*note from 2011*

As you may (or may not) be able to tell, the various authors, (though each brilliant in his or her own way), sometimes strayed from details and diction as concerns 20th Century and early 21st Century Southern California. Considering that the original novel was completed by people on three continents and the middle of the Pacific, and that quite different versions of the King's English (or what passes for it in the Colonies) were employed – sometimes as a second language – the fact that it had any sort of fluidity at all is rather miraculous.

It is the attempt of this particular writer to smooth the story into one coherent whole, while remaining true to the original authors' intents and idiosyncrasies.

That sounds much easier than it is.

Let's see if the dog hunts.

RE


When Worlds Collide

When Worlds Collide

The Interactive Novel

R.E. Ellison edit - May, 2011, October 2014

The writers wish to emphatically express that they do NOT own seaQuest DSV, NBC, Amblin Television, Universal Studios, Universal Citywalk, the Rockefeller Center, Tommy's Hamburgers, a time-machine, dinosaurs, coma-inducing drugs, tracking nanites, Cal State Northridge, Northridge Fashion Center circa 1972, Star Waggons, The Opium Den, Dumb and Dumber or the like. The following is entirely fictional and, except where reality and non-reality overlap, all names, characters, and situations are entirely products of said writers' imaginations and any similarity to anyone or anything living or dead is purely coincidental and is used strictly for entertainment purposes.

Rommi, Foxy, Heather, Spike, Frickangel, Eleria, Foolish Journeys, Roswell, Cable Lady,Gar

© 2004-2007 Individual Writers


For Jonathan

"All we see or seem,

Is but a dream

Within a dream…


I

Early January, 1994

A young blond haired man sat typing at a computer. His light-blue eyes gazed intently on the screen through locks of blond hair that fell to either side of his face, along with the occasional rebel strand he'd absently blow out of his eyes. The object of such intent was currently entitled "Mirror to Wonderland," – a possible script idea for an NBC television show called seaQuest DSV. He currently played the character of computer whiz Lucas Wolenczak on the program – which was far from true in real life. Writing scripts, however, something he was good at, had always been a release for him, a way to escape the chaos of his own reality and enter the head of a person he thought more capable of survival in the current, and with this story, future technological world.

The sun had long ago sunk outside his bedroom window, casting golden hues between the blinds onto the carpet in perfect patterns that worked their way up the wall and faded across the ceiling, now covered with posters and photos. He'd finally taken down the pump shoes from the hook where a ceiling lamp should be, but hadn't decided what to put in its stead. A half-eaten piece of thick-crust took up space next to an empty bottle of Yoo-Hoo on his writing desk and a few used Starbucks grande cups. The seventeen-year-old hadn't liked giving up his electric typewriter, but a computer made it easier to log in his ideas and thoughts, as they came faster than he could process most of the time (and, he admitted, made a lot less noise.) It was the next best thing to dictating into a tape recorder. A number of used tapes took up a drawer of their own in the upper right side of the desk.

This particular idea had him running a mental marathon. Simply keeping ahead of his rampaging thought processes had nearly exhausted him.

The script was going well. The plot proceeded with enough twists to keep the watcher interested, with a bit of historical background thrown into the mix. The characters' dialogue miraculously fit like puzzle pieces to their personae in such a real sense that he could hear their voices clearly in his mind as he typed carefully with four fingers (and a thumb.) Writing a script was so time-consuming if you did it right anyway that it wouldn't really matter if he used all ten fingers (if he could have) – it would still eat up too many hours.

A yawn overtook him, forcing him to lean back and stretch with it. By now late night had fully arrived in Van Nuys, a suburb of the city of Los Angeles, and the only light visible was the electronic blue glow from his computer screen (another advantage of a computer – it made its own light source.) Turn a lamp on. You'll ruin your eyesight, his mother's voice said in his head. He closed his eyes to silence his mind and regroup before taking a bathroom break and starting again, seeing a ghost of the last page behind his eyelids. He could almost read it. Twenty-three pages weren't bad for a night's work. He automatically saved his work in fear of a blue-screen attack. At least with a typewriter he didn't have to worry about digital demons eating his precious Word documents, only the litany of typos that he invariably made, and the nightmarish task of formatting the pages to match the needs of a professional script.

"Hate, Haight, I got a new complaint, forever in debt to your priceless advice…" Kurt Cobain yowled quietly from the speakers of his boom box – not putting out much boom in consideration of the hour. He'd still gotten up and jumped around playing air-guitar and lip-syncing to Rape Me earlier. Fortunately, he didn't weigh enough to bother anyone else in the condo, and he just kept landing like the cat that now purred at his feet.

Jonathan Brandis pushed the chair back and stood, popping his back and walking down the small hall to the bathroom. At the hall mirror he stopped for a habitual check of his face and hair. One zit. Great. And his hair was performing like a dead dog; flat and lifeless at 10 pm. He ran his hand casually through it, bringing back buoyancy, and entered his bathroom.

The previous week had had him wracked for quiet time. Although the cast had been their usual selves, sleeping in their off time, or playing cards, or eating, he felt like he was living the day still in Beta mode. Joking with Ted about the alien origins of some of the food on the Craft Service table didn't please the director, or the others eating the stuff, but they just took the humor as undeniably Jonathan's and left it at that. The entire week he'd been off his game, a few seconds late, trying to catch up with himself. He was glad the week was over and he'd had a weekend to recuperate.

He took the parent-free chance to run downstairs, swipe a plate of cold lasagna – and a Crystal Pepsi – from the kitchen with practiced grace. He checked the poem held to the side of the fridge by a one of the field of magnets for any possible changes, then made the trek back upstairs to his room. His door was covered with 'keep out' and 'danger' signs, some of which he'd "borrowed" from the backlot of Universal Studios where he worked. The precious Back to the Future prop he'd "appropriated" he kept hidden in his closet.

Megan stretched on his bed, yawning broadly, then hopped off to beg attention from her owner. Jon scratched behind the ears of the little white Westie and picked her up. She settled happily in his lap with an affectionate lick to his face, not caring anything about the zit (but definitely interested in the lasagna.) The little dog always had a way of relaxing him after a hard day, and easily made him smile. Since he had no siblings, she was the truest, most loyal friend he had in the world.

He checked his carefully-prepared beat-sheet to see where in the story he had left off and if it needed any other additions. The limits of TV left very little margin for error, and at about a page a minute, he still had another twenty or so before he could call it complete. For at least another hour he reworked the script line by line before calling it quits and heading for bed. He kicked his untied Chucks off, not caring about the rest of his clothes, and fell onto the unmade bed. In moments he was sound asleep…


A loud, single tone klaxon ripped at Lucas' dream of listening to grunge and writing some kind of script and he sat straight up, wide awake in his bunk on the seaQuest DSV. The thundering of footsteps stampeding past his cabin door brought out his curiosity enough that he hopped from bed and opened his door right into a melee of military scramble.

"What's going on?" he asked the next crewman to pass him.

Phillips stopped long enough to tell Lucas that they were under attack.

"By who?" Lucas asked again. Getting no answer and being left in the dust, he quickly threw on a clean shirt and hi-tops and followed.

The bridge buzzed with activity by the time Lucas arrived, sliding through the clam doors just before they closed.

"Those clam doors were closed for a reason, Lucas. I don't want you up here," Captain Bridger's eyes shot to Lucas.

"I want to know what's going on. Phillips said we were under attack," Lucas rushed.

The captain's mouth opened to speak, but he was forced to brace himself on the captain's chair by a blast that shuddered through the ship. He forced the young man into the chair. "Sit down and don't move," he ordered.

"Sir," Commander Ford said, "They're coming around for another attack."

"Flood tubes 2 and 4 and fire."

"Firing 2 and 4."

"Three launches have been discharged from the other sub, Captain," Lt. Ortiz reported. "They're intercepting the torpedoes." His added shock was evident. "They're firing."

"Counter-measures."

"Counter-measures aren't responding, sir."

"Crash dive."

"Dive! Dive!" Ortiz's voice rang clear throughout the ship's com systems. Two more klaxons took the place of the original.

Lucas looked at the view screen as chaos ensued around him and held on. He was starting to think getting out of bed had been a bad idea.

The seaQuest's nose tipped downward, sliding through the water. The blips of the incoming torpedoes' tracking sweep heightened then dissipated as the deadly weapons sped past the ship. Lucas exhaled a tense breath.

"Commander, flood all tubes and fire at will."

"Aye, sir."

Four pulses sounded inside the seaQuest. Within moments impacts had ripped the attacking sub apart, scattering it across the ocean floor.

"Sir, we've still got one torpedo tagging us."

"Brace for impact."

The jolt came faster than Lucas had expected. He held on, lurched forward, and for a moment blacked out.

It was over in an instant. The seaQuest's bridge had silenced to general orders, and the captain was staring at him. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah,' Lucas breathed. "Yeah. I'm, fine. Just a little light-headed. Who were they?"

"Border terrorists."


Border terrorists? What an unoriginal idea!

Jonathan woke to the buzzing of his annoying alarm clock and smashed it into the desk drawer. It beat the truly annoying clock-radio he'd tuned to a Mexican station until waking up to loud fiesta music and echoey DJ's yelling acres of incomprehensible Spanish at him had driven him almost insane. He couldn't use KROQ, the local alternative rock station, as he would just incorporate whatever music played into his dreams. It had made for some intriguing imagery, anyway, especially when they were playing NIN or Marilyn Manson. But half the time they had been running commercials, so he'd be crossing a field of waving grass on horseback with a beautiful girl and someone would pop up yammering about weight loss or car insurance. 5:30. He groaned. Groggily, he climbed out of bed to shower and get ready for a new week's shooting.

He thought about his vivid dream. He found it cool that, even in his dreams, no matter what was going on, Lucas somehow wound up in the middle of it. Or slightly left of it. Going through the dream's details, he thought it didn't make much sense to crash dive if you could blow the enemy out of the water first. Of course, his dreams rarely made even that much sense, and he knew little, if anything, about battle maneuvers in a submarine.

He sang Yellow Submarine during his shower. He couldn't sing, he knew, but it relaxed him.

He threw a red windbreaker on over his black t-shirt, laced up his Doc Martens, grabbed his backpack and left his room.

He stopped by the hall mirror again for the habitual check of hair and face, then skipped two stairs at a time for his usual morning routine. He said goodbye to his mom, scratched Megan behind the ears, (and slipped her a piece of sausage), threw his things into the side seat of his Nissan, took the mostly-empty street to the freeway and then slowly negotiated the five miles to Universal for work, listening to about a half an hour's worth of commercials and inane banter from Kevin & Bean on KROQ, (this time of the morning the music scene was pretty barren) all before the sun had even risen. Starbucks (the last one of the twenty between home and work) was an easy side-stop for a second cup of coffee – this time a mocha-frappuccino – and a short walk to Soundstage 28. So much for this morning's adventures, he thought.

He yawned, blinking, and walked inside.

The place was a ghost town. He made his way through the skeletal forest of silvery C-Stands left behind by errant grips or unpaid PA's too lazy or disoriented to do their jobs. The usual morning pre-set crew weren't anywhere to be found, no one had demanded his time, no one had even stopped him for an autograph yet, and no one seemed to think to send him the memo that it was an unofficial holiday and the studio was closed for the day. The holiday was next week, right?

A paid holiday, maybe? Naw. Not on NBC's budget.

Hello!" Jonathan shouted, dropping his bag onto the bridge set of the seaQuest set by the communications station. "Is anyone here? Hey! Ted? Marco? Hello out there!" His voice died in the metal-railed catwalks and soundproofing. He glanced around, exhaling lightly. "Where the hell is everyone?"

He grabbed the backpack and wandered to the small set classified as Lucas' bedroom. He ignored the signs that said HOT SET – proof that someone was using this place today. He grabbed his cell phone from the bag and dialed Ted's number. It rang as busy. Irritated, he tried his own house to see if the studio had left any messages for him that he'd missed (easy, since this was his eighth? Ninth? cell phone number in the past year on as many phones), but all he received were annoying beeps. He hung up and looked at the phone's LCD. Curiously, it flickered on and off, and then simply read, "No service".

This had to be a joke. He chuckled. "All right. I get it. 'Ha ha' on me. Okay, guys, you've had your fun. Come on, where are you? We've wasted enough of GE's money. This 'gripping, imaginative sci-fi' isn't going to film itself." He stood up to leave with plans of revenge forming in his mind, when the whole room seemed to shift. Everything blurred, as if it were a bell and a massively large hammer had struck it. For a moment his head felt light with the sense of vertigo. He put his hand on the edge of the bed to steady himself, and blinked. "Whoa. Head rush! Too much cap in that frappe, kid." The vibrations stopped when he rubbed his eyes, but a low hum still resonated in his ears.

Booted footsteps outside the door caught his attention. Finally thinking someone had given up the ruse, he left the room, ready to rail into them, but stopped. The small corridor was empty. He looked left, right, straight up into the unlit 650 Fresnel attached above, expecting to see someone climb up a rope or run across the catwalk, but there was no one.

If this was a practical joke, he was going to hurt someone. Badly. Irritated, he marched down the corridor to the corner at the end where he knew he'd hop off a set of steps into a separate scene of the captain's quarters. Halfway there, the sound of footsteps, and now very soft voices forced him to stop. He spun, eyes flicking in every direction. "Okay, this is getting weird." A couple of tentative steps had him reaching the end of the arching metallic corridor. He turned the corner and stopped again. "What the hell?"

It kept going.

It wasn't supposed to keep going.

It was supposed to end at the entrance to the captain's quarters. He'd come from there to reach Lucas' room set. There were a dozen different movable set-pieces that represented different parts of the ship to set at the T of the corridor end. New wall meant new corridor, but this was a complete corridor. He'd been around studios and soundstages for as far back as he could remember, and seen set builders work miracles, but this was ridiculous. No one could build a detailed set this fast this quietly without his hearing them. He had good hearing. Even though he sometimes tuned people out, he wasn't deaf, no matter how loud he'd set his car radio.

Music from the Twilight Zone played through his mind.

He spun at the sound of footsteps behind him, then again from the other direction. This time the chatter had raised in volume so he could make out the words 'level three diagnostic', and then 'Captain's orders".

"Okay, guys," he said to the air as he made his way down another empty connecting alley, "I appreciate a good joke as much as the next schmo, but I think you guys are overdoing it with the ghostly effects."

No one answered him. This was starting to creep him out and his heart rate didn't disagree. That was it. He'd get his bag, go outside, see their cars parked at another soundstage, and really let them have it. Spinning on his heel, he took off at a brisk pace back in the direction he'd come, rounding the corner without looking. No one was there. Why should he need to?

"Oomph! Hey kid, watch where you're going!"

Jonathan had run headlong into a brown-haired man in his late twenties. The whole experience threw him off balance and he staggered back.

"Whoa. Sorry. Hey, where did you come from? No one else was here a minute ago."

The man gave him a quizzical look. "Did you hit your head?"

Jonathan thought this guy was still playing it up. They even had the extras involved. How charming. "No. Can you tell me where everyone is? Whose idea was this…" Jon glanced at the nametag on the man's black UEO costume, "Marshal?" He didn't remember a 'Marshal' in the pages he had for today's shoot. Rewrites? Second yellow revision, or were they up to the second pink revision pages? Someone should've told him.

"We're in a sub. How could anyone possibly leave the boat?" Marshal patted him on the shoulder. "Go to bed, Lucas, or go see Dr. Westphalen." Marshal moved on without a word.

Jonathan wasn't about to let this drop. "I get it. You guys can quit the joke now," he called out, laughing lightly.

Marshal turned his head back. "What joke?"

Jonathan paused. "Everyone vacating the premises like the-plague-hit-and-no-one-sent-me-the-memo joke."

Marshal blinked at him. "Go see the doctor. I've got work to do, Lucas."

Jonathan chased after him anyway, having to pause to let another extra – or crewmember – pass by. "Listen, just tell me where everyone went, and what the heck's going on, and quit calling me Lucas. My name, until I find the rest of this cast, is Jonathan."

This time Marshal didn't turn around. "This cast. Okay. Right, 'Jonathan', just leave me alone. I've got work to do and less time to do it."

Jonathan let him go, intending on catching another crewmember, when the whole surroundings bled into his vision. He looked up, this time seeing an actual ceiling with no Fresnels or halogens, no gels left by the lighting techs, no catwalks, no gaps in the set where cameras would be placed, no empty space leading to the rest of the soundstage, the walls had been sealed up, and not with gaffer's tape, and he could detect a slight metallic odor in the air. If he didn't know any better, he'd say he was standing in the middle of the corridor by Darwin's tube on the real seaQuest DSV.

But that was impossible.

Wasn't it?

This went beyond any joke.

His heart leaped into his throat and he took off at a dead run down the corridor, the floor of which no longer sounded hollow, but solid, like metal. They kept connecting, turn into turn, alley into alley. One long stretch led him down to the door of the Mag-Lev, which he knew was located on another soundstage.

Someone shouted out Lucas' name and he detoured into a passage, catching his breath, seriously confused. There were no exit signs, no ladders, no grips, no light techs, no lighting rigs, nothing to show that he was still on a soundstage. He had one mission in mind; get to Lucas' bedroom, grab the backpack, and get the hell out of here.

He ran down a flight of narrow metal stairs, passing under the B-Deck sign, and finally made it to Mammal Engineering. He ripped the door open and plunged inside, closing it with both hands and twisting the small metal wheel until the lock clicked. He leaned his head against the door a moment to catch his breath, along with his spiraling thoughts. Breathe in, breathe out, he thought, like the Bush song.

"Hey!" came an irritated, oddly familiar voice from behind him.

Jonathan stopped breathing.

Lucas swiveled around in his chair, frowning at the back of the intruder. "This is a restricted area. That means knock before you…"

Jonathan swung around.

Lucas forced out the end of the broken sentence, "…barge in."

If time could have come to a crashing halt, this would have been the unlucky crystal store.

Both stared at each other in complete, unhindered, naked shock.

Jonathan blinked.

Lucas blinked.

Neither spoke or moved in the long moment it took time to get back on its feet and start moving again.

"Who are you?" Jonathan finally managed to start breathing again.

"Who are you?" Lucas absently slid the VR glove off his right hand and plopped it next to him, never taking his blazing blue eyes off the weird doppelgänger.

"Jonathan." He took a step forward. "Wow…"

Lucas countered, slowly moving to the left as Jonathan came to the right. They circled each other with curious caution.

Jonathan pushed the hair out of his eyes before it fell down over them again. "They're getting better at finding look-alikes."

Lucas combed fingers through his own hair in a mirror motion. "You're daft."

"So, who are you, really?" Jonathan asked, unable to tear his eyes from his twin.

The two continued to circle each other warily.

"Lucas. Lucas Wolenczak."

"No. I mean your real name."

"That is my real name."

Jonathan stopped. "Do you always get this far into character to do a double role?"

"Excuse me?"

"All right. Never mind. Kudos to the guy who found you, I mean, it's a pretty amazing match, but just tell me where everyone is, and where we are, so I can put reality back together, then kick someone's ass," he muttered through gritted teeth.

Lucas fought for words, staring straight into eyes the identical silver-blue of his own that seemed genuinely frightened. "You're uhm…on the seaQuest DSV," he began quietly, but found bravery as he spoke, "and everyone is probably doing their jobs or eating."

Jonathan stepped back. "That doesn't make sense." He shook his head violently. "None of this makes sense."

"No, actually it does. You 're the one not making sense." Lucas folded his arms.

"So this isn't a joke?"

"You lost me."

"Everyone disappeared, then came back acting like the crew of the seaQuest, and they built freaking miles of metal corridors that don't go anywhere in five minutes without making any noise, and where the hell are the lights and the camera equipment?" Jonathan ranted.

Lucas held up his hands. "Okay, look, dude. I don't know who you are or how you got on this ship, but if you don't explain yourself now, I'm calling security and having them cart you off to the brig."

Jonathan took a deep breath. He ran his hands through his hair again and walked up to the door, unlocked it and opened it a crack. Various crewmembers moved through the corridor talking to each other, studying data pads or greeting others.

He closed the door. "I don't believe it," he breathed.

Lucas exhaled. "Believe what?"

Jonathan looked back to Lucas, then to the door. "But it's not possible. This can't be the real seaQuest. It's a movie set."

Lucas arched an eyebrow.

"A movie set?" He forced himself to keep the derision out of his voice.

Jonathan walked back over to him, looking around the room and allowing a half-grin to crease his face. "Okay, set for a TV show – same difference. This is incredible."

"It's just…stuff. Not even expensive stuff. Lowest contractor stuff. I had to build a lot of it myself…"

"No, no. I mean…this. This isn't supposed to be complete. Wow. It's like walking into the Twilight Zone."

"Been there. Cool arcade," Lucas said.

"No the… It's weird, okay?"

"So you're not from some rebel Confederation or other sent here to kidnap me and replace me with a ringer to mess up the ship's computer systems and bring down the UEO from the inside?"

"Naw. David wouldn't sign off on that idea. He said it was too improbable."

Lucas watched him. "You're saying something else brought you here?"

"Yeah. 'Something'. Last night I was working on a script and…" He turned to face Lucas. "Were you guys attacked by border terrorists last night?"

"Well, it's always border terrorists." He knitted his eyebrows. "But how did you know about..?"

Jonathan laughed. "That was the dream."

Lucas was quiet for a moment. "And you were writing a script…" It took willpower not to call security; willpower and curiosity of a scientist faced with his own clone and other baffling evidence. "It sounds like some kind of inter-dimensional voyage…"

"Alternate realities…"

"Eleven of 'em. But that's only theoretical."

"Evidently it isn't." Jonathan shoved his hands in his pockets, forcing his heart to slow. "Or maybe I'm still dreaming."

"Easy enough to test," Lucas said.

He reached out and pinched him.

"Ow!" They both rubbed their left arms.

"Well, that's good, I guess," Lucas said.

"What is?"

"We didn't explode or absorb into some writhing chimera or blow up both dimensions." He nodded, looking bored. "So you're not a time-traveler, at least."

"You expected that?"

Lucas shrugged. "Maybe. It didn't happen."

Jonathan snickered. "You sound disappointed."

Lucas studied him more closely, narrowing his eyes. Every nuance he saw in his own reflection every day in the bathroom mirror he made out in the face of Jonathan; the intense blue eyes, the facial structure, the little dimple in his chin, even the dark blond, unmanageable cowlick, all of it identical except for the clothing. Lucas wore a blue shirt and flannel, and Jonathan wore a black t-shirt, a red windbreaker with the Gap stitched on the left side, dark jeans and huge, black, steelworker-type boots.

Lucas pointed loosely at the left side of Jonathan's nose, testing a theory. "Where'd you get that scar?"

"Fell through a glass table when I was 3."

Lucas gestured to the scar on the left side of his jaw. "Sprinkler head when I was 3," they said in unison.

A short pause went by. "Shouldn't this cause some kind of paradox?"

"You mean like a Back to The Future type thing? If you believe in the existence of alternate realities," Lucas shrugged.

"Yeah. Eleven of 'em. Maybe this is the twelfth."

Both blinked, leaned back slightly, circled each other warily for another few moments in silence, and then mirrored half-grins. "Very cool."

Jonathan put out his hand. "Jonathan. Jonathan Brandis."

Lucas took it. "Lucas. Lucas Wolenczak."

Jonathan couldn't help but wince, waiting for the sparks or smoke or whatever the paradox should create.

"So, what are we going to do?" Lucas asked, sitting down in a chair. "Any ideas?"

Jonathan sat down next to him and shook his head. "No, man, I don't know anything about all this scientific stuff. I'm just an actor."

Lucas frowned. "An actor?"

"Yeah. In my…where I come from, seaQuest is a TV show. I play… Well, I play you." Jonathan was a little worried as to how Lucas would react to this, but the teenager grinned broadly.

"You mean I'm…fictional? A literary figure? Like John Kennedy?" He seemed to think this was pretty funny. "That is so cool!"

"Trust me, you really existing is way cooler," Jonathan assured him, smiling himself. "And all this stuff," he gestured around the room at the banks of computer equipment. "On the show this is all just fake."

Lucas frowned slightly. "Yeah, well, it might as well be fake at the moment. My computer system has been acting up all week. In fact, half the ship's systems have. I haven't managed to find the bug yet. But I guess this situation takes priority." His frown deepened, the little crease between his brows that Jonathan saw more and more in is own reflection more evident. "The obvious thing to do is find out if there were any anomalies noted onboard around the time you switched realities. How long have you been here?"

Jonathan shrugged. "Maybe a half-hour, maybe less. I'm not sure. I've been a little disoriented."

"So, maybe you'll just snap back to…wherever it is you came from."

"I don't know. Maybe I'll bounce into…someplace else I didn't think really existed. I shouldn't be here or…you shouldn't be here, or… I can't figure any of this out."

Lucas nodded. "OK. I don't have the right equipment to really investigate, so I'm going to Engineering and see what I can find out. You stay here. I'll be back soon."

And with that, he was gone. Jonathan stared after him, amazed at how fast everything was moving. For the last few minutes, he had been feeling almost himself again, (well, two of himself) but now that Lucas was gone he began to worry. What if there was no way to get him back? Sure, hanging out on the seaQuest – the real seaQuest – was pretty cool, but he didn't want to stay here forever, or get knocked into some sitcom reality where he was the smarmy comic relief wacky neighbor. He wondered if the cast and crew were fuming back in his own world because he hadn't shown up for work. Then he realized he had more pressing concerns. He needed to find a bathroom. Reliable old caffeine.

Opening the hatch a crack, he peered out into the corridor. There was no one around. Good. With any luck he could attend to his needs and get back before Lucas returned. If he ran into someone he could always pretend to be Lucas. After all, he reminded himself, pretending to be Lucas is my job. He stepped out and turned right, hoping that it wouldn't be too far to go.

Some time later, he realized he was lost. He had eventually found a bathroom – although he was sure he must have missed one that was closer to Mammal Engineering. He couldn't imagine the poor kid had to walk that far every time he had to go – but when he tried to find his way back, he found that every corridor looked the same. On the set it was easy – there were only a couple of corridor sets, and they dressed the same one for pretty much every corridor scene – but here they were all interconnected. He felt as if he'd been walking for miles, and he was getting increasingly worried. Every now and then, he would pass a crewmember who would greet him and he would answer with a moody, noncommittal grunt, which seemed to satisfy them. Some he recognized as extras from his own reality. He tried to smile and act – Lucas-like – but his stomach was beginning to twist in nervous knots. Not only was he now stuck in an alternate reality – something which he was still having a hard time crediting – but he was lost too, and sustaining his carefully crafted actor's facade was breaking his nerve. Maybe he was just a pretty face after all.

He turned a corner and stopped. This corridor was familiar: at the end were the mammoth clam doors of the bridge, currently open to reveal the busy activity of the ship's hub beyond. This was definitely not where he wanted to be. He turned to go back and ran straight into someone.

"Hey, whoa. Watch where you're going!" said a familiar voice.

It was Marco Sanchez.

Or, to be more precise, Jonathan reminded himself, it was Miguel Ortiz, seaQuest's sensor chief. And he was currently grinning as he looked the teenager up and down.

"Hey, where'd you get the retro threads? Early 90's Seattle, right?" Ortiz asked, looking amused. Jonathan opened his mouth to answer, but Ortiz didn't give him a chance. "Where have you been anyway? The captain's been looking for you. Some of the fore-starboard quadrant sensors are glitching again."

"Well, uh…" Jonathan started, but Ortiz put a hand on his shoulder and began to propel him, gently but firmly, towards the bridge. "Wait! Listen, I've got to go," he said, hearing how lame the words sounded even as they left his mouth. Hey, wait, I got a new complaint, went through his mind. Nirvana couldn't help him at all here.

Ortiz shook his head. "Come on, Lucas. We really need you to do this now."

"But I'm..."

And then they were on the bridge.

Jonathan stopped dead, staring around in open-mouthed astonishment. He'd been on the bridge set before, of course. Much of this was familiar to him. But in real life it was just so much more…real. Stephen Spielberg had insisted on authenticity, and their set reflected his perfectionism, but this went far beyond that. He noted every flickering light, the bustling activity, the low powerful thrum of the engines – hell, this bridge didn't even have missing walls for the cameras to shoot through. And the 3D view screens, which were always added in post on the show, were in full working order, the overlapping brilliant colors displaying the moving undersea milieu outside the ship. He breathed out slowly, enchanted to see this world brought to life.

"Ah, there you are," said a new, yet familiar, voice, and he turned to see Roy – Nathan Bridger – striding across the room towards him. He stopped, looking concerned. "Are you okay, Lucas? You look like you've seen a ghost."

No, that was in Knight of Shadows, Jonathan thought. "Uhm, yeah," he said cautiously, suppressing his amazement and slipped his mind into 'Lucas' mode. "I don't feel so well," he added, hoping that he might get sent back to his – Lucas' – quarters. Assuming he could find it, of course.

Bridger looked him up and down. "Have you been to see Dr. Westphalen?" Jonathan shook his head. "Well, you can go and see her straight after you've fixed the sensors. Whatever it was you did to them last time, it was obviously only a temporary solution."

Jonathan's mind raced. One of his improv coaches had told him to always stick to a script after he'd seen him mangling an improvised scene. He'd better do a great job this time. "Military equipment sir. Lowest contractor. I'm surprised it's gotten us this far. Maybe if we put into Pearl…" he started, but found himself being pressed into a seat. He stared at the console in front of him. Oh Jeez, what on earth is all this stuff? he wondered. Back home he'd only just graduated to his first real computer, and he was having enough trouble with that. He couldn't even get past level one on the Neverending Story II computer game. Now he was suddenly confronted with twenty years worth of technological development from an alternate universe and expected to know what he was doing. On the show he just tapped random buttons, furrowed his brow, and looked serious. He had the feeling that wasn't going to work this time.

A blue screen of death meant real death down here.

There's nothing you can do, J. You'll just have to tell them, he thought to himself. He looked up and opened his mouth, but at that moment a siren split the calm atmosphere, making him jump put of his skin. Their klaxons were usually added post as well. This ominous sound was far too real.

Bridger looked up sharply. "Mr. Ortiz, report!"

Ortiz, now sitting at the sensor station, looked up from his console. "One of the WSKRS is picking up a sub off the starboard bow, sir. We're being targeted." His calm belied the message.

Targeted? Jonathan thought in a panic.

"Seal off the bridge," Bridger ordered. The clam doors began to swing closed. "Counter-measures, Mr. Ortiz."

Ortiz shook his head. "That's a negative, sir. I've got the sub on two WSKRS now, but they're showing it in different places. I can't get a targeting lock. I don't know which one is accurate."

"Lucas, how're you doing with fixing those sensors?" Bridger asked tensely.

Jonathan felt his stomach lurch. He jumped out of the chair and began to back away. "I can't do this," he said.

"This is no time for games!" Bridger's tone had an edge to it now. "We need those sensors now!"

"You don't understand, I really can't! I don't know how!" Jonathan looked at the captain pleadingly, but the man stared back in frustration and incredulity. Jonathan shot a glance at the sealed-off clam doors, irrationally hoping Lucas would somehow come bursting through and save the day. But they stayed closed.

"Captain," said Ortiz quietly, "they're flooding their torpedo tubes."

"I'm waiting for an explanation, Lucas," Bridger said, his voice quiet but commanding, clearly audible over the wail of the siren.

Jonathan looked around the bridge. Everyone was staring at him. Oh crap, he thought, feeling desperation swell inside him. How am I going to get out of this one?


Lucas barreled down the hallway, excited, nervous, frightened, a little more with each passing second. What did this mean anyway? Was he part of some crazy mind experiment? Airborne psychotropic drugs? Some elaborate sabotage?

Naw.

He rapidly entered information on his PAL, trying to download whatever he could on alternate realities. He'd talk to Dr. Westphalen first, and then they'd both decide how to proceed. In his mind he considered this the mature thing to do – not go off on some half-thought-out teenage adventure with his newly discovered twin, but instead try to get help from someone in authority.

Then they could have the adventure.

In the back of his mind a little concern was growing, however. Nature really did abhor a vacuum. If the "Jonathan Brandis" guy had left his own reality, then what did that mean for this reality? If something happened to "Jonathan" while he was here, would it result in this "Lucas" disappearing? He should have been scared, but all he felt was exhilaration. They'd passed the first test, anyway, touching, and not zapping each other — or their entire universes — out of existence. That was a good sign, he thought. He still needed to get his driver's license.

An ensign passed him.

"You'd better get up to operations. The captain has been looking for you," he said. Then he looked him up and down. "How'd you change clothes so fast?"

"Huh?"

"A couple of minutes ago you were wearing something completely different."

"I…I was?""

"Yeah. Retro 20th Century. Did you think better of it? Especially the boots?"

"I…I guess. You saw me a couple of minutes ago? Going towards operations?" He tried to sound offhanded, but only sounded confused. It could only mean one person…

The ensign smiled.

"Wolenczak, get your head out of cyberspace for a while and wake up! You don't even remember where you were going? What you were wearing?" He punched Lucas' shoulder gently. "Did you find your cast?"

"My what?"

"You were looking for a 'cast'. I'm not sure what it was a cast of…"

"Uh… Yyyyeah." Lucas looked casually back towards the bulkhead. What sort of trouble could a 20th Century actor get into wandering around a real 21st Century submarine? He didn't want to think about it. "Okay. Thanks."

He continued on his way, negotiating screens on his PAL as he negotiated the hallways. In this respect, he had it all over his "twin". He knew every inch of the seaQuest, though there was something wrong with the lighting in this corridor. The overheads seemed to be fluctuating wildly in brightness. It was making him dizzy. He kept briskly walking, looking up at the peculiar effect.

His foot reached for a deck panel that suddenly wasn't there. He pitched forward and fell into darkness, three feet, onto a pile of stiff pads. Where..?

"Mr. Brandis, are you all right?"

Lucas looked up at the speaker, a girl of perhaps 20 with auburn hair and frame glasses.

"Who are you? How did you get aboard?" He looked around himself, feeling suddenly VERY afraid. The hallway he'd been using had come to an abrupt end, the walkway terminating in a wooden staircase. The constant humming of the ship was replaced by dead silence. Above the ceiling of the passage where he'd been a series of overhead lights glared onto translucent plastic sheets, illuminating the hallway. And above that…

He felt his skin shrink two sizes.

Above that the ceiling of what appeared to be an airplane hangar was hung with elaborate French architectural embellishments, like fly-sets in a theater.

Or a movie set.

"Mr. Brandis?"

Think fast, kid. "Uh… Yeah. Jon-a-than. Yeah. Jonathan Brandis. Yeah, that's, uh…me." He poked his sternum with a forefinger and nodded.

"You're all right, then?"

"Yes. Thanks, uh…"

"Mel."

"Oh yeah. Mel. I know you, right?"

"Just a little. I just started PA'ing a few weeks back." She smiled. "I'm a big fan of your work."

"Fan? Oh, yeah. A fan. A fan of Jonathan Brandis. Yeah. Okay." This is not so cool anymore, he thought, trying not to panic.

"Yeah. I've seen everything you've been in. From Neverending Story II on."

"Neverending Story. Yeah." 20th Century children's fantasy by Michael Ende, made into a series of films in the late 20th Century and early 21st. For once his bizarre upbringing and encyclopedic knowledge of retro-culture would come in handy, he thought. Unless things here were completely different from his timeline.

"Are you sure you're all right? You seem a little…"

"I'm… fine. Thanks." He stood up at last, felt woozy all of the sudden. It took him a moment to realize that the ground wasn't moving at all. He was on dry land. He looked casually back at the PAL. The screen had frozen on his last entry, halfway through a word, the cursor not even blinking. He pressed the escape button and another screen popped up – technical charts – but nothing even remotely correct.

"You're needed on 22. They're shooting 15c in about forty minutes. The yellow sheets. Why are you all the way over here, anyway? Makeup and hair have been looking for you for the last hour."

"Uh… I needed something from…" He jerked a thumb over his shoulder noncommittally.

"The communications set? The hand prop?"

"Hand..?"

She gestured with her head to the PAL, seeming a bit embarrassed.

"Oh yeah. The hand prop. This is a hand prop. It's not real." He smiled widely, faking it as best he could. He had a sinking feeling. "And this isn't a UEO ship and it's not the 21st Century." He laughed artificially. "Of course I know that. Why wouldn't Jonathan Brandis, the actor who does this every day, know that?" I'm screwed, he thought, feeling his insides wobbling like gelatin, totally. completely. absolutely. screwed.

"You're very funny, Mr. Brandis." She laughed politely. He was a little weirder than she'd thought before. And a lot paler. And maybe...could it be? A little shorter. "Can you find your way?"

"Yeah." He pointed boldly one way. She smiled and pointed the opposite.

"Yeah. Okay. Cool!"

As he walked down the outside of the "set", he could see the massive tangles of electrical cords and rigging that lit the interior, each section on the ship neatly fitted together and numbered in spray-paint, most of it on rollers to make opening the set possible. Fluorescent lights gave a dim unreality to the building. The walls of the seaQuest were plywood and Fiberglas, gels and spotlights providing its interior light. He saw the backside of the Mag-Lev port, only the doorway complete, and the car, on rails sitting next to it, nothing exterior to the camera position even painted. Dozens of unused lights hung from the ceiling, another warren of pipes and cables, surrounded by gray soundproofing padding.

He could feel his heartbeat in his throat. This was more alien than anything he could have imagined.

He saw a corrugated metal door with an EXIT sign hung on it past a table set with fruit, doughnuts and coffee cups. He picked up a discarded newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, sitting on the table, coffee rings on it. The date read, Monday, January 9, 1994. He reluctantly looked back at the ship – or whatever it was in this reality – and passed through the door.

He was met with hazy sunshine and the muffled sounds of city traffic. Squinting, he made out a flat cart piloted by someone in a maintenance costume. Maybe not a costume, he thought. Maybe he really is a maintenance person. The back of the cart said "Universal Studios Hollywood." Hollywood, then. California. Looking up at the side of the next hangar he saw a number clearly marked on the wall. "22", it said, where they were getting ready to do "15c", whatever it was. Next to the number he saw… His mouth dropped open.

There was an enormous billboard of himself, the captain, the doctor, Crocker, Brody, even Darwin. Under them, "seaQuest DSV" was emblazoned with some kind of shark tail incorporated into the sunshiny yellow lettering. He looked closely at the painting of himself as a thirty-foot high icon. There he was, same half-smile, same disheveled hair, but showing a lot more attitude, even in the painting. Here, in this reality, he was a movie star. Mel had called him "Mr. Brandis". In this reality he merited a lot of respect.

"Maybe this is a little cool after all," he said aloud. In the distance he heard a jet plane passing overhead. From somewhere else he could hear music and the low hubbub of a crowd.

He'd check that out later. Something had caught his eye that needed immediate investigation. A small army of big trailers rested between the two giant buildings, each with a nameplate next to its door.

The nearest one read, "JONATHAN BRANDIS: LUCAS."

"This I gotta see," he said as he ambled towards it. He realized that he didn't have to be so hesitant. For all anyone knew, he WAS this Brandis guy. So, he'd check out the trailer, see what he could learn about this alternate reality. Maybe he had kids, a car, a license, a cool retro-70's bachelor apartment with a killer stereo system, tiki torches and an indoor pool. Maybe the trailer was packed with gorgeous starlets or maybe… His heart raced.

Maybe a computer terminal.

Okay, so this WAS cool.


Jonathan stared blankly at the screen. What was he supposed to do? Alarms went off all around him, way too much for him to feel safe.

I'm not really a computer genius. I just play one on TV, he thought. That sounded so ludicrous even to him that he managed a smile, despite his terror.

Bridger was quickly losing his patience.

"Lucas! Do something!"

Jonathan did what he always did, faced with a lose/lose situation: he stalled.

"I don't have the right diagnostic tools, Captain. I can't start to just poke around in the ship's computers without knowing exactly where I'm going." It sounded good, anyway, especially delivered in his best trained stentorian tones, and was about half-true.

Bridger gave him an odd look.

"That's never stopped you before. Son, you've hacked into UEO Command without authority, bypassed every kind of lock-out and security set-up to get secret government files, cut through encryption software like it's smoke. You even managed to get my hologram projector online and to stop fluttering. And you practically built this system."

"I…" He gasped for words.

"Incoming, sir!" Ortiz barked from his position.

"Damn it all!" Bridger left the confused young man's side. "Can we at least try counter-measures?"

Ortiz nodded. "Away, sir."

The captain stared hard at the two blips on one of the screens. The display flickered in and out, sometimes showing nothing; the sensor problem.

"How do we know which one launched? Which one's real?"

"We don't, sir," Ortiz said abruptly. "We're just guessing. If the counter-measures don't…"

They heard a dull thud outside the ship as the enemy torpedo exploded.

"Got lucky that time," Bridger said, relaxing a little. "Lucas, figure out where that torpedo came from and work backwards using the signature."

"What?'

"Math, boy! Use your head!"

Jonathan buried his face in both hands and leaned forward on the console. They'd always told him that math was important. He thought he'd never use all of that trigonometry and calculus in the real world. He could only remember one word from the entire course: "cosine". A hell of a lot of good that would do him now.

"WSKRS showing movement. One of the craft is moving, sir." Ortiz watched the screen carefully, picking up the tiny movement of the sub against the black background.

"Then that's the real one," Bridger said triumphantly. "Initiate firing solution! Flood 5 and 6 and fire E-plasma torpedoes, full charge! "

"Away, sir." Ortiz said immediately.

"And you, mister," Bridger turned a harsh gaze on Jonathan, "have some serious explaining to do."

Jonathan sat, open-mouthed. He shrugged. Where to even start?


Lucas carefully opened the door of the trailer.

"Hello?"

No answer. He found a wall-switch and flicked on the overhead lights, closing the door quietly behind him.

Way too neat, he thought immediately. He can't be anything like me. The small space was organized and clean, even if there seemed to be a thousand different things to look at.

His eyes settled on a silver mountain bike, then on a huge canvas bag filled with mail. On the table nearby there were several stacks of photos – all of Jonathan – and a half-dozen felt pens. His signature graced one entire stack of photos. "Take Care", each one of them said, then the bold, sweeping signature. He looked at the young man in the pictures. Yeah, it was him, Jonathan Brandis as him, Jonathan instead of him on a submarine on a backlot in Hollywood. Too surreal. The guy in the photo was very serious-looking, very easily wore that sexy half-smile/half-pout. Lucas never thought of himself as that serious-looking – or sexy, for that matter. It must be for show. Other shots had him in that red turtleneck and jacket that drove Lucas crazy, on the set of the TV show, and others showed him in a sleeveless wetsuit in a pool with…

"Darwin!" he said, half choking. So the dolphin ensign existed here as well. Probably in a tank somewhere on the lot. He wondered if Jonathan's Darwin could speak with the Vo-Corder. Probably not, he thought. It was probably a puppet or something. Everything else was fake.

He moved in towards the kitchenette and saw a small refrigerator next to a sink.

"Oh man," he mumbled. Real food? Real meat and dairy and non-hydroponically grown vegetables?

He opened the refrigerator door, expecting 20th Century culinary treasures.

All he found was an old dried pizza crust and dozens of bright-yellow boxes of something called Yoo-Hoo. Diet food? He'd skip the old pizza crust. He shook one of the little waxy boxes experimentally, heard the liquid inside sloshing. It couldn't be that bad, he thought, as he figured out how to puncture one end with the little plastic straw stuck to the side and took a big swallow.

He spat the mouthful into the little sink. It tasted exactly like the artificial chocolate milk he had onboard the seaQuest. Well, he thought, at least one thing is consistent in each reality. He had a horrible thought. What if it were baby formula or, worse, pet-food?

He shook his head and carefully opened the door to the next compartment. It smelled vaguely of something sweet, like powder or cologne. Finding a light switch he jumped back as someone gazed back at him. He laughed. It was just a mirror over a dressing table. To his right a small bed stretched invitingly, except that it was covered with yet more bags of mail, as was the floor, the couch, the table — and every other available surface. "Is this guy also the studio postman?"

He looked at himself in the mirror, checked his hair and complexion, practiced the serious look his doppelgänger had in the photos in the other room, trying to do the cheekbone thing. Naw. He'd never be able to keep a straight face. He checked the little closet next to the dresser. The guy had clothes made for someone about twice as big – or he'd lost about a hundred pounds in the last day or so. His eyes settled on another pair of the massive ankle boots with the rivets and brass eyelets. They'd never let him onboard a sub with shoes like that. Too noisy!

A knock at the door startled him. Wait, he thought, his panic subsiding. I'm supposed to be in here. This is my trailer, right?

He shook out his tension, flipped off the light and walked back to the front door, setting his face in nonchalance, trying to ooze the confidence a star should have.

When he opened the door, a slim young man of about his own age leaped through and knocked him to the floor as a big puppy might, laughing hysterically.

"Whoah! What..?"

"J-Man! How the fuck are you? What's up!"

"Up? I, uh…" He stood up slowly, still being pawed ruthlessly by the intruder who kept grinning like a Halloween mask. "What are you doing here? I thought this would be a restricted area."

"Yeah, but I'm just up the hill at the Sheraton. You remember? I'm out here to shoot a commercial for condoms. 'Use one or get none'. You know! So, what's up?" He had a very distinctive East Coast accent, and was so loud and manic that he must be on drugs. He was also dressed so similarly to the young man he'd left aboard the seaQuest that they had to be related – or it was the fashion.

"I'm wanted at…" He'd clean forgotten the number of the building he was supposed to go to, though it was just next door. "We're shooting 15c."

"Up for a second season, J-Dog!" The intruder gently pushed a fist against Lucas' shoulder. "You the man!"

"Yeah. I'm…the man."

"So, what's up?" He was so insistent, so energetic, Lucas thought that it must mean something important was going to happen soon. He tried reversing the situation.

"Nothing much. What's up with you?"

"Graduating, got the world on a string, balls to the walls, marinara, 24/7."

Lucas nodded. He really wished his mammal translating device were here in this reality about now…

"What do you have to eat?" the intruder said. "That food at the hotel is WAY too expensive." He popped another little white pill from a plastic box that Lucas realized were breath mints. From his total lack of mass, he must live on them.

"Just pet-food, I think."

"That's great. I'll eat anything."

II

E-plasma torpedoes 5 and 6 pulsed away from the ship.

"They've locked on," Ortiz announced. "Wait…they're losing bearing. They're roving."

"It keeps phasing in and out, Captain," O'Neill reported. "I'm picking up broken transmissions not only from them, but our satellite uplink."

Bridger turned to the panicky teenager, "One more chance, Mr. Wolenczak. I need those sensors."

Every eye on the bridge was glued to the frightened blond at the computer station, wondering why this young man with an IQ of 245 suddenly couldn't even operate a computer. To Lucas, the keyboard was an extension of his own body.

Jonathan's body, on the other hand, didn't come with blueprints remotely of the same kind. He was an artist. They were built with different blocks.

Hell, they were literally a dimension apart.

Nathan Bridger normally held a reserved, understanding, even parental mien for Lucas whenever it came to his duties. He'd wanted the kid to feel he belonged among this crew no matter the mistakes he'd inevitably make. There was a time for leniency, and there was a time for command. This was quickly becoming one of the latter. "Lucas!"

Jonathan could sense the tension in the room thickening to the consistency of molasses. The current situation did not release any of the stress filling him from head to toe. His heart beat so hard against his chest that it hurt. He had to get out of here, and he had to get out now.

Without warning, the slim teen shot away from the station and made a beeline straight for the clam doors. If he could reach the release, he knew how that operated on the show, so logically its duplicate should cause the doors to open into the relative freedom of the corridors. And then? Improvise - whether he was any good at it or not.

"Chief!" Bridger snapped to Chief Crocker, who nodded resolutely and hurried across the bridge to cut off the boy's escape.

Jonathan came to a halt, stepping back. "Whoa, wait, I can explain!" He tried, putting up his hands.

"Yes. You will." Bridger's eyes remained unblinking on the youth for what seemed to him to be an eternity. For that instant, Jonathan remembered the plot of the SQ episode Treasures of the Mind, and was the first to blink. According to that, the captain had untrained psi ability, and could sense when someone was lying to him. What if that were true? Everything else from O'Bannon's bible seemed to be.

Finally the captain looked away. "Lt. Ortiz, send out JUNIOR and MOTHER to the last known coordinates of the sub with a strong EM emission on every band. I want them to light up like a Christmas tree."

"Aye, sir." Ortiz swiveled back to his workstation, refocusing his mind from his troubled friend to his knowledge of subs known to be used by border terrorists.

Jonathan stood between a rock and an even harder place. Though he was in a room he'd frequently dreamed of, worked in, and surrounded by the people he knew as friends, he was now the alien in this quasi-familiar universe. The unwavering sentry of Chief Crocker stood his ground.

They couldn't run targeting sweeps, but they had other options. "Come about 3-1-3. Bring JUNIOR around to flank the sub a meter from the hull, and MOTHER 4 meters away."

Ortiz hid a grimace. He had the feeling that another of his toys was about to join the big scrap pile in the sky. "Aye, sir," he obeyed, keying in the appropriate commands. He watched the red reticule focus on his WSKRS with discontent.

Jonathan blinked. "You're using the WSKRS as a tag!" he stated half in shock, half in astonishment. He recovered a bit. "Of course," he nodded, convincing himself, at least, that he had any idea he knew what he was talking about.

"JUNIOR locked on, sir. Firing tube 3." Ortiz's hand moved slightly. A pulse sounded through the ship. The small homing beacon on the torpedo searched for the doomed sensor's signal a few agonizing moments, caught on, and in a shower of electrical fire, split the hapless external sensor into bits. Even in an alternate reality, the WSKRS met a horrible fate.

"Sub sustained serious hull damage to the port side. They're taking on water," Lt. Hitchcock reported. Her bright blue eyes flicked momentarily to the strange-acting young man by the clam doors.

"Lt. O'Neill, open a channel and tell the sub to surrender or we'll be forced to take more drastic actions. Commander," Bridger's attention shifted to the tall dark-skinned man standing near the captain's chair, "you have the bridge."

"Aye, sir." It was a chore for Tim O'Neill to tear himself away from watching Lucas, his buddy, trapped like a rat between the captain and the Chief of Security. At any other time, it would have been comical. Everything about all three of them said otherwise.

Uh oh. Crap, man. Come on, J, wake up. This is a nightmare. Wake up! Jonathan thought when Captain Bridger approached him. Suddenly the red windbreaker felt too hot, and too restricting. He wanted to rip it off and run, but knew that wasn't an option.

"As for you, we're going to get that explanation, Mr. Wolenczak." His next sentence was directed to the older sailor blocking the clam doors. "Let him go." Crocker moved aside to let the captain take his place. Bridger stood stoically face to face with Jonathan. "You. Come with me. My quarters. Now."

Jonathan nodded to keep from blubbering like a fool. He used every acting technique to calm himself and grasp onto what remained of his attempt to role-play Lucas – not to mention his reality.

The smooth silver clam doors opened to a warning bell, and the captain's hand on his back pressed him through. He prayed he could find his way among the labyrinth of alleys and corridors without inadvertently finding the brig – an idea that flashed through his mind and tightened the nervous knots in his stomach.

He turned at a fork in the hallway.

"This way, Einstein," Bridger turned him around by the back of his collar with a motion as smooth as the tone of his voice. By that, Jonathan knew his suspicions had been grounded. He might as well be in the middle of a dirge being escorted to the gallows. Three more turns, two more misplaced directions, and he was forced to admit that he had no idea where he was going.

"Hey, I'm sorry, I just don't know," he sighed. The captain remained silent, although his look had lost the hard edge that had lined his sun-aged features back on the bridge. At last, with Bridger leading, they came to the captain's quarters. He opened the door and Jonathan stepped inside.

It was beautiful. Not in the glamorous sense, but more-so in the solid reality of the mariner décor, the hum of the ship, the water flowing past the window looking through to Darwin's tube, the potted ficus in the corner, and the small personal computer with a rotating UEO insignia as the screen saver. The bed was made, the floor cleaned, but here and there were personal items of Nathan Bridger gathered from his life before and after the seaQuest commission: old pottery, photographs, scrolls of sea charts made in the early days of merchant sailing ships and Spanish galleons. And in the middle of the room stood the rounded console of the holo-chamber.

The man who called these quarters home was not Roy. He knew how to interact with Roy. There'd been countless takes and retakes where they'd crack jokes, or screw up lines, but there was always a division between Captain Bridger and Roy Scheider. The captain wasn't a hard man, but now Jonathan didn't have the cushion of breaking out of character to catch his breath and start over. There was no 'out of character'.

"Wow," Jonathan whispered before he could stop himself. He automatically ran a hand across the surface, checking out the fascinating – operable – holographic technology and for a moment forgot about the man standing behind him. His mind still tried to soak all of this in, causing him a headache.

"Your display on the bridge was out of line, Lucas. You'd better have a damned good explanation for your actions. They could have cost the lives of everyone on board."

A prickly ball bounced around in his gut. It forced his breath to catch in his throat. "Well, it uh… I do have one. Look, I've had a hard day. My brain froze. The, uhm, the ship's computer is screwed up, and I'm sure if I ran a…uh…a multi-cross systems global searching dump, I could find the problem, but I really don't feel well." He'd remembered that line from a few scripts back and had used it in ad-libs since then to sound computer literate when action was called. It was impressive techno-babble to him. He prayed the captain would buy the bluff.

"That's one heck of a brain freeze." Bridger cleared his throat. "Tell me," he began, approaching the young man who slowly turned his unwavering attention back to him, folding his arms. "Who are you?"

He hadn't bought it.

Jonathan's breath held with the robbed beat of his heart. He ran his hand nervously through his hair, forcing his rampaging mind to think of something – anything — to save his hide, and mentally crossed his fingers.

"Well, Captain, I'm Lucas," he lied through a forced uneasy smile, then realized with a jolt of fear that his palms were sweating.

He opened his mouth to speak.


"Ohh, that's better," said Lucas' intruder, wiping off his lips. He had just finished his third box of the strange concoction that Lucas had found in the fridge. He cocked an eyebrow across the trailer. "You okay, man? It's not like you to go without." He gestured to his empty carton and grinned.

"Uhm, yea," Lucas said, trying to look confident and full of attitude, like the guy on the billboard, "I'm just… not hungry." He looked at the splashes of brown liquid on the table, trying to conceal his distaste. He had been chatting with this guy for almost half an hour now, and was pretty impressed with how he'd managed to conceal his identity. Mind you, it was pretty easy – he'd just let the other guy do all the talking. Apparently his guest didn't feel the need to stop talking to inhale – except food – he'd even eaten the desiccated pizza crusts.

He frowned slightly. "You sure you're okay? When are you ever 'not hungry?' Somethin's wrong. You're pretty…quiet."

Lucas swallowed. He guessed that this Jonathan guy wasn't so quiet. A thought hit him. "I don't feel so good," he said, not even having to feign looking tired and bewildered. "I might be coming down with something."

The other looked disappointed. "Does that mean you're gonna stand me up tonight?"

Stand him up? What? Were they dating?

"Tonight?" Lucas couldn't stop the question, though he knew by now that it was best just to agree with everything.

The other groaned. "Don't tell me you forgot?! Oh man! So much for friendship," he said, rolling his eyes dramatically.

For God's sake, just tell me what I'm supposed to be doing tonight, Lucas thought irritably. And while you're at it, tell me your NAME. And everything about me. And how I can get back to some kind of sensible reality.

At that moment there was a knock at the door. "Mr. Brandis!" called a voice.

Lucas stood up, wiping his palms on his pants. "Yeah," he called, suddenly remembering that that woman – Mel – had said he was supposed to be shooting.

The trailer door opened and a harassed-looking head popped in. At the sight of him the woman smiled broadly, but the smile seemed fake and didn't reach her eyes. "They're looking for you on set," she said. "13 through15c. You were supposed to be there about fifteen minutes ago."

"Yeah, yeah," Lucas nodded, "I'm sorry, I forgot. I'll be right there." He turned to the trailer's other occupant who was rapidly opening cabinets in the little kitchenette. He grumbled around a cellophane package of crackers hanging from his teeth, still talking. "Listen, man, I'm sorry, I've got to go."

The other waved at him to go, busying himself rummaging through another cabinet as he seemed to be chewing his way into the package.

"Uh… Where are we supposed to meet tonight again?"

The other rolled his eyes. "Eight o'clock," he said around the crackers, blowing crumbs and dust onto the counter.

"Where?"

"Well, if you're too late, the theater."

"Uh… Which theater?" Lucas asked, feeling a flush creep onto his face.

"Rialto, Chinese, Egyptian, Rubio, Strand, Vague or... something. The one on Hollywood Boulevard. Not the big one or the one with the footprints. I'm not the one who lives here!" He put a few more packages of crackers into his shirt pockets. "You need to restock, man. This is just pathetic. I'll check on ya later. Balls to the walls!" he said, holding up a fist, and stepped around Mel.

"But…who..?" Lucas mumbled. He took a minute to compose himself, then followed him, stepping into the murky sunshine. It was kind of cool to be up world, out in the light and air – well, smog, anyway. He looked around. Time to do "15c".


He opened his mouth, but Bridger raised a hand to stop him speaking. Never taking his eyes off Jonathan, he pulled out his PAL and spoke into it.

"Mr. O'Neill, get me Lucas' PAL please."

"Isn't he there with you, sir?" came the response.

"Possibly. See if you can contact him."

"Aye, sir." There was a short pause, then O'Neill's voice came back. "There's no answer, sir. He must have it switched off."

Bridger nodded as if he had been expecting this. "Can you locate the PAL?"

"Just a moment, sir." There was a tapping sound in the background, then O'Neill spoke again, sounding confused. "Um, according to the sensors Lucas' PAL is no longer onboard."

Bridger's face twitched slightly. Jonathan felt his stomach knot in fear. Not on seaQuest? What the hell did that mean? Surely not…

"When was the last time the sensors picked up a signal from him?" Bridger asked tensely, his gaze hardening as he stared at the young man in front of him.

"Forty minutes ago, sir. The signal was traveling down a corridor on A-deck, and then it…disappeared." There was a pause. "Not turned off, sir, just…vanished."

"How is that possible?" Bridger asked, frowning.

"I'm not sure sir, maybe the computer's glitching again."

"I don't think so, Lieutenant. I want you to search the ship for Lucas. Check all ingoing and outgoing shuttle traffic for the last 24 hours and find any unauthorized launches. Also, check the logs on the payloads on the last torpedoes we fired. Report back to me as soon as you confirm anything."

"Aye, sir." O'Neill sounded worried. "But sir… Didn't Lucas leave the bridge with you?"

At that Bridger raised his head slightly, and the suspicion in his gaze deepened. "No, Lieutenant. He didn't." He turned off the communicator. By now Jonathan was beside himself with panic. His being stuck in an alternate reality was one thing, but Lucas being lost… This was going to make it all the more difficult to explain.


Lucas blinked as his eyes adjusted from the light outside. The first thing he could see was the bridge set. His jaw dropped. He knew that he should have expected it, but somehow, to see it so…real, and yet so… not in the middle of the floor of this huge hangar-style building, its sides held up by wooden braces and laced with lighting wiring, one wall completely removed for cameras, was almost more than he could take.

The second was a short, dark-complexioned man striding towards him, frowning.

"Mr. Brandis, glad you could finally make it," he said with a trace of sarcasm.

"Uh, yeah. Sorry," Lucas said, feeling uneasy. He suddenly wondered if he shouldn't have blown off the whole shooting business and gone to find a computer terminal so he could figure a way out of this mess. His double probably would have gotten in trouble at work, but somehow Lucas didn't think that his being here was doing him any favors, either.

"Never mind. We're doing scenes 13 through 15c, second pink revision – hot off the Xerox. Let's just get moving." He waved a finger in a circle in the air. "Now!"

Lucas started walking toward the set when a woman, telephone pressed to her ear waylaid him and sat him down in front of a mirror. She rubbed some makeup onto his face, completely erasing his freckles and the new zit he'd found that morning while he squirmed and grimaced, sprayed something into his hair and brushed it, then messed it up again, put makeup on his hands as well, dusted him with some kind of powder, blew it off with a hairdryer, and then shoved him toward the set again, all without interrupting her telephone conversation. Now that was talent, he thought.

He tried to act natural. He hadn't even seen the script, of course. But this is my life, he thought. How hard could it be? All I have to do is act like…someone else…acting…like me…or something.

He stepped onto the bridge and tried not to stare too much at the crewmembers around him. Within camera range, and inside all of the fakery, they all looked so much like the real thing – except for the missing 3D screen section of the wall where the alternate-alternate reality still gazed in on them. How did you act like you were underwater in a submarine when some guy behind the camera with a baseball cap was staring at you, chewing on a croissant?

"Everyone to their marks! Let's run a rehearsal," Yelled the short man. He wondered what that meant, "Mr. Brandis, your mark please," the man said again. Lucas felt sweat break out on his palms

The man in front of him, wearing a seaQuest jumpsuit, turned to look at him. It was Captain Bridger. He raised his eyebrows at Lucas in that oh-so-familiar way and jerked his head. Unsure, Lucas took a step in that direction. He kept going until Bridger – or whatever his name was in this reality – nodded. Then he stopped and held his breath. . Someone ran up to him with a light meter, pulled a measuring tape from his pocket and measured distance to the camera, seeming satisfied.

"Rehearsal – scene 13. And… Action!" yelled the man who Lucas decided must be the director. Immediately the bridge came to life around him. Bridger's clone walked towards him, only now he was Bridger.

"Ah, there you are," he said, and stopped, looking concerned. "Are you Okay, Lucas? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Is it that obvious? Wondered Lucas, then realized that he had been addressed by his real name. So this must be part of the script. A crane with a directional microphone pointed his direction, but he tried to ignore it. "Uhm, yeah," he said out loud, thinking furiously. "I don't feel so good." That was true enough.

'Bridger' looked him up and down. "Have you been to see Dr. Westphalen?" Lucas shook his head, hoping this was the correct response. "Well, you can go and see her straight after you've fixed the sensors. Whatever it was you did to them last time, it was obviously only a temporary solution."

Lucas nodded and crossed to his console, sitting down and examining the screen. It looked real enough.

"I thought maybe we should cross-phase the data-banks," another actor who looked exactly like Miguel Ortiz said from nearby.

Do what to the data-banks? Wondered Lucas. "That won't work," he said. "If it's the same thing as last week, it's probably a hardware problem anyway, but I should be able to find it if I run a level two diagnostic. Then maybe we can route around it." He started typing, then stopped, confused, as none of his commands seemed to have any effect on the display. He looked up. Everyone stared at him. Suddenly he remembered where he was and swallowed, hard.

"Cut. Nice ad-lib there, Mr. Brandis," the director said with a faint edge to his voice, "but next time stick to the script, okay?"

Lucas stood up. "I'm sorry, sir," he said, then winced inwardly as the director raised his eyebrows. "I, um, haven't actually had time to learn this part yet." Was he supposed to agree with cross-phasing the data-banks? Whatever it was, it sounded dangerous…

"Second pink revision," 'Bridger' whispered to him. Jonathan shrugged. "Wait. Landon?" he said to the director, "I don't think Jonathan got the pink pages."

"Uhhh…no," Lucas said, shaking his head. That was also true.

The director looked at his wristwatch and sighed. "OK. Let's go to scene 15," he said, shaking his head. "We'll go back to 13 after lunch so Mr. Brandis can get the new pages. Everyone to their marks for 15!"

Lucas shot a helpless glance at Bridger, who nodded sharply to a point just behind the captain's chair. Lucas walked over to it. The same person ran up to him and measured.

"And…Action!"

"Incoming, sir!" The same actor yelled

"Damn it all!" Bridger strode away from Lucas along a taped strip. "Can't we at least try counter-measures?"

"Away, sir."

"Launch," someone said calmly from the side.

Lucas heard nothing launching, but kept staring at the same screen the actor next to him stared at, trying not to notice the dangling microphone pointed at them.

"How do we know which one launched? Which one's the target?"

"We don't, sir. We're just shooting blind. If we get lucky…"

"Detonation." the same person intoned with no emotion whatsoever.

All of the other actors on the bridge braced and swayed. Lucas looked around in confusion, totally unsure what to do.

"Cut!" yelled the director. He looked pretty unhappy. Bridger shot Lucas a look.

"What's with you today, Jonathan?" he grumbled.

"Don't tell me you didn't get the yellow revision either!" the director said, pleading. Lucas gaped at him as the same woman who had applied his makeup ran up and dabbed at his forehead where sweat had broken out and then smoothed one strand of hair back over his eyebrow. This acting business was a lot harder than it looked. He shot his eyes frantically around. Everyone stared at him. He was holding up their entire ponderous process. He did the only thing he could think of under the circumstances.

He ran.

He tried dodging around all of the tables, wires, people with no discernible reason for being around, chairs placed, it seemed, just to trip him up, and finally saw a door marked EXIT again. He slammed against it, trying to slap his hand upward against the bar. Instead of opening, the door stayed solidly shut, and the flaking metal of the bar made a deep gash in his right palm.


Jonathan felt a stab of pain in his right hand and grabbed it with his left. Looking down, he saw a jagged pink scar that had suddenly appeared where no scar had been before, just below the thumb. He did NOT remember where he'd gotten it.

Captain Bridger looked calmly at him. He appeared as though he ran into gross anomalies of reality all the time. Was that good? Hadn't he even been on a haunted luxury liner a few months back? He had to possess an open mind, then.

"Roy…uh…Captain Bridger…I… Uh…"

"Who are you? And what have you done with Lucas Wolenczak?"

"I don't think you'd believe me if I told you. I can't quite wrap my own brain around it."

"Try me." The captain crossed his arms, putting himself between Jonathan and the door. There really was no need. Where could he go? He couldn't get off, whatever that meant undersea. The sub was supposed to be a Deep Submergence Vehicle, according to anything he knew about their fictional craft, so they were probably at a crushing depth. And he was positive that the launch bay wasn't just around the corner on Stage 25 next to the "Backdraft" attraction on the lot. Not that he'd know anything about piloting a shuttle, anyway. Hell, he'd just gotten a ticket for not piloting a CAR correctly.

"Okay," Jonathan began, pushing his hair back with both hands. It fell back into the disorganized shape it always did. "Let's start with the beginning…"

"You're a terrorist spy? You're supposed to replace Lucas who's been kidnapped? Sabotage our computer systems?"

He'd really have to re-pitch that idea to David. Even the real people thought it was possible

"No. It's nothing that dramatic." But it's WAY more bizarre, he thought.

"I have authority, by UEO regulations, to place you in custody. I even have authority to execute you if I believe you're involved in maritime terrorism, according to the 2016 Patriot Act. No questions asked." He seemed far too calm and non-threatening to be saying those words. "So you'd better come clean."

"I'm not a terrorist, and I couldn't sabotage your computer systems if I wanted to. I just got my first computer for Christmas, and it's only a word processor. 386. Someone else even had to show me how to turn it on."

Bridger just stared at him, saying nothing. He did this for a very long time.

"Look, I just want to get back to where I belong and forget any of this happened. Just let me off at…" His voice trailed off. If he really was onboard the seaQuest, it was 2018 or 2019 and he had no place to go. That was assuming any of his world existed in any recognizable form here. He rubbed his new scar absently with his fingers.

"Who are you?" Bridger asked again, just as calmly as he had asked before. But Jonathan got the feeling he was moments way from walking him down a plank or feeding him to manta-rays, or whatever they used in 2018 to get rid of terrorists. Did they have a brig set? They had a set for a jail, but that was supposed to be on South America… or was it Antarctica? Maybe both, revamped for another episode? Would they put him in cryo? He felt ready to start crying. Bridger didn't seem to be sensing any danger from him – that was a good sign, right?

"Give me your hand, son," the captain said at last. He looked at the palm, the new scar. "Lucas doesn't have this. I'd have seen it before. If you've been physically altered to be an imposter, they didn't do a very good job, or their information's faulty."

"I'm not an imposter, really. I'm just me."

"And who's that?"

Jonathan tested the only theory he knew to test.

"Okay. You were alive in the 90's, the 1990's, right?"

"Yes. Of course."

"Did you see a lot of films as a kid? Fantasies? Science fiction?"

"Some. Yes. Mostly I read. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, anything to do with the ocean

"Uh. Michael Ende?" Jonathan bit his lip. It was a REAL long shot.

"The Neverending Story. Yes. Saw the films, too. All nine." Bridger crossed his arms again. "Where are you going with this?"

"D'you remember the kid in the second one? The Next Chapter?"

"Vaguely. I liked the first one better. And the fifth and sixth."

Jonathan thought for a long moment, trained his laser-like eyes on those of the captain. He was betting his life on that untapped psi power right now to convince the captain of his next words. "That was me."

Bridger nodded, his expression not changing, seemed to accept the crazy notion.

"So you're trying to tell me that we're almost the same age." He continued to nod. "And I'm supposed to believe that."

"No, Captain Bridger. I'm 17. When I woke up this morning it was 1994. I'm the same kid who was in that movie, but for me that was only five years ago."

There was a long moment when Jonathan didn't know what to do. He kept thinking about his real place in the universe, back in another world and another time. He HAD to convince him, or… Well, he had to convince him. And that was only one thing he had to convince him was the truth.

The rest got even stranger.


"Mr. Brandis," Mel said from behind him. "You're hurt?" She stayed a good distance from him, convinced that he'd gone on some drug-fueled rampage, as she'd heard all teen actors did on occasion. Others had gathered near her, each afraid to approach the lunatic kid actor. Most thought he was stalling to get a better contract or further up on the billing.

Lucas looked back at her, seeming like a trapped animal, holding his hurt hand and trying to think of what to say. I wanna go home, was all he could think of.

"You need to have someone look at that. Come on." She coaxed him away from the locked door, as though trying to get a frightened kitten to come out from under a porch step. "Look. I'm not judging you…"

He flashed back on the 900 things that the intruder in his trailer had said. One stuck out…

"Panic attack. It was just a panic attack," he said, still breathing hard. "I get them now and then. I forget everything I'm supposed to remember for a while, get gastrolepidopterosis, hyperventilate, flip out a little." He laughed nervously, seeming to put the rest of the gathered people at ease.

"Come with me. We'll have the nurse look at your cut."

He meekly held out his right hand. The cut had stopped bleeding, but there would likely be a scar across his right palm, just under the thumb.

"The AD's going to have cow," she said. "You have two hand close-ups still on for tomorrow. Are you okay to walk?"

"Yeah, of course. I've been walking for years."

The others laughed in a forced way, probably used to being sycophants to many performers. Lucas bowed, trying to regain the assumed persona of spoiled actor. He didn't know anything about this Brandis kid except that he looked like him – and sounded like him – and had the same scar in the same place – and had watery chocolate in his trailer refrigerator. He wondered about his double in that other place as they walked toward the infirmary building, back in the milky sunshine, Mel's arms steadying him. He gave a crooked smile. Things here were strange, certainly, but he could certainly get used to being so well taken care of, he thought.

"OH-MY-GOD-OH-MY-GOD-OH-MY-GOD! IT'SHIM!" a girl shrieked from the end of the alley.

That was followed by a chorus of squeals at the very top of the range of human hearing as a cadre of girls dressed in bright colors came around the same corner and ran towards them.

"Let's get you out of harm's way, Mr. Brandis," Mel said, tightening her grip and guiding him swiftly down the alley away from the girls.

"Wait," Lucas said, "What's the hurry?"

"They're dangerous." Her grip tightened even more.

"Ugh! You're telling me!"

The first of the girls had reached them, puffing and trying to regain her voice, which had disappeared completely except for little squeaks. The other girls crashed into her, keeping a distance of five feet from their prey, as if he were nuclear, their eyes open so wide it was actually frightening.

"Mr. Brandis is going to the infirmary," Mel announced very professionally. "He's not feeling well. Gastro... something. Please respect his privacy."

"No, wait a minute, Mel," Lucas said, now suddenly feeling a lot better. He put on a confident smile. "I can stop for a second and talk to these ladies."

"OH MY GOD!" a blonde one shrieked and collapsed. The rest fell silent as Lucas knelt next to her and propped her head up.

"Stand back. She needs to breathe normally. She's just overly excited." He held her in his lap for a minute, gently brushing her hair from her face. "She'll be okay. Maybe she just needs…"

The girl moaned and opened her eyes, looked directly into his indescribable eyes, very confused and closed them again, reopened them, closed them, certain she MUST be dreaming.

"Are you all right?" Lucas asked quietly.

Well, if it's a dream

The girl threw her arms around him and smashed her lips against his, knocking them both over. Mel tried to separate them as the other girls shrieked hysterically and closed their ring. Lucas managed to gently fight off the one girl, who was quickly replaced by another, then another, each determined to get a little piece of him. Every girl had their hands on him, stroking, caressing, pulling. He quickly lost track of the number of lips.

"I'll call security!" Mel shouted. "Get off of him!" She pulled girl after girl away from the docile young man until she'd separated him from the pack.

Now all of the girls were crying and touching their lips, trembling. He'd KISSED them! He'd actually KISSED them! One tearfully pulled out a camera, still crying, and shot a picture of him sprawled on the ground.

They kissed me! Lucas thought. They actually kissed me!" The only regular kisses he got back in his reality were from Darwin, and they always smelled of herring. These girls smelled like…he thought a minute, grinning bemusedly…heaven.

As Mel led him away, he waved back at the covey of crying fan-girls, finding various shades of color on his fingers when he touched his lips.

All part of the job, he thought, smiling to himself.


Minutes passed. Or was it hours? Jonathan couldn't tell either way. For the second time in one day, time had stilled. He rubbed the new scar absently, waiting in agonized patience for sentence to be passed. He hated waiting. Waiting was the worst thing next to pop quizzes, last-minute script rewrites and a fridge barren of soft drinks.

"Let's start with your name, son," Bridger relaxed some, sensing through years of knowledge that this Lucas look-alike wasn't a threat. At least to him.

The young blond licked his lips, and breathed. "Jonathan. Jonathan Brandis."

"And you say you're a late 20th Century actor."

Jonathan nodded meekly.

The pause held between them lasted far too long, and was just as harsh as Bridger's response. "I've seen every Neverending Story movie made, but your name doesn't match any of the boys' who played Bastian. Not even the computer graphic versions. Not even the voiceover actors."

Jonathan swallowed. "Wait, but I did that movie! I know the lines, I remember the blue-screen takes, I could tell you the offstage "Wish for spraypaint vs. the Spaceball-shaving-cream-schwartz, joke." He paused then, getting a horrible what if. His insistent pleading dropped to a low tone. "Who… Who did play him?"

Bridger rubbed his slightly stubbled chin. "It was a kid by the name of Leonardo DiCaprio."

"What? No way!" the captain might as well have thrown a watermelon at his chest and laughed. "You mean that little… He got my part?" Angry, he turned and paced, then stopped. His 'useless' sci-fi fantasy knowledge of the unexplained surfaced in a thread of thought.

He didn't exist here. Nothing in his world did.

He brought his hand up with the scar that had just appeared and let his thoughts flow with the thread, leading to a theory that had his skin crawling as if layered with ants. If he didn't exist here, and Lucas didn't exist in his world, then they would be essentially one person, reaping the consequences of the actions of the other. He'd seen it on an old episode of The Twilight Zone once, and at the time thought it was an awesome twin concept.

He felt queasy, but despite the urge to hurl, his mouth tweaked into a slight half-grin. The thought actually had him thinking this was scary, spooky, and very cool.

"Well, ...Jonathan, let's get you checked out in med-bay." Bridger twisted the door handle opening the metal hatch easily. Jonathan started to leave first, but Bridger caught him by the shoulder. "I think I'd better lead the way." He was pretty sure this kid wouldn't do anything rash, but his military training said, don't let him out of your sight. Brig him if you have to.

Jonathan tailed Bridger to C-deck. Upon rounding a corner to the Mag-Lev – and he was definitely curious how it operated without being jerkily pulled by a team of burly guys dressed in black – they were met with a familiar, friendly, mischievously relieving face that had Jonathan grinning from ear to ear…


"Ben!" Lucas cried happily, bounding through the door of the Universal lot infirmary and giving his friend a hug. "Man, am I glad to see you. You would not believe what kind of a day I've had…"

John D'Aquino blinked and regarded the teenager with a curious, almost comical expression under a matted nest of short brown hair. "Have you OD'd on the sugar again, J.? There's gotta be a foundation like A.A for that."

"Uh…" Lucas peeled himself away from the look-alike of his pseudo-adopted older brother. "Of course you're not Ben, you're…"

"John," the older man volunteered. "You have the short-term of a sparrow." He laughed heartily. "It's the chemicals in that fake chocolate. You need the real stuff –from New York, or maybe an egg-cream…"

"Right, John. Nah, sorry. Hey, forget it."

John put a baseball cap on his head and grinned. "It's good to see you, too. Besides a sudden case of dementia, what are you doing here?" John looked the kid up and down, settling on the smooth features of his face, then burst out laughing again. "You've been tagged!"

Lucas touched his lips again, bringing the whole dog-pile incident back to the forefront of his mind. "Yeah. Man, this being a star is great!"

"Wait 'til the Emmys," John added knowingly, showing that same grin that made Lucas want to ignore everything he'd seen so far and scream, It's Ben!, not an actor!

"Well, I gotta scram. They need me in Little New York for some pickups." John patted Lucas on the back. "Take care, buddy. Until next time, Cindy." He wiggled his eyebrows at a young blond nurse who smiled prettily and waved with a sultry "See you later."

Lucas watched him go, barely able to contain his laughter. No way. That was definitely Ben.

Mel shook her head with a humorous grin and led him into an examination room. She moved to the sink, wet a cloth, and handed it to him. "Here. I don't think you want to walk around the lot looking like you've been kissed by Rainbow Bright and mauled by the Sprites.

"Thanks." He took the cloth and wiped off his mouth, coming away with an Easter cornucopia of colors. At least six shades of pink to red came off, and he even had some blue in the mix. A Goth was in the group? 2018 Lucas + 90's Hollywood Goth = ...? He shook off the thought and hopped onto the crinkle paper of the tan examination bed, feet dangling over the edge. This Jonathan Brandis guy attracted all kinds.

"I'll go get Dr. Archer," Mel said. "It shouldn't take long. I'll be right back." The door clicked shut behind her. On the other side, Mel leaned against the light wood for a moment. Jonathan was a natural prankster – as most Aries are – so she'd been warned about him coming into this job. She didn't mind it, heck, she even found a lot of his jokes to be funny, but this one was going too far. What if he really did hit his head and developed a case of amnesia? Or was showing early signs of meningitis? It would explain some of his behavior. Either way, they were going to figure this out. The fact that he was cute went on the back burner to solving this case.

She headed off the find the doctor, now with a mission.

III

Lucas took a look at the room. It was pretty Spartan, even for an infirmary, and there was really nothing to see. One wall was dominated by a massive chart in various colors of erasable marker showing shooting schedules and productions. He saw his own – Jonathan's own – seaQuest DSV, in several places. On the metal countertop near him there were a couple of covered, flat basins. He didn't want to think about what might be in them. He knew enough about late 20th Century ideas of medicine – torture – a better definition. What caught his eye were the hundreds of bottles of various makeup concoctions. Well, yeah, it's a studio, he thought. People came in here and had to get fixed up and then redone in makeup for a scene. It didn't really matter if they had a compound fracture or a concussion. Time was money in those days. He corrected himself. THESE days.

These days. His heart sank a little. No matter how much he liked the idea of being in a retro world for real, he would miss his own if he were stuck here. Could he get back? How?

He looked distractedly at the table he sat on. Mel had left her communications unit. It wasn't a PAL, for sure, but his curiosity got the best of him and he slipped silently off of the table with it in his hand and opened a drawer. He drew in a breath. There were all sorts of sharp instruments inside. Cutting people up, he thought, in a vain attempt to make them better. He was thankful that medical science had made a few improvements since he'd been born, about… His heart sank again. Eight years from now. A cold sweat broke out on him. He WAS in the past. They'd probably put something like THREAD in his skin. Not right away, of course. They needed him for "hand close-ups", so they'd use something else temporarily, like fish skin. The idea gave him chills.

He pulled out a scalpel-shaped object and used it to pry open the communicator. Inside, just as he'd suspected, integrated circuits and wire and almost nothing else. He smiled to himself. It might as well have been vacuum tubes or silicon chips, or some other artifact of ancient technology. How did these things even LAST? He snapped the two halves back together and sat with it back on the examination table.

The realization struck him like a rogue wave.

If he'd come across the dimensional rift (or reality shift, or whatever anomaly that would make a grown quantum physicist shriek) intact, then why wouldn't the PAL unit? He'd been carrying it, and everything he'd had on him had come across with him.

His brain started to click into gear now. If he could get the same PAL unit back…

The door opened and a guy who looked much more like a politician than any medical professional he'd ever seen stepped in; even tan, carefully blow-dried hair, his cap-toothed smile one that would make any newscaster proud. He wasn't even wearing a lab coat. People trusted this guy with their health?

"Mr. Brandis!" The cheerfulness in his voice wasn't echoed in his eyes. He'd have to be careful with this one. "I understand that you had a…mishap on the set. Let's see it," he continued. "Oooh! You did a nice one there. That'll probably leave a little mark. At least it wasn't your million-dollar baby face!"

"I don't want a baby face. I want a scar," Lucas said.

Dr. Archer gave a perfunctory laugh, holding the hand aloft.

"At least you've changed your mind about the FTW tattoo you said you wanted on your forehead." Really? You'll need a change of wardrobe. It looks like you've gotten some blood on your cuff, there."

Mel, who'd slipped in behind him quickly jotted this down on a notepad. She gestured with her shoulders and head at Lucas, waving a finger around in the air. The doctor nodded at her.

"Were you disoriented today, Jonathan? Out of it for a while?"

"Uh…"

"Sort of an 'alternate reality?'"

It took every ounce of his willpower not to burst out laughing. Maybe he was learning how to act after all. If this guy only KNEW! He went over more of his intruder's incredible life story, relayed to him in loud bursts at the rate of ten years at a time in five minutes without his ever stopping to breathe.

"Sugar crash?" he asked, gauging the doctor's reaction, and then pleased with the result. "Yeah. Sugar crash. I didn't take my supplements today."

"Supplements? Not that weight increase stuff still? I thought you'd given up on that. What exactly are you taking?"

Now they had him. He took really exotic, bio-engineered stuff in the 21st Century. How would they sound in the 20th?

"Uh… Something from an… herbalist. Special Chinese herbs. They help with my concentration."

"Hmmm," the doctor agreed, not really agreeing at all. "You should be careful what you put into your body, Jonathan. That sort of thing can destroy your metabolism." He looked perplexed. "Have you…lost weight?" And height? he thought.

"Uh, no."

"You seem…well…smaller than the last time I saw you."

"The last time?"

"When you were in here a few weeks back with the headaches and dizziness. Were you taking the same herbs then?"

He looked from one to the other. Maybe he could take advantage of this!

"Dizzy? Like… Disoriented? Did I black out?"

"You don't remember?"

"Yes, it's just that I… uh… I blacked out this morning for a little bit." He saw their concern. It looked more like they were seeing disappearing dollar signs. "Low blood sugar again."

"Have you been tested for hypoglycemia?"

Another 20th Century malady, long since banished in his time.

"Yeah, I have a touch."

"A touch?"

"Yeah, just a little." He saw the doctor's confusion. "I have to eat all the time. Constantly. If I don't, I get… disoriented." True enough. He had no fat to speak of, and was ravenous most of the time. He imagined his counterpart had much the same problem.

The doctor looked back at Mel and then at Lucas. "Well, it IS lunchtime. Maybe you should go and eat after we're done here."

"Pupils are equal and reactive," Mel whispered fiercely.

"You watch too much ER, Mel. No signs of concussion that I can see," then back at his patient, "You haven't hit your head recently, have you?"

"Uh… No. I slipped on the… the deck on the… set, but I didn't get hurt. Mel was there to catch me."

Mel blushed. He'd found her out, all right.

"Well, let's get you fixed and out of here. Need some pain pills? Muscle relaxant? Anti-anxiety meds?"

"Dr. Archer, you know that Mr. Brandis doesn't even take aspirin," Mel said, trying to save some face.

"Never hurts to ask," Archer said airily, busying himself cleaning Lucas' hand with an alcohol pad. "Up to date tetanus, I suppose."

"Oh yeah. Along with my H1 D2-flu, AIDS and Alzheimer's vaccinations."

The doctor looked up at him curiously. He had a bizarre sense of humor, this kid.

Lucas bit his lip.

"Are you going to, uh, sew it up?"

"No. You can go to a plastic surgeon if you need to do that. That'll be a temporary fix." He walked back to the glass cabinet on one side of the room and opened it, pulling out an aerosol can.

"Dermafix?" Lucas said. He wasn't aware that the product had even existed before 2015.

"What? Oh no. This is just something to cover the wound and protect it until you can get someone in Beverly Hills to look at it." He smiled. "Maybe the same guy who did your nose."

Lucas touched his nose lightly with his left hand. Even his nose wasn't real? He wondered what other parts of his body were someone's fiction as well. The idea started to really annoy him. What was it with these actors? Fake subs, fake dolphins, fake chocolate milk, fake faces… He looked at the man prepping his hand. Even a fake doctor.

"Dr. Archer, Jonathan's nose is original equipment. He's never had any work done," Mel said quietly.

Archer took a closer look at Lucas' nose.

"Hmm. I guess some of us are born lucky!"


"John?" Jonathan said relieved.

Krieg looked around himself, behind, back at Jonathan, smiling still.

"Who? What've you been drinking, Lucas?"

"Uh…Ben?" Jonathan tested. Of course. He was on the seaQuest on its first tour of duty. The supply officer was still Ben Krieg.

"Lieutenant Krieg, this gentleman says he isn't Lucas Wolenczak. He says his name is Jonathan Bandits."

"Brandis," Jonathan said, a little irritated.

Krieg looked the young man up and down, and then smiled slyly.

"Really? Deny and obfuscate. I haven't tried that one recently. Let me know how being someone else works out for you, Lucas."

"Yeah, Ben. I'll do that."

"But it would probably get me thrown of the ship."

Careful what you wish for, Jonathan thought as the supply officer continued down the corridor.

"Captain," Tim O'Neill said quietly to him as they rounded the corner outside of the med-bay.

"Report?"

"Sir, Commander Ford has taken a shuttle to pick up survivors from the downed sub. We did get a reading that they launched a couple of escape pods. But we can easily trace them."

"And that…other matter?"

"Yes, sir. This is very strange." He looked directly at the Lucas clone in front of him, shifted his glasses on his face, examining him carefully. "Lucas' PAL just showed up again on our sweep for a second. But it was like with the attack sub: two places at once, internal and external."

"Twin locations?"

"On A-deck, and a very faint signal from about 300 miles southeast of here."

"So he has been kidnapped."

"It wasn't like that, sir. He couldn't get that far in such a short time. The signal sort of 'flickered' back and forth from one location to the other and then disappeared."

"Glitch in the system? Has someone tampered with it?"

O'Neill looked truly troubled. "Maybe. It would be consistent with all of the problems we've been having this trip out. Only Lucas would really be able to tell, sir. I'm not going to boast that I understand all of the modifications that he made to our equipment. He increased the sensitivity so much that it could probably read a PAL accurately from halfway around the world."

It was the captain's turn to look troubled now, but Jonathan felt secretly proud of his alternate's skill. Maybe he'd be all right in Hollywood. For a while, anyway.

"So you believe that the phantom signals are legitimate."

"Aye, sir. We only had him for a few seconds, but they were clear, and they were definitely coming from his PAL."

"A-deck?"

"Moving away from Lucas' quarters?" Jonathan asked.

O'Neill seemed shocked at the accurate imitation of Lucas' voice.

"Mais, est-ce que vous n'êtes pas Lucas?" he asked, knowing Lucas to be fluent in French.

"Sorry," Jonathan answered. "My French teacher sucked. I can only remember how to ask where to find the restroom. 'Où sont les lavabos pour dames?'"

Yes, he'd certainly asked for the ladies' room relatively well, O'Neill noted.

This intrigued Bridger, however. If this youngster was supposed to replace Lucas – or be a copy – then he would definitely have been better trained. He started to entertain the ridiculous notion that the kid told him the truth. But where did that leave them?

"After we get this young man checked out with Dr. Westphalen, we'll take a look at the last location of the PAL onboard before it went offline."

"I'll pinpoint the exact location to the millimeter, sir." O'Neill continued to study the strange Lucas double. It was an awfully good copy, down to the nervous shifting of his jaw muscles and perturbed look in his intense eyes, brows knitted furiously.

"You're dismissed."

"Oh yes, sir. Sorry sir," O'Neill said and moved down the corridor.


"AND ACTION!" the director called from just beyond the camera position. Lucas played with the keyboard of the silly prop monitor in front of him while two actresses and one actor, someone playing a Chief Brody, went through their lines. He gazed at the blank monitor. They said they'd insert the images in post-production. If they'd let him, he was certain he could modify even their Jurassic equipment to do more than just light up. At least the monitor was real. They'd spent about an hour doing his hand close-ups, just his punching a few keys as the camera picked up the action. He hadn't even had to say any lines, as they told him that they'd add them later in 'looping'.

This entire situation was pretty 'loopy', as far as he could tell, and about as mind-numbing as it could possibly be.

Everyone, crew and cast, even a few lost greensmen, looked at him expectantly.

He'd forgotten his cue again.

"CUT!" The director yowled. "Mr. Brandis, this is very unprofessional! Why haven't you studied your lines?"

"Second yellow revision pages or second pink revision pages?" he improvised.

The director threw his arms out in frustration. "Second blue revisions! Does anyone actually do their job around here?" He wiped his face with his hands. "Okay, reset." A bell rang and all of the crew, about fifty people, each with their little part to do, loosened up for a second. The giant puffball of a microphone hung just over Lucas' head. He concentrated on making the situation look real, though the entire scene appeared absurd to him.

The makeup lady came up to him and brushed his forehead with a little power and then blew the excess away. She took the same strands of hair she'd been adjusting all day and positioned them over his left eyebrow. Another PA showed him his lines on the blue pages. He nodded. Got it, he thought.

A buzzer sounded and everyone went silent.

"Marker?" the director yelled.

Another PA came into the scene and held up a board with something written on the opposite side of Lucas' position.

"15c. Take eleven!" he said, and slapped the two pieces of wood together.

"Speed?"

"SPEED!"

"Rolling tape…"

"And… ACTION!"

This time Lucas was ready. He looked at the monitor, played with the keys and put his best professional tones to work.

"These controls stimulate neuron activity so I can lift an image while Dr. Smith (Who?) is in there." He paused for a second. "Okay. I'm ready when you are." He held his expression for another agonizing few seconds.

"CUT!" the director yelled, lowered his head into his hands and exhaled. "We got it. Print that one."

A bell rang and lights came up.

A flurry of sarcastic applause greeted Lucas' exit. They had to reset the camera position again. In the last three hours they'd filmed maybe ten seconds of a scene – and not all of it because of his freezing during the takes. Every two seconds of dialog seemed to take at last two hours of preparation, lighting changes, agreements, telephone conversations, script checks, continuity checks, makeup checks, sound checks… Running a submarine's computer systems was a piece of cake compared to this tedious nightmare.

"I'll be in my trailer," the actress playing Dr. Smith lilted.

"I'll be in my dressing room," Brody echoed.

"I'll be at the craft-service table," the other actress said.

All eyes looked at Lucas expectantly.

"Trailer?" he said noncommittally, raising his eyebrows. No one seemed to mind his leaving for a few minutes. How could you hope to get any continuity in a performance if you shot everything out of sequence and over such a long time period? His respect for actors had increased geometrically as the day had passed.

Mel came up to him. Apparently she was his babysitter on set, particularly today.

"Back to makeup? Is it time for the shave?"

Lucas shot her a glance. Shave? He hadn't even started to shave yet. But he had to keep up the ruse if he wanted to get back to Stage 28 and the PAL unit, assuming it was still there – and he could tell it from all of the other "hand-props" it might be stored with.

He rubbed his face and yawned, feigning tiredness.

"Yeah. I'll just run the laser over my face a little. It couldn't hurt."

Mel smiled tightly.

"Do you need any help?"

Lucas didn't know if he should be insulted or not. He chose to just ride with it.

"No, I think I can manage. I'll be in my trailer. Is that guy still there?"

"Your friend?"

"Yeah. Is he back?"

"He ate all of the pizza crust, if that's what you're asking."

"That's all right. I was finished with it." He winced. "So, did he leave a number where I can reach him?"

"You don't have his number?"

"Uh… He's out here, uh, doing a television commercial. He's staying at the hotel on the hill," he rattled, shrugging. For all he knew there could be a string of hotels just outside of the studio gates in this reality. "I mean, I don't have his number out here." He patted himself on the back for his cleverness.

"All right. The Sheraton Universal or International?"

He thought quickly. They wouldn't put him up in an expensive hotel. Not the bean-counters he'd met here.

"The cheaper one. He didn't say which?"

"Okay," Mel said, pulling out her pad. "What's his name?" She looked up at him expectantly.

"Uh…" He searched his mind for anything useful that the intruder had talked about. One thing stuck out. "The 'orangermemonin' kid. Skittles." Or something, he thought. Great. What if she doesn't know him? He didn't know him. The Brandis guy knew him.

"Jason?"

"Uh… yeah, sure."

Mel wrote the name down industriously. "Marsden, right? I can't remember. Is it with a 'T' or a 'D'?"

Lucas felt his brain freeze. "Uh," he started, glancing around helplessly.

Mel gave him an odd look. "Don't worry about it, Mr. Brandis," she said smiling in that tense way that he was becoming used to around here. "I'll handle it." She set off, and Lucas watched her go.

Nice one, Wolenczak. Now she's going to call the hotel and there'll be no one of that name staying there. Or worse, there will be but it won't be the one you know. He knows. Or, at least, the one that knew Brandis. He rubbed his eyes. She must think that I'm such an asshole. That Brandis is such an asshole. That he was making Brandis seem like such an asshole. It was a shame. She was kinda cute. For a moment he stood still, thinking about the name she'd said. Where'd she pull that from? Was he Jonathan's best friend? How could he sustain his ruse with someone who knew the guy intimately? He shook himself. No time for daydreaming. He had to find the PAL.


Dr. Westphalen folded her arms and shook her head. "Well, he's perfectly healthy," she said, "even if he is a little nervous."

Bridger raised his eyebrows. "That's not what I asked you," he pointed out.

The doctor sighed. "There's no evidence of any kind of alteration to his features. In fact, he has the same chipped area on the left side of his nose, just above the cartilage. That's rather peculiar – Lucas has the same shaped mark in the bone."

"So he has been altered."

"No, Captain. It's the same kind of chip that's healed from an early-life accident. It's exact. No one without intimate knowledge of Lucas' entire life history and anatomy would know that. It's not something that a cursory scan would find. It's as if…" she looked at the young man sitting on the examining table, "he actually is Lucas." She observed him for another moment. "It seems he was born with that face."

Bridger frowned, looking through the window of the doctor's office. The teenager was sitting on the edge of the table, swinging his legs anxiously. That look made Bridger want to fold him in his arms. They looked so alike. But it's not Lucas, he reminded himself. "What about the scar on his hand?"

Dr. Westphalen looked perplexed. "That's the strange thing," she said. "From the look of it, the scar is old, but the tissue indicates regeneration of only an hour or two since the injury." She shook her head. "Anyway, I've put some Dermafix on it; it shouldn't be a problem."

Bridger rubbed a hand over his face. "I don't understand this," he muttered.

"No," Dr. Westphalen agreed, and there was an edge to her voice. "And I don't understand how Lucas could have disappeared right under the noses of the supposedly highly-trained military crew of this boat." She looked angry.

"Hey," Bridger said, putting a hand gently on her arm. "I'm worried about Lucas too. But we're going to find him, I promise."

At that moment his PAL buzzed. Activating it, he heard O'Neill's voice. "Captain, I'm in Lucas' quarters. I think you'd better come and take a look at this."

Jonathan concentrated on not looking as nervous as he felt. He was an actor, after all. He was supposed to be good at this stuff. All the same, with the huge security guard Bridger had assigned to him breathing down his neck as they walked, no marched through the echoing corridors, it was pretty hard work. He concentrated on watching the captain's back in front of him. Whatever it was the doctor had told him didn't seem to have made him any more suspicious than before. That was good, right?

Up ahead he saw the door to Lucas' quarters, half obscured by a huddle of uniforms. They pushed past, and Jonathan saw O'Neill and Hitchcock standing by the computer desk. As the captain approached, the lieutenant turned.

"Captain," he said, and then gestured wordlessly at the desk beside him.

Jonathan stared. He couldn't see anything, just the computer and a lot of mess. Then – just for a moment – he thought he saw a vague outline, like the ghost of an object. For a moment, the image grew stronger, and he saw that it was a PAL. Then it disappeared.

Bridger frowned. "What was that?"

Hitchcock shook her head. "According to the sensors, it's Lucas' PAL, sir." She looked at her own PAL, reading the screen. "His unique registration code is emitting from the spot. It's his. We were able to follow the trace from about the middle of the corridor to this exact spot. But it was as if the PAL just teleported from there to here."

Bridger stared at the empty space where the PAL had been. "Then it was really there."

"Aye sir," O'Neill spoke up. "But we're still getting the dual signal – both with Lucas' registration code."

Bridger shot a glance at Jonathan standing behind him. "Where is the second signal originating from?" he asked thoughtfully.

"300 miles east southeast of our position, sir. Thirty miles inland on the coast of Southern California."

"Hollywood?" asked Bridger with a speculative look on his face.

O'Neill looked surprised. "Well, sir, uh…" He checked the little handheld computer he held. "Yes. Just north of it. The old Universal Studios complex, according to GPS. But it's very faint and distorted from the static electricity. I don't think it can really be the PAL."

"I'm not so sure," Bridger responded. He seemed to think for a moment, then turned to Hitchcock. "Run some tests on the room. See if you can find out what's going on here. Mr. O'Neill, come with me." He looked at Jonathan. "You too," he added.

Jonathan nodded and started to walk down the corridor, only to feel a sudden blinding pain in the front of his head. He staggered and leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. For a moment everything was banished – he could no longer feel the deck beneath his feet or his hand on the wall. He couldn't see or hear anything. There was just white noise and sheets of pain. Then he heard a voice, his own voice, very clearly: She must think that I'm such an asshole.

And then the pain was gone, as quickly as it had arrived. He opened his eyes to see Bridger staring intently at him, concern on his face. "Are you okay, son?"

Jonathan straightened up shakily. There was not a trace of pain left, but the sudden shock still had his adrenaline racing. Other than that, he felt completely normal. He shook his head experimentally. Nothing. "Yeah, I'm fine." Bridger nodded and turned to go.

"Uhm, Captain?" the shaky youth said cautiously.

The captain turned again to him expectantly.

"Did I say anything just now?"

Bridger shook his head. "No. Nothing. Are you sure you're all right?"

Jonathan nodded after a second's hesitation, and started to follow the captain and O'Neill down the corridor. What was that all about? he wondered.


"If the PAL exists, then we should still be able to communicate with it, right?" Bridger asked. He stood behind O'Neill's chair on the bridge. Jonathan looked on, still uncomfortably aware of the security man's baleful gaze on the back of his neck.

"Yes, but given that it's in Lucas' quarters – or whatever we saw is in Lucas' quarters, I don't know if there would be much of a point to that," O'Neill pointed out.

"What about the other location?" Bridger asked.

O'Neill shook his head. "As I said, sir, the other signal might just be a ghost in the system."

"What we saw seemed…like a ghost, like a…memory." Bridger drummed his fingers on O'Neill's chair. "What if the PAL really was there, but," he glanced at Jonathan with an 'I-can't-believe-I'm-about-to-say-this' look on his face, "twenty-four years in the past?"

O'Neill gaped at him.

"Just go with me here," Bridger said. "If that were the case, would there be any way we could piggy-back another signal when it phases back into the past and get a message through?"

After a long pause, O'Neill managed to close his mouth. He frowned, thinking hard. "Well, I could try," he said doubtfully, turning back to his console. He started to type. Jonathan was transfixed by the speed of the man's hands on the keyboard. It would be so much more efficient if I could type that fast, he thought to himself, or even with more than four fingers. Then the lieutenant shook his head. "It didn't work," he said, sounding unhappy. "I'll try something else." He sighed. "If Lucas were here…"

Jonathan leaned in, staring at the images flashing past on the screen now. It was all so much of a mystery to him.

Then suddenly he had an epiphany. It was as if a door suddenly opened in his mind.

"That's not going to work," he said, pushing O'Neill gently out of the way. "Let me try." His fingers flew over the keyboard and he watched, astonished by the realization that he understood. Suddenly everything was totally clear to him and his mind worked with incredible speed. He felt like an extension of the computer – as soon as he had a thought, it was realized on the screen in front of him. It was a wonderful feeling, as simple and natural as breathing. And yet, at the same time, it was deeply alien, as though it were coming from some source outside him.

"What is he doing, Mr. O'Neill?" Bridger said roughly, afraid that the boy had fooled them and now was out to destroy their systems.

"It's a communication algorithm, sir, I believe, a method to communicate through…well, through time, I imagine. I've never seen anything like it!" O'Neill leaned in to see more of what Jonathan's rapid entries had created.

Then, just as quickly as understanding had arrived, it fled. His fingers froze mid-stroke and he stared at the jumble of meaningless text and numbers on the screen. He felt a sense of terrible loss. He looked up at Bridger and O'Neill, who stared at him in confusion.

"Well?" Bridger asked.

Jonathan got up and backed slowly away from the computer as if it had bitten him. He could feel the blood draining from his face.

"I have no idea what's going on," he muttered.


Stage 22 was pretty easy to find again, but once there Lucas realized that he had no idea where to look for the PAL. The place was huge, cavernous and dark, disembodied bits of the seaQuest scattered around all over the place and a plethora of walls and offices that seemed completely incongruous on a submarine – or even a submarine set. He found one PAL on a table, but after a bit of scrutiny he decided that it couldn't be the right one. Plastic-wrapped sets of lithium batteries sat on the same table, probably to power the little lighted diodes and sounds in the hand props. Of course, the false PALs didn't actually do anything.

He headed back to where he'd been when he'd dropped the thing, and stopped in astonishment when he saw a familiar sight; his quarters. He stepped through the door – not that he needed to since he could have gone through the missing bulkhead – and looked around in wonder. Every detail was correct. The he saw a PAL lying on the desk, and reached for it.

Suddenly his head filled with an intense white light and pain stabbed through his temples. He saw black spots in front of his eyes and closed them, leaning forward on the desk. He was unable to think or do anything at all. He felt as if a giant needle penetrated the side of his head and mind, his personality being slowly sucked out through it, leaving nothing but the vortex of pain behind. Very clearly, he heard someone say, "That's not going to work. Let me try." He heard the sound of keys tapping, saw his own fingers entering code – something he invented on the spot, though it seemed clear to him, even in the seconds he was doing it, exactly what it was for. The tapping grew louder and louder until it was like thunder in his ears, and he felt as though there was nothing left of him, nothing but the tapping and the white pain. Then, mercifully, he passed out.

It was a nice darkness to live in; cool, calm, quiet, everything he hadn't been privy to since falling off the half deck plate onto a pile of foam padding in the middle of the weirdest turnover of his life. He let himself float there in the cushion of nothing, surrounded by a numbing fog. The blinding white light had ceased as had the tapping of keys, but he'd lost all track of time. It was gone, and that was all Lucas cared about for the moment. If only he could stay here, live here where he didn't feel anything. Unfortunately, the fog had other ideas as it pulled its comforting fingers away from him.

"Mr. Brandis? Can you hear me? Mr. Brandis? Wake up, Jonathan!"

Mel's muffled, worry-filled, insistent voice cut through the dissipating fog, bringing with it sharp threads of light that tore the soothing blackness like ripping cloth. He groaned when he opened his eyes to a set of hazel ones peering through simple-framed glasses.

"Oh, thank God," she breathed. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

Lucas blinked, bringing her and her hand above him into focus. "Uhm… Four. Four fingers. And a thumb."

Happy with his response, she leaned back with a smile. "You had us really worried there for a moment, Mr. Brandis."

"Us..?" Lucas propped himself up on his elbows to get a better view of his quarters – the Universal Studios version. At least five people were gathered around him, as well as a few onlookers: three black-clothed techs, a boom operator toting a humongous bushy microphone on a pole over his shoulder, Nathan Bridger – or his duplicate at least – and Mel. He shut his eyes, embarrassed, and wanted to wrap himself back in that nice fog blanket. He was managing to destroy both Brandis' career and reputation and cast doubts on his physical and mental health all in one morning.

"First your odd behavior during the take, then the infirmary, now blackouts? Son, I think you need to take a day and go home. You're overworking yourself again. You can only stretch yourself so far." The actor who played Captain Bridger extended his hand to the youth. Lucas looked at him, then to the others watching silently, took the offered hand and was hauled to his feet. "But I'm not sure you should drive."

Drive? That surely meant he was supposed to have a license, which also meant he had ID, which in turn meant he was supposed to have a wallet carrying said ID belonging to Jonathan Brandis and not Lucas Wolenczak with an address which he didn't know in a town with which he had only a vague familiarity. And somehow he doubted they'd accept his UEO ID card as legitimate identification.

Mel stood. "All right, folks. There's nothing to see here. Move along and go back to your business. Mr. Brandis is fine," she ordered. Her voice had taken on a businesslike tone as she shooed everyone else away with quick waves of her hands. Once satisfied the area had been effectively vacated, she turned back to the two men.

Lucas raked his fingers through his hair and looked around, spotting the PAL lying on the desk. He took it in hand, checking it over. This one was his PAL, all right. He recognized the telltale fingerprints he'd repeatedly have to wipe off the keys. His eyes moved from that to his hand where the new wound was, only to find it had long before stopped bleeding. It didn't even hurt anymore – though he'd scratched himself more deeply handling wiring and thought the wound was pretty minor to begin with. He angled his hand slightly, still holding the PAL and pried apart the edge of the bandage (which they'd reapplied after his 'hand close-ups'). The scar was visible, but had diminished to an angry red line instead of blatantly torn skin.

The actor who played Captain Bridger — Roy wasn't it? — placed a concerned hand on Lucas' shoulder. "J. snap out of it. Are you all right?"

"Uhm, yeah," Lucas answered, lowering the PAL.

Roy's look hardly wavered when he addressed the young brunette watching them. "Why don't you take him home, Mel?"

Home? Oh man..! Lucas thought, tensing slightly. Jonathan's home? What if his wife or girlfriend or siblings or pet lion or…whatever figured out he wasn't Jonathan?

Mel blinked. "Me? I'm not positive where he lives, Mr. Scheider. There has to be someone else who can…"

"I'll give you directions, and I'll call his mother to know when to expect him. I'd take him, but the director still needs me here." Roy gripped Lucas' shoulder. The youth's eyes shifted to him, and in that moment, the older man could've sworn Lucas stood here instead of Jonathan, seeing a recognition somehow different than actor to actor. But he knew that was physically impossible. They were the same person, and Lucas was fictional. He ushered Lucas through the open wall.

Lucas stepped off the set, staying where he was. "No, wait. I'm okay. I'll just go to my trailer and take a nap, or drink some of that chocolate stuff." His heart raced. He was sure of one thing; that the seaQuest set was somehow a catalyst to an interdimensional focal point, like the cold spots in a haunted house. If he had any hope of getting back to his world and returning Jonathan Brandis, he couldn't leave the Universal Studios complex.

But by the young man's use of 'chocolate stuff', Roy knew that something was amiss. YooHoo was Jonathan's current addiction, and just as sacred to him as mocha. "You're sure, kiddo?"

Kiddo. Why did he have to call him kiddo? Lucas missed the real captain. "Yeah, I'm sure. I just need some fresh air, or a walk, after a nap or something."

"All right then. Take care, kid. I'll be over on 22." With that, Roy slid a glance to Mel who nodded, and turned away, walking past toward the Moon Pool set at the other end of the building.

"Okay, let's walk," Mel offered casually with a smooth gesture to the door.

"I can walk on my own," Lucas retorted.

"Yes. All your life. But not with your passing out. You're the reason more than half of our viewers even watch the show."

"I don't need a babysitter…" Now he was getting annoyed.

"I'm not your sitter. I'm insurance from the big-wigs that you don't pass out and drown in the moon pool or get eaten by Flaws." Her rapid response was laced with sarcasm.

"Fine," Lucas sighed, and headed off in the direction Roy had gone.

Mel's fingers went to worry her temples with a dissatisfied groan. "Oy, the director's going to have kittens."


Tim O'Neill slid into the seat Jonathan had vacated and looked over the coding the young man had entered. "Well, either he's Lucas, or he's lying about being computer illiterate."

"What exactly did he do?"

"It looks like he was starting to align the com frequency with the sensor fluctuations to get them in sync with Lucas' PAL. This is an adjustment only he would be able to sit down and do without consulting a stack of manuals." O'Neill nodded his appreciation. "This is pretty impressive, sir."

"Can you complete it, Lieutenant?"

O'Neill looked to Jonathan, then the captain. "Well, I'd need the manuals, but yes sir, I can."

Jonathan continued to stare at the screen. He'd recognized it. For a moment it was plain English and as easy to understand as a writing assignment on directorial techniques. He'd seen it the way he imagined Lucas would see it. Right now it had gone back to a jumble of garbled words and numerical nonsense, like trying to read a book inside a dream.

Bridger seemed to take note of this as well. "Get on it, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir," O'Neill's new mission sent him off finding the right manuals.

"I thought you said you didn't know anything about computers." Bridger had turned his attention back to Jonathan, who shook his head vehemently.

"I… I don't."

"Then explain this."

Jonathan's mouth opened slightly before he spoke. "I can't. For a minute it was like I'd…reached into someone else's head."

"Lucas?" Bridger ventured.

Despite himself, Jonathan nodded. He'd had these images of how Lucas would think, how he'd see the world, compared to how he, Jonathan, saw it. It helped him to get into character. Pieces of it fit, but it was as though he'd been thrown into a room with an incomplete 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle and told to find all the edges.

Bridger patted the youth between his shoulders. "I need to take care of our guests, so I'm going to leave you in the only place I know you'll stay."

"The mess hall?"

Bridger laughed, but led him away to C-deck, and their ultimate destination, the moon pool.


The moon pool set severely disappointed Lucas. Although it was quite realistic, the gaps in the ceilings and walls with fly sets hanging above his head among the lights didn't give him the homey feeling he'd always had in this room. That, plus the buzzing of a filter that circulated the water, and the ubiquitous hot set signs.

Here it was where he'd installed the Vo-corder, enabling humans to communicate verbally with cetaceans, here he'd witnessed the growth of his best friend into human society. Viruses and temporary setbacks had come and gone, and he and Dr. Westphalen had driven headfirst into the exciting, adrenaline rushing world of scientific expansion numerous times where he was in the center of the action. This was his hang out.

He ran eagerly to the moon pool and leaned on the edge looking for Darwin. Seeing no sign of the dolphin, he yanked the fake yellow Vo-corder receiver from its hook and pressed the activation button.

Nothing. Not even a light. He turned it over. The battery compartment door was open, no batteries inside.

A collection of plastic-covered cameras seemed to poke their blank glassy lenses into his face, further mocking him and everything he knew as a fabricated lie probably born from the mind of a tired writer in a too-expensive, too-small apartment. He sighed, resting his left hand on the edge of the pool.


Jonathan couldn't have been more surprised if a giant jack-in-the box had sprung to life in his face. The moon pool was real. The people, the lights, the sounds, the feel, all of it real. Though he had accepted that he was on the seaQuest , this room came as a total shock to him. He ventured in, gaping around like a hillbilly lost inside a super mall, the only thing missing the hayseed falling from his open mouth.

"Dr. Westphalen to the moon pool." Bridger sent the command through his PAL, then turned to Jonathan, who had his back turned and faced the pool with both hands placed on the edge. The young blond lifted his right hand, fingers extended, to touch the Vo-corder receiver, and froze when his finger pads touched the plastic casing.

There was a rush like a tornado inside his head. He felt himself being drawn into a small point in the center of his forehead where light exploded again in a volley of merciless pain. His breath caught in a throat too small to hold it. He heard a woman's voice he almost recognized through the pain behind him, saw the cascade of lights and cameras around him fading in and out as if on a screen in front of him.

Only his eyes managed to move to his arm, where he saw the pattern of blue flannel set in a ghost echo over his own red windbreaker. That same needle of pain shoved itself through his temple, only instead of a sense of pulling, he felt pushing, as if something was trying to squeeze itself into his clothes while he still wore them. Thoughts flew through his mind at the speed of light. But these thoughts were not his.

"I'll come back to check on you, so don't…" Bridger cut his own sentence short at what he saw, and nearly dropped the PAL.

The boy stood still as a stone, back to the captain, dilated blue eyes glued forward, mouth slightly open. Blue flannel merged with the red windbreaker in a shifting mesh of color. He saw the kid move, saw his head turn and his hand drift away in a strobe of motion, but also remain still at the same time, like watching the vibration of a piano string.

Reacting quickly, Bridger grabbed a handful of Jonathan's jacket and yanked him away from the moon pool. Jonathan exhaled, then immediately inhaled sharply as he stumbled backwards into the captain and knocked them both to the ground. The Vo-corder rattled to the floor.


Lucas fell back with a jerk like he had been ripped away from the unrelenting hold of Velcro and toppled into Mel. She caught his arm with a shout of surprise, nearly going down with him.

Lucas had seen the moon pool complete with the sounds and feel of the real seaQuest DSV and the authentic Vo-corder clutched in his hand – a hand connected to an arm clothed in a red windbreaker…

Theory moving at 186,000 miles per second zapped through his mind. The double must have been standing in that exact same place in his reality. He had never thought that his breath could be this hard to catch.

"Mr. Brandis?" Mel breathed. She'd looked just in time to catch the blur of motion, as if watching a slow camera trick of a fast action sequence, and the tint of red under his flannel shirt. She paused, blinking in shock, then shaking her head. She must have been more tired than she'd thought. Chasing the young actor was taking its toll. She pulled at his arm to steady him on his feet.

Somehow, as she'd already noted, he seemed somehow…lighter…than he'd been just days before.

"And you wonder why you'd need a babysitter?" she tried with a small half–grin, relieved. Lucas just looked at her, blinked, and oddly found the humor in the joke. It did, however, take a back seat to what he'd just experienced.

Lucas Wolenczak had seen his world through the eyes of Jonathan Brandis and, if he guessed right, the vice-versa held true. He had to get them back to the right places. But for the meantime, he had to keep up the act.

"No. Really, I'm okay." He looked unblinking at the young woman who'd rescued him so many times today. "And you can call me…Jonathan, Mel."

"Jonathan Mel? That's an interesting name." She winked.

They both laughed, Lucas a bit nervously.


"Whoa! Are you okay?" Bridger said frantically, scrabbling to stand up.

"Uh, I think I am." Jonathan didn't say anything more. He looked slightly sick and Bridger didn't blame him. He felt kind of dizzy himself.

"Do you want to sit down?"

"Yeah, I could sit down for a while." Like a week, he thought.

Suddenly a noise came from the moon pool and Darwin swam to the surface.

Even though he felt sick, Jonathan smiled when he saw the dolphin. Finally a positive thing after all of this confusion and headache. He had always liked animals and for some reason they liked him too. And this dolphin didn't need puppeteers and yards of cables.

"Hello, Darwin," he said softly with a smile.

Darwin raised his head out of the pool, focused a black eye on Jonathan and then sprayed him with at least a gallon of water.

"Bridger, Where's Lucas?" the dolphin asked through the system.

The captain hid his smile as he looked at the soaking-wet boy. He patted the dolphin's side.

"He's gone. Just for a few days."

The dolphin sank out of sight and then returned, looking again at Jonathan.

"Who's he?"

"Who do you think it is, Darwin?"

The dolphin took a long look up and down at the boy. "Air," was his puzzling answer.

"This is Jonathan. I know it's confusing that he looks exactly like Lucas, but he's all right." Jonathan tried to pat Darwin and talk to him, but the dolphin would have none of it, and left with an annoyed chatter.

"Funny smell," the system translated as he disappeared.

"Let's go back to Lucas' quarters and get you a change of clothes."

Jonathan nodded his agreement, feeling the water running down his spine and into his shorts.

Bridger led the way again. They passed several members of the crew, everyone raising an eyebrow when they saw the young man's wet clothes. Ignoring their questioning glances, he followed the captain and after a while he thought he recognized where they were. Captain Bridger opened the door to Lucas' quarters and showed him in.

"I'll be out here while you change."

Jonathan looked through his double's wardrobe. There were far too many turtlenecks, which he'd already lobbied out of the wardrobe on the show, but also generally pretty comfy-looking clothes. He picked out a pair of blue jeans and a white T-shirt. The cuffs were a little short on him, but their mutual habit of wearing too-large clothes meant that everything fit pretty well. When he'd put his/Lucas' clothes on he opened the door and let the captain in.

Captain Bridger surveyed him with a serious expression on his face and said, "I didn't know whether or not to believe you, but it looks like I have no other choice now." He stayed silent for a moment. "Until we know how to get Lucas back, we'll just have to make the best of these strange circumstances."

Jonathan nodded, too many times this day he'd had to face things that seemed too far-fetched to be true.

"I'm sorry I'm not Lucas," he said.

Bridger felt a sting of compassion for the kid.

Jonathan imagined Lucas in his world; lost, alone, out of place and time. "He must be going through hell today, too, if what I saw was right."

"None of this is your fault," the captain said, "but I believe we might be running out of time to resolve this thing."

Jonathan didn't think he had the courage to ask what was on his mind, but he forced himself.

"What happens if we don't?"

Bridger had no answer.


After Lucas had visited his/Jonathan's trailer again to use the dressing table to take off the makeup, and get the sticky stuff out of his hair, he'd put on some of the huge clothes in the closet and followed Mel to her little blue car, sliding around a bit in the steelworker boots, the only footwear he could find. Apparently they weren't totally identical, or Jonathan liked having shoes that were as loose as his clothes.

"Do you want me to put the seatbelt on for you, or do you think you can manage yourself?" She blinked at him as she sat down beside him in the driver's seat. A little stuffed dolphin hung from her rear-view mirror swinging back and forth with their motion, seeming to mock the television show he starred in.

"I think I can manage that much," he said with an annoyed tone in his voice, still trying his best to sound like he supposed a spoiled actor should.

"Look, I was only kidding," Mel said and regretted that she had said anything at all.

Lucas immediately regretted his arrogant act. "Uh, thanks for driving me home, by the way. Roy was right. Maybe I should be careful for awhile," he mumbled. He looked surreptitiously around at all the new things he saw, remembering that they should seem mundane but enjoying the skyline as they drove the freeway past numerous palm trees and houses perched on hillsides. In his reality…

"As I said before, it's my job to make sure you're okay."

It couldn't be easy to work with actors, he thought, unless you're one yourself or like stroking someone else's ego. He decided to take a little risk. "Look, I'm sorry that I've been such a…(frustrating asshole?)…a pill today. I appreciate your work and all, I really do. But I was having a really bad day, and I guess I took it out on everyone else." Had he gone too far? Was the boy he stood in for this empathetic?

They'd gotten off the freeway and Mel almost ran a red light, surprised by his words. The few weeks she'd been working at the lot, she'd met many stars and they were almost always too busy admiring their own eccentricities or complaining about ridiculous minutiae to take any notice of anything she'd done. But Jonathan Brandis hadn't been anything like that – until today.

"You don't have to apologize, Mr… Jonathan. I know how hard you work."

Lucas sighed, feeling he'd redeemed at least a little of the reputation he'd been so diligently destroying all day. Maybe this Brandis kid wasn't so bad.

"Home," she said, pulling up to the house.

"Uh... What about my Lambo?" he asked, hoping she'd agree that he owned a Lamborghini. Hey, if I have a license… He crossed his fingers.

Mel laughed. "I'll take care of your car. Don't worry. It's safe on the lot." She shook her head. Actors sure are weird. She pulled away from the curb and he was alone.

Lucas looked at the house and took a deep breath. "All right, kid, this is it," he said to himself, and walked up the stair with firm steps. Hope I don't need keys, because this magnetic card isn't going to… But the door opened and he was greeted by a small white Westie. He knelt down to pat it. It was a cute little dog, but something was obviously wrong. The dog sneezed, widened its eyes and barked at him, (if you could call that high-pitched squeak a bark), backing away. Then the dog ran and hid behind a couch. Lucas stood up, startled when he saw the woman standing in front of him. She smiled as she hugged him firmly and kissed him on the cheek.

"I'm sorry, Jonathan. I didn't mean to sneak up on you," she said. "Roy called and said that you hurt yourself. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm…uh…okay. It was nothing but a scratch, really."

She looked at him strangely. Lucas felt his entire skeleton stiffen, though he tried to seem relaxed. This was the real test.

"What's wrong with Megan?" she asked, looking past him to where the Westie had retreated under the couch, and then examining him.

"The dog? (Okay, Megan = Dog.) No, not really. Maybe she ate something weird."

"You didn't leave any chocolate where she could find it, did you?"

"No." Secret score, he thought – Jonathan keeps chocolate someplace!

Jonathan's mother put the back of her hand to his forehead, seeming satisfied that he didn't have a fever.

"Well, maybe you should take a nap before dinner. Why don't you get your laundry and take it up to your room?" Her east-coast accent was at least as thick as the intruder's he'd met earlier. Maybe they were all from New York? She was waiting.

"Sure, um…Mom."

She smiled, so he hadn't messed up so far by calling her by the wrong name, For all he knew this Brandis guy called his mother by her first name, or 'Maw' or something weird.

"Well?" She gently ran a hand over his hair, smoothing it back from his eyes.

Lucas smiled sheepishly and turned to the staircase. Next to it were two doors.

Fifty-fifty, he thought, and opened one. Sure enough another set of stairs led downward. He followed them to their garage, seeing the washing machine and dryer just inside the door to the garage. He grimaced. There were pallets of that chocolate stuff near the door! He sighed. Maybe he could get used to it.

He picked up a blue plastic basket loaded with folded clothing similar to that which he wore and took it back up the stair to the living room. Since Jonathan's mother was busy in the kitchen, he looked rapidly around. She wasn't an exact copy of his own mother, except for the eyes and facial shape eerily similar to his, but there weren't a lot of differences. He wondered if Jonathan's father would look like Lawrence Wolenczak. A fairly recent family picture on a side-table changed his mind. Jonathan stood dressed in a tuxedo between his parents. Jonathan's father had a little beard, seemed like a nice guy from the picture. He wondered if the doppelgänger's father was an engineer too.

This was all too much for him to think about now. He needed to lie down.

He carried the basket up the stairs, hoping he'd get lucky again. After opening a few doors, he found the right room. It HAD to be the right room from all the peculiar signs on the door. A wooden director's chair sat, its back facing him, with his name, Jonathan Brandis, in white on the cloth back. His double had the strangest collection of things outside of a museum of late 20th Century artifacts that Lucas had ever seen – including vinyl LP's tacked to the wall, what looked like some kind of alien scalp on a Styrofoam head, a skateboard without wheels mounted on the wall and what looked like juggling pins under the small desk facing the window. There were too many other things to look at right then, so he sat down on the small bed with its gray and blue comforter and took off his big boots, determined to clear his head by resting a while. Lying back, he glanced at the movie posters that nearly covered the walls and ceiling, and found himself feeling drowsy.

How ironic it all seemed. Lucas had gotten the brain, a chance to work on a submarine at age 16…and a messed-up family, and Jonathan had gotten the cool stuff; a movie career, fame, friends his own age, a driver's license and a seemingly normal home life.

I wonder what his life is really like? He wondered, and suddenly remembered that he had someplace he was supposed to go later with Jason…or whoever it had been. Guess I'm going to find out tonight. He sighed and let himself fall into an exhausted sleep without dreams.

IV

"Why did Darwin act like that? What does he sense?" Jonathan didn't want to sound frightened, but he was quickly becoming quite nervous about his condition. The last connection had felt like someone had put his brain into a microwave oven on HIGH.

"I'm not sure. Lucas, if he were here, could probably tell us." Bridger studied the young man further. There was something different about him, even in Lucas' clothes, though his mannerisms, his voice, everything about him seemed almost a perfect duplicate. "Lucas' clothes fit all right? The jeans seem a little…"

"Yeah, short." He swung his arms around. The shirt seemed perfect – of course it was for someone about two sizes larger – his own personal style exactly.

"You said you're seventeen?"

"Yeah. I'll be eighteen in April."

"Lucas just turned sixteen last December. That makes him about two years younger than you." The captain tried to puzzle it out, but his knowledge of these kinds of things went nowhere. Shouldn't a dimensional 'twin' be exactly the same? Unless…

"So, Mr. Bandit…"

"Brandis," he said tiredly again, rubbing his temples.

"Yes. How many years have you been performing this role in your… your...?"

"Yeah, I don't know what to call it either. Time? Dimension? World? Idiom?"

"I was going to say show, but that seemed sort of insulting."

"I've heard worse. Some people call our show SeatCrust PMS." He looked around. "Where are you taking me?"

"I've got some new arrivals to meet; the captured crew…or whatever we got of them…from that submarine. I want to know who's after us this time."

"Border terrorists?"

Bridger smiled in a fatherly way. This one knew an awful lot about their world. It was as if he'd lived it all before.

"They're always border terrorists, Mr. Brandis."

"You can call me Jonathan."

"That's Commander Ford's name."

"Yeah, I know…" He couldn't explain, again, how he knew intimate details about the crew of the seaQuest, their mission so far – even some of what was to come - but absolutely nothing about how the ship was even laid out in real life. He be lost again if the captain weren't showing him the way. Except… "Wait a minute. Isn't this the way back to Cetacean Research?"

"You learn fast."

"Have to. Usually it's script changes. If the writers had their way, we'd be changing lines the night the show airs."

"Your show is broadcast live?"

Jonathan laughed, shaking his head. "Anything but!"

The moon pool looked as it had before, a guard standing next to it waiting for the captain.

"Mr. Braymer here will keep you company while I have a chat with our new arrivals. Let him know if you need anything. The doctor wants to see you again, to go over the tests she performed. I'm interested in the results as well."

"Am I pregnant?" Jonathan prattled, "Again?"

The captain smiled despite himself.

Jonathan grinned timidly at the gigantic security man. The man didn't swerve one inch from his professional scowl. His arm, he noted, was bigger around than Jonathan's leg.

"Do you think I'm dangerous?" He nodded towards the big security man.

"No. Not anymore. We just have to take precautions in case you have a seizure or something. That last dose of whatever you had going through you was pretty intense. Do you have a history of epilepsy?"

"Me? No." He picked up the Vo-corder again, carefully; afraid it might suddenly sprout teeth and bite him like a coiled rattlesnake. The controls looked exactly the same as his prop from Universal, but the tiny markings all around the knobs and buttons were obviously more sophisticated, though some of them seemed to have been engraved by hand in block letters jarringly like his own handwriting. "Lucas built this?"

"Yes. From scratch," Bridger said proudly, caught himself. "After a model I had designed, of course."

"Yeah," Jonathan said, distracted by the machine. "He's using it instead of the hand signals." He signed 'see you around' with his right hand without looking up.

Bridger tilted his head.

"Lucas did that when I first met him. How did you..?"

Jonathan looked up at him, shrugged. "That's…complicated." He lowered the machine. "Pretty impressive. And it works?"

"You heard it yourself. Lucas insists that it's really just a toy. He's improving it, he says."

Jonathan carefully aimed the antenna at the moon pool, gently raised the input level with his thumb.

"Darwin?" he whispered, "Can you hear me?"

A jolt of white energy blasted through his brain, scattering thought and personality with it. Within the brief dream he saw himself joined to Lucas at the base of the spine, like a Siamese twin, both struggling to control the lower half of their body. But he saw the other as an alien creature, not as someone he knew. Then he realized that he saw himself through Lucas' eyes. In the few seconds before he lost the dream, he felt their bodies merging more and more, the vertebrae fusing one at a time, bone and nerves interweaving. He saw flashes of DNA strands, molecules crashing into each other, fields of electrical energy that couldn't integrate, but only built in crackling fury in a battle for dominance.

He leaped back from the pool, falling to the floor. The Vo-corder flew out of his hands, skittering across the deck.

As he raised his head, still feeling like little sparks were pouring out of his ears and eyes, he focused on a gray object moving in front of him. He heard nothing, was unable to respond, though he felt vibrations coursing all around him. It was as if he'd been struck by lightning. Like in that episode, he thought, from last season.

"Dr. Westphalen! We need you here in Cetacean Research, right now!" Captain Bridger yelled into the PAL, supporting the still shaking young man who'd collapsed into his arms. The security man mistook the action and grabbed a handful of Jonathan's collar.

"Stand down Braymer!" Bridger shot at him. "He's not going anywhere. At least I don't think so." He looked at the security man sharply. "What did you see, just now?"

"Uh, I'm not really sure I could say, sir."

"Give it a try!"

"The Lucas imposter's appearance sort of…fluctuated."

"Fluctuated? Flickered? Strobing for a second? Different clothes?"

"Exactly, sir. Different color, texture. His…boots were missing for a second, too. I thought it was just my eyes. When I blinked, the illusion was gone." Braymer shook his head.

A spurt of water leaped up from the moon pool and a series of squeaks came out of it.

Darwin.

Bridger retrieved the Vo-corder.

"Bridger and this boy play?" came the electronic translation of the dolphin's vocalizations.

"No, Darwin. We're not playing. This boy is sick."

"Sick? Sick water from bad air?"

"Bad air, Darwin?"

"Bad air. Yes. Shaking air and…dizzy." The dolphin ensign slowly waved its head from side to side, its dark, wise eyes focusing on Jonathan. "Dizzy air. Bad."

"Who is this, Darwin?"

The dolphin leisurely swam around the pool, gave the stranger a look from both sides, rocked back and forth in puzzlement.

"Bridger tells Jon – a - than, but air boy. Not Lucas. Shaking air boy. Bridger and air boy…different."

"How are we different?"

The dolphin sounded didactic, as if the difference were implicitly evident. "Bridger, skin. Boy, not Lucas, air. Shaking air and dizzy. Smells funny. Makes bad water. Tastes bad."

"Captain?" Braymer said, offering a hand.

Bridger waved him off. "Are you okay, son?"

Jonathan nodded, though he still felt, as Darwin had said, like he was filled with 'dizzy air'.

"Can the PAL test for rare gases?" Bridger asked the security man, sitting the still bewildered young actor on the deck and keeping him balanced with one hand.

"It should, sir: hydrogen sulfide, xenon, argon…"

"I want it to sniff our guest here. Darwin says he…smells funny."

"Smells, sir?"

"I put on deodorant today, I swear," Jonathan mumbled indistinctly.

The captain sniffed. He finally recognized the smell. Ozone. Ozone and something else. He shot through screens on the PAL, finding what he wanted and placed it against Jonathan's throat. The little unit buzzed and beeped, gave a red warning light.

"Captain, it's reading toxicity!"

"Yes. Radon. Lots of it. This boy is almost radioactive, and there's a lot of ozone around him, too, like after a lightning strike." He looked closely at the young man again. "This kid is sort of a lightning rod. But we're not sure where…or when…the lightning is coming from."

"How did the dolphin know?"

"Maybe Lucas could tell us," he said as he examined the disheveled young man, "but this isn't him." He looked back at the Vo-corder on the deck. The translation, as it often did, seemed even more cryptic that the dolphin's squeaks.


Lucas began to dream only after an hour of total darkness. In the dream he was onboard the seaQuest, speaking to Darwin. Everything was just as if none of the day's events had ever happened. Suddenly he saw the twin – the doppelgänger – the other him, out of the corner of his eye. When he looked directly at him, he froze, as if he'd been caught in the act of stealing his personality. Their eyes were the same, though, and their laser like cerulean intensity drew him inward. He'd never realized just how powerful his gaze could be until he had to face it himself. Don't touch him, he thought, don't touch him, or

"BRANDIS!"

He was bouncing on the bed like a stick on a gigantic wave, actually airborne half of the time. That Jason guy jostled him roughly up and down by jumping on the mattress.

"What? What!?"

"You're still asleep? What did you do all day, make out with the porpoise?" The intruder gave it just the right amount of derisive whine, his brown eyes narrowed in mock-contempt.

Lucas opened his mouth to fire back an insult, but he didn't know what to say. He thought quickly. What would Brandis say?

"Making out with your mom."

The other grinned and stood up, legs bowed like a sailor. He wore a nicer shirt than he'd been wearing that afternoon, an obviously new pair of even baggier jeans, and the same brown shoes. He swept his long hair back with both hands where it hung listlessly over both sides of his narrow face.

"Yeah? You gotta get in line!"

"So…" Lucas recovered, rising from the bed. How did this Brandis guy sleep with all of the loud, monster-sized posters surrounding him? Oh, he realized. They were mostly posters of films he'd done. The Neverending Story II – this one without DiCaprio, was one of them. That would be interesting, he thought, like Titanic without Elijah Wood. "Mel called you?"

"Mel? The PA from the set? Naw. She called the hotel and asked for Marsden. They connected her with Jim. You know, the tall guy who's on that Family Torture show?"

Lucas' brow knitted in consternation. "Family Torture? Is that really the name?"

"I don't know. It's something like that. Torment, Target, Tortilla, Torquemada… I only watch good stuff, like Lois and Clark. She never even figured out it was the wrong guy, but he told me he got a call from her, and it was supposed to be from you."

Lucas' heart sank. So he wasn't Jason after all. How could he find out his name without sounding like an idiot?

"Why aren't you dressed? We have about an hour until the premiere starts!"

Lucas wandered towards the closet. It opened onto a veritable jungle of plaid flannel and denim. He looked down at the clothes he wore. They weren't that different, only not wrinkled.

"Dress to impress, balls to the walls!" his guest said, throwing both fists into the air.

"What's so important about a film?" Lucas asked. The stranger's shocked expression told him he'd REALLY made a big mistake. Yeah, he thought, looking around the room. Between the posters, the books on screenwriting, videotapes, piles of paper, notebooks, even a hulking VHS camera unit on a tripod, this Brandis guy must be seriously into film. He laughed, trying to recover. "Just kidding."

"Okay, then. I thought maybe someone'd replaced you with a clone. The J-Man not wanting to see a preview?"

"Yeah. That would be pretty strange. What are we seeing again?"

The stranger laughed and punched him on the shoulder. It wasn't a light tap. Wrong question again?

"I'll surprise you. This was your idea, remember? Meet girls? Be seen? Paparazzi? Glitterati?" He leaned back, struck a runway model pose. "Jon and the Swan, on the town leadin' 'em on!" He exaggerated his already exaggerated East-Coast sound, stretching all the vowels.

The Swan? Really? THAT was his name? It had to be a nickname, then. He didn't know any history books that said anything about a person named Swan, unless it was a fairy tale. He thought about it for a second. And what was this, then, a Russian novel?

"You're gonna make us late," Swan said. "I still wanna eat!"

"They'll wait," Lucas said, warming to his part. "They can't start without the main act." He gestured from himself to the other. Swan raised his hand and Lucas had to think for a second before he slapped Swan's palm with his own. Good thing I'm a fast study, he thought.

He rooted around in the closet. There were so many flannel shirts that he couldn't even get a good look at any of them. Then he came across a blue nylon gown.

"What's the hold up, J.?"

"This is…uh..?"

"Your graduation gown. You already forgot? Look in the stupid Boppy magazine over there. There's pictures and everything."

A high-school graduate? He, himself, was a college graduate. Nonetheless, he felt a little more in control knowing that his twin at least had finished some school. Lucas shrugged. He found the tuxedo in a clear plastic bag, thought about it, nodding, pulled the bag out, and presented it for approval.

Swan groaned.

"You're 17, J.! You wanna impress GIRLS, not wait tables!"

"So?"

"So… Do I have to dress you?"

"Uh… No."

"What? D'you need your wardrobe mistress or something?" Swan grabbed the first available flannel and the first available pair of jeans. He threw them on the bed. "There. Dilemma ended. Come ON!"

"Okay, give me a minute."

"I'll be downstairs. Your rockstar mom'll wanna feed us." Swan looked puzzled, his eyebrows wrinkling. "Hey, are you…shorter?"

Lucas froze. People had been commenting on the subtle differences between him and Jonathan all day. What if there really were some insurmountable major difference? He thought. After all, he was fictional.

"Me? Is that possible?"

Swan looked at him with his head titled to one side like a perplexed Weimaraner, mentally returning to his clone theory.

"Maybe you grew," Lucas said, laughing nervously, and not meeting the other's gaze.

Swan grinned and nodded madly. Having grown – or at least having someone think he'd grown – seemed to please him immensely.

"I'll be downstairs entertaining the supermodel, so take your time, buddy." He raised and lowered his eyebrows suggestively and then jumped out of the room.

Lucas relaxed a little as he heard Swan clumping down the stairs. He had way too much energy to take for long stretches. He looked in drawers, putting the laundry away and trying to find out a little more about his alternate. The kid had about four drawers of various wild-colored boxer shorts, a bunch of 'action-figures' (one of him – Lucas), a drawer full of just necklaces. Didn't he keep a daily journal or diary or something?

He looked at the notebooks stacked neatly by the computer terminal. For a moment he felt joyous, until he realized that the terminal was isolated, no visible antenna or dish, and it was far too early in history for it to be wireless. It had no connection to any other place but the power strip on the floor. So he had no connection to the Internex or this time-period's version of the web, much less the database in Washington where he could find out anything he wanted about anybody, legally or not. The magazine Swan had mentioned was sitting near a typing table, open to the page he'd mentioned. He looked at the article for a second. The guy behind Jonathan in the picture looked just like Ensign Braymer from security on seaQuest, only younger. He did the math in his head and wondered if it could possibly be the same person. Not likely, he thought. This guy was probably a football coach or Marine Sergeant in this reality.

He changed clothes and looked around at the same time. He'd be caught VERY soon if he didn't get a handle on Jonathan's life outside of the studio. Next to the desk was the ever-present bag full of fan mail, and the ever-present stack of signed photographs. There were a bunch of recent magazines from all over the world: Bop, Big Bopper, Superstars, Popstar, All-Stars, Hit!, Tiger Beat, Star Club, 16, Fans, Bravo, Screen, J-14, Roadshow, Icaccpiva, JM, Starlog, Megastar, People, Teen People, Teen-Pop, Teen Star, Teen Party, Teen Beat, and just plain Teen… All of them had a photo of Jonathan smiling on the cover. Wow, he thought. It was nearly incomprehensible. He probably kept the magazines just to prove each morning that he hadn't dreamt the whole thing. Next to these was a tower of scripts beginning on the floor. The top one read, The Good King Wenceslas. But this Brandis guy hadn't written it. He must be getting ready for another film, he thought, or maybe I'm getting ready… His heartbeat quickened at this thought. One line at a time on a TV show – playing himself – he thought he could handle, but… There was no way he could pull off a whole movie!

On the packed bookshelves, sandwiched between the dictionary and the Thesaurus was what he looked for: a slim volume.

"Jonathan Brandis: An unauthorized biography" from the publishers of Teen Beat.

He pulled the small book off the shelf and sped through the entire thing in a few minutes as he searched for any pair of shoes besides the same kind of giant boots he'd seen at the studio. He found only formal shoes, still slick from lack of use, and a rotten pair of Air Pump Nikes – way too small. So did this kid have a little brother? No. Only child, he remembered, like himself.

He decided he'd have to wear the huge clompers, lacing them up to the ankle and wondering why they felt so loose. He stuffed an extra pair of socks into the boots, making them a little snugger. He hoped he didn't have to walk much. Not very likely, he thought. No one walked anywhere in 20th Century Los Angeles.

He mentally ran through his new-found information, feeling pretty confident. If the biography was at all correct, he had a cat named Marbles, the dog, Megan, which he'd already seen, two canaries, Bert and Ernie, a Nissan. He loved Italian food, chocolate, playing basketball with his father, girls who liked films, and talking on the phone until he fell asleep. His parents were Mary and Greg and he was originally from Connecticut. He had been born on April 13, 1976, which made him 18 on his next birthday. He liked reading, disliked math, had a strange sense of humor, loved elaborate practical jokes, wanted to be a director – and he loved his fans. (It was obvious they loved him back.) He was 5'7", and weighed 112 pounds (but the book was at least a year old, so he had probably grown a bit since.) The pictures of the actor in the book were obviously posed, half of them him wearing clothes that he hadn't found in the closet. He even knew the Brandis filmography, down to voice-acting, the name of his first love, and where he'd had his first offscreen kiss.

"Jonathan?" came a voice from downstairs; his mother, Mary Brandis, who also doubled as manager of his fan-club on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City and his own theatrical manager. Okay, he thought. This was a real test of his newly-acquired emergency acting ability. He had no choice but to be perfect in his role as…himself. If he messed up now, no one could save him. He gave a crooked smile.

Cool, he thought.


"Well, the radon is dissipating," Dr. Westphalen said encouragingly, "but he still has a high level of it in his system."

"Radon?" Jonathan said, swallowing. "Doesn't that come out of the ground before earthquakes? And Isn't it radioactive?"

"Don't worry, son," Bridger soothed. "You're not going to become sterile. Not right away."

"That's reassuring," Jonathan said noncommittally. "Do you think…Lucas (it still sounded weird to him to refer to a character that he played as someone else) is having the same problems with radiation?"

Dr. Westphalen looked from the actor to the captain.

We hope so, Jonathan," he said. "We're going to have to use it as a marker to find him."

"Huh?"

"The last time you went under, before you passed out at the moon pool, you finished some of the coding that we need for the program Lieutenant O'Neill is working on. Apparently Lucas sent some kind of psychic bullet from the…from… from wherever he's at, straight into your head. It's given us very specific instructions on how to locate the PAL signal."

O'Neill nodded agreement.

"If Lucas is anywhere near his PAL, we'll be able to send him a signal. At least that's what I think is going to happen."

"Think, Mr. O'Neill?" The captain sounded irritated.

"I'm sorry, sir. This is stuff right out of some cheesy turn-of-the-century sci-fi novel. I'm not even sure how we're supposed to get a reply."

The captain put his hands behind his back and paced a few steps. They were completely helpless to do anything else. If the energy surges that the young actor was experiencing continued for too long, they'd cause electrical damage to his brain. They'd lose this 'twin' for certain.

And what did that mean for Lucas? How was he faring in the bizarre reality where he'd been thrust? He didn't even want to imagine the possible horrors of a socially naïve 21st Century kid in a 20th Century world. Especially a place as ruthlessly chaotic as Los Angeles.

Suddenly he remembered something from his youth.

"Jonathan, what day did you say it was when you got up this morning?"

"Monday. Monday, January 7, 1994. Why?"

"January. January 1994?"

"Yeah. Why? Is that important?"

O'Neill's eyes widened behind the glasses. He was the amateur historian onboard.

"The foreshock of '94!"

"Yeah," Bridger said. "Mr. O'Neill, find out exactly what time and what day that particular event occurred."

"Aye, sir." He hung around for a few more seconds. "Sir, we're ready to try to send on Lucas' PAL frequency now."

Jonathan's gaze went from one to the other.

"What exactly are you going to tell him…me…us?" He shook his head in frustration.

"We're just going to send a short message this time, to see if we can even get through. Lucas will have to find some way to get a message back to us."

"How..?"

O'Neill launched into his plan, happy to be doing something that he at least partially understood, even if the details still sounded like a deranged fantasy to him.

"We're bouncing a signal via a carrier wave off of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, through an accelerator that should speed it up to a couple of dozen times the speed of light…"

Jonathan's blank expression left no doubt that he understood none of this.

"Okay," O'Neill began again. "Imagine that you have two existing energy patterns, let's say, Lucas and yourself, which have a parallel structure. Identical electrical twins, sort of. Somehow, and this is where I don't get this at all, the two energy sources crossed paths and pulled each other together for an instant when they were occupying the same area in space. This doesn't pose a problem normally, because the two…dimensions don't intersect, so maybe you'd feel a little dizzy, or a strong sense of Déjà vu or something like that. This time, however, something interfered with the makeup of the two dimensions and tore a hole big enough for the two patterns – people – to cross into the others' 'realms'."

I… sort of understand, I guess," Jonathan said. He should have listened better during his science classes instead of daydreaming about hover boards. His head hurt again, not from the shock he'd received. He could see a hellacious math problem coming. Fortunately, he thought, he didn't have to solve it.

"So you see," Bridger continued for the lieutenant, "the two of you were together in the same place at the same time for a while, and then the 'hole' snapped one of you back. Unfortunately it was Lucas who got pulled back, and not you. Neither of you belong where you are now."

"Tell me about it," Jonathan groaned. "I was supposed to meet some friends for a movie premiere tonight. What's Lucas going to do? He doesn't know anything about my life."

"He's a fast learner," Dr. Westphalen said, lifting Jonathan's hand and taking a measurement. "I think he'll do okay, as long as he's not suffering the same kind of after-effects as you."

"Yeah, they kind of frown on people bringing lightning bolts into a theater where I'm from."

Bridger tried not to show his concern.

O'Neill smiled.

"It could be worse," he said cheerily. "You could have been integrated and destroyed both universes."

The three others stared at him in horror.

"Well, it didn't happen."


Mary Brandis, standing next to a smirking Swan, looked at her counterfeit son.

"You look terrible, Jonathan," she said. "Let me see your hand."

Lucas meekly offered his right hand, casting a glance at Swan. The other young man grimaced and drew an index finger across his throat.

"It doesn't look too bad. Do you want me to make an appointment with Dr. Selkirk?"

"No. I'll just live with the mark."

"Hey," Swan offered unhelpfully, "at least you didn't slice your face off. Or maybe it would've been better. I could get a fortune for it on some Internet swap meet!"

Mary looked curiously at him.

"Internet auction, uh… (not Mary…) Mom." Lucas began, thinking back to his studies of computer history. Of course, he'd learned this stuff in first grade. "There was…is an online market for unusual items."

"Say, Brandis!" Swan said, grinning again. "You're getting computer literate on me? Too bad you couldn't get 'em to sell your wisdom teeth, huh?"

"Someone would bid on that?" Mary looked horrified.

Both of them laughed. Even Lucas knew that the 2015 ban on selling human and bio-engineered organs was just a formality. No one seriously would buy teeth on the 'Nex.

Mary rested her hand on Lucas' shoulder. Something inside of him cried out, because it was the most caring, tender touch he thought he'd ever felt, and the look in her eyes simply blazed with absolute selfless love.

"You aren't getting enough rest, Jonathan. Really, you look too pale."

And shorter," Swan added.

"I'm okay, really, Mom." Lucas felt his chest tightening and his face reddening, suddenly too ashamed to go on with the ruse for a second longer. He had to look away. "I'm just…uh…hungry."

"Me too, Mrs. B," Swan butted in, "but we have to make it quick. Zan's picking us up in about fifteen minutes."

"Do we have time to eat, then?" Lucas asked, wanting to begin the night's adventure, but also wanting whatever created the aroma he could smell wafting from the kitchen.

"Yeah. We'll get there pronto. You know how Zan drives!" He backpedaled quickly. "Always safe, Mrs. B. We'd never put your son in any danger." He nodded soberly, hands together like an altar boy.

Mary looked concerned, her pale eyes taking in her son as only a mother's can.

"Are you sure you should go out? You look really bad Jonathan…"

"I need some time out with Swan and my friends. I've been working too hard. On the show." He looked Swan up and down. "Call it research." True that, he thought.

Swan looked ridiculously concerned and nodded his head.

"Yeah, Mrs. B. I watched him. He's gonna get that Emmy for sure this year." He made a frame with his hands in the air. "AND THE 1994 AWARD FOR BEST EROTIC PERFORMANCE WITH AN ELECTRONIC MAMMAL GOES TO…"

Lucas smiled in spite of himself.

Mary rubbed her hand on Lucas' head, smoothing back the stubborn dark-gold locks. He had to bite his lip not to confess on the spot.

"Well, honey. If you think you're okay…:

"Yeah, Mrs. B. He needs his fun in the…smog. He can't spend all night up in that room banging away on a computer keyboard and then all day seducing fish on Freak Fest."

"SeaQuest ," Lucas corrected gently.

"Squeak West. Yeah, I remember now. Weak Sauce RSVP."

Even Mary smiled, seeming to relax. It was obvious to Lucas that she could sense something, but probably passed off his anxiety as needing some free time.

"You're incorrigible, Swanny. You're a terrible influence on my kid."

"That's my job in life;" he said, giving a deep theatrical bow, "being an example for other people of how they don't want their kids to turn out."

"Dinner?" Lucas offered hopefully. THIS time, he felt sure, he wouldn't be faced with dried pizza crust or fake chocolate.

"It's your favorite!"

"Lasagna?"

"That's right. With red sauce."

So, the biography had that much correct.

"Great," Swan said, rubbing his hands together. "Balls marinara"

Lucas waved one finger at him. "Balls to the walls." His mother gave him a cautioning glance. "Meat balls, Mom." I think

"And I baked some choc chip cookies for Swanny to take back to Jersey with him."

Swan threw his arms around Mary, laying his head on her shoulder.

"I love this woman!" he said, almost crying with passion. "You are so lucky, Brandis. Can I take her home with me, huh?" He leaned into her conspiratorially. "I got it all worked out, Mary. You can hide in the tool shed…"

"We've just got to get some weight on you, Swanny. Aren't you eating at the hotel?"

"I've been living on Skittles and Tic-Tacs I got from Citywalk. Everything they have at the hotel is swill, Mrs. B., rations from hell. I've had to force myself to eat anything there. But everything you make is simple perfection." He made a circle with his thumb and forefinger, raised it to his lips and kissed the fingertips. He did a little dance and spun around, presenting himself again, like a Vaudeville act waiting for applause.

Lucas copied him. If he had to learn how to be a teenager in the 1990's, he had a great model – even if he was a little 'eccentric'. From the biography he'd read, Jonathan was a little eccentric, too, (who could blame him?) but had been quoted as saying he wanted to be a normal kid for as long as he could. This was something Lucas had missed out on, really, being acquainted with too many adults at an early age to enjoy his childhood much. He watched Swan lope into the dining room, echoed the same loose, exaggerated strut, hoping he passed as a regular teen now. This was better than any interactive hologram he'd ever studied.

"Get Swan some coffee, will you Jonathan?" Mary asked as she put the lasagna dish on the table.

Lucas didn't hear her. The food was steaming, beautiful, real, as few things he'd ever seen in his entire life. He hoped he wasn't drooling in anticipation.

"Jonathan?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry." He grinned.

He went into the kitchen. He knew that the magnets on the refrigerator were from fans who'd sent them to Jonathan after they'd seen some in a photo spread some months back, likewise with the inordinate number of boxer shorts he'd found. There were a bunch of pictures held onto the refrigerator. He looked carefully, if quickly, at all of them. Here Jonathan was with his father, Greg, at some formal function, and again playing basketball at a park, here with Swan at a billiard parlor, Jonathan leaning over the table with a big smile on his face. That angle is all wrong for the cue, Lucas thought. He'd never hit anything. Here he was with two…no three girls all around him. There were pictures of Megan as well, some of the cat, Marbles, and many of people he didn't immediately recognize from the little he knew about his study of the book.

"Jonathan?"

"What're ya doin' in there, growin' the coffee beans?"

"Hold on. Here it comes."

He brought the coffee pot back into the dining room and put it on a cork pad on the table, sitting down.

"I got distracted by the fridge," he said, patting his stomach, which gave a massive growl.

Mary looked at him expectantly.

"Well? Aren't you going to serve?" she asked.

"Yeah! Right. Sorry again." He poured cups for the three of them. It wasn't commonly known onboard the seaQuest that he actually loved coffee – but avoided it because of its tendency to make him even more hyper, though, as he'd told the captain, he was a kid and supposed to be hyper. "Where's…uh…(Greg = Dad) Dad?"

"Late again today. Monday deliveries. You know that." She studied him across the table through tented fingers. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Lucas looked at both of them as he rose and dug into the lasagna. When neither spoke for long seconds, he looked back at them, waving his hands in the air melodramatically.

"I'm fine. I'm just really hungry."

"Nothing like a home-cooked meal," Swan said, taking a plate from Lucas.

Lucas put his own dish down on the table in front of him, letting the rich smell of real meat and real cheese drift into his nostrils.

"You have NO idea," he said, his mouth watering mightily. He attacked the lasagna.

This was one time he didn't need a model on how to be a teenage boy.


"Don't say anything to them," Captain Bridger advised as they entered the room with the terrorists. "They don't know you and you don't know them."

"I don't know squat. Got it." Way too true, he thought, nodding. It was just like taking direction on any set he'd seen over the last thirteen years of his life with Captain Bridger the director this time. As for his motivation… The sooner they finished with these people, the sooner they could get back to trying to return him to his own place and time.

The security officer at the door of the brig stepped out of the way as the captain came towards him. He looked roughly at Jonathan, having already heard about the peculiar double.

"Our guest will be observing these proceedings."

Don't say anything to them, he repeated in his mind. You don't know them, and they don't know… he raised his head and met the eyes of the captain of the rogue submarine.

"Wil?" he said incredulously.

The rogue's captain sneered at him. He raised a clenched fist, the restraint chain jingling between his wrist and the steel chair.

"Wolenczak," he barked. "I should've known you'd still be here. It's a pity we didn't take out your over-hyped toy with the first torpedo."

'Tarkin, I thought I recognized your foul stench when I came on board..,' he thought. He suddenly remembered to be inconspicuous. He tried to look defiant, overly-intelligent and above it all. He was well back into his comfort zone, playing Lucas now.

Captain Bridger sat at a table across from the rogue captain.

"Lucas, stand by me."

It took all of Jonathan's powers of concentration not to burst out laughing.

So that's where Wesley Crusher had gone! Or that was where he'd gone in his reality. This guy, though he looked exactly like him, wasn't the same Wil that he knew, though he couldn't have been much older than 25.

"Address me, Captain," Bridger said calmly. "I'm the one you tried to blow up."

The rogue captain still sneered at Jonathan who, to his credit, didn't flinch. Jonathan had practice holding an expression. He used to be able to pop two or three Atomic Sour Balls at a time back in school and not react.

Bridger surveyed the other captain.

"You're awfully young to be a terrorist," he began. "Tell me why you're after the seaQuest?"

"Ask your boy genius, here. Ask him what his father did to me."

My father delivers cookies, Jonathan thought. What, did he forget his order of Milanos? He knew that Lucas' father was an engineer and an entrepreneur. What could he have done to this guy? Then again, Lucas did have issues with his father, he knew from their series bible. Maybe this was one of those things. Maybe, if this reality followed the guidelines of the scripts in his own reality, Lucas was supposed to be somehow involved – which meant more screen time for him, a little black and white picture in TV Guide, and better ratings. Or maybe this week's story dealt with a Lucas double…or… He gave it up. Way too many possible storylines. In his own partially-completed script, border terrorists were trying to commandeer the seaQuest to launch a strike on UEO headquarters. According to his memory of season one, though, they were supposed to be encountering The Regulator about now – and his temperamental orangutan – the one that had climbed up into the old Phantom of the Opera fly sets on Stage 28 with the family of opossums, refusing to come down. He hadn't a clue where this story went at all.

"Let's start with a name," Bridger asked quietly but firmly.

The rogue captain regarded them both with undisguised malice made surreal by his resemblance to an unshaven Wil.

"Brandis," he growled at them. "Jonathan Brandis."


Lucas had sat through the short meal, (after he'd wolfed down enough lasagna to sink a small ship), listening to the other two. Swan and Mary sounded as if they'd come from the same area of the country – both with the strong sound of the US Northeast, though Swan sounded like he was intentionally exaggerating it a bit. So why did the son (him) sound so different? Or maybe they hadn't noticed that he spoke with no traceable regional accent at all. The fact that Swan dominated the table conversation made it easy to blend for the moment. The coffee had made him even more vocal, though his disjointed gear-shifting was truly difficult to follow.

The dog, Megan, however, seemed to sense something wrong, sitting near his side and gazing curiously at him, head tilted in bafflement, as if to say, "Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my master?" He'd found the way to win her over, however, slipping a little lasagna down to her while no one was looking. He figured it was noble to sacrifice a little of the really delicious food, for the dog settled down by his side for the rest of the meal, wagging her tail whenever he looked down at her.

"We gotta jam, J-Man," Swan said.

"Shouldn't we help wash the dishes?" Lucas asked. He remembered that the biography claimed that Jonathan always helped out at home. He would have to live by the letter of the book, until he figured out how to get back to 2018 or learned how to adapt himself and his surroundings to his new role. But, instead of feeling daunted, he felt really energized. THIS was a challenge!

Mary smiled, waving a hand.

"No. You two have a great night. I know that Swanny's leaving in just a few days, and you hardly get to see him, so get some quality time while you can." She picked up Lucas' plate. "You never know when it's the last time you'll be together."

"I'll take care of him, Mrs. B.," Swan exaggeratedly cooed and hugged Lucas like he was a teddy bear, holding his chin and shaking it back and forth. "Like he was my little brother."

"Well, don't torment him too much, then." She picked up the other plate and disappeared into the kitchen.

So… Are we ready?" Lucas asked, feeling a thrill of anxious energy.

Swan stood up, gave a rap pose, his fingers in a Spiderman/Lotus position.

"I got my Drakkar, I got my fake ID and I got a pocketful of condoms, courtesy my shoot." He put his hands behind his head and leaned back. "I'll front you a couple if you need 'em," he whispered.

Sex. He was talking about sex? Who had sex at a movie premiere? This Brandis kid's life got better and better as he went along.

Mary came back from the kitchen, a brown paper bag in her hands.

Swan lit up. "Ah, Mrs. B. Do you treat Cooksey this good?"

"Danny's a good boy," Mary said. "The jury's still out on you."

"Man, has he ever got you fooled."

"I packed you some extra lasagna, Swan, and the cookies. Don't eat them all at once."

"I promise," he said, holding up a 'Scout's Honor' sign.

"You liar." She pecked him on the cheek. Swan grinned lasciviously. Of course, every time he grinned it looked lascivious.

"Hey, that's my mom there!" Lucas said.

"Yeah," Swan said. "All yours, lucky dog." He raised and lowered his eyebrows. "So, are we mo-bile?"

"Wait a minute," Mary said. "Where's your jacket, Jonathan? Where's your GAP jacket? The red one?"

Lucas blinked at both of them. When he'd last seen Jonathan Brandis he'd been wearing that jacket. So, in reality (in some reality, anyway), it was 24 years in the future, in a fictional place. How to explain that?

"Uh… It's on the lot. On the seaQuest. I got…uh… busy and… I left it there."

"And the car," Swan added, "because no self-respecting thief would steal it."

"So where's your car, Swan?" Lucas asked.

"Me? Drive? HERE? Hey, I'm not THAT crazy! I took a cab from the hotel."

Well, what about the other jacket? The black one? The one from the Big Bopper shoot a few weeks back?"

"In the closet upstairs?" Lucas offered.

"Well, you should take it. It's cold outside, and NBC wouldn't be happy if you got yourself sick." Mary straightened Lucas collar, scanned the shirt for errant tomato sauce, seemed satisfied. "What's your call time tomorrow?"

Lucas moved his eyes back and forth, widening them a little. "Same time?" he improvised.

"Okay," Mary patted his cheek. "Swanny, you bring him back before midnight, okay?" He has an early call, and so do you."

"Right, ma'am," the slim young man said politely.

Swan, it seemed, could be as much of a gentleman as the situation called for, a bit of a surprise to Lucas.

They bounced up the stairs, Swan pausing to point at a framed, painstakingly hand-drawn picture of a younger Jonathan hanging on the wall, at which he giggled. "Here's the real star of Ladybirds," he said, "or maybe her brother!"

When Lucas looked into the shirt-stuffed closet, he quickly found the jacket and pulled it difficultly out. But there still seemed something wrong.

Did Jonathan just go on a crash diet or something? he asked himself. The jacket was 3XL. When he put it on, he thought that he could easily fit two more people his size inside. He looked down at the circus-tent-like jacket, and then back at Swan. The other responded by tossing a pair of sunglasses at him.

"But it's dark..?"

"You are SO clueless, Brandis," Swan said. "It's a thing, like a trademark. It's what makes you unique." He pulled out a truly ragged denim cap. "Like my hat."

"Jonathan, your ride is here!" came the voice from downstairs.

Lucas felt nervous suddenly. Every time he'd gotten comfortable with one environment, he was thrown into another. Certainly the biography wasn't going to help him with Jonathan's real friends. Still, he'd done all right so far. How much more difficult could it get?

Swan jumped down the stairs like an uncoordinated gazelle, taking three at a time, barely at the edge of balance. Hyperactive? Lucas thought. Another problem extinct in his time with a single does of Noraddimin. He ran his fingers over the word JON carved on the top of the newel post, worn from having been rubbed. He gazed disquieted down the stairs, lined with framed pictures of Jonathan's family. His unease wasn't from lack of knowledge, he realized. He was feeling a healthy dose of guilt at usurping this young actor's life. Well, he'd try not to mess it up too much, if he could help it. He took the stair two at a time as well, sighing, enjoying the racket the boots made.

At the base of the stair, Mary took one more look at Lucas, puzzled over him for a moment, a bit reluctant to let her only son out on his own, no matter how close to adulthood he might be. Something tingled at the edge of her senses – something just not right about him that rationalizing as simply being a mother couldn't quite banish.

She brushed his hair back with one hand, looking into his eyes and shaking her head, her eyebrows knitted, not unlike his own common expression.

The slender boy looked back at her, simply the most beautiful and precious thing she had ever known. Still…

"Have you lost weight, Jonathan?"

Lucas opened his mouth.

V

"He doesn't have any to lose, Mrs. B.," Swan offered. "He gave it to me. I'll give it back to him when I'm done with it." Indeed, the other young man was even less substantial than Lucas, if that were even possible.

"It's the jacket," Lucas said. "I think it gained weight."

"Yeah," she nodded, "I guess I can see that." She gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek. "You be careful, Jonathan, okay?"

"Yes. I will."

"And you, too, Swanny." She nodded at the other then turned back to Lucas. "Love you."

Lucas swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. Now he felt torn between wanting to leave this place and time and wanting to stay. He had the choice of adventure in a future that he had a great part in creating, or a life as a teenage star – a completely different kind of adventure, totally alien to his experience. Then he focused his eyes on the similar eyes of this wonderful woman.

In this life he got the togetherness, the home, the placid family life that he had never really known, no matter what the strangeness of the Hollywood world.

For now, he had to do this – for himself and for Jonathan.

"Love you too… Mom," he said breathlessly.

"Take care," she said to Swan.

"Word," he answered, raising one hand in some strange sign. "Peace out."


"That's interesting," Captain Bridger said, looking down at his PAL where new information had just appeared. "It says here that you're…"

"Okay. Lachance. Gordon Lachance. Yeah. So I was lying."

"So where'd you pick up the pseudonym?"

The cool pseudonym, Jonathan corrected mentally, betraying nothing in his expression.

The rogue captain shrugged insolently.

"Around. There's some buzz here about someone named Brandis."

"What have you heard?" Jonathan asked, lowering his voice to not seem anxious, and feeling partial relief – then remembered to keep quiet.

"Not anything that'll do me any good, Wolenczak." He glared at the PAL. "Your little toy tell you what alliance I belong to?"

"It tells me that you were originally part of the North Atlantic Separatist Union, based in Maine." Bridger looked up at the scruffy young man sitting before him, arms crossed skeptically. "What happened? That was a peaceful organization."

"Your damned UEO took over our headquarters, imprisoned our officers, raided our files, even stole our technology!"

Bridger heaved a sigh.

"Look. That was Nor-Pac. The UEO isn't in the habit of raiding…"

"And Wolenczak's father led the charge." He leaned forward, giving Jonathan a malevolent stare. "How did the retrofitting of the VR gear go, Lucas? Did you ever get rid of the glitches in the visual cortex interface?"

"Of course…" Jonathan had only the vaguest notion what he was talking about, but bluffed. "Remember who you're talking to."

"The UEO doesn't have a lock on geniuses, Wolenczak. That was my research! And your father stole it and gave it to you like a…a present!" He slammed a palm on the table. "Trying to salve his conscience, huh? Trying to buy you off with this…this behemoth?"

"Your present business is with me, Captain Lachance, not with Mr. Wolenczak," Bridger interrupted pointedly. "I want to know if your attack earlier was part of a coordinated effort. Should we expect more?"

Lachance sat back, rubbed a hand through his light beard growth.

"Your intelligence is pretty poor if you don't know that. What? Do you expect me to confirm it?" He narrowed his eyes. "You'll find out if you're right soon enough."

Bridger pressed a button on the intercom.

"Mr. Ortiz, are we still scanning for sea-traffic?"

"Aye, sir," came Ortiz's voice from the speaker. "Nothing unauthorized in the vicinity. We're trying to modify the scans. Having Lucas here would help, sir."

Bridger showed nothing.

"I'm aware of that, Mr. Ortiz. We'll try to resolve that situation as soon as we can." He hoped that Ortiz got the unspoken meaning. "Any report from Commander Ford?"

"None yet, sir. Lieutenant O'Neill is monitoring his channel for any activity, along with his other…project. They haven't encountered the runners yet."

"How close are they to the coast?"

"They'll reach Point Magu shortly, sir."

"Thank you. Keep me posted." He sat back, silently regarding the rogue captain with a neutral expression for long seconds. Jonathan recognized the tactic, and felt glad that he wasn't on the receiving end this time. "So, Mr. Lachance, were you actually the captain of this craft? Or were you left as a decoy so the real captain could stage a getaway?"

Lachance's stubborn façade cracked at this.

Bridger tented his fingers, leaning on the table. "Are you even Gordon Lachance at all?"

"I want an advocate before I say anything else," Lachance said.

"It'll go better for you if you talk now. I can't guarantee a military court will be lenient with someone it considers an enemy of the UEO." He sat forward. "That translates to an enemy of world peace, son. Is that what you are?"

"If you represent the UEO, then I want Diplomatic Counsel," Lachance said, suddenly sounding like the aggressor in the conversation. "And I want him from my own Confederation."

"That could take a while, things being the way they are out here. Are you prepared to spend that time in our brig?"

"Your accommodations are just fine, Captain Bridger. Better than our sub's crew quarters, in fact." He set his gaze on Jonathan. "And that's all I have to say for now."

"Your decision, Mr. Lachance, if that's who you are." He gestured with his hand and the security man took Lachance out of the room.

Jonathan watched after him.

"I suppose you're wondering why I changed my mind and asked you to sit in with me, Jonathan," the captain began softly. "You're an actor. You're a professional at imitating behavior. Duplicating reality."

"Acting, yeah, making it seem real." He was proud of his acting ability, worked very hard at it. Some people, of course, called it 'professional lying'. He knew a few actors who probably couldn't tell the difference.

"How much of what our Mr. Lachance said was an act?"

"He's really hostile towards Lucas, for sure. That was no act. Other than that, I'm not sure what you mean."

"I think he may have been planted on that ship for us to find."

Their eyes met for a moment and Jonathan began to understand.

"So, you mean…"

"Yes. At first I thought you were sent here to replace Lucas and get into our systems. I don't believe that anymore. The evidence is too strong to deny. But now I think Lachance was left behind to he could get onboard seaQuest."

"And control your computer systems, or destroy them?"

"From the inside. Marilyn Stark already tried it once before."

"Yeah, I know. On your maiden voyage. Lucas pretty much brought the whole system back from the brink."

"Yes. And rigged it so no one could do the same thing again."

Jonathan nodded.

Bridger put his hand on the young man's shoulder.

"This sounds insane, but… How much of our current voyage have you experienced?"

The other thought for a moment. "The first eighteen months or so. There's some crazy stuff coming your way, if you're following our…our storylines."

The captain's gaze never wavered.

"How does this particular episode end?"


The huge black LTD screeched around another corner, throwing the three occupants into each other and then back against the opposite side. The car radio, set on a rap station, blasted out of the open windows at eardrum-lacerating volume, added to by subwoofers that took up the whole back seat, but no one seemed to care on the streets of Hollywood.

Swan put his face against Zan, the driver's, ear.

"SLOW THE FUCK DOWN!"

'WHAT?" Zan shouted back. He swerved around a slow-moving VW Rabbit, between two Yugo's and screeched down Highland Avenue.

"YOU'RE GOING TO FUCKIN' KILL US BOTH!"

Lucas, face white, gripping the dashboard for his life, could only get out a squeak.

"Kill us all?"

"I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" Zan shrieked cheerfully.

"WHAT?"

"WHAT?"

The whole trip had been like that; the radio so loud that Lucas' fear about small talk had been solved easily. Even if he had managed to say anything, no one could have heard him. Every other car on the street seemed to have its own sound system blasting competing music of every genre, the swirling cacophony blending into one massive rumbling, broken only by car horns. Swan kept yammering on, as if either of the other two could make out anything he said beyond the same four-letter words with which he peppered every sentence. Every once in a while they all whooped in agreement - whatever they were agreeing to.

And, actually, despite fearing for his life the entire time, he was having a lot of fun.

Zan passed Hollywood Boulevard and the building where a clock-eating T-Rex statue leaned over the intersection, barreled left on the next street and gunned the car down an alley barely wide enough to pass. Had any of them put his head or arm out of a window, he would have lost it, as the huge car bottomed out repeatedly, sending trails of sparks from the rear end. A blue dumpster, heaped with boxes and colored paper, threatened to block their way, but Zan somehow managed to avoid it without slowing, though Lucas swore he heard car paint shearing off. He slowed only a tiny bit as he challenged a tiny cross street, the sounds of blaring horns and screeching tires totally masked by the thumping of his speakers, the car bouncing like a 4X4 testing the lower 500 in Baja.

"BALLS TO THE WALLS!" he bellowed, rocking in his seat. The other two answered with whoops and hollers.

He slammed the car right again, narrowly missing a group of black-clothed, spiky-haired teenagers who all raised a middle finger at them – fortunately Lucas couldn't hear whatever they'd screamed. They barreled left down yet another alley, scattering a group of skateboarders using a loading ramp to jump from, one of whom did a grind across the hood of the big black vehicle, skidded right around another corner onto a street, rapidly turned left again and then left once more onto an even narrower street with cars parked on both sides, the sidewalks full of startled people. At this speed, there was no possibility of stopping at the red light, only fifty yards away.

It had been a good life… he began thinking.

"THERE!" Swan pointed to a parking structure on their left.

"WHAT?"

"PARK! THERE! PARKING!"

"WHAT!?"

Swan grabbed the steering wheel and swung it around left, diving over Zan. Brakes screeched and shrieks of terror followed them into the structure where Zan suddenly slammed on the brakes, throwing Lucas forward hard enough that he barely kept from having his skull ricochet off the dashboard, his lap belt driving his breath out in one short bark. He pinned Swan where he was sprawled across his lap, pulling money out of his back pocket and shoving it at the attendant with a wild grin. Blue smoke and the smell of burnt rubber drifted past the open window.

The parking garage echoed the music and intensified the bass, rattling all of Lucas' teeth and lifting him off the seat with every downbeat. Zan squealed into a space and rolled up the power windows. For a second the pressure from the sound threatened to crush the remaining life out of them, and then Zan turned the car off. He said something, but Lucas couldn't hear because of the residual rush in his ears. How did anyone who lived through the 90's have any hearing left? he wondered.

Swan popped the door lock by reaching around his shoulder, climbed over him before he could unfasten his seatbelt, grabbed him by the collar and dragged him out of the car. Lucas wanted to thank him for the rescue, but he was sure he wouldn't be able to hear him yet, and they were hustling towards the street before he could even get his breath. Just before they gained the street, Swan threw an arm across Lucas' chest, stopping him in his tracks.

"Okay, men," he said seriously. "Clothes check?"

They looked each other over quickly, all three nodding.

"Shades check?"

Zan whisked out his Wayfarers, followed by Swan and then, a little more slowly, by Lucas. How were they supposed to see now? So they would be deaf and blind. Great way to see a film.

"Attitude check?" Swan shook out his entire body like a terrier shaking off water, breathed once and assumed an I'm-too-cool-for-words pose. He held this for a second. He let out his breath. "Ready." They walked serenely out of the garage and onto the streets of Hollywood, 1994.

Lucas felt his heartbeat intensify, feeling a combined thrill of anticipation and dread.

Hollywood Boulevard, before the Great Los Angeles Earthquake of 1999, resembled every picture Lucas had ever seen of it – only this was real. The photos seldom showed the traffic weaving between the lit art-deco buildings and palm trees, the glitter of the black sidewalk, inset with pink stars outlined in brass, or the thousands of camera-wielding tourists and bizarre kids in black leather and studs, with green hair and pierced faces on skateboards and rollerblades. The din of traffic and sound systems mixed with every conceivable type of music drifting out of shop fronts, and the smell of auto exhaust mixed with the acrid smell of cigarette smoke, the divine scent of pizza, pretzels, and other exotic, less identifiable things. Neon seemed to be the going lighting, with signs in every window advertising ethnic food or 'adult novelties' or film or glass pipes or tattoos or frozen yogurt. Food – so much food. Lucas felt his stomach rumble. Even with the mass quantity of lasagna he'd eaten, this was paradise.

The closer they got to their destination, which was marked by circling searchlights, the denser the crowd became on the sparkly sidewalk. He took his cue from the other two, who walked with total entitled confidence toward the roped-off area in front of the theater.

Lucas looked up at the blazing marquee. "Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber", it said, surrounded by white chasing lights.

A man three times the size of any gorilla Lucas had ever seen, and twice the size of Zan, who was already a big guy, stood behind the red velvet rope. His Ray Bans, identical to their own, showed no signs of life behind them.

Swan whipped out a trio of laminated passes which the immobile guard seemed to ignore. Then, seemingly without moving any other part of his body, the man dropped an arm, opened the rope, and let them in.

Lucas looked down at the red carpet laid before them. Before he could react, a hundred or so flashes went off in his face. Now he figured out why they needed the sunglasses. A joyous explosion of shrieking began as spotlights turned to illuminate them.

"Now arriving, it's Jonathan Brandis of NBC's seaQuest DSV!" a polished voice said over a PA system. The sound echoed off of the buildings across the street, and cars began honking.

The shrieking reached an even higher, more frenzied pitch as he made his way down the carpet, his two friends flanking him, seeming totally impassive.

"Come on, cover boy," Swan yelled to him trying to be heard over the clamor, "do ya thing!"

Lucas began waving to the crowd, realized that if he touched his hair, he could make the screaming rise in volume and experimented a little. When he took off his sunglasses for a moment, the sound almost reached the volume of Zan's stereo system, and he understood why they'd been listening at such an earsplitting volume on the way down; conditioning their hearing to the incredible racket. He flashed his brilliant blue gaze, causing a crescendo of squeals from sobbing girls at the edges of the carpet. At least one of them held up a placard that read, "MARRY ME JONATHAN" followed by exclamation points dotted in glitter hearts. Other girls held up centerfolds of Brandis from some of the teen magazines that he'd seen before. Some were holding up the action figure, some flowers, some blankets or pillowcases or notebooks or T-shirts with his face surrounded by kisses and hearts on them. Showers of key chains, roses, stuffed dolphins, bunnies and teddy-bears kept landing on the carpet around them. Boy, this kid was absolutely, unconditionally, totally adored. If he'd asked them to go into a cave and bring him back a wild bear cub, they would have simply asked, 'what color?'

"Lucky dog," Swan said to him from the side of his mouth. "I'd kill to get all this attention."

"ORANGERMEMONIN!" the crowd started to chant, realizing who the other lanky actor was. "NEW TASTE, NEW NAME! NEW TASTE, NEW NAME! NEW TASTE, NEW NAME! NEW TASTE, NEW NAME!" Skittles started pelting the trio.

Swan raised his hand and tossed a kiss to the crowd. The shrieking intensified again. He lowered his head. "'Perhaps not'…"

In the lobby, reporters jostled for space, trying to interview anyone they thought had some involvement with the film. Others kept flashing his picture, seemingly thousands of times. Lucas decided that he could get used to this, if it was what being a star meant.

"Love your work!" a wild-eyed woman said to them, vigorously shaking their hands.

"I'm not an actor," Zan said, still grinning.

"That's all right. I still love your work!"

Zan shrugged as she elbowed her way into the crowd. Lucas had stopped paying attention.

He'd seen the snack bar.


The movie itself didn't make a lot of sense to him, but he really didn't care, eating buttered popcorn, a hot-dog, nachos and melted cheese, Bon Bons, Milk Duds, M&M's, drank something called Mr. Pibb, and had started on a massive box of Good 'n Plenty. All of this had only cost thirty dollars! Swan jabbed his unmercifully sharp elbow into his side, and Lucas focused on the movie again. Somewhere amongst the flatulence jokes and mis-sprayed breath freshener, the main characters were watching television and crying their eyes out, drying them with hundred-dollar bills. The camera flashed to the TV where a commercial for telephone service ran. It took a second for Lucas to recognize himself – or rather, a very young Jonathan – in the commercial. Zan and Swan whooped some more, and Lucas followed suit.

"Man, you used to be such a sweetheart!" Swan said, squeezing Lucas' cheeks. "What the hell happened?"

"I met you." he knew it wasn't a very good comeback, but it was all he could think of considering the sensory overload – plus his mouth was nearly glued shut with caramel and licorice.

He hoped no one else saw the film. It was really pretty silly.

When the lights came up he felt unexpectedly sad. There was so much more at the snack bar that he hadn't yet tasted. People stood and cheered the main characters as they walked to the front of the crowd and threw kisses.

"Best part, J-Man!" Swan grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the screen.

"This isn't where we came in…"

"Start thinkin' like a movie star, Brandis. Back way." He slipped on his sunglasses again, assuming his Secret Service persona.

"Wanna hear something really annoying?" Zan said, still laughing from the movie. Then he made a nasal sound that, true to his description, was REALLY annoying. "All RIGHTY then!"

"Wrong film, knucklehead," Swan told him.

Outside in the brisk night air, they quickly negotiated the line of parked limousines, their engines already running, a smartly-dressed driver beside each one. Zan took the lead and they came up behind a Victorian house next to a dilapidated hotel. They walked around behind the hotel, made a swift left and ended up back on the boulevard, completely avoiding the crowd still milling around outside the front of the theater. So intent was the army of girls on catching any glimpse of their teen idol, they kept vigil entirely at the front entrance, and never thought to look behind themselves to where the trio now slipped quietly away.

Lucas almost called back to them, then remembered his encounter with only six of them that morning and remained silent. This many could rip him to shreds. Loved to death. He smiled, touching his lips in memory. What a way to go!

"Where to now?" he whispered.

"You're on a sugar high, J-Man," Zan said. "The Opium Den."

Okay, Lucas thought. He would draw the line at taking opium, but he had to see the place, at least. He thought that opium was illegal in California in the 1990's, anyway. The 1890's, in fact. Why would they have a club for it? Maybe it was like the beef clubs in 2019 – people meeting in secret to indulge in their illegal activities, like eating real meat products. He knew that Ben had some shady connections with the beef clubs. He'd even offered to score Lucas a cheeseburger once. He grinned with the wicked memory.

There was a line outside of this club, just off the main boulevard next to a library. Strange place for an opium den, he thought. It got even stranger when he realized that the door facing the club was the entrance to a strip bar, a big glass window facing the street on the second floor. A banner touted "Busty McClusky's" show inside. Truth in advertising, he thought, examining the picture of the star holding one finger to her mouth, big gold stars covering her main attractions.

The crowd waiting outside the club was very different from the one at the movie theater. First, it seemed they had all dressed to some unwritten guidebook, every single guy wearing the same jeans and Doc Martens boots, a faded, oversized flannel over a colored T-shirt, and the same sunglasses that he wore. All of the girls had on a long black skirt, a black jacket over a fringed blouse, black high boots and…the same sunglasses, the female version. Maybe it's how they identify each other, he thought, like an urban tribe or something. Something else; no one seemed to take special notice of them, as if this group regularly gathered in a more relaxed way, not interested in fandom.

A tall blonde guy about his own age and description, dressed in the same uniform, stepped up to Lucas and shook him gently by the nape of the neck, smiling, then held him in the crook of his arm, pulling him against his shoulder.

"Jonathan, my man. What did you think of the movie? I know it's not a Sidekicks, but…"

Swan jumped on him before he could say anything else.

"Shawnie! What's up?"

"Hey, Swan. S'up with you?"

"Balls to the walls… You know!" He slapped Shawn's shoulder. "Working?"

"Naw. Got something lined up, though. You?"

"Commercial. Durex."

Shawn smiled. "Typecasting, dude." He looked back at Lucas. "Not like J, here, with his own series!" He snapped a loose wrist at him, not trying to connect.

"I just lucked into it," Lucas offered, shrugging.

"No. You worked for it. I couldn't wear a dress for a part," he said, shaking his head, "even if I have the legs for it."

"You let 'em dress you like a six-foot penis, Shawn!" Swan shot.

Shawn tilted his head. "Typecasting?" He pulled his sunglasses down, exposing lively blue eyes. He frowned. "Are you shorter, Brandis?"

"No. You're taller," Lucas responded, now prepared when someone said this.

Shawn looked puzzled, circling him.

"How'd you lose weight? Man, I can't do that anymore."

"Yeah, and you've seen him eat. Tonight he really was going for a record."

"Doesn't put on a pound." Shawn shook his head.

"Hollow leg," Swan said, nodding.

"Hollow head," Zan countered.

"You know, I'm right here."

The line had moved up to them. Swan pulled out his passes again and the black-dressed doorman let them in. Lucas pulled off the sunglasses and stowed them in the ample pockets of the jacket with his loose Good 'n Plenty's.

He could make out black-lighted Buddhas and many silk Tibetan prayer banners in the dark hall. Silver script covered the black walls; passages from The Arabian Nights and The Staff of Wisdom in Arabic and Tibetan. Lucas didn't let on that he could read them of course. Not many people, even those with the most education he knew, could. He smelled incense and cigarette smoke, and the sweet, penetrating, almost flavorful scent of clove smoke. There was music here as well, but at a volume far lower than Zan's car, thankfully. Through the wall on his left he could discern dull drumbeats from the show next door. He imagined you had to be over 18 to get in there.

"Gentlemen, we have an hour to score before the J-Man and I have to be back to our cages," Swan told Zan. "We gotta swing by Jon's set anyway so he can get his car, okay?" Lucas felt secretly pleased that the footloose young man had taken his promise to look after him seriously.

Zan nodded, already picking out the first girl he'd hit on. He had practice, and could offend a LOT of people in an hour.

They passed through a dark velvet curtain into a larger room, this one lit mostly by table candles. He heard the sharp crack of pool balls in a loft up a dark flight of stairs along with some 90's electronica which drifted from speakers hung high on the walls.

Lucas licked his lips.

"So… Where's the opium?" He felt a nervous thrill at even being around it.

"You're funny, Brandis," Swan muttered. "Look. Friendly faces."

He could see heads around at a corner table they approached as his eyes became adjusted to the flickering light.

"Brandis," the guy in the center said quietly. "Sit down."

Lucas sucked in a breath. The guy who'd spoken to him, he didn't recognize, but he immediately recognized two of the others: Tobey McGuire and Leo DiCaprio. He almost jumped excitedly forward, but remembered who he was supposed to be at the last second and simply gave them all a quick handshake.

"Leo, Tobey," he said, lowering his voice to the same level as the one who'd spoken. "What's up?"

"You going to introduce me, Willow?" Swan grumbled from Lucas' side.

"That's Mr. Willow to you," the guy in the center said. He was a little older than the others, but the soft-drink can on the table spoke of his not yet being 21. Maybe he was so quiet because of the opium. "Be a nice guy and get Jon and you a drink." He smiled at Swan. "Then I'll think about letting you sit here with us."

"At the cool kids table," Leo agreed sarcastically.

"And I'll think about not kicking your skinny little ass, wheat-boy," Swan said, but went to the bar anyway.

A girl came up behind Lucas, put her arms around him and gently gave him a kiss. He was so startled that he didn't know what to say. She put a finger on the tip of his nose and swatted his rear with her other hand.

"Call me," she whispered into his ear, and walked away.

Lucas sat down, a little embarrassed.

"Get used to it, Brandis," Leo said. "It's just starting."

"That's good news," Lucas said. Yes, being Jonathan definitely had its perks.

Swan returned with two drinks. The glasses were of black glass, looking like they had been chiseled from obsidian, the contents unidentifiable. The opium?

"Sit down Swan. You passed the test."

"Yeah," Leo said. "We'll make you an honorary member of the Patrol."

Swan grinned like a cartoon and sat next to Lucas, almost knocking him from his own chair.

Wil raised his can. The others raised their glasses or cans and became solemn.

"To River," he said.

"To River," the others echoed.

"What is this stuff?" Lucas whispered to Swan.

"Your drug of choice," Swan whispered back.

Lucas put the glass to his lips and took a tentative drink. It was that same Yoo-Hoo stuff, this over ice. He swallowed resignedly. Then something strange happened. He'd actually learned to like it. Maybe there was opium in the weird fake chocolate drink after all. It definitely grew on you.

He looked around the table. In his reality, and in the future, these were some of the most famous and powerful men in the entertainment industry. Now, even in this reality, they were part of an elite that wandered without arrogance or agenda around this dark room (well, most of them, probably); just young people looking for comradery. They included Jonathan in their fraternity without question or doubt – a friend. Back at home the closest friendship he had was with Darwin, and he wasn't even human. The others onboard seaQuest saw him as either an annoyance or a little brother, though a very technically minded and intelligent brother. It had distanced him, isolated him and, for the most part, he had simply put it out of his mind.

But this was nice – no matter how alien. He wondered if the real Jonathan realized just how incredible his life was. He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't witnessed it firsthand, and even then he was having a difficult time.

What he really wanted to ask was who River was, but he didn't feel that it was appropriate. He decided River must be important enough to the circle to be common knowledge, and asking would definitely rouse suspicion.

"So, where's Chris tonight? Anyone know?"

Lucas stiffened, until Swan relieved him.

"Which one? Everyone out here is named Chris."

They laughed.

"The one who co-starred on Brandis' show," Wil said. They looked expectantly at him.

Lucas just shrugged. That must have been the right answer, because they all nodded and smiled.

"Been tipping a few too many, that boy," Wil said quietly. "He'd better watch it." He looked concernedly at Lucas. "Something wrong, Jon?"

The day's events had suddenly caught up with him, and he started to feel simultaneously sleepy and electrified. The dark room seemed to be getting brighter and brighter and he swore he heard a hum over the music. It couldn't be the ringing that Zan's car – and the girls' screaming – had left in his ears. He rubbed his eyes and put the Ray Bans back on.

"Dude, what are you doing?" Wil asked.

"Is it… Is it getting brighter in here?" Maybe it was the opium taking effect.

Wil shook his head. "I can barely see my hand. You're not on something are you?"

"Good n Plenty," was all Lucas offered. "I'm not feeling too well. I'm going out for some air."

He stood up. Everything was still too bright, and that white noise in his ears seemed to grow louder and louder.

As he raced out the front door past the guard, he simply had to close his eyes. Even that seemed to do no good. He'd have to…

WHALLOP! He ran into something, seeing stars…

and then blackness.


"Are you sure you want to do this?" Dr. Westphalen asked. "We have no idea what this might do to you or Lucas."

The evidence had returned. The connection had worked, the distant PAL receiving and sending back confirmation. Now they had a new – and perhaps dangerous – plan.

"She's right. You don't have to do this. As much as we need you to find out what's happened and why, I'm not willing to cause damage to you or Lucas." As much as Bridger hated to admit it, this Jonathan kid had grown on him. It was like suddenly discovering that there were twin boys, only one at a time.

"If I don't do this, I'm screwed. I can't stay here, just like Lucas can't stay where he is. I miss my mom, my friends, my career. Besides, I'm getting a little cabin fever. I need to be on land where there are trees and fields, sun and sky. Did I tell you I really don't like water that much?"

Bridger nodded. He wanted Lucas back and Jonathan needed his own life. If this worked, and O'Neill had assured him that it would – at least in theory – it was a good first step.

"Are you ready, Mr. O'Neill?"

"Aye, Captain."

"Wait a minute!" Jonathan raised his hands, making a 'time out' sign. "Explain again… What are we gonna do?"

O'Neill put on his best face, knowing he had to allay the boy's fears if he could, though he himself was far from being free of them.

"We're going to try to…uh…force the connection you have with Lucas and piggyback your…" He looked at the others gathered, waving both hands.

"Consciousness?" the doctor offered.

"Okay. Consciousness on the carrier wave we're sending to Lucas' PAL. It should reach Lucas if he's anywhere near the device along with the message, or even if he's not. You have parallel patterns. They should be able to find each other no matter how far apart you are."

"What if he's not near the PAL?"

O'Neill hesitated. The math had worked out and he felt fairly sure that neither young man would have many problems with the connection – as long as Lucas was in as safe a situation as Jonathan. If he were doing something that took alertness - driving, for example – the connection could be more than devastating for him.

"Mr. O'Neill, perhaps we should wait for a message from Lucas," Dr. Westphalen suggested. "We can arrange for an exact time and place…"

"That would be the optimum circumstance, Doctor Westphalen," O'Neill said apologetically, "but we really only know that the connection worked last time, and we can't be positive how long the right parameters will be constant."

"It's already a shot in the dark, you mean?" Jonathan said.

O'Neill opened his mouth and then closed it again, nodding.

Jonathan sat on the deck, trying to contain his anxiety.

"Okay. One more question. Is this going to hurt?"

"I hope not," Bridger nodded.

His head jerked up. "What do you mean you hope not?"

"We're experimenting and have no idea what exactly it'll be like." He looked seriously at Jonathan. "You're the only person with experience here."

Jonathan rubbed his eyes.

"Okay. Just try not to fry my brains."

"You can still opt out, Jonathan," Dr. Westphalen said softly. "There's no need to be a hero."

"Well, no one else can do this, right?" Jonathan looked back at them all. They seemed to him to be surrounded by halos of bright light, and he had the strangest taste in his mouth, like licorice and chocolate. "Can you turn the lights down? They're really…" He grabbed his head. "Ow!" A bump rose swiftly on his forehead.

"Whoa!" the doctor said, moving towards him. "Where did that..?" She never finished her sentence as Jonathan slumped to the floor.


Lucas opened his eyes, only to see a copy of himself lying next to him sleeping…

Oh God, not another reality, another me, another life to deal with! he thought. "Are you kidding me?" he screamed aloud. His only comfort as that he wasn't the only one having a really horrific day. This twin (triplet?) just lay there immobile. He was wearing the same clothes he'd last seen Jonathan wearing, so he still had hope, though their surroundings – or rather lack of them – had him spooked.

The other opened his eyes. It was very white around him. Besides the color there was nothing else to see. It was as if he were caught inside a cloud.

Jonathan, I hope it's you. Time to get up! C'mon, buddy!" He shoved the disoriented boy who rolled away and for a heart-stopping second simply disappeared.

"What the FUCK did you do that for, jackass?" came the voice out of the whiteness. It was Jonathan, all right. "Where are you?"

"Right here," Lucas called. Jonathan's voice had come from very close by. He walked in the direction and soon saw him, popping back in like a magic trick.

"Lucas? Is that you?"

"Yeah. Thank God it's you. For a minute I thought I had another reality to deal with." He laughed nervously. "I don't even have much of a handle on this one yet."

Jonathan looked worriedly around himself, seeing…nothing at all but whiteness – like a canvas without paint, or a blue-screen stage, minus any blue…or any color at all, for that matter.

"Well, this one doesn't look like it's going to take any prizes, either."

"Yeah. Right." Lucas huddled a little closer to Jonathan apprehensively. For all he knew the space was filled with unseen crocodiles or unicorns or Dalmatians without spots or giant flying custard pies.

"Where are we?" Jonathan began to tap his feet gently, wondering why the ground yielded ever-so-slightly, but without seeming to have any texture or surface, though it supported his weight. The featureless white went on around them without depth or edges, all of it exuding soft light without warmth or direction. The Nothing, he thought distractedly, or a close second.

Maybe they had both died. Oh great, he thought, stuck through eternity with the one imaginary character he had absolutely no interest in knowing further.

Lucas shook his head, realized that he'd been hurt, and reached up to the newly-forming bump on the left side of his forehead. When he looked back at Jonathan, he saw the same bump forming in the same place. He experimented by lightly tapping his own bump.

Jonathan swung around. "Ow! What're you doing to me…us?" he shouted, reaching for his own head. He angrily looked Lucas up and down for the first time.

"You're wearing my other Gap jacket! And my Doc Martens!"

Lucas sputtered helplessly. "Well… You're wearing my clothes, too!" he shot back. "And your stupid boots don't even fit! I mean, what the hell! Do you like blisters?" He pulled the sides of the giant jacket out. "And what's with this? Did you shrink? They feel like hand-me-downs from some giant!"

"Yeah? Well, they look better on me, anyway!"

"I AM you, dork! We're linked! Why do you think we're both in this mess anyway? Do you think some fan stuck us here?"

"Well, do your thing. Get us out of here. Think of something."

"How'm I supposed to do that?"

"You're the frikken genius! Genius us up something!" Jonathan waved his open hands around uselessly. He started to stomp away, frustrated.

"Wait! Don't go anywhere!"

Jonathan stopped for a moment; put his hands on his hips.

"Why not? Am I gonna get lost?"

"I don't know. I think we're supposed to be here together for some reason." He considered it for a few seconds. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"Wishing I could get back to Kansas. I tried knocking my heels together. It didn't work." Lucas stared blankly at him. "Never seen The Wizard of Oz?" What a deprived kid, he thought.

"Seriously! What's the last thing you remember doing before we got here?" Lucas looked nervously around. "Wherever…here is."

Jonathan tried concentrating. The even light bled into his closed eyes, interfering mightily. He put one hand in his pants pocket, gestured with the other. He automatically struck a kind of pose – an instinct honed by years in front of a camera.

"Dr. Westphalen, Lt. Commander Hitchcock and Lieutenant O'Neill were going to try to… I don't know…send something on an aircraft carrier and an alternator through a black hole or something, and bounce it off a pie plate a couple of hundred trillion miles away and back to your PAL, faster than the speed of light. And there's something about radon, the '94 foreshock, or something, and parallel lines." He fixed the other with his eyes. "How am I doing so far? Does that sound crazy enough?"

Lucas began to smile crookedly, an expression Jonathan was familiar with as one he often saw in the mirror.

"Cool," he said.

"I still don't get it. What are they trying to do?"

"They're trying to contact your 20th Century by sending a signal back through time." He paused, looking worried. "But… In your world seaQuest is fictional."

"Yeah? And?" Jonathan waved one hand around in the air. This made as much sense as anything else that had happened that day.

"So how's a fictional signal going to punch through to the real world, 24 years before it was even sent?"

Jonathan couldn't tell whether it was the new bump or the math involved, but he was rapidly getting a headache.

"Are you asking me?"

"No."

"Then who the hell are you talking to?" Jonathan started walking away from him. "I'm an actor. I'm not supposed to be able to find my butt with both hands!"

"Sorry. Thinking out loud."

"Your thinking is WAY loud," Jonathan said, moving away from him. He stopped suddenly. "Wait a minute. If you're wearing my clothes, then you were in my house…"

"Yeah." Lucas looked down, feeling suddenly embarrassed.

"Sleeping in my bed, meeting my parents…"

"Yeah." He finished for him. "Eating your porridge and drinking your Yoo-Hoo,"

Jonathan halted and turned back to him.

"Am I really such a smart ass?"

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, dude," Lucas said shrugging.

Jonathan worked his jaw. "So, have they figured out that you're not me?"

"Not yet."

Jonathan regarded his twin with new respect.

"You are smart then. I'm impressed. Ty and Jason and Chris don't suspect?"

"Who?"

"My friends. You've met them, right?"

"I met Swanny and Wil and Zan."

"Zan wouldn't notice if you grew a second head, and as long as you keep feeding Swan…" He closed his eyes. "Oh shit," he muttered. "The premiere. You didn't make a fool out of me…us…yourself, did you?"

"I think I acquitted myself rather well." He thought for a second. "So, what about on the seaQuest? Do they know?"

Jonathan's posture suddenly stiffened.

Hey, I'm a trained actor. I play you all the time. What do you think?"

Lucas nodded. "They do know."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. Now, how do we get out of here?"

"I'm not sure. I sort of passed out in front of an opium den." He knitted his brows. "You have some strange friends."

"The Opium Den? You were at The Opium Den? Oh man! I'm missing everything!" He smacked his forehead.

"Ow!" the both yelled.

"Careful! Besides, it wasn't that great," Lucas said, rubbing the sore spot. "It was too dark and there were hardly any girls. The strippers were all next door."

"The girls were coming later." He slowed, allowing Lucas to catch up to him. When he looked at him, it was like he'd stepped into the episode of I Love Lucy with the mirror trick or something, but he definitely felt the connection. They were identical, except for the almost untraceable difference in size. Lucas was the way he had been a year before. That meant…

"So, you didn't score."

Lucas scowled. "No. We didn't."


"I haven't even started to send the signal," O'Neill said, certain that he'd be blamed if the experiment resulted in disaster. "We're still building up the energy charge."

"Still a few more minutes, Lieutenant," Hitchcock said from beside him as she checked her PAL.

The stranger lay limply on the deck where he'd sunk. This time they saw no strobing of images, no superimposition of dimensions. He'd just collapsed into a heap.

"Jonathan!" Captain Bridger shouted at the unconscious young man. Dr. Westphalen put her fingers under his jaw, frantically trying to find a pulse.

"Almost nothing, Captain. It's as if the life just jumped out of him." She put a metal object against his temple. "But there's a massive amount of electrical activity in his brain. Neurologically, he's more than wide awake."

"Well, is he dying?"

"I don't know, Captain." Her worried expression told that she too had begun to grow attached to the strange young man. She sniffed. "Is that ozone again?"

"That's consistent," the captain said. He put his arms under the unconscious actor and lifted him easily. He seemed so light, so fragile. If he lost Lucas, or Jonathan… Not again, he determined. Not if he could help it. "Let's take him to Lucas' quarters." He nodded at Braymer.


"So the PAL is the key?" Jonathan asked again.

"Yeah. According to what you told — or what you tried to tell me — if we can coordinate our positions, then I think that we'll switch places and end up back in our own realities." He nodded, sounding totally convinced. "That should put everything back where it belongs."

"Really? Are you positive?"

"Naw. But, what else can we do?"

Jonathan thought back to the weird dream he'd had where they'd become conjoined.

"What if we get…stuck together like some kind of hybrid, horror-movie, circus freak, with…like, two heads and three arms?"

Lucas smiled.

"Then we'll be famous, either in your world or mine." He thought for a second. "I hope you don't snore."

"Perfect," Jonathan muttered, stopping in his tracks and looking at the nothing surrounding them, which hadn't changed at all. It was as if they hadn't moved from the spot where they'd awakened.

"I think we walked in a circle," Lucas said.

"You can tell?"

"You can't?"

Jonathan gave a quick and silly laugh.

"Why are you laughing?"

"Why aren't you? I laughed when you came in," Jonathan said, automatically mimicking Rodney Dangerfield. "This would be fascinating if it weren't so frikken bizarre."

Lucas studied the other's face for a moment, seeing the fear he tried to hide from him. But how could he?

"We'll get out of this, I know."

"Why?"

"Because I'm NOT missing my driver's test!"

"You'll do great. Just watch the parallel parking." He thought a moment more. "And make sure to look over your shoulder when you leave the curb." He looked back at his alternate again. "And don't smile like a geek for the ID photo."

"Parallel park, curb, geek… Okay." Lucas stopped suddenly, feeling dizzy again.

"What's wrong?"

"Dizzy spell. Sugar crash, maybe."

Jonathan rushed to him to keep him from falling, but his hand went through the boy's arm, as through smoke. A shower of tiny golden sparks trailed away from the other's suddenly ghostly form as he fell soundlessly to the ground.

"Something weird's happening," he said nervously.

Lucas leaped forward and slammed his palm into Jonathan's. The hand went straight through, but he left an object behind and vanished.

"Take care, buddy," Jonathan mumbled sadly.

He was alone.

VI

"BRANDIS!" Swan yelled into Lucas' ear.

Lucas opened his eyes, staring directly into a light fixture under a decorative metal grating next to a tree where his face had planted itself. He rose slowly, using Swan for support, sliding on the Good n Plenty that had dumped out of his pockets.

"Too much of that chocolate poison, m'boy," Swan said, clearly agitated. "And WAY too much snack bar crap." He peeled a gum wrapper from the boy's face, frowning at the rising bump on his forehead.

"Is he all right?" Wil said from the door. He wore his glasses now, had his head lowered into his collar, scanning for paparazzi. Drunk underage teen idol passed out in front of Hollywood club. It was too good for any tabloid to pass up. "Bring him back in before someone else gets wind of this." There was something more than just annoyance in his tone, and he sighed with relief. A group of people stood on the sidewalk, looking on.

"I'm okay," Lucas said, getting up and shaking the cobwebs out of his mind. Loose candy continued to clatter to the sidewalk from his clothes. "I just got dizzy again." He recovered quickly. "And there's no air in there."

"You're sure you're all right?" Swan said quietly from his side. "You had me worried for a second." He touched Lucas' head. "Look what you did! Smacked your melon!"

"It's okay," Wil said from the door. "He's still cover boy material." He ducked back into the club.

"Mary's going to think I beat you up," Swan said, steadying Lucas.

"In your dreams, Swan." He closed his eyes hard and felt the dull throbbing of the new hurt. Testing, he saw that he hadn't broken the skin. It wasn't too bad. He glared back at the tree that had broken his fall via his head, wobbled on his feet a little, still wondering where the white nothingness had gone.

"Are you sure you're..?"

"Yeah, I'm okay." He looked at his watch – a 2015 Rolex Imperador. Swan didn't seem to notice the incongruous timepiece.

A girl blocked their way.

"Um…Um… Can I have your autograph, Jonathan?" she asked, smiling.

Lucas took the pen she held out and the slip of paper.

He wrote: Take Care, see you on seaQuest DSV. Jonathan Brandis. He was careful to make the signature as big and bold, with the giant looping 'J' and 'B' as the one he'd seen at the trailer.

She'd never know it was counterfeit.


Jonathan awoke with a start. All around him he recognized Lucas' quarters, jammed with assorted electronic gear and bordered on one side by the tube Darwin used to travel the ship. The dolphin gazed through the glass at him. The doctor, Bridger, and Braymer had all crowded into the room with him.

"You gave us a scare, Jonathan," Bridger said. "Where were you?"

"I was…" He grasped for words. "I was… nowhere. But Lucas was there, and he… he wants you to contact the PAL again so we can coordinate our positions."

"You saw Lucas in this dream?"

"Yeah. But it wasn't a dream." He raised his hand. "Look."

He dropped the glossy black matchbook on the table beside him. "The Opium Den". It read in silver. He looked at the place where the image of the PAL had been before. Lucas had been right, it seemed. His backpack sat on the floor next to it, the cell phone blinking on and off. He picked it up and looked at the message on the tiny LCD screen.

"Missed call," he said.

"He's all right, Captain, as I would expect," Dr. Westphalen said after looking at the bump on his head. "But our Lucas must have done something to himself in 1994." She regarded him. "This is quite remarkable." The mark was disappearing even as they watched.

Bridger picked up the matchbook, smelled it.

Incense and cloves smoke. Hmm."

The klaxon started. A red light flashed on the wall next to the door.

"Report," Bridger said into the intercom on the wall.

"Captain," Crocker said from the unit. "The prisoners have escaped, just like you thought. None of our personnel injured."

"Good. Out." He pressed the button again. "Mr. O'Neill, do we have a lock on them?"

"Aye sir. The trace is working like a charm."

"All right. Chief Crocker has orders not to stop them yet, just keep out of visual range. Let's see where they're going."

"Trace?" Jonathan asked, rising.

"We figured it out after we examined you. We gave the prisoners a little dose of radioactive isotope with their water. Harmless. But it means that we can find them anywhere on the ship. I want to know what Lachance was sent here to do."

"So you…tricked him?" Jonathan's mouth fell open. "You were…acting. Right in front of me!" He shook his head. "Man, you're good!"

It was Bridger's turn to smile. He nodded.

"Captain?" O'Neill's voice came from the wall unit again. Jonathan realized that the hard-wiring of the line was secure, different than the signals from the PALs, which might be intercepted.

"Mr. O'Neill?"

"The signals have all moved as a group to B-deck. They seem to be heading toward your position."

"As I figured." Bridger looked at Jonathan. "They want to get into our computer system, and they know that only Lucas – you – can get access if we try to lock them out."

Jonathan gazed at each of them, knowing what they wanted, but waiting to be asked.

"We need you to impersonate Lucas a little longer, Jonathan. Can you do that for us?"

"It's my job," Jonathan whispered. "Of course."

"It could get dangerous."

"Bring 'em on,"

Bridger looked at the kid in front of him. How he wished that Lucas was here, but the danger would have been equal, even for the boy genius.

"Someone will be shadowing you, so they'll be able to help you out if you need it. Also Dr. Westphalen has an earpiece for you."

"Now, Jonathan, this earpiece goes behind your ear, so no one will be able to find it unless they know exactly where to look. Just be aware that any shouting or high-pitched noises may produce feedback which might be painful for you, and also blow your cover. You'll be able to hear us and we'll be able to hear you. Lieutenant O'Neill will tell you what to do so you can assume Lucas' identity when they get you to the computer. He'll also help you escape if the need arises."

"What about… What about a weapon?"

The doctor and Bridger exchanged looks.

"Are you familiar with weapons?"

"Swords?" He shrugged. "I can fake some karate."

"Save the heroics, Jonathan. We'll get to you before you're in any danger, just follow Mr. O'Neill's instructions to the letter."

Jonathan nodded. He didn't like this reality. It made him feel like a dense and worthless anachronism; a tool. At least in his reality he was articulate, up to date on world events and was loved by his parents (and a few hundred thousand girls). Lucas had no one here but an overbearing doctor, a grumpy captain and a fishy-smelling porpoise. He also needed his own bed. Lucas' bunk was lumpy, short, and uncomfortable.


"I don't care what you say, Jonathan, or how much you complain. I'm cutting your sugar intake. It's not normal to be having these…" She looked at Swan, who stood, his hands behind his back, eyes downcast like some guilty cookie-robber.

"Sugar crashes, Mrs. B."

"Sugar crashes. If they continue, I'm taking you to a hospital for testing. Do you understand?"

"But M…"

"I SAID, do you understand?" Mary gave Lucas the 'if-you-defy-me-you-die' look that only a parent (especially a mother) could give.

Lucas just nodded his head. God only knows what a blood test would turn up. He had antibodies in his system that weren't even dreamed of at this time.

"Swan, I think it's time you went back to your hotel," Mary said politely but firmly. The other wasn't about to disagree.

"It's been great to see you again, Mrs. B. I'll pop around again before I go back to Jersey."

"You'd better." She gave him a huge bear hug. Lucas watched as Swanny left, looking like he'd gotten away with something.

Now for the fun, he thought.

"I'm off to bed, Mom."

"Good. I'll get you up in the morning. Your scenes are on your bed. Second green rewrites. Make sure you learn your lines. You've been slipping apparently. I had the producers on the phone. They aren't happy."

"I didn't get the changes, and then there was the sugar crash, and I cut my hand…"

"Yes. Don't worry. They're not going to replace you over one bad day." She gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"G'night, Mom." He had spent years wanting to do that – to just end a night at home without an argument having just ended between his parents.

Mary noticed something.

"Jonathan, are you sure you're okay?" That peculiar feeling was tickling at the edge of her senses again.

"Of course I am, Mom. Why wouldn't I be?"

She examined him for a long second, suspicion clouding her eyes, then she seemed to relax.

"Okay then. Bed!"

Lucas smiled and went up the stairs, controlling the shaking in his legs. One slip would do it, he thought. Just one little slip.

His script lay open on his bed, all of his lines highlighted (by Mary or Mel, he assumed.) There were loads. He lay down and started to read and learn. So much for a bit of fun tonight, or any further discovery. If he could learn the lines tonight, he would have free time at the studio to sort out his PAL. Whatever happened, Jonathan had to come back to this reality and continue his career or…if push came to shove, he would have to continue it. Lucas shuddered. What if Jonathan had to become him? He glanced over at the primitive computer. That thought truly scared him.


Jonathan walked down a corridor by himself, playing on a PAL. The device had been set up to help him with his role. He could see where Lachance and his group were gathered. Just as Bridger had thought, Lachance was stalking him.

He wished again that he could be in his own element, complaining about the number of his lines or the percentages in his mocha frappuccino. He felt like the worm at the end of a fish hook, just waiting for the predator to come. He was the prey – the fake prey, maybe, but the prey nonetheless. The little silent blip on the screen showed that they were getting closer.

He thought about the doctor's warnings about feedback. She was nice, he thought, as nice as Stephanie, the actress who played her in his reality. Hitchcock, on the other hand… But the women onboard were technically toddlers where he was from. They could technically be his daughters, and Dr. Westphalen perhaps only a little bit older than he was himself. He smiled at the peculiar thought. It felt good to smile again. It seemed like the first time he'd wanted to smile in ages.

"What are you smiling at, Wolenczak?"

Jonathan turned around. Standing there, a gun in his hand, sardonic smile on his face, was Lachance. Jonathan turned to run, straight into one of Lachance's henchmen. He fell to the floor, dropping the PAL. The man pulled Jonathan to his feet.

"Are you ready for an adventure, kid?" Lachance growled at him.

"Are you sure it won't bore me?" He heard someone snicker in his ear. He was doing something right, assuming Lucas' attitude in the face of danger.

"You think this is funny?" Lachance nodded to a second man, who emptied the contents of a syringe into his arm.

"What are you..?" He found it hard to focus. He shook his head. "What did you give me?" The world started to waver – but this time it was fading to black.

"Shit!" he heard Dr. Westphalen say in his ear.

"No kidding," Jonathan managed to say before the blackness enveloped him.


"What the hell just happened?" Bridger whispered to the doctor, his voice laced with worry. Even if this Brandis kid wasn't part of his crew, he was responsible for him. And besides, though he wasn't Lucas, he was beginning to grow on him.

Dr. Westphalen shook her head and looked into the captain's eyes. "I… I have no idea."


Cold water.

Water felt good as well. Sometimes.

Water meant swimming and it was funny because it reminded him of seaQuest. Jonathan wished it was all real; seaQuest, that was, with the talking dolphin and the WSKRS and the clam doors.

Drawing in a deep breath, he pulled back his eyelids and stared at the ceiling.

Funny, he thought, I don't remember my trailer having a grey colored ceiling. It was fake dark wood. And why was the floor shaking?

Damn!

"Glad you could join us back in the real world, buddy."

Turning his eyes to the side, Jonathan started upright into a sitting position. He almost slammed his head into a metal conduit. His hands were tied behind his back and he fall back again.

Lachance!

"Where am I?" Jonathan tried finding his fear. Would Lucas be scared at something like this? Just how in the world did he drag himself into this, anyway? "Where are we?" he asked again. The drug he'd been injected with was wearing off, but things still had a soft edge to them. Very little of his anxiety remained.

"Ooh. Somewhere," Lachance answered sarcastically, flicking aside drops of water from his fingers.

Jonathan was seriously beginning to hate this guy, despite his familiar appearance.

The room was small, with some sort of gadget here and there. If it was part of the seaQuest, it was someplace he had never seen. Then again, he hadn't seen the entire sub, not even the plastic model he had as a kit at home. And that thing consisted of about five pieces. Any idiot could assemble it.

So why hadn't he?

"What do you want with me?"

Another cold smile met this. "Oh, I think your friends have got that all figured out." He lifted his hands and in between his thumb and forefinger was something small and familiar.

Panic struck Jonathan (as much as his still fuzzy consciousness could manage).

"Yup. You didn't think we'd find it, but we did." He bent down towards Jonathan. "Well, Wolenczak, we may not all be geniuses, but we're not stupid," he sneered.

The deep sickness at the pit of his stomach had returned, but this time he knew it was fear burrowing its way through the haze.


Someone shook Lucas violently.

"Captain, are we under attack?" He hit the wall, trying to find the intercom.

"Jonathan! Jonathan, will you wake up? You're running late! Your dad's eating most of the breakfast, so if you want to eat you'd better get up NOW!"

Lucas opened and focused his eyes. He still couldn't get used to the idea of having a mother wake him, make food for him, worry about him, keep him on track. It had been a long time.

"You slept in your clothes again? Jonathan! That's just not good for you!" Mary turned to leave.

Lucas looked down and saw that he had indeed fallen asleep in the clothes he'd worn the last night. Something wrong. He pulled a melted Good n Plenty from the waistband of his shorts where it had glued him to the cotton. He slid off his T-shirt, feeling pain in his arm. He looked at it and saw a small section that had swollen during the night, almost as if he'd had an injection. He thought back. He had been trying to learn his 'Lucas' lines, had felt a stab in his arm and had passed out.

What the hell was Jonathan up to?

He showered and dressed in another Jonathan disguise, which meant only a slight variation on his own usual wardrobe, still including the gigantic boots, went downstairs and raced through breakfast – bacon, eggs, toast and coffee – and Jonathan's father, Greg, offered to drive him to the studio. He thought about negotiating to drive the Nissan himself, but realized he needed a few more trips before he memorized the route, and the drive would give him more opportunities to study his surroundings and acclimate. The traffic on the street was moving, though he thought he'd counted a few thousand cars in the last few minutes. How many people were all going the same direction at the same time? How could anyone call this rush hour?

At the gate on Main Street, the guard waved them on as soon as he saw Lucas. Greg drove cautiously down an alley and Lucas soon saw the familiar group of trailers.

He wondered if this would be his normal life now, and hoped his learning curve could keep up with it.

"What the hell have you done to yourself, young man?" someone shouted. Lucas spun around. The actor who played Captain Bridger, Roy, was standing there, out of costume, a big grin on his face.

"What do you mean?" Lucas said, confused, which didn't take much in this reality.

"That bump on your head!"

Lucas lifted his hand up to his forehead. He'd forgotten about that.

"I went to a premiere last night and walked into a tree."

"They won't be happy about that on set. Makeup won't cover it up. It'll have to be CG'd out, or you're wearing a hat. Maybe they can glue your bangs down a little. Come on. Let's go. I have to go to wardrobe."

They bid farewell to Greg and walked off toward the soundstage.


"We can't track them, sir."

"What?" Bridger's voice rose as he whirled behind O'Neill, searching the screen and wondering if he was serious. "What about the tracer!"

O'Neill shook his head as he changed search parameters. "I'm not reading anything, sir. Wherever Lu-…uh… Jonathan or Lachance are, they're probably protected by some sort of shielding."

"But how did they know?" Bridger had begun to feel irritated. He placed his hands behind his back and circled the bridge.

"Maybe they don't, sir."

"I'm not getting you."

O'Neill puffed out his cheeks. "It's a long shot, but maybe they just happen to be shielded, unintentionally hiding their trail."

"This is unacceptable!" Bridger shouted, "If they're on this boat, how can we not find them?"

The doctor stepped up. "Captain," she called firmly but yet softly enough not to challenge his authority.

The entire team had stopped and simply stared. They kept their eyes on Bridger, startled by his outburst.

"Aren't they on this vessel?" he rephrased his last question, letting his frustration mellow.

"That's the problem, sir," Hitchcock spoke as she parked herself next to O'Neill. "We don't think they're onboard any longer."


Lachance stared hard at Jonathan, as if trying to determine how much he would charge to sell his soul to the devil.

"What?" Jonathan bit back.

"Nothing," Lachance replied, still studying the other. "It's just that I never expected a 17 year old to benefit from my stolen research. Especially you, Wolenczak."

"Eight-…uh…sixteen, and I didn't steal anything!"

"Oh yes. My mistake. That was Wolenczak Senior, wasn't it?"

The ropes bit into Jonathan's wrists, holding him back, and hurting the skin. He made himself relax, loosen. He couldn't see the knots, but he slowly tried to feel around them.

"It doesn't matter," Lachance continued. "Half of what I wanted isn't all that bad."

The slight rocking movement became more intense and Jonathan felt a realization like a giant water balloon had just exploded onto a set. "We're not on the seaQuest anymore, are we?"

Turning around in a fluid, almost poetic movement, Lachance laughed. "Finally, the hidden genius kicks in. It took you long enough."

"How..?" Jonathan hissed between his teeth, "without the crew knowing?"

"Simple." He smiled again, not pleasantly, proud of his achievement. "We Christmas wrapped you in a giant box, tied it with a big red bow while our expert pilot – well he's up in front doing his job so you can't see him from the back end of the vessel – followed your ship in the mini sub with a pod of whales. So it seemed like this ship was just another giant mammal. And while everyone is preoccupied in finding you, no one notices when a tiny ship leaves the pod and hides underneath the seaQuest , where the sensors can't read it and… We slip out. Funny how much a ship goes haywire when their precious cargo goes poof."

"What do you want with me?" Jonathan demanded. At least he knew it was what Lucas would ask. This was no set. No one was going to scream, "CUT!" if something wasn't right. At this moment, if something went wrong, it went horribly wrong.

"Tsk tsk. Always curious. Maybe it's better if you don't really know."

"Humor me," Jonathan sneered, not feeling the righteous anger, but able to fake it.

Lachance shook his head left then right. "Well, I just want to make your father suffer, which means making him fully aware of how much you're suffering, but I have a professional to do that sort of thing for me. Before that, we need that genius brain of yours." He tapped Jonathan's head rhythmically. "You're going to reconfigure some codes, help us to break into a secret – which isn't secret anymore thanks to yours truly - and allow us to take control of the seaQuest's weapons systems."

"What makes you think I wouldn't rather die than help you?"

Another laugh. This time the laughter chilled Jonathan to the bone. "Because, even if you'd rather die, I'm sure you wouldn't want to doom your friends." He pulled a device from his pocket. It was no larger than his palm, a simple touch-screen. Jonathan didn't like the look of it.

"You wouldn't…" He shook his head.

Lachance just stood in the cramped space, mimicked hitting the button and mouthed the word boom. "I'm sure you'll understand that last bit, Wolenczak. So, no funny business, and I hope to have your cooperation."

Anger burnt within Jonathan. He fell silent and contemplated the mess he was in, or worse, the mess the crew of the seaQuest was in without their even knowing it. He really couldn't help Lachance with his plot, and it wouldn't take long for them to figure that out. Or what if they thought he was just being stubborn or brave? What would they do to him, and for how long, before they discovered their mistake, and then what would they do to him when they knew he was worthless to them, just out of spite? What was this 'professional' an expert at doing? He got panicky when someone just tickled him for too long. Anger fought with fear – the fear winning.

"Sleep well. You'll need the rest." Lachance walked through the narrow door and shut it behind him, leaving only the soft hum of machinery to accompany the prisoner.

"So not cool," Jonathan muttered to himself.


"I shouldn't have let him do this. He had no idea the danger he would put himself into." Bridger paced the room. "What was I thinking? He doesn't know anything about... anything here!"

Dr. Westphalen sighed. "Relax Nathan. You did what any captain would have done."

"And what was that? Risking the lives of citizens?"

"No. Saving the lives of citizens. There's a greater good here, Captain. You know that. Lucas knows that."

He contemplated the doctor's words and stopped his pacing. "But this isn't Lucas. This is an actor named Jonathan, an actor who's lost and probably terrified."

"He's played Lucas in his world. He knows your mission and the risks, Nathan. Don't underestimate this boy."

"That's it. He's just a boy. He's no computer genius, had no experience onboard a submarine. He probably isn't even clear where on the planet chance decided to drop him."

The door chirped.

"WHAT?" he shouted.

Ford, looking very edgy stood at the captain's door as it slid open.

"Captain."

Sighing, Bridger stood straight up, shaking off his anger. "Yes?"

"We think we found them, sir."


"Jonathan?" Mel's voice came from outside the trailer door.

Lucas woke up with a start. Although he had learned his lines, worked hard at pretending to be the actor, it was taking its toll on his energy level, having to be conscious of every gesture, every word, and then having to double it when the camera rolled – a strange thing, having to become an exaggerated version of himself. He'd gone back to his trailer during a break (one of too many in the ridiculously laborious process of filming) to simply decompress, and had found himself falling into a light sleep.

Jonathan was in trouble. He didn't know how he knew, but he knew. Intuition. Wasn't it something only women had? Or people with some psi ability? Or maybe identical twins, he thought. Jonathan had mentioned the foreshock of '94. He racked his brain to try to remember about the event. Usually he would go on the Internex, but it wasn't possible in this reality, especially as he would want to look up an event that hadn't happened yet.

He remembered the conspiracy theories that emerged afterwards, that it had been some kind of anomalous event that cascaded into the situation he knew in his time. He also realized that it was possible that it had never occurred here, and only in his world. Still, he wondered if someone was manipulating circumstances from someplace, like an unseen chess player, and he just one of the pawns.

He wished he was back in his reality. Everything made so much more sense there. or, at the very least, he understood the nonsense better.

He thought about the last scene he'd done (over and over and over). He was acting with a crewmember he'd never seen, who'd treated him like a brother.

"…Some hero. Ended up getting hit on the head when an air conditioner fell from the heavens."

Then his line: "He fell from a building!"

But it was the next line that kept recurring in his mind.

"Fate is fate, Wolenczak."

Maybe, ultimately, you couldn't get away from whatever fate had planned for you. Fate had dealt him an interesting hand this time. Was he stuck here for life? Was his fate to rescue both of them? Was it Jonathan's fate to remain in the 21st Century? Or was it something else entirely? He felt his frustration rise, as when people told him he didn't understand something because he was still a kid.

His eyes shot to the paper bag on the counter. He had hidden the PAL from his own time inside, the display still frozen on the last screen that he'd seen the previous morning. He'd disguised it by sticking labels from the empty Yoo-Hoo boxes left in the trailer on it. The cover was the same sort of unnatural yellow, and no one had even questioned him at the studio so far. Brandis, as far as he knew, wasn't suspected of being a kleptomaniac, and all of the giant clothes made it easy to hide the device. It still hadn't received its next message from the seaQuest of the future.

But it was coming, he knew, and soon.

"Fate is what you make it," he said to himself. That's the way he'd have written it.

VII

"I'll be out in a minute! I need to…uh..," he thought quickly, "shave!" He rubbed his downy face. Maybe on the very bottom of his chin, and that was probably dry skin. He found the electric shaver and turned it on, running it over the chair. It made all of the appropriate noises. He used his other hand to check the PAL again. There had to be a way to access information on the embryonic 20th Century Internet with it. The closest anything came to the technology inside of his PAL, however, was in Stanford in a laboratory, where his future professor of Artificial Intelligence was a grad student still, and hadn't even thought of a way to apply his theories in any practical way other than a little drunken robotic bird he'd built that cursed at you using your name. The mercury chipsets he needed to really get anything useful weren't going to exist for another ten years at least, and anything beyond that simply hadn't been dreamed of yet.

But maybe he could get into an office, hack into the government's database, figure out the exact location of the nearest GPS and reposition the satellite. That would make it much more likely that he could get a signal back to the seaQuest. Then maybe he could coordinate with his crew.

He smiled to himself. "Show me another teenager from Van Nuys who can do that!"

If they could get a signal to him again. And if he got caught... Well, this actor didn't seem the type to last long in a Federal Penitentiary. There were a lot of variables, and a lot of 'ifs'. He pushed the PAL back into the bag.

"Jonathan? Mr. Brandis?" Mel came into the trailer, knocking as she entered. She stared with no expression at where he sat by the dressing table.

Lucas looked over his shoulder at her and smiled, still shaving the chair. He turned the shaver off, putting it back on the dresser and patting it.

"It gets jammed sometimes. You have to prime it."

"With a chair?"

"Well, whatever's handy."

Mel gave the same stiff smile again. She obviously thought he was completely crazy, but it seemed a natural part of being a young actor in Hollywood, if the crew from the night before was any indication.

"Why are you rubbing your arm?"

"Oh. Little boo-boo. I ran into a loose…uh…"

"Screw?" she offered.

He got her not-so-subtle jibe and sighed. He was continuing to destroy this guy's image, all right. It would have been worse if he'd stayed passed out in front of that club. He wondered if he'd really been able to pass the matchbook to Jonathan while they were both unconscious. Either that, or someone had taken it out of his pocket as a souvenir.

At least it hadn't been his pants.

"They're ready for the last shot. Big Lucas scene." She wrinkled her forehead, pushed her glasses up on her nose, staring at the lump on his forehead. The makeup department had done what they could, but it still looked pretty bad, the actor bruising if you looked at him too hard. "What exactly happened there?"

Lucas lowered his voice as he walked past her.

"Got into a bar fight."

"With who, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Leo DiCaprio. He started it."

Mel's eyebrows rose. She wouldn't mind getting into a fight with Leo!

"What happened to your wrists?"

Lucas looked down at where his wrists were circled by angry red marks. He shrugged.

"Aggressive fangirls."


Bridger moved towards the monitor. O'Neill pointed to a tiny blip on the screen.

"I can't make it out. Put it up on the main screen."

The display instantly appeared on the main screen in three dimensions. Showing the seaQuest's huge silhouette and the position of the other craft as a vague blob of light moving steadily towards the coast.

"How long until they reach land?"

"At their present speed, abut an hour, sir." O'Neill looked up at him. "We can catch them of course, but they'd know we were after them almost as soon as we started."

"Damn!" Bridger slammed a fist against his thigh. "I suspected Lachance had an escape plan from the very beginning. It was easy to see that he was trying to get some kind of technology back from us. I never suspected he wanted the living blueprint; Lucas."

"Captain, if he has Lucas he could force him to access every system on the ship, and there's nothing we could do to keep him out," Hitchcock said calmly, though her words sent chills through everyone on the bridge. Except the captain.

Bridger remained calm.

"If he had Lucas, he could," Bridger said quietly. "How long before he figures out he has a ringer?" But not a dead ringer, he thought. At least not yet. He hoped this kid actor was as good at playing Lucas as he would have to be. If he weren't…

Bridger thought a moment, putting his hand over his mouth.

"How much radon do you think Jonathan's still putting out? Enough to trace? Could we follow him that way?"

O'Neill shook his head, but immediately set to work running a simulation. "Sir, we could send JUNIOR…Oh yes. We could send LONER, maybe, if we reconfigure the sensors in it to pick up minute amounts of radon radiation. It's a pretty small trace, but it might be able to pick up on it since Lucas upgraded its sensors, if it stays close to the other ship.

Ortiz closed his eyes. If the enemy sub discovered the tiny sensor unit snooping around, it would take very little to completely obliterate it. Two of his expensive toys sacrificed in one day?

"But if they reach land, sir, we'll almost certainly lose them. Too much background radon radiation."

"Yes, I'm aware of that, Mr. O'Neill." He looked around the room. "I'm open to suggestions."


"Don't be a hero, and don't be an idiot. I will still kill you if you get on my bad side." Lachance looked straight into Jonathan's eyes. Jonathan looked away.

This guy has a good side? He thought.

Rather than fighting with the henchman, he walked freely. The thug still held onto the end of the rope that secured his hands. He hadn't quite figured out the knots. He found it hard going walking on the beach without his hands free.

Jonathan smirked. Regardless where he was, why did he always somehow end up in water or on a beach; the two places he hated most? He looked around himself. There was nothing he recognized; no sounds, no buildings, no one on the highway on the distant cliffs. The sand seemed to go on forever and looked even dirtier than usual – and the air had no fresh smell, only a bite at the back of his throat like smog on a particularly polluted day. He sniffed, and tripped again.

"I told you to stop messing around!"

"Look, I find it kinda hard to walk on the beach without my hands free." Jonathan glared at Lachance. He looked taken aback. He started to worry. Had he said something wrong? Something Lucas wouldn't say? Did this man know the truth? He had no time to worry as the biggest thug picked him up and threw him over his shoulder as if he weighed nothing.

"Really, you don't have to do this!" Jonathan exclaimed, jostling up and down, hardly a burden in anyone's book. "Okay, at least pretend that I'm hard to carry! This is embarrassing!"

The big thug grunted and Lachance smiled.

"Keep up the chatter and I'll knock you out again and put some duct tape over your mouth. That'd probably ruin your pretty skin." He patted Jonathan's cheek. "And we wouldn't want to damage you prematurely."

Jonathan found it even harder to get his bearings, since all he could see was the thug's back, his own misty shadow and plenty of dirty sand. The heat rose from the beach, though the sun was obscured and he began to feel sleepy – maybe from the drugs. He closed his eyes, thinking of home.

THUD

He landed on the ground. The one carrying him had thrown him down. Everyone jumped into the undergrowth. They looked worried, making Jonathan smile.

The guy had let go of the rope, focusing on whatever was going on further down the beach. Jonathan looked around. There was a cracked concrete parking lot behind them; flat and even. If he could just get out of the undergrowth, he could probably run. Slowly, carefully, he edged away. Always checking where he went, his captors always looking forward, he slipped backwards until he felt the concrete under him. He jumped to his feet and ran, suddenly wishing he'd worn Lucas' too-small Nikes that morning instead of the noisy boots.

Lachance reached back for his captive. He slapped the henchman across the neck.

"He's gone, you idiot! Get after him! For things to work we need him. Don't mess him up too badly."

The big thug set off. It was obvious where their captive had gone, the iceplant pushed down in a trail.

Jonathan ran awkwardly across the concrete, looking for someone or something to help him. With his arms behind his back he couldn't get very far. He heard Lachance scream his name. He had better find someplace to hide, and get rid of his ropes. There was an old shack a few yards in front of him and he ran towards it. Using his shoulder he broke open the door which gave way too easily, as if the wood were rotted. There wasn't much to the shack, but he saw what he needed immediately; a rusted saw.

He sat down and started working on his bonds.

"Now, don't cut yourself, please don't cut yourself..," he whispered desperately, thinking the rasp of the saw was making far too much noise.

"Lucas, I know you can hear me. You didn't get that much of a head start. Have you forgotten about the insurance policy I left on the boat?"

Jonathan froze. He had forgotten. But surely Lachance couldn't set a bomb on the seaQuest without internal sensors picking it up…could he? There was so much that he didn't know. He started working the trusses again, feeling them beginning to slacken. He was almost free. If he managed to get free, then he could take the bad guys out one at a time. He shook this idea off. Who did he think he was, Barry Gabrewski? He couldn't even take on Gordie, much less the big guy.

The binds finally fell off and he rubbed his roughened wrists. He could hear noises outside the shack. He kept still, barely daring to breathe. If they tried the door, they'd find him, as there was no place to hide in here. Still, he had the problem of the bomb. What if Lachance wasn't lying? He would be responsible for the deaths of the crew of the seaQuest. He wracked his brain, desperately trying to find an answer to his predicament.

"Jonathan! Jonathan? Can you hear me?" someone's voice echoed through the quiet shack.

Then the blackness embraced him again.


"Jonathan? Can you hear me? Hello?" the director snarled, snapping his fingers.

Lucas broke out of his reverie

"Okay, let's take it from the top. Do you think you've got a hand on your lines this time?"

Lucas nodded his head. It had been a struggle, but he had managed it. This time the scene went without a hitch, and he held his last position well past the director's calling, "cut". The bell rang and everyone exhaled. It was the last scene of the day and most of the episode. He had a few days break after this, just what he needed to try and work out what the hell was going on and what he could do about it.

"We're wrapped on Brandis and Scheider for the day!" Someone shouted.

"Well done, kid" Roy teased. "You got through it. You know, if you're having problems, come talk to me. I'll help you out any way I can."

"I know. Thanks. I just need a break."

"I know that one." Roy smiled. "Just don't overdo it. You're a good actor, and you put yourself in there, but don't put so much into your work that you have nothing left for you. Okay?"

Lucas nodded. Even in this reality the Captain looked out for him.

"So how's the screenplay coming along?"

This stumped him for a second.

"About the same, I guess. How'd you know?"

Roy laughed. "Son, everyone in this town is working on a screenplay!" He walked off. "Let me read it when you're done. I'll give you my ten cents."

Lucas left the building, walking over to his trailer, when that strange lightheadedness started to envelope him.

"Aw, crap. Not…"


"What did you do now?"

Lucas walked across the now familiar white space toward Jonathan who was rubbing his forehead.

"Look, this is crazy, but it might be my only chance." He realized that his head didn't hurt and he didn't know how long he'd be out, and feared how he'd wake up. "I've been kidnapped by a guy named Gordie Lachance, who looks like Wil Wheaton. You met him, I think. Anyway, he's got a vendetta against you because of something he says your dad did to him, so he's got me, but he thinks I'm you, and he needs you…meyou to do something, but I don't think he'll be doing the Happy Happy Joy Joy dance once he realizes he's got the wrong guy."

"Lachance." Lucas paused in recognition. "I've heard that name before. Martin Lachance used to work with my father in the birth throes of the World Power Project. He and my father didn't exactly see eye to eye. I'm not sure of the whole story right now."

"That's not everything. Lachance put a bomb onboard the seaQuest."

"The internal sensors would have picked it up."

"That's what I thought, but evidently it didn't, or hasn't yet." He felt himself starting to fade out. "You have to contact the seaQuest. They're still trying to reach you with that pie plate thing in space."

Lucas nodded, then an idea suddenly flared. "The matchbook! The signal is real and so is my PAL. Don't worry. I'll work on it."


Lucas opened his eyes to the fading light as evening approached by a tree next to his trailer. Only he wasn't alone. Crap.

Mel sat back. "And they told me stopping by your trailer after the shoot was a bad idea."

"Why is it whenever I black out you're there?"

Mel shrugged. She wasn't about to say it, but everything she'd heard about him from the cast and crew – and she'd been asking around – didn't quite fit how he was acting now. Call it intuition, but she knew something wasn't quite matching up with the lines here.

Lucas groaned from the steadily decreasing rush in his head. He was totally worried about Jonathan, and he needed a computer – NOW.


Jonathan could hear voices around him. He had just enough wits to keep still in the chair. He listened in.

"Why did he come out when you used that name? What is it that you know that I don't?" the henchman said.

By the sound of it, Lachance was getting uptight.

"Maybe we should wake him." Jonathan knew full-well that he was talking about him. It took all his self-restraint not to open his eyes then and there to see who Lachance was talking to.

"Trust me, you don't want to wake him. The longer he's out, the safer you'll be. This is for later." He recognized the voice, though it was almost a whisper, obviously not wanting to be overheard. He wondered what had been handed over. His mind swam with possibilities, each more terrible than the last.

He heard the door close. He waited, listening to see if someone was still in the room. Nothing. Not even a creak. He couldn't even hear birds singing or any kind of traffic outside.

He moved his arms slightly, realizing that he seemed to be bound to something. He slowly opened his eyes, allowing them to adjust.

"Oh shit!" he exclaimed quietly.

There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home…

The place smelled damp, musty, and just felt creepy. No matter how hard he squinted and focused, there was too little light for him to make out much of anything.

There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home… He kept repeating the words over and over in his mind. Heck, if it had worked for Dorothy, why not for him? He really didn't care if it took him to Kansas, or someplace that was only black and white or even OZ, as long as he was a little closer to home and OUT of here.

Right now he was in some kind of room – no, not a room – he'd call it a dungeon, and felt like he'd been taken by the wicked Witch herself. He had it all planned: escape from evil minions, head back to Kansas, hitch a ride all the way back to 20th Century LA.

"You're losing it, Brandis," he told himself quietly. What was he thinking? Kansas, Really? He was stuck in a future where the life in his time was as fictional as this was real. He was mistaken for a boy genius, and he had been kidnapped by…border terrorists. He kicked the hard ground (that much he knew – it was hard) and snorted. This was his current reality, but it sounded more like a fantasy – and not the cool kind.

A small ray of light that landed in front of him expanded into a full flood of light. Jonathan whirled around and closed his eyes against the sudden brightness. He could make out a shadow standing at the top of a flight of stairs.

"It seems that every time we meet, one of us is somehow bound." Lachance flipped a wall switch and brightened the room. He took small steps down the stairs.

Jonathan was being held in a basement with a cement floor, barely any ventilation and the only way out that he could see the way Lachance had just come in.

"We could change that," he pointed out hopefully, knowing it sounded more like nervous spite instead of a peaceful suggestion.

"Let me think about that — Nah," Lachance said in one breath.

"Right. Where are we?" Not that he expected to get an answer, but the more time he kept Lachance talking, the less time he spent beating him with a rubber hose, or whatever.

"Did you know that there's no place like home?"

You're telling me! "This is your place?"

"Not so clueless after all." He smiled at Jonathan.

What was that supposed to mean? The young man kept silent.

"This was my aunt's house once," he continued. "Well, she isn't around anymore, but it was handed down to my mother, seeing that she hadn't any children and now it's sort of mine."

"Sort of?" The question escaped him before he could stop himself.

Lachance shook his head a little and grinned. "Let's just say that the present occupants no longer inhabit this place – physically, anyway."

"YOU BAS-..!"

"Watch your tongue, Wolenczak. It's not nice to use harsh language around the dead," he pinned Jonathan with his eyes, "or those who could soon be."

Jonathan's anger fought with his fear again.

"But the real reason I wanted this place was this." He went across the floor to a corner of the room and pulled out a chest that Jonathan hadn't noticed before. "This was left here. Apparently, the people who lived here weren't that interested in the basement and simply ignored it."

Jonathan winced at the past tense: lived.

"Ah, here it is." After pulling open the chest with too much dust, tearing cobwebs and a loud bang, Lachance pulled out a very 20th Century-looking notebook. "My aunt was some sort of person who worked with… What would you call them?" He searched through the book and stared at Jonathan for an answer. "Performers." Jonathan fidgeted uneasily; his hands were beginning to suffer with pins and needles from lack of circulation. "She had this compilation of all of the actors she worked with. My mother left this lying around and I remember flipping through it when I was just a kid. I loved all the colors and stickers she added to it. But this isn't so much about me."

"Where are you going with this, Gordie?" Jonathan felt his fear creep up his spine. He'd heard that killers didn't always kill someone with whom they'd formed a relationship.

"Finally, my mother kept this book where it is right now," Lachance ignored his prisoner. "But I remember who was in this book – one specific person stuck in my mind the moment I first saw you on the vids." He turned the book to face Jonathan and there, staring back at him, was an autographed photo of Jonathan Brandis.

Oh shit, he thought. Can this get any weirder?

"My aunt was somebody everybody liked. But her job literally killed her." Lachance flipped the book around again, gazing at the picture. "You're a pretty good look-alike, Wolenczak. But that's about it. Thought I'd bring this out to entertain you." He looked back at the prisoner. "And maybe remind you just how much you stand to lose if you don't cooperate."

"I don't suppose your aunt had a name?" Jonathan asked, trying to sound undisturbed by the peculiar evidence he'd just been shown.

"I knew her as Aunt Mel, but her name was Melanie March."

Okay, 'Auntie M'. This was just too weird, he thought.


"Mr. Brandis? Jonathan?" someone sang in his sleep.

Lucas hid his face deeper in his pillow. This was a very bad dream.

"Mr. Brandis?"

His eyes flew open. This wasn't a dream. "Mel?" Lucas jumped up.

"Thanks for remembering my name," she whispered sarcastically to herself.

"What are you doing here?"

"Just checking. You didn't pass out again, did you?"" She answered and asked at the same time.

"Uh, no. Not… Not really, this time." Wait, this was his… Jonathan's bedroom. "How'd you get into my room?"

She flashed a small smile. "Your mother let me in."

Right now Lucas was happy he'd fallen asleep in his clothes again. At least he was fully dressed. "Uh, yeah… Okay, you checked, I'm fine, and you can have the next few days off until they need me again. There aren't any pick ups." Horror filled him. "Are there?" He thought if he had to say the same thing the same way again, even one more time, he'd simply begin screaming.

"They're setting up for the one-shot. But you know how long that takes. It'll be days before they need any of you on the bridge set." She sighed. "Relax. I'm just checking on you. After your blackouts the last few days I've decided to make sure you're still alive – and conscious – when you're shooting again."

Aarggh! NO! He had things he needed to do! "But you don't have to. I promise, I'll be fine…" He'd hoped he could see a little less of Mel after all of the embarrassing blackouts for which she'd always seemed to be around. Lucky me, he thought.

"Just doing my job." She turned towards the door. "I'll be downstairs. I helped your mother make pancakes and I'm sure they're really good. You'd better change." With that she disappeared out the door leaving Lucas alone.

"Damn…" he muttered to himself.


As Jonathan sat there he thought about the events leading up to this moment. There must be something somewhere that had some bearing on getting him out of this situation - he sniffed the stale air – or maybe just improving his circumstances.

When had this all started? He thought back. He'd been having dizzy spells for a few weeks now – since… since Mel had started working on the set. Did she have something to do with it? He, Jonathan, never existed in this reality, Captain Bridger had determined, yet Lachance had a signed picture of him given to his 'Auntie M'. Same person? Could she 'slide' between realities and times?

How did that work?

Space aliens. How cool would that be? He smiled to himself. Cool, but absolute BS nonetheless. Like interdimensional time travel.

Well… Okay.

If Lucas and he had been of the same time-line, that meant that he would be transported to the future of the same reality. But that would make Doc Brown's idea of the universe collapsing in on itself should past and future meet incorrect. Of course, that had been a movie, but the science sounded pretty stable – whatever he knew of the science.

But they weren't the same person or from the same time-line. He was Jonathan, a real-life flesh-and-blood guy from 1994, and Lucas was Lucas, a fictional character from the mind of Dan O'Bannon, the guy who'd written Alien.

As Stan had said in IT, things like this weren't empirically possible. It made his head hurt trying to figure it out.

There were two things he HAD figured out so far; he was in big trouble and Lucas had to be careful of Mel.

He concentrated to try to get a message to Lucas, but the featureless halfway point wouldn't cooperate. There had to be some way of communicating between their present places.

And, incongruously, he kept catching a whiff of pancakes.


Judging the clothes carefully for something somewhat near his own size, Lucas threw on some blue jeans, a T-shirt, a flannel, Jonathan's sacred Doc Martens, and turned to the mirror on the back of the bedroom door. There were a bunch of stickers on it, radio station call letters mostly, and some really old ones with cartoon characters. He gave a crooked smile and tried, unsuccessfully as always, to get his hair to do anything other than part irregularly and lay on either side of his face. It's a look, he thought, and judging from the rabid fan base and the number of photos of Jonathan and every other kid in those magazines sporting the same hairstyle, it was a popular look.

"You are one handsome dog," he said to himself, and flipped up the collar of the flannel, turning to check his reflection, then let out a laugh. He reached for the sunglasses sitting on the desk just to complete the ambiance of actor for fun, but stopped. Instead he went for the left hand desk drawer. Curiously, he pulled it open and saw a brown leather-bound book lying inside next to a pen with a well-chewed cap. He picked the book up, seeing the word JOURNAL engraved on the front. Why hadn't he checked for this before?

He sat down on the bed and opened the journal to a recent page, feeling a thrill of wicked violation, seeing into his twin's life uninvited.

12/18/93 Saturday, 11:30pm

I can't believe how huge this is becoming. seaQuest seems like it's going to go on forever. I should know better, though. Television show life spans don't tend to be very long unless it's Quantum Leap or Star Trek, and it seems like every show I get a part on gets cancelled the following week. Still, it's the best time in my life.

I talked to Kirsty today and by the grace of the Almighty got her phone number. Damn is she hot! She recently graduated from Sherman so it's not like we're total strangers. At least she likes horror movies. There's a great haunted house I thought about taking her to next Halloween. Bad idea? Hey, it would be cool. She's got nice legs and her lips…man, her lips…

I hung out at the mall today and ran into Gar at the Cinnabon. He needs more of a life, really. Mocha Chillatta's are a beautiful thing. The story is really coming along. We sat and kicked it around for a bit. He's got ideas of changing a few things here and there and I keep telling him that it should be a screenplay before a novel. Okay, so I just want to film it, but he says to give it some time. Honestly I think that bit that takes place at night would be a lot more Alfred Hitchcock if we had a streetlight explode by being struck by lightning. Yea! Man, that would be awesome to film. We'd have to wait for a storm though. Dude, editing sucks big ones. I can't wait until someone makes editing software for my computer. That would make it alot easier.

JM is never getting his Guns and Roses CD back. I think I'll have to barter for it. Maybe I'll trade him BUSH, since I have two.

My dreams about SeaQuest seaQuest (little 's', big fucking 'Q') are becoming more vivid and realistic. Very lucid at times. It's as if I'm there walking in Lucas's shoes. It's given me an idea for another script for the show. I think I'd like to have Wil play the antagonist, maybe something involving a past with Lawrence Wolenczak and a horrible legal dispute leading to Wil's chars. dad losing everything he has and Wil's char. going after Lucas for revenge. That'll make the ELFers happy and give me a chance for some action scenes.

I had to stop working on Outbreak for a while, but maybe I'll get to co-write an episode of SQ, and then maybe they'll let me direct. Peter wants to do that instead of acting. Maybe it's a good idea. It's a good idea as a backup anyway. Besides, I could always write for comic books, or so Gar says.

I don't know the more I dream the more realistic it gets. Like I've been zapped with 1.21 gigawatts.

Speaking of Back to the Future, they made the third movie somewhere around Sonora in northern California. I'll go check it out the next time I get some time off. I hope the Nissan can take it! Maybe I can drag CK along for the ride. She likes to travel and we maybe can check out the Sequoias.

So, Jonathan was experiencing the same lucid dreaming I was. It's like it's been building and something was the catalyst. What if we formed the rift ourselves? Lucas thought.

I have to get to a computer terminal and figure out how to align the seaQuest's signal with my PAL. If I could just find an observatory somewhere. He raised his head with sudden clarity. That's it! Griffith Park! That still existed in 1994, and it wasn't that far away from the studio. Yes, he'd have to see a map, but…

"Jonathan, are you ready yet? Your breakfast is getting cold!" Mary hollered from downstairs.

Lucas closed the journal and returned it to the drawer. As he headed down the stairs, stopping to look at the family portrait again he heard the musical tones of Mary's laughter mixing with Mel's. He paused at the base of the stairs to listen.

"I can't believe it!" Mel laughed. "He never struck me as the type of person to do anything like that." She sat cross-legged at the table and sipped coffee from a hand-painted mug.

"Well, it was the last day of his junior year, and he was graduating with the class, so it was really his last day there." Mary smiled. "Boys will be boys, I suppose." She chuckled, shaking her head slightly. "I let him learn his own lesson from that."

"I doubt he did."

"You know him pretty well already. How did you come to be assigned my son?"

"Just lucky, I guess. I've wanted to be in films since Cinderella came out on video. I figured that if I can't experience all the great things in life, then maybe I could as other people. Meeting Jonathan and getting to be a PA has been terrific. I'm not regretting it." Mel smiled and sipped coffee. "Now, back to this thing he did. Was it in public?"

"Mmhmm."

Lucas sat down on the step, interested in the rest of this story – a private tidbit of Jonathan's life. Megan bounded up the stairs to his feet and stopped, staring at him like a statue.

'What?" Lucas asked softly. He reached out his hand to touch the small Westie and, to his relief, she let him. "I know I'm not your master, but I'm trying to find a way to get him back to you."

Megan nipped at his fingers, licked them then turned away to run down the stairs out of sight around the corner to the living room.

"Peer pressure will do that to you," Lucas heard Mal say.

"Jonathan doesn't let peer pressure get to him. It was his idea!"

They both laughed at this.

"It's like this guy, Ben, who did the same thing on my school's trip to Disneyworld, but it doesn't really sound like Jonathan. Actually, a lot of what you and the cast have said…"

Lucas stood up quickly. Mel might say something that she'd observed the past few days and he had to stop her.

"All right! I'm starving! Where's the grub?" he shouted, then abruptly sat down again. "Whoa…" His vision blurred and his stomach cramped painfully in a wash of weakness accompanied by a throbbing headache. He felt like he hadn't eaten in days.

The voices in the kitchen had stopped. He yanked himself up by using the railing. This feeling wasn't from him. Logically it was all wrong. And it was that same logic that increased his heightening need to get back to the studio to find the temporal rift.

The smell of pancakes had him jumping down the stairs and devouring every last pancake Jonathan's mother had left open to attack on the table.

Mel blinked. "Hungry are we?"

Mary just laughed. "Now that's Jonathan!"


Jonathan tried to shake the headache away, telling himself not to be bothered by it. He'd never gone more than a day at most without food. Now he was surviving his second day without anything at all. It made him wish he'd stolen some of the snacks stashed away in Lucas bedroom. Even the morning's leftover dried-out doughnuts at Craft Services sounded pretty good about now. It made his mouth water.

"Are you listening to me, Wolenczak?" Lachance leaned close to the bound young man sitting in front of him.

"Oh yeah. Every word. I was thinking that maybe before I did anything for you in your creepy Bates house rip-off set, that you'd be so kind as to get me something to eat and drink. I'm a teenager. Without food I'm not worth much to anybody." It came out more sarcastic than he'd intended, but he knew Lucas' past had given him a large, arrogant, sarcastic streak.

Lachance leaned back and folded his arms. "I suppose you do need to eat. You'll need your strength later, and I'd hate to think you weren't at 100 percent. Rok, get him some food." The older thug left the room. Lachance turned his back on Jonathan to shout another order.

It was all he needed.

Lucas hadn't studied magic; Houdini, Blackwell, David Copperfield, but Jonathan had. All the time he'd been bound, he'd been studying the knots, subtly tightening and then loosening his body until he had a little slack. Then he just had to slip a finger in between the bonds…

Unbound from the chair, he leaped up, throwing both fists down on Lachance's back. It was a fifth of the karate he could remember.

Lachance buckled and turned, but Jonathan had already anticipated he would and threw a snap kick to his face, which threw the other man back. Two fifths, he thought. Kind of slack and bad form.

"So, those UEO lapdogs have taught you some moves. Well, I have a few of my own." Lachance threw a punch at Jonathan who ducked to the side, barely avoiding it, and rammed him with his shoulder.

Lachance wrapped his arms around the youth and both tumbled to the ground. Jonathan jabbed his elbow into Lachance's side, catching him off guard, and used that moment to pickpocket the small detonator from his jacket. He quickly put it in the one place he knew no man alive would frisk, praying that it wouldn't shoot sparks or something.

Lachance reeled around, anger in his outcry and punched Jonathan across the face. He snapped his head back, having practice from stage fighting, but still couldn't quite dodge the connection and he fell to the floor. He couldn't block the next kick to his ribs. He cried out and lay still. He'd achieved what he'd meant to do, but he didn't want to move anytime soon. Lachance hadn't intended to kill him, and the kick was only a control move. Certainly, had he wanted, it would have been easy to break all of the boy's ribs at his leisure.

There was time for that later.

"Not smart, Wolenczak." He gripped Jonathan's collar, hauling him up nose to nose. Jonathan coughed at his breath. "You eat, and then you work. Try that again and your friends are history." He threw him roughly to the floor and stalked out of the room.

Jonathan rolled over, leaving spots of blood from his cut lip on the floor. Thank God for his Sidekicks karate lessons. At least he had the detonator. Now he needed an idea before they realized their toy was missing. He rubbed his ribs. Yeah, he'd have a bruise – a nice one – but it was worth it to be proactive. The flow of blood from his lip was already lessening, but he felt the strain in his legs from his kick. Not exactly a martial arts champ, he thought.

Think fast. Brandis

He lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. It had been painted white long before, but now he could still see of the paint under the cobwebs and spreading damp was gray and peeling. He could still feel that chemical burn at the back of his throat. Didn't they use acids and things in crack house? Or was it Meth labs? He smiled. What did he know about either? Still, looking around, he saw no obvious bottles or barrels, only piles of old newspapers, brown with age. And that notebook.

Hauling himself up, dealing with the pain from his ribs, he staggered over to the crate where the book still lay open. Yup, it was him all right; same smirk, same unmanageable cowlicks. Even the signature was the same with the looping 'J'. But it was all wrong. He didn't exist in this reality. He never had – or not as THE Jonathan Brandis, every eight year old girl's dream.

A sudden thought struck him. If he had been alive in this reality in the 90's, that meant that he should still be alive now… he did some quick calculations, shaking his head to try and clear away the fuzz that had grown worse since his altercation with Lachance. If it was 2018 or 2019, he would be 42 or 43. Just like Back to the Future. "Very cool," he muttered, then stopped, puzzled. Where had that come from? That was something Lucas said all the time, not him. Probably just reading scripts too much. Yeah, that was it.

Enough daydreaming. He needed action. Lachance would be back any minute.

He frowned, looking down at the picture in puzzlement. It wasn't him. It looked a lot like him, sure, (like all of the cookie-cutter cover boys that usually dominated teen magazines) but it wasn't him. A minute before, he could have sworn… He looked at the text under the picture.

It still read, Jonathan Brandis.

He sat down on the floor, feeling like his legs were suddenly too weak to support him. What the hell was going on? The caption was his name, but the picture was definitely not – or was it? He blinked and rubbed his eyes, then focused on the picture again. It was him. No. Wait… Something very weird was going on.

At that moment familiar pain shot through his temple and he closed his eyes, gripping onto the edges of the crate for support. Again?


Captain Bridger sat alone in his cabin, the lights turned low, thinking about the day's events. They'd managed to track the sub carrying Lachance as far as the coast, but now they had lost them. The search party so far had found nothing. He was trying hard to suppress his feeling of relief that it was not Lucas in Lachance's hands – that a stroke of good luck could save the life of the young man he'd come to think of as a surrogate son. It also prevented Lachance from taking over the seaQuest. No, thinking like that was only going to earn him a lot of sleepless nights and a nice, cozy place in his own personal hell.

Besides, even if Jonathan Brandis hadn't been an innocent caught in the crossfire, he was pretty sure they were going to need him back if they were going to reverse the process that had caused the two young men to trade places. So he prayed to a God in which he only half believed (although the vision of hell was clear enough) that the search party would find the boy before Lachance discovered the deception. Because once he did, Jonathan was history, and Lucas would be trapped forever in the wrong dimension - if he didn't cease to exist with his portrayer.

A shudder ran through the ship and the lights in the captain's quarters flickered. Bridger looked up, surprised. After a moment there was another tremor, longer this time. Bridger went to the intercom.

"This is the captain. What's going on?"

There was a pause and then Hitchcock's voice came over the channel. "Captain, I think you'd better get up here."


Lucas was halfway up the stair when the headache burst on him again. He'd been feeling pretty weird all day, to tell the truth; kind of light-headed. Then his ribs had started aching and his lip had swollen a bit. But this was nothing like that. This pain was enough to bring him to his knees with a gasp. For a moment he was blinded by a dazzling white light. Then it was gone as suddenly as it had come. He struggled to his feet, clutching his aching side, and glanced quickly over his shoulder. Thankfully the other two hadn't witnessed this particular incident. He frowned, wondering if the briefness of this attack meant that the window of opportunity was closing and his own dimension drifted away from him. he didn't want to consider the possibility or the outcome. He continued up the stair, determined to get working on the PAL as soon as he could.


By the time the captain had reached the bridge, the tremors had ceased. He raised an eyebrow at Hitchcock, who stood up from the command chair.

"Report, Lieutenant Commander."

"Sir," Hitchcock exchanged a worried glance with O'Neill. "We seem to have been experiencing some kind of…temporal anomaly."

"Anomaly?" Bridger strode quickly over to O'Neill's station. "Something to do with Lucas?"

"That's what it looks like, sir," O'Neill confirmed. "I don't really understand it," he confessed, typing commands into his station, "but it seems like the seaQuest started…phasing very rapidly in and out of existence."

Bridger frowned. "What does that mean?

"In…Jonathan's…dimension, we don't actually exist," O'Neill explained. 'The best I can come up with is that the exchange of Lucas with Jonathan created some kind of…leak between the two universes, and I think it's getting worse every time the two of them do that…mind-meld thing. The connections between the two dimensions are becoming more frequent and other objects are starting to be affected now, like the seaQuest. They've created an itch and Mother Nature's trying to find a way to scratch it."

Bridger stared at him. "What do you think that might be?"

"Well…" O'Neill drew a deep breath. "I think the two universes are in danger of becoming one."

"And if that happens, what might the consequences be for us?" Bridger asked tensely.

"Us, the seaQuest crew, or us, the population of this planet and universe?" O'Neill asked.

"We've got to do something – fast," Bridger said, face grim. "What's our situation contacting Lucas?"

"Nothing so far, Captain." O'Neill shook his head. "There's just no way to predict if our satellite can contact another dimension with any reliability." He frowned, leaning closer to his console screen.

"What is it, Lieutenant?"

"It looks like the program did work again briefly," O'Neill said, sounding perplexed. "It worked for about three minutes ten minutes ago." He looked up, understanding dawning on his face. "When the seaQuest experienced the anomaly."

Bridger nodded, thinking quickly. "Okay, Mr. O'Neill. As soon as you suspect that there are signs of the same kind of anomaly recurring, I want you to contact Lucas as quickly as you can. Tell him to go back to the…um…'set' of the TV series. We seem to be the node for this entire disturbance. If we can get them to stand in the same place again, maybe this time we can pull the right one back." And maybe rip a hole in the fabric of space-time and cause both dimensions to implode, he added silently. But that would happen anyway, if they didn't act soon.

"And contact the search party," he added. "Tell them that they had better find Jonathan soon."


Ford motioned quietly to the rest of the team. The area of coastline where they had come ashore was abandoned, which made their job easier, but so far they had failed to find any sign of Lachance or Jonathan. Ford had just finished speaking to O'Neill, and felt an icy ripple of fear in his stomach as he contemplated the seriousness of the situation. He had long ago prepared himself for the idea that he might die in the service of his government, but this was different. The prospect of everything he knew and loved being wiped out as though it had never existed – he forced himself not to think about it. This had better be the right house.

It certainly looked the part. Set just below the crown of a windswept hill, the old wooden two-story house looked like something straight out of a horror movie cliché. The shutters hung askew, and one had come loose and banged now and again, and the light wind coming from the sea made a mournful noise. By the mossy steps leading up to the weathered front door there was a dead tree that looked like it had been set on fire sometime in the distant past; one of the uncontrolled brush fires that had hit the area. The heavy atmosphere had leached all color from the paint, leaving it a dirty gray and adding to the illusion that it was as dead a house as could be. If I were a bad guy, this is exactly where I'd have my hide-out, Ford thought, motioning for the team to surround the house. That logically meant that they'd probably gotten the wrong place again, but they had to try. He checked that everyone was in position, then reached for the rusted door handle.


Jonathan jumped as the door to the cellar flew open. Lachance stood there, looking pissed off.

"Okay, Wolenczak. Time for action," he snarled.

Jonathan's heart sank. Am I ever going to be able to look at Wil the same way again when I get back? he wondered, as Lachance's goon jammed the barrel of his gun into his back and forced him forwards. If I get back.

They led him up the stairs, where another man, whom Jonathan didn't recognize, was completing the process of setting up a huge computer. Jonathan stared at all of the flashing lights and space-age add-ons and swallowed hard. What would they do to him when they discovered that he couldn't do what they wanted? He had begun to wish he'd never gotten the part of Lucas, despite the money and adulation it had brought him. Yeah. Let Chris Pettiet or Eddie Furlong do it instead. Keep the part, buddy, and welcome to it!

"Sit!" Lachance growled and a heavy hand on his shoulder pushed him down into a splintering old chair. The screen flickered into life before him. "Get typing."

Jonathan stared in frozen terror at the meaningless code. Suddenly he felt the stabbing pain in his forehead again. This is really not the time… he was able to think, before passing out cold.


Lucas was half-way through dismantling the computer terminal in his bedroom when the pain came again. He staggered forward and grabbed onto the edge of the desk for support. This was crazy. It was only about ten minutes since the last attack! Suddenly, through the pain he became aware that someone was calling his name. "Lucas? Lucas do you read?" Forcing his eyelids open a crack, he saw the PAL lying by his hand. The screen flashed, registering a call from the bridge of the seaQuest. Astonished, he reached for it, fighting through the dizziness that was beginning to overcome him.

"This is Lucas," he managed to get out, pouring every ounce of willpower into forming the words.

There was a brief pause, then O'Neill's excited voice replied. "Thank God! Listen, we don't know how long we have. You have to go back to the seaQuest set, to the moon pool. Stand by the…"

O'Neill's voice suddenly cut out, and with it, the pain disappeared. Lucas stood up straight, picking up the PAL. He pressed a few buttons. Nothing worked. The machine was just a prop again.

Lucas headed downstairs. Mel was gone, and his mother — Jonathan's mother was nowhere to be found. He stepped out of the house and stared at the little car in the driveway. Well, I've piloted a shuttle, he thought. How hard can this be?


As Ford's hand touched the door, he felt the ground move beneath his feet. He swayed, almost overbalancing, and grabbed hold of the railing for support. A chunk came off in his hand, the wood rotten. He shook his head. It wouldn't be long before the elements reclaimed everything around them. But tremors were the last thing on his mind right now.

From inside he heard a voice; "No time for sleeping on the job, Wolenczak! Get a move on or your friends on the seaQuest are dead meat."

Ford nodded to his team and then kicked down the door. It exploded inwards in a shower of rotting wood and splinters. The men inside turned and stared, astonished. Then a sneer came over the face of the youngest one, Lachance.

"So, you've come to rescue your little cupcake, have you?" he asked, an insane glint in his eye. "You shouldn't have bothered. Now you and lover boy will have nowhere to go home to." He plunged his hand into his pocket, and then a horrified look came over his face. "What-?" He swung around to glare at Jonathan who smirked at him.

"Well, we don't need to worry about that," Lachance said, grabbing Jonathan by the collar and hauling him out of the chair. Ford took a step forward, but Lachance pulled a gun and pressed it to Jonathan's temple.

"One more step and pretty boy dies," he snarled.

"For crying out loud, Lachance! What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Jonathan had simply had enough. He wanted out. It wasn't bad enough that he had to put up with the same kind of idiotic jealousy in his own time, he wasn't standing for it here. "Where do you think you're going? Don't you think Don… Commander Ford has made a plan for this? You're not going anywhere!"

"That's what you think," Lachance grinned.

Jonathan looked into the commander's eyes. Something was wrong. He was trying to say something, but Jonathan couldn't quite make it out.

"Do you play chess, Commander?"

Ford shook his head. "I'm more of a checkers guy."

"Well this is something called check. The ball's in your court. What's your next move?"

Ford stood there, the gun pointed at Lachance. The only problem was that Jonathan was in the way.


Lucas leaped toward the dark-colored Nissan and opened the door. Apparently, when the boys had brought the car home for him after his bout with the first blackout, they hadn't bothered to lock it. Thank goodness. Lucas mused momentarily on the possibility of living in a neighborhood where locking your automobile was not a priority, then glanced down at the control panel…dashboard, he corrected himself.

"Okay, I've seen others do this a couple of times. I've had practice. In a parking garage and on an empty lot or a deserted street.

He reached down toward the ignition switch, looking for the fingerprint recognition pad, and then stopped. No pad. Keys. No keys!

"How this society functioned without voice-commands I will never know!"

Where would they be? The likely place would be Jonathan's pocket – twenty something years in the future – but he'd seen Swan drive the car. Of course, gauging from Swan's character, he might have hot-wired it. Would he have left the keys in Jonathan's room? With his mother? No, not with Mary. Swan played up the goody-two-shoes act in front of the parental units, but in reality he would never hand over the keys to another youth's freedom if there was any way around it that still saved face.

"Think Lucas, think!" Think like a 20th Century kid.

He looked around the console. Nothing. Dashboard? Only a couple of gum wrappers, a napkin and a necklace hidden in the vents. Glove compartment? Flashlight, some papers regarding the automobile, more napkins and a Star Wars action figure of Greedo. He jumped out of the car and felt around the perimeter of the underside of the car. His hand only came back black with road grime, and nothing more.

"Gotta tell Jonathan not to neglect the underside of his car," Lucas mumbled. He leaned down, one more futile effort, and slid a hand under the floor mat and up under the seat on the driver's side. He only came up with a dessicated onion ring and an empty box of Yoo-Hoo.

Frustrated, he sat back down inside the car and flopped back in the seat hard, with a deep sigh as he slapped his head with an open palm. He closed his eyes and rubbed his face and eyelids to clear away the cobwebs that were blocking his mental abilities. When he opened them, he looked ahead for a moment, and smiled. The slight bulge that beckoned to him from just above the sun visor made him reach up and pull out a set of keys, complete with Jonathan's name engraved in a brass Universal Studios keychain.

"Are we learning yet?" he mused, as he inserted the largest key into the ignition and cranked the engine. The radio came on with electric guitars blaring at an earsplitting level and he started jamming buttons near the clock face until the sound stopped. He took a deep breath, gathering himself again.

"Okay, we're off and running now." Lucas smiled and gave himself a mental pat on the back. Reaching down he glanced about a bit and flipped a lever. He jumped back a bit when the windshield wipers came on. Quickly he reset the lever to its original position.

Other side, genius. Trying again, he grasped the larger lever on the right side, pulled it toward him and felt his heart sink when the steering wheel lowered with a thump into his lap.

He looked at the floor and realized that he had to shift gears in this model. Manual transmission? Great. He pressed down on the pedal furthest left and felt it ratchet down. Parking brake. By now he was getting angry as well as frustrated, and he pressed the next pedal to the floor. He moved the gear shift to the 'R' position and gently let the pedal back up, using his right foot to cover the brake. The car shuddered and began making horrible grinding noises.

"Ahh! Bad idea!" He threw the gear shift back to the middle and hoped he hadn't done any serious damage to the vehicle's maneuverability, or he'd never get to the studio at all.

"Okay. Okay. Breathe. You can do this. You're a genius, remember? What's the first thing you need to know in any type of moving vehicle?" Check over your shoulder, he heard Jonathan's voice say in his head, and don't look like a geek. "Geek. Yeah. Okay. Stop and go, no thrusters here, simple petroleum based engine, manual five gear transmission. You need fuel, you need fire. Already got the fire, the engine's running. Now I need to give it fuel. Gas pedal. Three pedals, the middle one the brakes… How was he supposed to give it gas, hold the brake and push down the shift pedal at the same time? Aw man, why didn't I pay more attention when Mel was driving?

He stared at the pedals a moment longer. It stood to reason that you didn't start right in with the 'go' pedal…whichever that was.

More time upworld. If I ever get back to the seaQuest I'm definitely asking Captain Bridger for more time upworld. The cars there may be more advanced, but at least I'd have some idea to work with.

"All right. Enough stalling. Here we go," Lucas said with a hint of annoyance at his own absent capabilities. Pressing down on what he now knew to be the gas pedal, he heard the engine rev up loudly.

"I'd say that was a no."

Tentatively he chose the other pedal, the brake, pushing it all the way down while simultaneously pushing the gear shift pedal down. Then he eased the shift into 'R' and slowly let up on the pedals. The car gave a slight jerk, but otherwise made no complaining cries of unhappiness. Slowly he eased his foot off of the brake…

and instantly stalled.

"Okay. Second try." He wrested the gear shift into 'N', started the engine again, and this time kept his right foot half on the brake and half on the gas pedal. He made sure this time to have released the brake more when he let up on the gear shift pedal…

and shot down the driveway.

"Whoa! Whoa! I said WHOA!" He slammed on the brake, skidding to a noisy halt, but remembering to press the other pedal down. The rear of the car slammed unceremoniously into a garbage can, sending the thick black plastic can bouncing down the sidewalk and into a neighbor's potted palm.

Lucas lurched forward at the sudden stop and looked over his shoulder at his first victim. "Whoops…"

The second thing he did was to buckle the seat belt. Cautiously, but using his loss of time as good motivation, he lifted his foot off the brake. The Nissan rolled backward, turning at a twist of the wheel until he was at an angle to the road. He thanked everything above that Jonathan lived in a private neighborhood with no traffic at all.

He pushed the pedal down again, shifted into the 1st gear and gripped the leather-padded race-car-driver-like steering wheel. He took a test breath and exhaled. "Talley-ho," he said without much enthusiasm. He pressed the gas pedal down and released the gear shift pedal. The car jumped forward and he pressed brake and gear shift together, causing him to jerk to a halt, the tires squeaking. Gathering his heart from his throat, he added a little less pressure to the gas pedal and repeated the steps to make the car go forward. The same results occurred, but a little more smoothly.

Stop. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Start. All the way down the street he moved, getting the feeling of the car as he went. Now he had to make a left turn onto a pretty busy street.

Lucas gritted his teeth. "Come on, Wolenczak, you're never going to get there in time. All I need is another blackout. As Swan keeps saying, 'balls to the walls'." He waited for the next car to pass and turned the wheel left, engaging the gear with much less grinding and gave it some gas. The car followed Lucas' commands and sped down the road with a slightly unsteady acceleration from a slight, unsteady 16 year old's foot.

The loud blare of a horn behind him made him jump just as a large pick-up truck sped past him over the double yellow line. "Hey! Watch where you're going, moron!" Lucas yelled, though the windows were up. Thank God the rest of L.A. didn't notice his driving, even if he had, he knew, a pretty fast learning curve.

He had no choice now. He was trapped on the roads of L.A., trying to remember the exact route to Universal Studios. It was pretty much straight lines, he recalled, but he had to stay alert. All was going relatively well, in a sporadic stop-and-go manner. He had managed to survive stoplights, buses, railway crossings, heedless pedestrians and bicyclists, and even the red-light left turn, but he was quickly racking up tally marks for blaring horns and curses.

He kept telling himself that he didn't care. No less than the universe was at stake, he knew. Two universes, at least, and who knew how many more? Regardless of how he did it, he had to get to the moon pool set. Something inside him pressed the time issue.

Suddenly he felt a sharp stab of hunger rip through his stomach and slammed on the brakes just in time to avoid running into the back of a white Subaru. The feeling took a couple of seconds to fade, along with a soreness in his ribcage, and a brief but very real sensation of cold metal touching his temple.

He'd already eaten a busload of syrupy pancakes and sausage with orange juice and two mugs of coffee. He'd consumed every bit of food he could find. He shouldn't have been that hungry – even if had been only for a few seconds – unless it wasn't him. "Aw, come on," he muttered through clenched teeth. Evidently the twins were linked in more ways than just the blackouts and physical damage. If Jonathan wasn't eating, Lucas' over-excessive gorging was making up for it. "Perfect. Hold on, pal!"

The car was handling more smoothly now that he had an idea of the primitive controls. Maneuverability came a little more easily as he navigated the long straight line from the Brandis home. It was all going relatively well, lulling him into a sense of control until he made the difficult left turn onto Ventura Boulevard and he saw where he had to go next. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. He heard a shrill screech of strings in the back of his mind.

The soul-eating behemoth of Jonathan's transit world lay before him in a jumble of tail lights. Lucas had come face to face with the one great adversary of student drivers in any dimension or time, a nemesis that would curdle the blood in their veins.

Lucas had found the Ventura Freeway.

VIII

It was legendary, this stretch of road, for being the single busiest, most ruthless on earth during the 20th Century. But right now it was more like a smoky parking lot. He'd hoped to be able to open up the little Nissan, really see what she'd do – within the limits of the import's capabilities, (and maybe a little outside the law), but he'd only get practice braking, shifting gears and moving at a few miles per hour here. Okay. Good, he rationalized. If he felt like he was going to pass out again, he'd have plenty of time to pull over, or just stop, without endangering anyone else. Still, his heart sank a little to think that he'd lost his chance to challenge the 20th Century's most notorious freeway. He'd have to build himself a racing water craft. He'd design it like a fish, or something like that. Yeah, when he got back to his own place and time. IF he got back, that was.

It was easy to tell which direction he should take. There was only one way to go anyway until he reached the junction with the San Diego Freeway, the busiest crossing on the planet. He remembered that he had to go past the intersection of these two major arteries and then, a few miles further, southeast toward Hollywood. The studio, and the gigantic amusement park that bordered it, was easy enough to see once he got near as well as the huge MCA tower and the white hotel where Swan stayed on the hill.

But he was getting way ahead of himself. First he had to navigate this crawling traffic muddle. He wondered if it was true that some people got so frustrated on this freeway that they pulled out handguns and just started shooting.

Only in summer, he remembered. Still, he'd try and be courteous. The fairly dismal overcast made it pretty obvious that it wasn't summer. He felt like no one should even be awake. (Some of these drivers looked like maybe they weren't.) But it beat the constant temperature and closeness of the submarine – not that he didn't like it. But he also liked the idea of having a limitless sky – even a muddy-looking gray one ─ over his head.

He relaxed into the mind-deadening monotony that had consumed major portions of the daily lives of uncounted millions of commuters. He started tapping a rhythm on the steering wheel in boredom. His eyes strayed down to the console of the car. He saw what was obviously the volume control of the radio: a very limited radio, probably getting only a few hundred stations, but a radio no less.

"Let's see what kind of music my doppelgänger is into," he mumbled, pressing the button. The schizophrenic collection of CD's in Jonathan's room gave no easy way to guess what he'd hear.

Massive, overdriven guitar blasted out of every speaker around him, causing him to swerve in his lane, gaining the angry glares of other drivers, the one's who were conscious, anyway. No one pulled out a gun, at least. He shrugged. He pressed one of the other buttons. Classical music? Another. More distorted guitar and someone wailing about "Paradise City". A button yielded some incomprehensible rap song. One sounded like a Korean station. Another button yielded some 90's boy band, instantly replaced with hyperactive commercials about pimple medicine and fast-food. He almost turned off the radio, then thought better of it, looking at the sluggish traffic. He'd need to keep his mind occupied.

He wasn't going anywhere for a while.

The left side of his face stung a little, and his upper lip felt puffy and tender. More of Brandis's playing with their body in his reality? Just what the hell was he doing there anyway?


Ford stalled for time, trying to find a way to keep this situation from getting any worse.

"I may not know chess, Lachance," he said, not lowering the gun, "But I know a mixed metaphor when I hear it."

"Culture snob," Lachance sniffed, tightening his grip on Jonathan a little more. "Ain't important. I'm not writing a damned sonnet."

"Using the right imagery's always important."

"Well then, picture your little genius's brains all over the wall here." He smiled grimly. "How's that for an image?"

Ford shook his head. "I can't picture it, Lachance. You may be a pirate, but I don't imagine you're a cold-blooded killer."

"You're betting an awful lot on a poor imagination."

Jonathan looked desperately from one to the other. Lachance's gun wasn't imaginary, for sure, and he knew that it wouldn't fire a harmless blank, as it might in a film. He was looking at pretty gruesome results, should he pull the trigger.

"Could you guys have your literature argument some other time?"

Lachance snorted, pressing the gun a little harder against his left temple. The barrel felt cold, uncomfortably solid, real, and quite deadly.

"Y'know, Commander, your sidekick here has a really rotten attitude. Maybe I should do us all a favor and just ice him right now."

"Sidekick?" Jonathan thought, feeling insulted at first. "Yeah… SIDEKICK."

He slumped a little, not enough to make Lachance think he was trying anything, then he called up whatever speed he still possessed after not having eaten in two days. He whipped his left hand up behind them, brought his palm against the gun and Lachance's hand before he knew what he was attempting. He closed his hand around the gun, trapping the pirate's finger against the trigger.

The explosion sounded terribly loud to him as the bullet flew an inch from his forehead and into the wall.

Time for three fifths and four fifths, he thought quickly.

He slipped his right hand past his own body, grabbed Lachance by the shirt and inexpertly drove him over his hip, hanging onto the gun hand and hoping he wasn't dragged back into the line of fire, certain, however, that he was completely deaf now, and not from rock and roll, as every adult had always told him would happen. If he survived, and had any hearing left, he'd definitely rethink having his music turned up so loud.

Lachance's arms and legs were tangled with Jonathan's willowy limbs, and he couldn't disengage enough to mount any kind of counter defense. It was the younger man's gangly clumsiness and not any skill that had saved him.

Ford and the other seaQuest security rushed into the room, avoiding the path of any other stray bullets.

"Good job, kid," he saw Ford's lips form.

"THANKS!" he yelled over the ringing in his ears which was very slowly going away. His face stung a little from the powder. "THAT WAS STUFF FROM A MOVIE I DID TWO YEARS AGO!" Chuck wouldn't have been proud, but he'd gotten the job done. Score one for Mr. Dumpling!

Rok, Lachance's minion, had backed away from them before the gun had gone off. Apparently he was okay with kidnapping, torture, and piracy, but not that committed to murder. He stumbled out of the door and was off. Ford gestured to two of the security men who'd come with him and they ran out the door after him.

"Don't move, Lachance. You're not getting away this time."

Lachance struggled with Jonathan's hand, but the stringy kid was stronger than he looked. He couldn't pull the trigger again. He swung his other hand at Jonathan's face, totally missing him this time. He grimaced at him and then gave a wry grin.

"Your ship's still doomed, kid. The little present we left will go off on its own unless I disarm it."

"WHAT?" Jonathan yelled. "YOU HAVE TO SPEAK UP!"

"Well then," Ford said, still leveling his gun at the pirate. "We've got a few surprises for you."

Lachance sniffed derisively. "Enlighten me."

"You'll be onboard the seaQuest when it goes off."

Lachance's smile now looked like false bravado. This, Jonathan didn't have to hear to understand. He could recognize poor acting when he saw it.

"COMMANDER, I DON"T THINK HE'S SO ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT GOING BACK TO THE SHIP!"

"Kid, I can hear you," Ford said, wincing. He held a finger to his lips. "Everyone on this coast can hear you."

Jonathan shook his head. The ringing was going away. He grinned. He'd almost gotten shot! This was the closest he'd ever gotten to real life, and he'd had to get kicked into a fictional dimension to do it.

Ford took the gun from Lachance without ever lowering his own. He looked with concern at Jonathan's lip.

"You all right?"

"It's okay." He patted the swollen lip gently. "And maybe it'll leave a scar."

He sounded way too happy about that, Ford thought. He and Lucas were eerily alike in that respect.

He turned on his communicator.

"Captain, we've found the package and Lachance. No clue here as to why they wanted Lucas."

"Bring them back. We'll figure it out here. We've got other more pressing problems," Bridger said from the com. Ford looked at Jonathan, wondering if he really was the key to all of this, if the fate of their entire universe rested on him, and how Lucas was doing in his world.


Lucas had found a classic rock station on the radio. Now this he could listen to.

He rolled down the driver's side window and belted:

"…I consider it a challenge before the whole human race that I never looose!"

He continued to sing, banging on the dash for emphasis once in a while. It made the tedious drive a little easier, anyway, even if he sang like hoarse spider-monkey. Of course, for all he knew, Jonathan was an ex-member of one of the boy-bands he'd heard on his radio already.

He certainly looked the part.

A red-haired little girl in the next car's passenger seat stared wide-eyed at him. He quickly felt his nostrils. No..?

She rolled down her window and stuttered for a few seconds, inhaled, stuttered some more.

"What?"

"Are you… Are you..?"

"Yeah, I am. I'm Jeremy Jordan," he joked, remembering one of the names he'd heard from the radio.

"Aren't you that kid from that TV show?"

"Uh…Yeah?"

She immediately flipped up a camera and started wildly taking pictures of him. At first he wasn't ready and the flash blinded him, but he realized that he had to play the part, so he just smiled crookedly, put on his cocky teenage star attitude and let her fire away.

At least she didn't have a gun.

That he knew of.

He checked himself in the rear view mirror, and did a double take in horror.

When he'd run his hand over his face looking for the keys, he'd rubbed black grease and road dirt across his nose, forehead, and both cheeks. He opened the glove box again. Yes. Among all of the more useless things there were dozens of napkins from someplace called Tommy's. The place must sell the messiest food in Los Angeles, (or Jonathan must eat there an awful lot) because there were more napkins from there than anything else in the compartment. He steered with one hand and his left knee and ducked below the window edge while he tried to clean off the grease. He tried wetting the napkin with his tongue, and only managed to spread the disgusting black stuff evenly over his face, and get the taste of bleached paper and auto grease in his mouth. Great. Just what this poor kid's image needed. He was sure that the photos this girl had taken would be all over the tabloids – along with more of him sprawled unconscious on the sidewalk outside The Opium Den, surrounded by Good n' Plenty.

He HAD to get back to seaQuest before he wrecked Jonathan Brandis's life completely, and Jonathan destroyed both of their bodies.

"Bye, Jeremy!" the girl called to him, wiggling her fingers. Her car pulled slowly ahead of him, leaving his column of semi-inert traffic behind.

Okay. He had to get back to the seaQuest before he wrecked Jeremy Jordan's image, then.


The newly recaptured prisoners were lined up outside of the dilapidated house, each with a nylon restraint around their wrists. Thus there was no way Lachance could pick a lock. A security man had pulled the hard-drive from the complicated computer system inside. They'd examine it with the sub's equipment. Ford missed Lucas again, this time for his expertise at computer analysis.

Damn, he just missed the annoying little computer geek.

He stood a few inches from Lachance, glaring into his face, partly as a bit of posturing and partly to see if he would reveal anything about his plan with Lucas. He also wondered if they could find this "explosive" in time.

"Do you think the crew can find this thing, Commander?" Braymer wondered aloud.

"Lucas can," Ford said, not looking at Jonathan.

"But, sir…"

"We'll get them back to the ship and we'll see what happens then," he said.

"Don…uh…Commander?" Jonathan said quietly.

"Yeah?"

"There's… There's something weird that Lachance showed me inside the house. He showed me a… Well, you just have to see it."

Inside, back in the dank, lightless room, Jonathan showed Ford the trunk and the big scrapbook. Sure enough the autographed photo was still there, just as he'd remembered it.

"Well, that's interesting," was all Ford had to offer.

"But… If that's ME then I do exist in your reality. Or at least I did."

"Look at the caption. The guy wrote 'See you at The School'".

"Yeah? And that means..?" He waved a hand around, gesturing for any kind of clarity, which was obviously not going to come.

"There was an evening teen soap during the early 90's about a high school…"

"Yeah. Beverly Hills 90210."

"Huh?"

"Beverly Hills… Never mind. It was something else?"

"Yeah. It was called Professional School. It was on for about eight or nine years. I even used to watch it in re-runs back in the 00's."

It still seemed exquisitely bizarre to Jonathan for anyone to be talking about his future as "back in the…", but he nodded.

"This actor was …" Ford concentrated. "This Canadian kid, I can't remember his name, but he played this troubled character, Jonathan, on the show."

"Somebody played me in a show about a professional school." If it hadn't been so outlandish, it would almost be funny. So in this reality he was the fictional one.

"Sawa, sir," Braymer mumbled.

"What, Mr. Braymer?"

"The actor. It was Devon Sawa." They both stared at him. "Hey, I was a School addict like everyone else in the 00's! I even bought the soundtrack on 'p4 from the Internex."

Jonathan studied the picture again. The guy sure did look like him, almost as though they had been working from a blueprint. In his reality, Devon Sawa was in a Canadian kid's sci-fi series. He and Jonathan Jackson battled for pin-up space in the same magazines on which Jonathan regularly made the centerfolds. What does Jonathan look for in a date? Win Jonathan's stuffed bunny. Blah blah blah, Jonathan, blah blah blah.

"You're a source of revelations, Mr. Braymer," Ford said, shaking his head. "What else did he do?"

Braymer shifted nervously on his feet.

"He was in a big time film that became another TV series called Sarah the Vampire Slayer, and then later I think he ran for Governor of California."

"Did he win?" Jonathan asked incredulously.

Braymer smiled.

"A foreign actor as Governor? Not in this lifetime! We're not that desperate." He sized up Jonathan. "So who's President in your reality, Eric Roberts?"

"And Tom Cruise is Vice President," Ford laughed.

They both sobered as they realized that Jonathan wasn't laughing at all. Maybe everyone in this kid's reality was an actor. It sounded like some deranged version of hell to them.

"Commander?" Braymer said.

"Yeah. Time to leave this little garden spot."

"Maybe I can get something to eat soon?" Jonathan asked. "I'm starving." He moved his tongue around in his mouth. It tasted of stale Tommy's chili, bleach and axle grease.

Ford tried not to smile. The kid could use about twenty pounds just to look skinny. Lucas's baggy clothes did little to disguise his wraithlike frame.

"Yeah, I'll bet. Bring the scrapbook and we'll look up some of the information on the 'Nex. Maybe we'll find out more about Lachance from it."

"It belonged to his aunt Melanie."

"He told you this?"

"Yeah. He told me his aunt's name was Melanie." He thought silently for a minute. "I know…knew…know a PA named Mel in my time. She'd just started. What was it that I did …am I going to do to her?"

Ford stared at him for a minute.

"It doesn't mean anything, Jonathan. Only a few things seem to cross over from your reality to this one. For all we know this girl is a fictional character in your world." He'd hoped to comfort him, but it only seemed to make the younger man more melancholy.

Jonathan watched as Braymer picked up the scrapbook. The outside was covered with stickers, a lot of them of movies and young 90's actors, most of whom he knew as background atmosphere specialists in his world. He laughed.

"That clinches it," he sighed.

"What?"

Jonathan pointed at the book.

"It says, 'property of Melanie and Beverly Marsh'."

"You know either of them?"

Jonathan sighed again.

"It's a long story. About 1200 pages."

"Long story?'

"Yeah. IT."

"What?"

"IT is."

Ford only stared back at him quizzically.

"We'd better get back. The captain sounded like something is wrong out there."

They mounted the stair again, coming back out into the sun. Jonathan breathed in deeply, taking in the bracing scent of the early evening sea air. And something else, that undertone of something else that gathered at the back of his throat. He'd noticed it before – like car exhaust or pool chemicals or something.

"Commander Ford, what's that smell?" He'd noticed it before, but the situation hadn't allowed him much time to think about it.

Ford sniffed. He shrugged.

"Sulfur dioxide."

"From where?"

Ford spoke as if he were speaking to a small child.

"From the volcano, Mt. St. Vibiana."

"The..?"

He decided it didn't bear asking. Things were definitely different here.


Lucas got in line at the gate for the studio. He'd had to pass the huge line of cars waiting to get into the amusement park, and a line of people waiting to audition for something outside of one of the greenish buildings that flanked the gate.

A few cars were ahead of him, and he realized that he didn't have a real reason for being here today. He'd have to rely on his simply being Jonathan Brandis. He hoped that was a good enough excuse.

He pulled up to the guard booth. A very big guy in a uniform and mirrored sunglasses bent over and examined him.

"Can I help you, Mr. Brandis?"

"Sure, uh… I left my parking pass in my trailer, and…"

"Okay. You're not on call today, you know."

"Yeah, I know. I've got something to do on the set today, though. You know. It's a hand-prop thing." He made a feeble telephone sign with his fingers.

The man didn't move.

"Is something wrong?"

"Are you doing…uh… research for a part or something?"

"Huh?"

The guy rubbed his face. Lucas blushed under the smeared mess.

'No. I just put on the wrong pimple medicine this morning."

"Stri-Dex Bicycle grease?"

"Something like that. You know. Actor." He shrugged and smiled, waved a hand in a theatrical gesture of bon-vivant.

"Um hmm," the man said politely, and pressed a button. He'd probably seen MUCH worse, Lucas thought.

The gate lifted and he drove forward.

He passed the Alfred Hitchcock Theater, named, he supposed, after the Prime Minister of Canada during the Canadian/Russo War of 1961. At least the people in Jonathan's world had some respect for history. He remembered seeing pictures of President Dukakis placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Montreal in 1990.

Past this, a right, and he was at the narrow parking area next to the soundstages where he knew they had the seaQuest sets. He knew that the film crew was shooting pick-up shots of the hallways and bridge set, so the doors would be open.


"So… How does that thing work?" Jonathan said, chewing on some grayish square of protein that tasted like cardboard and had the consistency of felt. But he didn't care as long as it was edible – or even if it wasn't. It was his eighth in the last half hour.

Bridger watched him in amusement. It was obvious that he was eating for volume and not pleasure.

"How's the textured soy?"

"Just great," Jonathan said, trying not to grumble. "Tastes like chicken." More like chicken feed, he thought. He'd never complain about set food again when – or if – he got home. Still, it gave him something to gnaw on besides his fingernails, and he was assured by the doctor that it was very nutritious; like rabbit-pellet-flavored vitamins. He'd liked the electrolyte drink they'd given him a lot better. It had tasted like some deranged-flavored sports drink.

Hitchcock studied Gordie Lachance's little electronic pad through a microscope, careful not to touch it in any way except with her very intense eyes. She had already done a low-power X-ray of it – which had shown no hidden booby-traps – that they could discern.

"It's a simple detonator, but he's modified it to send out a long range signal. It has rotating oscillation and probably some kind of failsafe." She looked up at the captain. "We could really use Lucas on this."

"Well… For the moment we'll have to muddle our way through on our own, Lieutenant Commander."

"I mean, sir, that it's going to be very difficult to narrow down the wavelength without sending out the signal to detonate. One of our PALs could do that accidentally, or maybe even a random radio wave. For what we know, that may have been their plan all along."

"We'll have to take our chances. I trust you."

"I appreciate your confidence, sir."

Hitchcock was her usual imperturbable self, even if she felt totally out of her depth. She quietly, methodically examined the outside of the detonator. It looked to Jonathan like a solar calculator from his time, or maybe a Gameboy cartridge, but it was a lot smaller and thinner. That meant very little, of course, considering the technology he knew seaQuest to possess from his knowledge of the series. The little thing probably contained more information than the Library of Congress, and still could graph sines and cosines.

"It's interesting," Bridger began. "Lachance obviously didn't bring explosives onto the ship, so he had to work with something we already had on board. Something that could take out the seaQuest with one explosion."

"The reactor?" Jonathan offered, chewing thoughtfully.

Both the captain and Hitchcock looked at him.

"You shouldn't talk with your mouth full," Hitchcock told him.

Jonathan shrugged. "Just making a guess." It sounded like a plot point to him – an "A" plot point, in fact, along with a "B" storyline about Ben smuggling chewing gum or something equally distracting.

Bridger waved his index finger at him in sudden clarity.

"Maybe not the reactor itself, but a subsystem that would cause the reactor to overload."

"But we have redundant systems to prevent that," Hitchcock said.

"Yes, but what if Lachance has gotten into our systems somehow and sabotaged the safeguards? Set up a feedback loop in the diagnostics?"

Hitchcock considered the possibilities, still seeming totally unflustered.

"It would be an environmental disaster, Captain. If the reactor were to melt down, we'd spread radiation all over the West Coast. We'd poison everything for thousands of square miles."

Bridger turned around and walked casually away, hands behind his back. He paced slowly, seemingly unconcerned. Hitchcock glared at Jonathan as if it were his fault that they were in this predicament.

"Hey," he said, uncomfortably. "Don't look at me. I did my part. I almost got shot!"

Hitchcock seemed unimpressed.

"How long do you think it'll take to isolate the device's code?" Bridger asked, not turning around.

Hitchcock looked suddenly anxious, having to admit what the captain already knew.

"With Lucas working on it, a few hours. Without Lucas… I can't guarantee anything, sir."

"Yeah," Jonathan said. "You just get Lucas to do that thing with his computer…"

Bridger turned to look intently at him. The silence lasted way too long for Jonathan's comfort.

"If we can get you and Lucas to connect again, for a while at least, until we can bring him back, then maybe he could analyze the device and help us."

"You're asking me to be a hero again," Jonathan said miserably. "That didn't go so well last time. What makes you think it won't get f'ed up this time, too?"

"We don't know for sure that it won't."

"Would you do it, Captain Bridger?"

Jonathan fixed him with his eyes. They were much more intense than Lucas', more mature in many ways, but still the clear eyes of an innocent. Nonetheless, Bridger could tell that the young actor knew something was being withheld from him, and he felt suddenly guilty.

The doctor's neural scan, done when he'd gotten back onboard in what was supposed to look routine, had revealed that the scattering effect was intensifying. Darwin had been right. The boy was rapidly turning to air. Each time that they encountered the temporal anomalies, more of his cohesion was being lost. It made sense that Lucas was suffering the same fate. Neither of them belonged where they'd landed. The universe was trying mightily to scratch that itch and the consequences didn't look good for anyone when it finally did.

"I can't make that decision for you, Jonathan," he said unhelpfully. "These circumstances are just too unique. We can't guarantee it'll even work, or that it won't make your situation worse. But we don't have a lot of options, and the clock is running."

Jonathan said nothing, but kept his gaze steady on the captain. He'd never thought of himself as brave – certainly not willing to risk his life for people he didn't even know. Whatever good – or bad – he'd done had been mostly by accident, and he'd never been sure if he should be proud or embarrassed. Suddenly he had a responsibility to uphold, and people's lives, starting with his own and Lucas', dependent on his decision.

"I suppose I can't just say 'no', huh?" He ran his fingers through his hair, shifted his jaw and sighed.

"Of course you can, Jonathan," Bridger said softly.

He smiled in that crooked, guileless way that Bridger thought of as Lucas' own patented expression.

"No I can't." He calmed, resigned to his decision. "What do we have to do? Moon pool again?"


Lucas had parked the Nissan about four times in the last ten minutes, never quite getting it between the lines. He HAD to get this right, or he'd never pass his driver's test! He always got the front end too far in or the back end too far out, and never seemed to be able to tell if he was too far forward or too far back. The traffic frustration on the stationary freeway had been easy compared to this, he thought.

Good thing there were no other cars.

He picked up the PAL and started to walk in a leisurely way towards the door, noticing that the red light above it wasn't on. The red light meant that they were filming, and not to enter. This much he'd picked up from being on the set so far. He practiced his game face, and then pulled on the door.

Locked.

He pulled again.

Still locked. He fought the rising fear. Something told him that he didn't have much time to do this, and there was none to waste on a locked door. He studied the lock. Simple mechanism, six tumblers – like the front door at Jonathan's house, with a possibility of about eight or nine million combinations. He could try a few hundred likely ones, eliminate many millions, but he didn't have the time. On another day it might have even been a great distraction.

He walked back down the alley, trying to remember if the other doors were on the side facing the studio or the street. The studio side made more sense, so he began meandering that direction.

He heard the sound of a tram engine, and the rapid patter of a tour guide.

"…where the original and the 1950's versions of The Phantom of the Opera were filmed. Currently these soundstages are being used for Amblin Production's seaQuest, DSV starring Roy Scheider and Stephanie Beacham, which you can catch on NBC on Sunday nights at 8:00. If you look to your left, you'll see some of the vehicles we use on the show, all of them with the UEO logo. Please be sure to stop by the Character Shop and pick up your complimentary seaQuest mini poster, and, yes, Jonathan Brandis is in the photo, as well as Ensign Darwin, his playful bottlenose co-star."

The tram pulled along the end of the alley, the tourists facing him, only about twenty feet away. Lucas froze. The last time he'd run into tourists, it had gone badly for him. He smiled. Well, not that badly.

The two-hundred or so people directly opposite him seemed not to notice, or maybe thought he was a stand-in or a manikin, for they didn't seem to react. One woman in sunglasses lackadaisically raised her camera and snapped a picture.

"I thought he was taller," he heard her grumble. Then the tram pulled away.

Jonathan's publicist wasn't doing that great a job, he thought.

The other door was open when he tried it, though he held his breath anyway, and some of the overhead fluorescents were on. He still felt a depressing pull at his emotions every time he saw the split-open carcass of the false submarine, most of it dark and lifeless. So much of him was wrapped up in the real thing, that to see this artificial parody made all of his achievements in designing and building seem somehow smaller.

He saw the open wall of his cabin and walked toward it, mounting the staircase carefully this time and open to any change in the atmosphere. He walked toward his door, then realized that the entire side was open, and he could just walk in that way. But it seemed somehow wrong to walk through a place where he knew a bulkhead blocked his way in real life. His real life, anyway. He could barely make out his bunk and the desk where he kept all of his tools. He experimented by opening a drawer. To his surprise, he found the toolkit there. He picked up the little circuit tester with its owner's initials, "L.W.", badly painted on the handle. It felt alien to him, though, and not as if it belonged to him, or anyone.

He looked up at the clear tube that served as Darwin's access throughout the ship. Nothing at all. No water, no light, no dolphin. He hoped that they hadn't similarly drained the moon pool for the weekend.

He sighed. "Better do this," he said to himself.


Jonathan sat next to the moon pool in the place that he assumed Lucas would soon stand. He took precautions this time, however, allowing himself only a few feet to slump when he passed out (which he knew would happen), so he wouldn't bang his head again on the metal floor.

O'Neill stood nearby, holding a portable screen where he could chart the changes in the EM radiation around the ship. He'd modified the ship's forward sensors to detect the shifts that occurred each time they passed through an area where the anomaly had shown up.

"We're approaching one of the places, sir," he said nervously.

"All right," Bridger said. He looked up to Jonathan. "Are you ready, son?"

"As much as I'm likely to be," he said, trying to mask his fear. This had never been a pleasant experience, and he was actually causing it this time. He carefully patted the detonator in his pocket, mindful that he could set it off if he did it incorrectly. For the umpteenth time, he wondered what would happen to Lucas in his reality should he … cease to exist … in this one. He'd just have to make sure that didn't happen.

"We're there, sir."

"Bridge, full stop. Mr. O'Neill, send the signal to Lucas."

"Sending."

The lighting dimmed as seaQuest generated the impossibly high level of energy it needed to punch a signal through time and space.


Lucas jumped when his PAL started to crackle.

"-ea-…Lu-…re-…-ceed…-ool -er…Quest to Lucas Wolenczak. If you are reading, proceed to the moon pool and send back. Over," O'Neill's voice came sputtering out of the speaker.

They probably couldn't receive this time, he thought, but… Maybe they needed to get an exact fix on him. He couldn't puzzle it out right then, he just needed to act.

He mounted the last few stairs and moved to the moon pool set. It was a lot less impressive without the gelled lights and flickering displays, but it was at least filled with water. He sat against the side, pulled his knees up to his chest and activated his PAL.

He wasn't sure what would happen, but this time, he determined, he would be prepared. He lowered his head, took a deep breath and pressed the com button. "Lucas Wolenczak to seaQuest. Ready to proceed." Everything around him swirled into a shimmering pattern of dark and light and he saw a ghostly image of the actual ship superimposed over the place he sat. Then the familiar brightness engulfed him.


Jonathan stiffened as he saw the seaQuest start to flicker around him.

"Captain, I…" His head dropped backward and he slid to the floor.

Bridger stopped Dr. Westphalen with one arm as she tried to go to his side.

"Not this time, Doctor. We have to let this thing resolve itself."


Lucas opened his eyes, seeing only the featureless bright fog.

"Great. Here again."

"Ditto," Jonathan said, sitting by his side."

"What's going on? I thought they were trying to send us both back to…"

"Yeah yeah yeah," Jonathan waved him off. "They have a problem that they need your brain for."

"That's expected."

"Don't be a smartass. This is serious."

"I was being serious."

Jonathan carefully slid the trigger out of his pocket, holding it by the edges, and gently handed it to Lucas.

Lucas immediately pressed the detonator button while Jonathan jumped in horror.

"What are you doing?"

Lucas put the detonator on the ground quickly and wiped his hands on the denim jacket he wore.

"That wasn't the activator button to send us back to our own realities?"

No! That was a trigger to blow up the seaQuest!"

"Oh." He waited a few seconds to see if Jonathan vanished. "Well, it didn't work, I guess. Maybe it can't detonate from here."

"Let's hope not. Man, you should work on that impulsive streak of yours."

"Yeah." He looked carefully at Jonathan. "What's with the swollen lip?"

"Got fresh with Hitchcock."

Jonathan studied him.

"What's that crap all over your face?"

"Long story. What do you need?"

"Well, they need you, Lucas. They need you to figure out the wavelength of this little puppy and how to disarm it."

"That's all? They made me race traffic all the way to Universal to tell them that?"

Jonathan looked quizzically at him.

"Race? You frikken drove my car?"

"It's okay. I didn't mess it up…too much."

Jonathan let loose a frustrated growl, put his head into his hands, rubbed roughly down his face. He needed a shave on top of everything else. But they had more important things to attend to.

"Never mind… Do whatever it is that you do where you come up with the solution by looking at something."

"It's not that easy."

"Well, what can you do from here?"

Lucas picked up the device, gingerly this time, and turned it over a few times.

"I'm… I'm not sure. It looks like a standard issue mini-PAL from Toshiba. That means that it has about 10 terabyte memory and a maximum signal strength of about eighty miles underwater, maybe a few hundred out in the air. And it's been opened and modified, probably with a QX booster to oscillate the frequency through about 50 megahertz. I mean… I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do."

Jonathan blinked at him.

"What?'

"You know all of that by looking at it?"

"Yeah. So?"

Jonathan shook his head.

"So how do we disarm it without sending out the… the... doing what you just did?"

Lucas thought for a few seconds.

"I guess they could bombard it with gamma rays, or create an EMP…"

"A what?"

"An EMP. With a little nuclear explosion." He frowned. "No, that would take out most of the electronics on the ship, too."

"Okay, gamma rays then." Jonathan put his index fingers to his temples and concentrated on remembering whatever Lucas said word for word.

"Or just pull out the battery, unless they rigged it with a failsafe."

"And if Lachance did that?"

"It'll send out the signal to detonate before it shuts down. Maybe you could overload its hard drive and just burn it out."

"How do they do that?"

"Input too much information. Download, say, the database of Ben's adult film collection. It'll fry the hard drive instantly."

"Fry the hard drive with too much input." Jonathan stood up and paced a quick circle. He squeezed his head miserably between his hands. "I know just how that feels."

Lucas went silent, staring at his double.

"They still can't get us back where we belong, huh?"

"No. And there's something else – something they're not telling me."

Lucas thought for a moment. Not enough information. But he knew the urgency that Jonathan was trying to hide. It was like trying to hide something from himself. It still didn't get him any closer to what that secret could be. It was clear to him, though, that Jonathan really didn't know.

"How long do we have, then?" Jonathan sighed.

"How long before..?" Lucas swallowed.

"No, not that! How long before we get zapped back to wherever we were…are…were... Oh geez!" Jonathan covered his eyes. "I can't keep up with any of this!"

Lucas looked at his watch, shook it.

"Hey, look!" He showed the watch to Jonathan.

"Nice. Rolex, right?"

"Yeah. But it's not running!"

"So it's a cheap Rolex. And?"

"It's NOT cheap. It's one of the ways my father's trying to buy my affection after banishing me to the seaQuest." He shook it again, put it to his ear. "Not running, at all."

"What does that mean?"

"I guess that time doesn't pass the same way here as in our waking reality, or fiction, or whatever. Some of the rules of physics don't apply."

"So does that mean that we could, like…fly or something?"

"I don't know. It means that I can't be sure what's happening on either side. I only know… I only feel like we have to get back to our rightful places or something bad's going to happen to us…and both universes."

"It's the end of the world as we know it," Jonathan sang badly. "Sorry. Nervous. I do that when I get nervous."

"What? Act like an idiot?"

"No," he snapped irritably, "Sing."

Lucas grinned crookedly.

"Man, we're both in trouble, then."

"Lucas, we're already in trouble. We're trying to get out of it. That's what this little get-together is all about." He looked suddenly ill. "Something's wrong. Can't you feel it?" He rubbed his stomach. Too many rabbit pellets?

Lucas closed his eyes. All he felt was still full of pancakes.


"Captain?" O'Neill looked worried.

"Yes?"

"It's just as we figured, sir. The anomaly isn't staying stable. It's shifting away from our position."

"Can we match it?"

"Doubtful. It's not moving in a predictable manner. We lucked into its position this time.

"Captain Bridger!" Dr. Westphalen grabbed his arm. "Look at him!"

Jonathan had stood up, but not as if he were present. His eyes were open, but their pupils were completely dilated and vacuous, his face blank as though he were sleepwalking.

"What's happening?"

"I think he's phasing in and out with the anomaly. His 20th Century is trying to get him back."


"What's wrong?" Lucas jumped up from his sitting position. Jonathan was rocking on his feet.

"I… I don't know. Something weird's going on again."

Lucas looked closely at him. Yes, he could start to see through him as if he were a ghost. He snatched up the detonator and carefully put it into Jonathan's hand.

But something, this time, was wrong. Instead of the little shower of glittering sparks that had trailed away from him before, an eye-piercing brilliant white light swallowed both of them with a rush like thunder. He grabbed Jonathan's solid wrist.


"Captain!" Dr. Westphalen dropped the monitor with which she'd been keeping track of Jonathan's life signs.

He was gone.

Bridger leaped forward, ran his hands through the space where Jonathan had been only a second before.

"Where..?"

"I don't know, Dr. Westphalen." He ran to the com. "We need a search of the ship. Lucas may be hurt somewhere."

Darwin had poked his nose over the edge of the tank. He rocked back and forth and squeaked.

"Air boy in air again? Air boy not with Bridger. Not with Darwin." The electronic voice sounded concerned. "Bad smell. Bad water."

They could all smell the sharp, metallic scent of ozone intense in the atmosphere.

"Mr. O'Neill? Any ideas?"

"He could have gone anywhere between our time and his. It's possible that he's in some completely different time. We don't know enough about this to even guess." He looked seriously from the doctor to the captain. "The anomaly took him with it."


He could hear hammering, and something splashing. Lucas slowly dragged himself off the floor, staring for a moment at the fluorescent lights overhead. He was back at the set. Damn!

"What the..?" Jonathan yelled from the moon pool where he was thrashing around like an electric eel with hiccups.

Lucas stood up and looked at the actor in the water. He got past his astonishment and helped him out.

"Wh…What the hell happened?" Jonathan barked at him. Then he realized. "Oh wow. I'm… We're...?" His eyes widened, their intensity almost frightening.

"Yeah," Lucas said, dropping his hands. "You're back." Jonathan smoothed the wet hair out of his face and then sat on the edge of the moon pool. They just stared at each other for long seconds. Lucas backed away, feeling suddenly overwhelmed.

Jonathan was back. But where did that leave him?

"Fate is fate, Wolenczak," he thought miserably.

IX

Jonathan wiped the water out of his eyes and stared at his double. He really did have some sort of smeary black crap all over his face, but under it his freckled skin was beginning to turn white. He began to back away and then sat suddenly on the floor as if the breath had been knocked out of him. Jonathan frowned.

"You okay?" he asked, standing up at the edge of the moon pool and taking a squelching step towards Lucas. The younger man looked up at him, rubbing a hand over his face and then blinking hard.

"Yeah," he muttered. "Just a headache." He blinked again and his eyes seemed to be going in and out of focus. Jonathan's frown deepened as he saw sweat break out on the parts of Lucas' face that were still clean. He crossed the space between himself and his double and knelt on the floor.

"You don't look so good, buddy," he said, trying not to sound overly concerned. He should have been feeling ecstatic to be back in his own world with seemingly only a little damage, but he had a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach.

The PAL, lying some distance away on the floor, chirped into life. This is seaQuest calling Lucas. Come in Lucas. Lucas rose unsteadily and took a few wobbly steps towards it. Then he stood still for a moment, swaying and fell to the ground.

Jonathan was beside him in a moment. "Lucas! What's the matter?"

The other breathed shallowly, his face gray now under the grease, his eyes rolling wildly in his head. Jonathan stared in horror as his double thrashed weakly and groaned something unintelligible. He grabbed Lucas by the shoulder and shook him, turning him over onto his back, but he stiffened and began to jerk, his head colliding sharply with the floor. Oh Jesus Christ, thought Jonathan in horror. Somebody help me, please! He stared desperately around the room, looking for something that would help – and, if he was honest with himself, trying not to look at the vision of himself in distress that lay on the floor beside him. His eye fell on the PAL, and he grabbed it hastily, praying that it would still work.


Captain Bridger stared at the PAL in his hand in mounting concern. Jonathan was gone, that much was clear. But with him had gone their only chance at getting Lucas back to his own universe. They were out of plans and nearly out of time.

Suddenly a familiar voice came over the PAL. "Captain?"

Bridger sighed with relief. "Lucas. Thank goodness. Is Jonathan with you?"

The voice came again, and this time Bridger heard the note of panic in it. "This is Jonathan. I have Lucas with me but… There's something wrong with him!"

Bridger frowned. What could be so wrong that it would prevent Lucas from using the PAL?

"What is it, son?" he asked, more sharply than he'd intended, trying to fight down the fear that was growing inside of him. But when that all-too-familiar voice came back, he heard what he'd dreaded the most.

"I think he's dying!"

Dying?!

O'Neill's head jerked around to face the PAL at that word.

Bridger frowned, forcing his military training to keep his worry in check. It was always hard not to worry when circumstances included Lucas Wolenczak as a possible casualty. That boy was becoming the closest thing he'd had to a son since Robert's death in the war. Lucas was 80% of the reason why his choice to leave the command of the seaQuest to Commander Ford was rapidly diminishing.

"Can you describe his symptoms?" Dr. Westphalen asked calmly.

Jonathan looked to Lucas, holding the PAL slightly off to the side of his mouth like a walkie-talkie. "He's sweating, his skin is pale, and his breathing is shallow." He placed a hand to Lucas' grubby forehead. "And he's running a temperature. Wh…what do I do?"

"Don't panic. Hold on, Jonathan," Bridger reassured. He handed the PAL to the doctor.

"Dr. Westphalen here."

"Doctor, Lucas is still here with me, and he's showing symptoms of something like the flu. Do you have any ideas?"

"Lucas can't get the flu. He was inoculated as a child when the Influenza vaccine was created in 2004. I would say, with both of them in the same universe, it will likely not take long for them to be separated in some way. It's the whole problem of identical matter occupying the same space. He could be suffering from an EM frequency fluctuation due to crossing timelines and dimensions. Perhaps Jonathan brought his own unique pattern back to his reality, but it's simply too similar to Lucas', and there's no room for both of them."

"Come again?"

"The human body emits a specific electromagnetic field. If it's overcharged or damaged, or exposed to conditions that compromise its regularity - a frequency shift – then it's safe to say the body reaps the results." She looked back at the captain. "Unless things are radically different in the other reality, one of them simply cannot exist there."

"I didn't know you were fluent in interdimensional physics, Kristin," Bridger said.

"You pick up a few things in the long work day when you're surrounded by the same people." She smiled tensely. For this knowledge, or the concept, she had to thank Dr. Levin, their local multiverse researcher.

"Thank you. Jonathan, are you still there?"

"Yeah! Of course!" Jonathan snapped. "What the hell are you doing, taking a coffee break? Lucas is dying!"

"Calm down. We figured out what it might be. Both of you are occupying the same space in time. Since in your reality you portray Lucas we think it's relatively impossible for you to both remain for long in the same dimension."

Jonathan shrugged off his flannel and used it to wipe grease away from Lucas' face, then used the clean area to dab at the sweat. "Yeah, when I arrived at your…location, we were separated after about 15 minutes. Lucas ended up here. But it didn't happen like this. Something is different this time."

"I think it may have to do with the anomaly, sir," O'Neill said.

Observations, Mr. O'Neill?"

"Sir, it's not just the seaQuest, Jonathan, and Lucas that are affected." He paused. "I got a call from B-deck. Someone found a Ming Dynasty katana kind of 'embedded' in a bulkhead."

Bridge suddenly felt as if a load of bricks had been dropped on him. This was becoming far more serious than they had anticipated earlier. It seemed now that no time period was safe from the temporal rupture. He looked down at the PAL in his hand just in time to see the green reception light wink out.


"Captain, are you there? Captain, come in! Jonathan hit the PAL with the palm of his hand. Absolute elementary engineering was the only technical knowledge he'd acquired from being on the TV series – percussive maintenance.

Static was the only reply. At least he was getting that. If his knowledge of science was correct, then any kind of message was better than nothing.

Jonathan exhaled. "Great," he grumbled.

Lucas opened his eyes and blinked to bring the two Jonathans back into one. Jonathan stuffed the PAL into his jacket pocket and tucked his arms under Lucas' to haul him to his feet.

"Jeez," he said, "Am I really this light? Come on. We have to get you out of here before someone sees us." He draped Lucas' arm over his shoulder and guided the young man to the back door. The studio was Jonathan's ground and, like the back of his hand, he knew it well.

Lucas urgently moved with his twin. The last thing he needed was to be caught, especially by Mel. How would he explain this to her?

The actor led the other as far as he could through the open daylight of Universal Studios to his trailer around the corner. With one nimble hand he opened the door and helped Lucas inside, then shut it quickly and locked it.

Lucas was grateful for the help and even more grateful for the soft padding of the twin bed against the back wall of the trailer beneath a window where Jonathan dropped him, shoving mail aside.

"What did…Captain Bridger say?"

"He said we're in a shitload of trouble if we don't get you back," Jonathan summarized. He put the PAL on the dresser and then scrabbled through drawers and cupboards looking for a spare phone. His cell phone was in his backpack onboard the seaQuest. He had to get Lucas to the hospital.

"Thanks for the paraphrase," Lucas groaned. "Very informative."

"We talked about something like this in science class once. It had to do with black holes. I remember that segment because of the theories of time travel, other dimensions, and worm holes. It's probably the only thing I actually remember from science. My teacher and I got into a debate about the plausibility of it. We both thought that it was all possible, but needed empirical evidence to support it. I guess this counts."

"You studied temporal physics?" Lucas said weakly.

"Physics?" Jonathan laughed. "I barely got through chemistry, and that was blind luck. I'm just a sci-fi fan. You know, how the whole time-travel thing from Back to the Future worked?"

"Not really, not until three days ago."

"Very funny."

Lucas coughed, closing his eyes when they went out of focus again. "It can't be a rogue black hole. The tidal gravitational forces would tear the planet apart."

"What about a little one?"

"They're already infinitesimally small. What do you mean 'little'?"

"Little. Smaller than infinitesimal." He thought a moment. "What about a worm hole burrowing from one dimension to the other? It's like that idea about a controlled worm hole."

"That wasn't just an idea, Jonathan." Lucas lolled his head to the side to look at his frantically searching doppelgänger. "A Stargate exists at Cheyenne Mountain."

"What?"

Lucas gave a lopsided grin. Hacking secure files had its intriguing moments.

"Yeah, of course! Why the fuck not?" Jonathan said, irritated, putting a hand to his head. "Man I could use some Advil. Why is it when you need something you can never find it? How're our ribs?"

Lucas shifted on the bed.

"Tolerable. What? Did you get in a fight over there?"

"Won a fight, yeah." He raised his head, growling. "Where the f..?"

As if on cue, a light, high-pitched ringing filled the trailer. "Aha!" Jonathan crouched like an animal stalking its prey and waited. When the second ring happened, he pounced on the mail on the floor and tossed dozens of envelopes aside, digging into the pile. He put the phone to his ear. "Hello?"

"Jonathan. It's about time! I've been trying to reach you for hours. Did you lose your other cell phone again?"

"CK!" Jonathan's hand went to the back of his neck. "Uhm, yeah. It's been a tough few days." He glanced at Lucas, who raised an eyebrow then leaned back again, trying not to laugh.

"I talked to your mom. She said you seem kinda tired. Is everything all right?"

"Uhm, yeah. It's fine. Just… You know. Hey, can I call you back? There's something important I need to take care of."

"Sure." Her voice held a 'I know something's up with you' tone.

"Okay. Take care, Becks."

"Wait! Wait!" She caught him before he hung up. "I almost forgot to tell you the reason I even called. Garcia's on the way there to drop off homework for Nick Cowan on the Surf Ninjas set. He said while he was in the neighborhood he'd stop by."

Jonathan paled and nearly dropped the phone.

"Hello? Jonathan, are you still there?"

"Uh, yeah. Thanks." Jonathan hung up and flipped onto the edge of the bed. "Great Scott…" he muttered.

"Problem?" Lucas forced the words to come out clearly, though he rasped. He felt as if he were spiraling downhill out of control.

"Yeah. High school teacher."

Lucas sat up, licking his lips. The taste of grease was still there.

Jonathan rubbed his mouth and wiped his tongue off. He looked at Lucas who had a disgusted expression. "Dude, did you just...?"

Lucas blinked.

Jonathan's hand went for his hair again, but both spoke simultaneously. "Oh man, this is heavy."

He stood up. "Screw the ambulance. I'm taking you to the hospital myself."

Lucas let him lift him.

"Which hospital?"

"The one where Walt Disney died. Up the street."

Lucas nodded. "Where somebody died. Brilliant." He stumbled with him to the door. "Who was he?"

"I'm getting a migraine," two voices muttered simultaneously. They looked at each other and then managed to roll their eyes in tandem.


"Okay, let's think through this thing logically," the guy on one side of the table said. He watched the peculiar light show of floating sphere's of light in the pitted crystal 3D display in front of him. His counterpart drummed his fingers on the table in irritation.

"Think, think..," he muttered, "All you do is think!"

"We know, of course, that under normal circumstances this conversation should not be happening," the one the other side began again. "Could not be happening."

His 'twin' gave him a dry look. "No, you think?"

"Don't be a wise-ass, Dave." The first one chastised his counterpart, "It's really not a very appealing personality trait."

"You would know." The other just chuckled. "Can't really help it, Nick. You can only blame yourself."

Nick gave an answering chuckle. "True enough." He studied the other as he had done many hundreds of times since they'd 'met'. "Any luck remembering what exactly you were doing before this boo-ha started?"

"Nada. You?"

Nick sighed. "Enough. Well, not enough. I'd like to know if anyone else has noticed anything…unusual lately. We'll see what these two are able to do – which seems strange, considering it's already been done…"

"Don't start on that again…" Dave rubbed his temples. "My head is bad enough already."

"I mean. Neither target is exactly uneasy on the eyes, and they're both fairly bright. You might actually like them if you're anything else like me."

"Nick, I don't even like you."

"Existential tragedy, that."

Dave raised an eyebrow, crossing his arms. "Why should I like them?"

Nick gave his counterpart a wry look, noting their amazing similarity – yet peculiar difference - again. "Let's just say they've been keeping some unusual company lately."


"Slow down!" screamed Lucas as they screeched around another corner on two wheels. "Even I'm a better driver than you!"

"Oh really? I've been driving two and a half years. How about you, future boy?" Lucas' back seat driving was getting on his nerves.

"Three days. Your kind of car, that is. I've been practice driving…" He jumped in his seat as Jonathan barely dodged around a bicyclist then slumped in the seat.

"Oh, shut up!" Jonathan growled, but realized he was too wound up and took the hint of driving on four wheels rather than two. Still, Riverside Drive had too many cars for his liking – but it was the only way.

"Lucas? Lucas, talk to me!" Jonathan reached over with his right hand and jostled Lucas' head back and forth. He grunted, but hardly moved. Jonathan punched him hard on the side, forgetting the ribs until he felt the stab of pain himself.

"What?" The other wrapped his arms around himself protectively. All he wanted to do was sleep.

"Talk to me. Tell me about life onboard the seaQuest. Tell me something about nuclear physics. Tell me anything about anything, just don't fall asleep!"

"Don't sleep? Yeah. Okay…uh… There's not much to tell about the seaQuest except that I was too much of a handful for my parents so they banished me to the submarine." He balled up, bending over. Jonathan felt an echo of the pains in his stomach as well.

He blew his horn at someone who was taking too long to decide if they wanted to bear right or left at the fork.

"C'MON! Move it! Sick kid onboard!" He looked at Lucas who had gotten even grayer. He wondered if he looked as bad right now. His inattention caused him to veer towards a brick building and he struggled to get the car going straight again. Horns sounded all around him.

"Bite me!" he screamed out the window. He kept going up Alameda. Only a few more blocks… "What's wrong?" Lucas was completely doubled over.

"So…much…pain and…nausea." Lucas was breathless, each breath struggling to keep his body alive, the pains increasing with each movement of the little car.

"Don't die in my car, okay? That'd be too hard to explain to Allstate. We're almost there. Hold on." He managed to keep the car on four wheels as he negotiated the sluggish traffic by NBC Studios, taking a short detour onto the sidewalk around a city bus.

He squealed into the hospital parking lot, dodged the man at the kiosk trying to get money from him and sped to the emergency entrance. Ambulances were parked on either side of the glass door. He dragged Lucas, who was almost unconscious by now, out of his door, carrying him in a fireman's hold, the way his father had taught him.

"Help me! My…uh… My…twin is really sick!"

Within seconds a whole team of doctors arrived by their side. People were thrusting papers at him.

"Could you fill these out, please?"

They put Lucas on a gurney and wheeled him straight into an examining room."

Jonathan looked down at the forms on a clipboard. Medical insurance, previous medical problems, allergies, consent forms… What was he supposed to do? If Lucas did have medical insurance, it would cover him – but he hadn't been born yet.

Name? Jonathan Brandis, he wrote. His mother was truly going to freak out if they called her! He continued filling out the forms. He saw through the glass pane that they had put Lucas on a table. The rest of the information? Okay, he thought, time to be inventive… He walked into the examining room, prepared to lie as he had never lied before, and hoping Lucas would be coherent enough to either back him up, or not say something that made them think he was strung out on hallucinogens. Then would come the worst part: the waiting.


"I'll keep trying, sir, but we're getting nothing but static." O'Neill kept his tone even, despite his worry.

Bridger just didn't want to accept what had happened. He kept insisting that another wavelength, a narrower band, a stronger signal would punch through reality and reach Lucas.

"Captain…Nathan, listen.," Dr. Westphalen said calmly, reasonably. "There was something that Jonathan said when he first got back to the ship, how Gordie Lachance has a picture of him that actually wasn't him, but seemed to keep changing."

"Yes, I remember the conversation. Very confusing."

"Imagine how the young man felt. In any case, I believe that Lachance knows a lot more than he's letting on."

Bridger studied her face.

"It's as if he was sent to the seaQuest with a very specific target in mind, and it wasn't just the craft or Lucas."

"Commander," Bridger barked at Ford, "you have the bridge. The doctor and I have a house call to make."


"Mr. Brandis?"

Jonathan opened his eyes. The ER doctor shook him. He'd fallen asleep, partially from the peculiar physical bond that he had with Lucas.

"What is it?" His eyes widened as he looked at the pulled curtain. "He's not in a coma? He's alive, right?"

"Yes, of course. Why would you think otherwise?"

"I've seen (and been in) too many soap opera plots." He rubbed his eyes. "So… What's wrong with him?"

"That's just it. We don't know. Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary, but he's totally unconscious. His brain waves have even gone below deep Theta sleep. His temperature is fluctuating between sub-normal and high fever. We don't understand any of this. All of the tests we've done so far have come back normal. I need you to think carefully; where have you both been in the last 24 hours?"

Jonathan used his acting muscles not to burst out laughing. What was he supposed to say? Even he didn't believe it.

"Well, he's been here – I mean, just home and the studio." I was the one who got pumped with the drugs and almost shot, he thought. "Is he going to be okay?"

The doctor, as they usually do, wouldn't comment.

"Can I see him? Is he still all…gray?"

The doctor pulled back the curtain.

The bed was empty, all the leads and IV's disconnected.

"Where's Luc…Jonathan?" he demanded. "Where did they take him?" Where in Burbank, or the world, or in time, or in space was his lost twin?


"Lachance, what do you know about Lucas?"

"You're sure it's Lucas you're worried about, Captain?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, they do say that everyone has a doppelgänger," Lachance laughed.

"Lucas is seriously ill. He could die. You can help us. It would greatly improve your future circumstances."

"Future circumstances. Interesting." He rubbed his stubbly chin. "I thought people in this time couldn't get ill."

"What do you mean 'in this time'?"

Lachance gave nothing away.

"Damn it, man! The lives of two innocent people are at stake!" Dr. Westphalen's patience had run out – as had Lachance's cooperation.


Jonathan stood there by the empty bed while they turned the hospital upside down looking for Lucas. What had he done? He felt as if there was no air. He ran out of the hospital through the emergency room door and threw up in the bushes. Bye-bye rabbit pellets. Good riddance, he thought secretly, wiping his mouth.

"Jonathan, are you okay?"

"Wh…what?" He turned around. It was Mel. He sighed with relief, then began to wonder how he'd explain… "I…I…I…"

"Are you looking for Lucas?"

"Huh?"

At that moment he felt something sharp in his bicep. He looked in alarm at Mel.

"Don't make a scene. It wouldn't be a good idea. Just lean on me and come along quietly."

Jonathan tried to say something, to resist, but his brain was being taken over by treacle. He couldn't think, he couldn't focus, and a purple seahorse unicorn was eying them suspiciously from its pulsating pink cloud.

He tried to point.

She put him into the back seat of a black car. Lucas was there, unconscious.

Within seconds, so was he.


Jonathan opened his eyes, lying on his back. The room wasn't focusing. He could only make out colors; reds and purples mostly, no seahorses. It was bright, though. He turned over. He could make out a hazy person on the opposite side of the room, rubbing his eyes and trying desperately to focus. Slowly a pale face came into focus.

Well, that's impossible, because I'm sitting over there watching myself. Or…

"Lucas?"

"Yep. It's me, alive and well."

"How..? I mean, I thought you were dying. I could have sworn!"

"So could I. I thought I was a goner and would just decay into neutrinos, but that woman saved me."

Jonathan stood up, wavered a bit on his feet before his balance returned and then walked toward the other side of the room, unnervingly happy to see Lucas again.

"Stop!" Lucas shouted putting a hand up.

"What?" He stood stock still, wobbling like crazy, one foot in the air. He put his hands to his sporadically operating head. "Calm down. Too loud!"

"Put your foot down before you fall over. The floor's not mined or anything, but you have to stay on your side of the room. There's some kind of force field that allows me to stay in your reality and live. I don't understand fully. She just said not to cross the line and to let you know you couldn't cross the line either."

Jonathan fought his instant urge to put a toe across the imaginary line down the center of the room. Anyone who knew him understood his impulsiveness. He won the battle this time.

"So how are we going to get out? The door's on your side of the room, and I take it you can't leave the room either."

Lucas smiled. "The field shrinks when the woman comes down to check on you, and she has a machine on her side when she wants to check on me."

"What 'woman'? Mel?"

Lucas nodded, though he wasn't positive. The times he'd seen her he had been semi-conscious.

"We need to get her machine, then."

"In the meantime, we're just…stuck here."

Jonathan sighed. "Been there, done that." He sat down on the floor again, facing Lucas. "So what do we do until she comes back?"

"I spy with my little eye…"

Jonathan groaned.

"Seriously, man, we need to come up with some sort of a plan," Jonathan said.

"Yeah, I kinda know that already. I've been working on it while you've been getting your beauty sleep," Lucas replied.

Jonathan gave him the dirtiest look he could muster, which wasn't much because he still felt groggy. "Holy hand-grenade. What did she give me?"

"I'm not sure, but you don't look so good." Lucas frowned.

"Forget about it. What's your plan?"

"Oh, right. The plan. Sorry. The best I can guess, from what I've seen of her machine is that it surrounds her either in some sort of field that keeps her from penetrating the one that's keeping me alive, or it surrounds her in the same field I'm in. I haven't figured out which it is yet. Either way, we have to get it and then I have to figure out how it works." He looked down. "Or even why."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I have a theory… But that's it."

"Shoot."

"It's complicated."

"Do you have a date waiting? Dumb it down a little for me. I promise I'll nod and look like I know what the hell you're talking about."

Lucas grinned.

"Think of it like a wetsuit. A diver takes his environment into the hostile one – say undersea – and it provides him with what he needs to stay alive there. So, if you're from another time or dimension…"

"You bring a wetsuit?"

"Kind of. You have a sort of flexible interdimensional bubble with your own time and space inside of it so you don't actually interact with the…dangerous environment."

"My L.A., 1994?"

"Yeah."

"Right. Maybe it's the drugs, but I think I almost understand you. The part you haven't figured out is how to get the effing thing," Jonathan said, rubbing his head and willing it to clear so he could think.

"Bingo," Lucas replied. He sat down on the floor opposite his twin and looked across the room. "You know, whatever happened to me, it was terrifying and I hope it's a long time before I have to do it again."

Jonathan looked up. "Yeah, I bet. But hey, did I tell you that I almost got shot?" He lifted his hand, thumb out and pointed a forefinger at his temple.

"No way! I miss all the good stuff!" Lucas pouted.

Let's see, thought Jonathan: you designed the computer systems on the seaQuest, saw ghosts, found the Library of Alexandria, got struck by lightning and lived, hacked into the World Bank, live on a frikken submarine, you're gonna meet sand aliens, build a killer watercraft, save the planet over and over…

"Whatever! You went to the Opium Den. Have you forgotten that already?"

Lucas grinned crookedly, remembering the girl who'd kissed him and slapped his rear. "No…haven't forgotten that at all." Nor am I likely to, he thought.

Jonathan looked at him quizzically. He wasn't sure he wanted to know, but made a mental note to ask about it later. They both turned as they heard a key turn in the door.

"Ah, Jonathan. I see you're awake," Mel said.

"Yeah, no thanks to you. What in the hell did you give me anyway?"

"Temper, temper. Why all the hostility? It was harmless, so it doesn't need explaining," she said with a laugh.

"I don't think I like you anymore," Jonathan snarled.

"I second that," piped Lucas. "Just my two cents."

"Oh! Oh! I'm wounded, my feelings are hurt," Mel cried dramatically. "Do you honestly think I give a crap that 'you don't like me anymore'? Sorry to disappoint, boys, but I really don't."

"What's going on? Why are we here, since you obviously have something to do with it all," asked Lucas.

"All you need to know right now is that you're lucky to be alive, Wolenczak. If I hadn't found you, the whole plan would be ruined. You have some busy guardian angels."

"What do you need me for? I can't see that I have anything that you want or even need, especially," he gestured around himself, "Here."

"You are what we want, stupid! Boy, for a genius you sure can be slow sometimes. If you're dead, what are going to use as a bargaining chip with your father?"

"What do you want from my father? I'm a pretty bad chip, seeing as how he doesn't really want me around anyway."

"It's not what I want… It's what Lachance wants: a public acknowledgement that your father stole his father's technology."

Lucas started to laugh. "Yeah, right! My father? Lawrence Wolenczak apologize? I hope you're ready to keep this up for a while, because it'll never happen."

Jonathan looked from one to the other, sensing that they'd both forgotten he was even here. "How did I get pulled into all of this? If all you wanted was Lucas, then what am I doing here?"

Mel spun around. "Unfortunate side-effect. I was sent here to watch you, to make sure you stayed put. But you beat me to the set and now we find ourselves in this sticky little situation," she replied, moving towards him. "Here, let me check your arm. There can sometimes be a reaction at the injection site."

She walked towards him and took his arm. Her eyebrows rose as she saw where the skin had also been disturbed by the punctures the hospital had made in Lucas' arm, the pale, freckled skin showing red marks.

Jonathan acted passively, letting her get close, but looked across at Lucas. He moved swiftly to jab his elbow into her side, but she moved away quickly, as if anticipating, pulling a gun out of her waistband and pointing it at his face.

She smiled at his surprise.

"What does the guy say in the film; 'I have foreseen it'? This has already happened, Brandis, I know what you're going to do, even before you know. Bad move. You must think I'm stupid or something."

"Mel, please. You were so cool. Why are you doing this? You can't really be a pawn in Gordie Lachance's mixed up chess game. How do you know what really happened? How do you know that Lachance is telling you the truth? I heard Captain Bridger say that it wasn't the UEO that raided Lachance's father's place. I bet you didn't already know that, did you?" Jonathan said, using the calmest voice he could call up. He was usually a better judge of character. She didn't seem to be a bad person.

Mel lowered the gun. "He said that? He said it was someone else? If that's true, then it's all a lie…"

"That's why you have to help us, Mel. Help Lucas get back to his own reality so we can stop Lachance."

"Why should I trust you? Especially if Lachance is lying. You could be trying to save your own skin."

"You're right. You have no reason to trust us, but what are your alternatives? That seed of doubt about Lachance's story is already there, isn't it? Hey. Let's make a deal. If I'm lying, then you can shoot me. And if you shoot me, Lucas dies too. It's like a bonus or something."

"Hey, wait! Hold on a second. Bet your own bargaining chip!" Lucas stammered.

"Shut up, Lucas!" Jonathan said roughly. "Do we have a deal?"

Mel hesitated. She suddenly saw him in a new light. This was no immature cover boy, no spoiled actor. He was deadly serious.

"I'll… I'll take it into consideration. But we have to get out of here." She raised the gun again, though seeming reluctant.

"How do we get out of here without Lucas dying?"

"We just leave."

"What?" Lucas and Jonathan cried out at the same time.

"Yeah. I just told you that about the field so you'd stay put. This thing on my waist is a souped-up tape recorder. I poisoned Lucas' pancakes, that's why he got sick. I didn't plan on his coming to the set. That was kind of a coincidence. He was supposed to pass out at home, but he didn't. I had to track him to the hospital, and you'd better be glad I did because if he hadn't gotten the antidote soon enough he would have gone into a permanent coma."

"You…You poisoned me?" Lucas shouted incredulously.

"Yeah. It was easy. You were too busy stuffing yourself to notice much else."

"Aww, my mom made pancakes?!" Jonathan cried, his stomach rumbling.

"With chocolate chips," Lucas added sadly. "And hazelnut coffee."

"Ugh…" Jonathan buried his face in his hands. "I miss all the good stuff." He shook his head. "But, if you poisoned him, how come the docs didn't pick up on it?"

"Because," Mel said nonchalantly, "It's a poison that hasn't been invented yet. Let's go." She waved the gun.

Lucas hesitantly put a Doc Martens over the line. Nothing happened. Sufficiently convinced, he walked across the room. He looked at the other him, thinking about their impossible link. "Okay, if you poisoned me, why is it nothing happened to Jonathan?"

Mel looked to the other. "Did you feel anything?"

"Well, I got a headache when he kept getting worse."

"How about when he was in the coma?"

"I…I fell asleep. The doctor woke me up."

"That's it then."

"Still, you poisoned me…. That's not right," Lucas mumbled.

Jonathan looked at Lucas sympathetically. "I agree. You don't fuck with a guy's food – especially chocolate chip pancakes. What was in it for you?"

"What do you mean?"

"What's in it for you if you help Lachance and he gets what he wants?"

"Simple. Money."

"Money?"

"Yeah. A lot of money. Money that I can really use right now."

"For what?"

"You're asking too many questions. Can we go? And no funny stuff, because I'm still not so sure I trust you, and believe me, this gun isn't fake."

She handcuffed the two young men together, confused about what was going on, but still not wanting to take any chances. The duo was staying hers for the moment.

"Mel, you've got to be kidding," Jonathan complained. His day was getting worse. He just wanted to go home and sleep. "Hey, don't you think that the studio will wonder where I am? I should be filming. We're starting Special Delivery on Monday. Blue rewrites."

"Blue rewrites. Good one, man," whispered Lucas. He too wanted out. He decided he didn't like the past – retro-cool or otherwise.

"It's Abalon, and they think you're sick. I told them that you had food poisoning. I even got the set doctor to write you a prescription." She smiled mirthlessly. "You're clear for a few days, if not longer. They got a photo double for background."

"Who?"

"Chris Pettiet. They just slapped a wig on him." She stared directly at Jonathan. "He could replace you if things get bad." She kept staring at Jonathan. "I've seen how he does when you go missing. It's not the same, but he'll do just fine."

"Mel, you can't go through with this…" Lucas was losing his patience.

"Will you shut up or else I'll just shoot both of you." She gestured with the gun. "Nothing irreparable, but I guarantee it wouldn't be pleasant."


"Dave, we have a problem."

"What do you mean 'we'? I didn't initiate this little fiasco."

"It's all going wrong. They're not sticking to the plan." Nick continued to watch the spheres of light drifting in front of him across the soft web work of interlacing gridlines.

Dave leaned closer to the display.

"Yes, I see. Unforeseen circumstances…again. You certainly are consistent."

A sphere split and the two began drifting opposite directions.

"What?" screamed Nick. "I can't believe this is happening! Not now! We're so close!"

Dave scanned more deeply into the display, trying to make out details in the pockmarked crystal.

"That's not our only problem."

Nick simply looked at Dave without saying anything. It wasn't turning out to be a very good day.


"Well," Bridger said, "Tell us what we want to know." He was out of breath.

Lachance just glared at him, blood running down his face.

"Go to hell!" he snarled and spat at Bridger's feet.

"You've already told us it was more than just the technology. That was just a bonus. You said that one of the boys was the key, but you won't say anything else. Don't you care that you're destroying the lives of two teenage boys?"

"If you knew what I knew, you wouldn't care as well."

"So, tell us what you know and we'll decide what we care about," Dr. Westphalen said, exhausted.

They'd had to restrain him after Lachance had decided to try to kill himself. It had taken five men and two shots of sedative to hold him down. Either he was terrified of what would happen to the ship or something was totally unnatural about him.

Lachance just smirked.

"You'll see soon enough."


"Right, you two in the car. We're going to get to the bottom of this. And woe betide you if you're lying to me," warned Mel. In truth, neither of the boys knew what was going on, not really. They clambered into the back of the car; not easy when joined together. Mel brought out another needle and swiftly injected Jonathan with something.

"What's that for?" he asked, still a bit groggy from the last injection.

"Insurance. It's not even half as strong as the last one I gave you, but it'll be enough to keep you out of any mischief."

"Why me?" he whined.

"Because you're closer." She watched as the drug began to affect him. "Try running away with that cuffed to you," she said to Lucas.

Once again the feeling of not caring invaded Jonathan's brain. He quite liked the experience, however, since he didn't have a choice in the matter. He looked over at a worried Lucas and laughed.

"You've got to try this sometime. It's very relaxing."


"Mr. O'Neill, any luck at getting a fix on the boys again?" Commander Ford asked out of duty. He knew that chances of reaching Lucas or Jonathan were becoming slimmer with each passing moment.

"No sir." O'Neill looked puzzled. "But someone did tell someone else named 'Raimi' to stop messing around."

Ford was worried, but as usual he didn't show it. There had to be something he could do. He hated feeling so useless. He preferred doing anything, whether it was planning or practical, but he couldn't abide the waiting. It made him edgy.

He stood at attention. "Captain on the bridge."

"As you were, men," Bridger said. He'd had a far-fetched idea, but he had to act quickly. "Mr. O'Neill, get me a com-link."

"Yes sir. To whom?"

"Tobias Le Conte."


Tobias lay enjoying the sun. Sitting on a beach, catching a few rays, he could feel the tropical breeze, he continued to astound the local ladies with his ability to recognize them by their walks, their scent, their very vibrations. These ladies were perfect, all bumps and curves and not a stick within them. He ordered another round of drinks. It wasn't often he got all of this attention. The ladies were discussing something between them, but he didn't need his carefully honed hearing to know it was about him. He liked where the conversation was going, though. By now, most of them were familiar territory and he was thinking of striking out for new adventures.

He heard someone approach from the left. Jo, he smiled. Ah, yes. Jo. Then the world started to shake. All he could hear was his name being repeated over and over again.

"Dr. Le Conte! Wake up!"

He opened startling blue eyes without sight.

"Dan, what's up?"

"I still don't get how you do that. There's a message from the captain of the seaQuest."

Le Conte smiled. He'd been expecting this call – sooner or later.

"Nathan. How are you?"

"I wish I could say fine, but…"

"Something is up? Something wrong with this reality?"

"Well… Yes. Do you know something about this?"

"Of sorts. We've had these things happen on my home… well, back at home. I recognize the symptoms. I've been monitoring the situation from here for a time now."

"Can you come to the seaQuest and help us? Lucas' life is in danger."

"More than that, I wager. I took the liberty of chartering a jet-copter. I can be there in seven hours."

"Again, Tobias…your foresight is amazing."

"Eyesight, no, but foresight…perhaps."


"Goodness. This is going from bad to worse. I told you we shouldn't have started this yet," Dave moaned.

"Caution? From you?" Nick shouted. "You said no such thing. It was entirely your idea!"

"You don't need to remind me…but I absolutely insist that this all started because of your impatience."

"So what are going to do now? If we shut the portal down, the boys die. If we leave it open… Well, look!" He gestured to the display in which the glowing spheres had multiplied, moving in inevitable paths to collide with others. "The time-stream has been totally altered."

"We're in big trouble."

"Bit of a sticky wicket either way."

They simply gazed silently at each other.


Lucas watched as the world zipped by. He wouldn't have minded as much if it had been his own world – at least he knew he'd be relatively safe there. Captain Bridger and the seaQuest always came to his rescue when he got in too deep, regardless how much trouble he'd gotten himself into.

He looked at Jonathan, who was singing again, grinning, eyes half-closed. Singing was definitely not one of his talents. He looked and sounded drunk, adding a lack of any kind of diction to his artless three-note range. Anyway, there was no way they were jumping from the car, not that the drugged boy would have felt anything if they had. Lucas ran the fingers of his right hand through his hair. When he got back to his world he was getting a haircut. If he got back. He continued looking out the window. There was nothing he recognized, not that he'd been this way any time recently. No one came out this way in his time. Still, he tried to memorize every building or feature they went past in as much detail as possible so, when Jonathan was up to it, they could possibly find their way back.

"You're rather quiet!" Exclaimed Mel.

"Are you kidding me?" he yelled over Jonathan's singing.

"Don't get on me. It's not my fault," Mel snapped.

"Really, excuse me if I don't offer you any sympathy."

"…Of life, so lonely, then come and ease the pain. I don't wanna lose this feeeelin' oooh..." Jonathan sang, though Mel had shut off the radio a few miles back when he had started.

"Dude, please! You can't sing!"

Jonathan leaned against him. "Do you feel the same? Am I only dreeeam-in', or is this burning an eternal flaaame?" he grumbled. "And then… fermes tes yeux, prends-moi ta main, chériesomething something mon cœur? Da da duh duh duhrê-ves-moi seule-ment? la la la la même?… da da da-da…une flamme étern-el?"

"Oh great. He can't sing in two languages!" Lucas growled, shoving Jonathan back across the seat. Jonathan gestured with his cuffed right hand, dragging Lucas forward until he banged his head on the passenger headrest. "Dude!"

"Lucas, we all do things because of circumstances – things we're not happy about. Something forced me to do what I've done. Just as I'm sure there are things you've done that you're not happy with," Mel said over the noise.

"And you really think that's an excuse to kidnap Jonathan and me?" Lucas raised his voice, even though the other had settled down to simply humming out of tune.

"Calm down, Lucas. I mean it!"

"Calm down? You're asking me to calm down? I thought you wanted more noise out of me!" Lucas was close to losing it. He shoved Jonathan when he slumped over onto him. "CLOSE YOUR EYES, LEND ME YOUR HAND, DARLING…C'mon! DO YOU HEAR MY HEART BEATING?!" he screamed.

Mel pulled the car over to the side and turned around to face him.

"Look, I was trying to be nice. I don't want something bad to happen to you if I can avoid it. But if I have to, I won't hesitate to hurt you." She pulled another syringe out of the glove compartment.

Lucas opened his mouth to say something, but then bit the words back. The captain would have been proud of his impulse control, he thought. He satisfied himself by just sitting there, fuming.

"Better." Mel pulled the car back into traffic again. This time she didn't try to start a conversation. They traveled in silence.

"I din't know you coul' sing…" Jonathan mumbled, his eyes closed now.

X

Lucas, still fuming, continued to stare out of the window. It wasn't long before his curiosity began to get the better of him, and it frustrated him even more than the last exchange with Mel had. Ever the consummate scientist, he couldn't stop thinking about the why's and how's of things. He had another question to ask, but he didn't want to ask it because he didn't want to give Mel the satisfaction of making him talk to her.

He glanced over at Jonathan, who was now sound asleep and snoring. He rolled his eyes, but was thankful that at least he didn't have to listen to any more stoned renditions of Eternal Flame. Unfortunately it also ruled out any chance of conversation with someone other than Mel. He angrily kicked the bottom of the seat in front of him. He would have to ask her or he would explode. So much for the captain being proud of him for holding his tongue. He couldn't shut up for more than a minute or two.

"Tell me something, because I don't understand it," he said finally. He saw her eyes flick up to the rear view mirror to look at him.

"It depends on what it is," she answered coolly.

"If you only need a public apology from my father, then why did you have to bring Jonathan into this mess? What has he got to do with any of it? He doesn't even know my father and my father certainly won't care about him if he knows that it isn't me. Hell, he might not even care if it was me."

"That's just it, genius boy. Haven't you figured this out yet? Have you looked in a mirror? You and Jonathan look exactly alike. No one who didn't know the truth would be able to figure out which was which, especially if you're dressed alike. The plan was…is…to wipe Jonathan's memory so that he has nothing left. He can then be trained to remember a few things about himself, or about you, actually, and be convinced that he is, indeed, you, but with big gaping holes in his memory. If we sit him in front of a vidcom, link him to your father, and then make our demands, he's sure to be compliant when he realizes his 'son' doesn't even recognize his own father or know who he really is anymore."

Lucas stared, horrified, at the eyes that now looked at him in the rear view mirror. Destroy Jonathan's memory all for the sake of an apology? "Don't you think that's a bit much? Why would you absolutely destroy his life that way? A memory wipe is irreversible; he wouldn't remember anything about his life here, his family, his friends, his work. They would think he had gone crazy or had some sort of terrible head trauma… They might even institutionalize him," Lucas said, his voice dropping to almost a whisper. He had a friend, Laine, in prison for misusing the technology when they had both been freshman in college. Laine's accidental victim had died after his mind had been erased, but not before he'd forgotten even how to breathe.

"Why would it matter to you, Lucas? You'd be safe: your own memory would be fine. Lachance, or the people who hired him, would never risk injuring your brain in any way because they still need it. You're supposed to work for them. Once we get what we want from your father."

"Over my dead body!"

"That can be arranged," Mel snapped. "You will work for us, Lucas. You don't have a choice, and if you don't cooperate fully, well… There are ways of getting you to be more…accommodating."

Lucas glared at her back. "Tsk, tsk, tsk, Lucas," she said, noting the look she received. "If looks could kill."

"I wish they could," Lucas muttered.

"Now, that's not very nice," Mel said, sticking her bottom lip out in a mock pout, but she couldn't hold it for long and started to chuckle. "Look, braniac, I don't mean you any harm. I'm seriously bothered by the possibility that everything Lachance fed us was a lie. I gave up the plan to you because it can still be done whether you know about it or not. I'm going to find out which of you is telling the truth, and the liar is going to pay. I don't want to hurt anyone, and I figured that a memory wipe for Jonathan would be the least painful thing they could do to him. But you still haven't answered my question; why do you care what happens to him as long as you stay safe?"

Lucas sat back, folding his arms across his chest. Why did he care? He thought an answer would take longer to come to him, but it didn't.

"I care because he's the closest thing to a real brother that I will ever have, and because of him I got to see what a real family was like, to see what it felt like to be loved and wanted. And I got to have friends my age. Because of him I got to feel normal… Well, almost. I don't want to see him hurt and I certainly don't want to see anyone who loves him hurt just because you think my father is a jackass." A smile briefly crossed his face as he watched Jonathan sleep. "I just met him – just a few days ago." He lowered his head. "But now I can't imagine the world without him. It would be so…empty. Not just for me." He raised his chin and fixed her reflected eyes with his. "Maybe we're from a billion miles apart, from different dimensions, different lives, different times. Maybe I'll never see him again. But I won't forget him, and just knowing he's here would make everything…better."

Mel blinked slowly, and then her eyes quickly darted away from the mirror. Lucas sighed heavily and turned his head towards the window again, thinking of Mary and how good it had felt to be hugged and loved like someone's son. He would miss her when he went back, he knew that much already. She loved her son so much. What would it do to her to get him back in a state where he no longer recognized her? It would be as if he never came back at all. Worse. Lucas felt a lump harden in his chest as he imagined her reaction. He had to close his eyes against the image. Mel's voice snapped him back into reality.

"We're almost there," she said. Lucas wondered if his words had affected her.

"Where are we going?" Lucas asked, wondering why he hadn't thought to ask before.

"To a deep-water inlet just off Highway 1 on the coast. Lachance will be waiting for us there. It's time to go home."


About thirty minutes of uneasy silence later, after traveling through a rugged canyon, Mel pulled the car off to the side of the winding highway. Lucas gazed out over the Pacific Ocean with a sinking feeling. He didn't know how he was going to prevent this from happening. How were they both going to get out of this intact?

Mel opened the car door on Jonathan's side, softly shaking him. Lucas was shocked that she was so gentle with him. Had she come to like him after all? Was she having regrets about all of this?

"Hunh? What's going on? I don't have an early call, Mom. I don't have school anymore, either. Let me sleep," Jonathan mumbled. "Just five more minutes." He held up his open free hand.

"Jon, wake up," Mel said, leaning in and unlocking the handcuffs.

Lucas' eyes grew wide at her use of such a familiar term. How long had she been here with him?

Jonathan's eyes fluttered open and he squinted at the hazy sunshine. "Where are we? What's happening?" As he came back to consciousness, he quickly pulled away from her. "You stay away from me."

For the briefest second, Lucas saw a flicker of genuine hurt pass through her eyes. She did like him. She didn't want to do this.

"We're here. Come on, out of the car. We've got to hike down to the beach."

Lucas stepped out of the car, rubbing his wrist and Jonathan began to slide toward the door on his side until he noticed Mel still standing there. He then backpedaled across the entire length of the seat and jumped out on the other side, fixing her with an intense glare across the roof of the car.

She sighed. "Come on, you two. Get walking."

The two came around the front of the car and went down the long trail through the sea grass in front of them. Mel followed behind and Jonathan made sure that Lucas was closest to her this time. As they rounded a bend in the trail, Lucas' breath caught when he saw a launch waiting. It was something he recognized from his own time, something that didn't exist here yet — or at all. Jonathan saw it too.

"Wait a minute. What the hell is that? Oh no. I am not getting on that. Not again," Jonathan said, adamant.

"You have no choice, Jonathan. Do it or you die."

Do it and you might as well die, Lucas thought.

Jonathan once again turned his eyes on Mel, his dislike and distrust clearly evident in the fierce blue gaze. He bore an expression Lucas didn't recognize, an intensity that he didn't have. He was glad that the look wasn't directed at him. Jonathan stopped in the middle of the trail.

"You… You're going to threaten me now? Haven't you done enough? Haven't you and your buddies screwed things up to your satisfaction? You damn near killed Lucas, you've shoved us both into times where we don't belong, and you still want to do more? What are you going to do to me, Mel, huh?" he asked, advancing on her, not a trace of the happy intoxication left.

Lucas stared in disbelief. Who was this guy?

She lifted the gun and pointed it at him. "I'll…I'll shoot you, Jon. I swear. Stop," she stammered.

He continued walking toward her, his eyes unwavering. "No you won't. There are lots of reasons why you won't," he said, slapping the gun barrel away. "It would make you a murderer, wouldn't it, and you don't want that. You aren't that type of person – at least the Mel I know isn't. We were on good terms. We were going to be friends. We had some good times. Remember?"

She stared at him, not bothering to point the gun at him again after he'd pushed it away. "Yes, I remember," she whispered.

"But none of that matters now, does it? It was all a lie – an act, wasn't it? Shoot me, Mel. Do it. Lucas and I are probably going to die anyway, so just do it now. Kill me. You've already betrayed my trust, so you might as well."

She took a couple of steps back, shaking her head. She was trembling in shock or fear, Lucas couldn't tell which. He continued to stare, wide-eyed at Jonathan, who was standing there, his gaze concentrated and his eyes dark with fury. He stepped towards her again, catching her by the arm and yanking her close, looking unflinchingly into her eyes. She was paralyzed by his gaze, as was Lucas.

He leaned close to her, whispering into her ear. "Come on, Mel, if you're so tough, if you're so sure you're right, just do it. You can't miss from here." He lifted her gun hand with his own, aimed the end of the barrel at the center of his chest.

Lucas could see her face over Jonathan's shoulder, and he was astonished as she began to cry, even moreso when he saw her drop the gun to the ground.

"I'm sorry… I…I didn't mean to betray your trust, Jonathan," she whispered. "I just needed the money. I didn't want anyone hurt…"

He released her arm and backed away from her, then stooped down and picked up the gun, never breaking his gaze. "That's what I thought. You know what you're doing is wrong. Prove to me that you're worthy of our trust again, Mel." He broke off the trail and stepping up to the edge of the cliff and then hurling the gun as far as could out into the water. Turning back to her, he spoke again. "Help us. Help me get Lucas home. Lachance is a liar. He's not here. He's in the brig on the seaQuest, 25 years and a whole other world from this place. Your plan, whatever it was, is going to have to change to account for it. You know what's going on here; you know how to get him home. Let's get back to the set. Let's get back and I'll help you with whatever it is that made you feel like you needed to do this for the money."

Her eyes shot quickly from Jonathan to Lucas and then back. She sighed and then wiped her tears away with the back of her hand and nodded. "This wasn't supposed to happen. I wasn't supposed to…care. I wasn't going to like you, but when I met you I couldn't help it. You're the only one who took me seriously, really listened. I don't want anything to hurt either of you. Something is wrong with all of this. There's more to it than even I know. It was all so planned out – like it was fated to be. But this isn't what I saw. This is different."

"Fate is what you make it," Lucas said.

"Then let's make our own fate," Jonathan added. He looked sad all of a sudden and pulled her close again, this time to give her a hug. At this small gesture she began to cry harder, and he just stood there and let her cry. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you or hurt your feelings," he said softly.

"I know. But you had to do what you had to. I respect that," she choked out.

Lucas was stunned. Jonathan's move had been a bold one, but it had worked. He'd seen something there that Lucas had not, and now he had the humanity to hold the girl who'd just threatened to shoot him. There was more to Jonathan than he could ever have guessed.

When Mel calmed down, he released her. "Let's get back to town. We've got to get all of this straightened out," he said, taking Mel by the hand and walking back up the trail toward the car. "And I'm driving. Lucas, check the glove compartment for any other syringes. If you find any, get rid of them."


They estimated their drive south to be an hour. It might as well have been ten.

"They have to know we're not coming by now," Lucas stated.

"Do you think they're sending someone after us?" Jonathan glanced at his twin, using the same motion to check for traffic before changing lanes. His knowledge of getting to Universal Studios from any direction was ingrained so deeply he could get there in his sleep.

Mel rested her hands on the front headrests. "Most likely. Stay on the 101, Jonathan."

"What's your plan?" Jonathan slid a quick, suspicious look to the brunette in the back seat.

"They'll expect us to avoid the regular route and take the back way along Ventura Boulevard. We'll slip past them from the back way on Barham. Lachance didn't exactly hire intelligent cronies."

"How do we know we can trust you?" Lucas asked.

"You have my word." She got a silent look from both. "Look, if there's one thing you should know about me Jonathan, it's that I keep my word. No matter what."

Jonathan let his mind wander to the past, to the promises she had kept. He realized with a sigh that she had kept all of them – no matter how difficult. "You'd better be right." He passed between cars carrying people clueless to their situation and settled in the second left lane.

Mel's green eyes flicked from driver to passenger. It was still amazing how identical the two young men were in every conceivable way. Lachance's plan to switch Lucas with Jonathan would have gone off without a hitch. Lawrence Wolenczak would see an amnesiac son working for the enemy, Lachance would get his revenge on Wolenczak – senior and junior, she would get the money she needed, and both Jonathan and the real Lucas…would probably be killed once Lachance didn't need them. It would have, unfortunately, worked perfectly. Mel hung her head with shame. As for the shadowy others involved, theirs was a larger plan that didn't necessarily need any of them alive. It alarmed her that the most stable element of the whole scheme was a pirate.

The silent treatment ended when Jonathan pulled off Lankershim Boulevard and into the Universal lot. "You'd better…"

"…hide?" Lucas grinned. He already crammed himself on the floor between the seat and the dash. He had to cram all 5 foot 8 inches of himself in the space, like a folded up, life-size, Jonathan Brandis doll. Okay, he thought, life size action figure. Jonathan amused himself with the thought that his doppelgänger might be double-jointed.

Thankfully the guard didn't notice the secreted teen. Mel took her studio ID card back with a nod of thanks. Jonathan, they recognized. With Mel's pert kiss to her fingers, they drove onto the lot without looking back. A few rights and they were out of sight.

"Vernon is off his game," Mel said as she stepped out of the car. "I guess it comes from trusting you."

"What, you think this is the first time I've snuck a girl onto the lot?" Jonathan gave her his best Casanova smirk.

"Actually..," Mel began, but was cut off by a loud cry of pain. Both looked over to Lucas who was crawling backward out of the front seat.

"I'll never move right again," he groaned, popping his back loudly enough to be heard. "Ow! I'll never have children, I think I broke the rest of my ribs and I found this under the seat." He handed Mel a quarter. :And I'll hurt you for that remark about sneaking a girl in…" He swung his arm around, wincing at the ache in his side.

Jonathan rubbed his lip, the swelling of which had gone down. "What? I'm not doing a good enough job of that myself?"

"We need to focus on getting Lucas home. Then you can both lick your wounds." Mel looked at them both, walking into the door of Stage 28.

Jonathan knew that Mel now had to face down her involvement with Lachance, and keep her promise to help them now. Because of her change of heart, Lachance's men would hunt her down as a traitor – if they could figure out where she was. Who knew what her punishment would be? For a moment Jonathan didn't care what happened. She'd kidnapped him, drugged him, held a gun to his head, basically thrown away whatever budding friendship they might have had. Still, he'd made a promise to her and his honor meant that he had to see it through. He knew in his heart that she wasn't as cruel as she'd made herself seem.

He smiled. Acting. Everyone did it, just not everyone was paid.

The soundstage was empty again, except for someone on the far end hammering something together. Lucas wondered if anyone ate in the mess hall set, or if there even was a fixed set that didn't double as a UEO office or something. He followed the two across the soundstage floor to the moon pool set, pushing down automatic disappointment at knowing it wasn't real.

Mel leaned on the edge of the moon pool.

"Well?" Jonathan shoved his hands in his pockets. "Aren't you going to conjure up your…your interdimensional portal thingy?"

"A translocator trigger disk is in my locker. It should work." She turned to them. "Wait here."

Jonathan's hand flashed out to her arm. "You're not leaving us alone."

"Jonathan, what am I going to do? Lachance is after me now, probably determined to kill both you and Lucas to cover up what he was planning. Believe it or not, you're the only reason I haven't run to the hills yet." She wrenched her arm from his grasp and stared him down like a panther. She hoped to convey that it was his promise to help her, and a desire to try and mend together a friendship that made her stay. "Look," she sighed, "this place is safe for both you and Lucas. That's why I thought you should stay here. But if you want to come, fine."

"It's safe here? What about what just happened a while ago?" Jonathan quirked an eyebrow.

"It's a hot spot when you two are together, or in the same location in your different realities, so we can use it to send Lucas back. But the translocation has to be triggered by something."

"Synchronous interspatial transvergence," Lucas said, nodding. They looked at him with blank stares. He put his two index fingers in an 'X'. "Crossed wires. If she's right, then my theory was correct. Somehow we created a tear or used an already existing space/time anomaly. Lachance must have found it and ripped it open little by little to make a path back and forth. We just keep getting caught in the slipstream."

"What, time rifts are…like…hiding behind trash dumpsters or something?" Jonathan couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. "It can't be that easy to connect dimensions. My phone drops calls all the time. How do you keep from dropping a whole reality?"

"Once you find it and tag it, it's just a matter of controlling access," Lucas said. "And Lachance has the gate pass."

"News flash, genius," Mel said. "He's not in control of it." She paused for a long moment. "You are."

Lucas blinked, pointed to himself.

Her eyes flicked to each of them. "You both are."

Jonathan put a hand on his hip, raised a forefinger, mouth open, looking serious, dropped his hand. "I got nothin'," he said, blowing out a breath and shaking his head.

Silence filled the space between them, the space around them, and the soundstage where they stood.

"Uh… Am I missing something?"

All three snapped around to the new, deeper voice that had lanced through the silence. There in the doorway stood a figure familiar to only one member of the group.

Jonathan froze with eyes wide like he'd been caught with his hand in the Hershey's tin. "Oh shit."

"Uh oh," Mel breathed.

"Security?" Lucas whispered.

"Worse." Jonathan ran both hands through his hair." He was my high school English teacher."

Raymond Garcia shifted to the other foot as he faced the duo of conspicuous look-alikes, trying to make some sense of the enigma he'd walked into.

"Okay. I give up. What's going on here, Jonathan?"

Lucas coughed and busied himself with examining his shoe laces, furtively looking up at the teacher now and again, a behavior uniquely one of Jonathan's.

Fearing the direction close examination would lead, Jonathan closed the gap between himself and the tote-bag-carrying teacher. He pasted on his best 'nothing's wrong' grin. He was an actor, after all. "Gar, hey. What are you doing here so late?"

"Going home. I was on my way out when I saw you walk in here. Twice." He seemed totally unfazed by the very peculiar tableau.

"Uhm, yeah. I can explain that." Jonathan glanced back at the stunned Mel and Lucas. "See, what you're seeing is a…a…a stunt double."

"That's right," Mel agreed, pasting on a grin. "A double."

Ray arched both eyebrows with curious skepticism. "Is his name Niles or Holland?"

"Seriously!" Jonathan insisted, getting the joke and trying to hide his laughter. "We're doing a surprise ending in the next episode, and we needed a double. It's like this; there's this huge scene where Lucas has to jump out of a plane and wrestle with the antagonist for a stolen copy of all of the ship's security codes."

Lucas mimicked the salient action points with both arms, grimacing dramatically.

The teacher knew the producers of seaQuest didn't like putting Jonathan in a position where he could be hurt without getting a stunt double, mainly because he was the source of a great deal of their income. Should he be injured, it would push back production and they would lose money. It was why they wouldn't let him skateboard, sky-dive, or engage in other 'reckless activities' as stated in his contract.

Of course, they'd never seen him drive.

Jonathan put his hands in his pockets, feigning ease. "We're showing the new guy the ropes."

The teacher nodded, but he'd know Jonathan long enough to see right through a bald-faced lie. "Inventive. Not bad for on the spot. You were always good at creative writing. When you get your first book published, let me know." He squeezed youth's shoulder and walked toward Mel and the twin. "I'd love a little credit in the dedication."

Jonathan sighed as the wall of the façade crumbled to dust. "All right. Here's the real deal. That's Lucas Wolenczak."

Lucas gave a silly grin and waved briskly.

"Mm-hmm," the teacher responded skeptically. He turned Jonathan away from the others for a private moment. "What's going on here? This kid is trying to be you! He even got a wig and contacts! What is this, some kind of Bop 'plastic surgery contest' or something?" He looked back at the weird double. The similarity was beyond eerie. "I thought that Aeryk was obsessive, but…"

"Just hear him out, Garf," Jonathan urged.

"Can we trust him?" Lucas whispered to Mel, who met his question with a shrug.

That statement sounded an alarm bell in Ray's head, bringing his attention back to them.

"It doesn't look like you have much of a choice."

Mel gave a resigned sigh, gesturing to the older man. "Tell him, Jon."

Jonathan took a deep breath, knowing that this wasn't going to be easy or brief.

"He and I switched realities a few days ago because of a tear in the symphonic interstitial transgender and had to live each others' lives until we made it back here, but during that we would talk to each other in a white space like a green screen only white which is where we found out we're linked to each other, and I found out that this guy named Gordie Lachance – who looks like Wil Wheaton – you should really read the script I'm writing – wants Lucas so he can get revenge on Lawrence Wolenczak for some kind of big scandal or something that ruined his attitude, so he hired Mel here to come to this reality and keep tabs on me, but the tear got out of control and Lucas got sent here, so Mel tried to kidnap him back to the future by drugging us, yet now I know what's going on, so she was going to switch me with Lucas, wipe my memory like a whiteboard, convince Lawrence that Lucas had turned to the Dark Side, but I convinced Mel it wasn't a smart move and that Lachance was using her for his diabolical world takeover scheme, which pissed her off, so now she's on the light side of The Force trying to find a way to send Lucas back to his reality and return everything to normal."

"Breathe," Ray said.

Jonathan inhaled deeply a few times to let oxygen return to his brain. He'd thought only his friend, Sunny, could say that much, that fast, in just one breath.

"Please," Mel pleaded. "You can't tell anyone else about this, but Jonathan's telling you the truth."

Ray folded his arms. "So seaQuest exists in reality on an alternate plane of time/space?"

Mel, Lucas and Jonathan nodded.

"Well that's…" He paused and whistled with the intensity of it. He might as well have been told the earth had two moons or dragons had taken over the White House. "Wow." If he needed empirical evidence to support the insane notion he'd just heard, here it was. He looked from Jonathan to Lucas and back. Jonathan's doppelgänger looked exactly like him in stance, gesture, hairstyle, eye color and intensity. It was as if he witnessed fictional characters form into flesh and blood.

Part of him was deeply disturbed by that. The larger part was fascinated.

"So... are you symbio-sympathetic?"

Jonathan's eyes widened and his head tilted. "Huh?"

Yes," Mel said. "Yes they are. And more than that, they're showing signs of being the same person. If one is injured, the other feels it and has the same damage."

"Parallel thought patterns?"

"Not quite," Lucas said. "You mean like twin ESP?"

"But you're more than just twins. You're closer than that. Closer than clones." He walked around Lucas, examining him. "But you're independent of each other?"

"Y…yeah," Lucas said, feeling a little like he was on a microscope slide. "We're capable of independent thought and action."

"He just wants to get home, Gar," Jonathan said. "We've got to help him."

"How do you plan to do that?"

The J-duplicate gave a low energy shrug. "We don't know."

"I'm going to try, but in the meantime I think I know someone else who can help until we do."


Anica lay on the bunk in the artificial room that served as the set for Lucas' quarters. Her legs, crossed at the ankles, were propped up against the wall as she stared at the blank piece of paper in front of her. She tapped the pen against the side of her leg, idly, deep in thought. She often came here to write. Being surrounded by him, by the pieces that served as his room and his things always helped her. She sighed heavily as she continued to stare at the page. Just one idea, that was all she needed.

"Come on Lucas, talk to me," she said out loud.

"Okay," she heard someone reply in Lucas' voice. "What would you like me to say?"

She jumped. No one else was supposed to be here. She quickly turned her head to the right and saw Lucas Wolenczak standing there. She blinked hard. Was she hallucinating? Had she fallen asleep? Had she hit her head and not known it? She sat up quickly.

"Hey, Ani," Mel said. "Didn't mean to scare you, but I knew we'd find you here."

"Hi Mel," she replied, never taking her eyes off of Lucas. "Um ?" She waved one hand toward the fictional boy.

"Well, it's kind of a long story, but I'd like you to meet Lucas Wolenczak and Mr. Garcia, Jonathan Brandis's teacher. Jonathan you already know, I think."

"Yes." She looked from Jonathan to Lucas and back again repeatedly. "How?"

"It's complicated…" Mel began.

"Try me."

"Okay. He and Lucas switched realities a few days ago because of a tear in interdimensional space and had to live each others' lives until they made it back here, but during that time they could talk to each other in a space like a green screen stage which is where they found out they're linked to each other, and Jonathan found out that this maniac named Gordie Lachance – who looks like Wil Wheaton – wants Lucas so he can get revenge on Lawrence Wolenczak for some kind of big scandal or something that ruined his family life," Mel said, borrowing Jonathan's earlier explanation.

Jonathan turned to look at her. "Niiice!" he said with a smirk.

"She made sense out of it?" Lucas said. "Amazing."

"So, basically, you're saying that Lucas really exists? I mean, he has to. I see him standing right there, but… This is unreal."

"I'll say," Jonathan and Lucas said at the same time. "Stop that!" at the same time again.

Mel stared at them. "Can you tell them apart?"

"Sure. That's my job. I do write Lucas after all, even though my bozo boss gets all the credit for it," she said with a frown.

"Kemper or Burke?" Jonathan asked.

"Both of them. Now those two I can't tell apart." She looked the twins up and down. "But these two… Easy."

"How?" Jonathan asked, looking at Lucas. It was like looking in a mirror, every detail, as far as he could tell, exactly the same.

"First, he's shorter than you by about an inch because he's not as old. It's why your clothes probably don't fit him quite right. The expression is a bit more wise-ass, too, but his eyes look older because of the education he's had and the fact that he's been on his own pretty much these last few years. I don't know. There's just a difference that I see. Call it a writer's thing. Oh, and I bet if I do this…" she said, walking up to Lucas and pulling back the flannel shirt while lifting up the T-shirt sleeve. "Yep. See? He has a scar from the H1 D2 vaccine. Just like I wrote him, but they didn't include that in the series bible."

Jonathan was searching his own arm, trying to see around the shoulder, but able to turn neither his head nor arm to the right position, circling, as if he could dislocate his joints and see what she was talking about.

"Jonathan, you don't have one. It hasn't been invented yet," Anica said softly.

Lucas stared. "You write me?"

Anica laughed. "What it means is that I write your character for the show; or Jonathan's character actually."

"I didn't know that it was you," Jonathan said.

"No one really does. Like I said. No credit."

Jonathan smiled crookedly. "Lucas, she's kinda your mom!"

"You're kinda my mom, Brandis," Lucas said irritably.

"No. That would be Rockne. Lucas came from him. I just flesh out the character."

Jonathan critically looked at Lucas. "You should have fleshed him out a little more. I carried him and he's way light."

"How he is now is based on you when you auditioned. Remember? 1992?"

Jonathan nodded. He had felt sure that someone else would get the part – that was the way things were going at the time. He was always too old or too young or too skinny or not skinny enough or any combination of the above. And, for the 5,000,000th time, he DIDN'T know anything about soccer or karate. Now he convincingly knew nothing about computers.

"I hate to break up this little family gathering, but we need to try and get Lucas home," Mel said. "Any ideas?"

"Aww… Do we have to? He's so much fun."

"I am?" Lucas asked, clearly surprised.

"He is?" Jonathan followed.

"You are when I write you," Anica replied. "Where do you think some of your best schemes come from? Well, at least here on set."

Lucas grinned. "So, you have to think about me all the time, then?"

"Day and night, pretty much, yeah."

"Cool…" Lucas replied, intrigued with the idea of having a pretty girl thinking about him constantly. Then an idea occurred to him. "Uh…that means that you know stuff about me that…"

"Uh huh."

He blushed. "Okay, so maybe that part isn't so cool."

''As for the problem at hand… I'm no master of physics, so I'm not sure how to get him back. What I can do though is write Lucas here into an episode. Something about twins or whatever, so that at least there's a reason for there to be a Jonathan look-alike walking around and you don't draw any additional attention. We can get him a studio ID right away."

"That's a good idea, Anica; make it obvious so it isn't obvious. You see, things like this are why we're friends," Mel said.

"Close friends?" Jonathan asked warily, wondering if Anica was tied to Lachance too.

Mel, seeming to sense the question behind the question, replied, "Not like that."

Anica raised an eyebrow. "Um… Okay."

"Never mind," Mel said.

"Hey Lucas," Anica said. "Come here for a minute."

"Okay, why?"

"I want to test something. You'll see."

Lucas, not knowing if he liked the sound of that, reluctantly approached her. Anica gave him a smile and then walked around behind him. She gave Mel an evil grin over his shoulder before lightly pressing the area behind Lucas' left ear.

"GAH!" Lucas cried out, jumping half a foot and coming down shivering.

"Yup. That's Lucas all right," Anica said, chuckling.

"Hey don't… whoa! Don't do that!" Lucas said, rubbing his arms in an attempt to rid himself of the goose bumps she'd just instantly given him.

Jonathan burst out laughing. This was going to be interesting, having someone around who knew Lucas better than Lucas knew himself. Very interesting indeed.

"It's a time/space thing. Very Back to the Future," Anica said offhandedly.

"Wait. Did a girl, a female member of the species, just make a Back to the Future reference? I think I'm going to like you," Jonathan said with a grin.

Anica smiled back. "Hey, they're great movies, what can I say?"

"I totally agree with that," Mel said.

"Me too," Lucas said. "I saw those as a kid. I really liked them."

This piqued Jonathan's curiosity. "Who was in them on your side?"

"Huh? Oh. Eric Stoltz and Maximillian Schell."

"Hmmm," the teacher said. "Now that's interesting."

Jonathan stopped him before he could ask any more. "Maybe we can show him where it was made. The town of Hill Valley is right here on the lot." It was always fun to show someone from out of town the roots of many of their dreams – and Lucas definitely fit the definition of being from 'out of town'.

"Yeah, that sounds great!" Lucas' enthusiasm was infectious. "Where I'm from this is just an abandoned ruin."

Jonathan's smile died instantly.

"A what?"

Anica caught Lucas' arm. "Come on, we've got to get you a badge."

Lucas followed Anica out of the soundstage. The others had decided to stay there, trying to come up with some ideas. He studied her, interested. In this time, in this world, she had created him. She wrote his words, his actions, his thoughts and feelings. She knew things about him that no one else knew, perhaps because those things had never been included in the version of him that Jonathan portrayed, but she still knew them. She knew about that spot behind his ear, something he thought no one else knew or would ever know. Was he that way because of her, or did it just happen that someone almost exactly like the person she once wrote about was born into the world? It was an interesting question.

"So, Anica, how old are you?" he asked, walking beside her. She looked very young.

She looked at him curiously. "I'm 20. Why?"

"I was just wondering. I thought you looked like you might be Jonathan's age. 20, huh? Is that young to do what you do?"

"Yes. Yes it is, actually. They wanted someone young to write for Lucas – I mean you – so that you would be more accurately portrayed. But one could say the same thing for you, couldn't they? A Stanford graduate and Chief Computer Analyst, all by the age of 16?"

"True," he said, though he had been forced to sacrifice a lot to be where he was. "You created me, then? At least here, I mean."

"Yes and no. I didn't come up with the idea of you. Rockne did. Someone else did a loose character sketch on you. They came up with your name, a little bit about your background. You were only supposed to be a 'bit' character, showing up every now and again, a foil for the other adults. But when Jonathan showed up for the audition he impressed them so much that they completely revamped the profile to make him a major character."

"He was that good?"

"He is that good. He still amazes people on a daily basis. And it can't be easy to be at the center of such a constant maelstrom."

"I know. I saw some of it. It could make a lot of people sort of nuts."

"At the very least."

He gave her a sidelong glance. "And his looks?"

"Well… They didn't hurt his chances."

Lucas nodded. "So, where do you come into..." It still sounded just too weird to him, "writing me?"

"Well, once that character sketch was completed, they had to find someone to write you out. At the time I was, and still am, the assistant to the writers you were assigned to. They were having a hard time with you, not able to relate. Most of these writers are mid-30's and think that teenagers are just someone to bounce jokes off, or juvenile delinquents, or too-cool-for-school. I wrote an in-depth profile on you, for fun, and he used it. I get paid extra for it, a lot extra, but I don't get any writing credit."

"Wouldn't you like to have credit?"

"I'd love to, but I can't say anything. It would ruin the show, and I love it too much for that. No, I just keep my mouth shut."

"It's weird to hear you talk about me, and for me to talk about me, as someone who doesn't actually exist and just came from someone's imagination."

"Well, trust me, it's weird to me that you actually do exist, so I guess we're even there."

"Noted. How much of…um…me…did you make up?"

"Pretty much all of it; your childhood, your schooling, your experiences. There's so much that wasn't used just because there was no room for it. But in some way I think it's all part of your memories and life-experience, whether it's on TV or not. It makes you a three-dimensional character."

Lucas put his arms out. "This is about as three-D as someone's gonna get." He sobered. "Why did I have to come from an unhappy home?"

She stopped and looked at him. "That wasn't my idea. I had you come from someplace happy and supportive. They changed that. Troubled characters get better ratings, I guess, and they figured Jonathan had the range to believably portray a conflicted character. I had no control over it. I'm sorry."

He gazed at her, confused for a moment. She was sorry? Sorry for his life? Somehow it didn't feel right. It wasn't her fault that things were the way they were. "Hey, don't be. I didn't really think you had anything to do with it."

She smiled, then turned and continued walking. He was silent for a moment, contemplating this turn of events, this person he was with. She seemed really interesting.

"Can I ask you something?" he said, breaking the silence.

"Sure."

"Where did you come up with things for the current me, the one that Jonathan plays?"

"To start with, I studied up on Jonathan, watched him work. I knew that if the show went on the air, girls would go crazy for him. Keeping that in mind, I thought back to my high school days about what type of guy I would have liked to date. I took Jonathan's looks and created the personality that I would have liked, and there you were."

He nearly tripped. "Wait! What? Dated? You would've dated me?"

She looked at him, quite serious. "Absolutely. Well, someone like you."

"No one wants to date me or someone like me."

"Well, that was their loss. I liked the intelligent guys," she replied with a grin. "And you're the only one on the ship that has any kind of a romantic life, if you think about it."

He chuckled. "Got any younger fictional friends?"

"Hopefully for you, you aren't sticking around to find out," she said as they reached the building. She swiped her badge and pulled open the door, holding it open so he could follow her inside. "We need to come up with a name for you, but that's so hard because when I look at you all I see is Lucas. Hmmm…"

"I have no idea."

"I know! We'll keep it simple. You'll still be Lucas, but we'll give you Jonathan's last name. You guys are cousins, got it?"

"Got it." He nodded. "Cousin Luke from… Connecticut." He remembered reading that Jonathan's family had come out west from Danbury. They certainly could have family that still lived there.

She walked through a series of identical hallways and through a door marked "Security".

"Hey Bill, I've got a new actor here who needs a temporary badge."

"Hi there, Anica. Sure thing. For how long?"

"3 weeks max."

Bill entered the information into his terminal.

"Could you stand over there?" He took a close look at Lucas. "Wow, he sure looks like that other kid – the one on your program."

"So I've been told," Lucas mumbled.

"Yeah, isn't it great?" Anica laughed. "They're cousins. He's here to work on a new episode about twins."

"Very cool. All right, let's get your picture. Raise your head. Good!" He snapped a picture. "What's the name?"

"Lucas Brandis," she replied, hiding a fierce grin.

"All right," Bill said, pulling a completed badge out of the laminator. "Here ya go. Access to all seaQuest soundstages and the backlot."

"You're the best, Bill, you know that?"

"I do what I can." He smiled at Lucas. "Yeah, I can tell now. They're not that much alike."

They walked out, Lucas clutching his new studio ID. He was keeping this when he went home. "Lucas Brandis," he muttered. "It sound's kinda stupid."

"Yeah, but it's not bad for something on the fly, so stop griping."

He grinned. "Right."

"Now," she said, "I've got a new script to write, and for that I think I'll borrow Jonathan."

"Yeah," Lucas said, drawing out the word. "Good old cousin Jon."


"So what do you think?" asked Bridger.

Tobias Le Conte picked up his coffee and took a couple of deep swallows. Coffee, something so simple – plants seeds and water – was one of the wonders of this planet. He had a pretty good idea what was going on but how much he could say worried him. Unless absolutely necessary, he would rather not tell the natives about the massively populated distances just beyond their solar system. They weren't really ready for all of that yet. He took another mouthful of the rich coffee before talking. Creatures capable of such a concoction were obviously higher beings, but…how much could he say and still not tell them too much?

"Captain," Le Conte chose his words carefully, "your earth is not the only one. There are others."

"You mean there are other planets?" asked Ford.

"No." Le Conte knew this was going to be hard, especially when they learned what the outcome was likely to be. "There are other earths, other dimensions, other realities. There was an old television program back in the 1990's called Sliders…"

"I know that one. People jumped from one dimension to another via a wormhole." Krieg stopped. Everyone in the room stared at him. "If Braymer can be a School-head, I can be a Slide-head."

Bridger smiled and shook his head, eager for Le Conte to continue.

"Sorry, Tobias. Lieutenant Krieg sometimes gets a little overly enthusiastic. Please go on."

"Understood." The blind scientist nodded. "At least he's honest about his likes and dislikes." He seemed to think over the concepts before he spoke again. "Every time there is a choice in Earth's history, even something seemingly as insignificant as a preferred program or personality, a choice made or not…"

"A road not taken?" Bridger offered.

"Yes. That's appropriate. Every time a road is taken a new dimension is formed. Some of them are more advanced, the ones where the technological choice was made, and others are more primitive, where the choice was the opposite. Some are nothing but wastelands, others pure ocean. It varies. Occasionally there is a small rift between these parallel dimensions. Your own home-grown genius may be able to explain it better when – and if – you get him back. Usually these small changes are made by the same person passing through the same location relative to another dimension. He would probably say 'crossed wires'. This allows bits of one dimension to leak into others. These tears tend to be small and self-heal given time. But if you know they are there, and where, you could use them to your advantage."

"Just imagine it, Captain," said Dr. Westphalen. "If you know where these tears are and how to increase them you could travel to other places and times, plunder what they have; technology, riches, knowledge, abuse those resources in your own time and place. It could be disastrous. How ever did Lachance find this?"

"Chances are he didn't. Someone else did, and accidentally. I have known for some time that someone from another time and another dimension is trying to collapse two dimensions into each other."

"Why would they want to do that? Surely it would destroy both worlds," the doctor noted.

"Yes and no," Le Conte continued, contemplating. "The dimensions would merge, creating a whole new world with aspects of both dimensions. In the mayhem that followed, someone who has stockpiled the greatest weapons or resources or even monetary value could take over as supreme ruler. Chances are that Lachance has no idea about this, and really is just after Lucas for whatever venal reasons he is keeping to himself. But we cannot take the risk. We need to find out how much Lachance knows, and how to stop those from the alternate world before they accomplish their own agendas."


"Who the hell are you?" Demanded Lachance.

The slight, seemingly harmless scientist sat opposite of Lachance. "My name is Tobias Le Conte. And I am your very worst nightmare."

Bridger smiled and closed the door, leaving Lachance and Le Conte alone.


"What are we supposed to do now?" asked Dave, trying to keep his voice calm. "If we give this too much more time, things will be irreparably damaged."

"Lachance is a waste of resources. I had that feeling when I first met him, but he had some sort of…confidence. Perhaps I was just wishing to stay above the fray." He sighed. "We'll have to go after the boys ourselves."

"Is that such a smart idea, Nick?" Dave asked, raising his head to stare at the identical man opposite him. "We can't really be sure what will happen to us if we attempt any further interference."

"We have no choice. If we leave things the way they are, it could be the end of everything we know."

XI

"We need a premise," Jonathan said, pacing in front of Anica's desk. "Why would there be twins? What could happen to Lucas?"

Anica tapped her fingers on the desk, deep in thought. They were alone here. Lucas wanted to use his new studio badge to get into everything and anything he possibly could, Mel and Ray accompanying him on his self-appointed mission.

"I'm not sure… Oh! I've got it! Lucas has an accident and he loses his memory. Lucas and the audience see the secondary Lucas, but no one else does. This secondary is really Lucas' memory of himself telling him what to say and do until they can figure out how to get his memories back into his head so that no one knows something is wrong with him!" she said in a rush.

Jonathan blinked a few times, looking at the wall while his brain processed the information as quickly as she'd said it. "That's brilliant!" he cried. "Damn, I wish I'd thought of it," he said with a frown.

"Oh hush," she said with a slight smile. "You're getting writing credit on it too, you know – well, we'll know that you co-wrote it. David'll probably get all the screen credit."

"Kemper or Burke?"

"Does it matter?"

Anica stood and walked to her boss' office, sitting down in his chair and turning on his computer. Unlike the warren of identical offices, this one was comfortable and personalized with a few plants and framed pictures. Jonathan followed her, flopping down onto the couch there with a surprisingly graceful and fluid motion.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Writing it here. He's got the program that auto-formats it for you, plus," she said, gesturing to a shelf behind her, "he's got a wealth of information as far as the show and its background, as well as information on injuries, which we'll need."

Putting his hands behind his head, he grinned. "Seriously, when I start my next production company you have to come and work for me. You're scarily efficient."

"Start that company and we'll see," she replied.

"I'm hungry," he complained. "All I've had to eat since Monday has been rabbit food and sports drinks."

"Are you on a diet?"

"Look at me. What do you think?"

She laughed. "I've got a box of Cheez-its in my desk drawer. Or if you prefer sweeter stuff, I have candy in the drawer underneath that one. There are sodas in the fridge down the hall."

"I'm on it," Jonathan said, standing up and going to her desk. Rifling through it, he found the box of Cheez-its, then opened the drawer underneath it to see what candy she had. "Oooh! Chocolate…" he said, picking up the bag of Hershey's Kisses. "Pixie Sticks! Tootsie-Rolls! Score!"

Loading the candy into his pockets and holding whatever wouldn't fit, he walked down the hall to the fridge, pulling out as many sodas as he could before traipsing back to the office. He dumped his haul onto the coffee table in front of the couch and ripped into the box of Cheez-its.

"Did you leave anything?"

"Huh?" He looked up from where he was tearing open the plastic inner bag with his teeth. "Yeah. Plenty. You're lucky I'm not Swanny. He'd clean you out!"

"I have a question for you," Anica said.

"Shoot," he replied shoving a handful of crackers into his mouth and following it with a chaser of Pixie Sticks, blue flavor.

"What do you remember doing when all of this started happening?"

Jonathan stopped mid-chew, thinking back to try to remember. Slowly, he finished chewing as his brain reversed itself. "I was writing a script for the show. Spec. You know."

"That's all?"

"Yeah, yeah that's all. I was up really late working on it and finally decided to stop."

"Was there anything about it that was unusual?"

"About the script? It's set in the 21st Century; everything is unusual at this point, but no, not really. I did have a dream about it, though…"

"Wait. A dream?" she said, interrupting him.

"Yeah, a dream. Lucas was in it. It was about..." he paused, his eyes narrowing slightly as he thought back to something that hadn't even been reality – not so far from his past few days, he realized. "Border terrorists and being attacked, crash-diving instead of blowing the attackers to hell and all the way out the other side with the superior weapons systems that the seaQuest is supposed to have."

Anica laughed at his comment about blowing the attackers to hell and through the other side. "That was good. I'll have to remember that. I think we should have a look at that script. I have a crazy idea, but before I talk about it, I want to check it out, okay?"

Jonathan shrugged. "Sure thing. When I get home tonight, I'll get it for you. Home…" he said, trailing off. "Lucas can't come home with me. It'd be like some weird sit-com – the two of us dressed the same, trying to sneak around the condo…" He smiled. "Actually, it might be kind of fun!"

Anica frowned slightly. "You're right. He can't go home with you. But he can come home with me if we can't get him back tonight. That is, if he wants to."

"I can't see that he wouldn't. I'm sure anything would be better than staying the night here."

Anica nodded. "We'll ask him when he gets back. For now though, let's get to work."

"I'm with ya," he said, popping a few Tootsie-Rolls into his mouth, and pulling a chair up to the desk.

"How should we start?" Anica wondered aloud.

"Easy. Border terrorists," Jonathan said.

The two exchanged grins as Anica started typing.


"Save the Clock Tower!" Lucas yelled, standing in the middle of the small plaza on the Universal back lot that had served as the town set for the Back to the Future films. Ray and Mel both laughed at his energy. "This has to be the coolest thing! It's a whole town and no one is here!"

"That's what backlots are, Lucas," Mel said.

"Yeah, but… Wow!" Lucas said excitedly as he hopped down off the park bench he'd been standing on. "The guys on the ship won't believe this!"

"We have to get you back there first before you'll be able to tell them," Ray reminded him gently.

"Oh, right…" Lucas replied, his excitement dipping only slightly.

"No worries Lucas," Mel said. "We'll get you back as soon as we can."

"I know," he said quietly. They'd been roaming around the back lot for the better part of an hour now. "I'm hungry. Let's go back and get Anica and Jonathan so we can eat."

"Works for me," Ray said.

"Me too," Mel agreed. "I'm starving."

"Last one pays!" Lucas cried, suddenly taking off running down the empty street. "Woo hoo!" he whooped over his shoulder, sounding exactly like his real-world twin.

Mel and Ray looked at each other, both of them shrugging before trudging off after him.

"So what sounds good? Tacos or burgers?" Mel sighed, following the gamboling blond kid down an empty street on the back lot.

"As long as it comes from beyond the borders of the Universal theme park, it doesn't matter." Ray said.

She snorted. "Yeah, no kidding. I bought a hotdog for lunch the other day that should have been the poster-dish for mutant reject food."

"Well, how much was it?"

"$6.50. No buns, no condiments, just the hotdog."

"It's highway robbery," he stated, nodding in agreement.

"Burgers, then?"

"Sure."

"So far Lucas has eaten pretty much everything this place has thrown at him. This reality's menu is a delicacy for him, seeing as 50% of what you guys take for granted, he hasn't seen in over a decade." She stuffed her hands in her pockets, sighing in reminiscence. "God, I missed cheeseburgers."

He glanced to her, wondering how this young woman managed to hide her origins from the entire planet—not to mention the U.S government. Getting past any background checks they would do for Universal Studios employees would take a genius. Whoever helped her—probably this Lachance character—sounded like he had the mental resources to pull it off, not to mention the smarts to alter a dimensional gate. She didn't look like an alien, yet her birthplace wasn't this specific earth. He wondered if there was a duplicate Mel in this reality; and along the same lines, if there was a duplicate Ray in the other. It was definitely intriguing, to say the least. If there were alternate universes with the same people in them, then it wasn't too much of a stretch to think that there might be an infinite number of people walking down an infinite number of streets in an infinite number of movie studios. That meant that there were an infinite number of overpriced hotdogs in the universe.

That seemed truly unfair

"He seems happy." The kid danced down the street singing off key to a band she recognized as Neurohouse in her reality continued, oblivious to them both.

"Random question."

"Yes?"

"If you could name these realities, what classification would you give them? Reality A, Reality Alpha..?"

"Reality Bob and Reality Tom?"

She laughed. "Reality Bob and Tom? Ya know, they exist in the other one, too. Spokesmen for the 'Turlock Auto Plaza' car lot."

The teacher laughed. "Makes as much sense as anything else today." He watched the frolicking boy for a moment. "At least things seem stable for the moment."

Mel placed a finger to her lips and shushed him. "Don't jinx it!"

"Except that we have Tom in Bob's reality. They're here at the same time. It's like trying to put both legs through one leg of your jeans. Someone's going down, or something's bound to tear."

"Touché." She allowed with a nod. "Hey, Tom!" Mel cupped her hands around her mouth.

Curious, Lucas stopped dancing and settled for walking backwards. "Who the hell is Tom?" he arched an eyebrow. "I'm cousin Lucas."

"Inside joke. You want burgers or tacos?"

"Anything not made of soybeans!" Lucas hollered. He wasn't going to wait for them to catch up. If he - Lucas Brandis - needed to be somewhere, why should he need directions? 'Follow your nose' usually worked for him.

The "street" in front of him came to an abrupt end at a... He recognized it as the theater that the Delorean had vanished into in all six 'Back to the Future' films. He wondered if he could accelerate on the fake street to the right velocity.

"Hey, watch me!" Lucas shouted back at the two behind him.

Mel and Ray continued their casual stroll. "If he kills himself, it's not my fault."

"Who says you'd be at fault. He's indirectly related to MY student. I feel obligated to keep him out of trouble. God knows, I've done THAT enough with our version."

Mel unclipped the walkie-talkie from its place on the waist-band against the back of her jeans and turned the dial to Anica's channel. Being employed by the Studio required its employees to be reachable at any time they were on the lot.

She depressed the 'talk' button. "Anica, It's Mel. Over."

"Think Tank Central Command at your service." Anica's clear voice came through the speaker.

Mel grinned. As a writer, her friend could think on the ball faster than Michael Jordan could dribble down the court and sink a slam dunk.

"Is Jonathan with you?"

"Yup. He's cleaning out my supply of chocolate at the moment. Good thing too. Some of this stuff has been in here since Halloween 1991."

"Tell him to save a little room for lunch. We're in the back lot at the Courthouse and we'll be there in about 15 minutes. Got anything good yet?"

"Totally. We narrowed it down to when Jon's dreams began. Basically when he started writing his new script for 'seaQuest.'"

"Cool, we'll bring the … other Brandis."

"Rodger. Laterz." Mel turned the dial to 'stand-by.' and re-clipped it to her waist-band. "She's waiting for us."

Ray nodded, then scanned ahead of them for the youth. "Where's Lucas?"

The street ahead of them had been completely vacated. Not a soul — not even the whisper of the tour-tram's engines in the background graced their ears. "He was here a minute ago." She ran ahead, thinking maybe he'd ducked into a back alley to jump out and yell 'Rawr!' like in some cheesy B-rated monster flick. No such luck. She turned around, facing Ray. They were the only two living things within sight. A wind-driven daily program twisted between them across the street – which seemed suddenly like a ghost town from the Old West.


Anica watched Jonathan as he stopped mid-step. He'd been pacing, sitting, fidgeting, mumbling, dodging imaginary tennis balls, running his hands through his hair, giggling secretly. Don't you ever sit still? she'd asked him. Of course not. Why? She'd smiled at him. Yeah, why?

Suddenly he looked sick.

"Something's wrong," he said.

She watched as he reeled and started to collapse, both hands to his head.

"I mean there's something WAAAY WRONG!"

"Sugar rush?" Quite possible. He'd eaten almost every sweet object in every drawer.

Jonathan's eyes darted back and forth. The thoughts in his head had suddenly increased by the thousands, many of them obviously not his own.

"There's... I feel like... What kind of drugs are in those candy bars anyway?"

She shrugged. "Carnauba?"

"No. I eat car wax all the time," he snapped sarcastically. "This is something..." he closed his eyes, riding the wave of incredible, panicky thoughts that were crossing his mind, "else."

Anica jumped around the desk to Jonathan's side. His eyes had gone glassy and distant, his lips slightly parted. He looked as if he were caught in the throes of a seizure.

"Jonathan? Jonathan!" But the teen's gaze went beyond her, beyond the room.

He stirred slightly, looked quizzically at her, "Dr. Westphalen?" Then he blanked again, shook, his face undergoing a series of spasms.

For that split second, she would have sworn Lucas Wolenczak lay on the floor instead of Jonathan Brandis.

He looked frightened. "Who are you?" But the words weren't coming out of his mouth and he wasn't seeing her. Was he only thinking them? It was like there was a gigantic disconnect between his mind and his body. In front of him flickered a girl he knew and a helmeted monster with swirling smoke behind it, one laid over the other. Two different people, maybe? He forced his body to turn on its side. He'd never had this much trouble controlling his own muscles. It was as if something was inhibiting his commands, like they were being sent through muddy water. He moved his mouth to speak to the blurry, helmeted/familiar figure kneeling beside him. "Help... me...." he managed, but nothing came out of his mouth.


The boy flopped onto the ground, raising a cloud of fine gray dust which blew directly into his nose and mouth. He choked on the acrid air, managed to open his eyes again to a dusty black and white plain, broken only by the ruins of the former movie studio. The wind kicked up a swirl of powder, reflecting the dull pulsing red in the distance behind him. A shadow stirred near him.

He turned to the shadow, shielding his eyes, and choking into his fist. A white-suited and helmeted figure knelt next to him. It raised its hand.

"Lucas," came the electronically enhanced voice, "I am your father." Then it lowered its hand. "Just kidding, but I couldn't pass it up." The figure leaned towards him, holding out a facemask attached to a small tank. "You'd better use this. The air around here isn't too good for your lungs, or your little peach-face."

The boy stared at the facemask incoherently. The figure moved awkwardly behind him and put the contraption over his head. He looked back at the other.

"You'd better come along with me. We've some business to attend to." The boy walked in front of him, awkwardly stepping over the dusty timbers. In the distance to the south, a black cloud rose in a column into the sky, its lower points illuminated with a flickering dull red glow.


Mel snatched the walkie-talkie from its place at her back and slammed her thumb against the dial, reaching Anica. "Anica, we have a problem."

Anica mimicked the motion, kneeling next to a stunned Jonathan. "You, too? And here I thought it was just me."

"Lucas is gone."

"What do you mean, gone?"

"I mean gone!" She threw her free arm in the air, pacing in a small circle. "Missing. Disappeared. No longer present!"

"Vanished. Misplaced. Omitted. No longer there!" Ray added.

"I get it!" Anica shot exasperatedly.

"We have another problem." Anica continued. "Jonathan's acting … weird."

"Define weird," Ray asked, knitting his ample eyebrows. "What's weird for us is normal for him."

"…Jonathan's in trouble. Get back here as fast as you can!"

"Keep him there!" the teacher yelled.

Anica's eyes fell on Jonathan. "Somehow, I don't think that'll be a problem. He seems to be having trouble even moving. It's like someone's jamming his nerve signals with a remote control."

"Just... keep him there." Mel stuck the walkie-talkie back in its place and took off running for the offices, Ray slightly ahead of her.

"So, do you think Lucas has gone back to his time? Bob reality? Or has he just gotten lost?" Ray puffed. "Damn, I need more exercise!"

"Well, he might have just bounced back to his own time and place. That would put him..." She thought. "Somewhere outside of the seaQuest. Underwater."

"Not good." He shook his head violently. "Not good at all."

"Understatement of the year," she agreed. "But he may be... I don't know. Somewhere else entirely."

"If there are an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters..."

"They'd be writing TV sitcoms?

"I mean... He could be anywhere. He's a fictional character. Maybe he's hanging out with Beaver Cleaver or Frodo Baggins or something."

"Don't EVEN go there." They rounded a corner, the offices now in plain view.

"In Lucas's reality, Jonathan is a fictional character from 'Valley High; a popular TV show…like '90210,' only not-sucky.'"

"Makes sense. Sometimes our school seems like a TV show. Reality on television. Just turn on a camera and let the insanity commence."

"We have that, too. At the rate the networks are going, so will Reality Tom." Mel grimaced at the thought. "The wormhole was already unstable, and growing out of control. Who knows where…or when... he ended up, or what triggered it this time?"


Jonathan stirred again. The picture in front of him kept changing, but he couldn't seem to connect to both at the same time. He experimented. "Anybody out there?" Anica looked sharply at him.

"What?"

"You hear me?

"Yeah."

"... Anica?" he said. He was relieved when she nodded. At least this time around it was actual speech coming out of his mouth. "Wow, what a rush! I can… I can sort of see out of someone else's eyes! Lucas', I guess!" His face twisted. "Damn right" he said back to himself. He yelped, terrified, his limbs flopping around like rubber snakes.

"You said that," Anica said. "But wasn't that...?"

"Lucas," Jon said, his face flashing another expression entirely, and then settling back to terror.

Anica blinked, confused and worried. "...Did you...hit your head on something on the way down?"

"We... I...We did."

"Stop DOING that!" Jonathan pressed his palms to his forehead. "Get out of my head!" He yelled again.

"Ditto," Lucas said from his lips.

Anica scooted back. "Lucas?" she tested.

She didn't know what to do. He'd jumped right into their plotline. Maybe he was just heavily into method acting.

"Yeah, what?" Lucas spoke. He blinked, only to be rewarded by Jonathan's palms digging into his eyes to stop the motion.

Anica licked her lips, "...Jonathan?"

"Yes! Get 'im out!" He batted his head with both hands. "What happened? How the hell did he end up in my head?!"

Anica searched her usually quick mind for an answer. "Uh... I... don't know. This isn't exactly textbook."

At that moment, the door burst open and Mel and Ray ran in.

"What happened?" Mel caught her breath. She took in the scene.

"Jonathan?" Ray approached.

"Yeah? NO! Yeah! NO! YES!" Jonathan's body rocked back and forth, wrestling the conflicting consciences.

Mel stared, stunned. "Oh boy."


The teen stumbled along behind the helmeted figure across the lunar landscape that had once been a functioning movie studio. Abandoned trams and cars sat rusting beneath a thick coat of powdery dust. Every tree had been reduced to its skeleton, even the bark peeling away from the acidic atmosphere. The figure led him to a small vehicle, this one still relatively clean.

"Electric engine. Batt'ries," he said. "Internal combustion doesn't work around here anymore – not even compressed gas. Get in."

The boy clambered into the back of the vehicle and the helmeted figure relaxed the hold he had on his gun. He hadn't even needed it after all. Leave it to Dave to be so paranoid. He tapped the front of his helmet.

"We're on the way back, Dave. I have the pigeon. Repeat. I have the pigeon. Over."

"Why do you insist on being so damnably melodramatic, Nick?" The voice blasted over the com inside the helmet "There hasn't been anyone else on this bloody frequency since 2007!"

Nick allowed himself a snicker. He was right.

"Point taken. Meet us at the bottom of the stairs."

Nick led the younger Wolenczak to the bottom of the torn up stairs leading to the top of the old Universal theme park, beaming with pride at his accomplishment. At last, after dredging multiple realities for the single individual capable of helping them in their task, it seemed as if their plans could finally continue. Nick imagined what the future might be like with cheap real estate in downtown L.A –after Mt. St. Vibiana had been returned to its place of origin in the Kermadeck Trench, of course.

"Congratulations, brother, you've done something right for a change." Dave descended the stairs giving his twin an incredulous smirk.

"Piss off, Dave. I'm not your brother, and I'm not your friend,"

"Well, we are related somehow." Dave stopped in front of his mirror image, who pointed at him sharply.

"That's where the similarities end, Dave."

Lucas, being ignored by the two, plopped down right there in the dust and ash spewed from the volcano. He pulled at the uncomfortable rebreather for a moment, then slapped both palms into the dust, leaving hand prints, swirling it into small even piles set equal in distance from each other.

"We have Wolenczak, now let's use him to our advantage." Nick gestured behind him at the boy, who sat awkwardly on the ground, his head moving jerkily in the mask.

Dave's irritation came through clearly. "You know, you try to assume command of my plan every time, and I'm thinking… this has got to stop."

"That's your problem; you keep trying to think. It's definitely not your forte, Dave. You're more of an action man. Leave the thinking to me."

"All right, brother," Dave folded his arms with the sarcasm, "Let's see you handle this one."

Satisfied he'd won, Nick turned victoriously to his prisoner. "Lucas, you've got a choice: help us recalibrate the vector triangulation oscillator algorithm for the dimensional gate to repair the temporal discrepancy," Nick took a deep breath, "or die."

Lucas –finally being noticed - leaned forward, smiled impishly…then let out a Thbbbbbbbbt.

Both men stared blankly at him.

Nick blinked. "Is that a yes or a no?"

The boy looked at them both and chuckled mindlessly behind the mask.

"Oh great, Nick," Dave muttered angrily, "You've brought us a bleedin' vegetable."

"At least I took some initiative, Dave! I'm not sitting around here waiting for an answer to fall out of the… the… "

"Kie!" The boy said, perking up and looking skyward, mouth open. He loosed a happy giggle and pointed, rocking back on his haunches, holding his feet, seeming to have quit developing at age two.

Nick shook his head. How could things get any worse?

"So what do we do now, genius?" Dave muttered. "He's useless to us like this."

"Look, the parameters were perfect! We should have been able to pluck a raisin off of a pastry from any time we chose!"

"Well, you missed. Instead you've managed to pluck a pumpkin out of a patch, and nothing's inside." He wiggled his fingers in front of his face and made a noise. Lucas responded by laughing hysterically, his huge grin behind the plastic shield almost infectious.

"Lucas? Lucas Wolenczak?" Nick said carefully.

The boy pointed to himself, nodding fervently.

"LU-CUT WALLY-TET!" he repeated carefully.

"Well, he's got something residual in there," Nick mumbled.

"Of course. You're such the optimist." He smiled at the boy sitting on the ground. "I'm a potato!" he sang.

"FO-TA-TO!" Lucas said and pointed to himself merrily. He rubbed his stomach. "Fen-fies!"

"French fries?" Dave asked.

"Hyuh!" Lucas said and nodded crazily, laughing and rocking. "Fen-fies! Fen-fies!"

"Well?" Dave said, staring at Nick.

"What?"

"The boy wants French fries. You give him the bad news."

"Lucas, there haven't been any French fries here since the volcano erupted. 'All gone.'"

Lucas looked sadly at both of them, eyes wide and shiny.

"Aw dawn?" he said, sniffling.

"Gone bye-bye. Yes."

Lucas' shoulders heaved. "Bye bye, fen fie!" He raised a hand and wiggled his fingers, mouth down-turned in sadness.

"This is disastrous," Nick muttered.

"Well, we have to use it to our advantage."

"If we had an advantage, we've lost it now. The actor hasn't a clue how to get here." He laughed tiredly. "You've barely got a handle on that yourself."

"You're not helping matters, really."

The youth now busied himself putting his hands into the soft blanket of ash at the foot of the decaying escalator and admiring the prints he made. His humming made it around the mouthpiece of the mask.

"Patty-tate, patty-tate!" he said happily, apparently forgetting all about the French fries. He smacked his hands together, covering himself with dust. When he tried to move the mask to rub his eyes, Dave stopped him.

"No. Bad! This stuff is bad for your eyes. It'll sting like soap."

The boy's eyes widened to large blue-centered circles.

"Tope?"


"Soap!" Jonathan yelled, staring into space.

"What?" Mel said, kneeling next to him. This would be very difficult to explain to her boss. What could she tell him? "I lost our pin-up's mind into a wormhole?"

"No!" Jonathan said. "Soap! He's thinking about … soap!"

"Maybe soup," the teacher offered. "We were heading for lunch."

"No, soap! I can sort of hear his thinking, along with Lucas' here. It's like a baby version of him."

"Speak for yourself!" Lucas burst out, raising Jonathan's left arm robotically. Jon pulled the arm down firmly with his right hand. "I'm trying to!"

The English teacher jumped around excitedly, pointing at the dual personality.

"It's just like Star Trek III: Search for Spock! His katra is trapped in Jonathan's mind!"

"What?" Mel asked, incredulous.

"His katra. His…" He looked at the group of puzzled faces around him. "Never mind."

Jonathan shook his head.

"You're such a Trekkie geek, Gar."

Yeah. Stick to reality! Lucas piped in.

"…Says the fictional character," Jon added, irritated.

The teacher shrugged.

"It's about all we have to go on. We have to use whatever we know to our advantage."

Jonathan perked up.

"They just said that! They just said something about using whatever they did to their advantage!"

"How many are there?" Anica said, quietly writing everything down that was going on.

"Wait." Jonathan closed his eyes, seemed to be patting the floor for a second, then opened his eyes again. "Two others. They're… They look like brothers, or maybe… Yeah! Twins!"

"Twins?" The teacher raised his eyebrows. "That's interesting." He saw their surprised expressions. "Purely from a plot standpoint, I mean."


"Captain Bridger to the helm!" O'Neill yelled hysterically into the com. Shortly after his blast of static, a deep shock passed through the great ship, rocking Bridger against the wall where he watched Tobias Le Conte work with Lachance. The lighting flickered, faded, and then came up to full strength. Redundancy. Bridger felt glad that he'd insisted on so many backups to backups.

"O'Neill, report!"

"..ullee..! Hulleach!"

Bridger felt a familiar trickle of ice-water in his veins suddenly. A hull breach? But the hull was self-healing! What..?

Another blow rocked the ship, this time sending him sprawling. Had Lachance's explosive detonated? Was the man insane? He'd managed to trap himself aboard!

"Captain Bridger, sir?" O'Neill's voice came over the com again, a little less panicked, but still sounding tense.

Bridger pressed the com button.

"What the hell's going on up there?"

"There was a… There was a hull breach, sir, but… The readouts all went back to normal. It's as if the anomaly snatched part of the ship for a few seconds and then just dropped it back into place."

"That doesn't sound possible. You can't just stick something as sophisticated as seaQuest back together like a toy. Run diagnostics. See if all systems are functioning."

"Aye sir."

Bridger pinned the captive with his eyes. Lachance kept his arms crossed, defiantly.

"Your doing, I suppose?"

Lachance shrugged a little petulantly. He hadn't any idea what had just happened, though he was trying to mask his unease.

Good. That meant he hadn't been responsible. It also meant, however, that whatever device he'd placed on board still remained active.

Le Conte smiled despite himself. "I thought you promised me smooth sailing, Captain?"

"We've hit a few bumps, Tobias. Nothing we can't handle."

"Let's hope so," the alien astrophysicist said thoughtfully. "For all our sake." He turned back to their prisoner. "And especially for you, Mr. Lachance. I'm sure you'd like to get back home in one piece."

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you just how right you are," the pirate muttered.

Le Conte smiled with deep amusement.

"It's a lot harder for me to get back home, let me tell you." He moved his head back towards Bridger. "If we could be alone for a while, Captain. I think our friend here could be convinced that he'd like to cooperate with us."

"Nothing… nothing illegal, I suppose?"

"I think our friend needs a glimpse at the…uh… true nature of things."

Bridger understood without being given much more.

"All right. I'll turn off the camera."

Lachance narrowed his eyes.

"Torture, Captain Bridger? Isn't that below you and your moralistic UEO?"

"I think Mr. Lachance has gotten the wrong impression of us, Captain. Please allow me to correct that misconception."

Bridger nodded, realized he'd have to say something to the blind scientist. "Uh, yes, Tobias. I read you very clearly." He switched off the camera, taking one last look at Lachance. "Very clearly, indeed."

As the hatch closed, Le Conte settled into a chair opposite Lachance.

"Now, Mr. Lachance. Let's be civilized."

"No amount of pain is going to make me tell you anything. Your United Earth Oceans is just another would-be dictatorship, as far as I can tell. All your talk of universal brotherhood is just so much superficial nonsense."

"'Beneath the surface lies the future.' Appearances are deceiving. Let's talk man to…uh…man."

The planes of the scientist's face seemed to melt, to change before Lachance's eyes.


Outside in the hallway, Bridger heard a shriek of terror. He stifled a laugh. Tobias Le Conte's true appearance did have that effect on some people. Not many knew the truth about him, and he was sure that Lachance would deny it, certain that others would think he was insane should he choose to describe what he'd just seen.

He batted the com again. "Report, Mr. O'Neill!"

"There are strange readings system wide, sir; environmental, diagnostics, com-links, the Mag-Lev– the works. It's like the entire system was scrambled and then put back into place. And there's more, sir."

"Yes?"

"Your quarters are flooded. We have a man working on it, but half of the compartments on that side were exposed to the open elements for a few seconds. Lucas' quarters was right in the middle of it. I'm sure it's a shambles."

"It's always been."

This was turning out to be a dismal week, he thought.

"Anything else, Mr. O'Neill?"

"Well, Darwin came jumping out of the tank up here and won't go back in. I can't get anything coherent out of him. He's terrified."

"I'll be up. Let's see if we can reroute some of the major systems and get this ship back up to speed. We don't need to be a stationary target, should the rest of Lachance's group decide to come back with reinforcements, or the anomaly return to finish what it started."


"This guy said that the air is dangerous. That Lucas could get… uh… silly putty volcano coptic scoliosis, or something like that."

"Do you mean pneumonoultramiscroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis? It's a type of lung disorder from inhaling volcanic dust."

They stared at him. The teacher shrugged.

"Sorry. It's a spelling word this week. Eighth graders."

"Eighth graders? Glad I'm not in your class," Anica said.

"Yeah," Jonathan puffed. "You're a regular walking dictionary, Gar.'

"Uh huh. Thesaurus, too. Lot of good it does you. I can't do division, and that's what you need right now, kid."

Lucas tried to butt in with the attendant spectacle across Jonathan's features.

"God! I thought he was annoying before!" Jonathan closed his eyes and simply smacked his forehead. "Shut up in there! Let me think!" A red palm print appeared on his pale skin. Ray laughed.

"I thought only I did that!"

"Where do you think I picked it up?" His eyes glazed again and he saw through the imperfect camera of Lucas' eyes for another few seconds. They darted back and forth. "Some kind of… amusement park or something. No. Wait. There's a giant … guitar, like five stories high. It's all covered with dust"

"Las Vegas?" Anica offered. "There's the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas. Giant guitar, about twenty story high hotel?'

"No," Jonathan said, vehemently shaking his head. "Not that far. It has to be near the volcano. There's a… a Middle Eastern building behind it, like a mosque."

Wait, wait, I know this. Lucas snapped the fingers of Jonathan's right hand. It's in the northern part of old L.A.

"Citywalk?!" Jonathan sat up, eyes wide. Suddenly, he remembered when Commander Ford's team had rescued him from Lachance's hideout on the beach – his Aunt Mel's old house. The sting in his lungs from inhaling the harsh, noxious air was a feeling he wouldn't forget. "I hang out there. What would they be doing there?"

"If they took him through a dimensional portal," Ray gestured lightly at Jonathan, although he was speaking to Lucas and Mel, "would there anywhere specific they might show up?"

Mel folded her arms. "It's likely that's why they're going there. But, Jonathan, how did you know?"

Lucas tried to stand, but found he couldn't move his legs.

"Jonathan, look at me." Mel knelt in front of him. Jonathan obeyed, but found his eyes drifting along the line of her blue shirt.

She cleared her throat, narrowing her eyes. "At my face, Jonathan." She sighed. "Men."

"Lucas!" Jonathan shot at the invading consciousness. He stood of his own power. "That wasn't me, Mel, I swear. It was him."

Hey, ya know, I could use this… Lucas mused. He had tried to voice the thought, but found he'd lost control of Jonathan's speech center for the moment. Jonathan's mind was beginning to defend itself, although neither of them knew it. Still, among the swirl of cascading images of their separate lives, one thing bonded them as adolescent males, and it went far deeper than language.

"Dude, don't even go there."

"Focus, J.," Anica tried to get his attention.

Jonathan ran both hands over his head. "Focus. Focus. Right. Sure, when I've got the marbles of a genius rattling around inside my head."

College graduate level marbles, buddy! Lucas inserted into his conscience.

"Try," Ray urged his student.

Jonathan closed his eyes and waited as the other image through the camera lens of Lucas' eyesight became clear through strands of hair. An incongruous image of mud pies and French-fries came and went through his mind. He shook it off.

"Do you see anything else, hear anything? What are they saying? Who are they?"

"I'm trying to listen."

Lucas seized Jonathan's face for a moment and mocked his words, rocking his head back and forth. "Shut up! Genius at work!" Jonathan shook out his hands, looked determined, drawing his mouth into a firm line. "I don't like this any more than you, Lucas. Let me try to figure it out."

We're both doomed, Lucas thought, and I never got my license.

"Shh! There's an escalator, with a big green… tulip or something at the top. It's all full of dust, but I can tell it's some kind of plastic. There's a great big… cannon-type-thing facing down the center at the ground. It's got cables coming off it that go over the roof.'

"The portal?" Mel offered.

"Were you both clothed when you …uh…reappeared?" Ray said, putting his hand to his chin like Sherlock Holmes might.

"Clothed?" Jonathan shot him a withering glance. "What kind of a ..!" Then Lucas answered in his head and he relaxed. "Oh. I get it. If objects like clothing can be transported, then maybe whatever we have on us can travel to…wherever it is we're traveling to." He sighed and buried his face in his hands. "Is anyone else here as confused as I am?"

"I see what you mean," Anica said, putting her pad down. "If we can figure out how to get Jonathan across the… through the… 'portal', then we could arm him, or send along a camera or …?" She raised her hands. "I'm guessing."

"I don't think they know exactly how to aim that thing. They'd have gotten Lucas long before now," Mel said. "I think it's just an accident that they haven't collapsed both universes yet."

"Do you know who these people are, Mel?" Ray asked.

"I only dealt with Lachance. He was working for someone else, though – someone who told him that he could move people and objects across dimensions and time."

"That would be a pretty effective weapon in the wrong hands," the teacher said thoughtfully. "I wonder exactly what they're after?"

"I'm not sure. Gold? Superbowl tickets?" Mel said, waving her hands. "It could be anything."

"World domination?" Jonathan offered. "Like a James Bond villain?"


"Well Nick, we've got to do something with him. He's useless to us like this," Dave said now that they had gone into their lab.

The boy toddled around the room looking at all of the consoles and dials, making little noises in his throat every time the displays changed.

"And keep him away from that machinery. God only knows what he'd pull through in his state."

"Probably just the chips he wanted."

"Chips?"

"French fries. Pomme fritte. That whole deal."

Dave put his hands on his hips. "Why do you do that? Why do you insist on that ridiculous British affectation?"

"We're half English," Nick said proudly.

"Right. I'm the brains and you're the arse."

"Very witty. It's too bad your ferocious wit has done little more than gotten us into this predicament."

"It was an easy target. It should have worked!"

"Explain that to the thirty million people you've displaced." He shook his head. "All because you couldn't take Parochial school."

Dave turned on Nick. "I had to put the volcano somewhere! We couldn't very well leave it floating in some dimensional void!"

"Too wowd!" Lucas said, putting his hands over his ears. "Be kite!"

Nick smiled at the giant two-year-old.

"He's absolutely correct. Less talk and more action. When can we try again?"

"To do what? If we manage to get the actor, he'll be as useless as this… this… whatever we have here." He gestured at Lucas, who smiled sunnily and giggled.

"Punny!" The boy pointed back at Dave. "Again! Again!"

Nick closed his eyes and breathed heavily. Too much caution – or not enough. Dave had both, always at the wrong times. He spoke in a singsong voice, as to a child. "If we get the actor then perhaps we get the 'contents' of this one's mind. A mind wipe could eliminate the part we don't need, and the rest we can just... discard."

"If we can fine-tune the equipment." Dave stood for a moment, thinking. Lucas had sat in the middle of the floor, singing to himself. Well, he had to do something. This would never work. "If we have them both, then maybe we can buy some time."

Thunder shook the building as the static from the cascading dust discharged.

"All right. We have a half an hour or so until the charge builds up enough again. Let's try to snag the other one this time." Dave reluctantly allowed Nick a smile.

"There now. Positive action. You see, we do have initiative from time to time." He moved behind the main console. "Now, I hope I don't bring us back another volcano."

XII

"All right," Jonathan said, eyes closed. "They're inside a building at the top of the escalator. But I don't recognize any of this. It can't be Citywalk."

"Maybe they've added on since the 90's?" Anica offered. "It's been pretty successful at separating tourists from their money so far."

"Or maybe the complex is different in the alternate universe," Ray said. "It's possible that it's a reversed image of this one, or maybe some geometric variant."

"You're talking about Math, Gar." Jonathan muttered. "We are doomed."

"We're all missing the point here," Mel said impatiently. "How do we get Jonathan to where Lucas is, or vice versa?"

"There has to be a pattern to this." Anica put a hand to her forehead and walked in a tight circle. "There has to be some trigger. Maybe it's proximity, or the weather, or what they're wearing. When has this 'transference' happened?"

Out of nowhere, Lucas thought.

"When I woke up, when I was sitting by the moon pool… a couple of times, in fact, when I was there. The last time at the moon pool…" Jonathan listed. "Out in front of the Opium Den, walking into my… Jonathan's trailer, back at the moon pool, running toward the theater from Back to the Future," Lucas said through Jonathan.

"The moon pool, then? But were you both in the same relative space? I mean, were you both occupying the same area of your… respective…uh…"

"Realities?" Anica offered.

"I don't know. I guess so," Jonathan shrugged, the shoulders protruding against the material of his shirt hunched in resignation.

"Then maybe you're triggering it yourselves. Maybe the catalyst is the two of you, and these… twins have just tapped into that to do… whatever it is they're doing."

Mel nodded. "That's the way I understood it - but I have no real idea how they control it."

"Interesting possibility," Anica said. "That means that they might be able to will themselves back and forth."

"Lucas isn't going to will himself anywhere right now," Jonathan said. "Except maybe someplace to take a nap." He contemplated. "So it's up to me."

"But I still think the idea of proximity is a good one, too. If we can get you close to the place where Lucas is in the alternate reality, then whatever mojo it is you have to do might work better."

"Mojo?" Anica said, laughing.

"Well, I for sure don't understand the physics - or lack thereof - involved. We're just making this up as we go along." He shook his head. "And doing a piss-poor job of it, too."

"What I was thinking," Jonathan said, rubbing his face. The strain was starting to tell on him. It wasn't easy trying to juggle two hyper people inside of one skull. It was hard enough dealing with one. "What about the PAL? Lucas brought it with him. Maybe it has… DNA or something on it. Maybe it'll help connect us."

DNA? What the hell do you think I do with it?

"That, and what you're wearing. He's wearing your clothes and you're wearing his. If there's any kind of molecular overlap, maybe that'll help." Ray couldn't help but be concerned. It was also possible that Jonathan might zap himself into the mouth of the volcano, or directly into Lucas, combining them both into one person, and, quite possibly, erasing their mutual existence. Every time/space theory he knew of stated that matter couldn't occupy the same space at the same time. That they could even exist near each other seemed enough of a paradox.

"The PAL – the real one, I guess - is in Jonathan's trailer, disguised as a box of YooHoo," Mel said. "Lucas thought I didn't know about it, but it's my job to know about these things."

"So we need the PAL, a breathing mask for Jonathan…" Anica ticked off their necessities, sounding as if planning a cross-dimensional trip were something she did every weekend. "What else?"

"Hershey bars," Lucas said through Jonathan. His own quizzical expression showed that even he didn't get this part. Trust me, Lucas said in his mind. You'll understand. "Hershey bars. Three…no four. With almonds," Jonathan said firmly.

"How can you be thinking about chocolate at a time like this?" Anica said. "Didn't you get enough chocolate already?"

The teacher laughed.

"I have taught you well, Grasshopper," he said. "There's no such thing as enough chocolate."

"Lucas thinks we'll need it."

"Brilliant minds think alike. Okay. Hershey bars, breathing mask, the PAL, maybe a toolkit."

"Yes!" Lucas said. Maybe he could contact seaQuest from the twins' lair, or maybe do some damage to their equipment. But it still meant…

"How do I…we… uh...?"

"Get Lucas back into Lucas?"

"Yeah." Jonathan studied each serious face. No one could help him. "I guess I'll just have to hope that Lucas can jerry-rig something when I get there, huh? If I get there."

Piece of cake, Lucas thought.


"All right. Mr. O'Neill. What's the emergency?" the captain asked.

Tim O'Neill readjusted his glasses, looked at the display in front of him again and tried to explain what he'd seen.

"Just a shadow, sir… But it was there."

"Boomer?" Captain Bridger leaned into the display, looking at the vibrating lines that represented the waves of sound the ship used to explore its surroundings. The sea around them looked clear for the total range of their sensors.

"Not unless it can disappear, sir." O'Neill scanned the display again. "Of course, considering what's been going on, that's not out of the realm of possibility."

"Should we launch the h-r probe, sir?" Hitchcock asked from her position.

"Mr. O'Neill, you're positive that there's something out there?"

O'Neill gestured with his head to Darwin, still sitting on the shelf surrounding the Command Deck pool.

"Darwin seems to think so, sir, though we can't get much out of him that makes sense." He looked worriedly at the captain. "This would be a lot easier with Lucas here. The Vo-corder interface doesn't always work for us the way it does for him."

"What's he been saying?"

"Don't really know, sir. Porpoise isn't one of my languages," O'Neill said apologetically. "Humor, sir."

Bridger forced himself not to smile. "Duly noted, Mr. O'Neill."

The dolphin had relaxed, now being soothed by Dr. Westphalen, who trickled water over his skin, but he still seemed agitated.

Bridger walked towards them.

"He's in a state, Captain," the doctor said quietly. "Something has him completely spooked."

"Maybe it was the anomaly. What does he say is the problem?" Bridger wet his hand and smoothed water over his friend's head. The dolphin responded by loosing a puff of air from his blowhole. "What's wrong, boy?"

Darwin gave a short pattern of squeaks and clicks, then repeated them.

"Grandfather shark-tooth. Very ugly. Very bad," the computer translated. "Very big." Then he slipped back into the pool, but stayed extremely close to its edge. "Smooth rocks too narrow for ugly shark-tooth?"

"We'll seal off access from the outside, Darwin. You're safe in here. You don't need to be afraid, old friend."

The computer translated Bridger's words and the dolphin raised its snout above the water, shaking its head in an all-too-human gesture.

"Darwin very fearless," the computer voice intoned, "but not that fearless."

"All right, Lieutenant Commander. Deploy the h-r probe."

Hitchcock masked her excitement, but using the h-r probe was one of the perks of her position, since she had an interface hard-wired directly into her visual cortex. It gave her the unique sensation of actually swimming in the deepwater without needing oxygen or a mask. She imagined it was how it must feel for Darwin to be free to move in the environment, unhindered by the foreignness of being a land animal. She slipped on the gloves, adjusted the visor over her head, feeling the peculiar buzzing sensation as the interface connected.

The probe dropped out of the belly of the great ship, its spidery legs unfolding as it began to operate. It could swim much faster than any human, indeed as quickly as the seaQuest herself, but this time it cautiously moved along the edge of the craft, peering around its bulk at the ocean in front of it like a guppy being protected by its parent. LONER and MOTHER made slow arcs in the sea around the probe, taking readings and sending the information back to both the ship and the probe itself.

"Nothing so far, Captain," Hitchcock reported, her light eyes flicking across the display in front of her. She manipulated the probe's spindly appendages with her hands, seeming to swim in the air of the Command Deck.

"Switch the h-r probe's view to the screen," Bridger said.

The view appeared on the big screen, nothing moving except the occasional tuna and a few of Darwin's wild cousins. But something was stirring them up as well, for they were all headed away from seaQuest, and in no leisurely manner.

"Chief Crocker, are there any ships in the area with stealth capabilities?"

"Nothing that I know of, Captain." Crocker scanned the screen nervously. "But I can't say what might fall out of that 'hole'."

"Switching to IR," Hitchcock reported. The display took on the multicolored infrared view, bathing the dark command deck with a range of purples and blues.

"Moving away from seaQuest."

The display changed, darkening as the probe moved past the orange heat registering from the ship. Ahead of it the sea was as dark and cold as the night sky, not even schools of small fish to dot the display like stars.

"Strange," Bridger said. "Where is everyone?"

"Making a sweep, sir," Hitchcock said as she waved her hands in the air and the probe made a graceful turn to look back at the ship. Apart from the familiar squid like form of the ship and the moving pinpoint heat signatures of MOTHER and LONER, the ocean gave up nothing.

"Nothing so far, Captain. Maybe…" Hitchcock leaped in her seat as the probe's input immediately went dead. She slapped the VR visor away from her face. "Captain…" She still remained calm, though her breathing had elevated considerably. "The h-r probe is… non-functional."

"We saw." Bridger nodded. "Can we replay the sequence, Mr. O'Neill?"

O'Neill immediately patched in the recording, glad to be doing something where he felt comfortable.

"Onscreen, sir."

"Can we cross-reference visuals from the WSKRS?"

"Done."

As seen from the WSKRS, the h-r probe vanished from the display with a cascade of bright sparks. Hitchcock flinched when she saw the delicate probe shatter.

"There! Freeze it!" Bridger jumped forward, pointing at the faint outline visible around the dying probe.

The command crew stared at the shadow, unable to discern exactly what they were seeing.

"Enhancing," O'Neill said, manipulating his console.

The fuzzy outline sharpened.

Dr. Westphalen moved up behind Bridger.

"It's oddly familiar, somehow, Captain. It looks like…"

"A plesiosaur," O'Neill said from his post.

"No." The doctor studied the shape again. "More like an ichthyosaur. Cretaceous period. Very aggressive."

"Too big for an ichthyosaur," O'Neill said, shaking his head. "Maybe a tanystropheus."

"Do you think?"

"Just like the kits I used to build in college," O'Neill said proudly. "Paleontology is a hobby of mine."

Dr. Westphalen became even more animated.

"Yes! I think you're right, Tim. It does look like a tanystropheus!"

"Maybe a big one. Plesiosaurids were large like that, but the neck is too short for a plesiosaur. Maybe it's a subspecies. If we could see the tail better…"

Dr. Westphalen put her arms out, demonstrating the size of the jaws. "For its head to be big enough to take out our h-r probe, though, it would have to have a rather large bite radius…"

"Will you listen to yourselves?" Bridger yelled. "What's a dinosaur doing off the coast of 21st Century California?"

This was met with a few seconds of silence.

"Plesiosaurs were air breathers, sir." O'Neill whispered, chastened.

"And what difference does that make?"

"Tanystropheus was … is cold-blooded. That's why it wouldn't register on infrared. Very little body heat," the doctor said carefully.

"It still doesn't explain why…"

The boat rocked again, though much less violently than before. O'Neill looked down at his display.

"The…uh…dinosaur just tried to take a bite out of the seaQuest. Looks like it got another mouthful of electronics." O'Neill looked up from the monitor. "It's currently chasing MOTHER."

Ortiz lowered his head. They'd lost JUNIOR, and the h-r probe? And now this creature was chasing their other WSKRS.

"Big, ugly, grandfather shark-tooth. Not nice," Darwin's voice came from the speaker.

"You don't think that the anomaly put Lucas or the Brandis boy..?" Bridger couldn't finish his thought. No one on the Command Deck seemed willing to do it for him.

"Air boy not Lucas not on seaQuest. Not in the water. Grandfather shark-tooth can't eat him." Darwin said from the speakers. "With Lucas in yesterday, someplace else."

"Thanks, Darwin. I needed that," Bridger relaxed, realized that the crew were all staring at him, surprised at the depth of his concern. He almost sounded parental. "Let's figure out where this … thing went. Now!"

O'Neill changed the search pattern onscreen.

"We can track it by the tracer signal in the h-r probe." He looked sympathetically at Hitchcock and Ortiz. "The creature swallowed most of the probe whole."

They could see the red dot representing the living thing now as it swam desperately at MOTHER. Ortiz guided the probe like he was racing through a canyon, dodging the prehistoric animal easily. Most prey didn't have the virtue of a human pilot to guide it, and the creature obviously wasn't a fast swimmer.

"Chicken," Hitchcock said.

"What?"

"Chicken, Mr. Ortiz. Give me control of LONER."

"I get you, Lieutenant Commander," Ortiz said, guiding the probe in an elaborate swerve, just ahead of the sea monster with one hand and switching controls with the other. "Okay. You have LONER."

"Don't worry, Miguel. I won't kill this one."

The command crew watched the chase on the big screen, for all the world resembling some sort of demented video game, with the pulsing red of the tanystropheus gaining and then the two probes eluding it. The pilots maneuvered their craft alongside each other.

"Seamount about two clicks starboard," Ortiz said.

"I see it. Okay."

"Not too fast. Let him see us," Ortiz said, slowing MOTHER down a little.

They brought the two probes within yards of the nose of the great fish and then drove straight away as a pair in front of it. The creature took the bait and began an all-out chase.

"Tanystropheus gaining," O'Neill said, sounding a little like someone calling a horse race. Had Krieg been on deck, he'd certainly have been taking odds. Indeed the point of light representing the creature was gaining on the two probes.

"Mr. Ortiz, you're certain you can outrun him?"

"Right where we want him, sir."

At the last possible moment, just before the jaws of the creature closed on either craft, they separated and made a 90 degree bank away from each other. The red pulsing light remained stationary.

"Slammed him into a seamount, sir," Ortiz said, wiping sweat from his face. "Probably snapped that long neck in half."

There was a smattering of applause.

"Good work, Mr. Ortiz, Lieutenant Commander." Bridger looked at the display again. The tanystropheus was drifting slowly towards the bottom. "Let's get that thing onboard. Maybe we can salvage something of the h-r probe and maybe we can answer some questions about how this anomaly works."

"It seems I've missed all the excitement, Captain," Le Conte said from the edge of the clam doors.

"Standard stuff for this mission," Bridger said, casting an admiring gaze over his crew. "Anything more out of Lachance?"

"It seems that the device that he said he'd hidden isn't exactly on board yet."

The captain looked puzzled. Le Conte seemed to divine this.

"It's still in the 20th Century. Under a cathedral, if I'm not mistaken."


They walked quickly across the lot towards the trailer. Jonathan had everything he'd need, including his mask, candy bars, a small toolkit, a flashlight, and just needed the PAL to complete his preparations. He'd also managed to score a Cinnabon for traveling supplies.

"How could there be a volcano in LA?" he asked. "I thought we weren't on a fissure zone? That's what Mr. C. told us, anyway."

"Right. It's a subduction zone," the teacher babbled, lecturing as he always did when he was nervous. "The earth's crust is getting pushed under the continent along the coast of California. We live on all of the broken chunks of rock that are sitting on it. That's why we have earthquakes. But there isn't really an active pool of magma in Southern California anywhere near the surface. At least not in this reality."

"Mt. Saint Vibiana started erupting in 2002," Mel said. "Before that there were just earthquakes, the big one in '99, and three more after that."

The teacher laughed.

"Saint Vibiana? Like the old church downtown?"

Mel looked seriously at him.

"Ground zero. The church was the first victim."

The teacher considered.

"There was a methane explosion in downtown LA in 1985. The street collapsed, and there were pockets of flaming gas around the area for weeks afterward. It's one of the reasons why they don't want to put the subway down Wilshire Boulevard. It's too geologically active."

"Who would build a subway in LA anyway?" Jonathan said. "That's insane. Who would use it? What if there was an earthquake?"

"There isn't any magma, but there's plenty of gas and oil shale. Maybe these twins are looking for oil. Maybe they want to corner the market in the future with stolen fossil fuel. What's gasoline going for in 2018?"

"Thirty-three a liter."

"Thirty-three dollars?" Jonathan asked, incredulous. The Nissan got good mileage, but this was outrageous. He quickly rethought his plan to buy a Jeep. If it cost him $30.00 a liter for gasoline, and his tank held 10 gallons..? $1,050.00, about, Lucas calculated. Jonathan smiled. Maybe there were some advantages in having a genius to do his math for him. "You'd need to take out a loan to fill up."

"It could be worse. You could have my Nova," the teacher said.

"Yeah, the Gar-mobile eats gas like a rhino eats grass," Jonathan laughed. "That's what rhinos eat, right? Grass?"


Dave placed a hand gently on the knob of an improvised control.

"Powering up. Thirty seconds."

"Are you speaking to me?" Nick drawled from his side. "I thought you were the brains of this outfit? Don't tell me you actually need my help?"

"What I'd really like to do is toss you into a lava pit, but that wouldn't be sporting, now would it?"

"Your passions will be your undoing, brother." Nick smiled arrogantly. "And you know that you couldn't live without me."

"I'd like to try." Dave scowled into the screen in front of him. "And I am NOT your brother!"

Nick waved him off. "Details, details."

Lucas had kept wandering around the room, looking out of the ash-stained windows at the vista of black vegetation and the blasted valley that stretched northward in a vast shattered plain of abandoned ruins. His eyes settled on an old Citywalk advertisement; a giant cup and saucer.

"Kawhee!" he said, pointing. He rubbed his stomach. "Yum!"

"Yes. That's right. Enjoy the view," Nick said cheerily, "while you can."

Lucas looked back at them curiously, toddling along the edge of the huge windows until he came to a table set up for chess.

"Keep him away from our game, Nick!"

"I'm busy. Both of us are. Just remember where the pieces were."

Lucas stood next to the table with the chessboard, fingers in his mouth. He reached out and moved one, picking up another one.

"Kins nite tate bithup. Tet May!" He knocked over the black king, squealing joyously.

Nick squinted at the impaired teen. "Well, I think the little bugger has been holding out on us."


"We'll get the PAL and you see if you can get a better fix on exactly where they're holding Lucas," Mel said.

Jonathan turned from the trailer door, still holding the handle, nodded, closing his eyes. He opened them again quickly.

"Whoa!"

"What?"

"Checkmate!" he said, eyes wide.


Lucas held up the chess piece triumphantly, then put it into his mouth.

"Nick! Do something! That's…that's disgusting!"

The other opened a drawer and pulled out a syringe, then crossed the room slowly, trying to hide his evil intent by holding the syringe behind his back. They didn't need to keep this one conscious, after all, until they got the actor. Maybe not even then.

"Are you sure that won't kill him?"

"We'll take our chances. We really only need one of them, anyway. Come here, Lucas. Come to Uncle Nick!"

Lucas tilted his head, a suspicious expression on his face. He didn't like these men at all. There was one too many.

"Can you say, 'computer geek'?"

"Tum-poo-dle deek!" Lucas said slowly.

"Excellent. Can you say 'thorazine'?"

"Toe-zeen?" Lucas gave him a puzzled look, holding out the chess piece.

A bolt of energy snapped across the room, blinding the two men.

"DAVE!"

"I haven't DONE anything yet!"

The discharge flowed like a snake around the space, jumping from table to table, floor to ceiling, with a sound like ten-thousand bees. The bolt touched the blond teenager, making his hair stand out from his head.

"Bye-bye!" Lucas said, waving,

and was gone.

The machinery blasted into life then, a series of concussions echoing from the ruined hotel in the distance.

Nick turned back to Dave, put his hands on his hips and sighed heavily.

"Well, this is NOT a good development, is it? What did you do? Vaporize him?"

Dave gazed at the empty spot where Lucas had just stood. Smoke seeped from his console, the circuits still glowing red. Sparks of remaining static fizzed around them.

"I swear to you, I didn't do anything until just now!"

Nick nodded angrily. "Just tell me I'm not going to find Krakatoa outside."

"I've got worse news," Dave raised his head from the display, lifted his hand. The lever had burnt clean through. "I can't shut it down."


An explosive flash of light burst in front of them, consuming the trailer and knocking them all flat. When their eyesight returned, the trailer had vanished. A single lilac-colored envelope, covered in hearts and stickers, drifted down from a clear sky and landed at Anica's side.

"Everyone all right?" Ray yelled, shaking the noise out of his head.

"Yes, but…" Mel said, looking desperately around. "Where's Jonathan?"

A few scorched 8X10's floated down, dismal snowflakes. Half of Jonathan's face smiled out of one of them, but he had vanished. The metal stair in front of the door remained, the twisted metal of the blown out handrail still smoldering.


Bottom of the eighth. They led six-five, one out, Jonathan's turn to bat. Lance Anthony had doubled, stuck on second. Lucas had come in on the last hit and now stood behind home plate yelling at him through the chain link backstop.

"Go on!"

In the stands, the Derry fans had begun to chant, 'Hey-batter, hey-batter'. He concentrated, staring right into the tall pitcher's eyes. He couldn't quite see them under the bill of his hat.

Whiff!

"STRIKE!"

Chris Swanson, Nor Pac's catcher, egged him on.

"No hitter. Come on, Cowan!" he said, loudly enough for Lucas to hear him.

"Wait for it!" he yelled from behind them.

"Give him a break, Lucas!" Coach Lee yelled at him.

"Hey, he's my twin! He needs my encouragement!"

"Glad he's not mine," Jonathan heard Chris mutter. "Two more! Strike 'im out, Nick!"

He put the aluminum bat to his right shoulder again, readied himself. This time he could see the pitcher's eyes. He smiled, letting the twin sapphire voodoo he knew he possessed zap the guy.

The bat connected and he followed through the swing with all of his strength, grunting with effort, straining arms he knew weren't exactly Mister Universe material. As he gingerly dropped the bat he gave a triumphant look back at his twin, who was nearly exploding with envy. Jonathan knew he could hit better than Lucas, though he wasn't sure why. When was the last time he'd even played baseball, and what was with the weird uniform, and why was everything so…white?

At least he wasn't in a dress.

He basked in the cheering as he ran towards first. He could hear the girls on the sideline: CK, Sunny, Ellie, Robyn, Joanna, Mel, Anica, all cheering for him. Just east of first base, a huge tank of water sat, and he heard Darwin squeaking encouragement from inside.

"You run like an old woman, Jonathan! Get your ass in gear!" Lucas shouted over everyone else.

The centerfielder had dropped the ball and lost it in the grass. Great. He charged second, hearing the umpire call Lance safe. He veered for third, driving with all of his might.

"Run! C'mon! Run!" Lucas shrieked, slamming a bat into the bench.

He slid into third, calculating the timing just right. A half-second later the ball slapped into the third baseman's glove. He tagged him anyway, the third base umpire waving him safe.

He stood up, took off the batting helmet and tipped his cap to CK, somewhere in the crowd.

He waited, watching Jerry Blake let a ball and a strike go by him. With Lance's run that made them seven-five, right? If he got in...

"STEERIKE!"

When he got in, they'd have eight. If Jerry tagged up...

The sound of the bat startled him. Jerry hadn't connected with much power.

"GO!" somebody screamed at him. He saw the ball making its pitiful arc, the man in right field drop it. He started to run, then saw their plan.

The right-fielder socked the ball into first base, clearly missing Jerry who kept a straight course for second. Nor Pac wanted him to run.

"Hold at third, Dumpling!" The coach yelled. "Get the BOOK!"

"Run, dipstick! You can outrun the damned ball, COME ON!" Lucas screeched.

"Break the bricks!" Danica called.

"Kiss me, fat boy!" Beverly yelled.

Half the team shouted to run, half shouted what the coach wanted. He didn't have time to think. He was halfway home.

He froze.

Lucas stood in front of him, gesturing wildly with his bat.

"You wouldn't really hit me with that again, now would you, Slugger?"

"Wake up! C'mon WAKE UP! You're suffocating! We're suffocating! WAKE UP!"

Jonathan launched into his PSA. '"…Your brain thinks your drowning. And your brain is pretty much right.'"

"Yeah, yeah, and stay in school! This is SERIOUS! WAKE UP!" Lucas made a fist and swung around, connecting with Jonathan's head and sending him sprawling…


into a soft layer of volcanic dust. He choked out a mouthful of the stuff. He quickly slapped on the makeshift SCUBA gear and stood up.

"Well, I'll be," he said to no one. "It actually worked!"

Thunder rumbled in the distance. The black southern sky was lit with jagged streaks of white and then pulsating orange light. A second later thunder reverberated again. Way too close.

The gigantic guitar stood in front of him, its surface mottled with acid burns and volcanic ash, which drifted down like fat flakes of poisoned snow. He kept spitting, unsure if he'd eaten some of the noxious stuff. Great. More bad eating at Citywalk. Massive cables ran down the pitted surface, across a space to the roof of the second-story and to the cannon-like thing aimed down into the giant green plastic tulip.

The portal, both he and Lucas thought at the same time.

"Which way do we…do I go?" He looked at the ground. There were twin lines leading through the dust into the distance. "Is that a path?"

You did that with your feet. The blast slid you across this whole place like a carom.

Indeed, the trails ended at the heels of his tough boots. Thank you Doc Martens!

"So, do I follow them back?"

Lucas gave a mental shrug, which Jonathan felt in his own shoulders.

What is all of this?

"I don't know. This is your reality. I think. What's at Citywalk in your reality?"

Well, considering it's an earthquake ruin near an active volcano, I never was that anxious to visit.

"You're not very adventurous."

There was definitely something wrong about the whole scene to Jonathan, beyond all of the volcanic debris. Surely whoever had designed the shopping area had done a better job than this. He discerned a giant stone head resting sideways on the crushed entrance of his beloved Cineplex Odeon.

"Teddy Roosevelt?" he asked no one. "From Mt. Rushmore?"

There were huge chunks of sandstone with fault lines running through them piled everywhere, stalagmites jutting from the ashen concrete, a red and white bus with the word RAPID emblazoned across the front, still sitting on a jagged portion of transported asphalt. He saw what might have been the top of the Eiffel Tower, part of a pyramid, one of the spires from Cinderella's Castle at Disneyworld, the carcass of a white whale, and there, resting like a prop from The Wizard of Oz, halfway impaling the remains of a Starbucks

"My trailer!"


Dave kept one eye on the gauge in front of him as he tried desperately to rewire the controls. The energy build up was peaking again.

"Hold on!"


"Commander Ford, we need to retrieve the carcass of the …." He looked at the communications officer.

"Tanystropheus or Plesiosaurus, sir." O'Neill said.

"The … prehistoric creature out there," Bridger continued.

O'Neill looked perturbed suddenly.

"Wait. This can't be right."

The captain didn't want to ask.

"Captain, the signal just disappeared."


Jonathan felt a drop of rain on his cheek and started to run for the trailer. He knew about acid rain, and this stuff for sure was as acidic as what was in his car battery.

Good idea, Lucas said to him.

But before he could get much further, a tremendous column of water slammed down into him, accompanied by another blast of thunderous noise and light. The water drove him straight into the side of the trailer, where he clung to the door handle with one hand and the mask with the other. Something huge, wet, black and rubbery dropped out of the sky, landing with a ground shaking thud where he'd just been standing.

"What the f..?" Jonathan gazed at the creature. "Is that the Loch Ness Monster?"

A plesiosaur. A dinosaur.

"A what?"

A dinosaur. They were reptiles that lived

"Yeah, I know what a dinosaur is! What's it doing here?"

The portal must be malfunctioning! It must be randomly retrieving things from all over time and space!

Jonathan looked heavenward, certain that another bus would come out of the sky at any second and flatten him. Or maybe this thing's mama.

Maybe an air conditioner, Lucas thought.

Lightning arced out of the portal and snaked across the ground. A blue Lamborghini came barreling out of the flash, slammed on its brakes just before it plowed into the dead sea monster, and then vanished again in a flash of light. That would make great dinner conversation, he thought, 'Honey, guess what I saw on the 101 today..?' The bolt continued upwards along the walls to slam into a fragmented neon outline of King Kong. The sign disappeared, only a collapsing halo of dust remaining behind it.

Get us out of here!

"You don't have to say… think that twice!"

Get the PAL!

"Why?"

Maybe we can reach the seaQuest!

"Or maybe the portal will send the trailer back to where it came from!"

Or into chapter five of The Lost World!

A twenty-foot tall bronze bell slammed into the ground near him, breaking the concrete. Jonathan threw his hands up in reflex.

"Man, that thing could've squashed me!"

It could've squashed us! Get moving!


Dave cursed under his breath as he twisted wires, always conscious of the fact that at any second a few million volts could come blasting through them. Nick stood nearby, arms across his chest.

"Well, do something to help!"

"You seem to forget, Dave. I'm the 'arse' in this chimera."

"Look, if something happens to me…"

That ruined Nick's moment of gloating. Dave spoke the truth, though he wouldn't give him the satisfaction of admitting it.

"All right. I'll bail you out again," he muttered, "as I've always done."

"Just keep an eye on the gauges. Let me know if the power level is getting into the red." He glared at the other. "And not AFTER, all right?"

"You can trust me, Dave." He tried to look neutral, gave it up. "All right, you can't trust me, but this is purely self-interest, so, for now, you're safe."

"Thanks for your compassion. We'll fix this, then we'll find out where the boy's got to."

"You don't know?"

"I TOLD you! I didn't send him off! The portal hadn't even been activated yet."

"So… Did we get the actor, at least?"

"I'm not certain. We have more pressing problems at the moment." He held up a tangle of cable and insulation. "How are we doing?"

"I'm feeling just fine, brother."

"I meant the GAUGES, you moron!" he spat. "And we are NOT brothers!"

Nick looked down at the display. The virtual zigzags bounced and jostled between the lines.

"Not into the red yet. Still yellow."

"I hope you're not lying to me."

"You've lied to yourself enough already, Dave. In any case, you don't have much choice but to trust me," Nick snapped. "And try to remember that it wasn't I that started this mess."

"You're splitting hairs, Nick…"

"No," Nick growled, "You've already done that!"


Jonathan had to lean his whole less-than-hardy weight against the door to get it to open. At least thirty bags of mail were scattered on the trailer floor, almost calf deep against the door and on the toppled furniture. He quickly slammed the door behind him and tried to negotiate in the dark to the back room and his dresser.

Flashlight? Lucas suggested.

Jonathan felt himself flush.

"Yeah. I was just gonna get that." He swung the backpack around to his chest and felt inside for the flashlight. Gar had suggested a Maglite, because it had a sealed beam, just in case there was a problem with pockets of methane along with the microscopic dust.

He pointed the beam at the door to the back room, heartened by the fact that the dust hadn't yet penetrated the shell of the trailer. He slid some of the piled mail away from the door with his foot and pulled it open.

The teen/toddler Lucas stared wide-mouthed from the darkness, eyes blazing blue against his face, totally black with soot, dusty-gray hair sticking out straight like a fright wig.

They both screamed.

"Mon-ter! Mon-ter!" The giant two-year-old screeched, and covered his eyes.

"Oh my God!" Jonathan yelled back, horrified. "They toasted him!"

It's just stuff from the volcano! teen Lucas said in his head.

"But he's all… He's all..!" Jonathan recoiled. "Yuck!"

Hey, look in a mirror. You're no prize right now, either.

"It's okay, Lucas. It's all right. I won't hurt you," Jonathan tried in his most soothing voice. The big toddler just crawled backward across the floor, still covering his eyes and starting to whimper.

It's the mask, dude. And get out one of the candy bars.

"What about silicone microscope neurosis?"

We'll be okay for a while, I think. The dust hasn't gotten in here yet.

Jonathan slid out of the mask, then pulled out a Hershey bar and opened one end.

"Lu-cas! Lu-cas! Look what I have!" Jonathan dangled the treat out in front of him. The boy still huddled under the dresser table, face covered.

"Doe way, Mon-ter!"

Sing!

"What? Sing? Hasn't this poor kid suffered enough?"

Trust me. Sing 'Wild Thing'.

"Wild thing? Why..?" He rubbed his face, seeing how he was crusted with claylike ash and water. He probably did look like some kind of black and gray mud monster. "Oh man, is this crap going to screw up my skin! Okay! All right!" He shook his head, feeling really stupid. "Dum dum…da da.. DA DA DA … da da… Wild thing! You make my heart sing. You make everything groovy, wild thing..!" he sang tonelessly

The boy on the floor stopped crying and began to hum along with him, equally out of tune, and without much spirit.

Louder! teen Lucas shouted.

"WILD THING, I THINK I LOVE YOU, DUH DA DUH DA! BUT I WANNA KNOW FOR SURE! DUH DA DUH DA! C'MON WILD THING, HOLD ME TIGHT! DUH DA DUH DA! I LO-OVE YOU..!"

The big toddler raised his head. The tears had streaked his blackened face with clean lines.

"Duh duh, da da, DA DA DA, da da…" he sang, mimicking the guitar.

"Good!" Jonathan yelled. "Yeah! 'Wild thing, you make my heart sing…'"

"You mate erry tin goovy!" Toddler Lucas started moving his arms around as if he were dancing.

"'Wild thing,'" They both sang.

"You were a weird little kid, Lucas." Jonathan offered the candy bar to the toddler, felt overly pleased when he took it and bit into it ravenously. He put his arm around the boy's shoulders and rocked him back and forth familiarly. He couldn't explain what he felt: protective and angry at the same time, but more relieved and happier than he could understand. The almonds had slowed the toddler down, for he simply sucked the chocolate off of them and then spat them out, but he had gotten most of the bar down. He looked at Jonathan and smiled, his mouth happily covered with chocolate.

Outside they heard a roar as a large animal appeared and then disappeared with an explosion.

Find the PAL.

Jonathan knelt on the floor and rooted around on the carpeting. At last he found the paper bag and pulled out the PAL. He laughed at the YooHoo labels.

"Very resourceful. Okay. Now what?"

Give him another piece of candy bar.

"Yeah, but what do I do with the PAL?"

You're going to have to let me take over.

"Take over? Take over, like… take over?"

Can you work on it?

"I see what you mean. Okay. What do I do?"

Just let go. Close your eyes and let go.

Jonathan felt frightened, but there was little he could do to argue against this. He only played a genius. He closed his eyes and relaxed.

Instantly Lucas was up and searching in the dresser drawers using Jonathan's body.

What are you doing? Jonathan asked him, mentally sitting in a lotus position and monitoring Lucas' actions as if watching a film.

"Looking for parts. I'm going to try to do something my buddy Laine was up to at school." He pulled the hair dryer from the drawer, immediately had it torn open, cannibalizing it for parts and wiring.

Jonathan felt amazed at the speed at which the young computer wizard worked. All the while he kept soothing the toddler with little songs and tidbits of information, between handing him slivers of chocolate. He had him reciting the periodic table to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", when he had rewired the PAL into something that looked like a metal detector with two pads made of the top and bottom of an Altoids tin strung together with wire from the hair dryer.

What sounded like a truckload of pots and pans crashed into the ground outside.

What are you going to do with that?

"Just watch." He cleaned a place on the toddler's forehead with a Stridex pad, smiling for him when he giggled. Toddler Lucas seemed happy as long as he kept supplying him with chocolate. Teen Lucas put one of the metal squares on the clean spot. He cleaned a spot on Jonathan's forehead as well. He rubbed a little witch hazel onto both pads for better conduction and then used band-aids to hold them on.

Hey, this isn't going to hurt, is it?

"He won't feel anything, I don't think."

I meant me!

"You're not very adventurous," Lucas laughed. He put the other metal square on borrowed-Jonathan's forehead. Wires ran into the open back of the PAL. Some months before, Lucas had downloaded his friend's research into engram recording. It hadn't worked very well for Laine, who'd ended up sucking someone's head dry, but the glitches had all been resolved.

Maybe.

"Smile, Lucas!" the teenager said to his own baby self.

"Uh oh," the toddler said suspiciously, giving him a sidelong glance.


"In the red again," Nick said casually.

"Just one more connection," Dave said from where he had his head within the console.

"You asked me to tell you…"

"Yes! Thank you. Now shut up!"

Nick watched the gauge steadily climb to its peak, stepping back.

"Your funeral."

"There!" Dave slammed the panel in place and their controls went back online.

The humming of the machinery began to wind down, the discharge expending itself in a lightning show in the sky above them. Something thumped against the windows, then again and again. Nick walked over to see what was raining down on them now.

"What is it?"

"Prairie dogs. Dozens of them." He turned back to his 'twin', sneering. "You certainly have a way of choosing valuable targets."

"We can calibrate the targeting to pinpoint accuracy. But we need Wolenczak. The entire article, and not just the body."

"First you'll have to locate him."

Nick began to put on the breathing suit. He was interested in what sort of detritus Dave had unintentionally brought them this time anyway. Maybe one of these blind stabs into other dimensions would hook something worthwhile. But, from what he'd seen so far, he seriously doubted it.

XIII

"The creature probably simply disintegrated, Captain," Doctor Westphalen told him. "We discovered something of the same sort when we examined the katana. The metal was more brittle than glass."

"The EM field problem?" Captain Bridger leaned against his tented fingers. They sat despondently around the ready room table, none of the three feeling much joy at the victory over the undersea beast.

"Yes. Apparently, the further from the original place of origin in time and space, the more quickly the molecular structure starts to dissolve. The sword was centuries old, so its makeup began to shift after only a few hours. The sea creature was hundreds of millennia old, so it probably began to lose cohesion as soon as the anomaly pulled it through to our time."

"Sort of an emergency self-destruct to keep from damaging the continuum, then?"

"A fail-safe, Captain," Le Conte explained. "Nothing can exist for too long outside of its own niche. Nature won't allow its rules to be broken without consequences, even if we foolishly believe they can."

"We were seeing that with Jonathan." He surveyed each of them seriously. "How long has Lucas been in the alternate time?"

"My exact concern, Captain," Westphalen said. "If we don't get him back here soon, he could simply…vanish. The differential is only twenty-four years, but the damage was already advancing in Jonathan before he returned to his time."

"Of course there's always the possibility that Lucas could return on his own," Le Conte conjectured. "His correct time and space could snap him back like a rubber band – the way the other young gentleman's did."

"But this…anomaly… this… whatever it is — has changed everything," Bridger said quietly. "There's no way to know where…or when…or even if Lucas can get back here."

Le Conte sighed.

"On that point, Captain, I'm afraid I can totally agree. We've already seen the beginnings of a cascading effect. Temporal and dimensional physics has never been meant as a playground. The universe will demand a balance, and that may well be the life of your young crewman."

"Captain … Nathan," the doctor began difficultly, "in the last communication we had from Jonathan, he believed that Lucas was dying. We have to face the very real possibility that he's…gone by now."

Bridger let out a huge breath, unable to look up. He brought his fist down on the table.

"No. I won't give up on him. If there's a possibility, no matter how remote, we've got to keep it alive."

"But Captain…"

"Jonathan won't let us down. I have an instinct about this. I have to trust it." He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I won't accept the alternative unless I have to." But suddenly he began to think of life again without Lucas Wolenczak in it. It was a harsh, empty sensation.


"Megan! Stop it!" Jonathan yelled at the little Westie, still half asleep. She had this terrible habit of throwing herself against his bedroom door to wake him up, since it was his job to take her for her morning run. The demure dog was being very persistent this time. Thump. Thump-thump.

"Megan!" He leaped up, then sank back down, suddenly disoriented.

Lucas sat on the trailer floor gaping back at him, his face a chaos of mud, ashes, dried tears and chocolate, blank eyes like blue marbles. Who..?

Another three objects thumped onto the roof. What the hell? Then he remembered where he was and what was going on. The PAL sat on the floor, both metal pads having come loose from their skin.

"Hey!" He jumped forward. Lucas didn't respond, only gazed emptily back at him. "Hey, are you in there? Hey!" He snapped his fingers in the boy's face, shook him by the shoulder, his heart beginning to sink. He no longer felt the presence of the intruding mind, but the vacant look on Lucas could only mean that he'd failed to get back into himself.

"Oh shit," he mumbled. What would they do now? He was stranded in another time, another dimension, and he'd lost Lucas. Instead of fear, he felt the first pangs of loss. But he wouldn't just leave the damaged genius behind. If they were going to die of palomino scrotum volcano nose, they would die on their feet. "All right. We can't stay here. C'mon."

Lucas passively watched him get up, offer him his hand, obviously biting back the sadness.

"Y'know I can stand on my own," he said dryly.

Jonathan almost fainted with relief. The joy he suddenly felt was totally irrational. He wouldn't trade that feeling for anything just then. He didn't know if he wanted to deck Lucas or hug him or both, hands fumbling around in a frenzy of hyperactive inaction.

"Why didn't you say something? Why didn't you let me know?"

"Practicing my acting. How was I? Could you tell?"

"Why?"

Lucas stood up, careful not to brush the ashes from himself, in fact carefully reapplying some to the places he'd cleaned by dabbing it off Jonathan's sodden clothes. "Those two are going to come looking for you. This is the first place they'll come, logically, if they brought it through."

"Then let's get out of here!"

"No. You go. I'm going to stay behind and get back into their lab. I'm going to keep playing little-kid-Lucas. What's more harmless than a little kid?"

"You're an awfully BIG little kid."

"Just a technicality. Okay, spread your mail around on the floor. Hide the footprints."

While Jonathan shoveled his mail over the telltale muddy boot prints, Lucas rapidly reassembled the PAL, even putting the dryer and Altoids tin back together. He finished and dropped the little toolkit down the front of his jeans.

"They might pat you down, you know," Jonathan said rationally.

"Maybe. But they're not child molesters. I don't think so, at least. They won't search there."

Jonathan flashed him a silly grin.

"Yeah, you're probably right." He almost burst with happiness, staring at his grubby double. "I'm glad your brain didn't burn out the PAL," he said stupidly.

"Oh, the PAL was just a conduit. My friend figured out how to record brain patterns and then download them into someone else's head. I wish I could e-mail Laine and let him know it actually worked this time. It would brighten his day, I'm sure. The portal – or something – must've just done the same thing, only it separated the two and downloaded most of me into you." Lucas shrugged. "Or something like that, anyway."

"I mean, I'm glad you're okay." Jonathan looked shyly away, shrugged. "You know…"

"Oh. Thanks." Lucas busied himself with the PAL, a little embarrassed at what he too was feeling.

They both groped for words for a second.

"It would have really helped in school to have your brains. Especially in French."

"My French sucks. Try me in Latin."

"So you're really all right? Everything's back in your head where it belongs?"

"Good as new. Better. I feel great all of the sudden."

"Sugar rush from all the chocolate. Here. Why stop now?" Jonathan opened the backpack again and handed Lucas the Cinnabon. Lucas opened the cardboard container and pulled out the iced pastry – soaked through with volcanic ash and seawater.

"I'm touched. Really," he laughed. "We'd better get moving on this. I'm not getting any younger."

"Or any cleaner," Jonathan laughed and Lucas joined him.


"We've cleared the water from Lucas' quarters, sir," Ensign Sato said, trying to be businesslike. "A lot of his personal effects were swept out when the anomaly opened that area to the sea." She held a black box. "We were able to retrieve a toolkit, some electronics, and a few loose items.'' She opened the box and removed one of them; an oversized green and white striped Marlins jersey, still wet.

"Good work, Ensign." The captain took the box with dignity. "I'll keep these things for his family."

When he stared across the Command Deck at Dr. Westphalen and Le Conte, he hid a mix of emotions that went through him from rage to resignation. It was hurtful how easily a life could be summed up with a few random objects. The doctor looked away.

"Captain, there's a faint signal from the h-r probe." O'Neill said softly as he punched up the screen. The big display showed the coast of California, their position, and, south of them, near the volcano, the pulsing red light of the probe's homing beacon.

Bridger walked quietly to the twin control pods, gazing at the screen.

"So the anomaly just relocated the carcass? How far are we from it?"

"I'd make it about 175 miles, sir." He pulled up a political map. "The old Universal Studios theme park. The highway from Port Hueneme is reasonably intact, sir, if we send an electric vehicle."

"According to Dr. Westphalen, we won't find much there besides what's left of our probe."

"That's a pity, sir. It would have been interesting to get an up-close look at an actual tanystropheus. I'm certain Dr. Westphalen and the rest of the scientific crew would have loved to examine one."

"One not bones in a museum, you mean."

"Yes, sir."

"See if we can contact the volcano observation facility in the Brentwood Hills. Maybe they can retrieve our probe for us."

"Aye, sir." O'Neill began the call, paused momentarily, positive his eyes were playing tricks on him. He magnified the view. "Sir… There's another signal from the same location. It was almost masked by the h-r probe's beacon, but it's definitely there. They're almost on top of each other."

"What is it, son?"

O'Neill checked and rechecked the signature until he was convinced.

"It's Lucas' PAL."

"You're certain."

"Absolutely, sir. It has his individual coding."

Bridger straightened himself, walked in a slow circle, stopped, not facing the communications officer.

"Could the energy cells in the PAL still be active after this long? I mean, twenty-four years?"

"It's quite possible, sir."

"So we may just be reading the PAL's signature? It's not a certainty that it's with Lucas'…" He couldn't get himself to say remains.

"No. We may just be getting a residual reading from the energy cells, sir." He tried to remain professional, though he knew what the captain was suggesting. "It's likely they left the PAL behind when the studio was abandoned in the early 00's after the first eruption, probably in one of the retail stores. They most likely believed it was just a prop, sir, since it wouldn't be able to operate until 2015."

"Well, we'll ask the observation team to retrieve it for us."

"Aye, sir." O'Neill sighed and began to send a message to the Mt. Saint Vibiana research laboratory. He was cut off by an a buzzing in his earpiece. "Incoming message on a secure channel from Admiral Noyce, sir." He inspected the line of code again. "It says 'to Captain: Freakfest RSVP'."

"What?" Bridger was about to take the message in his ready room, but this stopped him. "Put it on the main screen."

"Lots of interference, sir."

The UEO insignia lit up the screen for a second, sputtered and was replaced by blackness.

"Admiral Noyce?"

"Captain Bridger?" a familiar voice said from the darkness.

"Jonathan? Is … is that you?"

"I knew you'd prefer him, Captain, but do you have to be so obvious?"

"Lucas! How..?" But it didn't matter. "Are you all right, son?"

"Yeah. We're fine, really. I have Jonathan with me."

"The anomaly?"

"It's a dimensional portal, Captain. Someone's been manipulating the wormhole from here. They pulled me back. Jonathan got here… I don't know how he got here. Maybe they pulled him back too."

"After transporting a plesiosaur, a 17 year old is simple," Le Conte said.

"We'll send a rescue party for you. Do you both have oxygen?"

"I think that'll be taken care of. There's a laboratory about a hundred yards from here, where these two men have been conducting their experiments from. I'll be there."

"No heroics, Lucas."

"Oh no. Just like taking candy from a baby."

"We'll send an advance party from the volcano observation station. Don't do anything dangerous."

They heard the light laughter from the other end.

"If you only knew the kind of day I've had, Captain Bridger…" There was a burst of static. "I'm giving the PAL to Jonathan. Triangulate on the signal. You'll get him and the two responsible for this. I'll be back in communication as soon as I'm in the lab."

"Great. Lucas…?"

"Yes, sir?"

"I knew we could count on you."

"Thank you, sir. I knew I could count on all of you, too. It's good to be home. Well, almost home."

The communication went dead, but the pulse of the PAL signal allowed them to still track its whereabouts to the millimeter. It was moving slowly away from the h-r probe.

"Mr. O'Neill, get that research team on the line! Commander Ford, ready the shuttle, and make sure we have plenty of extra O2. I think we're about due for some luck."

"Captain," Westphalen pulled him aside. "There's still the problem with Jonathan's molecular integrity. He can't be kept here for too much longer."

"I'll figure out the timeline for you, Dr. Westphalen," Le Conte offered. "I think we have some leeway before anything happens to him, since he returned to his own time and space briefly. But I can't recommend that he stay much longer than is necessary."


Nick fumbled with the handle of the trailer door, having to switch the gun he carried to the other hand to maintain any dexterity. The gloves helped keep the dust down, of course, but they made manipulation of anything more complex than a steering wheel very difficult.

"Anything yet?" Dave's voice came over the radio.

"Well, I see you've netted us a dinosaur skeleton. And not in very good condition, either."

"I meant the actor. Did we get him? Is he still alive?"

"We'll know in a trice." He opened the door and then pushed it wide, flourishing the gun. "All right, Wolenczak and Brandis, come out!"

The door to the back room opened and Lucas stepped into the light of the open door, blinking. Here it goes, he thought.

"Well?" Dave barked.

"The actor isn't here. Just our empty."

So far, so good, Lucas thought, concentrating on making himself look as if he couldn't concentrate.

"And a lot of mail." Nick kicked some of the envelopes around on the floor.

"Shoot him."

Nick turned back to the challenged teen, sighing.


"That was NOT supposed to happen that way," Mel said, shaking her head vehemently. "Everything Lachance told me seems to have been a lie."

"Was that intended for you?" Ray said, checking the place where the trailer had just been. "Is it… those… the ..?" he waved his hands in the air.

"Lachance's men? Not likely. Of course, if they decided to use the portal, it would probably result in a lot of damage. It takes someone who knows exactly what they're doing not to create a tremendous mess."

Tiny shreds of colored paper still drifted down from the air in a widening circle, the smell of ozone slowly dissipating. There was nothing else left of the trailer.

"So it could be?" Anica stooped, picking up one of the half-burnt photographs. "Is it an assassination attempt? How would they know that you've turned against them?"

"Maybe it's already happened in the future," Mel began, "an alternate future that was already planned for should some predictable variable come to pass. Maybe all of the variables have been covered. They could do that, given enough time – and they have all time and space to play with." She shook her head miserably. "Maybe they've already killed us all and gotten whatever they want. I should have never trusted Lachance. This should never have happened."

"In a universe of infinite possibilities…" the teacher said quietly. So time was like a dense tapestry, each possibility connected to every other one, into infinity. "Then maybe we've already damaged the time-stream in this reality enough that the future – your future – doesn't exist anymore."

"If the people who hired Lachance don't repair the damage they've already done, there won't be much of a future for anyone in any reality," Mel said. "They've been hop-scotching from time to time and dimension to dimension. But something must have gone very wrong, beyond the havoc they've already caused."

"Like a volcano in downtown LA?" the teacher said.

"That's the least of it. They've gotten their hands on some really dangerous things from a lot of places no one would ever think ─ or want ─ to visit. And they can transport them back and forth, to any time and any place – at least that's the theory." She looked at the now quiet site of the explosion. "But it looks like they've lost control of their monster."

"Then they've probably …killed Jonathan and…" Ray sat heavily on the ground. "Now what?" He tried to keep the tone of desperation out of his voice, but it was obvious to the two young women that he had never considered the devastating possibility of losing Jonathan forever.

"I have a translocator disk," Mel said. "If it still works."

"Why wouldn't it?" Anica asked.

"Insurance," Mel said bitterly. "To make sure I can't get away." She put her hand in her pocket, looked confused and dug deeper. "It was here…"

"You had it in your pocket?"

"Yes. I got it from my locker and was going to give it to Lucas to try to send him back to his own time." She searched every pocket. "I had it!"

"Did you give it to Lucas?"

"No! I was going to hold onto it until we had a chance to think this through."

"And it was in your pocket when Lucas disappeared?"

"Well…"

The teacher started to laugh, shaking his head at the ironic absurdity.

"What?" the other two said simultaneously.

"Jonathan loves magic. He used to make things appear and disappear at school. He even had me panicking once when he palmed a razor blade during his life science class when he was in the eighth grade. Lucas is exactly like Jonathan," he laughed. "He knew what you had and what it was for. The little sneak took it from you!"

Anica nodded. "Yeah. It sounds like something I'd put into his character description." Her face clouded. "It doesn't look like candy, by any chance, does it?"

"No. I don't think he'd …eat it. It's about…" She held up her thumb and forefinger, made a circle.


"Really, brother, you must work on that vengeful streak of yours. It's really not very appealing," Nick muttered dryly.

"Just shoot him and let's be over with it!"

Nick shook his head, and then realized that his sarcasm couldn't be seen by his 'twin'.

"Dave, Dave, Dave… If we shoot him, and the actor has managed to get into our little ouvre but is wounded, or suffocating on this wonderfully healthful atmosphere you so cleverly supplied for us, we'll need this one to download whatever is in his head. That is assuming you haven't brought us two empties in a row. Your success rate hasn't exactly been high lately."

Silence, and a bit of static met this. Nick smiled at the filthy teenager.

Lucas raised his hand, pointed an index finger at Nick.

"Ban Ban! You dead!" He giggled, raising his eyebrows and almost crossing his eyes. It made appearing nearly mindless a lot easier. He had to be careful not to overplay it. Nick still had his gun out and getting shot at wasn't a part of this chapter – that had happened to Jonathan.

"Well, then… Bring him and let's find the other one," Dave snarled over the radio.

Nick stepped forward and gently put a small disc on Lucas's grubby shirt. Lucas used every acting muscle not to examine it.

"All right. He's clear. Scan for the actor's biosignature."

"Moving away from you up the gallery at a pretty fair clip. He's not wounded, or so it appears."

"He's still retrievable, but this'll take both of us. Let me bring this one back to the laboratory. He may still be of some use yet. I'm certain the actor has no idea that he's inhaling your patented acid, and his lungs will be useless pretty soon."

"Nick, we only have the one suit between us..!"

"Yes," Nick growled vehemently. "I'm well aware of your shortcomings when it comes to pre-planning." He relaxed. "We'll jerry-rig something. Scrounge around the lab." He grinned plastically at Lucas. "Come on, little man. Come with Uncle Nick. No more lightning bolts, I promise."

Lucas almost came forward, but hesitated, easing into his part.

"Chock-it?" He rubbed his mouth.

Nick snickered. Easy to manipulate, this one.

"Yes. We'll find you some chocolate, Lucas." He placed the rebreather over the boy's head. "Preferably mixed with a little Ritalin."

Lucas grinned ridiculously. Mustn't overplay it, he thought, but he had to react as he thought a two-year-old version of him might. Nick, for all of his self-perceived cunning actually wasn't very observant. Still, he had to concentrate more than he'd believed. How did Jonathan do it?

Nick gestured with one gloved hand, the other hand relaxed, but lying on the butt of his gun.

Outside, the lightning and rain had abated in the immediate area, but thunder still rumbled in the distance and the ground trembled now and again, as if the earth had a chill. The dinosaur had decayed incredibly since he'd last seen it, more than possible, even with the most potent of acid rain, but he could see a part of something metallic through the tattered skin over its ribcage.

The seaQuest's h-r probe!

Nick noted his interest.

"Okay, little man. What's that?" He pointed at the ratty remains of the sea beast.

Plesiosaur, Lucas thought. "Bid Doggie?" he said. "Too 'cary!" He covered his face-shield and turned away from the tableau.

Nick laughed rather macabrely.

"Yes, a very big doggie." He put his hand on Lucas' neck and guided him towards the lab.


Jonathan huffed hard and almost blew off the mask. He didn't have time to tighten the straps, so he just hoped that he wouldn't have to run or the damned thing was sure to slip off. For the first few yards he kept the trailer between himself and the walkway, picking his way through the incredible array of transported garbage strewn everywhere. Mostly he saw rocks, metamorphic and sedimentary, if he wasn't mistaken, and lots of incongruous objects, mostly from desert regions, like Joshua trees and dead tortoises, but there were also telephone poles and statuary, benches, traffic signals. What were they looking for to begin with, he wondered?

At the spot where the shopping area widened out into a large circle under a geodesic dome, he dodged right and ran up the alley he knew was there from his own Citywalk. Sure enough, his familiarity with the lay of the land hadn't failed him. Just through the gate and he'd be in the studio – where he was practically in his own back yard. Let's see them try to catch him there!

He pushed quietly against the gate. No. No way. Not fair at all!

Locked!

He focused on the huge metal padlock barring the twenty foot gate, and then at the open street just beyond. It might as well be a thousand miles.


Nick guided Lucas through the door of their makeshift airlock and then shoved him none-too-gently into the lab. Dave had created a hazard suit from whatever he could scrounge from their stores; yellow rubber gloves, a parka, a Halloween mask of Saddam Hussein with an air hose jammed into the mouth, a duck hunter's wading boots and a spear gun. He looked like a homeless clown. Lucas shied away from him as he was pushed into the room, acting frightened, but trying not to laugh.

Dave pulled the mask up to show him his face, the twin to Nick's.

"Just me."

"Very clever, Dave," Nick said. "Let's hope the rain doesn't eat through that cheap latex."

"I'll gladly trade for your suit, Nick."

"Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Have you got a read on the actor?"

"Just around the corner. He's stopped moving."

Lucas hid his unease. Stopped moving? Had he run into a snag? Had his air run out?

"What do we do with this one?"

"We need the rebreather."

"So… do we incapacitate him now?"

"So impatient. These things need finesse, a little creativity. First we get what we want from him, then… Well, we'll think of something … appropriate … when the time comes," he patted Lucas gently on the back, "for both of them."

He led Lucas to the storage room, a small lightless cubicle behind what had been the bar, pulled the breathing mask from his face and pushed him inside. Lucas whined in a high voice, as he assumed a small child might, being roughly handled.

"Afraid of the dark, are we?" Nick whispered. "Too bad." He grabbed Lucas wrist and slapped the back of his hand. Lucas was startled, but unhurt, nonetheless he started to cry, as he was expected to.

Nick grinned with sadistic pleasure.

"That's what you get for being a bad boy! Now sit down and think about what you've done until Uncle Dave and I get back with your alternate." He smiled again. "In the dark." He cackled as he slammed the door shut and locked it, reveling in the keening that came from inside.

Dave simply looked at him, laughing grimly.

"You are one sick bastard," was all he said.

"Then we're a pair of sick bastards, brother."

Lucas kept up the crying until he'd heard the outside door close. He raged inside. Whatever the UEO decided to do with this pair was way too good for them. He felt along the edge of the door, his hand stinging. Just plain wood, he thought, relieved. Apparently Nick had imagined he had only the strength of a two year old. He grinned in the darkness. He wasn't the greatest physical specimen on earth, he knew, and he could just as easily disassemble the lock, but…

His foot met the door next to the knob and he heard the first splintering of the wood. A couple more would do it, and then he'd see what mischief he could get into in Dave's lab. He'd be sure to damage as much as possible after he'd sent the entire contents of their hard drives to the seaQuest. He only hoped that Jonathan could elude them for a long enough time.


He heard the scuffling of the two pursuers as they crossed the open circle. Almost here!

Jonathan was near tears now. He pressed his face against the gate, able to even tell which street he'd get to if only he could get through. Too much stress, traveling in time and space, as far as he could tell. It made it impossible to think clearly. He ran his fingers through his crusty hair, a shower of drying mud scattering around him. What would Lucas do? He'd figure a rational way to get around the problem, think of all the possibilities, be patient.

Screw that.

He backed up and bashed his Doc Martens against the gate, more in frustration than with a plan. The lock, after years of being soaked in acid rain, crumbled like a dry oatmeal cookie and the gate slammed open all at once.

He stood for a few seconds blinking.

Okay, RUN!

XIV

The wooden door gave to Lucas' insistent pounding. He broke free and ran into the main lab. The entire system looked like it had been thrown together from a hodge podge of technology. Some of it he didn't recognize at all. New technology was always a challenge for which he felt grateful, and this time he'd have fun figuring it out, and then totally, irreparably, destroying it. Just as soon as he got Jonathan to his own reality and time.

A holographic screen, one at least as sophisticated as the one that existed on the seaQuest's bridge, took up one section over a panel near the far wall. Connected to the base of the metal perimeter was a keyboard. Multiple crossing blue, green, and red lines, along with spheres lit up the screen in 3D; each reality tapped, he thought.

A sphere labeled RL21 flickered. The date 1972 flashed across the sphere in bold numbers. One second later a giant two-story lava lamp fell out of the electrical storm over head. The lamp hit the ash-covered pavement under the dome with a resounding crash, exploding shards of thick glass, hot wax and oil-based liquid in every direction. Lucas ducked as the shrapnel collided with the thick protective glass of the lab. The largest piece slammed into the window and stuck long enough for him to make out the words World's Fair 1972 in thick, red, bubble letters. The corrosive acid from the volcanic ash began to eat away the edges of the metal shard. But what worried Lucas most was the rate of molecular degeneration. Already the color was starting to fade from the lettering, like super speed sun bleaching.

He wondered if being in his reality was doing the same to Jonathan.

He studied the keyboard, tapping in a command line, and one corner of the screen lit up with a row of numbers. To the right of that was a 3D rendering of the temporal displacement cannon. His eyes scanned the text scrolling below the icon. He had to get Jonathan out of here before they killed him, or worse, before Jonathan's molecular structure began to degrade more rapidly and he turned into some kind of barely biological soup.

It took only a few minutes for the young genius to figure out how to select the reality he wanted – although it took working around the damaged systems to do it. He realized with a chill that the twins' plan to use him to fine-tune its function would have worked. Of course, he had no intention of fixing this monstrosity, just using it to bring Jonathan to his own reality. Then he'd take great pleasure in reducing the twin's machine to a pile of scrap metal. He'd fry every chip, overload every relay, smash every screen, disrupt every power conduit, reroute every serial bus and port and scramble the memory until the push of every button flushed a toilet somewhere in the remains of Citywalk. Lucas, Jonathan, and their differing worlds and lives had been through too much abuse to even consider anything else. No more. These guys would pay.

He vigorously selected the reality belonging to Jonathan through a history search and recent records of events he knew to belong to that sphere, aligned the cannon to Jonathan's location here with a little intelligent vectoring, made sure it had enough power to carry the frequency through temporal space, and held his finger over the activation key. He flexed his fingers, grinning in triumph,

and fired.


Anica bent down and picked up a piece of burnt photo paper. The edges had turned to ash, but Jonathan's face showing its tilted smile still looked back at her. She glanced quickly to the other two that had pulled her into this mess, then back to the picture, frowning.

Mel paced. What if the people controlling the device had killed Jonathan? If they had – intentionally or not – she felt a pang of sadness at that, though she knew the emotion level must be intensified one hundred fold in the older man, because Ray hadn't moved from the place he'd collapsed; amidst the burned images of his student smiling back as if nothing was wrong. She frowned, but couldn't take her eyes completely away from it. It was like watching a car wreck; the shock and pain are too much to stand, but you can't look away.

She dug through her pockets, pulling out a Hershey's Kiss she'd nicked from the stash that Anica had been feeding Jonathan and popped it into her mouth. Comfort food, she thought, and if there was ever a time to seek comfort

Anica turned with the picture still in her hand. "Without the translocator disk how are we supposed to find them?"

"We build another one." Mel crumpled the silver foil and stuffed it back in her pocket.

Both Anica and Ray looked at her with mirrored expressions made all the more comical by simultaneous arching of their eyebrows.

"Build another one?" Ray ventured.

"Yes. The science is fairly simple… Fairly."

"Never thought I'd hear anyone refer to temporal physics as 'simple'," Ray said.

Mel shrugged. "Different realities, different math teachers. In mine and Lucas' universe this is simple 9th grade stuff."

"9th grade?" the teacher asked incredulously.

"In the 8th grade, I did NOT have a spelling word like pneumonoultramiscroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,"

"Point taken."

A moment of silence followed with only the fluttering of the remaining papers drifting back to earth like lost birds to break it. Mel rested a hand on the teacher's shoulder to offer some comfort. "I'm sure he's alive. Jonathan's nothing if not resilient."

Ray nodded, pushing back the panic that threatened to overcome his judgment. He wouldn't believe anything without proof. Sometimes empiricism was its own two-edged sword.

"Unless we want to get zapped uncontrollably like Jon, I suggest that we…"

"Leave? Agreed," Anica said gratefully and folded up the picture, placing it in her jeans back pocket. "Where are you going to find the parts to build your little transporter doohickey?"

"Back there." Mel thumbed toward the soundstage containing the moon pool set. "You'd be surprised what they keep in there. Some of it isn't even from this time or dimension." She smiled. "Can you think of a better place to keep extra hi-tech stuff than with the props from a science fiction TV series?" She started off toward the soundstage.

"Ray? Are you all right?" Anica asked.

"Yeah." The older man stood. "Yeah, I'm good for another few miles. I just need to get away from here."

"We'll find him."

Ray picked up a piece of burned Yoo-Hoo wrapper – the writer in him recording everything out of unconscious habit – and formed a new solid determination to find whomever did this and smash their faces into the dirt like so much discarded ground beef, no matter how long it took or what the price. With this new conviction as fuel, he began to walk resolutely away from the remains of the trailer hook-up when a strong wind kicked up the multi-colored papers on the ground. "This can't be good…" he muttered and had just enough time to yell for the girls before the wind plunged him into darkness with a loud crack like thunder.

Mel and Anica spun around. "Ray? Mr. Garcia? Where are you?"

Anica ran back to the deserted space, turning in circles to catch every direction the teacher might have gone. Papers floated back to earth around her. She cupped her hands around her mouth. "Ray!"

He was nowhere to be found. Anica raised and then dropped her arms in exasperation. "Where the hell did he go?"

Mel frowned. "Aw shit."


Jonathan tore across the ash-covered expanse, sliding occasionally, but still managing to keep on the same course. His target was Soundstage 22, the moon pool set…or at least that's where it was in his reality… "Enough!" he screamed at himself, and reeled from the volume enclosed in the mask. All this talk of alternate realities had given him a headache at the start of this venture and it hadn't dissipated at all. Having Lucas in his head hadn't helped, and what was worse, night had started to fall. He could discern the grimy orange glow of sunset in the west and could still sense the pulsating red glow in the east – the volcano – from its reflection on the remaining windows of the Universal International Hotel. Everything around him was desolation, his whole remembered world only decaying buildings and dust, rotting vehicles in the splintered, acid-eaten rubber of their tires, and cracks in the trembling, uneven, lunar landscape of the pavement.

A Roman pillar crashed loudly to the ground behind him in time with a bolt of lightning. Somewhere behind him, back at Citywalk, he heard the shattering of something very large and very fragile as other heavy time-traveling objects rained down on it. With this he began to wonder what was happening in the places these things came from. Were roofs collapsing, hillsides, streets, wherever the time machine snatched them when they suddenly disappeared?

He needed to stall as long as possible to give the seaQuest team enough time to reach him and apprehend the two idiots responsible for slowly tearing apart his – and everyone else's – realities. He brushed ash from his ear, realizing it probably was the equivalent of drain opener if it got wet, and glanced around. The face plate was already becoming brownish at its edges – evidence of acid? He couldn't be sure. He could still feel the harsh taste at the back of his throat, though his oxygen tank was far from empty. There. To the right, in a haze of falling cinders, was the blessed refuge of the right soundstage with its labyrinth of false walls and hidden panels – a perfect hiding place. With a spark of hope, he took off across the street. He felt like nothing could stop him now.

WHAM!

A heavy object knocked him to the ground. He was sure another marble column, or ancient animal, or statue, or sofa, or maybe a velociraptor had fallen on him and crushed his spine or broken a leg, ensuring his ultimate surrender to the twins…if the toxic air didn't get him first.

It was the sound of coughing that convinced him he would be all right. "What the f..?"

"J-DOG!" Ray grabbed the teenager in both arms. The absolute joy he felt overshadowed the sting the atmosphere was already creating in his lungs. He didn't care. Jonathan was alive. That was all that mattered.

Jonathan gasped. "Are you stalking me?"

"YOU'RE ALIVE!"

"Nice of you to drop in. Come on. We've gotta get you out of here." Knowing the atmosphere, he took a deep breath and removed the rebreather, placing it over his friend's mouth and nose. The two ran for the nearest shelter, Soundstage 22.

Ray opened the door and ushered the other through, then closed it behind them. Without thinking, he put the mask back on the boy. The air in here was prominently more breathable. Dust and ash had already covered his clothing. He didn't need to be a temporal physicist to figure out just where he'd been dropped into.

"What are you doing here?" Jonathan spoke through the mask.

"Coming after you. When the trailer exploded we thought you'd been killed."

"Well, it killed the Starbucks, but I'm fine. Not for long if we don't get out of here." He pushed past the teacher and cracked the door slightly to look out. Two small silhouettes could be made out in the distance. He quickly closed the door. "The twins are still after me." That brought a slight chuckle. "God, is that ironic or what?"

Ray brushed ash from the other's shoulder.

"Gar!" Jonathan shrugged.

"Sorry." He backed up, giving the young man his space. "I thought you were dead. Give me a break." He paused. "Where's Lucas?"

"He's fine. He's gone back to Nick and Dave's lab in Howl at the Moon. They still think he's got the mind of a little kid."

"Who are Nick and Dave?"

"The goobers responsible for this mess." Jonathan rubbed his hand.

Ray noticed. "Is your skin burning?"

"No," the other mused, frowning back at the doorway, trying to glare through it to the twins beyond. "No, I don't think so. Something Lucas did to himself. A scratch. This volcano crap is just irritating it."

"So now what?"

"We wait for the seaQuest away team to find us. Again." He sighed.

"Again?"

Jonathan heaved a sigh. "Looong story."

Both took the silence to observe their surroundings. Although it wasn't the moon pool set, it was still a familiar-looking setting to both of them.

Ray shook his head, grinning.

Jonathan groaned.

They'd run into the stage for Valley High, the popular TV show that Braymer had been talking about. The set was an almost exact replica of the Sherman School, Jonathan's alma mater and Ray's current place of work, down to the glass storefronts, southwest restaurant-style paint job and missing vent covers for the air conditioner.

"This is weirder than when I saw the bridge of the Enterprise at Paramount," Ray said, shaking his head.

"It's a sign. We're doomed." Jonathan wandered in a small circle, looking up.

"I wonder if the sandwich Jacob plastered inside the wall is there?"

"Depends on the producers. Most of the time, if the camera doesn't see it…"

Beneath the catwalk toward the back hung a sign for a separate series neither of them recognized, the already dusty 'hot set' signs still hanging from ropes in front of rooms filled with dead foliage. For all they knew, Desperate Houseplants was a popular show in both this timeline and their future. At least thinking about this helped ease their focus from the multiple threats outside.


Mel tried explaining the rather simple process of building a temporal translocator disc.

"Wha?" Anica said, frowning, cocking an eyebrow.

"You connect a time transducer…" She held up a little pen-like object, bright red paint chipping from it, "to the quantum oscillo-temporal destabilizer." This looked for all the world like a cork-puller with some kind of bulb on its end. She slipped one into the other, not even bothering to solder anything. "Anyone can do it." Mel explained as patiently as she could.

Mel connected pieces she'd kept in plain sight in the parts shed just inside the back door of the soundstage. Anyone who had needed a hi-tech-looking part would have thought they were too commonplace to pass as 'futuristic'. She started working on the cellular configuration module (which seemed to only be an empty paper towel roll from the look of it) that had to be connected to the antidisruption reintegrator phase unit – again, something that seemed awfully low-tech.

"There are still two more parts." Mel said, as she handed it to Anica.

"Okay, where do these two go?" She asked, bewildered as even to which end they had to be attached to one another, if at all, and wondering if they were going to use duct-tape – simply for aesthetic unity.

"You place this part in the front. This is the nexus lase-fuser, what directs the pull through time, and this long piece of fibreoptic is what the beam travels through to keep the current aligned so we don't get fried like little frank weenies or flung out into someplace we can't get back from," Mel noted.

"You say that like it's a bad thing…" Anica said. She was tired, and they had never really gotten their food, still subsisting on whatever they could find that hadn't been discarded yet from the craft services tables.

It was worse pickings than the parts shed.

Once the connections were put together, Mel and Anica went to an area to where they needed to get the connection to work. They went to the place where Ray had disappeared, and tried to locate the exact spot where the time conduit had opened.

"The wormhole, although we can't see it, stays active after pulling someone through. It has to be after being activated twice so quickly – "

"It's been almost an hour, Mel! We can't do this now! What if it's…shifted or something? What if we..?"

"Wait! What time does your watch say?"

"Seven fifteen, and when Ray was taken, it was about six fifteen. And not long before that when the trailer vanished. Why?"

"Whoa! There is a reason why! I think we might've caught a little break here!" She was silent for a moment, studying the mathematical formulas in her head. It all had to do with vectors and what Lucas had called 'crossed-wires'. "I think we not only can find Jon and Ray, and maybe, even Lucas, but I think we can all use the same wormhole to get right back here!"

"Okay," Anica studied the thoughts in her head. "And what led you to this conclusion?"

"Well, if you figure the drift between the two dimensions, that means, that about a mile/mile and a half from here is where the wormhole will be most active. That's assuming the constants aren't that much different between the future and now. We just have to allow for a little drift." She waved her hands. "It's that simple."

"And how do you know all this, Mel?" Anica asked, dumbfounded as to how Mel could do any of this, by rote, in another dimension.

"Like I said. It's just simple ninth grade math back in the world I was in."

Anica blinked.

Mel pulled out one of the park's local street maps that she had with her and began to trace the mile/mile and a half from the spot they were located.

They had walked about a half a mile when Mel noticed that at a few feet ahead, the spot that the wormhole would be active was in front of a karaoke dive she'd been to one night.

"Are you sure this is going to work? A few feet left or right and we end up in the middle of the 101 or on Barham Boulevard."

"The earth hasn't had time to move that much on its axis. The worse that could happen is we end up in the volcano," Mel said from behind her breathing mask.

Anica didn't – or couldn't – think of anything to say to this. She shrugged. What the hell. In for a dime…

"Okay, we aim it up towards the building, and pull this back..."

"Will we come back to the same spot?"

"Can't be positive, but we're pretty likely to only be a few feet from here."

A sudden buzz filled the air, like the world's angriest hive of bees, and a distorting, swirling force ripped through the empty space, looking like a whirlpool. It got a little bit larger before it stopped growing, but it kept swirling in mid-air.

They were too stunned for words.

"It worked!" Mel said. She pulled her breathing mask over her face.

"Don't sound so surprised. You're making me nervous." Anica tightened her own mask.

The vortex began to pull them towards it.

"Where exactly does this lead?" Anica asked as they were about to tumble inside.

"It should lead us straight to Jon and Ray!" Mel hollered over the electric pull.


Soon they were inside, and then tossed onto the ground almost instantly. They sat in sooty ash from the volcano, and stood up immediately to brush themselves off. They'd landed, just as Mel had said, almost exactly where the trailer had been between the soundstages.

"Where are they?" Mel murmured, "I know they have to be here somewhere."

"Where would Jonathan go from here?"

They headed straight into Soundstage 22. Wandering inside, they suddenly saw the both if them, sitting on the floor, talking about how they had to get back to their normal realities.

"JON!" Mel screamed. "YOU'RE OKAY!" She came forward to hug him.

Anica and Mel held onto Jon and Ray.

In the background, a phantom bell rang signaling a break in filming. Ghostly camera crew men walked around on stage looking for refills, actresses wanting Perrier not just 'bottled water', and the director bellowing at anyone not a producer.

The quartet jumped up, scurrying over into a dark corner somewhere near the exit.

"This place has been empty for years? What are we seeing?" Ray exclaimed apprehensively.

"Maybe it's residual activity – like an echo of time. We're seeing what was going on here in the time we came from, but in this dimension," Mel whispered. "Actually, it's pretty interesting, considering the whole concept of time-travel and interdimensional gates is mostly just theory."

"So these 'twins' have been messing with time on a theory?"

"I think, considering the past few days, the theory's been pretty much proven."

"And are we in some kind of flux area? Where the times and dimensions intersect?"

"I… I don't know."

"Well, then how are they getting here? Or, are we going to be sucked into another wormhole?" Anica panicked. "But we'll be in Lucas' dimension, which is different than ours. Maybe I'll be only be a tour guide there!" She held her hands to her mask in horror.

Just as Anica asked, there was a sudden dark wind, swirling down from the rafters, and a loud crack of thunder that sucked people into it left and right, seemingly without their realizing it. The ghosts were gone, not another body in sight.

"It didn't get us," Mel said relieved. "Well, it didn't get you, anyway. Our dimension would be a little disconcerting to you if…"

"You guys," Jon's voice sounded deep and scared, "I think it's coming back!"

The force swept down from overhead, and with a sudden crash, the four of them were gone.


Lucas cursed at the controls. It was like trying to stack straight pins while wearing a pair of boxing gloves. It was no wonder these two idiots had created such a catastrophe with this primitive junk. He would have to readjust the vector triangulation by touch. The control stick was almost useless for any movement less refined than decades or miles. He gently drew his fingers across the touch screen, barely moving. The little firefly-like points on the screen followed his fingertip.

He smiled. Compared to negotiating the Ventura Freeway, this was simple.

He mentally stored the correct way to build a time/space transporter, making up for the careless discrepancy in the oscillator algorithm, then straightened up, startled.

He hadn't really thought about it until just then.

This damned thing, no matter how badly it had been constructed, actually worked! And, he thought excitedly, he could make it work better! He wasn't sure if he felt thrilled or frightened by the prospects that opened.

Either way, it was one hell of a toy!

Was, he thought, calming. Was.


Sparks blasted around them, the wind dragging them inexorably through the vortex.

"It wasn't like this before!" Jonathan shouted

"I'm not doing this!" Mel shouted back, trying to resist the growing strength of the wormhole. The last she'd known was that their shifting coordinates might send them directly into the base of Mt. Saint Vibiana – or, as Anica had suggested, the Ventura Freeway, a thought that she didn't voice. Her makeshift translocator had gotten them this far, but she knew instinctively that it couldn't possibly be producing this much of a disturbance. This had to be the portal itself. The remains of the translocator now swirled around them in various pieces, none of them useful. Cheap 20th Century materials!

They had all lost their masks, which had been sucked clean off their faces before they could grab them. Anica coughed, inhaling the noxious atmosphere, now clouded with the dust that the wind had dragged along with them. They had to do something or all of them would choke before long. She pulled her shirt up to cover her mouth.

"Curl up! It's harder to be separated by the wind!"

"Like in a tornado?" the teacher yelled back. "Okay, everyone, grab hands!"

Jonathan dragged himself in the air towards the older man.

"This doesn't mean we're dating!" he yelled, and jammed his hand into the others'.

They formed a ragged, tumbling ball of interlocked arms and legs.

"'Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes…We all fall DOWN!'" Jonathan sang in a panic over the howling wind.


"Imagine it, Nathan," Le Conte said quietly as they rode the Mag-Lev back towards the section of the ship that had been affected by the anomaly. "Anyplace in time, any dimension, at your fingertips."

"It would make a dangerous weapon. I don't know if our race is intelligent enough for such power." Bridger considered, watching the lights of the stations flash by.

"That does present an interesting conundrum. Perhaps the current situation is telling us that you're right." Le Conte stroked his cheek, now completely human in appearance, his haggard features open in conjecture.

"What if you could pick out… something unique… say, an exact moment in time?"

The blind scientist rested his chin on one thumb, nodding.

"It isn't out of the realm of possibility with this technology. You could select a specific part of time/space– maybe even a specific event. You could possibly alter the future, or the present as it is."

Bridger stopped his thought process at that. Could it prevent something from happening? Could it prevent..?

"It's a fascinating proposition, Nathan, if it were used correctly."

"Who would determine what a correct use would be, Tobias? No. This portal has to be shut down completely after whatever damage has been done is reversed. The temptation to misuse it for personal reasons is just too great."

The alien scientist could hear from the captain's tone that arguing would be useless, and something else unspoken. Some unhealed wound.

"Please wait for full stop. Now arriving, deck five. Thank you for using Mag-Lev!" the computer voice said cheerfully.

"Let's see what this thing has done to my ship," Bridger said, instantly reassuming his command. If there would be regrets, the future certainly had room for them.


The four landed heavily in the shallow water, toxic fumes wafting all around them in the pungent darkness.

"Oh God!" Jonathan shrieked, "We're in the volcano! Don't breathe!"

The teacher tried moving from where he'd fallen on his face in the shallow water. Bubbles of gas seeped up from beneath the surface of the water and spread across the oily surface.

"No! Wait!"

"We're gonna all die of …that…" Jonathan swung his hands around, fumbling for words, "new monorail ultrasound thing!" he yelled, thrashing around in the water for the breathing mask.

"No! Calm down! We're…" The teacher took a closer look at their situation.

Jonathan grabbed the teacher's shirt.

"About to be boiled in lava?"

"Relax! Stop moving! Everyone!"

His tone of absolute authority, cultivated by years of dealing with unruly teenagers, stopped the other three instantly.

"Better," the teacher said. "Don't disturb the surface. We're standing on liquid tar."

"Huh?' Jonathan said.

"The tar pits. We're in the La Brea tar pits!"

"What about the volcano?" Jonathan panted, forcing himself not to move. The tar had oozed around his boots and was working its way up his ankles. If they didn't get out of here soon, they'd become another exhibit of skeletons at the Page Museum.

"We're in our time, I think," Anica said. "I recognize the Wooly Mammoth statue over there." They could hear the traffic on Wilshire Boulevard only a dozen yards away. Headlight beams flicked over their heads – all of them too far away to be any help.

Jonathan started humming Wooly Bully, unhelpfully.

The teacher slowly turned around without moving his feet. Jonathan's fear would be justified if they had landed too far from the edge of the pit. A squirrel stared at them from three feet away, standing on the stained grass at the pit's edge, a discarded picnic cheese puff in its paws. Ray nodded and then fell forward into the muck, his arms just reaching the solid ground. The squirrel scampered a few safe feet away.

"What're you doing? This stuff'll never come out of your clothes!" Jonathan squeaked in panic.

"This is going to sound really crazy, but you're all going to have to climb over me to get out. Don't move too quickly, or you'll get sucked down."

"Like the Dire wolves!" Jonathan said, remembering their school trip in 1990. The walls of the Page Museum were decorated with the skulls of no fewer than three hundred of the prehistoric hyenas, all of which were probably positive they could get out of a little smelly water.

He also remembered the stained human skeleton.

He swallowed. Maybe soon to be joined by four more.

"Jonathan, you first. You're the lightest." Ray dug his fingers securely into the grass.

"Hey! No cracks about my weight! You should see me eat!" He glanced around at the other two looking for support in this.

"I have," the teacher laughed. "It's just that all of your weight is pretty much going to shove me way into this tar, and you're going to have to pull me out as a group. You'll push me in the least."

"This isn't how I pictured my Friday night," Anica said, feeling strangely excited. The part of her that stored experience for her writing was having a bonus day! Time travel, dimensional gates, twins from alternate realities… She was having a hard time even keeping up.

The squirrel had cautiously returned and was sniffing curiously at the teacher's hand.

"I bet that thing has rabies," Jonathan said.

"It's probably smelling leftover Cinnabon. Besides, if you don't do this right now, it isn't going to matter much," the teacher mumbled into the oily water.

"Okay. Do I just … walk over you?"

"Whatever way you can. You're going to have to pull your feet out of the tar. It won't be easy or pretty, and those gigantic work boots of yours for sure aren't going to just slip out." He looked at the chain link fence just beyond the edge of the pit. "Then, if you get loose…"

"IF?" Jonathan frantically tried running his hands through his hair, which had turned to an almost solid sheet of pumice-gray. When his splayed fingers got stuck, he nearly pulled himself over. "Whaddayamean IF?"

"Okay, when you get loose, tie your jacket to the chain link and use it to brace yourself so you can help the women get out. Then we're all going to have to use it to climb the fence."

Jonathan nodded agreement. The Gap at NFC would have to understand. It was a noble sacrifice. Jonathan slowly rolled forward and wrapped his arms around the teacher's waist.

"Man, this looks so… wrong," the younger man said, laughing nervously.

"Right," the teacher agreed. "Where are the paparazzi when you need them? This would make a great National Enquirer front page."

"Or the World Weekly News," Jonathan jabbered. "Live Cavemen Emerge from La Brea Tar Pits!"

He pulled against the suction of the tar, feeling it resisting his every move. He had to strain, his legs rising up through the muck. It was like wading in…well…tar.

"Could this be any worse?"

"I bet this doesn't get into any of our memoirs, for sure," Mel said.


Lucas looked carefully at the display again. There were four points of light now, instead of the two he'd seen briefly, or the fifty that had flashed on and then off. He thought quickly that he'd sent Nick and Dave through as well – and maybe right into Jonathan's lap. Then he saw the double signal in the ruins of the park, still moving slowly up one of the streets.

The other signals were coming from miles away, and, according to the display, in Jonathan's 1994 sphere, reality Bob – or maybe it was Tom. Maybe even Fred.

Maybe he'd doubled all three of them. Twice.

He buried his face in his hands. Had he managed to mess things up even more?

And, even he hadn't, how long would it take Nick and Dave to figure out that their quarry had skipped out on them?


The four sat on the bank of the tar pit, gasping for breath from exertion and shivering in the cold January night air. At the point where shoulder dislocation seemed certain, they'd all managed to escape the sticky mess, except for what they had adhering to them like a second reeking skin.

"What is that horrible smell?" Mel said, slogging up the slope away from the tar.

"Sorry," Jonathan huffed moodily, "It was all that candy."

"No, Jon," the teacher laughed. "That methane is from the pits. It's seeping up through the tar."

"Is it flammable?"

Ray lay back against the grass, legs still shaking from adrenaline and strain.

"The city wouldn't like it much if you nuked LACMA trying to find out."

"Yeah, I suppose so. HEY!" Jonathan yelled through the fence at someone walking through the park. "HEY! Can you help us?"

The pedestrian stopped on the walkway and observed them quietly, the glow of a cigarette in one hand.

"What're you doing on that side of the fence?" he called back warily.

"Fraternity rush," Jonathan said, thinking quickly. "I have to get back to the frat-house in an hour or I won't get in." He looked back at the other three, eyes wide in his mucky face. The truth wasn't that much more outrageous anyway.

The pedestrian didn't move.

"Oh yeah? What fraternity?"

Jonathan looked back at the three again.

"Pi Kappa Alpha!" Anica whispered to him fiercely.

"Pie Kelp Alfafa!" Jonathan yelled, "At CSUN!"

"Pikes? Hmm." The man ambled off the walkway and came towards them.

"Thanks," Ray said, rising and slipping on the wet grass. The tar had glued their clothes to their bodies and moving was decidedly difficult.

Plus they smelled truly foul.

"Didn't give the Pikes credit for having this much imagination," the pedestrian said. "How did they get you guys in there?"

"You know the Pikes!" Anica said, "Anything for a laugh."

"Yeah. Very amusing, huh?" Jonathan said quietly. He'd made the mistake of trying to wipe some of the sludge from his face and instead rubbed tar, stagnant water and a paste of volcanic ash and mud into his eyes. He figured there was precious little chance of anyone mistaking this mud creature for a fluffy teen-mag cover boy, even if this guy was a rabid fan of seaQuest, DSV. He looked to himself like a dusty tar version of Gumby.

"How can I help you?"

"Just point me to a water fountain," Jonathan said, wincing against the burning in his eyes.

"We need you to call someone for us," Mel said. "Do you have a phone?"

"They didn't even give you a quarter to call someone?"

"Pikes," Anica shrugged.

"Yeah, sure." The stranger unclipped his cell phone.

"This should be interesting," Jonathan grumbled, eyes tightly closed against the stinging dust.

"Hey, kid," the teacher said quietly. "Relax. You're almost home."


"The material is simply losing cohesion," Dr. Westphalen told the captain. "It's as if this part of the ship suddenly aged fifty years."

"This ship is state-of-the-art. It's less than five years old!" Bridger argued.

"Nonetheless, Captain, it's as if the skin and supporting structures in this area are in dire need of replacement. The structural integrity has been totally compromised."

"So the seaQuest…"

"Might simply…snap in two at this juncture."

Bridger frowned mightily as the hull gave an ominous groan.

"Could this have been a part of Lachance's plan? Weaken the structure of the ship so she couldn't withstand another attack?"

"Doubtful, Captain," Le Conte said. "I don't think whoever is manipulating the wormhole has that much control over it. It would have been impossible to predict the ship's exact location."

Bridger gasped with a realization.

"Unless there's some kind of targeting beacon already onboard."

"Lachance was searched. He wasn't carrying anything on him, sir," O'Neill said from his side. He held a length of shielded wiring. The supposedly new insulation rapidly flaked off in his hands. He thought distractedly about the doctor's warning. He didn't want to be in this section of the ship should she prove to be right.

"Yes, Lieutenant O'Neill. But what if the beacon is Lachance himself?"

"An artificial implant?" Le Conte said admiringly. "That would be the perfect way to get something dangerous onboard. It would play right into their hands. You would, of course, try to apprehend Lachance, and unknowingly bring the targeting beacon aboard seaQuest."

"So this whole business with his father was just a cover story?"

"No, Nathan, I think not. I doubt whether Lachance would even be aware of his place in the plan. How much more determined would one be if he had a personal agenda to follow rather than simple orders? That makes him the perfect weapon for a suicide mission. He would never even realize that he was being used."

"Then we need to get him off this ship immediately."


"Careful," the teacher said as Jonathan tried clumsily to slip down the metal fence. The tar, despite its indelible stickiness did nothing to keep his sodden boots from slipping and he bounced down the final few feet, landing full on his tailbone with a grunt of humiliation.

"Really, I'm in better shape than this. I'm just really tired" he growled at the two women who helped him to his feet.

"Okay, last out," Ray said, grabbing the fence and making short work of it, landing almost perfectly on the grass.

Jonathan squinted at him, still unable to see clearly.

"How the hell is it that you can do that and I can't? You're what...ninety?"

"Misspent youth in sunny Sylmar, my man. It's great training."

"I've lived too sheltered a life," Jonathan said, shaking his head. "I need to be a worse kid."

The teacher looked him over.

"You look pretty rough right now, kiddo."

"Yes," Anica agreed. "This is dying to be part of a seaQuest episode."

"What's on this Sunday?"

"I'm not sure. I think it's the one about a volcanic eruption and a secret treasure…"

"Life imitates art?" Anica laughed.

"Something like that." Jonathan continued to try to clear his vision. "That…Brandis kid's hardly even in it."

"Water, JB. You need to get some real water for your eyes or that burning might get serious."

"No argument here," Jonathan said and stormed off stiffly to a nearby water fountain, his skin-bonded clothing accenting his less-than-robust frame, boots making a soft squishing noise with every step.

"So… You'll be okay?" the stranger asked.

"Yes. Thank you. We've got someone picking us up," Mel said.

"Pikes." The stranger shook his head. "This is a pretty good one."

"Yeah, I'm sure we'll all remember it for quite a while," Ray said. "I'd offer you something, but my wallet is sort of glued to me right now."

"No. No problem. Glad to be of help."

"Sorry that we interrupted your walk."

"Naw. You don't get many chances to rescue people out of the tar pits, after all!"

"Define 'rescue'," Jonathan said moodily, standing next to the water fountain and flooding his eyes. The tar, of course, wasn't touched by the water, but the acidic dust, at least, yielded to the flow and he felt relieved at just feeling the familiar nasty bite of LA city water chlorine.

Mel looked at her watch, which had become unreadable, coated with sticky black gunk. She'd have to take it with her, of course, when she returned to her own time – if she could - but it somehow seemed a waste that her mercury battery antique had been destroyed.

"We're out of here in a few minutes – depending on traffic on the Hollywood Freeway."

The stranger just stood, hands in pockets. He hadn't even complained that they'd likely ruined his cell phone with their mud and tar. He probably thought that this was quite an adventure. A pungent adventure.

"Yeah," Ray said, wiping his hands on the last clean place on his sodden shirt. "Thanks again."

"You're a little old for a pledge, now, aren't you?" the stranger noted.

The teacher laughed.

"Yes, by about twenty years. Raymond Garcia …uh… amateur paleontologist."

"Davis. Davis Nicholson." The stranger put out his hand, which the teacher didn't take, looking at his own filthy hand and smiling sheepishly. The stranger laughed and nodded. "Cal Tech. Temporal physics. You can call me Dave."

Jonathan responded with a visible quake, turned to get a better look at the stranger. Of course his eyes weren't exactly working right, but, from what he could see, the outline of the guy did resemble the twins from the future. An alternate future, he reminded himself.

Maybe.

"Ray," the teacher answered, not making the connection or not showing it.

"Nice meeting all of you," Dave said, touching his forehead with his fingertips.

"Take care," Jonathan said mechanically.

The stranger ambled off into the night.

"Is he..?" Anica said

"No way to know. Did you ever meet the two behind this, Mel?" the teacher asked.

"No. I only dealt with Lachance. It's possible that they're the ones who put him up to it to begin with. They certainly gave him a way to do it."

"So, this guy's one of the..?" Jonathan shook his head, scattering the water he'd put in his hair. It hadn't done any good of course, but it felt familiar, even if the temperature of the water was making his teeth chatter. "He's one of the twins. From our time, I mean. Not the real guys, but… Someone help me out here!"

"He's a parallel, for sure," the teacher ventured. "But he's probably nothing like the two you've run into."

"I never saw them," Jonathan said. "Lucas did. And he was more interested in making volcanic dust mud pies at the time."

"So this person, Davis Nicholson, is the present time equivalent of Nick and Dave from the future?" Anica said, making more mental notes.

"Well, one of them anyway," the teacher said. "But why would there be two of them in the future?"

"Clones," Jonathan nodded. "Clones of clowns." He laughed shakily at his own joke.

"Maybe they're the same scientist from two different dimensions," Mel offered. "It's possible that they were working on the same time/space manipulation in their separate realities and managed to succeed in getting to the same place at the same time."

"But why would they be after Lucas and Jonathan?"

"Lachance wants Lucas. There's no telling what Nick and Dave want them for, or whether they need both of them for different reasons in their own times."

"That's an interesting paradox," Ray said.

"A time paradox. Like in Back to the Future," Jonathan said, gripping himself to keep from shivering.

"No. I meant your boots, J-Dog. Interesting Pair o' Docs? Get it?"

"Gar, that's … stupid!" Jonathan looked at his saturated boots, now coated with grass stuck to the layer of tar. "I used to think you were funnier when I was in the eighth grade." He squished off in the direction of Fairfax Boulevard where their ride would meet them.

"I thought it was funny," Anica said, shrugging. "This is all so absurd, anyway."

"He's cold. I needed him to get angry to warm up. He's very easy to manipulate," the teacher said. "I hope you told whoever is coming to bring lots of kerosene and coffee." He began to slog off after the wandering teen. "It's going to be a long night."

XV

"Captain Bridger," O'Neil barked from the com.

"Yes?"

"Message for you from Raleigh Young of the Miller Trench Zone Substrata Observation Laboratory. He says it's urgent, sir."

"Put him through."

"Nathan?" came the familiar booming voice.

"Dr. Young. How can I be of service? Is it the magma buoy? Has it surfaced yet?" He had his own problems just now, no time for the eccentric scientist.

"Not yet, Nathan. It seems we have a while longer to wait. No, I've called you because I've a bit of a mystery here."

"Yes?"

"We're doing soundings on the substrata in the area, as you know, Central Atlantic – trying to map the activity along the tectonic plate edges, if we can, and maybe pick up any trace of our magma buoy."

"Yes?"

"Well… We ran into a bit of an anomaly."

He was beginning to truly hate that word.

"What sort of 'anomaly', Dr. Young?"

"We've been doing ultra deep soundings, as I said, and we went over them again just to be certain nothing was overlooked. Everything seemed normal until we got to the very northeastern edge of the Rift Zone. There was a quite peculiar reading. Very peculiar in fact. I would have put it off as simple equipment malfunction, but we retested in the area, and…"

"Something had changed?"

"Yes. The readings indicate that there's a…wedge…of some kind missing from the earth's mantle just below the northeastern edge of the Rift Zone, about ten miles underground."

"Missing?"

"Yes. Like a five-mile wide wedge someone simply lifted out of the earth without disturbing the surrounding strata, perfectly symmetrical, almost surgical. It's fortunate that the piece wasn't closer to the surface, or we'd be looking at a real problem. As it is, the earth seems to have stayed stable over the lesion, and has already begun to recrystallize a patch."

Bridger thought a long time before he spoke again. "Do you think this could have been a deliberate act? Someone actually has the technology to do this?"

"These readings were less than a week old. Whatever happened occurred only a few days ago."

"Gone? No trace whatsoever?"

"It's simply astonishing, Nathan. I've never seen anything remotely like it. It's as though someone wanted a piece of the active rift zone and … removed it."

"To what purpose?" And how? he thought, though the basic mechanics were in a laboratory at the old Universal Studios complex, even as they spoke. What were the limits of the infernal machine?

"I couldn't begin to venture a guess as to the method, Nathan. If such a thing were possible more than once, an unscrupled group of terrorists could conceivably do the same on, say, the West Coast of the United States, or the East Coast of Japan and cause an almost instantaneous cataclysmic event, or simply threaten to do it. It's tantamount to seismic blackmail."

"An earthquake?"

"At the very least. It would be like uncorking a delicately balanced, shaken bottle of tonic water. The results could be catastrophic." He sighed, audible even over the radio. "There would be a violent eruption of volcanic material, earthquakes, Tsunamis, pyroclastic clouds, poisonous gases, until the fissure healed itself. If it could heal itself."

"What can the seaQuest do?"

"You're closest to the Pacific Subduction Zone. We ask that you try the same sort of measurements to see if the continental plate has shown any signs of movement. We 're thinking that the anomaly might not be isolated, and that the missing puzzle piece might show up at another rift zone – maybe off the coast of California, or possibly, under."

"Does Dr. Westphalen know the procedure?"

"Yes. And your young genius can assist her with the calibrations. He showed a keen interest in the magma buoy experiment last I was aboard your ship."

"He showed a keen interest in your female lab assistant, as I recall."

"Well, he is of the age."

"Right then. We're currently experiencing some, uh… technical problems, but we'll get to the readings as soon as we can."

"Anything that we can do on this end?"

"Not likely, Dr. Young." Unless you can repair time, Bridger thought glumly.


"Anything yet?" Nick asked again.

"No. There hasn't been any kind of reading for the past twenty minutes."

"Well, he didn't just vanish."

"He has before."

"Maybe he's been sent back."

"We haven't activated the portal. They can't do it by themselves - not that they know of. Certainly that overgrown preschooler at the lab can't."

"They already have. Have you forgotten? And anything could happen if they're not in conscious control of it."

"Hmph!" Dave busied himself with the continuing blank screen of his scanner. The Brandis boy had done a good job of melting into the ruins of the studio. He admitted that the actor had the advantage as long as he was on the lot, until the dust destroyed his lungs. But they could find whatever remained of him via his individual bio-signature, no matter where – or when – he went. "What could happen?"

"Look at us."

Dave glared at him, clearly wishing he would stop needling.

"That can't happen again."

"You're certain? Are Wolenczak and Brandis really separate entities, or have you stumbled into another - how did you put it? - 'misalignment in differential singularity calibration'?"

"We've fixed that." Dave continued to stare at the tiny screen.

"Is that why you've got that drooling imbecile locked up back at the lab?"

"He certainly makes better conversation than you do, brother," Dave sneered. "And he seems to know when it's best to simply shut up."

Nick stewed for a moment and then noticed that Dave had lost his direction.

"Lost, are we?" He grumbled. "That's completely expected from you."

"No. The signal has reappeared, but… Well, this one's come to a complete halt. There was a… I thought…"

"Articulate, aren't we?"

Dave ignored him.

"There seemed to be a flash of several dozen signals for a second, and then four, and then… Well, the one is still there, in any case, but it's not really a full-size bio sign."

"Are you reading more prairie dogs, perhaps?" It wasn't an impertinent question, much as he wanted to ask one. They had to find the actor. More importantly, they – he - needed to find what the actor was carrying.

"Not this time, no," Dave said. "It's a single electronic trace, but not one of mine…ours."

Nick smiled beneath his mask. "You remembered me! I think you're growing attached to me."

"Like an impacted tooth."

"So, we're stuck with each other? Is that it?" He kept his other thoughts silent. He had the cure for that little oversight, if he could find Wolenczak's PAL.

Dave gestured with his head to the decrepit side of a soundstage. Nick nodded.


The actual program was pretty basic, Lucas thought, though the encryption was demoniacally clever. He gave a crooked smile. That's why it had taken him over three minutes to hack into their system.

Once into the program proper, he set about sabotaging it at every juncture. This particular little gizmo would never be a problem for anyone, other than the operator, ever again, after he'd finished.

He layered on one last little surprise and sighed at his accomplishment.

"Wolenczak, you're a genius," he said to himself, knowing it was actually true as well as being a little pat to his own ego.

But first he would use the machinery for his own small errands.

The display showed various globes of light, each drifting slowly in the same direction – a time-stream, he thought. Where the tiny spheres collided, they split off a third, which, a moment later, received its own number. The sphere that had birthed the giant lava lamp, RL21, had broken into two, each traveling at a slightly different rate of speed away from each other. A third sphere kept the same original course, but it had changed color to a deep and angry orange.

A time paradox? Had something that the machine had done caused a new scenario, a whole new reality? Did that mean, if he traced backward far enough, he could erase the twins' activities completely? The temptation offered itself, but for once he did the mature thing and didn't let himself play with the possibilities.

Well, maybe later. If there was time.

He chuckled to himself.

He had all the time in the universe, if he really wanted it.

He studied the display again, seeing the bluish-violet sphere that represented himself, RL1018, and the alternate sphere that represented Jonathan in his own time, RL194. By carefully manipulating a metal track-ball he could pan down sideways and see the spheres from an entirely different aspect, and where their paths overlapped on another axis. That was probably how the twins were able to pull whatever they wanted from time; they simply waited for the realities to overlap, like passing clouds, and then they pulled whatever they wanted straight across, wreaking havoc with the direction of the time-streams they'd passed through. It was sort of like an incredibly high-stakes game of billiards with reality. Orange globes banged into orange globes and became even darker and less placid in their motion, some of them collapsing into tiny spheroids that slammed into others like a nuclear reaction, creating more spheroids. He watched the stir slowly turn to eddies and then all of the new spheroids disappeared before they could receive numbers or disrupt more spheres.

Did that mean that whatever manipulation these men had done had resulted in a reality so distorted that it imploded in on itself, taking out a half-dozen others in the process?

What if that happened to his reality?

This thing was truly dangerous.


"This is absolutely the most disgusting stuff I've ever seen!" Jonathan coughed, choking on the fumes from the kerosene they were using to remove some of the tar. It hadn't done much good yet, though they'd all managed to at least get their hands clean.

"Well, don't get near any open flames, and it's not exactly good for your skin, either," Ray said.

"Great!" Jonathan growled. "'Gee, how'd you get all the new zits, Mr. Brandis?' 'Oh, I got covered with volcanic dust, then fell into a frikkin' tar pit, and then washed it off with lantern fluid!'" He slammed a filthy handprint against the side of the panel truck as the driver lurched around a turn. "Hey! We have people back here trying to de-tar themselves!" he shouted. The truck had only one window, and that between the driver and the closed cargo area. They had already smeared the glass with a dark pattern of melted tar and dust.

"It could be worse," Mel said. "We could be in an open truck bed, and everyone could see you."

"Like a whole parade of freaks," Jonathan agreed. "Great. Just great. That's how I want to end up in the news."

"Was he this whiny when he was in school?" Mel asked.

"He's just cold and hungry…" Ray began.

"And soaked in kerosene!" Jonathan griped.

"We're almost back to Universal," Anica said. She leaned into the window. "Dan, take the Technicolor gate! There'll be fewer questions."

"Got you, Anica," the young driver said from the front. He'd seen how they looked. Fewer questions was definitely the best way to go. Not being inquisitive had helped him keep his job more than once already.

Someday, however, he'd write one hell of an exposé.

"Park in truck-pool garage D4, and then come with me to costuming. We're going to need clothes – all of us."

"Nothing too nerdy," Jonathan said loudly. "I have an image to protect." The rest of his own clothes, of course, were in his trailer being eaten by sulphuric acid rain in a future that didn't actually exist. Plus, he'd need yet another cell phone. What was that, four already this year? And it had only just started! Damn! He should have just had Lucas bolt one permanently to his skull.

They all became quiet as the truck pulled up to the guard station. Jonathan got a mental flash of Libyan terrorists with Uzis in a VW bus after Doc Brown for stealing their plutonium. Fortunately, the guard didn't have as much imagination and waved them through.

The truck pulled into one of the numerous storage buildings that lined the concrete river basin that separated Universal Studios from Warner Brothers. They waited for Dan's signal before they climbed out of the closed compartment. A pungent cloud of fumes poured out with them. Jonathan had long before stopped smelling the rotten-egg/asphalt/camp-stove fuel odor, but Dan wrinkled his nose, though he said nothing.

"Give us a break. We've had a rough day," Jonathan explained irritably. He shivered in the colder, though much more breathable air.

"The BOP layout from hell," Ray laughed.

"Looks like it," Dan said, looking the young actor up and down. His girlfriend had a massive crush on this Brandis kid. What did she see in him? Right now he looked more like a freshly resurfaced parking lot than a teen idol.

"Come on," Anica said, gesturing to an electric cart.

"Should I come with?" Mel asked. Of the four she had done the worst job of smearing the tar all over her face.

"Not this time, Mel. I'll bring some soap. There's an employee shower room next door."

"Dishwashing liquid," the teacher said. "It's the only thing that can get this stuff out of your hair and not pull it out by the roots."

"And it'll leave my skin soft as a baby's butt," Jonathan said.

The teacher gave an amused look at his student, ready to say something.

"Nah," he said. "Too easy."

"What do we do with the old clothes?" Mel asked.

Anica shrugged. They were ruined by any standard.

"We could have a Teen Beat contest for Jon's," the teacher said quietly.

"You're getting me back for all the years I've tormented you, aren't you?" Jonathan said, trying with no more success than before to smooth back his hair. The tar was quickly solidifying.

"No, I'm just fixing this in my mind as one of our 'special' moments."

Jonathan glared back, the vibrant blue of his eyes intense in the filthy face. This was indeed a moment he would surely remember, though not very fondly.

"Why are you staring? You don't look so great yourself."

"No. I just…" the teacher began softly. "I thought I'd lost you back there, Jon."

Jonathan shook his head, feeling embarrassed, but understanding exactly. "Not this time."

"Don't do that again, if you can help it. I don't need the aggravation."

"I'll stay away from wormholes, if that's what you mean." He smiled crookedly at the teacher. "You are a strange man, Gar."

"And you are one of a kind, kid. Irreplaceable."

They both wiped their eyes.

"Fumes," Jonathan said, looking at the ground.

Anica and Dan carefully opened the garage door and sped off. Ray looked after them. He seemed suddenly startled.

"Oh no."

"What happened? Did they crash already?" Jonathan asked.

"No. Worse."

"Brandis? You in there? What ya doin'? Sex scenes with the porpoise?" came the unmistakable, snide whine from not far away.

Jonathan gasped.

"Is that..?"

"Yeah," the teacher said miserably. "Swan. And he's got two girls with him."


Lucas blinked at the display again.

It had worked.

He'd sent the locator that Nick had stuck to him to the far side of the planet, and a century back. He checked the date and location once more. Tunguska, Siberia, June 30, 1908 - literally the middle of nowhere. He replaced the telltale label with his own numbers. Let them try to find him now, he thought.

He dialed up the sensitivity of the display, seeing the place where he'd sent Jonathan in map detail. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art? Okay. It was a steam-spitting fumarole in his own reality, but they should be fine there in 1994. He saw that Jonathan's signal had split, a weak sphere stationary at the museum, a stronger one having moved back to the Universal complex along with the three others. He figured that Mel, Anica and the teacher wouldn't have left Jonathan – or part of him – at the museum, so he carefully keyed in on that signal and lifted it gingerly back a few hundred-thousand years, then placed the locator he'd snaked from Mel on the floor and sent it to the same place. He deleted the date and ID number and replaced it with RL194B. It hadn't even taken him five minutes to learn how to use their technology with pinpoint accuracy. Some fancy program he thought.

Then…

If he could move a tag or create a false one, what would keep Nick and Dave from doing the same thing, perhaps trading some heinous disaster for Jonathan or himself.

Or maybe for Lachance, who was onboard the seaQuest.

He calmed. They wouldn't be able to do anything at all with this equipment after he'd finished with it.

But first he'd take care of Lachance himself.


"How'd he find us?"

"If anyone could, it would be Swan," the teacher said. "Good thing none of us smell like food."

Jonathan kicked the ground. "So much for the security in this place. Don't they keep anyone out?"

"Just be cool," the teacher said. "We don't need to involve him any more deeply than necessary."

"Brandis!" Swan said, coming into the garage. He stopped in shock.

"The sun's down already, Swan," the teacher chided, noting the Ray Bans that Swan still wore as part of his image. "I'd give you a hug, but we'd be glued together."

"What the hell did you get into?"

"Your mom," Jonathan said.

Swan took off the glasses and then shook his head.

"Man, I brought these two girls from the hotel lobby, and they wanna meet you. But you stink, Brandis." He sniffed. "You all reek."

"So nice of you to notice. Maybe we can postpone to another time, like next week."

"I'm leaving tonight, guy. But I already told you that. Your mind is slipping. It's all that Yoo-Hoo crap you drink."

"It has vitamins. I don't want to end up skinny or a shrimp, like you."

Swan grinned.

"Too late, Skeletor."

"Really, you should give Mr. Brandis some time to get freshened up," Mel started. "This area is restricted."

"That won't stop him," Jonathan said under his breath.

"That won't stop me," Swan agreed. "Give 'em just a minute. I promised."

"What do I get out of it?"

"Maybe I'll get lucky and they'll date us tonight! I've got to spend my per diem. Really, Brandis, you should've stuck to commercials; shorter hours and better pay." He held his nose and waved at the air with the other hand. "And way better conditions."

Jonathan laughed at the whole ludicrous idea.

"He can't, Swan," the teacher said. "He's fighting a bug."

"A bug," Jonathan agreed.

"Phalaenopsis," the teacher said.

Swan backed up a step, suspicious.

"What is that?"

"Don't you remember reading about it in biology?" Ray asked.

"I'm going to Valley. I don't actually read anything!"

Jonathan sobered, playing the part. "It's like Yoko Ono ultracone vomitosis," he said.

"Is that why you passed out the other night? Is it contagious?"

"Like the flu." Ray let his imagination loose. "The only cure is…soaking him and any anyone infected in tar and kerosene."

"Bull crap," Swan said.

"Really, Swan. Maybe you can meet up later," the teacher said. "Jon's got to get this stuff off him before it sets."

Jonathan flexed inside his rapidly-solidifying crust.

"Yeah, like…soon. This stuff itches…"

"And smells like Jersey," Swan added. "Come on. I'll get 'em out of your hair real quick and then you can get that crap out of your hair after. You owe me!"

"No, T-Bone, you owe me!"

"Aw man! A guy's mom gives you cookies and…"

"My mom made cookies!" Jonathan groaned and seemed to shrink. He shook his head. "Okay. Just a minute though. Unless they want to meet a Jonathan Brandis statue."

Swan grinned his manic best and leaped backwards.

"Part of the job," Jonathan sighed. "PR. I just hope they don't have a camera."


Nick looked with disgust at the remains of the set.

"Is this from that insipid teen soap opera?"

"Yes, the one about the professional high school."

"We didn't watch?"

"I don't remember."

"Then I guess we didn't, because I certainly don't remember much about it."

They picked their way past the discarded movie equipment, mostly kept preserved by the thick walls of the soundstage. Dave's flashlight caught a scorched sheet of paper which he picked up and turned over.

"'See you on seaQuest,'" he read from the headshot. "'Take Care, Jonathan Brandis.'"

"That wasn't the name of the school show."

"It was in his reality. Completely different genre, I imagine. Documentary, perhaps."

The PAL sat on the floor where Jonathan had dropped it at the center of a clear spot. It looked as if a blast of wind had blown straight down from the ceiling. Looking up, they could see only wiring and sound insulation, no rents in the building.

"Well then, we really have lost him," Dave muttered. "His bio-signal isn't anywhere within its range."

"Isn't there another way to retrieve him?"

Dave shook the scanner.

"Not with this little device. We need the big one, at the lab."

Nick picked up the PAL, trying not to look too excited. He didn't need the Brandis kid at all, if what he needed was in its hard drive, assuming the trips through time/space hadn't scrambled the information like the drooling example they had back at their lab.

"So, one of us should go back and try to find him that way." He sighed, affecting boredom. "I'll go."

Dave looked suspiciously at Nick.

"That's awfully solicitous of you, Nick. Are you hatching some sort of plot?"

"Oh, I abandoned plotting long ago," he answered. Don't you trust me?"

Dave answered with a withering look. Of course he didn't.

"Then we should both go back and pick up the trace from there."

"Maybe we can force the Wolenczak boy to give us some information."

Nick grinned beneath the mask.

"I look forward to trying, anyway."

"You're basically not a very nice person, are you, Nick?"

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," he answered, glaring back at Dave.


Lucas looked at the readout again. Yes, just as he'd thought. The two responsible for this mess were returning. He'd have to act quickly.

He opened a channel back to the seaQuest.

"Lucas?" Captain Bridger said to the snow-obscured screen from his place on the command deck.

"Captain. There's not much time. We need to know whatever you can find out about Nicholas Davidson from the Internex."

Bridger pointed to O'Neill, who nodded and immediately began to enter the name.

"Hang tight, Lucas. The SL4s is en route. The people from the observation station are within five miles."

"No time, Sir. The men who started this are going to get back here in a lot less time than I have to wait."

"So..?"

"I think these guys put Lachance onboard the seaQuest as a targeting beacon so they can send something terrible from someplace in time to wipe it out."

"We've already made that assumption, Lucas. We're getting Lachance off the ship as soon as…"

"So I'm going to get Lachance off the sub and myself back there using their machine."

"Absolutely not, Lucas! It's too dangerous!"

"You won't be able to control it, Lucas. The builder doesn't seem to even be capable of that." Dr. Westphalen agreed.

"I think I can get it to work for me, then I'm going to sabotage it so they can't use it anymore. It's a pity. If someone responsible could figure out this machine, there's a lot of good that could come from it."

"No, Lucas. Absolutely not!" Bridger said, banging his fist on the metal railing. "This technology has already caused enough problems!"

"I don't have much choice, Captain Bridger. They bought the mental deficient act the first time, but I don't think I could do it for too much longer. I have to get out of here."

Bridger tried to think of alternatives.

"There has to be another way, Lucas."

"No, sorry, Captain. Here goes."

"Lucas!"

The crew looked around, expecting fireworks or lightning. Instead the atmosphere gave no indication that anything had changed.

"Captain!" Braymer's voice came urgently out of the com.

"Mr. Braymer?"

"The prisoner, Lachance… he's just… gone, sir!"

"You see, Captain? It'll work for me," Lucas said cheerfully from the screen.

"Yes, Lucas, but where did you send him? More importantly, when?"

"Sometime in the mid 20th Century. Another reality entirely. In any case, he's not our problem anymore."

"But… Lucas, you can't be sure exactly what you're doing! You could be fundamentally altering the fabric of time and space!"

"Nah. This is a piece of cake." He paused. "Now driving on the Ventura Freeway at rush hour…"

"Captain, you're right." Westphalen said quietly, "We can't be sure what he does to the past won't affect the present, or that he'll even be able to make the technology work twice in a row. What he's attempting isn't the same as traveling across time. He's trying to simply jump in his own. It may not be designed to work that way."

"Lucas, I can't let you risk yourself like this."

"I'll take the risk, Captain. Trust me, I've done worse things before and gotten away with it."

"Don't be arrogant!"

"If I wasn't certain that I could do it, I wouldn't try."

Bridger spun around on his heel, hand to his face. Age would bring maturity and less impulsiveness to the boy, but only if he were alive to get there.

"It's not an option," he said. "I'm giving you a direct order…"

"Captain, I'm not in the military! You can't give me a direct order."

"Listen to me, Robert!" Bridger shouted and then closed his eyes. The deck went silent around him. He breathed and shook his head. "…Lucas. Please wait for security to get there. Hide, evade, whatever you need to do, but you have to survive."

"Exactly, Captain. I'm doing what I think is best to survive under the circumstances. You told me that's the only way to become a man."

"Should we search the ship, Captain?" Braymer said from the com.

"No, Mr. Braymer. We think that Lachance won't be a problem anymore. Bridger out."

"Not much time, Captain," Lucas said. "I've got to do this now or they'll catch me here."

"Can anyone talk you out of doing something this foolish?"

Lucas laughed from the other end.

"You'd be the first, Captain Bridger."


"Ladies," Swan said, gesturing grandly as they walked into the garage. "This is Molly, and this is Lindsay." He waved at the television celebrity. "Jonathan Brandis from Weak Sauce, STP."

Normally, Jonathan would have noticed that they were both quite beautiful, but he did his best not to meet their eyes, worried that embarrassment about the way he looked…and smelled…would send him running from the room.

"Hi," Jonathan said, shrugging in his shirt, which crackled with stiffness.

"Oh! You look just like the magazines!" Lindsay said, he eyes going dreamy and distant.

"Only if your magazines have been in soaking in asphalt," Jonathan said.

"And you're funny, too!" Molly said.

"They said that you weren't at Universal today," Lindsay said, fidgeting with her fingers.

"That's an understatement," Jonathan mumbled. "I've been…around, sort of…"

They both giggled.

"Mr. Brandis has to change into wardrobe for the night shoot," Mel said, coming between them. The two girls frowned.

"Can they at least get an autograph?" Swan huffed. "They walked all this way from the top of the hill!" He looked at Jonathan over the tops of their heads, grinning like someone who'd reeled in a pair of prize marlins.

"Okay. No pictures," Jonathan said. "If you give me an address, I can send you an 8x10 of me," he smiled, "without all of the tar."


Lucas set the parameters and gave himself two minutes to finish his sabotage. The next person who tried to use the device would be in for a shock – and not just electrically. Thunder rolled all around him as he dialed in his current location, trying to match the coordinates to the millimeter.

If he'd done this right, he should appear on the bridge of the seaQuest, right next to the captain.

And if he hadn't

"No guts, no glory," he said and activated the worm hole one last time.


Molly stared long and hard at Jonathan, trying to memorize his face, though he was absolutely filthy. He was so brave to let them do this to him just for a TV show.

"You're such a…"

"Scrawny little shrimp?" Swan offered.

"Hey, bones," Jonathan said irritated, "I wouldn't talk."

"I can put my arms completely around you." She wrapped herself tightly around Jonathan, oblivious to the mess she made of herself, settling her head on his shoulder and sighing contentedly. "I could just… oh… squeeze you to pieces."

Sparks flew from Jonathan's head and he looked up at the rest of them, eyes wide.

"Oh Sh…!" was all he got out before he vanished.

A shell of dried tar and crust with the form of Jonathan stood for a second in Molly's arms before it crumbled into dust to the floor.

Molly backed up.

"Oh my God! I did squeeze him to pieces!"

Swan gaped for a second, then seemed to recover.

"Brandis, now that's impressive special effects!"


He landed at the edge of a lake, the freezing cold water barely breaking his fall. He thrashed around for a second, righting himself and shook the water from his hair and face.

Lucas sat miserably on the bank, soaked as well. He must have gotten here the same route.

Jonathan splashed toward him.

"I thought I had it adjusted," he said quietly.

"What did you do? This is your fault, isn't it?" Jonathan pulled himself out of the water, noticing that his boots were filled again. "You don't get it! My mom made cookies!" He looked at himself in the dim twilight. "Well, at least this place is cleaner."

"Something went wrong," Lucas continued, as if Jonathan weren't there.

"Where are we? How do we get back? Is this my time or yours?" Jonathan paused. "Or someplace else?"

"Kenduskeag", the sign read. He could barely see it. He felt a chill, and not from the temperature of the water.

"Lucas, where are we?"

"I don't know. I was supposed to get back to the seaQuest. I left you in your own time. Something went wrong." He put his face down into his hands, resting his elbows on his knees. "I screwed up."

"It's very important, Lucas, that we know where we are," Jonathan began calmly, a calm he didn't feel. "Where are we?"

Lucas raised his head, looked at the sign by the water.

"By the Kenduskeag River."

"Yeah? Where's that?"

"Here."

"I mean… Don't you know any geography?"

"Mine or yours?"

"Anyone's!" he looked warily at the shadow of a building in the distance. It looked suspiciously like…

"The Kenduskeag River. It runs through the northeast US. Maine."

"Through…" His mind froze on the thought. "Oh shit… Oh SHIT!"

"What's wrong?"

"We're in D…D…Derry!" He shook Lucas by the shoulders. "We're in DERRY!"

"Dude, you're all pale. What's wrong?"

Don't you know what Derry is?" Jonathan focused on staying calm. Lucas shook his head. They both sat quietly on a nearby rock.

"So… Are you going to explain or are we going to sit here for the next week?"

Jonathan nodded. Where to begin? How was he going to explain? Lucas stared at his counterpart. He didn't like the look on his face; it chilled him to his bone marrow if not deeper. He shook.

"I'm not going to like this, am I?"

Jonathan looked as though he could cry. Lucas had no idea – no idea at all. What Jonathan was about to tell him would shake his world.


Both Nick and Dave looked into the empty storage cupboard, the door beneath their feet.

"So where's the boy?"

If looks could kill, Nick would have been dead about now. Nick wished the ground would open and swallow him up as it shook beneath them both. As they grabbed onto each other for support, Nick decided that he didn't want his wish to come true. He could cope with the grief that Dave gave him in the meantime.

"You tell me! You're the one who put him here!" Dave punched the other on the arm. "You're such an idiot!"

"Put the damned gun down before you shoot off one of your toes!"

Dave put the gun on the table next to the time machine.

"We can find him with this." He carefully connected the PAL to his makeshift control panel, routed the inputs correctly and gingerly turned it on. He touched his control screen, which sputtered and melted with a shower of sparks. Lucas' sabotage arced through the room, a series of cascading failures of electronics that, true to his promise, made both machines totally useless. "Well, perhaps not."

"Well done, jerk-off. Now we have no hope of finding either of them."

"We know one thing for certain; if the machine is destroyed and they tried to use it to get back to their respective realities, they won't be in any reality."

Dave smiled. "So… They've screwed themselves."

"And they did us a favor?" Dave looked at Nick quizzically. "They gave is the one thing we were running out of; time."

They looked at one another, smiling. The ground beneath their laboratory shook violently again, more fever tremors of the volcano.

"Not at this location. We'd better get out of here."

"Is the other machine still operating?" Dave asked as they put on their breathers.

"Of course. This is me we're talking about, not you." Nick gave the other a withering glance. "I finish what I start."

Dave kept his mouth shut; he was in enough trouble as it was. He should never have left the boy in the closet unsecured. He obviously had learned something about acting in his brief stint.

"Nick, I've had a really bad thought."

"What's that?"

"When they're together, how are we going to tell them apart?"

Nick opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. He had other things to think about. Losing the PAL meant that he had to get the information directly from Lucas or…their situation wouldn't change. That was paramount to him now. He shrugged.

"I thought so," Dave sighed. They were both in trouble.

XVI

"So you're saying that under this town, at the end of this river, in fact, there is an ancient evil creature, and it feeds on children? And we're stuck here with no way of getting back?"

"Pretty much. Yeah."

"I hate your world!"

"It's not my world. It's not yours either." Jonathan leaned back against the grass. "And you brought us here. I didn't have anything to do with it. I was having a great time… Well, except for the kerosene."

"Your world came up with it. My world just has…"

"Giant frozen crocodiles? Haunted sunken liners? Ancient alien spacecraft?"

"Well…" Lucas tried and failed to think of anything to say to that.

Jonathan started laughing. This was all so very preposterous. Lucas couldn't help himself and started laughing too, and they egged each other on until they were weak from hysterics. Neither of them had really come to terms with what had happened to them over the last few days. Eventually they dried their eyes and sat looking at each other.

"So, what the hell are we going to do now?" Jonathan asked.

"Let's go into town. You know the story and maybe we can use that to our advantage."

"Maybe."

"And with a name like Dairy, they have to have great ice-cream, at least" Lucas added, being logical.

Jonathan just shook his head. He'd explain later.

They started the long walk into town.

"How much do you think we can alter the story basics?" Jonathan asked.

"How should I know," Lucas replied, frustrated. "It's an interesting thought, though."

They walked for another few minutes.

"So?"

"So what?"

"So how much do you think we can interact with the characters and the story?!" Jonathan asked, loudly this time.

"W…W…What s…s…story?" a voice said from behind them. The two turned around. There in front of them was a blonde boy of about 12.

"Shit!" Jonathan exclaimed under his breath. He turned to Lucas who had turned a whiter shade of pale.

"He looks exactly like I did when I was a kid!"

"He is. He's the character I played when I was his age."

"So, we've met another literary character." He moved closer to Jonathan, whispering. "The…ITTHATwhatever it's called doesn't..?"

"No. He lives."

The kid looked them straight in the eyes, already showing the leadership that he would demonstrate throughout his life.

"W…W…W…What s…s…s…story?" the boy repeated.

"Uh… We're writing a story and we came here for inspiration." Lucas improvised.

"Wh…wh…what?" he exclaimed. "F…F…Freaks!" He ran off backward down the road.

"Why are we the freaks?" Lucas shouted after him. The boy stopped, turned and headed back cautiously.

"Don't you know a…a…anything, m…m…m…mister? This p…p…p...place is home to b…b…b…bad stuff!"

"We have to go to town to find somewhere to stay. Why don't you show us the way and tell us about all the bad stuff that goes on around here?" Jonathan suggested. Although he already knew, it would do Lucas good to hear it from a native's lips.

"Sure. Wh…wh…why n…n…n...not? M…m…my name's William D…D…Denbrough. B…B…Bill to ev…ev…ev…everyone."

"Stuttering Bill," Jonathan said quietly.

"Hey, that's n…n…n…not f…f…f…funny!" Bill gave them both a deep frown.

"No, I'm not making fun of you, Bill. I just …uh…know your name already, and what people call you." Jonathan apologized.

"H...h...how?"

"Uh..." Jonathan said, not sure how to answer that.

"Y…y…you th..think I stutter?"

"A little, maybe," Jonathan said softly. "We're Jonathan and Lucas."

"T…t…tw…twins, right?"" Bill asked. The boys looked at each other and shrugged. Here they might as well be twins.

"Yeah, what gave us away?" Lucas teased.

"B…b…bona fide g...genius, me, d…d…don't you kn…kn…know!"

Had anyone walked down that shady road they would have seen what looked like brothers out walking. An onlooker would never have realized it was the same person in three incarnations, two of them fictional. It would have been enough to blow anyone's mind.


"Sir?"

"Yes, Mr. O'Neill?"

"The ship sir, it seems to have repaired itself fairly well and…the anomalies have disappeared."

"Completely?"

"Aye, sir. We're running sweeps, but the energy readings are all normal."

Bridger sat back, brooding. "And Lucas? Has be been found onboard yet?"

There was a pause and then O'Neill spoke quietly. "No sir. No one has reported seeing him or Jonathan…or Lachance onboard."

"Captain." Bridger turned to see Dr. Westphalen in the open doorway. "May I come in?"

"Yes, of course."

She entered the room, looked around the comfortable quarters.

"We're still looking," Bridger said.

"Yes. But it's been hours. We may have to accept the fact that Lucas might not be coming back."

Bridger stayed quiet for a long minute.

"I've considered it. I always believed that the boy's impetuous streak would lead him to disaster."

"He needed a strong hand. You provided that, Nathan. You did as well as anyone could."

"What he needed was a haircut. I'd thought I was past all of this – dealing with the adolescent mind, the moods, the impulsiveness. He can't learn to curb all of that if he doesn't make it to adulthood."

"But it's part of what makes him Lucas. He's able to dream things others don't, take chances where others wouldn't, make the leap when anyone else would hang back and ignore the possible consequences. I'm sure he's safe wherever he's placed himself. Of that much I'm certain. And he'll adapt. It's what he does." She placed her hand on his. "But he'll always try to come back, and knowing Lucas, he'll find a way."

Bridger considered the unthinkable and then quickly rejected it. He shook his head resolutely.

"We're not done here. Not yet." He activated his keypad again. "Mr. O'Neill, get Tobias Le Conte on the blower." He was not going to lose Jonathan and Lucas because of inaction. This time he'd take the chance, however small. He smiled and shook his head. Who had been the influence on whom?


"Oh." Dr. Le Conte's face on the screen fell as Bridger finished explaining what had happened since he'd left the seaQuest some hours before. "This puts more than one spanner in the works. I need a little time to work on this, but I think I may have one last option for you. In the meantime, Captain, I need you and the seaQuest to meet me at my Cliffside laboratory."

"You have a lab in California?"

The blind scientist smiled. "Let's say it's rather discreetly placed. I'll send you coordinates." He raised his head, seeming to be planning even as he spoke. "I may have a little adventure for you, Captain, if you're game. It seems that some of my own personal research has been reactivated with interesting results."

"Can I have any details?"

The scientist considered. "Bring a light jacket." He laughed. "I think I'll need your ship's systems to support my own. I promise I won't break it." He held up a hand innocently.

"All right. We'll be there within two hours."


"I know where they are," Nick declared, his voice full of smugness.

"Well? Do I have to play 20 questions?"

"They're in a place called 'Derry' in Maine along the Kenduskeag River." He could hardly contain his pleasure. "It's actually, according to the register, fictional. Dave responded strangely, growing pale. "What's wrong, mate?"

"Don't you remember all of the research we did on the Brandis kid?"

Nick smiled. "Ah yes, all of those tedious films we watched."

Dave waited and watched as his brother's brain cogs slowly moved into motion. It was painful to watch, as he was missing a few. Nick's expression changed to one of apprehension.

"Bingo. You've got it."

"We can't go there, Dave. We just… We can't. That clown-thing. My God that clown! We just can't do it. Please, for the love of everything holy, we can't go there!"

"Unfortunately, brother dearest, if we want those boys back, we have to go there. We don't have the right equipment to simply pluck them out. Wolenczak did a good job of destroying the majority of it. We'd could get an entire village and still not get the exact person we want. We only have a couple of portables that will transport us to where we want to go, and maybe one or two others. We'll need Wolenczak's brain to fine-tune this equipment, and then there's nowhere and no time he can escape to." Nick tried to put on a brave face, but he wasn't fooling the other. He did not want to go to Derry, not now, not ever. "This time, however, once we get the boys we mark them so we can tell which is which. They look far too much alike for me."

"We had better make this quick. I don't think we have much time left. I can't believe we bollixed-up everything like this. We were so close, I think, so bloody close!" Nick wanted to be frustrated and get angry. Instead, all he could do was feel disappointed. He wanted this over, sooner rather than later, and before everything imploded on itself.


Jonathan booked them into a bed and breakfast. Fortunately he'd grabbed up a stack of 20's from his trailer – though the stay would only cost them $7.00 a night. It was the one benefit of being in the early 1960's, apart from all the kitsch decorations and truly cool cars with their big fins and loads of chrome. The clerk hadn't looked very closely at the bills. She might have been suspicious when she saw that they were maybe 30 years too new. Jonathan used his charm and smoldering stare to distract her. Lucas was quiet for the first time in a long time. He was barely moving and looked downright ill.

"Is your brother okay, dearie?" The old lady behind the desk asked, looking Lucas over. She was probably wondering why he was dressed in such peculiar garb. She likely thought they were hunters or woodsmen.

"He's fine. He's just getting over some bad news is all."

She pursed her lips. "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. Here you are Mr. Brandis; I've got you two single beds." She looked at them both with a motherly concern. "Don't you have any bags?"

"Uh… Our friend…Darwin is coming behind us, but his car broke down. He's got our baggage. We'll expect him pretty soon."

"Well, I hope you enjoy your stay."

"Thank you." Jonathan gave her his patented, award-winning, squeal-inducing smile, his eyes sparkling. The old lady giggled and plumped herself up. Jonathan knew they wouldn't get any hassle from her. He had a way with the ladies, and he also used it when necessary. It wasn't a skill he was particularly proud of, and he still puzzled over why it even worked, ever, but it was a useful weapon to have in his arsenal.

He was still puzzling when he turned to talk to Lucas, and realized he hadn't followed him.

"Damn it. We have to stay together, especially here."

He walked back to the desk where the old lady still stood, smiling.

"Did you see where my…brother went?" He had to get used to calling him that – even though it still sounded strange to his ears.

"Sure sweetie. He mentioned something about getting some air. He mumbled something else, but I really didn't hear, then he walked out the door. Maybe he walked over to the phone booth on the corner."

"I hope he has a dime."

The old lady looked puzzled. "A dime? Where is a call that expensive?"

"The city," Jonathan said, recovering. "Thanks." He smiled, though inside he felt like screaming. Now was not the time to separate. They had no idea how to get back, or if they could get back. Even he wasn't familiar with the time they were in, and the story had only a few references to go on about where they could go or what they could do. He felt as lost as he had in 2018.

He stood in the road and looked up and down the empty street. Lucas was nowhere in sight. He turned right and started walking. If need be, he'd walk every street in Derry to find him. Night was not a time to be out here.

"Hey m…m…mister!" a familiar voice called out. He turned around to see seven children – the lucky seven – the Loser's Club.

"Hi Bill. Have you seen my brother?" Jonathan asked, still looking over the kids to the dark road behind them. He knew they were safe for a while, that the confrontation was still ahead, but that didn't mean that the monster wouldn't try to change the plot if it could.

"Y…y…yeah, he w…w…went towards the river with s…s…some guy."

"Some guy?" Jonathan closed his eyes. The first three people that popped into his head were three he really hoped Lucas had not gone with; Pennywise, Dave or Nick, though Tweedledum and Tweedledee were preferable over Pennywise.

"W…w...was it the clown?" He fixed Bill with his eyes, knowing that Bill understood exactly what he asked.

"N…no. This was s…s…someone e..e…else. He kn…kn…knew him."

"Crap!" The kids all covered their mouths and giggled. "O behave! It's not like you haven't heard that word before." Had it been a different director and the script come directly from the book, they'd be pretty experienced with every four-letter word in the world and a few that weren't and Bev would be doing things she'd never heard about. "Listen, you go home before it gets too dark. I have to go rescue my fr…brother."

He watched as the kids ran off in all directions. He stood trying to think of how best to get to the river. In Vancouver it had been west, here in Maine…

"Hello." The voice sent a chill through him. He turned around.

"Why if it isn't Tweedledum and Tweedledumber." He gave himself a pat on the back for being insolent, even if he was terrified.

They stared at him, puzzled.

"Lose something?" Jonathan put his hands in his pockets.

"Where's the other one?" Nick asked. Good, Jonathan thought, they hadn't found Lucas.

"Somewhere you'll never get him." Jonathan smiled, realizing that they didn't know which one they spoke to. Jonathan tried walking away. Dave grabbed his arm and he tried to pull away.

He gathered a breath for a yell. It was a small town and he'd get someone's attention pretty quickly. Then he saw the gun in Dave's hand.

"Give me an excuse, any excuse, boy." He nodded at the other. "Let's go."

"Where are we going?"

"To your room, I would imagine. You must be staying nearby. We'll wait out the other one. He'll come back, I'm sure."

"He's not here. You missed him. He's back at Universal where you brought him."

"Nice try. We traced you both here, despite your tricks. There's always a back-up root history to deal with. Now we've got the one, it's only a matter of time before we nab the other."


H…h…h…hey y…y…you!" Bill shouted from the bridge at the two standing by the river. They looked up to see seven kids, with Bill, their leader.

"Bill! How goes it?" Lucas called to him. He disappeared for a moment. Lucas glanced back to the man beside him, shrugging.

'Y…y…you got a p…p…problem!" Bill stammered when he popped up next to them.

"Something to do with Jonathan? What happened?"

"These other twins with guns grabbed him by the arm and took him!" the red-haired kid, Ritchie, said.

"Damn! How did they find you?" the other man said.

"Captain!" Lucas explained. "Small ears."

"Right. Sorry guys." Bridger said through gritted teeth.

The kids just grinned. They loved the way adults liked to believe that they had never heard this language before.

"Do you know where they took him?" Lucas asked. It wasn't looking good. He'd understood the technology even less than he'd thought, or they had a duplicate. Bridger would have something to say about it once everything was back to normal. His cockiness had really gotten him and Jonathan into trouble this time. When would he learn that he did not know everything and sometimes it was safer just to let things be?

"Ritchie tailed them," Stan replied. Everyone looked at Ritchie.

"They went back to the bed and breakfast."

"Sh…Sh...Sh..," Lucas looked around. "Shhhugar knobs."

"Your stutter's worse than Bill's!" Bev teased. Lucas shot her a look, but she pulled the puppy eyes and he just shrugged.

"You kids go home now. You can't have anything to do with this, okay?" The kids all looked at one another, smiled and wandered off. "You are going home, right?" Bridger yelled after them. They didn't reply. "Kids!" he exclaimed, his voice full of frustration. All he heard was their laughter in the distance.

"What are we waiting for?" Lucas started to make a move.

"Listen, I know you want to help him, but we have to get back first…."

"Back where?"

"To our own time and place. He was able to find both of you and bring me here. Amazing, but we need to give Dr. Le Conte time to put everything right, and we need you and Jonathan in the same reality, not this particular fictional world. Once Le Conte has everything in order again, he can send Jonathan back to his own world."

"You don't know these people, Captain Bridger. They'll hurt him. The only reason they didn't really hurt me was because they thought I was a toddler…and that didn't even stop them really. It's me they really want anyway. If they work out who he is they'll probably kill him, but not before they force him to tell them everything he knows. He's just an actor! He doesn't know much abut anything! Captain, I'm sorry but I can't just leave him!" Lucas ran swiftly down the edge of the river and into the trees.

"Lucas, get your butt back here, NOW! That's an order!" Bridger's command fell on deaf ears as Lucas ran out of view. Bridger followed him, groaning. That boy would be the death of him one day.


Lucas ran as he had never run before. Although he had only just met Jonathan, he had begun to see him as a brother – almost as a twin – with all of the emotions and entanglements that it meant. He couldn't allow anything to happen to him, especially if he suffered for his mistaken confidence in himself.

He got back to their hotel and stopped. What was he going to do now? If he walked in he would be caught. He walked back out and around the building, at all of the windows, realizing that he didn't even know what room they were supposed to be in. Wolenczak, you're so dense at times! He scolded himself.

"Are you lost, dear?" the old lady from the front desk asked him. She looked as if he'd caught her sneaking a cigarette.

"Yeah, sort of. My brother dropped something out of the window, but I can't tell where our room would be from here." He bluffed, hoping he had picked up some acting skills.

"Oh, that's easy. Just around the corner, third floor up, middle window."

"Thanks!" Lucas tried giving a sexy smile, hoping it was the same as the one he had seen Jonathan using. Judging from the lady's expression, he'd only creeped her out.


He found the window he wanted. Handily, there was a tree just outside the window. Now he knew he was in a piece of fiction. Only in fiction would you have that easy a way to get where you wanted. If it were the real world, there would be no tree and no easy way up, and someone would call the police if they saw him even loitering around the building. He shimmied up the tree, catching his clothes on rough bark and wondering if it really was ants he felt crawling on his hands. If they started biting him, he had to stay quiet. He lay on a branch and peeked through the window. He didn't like what he saw.

Jonathan was sitting on one of the twin beds with his hands behind his back, tied, Lucas assumed. He was also gagged and looked very uncomfortable, though it seemed he hadn't been hurt - yet. Nick and Dave were also in the room, each with a gun in his hand. They were pacing, waiting. For me, he thought. He slid back down the tree and scraped off his hands and legs, just in case it was ants. He needed to think this out first before he did anything stupid. You're learning, he said to himself.


Jonathan sat there carefully watching the men. He distracted himself by studying them. They were twins, for sure, but something was peculiar about the way they moved. It was like a video he'd seen recently, where frames were missing from the shots and the action sort of jerked forward, not fluidly, but in little jagged pieces. These men moved like that, though it was subtle, and seemed to skip from one to the other, as if they were incapable of completing the same motion smoothly at the same time. The rope was cutting into his wrists, and, for a minute, he felt all creepy-crawly, like something was walking on him. All he could think about was how he was going to explain any of this when…if he ever got home. He really missed his mother.

Nick walked to him and untied his gag.

"Are you ready to talk to us yet, Wolenczak?"

Jonathan sat there with his lips sealed. He already had figured out that the length he stayed quiet was in direct correlation to how long he would live. He tried to channel the looks of a genius being petulant, the arrogance and indignation not as easy as it had been before. This time it would definitely mean his life.

Someone knocked on the door. Nick pointed his gun at Jonathan, grabbing his arm and pulling him to his feet. He pulled him into the bathroom and put his hand over his mouth.

"Be quiet and everything will work out. Understood?" Jonathan nodded as best he could. He tried to listen, but all he could hear was Nick's breathing in his ear. Jonathan felt a tickle in his nose and squirmed his nose around to try and get rid of it. If he sneezed, he was in for it, he knew…but it kept getting worse. He started shifting his shoulders to try and rub his nose against one of them.

"What are you doing? Stop it!" Nick hissed.

But he couldn't help it and he sneezed, blowing mucus all over Nick's hand. He sneezed again with even more coming out of his nose.

"Bloody hell, kid! How much do you have up in there?"

Jonathan shrugged as Nick let him go. He whispered into his ear.

"I'm going to wash my hands and then I'll clean you up. You aren't going to make any noise, right?"

Jonathan almost answered, thought better of it and simply nodded. He shifted a little closer to the bathroom door so he could hear what was going on outside.

"You can't miss my kids. They're 9 and 13, look very similar. They said they'd wait for me in room 231." He recognized the voice immediately, no matter how lost-tourist he was trying to sound. Roy. It took everything within him not to smile.

"Well, there's your problem, sir. This is room 321."

"Oh! Right. I'm so sorry to bother you. Really."

"That's all right…"

He heard the door close. Nick came at him with a wet face towel, roughly cleaning his face.

"If you untie my hands I could do it myself, you know!" Jonathan exclaimed, not impressed with Nick's technique. He'd make a rotten father.

"Yeah, right, mate. It's taken long enough to get hold of you – all of you, that is. There is no way I'm doing anything so stupid."

Dave's head appeared around the edge of the door.

"How's the pigeon?"

Dave sneered. "Snotty."

"We have to move soon. That guy wasn't on the level. He was looking for something, and it wasn't his two kids."

"We can't go until we get the other one." He examined Jonathan. "Unless, of course, you know where he is, and then we can just go." He narrowed his eyes. "Or if you're actually not Wolenczak, then we can just dump your body someplace."

"What if you're wrong?" Jonathan used every acting muscle to keep from flinching, giving the guy his laser stare. Dave backed down.

It had been Captain Bridger at the door, he knew. Roy, the actor he knew, was about 16 right now, and he wasn't in this story anyway. He would be back, he knew. He just had to stay quiet and not give these two anything they could use. He smiled inwardly. Ignorance was to his benefit this time.

Who knew?

Dave pushed him through the door and shoved him down on a bed. He tried to get comfortable without much avail.

"While we've got the kid here, there is no way anyone is doing anything dangerous. If push comes to shove we can just leave with the one. We'll grab the other one later. They're linked, remember?" Outside it was already deep night. "Right now we need some sleep. We have a long day ahead of us in the best case."

This was the last thing Jonathan wanted to hear. He did NOT want to be in Derry after dark. He knew firsthand what the clown could do.

"If it's all the same to you, we should leave now." He tried to sound brave, but he knew that his acting wasn't up to snuff this time. Still, he made an effort to seem fairly clueless about their situation.

"And why's that?" Dave questioned, suspicious.

"We met some kids when we got here and they told us that some funky stuff goes down here at night. This is not a place I want to be when the sun goes down."

"Scared of the bogeyman? Dave teased.

"I really don't think you get it…"

"Shut up, kid. We're staying and that's all there is to it." Nick walked over to Jonathan and placed him on the floor between the two beds. Getting more rope, he tied it around his ankles and to one bed, strung a rope between his wrists and to the other. He proceeded to gag him.

"Now listen, kid. You are going to stay here and get some sleep. You will not cause any problems, okay?"

Jonathan gave no response, not even raising his eyes.

"Fine. I can make certain you don't make a ruckus." He reached into his jacket pocket, bringing out a bottle filled with clear liquid and a cloth. Jonathan shook his head. "Too late to be cooperative tonight." He doused the cloth and then held it over Jonathan's nose and mouth. He tried to struggle, to hold his breath, but it was no use. The cloth was not moving. He breathed in something sweet-smelling and let the darkness envelop him.


"What did you see?" Bridger whispered loudly from the base of the tree.

Lucas balanced himself on the ground, both legs wobbly from hanging on to the branch. "Jonathan's asleep on the floor. He's tied between the beds. Both men are asleep, I think." He brushed off the dry tree bark that had accumulated on him, and also the ants he felt certain were waiting for the right moment to attack en masse. His clothes –Jonathan's clothes –were really beginning to look shabby.

"Let's take a leaf out of their books and get some sleep. We can't storm in there if they have Jonathan in a vulnerable state."

"You mean tied up and unconscious?"

"It doesn't get much more vulnerable, son."

Lucas nodded reluctantly, though he was exhausted. He'd still rather save the day, call in the troops, blow up a few buildings. Patience wasn't a virtue he had much use for. But he admitted that they would be better waiting this time.

The older man had come prepared with period-appropriate money and he booked them another room in the bread and breakfast.


The old woman behind the counter looked at them suspiciously.

"Weren't you in here earlier? One of the twins?"

"Me, ma'am?" Lucas gave it his wide-eyed innocent best. "Maybe you mean my brothers."

"Brothers? What are you, triplets?"

Lucas looked earnestly from the captain to the lady, feigning sincerity.

"Quads, actually, ma'am. We're from a farm in Pennsylvania on our way to a state fair." He had gotten so used to lying in such a short time that it almost seemed second nature by now.

"That's why their hair is so long," Captain Bridger added. "A true freak of nature, those boys."

"Are you the one whose car broke down? Darwin?" she asked.

"Darwin? Uh... Yes! My...uh..."

"Edsel," Lucas inserted.

"Edsel broke down about a mile east..."

"...west."

"...west of here with the boy's costumes."

"Costumes?" She seemed completely unimpressed.

"Yeah," Lucas said. "We dress alike, trade places and then..."

"...juggle," Bridger finished.

"Hmmm," the lady said as she handed the captain the key.

Almost as soon as they reached their room they collapsed on the beds and fell into a deep sleep.


"Who are you and why do you come to ME?"

"I'm Bill Denbrough. You know who I am and why I'm here. You killed my brother and I'm here to kill you. You picked the wrong kid."

"I am eternal. I am the Eater of Worlds and of children and you're next!"

"Yeah? That so? Well, you've had your last meal!"

"You have no power; here is the power; feel the power, brat, and then speak again of how you come to kill the Eternal. You think you see Me? You see only what your mind will allow. Would you see Me? Come, then. Come, brat! Come!"

{snip}

"What are you?"

"I am the Turtle, son. I made the universe, but please don't blame me for it; I had a bellyache."

"Help me! Please help me!"

"I take no stand in these matters."

"My brother..."

"Has his place in the macroverse; energy is eternal, as even a child such as yourself must understand."

"Please. You are good. I sense and believe that you are good, and I am begging you... Won't you please help me?"

"You already know there is only Chüd. And your friends."

"Please. Oh, please!"

"Son, you've got to thrust your fists against the posts and still insist you see the ghosts... That's all that I can tell you. Once you get into cosmological shit like this, you got to throw away the instruction manual."

{snip}

Chüd, this Chüd, stand and be brave, be trusting, stand for your brother, your friends, believe, believe in all the things you have believed in, believe that if you tell the policeman you're lost that he'll see that you get home safely, that there is a Tooth Fairy who lives in a huge enamel castle, and Santa Claus below the North Pole making toys with his trove of elves, and that Captain Midnight could be real, yes he could in spite of Calvin and Cissy Clark's big brother Carlton saying that it was all a lot of baby stuff, believe that your mother and father will love you again, that courage is possible and words will come smoothly over time; no more Losers, no more cowering in George's room because you couldn't save him and didn't know, believe in yourself, believe in the head of that desire.

'HE THRUSTS HIS FISTS AGAINST THE POSTS AND STILL INSISTS HE SEES THE GHOSTS NOW LET ME GO!"

It screamed again, It's pain was more intense now. It screamed in Its death-agony. It was scrabbling away from them, making It's way into the growing dimness at the back of the chamber as the light failed. It left puddles and pools behind It as It went; somehow in their confrontation It had ruptured Its insides in a dozen, maybe a hundred places.

"The Spider!" Bill yelled. "Where is it?"


"Commander?" O'Neill said feebly.

"What?" asked Ford tiredly. He really wanted everything back to normal.

"There's a giant turtle outside the ship."

"A turtle? You think this is…important, Lieutenant?"

O'Neill simply stared back, unable to explain why he'd bothered him except to show him what he was seeing.

"On the screen please." The screen went on. "Does it have to be magnified that much?"

"It's not magnified, sir. The turtle is that big." O'Neill was interrupted by screaming from the speakers.

"What the hell?" Ford ran to the com system. "Could someone tell me what all the screaming is about?"

"There's a spider onboard!"

Ford looked at the speaker, shaking his head. It was simply ludicrous. "How can you be so scared of a spider?"

"You have to see the size of this one!" The com went dead.

"I'm guessing this has something to do with the turtle." Ford really wished that the captain was on the ship. He pressed the button for battle stations.

He rested his hand on O'Neill's shoulder.

"Better strap on your magic vest, Tim. I get the feeling you'll need it before this is over."


Jonathan opened his eyes. Everything around him was fuzzy. He tried to sit up, but his head began to swim. He lay back down on the bed. His wrists and ankles were free, but they felt like lead pipes.

"It looks like our dreamer has awakened."

He could hear the two talking but just couldn't get himself past the fog in his brain.

"I'm hungry," Dave complained.

"Why don't you go and get us some food? I'll be okay with the boy."

"But it's a bed and breakfast. The meal is downstairs."

"Well," Nick talked as though he were instructing a child. "Go down and bring something back!"

"If you're sure." Dave went out the door.

Nick turned to Jonathan.

"It's not like you're going anywhere anytime soon, is it?" He lifted the boy into a seated position and put a glass to his lips. The world went out of focus again for a moment, but he managed to swallow some water, though he felt like he would be sick.

"Ether. Yes, it's a little unpleasant. You'll be fine in a few minutes, Jonathan."

It took all of his willpower not to react to Nick's deduction.

"How?" he croaked.

"Easily. I knew you were the actor as soon as I saw you. Lucas has a different air about him, but not like yours. You have a certain... je ne sais quoi."

"Huh?"

"I thought you studied French."

"Yeah. I remember about ten things."

"Pity."

Jonathan took the glass himself this time and drank more. Things were still strange around the edges, but he no longer felt as queasy.

"Better?"

"Yeah, just... Stay still. You're making me dizzy." He raised a hand to his forehead. "And I hear a pounding."

The door burst open. Captain Bridger stood at the doorway, Lucas right behind him. Nick grabbed Jonathan and put the gun against his head.

"At least you bad guys are consistent..." Jonathan mumbled.

"What are you going to do now, sir?" Nick taunted.

"Look, wherever you go I will follow. Tell me what this is all about and I'll see what I can do to help you."

"You certainly can't help me. No one can but Lucas."

"Why Lucas?"

"Why me?" Lucas said, irritated that he was the center of a conspiracy and still out of the loop.

"This phase of the operation is rather delicate." He nodded.

"Whoa!" Lucas exclaimed as Dave grabbed him from behind.

"You," he said to Bridger, "into the room and drop your gun."

The captain did as he was instructed, but simply lowered the gun he held.

"You won't get away with this," he muttered, still trying to think of a way to end it peacefully.

Dave pushed Lucas into the room and kicked the door shut.

"Drink this, kid," Nick gave Lucas the glass he'd given to Jonathan.

"Don't drink it!"

"I have a choice?" Lucas said, exasperated. He drained the glass. "Now what? More poison?"

"Of course not. We're not psychopaths, Lucas! It's just something to…help us keep an eye on you."

Lucas tried to puzzle it out as Dave brought him closer to Jonathan.

"Are we ready then?"

"As much as we could be, brother."

Nick shook his head as Dave twisted the end of a glass cylinder. Nick did the same with one of his own.

Just as the lights began to distort, Bridger lunged forward and grabbed Jonathan and Nick. The explosion surrounded them in showers of light and wind.

It took the old lady only a few minutes to run up to the third floor and open the door, which barely hung on its hinges. The windows were blown out, the furniture piled as though tossed around by a tornado...

and the room was totally deserted.


It was the worst night the staff at the Mt. Saint Vibiana Observatory and Research Center had seen in a year. The acidic rain clouds had swirled in from the coast like someone spilling corrosive pea soup onto a tablecloth. Visibility was cut by 45%, but the money the government grants had given them allowed them to purchase some of NASA's most advanced equipment – meant for surveying Venus, but called to action early. Some of it was on loan, others as a test for marketability to the UEO. Either way, the research team had a better view of the volcano's activity than the sharpest vision on the clearest day could ever achieve.

Still, the ominous yellow/red glow of the pulsing beast fueled the researchers' decision to stay indoors whenever possible, including the team chosen to rescue Lucas Wolenczak and retrieve the h-r probe from the ruins of Citywalk. Although it was their job to study the volcano – a geographical oddity in relation to its current location – none of them enjoyed the pelting rain, ashen atmosphere, sulphurous gases and the occasional lava bomb the volcano would spew into the air. Los Angeles was the epitome of a desolate, raped, war zone.

"We've got 24 hours to track down and bring back Wolenczak and the seaQuest's h-r probe," Simon Carr lectured his two companions as they walked toward the elevator. The 35 year old man held a hazmat helmet tucked under his right arm. "We'll need to take Rover 7 for this one. There could be casualties."

"How could a sea-built hyper-reality probe end up 12 miles away at Universal?" Gerry asked. "I mean… The ocean's at least thirty miles away from there, barely visible from here anymore."

"That's one of the things we're going to find out."

All stopped at the sound of booted feet running up the walkway behind them. The scientists turned.

"Wait up!" The newcomer held out a gloved hand with a helmet clutched in it.

"Will? What are you doing here? Where's Fredricks?" Simon asked.

"Fredricks, uh, had a change of plans."

"Unacceptable. Do you even know anything about this mission?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. Fredricks briefed me in the cafeteria. He's not the only geologist with a Ph.D. or two on his wall here, you know."

Simon looked to the others, then back. "You lost another bet, didn't you?"

"Did I say that?"

The others laughed. Simon shrugged. "All right. Let's go."

The four scientists entered the reinforced glass that would take them to the parking garage at the bottom, dressed in heavy hazmat suits.

"Just another day in paradise," the older member of the team complained as he adjusted the sleeves tucked under the edges of the yellow gloves. The subsonic rumble echoed in the dark room.

"It just started," a female scientist piped in from the back of the elevator. "It could get worse."

"Ever the optimist, Grace," he answered smoothly.

"What was it this time? Waste-basket-ball? Seismic bet? Thumb war?" she asked.

He blinked at her, and knew then that he'd be the butt of jokes for a while. "I'm not even supposed to be on this mission. I just got back from that fuckin' volcano's rotten tantrum yesterday. My shoes still have a layer of cooled lava on the soles." He glanced at her quickly and then down, embarrassed. "Rock, paper, scissors."

"Are you serious? What's next? Arm wrestling?" The doors opened and Grace stepped out, sliding the helmet over her blonde hair. Simon pushed past her, followed by a chuckling Gerry.

"The guy has one arm!" he said defensively. "Arm wrestling's out of the question."

"Yeah, 'cause you know that he'd kick your ass." Grace laughed.

"Exactly." He unlocked the doors of a thick, stocky Hummer and climbed into the driver's seat.

Simon and Gerry climbed into the back. "Face it, Will. You suck at gambling," Gerry said.

"Yeah. Remember Vegas? Back when there was a Vegas?" Simon added.

The driver grumbled, taking his frustration out on the gearshift. "Don't remind me."

The once-green-but-now-buff-black SUV, christened 'Rover 7', screeched out of the parking structure and into the toxic hills of Los Angeles – or what was left of them, at least.

Will Erickson glanced in the rearview mirror at the sign marking the entrance to the building behind them. He just been a young man then, but he remembered what this place was like before the government had made it into the Mt. Saint Vibiana Observatory. Built by a world-renowned architect and designer, it had been filled with centuries old art, students eager to learn about it, sculptures, magnificent gardens with trees trimmed with an OCD perfection so that if you visually lined them up, you saw only one tree instead of thirty. The lava inspection chamber had been built over a beautiful round fountain where it could take samples from a vent that had perforated into what had once been a giant cactus patch shaped like the letter 'P' facing toward the volcano. It was an eyesore in the perfect equal precision of the rest of the painstakingly arranged travertine marble walls, perfect geometric stairways and indestructible foundation. It was absolute symmetry in every way. Plus, it helped that the entire complex was as earthquake-proof as money could buy at the time, which made it the ideal location from which to study the volcano.

Will sighed. The Rockefeller Center had been so beautiful.

He was positive that if Sir Harrison Ford knew what the government had done to his beautiful creation, he would roll over in his perfectly symmetrical grave.

XVII

From point A to point B, anyone keeping track of the time wouldn't notice any difference. But if they were inside the vortex – even though their watches had stopped – they would feel the seconds tick by, one by one.

The turmoil of the vortex allowed for little control over movement for the five travelers hurtling through it.

Nick and Dave knew what would happen when they reached their destination: they would end this escapade now and forever and finally get at least one of their lives back to normal. The other three had come to the same conclusion, and each one had a different idea of how to avoid the scientists' plans.

Captain Bridger had a good idea of what would happen. He'd gotten himself into this fix, and thanks to Tobias Le Conte, was able to be witness to what the twin Lucases had been experiencing. This time they had someone to protect them.

He reached out toward Nick and Dave, grasping a fistful of Nick's shirt.

"Get off!" Nick shouted, shoving at Bridger. The captain reared back and threw both feet up, catching Nick across the face with his boots. Nick tumbled end over end backwards, separated from Jonathan.

"You fool!" Dave attempted to draw Bridger into a fight. Bridger gladly accepted.

"Take Lucas and get out of here!" he hollered to Jonathan.

"How?" Jonathan demanded. He grabbed onto Lucas' grubby jacket before the boy could spiral further away.

"Think!"

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means use what God gave you!"

"What? My eyelashes?"

"Your minds!" He threw a punch at Dave, who barely managed to dodge and swung back, cracking the captain across the jaw. Bridger lurched back from the hit, losing his control. Arms flailing, reaching for anything to grasp, he tumbled through the maelstrom away from the group.

"Roy!" Jonathan shouted automatically.

"Captain!" Lucas cried in shock.

Jonathan kept hold of the scrambling Lucas and pulled him more tightly to his body, trying not to lose him in the vortex. "We have to think! We have to get out of here! Think, Lucas! Back to the seaQuest! Maybe we can force it to change course!"

"What? How?"

"We focus!"

"You're…nuts!"

"Yeah, I know!"

The two held on, each thinking of the seaQuest. For an instant Jonathan's thoughts drifted to his friends Ray, Mel, Anica and Swan…and his mother and father. His fingers tightened around the cloth of Lucas' clothes at the memory. He wanted to go home so badly he could taste it.

Lucas forced himself to imagine the seaQuest, his friends Ben and Katie, Darwin, and even the ship itself, times spent walking the halls, the captain… The captain.

And then a blast of reddish light reminded them both of the volcano – someplace neither wished to revisit.

Dave had caught the back of Nick's shirt and both turned toward the other set of twins as they swirled in a pretzel shape of tangled arms and legs away from them.

"Damn it, Nick!" The two time travelers had half a second to think before a bright light encompassed Jonathan and Lucas in brilliant orb, vanishing with them.

Nick and Dave spiraled off into a totally different direction.


Jonathan's eyes snapped open in the dark. He sat up in his bed and looked around.

"I'm home!" he said, maybe a little too loudly.

"MOM!" he yelled as he ran down the stairs to the kitchen where he could smell the wonderful delights of a huge breakfast she was cooking.

"Yeah, Jon? I'm cooking breakfast. Blueberry pancakes. Your favorite!"

"Oh Mom, it's so great seeing you! It seems like…days!" he yelled, giving her a hug like he had never given anyone before.

"Are you okay? What's wrong with you? You act like you haven't seen me a week."

Jonathan hesitated, taking in the wholeness of his home as he had never done before; every tiny detail, every silly knick-knack. "Maybe it's because I don't hug you enough, Mom," he replied. "I need to show you more often how much I appreciate you."

Good save, he thought.

"Nice try, Jon. What did you do? Where have you been?"

"No place special, Mom. Honest."

"Okay, but I'm going to find out sooner or later," she said, waving around the spatula, "and you will pay for it, young man."

"Whatever the price, Mom." He smiled widely, uncontrollably. It was so good to be home…

Megan barked at him and he looked down at her.

Why were her eyes blue?


Lucas jumped up from his chair in his quarters and couldn't believe his eyes.

He was BACK!

"What if..?" He pinched his left wrist. "Ow! Yep, I'm not dreaming it," he said.

He ran into the corridor of the seaQuest and looked around for any sign of life. So far, nobody.

Maybe they're all on the bridge, Lucas thought. He walked cautiously down the corridor to the bridge. Opening the clam doors, he saw…no one.

"Where is everyone?" he asked the empty room.

He suddenly got an idea to go check the cafeteria since it was near lunch time. When he got there all the lights were off, but he heard noises coming from behind the door.

He opened the door, reached for a light switch, and, as he switched on the lights, all of his friends on the ship shouted, "WELCOME BACK, LUKE!" at once.

Lucas was shocked beyond belief. His mouth fell open, and his eyes welled up with tears.

Aww… You guys…!" he said happily.


Jonathan sat at the table as his mother brought the first stack of steaming pancakes to him. He speared a wedge, dripping with syrup, and looked down at the dog who stared at him with her peculiar eyes.

Megan shook her head back and forth.

The room began to grow darker and darker and dust swirled all around him.

"No!" he shouted before it all disappeared.


"What've you done now?" Dave whined, clearly not at all sure whether he'd done…something…wrong.

"Nothing. They've figured out part of the puzzle, is all."

The whirl of colors and light calmed around them and they stood on a quiet little knoll beside a stream. Nothing stirred except the water burbling on the mossy rocks.

Dave looked shaken.

"We're not back with that…clown, are we?"

Nick glared at him.

"I only see one clown."

"You know what I mean."

"No. No maniacal bogeymen here." He smiled. "Except, of course, if you count us."

"I'm always counting us, brother," Dave sneered.

"I am not your brother!"

"What then? Clone? Donor? Alternate? Father? Son?" He snickered. "Unholy Spirit?"

"What about Master? I rather like the sound of that."

"That would imply your mastery of something."

Nick simply huffed and looked at his handheld gauge. "Well, the Universal lab's been compromised. We have to get back to Site A."

"Compromised…" Dave sneered bitterly. "You are a master of euphemism. It's a bloody disaster. Get us back to Site A, then. You can do that, right? That is something you can still do without the other equipment?"

"Yes. Remote activation. The machinery's been set." He looked at the gauge again, really wanting to set it to carry himself alone. He gazed at his 'twin', debating. Later. "To Site A, slave." He chuckled at Dave's sour expression and activated the beacon and they vanished in a swirl of colored light, leaving only a spiral of dead leaves behind them.


"Captain Bridger? Lieutenant Hitchcock? Doctor Westphalen?" O'Neill spoke forlornly into his headpiece. "Anyone?"

"Hitchcock here, over."

O'Neill breathed a sigh of relief. He didn't want to be the one responsible for losing the landing party. He'd heard nothing from the radio for over an hour. With Commander Ford heading the rescue mission retrieving Lucas at the Universal Studios complex, it left Lt. Krieg nominally in charge of the bridge – if he could get anything past Chief Crocker, of course.

"Lieutenant Commander!" O'Neill erased his pleased smile immediately, all business. "Is there anything to report?"

"How's the…bug problem going onboard?"

"The, uh, spider has apparently gone back to wherever it came from." He shuddered. Just a description of the thing gave him the willies. Being in a confined space with a gigantic arachnid was pretty much everyone's personal nightmare. Fortunately it had vacated the bulkhead where it had taken up temporary residence.

He still wasn't sure about the Mag-Lev tubes though. For sure he wasn't going in there without an armed escort just yet. A heavily armed escort. And if he saw as much as one cobweb…

"The gigantic turtle is gone, too. I guess they both went back to wherever it is… giant spiders and turtles come from."

"We're having… difficulties here," Hitchcock continued.

"Difficulties?"

"Yes. The captain hasn't returned and we've lost the fix on the two boys."

O'Neill blew out a breath. "That does sound like a problem." He winced, understating the obvious again. "What does Dr. Le Conte think?"

"He can't locate any of them. He says that the system he's set up wasn't built to monitor more than one signal at a time."

"Lucas was able to use the read-out at Universal to track Jonathan and the two other scientists. He also mentioned something about being able to see different patterns on some kind of 3-D screen."

"The read-out here is… well…it was never intended for a sighted person and the interface won't mesh with the implants I have," Hitchcock said irritably. "Maybe you can think of something we could use from the seaQuest."

"The neural implants aren't compatible," he repeated. Neural implantation wasn't his area of expertise, but communications, that was an entirely different story. "Maybe we could jerry rig something from the neural interface on the h-r probe..."

"The h-r probe that's sitting in a broken heap at the Universal Studios complex?"

"Not the probe itself, the interface." O'Neill tried to hide his excitement. "You could get into Le Conte's system using our technology and navigate it like it was the ocean – at least theoretically."

The moment of radio silence on the other end made him even more excited. Either she was going to refuse him outright, or…

"Great idea, Tim," Hitchcock said. "Remind Captain Bridger to raise your salary when we get him back."

"So, do we send another shuttle with the interface..?"

"I'll retrieve it personally. Give us an hour to get there. We'll need some help from tech-support. Have them open the C-panel and expose the command interlacing packet on the primary h-r probe pod before I get there."

"Right away, sir."

Ben Krieg shook his head.

"Leave it to Kate to just take over."

O'Neill looked up at him.

"Is there a problem with that, sir?"

Krieg grinned and shrugged.

"If this turns out anything like our marriage, at least this time we'll know it wasn't me who screwed up."


"It could be dangerous, Lieutenant Commander," Dr. Westphalen said cautiously.

"I'll have to risk it," Hitchcock returned. "We have to find the captain and the two boys."

"You could suffer permanent neurological damage if you can't match input levels from the read-out."

Le Conte nodded, one hand over a brass-colored, ball-shaped control. The machinery hummed like a thousand angry killer bees, its full power not even measurable.

"This equipment might not interface well with earth… with the equipment from your ship, dazzling as the technology is," he said carefully. "Your brain could end up like a soft-boiled egg."

Hitchcock glared at him, realized that he couldn't see her non-verbal signal.

"I'm aware of that, Dr. Le Conte. Dr. Westphalen will be here to monitor my stats." She looked at the doctor. "I hope your med-kit includes an egg-timer."

"Really, Lieutenant Commander!" Westphalen laughed. "Let's hope it doesn't come to that!"

"Let's get what we need, then. We're running out of time."


"Welcome home, Luke!" everyone in the mess hall yelled again.

Lucas didn't know where to begin. There was so much to tell them – things that they wouldn't believe – He didn't believe them. Maybe he'd leave out the part about the opium den.

Krieg clapped him on the back.

"We made a special welcome-back lunch for you, Luke!"

"Oh wow," was all Lucas could manage to get out. He couldn't even begin to say how glad he was to be back to his normal life.

"Lutefisk, herring and miso! Just the way you like it!"

Lucas nodded, not really absorbing the information.

Wait a minute.

"But, Ben… You know I hate those things!" He blinked. "And when did you start calling me Luke?"

Krieg just laughed and slapped him on the back again.

"And to top it all off, a great big container of reprocessed, artificially chocolate-flavored milk solids!"

"Yoo-Hoo?"

Krieg looked around.

"Who ya talkin' to there, buddy?"

Lucas shrugged. This made very little sense. He started to sit.

"Not just anywhere," Krieg said, waving him further into the mess. "Captain's table, Luke."

Captain Bridger sat at the head of his table, pipe in hand, his cap at a jaunty angle. But he was wearing a different uniform, a brown one. The patch on his shoulder read, 'Amity Police Department'.

"Oh no…"


"Wake up!"

Lucas felt his head banging on something, not-so-softly. When he opened his eyes, they were met with the same white, featureless lack of landscape he had been afraid he'd see. He was lying on his back on the spongy surface, Jonathan sitting next to him, pulling his hands away from the sides of his head where he'd been knocking it against the ground.

"Where..?"

"Yeah, 'are we?'" Jonathan finished for him. "Back here. Again."

Lucas sat up and surveyed the endless fog surrounding them on every side. He lay back down.

"Perfect," he muttered and pulled his hair down over his face, closing his eyes. He refused to cooperate with this development by opening them. "Well, at least we're not in that…milk place."

"What 'milk place'?"

"That dairy farm, or whatever."

Jonathan laughed humorlessly. It was so ludicrous.

"Not D-A-I 'Dairy'! D-E-R 'Derry'!" He shook his head. "Beep-beep, Lucas…"

"You sound anxious," the other said, still not opening his eyes. "You should lay off the caffeine once in a while. And you shouldn't have banged my head on the ground like that. I could get a concussion."

"And what? You'll hallucinate? Anything's gotta be better than this… Wonder-Bread Way Station." He gestured at the opaque white, then rubbed his eyes dismally. "Pancakes. Mom was making pancakes. Blueberry pancakes. They were all sweet and purple and…" He sighed.

Lucas sat up and put his hand gently on Jonathan's shoulder. He'd had some of Mary's pancakes. Even poisoned, they had been indescribable. He knew the boy's pain.

"So, you were home?"

"For a few minutes, maybe, yeah. You?"

"I don't know. It was more like a dream." He shook his head. "With herring."

"Where are we now?" Jonathan said tonelessly.

"Well… Here."

Jonathan laughed again.

"Here isn't a place. Here is a rest-stop. I mean where's my… our bodies? We're unconscious someplace. That's how we've gotten here before."

"So we're probably face-down in some ditch?'

"Maybe."

"But not in D-E Derry or inside the volcano?"

Lucas looked around them.

"And this is the dream?"

"Maybe. Probably. Hell if I know. 'All we are and seem…'" Jonathan began quoting.

"'…is but a dream within a dream.'" Lucas finished. He sighed. "At least we're gettin' some rest."

Jonathan stood firmly up.

"Speak for yourself. I'm seeing where this leads."

He began to walk away as Lucas scrambled to his feet.

"Where what leads?"

"This." He waved at the expanse of emptiness before him. "Two-Percent Land. It's gotta have an edge somewhere."

Lucas shook his head. "What part of 'endless void' do you not understand?" he muttered and then ran after him.

But his legs felt like taffy and he suddenly sank to the ground.

"Jonathan, wait! WAIT!" His voice rang shrilly in his ears and the white nothingness engulfed him.


"Is he alive?" A filtered female voice spoke.

"Scans show his life signs to be normal. He's inhaled some ash, though."

Jonathan opened his eyes, but closed them immediately to a hot burning sensation.

"Get him in the rover."

He recognized that voice. "G...Gar?" he rasped. The words were choked off by a spasm of coughing. His chest burned as if he'd inhaled pink fibrous wall insulation soaked in mercurochrome.

Two strong hands lifted him from the ground, and two others took his feet. The hazmat-clad scientists lay him in the back of the covered SUV and placed an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. The fresh oxygen made him cough even more, expelling chunks of wet ash into the mask.

"Hold your breath." The female voice said again. She wiped the mask out and set it back on his face. His breathing was still labored, but he was able to inhale and exhale cautiously without coughing.

"It was a dream," he whispered sadly. "Why did it have to be a dream...?" He coughed again. "Not the milk land part. The pancake part."

He heard the doors close with soft clicks, followed by the jostling of the SUV's movement over the war-zone terrain.

The voice he recognized removed his helmet first. He was sitting in the passenger seat. "Stick with us, kid. We're headed over to pick up your partner."

Jonathan blinked in shock. "Gar!" He tried to sit up, but was pushed back down by the woman.

"Stay down. You inhaled toxins from the air. By the ash accumulated on your body, you were laying face down for at least five minutes. You're lucky you survived."

Jonathan deliberately disobeyed her order. "Gar, where's Lucas and the captain? How did you get here...dressed like that?" he insisted, speaking to the passenger.

"I said lay down." Grace persistently pushed him back. He smacked her hand away. "Fine. Die sitting up."

Will turned around to face the boy. "I suggest you try to listen to her, even though she can be a viper. My name's Will Erickson. We're with the Mt. Saint Vibiana Research Center sent to rescue you."

By every appearance, Will was his teacher's duplicate. Jonathan's jaw dropped. "Oh hell no!" One was bad enough, but two?

"Who's 'Gar'?" Will asked, scratching a dark bushy eyebrow.

Jonathan's face fell in despondence. "Someone I hope I get to see again at some point in my life."

"The scanners' detecting life signs," Simon announced. "Two of them."

Gerry, the other scientist, steered the clunky vehicle in the direction the scanner indicated. "Here's hoping they're still viable."

The SUV came to a halt in front of the ruins of the Clock Tower set on the Universal backlot. Jonathan's heart cried at the rotting remains of another icon from his life.

The four scientists replaced their helmets and climbed out, leaving Jonathan enclosed alone in the Hummer. The young man watched through the window. He could see nothing but a torrent of ash and embers, the wipers clearing what looked like thick black corn flakes from the windshield. For a moment, he felt hopeless about the two the scanners picked up.

"Found them!" He heard the Hummer's console relay the com-link between the suits. "They're alive," Will said.

"It's Captain Bridger, and... Wait, isn't this kid still in the rover?" Grace's voice.

Jonathan's heart leapt. The captain and Lucas were alive. He coughed up more bits of ash into the oxygen mask, wondering what percentage of the volcano he'd swallowed. It felt like a small hill, at least. How much was too much, he wondered.

"We'll figure it out when we get there. Get them in the rover," Simon ordered.

Moments later, the doors clicked open and two more bodies were added to the now cramped SUV. Captain Bridger's body slid into the seat behind him where Grace immediately began oxygenation measures. Jonathan moved over to let them place Lucas in with him. The blond twin was completely coated in ash, and his jacket had ripped where he'd landed near the remains of an iron fence and snagged the fabric. He looked more like a preserved victim of the volcano's rage than a living being with a heartbeat.

Nathan looked the worst with a thick layer of powdery ash caked into the creases of his skin. His eyes were closed.

Will tended to Lucas, while Simon and Gerry took the front seats.

"Is that everyone?" Simon glanced to Gerry.

"Everyone the scanners showed to be alive, sir."

"Let's go, then."

The tires spun in the ash briefly before launching down the road.

Jonathan's attention turned immediately to Will and Grace. "Are these two going to be okay?"

Will placed an oxygen mask over Lucas' nose and mouth. "Let's hope. He your twin or something?"

"Yeah. Something like that." Why had they landed unconscious this time, when every other time they had simply made Scooby-Doo landings? He tapped on Lucas' crusty forehead. "Come on, Lucas, wake up. I need you to get out of here, man. Wake up. You're Lucas freakin' Wolenczak, dammit. Wake! Up!"

Lucas eyes snapped open in time with a deep inhale. He coughed hard, expelling wet black chunks into the mask. Will cleaned it out and placed it back over his face. "Easy, kid," he said.

Jonathan didn't think he could be happier until he heard the captain's rasping cough. No one had died today. Thank God.

"It was a dream..." Lucas coughed.

"I know, man." Jonathan shook his friend's shoulder in sympathy.

Will and Grace simply looked at each other over the middle seat and shrugged.

Rover 7 rattled through the crunching remains of the Sepulveda Pass to the ruins of the once great Rockefeller Center. Simon clicked a garage door opener, waiting for the blast door to open, then drove through. It closed behind them with a rush of fresh air into the room as it filtered the toxins and dust from the atmosphere.

Will unsealed his door and slid out. He was happy to see the medics were already waiting with gurneys for Lucas and the captain. The two were placed on the gurneys with fresh oxygen masks, and Jonathan's was replaced. Being the only one who could walk, he accompanied them to the elevator, though Will supported most of his weight.

The trip to the infirmary was short. They checked him for damage, patched him up, and gave him an injection to nullify the airborne toxins that had made it into his bloodstream. They issued him a set of standard patient clothes to wear -a dull white, long-sleeved shirt and matching loose pants - while his own were being cleaned. He luxuriated in the hot shower for long minutes, rinsing out his mouth and nose, scrubbing himself, sure the dust had penetrated through his skin and into his bones. His hair, he lamented, would never be the same.

He sat on a stone bench staring out at the volcano's fury through a picture window, hands clasped between his knees. The area was once left to the open air for visitors of the museum, but the volcano's existence had made it imperative for the area to be closed in. They did so with an expertly-crafted arching window that found its connection in the stone directly overhead. He felt soft concussions beneath him as the volcano shifted the rock somewhere miles below, but he knew this building's twin from his own reality and felt safe. He scanned the compulsive solidity of the walls and ceiling, the three-inch thick panes of glass that kept out the constant assault from the mountain.

For the first time since his arrival, he was able to view the destruction without being threatened by the corrosive atmosphere, or the twins' attempts to capture him and Lucas.

He stared at the once familiar landscape, picking out places he could still recognize. The remnants of UCLA – home of the basketball god, John Wooden –clustered in a steaming pile of red bricks around a fumarole. He shuddered to think what his teacher would do if he saw this destruction.

Through irritated eyes, he soaked in the incinerated devastation of Brentwood, the splintered spine of the 405 freeway to San Diego, scattered with the scorched remains of burnt-out cars and trucks, the once fraternity and sorority-littered party spots of Westwood now mixed with the detritus of Beverly Hills multimillion dollar mansions. He wondered briefly what movies were showing at the Plitts when the volcano blew Los Angeles to dust. He recalled his favorite Starbucks in Westwood –all of them—and sighed. The buildings were senselessly destroyed –all that coffee wasted.

He shook the morality-lacking thought from his mind and took in the broken remains of Wilshire Blvd. which split Mount Doom from the jagged hulks of the Two Towers of Century City. For the first time, he noticed smaller volcanoes had popped up from Mt. Saint Vibiana, like zits, along Wilshire Blvd. heading for the ocean, lined with the blackened charcoal sticks of what had been palm trees. The mayor in this reality must have completed the Metro line to the ocean, giving the lava a ready-made conduit. He prayed the mayor of his time would never get that far.

A plume of venomous fumes spewed out from the La Brea tar pits, igniting now and again with a flash that showed the ruined buildings surrounding them and, further east, the downtown scene had been replaced by half of the volcano's monstrous, living body. Storms raged over the mountain, striking lightning from the heavily charged air wherever it may, like a child completing the destruction of a toy model of the city. The entirety of the vista reminded him of what he knew about the death of Pompeii. Were there bodies preserved in Los Angeles in similar morbid perfection? The thought made him shiver. These weren't people he was reading about in a history book, or dummies in a horror movie. These were the same people –though duplicates –of those he knew in his own reality. Living flesh and blood had been reduced to ashes and cinders around twisted, fossilized bone, probably with melted cell phones still stuck to their skulls. This affected him deeply, and it made him sick.

He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering L.A for what he knew it to be –a melting pot of culture (however strange it might be) –full of life, history, and people from all over the world hoping their break lay in becoming one of the stars named on Hollywood Boulevard's sidewalks in the lazy sunshine of an eternal summer.

He knew it wasn't his L.A — his was still intact with cars, smog, celebrities, street meat, and tourists. This was his Los Angeles' evil twin ─ but he couldn't shake the apprehension that it could one day resemble this wasteland of human failure. He'd been transported into the bowels of hell. The horrible realization struck him suddenly that if they didn't stop Nick and Dave, his reality – every reality — might meet the same horrific fate.

The sound of footsteps on the stone reached his ears, but his attention stayed on the view of the ashen graveyard of Los Angeles. Will sat on the bench next to the seventeen year old.

Jonathan glanced to him briefly, then back.

"It's pretty staggering, isn't it?"

The blond teenager sat in morose silence.

Will nodded, understanding. For that moment, he let his scientific detachment take a back seat. "Are you okay?"

Jonathan exhaled heavily, staring unblinking at the mountain. "I, uh…well…" He stopped fighting to keep up appearances. "No. No, I'm not."

Will looked from the boy to the dark ruination outside of their shelter.

"Lucas and the captain are recovering well. In fact, Lucas is already up and complaining. It's a good sign."

Jonathan nodded. By bringing the news himself, Will had shown Jonathan that some bits of an individual's personality existed in their duplicate. Gar would have done the same thing, as he had in the past. "I'm glad they're all right. Have you contacted the seaQuest?"

Will noticed the boy never took his eyes from the hellish view to which he himself had long ago become accustomed. "Yes. They've already got a team en route to retrieve you."

He wanted to go home. Oh, God, how he ached to crash in his own bed and ignore the world for while, but he knew if Dave and Nick continued to use their reality device, this would never end. For some reason, he and Lucas were the targets in their cat and mouse game, and both of their worlds were being dragged in with them. Ultimately, he thought, it would take both of them to see this through. "Lucas and I can't go back to the ship yet."

"Why not?"

"Because we're..." He laughed. "We're on a mission." He looked at Will and smiled. "Save the genius, save the world." It was a nifty catch phrase. He'd have to remember it for later.

Will just blinked, then chuckled a little himself. "Figures it had to be something big, or you guys wouldn't be in Los Angeles to begin with. No one who hasn't lost a bet or is in his right mind comes to L.A, except scientists."

"And everyone knows a scientist is never in his right mind," Jon smirked.

Will laughed at the joke. The kid was quick. "I like you, kid. Good luck on your mission."

"Thanks." Jonathan turned back to the intimidating scene, locking his eyes to the dim shadow of the volcano which endlessly belched blood-colored flame into the black sky. It had done nothing to him personally, but for some reason, it had become the focus of his anger, its own character in this sick little soap opera. "We're going to need it."

They sat in silence for a moment, the only sound the soft tapping of pumice pebbles on the glass and the subsonic rumble of the mountain. It was in that time that Jonathan realized how much this adventure had forced him to grow up. It was frightening. His stomach growled, breaking the quiet like shattering glass. He blushed, embarrassed. "Sorry."

"Nah." Will stood. "I'll get you something from the cafeteria." The older man walked away without another word. The kid was definitely easy to like.

"Jonathan!"

He turned at the sound of his own hoarse voice.

Lucas walked toward them wearing the same clothing. "You're alive. Cool."

"You've looked better. Does my hair look that bad? Yuck."

The two gave each other a brief hug — like brothers. Jonathan looked his doppelgänger up and down. "Wow, you really could be my twin. There's no telling us apart, now."

"Wish I had you back at school. It would have driven my teachers crazy."

"Yeah. Imagine two of us?" Jonathan smirked. "The old priest would shit himself," he laughed.

"Huh?" Lucas quirked an eyebrow.

Jon waved it away. "Will went to get us some food."

"Will?"

"Gar's twin. Now he'd be all over this like ugly on a cockroach, with a notepad and a thousand questions."

"So... We should try to get you home now." He looked at the floor, clearly not really wanting to let Jonathan go. "I think we can get this ─ whatever it is – to work for us and get you back to your own time and place."

Jonathan shook his head at Lucas' statement. "We can't."

"Your friends are back in your reality, right?"

"Yeah. They were at Universal. But I can't leave yet, man. Not with those two bozos willing to screw up the universe for... See? We don't' even know why they're willing to screw up the universe." He threw his arms in the air. The loose sleeves flapped around his wrists like flags.

"We should go over what we know so far." Lucas suggested.

"Over dinner." He looked at the featureless black sky. "It's dinner time, right?" No answer. "Well, over something."

"Okay. Anything but lutefisk."


Some time later, the two were sitting at a small square table in the covered portion of the Rockefeller that used to be the largest eating area. The travertine pillars were used as spacer marks for the walls and windows creating a border. They were surrounded by some of the art collection, moved from the buildings facing the volcano side before being transported to safety somewhere else. A row of ancient Pompeian statues stood in front of priceless Renaissance paintings, watching them eat, their pallid eyes telling of the disasters that they had seen in the past two millennia.

"Heard from the captain yet?" Jonathan shoved a mix of food into his mouth.

"He was still unconscious when I left the infirmary. I hope he's all right."

Jonathan agreed. The captain ─ for himself and not Roy ─was a pretty cool guy.

"So," Lucas continued, picking at his food, "We know Nick and Dave didn't create that device. They wanted me there to figure it out. It's why they took me to their hideout."

"I'm still trying to figure out what they want with me."

"You just got randomly pulled into this, man."

"Dude, so not cool." Jonathan continued eating. "If they want your marbles, they only need one of us. Thing is, we have no idea what they're after when they get the device working the way they want. Congratulations on destroying their machine. I couldn't have done a better job, and I'm an expert at destroying stuff."

"Thanks. You're not the only actor here," Lucas smirked and shoved more food into his mouth. "It could be the usual: world domination."

"So, maybe we should find whoever built the thing in the first place and talk to them."

"They could be dead, or from another time, or another planet, or some medieval fantasy with dragonlords and elves."

"Then we kidnap one of them and force them to talk."

"That would make us no better than they are."

"Well, then I suggest we go get drunk, 'cause I'm all out of ideas." Jonathan spooned up some mashed potatoes and ate them. They tasted a little like Elmer's glue, but were light-years beyond the protein pellets he'd had onboard the seaQuest.

"You might be right... Wait," Lucas stopped eating and leaned forward. "I sent all the data I gathered from their machine to the ship. Everything we need is there! We might be able to use it to find whoever built it, and convince them never to do it, then this would never happen!"

"Sounds like the Butterfinger Effect to me." Jonathan slurped on an apple juice box. "Step on one Butterfinger, a cure is never found, and thousands of butterflies die."

Lucas was silent for a few moments thinking. If it worked, they would never know each other like this, and he would lose the closest thing he'd ever had to a brother. "Then we should just destroy it."

"We need to practice. Get control of this time-travel thing for ourselves, first. We can use it without their equipment, remember?"

Lucas smiled. "Yeah. It ticked them off, too."

"Heh heh," Jonathan chuckled. "Feels like I'm in a sci-fi novel, traveling across time and space."

"That's it, then?"

"Yup."


Nathan Bridger leaned against a pillar watching the interdimensional twins across the floor of perfect squares of travertine for a moment, relaxing. He was unsure who was who, suddenly. Their motions were nearly identical, and dressed the same, it was impossible to tell. He knew Lucas only by the manner in which the boy spoke. Their physical harmony matched the obsessive symmetry of the building, he thought. Sir Harrison would be proud.

"You're awake. Good." Will came up beside him with a tray of his own. "This stuff is crap, but it's hot, and there's a lot of it."

"The UEO will compensate the facility for its help," Bridger said. "Plus, I've been interested in seeing this place for myself at some point. Dr. Young has been trying to get me here for years. It's not the sea, but it's science. And it's good to see the government's investing in something other than mass destruction,"

"Hmm," the younger scientist grunted. He agreed that all scientists were constantly arguing with the government for more grants, and that Nathan Bridger had seen his share of battles over funding. The world's rulers insisted on squabbling over land or sea colonies when the real discoveries were right under their noses. "Your Commander Ford contacted us. He and his team should be arriving shortly."

"Thank you..."

"Will." He shifted his tray to shake the captain's hand.

"Will," Bridger repeated. "Take care." He moved away from the pillar toward the boys.


"Let's give this a shot," Lucas said, setting his fork on the tray with a clink. "Even if there is absolutely no empirical reason why it should work. If it even does, again." He held out both of his hands.

Jonathan glanced at them, then to his reflection in flesh. He set his fork down, suddenly tentative about the experiment, and touched palms with Lucas. The two brought their hands up to face level. Jonathan exhaled, closing his eyes.

Lucas followed suit. "We need to think of where we want to go."

"Anywhere but here."

"This is serious."

"I seriously want to be anywhere but here."

"We need to pick a safer place, then. Somewhere to see if we have any control over a destination." He opened one eye. "And someplace cool."

Jonathan let his mind focus on the one place he'd had many happy encounters in his career as an actor and life as a boy. "Okay."

Bridger started when a ripple in the air caught his psi factor's attention. He watched the boys touch palms, close their eyes, and in a brilliant spur of light, disappear from sight.

"Where did they go?" Will yelled, rushing up from behind him.

"Off to save the world, I would imagine" Bridger said, the resignation and pride in his voice completely obvious. "Godspeed, boys."


"I mean, that was frikkin' amazing! I didn't even see the trick!" Swan jabbered, toeing the scattered crust of his friend on the concrete with his worn red Converse.

"It was just a trick, right? I didn't really..?" The girl couldn't even finish her sentence.

"Yeah, uh, Molly. He couldn't just disappear," the teacher laughed nervously. Fear of appearing totally insane would keep them quiet. He didn't quite believe it himself, and he'd done it already.

"Score one for SpaceCase E.S.P! Swan waved a skinny finger around. So, how do they..?"

"It's a trade secret – designed just for seaQuest by ILM," Mel said hastily.

"The guys who did the special effects for Star Wars? Hmm!" He raised his hands to cup his mouth. "Impressive, Brandis!" he yelled at the hidden parts of the garage. "When do they turn you into an Ewok?" He laughed. "Now, I'd pay money to see that!"

"They'd have to turn him into Greedo," the teacher covered.

"Oh yeah, right. Ewoks are fat." He shouted again, "Not rejects from the galaxy of anorexia!" No answer. "So where is he now? This is concrete. He didn't fall into a trap door."

"What you saw was a projection from Stage 25," Mel said quickly. "He was never really here, just an armature made of petroleum byproducts. The projector sends a light pattern through a special lens and we see the sound and silhouette of the actor here. Of course, he can't have any real physical interaction or the armature dissolves."

She lied so well, the teacher thought.

Molly breathed in relief. "And that's why he just crumbled like that. I get it."

Swan scratched his head. "I don't." He looked at the other two. "So why are you two all covered with tar?"

"It's an experiment," Mel said resolutely.

"I still don't get it.

Ray pushed them towards the door.

"And that's why you're the pupil and I'm the teacher." He grinned ridiculously. "Nice meeting you, Lindsay and Molly!"

Swan continued to look suspicious.

"Tell Brandis that I'll call him. Of course, he hasn't answered his phone for days. What, did he lose another one?"

If only you knew the half of it, the teacher thought as he closed the door on them.

He turned back to Mel.

"Nice recovery, but we still need to find Jonathan. Do you have any idea where he might have gone?"

Mel shook her head, grimaced at the sticky creak her hair made as it moved around her face.

"He might be anywhere. Maybe Lucas snagged him from the future. Maybe it was the other two." She sighed resignedly. "This could all be over and we don't even know it."

"Is there any way to track either of them?"

"From here? No. That last jump was just an educated guess. The real tracking equipment is in the future."

"Can we get there?"

"Maybe. The last attempt didn't go so well, as you saw."

"We'll have to improvise, then." The teacher said. "God only knows what trouble Jonathan and Lucas could get into with all of time as their toy."

Mel checked herself for her cell phone, which had joined Jonathan's in the tar pits. She crossed the room and gingerly picked up the wall phone, knowing that she would have to clean it after she'd used it.

"Anica? Mel. Sudden change of plans."

XVIII

The column of ash constantly built, collapsed, then spread in all directions, burying everything for hundreds of square miles in overlapping deposits of dense, choking dust and obscuring any observation of the ever-growing caldera of Mt. Saint Vibiana from anywhere further than ten miles except for the occasional flare of deep-red, the pulse of its infernal heart, and streaks of lightning from the static in the atmosphere deep within roiling black clouds.

Since the eruption of the secondary vent in Brentwood in 2028 and the complete destruction of the observation stations all along the ruins of Wilshire Boulevard, and then, as a final insult, the subduction of the layered rock upon which the abandoned Rockefeller Observation Center had once stood, no one ventured beyond the entrance to the blasted San Fernando Valley except at it's furthest northern end, fifteen miles away, and then, only to retrieve samples or take measurements. The collapse of the blackened hillsides on either side of the San Diego Freeway had made passage south impossible, in fact, to anyone or anything. The volcano had quite successfully sealed itself off from the rest of the world, north, south or east, and with it, whatever remained of the City of Angels. Eventually, through massive earthquakes and shifting crust, all of the southern half of California would slip beneath the continental plate and disappear forever, swallowed by the ravenous maw of the dully rumbling mountain of fire that spewed from the place that had once been a cathedral in the fractured chessboard of what had once been a thriving city, and leaving the scarred talon of Mt. Wilson an island overlooking an eternally writhing volcanic sea.

Beyond the Santa Monica Mountains to the north along the coast, the damage had been less severe, prevailing winds keeping the worst of the murderous dust from ever settling, though a constant towering wall of deep gray filled the southern sky as a warning of the inevitable future and the ground rarely kept still from the heaving death throes of the shattered coastal plain. Along Nicholas Canyon Beach there were even a few stubborn frontiersmen who risked the certainty of obliteration from a sudden change in wind direction by remaining there, though their numbers decreased weekly as the hour of inevitable doom approached.

Even the most foolhardy have some sense, after all.


Just a half-mile in from the mouth of the canyon, a circular breeze rustled in the dry grasses before Nick and Dave appeared from a short burst of light.

"Ah yes, the sweet smell of home," Dave said, sniffing the acid-tinged wind and walking towards the hidden entrance to a cave. Flotsam from the last few tsunamis almost blocked the entrance, but the reinforced doors had held.

"Well, the air in Derry was a little better. Of course there was that homicidal demon."

Nick entered a code on the thick steel door and it opened inward with a hiss. A waft of cold, pressurized air met them as they entered.

Nick hit a wall panel and the lights flickered on.

"Site A," he sighed. "Home again, home again."

"A hovel is a hovel, by any other name," Dave grumbled. "Is there anything to eat? I'm rather peckish."

Nick flinched, but said nothing. The Anglicisms had worn thin long ago. Still, he had to keep the moron around. At least for the moment.

"Well?" Dave sounded irritated. His voice echoed in the cavern.

"I don't know. I… We haven't been back here in a while. Maybe you'll find some peanut butter and scones next to the rat-poison. I can't remember."

"Neither can I, so I'll assume that you're once again demonstrating your brilliance of forethought."

"Feed your pie-hole later. We need to find Wolenczak."

"Will you be able to calibrate this anachronistic junk-pile any better than the one at Universal?"

"This is the prototype. Look. It still has the name and serial numbers on the newest additions."

Nick tried not to seem interested as he looked past the huge, pitted double prism to the human interface pod. The faded yellow lettering was still legible, even after all of this time.

United Earth Oceans

3600 M 0200

seaQuest DSV

2018


Hitchcock grumbled irritably as Dr. Westphalen attached yet another patch to her skin.

"Is there anyplace else you want to wire up?"

"Lieutenant Commander, we must make absolutely certain that you're covered for any possibility. These are just temperature monitors. Think of them as…" she swept a hand elegantly through the air, "little decorated bandages with filaments attached to them." She patted the last of the series to Hitchcock's forehead, confident that they would be able to monitor every change in the woman's metabolic functions now.

"Just imagine yourself as a very expensive Christmas tree."

They'd almost filled the cave with new equipment and personnel, all focused on her and the rhythmic pulsing of the time machine, which took up relatively little space for all of its incredible capabilities.

Hitchcock looked down at her body, trapped in the hastily-built operator's chair and its added electronics, most of which they'd requisitioned from their ship stores. Cables came from the seat below her, routed through the interface they'd brought from the seaQuest and into the headpiece she had used for the h-r probe. Instead of the sleek, ergonomic design of the original, however, this version included recently soldered-on circuits, unpainted parts and badly cut-out plastic sections over tangles of multi-colored wiring. This was in addition to all of the medical equipment: heart rate observations, electrical measurements, neural transmission gauges, blood-pressure checks, respiration rate monitors and skin conduction analysis to which she had been connected, and the re-wired probe gloves which now weighed at least four times as much as before.

She felt like an opened WSKRS.

"It could be worse," Tim O'Neill said from his post at one of the monitoring tables.

"Really, Tim? She said. "How?"

O'Neill looked up from the variously-sized screens he had in front of him and just stared at her. It really couldn't.

"It could be human-powered," Le Conte said, "or run by a giant hamster-wheel."

Even the technicians laughed at this and Hitchcock relaxed.

O'Neill, on the other hand, was almost ecstatic, in his element, multi-tasking, four screens monitoring their progress, the position of the seaQuest, their energy consumption, and Le Conte's computer equipment, and listening in to his direct short-wave connection to the ship's bridge via a headset.

His eyes flicked over the read-out from the mysterious scientist's data. He had another in a series of epiphanies.

"With the data we downloaded from Lucas added to Dr. Le Conte's, if you regulated the output and filtered the signal correctly, you could probably use a large-scale LC screen or even a huge natural crystal to get a pretty reasonable visual display." He caught the startled expressions of the others. "Uh, that's just my take on the one possibility."

Le Conte laughed quietly. "I've never thought it necessary to add a visual element to this equipment, Mr. O'Neill. When we have more time, I'd certainly like to find out if you're right. You can be my eyes."

O'Neill felt flattered.

"Well, sir. You might pick someone less myopic."

"First, gentlemen, let's find out if this is going to work at all," Hitchcock said from her chair.

"Remember, Lieutenant Commander. We're only trying to locate the boys now," Bridger's voice came over the speaker from the ship where he monitored the situation. "We'll only try to retrieve them if we think they're in trouble."

"Right, sir!" Hitchcock responded immediately. "I'll also try to locate the two responsible for the anomaly if I can."

"You're certain you're willing to take the risks associated, Lieutenant Commander?" Bridger's professional sternness barely masked his concern.

Hitchcock allowed herself a smile, looking at the snarl of wiring around her.

"I'm feeling pretty secure, Captain."

"I should hope so," Westphalen whispered.

"We're just about ready, Captain Bridger," O'Neill said quietly, licking his lips. He finished feeding the new data stream into the existing software, seeing them integrate in a rapid flash of alphanumeric symbols. The small cursor on his main monitor flashed Ready. He let out a breath. "That was fast."

"Lucas is very good at what he does, Mr. O'Neill. You of all people should know that," Westphalen said proudly.

"Your Mr. Wolenczak is a very extraordinary young man," Le Conte mused. "I think, perhaps he's destined for an even greater adventure."

Hitchcock checked her connection to the machinery once more before settling in. She had the main juncture in her hand.

"Here it goes."

Immediately she jerked in the chair, startled by the sounds of raucous guitar through the headpiece. The virtual display blasted into life in front of her.

"JONATHAN N' LUCAS R STUDZ!" The script floated before her in multiple colors, repeating on an endless loop and surrounded by waves of white noise and distorted guitar riffs.

"Lieutenant Commander?" The doctor jumped towards her.

Hitchcock brought her hand up and cut the connection.

"There's a lockout." She brought a thumb up to her forehead, meeting one of the numerous plastic discs attached there. "And a noisy one."

"Nothing of my own doing," Le Conte said, shaking his head. "Perhaps young. Wolenczak thought to take extra precautions should the data fall back into the hands of your current nemeses."

O'Neill surveyed three of the screens.

"Yes. He's requiring a password. 18 characters."

"That could be anything, given Lucas' imagination." Dr. Westphalen counted on her fingers. "Not 'mammal research', not 'analytical cyber-stud'." She saw their amused glances. "He is, after all, still a teenage boy, despite all of his talents."

"Mr. O'Neill?" Bridger's voice came calmly from the speakers.

"Captain?"

"Let's be less predictable. What does the lockout message have to say?"

Hitchcock pursed her lips.

"'Jonathan and Lucas are studs', sir." She glared at O'Neill who kept a straight face by willpower alone. "I didn't create the message, sir."

"The message is a clue, Lieutenant Commander. Lucas wouldn't leave us with a puzzle that we couldn't solve. It has something to do with both of them."

"Maybe something simple, like 'Jonathan and Lucas'?" Westphalen offered. "It has eighteen characters, with spaces."

O'Neill entered the password. The guitar raised in volume, coming out of his headphones loudly enough to be heard by the others in the room. The message continued to flash on all of the screens.

"Obviously something else," Le Conte said, walking towards the displays, though he could only hear them. He tilted his head. "What piece of music is this?"

O'Neill listened for a moment.

"The Joker by Steve Miller?" he said finally. He shrugged. "I'm sorry. I'm a 70's music aficionado."

"Maybe a combination?" Westphalen offered again. "One part from Lucas' life, one part from Jonathan's."

O'Neill sat upright suddenly. The epiphanies were coming fast and furious today.

He typed in Lucas' Internex gaming screen name, 'Frankenstein' a slash, and then 'Joker'

The screen cleared.

"Try it now, Lieutenant Commander."

"Great work, Tim," Hitchcock whispered, lowering the synthetic crystal visor over her eyes. "We're in."

"You'll have to write the password down for me, Mr. O'Neill," Le Conte said. "Preferably in very large letters."


The machinery thrummed and the huge prism began to glow dully, lighting up the cavern, patterns appearing in the matrices.

"Have we got them?" Dave asked nervously.

"It takes a while for this equipment to get synced up. It's not reverse-engineered like at the Universal site." He patted the brass, ball-shaped control reverently. "No, this is the original." He watched as the patterns within the prism grew steadier and more distinct. "They had no idea what they were unleashing by building this."

"Us?" Dave sniffed.

"That was an unfortunate byproduct."

"Speak for yourself."

"I'd much rather speak for both of us, but that's going to take time."

"Time." Dave laughed. "We have that. We have all we could ever need." He watched the drifting globes of light solidify and take on their assigned numbers.

"So bloody melodramatic. Why don't you twirl your handlebar moustache for effect?" Nick snapped, as he sat in the control seat and put on the gloves. "Here's where it gets slippery."

Dave gave it his snottiest mock-British intonation. "Slip'ry?"

"Difficult, then. Like you."

"I quite enjoy being a thorn in your side. It's my raison d'être."

"It's so charming to know that you can be an ass in numerous languages." Nick considered for a few seconds. Seeing the unattractiveness of the characteristic had been an eye-opener, at the very least. He'd have to make some definite changes when all of this was over and everything back where it belonged. "I have the neural interface to use this particular device, but you have the spatial relations skills, so I'll have to depend upon you to accurately guide some of the procedures while I relay what I see."

"I'm touched that you trust me…"

"Of course I don't. There's just no other way ─ right now."

Dave gave his most insincere sneer.

"It's a good thing that we're mutually dependant on each other then, or who knows what one of us might do?"

"Whatever plot you're hatching will have to wait. Try to remember that you can't hide anything from me."

That remains to be seen, Dave thought, saying nothing.


The vertigo disappeared quickly as Hitchcock became the first to navigate the virtual world of the time machine visual display. She was surrounded now by drifting, dim globes of various light shades, each labeled with small raised dots that she could feel by running her fingertips over them.

"Do we know which of these…icons…represent the boys?"

Le Conte pondered the problem for a moment.

"Lucas would be some variant of 1018 and Jonathan would be 194. That represents their points of origin. The rest is purely up to where and when they've traveled or what intersect they've followed. They'll probably be in the same place, as Captain Bridger said that they both disappeared from the volcano observation center together."

"What color sphere am I looking for?"

Le Conte gave a wry smile. "I don't have much use for colors, as you would probably assume, Lieutenant Commander. My display was almost totally tactile. Mr. Wolenczak has added whole new dimensions to my research. This is all uncharted territory. What are your choices?"

Hitchcock perused the virtual landscape, thinking it looked like a field of oddly-aligned, glowing, drifting, poorly-dyed Easter eggs against a dark gray background.

"Lavender, robins-egg blue, rose, apricot, and lime-green. They're all very pale."

"At the bottom of the field you should find a navigation menu. I'm sorry, but it's in Braille, as are all of the prompts."

O'Neill perked up. "Give me a minute. I can fix that."

Hitchcock felt a shock.

He'd entered some keystrokes causing the menus and labels in front of her to flash immediately to alphanumeric and the spheres to blazingly vibrant hues.

"Tim, please warn me first before you do something like that again," Hitchcock said gruffly. "Try to remember that you're readjusting my brain along with the equipment."

"Sorry sir. Heat of the moment."

"It's all right. You're proving a pretty good stand-in for Lucas," Hitchcock laughed.

O'Neill tried not to beam too much. He was only doing his job.

"Your vital signs are all well within the safe limit, Lieutenant Commander," Westphalen said. "In fact, they're remarkably stable. This interface is operating perfectly."

Hitchcock reached out into the streams of time, using her other hand to change the view so that she could see the layers representing the different times that were currently involved. It was, as O'Neill had suggested, very much like navigating the h-r probe through the ocean. She couldn't find the unique traces, however, of the missing young men or their pursuers.

"How are we doing, Lieutenant Commander?" Bridger's said from the bridge of the seaQuest.

Hitchcock sighed, raising her eyes to the seemingly limitless layer upon layer of virtual time streams. This was without considering the intersections with other realities, or the infinite number of tangents.

"This may take a while, sir."

"How much time do you think we have, Dr. Le Conte?" the captain asked.

"Well, Captain, there's a problem calculating an exact number. We're probably seeing a case of some time-dilation and compression, here."

"A kind of time distortion?" Westphalen offered.

"Yes. If a chrononaut ─ a time-traveler – goes backwards in time and space, the relative time for him or her remains constant; a running clock. A number of hours or days will appear to elapse for the traveler while only a few moments will pass at the point of origin. Traveling forward seems to do the converse, with a few minutes of the traveler's time being elongated to a greater time at the point of departure."

"Is that why it seemed that I was gone much longer than the few hours you experienced there?" Bridger said.

"Yes. We could probably devise a logarithm that could be used – certainly Mr. Wolenczak would be invaluable with that - but the experiments I've conducted so far haven't been of sufficient number to arrive at it. At least accurately."

Dr. Westphalen looked crushed. "So, we may never see the boys again if they've traveled into the future?"

"Possibly. For them it might seem a trip of a few hours, while for us, days, weeks, even years could go by." He mused on this for a few seconds. "Of course, they aren't using this device. They've either accidentally stumbled into some kind of rogue time experiment, or have created their own time/space anomaly somehow. In that case, there's no way for us to determine the possible side-effects on our relative perception. They could reappear spontaneously after weeks of travels for them, while only a few seconds have elapsed here." He sighed. "Or never return at all during our lifetimes."


"What are you doing now?" Dave whined impatiently.

"You should pay attention more often, Dave. You might actually learn something." Nick busied himself manipulating his virtual display. To Dave it appeared that he was just playing in the air. "I'm determining if enough time has passed in the boys' relative space so that we can eliminate our opposition in 2018."

Dave smiled now, truly pleased.

"Let me know when we're ready to strike."

"Yes, of course. Wolenczak's upgrades had already been installed by October of 2018, and I thoroughly believe now that his improvements are what have made all of this possible for us. If my calculations are correct…"

"That would be new!" Dave sniffed.

Nick ignored him.

"If I'm right, then I'm clear to initiate the next phase of my…our plan."

He nodded, never taking his eyes from the display. He checked his stock of stored 'surprises', each meticulously kept separate from the time streams, and then selected one by nudging it out of its loop with a fingertip, like rolling a small tangerine along a tabletop. He moved his eyes back and forth across the various time streams until he found the label for what he wanted, RL830B.

"We also know that the seaQuest went missing with all hands in spring of 2020, and that it hasn't been heard from since." He nudged the 'tangerine' a little closer to its target. "So we'll just advance that date by a year or so, only this time what's left of the UEO's flagship will be spread all over the Pacific Ocean." He looked past the display at Dave, who was positively ready to burst with excitement. "We're doing everyone involved a favor. Lachance will get his revenge, we'll be free to pursue our own agenda, and all of those families will have…uh… What word am I searching for?"

"Closure?"

"Yeah! I see that you're also the poetic part of this little chimera."


Hitchcock pursed her lips in frustration.

"Tim, this can't be right!"

"What's the problem, sir?"

"I've found what I think are Lucas and Jonathan, but I've also found duplicates of them, or at least their traces, in two other times. There!" She pointed to a place in the air before her. "They've moved again. Now it's three places at once."

Le Conte nodded quietly. "Phantom traces. Your Mr. Wolenczak is even brighter than I gave him credit for."

"Tobias?" Bridger said.

"He's given his pursuers some false trails to follow. Let's hope that he's been thorough enough about hiding his real trail."

"Which signals are the real ones, then?" Hitchcock said, looking at the widely-separated signals.

"Just keep an eye on them, Lieutenant Commander."


"Are we ready? Do you need my help?" Dave paced the stone floor.

Nick grinned beneath the unwieldy helmet.

"No. I think I've got this particular task under control. Let's send Mr. Lachance his reward for helping us; an insignificant little black hole." He gingerly picked up the small orange icon and dropped it onto the violet sphere representing Lachance. The machinery hummed louder and the crystal began to pulse with energy.

Dave laughed cruelly. "'Bye-bye, French fry'."


Ivan Gregorivich took a break from his plowing and rested on the worn handle of his plow, taking off his hat and wiping his ruddy forehead with the back of his hand. His wife, Natalya, had been on him for weeks to clear this part of their land of trees, but the job was backbreaking and seemingly endless, even after he had softened the ground around the trees with his plow. Too many trees! The towering forest stretched limitlessly in every direction, the tiny plot of land he'd managed to clear over the past few months dwarfed by the surrounding ancient stands of trees.

He pulled a small flask from his coat and took a drink of vodka, feeling the warmth flooding through his system. Perhaps there were some positives in being so far from civilization, one of which was his opportunity to choose not to work for a while if he wanted.

"Long live Tsar Nicholas!" he said, tipping the flask at the sky. "May he remain as close to us as he has always been! Strovya!" He took another long drink. His dapple horse shook its head, anxious for some reason. "You don't like the Tsar, my friend? I like the Tsar just fine – I am glad he is fine far away from here!"

"Ivan Gregorivich!"

His wife. His mood was ruined now.

"What is it, Natalya? Can't you see I'm working?" he shouted at the figure that approached determinedly across the cleared field, her thick, dark clothes like a stain on the late spring green of the wheat.

"I know you, Ivan! You aren't doing anything about all of these trees! How are we supposed to plant if these trees are in the way?"

"Woman… Why do you insist on plaguing me with questions no one can answer?"

Her pinched face became redder as she approached him.

"Why aren't you pulling them out, then? They will not move themselves! We must get all of this planting done before the end of spring!"

"Natalya, douschka… An act of great God Himself could not move all of these trees before the end of spring!"

"He will appreciate a little help from you, then. And you would do well not to challenge God!" She crossed her arms raising her bosom defiantly. Life in the wilderness had made her one very tough podsolnechnik. "Why do you rest? There will be time enough for rest in your grave."

"I am tired. I work from sunup until sundown…"

She waved him off dismissively.

"You are looking to me for sympathy? My work is never done! Cleaning, cooking, sewing, planting, reaping… It's a wonder I have not simply died from exhaustion! I should have married Igor Istoyevski and gone with him to Verkhoyansk. There, at least, I would have a proper household and neighbors!"

"Ach, but there are as many liars in Verkhoyansk as there are trees here in Siberia, and as many putting on airs as there are hairs on your head! Igor Istoyevski! Bah! He would not have given you any better life than I have, only more expensively and with city gossip! Look around you. What more could you want than this?" He waved a hand at their land, scraped yard by yard from the unyielding forest, but theirs alone, (and Tsar Nicholas's, of course.)

She relented at last, her arms still crossed.

"Fewer trees." She gestured. "Get busy, Ivan!"

Ivan shaded his eyes, looking into the sky where a trail of white descended in the distance. Before he could open his mouth a tremendous blast of energy knocked him, his wife, his horse, his plow, his house, and everything surrounding them flat with a flash, a wall of wind, and a roar that went beyond deafening.

He stood up, dusting himself off and then ran to his wife, who painfully rose herself.

"Douschka! Are you hurt?"

"What?" She shook her head, black dirt showering from her in a cloud. She stumbled towards him, dazed.

"Douschka..? He put his arms around her and held on, the ringing in his head slowly subsiding. As she put her head on his shoulder he looked past her to the forest.

It was gone.

Not a few trees, all of them.

In every direction as far as he could see, the huge trees lay flat on the ground as if a giant's hand had simply swept them all down in one blow. Far in the distance he saw an eerie sight – a vast cloud shaped like a mushroom which rose lazily into the blue sky.

His land had been cleared in an instant, enough lumber and firewood to last him many lifetimes, provided by…

He crossed himself. He should never have doubted the power of fate.


Hitchcock looked puzzled.

"Is there a problem, Lieutenant Commander?" Dr. Westphalen came to her side.

"One of the spheres, a violet one, just…vanished."

"Lucas or Jonathan?" The doctor asked breathlessly.

"Neither. Their icons are all still there, even whichever ones are false. This one was… Mr. O'Neill, can you determine which one just vanished?"

"Yes." O'Neill checked the record. "A sphere labeled RL830B." He looked at the other scientists. "Is that anything familiar?"

Le Conte tilted his head. "An 830 origin date? It was someone or something from 2030. Maybe one of the men who initiated this current crisis?"

O'Neill continued his check. "The target date was early in the 20th Century in the northern Russian Confederation. What would they be doing there?"


"Target eliminated," Nick said, moving the visor from his face. He sat still for a moment, looking around the cavern. "Well, this is good."

"What is?"

"We're still here, so destroying the seaQuest early didn't alter our timeline significantly or create a temporal paradox."

Dave snickered and shook his head.

"Ah, brother, you really don't have any perception of any kind, do you?"

"What are you talking about?"

Dave pointed to the drifting spheres enclosed in the prism.

"You've eliminated a target in 1908. SeaQuest is still there in 2018."

"But…"

"It was on another time stream plane but along the same axis. You couldn't see the difference because, as you so kindly pointed out, you aren't the one with spatial relations abilities."

"So what did we destroy?"

"Several hundred thousand square miles of Pre-Revolutionary Russian wilderness." He looked more closely at the display. "Tunguska, Siberia. Congratulations."

Nick felt disturbed, not by the devastation he'd just caused, but because he'd shown weakness in front of Dave.

"Not important, then," he covered. "We'll simply allow Wolenczak to get back to his ship and seize him there, then trade him for another nasty surprise."

"Why? If the seaQuest's science team never managed to interfere with our plans, in spite of surviving past this attempt, there's no need to destroy them."

"They annoy me." Nick slipped the visor back on. "The ship's very presence is an insult to me. That's reason enough."

Dave laughed.

"You're learning to be as vindictive as I am, brother! Maybe there's hope for you after all!"

Nick thought for a moment. "If we didn't destroy Lachance, then his targeting signal must have been altered." He looked at the various spheres drifting in front of him, now knowing that his lack of depth perception had to be addressed, and he would have to allow Dave to help. "Wolenczak must have altered more than just one marker – likely his and the Brandis boy's, Lachance's, and who knows how many more?"

"And that means?"

Nick sighed irritably. Having to constantly explain himself to his ─ whatever Dave was ─ had become more than tiresome long before.

"That means that he may have modified the targeting program to miss the two of them entirely, or altered the scanning parameters so it locks on certain signals only. Ours, for instance."

"So you might have potentially vaporized us and the whole west coast of California by accident?"

"A minor inconvenience."

"I suppose you'd consider having the entire planet consumed by a comet or something a little hiccup?"

"We'll just have to be more…discreet." He studied the display for a moment. "We made it fairly impossible for them to avoid us for too long. The marker is in their bloodstreams by now. It won't cause them any significant harm." He smiled. "I realize how much you want to do that."

"You know me far too well."

"Yes, I would, unfortunately. We'll watch the activity for a while and determine which markers are the actual targets."

"And then?"

He sighed again, and rubbed his eyes. "Then we'll bring them here!"

"And if we can't determine which are the real signals?"

"We'll bring all the versions here, one at a time, until we get the right one." He watched his 'twin' pace, upset. "Learn some patience, Dave. Just as you said, we have all the time we could ever need."


"They've moved again…maybe," Hitchcock said, following the dissolving violet spheres that she believed represented the authentic Jonathan and Lucas. She assumed that the spheres that didn't remain fixed for long must be the ones that were actively shifting in time and space, and thereby, must be their crewman and the boy actor. "I wish Lucas hadn't deleted the history. We could find out where he went a lot more quickly."

"Exactly, Lieutenant Commander," Le Conte said. "And so could their pursuers. Lucas was thinking ahead. Now, at the very top of the display, there should be a year, if not an exact time. Can you tell us where they just were…uh…are?"

Hitchcock used her thumb to mark the place, slipped forward into the time stream and drifted parallel to it upward, as if surfacing from the sea. The display stood above her head like an advertisement hung in space.

"They were in RL372A."

"No exact location?"

"This is uncharted territory for me too, Dr. Le Conte. I'm not certain how to figure that part out. Somewhere in the US."

"All right. Now, can you find where they've gone?"

She allowed the display to work for her this time, turning around in the virtual time streams and gliding across them carefully. She saw the two new violet spheres below her. "RL174A, also in the US."

"That's before either of them was even born," O'Neill said, using his PAL to access a history database. "No major significance I can find in either date." He looked up. "Of course, that's according to our history. Jonathan's may be very different."

"Some sort of summit meeting then," Westphalen offered, "between scientists in Jonathan's reality? Maybe a gathering of physicists studying temporal matters?"

"Something of historical importance to Jonathan," O'Neill nodded, satisfied.


"Unhhh…" Lucas groaned in the darkness.

"Shhh…" Jonathan said from his side. "Oh, my head!" He lay on his back, slowly letting his eyes acclimate to the dark. At least it had been a fairly soft landing this time.

"Unhhh…" Lucas groaned again. Jonathan heard his lips smack. "What is that disgusting taste?"

Jonathan licked his own teeth.

"Cigars. Swisher Sweets, I think."

"Cigars?"

"And…" He licked his teeth again. "Nacho cheese."

"You eat cigars with cheese in your reality?"

"Nah. Tortilla chips." He tested his mouth again. "Yup. I can still taste 'em."

"What's that other smell, then?"

Jonathan closed his eyes, hoping that the dark might yield something if he just waited it out. In the meantime, he tried sniffing experimentally. Yes, there was a very distinctive odor around them, exuding from their pores, in fact.

"Rum. Captain Morgan, no Myers. Expensive stuff. And cola."

"Rum?" Lucas considered for a second. "How is it you know so much about rum?"

"Let's just say that I don't spend my off-time making conversation with a dahlphin,"

"What the hell did you get us into?" Lucas groaned again, curled up on the soft spot they'd landed. "What is all of this?" He reached out and touched the surface below him –which yielded stubbornly. Cloth? He gently clutched his reeling skull. "And what did you do to my head?"

Jonathan recognized this sensation, at least.

"Hangover, dude. Myers packs a pretty mean hangover."

"You're telling me. Okay, where have we been, then, and for how long?"

Jonathan tried to collect his thoughts, but found it difficult at best. He remembered sitting at a table in his boxers playing poker, shooting pool, a smoldering mini-cigar propped in his teeth, yelling at girls on the street from an open widow on the third floor and tossing them necklaces of colored beads, diving from the same window into a swimming pool, the sound of partying and jazz, lots and lots of food, gigantic animated heads on floats going by on the street below, and wall to wall people in skimpy costumes, all making incredible noise. The receding racket still made a dull rush in his head, drowning out almost every other sound but Lucas' groaning.

"Detour." He shook his head, feeling the mental fuzz slosh along with it. He'd recovered enough to try to sit up, regretted it quickly when the giddiness gripped him again and the rush rang even louder in his ears. "Oh shit!"

"Do I even want to know?" Lucas said, covering his eyes with both hands and trying to make the ground quit revolving below him. The bends couldn't be any worse.

"We're in the Old West," Jonathan whispered. "Well, my Old West, anyway. There's a horse asleep over there. By the door of that…stable."

"Huh?" Lucas sat up, looking at the place where Jonathan pointed. He had to shake his head to make his eyes stay focused on one place. A horse stood motionless in the dim light within its paddock. But there was something wrong. "Horses don't sleep standing up like that. That can't be a real horse."

"Let's not take a chance." He felt for his pants pockets, confused. "What are you wearing?"

Lucas touched his clothing for a moment. "Not the same clothes as a while ago. Feels like…" He investigated further. "Really short cargo-shorts and a T-shirt."

Jonathan reached into the pockets. He found keys, a wallet, a selection of square foil packages, a playing card, and a small box. Picking this up, he shook it. A box of wooden matches? He pulled one out and struck it on the side, cupping the flame with his hand to not disturb the horse.

"Mme. Sylvaine's Hôtel sur-la-Rue Market," he read from the matchbox. "We were in New Orleans."

"Why?"

"I don't know. You wanted someplace cool! I thought, maybe Disneyworld in Florida. I guess I didn't quite get us there." He blew out the match, sitting up. His balance barely held on the cloth surface. It felt like a badly-designed bed. He slid his leg out experimentally and suddenly was plunging through the air onto his face, followed by several folded squares of cloth.

"Ooof!"

"Jonathan!" Lucas was more careful, feeling for the ground before he jumped down from the low platform.

"I'm all right. Look. The horse didn't even move!"

Lucas weaved fearlessly to the horse, hesitated a moment, and then wrapped his knuckles against its head. It made a deep, hollow thunk.

"Plastic. Told ya. Horses don't sleep standing up."

Then where ─ and when ─ were they?

Jonathan lit another match and looked at one of the folded squares of cloth that had cascaded on top of him.

You are holding a Genuine pair of Levi's! the big label read.

Lucas had walked to the edge of the small paddock, peering into the darkness beyond. He could make out only a little, but he knew that they were indoors.

"We're inside a trading post," he said.

"We're at a store in a mall," Jonathan corrected him.

"But what time?"

"Night."

"You know what I mean! What year?"

"The matchbox said 1874, but I think it was just the date the place opened."

Lucas cautiously put one leg over the top wooden rail of the paddock and then dropped to the other side, landing on his back and rolling on the carpet. He encountered a wall of hanging clothing. He felt his way to the edge, hearing hangers on metal as they slid. Putting his arms out, he moved forward until he came to a counter, then, slowly navigated his way around to the back side.

"What are you doing?"

"Investigating. We need to find out where we are, to see if it's anywhere near where we were trying to get."

Jonathan stood up and pulled the sleeveless T-shirt back down over the shorts. He discovered he was wearing sandals as well, and a friendship string tied around his left ankle. He felt something bumping against his chest, too, dangling from a chain. He felt the object through the cloth, realizing what it was.

A huge round peace medal.

"Why couldn't you be Auryn?" he sighed. He gripped it anyway. "I wish…"

"Who's Oren? One of your gambling buddies?"

"AU-ryn. A-U..."

"Gold?"

Jonathan gave up. "And silver, yeah."

"There are light switches back here under the counter," Lucas said from a few yards away. "Should I see what they turn on?"

"No. Lights might bring security guards, or turn music on or something. What are you looking for, anyway?"

"Receipts."

"Are you returning something?" He laughed, despite his anxiety, which was greatly reduced by the leftover effects of the rum.

"For the date. They'd have the date on them."

"Oh. Yeah. Of course." He felt really stupid. "I think we're in the 1960's or 70's in my reality."

Lucas had found a trash can and was rifling through it, picking out small pieces of paper, which he stuffed into his waistband. The cargo-shorts had been made for someone a lot bigger, no matter how brief they were, and they almost slipped off.

"Why aren't you fatter?"

"What?"

"These shorts are barely staying up!"

Jonathan felt his own waist, finding a two-inch thick belt through the big loops. The buckle was in the shape of an unfamiliar, pointed leaf.

"Welcome to the world of gone-ass," Jonathan said, experimentally moving his own shorts back and forth.

"Is that your home planet?" Lucas said irritably as he came back to the place where Jonathan stood, snagging a belt from a display on the way.

"Kinda, yeah," he answered back. He could see well enough to know that the 'stable' he'd noticed before was a wall of changing rooms. "I bet they have lights in there, and probably on a different circuit, so we can see without lighting the whole place up."

"Maybe we can just light a campfire," Lucas said sarcastically.

"Tell ghost stories and make S'mores. Yeah, sure." He walked towards the row of doors.

"S'mores?" Lucas said under his breath, "Is that what people on gone-ass eat?" He followed him.

XIX

"Any luck with the other two? The pursuers?" Bridger asked.

"Not so far, sir. Maybe we're looking in the wrong place."

"They could have returned to their own time in the future," Le Conte said, "or maybe they've managed to beat the time dilation problems and they've returned to some time just before Lucas destroyed their device at the Universal complex. They could cause a time paradox, in that case, which could be disastrous for our reality."

Hitchcock looked at their own time stream. The spheres that she saw drifting placidly there didn't seem to have any kind of momentum. "Unless Lucas altered their signatures to match the captain's, there doesn't seem to be anything that doesn't belong in this time anymore." She had even seen the crushed orange sphere of the Tanystropheus where it continued disintegrating at the ruined amusement park, surrounded by clusters of other decaying orange spheres with various anomalous dates on them, but none bearing a helpful label.

"If he altered the pursuer's signals to match Jonathan's and his?"

Hitchcock checked hopefully, but the violet spheres she saw were all dull, as if they had been in place for some time. Only Captain Bridger's seemed different, brighter, from the recent movement across time and space. She shifted the perspective to look along parallel time streams. Nothing different for as far as she could see.

"What about in the other direction?"

Hitchcock shifted in the chair, hands held out in front of her as if swimming, her head shifting from side to side.

"Not within my scope, sir. Maybe Mr. O'Neill could devise some kind of search program."

O'Neill looked up when he heard his name. Possibly, with enough time, and maybe with a lot of Lucas's help. But he'd have to do it alone. Could he?

"I'll give it a shot, Captain," he said, and began calculations using the new parameters Lucas had downloaded into the software. "The blind leading the blind," he muttered to himself.


The fluorescent light above them flickered on, temporarily dazzling them both. Lucas pulled the door of the changing room shut, looking at the ceiling and wincing from the light.

"Looks pretty solid, floor to ceiling. I don't think anyone can see the light from outside."

Jonathan was staring at him.

Lucas looked down at his clothes.

He wore a huge, bright orange T-shirt emblazoned with a red BUDWEISER logo, and green shorts. He looked at Jonathan and tried not to laugh.

"What?"

He simply pointed.

Jonathan was wearing neon yellow shorts and a loose, lilac muscle-T with a phrase in French printed in looping script across the chest.

"What's it say?"

"I thought you studied French in school."

"Gar was my French teacher. I couldn't speak it if I had to!"

"Laissez les bons temps rouller." Jonathan looked at him blankly. "Let the good times roll."

Jonathan smiled, but seemed bothered by Lucas' appearance.

"Dude…"

"huh?"

"Dude, you look..!"

Lucas looked at himself in the full length mirror. Sometime during their last jump he'd dyed his hair brown. He also had a very deep tan. He looked at his arms, fascinated by the change. He'd rarely gotten a tan sitting in front of a computer monitor, even in Hawaii.

Jonathan looked at himself in the mirror, relieved that he hadn't changed as much, though he had begun working on his own tan as well. His hair, in fact, looked almost as healthy as usual, the damage done by the volcano, the tar, the kerosene, all seemingly gone.

"How long do you think we were in New Orleans?"

"Long enough to start a tan. Long enough to…"

He'd pulled out his wallet and saw that it was bulging with money.

Lucas' eyes went big.

"What'd we do? Hold somebody up?"

"I don't know." He looked at the ID card from the wallet. "It says I'm Robert Z. Tryon, age 21, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana." He squinted at the picture. "Damn, he even looks like me!"

Lucas reached into his own pockets, pulling out assorted detritus. He held out an entire fistful of condom packages.

"Well, at least we were prepared," Jonathan observed.

Lucas pulled out his own wallet, opening it. There was far less money bulging the seams, but it was still a considerable sum.

"Did we strike it rich or something? And what's with these colors?" He read his own ID card. "Michael J. Tryon, 21, Baton Rouge." He looked up at Jonathan. "We're identical twins?"

"Well, c'mon. What else could we be?" He snapped his fingers. "Gambling. We made all this money playing poker and pool!"

"I don't gamble!"

Jonathan allowed himself a smile.

"Well, obviously, I do!" He counted the money in the wallet. "And I must be pretty good." He remembered bits and pieces of their adventure, in fact, assuming the identities of the high-roller twins from Baton Rouge – who were expected in New Orleans for Mardi-Gras, 1972, and whose belongings had arrived before them. They'd had to keep up the act for a while, behaving like wild, vacationing college students until they could slip away. That part hadn't been too hard.

It had been quite a detour.

Lucas pulled the receipts from his shorts, dropping them to the floor where he spread them out.

"1974. We're in January, 1974. Sunday, January 13."

"Cool!" Jonathan said happily, before he'd thought it out and dialed back his enthusiasm. "I mean, that we can pick a location."

"Did you pick this year?"

"Well… I've always wanted to live in the 1970's."

Lucas buried his head in his hands. "We might as well be in the stone age!"

"Well, now we know when we are, let's find out where."

Lucas studied the receipts again. "Howard and Phil's?"

"Western wear. Yeah, that sorta explains the plastic horse."

"At Northridge Fashion Center."

Jonathan's mouth dropped open. He was within four miles of home.

Well, four miles and twenty years.

"You've been, then?"

"Been? Man, this is practically my back yard!"

"In 1974? Seems like a bit of a stretch. What, did your ovum come here to pick up girls?"

"Yeah, maybe," he said defensively. "I guess we should 'investigate'."

"Not dressed like this." Lucas lifted his arms, looking down at his gaudy early 70's garb. "Maybe this was okay for a New Orleans party, but I feel like a fashion-impaired kindergartner in these colors."

"You're right. We need to blend in – and not show so much…leg."

Lucas nodded at him, sneering. "Pretty scary."

"Let's get going. You find some pants, I'll find some shirts."

"Nothing too flashy. We need to be inconspicuous."

Fortunately, the store specialized in just the kind of fashion that could call little attention to itself if necessary, and wasn't easy to place as belonging to one particular era. Jonathan chose fitted, flared jeans ─ the shrink-to-fit would be too stiff – and Lucas chose a pair of Pendleton flannel shirts. The store lacking his favorite Doc Martens, (for the next decade and a half), Jonathan had to settle for pairs of hiking shoes. Their New Orleans winnings easily covered the price, which Jonathan stuffed under the cash register. They'd even figured out the 1974 sales-tax, courtesy Lucas's mental calculator.

They checked each other carefully, satisfied that they would pass as ordinary kids from the 1970's.


"These two," Nick said, gesturing with one hand.

Dave gazed into the pitted surface of the prism, not able to make out the dates on the spheres to which Nick pointed.

"Can't tell. Why use this ridiculous art object as a screen, anyway?"

"Until we can get a replacement, it'll just have to do."

"Couldn't you have gotten a better specimen."

"That's the conundrum, Dave. This crystal allowed me to move the plate rift causing the volcano, the volcano damaged the crystal before I'd found it. Chicken and egg."

"So we can't snag it from the pre-volcano time because..?"

"It wouldn't exist to use." He looked past the visor to Dave's consternation. "Don't strain yourself. It's complicated."

Dave looked the length of the 18-foot double prism. Its usefulness, he knew, was deeply affected by all of the damage it had received from Nick's errors – long before he'd even discovered it. The permutations and contradictions made his head ache.

But there was an upside to all of Nick's ham-fisted experimentation, at least for him.

"So… Can you make out any kind of label on those two spheres?"

Dave strained his eyes, leaned close to the surface of the prism. It made an audibly louder humming as he approached the crystal's matrices.

"Don't touch it. You don't know what could happen this time."

"Yes. We're both aware of that."

"Well, do you see anything?"

"Not really. The resolution isn't high enough and the spheres are too far in to really tell what they say."

"Wolenczak could help with that. An endless conundrum again. We need him to help us get him here to help us get him here…"

Dave snickered. "That is total gibberish. You quite put the 'mad' back into 'mad scientist', Nick."

Nick said nothing, but narrowed his eyes and smiled slowly, gazing at Dave. He changed his musing rapidly. Out of phase or not, Dave wasn't as thick as he appeared.


Jonathan and Lucas sat at a table at Don Ricardo's, a restaurant inside the mall, open early for breakfast. Various store-owners sat around them, talking about Gerald Ford and inflation. Lucas was carefully getting every last morsel of the Huevos Rancheros he'd ordered. Real food was so incredible. Jonathan didn't know how good he had it. But he could barely see his plate.

"Why is it so dark in here if it's daytime?"

"They didn't believe in light, or something, in this mall. It was always really dark until the remodel in the 1980's. Like a submarine. No offense." Jonathan lifted his cup of coffee, continuing to cast his gaze nervously around them, washing down the last sugar packet he'd consumed. "I guess they figured that if you couldn't see the prices, you wouldn't know how expensive the place was." His eyes flicked anxiously around them.

"Stop acting like such a rube," Lucas whispered. "You're gonna make everyone notice us." He kept sweeping his fingers through his now-dark hair, trying to make it flatter, like the hair he saw on the other 70's inhabitants. So far, he and Jonathan were about the most conservatively dressed people in the restaurant. It bounced back into its usual controlled disarray.

Jonathan came to a sudden realization. He didn't have to be so cautious. He was completely anonymous here. No one knew who he was. In fact he hadn't even been born. Who was on the covers of all of those teen magazines now, he wondered. Maybe David Cassidy or Leif Garrett, wearing tie-dyed hip-huggers and Madras shirts with gigantic collars, like something from a mutant episode of The Partridge Family.

"What time is it?"

He looked at the wall-clock.

"9:50 AM. The mall's opening soon. Maybe we can try to move through…you know…before too many people are around." He gestured with his shoulders, one finger twirling over his new watch, being ridiculously obvious by trying not to seem obvious.

"Where would be the best place?"

"Suncoast Video on the upper level, down by Sears. We could check the mall out, walk down there, get between the display racks…"

"Videos? As in VHS cassette home video? In 1974? Unless your reality is a lot different than mine, there won't be a video store here for a really long time."

Jonathan heaved a sigh. He was right. No one but television networks commonly had VCR's in 1974.

"Wait," Lucas thought. "You said Sears?"

"Yeah. It takes up the whole other end of the mall in the 90's."

"Well, there you go. Sears has been around for more than a hundred years. It's already here, for sure."

"Let's try it," Jonathan said.

They walked carefully up the nearly empty gallery toward the center of the mall, feeling the dark, coffered ceiling pushing oppressively down on them. Even the circles of light from the ceiling did little to relieve the claustrophobic closeness. The area nearby was a lot brighter.

Jonathan hooked his thumbs in his thick belt and strode purposefully along. He could act as if he belonged, anyway. They emerged into the lighted area.

"Oh…" was all he could say.

The court in front of the Bullock's consisted of a gigantic room shaped suspiciously like a vertical can, with a silver tunnel on the north side leading to the next level. The area itself bore a creepy similarity to the white space they'd been banished to so many times already, except that there was a huge double prism sitting in the middle of the white marble floor, the only object in the cavernous space. A tiny oblong window in the ceiling let outside light in, casting rainbows on the featureless, curved walls.

"What kind of material is that made of?" Lucas asked, moving towards the prism, hands behind his back.

"Hell if I know."

"It's not here in your time?"

Jonathan shrugged. He'd never seen it.

"This is totally different in '94. This is a kids' play area with a little train." He raised one closed hand and jerked it down, pretending to blow a train whistle.

Lucas walked as far as the circular guardrail, put out his spread fingers experimentally, but didn't touch the surface. He could see the distorted image of Jonathan through the polished crystal, surrounded by auras of rainbow light, his own ghostly reflection. If this material had a stable enough matrix and you introduced a stream of overcharged protons…

His eyes and mouth shot open.

Jonathan jumped forward.

"Oh, man! They gave you hallucinogens in your eggs! I told you to skip the mushrooms!"

"No! Wait! This is how they're doing it! This is how Nick and Dave can travel through time!"


"I think I've modified Lucas' software enough to try a search pattern," O'Neill said apprehensively. "We should be able to narrow down their pursuers' possible locations, by a few decades, at least," he laughed. His attempt at lightening the mood failed completely. According to Jonathan's story, someone wrote all of their lines and characters for them in his reality. They should have given the rest a better sense of humor.

"Remember, Lieutenant Commander, we're just observing," Bridger said.

"How will we know if they're in trouble, sir?" Hitchcock said, now moving week by week through the time streams and sweeping the ordered rows of spheres with her eyes.

"The pursuers will join their signal location. We can bring all of them here, then, and capture them." Le Conte seemed satisfied with the plan. "But we don't need to act unless you see that there are two pairs of signals clustered together."

"A mouse-trap, Lieutenant Commander," Bridger said.

"With Lucas and Jonathan the bait." She sighed and continued trying to find their spheres. She kept an eye on the two in 1974. So far they hadn't moved again.

"Are you ready, Lieutenant Commander?" O'Neill asked this time before initiating his new program.

"When you're ready, Mr. O'Neill." She braced herself as he entered the new parameters. Instantly the display in which she had immersed herself changed, the limitless columns of time streams reduced to a dozen or so, ordered intersecting lines crossing them.

"Successful?" O'Neill asked nervously, chewing his lip.

Hitchcock put one thumb up. Instead of having to search through an almost infinite number of potential times and places, they now only had to search a few handfuls. Given a little practice, she could probably find anyone or anything in any time or place. The possibilities for the misuse of this technology were staggering.

"This is a closed system, right, Dr. Le Conte?" she asked.

"Yes. My, uh…technology is unique for the…time."

"If Lucas' pursuers are from the future, they absolutely must never get their hands on Mr. O'Neill's improved search parameters. So after we finish here, we need to purge any trace of the new software from the system."

"I'll go further than that, Lieutenant Commander. I'll disable the device entirely."


"It's what makes time-travel possible!" Lucas was jabbering, pacing and gesturing wildly with his open hands. His voice echoed in the cavernous space, but no one else seemed interested in the wild, chestnut-haired young man.

"A flux capacitor?"

"A what?" Lucas stopped in his tracks.

"A..?" Jonathan made a little triangle in the air with one finger. "Never mind. What do you mean?"

"If you accelerated past the speed of light, even for an instant, theoretically you couldn't exist in this universe and you'd be out of phase with time – essentially disconnected from time and space, probably forever, if you didn't implode the whole universe with you."

"Uh huh."

"But if you could regulate the flow and direction of the motion, you could theoretically pick and choose where you'd re-enter once you decelerated, and time wouldn't matter. You could pick anywhere, past or future, and be instantly there."

"Uh huh."

"It would take some sort of stable matrix with the capacity to refract and reflect energy an infinite number of times – like a gigantic crystal prism. From outside of the matrix you could probably even chart the direction and velocity of the signal through time, move it from one time and place to another."

"Uh huh."

"And send someone or something backward or forward." His excited voice bounced off the white walls and returned in booming echoes.

"Uh huh…"

"You're just agreeing because you haven't got the slightest idea what I'm talking about, huh?"

"Uh huh." Jonathan had tried not to let his eyes cross. "The whole time you were talking, I was thinking that I left too big a tip at Don Ricardo's. I'm an actor. AC-TOR. I barely made it through geometry. Someone else even does my taxes."

Lucas puffed and ran his hands through his hair.

"You know how a ruby laser works, right?"

Jonathan nodded emphatically.

"Not the slightest clue. No."

"Okay." Lucas sighed. "You remember at Universal in my time there was a big thing that looked like a tulip?"

"Yeah."

"With wires and stuff coming out of it at the top and a 'landing pad' underneath?"

"Yeah. Big tulip and landing pad. Green. Yeah."

"That was a temporal cannon – a programmable time disruption device. There was probably a big crystal at the top of it just like this one."

Jonathan took a moment to absorb the information.

"So this...?"

"This whole room is just a giant, upside-down temporal cannon without the input device!"

"This big glass thing is a time machine?"

"Not by itself, no, but it's a big part of it. This crystal, or one exactly like it, is probably at the center of Nick and Dave's whole system."

"They built a time machine…out of a Bullocks?" He looked disappointed.

"What's wrong?"

"It's not nearly as cool as a Delorean."

Lucas ignored him, walking excitedly in a circle around the prism.

"You're making me dizzy. Stop!"

"So if you knew the exact crystalline structure…"

"Lucite," came a voice from behind them.

Jonathan and Lucas turned to the voice at the same time.

A skinny skater-looking kid of about their age and size with shoulder-length brown hair was staring at them. He was dressed in typical 70's fashion, tight blue and white striped jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt with an enormous collar, three buttons open, under which he had a string of puka shells. He also had on the same kind of hiking shoes that Jonathan and Lucas wore. But there was something even more familiar about him.

Jonathan felt a shock of recognition. Maybe he was just a skinny teenager, but there was no mistaking those eyebrows.

"Lucite?" Lucas said, continuing his circle. "Yeah, that would do."

"Luc… Michael," Jonathan hissed. "Ix-nay on the ysics-phay."

"Huh?"

"Shh!" Jonathan gestured stiffly at the other teen with his head.

"Lucite," the kid continued. "Two guys at Cal Tech, a physics major and an art major, made it for a final in 1970." He had the distinctive, slack-jawed, Valley-boy/surfer intonation.

"So you're…uh…interested in history?" Jonathan began, carefully.

"Nah, just information." He looked at the two of them. "Identical twins, right?"

"Yeah," Jonathan said. "Robert and Michael Tryon from Baton Rouge."

"Baton Rouge? Kewl!" He smiled sunnily. "Parlez-vous Français?"

Jonathan froze.

"Oui. Tous ma famille sont francophones," Lucas jumped in quickly. "My brother isn't so good." He even laid on a little Cajun sound to his speech pattern to complete the disguise.

"Ah. Bummer. I've been taking it at school for, like, three years." He shook his hair back. "Are you guys here for the movie?"

"The movie?" Jonathan said, still unnerved by the encounter.

"Shyah, at the NGC." The boy pointed to the entrance of the movie theater behind them. "Matinee." He shook his long hair back again, grinning.

"Uh, no," Jonathan mumbled. They had to be very careful what they said from here out. He knew that Lucas had no clue what sort of predicament they'd just walked into.

The young man held out a friendly fist.

"Ray. Ray Garcia."

Fortunately Jonathan had recently seen Dazed and Confused. He met the offered fist with his own, and they alternately tapped fists, slapped hands and then touched wiggling fingers. He looked the teenage version of his future teacher over. It felt incredibly surreal.

Lucas tried not to laugh, repeating the ritual just as he'd seen it, giving Jonathan an amused sidelong glance.

"Enchantez," he said quietly.

"Kewl!" the So-Cal, faux French-boy mumbled. He rocked a closed hand in front of his shoulder, thumb and little finger out; a Hawaiian 'hang loose' sign.

Lucas copied this as well, feeling a little like he was initiating first contact with some newly-discovered stone-age tribesman in New Guinea. When he looked sideways at Jonathan, he was controlling a smile and shrugging. They should act like the natives, right?

"You guys in school?"

"Yeah," Lucas jumped in, before Jonathan could say anything. "We're college juniors."

"Kewl! I'm going to CSUN next fall."

Lucas looked confused. Jonathan wanted to speak, but held his tongue.

"CSUN. Cal State University Northridge," Gar said. "Right up the street."

"Oh, yeah. I knew…know some people from there," Lucas said quickly. The people he knew from Cal State Northridge were all seismologists, and they had only visited the fault line there to study earthquakes and volcanism from the observation station that had closed permanently in 2015. "What's your major going to be?"

"English. I'm gonna be a teacher." He grinned proudly

Lucas smiled inwardly. "Good luck with that. I hope you only have good students." He rolled his eyes Jonathan's direction.

"Uh, we were on our way to Sears…" Jonathan began, gesturing in no direction, his hand still locked in the 'hang loose' sign.

The teenage Gar put his hands in his back pockets and rocked back on the heels of his waffle-stompers.

Lucas said nothing at first, observing the alien teenager like a junior anthropologist confronted with a living specimen of Australopithecus.

"We have a little time for research…'bro'."

"Uh, 'Mike'! We have to be careful about pollution."

"Pollution?" Lucas said distractedly.

"Polluting the stream." Jonathan smiled at the other teenager. "We dump a lot of crap into the stream back in Boca Raton."

"Baton Rouge," Lucas hissed at him.

"Uh, yeah. Right. Whatever," Jonathan groaned miserably.

"Dude, that's waaay bad. We all gotta take care of the environment." Gar nodded briskly, his head jostling like a car's rear-window toy. "I'm like, an official friend of the earth." He put his hand over his heart.

"Yeah? My brother Mike here is sort of an expert on the ocean. He knows that we can't make too many changes now, or we'll mess up the future." He pointed to the teenage teacher-to-be and then himself.

"I got you, 'Bobby'," Lucas agreed.

"Is this glass thing really that important?" Jonathan asked quietly.

Lucas surveyed the prism again. "It could be. If the one in that ─ other place ─ was destroyed by…was destroyed, then it means that Dr. Le Conte must be using another one. If we knew exactly where this one is…know...will know…" He rubbed his face in frustration. It was bad enough that the physics and logic were about as wonky as he could conceive, but now he had to talk in code. "What I mean is…I wish there was some way to get a message back to the…right place."

"Back to Baton Rouge?" teen Gar asked innocently.

"Something like that," Lucas said cheerfully, starting to walk in the wrong direction.

"This way, uh…Mike," Jonathan called.

"You guys not sure where you are?"

"Yeah… we're sort of strangers here," Jonathan said. Ain't that the truth, he thought.

"You gotta go over there!" the other teen pointed, exposing the biggest leather watchband Jonathan had ever seen behind a bright red, metallic watch face.

He stopped himself from saying, yeah, I know that, by biting down on his tongue.

"Après-vous, les jumeux Louisianes," Gar said with his distinct Valley-boy accent.

Jonathan looked desperately at Lucas.

"Emmenez-nous, s'il vous plaît," he said flawlessly, sweeping a hand toward the mall.

Teen Gar started loping off in the direction of the Sears, looking like a parody of a 70's teenager, hands in his pockets and skinny elbows bouncing like chicken wings.

Lucas gestured to Jonathan to come along. "Suives-moi!"

"Qu'est-ce que Didier et François sont en train de faire?" Jonathan muttered, trying to remember any more French than the rote sentences he had memorized without ever really knowing their meaning. "Speak English. This is weird enough already."

"Follow him," Lucas whispered, waving one hand gracefully.

"Yeah? If we mess up the time stream too much, we could change the future and maybe I'll never graduate – or get a license, or maybe now he'll grow up to raise pandas in prison, or something!" Jonathan whispered back.

"So… what do we do, just ditch him?"

Jonathan thought for a moment.

"No. So far we're safe. He won't remember anything about us – except that we're twins, because he's had this weird thing about twins since he read that book about 'em in 1971. Besides, I might have an idea. Come on."

They passed an assortment of mid-70's shops, all with garishly colored clothes displayed on stark white, faceless plastic manikins wearing fluorescent Afros, surrounded by day-glo flower cutouts. The single unifying fashion this season seemed to be paisleys in earth-tones with bright contrasting colors mixed in. Even The Gap had a display that was far too intense for that early in the morning – or maybe it was the residual effects of the hangover. Most of the stores Jonathan had always known were either absent or in a different place, and the kiosk booths were nowhere to be seen in the tunnel-like corridors. Instead, there were boxy concrete planters with depressed-looking, rubbery plants of dull gray and brown. Ahead of them the mall spread out again into the court of the J.C. Penny's, this one made to resemble a suburban grove of trees filled with twinkling lights, set among the ugliest tiles he'd ever seen.

Gar slowed and sighed audibly, swung his book bag around to his chest. He waited for the other two to catch up.

"D'you guys wanna, like, get high?" he whispered fiercely.

This immediately intrigued Jonathan. Gar's whole stance had been vehemently anti-drug all through his school years.

"Yeah? Whatcha got?"

"Only the best ─ originally from South America." He rooted around in the book bag, pulled out a small, white paper sack.

"Oooh!" Jonathan said, recognizing the bag immediately, but feigning as much ignorance as he could.

"Huh?" Lucas wondered if he was just about to get arrested for using drugs openly, right in the middle of an antique mall that already looked like an interstellar prison barge.

Gar opened the bag reverently and took out a trio of light brown candies. He gave the twins one each.

"À vos santés!" He popped the chocolate into his mouth.

"Taisez-vous et mangez l'un grand," Jonathan said and did the same.

Whether it was chocolate-dipped peyote buds or some sort of cannabis-infused food product, Lucas decided the risk was worth taking and bit into the smooth chocolate. The incredible flavor was instant, and just kept getting better with every second, flowing over his tongue, into his saliva glands and down his throat like no sensation he had ever known.

A minute later he realized where he stood, and that tears were streaming down his face.

Jonathan grinned ear to ear, his eyes closed.

Lucas found his voice.

"What was that?"

"Shh! You are so harshing my mellow, dude." Jonathan meditated on the flavor, rolling his tongue around the inside of his mouth. "See's chocolate butter cream." He continued to savor the indescribable delicacy. "Experience the rapture."

"Heaven," teen Gar whispered, his eyes still closed.

"Now I don't want to go back home," Lucas whined. "You have everything anyone could ever want here."

"Shyah," teen Gar said. "You guys got mint juleps and jambalaya!"

"Yeah… Robert makes great jambalaya," Lucas mumbled, recovering and wiping his eyes.

"Yeah. On wheat toast." Jonathan stared sadly at one corner of the Penny's court.

"What's wrong?" Lucas asked.

"No Cinnabon. It's not here yet. Too bad. I coulda used a Chillatta"

"It'll be there when you get back home. Don't stress. Unless we've really messed up the time-stream and it's a Victoria's Secret, or something."

Jonathan smiled. "Well, that wouldn't be too bad!"

They continued up the center of the mall, Jonathan surreptitiously glancing at all of the historical artifacts that he wanted to play with. Spencer's had a whole display of black-lights, black-light posters, and lava lamps, along with their Peter Max-art-inspired clothes. He snickered. They were probably the same ones they still had in the 1990's. He could pick up the faint smell of incense drifting out of the store. It was even the same patchouli. He smiled to himself. This, at least, had never changed.

"Voilà. Here y' go," teen Gar said, gesturing loosely to the almost empty Sears. This end of the mall was still dark, as the restaurant, Fiddlers Three, hadn't opened yet in its unlit corner under the escalator. It was a pity, Jonathan thought. Gar had told him once that they'd had excellent hot-fudge sundaes, but the whole area had been completely transformed by the time he'd come to NFC in 1986, the restaurant long gone and replaced with a nurse uniform store.

"Merci beaucoup," Jonathan said. He knew that much French, anyway. "D'you have a pen?"

"Shyah!" teen Gar said, digging into his book bag again. "Wouldn't be without one. I'm, like, a writer."

Jonathan stifled the urge to agree. A college student twin from Louisiana wouldn't know anything about some random Valley boy, but he knew this teenager as an adult – and the Gar he knew – was writing a novel right then; the first of many.

Gar handed him a Bic extra-fine-point pen, the tail-end fairly chewed up. Jonathan forced himself not to smile. Some bad habits started early, apparently.

"Write to us back home," he said, in about twenty years. He scribbled on the inside of the matchbox, holding the matches in his hand and then dropping them back into the box. He gave the memento of Spring Break 1972 to the other.

Teen Gar opened his wallet and took out a tiny white card. He wrote his address on it, handing it to Jonathan.

They tapped fists lightly again.

"Later, dudes," Gar said, holding up his 'hang loose' sign one more time and grinning. The twin dimension-travelers echoed the gesture.

"Take care of yourself," Jonathan said. "See you… one of these days."

The future teacher loped back up the corridor to disappear into the murky depths of his 70's mall.

"What address did you give him?" Lucas whispered.

"I gave him a message for 1994. His mother collects matchbooks in a brandy warmer in their dining room. Since he doesn't smoke, I bet the same ones are still there in twenty years."

"What did you write?"

"I told him to keep track of where the prism is. Maybe it'll stick. It was worth a try."

"No address?"

"Nah. We'll catch up with each other, anyway." He glanced at the message Gar had given him. It was a personal card, the type that people put into graduation announcements with his name in raised gold letters on one side. He'd written his address on the back in already decrepit longhand.

"Let's do this 'thing', before too many people get here," Lucas said, "or I eat something else that makes me want to stay here forever." He could still taste the chocolate.

Sears was relatively empty and they found a place to attempt their jump in the hardware section on the store's lowest floor. There were several tents set up as displays, from small to extra-large, perfect to be unseen for a few minutes.

Jonathan looked out of the flaps of a 'family size' double, carefully closed them, and then turned back to where Lucas sat cross-legged on the floor. He sat down opposite him and they raised their hands.

"Is this the part where we tell scary stories?"

Lucas smiled crookedly.

"Yeah. The one about the skinny time travelers in disco shorts."

"Okay. Where to?" the other asked.

"Someplace we can use what we know."

"No Disneyworld, huh?"

"Maybe next trip." Lucas closed his eyes. "Mel, in your reality, could tell us if she knows anything about a giant crystal. It's a place to start."

"Can we trust her?"

"I don't know. We can't stay here, for sure, and there's no way to really know how much time we have."

"I wonder who's walking the dog?" Jonathan mused, distractingly.

"Focus! We need to get movin'!"

"Here we go, mate," Jonathan said, meeting the other's palms and closing his eyes, concentrating.

"Shyah," Lucas laughed, without opening his eyes.


Alberto Dominguez, hardware department manager, jumped when he saw the flash and felt the wind. Lightning? Inside the mall? No. It was more likely a blown fluorescent bulb. He noticed something strange, however, out of the corner of his eye.

The cloth walls of the tent display, the huge double-sized family unit, were still shaking.

"Damned kids," he muttered and stormed straight to the tent, throwing the door flaps back.

"Okay! Out!"

But the tent was empty. He sniffed. He could smell a residue of ozone, chocolate... He sniffed again. "And…rum?"


"It won't be necessary to kill both of them if you simply get the electrodes on Wolenczak quickly," Nick told Dave dryly.

"But if I shoot them in, say, the kneecaps or the ankles, they won't be able to run away, and the pain will be so excruciating they won't be able to concentrate to activate whatever they're using to time-travel."

"You could just shoot them in the lower spine. They don't need to be able to walk for our purposes."

"What if one of them dies?"

"We'll preserve the information we need from the brain before it ceases function – if it's the one we need. The actor's isn't any use to us, really. Maybe, if we eliminate him, the other won't be able to do his magic trick anymore." Nick tilted his head. "Or we can threaten to continue to harm him after the first few wounds we inflict to get Wolenczak's cooperation." He smiled ruthlessly. "That should be enjoyable for you."

This made sense, of course, and it would be enjoyable for him to cause the two as much pain as possible, though he would never allow Nick to see any agreement on his part.

"I thought we were going to wait for Wolenczak to get back onto the seaQuest so you could kill two birds with, uh, one stone." He giggled at his cleverness.

"We'll keep trying to snag him in the meantime, and maybe we'll simply get lucky. Besides, when have you ever been the patient one?"

Dave's face darkened. "Let's just get this done."

"All right. Go into the imaging chamber." Nick waved dismissively to the other. When Dave wasn't quick to move, he put his arms across his chest. "Do I need to explain this again?"

"You're certain that this signal isn't one of the phantom ones?"

"Yes, relatively. It's moved from one place to another. Unless Wolenczak could program the phantoms to randomly mimic activity, it's surely one we're looking for, even though it's mislabeled."

"All right, then. You've got to be right one of these times."

So far they'd transported a tree stump, a cup of melted frozen yogurt, and an old sneaker from their disparate times and places. The remaining signals were decreasing, so logic dictated that their odds were improving. Still, he hadn't been the one who'd gotten the majority of their optimism.

He opened the door to the circular chamber, smoothly carved into the rock, circling down the staircase around the inside wall until he'd reached the floor directly under the huge prism.

"I'm down," Dave said into his mouthpiece.

"Engaging," came Nick's voice over his headphones.

The machinery hummed into action, the crystal above his head vibrating in its search.

He gripped the gun in one hand, held the electrodes facing away from him in the other. At the instant he recognized Wolenczak he would incapacitate him, in whatever way seemed expedient at the moment. He pulled the guard back on his handgun, chambering a bullet and aiming it knee-level at the place where the two should materialize.

He allowed himself a grim smile.

He hoped they tried to get away.


"Activity, sir!" Hitchcock said, her eyes scanning the motion in one of the possible places they'd identified as being related to the boys.

O'Neill immediately checked the signals.

"Two signals only. But I think it might be our men."

"Keep an eye on them in case there's trouble. Can we retrieve them if they read that the pairs have met in whatever time and reality?"

Le Conte shrugged.

"This is all far beyond my experience, Captain. If we're to capture the culprits, it will have to be your Mr. O'Neill and Lieutenant Commander Hitchcock. I'm afraid that my abilities would only hinder them."

"If we can move fast enough, sir, I think we can capture all of them," Hitchcock assured him.

"Do you have a date yet, Tim?"

"Still moving."

XX

The light blazed brilliantly in the cavern and Dave briefly shielded his eyes to avoid flash-blindness. This, of course, would play into his hands, as their targets would be temporarily disoriented by the reflected light and easier to subdue.

He had already raised the gun when he looked again.

His eyes met the puzzled glare of a full grown saber-toothed tiger, four snarling Dire wolves clinging to it in a vain attempt to bring it down, the small wolves looking like gray squirrels pestering a lion. The five creatures stopped their struggle when they realized their surroundings had changed radically from the tar pit where they'd just been sinking, all to become a future exhibit at the Page Museum. One of the wolves on the tiger's back turned its head towards him, its teeth still full of pelt, and began to snarl at him instead. The other wolves backed away from the tiger into the room, swinging their faces furiously around to find enemies. Their malevolent orange gaze settled on him.

The tiger, for its part, never had a moment of doubt before it realized that the human would make much better prey than whatever it had been stalking in its own time, and leaped from the circle on the floor directly at him, dragging the attached wolf with it, dangling from its neck like some furry price-tag, huge maw opened in a ferocious roar, gigantic canines accurately matching their textbook description as sabers.

"Dave?" Nick's voice came over his headset.

Dave threw the gun at the raging tiger and ran full-out for the staircase, another of the wolves trying to flank him before he'd reached the bottom step.

"SEND IT BACK!" he screamed into the mouthpiece. "NOW!"

"What? Say again."

"SEND THE BLOODY THINGS BACK, YOU IDIOT!" He'd managed the bottom of the staircase, the wolf chomping at empty air, still temporarily dazzled by the light. The tiger slid across the slick floor, slamming into the metal banister with such force that the thin rail bent inward, turned its head back and ripped the Dire wolf from its neck, flinging the barking beast the width of the room with a roar. Dave toppled over the stationary wolf at his feet onto his face, grabbed the stair and catapulted himself upwards. Two of the wolves had collided with each other at the base of the stair, trying to grab him in jaws that could easily crush his bones like kibble, but again snapped only on air from their haste.

"What are you doing down there? What is all of that infernal caterwauling?"

"GET THESE THINGS OUT OF HERE!"

The wolves had begun to fight with each other over their new quarry, quickly involving the tiger which continued to toss them aside like cat toys, its eyes firmly focused on its next meal, on the staircase. He tried to remember the distance a tiger could leap, and figured it must be far more than the distance he had left to the top of the stair, even with two wolves dangling from its flanks.

"Now would be a very good time, Nick!" he shrieked into his mouthpiece. He had only a few more steps. He looked back at the tiger which had gathered for a spring, ignoring the growling wolves around it. "Now!"

The tiger launched itself through the space and Dave closed his eyes, expecting the impact with the terrible weight of the prehistoric monster in the next instant. He heard the loud crackle of electricity and the air filled with noise and light, the burst of hot wind throwing him back against the stone wall.

He collapsed to the stair, breathing heavily. The circular area below him had emptied of its living fossils. Nick opened the door above him, putting his head into the room.

"Why all the melodrama?"

Dave laughed and put his head back, resting it against the stone.

"Let's not do that again."

Nick looked annoyed. "Then I imagine we got something unpleasant this time? A skunk, perhaps?" He sniffed the air. "Gamey, whatever it was." He smiled. "Or is that you?"

Dave opened his eyes and narrowed them immediately.

"I can simply tell you that this was definitely not the right signal."

"Good enough. Let's try again."

The other shook his head. "Give it a rest for a bit, brother. I, for one, could use a drink."

Nick huffed. "I don't see what's got you so on edge. I'm the one doing all the work." He crossed his arms. "And I am not, for the last time, anyone's brother!"


Nikki held more tightly to her date, Bill, sure that the next scene would simply freak her out. He knew that, of course, or he wouldn't have brought her. He knew that anything even remotely scary would have her jumping into his lap, hysterical, covering her eyes.

The alien egg onscreen had opened its fleshy edges, something bubbling inside near the entrapped astronaut's face. The actor screamed as the spider-like legs began to undulate in the thick goo, the body of the creature just out of sight.

Nikki echoed the astronaut's scream, and wrapped both arms around Bill's neck, burying her face in his shoulder, just as he'd planned. He managed to get his arm to completely encircle her, playing her big hero to the hilt. If he moved his hand stealthily, just a little, he could just cup her…

When the creature onscreen leaped from the leathery egg at the astronaut's face, he felt Nikki's arms go tight, and the audience screeched in surprise. A shower of popcorn came cascading down on them from the balcony seating. A bright light came from just behind them, and he wondered briefly if someone had set off a flashbulb. The activity in the theater would easily cover just about anything short of a bomb going off. He tried to turn his head, almost strangled by his date's vice-like grip around him. He met the startled eyes of twins about his own age, the popcorn still bouncing off of them. Neither held a camera.

He smiled as they noted the girl attached to him, at least as tightly as the alien onscreen was to the astronaut, and then gave a wink over the dorky-looking 3D glasses.

Lucas raised his hand and gave a weak 'hang loose' sign, which Bill returned, barely able to get his hand away from his girlfriend's grip. Although she was definitely tangled up in her boyfriend's arms, Nikki gave an appreciative glance over the other boys and raised her eyebrows, smiling at them.

"Come on!" Jonathan whispered fiercely and grabbed Lucas by the collar of his wool shirt. Lucas waved as they clambered over people to the edge of the row of seats, still unable to see much in the dark.

The alien onscreen wrapped a tentacle around the trapped astronaut's throat and thrust an appendage at his mouth.

"Ah, man. That's just disgusting!" Lucas said to no one, tripping over many pairs of feet as he finally gained the aisle. The audience kept screaming along with the actor, some people laughing equally as enthusiastically. "You people are really weird!" Lucas said, again to no one.

Jonathan bustled them down a staircase that looked like a set from The Wizard of Oz with it's serpentine brass rails. tiny green stars and glowing white globes. The lobby was full of people waiting for the next showing, all glancing at the two of them for reactions, and then, more closely. Jonathan rushed along before anyone could make any kind of connection.

"Where are we?" Lucas whispered.

"Cineplex at Universal. I know this place like the back of my hand, too."

"Cineplex? Citywalk Cineplex?"

"Yeah. You have one, right? I remember part of Mt. Rushmore sitting on it."

"Had one, yeah. But when are we?"

They burst out the glass doors into a blast of Southern California winter wind. Lines of people waited outside for the next shows. Lucas gasped.

"Yeah, I know. It's like being inside a pinball game," Jonathan said of the cacophony and neon lights. He looked up at the marquee.

"ALIEN3 SPECIAL EDITION IN 3D IMAX!" it read.

"Oh great," he huffed in disappointment.

"What's wrong?"

"Well now I know what happens. That just ruined the movie for me."

Lucas pulled his collar away from the other's grip.

"You're just as weird as they are!" he barked. "Exactly when are we? Focus, Brandis!" He recovered. "Uh, Tryon!" He threw his arms around himself. "Oh damn! Whoever!"

Jonathan looked at the crowd and picked a likely person.

"Excuse me, sir. What time's your ticket for?"

The middle-aged man looked peculiarly at him.

"Didn't you two just come out?"

"Uh, yeah. My…uh…friend got sick, so we're trying to get in again for a later show. Can I see your ticket?" He brushed popcorn out of Lucas' hair and wondered about his own. He could feel a few kernels that had slipped down the collar of his shirt making their way slowly down his spine. At least it didn't feel like they'd added the butter flavoring. Yuck!

The guy looked from one to the other.

"Aren't you that Jonathan Brandis kid? From seaQuest?"

Great. Ten thousand people to choose from and he had to pick a fan!

"Yeah. Keep it quiet, okay? Can I see your ticket?"

"Then who's he?" the guy said, pointing at Lucas.

"Lu..," Lucas began.

"Shane McDermott, my friend from Texas," Jonathan jumped in.

Lucas looked sideways at him, presented a hand. They were wearing Western clothes, sort of.

"Howdy!" he said with his deepest drawl. He tipped an imaginary ten-gallon hat, grinned happily, bowed his legs out as if he were wearing spurs.

"He looks just like you!" the guy noted. "Almost a twin, except for the hair!"

"Really? I've never noticed a resemblance. Can I see your ticket?"

"Sure. Would you mind autographing it for me…uh…for my little girl?"

"Sure. Let me see it." Jonathan took the ticket, a huge one, and waited for the man's wife to dig a pen out of her purse. He studied the front side, then noted the perforation, so he'd sign the part the man would keep.

He scribbled his name quickly and gave the ticket back to the guy.

"Thanks!"

"Okay. We have…about an hour until the next showing, Shane."

"I reckon," Lucas said way too loudly, ambling alongside Jonathan, trying to look as different as possible. "Real dandy to meet y'all nice folks!" He leaned in to speak more privately with the other. "Okay, when are we?"

"We're where I started a while ago. It's Friday, January 13, 1994, and we were in the 6:30 showing – so it's about seven-thirty or so."

Lucas smiled and patted him on the back.

"That's pretty clever of you," he laughed. "For an actor, I mean."

"We need disguises, and a phone. Come on!" Jonathan raised his hand and gestured, putting his face down into the collar. It was one time that he really didn't want to be recognized. He looked back at Lucas, who'd hooked his thumbs into his belt-loops and strode along next to him with a gigantic grin pasted on his face.

"Don't be so obvious!"

"Hey. I don't even exist here! I'm gonna enjoy just being Shane for a while."

"Be Shane behind some sunglasses." He picked up a random pair from the kiosk under the giant metal cutout of King Kong – the biggest, ugliest pair he could find, and then found an equally big and grotesque pair for himself. He dropped two twenties on the stand. "Keep the change!"

He walked ten feet further, picked up a huge floppy denim hat that read, "HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA '94" across the front, sweeping his unruly hair under it. He picked up another one and plopped it on Lucas' head, dropping another forty dollars on the counter. Before the girl could even ring up the sale, they were off, walking briskly towards the central circle under the dome and a place where Jonathan knew there to be telephones.

He froze, looking to his right and giving a slow smile.

"What?" Lucas asked quietly.

"Coffee break, dude." Jonathan said and walked into the Starbucks.

"Make mine a mocha," Lucas called after him, then added, "Pardner."

A long swallow later, Jonathan allowed himself to breathe. Almost home. They had begun walking towards the 'secret' gate between the buildings.

"Why isn't it - days later? It seems like we've been gone for…"

"Time dilation," Lucas said.

"Huh?"

"Time dilation. We're able to travel backwards or forwards to a fixed point without affecting our real time."

"I knew that." Jonathan walked on for a few seconds. "I don't have the slightest idea what you're saying…"

"Again."

"Again."

"It means that we're pretty much at your entry point from the last time you were here."

Jonathan huffed. "Before you fixed everything, that is, right?"

"Yeah. Sorry. Look, we got it right this time!"

Jonathan sneaked a look at Lucas and stifled a laugh. They both looked like desperate tourists with too much money. Well, the disguises were working, anyway.

"Excuse me!" A giggling girl said from next to them.

Uh-oh…Jonathan thought.

"Are you Shane McDermott?" she continued, eyes wide on Lucas. Her friends, who were giggling equally stood a few feet away, staring at them. "I heard you say that you were Shane."

"Uh, yeah, pretty lady," Lucas drawled, relaxing into the part and looking at Jonathan with amusement.

"Oh God, I just loved you in Airborne! You were so hot!"

"Why, thanks, ma'am. Thanks a bushel." He touched the brim of his silly hat.

"Can we get your autograph?"

"If we're right quick," Lucas said. He turned to Jonathan and whispered desperately, "M-A-C or M-C?"

"M-C," Jonathan whispered back. "Two 'T's, No space," and tried to seem inconspicuous.

It took him a moment to remember if he was Lucas, Jonathan, Robert, Mike, an unnamed quadruplet or Shane right then, but he recovered and signed the actor's name with a flourish. The other two girls handed him studio maps and he signed them as well. He glanced at Jonathan, who was intently staring into a store window at nothing in particular, neck drawn into his shoulders, trying to become invisible by remaining stationary, quite a feat for him.

"Have a nice day, ladies," Lucas said as they turned away from him.

"I thought he was taller," he heard one of them whisper.


"They've settled, Captain," Hitchcock said, gazing at the spheres hovering in the environment in front of her. "RL194A."

"Jonathan's reality and time," O'Neill confirmed. "I guess they've figured out how to get where they want. Maybe Lucas can get back here, then, if he's managed to get them to Jonathan's reality so far."

"That's possible, Mr. O'Neill. How have the other spheres been doing? The decoys?" Bridger's voice still sounded positive and strong, though the strain must be getting to him. He was playing long-distance chess with an unseen opponent who changed the rules constantly when the game seemed to be going against him.

O'Neill scanned his screens, seeing entirely different displays than Hitchcock's.

"It looks like the number's down to only a few, Captain. Lieutenant Commander?"

"Aye. The others have been plucked from their places, it looks like. Our bad guys seem to be transporting pairs to their own time and place in some kind of order." Hitchcock carefully looked up and down the time-streams, trying to pick out the likely destination of the moving spheres before the pursuers brought their own missing there. "Tim, can you tell where any of these things have gone?"

O'Neill bit his lip. He had only an inkling of how the transport worked, much less where it originated or where the transported matter would end up – if it ended up anywhere at all and didn't just cease to exist in any reality. The missing spheres had just vanished. If Lucas had created phantom signals, as he assumed, then the pair of them were probably still safe in 1994. If the pursuers had begun to figure out Lucas' plans, however…

"I'm going to have to say that the signals we're seeing now in 1994 are the actual boys. Of course, if we can determine that, then it won't take long for their pursuers to figure out the same thing," he sighed, "if they haven't already. The signal we're getting from 2030 could be a phantom of their own design, or just a jumping-off point to someplace we can't even imagine." He gulped. "Maybe even another planet."

Le Conte put his hand on O'Neill's shoulder.

"Don't get ahead of yourself, Mr. O'Neill," he said quietly, thinking the same concept might prove useful to his own future plans. "Perhaps we've been going at this all wrong; too passively. It may be time to become more proactive, Captain. Do you know how Lucas disguised his trace, Mr. O'Neill?"

"Exactly? No, sir, though I have an idea how he did it." It was a matter of having multiple genetic algorithm strands and duplicating them precisely – the theory behind cloning. But then, Lucas was the computer genius, he wasn't.

"Do you think you could disguise something with a phantom trace, then?"

"I'm not certain, sir." O'Neill stared at his screens for a moment more. "I think it's possible. We could probably generate multiple copies from the false traces Lucas used. I can't guarantee it'll fool anyone for very long, though."

"Mr. O'Neill," Bridger said over the radio. "I think I know what Dr. Le Conte is going to suggest – a different kind of lure. We can disguise our own surprise with Jonathan's or Lucas' signals and see if the pursuers try to go for it."

"Of course, Captain," Le Conte added quietly, "If we can send something undesirable to them…"

The conversation they'd had with Dr. Young about the missing wedge of unstable crust replayed itself in both of their minds. If the other time manipulators had an arsenal of many such possible cataclysms, it could be very bad indeed for all of them. Still, they couldn't simply fold to the potential blackmail, no matter what the stakes.

"I understand, Dr. Le Conte. It may be a bit risky. Tim, you and Lieutenant Commander Hitchcock have been doing an amazing job so far, and I'm certain you'll continue." The radio went silent for a second. "But, if we try this, and it works, I can't guarantee any of your safety."

"Agreed, Captain Bridger," Le Conte said. "However, we'll see if we're still on the side of the angels."

"I'm not quite ready to become an angel just yet, Captain," O'Neill said humorlessly.

"Let's hope we don't have to go that far, Mr. O'Neill," Le Conte whispered from beside him. "All we really require is consistency on the part of our adversaries. If they want young Mr. Wolenczak so badly, let's allow them to think they can get him."


The door of the garage opened and Lucas and Jonathan came in, followed by Anica. She'd made some excuse to take the electric cart to the top of the hill and dismissed Dan. He would have too many questions already.

Jonathan's nose wrinkled.

"Oh man. I forgot that wonderful smell."

"Jon…" Ray began, unable to contain his joy, but not moving to embrace the miraculously clean teenager, though he'd gotten the majority of the tar off himself, as had the other two. "What happened to you? You just…vanished. All we had left was your crispy candy shell." He tilted his head to the beginnings of a powerful déjà vu, looking the two over. "You look awfully…tan." He blinked at them. "In fact you both look like you've been on vacation in Maui."

"You wouldn't believe it. I'll tell you about it later. How long have I've been gone?"

The teacher looked to Mel, then to Anica.

"No more than an hour. Mel was just about to go and try to find you again." He kept looking them over, still puzzled by the peculiar familiarity.

"Good thing we got back, then," Jonathan said. "That last time sucked. Literally."

"I've made some adjustments to the device," Mel said, chastened. "The first one wasn't intended to transport so many. This one," she held up a smaller, more sturdily built model, "should get us where we have to go. No problem."

"We?" the teacher said.

She looked at Lucas. He seemed to understand.

"Mel and I have to get to my time and put an end to this," he said determinedly, gazing unblinking at Jonathan.

"Hey, wait buddy," the other said. "What about me?"

"It's been great, Jonathan, but we both know that it has to end. Mel and I belong in that time and place. You don't. I've gotta figure out how to destroy Nick and Dave's time machine before they wreck everything we know."

Jonathan stared soberly at his twin.

"And that'll probably separate us for good this time," Lucas continued sadly. "As much as I know you want to come along on more adventures, and as much as I want you to, it's just not going to be safe as long as Nick and Dave are calling the shots, or we're messing with the fabric of reality. It could mean the end of our whole universe."

"At least," Mel whispered.

"You belong here, with us, Jon," the teacher said softly. There was still some nagging strangeness about their appearance, but he couldn't pin it down.

"Yeah," Jonathan sighed. "And I guess I don't really want my molecules to fall apart."

Lucas smiled faintly. "Yeah, there's that little problem."

"What if they come after Jonathan again?" Anica asked. "How do we stop them?"

Mel considered. She'd already deliberated on this – but to keep anyone else from retrieving either Jonathan or Lucas after she'd captured them. It could certainly work backwards, if she needed it to.

"I have a way to keep both of them safe. Lachance gave me a locator disk to keep tabs on me." She gave a serious look at Lucas, who shrugged.

"Hey, so I'm a klepto. Sue me."

"Wherever you sent it, Lucas, Nick and Dave will retrieve it, thinking it's me. They've probably already marked both of you in some way other than with a disk."

Lucas rapidly looked around at the others. "Hey, my hair wasn't like this before we got to Northridge…" he began.

"Not hair dye." Mel shook her head.

"It's probably vegetable-based anyway," Anica offered. "I can't imagine anyone convincing Jonathan – or anyone around him – to do anything permanent to his hair."

"Like washing it with kerosene," Jonathan said, irritated. "'The horror. The horror.'" He smiled. "Apocalypse Now; Coppola"

"Heart of Darkness; Conrad," the teacher mumbled.

"No. It has to be something inside of you, maybe nanites."

Jonathan's eyes widened.

"They put something in a banana?"

Mel smiled and laughed inwardly. Although he could be a royal pain sometimes, the young man definitely grew on a person; enough to derail her original plan completely and fight for his survival, in any case. She gave an amused glance at Lucas.

"Don't even try," he said to her, shaking his head.

"Anyway, he gave me three blank disks to mask your identity. Two, and an extra in case one was lost or destroyed. It scrambles the DNA lock by covering it with another."

"Whose?" the teacher asked.

"Anyone's. It works like this." She put a silver, quarter-sized disk against the teacher's throat. He gasped as a spark seemed to jump from its surface. "Now it's got a copy of your DNA structure. It's impossible to tell from the real thing."

"So, now I have a twin?" the teacher said. "He's very small."

"All Lucas has to do is carry this disk on him someplace and anyone trying to find his unique biological trace – would pass right over him. As far as the search program can tell, he is you."

Ray gave a stern glare at the younger woman.

"You were going to use this to hide Lucas, weren't you, so his people wouldn't be able to find him?"

"Yes." She looked at the floor. "That was another person. I've changed my allegiance." She looked up at Jonathan.

"Thanks, Mel," he said quietly. "Really. You're doing the right thing."

"Let's hope so. If Lucas can destroy the time machine, then I'll be safe from those two." She raised her head resolutely. "And you'll all be safe in your own time."

"I'd hug you, but you're still covered in schmutz," Jonathan added.

"Time travel should fix that," Mel observed. "Since the tar is made out of decomposed organic material…"

"The undifferentiated DNA doesn't move with the traveler!" Lucas said excitedly. He rubbed his stomach. "Does that mean that whatever I ate..?" He grimaced, remembering the Huevos Rancheros. He wondered if they were sitting, all chewed up and half-digested, in that tent back in Jonathan's 1974.

"No. Anything organic you already had inside of you or already absorbed comes along with you."

"Then how did our clothes come with us all these times?" Lucas asked. "They're all natural materials; cotton and wool and leather." He showed them his belt. "Look."

The teacher was scratching his head. All of this seemed awfully familiar, somehow.

"I don't know," Mel sighed. "Unless there's something or someone else involved, keyed into the both of you, and using some alternate type of technology."

"Another time machine?" Jonathan asked, then smiled. "Cool!"

"Yeah," Lucas mused. "But whose?"

"We'll figure it out later. Let's get going, Lucas."

"Okay." He dropped his head forward. "I guess this could really be goodbye, then, Jonathan."

"Not so fast. I still have to find that glass thing."

Lucas considered and nodded.

"Mel, can the masking disk be used as a locator, too?"

"Yes. If you know the specific trace you're looking for. I don't know how to do that, exactly…"

"I do," Lucas said, "and I know just the DNA to use." He took one of the disks from her and put it to his throat, wincing as he felt the connection. He handed it to Jonathan. "Keep this away from yourself until you find the crystal, then mark it with my trace." He crossed his arms. "If my signal is masked in my time, then the only one that'll read as me will be this disk. We can get it from 2018."

"You are a genius," Jonathan laughed.

"You had doubts?" he laughed. "And as for your signal," Lucas took the other disk and placed it gently on Anica's throat. The girl breathed through the strange sensation. "From now on you're going to be Anica – until we destroy the machine."

"Can't the two Bozos in the future lock onto this disk?" Jonathan said, holding up

Lucas' DNA.

"Right now, yes," Mel said. "So you'd better take the Anica disk and put it in your pocket ASAP. The other…" She considered a moment. She smiled and put the other disk into the teacher's shoulder-bag. "Imagine their surprise if they get a backpack instead of Lucas. Just don't get it too close to yourself for too long."

"So right now the signals the two see are reading two Rays, two Lucases and two Anicas?"

"Right. Nick and Dave'll probably think that they're the false traces I created," Lucas grinned. "Very cool. It's like a clone army."

"Like Star Wars?" Jonathan laughed. He put his hands to cup his mouth and lowered his voice to a resonating bass, "Lucas. I am your father."

Lucas didn't smile. "Sort of, yeah."

Jonathan dropped his hands. He moved forward, stopped by Mel.

"Don't touch him. If the signals merge, our little trick might become obvious."

They stared at each other silently, neither wanting to end the partnership, but both knowing it was a necessity.

Lucas looked at the teacher before he slipped the disk into his shirt pocket. He raised his right hand and gave a Hawaiian 'hang loose' sign. "À vos santés."

Ray's eyes widened.

"That's where I remember you from!" He slammed a palm against his forehead. "Oh wow!" He looked from one to the other. "That was, what? Twenty years ago?"

"To the day."

"The Traynor twins! Ernie and Bert!"

"Michael and Robert Tryon," Jonathan laughed. "Did you keep the matchbox?"

"Matchbox? Yeah. It's…"

"...in your mom's dining room," Jonathan finished for him, nodding. "I knew that would work! Good thing you didn't take up smoking. Or pyromania." He flashed a raised thumb at Lucas. "Have you kept tabs on the prism?"

"Yes. It's at CSUN now. The faculty office building lobby."

Lucas crossed his arms. "Tag it as soon as you can. We'll bring it to 2018, my reality, and see what Dr. Le Conte thinks. I'll bet he can soup up his own time-machine with it and run circles around Dick and Knave." He sobered. "But what about the molecular degeneration problem?"

"Well, those two probably marked you with the nanites to protect you from the worst of it as well as to mark your DNA. It's how I've managed to be here for this long without…" She grinned wickedly, "melting into organic mush." She thought a moment. "The prism will work for awhile without degradation, I think. Solids take longer to disintegrate, though it'll eventually just fall apart all at once. It's a problem that the people who sent Lachance are working on, though according to him they've gotten animal and vegetable matter to stay stable for years."

Lucas' brain started working on the problem – something that he didn't do consciously. It was just a physics problem, right? There had to be a solution.

"So the banananites'll keep you from melting. Cool! How soon do you think you'll need the prism?" Jonathan had already started to pace nervously, wanting to get going on the project.

"I guess it doesn't matter," Lucas said. "Where I'm from, it's already happened. Unless you manage to screw it up."

"Don't worry. I won't let him," Jonathan said assuredly, jerking his head toward the teacher.

"I meant you, twerp," Lucas laughed.

"Are we ready?" Mel asked. She wrapped one arm around Lucas and entered their destination on the strange, pipe-like device. As makeshift as it was, it did appear to be built better than the last one.

"See ya later, okay?" Lucas whispered finally.

"Not if I see you first," Jonathan responded cheerlessly. "Take care."

In a flash they were gone, a scattering of dried tar falling to the floor where Mel had been, just as had happened when Jonathan had vanished.

"So… It's over?"

"Maybe, maybe not," the teacher soothed. "In an infinite universe, there's always the possibility that you'll run into him again. Maybe at the mall. Mel mentioned another time-machine running independently of Le Conte's and Nick and Dave's."

"Dick and Knave's." Jonathan laughed sadly.

"So, you might see Lucas again soon. Maybe really soon." He cautiously gave the boy a glance. "Your 'banananites' mean that time-travel is still possible for both of you – at least for a while – in safety. You won't deliquesce – at least not right away. Maybe Lucas can still get here before the prism disintegrates or they destroy the other time-machine." He put his hand on the young man's shoulder, squeezing it gently. "This adventure doesn't have to end here."

"Yeah," Jonathan sighed. "So what now?"

"You go home," Anica said. "See your parents, try to get back to a normal schedule. We're dark Monday, because of the holiday, but you have a 9:00 call on Tuesday. We're looping for 119, and then starting principal photography on episode 120, Abalon, with Charlton Heston."

"Yeah. The dahlphin gets more air-time than I do in that one."

"What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Hell if I know. My planner went up with the trailer." He sauntered around miserably. "And my driver's license went down in the tar pits. Who knows what happened to my cell. Maybe it's in the f-ing volcano. Maybe it's tarred to someone's ass up in Derry."

Anica puzzled over this for a moment. "We'll have to make up a cover story about the trailer."

"Border terrorists?" Jonathan offered unhelpfully.

Anica smiled. "I'll think of something. That's my job. I'll get on the license problem, too. I think we can expedite matters if I make an appointment at the DMV for you."

"From one version of hell to another," Jonathan said, grabbing his head and making a pained face. "I don't have to take the frickin' road test again, do I?"

"No, kid," Ray said. "Just go in, fill out the form, pay the $12.00 and get another ID photo."

"Do I at least get to stand forward this time and not sideways like a shoplifter?"

"Not until April. Cheer up! The picture's got to be better this time! Look, you've even got a tan!"

"Yeah, the tar pit and volcanic dust skin treatment." He started pacing again. "When can we go and tag the crystal thing?"

"You don't have to come, Jonathan. I'll take care of it."

"But I want to."

"Lucas said there's no hurry," the teacher noted.

"When have you ever known me to have any patience?"

"Right. See what's up for tomorrow, then. Maybe you can find a DMV that's open on Saturday. You shouldn't be without a license. It's emasculating." He looked hopefully at Anica, who nodded.

"I'm on it. Can you take him home, after we get him some clothes? He really shouldn't drive without a license." She blinked.

"I've done way worse…" Jonathan mumbled.

"Of course. He won't wreck my upholstery anymore, now that he's clean."

Jonathan laughed. "What upholstery?"

"Good point."

"First call home and let's get this 'alternate history' going," Anica began, jotting down notes on a pad. "Okay, your trailer was stolen along with your clothes, keys, cell phone and ID…"

"By border terrorists," Jonathan injected, waving an index finger in a circle.

"By overzealous fan girls…"

"Same difference."

She smiled. He'd be okay.


O'Neill took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, realizing that he did this way too often and that it made him look compulsive. He rubbed them anyway. What he saw was impossible no matter how insane the laws of physics could become.

Like time-travel and interdimensional doppelgängers.

"Lieutenant Commander…"

"I see it. Captain, the signals have just changed radically."

"There were two Lucas traces, and then Jonathan's signal disappeared from RL194A." O'Neill followed the numbers as they pulsed across one of his screens. "Now two traces are moving towards our time and space." He looked up at Hitchcock, puzzling. "One of them says it's…"

"Yeah," Hitchcock said, knitting her brow. "It's labeled RL322C." She watched the little spheres drift towards her, neither the ones that they were looking for. "I don't think they're the scientists, sir."

"Could they be more of Lachance's men?"

"Not sure, Captain. One of them is an RL194A, so it's someone from Jonathan's time and space, but not Jonathan himself."

"Then where is he?" Le Conte mused, stroking his chin. "If you were your Mr. Wolenczak, how would you keep those others off your trail if you believed they were getting close?"

"Hiding somehow?" O'Neill offered.

"Hiding in plain sight," Le Conte said, and smiled. "So to speak."

"Do you think Lucas has the technology available to him in Jonathan's reality to create a masking signal?"

Hitchcock gave a rare laugh. "If anyone could…"

"Keep an eye on these new signals, Lieutenant Commander," Bridger said. "Let's see if we're right."


Nick snickered at Dave again.

"Really, a saber-toothed tiger, was it? Are you certain it wasn't just a big pussy-cat?"

Dave chewed his sandwich more quickly in irritation. "Let's bring it back and I'll let you deal with it. In particular, I want you to meet the accompanying pack of wolves."

Nick shook his head, amused, but realized he'd have to take better care of his 'twin' if he were to have any kind of meaningful future at all.

"No, Dave. I'll let you have all the fun."

"Are we any closer to getting Wolenczak, at least?"

"With each 'acquisition' we've narrowed the field. I'm certain that we'll get him, or both of them, quite soon."

"No more prehistoric creatures, if we can avoid it, and no more annihilating the wilderness with singularities," Nick said carefully. "Keep focused on the prize. Get us Wolenczak, then you can wreak whatever mayhem you want to your heart's content."

"I'll have to depend on your eyes for that, Dave. That last problem had to do with depth perception."

"Right. I didn't really think you were trying to get rid of me intentionally." His tone said otherwise.

"Oh certainly not! " Not yet, at least, he thought. "I'd miss your scintillating observations."

"Amongst other things," Dave added, just in case Nick really was plotting again. "No matter what you'd like to think, we're a team."

Nick sighed. Until he could correct his little oversight, Dave was right.


Jonathan happily devoured a Tommy's double chili-cheeseburger, careful not to drip too much of the chili onto the already fairly decrepit seat cover of the teacher's ancient car as they bumped along Roscoe Boulevard. He took a long sip of his super-large Pepsi. One thing that made Tommy's an easy choice was their incredible speed of service. You were in, you ordered, you were out, all in less than a minute. Then you, your car and your clothes reeked of the chili for two days. It explained why the lines outside the burger stand were mostly single college men. No one would date anyone who smelled like that on a regular basis. But they were addicting.

"Why don't they call Tommy's In 'n Out? They're a lot faster than In 'n Out, and I bet they could make a deal with 'em to use the name. Are you going to eat your double-burger?" he chattered.

"That's why I ordered it, Jonathan. But I can't inhale food like that. If you're still hungry…"

"Great!" He had already opened the wrapping and skillfully avoided getting melted cheese and yet more of the industrial-strength chili onto his clothes, though the tomato slice slid out of the bun, as it always did, and plopped into the napkins in his lap.

"Careful," the teacher warned, smiling. "That stuff is more caustic than the tar you had on you."

"It's mostly the same chemicals, I think, except way older. Why does all of this nasty stuff have to taste so good to me?"

"Nature of the beast."

"Jonathan ate in silence for a second. "Hey, wait a minute! Do you mean me or the burger?"

"A little of both."

"So, Zan said he ate ten Tommy burgers at one time, once."

"From Zan, that doesn't surprise me."

"Is it possible?"

"For him, maybe. You would simply … explode."

"I could try it. I will. What's life without a little risk?"

The teacher sobered.

"There's enough risk in life without having to go out searching for it. You didn't do anything too dangerous while you were 'voyaging', did you?"

"Nothing that bad. Besides, what's the worst thing that coulda happened? I coulda died."

The teacher said nothing for a moment.

"That is the worst thing that could happen, Jonathan. You're incredibly important to everyone who knows you and to thousands who have never met you, all around the world. It would be absolutely devastating if something happened to you." He couldn't even finish the thought.

Jonathan laid a hand on the teacher's arm.

"Hey. Don't stress. You'll lose what little hair you have left."

"Yeah. But you know how I am. If there isn't enough anxiety in my life, I'll invent something to be anxious about."

"I hear you. I'm the same."

The teacher laughed. "Yes, I know!" He sighed. "So…How many times did I see you in the past before now?"

Jonathan stared at him.

"Just one that I know of," he said, puzzled. "You mean you might have seen us more than once?"

"I don't know. Could be. I've thought you were familiar since the day I met you. As Jonathan, I mean, and not Robert or Leslie or whomever else you were in…my past life."

"You were a bad hippie…" Jonathan laughed.

"Flower-child," the teacher corrected in a mock-serious tone. "Love-beads and all." He smiled. "You're treading on sacred ground, there."

"Don't I know it."

"You finally got your wish to go back to the 70's. What did you think?"

"You were braver than I thought. Especially with what you were wearing."

"You were wearing pretty much the same thing when you got back to Universal. It was the in thing then. I was a fashion icon. At least as far as The Gap could provide, anyway."

"Yeah, but I wouldn't still be wearing that stuff in 1994." He grinned crookedly. "You know you'll still have it all in your closet."

"Why? Do you want all my wide-collar polyester shirts?"

"You still have them?"

"Time has no effect on that kind of stuff. They're perpetual, like aluminum cans or Twinkies or nuclear waste. Those clothes are just as bright and ugly as the day I bought them."

"Keep them. You never know when The Brady Bunch style will come back."

They'd turned left and were heading towards the school and Jonathan's house. He felt a vague unease. As far as his parents knew, he'd been gone only the day. He wasn't even sure what he'd been wearing when he left the house that morning, or what he'd said or done. Lucas had been his double for the last few days and he felt sure that he'd messed up his room or just moved stuff around. What if he'd lost weight? What if he'd grown?

A more terrible thought occurred to him.

What if Lucas had found his stash of Hershey's Kisses?

"Can't you drive any faster?"

Ray put on a thick Scots burr. "Captain! You cannae break the laws of physics! I'm givin' her all she's got! The engine cannae take the strain!"

"You are such a Trekkie geek!"

The teacher laughed. "Trekker geek. You shouldn't have drunk that Pepsi so fast." He looked over at the voracious teen. "Either of them."

"Well, yeah, there's that, and I want to catch Lois and Clark."

"That's on Sunday, kid, ABC's competition opposite seaQuest."

"Well…What day is it anyway? I lost my bearings about a week back."

"You're in Los Angeles. You're J-Dog Brandis. It's Friday. Friday, the 13th of January." He shot a glance at the teenager. "1994. A.D."

"Friday the 13th? Holy shit! That can't be good!"

"Don't stress. You'll make your hair fall out."

It had the intended effect when Jonathan rubbed his fingers through his hair.

"You are so easy!" Ray laughed again. "Volcanic dust, tar, kerosene and now Tommy's Chili!"

"Hey. It could become a new thing. After all, I'm a fashion icon!"

XXI

"Intruder alert, Captain!" Ensign Maldonado shouted, sitting at O'Neill's post. "Two of them. They appeared out of thin air. Heading toward the moon pool."

"I'm on it, sir," Crocker said, gesturing to three security men and then following them rapidly out of the command center.

Bridger stood behind the com panel, his eyes flickering over all of the different readouts coming from the cave on the coast. He waved a hand.

"Ensign, can you show me the intruders' signals?"

"Aye, sir." He punched up a schematic of the seaQuest, filling the forward screen. Two green dots flashed intermittently next to the moon pool, the signals of the four security men rapidly approaching them.

"Get me a visual."

"Aye, sir."

The screen filled with the familiar imitation cavern, Darwin cavorting in the water.

He moved forward and flipped on the security com-link.

"Chief Crocker, please be aware that Darwin is down there," he said softly. "If there's any shooting, try to keep it to a minimum. We don't need casualties."


Crocker had pulled out his gun, gestured with his head for the others to flank the door. He counted silently on his fingers – three, two, one…

"UEO SECURITY! DROP YOUR WEAPONS!" The force stood shoulder to shoulder, their weapons covering the whole room.

A dark-haired Lucas and an unfamiliar girl stood by the moon pool as Darwin splashed them enthusiastically.

"Wow, I wasn't expecting such a friendly reception," Lucas said, lowering the Vo-corder.

"Funny hair Lucas swim?" Darwin's artificial voice said cheerfully from the speakers. "New girl play with Darwin?"

"Not now, boy," Lucas said, still reaching down to caress the dolphin's sleek head. "We have work to do."

Darwin moved back in the tank, shot a burst of breath from his blowhole.

"Bad smell," the dolphin said. "Shaky air and dizzy, like Lucas air boy not Lucas." His dark eye went over Mel. "New girl smells different."

"Are you Lucas or Jonathan?" Crocker asked, lowering his weapon.

"Chief, I thought out of everyone you'd know me!" He looked down at himself. "Even with the clothes, and the hair. Cool disguise, huh?" He gestured to Mel. "Melanie Marsh, this is Chief Manilow Crocker."

"Lucas!" Crocker let his formality down and rushed to hug the wayward teen. As big a problem as he had been, it would be great to have him back. His nose wrinkled. "Darwin's right. What's that smell?"

"Ozone? Maybe kerosene?" Mel offered.

"No," Crocker said, sniffing again. "I smell that, too. This is more like…chili."

Lucas shrugged. He had the strangest aftertaste in his mouth, like onions, garlic and hamburger. He sighed. He'd really miss those butter creams. He'd have to find a way to get more.


Jonathan lay in his bed, hands behind his head, staring at his own ceiling, at the Tremors poster, the Lamborghini Countach poster, and then, over his headboard, the framed Edward Scissorhands poster. Why didn't he have a seaQuest DSV poster, little 's' big fuckin' 'Q'? Universal had already printed them, for sure. Yeah, the position of the hammerhead did make it look as if it had a giant erection, but with a little tweaking… He couldn't make himself fall asleep, still too wound up from the adventure he'd had. It didn't have to end. He remembered the teacher's words. Try to get back to a normal schedule, Anica had said. Try to forget what he'd been doing for a while. He checked the knot on the string around his neck tied to the little leather pouch he'd put the 'dislocator' into, making sure it wouldn't open during the night and make him a target again. His parents hadn't even asked about the new necklace – sure he'd lose this one in a week as he usually did all of the others he'd ever worn.

His mind kept racing. He listened to the sound of his pulse thundering along at its usual reckless speed for a few seconds. Too much sugar and caffeine? Nerves? In a few months he'd start to get ready for the move to Orlando for the second season of seaQuest. He'd be living alone after a while – for the first time in his life – starting another kind of adventure. He'd miss his friends and family, and he knew that they would miss him, but he also knew that it wasn't forever, and he felt sure that his world would still be here whenever he came back, even if his destiny had other places and adventures in store. His eyes flickered around his familiar room, at all of the things that he had thought made up that world, at all the posters and books and souvenirs of his career. But there was so much more that he'd never seen, so much more to know and learn, and Orlando was just the start. He had a reprieve, anyway, doing The Good King Wenceslas in Prague before he had to really move to Florida.

He admitted to himself that it seemed a little scary, and maybe a little sad. He wasn't totally sold on being an adult yet.

He heard movement at his bedroom door and quietly braced for a surprise Ninja attack, like something out of Sidekicks.

Yeah, way too much imagination and caffeine.

Megan jumped up on his bed on the third try, using his Doc Martens as a staircase, and settled down by his side. He petted the dog, feeling the tension slowly leaving his body. He had time for whatever his 'mission' entailed.

There was still lots of time to be a hero.

But first the f-ing DMV.


"I can't give you too much information, especially concerning technology," Mel said. "I'm afraid of altering the time-stream more than I already have."

"We're not asking for anything we don't directly need, Ms Marsh," Captain Bridger noted. "Whatever you can do for us will be greatly appreciated. In fact, returning Lucas to us so easily was more than we had expected."

"Hey! You weren't looking anymore?" Lucas said, pacing. He'd changed into his normal outfit of flannel and khakis, dropping the locator beacon into his shirt pocket and pinning it closed.

"Of course we were, Lucas. We weren't exactly sure how to retrieve you, though." He looked over the wardroom table at Mel, not asking the questions that he really wanted to. The first involved her own time and space and how events had led her to this point.

If one pair of rogue scientists from their future could shape a plan…

"Without giving away too much, Captain, Lucas was destined to return."

Lucas' mouth dropped open.

"You mean you knew? You knew I'd get back here all along?"

"Yes. To keep the time-stream from altering my own past, I had to make sure you got back to the seaQuest."

"But as a brain-wiped vegetable?"

She looked down.

"That wasn't part of the original plan. I'm certain Lachance would have persuaded you to do as he wanted."

"And Jonathan? Was he always going to get back to his own time, or was Lachance going to empty his head too?"

She fell silent. In her situation, she'd had to keep many secrets about their futures from the people around her. It was simple time maintenance. She'd already revealed too much to the crew of the seaQuest and their young Chief Computer Analyst as it was. The forces that they were toying with could easily destroy more than one single reality.

In fact, they could conceivably destroy all reality.

It was a simple application of Occam's Razor; give them what they needed to know to keep her time-line intact and not suffer from the consequences.

"You weren't supposed to meet. The whole operation was supposed to be clean and quick and, if everything worked out the way Lachance had it planned, neither of you would have even remembered what had happened, and neither of you would have been hurt. You'd have continued your lives, and whatever was originally destined to happen, would."

"Then these other two? The one's we met in…" Bridger waved his hand around.

"Dairyland," Lucas provided.

"I'm not sure how they're related to Lachance's plan," Mel stated truthfully. "I'm certain that whatever their original intent, things have gotten far beyond their control, and they're just pawns in an even bigger game they can't comprehend." She drummed her hand on the polished wood of the table, not surprised that it was made of real wood and not an imitation, as it was on set. "In any case, they aren't responsible for your meeting, or your bouncing around in time."

"So I could just… Poof back to wherever Jonathan is at any second, or he could just appear out of nowhere?" Lucas asked, holding open hands by his shoulders.

"Maybe. Whatever Lachance did just opened the door for you. Someone else is running this now." She looked significantly at Lucas. "Maybe it really is the both of you, or maybe someone with an entirely different agenda."

"So this whole insane adventure could be some lunatic science experiment to bring vintage clothes to the 21st Century?" He dropped his hands, sighing. "Actually, that's sort of cool, in a really demented way."

"What it means, Lucas, is that I can't be completely sure how much time we have to complete the part of our plan we started at Universal," Mel said softly. "Or if we have any time at all."

Bridger regarded her for long seconds without saying anything. Roy Scheider had nothing on this man for quiet intensity, Mel thought.

"Then let's get going," he said finally. "Let's get our false 'Lucas'."

"What if I..?" The real Lucas flipped his hands open in front of him, blowing out a gust of air.

"We'll deal with that when and if it happens." Bridger gazed into the boy's eyes intently. "Whatever it is you've been doing to time-travel, try not to for a while, okay, son?"

"Instead of, 'Lucas, stay in your room', it's, 'Lucas stay in your own dimension'?"

"Sort of," Bridger laughed.

"Well… I'll try. I can't make any promises, though."


"Turn to the right," the lady said tonelessly from behind the DMV counter.

Jonathan sighed and did as he was told. So he'd still look like a shoplifter for a few months on his ID. He could deal with it. Of all of the thousands of pictures that had been taken of him, posed and candid, and though he had very rarely met a camera that didn't love him, his DMV picture had been absolutely hideous beyond imagination. This had to be an improvement, and even if it wasn't, he had a few fake ID's that no one knew about from various states that would suffice until he could get the adult reissue in April, including one from Louisiana that said he was 42.

"Is tha..?" The flash went off.

"Thank you. Next!"

"But..!" He'd been turning towards the camera, eyes half closed, mouth open. He'd look drunk or stoned, or both, on his license for the next four months. "Great."

"You'll get the replacement license in about six weeks. In the meantime here's an interim document. Present it to any peace officer if asked," the equally toneless man at the last desk told him, sliding a yellow sheet of paper across the counter. Mercifully, this ID didn't have a picture. As he turned to leave he heard the man speak again, still tonelessly.

"I loved you on Star Trek!"

"Thanks," he said, biting back a rude response and putting on his enormous sunglasses, though outside it was cloudy. It was sort of a nice respite, not being recognized at all by the lines of zombified people at the DMV, the seventh circle of hell. Even the fifteen and sixteen year old girls getting permits and licenses hadn't connected him with the covers of their BOP magazines, some of them being carried under an arm along with their student driver's manuals. He imagined that if Steven Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, Mel Gibson and Stacy Haiduk had all been having a raging nude keg party in the middle of the linoleum when he'd gotten his license, he wouldn't have noticed. He smiled. Well, maybe, if Stacy had been there…

He looked at his watch. It had taken him just under an hour for five minutes of business. Not bad for the DMV! He had a little time before he got back to reading mail and sending out answers. No one had told him that part of being a 'cover boy' would entail this kind of homework, 24/7. He received an average of 2,000 letters a day, and that was when the mail was slow. At least he had hands to write. Now with all the mail Darwin got…

His father waited in the parking lot – in the delivery van. He pulled his head into his shoulders. He hoped no one thought that he was being abducted. He could just see the headlines: SEAQUEST STAR KIDNAPPED BY CRAZED COOKIE DELIVERY MAN! He looked around. No. Everyone around him was way too absorbed with memorizing the different colored curbs and the amount of time you could stop at them.

"How'd it go?" Greg asked him.

"My picture's going to suck big time. Same old same old."

His father laughed. "Yeah. It'll keep you humble."

Jonathan laughed back. "Too late." He thought for a minute. "Where did Mom go? I thought she was picking me up?" He opened a package of Milanos his father had left on the seat for him and started to munch.

"Mail run. The fan club called…"

Jonathan groaned. More mail? He was going to quit acting and become a cattle farmer. Cows didn't get much fan mail. He sighed. All right. It came with the territory.

"Let's postpone for a while, then," his father said. "What do you want for lunch?"

"Tommy's?"

"Jonathan! Those things are poison!"

"Hey, they haven't killed me yet!"

"Yet."

Greg began to drive towards the mall and Tommy's.


Dave looked at the readout and pursed his lips.

"Don't tell me we've lost the boys completely after all of that!"

Nick took a deep breath. Dave had almost no imagination, a fact, but the limits of his own patience were close.

"Clever boy. They've masked the signals. Here!" He pointed to a trembling sphere. "This one is correct."

Dave used his depth perception to determine the exact location of the signal.

"That's in 2018B. Neither of them is in 2018 right now. And this one is… a 1994A, and not the right one."

"But look at its behavior. It's obviously a false signal."

"Someone onboard seaQuest has tried to outwit us. They've gone through a lot of trouble to try to fool us into thinking Wolenczak isn't with the actor." He crossed his arms. "But we know better. Their technology is no match for ours. Right?"

"Let me filter out the noise. Tell me if it gets any more distinct in the crystal." He looked sharply up. "And don't get too close to it."

"Yes, yes. I'll be careful. It's not my depth perception that's fried." He leaned over the circular rail and gazed into the pitted crystal. "I can't tell if it's sharper. Everything's fuzzy in here!"

"Just see if it's fluctuating. If you see any type of inconsistency, we'll know that the signal is being produced artificially."

"Fluctuating…" Dave hissed under his breath. The blasted surface of the crystal made it almost impossible to tell if anything wasn't solid, all of the drifting spheres twinkling like a dull star field. Why hadn't Nick thought of that? Of course he wouldn't. He was pure impulse and arrogance. "What makes you think the signals in 2018 aren't the ones we want, only masked?"

"Then we bring them here…"

"We haven't been having much luck with this random seizing of items. Wolenczak is nothing if not resourceful, and his shipmates are rapidly catching up."

"You won't let me solve the problem by sending them a surprise. If we eliminate the seaQuest then finding Wolenczak should be easy. He'll have nowhere to run."

"And if he managed to upload his formulations and we destroy the ship, and then he jumps to God-knows-where?" He glared at his double. "Or if he's onboard the seaQuest when you exact your pettiness?" Nick didn't answer. "Exercise some rare judgment, brother. Be patient for once. He'll slip. He's as impetuous as you are. In this case, it's to our advantage."

"Then we just…sit here?"

"We keep an eye on the signals until we see their plan, let them make their move, then, checkmate."


"Glad to hear from you again, Lucas," Dr. Le Conte said from the screen. "I had rather hoped you'd be involved in the solution of this riddle. I hear you've thought of some improvements to my device using a large crystal."

"I don't think we'll ever find out everything it can do, Dr. Le Conte."

The blind scientist laughed.

"Yes, I suppose we must dismantle the machine when we're through here. It's a pity, though. So much good could come of it." He tilted his head, thinking. "And it's going to be hard to put the genie back into the lamp."

"We have a rare opportunity to affect the future, Tobias, and I don't mean by using time-travel," Bridger noted.

"Yes. I suppose your…our species isn't ready for the responsibility."

"So? What are we waiting for?" Lucas asked, pacing again.

"We're waiting for a capture of your signal from Jonathan's time, and then we'll connect our interface directly into the crystal, which should allow us pinpoint accuracy in sending out anything," O'Neill said. "In the meantime, I think we've rigged up a pretty good decoy." He smiled happily. "I managed to isolate your DNA and download it into a magnetic attachment for one of our Plasma torpedoes."

Mel kept her silence. It hadn't been Tim O'Neill who'd developed the targeting technology. She looked up at Lucas.

It had been him, in 2019.

"Mind if I take a look at your specs?" Lucas said offhandedly.

"Sure. I think I've gotten it right, though I'm no computer genius." O'Neill blinked at the image on the screen. "Interesting choice in hair-color, there, Lucas."

The new brunette touched his hair. "I was trying to match yours."

He sat down quickly at a screen. The mathematics flew by so quickly that it appeared to the others as a colored river of light. Suddenly the motion stopped.

"Wait a minute."

"What's wrong?"

"This code sequence algorithm. If you use this, the whole thing'll flicker on and off like a traffic light." He punched a few keys, checked his numbers again. "This'll work for now, but it's still going to cycle. Why's it so unstable?"

"It's why we can't make an exact clone of you, Lucas. The unique patterns have a built-in cancellation of redundancy. There can only be one real set of DNA strands. The rest are copies. Increasingly worse ones with gaps." O'Neill seemed fine with the situation. "Even identical twins have their own separate DNA sequences."

"The laws of nature, if you will," Le Conte added. "One set to a customer."

"I could probably fix it, if we had more time, like a year, maybe. Will this fool those guys in the future?" Lucas set his unwavering gaze on Mel. It was like two sapphire lasers burned into her.

"I… I don't know. We're improvising now."

"Great!" Lucas huffed. He slapped his pocket and the locator. "What about these?"

You should know, she thought. "The disks are a little more sophisticated. They should keep anyone looking for you off your trail." She kept her cool admirably. "The person who perfected them knew what he was doing."

"We'll have to continue to improvise then," Bridger said quietly. "Ready a Plasma torpedo, full charge, and a low-yield VIPR missile."

"Why two weapons, Captain?" Lucas asked.

"One for our friends in the future and one for the time-machine we're using. The electrostatic pulse should not only destroy their machine, but all of their databases, and if we destroy ours as well, there'll be nothing of our equipment in their time to use. They'll have to start from scratch." He looked at Mel seriously. "We also know how to protect the future, Ms Marsh, and we're willing to make the necessary sacrifices."

Lucas swallowed the intense desire to see the time-machine up close with more time to study it; to learn its secrets. But the responsible side of him knew it was too dangerous for anyone to have that much power, and satisfying his curiosity could potentially kill a lot more than just one cat.

"You will let us know when to evacuate, Nathan," Le Conte joked from the center screen. "It's only sporting." When this got no response he continued, more subdued. "We'll, of course, leave all of the pertinent information here. If Mr. Wolenczak takes care of the data on your ship, that should annihilate all of the research."

"You seem awfully …sanguine about this, Tobias."

"Oh, this project was just a diversion. I'm much more interested in traveling." His blank blue eyes drifted skyward.


The little girl kept staring at him as he waited at the payphone outside of the supermarket across from his house. Jonathan gave her his trademark crooked grin, but said nothing, keeping his face to the wall. The teacher wasn't answering this early on Sunday morning.

"C'mon! C'mon!" Finally he heard a click. "Hey, Gar, it's Jonathan…" The machine started playing a French song. "Great!" He waited for the tone. "Get your ass out of bed! We need to tag the crystal! I'll meet you at… the Cinnabon at NFC at 12:30. I don't know my way around Cal State Northridge." He put the phone back in the cradle. He was still stuffed full of blueberry pancakes – in fact his mother had wondered why he'd eaten so much so fast, and he'd kidded he thought it was tapeworms - but he could use a Mocha Chillatta.

"Excuse me, sir," the little girl said politely.

He smiled inwardly, still not used to having someone refer to him as 'sir' who wasn't a waiter or traffic cop.

"Yeah?"

"Are you Jonathan Brandis?"

"Uh, yeah. That's me."

"Oooh!" She giggled. "My sister says you're hot."

He looked down, embarrassed. He still wasn't used to people talking about him this way, even after all of the attention his looks had gotten, and all of the overheated articles in teen magazines. "Thanks, I guess."

She looked him up and down.

"I don't see it." She shook her head. "I love Jonathan Taylor Thomas." She closed her eyes and hugged herself, smiling happily. "Now he's a doll!"

"I'll tell him when I see him." He gave her a little wave.

He walked back to his car, retrieved the night before from Universal. It was curious how the people in his neighborhood seldom made the connection between him and his overexposed image. Still, he usually wore a pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap as a half-hearted disguise. Now, if he could grow a beard… He felt his chin. Nah. Not yet. The spotty way it would come in now, he'd look like a radiation victim or a bad grunge-rock wannabe. He checked his watch. He still had a couple of hours. He'd go to the mall and check out the CD's for awhile, try to superimpose the mall he'd seen in the 70's with the one that existed now, and see if the patchouli at Spencer's really was the same packages still there from twenty years before.


Sam Goody's was almost empty, which suited him fine. He stood looking at the VHS section: had it, had it, didn't want it, had it, had it… He picked up a used copy of Psycho. When you bought a used tape you took your chances, and this one had been pretty beaten up. He had a copy of this tape in even worse shape already, but since the premiere of Sidekicks at the Alfred Hitchcock scoring theater last year, he felt a special connection to ol' Hitch.

And his life lately had definitely resembled someone's idea of a sick joke. He put it in his 'maybe' pile, already six tapes deep. Here he was spending money on VHS tapes when everyone knew that laser discs were going to make them all obsolete in a few years. He shrugged. Maybe it was his native love of retro style, but he wanted these. He'd put them with his ancient 8-tracks. He smiled. Maybe Gar could use the 8-tracks in his equally ancient car with the melted rear speakers.

Suncoast Video had been equally unproductive, but, he reminded himself, he was on a secret mission. He reluctantly put the tapes back and started for the meeting place.

Gar, to his credit, had been on time and sat at one of the tables eating a Cinnabon and drinking a coffee. Hot coffee sounded better than a cold Chillatta, actually, and he got into the line and quickly bought a large, then tarted it up with lots of sugar and milk.

He sat opposite Gar at the small table. Gar considered him over his Raybans taking a long drink of his coffee. He crossed his arms.

"You are stalking me, huh?"

"Only if you're hiding See's."

"Yeah, I think I remember that. I totally corrupted your 'brother' that day."

Jonathan smiled and put an index finger to his lips. "What happened in the 70's stays in the 70's."

"Believe me, kid, that's a good thing. Especially the hair styles,"

Jonathan took a huge gulp of coffee, feeling it warm him immediately.

"So, what's the plan?"

"Well, after our little confab, we'll go to CSUN and tag the crystal. It's Sunday, so hardly anyone will be there."

Jonathan looked confused. "Confab?"

"Confabulation. Palaver. Chat."

Jonathan gazed perplexedly at him for a second. "You make these words up, don't you?"


The college campus was fairly abandoned, as Gar had said it would be. They'd parked the rotting Nova next to the elementary school where Jonathan had filmed the top-of-the-wall skateboard scene in The Wrong Guys – except that it hadn't been him, and the only skating part he'd done that day was standing on a board nailed to a cart which two guys pushed along the sidewalk – sort of what he and Danny had done for the hover board film he'd done in ninth grade just to fool Glenn.

"So, where do they keep this thing?"

"Over in the new faculty office building, next to the South Library," Gar said, gesturing across the campus. "NFC donated the crystal to CSUN about ten years ago, just before Westfield bought it and did the remodel. I'm not sure if CSUN even wanted it, but here it ended up."

The faculty building looked suspiciously like a jail, a six-story group of offices circling two courts surrounded by metal fences and gates. Next to the traditional college-looking brick of the South Library it seemed like an eyesore.

"It's very…" Jonathan struggled for a good adjective, "functional", was the only one he could think of. "Like, maybe, juvenile hall."

"Yeah. I think it was supposed to be the school zoo." He walked toward one of the open gates. "Maybe it was to cage examples of 'rowdy incoming freshman Homo Sapiens'."

It was easy to spot the crystal, which was placed in the center of one court like a prison-guard station, a low rail around it.

"Do you have the…locator thing?"

Gar reached into his black shoulder bag and pulled out the disk.

"What do we do?"

"I guess we just put it on the crystal. I put a strip of double-stick tape on it."

"Poster tape?"

"Of course." He cleaned a spot on the dusty crystal, low enough to be almost invisible to anyone else, and put the disk against its surface. Nothing happened. "Well, that was anti-climactic."

"Is it turned on?"

"How do we know?"

Jonathan carefully opened the pouch hanging around his neck and looked inside. "There's a dim little green light in the center of mine. There must be a switch or something."

The teacher put his face close to the disk. "I don't see anything. Maybe it's touch activated."

"Who can we ask?"

"Maybe if I tap it," Ray said, leaning close and tapping the disk with a fingertip. "Well, that didn't seem to do it."

"Let me try," Jonathan said, moving forward.

"Careful, there's a sharp…"

Jonathan pulled his hand back, shaking his pricked finger, and then put it into his mouth. The teacher gave a heavy breath, seeing a drop of blood hitting the dirt at the base of the crystal.

"I was going to tell you that there's a sharp metal point just along the edge."

"Thanks for the warning, Mr. G.," Jonathan grumbled around his finger. Nothing happened for long seconds. "So, do we just wait?"

They stood staring at the disk for a time.

"Lucas said that it had already happened in his time. I guess our part of this is done."

Jonathan felt strangely empty. Maybe his adventures in time-travel had just ended.

"That's it, then?" he sighed. He dug his hands into the pockets of his brown corduroy jacket, lowering his head into the collar.

"Don't be sad, Jon," the teacher said softly. "You're a hero, even if you don't realize it. We may never know what kind of damage you and Lucas prevented, and all the people you saved because you weren't selfish." He put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "But you'll know in your heart that it was the right thing."

"So, it's going to be a secret, now? No one but us'll know?"

"Yeah. Sometimes the only right thing to do is keep a secret, even if you're dying to spill it." He smiled. "Like not giving away the ending of a film to someone who hasn't seen it yet."

"This is probably a little more important."

"That depends on what film."

"Think the faculty will miss their crystal?"

The teacher snickered. "They'll probably be relieved." He pulled the teenager towards the gate. "Let's get you back to your car and you can get home."

"So, what are you doing tomorrow for Martin Luther King Day?"

"I'm not sure. I'll probably do some writing if I get done correcting homework tonight. Other than that, I have the day free."

"'Free at last, free at last…'," Jonathan shouted to the overcast sky. They walked in silence for a bit. "Be sure to watch seaQuest tonight."

"Yes. Of course. I've been taping them all for posterity."

"Posterity?"

"In case, you know, you get cancelled."

"Great. Just what I need. More pressure! Now I've gotta wait for the overnights."

The teacher laughed. "You know you love the suspense."

"Yeah, for now." He watched a squirrel run past them and up a tree, its mouth stretched around a walnut. "Why don't humans have pouches in their cheeks? You could carry food in them for later…"

The teacher just shook his head. "Take it up with the designer."


"We have a reading on the crystal from 194A, Captain!" O'Neill said excitedly. "Lucas's false signal."

"All right." Bridger stood calmly. "Are we ready in the torpedo bay?"

"Yes, Captain," Lucas' voice came over the intercom. "Ready to activate the locator."

"Lieutenant Commander? All set in the cave?"

"Aye, sir," Hitchcock's voice snapped out of the speaker. "We're ready here."

Bridger took a deep breath and waited. "Let's see if they take the bait."


"Nick, old chap…"

"Will you just stop it! It's gotten very old."

"All right, then. I just thought you'd like to know that there's a very strong new signal in 1994."

This got Nick's attention. He leaned close to the monitor, squinting.

"Still too vain for spectacles, brother?"

Nick ignored him, punching some numbers into a keyboard. He grinned evilly.

"This time we've got them." He looked up, triumphant. "We've got them both!" He clenched a fist.

Dave studied the pitted glass surface. Both of the boys' moving signals were illuminated now, the spheres glowing brightly enough for even someone with little depth perception to be able to see them in the interior of the crystal. Still, he felt uneasy.

"You're certain, this time? No more tigers or old boots?"

"Absolutely. Their DNA signatures are clear, and both of them are there for the picking." He gave a twisted smile. "It seems as if Wolenczak couldn't disguise their signals while they traveled. It's an oversight that's going to cost him." He laughed. "Dearly."

"You are such a cliché, Nick. Really. Are you going to tie them to the railroad tracks next, or to a log in a sawmill?"

Nick didn't take his eyes from the screen.

"We'll figure out how to dispose of them later. I'll leave that part to you. Now let's see where they're going so we can harvest them right out of the ether before they completely make the transition." He finally looked up. "Be ready with the gun. Shoot for the knees or elbows." He smiled again. "That should pluck their wings."


Lucas scrutinized his own screen, the live feed from the coast, and tried to determine the exact best moment to activate their false signal.

But something was very wrong.

"Captain, Dr. Le Conte, I see two signals; mine and Jonathan's. Are you reading the same thing?"

"Jonathan must have accidentally deactivated his disk somehow," Mel said. "But we still have to go through with our plan."

"Captain, those idiots in the future aren't that stupid. If they read both Jonathan's and my signals, they're sure to go for what they think is the real Lucas." He bit his lip. "And they'll get the real Jonathan." He thought quickly. "Unless…" He grabbed Mel's 'Visitor' badge and roughly pulled it from her shirt.

"Lucas, wha..?"

"No time to explain!" He opened the pin in the back and grimaced as he drove the point into his right palm."


Jonathan woke with a start to a terrible stabbing pain in his hand. He groggily turned on his bedside light and looked, rubbing the skin. He was bleeding from a puncture wound to the palm.

"Where in the hell did that come from?" He looked at the clock. 4:25 AM. Great. He didn't have an early call for the first time in weeks, and now he was wide awake. "Lucas, what are you doing?" He stood up and started for the bathroom to stem the bleeding.


"Got you," Nick snickered.


Lucas slammed his bloody palm against the marked torpedo and the blinking light of their jerry rigged locator.

"DR. LE CONTE! LIEUTENANT COMMANDER HITCHCOCK! LOCK ONTO THE DOUBLE SIGNAL RIGHT NOW!" He jumped away from the torpedo, pressing his wound to his mouth and blocking the blood flow with his tongue.


"We have the double signal, Captain Bridger," Hitchcock said calmly, her eyes never leaving the display.


"Wait!" Dave yelled. "There are three signals now; two traveling to 2018B and the other just now appearing at the same juncture." He sneered. "That's rather inconvenient."

"We'll nab the lot, then." Nick activated the time-machine.


"We're losing the signals, Lieutenant Commander," O'Neill said, trying not to yelp with anxiety.

"I'm aware of that," Hitchcock growled, still trying to remain calm. "Dr. Le Conte, is there any way we can boost the power to your machinery?"

The blind scientist shook his head.

"I'm afraid we've lost the 20th Century boy and the crystal."

The torpedo flickered and blinked out of the torpedo bay with a pop. Lucas had programmed it to detonate on rematerialization.

His eyes opened wide. They'd given Jonathan to Nick and Dave, and sent him into an explosion?

"Tim, can you isolate Jonathan's signal?" he cried desperately into the communicator.

Silence came from the speaker.

"Tim?"

"I'm… I'm sorry Lucas."

He turned to the girl.

"Mel, isn't there anything that we can do?"

"I just don't know, Lucas."

The young but slight genius slammed a fist into the bulkhead, regretting it immediately when he felt a shock of pain in his knuckles.


Jonathan grabbed his hand. "Damn, Lucas! Be careful!" He put his hand under the running cold water, looked up at himself and ran the same hand through his hair. So what if there weren't any cameras? You should always try to look your best.

"Yeah, at four frickin' thirty on a Monday morning." He stuck his tongue out at his mirror image. "Take that, Banananite-Boy!" Megan dashed by his foot and hid, trembling, in a corner. "What's wrong, girl?"


Nick sat back in the control chair.

"We have them." He rubbed his hands together.

"You're certain?"

"This time there's no escape." He let his finger hang over the key that would materialize both young nuisances in their time and space, savoring the victory. "Be ready with the gun in the imaging chamber."

Dave allowed himself a smile.

"Well, it looks as if I might have to keep you after all."

He warily walked to the door that led to the chamber, opened it and left it wide so Nick could see what was going to happen. He would enjoy this part, he thought. Knees or elbows? Both? Shoulders? Lucas' hand and Jonathan's foot? Blast the stupid crooked grins off of both of the little badgers' smug faces? He sighed.

"So many choices, so little time." He moved down the staircase swiftly and raised the gun to eye level; careful this time to allow an escape route should his 'twin' have gotten a rhinoceros and a hyena this time by mistake. "Ready!"

But instead of the boys materializing, a blazing vortex formed in the empty space before him, bending light and dimensions. He angrily glared back at the open door.

"Nick, this is getting tiresome!"

The other scientist realized at the last second what he'd just done.

"Dave, get out of there! And stay away from the...!"

The console tore loose from the floor with a shower of spark, flying across the room and into the open door. His head snapped sideways as the interface helmet's wiring nearly decapitated him, trying to follow the attached console. He jammed his fingers under the chinstrap and let it go, seeing it sailing like some airborne octopus through the door of the imaging chamber. Anything loose was being dragged inexorably toward the contained vortex.

"DAVE!" Nick forced himself out of the seat and slapped his open hand on the remote trigger, trying to put whatever he'd captured safely back into the space between times and dimensions with their other stored disasters. As he began the entry, he felt himself being pulled backwards towards the imaging chamber door. The ground trembled with an ever-increasing rumble as the vortex grew. "OH BLOODY HELL!"

Dave had lodged himself in the railing of the stair, unable to pull himself back upwards, but not yielding to the increasing pull of whatever caused the powerful wind and gravitational flux. Then it dawned on him.

They'd gotten the original crystal.

It should have been an incredible triumph, but he knew that they might just have destroyed all of time and space because of Nick's hotheadedness. Identical matter cannot exist in the same place at the same time, and nature was attempting to destroy the anachronistic crystal and the time paradox by imploding it out of existence before the two merged…

Along with the universes from which they'd come.


The giant ship shuddered and lights dimmed, a wave of distorted air passing them.

"What's happening?" Lucas said, bracing himself against a support rib. "Captain? Dr. Le Conte? What's going on?"

Mel's eyes grew round. "Oh no…"


At the laboratory on the coast, Hitchcock couldn't believe what she saw. The spheres she'd been tracking had merged into one which grew exponentially into a giant, pulsing, angry red globe, engulfing everything around it. Whatever the errant scientists in the future had done, it had resulted in eminent oblivion for everything. Alarms began to sound in the lab, a klaxon going off on the wall.

"That can't be good," O'Neill squeaked in spite of himself.

"I suggest that we retreat," Le Conte said calmly. He reached past Hitchcock and pressed the com button. "If you are going to launch your VIPR, Captain, I suggest you do it quite soon, or you may not get the chance..," he turned off the com, "to do anything ever again." He swallowed, collected himself by placing his fingertips together and smiled at Hitchcock. "After you, madam."

The Lieutenant Commander didn't need a second invitation, dragging leads with her.


Nick entered code as swiftly as possible, feeling himself being dragged across the floor. He dodged an office chair and the remains of Dave's dinner as they barreled past him and into the insatiable maw of the time-tornado. If he could just…

"It's the crystal! It's trying to merge with itself! Do something, you idiot!" Dave's voice blasted out of the din around them.

"Thank you for being so supportive!"

In the chamber, Dave looked over his shoulder at the pulsating enigma behind him. A rainbow assortment of light strands connected the crystals; one near pristine and the other the pitted remnant they had used. Slowly they were approaching each other. A chair sailed over his head and disappeared into the space between the crystals, simply vanishing from existence in any dimension or time. If he calculated correctly, soon the pull would draw their entire dimension into it, the anomalous crystals would merge, implode, causing a multiverse-wide singularity, and... He thought quickly.

There was only one answer.

"Send it back! Send it back to its point of origin! Nick! NOW!" he screamed against the torrent of light and sound.

But Nick had already begun the process, reversing his previous keystrokes. He was trying to send an object to a previous existence by using the same object in the present…which would never have been here to work with had it been transported to the present time and not been left in the past where it had been originally. The physics and logic dizzied him, made worse by the time distortion, the effects of which, he already felt.

"THERE!" He grinned, just before the gravity of the two crystals pulled him from his safety and straight through the door.

He caught himself on the metal railing with the crook of his left arm, hearing the whine of the machinery in the cave walls powering up beyond any capacity to which it had ever been forced. He managed a look down at his 'twin', clinging with equal fervor to the rail just below him. He held out the remote trigger, his legs trailing off behind him like two flags flapping in a storm.

'I CAN'T HOLD ONTO THE RAIL AND PUSH THE BUTTON AT THE SAME TIME! YOU'LL HAVE TO DO IT!"

"SEE? YOU DO NEED ME!" Dave struggled up the railing, locking his right elbow around it and sliding along. He realized that he still held the gun in his left hand and dropped it. Instantly it was sucked into the maelstrom. "I SEE. YOU'VE JUST BEEN TRYING TO BUILD A SURPASSINGLY EXCELLENT VACUUM CLEANER!"

"DO IT!"

Dave caught the edge of the remote, managed to get his hand around it and drive his left thumb into the button.

"SIMPLE!"

Then the other time-traveler, the plasma torpedo, emerged out of the void, spun in the light-filled space for an instant and detonated. Dave lost his grip and hung motionless for a long second before he arced toward the crystals and crawling snakes of vivid plasmic electricity shooting through the deluge of colored radiance.

Without thinking, Nick reached out and grabbed Dave's wrist, seeing him smile briefly, before they both were wrenched into the newly-created time-gate, slamming into each other against the crystal.

The paradox turned in upon itself, the future crystal drawing the energy from the torpedo to complete its last command. The anachronism from 1994 vanished into a dot of light and, a half-second later, the future crystal simply evaporated, leaving the remaining plasma energy to destroy whatever remained of Nick and Dave's laboratory in a blue-white flash.

XXII

The shuddering aboard the seaQuest ended abruptly. Lucas picked himself up from the floor, helping Mel to her feet.

"We're still here?" she said in a high voice

Lucas gave her an irritated glare, not because of the observation, but because it had sounded far too much like surprise.

He leaped to the com panel.

"Captain Bridger? Is everything all right up there?"

"Yes, Lucas. We had a bit of turbulence, as if we were caught in a whirlpool, but it seems that we've weathered it."

Ensign Maldonado rapidly ran through a checklist before he turned to the captain.

"All stations reporting, sir. No damage we can see beyond a few rattled nerves."

"What about on the coast?"

"We're all out of the cave, Captain," O'Neill said from the speaker. "We'll be clear shortly. Our equipment… Well, that's a different story. Sorry Miguel."

Ortiz shrugged. It seemed like this outing on the seaQuest was specifically meant to destroy all of their sophisticated electronic toys one after another.

"It's all right, Mr. O'Neill. Equipment is replaceable." He looked proudly at his staff. "Good men aren't." He paused for a moment. "As soon as the away team is at a safe distance, launch the VIPR. Let's end this thing once and for all." His steely gaze told of resolve, but in his heart he already mourned the boy from the 20th Century. Meddling with time had cost all of them, Jonathan and Lucas the most. The best he could hope for now was to minimize the collateral damage.

He moved to the com panel.

"Is there any way we can find out what happened, Lucas?"

"Only if we download the program from the coast, sir." He fought the urge to do so. They had to stop using the technology. "If we don't, then all of Dr. Le Conte's information on dimensional travel will be destroyed by the VIPR. I made sure we didn't back it up. Maybe, this time, we can put the genie back." His eyes never left Mel. She really didn't know what the future held now. None of them did. He sighed, slowly becoming accustomed to the idea. Maybe he was growing up. His mind wandered back to Jonathan and all of his adventures with his lost double. He winced with inward pain. Growing up sucked, then.


The time-machine executed its last command flawlessly…until its command codes disappeared with the laboratory. The human time-travelers and the crystal parted long before either time-jump ended, the brothers shot into their own separate location. The crystal dropped out of the ether, materializing where the code said Northridge, 1994A, should have been. The calculations that Nick had made were incompletely sent, however, and instead of appearing on the surface of the planet, the crystal, its attendant burst of inconceivable energy, and some of the collected mayhem that Nick had been storing to blackmail entire civilizations formed eleven miles beneath the earth's crust. The crystalline structure held for a nano-second under the enormous pressure of the billions of tons of land, and then collapsed, resulting in a fusion event so massive it created an underground rent in the crust. This translated into a series of seismic waves, the first of which rocketed towards the surface at 4:31 AM, Monday, January 16.


"Megan, what's wrong?" Jonathan got down on one knee and tried to coax the little Westie out of the corner. The little white dog refused to move, her trembling increasing. "What the f..?"

The first warning was a deep rumble from the ground beneath them, deeper than any sound he'd ever heard and growing louder. Just as he figured out what it was, the lights went out and the shockwave struck, slamming him into the wall. His, his father's and his mother's panicked screams were covered by the sound of everything in the condo crashing to the ground at the same time.

It seemed like the end of the world.


The shock wave could find no place to rupture the earth, and so continued to spread its pressure outward from its epicenter for more than 400 miles. Had the activity been along a fault line, most of the energy would have been expended by moving the pieces of crust past each other. Instead, waves of turbulent motion swept outward in concentric circles, destroying everything in their path.

Cars, trains, trucks, even airplanes were flipped over like toys. Buildings, streets, roadways, tunnels, bridges, whole neighborhoods were instantly reduced to rubble, tons of wood, concrete, brick and rebar cascading to the ground and crushing anything in its way. The greatest damage to the area came immediately above the first shock. Cal State Northridge's buildings and parking structures and almost all of the surrounding homes and businesses were immediately leveled. A mile away, the retro-chic of NFC shattered into piles of brick and broken glass among ragged spires of splintered stucco in seconds. Broken streets erupted with natural gas explosions and water pipes ruptured among thousands of arcing transformers which sent violent white sparks into the black winter night, igniting dry palms and crumbling houses. In the center of the San Fernando Valley a sun-bright pillar of gas flame erupted out of a growing lake of water where the two utility lines had crossed and broken. The imitation Neo-Classical buildings of Hollywood Boulevard lost their facades, one building's shiny metal cupola turning sideways and dangling over the growing piles of broken masonry on the street. Thirty miles to the north of the epicenter, the town of Santa Clarita almost ceased to exist in mere seconds, while 150 miles to the south the towering sign and screens over Angel's Stadium fell into the upper tiers of the ball park. 100 miles to the west, the city of Ventura saw its main buildings slide off their foundations. 300 miles to the northeast, early gamblers in Las Vegas wondered at the rocking buildings and flickering overhead lights while random ceiling tiles fell to the carpeted floors. On Santa Catalina Island, 28 miles off the coast of California, the roof of the old art deco casino sank into the building and the narrow streets of Avalon broke into gravel. 200 miles to the east, people in Arizona were thrown out of bed into the winter night. For the first time in its history, the West Coast electrical grid shut down completely, from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, plunging 500 miles of Southern California into terrified darkness.

All of this happened in ten seconds.


"JONATHAN!" his mother cried.

"IN HERE!" Jonathan had picked Megan up and held her while the worst of the chaos had gone on. He wasn't sure at that moment who was comforting whom. It didn't matter. Her held her even more tightly as a vicious aftershock rocked the building again. Would this never end?

"Oh God! Are you all right?"

"Yeah! We're fine. I have Megan. We're okay!" He wondered why he felt so cold, and realized that the toilet tank had broken, spilling water all over the floor and soaking his boxer shorts. At least he hoped it was the water. At this point, he didn't really care. "Get a flashlight! There's broken glass everywhere!"

He crawled back into his room, immediately encountering obstacles. It was a moonless night, and no light came from any source. He could make out his window, broken, and could hear car alarms and, far away, the first sirens and helicopter motors of the response. He could also hear distant explosions and debris still falling everywhere around him. And below that, he could still hear the earth shuddering as it realigned itself in thousands of aftershocks.

Shoes.

He continued to carry Megan, who gave no resistance, and slid on his hands and knees across his bedroom floor. Everything he owned, it seemed, had piled itself in his way. He carefully slowed when he felt the first shards of broken glass from picture frames, and then picked up his boots, turning them over to dump out any glass that might have fallen into them. He might look stupid in boxers and Doc Martens, but he wasn't worried about it right then. It was hard to hold onto the dog and tie the boots with shaking hands, but he managed, just as his father cautiously came into the room with the flashlight.

"You need pants, Jonathan!"

"I don't care! Get us out of here. Maybe it's not over yet!"

"Where's your flashlight?" Greg, as a former fireman, had insisted that every room in the house be equipped with a flashlight and fire-extinguisher.

"Under the bed."

Greg's own flashlight played over the bed. Jonathan looked at it in horror.

All of his framed posters had come loose from the walls, shattered daggers of plastic impaling the sheets where he'd just been sleeping. Worse still, the rail lighting had come loose from the wall and now sat on the bed amongst remains of broken light bulbs. If Lucas hadn't poked his palm… He gingerly put his hand under the bed, encountering shoe boxes and some of Megan's old toys. His flashlight.

"Pants!" Greg ordered.

Jonathan could hear his mother in the other room gasping, as another shock went through the building.

"Stay in the doorway, Mary! We're almost there!"

Jonathan negotiated the piles of possessions in his room, mostly just displaced and not broken, he hoped, and noticed that the door mirror hadn't broken. So they wouldn't have bad luck. He frowned. What did you call this, then? He handed Megan off to his father and opened the closet door. Clothes and game boxes cascaded out, but nothing heavy. He pulled out the first pair of pants he could reach and shakily pulled them on after slipping out of the boots. He snagged a flannel from the vast stock hanging in the closet and put it on.

"How do I look?" he said in a panicky voice, not really caring.

Greg ran the flashlight over him. The first clothing he could reach had been his tuxedo pants, already a little short.

"Very stylish. Let's go get your mom and get out of here so we can assess the damage from outside."

"You don't think the house is gonna…collapse on us, do you?"

Greg put his finger to his lips. "I think we're all right, but let's make sure first."

Jonathan's mother looked terrified in the flickering beams of the flashlights, but she came out of the doorway and gave Jonathan a ferocious, possessive hug. He returned the hug, indulging in the closeness of family. They were all alive and unhurt.

Greg led the way down the stairs, checking each step first. Some of the picture frames that had hung in the stairwell had fallen onto the carpeted stair, but the wall itself seemed intact, the stairs still firmly attached.

The dining room and living room were a disaster of overturned tables, bookcases, chairs and scattered objects, the capricious nature of the quake apparent in how some things had been left exactly as they had sat for years while heavy furniture was totally upside-down. Marbles lay quietly on the cloth bottom of the overturned couch, regarding them as if in irritation that they'd disturbed her sleep. Jonathan picked the cat up, and she immediately began purring. The dog and cat looked at each other with suspicion, not great friends at the best of times.

Greg cleared the floor in front of the hall closet and, after carefully waiting for the small shower of loose objects from the shelf to end, they pulled out coats. Always prepared, Greg had put a transistor radio into a big pocket and he turned it on as they cautiously went out of their front door.

Some of their neighbors had already collected on the private street sidewalks, looking like deranged versions of trick-or-treaters dressed in whatever clothing they could grab, their flashlights stabbing through the pitch black of the cold night.

"Here, Jonathan" Greg said firmly. "Hold the dog and the radio. I'm going to make sure everyone on the block is okay." He checked his other pocket for the wrench he'd need to turn off the gas main to each condo he'd visit. He knew that the fire response would be very slow for a while, and they didn't need to survive the earthquake and then be burned out of their home by a gas fire.

"Wait! Let me come with you!"

"No, son. I need you to take care of your mother. I'll only be a few minutes. See if you can find a news station."

"Right," Jonathan said shakily. "Will do."

"I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down, a-tumbling down…" Carol King sang cheerfully from the tiny radio.


Something was very different about the air, Tim O'Neill thought. He sniffed suspiciously then turned to look southward, shielding his eyes from the rising sun. That was part of it, he thought. He shouldn't be able to see the sun.

"Dr. Le Conte…" he began.

"Yes, Mr. O'Neill. I noticed it too." He took a deep breath. "Exhilarating, isn't it?"

Hitchcock looked the same direction, uncertain what O'Neill was talking about. At first, the difference didn't seem startling, then the truth suddenly dawned on her.

"Dr. Le Conte, what Tim means is that there doesn't seem to be any ash in the air."

"Yes?" the scientist said calmly.

"Well… Shouldn't there be?"

"Indeed." He took another deep breath. "It seems that something we've done has altered history."

"Then..?" O'Neill asked, incredulous.

"Yes. We seemed to have lost Mt. Saint Vibiana."

"The entire volcano…disappeared?" Hitchcock gasped.

"I believe so." Le Conte sighed. "Oh well. What's one volcano more or less in the scope of things?"

Hitchcock put the communicator to her mouth, and then lowered it. How exactly did you begin with something like this?

A short line of cars zipped down Highway 1 suddenly, toward a city that, by her latest observation, had miraculously been resurrected.

"Los Angeles has come back from purgatory, Lieutenant Commander," Le Conte said, sighing. "I wonder if that great Polynesian restaurant in Malibu is back as well?"


"Captain?" Ford said from the com speaker.

"Commander?"

"We've run into… Well, there's traffic on the 101."

"Traffic? Explain."

"There's traffic on the way to Hueneme."

"Debris on the road? Landslides? Troops?"

"Civilian traffic, sir. Automobile traffic. Hundreds of cars, maybe thousands."

Bridger pondered this.

"And there's more, sir."

"Continue."

"It's sunny. There's no ash cloud."

"I'll await a report when you get back." Bridger crossed his arms. "And don't speed. The CHP was…is merciless on the 101." He walked forward and punched in the away team at the coast. "Lieutenant Commander?"

"Captain…"

"What are conditions out there?"

At first he wasn't sure she'd heard him, the silence seeming too long.

"The area is populated, sir. There are large, intact houses all along the cliffside."

"Populated? But the area was completely evacuated more than ten years ago?"

Another silence met his ears.

"Nathan," Le Conte's voice came over the radio, "Things have changed a bit since you were last out here. It seems that the harm our wayward friends in the future perpetrated must have included dropping a volcano into downtown Los Angeles."

"And..?"

"Yes, Captain. It appears that whatever havoc they caused disappeared with them, and the city was never destroyed."

Bridger considered this development.

"So we were successful in terminating their activity? The emergency is over?"

"So it would seem Captain. Apparently we've managed to alter the fabric of time significantly without tearing it to shreds. The upshot, Captain, is that you can't launch your VIPR into a populated area, unless the UEO evacuates it first."

"But it's necessary that we destroy the time machine, Tobias…"

"Captain, if we alter our present any more, it may affect our past and our future. Whatever we've done to this point has eliminated the immediate problem – and a rather troublesome volcano in the bargain. Perhaps we should just bury the project and be done with it without any further tampering. I can't begin to think of the ramifications of changing anything further than we already have. Someone other than these two miscreants must find the technology and straighten out the problems we were experiencing. If we destroy the machine, then it's possible we'll destroy our future ally's opportunity to aid us, whoever it is." He paused. "In other words, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Bridger smiled inwardly. Le Conte was right, of course.

"We can discreetly cover the entrance to the laboratory then, and lose the location." Bridger fought the concerns he felt. The greater good, he reminded himself. And it would be interesting to see Los Angeles as it existed now in an altered present.

"I concur, Nathan."

"I'll put a team together to begin the…'anti-excavation'."


They listened to the com chatter wordlessly, Lucas staring without blinking at Mel. If she had known that this would happen, she wasn't saying.

"Mel…"

"I can't tell you." She shook her head.

"Okay. Tell me this, then. Will I ever get to see LA without the volcano?"

This much information seemed safe.

"Yes. You will. If nothing else changes."

He swallowed several times. "Will I ever see Jonathan again?"

"There's no way to know. I already told you that you never met in any reality I know of." She smiled. "But fate might have some pretty strange curveballs left to throw."

"Is he alive, then?"

"What does your heart tell you?"

Lucas thought for a minute, smiled crookedly.

"That he's wriggled out of worse. But how can we know for sure?"

"There's only one way for me to find out, and this time I can't take you with me. You're needed here. And you have a destiny that you can't even imagine." She touched his shoulder and drew him toward her. Lucas didn't move. She leaned close to him, her eyes beautiful in the light of the submarine.

Lucas closed his own eyes and tilted his face downward, then felt her hand on his chest, opening the pocket with the locator disk.

"Hey!"

"Sorry. This doesn't belong here."

"I thought…you were…gonna…" He gestured to his lips, looking away embarrassedly and blushing.

She laughed. "Really? Tell people I did, then." She bopped his chin gently. "Little stud muffin!"

"Is a stud muffin a good thing?"

She sighed. He still had so much to learn. But he'd made a good start.

"I'll figure out some way to let you know what I discover about Jonathan if I can. I'm not sure how long this little machine will work, so I'll have to find another way." She held up the portable time device.

"Where will you go?"

"Back to where he was last headed."

"What if you get stranded?"

"I'll manage."

"Well, it's been a pleasure," Lucas said quietly. "Mostly, anyway."

She surprised him by going up on her toes and giving him a quick peck on the cheek.

"The pleasure's been all mine, Lucas."

With that she vanished, still smiling.


"It's freezing out here!" Mary complained, wrapping her arms around herself.

The wet shorts under Jonathan's pants weren't keeping much warmth in either.

"You're telling me."

Even the birds in their cage sitting on the walkway had fluttered around in a panic for a while, but now huddled together for warmth, seemingly unhurt.

According to the radio the earthquake had been centered someplace in the Valley and power was out to the entire city. At the moment there were no reports of anyone dying, but he knew that the news would change as soon as the sun rose. He heard helicopters and sirens all around them.

His world, all of his illusions about stability, had been shattered. But he knew who to blame. Somehow this was Nick and Dave's fault, he knew it.

Greg ran back to them.

"The neighborhood's safe. There are a few injuries, but nothing major. The Weiss kid was stuck in their garage in the car. He'd been coming back from sneaking out. Talk about bad timing. We managed to get him."

"Do we go back in, then?"

Greg looked warily at the dark mass of the house.

"Let me take a look at the outside and see if there's any damage to the foundation. I think we may have gotten lucky."

"Shouldn't we wait for daylight?" Mary said.

"What if this was just a foreshock? What if the real earthquake is still coming?" Jonathan panted. "What do we do then?"

"I don't know. We're gonna have to improvise, here."

"Great," Jonathan huffed. "I suck at improvisation."


Their house was a spectacular mess, Jonathan thought, taking a break from moving furniture and putting broken glass into boxes which they transported outside. His mother had managed breakfast, though cold, and the only bonus of the event; they had to eat as much of the food in the fridge as they could before it spoiled.

As dawn broke over the city, the news had become steadily graver. So far there were several deaths reported, most of them in Northridge at an apartment building. The newsmen had trouble keeping up with reports of damage from as far away as Anaheim, and reports of effects as far away as Idaho. He wondered idly about Gar…but he'd been through earthquakes before and was likely prepared. He'd find out as soon as he could, anyway.

He walked outside and breathed in the cold January air. The continuous restlessness of the ground still caused him momentary panic, but he had to convince himself that the worst was over to keep going back into the house.

They had many cracks, lots of broken glass, but the house had withstood the quake fairly well. His parents' focused activities, he knew, helped them cope with the fear and shock. He still felt the shaking of his insides which increased with every tremor. It helped to get mad, he realized. Someone had told him that you couldn't be afraid and angry at the same time. So far it had worked.

"Psst!"

Jonathan turned to look down the alley. He couldn't see anyone. He warily thought about Nick and Dave. What if they'd followed him here?

He struck a karate stance. In reality, he remembered about three percent of what he'd learned for Sidekicks, but they didn't know that. He backed slowly towards the house.

"No wait, Jonathan!" Mel came out from behind a dumpster.

"Why are you whispering?" he asked, "And why are you even here?" He looked around. "Now is a really bad time."

"I came back to make sure you were all right. We thought that the two scientists might have gotten you."

Jonathan felt over himself quickly. "No. Still here, as far as I know."

"They were reading your DNA traveling with the crystal. How did that happen?"

"I…uh… I stuck myself on something and probably got a little blood on it." He held up his index finger. Mel took his hand, looking at the palm.

"How did this happen?"

"Well, we had an earthquake. I figured you would know that, being from the future." He pulled his hand back. "You could have warned me."

"I'm not from your future, Jonathan. Events happened differently where I'm from." She seemed guilty. "Still, how did you do that to your palm?"

Jonathan thought back a few hours. The trauma of the earthquake had been preceded by…

"I woke up because there was a pain in my hand, and when I looked, I was bleeding, and when I went into the bathroom all hell broke loose."

Mel smiled.

"That makes you happy?"

"No. It's just… Trust me on this. Take off the jacket."

"Are you cold?"

"No! I need to do something."

Jonathan still felt suspicious, but he decided that he had to trust the girl, since she'd risked everything to try to save him.

She took his hand and turned it over, running a finger against the pale skin of his forearm.

"This might seem a little crazy," she said, and scratched a fingernail against the skin.

"What the hell?" He pulled his arm away.

"I'm sorry. We need to do this."

Jonathan rubbed his arm, but then put it out again, gritting his teeth as she scratched his skin.

"There. It won't last long. Don't rub it or you'll make it too hard to see."

"Jonathan looked at the underside of his arm where she'd scratched lines, not deeply. They were already turning fiery red against the untanned flesh.

"It itches already. What were you trying to do?"

"Send a message to a friend. Put your jacket back on, Jonathan. Go back inside. I'll get hold of you in a few days, if Lucas doesn't. Good job!"

"Okay. The house is a mess, or I'd ask you in." His eyes widened. "It doesn't fall down, does it?"

"It'll be here when you come back from Orlando. You'll all be okay. I promise." She gave him one last look, walked up and hugged his neck briefly. "You're one of a kind, Jonathan. The world needs you. Try to remember that."

Jonathan turned to go back inside, gave a little wave over his shoulder.

Mel picked up the time device, looked briefly at its face. It was useless now. She'd either have to build another one or… Maybe she'd stick around and keep Jonathan out of any further mischief. As if that were even possible, she smiled to herself. She took a deep breath and began the long walk to her 20th Century apartment. For sure it would be quite a mess.


"There are over four hundred digital stations originating from LA, Captain," O'Neill said from his post on the bridge. He looked earnestly up. "Even an oldies show."

"So the past was completely altered. Why weren't our memories altered as well?" Bridger said quietly.

Tobias Le Conte stood next to him, listening through one headphone to the myriad entertainment choices of 2018 Los Angeles.

"Maybe it was anyone involved with this particular ship. Maybe our memories will change slowly to adapt to the new reality." He smiled. "This is all new to me. I only got as far as transporting a dish from one day to the next."

Bridger nodded. He looked at Lucas, sitting at another console.

"Everything checks out, Captain. Our computer systems are all operational." Lucas' eyes intently probed the screen, his face lit by the blue light.

"Are we connected to the Internex?"

"Yes."

"See what you get if you run a search on Mt. Saint Vibiana."

Lucas typed in the parameters.

"Only links to information on a saint, something about an old cathedral in downtown LA, an art museum." He looked up at the captain. "Nothing at all on any mountain. It's like it never existed." He raised his eyebrows.

"That would be consistent, Captain," Le Conte noted. "Our memories, or what we can remember about it now, are the only record that will ever exist."

Bridger noted Lucas' fidgeting.

"What's wrong, son?"

"I don't know. Something's itching me, like an allergic reaction or something." He rolled up the sleeve of his flannel, started scratching the area on his forearm.

"Wait!" Bridger grabbed his hand before he could scratch any more. Lucas was startled, but looked down at his arm.

A message was written in scratches, even now appearing in red letter on the skin.

TAKE CARE – JB 94

Lucas stood up, whooping.


Nick groaned and tried to move his head. A wave of dizziness took him back to the ground where he lay. He raised his left hand to his face and was startled to find that it had been his right.

What?

"Dave? Davidson? Where are you?"

The answer came to him in thought, and not vocally. For one disorienting moment he opened his eyes and saw double, triple, and without color. He closed his eyes again and took a deep breath.

"This is… I'm Davidson," he whispered to himself. "Professor Nicolas Davidson of the Southern California Temporal Physics Laboratory." He breathed again, feeling the dizziness slowly subsiding. "Nick. Nico Davidson."


The other experiments: bringing solid matter through the gate into his time and space, manipulating events by changing one factor, then moving events into a state of limbo for later use, all had gone flawlessly. He'd graduated to living tissue, successfully moving it from one reality to another, and then spent a year mapping the interfaces of the time-streams, to pick his exact entry points.

Moving the slice of the earth's crust from Kermadeck had been an afterthought, the location of its deposit a whim. He had no idea that he would alter his present so greatly by altering the past.

The next ten experiments, all performed within a week, involved locating the necessary means to begin his conquest of every dimension, beginning with his own. It meant he would have to easily transition from one time and space to another.

Hence, the fortieth experiment: sending himself forward in time five minutes. It had seemed to work so well, all the parameters exactly as he'd expected. And then he'd touched the crystal before completely integrating and become dislodged.

A misalignment in differential singularity calibration had caused him to…split; half of him existing five minutes before the other. Twins, but in an enigmatic way, had been created, not equals, the complement of Nico's experience and knowledge, skills and flaws retained in each as though the inscrutable laws of nature had insisted that they could not be an independent creature without the other, nor ever fully integrated again.

And then his mission - their mission- had become solely to capture the only other person on earth who would understand the processes before he disappeared with his ship in 2020, and put them back together. To hell with the real-estate venture.

There had never really been a Dave.

There had never really been a Nick.


His heartbeat calmed and he relaxed. The last thing he remembered was seeing Dave's face as he'd smashed into him – literally – and then he was spinning through colored light, ending up here.

But where was here?

He opened his eyes and blinked. One of the residual effects seemed to be color-blindness. He hoped it was only temporary. He reached around himself, feeling leaves and rotting fruit. He gratefully found the remote time device and lifted it to his face. It was a double-edged pleasure to realize that he still needed glasses to see close-up. Though the machine seemed to be intact, the plasma torpedo had shorted out its electrical system. He hoped that the programming was relatively intact. There were no worries in this respect. His reintegrated intelligence had no gaps in the processes he needed to make it work. All he needed was a power source and a little time.

He sat up, shaking his head and noticing that it had rained on him while he'd been lying here. Ahead of him he saw a break in a row of cocoanut palms, many ferns and large-leafed plants. He'd arrived in a tropical forest, then? Where? And when?

He noticed that he wasn't alone, then. A thin man with ragged dark hair and a sailor's cap was staring at him, eyes wide.

Nico groggily stood up.

"Hello…"

The other man ran quickly into the jungle, screaming. Moments later a burly man with a captain's hat came through the woods, followed by the other, and a young woman wearing a cocktail dress. Strange clothing for the jungle, he thought. Perhaps he'd landed at a resort.

Nico walked towards them, put out his hand.

"Professor Nicolas Davidson. Can you take me to the nearest phone?"

The burly man took his hand, shook it tentatively.

"You really must be lost, Professor Davidson. I'm sorry, but we don't have a telephone, or a radio. You're on an uncharted island. I'm Jonas Grumbie," he said, "But you can call me Skipper."

The others came forward.

"Gilligan."

"Ginger."


"Professor W?"

The old teacher roused himself from his half-nap and looked sharply at the young male nurse.

"Umph?"

"Professor, your great-grandchildren are here to see you, and it's just about time for your oral meds."

"Bah, meds," he grumbled. Until he had the implant surgery in May he was stuck taking their medications. "Don't need 'em. Go find someone who's really sick."

The nurse laughed politely. The prof could get a little cantankerous when his blood sugar got too low. Fortunately, he seemed to like him, anyway, and rarely gave him the kind of trouble for which he was famous – that and the lectures, of course.

"Which great-grandchildren?"

"Your grandson, Nathan Junior's. Hazel and Luke."

The old professor nodded, pursing his lips. His mind was still fairly sharp for a man in his upper eighties, but keeping track of the ever-growing brood always kept him busy.

"Did they bring me something?" the professor asked quietly, his milky blue eyes still holding a spark of mischief.

"I don't know, Professor W. You'll have to ask them."

"Too noisy, those two. Way too hyper." He shook his still-ample hair, a deep crease forming between his brows, now peppered with gray. "Just like I was, I s'pose."

The nurse laughed.

"We wiped out hyperactivity in '57, Professor! They're just…kids."

"Yeah. I guess so." He hid his pleased smile. He didn't have to let them know just how happy their visits made him. Happier than all of the awards and plaudits, happier than commanding his own second-generation DSV, happier even than standing in front of a classroom, imparting his knowledge to the next generation, and the next, and the next…

"Which ones again?"

"Hazel and Luke."

"I knew that. I was just testing you."

The eight-year-old twins came into the hospital room, loping happily. Between them they shared ten-thousand freckles, their little pointed faces stretched with bright smiles and enormous clear blue eyes, wide and guileless. The professor smiled. At least, if he hadn't made a fortune during his life, he'd improved the human gene pool a little.

"Old Gramps!" Luke squealed and jumped onto the bed.

"Luke!" He grabbed the boy up, realized that the IV he had attached to his hand interfered a bit. Luke gave him a kiss, put his finger into the dimple in the old man's chin, just like his own. Hazel was a bit shyer, coming close to the bed, but not jumping up immediately.

"We heard you were sick, Old Gramps," she said, eyes serious beneath the shining blonde of her pageboy.

"Sick? No. A cold is all. They still haven't cured the common cold, no matter what technology has done with everything else. All this chemical stuff is just to boost my immune system."

We were watching 'Droid Wars' on the smoke player downstairs, Old Gramps," Luke said carefully and with enough volume to rattle his eardrums. His granddaughters had spread the rumor that he was going deaf – from listening to revival-rock in his teens early in the century, they said. He could hear, he just didn't always want to listen. It was one prerogative of old age.

"'Droid Wars'? That's still available?"

Luke giggled.

"Yeah. It's my number one favorite download to bead. I have all ten, and the old series too!"

"You don't have to say that…" the professor rested his cheek against the boy's hair. He had about a dozen (maybe two) worldwide patents to his name, but the one everyone knew him for, after the cetacean Vo-corder, was the improvement on the holo-chamber he'd made when he had been no more than fifteen. The 'Droids' show had been one of the outgrowths of that technology, something to keep kids occupied on long trips. Moving, interactive holograms were better than a handful of tranquilizers for keeping kids quiet.

"C'mon Luke. Old Gramps needs his rest."

"Nonsense! Now, sit still and I'll tell you a story."

"About planet Hyperion?" The boy's eyes widened even more. "Or how about driving the gasoline cars?"

"About chasing ghosts?" Hazel said breathlessly.

"About the giant unfrozen alligator? Or the sea battle at Pang Bur?"

"Or the super train? Or the space aliens? Or getting the medal from the UEO?"

"Or the volcano?"

The 87-year-old gave a chuckle. They thought it was all make-believe. Well, it was pretty fantastic, he admitted, and he'd lived it. He'd lived a whole lifetime after he'd gotten back from that…trip. Well, both trips, actually, and then he'd made the find of his career; the cave. When had that been? Forty-four – no, forty-six years back? Still, no one knew. He could keep a secret, he thought. He'd held it this long, hadn't he?

"First things first. What did you bring your old great-grandpa? Something sweet?"

Hazel rolled her eyes towards her brother.

"We're not s'posed to bring you any sweets, Old Gramps. You know that," Hazel scolded gently.

"I haven't lived this long listening to doctors. Why start now?"

"There's something down in the waiting room," Luke said, and then clamped his hand over his mouth, barely hiding his smile. "Oops!"

"Luke!" Hazel put her hands on her hips and frowned at him. "He ruined the surprise."

"That's all right. I'll act surprised. Luke, you go with your sister and make sure she gets back. Maybe there'll be a little surprise waiting for the both of you, too!"

The twins scampered off to the downstairs waiting room. The old professor sighed and looked out the window at the clouds of Honolulu. What was that exact date again? Ah yes!

He took the key he wore on a chain around his neck and opened the bedside drawer, pulling out the ancient link he'd built from spare parts and memory so very long before. The screen was scratched and worn out, and the pads unreadable from use. No matter. He knew the coordinates he needed – down to the millimeter. The little machine still hummed, activated remotely by the travelers themselves. They didn't even know about his part in their grand adventure, and he himself wouldn't tell anyone. He flexed his fingers, no longer stiff since he'd taken the arthritis cure in '78.

"For the kids," he said, entering the numbers from memory, fingers flying over the keys with familiarity. "Reality A, Sunday, January 13, 1974, 10:15 am, Northridge, California." The tiny crystal at the top of the link blinked once and he looked under the sheet of his bed. Perfect. He put the small device back into its drawer and re-locked it. Sometimes being a puppet master was too easy.

When Hazel and Luke got back, he presented them each with a fresh See's chocolate butter cream.

"Don't tell your mother. She still thinks chocolate is bad for you."

The children's eyes lit up when he gave them the treats, and they didn't bother to ask where he'd gotten them. It had been the same with Nathan and Nathan Junior – never wondered where the chocolate came from.

Some things never change.

Hazel handed him a box of macadamia nuts – these processed to remove any cholesterol, but still delicious.

"Very cool," the old man said.

"Story! Story!" the twins both chanted, wiggling on the bed.

"Okay." He looked from face to expectant face, remembering his own adventure as an 'almost-twin', remembering how they'd kept the multiverse from imploding – only by accident, of course. But as far as these children knew – as far as anyone knew – none of it had ever happened.

And he would do his best to keep it that way.

"Let's see. Hmmm." He picked up a macadamia nut and chewed it silently for a moment. "The sea battle at Pang Bur…"

The twins stopped fidgeting immediately.

"Sea of Okhotsk, October, 2045. I'd been Lieutenant Commander of the Millennium, DSV for about a year. We got wind of border terrorist activity…"

5-20-11, 10-18-14