A Stitch in Time

Chapter 18

Bogg found his voice again. "Where did you get that?" he demanded.

"From the Omni Development Lab. They had tons of 'em lying around, so they shouldn't miss one for a while."

"So that's what you've been up to--Grand Theft Omni? I thought someone had taught you better than that."

"Sure, Bogg." Jeffrey's voice was cold, his dark eyes narrowed to hostile slits. "Tell me all about how swiping an Omni is worse than lying to your partner. To your family. You said that was what we were--or was that a lie too?"

"I didn't lie!" Bogg defended himself. "I just--didn't tell you everything," he concluded lamely.

It sounded feeble even to his ears. And to judge from Jeffrey's expression, the boy was completely unimpressed. When he frowns, he looks just like Bill, Kathy had said. But that wasn't all Jeffrey had inherited from his father. That level, penetrating stare to which he was now subjecting Bogg was Bill's as well.

"Phineas Bogg--are we partners, or aren't we?"

The older Voyager swallowed, forcing himself to meet that unflinching gaze. He couldn't remember Jeffrey ever calling him by his full name before. Not like this, anyway. "We are," he insisted.

"Well, partners don't keep secrets from each other."

Bogg forced out a reply, harsh through his dry throat. "Partners don't put each other in danger, either."

Jeffrey's brow creased. "But I'm not in danger. I'm right here."

"At Voyager Headquarters," Bogg reminded him. "It's different in standard time. A lot different."

The boy's face remained implacable. "You wanna explain that?"

"Why can't you trust my judgment on this?" Bogg could not prevent a pleading note from creeping into his voice. "I'd do anything for you, kid--you know that. Haven't you ever thought that I might be trying to protect you? To keep you safe?"

Jeffrey swallowed audibly. His expression had grown less bleak, and his eyes now held a suspiciously liquid shimmer but they remained fixed on his partner. "Bogg . . . my life fell apart before we even met. You couldn't protect me from that."

"Jeffrey--if I could have . . . "

"Tell me. Please." A tear slipped down the boy's cheek; he brushed it away almost absently. "I'd rather know--than not know."

Bogg swallowed again. Ever since they'd first teamed up, whenever he saw Jeffrey in tears, he always had the irrational urge to drop to his knees and start babbling apologies, whether or not he was in any way responsible for the boy's distress. But apologies weren't enough now--this time, only the truth would do. "It's not your folks, kid," he said at last, his voice rasping like a rusty file. "You were right--they don't have an enemy like that." He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue. "But you and me . . . we do.

"It was Drake."

Jeffrey's face slowly drained of color, his hand tightening around the silver Omni. But his eyes were still fixed on the older Voyager.

Bogg continued doggedly, hating every word of his confession. "I didn't know at first, not until he dropped one of his cigars in your dad's basement. That's when I figured he probably tampered with the light switch. And shoved your mom into traffic on her way to Lincoln Center. And then, in London, I found out that he'd hired some petty crook to kidnap you when you were a baby. But this last time was the worst--I actually saw him on the dock at Camp Hiawatha. And not only that, you saw him too--just before he pushed you in the lake."

Jeffrey closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. His body was as taut as though braced for a blow. "Is he--still there?"

"No. I saw him Omni out." Bogg put a hand to the back of his neck, easing muscles tight with strain. "And my Omni's green now. I don't think he's coming back here."

"He's after me." Jeffrey's voice was stark with the knowledge. "And he's willing to hurt my folks in the process."

"I'm afraid so," Bogg admitted, wondering if it were possible to feel worse. "Susan and I can't figure out where he's headed next."

Jeffrey took a breath, exhaled, and met his partner's eyes squarely. "I know where he went. And when."

"Can you tell me?" Bogg asked, as gently as he could.

The boy's voice was little more than a whisper. "April 3, 1982." For a moment longer, his gaze locked with Bogg's. "Please . . . stop him."

The hologram winked out.

"Jeffrey!" Bogg stared at where the boy's image had been but he was gone. Hands shaking, the older Voyager almost clawed off the headset, dropped the HGT onto the floor, and then reached for his Omni. Flipping the device open, he grimly set the dials to the date Jeffrey had given him and hit the switch.

In the next moment he felt himself lifted bodily into the air and flung, helpless as a rag doll, into space.

The world went white.

The sound of voices brought him back to consciousness. He could not make out what those voices were saying but there was noise all around him--clinks and clatters that sounded strangely familiar.

Stifling a groan, Bogg opened his eyes--and almost closed them again at the brightness before him. Eventually, however, his surroundings came into focus.

He was lying on the floor--of what seemed to be a restaurant. When he turned his head, he could see red leather booths, and a long counter around which several customers were seated. Women in brightly colored uniforms were hurrying to and fro, carrying trays, plates, and glasses. One woman was standing near what looked like the entrance, brandishing several menus. "Addams, party of six," she announced brightly and proceeded to lead a raggle-taggle group of people towards a vacant table.

Not a fancy restaurant, Bogg decided as he studied the clientele. More like a diner, maybe? He eased himself to a sitting position and looked around some more. Rather to his surprise, no one in the restaurant appeared to have noticed the strange man lying in the middle of the floor. The folks on the counter were eating and drinking undisturbed. Ditto for the customers in the booths. Mystified, Bogg stood up, automatically brushing down his clothes. Looking up, he saw a waitress bearing a full coffee pot coming directly towards him.

"Excuse me," Bogg began, but she neither halted nor changed direction at his greeting. Instead, she kept on going--right through him and out the other side!

Bogg's jaw dropped. He had been braced for the scalding impact of hot coffee when they inevitably collided. But he had felt nothing, no more than the waitress clearly had. It was as if neither of them had had any substance.

"Bat's breath!" The words emerged as a whisper, but Bogg had the sudden suspicion that no one would have heard him even if he'd shouted at the top of his lungs. Alarmed, he thumped his chest, which felt reassuringly solid, then reached up to touch his face. That too felt just as it should. But if he was real and three-dimensional--what did that make everything else? Frowning, he reached out to touch the nearest counter-stool . . .

His hand passed right through it.

Bogg swallowed and forced himself to remain calm. There had to be some logical explanation for this. According to legend, only ghosts and spirits lacked substance--but he was sure, or almost sure, that he was neither. The Omni was still clasped in his right hand--what would a ghost need an Omni for? Slightly reassured, Bogg glanced at the device and saw that he had indeed arrived at his destination: April 3, 1982. Or at least some part of him had.

A thought occurred to him and he sniffed the air experimentally, just to be sure. Nothing. No smell of coffee, grease, or cooking food. Moreover, he suspected that if he tried to eat or drink anything--even supposing he could lift a fork--he would taste nothing either. He could see and hear, but the remaining senses--touch, smell, and taste--were denied him here.

For a moment, his mind remained blank, save for a small voice gibbering in panic somewhere in his head. Then, suddenly, he understood--and the realization made him weak in the knees for a moment, with mingled relief and anxiety.

He wasn't a ghost. He was a hologram.

That had to be the explanation. In his haste to set the Omni and go to 1982, maybe he had done something to the HGT. Thinking back, he remembered dropping the transmitter on the cabin floor. Had he busted something--or maybe not turned it off properly? Susan could tell him, maybe, if she could find him.

Uneasily, he wondered just where his body was, if his holographic image had managed to travel through time. Was it still back in 1978--or had it come forward to 1982? Or was it perhaps stuck somewhere in the middle?

With an effort, Bogg stifled his rising panic. Susan had access to a Voyager locator--no doubt she'd be able to track him down, once she'd discovered what had happened. The only question was: how long would it take?

In the meantime, here he was in 1982. The year Jeffrey had sent him to.

Jeffrey. Recalled to his purpose, Bogg scanned the crowd of customers in the diner. Everyone that he could see at the counter was a stranger, so he turned his attention to the people seated in the booths.

And then, over by the window, he saw them. Jones, party of three. A married couple--and their eleven-year-old son.

Swallowing hard, Bogg wondered if he could move any closer. His arms and legs all seemed to function--so he took a cautious step forward, then continued somewhat gingerly towards the booth.

From the looks of their plates and cups, they appeared to be finishing up their meal. An older but still recognizable Bill and Kathy Jones sat together, he nursing a cup of black coffee, she idly stirring a straw through a half-empty glass of water. Seated across the table from them, Jeffrey was sneaking a glance at what looked like a comic book and ignoring the remains of his sandwich. To Bogg's observing eyes, mother and son looked more alike than ever, the sunlight limning their profiles and haloing their tousled dark curls.

Kathy traded an amused glance with her husband, then leaned forward and gently flicked the tip of her son's nose to get his attention. "No reading at the table, caro. Finish your lunch."

"Okay, okay." Jeffrey sighed but obeyed, closing his comic book and reaching unenthusiastically for the last quarter of his sandwich.

"You can read it later, champ, when we're on the road again," Bill promised.

Kathy rolled her eyes. "I don't know how the two of you do it. Every time I try to read in the car, I get sick to my stomach. Or a raging headache. Or both."

Bill grinned. "He's a Jones. Joneses can read anywhere." He turned to his son. "So, who is it this week, Jeff? Superman or Batman?"

"Spiderman," Jeffrey responded promptly. "I think he's the best!"

"Really?" Bill seemed to be giving the matter serious thought. "When I was your age, I always wanted to be able to fly and leap tall buildings like Superman."

"Superman's okay," Jeffrey conceded. "But he's like a god. Everything's so easy for him. And Batman's a millionaire, so he doesn't have to worry about ordinary stuff either." He leaned across the table, his dark eyes bright with enthusiasm. "But Spidey . . . he's got lots of everyday problems. That makes him more like us."

"A superhero who's more like us?" Bill sounded a little bemused by the concept.

Kathy chuckled. "Don't look at me, caro--I was a Fantastic Four girl myself!"

"They're pretty cool too," Jeffrey acknowledged. "And I like that Marvel heroes live in New York."

"Well, where else would they live, given the choice?" Kathy asked, smiling. "Jeffrey, if you're through eating, you should visit the restroom. This may be our last stop before the campsite and we've got a long drive ahead of us."

"Right." Jeffrey pushed away his empty plate, nodded to his parents, and scampered off.

Kathy leaned back against Bill's shoulder and stifled a yawn.

"Sleepy, sweetheart?" he asked solicitously.

"A little," she admitted. "You know I never sleep well the night before a trip."

He kissed the top of her head. "You can make up for it in the car then."

"What about you, caro? You've done all the driving so far. Are you going to be all right?"

"I've had two cups of black coffee," he said, smiling. "So I should be wired until midnight. But if I do get tired, I'll pull over to the side of the road and rest for a while."

"Good thinking." Kathy stifled another yawn. "I think I'll head off to the restroom too. Maybe I should splash some cold water on my face, while I'm there."

"I'll take care of the check," Bill promised.

Bogg continued to watch as Bill settled up accounts and then collected his wife and son. When the Jones family headed for the door, the Voyager followed at their heels. Like everyone else in the diner, they took no notice of his presence.

Outside the restaurant stood a small service station--four gas pumps and a garage. A mechanic in a greasy cap and overalls was just straightening up beside a large camper and wiping his hands on an oily rag.

"Everything okay?" Bill asked as he drew level with the man.

"Just fine," the mechanic mumbled, his voice barely audible. "You're good to go, mister."

Kathy and Jeffrey had already entered the camper, closing the doors behind them.

"Thanks," Bill said easily. "Hey . . . " he peered a little more closely at the mechanic. "Uh--where's Manny? I hoped I could have a word with him about my brakes before I left."

"Emergency. He got called away."

"Oh." Bill gnawed his lower lip, looking vaguely dissatisfied. "Well, it's probably nothing to worry about. I'll just be extra-careful on the drive. Thanks again," he added, before turning away and climbing into the driver's seat.

Moments later, the Jones' camper started up, cruising down the driveway to rejoin the main road. The watching mechanic lifted his head and a shaft of sunlight fell across his face, illuminating it at last.

Bogg caught his breath in horror, feeling his guts writhe like a nest of snakes.

The face beneath the oil-stained cap was unshaven and smeared with grease, but the malevolent dark eyes were all too familiar--and so was the gloating smirk that spread slowly over the saturnine features as he gazed after the departing camper.

"Drake, you bastard!" Bogg spat, not caring that the rogue Voyager could not hear him. "What the hell have you done?"

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