September 2, 3110.
Temporal Integrity Commission, USS Adrenaline, somewhere beyond the Milky Way galactic boundary.
Admiral Carmen Calavicci scanned the conference room. Everyone in the department was there, except for the two traitors, who were in custody. And a colony alien, who was a kind of mascot and supporter. And a certain young, squirrely engineer. The Quartermaster, Crystal Sherwood, was exempt from attending.
“Damnation,” she said softly, “Miss Bernstein, do you know where Mister Cavendish is?”
“I thought he was working on the Flux Capacitor,” Sheilagh Bernstein replied, referring to her time ship.
“No, he couldn’t be; I’d’ve seen him,” interjected Deirdre Katzman, another engineer. “I was on Fluxy. Maybe he was on the Jack Finney.”
“No, I was with Kevin and we were checkin’ out the Jack,” Tom Grant stated, referring to the Chief Engineer, a part-Gorn named Kevin O’Connor, who was sitting next to him.
Kevin sighed. “Just because Levi works for me doesn’t mean he’s ever been, uh, accountable.” He shrugged. “I could hit the recall code on his implants.” He grinned.
Otra D’Angelo, a half-Witannen, was sitting next to him and blanched, the chavecoi – a kind of symbiotic group of biological hitchhikers that resembled a bouquet of pansies – on her head turning pale. “Won’t that hurt?”
“Technically,” reported Doctor Boris Yarin, “subjects who were, er, subject to recall reported dizziness and fatigue but not pain. At least that is what the latest paper says.”
“Yes, but you wrote that paper,” the Admiral reminded them. “Miss Porter? Mister Daniels? Mister Avery? Have you anything to add?” The psychologist, the most senior agent and the music and arts specialist all shook their heads. “I would rather not start without him. As for Branch Borodin, well,” she smiled a little wanly, “he – er, they – won’t do as a substitute. Here goes,” she tapped her left ear, twice, in order to engage her implanted communicator. “Mister Cavendish? Do join us in Conference Room Six. Bring Branch if they’re with you. On the double, sir. Calavicci out.” She did not even wait for his reply, and tapped her ear again in order to end the call.
A few minutes later, Levi Cavendish burst into the conference room with a dumber than a bag of hammers creature, a fourteen-legged procul. It was a kind of amphibious squid, but it had a plate with a slice of pumpkin pie in twelve of its arms. And twelve forks. Levi had his PADD out, as always, and was clicking away on it like a maniac.
The creature distributed the plates full of pies and the forks and then reassembled itself. It was the colony alien, and it took on the form of Deirdre’s first boyfriend, Anatoly Borodin.
“Children,” Carmen said, a bit of irritation in her voice even though she was holding pie. “We were going to discuss whether to build another time ship, for Polly here. Deirdre, what would you name it again?”
“The Elise McKenna,” the Jewish-Japanese engineer said, between forkfuls of pie. “She was the heroine of Time and Again. Or maybe it was Time After Time. I should check.”
“Very well. And the HG Wells is working?” the Admiral pressed.
“Oh, uh, yeah,” Kevin replied. “Damn, this is, like, the best pie, ever. Carmen, you really should try it.” He was nearly a quarter of a metric ton. “Trust me,” he patted his ample Buddha belly, “I know pie.”
“In a moment. And we’re down two people. Boris, do you need another doctor?”
“I can borrow someone from another unit. This is, truly, a spectacular pie.”
“Mister Grant, do you need another survivalist to work with you? I’m not so sure who we could get.”
“Mm, uh, I think we’re all right, for now. Really, Carmen, ya’ll should try the pie,” Tom urged.
Otra had been nibbling on hers. She went over to Levi. “This is the best pie I have ever had. How did you make it?”
“Oh, uh,” he swallowed, “forty-nine centimeter radiation band. I think the sugar is sweeter there. They make good pie.”
Carmen put a hand to her brow. There was every possibility of a migraine happening. “Mister Cavendish, do you mean to tell me that you have been using the admittedly non-infinite resources of the Temporal Integrity Commission to, to, to investigate the best pie in the multiverse?”
“Uh, yeah. See, see, see, see,” Levi got agitated and began jumping around the small room, nearly stepping on his coworkers in the process, “one was, uh, it tasted like old socks, and, and, and, three got me wired!”
“You mean worse than now?” asked Richard Daniels, as he scraped his plate.
“Uh, maybe, and, and, and, and sixty-nine was slimy. And fourteen was undercooked. And eight hundred and seventy-four was salty.”
“Surveys indicate,” the colony alien finally spoke, reporting the findings of a poll of all of its individual cells, “That the pie from the nine hundred forty-second centimeter radiation band was closest in flavor to pie number forty-nine, which is what has been made available today.”
“You mean to tell me,” Carmen was now holding her head, “that you made nearly one thousand pieces of interdimensional pumpkin pie?”
“The polls show that it is believed that there are a near-infinite number of universes, if not an infinite number,” Branch reported. “Therefore, a reasonable conclusion is that there are likely infinite varieties of pumpkin pie in the multiverse. Ninety-two percent agree with this premise; the remainder are enjoying the pie.”
“This is why,” Carmen murmured to herself, “you don’t invite Levi to the meetings. I brought this on myself,” she held her own head; “I brought this on myself,” she whimpered.
Doctor Yarin got up – he was human, Klingon and Xindi sloth – and touched her temples. “Bad throbbing, yes, we should adjourn soon, yes?”
“Why is this the best pie?” asked Polly Porter.
“Huh? Oh, uh, like I said, the sugar is sweeter there.” Levi paused. “I should turn off the replicator.”
“I’m on it,” Kevin volunteered, getting out of there as quickly as he could and jogging down the corridor, gait rolling like a hippopotamus.
Carmen resigned herself to the fact that she had lost control of the meeting and sat down. Absently, she ate a forkful of pie. “This is good.”
Otra, who had been thinking about something as she chewed, stood up. “Attention, please!” HD Avery put two fingers in his mouth and whistled shrilly and they all stopped talking as Kevin returned. “I think this is an important day.”
“Oh?” inquired Daniels.
“I do indeed. Levi,” she came over to him and touched him on his shoulder. He rarely looked people in the eye, but he did look at her that time. “This is wonderful. In all of the years I have known you, in college, everything, you have never, ever, noticed the people around you enough in order to be considerate enough to make them all pie.”
“Pie number forty-nine,” he added.
“Right,” she smiled at him. “This is a huge breakthrough for you.” She hugged him, her chavecoi bouncing and changing to pastel shades of pink and peach and lavender.
“Huh. I like pie.”