Glimmers in a Looking Glass
Harriman Nelson glared in frustration at the small silver machine sitting on the shelf across the room from his desk, muttering profanities under his breath. The object of his discontent was a priceless treasure trove of information from an alternate universe, but unfortunately he didn’t have the key. Or rather in this case, the password. His technology and computer scientists were chomping at the bit to be allowed to dismantle the machine, but he wanted to first mine all the information he could from it. Tough to do when he couldn’t get very far past the opening screen.
A knock on the door distracted him. “Enter,” he barked.
The door opened to reveal the stiffly apprehensive figures of the captain and XO of his submarine, the Seaview. He arched an eyebrow at them; he’d sent for the XO, not the captain.
“Is there something you need, Commander?” He knew he shouldn’t take his disappointment at the lack of progress out on his officers, but he’d racked his brain trying to figure out what that Storm woman might have used as a password and so far come up empty.
“Yes,” the dark haired commander fired back at him, “my XO back in one piece.”
Nelson stiffened in indignation, but the almost frightened look on Morton’s face made him swallow the scathing reply he’d been going to make. The last two weeks had been rough on Seaview’s XO; everybody from ONI to the CIA had wanted to pick his brains for technological information about the parallel universe he’d been thrown into by a now discredited researcher. There’d even been one or two that wanted to dissect him and see if there had been any physical changes from the experience. Nelson had quashed those proposals in a hurry, but the very idea had left Morton feeling both vulnerable and paranoid.
Sighing, Nelson motioned for both men to sit. “Lee,” he said tiredly, “I just wanted to see if Chip had any ideas on what Storm might have used as a password on that computer of hers. I’ve tried everything I can think of.” He paused, giving a rueful shrug. “He was around her for longer than we were - I was hoping he’d have a clue.”
Morton shook his head. “If you’ve tried everything connected with us or the boat, then you’ve tried everything I would.”
Running a hand through his hair, Nelson blew out in frustration. “It might be something like a sibling, boyfriend or pet’s name. We didn’t discuss anything like that while she was here, but you might have overheard something while you were there. Surely this… Voyage … business wasn’t her whole life.”
“Well, no.” Morton looked thoughtful. “I remember that she was a geologist or something like that. It could be a technical term from her profession.”
“Ah. I hadn’t thought of that,” murmured Nelson.
More relaxed now that he knew no one had arrived to haul him away, Morton dug deeper into his memory, recalling his first meeting with the owner of the machine that was causing Nelson so much vexation. And abruptly recalled that he’d first told her that his name was Cody Bristol, which in that universe had been another character played by his double, Bob Dowdell.
“I wonder…” he said thoughtfully, catching Nelson’s attention.
“Did you think of something?”
“Maybe. Can I try it out?” Morton stood and walked over to the shelf where the computer sat.
“Be my guest.” Nelson waved expansively as he leaned back in his chair to watch.
Flipping up the laptop’s cover and turning it on, Morton waited for the password screen to appear. Once it was up he studied it carefully. There was a hint option. Selecting it, he looked at the clue and began to chuckle. “Clever,” he said, then began typing in various words as they popped into his mind, words that he associated with Dowdell or his cousin Cody that could be also be connected with the hint.
The fourth try was the jackpot.
The soft chime of the machine announced that the operating program was loading. Nelson jumped to his feet, amazed, and a little irritated as well. He’d spent two weeks trying to figure out the password and come up empty.
“So what was it?”
“Nothing to do with Seaview or us. Or geology for that matter. Everything to do with my actor double, Dowdell.”
“Oh? How so?” Crane had joined them when the chime had sounded.
“Cody Bristol. In this universe my cousin, who is a rancher in North Dakota; in theirs another role that Dowdell played. And something that I‘ll bet anybody who didn‘t know Storm or Dowdell really well would ever think of, because it‘s not even remotely associated with Voyage.”
“So what is it?” asked Nelson gruffly.
“How did you know? I looked at the hint and didn’t have a clue,” growled the Admiral.
“Just what is the hint, Chip?” asked Crane, intrigued.
“Two words. Ship shape.” Morton was grinning.
“And Bristol fashion,” finished the captain, laughing. “You have to have some knowledge of ships to finish the saying and know who Cody Bristol is - and know that he’s a cowboy. Sneaky bitch.” He shook his head, but his voice held tones of admiration. “Sure she wasn’t a spook? She thinks like one.”
“Just a writer, or so she claimed. I’d like to read some of her stuff. Wonder if any of it’s on this thing?” Morton cocked his head to one side as he studied the icons and tried to remember how she’d navigated through the screens. “Start. Hmmm.” A mouse click produced the menu. At the top of the right side was the word DOCUMENTS. Another click and a list of a dozen or more document files appeared.
By now Nelson and Crane were both looking over Morton’s shoulder at the screen. “Let’s try opening the first one,” suggested Crane. “Since she has them numbered, there must be a reason for it.”
Morton clicked on the file labeled cross currents 1a1 - Rite of Passage. The file title lit up but the file itself failed to open.
“Try two quick clicks,” said Nelson. “Seems to me I remember her doing that sometimes to get a program or file to open.” Morton complied and was rewarded with the opening of the Microsoft Works Word Processor screen, followed by the document file. The three men leaned forward and began to read.
By the time they’d gotten to the fifth page the color had drained from Nelson’s face. Taking a deep breath, he stepped back to calm his flustered nerves. Crane and Morton joined him in staring at the computer with the same apprehension they would a venomous reptile.
“My God,” whispered Nelson, “It’s uncanny how accurately she portrayed our conversation about Bishop, even though that’s not exactly the same circumstances it happened in.”
Crane shivered at the thought. “It’s almost like she was reading our minds.”
“Do we want to finish this?” asked Morton, looking a bit uneasy.
Letting out a sigh, Nelson nodded. “I think we’d better. If for no other reason than to ascertain just how much these people do know.”
It was with great trepidation that the three officers returned to the screen and the words thereon, but by page six, not only had Nelson’s apprehension vanished, he and his two subordinates were tying to hide smiles.
“Boy, has she got Chief Jones and Bishop pegged,” commented Morton.
By page eight however, Morton was muttering to himself under his breath, while Nelson and Crane read with increasing delight. By page ten they were laughing outright while Morton was looking daggers at the screen.
“Well,” Nelson said, when he was finally been able to look at Morton without breaking into nearly hysterical howls of glee, “she’s got the relationship between you two pegged pretty good too.”
“This never happened!” spluttered Morton, face flushed with indignation. “I got inducted into the Bluenoses as a lieutenant j.g. on the Skate - NOT on the Seaview.”
“Not in our universe, anyway,” admitted Crane, vainly attempting to stifle his own chuckles, “but you’ve got to admit that it’s true to character.” His answer was a patented Morton glare guaranteed to blister paint on a bulkhead at twenty paces.
Unfortunately for Morton, his captain and Admiral were both pretty much immune to most of Morton‘s glares.
“I wonder just how familiar Storm is with crossing ceremonies - what we’ve read so far is pretty accurate.” Nelson was looking thoughtful.
“Only one way to find out,” noted Crane with what was almost a smirk. “You want to see how it turns out, Chip?”
“Not really,” growled the XO, but he stepped back in front of the computer with the other two.
As the pages scrolled past, Morton’s scowl deepened at the continuing chuckles of his two superiors. By page twelve he was fairly quivering with outrage. But at the bottom of page thirteen he went quite still, turning thoughtful - and it was Crane’s turn to suddenly look apprehensive. The top of page fourteen confirmed the captain’s worst fears.
“That’s wicked!” he blurted, retreating to stand behind Nelson.
“Actually,” murmured Morton as he fixed Crane with a predatory gaze, “it’s perfect. Sugar Glazed Captain - I like it.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Crane blustered. He turned to Nelson in desperation, “Admiral, tell him he can’t.”
“Chip….” The XO turned his look on Nelson, who suddenly found himself wondering if Morton had the moxie for Glazed Admiral - and decided that he probably did. “Never mind, Chip. It’s between the two of you.” Nelson hadn’t made four star Admiral by being a fool. He cleared his throat and turned back to the computer. “Just how many stories are there on this thing?”
Taking his attention off Crane for a moment, Morton turned back to the screen. “Do you remember how she closed files, Admiral?”
“Hmmm. Try clicking the red X in the upper right hand corner.”
The screen went back to the kelp in water picture. Morton again pulled up DOCUMENTS and counted. “I see fifteen. And a diary. That ought to be interesting,” he added drolly. Looking further, he commented, “Wonder what this Voyage Net Stories thing is beside the folder icon?” He clicked it open - and stared.
“Oh…My…God,” was Crane’s response.
“Shit,” breathed Morton as he scanned down the list. “There must be literally hundreds of files here.” Filled with foreboding, he opened the first one.
It was, as they’d feared, a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fan fiction story, this one by someone named Alcott. He lifted his eyes to meet Nelson’s.
“The rest of the Voyage writers, I’d hazard to say.” Nelson just shook his head. “It never occurred to me she’d have anything but her own files on this thing. But then she did say it had - what - a thirty gigabyte hard drive? That’s a lot of storage space.” He looked off into space for a moment, then sighed. “You know we’ll have to read them all before we turn the computer over to the tech lab.”
His answer was a wail of dismay from both of his officers.