A Stitch in Time

Chapter 16

Jeffrey rolled over onto his back and sighed, letting the book he'd been reading fall shut without bothering to note the page number.

When he and Olivia had toured the campus the other day, they'd stopped at the library. The Academy librarian had informed them proudly that their collection contained copies of every book ever written up to Jeffrey's own time. And some even written afterwards, he had added with a significant wink. At the end of their tour, he had even allowed Jeffrey to check out one. After browsing the shelves of books for younger readers, Jeffrey had picked out a title that looked interesting and carried it back to the infirmary with him, though with everything else that had been going on, he'd had no chance to start reading until this morning.

And it was a pretty good story, he decided--about a boy his own age who discovered he had magical powers and went away to a special school to learn how to use them properly. Jeffrey didn't yet understand how the Philosopher's Stone was supposed to fit into all of it, but he imagined he'd find out eventually.

Trouble was, last night's conversation with Bogg kept coming between him and the printed page. It made no sense--he should have been feeling relieved. His partner had taken care of the prowler in 1972, just as he had taken care of the random accidents that had befallen Jeffrey's parents in 1968.

Random. Jeffrey frowned up at the ceiling. Maybe that was what was bothering him--the randomness of the whole thing. According to Bryce, Jeffrey's entire life in standard time had been compromised to such an extent that he couldn't travel through time without risking total non-existence. Wouldn't something like that be due to some major problem? Something more serious than a blown electrical fuse or a petty thief hanging around his parents' apartment? As a Voyager, he knew that history could go wrong in lots of ways, but in a situation this messy there was usually some kind of connection involved. And right now he couldn't see one. Which didn't bode well for the future--not unless Bogg saw a pattern that Jeffrey was somehow missing.

Only--he'd tell me about it if he did, wouldn't he?

Wouldn't he?

"Jeffrey?" Olivia's voice hailed him from the doorway. "How're you doing? I was looking for you at Mission Control."

Glad of the distraction, the boy sat up, putting his book aside. "I'm okay," he said. "Just resting."

Olivia crossed the room and laid a hand gently on his forehead. "You're not coming down with something, are you? I can get a medic to check you out, if you need one."

"I'm fine," Jeffrey assured her. "A little tired, maybe, but that's all."

"Too tired to go anywhere?" Olivia asked, perching on the side of his bed. "I don't have any classes to teach until this afternoon."

"Well . . . " Jeffrey considered the matter. Nebulous though it was, a plan was beginning to take shape in his mind. "Is there--a place on campus where Omnis are made?" He tried to keep his tone casual.

"Yes, there's a lab attached to Research and Development." Olivia regarded him quizzically. "Why this sudden interest in the nuts and bolts of Omnis?"

"Because I don't know enough," Jeffrey replied at once. And that was the truth, he reasoned, if not the whole truth. "When we were talking before, I realized that I've been traveling for almost two years with Bogg and I never knew that a Voyager could send for reinforcements if he needed them. Made me wonder what else I don't know about using an Omni. So I thought, maybe seeing how one is put together might help in future," he concluded, hoping that he sounded convincing.

"That's not a bad idea," Olivia admitted. "In fact, several of my trainees have expressed an interest in visiting the lab too. Why don't I see if you and I can get permission to go today?"

"That'd be great, thanks," Jeffrey said, smiling. Inwardly, he prayed that he could conceal his plan from Olivia for as long as it took, and that she wouldn't be too mad if she found out about it later. It was all his idea anyway, and he was prepared to take the full blame if it didn't turn out well.

But if the first stage worked out the way he hoped . . . maybe he wouldn't have to do anything too drastic, after all.

As Bogg had hoped, Susan had no objection to seeing the Joneses again. On the way over, they stopped for fresh-cut flowers and Susan bought a luscious-looking strawberry tart, perfect for warm weather. Climbing up the stairs to the Joneses' flat, they noticed the door was already slightly ajar--perhaps to combat the heat of the day. Out of habit, Bogg peered around the door, checking for possible hazards.

What he saw set his mind instantly at rest. Just Bill and Kathy moving about their living room, doing some last minute tidying-up. Kathy held a sleepy-looking Jeff, his curly head resting against her shoulder, but she didn't seem at all encumbered. Music was coming from somewhere, a radio or a record player: Bogg heard gentle guitar strings, then a young male voice crooning softly:

"People smile and tell me I'm the lucky one, and we've just begun,

Think I'm gonna have a son.

He will be like she and me, as free as a dove, conceived in love,

Sun is gonna shine above.

And even though we ain't got money, I'm so in love with ya honey,

And everything will bring a chain of love.

And in the morning when I rise, you bring a tear of joy to my eyes,

And tell me everything is gonna be alright."

Even as Bogg watched, Bill reached out and tucked a straggling curl behind Kathy's ear, then laid a caressing hand against the small of her back. She laughed, low and throaty, letting him draw her into a slow dance, Jeffrey still draped over her shoulder. Together the three of them circled the floor, Bill joining in on the song in a just-passable baritone.

"Pisces, Virgo rising is a very good sign, strong and kind,

And the little boy is mine.

Now I see a family where there once was none, now we've just begun,

Yeah, we're gonna fly to the sun.

And even though we ain't got money, I'm so in love with ya honey,

And everything will bring a chain of love.

And in the morning when I rise, you bring a tear of joy to my eyes,

And tell me everything is gonna be alright."

Bogg swallowed. They looked like what they were: a loving and united family. The sight made his chest tighten and his eyes sting; the happy scene before him was suddenly a blur.

"Phineas." Susan touched his arm, gazing up at him in concern.

"Allergies," Bogg said tersely, brushing at his eyes. "Let's give them the flowers, okay?" Clearing his throat, he knocked lightly on the door to alert the Joneses of their presence.

Bill and Kathy stopped dancing and looked immediately towards the door, breaking into welcoming smiles when they saw who was there.

"Phineas, Susan!" Kathy came forward to greet them, Jeffrey still in her arms. "So glad you could make it."

"Wouldn't have missed it for the world," Bogg told her, and he meant it.

Dinner was fish and chips from a take-away place--it had been too hot to cook, Kathy had explained apologetically--but they were very good: golden-brown, crisp, and not too greasy. There was fresh salad, bread, and cheese, along with a variety of cold drinks and Susan's tart to follow. But all in all, Bogg thought it was the company that made the meal a success.

Bill and Kathy were in far better spirits than they had been the previous day, mainly because they had received good news that they hastened to share with their guests.

"The police called this morning," Bill reported. "They caught the man who tried to grab Jeffrey. Apparently, he was just a petty crook working for someone else--maybe even a kidnapping ring. So far, he's cooperating and telling everything he knows. At this rate, they're sure to catch the one behind it all."

"That's great." Bogg tried to sound enthusiastic, despite knowing that it would take far more than an accomplice's testimony and Scotland Yard's resources to track down a rogue Voyager

"It's such a relief," said Kathy fervently. "Though I don't think I'll breathe freely until we're back in New York."

"How's the bambino holding up?" Bogg asked, with a nod towards Jeffrey, who had revived noticeably after Kathy had given him some salad and several chips. ("Kids stay awake much better if you feed them," she had explained.) Now seated in a high chair, the little boy was gazing at everything with those big dark eyes; Bogg half-expected him to start commenting on whatever he saw, the way the Jeffrey he knew would have done.

"Well, he had some bad dreams last night, but he's better now," Kathy said, reaching out to stroke her son's tousled curls. "A little quiet, a little clingy--but better. I think he'll be back to his old self in a day or two."

"He's a beautiful boy," said Susan. "You must be very proud of him."

Bill and Kathy beamed the way most parents did when receiving a compliment about their children.

"Thank you," said Jeffrey's mother. "We think he's smart too, though we probably won't know how smart until he starts going to nursery school."

Bogg took a long swallow of ice water before he could say more than he should on the subject. Bill and Kathy didn't know the half of it yet, he thought. No more than he had when he'd first met Jeffrey.

"How did you come to name him Jeffrey?" Susan asked. "With your family, I'd have almost expected something Italian or operatic."

Kathy laughed. "Like Figaro or Otello? I was thinking about naming him after my father, initially. But then Bill and I decided he should have his own first name."

"So there aren't any other Jeffreys in your family?" Bogg inquired, remembering how he and Jeff had met and befriended the boy's great-grandparents in 1892. He had wondered if Stephen and Amy Jones had retained--and then passed along--some memory of the child they had wanted to adopt.

"No, actually. But I did have a good friend named Jeffrey, who used to live in my neighborhood when we were kids," Bill said. "And then there was Geoffrey of Monmouth, one of the earliest British historians. And Geoffrey Chaucer, who's a pretty good resource when it comes to life in the Middle Ages."

"And I have my own fond memories of the name," Kathy added. "Do you remember, caro? It was just a few months after we got together. I was in that production of Le Nozze di Figaro--and the sweetest little boy came up to me after the show and asked me to sign his program, for 'Jeffrey with a J.’" She smiled reminiscently. "He had curly hair and these enormous brown eyes. I remember thinking he could have been my baby brother if Papa had only come back from the war."

Bogg stopped with his fork halfway to his mouth and stared in wild surmise at Kathy's son, placidly consuming chips from his mother's plate. Beside him, Susan had grown just as still, her own mind no doubt racing to a similar conclusion.

But--it wasn't possible, was it? Even though Bogg's old Omni--the device he and Jeffrey shared--did, in fact, go up to 1970 . . .

Kathy was continuing. "So when my own curly-haired bambino was born, I thought of that name again. I called him after my father too, but we almost never use Jeffrey's middle name."

"I swear, all I saw of that kid was the back of his head," Bill said ruefully.

Bogg found his voice again. "How old was he, do you remember?" he asked, doing his best to sound causal.

Kathy shrugged. "Ten, or maybe twelve. Old enough to enjoy opera, not old enough to shave."

"Thank God," Bill interposed. "Or I'd have had some competition, by the sound of it!"

They laughed at that, but Bogg suppressed a shiver. He would definitely have to look into this once he returned to VHQ.

"Anyone for strawberry tart now?" Kathy asked, pushing aside her empty dinner plate.

"Strawberry?" her son echoed, with a beatific smile and a look of definite interest.

That evoked more laughter, and they all got up to clear the table for dessert.

The rest of the evening passed uneventfully. Over coffee and strawberry tart, Bill and Kathy shared more of their experiences of the last four years. They were eager to know how things had been for their guests as well. Bogg let Susan do most of the talking; she was much better able to "wing it" in this time zone than he was.

Once Jeffrey's eyelids were seen to start drooping, Bogg and Susan bade their hosts a cordial goodnight. Bill shook their hands, Kathy embraced them both, and their son awoke just long enough to smile sleepily and wave goodbye to his parents' departing guests. Kathy hoped they might meet up again once everyone was stateside; Susan murmured vague pleasantries over that idea but sensibly promised nothing definite.

"I have to go," Bogg said abruptly, once they were out on the street again.

Susan paused for only an instant. "Okay. Let's just get back to the hotel first."

They said little on the return trip. Bogg's thoughts were already leaping ahead to the future, speculating, wondering. Gauging his mood accurately, Susan did not try to initiate a conversation.

Back in their room, Bogg resumed the jeans and chambray shirt that were beginning to feel almost as familiar to him as his pirate clothes. Susan, meanwhile, repacked the suitcase Beckett had brought them the night before, stowing the HGT inside as well.

Bogg flipped open his Omni, looking first at the still-green light and then at the woman watching him steadily. "Before I go, I just want to say thanks--for everything."

"What's a fellow Voyager for?" Susan said, smiling. "I'll follow as soon as I can, Phineas. Try not to get into too much trouble before I show up?"

"I'll try," Bogg promised, smiling back. Closing his eyes, he bade a silent goodbye to 1972 . . .

And Omnied out.

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