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?”
“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?”
“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)