Heartbeat: a Rinaldo story

Remember how I say things come out in narrative for me, rather than in essays? I didn’t think I’d want or need to write anything further about Orlando, but I got some pushback from the corner of my brain that is Rinaldo Dickinson, saying “hey, you know that could have been me in there, dancing and screaming and trying to duck bullets, right?” So here we are.

This is set between Not Time’s Fool and The Seed Time, but doesn’t contain much in spoilers beyond Time Goes By (hello, Pasha! hello, Frogs!) except for a TTI policy update circa 2175. I think unless you are highly spoiler-phobic you could read it even if you haven’t caught up. It exists in, and deals with, the alternate future of my universe, which may or may not include in its past what we’re living through at the moment.

*

Heartbeat

 

Rinaldo was reading the RFP for about the twentieth time when Pasha knocked at the doorway of his cubicle. “Sí, carino?” he said vaguely without looking around, and Pasha laughed.

“And when it is George or Neil or Charles Constantine himself who knocks?” he said.

“I knew it was you,” Rinaldo answered. It was true, and it was the sort of thing Pasha liked to hear. “What’s up?”

“Not the Berlin Wall any longer. Nor my level of enthusiasm for research upon it. I am bored. May we declare it time for lunch?”

“I’m not really that hungry.”

Pasha put his head to one side and examined Rinaldo. “And what is up with you?” he said, his voice deepening. Getting no answer, he came closer. Rinaldo could have closed the file, but he let the image hover as Pasha leaned in and absorbed the content. “Ah,” he said after a moment. “Request for proposals, Heartbeat matter. I have seen this.”

“They’re giving it to George. Assuming we win it, which we probably will.”

Pasha nodded. “A change for him, the twenty-first century, but he will do well.” Rinaldo made a noise of reluctant acknowledgment, and Pasha added, “You think you would do better?”

“I have the Civil War thing.” He consulted a mental calendar and went on, “This would come later, I guess. Just in time for the hundred twenty-fifth anniversary next year. I could fit it in.”

“It is not something to celebrate with anniversaries.”

“You don’t think? Outright government-sanctioned execution of seventy-four innocent people? What would they put on the cake—thirty-seven little groom-and-groom figures?”

Pasha glanced around; they had the attention of only two fellow jumpers in close-by cubicles, but he put out a suggesting thumb nonetheless and Rinaldo sighed and put the privacy screens up. He’d forgotten, until the seventy-four faces blinked in around them, that he’d set the program to echo last-viewed files, an attempt to enhance productivity during his last bout of procrastination.

Unruffled, Pasha apparently decided to view the theatrical gesture as statistics, saying, “Twelve were women, and five had no declared gender. Not all were coupled. None had undergone a marriage ceremony.”

“Stop being literal,” Rinaldo said, clenching a fist. “Okay, ‘anniversary’ is too festive a word. Commemoration. Remembrance.”

Yom Ha-Shoah,” said Pasha, and then explained. “The day once set aside in Israel to remember the Holocaust. Something of that nature.”

“And I wish, but the RFP just says ‘observe and document.’ Which George is great at, of course,” he added with bitter sarcasm.

“You would be worse.”

“You think I haven’t been in the middle of a dozen battles I’d love to change the outcome of, and could have with a few potent suggestions? I’m a jumper and a historian. I know how important avoiding time breaches is. Even with a Frog jump, and this is one if I’ve ever seen it.” Which he barely had, of course; being able to leap directly from one time to another while standing in the same place, avoiding the lab and the static time machine, was still a novelty, and only recently declared legal for licensed time travel firms. But the Heartbeat Club massacre was a situation you’d want to be able to get out of quickly. Please sir, don’t arrest me, I need to go find the invisible box I left outside.

“And don’t tell me,” he added, “that my specialty is military history and that’s why my name’s not on this. This was a battlefield. This was a war crime.”

“I am agreeing with you, moy soldatik. But it is not your fight.”

“It damn well is. And yours too.”

“And not George’s?”

“Poster boy for heterosexuality? You know, that’s what they’re worrying about. Not that I’d throw a punch if they sent me. That I’d try to get off with the natives.”

“ ‘They’?”

Dios mio, Pasha, stop being fair.” Pasha smirked at him, and he couldn’t help his mouth twitching. “Open-mindedness is still the hallmark of the Constantine and Associates staff. Not so sure about the Time Travel Institute, but they only have a veto. George will do a great job.”

“He is an actor of brilliance. And I think willing to play this part.”

“Yeah, he’s come a long way. Just… dammit.”

Pasha patted the top of Rinaldo’s head, uttering a sympathetic endearment in Russian, and then stood back, offering open arms. Rinaldo rose and accepted his lover’s embrace, still feeling like he’d rather pound something than be comforted.

White poster boy,” he muttered into Pasha’s chest after a moment. “Anglo archetype.”

“George? Yes.”

“They were mostly Latino, you know,” Rinaldo went on, stepping back and glaring at the faces around him, ready to argue again. With Pasha, with history, with his own cowardly good judgment. “Not Mexican, except a few. But still.”

“This is perhaps a valid consideration. That you… blend in better.”

“In twenty fifty-one they might still have been speaking Spanish down there. Mine’s a lot better than George’s. For, you know, purposes of observation and documentation,” he spat out.

“Your Spanish is lovely.”

“Though better not to blend in, maybe. Too much empathy. Glib murmurs of insurrection. Cajolery and sweet talk, diverting the predestined stream of time.”

“But you are, as you said, a professional.”

“Right. And history’s sacred, it’s too late to change anything, and it’s better not to send in a jumper who feels like he could have been part of it. Like he should have been…” Rinaldo stopped, turned away; suddenly furious, he hit the desk with a fist. “It was their sanctuary! It wasn’t even a place to drink or dance or have sex; it was a place to talk. To be open with each other. To not be against the law. Against what hypocrites call nature. Against theocratic bullshit. And they marched in and grabbed them, manufactured charges on the spot, lined them up against the wall of their own little haven, and shot them.”

“I know this,” said Pasha.

“Then why aren’t you pounding on the desk and pissed off at George when he doesn’t deserve it?”

Pasha shrugged. “Too busy.”

“I thought you said the Berlin Wall was boring.”

“Sometimes…” English struggled to form and emerge from his mouth. “Sometimes boredom is a feeling that stands in front of other things. Like tiredness, and guilt.”

“What the hell do you have to feel guilty about?”

“I am Russian. We are very good at sorrow.” Pasha was the least sorrowful person Rinaldo had ever known; he shook his head, and Pasha went on. “Communists shot many against walls. It is not my fault. If I lived then, I would not have held the gun.”

“Yeah, I know you. You would have been at the other end of the bullet.”

“Maybe. Maybe I would be home drinking vodka and keeping quiet.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Rinaldo retorted, but it was only what he felt necessary to say. Pasha didn’t like making waves. Not that he spent his energy splashing in the shallows—that was more Rinaldo’s style—but if he were laboring in the deeps he’d just sink unobtrusively and no one would know for a long time whether he’d drowned or swum away under the surface. You forgot sometimes that he’d lived through the siege of Leningrad, and come out smiling.

“Hey, you know what happened a week after the Heartbeat got raided?” he asked. Rhetorically, because clearly East Germany wasn’t the only research Pasha had done in the last few days.

“Hurricane,” Pasha said.

“Yeah, that’s a pretty small word for it. Instead of ‘the storm that did for south Florida.’ West Palm Beach had a thirty percent mortality rate. I hope some of those agents who did the shooting stuck around. Not that everyone didn’t blame the queers for it, God’s will and all that.”

“Thirty percent of those at the club would have died too. If…”

“If some interfering idiot like me jumped back and saved them from being murdered. Yeah, I know. But that’s, what, forty-nine people who’d survive. Maybe. It was mostly the rich who got out.”

“One does not know. And no time breach stops a hurricane.”

“Only a really complicated set of them going back to the Industrial Revolution. And even then it’s random. And reckless, and ultimately useless because you can’t change history, you can only create another version of it. The same with trying to stop holocausts. Or eighty years of theocracy. Yeah, I know. I still want to do something.”

“I would love you less if you did not,” Pasha said, taking Rinaldo’s hand. “But doing things is not for the past only.”

“Mm.” Rinaldo lifted Pasha’s hand and kissed it. “Okay, right now we could have lunch. And”—he waved a hand at the surrounding screens—“read the names of the fallen, and drink to them.”

“Seventy-four toasts is much drinking.”

“Live dangerously, I say. Or we could wait till dinner, and invite some friends. We could start a club. I can think of a good name for it.”

Pasha put their linked hands to Rinaldo’s heart; its rhythm speeded in response. “I approve this plan,” he said. “But lunch now. And then we return to our wars, civil and cold.”

“They’re pretty bad names, aren’t they?” Rinaldo said, and lowered the screens.

George was standing outside the cubicle, looking in. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey yourself,” Rinaldo said. “We’re going to lunch; want to join?”

“Can’t; have a meeting. I just wanted to drop by and… listen, about this Florida jump. The Heartbeat. I think… both our names should be on it.”

Rinaldo felt a momentary surge of guilt. He hadn’t considered partnering, just going it alone. “Is that in the budget?”

“We might have to be persuasive, but yeah, I think so.”

“Okay. So what, you need a native guide?”

George’s lip quirked. “I’d ask for coaching anyway. Shakespeare all over again. No, it’s just… shit. I mean, you should be there.”

“Because I have a right? Or an obligation?”

“Both, probably,” George said, surprising Rinaldo. “But obviously it’s your choice. I just thought I’d ask. Plead. Because it’s going to be a hell of a jump, and no one should do it solo, and… I mean, it’s not like it’s my fault that it happened. That…” He took a breath, and seemed to organize his thoughts. “That people who looked and acted like me did hateful things to people who looked and acted like you. But—”

“I don’t think all the cops and agents were white, actually. Or male. Or heterosexual, quite likely. But thanks for the apologies on behalf of your tribe.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty stupid. Let me try that again. Go with me because it’ll hurt less if you’re there. Because you might stop me from punching people, and vice versa. Because you’re my friend and I’d like to… share the experience? Halve the torture. God, that’s a terrible come-on. Sorry.”

Pasha nudged Rinaldo. “Invitation you cannot refuse,” he said.

“Besides,” George went on, “you’ll get a huge kick out of just watching me walk in there. I mean, not on the night, that part’s not going to be fun at all, but we’d have to establish ourselves ahead of time, or everyone will think I’m undercover police and scrag me before we can get away with the Frogs, when it all goes down. We should probably pretend to be a couple.”

Rinaldo repressed a grin; clearly George had not read the same sort of erotic literature he had as a teenager. “Protective coloration?” he said. “In that case maybe Pasha and I should go instead.”

“Oh. Sure,” George said, looking blank. “If you want, yeah. I’d put in a good word.”

“No, that’s fine,” Rinaldo said, squeezing Pasha’s hand and then reaching out to shake George’s, feeling the warm pulse under the skin. “We’ll make the perfect team. No one I’d rather go with than you.”

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One thought on “Heartbeat: a Rinaldo story

  1. Antonia says:

    Ahhh. Sometimes George does the right thing! A terrible and poignant jump, but one that we all need. Thank you for this slice of life at C&A.

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