MUSINGS OF A GUARD

Sergeant James Bixby, reporting, sir!

Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Yes, the seat is more comfortable.

Sir, Am I the only one that thinks this project is nuts?

I've worked here for four years... Hell, you know that, you have my folder right in front of you.

Tell you anyway, sir? And drop the sir? But, sir, you're an Admiral, sir... yes, sir, you have a point, you're not in my chain of command. nevertheless, sir, you are project director... well, I'll try.

You know, I was quite happy the first year I was here, in spite of the fact that I hated my work.

Yes, sir, I was good at it... I was very good at it!... but I hated it. Oh, not an active hate, just a feeling that I shouldn't be doing it. But I was here, and I couldn't figure out what else I wanted to do.

Anyway, sir, there was an excitement in the air here. A feeling of being part of something worthwhile. I didn't see much of Dr. Beckett... or any of the scientific staff... no-one did, really. But I saw more of him than what I did in later years. I was an auxiliary technician in Imaging Control.

Yes, sir, I know what My folder says that thing says. But I'm saying I was a technician.

About 1996, though, things changed. Suddenly, I was in a laboratory. Animal testing. It was another job I hated. But the weird thing is that I didn't know the difference. As far as I was concerned, I had worked there, for five years, starting just after I had gotten my Bachelor's. In Biomedical science. I had enjoyed college, but I hated the work.

This lasted about two months.

Literally.

Next, I was selling mens clothes at a small store in a strip mall in Phoenix. It was there that i began to remember things.

First, i thpought it was just dreams. Nightmares, maybe. In this reality, I had broken my leg and had had a major concussion when I was seventeen, due to somebody hitting me when I was riding my bicycle. After the accident, I couldn't see any point of going to college... I was a gimp, I was a loser... I think I must've had a small amount of brain damage.

Yes, sir, maybe that was why I started remembering things.

Why had I gone to college before? Well, sir, in previous realities, it had been my father who was killed to the bicycle. We were riding together, you see.

He had always wanted a child of his to go to college. And my older sister had married almost directly out of high school. So I had felt so guilty... we had had some major fights about this... that I had gone. I did alright, too.

But I had hated every minute of it. I had the intelligence. I didn't have the aptitude. I was always a hands-on sort of guy... yes, sir, with the ladies, too! But I prefer to be accomplishing something. I don't like any of this research, with results five years in the future, no, sir. I like to get things done. Today, if possible. Tomorrow.

I sold clothes for six months.

I had lucid dreams every other night.

Oh, about the project, sir. I dreamed about crawling around in Ziggy's auxiliary computer room, looking for... something. Something that put a big hole in the imaging works. The picture was fine, except for one big hole. And when I found it, it was a moth. Sam... Dr. Beckett... said something about finding Admiral Hopper's computer bug and we all laughed.

So that was true? Who...?

Yes, sir, I remember Joanne Nelson. Pretty brunette, green eyes, IQ off the scale? No, we've never really met this time. You can ask her. But I can tell you that her favorite game is Trivial Pursuit, her favorite bubble bath is rose-scented, and her favorite is Ernest Hemingway. Also that she's an intellectual snob. We were good friends before, now she won't talk to me.

My favorite author is Faulkner with a little Stephen King thrown in..

Yes, sir, I know it doesn't fit my profile.

Next. I was an auto mechanic. It was close to what I wanted, but not quite. I don't know. It was interesting, yet I didn't feel like I was accomplishing much. I kept the cars I saw in top shape, yet it was if my deductive skills were repeatedly upstaged by computer technology. Most of the cars I saw could be connnected up to the computer to tell exactly the problem, and all I had to do was fix it. Hands on, yes, but a no-brainer. And despite my apptitude for hands-on work, I still have a brain.

The bicycle accident? The car missed both of us by inches.

I was starting to figure it out by now.

I had a lot of work, but a lot of time to think. And memories were starting to intrude into my conscious memory now. I had a steady girlfriend this time. A blonde. Sweet little thing, but one could hardly hold a decent conversation with her beyond the weather and the cancellation of Beverly Hills 90210. Anyway, I happened to mention once about my father dying, and she looked shocked and asked how long he had. Then I remembered that he hadn't died here, he was still as crabby as ever. And none too pleased with my choice of occupation.

Other things started popping up. Joanne Nelson. A Mr. Joseph's inseam measurement. The name of the supplier of the clothing shop. I even remembered how to sew. (I had to learn it for the men's shop.) Your favorite aftershave and brand of cigars... cuban if you can get them.

And Dr. Beckett's first leap.

No, sir, I'm not supposed to know about that. I'm not really supposed to know what this Project is about. Nevertheless, Dr. Beckett's first leap was into a test pilot named Tom Stratton.

I know I'm right, sir.

More, sir? Tim Fox,...

It was after Samantha Stormer that things changed for me.

Yes, sir, I know I was nowhere near Detroit at the time that Miss Stormer's life was changed. All I know is that that's when my life changed.

No, sir, I don't know why. All I can think of is that all people are connected somehow, and when a change is made in one place, sometimes it ripples out more than you think. Yes, sir, the ... principle.

No, sir, I can't tell you what changes led me back here. Except the last one.

It was Dr. Beckett, sir. Oh, I didn't know it was him, It was only in later years did I know what was happening.

I was about seventeen. My father and I were having one of those knock-down arguments we used to have, and this one was about college. I had dutifully put in all my college apps, and had been accepted at all I had applied to. But I was determined not to go. And Dad didn't like it at all. He was actually coming toward me.

My father is not a bad person. He means well. (That's one of the worse things I could say.)

What do I mean about "the worse thing?" Well, they say "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." He was... is... a good parent, sir, but he has a blind spot in this area.

Anyway, we were arguing, when all of a sudden he stops and gets this funny look on his face. I got scared and said, "Dad? You all right, Dad?"

He seemed to shake the feeling off, but then he said. "Yeah. I'm fine. What were we talking about?"

Well, that scared me more. Dad never loses track off what he was talking about. Never. I thought he was having a heart attack or a stroke or something.

I told him to sit down. He looked at me and said, "Yeah, maybe that's a good idea."

"Can I get you a Coke?"

Dad looked at me a second. "We have a Pepsi Free?"

Of course, I had never heard of Pepsi Free. "No..." I said slowly.

"Just a thought," he said, lowly.

He went to the kitchen table, and I grabbed a Coke and handed it to him. "Thanks," he said. "You're a good kid."

I sat down at the table across from him. "That's not what you said a second ago."

"I was angry a second ago." But it didn't sound like an apology, it sounded like a discovery. I was beginning to wonder if he had been abducted by aliens when I wasn't looking.

No, sir, I wasn't far wrong.

Should I go ahead?

Well, sir, I said, "I still don't want to go to college."

Dad leaned forward, and he looked interested. He hadn't seemed interested before. It was just do this or else with him. But, in retrospect, it was difficult for him after Mom died.

Everything was difficult with him after Mom died.

"There's a lot of things good about college. Better job opportunities. Higher pay."

"Sometimes."

He sighed and nodded at me. "Sometimes. You're right. It always has depended on what you want to go into." He looked at me intently. "What are your plans if you don't go to college?"

I looked out of the kitchen window. It was spring. A robin was building his nest in the tree across the yard. It was exposed now, but the leaf cover would grow out in a short time.

"Well?"

I was delaying. I hung my head. "I don't know."

He looked out and saw the same nest. "He's planning ahead." He looked back at me. "I'll give you a couple of days to think it over, ok?"

We left it at that. He was still concerning me. Little things, sir. Forgetting which way to turn to go to his bedroom. Fumbling in the kitchen. Talking to himself... which seems to make sense now. And he put on the pair of flannel pajamas my grandmother gave him when I was ten... he hates pajamas, sir.

Nothing much happened until the next evening. He asked me whether I wanted to go out and ride our bikes. I was still somewhat sullen, but all of my friends were working or gone, and I needed to get out of the house. So we went out. Then he got this funny look on his face again. "I... think we should go this way," he said slowly, pointing to the left.

Dad is nothing but consistent. He always went right coming out of the drive, and he had his set route. He must have seen my look of surprise, because he shrugged and said, "Can't I do something new every once in a while?"

Yes, sir, he was steering me away from the accident.

So we went the opposite way on our route. But we didn't avoid an accident... I was rounding a corner and ran into a young man just exiting his car. Knocked him over. Dad plowed right into the back of me and fell over, too. Hit his head slightly. Well the other man hopped right out of the car and helped Dad up.

Yes, sir, he was wearing an army uniform. You must have been there.

Dad looked at him a second, and a light bulb came on in his head. "Thank you, Sergeant," he said.

He looked at me and inclined his head, and I could see what he was thinking. He didn't have to say anything. And. sir, to be honest, it didn't sound like a bad idea. Then he shook his head and looked confused. "Where... am I?"

I had already suspected something, so I said, "Don't you remember, Dad? We were out riding bikes and you fell over after you ran in to me."

I saw him look at the Sergeant, and could see the light bulb go off in his head again. He looked at me and said, "Well, there's an idea."

The sergeant looked confused. "What, sir?" he said.

"Sergeant," I said. "Could you tell me where the recruiting station is?"

He smiled. "I'm the recruitment officer, kid. Need a ride?"

I looked at Dad. "Not doing anything right now, anyway."