15 February 2174
“So I put on my best mother confessor face—that’s what he thinks I am, you know—and since he seemed unsure where to begin, I made a guess. ‘It’s not that you don’t want to find Olivia,’ I said, ‘or that your feelings for her have altered any. But her disappearance left the two of you at a delicate stage. You would have taken the next steps naturally if you’d been left to yourselves, but Sam Brant got in the way, and now your reunion is more of a giant leap, and you think you’re going to fall off a cliff.’” Beatrice sat back and crossed her legs—really the sofa in Charles’s apartment was getting rather flaccid in its old age; she ought to encourage a new one—and went on.
“I was about to tell him not to worry—and was feeling quite proud of myself; the look on his face was priceless—when he informed me that I was exhibiting my usual brand of precipitant clairvoyance, because that was exactly how he felt, but not what he’d bought me a drink to talk about. And I said, ‘Oh, Marisol then?’ and he said, ‘No. Janet.’ And I’m afraid I started to laugh.”
Charles smiled. “George and his catalogue of women. Though Janet’s hardly one of them.”
“No, but he’s oddly concerned about her. And he doesn’t care for the silence.” Neither, to be honest, did Beatrice.
“I can’t tell him any more than I have.”
The tension in Charles’s voice warned her to tread gently. “Officially, I understand, she’s simply disappeared. Less officially, she’s joined the Arcadians. George thought that unlikely.”
“Really? He’s made his dislike of her pretty plain. And vice versa, I must say. Whenever I announced George’s assignment to a European jump, under Janet’s supervision, they’d both flinch. I used to draw attention to the relationship on purpose. Quite amusing.”
“It’s not a matter of liking or disliking. There are Arcadians George likes. He seemed taken by this Nora Dijkman he met in Utrecht, and of course her brother and sister-in-law. And then there’s Bernard—”
“Who was never an Arcadian.” Charles’s tone was like a flail of grass, supple but sharp-edged. “And I didn’t think George liked him.”
“Something of a change of heart there, I’ve gathered. Though more to do with finally finding the right scent on each other after much circling and growling than with anything ideological.” She laughed and reached for her wine. “Unless I’m too distracted by the picture of Bernard as male animal to understand what George was getting at.”
“Bea! You continually manage to surprise me.”
“Didn’t you ever wonder why he suddenly upped and married a woman half his age? I admit Olivia has enough brains to suit the most cerebral of professors, but…”
“He didn’t have to marry a student to find someone who’d have sex with him.”
“Not sex, I think, per se. Beauty. He did teach art history, after all.”
“She’s not really that pretty,” said Charles, his objective-scholar-not-swayed-by-feeling expression firmly in place.
“No, but she’s beautiful. Weren’t you ever jealous?”
He settled back into his chair, put his head slightly to one side, and gazed at her for a moment, his expression unaltered. “No. Not at all.”
Thirty years dropped away, without even a blink. She let the seconds pass, heart thumping uncontrollably, then broke the moment with words she thought she’d forgotten. “Turn and give heed; not in my eyes alone is Paradise.”
“Dante?” he said, looking away, and took a sip of his own drink. “You do still manage to lure me off-topic with facility, I must say. What were we talking about?”
“Janet. And her relationship to the Arcadians. You lured me off-topic, I suspect.”
“Ah. Well, I shouldn’t think George finding some Arcadians likeable is logically consistent with his assigning Janet to the category because he dislikes her, but then George is not a logician.” Beatrice was about to object that George’s feelings and deductive ability weren’t the point, when Charles made a turn in the right direction. “However, I think the relevant dislike here is Janet’s for me.”
“You didn’t treat her very well.”
“As an employee, no. I did not. She was quite right that my withholding information interfered with her ability to do her job properly. But that doesn’t seem reason to run off to Europe and start consorting with—”
“The enemy? You do have a black-and-white view of things, Charles.”
“The Arcadians in Europe pose a real threat. They’ve always been in favor of more access to time travel, and now that they have the means—”
“Perhaps. But you’re not in a good position to argue that; people will think you’re just protecting your own profits. And those of your competitors, no doubt. Why should anyone hire a very expensive firm to do their time travel research when they can make a one-time purchase and do it themselves without government interference?”
“And play around in the past like children crawling through tunnels and going down slides? Or worse, trying to build the playground themselves. That’s what I’m afraid of, not losing business.”
“Bound to happen. Either by accident or not.”
“Like Bernard. And yes, if the breaches are looped and can be entered from our point in time, that could cause confusion for jumpers. But still, it’s an industry problem.”
“It’s everyone’s problem. And it will interfere with legitimate research.”
“Those new children in the neighborhood,” she said, smiling, “wanting to play in our sandbox.”
“Wanting to dig holes in every inch of it, and piss in them.”
“Charles! Where did you grow up?” Comfortable banter: she knew the names of the cities and the reputations of the streets, by heart. “I do see, though. This is a control issue. We’re the government, ma’am; let us do our job.”
He opened his mouth, shut it again and frowned at her. “You used to be more tolerant.”
“There’s one government man I still tolerate frequently. When he isn’t being deliberately disingenuous.” She waited: he was thinking about it. Say, say to her, oh say, Heart whispered. No, Dante would not help her now.
“Explain to me,” she said instead. “Why are you so worried about something that hasn’t happened yet and may not? Personal use of the Saut de Soi is already against the law in this country, and Europe may follow suit.”
She was playing devil’s advocate: smuggling and illegal operation of an easily disguised device would be difficult to detect, and the U.S. and E.A.—the latter vacillating madly in any case—were not the whole world. But it got him talking; he pointed these things out to her and added: “And who says it hasn’t happened?”
“The jumping problems in Europe, then?”
“Possibly. I’m a historian, not a physicist. I’ll let other people figure out how.”
“The best person to ask would be Gerrit Dijkman. After all, he designed the thing.”
Charles twitched. No one else would have noticed, but Beatrice knew him down to muscles and raw nerves. “But I suppose it’s too late,” she went on, “unless someone wants to jump to seventeenth-century Holland. And they’re not allowed, are they?”
“He hasn’t left yet.”
It was a reluctant admission, so she didn’t ask how he knew. “George is still beating himself up over telling Nora he’d met them,” she said. “It doesn’t make instinctive sense, of course. They arrived in Holland long before either Bernard or George and Olivia, so it was easy to assume they’d left long before as well. But that’s not how time travel works, and George should have recognized the possibility.”
“Yes. I don’t know how much harm it’s done.”
“All Nora said back in December was they were leaving early in the year. Does mid-February still count as early? Do you think they’ve been held up?”
He’d gone laconic again. Well, there was no use pushing. She changed the subject. “What about Simone Jardine? Do you think she’ll get in touch with George?” Another twitch: this was intriguing. “He did try to show Nora he was interested in associating with the Arcadians,” she went on, “but it seems Brant may have spilled the beans to Kaufmann about his real loyalties.”
Charles took a sip of his drink and then examined it thoughtfully. “What are George’s real loyalties, I wonder?”
“You’re not doubting him?”
“I’ve known him for five years. I’ve always been able to rely on him. But…”
“You’re not sure why?” Charles gestured her to go on. She who finishes sentences. An unusual job description, but it paid well enough. “Loyalties, hm. He has no allegiance to the abstract, of course. He’s not a patriot, like you, nor does he have my blind faith in an invisible deity.” Charles’s lip curled; they were his words. “He’s worked very hard for you, though he pretends laziness when it suits him. Apparently he’s devoted to the job.”
“It satisfies a craving for adventure and novelty.”
“Yes, but I think there’s more than that. A craving for reality, perhaps? To be sure, he could take care of that by becoming a carpenter or a gardener. But I don’t mean ‘real’ in the physical sense, entirely, though certainly George has an appetite for the physical that—”
“Bea, I’m tempted to pour you another glass of wine. That’s the second time this evening you’ve looked faintly libidinous.”
“How unexpected of me.” The look in his eyes was a challenge; she held out the glass. “We might as well make the experiment,” she said. Charles tipped the bottle with great precision, as though he were measuring the dose in milliliters.
“So,” he said, rising to fill his own glass from the cocktail tray on the sideboard, “what aspect of reality were you referring to, then?”
“People, I suppose. And their worlds. It reassures George to travel through time and discover humanity in its sameness and variety, human nature in its horror and glory, and all the echoes of his own heart and soul.”
“Sometimes I thought he wouldn’t come back.”
She shook her head. “You see, he thinks you’re real too. And you’re his boss. He has a simple mind, in a lot of ways. Like a puppy.”
“Is this about the growling and circling again?”
“No, no. The gratitude of puppies.” Oh, dear. I have had too much wine. “All right, not that; he’s too resentful of being helped. But you did take him in, and he’s been sitting and staying ever since. What trouble was it again you rescued him from when you first met?”
“I wouldn’t say I rescued him. Reeled him in, perhaps. Maybe you should compare him to a fish, instead.” He grinned. “Would you like a loaf of bread with that simile? Did you know, by the way,” he added, wandering further afield, “that what really settled us on the path to theocracy in the mid-twenty-first century, the actual last turning point, was a joint effort between the government’s nutrition experts and the advocates for responsible use of aquatic resources, in which they rewrote the biblical tale so what Jesus had to work with was a basket of pita, a bowl of hummus, and a tomato?”
“They didn’t think anyone would notice?”
“It was only a media campaign. But it did put the final straw on the camel’s back of church and state separation. And at the same time cast that administration, the last one with any restraint, out into the desert of public opinion.”
“Well, sure. They forgot the parsley and the lettuce. If they were going to be blasphemous and idiotic both, they should at least have made a complete sandwich. And the tomato was anachronistic.” She paused. “Have you got any crackers?”
He laughed. “Some of those little rice ones you like, I think. I’ll be right back. Feel free to fill up your glass.” He ducked into the kitchen; she could hear him humming something dirgelike and tuneless that meant he was pleased with himself.
Trying to get me drunk, Charles? Why? Not for the usual reason men tried to get women drunk, or at least what she’d been told as a girl was the reason, though it hadn’t worked out that way in practice when she grew into womanhood. Neither her husband nor her lover had then been a drinker; Charles was still moderate in his imbibing. Tony, of course, was long dead. No doubt he had died clean, sober and irreproachable, with every medal he’d won pinned to his chest. Poor Tony. She had no remaining evidence, no clear memory or written record, of why it was she had married him; the sorrow and guilt attached to his death were etched onto her soul forever. By dying, he had molded her existence far more than by living.
However, one could not alter the past—not even with a time machine, as they all knew quite well—and there was no use wallowing. She adjusted her expression to reflect the right sort of hunger, and took another sip of wine, so that when Charles reentered the room he caught her with the glass in her hand and smiled.
He put down his tray and fixed her a cracker with a pinkish topping; it tasted of fish. She gave him a severe look. “Neither blasphemous nor environmentally unfriendly,” he defended himself. “But not a very good match for Chianti; sorry.” He ate two of the crackers himself and then abruptly asked, “So do you consider George stable enough to handle whatever’s coming his way in Russia?”
She considered, letting the wine bathe her tongue. “As long as he has a job to do he’ll be fine.”
“That’s what I thought. I don’t doubt his ability to rescue Olivia if he can find her. What if he can’t?”
“Well, he’s handling frustration much better these days. After all, he’s had a lot of practice recently. Very little of that sense, when you’re with him, of standing in the middle of a small room while he throws himself into the walls. More that he’s looking for a ladder to climb up to the windows. Refreshing.” She hesitated before going on, having not yet isolated what it was Charles was holding back. “He came up to me today, looking like a different man than last night, and said he knew where Olivia was—beyond just Vienna, I mean—but he wouldn’t tell me; superstition, perhaps.”
“Ah. That. I suggested it to him, though I believe he thinks he figured it out on his own. And I did advise him to use caution, though I didn’t expect he’d extend it to you. Get him in private and he’ll open up, no doubt.”
“And what would he say?” she prompted.
“Well, you remember last fall when George and Olivia were doing all those jumps trying to find Brant in Europe? Using that diary?”
She nodded. Before he left England, Brant had written a list of dates and locations in a notebook—“4 July 1776, Salzburg,” and the like—and left it with his housekeeper. Rinaldo had retrieved it for them. Following Brant as he traced his prewritten map around the continent, George and Olivia had never quite come close enough to put their hands on him. “Frustrating and expensive,” she noted. Charles had complained about the expense, even though he’d only borne the loss of George and Olivia’s labor. He had not expressed any frustrations.
Nor had he shown any joy at the project’s end, and she heard none in his response now. “It was worth it, though, don’t you think? In Maine.”
“We just had trouble wrapping our heads around it. And I wish we had managed to.” When the partners had reached Vienna in March of 1782, the last location on Brant’s list, they were given a note with the next hint about his whereabouts. Except this time, once the researchers had deciphered the cryptic words about rivers and traitors, it led George and Olivia to a date earlier than any other: they’d arrived at the mouth of the Kennebec in September of 1775 in time to watch Benedict Arnold set off to attack Canada, and also in time to capture Brant and bring him home. Seven years before they’d last seen him.
In fact, Brant had remained in Vienna until 1784, when he unexpectedly encountered Rinaldo, there on a research jump. He’d hit his former partner over the head and cut off his finger for the DNA necessary to hijack the time machine on its return trip, but not before extracting from Rinaldo news of the events in Maine. Then Brant had returned to the TTI lab, forced Marisol to enter the coordinates for the last stage of his journey, stabbed her and shot George, and vanished into 1775 to meet his fate.
“Quite probably we couldn’t have done anything to prevent the disaster,” said Charles. “But the point is that Brant didn’t find out about his capture in Maine until Rinaldo told him, in seventeen eighty-four. And yet—”
“He knew in eighty-two. If he sent that note.” She looked at Charles and caught his nod. “Of course. He did send it, but not that him. Not the one who lived there, but the one who visited there with Kaufmann’s help, from today’s Vienna.” She paused. “With Olivia. That doesn’t make sense. Why does he need her? You’d think she’d make the job harder.” Charles shrugged. “Anyway, George can find her now,” she added.
“He has somewhere to look, yes. Fewer wasted jumps. The Russians won’t be indulgent forever.”
The offhand tone shocked her, even more than the months of ambivalence over the pursuit of Brant in Europe. She thought she knew what had been behind that, but this was inexplicable. “And it gets him out of the way?” she asked: this time, a challenge. Charles said nothing in return, only met her gaze with his most infuriating bland expression, then deliberately rose, retrieved the wine, and filled her glass again.
“Unless you’d prefer sake to go with the crackers?” he said. “I believe I have an ancient bottle in the back of a cupboard.”
“What right do I have to think, hm?” The quote from his favorite old movie did nothing to break his equanimity.
“Well, there are other means of blurring deductive faculties,” he said, returning to his chair and facing her again, “but that would go against our long tacit agreement.”
The point of tacit agreements is you don’t talk about them. “I’m too old for hangovers, Charles.”
“Sixty-two isn’t old.”
“How generous from the man of fifty-six. And don’t begin a speech about the charms of older women; stay on topic. What is it you don’t want me to say?”
His mouth twitched; it was too simple a ploy. “I only wanted to ask your opinion of George’s psychological fitness. That’s all.”
“He’s fine.” No, he wasn’t; but she didn’t want to discuss the effects of guilt, the tyranny of momentum, and what she thought was the beginning of awareness that grace and mercy played a role in his existence. Though to her mind he’d made an error in equating Olivia with that grace, or perhaps with the workings of his own conscience. Every time I’m about to make an utter fool of myself, she turns up and stops me, he’d said. And all I want to do is lie down on the ground and humble myself, and thank her. But I can’t, because there’s never time; the job doesn’t wait. I want a chance to say how much I owe her, and how little I deserve her. And I don’t think I’m going to get it. And then, very quietly: I’m almost afraid to get it. He felt in himself only the chill of fear and uncertainty, but to Beatrice he burned almost visibly with determination as well, and she thought fire would win in the end.
She also thought he hadn’t considered that Olivia might owe him something as well.
“I shouldn’t worry about him,” she said to Charles. “All you can really do with George is set him loose and see what happens, anyway. I realize that’s against your philosophy.”
“The one where I think they’re all toy soldiers I’m moving around a battlefield?”
“That one, yes,” she said, her breath catching. “An exaggeration, I’m sure.”
He ate another cracker, then turned his attention to his drink. She gave him the moment; it was only more time, after all. “It hurt, losing Bernard,” he said finally. “I was so certain that it was my fault. But I couldn’t tell anyone.”
“Olivia had the right to know.” So did I, Beatrice wanted to say.
“I would have told her I thought he was dead. In the present day, I mean, not in the seventeenth century. I thought the Arcadians had killed him.”
“So since you were wrong, you think it’s better you didn’t confess? In retrospect?”
Charles ignored this. “I went into his cubicle one night after he’d vanished. All those books. If he’d left a clue it might have been in the books.” He lifted his drink to the light and looked through it, then took another sip. “He’d put a marker in Through the Looking Glass. Where Alice is being told she’s only a sort of thing in the Red King’s dream, and will vanish if he wakes. That she isn’t real. And I wondered—I suppose you must have been lecturing me a good deal that week—”
Beatrice snorted. “I hope I was. You wondered if maybe Bernard was seeing you as the Red King?”
“I thought I’d better read it again another time, when I was less upset. I took the marker away, in case anyone else should find it—”
“This was well before she started working for me. George, I suppose, being next door. Or you. I folded down the page so I could get to it again. But I never went back.”
“I don’t think he meant you,” Beatrice said softly. Charles shrugged, looking unconvinced. “Bernard wasn’t the type to think himself a pawn. Neither was Alice, for that matter.”
“No. I suppose not.”
Pity made her change the subject again, though she reproached herself for her soft-heartedness. “Oh, one more thing about George.”
“He asked me an odd question. I don’t suppose you know what Maria Ferrari does for a living? Marisol Delgado’s mother? They go to my church, but we don’t have the sort of conversation that lends itself to employment inquiries. Usually we talk about food.” Charles smiled. “I think she works for the government in some capacity.”
“Doesn’t narrow it down much,” he said. “Why did he want to know?”
“Not sure, but it was the sort of casual no-particular-reason thing that George doesn’t pull off very well. Which probably means it’s important.”
“I can find out, if you would like me to.”
“A needle in a haystack, in exchange for not needling you about the Arcadians?” She lifted her glass to him, then swallowed the last of the wine. “Done.”
“You don’t need to make bargains with me, Bea.”
“Why, because you know you’ll always get the better deal?”
A shadow crossed his face. “That would, no doubt, be it,” he said.
* * * * *
16 February 2174
Andy Bishop sighed, closed the file—a request for proposals for a new contract on manatee DNA retrieval—and pushed back his chair. They had a fair chance, but he didn’t think they’d win it. Ugly things, manatees, anyway. He liked bones better, and fossil footprints, and artifacts, and he preferred to deal with them by venturing into the past either via a time machine or through the concocting of theories, rather than by fleshing them out in the present day. But shepherding all the retrieval contracts, and any others that smacked of science, was his job now, and no one was going to say he wasn’t doing it well.
It’s lonely at the top. He snorted. In a company that designated its employees equal in everything but pay, a great many unspoken and contradictory hierarchies had been made clear. Junior and Senior Associate were the only official job titles, based strictly on number of hours logged and supposedly allowing for complete flexibility of assignment. But his new, slightly less official role as Coordinator for Scientific Projects gave him a high rank and diminished his status at the same time. He was no longer a jumper, and jumpers were… well, they were the whole point of the business; you couldn’t do it without them. And they were admired. Idolized by the public, even. Tell someone you were a jumper, and barriers fell quicker than they might have otherwise. Good way to pick up women, too, his libido added perfunctorily. Not that he’d ever had much difficulty doing that, when he was prepared to make the effort.
A knock on his door startled him. “Come in,” he said automatically, and then turned. “Oh. Hello.”
“Good afternoon.” The usual awkward pause followed. Rinaldo’s gaze was as hungry as ever; the change of job made no difference to that at least. “Did you get the notes on Mosby and the Shenandoah Valley?” he said. “Not much, but I was hoping it’d add something to the military archaeology files.”
“Thanks, yes,” said Andy. “It might fill in a gap or two. And I saw you shot a passenger pigeon.”
“Not me; the Rangers were shooting them by the dozens. It was hard to resist yelling out ‘You idiots; they’ll be extinct in another few decades’ but one really shouldn’t. Anyhow, I took one and did a bit of evisceration. My pack was still unbelievably foul by the time I got home. But I think there’s hope; it’s off to be processed, anyway.”
“We haven’t even had the RFP for that one yet, but I guess we’ll have a leg up on the competition when it comes. Good job. Anything else?” Since you didn’t need to come in here to tell me that.
“I can’t do that jump to California. They’re replacing me.”
As Rinaldo had schemed to get himself onto the earthquake jump to begin with, this didn’t bother Andy greatly, but he asked “Why?” nevertheless.
“I’m off in two days to teach Russians how not to get killed on battlefields. George and I. Not sure for how long.”
“George is an expert on the topic too?”
“Well, he hasn’t been killed so far. I suppose that makes him an expert. Not so much with the battlefields, though.” Rinaldo hesitated. “He’s going for another reason.”
“One of those reasons you can’t tell me about, right?” Europe was pretty much off limits these days for jumps. George had been to Russia before for consultations, though. Memorably, from some of the hints he’d dropped over drinks afterwards: a Siberian resort and a woman named Natasha. I don’t suppose… no. One of Charles’s secret missions, most likely. None of the business of the Coordinator for Scientific Projects.
Three waves of jealousy crashed together: George and Rinaldo, in cahoots with Charles; George and Rinaldo, off on more adventures; George and Rinaldo, inseparable friends. The last rankled more than it should have, and unfairly; after all, Andy had lost George’s friendship through his own rash, thoughtless action. I don’t think our brains had much to do with it, Olivia had said afterwards. Damn right.
“Sorry,” said Rinaldo. “I wish…”
“It’s not important. Thanks for letting me know.” Andy added, half-reluctantly, “You would have been good on the jump.”
“Thanks.” Their eyes met for an uncomfortable second, then Rinaldo broke the silence. “The passenger pigeons. I know the numbers were already diminishing, but it was amazing. I hadn’t believed about birds darkening the sky. Not that the Rangers weren’t good with shotguns, but it didn’t take any skill to bring these down, just blasting away at random. I felt for them. The birds, I mean.” He paused. “Did you ever see any?”
Andy nodded. “Once. Impressive.”
“Missouri. Early nineteenth. One of the few jumps I did with George.”
“You’ll have to tell me about it sometime.” There was a pause. “Apparently the flights used to go on for hours. The things we get to see—”
“You. Not we.” The words found their own way out, without consulting his brain or his tongue. Rinaldo was now looking sorry for him, but to his credit he didn’t commiserate.
“Impressive that we killed them all off, too,” he said. This was a different we, one in which Andy couldn’t help being included, whether or not his ancestors had ever pointed shotguns at those shadowy avian masses.
“Who are you killing now?” said another voice from the hallway, and Beatrice popped her head in the door. “Men, always boasting. Sorry to barge in,” she added to Andy, then turned to Rinaldo. “Dear, could you do me a favor? George is out of the office till four—remember, he was meeting with Oli—” She cut herself short. “Well, anyway, I have to leave before then—”
“You want me to give him a message?” said Rinaldo.
“Yes. Could you just tell him”—Andy might have imagined the tiny pause and sidelong glance—“that she’s a member of the Presidential Guard. He’ll know who I mean.”
“Sure, but couldn’t you page him?”
“No secure channel.” They both looked at her in surprise; she ducked her head and smiled. “Habit, I suppose. But it’s just as easy to tell him in person, isn’t it?”
“I’d be happy to,” Rinaldo said. One more flicker of Beatrice’s eyes in Andy’s direction, and she was gone.
“So what was that about, I wonder?” Rinaldo mused.
“You don’t know?”
“It’s not anything he’s mentioned to me.”
“Is he girl-chasing again?” Andy asked, unable to keep an edge of bitterness from his voice.
“If so,” Rinaldo answered, “it’s a girl with combat training and hair-trigger reflexes, and I don’t think that’d be good for George right now. But I sincerely doubt it. Don’t you?”
Andy’s resentment had got the better of him. “And what, is he taking more sick leave? Time off for mental health? Or is he practicing his Russian pick-up lines?”
“He’s nabbing passenger pigeons,” snapped Rinaldo. “Give it a break, why don’t you? I’m tired of the both of you. And I’ve got things to get done before we leave, so excuse me.” In the hall, he turned back and announced, “I never cease to be intrigued by your curiosity about a man in whose affairs you claim to no longer have any interest.”
Fuck off, thought Andy after him, a silent and unsatisfying rejoinder. He’d harbored a sadistic hope that Rinaldo’s new coziness with George had meant a transfer of his unwelcome affections. But the first time he’d hinted at this in Rinaldo’s presence he’d been informed (dryly and at length) that, actually, there was nothing in the code of homosexuality that prevented unqualified friendship with other males—with an aside referring to the statistical paucity of males sharing Rinaldo’s inclinations, a legacy of twenty-first-century politico-religious epigenetic interference—any more than (spoken with meaning) it was impossible for men and women to be friends without the complexities of sex getting in the way, and that in any case Rinaldo preferred better-looking and darker-complexioned men with scientific interests, sorry.
So… where was George, anyway? Beatrice had blurted something beginning like “Olivia,” but that was impossible. Something to do with her, though; Andy knew that much by instinct. And what had Rinaldo meant by the crack about passenger pigeons? He ran through the imagined scene in his head: the darkening skies, the blast of shotguns, the rain of bodies, the fires lit and the smell of roasting birdflesh. Rinaldo sneaking up to the pile of corpses… perhaps he hadn’t had to sneak; perhaps he’d been handed his share and had chosen not to cook and eat it, or had at least preserved enough that the DNA would still be viable.
DNA? George is after genetic material?
Andy dismissed cloning or offspring. George probably had black market contacts who could get those things done, but no patience for such long-term goals and almost certainly no interest in them. Which left identification of remains—and that made no sense—or something to do with jumping. Jumpers were identified by genetic signature, and the information stored in the time machines they used. Olivia had outlined to him her theory on linked DNA and looped breaches, and how her previous jump with Bernard had allowed her to enter the alternate version of history he’d created by causing a time breach in the late 1620s.
The DNA link had only worked because she’d used Tim, however. Had she used any of the other machines scattered across the world, she would have ended up in a Bernard-free time stream. George couldn’t use Tim to get to Olivia, therefore… was he trying to simulate the conditions that allowed that sort of jump? From Russia? This assumed that Brant and Olivia were in a time breach; there was no evidence of that, but then there was no evidence of anything as far as Andy had heard.
Damn. Frustration was eating at him again, gnawing at his bones. His brief liaison with Olivia had not left him wasting with romantic despair, or indeed with any desire to continue along the same lines—he wouldn’t have minded going to bed with her again, but he wasn’t interested in anything permanent—though it did seem to have triggered some protective instinct. He didn’t want her to be hurt. Bernard had hurt her; George had hurt her; Brant was probably hurting her now, for whatever value of “now” had any meaning. She needed help, and while he should have been pleased that anyone was trying to help her, he had to admit he wished it wasn’t George. And if it had to be George—who would play Olivia’s true knight and shining rescuer to the hilt, given the chance—he wished that someone would at least consider letting him in on the secrets of the chase, letting him do something. After all, didn’t he have some claim on her? Some sort of rank or precedence?
Not a very modern attitude. Have you been mixing with the wrong sort of people, perhaps?
“Oh, shut up,” he muttered to himself, and tried to think logically. Where would George go to get something with Olivia’s genetic signature? Not the TTI. Presumably she’d left nothing that personal in the office, or George wouldn’t be looking elsewhere. Her house was the simplest answer. Though George “meeting with Olivia’s house” made no sense, and what did all this have to do with that woman in the Presidential Guard?
Don’t think. Go.
Without stopping to wonder why, he went.
* * * * *
He took the transit tube to the station closest to Olivia’s neighborhood. There’d been a bombing here last year, at the height of the terror campaign launched by the American branch of the Arcadians. Their racist goals had been absurd in a country where nearly everyone’s ancestry was mixed and color—except in the profession of time-jumping—had ceased to matter, and by now they’d mostly been arrested, or had slunk to communal hideaways in the less-habitable regions of the nation. But Andy still tried to walk through Bethesda West with his head high to show them they hadn’t won.
Exiting the station, he oriented himself; he’d driven Olivia home before but the pedestrian approach was new to him. He headed north. The streets were pleasantly uncrowded at this time of day.
After a few blocks he turned, knowing he was close to his goal. He passed occasional fellow walkers: an athletic young woman who flashed a smile at him; a middle-aged man who shot him a keen glance; on Olivia’s block, an older couple helping along an even more elderly woman, who kept up a running monologue in a deep, strident voice about how cold it was—it wasn’t, for February—and why the public transportation system of the nation’s capital was so inferior to that at home in Minnesota. As he passed she gave him the same appreciative glance he’d just received from the jogger sixty years her junior, and added in loud and confidential tones, “There are compensations.”
The man grimaced ruefully and urged the old lady on. Andy took a few steps and then paused. Odd thing, the family resemblance… “Excuse me,” he said, turning. Yes, the echoes were there in the younger woman’s face, but the wrinkly countenance of the grandmother was where he’d spotted them first. “You’re Olivia’s family, aren’t you? Dr. Lake, and…?”
“I’m Robert Lake, yes,” said the man. “Do you know my daughter?”
“I work with her. Andy Bishop,” he said, shaking hands.
“Then you’re acquainted with George,” said Olivia’s mother, after introducing herself as Sylvia Montez. “We’ve just left him, at the house. Tell me, is he always that nervous?”
Meeting with Olivia’s family. Of course: he’d need them to get him into the house. “Only when he has something to be nervous about,” he answered. “I suspect these circumstances qualify.”
Sylvia laughed, sounding unamused. “He babbled out twice as much as anyone’s told us so far about Olivia’s disappearance, and we still know next to nothing. What’s this about a handkerchief?”
Andy considered playing dumb, but relented. These were Olivia’s parents, after all. “All I know is she went to Vienna to retrieve a handkerchief with Bernard’s blood on it. I don’t know why”—hm. Passenger pigeons again?—“and I don’t know who from, except that his name is Kaufmann and we had a contract with him about tulips. I’m sorry,” he went on as Sylvia frowned at him. “I don’t get told very much. I’m just here to give George a message, actually, and I should—”
“I’d much rather you stayed and talked to me,” said Olivia’s grandmother, leering at Andy.
“Mother, please! She’s not having a good afternoon,” Sylvia told him apologetically. “We shouldn’t have brought her today, but she wanted to see Livvy’s house, and she seemed fine—”
“I wanted to see what that George was up to, and you wouldn’t let me. If we have to be in this godforsaken bit of the country at all, and I don’t see why—”
“Mother, you asked to come along—”
“You could have picked a nicer hotel, then. If we have to be here, why can’t we do something, instead of being meek to all those blowhards who say they’re doing their best, when you know they’re not, and letting people into houses to do God knows what, probably root through Livvy’s underwear. Has he seduced her yet?”
This was directed to Andy, who’d begun to have a sneaking sympathy for Grandma’s viewpoint. “Not to my knowledge,” he answered obliquely. “But it hardly seems a proper subject to discuss with a lady to whom I have not been introduced,” he added in an imitation of George at his most eighteenth-century, wondering if he should bow.
“You can call me Dezzie,” said the old woman. “I don’t tell anyone what it’s short for.”
“Not Desiree. Slutty name.”
“Mother, please! She’s very tired, I think,” Sylvia told her husband.
“Would you like to sit down?” Andy asked them. “There’s a coffee shop at the corner. It’s warm there.”
“That sounds lovely,” said Dezzie firmly. Within a few minutes they were settled indoors in stifling heat with cups of hot coffee warming their fingers, and she looked comfortable again. “We came here with Bernard once,” she said. “The cookies tasted like sausages. And I remember that moose on the wall. I never liked him.”
Andy was about to ask whether she meant Bernard or the moose when Olivia’s father spoke up. “So what are George’s intentions?” he said. “That is, I don’t mean with regard to Olivia… well, I do, but…”
“What my husband is trying to say,” broke in Sylvia, “is that we’ve trusted this man with access to our daughter’s house for no other reason than desperation. He only told us that he had to retrieve something, and that it may help him find her. But no hint as to what that something is, nor why he is the person charged with discovering her whereabouts. Though it was clear enough from the odd conversation we had, and from our own observations, that no official body is putting much effort into the pursuit. George looked ready to do that, at least.”
“I’m sure he is,” said Andy. He hesitated, then added, “He feels strongly about her.”
“These office romances never work out,” Sylvia said in definite tones. “Though I suppose yours is a rather unusual office.”
“Probably. I wouldn’t know; I only did archaeological field work before Constantine and Associates hired me.”
“You’re an archaeologist?” asked Robert. “How interesting, especially from the time travel perspective. I’ve often wondered… I did some study of forensic anthropology myself, and—”
“All we need is another family member in that business,” said Sylvia. “Thank goodness you’re too old to start jumping.”
“There’s another company with a subspecialty in that field,” Andy told Robert. “Though a lot of what they do is direct investigation of what diseases historical celebrities suffered from and died of—why was George the Third mad and so forth—but when they can’t get to the people they sometimes go for bones instead. Which is what I do mostly, too. Or used to; now I’m—”
“You can jump my bones any time,” contributed Dezzie.
This was, Andy decided, a very bad moment to tell her how much she resembled her granddaughter, and he couldn’t think what else to say. Sylvia murmured, “Oh, dear God,” and, blushing, took her mother by the arm and hauled her off to the restroom, and he and Robert were left alone. Andy took a hurried sip of his coffee; it was still too hot to gulp.
“I should be going anyway,” he said. “I don’t want to miss George.”
“Please don’t mind my mother-in-law.”
“I don’t. I’m… Sorry, I’ve never found a self-effacing way of saying ‘I’m used to it.’”
“An experience extending over many nations and three separate continents?” Robert said with a twist of his mouth.
“Something like that. Several centuries, as well.”
“How pleasant for you.” The gentleness and whimsy that formed the most attractive part of Olivia came from her father, Andy thought, though she didn’t look much like him.
“Not… entirely,” he replied. “Not good for the jumping career.”
“I’ve been wondering whether the jumping career is good for you. For anyone. It doesn’t seem that way, from my viewpoint. First Bernard, and now Olivia.”
“Bernard went of his own accord. Olivia was kidnapped.” Andy paused. “I suppose it isn’t different, really. But the threat seems to come out of the present day, not the past.”
“Are you so sure about that? The temptations of the past… What I suppose I mean is, should we care why George the Third was mad? Well”—he tilted his head to one side, consideringly—“it was fascinating to read about in JAMA. I suppose time travel has solved all sorts of mysteries, and perhaps it’s even improved our world.”
“We’re going to have manatees again. And passenger pigeons.” A vast flock of blubbery gray mermaids swam across the sky in Andy’s imagination, and he put the coffee down abruptly.
“But is it worth… well, I don’t know all the effects it’s had,” Robert went on. “Making other Georges mad, for one thing. I must say your colleague’s not hiding his anxiety well. Actually, I found that refreshing. I felt calm by comparison.”
“It must be difficult for you.” Inane. But what does one say?
“She took up the profession so suddenly. Because of Bernard, we gather. I’m glad she was able to tie up those loose ends, but again it doesn’t seem worth it.”
“Olivia’s very good at her job. As far as I’ve been able to observe.” Andy hesitated, then added: “I’ve gotten to know her pretty well. I miss her. I’d like to help, if I can.”
“We all miss her. Dezzie, in particular. She loved—” Robert’s voice went rough as he corrected himself. “Loves Olivia, quite a lot. Unfortunately she never knew how to express it other than unwanted gifts and high-handed advice, and now the stress… I am sorry…”
“Actually, propositioning complete strangers much my junior is my favorite method of dealing with stress as well.”
Robert smiled. “She was always far too concerned about other people’s sex lives. Like many of her generation, I suppose. Now she seems to have turned it on its head: perhaps not surprising. I don’t think I’ll go that way, in my time; my preoccupations are different ones.” He gave Andy a curiously intent look. “I just want my daughter to be safe. And happy.”
“That’s what I want as well.” The restroom door opened, and Olivia’s mother and grandmother came out.
Dezzie, who looked as though she’d been crying, walked to Andy straight-backed, prim and imperial, and held out her hand. He rose and shook it. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bishop,” she said. “I know you and Mr. Merrill will do your best to find Livvy.”
“Your compassion and attention are much appreciated. Much. Oh,” she added in the same cultured tones, tightening her grip, “and when you find her, give that awful man who took her hell. Shoot him in the kneecaps or stab him in the belly.” Sylvia looked concerned again and ready to break in, but Andy waved her away.
“Whatever I can do,” he said.
“Please get in touch if you find out anything,” said Sylvia. He nodded, and bent over Dezzie’s hand gallantly as Sylvia added, “We’re at the Heritage Hotel on Sonoma Road.”
Dezzie winked. “Lumpy mattress,” she muttered. “Not that it should put you off.” She coughed and added: “I expect you know someone who could be consulted. High up in government. Who could throw that man in jail for the rest of his life. On moldy bread and dirty water.”
“Mother—” began Sylvia.
“Why shouldn’t he talk to them? Livvy deserves it. Don’t be shy.”
“Me, shy? God forbid. But there are the proper channels to be followed, not to mention prisoner treatment protocols.” She smiled. “But Mr. Bishop, if you do…”
“I’m afraid I don’t know anyone important, but I’ll do my best.” He became suddenly conscious of the time. George might have left the house already. “Please finish your drinks, but I had better be going. It was wonderful to meet you.” He waved at them as he left, and then set off at a fast pace to cover the rest of the distance.
The house awaited him, patient and tidy on its quiet cul-de-sac. He rang the bell, and in a minute George opened the door, brandishing a hairbrush and looking disgruntled. He motioned Andy in, then peered up and down the street. “It’s all right,” Andy said, amused despite himself. “I didn’t bring Dezzie back with me.”
Blank stare, dawning comprehension: “Oh. You mean you…” Andy nodded. “No, that wasn’t what I…”
“What then?” asked Andy, not hoping for a response.
“Did you see anyone else on the street?”
“On this street? A couple of people. Why? Is someone following you?”
“I don’t know. It’s paranoia, probably.” George seemed to shake himself out of a dream state, and his eyes focused more clearly on Andy’s face. “Actually, it seems I am being followed. May I ask what the hell you’re doing here?”