"How is he, really?" Bogg asked, as Susan led him down another set of corridors.
"Not in any pain," she reassured him. "And he's perfectly coherent, though I think the waiting is starting to get to him."
"Tell me about it," Bogg muttered, rubbing at the kinks the last few hours had put in his neck.
"Seeing you should help," Susan replied. "You were the first thing on his mind once he regained consciousness."
"You sure you don't know why he blacked out like that?"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry. As I told you, we don't have any firm answers yet, though we might be able to rule out any serious physical cause. He had a minor case of smoke inhalation, so we put him on oxygen for a few minutes, but apart from that--he exhibits no sign of illness."
Bogg hated to ask, but after his conversation with Olivia, he felt he had no choice. "Not--not even plague?"
"Bubonic? Well," Susan paused, considering the matter. "We won't know for sure until his tests come back from Pathology, but so far, he's not showing any symptoms. We might put him on a course of preventive antibiotics, just in case. And maybe you as well, since you were both in a plague zone. With a disease that nasty, it's better not to take any chances."
"So, the thought's occurred to you too."
"And to Jeffrey. He asked about it during the middle of his examination. In detail." Susan smiled faintly. "The medics started wondering who was really in charge."
"That's my boy." Bogg felt some of his tension easing. Things couldn't be too bad if Jeffrey was acting like himself again. Unconsciously, he quickened his pace, eager to reach the infirmary. "This place sure has a lot of corridors," he remarked, glancing around him as he walked. "Not that I spent much time here, but I don't remember this many from before. Medical unit's gotten bigger?"
"Nearly doubled in size," Susan reported proudly, "and all the equipment's state-of-the-art. You should see the science unit too--a whole new wing's been built. In fact," she continued, lengthening her own stride to keep up with him, "there've been a lot of changes since you were here last. New approaches, new curricula, new technology--Research and Development, especially, has skyrocketed in the last year. The whole order of Voyagers is really excited about the work we've been doing lately."
Bogg shook his head, amazed. "Like night and day. Last time I was here, you said things were at their darkest. And Drake had almost everyone under his thumb."
Susan grimaced at the mention of the former Code Violations Prosecutor, now turned renegade. "Oh, it took a while to fix all the damage he'd done, but I'd say we were pretty successful. Starting with those thirty Voyagers he had convicted and exiled. I suppose some might have been guilty of violating or at least stretching the Voyager code, but most of them were as innocent as you and Jeffrey. In any case, Professor Garth decided that since the evidence against them was tainted, their sentences had to be overturned. So, all thirty have been pardoned under a general amnesty and offered their old positions back. A few opted for retirement, but I'd say the majority of them are making the most of their second chance. And then there have some important structural changes within the hierarchy . . . "
"Like?" Bogg queried.
The chill in Susan's smile made Bogg very glad it was not directed at him. "Let's just say, there aren't going to be any more mistakes like Drake. No one is ever going to become that powerful, that fast again. The Council is keeping a much closer eye on the trainees and junior personnel these days."
"Makes sense," Bogg acknowledged. "Since we're on the subject of Drake, has anyone found him yet? The kid and I ran into him in Victorian London a while back, but he skipped out before we could catch him."
Susan shook her head. "We're still working on that. In fact, that's why we upgraded the whole Voyager Locator System, to try to track his movements. Our scanners are much more sensitive now, and I think we've come close once or twice, but he never stays in place long enough for us to get a lock on his coordinates. Everyone else, though, shows up just fine."
"Like me and Jeff."
"Like you and Jeffrey," she confirmed. "Another benefit of the system is that we can now detect--unanticipated hazards to Voyagers in the field, and pull them out if necessary."
Bogg blinked. This was news indeed. When he'd first joined the ranks of the Voyagers, he'd accepted without question the unspoken dictate that field workers had to fend for themselves.
Witnessing his bemusement, Susan elaborated, "After what happened with Drake, we can't afford to lose qualified, loyal personnel in the line of duty. The new VLS is supposed to help us minimize those losses."
Bogg frowned as he digested this. "So, you're saying that you picked up some threat to Jeff on your scanners and brought him here?"
"In a nutshell, yes." Susan came to a sudden halt. "And now I've told you as much as I can tell you without having Jeffrey's test results in front of me. So it's just as well that we've reached the infirmary. Two doors down," she added at Bogg's questioning look, "right at the end of the hall."
He let out a long, slow breath. "Thanks. I'll go right in to him."
"Phineas." Susan touched his arm briefly. "I know how worried you are, but trust me that we're doing everything we can for Jeffrey?"
Bogg managed a nod and a smile that felt as tight as it probably looked, then made for the infirmary door.
There were several beds on the infirmary ward, but only one was occupied. Bogg paused in the doorway, studying his partner anxiously.
Jeffrey was propped up on pillows, looking very young and fragile. But what startled Bogg most was the tangle of tubes and wires surrounding the bed: at first glance, the boy appeared to be trapped in the center of a spider-web. Suppressing his fears, Bogg made himself stroll casually into the room.
"Bogg!" Jeffrey turned his head, his dark eyes brightening at the sight of his partner.
It wasn't easy to hug the kid through all the wires, but Bogg did his best, slipping an arm around the slight shoulders and pulling him close. Jeffrey clung to him convulsively, almost desperately.
"I thought you'd never come," he accused, his voice slightly muffled against the older Voyager's shoulder.
"Shh . . . " Bogg patted the boy's back before releasing him. "S'okay, Jeff. They told me I had to wait while they examined you. How're you doing?"
Jeffrey expelled a breath of pent-up frustration. "They took away my clothes and shoes. Poked and prodded me all over. Asked lots of embarrassing questions. Hooked me up to all these," the boy gestured at the tubes and wires, then came to the heart of his grievance. "And nobody's telling me anything!"
"Well, if you've recovered enough to complain, it can't be too serious," Bogg teased, rubbing the boy's shoulder to calm him.
Jeffrey gave him A Look--Capitalized--and despite his worries, Bogg chuckled. Somehow, as long as they were together, nothing seemed too terrible.
"Look, kid," Bogg put his arm around the boy again. "I know the waiting's tough. If it's any consolation, I feel the same way. But Susan told me they're doing the best they can to find the answer. Don't you trust her?"
Jeffrey sighed. "Yeah, I guess. I just hate not being able to do anything!"
"The best thing you can do right now is rest," Bogg retorted. "And not make yourself worse by getting all worked up like this."
"But I feel fine!" Jeffrey protested.
"Now. But just a few hours ago, you went white as a sheet and couldn't even stand up," the older Voyager countered. "I'm not gonna pretend it didn't scare me to see you collapse like that. Just--what happened back there?
"I'd like to know that too."
The Voyagers glanced up to see Susan standing at the foot of the bed. Jeffrey's gaze zeroed in on the clipboard she was carrying and his face promptly clouded over. "More questions?"
"Jeffrey, I know this is hard on you." Susan's smile was sympathetic. "But if you can just describe in detail what happened before you lost consciousness, we might be able to find a solution more quickly."
The boy sighed again. "What do you want to know?"
"Well, to start with," Susan seated herself on the edge of the bed, "what was your last landing like?"
Jeffrey shrugged. "About average. Better than most, now that I think about it. We touched down in a deserted field."
"A deserted field," Susan repeated, scribbling at the pages attached to her clipboard. "Did you notice anything unusual or alarming?"
"Not right away." Jeffrey pulled a slight face. "I was coughing a lot, because we'd just come from the Fire of London, but when I recovered, Bogg told me we'd landed in a green zone."
Susan glanced at Bogg, who nodded confirmation. "Provence, France--1784. The kid said there weren't any wars going on."
"No, there weren't--at least not in France." Frowning slightly, Susan made another notation on the page. "But neither of you saw anything that you could recognize as a source of danger? Like a house on fire or someone coming towards you with a weapon?"
Bogg exchanged a glance with Jeffrey, and they both shook their heads. "All I saw were some farmhouses in the distance," the older Voyager replied. "I thought it would be okay if Jeff and I took a couple of hours off to catch our breath before heading back to work."
"And that's when it happened," Jeffrey supplied.
"That's when you lost consciousness?" Susan asked, gazing at him intently.
"How did you feel just before the collapse?"
The boy's brow furrowed. "Strange. I wasn't coughing anymore and my breathing was back to normal, so I stood up. And then . . . everything went all funny."
"Funny, how?" Susan prompted.
"I dunno. Blurry. Out of focus. Or like everything except me had gone into slow motion." He glanced at his partner. "Even you seemed to be moving in slow motion, Bogg. And then I started to feel kinda sick."
Jeffrey shook his head. "Not that kind of sick. It wasn't like I had a fever or was gonna throw up, but I got real dizzy. Like I'd been on a merry-go-round that was spinning too fast. Dis -- dis --" he fumbled for the right word, the crease between his brows deepening, "disoriented. And what was even weirder--was this sense that I wasn't in the right place, somehow. That I was supposed to be somewhere else." He glanced up at Bogg. "I'd never felt like that before, when we traveled together. Not even the first time."
"It's gonna be okay, Jeff." The reassurance was automatic, but, inwardly, Bogg was feeling just as anxious as the boy.
Jeffrey might have sensed as much because he now turned a worried dark gaze on Susan, who was still writing away at top speed.
"Dizzy and disoriented," she murmured, more to herself than to them. "Felt out of place . . . " Her voice trailed off and she looked up to find both Voyagers regarding her apprehensively.
"Well?" Bogg asked, trying not to sound too impatient. "Any ideas?"
Susan hesitated before replying. "It could be time-lag, I suppose."
"Time-lag?" Jeffrey echoed dubiously. "Is that anything like jet-lag?"
"In a way," Susan informed him. "Traveling repeatedly through the cosmos can take a physical toll, even on a strong, healthy adult. A growing boy would feel the effects as well, especially if a lot of traveling took place within a relatively short period of time."
"So you're saying the kid's overworked and needs rest?" Bogg asked, putting a protective arm around Jeffrey again.
"Perhaps," she conceded. "But I really couldn't say for sure, and I shouldn't offer a diagnosis until the specialists have seen this report. You know I'm no medic, Phineas. Speaking of which," she added, "I think it's time you went down to Diagnostic and got yourself checked out too."
"That can wait," Bogg began but Jeffrey interrupted him.
"She's right, Bogg. I don't know what I've got or if it's catching, but I don't want you to get it too."
"I'm sure I'll be fine," Bogg insisted. "And I don't want to leave you alone, kid."
"I'll be okay," Jeffrey said staunchly. "You're just going for some tests, right?"
"And he won't have to be alone," Susan chimed in. "I'm sure Olivia would be glad to visit with him during your examination."
Jeffrey's eyes widened with surprise and, Bogg thought, pleasure. "Olivia's here? Olivia Dunn?"
"Yeah, I ran into her in the waiting area--it's like old home week at Headquarters," Bogg told the boy. "She busted an ankle so she's here until it heals. And she sent you her love."
Somewhat to his amusement, Jeffrey blushed slightly. "That was nice. I'd like to see her if she's still around."
Susan smiled as she rose from the bed. "Then it's settled--I'll find her and send her in to you. Phineas, won't you come with me, please?"
Bogg gave Jeffrey's shoulder a last, comforting squeeze before setting off reluctantly for Diagnostic.
Fortunately, Bogg's examination didn't take nearly as long as Jeffrey's had. It was more like undergoing a routine physical than anything else. Still, he had to answer his share of embarrassing questions and allow the medics to take samples of this and that from him. so it was with a decided sense of relief that he resumed his clothes and rejoined his partner in the infirmary.
True to her promise, Susan had sent for Olivia, who was sitting on the foot of Jeffrey's bed. The two were talking shop, he observed with amusement as he came up to them.
"So there's a way to send for other Voyagers if you get hurt on the job?" the kid was asking.
Olivia nodded. "If you're too ill or injured to complete your mission, you can set your Omni to transmit a 'Voyager Down' signal. The nearest unassigned Voyager gets the signal first and will be transported automatically to where you are so he--or she-- can take over. Of course," she added, "some Voyagers choose to work together if their assignment proves too difficult for one alone."
"So there are other Voyager teams besides Bogg and me? I never knew that."
Olivia smiled at the boy. "You and Phineas are unconventional, but not unprecedented."
"And here I thought we'd broken the mold," Bogg remarked, striding forward to join their conversation.
"Well, you probably broke something, but I wouldn't care to guess what," Olivia retorted. But the jibe lacked venom and she didn't stop smiling when she looked his way.
"You're back!" Jeffrey exclaimed brightly. "Is everything okay?"
"As far as I know," Bogg replied, seating himself in the chair beside the bed. Most of the wires and tubes had been removed in his absence, he noted with relief. "I didn't have any of your symptoms, so I'm not expecting any problems."
"I'm still glad you let them examine you," Jeffrey maintained. "Partners should look out for each other."
Bogg smiled and patted the boy's shoulder. "Yeah, they should." He glanced quizzically at Olivia. "You and the kid sharing war stories?"
"Something like that. Jeffrey wanted to know what else Omnis could do, so I was telling him about their secondary functions."
"Pity they don't have a secondary function to guarantee a soft landing every time," Bogg grumbled.
Olivia glanced down with a rueful grimace at her plaster-encased ankle. "I'm with you on that, Phineas."
"Yeah," Jeffrey added feelingly.
They were comparing stories about best and worst landings when Susan reentered the infirmary, a file in her hand. Three heads immediately turned in her direction, and Jeffrey slipped his hand surreptitiously into Bogg's, as Susan approached the bed.
"Jeffrey, I have your test results here," she began.
Olivia started to reach for her crutch. "Maybe I'd better give you some privacy."
"Please," Jeffrey caught at her hand. "I don't mind if you stay, honest."
Olivia glanced at Bogg and Susan. "If it's all right with everyone else--"
"If it's okay with the kid, it's okay with me," Bogg replied.
Susan hesitated a moment, then nodded assent. "If that's what Jeffrey wants, it's fine with me too." Opening the file, she took out a single sheet of paper. "Well, for starters, I'm pleased to report that you don't have bubonic plague, nor are you at risk for any other life-threatening illness."
Jeffrey exhaled audibly in relief, a beaming Olivia leaned forward to kiss the boy on the cheek, and Bogg felt a big grin breaking out across his own face
"Great news, kid!" he declared, gripping the boy's shoulder and giving it a congratulatory shake. "Must've been time-lag all along. No problem, we can just rest up here until you're stronger, then we'll take the Omni and--"
"Not so fast," Susan broke in, and the somberness of her tone brought all celebration to a crashing halt. "I'm sorry, guys, but--that's not going to be possible."
"Not possible?" Bogg echoed. "But you just said it wasn't the plague!"
"It's not, but that doesn't mean things aren't serious. In fact," Susan bit her lower lip as she glanced at the other three Voyagers, all staring at her, "according to the results of Jeffrey's other set of tests, I'm afraid they're very serious indeed."
Jeffrey swallowed, his eyes huge in his newly pale face. Bogg reached out and put a steadying hand on his shoulder. "You're scaring him," he said tersely. "Get to the point."
"I'm sorry. That wasn't my intention at all. I said that Jeffrey's health wasn't in danger, which is true. He'll be perfectly safe and healthy, as long as he remains here."
"Here?" Bogg echoed, confused.
"At Voyager Headquarters. You know that it's located--outside conventional time. But if the two of you venture into the time stream again," Susan paused to regard them both with troubled eyes, "Jeffrey will cease to exist."