It's far beyond the stars
it's near beyond the moon
I know beyond a doubt
my heart will lead me there soon
- Bobby Darin (Beyond the Sea)
“Maybe we’ll look for some bigger places to eat, not these holes in the wall,” Rick offered.
“I’m all for that,” Sheilagh said, “Ground glass! Don’t these people believe in food safety?”
“Probably, but this is all small, private kitchens. This society isn’t that litigious, too. So stuff like that happens. At least no one got hurt. You didn’t eat any of that, did you?”
“No, just the antipasto, which was only fair. You?”
“Not a bite. So we’re both good. Actually, we’d both really feel it if we downed a foreign object like that, a sharp one, for sure. No worries.”
They dodged traffic to get to the Colosseum. “How old is this place?” she asked.
He surreptitiously consulted a PADD. “It’s from the time of the Emperor Vespasian. Uh, 72 AD. So, uh, it’s around nineteen hundred years old already - and a good three thousand by our reckoning.”
“Bread and circuses, eh?”
“Yep, a lot like the mirror universe.”
“Really? What’s it like? I haven’t been yet,” she admitted.
“It’s pretty bad until you get a lot closer to our own time period. A good four or five hundred years before the Colosseum is built, the genetics in the mirror start to go haywire.”
“Yes, it’s the Y Chromosome Skew.”
“Exactly. So it all tips a lot more violent and aggressive. The mirror universe doesn’t start to kinda get over that until about 2765, when there start to be a lotta pulse shots and crossing over, back and forth, and marriages ensue.”
“So there started to be more women around, right?” she asked.
“Yep, from our side of the pond, of course, but there were still more of ‘em. I guess guys started to realize that they’d better start behaving themselves.”
She smiled. “And here in Rome?”
“It was just a more violent society way back when. But there also - and this doesn’t excuse, although it might explain it a bit - there weren’t a whole helluva lotta entertainment options then. There were no movies, there’s no viewer, no baseball or football or soccer. Museums exist but there are only a few of them, and most people couldn’t read, or at least they couldn’t get their hands on a lot of things to read. Christianity doesn’t really exist yet; it’s not fully formed.”
“So they threw Christians to the lions because they didn’t have viewers?”
“That’s about the size of it.”
“Well, they could’ve always had sex.”
The statement hung in the charged air for a second.
“Yeah, there’s also that.”
Marisol had retreated, and really had no way of knowing whether Rick or Sheilagh had ingested any Ebola virus, or gotten cut by the pulverized glass and had the virus enter that way.
But that was all right for; while she preferred success to failure - like anyone does - she was patient. If things didn’t work out to her liking this time, she’d have countless other opportunities to see things through. Dealing with Boris and his insecurities had taught her that.
She also knew that the Perfectionists needed her, for the potential for eventual blackmail was huge. She had planted the seeds long ago, but it wasn’t time to harvest them just yet.
In 3109, they questioned anyone they could at the Temporal Integrity Commission. But it was obvious - Otra had been taken, via Transporter. Without her gift for comparing temporal alternatives, they were forced to rely on the computer. Everyone investigated, even Levi.
The present-day change was a fairly big one - the human population had more than trebled. But why? That was where Otra’s gift would have come in mighty handy.
Boris and HD were given the task of working their way forward from 1960. Kevin and Deirdre were given the reverse task, to work their way backward from 3109. Crystal and Tom checked broadcasts, but there was nothing. As for Levi, he and Carmen took it upon themselves to check the mirror, just in case.
“Huh, how odd,” Boris finally said.
“Something good?” Carmen asked, a bit desperate for anything that could explain things.
“Yeah, huh, wow. It looks like there are four more Queen albums than there are supposed to be,” HD said.
“What the devil is that supposed to mean?” Carmen asked.
“He, uh, his obituary. Freddie Mercury - he dies of, uh, he’s in a car accident in 2016,” HD said.
“What’s in the master file about this man?” Carmen asked.
Levi started clicking around. “Here. He, uh, it’s not a car accident. It happens in, uh, 1991.”
“It says a long illness; he died after a long illness. What kind of a euphemism is that?” Carmen inquired.
“It sounds like something being covered up, something where people might make unfounded judgments,” Boris offered.
“An illness? What kind of an unfounded judgment can you make about contracting an illness?” Crystal asked. “It’s all microbes and a roll of the dice, usually.”
They all sat and thought for a while. “Maybe, uh,” Tom ventured, “maybe it was venereal. We, uh, there’s old military training protocols. We had to follow ‘em when I was stationed on Breen. We were supposed to, uh, when we were going on leave in town, to take birth control shots, and then, afterward, if we’d done anything, we were ordered to report to the Base Doctor.”
“A fatal venereal disease?” Deirdre asked.
“We studied this in school,” Boris said, “It’s an eradicated retrovirus: HIV.”
“So this, this Freddie what’s-his-name, he doesn’t get HIV. So?” Carmen asked.
“Mercury; he’s Freddie Mercury,” HD corrected.
Crystal clicked around, looking at the changed history. “I don’t see any references to HIV in the new timeline, in the last half of the twentieth century.”
“Maybe it got a different name,” Levi offered.
“Let’s keep looking at 1960 and right afterwards,” Carmen said, “I think we can forget about working our way back from the present day, at least for now.”
There was quiet as they worked.
“There,” Deirdre finally said, “In 1974, there was an outbreak of Mad Cow disease. It was eradicated by destroying millions of head of cattle in Texas.”
“And?” Kevin asked.
“And it says here that it was all done as a part of public health protocols that were put into place in 1960,” Deirdre added.
“Ding ding ding!” HD exclaimed.
“Public health, public health,” Boris said quietly as he clicked around. “Aha. There,” he projected a headline onto the wall of the conference room. It said: Local Boy Dies of Mysterious Illness.
“I’m still not seeing the connection,” Carmen said.
Boris began reading, “Tyler, Texas: Christopher Donnelly, fourteen, died today of an illness apparently picked up while the family was vacationing in Italy. Doctors were quoted as saying that the boy’s internal organs appeared to have melted,” Boris looked up. “That’s a hemorrhagic fever, probably Marburg or Ebola.”
“Ebola in Italy in 1960 - that’s a little too damned convenient,” Kevin said.
“Check Italy,” Carmen said grimly.
There was only the sound of furious clicking. Crystal finally said, “The disease isn’t named anywhere, so it’s hard to be sure, and I can only find one victim, a woman.”
“Is it Sheilagh?” Carmen asked.
“No, it’s, uh, Angela Libertini. It’s the same kind of thing, where the doctors say it was like her internal organs just disintegrated,” Crystal said.
“So - let me see if I understand this,” Tom drawled. “Ebola or something like it comes to Italy when Rick and Sheilagh are there.”
“Right,” Kevin said, “And Ebola is not supposed to hit Italy then. Two people die, maybe more, but we definitely know of at least two.”
“And so, I would speculate,” Boris said, “public health and quarantine laws change because of this outbreak, most likely in both Italy and the United States. And so in 1974 the protocols were in place when Mad Cow hit, and a disaster was averted. And a few years later when HIV first started to be seen in America, public officials must have protected the blood supply, distributed condoms and clean needles and so on and so forth, in order to apparently prevent the pandemic from hitting at least the Western World.”
HD clicked around. “It’s amazing. Not only is there more music from Freddie Mercury, it’s also all sorts of people who never become HIV - er, AIDS - victims. Halston, Arthur Ashe, Ryan White, Kimberly Bergalis, Rock Hudson, Brad Davis, Elizabeth Glaser, Liberace - this list is longer than my arm.”
“No wonder the population is tripled,” Carmen said, “The Ebola deaths of two people in 1960 cut off a major check on population growth.”
“Two for millions. I bet the Manifesto authors are pretty pleased with themselves,” Crystal said.
“Possibly,” Carmen allowed. “Let’s see if Sheilagh and Rick are unnamed victims of Ebola. So look for John and Jane Does in Italy, or anywhere, anyone who died of some sort of an illness where the organs appear to have liquefied. We all know that Ebola’s a part of how Parker was killed. It’s all far too coincidental and convenient. This has got to be an attempt on their lives.”
The leader of the Perfectionists performed a similar check, with similar findings. This was a terrific bit of collateral temporal enhancement. Marisol sure could pick her moments.
There was also a cause for celebration. They had Otra, not one hundred meters away.
As for Otra, as she began to again regain consciousness the vision of all that dead cattle was replaced with crowds, the look of New York City at high noon on a weekday.
And one phrase echoed in her brain until she awoke.
There are too many people.
We'll meet beyond the shore
we'll kiss just as before
Happy we'll be beyond the sea
and never again I'll go sailin'
- Bobby Darin (Beyond the Sea)