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My daddy is sleepin' and mama ain't around
Yeah daddy is sleepin' and mama ain't around
We're gonna twisty twisty twisty
'Til we turn the house down
Come on and twist yeah baby twist
Ooh-yeah just like this
Come on little Miss and do the twist


-- Chubby Checker (The Twist)

=/=


Sheilagh - the best one, according to HD, went home. She could have stayed at the Temporal Integrity Commission, for she had a bunk there, like they all did, but she knew it was in everyone’s best interests for her to clear out, at least for the night.

She wasn’t much of a runner, but she could walk far, so she grabbed a player and a pair of earbuds and headed out, into the temperate Martian night.

There was a lot to think about. Beyond the obvious question of whether she wanted to keep her new job at the Temporal Integrity Commission was the more disturbing and encompassing question about what any of them were doing at the Temporal Integrity Commission. Of course, it wasn’t her place to decide whether what they were doing was right or wrong - only whether it made moral and ethical sense for her.

And she was unsure about that.

Her ramblings took her, eventually, to a dog park in Ironville. For centuries, Mars’s economy had been dominated by mining. Most of the cities and larger towns were named after some mineral or element or another and not just minerals that had originated on Earth or Mars. There was a Trellium Town nearby - and trellium was a mineral initially found in the Delphic Expanse.

There was only one other person at the dog park, an older fellow with an equally geriatric poodle that romped as well as its elderly body allowed. The poodle was rolling in the dust, getting its ostensibly white coat reddish-pink. The man was trying to get it to stop, to no avail. “Beau! Oh, c’mon!” sighed the man.

“Is he at least okay with baths?” Sheilagh asked as she entered the park and sealed the enclosure behind her.

“Huh? Oh, he’s all right. I showed him when he - er, both of us, actually - was younger. So he’s used to grooming and everything that goes along with it. Still! You’d think after all this time that science would’ve figured out how to build a better poodle.”

She smiled at that. “But then I don’t suppose the experience would be the same.”

“Huh? Well, probably not. Fewer annoyances, to be sure, but annoyances are all a part of the package. I’m not saying that I enjoy scooping - for I assure you, I do not. But a little barking when I don’t want to hear it, or even a little begging at the table, well, they’re all a part of the experience. Are you a dog owner?”

“Uh, not right now. But we had a Mastiff when I was growing up. Jake was a great dog.”

“And you know, when they’re gone, you kinda forget how difficult they may’ve been to bathe or walk on a lead, eh?” he asked. “Beau, c’mon! Quit rolling!” he turned to her. “I swear I should just give up and dye him red.”

“What if, uh, what if he’d been red all along?”

“All along?”

“Well, as a hypothetical, what if a few of those annoyances you mentioned didn’t exist in him when you got him?”

“Then there would be other annoyances, I suspect.”

“What if there weren’t any?” she asked. “What if Beau was perfect?”

The man thought for a moment. “Then I wouldn’t have gotten him. For, you see, I am far from perfect myself. Having a superior dog would be downright demoralizing.”

“You said you used to show him. Did you win a lot of ribbons?”

“Only a few.”

“But a perfect dog, wouldn’t he have won more ribbons?” she asked.

“He’d’ve won all of them, I suppose. Or, well, more likely it’s that someone else would have a perfect poodle, and they’d tie, or cancel one another out. Twenty perfect dogs, out of twenty in a show ring, well, there’s no judging that, not even by computer. There’s nothing to judge, I figure,” he paused and gazed at the dog lovingly. “I guess they’d all be beautiful. But even all that beauty, it would just be a lot of sameness. All that perfection! Where do you go from there? I think you’d end up with giving the blue ribbon to the most imperfect beast in the bunch. At least, I know I would. Yeah, the biter with eyes that don’t match – he’d be my pick.”

She laughed a little. “Mine too, I think.”

“Any special reason you’re asking about this? I realize that it can sometimes be good to talk to a stranger - someone you figure you’ll never see again, if you’ve got something important rolling around in your head.”

“It’s about my job. I’m trying to decide whether, well, whether I still want it,” Beau came over to Sheilagh, so she petted him, even though he was pretty dirty.

“Without knowing anything about you or your job, my advice to you is to give it six months. That is, if you can stand it that long. Just give yourself a hard deadline. So that would be, um, April of 3110, right? Stick it out, see how it goes. And if you’re still unsure in April, extend it another half-year. And if you’re happy, of course, stay longer. And if you wanna run screaming from the place, then do so.”

“April, eh?”

“April,” he said, “Beau, c’mere, we’ve gotta go home,” he clipped the leash onto the dog’s collar. “I hope this has helped a bit, uh, Miss.”

“Sheilagh,” she said, extending her hand.

“Brian,” he said. They shook hands and he and the dog departed.

Sheilagh stood in the empty dog park for maybe a minute and then quietly said to herself, “That’s the crux of the biscuit right there – when does making things better turn ridiculous? When does it go from extending their lifespans and making them shed less to making them little automatons in fur coats? And when does changing time turn from a tweak here and a jigger there into erasing all traces of adversity? And what do we lose when we do that?”

She turned to walk back home.

=/=


The next morning, Sheilagh returned to the Temporal Integrity Commission. Carmen tried to hide her pleasure – at least Bernstein had come back! If she hadn’t, then the relationship was a goner. But now, with Sheilagh on the premises, there was a fighting chance that she wouldn’t quit.

More to the point, as Carmen saw her employee walking down the hall and approaching, the facial expression was not a negative one. Carmen was hopeful.

“Well?” Carmen asked.

“I’d like to give it six months. Is that all right?”

“I don’t see any reason why not. And you and Richard will still go on vacation, all right?”

“Okay, but I haven’t figured out where, or when.”

Carmen’s implanted Communicator chimed. “Otra! Ah, good, we’ll meet in Conference Room six. And, while you’re on your way, think a bit about where you’d go if you were about to vacation in time. Thanks again. Calavicci out.”

“Something up?”

“Otra might have some information on Anthony Parker,” Carmen quickly tapped out a note on her PADD, calling on the entire department for the meeting. “Let’s go. Information awaits.”

=/=

“Parker’s got an interesting background,” Otra said. She fiddled with her PADD a bit in order to get an image of Parker projected onto the conference room wall. The image was that of a young man, but that was a given as Parker had only been twenty-six when he’d been killed. An additional detail was visible in this photograph, as Parker was wearing a tank top. It was a part of a tattoo, on the man’s left arm.

“Hey, body art!” exclaimed HD.

“That must be from before he was given stem cell growth accelerator,” Doctor Yarin said, “For the accelerator would wipe out any traces of any body art, just like any form of scarification.”

“Precisely,” Otra said, “I’m afraid I don’t have any clear images of the tattoo.”

Kevin clicked on his PADD a few times, to isolate, magnify and enhance just that part of the image. “Best I can do,” he said apologetically. It was, apparently, just the end of a word or a phrase, or perhaps even an acronym, for it was in all capitals - GIUS.

General Issue, United States,” Offered Tom. “If I’m right, it’s to commemorate old Earth military.”

“Maybe it’s not English,” Crystal said.

“It could be Latin,” Marisol suggested.

“Or maybe it’s the end part of a name, like Julius,” Deirdre said.

“I’m sure I don’t know any names like that, human or alien,” Rick said.

“Levi, what do you think?” Carmen asked.

He had been clicking away on his own PADD. “Huh? Oh, uh, it’s not egregious or outrageous. The spelling’s all wrong.”

“Maybe the tat artist just couldn’t spell,” HD offered.

“What do we know about Parker?” Carmen asked.

“Born in 3083, on Pluto, in the mirror. Looks like he first came to our side of the pond in 3099, to visit Enceladus. There was a school band competition,” Otra said.

“What’d he play?” HD asked.

“Uh, clarinet,” Otra read off her PADD.

“Jazz or orchestra?” HD asked.

“Does it matter?” Carmen inquired.

“I coulda met him if he was in jazz,” HD said, “I got friends from then. Someone might have a picture.”

“It doesn’t say,” Otra said, “No, wait; he was a soloist for some piece called Rhapsody in Blue.”

HD grinned. “He was in jazz, then. Where was the competition?”

“The first two rounds were on Enceladus. His band got to, uh, third round, which was held on Bajor,” Otra replied. “You live there, Levi, maybe you saw them.”

“Huh? Uh, no, my mother always says that jazz is the Devil’s music.”

“That’s what makes it so much fun,” HD said. He then tapped his left ear, twice, to engage his implanted Communicator and initiate a call. “Calling Benny Haddon, of Mimas. Yeah, Benny! It’s HD. Yeah, how’s it hangin’? Okay, yeah, we should get together some time; the honeys won’t know what hit ‘em. No? You’re still with Julie? Uh, okay. Look, man, you remember the ’99 competition on Enceladus and Bajor? Yeah? Good. Got any pics?” There was a pause. “Excellent! Pass ‘em to my PADD, willya? Okay, got ‘em. Thanks, man. You’re the best. And, uh, hi to Julie. Yeah. Avery out.”

He clicked a bit to project four pictures onto the conference room wall. One was just of two fellows clowning around, neither of whom was Parker. Another was of a quintet, performing. Again, no Parker. HD clicked and those two photographs disappeared from view.

The other two were of a finale with all of the bands playing together, and the last one was a formal shot of all of the participants.

“Looks like there’s Parker,” Sheilagh said, commenting for the first time, and pointing to a tall kid, playing a clarinet in the first of the two images.

“And here’s our boy again,” Kevin pointed. In the formal shot, Parker stood near the back, one of the tallest kids at the competition.

“What’s his tee shirt say?” Carmen asked.

Saint Catherine’s School for Boys,” Read off Deirdre. “Of Ceres.”

=/=


Yeah you should see my little Sis
You should see my, my little Sis
She really knows how to rock
She knows how to twist
Come on and twist yeah baby twist
Ooh-yeah just like this
Come on little Miss and do the twist
Yeah rock on now
Yeah twist on now
Twist.


-- Chubby Checker (The Twist)



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