I'll stay with you darling now,
I'll stay with you till my seas are dried up.
- Cream (Sunshine of Your Love)
He finally did something about the fact that they had been holding hands for a while, and dropped hers. “Uh, I meant no disrespect.”
“It’s all right. It’s not like I haven’t had boyfriends. It has been over twenty years, you cannot expect me to have gone that long without, well, without it.”
“That’s a personal thing.”
“Well, of course, but we are sharing intimate details, eh? Now, Richard, I have little doubt that I will star in some report or something.” The way she said something, it sounded like somesing. “But at least I hope you will say I was beautiful, or brilliant, or whatever tickles your fancy. It will be about how you were helped by a very, very important person, all right?”
He smiled. “I usually don’t physically describe the people I meet in my reports.”
“But you do mention us, eh? Tell me, do you meet a lot of women?”
That question brought him up a little short. “A few.”
“So you don’t go several years without it, either, am I right? Unless there is a wife at home, although I imagine it would be like wedding a traveling salesman. You are never home, you are missed, the children,” chilren, “they never see Papa, that sort of thing.”
“Maybe let’s not talk about my private life. Now, do you know where I can get nylon and aluminum?”
Another day had passed in 3110, and it was morning and again Boris had been denied in the night and had missed Marisol. He finally caught up to her, in her office. “Where were you last night? And the night before?”
“You were supposed to be with me.”
“I was?” she asked, “I tried you, but both times, you were sleeping.”
“I have not slept. Tell me, Marisol, have you another lover?”
“What’s it to you? You are married, Boris - a fact that you continue to conveniently forget.”
He put a hand on her shoulder and a finger on her throat, just over her windpipe. “You have such a pretty neck, my love. It would be such a pity to snap it.”
“Here we are in 1978,” Sheilagh read off the instrument panel on the Flux Capacitor. The ship was already cloaked, and they were about ready to set up a synchronous orbit on the dark side of the moon.
“How do you wanna work this?” Polly asked.
“I think we can go in and speak with someone in charge. Let them know that ARCNET is a good, commercially viable, idea.”
“Do you think we need to make some sort of a business case?” asked Polly.
“I can’t really put together anything with graphs or financial projections, if that’s what you’re thinking. At least, I can’t make anything that wouldn’t be found out as BS in about five seconds. But I can show them on a computer, if it comes to that, just what this kind of technology means.”
“And this isn’t even the technology that becomes wildly popular.”
“Right,” Sheilagh said, “this change was maddeningly obscure.”
Something changed, and Otra felt it. The millions of rabbits had hopped out of her subconscious and that bit, at least, had been corrected.
Carmen heard a loud bong sound as the timeline was beginning to be restored. “All right, Agent Daniels. Or, perhaps, Porter and Bernstein. Either way, good going.”
Kevin contacted her. “The bunnies are gone.”
“That’s good. So, the implication is, humanity didn’t know that first contact was coming, which is how it’s supposed to be. Now for the remainder of it. I don’t like first contact and Warp Drive coming down the pike so uncomfortably late. Makes me feel like a damned primitive.”
“Let’s go back inside, I’ll see what I can find for you,” Milena said, “But it can take some time to get consumer goods around here, Prague Spring or no. For example, Noemy and I have silk stockings, not nylon. So we will have to try to find a place to purchase them. And as for aluminum, there are soft drink cans but it can be tough to find soft drinks. And I don’t imagine anyone wishes to part with their cookware.”
“You don’t have any nylon at all?”
“No,” she smiled, “you should have been taken in by women who were not quite so highbrow. It is, well, it is one of the few luxuries that we allow ourselves. I do fear, though, that it may take a week or more to locate what you need.”
“Well, the offer still stands,” he said, “let me know what I can do around here.” They had arrived at the house and she was fumbling for her key.
“Oh, hi!” she called out to a neighbor. “This is my cousin, Radek.” Then, more quietly, she added, “Smile and wave now, Radek.”
He did so.
The neighbor, an old man, came over. “Where are you here from?” he said as he shook Rick’s hand.
“Did you come by the train?”
“That’s nice. Have a nice visit.” The old man left.
“It’s like a small town around here,” he said.
“This is the Jewish section. It was a ghetto originally; now we just live here because our friends and our families do. And Pawel lives nearby because, well, he is in a mental stalemate, I suppose, but he remains hopeful.”
“At some point, they’ll figure it out.”
“I don’t know,” she said, “they’ve had over twenty years and they’re still fumbling.”
“Those are strong words coming from one in your position,” Marisol said.
“I don’t have to do much, and things for you can become rather … interesting.”
“You love your home on Cardassia,” Boris said, “I know you would rather not give it up.”
“And you like your job here,” Marisol said, “especially how it keeps you out and away from your home, with an absolutely valid reason for being away. It is much like a perfect alibi.”
“And you like it here as well,” he said, “and I don’t think you wish to jeopardize that. You do forget that I have seniority over you.”
“You know, Polly is a delightful woman. And I am sure she would appreciate a few heart-to-heart chats with a new friend such as myself,” she paused.
“There are many topics of conversation,” Boris said. He was outwardly fairly calm, but inside, he was in turmoil, and couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to him if Darragh were to find out.
“But only a few subjects are truly of interest,” Marisol said, “such as your detours on your commutes home. Or some of your real estate acquisitions in the last few years. Or the records of the calls made on your implanted Communicator - those are all rather fascinating things to discuss, don’t you agree?”
“What, what is it you want from me?” he still had his finger on her throat, but he knew that that wasn’t doing him a damned bit of good.
“I’ll think about it,” she said, “but right now just a bit of coverage, as I will be leaving the Commission today for an errand that I must run. You can be a good boy and tell Carmen I’m exercising or something, can’t you?”
“Yes,” he said, and removed his hand from her neck. His palm was moist with sweat, a bodily betrayal of his nerves.
Phil Ray was head of R & D for Datapoint, the company that developed ARCNET.
“Sir, the consultants are here to see you,” said his receptionist.
“Consultants? I don’t, uh, send them in.” He stood up, a jack in the box on new springs, when he saw that they were two women. “Won’t you ladies come in?”
“Hiya,” Sheilagh said, and then introduced herself and Polly, “We’re here to see ARCNET in action.”
“Uh, I’m afraid that project’s being scrapped.”
“Scrapped? But why?” Polly asked.
“Our CEO - Mister O’Kelley - feels it would not be profitable,” he said, but it was clear that he didn’t believe that.
“That’s, uh, that doesn’t make any sense,” said Sheilagh.
“I don’t know about that,” Ray said, “he’s a much shrewder businessman than I’ll ever be, and he seems rather convinced.”
“But you aren’t convinced,” Polly said, “in fact, I think you’re frustrated because you know in your gut that this thing can really work, and you’re wondering why he’s just squandering what to you seems like a surefire opportunity.”
“It’s, it’s not my call to make.”
“It is, though,” Sheilagh said, “I mean, isn’t your opinion valued around here at all? This dog can really hunt! Don’t you think it’s strange that such a potential winner would be just dismissed out of hand? What’s in it for your CEO if this product is never released to the general public?”
“Just who do you ladies consult for again?”
“Uh, TIC,” Sheilagh said, “here, I can show you the potential, if you would be so good as to fire up two computers linked by ARCNET.”
“Come to the lab,” he said, “and show me what you’re talking about.”
Rick had been in Prague for about a week, and July had slid into August. Milena had put him to work, and he had moved heavy things and cleaned up, just as she had said. This had included not only her office but also Noemy’s photographic portrait studio, also known as the home’s old parlor.
Rick and Pawel had also spent some time repairing the ancient icebox. Rick got his hands dirty, trying to get it to stop rattling quite so loudly. He was reminded of how he’d fixed the Warp Drive on the ISS Defiant. For that repair job, he’d been rewarded with a few days of playtime with the Empress Hoshi Sato.
With Milena Chelenska, though, he figured the reward might be a bit less earthy. And it was, for one day she handed him several Czech korunas, the coins heavy in his palm and pocket. “Your wages, sir,” she said.
“Ha, how strange. We don’t have money,” he said. It was just the two of them.
“No money! How do you decide on value, then?”
“It’s more based on ability and the like,” he replied, “if you’re smarter or faster or whatever, there’s a higher value. I mean, there’s a guy I work with who’s a serious musician. I’m sure his playing a Beethoven sonata is valued considerably higher than me trying to hum out Happy Birthday on the kazoo.”
“No doubt. A musician! What could your organization possibly want with that?”
“Well, he’s kind of a hip guy; he can fit in better with people who are a lot younger than me, like in their twenties.”
“But still, music is a very specific skill,” she insisted.
“Yeah. The, uh, the people who are messing with time seem to care about it for some reason or another.”
“Perhaps that is, as we say, a red herring.”
“So check this out,” Sheilagh said, “we can share data pretty readily. I mean, I don’t need to teach you your own system. I’m sure you know all of this.”
“But it’s the business use,” Polly said, “if I’m in Chicago, and Sheilagh’s in New York, or here in Texas, we can share information, like files.”
“But we can always fax,” Ray said.
“Show me how you fax,” Sheilagh said.
He did, and the paper jammed. “See,” Sheilagh said, “you’ve got a problem right there. Use ARCNET, and there’s no paper to jam. And, eventually, I bet you’ll be able to figure out how to communicate with people outside the company.”
“Outside?” he asked.
“Yes!” Sheilagh gushed, “let’s call this, uh, an intranet, what you have here with ARCNET. This is where you can talk to your coworkers in Scranton or wherever. But if you could talk to, say, suppliers, or potential customers outside of your company, well, packet-switching already exists, right? It’s just a matter of companies adopting a standard. I mean, I figure that a means for Datapoint to communicate to other companies, sort of like the corollary to the ARCNET intranet, it would be called an internet.”
“You may be right,” Rick allowed, “so is this enough for me to purchase nylon and aluminum?”
“Sure, if you can find a place that carries such things. Even with a relaxing of the rules, supplies are neither consistent, nor are they reliable.”
“But this is a pretty big city,” he said.
“It is. Eh, an irregular supply chain is yet another gift of Communist rule. But also, I should tell you - I should purchase the nylon if we can find it.”
“Yes. It will look strange if a man purchases stockings. Unless, of course, you enjoy such things for yourself. I am not here to judge you.”
He smiled a bit at that. “Maybe I’ll just say they’re for you.”
“That would be a rather intimate gift you would be giving me, Richard.”
“Well, seeing as we now know each other and all ….”
“My neighbors will really start to talk then, eh? In the meantime, maybe we concentrate on getting you your aluminum. We may be able to get scraps.”
And that was how it had gone, thrust and parry, a bit of flirting or teasing on his part, and then she would bat it back. She was friendly, and his attempts never truly seemed to annoy her, but she never said yes.
Harold O’Kelley, the President and CEO of Datapoint, was impressed. Ray had called him over. “I guess I didn’t realize ARCNET had the potential to do all that.”
“Why did you try to scrap the project?” Polly asked.
“There was a consultant - maybe a competitor of yours - he came in and said the system was gonna go bust in less than a year. He had a lot of supporting data for that; it seemed rather convincing.”
“What company was he from?” Sheilagh asked.
O’Kelley thought for a moment. “Perfectionist Industries.”
I've been waiting so long
To be where I'm going
in the sunshine of your love.
- Cream (Sunshine of Your Love)