Why was the Omni still red?
Seated on one of the Plaza's benches, Bogg scowled down at the device, its red light still flashing on and off in the sunlight. Irritated, he flipped the lid shut and mentally reviewed the events of the afternoon: meeting Jeffrey's mother, keeping her from getting run down in the street, escorting her to an audition before handing her over, safe and sound to her fiancé, Jeffrey's father.
No problems there. Not that Bogg could see, anyway.
She's got a great new job, she's getting married in three days, she's with the right guy . . . what's wrong with this picture?
They had left him less than ten minutes ago, a happily engaged couple eager to be alone together. Kathy, of course, had told Bill all about Bogg's rescuing her, and Bill had shaken Bogg's hand and thanked him profusely. There had been no sign of jealousy or insecurity in that exchange either: Bill was as open and sincere as his bride-to-be.
Now knowing with whom he was dealing, Bogg had examined the man closely as they shook hands. Except for being dark-haired, Bill Jones hadn't much resembled his son, not the way Kathy did, at any rate. He'd been pleasantly ordinary in appearance, just a little above average height. But there had been something in his stance, in the straightforward way he looked at you that reminded Bogg of Jeffrey.
He sees more than most people, the Voyager had realized. Just like the kid.
They'd invited him to come for coffee with them, but sensing that they really wanted privacy and knowing that Susan would soon come in search of him, he'd declined. Kathy, however, had handed him a business card from her purse.
"My uncle owns a restaurant--best Italian place in the city," she had reported proudly. "I help out there several nights a week, including tonight. Come on down sometime and I promise you a great meal, on the house. It's the least I can do for the Good Samaritan who saved my life!"
Bogg had thanked her and tucked the card away in his wallet. At least he had a way of keeping in touch with the kid's parents, if necessary. He'd watched them depart--Bill's arm about Kathy's slim waist, her dark head resting against his shoulder--before taking out the Omni once more.
Which was currently proving to be no help at all. Bat's breath.
"Hey, big guy," a breathy female voice suddenly purred in his ear.
Bogg almost jumped out of his skin. Turning his head sharply, he goggled at the scantily clad blonde, her hair caught up in a cascading ponytail, who was draping herself over the back of the bench. Heavily mascara-ed eyes surveyed him coquettishly over the rims of her oversized sunglasses.
"I've got this groovy pad where we can go to crash," she continued. "How about it?"
"Susan?" Bogg asked, incredulous, and thought he would pass out from shock when the apparition closed one eye at him in a slow wink.
"Right this way," Susan directed, thankfully speaking like her normal self again. Fitting her key into the lock, she opened the door and gestured him inside.
"Nice place," Bogg approved, as he entered the small but tastefully furnished apartment. "Must've cost a pretty penny, though."
"I'll be able to write it off as a business expense," she informed him. "Especially since I'm so rarely in the field. But I thought we'd need a base of operations to work from, so I had Bryce and Beckett scour the area for sublets or short-term rentals. I Omnied in about an hour or two ahead of you and made sure we got this place before I tracked you down at Lincoln Center."
"Good thinking." Bogg dropped onto one of the armchairs occupying the living-room. He had filled Susan in on the particulars of his afternoon as they walked to the subway--a mode of transportation that beggared description--but if they were to sort out the as-yet-undiscovered problems with Jeffrey's timeline, they'd need a place to hole up and strategize.
"It's officially a one-bedroom apartment but that couch pulls out into a bed. We can flip a coin for it."
"You take the bed, the couch will do just fine for me," Bogg insisted.
Acknowledging his gallantry with a nod, Susan perched on the edge of the other armchair, crossing elegant legs shown to considerable advantage by her hot-pink miniskirt and fishnet stockings. "How's the new Omni working?"
With an effort, Bogg averted his gaze from those alluring legs. Despite the seriousness of their mission, he couldn't help being slightly distracted by Susan's assumption of "period" clothing. "So far, so good. I like that it didn't drop me in mid-air like my old one always does."
Susan smiled. "Yes, that's one of our most popular new features. It took a while to make the alteration cost-effective and reliable, but we're getting there. Of course, the new technology isn't foolproof and you could still end up literally poised on the edge of a cliff when you Omni in, but overall, our trainees think it's an improvement."
"Definitely an improvement," Bogg affirmed. "Especially since I arrived in a subway station. My old Omni probably would have dropped me on top of the train. Or worse, in front of it!"
"If you'd been in that kind of danger, we'd have pulled you out again, but the VLS reported that you'd arrived safely. Although," she added, "we were pretty startled by when you showed up. We thought you'd Omni in about three or four years later."
"After Jeff was born, you mean? I was surprised about that myself."
"Well, Bryce said that there was a five-year-margin on either side of Jeffrey's timeline in standard, so on further examination, this occurrence isn't as unusual as we first thought. Or as difficult to handle."
Bogg sighed. "I dunno. It's asking a lot of the kid to remember things that took place before he even existed."
"Phineas, he does that every time he Voyages with you," she pointed out. "But you can ask him yourself soon enough."
Susan leaned forward, pulled out a briefcase from under the coffee table and opened it. To Bogg's bemusement, she removed what looked like a headset and a metal box about the size of a miniature tape recorder. "This is R&D's newest invention--a two-way holographic transmitter, or HGT for short. It marks their latest breakthrough in Intertemporal Communication."
"Meaning it's especially designed to help Voyagers communicate across different time periods," Susan explained. "This one," she tapped the device, "is set to HQ's coordinates--and its mate, which is in Jeffrey's possession, is currently set to yours."
"You mean, I can talk to the kid? Directly?"
"Your HGT will project a holographic image of you back to HQ. Likewise, Jeffrey's will show you an hologram of him, here. The headset," Susan deftly inserted the end of the power cord into the transmitter's jack, "is so that you will be able to hear as well as see each other."
"What about the risk to Jeffrey?" Bogg asked. "You told us he couldn't enter the time stream."
"Not physically," Susan acknowledged. "But you'll only be seeing a projection of Jeffrey in this time setting. Jeffrey himself will be back at Headquarters. Any risk to him should be minimal."
"Should be," Bogg echoed, not entirely liking the sound of that.
Susan sighed. "Phineas, there's no ironclad guarantee of anything, even in Voyaging. What I can tell you is that the majority of the field tests for the HGT have proven successful, posing no apparent threat to the users. And you know Jeffrey," she added, with a faint smile. "Even if the risk factor were higher, he'd still want to contact you and give what help he can."
"More guts than sense, sometimes," Bogg muttered, but he couldn't suppress the relief he felt at the thought of seeing the kid again.
"Sounds like someone else I know," Susan retorted, still smiling.
"You got me," he admitted, holding up a hand. "So--how does this thing work?"
Susan handed over the whole unit. "Put the headset on, point the transmitter at a large area of blank space, and flick the main switch, right here. And then--just wait. Jeffrey's on stand-by--he'll be clicking on his own transmitter as soon as he sees your hologram."
"That simple, huh?" Bogg asked, gingerly donning the headset and adjusting the fit.
"That simple," Susan assured him, rising from her chair. "I'm going to go unpack. Since we may be here for a while, I brought along some changes of clothing for both of us. And you and Jeffrey would probably prefer some privacy while you talk."
"If you need me, just yell," she said, and slipped out of the living-room.
Bogg waited until he heard the bedroom door close, then leveled the transmitter towards the opposite wall and flicked on the switch she had indicated.
The immediate results were startling: a rectangle of white light, about the size of a projection screen, materialized midway between him and the wall. It looked, Bogg thought bemusedly, as if a doorway had opened to another dimension.
Seconds later the doorway expanded, in width and depth, to form a corridor . . . a corridor in which a familiar figure suddenly appeared.
"Bogg!" Jeffrey's voice rang out with startling clarity.
"Jeff!" Leaving his seat, Bogg strode towards the center of the room, dropped to one knee before his partner -- or rather, before his partner's hologram. But the sharpness and detail of the image were astounding: he could see every wayward curl on the boy's head, make out each lash surrounding the wide dark eyes . . .
"How you doin', kid?" He spoke gruffly, to hide his emotion.
"Okay, so far," Jeffrey replied sturdily. He too was wearing a headset and carrying a transmitter. "It's good to see you."
"Good to see you too." Bogg sat back on his haunches. "As you can tell, I arrived in one piece--and I met your mother."
A series of expressions flickered across the boy's mobile face, too quickly for Bogg to read them all. "After hearing where you ended up, I wondered if that might happen."
"You, uh," Bogg cleared his throat nervously, "you look a lot like her."
A corner of Jeffrey's mouth lifted in what was almost a smile. "That's what my dad always said. Did you meet him too?"
"Yeah, I met them both, in West Side Manhattan. Was I supposed to?" he inquired cautiously.
Jeffrey pursed his lips in thought. "The timing's about right," he said at last. "In 1968, my dad was working at Columbia University as a teaching assistant, and my mom was studying voice and trying out for legit opera companies."
"Yeah, I know. She was on her way to an audition at Lincoln Center this afternoon. Except that she almost didn't make it there."
Jeffrey leaned forward, instantly alert. "What happened?"
"She fell while crossing the street. She could've been run over--and she said it felt like someone pushed her. It's okay now," he added hastily as Jeffrey's eyes widened in alarm. "I got her to safety and she wasn't even hurt, just a little shook up. And I stayed with her until your dad met up with us after her audition. Did your mom really sing with the New York City Opera?"
The boy nodded. "For about two years. Then she left because she and Dad were starting a family. But when I was old enough to go to school, she went back to singing with the Amato sometimes. She seemed happy there--Dad said she could have been a diva, if she'd wanted to."
"I believe him, now that I've heard her," Bogg acknowledged. "You never told me she was so talented, kid. Or such a looker."
"Bogg . . . " There was a slight edge to Jeffrey's voice. "That's my mom you're drooling over."
"Well, your mom is worth drooling over," Bogg retorted, unable to resist teasing the boy. "Relax, kid," he added as Jeffrey's mouth tightened ominously, "she's only got eyes for your dad. She told me they're getting married in three days."
"July 13, 1968," the boy confirmed with a nod. "Their wedding. I've seen pictures. They went to Fire Island for a weekend, because they couldn't afford a honeymoon yet."
"And your mom's family ran a restaurant in Little Italy."
"Uh-huh. Aldo's. Mom was working there part-time while Dad was writing his master's thesis. She'd take me with her sometimes, on weekends. The family sold the place when I was four because Great-Grandmother Rossini had passed away and my great-uncle decided to retire to Florida."
"So everything seems to be on track, as far as you know?"
"As far as I know. But if everything was okay, the Omni wouldn't be red, right?"
"Right." Bogg rubbed his forehead. "Jeff, I don't wanna scare you, but I'm getting a bad feeling about your mom's little 'accident.'"
"So am I," the boy said, with a faint shiver. "You think someone might've pushed her after all?"
"Maybe." Bogg hesitated, then ventured another question. "Your parents have any enemies, kid?"
"No!" The boy's denial was immediate and vehement; then he flushed slightly. "Well, maybe there are always folks you don't get along so great with," he admitted. "But that doesn't mean they're out to get you, does it? I didn't like some of the kids I went to school with, but I didn't try pushing them under a bus or anything like that."
Bogg made a noncommittal noise, remembering how a few of his own classmates from the Academy had not been above pulling a dirty trick or two. On the other hand, nobody had tried anything really lethal--with one glaring exception . . .
"Anyway," his partner resumed, "Dad had a lot of friends, in and out of college. They both did. My dad was a great guy, and my mom was . . . she was . . ." Jeffrey broke off suddenly and ducked his head, but not before Bogg saw the liquid shimmer of tears in his eyes.
"Kid," he began, wishing it were possible to hug a hologram.
"She was beautiful," the boy said finally.
"Jeff, I'm sorry."
The boy scrubbed a hand across his eyes, cleared his throat, and looked up at last. "Why?" he managed to ask. "It's not like any of this is your fault . . . "
"Because it's so hard on you. I thought it might be, but I didn't know it'd be this hard. Hearing about your parents when . . . " Bogg broke off, not wanting to cause his partner more distress.
"When I know what's gonna happen later?" Jeffrey finished.
Bogg nodded, feeling as miserable as the boy looked.
"Yeah, I lost my parents." The pain in Jeffrey's voice was as jagged as broken glass. "And yeah, it hurts. It'll hurt forever. But never knowing them would've been a thousand times worse." He swallowed hard. "Keep them safe, Bogg. I'm counting on you."
"I won't fail them," Bogg promised. "Or you."
Jeffrey summoned up a wan smile from somewhere and stretched out a hand, palm out. Understanding, Bogg raised his own hand and placed his palm against the image of the boy's, as if they could reach across the ages to touch and give comfort.
Then Jeffrey's hologram flickered out, and Bogg was alone again.
About five minutes later, Bogg heard the bedroom door open.
"Everything okay out there?" Susan called.
Okay might be pushing it, Bogg thought. Aloud, he called back. "All clear."
Susan came into the living room and resumed her former seat. "Did the HGT work out?"
"Like a dream," Bogg admitted. "Thanks for suggesting it."
"I can't take any credit for that--Olivia's actually the one who thought of it. She told me the instructors have started using the HGTs on trial missions with the senior trainees, to keep from losing track of them."
"Well, whoever thought of it, it sure came in handy. Anyway, the kid told me that, so far, the timeline's going as it should. But he got pretty nervous when he heard about his mother's close call today."
"Understandable," Susan agreed. "In fact, under the circumstances, it might be a good idea to keep a close eye on her -- and on Jeffrey's father too -- until they've safely tied the knot. Fortunately, you've got the perfect means to reestablish contact with them."
"You're right, I do," Bogg conceded, belatedly recalling the card in his wallet. "So--how do you like Italian food?"