Reflections in a Looking Glass
“So what’s so damn important that Doctor Lewis and Admiral Nelson need us right this instant?” Chip Morton bit off each word distinctly, his eyes burning with uncharacteristic anger.
Lee Crane, Morton’s friend and C.O., pondered the matter, as side by side, the two men trod the path leading to NIMR’s secluded top-secret lab. Crane frowned and studied the blond officer. “I’m not sure, Chip. The Admiral’s message just said he needed some observers for an experiment. It didn’t elaborate.” Like Morton, he wasn’t happy about being called away from Seaview’s pre-dawn departure preparations. He too, had a hands-on nature, but the message had been insistent. The two men had delegated what they could and put everything else on hold, hoping that they would only be sidetracked for no more than an hour.
“Wasn’t the good doctor working on some kind of high energy magnetic field accelerator or something?” Crane unbuttoned his jacket as they tramped up the hill. “Something that required isolation from other structures - and prying eyes?”
“He should be isolated all right,” Morton snarled, “Like at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.”
Crane squinted, studying his XO as they walked the gravel path, wondering what had gotten into him; ordinarily he was the epitome of cool under fire. Crane abruptly halted and crossed his arms. “Chip, stop. Now!” Morton jerked to a halt several feet ahead, his shoulders hunched, but didn’t turn to face his Captain. Crane stepped forward and put a hand on Morton’s shoulder. “This isn’t like you Chip,” he said quietly. “You’ve been on edge for weeks now. Don’t you think it’s time you talked?”
Morton stood mute and shook his head.
“Does it have anything to do with Doctor Lewis?”
Morton flinched, did an about face, and glared at Crane.
“I’d wondered. The Admiral mentioned that he’s from Chicago and he’s about our age. Do you know him?”
His blue eyes blazing and fists clenched tight, Morton shuddered visibly. “I know him alright! He’s a bastard. Not an ethical bone in his body. The Admiral made a big mistake bringing him here; he’ll sell us out when the price is right if he doesn‘t kill us first with his screw-ups.”
A frowning Crane stepped back and crossed his arms stiffly. “What‘s eating you, Chip? If you know about something the security check missed, then tell me.”
“Security check.” Morton ran a hand through his blond locks and laughed derisively. “I saw that piece of fiction that the NSA passed off as a security check. If Lewis didn’t have something they wanted - badly - he couldn’t pass security in a dog pound.”
Crane bit back his dismay. “Are you telling me that the NSA deliberately lied?”
“Like it’s the first time any of the alphabet agencies have been less than truthful about somebody they wanted to come in here and do research for them!” The XO’s lips curled into a snarl. “Get real, Lee. This isn‘t the first time, though it may be the most blatant! If they did any kind of a real check they’d have to know that I know him. They must think it doesn‘t matter.”
Crane put a hand to the back of his neck and massaged knotting muscles. “Why didn’t you say something?”
Morton grimaced and shrugged. “I did warn the Admiral. He told me he knew about my history with Lewis and he flat-out ordered me to leave Lewis alone and not say anything to you or anybody else.” He smacked his fist in his palm. “Disagreement my ass! The bastard got ten men killed and tried to blame it on me!”
Crane studied Morton with dawning comprehension - and horror. “The Navy Pier incident in San Diego - that was Lewis?”
“Damned right! The Navy covered it up; I was lucky to not get court-martialed. They wanted a scapegoat, but couldn’t quite pin it on me. And that wasn’t the first time he’d gotten somebody hurt or killed. Even back in high school Lewis was always screwing around with stuff he couldn’t control and letting other people take the blame when it blew up on him. He’s damned good at passing the buck.”
“I believe you,” Crane said, “and I’ll tell the Admiral I refuse to have him aboard Seaview. I won’t put the boat or crew at risk.” The resolve in his voice apparently came through loud and clear. Morton sighed in relief and unclenched his fists.
“Thanks, Lee. I was going crazy trying to figure out how to protect the boat. Sometimes the Admiral isn‘t the best judge of character, especially when it comes to other scientists.”
Crane had to laugh. How many times had he and Chip had to rescue the boat and crew because of experiments gone bad - or from people who’d been less than honest with their goals in the first place? Way too many! “He does seem to have a peculiar blind spot in that respect,” admitted Crane. “I’m behind you on this one. I’ll get our own security to do a check without using NSA - or the FBI - as a source. In the meantime let’s see what the Admiral wants.” He resumed his previous pace, knowing that Morton would fall in. He had gotten only a few yards when he heard a peculiar humming sound in back of him followed by Morton’s startled yelp. He whirled about just in time to see a bright green nimbus of energy flare into existence around his XO - and then abruptly wink out, taking Morton with it.
Crane’s scream of denial reverberated across the hillside.
Lewis, was Morton’s instinctive thought as the torrent of energy coursed through his body. That sorry, no good… Then the pain hit and he couldn’t suppress an agonized cry. He was dimly aware of Crane spinning around and reaching for him, but the force that gripped him squeezed tight, lifting him off the ground. The world went gray and he screamed - or thought he did. As he fell it occurred to him that he’d probably not been able to get enough air in his lungs to loose even a whimper.
He hit the pavement with a jolt and sucked in air. Through mental fog he heard squealing brakes and screeching tires.
He shakily lifted his head to find himself staring at the front bumper of a pickup truck. At least he thought it was a pickup. It didn’t look quite like any vehicle he was familiar with, even though the blue oval on the front plainly said FORD. He heard a door open and close solidly, then approaching footfalls.
“Jesus Christ, man, are you nuts? Or drunk? Where the hell did you come from? ” A breathless voice from overhead drew his attention and Morton looked up to see a frantic looking woman - she had to be the driver. Middle aged, grey hair and eyes, somewhat on the plump side, dressed in khaki slacks and a tan T-shirt with a picture of an otter on the front with the words ‘Monterey Bay Aquarium’ above. As their eyes met, she blinked in confusion, her look progressing from one of near panic to one of amazement.
“Wow.” She peered more closely at him. “Are you hurt? I didn‘t hit you did I?”
“Ugh….” Morton tried to gather his scattered wits as he slowly sat up. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Hmmm. I guess not. I don’t see any blood or bruises. You look kinda frayed around the edges though. What happened? You been mugged?” The woman’s astonished expression melted into one of bemusement as she realized that she hadn’t actually injured him.
“I…I feel a little frayed.” Actually he felt scorched, now that he thought about it. He ached all over, just like the time when he was a kid and he‘d stuck his finger in that light socket. “I don’t have a clue to what just happened, though.” Except that that ass-hole Lewis has done it to me again. This time I’m going to kill that SOB.
“Huh. Maybe I better call 9-1-1 and get the cops and paramedics out here to check you out.” She looked at him with an air of concern reminiscent of the Admiral. Just who the hell was she - and where was he? There wasn’t any pavement near the lab that Lewis was using. Until Morton figured out what was going on, he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone else involved. Certainly not the police if Lewis had managed to transport him off the Institute grounds.
“I’m okay. I.. I just need to get my bearings. Uh, just exactly where are we?” He shuddered as he asked the question, but he really needed to know. He knew it might sound crazy; he could only hope that she wouldn’t decide he was drunk, on drugs, or a lunatic, and drive off and leave him. Well, she did ask if I’d been mugged. That’s probably pretty close to the truth, too, since Lewis is involved.
“West of Santa Barbara, in Gaviota Beach State Park, a couple miles off US 101.” Morton considered. He recognized the name Gaviota - it was a little community just a few miles from the Institute - quite a few of the staff and crew lived there. But - and he furrowed his forehead in consternation - there was no state park anywhere near Gaviota. There’d been talk of one before Nelson had come in and bought up so much of the beachfront property in the area, but the presence of NIMR had put and end to any such plans. Before he could think of anything to say, she continued, her next statement catching him completely off guard. “It’s really amazing how much you look like Bob Dowdell did forty years ago.”
“Oh, come on. You know.” She grinned at him. “From the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.”
He managed a perplexed frown.
“The old TV series,” she said, “You know - back in the mid sixties. A guy named Bob Dowdell played the XO of the submarine Seaview, a character named Chip Morton. You can’t be Bob because he‘s in his seventies, but you‘ve got both the look and the costume down pat. You here for the Voyage reunion this weekend?”
Morton felt the ground beneath him tilt. What’s she talking about? What TV show? What character? His confusion, he guessed, showed.
Her grin turned into a frown; she raised an eyebrow and reached out to steady him. “Whoa, there, pal. You look pretty pale all of a sudden. Maybe I’d better get the paramedics after all.”
He took a deep breath and the spinning slowed. “No. I…” His voice trailed off. What could he explain what had happened or ask what she was talking about without either breaching security or sounding like he’d lost his mind?
She peered at him again with that odd expression.
“My name’s … Cody Bristol.” He had a cousin by that name - it had just popped into his mind; he wasn‘t about to tell her that his name really was Chip Morton. Not until he knew what the hell was going on.
She blinked in surprise, arched both eyebrows in an expression that plainly said ‘oh, yeah?’, then cocked her head to one side and started laughing.
What now? Morton wondered. Oh, shit, does she know Cody? That would be just my luck. “Uh, is there a problem with my name?”
She raised an eyebrow; the corner of her mouth twitched. “Well, other than the fact that Cody’s another character that Bob Dowdell played in another TV show - nothing.”
Morton winced. “I could have been named after him,” he offered half-heartedly.
Still snickering, the woman looked him up and down and then shook her head. “You’re not old enough to have been born when Stoney Burke was on TV. Granted a fan could have named you after the character - but like I said, you’re a dead ringer for Bob. What are the odds of that?”
Morton put a hand to his temple; he felt a serious headache coming on - a bad one. He muttered under his breath and plunged in. “Okay, I’m not Cody. I’m really am Chip Morton.”
The woman grin widened. “If you say so. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Morton. My name is Storm. Do you need a ride to Santa Barbara or do you have some wheels around here?”
Wheels? “I, ah, left my car at home this morning - caught a ride with a friend.” That was no lie. He’d carpooled with Lee.
Storm nodded. “In that case, the beast awaits.” Extending a hand, she helped him to his feet, where he got his first really good look at her vehicle. What he saw made him want to sit right back down.
It was, as his first impression had suggested, a truck, but unlike any truck he’d ever seen before. The windshield sloped back at an angle that looked like it belonged on a sports car while the hood sloped to the front; the whole vehicle showed very aerodynamic lines despite having a cab large enough to have four doors. The body color was a striking metallic gray - almost the same shade as Seaview - and was accessorized in black, including the pinstripes. The pinstripes… his eyes followed them to the front of the vehicle and if he hadn’t reached out a hand to the fender to steady himself, he might have fallen. The stripe ended a few inches from the headlight in a black outline of a stylized Seaview - or at least enough of the boat to be unmistakable.
His jaw dropped as she gripped his arm. She stared at him as might a concerned friend. “You know, pal, you don’t look okay to me. I think we’d better find a park ranger or somebody and get you a doctor. Are you sure you don’t know how you wound up in the road? That doesn’t sound good to me.”
She was opening her mouth to say more when the rattle of rocks drew their attention to the hillside above the road, where two men were ducking into the bushes. Her eyes flashed and Morton heard her mutter, “Huh.” She quickly hustled him into the front passenger side of the truck, then shuttled around the cab, jumped into the driver’s seat and slammed the door closed. The truck roared to life. Head turned, looking back over her shoulder, she thrust the truck into reverse and sent it speeding back up the road in the direction she’d come from. The two men were scrambling down the hillside, but reached the road too late. As Morton stared through the windshield, wondering who they were, he saw one of the men raise a gun, only to have it slapped down by the other. Storm’s truck rounded a curve and the two fell out of sight.
“They’ve got guns.” Morton said.
Storm nodded without taking her eyes from the road as she steered the truck backwards. “I thought they did from the glimpse I got of them on the hillside. Do you know who they are? Are they involved in whatever happened to you?”
“I.. I just don’t know,” responded Morton, with a hint of despair in his voice, wondering if they might in fact be tied to Lewis.
“Doesn’t matter.” The grey truck had reached the highway and Storm swung the vehicle around so that they were now going forward. “Hand me my purse and then fasten your seatbelt. I don‘t want a ticket.” She pointed at a grey and black bag in the passenger side floorboard. Morton reached down and picked it up, but before he could hand it to her she told him, “Unzip the grey flap. There’s a cell phone in one of the pockets.”
Doing as he was told, Morton surveyed the contents, unsure just what a cell phone was. He heard Storm chuckle at his baffled expression.
“The bright green plastic doohickey on the far left. Sometimes they don’t look much like phones.”
No shit, thought Morton as he pulled out the small device and covertly examined it. It sure doesn’t look like a phone - it looks like something off of Star Trek. He handed it to his rescuer and watched as she flipped the cover up to reveal a small pad and screen. She punched four buttons and lifted it to speak.
“Yeah, I’m a tourist here on US 101 just coming out of the Gaviota Beach park road. I found a guy who looks like he’s been roughed up some on the park road. He practically fell into the road in front of me. When I got out to check on him I saw two guys skulking in the bushes on the hillside, so I got the first guy into my truck and split. The other two came belting down the hillside waving guns but I scooted out of range before they could draw a bead on my rig. What do you want me to do?”
There was a longish pause while the person on the other end - Morton assumed it must be a police dispatcher of some sort - gave instructions.
“I’m driving a 2003 Ford F150 super crew, grey, with a West Virginia plate that reads SEAVIEW, that’s S-E-A-V-I-E-W, headed towards Santa Barbara on US 101, east just a mile or so from Gaviota Park.”
“Yeah, I know where that’s at - about ten miles from where I‘m at now. I’ll pull into the Refugio Beach Park entrance and wait for a deputy to meet me.”
Sitting in the passenger’s seat listening to the one sided conversation, Morton felt a chill seep into his soul with her words. 2003. Twenty-first century - at least twenty-seven years ahead of where he’d been. But what happened to NIMR? What’s all this about a TV show? Who’s this Bob Dowdell she says I look like? She’s from West Virginia (!) and has a license plate with the name of the boat on it? And just what the hell did she mean by Voyage reunion? A creeping uncertainty began inserting itself into his mind as he looked around at the landscape flashing past. The land itself looked familiar enough, but the four lane road was not, and only on occasion did he see a vehicle that looked like anything he recognized. Putting a hand up, he rubbed at his temple, suddenly aware of a headache coming on. The action earned him a concerned look and an admonition.
“You really ought to consider seeing a doctor. You look a bit pale to me - and you’ve got some bruises starting to show. And since we‘re going looking for a cop, for heaven‘s sake buckle up.”
Shaking his head only made the world outside tilt. The expression on his face apparently alarmed Storm enough that Chip almost immediately felt the rumble of the truck’s tires on the graveled shoulder of the road as she steered off the pavement and stopped.
“If you’re gonna loose your lunch, pal, please don’t do it inside.” The suggestion seemed to trigger his stomach and he hastily flung open the door and practically fell out into the ditch. He’d barely gotten clear when the coffee and doughnuts that had been breakfast revolted. The heaving did nothing for his spinning head and he would have fallen flat on his face except he found Storm at his left side, holding him up by the arm. “That’s it, friend. When we meet the deputy, I’m having them call the paramedics. You’re definitely the worse for wear.” This time Chip couldn’t muster the energy to argue with her.
The crunch of another set of tires on gravel reached his ears and from the corner of his eye Chip saw what appeared to be a police car pull up behind the truck. Like everything else, it looked like nothing he was familiar with and the female deputy who climbed out was just another surreal detail. Beside him Storm had straightened slightly and turned her head towards the approaching police officer.
“Could you call for the paramedics? I think he may have a head injury, but until now he kept insisting he didn’t need a doctor.”
By now the deputy had gotten close enough to see how pale and shaky he was, as well as the pool of vomit at his feet. To Chip’s distant amazement, instead of returning to her car, the police woman spoke into what he realized was a radio attached to the front of her uniform shirt. He couldn’t make out what she was saying with the ringing in his ears, not that it mattered much. The ringing became a roar and the world began to gray out - the last thing he comprehended was the deputy grabbing for his right arm as his eyes rolled back and he began to fall.
Awareness came back slowly. He became aware first of something over his face - when he reached up to remove it he found his hand caught and gently restrained. As his eyes focused upward he saw a different uniformed woman above him, not the deputy, one with a stethoscope around her neck. So this must be a paramedic was his disjointed thought. From somewhere in the recesses of his mind floated the information that Los Angeles county had been experimenting with the concept. Obviously it must have worked if Santa Barbara county instituted a similar set-up. But what is going on with all the females in what are supposed to be male jobs? Where are the men?
The ambulance braked to a halt and the back doors flew open. Chip found himself being hustled out on the gurney and into what was obviously a hospital emergency room. He couldn’t see much past the oxygen mask, but a lot of what he did see told him that much of the medical technology was as foreign to him as Storm’s truck and cell phone. As much as he hated sickbay, right now he’d give nearly anything to see Doc Jamison’s face hovering over him right now instead of all these strangers.
The gurney was wheeled into a cubicle and brought to a halt. Two female nurses and a middle-aged looking female doctor walked in as the paramedics began shifting their gear off of the gurney in preparation for transferring him into the hospital‘s custody. Chip couldn’t quite suppress a groan at the sight - which had the effect of focusing the doctor’s attention on him.
She promptly did a double take - and a smile twitched at the corners of her mouth as amusement crinkled the corners of her eyes.
“Well, well, what have we here?” The doctor asked as she approached the team of paramedics.
“Possible head injury,” said the senior paramedic, all business. “He may have been mugged. Sheriff’s department called us. He was unconscious when we arrived on the scene.”
“Ah,” said the doctor, turning back to Chip, “I’m Doctor Daniels. Let’s have a look at you and see what we can find.” She placed the stethoscope in her ears then placed the cold disk on his now bare chest, causing him to quiver slightly. “Breathe in.”
He did as instructed. That much was familiar, anyway. Chip just hoped she wasn’t as stubborn as Jamison - the one place he absolutely did not want to stay was in a hospital.
Once again Chip found himself in the passenger’s seat of Storm’s truck. Drumming her fingers on the steering wheel as the truck waited at a red light, she gave him a sideways look of exasperation.
“There’s such a thing as taking characterization too far, pal. You really should have spent overnight in the hospital.” Morton gingerly shook his head in the negative, but said nothing, continuing to look out the window at the city that was both eerily familiar and yet oddly alien at the same time.
Storm sighed and threw up her hands. “I give up.” The light changed and she put both hands back on the steering wheel to guide the big pickup into the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel through the intersection and to their right. As she brought the truck to a halt in one of the parking spaces and killed the engine she asked, “Have you got a room yet?”
He turned and looked at her, puzzled as to why she had pulled into this particular hotel and why she thought he might have a room here. His expression prompted a roll of the eyes.
“This is where the convention is being held,” she told him dryly. “Everybody who can is staying here - all of the surviving actors from the show - well, except for Bob, but he never comes to these things - and the fans who don’t live close enough to just drive in for the day.” She gazed steadily at him, eyebrow arched. “You do have a reservation, don’t you?”
“Er, no,” he said in a small voice.
“May the Gods grant me strength,” she muttered, putting her forehead down on the steering wheel for a moment as a sign of vexation. When she raised her head back up she gave him a stern look. “You know if it wasn’t for the convention, the sheriff’s department would have hauled you in over that fake ID you’ve got. Clever idea, but you should have brought your own along as well. So unless you’ve already got a room, there’s probably no way in hell the management is gonna give you one - and I’m not sharing with you. Maybe Mike Bailey will, since Barb and the kids didn’t come down from Portland with him.” She paused and a sly smile twitched at one corner of her mouth. “Of course, there’s Diane or Jane or Michelle or Liz or Rita or …”
Chip shivered. There were already far too many females involved in his stay in this world for his personal comfort. He needed to figure out how to get back where he belonged, how to get back to the Seaview.
“Thanks all the same, but … could you take me back to where you found me? I… I lost something there and I really need to find it.” Yeah, my whole universe.
The look Storm gave him could have been one of his own. He wasn’t sure if he ought to laugh or cringe, but was saved from the decision by the appearance of a man who looked to be about Storm’s age at the driver’s side window. His hair wasn’t nearly as grey as hers, being mostly a medium brown, and he wore glasses.
“Hi, Storm. I see you brought your truck. Nice.” The man had a distinctive voice that somehow made Morton think radio announcer.
“Oh, hi, Mike.” She turned back to Chip. “This is Mike Bailey, Chip.”
Mike cocked his head to see more clearly into the vehicle. The eyebrows went up once he‘d gotten a good look at Chip. “That’s amazing. He looks just like Bob did when Voyage was on. Where on earth did you come up with him?”
“He literally fell into the road in front of me down at Gaviota. Now he says he needs to go back because he lost something there.” She gave Morton another sideways look. “His sanity, I’d say,” she added in a droll tone.
“Haven’t we all,” laughed Mike, slapping the side of the truck.
Sighing, Chip put on his best puppy dog look. “Please. It’s important.”
Storm looked at Mike, who was trying valiantly to stifle further laughter and not entirely succeeding. Turning back to Chip she pointed a finger at him and growled, “You are a damned nuisance, pal. I’ll take you - but only if Mike will come too. First though, I want to get some supper - lunch has long since worn off.”
“That’s fine with me,” said Chip. He leaned forward to get a better look at Mike. “Will you come so she’ll go?”
Looking somewhat taken aback by the hint of desperation in Morton’s voice, Mike nodded acquiescence.
“Right. Now that that’s settled - let’s eat.” Storm opened the door and got out, with Mike falling in beside. Chip followed more slowly, not entirely sure he could handle food yet, though he had to admit that his stomach was becoming far too intimately acquainted with his backbone. Maybe he could keep down something light, like soup.
Heads turned to stare and conversation momentarily stilled as the trio entered the dining room and sought a table over by the windows. All the eyes turned his way made Chip’s skin crawl. Now I know what one of the Admiral’s specimens feels like under a microscope, he thought to himself, not a pleasant sensation. He’d never particularly liked being the center of attention, but it was obvious he was the focal point of most of the current conversations that were springing up around the room. From the way everyone was gaping at him, he concluded that most of the people in the room were probably there for this Voyage reunion thing - whatever the hell that was. It killed what little appetite he’d had.
Reaching their table, Storm and Mike chose seats that faced the rest of the room, but Chip picked a chair that faced the windows. He did not want to look into the faces of all these strangers who thought he looked like someone else - or have to make conversation with them.
The meal proceeded with Chip maintaining a strained silence, while to cover for him Storm told all who approached that he’d been mugged and wound up in the emergency room. It garnered him sympathy that he really didn’t want, but it allowed him to avoid having to speak with anyone. By the time the meal was over though, even Mike was looking at him oddly and Storm - well, if looks could kill, Chip Morton knew he’d be a dead man.
The silence inside the truck was becoming thunderous. The other two fans, Diane and Mary Ellen, who’d joined them at the last minute as they‘d been pulling out of the hotel parking lot, sat in the back seat with Mike, clearly wondering just what they’d gotten themselves into. Even the normally affable Mike was silent, leaving Morton feeling like he was riding the edge of an atomic explosion - the radiation had passed but the blast wave had yet to arrive. He could only hope that they arrived back at the place he’d fallen into this bizarre universe soon - and that he could get back where he belonged.
“What the hell?!”
Storm brought the truck to an abrupt halt in the middle of the highway, staring out the windshield at the mass of police vehicles clustered around the entrance to the park that had been their destination. Morton felt his heart sink as a feeling of desperation wash through his soul.
So close, he thought to himself, I can’t believe it. What are they doing here? Does it have anything to do with me or Lewis?
Up ahead, he recognized the female deputy from earlier in the day - and it was clear she’d recognized the gray truck, for she was frantically signaling for the attention of some of the other officers and pointing at them. Storm gave Chip a sideways look that said all too plainly ‘whatever happens, it’s your fault.’ With a mental sigh he acknowledged she was probably right.
Several deputies - both male and female, Chip noted - approached the truck. While their guns were not drawn, they did have hands hovering near their holstered pistols.
“Would you step out of the vehicle, please,” requested the first one up to the driver’s side.
Turning off the engine, Storm gave Chip a quick glower before opening the door and stepping out. “Sure. Is there a problem, officer?” Behind her the others were also getting out, faces tight with apprehension, taking care to make no sudden or threatening moves. Morton stepped out with them and came around the front of the truck to stand beside Mike.
The deputy from earlier pointed at him. “He’s the one I took to the emergency room.”
A tall, thin faced, middle-aged man in a suit that shouted Fed followed her finger and regarded Morton dubiously. “I’m Agent Baker, FBI. You Morton?”
Shifting uneasily, Morton glanced over at Storm’s now puzzled expression before answering.
“Yes. Is there a problem?”
A sardonic expression flitted across the man’s face. “I suspect there is.” He hesitated for a second before continuing, “Commander.” His tone made it a question - and an insult. “The question is - just what is the problem - and just who are you?”
Before Chip could answer Storm stepped forward.
“He’s a Voyage fan like the rest of us. We’re here for the Reunion Convention at the Sheraton in Santa Barbara. Chip here,” she put a hand on his shoulder, “is re-enacting the role of the Seaview’s executive officer from the show. People do it all the time for Star Trek and nobody thinks anything about it,” she added somewhat defensively.
“I heard about that convention,” spoke up one of the deputies, a graying auburn haired man about Storm’s age whose name tag read Donaldson. “Liked the show as a kid - did a stint in the Navy because of it. Even served on subs. Figured I’d go this weekend and meet the actors. This guy is a dead ringer for the actor who played the XO.” There were other nods around. Santa Barbara frequently saw fans of the old series come to visit.
Baker’s expression became one of disbelief. “What are you talking about?”
“Must not understand the concept of fandom and conventions,” Storm muttered to the deputies, just loud enough for Baker to hear, which brought quickly hidden smiles to faces of several of the local law enforcement personnel. This close to LA, fandom was something everyone local had a pretty good grasp of.
“What the hell is fandom?” The question made it clear that Baker wasn’t from southern California - or else he’d been totally out of touch with reality as the entertainment industry knew it.
“Fans who keep the memory of old TV shows alive through writing, the internet and conventions. Our particular show is Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” explained Storm. “It was on TV back in the mid sixties.”
“That’s been,” Baker paused as he calculated the time period, “nearly forty years ago!”
“Forty years exactly in September since the series first aired,” noted Mike, speaking up for the first time.
Baker fixed him with a jaundiced look. “And just who are you?”
“Michael Bailey, from Portland, Oregon.”
“Oregon.” Baker looked Mike over like he was some sort of unsavory species of bug that had just crawled out from under a rock. “And just what do you do for a living in Oregon, Mr. Bailey?”
“I’m a DJ for a radio station there, Agent Baker,” replied Mike, looking somewhat taken aback by the biting derision in the agent’s tone.
A look of dismay, quickly hidden, passed over the agent’s face. It was clear that the presence of what he considered ‘media’ hadn’t been included in his plans.
“What about the rest of you?” The tone had moderated slightly, but only just. The deputies were looking on in bafflement, confused by the man’s unnecessarily brusque attitude.
Diane cleared her throat. “Diane Kachmar, librarian, author.” She gave Storm a nervous glance as she answered.
Storm took up the thread. “T. Storm, retired geologist, also an author.”
At this point Baker threw up his hands. “Don’t tell me,” he said sarcastically to Mary Ellen, “another author.”
“Well,” she admitted with a shrug, “we are all Voyage fanfic writers at the least. Though Diane has a non-fiction book published - a biography of Roy Scheider. Storm…” She trailed off as she looked questioningly over at the others.
“Geology paper published through the Oklahoma Geological Survey. I’m still in the process of writing my first novel. Mike’s already got one in print.”
Baker rolled his eyes skyward, then shot a glare at Morton. “And who are you and what do you do when you’re not running around playing sub commander? Another writer?”
Morton hesitated. He didn’t really want to lie, but the truth here would probably be taken as a lie - or worse - deliberate obstruction. So… “Charlie Phillips. I’m a firefighter in Chicago.” Which he probably would have been if he hadn’t gotten into Annapolis. He’d grown up around the fire service, with his dad, granddad, brothers, uncles and assorted cousins all being or having been firemen. He figured that he knew enough about the subject to convince this idiot of a Fed, though he didn’t think for one minute that he could fool a real firefighter.
“So why didn’t you say so when you were taken to the ER earlier?” Baker’s tone was testy.
Chip gave a convincing shrug. “I was trying to stay in character.” That’s what Storm accused me of, anyway. Might as well use it.
The four Voyage fans grinned at him and nodded.
“He was doing a damn fine job of it, too,” added Storm. “I was beginning to wonder if we hadn’t somehow gotten our hands on the real Chip Morton.”
If only you knew.
Baker’s scowl deepened at the chuckles of the deputies. “Alright. Just what were you doing here, when you were allegedly mugged? And where is your vehicle?”
“I was taking a walk,” answered Chip. “Minding my own business. I never did see what I got hit with - or who did it. A friend brought me here this morning and dropped me off.” Which is technically true, he added to himself, I know Lewis is behind whatever happened, but I didn’t actually see him do it. And Lee did bring me to work this morning.
“So where did it happen?” If anything, Baker’s scowl had deepened, leading Morton to surmise that the agent’s pet theory on what had happened had just been dealt a mortal blow.
Pointing down the road, Morton told him, “Down there, around the bend. You can’t see it from here.” Please ask me to show you exactly where.
“Show me exactly where you were attacked.” Baker had walked out away from the group, peering with squinted eyes in the direction indicated.
“Do you want to walk? The doctor told me to take it easy for a few days.” If we take one of the police cars, maybe I can lay hands on a weapon if it looks like the portal - or whatever it was that brought me here - is still there, thought Morton to himself. He sure hoped it was still there. Getting permanently marooned in this lunatic world was something he shuddered to even contemplate.
Baker sniffed in derision, but thought about it. He fastened his glare on Storm, who bristled slightly. “You come too, show me where you first encountered Mr. Phillips.”
“Do you want me to being my truck?”
“Why not?” rejoined Baker in a tone that verged on sarcasm. “Bring the whole crew. The more the merrier.”
“Okay.” Morton was positive the agent hadn’t meant his instructions literally, but before the man could open his mouth again to say so, Storm had swept him and the other three Voyage fans back into the gray truck, while one of the male deputies hopped onto the driver’s side running board to navigate through the mass of police vehicles clustered around the park access road. Baker was left standing on the middle of the pavement with his mouth hanging open at Storm’s sheer audacity.
Well, not quite what I had in mind, but if it gets me home…. Morton leaned forward, scanning the sides of the road carefully for any signs that whatever Lewis had used to transport him into this world was still operating, though he wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking for. He was disappointed when the truck rounded the bend and stopped without any indication of anything out of the ordinary - or at least what passed for ordinary here.
Storm killed the engine before turning to the deputy standing on the running board. “This is the place.”
“Right.” The man stepped off the running board and waved to the officers and FBI agents in the two trailing vehicles. Morton and the others again stepped out of the truck and stood in a cluster in front.
It struck just as Baker came striding up to the group. Bright green streamers of energy seemed to flow out of the ground and wrap everyone present in an electrifying embrace, dropping them to their knees.
Got to get back, was the one thought in his mind, a thought overpowering the burning pain in his senses. Staggering, but somehow keeping his feet, he lurched towards the driver’s side door of Storm’s truck, reaching to snatch the keys out of her hand.
Then the bottom dropped out of his universe - again. He felt himself graying out as a now familiar squeezing sensation enveloped him. I hope this is my ride home, was his last coherent thought before the world went dark.
The thump as he fell into the side of the truck brought him back to his senses. Struggling back onto his feet, he looked around to get his bearings. He was back on the Institute grounds, back on the path he’d been walking down with Lee Crane on the way to their meeting with the Admiral and Lewis.
Unfortunately he wasn’t alone.
The two police cars that had been behind Storm’s truck on the park service road were now sitting behind it on the path - along with a half dozen disoriented police officers and an obviously upset FBI agent, not to mention Storm and the other three Voyage fans. That certainly hadn’t been part of his plan.
The sudden crack of a bullet smacking into the windshield of the truck sent him scrambling off the path for cover behind a large tree. The bewildered deputies reflexively dived for the bushes as well, while the four civilians took shelter behind the pickup. Morton risked a quick peak around the tree trunk to see who was shooting and got showered with a spray of bark as a slug thudded into the trunk just above his head. He had, however, gotten a look at the shooter.
“Baker,” Morton yelled, “that’s one of the men who was in the park this morning!” The information seemed to electrify the cops, bringing them out of their daze. Pistols suddenly appeared in their hands and a fusillade of bullets peppered the bushes where the attacker lay in cover, sending the man scuttling for a less exposed position.
Well, thought Morton, surprised at the prompt response, they must know who these guys are - and they obviously want them bad - dead or alive. But where is Lee - and the Admiral? Not to mention security?
Becoming aware of movement out of the corner of his eye, Morton turned his head to see Bailey, Diane and Mary Ellen retreating from their position behind the truck, taking up a new location behind one of the police cars. But where was Storm? He craned his neck trying see if she was already behind one of the police cars, but there was no sign of her. A feeling of foreboding filled him. She wouldn’t - or would she?
Morton got his answer when the tires on the gray truck suddenly spun, throwing a shower of gravel over the two police cars. The truck rapidly picked up speed, bouncing off the path and plowing across the ground towards the small bush covered mound where their assailant had taken cover. A flurry of gunshots erupted, exploding the windshield and one of the headlights in a sparkling cascade of shattered glass, but the barrage failed to either slow the rapidly advancing vehicle or turn it from it’s course. Panicking, the shooter recoiled out of the way - and exposed himself to a deadly hail of lead from the police. He went down in a spray of blood and brains as the truck bumped to an uneven halt against a small tree.
A strange silence settled over the woods.
Morton was the first out of cover, racing across the path to the driver’s side of the truck, fearing the worst. Wrenching the door open, he froze at the sight of a snub-nosed .38 revolver pointed at the center of his chest.
“You should knock first, Mister,” growled Storm at him, lowering the gun to her lap. She brushed gingerly with the other hand at her hair and shoulders, sending fragments of the broken windshield tumbling onto the seat and floor. “Good way to get your head blown off.”
“Good way for me to get my head blown off!” Morton couldn’t help but gape at her. “That was a lunatic damnfool stunt you just pulled. You could have gotten yourself killed!”
“Worked didn’t it? They got the sorry bastard, didn’t they?” She had pulled her glasses down to the end of her nose and was looking at him over the rims. Chip threw up his hands and rolled his eyes skyward in a gesture of exasperation.
“Are you hurt?” he finally asked, biting back a number of ungentlemanly retorts.
“Nah. Just bounced around a bit. Truck got the worst of it,” she added ruefully, surveying the thoroughly perforated remains of the windshield as she picked still more fragments out of her clothes and hair. “My insurance company is gonna have a fit.” With a final brush of the hand down the front of her shirt, she sighed and turned back to Morton, eying him speculatively. “Somehow, I’m starting to wonder if your name is actually Charlie Phillips. And don‘t tell me you‘re a fireman.”
“I’m wondering about that myself,” said another voice behind Morton. He looked over his shoulder to see Deputy Donaldson approaching, while Agent Baker and two more officers were securing the area where the shooter had lain in ambush. “We obviously aren’t where we were. So who are you - and where is here?”
“Lt. Commander Charles Phillip Morton,” he told them in a voice tinged with tones of irony. “And this is the grounds of the Nelson Institute for Marine Research.”
In any other circumstance the two would have probably laughed at him, but as they surveyed their surroundings, he could tell that belief was starting to overpower their skepticism.
Storm shook her head and dryly commented to Donaldson, “This is straight out of the Twilight Zone - and crossed with the X-Files. I’m having trouble believing it’s actually happening. Even for Southern California - this is downright weird.”
Donaldson gave her a wry smile in return. “Tell me about it.” He looked at Morton with an expression that was equal parts apprehension and excitement. “So where’s Nelson and Crane?”
Chip blinked, momentarily surprised that they would know about the captain and admiral, but then recalled that Storm had mentioned that the TV show had been about the Seaview. If he and the boat were part of it, then it wasn’t unreasonable that the rest of the crew could be as well. He sighed as he contemplated his answer.
“I don’t know. I was coming down this path with Lee when I got snatched up and dumped into your universe. The Admiral is supposed to be in the lab that’s around the hill from here.”
“But?” Donaldson was looking at him with an arched eyebrow.
“But the scientist he’s supposed to be working with is someone I don’t trust any farther than I can throw the Seaview. I believe that man is responsible for what happened to me earlier - and that he’s probably the reason the man from the park is here now.” He looked over at the small cluster of cops gathered around the body. “Who is he?”
“A terrorist,” responded Donaldson grimly. “We had information a group of Islamic extremists were trying to smuggle one or more nuclear devices into the US - with LA as one of the possible targets.”
Stunned by the information, Morton stared at the deputy in disbelief; then he made a connection. “They were getting them from Lewis - and he meant to take them from Seaview,” the blond growled in a flat tone.
Donaldson looked startled - and then thoughtful. “This Lewis would deal with terrorists?”
“The man would deal with the Devil,” stated Morton firmly. “He has absolutely no morals. He‘s suspected by the police of having murdered his parents and siblings ten years ago in Chicago - and I know personally that he was the cause of the deaths of ten men in San Diego when I was a lieutenant. I know because I was nearly number eleven - and the sorry bastard tried to blame it on me!”
“Then what the hell is Nelson doing dealing with him?” asked Storm, somewhat sharply.
“The Admiral,” responded Morton dourly, “was misled by certain people in Washington about both Lewis’ character and abilities. And who persuaded him not to listen to me.”
“Ah. I see,” remarked Donaldson, shaking his head ruefully, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. So do you suppose Nelson and Crane need rescuing, Chip?”
Morton sighed. “I’d be willing to bet on it.”
“So would I,” added Storm as she looked sideways at the deputy. “This is the Seaview’s crew we’re talking about here. Do you think you can get Baker to go along?”
“With nukes involved? He damned well better. What about you and your three friends?”
Storm looked over her shoulder through the shattered rear window of her truck at the other three Voyage fans who were still standing in a small cluster beside the lead police cruiser. “I think,” she said matter-of-factly, “that this is probably way out of our league. I know it is mine.” She handed the .38 to Morton before stepping carefully out of the truck. “You’ll come likelier needing this than me. I’ll be with Mike and company - I think I’ve had my quota of adventure for the day.”
Lee Crane paused in his effort to free himself of the ropes that bound him hand and foot and cocked his head to listen to the barrage of gunfire coming from up the hill. The sound brought a smile of grim satisfaction. Apparently Angie, the Admiral’s executive secretary, hadn’t bought Lewis’ excuses for the continued absence of the three command staff officers from their duties and had called in security to check things out. He snorted in derision at the thought of Lewis and the half-dozen terrorists that the man had brought in.
“Bloody amateurs,” he muttered under his breath. Still, that didn’t make them any less dangerous. Amateurs tended to be unpredictable - and this lot was clearly composed of religious fanatics. Except for Lewis, of course. It was plain he was in it strictly for the money. He would be interested only in getting away with his ill-gotten gains.
The sound of rapid footsteps in the corridor alerted Crane that company was imminent. As he quickly rearranged his bonds to hide the evidence that he had almost freed himself, the door to the storage room he was being held in burst open. The subject of Crane’s ruminations stood there, looking wild-eyed, a semi-automatic pistol in hand. Hands trembling, he pointed the gun at Crane.
“Get up! Call them off!”
Pretending ignorance, Crane put on a baffled expression. “Call who off?”
“Security!” shrieked Lewis, practically leaping the few feet from the door to where the captain sat on the concrete floor. Grabbing him by the collar, he jerked the captain to his feet. That was just the opportunity Crane had been waiting for.
Slipping his wrists the rest of the way out of the ropes, he brought up his hands in a lightning fast move, grabbing the startled scientist by the throat with one hand and taking the gun from him with the other. He put the barrel between the man’s eyes and thumbed the hammer back with an ominous click that sounded like a crack of thunder in the confines of the small storage space.
“Consider yourself lucky,” Crane told the hapless man in voice colder than the depths of interstellar space, “I need Commander Morton back, or I’d kill you where you stand. And you‘d better be able to get him back, or I‘ll kill you anyway. Slowly.”
The terrified expression on Lewis’ face indicated that he believed every word.
“Now, where’s the Admiral?”
“In the lab,” stuttered Lewis. “I gave him some knockout drops in a cup of coffee.”
“Let’s go,” growled Crane, giving the man a shake before propelling him out the door. “The Admiral had better be okay.”
The pair proceeded carefully down the hallway, with Crane keeping Lewis in front of him as a shield in case they encountered any hostile opposition. Upon reaching the lab door, the dark haired officer kicked it open, then hustled himself and his prisoner inside, eyes rapidly scanning the interior of the room, checking for ambushes or traps. There were none. The only other person in the room was Nelson, still sitting in a chair at Lewis’ desk, head down on a pile of papers.
Crossing over to his boss, Crane felt for a pulse in his neck. It beat strong and steady beneath his fingertips.
Thank heavens, was his immediate thought. One problem at least partially solved. Now what to do with Lewis….
While Lewis looked on uncertainly, Crane rummaged around in a drawer under one of the lab tables, looking for a solution to his second most pressing problem. If memory served him correctly, the researcher who’d previously occupied this lab had always been securing things together with duct tape. There should still be a roll of it around.
“Ah.“ Crane grunted in satisfaction at finding what he was looking for. Turning his full attention back to Lewis, he indicated the other chair in front of the desk, motioning him to sit. Reluctantly Lewis did so. It was but a few moments work for the captain to have him securely taped to the chair. His last piece went over Lewis’ mouth; he didn’t need the man yelling a warning to his cohorts.
Picking up the phone, Crane was relived to get a dial tone. Now to call Security and find out exactly what was going on and the status of the terrorists.
“Hopkins, This is Commander Crane, down at the Isolation Lab…” was as far as he got.
“Sir, what’s going on down there? The west perimeter patrols reported gunshots in your area and caught three armed men trying to slip off the grounds. They’re in custody now and refusing to identify themselves. They appear to be foreign nationals - two apparently from the Middle East and one from perhaps India.”
Crane stiffened in dismay. “You mean it wasn’t your people doing the shooting?”
“No, sir. I’ve got a team moving your way, but they’re going blind so it’s slow. Can you tell me what they’re up against?”
“Damn,” Crane muttered, more to himself than Hopkins. “I’ve got Doctor Lewis in custody. He drugged the Admiral, took me prisoner, and has done something to Mr. Morton. What, I don’t know yet - Morton‘s missing. He’s also brought in six terrorists. If you’ve got three - and from the descriptions it sounds like part of the ones I saw with Lewis, then there are at least three more around somewhere.” He deliberated for a moment. “I have no idea who a second group would be. Could it have been a falling out amongst the six?” Even as he said it though, Crane knew it couldn’t have been the case. The terrorists had been armed with automatic rifles - and part of the gunfire he’d heard had definitely been small arms fire from pistols. That was why he’d thought it was the Institute’s security people in the first place.
Hopkins said as much and then added. “My people caught the three they have before the shooting ever stopped. They also report that it sounded like there was only one automatic rifle involved in the firefight.”
“Huh. Terrorists in two or three groups then, plus unknowns. Great.” Crane ran a hand through his hair in a sign of exasperation. “Could your people tell how many were in the group with small arms?”
“Balkman said it sounded like at least four, but could have been as many as six.”
“Too many to be the group with Lewis then. On the other hand, if they’re in opposition to the ones I know are terrorists, then they could be friendlies of some sort. Who is anybody’s guess. Tell your people to continue to proceed with caution and not to fire unless fired upon. We don’t want to shoot somebody who might be on our side.”
“You got it, Captain Crane. I’ll update my people now. Will you stay on the line?”
“No. Admiral Nelson is still out of it, so I’m here alone. Speaking of which, is Jamison on the base?”
“He’s in the infirmary, prepping for possible casualties.”
“Once the lab here is secure, unless he’s got an emergency there, send him out here to see to the Admiral.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
Crane placed the receiver back on the phone with thoughtful care. The situation had suddenly gotten a great deal more complicated.
Perhaps Lewis knows more than he’s told me. Maybe I should have another little talk with him.
Crane reached over and ripped the tape from Lewis’ mouth, getting a terrified yelp in response. He leaned down and looked the frightened man squarely in the eye, his expression remorseless.
“Lewis, just how many people did you bring onto the Institute grounds - and how did you get them in here?”
Almost in tears, stuttering in near terror, Lewis told him. “There were only six. I brought them in through a portal from the same alternate universe I sent Morton to.”
“An alternate universe? I’m not going to ask you how you did it - the only thing I care about is can we get Chip back?” Crane’s seemingly ruthless intensity was reducing Lewis to a whimpering puddle.
“Yes, yes,” cried the man, “if he didn’t stray too far from the area of the portal.”
“What about these other people?”
“Other people?” Lewis shook his head. “There shouldn’t be anybody else. I swear to you I only brought the six. There’s no way…” At that point he trailed off. It was clear to Crane that something had occurred to him.
“You didn’t bring them - but could they have come on their own through this portal of yours?”
“I … I don’t think on their own. But … I think …” Lewis was on the verge of hyperventilating from panic as he gulped for air, “the portal may be unstable. There seems to be more temporal shear in it than I calculated. It‘s been fluctuating, springing in and out of existence when it‘s not supposed to.”
Crane recalled Morton’s words about Lewis screwing around with things he couldn’t quite control and having them blow up on him. He turned the possibilities around in his mind, wishing Nelson were awake to enlighten him on just what he was really dealing with, for Lewis’ words had raised the possibility that Morton might not be lost, that they could get him back.
Another flurry of gunshots sounded just outside the lab, jerking Crane out of his reverie. He slapped the tape back on Lewis mouth and shoved his chair back against the wall. Grabbing Nelson with one arm, he pulled the desk away from the wall and deposited the unconscious officer in the space created. Crossing the room to a bank of storage lockers, Crane opened doors until he found a locker both large enough for a man to stand in and was empty enough to accommodate him. Stepping inside, he pulled the door nearly closed. He could see the doorway into the lab and settled the barrel of the pistol across his wrist for a better shot.
The door eased open. Crane held his fire - and his breath. Then a familiar blond head briefly poked around the doorjamb and withdrew.
“Chip!” shouted Lee, stepping out of his hiding place.
The blond head popped back around the corner, blue eyes searching for what they’d missed before. A grin spread across Morton’s face at the sight of his friend and commanding officer.
“Lee! Thank Heavens. Where’s the Admiral and Lewis?” Morton asked as he came into the room, followed by two armed men in what looked like police uniforms - though they didn‘t match anything that Crane was familiar with. And their black vests - body armor? - looked like something military special forces or a SWAT team would wear.
The captain pointed with his chin to the wall to Morton’s left where a cabinet had concealed the taped form of Doctor Lewis from him. His eyes, however, never left the two strangers, even when Morton motioned them on into the room.
“Captain Lee Crane, Deputy Alan Donaldson of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s department and Agent Baker of the FBI.” Crane could tell from the tone in Morton’s voice that there was more to the story. Given what Lewis had babbled about alternate universes, along with the fact that he didn’t recognize the deputy, he had a pretty good idea of just what the rest of the details might be.
“They wouldn’t be from the same place,” Crane paused slightly for emphasis, “as the pack of terrorists Lewis imported, would they?”
“I expect that we would, Captain,” said the auburn haired deputy with a wry smile. “We’ve taken out three of them. You wouldn’t happen to know how many there were altogether, would you?”
“Six is my information - and the Institute’s security has three in custody.”
There were looks of relief on all three faces.
“That is definitely good news, Captain.” Deputy Donaldson looked over at Lewis. “Is this your troublemaker?” There was an ever so faint emphasis on ‘your’ that brought a small twitch of a smile to Crane’s lips and a small nod of affirmation.
Morton was looking around the room with a frown. “Lee, where’s the Admiral?”
“Behind the desk. Lewis drugged him - he’s unconscious.”
“Shit.” Morton crossed the room in three strides and was pulling the desk away from the way to reveal the limp form of Harriman Nelson on the floor. He looked up at Crane with concern on his face.
“I’ve already put in a request for Jamison, Chip. Now that I know the terrorists are out of action, I can get security here.” He looked over at the two police officers as he picked up the phone receiver and began to dial. “How many are there of your people and where are they?” he asked.
The two officers shared a look before answering.
“Eleven. Seven cops and four civilians,” said Donaldson. “The rest are just up the path about a hundred yards - the same place your Mr. Morton got transported.”
Crane frowned. “Civilians? You mean suspects?” That would make for an interesting mix - and add another layer of confusion to the situation.
Donaldson shook his head. “No, civilians. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - or the right place at the right time, depending on your viewpoint.” His tone was full of such irony that Crane couldn’t help but stare at him, a thread of suspicion worming into his mind. The snort from the FBI agent contributed to his confusion and it belatedly occurred to him that all of the FBI agents that he knew in this world wouldn’t have let a mere deputy sheriff take charge of a federal criminal investigation, which terrorism certainly was - at least in his world. Something very odd was going on here.
Deep in thought, he put the phone to his ear and finished dialing. Hopkins answered.
“Captain! My people report more gunshots down by the lab.”
“That was the unknowns finishing off the last of the terrorists. Mr. Morton is with them. They appear to be on our side. There are two groups, eleven individuals total. Two of them are here with me, the rest down the path about a hundred yards from the lab.”
Hopkins didn’t miss the significance of Crane’s use of the word appear. “Yes, sir. I’ll have a couple of teams down there shortly.”
Crane turned back to the two police officers. “If you don’t mind my asking, just how did you happen to get caught up in this?”
This time it was the FBI agent, Baker, who answered. “We had intel that a group of Islamic terrorists were trying to import nuclear weapons into the US.” He paused, brow furrowed, “Our US, I guess.” He shook his head and then admitted to Crane, “All of this yours and ours, alternate universe stuff is damned confusing. Not to mention Voyage reunions and fandoms, which I still don’t understand, but Deputy Donaldson apparently does.” Baker paused, as if inviting comment but Donaldson merely shrugged. Scowling at him, Baker then continued. “Anyway, according to the info we had was that the weapons were coming in through the West Coast, somewhere south of San Francisco. We got a lucky break through your man Morton and one of the civilians with us. They saw the terrorists, were able to get away - and reported the sighting. That led to us being in the location when - what ever it was - snatched us all here.”
Voyage reunions and fandoms? Crane’s forehead wrinkled in noncomprehension.
“It’s a long story, Captain,” grinned Donaldson. “I’m not sure I’m the one to ask about it, though. I suspect our four civilians are far more informed on the subject than I am. It’s been a long time since I was involved with Voyage.”
Crane was about to ask just what this ‘Voyage’ thing was when the sounds of more people arriving at the door caught his attention. Three of them were NIMR security, but the other four, one man and three women, were in civilian attire and were strangers to him. The retired Marine sergeant in charge of the security squad gave a hand signal to Crane that they needed to speak privately. Excusing himself, the captain stepped out the door into the hallway.
“Captain, the other five, along with two of the vehicles, disappeared in some kind of green energy field just as we were approaching. These four were with a third vehicle off the path, near the body of what appears to have been a fourth terrorist.”
Crane sighed. “From what I know about the situation, Sergeant, it’s unlikely they did it on purpose. Dr. Lewis doesn’t have the proper control over his experiment. You should probably keep your people back from that area.”
The sergeant looked thoughtful, having been with NIMR security long enough to know that things occasionally got more than a little strange around the Seaview’s senior staff. “I see, sir. What shall I do with them then?”
“Leave them here for the moment. Is Doctor Jamison coming?”
“Yes, sir. He should be here any minute.”
No sooner had the man spoken than the second security team appeared at the head of the hallway, with Will Jamison and his corpsman Frank in their midst. Crane breathed a sigh of relief at the sight.
“Doc, Lewis gave the Admiral something in his coffee and knocked him out. He doesn’t seem to be in any distress, but he hasn’t shown any sign of coming around either.”
Jamison hustled past Crane, firing his questions as he passed. “Any idea what drug it was or the dosage?”
“Haven’t had a chance to find out, Doc. Things have been a little busy here. But the sorry bastard who did it is available to answer questions.” As long as he wasn’t the object of the doctor’s undivided attention, Crane was perfectly willing to cooperate.
“I’d like to find the bottle whatever it is came from and run a check on it, just to be sure.”
“Not a problem.” Crane followed Jamison into the lab, where the doctor was making a quick but thorough examination of Nelson. “Doc, He was sitting in a chair when I found him. I put him down on the floor for safety when the shooting started.”
Jamison grunted. “Doesn’t appear to have done any damage, Lee.” The doctor motioned Frank and one of the security men over; when he pointed at the desk they pulled it out further to provide room for him to get in beside Nelson. As they moved the desk a glitter on the top caught Crane’s eye. It proved to be a small drug bottle. Picking it up, Crane stalked over to where Lewis was still seated.
Holding the bottle up in front of Lewis’ face, Crane growled, “Is this what you gave him?” As Lewis answered with an emphatic nod, Crane reached up and again ripped the tape from the man’s mouth. “How much?”
Blinking in pain, Lewis managed to mumble, “About a dozen drops.”
Taking the vial over to Jamison, Crane extended his hand to display the bottle to the doctor, who took it for a closer examination.
“Hmmm. I think this came out of my medicine cabinet in the infirmary. I’m missing a bottle of this.”
Crane looked back over at Lewis, who hung his head and tearfully nodded affirmation.
“Just to be on the safe side, let’s take the Admiral and the bottle back to the infirmary. I’ll run some blood tests and an analysis of the drug to make sure it wasn’t tampered with. If it‘s what it appears to be, I have an antidote for it.” The doctor rose to his feet and fixed Morton with a look. “I need you at the Infirmary as well for a checkup.”
Morton opened his mouth to protest, but Crane shot him a look that said quite clearly ‘That’s an order, Mister.’ Shoulders slumping, Morton sighed and nodded. Motioning his people into action, it was a task of but a few moments for Jamison to get Nelson transferred to a stretcher for transport. The men carefully transported their burden out the door, with Morton trailing unhappily behind in the company of the doctor and corpsman.
Once that group had gone, Crane turned back to the first squad.
“Sergeant.” The man almost automatically snapped to attention. “Take one of your men and see that Dr. Lewis is escorted to the brig. Keep him separate from the terrorists and post extra guards.”
“Yes, Sir.” The ex-marine saluted, then turned to bark out orders to his squad.
Turning his attention to his other problem, Crane let his chin sink onto his chest as he thoughtfully studied the group. What do I call them? he wondered to himself. They aren’t really aliens, but then again they are. They shifted nervously under his attention, looking back at him with expressions that wavered between trepidation and what appeared to be awe. He looked a question at the two officers.
The FBI agent sighed, but stepped forward to make introductions. “Captain Crane, this is Mike Bailey, Diane Kachmar, T. Storm - what the T stands for I don‘t know yet … and I don’t believe we’d gotten to your name at all,” he said, indicating the last of the four.
“Uh, Mary Ellen Connerty.”
“They tell me,” Baker said dryly, “that they are all writers.” There were rolled eyes in the group.
After a moment of hesitation and glances at the other three members of the group, the gray haired woman Baker had introduced as T. Storm spoke. “Captain Crane, we mostly write as a hobby. Some of us are actually published authors - like Diane and Mike - my print publications are limited to technical papers with the Oklahoma Geological Survey. We all are fanfiction writers…” At this point she trailed off and scratched her head in puzzlement. “Uh, Captain, just exactly what year is it here?”
Crane briefly froze as the implications of the question ricocheted in his head. After a long second, he slowly answered, “1976.” And wondered what the hell a fanfiction writer was.
Storm cast a rueful glance at her companions. “Uh, does anybody remember just when the internet got started?”
“Internet?” The bafflement on Crane’s face was obvious.
“Oh, boy,” muttered Storm, which brought slightly hysterical giggles from several of the others.
“Quantum leap,” muttered someone else - Crane wasn’t sure who, but Storm snorted and answered, “I feel like I‘ve leaped.”
They’re talking in riddles - or code, Crane thought to himself. Enough of this. “Would anybody care to explain to me just what’s going on?”
The four - no five - for he realized that in some strange way the deputy was one of them rather than with the FBI agent - traded looks.
“Uhm, I suppose the short version is that it’s July, 2004 where we’re from - and to steal a line from Star Trek, all of your tomorrows are our yesterdays. Sort of. Maybe.” Storm gave the others a look that bordered on desperation. “This has got to be a different time-line, guys. I mean, if the Seaview is real here.”
If the Seaview is real? Crane blinked as the sentence careened around his mind. Timeline? 2004? Oh, shit. This is NOT something I want to have to deal with. Lewis was dealing with a universe I don’t want to even contemplate.
“Maybe you should wait and talk to the Admiral,” he said carefully.
The five shared looks again. “Well, if you think so,” said Storm dubiously.
Five apprehensive Voyage fans, one disgruntled (and worried) FBI agent and the Seaview’s XO sat in chairs arrayed in front of Admiral Harriman Nelson’s desk and fidgeted.
Lee Crane sat perched on one edge of the desk, arms folded as he glared at his XO.
Jamison lounged against a side wall and looked on in what could only be described as bemusement.
A rumpled looking Nelson, finally recovered from his unwanted nap, leaned back in his chair behind the desk, hands folded together, trying to decide whether he should be insulted or amused. Finally he leaned forward and harrumphed.
“So you’re telling me, that in your universe, all of this,” he waved a hand around to indicate the Institute and possibly the rest of the universe, “was a TV show that was on forty years ago during the 1960s? And that said show still has fans in the year 2004 who actually write stories about these characters and publish them on a public computer network? And that there are actually conventions where people come and pay to see the actors from these old shows?”
“That’s about the size of it, Admiral,” said Diane, who had just finished trying to describe the concept of fandom to the Seaview’s senior staff after Mike Bailey had explained just exactly what Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea had been.
“I find it difficult to believe that computers are so common.” This came from Crane, who’d maintained a façade of polite skepticism through the whole explanation. And felt his skin crawl every time he caught one of the females in the group staring at him with a look that seemed in some way … hungry. Well, except for Storm. She was giving Chip the eye, while Donaldson and Bailey were looking at Nelson with expressions that were almost - he searched for a word - worshipful. The FBI agent was the only one of the bunch who acted halfway normal.
Storm leaned forward. “The technology got invented to make them both small and relatively cheap.” At Nelson’s look of disbelief, she added, “That’s something we can prove easily enough. How big would one of your machines with thirty gigabytes of memory need to be?”
Nelson tapped a pencil on the desktop. “It would take up most of this room.”
“I’ve got one right here in my backpack that weighs in at about thirteen pounds. It‘s a battery powered portable. You can get one just like it for under five hundred dollars.”
“Thirty gigabytes? Are you sure of that number?” Nelson’s attention was riveted.
“Oh, yeah. The newest versions are even lighter - under five pounds, with sixty gig hard drives. My desktop, which is about the size of your trashcan there,” she pointed at the small can beside the desk, “has an eighty gig hard drive. And at four years old is obsolete. The new ones can have up to two hundred gig hard drives.” Laughing, she added. “Come to think of it, it’s about the same physical size as my first PC, which had about just six megabytes or so on the hard drive. And as I recall, they cost about the same too.”
“I’d like to see this machine of yours, if you don’t mind.” They could almost see Nelson drool at the idea of something that powerful being so small.
“Sure. That’s why I mentioned it.”
Mike frowned, then spoke. “Are you sure it’s still working after coming through that … portal?”
Storm shrugged. “The electronics in the truck are still working, so I don’t see why the laptop wouldn’t be too.” Seeing the question on the faces of the Seaview’s officers she added. “They use a lot of computerized black box technology in everything anymore. Hell, they’re even starting to put data recorders on cars and trucks for accident investigation, just like airplanes. I’ve read that the average vehicle as of 2001 had more computing power than the lunar landers. Computers are everywhere in our society.” She made a rueful face. “It remains to be seen if in the long term this is a good thing or not.” Reaching down beside her chair, she lifted a green backpack from the floor and placed it on Nelson’s desk. Unzipping it, she pulled out what looked like a flat silver and black plastic box to the Seaview’s officers. The officers all came around the desk to get a better look when she flipped up the top and turned it on.
The first screen displayed the same logo that was on the top of the lid, Compaq, against a dark but not black background. Then another logo appeared - Windows XP. The screen that followed was a burst of brilliant blue, bringing a small ‘ah’ from the Admiral. A small box appeared in the center - Storm typed in what Nelson quickly realized was a password and a third screen - an underwater color photo of kelp - appeared. Small icons appeared on the left-hand side of the screen and blue lights flickered on the front edge. Faint sounds came from the machine.
“Takes this one a couple of minutes to get all the programs loaded,” Storm noted. “As soon as the icons all appear here,” she pointed to the right-hand bottom of the screen, “it’s ready. Oops, forgot the mouse.” She reached into the backpack and pulled out a small device that she plugged into one side and then placed onto a rubber looking pad with a picture of several firemen on it. Clicking on the last icon on the bottom row, she gave a small nod. “Okay, it’s ready.”
Crane leaned closer, after giving the other two women a wary look. “You’ve said that we all have alternates in your universe who look like us. Have you got anything in there to prove that?”
Storm looked sideways at Diane. “Do think he’s up to seeing what David looks like these days?”
In answer Diane groaned and buried her face in her hands. “Oh, God. Have you got the convention pics in there?”
“Yep. Everybody who was there.” She looked up at Crane. “I hope you’ve considered the fact that the people who played your roles on Voyage are all forty years older now.”
That statement seemed to give Crane pause. He was still for a moment, but then slowly nodded.
“Okay then.” Storm clicked at the bottom of the screen and a list appeared. She clicked again. This time a screen displaying small folders with pictures on the front and a title below each one appeared. The arrow went to the one marked ‘Hedison’ and with a double click the file opened to show an array of small pictures. The first one was a picture of Storm standing beside…
As the picture filled the screen, the color drained from Crane’s face. There was no mistaking the face. Older, much older, bearded, hair gone white, with glasses, but it was himself. He heard the intake of breath from all three of the others.
“My God,” Jamison muttered as he got a good look at the screen.
“You okay?” Crane looked up to find Diane and Mary Ellen looking at him with worried expressions.
“I…,” Crane took a deep breath to steady himself before turning back to the screen. It’s not really me, he firmly told himself, it’s just an actor who looks like me. His eyes narrowed as he glanced briefly at Diane, catching her and Mary Ellen watching him with that hungry look - again. They both hastily looked elsewhere, blushing. He shook his head, mildly irritated. Diane had mentioned when she was telling them about fandom that she knew this guy Hedison. I wonder if she acts this way around him? was his thought. “Yeah, I’m okay. It’s just a surprise. I guess I really didn’t believe you before.”
Nelson now eyed the screen with some trepidation. Clearing his throat, he asked, “Pictures of my double?”
The Voyage group again exchanged looks. It was Mike who sighed and reluctantly told him, “Richard Basehart, the actor who played you, unfortunately died some years back.” Mike spread his hands. “I’m sorry.”
“I’ve got some pictures of Richard,” added Storm. “Nothing from after Voyage, I’m afraid. None of us can outbid Jane when stuff like that comes up on Ebay. She’s a huge Basehart fan.”
“Ah.” Storm rubbed her nose and looked at her companions. “How does one explain Ebay to somebody who’s never been on the Net?”
“The Net?” It was like these people were speaking a different language.
Storm stopped to reflect for a moment. “Short for Internet. I guess that technology isn’t available yet. It’s hard to remember that a lot of things we take for granted have only been around less than twenty years.” She shook her head and looked thoughtful. “Though if I recall correctly, the first internet was a computer network between a handful of universities and research labs set up for research purposes during the seventies.”
Enlightenment lit up Nelson’s face. “NIMR is part of that.”
“Ah. Then you know basically what it is. So increase the capability of the computers by a thousand fold, raise the speed of the network, add in public access and you got the Internet. It’s gone from being an esoteric research tool to an everyday worldwide communications and entertainment source. As for Ebay - that’s an online auction site. You can list any item for sale and anyone in the world can bid on it. It’s kinda like the world’s biggest garage sale, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, year round. You can find almost anything on it. They even had an old aircraft carrier on there not too long ago.”
Nelson was intrigued in spite of himself. “You’re not serious. A carrier?” But the entire group was nodding agreement, even the FBI agent, Baker. “Amazing. So how do they avoid fraud?”
“Feedback from both buyers and sellers about their transactions. Everyone has to have a screen name for identification. You piss people off, it shows up in your rating. Most people won’t buy from anyone with more than just a few bad reports. Plus Ebay has the right to kick you off if you break the rules. And not following through on a transaction is definitely an infraction.”
Nelson had to shake his head. These people were living in a universe that was straight out of science fiction. “I’ll have to take your word for it. It’s difficult to imagine.”
The group gave a collective shrug. “Wait till people here invent cell phones - and everybody and his dog has one,” Storm told him dryly.
The remark produced a snort from Morton, prompting a questioning look from Nelson and Crane. “I encountered one of those while I was over there,” he said in explanation. Pointing at Storm, he added, “It was hers.”
Storm shook her head. “My sister’s. She insists I take one when I travel. I personally despise the damned things. When I’m in my car, I don’t want people calling me up to jabber.” She reached into her purse and produced a small green plastic object that she tossed to Nelson. “Without the microwave relay tower system it probably won’t work here, but you can look at it.”
Nelson thoughtfully turned the object over, examining it. Seeing that it was composed of two halves, he lifted the cover. Inside was a small screen and keypad with numbers. “I take it this is a portable telephone.”
“Yep. Handiest gadget ever invented - and a royal pain in the ass. People can’t shut up on the blighted things.” It was clear that Storm was no fan of the technology, but was resigned to their existence.
“What about the rest of you?” Crane asked, clearly curious about a portable phone so tiny.
In response all the rest of the group held up similar plastic objects in an array of assorted colors. The admiral and captain shared a look and shook their heads. Nelson handed the tiny phone back to Storm and turned back to the computer.
“What else besides photos and Internet do you use these computers for?”
“Depends on the user. Besides surfing the Net, I mostly do photo files, word processing, some music files. Some people use them for games, animation, drafting, graphic presentations, systems controls, inventory control, file keeping, drafting, bookkeeping, taxes - you name it and there’s probably a computer program somewhere that can do it. Not always as simply as doing it by hand, but most systems anymore aren’t set up to accept that kind of data. And that doesn‘t count embedded systems in nearly all machines built anymore either.”
Nelson looked thoughtful. The beginnings of what she was speaking of had begun to creep into the workings of the Institute. He’d just never stopped to contemplate where the process might ultimately lead - or the changes it would produce in the language. So much of the language patterns of these people was clearly influenced by technology - and that was something entirely unexpected in such a short timeframe. He suspected that had they been from a hundred years later he might not have been able to understand them at all.
“So, just how many programs do you have on this one?” The question came from Morton.
“Ummm. I’ve never counted,” answered Storm. She made a couple of mouse clicks and a list appeared that looked like it contained at least two dozen items. “Lot of them I never use - they came with the computer. Some I’ve installed myself, like the MahJongg games and Graphmatica. Oh I bet you’d like that one, Admiral - it’s a mathematical graphing program. It even does calculus.” She clicked on the program name, bringing up a blank grid. Typing in a simple quadratic equation, the men watched in amazement as the resulting graph appeared instantly on the screen. “Now for the derivative…” She mouse clicked a button on the menu bar and a second graph appeared with the first.
Examining the results, Nelson was impressed. Even the computers he had access to weren’t that fast.
“Simply amazing. How much did you pay for the math program?” Nelson asked.
“Oh, that one I got from a math professor whose class I was taking. Found it very helpful. Even if he did make me want to scream in frustration. Some people just don‘t have any ability to teach - and he was one of ‘em.” She shrugged. “Not that he wasn’t a nice guy, mind you, and a hell of a mathematician, he just couldn’t teach.”
Chuckling, Nelson noted, “I’ve met more than a few like that myself.” At least that aspect of human nature and society wasn‘t any different between the two worlds. Sometimes these people seemed just like the ones he knew, but then they’d turn around and do something that made them seem totally alien. This whole fandom thing for example. Keeping the memory of an old TV show alive for forty years! He could only shake his head in amazement. Not to mention the interactive dynamics of this bunch kept skewing off in unexpected directions he found difficult to anticipate. It seemed odd to him that the only male member of the fan group wasn’t the one who was doing most of the talking, especially since he knew from Morton the man was a radio DJ. But then, according to Morton, women were much more a part of the workplace in their world. It was clear from his own conversations with them that these females would probably take a very dim view of the parochial attitude still so common in his own world.
In addition, the fact that the FBI agent tended to let the deputy sheriff take the lead so often was also baffling. Nearly every Fed he’d ever encountered tended to be full of himself, not to mention very territorial about their cases. Maybe it had to do with the fact that in this particular instance the deputy knew far more about what was happening than the FBI agent did - and for a change had sense enough to know it.
As the silence lengthened, Nelson found himself looking up with a sense of trepidation. The four fans and the deputy were wordlessly conferring amongst themselves and even as he looked on came to another of those strange silent consensuses that he’d already found so disconcerting. Whatever the topic this time was, they seemed to have chosen to defer to Mike to be their spokesman.
“Um, Admiral Nelson, we were wondering if we could see the Seaview.”
Nelson blinked, astonished, but then reflected that perhaps he shouldn’t have been. These abrupt changes of subject seemed to be another trait these people had. Their minds seemed to be able to go in multiple directions at once and they could track from one subject to another without missing a beat. He reflected for a moment. They probably already knew a lot about the boat from the TV series, though Storm had made some disparaging comments about the producer’s ‘fuzzy facts’ as she’d called them. It was also clear that little if any of the Seaview’s technology could even approach what he was looking at on his desk - or even, from what Morton had told him and he himself had inferred, the technology in Storm’s pickup. That stung a bit, but then he had to admit that they had twenty-eight years on his own world. He smiled ruefully at where his own world had been twenty-eight years ago - in 1948. Seaview would have seemed sheer science fiction, as alien as a starship.
“I don’t see why not,” he told them and was answered by beaming smiles, especially from Storm, Bailey and Donaldson. He’d noted that they seemed to be the more technically oriented members of the group. Baker just sighed, while Crane scowled. It was clear that Seaview’s captain was adamantly opposed to bringing this particular group of strangers aboard the boat, prompting Nelson to mentally sigh. There would probably be a shouting match over it between himself and Crane once they were in private.
“I’ll leave my backpack here, if you don’t mind,” said Storm. “I need to recharge the battery in my computer, if the plugs and voltage are compatible.” She held up a plug. “120 volts AC?”
Nelson leaned over and examined the plug. “Looks standard to me and that is the same operating voltage we use.” Or at least the terminology was the same, Nelson reminded himself.
“Then I guess we can give it a shot. I wasn‘t sure this universe was close enough to ours to be compatible.” She picked up the little machine and carried it over to a bookshelf that Nelson pointed out. Plugging it in, a yellow light came on. She watched it for a moment, but it seemed steady. “Well, it seems to be working. I’m going to shut it down - it recharges better. When that light turns green, it means it’s recharged and can be unplugged.”
The others had risen and were looking at Nelson expectantly. With a glowering Crane trailing the group, flanked by Morton and Jamison, they set off for the sub pen.
It was soon clear to even to Crane that these people had a pretty fair idea of where they were headed and what to expect when they got there. Or at least Storm, Bailey and Donaldson did. As he’d noted earlier, they seemed to be more technically oriented than the other two. Diane and Mary Ellen seemed to be more people oriented and they asked more personal questions of the senior staff - particularly himself - on their trek to Seaview’s berth. But even they stood in awe once the elevator doors opened out onto the underground dock and saw the sub gleaming under the overhead floodlights.
“Oh my gosh,” blurted Diane, coming to a complete stop in astonishment, “she’s huge!”
Storm and Donaldson sighed, and almost in unison countered, “She’s beautiful.” Their reverent tones drew a puzzled look from Crane and a laugh from Morton.
“They sound just like you did, Lee, the first time you saw her. I think they’re in love with your gray lady.”
The observation brought an even fiercer scowl to Crane’s face and a bemused smile to Nelson’s.
“Looks like she’s around six hundred feet long,” noted Donaldson as Storm and Mike exchanged grins and began elbowing each other.
“Right about that,” acknowledged Nelson, forehead wrinkling in bafflement at their antics.
Catching his look, Storm explained. “There’s been a debate for years in the fandom about just how big Seaview really was - er, is. Mike and I are proponents of the figures put out by the studio, which was around six hundred feet. Other estimates have been as little as four hundred - which we both felt was impossibly small. And before you ask, Irwin Allen, the producer, never made it clear. And since he’s dead, no one can ask him. Some of those fuzzy facts I mentioned earlier.”
Nelson shook his head. “So just how did he lay out the interior of the boat?”
Mike laughed while Storm snorted and answered. “Whatever was convenient for shooting. Irwin was never a stickler for that kind of detail. Course back then, most TV producers weren’t. Thankfully they can’t get away with such glaring inconsistencies any more - the viewers won’t put up with it. It’s a standing joke among the more technically oriented fans that Seaview’s interior hatches were all mini space-time wormholes - that was the only way the layout of the boat could change so drastically from one week to the next.”
Nodding in agreement, Mike added, “That’s one reason we’d like to see yours. Several of us have our own version that we use to write with - it’d be nice to see if any of our theories have any basis in reality.”
Nelson just shook his head and led the way down to the gangplank that led aboard the submarine. He, Crane and Morton all saluted the flag as they came aboard, as did Deputy Donaldson. The trio of officers gave him a surprised look.
“I did a couple tours of duty on subs when I was in the Navy,” he explained. “It just seemed appropriate.”
The group gathered around the entry hatch on one side of the huge sail. Storm and Donaldson reached out and patted the smooth hull, stroking the sub like she was a great beast rather than a machine. Watching them, Morton’s eyes twinkled, and he gave Crane a sideways look. Crane, catching the look, surreptitiously stuck his tongue out at the XO, who then couldn’t help but howl with laughter.
A shiver went through the boat, cutting Morton’s mirth short. As Seaview shivered a second time, bright green tendrils of energy began reaching out from the dock.
“Nooooo!” they heard Storm shout as the universe seemed to shift. The tendrils became a towering blaze of energy and the six visitors were all enveloped in a blinding bright green glow. Nelson and his two officers threw up their hands in a futile effort to shield their eyes as a piercing whine threatened to deafen them as well.
Abruptly the light and sound were gone. Seaview’s senior staff blinked furiously trying to overcome the effects of the intense brilliance. When they could finally see again they found that the six had vanished from the deck of the Seaview.
Storm rolled over in the middle of the road and groaned. “Ooooo. Did anybody get the number of that train that just hit me?”
“Nooo,” whimpered Mike beside her, holding his head in his hands.
“Is everybody here?” she asked, squinting to see around her in the darkness.
Suddenly that darkness was overwhelmed by bright headlights as units of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department swarmed out of the night. Shouts filled the air and a quick count of heads showed that everyone had made it back - including the terrorists, both dead and alive. Even Storm’s gray truck had made the transit. Hastily gathering everyone up, the police retreated from the scene, unwilling to risk the portal snatching anyone else.
Nelson sat at his desk, occasionally eyeing the computer that still sat on his shelf, as he read over the incident report that covered recent events. The last surge of power had taken out Lewis’ equipment entirely, destroying much of the lab building in the process. It also appeared to have sorted everyone back where they belonged, terrorists included, dead and alive. Even the truck had vanished. He could only hope that they had all made it safely back to their own universe, since there was now no way at all for him check.
Which was why the small gray machine sitting across the room bugged him. He couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t gone as well, since Storm’s backpack, which had been sitting on the floor below it, had.
A knock on his door interrupted him.
“Enter,” he barked, throwing down the report.
Lee Crane poked his head around the doorframe. “Is is safe?” he inquired dryly.
Snorting, then giving his captain a wry smile, Nelson nodded. “Come on in, Lee. I was just going over the report on Lewis’ experiment and it’s consequences.”
Knowing Nelson as well as he did, Crane could guess what about the entire incident bothered him the most. He crossed the room to the shelf where the computer sat and cocked his head to one side to study it briefly before turning back to the Admiral.
“It’s bugging you, isn’t it.” Crane made it a statement, not a question.”
Nelson harrumphed at him but finally had to admit that it was. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Looking thoughtful, Crane crossed back over to Nelson’s desk, where he settled on one corner. “You know Admiral, I was talking to one of the electricians making repairs in the lab, Clark, and he commented that one of the things wrong with Lewis’ equipment was that none of it was properly grounded electrically. So it occurs to me to wonder, that since that thing,” he tilted his head in the direction of the computer, “was plugged into a properly grounded system, if that might have been the reason it didn’t take off with everyone and everything else.”
The irritated scowl on Nelson’s face faded, replaced by a look of speculation.
A group of five people sat around a table in a Santa Barbara Pizza Hut, looking tired. The last few days of ‘debriefing’ had been exhausting. For a while they had feared that they would all be held incommunicado indefinitely, but the powers that be had finally, reluctantly, come to the conclusion that the people who now sat at the table were not a threat to national security and let them go.
Storm turned a wry smile to her companions. “You know guys, if it wasn’t for the holes in my truck and the last couple of days, I could almost believe that the whole thing was just a dream.”
Grunting, Donaldson took a swig of his beer. “I couldn’t believe it when they couldn’t find a single bullet in the damn thing.”
“Yeah, everything that was from here came back and vice versa - even the glass from the busted windshield.” She sighed, then added, “I just wish they’d give me back my laptop. Really pisses me off that they have the nerve to insist that it was never found. Especially since they found my backpack.”
“You did leave it in the Admiral’s office, plugged in,” pointed out Mike as he inspected the pizza on the table, before carefully selecting another slice.
Storm chewed thoughtfully on a mouthful of pizza and swallowed before answering. “I suppose that could have made a difference.” She shrugged. “Well, if Admiral Nelson has it, all I can say is I hope he uses the information and technology responsibly. If he doesn’t have it - then a pox on the house of whoever does.”
There were nods of agreement all around.