The hum of the privacy screens hit Olivia’s ears as she stood at the top of the short stair. She’d never stopped thinking of the jumpers’ room as a giant beehive, constructed of little hexagonal cells and full of busy workers. Out of long habit she paused to locate her own office and George’s beside it. His screens were not activated.
It was going to be awkward, working next to him. She absolutely refused to give up her own workplace, however; it had been Bernard’s, and she had kept everything of his there: his books, his souvenirs, his preset programs. Only a few personal touches made it hers. Perhaps George would be inclined to shift himself. Or they could keep the screen up between, each ignoring the other’s existence.
And for how long?
Oh, it hurts, so much.
She could not resist glancing in as she passed his cubicle (inaccurate word, considering the shape, she thought for the hundredth time), and was taken aback to see the wrong occupant inside.
“Hello, Andy. Where’s…?”
Andy Bishop rose from the desk to greet her. “Olivia! Hail the conquering heroine! Are you rested?” he said, teasing; it was ten-thirty in the morning.
“I am allowed to take whatever time I need after a jump. Where’s George?” She congratulated herself on having got his name out this time.
“With Charles, apparently. For the last couple of hours. I’d’ve thought they’d want to wait for you for the debriefing.”
Damn. Sleeping late hadn’t been such a good idea; he’d sneaked in there ahead of her. “We did most of that yesterday before I went home. This is probably more… personal.”
“Oh, God. What’s wrong now?”
“Why do you think something’s wrong?”
“Well—I didn’t actually suppose you were with him when he called me in an obvious state of drink at three a.m.—”
It was maddening how she couldn’t help blushing. “No. I wasn’t. What did he say?”
“Something about going back and fixing it, and hijacking Tim, and could Marisol be bribed again. Apparently it was my turn to do the honors. I told him I didn’t think it would work.”
“Did he say where he wanted to go?” She hesitated. “Maine?”
Andy’s eyes narrowed. “Bosnia, I believe. And then he said ‘Oh damn Haydn anyway’ and disconnected. Which sounds pretty serious. What went wrong in Maine?”
“Oh… nothing. We got Brant.”
“Yes, I know,” Andy said dryly. “As will the world, soon enough. You’re having a press conference this afternoon. No, I’m not kidding. This could be really big. All they’ve had on the Arcadians is rumor and a rash of unconnected disappearances. Rinaldo was small stuff. Brant… he might break it all open.”
“You don’t sound very happy about it.”
“No, I am. Just tired. I have more catching up to do, I guess; we didn’t sleep much in Maine.”
Andy’s perfect features could, when he wished, take on the rigid hauteur of a royal portrait bust, at a level above the common man’s need for human expressiveness, but otherwise it was not only a simple matter but also a pleasure to read his face. Unless, as at the moment, he had deliberately misunderstood, and the slight lifting of the eyebrow, the twitching of the mouth, signaled readiness to renew what had gone beyond a joke long ago.
“Keeping the fire lit so we didn’t freeze, and making sure Brant didn’t bleed to death,” she added, exaggerating. “Not that it mightn’t have been better if he had.”
“Awfully messy, though. And you wouldn’t get your press conference.”
“I just hope George is sober for it.”
She wished the words taken back as soon as she said them, and regretted them even more when Andy’s “Olivia, what the hell—” was interrupted by a sarcastic drawl from the corridor.
“I may not be fluent in Latin like your dear husband, but I do know in vino veritas. Truth is exactly what the media and the Institute don’t want, of course, so I shall restrain myself. Out of character, I know, but we all must do our part.”
“Bernard isn’t fluent,” Olivia said, picking on the one part of George’s statement she could address with some composure. “He always complained about not being able to pursue his studies further.”
“Well, let’s hope he’s getting the chance—” George began, then caught himself. “In any case, there may be truth in wine, but if you factor me into the equation there’s nothing but stupidity even in the best single-malt Scotch. Sorry, Andy. It won’t happen again.”
Andy waved a graceful hand in dismissal. “What are friends for?”
“I’m not the best person to ask. So were you just here for the apology?”
“Since you are, of course, brilliant at those,” Olivia commented irresistibly. It was not tactful, but she was weary of tact.
“Why, thank you, Ms. Lake. I’ll add it to the resume. Adequate amateur violinist, knows his way around eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe and America, a flair for saying mea culpa. Ooh, more Latin.”
“You forgot the bear,” she added. “No one ever neglects to mention the bear.”
“The bear is a selective embellishment, depending on the audience. Not appended if the contract involves the opera in Paris, a must if it’s Montana amongst the fur trappers. Or—Andy, wouldn’t you say the admission of bear-skinning experience has proven an effective aphrodisiac?”
“I wouldn’t know for sure. When did you first hear the story, Olivia?”
Ignoring him, she said to George, “I don’t expect anyone who actually thought about what’s involved would find it conducive to—”
“Some people think too much for their own good. Are you two done gossiping in my office, or should I go somewhere else to work?”
Olivia was just wishing she had long skirts and a petticoat so she could more effectively flounce out of the cubicle, when another player in the drama made an entrance. Rinaldo Dickinson, who inhabited the office on the other side of Olivia’s, poked his head into the makeshift doorway, knocking tentatively on a convenient tabletop.
“Good morning, all. Andy, I’m so glad I caught you. I’m off to San Jacinto next week and I wondered if you have anything on the archaeology of the battle or the Mexican army in general. If you’re not busy…”
“Send me a note and I’ll check, but is it really relevant? Aren’t you going to see the real thing?”
“Oh, but it’s always better to have an expert view from every angle. Don’t you agree, Olivia?”
“Not everyone,” George observed in acerbic tones, “is quite that obsessive. You’ll survive longer if you learn to relax, Rinaldo. Kick back, loosen up.”
“Have a drink,” put in Olivia.
“Oh, very funny,” said George, who was clearly beginning to lose his temper. “Your concern is touching.”
“Well, you didn’t have to get to work at the crack of dawn just to be first—”
“I’m sorry, have I come at a bad time?” Rinaldo interrupted.
Andy cleared his throat. “I think the stress of the last assignment…”
“Oh, yes. My old friend Sam Brant. I don’t suppose they’ll let me visit him in prison. Pity. Did the diary help?”
George looked exasperated. “Don’t you know?”
“I’m not… kept informed about these matters.”
It hardly seemed fair, Olivia thought, considering the dedication Rinaldo had shown in his time with Constantine and Associates, that he was not trusted even that much. His brush with the Arcadians had tainted him beyond repair; she wondered what hers would do. At least they were letting him jump; it was a hopeful precedent. The company was always short of experienced jumpers.
“It helped a great deal,” she said warmly. “Though it was a message he sent us while we were in Vienna—kind of a cryptic one, but we figured it out—that led us to Maine. Seven years earlier—I’m still having difficulty wrapping my brain around that one. What happens to the Brant who watched Mozart play in seventeen eighty-two, now that he’s here locked away? What happens to us, for that matter?”
“Well, I haven’t forgotten Mozart,” George said, still scowling but with a glint in his eyes; the memory had cheered him at least a little. “We’re not really part of history, you know. Not supposed to be, anyway.”
Rinaldo laughed. “Do any of you get that urge to butt in sometimes? Like if I went to General Santa Anna next week and said ‘Buenos dias, I am your many-times-great-nephew on the Lopez side, and by the way I don’t think taking a siesta in the middle of a war without posting guards is such a good plan’? Not that I would, I mean.”
“He’d only think you were a ghost,” Andy said. “Which you are, in a way.”
Olivia shivered. “That’s not exactly comforting.”
“I just mean we’re not real to them. And we only become real when we’re risking time breaches. Which has hardly ever happened to me, so I guess I’m the least real of all of you, and have no right to talk.”
“Well, you’re very real to us,” Olivia said, smiling, and Rinaldo nodded.
“Very real,” he said. George rolled his eyes. “And if you have a minute now,” Rinaldo went on, “you could point me in the right direction as far as any remains of Santa Anna’s troops… or if you’re too busy, I could…”
“No,” said Andy, “let’s get it over with. I’ll just pull up one or two files that’ll get you started. Come on.”
He left the office, Rinaldo following. George watched them go and then turned to Olivia.
“So, Ms. Lake. Don’t you have work to do? I thought you were writing the report for this one. Should be an interesting document.”
“I ought to wait until I’ve spoken to Charles again, actually. Since I missed the meeting this morning. Anything you discussed I should include?”
He let out a huff of breath. “That wasn’t what it was about and you know it.”
“I would have thought you’d let me explain to him.”
“Since it was your idea. You’re going to accuse me of barging in there ahead of you to tell my side of the story, aren’t you? Poor, innocent, wronged George—”
“I know you too well to think that,” she said in an almost steady enough voice. He turned and looked straight at her for the first time that morning; his eyes were dead-weary from lack of sleep, red-rimmed. “In fact,” she went on, heart aching, “I would have liked to get to Charles first and preempt your self-accusations.”
“Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I didn’t get the chance for them. All I said was we didn’t want to jump together anymore, and he made one of those little ‘ah’ noises that say so much, and then that was over, and we talked about other things.”
“No. It was like he was avoiding the subject, actually. Upcoming projects, and one of the mini-dissertations on twentieth-century motion pictures, and reorganizations in the company. Andy’s due a promotion.”
Even knowing Charles’s capacity for lengthy conversations, she didn’t think those topics necessarily accounted for a couple of hours, but picked up the last one out of simple interest, lowering her voice. “Are they kicking him upstairs this soon?”
“Head of scientific projects, a new position. It’s a secret; don’t tell him.”
“Well, I won’t, but… he’s going to fight it, you know. He wants those ‘people jumps’ so badly.”
“It wasn’t him who got beat up on the last one we did together,” George said grumpily. “And half the time he has to act like someone’s servant. Even on the archaeological jumps he has to be ready for that in case they run into anyone. When we went to Utah that time, my very first jump ever”—a reminiscent look flitted across his face—“it was Andy and me and Fred, and I was the junior by a mile, just there to carry the bags. But if we had actually encountered any human beings, I would have suddenly become the Big White Boss with my Indian guide and my slave. Thank God I didn’t have to do it.”
Olivia nodded. “That isn’t even so much the problem, though—”
“Shh, he’s coming back.” They strove to look innocent as Andy reappeared in the doorway.
“That was… surprisingly quick,” George said. He gestured at the screen, surrounding them with pale blue clouds. Andy made a face, and George laughed. “Blindingly obvious, isn’t he? Expert views from every angle, indeed. He was staring at your ass all the way down the corridor.”
“Well, it’s a very nice ass,” Andy said, grinning, “and I only say so because neither of you will, but the truth has to be told.”
Olivia, who privately agreed with Andy’s self-assessment, could predict the trend of the conversation from here, and spoke up for Rinaldo in advance. “He can’t help being who he is, and as long as he’s not bothering anybody…”
“I just wish he’d keep it out of the office, is all,” George said.
Andy burst into laughter. “That is the most astoundingly hypocritical statement I’ve ever heard you make. Tell me you were joking.”
“Oh, come on. It’s not the same thing.”
“Except that the minority form of it was nearly regulated and epigenetically engineered out of existence a century ago, and the majority form has more biblical justification, I don’t see the difference. It certainly doesn’t matter to the… object of affection. Just ask Olivia.”
There was an uncomfortable silence during which Andy looked like he wished the last words hadn’t crossed his lips. Olivia had occasionally wondered how much he knew of the situation between her and George, but now it was clear he’d either guessed on his own or been told. Probably the latter. He was good at making people talk.
George took a slow deep breath, said coldly, “If you’ll excuse me,” punched a fist in the air to open the screens, and left the room.
“Oh, shit,” said Andy softly.
“So… he told you?”
“Yes. Sorry. I badgered it out of him. I have not told anyone else.”
“I didn’t think you would, but thanks.”
“Half the people in the office think you’re together, and half think you were but aren’t anymore, and half declare they are above caring. I know that’s three halves, but believe me, it works out mathematically. I just look knowing and hum, but I’m tired of the questions. They know I’m George’s friend, so they keep coming to me.” He drew a breath and went on. “Not that he’s been much of a friend recently. When we do go out—and I know Charles has been holding his nuts to the fire over this Brant thing, so the opportunities have been slim—but when we do he either gets drunk and incoherent or excuses himself early. I thought to spend time with you, at first. It’s not any other woman. I think he just goes home. Damned idiot—”
Andy shut his mouth on the unexpected tirade. A moment later he added, “I gather it got worse in Maine.”
“Yes. Much worse. We won’t be jumping together anymore.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Well, not entirely sorry, because with the two of you free I might get more chances at real jumps—”
“Your jumps are real.”
“Only if something interesting happens. Otherwise it’s just like taking a different form of transportation to a dig site, wearing funny clothes.”
“And tell me again what interesting thing happened on your Polynesian expedition?” she said, smiling.
“Hey, I would have made a terrific love slave. An interesting sidelight on the religion of the island, too; I’m sure the client would have appreciated my extra work.”
“It was just the part about being eaten at the end…”
“I’m at the point where anything’s better than another research report,” he said. “And stop trying to duck the subject. I meant to say, whether or not you work together professionally is one thing, but George is unraveling so fast it’s scary, and I can’t say you look very tight along the seams yourself.”
“Have you been spending a lot of time with Phoebe recently by any chance?” she asked; it was a desperate joke and Andy knew it.
“Listen, Olivia. He really is in bad shape. I don’t suppose you could bring yourself to—”
“What? Play nurse again? Or were you thinking sex therapist? Love slave?” Her voice level was mounting along with her frustration, and Andy held up a warning hand.
“Quieter, unless you’re trying to fix the office gossip pool. If you need to talk we could go next door; it would be kind of rude to put the screens up here.”
“No. Thank you.”
“All right. What I was going to say was, could you bring yourself to leave. There are other jobs out there.”
She was stunned, and it made the first words out of her mouth foolish ones. “You want me to leave?”
“I don’t. Hell no. But it would make things easier for George if he didn’t have to see you every day.”
My calling in life is not to make things easier for George. “Not part of my current plans,” she said coldly.
“Fine, then.” He turned to leave, hesitated, and then spoke again. “You think Bernard’s coming back, don’t you?” She didn’t answer. “I admire your devotion, but he’s gone, Olivia. There must be a legal threshold, if you want to stick to that, but it seems overconscientious. Let go.”
“Thanks for the advice.”
“Okay, none of my business. Offer to talk’s open, though.” He moved toward the door, checked himself, muttered, “Faster this way,” and, to Olivia’s surprise, since it broke one of the unwritten cardinal rules of the jumpers’ room, squeezed himself between an old-fashioned drafting table and the bookcase of the bordering cubicle, heading for his own office across the next corridor.
She sat down, suddenly drained of all energy. At least she knew now that George had not spilled the beans about Bernard. Andy probably thought her willfully stupid and uncaring, but his opinion of her hardly mattered, even if some of his assessments were spot on. Fraying at the seams.
I didn’t use to be the sort of person who was unraveled by passion. At the distance of over a decade, she now was able to view her teenage crushes with amusement, and her first sexual experience as a cool-headed experiment gone somewhat awry. Her second lover, unfortunately, had been destined as a brotherly soul mate rather than a bedmate, but she had eventually extricated herself from the drawn-out disaster by applying to graduate school in Maryland, leaving David (and Minnesota) behind.
And then she had met Bernard, and fallen in love, but even that ardor had worn a mantle of practicality. They were in the same profession, though in different fields (hence not competitors, and Bernard could be a font of advice without designating himself mentor, despite the nineteen-year age difference). She felt little inferior to him intellectually. They were temperamentally suited as well: both liked privacy, quiet and tidiness; neither wanted children in the foreseeable future; and they were simply comfortable together. The sex had been a revelation to her, a matter for delicious anticipation; whatever Bernard’s previous experience (a long affair in his twenties, she had gathered, and only short liaisons since), it was sufficient to make him a far more than adequate lover. It had all felt so right, even if her parents and some of her friends had disapproved.
With George, on the other hand, everything should have been wrong. Many of the parts that made up Olivia disapproved of him on principle. The shameful intellectual snob found his learning insufficient, though he was not at all unintelligent and his efforts at playing the quotation game for her sake were endearing. The quiet introvert shrank from his openness, the conservative soul from his emotional profligacy; he drank too much and far too many women had been through his bed, including some whom, during a post-college trip to Europe, he’d apparently chosen for no other purpose than to check off a list of ethnic origins. And he broke rules right and left, often for the sake of breaking them, though he did appear to have his own moral code with which he struggled to comply. Even on the shallow level of physical appearance he didn’t measure up to Bernard, though he was well built and not by any means unattractive.
At times she tried to convince herself that what she felt for him was shallow, a matter of physical appetite tempting a lonely woman. While recoiling from the thought of his many lovers, she was also drawn by his vaunted expertise in matters sexual, and had gathered enough clues to know he wasn’t likely to be bluffing. It was not just the hands and the mouth, either; it was also the charm and the sense of humor that told her bedding George would be an experience to remember. And Bernard had been gone almost a year.
If that had been all there was to it, she might have given in. Bernard would have forgiven her, as she would have forgiven him for a casual fling in the past, had he despaired of her finding him. Crudely put, she would let George service her, and then dismiss him as nonchalantly as one of her eighteenth-century acquaintances might dismiss a servant, hoping that he would find another situation—references on request. But the thought was profoundly unsatisfying. She wouldn’t be able to dismiss him, and he wouldn’t go. They owed each other much as partners—life-debts, even—and that drew them close, but love made them beholden to each other in a way that went beyond owing.
“Olivia?” he said.
Her head jerked up from the desk and her heart pounded; she stared at him as if he had caught her in a guilty act. “You’re back,” she said.
“Well, this is my office. I’d rather not be here, frankly, but they do pay me for sitting in it.”
“Sorry. Lost in thought.”
“Mm.” His eyes met hers, drifted, fixed themselves again. “Are you all right?”
“Meaning not really, but there’s no sense talking about it. God, Olivia.” He lifted a hand to gesture at the screens. She flinched. “All right, then: your office,” he said. “You can use voice controls to escape if I try to rape you.” He took her arm and guided her into the corridor and in at her doorway. “Now.”
She sighed. “Full screens.” They came up brilliant with color: a Judith Leyster painting of tulips on each side. She had modified Bernard’s screens program somewhat, so that it now showed only seventeenth-century Dutch artworks, as a reminder of where he was. It was George’s turn to flinch.
“Last time I was in here it was plain gold. What are you trying to convince yourself of?” She shrugged. “Oh well. Doesn’t matter. I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
“For what in particular?”
“Everything. For existing.” She made a noise of protest, and he went on: “There’s the kind of apology that says ‘I did a bad thing and I’m going to fix it’ and the kind that says ‘I just wish what’s wrong wasn’t, but there’s not a damned thing I can do about it.’ This is the second kind. Unfortunately it’s the kind I usually make.”
“Well, in that case, I’m sorry too.”
He laughed, briefly and without humor. “What a mess we’ve made of it all. Can we just start over? I walked in here on your first day…” He stepped forward and held out his hand. “Hello, I’m George Merrill, village idiot. I depress people for a living. Don’t listen to all the gossip about me, especially mine. And did I mention the bear?”
She curtsied. “Olivia Lake. Waste of your effort.”
“Never.” He bit his lip. “Sorry, I can’t forget. It’s that damned Anamnex they make us take.”
“I can’t either, but… couldn’t we strip a few things away, at least? No bargains, no deals, no debts. No promises.”
“All right. Just as well.”
“It’ll be different, jumping without you.”
“Such a tactfully chosen adjective, Miss Lake. It’ll be different without you, too.”
O, the difference of man and man. “You’ve had lots of partners along the way.”
“None like you.” His rueful grin flashed out. “The last thing you need is sentiment, sorry.”
“I think what I need is work. I’ll go see Charles this afternoon.”
An expression she could not interpret passed over George’s face. “After the press conference.”
“Oh, God, I’d forgotten. What do we say?”
“We just stand there and look pretty. Well, you look pretty and I look stalwart in the face of pain, and no one need know it’s a hangover. If I’m not mistaken, they won’t want us to say anything.”
* * * * *
George was somewhat mistaken: both of them were given short scripted-but-spontaneous statements to act their way through: how proud they were to have done their duty, how much each of them owed the other as a partner. The first part was hard to choke out, but the second, Olivia found, was not. Immense relief that she and George need not quarrel their way through each working day had buoyed her mood. And her status as Bernard’s not-quite-widow, even if not public, seemingly protected her from having to manifest any more than professional feelings for George in public; the text that popped up on his prompter actually included the stage direction “look adoringly at Olivia,” which he hammed up to such a degree that she could barely escape breaking into giggles.
The more articulate participants (the TTI Director and a spokesperson from the Justice Department) left vague both Brant’s crimes and what his affiliation with “the Arcadians” really meant. The reporters, who must have been briefed on the sensitivity of the topic, asked only the “right” questions, apart from one young woman who fixed the Director with an intent glare and called out, “Under what charges is Mr. Brant being held? And why was the public not informed that he was alive and wanted by the law?” The Director spun out a thread about classified information, and by the time Olivia looked back at the reporter, she was being politely escorted from the room. We don’t muzzle the media. We put it on a leash and take it for walks.
George left in his own car when the performance was over, while Olivia lingered for unwelcome conversation and very welcome refreshments; she had forgotten about lunch. She was just reaching for something rolled in a miniature tortilla when a mouth close to her ear whispered, “This is where the AFDA tests its experimental products. It’s what comes of interdepartmental cooperation. You don’t want to know what was recycled to make that sandwich.”
“Charles,” she murmured back, “I’d gathered you were a government insider, but I didn’t know you were that much of one. Now you’ve put me off my feed, and I’m hungry.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the desserts. At least, your eighteenth-century cooks wouldn’t approve of them, but that’s probably a recommendation. Grab a brownie or three and we can say our farewells; they don’t want contractors hanging around anyway.”
In the hall a few minutes later, Olivia said, “Now, did you rescue me there, or did I rescue you?”
“Were you enjoying the company?”
“Neither the congratulations nor the insinuations, thank you. Nor Miranda Joyce’s pointed queries about George’s mental health.” The Assistant for Jumpers’ Affairs had taken Olivia’s statement in a crisis moment last year, and she had perhaps not hidden George’s instability as well as she intended.
“And did you defend him?”
“Of course I did! We contractors have to stick together.” Charles grinned. “Plus,” Olivia went on, “there is a certain amount of guilt involved.”
“Livvy, you shouldn’t feel…” He paused. “I think this is an open-air conversation. Would you care for a stroll?”
During the meandering journey to the exit, she finished two and a half of the brownies, and determined to press her interrogator harder than he pressed her. And what paranoid view of the world, she asked herself, has led you to see your husband’s best friend as the Inquisition or the Patriot Act Enforcers? Still, she took the initiative once they had reached a quiet avenue of trees and begun their promenade across the grounds. “Charles,” she said, “how many jumps have you done?”
He grimaced. “Three. I never meant to… well, one did apply for grants, and on rare occasions one got them… and then I started the company, and did none after that. I can’t, you know. Someone has to be at the helm. So, yes, you have more experience than I do.”
“I suppose you did jump with a partner?”
“As many of us as would fit in the box, and a professional jumper to baby-sit.” His twisted smile said how much has changed: both in TTI policy regarding academic jumps, and in her identity. “But it’s different simply jumping with a colleague, each of you having your own agenda. There’s a degree of cooperation and interdependence necessary, but nothing like what you’ve gone through.”
She nodded. “I’m responsible for George when we’re on a jump; I can’t be responsible for him at home as well. The edges keep getting blurred. I need to make them clear again.”
“Fine. I have no objection. Very few new jumpers work with the same partner so many times in a row, anyway. I need to see the company doesn’t suffer, and if you and George are rubbing each other raw it’s going to hurt more than the two of you. He feels responsible for your difficulties as well, you know.”
She realized suddenly that George had not gone to Charles so he could tell his story first, whether that included self-castigation or not. He’d gone because he felt responsible for keeping their secrets. No one could doubt that a one-sided infatuation was torture for him; his feelings were clear enough, and if he announced the decision to split, there need be no explanation for why she did not return them. Had she reached Charles first, she might very well have ended by telling him about Bernard.
A surge of gratitude nearly prompted a gushy declaration of sympathy for George, but she held back and changed the subject. The federal campus on which the TTI building sat provided enough material for a few moments’ conversation. Charles had seen twentieth-century maps of the expansive acreage, when it had been clearly outside the city and only a few structures had clustered around the center; now it was fuller, but still had more open space than most parts of the Washington-Baltimore cityplex. Leaves were flushing red or yellow, and those trees at the northern end of their range were beginning to look as though they wished they’d been planted in South Carolina. Most of them seemed exotic to the eyes of someone born and bred in a northern near-desert.
The grounds were landscaped with a care that reminded Olivia of her visits to eighteenth-century gardens, and yet no one else was walking in them, even on this unusually temperate fall day. There were ponds, and shrubberies with strategically placed benches, and beds of flowers beginning to die away, and green lawns. Once, Charles told her, there had been a resident herd of deer, but they had been eliminated a hundred and fifty years ago when the resident herd of security personnel had gone twitchy and acquired long-range stunning guns and a barbecue pit. The security was now automated, and Olivia was just as glad not to encounter any more deer.
“What are they holding Brant on?” she asked abruptly in a moment of silence. “Just being an Arcadian isn’t illegal yet, is it?”
“They can hold him for quite a while on connection with those Arcadians who have broken the law, although from what you tell me he has little to do with them.”
“That’s not the impression they were trying to give.”
“No. In fact… well, I can’t say I agree with the approach, but… it shouldn’t hurt Brant. He does face civil charges: he’s defaulted on a debt to Constantine and Associates for the value of his training, since he left us too soon after its completion, and to Timesmiths for costumes and other incidentals. And with Rinaldo’s testimony they may be able to prove fraud, since Brant had no intention of returning from a jump he took under contract.”
“Murder? Assault with a deadly weapon?”
“Legally tricky to prosecute crimes committed hundreds of years ago, and you have no witnesses. Besides, I don’t think we need call attention to George’s stunt with the knife; it might be considered unjustified violence.”
“Brant was about to shoot me.”
“Was he?” Charles’s voice was genuinely curious. “Do you think so?”
She was about to respond with an indignant “Yes” when reconsideration made her pause. Had Brant really wanted to kill her? If he had, he could have done so, or at least tried to, though at the risk of his own life; there had been only one bullet in the pistol and even without the knife George would not have held back from barehanded revenge. Perhaps Brant hadn’t felt that suicidal. Or perhaps he had just needed their company. She was suddenly reminded of a boy in her third-grade class who had tortured her in various small ways through the year—hair-pulling, beaming childish obscenities into the text and pictures of her class presentations—and then, just before his family moved away that summer, had left her a handwritten note telling her in big straggling letters that she was so pretty and smart and he liked her. The feelings were not the same, but the concept of having no other way than petty hatefulness of expressing a desire was familiar.
“No. I think he preferred me alive. He… wanted me. Not sexually, I mean.” Although there is clearly something about the idea of me and George together that turns him on. “More like a hunger for empathy. I told him once that he would need contemporaries that way, and he never denied being lonely.” Why was he there? she thought for the first time since she’d returned. And how did he find us? Did he follow us from the fort?
“It can’t be easy,” Charles said, “starting a new life in a world so very different from your own. Not everyone could do it.”
Had that been a hint? She was too quick to associate any random statement with Bernard, but Charles had known him so well, must have suspicions. “But if that’s all the Arcadians want,” she said, “who are we to deny it to them? Practical considerations aside. I know jumps cost a lot”—wasting a jump had been Charles’s secondary indictment of her foolish and temporary flight from Bourne Heath, almost as bad as abandoning a partner—“but even the European Arcadians aren’t saying the government ought to pay for people who want to live in the past. They’d either have to be rich or raise the money somehow.”
“Did you ever wonder how?” Charles asked.
“Bake sales?” she said, waving the remains of the brownie at him. “No, I see what you mean. Could be through shady dealings.”
“Could be through outright criminality. Nothing’s been traced yet—dummy corporations and links to philanthropic organizations—”
“Which we still think host terrorist cells? After a century and a half?” Charles shrugged. “And that’s Europe,” she added. “Here we’ve got the racist agitators with the same name—”
“Not a coincidence, I think we’ll find when we question Brant.”
Olivia wondered about that we, but out loud only said, “They can hardly be the fundraisers, though. If they had more money they’d make more bombs.”
“Haven’t you noticed the attacks have been down in the last six months? Or have I been working you too hard?” He smiled apologetically. “President Franklin’s all-out suppression effort is having a significant effect.”
“Well, good, except it looks like she means to taint the other Arcadians who are only trying to—”
“We don’t know what they’re trying to do. Why hide away, if they’re only echoing the European platform of expanded access for researchers and… personal hobbyists?”
“It’s not a hobby, what Brant did.” Charles gestured acknowledgment, and she went on, “Perhaps they meant to become a branch of the European party, but the racists got to the name first, and they had to go underground.”
“Perhaps. But think. Even if only a few Arcadians hold views that detestable, they will still carry them into the past if they choose that escape. Human beings are not any less so for having been born in another century or existing in a parallel time stream, and I don’t think you’d like to condemn them to any more unfairness and victimhood than they will already have as a birthright. And even nonextremists like Brant can become unhinged by the stress of adjustment.”
“So people don’t change, but they do? I think Brant must always have been unhinged.”
“Possibly he was.”
They had reached the end of the path and were now looking out at the traffic beyond the fence lines. She wondered what people thought, driving by, when they saw the massed greenery and the distant buildings.
“If time travel has done anything,” Charles said, “it’s made our society more aware of the universals of human nature throughout the centuries. We’ve always ignored how history repeats itself. Each era thinks it’ll be the one to break the cycle.”
“And none of them do. So we know that now?”
“I’m afraid not,” he said quietly.
“We still fight wars, don’t we? I’m surprised no one’s managed to use time travel as a military strategy, though I suppose it would be—”
“It has been tried,” interrupted Charles with a finality that made her sure he wasn’t going to share the story. How do you know all this? A government insider…
“And we still spy on each other, and blow each other up, and politicians are still paranoid about security,” she said, hoping for and then finding a change of topic. “You’d think time travel would have changed our lives more. I remember when I first realized how important it was going to be. We’d been studying American history in school; I must have been twelve. I’d always been interested in the John F. Kennedy assassination, because it happened on my birthday, so I was excited when my teacher popped up a screen on it out of context—we were supposed to be in World War Two. Then she crossed the whole thing out and said, ‘As of yesterday, we know what really happened,’ and started a video sequence. It was just a computer-generated reenactment, of course, but it was like watching the time jumper in action. Some kids had nightmares about the trigger being pulled. But I think I knew already that the scary part was finding out who’d been with Oswald.”
“I have always thanked God,” said Charles, with a twist of his mouth—she didn’t think he was any more of a believer than she was, although he’d followed her lead and not brought the subject up in front of Bernard—“that jumps of over a thousand years are so costly as to be practically impossible. Because one of the first things that people clamored to have witnessed in person was the birth of Jesus. Or at least having a time jumper masquerade as a shepherd; the birth itself might have been problematic.”
“Cow suit?” suggested Olivia, more flippantly than she felt. “I’d think the coordinates would have been difficult to fix, though. Anyway, isn’t it the Resurrection that’s the sticking point?”
“Well, exactly. And no matter what the discoveries, many people would have been disappointed.” He laughed. “An understatement. The leaders of every faith in the country saw the point quickly enough, and in a remarkable example of ecumenism began to give thanks for the limitations of physics. They were happy we couldn’t bring the mountain to Mohammed, either. And there have been no jumps to spy on saints. That we know of.”
“Sinners being far more interesting in any case,” she responded, smiling.
“Mm. Like your friend Brant. Like all of us, really.” He took her arm and turned her, leading the way back toward the TTI building in the distance. “And maybe it’s the best way to understand, seeing your own sins echoed in men and women who lived in what you’d always known as history. What I could have spent years trying to get people to grasp, that it’s not just a sequence of events and lessons, but life, and worth studying—Professor Tim taught them overnight.”
“I wasn’t bored with it before that day, you know. I liked history—though not as much as English.” Charles excused her with a nod. “But there was a big difference between the video clips that were just supposition, and the ones that were based on something someone you could actually meet had seen. It was so much more real that way. But I suppose if I ever have kids”—how much chance of that now?—“all that will be routine to them. They may not even think I’m special for having gone into the past.”
“I’m not sure it will ever be routine. It’s dangerous to think of it as such, and I’m afraid we’ve fallen into that habit. We still know very little about how time actually works. And that’s why I worry about the Arcadians, and about your idea of just letting them run into the past when they feel like it. But to return to your original question: racist harassers have the advantage of being a good distraction. George must have taught you something about distracting your audience from the real threat you might pose…”
“His cover stories almost always have to do with sex.”
“I’m not in the least surprised. But it works, doesn’t it? People will sniff out scandal in preference to most everything else; it’s one of those universals. The Arcadians may be doing the same sort of thing, disguising deeper association with surface distinction.”
“Brant talked about getting deeper in. Like circles of hell.”
“Did he actually phrase it that way?” Charles asked intently.
“No, sorry: my annotation. Literature student mode.”
“Perfectly all right. One of the reasons I appreciate having you around. No, it’s just that I’ve heard that analogy before; I wondered how common it was. It’s one way to think about the organization, certainly. All that might be needed is a gateway from one circle to another, then. And a guide to help you find it.”
Virgil led Dante, she thought, remembering the Eclogues on Bernard’s bookshelf, the poetry of Arcadia. But he was a good man, himself.
“It was the traitors who were in the ninth circle,” she said, and then, knowing Charles would see the connection, “Why did you send George to Russia last year?”
Charles was silent for a moment, then said, “I wish I hadn’t.”
She nodded. Had George been at home during Brant’s tenure at Constantine and Associates, he would have recognized him immediately when they met at Armitage’s manor house. Instead, it was another in the list of mistakes for which he berated himself constantly. She hoped Charles did the same, and had been trying to express that for months now, but saying “You screwed up big time” to your boss was not easy. And he was her boss now. No longer, despite his unusual openness today, her friend.
“By the way,” he continued, with an air of changing the subject, “you are overdue a progress review. I don’t usually wait until after the first press conference. We’ll have to get the paperwork together to make the salary increase official; Janet and Fred and George and Marc will all fill out evaluations. But I believe I can provide a summary: hell of a good job. Stunning, I’d say privately, but one does have to balance that with the inevitable negatives from some members of the team.” Janet Lapinski, the European Coordinator, disapproved of George’s influence on Olivia’s working style, and did not hesitate to make her feelings known.
“I know I’ve put you into some difficult situations,” Charles went on, “and after a little initial confusion you’ve shown me nothing but courage and dedication, not to mention highly intelligent choices.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I don’t regret coming to work for you.” Much.
“I appreciate that, because I realize it was not because of me that you took the job; nor was it because of your own ambitions. Your loyalty is valued, and not just by me, but by many of us.” He hesitated. “Bernard, I think, would value it also.”
“Do you miss him?” she said abruptly, and then her stomach clenched in cold panic; she hadn’t meant to let Bernard find his way into this conversation.
Charles stopped and turned to her. “Even more than when he first went, Livvy,” he said. “We were friends for a long time. I still find it hard to believe…” His voice trailed off, and he shook his head as if to clear it, smiled gently, and began walking again.
It was the closest she had come to blurting out the truth, but she let a moment of silence pass and then spoke again, another switch of topic. “So what are the new crop of contracts out there?”
“Funny you should say that. I was just thinking what would be the right one for you. We’re actually shortlisted for two with literary connections. How’d you like to meet Emily Dickinson?”
“I thought she was a recluse.”
“Well, I didn’t say it wouldn’t be challenging. There’s an ongoing project to tie it to as well: notes on paleontological collections in museums that were destroyed in that”—he winked at her—“rather Cromwellian Dinosaur Heresy purge in twenty-forty. Amherst College had a nice set of footprints I’m sure someone would love to show you.”
“That sounds more like a job for Andy.”
“Well… I do hate to send him into a town full of susceptible women in the nineteenth century. To inspire oddly punctuated poetry about the Bewitching Ethiope would be all very well, but things could get out of hand.” There was a dark edge to his voice.
“Understood.” She sighed. “So would it be a solo jump, then?”
“I think you’re ready. Although Rinaldo’s already been dropping hints about this one. Family reasons, he says.”
“Family… oh, of course. Is there a jump he’s made where he doesn’t have an ancestor?” They exchanged grins. “But he can hardly be descended from Emily.”
“Some other branch of the clan, I gather. Anyway, I’d be happy to give it to him if you want the other contract. You wouldn’t need a new costume; it’s eighteenth-century Vienna again.”
“I hated the wig. Who do I get to meet on that one?”
“Giacomo Casanova.” He held up a hand against the beginning of her sputtering protest. “Nothing outside the job description. In fact, I don’t know that I wouldn’t rather send a male jumper, come to think of it.”
“Women couldn’t be Freemasons. Knowing the secret rites could be a considerable shortcut.”
“And… do you?”
“In the company database, if you know where to look. How do you think George persuaded Lewis and Clark not to put meeting him into their journals?”
She shook her head. “He must have been saving that story up for a rainy day. Why don’t you send George, then? He’d get on brilliantly with Casanova.”
“Hm, yes,” said Charles. “But I believe George might benefit from a little vacation away from the eighteenth century. It’s too reflexive for him now. Work being the best remedy for disappointments, he needs to be earning his keep. So, I gather you’d prefer Amherst to Vienna?”
“I could use a little vacation as well.”
“If we land it, it’s yours, then. I’m sure you’ll make me proud.”
They were nearly back at the TTI building by now. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll try. Where are you sending George?” It was a casual inquiry, or as casual as she could manage; she was far from indifferent still about the notion of jumping to a different time and place than her former partner.
But when Charles replied, any pretense to indifference vanished.
“Another retrieval project, and it’s going to call for some ingenuity. Private client doing plant virus research. The jump’s to Amsterdam. Sixteen thirty.”