Another Look

Author: Ventura33

Website: http://www.ventura33.com

Contact: feedback (at) ventura33.com

TNG: LaForge, Barclay, rated PG.

Summary: An accident with a temporal monitoring device sends LaForge and Barclay back in time to 2015.

Acknowledgment: Many thanks to monkee for the beta.

******

Bright afternoon sunlight streamed through the windows of the Starfleet Academy classroom. Some sort of metallic reflection glinted outside, distracting Reg Barclay from his continuing education seminar, which was probably a lost cause anyway. The instructor, a middle-aged Rigellian who had recently retired from active military service, kept wandering off his intended topic of warp engines and into rambling, disjointed, interminable tales of his experiences on various starships. Some of these digressions might perhaps have been meant as humorous, but no one was laughing, with the exception of a tall Andorian in the front row whose antennae bobbed up and down as he chortled. Reg found himself wondering whether Andorians had to practice waving their antennae in just the right way when they were pretending to be amused.

The shiny sparkling thing outside the classroom, whatever it was, gleamed more brightly and broke his train of thought again. He sat up straighter and craned his neck to get a good view of the breezeway just outside the windows, which led from a nearby corridor to the dining area where he and the others had recently eaten lunch.

When he had walked through the breezeway earlier in the day, however, there certainly hadn’t been a large electronic device hovering in midair approximately one meter above the floor, spinning in an erratic motion and becoming momentarily translucent as if it were flickering in and out of existence. Reg had never seen anything like it before.

No one else in the classroom seemed to have noticed the strange device, including Geordi LaForge, who was sitting to his left. Reg nudged Geordi and gestured toward the windows, trying not to be too conspicuous about it, and spoke in a low voice. “What do you think that is?”

Geordi’s forehead crinkled in a puzzled frown as he tried to identify the device and obviously had no success in doing so. “Don’t know. Let’s go take a look at it.”

The two engineers made their way toward the classroom door and into the corridor, which was deserted; the cadets were on summer break. A faint humming sound came from the breezeway. It reminded Reg of something, but he couldn’t quite place it.

The breezeway was also empty, except for the strange device. Some of its components looked almost familiar, but smaller and more streamlined. Reg raised his tricorder and started scanning. The high chronoton readings would have been enough to confirm his suspicion that the device came from the future, even if he hadn’t noticed a large Federation logo on one side, next to the words “Temporal Security Bureau.”

“Looks like the time cops screwed up.” Geordi stated the obvious. “Now we’ve got a problem. How do we get this thing out of here, preferably back where it came from, without causing any damage to the timeline?”

Reg took another step toward the device and glanced down at his tricorder readings again. A pattern began to emerge in his mind. The humming noise, now much louder, sounded like the warp field emitters when they were improperly aligned…

“I know what’s wrong.” He spoke quickly, his voice reflecting his sudden certainty. “Look at the pattern of these chronoton fluctuations. The emitter is misaligned. I think I can fix it. Restoring a normal chronoton field ought to send this device back where it came from.”

“Could be. I hope you’re right, Reg.” Turning back toward the corridor, Geordi went on to say, “I’ll get a tool kit from the engineering lab. You wait here and make sure no one else comes into the breezeway. The less people who see this thing, the better. If anyone comes by, tell ‘em the breezeway is closed for maintenance, or something like that.”

Reg, left alone for the moment, glanced back and forth from one end of the breezeway to the other, wondering how he was supposed to keep watch on both doorways simultaneously. With his luck, a security officer would arrest him for impersonating a maintenance worker, and he’d be hauled off somewhere for questioning as a suspected spy…

He heard footsteps behind him and turned his head to see Geordi, already in the breezeway, approaching with a tool kit. So much for his short-lived career as a door guard. He felt somewhat embarrassed about his lapse of attention, but Geordi, already opening the tool kit, didn’t say anything about it.

The humming noise grew much louder as Geordi removed the device’s cover. The malfunctioning chronoton emitter was right there in plain sight; it could be accessed easily. Reg calibrated an isolinear spanner and began making the adjustments. Then a sudden flash of bright white light surrounded him…

******

The next thing Reg knew, he was outdoors, surrounded by fragrant pine branches. Unfortunately, the branches looked like they were at the top of a rather large tree. Before his brain had a full opportunity to register his predicament, Reg was falling, his arms and legs flailing wildly as he bounced off more branches on the way down. He landed in a heap of bark chips, which smelled even more strongly of pine. A soft thump announced Geordi’s arrival right beside him.

There was something shiny next to his hand. The spanner. Reg managed to grab it before it sank any farther into the bark chips. The tool kit was close to his other hand and appeared to be undamaged.

Lifting his head, Reg saw a green landscape in motion. No, he mentally corrected himself, the bark chips into which he and Geordi had fallen were in some sort of moving vehicle, on a narrow, winding roadway that meandered through a park. The trees and scenery looked very similar to the Starfleet Academy campus, but he couldn’t see any of the buildings.

“A pickup truck,” Geordi stated, observing the details of the vehicle on which they had landed. “Early 21st century, I’d guess.”

Reg struggled to his knees and lurched toward the side of the vehicle. “We need to get out of it now, go back and find that temporal device, while our quantum resonance signatures still match our original time period closely enough so that the device can return us there.”

“Easy, Reg.” Next to him, Geordi was also sitting up, but more slowly and carefully. “I agree we’re in a hurry, but it won’t do us any good to fall out of here and get broken bones. Wait till the truck comes to a full stop.”

The truck had started to slow down, Reg realized, as the roadway curved gently through a wide grassy area where a large crowd was milling about. Many of the people were wearing T-shirts with some sort of jigsaw puzzle logo and the letters EAN. Smaller lettering also appeared beneath the logo, but Reg couldn’t make out what it said at this distance.

About a minute later, the truck stopped at an intersection where several pedestrians were crossing. Reg and Geordi jumped down to the pavement and quickly brushed some clinging bark chips off their clothes, trying not to attract any more attention than they already had.

A bearded young man watched with a grin as Geordi tugged a large bark chip free from a rumpled collar. “Not the best way to get a ride.”

Geordi shrugged and began walking across the grass with the crowd, which took him and Reg generally back in the direction from which they had come. “Could’ve been worse.”

“At least you got here in time,” the young man continued, as he fell into step beside Reg and Geordi. “The event will be starting in about ten minutes. Cool costumes you’re wearing, by the way. What are you supposed to be?”

“Uh, superheroes saving the planet from space invaders, something like that,” Geordi answered, with only a slight pause. “Left over from Halloween.”

A visibly pregnant woman walking nearby said cheerfully, “I would’ve liked to do something of the sort, but it’ll be a while before I can fit into any of my old costumes.”

She was wearing baggy jeans and a large, roomy T-shirt with the event logo that Reg had noticed earlier. The shirt hung loosely below her waist, making the lettering easy to read.

ERADICATE AUTISM NOW, it proclaimed, with slightly smaller letters below: San Francisco Fundraising Walk, Saturday, July 11, 2015.

“This is such a good cause, ending the autism epidemic,” the woman went on to say. “I was so relieved when the prenatal test that EAN’s scientists developed became available last year. I would have been afraid to start a family otherwise, with all those scary statistics about the huge number of children being identified as autistic. I just couldn’t have dealt with having a child who was so different from normal people.”

Her brown eyes glinted like polished copper beads, large and unsettling. Reg dropped his gaze to her mouth, which now appeared much too wide and full of unnaturally white teeth, gleaming like a hungry predator’s fangs. The crowd seemed to press threateningly around him, like a pack of wolves on the hunt, or killer whales surrounding their prey. What was the proper word to describe a group of whales? He took a deep breath, trying to ward off a feeling of incipient panic. All at once he realized that his hands were flapping nervously at his sides, and he tried to hold them still.

“But,” he stammered, “autistic children are human beings and…”

Geordi’s elbow unexpectedly jabbed Reg in the ribs, almost causing him to stumble.

“Please excuse my friend, he sometimes gets a bit overly excited talking about political issues,” Geordi said amiably. “He doesn’t mean any harm.”

The bearded man looked Reg up and down thoroughly, as if inspecting a laboratory specimen, before turning to speak to Geordi. “Your friend has obvious autistic traits. He needs to be evaluated. There’s no cure for autism, of course, but there are drugs that can make those people behave more like the rest of us.”

Glancing from Reg to Geordi with a suspicious scowl, the pregnant woman demanded loudly, “You guys aren’t some sort of autistic civil rights activists here to cause trouble, are you?”

“Not at all.” Geordi’s tone remained calm. “We’re just walking through the park.”

“It wouldn’t matter anyway. We’re the majority, and anyone who doesn’t think autistic people need fixing had better just get used to the idea.” As the woman spoke, her voice began to sound distorted to Reg, and very far away, as if he were listening to a conversation underwater. “They so totally give me the creeps, with all their tics and twitching. Some psychologists say they have no empathy, and what that means is, like, not understanding that people have feelings and treating people like objects. I can’t imagine how anyone could behave like that.”

“I’m having a hard time imagining it, too.”

Was there an ironic undertone to Geordi’s voice? Reg couldn’t be sure. Geordi’s voice sounded deeper, edgier somehow, highlighting the question of just who had been behaving as if certain people were objects; but Reg didn’t feel confident enough to trust his own perceptions. All around him, other sounds of conversation rose and fell in chaotic surges, defying his efforts to find meaning in them.

The woman said something more, or at least Reg assumed that she was talking because her mouth was moving, but by now he could hear nothing but an incomprehensible blur of crowd noise. The sunlight glinted painfully around him, reflecting from a sea of strange faces that seemed to stretch out into infinity. He continued to walk across the dry grass by rote placement of one foot in front of the other, although he had lost all sense of direction. His breath whistled harshly in his nostrils.

A hand fell on his shoulder, turning and redirecting him. He had no idea where he was being taken. His first instinct was to run away, to escape, but the hostile crowd was all around him and there was nowhere to go. A few more steps, and he suddenly found himself out of the sunlight. A cool green blur hung hazily in front of him, blocking his path. He stood still then, struggling to breathe, to regain some comprehension of his surroundings. The throng of voices seemed to be receding.

“I’m sorry about the elbow, Reg.” Although Geordi had been speaking for some time, the words were just now starting to sort themselves into recognizable patterns. “I guess I probably would have felt much the same way if we had ended up in the middle of a slave auction or a pro-segregation march, but you know how dangerous time travel is, and how important it is to be careful not to say or do anything that might alter the timeline.”

Not quite confident of his ability to speak, Reg nodded. A moment later, the green blur in front of him resolved itself into a tall hedge, each twig and leaf properly imbued with form and meaning. In the shade, the air felt calm and refreshing. He could almost have believed himself to be back on the Academy campus.

“We don’t have to walk past this group,” Geordi continued. “It wouldn’t take us too far out of our way to walk around them. Just a few extra minutes. Our quantum resonance patterns shouldn’t change significantly in that amount of time.”

In the distance, a woman could be heard over a public address system making what was apparently a welcoming speech. Just a few minutes, Reg thought, and he and Geordi would be back at the pine tree where they had fallen into the truck. They could climb the tree and make the adjustments to the temporal device, sending both themselves and the device back to the appropriate time periods, and he would never have to think about this incident again.

“No. I want to take another look.” Reg turned to face his friend, his voice now clear and certain. “I want to remember what happened here, to understand how much ignorance and prejudice humanity had to overcome on the way to building the Federation, and to appreciate what my service in Starfleet stands for.”

Geordi looked at him without speaking for a moment, gave a nod in reply, and the two men walked out together into the sunlight.