When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast.
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.
"Dido's Lament," Dido and Aeneas
Two days later, VHQ time . . .
Entering the infirmary, Bogg saw them sitting together by the window--the two heads, dark and fair, bent over Olivia's Omni.
"The translation unit's got about a ninety-nine point eight per cent accuracy rate," she was explaining. "So, as long as you're in the same time zone as the Omni, you can understand the language wherever you go."
"Wow." Jeffrey shook his head. "I never even guessed. Kind of embarrassing that I went all these places and never wondered why there weren't any problems talking to people!"
"You're not the only one," Olivia reassured him. "After a while, it's easy to take it all for granted, unless your Omni's destroyed or the unit breaks down--which doesn't happen often, I admit. But Voyagers do have to study some foreign languages just in case."
"Really old ones, like Latin and Greek?"
"Sometimes," she replied. "But more often, we study modern ones, like Spanish, Italian, and German."
"Don't forget French," Bogg pointed out as he came up behind them. "The language of diplomacy."
"Bogg, you know French?"
The older Voyager preened at the incredulous note in Jeffrey's voice. "Well, I don't like to brag, but--"
Olivia hooted in derision. "Phineas, you stopped studying French as soon as you learned to say 'Voulez-vous coucher avec moi!'"
Jeffrey's brow furrowed. "What does 'Voulez-vous coucher--'"
Bogg reached down and put his hands over the boy's ears. "Not in front of the kid!" he warned.
Jeffrey tilted his head back and gave his partner a withering look. "If it's something to do with you and women, I can probably guess."
"Guess away," Bogg invited, removing his hands. "But I'm still not gonna tell you!"
Jeffrey rolled his eyes. "Then I'll find a dictionary or something." He turned back to Olivia. "Does the translation unit work the same if there are a whole bunch of languages in the area?"
She nodded. "The unit automatically defaults to the language that's most frequently spoken, but you can adjust the setting to compensate for different dialects or even a multilingual culture."
Jeffrey grinned. "That should come in handy if we ever Omni in on the Tower of Babel!"
"Been there, done that," Bogg informed him. "I'll tell you about it someday. But right now it's time for you for go and get ready. And don't forget to put on a tie!"
"Yeah, I know, I know," Jeffrey sighed. He rose with a martyred air and left the infirmary.
Olivia watched him go, smiling. "You've got a great kid there."
"Thanks, but I'm not sure I can take much credit for it," Bogg replied, sitting down on the edge of the nearest bed. "A lot of what he is comes from his folks, God rest 'em."
"I'd say part of it comes from you too. You can't foster a kid for almost two years and not exert some kind of influence." Her voice gentled. "He feels things very deeply--I could tell that after spending time with him--but he's also resilient. A lot of kids would've been completely crushed by everything he's lived through. I think you've held him together."
Bogg shrugged, trying to hide his pleasure at the compliment and his surprise that she had given it to him in the first place. "Well, he holds me together too--that's how it's supposed to be, with partners. I tell ya, though," he added, "I wouldn't do what I'm about to do for anyone but Jeff: sit in a hard auditorium seat for three hours and listen to a bunch of people sing at me in a foreign language. Without subtitles. The things I do for love--and history!"
Olivia laughed. "I think I can do something about that." She reached for the silver Omni at his belt and flipped it open. "Watch and learn."
She had just finished adjusting the translation unit to decipher Italian even in a predominantly English-speaking location when Jeffrey reentered the infirmary.
He had donned a navy suit, a little long in the arm but otherwise a decent fit, with a red and navy striped tie, and his dark curls gleamed with combing. He looked, Bogg thought, incredibly grown-up and heartbreakingly young at the same time.
Clearing his throat, he said lightly, "Nice tie, kid."
"Thanks. I even remembered to wash behind my ears too."
Bogg was too relieved by the reemergence of Jeffrey's smart mouth to do anything but roll his eyes. "Like I'm gonna check? C'mon, kid--we don't want to be late for curtain up."
The small theater--located well off Broadway--was called the Rialto, but any resemblance between it and the original was strictly coincidental. Within five years, Bogg knew, it and the other buildings on the block would be torn down to make way for something slightly more upscale.
But for tonight and a few subsequent evenings, it was the venue for a small, local production of Le Nozze di Figaro, with most of the parts being taken by voice students. Including a promising young soprano by the name of Katerina Rossini, who would be playing Susanna, Figaro's bride.
Closing his program, Bogg glanced at Jeffrey, sitting quietly beside him and leafing through his own program. If he felt strange about this evening, about seeing the woman he still felt he had failed somehow, he could only imagine how the boy felt.
But they were supposed to be here. Once the last safeguards around Jeffrey's timeline were in place, Bogg had followed up a hunch he'd had ever since his Voyage to London in 1972. What he had found had given him considerable pause--was it kind or fair to do this to Jeffrey, after everything else he'd been through?--but in the end, he had shared his findings with the boy.
He should have known better than to think Jeffrey would shrink from this. He had paled visibly on hearing the news, but his eyes . . . they had glowed like someone getting a glimpse of heaven.
Bogg had quickly put away his own qualms and started making the necessary arrangements. Mission Control had agreed to lend him the 3-70-10 for this special excursion and Budgeting had advanced the funds they would need--not that that had amounted to very much. Bogg had also spent more time in the library than he had as a student, looking up what he would need to know about Le Nozze di Figaro.
And now here they were. Bogg had asked Susan if she wanted to join them, but she had shaken her head with a sad smile and declined the invitation. "I think this is something you and Jeffrey need to do alone, if you understand what I'm saying."
Bogg had understood more than she realized. Susan also had her regrets, her need to come to terms with what had happened, and he couldn't rush her through the grieving process any more than he could rush Jeff or himself. Work was her solace right now, so he left her to it.
The house lights dimmed, but Bogg could just make out the figure of the conductor, raising his baton in the orchestra pit. Seconds later, the first chords of the overture reverberated through the small auditorium. Bogg leaned back in his seat, sensed Jeffrey doing the same, and waited for the opera to begin in earnest.
The curtain rose at last on "Figaro" measuring with a ruler the place where his and Susanna's bed would be. Decent basso, Bogg decided after the first few notes of the aria and was doubly grateful that Olivia had tweaked the translation unit so he could understand the lyrics. Then he heard Jeffrey catch his breath and knew that "Susanna" had made her entrance, trilling with giddy delight over her wedding headdress.
For the next three hours, they sat spellbound. Although the sets were somewhat rickety and the costumes looked a little faded, as if they had been used for many other productions, none of that mattered once the singing began.
A young cast--no one appeared much older than thirty, even with wigs and make-up--that made up in vigor and raw talent what it lacked in experience. Bogg had known from Kathy's audition that she was talented but here, she sparkled, moving about the stage with poise and confidence, singing in a voice as clear as a bell. He understood now why Bill had thought his wife had the potential to be a diva.
Beside him, Jeffrey sat like a statue, absorbing every note and nuance of his mother's performance. When the curtain fell and the cast came forward to take their bows, he was one of the first on his feet, clapping wildly, his dark eyes aglow.
Towards the back, a few people began yelling, "Bravo, bravo!"
Jeffrey broke into a wide grin. "Bravi, tutti!" he shouted, his voice almost lost in the cheering crowd. "Bravissimi!"
Bogg grinned and suddenly had to blink his stinging eyes.
It was a foregone conclusion that they would be going backstage.
"She'll be in here--in the green room," Jeffrey said, taking a deep breath to steady his nerves. His heart was pounding so loudly he was surprised that no one could hear it, especially Bogg who was standing right next to him in the corridor.
His partner frowned, perplexed. "Kid, from what I can see, this room is painted white and yellow, not green."
Jeffrey smothered a sigh. "It's a theater term, Bogg. The green room is where the cast gathers after a performance. Although I think, maybe, a long time ago, they might have painted it green," he added placatingly. "Or maybe it was called that because they used to keep plants there. I asked my mom once and she didn't know the reason either. Anyway, the name stuck."
"Oh." The older Voyager still looked a little puzzled. "Well, whatever it's called, you ready to go in?"
Time to bite the bullet. Jeffrey squared his shoulders, took another deep breath. "Ready as I'll ever be. Are you coming in too?"
"I'll come in, but I think I'd better stay in the background. Your mom and I aren't due to meet face to face until next year." Bogg looked at him closely, concern in the blue eyes. "Jeff, I know this isn't gonna be easy but--try to remember where you are, okay? And when you are."
Jeffrey nodded. This would be the hardest part, he knew: he'd be seeing his mom again, but long before she became his mom. Before she'd married his dad, even, though Bogg had told him that his parents had met and were dating by now. He would be going to pay his respects to Katerina Rossini, the promising young soprano. No matter how much he longed to reveal himself to her, how starved he was to connect with her and his father, he had to remain a stranger here--to both of them.
For a moment, he felt as though his nerve might fail him, then he told himself not to be such a wimp. He had the chance to see his mother again, to talk to her--no way he was going to pass that up. Raising his head, he almost marched into the green room, dimly aware of Bogg following at a slight distance.
Nearly all the singers were surrounded by friends and fans. Threading his way through the crowd, Jeffrey eventually located his mother by her rose-colored costume (Susanna and her mistress, the Countess, had switched gowns in the last act). Several people were gathered around her, exclaiming and congratulating. Jeffrey heard her laughter as she accepted their praise with just the right mixture of appreciation and modesty. Her instincts when it came to people had been as acute as her ear for music.
He waited on the periphery and his patience was finally rewarded when the last of her well-wishers drifted away, leaving him with a clear view of her. Still smiling, she turned her head and her brows arched in surprise when she saw him standing there. "Well, hello there, young man," she said, her voice light and pleasant. "What can I do for you?"
Jeffrey swallowed, his mouth going dry and his carefully prepared speech flying right out of his head. He had almost forgotten how pretty she was, with her expressive brown eyes and her unruly dark curls, now tumbling about her shoulders. And so young--only twenty-two, less than ten years older than he was.
Kathy was still looking at him quizzically, and with a hint of concern now. "Are you lost?" she asked, more gently. "I can help you find whoever you're looking for."
Jeffrey recovered his wits, just in time. "Oh, no!" he said quickly. "That is, I was looking for you, Miss Rossini." He took a deep breath. "I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your performance. The whole opera was just great!"
"Why, thank you!" Her smile intensified, becoming warmer and more personal. "Have you seen many operas?"
"Just a few," Jeffrey admitted. "Hansel und Gretel and The Magic Flute." He vividly remembered his mother taking him to matinees of both. "But I think I like Le Nozze di Figaro best."
"So do I. Mozart's my favorite composer," Kathy replied. She cast a glance around the room and added in a low, conspiratorial voice, "Shh! Don't tell my family--they're all passionate Verdi fans."
Jeffrey found himself grinning in response. "Your secret's safe with me, Miss Rossini. Would you . . . would you please sign my program?"
"I'd be glad to," she assured him, accepting the program and the ballpoint pen he handed to her. "Whom shall I make it out to?"
"To Jeffrey--with a 'J."
"Jeffrey with a 'J,'" Kathy repeated as she dashed off her signature with a flourish. "There you go!" She handed the program and pen back to him, held out her hand. "I hope you'll go to see many more operas."
Jeffrey swallowed and took her hand. It felt warm, smooth, and firm--he hoped his own wasn't too sweaty. "I will--if you're in them." Prompted by an impulse that he could barely understand, he bowed over her hand and gave it a quick kiss, no more than the lightest brush of lips against fingers, before releasing it.
Her velvety dark eyes widened, then softened. Stooping, she brushed a kiss against his own cheek--he could smell roses and stage-paint--and then straightened up, smiling at him so tenderly that his heart filled with love and pain. "Someday," she said, "you're going to break a lot of hearts--Jeffrey with a J."
"Kathy!" A man's voice, startlingly familiar, rose over the hum of conversation in the green room.
She glanced towards the voice, her whole face seeming to light up. "Over here, caro!" she called.
Following her gaze, Jeffrey saw his father, looking younger and slightly thinner, making his way towards them. Tempting as it was to linger, he knew it would be too risky. Taking a few steps to one side, he let the crowd swallow him up.
All the same, he couldn't resist peering around various shoulders to see his dad catch up his mom in a congratulatory embrace and swing her, laughing, in a little circle. Then, setting her down, he offered her a single red rose, which she accepted with a radiant smile. They might have been the only two people in the room--or the world.
Blinking back a mist of tears, Jeffrey said a silent goodbye to his parents and headed blindly for the exit.
Bogg caught up with his partner outside the theater. Jeffrey was leaning against a lamp post, his face hidden and his shoulders shaking silently.
Aching for him, Bogg laid a hand on the boy's back, letting him know he was there.
Without raising his head, the younger Voyager choked out, "I'm okay, I'm okay . . . "
That was such an out-and-out lie that Bogg didn't even bother to contradict it. "Well, that's good, 'cause I'm not," he retorted and folded his arms around the boy. Jeffrey turned instantly and buried his face in the older Voyager's shoulder.
They stood like that for several minutes, taking what comfort they could from each other's closeness, then Jeffrey pulled away a little and fumbled for the handkerchief in his pocket. Bogg stepped back, giving him the chance to pull himself together.
Eventually, Jeffrey shoved the crumpled handkerchief back in his pocket and glanced up at him. "They looked happy, didn't they? My folks."
"Yeah. Yeah, they did."
The boy took a breath. "Like they had no regrets--or doubts, about anything."
Bogg reached out and laid a hand on Jeffrey's shoulder. "That's the only way to live, kid. Without regrets or doubts--or fears."
Their eyes met in a glance of complete understanding. Without a word exchanged, they both simply knew: however haunted the past or uncertain the future, life was in the moment. And at this moment, Bill Jones and Kathy Rossini were alive and together, with everything still before them.
In the end, maybe that was all that anyone could ask.
Jeffrey straightened, raising his head. The moonlight played across the strengthening planes of his face, briefly revealing the man who would one day emerge from the boy. "From now on--I'm going to try to remember them like this. The way they were tonight, not like . . . "
Not like the accident, Bogg thought. Not like those terrible last moments in the burning camper. He squeezed Jeffrey's shoulder. "I know, kid. Listen--are you through here? I've got the Omni set for home . . ." He paused, wondering if "home" was the right term to use for VHQ.
Jeffrey smiled at him, closed a hand over his wrist. "Home's wherever you are, Bogg. Let's go."
Overhead the breeze sent a fleecy veil of clouds scudding across the night sky and the face of the full moon, bright as a new-minted coin. Seconds later, the clouds had moved on and the silver light poured down upon a deserted street.
Di pianti di pene
Ognor non si pasce,
Talvolta poi nasce
Il ben dal dolor:
E quando si crede
Più grave il periglio,
Brillare si vede
La calma maggior.
--Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
"Un moto di gioia," Le Nozze di Figaro
From weeping, from pain
one cannot always live
Sometimes then is born
a good thing out of sorrow.
And when one believes
the danger is greatest,
one sees shining
a greater calm.
-- John Glenn Paton