Jeffrey stared forlornly at the place where his partner had been mere seconds ago. Stared until the spot wavered and blurred and his eyes began to sting. Furious over his lack of control, he squeezed them shut against the betraying moisture. Bogg had assured him that tears weren't "sissy," but in this situation, he concluded bleakly, they weren't much use either.
It has to be this way, he told himself fiercely. He was as good as dead if Bogg didn't pull this off. He'd trusted the older Voyager with his life before, and Bogg hadn't failed him yet.
But it was--weird to think of just not being. Every sense seemed heightened at the moment: all around him he could see the consoles and screens of Mission Control, hear the whir and click of machines, feel the warmth of Olivia's hands on his shoulders, breathe in the light, citrusy scent of her perfume . . .
If he tried to follow Bogg into time now, would all of that simply vanish? Thoughts, feelings, experiences gone, and just a blank space--nothingness--where he had been?
Jeffrey shivered. His life in standard time might have been short and, compared to those of others, insignificant. But it was his--and the thought of it disappearing scared him more than he could say.
"Jeffrey?" He felt Olivia's fingers brush his cheek. "Are you okay?"
"No." The starkness in that one syllable surprised them both.
"I guess that was a pretty stupid question to ask," she admitted with a crooked smile. "Naturally, you're not okay, and I wouldn't be either, if it were me. But you trust Phineas, don't you?"
"Of course," Jeffrey said, surprised. "But I hate feeling this helpless! It's my life, and I can't do anything to straighten it out."
Olivia ruffled his hair affectionately. "Don't underestimate yourself, kid. You may not be able to Voyage right now, but you're the one with all the answers. Bogg is going to need you more than ever on this assignment."
"She's right," Susan chimed in. "It's precisely because it's your life that your knowledge and memories are so vital."
"But what if I mess up?" Jeffrey asked, his anxiety returning in full force. "What if the problems with my timeline started when I was too young to remember?"
"Then we'll put our heads together and see what we can come up with," Susan promised. "Just remember, Jeffrey--you're not alone."
"We're all here to help you," Olivia added, giving Jeffrey's shoulders a comforting squeeze.
Jeffrey swallowed, feeling the tide of panic recede. "Thanks," he said gruffly, around the lingering tightness in his throat. "That means a lot."
Susan smiled reassurance, then turned towards the main console. "Have you got Phineas's coordinates, Beckett?"
"Not yet, but they should be available any second . . . " The older technician broke off, eyes widening. "Oh, boy," he said, after what seemed like an interminable pause. "Wait'll you see where he ended up."
"July 10, 1968--Manhattan," Bogg observed, frowning over the Omni's read-out. Two years before the kid was even born? He profoundly hoped that the device was working the way it should: messing up this timeline was unthinkable.
Up until now, the journey had been remarkably smooth, an uneventful soar through the cosmos. Most startling of all, he hadn't arrived at his destination in midair and crashed to the ground. Instead, still contained within the cosmos, he'd found himself floating downwards, towards a portal of light. There had been a flash of color, a momentary sense of disorientation, as he passed through it, then he had simply been there--"there" being a crowded subway station, with people dashing past him, either disembarking from the train, or running to board it. Hardly anyone had spared Bogg a second glance as they attended to their business: it had been a relief not to have to explain his sudden appearance in their midst.
The station had been too dark for Bogg to read the Omni, so he'd quickly followed part of the crowd up the stairs and out into the bright sunlight. Squinting against the glare, he'd ducked under a nearby awning to check his coordinates. Now, he flipped the lid shut and hooked the Omni to his belt, still frowning to himself.
Susan had mentioned that the prototype had several new functions, which she hoped to show him as the mission progressed. But Bogg's main concern was still the red light, blinking on and off. Some things never changed, no matter how many refinements were made.
He glanced around him, wondering whether to wait around or start moving in some direction. No sign of Susan yet, but as long as he had the Omni, she should be able to track him. Besides, he tended to think better on his feet. He set off briskly up the nearest street, paying little heed to the signs overhead. Time enough to get his bearings once he'd got things figured out. It felt strange not having the kid beside him, talking nineteen to the dozen or debating with him the best way to solve the problem before them. And strange not having to shorten his stride so Jeffrey could keep up with him. Strange--and not quite right somehow, as if he were missing an arm or a leg.
All the more reason to get this timeline fixed, so things could go back to normal for them both.
"1968," he mused aloud. One or two people glanced curiously at the strange man who was talking to himself but hurried on.
Jeffrey was from New York City, but Jeffrey didn't exist yet. If he wasn't here, in this place and time, for the kid, then--for whom? For his parents?
"Maybe they never met," Bryce had suggested to Jeffrey, back at Headquarters. And the more Bogg considered it, the more plausible it seemed. Maybe he was here to make sure the kid's folks got together, set them on the road to love and marriage. It wouldn't be the first time his job had required him to play matchmaker.
Where should he start looking for them, though? Jeffrey had said his father was a history professor, but it took years to reach that level of expertise, so--Mr. Jones was probably still in college or, Bogg amended, graduate school. He grimaced. Finding one Jones who happened to be studying history in all the universities in the whole of New York City promised to be a daunting task.
And if he found that one particular Jones, what then? Encourage him to go out more? Introduce him to some pretty girls? Except that Bogg had no way of knowing which girl was Miss Right!
Funny how Jeffrey spoke much less about his mom than his dad. And yet it couldn't have been because they didn't get along. The kid had obviously grown up in a loving, demonstrative family--Jeffrey's ease with expressing affection seemed proof of that.
Pausing in his northward progress, he glanced up at the nearest street sign. West 60th Street and Columbus Avenue. A reminiscent smile tugged at his mouth: he had been seeking Columbus nearly two years ago, but fate and his Omni had brought him to Jeffrey's room instead. The luckiest mistake of his life, though it had later turned out not to be a mistake at all.
A mass of people, possibly disgorged from another subway station, was approaching from the east, hurrying across the street before the signal could change. Just then, Bogg heard a sharp cry, and saw a young woman come stumbling out of the crowd to land awkwardly on her knees several feet from the curb--just as the traffic light flashed yellow . . . and then red.
Without stopping to think, Bogg dashed into the street and caught up the fallen girl in his arms. Cars tore past, their horns blaring furiously, as he raced back to the curb, still carrying his burden, who was now swearing under her breath in what sounded to Bogg like fluent Italian.
He set the girl down carefully on the pavement. "You okay, Miss?"
She exhaled deeply, trying to compose herself. "Yes, thanks to you." Her English, he noted, was flawless and completely unaccented. "I think you just saved my life."
"You're welcome." Bogg eyed the girl curiously. She was slight, nearly a foot shorter than he was, with dark hair pulled back in a knot at the nape of her neck, and an outsize pair of sunglasses covering most of her face. A purse and a long-handled bookbag dangled from her shoulder, and her clothes were conservative for such a young woman: a plain white blouse and a long black skirt from which she was attempting to brush traces of dirt and a single dusty footprint.
An exclamation broke from her as she examined her left shoe, a black pump now missing a heel. "Maldicalo! I just bought these shoes!"
"You lost your balance when the heel broke off?"
The girl glanced up at him indignantly. "I'm not that clumsy, mister! It felt," she said darkly, "like somebody pushed me!" She paused, then shook her head as if trying to force herself into a more charitable mood. "It could have been an accident, I guess. But," she pulled a face, holding up her ruined pump, "it still doesn't fix my shoe!"
"Is there a place you can go to pick up an extra pair?" Bogg asked, trying not to smile too visibly.
She shook her head again, removing her other pump as well and thrusting the pair into her bookbag. "The subway was running behind schedule already, and I can't be late to this audition. But I've got a pair of ballet slippers I can change into right now, if you don't mind lending a hand, or a shoulder."
"Not at all."
"Thanks!" Snatching off her sunglasses, she thrust them into her purse and dived again into her bookbag, emerging triumphantly with a pair of soft black flats. Bogg obligingly stood still as the girl leaned on him for support so she could slip them on. Newly shod, she released him and looked up--and Bogg experienced a sharp jolt of recognition when he finally got a good look at her uncovered face.
The nose looked somewhat familiar but the eyes were what riveted his attention: huge dark eyes, wide-set and long-lashed, beneath arched dark brows. He almost didn't need the sight of a springy dark curl, escaped from its pins, straying across the girl's forehead to complete the connection.
Unless he was much mistaken, he was looking at Jeffrey's mother.
The discovery nearly took his breath away and for several seconds all he could do was stare--until the girl herself broke the spell.
"Mister?" She tilted her head to one side, eyes narrowing in mingled concern and wariness. "You okay?"
Bogg recovered quickly. "Uh, yeah. Fine." He summoned up a reassuring grin for her and decided a little part of the truth wouldn't hurt. "It's just that, for a moment, you looked a lot like somebody I know. Startled me a bit."
"Oh!" The girl sounded relieved. "I was afraid you were tripping, or something. Glad you weren't."
"Tripping"? Bogg searched his memory for "'60's slang," then felt himself flush when he belatedly recalled the meaning of the term. "I'll have you know, I'm as sober as a judge," he replied stiffly.
"Sorry!" She flashed him a gamine grin that was startlingly like Jeff's. "Look, mister, thanks again for saving my life. But I've got to run, if I'm to make my audition in time."
"Where are you headed?" Bogg asked. "I can walk you there."
"Oh, that's not necessary--"
"Just to make sure you arrive safely," Bogg continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "A Good Samaritan shouldn't leave a job half-done."
She paused at that, regarded him speculatively. "Good Samaritan, huh? There aren't many of those around these days."
"Well, you're looking at one right here," Bogg retorted.
Her lips quirked in a reluctant smile. "I guess I am. Okay, mister--you're on. I accept your offer."
Bogg offered his arm and felt a sense of satisfaction when she took it without further protest. "Which way?"
"Three blocks north. Lincoln Center, Broadway and 63rd."
"May I have the honor of knowing who I'm escorting?"
"Katerina Rossini. Kathy, to my friends. And you?"
Kathy's brows rose in a way that Bogg had seen many times before. More tactful than her future son, she only remarked, "Unusual name."
Bogg managed a sour grin. "Bane of my existence would be more accurate."
"Well, I'm sure it's easier to spell than 'Passepartout,'" she pointed out, with a glimmer of amusement in her dark eyes.
"There is that," he conceded, feeling slightly regretful that he couldn't tell her that he had inspired Verne's creation, rather than the other way around.
He'd have to watch himself around her, he realized. It would be all too easy to let something slip out inadvertently, lulled by her warmth and friendliness. She and Jeffrey were alike in more than looks--he'd seldom been more comfortable with anyone than the kid. They'd developed such a strong camaraderie--at least they had once Bogg had stopped resenting being saddled with a twelve-year-old partner.
And then there was the fact that Kathy Rossini was an undeniably attractive young woman. And just as undeniably off-limits. If Bogg had learned anything from his brief, doomed entanglement with Mabel Hubbard, it was to avoid romantic involvement with women who were destined for other men.
"So," he resumed, as they continued up the street, "you're auditioning at Lincoln Center. You a dancer?"
"Singer," she corrected. "Classical opera. I've been training since I was fourteen years old, and I sang with the Amato this past spring. So when I heard that the New York City Opera had two openings for women in their company for next season, I knew I just had to try for one of those spots."
"You gonna be their new . . . " Bogg searched for the right phrase, then produced it triumphantly, "prima donna?"
"Oh, no--they've already got Beverly Sills!" Kathy spoke in the hushed tones usually reserved for movie stars and rock singers. "I'm not experienced enough to land any of the big parts. But to work with a professional company--what singer wouldn't jump at the chance? Besides," she added pragmatically, "I'll be getting paid, which is pretty useful for someone getting married in three days."
"Congratulations." Bogg was careful to conceal his surprise, even as his mind raced. Married in three days? What if it was Kathy about to tie the knot with Mr. Wrong?
"Thanks! I had hoped my fiancé might be able to come with me for moral support, but he couldn't get away from work. But he said he'd meet me afterwards--and we'd go someplace to celebrate." She smiled and shook her head. "He won't even entertain the possibility that I won't get in."
"Sounds like he's got a lot of faith in you."
"Oh, he's the best." Kathy's hand tightened momentarily on Bogg's arm. "Look, there's Lincoln Center!"
Bogg followed her gaze, pursed his lips in an appreciative whistle at the great complex looming before them.
Kathy's eyes widened, some of the color draining from her cheeks. "Dio Mio, I'd forgotten how big it was!"
"Corragio!" Bogg exhorted, dredging up the appropriate word from his limited store of Italian. "I'm sure you'll be great. Would you be willing to accept the moral support of a Good Samaritan?"
Kathy exhaled, a little shakily. "Mister, at this point, I'll accept any kind of support I can get!"
Despite Kathy's earlier mishap, they arrived with time to spare. According to the secretary, there were five women trying out, and Kathy drew the fourth spot. Bogg watched her disappear backstage with the other applicants, then made his way towards the back of the theater where he could watch without disturbing the performers or the auditioning committee, which was seated just before the stage. To his relief, he wasn't the only person accompanying a friend to an audition; in fact, there were several people in street clothes occupying the rear seats and none raised any objection when he joined them.
Once seated, he surreptitiously checked the Omni again. When Kathy had mentioned being pushed in the street, he had wondered if he'd already accomplished his mission by saving her. But obviously, there was more to be done here if the red light was still flashing, and it was. Bogg stifled a sigh. One of the more annoying things about an Omni was its inability to inform a Voyager whether one thing had to be fixed in history--or half a dozen.
So, here he was, preparing to listen to opera--not exactly his kind of music. Still, he decided, as the first applicant took the stage, it would be interesting to see how Kathy did. Jeffrey had always been so close-mouthed about his mother, yet his resemblance to her, in looks and personality, was striking; getting to know her like this was like meeting someone familiar and a stranger at the same time.
As compositions, the arias made little impression on Bogg who couldn't have distinguished between Verdi, Handel, and Wagner if his life depended on it. He was likewise ignorant of the fine points of operatic technique. He did know what kind of sounds he liked, though. In his opinion, the first singer had a voice that was light and pretty but not that powerful. The second's was intriguingly dark and rich, completely different from the first's. The third performer had a high voice like the first one, but it tended to go thin and wavery on the top notes. And the singer herself appeared nervous and miserable throughout, as if she knew she was doing badly. Bogg was sympathetic but not surprised when the committee stopped her after one piece and thanked her politely for coming. She left the stage quietly but looking close to tears all the same.
Then it was Kathy's turn. Bogg sat up a little straighter, when she walked onto the stage and handed her music to the accompanist. Beneath the stage lights, she looked pale, her eyes and hair correspondingly dark, but she carried herself well and seemed more composed than the girl who had preceded her.
The notes of her first aria--something called "Voi che sapete"--sounded slightly tentative but she soon overcame that, and the rest of the song proceeded smoothly. She had a nice voice, Bogg thought, warm and full, though not as dark as the second singer's, and the top notes weren't a problem for her at all. He was glad when the committee asked her to sing again.
Her second selection surprised him, and he sensed he wasn't the only one. He'd never heard of Henry Purcell or "Dido and Aeneas" before--there weren't many operas written in English, were there?--but "Dido's Lament" turned out to be hauntingly beautiful
"When I am laid in earth," Kathy sang, her voice achingly sad and sweet. "May my wrongs create no trouble in thy breast . . . "
Her last "Remember me, but ah, forget my fate!" seemed to echo through the theatre. Bogg had to remind himself not to applaud, especially since there was one more singer left. Number five sang well too, though Bogg preferred Kathy and the second woman. When the auditions were over, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that the committee shared his preferences: Jeffrey's mother was now a singer with the New York City Opera.
Unfortunately, the Omni's light was still red.
"Congratulations!" Bogg greeted her as she approached, now flushed and bright-eyed over her success.
Kathy laughed, a ripple of pure happiness. "Grazie, signore!" Unexpectedly, she stooped over him and brushed her lips against his cheek. "I think you brought me luck, Mister Bogg. First, you keep me from getting run over, then you come to my audition, and now, here I am!"
"You're the one who had to do the singing," Bogg pointed out, his cheek tingling oddly from that brief, light kiss. "That had to be the hardest part." He hesitated, then ventured gamely forward. "My friends call me Phineas, by the way."
She tilted her head to one side, then smiled. "Then--Phineas it is. And you already know what to call me."
He smiled back, rising to his feet. "Ready to go--Kathy?"
She nodded. "Let's see if my errant boyfriend has finally shown up."
The afternoon sun was still high in the sky, when they walked out onto the Plaza. Bogg's eyes were adjusting to the light when Kathy's voice rang out beside him in a shriek of truly operatic proportions.
"Caro! Lo ho ottenuto!"
"Bravissima!" a deep male voice exclaimed in response.
Bogg's vision cleared just in time to see Kathy throwing herself into the outstretched arms of a dark-haired man wearing a faded sports jacket. Entwined, they swung about in a laughing circle before he set her down.
Kathy looked back at Bogg, smiling. "Phineas, this is my fiancé--Bill Jones."