A Long, Long Time Ago by jespah
Summary:

Someone was going around in time, putting things right that once went wrong.

And while it seemed like it could be a good idea, it wasn’t.

For every time one thing was changed, a thousand others were. And inevitably, things were worse than before. And the do-gooder’s definition of right and wrong wasn’t the best of standards. A Long, Long Time Ago

This kind of meddling threatened space and time, yet the meddlers – who thought these were good deeds – weren’t stopping.

It was up to Rick to put back the original history, whatever it was.


Categories: Expanded Universes, Enterprise, Mirror Universe Characters: Cavendish, Levi, D'Angelo, Otra, Daniels, Sato, Hoshi
Genre: None
Warnings: Adult Situations
Challenges: None
Series: Times of the HG Wells
Chapters: 22 Completed: Yes Word count: 31988 Read: 53323 Published: 04 Mar 2012 Updated: 25 Mar 2012

1. Chapter 1 by jespah

2. Chapter 2 by jespah

3. Chapter 3 by jespah

4. Chapter 4 by jespah

5. Chapter 5 by jespah

6. Chapter 6 by jespah

7. Chapter 7 by jespah

8. Chapter 8 by jespah

9. Chapter 9 by jespah

10. Chapter 10 by jespah

11. Chapter 11 by jespah

12. Chapter 12 by jespah

13. Chapter 13 by jespah

14. Chapter 14 by jespah

15. Chapter 15 by jespah

16. Chapter 16 by jespah

17. Chapter 17 by jespah

18. Chapter 18 by jespah

19. Chapter 19 by jespah

20. Chapter 20 by jespah

21. Chapter 21 by jespah

22. Chapter 22 by jespah

Chapter 1 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Don McLean – American Pie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAsV5-Hv-7U

A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
how that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
and, maybe, they'd be happy for a while.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



She was a great piece.

Whenever Rick Daniels thought about Tina April, his mind usually went straight there. He was immensely gifted, and could think of all sorts of things at once. Nearly constantly multitasking, he was. But when he thought of Tina, it was nearly always in that particular context.

Not that there weren't other contexts. They had been seeing each other, on and off, for a good four months. And they did more than burn up the sheets – they would go to dinner, or sometimes on vacation. Their conversations were pleasant and fairly high brow – she was a schoolteacher, after all. They would be about history, or art, or literature, or science, or politics. Or it was about her charges, a bunch of overly precocious seven- and eight-year-olds.

But their conversations were virtually never about his life, and his work, and he liked it that way. When the topic veered too closely for his tastes, he would stealthily steer it elsewhere, and soon they were back to talking about the old Pre-Warp days or some such.

That was good, as so much of his life, and his work, was restricted and classified that he couldn't say anything anyway. It was also better, for he really didn't want to say anything. Sharing his personal feelings and desires was absolutely foreign to his nature – it was as if it had been almost bred out of him.

He didn't love her – he didn't love any of them – but she was good company and she was his sister's friend and so he had continued on, longer than he knew he should have, deeper into 3109, and into the summer, and her bikini distracted him even more.

Plus, she was a great piece.

=/=



Admiral Carmen Calavicci stared out the window of her office at the Temporal Integrity Commission, gazing back at the Milky Way from beyond the galactic barrier. She was a little older than Rick – 42 to his 40 – and she was his boss. Money had been abolished long ago, but resources, alas, had never become infinite. Governments still had to allocate, if not financial budgets, then at least a budget based on time – labor hours, that is.

There was finally a chime, and she checked her PADD. Excellent! Five more full-time equivalents had been approved, just as she had requested.

Their work was stealthy and shadowy. Time travel was more than possible – hell, it was almost easy – and that's how things could get, as her Chief Engineer, Kevin O'Connor would say, "a little caca."

All right – more than a little. There were strict rules for time travel. You needed to file with the Commission. You needed to show scientific, historic or cultural need. You needed to follow protocols and a list of regulations longer than most sentient beings' arms.

But not everyone did so, or they would mess up, and they didn't mean it, but oops! Suddenly the Berlin Wall would be up an extra decade or the Eugenics Wars would start differently or whatever.

Rick's job was to protect and restore human timelines, but there were more and more of these expeditions being mounted all the time and, hence, more and more opportunities for error. Rick was being run ragged. She needed more bodies to throw at the problem.

Her current staff consisted of five people, including herself. There was Rick, the Senior Temporal Agent. Kevin was the Chief Engineer, dividing his time between her unit and others in the Temporal Integrity Commission. She had known them the longest. And then there were Otra, and Levi Cavendish. Otra – a Witannen-Human cross – was an expert at understanding temporal alternatives. Sure there were computers for that, but Otra really understood it all, as more than just trend lines and pie charts. She was such a natural that the units were even named for her. Otric nodes were changes in a timeline that had little to no meaning, such as wearing a blue shirt instead of a green one. Pariotric nodes were bigger, and had meaning. Deciding who to marry would usually turn out to be a pariotric node, although a string of interconnected otric nodes could suddenly become important – go pari – if the combination suddenly turned important to the timeline. And then there were megaotric nodes, far too big for anyone to change. The Big Bang, of course, was the ultimate megaotric node, but so were things like the evolution of the feather and the fall of the Roman Empire. As to where the lines separating otric, pariotric and megaotric were, well, even Otra herself was unsure of that.

And then there was her last staffer – the man who'd made Otra eponymous. Levi Cavendish was another part-time engineer, but his designs were rapidly becoming obsolete. He'd kept up, but not too well, with the latest advances in propulsions – both temporal and spatial – but his ideas no longer seemed terribly fresh. He was falling behind, and he knew it. He also lacked social graces, as did Kevin. But in Kevin it was forgivable, as he was recently widowed and his late wife had been his only truly civilizing influence. But in Cavendish, it was getting to be just plain annoying.

=/=



At the moment, he was concentrating on her – or, at least, as much as his constantly multitasking brain would allow. Afterglow was turning into foreplay, and he had successfully averted her attempt to, again, suggest that maybe he should meet her Dad, when there was a communications chime.

He jerked his head slightly, and she had known him long enough to know that that meant that he had a call. Otherwise, there was no way for her to know, as his tiny communicator was implanted just behind his left ear, barely visible and resembling a tiny birthmark for those who didn't know it was there. The first time she'd seen him answer it, he'd failed to explain things and, to her, he'd briefly appeared to be delusional.

"Yeah, Carmen,” he said, “Now?"

Tina April rolled her eyes, broke away from him, got up, and began to look around for her clothes. Not again.

"Yeah, okay. Thanks. Daniels out,” he tapped just behind his left ear, once, to end the call. He noticed her getting dressed, “Yeah, Tee, I'm sorry,” he said, “Company business."

"Any chance you'll tell me what it is?"

"You know I can't do that."

"Do you tell Eleanor?"

"Huh, no," although he did tell his sister more than he told Tina. But Eleanor Daniels didn't get too many details out of him, either.

Tina threw him his briefs. He caught them but didn't put them on immediately. Instead, holding them in one hand, he got up and put his other hand on her waist, “I'll make it up to you,” he said, kissing her neck, “Wanna go skiing on Charon?"

She pushed him away, “I don't think so."

"What?"

"Richard, I'm losing patience with this."

"Oh."

"When people see each other as long as we have, well, they share a few things."

"C'mon, it hasn't been exclusive,” he said, putting his briefs on. He began to hunt around for his other clothes. Not only did he have to get to the Commission, he could also tell that things weren't going well. It was becoming highly likely that he wouldn't have to dodge meeting her father anymore.

"Maybe so,” she admitted, “Still, I don't even know your job title."

"I'm the janitor,” he said, “I clean up things,” That part was actually almost true. But it was time he cleaned up, not spills.

"Very funny,” she complained, “You've got an implanted communicator. You're quiet about what you do – and don't think I haven't noticed when you've oh so artfully changed the subject whenever I've asked you anything. I know more about what you think of Plato's Republic than I do about what you'll do or where you'll go when you leave this apartment."

"I can't tell you."

"Can't or won't?"

It was a bit of both, but he was gracious enough not to admit as such, “Can't,” he said, kissing her.

"Is it Section 31?"

"Ha, no."

"You sure?"

"I know where I work, Tee."

"I suppose if you were involved with Section 31 you wouldn't tell me, anyway. I mean, I don't even know if I should be worried."

"It's just a meeting. Nothing to worry about, I should be done in a few hours or so."

"Dinner?"

"Sure."

=/=



But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn't take one more step.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 2 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Brook Benton - It's Just a Matter of Time (1959)

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride,
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



There were six chairs in the little conference area for the five of them on the team and Dr. Boris Yarin. He wasn’t their full-time doctor – they shared him with other teams. But his expertise would help on that day.

Yarin arrived first and sat across from Carmen. He was part Klingon but also slight – there was something deep in his genome that was downsizing him.

Otra and Cavendish came in next. Otra was humanoid. About the only thing that betrayed her as being only half-Witannen was the absence of that species’ small vestigial wings – which could make pure Witannen resemble a humanoid version of diving auks. But she did have the other major identifying characteristic of a Witannen – chavecoi, or flower-like appendages in lieu of hair. Chavecoi moved independently of the rest of a Witannen, and seeing them in action could be a tad unnerving to the uninitiated.

Cavendish, on the other hand, was wholly human, but he had his own issues. While he was a genius, he also had numerous personality issues, including multi-spectrum Asperger’s and what used to be called Adult ADHD. If it had been five hundred years previously, he’d have been fitted with an electrical stimulator to his brain. If it had been a thousand years previously, he’d have been medicated into a stupor. If it had been two thousand years previous, he’d have been shunned. At twenty-five hundred years before the present time, he’d have been burned at the stake as a witch. A thousand years before that, he’d have been sacrificed to the gods. And a good four thousand years before even that, he’d have been hailed as a prophet.

But it was 3109, so instead he was studied and carefully tended, his genius respected and his quirks protected by law, so long as he posed no threat to himself or others. His brain was like a messy garden – it was fertile but off-putting.

His quirks had stopped being endearing a long time ago, to everyone, except, possibly, Otra, who was as gracious as Levi was rude, and a model of patience as he drummed his fingers on any available flat surface or bounced a leg.

Then Kevin arrived. He was mostly human, but with some Gorn deep in his ancestry, which made him huge and an unrepentant carnivore. He was also the most sentimental of all of them – a rare quality in someone who shared an appreciable minority of his genes with reptiles. But his sentimentality was, perhaps, wholly understandable, as his wife had died less than a year ago. Josie had been an exceptionally forgiving person, and had been sick for the better part of a decade. He had thrown himself into his work and rarely ever went home. There was little reason to frequent an empty house on Andoria.

Finally, Rick showed. He was almost as fully human as Cavendish, but a copper band on his left arm, next to a silver one, gave away a bit of Calafan parentage, from both sides of the pond. That is to say, he had ancestors from both this universe and its imperfect mirror, which had a twenty-centimeter radiation band to our twenty-one. From Earth? Yes. From Terra? Yes, that, too.

Carmen began, “I’ve got an allocation for five new FTEs. Boris, you’re here because I’m looking to add a time traveling psychologist and a physician.”

“Ah,” Yarin said, “Someone who knows medical history would be good, as they could end up having to run an x-ray machine or even apply leeches to a patient’s forehead. A pure human or close enough, of course, would be preferred.”

“Exactly. For the psychologist, I have what I think is a good but very different kind of a candidate,” Carmen said, “There’s a regular entertainment program – mostly just audio. This woman takes calls and works on the callers’ problems. She’s also the advisor to the stars – regularly heads to Hollywood and to sports camps, to work on everything from stage fright to a batting slump.”

Ask Polly, right?” Otra asked.

“Yep,” Carmen said.

“I fail to see why we need a psychologist,” Levi said.

“Well, we might need someone who can be convincing,” Otra pointed out.

“Logic would dictate, well, it would dictate only the most logical of choices,” he replied.

“True,” Carmen said, making every effort not to roll her eyes, “But most humans aren’t quite so binary in their thinking.”

“Well, they should be,” Levi countered.

Should and will are very different concepts,” Kevin said, “I should lose weight. But will I? Eh, probably not, unless I make some pretty radical lifestyle adjustments.”

“I’ll take you to the gym,” Rick offered, as Kevin took another danish.

“Focus, people!” Carmen commanded, “The convincing piece is a part of why I want Polly Porter. I also want her because she can broker compromises as well as any diplomat, and can do so without becoming starstruck. We all know about the Lafayette incident.”

As, yes, Rick recalled. That had been a purely accidental problem. A historical observational expedition studying the French and Indian War had inadvertently caused a later rift between George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. With no Lafayette – oops! – The revolting colonies had no French support and 1776 was for naught. No United States of America, and all that that had entailed – gone in a flash. The ripple effects had been huge. And it all could’ve been prevented if someone had just sat the two men down together and smoothed a few ruffled feathers.

“Would she do it?” Rick asked.

“Possibly,” Carmen said.

“She seems to be getting bored with her show,” Otra said, “A new challenge could be just what she’s looking for.”

“What about the physician?” Kevin asked.

“We’re back to someone who should know about leeches,” Levi shuddered.

“At least I won’t need such services,” Rick said.

“Yes, stem cell growth accelerator. A great invention,” Otra said, “You’re practically indestructible.”

“He can still be decapitated,” Levi said, “Or a fast-moving virus could get him – but it would have to be something really devastating, like Marburg or Ebola.”

There were assorted danish on the table and Kevin had been about ready to take a third when he thought better of that, “Uh, Boris here isn’t out of a job just yet.”

“Not yet,” Yarin replied, “I can check my connections. I take it you want someone young.”

“Yes, and they need to be at least a good 75% human,” Carmen stated, “Anyone traveling to Pre-Warp Earth or Terra has got to be able to readily blend in. No offense, Otra.”

“None taken.”

“Uh, Yarin, if you want to go, feel free,” Carmen said, “The other three FTEs will need to be different.”

“All right,” he said, and departed, after grabbing a blueberry danish.

“Now, I am open to suggestions,” Carmen said, “Rick, what have you needed?”

“Huh,” he thought for a moment, “Someone who knows old-fashioned computer systems could be of use. A military guy, as well.”

“What about someone with more of an understanding of the rural life?” Kevin asked, “I mean, you go far enough Pre-Warp, and people are riding horses.”

“That might or might not have been useful for Lafayette,” Rick conceded, “But actually, a woman who knows protocols would be good. There was a State Dinner I had to go to for that. Going stag isn’t a problem for a man, but a partner could’ve helped cover a lot more ground.”

“What about someone in the arts?” Otra asked.

“Arts?” Carmen inquired.

“If you’re talking about an eighteenth century State Dinner, then someone may have been playing a harpsichord, yes?”

“So far, the only suggestion that makes any sense is to get someone who knows computers,” Levi complained.

“Are you gonna wanna do any internal hiring for the office?” Kevin asked.

“Maybe. What did you have in mind?” Carmen asked.

“Possibly someone who knows historical fashions and stuff like that – this would be an old-fashioned Quartermaster.”

“We have computers for that,” Levi said.

“True, but there could be a few things to coordinate, I am thinking. It’s not just clothing but it’s also overall style, makeup, hair, even fingernail length,” Carmen pointed out.

“Also, someone to help me out,” Kevin said, “Er, us,” he quickly added, when Levi shot him a look.

“Oh?” Carmen asked.

“There’s Deirdre Katzman. She’s been a lotta help lately. Her name is going on the dark matter temporal propulsion patent. Maybe it’s time to get her full-time and stop sharing her with the Vulcans and the Xindi.”

“Didn’t she name the time ships?” Rick asked.

“Yep. We’ve got the HG Wells, the Audrey Niffenegger, the Flux Capacitor and the Jack Finney,” Kevin ticked them off on his fingers, “She likes old time travel fiction, what can I tell ya?”

“But the Audrey’s been decommissioned,” Otra pointed out.

“There’s a new one being built, the Audrey II,” Kevin said.

“With only four ships – and only three right now – and Rick is already committed to being in the Wells, I’d say that you can’t hire five FTE travelers anyway, unless you just want to use the time portals,” Otra said.

“Hmm, and we need the ships to go to other universes like the mirror, or if we have to transport a lot of people at once. Maybe we can bring in part-timers,” Carmen conceded, “The problem with them is they’d still have to pass all background checks and follow all protocols. It’s not so easy to do if they’re also going to jobs elsewhere.”

“That would be the case with Polly Porter though, right?” Kevin asked, “I mean, she probably can’t just up and leave her own show without it being some sort of a major news story.”

“Right,” Carmen said, “Let’s do this. I’ll get in touch with Porter. As for the other openings, we’ll do some discreet digging. I’ll also see Katzman but she might just keep her current position for now. If I can get the Commission to hold onto her overall hours, I can save an FTE and use the allocation for another body. Send me your recommendations, I’ll sift through them and then we’ll see about bringing in our top candidates.”

“I still say we only need – maybe – the computers specialist,” Levi said.

“Your objection is duly noted. Dismissed,” Carmen said.

=/=



So Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "This’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die."


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 3 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Ray Anthony - Peter Gunn theme

Did you write the book of love
And do you have faith in God above,
If the Bible tells you so?
Do you believe in rock ’n roll,
Can music save your mortal soul,
And can you teach me how to dance real slow?


– Don McLean (American Pie)

It was August seventeenth. Carmen waited outside a small clear booth where a red-haired middle-aged woman was speaking, “And thank you. Next caller.”

“Yes, Polly,” There was an echoing sound.

“Caller, please turn down the volume on your PADD. Ah, there you go, thanks.”

“Yes, hi, Polly. My name, is, um, Vicki, well, that’s not my real name, and I have a problem.”

“It’s why I’m here, Vicki.”

“Yes, well, my husband, he’s, well, he doesn’t get along with my mother.”

“I see. Well, that happens sometimes.”

“Yes, but he doesn’t want me to see her at all.”

“Oh. How do you feel about this?”

“I, um, well, he knows best. The thing is my mother is dying.”

“Ah. And has he waivered at all?”

“Uh, no. He still says I can’t see her. Polly, I don’t know what to do.”

=/=



Carmen tuned the rest of the call out, only picking the thread of the conversation back up when the call veered into Polly telling the caller about how to find a local battered women’s shelter. The call ended and so did the show. Polly came out of the booth, “Uh, something I can help you with?”

“My name is Carmen Calavicci. And you’re impressive – you had that woman pegged as an abuse victim in less than five minutes.”

“It’s the isolation,” Polly said, “It’s a classic abuser’s behavior. It doesn’t always mean there’s abuse, but there were a few other clues, like her feeling that the husband always knew best. She had no feelings of self-worth. Anyway, while I appreciate the flattery, I get the feeling you’re not just a regular fan.”

“No. I – Miss Porter – how would you like to offer not just advice to the stars, but advice to some stars you currently have no chance of ever possibly meeting?”

“Say what?”

“How would you like to offer marriage counseling to, say, John and Jackie Kennedy?”

=/=



Rick, for his part, was getting a haircut, “Crystal,” he ventured, “do you know anything about historical hairstyles?”

“Sure. A few, at any rate. There are things like mullets, shags, pixie cuts, that kind of thing. Why do you ask?”

“Do you mind studying them?”

“No,” she said, “I kinda like seeing them. Sometimes they seem funny, but they do have context, yanno. Sit up straighter; otherwise the cut will be crooked. There, that’s better.”

“What about fashion? What do you know about historical fashion?”

“Well it’s the same thing, isn’t it? I mean, take the 1940s. After the Second World War ended, people didn’t have a lotta money, so it’s reflected in the fashions. They just didn’t have a lot of details. Look at the fifties – just a decade later – and it’s more youth-oriented, and then fast-forward another decade and it’s even more youth-oriented. There’s suddenly all these patterns.”

“Hmm. Would you ever consider doing something with that full time?”

=/=



“You guys are better at phaseball than I’ll ever be,” Kevin said.

“Eh, it’s all army training,” said a man with a Southern drawl.

“But it’s survivalist stuff, too,” Kevin said.

“That’s not me,” said the Southerner, “That’s him,” he indicated an older man who was losing his hair.

“Nah, Tom,” said the other man, “I just follow orders.”

“I don’t think so, Dan. Y’all could find a meal under a rock if y’all had to.”

“Uh, fellas, I’m Kevin O’Connor,” Kevin stuck out his hand.

“Tom Grant,” said the Southerner, “And this here’s Daniel Beauchaine.”

“Dan, please,” he said.

“Whaddaya think of doing this somewhere, uh, where it’s really wild?”

“This is pretty wild,” Tom said, “Eris isn’t exactly populated.”

“I mean with a real bow and arrows. Or an actual gun with old-fashioned lead shot.”

=/=



“How long have you been a hacker?” Otra asked a woman who was staring at a very old screen. The woman started typing.

“Huh? Oh, uh, I dunno if that’s the right word for it. Huh, look, this old drive has family photos on it. Gotta wonder who this kid is, uh, was. That kid’s dead a few hundred years and her descendants have been dead for a while as well. Cute, eh?”

“Yes,” Otra looked around, “Do you come to these conventions every year?”

“Not necessarily. I like getting outta the house every now and then. This one had a good speaker for the topic on the rise and fall of Apple.”

“Does that interest you?”

“Somewhat. Historical computing isn’t exactly a burgeoning field. But families, they find things like the drive I’ve got right in front of me, and they wanna know just what their ancestors said and did, and looked like. ‘Course half the time I find porn. And you are?”

“My name is Otra.”

“Otra. I’ve heard of you.”

“Yes. It’s strange to have had a unit of measurement named after one. And you are?”

“Sheilagh Bernstein. You got an interest in old computers all of a sudden?”

“Not me. But there is a definite interest. If we can talk somewhere more private, well, let’s just say, how do you feel about a place where all of the computers would be ancient ones?”

“Oh?”

=/=



“And what can you tell me about the eradication of smallpox? Uh, Simons?” asked an attractive brunette, a professor at the Dione Medical School.

“Well, it was thought to be wholly eradicated, but in the 2150s, a variation was weaponized and used against the USS Enterprise,” replied a student.

“Yes, and what was the name of the cure? Anyone?”

“The RVV, or Reed Variant Vaccinia, Professor Walker,” said another student.

=/=



Similar scenes played out, over the course of a week or so. Carmen had but two requirements – the candidate had to be 75% human or more, and had to be eligible for the highest level of security. After that, they were free to select whatever they wanted in potential hires, and then she would whittle down the choices herself. She finally put on the brakes when there were twenty decent, viable candidates. She was pleased, particularly as Grant was even already at mid-level security.

Carmen decided on a group interview, for the twenty-fifth. Rick and Levi would be exempt from all but the end of it. Coordinates were given out, but not to the actual Temporal Integrity Commission. The coordinates, instead, were for a way station on Tellar. From there, the candidates would be transported to a second way station and then a third. These stops were meant to test resolve and cooperation. Ingenuity was also tested – could they figure out where they were? Patience was also being tested, as she didn’t want another Levi on her hands, if she could help that.

And then, once four way stations had been traveled through, the candidates would finally arrive at the Temporal Integrity Commission.

=/=



Well, I know that you’re in love with him
`cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.
You both kicked off your shoes.
Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 4 by jespah
Author's Notes:

The Coasters - Charlie Brown

I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



The Commission wasn’t in a building or on a planet at all. It was actually located on a ship, but the ship’s location, of course, was classified. It could, and did, travel, but the ship usually remained just outside of the Milky Way galactic barrier, blending effortlessly with other vigilant ships, protecting the Milky Way from potential invaders from Andromeda and Triangulum and elsewhere.

The ship’s name was designed to not betray its purpose. In a fit of whimsy, it had been dubbed the USS Adrenaline.

Carmen’s plan was to interview the group and the individuals. Any quick rejections would simply be beamed back. They didn’t wipe memories or anything, but there was little for anyone to commit to memory at such an early stage in the proceedings.

Anyone going to the second round was supposed to meet with Otra. For her part, all was going pretty well. When one candidate pronounced her name as if it were the Spanish word for other, Otra gently corrected – “no, it’s pronounced like Sinatra, but without the sin,” That worked, and broke the ice.

But it was for the next round, when Kevin was in charge, that he heard two of the male candidates snickering about her, and referring to her as a salad head. Two more out.

A break was taken, and Kevin ended up taking some questions. Candidates filed in and out of the room. He was tired and the change didn’t register with him immediately. It was so subtle, but something was off, like, well, Kevin didn’t know what. But it was off. He had enough of a presence of mind to alert Carmen, but she couldn’t see it. Otra was similarly puzzled. Then they thought a bit. It took a while, but they finally spotted it. There was a Mexican woman – Marisol – and she’d had on a fuchsia scarf. And now the scarf was purple.

=/=



Time was represented by a master file, deeply and – allegedly – perfectly encrypted. The encryption algorithm changed by the hour. You’d have to know Klingon, higher mathematics, Welsh and the timing of the seemingly random neutron pulses emitted by the Andorians’ home sun in order to even have a prayer of breaking it – and then you’d only have an hour to crack it, for the encryption would change again, and you’d suddenly need to know Egyptian hieroglyphics, the rainfall totals for the biggest city on Vulcan during the 27th century and the names of all of the American First Ladies in order to break the new code. And, once an hour had elapsed, you’d need to know formal (not conversational) Witannen, the names of everyone serving on the USS Arizona at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and some other painfully obscure bit of arcana. And on and on.

Its integrity was further protected by a temporal force field, but that had only been invented in the 2900s. If enough from before that were changed, one could, theoretically, break the force field by causing it to never be invented in the first place. The Temporal Integrity Commission had put its own thumb on its own scale by assuring that, in several different scenarios, the field would still be invented and put it into place, although generally earlier or later than in the original history.

The Commission itself was protected by a similar field, as were its employees, so most temporal irregularities did not affect it or, at least, didn’t affect it appreciably. Hence the changing of candidate Marisol Castillo’s scarf from fuchsia to purple was a cause for some concern. But at least employees like Levi and Otra and Carmen – they appeared to be safe.

=/=



Marisol denied changing her scarf, so Kevin ran out to the Control Room, as quickly as his massive bulk could take him. He ran the calculations and called in Otra. Something had been changed, and it wasn’t just a scarf.

A check of the time ships revealed that the old Audrey Niffenegger had been run, and recently.

With little to go on, Carmen had to stop the interviews and possibly scrap the entire hiring process, a thing she was loath to do. But then there was the slightest of clicks, and the power was cut to everything but Life Support. When the lights came back on, the fuchsia scarf was restored, and Marisol seemed as puzzled as they were.

“Check,” That was all that Carmen said to Kevin. She gave the psychology and medical candidates over to Yarin and returned to the other remaining candidates, “How often do you lose power?” asked one of them, a man of Indian extraction.

“Rarely.”

“But it does happen,” he persisted.

“Not too often,” she was distracted and really didn’t want to be doing damage control. When her communicator chimed, it was a huge relief.

It was Kevin, “Found it.”

“Ah, good,” she said, and then closed the connection, “It looks like that’ll be all for today. We’ll get you back, and let you know soon. Thank you,” Candidates gone, Carmen found Kevin, “Well?”

“It’s weird,” he said, “The change is Pre-Warp, twentieth century.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. And you’d think it wouldn’t do much of anything. But it does.”

“Really.”

“It also – it was a positive act, at least it was initially. Three lives were saved. Whoever did this, they were trying to do something good, I figure.”

“One of our candidates?”

“Possibly. Either acting alone or with someone already here. Not necessarily a team member, of course, although probably.”

“And they used the interviews as a cover?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Cavendish.”

“Not necessarily – Levi’s not known for his positive, helpful acts.”

“So it could be someone like Otra.”

“Maybe. My real question is whether either of them had an accomplice.”

“Katzman? Yarin? Daniels?” Carmen asked, “I’d rather it wasn’t you.”

“It ain’t me, babe,” he said, “I dunno. It’s probably not Rick, I figure. He’s a good soldier and doesn’t do these kinds of things.”

“Yes. He’s not an unselfish acts kind of a guy, either.”

“I found a note, too,” he said, “It was put on the Audrey’s hard drive via an encrypted PADD message, so it wasn’t necessarily sent by an insider. The author’s unknown, of course. This encryption will be tough to break.”

“Get on that when you can. In the meantime, these kinds of positive acts, well, they can destroy the timeline.”

“Not to mention overpopulate the Earth, or Terra, or both.”

“What, pray tell, was the good deed?” Carmen asked.

“Three musicians in 1959 died in a plane crash. Except now, they never did.”

“Why the devil would our good little Boy or Girl Scout care?”

“I don’t think they do. I think this was more of a test.”

“A test?”

“Yeah,” Kevin said, “To see if it could be done, and how long it would take for us to figure it out. Kind of to see if we’re paying attention. And how fast we can fix it.”

“How bad are the damages?”

“There are lots of them,” he said, “But Otra would know best.”

“Assuming she’s not involved, then I agree, she’s our best option.”

“And the candidates?”

“I say, we watch them all. Go ahead and hire as planned, and watch the others as well.”

“And fix this when?” Kevin asked.

“Today. We’ll send Rick, of course. Levi is a terrible liar. I think all we need to do is wait.”

=/=



I started singin’,
"Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie."
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, "This’ll be the day that I die.
"This’ll be the day that I die."


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 5 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Paul Anka - Lonely Boy

Now for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone,
But that’s not how it used to be.
When the jester sang for the king and queen,
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me,


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



There were several units, each dedicated to temporal restorations and expeditions on each of the allied home worlds. The units could and did meet in the cafeteria, and they shared certain FTEs such as physicians and engineers. It was illegal, of course, to hire based solely on species. But when going to Pre-Warp eras, it was necessary to restrict these expeditions to either native species or those who could believably pass.

Rick wasn’t fully human, but he was close enough. But someone like Otra was forbidden from traveling to Pre-Warp Earth or Terra.

So they’d see the other units at times – smiling Calafan women, bald as eggs and giggling like schoolgirls; stern Gorn keeping to themselves; Klingons arguing over opera; and workaholic Vulcans hammering out knotty problems over weak tea.

This was how Kevin knew Deirdre – they would run into each other on occasion. And Yarin, too, although he was sent over on a more regular basis. The intent was for all species to cooperate and share resources as needed. No species was meant to be superior – or inferior – to any of the others. There was peace in the galaxy, with nearly all known species. Except, naturally, for the Borg, who saw no value in cooperation and still just wanted to assimilate anyone they could. Their main concerns with the timeline were to keep their race going and take any advantage that they could, when they could. There was an entire unit dedicated to them – Carmen was glad that, unless they were directly going after humans or the Earth or Terra, she didn’t have to deal with them.

=/=



“What have we got?” Rick asked. It was just him and Carmen.

“Multiple issues.”

“Such as?”

“On February 3, 1959, three musicians are killed when their plane is improperly deiced and crashes in Clear Lake, Iowa. They are Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and Jiles Richardson, known as J. P. and, professionally, as The Big Bopper.”

“So?”

“According to Otra, this spells disaster for the timeline, as Richardson becomes an arch-conservative Senator who taxes the British Invasion. Keep in mind; this is a man who had studied pre-law. This prevents the 60s from actually happening,” Carmen explained.

“Okay, so, um, no beatniks, right?” Rick asked, “And I take it the music changes.”

“Yes. And the 1960s are hippies, not really beatniks. In the original history, when it came to popular music after their deaths – it had been stagnating, but a few events occurred not too long afterwards. A Detroit producer dreams up something called ‘The Wall of Sound’, and African-American artists start recording – and selling – a lot of music. Four young men in Liverpool, England play the clubs in places like Hamburg and begin to make and sell a staggering amount and variety of music. The Liverpudlians – we called them The Beatles – spawned all sorts of acts, not just imitators but admirers. For music as late as twenty or more years later, often a huge influence on why an artist even considered a life in music, let alone mastered the skills so as to be successful, was whether that person had seen the Beatles play on a program called ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’,” she said.

“Go on.”

“The influenced people go from Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bruce Springsteen on down to, well, to Jon Bonjovi. The Beatles aren’t just an act; they’re a phenomenon, influencing not only music but fashion, politics and even spirituality. On the Detroit side, Motown and its sound also changed whatever it touched: music, hairstyles, hemlines, etc. Both it and the Beatles also – it was inevitable – put their stamp on politics. It was a movement. These people were already a large segment. They were the Baby Boomers so they were a rather large slice of the populace. And music brought them together.”

She paused for a breath, “And they stayed together in other ways. In 1960 – and they weren’t even old enough to vote, mind you – youth fever gripped the nation. It was a wave of optimism, and it swept into the White House a rather young man with big ideas: John Kennedy. Although he would be assassinated, that voting bloc does pull in a lot of transformative legislation. In particular, it’s in the area of Civil Rights. There’s violence, including the deaths of Civil Rights workers Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney, and a reactionary political movement elects Richard Nixon twice. But the youth movement never really goes away, even after its original adherents become older than their own parents were at the outset. It elects Barack Obama. It brings with it equal rights for women and minorities. It changes the look of Congress for good, the same time it changes music and fashion houses. It is, let’s just say, a 900 pound gorilla. It does what it wants, and it influences all, even when it is silent. When the Baby Boomers passed on, most of their changes proved to be permanent. Even from the grave, seemingly, they tweaked technology and tuned the strings.”

“So what happened instead?” he asked. He was thinking ahead – he always was – and trying to figure out where the problems really were. A few changed songs hardly seemed worth getting riled up about – at least, not as much as Carmen was riled.

“In the alternative history, Senator Jiles P. Richardson, Republican of Iowa – he ends up settling there – is elected. His main legislation is that he gets a bill passed that puts a heavy tariff on the importation of music from outside the United States. As in, like I said before, he taxes the British Invasion. I have a quotation from the Senatorial Record. As Richardson puts it, ‘There needs to be protection for American musicians. Foreigners are in competition, and with the biggest acts, like Sinatra. Every time Hollywood promotes some sort of exotic star who sings, some new Carmen Miranda, it harms our homegrown talent. Our ingenuity, our passion, our drive, our ambition, our industry, our art, our vision and our future, those’ve all got to be protected.’”

“All right, so he’s a protectionist. What are the specific differences?”

“First, there’s no plane crash. The youth movement, despite the sheer size of the Baby Boomer generation, never really takes off. John Kennedy is not nominated for the Presidency in 1960. Instead, it’s John Connolly who gets the nod. He loses to Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge. Nixon and Lodge get in, but in ’61, probably due more to the stress of the office than anything else, Nixon dies of a stroke. It is blood clots from phlebitis that hit his heart and brain, and he can’t be saved. Lodge has to handle Viet Nam a few years earlier than in the original history. There’s no Bay of Pigs and no Cuban Missile Crisis. But Viet Nam explodes early. So Lodge – a hawk – nukes Saigon, almost immediately. There’s no real Viet Nam war after that, no veterans returning traumatized, except for the guys who were on the nuke run. No Agent Orange – it never has to be invented. The Asian economy tanks for a good century – even seemingly unaffected countries like Japan are harmed, as refugees pour across borders, every which way. There’s no real electronics or IT movement. The personal computer is invented sixty years late. The Space Race has much less of a sense of urgency. Russia gets to the moon first, in 1978, but not until after a boatload of accidents, both American and Russian. Hence first contact happens later.”

“Okay, now it’s bad.”

“There’s also no environmental movement to speak of, and no Civil Rights movement. Emmett Till’s death now has zero purpose. Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney do not die in Mississippi, although James Cheney is lynched. Mickey Schwerner never even goes there. He becomes a lawyer, well, he was one, but he’s admitted to the Supreme Court Bar and argues and loses an anti-miscegenation case, uh, let’s see, I have it here, Hawthorn v. Lewis, in 1983, instead of the original case where racial mixing was allowed, Loving v. Virginia, in 1967. Jim Crow laws exist for an extra sixty-two years, until 2021.”

“Hmm.”

“There’s more. Teheran is nuked in 1979 so there’s no hostage crisis. There’s a serious oil shock in ’87 – serious enough that President Heston – an actor, Charlton Heston – attacks Venezuela. About that time, Martin Luther King, Jr., dies in his sleep in Italy. And then there’s music. The Beatles never get out of Hamburg. John Lennon quits and becomes a coal miner, never meeting Yoko Ono and certainly never being shot. Paul McCartney never meets Linda Eastman, and becomes a shopkeeper. George Harrison hangs himself at age twenty-five. Shall I go on?”

“Uh, that’s all right. Hmm. What about for here?”

“Kevin and I will investigate,” she said.

“So, no new hires?”

“No, we’ll still hire as planned, I think this will rise to the surface soon.”

“And if it doesn’t, you might be planting a mole or two or ten,” he pointed out.

“Possibly,” she conceded, “But it’s also a way to watch, as I am thinking that those responsible fancy themselves as do-gooders. I don’t think they’ll try to harm you, but they also won’t be able to resist some more tampering.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Rick said, shaking his head, “Who will you hire as a priority?”

“The computers gal, the music man and the soldier, I believe.”

“Let me suggest the Quartermaster. And then some combination of one of the doctors, the psychologist and the manners gal.”

“Why is it that the only people you want me to hire are women, Richard?”

“If you have to ask, Carmen ….”

=/=



Oh, and while the king was looking down,
The jester stole his thorny crown.
The courtroom was adjourned;
No verdict was returned.
And while Lennon read a book of Marx,
The quartet practiced in the park,
And we sang dirges in the dark
The day the music died.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 6 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Connie Francis - Lipstick on Your Collar

We were singing,
"Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie."
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, "This’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die."


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



Richard Malcolm Daniels was forty years old, and had been a Temporal Agent for nearly thirteen years. This was longer than most humans had lasted in that role, and he had been promoted to Senior Temporal Agent four years earlier, in 3105.

When he had started out, he’d been fresh-faced and eager, little more than a kid in many ways. And the candy store had been all of human history, in both this universe and its imperfect mirror – the other side of the pond, in common parlance. Way back, when he had first started, he’d been assigned to help Jonathan Archer and the old NX-01, the original Warp Five USS Enterprise. It had been 2151, and the Temporal Cold War was on, and he’d gotten himself insinuated into their good graces by originally posing as a steward. He and Carmen and Kevin had also screwed up royally not too long after that, and had almost permanently destroyed their own timeline. But that had been mended with nary a seam showing.

That had been, from his perspective, twelve years ago. In the meantime, he’d seen too much, and caused and repaired too much, and had gotten jaded. It was a lonely life, he had no one – not really – to share it with and, even if he did, he couldn’t say anything, anyway.

He could remember the first time he’d seduced a woman he’d met in his travels. She was a Quaker widow, a neighbor of William Penn’s. It had been 1699. Lucretia, her name had been. Underneath a plain frock and a simple bonnet there had been … something. That was, according to his perspective, eight years ago.

And so he had progressed as his life and his career had gone on, until he’d traveled to 2156 on the other side of the pond and had hooked up with the Empress Hoshi Sato. Unlike in his previous encounters, she’d gotten pregnant. Their son was Jun – it meant truthful, an absurdity, considering the untruths he’d had to tell her about his mission and about his feelings and about everything else.

Then it had been a festival of fancy footwork as he’d negotiated with Carmen as to what to do. Finally, in order to protect the timeline, it was settled that Jun would be sterilized and, as for Richard, he would have to let Empress Hoshi believe that he was dead, and never return. Other rules had been changed, and now no one was allowed to go on a mission without a birth control shot, unless they could prove that they were sterile.

Ritchie, she had called him Ritchie, Hoshi had. In homage to that, he used that name whenever he had a mission in her universe. It wasn’t an act of love – for he loved her no more than he loved Tina April or Lucretia Crossman or any of the countless others – it was more of a salute. It was a salute to a memorable piece.

He had to admit, he had become jaded. The thrills of seeing another time, and fixing things, and being overly secretive, had long since lost their appeal. His mind was regularly stimulated – as was the rest of him – and he was comfortable. But he had a hankering for something more.

=/=



Carmen figured that this mission, at least, was mainly positive. So many of them were more morally ambiguous. But this one was generally easier to take. Most of the timeline restoration would be to restore positive, pleasant things – unless you'd been in the Viet Nam war, or your surname was Goodman, Schwerner, Cheney, Holly, Richardson or Valens – er, Valenzuela.

Carmen Calavicci held an Admiral's rank, a vestige of what had been Starfleet and, before that, the Earth's naval forces.

She'd gotten her position after her predecessor, Ray Jimenez, was found doing a Federation secretary instead of his job. Compounding the problem for Ray had been the fact that the secretary had been male.

No one would have batted an eye – not really – but it wasn't the affair so much as the shirking of his duties that had led to Ray's downfall. Ray was now comfortably retired on Tethys. Sometimes, Carmen felt she'd give anything to switch places with him.

She'd been young when she'd taken over – barely thirty – and her tenure had been, on the whole, positive. She knew about Rick's many conquests, and mostly just turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. The man, she figured, was often beside himself, correcting the timeline by causing deaths. If he got some comfort by bedding a few – or a few dozen – women in history, she felt, who was she to stop or blame him?

She drew the line at affairs that led to pariotric changes, so she had cautioned him not to despoil virgins or become the catalyst for divorces. Betty Tyler's near-suicide was more problematic, but it had been neatly solved by having him go back to before the start of the 1929 mission and look, but not touch.

The Empress Hoshi Sato's pregnancy was a far different matter.

The other side of the pond had only recently signed the Temporal Accords, and they were suspicious of her unit's doings. She had much freer rein with our universe, but with that one, there were considerably more hoops to jump through.

She had to get all manner of permissions before crossing an agent over from the twenty-one centimeter radiation band side – ours – to the twenty centimeter radiation band side – theirs. They demanded a much higher standard, when it came to proving need. And the pregnancy had complicated matters even more.

She had been trapped in meeting after meeting, and had had to explain, time and time again, that it was an accident, and there was no intention of diluting the pure twenty centimeter radiation band race. Scenarios had been run, and run again, and then again. It was intended to find some way or another for Jun Daniels Sato to live. The desire to spare him was not shared by the officials from the other side of the pond, and so, a number of details were hammered out. Jun would be allowed to live – and even marry, if he wished – but not father any children. The distribution of the Empress's other five children would not be disturbed. The original first-born, Kira MacKenzie Sato, would have to be given a substantial share of the leadership of the Terran Empire. The succession – through their half-sister, Takara Masterson Sato and Charlie Tucker IV, would have to proceed as in the original history.

And Rick was forbidden from ever again seeing the Empress Hoshi Sato for even one second of her life, even if it was before, or even if it was on her deathbed. She would have to believe him dead, and that would have to stick. There would be no half-measures, not if they wanted the other side of the pond to remain as signatories to the Temporal Accords.

So Carmen knew, even if there was no present need, there could eventually be a need to correct something in the Terran timeline from 2129 through 2245. She needed at least a second traveler to be able to handle situations like that. A doctor? A music guy? A soldier? A computers specialist? She was reminded of one of the more ironic adages she regularly ran across in her line of work – time would tell.

Well, not if they had anything to do with it.

=/=



Helter skelter in a summer swelter.
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter,
Eight miles high and falling fast.
It landed foul on the grass.
The players tried for a forward pass,
With the jester on the sidelines in a cast.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 7 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Johnnie Horton - The Battle of New Orleans

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
while the sergeants played a marching tune.
We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance!
‘cause the players tried to take the field;
The marching band refused to yield.
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



Carmen looked over the list of candidates a few more times. Rick was absolutely right – hiring any of them could potentially expose the project. She had needs to fill, but doing that at the present time seemed foolish.

It troubled her, greatly, that one or more of her team could have turned like that. And, turning – what did it mean, anyway? For someone to use time travel for good – or, at least, a perceived good, well, wasn’t that an admirable thing? Or was it at least, a forgivable one?

She put her head in her hands. Could she even trust Kevin and Rick, who she’d known the longest? For Kevin, there was little motivation, unless he could somehow bring back Josie. As for Rick, he was almost a mercenary time traveler – have time problem, will travel. Keep the Terran Empire going for its full run? Check. Land Neil Armstrong on the moon, and return him safely to Earth? Check.Make sure Genghis Khan dies on the right day, and not earlier? Check. Destroy the Enterprise-C on schedule? Check that, too.

Cavendish and Otra were still on board the Adrenaline. She’d confront them – and then what? She had only a little information. Whoever was messing with things was covering his or her – or their – tracks rather carefully. She had little proof to offer, and she knew it.

She looked over the candidates again. Sheilagh Bernstein, the computers specialist; HD Avery, the musician; Alice Trent, the woman who understood table manners and protocols – were any of them on the wrong side? Or was it Gregory Shaw, the animals guy; or Helen Walker, one of the doctors; or Crystal Sherwood, the Quartermaster candidate? It seemed useless to speculate. She sifted through her list again. If musicians were somehow being targeted, then maybe Avery could be brought in. He was so young. And he had annoyed her a bit. Not like Levi – it was more like he was a surly teenager. HD Avery IV was nearly twenty-one, but he still looked, and acted, like a typical teen. He probably would for a while, she figured. Would she be able to tolerate that? She wasn’t sure.

There was also Daniel Beauchaine, the survivalist; Marisol Castillo, who was a doctor but also similar to Otra in her understanding of alternative timelines; and her pet project, Polly Porter. Porter – it was likely that she had little motive to change things, Carmen figured. Rajesh Kumar? Teresa Marquez? Elston McCoy? Carol Tilson? Some were engineers – she’d probably reject those outright anyway, particularly if she could get Katzman but palm that engineer’s hours off on some other unit. But musicians, musicians? She shook her head. Anything she did, any move she made – other than having Rick fix the timeline – was likely to be the wrong one.

There were another few candidates, but they weren’t as well-defined in their specialties. She wouldn’t be hiring them. But the first nine were all very viable. Then there was Deirdre Katzman, but she was already an employee. Of course she could be the turned one. That was also possible. It was too confusing, and she was getting a headache.

She finally settled on Bernstein. She didn’t need a computers person for the current problem, but she knew she would eventually need one. That decision made some sense. Even Levi, like a blind squirrel finding a nut, was right about that one.

=/=



Rick stood by a computer bank and was about to start issuing a command when he thought better of it. Instead, he tapped behind his left ear once to open a channel, “Richard Daniels to Eleanor Daniels.”

“Hiya,” she responded.

“El, I got an assignment. I don’t think it’ll take more than a couple of hours but, uh, I’m giving you some notice, uh, just in case.”

“Okay,” she said cautiously, “Is this a dangerous one?”

“I, uh, I don’t think so,” he said, “But you never know. Tell, uh, please tell Mom and Dad I might be skipping dinner this week, too. I don’t know for sure, not yet.”

“Understood,” she said, “Hurry back, so you don’t miss pot roast.”

He smiled, “Now there’s an incentive. And, uh, thanks, El. I’m out.”

=/=



Eleanor Daniels was Rick’s sister. A couple of years younger than he, she worked as a docent at the Temporal Museum, on a charming planet called Lafa II – more specifically, the museum was located in Fep City. The planet was near the intersection of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants – a crossroads near Andoria and Kronos. At one point, it had been strategic. Now it was just a pleasant spot in the galaxy, a home world for staunch allies.

Eleanor and Tina April were friends and she had introduced them because she thought that Richard could use an intelligent companion. It wasn’t necessarily for anything more – she just wanted to see the people she cared about happy.

For her own part, she could use a friend such as herself. Beautiful, elegant, well-read and intelligent, she scared off nearly every man she met, and without even trying. Women looked at her and thought – stuck up. Men looked at her and thought – out of my league.

She had taken the initiative many times, and sometimes that worked, but she was getting tired of making the first move all the time.

She was Richard’s only real confidante, and she took the responsibility seriously. He didn’t entrust much to her, but she did know that he worked to repair and defend the timeline. He generally told her when he was leaving – although not where he was going – and it was she, and not their parents – who was named as his next of kin in the event that things broke down completely and he died in some wasteland time period, on some godawful rock or another.

He had come to her when Hoshi was pregnant, and he had asked her advice when a careless coupling had turned a 1920s flapper named Betty Tyler unexpectedly suicidal. Eleanor had done her best to counsel him, but she was also getting tired of watching others’ adventures. At times, she itched for one of her own.

=/=



We started singing,
"Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie."
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
and singin', "This’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die."


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 8 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Dinah Washington - What a Difference a Day Makes

Oh, and there we were all in one place,
a generation lost in space
with no time left to start again.
So come on: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick!
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the Devil’s only friend.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



Not everyone felt or thought like Carmen. Not everyone bought into restoring original timelines. After all, original timelines could be painful, unfair and downright cruel.

Not everyone wanted to play by the Temporal Integrity Commission’s rules. Or, at least, they did not want to play that way every time.

And so there was another side. It was only loosely confederated, and grew and shrank as people felt cheated or disturbed by the original timeline, or as they saw the light of original timeline restoration. Or, perhaps, their lives ended.

And the other side was watching the entire hiring process. A promising adherent or two would be perfect. More would be a Grand Slam.

But one or two would do.

And so the other side decided on its own vetting process, which didn’t involve identifying talent – Carmen had already done that. No. The other side’s main task was to steal talent, and turn it to its own purposes, although it wasn’t above planting a candidate or two or twelve.

It was a loose confederation – barely together enough to be called a conspiracy. All they had was their mutual purpose in common. Their motives varied.

For some, it was a desire to do a perceived good and help humanity. For others, it was a desire to make humans superior to other species – a kind of descendant to the old Terra Prime movement, which had reared its ugly head a millennium before and had had as its aim the expulsion of aliens from Earth.

For others, the desire was to give their families some sort of an advantage by jiggering the past and placing, essentially, a thumb on the scale. Still others were romantics and just wanted to see lovers together. Yet others just wanted to see what they could get away with.

They called themselves The Perfectionists.

They had existed for as long as there had been a Temporal Integrity Commission, and they were at cross-purposes to it. For years, they had operated in as shadowy a manner as the Temporal Integrity Commission had. They had watched, but they hadn’t merely waited.

Instead, they had performed a series of tests. They had bent time in small, subtle ways, doing their best to make sure that it wouldn’t break. And so they had made a number of purely otric changes. Mussolini had a moustache – and then he didn’t. Jonathan Archer’s dog’s name was Porthos – then it was D’Artagnan, and then Aramis, and then Athos, and then back to Porthos again. Jean-Luc Picard became Jean-Claude Picard briefly, but that change was deemed too risky and so he was quickly restored to his original moniker. Some changes were almost whimsical, as they altered a world leader’s shirt’s color in an ancient photograph or switched the order of the songs played at the reception for a long ago, long-forgotten Royal Wedding.

And on and on, as small, subtle changes were wrought and, sometimes, put back. And sometimes not. The master time file could only be so big, after all, so not everything could be verified. Temporal integrity was slowly breaking down, and memories were becoming untrustworthy. It was the small differences, little things to make scholars and historical researchers go hmmm. It was much like a woman who’d colored her hair being asked if she’d lost weight – for most of the people who were looking – there weren’t too many of them, anyway – they knew there was some sort of a change. But they just couldn’t put their fingers on it.

The Perfectionists had changed time so much that some portions of some events just couldn’t be verified anymore, unless one went very far back and reversed it all. Had Indira Gandhi worn a blue sari on the day she was inaugurated? Or a red one? Or was it some other color? Did George Washington eat beef or venison the day before he died? Or was it chicken, or something else?

No one knew, there was no one to ask, and no one even knew that things were somehow amiss. And that had, initially, been enough for The Perfectionists. But now they wanted something more.

The movement was, as stated before, rather loosely confederated, but things were changing and a charismatic leader was emerging. This person had ambitions, and drive, and plans. This person wanted good, new technology, and skilled, dedicated operatives.

This person aimed to hit the Temporal Integrity Commission right where it lived.

=/=



Trichronium. It would be called trichronium. It was an interesting idea. At least, the engineer certainly thought so.

There were a few extant means of traveling through time. One was via the use of a time ship, like the HG Wells, which used dark matter for its propulsion, or the Audrey Niffenegger, which was of an older design and ran on chronitons. Another method was to use time portals, such as Richard had used to transport Jonathan Archer way back when. Yet another means was to crank a ship – it didn’t have to be a time ship, per se – up to Warp Ten. Yet another method was via time discs and another way was to use an organic portal like The Guardian to the Gate to Forever.

But this method was different.

It was a bona fide patentable idea. The method had two pieces. One was a Temporal Enhancer, which was worn on the wrist or held in one’s hand and was used to channel and direct the stream. And the other half was – true genius at work! – The use of an enzyme, a kind of drug. That was trichronium. The subject would swallow it, or be injected with it, and could be sent anywhere the Enhancer was set for. Someone nearby – unless they were in physical contact with the trichronium-swigging test subject – would be naught but a bystander. The engineer called it the Temporal Enzymatic Drive.

The Enhancer was useful, too, as it could remain behind while someone traveled, and it could be kept so far apart from all stocks of trichronium that no one would be able to connect the two components. Plus, a traveler could even be whisked – assuming trichronium levels remained high enough – from time to time without even stopping in the present. A trip spanning 2011 to 1939 to AD 79 to 2439 to 3109? Sure, why not?

To recall a traveler, all the operator would need to do would be to reverse the stream, and the traveler would be returned. Trichronium, like anything else, could not remain in a body forever, but the Enhancer would keep track of falling levels, and could automatically recall a traveler if it was getting to be too late. Then, another injection or another swallow, and the traveler could be sent back for Round Two if necessary.

Or, if the mission was accomplished, the Enhancer could automatically check for that and whisk the traveler back. No sense in dawdling.

The engineer smiled. It was a most excellent invention. The Perfectionists would love it.

=/=



Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
my hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in hell
could break that Satan’s spell.
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite,
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 9 by jespah
Author's Notes:

The Drifters - There Goes My Baby

He was singing,
"Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie."
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
but the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
and singin’, "This’ll be the day that I die.
"This’ll be the day that I die."


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



The Perfectionists never, ever met in the same room, or even on the same ship or planet. None of them even knew how many of them there were in the movement, and that was even better.

Pleading ignorance was easy when one was actually was ignorant. Things were changing, though, and having a leader was beginning to make sense as a concept.

The leader would assume an enormous risk by knowing the names, and all of the ways to reach, the members of the movement. In exchange, that person would be given wide latitude and near complete authority. They would vote and discuss and give a bit of lip service to the movement being a democracy, but the truth was, the movement’s members wanted someone to take the reins already. Many of them were weary of perpetrating little bits of what was, essentially, temporal graffiti. They longed to make changes that were pariotric.

Beyond that, they also wanted someone with a firm hard, and a vision, to take them down a defined path. Not every path would do, of course, but at least they’d be on some sort of a path. Most of them figured, once the dust settled, that they’d be able to begin directing things their own way soon enough.

Therefore, they chose as their leader someone who was in it – at least on the surface – for the betterment of mankind, and not for a family’s own personal glory, or to bring lovers back together or for any such smaller ambitions. The leader’s goals were – they had to be – far loftier than that.

The first meeting was scheduled for the same day as the Temporal Integrity Commission’s interviews. It consisted of audio only – no pictures would be allowed during the transmission, and voices would be masked. Once again, it was an effort to create and maintain ignorance of any identifiers surrounding the other members of the movement. None of them would be able to tell names, accents or even genders. And with continually changing vocal harmonic masking, it would even be impossible to tell how many people were on the call. Three? Three thousand? Who knew?

=/=



“Whaddaya got?” Kevin asked Carmen. It was just the two of them, sitting in her office.

“Not much. There are – I need not tell you – some political factions that enjoy using human history as their own personal playground. Either side of the pond – it doesn’t seem to matter.”

“Temporal Cold War heating back up again?”

“Possibly,” she allowed, “But the time period is odd. Who would care about 1959? When they were last poking around in time, it was for almost two centuries after that, and it involved the NX-01.”

“Xindi, maybe?”

“There’s the one incident, yes, but that was for the early twenty-first century. 2004, perhaps – it’s still a difference of a good forty-plus years.”

“Hmmm,” he said, “What is it about 1959? I mean, I get the feeling that our Scout – you know, that Boy Scout or Girl Scout who thinks they’re doing some sort of wondrous good deed here – I get the feeling that the Scout didn’t want to take Civil Rights away by saving three lives. I mean, there’s the matter of Valenzuela – uh, his stage name is Ritchie Valens, I checked. Would someone who goes to some trouble to save a Mexican-American fellow really want to make life harder for African-Americans?”

“I can’t say. Maybe our Scout is of Mexican ancestry, and is looking for an advantage.”

“Then why save Holly and Richardson? The plane coulda taken off with someone else on board instead of Valenzuela – Jennings, maybe,” Kevin mused.

“Waylon Jennings,” she said, “It almost did take off with him aboard. Just a coin flip decided who would live that day, or die.”

“I bet that did happen, and in more than one scenario,” Kevin said.

“But that’s not our universe,” Carmen said.

“It’s funny,” Kevin said.

“Oh?”

“There was a pop song written about it – and it’s filled with all sorts of wacky pseudo-religious mythology. It’s called American Pie, and it refers to February third of 1959 as The Day the Music Died. And now it’s The Day the Music Lived. Odd.”

“Perhaps,” she got up and looked out her viewing portal, and looked back toward the Milky Way galaxy, “It seems useless to speculate. I, I’m thinking of hiring that ancient computers specialist,” she changed the subject abruptly.

“Shelley?”

“Sheilagh,” Carmen read off a PADD, “Forty-six. No real family to speak of and she can pass to high security levels, I suspect.”

“Good,” he said, “It’s, uh, it’s hard to keep all of this a secret when you’re married. Not that that matters anymore.”

“I knew you were going to confide everything to Josie the minute I hired you. But it turned out fine. You miss her a great deal, don’t you?”

“Of course, like I’d miss my right arm if it were detached. And, yanno, I sometimes, Carmen, I get distracted, by work or whatever, maybe watching a game. And then I pull myself up short, and I realize I’m not thinkin’ about her. Then I feel guilty about that. Or I – God help me – I feel almost a sense of relief, like the, the burden of caring for her has been lifted. And I, uh, I feel guilty then, too. It shouldn’t feel good that she’s gone. It should never feel good.”

“Kevin, you’re allowed to feel what you feel.”

“No,” he said, “I’m not. Now, about hiring that computers gal ….”

=/=



I met a girl who sang the blues
and I asked her for some happy news,
but she just smiled and turned away.
I went down to the sacred store
where I’d heard the music years before,
but the man there said the music wouldn’t play.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 10 by jespah
Author's Notes:

The Platters - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

And in the streets the children screamed,
the lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
the church bells all were broken.
And the three men I admire most:
the father, son, and the Holy Ghost,
they caught the last train for the coast
the day the music died.


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



Rick went over his usual pre-mission routine. He started with reading – that is, memorizing – the 1959 mission specifications. Three young rock ‘n roll musicians, Clear Lake, Iowa, improperly deiced plane, etc. Then he programmed the computer for clothing for the time period. His haircut was good – this was before mop tops and mullets. He knew there was a possibility that some slight detail would be overlooked. A Quartermaster definitely would come in handy, but until one was hired, he was on his own.

He put the unfamiliar clothes on – a woolen pea coat, dark blue canvas slacks, beat-up brown penny loafers and a long-sleeve white button-down shirt – no tie. Underneath it all were a short-sleeved white tee shirt devoid of any decoration, briefs and white socks. He looked like a slightly better than average dressed guy. With few crow’s feet, he also looked younger than his forty years, and grabbed a bit of gel to smooth that out. Good, he could pass for thirty, possibly even twenty-eight or so. Any younger, and he’d have no authority. Any older, and the musicians would never accept him.

But, overall, it didn’t feel right. So costumed, he walked over to Carmen’s office, “Yes?” she answered after he’d hit her door chime.

“I don’t think this is right,” he said.

“Huh,” Kevin said. He was sitting at a chair and fiddling with a PADD, “You’re going to Iowa in early February. It’ll be cold.”

“Exactly,” Rick agreed, “The coat doesn’t do a lot.”

Carmen checked her PADD, “I suppose we do need a Quartermaster. The coat isn’t even right. It’s what you’d wear on the docks, if you were a sailor. And this is Clear Lake, Iowa – except for the lake itself, there’s not a dock for miles.”

Rick tapped his left ear once, “Crystal?” he asked, “What are good late 1950s coats and jackets for a man? For uh, mid-winter – you got any thoughts?”

There was a pause, “Really?” he said back, “Okay, Daniels out.”

“And?” Kevin asked.

“Leather,” Rick responded, “She also said I should use something called Vitalis in my hair.”

“All right,” Carmen said, “Leather, eh?”

“I didn’t know that interested you, Carmen.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Richard.”

“I, uh, let’s just say I think we should hire her,” Rick pointed out, “This is just gonna keep happening.”

“Maybe,” Carmen allowed. Could she be trusted? Crystal Sherwood had the least amount of formal education of all of the candidates. The job would be a major step up for her – maybe she would be very loyal, wanting to keep it, rather than endlessly, for the rest of her days, cutting hair and doing nails.

“You got a plan for ’59?” Kevin asked.

“Nothing is set in stone,” Rick stated, “Get in, get them on the plane, even if I have to stun and drag them on, make sure the plane goes down, and then out I go.”

“Remember, this is Pre-Warp,” Carmen said, “So nothing fancy. And, uh, your subjects are all male. I trust you’ll maintain your focus?”

“Aw, Carmen, you’re gonna ruin my fun.”

“Just get them on the plane.”

=/=



The Perfectionists’ meeting began as soon as the last caller joined.

“All right,” said the leader, and it was not possible to tell whether that person was male or female, old or young, or where they were from, due to the vocal scrambling and masking going on, “Right about now, they should have figured that today’s shaping up to be rather interesting at the Temporal Integrity Commission.”

“To say the least,” Replied another.

“Have we got parameters in place?” asked a third.

“Yes,” Replied the leader, “Pre-Warp but not before the start of the actual Space Age. Sputnik goes up in,” there was a pause as, perhaps, a PADD was consulted, “1957, in early October. First contact with the Vulcans occurs in 2063, in early April.”

“That’s not a lot of room to maneuver,” Complained a fourth voice.

“Not necessarily,” Answered the leader, “It’s over a century. We start with a very civilized society, then it breaks down into some chaos. There’s plenty of pariotria to go around. And we can affect the ensuant centuries as well, of course, “

“Why not go to before the beginning of the Space Age?” asked another, “We could shorten World War II and save a few million lives.”

“These are the parameters,” said the leader, perhaps a tad sharply, “No one will worship any of our operatives as gods, and some technology is available if needed, in case of emergency.”

“Plus, as we get closer and closer to the third millennium, and then cross into it, there’s more and more of a sense of personal isolation. People, quite simply, don’t want to become involved. So they might see one or two irregularities, shrug, and move on,” The voice paused, “as opposed to pitching in. A sense of community is definitely lacking, the later we get during the prescribed time period.”

“I still say it’s too risky,” Complained a voice, it was possibly one of those that had spoken earlier. But it was difficult to tell.

“We’ve got to break some eggs in order to make this omelet,” said the leader.

“But are these the right eggs?” asked yet another voice, with a hint of exasperation that came through, despite the elaborate vocal masking that was going on.

“I was chosen as this movement’s leader. You need to trust me.”

The line was silent for a moment, “I still say this is a strange test,” said a voice.

“Objections are duly noted,” Stated the leader, “It was chosen for the confusion it has the potential to engender. The Temporal Integrity Commission will not be able to grasp our motivations.”

“At least, not immediately.”

=/=



And they were singing,
"Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie."
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
singin’, "This’ll be the day that I die.
"This’ll be the day that I die."


– Don McLean (American Pie)

Chapter 11 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Thomas Wayne and the Delons - Tragedy

They were singing,
"Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie."
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
singin’, "This’ll be the day that I die."


– Don McLean (American Pie)

=/=



Two shuttles left the Temporal Integrity Commission. They were transporting the candidates. For sure, this could have been done via Transporter. There was, after all, practically one on every street corner, in most advanced cities and towns. Fancy hotels and even some shopping malls had their own Transporter.

But shuttles were easier for getting the candidates to the initial jump off coordinates. So long as the pilots kept their view screens off – and they were instructed to only put them on in the case of a truly dire emergency – the candidates would not know that they had spent the better part of the day just beyond the galactic barrier. Then they would be escorted to another set of coordinates, and then another. Partly, this was to continue to maintain security, but another piece of it was an attempt to gauge candidate interest and impressions.

One shuttle went along fine. Tom Grant, the military man, sat near Sheilagh the computer whiz, and checked her out as she stared into space. Greg Shaw drifted off for a short nap. Alice Trent sat with Polly Porter and tentatively asked her a few questions and tried not to act too star struck. Teresa Marquez and Elston McCoy played a game of Scrabble against each other, using their PADDs.

But things were different on the other shuttle.

HD Avery drummed his fingers on the side of the shuttle, “Can’t you turn on the view screen, even once? Just put up a fake picture of Wyoming or something? Please? It’s getting close in here.”

“Hey, just think of some pretty place or another,” Crystal Sherwood suggested, “Yanno, Rick asked me about the late 1950s. I wonder what that was all about.”

“Who?” asked Carol Tilson.

“Oh, he’s a guy; he’s one of my hair clients,” Crystal said, “He got me this interview. Though I have no idea why – I feel like I’m not in anyone’s league here.”

“I’m sure you have your talents,” Rajesh Kumar assured her.

“It’s gotta be some mission,” Dan Beauchaine said, “Well, it probably is.”

“We probably shouldn’t read too much into that,” drawled Helen Walker, her accent betraying an origin on either of the Carolinas or Titania, which had been originally settled by people from the Carolinas, “Say, did you ever think that scarf would cause such a fuss?”

“Not for a moment,” Marisol Castillo answered, “It’s just something I grabbed this morning. I figure, if a scarf can be changed, so can any of us.”

And that was the last thing she said, as the shuttle rocked. Then there was the slightest of jumps, barely on the edge of perception. It didn’t even register on the shuttle’s instruments.

The pilot, an Andorian, was screaming into the Comm. They landed, barely intact, on a small, hot planet. The shuttle began to burn, and HD about jumped out of his skin when he noticed Helen Walker slumped forward, “Hey!” he yelled in alarm.

Marisol put two fingers on the woman’s neck and then shook her head.

HD was in a bit of a panic, so the next events blurred together a bit in his memory. But he knew that there were a few tiny, soft clicks. Under virtually any circumstances – including that one – he would have no reason to, truly, pay heed to them. But he had an ear for music and tones and sounds and so the clicks registered with him, just the same.

They were mild, faint, possibly coming from outside of the shuttle, “Is this rock inhabited?” he yelled.

“No!” yelled back the pilot, “Now,” the pilot lowered her voice a bit, “everyone needs to stay inside. The atmosphere is loaded with benzene, and there aren’t enough masks to go around,” she put out the fire as she talked and then went back to the Comm.

The other shuttle finally answered, all crackly and staticky, “Beam out,” Was all that the other pilot said.

“Our Transporter is down,” Replied the Andorian pilot.

“A moment,” Was the response.

On the other shuttle, the pilot, who was Takret, began transporting his passengers to the predefined coordinates in order to make room. Once his passengers were all gone, he began beaming the other shuttle’s occupants aboard.

He’d gotten to all but three of them – HD Avery, the Andorian pilot and Helen Walker’s body – when the shuttle caught fire again as the tiny, benzene-soaked planet moved into its daylight. The pilot pushed Avery onto the Transporter pad first, and then joined. As for the shuttle, and Helen Walker’s corpse, they remained behind, and were swallowed by Berren One’s benzene-fueled flames.

=/=



Correct clothing obtained, Rick was walking back down the hallway and all set to head to 1959 when Carmen stopped him, “Hmm?” he asked.

“Take the Wells,” she commanded.

“Why? This is Pre-Warp, and there’s almost nothing flying around out there, at least not relatively speaking. Per normal protocols, I should be taking a time portal, yes?”

“Normally, yes,” she said, “But, just take the Wells.”

“You still haven’t told me why.”

“Richard, that way I know where the Wells is.”

“Ah.”

She tilted her head slightly – she also had an implanted communicator and said, “Oh. Huh, that’s rather unfortunate. Oh, no. That’s even worse. Never mind the equipment. Is anyone else hurt?” There was a pause, “Very well. We’ll see about notifying the next of kin. Calavicci out.”

“What happened?” he asked.

“One of the shuttles had engine trouble, and ended up making an emergency landing on Berren One.”

“And?”

“And we lost one of our candidates, a woman by the name of Helen Walker.”

“Whew, not even hired and already gone.”

“We – we still need for you to go through with the mission,” she said, “Can you do that?”

“Sure. I’m a professional,” Rick said, “You’ll, um, you’ll tell me what else is brewing when I get back, right?”

“You mean with my insisting on you taking the Wells?”

“For starters.”

“Perhaps,” she said, “I need to keep my cards close right now. Even if you, personally, consider that to be a bad idea.”

“I thought – you do trust me, dontcha, Carmen?”

“I do,” she said, and that wasn’t wholly untrue. “But like I said, I’ve got to exercise a little restraint right now. Don’t, uh, don’t take that personally.”

“No worries.”

=/=



Old man rhythm is in my shoes
No use t'sittin' and a'singin' the blues
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?


– Frankie Ford (Sea Cruise)

Chapter 12 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Frankie Ford - Sea Cruise

Feel like jumpin' baby won't ya join me please
I don't like beggin' but I'm on bended knee

I got to get t'rockin get my hat off the rack
I got to boogie woogie like a knife in the back
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?


– Frankie Ford (Sea Cruise)

=/=



The Wells was roughly shaped like an arrowhead. It had the latest in temporal propulsive technology, as invented by Kevin. It fed off dark matter and converted it into regular matter as a byproduct. Since the universe will end when all regular matter is converted to dark, the propulsion system had the astounding effect of prolonging the life of the universe by a few nanoseconds, every time it was run.

This kind of pleasant yet profoundly positive consequence pleased Kevin a great deal – in particular because Carmen had insisted that the drive, and even the class of ships, be named for him.

The Wells was the only one of the time ships that was currently so fitted. The others were undergoing a conversion process – the older method made use of chronitons for its propulsion through time.

Kevin was in the process of converting two of the time ships. Another one, the Audrey II, was still being built. He worked with Levi and, sometimes, he borrowed Deirdre Katzman from the Temporal Integrity Commission’s general pool of personnel. Deirdre was a lot easier to work with than Levi.

She had a mischievous sense of humor and enjoyed old time travel fiction, so he had had her name the ships. The Wells, of course, was for HG Wells, the author of The Time Machine. The Jack Finney was for the author of Time and Again. The Flux Capacitor was for a series of absurd films on time travel called Back to the Future.

Absurd ideas about time travel all, they were. A DeLorean? A trancelike state? A machine that looked like it belonged in a Steampunk exhibit?

And then there were the Audrey Niffenegger and the Audrey II. The original Audrey was Rick’s old ship. Designed by Levi, it was old and had become clunky. It had withstood a lot of abuse. But with the newer drive, it was being decommissioned, and replaced with its near-namesake. Once it was declassified it could, and probably would, go into the Lafa II Temporal Museum’s time travel exhibit.

The Audrey II had the sleekest design yet, and was the most fuel-efficient of them all. Whereas the original Audrey was named for the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, the Audrey II was so dubbed as homage to a film that had naught to do with fictional time travel but did cover an alien landing. In the film, Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II was a singing, man-eating plant from outer space. Despite the lack of a time travel angle, it piqued Deirdre’s interest, and so she had named the ship under construction.

If there was another ship built, she suspected she’d mine the Back to the Future films, and perhaps go with Marty McFly or Doctor Emmett Brown or even Jennifer Parker or Biff Tannen if she needed to conjure up another name or two or four. But that was a ways away, if it would ever be needed.

=/=



Rick went through pre-flight quickly. He’d used the Wells a few times already, and was getting used to the newer system. He figured he’d cloak it and leave it in orbit above the Earth, and then transport down to Clear Lake a few hours before the Holly-Richardson-Valenzuela plane was due to take off. And crash.

After that, his plans were flexible. If there was anything he had learned about time travel in his years of missions – whether it was to help Jonathan Archer, or observe William Penn, or give Empress Hoshi a few well-needed repairs on the Defiant, or help assure the stock market crash of 1929 – it was that things rarely went according to plan. It was best to have the tiniest, barest outline of a plan, and then wing it from there.

He got the Wells up to speed and put it onto auto. There would be nothing to do for hours. He was cruising through time over Dawitan, the Witannen home world, where Otra’s mother was from. It was located in the Delta Quadrant. Emerging into the twentieth century, just above Earth, was a bad idea if uncloaked. Flying above Dawitan would afford ample cover and he could conserve fuel by not running the cloak. For the last two hundred years of time travel or so, the ship would also travel spatially. It would synchronize to 1959 while the Wells was over Ceres, and then he would cloak the ship and make his way to where he needed to be. Only a few geeks with telescopes would have so much as a prayer of spotting the time ship, and they would have to know exactly where to look – and what to look for.

He took a chain out from within his shirt, jewelry that he wore and never took off. There was a Xindi initiation medal with his initials engraved on it, and a skeleton key charm, with a solid handle that was a family heirloom dating back nearly a millennium. He smiled at the two artifacts as the time ship sped along, “If someone were to find me,” he mused aloud to no one, a bad habit of talking to himself was a byproduct of so many solo missions, “I wonder what conclusions they would draw from these pieces?” He shrugged to himself and put them back.

He was as safe as a kitten. Even if he messed up somehow, his life was protected from temporal irregularities, by the application of a field similar to the one protecting the master time file. He was far from immortal but at least he was, personally, protected from any problems with the timeline. And a good thing, too, as no one had yet determined that the act of saving Valenzuela, Holly and Richardson had somehow, also, wiped out his family, and back several generations to boot.

It would be a good use of his time to get some rest, so he went into the back of the ship and crawled into bed. Made for two – or, if he was feeling adventurous, three – the bed was the very essence of bachelor living, what with its black satin sheets and blanket with a sophisticated geometric pattern.

Rick didn’t have an actual home. He could and did bunk at the Commission’s Headquarters, and he also lived in the old Audrey when she used to be his. When away from the Commission, he’d sleep at Eleanor’s, or sometimes at their parents’ home. Or, for the past few months, he would stay with Tina.

Tina!

He had forgotten to tell her he was off again. He had at least told Eleanor, and Carmen would answer if Eleanor called. As for Tina, she’d have to rely on Eleanor, if she cared about where he was. He had no way, of course, to know that Eleanor was, for the time being, no more.

He felt guilty for a moment, and then shrugged. There was nothing he could do about it. The instruments on the Wells read 2994. None of them at Headquarters – not even Kevin – had been born yet.

He settled in and folded his hands behind his head, which showed the silver and copper bands, natural color variants over the skin of his left wrist. They weren’t merely decorative, they were functional. With them, he could have vivid Calafan-style dreams, but those were shared dreams and he was moving through time too quickly to really be able to connect with anyone. So, by definition, if he dreamt at all, it would be more conventional. But that was all right. The Calafan part of him had a heritage of not saying “good night”. Instead, the traditional nighttime wish was, “be with who you desire”. He said that, again out loud, as the ship passed 2912 and continued onward and backward.

=/=



I got to get t'movin' baby I ain't lyin'
My heart is beatin' rhythm and it's right on time
So be my guest, you got nothin' to lose
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?

Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?


– Frankie Ford (Sea Cruise)

Chapter 13 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Ritchie Valens - Oh Donna

Feel like jumpin' baby won't ya join me please
I don't like beggin' but I'm on bended knee

Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Whoo-whee, whoo-whee baby
Won't ya let me take you on a sea cruise?


– Frankie Ford (Sea Cruise)

=/=



It was sketchy, a parade of women. There were tall, sophisticated Andorians, chatty Tellarites and aloof Vulcans. He smiled at them all as he dreamt; a parade of lovelies, each more tempting than the last. There was even Tina, but he didn’t stop for her.

Instead, he selected a Kreetassan maiden. It was more for novelty value than anything else. He had learned, a long time ago, that beauty not only wasn’t skin-deep, but that it often didn’t reside in skin at all. Sure, he enjoyed good-looking women, and pleasant visuals had more than a little appeal, but he strove to find something more. There was just so far that looks could be taken.

His dream changed, and the Kreetassan began to evolve to show any number of women he knew and had known, both past and present. They were not only former lovers.

There was Carmen, wearing that little orange number she’d worn at last year’s departmental party. And Lucretia Crossman, but she was in an off-the-shoulder gown and not the plain frock better suited to her time. Empress Hoshi crooked a finger in beckoning and then turned to walk away – just as good going as coming. Crystal Sherwood, the Quartermaster candidate, washing his hair before cutting it but, oops! Her attentions turned further south. Polly Porter, from the Film Society Awards broadcast of three years ago, presenting an award for technical achievement to … someone … but bantering onstage with him instead.

He hadn’t met the other candidates – Carmen hadn’t wanted to waste his time – but he conjured them up, just the same, all of them but the late Helen Walker. He saw Alice Trent as a prim Brit with a wild streak beneath, wearing a high-collared blouse and a long skirt but, beneath it all, a demi-bra and a thong. Sheilagh Bernstein was imagined to be earthier, out at a ballgame with him, mitt in hand, waiting for an errant foul ball. For some reason, he saw Carol Tilson on a sailboat, and Marisol Castillo was pictured passing him saucy notes in some boring class and, amazingly enough, the notes were written on actual paper.

Then the image scrolled back to Tina, teaching that class, and then to another.

It wasn’t a terribly satisfying nocturnal vision – after all, he rarely spent enough time with any of them to so much as touch a hand, let alone do more. But it was still enjoyable. He had bunches of confidence, enough for ten men, and enough to overcome any physical shortcomings he had.

He was decent-looking by any objective standard, but not conventionally handsome – rather normal, actually, with medium-brown hair and blue eyes that could be changed to brown, green, hazel or grey as needed, with the application of the proper chemicals. He was not swoonworthy to most women. Yet there was something about him. And so, as the vision of women scrolled through his subconscious again, all he could think of was – they were all within reach.

Anything – and anyone – was possible.

=/=



Back in 3109, it wasn’t Carmen who came to Otra but, rather, the other way around, “Can I do something for you?” Carmen asked.

“I was just looking at scenarios, and I came across something rather interesting.”

“Yes?”

“Rick’s gone.”

“Well, he’s gone to 1959. I imagine he’s past 2600 by now.”

“No, no, there is no Rick whatsoever,” Otra said, “I don’t know if that was intended, but it’s a consequence of the act that he’s going to 1959 to correct.”

“How far back would you say it goes?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s an active killing of an ancestor,” Otra stated, “Rather, I suspect it’s just, a woman wed suitor number two instead of suitor number one. It’s something like that.”

“You’re sure?”

“I checked,” Otra said, her chavecoi waving slightly, “Richard is gone, and so is the entire Daniels family.”

“Specifics?”

“I can’t tell. Up to 1959, I suppose all is well, or at least I am operating under that assumption. I can’t see any differences there, and I’m unsure of what to be looking for,” Otra admitted, “I then tried from our end, but that doesn’t help much. I go back two hundred years and there is no direct Daniels family. There are offshoots, yes. The Mastersons – his mother’s side – they still exist. But the direct paternal line continues to be missing.”

“Why did you stop at two hundred years?”

“I decided to instead look at the Temporal Integrity Commission, our candidates – anyone I could think of, to see if I could come up with any other issues hitting the present time. Our candidates are unaffected, Kevin is fine, Levi, you, you’re all as you should be. The D’Angelo family has no changes, either.”

“Good to know your father’s family remains intact, Otra.”

“It is good for me, certainly,” Otra smiled, “Do you suppose the actual intent was to eliminate Rick?”

“I don’t know. I have to believe that there was knowledge on the part of the perpetrator that Rick would be protected so long as the temporal force field exists,” Carmen ventured.

“Maybe that’s the next target,” Otra said, “Carmen,” she said, leaning forward, “I know that you suspect me, and Levi, and probably everyone right now.”

“Oh, Otra.”

“Yes, you do. And that’s all right. I imagine I’d feel similarly if I were in your shoes. I doubt that I can prove my loyalty, except over time, with my deeds. I intend to retain and bolster your trust. I want to justify any faith you have left in me.”

“And Levi?”

“He’s a big boy. I’m only willing to help him insofar as it helps the Temporal Integrity Commission. You need answers, and he’s not very good at providing them. It doesn’t mean he’s guilty of anything. At least, I don’t think that it means that,” Otra said.

“His quirks and his tics can be incriminating,” Carmen allowed, “They shouldn’t be, but they can. It’s not always easy to separate such things out from what may be truly going on with him.”

“I try to look beyond his tics and his quirks,” Otra said, “I agree that it’s not always easy to do that.”

“He has to depend upon you – and I – giving him chance upon chance,” Carmen got up, signaling the end of the conversation. “I do hope he doesn’t waste his chances.”

=/=



Oh, Donna Oh, Donna
Oh, Donna Oh, Donna

I had a girl
Donna was her name
Since she left me
I've never been the same
'Cause I love my girl
Donna, oh where can you be?
Where can you be?


– Ritchie Valens (Donna)

Chapter 14 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Buddy Holly - Rave On

Now that you're gone
I'm left all alone
All by myself
To wander and roam
Cause I love my girl
Donna, oh where can you be?
Where can you be?

Well darlin, now that you're gone
I don't know, what I'll do
All the time, and all my love for you


– Ritchie Valens (Donna)

=/=



The endless parade of hotties had settled on candidate Teresa Marquez – Rick hadn’t met her, so he imagined her as a raven-haired, overly attentive doctor and he was a not-so-badly injured patient when the alarm went off.

2009, said the Wells’s instrument panel. He was right on schedule. The ship was speeding along, nearing Eris.

“Computer, load and play selected music,” he said. He had chosen two songs apiece from the three subjects, “Random order.”

First was the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace, “Hellooooo, baby!” came JP Richardson’s voice, booming across the kilometers, and the years.

Then, it was Buddy Holly’s Every Day, and then back to Richardson for The Big Bopper’s Wedding. And then it played Valenzuela’s La Bamba and Come On, Let’s Go, finally ending with Holly’s Rave On.

The recordings were crackly, but they gave him some ideas about the time, and the three men he had to send to their deaths.

He scratched his head. Vitalis. He had forgotten it. He went to the Replicator, which was off to the side, “Computer, Vitalis.”

The Replicator spat out a tiny tube. He squeezed out its contents and combed it into his hair, “Man, oh man,” he said, “I bet I smell just like 1959 now.”

He had a few more minutes, so he tuned in an actual radio station on Earth, and listened to Alan Freed introducing, and then spinning Dion and the Belmonts singing Teenager in Love. He switched on the cloak as soon as he had gotten within visual range of Ceres.

There was but one satellite circling the Earth in 1959. It was Sputnik. And, that was it. Telstar wasn’t scheduled to go up for another three years, and even then it would only beep a bit.

Closer to the ground, things were, of course, far livelier. Pan Am had a flight heading from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires. TWA was sending planes into and out of O’Hare. Idlewild saw its share of air traffic as countless stewardesses turned off No Smoking signs and began to walk around cabins and take drink orders.

Rick saw none of that, except for a blip or two from Sputnik. A few beeps and not much else, unless he checked broadcasts. I Love Lucy and Rawhide were on. 77 Sunset Strip was offering up its own patented brand of cool, or a viewer could tune into the Nairobi Trio from Ernie Kovacs instead.

It was getting late and he waited until he figured that evening’s performances were finished. He got a visual on Clear Lake. It was snowy, and few people were outside. All he cared about was the Surf Ballroom. Once he was satisfied that no one was going to see, he grabbed a phaser and a Transporter remote control and beamed to the surface.

=/=



The leather jacket wasn’t much good against the cold, but it was what he had. He found a door beneath the marquee, but it was locked. He circled around to the back – that would be better than picking the front door’s lock, although he would do that if he had no other alternatives.

There was a side door to the stage, and he was pleasantly shocked that it was open.

Inside was a small hallway, with a sign to the stage and another leading back to dressing rooms. He went in the direction of the dressing rooms.

“And just where do ya think you’re going?” asked a middle-aged security guard.

“Uh, I have something for, uh, for Mr. Holly.”

“Lemme see it.”

The only thing he had in his hands was the Transporter remote control – not a good choice to hand out to anyone.

“Uh, just a second,” he pretended to fumble in his pockets. He didn’t really want to stun the guy, but it seemed like his best option. He saw another door and started to walk toward it.

The security guard followed, “C’mon, fella.”

“Oh, yes. Here,” There was no one around. Stunning was quick. The door opened to a supply closet. He got the guard in there and stunned him again, “An hour. Huh,” he said to himself as he checked the man for temporal signatures, and found none.

He turned around to walk to the dressing rooms. There were sounds of music, a radio station. Whoever was listening fiddled with the volume and turned it down. A dressing room door opened, and the music got louder again.

Out of that door stepped Buddy Holly.

Rick stared at him for a moment.

Then Buddy sneezed.

“Uh, bless you,” said Rick.

“Thanks. Uh, is the stage knocked down yet?” he asked Rick.

“I, uh, almost.”

“Good. I gotta get outta here. Atchoo!”

“Bless you.”

There was the sound of giggling. Two young women, a blonde and a brunette, were walking down the hall. They shrieked when they saw Buddy.

“Oh, Mr. Holly! Mr. Holly!” they called out. They both had autograph books, and thrust them into his hands.

He sneezed again, but then signed. They started rubbing up against him, on either side of him, “Ladies, ladies, please,” he protested amidst more sneezing, “I’m a married man,” he looked at Rick, “They friends of yours?”

“Nope.”

“Ladies, really!” Buddy protested again.

Another door opened, and Rick first heard, rather than saw, JP Richardson, who called out, “Hellooooo, baby!” just like at the start of Chantilly Lace.

The girls giggled again. The blonde grabbed a cigarette from her purse but didn’t light it. The brunette adjusted a cotton candy pink cardigan and, surreptitiously, the underside of her bra.

Buddy retreated to his dressing room. Richardson took one look at Rick and said, “You got the stage all torn down yet?”

“Uh, we’re working on it.”

“Yeah, well get back to working on it,” JP commanded, and then thought better of it as he looked over the girls. Rick made as if to leave, and JP came over to him, “Actually, son, my apologies,” he stuck his hand out and Rick shook it, a little bemused at JP – who was over a decade younger than him – calling him son. JP came closer, “Which do you prefer?” he asked quietly, indicating the girls, “Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor?”

“I hardly think ….”

“Now, you’re not gonna leave me without a wingman, are ya?”

Rick shook his head. This could be interesting.

“Now, which do ya prefer?” JP repeated, “Keep in mind that blondes do have more fun.”

“Uh, the, uh, the brunette.”

“Elizabeth Taylor. Smart choice. You’ll go far in this business.”

=/=



I had a girl
Donna was her name
Since she left me
I've never been the same
Cause I love my girl
Donna, oh where can you be?
Where can you be?

Oh, Donna Oh, Donna
Oh, Donna Oh, Donna
Oh, Donna Oh, Donna


– Ritchie Valens (Donna)

Chapter 15 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Patsy Cline - Walking After Midnight

I go out walkin'
after midnight
out in the moonlight
Just like we used to do
I'm always walkin'
after midnight
searching for you


– Patsy Cline (Walking After Midnight)

=/=



JP sidled up to the blonde and gave her a light. They started to walk away. The brunette began to follow.

“Um, hello?” Rick asked, “Remember me?”

“Oh,” The brunette said, sounding disappointed, “Y’all got a name?” she drawled.

“Just call me Rick.”

JP and the blonde returned, apparently having decided something, “Son,” JP said, “now don’t forget you gotta knock down that stage.”

“Uh, no, Mr. Richardson.”

“See, now, darlin’, the fun part is about to start,” JP said to the blonde, “You ever see the inside of a professional dressin’ room?”

They shut the door. The brunette turned to Rick, “I don’t suppose you got one o’ those.”

“Nope. Miss, uh?”

She just smiled at him wanly, “Oh, just make somethin’ up. Not like we’ll see each other after this.”

“How d’you know?”

“Oh, just a thought,” But of course she was right.

“What brings you to Iowa? You’re obviously not from here.”

“I follow the tour,” she said, “Been to lotsa cities. This is one of the smaller burgs.”

“Ah. And your friend?”

“Her? She’s just a local girl. I recognized a kind of a kindred spirit, is all.”

“Oh,” Rick said.

Another door opened, “Get Holly, I wanna run something by him,” said a voice.

“He’s in his dressing room,” Rick called.

“Ah, thanks,” said Ritchie Valens. He looked at the brunette, “I see you’re the lucky dog tonight.”

“I guess so,” Rick said, “You know her?” he asked as the brunette strolled away for a moment.

“I know – I mean, I seen – girls like her,” Ritchie said.

“She said she’s been following the tour.”

“Maybe, I dunno. I got a girl – I don’t pay attention to groupies. Holly’s in there?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks. Uh, watch out – you know – girls like that – they got a few things in mind and they ain’t so pretty. I’m, uh,” he dropped his voice a few decibels, “I’m surprised JP ain’t been named in a paternity suit yet.”

“Huh. I’ll keep that in mind,” With the birth control shot, that wouldn’t be an issue for Rick. Still, it was of interest, but he hadn’t seen any mention of an illegitimate child in the alternate history. Or even in the original, for that matter, but he hadn’t exactly been looking for such things when he’d prepped for the mission.

The Holly dressing room door opened again, “Waylon!” Ritchie said, “You can get in on this, you and Buddy. I’m working on a progression but it doesn’t seem right.”

“Sure thing,” said Waylon, a tall man strolling down the hall.

“Can we listen in?” Rick asked, indicating the brunette.

“You’n that thing with round heels?” asked Ritchie, “You, uh, you probably don’t need to do anything like that in order to score.”

“I just, uh, we’ll be quiet. Consider it a compliment from a fan,” Rick said hastily. Plus, it would be a way for him to watch two out of three of his subjects. He figured JP was otherwise occupied.

“We are looking to work,” Ritchie said.

“Hey, we can work tomorrow,” Buddy said. He sneezed again.

“This’ll only be a little while,” Ritchie said, “You better be quiet like you’re in church,” he said to Rick.

“C’mon, uh, Elizabeth,” Rick said to the brunette. She followed him in. Waylon pulled out a chair for her.

The dressing room had a piano in it, an old upright. There was also a guitar, leaning against a wall. Ritchie picked up the guitar and sat down at the piano bench. He played a few bars of a blues riff in a minor key.

“That’s rather sad sounding,” Buddy said, “You want it to be just guitar?”

“Maybe more behind it. I don’t know,” Ritchie said.

“Horns,” Suggested the brunette.

“Huh, maybe,” Ritchie said.

Buddy switched the radio back on, in time to hear the DJ say, “And that was Oh Donna by Ritchie Valens!”

“Huh, I still can’t get used to that,” Ritchie said.

“Get used to the sound of money in your pocket,” Buddy said, “Keep your name on everything, too. You know that song Sea Cruise?”

“Frankie Ford, right?”

“Yeah, ’cept it was originally a colored fella, named Huey Piano Smith. They dubbed the new track right over the old one so it’d play in the South.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ritchie said.

A dulcimer’s tones were heard on the radio. Waylon took the guitar from Ritchie and began to sing and play along, “I go out walkin’, after midnight …,” he sang with the woman on the radio.

“Patsy Cline,” said the brunette, “A pity.”

Buddy looked at her strangely, “Huh?” Rick pricked up his ears.

“Oh, uh, nothin’,” she drawled.

Waylon finished the song, as did the radio.

“I bet you could be a recording artist, too,” Buddy said, “Waylon Jennings opening up for Buddy Holly, eh?” he sneezed again.

“I’m just here to make you look good,” Waylon replied.

The brunette grabbed Rick’s leg, “So, let’s get outta here. Some place private.”

“Oh?”

“Uh, huh.”

They got up and walked out together, “So, um, whaddaya have in mind?” he asked when the door had been closed behind them. He was mindful of his mission, and the time. He had, perhaps, another fifteen to twenty minutes before the security guard came to.

“We could, uh, go someplace private,” she said.

“Like where?” he put a hand on her waist.

“They got a private plane, I hear. I bet it’s quiet in there.”

“I see,” he said, “But I bet the pilot’s doing checks and stuff.”

“Maybe. I bet he’d take a walk for a sawbuck.”

“Still, it would be cramped,” he said. Not to mention, it would potentially delay takeoff.

“Well, it’s better than an unheated bus.”

“You’ve been on their bus?”

“Like I said, I’ve been following the tour.”

“There must be other rooms in here,” Rick said.

“Plane or nothing,” she replied.

“I see. It’s cold out, though.”

“You afraid you’ll shrink in the cold?”

The door to JP’s dressing room opened, “Darlin’, you got the touch.”

“Oh, Jiles,” said the blonde.

“Remember, I only let the inner circle call me Jiles,” he said, “You hurry back. Don’t take too long powdering your nose now, honey.”

“I better go do that, too,” said the brunette, “I’ll be back.”

“Son, you got that stage knocked down yet?” JP asked as soon as the women had turned a corner.

“Workin’ on it, sir.”

“That’s not the only thing you’re workin’ on, I see. Now, you see, you gotta be smooth, son. Give ‘em flowery talk, too. They like that.”

“I see. What else should I know?” Rick asked, knowing fully well he could be giving JP a lesson or two.

“Tell ‘em you’ll protect ‘em. Act all sincere like. They eat that up. Watch and learn, son,” JP said as the women returned.

“Miss me?” asked the blonde.

“Like nobody’s business,” JP said, “Now, you know we only just met darlin’. But I gotta tell ya, you’re somethin’ special. We will, ha, come here again, you know. Can I see you then?”

“Sure,” she said.

“You won’t be washin’ your hair or nothin’?”

“No,” she smiled and playfully chucked him under the chin.

The brunette came over and asked JP, “What’s your next hit gonna be?”

“Well, yanno, I got my secrets,” JP said.

A dressing room door had opened back up, and Waylon was watching and shaking his head. He’d heard all of this before.

“You girls like American artists?” JP asked.

“Well, sure. We’re good girls,” said the brunette.

“But you like me the best of all?” he pushed.

“Uh huh,” Smiled the blonde.

“Sure darlin’,” JP said, “But there’s these foreigners, see? I know there’s not a lot anyone can do about American musicians. But what about, well, fellows like Maurice Chevalier? He’s in competition. Not just with me but with the biggest acts, like Sinatra. And he ain’t the only one. Every time Hollywood promotes some sort of exotic star who sings, some new Carmen Miranda or some, I dunno, I mean, if Ingrid Bergman could sing, she’d be killer. Our homegrown talent, it’s gotta be safe. Then there was Senator McCarthy. I think he was, I think he went too far when it came to the Commies, but he knew our way of life is kinda, you know, threatened. I see where he was coming from. Americans and our way of life, our ingenuity, our passion, our drive, our ambition, our industry, our art, our vision and our future, those’ve all gotta be protected, just like men gotta protect women.”

That brought Rick up short. He’d heard that before, and almost perfectly verbatim. It was the speech from the Senatorial Record, almost word for word.

“Mr. Richardson, you should run for President,” Rick said.

“Oh, well, son, I’m a lil young for that,” JP smiled, “But I’ll consider it. Maybe Congress.”

Rick got up for a second to stun the security guard again, so he didn’t hear the brunette drawl, “Not Congress. Ya’ll should think bigger.”

“Oh?”

Senator Jiles P. Richardson. Now, doesn’t that sound pretty?”

=/=



I walk for miles
along the highway.
Well that's just my way of saying I love you
I'm always walkin'
after midnight
Searching for you


– Patsy Cline (Walking After Midnight)

Chapter 16 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Phil Phillips and the Twilights - Sea of Love

I stopped to see a weeping willow
cryin' on his pillow
Maybe he's crying for me
and as the skies turn gloomy
Night winds whisper to me
I'm lonesome as I can be


– Patsy Cline (Walking After Midnight)

=/=



Rick returned to the supply closet and stunned the security guard one more time. Another ten minutes would probably be enough time to get out and get his mission accomplished. It was already past midnight and into February third – his birthday, in a little over eleven hundred years or so. He made his way back just in time to hear JP Richardson say, “Just lemme get another real big hit, sugar. I got all sorts o’ irons in the fire, you know. I’m thinkin’ big, of course – the Big Bopper can’t help but to think big – but it’ll all happen in good time, know what I’m sayin’? There is no need to rush perfection, sweet thing.”

A real roadie came over, “We’re just about all packed up,” he said.

“I thought you said you fellas was almost done quite a while ago,” JP said to Rick.

“I guess we’ve got different definitions of the word almost,” Rick said.

“Wanna come see us off, darlin’s?” JP asked, “We’re goin’ to Mason City to take off, yanno.”

“It’s awful cold out there,” Complained the blonde.

“I’ll keep you warm,” JP grabbed a handful of her bottom and squeezed. She squealed, “You, too, son,” he came close to Rick and whispered, “Now, son, I realize now that you don’t work for the tour, and that’s all right. I won’t give you a hard time or nothin’, long as you take care of the girls and don’t take a souvenir, all right?”

“Understood, Mr. Richardson. And, and thank you, sir.”

“There,” JP said a lot louder, “It’s all settled. And this feller here –“

“Rick.”

“Ritchie, he, he’s gonna take you fine ladies home tonight, after we have departed.”

The women walked on ahead, and JP stopped for a second to admire them, “Lord, have mercy. Don’t say I don’t do nothin’ for ya, son. Just don’t name no kids after me.”

“Uh, no, sir.”

Before leaving the arena, Bob Hale, a local disc jockey who’d been covering the concert, came over, “I guess you fellas are goin’,” he said, “The tour must go on, eh?”

Waylon shook his hand and said, “I guess so. Pity there’s not enough seats on the plane for everyone.”

Ritchie said, “Yeah, that bus is freezing. I don’t wanna get Buddy’s cold.”

“Why don’t you take the plane instead o’ me, Ritchie?” Waylon asked.

“No, it’s okay,” Replied Valens.

“No, really, Ritchie. I’m here to make you look good. I can’t exactly do that if two of you got bad colds.”

“No, no, I’m no big star,” Ritchie said.

“C’mon. I insist,” Waylon said.

“Why don’t you flip a coin, fellas?” asked Hale, producing a quarter.

“Are you sure that’s fair?” asked the brunette, frowning slightly.

“It sure looks like coin of the realm to me, darlin’,” JP said, inspecting Hale’s quarter and biting it just to be sure.

Hale flipped it, “Call it, Ritchie.”

“Uh, heads.”

“Heads it is,” Hale said, showing everyone.

“It looks like you’re ridin’ in style with us, Ritchie. Uh, sorry, Waylon,” JP said.

“No worries,” he said, “Man, I hate flyin’ anyway.”

“I know what you mean,” said the brunette.

=/=



They crowded into a car driven by the Surf Ballroom’s manager. It was girls on laps – not a bad thing, so far as Rick and JP were concerned – as the car made its way through the Iowa foul winter weather.

The Mason City airstrip was tiny, better suited to small pleasure craft and maybe even tiny military scout planes. The craft itself was a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza. It was larger than the HG Wells from the outside, but the Wells had quantum mechanical tricks up its proverbial sleeve. Due to slight adjustments in the size of electron orbits, and the barest crunching of space in molecules, the Wells, from its interior, was larger than its exterior – about three times as large or so, than it had any reasonable right to be. These tricks were far from being invented – a good half a millennium away and more – and so the single engine plane not only looked small, it was small.

To try to keep himself warm, Rick helped the roadies get the tour’s musical equipment onto the tiny craft. The Iowa night was cold and it was snowing, hard as the wind blew sideways and whistled through the uneven stubble of nearby cornfields.

“This weather is so horrible,” Complained the brunette, her teeth chattering, “I shoulda stayed in bed.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” JP said, and winked at her wickedly. She smiled back at him invitingly.

Buddy got on the plane first and sneezed two times. He turned around for a moment. The girls waved at him and he waved back, a weary gesture for a man tired beyond his twenty-two years. Ritchie got on the plane next. Holly went back to the doorway when he saw Ritchie, “Hey, I thought Waylon was flyin’.”

“Nope, I won the coin toss,” Ritchie said, “It’s my lucky day, I think.”

Holly stood at the tiny plane’s door and laughed and yelled out to Waylon, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.”

Waylon grinned and replied, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”

Rick cringed at that statement, trying not to let anyone see his reaction.

Waylon came over and stood near the blonde and the Surf Ballroom manager, as Rick stood next to the brunette, who shook and said, “It’s so very, very cold.”

“Oh, uh, sure,” Rick put an arm around her as she shivered a little bit more in the February weather.

“Mr. Jennings,” the brunette said to Waylon, “did Mr. Hale give you that quarter by chance?”

“Yes, he, uh, he did. Uh, here, you can have it, Miss,” he said, as the little plane took off and into a blizzard, tail light rising.

There was a snap and a bang, and the plane tumbled, diagonally, wing over wing, and crashed into a nearby cornfield. A ball of flame erupted almost immediately and Rick found himself holding both the blonde and the brunette as they sobbed.

=/=



I go out walkin'
after midnight
out in the moonlight
Just hoping you may be
Somewhere walkin'
after midnight
Searching for me


– Patsy Cline (Walking After Midnight)

Chapter 17 by jespah
Author's Notes:

The Big Bopper - Big Bopper's Wedding

I stopped to see a weeping willow
crying on his pillow
Maybe he's crying for me.
And as the skies turn gloomy
Night winds whisper to me
I'm lonesome as I can be


– Patsy Cline (Walking After Midnight)

=/=



The remaining candidates, back in 3109, had gone through a couple of way stations already, and some had been split off, so as to further obscure the Temporal Integrity Commission’s location. HD Avery found himself with Sheilagh Bernstein, Marisol Castillo and Rajesh Kumar, on some Minshara-class planet or another.

“Do you,” HD ventured, “do you think they lose shuttles very often?”

“Oh, probably not,” Marisol said distractedly, checking her PADD for messages.

“Listen, uh, you may be used to seeing people breathe their last right in front of you, but I’m not,” he said.

“Oh, yes, yes, of course,” she said, “It really is a terrible tragedy. She was a rather young woman.”

“You think they got any other areas where they regularly mess up?” HD asked.

“It’s probably not a regular mess-up,” Sheilagh pointed out.

“The pilot will probably be disciplined,” Rajesh said, “Or, she should be. The craft should have been thoroughly checked before use. We could’ve all been killed today.”

“Huh, maybe,” Marisol said, again distracted, “Look, uh, I’m sorry. You learn to be a bit removed from things. It’s a survival skill when you’re in the medical field.”

“This is somebody’s death, though,” HD said, “We don’t know anything about her, except she was a doctor.”

Rajesh clicked a bit on his PADD, “Here, I’ll look her up. It says here,” he said after a pause, “that she was also a Professor of Medical History at the Dione Medical School.”

“That’s quite a loss for them,” Sheilagh said.

“I hope she didn’t have a family,” HD said.

“I hope none of us do,” Rajesh said, “Imagine being killed in the Dark Ages because someone thinks you’re a witch.”

“And then your poor family never being able to learn the truth about your death – it’s horrible,” Sheilagh said, “Still, the job looks to be a fascinating one.”

“Definitely,” Marisol said, “You’d learn a lot, and know about so many different things in time.”

“There’s certainly an attraction,” Rajesh allowed.

“I still gotta wonder why they’re hiring. Does anybody stay in these jobs?” HD asked.

“They said there’s a senior guy. I forget his name,” Marisol said.

“I’d feel a lot better about this if I coulda met him today,” HD said.

“Yeah,” Sheilagh agreed, “I’d love to see how people feel about these jobs, over time.”

“Time,” Marisol said, “I imagine expressions about time will become a bit amusing to us, eh?”

“Ready to transport,” said their escort from the Temporal Integrity Commission, “You’re all going home with this trip. You’ll hear from us soon about the jobs,” she set the Transporter’s controls – they were on Rigel IX – and began to send them all home.

=/=



Once she knew that the candidates were all back in their homes – or at least, gone from the Temporal Integrity Commission’s auspices – Carmen made a call to Sheilagh Bernstein, “So, would you like to join our merry little band of misfits?”

Sheilagh didn’t have to think too much about that, “Probably,” she said, trying not to betray her excitement at being chosen, “But I’d like to meet your senior agent first. Can I do that?”

“That can be arranged,” Carmen said, “He will also train you. If you decide to come on board, that is,” she added hastily.

“Of course. Let me know when. Bernstein out.”

Carmen closed the connection on her end and looked up when she heard a throat being cleared, “Ah, Boris, what brings you here?”

“I heard about the crash. A pity about the death. She was, so far as I was concerned, the top candidate.”

“Oh? Do you have any replacement recommendations?”

“I think Castillo could be acceptable.”

“Good to know. I’ll think it over. Oh, and Boris?”

“Yes?”

“You brought in Helen Walker as a candidate. Would you think it appropriate to accompany me when I go to tell her next of kin?”

“That would be fine,” he said, “It’s a most unfortunate tragedy,” he left.

=/=



Boris Yarin was one of the only people in the Temporal Integrity Commission who was married. That made some sense, for the operation was so secret that a spouse was not supposed to share even an iota of detail about the Commission.

He’d been given a cover story, a lie, to provide some sort of a plausible explanation for his absences from home. But it wasn’t needed with his wife, for he had married Darragh Stratton.

Darragh was the sister of Todd Stratton, who held a major Federation position. Boris’s hiring had been through her connections. He owed her, and she made sure he never forgot that.

It wasn’t that his work required too much in the way of expertise. He spent time providing new employees with stem cell growth accelerator, so that they wouldn’t have to take their chances with ancient medical care. He administered a more temporary dose of same for all temporal observers.

He’d also be adding augmentations to anyone who was hired, too, things like memory boosters and the sensory enhancements that Rick had – Rick had enhanced hearing and sight, both courtesy of Boris. He would add certain trackers as well, pads within the feet and fingertips, to assist with locating someone in time if an emergency recall was required. The fingertip trackers had the added bonus of being able to wipe or change fingerprints. He implanted tiny communicators, too.

He also performed some minor cosmetic surgery, in case a particular look was desired or required, and couldn’t be faked otherwise. Plus, he was on call in case a traveler like Rick returned with some sort of a disease or injury that the stem cell growth accelerator would not be able to adequately keep up with. So far, he hadn’t had to do anything like that with the human unit, although he had spent some days a few years ago attempting – unsuccessfully, it had turned out – to save a Cardassian traveler who had strayed too close to an automated grain processing machine from 2482 on that world.

Bored and underutilized, and less than happy at home, his thoughts had often wandered and the rest of him had followed.

He was back in his office when his implanted communicator chimed, “Ah, yes,” he said, once he’d heard the voice on the other end of the line, “You got home all right?”

“Yes,” The voice purred.

“Good,” he smiled, “I had to go suddenly last night. There was a dinner I was forced to attend.”

“That’s too bad. I was hoping for some dessert.”

“For some, or to be some?”

A chuckle, “A little of both.”

“What are you wearing?” he asked.

“As little as possible,” Came the response.

“Oh? Well maybe tonight you can put on the zebra-striped outfit. You know the one,” he smiled and breathed a little louder, his hand beginning to reach down.

“Yeah.”

There was a chime. Damn.

“Darling, I have to take that,” he said.

“Let it go.”

“I’m sorry, but I must. But I shall call you back as soon as I am able. I love you.”

“Then prove it by not answering that.”

The chime was repeated, “I will call right back,” he promised and tapped his ear once to end that call, then a second time, to answer the new call, “Ah, Darragh my love! The light of my life! I was just thinking about you.”

=/=



I'm out walkin'
after midnight
out in the moonlight
Just hoping you may be
Somewhere walkin'
after midnight
Searching for me


– Patsy Cline (Walking After Midnight)

Chapter 18 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Bobby Darin - Mack the Knife

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it … ah … out of sight.


– Bobby Darin (Mack the Knife)

=/=



Rick returned to the Wells as soon as he could, and fired up its engine for the trip home. As before, he got past Ceres, turned off the cloak, and headed back to Dawitan for the 1100-plus year journey through time.

He was about to start dictating his report when he thought better of it, as nagging thoughts would not leave his subconscious alone, “Computer,” he commanded, “access downloaded portion of master time file.”

“Earth history, 1950 through 2000, is now available.”

“Computer, access illegitimate births for late 1959, Iowa.”

“There are four records.”

“Details,” he said.

“Amy Caldwell, born December eleventh, 1959, to Margaret Latham and Bruce Caldwell. Lee Roberts, born December fourteenth, 1959, to –”

“Computer, pause. Count nine months from February second and third of 1959, and only provide records of births for that date, plus or minus two weeks.”

“Zero records,” Was the response.

“Okay, hmm, computer, access memoirs, art and literature about Iowa plane crash, February third, 1959.”

American Pie is a 1971 rock ‘n roll song, written and performed by Don McLean to commemorate the deaths of Charles Hardin “Buddy” Holly; Jiles P. Richardson, known professionally as the Big Bopper; and Ricardo Esteban Valenzuela Reyes, known professionally as Ritchie Valens. The song was also partially covered by pop singer Madonna in 2000. Other covers include –”

“Computer, play the original piece.”

While it played, Rick thought. The girls – they were not adding up, he felt. Once the song ended, he said, “Computer, check master time file for groupies in association with all three subjects, with the Winter Dance Party tour and the Surf Ballroom in 1959. And, uh, and check groupies’ records against a guitarist named Waylon Jennings for that date.”

“No such records.”

“Hmm,” he mused aloud, “Well, it’s not exactly something you’d keep records of. And the master time file isn’t absolutely thorough, anyway,” It couldn’t be. It was impossible to record and keep rapidly available every nuanced bit of minutiae in time – otherwise the master time file would be time itself. It would be impossible to catalog, analyze, record, protect or even see.

“Okay, let’s try this tack. Patsy Cline – correlate to the phrase ‘it’s a pity’. What would be in the context of this singer?” he asked.

“The singer was in a near-fatal automobile collision in 1961. In 1963, the singer died in a plane crash.”

“Anything from before that?” he asked.

“No such records.”

Pay dirt, probably, “I think I got you, Miss Elizabeth Taylor. And maybe also you, Miss Marilyn Monroe,” he said, “Computer, switch to dictation mode,” he began to dictate.

“To: Admiral Carmen Calavicci, in care of the Temporal Integrity Commission
From: Richard M. Daniels, Senior Temporal Agent

The February 3, 1959 mission is completed. The plane crash over Clear Lake, Iowa has gone off as in the original history. Holly, Valens and Richardson are dead and the timeline has been restored.

I suspect that one or more rival operatives were present, possibly to observe my techniques although probably not to thwart my efforts. I interacted with the following individuals, in addition to the three subjects:

• Bob Hale, a local disc jockey
• A backup musician named Waylon Jennings
• An unknown male security guard, approximately forty-five years of age
• An unknown blonde female groupie of approximately twenty-five years, who I will refer to as Marilyn Monroe – this is not, of course, the actual actress and
• An unknown brunette female groupie, similar age to the blonde, who I will refer to as Elizabeth Taylor – again, this is an alias and is not intended to designate the actual actress.”


He paused, “Computer, stop dictation mode for a second and check records on Bob Hale and Waylon Jennings.”

“Bob Hale was an American disc jockey with KRIB-AM, and worked the Winter Dance Party concert in Clear Lake, Iowa on the night of February second and into the morning of the third, 1959. Waylon Jennings was an American singer and songwriter. In 1959, he performed as a part of Buddy Holly’s backup band for the Winter Party Dance tour, playing the bass. After the deaths of Holly, Richardson and Valenzuela, Jennings recorded in Phoenix and then in Nashville. His biggest hit was a duet with Willie Nelson called “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys”, recorded in 1978 –”

“Uh, that’s enough, computer. Add that information to the report. Resume dictation mode,” he took a breath and continued.

With the named persons accounted for, the matter becomes trickier. The security guard was dispatched via stun. I did not go through the man’s pockets, but the only weaponry he had was a nightstick, appropriate to the time period. I did not pick up any temporal readings or unusual radiation signatures from him. It is my considered opinion that this individual was a part of the original history. The two groupies are another story.

I was unable to get enough privacy to perform scans or get any detailed readings on either of them. I did not see Monroe much at all, in fact. Her accent appeared to be Midwestern.

As for Taylor, a couple of her behaviors did raise my suspicions. For one, she suggested occupying the plane prior to takeoff, perhaps as a ploy to delay its departure. This did not appear to be a threat to my life or a suicidal move on her part, and she abandoned the ploy. Another piece was a fleeting reference to singer Patsy Cline and a ‘pity’, when the time period was prior to two major tragedies in Cline’s life, the second one ending it. This, I believe, was an inadvertent anachronism. The third bit was Taylor requesting the quarter used to decide Waylon Jennings and Ritchie Valens’s collective fates. It is possible that this is not only an operative, but a collector of temporal souvenirs.

I recommend a thorough investigation into as many souvenir-worthy pariotric events as can be dreamt up, cross-referenced to all known black market temporal souvenir collectors and dealers. I recognize this will take a while. I further recommend investigating all candidates, in particular, the female ones. From memory, they are:

• Carol Tilson
• Marisol Castillo
• Teresa Marquez
• Polly Porter – I have seen Porter on the viewer, and neither Taylor nor Monroe fits the description
• Crystal Sherwood – I have met this individual and she is neither Monroe nor Taylor
• Helen Walker – it is my understanding that this individual is deceased
• Sheilagh Bernstein
• Alice Trent

I believe that’s it for the female candidates. It is also possible that Taylor, and possibly also Monroe, were acting under the direction of others.”


He had to smile just a little. It wasn’t for the usual reason that he would check out a woman more thoroughly. A pity. He went back to dictating.

“In conclusion, while I hope this was an isolated incident, I fear it may not be. I stand ready to preserve the timeline, as always, from any incursions or breaches of the Temporal Prime Directive.

Very Truly Yours,

Richard Malcolm Daniels”


Dictation finished, he asked for one last thing, “Computer, play Waylon Jennings singing “Walking after Midnight”.

“There is no such recording.”

“Ha, I bet that was the only performance,” Rick said to himself. He looked out the window and watched time slip by as the Wells circled Dawitan for the umpteenth time. 2763. Almost home.

=/=



Ya know when that shark bites, with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, though, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there’s never, never a trace of red.


– Bobby Darin (Mack the Knife)

Chapter 19 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Santo and Johnny - Sleep Walk

Now on the sidewalk … uuh, huh … whoo … sunny mornin’ … uuh, huh,
Lies a body just oozin' life … eek!
And someone’s sneakin' ‘round the corner.
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?


– Bobby Darin (Mack the Knife)

=/=



Kevin looked over the encrypted message he’d found in the Audrey Niffenegger. The encryption kept changing, making it difficult to crack, an endless file, looping away, almost as impenetrable as the master time file’s own encryption.

He had tried copying it, but that had made things worse as the looping had gotten more rapid. He had done that twice, and had essentially wasted two PADDs doing that. Then he hit upon the idea of photographing the actual file. He used a separate PADD, not connected in any manner, and every time the file changed, it snapped a picture. He now had several of the pictures projected up, into the air in front of him. The file kept changing, and the other PADD kept snapping, as he looked, seeking any sort of pattern he could recognize.

There were fewer than two hundred words in the document, if the spacing could be trusted. It consisted of one word, which seemed to be its title, and then six paragraphs of varying lengths – again, if the spacing was correct. He stared and stared at the pictures, then started to look at the newer ones when it hit him. There was one newer one where the first paragraph was written in Greek letters.

That paragraph was a short one – only six words long. It was probably the initial premise, listed right after the title. The Greek letters were all amassed together, and in Greek alphabetical order. Alpha, two betas, a gamma, four deltas – but one was at the end of the first word, two encompassed the second word and the last delta started off the third word. Then there were three epsilons at the end of the third word, with a zeta starting the fourth word, followed by, one eta, two thetas and then an iota finished the fourth word. The fifth word was the last two iotas followed by two kappas. The last word was three lambdas, one mu, two nus and it ended with a xi. Five letters, two, then four, then five, then four and, rounding out the sentence was a seven-letter word.

The words and their patterns made no sense, but maybe the letters did? He tried to ignore the actual sounds of Greek and instead focused on the letters as placeholders. Did the alpha mean A? He tried it and was rejected by the original message, “Okay, you SOB,” he said to the screens in front of him, “It’s not an A. Are you a B, by chance?”

Rejected again.

“All right, C, and it’s my final offer.”

He typed it in and the looping stopped for just a second. He stared at it, dumbfounded. The C had stuck. He had hit pay dirt.

“All righty, then,” he said, “Alpha is C. I bet it’s not the first letter of this paragraph or even this word. Are you maybe the first letter of the alphabet for this paragraph?” he glared at the screens again, “If you are, then, let’s see, fourteen different letters. Let’s say C really is the first one. Then you gotta go at least as far as, hell, C-D-E-F-G-H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P. Let’s figure you have no Qs, no Xs and no Zs but I reserve the right to change my mind about that, you lil stinker. So are the betas Ds?”

He tried, and was rejected, “Huh. Well, we couldn’t make it easy, now, could we?”

His communicator chimed. It was Deirdre, “Want some coffee?”

“Uh, just a sec. Actually, lemme bring what I’m working on with me. If, uh, if you don’t mind, that is.”

“Not all. Five minutes?”

=/=



“I wanted to talk to you about the job,” Deirdre said, as soon as she and Kevin had sat down, “Assuming that’s allowed.”

“I guess it is. So shoot.”

“Would I be traveling?”

“I don’t think so,” he said, “For you, actually, I don’t imagine things’d be much different. You’d just be working with me officially, is all.”

“Oh, uh, okay.”

“That a bad thing?” he asked.

“No. It’s, uh, can I say something in confidence?”

“Sure.”

“It’s Levi. He, uh, he’s kinda creepy.”

“He’s got issues,” Kevin said, “He harassing you, or something?”

“No. It’s just that he stares.”

“Ah,” Kevin said, “Levi Problem Number Eighty-Seven.”

“Really?”

“Or forty-five or whatever. He doesn’t, uh, doesn’t seem to realize when he’s supposed to break his gaze. I guess that’s the way I’d put it. He’s tenacious – which is good – but he puts that focus on nearly anything. He’s curious. He’s studying you in a way, I guess.”

“Kevin, he’s ogling me.”

“Then tell him to cut it out.”

“I have.”

“Hmm. Well I can tell him, too, and I suppose Otra can. Actually, I’m kinda surprised. I had thought he only had eyes for her.”

“Really?”

“Hell, yeah.”

“Oh. Well, uh, I dunno. Just, he’s weird.”

“We all are,” Kevin said, “It’s why we were hired.”

Deirdre had to smile at that, and tossed her black hair a little. “Are you saying I should act like I’m certifiable in order to get the job?”

“Couldn’t hurt,” he said, “Can, uh, you know anything about decryption?”

“Probably as much as you do. Why?”

He presented his problem, and his findings, such as they were. She looked them over, “I’m thinking that brute force isn’t the way to go. It seems you get punished for wrong guesses.”

“But there’s a bit of a reward for right ones. Why d’ya suppose that is?”

“I, huh,” she thought a moment, “Y’know, I think they want us to break it. But through reasoning – not by just blindly guessing. It’s like, if we can prove our mettle, we get the prize, which is the message.”

“I like it. So we have fourteen different letters. One is known. And we’ve got six words in one sentence, if we go with their spacing.”

“If the spacing is right, then I know the second word. But, uh, not necessarily the letters.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. A two-letter word, second in a short sentence? It’s gotta be is.”

“So, uh, blank is blank, blank, blank, blank?”

“Uh huh. First word could be, uh, a name, a noun, maybe. It’s not who or what because it’s a declarative sentence. It’s not a question.”

“Right. I bet you do crosswords,” he said.

“And cryptoquotes and cryptics and all of that. And, heh, speak of the devil,” she indicated Levi, who was getting something from a replicator.

Levi saw them and came over. Without waiting for an invitation, he sat down.

“Uh, Levi, you know Deirdre?” Kevin asked.

“Yeah,” Levi said, eating a corn muffin.

“How ya doing?” she asked.

“Wha -? Oh, uh, fine. What are you doing?”

“We have an encrypted note from whoever took Audrey out for a spin,” Kevin said.

“You should leave that for the experts,” Levi scolded.

“Maybe,” Deirdre said, “What do you think the first sentence is?” she showed him their findings.

“I dunno. Something about time, or history, or the Commission, or about how terrible they think we all are,” Levi said, “Assuming it has anything to do with Audrey being taken.”

“Assuming that,” Kevin said.

“It doesn’t mention the Commission – none of the words are long enough, if we can trust the spacing,” Deirdre pointed out.

“There are two four-letter words. Maybe one of them is time? Another one could be past,” Levi ventured, “Just because the alpha is a C, that doesn’t mean that maybe there isn’t a B in there. Maybe the fourteen letters are the first fourteen letters of our alphabet. So that would be A through, uh,” he thought for a moment, “N.”

“No, I don’t think so. The second word is probably is,” Deirdre said.

“Yeah, huh,” Levi agreed, “You think the other four vowels are in there?

“There are probably at least two vowels,” Kevin said, “I mean, it’s hard to make up a coherent sentence – even a short one – if the only vowel you’ve got to work with is I.”

“Don’t forget a Y. Wait, hey!” Deirdre said.

“A breakthrough?” asked Kevin.

“You said it might be about history. That last word is seven letters long. I wonder if it’s history?” she said.

“It could also be Audrey, though. But either way, if your theory about the letters being in order is right, then the xi is probably a Y,” Levi said.

“Only one way to find out,” Kevin said, and tried it. To their delight, it worked.

“So we’ve got parameters now. And we may have a rule, at least for this particular sentence,” Levi said.

“Probably not for the title or the other paragraphs, you figure?” Kevin asked.

“Yes, but still – we’ve got a C and a Y, and probably also at least one I and at least one S. there’s probably more than one S, given that letter’s popularity,” Deirdre said.

“And the S – assuming the rule holds true – can’t be any earlier than,” Levi counted to himself, “six letters from the Y. Which is, uh, theta.”

“By the same token, the H can’t be any further along than the fifth from the C, but that only holds true if the last word is history,” Deirdre said, “Zeta, or earlier.”

“Which would make the eta the I,” Kevin said, “And the T would be right after the S – the iota. Or, um, it could be later than that. There probably aren’t any Xs in such a short sentence.”

“Do any of the other snapshots show any sort of an order?” Deirdre asked.

“Can’t tell. These could be languages, pictograms or just random images. Does a bicycle come before a sun? In English, yeah. In Mandarin, maybe not,” Kevin stated.

“First word is alpha, beta, beta, gamma, delta, and then a space. Second word is probably is – that one is two deltas. Third word is delta, three epsilons. Fourth word is epsilon, zeta, eta, two thetas. Fifth word is three iotas, two kappas. Last word – possibly history – is three lambdas, mu, two nus and xi. Alpha is C; xi is Y,” Levi summarized.

“Is this seat taken?” it was Otra.

“Oh, no, of course not,” Deirdre said.

Otra put down a glass of water onto the table and began to drink from a separate cup of coffee. Her chavecoi – flowery appendages on top of her head – leaned down, one by one, and dipped themselves into the water glass. The water level began to appreciably drop as, in turn, the chavecoi began to perk up and change color.

Deirdre stared a little, “Oh, sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Otra said, “You know what they’re for?”

“Uh, no.”

“They’re a bit of evolutionary magic from Dawitan, to help ensure my survival. If there’s ever an extended food shortage, I’ll be all right, ‘cause I can photosynthesize.”

“That’s convenient,” Deirdre said.

“Oh!” Levi finally looked up, “Your chavecoi are looking particularly perky today.”

“Uh, ‘scuse me,” Kevin said, getting up, “I’ll tell Carmen we made some progress.”

“Oh, and please tell her I’ve found Helen Walker’s next of kin,” Otra said.

“Will do. See ya,” Kevin said, taking the PADDs back. Once he’d left the cafeteria, he shook his head and laughed a little, “Levi, Levi, Levi,” he said softly to himself. It had been a dumb move for Levi to comment on the perkiness of the woman’s chavecoi – almost as if he’d commented on the perkiness of her breasts.

Kevin considered heading straight to Carmen’s office and then, instead, went to his own.

The little room had University of Wisconsin – Madison paraphernalia all over it, from his mug to a red and white pennant on the door, to a stuffed badger toy he’d won for Josie at a fair.

Josie. The mere sound of her name in his head took him back immediately. Her smile, her laughter, how her antennae moved – for she had been Aenar – he remembered all of it.

She was really named Jhasi, but he had said her name wrong when they had first met, and she had liked even that, particularly when he had said it made her sound as if she were a honky tonk angel.

She was a little thing, pale as skim milk. They had made quite an odd couple. When she had been well, they would go to Tellar, or Umbriel, or Risa, and heads would turn. What did such a delicate, ethereal creature see in a mammoth part-reptile like him?

But then she had gotten sick.

At first, it had been little things, like her saying she wasn’t hungry, or she was too tired to do something or other. Then she would sometimes lose her coordination, and be unable to hit a door chime on the first try.

Then it had been more things, like she’d be unable to concentrate for very long, or she appeared paler, almost translucent.

They had gone to the doctor together, in 3100. It was a Tuesday, he remembered. January fourteenth. What a way to start the century. And they had sat together and heard the horrible diagnosis together.

Piaris Syndrome.

Her body was on a mission of self-annihilation.

First, her immune system went, as it made up and battled nonexistent foes, like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Then, once it was completely gone, it was replaced chemically while her body attacked its own musculoskeletal system. Her bones replaced by an alloy, her muscles by a synthetic elasto-protein, her body was still unsatisfied, and ate at her own blood. Her blood was drained and replaced by a substance akin to an industrial lubricant. Her body had stopped in remission for a few months, apparently trying to figure out where it should hit next.

Those had been a good few months – or as good as things could get. She’d had a biosuit, and he would slip her into it in the morning, and she had some semblance of wholeness and three-dimensionality, and could get up and, very, very tentatively, even take a dainty step or two, as if she were a prima ballerina auditioning for a part in Swan Lake.

He had had her wedding dress taken in, and fitted to the suit, and they had renewed their vows on Tandar Prime. As in the original ceremony, the close-fitting bright pink gown made her resemble a stick of peppermint candy. But this time around, the candy seemed long past its all-too-short shelf life.

Then her body had gone after the last vestige of Josie that was still Josie – her brain. Aphasia and a bit of forgetfulness turned into full-blown amnesia, spiced with grand mal seizures.

Kevin and the doctors had downloaded the remnants of Josie O’Connor’s brain into a sterile database, even as those memories and that personality had faded and become distorted. Her skin became paler and thinner, a near-transparency. Her internal organs, such as anything remained, mixed with the artificial supportive mechanics, and became fully visible.

It was like the final veil or fan had dropped, in a stripper’s routine. There was nothing left on December 29th, 3108.

He had a database of jumbled, scrambled intellectual associations, but no way to tie it all together. Building an android with that program seemed unnecessarily cruel all around. It would not be her. It could never even so much as hold a candle to her.

He couldn’t bear to erase it, so the file stayed, a copy at work, a copy at home and a copy in a vault where he’d put his other valuables – her dress, her wedding ring and an English-Aenar phrase book written on real paper. He had brought it with him on their first date. She had insisted on keeping it, and had even circled and annotated key words and helpful phrases in it, like kiss and dinner and I am yours.

He briefly fired up the database, just to hear the mechanical substitute voice – her own, true voice had gone by the fourth year of her illness – say, Kevin, don’t forget that I love you, please bring home some cilantro.

Then he left, bound for Carmen’s office.

=/=



A-there's a tugboat … huh, huh, huh … down by the river dontcha know
Where a cement bag’s just a'droopin' on down
Oh, that cement is just, it's there for the weight, dear.
Five'll get ya ten, old Macky’s back in town.


– Bobby Darin (Mack the Knife)

Chapter 20 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Lloyd Price - Stagger Lee

Now, d'ja hear ‘bout Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe,
after drawin' out all his hard-earned cash.
And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor.
Could it be our boy's done somethin' rash?


– Bobby Darin (Mack the Knife)

=/=



Carmen was receptive to Kevin’s visit, particularly when she heard how far they’d gotten with the decryption, “I agree, the idea on their part is probably for us to figure out what their, their manifesto says. It may even be their aim to have our people read it and convert over to their cause.”

“Yeah, I get the feeling they’ve written it to try to make their case, or bolster it. Truth is they’re not the ones with the hard sell – we are.”

“Yes,” she said, “It’s almost easy, isn’t it? You fix something or another in time, someone’s life is saved or whatever, and maybe you do some other damage, and you fix that, and on and on you go. And all along, you keep congratulating yourself on what a good little Boy or Girl Scout you are, how you are helping humanity and saving us all from ourselves. I suppose it could become a bit intoxicating.”

“I’ve heard that playing God is,” he said. He tilted his head, “Ah, our boy is back.”

“He was successful?”

“Of course.”

“Good,” she said, “I, I’ve also been thinking of hiring a traveler doctor, too. With Walker dead, it’s down to Marquez or Castillo. Boris favors Castillo.”

“It doesn’t matter too much to me either way. We’ll need to do some skin bleaching on either of ’em if they’re sent to some period like 1959 and have to play at being Rick’s wife.”

“We don’t need them for that, assuming Ms. Bernstein accepts the offer I’ve made her.”

“Ah. What about the other three slots?”

“We’ll fill them over time,” Carmen said, “Most likely either Grant or Beauchaine if we need weapons work or muscle, and, God help me, Avery for arts and anything to do with youth.”

“You gotta admit, Avery woulda been better for this mission than Rick. We are talking about the music guy, right?”

“Yes. As for the fifth one, I figure Porter or Trent, for any close or high class work.”

“So, no Deirdre?” Kevin tried to mask his disappointment.

“Not right now, but I do want her at some point, and the Quartermaster as well,” her head tilted, her own call coming in, “A moment. Kevin, I must take this one in private. Good work on the decryption.”

He left.

“All right, tell me what’s happening,” Carmen said to Bryce Unger, the overall head of the Temporal Integrity Commission. All of the units – for all of the signatory species – reported to him.

“We have gone over your incident logs thoroughly, and we have reason to believe that there is more going on than meets the eye.”

“Oh?”

“We believe this is not the work of an isolated person or a collector. We await Agent Daniels’s report, but suspect there is an extensive conspiracy afoot.”

“How do you figure that?”

“The running of the Audrey Niffenegger, the change in the candidate’s scarf, the wiping of Richard Daniels’s family – it all points to insider information and tampering.”

“Are you saying my people can’t be trusted?”

“We are saying that no one is above suspicion. And there is more going on than meets the eye. You know how difficult it is to attract and retain top talent.”

“Of course,” she said. She knew she was lucky Rick had stayed as long as he had.

“This may be an effort to turn your people from within.”

Terrific,” she sighed.

“We still want you to hire more people.”

“That seems foolish.”

“No. Newer workers should be less susceptible to the charms of the other side.”

“You saying Richard Daniels is vulnerable?”

“Possibly. Your other three regular employees certainly are.”

“Maybe so, but so far, they seem loyal,” Carmen thought for a moment, “We have some progress with the decryption. Our theory is that it’s meant to be cracked by a team with the skills we bring to the table.”

“Possibly. Admiral, we need for you to root out whoever is responsible. If there is insider corruption, then the master time file itself could be in jeopardy.”

“It’s not as easy to decrypt as that note.”

“No, but the entire decryption process – it seems designed to give some positive strokes. This other side, it can be quite a siren’s song.”

“I feel,” Carmen said, “like a disciplinarian parent, and my partner is the permissive one. Of course the children are going to favor the other one.”

“Possibly. But you have the best interests of the child in mind. Calavicci, you’re the one with the Brussels sprouts – the other side has the candy. Ultimately, you’re better for the children.”

“That may be so. But the children will still select the candy every time. Calavicci out.”

A few minutes passed, and a message popped up on her screen. Unger had read Daniels’s report – even before she had seen it – and she’d been approved for three more full-time equivalent employees. The accompanying note said, “There is definitely an organized opposition out there. Daniels met at least one operative, possibly two, while in 1959. We know that these FTEs will be more to watch, but there will also be more to help with decryption, and to keep on our side of things. Change them up if you have to. We are putting you and your team on the front lines – root out the other side, whoever they are. We are counting on you.

She sighed, “I don’t get enough glory for this,” she complained to herself. She then sent out a note to her team, and to Boris. Thinking ahead, she added Deirdre to the distribution list. Her priorities were changing. She needed to get the Audrey II up and running sooner than expected, and she needed to not worry about anachronisms in dress or style when she sent her people on missions. The note was just five words long: Meeting in my office. Now.

=/=



There were only three chairs in Carmen’s office. She sat in hers, and Kevin came in and grabbed one of the other two. Levi came in with Otra and Deirdre and took the remaining one for himself – no niceties for him. Then Boris showed up, and Rick came in last, still dressed in 1959 period garb.

Carmen began without preliminaries, “I have three more FTEs approved, above the original five. Deirdre, if you want the job, you’re hired.”

“Oh, uh, thank you. Sure,” she said, a tad nonplussed.

“The remainder of today’s business is that the Powers that Be strongly believe this is a more extensive effort than it appears at first glance. I trust all of you – and I want to. We will be hiring others, and getting the time ships all up to snuff as soon as possible. I’d like to be able to trust our newer hires as well, but I’m not kidding myself about this. Our friends in high places also seem to feel that new employees will be better at following and restoring the timeline.”

“Better than us?” Kevin asked.

“Better in the sense that they wouldn’t be jaded,” Carmen said, “A few fresher faces and fresher perspectives – at least for a while – should be able to readily do as we ask.”

“I can vouch for jaded,” Rick admitted, “It’s easy to start to question everything. What we do often isn’t pretty.”

“But you don’t just turn around and play God,” Otra said, “Surely there must be others like you out there.”

“We aim to find out,” Carmen said, “If we get a few Richard clones, great. If we get a few turncoats, then they’ll presumably lead us to the heart of the matter,” she paused a moment, “Now, I want you all to know, if anyone here has turned, or is considering it, you’re being watched. And I don’t think I’ve just lost any sort of an element of surprise by letting you in on that. So far as I’m concerned, there is no element of surprise here, not when we can all manipulate time as if we were kneading bread dough. So anyone with delusions of being some sort of a temporal savior – well, you’re under warning now. The consequences will be very, very unpleasant. As Boris can attest, there are still some prisons on Kronos. There are few niceties there.”

“No doubt,” Deirdre said.

“Time is not a playground. A few bits of personal pleasantness aside,” Carmen shot a look at Rick, who looked down a little, “we are here to restore the timeline – whatever it happens to be. This means that the event known as 9/11 occurs on schedule. It means that there is a Holocaust, there are Eugenics Wars and Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi are assassinated. These are, to be sure, some of the most horrible things that have ever happened in our history, and I’m sure we can all readily come up with hundreds more, with very little prompting. If anyone has a moral repugnancy attached to restoring any of these events – or countless others like them – there is the door. I suggest you use it, and I wish you well. But if you stay, your job is to make sure that Lee Harvey Oswald pulls the trigger. Capiche?”

Everyone nodded grimly, “Boris, you’ve been quiet,” Carmen said.

“I just, it is unfortunate, the lost candidate,” he said, then suddenly added, “We all play that parlor game when we are young – would you kill Hitler in his crib?”

“I’m a bit surprised that other side hasn’t tried that,” Kevin said.

“Well, they haven’t yet,” Otra stated.

“Carmen, I can vouch for the existence of, well, there’s someone out there. I figure I saw an operative, maybe two,” Rick said, “You got photos of the candidates?” Carmen nodded, it was the confirmation of what Unger had written.

Levi produced a PADD, “Here are all of the living candidates.”

Rick perused the list and checked out the women’s photographs, filing some of the information away for later, “Huh. Whoever I saw isn’t one of these,” he said, “I might be mistaken, but I don’t think so.”

“You’ll be very busy suddenly,” Carmen said to him, “You’d better find your way home. His, uh, his family’s restored, right?”

Otra checked, “Daniels family, restored in full.”

“You saying they were wiped?” Rick asked.

Carmen nodded, “We figured it out after you had left. We’re not sure where the change occurred in time.”

“Huh. Thanks,” he said distractedly. He wouldn’t have to explain anything to Tina. She hadn’t known he was gone. She hadn’t even known he’d existed.

And that was good, as he hadn’t, truly, missed her. He was coming to a realization about that, slowly.

“We don’t know if the aim was to wipe them,” Carmen said, “They might’ve been collateral temporal consequences.”

“Maybe,” Otra said, “I suppose it would be some sort of convenient bonus for them in particular, to get you, and us, distracted from the main purpose.”

“None of the other families were wiped,” Carmen pointed out, “So I wouldn’t rule it out just yet. In any event, go and, and hug your parents or something, Richard. You’ve had a long day already. In fact, except for Boris, everyone go home. This mean you, too, Kevin.”

=/=



Now … Jenny Diver … ho, ho … yeah … Sukey Tawdry
Ooh … Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town.


– Bobby Darin (Mack the Knife)

Chapter 21 by jespah
Author's Notes:

Dion and the Belmonts - Teenager in Love

Aah … I said Jenny Diver … whoa … Sukey Tawdry
Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town …

Look out, old Macky is back!!


– Bobby Darin (Mack the Knife)

=/=



Carmen put on a full-dress uniform. She did not love such tasks as the one she had ahead of her. In particular, she couldn’t honestly say that Helen Walker had died particularly heroically. A shuttle crash – and then the body had been incinerated on Berren One. It seemed an ignominious end.

Under such circumstances, she normally sought spiritual phraseology. Even irreligious people usually responded to something like the Twenty-Third Psalm or at least to the music or lyrics of Taps. But that wouldn’t do, as Milton Walker was a man of God himself. He’d be quoting scriptures to her, and not the other way around.

She engaged her communicator, “Boris, get into full-dress and we’ll walk together to Transporter Room Five in, um, ten minutes.”

Boris acknowledged and ended the connection. Alone in his office, with the door securely shut, he stripped down to briefs. He smiled to himself and called a certain someone, “Ah,” she said, “You took a while to call back.”

“Sorry, uh, it was a medical emergency.”

“Boris, you haven’t had a medical emergency in years.”

“Uh, well, in any event, tell me about what you are wearing,” he said, beginning to touch himself.

“You said the zebra-striped outfit,” she said, “And you?”

“Almost nothing,” he replied, which was true, “I am very, very hot for you right now.”

“Ooh,” she replied, more like a moan than a word, “Don’t you wanna save it for tonight? You know what I can do with my mouth.”

“Ah, yes,” he breathed, more aroused, “You are such a tease. Talented, yes, but a tease, nonetheless.”

“You like it,” she said, “I kinda like that it’s sound only. Not that I don’t like to see you aroused. It’s just, good to leave a little something to the imagination,” she cooed.

“Not to mention, this way is perfectly untraceable. Now, tell me what you would do with your luscious mouth.”

“Things your wife will never do.”

His door chimed, “A, a moment!” he called out, “So sorry, my love. I will be there as soon as possible. One order of boring business to attend to, and then I will be at your side in a flash.”

“Don’t be too long. You know how impatient I get.”

The connection closed, and he raced to put on a full-dress uniform as his door chimed a second, and then a third, time.

=/=



Boris and Carmen transported to the provided coordinates – a ship called the USS Saint Eligius.

There was a sound of medieval-style chanting. The ship’s interior was Spartan and devoid of any decoration or superfluity. A monk came to greet them, dressed in long red robes, with a cowl hood he had taken down so that his face could be seen, “I am Brother Simon. We spoke earlier. It is a most unfortunate bit of news that you carry,” he only shook Boris’s hand and Carmen remembered – there was something in this order about not touching women.

“Have you told him?” Carmen asked.

“No. I have respected your wishes in this matter,” Brother Simon said, “Brother Milton has been in silent reflection and meditation for most of the week. It was our intention that he not be disturbed, but naturally this news cannot wait.”

They walked to the rectory, which doubled as an office. A pair of monks, hoods on and heads bowed, silently walked by. Other than one being shorter than the other, they had no identifying characteristics whatsoever.

A monk was already there, “Brother Percival, fetch Brother Milton. This is –” Simon indicated Boris and Carmen – “a matter that cannot be delayed.”

“I don’t have much cause to go to monasteries,” Boris said, “What is Eligius the patron saint of?”

Knife Makers, Minting, Numismatics, Agricultural Workers, Blacksmiths, Boilermakers, Cab Drivers, Carriage Makers, Cartwrights, Coin Collectors, Crafters, Cutlers, Farmers, Farriers, Garage Workers, Gas Station Workers, Gilders, Goldsmiths, Harness Makers, Horses, Horseshoe Makers, Jewelers, Jockeys, Laborers, Locksmiths, Metal Workers, Miners, Saddlers, Veterinarians and Wheelwrights,” Brother Simon recited from memory. Brother Percival returned with another monk, “Ah, thank you, Brother Percival. That will be all. I shall also take my leave of you. Brother Milton, the reason for the interruption of your meditations will become apparent soon,” he left.

Brother Milton just stared at them and did not even take Boris’s proffered hand, “I, sir,” Carmen ventured, “I regret to inform you that your daughter, Helen, is dead.”

Brother Milton looked a tiny bit stricken but said nothing.

“It, it was a shuttle malfunction. She was, uh, she had interviewed with us at the Temporal Integrity Commission today. The pilot did all that she could do,” Carmen added.

“Were there other casualties?” Brother Milton finally asked, after a long pause.

“No,” Boris said, “It is most tragic to lose one so young,” he tried to maintain a level of patience and decorum, but the clock was ticking and he really, really wanted to see the zebra-striped outfit modeled – and then discarded – by its owner.

“She was of the flesh,” Brother Milton said.

“Does her mother live?” Carmen asked, “Our information was rather incomplete, unfortunately. We would like to inform her as well, unless you would prefer to do that.”

“Enid,” Brother Milton said, “That name is from the Arthurian legends, the Idylls of the King.”

“And Helen is from the Iliad,” Boris pointed out, “The face that launched a thousand ships.”

“Both are vanities of the flesh,” Brother Milton said.

There was nothing to say to that, and Boris was looking antsy and uncomfortable, so Carmen said, “I am sorry we troubled you. If Helen’s mother is living, if you have any information as to her whereabouts, we would be most grateful. We will leave you to your, uh, grief,” she motioned to Boris and the two of them walked out of the rectory. They found Brother Simon quickly.

“He is at a purging stage,” Brother Simon explained, “The sins of flesh and wealth, as well as all temptations, are to be stripped away.”

“You’ll let us know if he provides any information on any other family members?” Carmen asked.

“I will. Safe travels,” he transported Carmen out.

Boris awaited transport, “Where to?” asked Brother Simon.

Boris briefly considered Kronos, his home, where Darragh would be waiting. She’d be peeved. She usually was that way with him, “Uh, Cardassia,” he said. And, the zebra-striped outfit and its hotter than hot owner. Now Darragh would really have something to be peeved about.

=/=



Their visitors gone, a short monk came into the rectory and removed a hood. So revealed, this monk was not a man, but a woman – a brunette, in complete violation of the monastery’s stated rules. Helen Walker.

“Nice job, Daddy!” she enthused, hugging him.

Brother Milton smiled at her, “I think saying you were of the flesh really put it over the top, eh? Now, you know you can’t stay here. The other monks will find you and there’ll be,” he glanced around for a second to make sure that no one could hear them, “hell to pay.”

“I’ll find someplace to go. Y’all won’t have to worry about me,” she drawled, “Maybe I’ll go someplace in the Solar System. Hide among all the other human and part-human biosigns.”

“Good idea. You know, Helen, they’ll figure out you’re alive very soon.”

“I know. And that’s all right,” she said, “I reckon if they think they’ve found me out, they could become complacent, think they’ve found the heart of the conspiracy.”

“Possibly,” he said, “We’ll have our other operatives, of course. Now, what about Daniels?”

“He scarcely touched me in 1959. I thought our intelligence said he was an unrepentant womanizer, Daddy.”

“He is. But he might’ve just been concentrating on the mission,” she looked a little hurt so he quickly added, “I’m sure you weren’t being rejected. Be patient. I’m sure your paths will cross again, and you’ll get a chance to work your wiles.”

“And y’all don’t mind?”

“Helen, I am your father, so I can’t say I don’t mind at all. But our cause is greater than the both of us – greater than all of us. If you can turn Agent Daniels by using your feminine charms, well…”

“He makes my skin crawl. But I can take one for the team, Daddy,” she said.

“That’s my girl.”

=/=



I don't have plans and schemes,
And I don't have hopes and dreams,
I don't have anything
Since I don't have you.


– The Skyliners (Since I Don’t Have You)

Chapter 22 by jespah
Author's Notes:

The Skyliners - Since I Don't Have You

I don't have fond desires,
And I don't have happy hours,
I don't have anything
Since I don't have you.

I don't have happiness, and I guess
I never will again.
When you walked out on me,
in walked old misery,
And he's been here since then.


– The Skyliners (Since I Don’t Have You)

=/=



The rest of the team transported their separate ways. Levi almost forgot to get off the Transporter pad once it had deposited him on Bajor. He was just so absorbed in his PADD as he continued to work on the decryption.

Every now and then, he would call Deirdre, and they would argue over some point or another, but they would also share every little breakthrough, and he was almost civil to her. Once she had found the T, it was an easy matter to find the S and the R. The rule seemed to be holding, that the Greek letters, in alphabetical order, corresponded to English letters, also in alphabetical order.

For a while, despite the fact that the sentence ended in a period, he had insisted that the first word was where. But it didn’t quite fit. Deirdre had figured out – it wasn’t where, it was there.

Finally, he got her on the line as she was stepping through the front door of her apartment on Ganymede. They had both figured out the sentence, at nearly the same time, and ended up saying it together: There is much wrong with history.

As for the remainder of the encoded message, it would have to wait. But they had a good basis. It was, most likely, the premise on which the rest of that document hung.

Deirdre contacted Kevin, getting him as he was opening up a flash-frozen dinner and about to heat it up, “Huh,” he said when she told him the sentence, “If that’s their big idea, well, they’re gonna want to be fixing anything ‘n everything.”

“Do you suppose they’re detail-oriented, or are they big picture-type people?” Deirdre asked.

“Probably a bit of both,” he said as his dinner dinged, signaling its readiness for consumption, “I doubt they’ll be meticulously rebricking the Great Wall of China or anything. And really big changes – megaotria – they’re not supposed to be possible anyway.”

“But that’s just a theory, right?”

“Yeah. But it’s a good one,” he said, “I mean, how do you stop the American Civil War? You gotta, let’s see, abolish slavery, eliminate the States’ Rights argument, turn the Nineteenth Century South into a more industrial economy and make humans from that time period treat everyone the same, irrespective of race. All of those are tall orders, particularly if you also want Lincoln to somehow get elected and make Grant at least a semi-decent soldier.”

“Don’t forget, you also don’t want Lincoln to be assassinated,” she pointed out.

“Yep. It’s a game of Whack-a-Mole. When you temporally bite of more than you can chew, you end up with a lotta balls in the air at once.”

“Uh, Kevin, I don’t think you could’ve stuffed anymore metaphors in there if you had tried.”

“Please, I need more, like how time is an arrow and it’s never too late and, um, we are entangled in a great cosmic web of significance, or something like that.”

She laughed, across the light years, “I better let you go.”

“I got no plans,” he said, and then realized something, “But, uh, I bet you do.”

“Yeah, I, uh, my Mom set me up with this guy, Bruce Ishikawa. There’s a lotta pressure, seeing as he’s also Jewish-Japanese, like me.”

“Well, you kids enjoy your kosher sushi, now. Bye.”

He closed the connection and looked up at a video cutout on the wall, scrolling past a gallery of still photographs of Josie. He touched it to pause it – it was the picture of Josie he’d taken when they’d gone on the Umbriel vacation, “Forgive me, Josie,” he said, “I’m bein’ friendly, not flirting. You got nothin’ to worry ‘bout,” he kissed his fingers, then touched the image of her face, his touch starting the scrolling back up again, and the picture shifted, to a candid shot from their wedding.

=/=



While Boris was finally admiring the zebra-striped outfit and its owner close up, and Carmen was heading to the Tethys Tavern for a drink, Otra was dropping homemade gnocchi into boiling water. The chavecoi were interested for perhaps a second, but even they were sentient enough to realize not to dip themselves into a rolling boil.

She tilted her head to take a call, “Levi, what brings this call?”

“I, uh, we cracked the first sentence of that note,” he said.

“That’s wonderful. Can you, uh, I guess it can’t wait,” she said.

“It says: There is much wrong with history.”

“I can see how, if someone feels that way, they’d want to pick up all of the pieces and somehow rejigger them,” she stirred the pasta as she talked.

“Maybe,” Levi said, sounding a little nervous.

“Are you going to work on that all weekend?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Levi, you should take a break sometimes.”

“I, uh.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve got nothing else to do.”

“Well, I, uh, don’t. But you, uh, I bet you’re busy.”

“No, no, not at all,” That was only partly true. She peered inside the pot. There were plenty of gnocchi, “Do you have dinner plans?”

“What?”

“Levi, just transport over,” she said, and then closed the connection. She then suddenly smacked her own forehead, startling the chavecoi, and said out loud to herself, “Damn, I hope he doesn’t think this is a date.”

=/=



Rick waited outside the Triton Day School’s Transporter room. Tina finished grading assignments and made her way there. She wasn’t expecting him. She smiled in greeting, “You had a long meeting, eh?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess I did. Sorry I didn’t call. Uh, can we talk?”

“Sure,” she said, “Dinner?”

“No, um, here. That okay with you?”

“Uh, all right,” she said, trying not to let her voice betray her concern. Her experience was always – if they want to talk in private, it’s never good news. She led him to her office, “What’s going on?”

“Tina, I, uh, I’m sorry. But, uh …”

“Spit it out.”

“I, um, this is it,” he said.

“Oh,” she said, “I guess you really didn’t want to meet Bob.”

“No, it’s not, uh, not about meeting your father. I just, I think you can do better. You, you deserve someone better,” he said. And someone who’ll miss you when he leaves, he thought to himself.

“I don’t understand.”

“Tina, you want someone who’ll love you. I, it’s not you. It is definitely not you. It’s that, uh, I just don’t seem to be capable of it. I can’t give you what you need. I can’t, uh, don’t seem to be able to give it to anyone.”

“It’s the secrecy. I asked you too many questions this morning. I’m, I’m sorry,” she said, “I won’t ask again. I clearly put you into an untenable position and, and I apologize. I won’t do that anymore, Richard, I swear.”

“Tee, it’s for the best.”

“No,” she said, a trifle teary, “It doesn’t have to end.”

“Yes,” he said softly, “It does. I – get angry at me. Will ya get angry, please? I deserve it; I deserve you screaming and throwing things at me.”

“I don’t throw stuff. I’ve got lousy aim.”

He smiled at that a little, “I’m gonna go. And again, I’m just, I’m really sorry. Good-bye, Tina.”

He left, and she stared at the door of her office for a little while afterward.

=/=



He got to the school’s Transporter room, “Where to?” asked the technician.

“Uh, Lafa II, to the Temporal Museum.”

Transporting was quick, and he was able to catch Eleanor before she left.

“So, big brother, what brings you here?” she asked.

“I, well, I broke up with Tina.”

“Recently?”

“Not two minutes ago.”

“Oh. She’ll be calling me at some point,” Eleanor said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he allowed.

“Some special reason you can tell me?”

“I left on a mission and I didn’t even miss her. I barely thought of her at all. And that’s just, it’s wrong. El, I lead a pretty secret life. And, I, you know, I can’t tell her things. And it’s not fair.”

“That’s not the whole story, though, right?”

“No. They, um, this is in total confidence, El,” she nodded, “It’s, things are changing. There’s a movement to change time. They took out our family today, a consequence of what was probably the original act. I had to go fix that.”

“I didn’t notice anything. How strange.”

“You wouldn’t. You’d either exist, or you never would have. Either way, there’s nothing to really notice.”

“Do you think they were trying to wipe us all out, Rick?”

“I don’t know. But they might. I, I can’t be concerning myself with Tina on top of everyone and everything else. It’ll only make her a target, too, and I don’t want that.”

“Hmm,” she paused, “I can’t say as it was an act of love on your part. But it was definitely an unselfish one. Very mature of you. Richard, are you coming tonight?”

“Uh, where?”

“Pot roast.”

“Oh, uh, yeah, I guess so.”

Transport to Titan was uneventful. Their parents were waiting, “Ricky, you made it!” their father enthused.

“Oh, Steven, you act like you haven’t seen him in months,” Their mother said, as she kissed Rick on the cheek.

“Well I haven’t, Chloe,” Steven said in response.

“Huh, yeah, I guess you haven’t, Dad. Sorry ‘bout that.”

“S’okay. I remember the bachelor life,” he said.

“Steven!”

“And I wouldn’t go back to it for anything,” he said, putting a hand on his wife’s waist. He smiled at her and she smiled back, looking deep into his eyes. They were oblivious to everything else going on around them.

“Uh, ahem,” Eleanor said, “I’ll just go set the table.”

“Yes, yes, please do. Ricky, you should bring that nice girl Tina April over next time. Eleanor told me you were dating her friend. I hope that wasn’t some big secret,” Chloe said.

“Uh, no,” Rick said, shaking his head.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Ricky,” Their mother said. Then she leaned close to him and said quietly, “Is there at least someone you know who you can introduce Eleanor to? She’s so lonely, Ricky.”

“Um, we’re hiring. So, uh, maybe in the next few months. If, uh, if she doesn’t mind a time guy.”

“You have a lotta secrets to keep,” she said, “Don’t think I don’t know. I recognize that it’s a covert operation. But you will tell me if your life is ever threatened, right?”

“Uh ….”

“Well, at least humor me then, and say that everything’s wonderful,” she said.

“Everything’s wonderful, Mom.”

“Ricky, she’s gonna worry about you even if she’s got no reason to,” Steven said.

“I’m all right. Really,” he said, “Things are getting busy, but I’m all right.”

For now.

=/=



I don't have love to share,
And I don't have one who cares.
I don't have anything
since–I don't–have–
You, you, you, you
you, you, you, you
you, you, you, you
(You)



– The Skyliners (Since I Don’t Have You)


The End

Next: Part II: Ohio

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