"Adirondack Mountains, July 21, 1978," Bogg muttered, checking the Omni. The red light blinked continually up at him and he sighed, flipping the Omni shut, reattaching it to his jeans, and looking around him.
Trees. Shrubs. A rough, wooded path before him and a summer sun beating steadily down on him from a clear blue sky. Closing his eyes, Bogg listened as well, hoping to get his bearings. Birdsong. The rustle of leaves overhead in a faint breeze. And something still more familiar to him from his pirate years: the sound of water lapping against the shore.
Bogg opened his eyes, frowning in thought. Water. Not the sea--the breeze carried no scent of salt or seaweed. A river, maybe, or a lake. After a moment's consideration, he decided to walk towards the water. Maybe he'd meet someone there, who could tell him just where he was.
The trees grew more sparsely as he neared the sound and he caught sight of a flat field and a cluster of rustic-looking wooden houses. No, not houses, he amended. Cabins. Had he landed somewhere near a campsite?
Lengthening his stride, he cleared the last of his trees--and saw that he had guessed correctly. A campsite--and not just any campsite, but one apparently intended for kids. Boys, in this case. Wherever Bogg looked, he saw boys of varying ages and sizes, all wearing the same blue t-shirt and canvas shorts. Some wore what seemed to be hiking gear and were trooping behind a similarly dressed counselor. Several more were seated around a table, making some kind of craft. And out on the lake, a rippling oval of dark blue water, were several canoes, each carrying a crew of kids and counselors.
Was Jeffrey here? Bogg wondered as he approached the margin of the lake, close enough that his shoes left moist imprints on the bank. He could think of no other reason why the Omni had brought him to this place. But finding one kid--even one he suspected he'd recognize right away--in the midst of so many was sure to be a challenge . . .
And then he heard the splash, followed almost instantly by a spluttering cry for help.
The noise came from less than twenty feet away. Bogg turned his head--and felt his blood turn cold. On a nearby dock extending into the lake stood a familiar figure, all in black, staring down at a boy threshing frantically in the water, just beyond safety's reach.
Bogg broke into a run, shouting an alarm as he came. Startled, the man on the dock looked up, snatched something from his waistband . . . and vanished.
Murdering bastard! The words blazed briefly through Bogg's mind as he raced down the dock, then he was airborne, launching himself into the water towards the drowning boy.
The water was so cold it seemed to freeze his very thoughts solid, let alone his body. Surfacing with a splutter of his own, he saw the kid struggling a few feet away, apparently about to go under for the third time. Heart pounding, Bogg plunged through the water towards him, praying he would get there in time.
It must have been only seconds but it felt like longer before he had grabbed hold of one thin, flailing arm and snaked another arm around the boy's chest. Hampered by his wet clothes and shoes, he still managed to kick his way back to the surface, pushing his smaller, lighter companion up before him.
"This way!" someone shouted from the dock.
Gasping, half-blinded, Bogg struck out thankfully trowards the voice. The boy, coughing and gagging, clung to him like a barnacle. And suddenly there were hands reaching down to pull them both out of the water. One pair prised the boy from Bogg's arms, Another grasped Bogg strongly by the elbow, helping him to haul himself onto the dock. Still breathless, incapable even of uttering thanks, Bogg flopped face down on the sun-warmed boards. He could hear voices raised all around him, heard someone mention the word "nurse," but further understanding was beyond him at that point.
Then he heard a ragged, retching sob only a few feet away. The boy . . . with a supreme effort, Bogg raised himself onto all fours and crawled to where Jeffrey lay.
Because, of course, it was Jeffrey--with his dark curls plastered dripping to his head, his small form convulsing as he rid himself of the lake water he had swallowed. Bogg reached out, his arm moving as slowly as through syrup, and placed a hand on the small of the boy's back, rubbing as gently as he could.
"Gonna be okay, kid," he managed to croak, his own voice half-strangled and unrecognizable to his ears. "Gonna be okay."
"More coffee?" One of the camp counselors--she'd called herself Carol, Bogg remembered--stood over him with a steaming pot at the ready.
Swaddled in a blanket, Bogg gratefully held up his cup. "Thanks."
Carol poured a stream of hot dark liquid into the cup. "We should be thanking you. I don't know if any of us could have reached Jeffrey in time."
They were sitting in the nurse's office, just outside the infirmary where Jeffrey had been taken after his near-drowning. By the time the nurse had arrived on the scene, the boy had revived somewhat and been able to answer her questions, but she had immediately ordered him brought to the infirmary. Bogg had asked if he could come along and, after a moment's pause, the nurse had agreed, provided one of the counselors accompanied him. Carol, who was apparently in charge of Jeffrey's bunkhouse, had volunteered--and here they were an hour later, waiting.
Bogg tried to shrug casually. "Just lucky I happened to be hiking in that direction."
"Well, Jeffrey's very lucky, anyway."
"He's gonna be okay, isn't he?" Bogg couldn't keep the anxiety from his voice or prevent himself from glancing at the connecting door to the infirmary.
"Nurse Bridges says he'll be fine," Carol assured him. "But she called his parents to let them know what happened." She frowned a little and shook her head. "I don't know what got into him. He knows he can't swim yet, and it's not like him to be so careless."
Bogg glanced down into his cup before he could betray himself. "Maybe he--uh, slipped or something?"
"And hit his head on the dock?" Carol guessed. "Well, that would explain the lump on his head. And maybe a few other things," she added thoughtfully, after a moment.
She shrugged, looking a little uncertain. "Once he was able to talk, he said--someone pushed him?"
God. Bogg shivered and took another swallow of coffee to dissolve the chill in his stomach.
"You didn't happen to see him go in, did you?" Carol asked, subjecting him to a searching look.
Bogg shook his head. "I just heard the splash and him crying out." And then saw the man responsible for Jeff's accident disappear into thin air, he added silently. But there was no way he could tell Carol that without sounding like a raving lunatic. His own position wasn't completely secure; one or two of the counselors had been slightly suspicious of his being on the scene in the first place. Fortunately, there was a neighboring campsite just a short distance away, and most of them had assumed Bogg had come from there. "Do you believe him, about being pushed?"
"I don't know," she replied. "He's not the kind of kid to make things up. But he did almost drown--and your imagination can really play tricks on you at a time like that."
Bogg made a noncommittal sound in response and put his coffee cup down on the table. "Could I--could I see him?" he asked. "I'd like to make sure he's okay, before I go." Risky though it might be to meet Jeffrey now, four years before their first official encounter, he found he could not just leave without looking in on him.
"I'll go ask Nurse," Carol promised and disappeared through the door that led to the infirmary.
Bogg exhaled slowly, running a hand through his damp hair. At least the counselors had lent him some clothes: a spare "Camp Hiawatha" t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Both were a little snug on him but at least they were warm and dry. And the flat, slip-on sandals--zoris, Carol had called them--came in handy too, though they were about a size too small. His own things were still drying over the back of a chair.
Bat's breath, the Omni! Bogg rose quickly and made his way over to the chair, observing with relief that the device was still attached to the waistband of his jeans. Unhooking it, he flipped open the lid--and stared in confusion at the still-blinking red light. What the--?
He had rescued Jeffrey from drowning. But was the kid still in danger? Bogg frowned, rubbing absently at his chin and wondering how he could manage to shadow Jeff at camp without arousing further suspicion.
Just then the connecting door opened again and Carol appeared. "Nurse says you can visit for a few minutes, but not to tire him out," she reported. "He's still a little woozy from that bang on the head."
"I won't stay too long," Bogg promised, flipping the Omni shut.
"How's your watch?" she asked. "I hope it was waterproof."
"It'll be fine." Bogg slipped the device into his shorts pocket and entered the infirmary, closing the door behind him.
Nurse Bridges was a woman of early middle age, who fixed Bogg with a stern gaze before directing him towards the bed, half concealed by a screen, at the far end of the room.
"Not too long, now," she warned in a low voice. "He's supposed to be resting quietly."
Bogg nodded meekly and almost tip-toed towards his destination. The shadows lay thickest at this end of the room and the screen around the bed shut out the light even more. Edging carefully around the screen, Bogg sat down in the chair beside the bed, whose occupant lay silent and unmoving, a damp washcloth covering his eyes.
Bogg felt his chest tighten in mingled love and rage. Seeing Jeffrey like this, when he should have been up and running around with all the other kids, was like a blow to the heart. For a moment, he did not trust himself to speak. He took a deep breath and then the words finally came. "Hey, kid," he said softly.
The boy stirred at that and then turned his head toward Bogg's voice. "Is that you?" he asked, somewhat guardedly. His voice was higher-pitched than the one Bogg was used to but the intonation--slow and deliberate--was still recognizably Jeff's. "The guy who rescued me?"
"Yeah, it's me," Bogg assured him. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay. How're you feeling?"
The boy's mouth compressed slightly. "Like I swallowed half the lake--and then threw it up."
Despite his worry, Bogg felt a smile tug at his mouth. Even at this age, the kid still had plenty to say for himself. "I'm sure it was only a quarter."
Jeffrey made a small sound between a laugh and a groan, but the groan won out. "My head aches, kinda." He reached up tentatively to touch the washcloth draped over the upper half of his face. "And the light hurts my eyes."
Bogg covered Jeffrey's hand with his own, noticed with a pang how much smaller the boy's was by comparison. How old was he now? Seven? Maybe eight? No, he'd be eight later this year. "Just leave it, okay? The nurse told you to rest quietly." He tried for a lighter tone. "Besides, I don't want to scare you with this ugly mug of mine."
"You couldn't be uglier than the guy who pushed me in the lake," Jeffrey said with conviction.
"You saw him?"
Jeffrey started to nod, winced, and then said, "Yeah. I didn't get a good look--but I saw his reflection in the water, just before he hit me." He shivered, looking very small and frail. "He was all in black, and he had black hair and this real mean look on his face."
Bogg shivered too, remembering his own glimpse of that dark, sinister figure, standing there and cold-bloodedly watching a child drown.
Jeffrey seemed to mistake his silence for doubt because his voice rose in sudden defiance. "And I didn't imagine it--no matter what Carol and everyone else thinks!"
"Easy, kid, easy," Bogg soothed. "It's okay. I believe you. And I'm sure your folks will believe you too."
Jeffrey relaxed visibly at the mention of his parents. "Nurse Bridges said they'll be here by this evening." His tone grew wistful. "Maybe I can even go home with them? Camp's almost over anyway and I don't wanna stay here if that creep who pushed me is still around!"
"I'm sure that could be arranged," Bogg reassured him. "In fact, I think that sounds like a fine idea." Knowing Bill and Kathy, he suspected they would hustle their son out of harm's way at the first opportunity.
The boy sighed, relaxing a little more. Incredibly, one corner of his mouth lifted in a faint smile. "Mom wanted me to take swimming lessons this summer but there wasn't time before camp. Guess I'll be having them now, won't I?"
"Sounds like a plan." Bogg reached out and gently patted a slight shoulder. "Listen--I'd better go. Your nurse told me not to tire you out." He paused, all his past and present tenderness for Jeffrey welling up in him like a tide. "You take care now, okay?"
"Okay," Jeffrey agreed on another sigh. "And thanks, mister--for pulling me out . . . and for listening." The boy paused, and Bogg was almost certain he was frowning under the washcloth. "Hey, what should I call you, anyway?"
Bogg swallowed, fighting against temptation. "Finn," he said after a moment. "Just call me 'Finn.'"
"Thanks, Mr. Finn," the boy repeated drowsily.
He was fading fast, Bogg noticed, his body sinking more deeply into the surrounding blankets. "Don't mention it," he said gruffly. "Just get some rest."
He sat where he was a few minutes longer, watching and listening as the boy's breathing assumed the steadier rhythms of sleep. Then, struck by a sudden thought, he retrieved the Omni and opened it. A green light shone up at him with a steady radiance.
Well, whaddaya know. Closing the device as quietly as possible, Bogg rose and slipped out of the infirmary.
His clothes were still wet so Carol gave him a plastic bag to put them in and told him he could return the borrowed things later. Bogg thanked her and then asked for the most direct route back to the other campsite. Might as well make his supposed back story convincing, after all.
Once outside, Bogg set off in the direction indicated but at an unhurried pace. Susan was nowhere in sight--he had no idea whether she would suddenly drop in or if she had chosen to arrive before him. Well, she could find him as long as he had the Omni--provided the device hadn't suffered too much from its dip in the lake. Bogg didn't think it had--the red and green lights had worked perfectly, after all.
He frowned suddenly. From red to green in just an hour--this had to be the shortest fix so far in his current assignment. But was that a good or a bad sign? The danger to Jeffrey seemed to increase each time, and now that Drake had demonstrated that he truly was capable of murder . . .
Bogg shivered, feeling anger bubble to the surface again. It had been bad enough when he had only suspected the rogue Voyager of being the culprit. But knowing what he had tried to do, actually catching him in the act--was something else entirely.
Catching him. He hadn't caught Drake yet, and that was an even bigger problem. Who knew where he had gone after this or what he might do there? According to Bogg's Omni, Drake had left 1978, but what if he did something different this time and doubled back to make another attempt? As it was, Bogg still wasn't sure just what he had done to bring about the current green light. Talked to Jeff? Let the boy confide in him about his near-drowning? Maybe encouraged him to go home from camp a few days early? The last seemed the most likely. If Jeff left with his folks, he'd avoid any further "accidents" at Camp Hiawatha.
For a moment, Bogg debated staying around to talk to Bill and Kathy about Jeffrey's close call. Then, regretfully, he abandoned the idea. Two chance encounters with the kid's parents might be believed, but three? There'd be bound to be some awkward questions this time, and besides, he couldn't risk changing history by telling them too much. Or by establishing contact with Jeffrey too soon. It had been sheer luck that the boy hadn't gotten a good look at his face this time--and that he'd been half-dazed from that blow on the head. Who knew how much he'd remember once he had recovered? Maybe he'd think he'd dreamed their whole conversation.
And it was probably safer that way, Bogg conceded reluctantly. Safer for all concerned.
Susan's voice. Bogg looked with relief towards the sound and saw her coming towards him on the path. Even in the middle of the wilderness, she managed to look chic, in snug jeans and a form-fitting t-shirt, her pale hair pulled back in a jaunty ponytail. Her eyebrows rose as she took in his own borrowed togs. "What happened to you?"
"Long story," Bogg sighed. "Is there someplace private we can go to talk?"
Susan nodded. "I Omnied in before you, just so I could set everything up. Chez Voyager, right through those trees."
"Lead the way. I'll fill you in on all the details."
"Chez Voyager" turned out to be a one-bedroom cabin located on the neighboring campsite. Accommodations were Spartan--two camp beds, a chair, and a dresser with a shaving mirror mounted over it--but Bogg was relieved to see them all the same.
"I brought extra clothes and some toiletries," Susan said, indicating the suitcase on the nearest camp bed. She paused, then added rather pointedly. "And I packed the HGT as well."
"Was that supposed to be a subtle hint?"
"Wrong both times," she retorted crisply. "It wasn't a hint and it definitely wasn't subtle!"
"Phineas." Her expression was implacable, but after a moment some softness crept into her eyes. "Jeffrey has to be told now," she said. "You know that as well as I do."
Bogg dropped his gaze and stared at the floor.
Susan sighed. "I hate to do this, but--if you won't tell him this time, I will."
He looked up at that. "No!"
"Phineas, he almost died today! This is the closest call he's had yet in standard time, and I'm afraid it's only going to get worse from here."
"We don't know that yet!" Bogg protested feebly, but Susan was shaking her head.
"Time is running out--and Drake is getting desperate. If Jeffrey can tell us anything at all, about what to look for in his life, we might finally be able to get the upper hand--"
"All right!" Bogg broke in, holding up his hands in surrender. "I'll talk to him. Just--let me think about what I'm gonna say to him first. And maybe I could change my clothes too?" he suggested, somewhat acidly.
"I'll be outside if you need me," said Susan, and let herself out of the cabin.
Bogg took his time changing, trying not to think of the task that lay ahead. Still, it felt good to put on clothes that fit again: a plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, clean socks and sturdy walking shoes. Susan had also packed a comb and a razor, so he was able to put the rest of his appearance to rights as well.
Finally, he could delay the moment no longer. Donning the headset, he sat down on the lone chair, took a calming breath, and pointed the HGT towards the largest area of blank space he could find in such a small cabin.
Jeffrey's image appeared within seconds, sitting cross-legged on his bed in the infirmary. Irresistibly, Bogg flashed back to the boy's younger self, lying pale and quiet on another bed. For a moment, the two Jeffreys blurred in his mind until he hardly knew which one he was speaking to. "How ya doin', kid?"
"I'm okay." The slightly deeper voice brought him back to the present; it was the thirteen-year-old version he was dealing with now. "You?"
"Just fine," Bogg assured him, trying to sound nonchalant. "I landed in 1978, near Camp Hiawatha."
"Oh, that place. Yeah, I spent a couple of summers there. So, what happened?"
Bogg hesitated. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but something about Jeffrey seemed--different. From being tense and anxious before, the boy now sounded oddly calm, even stoic. Was his composure a good sign, or not? "Well," he began slowly, "you--the younger you--had an accident." He paused but Jeffrey's expression had not changed. "You fell in the lake, but you couldn't swim. I had to dive in and fish you out."
The dark eyes widened slightly at that, but only for a moment. Still, it was enough to remind Bogg of how young Jeffrey was. Seven or thirteen--either was too young to be the target of a murderer. All his protective instincts came flooding back. I can't do this, I just can't . . . he doesn't belong in the middle of this ugliness.
"I fell in the lake, you said?" Jeffrey repeated carefully.
Bogg cleared his throat. "Yeah, uh, that's what happened. But everything's gonna be okay and your folks are driving up to take you home with them, so no real harm done . . . " He stopped, realizing he was starting to babble, and quickly unhooked and held up his Omni. "Green light, see?'
"I see." Again that strangely calm tone. "So, everything's been taken care of? Just like in the last two time zones?"
"Well, yeah," Bogg said, surprised.
"Everything all tied up in a bow. No loose ends or anything."
The older Voyager blinked, taken aback by the edge that had crept into the boy's voice. "You want there to be loose ends, kid?" he inquired cautiously.
The young face hardened, mouth tightening, dark eyes suddenly ablaze. "What I want," Jeffrey said with barely suppressed violence, "is for you to stop lying to me!"
"Jeffrey!" Feeling at once guilty and indignant over the accusation, Bogg tried one last bluff. "Look, kid, I don't know what's gotten into you, but--"
"How about taking a look at what I've gotten into?" the boy countered and held up a hand to show the round silver object gleaming in his palm.
Bogg's protests died in his throat as he stared, dumbstruck, the image of the familiar engraved "V" seeming to burn itself into his brain. No. Oh, no . . .
"Tell me the truth," Jeffrey ordered, his face stony. "The whole truth. Or I'm coming to find out for myself!"