THE INNOCENT ASPACE

By Lorraine J. Anderson

To the good gentlemen and gentlewomen of the "Starship" Enterprise:

After a good deal of questioning and complaining, my dear Madame Guinan, in an effort to quiet me, informed me that I should write an account of my tour aboard your good ship. When I complained that I could never publish such a tale lest my fellow countrymen confuse me with the writer of fantastic tales, Jules Verne, or worse, possibly lock me up in an asylum, she told me that the people of her planet had invented a "time capsule." When I complained that I had not the technology to do such a thing, she informed me that said capsule would not travel through time, except in the normal way; I just needed a vessel that would stand the ravages of five hundred years. I found a small bronze box, so I am, therefore, delivering this manuscript to you in the same shaft in which you found your Mr. Data's head. I hope it may find you well.

When I found you in that miserable mineshaft, I had no thoughts or desires to travel with you. I meant to foil your nefarious plot of world domination. Yet, as the blast from the other travelers threw me against the wall, I realized with deep humiliation that I may have been wrong. Do not pity me, Madame Troi; it was not the first time I've been proved mistaken. When I saw you disappearing in the hole of light, I launched myself after you at a whim; my life has been ever marred with whims and fancies, writing of which is only the latest and most successful. I found myself in a different cave, no more attractive then the one we left. I thought maybe we had merely jumped caves, but when your Commander Riker told me we were on another planet, well! It staggered me.

I had no more than absorbed this when Mr. Riker spoke into his hand device. I felt my very being fly apart. I ducked, as if such an effect could be avoided by going to ground. As my surroundings dissolved, they were replaced by gray walls and I was informed I was on the Starship Enterprise. I looked for a place to run, but even what I assumed was a door had no doorknobs.

I thoroughly expected to be ensconced in your version of the brig, but to my surprise I was escorted by a charming young lady with deep black eyes. Madame Troi took me to a guest room. I almost didn't recognize it as a guest room, it was so Spartan. Where was the four poster bed? Where were the ruffles and flounces? Where was the washstand, the armoires, the dressing tables? Where could I find chairs? A few flowers on a low glass table and muted colors predominated by gray seemed to be the norm around here.

I have good authority that the Japanese so adorn their rooms, so I asked Madame Troi whether the Japanese now rule America. She looked puzzled, then asked me what I meant. I said, Japan, the country, don't you know? I told her I thought her part Oriental. She brightened and said, oh, like Keiko. No, country divisions didn't mean much anymore, or so she understood; she was half Terran and half Betazoid. Half what? I said. She explained that Betazed (and she spelled both words) was a planet in some sort of sector I can't remember and will never hear of again. She said it was a beautiful planet. I replied that if she was an example, the rest of the planet must be wonderful, and I noted with satisfaction that I can still make a fair young lady blush with delight.

I asked if I were confined to this Spartan place, and she said, no, of course not, but that it would be wiser if she accompanied me. I asked if there were facilities I might use? I looked outside at the stars and supposed there was no such thing as an outhouse. Again she looked confused. I said, how about a water closet? No good. I said that this excitement had, to be crude, created some pressure on my bladder. She brightened, then said, over there, then offered to help me. It was then my turn to blush and say I hadn't need any help of that sort since I had gotten into long pants. She blushed again, then said that I would not be familiar with how the facilities worked. I had to concede the point.

After I finished, I asked if I might have a tour of this ship, that I was a pilot of a sort, that I would love to see the engines and the piloting house of this fair ship. She said she would show me much more than that! She asked me if she might first go to her quarters and change into her uniform; she would be right back.

"Are you sure you trust me to stay in my room?"

"Will I have to lock the door? Do I have your word as a gentleman?"

I pulled myself up. "Madame, no-one has ever confused me for a gentleman."

She frowned at me, and I was at her mercy; I promised I would not go exploring.

"Would you have any reading material?"

She pointed me at a desk, a desk with something flat sticking from the top. "Compewter, Deana Troi, authorization code…" and then an incomprehensible string of letters and numbers… "Confirm Samuel Clemens."

"Samuel Clemens voice print not recorded. Please state name."

She motioned to me. I stared at her. "I'm Samuel Clemens!"

Madame Troi smiled again.

"Voice print recorded."

"Compewter, restrict Samuel Clemens to literature and history before Terran year 1893."

"Restriction confirmed."

I frowned. "Don't trust me, eh? Can't say I blame you."

"Now you can tell the compewter what you want to see. Preface your request with the word 'compewter.'" At my raised eyebrows, she added, "The compewter is a machine."

"No machine I've ever seen," I grumbled. "Compewter," I said, turning toward the desk. "I want to see Mark Twain."

"Please be more specific." Madame Troi smiled again. "Tom Sawyer."

Words appeared on the thing before me. I was jiggered. My words, those words I had written 500 or so years before, were in front of me. She told me if I wanted anything else from the compewter, just talk to it. She would be back in a moment. I doubted that; she may be of an alien race but I've never seen a woman take only a moment to fancy herself up.

However, she was back shortly, and I blushed with shame to look at her. I have seen more clothing on the painted ladies of San Francisco, or the ladies dancing the can-can in France. But this uniform, so to speak, judging by what I saw on the walk to this room, was clearly not out of line on this ship.

I shall abbreviate most of what I saw, because I simply cannot comprehend it. Not only is my time separated by too many years from your time, I am merely a pilot, a miner, and a writer at various times in my life. I saw an engine room, powered not by coal, but by a wondrous column of light! A room filled with the largest cannonballs that I have ever seen! An arboretum, filled with both familiar and unfamiliar plants, some of which tried to eat my hand! (I slapped back.) A medical office, in which a bed could tell you how you felt! (Your Doctor Crusher told me I was just fine, especially for my era. I looked askance at her.) A room filled with starry sky, with no solid ground below! (I must confess I felt lightheaded there.) But nowhere on this wondrous ship did I see any colonnades, any gilding, any overdone statues, any memorials to the long dead past. I approve of this. I was never fond of execrable ornamentation.

We ended up in a room which Madame Troi called "Ten Forward," and what should it be but an overgrown saloon, minus the rough sort that typically accompanies such an establishment. I said so, rather loudly, then who should rise from behind the bar than an old friend! "My dear Mr. Clemens, I beg you not malign my establishment. You'll upset my wait staff."

I stared. "Madame Guinan…" then I caught myself. "… your wait staff does not seem so much upset as rather shocked." A young lady in green was staring at me.

Madame Guinan moved from behind the counter. "Callan McLeod, may I introduce Samuel Clemens, otherwise know as Mark Twain."

"The Mark Twain?" she squeaked.

Madame Guinan smiled broadly. "The Mark Twain. I'll get you an autograph. Now get on and serve our patrons."

I smiled at the girl. "I won't eat you today."

"Mr. Clemens," Madame Guinan chided.

"Your Mr. Data did say that he served with on a starship. But to see you alive…"

"My race is extremely long-lived." She took my hands in hers. "It's so good to see you after all these years!"

I couldn't let the point go. "Then you are not human, either."

She shook her head. "I am of a race called 'the Listeners.' We listen, and we learn. That was why I was sent by my father to study your culture."

"But Madame Guinan… I know you did more than listen. You were the toast of San Francisco Society. Moreover," and I pointed a finger at her, "You interfered. You argued with me."

"Oh, but Mr. Clemens, you notice I argued for humanity. You were the cynic."

"I'm built that way. I cannot help it."

She smiled at me. It was a sad smile. I could not ask about it, lest I be burdened with more sadness than I could bear. But I suspect she has experienced more sorrow than I hope I will ever comprehend.

It was that smile that led me to my erroneous conclusion. I thought to myself that Madame Guinan was a slave! As you may know, people of her color have been so enslaved in my lifetime. I could not bear to think of that worthy woman, that intellect, being kept on the ship to serve the over-privileged. The wealthy of my time were only wealthy on the backs of the poor, and so it seemed to me here, the slaves. If I had spent more time with her, she surely would have disabused me of this notion. But Madame Troi was pulling me away.

"It was good to see you again, Mr. Clemens. I have missed your arguments."

I snorted. "You have missed beating me at my own game, Madame Guinan."

"There is that." And with that last parting shot, we smiled at each other, then Madame Troi and I left.

While heading for your bridge, my thoughts crystallized. These people were servants, including that charming blue man I saw leaving your "turbo-lift." I could not believe it. All of this power and humankind still had slaves. I felt incredibly saddened. Poor Madame Guinan. But was I right? I argued the point.

Madame Troi set me straight on that, but had I not half-believed the evidence of my own eyes in the first place, I doubt I would have believed her. But I must admit that I have always tended to trust beautiful ladies. I have a weakness that way. I recall many beautiful ladies in Europe and the middle Orient that I have believed whole-heartedly, though I could not understand a word they said, nor they me. Yet we believed each other wholeheartedly and had a wonderful conversation.

I was astonished to see the mechanical man – who was much more than mechanical, as I understand it – alive again. What marvels your century must contain!

Another comment: I was quite surprised that your Mr. Riker did not think of me right away as the logical choice to send to 1893. Or perhaps he did think of me, but was too shy to ask me, or was under the misapprehension that I needed to be kept safe. Yet what would I do in your century? I must live out my life in my own. Perhaps I malign your Mr. Riker. I am not always a great judge of character, though I do like to think that I know everything.

As your Captain Picard has probably told you, I was set down on Market Street. I had a nervous close escape with a horse and his miserable driver and the horse's repulsive droppings. But I managed to flag down a hack and I hurried to the mine. I hope I made it in time to save your Mr. Picard. If so, his mind can be made easy. I settled your debt with your inestimable landlady. Once she comprehended who I was, she tried to blame you for more damage and more food than even you can eat, but I held firm and kept her down to merely a small ransom. You have already repaid that ransom, so let your mind rest. And, of course, as she has already told you, the Madame Guinan of my time was taken to a hospital and treated successfully.

I realized as I was writing this that I neglected to give your young Miss McLeod her autograph. I have instead enclosed a signed book that I wrote. I hope she will be satisfied. She seemed like a charming young lady.

After my adventures were over, and I had time to cogitate and ruminate – so it sat on my stomach – I still cannot believe your future is so idyllic as you would have me believe. You may have eliminated poverty, but surely you have not rid yourself of the lazy, the liars, the cheaters, the swindlers, and the violent. As with the poor, the human race has always had these parasites – a mere 500 years surely would not be enough to eliminate those. I suppose Madame Troi will have an argument for this, too. I would not have believed it. The taste of your truth in this case would be too sour; I cannot swallow it.

I now find myself in the position of being a "Connecticut Yankee" in reverse. I cannot share my experiences with anyone without risking your time, yet I must share it or burst! I thank Madame Guinan for her suggestion. Therefore, I share them with you, my – if I may so call you – my friends from the future. Do with these words what you will, I have written my story, the burden is lifted from my aching back – at least for now!

Your humble correspondent,

Samuel Clemens, otherwise know as "Mark Twain."