by T. Storm
"So what's so damn important that Doctor Lewis and the Admiral 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. "Iím not sure, Chip. The Admiralís message just said he needed some observers for an experiment. It didn't elaborate." Like Morton, he was unhappy about being called away from Seaview's pre-dawn departure preparations, but the message had been insistent. They had delegated what they could and put everything else on hold, hoping they would be sidetracked for no more than an hour.
"Wasnít 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 Ė and prying eyes?"
"He should be isolated all
right," Morton said. "Like at the bottom of the Marianas Trench."
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.
"Iíd wondered," Crane said. "The Admiral mentioned the man's from Chicago and about our age. Do you know him?"
His blue eyes blazing and fists clenched tight, Morton shuddered visibly. "I know him alright! Heís a bastard. Not an ethical bone in his body. The Admiral made a big mistake bringing him here; heíll sell us out when the price is right if he doesnĎt kill us first with his screw-ups."
A frowning Crane stepped back and crossed his arms. "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. "I saw that piece of fiction NSA passed off as a security check. If Lewis didnít have something they wanted - badly - he wouldnít pass security in a dog pound."
Crane bit back his dismay. "Are you telling me that the NSA deliberately lied?"
"Like itís 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 real check, theyíd have to know I know him. They must think it doesnĎt matter."
Crane put a hand to the back of his neck and massaged knotting muscles. "Why didn't you say something?"
Morton shrugged. "I did warn the Admiral. He told me he knew about my history with Lewis and flat-out ordered me to leave Lewis alone and not say anything to you or anybody else." He smacked his fist into 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 a tingle in his spine. "The Navy Pier incident in San Diego Ė that was Lewis?
"Damned right! The Navy covered it up; I was lucky not to get court-martialed. They wanted a scapegoat, but couldnít quite pin it on me. And that wasnít the first time heíd gotten somebody killed. Even back in high school Lewis was always screwing around with stuff he couldnít control and sticking other people with the blame when it blew up on him. Heís damned good at passing the buck."
"I believe you," Crane said, "and Iíll tell the Admiral I refuse to have him aboard Seaview. I wonít put the boat or crew at risk." The resolve in his voice apparently came through loud and clear. Morton sighed relief and unclenched his fists.
"Thanks, Lee. I was going crazy trying to figure how to protect the boat. The Admiral isn't always the best judge of character, especially when it comes to other scientists."
Crane had to laugh. How many times had he and Chip been forced to rescue Seaview and her crew from experiments gone bad - or from people whoíd been less than honest about their goals in the first place? Way too many! "He does seem to have a peculiar blind spot in that respect," Crane admitted. "I'm behind you on this one; Iíll 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 Mortonís 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.
Craneís cry of denial reverberated across the hillside.
Lewis, was Mortonís instinctive thought as the torrent of energy coursed through his body. That sorry, no goodÖ Then the pain hit and he couldnít 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 heíd probably not been able to get enough air in his lungs to loose even a whimper.
He hit the ground with a jolt and sucked in air. Through mental fog he heard squealing brakes and screeching tires. Pavement? 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 didnít 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, gray 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 and the words ĎMonterey Bay Aquariumí spelled out above. As their eyes met, she blinked in confusion, her look progressing from near panic to one of amazement.
"Wow." She peered more closely at him. "Are you hurt? I didnĎt hit you did I?"
"Ugh..." Morton tried to gather his scattered wits as he sat up slowly. "No, I donít think so."
"Hmmm. I guess not. I donít see any blood or bruises. You look kinda frayed around the edges though. What happened? Been mugged?" The woman's astonished expression melted into one of bemusement; she seemed to realize she hadnít actually injured him.
"IÖI 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 heĎd stuck his finger in that light socket. "I donít have a clue to what just happened, though." Except that that ass-hole Lewis has done it to me again. This time Iím going to kill that son-of-a-bitch!
"Huh. Maybe I better call 9-1-1 and get the cops and paramedics out here to check you out."
The woman looked at him with an air of concern reminiscent of the Admiral. Just who the hell was she - and where was he? There wasnít any pavement near the lab Lewis was using. Until Morton figured out what was going on, he wasnít sure he wanted anyone else involved. Certainly not the police if Lewis had managed to transport him off Institute grounds.
"Iím 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 wouldnít decide he was drunk, on drugs, or a lunatic, and drive off and leave him. Well, she did ask if Iíd been mugged. Thatís 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," she said. 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 brow in consternation - there was no state park anywhere near Gaviota. Thereíd been talk of one before Nelson came and bought up so much of the area's beachfront property, but the presence of NIMR had put an end to such plans. Before he could think of anything to say, she continued, her next statement catching him completely off guard. "Itís really amazing how much you look like Bob Dowdell did forty years ago."
"Oh, come on. You know." She grinned at him. "From Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."
He managed a perplexed frown.
"The old TV series," she said. "You know - back in the sixties. A guy named Bob Dowdell played the XO of the submarine Seaview, a character named Chip Morton. You can't be Bob because heĎs in seventies, but youĎve got both the look and the costume. 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 to a frown; she raised an eyebrow and reached out to steady him. "Whoa, there, pal. You look pretty pale all of a sudden. Maybe you need the paramedics after all."
He took a deep breath and the spinning slowed. "No, IÖ" His voice trailed off. How could he explain what had happened or ask what she was talking about without either breaching security or sounding like heíd lost his mind?
She peered at him again with that odd expression.
"My nameís Ö Cody Bristol," he said. He had a cousin by that name - it had just popped into his mind; he wasnĎt about to tell her that his name really was Chip Morton - not until he knew what the hell was going on.
The woman blinked in surprise, arched both eyebrows in an expression that shouted Ďoh, 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. "Ugh, is there a problem with my name?"
Storm raised an eyebrow; the corner of her mouth twitched. "Well, other than the fact Cody's another character Bob Dowdell played in another TV show - nothing."
Morton winced. "I could have been named after him," he said half-heartedly
Still snickering, Storm eyed him up and down, then shook her head. "Youíre not old enough to have been born when Stoney Burke was on. Granted a fan could have named you after the character - but like I said, youíre a dead ringer for Bob. What are the odds of that?"
Morton put a hand to his temple; he felt a headache coming on Ė a bad one. He muttered under his breath and plunged in. "Okay, Iím not Cody. Iím really Chip Morton."
The woman's 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.
As his first impression had suggested, it was a truck, but unlike any truck heíd 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 thing showed aerodynamic lines despite having a cab large enough to have four doors. It was striking metallic gray in color - almost the same shade as Seaview - and was accessorized in black, including the pinstripes. The pinstripesÖ his eyes followed them to the front of the vehicle, and if he hadnít 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 donít look okay to me. I think weíd better find a park ranger or somebody and get you a doctor. You sure you donít know how you wound up in the road? That doesnít sound good to me."
She was opening her mouth to say more when the rattle of rocks drew their attention to the hillside above, 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 vehicle into reverse and sent it speeding back up the road in the direction sheíd 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.
"Theyíve got guns." Morton said.
Storm nodded, her eyes riveted back on the road as she steered the truck in reverse. "I thought so. Any ideas who they are?"
"I . . . I just donít know," Morton said with despair. He wondered if they might in fact be tied to Lewis.
"Doesnít matter." Having reached the highway, Storm braked to a halt, swung the vehicle around, then shot off forward down the road. "Hand me my purse then fasten your seat belt ĖI'm calling the cops and I donĎt want a ticket." She pointed at a gray and black bag on the passenger side floorboard. Morton reached down and picked it up, but before he could hand it to her, she said, "Unzip the flap. Thereís a cell phone in one of the pockets."
He did as instructed and surveyed the contents, unsure just what a cell phone was. He heard Storm chuckle at his puzzlement.
"Cell phone - you know! The bright green plastic doohickey on the far left."
No shit, Morton thought as he pulled out the tiny thing and examined it. It sure doesnít look like a phone - it looks like something out of Star Trek. He handed it to his rescuer and watched as she flipped up the cover to reveal a small pad and screen. She punched four buttons, lifted it to her ear, and after a few seconds, began to speak.
"Yeah, Iím a tourist here on US 101 just coming out of the Gaviota Beach Park Road. I found a guy who looks like heís been roughed up some. 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 him into my truck and split. The two came belting down the side of the hill waving guns but I scooted out of range before they could draw a bead on my rig. Any suggestions?"
There was an extended pause; Morton assumed someone on the other end, likely a police dispatcher was giving instructions.
"Iím driving a 2003 Ford F150 super crew, gray, with a West Virginia plate that reads SEAVIEW, thatís 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 thatís at - about ten miles from where IĎm at now. Iíll pull into the Refugio Beach Park entrance and wait for a deputy."
Morton sat in the passenger seat trying to assimilate the one sided conversation as a chill seeped into his bones. 2003. Twenty-first century - at least twenty-seven years ahead of where heíd been. But what happened to NIMR? Whatís all this about a TV show? Whoís this Bob Dowdell guy who's supposed to be my twin brother? This woman's from West Virginia (!) and has a license plate with the name of the boat on it? And just what the hell does she mean by Voyage reunion? A shudder of uncertainty rushed up his spine as the landscape flashed past. The country itself looked familiar enough, but the road sported four lanes, not the two he was used to, and only occasionally did he see a vehicle that looked like anything familiar. His head throbbed and he tried to massage away some of the pain.
"You really ought to consider seeing a doctor," the woman said. "You look a bit pale to me - youíve got some bruises starting to show. And since weĎre looking for a cop, for heavenĎs sake, buckle up."
He shook his head and the world tilted.
"You OK?" she asked.
He was wondering if he looked as green as he felt, just as the truck abruptly swerved onto the gravel shoulder and screeched to a halt.
"If youíre gonna loose your lunch, pal, please donít do it inside."
His stomach began doing jumping jacks and he flung open the door and stumbled out into a ditch. He was just clear of the truck when his morning coffee and doughnuts mutinied. His head spun like a flipped coin as he pitched forward. Miraculously, Storm swept to his side and caught him. "Thatís it. You're seeing the paramedics. You need help, buddy." This time, he couldnít muster the energy to argue.
A crunch of tires on gravel announced a police car pulling up behind them. Like most everything else, it was exotic in appearance; the female deputy who climbed out was just another surreal detail. Still holding his arm, Storm straightened and addressed the approaching police officer: "Could you call for the paramedics? I think he's got a head injury; poor bastard keeps insisting he doesn't need a doctor."
The deputy studied Morton head to tow, her gaze skipping past the pool of vomit near his feet. To his surprise, instead of returning to her car, she spoke into what he guessed must be a radio attached to the front of her uniform shirt. He couldn't make her words out past the ringing in his ears, a ringing which became a roar as the world turned gray and his eyes rolled up in his head; he felt the ground rush up at him.
Morton lay flat on his back, something covering his face. He reached up to remove the thing and felt his hand caught and gently restrained. As his eyes focused upward he saw a uniformed woman Ė not the deputy; she had a stethoscope around her neck. A woman paramedic, he mused through his mental fog. What's with all the women? Where are the men?
The ambulance braked to a halt and the back doors flew open. The gurney-bound Morton found himself being hustled into a hospital emergency room, but the medical gear he could see past the oxygen mask looked as foreign as Stormís truck and cell phone. As much as he hated sickbay, heíd give a month's pay to see Doc Jamisonís face in place of these strangers.
Two nurses and a middle-aged doctor, all women, walked in as the paramedics began lifting gear off of the gurney. He groaned, attracting the Doctor's attention.
Her eyebrow went up and she smiled, amusement crinkling the corners of her eyes. "Well, well, what have we here?" She approached the hovering attendants and the horizontal Morton.
"Possible head injury," said the senior paramedic, all business. "May have been mugged. Sheriffís department called us. He was unconscious when we arrived on the scene."
"Ah," said the doctor, turning back to Morton, "Iím Doctor Daniels. Letís have a look at you." She placed the stethoscope in her ears then placed the cold disk on his now bare chest. He shivered. "Breathe in," she said.
He did as instructed. That much, at least, was familiar. He just hoped she wasnít as stubborn as Jamison - the one place he absolutely did not want to end up was in a hospital.
Once again Morton found himself in the passengerís seat of Stormís truck. They were stopped at a red light and her fingers drummed on the steering wheel as the engine idled smoothly. "Thereís such a thing as taking characterization too far, pal. You really should have spent overnight in the hospital."
He gingerly shook his head and stared out the window; the city was familiar and oddly alien at the same time.
Storm sighed and threw up her hands. "I give up." The light changed and she maneuvered the big pickup into the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel and brought it to a halt in one of the parking spaces. She killed the engine. "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.
"This is where the convention is being held," she said 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 donít live close enough to just drive in for the day." She stared at him coldly, eyebrow raised. "You do have a reservation, donít you?"
"Er, no," he whispered.
"May the Gods grant me strength," Storm muttered, putting her forehead down on the steering wheel for a moment, then raising it back up with a glare. "You know if it wasnít for the convention, the sheriffís department would have hauled you in over that fake ID. Fine idea, but you should have brought along your own as well. Unless youíve already got a room, thereís probably no way in hell the management is gonna give you one - and Iím not sharing with you. Maybe Mike Bailey will, since Bev and the kids didnít come down from Portland with him." She paused, smiling slyly. "Of course, thereís Diane or Jane or Michelle or Liz or Rita orÖ"
Morton shivered. There were too many women in this world, where or whenever it might be. He had to figure out how to get back where he belonged, back to Seaview.
"Thanks all the same, but Ö could you take me back to where you found me? IÖ I lost something there I really need." Yeah, he thought, like my world.
Storm shot him a glare which might have been one of his own. He couldn't decide whether to laugh or cringe when a brown-haired man who looked to be about Stormís age appeared at the driverís side window.
"Hi, Storm," the man said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "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 Morton. "This is Mike Bailey, Chip."
Bailey leaned down, cocked his head to one side and stared in. His eyebrows shot up and he slapped a hand to his forehead. "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. Says he needs to go back because he lost something there." She gave Morton another sideways glance. "His sanity, Iíd say," she added.
"Havenít we all." Mike laughed and slapped the side of the truck.
Morton sighed and put on his best puppy dog look. "Please. Itís important."
Storm looked at Mike, who was trying to stifle further laughter - unsuccessfully. She turned back to Morton, pointed a finger and growled. "You are a damned nuisance, pal. Iíll take you - but only if Mike will come too. First though, I want to get some supper - lunch has long since worn off."
"Thatís fine with me," he said as he stared out the window to get a better look at Mike. "Will you come so sheíll go?"
Mike smiled, touched his nose and nodded acquiescence.
"Right. Now that thatís settled - letís eat." Storm opened the door and got out, and Mike fell in beside her. Morton followed, not sure he could handle food quite yet.
Heads turned and conversation stilled as the trio entered the dining room and sought a window table. The attention made his skin crawl. Now I know what one of the Admiralís specimens feels like under a microscope, he thought, not a pleasant sensation. Heíd never liked being center-stage, but it was obvious he was the focal point of most of the hushed conversations springing up around the room. From the way everyone was gaping at him, he guessed most of the people in the room were there for this Voyage reunion thing - whatever the hell that was. It killed what little appetite heíd had. Storm and Mike chose seats that faced the rest of the room, while he purposely picked a chair that faced the windows.
He maintained a forced silence as they ate. Storm told the curious he'd been mugged and taken up in the emergency room. It garnered sympathy he really didnít want.
By the time the meal was over, even Mike was staring at him oddly and Storm - well, if looks could kill, Chip Morton knew heíd be a dead man.
The silence inside the truck had become thunderous. Two other fans, introduced as Diane Kachmar and Mary Ellen Connerty, had joined them just as they were pulling out of the hotel parking lot. They sat in the back seat with Mike Bailey, wondering, Morton guessed, just what theyíd stumbled into. He felt as if he were standing at the perimeter of an atomic explosion - the radiation of which had passed, the blast wave yet to arrive. He could only hope that when they got back to Gaviota, where this whole mess had started, he would be able to figure a way back to his world. The state park seemed pivotal to any chance he might have of putting things right.
"What the hell?"
Storm hit the breaks to the sound of screeching tires and the heady stench of burning rubber. She stared out the windshield at a throng of police vehicles clustered around the entrance to the park.
Morton's heart sank as his stomach churned. So close, he thought to himself, I canít believe it. What are they doing here? Does it have anything to do with me or Lewis?
Up ahead, he recognized the deputy from earlier in the day - and it was clear she recognized them; she was furiously signaling the other officers even as she pointed frantically at the approaching truck. Storm gave Morton a sideways glance that screamed Ďwhatever happens, itís your fault.í He guessed, she was probably right. Several deputies - both male and female, he noted - approached the truck. Their hands hovered near their holstered pistols.
"Would you step out of the vehicle, please," requested the first one up to the driverís side.
A glowering Storm switched off the engine, opened the door and stepped out. "Sure. Is there a problem, officer?" Behind her, she heard the others step gingerly out of the truck, taking care, she guessed, not to make any threatening moves. Morton strode around the front of the truck to stand beside Bailey.
The deputy from their earlier encounter pointed at Morton: "Heís the one I took to the emergency room."
A thin faced, middle-aged man in a suit that shouted 'Feds' followed her finger and regarded Morton dubiously. "Iím Agent Baker, FBI. You Morton?"
Shifting uneasily, Seaview's XO glanced at the puzzled-looking Storm before answering. "Yes. Is there a problem?"
A sardonic glint danced in the man's eyes. "I suspect there is." He hesitated, then continued. "Commander..." His tone made it an inquisition, an insult. "The question is - just what is the problem - and just who are you?"
Before Morton could answer, Storm stepped forward.
"Heís a Voyage fan like the rest of us. Weíre 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 Seaviewís executive officer. People do it all the time for Star Trek and nobody thinks anything about it," she added defensively.
"I heard about that convention," said one of the deputies, a graying auburn-haired man about Stormís age whose nametag read Donaldson. "Liked the show as a kid - did a stint in the Navy because of it. Even served on subs. Figured Iíd go this weekend and meet the actors. This guy's a dead ringer for the guy who played the XO." There were nods all-around -- Santa Barbarans frequently saw fans of the old series come to visit.
Baker frowned and scratched the back of his head while shuffling uncomfortably. "What're you talking about?"
"Must not understand the concept of fandom and conventions," Storm muttered to the deputies, just loud enough for Baker to hear. It brought smiles, quickly stifled, to the faces of several of the local law.
"What the hell is fandom?" Baker obviously wasnít from southern California - or else was totally out of touch with the reality of the entertainment industry.
"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."
"Thatís been," Baker paused as he calculated, "nearly forty years!"
"Forty years exactly in September since the series first aired," Bailey noted, speaking up for the first time.
Baker fixed a shriveling stare on him. "And just who are you?"
"Michael Bailey, from Portland, Oregon."
"Oregon." Baker looked Bailey 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 work in radio and TV," he replied, frowning at the agentís tone.
A look of dismay, quickly hidden, passed over the agentís face. It was clear that the presence of what he considered Ďmediaí hadnít been in his plans.
"What about the rest of you?" His tone had moderated slightly. The deputies looked on in bafflement, confused by the manís unnecessarily brusque attitude.
One of the women cleared her throat. "Diane Kachmar, librarian, author." She threw Storm a nervous glance as she answered.
Storm took up the thread. "T. Storm, retired geologist, also an author."
Baker threw up his hands. "Donít tell me," he said sarcastically to Mary Ellen Connerty, "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. StormÖ" Her voice trailed off as she looked imploringly at the others.
"Geology paper published through the Oklahoma Geological Survey," Storm said. "Iím still in the process of writing my first novel. Mikeís already got one in print."
Baker rolled his eyes skyward, then glared at Morton. "And who are you and what do you do when youíre not running around playing sub commander? Another writer?"
Morton hesitated. He didnít really want to lie, but the truth here would probably be taken as a lie - or worse - deliberate obstruction. SoÖ "Charlie Phillips. Iím a firefighter in Chicago." Which he probably would have been if he hadnít gotten into Annapolis. Heíd 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 didnít think for one minute that he could fool a real firefighter.
"So why didnít you say so when you were taken to the ER earlier?" Baker said peevishly.
Morton shrugged convincingly. "I was trying to stay in character." Thatís 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," Storm added. "I was beginning to wonder if we hadnít somehow gotten our hands on the real Chip Morton." She stared at the blonde man curiously.
If only you knew, he thought, as he rocked on his heels self-consciously.
Several of the deputies
chuckled and Bakerís scowl deepened. "Alright. Just what were you doing
here, when you were allegedly mugged? And where is your vehicle?"
"So where did it happen?" If anything, Bakerís scowl had deepened, leading Morton to surmise that the agentís pet theory on what had happened had just been dealt a mortal blow. He pointed down the road. "Around that bend. You canít see it from here." Please ask me to show you exactly where.
"Show me exactly where you were attacked." Baker walked out away from the group, squinting in the indicated direction.
"Can we drive?" Morton said. "The doctor told me to take it easy for a few days." If we take one of the police cars, he thought, maybe I can lay hands on a weapon, especially if it looks like the portal - or whatever it was that brought me here - is still there. He certainly hoped it was. Getting permanently marooned in this alternate universe or whatever it was, seemed unthinkable.
Baker sniffed derisively, but thought about it. He glared at Storm, who glared right back. "You come too, show me where you first encountered Mr. Phillips."
"Do you want me to being my truck?"
"Why not?" Baker said, shrugging his shoulders. "Sure. Fine. Bring the whole crew. The more the merrier."
"Okay." Morton was positive the agent hadnít meant his instructions literally, but before the man could open his mouth again, Storm had swept him and the other three Voyage fans back into the gray truck. One of the male deputies hopped onto the driverís side running board to navigate through the mass of police vehicles clustered about. Baker was left standing on the middle of the pavement, his mouth open wide.
Well, not quite what I had in mind, but if it gets me homeÖ. Morton leaned forward, carefully scanning the sides of the road for sign of anything unusual. He was deeply disappointed when the truck rounded the bend and stopped; nothing.
Storm killed the engine and turned to the deputy who stood on the running board. "This is the place," she said.
"Right." The man stepped down and waved to the officers and FBI agents in the two trailing vehicles. Morton and the others got out of the truck and stood in a cluster.
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 that overrode the pain that burned in his bones and skin. Somehow keeping to his feet, he lurched towards the driverís side door of Stormís truck and reached to snatch the keys from her hand.
Then the bottom dropped out of his universe - again. His world went gray as a familiar squeezing sensation enveloped him. I hope this is my ride home, he thought, as he went down.
The thump as he fell against the truck brought him back to his senses. Struggling to his feet, he sought his bearings. He was back on the Institute grounds, back on the path heíd been walking down with Lee Crane on the way to their meeting with the Admiral and Lewis.
But he wasnít alone.
Storm's truck and the two police cars, along with a half dozen disoriented officers and a sputtering FBI agent, not to mention Storm and the other three Voyage fans had come along for the ride. Definitely not part of his plan.
Without warning, the truck's windshield exploded in a shower of glass accompanied by a loud bang; Morton scrambled off the path for the cover of a large tree. The deputies dove for nearby bushes while the four civilians crouched low behind the pickup. Morton risked a quick peak around the tree to see who was shooting. For his effort, a spray of bark showered him as a slug thudded into the trunk just inches above his head. But he had gotten a look at the shooter.
"Baker," Morton yelled, "thatís 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. The man scrabbled for a less exposed position.
Well, Morton thought, surprised at the prompt response, they must know who these guys are - and want them bad. But where's Lee - and the Admiral? Not to mention security? He turned his head to see Bailey, Kachmar and Connerty retreat from their position near the truck and hunker down behind one of the police cars. But where was Storm? He craned his neck futilely, trying to see if she too was hiding behind one of the police cars. His stomach knotted as sweat dripped down his forehead. She wouldnít--would she?
Storm's truck suddenly roared to life and shot forward, showering gravel over the police cars. It bounced off the path and plowed towards the small bush-covered mound and their assailant. A flurry of gunshots erupted, exploding what was left of the windshield and one of the headlights in a sparkling cascade of shattered glass. The barrage failed to either slow the truck or turn it from its course. The shooter panicked 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. An eerie silence settled over the woods.
Apparently, she would, Morton thought. She had! He raced across the path to the truck, fearing the worst. Wrenching the drivers 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," Storm growled as she lowered the gun to her lap. She gingerly brushed her hair and shoulders, sending fragments of the broken windshield tumbling onto the seat and floor. "Good way to get your head blown off," she said, smiling wickedly.
"Good way for me to get my head blown off!" Morton's jaw dropped. "That was a damnfool lunatic stunt you just pulled. You could've gotten yourself killed!"
"Worked didnít it? Got the bastard, didnít they?" She pulled her glasses down to the end of her nose and glared at him over the rims.
Morton threw up his hands and rolled his eyes. "Are you hurt?" he finally asked, biting back a series of far less gentlemanly queries.
"Nah. Just bounced around a bit. Truck got the worst of it," she added ruefully, surveying the 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 a hand down the front of her shirt, she sighed and turned back to Morton, studying him speculatively. "Somehow, Iím starting to wonder if your name is actually Charlie Phillips. And donĎt tell me youĎre a fireman."
"I was wondering about that myself," said a voice behind Morton. He peered over his shoulder to see Deputy Donaldson approaching, while Agent Baker and two more officers secured the area. "We obviously arenít where we were. So who are you - and where the hell are we?"
"Lt. Commander Charles Phillip Morton," he told them in a voice iced with irony, "and these are the grounds of the Nelson Institute for Marine Research."
In any other circumstance, he guessed the two might well have laughed at him, but as they surveyed their surroundings, he saw their eyes widen and their jaws slowly drop.
Storm shook her head and threw up her hands. "This is straight out of a Twilight Zone/X-Files crossover," she said. "Downright weird - even for Southern California."
Donaldson managed a smile. "Tell me about it." He looked at Morton with an expression that was equal parts apprehension and excitement. "So where're 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, was it all that unreasonable that the rest of the crew could be as well? He sighed and pondered the situation. "I donít know; I was coming down this path with Lee when I got snatched up and dumped into your -- uh -- wherever that was you came from. The Admiral was in the lab over the hill from here, but...."
"But what?" Donaldson stared at him, eyebrow arched like some scenic bridge.
"But the scientist heís working with is someone I donít trust any farther than I could throw Seaview. He's gotta be responsible for what happened to me earlier - and heís probably the reason the man from the park is here now." He looked over at the cluster of cops gathered around the body. "Who was he?"
"A terrorist," Donaldson said grimly. "We had intel 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."
Morton stared at the deputy in disbelief, then made a connection. "They were going to get them from Lewis - and he meant to take them from Seaview."
Donaldson looked startled, then thoughtful. "This Lewis would deal with terrorists?"
"He'd deal with the Devil himself," Morton growled. "He's an unscrupulous son-of-a-bitch suspected of having murdered his entire family ten years ago back in Chicago - and I know personally that he was responsible for the deaths of ten others. I know because I was nearly number eleven - and the sorry bastard tried to blame it on me!"
"Then why the hell is Nelson dealing with him?" snapped Storm.
"The Admiral," Morton said dourly, "was misled by certain people in Washington about both his character and abilities."
"Ah. I see," Donaldson said, shaking his head ruefully, "The more things change, the more they stay the same. So . . . what are you thinking . . . you suppose Nelson and Crane need rescuing?"
Chip sighed. "Iíd be willing to bet on it."
"So would I," Storm said, glancing sideways at the deputy. "This is Seaviewís crew weíre talking about here. Do you think you can get Baker to go along?"
The deputy leaned back, planting his hands on his hips. "With nukes involved? He damned well better. What about you and your three friends?"
Storm looked over her shoulder through the truck's shattered window at the other three Voyage fans who still stood in a small cluster beside the lead police cruiser. "I think," she said matter-of-factly, "that this is probably out of our league. I know it is mine." She handed the .38 to Morton before stepping carefully out of the truck. "Youíll more likely need this than me. Iíll be with Mike and company - I think Iíve had my quota of adventure for the day."
Crane had struggled against the ropes that bound him hand and foot long enough to be soaked with sweat and damned irritable. An abrupt barrage of gunfire sounded through the window of the small storage room into which he'd been unceremoniously thrown. Crane smiled; Angie obviously hadnít bought Lewisís lies about the three missing officers. She must've called in security; the Admiral's secretary had a nose for subterfuge. Chip had been right; that son-of-a-bitch Lewis and his half-dozen terrorist accomplices could go to hell!
"Bloody amateurs," Crane muttered under his breath. The problem was, amateurs could be dangerously unpredictable. To make things worse, they were likely religious fanatics. Except for Lewis, of course -- he had to be in it for the money; his focus would be on saving his own skin.
As rapid footsteps pounded louder in the corridor, Crane rearranged his bonds to hide the fact that he was almost free. Just in case it's not the cavalry, he thought. The door to the room flew open and a wide-eyed, crazed-looking Lewis burst in brandishing a semi-automatic pistol. He shakily pointed the gun at Crane.
"Get up!" he shrieked, "Call 'em off!"
Crane shrugged his shoulders and raised an eyebrow. "Call who off?"
"Your security!" Lewis practically leapt the few feet from the door to where Crane sat on the concrete floor, grabbed him by the collar and hauled him to his feet.
It was just the opening
Crane needed; he slipped his wrists from the loosened ropes and whipped
his arm around to throttle the scientist's throat with one hand and snatch
his weapon with the other. He shoved the gun against the man's forehead
and thumbed the hammer back with an ominous click that sounded like a
crack of thunder in the confines of the small storage
"Please, no," Lewis whimpered. He fell at Crane's feet, almost weeping.
"First up, whereís the Admiral?"
"In the lab," Lewis stuttered. "He's OK, he's OK! Just knockout drops in his coffee. He's OK.
You're lucky, Lewis. Crane felt the gun's trigger against his finger. You're lucky you're not dead. He dragged the scientist to his feet, aimed him at the door and gave him a shove. "The Admiral had better be okay."
Crane prodded Lewis ahead of himself down the hallway, the scientist acting as a shield against potential opposition. When they reached the lab door, Crane kicked it open, and hustled Lewis inside, even as he scanned the room for ambushes or traps. It looked clean--just Nelson, sitting in a chair at Lewisís desk, head down on a pile of papers.
Keeping one eye and the gun trained on the scientist, Crane felt of the Admiral's neck; he detected a pulse, strong and steady against his fingertips. Thank heavens! One problem solved. Now what to do with LewisÖ?
The sniveling scientist watched as Crane rummaged through lab table drawers with his free hand. Amidst all the shiny high-tech apparatus of the Institute's most secure research lab, Crane knew there had to be at least one roll of duct tape stashed somewhere, and duct tape was what he wanted.
"Ah," he at last grunted in satisfaction and glanced at the other chair near the desk; he motioned Lewis to sit. Reluctantly, the traitor did, and moments later sat strapped securely to the chair. A final strip of tape went over his mouth; Crane didnít need the bastard yelling for his cohorts.
Crane picked up the phone. He heard a dial tone and breathed a sigh of relief. He punched in numbers and nervously tapped his foot. Cmon, c'mon! At length, security answered.
"Hopkins, this is Crane at the isolation lab--"
"Sir," Hopkins interrupted, "what's going on? West perimeter patrol just caught three armed men trying to slip off the grounds. They look to be foreign nationals, two Middle Eastern, and one from India. And there were reports of gunshots in your area. What's happening?
Crane stiffened. "You mean it wasn't security doing the shooting?"
"No sir. But I do have a team moving your way now. It would help if they knew what they're up against."
"Damn," Crane said, "that's what I was hoping you could tell me! Doctor Lewis drugged the Admiral and took me prisoner, but I've got Lewis in custody now. Commander Morton's unaccounted for, but I'd bet dollars to donuts Lewis had a hand in it. He brought six terrorists with him, all lugging automatic weapons. If you've got three, that leaves three unaccounted for. But the shots I heard nearby was mostly small arms fire -- pistols. I'd assumed they'd come from NIMR security, but you say no. I'm beginning to wonder if there's not a third group loose on the grounds."
Hopkins considered and agreed. "My people caught their three before that other shooting stopped. They reported it sounded like there was only one automatic rifle involved in that firefight."
"Huh? Two groups of terrorists, plus unknowns. Great!" Crane ran a hand through his hair and shuddered. "Any estimate on how many in the small arms group?"
Hopkins voice piped through the receiver thin and strained. "We think at least four, but there could have been as many as six."
"Too many to be the other half of Lewis's group," Crane said. "They could even be friendlies of some sort. Shit! Tell your people to proceed with caution and not to fire unless fired on."
"Yes, sir. Will you be staying on the line?"
"No. The Admiral is still unconscious; Iím on my own. Which reminds me, where's Jamison?"
"Heís in the infirmary, prepping for possible casualties."
"Tell Doc to get down here pronto once this lab is secured. His people can ready the infirmary. I need him here."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Crane replaced the receiver as he mulled things over. Things had quickly gotten way too complicated. Perhaps Lewis knows more than heís told me. Maybe I should have another little talk with the bastard. He reached over and yanked the tape from Lewisís mouth. The scientist let out a yelp, and Crane leaned down, looking the shivering Lewis squarely in the eye.
"Lewis -- you better talk straight. How many others in your party? And how did you get them onto Institute grounds?
Crying and shaking, Lewis stuttered. "ThereÖwere only six. I brought...them in through a...portal from an alternate universe. That's...where I sent Morton."
"An alternate universe? Shit!" Crane clamped a hand to his brow, brooded momentarily, then peeled his fingers away and leaned close to Lewis's face. "Listen, assuming the Admiral's OK, the only thing I care about now is getting Chip Morton back. How about it?" He grabbed the doctor's collar and pulled him closer, eye to eye. "Can we?"
"Yes, yes," Lewis cried, "if he didnít stray too far from the area of the portal."
"What about the others?"
"Others?" Lewis shook his head. "There aren't any others." Crane remained silent, glaring at him and Lewis started to tremble. "I swear to you I only brought six. Thereís no wayÖ" His words trailed to silence.
Crane could see the wheels turning in the doctor's head. "No, you didnít bring them," Crane said, "but they could have come on their own. They could have stumbled through this portal of yours, couldn't they."
"I thinkÖ" A hyperventilating Lewis looked to be on the verge of passing out; eyes bulging, he teetered alternately side to side and to and fro. "I think, the portal may be . . . unstable. There seems to be more temporal shear in it than I calculated. ItĎs been fluctuating, springing in and out of existence unpredictably. Theoretically, a person or group could have been swept up in it."
Morton had said Lewis was constantly screwing with things he couldn't control. Apparently one more experiment had blown up in the scientist's face, and consequently in Morton's. Crane wished fervently that Nelson was awake; he needed the Admiral's insight and he needed it now. What Lewis was saying strongly suggested they might still get Morton back.
More gunshots interrupted Crane's reverie. He slapped the tape back on Lewis's mouth and shoved his chair back against the wall. Grabbing Nelson with one arm, he pulled the desk away from the wall and laid the Admiral behind it, out of the way. Crane crossed the room to a bank of storage lockers and insinuated himself into one that was empty and large enough to hide in. Holding his breath, he aimed the business end of the pistol through the cracked-open door, ready for anything, he hoped.
The door to the lab eased open and a familiar blond head briefly poked around the doorjamb and quickly withdrew.
"Chip!" Crane shouted, stepping from the locker. "Are you a sight for sore eyes!"
The blond head popped back around the corner, blue eyes searching for what theyíd missed before. A grin spread across Mortonís face.
"Lee! Thank Heavens. Whereís the Admiral?"--a shadow crossed his brow--"And where's Lewis?" Morton swept into the room followed by two armed men in unfamiliar looking garb. Their black vests looked like what...body armor? They had the appearance of something military Special Forces or a SWAT team might wear.
The captain indicated with a jut of his chin the wall to Mortonís left where a cabinet screened the taped form of Doctor Lewis. His eyes, however, never left the two strangers, even when Morton motioned them on into the room. The XO cleared his throat and said, "Captain Lee Crane, Deputy Alan Donaldson of the Santa Barbara County Sheriffís department and Agent Baker of the FBI." Crane guessed from Morton's tone that there was more to the story, probably a lot more.
"They wouldnít be from the same place," Crane paused slightly for emphasis, "as the horde accompanying Lewis would they?"
"I expect we would, Captain," said the smiling deputy. "Weíve taken out three of them. You wouldnít happen to know how many there were altogether, would you?"
The man seemed both amiable and efficient; Crane was beginning to like this cop. "Six," he said, "Institute security has detained the other three."
The three exhaled simultaneous sighs -- of relief, Crane guessed.
"That's good news, Captain." Deputy Donaldson eyed Lewis. "Is this your troublemaker?" Crane smiled and nodded at Donaldson's ever so faint emphasis on 'your.'
Morton frowned and scanned the room "Lee, whereís the Admiral?"
Crane pointed toward the wall. "Behind the desk. Lewis drugged him; heís still out."
"Shit." Morton crossed the room in three strides and pried the desk far enough away from the wall to reveal Nelson's limp form. He shot Crane a horrified glance, then turned to Lewis. "You'll pay for this! If there's anything wrong with the Admiral--"
"Jamison will be here soon," Crane interrupted. "Don't move the Admiral until Doc gets here. Now that Lewis's goons are out of action, we can get security down here too". He looked at the two police officers as he picked up the phone and began to dial. "How many in your group?"
The two officers exchanged glances. "Eleven. Seven cops and four civilians," Donaldson said. "The rest are about a hundred yards away- the same place your Mr. Morton was taken."
Crane frowned. "Civilians? What civilians? Are they suspects?" That would make for an interesting mix, and certainly add to the confusion.
Donaldson shook his head. "Not suspects, just civilians. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - or the right place at the right time, depending on your viewpoint," he said ironically. Crane couldnít help but stare, a thread of suspicion worming in his mind. A snort from the FBI agent contributed to his confusion; it struck him as odd that anyone FBI would let a mere deputy take the upper hand in an investigation. Something strange was going on. Wheels turning, he put the phone to his ear and dialed. Hopkins in security answered.
"Captain! More gunshots reported down by the lab."
"That was the unknowns finishing off the last of the terrorists," Crane said. "Mr. Morton arrived with them. They appear to be on our side. Morton and two of them are here with me, the rest are down the path about a hundred yards from the lab."
Hopkins didnít miss the significance of Craneís use of the word 'appear.' "Yes, sir. Iíll have a couple of teams down there shortly."
Crane turned back to the two police officers. "If you donít mind my asking, just how did you get mixed up in this?"
This time, agent Baker spoke up. "We had intel that some Islamic terrorists were trying to import nukes into the US." He paused, his 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. And what's this business with Voyage reunions and fandoms? I don't get it,"--he shot a sideways glance at Deputy Donaldson--"but apparently he does."
Scowling, Baker continued. "Anyway, according to our information, 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? Fandoms? What the hell? Crane cocked his head to one side and frowned.
"Itís a long story, Captain," said a grinning Donaldson. "Iím not sure Iím the one to ask about it, though. I suspect our four civilians are far more informed on the subject than I am. Itís been a long time since I was involved with Voyage."
Crane was about to ask what this ĎVoyageí thing was, when more people arrived at the door. Three NIMR security accompanied the other four, one man and three women, all in civilian attire and all strangers. The Marine sergeant in charge of the security squad gave a hand signal to Crane that they needed to speak privately. Crane excused himself and stepped into the hallway.
"Captain, the other five, along with two vehicles, disappeared in some kind of energy field as we approached. These four and a third vehicle were nearby, along with the body of what appears to have been a fourth terrorist."
Crane sighed. "From what I know, Sergeant, itís unlikely they're here on purpose. Dr. Lewis doesnít have control of his experiment. Keep your people back from that area."
The sergeant paused, his brow furrowed. He pointed at the four civilians. "Sir, what shall I do with them?"
"They can stay here for the moment. Where's Jamison?"
"He should be here any minute."
No sooner had the man spoken than the second security team appeared at the head of the hallway, accompanied by Will Jamison and his assistant, corpsman Frank. Crane breathed a sigh of relief.
"Doc, the Admiral's out cold. Lewis slipped something into his coffee."
Jamison hustled past Crane, firing off questions as he passed. "Any idea what drug it was? Dosage?"
"Havenít had a chance to find out, Doc. It's been busy here. We've got Lewis, and he will cooperate." If he didn't, Crane was ready to invite him into a private room to 'loosen his tongue.'
"See if you can find the container it came in, then I can run a check on it, just to be sure."
"Not a problem." Crane followed Jamison into the lab, where, bending down, the doctor made a quick but thorough examination of Nelson. "Doc," Crane said, "I found him slumped in a chair. I got him down on the floor for safety when the shooting started."
Jamison grunted. "Doesnít appear to have done any damage, Lee." He 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 closer beside Nelson. As they moved the desk, a glimmer on its surface caught Craneís eye. He reached out, picked up a small vial, then stalked over to where Lewis was still seated.
Holding the container in front of Lewisís face, Crane growled, "Is this what you gave him?" Lewis nodded emphatically. As Crane reached up and tore the tape from Lewis's mouth, he yelped. "How much?" Crane said.
Blinking back tears, Lewis managed to mumble. "About a dozen drops."
Crane stepped across the room and extended his hand to display the bottle to Jamison, who took it for a closer examination.
"Hmmm," Jamison said as he eyed Lewis suspiciously, "by the labeling, I'd say this came from the infirmary."
Crane glared at Lewis, who hung his head and nodded tearfully.
Doctor Jamison rose to his feet. "Just to be on the safe side, letís get the Admiral and the bottle back to the infirmary. Iíll run some blood tests and an analysis of the drug to make sure it's clean. If itĎs what it appears to be, I have an antidote for it." He fixed a cold stare on Morton. "I need you for a checkup as well."
Morton's mouth started to open, but Crane shot him a look that said quite clearly, ĎThatís an order, Mister.í The XO's shoulders slumped and he sighed and nodded. At Jamison's signal, Nelson was loaded onto a stretcher and carefully transported out the door with Morton trailing unhappily behind in the company of the doctor.
Once the group had gone, Crane addressed the security detail. "Sergeant." The man snapped to attention. "Take one of your men and see that Dr. Lewis is escorted to the brig. Confine him separate from the others and post extra guards."
"Yes, Sir." The sergeant saluted, then turned to bark out orders to his squad.
Crane's chin sank toward his chest as he studied the group of strangers. What do I call them? he wondered. They arenít really aliens, but then again they are. They shifted their feet nervously under his gaze. Concerned, Crane thought. They look fearful, curious, and awed. And likely for good reason. He turned to the two officers with lowered brow.
The FBI agent sighed and stepped forward to make introductions. "Captain Crane, this is Mike Bailey, Diane Kachmar, T. Storm - what the T stands for I donĎt know yet Ö and I donít believe I got to your name at all," he said, eyeing the last of the four.
"Uh, Mary Ellen Connerty."
"They tell me," Baker said dryly, "that they're writers."
The gray-haired woman Baker had introduced as Storm glanced at the other three members of the group, then, lips pursed, turned to Crane. "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 writersÖ" At this point, her voice trailed off and she scratched her head. "Uh, Captain, just exactly what year is it?"
Crane froze as the implications of the question confirmed his suspicions. Silence. "1976," he finally said as he wondered what the hell fanfiction was.
Storm chuckled and glanced back briefly at her companions. "Uh, does anybody remember just when the Internet got started?"
"Internet?" Crane said, frowning
"Oh, boy," Storm muttered; all in her group smiled and seemed to be on the brink of outright laughter.
"Quantum leap," someone muttered - Crane wasnít sure who, but Storm laughed and answered, "I feel like IĎve leaped."
Riddles - or code? It didn't matter; he'd had enough. "Would anyone care to explain whatís going on?" The 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 itís July, 2004 where weíre from - and to steal a line from Star Trek, all of your tomorrows are our yesterdays. Sort of. Maybe." Storm turned desperately to the others. "This has got to be a different time-line, guys. I mean, if the Seaview is real here."
"The Seaview is real enough," Crane snapped. He blinked as the implications sank in. Timeline? 2004? Shit! If Lewis is juggling with time and universes, if that's even possible, I need some help.
"Maybe you should wait and talk to the Admiral," he said carefully.
The five again exchanged glances, all at attention. "Well, if you think so," Storm said.
* * *
Five enthralled Voyage fans, one disgruntled FBI agent and the Seaviewís XO sat in chairs arrayed in front of Admiral Nelsonís desk. They fidgeted nervously.
Crane sat perched on one edge of the desk, arms folded as he glared at Morton. Dr. Jamison lounged against a wall and looked on with apparent bemusement. A rumpled-looking Nelson, recovered from his unwanted nap, leaned back in his chair behind the desk, hands folded around a pencil, trying to decide whether he should be insulted or amused. He tapped the pencil on the desktop, leaned forward and harrumphed.
"So youíre telling me, that in your universe, all of this,"--he waved a hand to indicate the Institute and possibly the rest of the world--"was a TV show that was on forty years ago during the 1960s? And that this show still has fans in the year 2004 who sit around writing 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?"
"Thatís about the size of it, Admiral," said Diane, who had just finished trying to describe the concept of fandom to the Seaviewís senior staff after Mike Bailey had explained just exactly what Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea had been.
Crane had maintained an apparent façade of polite skepticism through the whole explanation. "I find it difficult to believe that computers are so common."
Storm sat fascinated, dissecting in her mind the dynamics of the room. Crane seemed to shift nervously every time one of the females in the group stared at him hungrily. Donaldson and Bailey were studying Nelson with expressions that were almost - she searched for a word and finally found it - worshipful. She found her own eyes returning repeatedly to Chip Morton. The FBI agent seemed to be the only one of the bunch who was unmoved.
"Where we come from," she said, leaning forward, "we've got the technology to make computers small and cheap." Nelson frowned and shook his head. "It's something we can test easily enough," she said. "How big would one of your machines with thirty gigabytes of memory need to be?"
Nelson tapped his pencil on the desktop. "It would take up most of this room."
Storm pointed to the backpack that lay on the floor next to her chair. "Iíve got one right here that weighs in at about thirteen pounds. ItĎs a battery powered portable. You can get one just like it for under five hundred dollars."
Nelson's fists clenched and the pencil snapped in half. He carefully dropped the remains into an ashtray sitting on the desk to his right. He scratched the top of his head and looked Storm straight in the eye. "Thirty gigabytes? That's absurd!"
"The newest versions are even lighter," she said, "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, it's obsolete. The new ones can have up to two hundred gig hard drives. Come to think of it," she said, laughing, "itís 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."
Nelson stared down at the top of the desk, rubbed the nape of his neck for what seemed like an eternity, then looked at Storm skeptically. "Iíd like to see this machine of yours, if you donít mind."
"Sure. Thatís why I mentioned it." She reached down for her backpack.
Tearing his attention off Nelson, Mike glanced over at Storm. "Are you sure itís still working after coming through that Ö portal thing, whatever it was?"
Storm shrugged. "Well, the electronics in the truck are still working..." Noting the Seaview officer's skeptical expressions, she added. "They use a lot of computerized black-box technology in everything where we come from. Hell, theyíre even starting to put data recorders on cars and trucks for accident investigation, just like on airplanes. Iíve read that the average vehicle as of 2001 had more computing power than the lunar landers. Computers are everywhere in our society." She smiled ruefully. "It remains to be seen if, in the long run, this is a good thing or not." She placed the backpack on Nelsonís desk, unzipped it, and pulled forth what must've looked like just a flat silver and black plastic box to the Seaviewís officers. They all came around the desk to get a better look when she flipped up the top and turned it on.
* * *
Nelson was curious. Damn curious. At first, the screen displayed the same logo that was on the top of the lid, Compaq, against a dark grayish background. Then another logo appeared - Windows XP. The screen that followed was a burst of brilliant blue, eliciting an appreciative Ďahí from the Admiral. A small box popped up in the center - Storm typed in what Nelson quickly realized was a password. 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. The machine emitted faint sounds.
"Takes this one a couple of minutes to get all the programs loaded," Storm noted. "As soon as the icons all appear"--she pointed to the right-hand bottom of the screen--"it'll be 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, itís ready."
Crane glared warily at the other two women, then leaned closer to the computer. "Youíve said that in your universe, we all have alternates who look like us. Have you got anything in there to prove it?"
Storm glanced sideways at Diane. "Whadda you think?"
Diane groaned and buried her face in her hands. "Oh, God. Have you got the convention pics in there?"
"Yep. Everybody who was there," Storm said, returning her attention to Crane. "I should underline that the people who played your roles on Voyage are all forty years older now."
The Captain sat perfectly still for a moment, 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 ĎHedisoní and with a double click the file opened to show an array of small pictures. The first one was a picture of Storm standing besideÖ
As the picture filled the screen, Crane blanched. There was no mistaking the face. The man was older, much older--bearded, hair gone white, with glasses, but it was Seaview's Captain. Nelson heard the sudden intake of breath from his crew and felt his own.
"My God," Jamison muttered as he got a good look at the screen.
"You okay?" one of the women said.
Crane looked up and froze. Diane and Mary Ellen were scrutinizing him closely. "IÖ" He took a deep breath and steadied himself before turning back to the screen.
Nelson guessed what must be going on in Crane's mind--Not me; itís just an actor who looks like me.
Crane glanced briefly at Kachmar and Connerty, who were studying him with that hungry gaze again. They both turned hastily away, blushing. The Captain shook his head.
Nelson stared at the screen and cleared his throat "Pictures of my double?"
The Voyage group again exchanged looks. It was Mike who sighed and said, "Richard Basehart, the actor who played you unfortunately died some years back." He sighed further and lay his hands in his lap. "Iím sorry."
"Iíve got some pictures of Richard," added Storm. "Nothing from after Voyage, Iím afraid. None of us can outbid Jane when stuff like that comes up on Ebay. Sheís a huge Basehart fan."
Nelson grimaced. "Jane? Ebay?"
"Jane's another fan," Storm said, shifting in her chair uncomfortably and looking at her companions. "How do you explain Ebay to somebody whoís never been on the Net?"
The Admiral clamped his hands on his forehead and groaned. "The Net?" It was like these people were speaking a different language.
"Short for Internet. I guess that technology isnít available yet in this timeline. Itís hard to remember that a lot of things we take for granted have only been around less than twenty years." Storm shook her head, considering. "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."
A smile crossed Nelson's face. He leaned forward. "NIMR is part of that."
"Ah, then you know basically what I'm talking about," Storm said, her voice taking on a theatrical edge, like a teacher addressing class. She looked like she should have a chalkboard and pointer.
"Increase the capability of computers a thousand fold," she continued, "raise the speed of the network, add in public access and you got the Internet." She raised her hands and gestured around as if indicating the whole world. "Itís gone from being an esoteric research tool to an everyday worldwide communications and entertainment source. As for Ebay - thatís an online auction site. You can list any item for sale and anyone in the world can bid on it. Itís kinda like the worldís biggest garage sale, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, year round. You can find almost anything on it," she said, eyes wide. "They even had an old aircraft carrier on there not too long ago."
Nelson was intrigued in spite of himself and said so. "You can't be serious. A carrier?"
The entire group nodded agreement, even the FBI man.
"Amazing," Nelson said, "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 wonít 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."
"Yes," Mike added, "and some whack-job fans even put up book-size web sites about their favorite old TV shows. Imagine that!"
Nelson shook his head and sighed yet again. These people were living in a universe that was straight out of science fiction. "Iíll have to take your word for it," he said.
The visitors shrugged collectively. "Wait till people here invent cell phones," Storm said dryly, "and everybody and his dog has one."
Morton laughed nervously and rocked on his heels. "I encountered one of those things while I was in her world," he said and pointed at Storm; "It was hers."
She shook her head. "My sisterís. She insists I take it when I travel--"
"Well, you're sure traveling, I guess," Nelson said, smiling and shaking his head.
"I personally despise the damned things," Storm said without blinking. "When Iím in my car, I donít want people calling me up to jabber." She reached into her purse and produced a small green plastic object and tossed it to Nelson. "Without the microwave relay tower system it probably wonít work here, but you can look at it."
The Admiral turned the object in his hand, examining it carefully. He lifted the cover. Inside, he saw 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 canít shut up on the blighted things." Nelson guessed Storm was no big fan of this particular aspect of technology.
"What about the rest of you?" Crane asked, clearly curious about the tiny gadget.
One by one, the rest of the group hauled similar devices out of their pocket or purse and held them up. They certainly came in an array of assorted colors. The Admiral and Captain exchanged bewildered looks and shook their heads. Nelson handed the miniature phone back to Storm and returned his attention to the computer.
"What else besides photos and the Internet do you use these things for?"
"Depends on the user. Besides surfing the Net, I mostly do photo files, word-processing and 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 thereís a computer program somewhere that can do it. Not always as simple as doing things by hand, though."
Nelson squinted thoughtfully. The beginnings of what the woman was talking about had already begun to creep into the workings of the Institute. Heíd just never stopped to contemplate where the process might ultimately lead - or the changes it would produce in the language. Many of the speech patterns of these people had clearly been 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 understood them at all.
"So, just how many programs do you have on this thing?" Morton asked.
"Ummm. Iíve never counted," Storm said. She made a couple of clicks on the thing she'd called a mouse and a list appeared that looked like it contained at least two dozen items. "A lot of them I never use - they came with the computer. Some Iíve installed myself, like the MahJongg games and Graphmatica. Oh I bet youíd like that one, Admiral - itís a mathematical graphing program. It even does calculus." She clicked on the program name, bringing up a blank grid. She typed in a simple quadratic equation and her audience watched in amazement as the resulting graph appeared instantly on the screen. "Now for the derivativeÖ" She mouse-clicked a button on the menu bar and a second graph appeared with the first.
Nelson examined the results and gasped. Even the Institute's fastest computers weren't that fast. "Simply amazing. How much did you pay for the math program?"
"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 donĎt have any ability to teach." Storm shrugged. "Not that he wasnít a nice guy, mind you, and a hell of a mathematician; he just couldnít teach."
Nelson chuckled and ran his hand down the back of his neck. "Iíve met more than a few like that myself." At least that aspect of human nature and society wasnĎt any different between the two worlds. Sometimes these people seemed just like the ones he knew, but then theyíd turn around and say 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 had to shake his head in amazement. Not to mention that the interactive dynamics of this bunch kept skewing off in unanticipated directions. And it seemed odd that the one male member of the group wasnít the one who was doing most of the talking, especially since he knew from Morton the man worked in radio. But then, also 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 might well take a dim view of the parochial attitude so common in his own world.
Then there was the way the FBI agent let the deputy sheriff so often run the show; that was also baffling. Nearly every Fed Nelson had ever encountered tended to be full of himself, not to mention territorial. Maybe it was just that the deputy knew far more about what was happening than the Fed, who for a change had sense enough to know it.
Nelson realized the four fans and the deputy were whispering amongst themselves and even as he looked on, seemed to come to another of those strange silent accords that were so disconcerting.
The group fell silent and Mike leaned forward, rested his elbow on the desk and set his chin in his hand. "Um, Admiral Nelson, we were wondering if we could see her."
"Seaview." Mike looked close to salivating.
Nelson blinked, astonished, but then reflected that perhaps he shouldnít have been. These abrupt changes of subject were apparently another trait of these people. Their minds seemed to go in multiple directions tracking from one subject to another without missing a beat. He reflected for a moment. If what they claimed about coming from an alternate universe was true, they probably already knew a lot about the boat from this Voyage TV series.
Storm had made some disparaging comments about the producerís Ďfuzzy factsí as sheíd called them. It was also clear that little if any of the Seaviewís technology could even approach what was sitting there on his desk - or even, from what Morton had told him and he himself had inferred, the technology in Stormís pickup truck. That stung a bit, but then he had to admit that these people apparently had twenty-eight years on his world. He smiled 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 donít see why not," he said and was answered by beaming smiles, especially from Storm, Bailey and Donaldson--heíd noted that they seemed to be the more technically oriented members of the group. Baker just sighed, while Crane scowled. It was clear that Seaviewís captain was dead-set against bringing this group of strangers aboard the boat. There would probably be a shouting match over it between himself and Crane later; so be it.
"Iíll leave my backpack here, if you donít mind," Storm said. "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 it's the same voltage we use." Or at least the terminology was the same, Nelson reminded himself.
"Then I guess we can give it a shot. I wasnĎt 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. Setting it down, she plugged it in and a yellow light came on. She watched it for a moment. "Well, it seems to be working. Iím going to shut it down - it recharges better when turned off. When that light turns green, Admiral, it means itís recharged and can be unplugged."
The others had risen and were looking at Nelson expectantly. A glowering Crane trailed the group, flanked by Morton and Jamison as they set off for Seaview's subterranean berth.
It was soon clear 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. Diane and Mary Ellen seemed to be more people oriented and they asked more personal questions of the senior staff - particularly himself - as they marched along. But even they stood stone-still, mouths agape once the elevator doors opened out on the underground dock. Seaview gleamed in the light of the overhead floods.
"Oh my gosh," Diane blurted out, coming to a complete stop, "sheís huge!"
Storm and Donaldson sighed, and almost in unison said, "Sheís beautiful." Their reverent tones drew a puzzled look from Crane and a smile from Morton.
"They sound just like you did, Lee, the first time you saw her. I think theyíre in love with your gray lady."
Crane's scowl deepened and Nelson smiled, chuckling inwardly.
"Looks like sheís around six hundred feet long," Donaldson noted as Storm and Mike exchanged grins and began elbowing each other.
"Right about that," Nelson acknowledged, forehead wrinkled at their antics. "A little over two football fields long."
"Thereís been a debate for years in Voyage fandom about just how big Seaview really was - er, is," Mike said. "Storm and I are proponents of the figures originally put out by the studio, which was a little over six hundred feet. Other estimates have been as little as four hundred. We both felt this was impossibly small. And before you ask, Irwin Allen, the producer, never made it clear. He's dead now so no one can ask him. Some of those fuzzy facts Storm mentioned earlier."
Nelson shook his head. "So just how did he lay out the interior of the boat?"
Mike laughed and Storm groaned. "Whatever was convenient for shooting," she said. "Irwin was never a stickler for that kind of detail. Of course back then, most TV producers werenít. Thankfully they canít get away with such glaring inconsistencies any more - the viewers wonít put up with it. Itís a standing joke among the more technically oriented fans that Seaviewís 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. "Thatís one reason weíd like to see the real thing. Several of us have drawn up our own version we use to write with - itíd be nice to see if our theories have any basis in reality."
Nelson shook his head and led the way down to the gangplank. He, Crane and Morton all saluted the flag as they came aboard, as did Deputy Donaldson. The trio of officers shot 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 Seaview's huge sail. Storm and Donaldson reached out and patted the smooth hull, stroking the sub like she was some great beast. Watching them, Mortonís eyes twinkled, and he glanced at Crane, who caught the look and surreptitiously stuck his tongue out at his XO. Morton howled with laughter.
A shudder abruptly rumbled through the boat, cutting Mortonís mirth short. As Seaview shivered a second time, bright green tendrils of energy reached out at them from the dock.
"Nooooo!" Storm shouted as the world around them seemed to shift. The tendrils became a towering blaze of energy, enveloping the six visitors in a blinding bright green glow. Nelson and his two officers threw up their hands in an effort to shield their eyes. A piercing whine threatened to deafen them as well.
Abruptly the light and clamor ceased. Seaviewís senior staff blinked furiously trying to overcome the effects of the intense brilliance. When their vision finally returned, the six visitors were nowhere in sight.
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," Mike moaned, holding his head in his hands and writhing next to her.
"Is everybody here?" she asked, squinting to see through the darkness.
The night was abruptly rent by bright headlights and sirens as numerous official looking vehicles swarmed at them. Storm was able to focus on the door of one of the cars lit by the headlights of another; official signage read Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Dept. Shouts filled the air and a quick head count showed that everyone had made it back - including the terrorists, those dead and alive. Even Stormís gray truck had made the transit. The authorities hastily gathered everyone up and quickly left the possibly still unstable transport area.
Nelson sat at his desk, reading over the incident report of recent events. He occasionally looked up, eyeing the computer that still sat on the shelf across the room. The last surge of power had taken out all of Lewisís equipment and destroyed much of the lab building in the process. It also appeared to have sorted everyone back where they belonged. Even Storm's 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 bothered him. He couldnít figure out why it hadnít gone as well, since Stormís backpack, which had been sitting on the floor below it, had.
A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts.
"Enter," he snarled, throwing down the report.
Lee Crane poked his head around the doorframe. "Is it safe?" he inquired dryly.
Nelson smiled and nodded. "Come in, Lee. I was just going over the report on Lewisís experiment."
Apparently having guessed what bothered Nelson most about the whole affair, Crane crossed the room to the bookshelf where the computer sat and cocked his head to one side. He studied the machine briefly and turned his attention back to Nelson.
"Itís bugging you, isnít it." It was a statement, not a question.
Nelson harrumphed, but finally had to admit that it was. "It just doesnít make any sense."
A thoughtful looking Crane crossed back over to Nelsonís desk, where he settled on one corner. "You know Admiral, I was talking to one of the electricians making repairs in the lab -- Clark. He said that one of the things wrong with Lewisís equipment was that none of it was properly grounded. It makes me wonder. Since that thing"--he tilted his head in the direction of the computer--"was plugged into a properly grounded system, maybe that's the reason it didnít take off with everyone and everything else."
The scowl on Nelsonís face faded, to be replaced by speculative smile.
The group of five people sat around a table in a Santa Barbara Pizza Hut, looking tired. The last few days of Ďdebriefingí had been exhausting. For a while it had looked like maybe they would all be held incommunicado indefinitely, but the powers that be had finally, albeit reluctantly, concluded that they were not a threat to national security and had let them go.
Storm turned a wry smile to her companions. "You know guys, if it wasnít for the holes in my truck and my missing computer, I could almost believe that this whole thing was just a dream."
Grunting, Donaldson took a swig of beer. "With all those holes, I still can't believe they didn't find a single slug in your truck."
"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 theyíd give me back my laptop. Really pisses me off that they have the nerve to insist that it was never found. They found my backpack, didn't they?"
"You did leave it in the Admiralís office, plugged in," Mike pointed out as he inspected the pizza on the table, then carefully selected another slice.
Storm chewed thoughtfully 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 doesnít have it - then a pox on the house of whoever does."
There were nods of agreement all around.
Return to Main Page
"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" TM and (C) (or copyright) Fox and its related companies. All rights reserved. Any reproduction, duplication, or distribution in any form is expressly prohibited. This web site, its operators, and any content contained on this site relating to "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" are not authorized by Fox. No infringement is intended or implied toward Twentieth Century Fox, the estate of Irwin Allen, or any other involved copyright holder.