,” Baxter said, leaning forward on the helm chair as Lt. Madera steered the Explorer around the massive vessel. As the long side of the behemoth ship came into view, Baxter realized those docking lights were actually some sort of massive blinking numerals.
“What…what on Earth is that?” Baxter gasped.
“It reads six-thirty a.m., Captain,” J’hana said. “Time to get up, baby!”
Baxter turned back toward J’hana. “WHAT?”
“Time to get up, baby!” Counselor Peterman said cheerily, rocking Baxter. “Time for your first day of work.”
Baxter leaned up out of bed, looking around the dimly lit bedroom in their pre-furnished student apartment. Spartan didn’t even cover the college accommodations. Baxter was forced to wonder why anyone even went to college if the facilities were no better than this one.
“Have we managed to do anything about clothes yet?”
“Chris and Janice are at the laundry facility now. They should be back in time for the two of you to head off to work,” Peterman said.
“I’m still not sure how ethical it is to steal people’s clothes from a laundry facility.”
“It’s not ethical at all,” Peterman said. “But I doubt it will disturb the timeline if somebody loses a few pairs of boxers.”
Baxter wrinkled his nose. “Eeeew. I’ll have to wear somebody else’s boxers.”
“I think that’s the least of our problems right now. Anyway, at least the stuff will be clean.”
Baxter nodded. “I guess.” He leaned up and stretched. “Have you tried the shower yet?”
Peterman nodded. “Can’t you tell by my flat hair and callow, wet face?”
“Well, I did try it. And it was awful. And soggy. And the hot water ran out. Did you know they didn’t have unlimited hot water in the twenty-first century?”
“It was a brutal time,” Baxter said.
“Can the sarcasm and get your shower,” Peterman said. “I’ve got to go hustle some baby food for our daughter.”
“How are you going to manage that?”
“I’m going to go knocking on some doors around here making very cute faces until a college student gives me some food. Or some money. Or both.”
“You think that will work?”
Peterman unzipped the front of her tunic a little bit. “I’m sure it will. Why do you think I took a shower?”
Baxter shivered. “Try not to look…too cute, honey.”
“No promises,” Peterman said, kissed Baxter on the cheek, and dashed out of the apartment.
“I can’t believe Kelly got so much food for us,” Browning said, as she and Baxter made the two-block hike to Baltimore University. “Two cold pizzas and two two-liter-sized bottles of fizzy beverage.”
“I think it was called ‘doo.’”
“Mountan Doo,” Browning corrected.
“Whatever was in that stuff, I feel great,” Baxter said, blinking. “Very, awake. Almost… mossy.”
“Good stuff.” Browning nodded.
“Almost enough to make me forget my clothes are all two sizes too small.”
Browning giggled as she glanced at Baxter’s skintight polo shirt and jeans. “Beggars can’t be choosers when you’re stealing from a laundry, Andy.”
Baxter wriggled. “It wouldn’t be so bad if the underwear didn’t ride up so much. These aren’t like boxers at all. They’re tight. And white. Don’t they have a phrase for such a thing?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” Browning scoffed, smoothing her plaid skirt and white silk blouse. “I think I look cute.”
Baxter coughed. “You do.”
Browning glanced at Baxter askance. “What is that now, Captain?”
“I do believe you called me cute.”
“So what if I did. We’re friends. I can call you cute if I want.”
“Sure enough,” Browning said. And the next few moments the pair was left in silence, until the pair reached campus.
“I love my wife, Janice,” Baxter blurted.
“I love her too,” Browning said softly, and looked at Baxter.
“Good, then. Well! Have a good day at work!” And Baxter dashed off across the campus plaza. He wasn’t sure if he was headed in the right direction, but at that moment, it didn’t really matter.
Later that morning, just prior to lunch time, Baxter yawned as he sat behind the desk in the Student Activities Office, waiting for the next confused college student to enter the office.
This was somebody’s idea of hell.
“How are you managing, Andy?” asked the sweet-faced, middle-aged woman in charge of the office, who Baxter had come to know as Diane Lerner. She’d stuck her head out of her office for the first time that morning, having been in meetings with a number of students while Baxter watched the front desk.
“Copier is over there, twenty-five cents a copy,” Baxter recited. “Free pretzels for anyone who signs up for student elections, and no open flames on the quad.” Whatever the hell a “quad” was.
“Great job,” Lerner said, and showed her thumb to Baxter again. He knew what “thumbs up” meant. They still did that in the 24th Century. But they seemed to do it way too often in the 21st century, at least for Baxter’s tastes.
“Feel free to use the computer to check your e-mail if it gets slow out here. And thanks for covering the desk on your first day,” Lerner said, and ducked back into her office.
Baxter nodded dumbly. He had no idea what e-mail was. He’d heard Richards mention something about it, but hadn’t particularly paid attention.
He leaned back in his chair and looked around the fancifully decorated office. So many posters advertising events–concerts, poetry readings, comedians and the like. They had nothing like this at Starfleet Academy. The closest thing was the occasional Parises Square Match, or whenever they’d bring a drunken, out-of-shape, badly aging crewmember from the Enterprise A or B to talk about their adventures. But generally, folks at the Academy were left to their own devices. At Baltimore University, Baxter quickly surmised, an entire office existed for the pure purpose of enhancing students’ out-of-classroom lives. What a waste.
“Excuse me,” a voice said, prompting Baxter to look up. A thickly built, short, dark-haired man with beady eyes stood on the opposite side of the desk. He looked at Baxter askance, grinning. “I wonder if you could help me with the copier. It seems to be out of order.”
“You’ll have to call auxiliary sevices,” Baxter said, reaching under the desk for the University phone directory. He’d quickly mastered the art of diffused responsibility. So many student complaints were simply not his problem. Maybe he would excel at this job after all. He paged through the directory, looking for the appropriate number, but the man put his hand down on top of the directory before Baxter could turn another page.
“I’ve already tried. They’re all out to lunch.”
“Really?” Baxter asked. “Peculiar. You’ll have to leave a message.”
“Could you come take a look at the machine?” the man asked with an imploring grin. “It’ll only take a moment. And I’m dreadfully late copying a paper for my professor. You know how it is….”
Baxter nodded along, but he really didn’t. “Sure, I guess I can look at it.” He’d made minor starship repairs before. How hard could a copier be? He just hoped he wouldn’t have to access its e-mail or anything.
“I’m going to go help a student, Diane,” Baxter called out. “Be back in a few.”
“Take your time!” Lerner called from her office. “And please, call me Diane!”
“Oh…kay…” Baxter said slowly, and followed the student to the study lounge next door where the copier was located. “Say, sir, if you don’t mind me asking…aren’t you a little old to be attending school?”
“Aren’t you?” the man asked as he led Baxter to the copier.
Baxter cringed. The man had a point. He WAS supposed to be a “student” assistant. “I guess.”
“The word is ‘non-traditional’ student. You should learn it well,” the man said as he closed the door to the lounge behind Baxter. “You’ll be a student for a while.”
“I don’t know about that.”
The man glanced around the lounge. It was empty. He looked at Baxter, and his face suddenly relaxed into a wide grin. “Just joshing you, Captain!” and he laughed uproariously, elbowing Baxter in the side.
“Captain?” Baxter felt his antique collar, as if unsure if he was wearing his pips. Even so, who on 21st Century Earth would be able to interpret Starfleet rank? They would probably be as confused as he was by the red swatch of cloth around men’s necks, called “ties.”
“Yes, yes. I know who you are,” the man said, stepping closer to Baxter. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain Baxter. Your temporal activity file is quite thick.”
“You’re…you’re from Temporal Investigations? From the twenty- fourth century?”
“No, no,” the man said, and laughed. “That weak, antiquated body from your time only investigates temporal incursions. We do something about them.”
“You’re…” Baxter narrowed his eyes at the man. “You’re from the twenty-NINTH century! I’ve heard about you people.”
He stuck his hand out. “Name’s Clive. Captain of the Timeship Retroactive.”
Baxter dropped to his knees, grabbing the man’s hands. “Thank the Great Bird! I thought we were stuck here!”
“We’d never let that happen, Captain. As you know, temporal incursions pollute the timestream. We must prevent them. It’s unnatural.”
“Right, right. Kind of like the Prime Directive. Can’t mess up the timeline.” Baxter scrambled to his feet. “Thank you, Clive. I can’t wait to go back and tell the others. We weren’t sure if we were ever going to leave.” He turned, and as he did, Clive clamped a hand down on his shoulder.
“Not so fast there, sport,” Clive said with a chuckle.
Baxter turned. “What?”
“I have a couple questions to ask you. Where is Bradley Dillon?”
“Shouldn’t you know that?”
“I was just wondering if you did.” Clive pulled a sleek, small grey padd out of his jacket pocket and made some notes on it. “For the record.”
“I have no idea where he is. We’ve been trying to find him for weeks.”
“And, if I hadn’t intervened, you might never find him. And since he has the only device in this time period capable of propelling you forward in time, you could conceivably live out the rest of your life here.”
Baxter nodded. “That’s right. But we don’t have to worry about that anymore. Because you’re here. Right?”
Clive smiled even wider as he shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t help you there, Captain.”
“But you just said…?”
“I had to be sure. To be sure the threat of re-insertion was minimal.”
“Into your prior timeframe. The good news is that Bradley does plan on helping you get back to your time, eventually. The bad news is, according to my data, that will never happen. Events here will conspire to make that outcome a near impossibility. My calculations put the odds of you returning to your own time without help from the future at point zero three three. A manageable risk.”
Baxter stared at Clive. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Clive showed the padd he’d been writing on to Baxter. “I just deleted your file. When I return to my time, there will be no trace of evidence you were ever here. Any records of your existence in this time period in our historical databanks will be purged. My superiors will never know you never made it back to your time. Furthermore, your contemporaries in the twenty-fourth century haven’t the vaguest clue that you’re here. So you’re stuck. Your presence in the twenty-fourth century was a roadblock to my success. And I’m happy to say it’s now been removed. And that means I can now move forward unencumbered.”
Baxter’s hands balled into fists. He gritted his teeth. “Move forward…with…what?”
“Restoring my family name. Returning the Conway name to respectability. Something that will be a hell of a lot easier without the Baxters running around hogging all the glory.”
“Conway?” Baxter asked, and his jaw dropped. “CONWAY?”
“Yes,” Clive said, and gently patted Baxter on the head. “With you out of the way, I can set a series of events into motion which will propel your former first officer into the galactic spotlight. He’ll finally be somebody. And, by association, so will I. Thanks for taking this like a champ, Captain. Generations of Conways thank you!”
“SON OF A BITCH!” Baxter cried out, leaping at the man, thrashing with both arms. But he merely slammed into the wall behind him, having fallen right through him.
“Did I mention that I’m just a temporal hologram?” Clive asked, turning to face Baxter. “Gravitic fields allow me to interact with normal matter in this time period. I can touch you. You can’t touch me. Convenient, eh?” He patted Baxter gently on the cheek. “I’ll give the future your regards.”
Baxter’s chest heaved as he pounded the wall of the student lounge. “Conway!”
“Have a nice life!” And Clive suddenly dematerialized with an electronic “pop!”
Baxter stared at the ceiling. “COWAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
Still reeling from the news received at the end of Part One, the crew must race to assemble a time machine from some spare parts in order to get back to their rightful century. But it may surprise you where they go to find those parts. Let’s just say they dip into their past…(sorry, had to do it)