Whenever he had nothing better to do, Tristan Bailey would look at a picture of his family that sat on his desk. In the picture, him, Trevor and Tom were only about 8 years old, standing in front of a Christmas tree with their presents in the background. Tom was holding on to a stuffed platypus of all things, Trevor holding up a book about Galileo that he should have been far too young to read, and Tristan was holding up a Nerf gun at the camera, with a dart flying straight at it. Clara, their mother, was standing behind them, signs of age already starting to show on her face. Next to her, giving Tom bunny ears, was their father, Tyler Bailey. Tyler was grinning at the camera, his black beard full and his hair thinning.
That was years ago. Since then, for security reasons, Tom, Trevor and Tristan had grown distant from mom. She knew they worked for something called S & C Plastics, but it baffled her why physicists were working for a company like that. And as for dad…
Tristan was distracted from his thoughts by a Skype call from Trevor at Site 19. Odd, he thought. It's not 5:00 in Nevada yet. He never calls this early when he's working… A dreadful feeling formed in the pit of his stomach; was there some kind of a breach? Did the MUTA explode? Did 447 touch a dead body?!
Tristan opened the window to find Trevor sitting at his desk, smiling stupidly into the camera. "Happy Holidays, Bro."
"Happy- Trevor, you nearly gave me a heart attack!" Tristan crossed his arms and scowled. "Did you seriously call just to wish me 'Happy Holidays'?"
"Actually, no. Tom would've called, but he's busy with a situation in the Empire. Something about killer penguins attacking Foundation zoologists." Trevor looked around, and twiddled his thumbs uncomfortably. "I was just wondering if you… said hi to dad, yet. It is almost Christmas."
Tristan rubbed his face and sighed, looking at the picture again, then at his smart watch; he had a five-hour break today. Enough time to visit dad. "I'll do it today. Thanks for reminding me, man. How's the girlfriend?"
"Transferred to Wyoming," groaned Trevor. "We're still managing long-distance, though. We're thinking of meeting up in Vegas for the Holidays."
The two triplets continued conversing about banal things for the next fifteen minutes, until Trevor Bailey's supervisor walked by his workstation and he was forced to close the chat program. Sighing, Tristan rose up from his seat and made his way out of his office, on his way to visit his dad.
Tyler Bailey, the inventor of Multi-Universal Transit Array, sat in his arm chair reading the latest issue of Weekly World News when a knock came to his door. The 70-something man rose to his feet, making his way towards the door and grabbing a wakizashi that he kept to fend off burglars or worse. When you lived in a town like this, you had to be careful about this kind of thing. He didn't know how to use the sword, but it looked intimidating, and that's what counted.
He leaned against the doorframe, calling through the front door. "Who's there?"
"Dad, come on," said a familiar voice. "Do you always have to be like this? It's just me."
Blinking, Tyler Bailey opened the door to find himself face-to-face with one of his sons. Frowning, he asked a question. "How did Abraham Lincoln die?"
Without missing a beat, Tristan answered this question and the others that were to follow. "Shot by John Wilkes Booth while watching Our American Cousin in Ford's Theater. Nixon resigned from office in 74, both Bushes are still alive and are Republicans, and Pope John Paul II was not assassinated. Yes, I'm from the baseline." He smiled wryly at his father, who smiled back and put down the sword.
Tyler Bailey hugged Tristan, who did his best to hold back tears of joy. "Hello, son."
"Hey, dad. Merry Christmas."
"I didn't expect you to get here so early!" Tyler Bailey chuckled as he boiled water for some hot chocolate. "I thought you boys weren't arriving until the 23rd!"
"I got an early flight," explained Tristan, smiling at his dad. "Tom's probably having trouble down south, and Trevor said he was coming up with his girlfriend. I got lucky."
"Took the red-eye, then?"
"Yeah. Weiss let me go early just to visit you. She's doing fine, by the way; not at all sore about that thing back in '89."
"Good!" Tyler chuckled as he brought hot chocolate to his son, sitting across him at the kitchen table. "So, how goes stuff in Multi-U?"
"Dad, you know you shouldn't talk about that stuff; you're no longer Commissioner of the Department."
"Bah! The only reason that department exists is because of my invention! I have every right to know about it. Besides, I'm still an employee."
"You're a consultant."
"Same difference." Tyler Bailey blew on his hot chocolate and smiled at his son. "So, what's new up in old Sloth Spit?"
"Not much, really," shrugged Tristan as he took a sip of the drink. "Things got hectic last year because of the whole Mayan Apocalypse thing. We were preparing evac plans for half the US using the portal device…"
"Glad the Mayans were wrong about that, eh?" Tyler chuckled. "Besides, if they were right, they didn't account for leap years and shit. If anything, the apocalypse would've happened in February, and we'd all be caught with our pants down."
"Mmm," said Tristan, looking at his watch. "Hey, dad, how about we watch that film you like so much?"
"You know, that Noir one from the 40's. The one Welles did."
Tyler blinked. "The Shadow? But you hate that film!"
"It's Christmas. Besides, what else are we gonna watch? Rankin-Bass productions on ABC? The Science of Christmas on Discovery?"
"Fair point," noted the elder Bailey, standing up and heading to the living room. "Come on, then. You mind making the popcorn?"
"Not at all!" Tristan went into the kitchen, checking his coat pocket as he did so; the syringe was still there, and still capped, for when he needed to use it. He sighed softly to himself and rubbed an eye, before looking in the pantry for some bags of popcorn.
It was snowing outside when the credits started rolling. Tristan smiled at his dad as the film ended, fiddling in his pocket and looking at his watch; his five hours were almost up, but he still had some time. "Better than I remembered it to be."
"Hah!" Tyler Bailey clapped his hand, and looked under the Christmas tree where all the presents were. "…you know, son, if you want, you can open your present early."
"Dad!" Tristan stared at his father. "I can't! It wouldn't be fair!"
"Bah! I won't tell the others; you can always just re-wrap it. Go ahead, take a look." Tristan moved towards the tree, taking his box-shaped present out from under the tree. He carefully undid the wrapping paper, and smiled at what was underneath: a collectors edition version of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. "I remember how much you loved that series as a kid. You were… what, 5 when that show first came on the air? But you still watched it every night it was on."
Tristan sniffed, smiling at his dad as he took out his smart phone and took a picture of the collection, for future reference. "Thanks, dad…" He dug in his pocket briefly, before opening his arms for a hug. Tyler Bailey accepted, hugging his son tight.
Tyler Bailey was so happy he didn't even notice the needle with the Class-A amnestic dig into his back and be injected, nor did he notice when he started going to sleep. Tristan sighed and laid his father down on the couch, putting the needle in a Bio-hazard bag and re-wrapping his Christmas present.
After some more cleaning up, such as washing out the mugs of hot chocolate and disposing of the popcorn bowl, he stepped out the door, and made his way back to the portal home.
Tristan Bailey stepped back into the baseline, looking like he was about to cry as the portal shut behind him. Director Weiss was standing there, looking concerned as she spoke up. "How was he?"
"He's good. Wasn't suspicious like last year." He handed the Bio-hazard bag to an assistant. "I assume I won't have to write a report about this?"
"About what?" The director shrugged. "You were visiting family, simple as that." With that, she started walking out of the department. Tristan followed soon after, stopping in front of a plaque near the door to the Portal Chamber.
THIS LABORATORY IS DEDICATED TO
DR. TYLER BAILEY
INVENTOR OF THE MUTA
Tristan smiled softly at the plaque, touching the engraving before walking down the hallway, whistling a Christmas carol to himself.