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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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)