Author: Alan Decker
Taking the steps two at a time, Captain Andy Baxter charged up to the third floor apartment he now shared with the other time-lost members of his crew. This lasted until about the second floor landing, when, out of breath, Baxter switched to something more along the lines of a gradual upward trudge.
Damn the 21st century and its stairs.
While he was at it, he should probably damn that whole pizza, which had currently formed a boulder in his stomach, he had for lunch.
Reaching the third floor, Baxter gasped a couple of times for air, then lunged for his apartment door…
…and smashed himself painfully against it.
Damn the 21st century and its non-automatically-opening doors.
Baxter fumbled for his keys and finally burst into his hovel-away- from-home. The only good thing he could say about the Baltimore University student apartment they’d rented was that it was furnished. Unfortunately, the furnishings, plates, sheets, and everything else left much to be desired.
“We’re on our own!” he announced. “If we’re going to get back to our time, we’re going to have to find a way to do it ourselves!”
Yes, Baxter had just delivered bad news, but then finding out from 29th Century Timeship Captain and all-around bastard Clive Conway that he was erasing their temporal file, effectively leaving them trapped in the 21st century hadn’t exactly been a thrill for Baxter either. But somehow knowing that they effectively had a mission to save themselves had left him feeling more energized and captainly than he’d had since their arrival in Baltimore, Maryland 2003. They were in peril, and he had to take command.
Unfortunately there was no one around to take command of. The apartment’s living room was completely empty.
“Hello?” Baxter called to no avail.
Sighing, Baxter plopped down on the room’s ratty sofa, a piece of furniture that had obviously seen better days and most likely some activities that Baxter didn’t care to think about, grabbed the remote control from the equally ratty coffee table, and clicked on the TV, finally settling on The Maury Povich Show. It was just amazing to him how many women in this time didn’t know who had fathered their children. At least kind souls like Maury were there to help them sort things out.
Baxter’s eyes glazed over as the spectacle before him commenced. Ten minutes later, he was sound asleep.
Baxter jolted awake some time later as several wet drips hit him in the face. Before he could even get his eyes open, he was hit by the most hideous stench he had ever encountered in any century.
Lifting his lids, he came face-to-face with the source of both the drips and the odor. Steffie. Upon seeing her daddy awake, the baby, who was currently being held over Baxter by his wife, Counselor Kelly Peterman, smiled and cooed, sending a fresh stream of drool onto her father. Wow he’d be glad when this whole teething/drooling phase was over.
The stench was a whole other matter entirely.
“Your turn,” Peterman said, pushing Steffie toward Baxter. “I’ve changed three poos today already. The baby food in this century just doesn’t agree with her wittle tummy.”
“No kidding,” Baxter gagged, taking his daughter and rising from the sofa. He raced into the apartment’s lone bathroom and began the task of de-toxifying Steffie’s rear end. This was one diaper that was going straight to the dumpster out in back of the building. Even there Baxter was afraid that they would still be able to smell it.
“How was work?” Peterman called from the living room.
“Okay,” Baxter replied. “I have some news.”
“Yeah, but I want to wait and tell everyone at once.”
“Uh huh,” Peterman said distractedly. “Great bird!” she exclaimed a few moments later.
“Hasn’t anyone in this century heard of birth control?”
“How many potential dad’s does this kid have?”
“This Maury is some kind of saint for helping all of these people.”
“Sure is,” Baxter said, emerging from the bathroom with their cleaned, scrubbed, and disinfected daughter. “Where were you two?”
“Out for a walk. You can’t expect me to keep Steffie cooped up in here all day,” Peterman replied.
“Is the air out there safe for her?”
“Safer than in here. Besides, Janice can give all of our lungs a good purging when we get back to the Explorer.”
“Unbelievable,” Commander Chris Richards said, tossing the apartment door open in a huff. “I’ve rebuilt a warp engine from the ground up, and these primates won’t even let me under the hood of an automobile.”
“No offense, Chris, but have you ever seen a car engine?” Baxter asked.
“I could figure it out,” Richards snapped. “It’s internal combustion. We’re not talking quantum physics here.”
“And it’s a good thing, too,” Dr. Janice Browning said happily, coming in the open door behind Richards. “That stuff always put me to sleep.”
“Looks like someone had a good day,” Peterman said, taking Steffie from Baxter and snuggling the child close to her body as Richards threw himself into the living room’s ancient arm chair.
“I’ve got students!” Browning exclaimed. “And they’re so attentive! I swear they write down every word I say. It’s like I’m a god.”
“Close enough,” Baxter said. “You control their grades, which from what I could tell from the students I talked to today is basically the same thing.”
Browning grabbed a seat on the sofa beside Peterman and tickled Steffie’s chin. “I want to get back to the Explorer and all, but this job is going to be a fun way to spend my time until they find us.”
Baxter paced the floor a little bit, “Yeah. About that. We’re not going to be found.”
“What?” his officers replied with the appropriate mix of confusion and indignation.
“I had a visit today from a 29th century timeship captain who would rather that we stayed here. He’s erased our temporal incident file, so no one from that time will know that anything is wrong with the timestream.”
“Why would he do that?” Peterman demanded.
“His name was Clive Conway,” Baxter said.
“Conway. I’m going to kill him. Him being David, I mean. And this Clive too if I get at him,” Peterman said.
“Wait,” Browning said. “That doesn’t explain why he or Dave would want to strand us here.”
“Clive didn’t tell me everything, but he did say something to do with getting us out of the way so that Dave can be propelled into the galactic spotlight.”
“He said ‘galactic spotlight’?” Richards asked.
“Those were his exact words.”
“Hold on,” Peterman said. “Was this your news?”
“Yeah,” Baxter replied.
“You didn’t think this was important enough to tell me right away?”
“I only wanted to have to explain it once.”
“Andy! We’re trapped in the Dark Ages! You should have told me as soon as you saw me!”
“I wanted to, but none of you were here! And this isn’t the Dark Ages! The Dark Ages didn’t have television!”
“I don’t care about the damn television. I WANT TO GO HOME!!!” Peterman screamed, prompting an even louder scream from Steffie.
“Ohh. I’m sorry, sweetie,” Peterman said soothingly as she got up from the sofa. “Let me put her down for a nap, and then we can discuss this.”
“Discuss it?” Baxter muttered once Peterman was back in their bedroom and safely out of earshot. “I’m going to give some orders. That’s what I’m gonna do.”
By the time Peterman had convinced Steffie to give in and take a nap, twenty minutes had passed, and Baxter’s determination to give some orders had given way to interest in an episode of a show called Friends. In Baxter’s defense, Richards and Browning were watching as well.
“Nice to see all of that Starfleet training isn’t going to waste,” Peterman said, surveying the group.
“You were taking too long. We got bored,” Browning replied without looking away from the screen.
“We didn’t want you to miss anything,” Baxter added.
“Nice of you,” Peterman mumbled. She gave them about thirty seconds to come back to the matter at hand, then, seeing that they were all completely entranced by the television, she strode into the center of the living room and shut the thing off.
“Hey!” Baxter, Browning, and Richards complained.
“Plan!” Peterman snapped.
“Oh yeah,” Baxter said, pulling himself up off of the sofa. Finally it was time to give some orders. “As I was saying, our temporal record has been erased, and the Explorer probably thinks we’re dead. Help isn’t coming, so if we’re going to get out of this, we’re going to have to get ourselves out.”
“How are we going to do that?” Peterman asked.
“Chris’s going to build us a time machine.”
Richards choked. “I am?”
“We have faith in you.”
“And you’re the only engineer,” Browning said.
“You tell us what you need, and we’ll find a way to get it,” Baxter said.
“Oookay. How about a starship capable of performing the slingshot maneuver?” Richards said.
“I’ll try, Andy, but I really can’t promise anything. Time travel isn’t my field. Hell, with the materials available in this time, I couldn’t even build things in my field. I hope you have a backup plan.”
“I do,” Baxter said. “Find President Dillon.”
“Wasn’t that our original plan?” Browning asked.
“Yes, and I don’t think it’s going to be any easier than building our own time machine. We don’t know where Bradley is or what he’s doing, and we don’t have any resources really to find him. We have to start somewhere, though, so I think we should monitor the news and look for some sign of him.”
“Monitor the news,” Peterman said. “Turn the television back on, you mean.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Baxter said, aiming the remote and hitting the power button. “And remember, people, Bradley Dillon could be anywhere.”
About an hour later, Bradley Dillon (21st century version and not the one Baxter and company wanted to find) reached the second floor of his apartment building and heading down the hallway and around the corner, flipping through his mail as he went. Bill. Bill. Ad. Bill. Credit card offer. The usual.
Sensing something unusual, he looked up and spotted a familiar man leaning against the wall beside his apartment door.
“Cousin Frederick!” 21st century Bradley said surprised.
“Cousin Bradley,” 24th century Bradley Dillon replied with a gracious nod of his head. “How nice to see you again. Mind if I come inside?”
“Not at all,” Past Bradley said unconvincingly as he unlocked and opened his door. “I thought you were off to Montana.”
“I was,” President Dillon said following his ancestor inside the small, but clean and tastefully decorated apartment. Framed reprints of posters advertising 18th and 19th century opera performances covered the walls. Glancing into the bedroom, Bradley spotted another framed reprint poster, this one from the White Star Line advertising the Titanic. Bradley couldn’t help but smile. The presence of Titanic memorabilia confirmed something Bradley had suspected since the previous evening. Too bad he couldn’t tell this Bradley that he’d actually been on board the doomed ship. There were other issues to attend to, though.
“I actually got onto the first flight out this morning,” Bradley continued. “But a cross-country airline flight gives you time to think. Time that I should have taken before rushing west in the first place. I got as far as Chicago and booked a flight back.”
“What did you think about?” Past Bradley asked nervously.
“Some about what you told me, but mostly about money.”
“You should always pay attention to money, Bradley. For example, how does a woman with no resources come to have enough of it to purchase land in Montana? Of course, it really should have been obvious to me as soon as you told me the name of the town. Ismay, Montana. J. Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line. It seems we both share an interest in a certain disaster.”
Part Bradley blanched.
“It’s a real town.”
“I don’t doubt it, but Lexi’s not there, is she?”
“Why do you care so much, Frederick? You don’t even know her.”
Bradley sighed. “I’m afraid I haven’t been fully honest with you, cousin. The universe is an amazing place, and you and I have both been fortunate enough to get to know Lexi. We come from a charmed family to have been so lucky. I knew her long before she came to Baltimore, but I foolishly let her slip away without ever telling her how I felt. It’s funny. When you’re with someone everyday, it just seems easier to leave things as they are. You see each other. You spend time together. Why take the risk of rejection and reveal your feelings? You’re with her, and that’s what matters. But life doesn’t often allow the status quo to remain unchallenged, and before you know it, she’s gone.
“It’s taken me a long time and more effort than you will ever know to follow her this far. This is my one chance to make things right.” Bradley put his hands on his ancestor’s arms and stared into his eyes imploringly. “If you know where she is, please…please tell me. I need to fix this.”
“She wouldn’t tell me,” Past Bradley muttered, looking away. “All she said was that she couldn’t be here anymore and that it wasn’t because of me. You’re right about her finances. Lexi didn’t have much. She managed to afford a small apartment and worked at the Goodwill thrift store. The customers loved her. They’d come in just to talk to her.”
Bradley nodded smiling slightly. “She does have that effect on people.”
“About a week before she said she had to leave, she started acting…well…agitated. She sold everything, gave up her apartment, and moved in with me. At least I thought she was moving in. A couple of days later, she gave me the news that she was leaving the city. I gave her what money I could. It wasn’t much. Just a few hundred dollars. Then I took her to the bus station and watched her ride away on a Greyhound bound for Memphis. That was nine days ago.”
“How long does it take a bus to get to Memphis?” Bradley asked.
“What? Er…I don’t know. Two, maybe three days.”
“And we can be there in a few hours.”
“We?” Past Bradley said. “I can’t…”
“All of your expense will be paid, Bradley. I can more than afford it, and I need your help. I’ve been in Canada, remember. You know this country better than I do.”
“I would like to see Lexi again.”
“Of course you would,” Bradley said. “Now pack your bags.”
Commander Richards made one more futile attempt to arrange the window shade such that no light from the street lamps shone into the cramped bedroom he shared with Dr. Browning, who was currently settled into the room’s double bed and resting quietly in the dark…dark except for the stream of light now falling directly on Richards’s pillow anyway. He sighed and pulled the shade more to the left, putting the outside glow onto the far wall.
“That’s as good as it gets,” Richards said, stomping back to the bed and sliding beneath the covers.
“It’s fine,” Browning said. “But how are you?”
“Uh huh. Is that why you were in such a huff when I got home? That’s not like you, Chris. You never were much for anger.”
“I don’t like being useless.”
“You’re not useless.”
“Tell that to the all the employers who didn’t hire me.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’ve got a time machine to build now.”
“You’ll find a way, Chris.” Once upon a time, he and Browning had shared a bed regularly, but now…now it was just uncomfortable to be so close to a woman that he had once been so intimate with. A woman with whom he once had no boundaries. They hadn’t been a couple for years, but it was hard to know that the freedom they once had with each other no longer existed. When you’ve been so close to someone, it’s hard to backtrack and suddenly have boundaries.
“Sure,” he said, turning away from Browning. “Get some sleep.”
“You too. Good night.”
“Night.” Richards was still for approximately ten seconds, then yanked himself out of bed.
“What’s wrong?” Browning asked.
“Can’t sleep,” he replied, opening the door. “See you later,” he added, closing the door again and leaving brown alone.
Richards found Baxter sitting on the sofa. The television was on and muted, but Baxter didn’t seem to be paying it any attention. Instead, the cracks in the opposite wall seemed to have all of his interest.
“Hey,” Baxter muttered.
“Yeah,” Richards said, plopping down onto the sofa beside him.
The pair sat silently for a few moments.
“We’re missing something,” Baxter said finally.
“The why. I can’t figure out the why.”
“I have no idea what that means,” Richards said.
“It’s something Clive Conway indirectly pointed out to me. People generally travel back in time to change things to improve their lives. He’s helping Dave become important or something like that, which will end up helping Clive, I’d imagine.”
“Makes sense, I guess. So what?”
“So pretend you’re Bradley Dillon. You’re one of the richest people in the universe. You’re president of the Federation. You’ve got everything. What could you possibly want to go back in time to change? It doesn’t make a bit of sense to me. Why is he here?”
“Maybe here isn’t where he wanted to be,” Richards said. “Maybe our presence in the temporal vortex messed up his destination.”
Baxter shook his head. “In that case, I’d think he would be working with us to get back. Besides, he was dressed for this era when we saw him last. He’s got something else in mind.” Baxter leaned back against the sofa and sighed. “That’s really my problem. I’m not a plan guy, Chris. I usually just do what comes to mind in any given situation. Our line of work doesn’t really lend itself to thinking several moves ahead. But Bradley, he’s a planner. Look at this whole situation. Bradley had this thing planned out from the day we picked him up at Waystation, probably far earlier than that. He may not have known exactly how to deal with the Bast, but he knew his eventual goal. Right now he’s out there with money and documents and probably 24th century technology, while we sit here broke with a TV and a refrigerator that won’t go below 50 degrees. How the hell are we supposed to find him?”
“The same way I’m going to build a time machine,” Richards said. “We’ll blunder along until we get it done.”
“Just once I’d like to leave out the blundering.”
“We wouldn’t be us then.”
Captain Baxter awoke the next morning to the smell of bacon wafting through the apartment. Careful not to disturb Peterman or Steffie in bed beside him, he slid out from under the covers, got to his feet, and tiptoed out of the bedroom.
In the apartment’s cramped kitchen, Browning was whistling happily to herself as she orchestrated the cooking contents of multiple skillets and a toaster that wasn’t there the night before.
“Good morning!” she said brightly upon spotting Baxter.
“Wha…Where did this come from?”
“I woke up early and went for a walk. Did you know that there are places that will advance you cash if you have a job write them a check dated after you get your paycheck?”
“You wrote someone a check?” Baxter asked in shock. “You had a check?”
“Yeah. I opened a bank account on the way home from work yesterday, but with all the excitement about Clive and all, I forgot to mention it. There really isn’t anything in the account yet, but there will be once we get paychecks rolling in.”
“Hopefully we’re not going to be here long enough to have paychecks rolling in. And that still doesn’t explain where this food came from.”
“I told you,” Browning said. “I wrote a check to the 24 hour cash advance place, and they gave me cash. Then I went and bought food at the 24 hour grocery. Isn’t great that so many places here are open 24 hours a day?”
“I think you’re liking this era a little too much,” Baxter said.
“Considering it’s getting you fed, I don’t think you mind,” Browning replied, pulling a plate out of the cabinet, which she expertly filled with eggs, bacon, home fries, and a couple of pieces of toast and set down before Baxter.
“You know me too well,” Baxter said smiling.
“I like to think so,” Browning said, brushing a hand along his shoulder. The touch sent a tingle down Baxter’s spine. It was a rush he hadn’t felt in far too long.
“And I’ve got a surprise,” Browning continued. “Close your eyes.” Baxter did so and heard the refrigerator opening and closing. A few seconds later, he heard a plate being set down on the table in front of them. “Okay. Open them.”
Baxter opened, and gasped happily before he could stop himself. It was a grapefruit. A beautiful, juicy half of a grapefruit laid out before him and ready to be devoured.
“You are a goddess,” Baxter said.
“Isn’t she, though?” Richards said, stumbling out of his room over to the table. “Leave it to Janice to find a way to give us a good meal even in the worst of circumstances.”
“These are hardly the worst of circumstances,” Browning said.
“Could have fooled me,” Peterman said, emerging from her room.
“No, Janice’s right,” Baxter said between rapidly alternating bites of grapefruit and the other goodies Browning had prepared. “Things could be a lot worse. At least we ended up stuck in an era we’ve visited before. Granted, it was 1995 last time we were here, but things don’t seem to have changed too much. We can handle this, and I firmly believe we have a fighting chance to get back home.”
“Do you really believe that, or are you just trying to be captainy?” Peterman asked.
“I believe it,” Baxter replied firmly. “And I suggest all of you start believing it too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take a shower and get to work. I have a doughnut buffet to set up before 9:30.”
“Oh good lord,” Past Bradley muttered with dread as he surveyed the scene before him. “How could she… How… Ewwwww.”
“My sentiments exactly,” President Dillon said, trying to gather up enough courage to actually take a step forward into the den of horrors that was the Memphis, Tennessee bus terminal. Various unkempt looking individuals lay slouched in chairs throughout the room, each watching the oddly-clean new arrivals walk into the terminal. Trash cans stood around the room overflowing with garbage as though the janitorial staff had long ago given up making Bradley even more glad he’d decided to use the restroom at the Memphis airport before they rented the car and drove here.
“How do we do this?” Past Bradley asked.
“First, try not to act out of place.”
“I think we’re too late on that one.”
Bradley looked around the room again. “Forget I said that. We couldn’t look like we belonged here if we tried. Do you have the picture?”
“Yep,” Past Bradley said, retrieving a photo of him and Lexi from his pocket.
“Good. We’ll start with the employees. Hopefully one of them will recognize her.”
Bradley and Past Bradley strode through the aisles of waiting passengers (doing their best to ignore the rather interesting odors emanating from several of them) and approached the mid-50s aged woman manning the ticket counter.
“Excuse me, madam,” Bradley said, slipping into full charm mode. “My associate and I were hoping that you would be able to help us in a matter of the heart.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” the desk clerk, whose name tag helpfully identified her as Edie, snapped. “You think I’m some kind of rent-a-slut?”
“Not at all,” Bradley said quickly. “The matter I refer to concerns a lost love.” Past Bradley placed the picture on the counter. “She left town without saying goodbye, and now we are desperate to find her.”
“Maybe she was trying to get away from ya’ll two.”
“Please,” Past Bradley said. “Have you seen her? She probably got here a week ago.”
Edie stared at Past Bradley for a second, rolled her eyes, then took another look at the picture. “Nope. But then I ain’t always here. Johnnie!” she called suddenly.
“Yeah,” a man shouted from the back room behind the counter.
“Come ‘ere a sec!”
“All right. Hang on.”
A few moments later, Johnnie, who was a heavyset middle-aged man in a rumpled white dress shirt and equally rumpled paisley tie, ambled out of the back.
“What do you need?” he asked, eyeing Bradley and Past Bradley suspiciously. They obviously weren’t his normal clientele.
“You seen this woman?” Edie asked, snatching the picture up off of the counter and shoving it in front of Johnnie’s eyes.
“Why? Is she some kind of criminal? Are you two cops?”
“No, sir. Nothing like that,” Bradley said. “We are simply trying to find our friend. Do you recognize her?”
“Naw,” Johnnie said. He started to hand the photo back to Past Bradley, but something stopped him and he looked again. This time more closely. “Hang on. This is the one, Edie! That one I was telling you about.”
“Which one?” Edie asked.
“The one who wanted to know where the island of mud was,” Johnnie said laughing.
“Island of mud?” Bradley said confused.
“She rolled in here about a week ago and came up to me asking if I knew about the island of mud. She said she had to get there to find someone.”
“Did you know what she was talking about?” Bradley asked.
“Sure,” Johnnie said. “Mud Island. It’s on the river downtown.”
“Did you take her to this place?”
Johnnie’s eyes narrowed. “What do I look like? A taxi? I told her where it was. She thanked me and left. Real nice lady…even if she was a little weird.”
“Why would she go to Mud Island?” Past Bradley asked.
“I have no idea,” Bradley said. He looked back to Johnnie and Edie. “Thank you both for your time and your invaluable assistance.”
“Yes. Thanks,” Past Bradley said, snatching the photo back from Johnnie. “We’ve got to go.”
“Yes we do,” Bradley agreed, and with that the pair beat a hasty retreat.
Lunch at last. The time Captain Baxter had been waiting for all morning. Despite the overall circumstances, Baxter couldn’t help the slight spring to his step as he emerged from the Baltimore University Student Center. He’d be lying to himself if he thought that he just happened to be in a good mood. As much as parts of him wanted to deny it, he knew the real reason.
He had a lunch date.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t really a date. But he had to admit that he’d been looking forward to having lunch alone with Janice Browning all morning. Did he want something to happen between them (something else at this point)? He knew the answer to that question should be no. He had a wife and daughter, and Browning had a child of her own. They were friends and colleagues, and that should have been the end of it. Still the idea that Browning might have some kind of feelings for him had him feeling better than he had since all of the mess with Peterman, Fritz, and the Bast even started.
Baxter froze at the sound of a familiar male voice behind him. He turned, knowing who would be approaching. Richards. Normally, Baxter would be more than happy to see him, but why the hell did he have to show up now?
“What are you doing here?” Baxter asked, trying to hide the irritation he was feeling as Richards jogged up.
“Tempus Machina,” Richards said conspiratorially.
“Chris, no one is listening to us. You don’t have to use Latin.”
“Good. After deus ex fugit, I’m pretty much out of vocabulary.”
“So what about it?”
“The time machine,” Baxter said, glancing anxiously at the clock tower on the nearby Arts and Letters building. He was already a little late meeting Browning. He didn’t want her to think he wasn’t coming.
“I know where to start,” Richards said. “Actually, you gave me the idea.”
“When you said that we’ve traveled to this time before.”
“Yes, but that was through a rift in spacetime we found in the Delta Quadrant. I don’t see how that helps right now. We don’t even have a car.”
“Andy!” Browning’s voice called from down the sidewalk. The two men turned to her just as she realized who was standing with Baxter. “Chris! You came for lunch?” she asked warmly.
“You two were having lunch together?” Richards asked, unsure as to whether or not that development bothered him. He had a hunch that it did.
“What about the time machine?” Baxter said, quickly changing the subject back to safer arenas.
“Oooh! Did you figure it out?” Browning asked.
“I have a place to begin,” Richards said. “Can you get me to an Internet connection?”
Five minutes later, the trio was crowded around a PC in the university library as Richards finally got on with his explanation.
“It’s true that the last time we came to this time, we used the rift, but that wasn’t the only anomalous thing we ran across. There was also the small issue of our brains getting swapped with those of our ancestors.”
“I remember. It happened to me, too,” Baxter said impatiently.
“Not me,” Browning said brightly. “But I know what you’re talking about. It was that device that college guy built. The one who looks like that guy on the Secondprize.”
“Carl Jaroch,” Baxter said. “I’m still not seeing how this helps.”
“I had to make the repairs on that device, so we could swap our minds back,” Richards explained. “While I was working, I read Captain Rydell’s logs concerning his original encounter with the device. In that incident, the Secondprize’s Chief Engineer deduced that Carl Jaroch had actually accidentally created a neutrino emission chamber capable of ripping a hole in the space-time continuum.”
“That’s nice and all, but before we left last time, Larkin altered the thing back into a toaster or whatever it was supposed to be.”
“Electromagnetic telescope,” Richards said.
“Whatever. And as I recall, it’s in the hands of this era’s federal law enforcement.”
“It was as of eight years ago. Maybe Carl Jaroch has it back.”
“So all we have to do is find him and ask,” Browning said.
“Exactly,” Richards said, bringing up a screen with the word “Google.” prominently displayed.
“Should I know what that means?” Baxter asked.
“It searches for things on the Internet. I’m telling it what we know,” Richards replied as he typed “Carl Jaroch” and “Old Dominion University,” which was the last place they had encountered Carl Jaroch. The system quickly returned with a list of five entries, which Richards quickly read then clicked on a link. Google disappeared and was replaced with a different page.
“Where are we now?” Baxter asked.
“The Old Dominion University alumni news page. It says here that Carl and Lisa Jaroch of Leesburg, Virginia recently welcomed their second child into the world.”
Baxter read the rest over Richards’s shoulder. “Damn. No address. Can you find it on this thing?”
“Maybe but probably not.”
“We could ask Information,” Browning said.
“I don’t think they would have it either,” Baxter replied glancing over at the library’s information desk.
“Not that information,” Browning said. “The one you call. I saw it listed on the phones you put coins into. They give you phone numbers for people.”
“Good. We’ll call them, then call Carl Jaroch,” Baxter said. “But I don’t think he’s just going to hand the device over to complete strangers. What are we going to say to him?”
“Mister Jaroch? Hi. This is Janice Browning with the Old Dominion University Alumni Relations office. I’m sorry to trouble you at work, Mr. Jaroch, but your wife gave us the number.”
“Uh…okay,” Carl Jaroch’s voice replied warily. “What can I do for you?”
“Our office was contacted recently by the physics department, who hoped that we could locate you.”
“Me? What for?”
“They wanted to know if you still had an electromagnetic telescope that you built while you were a student. Evidently the university’s inventory department put it on a property manifest not realizing it was a student project, and now they won’t pass the physics department unless the telescope can be accounted for.”
“You’ve got to be kidding? Don’t those people have lives?”
“Apparently not. I know this is a nuisance, Mister Jaroch, but the chair of the physics department himself asked me to see if I could track you and this telescope down.”
“I haven’t thought about that thing in years. Not since I got it back from the FBI. It’s not dangerous or anything. The FBI thought it was evidence for some case or something, but it turned out not to be. It’s been sitting in the basement since we got our house. I’m sure Lisa wouldn’t mind seeing it go. All right. I’ll give it to you. It’s kind of big, though. Do you want me to ship it?”
“No need,” Browning said. “If it’s all right with you, we’ll drive to your house tonight and pick it up. Could I have directions?”
“From Baltimore actually.”
“Baltimore? What are you doing there?”
“I’m the alumni representative for this area,” Browning replied, thinking quickly.
“I didn’t know we had one.”
“I know. The university really needs to advertise it better. Now about those directions…”
As it turned out, Mud Island was not all that muddy. At least it did not appear to be so from President Dillon’s perspective standing on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, which ran past Memphis on its path to the Gulf of Mexico.
“She can’t still be over there,” Past Bradley said from beside him. “Can she?”
“We won’t know until we get there.”
“Well, you’re the one holding us up.”
Bradley looked over at the suspended monorail connecting the mainland to the large building complex on Mud Island. It was most likely perfectly safe. Certainly safer than the monstrosity they flew from Baltimore to Memphis. He’d most likely be fine, but there was still something about trusting his safety to 21st century (late 20th century actually) technology that have him the willies. But considering he’d already crossed time and space to find Lexi, Bradley wasn’t about to let a little something like this stop him.
“All right,” he said finally. “Let’s go.” The pair walked over to the monorail station.
“Look,” Past Bradley said. “They’ve got a pedestrian bridge. We could skip the monorail ride if it bothers you that much.”
“Walking when we could be riding bothers me more,” Bradley replied as he stepped up to the ticket counter. He had to admit that he was enjoying these primitive monetary transactions. There was just something about having actual cash in his hands that felt satisfying.
Minutes later, Bradley was seated in the monorail and passing over the brown waters of the Mississippi toward the station on Mud Island. Honestly he couldn’t remember the last time he’d spent so much time outside…or on a planet for that matter. Waystation and, more recently, the Explorer had been his homes for so long that the idea of being able to just step outdoors anytime he wanted just seemed foreign. Maybe when he returned to Waystation, he would see about finding a nice planet somewhere to purchase. He could open a resort. From what he had gathered, the one Former Captain Alexander Rydell ran was fairly successful. Hmm…that reminded him. When he got back to the 24th century, he needed to get around to figuring out where his brother was. His mother had asked him to look into that ages ago, long before he even moved to the Explorer. Oh well. He’d turn up. The resort was a more interesting topic at the moment. Ever since Bradley had opened his casino on Waystation, he’d been thinking about expansion. An entire casino world might just be the way to go.
Before Bradley could take his thoughts too much farther, the monorail pulled into the station, and the passengers filed out through the open doors. Bradley and Past Bradley followed the group down to the main park level and stepped outside. Aside from the usual souvenir shops and food stands, Mud Island had two primary attractions. A museum about the Mississippi River and a scale model of said river which ran down the length of the island, ending at a pool where patrons could pedal paddleboats into their representation of the Gulf of Mexico.
Bradley’s attention immediately went to the model of the river running in front of him. Along the way, maps of the various cities the river passed by had been paved into the ground. Were these what Lexi came to see? Did one of these maps somehow guide her to her next destination?
“I don’t see her,” Past Bradley said dejectedly. “What are we supposed to do, Frederick?”
“I am not sure,” Bradley said thoughtfully. “I have to believe we’ll find some sort of clue, though. Maybe, like at the bus station, one of the employees will remember her. It was only a week ago.”
Past Bradley looked up at the park building overlooking the river model. “Maybe they filmed her,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Bradley asked. Past Bradley pointed at a device mounted on the building. Then at another on a pole farther down the riverwalk. “They’ve got security cameras. Maybe they keep the tapes.”
Bradley wasn’t familiar with the use of “tapes” in this context, but he got the general idea. There might be security recordings showing Leximas’ visit to Mud Island. He and Past Bradley quickly reentered the main building and tracked down the security office, where a pair of officers sat behind a counter staring at a series of monitors, each displaying a different section of the park.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Bradley said. “I was wondering if perhaps you could help us with a small matter.”
“Sir, you’ll have to leave,” one of the guards said, rising from his chair as the other maintained watch over the monitors. “This is a restricted area.”
“I appreciate that,” Bradley said. “And I have no desire to stay; however, I was hoping that I could obtain the your security recordings from a week ago.”
“You want our tapes?”
“Yes,” Past Bradley said, stepping up. “We’re looking for our friend, and this is the last place we know that she was. It’s very important to us.”
“Your friend, huh?”
“She’s something more than that, to be honest,” Bradley said. “She is a lost love, and I have come quite far to find her. Do you have the tapes for last Tuesday?”
“Yes, but we record over them after seven days. They’re due to be wiped out tomorrow.”
“Then we’ve arrived just in time,” Bradley said with a smile as he pulled out his wallet. “Since they are due to be reused anyway, could we possibly just purchase them from you?” He placed two $500 bills on the counter. “I hope this will be enough to cover the purchase of new tapes.”
The money on the counter was enough to draw the attention of the second guard. “We are going to help him, aren’t we Jim?” he said firmly.
“I certainly don’t want to stand in the way of love,” the first guard replied, taking one of the bills and handing the other to his colleague.
Bradley’s smile broadened. “How nice to meet people who believe in the power of romance.”
A short time and a trip to an electronics store later, Bradley and Past Bradley were ensconced in a room in the Peabody Hotel watching the Mud Island security tapes on a VCR that they had just purchased. Past Bradley had given Bradley something of an odd look at his “cousin’s” complete confusion when it came to hooking up and using the device, but that had now passed as the pair watched the black and white security camera footage.
“There!” Past Bradley exclaimed, pointing at the image of a petite woman on the screen. She was walking slowly the near the Gulf of Mexico pool, moving from person to person as though searching for something or someone. “What is she doing?”
“I have no idea,” Bradley replied. That wasn’t exactly the truth. He knew she was waiting for some sign from what she called her “mind guide.” What sort of sign and why was another matter entirely. The indistinct images on this tape might not tell him, though, unless he improved his view. The Federation President slipped a small device out of his suitcoat pocket. To Past Bradley, it appeared to be a Personal Digital Assistant, or PDA, which was exactly the point. Before leaving Waystation on the Explorer, Bradley had requested that Dillon Enterprises R&D build him this model, which, while looking like a PDA, actually had all of the functionality of a Starfleet tricorder (which was something of an improvement over the Sense-O-Matics that Dillon’s Supply Depot sold. Bradley had told his R&D staff that he was looking into selling a retro- looking tricorder so as to not raise their suspicions.
On the television, Leximas stopped a gaunt, scruffy-looking man wearing a shirt with some kind of writing on it. The man locked eyes with her as the strange, elfin woman gazed intently at his chest.
“What is it? What does she see?” Past Bradley demanded impatiently. “Get closer to a camera, you big oaf!” he shouted at the man.
Bradley, meanwhile, enhanced the image with his PDA-corder, allowing him to clearly read the writing on the man’s shirt.
“La Cienega,” Bradley said.
“New Mexico?” Past Bradley replied, squinting at the screen. “How can you tell?”
“What’s in La Cienega? Why would she want to go there?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Bradley said.
“Wait. That’s over a thousand miles away, and the bus station people didn’t say anything about her coming back. How would she even get there?”
“Lexi would find a way. Trust me,” Bradley said. “As for why, maybe she will explain it to us when we find her. Leave the video device here. We’re flying out tonight.”
Even though he was used to sitting by while other people did the driving, Captain Baxter was finding himself really wishing he was behind the wheel of the car he, Richards, and Browning were currently using to get to Carl Jaroch’s home in Leesburg, Virginia, a town about two hours away from Baltimore. Unfortunately, he had no experience driving automobiles. The last time he was in this era, he let David Conway do all of the driving. Of course, Dr. Browning didn’t have any experience either, but since she was the one able to borrow a school vehicle from Baltimore University, she got to drive.
“Am I really supposed to look at the big ring of numbers?” Browning asked, glancing at the speedometer as they made their way along I-66 between Washington, D.C. and Leesburg. “Everyone else is flying by us.”
“The sign says 60,” Richards said from the backseat. “If they were using the inner ring of numbers on that dial, they’d be going a lot slower than us.”
“So should I speed up?”
“No!” Baxter exclaimed. “Do what the signs say. Turn where I tell you to. And figure out how to turn on that blinky light thing before you change lanes again!”
“Yes, sir,” Browning said with a huff.
“Andy?” Richards ventured.
“Wasn’t that our exit?”
A short time later (not as short as it should have been due to a few additional navigational errors, but short in comparison to say your average Kevin Costner movie) Browning pulled the car up in front of the Jaroch residence. An even shorter time later (due to no navigational issues finding the front door of the house) the trio stood on the doorstep waiting for someone to respond to the doorbell.
Finally, Carl Jaroch answered. The resemblance of people in this era to people in his own never ceased to amaze Baxter. This man was the spitting image of the current captain of the USS Secondprize…well except for the scraggly goatee he had, which his future counterpart most definitely did not.
“Hi, Mister Jaroch,” Browning said jovially and extending her hand as Carl looked from one to the next. “Janice Browning. We spoke on the phone about your device.”
“Yeah,” Carl said, distractedly shaking her offered hand.
“Can we have it?”
“Um…why do you want it again?”
“I don’t,” Browning said. “It’s all about inventory. They are such a pain. I can’t imagine why anyone would ever be in that line of work,” she added, shooting a smirk at Baxter.
“I was thinking about this after I got off of the phone with you. I built the electromagnetic telescope from parts I bought,” Carl said. “It’s mine.”
“Inventory most likely made a simple mistake,” Baxter said. “I would imagine that the device was noted and tagged while you had it in one of the university labs. Once we take it back to Old Dominion and clear up the confusion with inventory, we’ll return it. You have our word.”
“And it took three of you to come get it?”
“I didn’t know how heavy it was, so I brought my boys with me,” Browning said.
“They’re welcome to it,” Carl said, opening the door more widely and revealing the device, which was sitting on the floor in the foyer. If Baxter knew more about the era, which he didn’t, he would have said that the electromagnetic telescope most resembled an overhead projector. As it was, he just recognized it as the same device that had caused so much trouble years earlier. He and Richards brushed past Carl, scooped it up, and made for the car without so much as a “Thank you.”
Browning, however, wasn’t quite so rude. “Thank you very much, Mister Jaroch. Your assistance won’t be forgotten.”
“Don’t mention it,” Carl muttered, closing the door.
“He was kind of rude,” Browning said as she slipped back into the driver’s seat of their borrowed vehicle.
“He could have spat on me and rubbed food into my hair for all I care as long as he gave us this thing,” Baxter said. “It’s our ticket home.”
“Maybe,” Richards said.
“But you said…”
“I said it was a place to start,” Richards interrupted before Baxter could get any farther. “I’ve still got a lot of work to do before it’s anything resembling a functioning time machine, if that’s even possible.”
“All right,” Baxter said. “I understand. For now, we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing. Live our lives and stay out of trouble. The last thing we need is complications.”
Back in Baltimore, Andy Baxter (21st century edition) stood up from his sofa and stretched. This Andy was blissfully unaware that his future counterpart was currently residing in the same metropolitan area. Of course, he was also blissfully unaware that he had a future counterpart, this knowledge having been wiped from his brain by Dr. Browning after the crew’s previous visit to this era. What Andy was aware of was that the doorbell of his apartment was ringing incessantly.
He made his way to the door and threw it open, revealing David Conway (also the 21st century edition).
“What took you so long?” Dave demanded.
“You mean that whole five seconds?” Andy replied.
“How about you stop being an ass and don’t pound on my damn doorbell?”
“Hey, I drove all the way here from Salisbury, bud. How about a little hospitality?”
“You drove all the way here in the middle of the week, so you could crash at my apartment and eat my food, while I’m at work.”
“Just invite us in.”
“Us?” Andy said.
“Yeah,” Dave said as a wall of flesh stepped into view behind him. Andy gradually realized this massive thing was actually a woman, a woman he recognized.
Dave smiled. “I brought a friend. You remember Irma.”
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
Looks like the plans are really coming together for Bradley Dillon. He’s coming that much closer to the person he’s risked everything to find. But what he finds may not be exactly what he expected. Meanwhile, emotions are running high for the Earthbound Explorer crew. Will they be able to stand each other long enough to survive this?