The Gateshead had been exploring the Strata-9 Galactic Ring for some time now and the crew was ready for a break having just completed an in-depth spectral analysis of several binary systems collapsing towards Strata-8. It was tedious work that was exacerbated by the continuing failure of BOB, their WIN2240 based android, and the intermittent failure of many of the ship’s onboard systems. The two RESTWIN specialists were putting in 20 hour days and Jean Louis, the ship’s Captain, knew this couldn’t go on much longer. He was assured by Derek, the Data Chief on Starbase 11, that WIN2241 was a vast improvement over WIN2240 and although the final release of the operating system had been delayed, it would be possible to load a beta version once the Gateshead came into station.

The ship’s bridge was abuzz with activity. On the aft side, several crew members pored over manuals trying to reinstall communications software, while astern, Commander Warp worked on assembly code for a new Pong game to be introduced on the ‘Holideck.’

Dozing off in his recliner on the bridge, the Captain waited for yet another computer glitch to be ironed out that would allow him to resume communications with StarFleet Command. First Officer Striker addressed Ensign Flusher. (Note: ‘Flusher’ was a nickname given to Ensign Gross for causing a mess by not attending to the final details in the shuttle’s weightless bathroom facilities.)

“Ensign Flusher, set in a course to Starbase 11.”
“What are the coordinates, sir?”
“Flusher, I’m tired of hearing you whine about your computer being down. Look the darn thing up.”
“But sir, I keep getting this “restore” WIN2240 error message and the RESTWIN specialists are both in sick bay.”
“Ask BOB, then.”

Flusher looked over at BOB and as if to prove a point:

“BOB, er, what are the coordinates of Starbase 11?”
“Sorry, Ensign Flusher, I am experiencing a WIN256 error. Please reinstall the WIN256’s or restore WIN2240.”
“Commander Striker, sir, I asked BOB and he seems to be experiencing another downtime.”
Showing considerable irritation, Striker snapped back “Flusher, we pay you to navigate this ship. Set in a course for Starbase 11.”
“Sir, can you give me a hint as to the possible direction?” Flusher coyly responded.
“Yeah, Flusher, it’s that way,” Striker pointed toward a distant star.
“Setting in a course for ‘that way.’”

Treanna, the ship’s counselor and a trapezoid, noted the rising tension among the crew. Trapezoids could not only read emotions, but also knew instantly when members of the crew were ‘distracted’. She enjoyed wearing her uniforms one size too small and then scanning the bridge to measure her impact. Lately, her impact was negligible and Treanna concluded it was time to talk to the Captain about the crew’s other distractions.

She walked over to the Captain’s chair, leaned down, and whispered, “Captain, can I see you in your quarters, NOW?”
The Captain opened his eyes and saw two beautifully formed…
“Why…eh…yes… make it so.”

Upon entering his quarters, the Captain asked the counselor to have a seat, went to the food dispenser and ordered “Tea, Earl Grey, two cups” The dispenser console responded, “Tea, Earl Grey, two cups” and then “Missing UKTEA.DLL, please insert disk containing that file.” Jean Louis closed his eyes and sighed…

“That’s exactly what we need to talk about Captain,” said Treanna. “I sense that you and the crew are becoming emotionally strung out by all of the shipboard errors.”
“Yes, that’s true Treanna, but things will get better when we upgrade our ship’s software. Plus, StarFleet will soon enforce a new directive that every starship will be accompanied by a technical support ship… and that should eliminate many of our problems.”
“But Jean Louis, who will keep the technical support ship running?”

At that very minute, as if on cue, R appeared. R was a creature from the R Continuum who had visited the ship on previous occasions just when things had gotten really dull. He was dressed in what appeared to be late 20th Century Earth clothes and was sitting in one of Jean Louis’s chairs with his feet up on the dining room table.

“What are you doing here,” asked the Captain is some disgust, “And take your feet off my table.”
“Now, now, Captain. No reason to be unfriendly. Are you having a bad hair day? Oh sorry…”
“Listen R. We have enough problems around here without having to deal with your sarcasm.”
“I know…I know. Jean Louis. I’ve come to help.”
“Yes, you always come to help, but it never turns out that way. Besides, I thought you were expelled from the Continuum.”
“Now who’s not minding their own business, Jean Louis?”
“Sorry R, but I am just not ready for any more of your stunts right now.”
“Actually, Captain, the Continuum contacted me and asked if I’d come to see you because of our previous relationship.”
“What is you talking about R?”
“Is that good English, Jean Louis?”
“I don’t know how else to put it.”
“Okay Captain… enough frivolity. I’m here to talk about your troubles. And they’re more serious than you know.”
“What is they R?”
“Stop talking like that!”
“What R you talking about?”
“Your computer systems, Captain. If we don’t take some sort of action, the Galactic Empire will never evolve and StarFleet will decay into a very small regional power.”
“What kind of action R?”
“Bear with me Captain, and let’s go on a short journey.”

At that point, the Gateshead was transported through space and time to Earth orbit in the late 20th Century.

“R, exactly what are we doing here?’ asked the Captain.
“I brought you here to change the course of computer evolution on Earth. There was a point during this period when your industry made a major blunder that continues to haunt your systems even today… and that’s why nothing on the Gateshead works properly. Your mission is to isolate that blunder and undo it.”
“But R, how are we to make that determination? None of our systems work and no one on board is familiar with the local history of this period.”
“Yes, Captain. I thought you might be frustrated. I could simply undo the blunder myself but as you know this would be contrary to the Continuum’s Code. And I have stretched that code to bring you here, but that’s as far as I can go… except to suggest you beam up an individual who might through his absence affect the turn of history. The name is Mutter.”

And with that last piece of information R disappeared into thin air, as it were.

——————————————-

Wolf Mutter sat at the game table poring over his Scrabble pieces. Directly across from him sat his eight year old sister Asthmantha. ‘Asty’ as Wolf was fond of calling her, was a mean Scrabble player. In fact, though Wolf was a full four years older, he had never beaten his little sister at any board game. This game was close and Asty had seven letters left. Wolf had only four. If Asty couldn’t use her letters, the points would be deducted from her score and Wolf would be sure to win. He was noticeably excited.

Wolf studied his four tiles: an F, two O’s, and an M, while Asty hummed some ‘silly song she learned in Music class. Wolf was sure she had the high scoring ‘Q’ and perhaps an ‘X’ that she couldn’t use.

He looked at Asty and said, “It’s your move and if you can’t play any letters the game is over and I win.”

Just as Asty began to respond, an incredible thing happened. Over a period of about two seconds and accompanied by the strangest sound, Asty seemed to fade into thin air. Wolf could hardly believe it. His emotions ran the gamut from fear to disbelief and denial to disappointment, and finally back to fear. He screamed at the top of his lungs, and only after this emotional release did he notice with some disgust that his four Scrabble tiles were also gone.

———————————-

Wolf never got over that childhood loss —both the loss of his sister and his failure to collect his Scrabble win. These incidents were deeply disturbing. Subconsciously at first, and now consciously, Wolf pursued the truth. He spent his last several years as an FBI Agent exploring the world of the paranormal, inexplicable, and unbelievable and he had been joined in this mission by his somewhat skeptical partner, Nada Sulky. After all of those searches through countless lies and exaggerations, Wolf finally felt he was on the right trail.

It had all started with innocent speculation about the domination of the computer industry by one megalithic company —despite far superior technology offered by another, and it had almost ended with an attempt on Wolf and Nada’s life on Highway 1 outside of the District. Fearing that their work and home computers were being monitored via the Internet, Sulky and Mutter stayed strictly off-line. Using special contingency funds, the Why Files office hired college students around the country to do research and to FedEx it back to their office. On Tuesday evening of the week following the attempted murder, Sulky stayed at the office sifting through data and attempting to piece together a profile of the ‘Chairman.’ Meanwhile, Mutter rushed to a last minute meeting with FATMAN in an underground Alexandria garage.

Mutter left his car, looked both ways, and walked gingerly toward the black Cadillac. He then did one more visual scan, opened the front right hand door, got in, and gently closed the door behind him. FATMAN, sitting in the driver’s seat, never looked over. He seemed to be sweating profusely and Mutter glanced down at FATMAN’s seatbelt lifting up and under his enormous belly. Mutter’s gaze moved up to the outline of a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson Detective Special as it sat holstered on one of FATMAN’s voluminous breasts.

FATMAN groaned “You’re getting close, but your course needs some adjustment,” and then breathed deeply.
“What do you mean by ‘some adjustment?” asked Mutter.
FATMAN just sat there for about five minutes, staring ahead into the darkness, and Mutter waited. “What is with this guy anyway?” thought Mutter, “He smells like an enormous clove of garlic.”
As if sensing Mutter’s disdain, FATMAN snapped, “Get out Mutter.”

As Mutter opened the door and began sliding out, FATMAN handed Mutter a small sticky note. Mutter pocketed the note, hurried to his car, and watched the Cadillac drive off at high speed.

———————————

Upon his return to the office, Sulky quizzed Mutter about his meeting.

“I don’t know… FATMAN said we were getting close but implied that our ‘course needed some adjustment,’” answered Mutter.
“What do you think he meant, Mutter?” asked Sulky.
“I just don’t know, Sulky. Wait, he also gave me a note.”

Mutter pulled out the yellow stickie and was shocked to see four letters F, O, O, and M – the same letters, he explained to Sulky, that had disappeared from his Scrabble game with his sister. He looked again at the note and confirmed that for the very first time, he had an actual lead to his sister’s fate.

“Sulky, there’s no one else on this planet who knew about those letters. I feel like it’s finally coming together.”
“Wait a minute, Mutter, this could all be a giant coincidence. Maybe they stand for something—like an organization or a password? Let’s see if the computer can come up with a match…”
“No, Sulky, don’t. I have a feeling they’re important, but I don’t want to tip our hand.”
What have you discovered from your office research?”
“Well…it seems that most of Apple’s woes appear self-inflicted. There were the obvious blunders like not licensing the operating system until it was too late, marketing the equipment like they were out to save the world, confusing the market with dozens of different models, making a hash of production, giving the ‘look and feel’ of the Mac to the Chairman, getting distracted by the ‘Knowledge Navigator’ crap, and so on. But, Mutter, listen to this: there was one major blunder that Apple committed early on and never fully recovered from.”
“What was that Sulky?”
“Apple never released a Macintosh with the industry standard parallel port.”
“So what? Wasn’t the Mac’s serial port just as fast?”
“When the company introduced the Mac, the whole rest of the industry, including many Apple II owners, used dot matrix printers that attached to their computer via a parallel port. This meant that in order to switch from a PC to a Mac, a user had to buy a serial port-based ImageWriter printer from Apple. This was a positive disincentive for anyone already owning a printer to buy Macintosh.”
“Now why would they do such a thing, Sulky?” asked Mutter.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Mutter, but I figure it was just bad business.”
“That’s one explanation, Sulky. There’s also the possibility that someone at Apple sabotaged the Mac intentionally. We leave tomorrow for Cupertino, Sulky.”

That Wednesday afternoon, Sulky and Mutter showed for their appointment with the ‘acting’ Apple CEO at the Secret Research and Development Lab at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters. The two were ushered through several security checks, forced to check their weapons, and finally were accompanied to what appeared to be an ultra-secure area through iron-reinforced doors. Mutter immediately noticed the subtle clang of the doors as they slammed shut.
The Venetian blinds on the hall window had been left open but otherwise they were bathed in artificial light. Mutter just caught the glimpse of a balding fat-joweled man in a rumpled black suit and bare feet hustling through open doors to a helipad. The security guard tried to hamper his view, closed the blinds, and then proceeded down the hallway to what appeared to be a vacated receptionist’s desk. The guard ushered Sulky and Mutter into a small waiting room and told them they’d be seen very soon.

“Mutter, what do you think’s going on?” asked Sulky as she glanced at a bulletin board covered with outtakes from the company’s advertising campaigns.
“I’d swear that was the acting CEO who just left on a helicopter,” answered Mutter. “Sulky, do you smell something odd…?”
“As a matter of fact… but I can’t put my finger on it – sort of a farm-like smell. What’s this, Mutter?” she asked pointing to a picture that appeared to show a Cray Super Computer.”
“Yes, Sulky, I read about that somewhere. The company bought a super computer some years ago and no one quite knows why.”
“What could you use a super computer for?” asked Sulky.
“Well… I suppose anything from playing solitaire to creating genetic maps.
“Say Mutter… have a look at this.” Sulky had pulled the photo of the supercomputer off the board only to find another picture behind.
“What is it Sulky?”
“I’m not sure, Mutter. Some sort of animal… but nothing I’ve seen before.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a loud noise down the hall that sounded like a dog bark but was much louder and sort of muffled at the same time.
“What is that, Mutter?” asked Sulky, alarmed that the sound seemed to be getting closer.
“Wait a minute, Sulky, take another look.” Mutter ignored the sound and stared down a the photo that Sulky had uncovered. Beneath the picture of what appeared to be a genetically engineered dog/cow combination was the single word “MOOF.”

Mutter felt an enormous rush of adrenaline. He felt so flushed he could hardly breathe. The four letter tiles that had disappeared so long ago linked inextricably to the creature approaching their room.
By now the sound was a deafening “MOOF… MOOF” and both Sulky and Mutter backed away from the door. Perhaps in shock, Mutter appeared frozen by fear and an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss. Sulky looked frantically around the room for a weapon.
“MOOF. MOOF,” the sound was literally shaking the building.
Sulky found a pair of scissors in the desk drawer…
The door swung open and Sulky and Mutter gazed in horror at the real CEO of Apple Computer….

…to be continued…

 

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