A Stitch in Time

Chapter 19

"Jeffrey!" Olivia called as she limped into the infirmary. Even with the new plexicast the medics had put on her ankle this morning, she moved more slowly than she had before her injury. Still, it was an improvement over her previous cast and she no longer needed a crutch.

"Kid?" She had expected to find him sitting on the bed, reading his library book, but there was no sign of him. Alarmed, she moved further into the room, scanning the rows of empty beds. "Jeffrey, where are you?" she asked, anxiety lending an edge to her voice. "Kid, if you're pulling some kind of joke here, it's not funny--"

She broke off when she finally glimpsed a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye, turned towards it, and felt her heart stutter to a momentary stop.

Jeffrey sat huddled on the floor between two beds, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees, his face white and shocky. Against the pallor, his eyes looked like burned-out holes; even his lips seemed to be without color. Not since Susan had broken the news of his inability to Voyage had he looked this bad.

"Jeffrey . . ." She limped towards him, almost trod upon a gleaming silver object lying on the floor less than a foot away from the boy. An Omni.

Olivia stared from the device to the boy and back again, swiftly drawing her own conclusions. But scoldings could wait, she thought as she scooped up the device and slipped it into her pants pocket. Right now the only thing that mattered was the traumatized child in front of her.

Pulling a blanket from the nearest bed, she tucked it around Jeffrey and then lowered herself carefully to the floor beside him.

"It's okay, kid." She spoke as soothingly as she could, putting an arm around the rigid shoulders and trying to draw him close. "It's gonna be okay . . ."

"Phineas!--Phineas, wake up!"

Someone was hitting him, a series of light, stinging blows on both sides of his face. Groaning, he swam back up to consciousness, tried to raise his arm to fend off his attacker.

"Knock . . . knock it off," he managed to drag out, his voice sounding drunkenly slurred.

"Phineas," said Susan on a sigh of a relief, sitting back on her haunches as he opened his eyes. "I thought you were down for the count."

Bogg grunted, thought about trying to sit up, then abandoned the idea for the moment. His limbs felt like lead and his head swam dizzily. "What--what happened?" he asked thickly.

"As far as I can tell, mechanical failure," she replied. "The HGT was still on when you tried to Omni out--the frequencies interfered with each other. You need to be more careful," she added reproachfully. "You could have put both of them out of commission, not to mention yourself."

"Bats' breath!" Bogg struggled into a sitting position, felt sweat break across his forehead at the effort. "Where am I? When am I?"

"The Adirondacks, 1980. Same place, different time."

Bogg stared at his surroundings, noted the oddly familiar room and furnishings. "I'm still in the cabin?"

"Yeah, about two years later, after a paint job. My theory is that the HGT jammed the teleportation function of the Omni, so you were flung forward in time, but stayed in the same place."

"That's . . . not all that happened, I think," he said slowly. "Some part of me did go--where I was tryin' to go."

"What else can you remember?"

Bogg frowned, recalling noise, light, the clatter of plates, and the buzz of conversation. Patrons who could neither see nor hear him. Red leather booths and a kid's comic book . . .

"Oh, God!" Memory struck with the force of a sledgehammer. "Jeff--I gotta get back there!"

"What happened?" Susan demanded as she helped him clamber to his feet.

As succinctly as possible, he filled her in on what he'd experienced as a hologram: his sighting of the Jones family--and the mechanic who had watched with such malicious satisfaction as their camper set off down the road.


"Unless he's got an identical twin somewhere in time." Bogg flipped open the Omni, saw with relief that there was a green light in 1980, and began to turn the dials. "Bill was a little worried about his brakes. I didn't catch Drake doing anything to the camper, but that look on his face--he knew something bad was gonna happen."

"And he was probably more than happy to help it along."

"My thoughts exactly." Finishing with the coordinates, Bogg glanced at Susan. "I gotta go."

She nodded and stepped back. "Be careful, Phineas."

Bracing himself, he hit the switch and felt 1980 fall away.

The lights of the cosmos danced around him as he Voyaged but Bogg scarcely noticed. The picture in his mind's eye was by far more vivid: an overcast sky, a deserted beach washed by a thunderous sea, and a small figure huddled on a rock and staring at him with haunted dark eyes.

"We were going camping up north. I was in the camper, reading some comics."

The young voice was oddly flat, even emotionless--the voice of someone who had lived through the unendurable and was trying to put up every defense against living through it again. But in the next instant, bewilderment flickered across his face, crept into his voice.

"I dunno--Dad must've fallen asleep, ‘cause we ran off the road into some trees."

He wouldn't have known, Bogg realized. He'd been in the camper with his comics, he wouldn't have seen the steering going haywire or the brakes failing. Bill had drunk two cups of coffee to stay awake and alert. Knowing the man as he now did, Bogg felt certain he would have pulled over on the road the very second he became drowsy or unable to focus. No way he'd have endangered Kathy and Jeff by driving when he was fatigued.

"I was all right . . . but Mom and Dad got real smashed up."

Bogg shuddered, chilled by more than the vast space of the cosmos. Had it been quick? Had they known what was happening? He imagined Bill frantically flooring the brakes in a vain effort to stop the camper's swerve off the main road, Kathy staring with panicked dark eyes, screaming their son's name as the trees loomed up before them . . .

Pray God it hadn't been like that. Let it at least have been too quick to hurt.

"I tried to get them out, but there was this fire."

Leaping flames enveloping the camper, a boy coughing and choking through the smoke, trying with all his child's strength to rouse and shift two injured adults, the most important people in his world.

"I ran up to the road to try to get someone to help, but no one would stop."

He caught his breath then, face crumpling as the pain of memory came flooding back through the cracks in his composure. And he sobbed the last words in an agony of self-reproach, breaking Bogg's heart along with his own. "I couldn't get anyone to stop!"

The portal flashed up in a blaze of white light, blinding Bogg as he soared through it--

And out the other side.

He felt his feet touch solid ground for a split second, and then suddenly the earth was crumbling and he was falling. Slipping, at least, on his jeans-clad rear down a steep incline covered in rough growth--scraggly bushes and scrub. Thrashing about, he caught hold of some brush, managed to halt his descent, haul himself a little up the slope into a more secure position, and then looked down.

Trees--tall, thick-trunked, and, for any out-of-control vehicle, deadly. Bogg swallowed dryly and reached for his Omni. Upstate New York--April 3, 1982, with a red light blinking like a malevolent eye.

Where did he begin? Was the Jones camper down there, or--his heart seemed to seize up at the idea--had it yet to make its fatal plunge? And Jeffrey . . . would he be uninjured and able to escape as he had before, or would he be lying unconscious on the camper floor as the flames crept up to his body?

And then he heard it--the hum of an approaching engine, but too smooth, too light to belong to something as heavy as a camper. Approaching . . . slowing . . . stopping.

Except that no one had stopped. No one had heeded Jeff's calls for help.

Filled with sudden foreboding, Bogg scrambled awkwardly up the slope. His head cleared the top just as the driver's door of a sleek black limousine burst open--and a small figure ran towards the car, waving his arms wildly and crying out.

"Help! Please--help me!"

Jeffrey. Bogg pulled himself the rest of the way up the slope, struggled to his feet.

"My folks." Jeffrey's words came out in breathless, sobbing pants. "Down there. Fire. I tried, but I couldn't--please, mister, you gotta help them!"

"Show me where they are."

Bogg's blood chilled at the sound of that voice--cool and supercilious even in the face of a child's distress and terror. He did not need more than a glance at the immaculate figure in his trademark black, climbing from the car to follow Jeffrey to the top of the incline.

Relief was evident in every line of Jeffrey's slight frame. He turned trustingly towards the man who had come to rescue his parents, gesturing as he spoke. "Down there--through those trees! Please, we gotta hurry!"

"Kid, no!" Bogg shouted.

Startled, Jeffrey turned his smudged, tear-stained face towards the new voice. And Drake struck him, hard on the back of the head, with a dark object concealed in the palm of his hand.

Jeffrey crumpled without a sound. Drake met Bogg's horrified stare with a contemptuous smile--and deliberately pushed the boy down the slope.

He fell in a loose sprawl of limbs, tumbling over and over through the brush, to lie at last like a broken doll at the bottom of the incline.

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