The distinct smell of antiseptic washed over Bogg as he stepped through the portal. Another hospital? he wondered, feeling his heart sink even further. After what he had seen, he didn't know if he could handle another.
Then his eyes adjusted to the light and he recognized the corridors of the VHQ medical wing. And just down the passage, he remembered, was the infirmary.
Longing and dread warred in his heart. Not once in their partnership had he ever run from the boy--only after him and towards him. But now, for the first time, he had to struggle against the urge to flee, away from his failure and the heartache it would bring.
Finally, he forced himself to take that first step towards the infirmary, then the next. His feet seemed to grow heavier with every tread, but at last he reached his destination. For a moment longer, he lingered outside the door, then, before he could reconsider, ducked inside.
To his amazement, the room appeared to be empty: all the beds he could see were made up and uninhabited. A cold lump of fear was starting to form in his stomach, when he heard someone call his name.
"Phineas." Olivia's voice was low-pitched, almost a murmur. It also seemed to be coming from a direction he couldn't identify yet.
Bogg glanced down and saw them at last, sitting on the floor--Olivia with her arm around a white-faced Jeffrey, whose dark eyes stared unseeingly before him.
"Hey." Olivia stroked the boy's curls. "Look who's here, Jeffrey."
He turned his head and a flicker of recognition crossed his face. His lips shaped a word, though no sound emerged.
Bogg swallowed. "Yeah, kid, it's me." Coming forward, he knelt in front of the boy, just within touching distance. Olivia levered herself up from the floor to make room for him.
"I figured--you'd want to know what happened," Bogg continued, holding the dark gaze with his own. "You were right, kid. Drake came after you, in 1982."
Jeffrey exhaled, the barest hint of escaping breath. But his eyes were still full of questions.
"He was there--at the crash site. Came driving by in a fancy car. You--eleven-year-old you--ran up to him and he stopped. You thought he was there to help, to get your parents out. Instead, he hit you on the head, pushed you downhill." He paused, swallowing again. "I thought he'd killed you."
The image rose in his mind once more, sharp and terrible. He pushed it back and made himself go on. "I nearly killed him, but then I heard you calling out for help. You were hurt, barely conscious--we had to get you to a hospital."
More images crowded into his mind--of everything he wasn't telling the boy. The rising column of smoke, the earth-shaking explosion, the ravenous flames . . .
"My folks . . . "
Jeffrey's anguished whisper was scarcely audible but Bogg felt it in his soul like a scream. He shook his head, as much to banish the memories as to confirm the unspeakable tragedy.
"I tried." The words forced themselves from a painfully constricted throat. "I couldn't--it happened so fast--" Control was splintering, into sharp, knife-edged fragments, and he heard his voice cracking, breaking, along with it. "I'm sorry, Jeff. I'm so sorry . . . "
A thin arm wound itself around his neck, a tear-wet cheek pressed against his, and he let go even as he held on to the boy for dear life.
Together they wept for Bill and Kathy Jones, and everything that had been lost that day in 1982.
Lifting Jeffrey from the floor, Bogg laid him down on the nearest bed. Sunk in exhausted slumber, the boy barely stirred.
Head bowed, Bogg stood over him, memorizing every feature of his sleeping face: Kathy's eyes and nose, Bill's determined chin, those wild dark curls. So young--too young--to have known such sorrow.
"Sonno bene, bambino mio," he whispered, brushing his fingers against one pale cheek.
Turning blindly away, he almost walked into Olivia, who had come quietly up behind him.
"Phineas." Her voice held only compassion. Then, to Bogg's amazement, she simply put her arms around him and held him close, as if he were no older than Jeffrey. Bogg surprised himself even more by closing his eyes and relaxing into her embrace.
Nothing sexual, or even romantic, about this contact, and yet it warmed him all the way down to the soul. Gave him strength for what he had to do next.
He stood a while longer in the circle of her arms, then he straightened up and stepped back. "I--I gotta go down to Control," he said, his voice still raspy from recent tears.
She nodded, her arms dropping back to her sides. "I guess they'll want their report, won't they?" Her wry expression reflected the field worker's typical distaste for paperwork, and Bogg almost smiled.
"Yeah. Bureaucracy--what're ya gonna do?" he said, trying to keep it light. "Will you stay here, with him?" He nodded towards the bed.
"You don't even have to ask."
Bogg exhaled, raking a hand through his hair. "Thanks, Liv. For everything," he added, as he turned to go.
"I want to go back," he said starkly, standing in the middle of Mission Control. "I have to fix this."
"Phineas . . ." Susan, still looking pale and drained, came out from behind Bryce's console. "You know that's impossible--"
"It doesn't have to be. I can save them. Omni in before the accident, make Bill check his brakes--"
"What about Jeffrey's future as a Voyager?"
"Do you think he cares about that now?" Bogg demanded. "I could give him all of time on a string, and it wouldn't make up for what he's lost!"
Her lips trembled. "Of course he'd feel that way. But remember what Professor Garth told you--"
"Professor Garth said that history wouldn't change if Jeff's parents were spared--"
"Based on evidence Drake gave him, evidence that we now know was false!" she countered.
"Whose side are you on?" Bogg snapped, and immediately felt like a monster when he saw her eyes fill.
But when she spoke again, her voice was calm. "On Jeffrey's, I hope. Phineas . . ." She touched his arm. "Don't you think I've considered this too? That there might be some way to save Bill and Kathy?"
"Then why can't we--"
"Because, as cruel as this future is, the alternatives are even worse!"
"How can you know that?"
"Probability Scan." Bryce spoke up for the first time.
Bogg wheeled around to stare at him. "What?"
"Susan asked me to input data and generate the most probable outcomes of the Jones family all surviving the camper fire," the tech explained.
Bryce sighed and rubbed his eyes behind their steel-rimmed specs. "You're not going to like this," he warned.
"Try me," Bogg said curtly.
Bryce sighed again and tapped out a sequence on his keyboard. "Run program," he said, straightening in his chair.
Five of the large display screens in the Control Center suddenly lit up, and large black type--like magnified newspaper headlines--began to scroll across each one:
Boy, 14, Disappears on Way to School
Mother, Son, Shot in Convenience Store Robbery
4 Students Killed on Senior Class Trip
College Professor, Family, Die in Small Plane Crash
Gas Leak Kills Family of 3
Bogg watched in sick fascination as smaller type succeeded the headlines, providing further details of each tragedy. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, he looked away.
In all five projected futures, Jeffrey died with or instead of his parents. There was no other outcome.