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The Future Comes Calling

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Malcolm had been working on the sensor array for nearly two hours, and he still wasn’t sure what had gone wrong with it. “A few seconds of feedback and then nothing?” he threw back over his shoulder for the third time. “It did nothing else after that?”

“Nope, nothin’,” Tyler answered, also for the third time. “It was loud, though, haven’t heard it do that before.”

“Neither have I,” Burt agreed. “I had thought the radio was just reacting to the sensors, but maybe…” He picked up the radio handset and clicked it on. “Jodi, do you read me, over?”

After a moment the radio crackled back. “I’m here, Burt, what is it?” When he didn’t respond, her sigh was audible. “Over, geesh.”

Malcolm winced, Tyler snickered, and Burt just rolled his eyes. “Jodi, a couple of hours ago did you hear anything odd from the radio, over?”

Oh, you mean that fingernails-on-a-blackboard screech? Why, what was it?” A pause. “Over.”

“We’re not sure yet, but it registered on the sensors too. Let us know if anything else unusual happens. Gummer out.” He replaced the handset on its hook with deliberate care, obviously resisting the urge to throw it instead. “You’re sure it’s not someone trying to block the sensors? Or the radio?”

“Positive. I’m not seeing any gaps that weren’t there before, or picking up any static or interference. The only thing I did spot was what may have been an impact tremor occurring directly after the interference started, but there hasn’t been any other movement from that area since.”

Burt thought about that. “I know it couldn’t have been a meteor…”

“Because I already checked to make sure it couldn’t have been,” Tyler put in.

“…But maybe it could have been something that fell off a plane, or some sort of falling debris,” Burt continued. “Junk falling from the sky.”

“It couldn’t have been very large, if it was.” Malcolm was shaking his head. “The impact tremor wasn’t large enough. That’s an open area, so it can’t have been a falling rock. It might have been a cyobactyl flopping onto the ground, but I’d have expected to see more movement if that had been the case.”

“Unless it fell down dead,” Burt suggested.

“That would make Casey and Roger happy.” Tyler stood up to stretch, and then he froze, staring at the monitor. “Wait, is that the spot, Malcolm? ‘Cause if it is…”

“Then whatever it is, it’s moving.” Malcolm traced the blip with his finger, then frowned. “It’s on the road now. It’s moving down the road, following it.” He shook his head. “If that’s a person, they’d have to have fallen out of the sky. There’s nowhere else they could have come from.”

“A parachute, maybe?” Burt was already arming himself, and Tyler limped over to get a shotgun. “But if someone parachuted in, why didn’t they get up immediately? And if they were injured, why get up and go walking down the road a few hours later?”

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Malcolm agreed. He stood up and popped his back, then held out his hand for the high-powered rifle Tyler had just picked up. “No one in their right mind would parachute into this place and then just sit around on the ground waiting to be eaten.”

“Yeah, but we’ve had lots of visitors who weren’t in their right minds,” Tyler reminded him, tossing the rifle over and picking up another one and a box of shells. “Think we should take some grenades, Burt?”

“I’ve got six, if we need more than that we’ll come back and regroup.” The survivalist led the way up out of the underground compound, scanning the horizon once he was clear of the door and not seeing anything but hot blue sky. He climbed into the passenger seat of the truck, letting Tyler drive while Malcolm got into the back and secured their weapons and ammunition. He grabbed the truck’s radio as they headed out, but then put it back, shaking his head. “No, I’ll wait until we have something to tell them. There’s no sense getting everyone all worked up if it turns out to be some idiot thrill-seeker.”

“I’m hoping that’s all it is,” Malcolm said, scanning the horizon for anything out of the ordinary – or for airborne cyobactyls he might need to shoot. “A new flying monster we do not need.”

“If it’s a new flying monster, we’re tellin’ Twitchell we need more firepower,” Tyler said. “And a radar setup, too.”

“Access to real-time satellite tracking would be nice as well,” Malcolm added. “But asking for that might invite more military involvement than we would like.”

“True,” Burt agreed. “Although technically we don’t know that they aren’t watching us already.”

Tyler snorted. “Don’t even suggest that, I’ll get even more paranoid than you already are. But I don’t think it would work anyway, we’re in the satellite ‘dead area’, remember?” Burt opened his mouth, and without looking Tyler moved his hand to cover it and stop him from saying anything. “Don’t you even. If Jodi thinks a government conspiracy is keepin’ her from having an iPhone, she will kill Twitchell dead the next time she sees him.”

Malcolm chuckled. “Let’s do our best to keep that from happening. He’s quite a reasonable government overseer, I’d hate to see what we’d get to replace him.”

Burt removed Tyler’s hand from his mouth, although he didn’t let go of the hand immediately once he had it. “Probably Graboid-bait.”

 

It took them about twenty minutes to get within visual range of the area where the disturbance had registered, and almost immediately Malcolm spotted something in the road heading in their direction – or possibly heading towards Perfection. Whatever it was didn’t seem to be reacting to their approach, and Tyler slowed down just in case. The closer they got, however, the more it became obvious that the thing in the road was a person walking, and when the person finally did notice them it moved to one side of the road and waved. Tyler waved back. “Well, it looks like they’re friendly, anyway.”

“Friendly and stupid,” Burt grumbled. He squinted. “Male, probably caucasian, light hair. Looks like he’s wearing a flight suit from here, maybe he did come down on a parachute.”

Malcolm was squinting as well. “The question then would be where did his aircraft go,” he observed. “Normally you’d expect the two of them to be in the general vicinity of each other. And the impact tremor we registered wasn’t large enough for even a small, light plane…”

Suddenly he gasped, and Burt jumped when his rifle came up. “Malcolm, what…”

“That isn’t a flight suit, it’s a uniform,” the Englishman bit out. “And I used to wear one just like it.”

Burt stiffened. “You didn’t think they’d come here.”

“I can’t think why they would,” Malcolm hadn’t taken his eyes off the man who was waiting for them on the side of the road. “It doesn’t make any sense, unless…” He squinted again. “No, it can’t be, he can’t have found me, there’s no way…”

“I’m thinkin’ there must have been a way,” Tyler observed. “I don’t suppose that time-door you used would interfere with the sensors, would it?”

“It might,” Malcolm replied absently. “It would have a strong electrical signature, I’d think – I’d only seen it in use the one time, so I don’t know much about it. But how…” Suddenly, his face cleared, worry replaced by astonished surprise. He stood upright, hanging onto the roll bar for balance with one hand, and yelled, “Trip?!”

The man visibly started, putting up a hand to shield his eyes. “Mal?! Is that you?”

“Trip!” Malcolm yelled, triumphantly this time. Tyler had barely stopped the truck before he’d vaulted out of the back and run over to the astonished man, grabbing hold of him. “How in the bloody hell…”

The other man just shook his head and pulled him into an embrace. “Mal,” he sighed. “I found you. Thank God, I found you.”

“That must be Trip,” Tyler deadpanned to Burt. “Can’t say I think much of the way people from the future plan their time-travel adventures, though – look at that uniform.”

Burt frowned suddenly, squinting. “I think maybe this adventure was planned on the fly,” he said, getting out of the truck. “Malcolm, are you going to introduce us?”

“Trip, Trip Tucker,” the newcomer said tiredly before Malcolm could answer, his accent very similar to Tyler’s. His dark blue uniform was trimmed with maroon piping, and a scattering of gold pips gleamed at his collar. His left sleeve, however, was showing a burn just below his shoulder, a burn that had cut through the patch on that side. He saw Burt’s look and grimaced. “They weren’t too keen on me leavin’.”

“They…” Malcolm pulled back away from him, looked…and exploded. “They shot you!”

“Tried to,” Trip corrected. “That one just grazed me, it’s okay.”

Malcolm pulled back a little farther, gray eyes narrowing. “And the one that didn’t ‘just graze you’?”

Trip looked sheepish. “Two, not one. Got me in the back on my way through the portal.” He looked a little ruefully up at the blazing sun overhead. “Kind of threw me when I came to in the desert, thought maybe he’d figured out what I was up to and changed the settin’s somehow, sent me back to…that other desert, from before. But then I saw the vegetation and the road, so I just got up and started walkin’.”

“Good thing you were close to the road – and that nothing found you before you woke up,” Burt said. He knew that there had to be more to the story, and he could see that Malcolm and Tyler, who had gotten out of the truck to join them, knew it too. But that could wait. “I’m Burt Gummer, and this is my partner, Tyler Reed. How long have you been out here, Mr. Tucker?”

“It’s just Trip,” the younger man corrected. “I…” He swiped at his face, the skin red and tight from sunburn. “I don’t know.”

“That means too long,” Malcolm clarified briskly, moving back to insinuate himself under Trip’s undamaged arm. “We need to get him inside someplace and cooled off; he’s prone to heatstroke. The last time our captain tossed him out into the desert, he almost died of it.”

Trip’s blurry blue eyes widened at the reference to their captain, and then narrowed thoughtfully when Tyler and Burt didn’t react. “You told them…how much, Mal?”

“Practically everything,” Malcolm reassured him. “It’s all right, Trip, we’re safe here.”

“Well, as safe as anyone is here,” Burt corrected. He directed Malcolm to lead Trip over to the truck, falling into step on the staggering man’s other side in case more support was needed. “We’ll go to Nancy’s, she has more room and a better air conditioner,” he decided aloud. “We need to bring her in on this anyway, especially if we might get more visitors from the future.”

“You won’t be,” Trip assured him at once. “Mal and I are it – from our time, anyway. Got some others we might want to keep an eye out for, though.”

Malcolm paled. “Not the Xindi.”

“Nope, more humans. If you can call them that.” Trip sighed and grimaced. “Ain’t no easy way to tell you this, Mal…but this isn’t our Earth at all. Daniels and his Temporal War, all of that…it never had anything to do with us or our time, they just pulled us into it because we were convenient.”

“We were pawns, then.” Malcolm grimaced as well. “They used the captain and then he used us.” A sharp look. “I’m assuming he knew?”

“This time, yep.” Trip’s blue eyes filled with remorse. “He…he was goin’ to leave you here. To punish me.”

“This is not your fault, Trip,” Malcolm told him firmly, shaking his head when the other man would have argued. “No, it’s not. The captain was…unbalanced, you couldn’t have done anything about that. He pushed you away, remember?”

Trip shook his head too. “Because I…”

“Made a mistake.” Malcolm was firm. “And even that wasn’t your fault, you know that! The doctor said we were all affected by the Vissian pheromones.” He grimaced but didn’t avoid his lover’s eyes. “At least you didn’t sleep with one of them.”

“Aw Mal.” Trip lifted a slightly unsteady hand to brush the younger man’s cheek. “Baby, how many times do I have to tell you I don’t hold that against you? It wasn’t your fault.”

“And this isn’t yours, luv.” Malcolm leaned briefly into the caress and then clasped the hand and pushed it down. “We’re better off here anyway, away from that loony, all right? And even better that this isn’t our Earth, that means we don’t have to worry about changing history.”

“From the sound of it, I’m not sure it didn’t need to be changed.” Burt put that aside; it was a discussion that would keep, and they had more important things to talk about right now. “How sure are you that your loony captain won’t try to use his time door to come after you?”

“There’s not a chance in hell.” Trip chuckled. “He won’t be usin’ it again, because I blew it up.” He smiled at his shocked lover. “I figured out how to make the door move, and I was goin’ to scan until I found you, then move the door to you and bring you back – and then I was gonna blow it up so Jon couldn’t do it again. I’d followed your bio-signs to this valley when Jon showed up with his toy soldiers, and the door was still open so I figured my only other option was just to jump through and join you here. I triggered the detonator on my way through.”

“Notice how he manages to make his lack of planning sound eminently reasonable,” Malcolm informed their audience.

Trip gave him a dimpled grin. “Hey, cut me some slack; I only had a few hours to come up with a way to get you back.”

That brought Malcolm up short. “A few…Trip, I’ve been here for over a year!”

“Yeah, and when the captain and T’Pol went through the door that one time, they were gone three days on their side and only a few seconds on mine.” Trip shrugged. “I don’t know why it works that way, but it does.” His grin came back. “Or at least, it did.”

With Burt’s help, Malcolm got his lover into the back of the truck, sitting down beside him and making sure the rifle was within easy reach just in case. He brushed his fingers over the burned patch, careful not to touch the equally burned skin underneath it. “Did the captain do this?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah – the others were set to stun, his was set to kill. He really didn’t want me to get to you, Mal.”

“Bloody bastard.” But the Englishman, inexplicably, smiled. “He’ll have a devil of a time explaining this to Starfleet, though.”

Trip shook his head. “Not our problem anymore.”

“No. We have other problems here.” Malcolm handed him a bottle of water and watched him carefully sip. “This valley is contaminated with a genetic recombinant mutagen substance, they call it Mixmaster. It can’t mutate humans, but everything else is fair game.”

“So the valley’s full of monsters?” Malcolm nodded; Trip nodded as well. “You volunteered?”

“He saved Burt’s life,” Tyler threw over his shoulder from the driver’s seat. “We told everyone he was my cousin.”

“Any relation for real?”

“No.” Burt turned sideways in his seat so he could make eye contact. “One of the scientists who created Mixmaster lives here, his name is Cletus Poffenberger. He says they’re not even close enough genetically to be related by marriage.”

That made Trip laugh, and Burt couldn’t help but notice how the laugh made Malcolm smile. It wasn’t a smile he’d ever seen the Englishman give Tyler, and that put the last of his lingering jealous fears to rest – the next to last one had been put to rest when he’d seen Trip Tucker up close and realized that he looked nothing like Tyler at all except for his hair and eye color. A hand smacked his arm, and he looked over into the knowing blue glance of his own lover. “Believe me now?” Tyler asked him, too quietly for the men in the back to hear.

Burt nodded. “We’ll need to get Cletus to Nancy’s,” he mused, thinking aloud. “He still has some connections, maybe he can help us set up Trip’s new identity. We’ll need to work out a good cover story. And then we’ll have to send the paperwork to Twitchell, which will probably bring him out here.”

“Agent Twitchell is our assigned government overseer,” Malcolm explained to Trip. “Nice enough fellow, a bit on the nervous side but I can’t really blame him for that.”

“Not if they’ve made him responsible for a valley full of mutated monsters, no,” Trip agreed. “I can’t help but notice that you’re all expectin’ to be attacked. How lucky did I get not gettin’ eaten just now?”

“We’re not sure,” Burt admitted with a shrug. “I wouldn’t worry about it, though, it’s just part of living out here. And the thing we’re watching for – barring some new mutation we haven’t seen before – is a cyobactyl. They look something like a pterodactyl, but they’re a mix of coyote, bat, roadrunner and iguana.”

“Damn.” Trip looked at the rifle beside Malcolm and frowned. “How many shells does it take to knock somethin’ like that out of the sky?”

“We’re not sure, we’ve never had a chance to shoot one with the rifles. And small-caliber handguns just make them mad,” Burt admitted. He gestured to Malcolm. “But his phase pistol took one down with one shot.”

“Only because it was a heart shot,” Malcolm disclaimed immediately. “If I’d hit it anywhere else my pistol might not have done much more damage than your sidearm.”  

“You able to recharge your pistol?” Trip asked Malcolm, who immediately shook his head. “Okay, I can fix that. What’ve we got for power?”

“AC/DC and a few gasoline-powered generators.” Trip made a face. “I know, but I’m not that kind of engineer – and until now, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be irreparably changing history if I tried to make improvements to anything larger than the sensor network we’re using to monitor the roads.”

“Makes perfect sense to me,” Trip assured him. He sipped the water again, then capped the bottle and set it aside. He squinted into the hot, bright afternoon sky. “Solar’d do pretty good out here, if it’s like this all the time. And I could put together some moisture recombinators if we’re short on groundwater…” He saw the look Burt was giving him and shook his head. “Hey, if Mal picked this as the place to settle, then it works for me too. Have to figure out a way to earn my keep somehow, though.”

Tyler snorted. “If you can make water out of air, that’s a pretty good start.” This time Burt shot the surprised look at him. “Larry’s Star Wars obsession, Burt – he asked me once how a ‘moisture farm’ would work and then he wanted to know how hard it would be to build. Remember, that was when he had you show him how to build a solar still, but he wasn’t happy with the amount of water it collected.”

“We got that very nice mutated frog out of it, though,” Malcolm chimed in. “It’s still in there, in fact; Casey said moving it would kill it, so the still is basically an artificial aquatic habitat now.”

“I’d forgotten about the frog. It was black with orange spots,” Tyler told Trip. “Not poisonous, had a stubby little tail and lots of teeth. Other than that, though, it was just a fat little frog. Not half as weird as some of the other stuff we see out here.”

“I can just imagine,” was Trip’s response. “Any time you start randomly recombining DNA you’re bound to just go farther and farther into the weird zone. Definitely need to look at sealed-tank moisture recombinators if the stuff’s that pervasive, though. You have problems with your wells?”

“Mineral-heavy water, comes out of the tap orange and smelling of sulfites,” Malcolm told him. “If there’s anything living down in that, I don’t want to know what it is until we have an alternate water source set up.” He cocked a smile at Trip. “I’m part-owner of the local garage now, by the way, so you’ve already got a job.”

“I’m the other part-owner,” Tyler said. “Sold half to Malcolm a few months back, made the bookkeepin’ easier. So yeah, you’ve already got at least one job. And tourist season’s about to pick up again, you workin’ in the garage will give Malcolm and I more time to run the monster tours between patrols.” Burt saw a mischievous grin cross his lover’s face. “Malcolm imitates your accent so we’ll sound more related.”

Trip laughed out loud again. “You’re so bad,” he told Malcolm affectionately. He lifted the hand that was holding his to his lips, just briefly. “I’m sorry I didn’t have more time to miss you, Mal.”

“I’m glad you didn’t think I was dead,” was Malcolm’s response. “I thought you were as good as, and I never even thought you’d be able to come after me.”

“Hey, I couldn’t let the best thing in my life slip away, now could I?” Something caught his eye off to one side of the road, and he turned his head to look at it. “Was that a giant furry spider?”

Burt looked too, raising his gun…and then put the gun down again, shaking his head. “Wonderful, the hellbunnies must be breeding again.” He picked up the radio. “Research Station, this is Gummer, over.”

A woman’s voice came crackling back. “Casey here, Burt. Emergency? Over.”

“No, hellbunnies in Sector 8. We were investigating a sensor glitch and spotted them on the way back. Thought you’d want to know. Over.”

“Well, I’ll at least write it down, we’ll go check it out later – they shouldn’t be breeding right now, it’s not the season for any of those species. Anything else? Over.”

“No, that was it. But if Cletus is there, tell him I wanted to see him and I’ll be at Nancy’s for the rest of the afternoon. Over.”

“He’s here, I’ll tell him. Over.”

“Thanks Casey. Gummer out.” He thought a moment, then called again. “Nancy, are you home? We’ve got someone with us who’s right on the edge of heatstroke, and you have the best air conditioner. It’s someone Malcolm knows, he got…lost on his way here. Will it be alright if we impose on you? Over.”

The radio crackled back at him almost immediately. “Yes, of course you should bring him here, Burt. Is that Commander Tucker? Over.”

Malcolm paled; under his sunburn, so did Trip, and Tyler looked as alarmed as Burt did. “Come again, Nancy? Over.”

Her huff came through loud and clear; they could almost hear her rolling her eyes. “Commander Tucker, Malcolm’s partner? Agent Twitchell is here, he has the commander’s paperwork – he said ‘a suit who wouldn’t give his name’ dropped it off with him earlier today, asked him to bring it out immediately under the authorization of a Section Chief Daniels.” A pause, and they could hear a man’s voice saying something in the background. “He said everything is in order, they don’t have anything to worry about, and the agent asked him…to thank them both for their service. Over.”

Malcolm blinked at Trip. “I don’t…after everything they did, why?”

Trip shrugged, although he didn’t look much less shell-shocked. “Well, we did save the world a couple of times.”

Tyler chuckled, and Burt had to smile. “That would probably do it,” he agreed. “Nancy, we’ll be there in fifteen minutes, give or take. And tell Twitchell I said thanks for his service, too. Gummer out.”

Chapter Text

The man who had walked into W.D. Twitchell’s office a few hours earlier had looked like any other suit to him at first glance. “Can I help you?” he asked – politely, because all of the upper-level suits looked pretty much the same so you couldn’t tell right off who was a flunky and who wasn’t. “If you were looking for the director…”

“No, I am here to see you, Agent Twitchell.” The man closed the door behind him and walked up to the desk, putting down a thick manila envelope that was just as nondescript as he was. “We have had another…incident, and you will need this paperwork to resolve it satisfactorily. I do apologize that I wasn’t here to assist you with the first one.” Twitchell just raised an eyebrow. “Our other former agent in the valley which is under your authority, Lieutenant Reed?”

“Oh yeah, the guy you guys burned.” It had been obvious, to Twitchell and his people anyway, that Reed was a ‘burn victim’ of epic proportions – he’d been erased so completely from the system that the only way you knew for sure he existed was to see him in person. His personal identification was all spotless, of course, but it was pretty much floating without anything tethering it to reality – again, except for the fact that the poor guy physically existed. “We’re not about to have dead spook wars going on out there, are we? Because some of those mutations eat meat and Gummer knows how to find almost all of them.”

The suit actually smiled, shaking his head. “No, no ‘dead spook wars’ will be forthcoming. This particular incident had spiraled out of control without our knowledge, I’m afraid, and the only individuals who were ‘burned’ were, sadly, the good guys.” He gestured at the envelope. “These are the personal documents for Commander Charles Tucker, who has just joined the lieutenant in Perfection. He was good enough to put an end to the cause of the situation on his way out of it by use of some very neatly placed explosive charges, so we are returning the favor by making sure he won’t have any difficulties returning to civilian life. I would appreciate it if you would deliver the documents to him immediately – in person, no couriers. He’s already in the system, and we took the liberty of correcting the errors in the lieutenant’s records as well. We’re actually quite pleased with both of them, even though they have left the game, so they have also both received…let’s just call it severance pay, and the necessary documentation for that is also in the envelope.”

Twitchell just looked at him for a long moment, and then he slowly pulled the envelope across the desk. He made no move to open it. “I like Reed, he’s a good man,” he said. “I don’t want to know, do I?” The suit shook his head. “Can you give me a name to drop if someone asks me why I had to go out there right now today? Because people around here getting ‘worried’ about what’s going on in that valley is a complication I don’t need and the people who live there don’t either. Especially not your two burn victims.”

The suit nodded, looking strangely pleased. “Tell them you were requested to make the trip out there under the authority of Section Chief Daniels,” he said. “They’ll find the request in the system, we’ll have the CIA sign off on it to make it official.” When Twitchell nodded, the man turned and walked back to the door, but then he paused and turned halfway around again. “And if you could do me a personal favor…thank Tucker and Reed for their service. Because someone really should. They did save the world a few times, after all.”

And then he was gone, and Twitchell was staring at the door in shock. It only lasted a few minutes, however, and then he got up out of his chair and shrugged into his jacket, scooping up the envelope and heading out. He was actually looking forward to this ‘emergency’ trip to Perfection, for once. And he was also really happy with himself for having been so right in his initial assessment of Malcolm Reed.