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