Note: Sorry for taking so long to write an installment, but, as I've been saying, real life's kept me busier than a one-legged man in a room full of rocking chairs (wait, that's not right, is it?). I even passed on SR's offer to join the Diablo II Stress Test (which, by some accounts, makes that the second time I've done that in as many decades). Anyway, here's the next mutation of CC:TNG. I'm just glad I'm not the one responsible for the next episode of CC:TOS.
"Mission Combat Specialist," snorted Bucky Ogden. "This is a fine mess. What am I going to do? I'm no Combat Specialist, I'm a waiter!"
More specifically, Ogden was a waiter with some classified access codes and a huge crush on Lt. Gillian. The restaurant where he worked was right next to a military spaceport and Gillian was one of his regular customers. He had longed for her from afar for what seemed like forever, but she had never noticed him.
Three nights ago, and several thousand years in the future (damn, but this time travel business was complicated), one of the other time pilots had accidentally left his notepad on a table in the restaurant.
Ogden really had intended to do the right thing and return it to the base, but that was before he caught a glimpse of the notepad's screen. It contained mission specs for a dangerous assignment Gillian had accepted. He tucked the notepad in his apron and went on break.
According to the notepad, Lt. Gillian was going to fly back in time, beyond the Beta Barrier, in an attempt to stop the Cools from overrunning the galaxy. Ogden had no problem with that. The Cools were notoriously poor tippers. What bothered Ogden was the very good possibility that he might never see Gillian again. Even if her mission was successful, she might remain trapped in the past, on the other side of the Beta Barrier. Or she might even create and alternate reality and be stuck there.
And she'd never know how he loved her.
He went behind the bar and poured himself a drink.
What was he going to do? He read more of the briefing. There was a test flight of the time pod Mud Runner scheduled. Gillian and a mission specialist would be in space on a six-week flight in final preparation for the mission.
Ogden thought. Maybe there was a way.
No. That was insane. He shook his head. There was no way he'd ever do anything so crazy, not even for true love.
At least, not without a couple more drinks.
With the unauthorized notepad, it had been easy to set up a fake identity for himself and get approved as the Combat Specialist on Gillian's mission. Well, actually, it hadn't been easy, but he got the job done.
He was supposed to awaken from suspended animation a week into the test flight, and then he and Gillian would have had weeks alone together. He might spend the rest of his life in a penal colony afterwards, but at least she'd know.
It hadn't worked out that way.
Two days into the mission, they had received and emergency GO signal. The Cools had opened up a chain of tanning salons and fitness centers at the door of the galactic capitol itself. The order, which had been fed directly into Ogden's brain as he hibernated, was to skip the rest of the test flight and proceed with the mission.
The next thing he knew, the Mud Runner had crashed outside of Tristram and Gillian was standing across from him waiting for orders. Only his sleek black armor and visored helmet kept her from recognizing him. "S-stay here," he had stammered. "I'll go scout around." He desperately needed to get away and think.
What was he going to do? ADRIA, the hand-held Analog/Digital Real Intelligence Algorithm, hadn't been any help. Once she realized that his DNA didn't match that of any personnel in her databank, she refused to talk to him, other than to promise him dire consequences for his deception. He turned her off and stuck her under a rock in the woods.
Bucky Ogden thought a little longer. There was nothing he could do but go find Gillian, own up, and help her complete her mission to the best of his ability. He was in for a series of rude surprises.
The first was the absence of the Mud Runner. The sensors in his armor told him that someone, and not Gillian, had activated the crippled ship's time drive. It was gone for good, and they were stranded.
Stunned beyond words, Ogden headed for Tristram, where his scanners showed Gillian had gone. Just outside the town square, he got his second surprise.
He arrived just in time to see Gillian and Lord Cool disappear into the Tavern of the Rising Sun, arm-in-arm.
It took him 30 seconds to cross the town square and another 30 seconds to race to the private rooms upstairs. As any woman who's ever been with Lord Cool knows, that was exactly 31 seconds too late.
There was a dazzling blue flash just as he reached the door.
When the smoke cleared, both Gillian and Lord Cool were gone. All that remained in the room was a CD on the unmade bed.
Ogden popped the CD into the player built into the left arm of his armor. Instantly, the holographic likeness of his true love materialized a few inches above the nightstand. Her face was pale and her hair and uniform disheveled.
"I tried to detain him as long as I could," explained Gillian. "But he was so inept. It was horrible. Just horrible." She shuddered violently. "He did things wrong that I didn't know it was possible to do wrong." Her face grew even paler at the recollection. "I can only imagine that this is how the demon, Red Vex, must have felt. Zakarum knows my belly button will never be the same."
Ogden shook his head. This couldn't have happened. It couldn't be happening.
Gillian went on. "The worst part is, I'm not even sure it was the real Lord Cool. My quintacorder showed temporal anomalies all over the place." She shivered again and gagged slightly. "Maybe it was the real Lord Cool. There couldn't possibly be anyone else in the universe as bad in bed as this one was."
"Oh God," whimpered Ogden.
"Either way, the damage is done." She put on a brave face. "I'm of no use to you on this mission anymore. I just keep picturing that... that... tiny..." Her lip quivered. "I can never be with a man again."
"No..." breathed Ogden.
"I don't know where Lord Cool's gone. I hope you can find him and stop him. He's a greater menace than we ever imagined." She stood and straightened her uniform. Then she pulled a small metal capsule out of her belt pouch.
"Gillian, please, no," pleaded Ogden futilely, recognizing what she had in her hand.
"I'm going to detonate this lag grenade and throw myself into the Battle Net," said Gillian. "Maybe I'll join a convent in some far-flung dimension. Or perhaps I'll find the legendary village of bisexual Amazons. Or, most likely, I'll run into the Boojum and softly and suddenly vanish away."
"Good luck, Mission Specialist Ogden." Inside his helmet, Ogden felt his jaw drop. "Good luck, Bucky." She pulled the pin on the grenade and everything went blue.
She had known! She had known and now she was gone forever!
"NOOOOOOOO!" howled Ogden. Nothing could be worse than this.
The innkeeper ran up the stairs to investigate Ogden's mournful cry of despair. "Good Master, how can I..."
He was going to say, "help."
Startled and distracted by his own misery, Ogden turned and fired at the sound. The innkeeper had time to look down at the smoking hole in his chest. Through it, he could see the hall behind him.
At that same instant, the HUD inside Ogden's helmet lit up like a Christmas tree on LSD. Streams of conflicting data poured out of the built-in quintacorder. Another screen showed a gray warning box displaying the message that every time traveler dreads most: "GFP Error."
A GFP Error. Even without real military training, Bucky Ogden knew all about the dreaded GFP Error. He looked down at the remains of the innkeeper. The family resemblance was beyond dispute.
A Grandfather Paradox Error. He'd just killed his great-great-great-great-whatever grandfather.
Even as Bucky Ogden stood there contemplating the charred wreckage of his forebear, he knew a temporal backlash was sweeping backwards through the centuries to obliterate him. In a moment, his entire existence would be erased. He'd be more than dead; he'd be a never-was.
Rather than meekly accept his fate, Ogden reached into his armor's arsenal and pulled the pin on a lag grenade.
Everything went blue.
A moment later, Ogden found himself in the same room of the Tavern of the Rising Sun standing over the body of Han Solo. Somehow, he had lagged out at the exact instant of the temporal backlash and been spared its effects. Or most of them, anyway. He knew his history had been obliterated. He was a never-was, but somehow still existed. He was in the room, but was acutely aware that he was no longer truly part of time and space. He could interact with his surroundings, but he would never be able to truly experience things again. His existence would be like... like playing a computer game.
Other things had changed. Instead of an LED display inside his helmet, only the word "Dreamflange" displayed. His black armor had changed from an advanced plasteel polymer to a suit forged from the blackened bones of a slain Whale God. His quintacorder had turned into black volcanic glass and the only information it gave out now was astrological forecasts. With the exception of his clip of lag grenades, his entire weapons pack had turned into a sword of some sort. Instinctively, he glanced at what had been his quintacorder. It gave him the sword's horoscope: "Royalty of many ages figures into your true parentage. Act with haste."
As for Bucky Ogden himself, aside from being immortal and outside of time, nothing had changed about him but his attitude. Before, he hadn't really cared that much about the Cools. If they wanted to turn the entire galaxy into one great, never-ending episode of Baywatch, he could live with that. But now, it was personal. It wasn't just the GFP Error and the fact that he was cursed to spend the rest of his eternal existence apart from the universe around him. Lord Cool had taken away the one thing in his life that had ever mattered to him. Maybe he could have tracked her across the Battle Net before the GFP, but now he didn't even have her starting point. He would never see her again, and even if he did, he was a never-was. She might be able to touch him, but he'd never know her touch.
"Lord Cool must pay," he breathed. That was all he had left. Vengeance! That was all he cared about. Not just vengeance; Maximum Vengeance.
He'd kill every single creature he met until he killed Lord Cool. Killing was the one thing he could still do that made him feel somehow real. Even if it was just an illusion, what did it matter? His victims-to-be knew nothing of his wretched eternal existence. He'd slaughter them all, but mere slaughter was just for demons and bullies. This would be Maximum Slaughter.
Good and evil no longer mattered to him either. God had screwed with him once too often today and he was no longer under any obligation to be Good. He wasn't going to settle for being merely evil either. That was for PK's and other losers.
He was going to be Maximum Evil.
Well goodness, another episode ends with someone turning out to be Maximum Evil. Be sure to join us next time when tempus fugit, Mr. Temporal Anomaly himself, tries to sort it all out.
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