Jeffrey gazed out across the quiet waters, his thoughts a million miles away. Every now and then one of the many ducks inhabiting the lake swam up in hopes of a treat, but the boy made no move to entice them closer. Indeed, he hardly seemed to notice their presence; losing interest, the ducks soon paddled away towards the other end of the lake.
"I thought I'd find you here."
Startled, Jeffrey looked up to see Olivia standing over him. He had not heard her approach; the soft earth around the lake had muffled the sound of her crutch.
"Well, of all the places we went on our tour, you seemed to like it best here." Olivia lowered herself carefully to the ground beside him. "I brought you a jacket."
"I'm okay. And the sun's still out."
"Not for much longer, though," she pointed out. "And it gets chilly by the water at sundown. Phineas would have my hide if you got sick on top of everything else."
Jeffrey stifled a sigh. In his experience, sweaters and jackets were things grown-ups made you put on when they were cold.
"Humor me," Olivia suggested with a wry smile, holding out the jacket.
He considered, briefly, rebelling, but it seemed a waste of effort. Accepting the jacket with dutiful thanks, he shrugged it on. At least it wasn't too heavy--no more than a hooded sweatshirt, really--and Olivia didn't insist that he zip it up.
The older Voyager studied him for several minutes until he was hard-put not to squirm under her scrutiny. "Something on your mind, Jeffrey?"
"What makes you say that?"
"Woman's intuition?" she offered. "Or maybe it's just that Bogg told me to pay close attention when you go--in his words--'all big-eyed and quiet.'"
That sounded like Bogg. Jeffrey smothered another sigh. When you were a kid, grown-ups automatically assumed you needed to be taken care of, even if you did a pretty good job of taking care of yourself. Then he thought about kids who had no one to take care of them, even when they needed it, and his exasperation faded. He really was lucky, to have Bogg and so many other Voyagers willing to look out for him.
"Want to talk about it?"
He did and he didn't, at the same time. But on consideration, he found the first impulse was stronger. "Back in 1968 . . . my folks are getting married today."
"Then I'm not surprised they're on your mind."
"I can't stop thinking about them. Wishing I could be there, somehow. Funny, isn't it? I didn't even exist then, but I can picture how it might have been." Jeffrey sighed. "I guess, even if I could Voyage right now, it wouldn't be a good idea to go."
"A little too close for comfort," Olivia agreed. "It's one thing to encounter a distant ancestor, but the risk of changing something you shouldn't gets higher the closer you get to your own timeline. You've probably figured that out for yourself, already," she added gently.
Jeffrey nodded, unable to conceal his regret. "I just don't want to forget them," he admitted in a small voice. "Sometimes, when I try to concentrate on my folks, everything goes blurry and out of focus. Like I'm looking at old photo albums or watching some grainy old black-and-white movie on TV."
Olivia put an arm around him. "But your heart will always remember, even if your mind sometimes forgets. And you're lucky to have so many good memories of your parents."
"I suppose." Jeffrey only wished those memories weren't becoming hazier with the passing years. Every now and then, between Voyages, he deliberately tried to recall those happy times with his folks--just to keep them alive somehow. Going to ball games with his dad, visiting museums and seeing plays with his mom, picnicking in Central Park, celebrating family Thanksgivings and Christmases, going on camping trips when the warm weather came . . .
His mind shied away abruptly from the last. For a time, he'd recalled the accident far too well, had relived it in his nightmares, always with the same terrible ending, the one he could not change. He had been grateful when his recollections of that day dimmed, and he did not want them to regain any of the focus they had lost. Some memories were better left alone--picking at them, like scabs, just made everything bleed again.
Bogg always tried to give him a little space during those moments, while staying close enough to offer comfort if it was needed. Jeffrey knew the ex-pirate would probably scoff at being thought "sensitive," but the boy appreciated his consideration all the same.
Thinking of his partner brought another, more recent memory to the surface. "You know," Jeffrey mused aloud, "back when we first met, Bogg told me Voyagers get plucked out of time so they can fix history. I guess there must be a lot of them who had to leave their families behind."
"Maybe not as many as you'd think. Back when I was a trainee, I learned that most people chosen as Voyagers don't have strong family ties. Which makes sense if they vanish from their own time without a trace. So some of them might never have known their folks. And some might have lost them, like you . . ." Olivia gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze. "And others--might not have gotten along with their families and just wanted the chance to escape."
"Which were you?"
Olivia raised her eyebrows. "Getting kind of personal there, aren't you, kid?"
Jeffrey flushed, ducking his head. "Sorry! You don't have to answer that. I was just curious."
She looked at him a moment longer, then sighed. "Maybe a little of all three." At his questioning look, she elaborated. "Two members of my family passed away, and the third turned into somebody I no longer recognized." Her mouth crooked wryly. "So I flew the coop and went my own way, until I was chosen as a Voyager."
Flew the coop. An interesting choice of words that teased his memory yet again. Frowning, Jeffrey studied Olivia closely, envisioning how she had looked when they first met: a leggy blonde wearing slacks and a leather flight jacket, with a white scarf loose about her throat.
"You were . . . an aviatrix, weren't you?"
She blinked, clearly taken aback. "What--makes you think that?"
"The way you were dressed when Bogg and I met you on the Titanic. I mean, yeah, you could've just chosen those clothes because they were comfortable, but I thought there might be more to it than that. Like it was natural for you to dress that way. Just like Bogg always goes back to his pirate clothes whenever we Voyage."
Olivia continued to stare at him bemusedly. "Phineas is right," she said at last. "Sometimes you're so smart, it's scary."
"Did your family not want you to fly?"
"My family didn't want me to do a lot of things," she admitted. "But that's a story for another day." She glanced at the sky. "And we should probably be starting back to Headquarters, before they send out a search party for us."
"Could we head over to Mission Control?" Jeffrey asked. "It's way too quiet in the infirmary. Besides, Bogg told me he'd be leaving after the wedding. Maybe he's already landed in another time zone, and I could help with that."
"Sure thing," Olivia promised, reaching for her crutch. "I'm glad everything worked out in 1968."
"Me too," Jeffrey said fervently. "I was worried for a while, thinking someone was out to get my folks. But Bogg says it was just a couple of freak accidents."
"Well, that's good news, isn't it?"
"Yeah . . . just kinda surprising. He seemed so sure at first that something fishy was going on." Jeffrey shrugged. "I guess it's easy to start imagining the worst in a situation like this." Scrambling to his feet, he offered Olivia a hand up from the ground. "Come on--let's go check things out."
Mission Control was the same as it always was: cool, dimly lit, with everything humming, clicking, whirring, or beeping. Jeffrey found it all oddly comforting. The infirmary, of which he was still the sole inhabitant, was quieter but the silence wore on him after a time. And while he wasn't left completely unattended there, the medics who came to check on him were in the habit of speaking to him gravely and quietly, as though he were seriously ill.
Faced between being treated like an invalid or like a case study, Jeffrey found he had a slight preference for the latter. Bryce and Beckett were kept very busy and seldom had time to talk, but at least when they did speak to him, he didn't feel like they expected him to keel over any second. And they tried to answer his questions as best they could.
Just entering the room, Jeffrey stopped short when he saw a familiar figure deep in conversation with Beckett. "Susan?"
She turned, her expression startled and almost . . . guilty, he thought but could not think why it should be so. "Jeffrey," she greeted him after a moment's hesitation. "I didn't know you'd be here."
"Yeah, they let me hang out, as long as I don't cause any trouble." Venturing further into the room, he studied her with concern. She was looking prettier than ever, he decided, in a gauzy, pale yellow dress--just right for attending a summer wedding in New York City. "Is everything okay? With my folks, I mean?"
"Everything's fine," she assured him. "They've gone off on their honeymoon as we speak. I just came back to check in with Control about something." She glanced over her shoulder at Beckett as she spoke.
"I'll get right on it," the older technician promised and hurried away. He was carrying something in what looked like a plastic baggie but Jeffrey couldn't make out what it was.
"How's everything going here?" Susan directed her question equally to Jeffrey and Olivia, who had just come in behind the boy.
"Fine," Olivia replied. "Pretty quiet, though. We've been waiting to hear from you."
"How's Bogg?" Jeffrey asked. "Did he come back with you or is he still in 1968?"
"Actually, Phineas has already decided to move on to the next part of his assignment," Susan replied. "In which case, Bryce should have his new coordinates soon." She gestured towards the younger technician who was hovering over the read-out screen of the Central Processor.
Jeffrey exhaled, feeling simultaneously relieved and on edge. He was glad that things had been wrapped up in 1968, but it was anybody's guess where the next trouble spot lay. He only hoped it could be something he could really help with this time.
"Jeffrey." Susan's voice broke into his thoughts; he looked up inquiringly.
"I brought you something," she continued, picking something up from the console beside her. "From your parents' reception: a slice of cake--and some wedding favors."
The boy caught his breath at the sight of the small box, tied with a white-and-silver ribbon, that she was holding out to him. Blinking back a sudden rush of tears, he reached for the box, held it as reverently as if it were the Holy Grail. It was several minutes before he trusted himself to speak.
"Thanks," he managed at last, in a voice that creaked like a rusty hinge. Behind him, he could feel Olivia's hands resting on his shoulders again.
Susan smiled. "You're very welcome. I thought you might like having a souvenir."
If he hadn't been afraid of bawling like a two-year-old, he'd have assured her that "like" was putting it much too mildly. He mustered a smile for her instead, though he could feel it wobbling around the edges.
"Hey, Jones . . . "
Jeffrey glanced over at Bryce, who had straightened up from his crouch over the read-out screen.
"I think I've got your partner's new location," the technician announced, beckoning the boy to approach. "But does this look right to you?"
Bogg drifted peacefully through the cosmos. Like snowflakes, no two Voyages were identical, and this one felt . . . almost leisurely. Oh, the lights and stars still whirled around him as he traveled but he felt oddly insulated from it all. As if he were enclosed in a cocoon--or a womb. The comparison startled him but the more he thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed. He was Voyaging through Jeffrey's life, after all--maybe each intervention there was a bit like a birth.
Birth. He wondered if the boy would actually exist in his new destination this time. If so, he'd have to be especially careful not to change anything that might affect their meeting in 1982. No easy task if Jeffrey were in as much danger as his parents had been, back in 1968. And with Drake on the prowl, it was all too probable that he would be.
He was slowing now, his trajectory arcing downwards towards the portal of light he recalled from his first trip with this Omni. Definitely an improvement--he wondered how long it would take to instill this feature in all the devices.
Once again, Bogg experienced that brief disorientation as he passed through the portal, then he was materializing, dropping to the ground from about a foot in the air. The impact jarred him slightly and he almost bit his tongue--but it was still better than falling out of the sky.
Shaking his head to clear it, he took quick stock of his surroundings: a narrow alley between two ancient-looking buildings. New York City again? Bogg unhooked the Omni from his belt, flipped back the lid, and frowned at the new setting. "London, 1972?"
That couldn't be right . . . or could it? The Omni was in automatic mode, after all--pre-set to send him to the years that were crucial to Jeffrey's existence in standard time. He supposed there could have been some kind of foul-up, but on further consideration, he doubted it.
And--he had last come face to face with Drake in London too. A prickle of unease ran up Bogg's spine at the memory; he glanced around the alley, but no one else was in sight. Still, it was probably smart not to linger: places like these were ideal for an ambush. Closing and replacing his Omni, he strode around the nearer of the two buildings--
And into what looked like several city blocks' worth of noisy, colorful activity. Momentarily dazzled, Bogg stopped in his tracks to stare at the scene before him.
Beneath the afternoon sun stood row upon row of covered booths, each housing a vendor enthusiastically hawking his or her wares. Bogg could see stalls packed with garden produce, all with customers milling about, exclaiming over what they found or haggling over prices with the vendors.
He knew where he was, suddenly. Not just London, but Covent Garden, the most famous fruit, vegetable, and flower market in the city. The oldest too--it had been founded centuries ago and showed no sign of dying out. Bogg even remembered being here before, though never at this time. Just why the Omni had sent him here of all places, he could not begin to guess, but there had to be a reason.
Thrusting his hands casually into the pockets of his jeans, he joined the crowd wandering through the market. Beyond a few straying glances, he attracted little attention. A few vendors called out to him as he passed but he just shook his head with a smile and moved on.
Once or twice, he paused, drawn by some of the more unusual sights and sounds. Covent Garden boasted a fair number of street performers too: Bogg saw a pretty girl in a brightly colored skirt and blouse dancing to the music of a gypsy violin. A little further along, he encountered a longhaired, denim-clad duo, playing a guitar and a penny whistle; he could not tell at a glance if the pair were men, women, or one of each.
A crowd had gathered towards the far end of the square and were exclaiming appreciatively over something Bogg could not yet see. Then he glimpsed a series of balls and clubs spinning and turning high in the air and two pairs of deft hands catching them effortlessly.
The Voyager smiled and began to stroll in that direction. Some things never changed, whatever the century: jugglers were always hugely popular with crowds.
He was just nearing the mass of spectators when a flurry of movement at the periphery caught his attention. Suddenly a familiar voice rang out, making all the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. A voice he had first heard four years ago but never at such a volume or holding that note of frantic desperation.
"Stop him! He's got my baby!"