What country, friends, is this?
“Boston Harbor,” said a voice at his shoulder, as though he had spoken aloud; it came out Bawston Hahbuh in the gravelly New England accent. He turned. A waterman of any era might have owned that florid, sun- and salt-roughened face, but the jumper’s experienced eye picked up the style of the collar, the line of the coat, the cut of the beard, and he made a stab at mid-nineteenth century. A quick glance back at the shoreline supported the guess.
“Never weary of it,” the man added. “It ain’t only doing my job to ferry folks here and back again. Where you headed?”
A map appeared instantly in his mind; there was really no choice about where he ought to be going. “George’s Island,” he said. “Captain.”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Ah? You know what’s out there? Or did you pick the one that’s called after you, George Merrill?”
“How did you know my name?”
The captain tapped his head with one finger and smiled, then turned to peer at a lighthouse in the distance; it blinked back through the early morning haze. The boat was moving smoothly across the water, although George had no notion how: no sails, no vibration of a motor. “They are going there as well,” the captain said after a moment.
“Them,” he explained, nodding his head toward the boat’s bow. George looked.
Olivia. His breath caught at the sight of her familiar profile: unmistakable, as were the sable hair knotted at the back of her head and the angle of her shoulders. In blue-gray like the morning, she was corseted and gloved and hoop-skirted; two little boys were running about the deck in her vicinity, and next to her, with a protective hand on her arm, stood a dark-haired man.
He thought Bernard first, forgetting that Olivia’s husband—former husband, now, although their legal status remained in limbo—was two hundred years and an ocean away in seventeenth-century Holland. And then the man’s face came into view, and George stiffened, cold with anger. Brant. Sam Brant.
Damn him to hell and back again.
“Return fare’s extra,” said the captain. “It’ll cost you.”
George ignored him. His hands itched for Brant’s neck. How dare he touch Olivia, as though he had the right—possessively, like a husband, like… The children, dodging from rail to rail, laughing, caught George’s eye again, and his stomach clenched. Then one little boy tripped over a coil of rope and fell flat on the deck. Pushing himself to hands and knees, he began to howl. Olivia’s expression of remote amusement became one of concern; she took a step forward, freeing herself from Brant’s grasp. But before she could reach the child, another woman appeared and the boy lifted up his arms, gasping “Mama.” She nodded to Olivia and gathered both her children, retiring. George’s breath released in an audible sigh, and as if propelled by a hand on his back he stumbled forward.
Olivia saw him then, reacting with evident shock and fear. Her mouth formed a silent word—his name, perhaps—and then Brant spotted him and stepped forward menacingly, a gun in his hand. Remington .44 six-shot revolver, 1858, said the reference file in George’s head. The last weapon Brant had aimed at him had been a single-shot pistol dating from the late 1770s—quite sufficient to send George to a hospital fighting for his life—and the upgrade amused him.
“Keeping pace with the times, are you?” he said.
“Anachronism is the mark of the devil,” answered Brant, and fired.
The bullet spun toward George slowly enough to track but not to dodge, at least not in air suddenly the consistency of water. Shrieking like a goosed soprano, the tiny orange demon straddling the missile was clear in view down to its miniature horns and bat’s wings; it disapproved of this rifled barrel nonsense and didn’t care who knew it, but was determined to hang on. George wondered why he’d never spotted its kind before. Obviously they rode every projectile ever fired. It would probably hurt him quite a lot, going in.
The demon’s joyride ended abruptly as Olivia shot out a gloved hand and plucked the bullet from the air. Her closed fist shook with the effort of containing the creature, then opened, palm to the sky, and a glitter of dust like tiny iridescent feathers fell from between her fingers. What remained vanished upwards with a buzzing noise, echoed by a hiss below. Brant’s revolver had metamorphosed into a snake. He let out a cry and dropped it, and it slithered across the deck and into an open hatchway. George gathered himself for a leap at Brant’s throat.
And then the world changed. Just shadows and light at first: but then Olivia breathed in hard and George followed her eyes. For a moment he gazed back at the Boston skyline—unusually clear and close as though the fog had cleared from both the air and his sight—and found nothing strange in the low brick buildings, the church spires, and the lonely thrust of the Bunker Hill monument in the distance. Then ghostly shapes unveiled themselves: huge rectangular prisms, phantoms of twentieth-century skyscrapers. Incomplete skyscrapers: in several places the superstructures were visible, and construction workers swarmed over the outsides of the buildings like insects. They were swaying one edifice up as though it were the wall of a timbered barn, presumably using skyhooks for leverage: sixty stories of glass and metal prefabricated in another dimension and erected here, complete yet transparent, an illusion, a mirage.
None of the other passengers appeared to have noticed what was happening on shore, but George couldn’t take his eyes off it. He stared, dizzy, in deep empathy with the laborers perched on the illusory crossbeams hundreds of feet in the air, and reached out for Olivia to balance himself; his searching hand met nothing, and the wind whistled past his ears as though he were falling. She and Brant faded into ethereal outline like the buildings.
“This isn’t where I am, George,” she said, her voice whipping away in the salt breeze; they were gone before he could answer.
Bereft, shaking, he made his way sternwards, his eyes glued to the shoreline. The ghostly workers were having difficulty with their barn-raising; whatever they were using for ropes kept slipping, and panes of glass tumbled repeatedly to the ground, catching the light like sparks. The boat’s captain was facing away from shore, but he nodded as George approached. “Aye,” he said. “I know.”
“But why? Why are they doing it?”
The captain tapped his head with a finger again. “Questions,” he said. “Always questions. Oughtn’t to be talking to you. Boss wouldn’t like it. He don’t approve of conversation with the passengers.”
“Who is your boss?”
“Begins with C,” said the captain, and winked. “Can’t say more. You’re supposed to give me a tip, you know.”
“I don’t think I have—” He searched his pockets.
“Not there.” The captain reached behind George’s ear, and then flicked a coin into the air, catching it neatly. “Franc for your thoughts,” he said.
Get a lot of international custom, do you? “When do we get to the island?” The shoreline had receded considerably during the course of this brief conversation, the workers now invisible and their activity signaled only by flashes of sunlight against glass.
“Nearly there now. See?” He gestured George to the rail.
The island was there, indeed: nestled at the foot of a waterfall, startlingly wrong in the broad harbor, wrong even in this dream-world. It was a green island, with rocky shores; the turrets and walls of a fortified castle rose among the trees. Poised on the brink of the fall, the boat somehow did not plunge over the edge, but George knew with certainty and terror that he would have to make that journey himself.
“Better not to think about it too much,” came the captain’s voice behind him, already fading, and George found himself at the mercy of gravity. He fell, his head and stomach protesting the loss of altitude, his limbs flailing. The streams of the waterfall sparkled like the tumbling panes of glass; the air was misty with its spray. The river below him was full of jagged rocks. As the water and the stone came up to meet him, he gave one last violent struggle and woke with an inarticulate cry.
* * * * *
14 February 2174
“Hey,” George said, easing a tentative hip onto the bed. “You look well. How are you feeling? Oh, I brought you some flowers; your mother’s putting them in a vase.”
Marisol Delgado smiled at him, a shadow of the smile he was used to. She was thinner, too. His hands still remembered the contours of her body, and could tell how different they would feel now. And there would be scars now on the smooth skin: surgical scars from the organ replacements, and a gash where Brant’s knife had ripped into her stomach.
“Thanks,” she said. “Better. I’m feeling better. How about you?”
“Oh, fine.” Belatedly, it occurred to him that he shouldn’t dismiss his own wounds so casually, as though there were no reason she shouldn’t have healed completely in six weeks. “I mean, I’m still having to watch those sudden moves. Just this morning,” he went on, patting his chest ruefully, “I woke up from a bad dream with a big twitch, and—”
“I’ve been having bad dreams, too.” He waited, but she didn’t seem inclined to share the dreams, only their existence. We have something in common: that was the message, simple, eager and artless. Maybe it was her outfit—pajama-like, pale gold with little flowers—but she seemed so much younger here in her parents’ house. Younger than twenty-four, certainly, like a junior cousin of the Time Travel Institute technician he met regularly in the course of their professional duties. And not “off duty” in the your-place-or-mine sense, either. He supposed he ought to be thankful for that. But it bothered him that he felt inclined to cuddle her.
“You might need to ease into working in that room again,” he said. “But I bet Tim misses you.” She smiled absently. In fact, George hadn’t been back to the TTI lab since Brant’s attack either, but he wouldn’t be surprised if the time machine they’d all personified with a nickname had been looking a bit down with the sexiest of his technicians off the job.
Marisol’s mother came in, glancing at them and putting the vase of yellow roses on a side table. “Would you like a cup of coffee, Mr. Merrill?” she asked. She was a handsome woman, what Marisol might be in thirty years: strong-looking, the bronze skin beginning to wrinkle and the amazing figure to sag and thicken, but still capable of illuminating any room she stepped into.
“No thanks. I can’t stay long. Work, you know.”
“Well, it’s nice of you to come and see Marisol. She kept asking for you in the hospital, especially when she was so weak at the beginning, and at first we didn’t want to tell her you couldn’t visit because you were making your own recovery.”
“He came as soon as he could, Mom. And I wish you’d told me he’d been shot.”
“Better you didn’t have to think about it. I’m glad you’ve made a reappearance, Mr. Merrill. Might I have a word with you before you go?” She kissed Marisol, rather possessively, and left.
“I’m moving back into my own apartment next week,” said Marisol.
George nodded. “My mom moved in with me when they let me out of the hospital. I kicked her out after six days. Nicely, of course. Listen, I really do have to go soon—”
“Sweet of you to drop in on your way. Hope it wasn’t too much bother.”
He took in the tone, drew on the map in his head the large triangle that represented home, office, and present location, and, helpless, went on as though she hadn’t spoken. “But I did bring you something else besides the flowers. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Marisol opened the bag, looking suspicious. The chocolates prompted a faint smile, the other box a quizzical frown. She shook a small candy heart into her hand, and read the words on it. “‘You’re history.’”
It would be that one first. “Go on.”
She shook out another. “‘Jump me.’ Inconsistent message, George.” Another. “‘Make time for me.’” Two more. “‘Any time, baby.’ ‘Hottest in history.’ Oh, I get it.” She popped “hottest in history” into her mouth and sucked. “How’d you know I’ve been craving sugar?” she produced indistinctly.
“Experience,” he said. “Anyway, I thought they were cute. It’s a new line. I got them for people in the office, too. Don’t think I’ll pass them out at the meeting with the boss today, though.”
She giggled. “I’d like to see Charles Constantine’s face when you invite him to ‘jump to my place.’ Here, you have some.” He held out his hand and she let several hearts fall out of the box. “What do they say?”
“‘Past you by.’ P-A-S-T. Ha. ‘Out of date.’ Dealt me quite a hand here. What’s this one? ‘George Merrill is a time-jumping loser.’”
“It does not say that.”
“You’ll never know,” he told her, eating it. “And then there’s…” He squinted at the last little heart, and his sank. “Same as the one before, really.” His voice betrayed him, though.
“George? What is it?” Marisol took the piece of candy from his hand. “‘Past tense,’” she read, and looked at him questioningly.
“Olivia always complained about the verb tenses when we jumped,” he said, not really explaining.
“How would there be? But the doctors will clear me to fly any day—if my lung was going to go for a third collapse it would have done it by now—and then I’m heading for Europe to… do whatever I can.”
“I’ll be back. We’ll be back.”
Tears lurked in Marisol’s eyes. “You find her, George.”
“Thanks. Bye.” He put the remaining candy hearts into her hand, patting it, then hesitantly leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. A whisper of jasmine scent came off her skin, a synthetic enhancement, taken internally, of the sort time jumpers were banned from using. Synthetic, but very much a part of Marisol as he’d known her, and he couldn’t help how it stirred him; he’d been without intimate female companionship for almost eleven months even without counting the jumping time. Determinedly faithful to Olivia in his mind, he was still having difficulty convincing his body to go along. He pulled back quickly, and the corner of Marisol’s mouth twitched up.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said in a tart voice, now looking and sounding ten years older than her real age.
“Ha. Well, I must go, and I think your mother wants a word on the way out.” He began to make her one of those abbreviated bows he’d picked up in the eighteenth century, that eased partings so well, then paused when she let out a little sound.
“George, I—” she began, and stopped.
She hesitated. “No. Nothing. Sorry.” The last word was not an apology for inarticulateness, but he let it pass, finished his bow, and left her.
Marisol’s mother rose from a chair in the dim living room as he approached; she moved with the leonine grace of a trained athlete. “Ms. Ferrari? Um… I was pleased to find your daughter much improved.”
She stepped forward into the light, twirling one of his roses between her fingers. “Yes, she is, isn’t she? The doctors have been wonderful. She ought to be back to normal very soon now.” Ferrari paused, her fingers stilling on the stem of the rose; she looked him in the eye and added in the same honeyed tones, “No thanks to you, of course.”
That was hard to answer. Had George been absent when Brant materialized on Tim’s platform out of the year 1784, Marisol would have been on duty in any case. Whether Brant would have stabbed or shot her before he was whisked away again was impossible to tell; if she’d done what she was told he might have left her alone. Or might not. The immediate cause of her injury, however, was her attempt—foolish, useless, undeniably courageous—to save George from Brant’s bullet by sounding the alarm. And George had been there for possibly laudable but certainly nonprofessional reasons. At the moment Brant had appeared, he’d been prone on the floor asking Marisol’s forgiveness for the pain he’d caused her in the past. A knife in the stomach was poor recompense.
“I do blame myself, ma’am,” he said, hoping that would be enough. It wasn’t.
“You’d better. You nearly killed her.” Brant held the knife, George thought, but didn’t say it aloud. “I’m glad you dropped in today, since you’ve got an obligation to her. But this shouldn’t become a regular indulgence. You’re not good for her.”
Just color me pink and stamp PAST TENSE on me, and I’ll make your teeth rot. “I quite realize that, ma’am—”
“Well, I wish you’d realized it earlier, then.” She turned away, and George was preparing to apologize again when she went on: “I know what happened with the Tea Party jump.”
Oh shit. Marisol, what did you say? She’d been delirious for a long time—or so Beatrice had reported—and her babblings might have let her mother put the tale together. Or, though George hated to think it, she could have explained the whole thing while in her right senses, if she’d resented him enough.
“Listen—” he began.
“I wonder if you just do it for the notches in your bedpost,” Ferrari went on, plucking rose petals and letting them drop one at a time to the floor, “or if it’s more malicious than that? You didn’t seem to care what my innocent daughter might lose by it.”
There was no way to say it gracefully: I wasn’t the first, and I wasn’t the last; I was the guy in the middle, or so your daughter tells me. And George wasn’t certain Ferrari was referring to Marisol’s virginity, though to some people that kind of innocence still meant a lot, if not as much as it had while the virginity cults held sway in the twenties and thirties. “She’s an adult woman,” he tried. “She’s capable of making her own choices.”
“She most certainly is. And I believe she’s too smart to choose you.” The last of the rose petals fell, and Ferrari thrust the stem toward him. “Even without the fancy private education and the useless degree in music. College over the net was good enough for everyone in this family.”
God, Marisol, did you give her my entire biography? “Of course—”
“Your sort always think they can get away with anything, especially with someone who’s actually worked to get their job. It’s a good job, and it should be less dangerous than mine or my husband’s”—Ferrari’s eyes were intent on his, uncompromising and formidable—“and she needs to keep it. She doesn’t know yet how rough the working world can be, and she doesn’t deserve to find out like this.”
Not her virginity, then. Her professional reputation. And unlike the other, that charge had some validity. He wasn’t sure any longer whose idea it had really been to disguise Tim’s readings so that Andy Bishop, whose name wasn’t on the contract, could jump along with George to the Boston Tea Party—and, incidentally, save him from being drowned in the harbor by overenthusiastic colonials—but it was Marisol who’d been most likely to lose her job as a result, and she’d gone along mostly because of an absurd crush on George. Her reward had been one date, one night of sweaty jasmine-scented passion, and the opportunity to watch him fall madly in love with another woman while he left her hanging. Fucked her and dumped her. And forgot to tell her. But getting her fired might have been worse.
“No one ever found out,” he said, untruthfully and inadequately.
“Not from what I hear. Or else why is her boss talking about not letting her come back?”
“Just recently?” Ferrari nodded. “That might be… something else, then.” Something that, naturally, George was not allowed to talk about. But not my fault this time. I hope. “It’s got to do with politics,” he hastened to add. “An international relations thing. Nothing personal.”
“That job is important to Marisol. And to me,” Ferrari said, her voice now entirely drained of sweetness. “You’re going to see that she keeps it. And if you step out of line one more time, I will report you, and you’ll lose your job. I promise you that. I’ve had an ear to the ground about you for a while. And an eye following you.”
Any other body parts I should know about? George almost interjected before thinking better of it. “I’ll do my best,” he said; the shrug in his voice came through too clearly and Ferrari tensed.
“You’ll do better.” The steady gaze grew more threatening as she moved nearer to George. She looked very like her daughter, and that made the closeness disconcerting, but thoughts of womanly attraction were far from his mind now. “I know about St. Agatha, too,” she breathed.
“What?” he managed. How in hell…?
“You heard me. And now I think you’d better leave. Thank you for the flowers.” She waved at the petals scattered on the carpet, and slapped the naked stem into his hand, which closed about it automatically. He mustered what dignity he had left and turned for an exit, and then back as Ferrari added, “And by the way.”
“Yes?” he began to reply, and the fist caught his open jaw, slamming his head back into solid faux oak; sagging, he slid down the door to his knees, feeling like he’d been kicked by a horse.
“Don’t you dare come near my daughter again,” Ferrari said, and walked away.
* * * * *
George spent the rest of the trip to the office rubbing his jaw and thinking about everything he could have said to Ferrari but hadn’t. Not a sufferer from l’esprit d’escalier, he always managed to come up with clever responses on the spot; sorting out the ones that got him into worse trouble from the ones he could actually vocalize was a skill he had finally mastered at thirty-one. Not regretting his silence, and its attendant weakness, wasn’t. The trip was slow, with heavy traffic.
When he came in the door, Constantine and Associates’ receptionist was—an unusual circumstance of late—sitting at the reception desk. “Dear Beatrice,” he said, handing over what looked to be a highly redundant box of chocolates, “pray add me as a footnote to your list of Valentines, and answer me a question. Is the TTI laying off staff already? Isn’t that a little premature?” The wrinkles around her eyes deepened with amused curiosity, and he explained: “Marisol.”
“Really? I hadn’t heard anything, but…” She gave him a keen glance. “I’ll look into it.”
“She’s not even the most recent hire,” he added. “Nothing definite yet, but I take her worries seriously. Beatrice, you’re an angel.”
“You owe me a drink,” said the angel dryly. “And Charles wants you in conference room two in twenty minutes. Bruises and all.”
George took his bruises off down the hall, and made his way to the vast cavern of the jumpers’ room, honeycombed with tiny six-sided office spaces. The room was not usually this crowded, but few of his colleagues were out on jumps or recovering from them afterwards: a bad sign. He took the least-populated route, dodging the welcome back greetings thrown his way, and ducked into his own workspace feeling relieved.
That was record time; it used to take me fifteen minutes on a quiet day. Not only had he become less gregarious over the last year, but people had stopped expecting it of him. The steady stream of gossip, facetious congratulations, bragging about exploits, flirting—especially flirting—had dried up, or ran along a different course now; the map had altered and he felt alien in his own country. It’s all Olivia’s fault, part of his brain informed him before he could twist the thought into All due to Olivia. He owed her a great deal, of course: the discovery that his heart had more staying power than he’d given it credit for; and, for whatever it was worth, his life. But he’d changed, knowing her; and change was awkward.
Realizing that yet again he was making himself conspicuous by standing stock-still in the middle of his cubicle staring into Olivia’s vacated one next door, he sank onto his chair and fixed his inattention on the hovering net image above his desk. There was a report he’d promised Charles, and had even worked on desultorily for a day or so last week, before cutting short his return from sick leave and disappearing again. He called the report up now and gazed blankly at it, wishing he were anywhere else. Preferably, wherever Olivia was.
Well, dammit, I know where she is. Or… was. Brant had kidnapped her using one of the new-on-the-market personal time-jumping devices, Jardine International’s Saut de Soi. The device’s advantage was freedom from a government lab, the ability to manage jumps entirely on your own with whatever you could carry—Brant had presumably carried Olivia—but this was balanced by the inability to travel in space as well as in time. Where you started was where you finished, and you did your research to be certain you didn’t end up buried or stuck inside a wall or falling out of the sky. George hoped Brant had done his research. In any case, the where was easy: Vienna. He just didn’t know the when. And in his experience, whens were much larger than wheres. Or… not larger but more profoundly divisible, each second a separate universe, each rivulet of time an unbridgeable waterway. Land on the wrong bank of the Danube and you could cross; jump to the wrong month and you might as well be centuries away.
A knocking startled him; he spun around and then breathed out with relief. “Sneaky,” he told Rinaldo Dickinson, who sketched him an at-ease salute in response and leaned on the table forming one side of George’s doorway.
“Years of patient training. Besides, you’re easy to creep up on these days. Have a good weekend? Who punched you at the wedding?”
“No one,” George said, declining the bait. “I danced with the lovely bride and shook hands with the unreasonably lucky groom, and ate some very nice cake, and tried to avoid telling people what I do for a living. What’s going on?”
“We have a meeting in a few minutes. I thought I’d remind you.”
“You too? Who else?”
“The Big Three.” Rinaldo’s official tenure at Constantine and Associates had only been half a year—though apparently he’d been on some private payroll for months prior to that—and, the consummate outsider, it had taken him a while to pick up the slang, but he used it easily enough now. You needed company experience to realize how much Charles Constantine depended on Seema Pezek, his Chief Financial Officer, and Fred Nez, who held the title of North American Coordinator but could just as easily have been known as Boss’s Right Arm. Only Boss’s Soul and Conscience, out at the reception desk, knew him better.
“Beatrice going to be there?” George asked, and Rinaldo shook his head. “How about Andy?”
A slower, more meaningful shake. “No. You know, you’d think—”
“Would you now?” broke in George. “I don’t see why. What Olivia let slip in pillow talk doesn’t count as being invited into the Inner Circle.”
“True enough. But secrets are secrets.” Rinaldo’s lip twitched slightly, but not in a smile. “You haven’t even come close to forgiving him, have you?”
“It’s a little more complicated than that.” A pause followed. “How was your Civil War jump last week?”
“The usual chaos. I truly must thank Sam Brant some day for providing me with a persuasive minor battle injury”—Rinaldo held up his right, four-fingered hand—“so that I continue to land all the jumps having to do with warfare. Of course, I landed them all before he chopped it off, so it’s actually irrelevant, but he doesn’t have to know that. Anyway, the main benefit to the month I spent there was that John Mosby was a blessing to the eyes, and I got to look at him a lot.”
“How pleasant for you. Though I actually meant to ask how the jump itself went, the transfer.”
“Oh, for your survey. Nothing out of the ordinary. Not at all like jumping to Vienna in January: no bumps, no unusual awareness, no visual flashes amid the blankness.”
“Well, that’s consistent at least.” George sighed.
“Still only European jumps, then?”
“I haven’t heard about rough rides going anywhere else.” The official statistics did not document the jumpers’ dizziness and feelings of abandonment, or use metaphors involving choppy seas and nineteenth-century railroads. But they did show that three-quarters of jumps to Europe in the last two months had been disrupted in some way, affecting dozens of jumpers; several had landed in the wrong place and fifteen (ten from America, four from Europe, one from India) had never returned. Urban areas were more vulnerable than rural; the period of the jump seemed to matter not at all.
“Thought it was imagination when it happened to me,” Rinaldo added. “Or Tim playing tricks.”
George laughed. “I wouldn’t say that in front of the lubbers. They don’t think he’s real. But me too, with the Amsterdam jump.”
“Did you interview the TTI team who brought me home? Since I was unconscious at the time, I can’t help you, but it would be interesting to know what happened to them.”
“They didn’t notice anything. But the problem wasn’t as widespread then. All the disappearances were in the week before the European Alliance pulled everyone’s jumping rights.”
“It was a good call, you know.” George shrugged, and Rinaldo went on, “Inconvenient and frustrating as it may be.”
“Dammit. I know that. It’s just…” George steadied his voice. “They always say, with the rescues, that it doesn’t matter how long you wait to go after someone, since time here has no relevance to time there. And then they always go right away. When they do go, that is, and don’t just leave people to rot—”
“It’s on a case by case basis, and sometimes there’s just no chance—”
“Yeah. And why are you standing up for the system all of a sudden?”
Rinaldo lifted an eyebrow. “It’s worked for me before.”
At times George nearly managed to forget that Rinaldo had once been Sam Brant’s jumping partner at a rival company, as well as his co-conspirator in Brant’s first disappearance. On that occasion, Rinaldo’s well-acted description of Brant’s tragic death during the Stamp Act riots had persuaded the TTI that no rescue attempt was necessary.
“Anyway,” Rinaldo went on reasonably, “no one could have gone after Olivia if they didn’t know where to go. I know you’re willing to jump blind and wave your arms around in hopes of hitting her, but it’s not very practical, and besides you had to get yourself fixed up first. The jumping ban is just bad luck. And I really think we ought to get to that meeting now.”
“Agenda: calm down, George; we’re doing everything we can; be patient; and by the way, where’s that report? Right? Do I still have to go?” He waved a hand to close the floating report, shoved back his chair, and got to his feet. They walked in silence all the way to the conference room.
“Come in,” said Charles pleasantly when the door opened. “I’ve got a proposition for you both. George, how would you like to go to Moscow again?”
* * * * *
“So let me get this straight. You’re throwing Rinaldo as a bone to the Russians in exchange for sneaking me around the jumping ban?”
“They’re not going to eat him, George,” said Charles. “They value expertise, as you may recall from your own visits. And Rinaldo has a certain fund of knowledge that will come in handy.”
“Oh, shit,” came a murmur at George’s side. “Napoleon. Sevastopol. The Russo-Japanese War. The siege of Leningrad. Shit.”
“We may be able to do them some other favors as well,” Charles added.
“Essentially, it’s bribery,” put in Seema, apparently unperturbed. There was probably a line item in the budget.
Charles cleared his throat in a way that managed to sound both aggrieved and amused. “I prefer to think of it as keeping the door open.”
“Haven’t you got a foot in the door already?” George asked him. “Or have I been entertaining fantasies all these years about your status with the DSI? Don’t you have a rank and a number and a book full of secret passwords, and license to kill, and your own airship full of gorgeous women?” Charles was, in fact, either celibate or extremely circumspect about sex, and had never killed anyone as far as George knew (though he wouldn’t have bet on it), nor had his association with the U.S. Department of Security and Intelligence been consuming enough to take away from a long career on the history faculties of several universities prior to becoming a time travel contractor. But the exaggeration prompted a sharp-edged smile.
“There’s a thing called the chain of command, George. Heard of it? No? Didn’t think so.”
Dammit, boss. “If I’ve neglected to follow your orders a time or two—”
“Not likely, since I never give them. That wasn’t what I—”
“I bet Olivia thought she was following orders. And Bernard.” George reined himself in; he could see Fred preparing for patient intervention, and Rinaldo looking faintly alarmed. “Sorry. Old news. But the DSI can’t help?”
“That’s what I meant,” said Charles. “Though in this case it’s not so much a matter of command hierarchy as of interdepartmental cooperation. Olivia is the TTI’s responsibility—except where Intercrim has precedence because of the kidnapping on Austrian soil—while the DSI is concerned with Brant and the other Arcadians, like Kaufmann and Jardine. But Brussels won’t let us touch them, and the State Department is pretending appeasement while still trying to get its own way. Everyone is stepping on everyone else’s toes.”
“And instead of stepping harder you think you can dance around them? They do dance well in Moscow, I’ll give them that. Especially after several glasses of vodka. Last time I was there, the things they did to Rimsky-Korsakov… well, never mind.” He watched Seema and Fred file this under That Crazy George, and went on. “Are you sure you want to be in their pockets that deep, though? And take the responsibility for the risk to Rinaldo?”
“It’s fine, George—” Rinaldo began, but Charles cut him off.
“He shouldn’t have to actually do the jumps himself, just consultations. And it may be the only way to reach Olivia.”
“Who is the TTI’s responsibility, you say.”
Charles made a gesture of conciliation. “Ours. Mine, and yours. Better?”
“Much, thank you.” Their eyes met, briefly. “Well, I can still see some difficulties—not knowing where to go being one, and wondering whether I’ll get there and back again being another—but I’m relieved to be the designated rescue team.”
“We thought you’d prefer it that way,” said Seema. “Or rather,” she went on with a rare smile, “we couldn’t stand the thought of being anywhere near you while someone else was doing the honors.”
“And besides,” Fred added, “there’s the DNA issue. Though we don’t know yet how it affects your jumps on the Russian machine, rather than Tim—”
“They call it the Ferryman,” interrupted George. “Perevozchik. And various diminutives. You mean it’s possible I won’t be able to get to Olivia from Moscow, if Brant’s jumped them into a time breach? A looped breach, I mean. I realize the risk of the other kind.”
“We really don’t have enough data on that to speculate,” said Fred. “But on the whole it seems more likely that having jumped with Olivia you are a better candidate for reaching her than someone who hasn’t.”
“Rinaldo’s jumped with Brant,” George said, and then wondered why he had mentioned it. Surely he’d be better off working on his own, no matter how dependable he’d come to consider his friend. He’d grown too used to having a partner.
“Sounds like I’ll be busy lecturing Russians who like getting shot at. God help me, I don’t even speak Russian.” Rinaldo held up the maimed hand against retorts. “Yes, I can cram one more lot of grammar and vocabulary into my head. If necessary.”
“Thank you,” said Charles. “Now, I’ve got to talk money with Seema for a while, but I think the short form goes…?”
“We can keep out of the red,” Seema reported, “without cutting staff, if Fred manages to win as many American-based contracts as possible; luckily there are still lots of Revolutionary War reenactment studies up for grabs. You’ll get paid,” she went on, turning to George and Rinaldo. “At non-jumping rates, I’m afraid, though I believe that should cover the rent and the bar bills.”
“Ha,” said George. “So—when do we leave?”
“Friday, if possible,” said Charles.
“Four days to pack is generous. We’ll get on it. And how about—”
“Fred will give you anything you need; he’s taken over what European duties there are, since… well.”
“Yes, I was going to ask—”
“I can answer questions later. Right now the financial situation—” and somehow George found himself outside the room with Rinaldo, questions still outweighing answers.
“Isn’t Friday traditionally an inauspicious day to begin a journey?” Rinaldo asked when the door closed behind them.
“I haven’t had an auspicious moment in months. Why start now?”
“There was at least one extremely auspicious-looking moment between you and Olivia that I walked in on at the hospital,” Rinaldo said, grinning. “Or doesn’t that count? No, I suppose not. Considering.” His grin faded. “Well, I’d better get started on the Russian. I should be able to learn at least ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ and ‘get your head down, you idiot!’ in four days.”
When he was gone George reversed his steps and headed back out to the lobby. Beatrice had a box of chocolates open and was reaching for one as he got to the desk. “Five kilos on the hips every Valentine’s Day, and I’ve been an unattached widow for thirty years,” she said. “Have one. Or two. You like the cherries, right?”
“I’m easy,” he answered, picking a chocolate at random and not eating it. “Beatrice—”
“I haven’t had a chance to call anyone at the TTI yet, dear. Sorry.”
“That’s all right. I was wondering if you were doing anything after work.” She raised her eyebrows at him. “If not, could we go find that drink I owe you?”