20 December 2174
“No, it is not a reasonable amendment to the terms of the proposal.”
Janet considered taking a calming breath before she went on. But Marc would only interrupt her. “Just because one contract is landing jumpers somewhere in the eastern half of North America does not mean that you can piggyback—”
“The eastern half is an exaggeration,” said Marc, interrupting her anyway. “Philadelphia and West Point are not that far—”
“By train or airship, no. This is the eighteenth century we’re talking about.”
Marc raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, then peered at the flat projection in front of him and placed one stubby finger on the large 1780 at the top. It was her own gesture, the patented Lapinski “Oh really? Thanks for informing me of the obvious” that usually reduced all within range to submissive retreat or rueful laughter. He was alarmingly good at it.
“Nevertheless,” said Janet, not giving a centimeter, “you cannot squeeze three jumpers and all that baggage into Tim and expect him not to come apart at the seams. Four, if—” She cut herself short, managing not to glance at Olivia. “And Rinaldo will need baggage if you expect him to make the journey from Philadelphia to West Point, which exposes him to additional dangers as well. There’s a war on that year”—she pointed at her copy of the contract, echoing Marc—“if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Too bad we can’t use Frogs,” said Andy Bishop in an offhand tone that infuriated Janet further.
“We can’t,” she snapped. “You know why better than most.” He put up his hands, palm out: no offense intended. She ignored him. “And besides,” she added to Marc, “Neil and Laurel need more time for the Philadelphia jobs. Weeks. Rinaldo’s contract is hit and run. So to speak.”
“More like peer and duck,” Rinaldo Dickinson said. “I wish we did have Frog-like flexibility; then I might be able to do something toward answering those not-so-subtle hints in the RFP about the nature of André’s influence on Sir Henry Clinton. Yes, Marc, I know. Not in the contract. It’s why my name went on the proposal, though. Right?” Rinaldo looked around the table; no one said anything, and his dark hooded eyes came to rest on Andy. “Believe me, if I could tell a fellow traveler from a member of the opposition party at a glance my life would be a lot simpler. I’m still up nights yearning for John Mosby.”
“You are not,” said Olivia, smiling affectionately.
“Well, no. Pasha doesn’t let me. He won’t even let me say the word ‘John.’ Which is going to make spying on John André difficult to talk about; lucky he’s not working on this contract. Smart to split couples up, though if George is going to be—”
“Can we get back to discussing the matter at hand?” put in Janet hastily, disregarding Rinaldo’s mouthed I was and rounding on Marc again. “All I am saying is, we are not compromising safety to save money on these jumps. I know getting costs down is your holy grail and nothing should stand in the way of that quest—”
“Janet,” began Andy in a warning tone.
“I am capable of prioritizing jumper well-being over budgetary concerns,” said Marc primly. He was hurt, and Janet could hear it. “We’ll map out the contracts as bid, the two in Philadelphia separate from Rinaldo’s job.”
“Good,” Janet said. She wanted to glare at Andy for trying to interfere, but couldn’t; he was Coordinator for Scientific Projects, not her subordinate, and besides… “Olivia, I gather the research is going well? How about Laurel’s preparation?”
“She has her second costume fitting tomorrow and we’re feeding her background material at a steady clip. It’s going fine. I think.” Janet put the hesitation aside to examine later—this was neither Laurel Monaghan’s first jump nor Olivia Lake’s first research support job, but it was the first time they had worked together—and gestured Olivia to go on. “The research is fascinating,” Olivia said, pushing her dark hair behind her ears in a habitual gesture. “An entire oeuvre vanished—almost a whole new genre, from the fragments we have—and she must have been an extraordinary woman. Lucky, too, to have found those sponsors.”
“Lucky for us they were pioneering botanists with their own bits of vanished data to chase down,” said Andy. “I guarantee you neither Laurel nor Neil would be making this jump without that coincidence. One African-born ex-slave with poetical talent more or less… and who cares about eighteenth-century botany these days?”
He gave Janet a look full of significance, which she decoded and pushed aside. “Neil does,” she said.
“He’s just got done caring about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, but… true. Nothing to worry about with Neil. Apart from the obvious.” Andy tapped his own brown cheek: token of the past’s racial assignments and prejudices. Aside from coloring and scientific temperament, he and Neil Park had little in common. In particular, Neil did not share the extraordinary good looks Andy had been blessed with. Which makes him a lot more comfortable to be around, commented a treacherous part of Janet’s brain that did not belong in professional meetings.
“I’ll be expecting twice-weekly reports,” she said, deciding to cut things short. “Detailed reports. I’m sure you have a lot to get done; go to it.” She waved her fingers in dismissal, managing to keep her seat and not race the others to the door. Marc didn’t move either.
“Yes?” she sighed when the others had filed out, raising her eyes to the high ceiling of the conference room. There was plenty of air in here; it should not feel so oppressive. She turned her gaze back to Marc.
“That was inappropriate,” he said, frowning.
“I’m very sorry, I’m sure.” He had his whipped puppy look on, which might have been as much a ploy as his earlier trial of her top dog status. “You suffered the childhood trauma of losing half the family income and going on government support, and it’s affected your relationship with money forever, but I was wrong to make any association between that compulsion and the one you have toward religion.” It was vicious, and it was true, but she had been wrong. “I won’t do it again.”
“Not that,” said Marc. “I’m used to that.” He drooped a bit nonetheless. The two of them had once been Lamprey-Lapinski United against wasters of the company’s cash, effort and good name. All that was still important to Janet, just not… holy.
“It was an awfully short meeting.”
“Some days I don’t know why we have to see each other in person at all.” She sounded whiny to herself, but something wailed behind the blunt complaint: the howling of wolves in the wilderness, perhaps, where at least she could be alone, until they ate her. But for now she had to justify herself to Marc. “The twenty-second century offers almost too many efficient modes of communication that don’t involve getting up and moving to a conference room. Unlike the eighteenth,” she added, with another finger poke at the now-vanished contract.
Marc smiled, a hesitant and uncertain twitch of the lips. Are we still friends, the smile asked, or the work equivalent thereof, I wouldn’t presume…? She forced a quick grin in response.
“I trust them,” she said. “I know they’re all messed-up people. Rinaldo is wondering why his Russian lover, who’s been here nine months after being rescued from eating human flesh at the Siege of Leningrad, is more popular in the office than he is, and Olivia is still not over what she went through in France and Morocco in the same war”—and that wasn’t the half of it, but she didn’t know how much Marc was privy to—“and Andy…” Yes, what about Andy? inquired the same impertinent part of her brain.
“Has that complicated love life,” said Marc. For a second she thought he’d read her mind, but it was the more obvious part of Andy’s personal affairs to which he referred. Naturally, since the President of the United States tended to outrank and overshadow any other lovers or… interested parties, without even lifting a finger. Though it had been going on for the best part of a year now, so clearly something was getting lifted. What must it be like, being with her? She was a lot older than him, of course.
“His association with Rose Franklin doesn’t affect his work,” Janet said.
“If you say so.”
“He says so. I trust him.” Methinks you protest too much. “Was that all? They’ll get the work done, and I’ll forward any piece of their reports that affects the budget.”
A brief pause, then: “Fine.” He nodded and went to the door.
“Marc?” she said. He turned. “I trust you too.”
“Who do you not trust, Janet?” And not waiting for an answer, he left the room.
Myself, she thought. No, she trusted Ms. Lapinski, Coordinator for Eastern North America, Constantine and Associates. Whether she trusted Janet was uncertain. It doesn’t affect my work. Whatever “it” was.
Out in the hall, Andy was lying in wait. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Fine. Perfectly fine.”
“Because I’ve heard you dangerously sarcastic in meetings before, but I’ve never heard you angry. Something got under your skin. And I don’t think it was Marc being Marc.”
“It’s just been a long day.”
“It’s ten in the morning.”
“Long year, then. What are you doing for Christmas?”
“Don’t change the subject. Is it the botany?”
“What, you think I’m allergic?”
“Could be. Heard from Rutger lately?” She shrugged; Andy persisted. “I was thinking of hiring a consultant on this contract, actually—”
“Don’t you dare.”
“One, it’s not in the budget; two, Charles wouldn’t approve, nor would Rose; three, I doubt Rutger is an expert on the collections of the American Philosophical Society. Is he still living in Vienna?”
“I can’t imagine him moving.” She hesitated, then added, “I haven’t heard from him in months. Satisfied?”
“No, but I’ll take my ration and not beg for more.” He leaned a little closer; the distance between them was still office-appropriate, but the gleam in his eyes was not. “Janet—”
“You have work to do; go get it done,” she said, or hissed. They hadn’t even been intoxicated that evening in August; there had been no excuse but the shared exhilaration and shame of avoiding Anke… only in town from the Netherlands three days; Janet should have spent every free minute with her… if only Anke hadn’t expected to spend them with Andy as well. If only there hadn’t been Anke’s usual expectation of what one spent free minutes doing. And so they ran away, left her waiting in the hotel room, and ended up kissing madly in a park. A public park. People who worked together… nothing in common but work, and last winter’s madcap European tour, and secrets, and not wanting to share each other with Anke… to share Anke with…
“I’m planning to go home for Christmas,” said Andy, “thanks for asking. I haven’t been out to Oregon in years. Not the same thing, talking on the net. What are you doing? Europe?”
“Like last year?”
“See, that’s what I mean by dangerously sarcastic. Not like last year, no. Not in Vienna spying on Rutger and Sam, incommunicado and dead respectively, and not hiding out in Lingewaal, hm?” Anke’s home, and uncomfortably close to others they knew: she shook her head. “I hear Barcelona is nice,” Andy added.
“I’m going home too,” she said. She had not even considered the possibility until that moment; what would her parents say? Come home and welcome… but next time a little advance notice…
She bared her teeth at him in response. He’d once called her the Hampshire Crocodile behind her back; his first love had been paleontology. She did tend to snap, not a habit she admired in herself. Were crocodiles ever dangerously sarcastic? Or did they just shed false tears?
“Yes. New Hampshire. Home.”
* * * * *
27 December 2174
The woods were lovely, dark, and sandwiched in a half-mile wide strip between the road and the lake, but the path wove through them and around the shore skillfully enough that Janet and Thomas spent most of their walk out of sight of houses or other evidence of human occupation. No snow of significance had fallen yet that winter, though the ground was hard underfoot and the recent rain, settling into hollows and footprints and the excavations of chipmunks, had frozen: icy tendrils heralding January’s binding chill.
Thomas didn’t seem to mind the cold, but then he’d spent his whole life in the north. Janet was no longer acclimated to it. She was glad she’d remembered to wear thick gloves, not only against the frigid air but against those rain puddles, which were frozen only on the surface and seemed to attract the ball that Thomas tirelessly ran after and returned to her, damp.
“This isn’t in the job description, you know,” she told him, smiling at the laughing face and the lolling tongue. “You’re a terrier, not a retriever.” He barked joyfully, ignoring her qualification, and scurried after the ball as she threw it again. “And nurture beats nature once more,” she added to herself. Although he probably dug for chipmunks when the ground thawed, spoiling her mother’s perfect garden.
“We had better be getting home, don’t you think?” she asked Thomas as he deposited the ball at her feet and flopped down panting on the blistered moss and rusty wintergreen by the side of the trail. He tilted his head to one side, questioning. “It’ll be dark soon,” she explained: no response, not that she’d expected one. “Tea time, how about that?”
Thomas bounced to his feet with a yip of enthusiasm. “Which path do we take back?” she asked him. The trail branched ahead of them: one branch, congested with briars, probably led to the house of a summer resident; one led wide and open to the lake, for the sake of boaters and fishers; and theirs led green and mysterious through overhanging branches of pines and tangles of invasive vines, a deceptively winding yet short journey back to the road. Back to the car, back to the house.
She didn’t want to go. It was absurd; she wanted food as much as Thomas did, and the house overflowed with delicious savory pastries, cookies, Christmas dinner leftovers, fruit: the satisfaction of any gastronomic desire. Her mother was an accomplished cook at any time of the year, but at Christmas she outdid herself, spending days in the kitchen without seeming to spend any time there at all. A creative and practiced illusion, since at home there were no little elves preparing the food in the off-camera kitchen while the audience’s attention was elsewhere. Not like on the show. It had been decades now, but Janet still found it hard to think of her mother as a net channel star beloved by thousands (or even millions; Janet did not keep track of such things) who slavishly followed Alisha MacDonald’s advice on far more than how to make bûche de noël.
Janet was not a very good cook. Nor did she have her mother’s talent for making people love her. But it was Rutger’s uncle’s recipe for bûche de noël—procured on impulse last Christmas—that had gone out over the net this Christmas Eve. Janet refused to think of it as payment for her visit, nor did it concern her that her mother’s admiration of Janet’s ability to procure and direct information was most sincere when that information most benefited Alisha MacDonald.
Thomas barked: what are you doing, standing there? “Sorry,” she said, and began to walk, realizing how cold she was, moving her arms to and fro, back and forth across her chest, trying to increase circulation. The house was warm; it awaited her. Like a welcoming… stomach. She’d passed the tongue and teeth already, vanished down the throat. “It was always thus,” she murmured. But it hadn’t been, of course; you had to be out in the cold before you realized how smothering the warmth was, and how comforting. It was only for a few days; she’d be home in Washington soon, and back at work. Where she had an office with a door, and an apartment where she could for a time ignore calls and messages, but no wilderness, or even slice thereof, where she could be alone. No hungry wolves, no threats, no demands. Gloriously alone: or as close to it as possible with an energetic terrier playing invisible fetch on the green path ahead.
“Maybe I should get a dog, huh?” she asked the world in general. For a second she gazed at the little wheat-colored pooch and saw instead a sleek, dark-haired beast loping under the trees, long-legged, slim and handsome… and then laughed, as her imagination leapt ahead and put him on a leash, held in one elegant hand by tall, formidable, copper-skinned Rose Franklin, flanked by the Presidential Guard in fatigues and hiking boots. It wasn’t as though she could tell Andy to “go fetch” anymore, not since he’d been promoted last year, and even when he was a jumper he’d hardly worked with her; she’d been European Coordinator then. He’d done some Eastern North America before she had that territory, though not as much as George Merrill and others, but most of his jumps had been archaeological and anthropological investigations, in the West or in South America or in other parts of the world about which she knew little. She knew Europe, through travel and upbringing and affinity; she knew North America because it was what one learned in school; she knew Southeast Asia because her parents had made sure she did. But she’d never sent Andy to fetch anything in Europe, when it had been her job to.
He’d come to fetch her, though, when it had decidedly not been his job. He’d come to Lingewaal (or been brought there in the end, by Lena Raaf, because he was lost) and he’d stayed with her to puzzle out the mystery of why Rutger Kaufmann was so stubborn about Lena and her husband Gerrit Dijkman, and he hadn’t minded that she had been hiding her presence there and her intentions from everyone at home but their boss, Charles Constantine. And he’d gone along, confused and excited and eagerly pretending to be something he wasn’t, when their attempt at persuading Franklin to do the right thing by Lena and Gerrit had propelled all of them into the mess that ended in that fire at the Frog factory in Casablanca, and was still sending up sparks. Despite being swallowed in family tradition, she had spared a moment on Christmas Day to wonder if Gerrit and Lena’s baby had managed to time his arrival as perfectly as he timed everything else in his far-ranging existence: one of those sparks, lighting across the ocean. She would find out when she got home, she supposed. Would Andy be the one to tell her?
It wasn’t just Andy making her uneasy, of course: that part was conspiracy leftovers and the random firing of hormones. It wasn’t just baby Wilfrid, either, or rather his adult self: manipulative, cold-blooded, and making history safe for time jumpers as he darted about fulfilling his unique role as fixer of mistakes likely to cause time breaches. Nor was it Rutger’s sudden silence; he was tired of her silence in return, no doubt, and she was really just as glad. But she couldn’t put her finger on what it was that bothered her, and that made her more uneasy still, and guilty for the unease. It wasn’t as though she had any real problems. All she had was the feeling that those worrisome threads in her life were twisting together and binding her, like the green-in-winter vines swallowing the bare trees by the sides of her path. When she was a child her father had shown her the shoots of last century’s doomsday invader, a honeysuckle with flowers that perfumed the woods when they survived to bloom, which was seldom.
“It came from Asia,” he’d said, with an apologetic glance she’d known even then to ignore. “And they thought it would take over everything, until someone figured out how to control it. It’s dangerous importing insect pests, because you never know what else they’ll eat and how much damage they’ll do, but this time it worked. And now we have a bug that didn’t grow here—but neither did honeybees, you know, and we love them and struggle to keep them going—and a plant that we value for its rarity, and they keep each other in balance. It’s never learned to eat the native honeysuckles. Not yet, anyway.”
Now they had a new botanical threat, token of newly-opened trade with the rest of the world after a near-century of isolationism, ending around the time of Janet’s birth. Eventually, before the vine swallowed the trees, they’d find another bug or a bacterium or something that would kill it, and set it loose, and either it would fix the problem or make things worse. You never quite knew. The scientific method was all very well, but laboratories were not the real world, and sometimes experiments went awry. Sometimes you brought a thing to where it didn’t belong, and let it go, and… a new shiver of unease made its way down Janet’s spine. Or maybe it was the cold.
They were nearly to the car. “Want to run?” she asked Thomas, and broke into a trot. He left off investigating something dead by the side of the path, yipped, and tore ahead of her. Then he skidded to a halt, turned and raced back, nipping at her ankles as he wove around her. “What, sheepdog too?” she panted, and ran faster, as though she were running from something, as though the vines were reaching to twist round her neck. He still covered about five times as much ground as she did, by the time they reached the end of the path.
* * * * *
“I hope you got all the fresh air you needed,” said Janet’s mother as she opened the door of the tidy house on the edge of the picture-perfect town. The sentence reeked of—no, was generously spiced with genuine concern, as though Janet, flinging the words behind her as she’d left the house, had been waving down a taxi to the medical clinic. Reassurance, too, as though the clinic had called in the interim and told Alisha her daughter would be perfectly…
“Fine,” said Janet, pretending she hadn’t just taken custody of one of her mother’s fantasies. “Yes. It was lovely. Thomas enjoyed himself.”
“I can tell.” She picked the squirming dog up and held him against her ample bosom, grasping one of his muddy paws as evidence. “Thomas MacDonald, you can’t lie to me—”
“We don’t cater to the patriarchy when it comes to pets?”
Alisha laughed. “I never thought of it that way. Not as though his name’s on any form—we’ve never catered to the Kennel Club either—but he’s a momma’s boy, aren’t you?” She squeezed him tighter, then put him on the floor, straightening again with difficulty: she was nearly seventy, after all, though Janet often forgot that. “No food till six o’clock,” she added as he made for his dish.
“Except what you slip him before that. Can he really tell time? He knows what tea is; I asked him on the walk.”
“See? My side of the family, obviously.”
Janet couldn’t help smiling. “I don’t mind being called after Daddy’s, you know. Whether it’s patriarchy or convenience or random chance.” It meant nothing that Alisha MacDonald, who claimed everything she could as her own, had not so claimed her daughter.
“You like confusing them by being called Lapinski. I know you of old.”
“True. Though you didn’t change your name. That would be just as confusing.” Janet divested herself of coat, hat and gloves and followed Thomas into the kitchen. “My boss just got married—his wife works for us too, used to be his secretary—”
Her mother, just behind, made a hmph noise. “She’s not some young floozy,” said Janet, wondering where she’d dredged up the noun. “She’s six years older than him and nearly as well-upholstered as you. And a really marvelous person. Anyway, she was married ages ago and changed her name then, and her husband died and she never changed it back, and she still hasn’t. What do you think that means?”
“If I were a romantic—”
“Mom, you have romance writers on your show all the time, and you always tell them you adore their clichéd nonsense.”
“Often in those very words, Janet. And I’m glad to know you watch it. Now, it is time for tea, don’t you think, Thomas?” She brought the kettle to the sink. “Fill only as far as we need to save energy, fresh water, pour it three seconds after the boil. I was saying,” she went on, “that a romantic, which I am not, would say she had loved the first one truly and never forgotten him, and the second was a poor substitute. But I’d want to know how many years she waited to marry again.”
“Thirty. And they knew each other all that time, and she worked for him for most of it.”
“Then either they are both dumb as posts, or they’re too smart for their own good and finally got swept off their feet, and you wouldn’t work for an idiot so I bet it’s the latter, and in either case she isn’t thinking about what’s in a name. Darjeeling?”
“I think she calls him ‘dear.’ ”
“No, the tea. Oh, ha. You may have your father’s name, but you have my sense of humor.”
Nurture, not nature. “Darjeeling sounds fine. And how about the gingerbread terriers? And the Mexican wedding cookies?”
“And the shortbread,” said her mother firmly. Alisha’s culinary tastes were generously-defined American melting pot, but she did tea like a Victorian dowager, china and silver and strainers and hand-crocheted doilies, even if the dowager would have sent someone who looked like Alisha to scrub pots in the kitchen. The official Alisha Show portrait presented a woman with a broad smile in her broad dark-brown face, apron over the very expensive flowered dress, graying hair pulled back for cooking, spatula in one hand. Janet knew her mother well enough to tell it was pointed commentary on a long-vanished stereotype; whether it also represented romantic nonsense, or humor, was more difficult to say.
She drifted into the next room, monologue about proper tea-making fading into the background—that habit was new, but it went with her mother’s air of constant performance—to look at the family photo in its old-fashioned frame, sitting on the piano. This Alisha was younger and slimmer, and dressed more conservatively in a tan suit that went with her up-and-coming status. Joe Lapinski, strong, handsome, and as pale-skinned as his wife was dark, stood by her side, looking at her rather than at their only daughter, an awkward thirteen-year-old in a bright red Chinese-style blouse Janet couldn’t remember putting on for any other occasion. Sallow blemished skin, dark eyes with epicanthic fold, stick-straight black hair to her shoulders, no smile. She took a nice portrait now; she’d learned colors and hair and how to form a facial expression that said approachable but not frivolous. And she was three times the age of the girl in the picture. But placed between her parents—say, at a Christmas meal for friends and family—she knew that her father’s gaze was still on her mother, and her mother’s beneficently on the world at large, and hers inward, if poised.
“When you adopted me,” she said, hearing the clatter of the tea tray onto the table behind her, “was it because… I know this was forty years ago and the Arcadians weren’t around yet, but I read about White New Hampshire.” Her mother’s breath drew in. “Was that why you and Daddy didn’t—”
“Why we didn’t have our own brown baby? Of course not, Janet; don’t be silly.” The voice tried hard to be no-nonsense and didn’t quite manage it. “We tried, believe me. It would embarrass you no end if I described how hard we tried. I think harder because it would have been a statement. Probably better that it didn’t work.”
“And then I came along. Not very white either.”
“You were a beautiful baby, and a very pleasant surprise. We weren’t sure we’d ever… we had to apply out of state. Because they weren’t going to chase us out. We chased them out instead, yes, we did, the bastards. It was short-lived, but it was hell, Janet.” Her mother never swore; she’d always managed both an impression of earthiness and rare moments of anger without that easy resort. Janet’s shock lasted longer than the aggression in her mother’s voice, now warm and gentle again. “We ought to have a new one taken. With Thomas, you think?”
“Adding a blond would do something for the composition, no doubt.” Janet imagined another child in her place in the picture: a brown-haired, brown-faced girl, like her parents put into a genetic blender and mixed. A statement. She was nothing less herself, of course, even if no one said it out loud. She was Alisha’s gesture of charity. In the full meaning of the word, yes; her parents loved her without a doubt, and she returned that love, but she could not help also being a token: the saved child, the child rescued from disaster, from the vicious storm on the other side of the world that had claimed the lives of her birth parents. Never mind that Alisha had not done the rescuing herself. Though if she had, she would have worn exactly the right outfit for the job.
“You’ve never reproached me for not giving you grandchildren,” Janet added on impulse.
“Why would I do that? It’s your life. And children aren’t easy when you have a busy job and no husband. Not that it’s too late yet. Or you could get a dog, a little niece or nephew for Thomas. Now,” Alisha said, retreating back to the table where she’d placed the tea service, “speaking of your life, let’s sit down before your father gets in and have a real talk.”
“About me? Why?” Janet said, turning away from the picture.
“Don’t sound so suspicious. I’m worried about you, that’s why, all this rushing out of the house in the winter to be alone.”
“Daddy went out too, didn’t he? Maybe I get it from him.”
“If something’s bothering him, he tells me. I always figure it out anyway. I’m good at that; you should hear the silly calls I get on the show. Ah, I forgot; you do. So, how’s the new job?” Her mother patted the place next to her on the sofa.
“Much like the old one,” said Janet, sitting, “except with different place names.”
Alisha chuckled. “You are so nonchalant about it. Do you know how many times on the show I’ve wanted to tell everyone how my daughter works in time travel? The segue proves difficult, is all. ‘Speaking of making curtains, did I ever tell you how one of my daughter’s jumpers met Betsy Ross and the woman who actually did sew the first American flag?’ ”
“He wasn’t one of my jumpers, not that I own them or anything. That contract happened while I was still doing Europe.”
“Well, then, the tulips. I did tell them about the tulips. And that was definitely yours.”
In Janet’s mind, Rutger peered into a microscope in the middle of a tulip field. Had it been an advertising piece? She didn’t want to think about the tulips.
“It’s not that glamorous, you know. Even for the jumpers. I haven’t ever jumped at all, of course. I just push people and information around until they fit.”
Alisha nodded. “People depend on you. And it may not be glamorous but it’s important. More than what I do.” She hesitated briefly, waiting for Janet’s denial; Janet decided that it could be assumed. “But you pretty much got forced out of the old job, didn’t you?” Alisha went on, pouring the tea. “Are you feeling better about that?”
“I’m fine. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault, not really. Something went wrong, and we couldn’t jump into Europe anymore.”
“It had to do with those new Saut de Soi things, right? The personal jumping devices like what’s-his-face, Dr. Sinensis, used at the Boston Tea Party reenactment?”
The Frogs. Janet’s hand froze, reaching for the cup. “Why do you think that?”
“Well, it’s probably a post hoc fallacy—and don’t grin like that”—Janet hadn’t been—“just because I spend half my life in an apron doesn’t mean I don’t have an education—but they show up on the market and the U.S. government bans them, and then next thing you know jumpers are disappearing in Europe and then no one is allowed to time travel there anymore at all. And”—she frowned, taking a gingerbread terrier—“we get a Christmas card from Vienna, where I had no idea you were going, and then every time I call your office you’re at an offsite meeting, for months, and your hard-nosed boss gets all charitable and gives you half the job someone else has been doing competently for years, so he doesn’t have to fire you. Or maybe he can’t?” She bit the terrier’s head off. Mercy killing.
Janet sipped her tea, finding words. “We have a lot more North American contracts these days,” she said. “You get good at something and people give you more of it.”
“Aside from nobody giving anybody anything, that’s true enough. This”—Alisha patted her broad hips—“this is symbolic fat, here. I was skinny enough once. But am I right about the new machines?”
She could have guessed at more sensitive matters; giving her this was no sacrifice. “Yes. Though I’d appreciate it if you didn’t figure out how to work that information into your show.”
“Hmph. They’re tacky little things from what I gather. Wouldn’t give them house room.”
Janet laughed at the catch-phrase. “You ought to be a little old lady in a parka and hand-knit mittens, all pale and stringy and lean, teaching us how to cook moose.”
“What, are we back to White New Hampshire? I used to think maybe they had one of those puzzle maps like yours with the different colored pieces to fit in. Except I think New Hampshire was green.”
“I don’t think any of them were white. Maybe pink.”
“That’s what your dad is going to be when he comes in. So cold, and he loses track of the time, out there mending wall or whatever he’s doing—”
“Spring is mending-time, if you’re quoting Robert Frost now.”
Alisha nodded. “Winter breaks things down. Those gaps in the wall. ‘No one has seen them made or heard them made.’ That’s why I get nervous when…”
“We don’t even have a stone wall, do we?”
“I just… get nervous.” She looked it, too; it brought back Janet’s sense of unease.
“We always come home again, Mom.” Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. I could say ‘elves’ to him, but it’s not elves exactly… She knew the poem too well, and not just the words. Shivering, she felt herself back out in the cold, on the vine-infested path.
“Well, you did this year. It’s hardly a tradition—”
The front door opened and closed, Thomas’s claws clicked along the kitchen floor toward the hall, and Janet heard the noises of her father shedding clothing and greeting the dog, who then ushered him into the living room.
Nine of ten strangers, racist or historically-minded or not, if asked to choose which of the spouses was a native of the state, would have chosen Joe Lapinski, not just for the obvious European ancestry but for the self-effacing, single-minded, weather-defying essence of him. In fact, he had been born and raised in the congested violence of Newark, New Jersey, but he looked like the New England ancestor everyone imagined having, never young but never aging, always looking like he had just come in from fixing a wall or tending the cows or plowing snow.
He gave his wife and Janet a wave, equivalent to a more demonstrative man’s kiss, and headed for the cookie tray. “What have you been up to, Dad?” Janet asked.
“Seeing to the bees,” he said, taking a piece of shortbread and collapsing carefully into his favorite chair. Never aging: but he was old now, Janet saw. The dog gave him a longing look and he tossed the shortbread over and reached for more.
“Aren’t they asleep in the winter?”
He snorted. “Who told you that? Staying warm, is what they’re doing. All clustered around their queen, shivering their wings and keeping their temperature up. I have to check on the windbreaks, and I have to feed them if they can break cluster to take it. No forage for months. At least the bears are asleep.”
“You don’t have bears around here. Do you?”
“We do,” said Alisha. “They’ve been spotted south of the mountains now. We don’t let Thomas out by himself, between them and the coyotes.”
“And the elves,” Janet added. Her parents both looked at her strangely, as did Thomas, before settling himself for a nap in the warmest part of the room. She decided not to start quoting Robert Frost again. “I have a friend”—did George Merrill count as a friend now? Strange that she would say it so easily—“who has a story about a bear. Actually I think it’s several stories merged into one better one. Some of them come out of his jumps, but at least one is contemporary. Well, the sixties anyway, less than ten years ago. But that was northern Maine.”
“Is he from there?” asked her father. “That’s pretty wild country.”
“He lived there. Temporarily.” Janet had always suspected from George’s evasions there was something about that period of time he wanted kept secret. She had stored that evasion up as ammunition against him. What happened to stores like that when the resentment faded away? “He and his wife—girlfriend, then—went back there last spring. Neither of them got eaten and they came back engaged, so it can’t have been too bad.”
“It’s been a year for weddings at Constantine and Associates, then,” said Alisha.
“Only two. We were hoping Rinaldo and Pavel would join the crowd, but no such luck.” Add “conservative” to the list of descriptors for her father, she thought, watching his face stiffen, not that he would express his discomfort out loud. Not that he would love her the less if she did something as out of the question as marrying Anke. “George and Olivia’s wedding was fairly intimate. Family and close friends. I felt… honored to have been invited.” Interesting choice of word, Janet thought. She still wasn’t sure why they’d included her.
“And the other?”
“Charles and Beatrice? It was a bash, Mom. You would have loved it. The whole office, just about. Beatrice’s fleet of cousins. Bunches of Charles’s old university colleagues. The director of the Time Travel Institute. The Secretary of Security and Intelligence: he’s an old friend.” She’d managed to impress them, so went ahead with the topper. “The President sent regrets. She was in China.”
“Then it happened just recently?” said Janet’s father. “We do follow the news up here in the frozen north,” he explained unnecessarily.
“End of November. Before Advent. Beatrice is very Catholic, though it was a civil ceremony.”
“Good food?” Her mother’s first priority: Janet gave a firm nod. “I did a series planning Tomaso Evans’s wedding—the quarterback?—he married that woman who kept turning up on the net with an ivory-billed woodpecker on her shoulder—was that one of yours?” she asked.
“No,” said Janet, managing to interpret the question. “Dodo. Passenger pigeon. No woodpeckers.”
“Anyway, I suspected it was doomed when he asked to serve chicken at the reception. But it made a good show.”
“Beatrice and Charles had fish. Some sort of in-joke, I think.” Frogs would have been… not very funny, in fact. “And chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds. I think that came out of your book. And plenty of champagne. We had a marvelous time.”
“All of us we or a particular we?”
“Mom. The answer is no, I don’t have a boyfriend. I was odd woman out at the table, and Neil Park was odd man out, but that didn’t mean—”
“Hm. Is he Korean?”
“A little bit more than I am Polish. Why—should I be limiting myself to Asian people?”
“Not particularly. You want to see a picture?” She fetched the datacube and gave it the necessary voice commands. “There. That’s our table.” Andy, thank goodness, had been seated elsewhere, probably in deference to Olivia’s sensibilities, not hers, though one never knew what Beatrice had figured out. “That’s Neil, there.”
Her mother nodded. “I’m sure he’s very sweet.” It occurred to Janet suddenly that she might not be matchmaking but expressing a regret that Janet hadn’t invited her as “and guest.” A well-catered bash full of important people… “And I love your outfit,” Alisha added.
“I’m afraid I didn’t sew it myself.” Janet loved it too; it was the right shade of golden-rose and by coincidence had nearly matched the hall decorations (and the fish), it showed off what figure she had, and—she noticed now—it featured the same high collar as the ghastly red number in the family portrait. She hadn’t worn it for Neil.
“I think I’ve got another one that shows the back… wait a minute.” Someone’s shot of Fred Nez and his wife; Janet in the frame by accident, but a good view of the buttons. She started running through the rest of the pictures. “There’s Secretary Chapman, in case you didn’t believe me… Maria Ferrari, she works for the President… Marc with Seema, assessing how much it all cost… some of our researchers… a table full of professors… there’s the happy couple… the dessert, very good but it doesn’t photograph well… George after too much champagne…”
“Go back,” said her mother.
“What, the chocolate things? Sorry they look like moose turds, but you know you used a professional for the book photos—”
“No, the one before.” Her voice was tight, nervous.
“Charles and Beatrice? There. I told you she wasn’t a floozy—sixty-three, but she looks smashing in that dress, doesn’t she—”
“Joe.” Now there was fear in the tone. “Is it her?”
“Might be,” was all her father said, but that was enough to make her mother draw in a sharp breath. And he hadn’t said “Is it who?”
“We’ve met her before,” Alisha told Janet.
“You have? Where?”
“Here. Right here.”
“In New Hampshire?”
“In this house.” Her mother’s voice shook. “Almost forty years ago. She… she brought you to us.”
“You mean as a baby?” Forty years ago, yes, Janet; that’s what she means. “From the adoption agency?” Her father still didn’t move, but her mother nodded. “That’s… what a coincidence. What a weird coincidence.”
Alisha laughed. “Weird is the word, all right.”
“Strange, I mean. Not otherworldly. Beatrice isn’t… an elf. The fairy at the christening. It is odd, though. I mean, it wasn’t a Catholic charity, was it? But I suppose she could have been… a job is a job, after all. Especially when you’re… she must have been twenty-three.” Janet smiled to herself, trying to imagine the much younger version of the woman she’d always known as middle-aged. “What did she look like then?”
“No. You don’t understand,” said her mother, still staring at the photo. “It was her. Like it was yesterday.”
“Mom, I know you feel that way, but—”
“She looked just like that. Like the woman in the picture. Sixty-three, you say? Sixty-three.”
“What? How can that…”
“Wedding ring on her finger. Smiling like that when she handed you over. She had to show me how to change your diaper. I’d never… never anyone that small. You were beautiful, but it was terrifying.” Janet’s mother turned to her; the confusion in her eyes struck Janet like a blow.
“Honey,” said her father; he was looking at his wife, reaching out to touch her hand. “Don’t be worried. There’s an explanation; there’s bound to be one. How about if you—”
“I think I’ll go lie down for a while. The bed linens are freshly washed and dried. Flowers in the room in midwinter!”
“Sounds good, honey. I’ll join you in a while. Just want to talk to Janet.”
“We can have leftovers for dinner. Touched up with a bit of quince chutney I made in October.”
“And feed Thomas.” The terrier’s head went up in response: not really napping.
“Sure thing. You’ll be okay till I get there?”
Alisha nodded, and left the room, moving like an old woman. Thomas rose to follow.
“Stay,” said Janet’s father, and then: “She’ll be fine. It was just a shock.”
“It can’t really have been Beatrice. Or… Mom’s memory…”
“Her memory’s as sharp as ever, and I don’t often see her confused like this.”
“Sometimes. She’s had moments… on the show once or twice. She passes it off, keeps talking and everything makes sense again. But I don’t think this… there’s some other explanation.”
“Well, sure,” said Janet. “Beatrice probably looks like her mother. Or her grandmother—no need to get bogged down in the math, as Mom would say. It’s still a wild coincidence, but…”
Her father shook his head, considering. “She looked awfully familiar to me too. I didn’t want to say. But you’re no doubt right.”
“Dad, I didn’t know I was… delivered like that. Did they do that? I’d somehow envisioned you going to Malaysia yourselves—after the storm, I mean—or at least Hawaii or something.”
“No, you came in the dead of winter. There’d been a big snow a few days before; plows had just cleared us out. January the fourteenth it was; you were eight days old. Cute as a button, though I don’t know why they say that. Your mother had an outfit with all these buttons once; I thought they were pretty annoying.” He winked. “I suppose it was unorthodox—your arrival, I mean—but we were so pleased we didn’t stop to ask questions.”
“I haven’t asked many either, over the years. I know I demanded once who my real parents were, and you cut me off sharp—the way I phrased it, sorry.”
“The age you were, you were pretty obnoxious all around. Nothing to worry yourself over. I know you know I’m your real dad.” He gave her a little twisted smile; another man might have shed tears and hugged her, but it meant the same thing. “Guy who helped make you—would have brought you up I guess if he hadn’t died like that—was Chinese it seems, since the certificate said Baby Girl Tan. We named you Janet; your mom wanted a good Scottish name. I was all for Weronika, myself.”
“I’m glad she won. She usually does.”
Her father smiled. “Your birth mom was Dutch, apparently. I’d say you take after the dad. Though I guess I’m imagining a tall blonde like in the beer commercials. Pretty silly, these days.”
You ought to meet Anke, Janet thought. Just like that, except half Turkish and not at all blonde. She felt a sudden wave of disorientation and an odd sort of guilt, imagining her unknown mother cooing to her infant self in the same language Anke used in bed. Not an uncommon circumstance, after all; most people in the world shared it. Alisha had put her to bed in English, and so would Andy if…
“This the other happy couple?” her father said; he’d flipped back through the photos to the picture of their table.
“Who, Rinaldo and Pasha? Handsome, aren’t they?” she said, trying to tease.
“Not bad. Beard on that one is a mistake.” He pointed at Rinaldo; the scruff had been generally thought ill-advised and was gone by now. “Trying to be his boyfriend’s twin, I guess. Works better on the Russian. No, I meant the other two.”
“George and Olivia, yes. How’d you know?”
“Recognized that look. Eyes for no one else.”
“You still look at Mom like that.”
“Still feel like that. Funny, huh? Not like we didn’t each have history, going in.”
“So did they,” Janet said, indicating the picture. “Lots of it in his case. And she was married before. Bernard, her husband… disappeared. And then she found him and he was married to someone else.”
“Bigamy?” her father said with the knowing air of someone whose wife interviewed stars of net dramas.
“Not really, since it happened over five hundred years ago.”
Her father looked blank for a second and then burst out laughing. “Speaking of history,” he said. “You’ve got to have a different way of thinking, I guess. Bet it happens all the time.”
“It’s the only case of the sort I know about, in fact. But it’s a risk. Time gets a bit twisty.” She still had trouble imagining Bernard Quan as Olivia had seen him, settled as a merchant in 1630s Amsterdam. He’d always struck her as a comfortably twenty-second-century man, competent with all the technology around them; but then he was a good jumper as well, and jumpers were not only trained but perhaps naturally inclined to put that all behind them and take on the coloration of their surroundings. Or perhaps it was nurture more than nature: many of the jumpers she’d known had grown up not taking the ease and shortcuts of their world for granted. George with his childhood camping trips (not many bears, she suspected, but lots of mud and foraging); Olivia’s father teaching her wilderness medical skills; Neil, from what she’d gathered, casting himself ashore on uninhabited islands on purpose. Even Andy: you couldn’t call archaeology fieldwork a featherbed… and her mind scampered off again at the word, like a dog unable to stop chasing a ball. Eventually I will just get tired.
Redirecting her imagination by picturing her mother plucking geese and stuffing a mattress, with descriptive monologue, she realized that despite her deskbound job she was one of the same sort, brought up by parents who raised bees and canned their own chutney from their own quinces. She didn’t know much about Bernard’s childhood, just that he’d grown up near Chicago and that his father had emigrated from China as a young man. He’d always kept his private life private, something she admired in him, and in fact none of them but Charles had met Olivia until after Bernard’s disappearance, when she came to work for the company. She was much younger than him; it was a marriage that hadn’t worked out, as many didn’t. His firmer bond with a woman born in the distant past, though it may have been a symptom of what led him to the profession in the first place, and a risk of that profession, was not a particularly complicated life development. So why had Janet said “twisty”?
They were all thinking that way these days, it seemed, imagining time caught up in knots, or time spreading out like river channels or tree branches: the legacy of the man they’d known as Friedman, Mirich, Solomon and other names as well, and were about to know as Wilfrid Dijkman, soon to be if not yet born and christened, soon to lose his Dutch birth parents to a preordained journey to that same seventeenth-century Amsterdam, soon to become Wilfrid Jansen upon adoption, and then…? A thorn in all their sides, eventually. Except eventually was now. Twisty.
She’d never met him, through all that drama last winter and spring; she mistrusted him deeply because of what he’d done to her friends; she suspected he had helped her lose her previous job and might yet make her profession vanish; and yet some of what he said made sense to her. The river of time should be a river; it shouldn’t branch into channels and rivulets and end in mud puddles. The invasive vine should stay where it could be controlled, and should not make a new life in another time and place, strangling its hosts. But surely they could be careful. Time travel had worked so far, with enough responsible people—like Janet—trying to keep the harm it did minimal.
“I suppose,” said her father slowly, “that could explain why your mother recognized the photo. Something to do with time. Traveling in it, I mean.”
Janet shook herself back to the moment. “Beatrice, you mean? Forty years back, to bring me to you? But why?”
He shrugged. “Something she wanted kept secret. I wouldn’t mention it to her if I were you.”
“Dad, keeping yourself to yourself is all very well and I applaud it, but—”
“I didn’t mean that, exactly. Seems to me it doesn’t sit squarely with time theory as we know it, her going off to deliver you after she’s aware she did it.”
“Time theory as we know it.”
He blushed a little. “I listened to a lecture on the topic, a few years back while I worked the hives. Seemed to calm the bees. Anyway, I’d wait to see what happens before you go stirring things up. Good plan in general, if you don’t mind the advice.” He let one arm droop over the side of his chair, and Thomas’s muzzle was in his cupped hand in an instant: momma’s boy, indeed. “And I’ll tell your mom it must have been Beatrice’s mother. Or grandmother. Take the picture away when you go. You can leave us a copy of that one of you and your friends.”
“Oh, it’s not anything worth looking at. Wouldn’t give it house room,” said Janet.
“I don’t know about that,” said her father, meeting her eyes. “It’s not so bad.”