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Gross Point, Blank

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“Hey all, I just received word in my own way that you’re all ready,” I said.

Jeff said, through clearly bleary eyes “Yup. Late night last night, feels more like a hangover.”

“And here I thought you didn’t get hangovers. What kept you?,” I said.

“Things didn’t go as smoothly as planned,” Jeff said, looking at the group obtaining visual permission to proceed, “The TARDIS came against the side of the plane and, well,”

“It glitched,” Stephen said.

“What’s that mean to you, Jeff”  I said, specifically wanting his explanation of the event knowing full well what it meant but wanting him to explain and illustrate the point.

“Well, we saddled up against the side of the aircraft with time paused, and as we opened the TARDIS door, the plane shifted and the TARDIS was suddenly partially in the fuel tank. Stephen tried shifting the TARDIS back out, which caused an explosion killing everyone on board,” he said.

“Bummer. So what did you do about it?,” I said.

Jeff was clearly uncomfortable talking about it, as he looked at Stephen in the hopes he’d explain.

“No, I don’t want Stephen’s explanation. Roz, how about you continue?,” I said.

She squirmed a little in her chair.

“I’m not really qualified to,” she began.

“Roz, no one’s qualified. Please try,” I said.

I finally saw Bennett over in the corner. He smiled and waved at me. I smiled back.

“Ok. Well. Stephen told us about how to shift events, so we shifted the plane at the time of explosion to July 17, 1996, at 8:19 p.m. Bill hacked the computer logs to place a flight departing JFK headed towards Paris. Jeff updated the flight and departure logs. and Stephen altered the black box entries,” she said.

“Awesome, Roz, I don’t think anyone could have explained it that well!,” I said, “So what happened next – Bill?”

Bill got this ‘why me’ look on his face.

“Well from there, we went back to the flight, we arrived a minute earlier, and the alignment to the door went off without a hitch – or glitch,” he said, “We found Bennett no problem, and while everyone else in the cabin was in suspended animation, Bennett was wide awake – not in suspended animation like the others. It was like he was expecting us, and he was quite enthusiastic about joining,” Bill Said.

I laughed. “Bennett, always gotta be different,” I said.

“You know it,” he said with his thumbs up.

“Bennett, you in uniform?,” I asked.

“I am. But I think it’s the wrong color. I’m in a white uniform, isn’t that medical?,” he said.

“It is. I just consulted with the TARDIS who thinks you’re a more appropriate fit for Exobiology and Sensors and working with Stephen. I know we discussed modeling and miniatures yesterday in person, but I’m having a difficult time disagreeing, that could be a waste of potential, but I want to make sure this is something you want, you can always focus on the modelling,” I said.

“No, no no, this is great. I can do the modeling in my spare time as a hobby,” he said.

With this, I noticed – no one seemed to be taking their assigned careers as temporary.

Stephen then digitally added “Jackie contacted me last evening,” he said, “She’s interested in your propositions, but she is dimensionally misaligned.”

“I hadn’t considered that. So she is getting the messages then, cool. After the ceremony do you and Bennett mind working together – you can explain to Bennett what that means and you can try to realign us?,” I asked.

“I will,” Stephen’s digital voice said.

Another thumbs up and grin from Bennett.

“Ok, great job on that last evening, there were two major mistakes made though – so if we’re going to cover our tracks, you guys and gals gotta pay closer attention to detail. Do you know what the mistakes were?,” I said.

Everyone looked at eachother. They’d been so proud of their accomplishment, rightfully so, but there were mistakes.

Spencer adopted “The Thinker” pose. “Was something wrong with the timing we put in the logs?”

“Nope, that was perfect, so here’s a hint: there was NO question the plane departed from New York,” I said.

Silence.

“Anyone?” I asked.

Everyone looked around the room. Even Stephen was stumped.

“Ok. First, the plane didn’t fully explode, it’s pieces were recovered in the ocean and reassembled by the NTSB,” I said.

Everyone looked astonished.

“This introduced evidence of your existence – as Bennett Departed in a 737, but the logs indicated it was a 747. Additionally, he flew out JetBlue, the airlines you placed in the logs was TWA. So when the NTSB saw the discrepancies and the level of sophistication of the deception after reassembling the plane, well, a problem,” I said.

“But the news reports,” Stephen said.

“They corroborated everything,” Jeff added.

“You’re welcome,” I said, and added “At least you got the flight number right – flight 800!”

“That was you?,” Spencer said.

I smiled. “I’m a thespian at heart, Spencer”

Gina said “This is all so overwhelming,”

Bennett finally spoke up “I’m tired and craving a cigarette. Enough talking. Are we ready to go?”

I suddenly had a sense this wasn’t the first time for Bennett.

“I’ll land in an area where you can smoke, but in the year 2409, Bennett, I need you to respect the local culture and NOT smoke at all. It’s really important. Understood?,” I said.

“I can deal with it,” he said.

Roz added “Won’t his uniform smell afterwards?”

“Self deodorizing uniforms. Invented in the late 22nd century, specifically for extended periods of space travel to minimize resource consumption for space faring vessels where space and energy for washing are at a premium,” I said.

“Neat,” Kevin said, ” So I can toss my antiperspirant?”

“No one said anything about it stopping you from sweating, Kev, but yes, the material will neutralize any odor,” I said.

“Everyone buckled in?,” I asked.

“Yup,” Kevin said.

“One last note – Stephen, last night I noticed the TARDIS overhead when I first wrote about it, but it rotated. And with the explosion, our timelines and the event horizon are clearly misaligned. I have a suspicion what’s causing this, but do you mind pondering it and letting me know later what your thoughts are on this?,” I said.

“Already on it,” Stephen digitally said, “Bennett might come in handy for this, we will discuss.”

“Great.,” I reached over and flipped a lever on the console.

The lights dimmed as the TARDIS wheezed, and then the customary echo of the boom deep within the vessel.

I could see Bennett’s enthusiasm. They’d merely stayed in what appeared to them a geostationary orbit after they caught Bennett’s flight, which provided a spectacular view of the Earth but no real roller coaster.

“Bennett, “ I said in a raised voice, “I’ll chat with you later about what happened when you got in,”

He nodded.

As the TARDIS increased in apparent velocity, the noise level outside sounded like a small breeze hitting a house.

No shaking. The ride was stable.

“The velocity is remarkable,” Stephen digitally said.

The planets whizzed by, the trip was winding to include them in the journey . Mars. Jupiter. Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto – and even though this added a little time to the journey, I made it a fact to fly the TARDIS by the planets on the way out of the system for the effect. Not only did it make for spectacular visuals, but it really gave a sense of the speed without having to feel it.

As we exited the solar system, an eerie and somewhat creepy noise could be heard.

“What is that noise?” Pam said.

“It sounds like Space Mountain, The ride at Disneyland” Bennett said.

“Why are we exiting the solar system, I thought we’re going back in time,” said Stephen digitally.

“It even sounds spacey,” Pam said, with a goofy Pam like grin on.

“Yeah, Why are we going this direction,” Spencer said.

I stayed mostly quiet, only saying “The noise is because of the heliosphere, it’s an effect caused by the solar winds, ”

The TARDIS maintained course, as the solar system grew distant, and the TARDIS turned sideways. We’d worked hard together to optimize the viewing angles for occupants, so the TARDIS was now sliding sideways through space and time. Faster. Space gases flew by, Then, an amazing view of the “Hand of God”, a stellar formation as we flew out and away from the center of the Milky Way. Faster we flew. The solar winds had died down a little, so the eerie noises were – while vaguely there, not as pervasive.

We sped up. faster. Faster. And then, we came to a full stop as the TARDIS shifted to place the Milky Way in it’s full glory fully visible above us.

It hesitated for a moment.

The accretion disk the Milky Way was on began rotating.

The room was utterly quiet. Everyone just stared.

Becki was the first to break the silence. “This is incredible,” she said.

Kevin reached over and held her hand, and said quietly to her “He’s the real thing”

She looked at him in agreement.

I looked around the room. Everyone was holding hands. Even Clara with Stephen. Even Bennett with himself.

A thin green circle formed around the perimeter of the Milky Way. Outside the circle, written in light neon green words were ‘Temporal Cartography Map Acquired” at the 0, 90, 180, 270 degree marks.

A point was drawn in 3d space with a line drawing out from it and a tag attached to it with the words “Origin: August 18th, 2018 2:48 Pacific Time” written in a green semi transparent box.

In big letters across the milky way appeared the words “Acquiring Destination” in big bold red letters, which blinked a few times, and then were replaced with the words “Destination Acquired” written in white, as the box shrunk down, and to the lower left another box appeared.

This box was white, another point drawn to a point in 3d space with the words “Destination: November 1st, 2409”

The TARDIS shuddered a bit, much like a bear shaking water off it’s back, as the Digital display disappeared, and the Milky Way suddenly stopped moving, as the TARDIS started heading towards the point it had marked.

“I dont understand,” Stephen’s digital voice said as the TARDIS accelerated towards the destination, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to go through a black hole” he said.

I turned to him and said “Stephen, when you’re confined to a digital world, it’s hard thinking outside the digital box. Not everything is a hologram”

He sat there pondering what I’d said. He wasn’t fully ready to admit he wasn’t the greatest scientist that ever lived.

“Stephen, you’re among one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. But it doesn’t mean you’re the only one capable of amazing feats of science,” I said.

I smiled as he looked up.

“And consciousness,” I added.

“I need a cigarette,” Bennett said.

I laughed. “Two minutes, tops dude. “

The TARDIS raced effortlessly through and around amazing stellar formations which looked like they were straight out of a Star Trek movie. Well, partially because they were.

And finally. As the Earth loomed larger and larger, the TARDIS turned sideways showing a clear approach vector leading towards San Francisco, eventually landing on the North side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Everyone got out of the TARDIS as fast as possible.

“The air is superb here,” Stephen said in his digital voice.

Clara added “And it’s so clear.”

“Is that… Gold?” Pam said, “The Golden Gate Bridge is Gold!”

“There’s a story to this, I’ll explain along the way, we have a little walk ahead of us, and just FYI – we have Bennett to thank for this landing zone choice, this is the only place his smoking won’t attract attention of the locals,” I said.

Bennett had already lit up. “Glad I could help,”

Pam said to Bennett “Mind if I have one?”

Spencer and Gina were quick to follow as Gina said “Us too!”

Bennett looked at his cigarette pack, and said “You know, I was going to quit smoking this weekend. Guess that’s going top happen earlier than expected.”

After about five minutes, the smokers had indicated they were ready.

As we walked, or in Stephen’s case – rode across the bridge – I talked.

“So, in 2367, The Federation learned from an embedded operative within the Borg that the Borg were planning an assault on the Federation in an area known as the Neutral Zone about eight light years from Earth. Intelligence gathered also suggested the Borg were preparing to launch a simultaneous attack on Earth, so the Federation shifted ship building operations terrestrially rather than in space – in an effort to protect their resources and to hopefully accelerate development time.  “

We’d reached the bridge and began to cross it.

“The primary ship building operations took place in Southern Washington and a place most of you might be familiar with – Area 51,” I said.

“I KNEW IT,” Kevin exclaimed.

About then, Pam was inspecting the Bridge, and had been carrying a hand sized rock with her which she then struck the bridge with.

“Dammit, Pam, leave it alone,” I said.

“This can’t be solid gold. “ she said.

“It is,” I said, getting behind her and pushing her along, “May I continue?”

She walked with her hand firmly on the gold railing, as if she was stroking it with pleasure.

She said nothing.

“Within a few months, with a highly accelerated development schedule, terrestrial development of the USS Melbourne completed not far from Spokane, Washington. Its maiden voyage was entirely terrestrially based, a flight from its assembly facility in Washington to San Francisco for formal commissioning at the same area we’re going to today,” I said.

“So why’s the bridge gold?, “ said Pam

“Patience,” I said. “So on it’s maiden voyage, on this day – November 1st, 2367 – The Melbourne flew from Washington to San Francisco, on a foggy day, when the Melbourne struck the Golden Gate Bridge on it’s final approach. It was a catastrophic failure, killing everyone on board, causing the bridge to collapse and killing 409 pedestrians and drivers who were unfortunately on the bridge when it collapsed.”

“Wow,” said Kevin. “What happened?”

“A cascade of problems, to be honest. First, the bridge collapsed because the steel had oxidized and while it was spot tested to ensure spot integrity, which it passed, an entire structural analysis hadn’t been done in nearly 400 years, and had they done one, they’d have learned real quick the system’s oxidation would make an impact at just the right place and time would cause the entire thing to collapse. The Melbourne was the domino that started the rest in motion,” I said.

“Add to that – the USS Melbourne. It had been fitted with Stardate navigation as per specifications, but hadn’t been fitted with Earth and Terrestrial based navigation, so they were literally navigating with handheld GPS systems which didn’t receive automatic updates and the navigators hadn’t been educated on planetary expansion and contraction, so as the Melbourne – Briefly mind you – stepped out of the atmosphere on it’s voyage to Starfleet, they demonstrated the pitfalls of shifting between two temporal measurements systems and Einstein’s relativity,” I said.

Becki said, with a smile “Plain English please!”

I smiled, “The ground was 3000 feet higher than their GPS systems told them.”

“Oh Wow,” Kevin said.

We’d approached the end of the bridge.

“You know how every sad ending has a happy beginning?,” I said.

“Not every,” Kevin said.

I glared at Kevin.

Pam then said, loudly, “WHY IS IT GOLD?”

Off to the left of the Golden Gate Bridge was a massive Obelisk, which was 100 foot tall in height and about 30 foot wide at it’s base, it had a black and green slowly pulsating light, and at the bottom was a plaque.

“That’s creepy looking,” said Gina.

“No you cannot smoke here, Bennett,” I said, preempting his asking the question.

He sulked as we walked up to the plaque, which read:

USS Melbourne. This memorial is dedicated to the courageous souls aboard the USS Melbourne who may have sacrificed their own lives to save a Universe from itself, and at the very least taught an entire planet a valuable lesson which will never be forgotten about time,

Underneath the plaque was the names of everyone aboard the USS Melbourne, and around the base of the memorial was the names of everyone who died on the bridge that day.

Kevin said “Some think they intentionally committed suicide?”

“The evidence is there. They’d lost communication once they exited the atmosphere and had plenty of time to re-establish it, they’d circled around at least three times before trying to land,”  I said.

Bill said “Well if they were flying visually, they could have been trying to get a line of sight to the airport,”

“And they could have always diverted to a landing area without fog if line of sight was an issue. The evidence they were trying to send a strong message is pretty overwhelming,” I said.

Jeff added “Maybe they were low on fuel?”

“New warp cores have an expected lifetime of 42 to 46 years, Jeff, and while it was discussed they could have had warp core problems, they’d intentionally shunted the reactor to prevent radiation. The crash didn’t look like an accident, at all,” he said.

Stephen then added “There’s always the possibility they were shifted. “

I smiled. “That there is,” I said. “Sure has all the telltale indicators, doesn’t it?”

Pam finally couldn’t wait.

“I’m so sorry, Pam, the disaster uncovered a lot of science myths – particularly that scarcity is contrived, and the material for the bridge was created by something called replicators which converted in a process similar to transmutation of energy to Gold. It’s value plummeted to near worthlessness in the year that followed,” I said.

“So they rebuilt the Golden Gate Bridge out of something worthless to honor the fallen?” she said.

“No, they honored the name by building it out of Gold. Anything could be replicated through the same process, so using your logic everything would be worthless,” I said.

I looked around, “Let’s continue to Starfleet, it’s a five minute walk from here.” I said.

“Oh before we leave – there’s a bright side to all of this,” I continued, ” the conflict in Earth Time and Stardates this disaster exposed proved the existence of the multiverse, and the transmission from the Neutral Zone was from an alternate timeline. Which makes what we’re doing possible,” I said.

“Or Shift Happened.” Stephen added.

Everyone laughed out loud.

“What’s so funny?” Stephen asked.

Spencer did his best to attempt to explain, and finally gave up, to which I added simply “It’s a cultural thing”.

That he understood.

By this time, we’d arrived at the main entrance of Starfleet.

“Didn’t this used to be the Presidio?,” Spencer said.

“It did,” I said, and about then another group which looked like it was comprised of people similar in mixture to our group walked by us, with an older tall lanky man with A British accent leading.

He looked at me and winked.

“Do you know him?,” Kevin said.

“We do now,” I said without explaining  further.

We headed towards a massive stadium. A stadium which was so large it could fit any American Football stadium and European futbol stadium, combined.

An amazingly gorgeous black haired woman – who was scantily clad holding a clipboard and speaking into an earpiece and microphone walked up to us, recognizing me immediately.

“Q, here’s your key card, can you please take your group to Rose/Apple Suite 17?”

“Terrarium level, right?,” I said.

“That’s the one,” she said, winking as she left.

She wiggled her ass on purpose as she walked away and looked back at me with a mischievous grin in her eyes.

The elevator up to the terrarium level was large enough to fit us all, comfortably, and as we traversed the pathway on the Terrarium level, we saw numerous other groups very similar to our own, and eventually came to our suite.

“This is it,” I said.

The fully furnished room was acquainted with a bartender and chef, and had a table full of appetizers.

“I’m famished,” Bennett said, grabbing something that looked like a cracker with cheese on it.

Only it wasn’t.

He spat it out faster than I can say fuchengruven, back onto a napkin.

“OH, my bad. The appetizers are all from various places and time periods around the galaxy. That one in particular is called Mirelurk Meat,  a man sized shellfish which hails from the year 2278. “ I said.

“That’s disgusting,” Bennett said.

Pam picked up something that looked like shish ka bobs and took a bite.

As she walked to the window, she spit it on the ground as well.

“My god, this is horrible, what is this?,” She said.

“Squirrel Bites,” I said.

I hadn’t expected this. But I did admittedly find it humorous.

“Well, my avatar has sight and sound, but taste, smell, feel, I’m working through programmed memories. And – well – I’m in the year 2016 and have yet to experience time travel myself, let alone anything beyond the 30 some odd countries I’ve visited, so I suppose whoever programmed the avatar programmed it to reject unknown foods by making it taste like,”

“Shit,” Spencer said, as he spit out what he was trying.

“Couldn’t you have ordered something we were familiar with?,” he said.

I smiled and walked to the window, which amazingly, no one had even glanced at yet.

There she was. The USS Timeship Phoenix. A Bulbous spherical head, with an elongated hull, which looked nothing like any vessel that had come before it. It was slowly emerging from the ground on the world’s largest lift.

And all my friends could do was bitch about the appetizers.

It’s not that easy. The universe is only partially formed presently, and there’s simply no conversion for material and substances between different time periods, as atomic structure changes so wildly over such short periods of time.

So when you taste something I haven’t when you time travel, you’re using my senses which haven’t experienced this particular atomic and sensory combination.

“So much for tastes like chicken,” Spencer said.

I said nothing and looked over the rising starship.

“You all can’t see this, can you?,” I said.

No one said anything.

There was silence for a while, as the commissioning ceremony started. Commissioning took about 30 minutes, and for my friends it was the longest 30 minutes of their life as I watched the thing in silence.

At the end of the ceremony, I said:

“The USS Phoenix, for anyone who hasn’t seen it – is enormous. It’s electronically documented as being able to house a contingent of just over 300 people. But that’s a lie. It has a comfortable living capacity of 7000 people, but can sustain 10,000, and nearly 30,000 if people sleep in 6 hour shifts. “

I continued.

“It’s a long term science vessel, and comes lightly armed, with two banks, front and aft, of photon torpedoes, the non quantum variation, four photon lasers, front and aft, and four rail guns which carry 1,500 earth pound explosive charges. While it’s considered a science vessel, it’s armed,” I said before Spencer added..

“To the teeth. I thought you were against weapons?,” he said.

“I’m against planning on assaulting a living being with them. But I’m not against intimidation as a deterrence. You taught me that lesson, “ I said.

I continued “One of the primary features of the vessel are the holodecks. There’s a bank of them, and I’ve self selected to be a holodeck programmer specializing in fantasy and science fiction and pornography,”

“Which, is among the reasons I’m in Hollywood in the year 2016. I am there learning about the art of the story. Not everyone just wants a big bang, pardon the pun,” I said.

The ship drifted up, it’s engines pulsing.

It was beautiful.

The Captain swung the vessel so the bridge hovered at eye level with our window.

The Captain, Rachel Gooch, was fully nude standing at the massive window on the bridge.

I could see the entire bridge of females was as well.

I smiled.

She waved at me. I waved back.

I could see her mouth the words “I’ll see you soon,” as she turned around and issued the order for the USS Phoenix to depart. Within seconds, the spacecraft drifted effortlessly skyward, and eventually disappeared.

I turned around.

“Ya’all ready?,” I said.

Everyone got up. as Spencer asked “When did you figure it all out?,” he said.

“Preloaded Imagery,” I said, instinctually.

Then I added “Being completely honest, there wasn’t any one point in time or one specific event that tipped your hands. It was just a sequence of events that happened.”

Stephen had seen everything thought.

We walked, quietly, back to the TARDIS.

When I got in, I asked Stephen where he wanted to go.

“Take me home, “ he digitally said, “I’ve got to see this through”

Everyone objected, very quickly, they knew the war was imminent, but didn’t know what I know and that he was complicit in it and why.

That’s when I showed him the truth.

My truth.

All of it.

I’d never seen Stephen cry before. I don’t think anyone ever had.

But he did.

He wasn’t able to respond.

“Take me home, Q,” he said, “I have some work to do.”

It’s the first time I’d ever heard his digital voice have intonation, emotion, and something new – respect.

After we dropped Stephen off, I turned to the others who were clearly dealing with conflicted emotions. I myself didn’t know what to say to them, so I finally broke the silence and told them – simply.

“I need your help. I’m not one to ever ask for it. But I’m asking for it now. I want to see this. You. All of this. In real  life. I want to quit imagining this, and want to live and experience it. Indulge in it. But I have to admit I’m sincerely lost on how to bridge us,” I said.

Spencer, surprisingly, and with a newfound emotion as well said.

“We can take it from here, “ he said, and with that, someone had flipped a switch on my avatar.

I was disconnected completely.


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