I told him I'm in no hurry,
But if I broke her heart, won't you tell her I'm sorry.
And for once in my life I'm alone,
And I’ve got to let her know just in time before I go.
- The Bee Gees (Message to You)
Saturday night in Prague, dinner finished, and Rick and Milena were washing the dishes. Pawel had taken Noemy to the movies.
“I have entertainment,” she said, as she handed him a plate to dry.
“I see. And what does it entail?”
“Well, you wanted nylon and I still cannot get it for you, but I did get some vinyl the other day, when you and Pawel were gathering your scrap aluminum.” She reached into a cabinet and took out a bottle and two glasses.
“I don’t think vinyl will work for my purposes.”
“Perhaps not, but it will definitely work for mine,” she said, “C’mon, we can finish the dishes later."
They drank first. “God, what the hell was that?”
“Slivovitz - Polish plum brandy,” she said.
“I think you can strip paint with it.”
She led him into the parlor, where there was an old record player. “At least it’s not a Victrola.”
“I’ll look that up, uh, later.”
“We have, uh, I don’t think these are very new, but they are new to me. There is Chubby Checker, Paul Anka, Lesley Gore and this is, uh, I can’t read this print. I am going to need eyeglasses one of these years. Can you read this, please?”
“It’s Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly.” He smiled. “I had a chance to meet him.”
“Oh, that’s marvelous! But we can talk about that later. Right now, my question to you, Future Man is, can you dance?”
“Rather badly,” he said, but that wasn’t strictly true. He’d been perfectly fine when he’d danced with Sheilagh in 1960. But there was something about the moment that was making him shy about it.
“Then I shall lead,” she said. She stacked up the records in the player and started the turntable. “First, Chuck Berry.”
Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans …
She took his hand and tried to get him to dance, but he wasn’t lying - he really wasn’t that good. So instead she ended up just kind of dancing around him as he mainly stood there, transfixed.
Deirdre and Crystal sat in Crystal’s work area. “You sure you’re free?” Crystal asked.
“I am. Jack is repaired, and Kevin says we’re going to hold off on the Audrey II for now. So, you got the T. That’s fantastic! Let’s see what comes after all of the Ts in the paragraph.”
“Apple, boat, cherry, eyeball, boat, eyeball, hockey stick, tree, eyeball, boat, eyeball, diamond,” Crystal took a breath, “boat, cat, boat, boat, boat, boat, feather, eyeball and one more cherry.”
“Count them up, and then tell me the top three.”
Crystal counted. “Uh, there are eight boats, four eyeballs - ugh - and two cherries. Everything else is just singles.”
“I bet one of those is an H and another one is an O.”
“How do you figure that?”
“The H comes in for common words like the, this and that. The O is for to, another really common one,” Deirdre said.
Crystal tried. “Looks like the eyeballs are Hs. But neither the boat nor the cherry is an O.”
“Huh. What’s the most common letter that comes after TH?”
“There are four of them, and they’re all cherries.”
“Bet you anything that the cherry is the E.”
Crystal checked. “Oh, you are good at this.”
“Thanks. Now let’s see what we’ve got so far.”
The Slivovitz was taking effect, so Rick ended up dancing anyway. He wasn’t totally graceless, and was much better for the slower songs.
The last song was medium tempo.
Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang
He's so fine
The record ended and there was just the staticky popping of a scratch or two. Milena went over and turned off the record player. “And so concludes the entertainment portion of our evening.”
“No,” he said, putting his hand on her waist and drawing her closer, “it’s just beginning.”
“Boat isn’t S, is it?”
“I already tried that,” Crystal said.
“Wait, look. We have the in a few places, and boat is after it. Try M or N.”
“Nope, neither of them work.”
“Does Y work?”
“We tried that.”
“Oh, sorry, I forgot.” Deirdre thought for a moment. I think only D or R is left of what could possibly come after T-H-E. ”
“You forgot I,” Crystal said.
“Ah, there’s that, too. Anything?”
“Then, hmm, I bet it’s not a letter at all,” Deirdre said.
“Yanno, with the words all smooshed together, maybe, uh, maybe it’s a way to show where the two words are separated from each other,” Crystal guessed.
“You’re good at this.”
“I don’t know if we should be doing this,” Milena said.
“I, um, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
“I, it’s not that I have no desires,” she said, “but I know you will be leaving. And soon, yes?”
“Yes, whenever I can get nylon, I guess. Or by the twentieth, something like that. There’s a vote and I can’t miss that.”
“Damn,” she said.
“I’m not making this move to try to hurt you.”
“I know, Future Man, I just figure it will all end badly no matter what. I like you. I truly do. We are intellectual equals, or at least I think we are. We get along well. We laugh. I can tell you things. Everything feels comfortable. But there is more to it than that. I am not so young anymore. I think about consequences and the future these days, before I take the plunge. There is no future here, am I right?”
“Okay, here’s what we’ve got,” Crystal showed Deirdre her PADD, which said: ____ot___ _h___e_ ___ ___ ___t _e e__e_te_ _o_ the _e_e__t o_ _______ the _e_e__t_ to o__ ____e_ ____ _o__o_ the ___t __ __o__ the __t__e ___ ____o_e _t ___ __ t__e, ____e_t ___ _e__e_t _t _t __ o__ __t_, __ _ee_e__ o_ th__ ____e_ ___ ____e_o__ te_h_o_o__ to he__ o__ _o_e_e___
“The first word is four blanks, O, T and then three more blanks,” Deirdre summarized.
Crystal spelled it out in her head. “I wonder if that word is pariotric.”
“Only one way to find out.”
“Aha! Pay dirt!”
“Okay, let’s see how it looks now,” Deirdre said.
Now Crystal’s PADD said: Pariotric c_a__e_ ca_ a__ ___t _e e__ecte_ _or t_e _e_e_it o_ _a__i__ t_e _e_e_it_ to o_r a__ie_ _i__ _o__o_ t_e pa_t i_ _ro__ t_e __t_re ca_ i_pro_e it a__ i_ ti_e a___e_t a__ per_ect it it i_ o_r __t_ a_ _eeper_ o_ t_i_ _acre_ a__ _ar_e_o__ tec__o_o__ to _e_p o_r _ore_ear_
“I think it’s gonna go a lot more quickly now.” Crystal said.
“I will admit that I have had a lot of hook-ups.” Rick said, “It’s been a lot of one and two-night stands.”
“Am I one of those?”
“No, that’s not my intention. You’re different.”
“And how can I be sure? It is all the same to you, is it not? I don’t doubt your sincerity for right now, but what happens after you are gone, and a pretty copper girl tickles your fancy? For I will be long dead by then, gone to join Mrs. Klinghofer and my parents.”
“You forgot Elijah.”
“I don’t forget Elijah,” she said, “and I had told myself these past several days, Richard, that Elijah was long gone and I could maybe, finally, let him rest in peace.”
“I think you can do that, with or without me,” Rick said, “hell, I think you should do that.”
“I, I know. But is it merely to trade one obsession for the other?”
“What makes you think I won’t think of you, too, after I’m gone?”
“Do you think of any of them? Did you love any of them?”
There was an uncomfortable silence. “I, um, I didn’t love them,” he said carefully, “but I do think of them at times.”
“Which one do you think of the most?”
“Hoshi, I guess.”
“It’s, um, it’s not so much because of her. It’s because of Jun.”
“Who is she?” Milena asked.
“He,” Rick corrected, “Is our son.”
“And you have seen him how many times?”
Rick sighed. “Never in person. I have some pictures. I can show you on the PADD, if you like.”
“Perhaps later. Is it, uh, why have you not seen him?”
“I’m not allowed to. That was the condition. He’s not supposed to exist at all. We had to manhandle the timeline in order to save his life. His younger brother, Kira, had to still have his own life and all that went along with that. Jun had to be sterilized, and I had to be kept away, for the entirety of Hoshi’s life, so that there wouldn’t be any chance that any of his siblings would be fathered by me, and that I wouldn’t be able to influence him much. Hoshi dies pretty late in his life. I suppose I could see him in his last decade. I don’t know. The cover story is that I’m dead.”
Milena thought for a moment. “Do you have other children?”
“No, just the one.” Rick sat down, hard, on the parlor sofa. “He doesn’t deserve this.” He began to weep.
Milena took out her handkerchief. “I am unused to seeing men break down. Even Pawel doesn’t, and I am sure he has had many reasons to cry.”
“It’s just, I haven’t done this,” Rick said, “I’ve kept this in for years. When they said I had to undo the timeline, and that, that he would never be born, Carmen and I made all the arguments.”
“Carmen? Who is this Carmen?”
“Huh, men working for women. The future is a strange place. Go on.” She sat down next to him and put an arm around him.
“The first thing we argued was to, to sterilize him. I mean, just like that, and take away a fundamental right of his! But that wasn’t enough. We had to shore up Kira, make it so that he wasn’t quite so secondary. Then we came up with to say that I was dead. That was Carmen’s idea.”
“I would think that would be enough.”
“But I’m even banned from going to see her before he was conceived, too.”
“That seems overly strict.”
“It’s, well, it’s complicated,” he said, “but it also had to do with her position at the time.”
“I won’t ask. Are you, are you feeling any better?”
“A bit,” he said, “I can talk to you about this. I can’t talk to anyone else, not really.”
“You don’t talk to this Carmen about it?”
“Not anymore. It’s considered a done deal, a closed case. My role in Jun Sato’s conception is considered to be a government secret anyway.”
“Have you ever seen any of your other women again, after you have departed?”
“None. I don’t, well, I don’t want to.”
“Tell you what. You come see me for New Year’s Day of 2000. That will be a glorious sight to behold, eh? I will be, eh, in my seventies then. Can you do that?”
“You sure about it?” Deirdre asked.
“I am,” Crystal replied.
“Very well.” She engaged her Communicator. “Carmen, we’ve got the fourth paragraph of the Manifesto file.”
“I, um, I guess I’d better turn in,” said Rick, getting up.
Milena stared at him. “You know, Future Man, I’d have thought it would all be sunshine and roses, your life. It couldn’t possibly have pain, or any other bad things. But it does.”
“It’s not perfect. My job, actually, is kind of to keep it imperfect, in a way.”
“And you have sorrow. Your melancholy is very real.”
She kissed him, and he kissed back, lingering.
“I’ll build you your shed,” he said, “and get my nylon somehow, and leave for Bratislava. And then you won’t have to think about me anymore.”
I’ve just got to get a message to you, hold on, hold on.
One more hour and my life will be through, hold on, hold on.
- The Bee Gees (Message to You)