The Grand Scheme

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Chapter 1: Something Better

(by Ali)

Have you ever longed for something better? Do you wake up morning after morning thinking that this was not the life you had chosen to live?

Ali's eyes fluttered open and struggled to focus through the dim light on her television screen. It was just after four a.m. and her TV was shouting cliches at her again. Sleepily, she sat upright on the couch and searched the upholstery for the missing remote.

The TV continued. "Sometimes in our daily lives, we feel driven by the monotony of it all. Where are we going? Is this where we pictured ourselves? How can we better our position? Most of the time, these feelings go unnoticed and are ultimately ignored but occasionally…" At that moment, Ali found the remote. Clutching it in her hand, she turned it towards the TV.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she muttered, her thumb poised over the power button. Just before she could press it, however, her TV shouted at her.

"Put that remote down, Alexandria!"

Ali jumped from her seat. Any looming feeling of sleepiness evaporated with that single sentence. She gaped at the TV. "Wha..?"

"You heard me." The TV growled it's response. "Now put the remote away and listen, dammit."

Ali stared skeptically at the TV but still did as it commanded. After releasing the remote from her hand, she used her free hand to rub her forehead. "I must be hungover or something." She was haunted by the reality that she hadn't consumed any alcohol in weeks. But still, this was too impossible to believe.

The TV somehow knew what she was thinking. "You're not dreaming and you're not hallucinating. You're not dead, either," it continued before the latter comment had crossed Ali's mind. "This is all real."

"But TV's can't talk to you." Ali rationalized. The TV scoffed.

"Honey, this is the 21st century. Anything can happen."

"No, anything can't just happen." Ali replied. "Just because this is the 21st century instead of the 20th doesn't mean that things will just automatically happen." The TV groaned and rolled it's antenna in annoyance as Ali babbled on. "Human ingenuity is remarkable, but it isn't based on specifically what century it happens to be." The TV got bored with Ali's lecture in pseudo logic. Picking up it's own remote, it pointed it at Ali and hit the mute button. Ali continued talking for several long sentences before she realized she could no longer form sound. She gripped at her throat in horror while the TV waited for the shock effect to die down.

It finally did. And the TV was relieved.

"I am trying to help you, you nit wit," the device snapped. "Now listen. To. Me." Ali listened. "First of all, I find it very remarkable that a single person can dream about space travel and the time continuum and aliens in little blue boxes or with pointy ears and not realize a truth when it comes to them. A talking TV is peanuts to what you people dream up to be possible and yet every time it happens, I get this whole reaction where everyone tries to turn rational. How does that even make sense?!"

The TV had to stop itself, for it realized it was rambling. Making the distinct sound as if it was clearing it's throat, the television continued.

"I am trying to help you," it explained with some force of patience. "Infomercials are not just to help the insomniac but they are also a gateway of communication. Not many people can be bothered by them so it's one of the safest ways to open contact with the right people. Of course, sometimes we do get those insomniac weirdos but they are all believed to be delusional by the mass medical field…" once again, it was rambling. Back on topic now. "Look, I know you spend most of your waking moments and even times in your dreams thinking that your life isn't the way it's supposed to be. Yes, a lot of people realize that, but you are one of the few who realize it and are right about that feeling. Your life is askew, Ali, and has been for some time. You need to reunite yourself on the correct path."

"Or what?" Ali mouthed, forgetting she couldn't talk. The TV apparently also forgot that he'd taken away her right of free speech and hit the mute button once more. "Or what?" Ali repeated, relieved to find she could talk again.

"Or the universe will blow up."

Ali was amazed. Once more, she gaped at her television. "Really?" she breathed in awe.

The TV groaned again. "No, not really," it snapped, taking Ali aback. She found herself somewhat disappointed. "Besides, that would put too much pressure on you and the universe." Ali thought this over and shrugged, frowning.

"You're probably right," she muttered, still slightly disappointed she couldn't save the universe.

"You just need to get on the right path."

"But how do I do that?" Ali asked, not knowing where to begin. The TV flashed a picture of an old friend Ali recognized. She stared. "You must contact this person and they will be able to lead you down the path of righteousness. No…wait…sorry. That last line wasn't for you. That was for…erm…. someone else. Anyway, this person will put you down the right path. You must go. Now. And find them. You know where they are." And, in the off chance Ali really didn't know, the address to that particular individual flashed on the screen in much the same way a 1-800 number flashes throughout a real infomercial. Ali grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled down the address.

"Live long and prosper. …oh, wait. That's copyrighted. Shit. Are we going to get sued for this?" The TV shouted as if talking to someone off camera. And the screen finally went black.


Meanwhile…somewhere in Australia…

Jen picked up a tumbleweed that has been stalking her for the last several hundred feet. Laughing maniacally, she glared at it. "I have you now, my pretty." As if on cue, her dog ran up to her, barking as he ran. Jen glanced over her shoulder at the canine. Followed not too far behind was John.

"I tried to catch him." he apologized, grabbing ahold of Doctor Horrible's collar.

"Don't worry about it," Jen shrugged, squeezing the tumbleweed in her hands before sending it, destroyed, on its way. "What's for lunch?"

Before John could answer, Jen's phone started ringing in her jeans pocket. Taking it out, she looked at the caller ID. She didn't recognize it.

"Hello?" she answered cautiously.

"I need…I need to talk…to…….you."

The static on the other line was horrible. "You need to talk to a jew?" She asked. "I'm sorry, you have the wrong number then." She was about to hang up before she heard a garbled voice scream her name over the static. She brought her cell back to her ear.

"We need to meet up somewhere. Where are you now?"

"Australia," Jen replied, sounding surprised. "Excuse me, but who is this?"

"Never mind that. Do you still know how to instant transmit?"

Jen furrowed her brow. "I….don't know…" she struggled to think. Something…somewhere…maybe…perhaps…? She couldn't remember what those words meant, but she knew it meant something.

"You can do it!" The voice shouted. "You need to instant transmit to Los Angeles for me."

"What? Los Angeles? Why?"

"Just do it," growled the voice. "And trust me."

Jen couldn't explain just how she did, but she trusted this mysterious phone call person. She nodded her head, forgetting her caller couldn't see her and she hung up the phone.

"I have to go," Jen told her husband simply. John narrowed his eyes in confusion.

"Wait, what? Why?"

"I don't know." She replied honestly. "But the person on the phone…they knew things. Unexplainable things. Things I haven't thought of in years. I need to go. I should be back shortly."

"Where are you going?"

"Los Angeles."

John gaped. "California? How can you be back shortly if you're flying from here to California?"

Jen smiled at John. "Watch." It was the last thing she said before she instant transmitted to another country.


Chapter 2: Old Friends and New Realizations

Jen found herself standing outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles and realized in a panic that she had no idea where she was supposed to meet her caller. Luckily for her (and plot physics), her caller happened to be right in front of that same theatre.

"Hello, Jen." The voice greeted her from behind. "It's been a while."

Jen whipped around and her eyes fell on one of her oldest friends. "Amy," she said unable to hide the shock from her voice.

Amy smiled at her auburn-haired friend. "How have you been?"

"Good," Jen replied. "And you?"

Amy shrugged. "Same old, I guess."

"That's good."

Awkward silence reigned supreme. The two friends just stood in the middle of one of the largest cities in the U.S. and stared at each other as passersby stepped around them.

Jen suddenly recovered from her shock. "So what did you call me for?"

Amy smiled sheepishly. "Well, we have a bit of a situation."

Jen's eyes narrowed in confusion. "Situation?" Amy reached into her messenger bag and pulled out a filing folder. She handed it to Jen who accepted it precariously.

"Another one of our friends has been contacted by him." Amy explained as Jen flipped through the folder.

"Is that bad?"

"Well, not necessarily," Amy began after a moment's pause. "But it's never really a good thing."

Jen stared at the information on the person who had been contacted. "Ali…" She said slowly. Of course it would be Ali. Jen thought dismally.

"Do we know what he wants?"

"We don't have that information yet." Amy admitted. "But she's bound to come back on the radar soon."

"What does that mean?" Jen asked, closing the folder and handing it back to Amy who placed it back into her bag.

"We have been monitoring his frequencies. It's been a while since he tried to contact any of us but we still kept an eye on him in the apprehension that he would try again. We were only able to come across the information that he'd made contact after the fact, so we're not sure where Ali is right now."

"I know where she is." Jen responded flatly.

"You do?" Surprise echoed in Amy's voice. "But I thought none of us have had contact with her for years."

"She's on my Stalking List." Jen shrugged. "Of course I know where she is." A smile formed on Amy's lips. She knew she'd made the right decision in contacting Jen.

"Where is she?"

Instead of giving away her best friend's location, Jen held out her hand to Amy. "We can go see her." Amy watched her curiously before putting her hand in Jen's. As soon as she did, the two friends disappeared.


They wound up outside a small farming town in Iowa. Amy looked around in awe at the vast un-urbanized landscape.

"Ali's here?"

Jen nodded solemnly. "She lost her way several years back and decided that she needed to leave Maine. She wanted to go somewhere with lots of life, but…"

"She wound up here." Amy finished. Jen nodded.

"Yup."

"But why here?" Amy asked, extremely confused. "If she wanted to go somewhere with lots of life, she could have gone to Chicago or New York."

"This is where Kirk grew up."

Now Amy was thoroughly confused. "Kirk? As in Captain Kirk? As in Star Trek?"

"Ali became a Trekkie back in college. I guess she just wound up where lots of lost souls do when they become consumed by something." Amy shuddered. She always knew her friend was a nerd but didn't know to the extent to which it went. Shaking off her uneasiness, she cleared her throat.

"So I guess we have to talk to her." Once again, Jen nodded and started leading Amy to the last known location of Ali's home.


"What do you mean she's gone?" Amy's voice came out much more demanding than she had intended. Ali's previous landlord shrugged hopelessly.

"She told me two days ago that something came up and she needed to leave immediately. She paid me up until the end of the month, packed everything and left. I was sad to see her go. She was a good tenant."

"She didn't say anything about where she was going?" Jen asked, worried. The landlord shook his head.

"I always try to keep a forwarding address but she didn't leave one. She told me to hold her mail if it comes and she would be in contact with me as soon as she could. I got the feeling that she didn't know where she was going, but she never said."

A heavy sigh escaped Amy's and Jen's mouths in unison. They made eye contact at the same time. "What do we do now?" Amy asked hopelessly. Jen shook her head sadly. She had no idea. Turning to the landlord, Amy feigned a smile. "Well, thank you." She said, shaking his hand. As soon as their handshake broke, she reached into her pocket and removed a business card. She handed it to the landlord. "Please contact us as soon as she gets in touch with you."

"I will," he assured them. "I hope you find what you're looking for. Take care."

And with that, the two friends were left with no direction.


Chapter 3: Contact

"OK. Thanks, hon. I'll be in contact again soon. I love you." Jen smiled as she received an equal response of affection back. "Bye." She closed her phone, silencing the connection. She slid her cell phone back into her pocket as she walked over to Amy. The two friends had spent the night at a local inn just outside of the town Ali used to call home. Amy was sitting at one of the tables, eating breakfast. It was done more out of force than necessity; her brain was too busy to focus on food. But she and Jen had agreed that it was better to gather their energy before they started their search from scratch.

Jen pulled out the chair across the small circular table from Amy and she sat down with a sigh. "John said he hadn't heard from Ali either."

Amy looked up curiously. "Did you think he really would?" Jen responded with a small shake of her head.

"Not really, but I was kind of hoping. It's not surprising since John hadn't been in contact with Ali anymore than we have. But it was a chance. Ali and John were really close, after all."

"Well, so were we." Amy said bitterly as she looked through the information in the folder for the hundredth time. She was hoping to find something new even though she knew it was impossible. But like Jen, it felt better to try and search through even the most improbable to try and find Ali before anything happened.

The two old friends sat in distressed silence, searching their mind for any minescule lead. The waitress came and left with more coffee for the two and still the silence remained.

All of a sudden Amy locked eyes with Jen, a hopeful chance having just crossed her mind. "You said she moved here because this is where Kirk had grown up. Is there a chance that she could try to move to another location with a similar idea in mind? What else was Ali really enthused about?"

Jen shrugged. "Doctor Who, Ray Bradbury, Harry Potter, London, evolution…" All those ideas seemed hopeless to Jen but Amy felt that she was onto something.

"Is it possible she left the country?" Amy asked hopefully. Jen stared at her a moment, her eyes unfocused as she considered the idea.

"I suppose there would be a chance…" she muttered. "But I don't think it's likely."

Amy frowned. "Why not?"

"Well, for one, you and your group would be monitoring her as well, right? Monitoring her passport, for example?" Amy's face fell. "I mean, if she left the country, wouldn't that bring her up on the radar?"

Amy nodded her head. "True."

Jen continued. "And I don't think he would take that chance in being found out. So even if Ali wanted to leave the country, I'm sure he would have persuaded her to stay."

Amy groaned. They were no closer to finding their old friend and it was frustrating. They both cared a lot about her, or else they wouldn't have been there to begin with. But if they didn't find her soon…

"What I don't understand," Jen started, thinking aloud. "Is why she would listen to him to begin with?"

"I thought about that too." Amy agreed. "But she also wasn't around when this happened last time. She had left by then. But if she was as lost as you say, I'm sure that would leave her a bit more vulnerable to his promises." Jen nodded her head, filled with sadness at the idea of her lost friend. She remembered the day Ali had disappeared from hers and John's lives. She was happy back then. She felt like she would finally turn her life around for the better and she was determined to do so. Both herself and John had faith in her. She stayed in contact for a little while in her travels but less than a year away from them, she'd disappeared. They couldn't find her. It took Jen another two years just to find out where she was but she never could bring herself to make contact in case Ali disappeared again. So she stayed silent while her friend remained alone.

A single tear blossomed in the corner of Jen's right eye. Realizing this, she quickly wiped it away before Amy saw and she regained her composure. This wasn't the time to have her emotions clouding her judgment. She needed to focus.

"Did John have any suggestions where she would be?" Amy asked.

"No," Jen said. Suddenly she was struck with a thought of her own. "But maybe I could try something else." Amy's head perked up in minor hope. A tiny smile played on the edges of Jen's lips as she once again removed her cell phone. She found the correct contact ID and initiated the call.


If Nichole Pelletier had returned to the stables ten seconds later, she would have missed the incoming phone call. She was accustomed to not carrying her cell with her when she went riding. She had lost two phones that way. Removing herself from the saddle, she hurried to her phone. She didn't even bother looking at the contact number before picking it up. "Hello?"

"Hi, Nichole." Nichole's eyes opened in surprise.

"Jen?" It had been months since she heard from her old roommate and friend. "Oh my god, how are you? How's John?"

"I'm good. So is he. He's really busy, though." Nichole laughed.

"He usually is."

"Yes," Jen replied hastily, her voice filled with mild impatience that confused Nichole. "I don't mean to be short with the formal talk, Nichole, but I need your help with something."

"Yeah, sure," Nichole replied, stunned into silence. "What's up?"

"Have you heard from Ali recently?"

Nichole's brow furrowed. "No. I haven't heard from her in almost three years. Why? Is there something wrong?"

"We don't know." Jen replied shortly. "But it's important that we get ahold of her."

"Jen, what's going on?" Nichole was serious. "Why are you trying to find Ali all of a sudden? Isn't she the one that left us?"

"Yes. But we found out recently that he's contacted her." Nichole's heart collapsed. She gulped.

"Him? What does he want with Ali?"

"We don't know. Which is exactly why we need to find her. Amy thinks that he persuaded her to go with him and we need to stop that from happening before something bad happens."

"Well of course," Nichole agreed wholeheartedly. "Where are you right now?"

"Iowa."

"What are you doing there?"

"It's where Ali last lived. It's kind of a long story." She replied dismissively.

"Well is there anything I can do to help?" Nichole asked. "Do you need me to meet you there?"

"I don't know," Jen admitted. "We could use an extra hand but we should also stay small in case she tries to get in contact with anyone else." Nichole nodded her head, understanding the logic but feeling slightly disappointed she wasn't asked to join the party.

"I understand," she replied. "But look: Ali was a good friend of mine so if you do need my help at all, give me a call and I will meet you there immediately."

On the other end of the phone, Jen nodded her head and smiled. Nichole always was a reliable friend. "Thanks, Nichole. I'll definitely keep you updated on what's happening. And if we need you, I won't hesitate to call." The two old friends said their goodbyes and the phone was hung up.

Nichole put her cell phone down on one of the gates to the stable doors. She sighed heavily as she stared for several minutes at the phone, her mind racing. She was worried about her old friend. It had been a few years since he had resurfaced and she was still chilled from the last time. She didn't want that to happen to Ali.

Turning back to her horse, she took her reigns and led her out to the field beyond the barn.


"No news from Nichole?" Amy asked, already knowing the answer to the question. Jen confirmed by shaking her head.

"She hasn't spoken to Ali at all either. I really don't know what to do, Amy. How are we going to find her? Even if we are sure she's still in the country, we have no idea where she went. We don't even have a basic direction."

Amy sighed and leaned back in her seat. "Well, if we can just concentrate maybe we can come up with something. I mean, she obviously has to start somewhere but we can't wait for her to show herself." Her voice faded off into silence. "Is there anywhere she would go?"

Jen shrugged. "Well, usually when she was upset or conflicted she would go driving. So she could just be staying on the road." Suddenly her eyes lit up and she cursed herself repeatedly for not thinking about it from the beginning. "Colorado!"

Amy's eyes narrowed. "Colorado?"

"Yeah! God, I'm so thick for not thinking of this before!" Jen growled. "Her family lives in Colorado! Wouldn't it make sense that she would go there? In the very least, she would have made contact with them, right? I mean, they're her family."

Amy beamed. They finally had a lead. Jumping up from her chair, she hurriedly gathered up all her things as Jen paid dropped the tip on the table for the breakfast. Together, they left the hotel in haste.


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