Islands In Time : Chapter Eight

    Changes

According to Pitcairn time Joanna and her two companions had been away for eight minutes.   She had no reason to expect the portal room to look any different from when she had left but it did.  A blue beret-capped man in a black sweater stood behind the controller.  As soon as Joanna stepped out of the portal he strode towards her.  John and Mary froze in salute.

                “Joanna Dzingira?” The man’s brown eyes peered down at her.

                “Yes?”

                “Sergeant Heinrich Gehlen of United Nations Security, Time Division.” A laminated card flipped open in his hand.  “I understand that you are a copter pilot?”

                “Yes?”

                “May I ask why you are making use of the portal?”

“But it was authorised by Director Habib.”

                “Former director Habib has been removed from his post as of eight o’clock this morning.”

Joanna, stunned, could only stare.

“Your action was therefore unauthorised.” said the sergeant. 

Joanna found her voice. “Your two friends should have told me.”

Gehlen’s eyes flitted towards the two agents standing behind her.  “Perhaps. Even so, you are a pilot, not a qualified agent. You should therefore have declined.  Your presence was unauthorised.  Come with me, please.”

“When do I see Richard?”

“Who?”

“My son.”

“I didn’t know you were a mother, Miss Dzingira.”

“The child I brought back from the past.”

The sergeant nodded. “Another unauthorised mission.”

“I understood that the agency had approved the mission.”

“Did you? Mister Habib has a great deal to answer for. I would advise you to co-operate at the inquiry.  A willingness to help is always looked upon favourably.”

“What inquiry?”

“Mister Habib faces disciplinary action.  You have been named as a witness.”

“And Richard?  When do I see him?”

“The anomaly is to be kept in safekeeping as evidence.  That’s all I can say. Come with me.”  He placed a hand on Joanna’s shoulder. 

She shook it off. “I want to see him.”

“I’m afraid that’s quite impossible. It’s being taken out by copter to Henderson even as I speak. Any inquiries you have must go through me.”

Joanna ran towards the exit.  The sergeant ordered Han to seal the door.  The Smith twins followed her.  They reached her at the door, pounding at it and sobbing.  Careful not to hurt her, John pulled her away.

“This is not the proper way to behave, Joanna. You must remember who you are.”

She pushed him away.    “Don’t ever touch me again.”

“Miss Dzingira,” asked the sergeant. “are you ready to go?”

She looked at the sergeant at Mary and at John.  She looked at the other security officer standing beside the portal    “You don’t understand.  I’m all he has.  He trusted me.”

“Shall we go?” The sergeant’s voice although polite indicated that he would not ask again.

She looked down at the white tiled floor and at the steel door. Only when she nodded agreement did it slide open.

                                                                ***

Sam sat in the chair, his head resting against the back.  He looked up at the ceiling and thought of the past.  He did not like the present.  The future he did not want to think of. Of all the things that he could have chosen to think of, he had picked the first time that he met Susan. He had found her, a three year old, starving and dehydrated, hiding in a small air pocket amidst the rubble of an Ethiopian village gutted by Italian planes.   A French couple assigned to the expedition had given Susan her name, her true name known only to the dead.  At nineteen she decided Sam would be her lover. She had never had another

 Short and pudgy, Sam would have been the first to admit that he had not been chosen for his looks.  The agency had prided itself upon picking the best.  Sam with his thick features and hooked nose always looked as if he belonged in a bazaar rather than in an agency office.   He could never quite understand why Susan had been attracted to him.   With her looks and intellect she could have had anyone.  Instead she had chosen an overweight son of a fruit seller from Beirut.  When he asked her why that first night, she had said simply that she liked him.

He should never have permitted it.  Still, even now it was not too late.  She was young.  There would be others.  There was always a reasonable solution to any problem.

“Sam?”

He looked towards the voice to find Joanna with three security agents. “You too” he asked.

“Ms. Dzingira has been brought here to answer questions, nothing more,” said Sergeant Gehlen.  “These two agents will accompany you to your apartment, Mister Habib.”

“I know the way, and I don’t recall asking for your opinion, sergeant.” Sam shrugged. “Not that it really matters, does it?”

“What’s happening, Sam?”

“Mister Habib has been dismissed for dereliction of duty,” said the sergeant.

“They’re flying me out tomorrow morning.  Did you ever find any trace of Sean?”

“No.” Joanna spoke in a faint whisper.

Sam nodded. “I would have liked to have seen him again.  I must admit, if I were twenty years younger I would have given him some serious competition.”

“You always did, Sam.”

She held him until the sergeant tapped her shoulder.    

“I am sorry, Ms. Dzingira.  The director is waiting.”

“Mustn’t interfere with protocol ” said Sam. “Salaam aleichim. Joanna.  Go in peace.”

                                                                ***

Director Isabel Dupont looked up from her monitor at the young woman standing in front of her desk; Joanna Dzingira, a failed agent and alcoholic; a competent pilot but nothing more.  Her return to active duty was symptomatic of the inefficiency that had prevailed under Delisle and Habib.  Now that both had been removed, such a mistake would not recur.  She frowned at the sight of the woman’s leather jacket and woollen trousers.  The clothes reminded her of the previous Director of Operations flouting of agency regulations. “Sit down.”

Joanna sat. 

The director busied herself with examining the words on her monitor. “I haven’t much time,” she said still looking at the monitor, “so I’ll keep this as brief as possible.”

“Excuse me” Joanna asked. “Isn’t it still considered to be polite to look at someone when you speak to them.”

Sergeant Gehlen suppressed a smile.

                Director Dupont looked up from her monitor. She stared at Joanna for a moment.  Then she  reached over and switched off the monitor. .”Yes. It is.  Now, is that better?”

Joanna nodded.

“Good,” said Dupont. ”You may go, sergeant.”

She waited until the door slid shut.  Dupont leaned back in her chair. “I’m going to tell you something, Ms. Dzingira.  You may not agree with what I have to say but I will ask you to remain quiet until I’ve finished.  Understood?”

Joanna nodded.

“Good. Now, let me explain a few of the reforms the union wishes to have implemented in the agency.  It is the first duty to protect the lives and property of its citizens.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Never having been a citizen I really wouldn’t know.”

Madame Dupont frowned.  “Well, that is something that could be remedied.”

“How. Sending me back to the fourteenth century?”

“No. Not practical.  You will remain here on Pitcairn, but you would have the full civil rights of any citizen.”

 “I’m to be a free person but I can’t go anywhere.  The Romans did a better job of liberating their slaves than you ever did.”

“I would like to remind you that you are facing criminal charges.  The alternative could be worse

“Such as?”

“There has been discussion of returning foundlings to their time.”

Joanna smiled. “You can’t without disrupting the timeline.”

“That would depend upon where they were returned to, wouldn’t it?”

“Is that a threat?”

“A warning.”

Dupont flicked on the monitor and turned it around.

“Bouvet Island in the South Atlantic. Fifty-eight square kilometres.  Quite spacious compared to Pitcairn and a thousand miles from the nearest land.  Much colder of course than Pitcairn.  No one goes there. In your timeline it was completely uninhabited.”

Joanna stared at the barren cliffs being pounded by the waves of the South Atlantic.

“You would do that?”

Dupont switched the screen off. “No; but there are those who would. You must think me very cruel?” 

                “Does it matter what I think?”

“No. Anymore than what I think or what the sergeant thinks.   I have no wish to do you any harm. As far as Sam Habib goes, personally I like him.  He is a humane and gentle man which is why I had to dismiss him. “

“And Delisle?  Was he humane?”

“Not as bad as you think. I have also accepted his resignation, with, I will admit, considerably less regret.  He was so busy building his little bureaucratic empire he could no longer see the purpose of this agency.”

“Not being humane you do?”

Dupont ignored the question. “How much do you earn in a year?”

“Fifty-five thousand Euros; why?”

“You live well?”

“That would depend on how you define “well?”

                “You’ve never been hungry.  You’ve had a good education.”

“I don’t see what . . .”

“Yesterday there was a food riot in Belem.  It’s a city in northern Brazil.”

“So?”

“That was the fourth reported food riot in the last week in the tropical countries. The ordinary African peasant, Joanna, will, in his entire lifetime, never equal your average income.  You may think that that is unfair and I would agree with you but that doesn’t change a simple fact.  I’m not responsible to the African peasant.  I am responsible to my government.  The Union built the portal.  Their people paid for it and their people have a right to use it as they wish.”

“Which is?”

“To protect their future, and the future of their children.  I come from a small town in Belgium called Bastogne.  The people I grew up with are afraid of the future. They see rioting in the streets of far off cities and they see it spreading to them. They are afraid of so many things. The portal terrifies them.  Every night they go to sleep wondering if the world will end. There have been many calls to dismantle it so why do we keep it?  We keep it for the same reason that the great powers of the twentieth century kept their huge horrendously expensive nuclear arsenal. It is our ultimate defence.”

“Defence?”

“We can tell every demagogue, every petty dictator, that we could make the position of their people so much worse.”

“But that’s evil?”

“Threatening a billion people with nuclear radiation wasn’t?  No it’s not evil.  It’s just politics. Why do you think Europe was willing to spend billions to develop the damn thing, to build this entire complex? Just to add to our historical knowledge?”

“But the prime directive . . .”

“Is to survive.”

                Joanna sat back.  After a moment she asked “is that why you dismissed Sam, because he comes from a small non-European country?”

“I have told you why Sam was dismissed.”

“Is that why you’re dismissing me, because my father is an African?”

“You have no father.  We have never recognised any legal relationships between yourself and former agent Dzingira.”

“But you would agree that I am not reliable?”

“Yes.”

“So what now?”

“We have accepted your resignation from the agency.  You have been given a month’s salary and will retain your pension and medical benefits.  Pitcairn is your home. In Pitcairn you will stay.  You will have access to all public buildings and medical facilities.”

“The investigation of the missing agents?”

“Will continue.”

“My son?”

“You have no son.”

“The child.  I brought him here.  I should be responsible for him.”

“He is the agency’s concern. Not yours.   Your clothes have been placed in the adjoining room.  You will change and leave the building.  The sergeant will see you to the door. Goodbye Joanna.”

                Dupont turned back to the screen an indication that the conversation was closed.

“What will happen to him?”

“We will decide what is best for him.”

“But I’m . .. “

Dupont frowned. “What? His mother? His mother has been dead for five thousand years.  He doesn’t know who you are, and he never will. You are nothing to him. We will decide if he is of use.  If he is not, we will send him back to where he should have been left.  Now if you have nothing more to say I do have more important things to do.”

Joanna longed to lash out, to slap Dupont’s face, to scream at her but in the back of her mind she could hear Jane Christian reminding her that there was a proper time and a proper place for everything.  This was neither the time nor the place. She turned and left followed by the sergeant

                                                                                ***

As Joanna folded her leather jacket she felt something hard in the pocket.  Inside it she found a tiny blue box.  Inside the box was a silver brooch, two hearts intertwined.  On the back was engraved a name, Sean.

                You could never tell about people thought the Sergeant.  This Dzingira woman had taken her dismissal quite well he had thought.  Yet when he opened the door of the room after she had failed to reply to his query about her being ready, he found her sitting in a chair, weeping.  Embarrassed, the sergeant had closed the door.

                                                                                ***

Her hands thrust into her pockets Joanna walked away from the administration building.  Above her she could hear the soft far away drone of a copter heading out to sea. She looked up watching its long form disappear behind an apartment block, the block where Sam and Susan lived.  It would be good to talk to them.  Perhaps they could advise her on what to do.  She crossed the street and walked up to the guardhouse.  A black-bereted man sat at the chair.

                “Excuse me. I’d like to see Mister Habib.”

                “Could I see your pass, please?” the guard smiled.

                “A pass? No one had ever asked for a pass before.

                The guard continued to smile.  “I’m sorry but without a pass I can’t let you in.”

                “But they know me.  Everyone does.”

                “I’m sorry.”

                “Could you at least tell them I’m here?  Please.”

                The guard hesitated.  “What’s your name.”

                A day before, thought Joanna, no one would have asked her that, “Dzingira.  Joanna.”

                The guard buzzed the apartment.  He listened for a reply but none came.

                “I’m sorry.  They don’t seem to be in.  Perhaps you could call back later?”

                “Could I come in and wait for them.”

                “I’m sorry but… ” He shrugged.

Joanna smiled.  Everyone was so polite she thought. “I know.  Against regulations. Thank you.”

                Two buildings down from the apartment stood the supermarket.  She stopped to buy a loaf of bread and a bottle of Australian wine.  She walked out of town but instead of turning west towards the Flat land she walked south.  The places she passed held names that had always comforted her; Buffet’s, Red Dirt, Jack’s Yam. The Pool of Uaru she had always loved . The Tahitian name had reminded her that little Pitcairn had been part of a greater world long before the agency had come.  She looked out over the cliffs.  Somewhere beyond that strangling horizon was her son.  Yes the director had spoken the truth in saying that he did not even know her, but he could have known her.  He could have known her.  And Sean? She touched the brooch in her pocket. Where are you, Sean?  You were there on Pigeon Island.  You found me. Why could you not let me stay with you? Is it because you do not want me?  She turned away from cliffs and continued her walk until she stood above Bounty Bay, overlooking the boathouse.

                Suspended upon its hoists sat the last Pitcairn longboat. Twelve metres long, equipped with sail and engine it had once allowed the islanders to slip away from the rock to range as far as Henderson and Oeneo Islands. With the longboats crafted from Pitcairn wood the islanders could make contact with passing ships.  That had ended when the copters had come.  Preserved as an historical relic it sat upon its hoists waiting for a command that would never come.

                Joanna stared up at it.  She imagined herself skimming over the waves, breaking free of this island. The trade winds could take her to the Marquesas, to New Zealand, to Sean.  She shook her head. It would only take her to the ships surrounding the island. Anyway, what did she know about ships or seamanship? Jane Christian, the last true Pitcairner, had never once navigated a boat. Joanna knew as little about it as she.

She took out the brooch from her coat pocket.  Somehow, on Pigeon Island Sean had reached her and had left her.

                                                                                ***

Evening had settled when Joanna reached home.

“So where have you been?” Jane asked.

“They fired me, Jane.”

Jane nodded. “The way you look, I’m not surprised.”

  “They took Richard.  I don’t know where.”

“Don’t say anything until I’ve run you a bath.”

                As Joanna soaked, Jane sat next to the tub and told what she knew of the newcomers. “The first copter came in at six-thirty in the morning. They sealed off the landing field and the compound.  The agents are confined to their quarters.”

                “Delisle called the copters in?”

                “I don’t think so.  He handed in his resignation at eight o’clock this morning.”

                “How do you know all this?”

                “Friends.”

She handed Joanna a towel. “Dry yourself off  and then come to the kitchen.  I want to tell you something.”

                Joanna found the old woman sitting beside the table, beside a fresh pot of tea.  As Joanna sat Jane poured her a cup of tea.

                “Doctor Foley came to see me just after the agency gave you to me. We are just like Pitcairn he said, a tiny fragment in the vastness of time.  They don’t understand that, he told me. He added. You understand that, Jane, don’t you?”

                “Of course I didn’t know. I was just an ignorant island woman. What would I know about such things, but over the years I have thought about. Sean and Sam and you and all the others going back in time trying to understand the past.  How can you hope to understand it unless you are part of it?  I know this island because I have been part of it.”

                Joanna stared at her mother.  “I don’t understand.”

                “Of course you don’t.  Most of it I don’t understand but it is logical, isn’t it.  To understand the past you have to become part of it. In that vast ocean of time each little island has its own way of looking at the oceans that surrounds.it.. Somewhere one island decided to study the past not by brief excursions, as temporal tourists, but by becoming permanent residents.”

                “Much like one surviving infant in a dead village?”

                “If one wanted to examine the beginning of time travel for instance, Pitcairn would be irresistible but how would they plant someone in Pitcairn without arousing suspicion? By having someone in place, years before the agency came.”

                “But this would be pointless unless there is a means of sending information?”

                The ceiling light flickered. Joanna glanced up at the ceiling just before the light went dead.

                                                                                ***

Madame Dupont settled into the Operations Director chair. New technicians sat at their desks. Her team, she had trained them for this moment. Sergeant Gehlen stood behind her. Two sentries stood guard beside the entrance into the portal room. John and Mary Smith stood waiting in front of the portal.  They had been given the honour of the director’s first mission, arranging the assassination of a rather troublesome African dictator. The portal would place them in his bedroom at just after one in the morning..

Tapering fingers tapped the arms of her chair as the director reflected that this would be her finest moment. Every vicious tyrant, corrupt bureaucrat, fanatical revolutionary was now at her mercy. She could purify the world of all of them. All she had needed was the portal and a handful of incorruptible agents. Give me the tools, Churchill had once said.  She, Isabel Dupont, had the tools.       “Begin.”

The technicians flicked on their computers. Isabel waited patiently as they tapped out commands. The portal shimmed.  The shimmering stopped.  The portal went blank. The tapping became more frantic.    

“What’s happening?” she asked.

The chief technician looked up from his monitor. “We seem to have picked up some kind of a virus, Madame director.”

Isabel bolted from her chair and strode over to the technician’s desk. 

On the monitor she could see a monarch butterfly hovering over a rose. As she watched the butterfly sucked at the flower.  The flower shrivelled into a black stump.  The butterfly flew off only to reappear. The sequence began again.

“Get rid of it,” said Dupont.

“I’m trying” said the technician, “but every command is blocked.”  The computer switched off.

“What did you do that for?” Dupont asked.

“I didn’t.”

The computer at the other technician’s desk also switched off.  Dupont was about to snap at the technicians when she heard a strange sound.  Silence.  The soft hum of the air conditioner had stopped.              “The machines are shutting down,” said the chief technician.  “They’re all connected to the computers.”                                                                    

Dupont was trying to think of a reply when the lights went out.

                                                                                ***

At Jane Christian’s house a kerosene lamp had been lit. The lamp had not been used in many years, but Jane had kept a small supply of paraffin, “just in case” she had always told Joanna. As Jane sat at the kitchen table reading, Joanna had wandered outside.  She walked from the flatlands towards Adamstown had guided by the light of her torch and by the moon.  There was light in Adamtown but it was the pale glow from torches and battery powered lamps.  An armed sentry turned her back at the edge of the settlement after she had failed to produce identification.  Her question concerning the cause of the blackout was met with a shrug and a wave of the rifle barrel.  She walked back home. A few moments after she returned the agents arrived.

The copter that brought them settled in front of Jane’s porch.  Sergeant Gehlen jumped out just as the two women stepped onto the porch. He had led the portal room staff and the new director up sixteen flights of emergency stairs guided by the light of a pocket torch. Since then the evening had steadily deteriorated.         “I apologise for bothering you ladies, but Director Dupont would like to speak with Miss Dzingira.”    “Would she?” Joanna sniffed.  “Why would I want to speak with her?”

“It’s about your friends, Mister Habib and Miss Susan Dubre. I suggest you bring a jacket.  It’s a cool night.”

“Am I under arrest?”

“No.  It has only to do with former Director Habib.”

“I told Director Dupont I would not testify against him.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

                                                                ***

Within ten minutes from lifting off the copter hovered over the living quarters of the agency’s employees.  Joanna looked down at small dots of light waving at the copter.  As it dropped lower she could see orange-jacketed figures waving torches.  The copter settled down onto the building’s landing pad. Following Gehlen and flanked by two orange jacketed agents Joanna stepped into the darkened stairwell.  She followed Gehlen down to the seventeenth floor where Sam and Susan had their quarters.

“They’re bringing in emergency generators from Papeete but they won’t be here until the morning” said Gehlen.

They emerged on the seventeenth floor hallway. An armed sentry stood in front of Sam’s apartment.  He stepped aside to allow the two to enter. Joanna noticed that the door had been forced.

Sam and Susan were in bed, their heads and bare shoulders appearing above the blankets.  Joanna noticed two things.  The first was that they were dead. The second was that she had never known two people appearing so peaceful.

The sergeant pointed at an empty bottle on the nightstand.

“Sleeping pills.”

Joanna did not hear him.  She could see only the two lovers holding one another. From somewhere in the room she detected the smoke from a scented candle. She placed a hand upon Sam’s bare shoulder. “When did it happen?” she asked.

“We found them about an hour ago.” 

“Miss Dzingira.” Director Dupont stood in the doorway. “I’d like to speak to you in the living room, please.”

Joanna looked back at the couple in the bed. “All he asked was to be allowed to stay.”

“The agency made a mistake,” said Director Dupont. “I regret that. But we must learn from it and go on.”

Joanna snapped her head up. “Go on to what?”

Dupont looked out the window of the darkened living room. “The stars are so clear here.  We never get them like this in Europe.  It is our belief that former director Habib may have placed a virus in the central computer in the portal room.  That virus has spread through every computer on this island shutting down all machinery connected to them.  In a sense, we are back in the dark ages.”

“Sam was no programmer.  He couldn’t make anything like that.”

“I know.  So who did?  Susan?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care. Why should I?  I don’t work for you anymore, remember?”

“I remember. I also remember your son.”

“So he’s my son now. You are a bitch. You haven’t had a very successful first day as director have you?”

“Tomorrow morning there will be an emergency meeting of all personnel. People will be angry and frightened. I need to reassure them, to persuade them that everything will be restored.  Your voice will help do that.  In return you will be re-instated as an active agent.”

“You want me to back you?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“You were close to Habib. You are the oldest of the Islanders, Dzingira’s daughter. If you support me the other islanders will.” 

“I think you overestimate my influence.”

 “Perhaps. And you have underestimated me.”

“Without that portal your influence isn’t worth shit and you know it. I want Richard here before I say anything.”

  “Richard?”

“My son. Remember?”

“Of course, your name for him. I understand.” Dupont turned back to the window, “The stars are lovely aren’t they? I would like to help you. Unfortunately the child is no longer under my jurisdiction.  However, I will make enquiries. Sergeant. See Agent Dzingira home, please.”

.                                                               ***

Joanna looked down at the panelled floor as Director Dupont ceased her speech.  In front of her sat three hundred people, agents, labourers, security staff. Not one spoke, whispered, or even coughed.  The silence, Joanna knew was not out of respect. During the past twenty-four hours the lives of all of these people had been disrupted.  The agency that had sheltered them and had given them a purpose had stumbled.  They needed reassurance.  She, who needed it most of all, was supposed to help give it to them.

Of the three hundred, fifty were islanders, orphans of time, who’s only home was Pitcairn and family was the agency. Fourty-six were adults.  Four were children, the youngest being eight. If the agency should end what would be their fate?  She could not keep thinking of Bouvet Island.

They were a diverse group the islanders; bakers, cleaners, pilots, office workers, field agents.  Eight other islanders had gone missing. One, Susan, still lay next to her lover.

Dupont informed her audience that the temporary difficulties facing the agency would be overcome. Emergency generators had restored power.  The crippled computers were being reprogrammed.  Within a few days the portal and all other agency functioned would soon resume.

Dupont addressed the islanders, The Adamstown Agreement, she told them would be honoured. Indeed it would even be enlarged.  To strengthen the bonds between agency and islanders a new office would be created, the office of Islander Affairs. It’s first department head would be Joanna Dzingira. She would report all Islander concerns to the office of the director.

Dupont paused to allow for polite applause. There was none.

Judenrat. For some reason the word popped into Joanna’s mind. They had been the leaders of the Jewish community appointed by the German occupation authorities to assist in the extermination of their own people. She listened as Dupont finished by assuring her audience that the agency would prevail, that its work would continue. There was no reference to either Sam or to Susan.

“What are you going to tell them,” Joanna had asked her. Dupont had not replied. “You can’t pretend it didn’t happen.”

“It’s not a matter of pretending, agent Dzingira. It is a matter of due proportion. We do not want that sad tragedy to interference with our work. The work must come first.”

“That would depend on what the work is, wouldn’t it?”

Dupont was just leaving the podium when a short, dumpy figure raised a hand above the rows of staring faces. The questioner was Natasha Rankin, a cook in the staff cafeteria.

“Yes,” Dupont asked trying to remember the woman’s name.

“What about Sam and Susan?” she asked.

“That matter is still under investigation. No comment at this time.”

Natasha’s reply was a simple one.  She spat and walked out of the building.  As she left other islanders rose. Then the mainlanders stood.  Within five minutes the only people left in the room were the officials on the stage, and the blue-bereted security officers.   

“Not one of your better speeches,” Joanna whispered as Dupont marched back to her seat.

“Doesn’t matter,” the director shrugged. “Dupont had remembered Natasha Rankin’s name. “They’ll come around.  I’d like you to have a word with Miss Rankin to reassure her.”

“Richard? What about him?”

“Under consideration.  I should be hearing about him soon.”

                                                                ***

The Rublev Madonna shimmered as the candle light danced in front of it. Natasha blew out the tiny flame at the tip of the taper and placed it back into its small holder beside the icon. Her pride, it had cost her three months salary to order it from Saint Petersburg..  She did not regret the expense. Strange she thought, her paying homage to a religion, to a culture and to a country she could never be part of. Neither icon nor prayer was real so why was she doing this? They would think me mad if they knew.  Perhaps they did know. She crossed herself, three fingers of her right hand touched her forehead and darted across her chest The buzz from her alarm told her it was time to leave for work. Chief cook of the staff cafeteria, for thirteen years since attaining her majority she had worked there.  Her one bedroom apartment and the staff cafeteria had been her life. Rescued from a frozen boxcar, she had been the sole survivor of a shipment of Kulaks driven from their homes and sent off in mid-winter to Siberia, left to die at a Siberian railroad siding..  Agent Peter Rankin had found the three-year-old still clutched in its mother’s lifeless arms.

  Not for this dumpy plain faced peasant girl the life of an agent.  Try as she might Natasha could never understand the complexities of mathematics or science.  Computer programming left her mystified. By the time she was thirteen the agency had determined that she could never rise above the level of maintenance worker or kitchen staff.   There was no shame in that.  She would be useful

The buzzer from her clock reminded her that she should be leaving for work. For thirteen years her life had been divided between her apartment on the second floor of the staff compound and the staff cafeteria. Holidays consisted of sitting in front of her holoviewer and computer.  Apart from a few excursions to Oeneo Island she had never been off Pitcairn since being brought to the island. She suspected that if she had grown up in the Ukrainian village that she had been born in she would have been as restricted in her movements as she was here. Even so she could not keep from imagining what it would be like to have an unlimited stretch of distance stretching out before her.  Over the years she had devoured books and picturess of her native Russia. Her apartment walls she had papered with cheap cut outs of icons and landscapes.  She knew other Islanders, the field agents, those who worked in the administration, the pilots and computer technicians.  From behind her counter she had watched them discuss business.  When Jane Christian celebrated her birthday she would be invited with the other islanders, Only then could she share a sense that she and her assistant Benjamin were one with them. Twenty minutes to six.  She sipped her coffee.  Years before when Natasha was nineteen Mother Jane had told her the truth the agency. “It’s all a fraud,” Jane had told her over a slice of chocolate cake. She had then asked her to walk with her along the cliffs on the southern point of the island. There she had told her what she had told no one else.  Why had she been the first Natasha had asked.  Why not Joanna Dzingira, her first child? “Joanna has her role to play as you have yours. You have a virtue others do not have. Obscurity ”

Joanna had never paid much attention to the woman before but neither hsad anyone else except for Jane. A quick look through the woman’s files had brought one word to Joanna’s mind, adequate. She possessed intelligence adequate enough for her menial position.  Her grades had been adequate but never enough to allow her to be seriously considered for any position above that assigned to her.                 Joanna knew her in the sense of being able to recognise her by name and had seen her at Jane’s annual birthday party but had never taken any interest in her. Now that had changed.  She would offer the woman a coffee and have a chat with her, reassure her. Apart from a security officer sipping at a cup of coffee served from a machine the cafeteria was bare. The kitchen was deserted. “Where’s the staff,” she asked.

The officer, a stranger, shrugged.

There was nothing else to do but to go to Natasha’s apartment.

The same guard stood in the same booth. However this time he did not ask for identification.

“What apartment does Miss Rankin live in, please?”

“2G but she’s not in.”

“She’s not?”

The guard checked his monitor. “She left the building about fifteen minutes ago.”               

“You don’t know where she went?”

“She didn’t say.”

“I thought staff  were confined to their quarters?”

He shrugged. “Cooks and kitchen staff are exempt.”

“Thank you.”

She failed to find her in the staff cafeteria.  Two black-bereted women sat at a table sipping coffee.  Apart from them the room was empty.  Deciding that she would call on Natasha at her apartment after supper; Joanna decided to return home.  As she opened the gate she found two people sitting on the porch waiting for her, Jane and Natasha.

“Sit down girl,” said Jane.  “We’ve something to tell you.”

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Filed under Islands, Science Fiction

Islands in Time : Chapter Seven

                                   

                                                                                The Guardian

                The old man, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, studied the leaf of a grapevine, searching for any sign of disease. The feel of the leaf between his fingers so absorbed him he failed to hear Joanna and Alice approach.

                Alice skipped up to him. “Doctor.”

                Foley bobbed his head in recognition. “So you’re back?”

                “You said that I could have some cookies and lemonade.”

                “So you shall but introductions first.”

Alice, anxious to be away, rattled off the necessary words. “MissJoannaDoctorFoleyDoctorFoleyMissJoanna. Can I go now, please?”

                “Yes Alice, you may. Louise is waiting for you.”

                Joanna wondered what one should say to a legend.

                The legend lifted his hat. “Not too hot a walk, my dear?”

                “Doctor Foley?”

                “One of them. I’m certain that there are others.” He held out his hand. “You are Joanna Dzingira. Honoured. Your father told me a great deal about you.”

                “My father?”

                “Yes. Please. Come into the house.”

                “Is he here?”

                “Benjamin? He’s on duty right now. You’ll see him later. This way.”

                Joanna looked around. The road ran through fields beyond which rose groves of green eucalyptus and purple Jacaranda.

                “Where are we?”

                “Not quite certain. Must be terribly hot in those clothes.”

                Joanna could feel herself perspiring under the weight of her leather jacket and corduroy trousers.  “Yes, it is.”

                “Louise will provide you with something more suitable.”

                “Louise Miller?”

  “Just call her Louise.”

                “You knew that I was coming.”

                “Of course.”

                “How?”

                “How? My dear, here, it’s all ancient history.  Ah, there’s Louise.”

                Louise Miller, the one-time lighthouse keeper of Pigeon Island, stepped out of the doorway of the stuccoed house. “Bring the poor girl inside Mathew before she has heat stroke.”

                Louise Miller had been her sixties in the nineteen-thirties. This woman seemed no older than forty.

                “Excuse me,” Foley asked. “I don’t mean to be rude but how is your mother?”

                “Jane?”

                “Yes.”

                “Why do you ask?”

                “One of my pleasantest memories was sitting on her porch having a glass of fresh peach juice. She was a great woman.”

                “She never talks about you. I’m sorry.”

                “I’m not surprised. I never did impress her with all that great scientist nonsense.”

                “You gave us a great gift.”

                “Did I? I wish that you could stay longer. We have so much to discuss.”

                Louise interrupted. “Not yet you don’t. The poor girl’s melting. Let her change first.”

                Foley smiled. “Right as usual, Louise. Let’s say we meet in an hour or so at the Atrium. Louise will show you where you can change. I must get back to my vines.”

Louise led her into a spacious, airy room, sparsely furnished with chairs, a sofa and a table. A vase of lilies topped the table.  Joanna looked above the lilies at the painting of a woman that resembled a very young Louise. The painting seemed to resemble what little she knew of Rembrandt’s style.

“Yes. It’s real,” said Louise guessing Joanna’s thoughts. “Matthew bought it in Amsterdam.  He picked it up for next to nothing. Mathew never could resist a bargain. The Canadian in him I suppose.”

She turned down a passageway and opened a room door.  “You’ll find everything you need in here. I’ll come for you in an hour.”

The room felt cool.  Joanna looked for an air conditioner but could see none.  Neither could she feel a stream of air.   On the bed, someone had placed clean pressed clothes and towels. They had known that she was coming.  How much else did they know?  Shrugging off the question she began to undress.          

                                                                                ***

                Foley poured her a glass of cold lemonade. As she stirred it he settled back in his chair.      “I was thinking of Moses” he said.

                “Moses?”

                “Ahmoses, actually. The scholars were quite correct. He was Egyptian. He did live during the reign of Ramses the Second. We tend to think of him either as a bit of a prig and fanatic or as some God-like creature. He was neither. He was just a man who hated slavery.

“And the seven plagues of Egypt?”

                “All real enough.”

                “The parting of the Red Sea?”

                “Actually, not the sea. Just a shallow channel, which, when a strong wind blows from the north, becomes wadeable. The point of what I’m trying to say is that they were all human; Moses, Abraham, Jesus, the Buddha,Mohammed, the Mahatma. That is the great wonder. Their followers are obsessed with making them greater than what they were. They can’t accept the true miracle, their humanity.  They were what we could be. That’s what this place is about.”

                “To do that you would break the laws of history.”

                Foley sipped his lemonade. He thought for a moment. Then he looked up. “Have you ever studied law?”

                “Sir?”

                “The agency is quite right. The laws of History are unchangeable but any good lawyer will tell you that most laws have a few loopholes.”

                “You found one?”

                “Wastage.”

                “Wastage?”

                “First don’t confuse history with time. History began with writing. Time has no beginning. It has always been. How many human beings have lived since the species evolved?”

                “I don’t know. About twelve billion.”

                “By your time, closer to fifteen billion. Of those how many are recorded.”

                “Most of them I should think.”

                “Quite right. The modern age is obsessed with record keeping. Well over half of all human deaths have been accounted for which leaves us with what? At the most conservative estimate: two to three billion.  When Columbus reached America anthropologists estimate it held a population of fifty million. Within two generations ninety per cent were dead. Out of all those millions, how many deaths were recorded?  Our past, our history  never knew those people,”

                “That may be so but you can’t rewrite history to save them.”

                “Of course not. I just bring them here.”

                “You can’t bring people into a time they don’t belong in.”

                “Even a lost child doomed in its own time? Forgive me. I do not mean to criticize but how do we know they don’t belong?”

                “The laws of History . .. “

                Foley held up his hand. “Please.  They were violated long before they were ever written, When I was eleven I read H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. Wonderful book. Still one of my favourites. The concept of travelling through time fascinated me. Why? Perhaps I just hated the world I was on and I longed for an escape. Who knows? I do know that I immersed myself in the subject. I read every book that I could find. Azimov, Poul Anderson, the Adventures of The Time Patrol I watched every film that dealt with it. . When old enough I went through the scientific classics, Einstein, Hawkings, Everett and Barnes. I rooted through histories searching for any possible references to time travellers. The subject would not let me go. As you know I did my degree in quantum mechanics.

                “Reflections on the Space – Time Continuum.”

                “You’ve read it?”

                “What I could understand of it. Yes.”

                “That’s honest.  When I was young there were three opinions concerning time travel.  The first, held by the overwhelming majority, was that it was sheer rubbish. In a sense they were right. From the viewpoint of early twenty-first century technology, it was impractical. The theory though, that was different. There were two theories dividing those who did believe in the possibility of time travel. The first called for building a space ship that could travel close to the speed of light. They were discussing this when we hadn’t even managed to secure a permanent base on the moon.”

                “You didn’t agree with it?”

                “Of course I agreed with it. It made perfect sense. The technology simply was not available. That left me with the other theory.”

                “Space-time continuum?”

                “Yes. The work of Hugh Everett put me on the right track. Back in 1957 he wrote a paper in which he saw time as cosmological. As many universes existed as there were possibilities to create one. A universe like any living creature contains an internal structure, a cosmic version of DNA. If I could decode that structure I could unlock time itself creating a road between different universes. Needless to say, when my paper first came out it went virtually unread. Besides, theory was one thing. To make it a reality, that was another. I needed money, a lot of it.”

                “So you went to the government.”

                “What did they care? Even accepting that it could work, they could see no practical use in it. I was thrown back upon my own resources. I had a small inheritance. With that and my savings, I built a tiny working portal just enough to project a bottle cap back into time by fifteen minutes.  I filmed the materialization and I published the results. It almost cost me my job. The government and press dismissed it as an obvious fake. Then three very polite young men appeared at my door. They claimed to be representatives from the European Union.” 

                “We had a nice long chat. I demonstrated the portal.  They made me an offer. What they offered was very simple. They would finance all further experiments. They would see that I received the Nobel Prize for Physics. In return they would control the publishing of all results and the manufacturing of any further portals. I kept my experimental device and a say in any possible research projects.  Only later did I realize the reason for their interest.”

                “Which was?”

                “Whoever controls the portal control’s man’s access to the past but infinitely more important, access to the future. Early writers on time travel were so obsessed with the past they failed to see that it’s true importance lay in giving man the ability to control its future.  To know what will happen in the next twenty-four hours, in the next year, in the next decade; in that lay control of the future of the species.”

                “But doctor, the agency never explores the future.”

                “True,” nodded Foley. “Yours doesn’t.”

                Joanna blinked. “There is more than one?”

                “There always has been. That puny organization that you work for, it’s little more than a public relations act. Where do you think your two friends left behind on the island are from?  When I developed the first portal the European Union saw what the North American government could not. The Western world is made up of islands surrounded by seas of poverty.  Europe’s population is in decline. The Asian and African populations continue to soar.  The conclusion is obvious.  To keep control, the First world, which has dominated the past and present, must continue to dominate in the future.  The leaders of the European Union didn’t care a fig about archaeology or history. Neither did their taxpayers. Security was what they wanted, to preserve their domination of the human species.”

                “When did you discover this?”

                “Delisle was furious with Benjamin for rescuing you. Ben’s act had been a direct contravention of the prime directive.”

                “But you saved him.”

                “No. They saved him. I helped but the deciding factor was a message from Brussels telling Delisle to drop charges.  You see, Benjamin’s action had given them a wonderful idea. Roger told me about it over dinner. He didn’t approve of it, but as a dutiful servant he went along with it.   I must admit I’ve always liked Roger. He truly does believe in the agency and in the prime directive. Anyway he told me about the scheme. Save the orphans of the past. Make them into future agents. Great for boosting the old public image. Both humanitarian and economical. What Roger didn’t know was what Brussels truly wanted.”

                “Which was?”

                “An army.”

                “But they have hundreds of thousands of troops.”

                “That’s not the army that they wanted. They wanted one to control the paths of time.  They wanted recruits who were young and idealistic and bound only to the agency. Taken at an early age they would be reared within the agency, loyal only to the agency.  They would then be positioned at strategic points of time to observe, intimidate and assassinate. They call themselves the guardians.”

                “But the United Nations controls the agency.”

                ‘Who controls the United Nations?”

                “Does Sam know this?”

                “Yes. As for Roger, he doesn’t want to know.”

                “The fire at your house?  The guardians?”

                “Yes. I was not  . . .  “

                “Reliable.”

                “Just so.”

                Joanna pushed aside the lemonade.  She thought for a moment.  “They found two bodies in the ruins of your house.”

                “History is filled with bodies. The easiest thing to find.”

                “Why am I here? To help you stop them?”

                “You are here as my guest. As for them?” He shrugged. “I couldn’t stop them even if I wanted to. No, I just want to go about my work undisturbed.”

                “And just what is your work?”

                “To continue with what your father started.”

                “How do I know that you’re not building an army?”

                Foley stared at her. The surprise in his face grew into a smile. Shaking his head her leaned back in his chair and laughed a laugh so open and infectious that Joanna could not keep from smiling.

                “I’m sorry doctor but . . .”

                Foley waved at her. “Please. Don’t apologise. I haven’t heard anything so hilarious in years. General Foley: the military genius striding through the centuries.  I must tell Louise. I suppose that I’ll have to get a uniform made.” The laughter faded. “No. I will just sit here, read, watch my plants grow and see the people go by. The guardians are no threat to me but they are to you. I don’t want you to be hurt, Joanna. Tell me, where do you think we are in time?”

                From the way that you’ve been speaking, I guess we’re sometime in my future.”

                “The future is a big place.”

                “How far into the future are we?”

                “To be truthful I don’t really know. I do know that the human race is old. It has scattered itself across the galaxy. On the fringes, in the newer settlements it still retains some strength but on the older worlds it is dying.   When we were young we squandered our energy in stupid childish wars. Now we long for the sons and daughters we have lost.  The human race is dipping into its past to pay for its future.  The guardians and the agency are historical irrelevancies. What we are doing here is infinitely more important.”

                “One thing time has taught me. No one and nothing is immortal except time.  Nations are born. They live.  They die. Ideas, religions, philosophies all have their time. They shimmer and fade and die. That is the way of things. I have no quarrel with death. It is part of nature. My quarrel is with the stupid, endless waste of life.     My sister was thirty-one when she was murdered. No one cared. Why should they?A heroin junkie and a prostitute. Just another loser dumped in the garbage.”

                Joanna looked down at her glass. She knew of the death of Susan Foley, a footnote in the agency’s biography of Mathew Foley. A mutilated corpse found in a black plastic bag in a dumpster behind a cheap hotel, those had been the facts. The killer or killers had never been found. She tried not to think of the little girl that she had seen.                                       

                Foley stared past her into a past she had not known. “She couldn’t break free of the hate, the hate for herself, and for our parents. In and out of mental hospitals since she had been fifteen, the memories haunted her every day of her life.  The night that she was found she telephoned me. I was busy in the lab. My answering machine took the call. I found 8 hours later. She had just wanted to talk to someone, not a machine, A person.”

                The old man’s voice faded.

 After a few moments Joanna spoke. “Building the portal, was that an attempt to save her?”

                “I toyed with the idea, yes but I never did.”

                “Why not?”

                “We can’t save everyone. You know that but you would like to, wouldn’t you?”

                “Yes. I suppose I would.”

                “So would I. Sean has told me a great deal about you.”

                “Where is he?”

                “Come. I’ll take you to him.”

                The two walked up the road towards the next group of buildings.  Foley carried a black ebony-headed walking stick. As they walked Joanna looked down at the road. “Why yellow, Doctor?”

“Late twentieth-century humour. You’ve never read or seen the Wizard of Oz?”

                “I’m afraid not.”

                “Pity. I’ll lend you my book. Written in 1900 by Frank L. Baum. Silly plot. Unbelievable characters. Wonderful book.  When I was a little boy I loved the story. I still do. As long as you stay on the yellow brick road you are safe. If you stay on it long enough it will lead you home. Childish of course but childish memories are the most permanent.”

                “Why are we walking? Isn’t there any wheeled transport?”

                “We do but not here. Most of our population comes from tines that lacked advanced forms of transport. We want to create a facade of technology they can understand. So they’re relocated to areas where their own technology prevails. They’ve been through enough of a shock as it is. There is a time to use technology and a time not to. Anyway walking is good exercise.”

                A fifteen-minute walk brought them to another Roman-type villa. Joanna looked up at the white-stuccoed walls.

                “Is this his home?”

                “Sean’s? Not exactly.”

                A wizened little man sat on a wooden bench in front of the doorway. He sat in the sun and smoked a long, clay pipe. As the doctor and Joanna approached, he squinted at them. The pipe intrigued Joanna. She had never seen anyone smoking except in historical holos.

                “Fine afternoon, doctor.” The man’s voice dripped with the Irish West Country brogue.

                “That it is. How is the rheumatism, Michael?”

                “Hurts like the devil. I wish that you would have a look at it.”

                “I’m not a medical doctor, Michael. I’ve told you that a hundred times. Michael, Miss Joanna Dzingira.  Joanna, Michael Phelan.”

                Michael stood and removed his hat.

Foley drew out a small pouch from his pants pocket and handed it to Michael. “The pipe tobacco I promised you.” Joanna’s eyes widened.  Ignoring her, the doctor asked Michael, “anyone been through from Ballymannock today.”

“Quiet as the grave. You want me to drive you there?” Michael opened the pouch and breathed in the tobacco aroma. “A gentleman you are, doctor. I’ll have the potcheen for you tomorrow.”

Michael opened the door of the house and stepped aside.

“What’s he doing,” whispered Joanna.

“I believe that its called ladies first.  After you?”

The house she stepped into resembled Foley’s in design but the furnishings were those of nineteenth-century Ireland.  A large spinning wheel and a small three-legged stool sat in front of an open fireplace. Above the fire an iron pot had been hung. From it drifted the aroma of a stew being boiled. A young woman tended it, her long brown hair pulled back behind her. Mary Kay Phelan curtsied at the doctor and the lady.

“Will you be staying for supper doctor.”

“Not today Mary. We’re just crossing over to Ballymannock.”

Michael opened a door on the other side of the kitchen. He bowed and waited.

As Joanna and the doctor stepped through the doorway the doctor turned to Joanna, “Something troubling you?”

“You gave that man tobacco?”

“Yes.”

” Are you trying to poison him?”

“Michael is sixty-seven years old. He’s been smoking since he’s been ten. In his society smoking is a universal habit. I’m not trying to reform anyone, Joanna. I supply him with tobacco. He supplies me with whiskey. A fair exchange.”

You don’t drink whiskey.”

Foley shrugged. “Makes him feel useful.”

They stepped through the door into an open field of deep green grass.

                                                                                ***

The pony cart rattled through a countryside of low green hills.  Copper beeches lined the paved road. The land smelled of soft cool rains and lush grass.  As Joanna watched the scenery Foley spoke. He could sense her lingering distaste for Michael’s tobacco. Foley could sense that the memory of the tobacco pouch still offended Joanna.

“There is a great danger in this work,” he said. “We are not missionaries. Most missionaries were quite remarkable people, self-sacrificing, courageous and completely sincere, but to be a missionary you have to assume that the message you bring will improve the society they are visiting. We must never make that assumption.  This is their society, not ours.”

                “Even here?”

                “Especially here.  Yes I know that tobacco smoking is dangerous. I have never smoked in my life. I never will but I have no right to tell another adult that they must agree with me. Besides familiar habits and customs assist with the resettlement.”       

                “Where else would you think it would be?” asked Michael. He pulled upon the reins and pointed. “Ballymannock.”    

A small cluster of buildings nestled in a small valley. Straw-thatched and tiled roofs huddled around the spire of a church. 

                “You have a church?” Joanna asked.

                “Why would we not,” asked Michael. “We’re not savages.”

                “But how would you get a priest?”

                “Same way we got everyone else,” said Foley. “I found a Father O’Bannion. He went down on with the Spanish Armada in 1596.”

                “I thought that was 1587?”

                “That was the first one.”

                “Oh.”

                “Of course we had to educate him a bit. As for other priests, her holiness has been quite helpful.”

                Michael grunted.

                “After all,” Foley continued, “the church never passes up an opportunity to reclaim lost souls. Mind you finding a priest acceptable to these people has been a bit difficult. Women priests were out to begin with. Truth be told unless the priest were born within fifty miles of the village people would have trouble accepting them. Isn’t that right, Michael?”

“You’re entitled to make a joke, doctor. Now Miss, there’s a gentleman standing by the public house you may be wishing to speak with.”

                Joanna looked down the narrow paved street at a group of men. They stood in front of a two-story building. A large sign emblazoned with the name “DOOLEYS” hung above the men. Dressed in boots, brown corduroy trousers and a white linen shirt, Sean seemed ten years younger then when he had been in Pitcairn.  At the sight of him Joanna leapt down from the cart.

                As he watched Joanna running towards Sean Michael chewed the mouth of his pipe. The old man could not understand what strange quirk of God’s mercy had brought him and his family here away the cold and hunger.  Unable to either read or right he held Foley in the same degree of awe that he would have shown a saint but saints he had known to be human. Even saints made mistakes. “You’ll a cruel shameless man, doctor.”

                “I don’t enjoy this, Michael.”

                “Ah well, that makes it all right then.” He spat. A brown glob of spit struck the dirt.

                “To do a great good, sometimes you have to do a small wrong.”

                “Do you think Lord John Russel said that when he closed the kitchens and left us to starve?”

                                                                                ***

                After frenzied lovemaking the two collapsed into each other’s arms and slept through the night.  As dawn crept into the room the two lay together, awake but not wanting to rise.  Only when as they lay together did Sean tell Joanna about his first meeting with Foley.  

                “I saw him outside a workhouse in Castlemaine. Actually I should say that he saw me.  Four hundred starving people begging to be let into a workhouse that had room for only sixty. I stood among a small group of gentry looking on. An elderly man nudged me.

                “A pitiful sight,” he said. He spoke in a broad central North American accent. That surprised me. Not many American tourists in Ireland in 1847.  He nodded at me and walked away.  I didn’t mention it to Sam. It didn’t seem to be an anomaly, just odd. Then I saw him again in Kingston in the Glass Harp.”

               “Odd isn’t it? In the past they always said that if time travel were to be developed we would have to protect it from the greedy and unscrupulous. How do you fight a man that you know is right?”

                “But what he is doing is wrong.”

                “Is it? He’s saving lives. Not grudgingly. Not just a few. He’s saving thousands. How can that be wrong?”

                “He’s endangering the past.  In doing that he threatens the present.”

                “Joanna, this is the present. Here. You and I. Now. If the agency stops him they destroy this present. Our present.”

                Joanna turned over and buried her face in her pillow.

                `”All I know,” said Sean placing his hand on the small of her back, “is that I’m doing something that I know is right.”

                “You met Foley at the Glass Harp?”

                “I saw him on my third day in Kingston. He was standing by a bookshelf examining a book. I didn’t recognize him at first. He looked up at me, said that he was delighted to see me again and invited me for lunch. Then I remembered where I had seen him before. Too intrigued to refuse I went along with him to a small restaurant near the provincial court. Over a plate of lasagna he offered me a job.”  

                “You accepted it. Just like that.”

                “When Sam offered you the boy, you accepted it.”

                “That’s different. This was the agency. You swore an oath to defend the agency. To just throw it over; that’s  not like you, Sean.”

                “Ruth was there.”

                “Ruth Gibbons?”

                “Yes.”

                Ruth Gibbons had been the agent who had discovered Sean dying in a frozen cottage. She had disappeared while on a filming mission to Ballarat in 1850. Sean had spent an entire month in local time searching for her.

                “I have never seen her looking so happy. They brought me here and showed me their work. I couldn’t go back.”

                “Not even for me?”

                “Not even for you. Besides I knew that you would come. Sooner or later every agent will.”

                Joanna sat up on the edge of the bed. “I can’t stay here.”

                Sean ran his right hand down her spine. “You don’t have to go. Foley would never force you.”

                “There’s Jane and there’s Richard. I’m not like you. I can’t just . . . abandon them.”

                “Jane will never leave Pitcairn and as for Richard. He doesn’t even know you.”

                “He’s my son.”

                “Is he? You don’t even know his name.”

                Joanna flung herself off the bed. She strode into the bathroom slamming the door behind her.

                Sean found her sitting on the toilet dabbing at her eyes with tissue paper.

                “Am I wrong in having come here?”

                “I don’t know. I can’t leave them. I can’t leave you. What am I supposed to do?”

                “I’ll talk to Foley, He might be able to think of something.”

                Joanna sniffed. “He had better. Now close the door. I have to pee.”      

                                                                                ***

                Joanna knew who the man was as soon as she sighted him in Michael’s cart.  Benjamin sat as straight as when a half-century before he had first put on his agents uniform.  His hair had turned white and he had grown a beard.  When asked by old friends from the University of Zimbabwe what he was doing in his retirement Benjamin had told him that he was spending it at home. They would shake their heads and suggest that he spend some time travelling or find a hobby. Benjamin would smile but say nothing. After his wife, Mercy, passed away, he never returned to Harare.

                Foley had told him of Joanna’s arrival. Even while tracking the slave traders across the highlands and down into the coastal plains; Joanna had remained a part of his thoughts. 

The traders had left him an easy path to follow.  He had only to watch for the vultures.  From the forested hills of the high veldt he had followed the traders careful to remain out of their sight.  The slavers, Swahili Arabs and Portuguese prazeros had struck deep into the crumbling flanks of the Mutapa Empire. Now they were returning to the coast laden with gold, ivory and slaves.

They had divided the slaves into pairs, strapping wooden yokes to their necks and iron shackles to their wrists. Loading them with ivory tusks the traders had marched them for hour after hour beneath the tropical sun. If unable to go any further, the traders would unshackle them and leave them to die where they had fallen.

Benjamin found the pair a young man and a woman still yoked together beside the trail. A pack of hyenas sniffed their unconscious bodies.  Benjamin hooted at the animals driving them off. He unyoked the pair, cutting the ropes with his machete. As he cleaned the young woman’s bleeding shoulders, he wondered if he was changing the course of history.  He hoped so.

On the day he saw Joanna he brought five people to the hospital in Chimurenga. Once they were well enough they would be sent to help populate one of the new villages growing around the citadel of Zimbabwe.

As they sat together, father and daughter, drinking coffee outside Sean’s house, Benjamin attempted to explain why he had crossed over.

                “For years I protected the past. But whose past did I protect?  I knew that the past was the common heritage of all Mankind. My people, the Shona had shared in part of that heritage. We had shared in conquest, poverty and humiliation.  I could accept that. I could accept the fact that we had been colonised. Most cultures had been. I could accept the poverty and hunger of the present. What I could not accept was that it must continue. We had fought for our freedom and we had won it, a right to make our own future in own country. It wasn’t a big county, not rich nor powerful but it was ours. Zimbabwe.

                “Do you know why we called it Zimbabwe?”

                “After the ruins?”

                “I grew up outside of Masvingo. They were my playground, the ruins. At seemed they seemed little more than interesting piles of rocks.  Later I began to understand what they meant to my people. When the Europeans first discovered the ruins, those wise, educated men concluded that outsiders; Arabs, Phoenicians, Chinese, anyone except us, had built them. But we knew who built them. We always knew. They just would not listen. Why would they want to listen to illiterate savages? We remembered what we had been and what we could be again. So we called our country Zimbabwe. Houses of  Stone.  Houses that we had built.”

                “I was one of three Africans chosen to serve as agents. Out of a billion people, an eighth of the human race, they chose three.  I proposed an expedition to film Great Zimbabwe at the height of her prosperity, a gift to the Zimbabwean people. Instead they sent me to fourteenth-century England to examine the social effects of the bubonic plague.  Great Zimbabwe would be considered later. The agency had its priorities.”

                “I didn’t object to the project. The work was interesting and I did meet my daughter.” He smiled. “But I couldn’t help wondering why they would send a specialist in sub-Saharan history to fourteenth-century England. Of all the projects run by the agency six per cent have been in Africa. Eighty per cent was concerned with Egypt; another ten per cent with Carthage.  Only two have dealt with non-European related Africa. Our common heritage didn’t seem to be that common at least as far as Africa was concerned.

                “After my dismissal from the agency, I took a teaching position in Harare. Foley came to see me. I was sitting with some friends in a beer hall near my home when he walked in. He ordered a Coke for himself a Castle for me and we talked.”

                He told me about his plan to use a portal to save the lost millions of Africa. I would be responsible for the Zimbabwe project.  I asked him how many I could try to bring out. He told me as many as I could.”

                “As Sean would be responsible for saving those who died in the Irish famine.”

                “Yes.”

                “How many have you brought out?”

                “Over nine hundred.”

                “Hardly millions.”

                “There will be more. The more we save, the more helpers we have to save others.  The work has only just begun.”

                “You have no regrets, no questions about what you are doing.”

                “None. Do you?  Besides, what else would you expect from your father?”

                Joanna touched her father’s large hands. Father and daughter they sat at the table, silent as their coffee cooled.                                                                                            ***

                “Tomorrow?”

                “Yes.”

                Sean glanced at the small Rembrant of Louise.  Foley and Dzingira waited for him to speak. “Why so soon,” he asked.

                “It’s not so soon,” said Foley. “She’s been here for a week. The longer she’s here the harder it will be to send her back.”

                “But you want her to stay?”

                “What we want doesn’t matter. She is not ready.”

                “She would be if you were to tell her the truth.”

                “I can’t. You know that.”

                “In your own way you’re as bad as the agency. You’re sending her to a prison.”

                “I can’t interfere with what is to come.”

                “You’ve made a career out of interfering.”

                “I’ve made a career out of driving through loopholes but I’ve never openly violated the directive itself. She goes back tomorrow.”

                                                                                ***        

                Joanna nestled in Sean’s arms. “You never told me about the island,” she murmured.”

                “No. I never did.”

                “I wondered if it were a dream. Sam thought that it was.”

                “No. It was no dream. Joanna.” Best to tell her now, he thought.”

                “Where is it?”

                “What?”

                “The island.”

                “Off the coast of Australia.”

                A note of uncertainty in his voice caused Joanna to sit up. “Sean. What’s wrong?”                             

                “You have to go back. Tomorrow.”

                Joanna gulped. “Why?”

                “The longer you stay, the more you age in this time the harder it will be to send you back.”

                “Then let me stay.”

                “We can’t. Not yet.  That would change what has been, what must be.” He held her and whispered.  “Nothing is as it seems. Once you step back all memories related to Home, to everything here will be blocked. You’ll remember nothing.”

                “Not even you?”

                “Not even me. It has to be that way. We have no weapons here. Secrecy and the vastness of time are our only defences.”

                He drew open the drawer of the bedside table. From out of the drawer he took out a small blue box.  He gave her the box closing her fingers around it. “Take this.  Some day it may help you to remember.”  

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Islands in Time: Chapter Six

                                                                                                                                                                   Changes

As she walked into the control building in Admanstown Joanna thought of her father. She had talked to him last night.  He had seemed worried.  There had been food riots again in Harare.  His brother Edmund lived there. With inflation running at sixty per cent the great well of African patience was drying up.  Talk of a coup ran through the country.  Before descending to the portal Joanna stopped by the chemistry lab on the second floor. The lab technician was sipping a second cup of coffee and wishing she had got to bed earlier than two o’clock. Se did not feel enthused at seeing Joanna smiling at her. The woman looked too sober.

“Good morning, Doris.”

“Hmm.”

“Do you have that analysis for me?”

“Hmm.” Doris took another swallow of coffee.  “I put it here somewhere.” She stifled a yawn.

“Hard night?” Joanna asked.

Doris grunted and pulled a large brown envelope out of a drawer. It contained Joanna ‘s pants, the one she had dabbed Mrs. Bascombe’s cocoa on. “You know I’m not your dry cleaner,” she said .

“What did the test say it was.”

“Cocoa.”

“Anything else?”

“Sugar and milk.”

“Thanks.”

As Joanna strode toward the elevator she contemplated two possibilities. Mrs. Bascombe had given her a drug too subtle to be detected by chemical analysis. The other possibility was that she was a nice old lady and Joanna Dzingira was paranoiac. As she stepped into the elevator she conceded that paranoia was the likelier choice. 

The elevator took her down sixteen floors deep beneath the surface of Pitcairn. Lining the shaft were explosive charges triggered to explode once any intruder attempted to force an entry.  Similar charges had been placed in the emergency stairwell.  Although Jane tended to fret about the possibility of her and half the island being reduced to dust Joanna paid little attention to it.  She was more concerned with ignoring the elevator music and trying to concentrate her thoughts upon her assignment, Pigeon Island.

Archives had turned up very little on Miss Miller.  They had failed to find either birth certificate or passport.  The fact had not surprised anyone. She had been born in the later half of the nineteenth century when record keeping was still in its infancy.  By nineteen-thirty she would be in her early sixties. The portal would place Joanna and Daniel on the island at night.  They would plant a few bugs outside the house and examine the out buildings for any sign of a portal. They would conceal herself during the day.  If threatened in any way she would signal the portal to pick her up.  Simple. 

Above her came the opening bars of Saint Saens Dance of the Hours. Someone had a strange sense of humour she thought.

.               The elevator stopped. Two people, a man and a woman got in.  They were dressed entirely in black, black books, trousers, sweaters and caps.  They reminded Joanna of commandos from a World War Two Movie. What struck her as odd was that she did not know them.  At one time or another she had seen everyone on Pitcairn. Not these two.  The other thing that struck her was that they were very young both still in their late teens.  They were so similar in appearance Joanna wondered if they were brother and sister.

                Their hands clasped behind their back they stood their legs slightly apart, facing the elevator door.

“Good morning.” said Joanna.

Neither replied. The elevator stopped.  The doors slid open.  The two separated allowing Joanna to pass.  They then followed.

The security guard, Han Jin, was an islander, the sole survivor of a village gutted by the Mongols.

He had found his niche deep below the earth at the first of three doors leading into the portal.  He had his apartment, holographic viewer, a comfortable pension and a mistress, another islander. He was content.

“Miss Joanna.”

“Hello Han.  How are you this morning?”

“Can’t complain.”

Joanna waved her pass at him. “Have Sam and Daniel been by yet?”

“Haven’t seen them.” Han pressed a button. The great steel door behind him slid open.

“Could I see your pass, please,” he asked the young man following behind Joanna.  The youth snapped to attention pulled out a pass and waited patiently for Han to finish examining it.

“You’re new here aren’t you?”

The young man replied somewhat uncertainly, “Yes.”

“Well, welcome to Pitcairn.  Mister . .. ”Han glanced at the pass again.”Smith.”

Han returned the pass.  “Your pass, Miss.”

Han checked the girl’s pass.  He noticed that her name was also Smith.  “You two related?”

“Yes “she said.

                “Nice to see a new couple on the island.”

                Behind the first door, Joanna passed another guard, also an islander, Saiful, another survivor of Genghis Khan’s raids. Just behind him was her desk. There were several other desks but they were empty their owners being away on assignment or elsewhere in Pitcairn. On her desk were packages, one detailing the object and details of her mission. It also contained a small leather purse in which she found two hundred dollars in 1930 Canadian currency.  She signed the slip attached to the package to verify receipt of same.  In the other larger package was a suit of clothes.

As she rose to go to the washroom she noticed the man and woman in black at Saiful’s desk.  Saiful released the lock and the two entered.

“May I help you?” Joanna asked.

The man’s eyes flickered at reading the nameplate on Joanna’s desk.

“Miss Dzingira?”

“That’s what the sign says”

“May we sit?”

“If you’ll tell me what this is about, yes”

“Pigeon Island.” said Mary. “We are to be your companions.”

“Are you? By whose authority?”

“Director Delisle and Secretary-General Schreiber. Our orders.”

She pulled out of a white envelope stamped with the European Union seal. The papers inside, signed and stamped, assigned special agents John and Mary Smith to work with Agent Dzingira.  “You’re Mary Smith I suppose?”

“Yes.”

“John Smith?”

“Yes.”

“Brother and sister?”

There was a slight hesitancy in the man’s voice, so slight as to be almost unnoticeable but Joanna did notice it. “Yes.”

“Have either of you gone through the portal before?”

“In simulations,”said John.

“Simulations?  What historical period are you primarily trained in?”

“Twentieth Century North America and Europe. I am fluent in all south European tongues.  My sister has specialized in the Germanic and Slavic languages.”

“Well, that’ll be useful. What other talents do you offer?”

“We are skilled in every form of unarmed combat.”

“So you are here to protect me?”

“No.”

“Then what are you here for?”

“Training and to protect the agency,” said Mary.

“But, um, wouldn’t that involve protecting me?”

Mary thought for a moment. “Perhaps.”

Joanna sat still. The two stared not at her but through her at the wall beyond. “Excuse me. I have to get changed.”

The two began to rise.

“It’s all right.  I know the way to the washroom.  Please just wait here.”

Sam would be in the next room.  Once she was changed, she would have a word with him.  She desperately wished that Daniel were here.  There had been rumours within the agency of a special training program being run by the union on Henderson Island but the security agents attached to the agency had all been known to her.  Who were these two and why did they look so similar? The agency was not training children, not as far as she knew.

The two were on their feet when she returned. 

              She picked up her purse and walked towards the third door.  The pair followed.

         The last steel door slid open.  Beyond she could see the brown oval shape of the portal.  Pausing to show the guard her pass she entered.  Sam was not at his desk.  Instead his assistant Alicia Harris was checking her controls.

“Where are Sam and Daniel?”

“Sam called to say that they’reat a meeting with Delisle. Apparently the agency received an important new directive. Who are your friends?”

“They’re not my friends.  I want them out of here.  As senior agent present I’ve got that right.”

Alicia turned to the twins whose eyes were on the portal. “Could I see your orders please?”

She looked over the papers.

“I’ll have to call in.”

John’s reply was the slightest nod of his head. Mary looked only at the portal.

Alicia turned to her desk as she tapped out a few numbers.  The face of Delisle’ secretary Jose Ribera swam into view.  Ribera’ reply was short and punctuated by an abrupt switching off of the line.

“Lend them all possible assistance.”

Alicia handed the Smiths their papers and ID. “Welcome aboard.  Sorry Joanna.” She bent over the controls.

In the middle of portals colours began to shimmer.  Despite themselves the Smiths seemed entranced.  The colours firmed to form the scene of a late summer evening.  Pines trees illuminated by stars could be seen.

“Well, are you coming or not?” Joanna muttered.  Without looking back she stepped into the portal.

She still felt a slight queasiness in her stomach every time she stepped over the threshold.  She hoped that the Smiths felt it far worse than she.  It was not until her feet felt the wet grass underneath her feet that she turned to look behind.  She could see their black shadows approaching her. They had been trained well.  She could not hear them as they approached,

“I realise,” she said adopting her most sarcastic tone, “that you can probably knock down trees with your bare hands, but I don” think we need to do that here. We are going to place a few cameras and observe. That is all we are going to do. Is that understood?”

“Yes, said John.

Joanna looked at Mary. “Do you understand?”

The girl did not reply.

The portal had placed her in the eastern end of the island.  All she had to do was to follow the trail west.  A twenty-minute walk would bring them within sight of the house.  The way would be guided by the slow sweep of the white beam from the lighthouse.

She found the walk pleasant, quiet and cool. The scent of the pine mingled with the moisture of the air, a very different feel to the warm October air of Pitcairn.  She stopped to look up at the stars. The constellations were different from Pitcairn. There seemed so many more of them here. Kingston had been too bright to see many but out here they seemed so clear.   Wonderful she thought but she missed the Southern Cross. Someone bumped into her from behind. John Smith stopped, looking at her as if she were doing something very odd.

“Pretty.”  She pointed at the stars. John looked up for a moment and then back down at her. He appeared to be waiting for instructions. Joanna shrugged and continued on her way.

They reached a split rail fence. Beyond were the outbuildings and the house.

“Your orders,” John asked.

“We stay here.  We watch.”

“Those are not our instructions,” said Mary.

Joanna stared at her for a moment.  “So what are your instructions and who gave them?”

“We are not instructed to say.”

She could not be older than seventeen thought Joanna   Only the young could speak with such absolute certainty.

“So we don’t have the same mission,” Joanna asked.

Mary looked at her with complete indifference.  Her look reminded her of buyers examining

slaves in ancient Sumeria  “You have no objection to my doing my job?”Joanna asked.

Mary looked at John.  He shrugged. “For the moment, No.”

“And later?”

“Perhaps.”

“You will let me know if you do object.”

“Perhaps.”

“You don’t work for the agency?”

“We are assigned to it.”

“Assigned? Being assigned you recognize its authority.”

John hesitated for a moment. He glanced at Mary who gave a slight nod. “Yes.”

“I am also under its authority. Do you agree?”

Mary who had had been examining the house looked back at her.  “You are not reliable.”

The last word triggered an upsurge of anger in Joanna. “Now listen to me you little . ..  I was working for the agency when you were in diapers, so don’t tell me I’m not reliable.”

“Subject to fits of depression and alcoholism,” said John. “That is our report on you.”

“Does your report include watching impalings and beheadings; walking through burning villages reeking of butchered babies?”  She stopped.  The blanket of indifference over the Smiths suffocated any further desire she had to speak with them. “What the hell do you know about anything,” she muttered to the trees.

“We know our orders,” said Mary.

Joanna smiled.  “Well that makes me feel much better.”

“We mean you no harm,” said John.  Mary looked as if he had said something he should not have said that.

“But if your orders are to kill me, you will.”

“Yes.”

“So that’s what we’ve come to. Well, as long as we understand one another.”

“It would not bring me pleasure, Joanna,” said John.

“At least we have something in common. Don’t call me Joanna.  Only my friends do. You don’t want to have to kill a friend, do you?”

“Enough,” said Mary. “We have work to do.”

From out of her coat pocket, Joanna pulled out a small brown paper envelope.

“We’re going to set up bugs at four sites; at each of the two outbuildings, at the lighthouse, and at the main house. Once they’re in place we should be able to track any comings and goings of anyone on the island.  We should also be able be able to check for any large emissions of energy.  With this primitive technology it will be easy to detect.”

“What are our duties?” asked Mary.

“Watch my back.” Joanna smiled.  “That’s almost funny, isn’t it?”

Mary did not answer.  Neither did she smile.

***

The first bug was placed on the door of the tool shed. Joanna tested the padlock. She thought of breaking it open but decided against it. The building was too small to contain a portal.  The barn would be a likelier choice. She listened for the sounds of animals. Not even a chicken could be heard. Even more important it did not smell of animals.  As with the tool shed the door had a padlock on it. By the light of a pocket torch she examined it.  Why, she asked herself, would anyone want to padlock a barn?  

As if aware of what she was thinking John held out to her a thin piece of steel.  “May I?”

Joanna stepped aside. She looked on as John slipped the steel into the lock. Mary standing sentry duty did not as much as turn her head.

The padlock clicked open. He pulled it out of the latch and held it out to Joanna.

“Leave it on the door.”

As she looked at Joanna thought how it strange it must be for a woman living alone on an island, miles away from any one else to insist upon padlocking a barn. People only did that if they expected intruders.  What intruders could Eloise be expecting?  She looked at the door.  If intruders were expected could this not be a trap?  Could the opening of the door trigger an alarm? 

“Let me have your torch,” she asked John.

John handed her the light.  Holding it up she examined the door. It seemed an ordinary barn door. She could feel the smooth texture of the pine boards. The door gave before her as she pushed it open. There was noise no blinding light, no screaming alarm, just darkness.  The light from the torch sliced through the dark revealing wooden beams and an earth floor.

Just a barn, she thought.  She stepped inside.

***

The little girl in the blue dress stood upon the yellow brick road, “Hello she said.  They said you’d come.”

Joanna blinked. Not knowing what else to do she said “hello.”

She looked behind. She saw grass and eucalyptus trees. The yellow road stopped at her feet. To her left were more trees. To her right was a maize field   Beyond the child she could see hills more trees and more maize

The little girl smiled. “I’m Alice.”

Why, Joanna asked herself, was she not surprised.

“You’re Joanna, aren’t you?”

“How did you know?”

“Louise said you were coming.  She knows everything. We’d better hurry.  They’re keeping lunch.”

“But what about my . . ?”

“Your friends? I don’t think they’re invited.  Better hurry.”

Joanna followed her, asking, “where are we?”

“Home.”

“Home?”

“That’s what the doctor calls it.  So most people call it that. It’s a little like a train station.’

“train station?”

“For people going somewhere else.  You don’t need the light you know.”

Joanna looked down.  She still held John‘s lighted torch. Switching it off, she slipped it into a pocket.

As they topped a hill the land opened up Ahead of her she could see buildings, a collection of Mediterranean- style villas.

“Is that where you live,” she asked Alice.

“The third house over,” Alice said pointing.  “My daddy and me and some others from the boat.”

“What boat?

“The Empress of Ireland.”

“How did you get here?”

“A policeman brought me.”

“A policeman? Where is here?”

“I told you.  Home.”

“Heaven?”

“Don’t be silly.  Angels live in Heaven.”

“Of course.”

None of it made any sense. What did it matter? How many chances would she have to follow a little girl down a yellow brick road? Taking Alice’s hand she walked with her towards the distant houses.

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A Warning From the Past

George Washington’s Farewell Address  1796

On Party Discord

The alternate domination of one factor over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, … is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.  The disorders and miseries which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors,  turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of political liberty.

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Islands In Time : Chapter Five

                                                                                The Island

Sam chewed his salad and thought.  “Just a dream,” he said.

 Joanna poked at her slice of melon. “It didn’t feel like a dream, Sam,”

The three, Sam, Joanna and Susan sat in the agency’s executive dining room, one of the prerogatives of Sam’s promotion. Dark red mahogany walls, uniformed waiters, subdued lighting the strains of Chopin, whose hologram image played in a corner.              

“So what did it feel like?”   asked Susan.

“It felt real; more real than this place.  I could feel the sand, the heat of the sun, him.”

“Perhaps you just wanted it to be real,” Sam suggested.

“I’m not a child Sam.  I know the difference between dreams and reality.”

“Do you? Well you’re luckier than me.”

They said nothing more as the waiter poured the wine and Sam carved his steak.  Joanna refused the wine and nibbled at her salad.

“By the way,” said Sam “Delisle wants to see you.”

“Why?”

“He didn’t tell me why. He just wants to see you.”

“When?”

“As soon as you finish lunch,”

“I was planning to go to the hospital.”

“The hospital will still be there.”

“How is he?”

“The boy? They’re still doing tests.  You know how it is. Fortunately for him he’s still under sedation. He should sleep through it all.  Feeling like a mother are you, Joanna?”

“That’s not funny Sam,” said Susan.

Sam concentrated on his steak.

 Susan touched Joanna’s hand. “Joanna, it’s very important to us that you find Sean.  If there’s anything we can do, anything at all.”

“You can start by giving me anything you have about Mrs. Bascombe.”

“Daniel said you didn’t think she was suspicious,” said Sam.

“Now I’m not certain.  Her house was Sean’s last address, and that dream.”

“We can’t base a search upon dreams, Joanna,” said Susan.”

” What do we base it on, facts that we can’t rely upon? Nothing is as it appears. As Sam said we could be playing out roles assigned to us by people living centuries in the  . . .”She paused in mid-sentence. 

“What?” asked Susan.

“I’m not certain.” said Joanna, her voice dropping.  “Sam, you sent Sean back to study Foley’s life.”

“Yes.”

“What do we know of him?”

“Foley? It’s all on video in the library.”

“No it’s not. Otherwise why send Sean back?”

“Well the basic facts are there.  We just wanted to fill in some of the details.  Add a bit of colour.”

“What details?”

“Home life.  Growing up, the young genius, that sort of thing.  Make a visual record of it all. As you know, his parents died when he was young.”

“Yes. Relatives took in him and his sister.  His mother’s family I believe. What do we know of them?”

“Names were Foley. Farmers mainly.”

“His sister was murdered?”

“Yes. Very sad. Agency is planning to make a movie about it.  Michelle O’Conner might take the title role,”

“Aren’t we getting away from the topic here ,” asked Susan.

“Perhaps not, “said Joanna. “See what you can find out about the Foleys.  Also there’s another person, a woman named Eloise Miller.”

“Who?” Sam asked.

“According to Sean’s research she used to own Pigeon Island. She gave it to the Bascombes, who gave it to Foley’s father.”

“So?”

“I know it sounds thin but from his notes I got the impression Sean thought that somehow it was important in Foley’s background.  The last thing he noted was Pigeon Island.”

“I can see what we have on file.”

“Thanks Sam.  I had better go over and see what Delisle wants.”                                             

                ***

Delisle knew that he was not a popular man.  He took that as a sign of strength.  Popularity he considered the craving of a weak soul.  A good leader had to be fair and just, even be able to show compassion but above all he must be strong.  Before being appointed as director of the agency he had spent his career in Ministry of Science of the European community going over budgets and appropriations. Scientists were impractical.  He had an immense admiration for them as he would mention in every speech, but they did not know how to draw up budgets. They had their job.  He had his.  He did not believe in meddling in their affairs.  Why should they meddle in his?  Good people, most of them, but just not practical.

This one he had to see now, the Dzingira woman, he did not consider to be one of the good people. Her loyalty to the agency was questionable.  As long as she carried about her job as a pilot, such possible doubts were not important but in the field such disloyalty could be dangerous. He had disliked her being brought back and despite his agreement was certain it had been a mistake. He smiled when she came into his office.  A leader must always be polite. “Joanna.  It’s been too long.  Funny isn’t it, such a small island and we never seem to meet.  Jane is doing well?”

“Yes sir.  Thank you sir.”

“Quite a lady. Send her my regards.”

When Hell freezes over Joanna thought. “Yes sir.”

” I’ve looked over the report you filed. Now I want to hear from you.  As a person who knows him well and as an experienced agent what do you think happened to Sean.”

“It’s rather early to a draw a conclusion, sir.”

“I understand but, even so, you must have an opinion.”

“Sean was sent on what Sam claimed to be a simple assignment, find some details about Doctor Foley’s life.”

“So?”

“I’m beginning to realise what he found out.”

“What?”

“We don’t know anything about the doctor at all.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  I knew him for years.”

“No sir. With all due respect, you only knew part of him.  He was middle-aged when you met him.  His childhood, his young manhood we have very little.  That’s what Sean was trying to find when he disappeared.”                          “Foley never spoke of that time. To be honest I never gave it much thought.”

“Why did he invent the portal?”

“He was convinced it could be done.”

“That doesn’t explain why.”

“Because it could be done.  He was curious.  A great genius usually is. “

“We know that ever since he was a boy time travel fascinated him.  What we don’t know is why?”

“You have a theory?”

“I don’t know if I could call it a theory.  I do know there were two great tragedies in his life, the death of his parents and his sister’s murder.”

“Many people lose family members. Its called life,”

“Yes sir, I know that but did Doctor Foley know that?”

Delisle frowned. He stood and looked out of the window at the Pacific thirteen floors below.  “You make him sound like a mad scientist from an ancient film.”

“No sir. Not mad. Just lonely.  From what we know this was a man obsessed.  He had no mistress, no wife.  He was not a homosexual.  At least we have no evidence of it. From his twenties to his forties he buried himself in his work.”

“He did have his niece.”

“True but apart from her nothing we could call a family life.”

“Some people are like that.”

“Yes sir, but that doesn’t answer the question.  Why did he want the portal?”

“Your possibility, Agent Dzingira?”

“I think he wanted to reach someone.”

 Delisle sat back in his chair.  On his desk in front of him was an autographed photo of Foley.

“That would imply breaking our prime directive, never changing the past.”

“Yes sir, it would.  But that was developed after he invented the portal. Not before.”

“But Mathew always believed in it.  He was one of its strongest proponents.  We may have disagreed on many things but I never questioned his sincerity.  Is that what you’re doing, Agent Dzingira?”

“No sir.  I’m just trying to understand.”

“I respect that but let me be frank.  These are difficult times. There’s been a serious economic down turn over the last few months.  Pitcairn’s largely escaped it up until now. Parliaments in Europe and the Americas are questioning the costs of this program and the dangers.  Anything that would tarnish the image of the program could have a profoundly negative effect upon our budget.”

“Sir  … “

Delisle raised a hand.  “I’m not criticising you, Agent Dzingira.  I respect what you’ve said but you and I both know that half the world wakes up wondering if the Nazis have won the Second World War.”

“I understand, sir.”

“Continue with your investigation but tread carefully.”

“Yes sir.  If I may . . .”

“Yes?”

“About Sam Habib. Isn’t there anyway you could persuade the directors to allow him to stay on Pitcairn?” 

Delisle nodded. “I am giving the matter some thought, but the agency’s policy is quite clear.  Sam should have thought of that years ago.”

“There can always be an exception.”

“Perhaps. I will consider the matter.  Now, if you’ll excuse me . . .”

                                                ***

Joanna placed a hand on the plastic screen. Two metres away slept her son, a distance as great as that separating her from her father.  She was thankful that he was asleep.  He did not have to be afraid of the tubes feeding him nutrients or removing his waste products.  He was unaware of the great bank of machines reading his vital signs.  She was thankful for one other reason.  She would have more time to think of how to explain to him that she was not a goddess. She was just a human being, not even a very special one.  She would call him Richard, after her father.  What would he call her once he knew the truth?  Somehow they would muddle through.  Most families did.

She felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Would you like a chair,” said the nurse.  Joanna smiled in gratitude. She sat and continued looking at her son.                    

                ***        

Joanna shivered in the early morning cold.  She told herself that she should be grateful that Daniel had hired a cab but as they sped towards the airport all that she could think of was the warmth of her bed.  People actually lived in this climate? She longed for the blue sky of Pitcairn.

Their helicopter lifted off into the grey October sky.   The pilot, Bill Laidlaw, a man whose muscles seemed to have settled into his paunch estimated that the run to the island would take about twenty minutes.  Joanna spent much of the time sipping a cup of hot coffee and studying the machine’s controls.  While she and Bill discussed how the machine handled Daniel looked down at the water through his binoculars.

They crossed the channel lying between Kingston and Wolfe Island.  They then followed the island’s western coast south.  Reaching the great curved bite of Sandy Beach, the machine followed the promontory. Bear Point jutted out into Lake Ontario. Beyond it lay Pigeon Island

                Twenty-three minutes after leaving Kingston Daniel sighted the island through his binoculars.  As she looked through Daniel’s binoculars she thought of Pitcairn. Both islands were ovals. As with Pitcairn trees fringed the island’s interior. Here however there was no Mount Adams climbing towards the sky. She could not compare the waves splashing against its shore with the surf of the Pacific.

                In the centre of the island she could see the house and its outbuildings. It occurred to her as she looked down at them that something was not right in their location. She glanced towards the shore. There she could see a dock and a boathouse.

                At the southern tip of the island a metal tower rose.

                “The government lighthouse,” said Bill. “Major Bascombe, he tore the old one down. People didn’t like that. Said   it  was historic. Course they weren’t going to pay to help him keep it up.”

                “What do you know of Eloise Miller?” asked Joanna her thoughts still with the house.

                “Elsie?  Quite a character that lady. Never met her myself but she had quite a reputation that lady.”

                “How so,” asked Daniel looking up from the island.

                Bill shrugged. “I don’t mean that she played around or anything. Just her being out here alone all those years.

Didn’t ever come back to the mainland except to buy supplies. Now the major; he was just the opposite. He’d summer on the island for a few weeks but the rest of the time he’d spend in Kingston.

                “You knew the major well,” Joanna asked

                “We shared a few brews down at the legion. A real gentleman, the major.”

                “Why did he give the island up?”

                “Got too old. Going out here just got to be too much for him, I guess.”

                “What do you know of the Foleys?”

                “They got money. That’s all I know. Where do you want me to put it down?”

                Joanna recalled Eileen’s photos. “The Bascombes never travelled anywhere beside the island? Florida for instasnce.”

                “Naw. Pretty much of a homebody, the major.”

Daniel looked down at the island. In the middle of the island rose a red brick farmhouse and a clutch of outbuildings. “Odd the house being so far from the water. Usually it’d be closer. Put us down on the north shore.  Seems to be a clearing there.”

                As the helicopter settled Joanna thought of something Jane had told her many years before the first settlers on Pitcairn being mutineers feared their being found by the royal navy. They had built their homes away from the shore screening them from view.

                The helicopter settled down onto the field. Leaves swirled about its pontoons stirred by the turning of the great blades. Then the blades stopped. The leaves settled. Joanna and Daniel hopped out. Bill took out a beef sandwich and began his wait.

Daniel and Joanna walked towards a wire fence that fringed the field. Dead leaves crunched underneath their feet.

“Strange about the old lighthouse,” said Daniel. “Bascombe being an amateur historian one would think that he would have preserved it. Did you talk with Mrs. Bascombe again?”

“Yes.”

“What do you think of her?”

“She’s sweet.”

“Sweet?”

“She offered me some cocoa and biscuits. We had a delightful chat about Major Bascombe.”

“Interesting.”

“What?”

“She offered Sean some cocoa too.”

Joanna shook her head. “For god’s sake, Daniel. Does the agency think that cocoa is suspicious? What should she have offered? Scotch?”   

Daniel shrugged. “What did you learn about the major?”

“He liked Disney World.”

“Bill said that he never went to Florida.”

“Shows what Bill knows.” Joanna clambered over the fence. “I’ve seen the pictures, Dan.  Mrs. Bascombe  spent hours taking me through them  last night.”

Daniel whistled. “Sam’ll find that interesting.”

A row of birch trees marked the end of the field.  Beyond them sat the red brick farmhouse that had once served as the Bascombes summer home; the same house in which Doctor Foley and his niece would die. Boards covered the windows. The house seemed asleep. Daniel walked up to the porch and opened the screen door.  As he expected, he found the inner door to be locked.

He called back to Joanna. “How long would it take to search a house of this size?”

“Depends on what you’re looking for. You’re not going to force your way in?”

“Force is such an ugly word.” From a coat pocket Daniel took out a small screwdriver. He placed the tip of the blade underneath a board on the window nearest to the door. Within a few minutes he had worked it loose. They looked through the gap to see a darkened room, the furniture draped in dust-covered cloth.

“What do you see,” Daniel asked.

“A house shut up for the winter.”

“Exactly. Now suppose that someone breaks in here.  The owners wouldn’t discover that until next summer.”

Joanna frowned. “Why leave a house unprotected for most of the year?”

“The Foleys probably trust to the house’s isolation. People did leave summer cottages empty for the winter.”

“Any break-ins on record?”

“Just one. Let’s see to the door, shall we?”

  From his wallet Daniel drew out a small red rectangular plastic card, the words Canadian Tire emblazoned on it.  He slipped it between the door and the frame. The lock clicked.

 “Never leave home without one” he smiled, pocketing the card.

He stepped inside followed by Joanna. The living room seemed to have been unoccupied for months. Giving the furnishings only a casual glance Daniel strolled into the kitchen. He looked approvingly at the old-fashioned range, frowned at the microwave and moved on. He did not stop moving until he had given each room a quick look. Joanna followed behind filming with a tiny video camera she had brought in her coat pocket. They were in and out of the house in just under twenty minutes. Left behind were four recording devices no larger than pinheads placed in the two bedrooms, living room and dining room. Daniel closed the door remembering not to lock it.

“What about the other buildings?” Joanna asked.

“Let’s take a stroll,” said Daniel.

They walked down the path that led to the dock.

“The break-in that was recorded,” Joanna asked. “When did that happen?”

“About half-an hour ago. After we get back to Kingston, how do you feel about taking a drive north?”

                                                                                ***

The woman accompanied by a golden labrador, stepped out of the trees onto the low flat rocks that edged the island. She looked up at the tiny receding dot speeding away from the island.  She watched as it vanished. Soon only the lapping of the water against the shore and am occasional bird could be heard. She called to her dog and turned back into the trees.

                                                ***        

North to Daniel meant a small village a hundred kilometres north east of Kingston; Kilmarnock. “The Ancestral home of the Foleys” said Daniel. “At least some of them.”

                Containing a population of eight hundred, the village enjoyed a modicum of fame for having once been the residence of a minor American painter, Paul Jessup. On the north bank of the river in a former hospital; closed due to government cutbacks, could be found the Paul Jessup Art Gallery. Every summer an annual art festival was held in Jessup’s name.

                Although closed for the season Paul persuaded the caretaker, a Peter McKay for a small fee agreed to open the gallery. Joanna and Paul roamed the empty gallery studying the canvases. The two paused before one painting the one considered by many critics to be Jessup’s masterpiece, “Rider Against The Storm.”

                “One of the first American impressionists,” Daniel intoned. “Bit of a mystery why he came up this way. I suppose he just took a liking to the country. Painting is said to be a tribute to the district’s first physician, a Doctor MacTavish. Do you recall the circles, Joanna?”

                “Hmm?”

                “Living at a later time doesn’t always make us better people.” Daniel half-turned as if suspecting they were being overhead.  “Do you know what we are? We have been given this great gift, this ability to transcend space and time and what do we do with it? Spies and voyeurs; that’s all that we are.” He pointed at the painting. “He would have despised us.”

                “Did Sean feel the same way?”

                Daniel smiled. “You knew him better than I. Let’s have a cappuccino, shall we?”

                They stopped at a two-story red brick building, the Royal Arms.

                “Used to be the main hotel here,” said Daniel, “before they invented automobiles and motels.” He led Joanna to a table at the rear of the dining room. “Now, it just scrapes by.”

“Why do you know this place so well?”

“I have a house here. At least I will have. “He ordered two cappuccinos. “I like it here.” He lowered his voice. “It’s all wrong you know.”

“Why are you whispering?”

Daniel picked up his teaspoon. “Suppose I were to drop this on the floor. What possible difference would it make to anyone.”

“Someone would have to pick it up. Are you talking about the butterfly principle?”

“I’m talking about common sense.” He released the spoon. It struck the floor with a soft plop. “We allow thousands to die because of a pair of butterfly wings.”

Joanna bridled. “You’re speaking of the prime directive.”

“I’m speaking of what every agent, mainlander and islander knows is true. The agency is wrong. We can’t   prove it but we know that it’s wrong.  If you see a child playing in the street and you see a car coming towards it wouldn’t you try to save it?”

“We can’t allow ourselves to run through history changing it to suit our feelings.”

“True, and therein lies the paradox. To save humanity we must cease being human. Either that or become something more than what we are now.”

Overhead the strands of the four seasons danced through the air. Daniel began to hum. “I love Vivaldi.”

                  Joanna sipped her cappuccino. “Did Sean ever discuss this with you?”

                “Every agent I know has discussed it with me.”

                “Have you discussed this with Delisle?”

                “If I had, do you think that I would be here?”

                Joanna looked down at the steam curling out of her mug. “I won’t believe that Sean would betray the agency. It was his life.”

                Daniel reached out and touched her right hand. She looked up to see him smiling.

                “You were his Joanna. The agency was his work.” Daniel drew back his hand. “Sometimes we have to decide what our life should mean. Perhaps Sean reached that moment. I don’t know. The possibility remains that he could have been taken against his will.”

                “You don’t believe that do you?”

                “To be honest Joanna?  No. Joanna you’re a fellow agent. More than that, you’re a friend. What I’m about to say, you never heard it from me.”

                “I understand.”

                “I think there will be a great many more Seans.”

“You mean he did defect?”

“Time is a big place. We have what, a hundred and twenty agents?”

“They’ll keep looking for him.”

“Where? He could be anywhere. Assuming that he’s still in this era, he has all of North America to disappear into. If he’s secured a passport … Daniel shrugged. “That’s assuming…”

“What?”

“That he’s on this timeline.”

“But he has to be. There’s only one.”

“You had better hope so. If he’s not, you’ll never find him. Assuming that there is another timeline, for argument’s sake, there are two reasons to explain how he might have escaped. The first is that Foley had another portal   If he could build one he could always build another. The second is even simpler.”

“Which is?”

“Every generation after us knows about time travel.”

“They also know about the prime directive.”

“Our prime directive.  Doesn’t mean it’s theirs. We always insist upon imposing our beliefs upon those of other times. To travellers of the distant future the prime directive might well be an antiquated notion.”

“Assuming, for the sake of argument, that what you say is true, why would they want Sean? Why not use their own people.”

Daniel shrugged. “They must have their reasons.”

“That’s not good enough Daniel. Even if Sean had wanted to leave the agency I can’t believe that he would  have wanted to leave me.”

“No man would, Joanna.”

Joanna leaned over and kissed his right cheek. “You are a gentleman, Daniel.”

                                                                                ***

Mrs. Bascombe invited her downstairs for a cup of cocoa. “Did you enjoy your outing dear? Tell me all about it.”

They chatted about Kilmarnock and about Florida. As Mrs. Bascombe turned to slice a slab of marble cake, Joanna dabbed a finger into her cocoa.  She smeared it onto her pants.

                                                                                ***

The children poured out of the school bus. Joanna knelt beside her bicycle apparently examining her chain. The camera in her bag captured the stream of youngsters hurrying into the school. The Foley children, Matthew and Susan, were the last to leave the bus. The bespectacled tousle-haired six-year-old and his five-year-old sister held hands as they entered their school their Garfield bags strapped upon their shoulders.

Once the children had disappeared, Joanna pedalled away.  She would join Daniel in the public library at ten am at the Ian Wilson Room, the local history section.  She parked her bicycle in front of the pale red Mediterranean Villa style building and walked through the main entrance. Having found the room but not Daniel she asked the reference historian      for any materials related to Pigeon Island. The woman brought her three books.

Joanna picked up the first volume, Byways of Upper Canada. A thin, soft-covered book it had first been printed in 1866.                Written by a Mrs. Samuel L. Davies it concerned her ramblings through the southern Great Lakes. Joanna   found a brief reference to Pigeon Island on page 83. On a steamer from Kingston to Oswego Mrs. Davies had glimpsed the island.   

A low-lying shoal covered in birch and pine it has one solitary inhabitant. In return for tending the light Mister Samuel Benton receives a small stipend. He has lived upon this island for thirteen years. His only visitor is a supply boat that comes twice a month from April through to October. Fort the rest of the year he is the unchallenged emperor of Pigeon Island. He has neither wife nor child and appears to not be in want of either. Captain Johnson tells me from what he has heard from the master and crew of the supply vessel that Samuel Benton is as cheerful; and as sane as any other man. Perhaps so but can any mortal creature voluntarily imprison itself upon such a rock without the loneliness taking its toll? I fear not.

Smith’s Gazetteer of 1847 gave a brief description of the island and stated its population, one.  Under the Bascombes and the Foleys the island had undergone a population boom. What had driven these men and one woman to live such lonely lives? Pictcairn for all its isolation had families, a society.

“You look busy. Anything interesting?”

Joanna looked up at Daniel. “Not much. According to the records in the registry office, the early history of the island seems to follow the pattern of an owner leaving it to the next for a dollar, a trail of hermits leaving it to other hermits. Why?”

Daniel settled himself into a blue armchair. “Hermits like other hermits.”

“Nothing very hermitic about the Bascombes.”

“Your problem Joanna is that you grew up on an island.” Daniel took out a larger folded sheet of paper from out of his briefcase. “Most people think that islands are rather romantic places, a place to escape from the banalities of life. The Bascombes and the Foleys probably saw it that way.”

“It didn’t look very romantic to me.”

“No accounting for individual taste.” He spread out the paper across the table to reveal a satellite photograph of the island.

As Joanna looked at the small clump of buildings surrounded by fields and trees she once more recalled Jane’s stories.

“Banyan trees.”

Daniel looked up. “What?”

“The first settlers on Pitcairn stayed away from the shore. They surrounded houses with banyan trees so as not to be seen from the sea. They didn’t want visitors.” She placed a finger upon the house. “Neither did the builder of this house.”

 “Yes, but people know there’s a house there.”

“Do they? How many people know about this? How many people actually go there? This island is empty for almost the entire year. In the summer one family goes there. In a hundred years less than a dozen people have lived on this island. There’s something wrong about that place. Sean knew that.”

Daniel sat back in his chair.  “Assuming that there’s something in what you say, where’s the proof? We’ve been there. It’s just a house. There are no secret doors or passageways. No dungeons. It’s just a house.”

“What about the other buildings?”

“What about them? An automatic beacon, A boathouse, A barn and a shed. “

”The government built the beacon. Eloise built the boathouse. Who built the barn and the shed?”

“They were erected before the war. Probably Eloise.”

“Why would she build them?”

“Why would anybody build a barn?”

“To farm. Who farmed the land?  The Bascombes didn’t.”

“So Eloise kept a cow or two. So what?”

“Do we have proof of that? Bills of sale? That sort of thing?”

“Mrs. Bascombe might.”

“Suppose that there never were any animals, that the land was never farmed.”

“What would the barn be for?”

“To create an impression.”

Daniel shook his head. “You’re stretching.  Fifty years before this time most people were farmers. No reason to think that Eloise was any different.”

“Maybe not but it wouldn’t hurt to camp out on the island for a week or two, perhaps during Eloise’s time.”

“Maybe. We’d have to clear it with Sam.”

“Those trees, when do you think they were planted?”

“Maybe they weren’t planted at all. Maybe they were just left there.”

Joanna studied the map. “We’ve come at the wrong time Daniel. Sean knew about the island. That’s why they took him.”

                                                                                ***

They walked down the red brick ramp to the parking lot at the side of the building. In a spot close to the street sat a black Toyota van. A New York State Licence plate had been fastened to the back.

“Very inconspicuous, Daniel.”

“You can put your bike in the back.”  Daniel looked up at the darkening sky. “Looks like rain.”

“Why the American plates?”

“Canadians always blame everything upon the Americans. I’m just making it easier for them. Don’t look shocked. I didn’t steal them. I had them made up in Adamstown. “

They parked on Dickens Lane across the street from the Foley home. Outside the van a cold rain drizzled.

“I still think we should have used the bicycles,” said Joanna.

Daniel opened a thermos. “Fine. Freeze. Coffee?”

At twenty minutes after eleven a dark-skinned woman left the Foley house. Maria Rodriguez, the Guatemalan maid had started on her daily shopping trip. Wheeling a metal trolley the short stout woman walked to the bus stop at the corner of the street. Only after she had boarded and the buys had pulled away did Joanna and Daniel leave the van.

                                                                ***

Joanna had never liked amateur videos. Bad acting. Bad editing. The one she was watching for all its historical importance numbed her with its tediousness. The Foley children had returned home as quiet as when they had left. Maria had served them milk and cookies and had planted them in front of the television. They were watching a black cartoon cat chasing a yellow cartoon bird. Silently they stared at the screen, Mathew hugging a stuffed black dog, Susan a brown kangaroo. 

“Can’t we run this ahead,” asked Joanna looking up from the laptop.

Daniel continued to look at the screen. His fingers tapped the steering wheel of the van. “What does a seven-year-old do when watching a cartoon?”

“Do I get a prize?”

“I’m serious.”

“He laughs?”

“Exactly. Look at them. They’re glued to the set but I can’t see a trace of enjoyment. I don’t understand it.”

“Maybe they don’t like the cartoon?”

“All they have to do is change the channel.”

The adventures of the cat and bird continued. The children remained with the same serious expressions.

“I don’t like this,” muttered Daniel. “Run it ahead.”

The scenes ran past in a blur

“Stop,” said Daniel.

The picture settled.  Maria flicked off the television and shooed the children out of the living room.

“Switch it to Mathew’s bedroom.”

They could see the future Nobel Prize winner sitting on the floor of his room bent over a storybook.

“He always was a serious scholar,” said Joanna.

Daniel grunted. “Susan’s room.”

Susan sat on the floor. She ignored the storybook that lay beside her.  Instead she combed the hair of her Barbie doll. The combing became a yanking. Then she smacked the doll on the head with her comb. “Bad girl” she said.  Over and over she said it hitting the doll with each word. From somewhere in the house came the sound of a door opening. Susan returned the doll to its place commanding it to be a good girl. Picking up her book and comb and putting them into their proper places, she ran out of the room.

Cursing Daniel switched to the living room. A woman’s voice could be heard but it was not Maria’s.

“Helen Foley” said Joanna. She considered what the agency knew of John and Helen Foley. Documentation they possessed in abundance. Videos and photographs had all been analysed. Yet for all the visual information they remained an unknown part of Mathew Foley’s life. Killed four months after this day in a car crash they had been rarely referred to by Mathew.  Most, including Joanna theorised that their loss was so painful to him that he had sealed off their memories. Helen Foley worked as a paediatrician.  David Foley was an accomplished and reputable surgeon.   Intelligent, sophisticated, they were all that parents of a great genius should be but up to now no one in the agency had glimpsed them as actual living human beings.

  Joanna and Daniel watched as little Susan stepped down the stairs. She halted on the bottom step, her eyes glued to the carpet her right hand still clinging to the railing. In front of her stood Mathew.

Helen stepped towards her children. A slim petite brunette dressed in a two piece suit of blue and black high heels. She held a glass of liquor in one hand and waved at the children with her left.

“Run along kids. Let mommy rest.”

The children turned and climbed back up the stairs.

Helen settled down on the sofa and picking up the remote flicked on the television. She frowned in distaste at the cartoon and flicked through the channels until she found a stout black woman speaking.  Satisfied she settled back and sipped her drink. Daniel switched to the children’s rooms.  Mathew had submerged himself in his book. Susan had resumed combing her doll’s hair.

The children ate their supper with Maria, Helen spending her time in front of the computer studying journals, and sipping at her glass. She had told Maria that she would dine with her husband.  She was still looking at the screen, playing Solitaire when John arrived at a quarter after ten.

“Aren’t you coming to bed?”

Helen did not look away from the screen. “Why?”

David muttered a curse and walked away

                                                                                ***

Daniel sat up in bed and glanced at the radio alarm. The radio showed the time to be Three-thirty in the afternoon. He could feel Joanna turning over beside him. He should be ashamed he told himself; a married man committing adultery. He and Joanna had gone back to his hotel room to view the Foley tapes. As they had watched they had sipped wine and had shared what they knew of the Foley family. Then they had found themselves in each other’s arms. He did not feel ashamed. His wife had not even been born yet. How does one cheat on a non-existent partner? The agency would not care as long as it did not conflict with their work. Pure animal pleasure. Nothing more. They would be at it again before leaving the room. Their act had been as much a memory of times past as a matter of lust. But love? No. Not that Not even when kneeling behind her feeling himself surging inside her had he considered himself to be in love with Joanna.  

Neither conscience nor lust had stirred him out of sleep. The memory of little Susan Foley sitting in her room beating her doll had never left him. Even in the midst of lovemaking he could still see her.  Diagnosed at fourteen as a self-destructive paranoid schizophrenic. A prostitute and heroin addict at sixteen, dead at thirty, her slashed body found in a Dumpster; that future hovered above the little girl.

He rose and walked across the room to the bathroom. As he urinated he decided that he would finish viewing the tapes. They would have dinner and consider their plans for the next day.

He sat back down on the bed and flicked on the holoviewer. They had stopped viewing at eleven–thirty at night, after David Foley had finished watching a news program. He was the last to retire. Daniel pressed fast forward. At one-thirty John rose from his bed. Daniel put the tape at normal speed expecting to see nothing more than John using the bathroom. He lay back against Joanna nuzzling her breasts, watching the tape with half an eye. Then he sat up.

David stepped into Susan’s room and turned on the light.

Joanna disturbed by Daniel’s sudden movement, looked towards him to see Daniel looking at the wall opposite the bed. She turned to see a nude David Foley leaning over his daughter. 

                                                                                ***

Sam requested a meeting with Delisle to discuss the Mulcahy case. Delilsle agreed to meet with Sam, Joanna and Daniel.

Joanna and Daniel outlined what they had found concerning the Bascombes and Pigeon Island. Delisle listened as Sam suggested a second visit to Pigeon Island by Joanna and Daniel, this time about 1930, to investigate Eloise Miller.

He nodded and said that it might be feasible.

“We’ll schedule it for tomorrow. Just a short one. Plant a few bugs and see what they bring. If they prove productive we can always go back for a longer trip. Let’s say nine o’clock tomorrow morning.” He picked up his electronic stylus and noted the trip on his monitor.  The computer beeped in acknowledgement.

Joanna looked at Daniel. Daniel shrugged. It would do for a start.

“There is another matter, sir;” said Sam.”

“Yes?”

“It concerns Susan Foley. We’ve come across some information,” Sam coughed. “It explains a great deal about what happened to Susan Foley. Would you care to see it?”

“Of course.”

Susan’s bedroom flickered into view.

                                                                                ***

“Enough.” Delisle sat back in his chair, his face covered by his right hand. The hologram flickered off.  He sat forward and clasped his hands. “You will of course continue with your investigation of Agent Mulcahey’s disappearance but this…this ends here.”

Sam, Joanna and Daniel looked at one another. They had agreed that Sam would act as spokesman.

“Sir, we feel that the proper authorities of the time should be notified.”

“Do you? Were they?”

“We have no evidence that they were.”

“Then there’s no more to be said. There’s nothing we can do.”

Joanna knew that she should keep silent but she could not. “So we let….”

Delisle granted her a gentle smile. “If she were on a train going to Auschwitz would you stop the train and take her off? You all know that. It is our job to protect the past, all of it; the bad as well as the good.  Now no more…please.”

The three filed out.

***

“That was a bit of a risk,” said Joanna. She handed Daniel a glass of wine. “If Delisle should ever find out…”

“I’m more worried about Sam. He has farther to fall.”

“He’ll bob through. Sam’s a survivor.”

“We’re all survive until we’re dead.  Anyway he’ll be retiring in a couple of months. What can Delisle do?”

“Demand his resignation. Take away his pension.”

“Not likely. They’d want to settle it quietly.  You’re off to see Richard, are you?”

“Yes. I’ll see you in Kingston tomorrow. Try to get some rest.”

                                                                                ***

The tube had been detached. The plastic sheeting still remained around his bed but at least her son seemed more of a child and less of a scientific experiment. Tomorrow the sheet would be removed and he would be awakened. What would she tell him? How would she tell him?

                                                                                ***

Helen was asleep. Drunken bitch. He could still smell the scotch on her breath. She had fallen into bed and rolling away from him and fallen asleep. At least she had not had stayed up to nag him about staying behind in the office with Susan DeJong.  So they were balling one another. A man had to get relief somewhere. Once he had his divorce but right now with the housing market being what it is and Helen would make a fuss about the kids. Probably in the spring…. He slipped out from under his covers and pulled on his slippers. He tiptoed out of his room and down the hall to Susan’s room.  He had considered Maria. Maria was good and safe. She was too afraid of being sent back to Guatemala to ever say anything but there was something so sweet about Susan.

     He opened the door to Susan’s room. The light switched on. Blinded, David could only assume that Susan had been awakened and had turned it on. “It’s alright baby.  It’s only Daddy.”

A finger tapped his shoulder. He turned to see a man’s bearded face smiling at him.

“Confusing, isn’t it?” said the man.

“Who…”

The stranger’s right hand yanked him around to face Susan’s bed. Foley could see his daughter lying in bed. He could also see himself sitting next to her.

“Please” he could hear himself babbling. “I’ll give you money. Anything. Just don’t hurt me.”

“And deprive your daughter of her loving father? I think not. Watch and enjoy.” The fingers pressed deeper into his shoulder. Foley closed his eyes and whimpered. 

“So you want a copy for your private collection doctor? I can make you one. I’ve already made copies for the police, Children’s Aid, the Hospital’s Board of Governor’s.”

“Please.”

“Lay a finger on her again, I’ll release those tapes. Understand?”

“Yes.”

The hand released him. The light flicked off. Foley found himself standing alone in the darkened hallway.

                                                                                ***

Delisle frowned. An unaccounted power surge had occurred at seven in the morning. The surge had been identical to that emitted by the portal when in use. No operation had been scheduled for that time in the morning. His engineers were double-checking their systems.  Security reported that Director Habib had checked into the portal room with Agent Bishop.  Delisle would not take any action until he had received a final report.  However he had made contingency plans. An unwarranted use of the portal might well be the means by which he could guide the agency back towards a truer understanding of its purpose.

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Filed under Fiction, Islands, Science Fiction

Islands in Time: Chapter Four

The House of the Glass Harp

The restaurant sat in the centre of Wolfe Island’s only village, Marysville, at the junction of highways ninety-five and ninety-six.  It drew life from the stream of trucks and cars flowing past to board the ferry for Kingston or disembarking, going south to Cape Vincent and the American border. Now, in October, that stream had dried to a trickle.   Shirley sat beside the cash register in an empty dining room.  Chewing a wad of Bubblicious, she stared at the National Enquirer. Her eyes focussed on a picture of Princess Di in a skimpy bikini frolicking on a West Indian beach.  The door opened. She looked up to see a tall, tanned woman in a yellow slicker.

“Good morning,” said the woman.

Shirley flicked her eyelashes. Fucking Brit. She glanced at a bicycle leaning against the window. Shirley frowned. She knew the type, a money-scrimping tourist that preferred off-season rates. She had no hope of a tip from the likes of her.

The woman slid her knapsack off and placed it on the floor beside a round Formica table. She sat in the chair and unzipped the bag. When Shirley came over with her pad the woman smiled and gave her order.

“A pot of tea and some buttered toast.” As a daughter of the agency Joanna remembered accounting. “Could I have a receipt please?”

Shirley nodded, rolling her eyes as she slumped back to the counter.  The woman lost herself in a street map of Kingston.  She did not look up when Shirley brought her order.  Shirley paused her chewing long enough to tell her that it would be three dollars and fifty cents including G.S.T. Paid, she granted the woman a perfunctory smile and sank back into her tabloid. Snob, she grumbled, as she picked up the paper.

Joanna tasted her tea. The blandness repelled her.  The agency might have its faults.   Bad taste in food was not one of them.  However the tea did help to warm her.  Pitcairn had its chilly nights but nothing like this.  The fifteen-minute walk out of the field where she had landed and the pedal down the road had left her chilled. She pressed her hands against the warm sides of the mug.

“What time does the ferry leave,” she asked.

“In about twenty minutes.”

Joanna studied her map. On it she had marked two places. The first was the Hotel Dieu at Brock Street. Two of the doctors on staff were David and Janice Foley, parents of the future Doctor Matthew Foley. Six blocks away from the hospital she had marked the second place. The Glass Harp was a combination of used bookstore and bed and breakfast. Sean had been staying there when he had disappeared.  Once the ferry arrived she would unlock her bicycle and pedal towards the boat. She liked the bicycle. A five-speed Raleigh, it required a minimum of maintenance all of which she could do by herself. No special skill had been required to master it. Best of all, no ownership or registration papers were required. For a city the size of Kingston, it should serve her well.

                She had chosen the bicycle for one other reason. Sean had used one. With it Joanna could recreate Sean’s route, from the same field where he had landed to the same boarding house.  She would mimic his actions in the hope that she would notice something or someone that would help her to understand the cause of Sean’s disappearance.  To keep the same thing from happening to her Sam had wanted to post an agent at the Howard Johnson, the hotel closest to the Glass Harp. Two agents however, posted attention would draw attention. Best to let her proceed alone.

                As Joanna finished her toast she thought of the child sealed behind plexiglass in the isolation ward of Adamstown hospital.   Doctors would probe him for infectious microbes.   They would also protect him from anything in the air of Pitcairn that might prove harmful. The tests completed she would take her new son to live in Jane’s house in the Flatlands.  One week of Kingston time and she would be back in Pitcairn. Twenty minutes would have passed there. She would have debriefings followed by lunch with Sam and Susan. After that she would go and see her new son.  Jane would serve her supper and then she would fall into bed.  Sometime in the night she would turn and reach out to find an empty space.  Where are you, Sean?  She refilled her teacup.

Best now to relax.  She would have to find out the child’s name.  That could prove awkward not knowing his name.  A goddess should know such things.  How long would it take for the boy to realise that she was very far from being divine?

Joanna pedalled down to the dock.  She could see the white outline of the ferry pushing aside the scraps of morning fog.  With a soft chug the engines stopped and the boat lowered a black ramp.  A yellow school bus rumbled onto the road. Joanna trailed behind, the buses’ exhaust wrapping her in a grey mist.   Young faces peered down at her from the window, faces lined with age when she was born.

She walked on board, pushing her bike, remembering the boy’s fingers clinging to her.  Shahat. He had screamed it again and again. What had it meant?  Had it been his name for her?  She had placed a hand upon his forehead. He had quieted and had slipped into a deep sleep.  As she leaned her biker against the wall of the passenger cabin she could not keep from thinking that somehow she had betrayed him.

She pulled upon a heavy grey door and stepped into the cabin. She glanced at the empty wooden benches and past them at a red arrow painted upon the wall. It pointed up towards the upper deck. Joanna climbed the narrow stairs until she emerged on the upper deck.  She leaned over the railing and watched the ferry slide into the channel.

A cold wind blew from the west.  As Joanna looked out over the ruffled waters she thought of Pitcairn.  Once again she stood upon the island’s cliffs, the wind brushing past her.  There the wind had helped to hold her to the island. Here it seemed to push her towards a new land. Had that same wind drawn Sean away?

She shook her head. It would not have been here.  If he had wanted to slip away unnoticed, this would be the wrong era.  This was an age that had demanded documentation. How could he hope to find employment without school records?  He would need some proof of a past life.  Fabrication of such proof would have aroused the agency’s suspicions.  If Sean had wanted to disappear he would have chosen late twentieth-century North America. So where was he?  She looked down at the dark-green water.  A small ledge ran along the side of the ship’s hull. On it lay dozens of coins. People in this era often tossed small coins away when they made a wish. She smiled, reached into a pocket and dropped a penny.

***

As she pedalled up King Street, Joanna considered Mrs. Bascombe.  The owner of the Glass Harp would be the starting point in her search for Sean. Even the agency admitted that any involvement by Mrs. Bascombe in Sean’s disappearance seemed at best a feeble possibility.  The woman’s life mirrored that of millions of others of her time.  Born Eileen Forbes in Cheltenham England in the nineteen-twenties she had met and had married Mister Bascombe during the war.  An officer in the Canadian army,  Mister Bascombe had also been an avid bibliophile.  Until he died of a brain tumour in 1985 the couple seemed to have lived a happy life. Never having had any children their bookstore had become their life. In Ninety- ninety-six Mrs. Bascombe would die from pneumonia. Decent ordinary people the Bascombes had lived decent ordinary lives.

                The house stood separated from the street by a large plot of grass and a black iron fence. A Victorian Gothic monstrosity it snubbed the present age of computers, plastic and plate glass.  Gold Leaf letters glittered on the window that faced the street.  The Glass Harp: Rare Books Bought and Sold. Underneath in small letters of sombre black. Bed and Breakfast.  Pedestrians and cars hustled past ignoring both signs.

Three ancient leather-bound volumes had been mounted behind the window.  The Book of the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres by Nicolas Copernicus held the centre.  To its right stood the Mort D’Artur by Mallory and to Copernicus’s left In Praise of Folly by Erasmus.  Historical works Joanna thought but not titles designed to lure late twentieth century customers especially considering that all three had been printed in Latin.  She could see no brightly-coloured paperbacks, no cook books, nothing related to entertainment or sport.  The display would do more to drive away customers than to attract the. She wondered, was that its purpose to drive away people?

A heavy door of sombre black opened unto a small lobby. The lobby divided into two passageways.  One led up a steep flight of narrow stairs. The other led into the store.  A small bell tinkled as she stepped across the doorway. No browsing in this store, Joanna thought. A high counter ran the entire length of the room dividing the customers from the books. In front of the counter stood an elderly gentleman.A blue toque covered his head. He looked through the volume with the assistance of an elderly woman that Joanna surmised was Mrs. Bascombe. Her absorption with her customer left Joanna feeling somewhat embarrassed,. Reluctant to intrude she stood off to one side.  Above the counter she noticed a photograph of a serious bespectacled young man in a military uniform

The old man tucked the volume he had been examining under his arm and left.  He bowed at Joanna as she left giving her a paternal smile. Joanna had not noticed any money being exchanged between the man and the woman. Perhaps the man had paid for the volume when he had ordered it.

“May I help you,” Mrs. Bascombe asked.

“I’m looking for a room.”

The old woman nodded. Plump, white-haired and wearing a faded dress she seemed as antiquated as her store.

“You have a nice shop here,” Joanna murmured, hoping that she did not sound too insincere.

Instead of replying with the customary thank you; she peered up at Joanna from behind her gold-framed spectacles. “Do I? I would have thought that you found it all very dull. Most young people do. Would you care to see the room Miss . . .”

 “Edwards, Judith Edwards.”

Mrs. Bascombe led her up the narrow stairs, describing the rent as she went.  “Thirty dollars a night including breakfast.  There’s a bath at the end of the hall, Miss Edwards. In the summer I keep a small dining room for the guests but as there’s only yourself you’ll have to eat out.  I allow no cooking in the rooms.”

“You have no other lodgers?”

“Not just now. I had an Irish gentleman last week; a very nice man.  I don’t get very many guests this time of year.”

“He stayed in this room?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Bascombe opened the door of room one.  Joanna stepped inside.  The room seemed comfortable.  A thick green floor mat lay beside a large brass bed.  The nightstand boasted a modern touch tone phone.  Flowered curtains covered the window.  A cheap print of Constable’s The Hay Wain hung on the wall behind the bed.  The ways had been painted a lilac green.  Beside the window was a large easy hair. Joanna saw neither radio nor television.  Parting the curtains she could look down into Mrs. Bascombe’s garden.   As she studied the oak tree Mrs. Bascombe recited the house rules.

“No visitors after twelve. No laundry.  No pets. No long distance calls. I serve breakfast no later than nine.”

Sean had stayed in Room One. “It seems very nice,” said Joanna. She sat on the edge of the bed. “Could I have it for a week?”

“You’ll have to pay in advance.”

“Of course.” Joanna opened up her purse and drew out three fifties. The money was quite genuine dating to this period.

“I’ll bring you up a receipt,” said Mrs. Bascombe pocketing the money. “You’ll probably want to wash up. There are clean towels in the bath. Is there anything else that you need?”

“Could you bring me yesterday’s newspaper, please?”

“Of course.” Mrs. Bascombe hesitated afraid that she ran the risk of being impolite. “You’re not English, are you?”

“New Zealander.”

“You’re a long way from home, Miss Edwards.”

“Yes.”

“I’ll bring you the paper. Would you care to join me for a cup of cocoa after your bath?”

“That would be very kind. Thank you.”

Joanna lay in the tub allowing the hot water to seep into her skin. As the chill of the morning oozed out of her she leaned her head back against the end of the tub. As she tapped the faucet with her toes Joanna thought about what she would do for the rest of the day.  She would reread Sean’s notes. She would then visit the city library.  Later in the afternoon she would make a pilgrimage to the parental home of Doctor Foley.  From the floor below she could hear the strains of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro played upon traditional instruments. Joanna closed her eyes and allowed the music to lead her towards sleep.

Naked, Joanna sat on the bed, her laptop in front of her.  As she dried her hair she read her notes. Her notebook resembled a twentieth-century lap top computer but contained certain features lacking in models of this era.  Joanna’s favourite was the three-dimensional holographic viewer. During the day however she used only the screen. If Mrs. Bascombe should peep in she would see nothing out of the ordinary.

A rotating holographic image of an island swam in front of her. Pigeon Island, owned by the Foley family, it lay off the south-western tip of Wolfe Island just inside Canadian waters. On Pigeon Island Doctor Foley and his niece had died.  Sam had mentioned Sean’s intention to take pictures of the island. The Foleys had used the island as a summer home. For the rest of the year the island was left to the deer, rabbits and the birds. Sean might have wanted to unearth a little-known part of the doctor’s childhood.

Joanna had locked her bicycle to the fence in front of the Glass Harp. She slipped a small brass key into the lock.  As she walked it down the sidewalk, a man in a blue sweater with a large white Maple Leaf on it and a Blue Jays baseball cap passed her.  The man stopped at the corner.  As he had a green light Joanna glanced at him wondering why he had stopped. Perhaps he was lost.  As she pedalled by him, the man, still eyeing the green light, threw her a good morning. This she would not have considered odd except that the words had been spoken in classical Sumerian.  

She looked back at him as a result of which she came close to colliding with the curb. Braking her bike she waited for him to catch up.  She peered at the man, struggling to identify him as he pedalled towards her.

“Excuse me sir? Do I know you?”

“Daniel.”

“Daniel?”

“From Kish.”

“Oh my god. Daniel Bishop.”

The man made a rueful smile. “Do I look that bad?”

In Sumeria she had known Daniel as a twenty-eight year old. A mainlander Daniel had retired to a teaching position in his native Toronto. She had been two years younger than he had been.

“No. Of course not. What are you doing here?”

“Let’s get a cup of coffee.”

Bemused Joanna allowed the man to take the lead following him down the street. He stopped into front of a square yellowish building.

Joanna looked up at the sign. “Tim Horton?”

Daniel smiled. “A quintessential Canadian experience. Doughnuts and ice hockey,”

Daniel ordered two black coffees and two crullers.  Having paid he pocketed his receipt. “Make certain you get a receipt for everything” he told Joanna. “The agency’s become a lot stricter since the new cutbacks.”  Once he had received his order he led Joanna to a table.  He chose a table in the rear of the room as far from the window as possible.

“So you’ve settled in alright?” he asked once they were seated. He pulled off his cap to reveal a scalp barren of all but a few white wisps of hair.

“What are you doing here?” Joanna asked ignoring the coffee.

“Been helping to research Foley’s life.  Sam thought that you might need a friend.”

“You were with Sean?”

Daniel smiled. “Time is a very relative concept, don’t you think?” He reached out and touched her hand. “You look so young.”

  Joanna pulled her hand away.

Daniel stirred his coffee. “Seventeen years there. Sixteen years on this timeline. It adds up. Still, no regrets. “

     “You’re not answering my question.”

Daniel finished stirring his coffee and tasted it. “Yes.  I was with Sean. “

”Sam didn’t mention you.”

“No. He wouldn’t have. Sam is not the most truthful of men. Not his fault. It’s just that in his position truth, like time, becomes highly relative. Tell me, do you like Mrs. Bascombe?”

“She seems very old-fashioned.”

“Well, everyone here is.”

“What I mean is, compared to others here . . . “

”Yes. I know what you mean.  Have you considered why Sean would have chosen to stay there?”

“It’s clean, close to downtown, cheap. Why shouldn’t he have chosen to stay there?”

“He didn’t choose it. Sam chose it for him.”

“Sam ordered him to stay there?”

“Yes.”

“But Sam would have . . . “

”Told you? Everything is on a strictly need to know basis with Sam.  Let me show you something.”

Daniel took a clear plastic Bic pen from out of a coat pocket. With it he drew some circles

 on a napkin. Finished, he pushed the napkin towards Joanna. “So tell me, which is the true circle?”

Puzzled, Joanna frowned. “They’re all the same.”

“Exactly. Drink your coffee.”

Puzzled Joanna sipped from the styrofoam cup.  Daniel had become somewhat odd. It happened if an agent spent too much time in the past.

Daniel pulled out a large piece of paper and placed it in front of Joanna. “I photocopied this from the registry office. Place looks like a damn morgue. It’s taken from a register, concerns the ownership of an island, Pigeon Island.”

“Sean was planning to go there. The Foleys summer home.”

“Look at the date of transfer of ownership.”

“Thirty-first of March, 1985.  So?”

“Transferred for the consideration of one dollar to Doctor David Foley from . . .”

Daniel placed a finger below a highlighted name.  Joanna read it.

“Thomas Bascombe. Major Bascombe?”

“Interesting, don’t you think? It gets even more interesting.” Daniel placed his finger on another group of highlighted words, an inch above David Foley.  “The major received the island in 1946, for consideration of one dollar, from a Miss Eloise Miller, spinster.” He moved his finger up. “Miss Miller received the island from a Mister Jeremiah MacAllister in 1903, again for consideration of one dollar.

I’ve followed this trail all the way back to a Nathaniel Benton.   He received the island from the crown for

 ten shillings in 1788. One of the conditions of ownership was that he and his descendants would maintain a lighthouse.”

“That’s interesting but how does that concern Doctor Foley and Sean?’

“I don’t really know,” admitted Daniel taking a bite out of his cruller. “I do know that Sean thought that it was important. It does prove that a relationship existed between the Bascombes and the Foleys.  It also means one other thing.”

“What?”

“Tomorrow morning at eight we’ll be taking a helicopter over there. Somewhat primitive compared to your copters but you should find it interesting.”

Joanna thought of the cost. “Accounting won’t like that.”

Daniel smiled. “All in the line of duty.”

Joanna spent the early afternoon with Daniel. As they finished their coffee he had gone over what he had learn about the Foley family, about the Bascombes, and about Kingston.  They pedalled up Johnson Street to the Foley home at Dicken’s Lane. Located in the west end of the city, Dicken’s lane, a short, residential street was considered one of the finest locations in the city. With the children at school and the Foleys at work, only a Guatemalan maid occupied the large two-story brick house.  The agents stood outside taking pictures and discussed the neighbourhood.  They biked down the street to the public school where the Foley children were enrolled.  There they took more pictures.

“We’re thinking of doing a holo based upon Susan’s life,” Daniel told Joanna. “A tragic tale of a young genius blighted and destroyed by the memory of a family tragedy. We sell that to the networks, it should cover the expenses.  Now, off to the library.  Research time.”

The pedal back down Brock Street left Joanna feeling drained. Time travellers were just as prone to jet lag as were temporal ones. Daniel advised her to sleep.  He would meet her at six for supper at the Ramada Inn.

Joanna dreamed of Sean. They flew together somewhere over an ocean. As the copter sped towards an unbroken horizon, Sean and she lay on the rear seat making love. She murmured to him guiding him into her. The buzzer on her watch shook her awake.

Daniel tried to be charming.  Perhaps he was. Joanna admitted to herself that she never noticed. Her thoughts remained with Sean. As she picked at her ice cream Joanna decided that she should ask Daniel what might have happened to Sean. Once, years before during the Sargon years, Joanna had invited Daniel into her bed. Daniel had never quite given up hoping that Joanna would ask him again.  The urgency in her voice convinced him that she never would not so long as she believed that Sean might be alive somewhere.

He patted her hand. “We think, at least Sam and I think, that Sean found out something about Foley’s life that the others want to keep us from knowing.”

“Others?”

Daniel drew his hand allowing it to fall onto his lap. “It’s always been understood by the agency and by most knowledgeable outsiders that sometime in the future someone would want to interfere with the timeline.  The Sargon anomaly proved that.”

“Did it?”

“As far as the agency is concerned it did.”

Joanna thought for a moment.  “Sam used the word “defect”. You don’t seriously believe that Sean.

… ?”

Daniel patted her hand. “We, at least Sam and I think that Sean found out something about Foley’s life something that the others want us to keep from finding.”

                “Others?”

                “Time is a sea that stretches on forever. We are just splashing about in the shallows. A hundred years from now, a thousand, ten thousand who knows what we will be capable of. Anyway, for want of a better word we called these projected travellers futurists. The agency believes that the Bascombes may be two of them.”

                “That’s ridiculous. Major Bascombe died two years ago from a brain tumour, a disease treatable in our own time. Don’t you think these futurists could do just as well? Did Sean believe this?”

                “He believed that the Bascombes, the Foleys and the island were all bound together. There’s little question that the island was important to Foley. He spent the last decade of his life there. He died there.  To understand him we have to understand the island.” He handed her a diskette.  “That’s all the information that we’ve assembled on the island.  Study it tonight. I’ll pick you up at seven. We’ll splurge on a cab.”

                “Where are we going?”

                “To the island. Do you remember the circles?”

                “The circles?” She remembered the napkin in her pocket. “Yes.”

                “They’re all the same.”

                                                                                                ***

                The island hovered a few centimetres above the bed. Joanna looked down at it. She studied its oval shape, its flat surface, its trees. Most of all she studied the buildings at the centre of the island. Using her pointer she drew a red square around the buildings.

                “Magnify.” The structures swelled. She rotated the image. Built before the First World War upon the site of an older house of an older house, the Foley summer home resembled any other Ontario brick farmhouse.  Behind it stood a wooden barn darkened by the years. A wooden shed could be seen just behind the house. Apart from a boathouse and an automatic lighthouse, there were no other buildings on the island.

                Nothing about the buildings seemed out of the ordinary except for their location. To have all these materials brought by boat must have cost Eloise a great deal. Who was Eloise? Why did any of this matter? Sean thought that it mattered. He must have had a reason.

                A tapping at her door caused Joanna to flick off the image.  “Yes?”

                “Would you care to join me in the kitchen, dear, for some cocoa?”

                Joanna thought of refusing but she did not wish to offend. Besides, if what Daniel said was true, she might learn something about the Bascombes relationship with the Foleys. “Yes, thank you. Just let me get decent.”

                The kitchen, built in the nineteenth century, was much larger than those of the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries. Instead of as a mere adjunct it served as the centre of the Bascombes home. Its spaciousness reminded Joanna of Jane’s kitchen.  Mrs. Bascombe sat at a round, dark cherry table.  A brown cat played at her feet.

                Mrs. Bascombe poured the cocoa. “Having company is very pleasant don’t you find it so, Miss Edwards? Do have some shortbread. I know that you young people worry about things being fattening but it doesn’t hurt to splurge once in a while, does it?”

                “No it doesn’t.”  Joanna nibbled at the biscuit.  This dumpy, white-haired, spectacled woman sitting in front of her teapot was a subversive dedicated to the overthrowing of the space-time continuum. At least the agency thought so. As Mrs. Bascombe lifted the teakettle off her stove, Joanna considered Daniel’s warnings.  She found it inconceivable to find such a threat in a kitchen decorated with collector plates of Norman Rockwell paintings.

                From the holovideos that she had seen and the books that she had read Joanna assumed that Mrs. Bascombe, if a futurist, would be anxious to conceal her past. Far from showing reluctance the woman dragged out her photo albums. As the evening darkened into night, she rambled on about how she and Dennis had loved Florida and had gone to Disney World four times. Whatever the agency might think Joanna concluded that Mrs. Bascombe was a lonely old woman longing for a sympathetic ear. Yes there may have been some connection between the Bascombes and the Foleys but no one had suggested that the Foleys had travelled from the future.  Joanna kept expecting the woman to sound her out about her past.  Mrs. Bascombe put all of her attention into describing the photos.

When asked by Joanna in as casual tone as possible how Mister Bascombe and she had met, Margaret Bascombe opened her oldest album. On the front page was a young moustachioed man in a military uniform.  Dennis, she told Joanna, had been so handsome in his uniform. He had impressed her that first time that she had seen him at a tea held for allied servicemen by the Cheltenham Ladies Auxiliary. Her parents had taken to the young man at once.

“He had no family of his own, you see, so he found one with mine.”  As the wall clock struck ten, Mrs. Bascombe apologised for keeping her so long over “these silly pictures.” As she put the albums away Joanna offered to help clean up. Mrs. Bascombe shooed her away.  Climbing the stairs to her room Joanna could hear her humming Verdi’s La Donna e Mobile. 

Joanna fell asleep just after lying down. She turned in her sleep as she had often done in the past, reaching out for Sean.  She felt his warmth and his strength. As he kissed her breasts she uttered a soft moan pressing closer to him. 

She woke to the sound of birds and to the rhythmic soothing of waves washing against a shore.  Joanna sat up to find herself naked beneath a light coverlet.  Beneath her lay a thin mattress spread over a dark wooden floor.  A pillow lay next to her and in front of it, pressed into the mat the impression of a human body.

She looked up to see, not a white- plastered ceiling, but a roof made of palm leaves.  Palm leaves and the trunks of coconut trees made up the walls of the tiny hit.

 Puzzled she rose, wrapping the coverlet around her.   She stepped out into the bright tropical sun. The scent of hibiscus reminded her of Pitcairn but the beach was unlike any on that rocky island.  She saw no cliffs, just a gentle slope of white coral fringed by a blue sea.

Sean, tapa cloth wrapped around his waist, sat in an outrigger. A few metres offshore, he was fishing.  When he saw her standing on the beach he waved. Joanna waved back. Sean seemed different, younger, as the years spent in the past had been washed away by this strange sea.   She looked around.  Hills covered with green trees rose beyond the beach but something else held her eye. Behind the hut was a large black object familiar to her since her childhood, the eighteen-foot long stern anchor of the Bounty.

It should not be there.  Its place was in front of the old parliament of Adamstown. Instead it lay on the beach its flukes pointing towards a trail leading off into the palm-covered hills. Joanna knew where she was. She was home. The coverlet unraveled and fell around her ankles. Joanna kicked it aside. She waded into the water and swam out to Sean.

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Islands In Time : Chapter Three (b)

As Joanna straightened her back from hoeing the sweet potatoes she looked over at her mother sweeping the red dust from off the porch step.  Jane was eighty now. In all those years not once had she ever driven a car, seen a cow or a horse.  Apart from an occasional expedition in her youth to Henderson and Oeno Islands she had never been off the two square miles of Pitcairn.  She had never even, as far as Joanna knew, made love. She had cared for her uncle and aunt until they had passed away.  All of the elders were gone.  Jane was the last Pictairner on Pitcairn. Her once plump form had shrunk.  Yet this old woman, the last of her race, was now mistress of half of Pitcairn Island.  The old people had left the land to her.  If the Pitcairners could not win, she told Joanna, they could delay the agency’s victory.

Joanna had not visited the past since returning from Kish.   The agency had decided that Joanna lacked the temperament suitable to a field agent.  They had assigned her a maintenance job flying and keeping in the air the copters that flew between the island and the ships.     Sean, who had remained in the field, lived with them in the old Christian house. The agency had offered them a modern condominium but Joanna would not leave Jane. Sean’s days were spent travelling the ages but he was always home in time for dinner.  In some ways it was just like any other nine to five job.  The married couple would leave in the morning for their respective jobs and meet over the dinner table.  There the resemblance ended.   Sean had aged more quickly than Jane had.

The natural time in the field could run for weeks or even months. On Pitcairn the time between departure and return would last for only a few minutes.  The rest of the day Sean would spend filing reports and discussing his observations with Sam and the other field agents.  You could fool the time line.  You could not fool your own body.  The body continued to age during the time in the field.  A good agent could have ten to fifteen years Pitcairn time in the field before being retired .If a mainlander, he or she could chose to return to their country of origin.  If an islander, the former agent would be rewarded with a comfortable life in an agency condominium on Pitcairn.

The service took its toll in another way.  Sam would not speak of what he saw in the past but at night Joanna would hear him muttering in different languages.  Often he would thrash about. Once his weeping roused her. Sometimes she would awaken to find him gone.  This night she found him standing outside, naked in the cool air, staring up at the sky. Afraid that he would catch cold she pulled on her dressing down and brought him his robe.  She draped it around his shoulders as he continued to look up at the Southern Cross.

“Do you remember that child killed by the lions all those years ago,” he asked her. “Just as well.  He would never have liked it here.” He made no move to tie his robe.  Joanna leaned against him, placing her arms around him, warming him. “They try to make you forget.  It doesn’t work.”

“About what you saw?”

“No.  About what you are, where you came from.  It doesn’t work.” He held her arms. “You were too young to remember what it was like before they took you.  I was five. Much too old to forget.”

“Sean, you’ve never told me.”

“I never thought about it much.  It was all too long ago.  I never wanted to think about it.  An Irish-American senator from Boston, a very powerful man, a possible presidential candidate wanted to trace his ancestors. He approached the agency. Guess who they chose as researcher.”

“The agency isn’t supposed to be political.”

“Everything is political.  To please the American government Sean Mulcahy, dressed as a fine, well-fed gentleman, went riding on a wet autumn day through County Mayo.  I was at a little place called Westport, the senator’s fabled ancestral home, and mine.” 

“I saw people working on the road, women hauling stone in straw baskets, men with pick and shovels and bare hands.  Famine work.  It was raining.  Most wore only rags. Some were shaking from the cold but the work meant food.  They didn’t even look up as I rode past. The work was everything.”

“My da was there breaking the rocks.  My ma and my sister, Eileen, with her ulcerated leg were carrying baskets.  I had stayed in the hut with my grandma that day.  The work would stop later in the fall.  When the work ended, so did the food.  I rode by them knowing who they were; knowing what would happen.  I could not even toss them a copper.  That would have interfered with what was to come. I just . . . kept riding.  I ignored them all in the best agency manner.   Delisle would have been proud.”

“Sean.”

“Why did Foley ever invent the damn thing?  Do you know what I can’t forgive myself for? As I rode on,  I didn’t want to know those dirty, ragged, starving people as my own.”

They remained there for a moment holding one another.  Sean murmured that he was cold. They went back into the house. Once in bed they made love.  Joanna straddled him trying to drive away the memories within him.  She almost succeeded feeling him bucking and gasping beneath her. But as she listened to his moaning and felt his hands clutching her she knew even as he came inside her that his mind remained elsewhere.  When they were spent and lying beside one another, Sean ran the palm of his hand down her back.

“You’ve never forgiven them for taking you out of the field, have you. love?”

Joanna closed her eyes. She did not want to think about what could not be.  He stroked her hair.  “You’ll never know how lucky you are.” Sean sank his head into the pillow and slept.

***        

When Sean failed to come home for supper Joanna called Sam.  His secretary put her on hold.  As James Galway piped Mendleson’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, Joanna fumed.  After five minutes Sam’s deep voice sounded over the phone.

“Something wrong, Joanna?”

“Damn right there’s something wrong. Sean’s not home yet.  What’s going on, Sam?”

Joanna could pick up whispered murmuring.  Sam came on again.  “I’m coming over.”

She heard a click and then the soft buzzing of the line.

***

Sam had put on weight.

“Too many official dinners” he complained as he climbed the steps of Jane’s porch.

“No one’s forcing you to eat the food,” said Jane. “Would you like some lemonade?”

Jane might have little liking for the agency but a guest was a guest.  Besides she had always liked Sam.

                Sam, settling into a wicker chair, accepted the offer with grateful relief.  As he drank he chatted with Jane discussing their health, Susan, Jane’s crops and the prospect for rain.  Finished he handed the glass back to Jane and smiled at Joanna. “Let’s take a walk.”

His large hands clasped behind his back, Sam strolled down the narrow lane leading away from Jane’s house.  He breathed in the heavy scent of the hibiscus.  He would miss Pitcairn.  It’s hilly surface, vegetation and climate reminded him of Beirut. He thought of Susan remaining behind living out her life here.  An islander leaving Pitcairn would pose too great a threat to the stability of the time line.

“Something’s wrong with Sean?” Joanna asked.

“Yes.”

“He didn’t come back.”

“No.”

“Did you send him back to Ireland?”

“How did you . . .?”

“He told me.”

Sam sighed.  “That was a mistake, Ireland. We should never have sent him.”

“Why did you?”

Sam shrugged.  “Ever read about the early history of flight.  One mistake after another.”

“Sam.”

“The Americans have never liked the agency’s control of the portal. Delisle thought we could win a few points with them by satisfying Senator Mulcahy.  Sean has the same name.  He is one of our best agents.  The senator wanted him.”

“Did you know that Sean met his parents?”

Sam turned.  “No. I didn’t.”

“They were working on the roads.  Famine relief.  He rode on past them.  Never said a word.  Did you send him back there?”

“No. I sent him on a holiday. I knew Ireland had been hard on him so I gave him an easy assignment.”

“What?”

“Canada, 1995.  A small city called Kingston.  Pretty place.  I thought he would enjoy it”

“Why there?”

“You should know your agency history, Joanna.”

Joanna thought for a moment.  “Doctor Foley.”

“Very good.  We’re coming up to the centennial of his birth. 1989. Kingston Ontario.  The agency wants to honour him.  We’re going to run a series of holographic videos about his life and work.  All Sean had to do was to get some footage of his family.  Simple.”

“What went wrong?”

“We don’t know.  We’ve traced his movements up to three days time-line after he arrived.  After that nothing.”

Joanna shivered.  “So what now?”

“We keep looking. People just didn’t disappear in Canada in 1989.  There has to be a sign of him somewhere.”

Joanna remembered him standing in the dark looking up at the stars. “Maybe he just doesn’t want to be found.”

“That has occurred to me.  That’s why I want you to go look for him.”

“Me?”

“The trouble with being beginners is that we make too many mistakes.”  He smiled. “Do you know what I call myself? The man with the red flag.”

“Waving a warning?”

“Oh, he did more than that.  In England he had to walk in front of any self-propelled vehicle which meant that the vehicle could never move faster than he could walk.  The truth is, the agency hates the entire concept of time travel. For all the speechifying, it terrifies them. Do you want to know the unofficial attitude of the agency towards the great genius Foley.  They see him as a blundering fool who should have left well enough alone.  Now we’re stuck cleaning up the consequences.”

“Am I one of those consequences, Sam? Is that why they took me out of the field?”

“The agency felt that you were not reliable.  You did hate it there.”  He could have mentioned the drinking but did not.  There seemed no need. Joanna had never taken another drink since returning to Pitcairn.

“Yes, some of it,” she admitted.  “But that wasn’t the reason.  I am Benjamin Dzingira’s daughter. They have never forgiven him or me. Have they?”

“That’s between you and them, Joanna.  Look. I came here because I need you.  The advantage of being chief of operations is that every so often I get to do what I want.  I’ve had to cash in accumulated favours of sixteen years but I’ve been able to secure two agreements, one conditional on the first.”’

“What do you mean?”

“Have you ever tried to play chess with someone who knows every move before you make it?  The agency had suspected since the Sargon incident that someone, probably from the future has been attempting to interfere with the time line.  We have lost three agents over the past two years including Sean.. Vanished completely.”

“Murdered?”

“Worse. Defected.”

“De . . but to what?”

Sam plucked a hibiscus and placed it in a buttonhole.  “I want you to find him Joanna, for his sake.”

“I don’t have the experience.”

“You know him.  You know how he thinks.  That’s what we need.”

“There’s so much of him I don’t know at all.  Anyway, what’s to stop me from joining him?”

“That’s where the second agreement comes in.”

“Second?”

“Another mistake we made. I’ve finally persuaded the agency that it should be corrected for the greater good.  Sean is their priority.  To get to him I’ve persuaded them that they need you.  However, as you pointed out, they can’t trust you to return. So we need a damn good reason to make you want to come back.  A wonderful group we work for, isn’t it?”

“What is this reason?”

He placed a thick finger on her left shoulder.   “You’re going to become a mother, Joanna.”

“What?”

“The agency has approved your request.”

“What request?”

“The one you made sixteen years ago.  You asked if we could save a child.  They’ve granted that request, if you help find Sean.”

Joanna’s mind raced back through the years.  “The boy killed by the lions?”

“Yes.”

“But . . . we can’t. It’s too late. It would change our own past.”

Sam nodded. “Quite right but in politics logic doesn’t always apply, does it?  Delisle has decided that considering the circumstances, an exception can be made.”

“Is that what you believe, Sam?”

Sam shrugged. “They don’t pay me to believe, just to run the damn thing.  The agency believes that finding Sean is worth the risk.  When the Allied high Command planned the D-Day assault during World War  two, they created a fake army to convince the Germans that the assault was coming at the Pas de Calais,  That is what we’re going to do.  We are going to convince the future that we have employed you as a mechanic, pilot and surrogate mother. There will be no record of your trip to Canada. The only communications you make will be oral to myself and to one agent on site. No one else.”

Joanna thought of Sean lying beneath her looking into scenes she could never know.  She remembered a child being ripped apart by lions.  She had risked her career appealing for his rescue.  Now she found herself echoing the reasons once given against saving him. Was she getting old?

“It won’t work Sam, at least as far as the boy goes.  Sean couldn’t forget where he came from. That boy is even older than Sean was.  Would we be helping him in bringing him here?  Why couldn’t we just drop him off somewhere close to a settlement?”

“The agency won’t approve that; too disruptive to that time.  Bring him here or leave him to the lions.  That’s your choice, Joanna.”

“If I find Sean and he doesn’t want to come back?”

“At least we’ll know why.  Would you like someone else, some of our security people to find him?”

“No.”  Joanna shook her head.

Sam continued, his voice becoming more urgent.  “I want to see him, to talk to him.  Old time’s sake.  No one will punish him not while I‘m in charge.”

“When would you want me to go?”

“Tomorrow.”

Joanna protested.  An operation usually required months of training. “But surely you have to give me some time to prepare.”

Sam shook his head.  “The agency has decided not to extend my contract.  I’ll be leaving Pitcairn in two months time. Once I’m gone this will be out of my hands.”

“But you’ve been here since the beginning.”

“Had to end sometime. If I were American or British but Lebanese? I asked if I could settle here, buy a small house.  I know it’s against agency policy. Never any chance of them accepting it of course.”

She placed a hand on his right shoulder. “Sam I’m so sorry.  What about Susan?”

“She always knew this would have to happen. Anyway that has nothing to do with this.  I’ll see you at the office at nine o’clock. Good night.”

She watched Sam stroll away back up towards Adamstown, his hands clasped behind his back. She called out to him.

“What will I say to the child?  I don’t know his name, his language.”

Sam looked back.  “Who does?  You’ll think of something.”  He waved and resumed walking back to Adamstown.

***

Tezah opened his eyes.  He had dreamed of his sister Napthali and mother Marna. Again he had seen them fleeing naked and screaming out of the burning longhouse.  He could still feel the warmth of the flames.  He blinked. What he had thought were flames were rays of the late morning sun shining upon him burning his face.  He staggered to his feet. His legs and back were stiff and sore.  He would drink first and then begin his run toward the mountains. As he squatted beside the brown water he noticed the goddess.

On the opposite side of the pool the air shimmered.  There she stood, Shahat the beautiful, the goddess of life.  His father had seen her once.  Before he had become a man Uruk had gone off into the hills.  For three days he had fasted praying to the gods for the vision that would give him a man’s name. Shahat had come to him calling him Uruk, great heart.  Had Shahat come to give him a name? No. Tezah knew he was too young.  Why would the goddess want him?  She held something out to him.  A cloth finer than the finest wool covered it.

If you see a god or goddess Uruk had told him, do not run. Do not show fear.  The immortals despise cowards.  Do not grovel.  The gods wish people to be people, not animals or slaves. We are not like the southerners that scrape before their false gods.  We are men. Speak to the immortals with the respect the young should give to the elders. Tezah touched the firestone dangling from his neck. But even with the firestone of Shahat he remained a frightened, lost, hungry child. His belly, upset by the unripe dates and dirty water, rumbled.    Flatulence added shame to his fear. His legs began to shake.  The goddess, angry at such disrespect, would punish him.  

Before going to bed Joanna had discussed her assignment with Jane. Words, Jane had told her, did not matter.  What mattered was the tone. If the child could understand that she intended no harm it would not run.  The child would be frightened. It would also be hungry. If you cannot appeal to the mind appeal to the stomach.

Joanna pulled the cloth away from the plate.  On it were fresh biscuits baked by Jane.  She prayed that the aroma and sight of the food would offset any panic he would feel at her sudden appearance. Holding the plate in front of her she adjusted the plastic tiara on her head, smiled and stepped towards him. The tiara with its paste diamonds was a prop from the agency theatre.  Even so to the boy it would glitter like stars. A goddess must look like a goddess. So Joanna had donned fake jewels a robe and a white wedding dress.  The props however did not solve another problem. A goddess should know his language.  She did not.  Therefore she had to remain mute. Look lofty and mysterious Sam had suggested. Wondering how one looks lofty, Joanna stepped forward.

Tezah stepped forward relieved that Shahat did not seem angry.  Her beckoning and the smell of the food drew him on.  He began to wade through the water.

The heat of the morning sun caused perspiration to trickle down Joanna’s forehead.  Goddesses she told herself were not supposed to perspire. If he should suspect that she was a fraud and run she would lose him. The lions lay waiting in the grass. Apart from the amulet the child was naked.  There was nothing to protect him. She carried no weapon, only the biscuits and these silly props. She recalled the last time she had seen the amulet.  They had buried it with the child. Please God, let there not be a second burial. She had to hurry. Within a minute or two the copter she and Sean were flying in would pass over.  Sean would be looking into his viewer.  She could not stay beyond that moment.  Yet she could not allow herself to appear anxious.  A goddess must appear serene.

Tezah stood still in the middle of the pool the water now past his knees.  Could he approach any further? His father told him that the goddess in his vision had been tall with raven black hair.  This one had red hair but gods and goddesses could change their appearance.  Shahat continued to hold the food out to him. Uruk had told him how Shahat had offered to Tiamat the food of the gods.  In eating it he had become as one with the gods.  Would that happen to him?  He longed for the goddess to speak, to tell him what he should do but she did not. Neither could he dare ask. He hesitated.

Joanna stepped forward into the pool wondering what bacteria dwelt in those brown waters. The boy might have a natural immunity. She did not.

He struggled to remember the story of Tiamat,.  Generations before invaders from the north had destroyed the village.  Tiamat had called unto the gods for help.  Shahat had come unto him and had taken him up into the mountains. There he had dwelt with the gods learning from them the wisdom he needed to defeat their enemies.  Unworthy as he was, Tezah, the black-faced one had been chosen to be another Tiamat.  When they thought him ready the gods would return him to the earth.  There he would defeat the southerners and free his people.  How he would do that he did not know but if such was his fate he could only obey.

When he was very small the other children had mocked him because of the mark on his face and because of his left-handed clumsiness.  His father had silenced them by telling them that Enku had placed his hand on Tezah’s face to tell all the gods that he intended him for great things. He placed around his neck the amulet that Uruk had received from his father, who in turn had received it from his father. It had fallen burning out of the sky. Since Shahat ruled the sky and all things in it, they had taken it as a gift from her. The wearer of the stone was under her protection.  No one made fun of Tezah after that.

The goddess now stood an arm’s length from him.  He looked at the strange bread. He had never seen such fine bread before.  His stomach ached. Tezah yearned to take it but did not.  This was a test.  He should not appear greedy.  He waited for the goddess to speak. Perhaps she would take him up to the sky as she had taken Tiamet.

Joanna broke off an end of the biscuit and held it out to the boy.  She prayed he would not detect the nervousness behind the smile. Goddesses were not supposed to be nervous.  Sam should have given her time to study the village’s language and customs.   He had been in such a damn hurry. It could ruin everything.

                Tezah nibbled at Shahat’s bread.   He chewed it slowly, savouring it. The goddess stepped back beckoning him to follow. He followed stopping to take another piece of the marvellous bread. Joanna led him back out of the pool, placing it between themselves and the lions.  When she reached the water’s edge she stopped to offer him her hand. Tezah hesitated.  Humans could shrivel at the touch of an angry god. Yet the immortals also fathered humans.  Shahat did not seem angry. Why would she wish to trap him?  That was not Shahat’s way.

Behind the goddess the air began to shimmer.  The gods must be calling her.  He stood there chewing and watching Shahat looking back at the gods.  Shahat then turned and again offered him her hand.  She also spoke.  “Come.”

The boy frowned.  He did not know that word.  It sounded like the word for bread.  Sometimes what the gods said was not clear.  They had a different way of speaking as did people from other villages. He sensed that she meant no harm.   He placed his hand in hers.

She led him out of the pool towards the spirits of the air.  Tezah and Shahat stood beside the pool allowing the shimmering air to surround them. Despite himself Tezah began to tremble.  The goddess knelt and pressed him close to her. He smiled to show that he was not afraid. He heard soft crackling and saw a bright light.  For the second time his world ended.

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Islands In Time: Chapter Three (a)

                                                         The Rock

              Most people called it the rock.  An ancient volcanic plug lost in the vastness of the Pacific, it derived its name from a Major in the Royal Marines.  Major Pitcairn never saw the island.  His son, being the first known European to see it, named it after him. Twenty-two years later Fletcher Christian, leading a mixed crew of English mutineers and restless Tahitians chose the rock as their refuge. For the next two hundred and fifty years their descendents called the rock their home.  Wars and revolutions swept the world.  On Pitcairn they made little more impression than did the waves of the Pacific beating against its coast.

               Visitors came bringing new ideas and new beliefs.  American missionaries converted the Islanders from nominal Anglicanism to Seven-Day Adventism.  Twice the Pitcairners had evacuated their island, once to Tahiti, once to Norfolk Island. Twice they had returned. The island had its moments of blood and murder.  It had even boasted a dictator; a lunatic named Joshua Hill.  Coming ashore from a passing ship he had persuaded the Islanders that the British government had appointed him governor of Pitcairn. They had accepted his rule until the Royal Navy removed him six years later.  After the departure of Governor Hill the Islanders returned to administering their own affairs, working their small farms, and selling provisions and fish to passing ships.

                By 1857 the 187 Pitcairners faced a serious shortage of land. The British government offered them Norfolk Island, a former penal colony off the coast of Australia.  Most Pitcairners took to the new island. Some did not.  Two years after the evacuation, sixteen Pitcairners returned home.  They rebuilt their houses and their society.  The history of Pitcairn began again.  Four years later another thirty-one Pitcairners returned home.  Evacuations, returns, missionaries, and visitors sprinkled the history of the island.  The great bulk of that history consisted of farming and fishing, births and deaths, of the small events that mark human life. That history ended the day the copters landed.

             Everyone knew that the end was coming.  Pictairn’s population had been declining for years.  The sounds of radio, the images from the cinema video and internet besieged the young people. They left to find the world beamed at the island.  None returned.  By the day that the copter landed the island’s population had fallen to thirty-six. Most of them were old or middle-aged.  Seven were children.  Within another generation Pitcairn would be left to the birds and the goats.

               Five of the children were in the tiny school listening to their teacher, Jane Christian reading John Masefield’s “Sea Fever” when the copter landed. Although they could not know it at the time the teacher and children were holding the last class in the school. The copter landed beside the row of low white buildings that served as parliament, community hall and store.  Out of the copter stepped two men.  They waved at the children tumbling out of the schoolhouse.   The children waved back and began giggling amongst themselves.  Jane hushed them.  She stood beside the door looking at the strange machine and at the two men in dour silence.  She noticed the circle of stars painted on the side of the copter.  The men had come as emissaries of the European Union, the island’s owner.  Until now the Union had been content to ignore them. 

When Jane saw the copter she knew that the long years blessed indifference were over.

These strangers with their unheralded descent into her little world had shown contempt for the way of the island.  Visitors had always announced their approach. Permission to step on Pitcairn had to be sought from the island council.  That had always been the way.  These men in their machine had not bothered to ask confidant of their strength.  Pitcairn would not dare turn them away.  Their arrogance she found even more irritating because it was true.  Pitcairn could no longer pretend it could keep the world out.

           In front of the tiny co-op, stood a small bulletin board.  On it the younger of the two men pinned a brightly colored note.  The older man looked at the Bounty anchor and ship bell that sat in front of the hall.  He patted an anchor fluke.  Two of the bolder children, Margaret and Sam Quintal, asked him his name.

                “Doctor Foley,” he said smiling.

               “My mum hurt her foot yesterday,” Margaret piped.

              The man shook his head.  “Sorry.  I’m not that kind of a doctor.”  Afraid that he might have disappointed the child he fumbled in his coat pocket for the sweets he sucked on when nervous.

              The children were puzzled.  What kind of a doctor did not know how to treat a sore foot?

Miss Jane knew how to do that and she was not a doctor.  Margaret was about to ask him what kind of a doctor he was when Jane called to her. Margaret and Sam hurried away just as Doctor Foley succeeded in pulling a packet of lemon drops from out of his pocket.

                  Foley smiled at the woman.  She stood with her arms folded. A stocky woman, her Polynesian features frowned in disapproval.  He had meant no harm he told her.  She said nothing.  He offered her a lemon drop.  She continued to stare at him ignoring the gesture.

                   The notice having been pinned the other man took a last look at the small huddle of white buildings.  He waved at the gawking children and then clambered back into the copter.  Doctor Foley followed.  The machine ascended and turned towards the ocean scudding off towards the north.

             Jane could not keep from marvelling at the ease of their coming and going.  It had taken her ancestors weeks of travelling to find this island.  Those who found it never left.  Every long boat leaving and entering the island had to work its way through the rocks into Bounty Bay.  Every trip had been a test of courage and skill. The danger of the trip and the remoteness of their island had been their defences.  Now those defences were gone.  She did not join the adults beginning to gather in front of the poster.  Neither did she call the students back to class. She did not have the heart for it.  Instead she sat at her desk and finished reading her poem. 

             Edna Brown bustled into the schoolroom. “Big meeting tonight.  Mainlanders are returning, seven o’clock the sign says.  Evacuation maybe?”

             Jane did not look up from her book. “Maybe” she nodded.

           “Maybe they’ll take us to Papeete or Wellington.  What do you think Jane?”

           “They’ll take us away,” Jane agreed. “Most of us.”

Jane could not disagree with the principle of evacuation.  Pitcairn was dying. Her students needed a future.

“Wellington would be nice. Lots of shops, cinemas, eating-places.  Everything.”

              “Costs money, things like that.  What are you going to do for money?  You think the mainlanders will just give it to you?”

“They’ll have to pay us for our houses and land.  That’s what Da says. I’ll get a job in a shop.  I’d like that, meeting all the people.”

“You’re an island girl.  You know nothing.”

Edna pouted.  “I’ll go to college.  I can do anything once I’m off this rock.  You’re a bright woman Jane.  You can go to college.”

Jane shook her head.  “I will die on this island.”

“How come you want to talk like that.   You think maybe you’re too ugly to catch a man anywhere except here?”

As Edna flounced out enjoying her triumph, Jane adjusted her spectacles and turned back to her book.

***

All thirty-six islanders sat in the church.  The empty pews showed how much the population had declined during the century since the church had been built.  The islanders gathered in the front pews. They waited in polite silence for the mainlanders to speak.

For years messages concerning the future of Pitcairn had circulated between Brussels, Wellington and Adamstown.  Proposals for tourism, a fish plant, a small airstrip had all foundered on the problems of expense and remoteness.  Economists suggested that islanders invest their income from the sale of postage stamps, the islands one regular source of income, in property in New Zealand or Australia.  Pitcairners spoke of eventual reunion with distant relatives in Norfolk Island.  It all came to nothing.  The European Union while unwilling to invest in the island was also reluctant to let it go.  With the independence of Tahiti and New Caledonia, Pitcairn’s two square miles and its tiny dependencies the uninhabited islands Henderson and Oeneo were the only toeholds the union had left in the South Pacific.  That, coupled with the Islanders natural reluctance to disrupt their daily routine, delayed any resolutions. Then the European Minister of Science approached the Secretary-general. 

Three months before the copter’s landing the island’s magistrate and leading landowner, Thursday Young received a letter embossed with the seal of the European Union. Included with the letter was a long form which Thursday, as the island magistrate, was asked to distribute to all households on the island. Each property owner was to state their preferred place of resettlement and estimate the value of their land and house. Thursday had spent a morning struggling through his form with help from Jane.  Finished he had then rung the ship bell to summon the islanders to a meeting.  The information having been collected Thursday placed the finished replies in a large envelope and posted it on the next passing ship three weeks later.  Eight people had refused to fill out their forms.  One of these eight had been Jane’s Uncle William.

As Jane settled into her pew between her Aunt Mary and Uncle William she knew that for her evacuation was not possible.  Her uncle and aunt both in their late sixties had no desire to leave their home. In his twenties William had left the island.  He had found a job in a canning factory in Auckland.  He had travelled all over New Zealand and Australia.  At the age of thirty-three he had returned to Pitcairn and had not left it since.  When asked why he had come back he would tell people he had been born a Pitcairner.  He would always be one. His two sons had left for Australia. The other elders agreed with William and Mary. Evacuation was for the young with children.  The old people were content to live out their lives surrounded by what was familiar to them. 

The notice told the islanders that the meeting would begin at seven o’clock.  Usually that would mean that the first speaker would begin about eight.  However given the importance of the meeting and that mainlanders were present, the Pitcairners acted upon the assumption that seven o’clock actually meant seven o’clock.

Doctor Foley did not speak.  He left it to the United Nations emissary. Roger Delisle enjoyed public speaking as much as Foley hated it.  As he listened to Delisle Foley thought the offer extended by the Union to be a fair one. They would be given full value for their land and all possessions and livestock left behind. The islanders would receive a resettlement allowance based upon the size of the family.  Tuition would be provided for vocational training.  The union would pay all costs involved in resettling them to the destination of their choice. No one would be forced to leave.  Anyone who wished to stay would be free to do so.  Anyone who wished to return could arrange passage on ships passing by Pitcairn.

Foley allowed Delisle’s voice to drift away fading with the slow turning of the ceiling fan.  He studied the small group sitting in front of him. Thirty-six people including an infant were scattered among twenty-four rows of high-backed black pews. This tiny band represented the combined genetics of the greatest seafaring races the world had ever known.  The genetic combination had an odd effect.   The men carried the height and slim build of the English.  Pitcairn women carried the Polynesian heaviness.

A pity that after what their race had been through, they had to face exile. A matter of evolution he told himself.  Nations were born. Nations die.  Seeing it happen was sad even on such a tiny scale as Pitcairn, Still, the race would survive.  The descendants of Pitcairn Island numbered in the thousands.  They could be found living in New Zealand, Tahiti and Australia. Pitcairners had always bred well except on Pitcairn.

At least it would end with dignity.  No one would be hurt.  The union would try to respect the cultural and individual rights of the evacuees. The union had promised him that. It was fitting that the final gathering was taking place in this church. To the Pitcairners it represented what Westminster Abbey represented to the English, the heart of a nation.  Unlike most Pitcairn homes it remained spotless, the wood polished and protected from the termites, the greatest pests on the island.  Behind him, above the pulpit at which Delisle stood preaching the virtues of the union, were words painted over a century before, “Holiness unto the Lord.”  Below it, directly behind Foley was a painting of Christian’s Cave.  At the bottom of the painting he had read a passage from the psalms, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress.”

The cave.  Foley recalled his history of the island.  Fletcher Christian had spent much of his exile brooding in a small cave, thinking of his crime and the land that he had lost.  Most Pitcairners did not think much of Fletcher Christian.  Their hero had been John Adams who had organised the survivors of the colony into a self-sustaining community.  Foley agreed with the Pitcairners.   An overrated man, Fletcher Christian, he had been a failure as a naval officer, a failure as a friend, a failure as a leader.  Foley thought of John Brown.  Another failure.  Yet we remembered them, more than most of their successful contemporaries.  In their very failures they had changed history.

When Delisle finished he asked if there were any questions.  After a moment’s hesitation the first came.  Thursday asked about the details involved in the evacuation.  Behind Thursday, Foley recognised a woman.  The schoolteacher he thought.

In response to Thursday’s question Delisle explained that they would not be taken out the way they had expected, by ship.  Copters would fly them out to ships waiting beyond the horizon.  One islander, Peter Brown a septuagenarian, who had opted to stay, asked what the union would do with Pitcairn.  A reasonable question thought Foley.  Delisle told them the island would come under the protection of the United Nations.  Pitcairn would become a natural and scientific preserve.  Scientists, and here he indicated his companion such as Doctor Foley, would come to it from all over the world.

A buzz rose among the islanders.  The knowledge that the pakeha would treat Pitcairn with respect made the leaving of it easier.

Foley watched the schoolteacher rise. Her name was Christian, Jane Christian, a lineal descendent of Fletcher.  At least he thought she was.  There was some mystery about her birth.  A dumpy spectacled woman, her hair tied back in a bun, she stood second in influence to Thursday.  She seemed older then her thirty-seven years, her looks fading into the heaviness of middle age.  She spoke, not in Pitcairnese, that curious melange of Tahitian and eighteenth century English, but in perfect schoolbook English. 

“My name is Jane Christian.  You have come saying how much you will help us.  You say it is a good thing to leave our island.  Many have agreed.”

A nervous coughing rippled through the congregation.  Foley could tell from the expression on their faces that they had heard this argument before.

Jane glanced down at her uncle and aunt.  “My aunt and uncle have decided to stay.  All the old people have.  Their lives are here.  So is mine.  We are Pitcairners.  That is enough for us.  We have no more to say.”

Mary and William rose.  Followed by Jane and by the five other old people who were staying they left the church.

“At least we don’t have to put on the other copters” Delisle whispered to Foley. The eight remaining would not pose a problem for the agency Delisle told Foley later. Nothing to worry about. The only problem, the director explained as they walked back to the copter, was a legal one of ownership.  In leaving the island the islanders were abandoning any legal claim they had to the island.   The seven old people remaining were heads of the families, McCoys, Boggs, Browns and Christians.  Those seven people owned half the island.  That would restrict the agency’s ability to establish its extraterritorial claims free of governmental interference.  Still, not a major problem he assured the scientist. Time would see to that.

Jane and the other remaining Pitcairners did not try to resist the encroachment of the agency on their land.  They were quite willing to rent, for a nominal sum, whatever land was needed by the agency.

As the agency introduced paved roads and high rise buildings the elders collected their rent deposited for them in the Standard Chartered Bank in Wellington. They withdrew more and more into their homes to avoid seeing the transformation of Pitcairn.  Most of her time, Jane spent in the Flatlands on the hundred acres of her Uncle William’s farm.  Here she lived in the same sprawling one story wooden frame house that had been her home since her childhood.  Surrounded by banyan vines, banana groves, vineyards and Norfolk Pine she spent her days reading, caring for her uncle and aunt, gardening, feeding her chickens, baking and cooking.  Every night before sleeping she would sit in front of her computer and chat for a few minutes with Pitcairners scattered across the Pacific. To them she became the last voice of the island.

She had reached her forty-seventh year when the agency approached her concerning the Dzingira baby.  Jane had brushed back her greying hair and stared myopically at the female agent, Astrid Van Den Brugge, who had the temerity to interrupt the feeding of her “chooks”.  As she cast another handful of seed at her chickens, Jane grumbled.   “Why does the agency want a stupid Island girl?  Don’t they have their own nurses?”

“That” Astrid admitted, “could be awkward.  An agency nurse being employed in this case would be tantamount to the agency’s publicly accepting responsibility for the anomaly.”

“Anomaly?”

“A strange unexpected . . . “

“I know what an anomaly is but why me?”

“In this case Director Delisle thinks it best to employ someone else outside the agency. You’ve had experience and to be honest, there really is no one else.”

*** 

Jane watched the nurse give the anomaly her bottle. As she looked on Astrid told her where the baby had come from.  Jane knew. On Pitcairn there were few secrets.  The island had always been too small The child in the nurse’s arms was seven hundred years old.  The age however meant little to Jane.  Not having been trained in the proper agency perspective she could not appreciate that she was looking upon a time-spatial anomaly.  She could see only an infant.

“What’s her name?”

“It doesn’t have one.”  A name would have meant acknowledgement.  Astrid hesitated.  “Agent Dzingira named it Joanna.”

“Joanna?”

“After his mother. He found it in England, in a hamlet outside Bristol. Everyone was dead from the Black Death, the bubonic plague except . . . her.”

“Why her?”

“Natural immunity.  It happens.”

Joanna knew of Dzingira, a tall Zimbabwean.  He seemed a decent enough sort, polite but then all agents were.  His colour made him stand out.  Not many Africans worked in the agency.

“So.  You will take the child,” Astrid asked.

“Why not leave her here?”

“As I explained, the agency will not accept responsibility for it.  Agent Dzingira’s act was unwarranted.”

Astrid could say little more.  The agency had already decided to return the child.  Its value as evidence to prove the guilt of Dzingira would end once the trial concluded.  “We will arrange payment,” she added. “Unofficially of course.”

Jane shook her head.  She was a Pitcairner.  In two centuries Pitcairn had never turned away anyone cast up upon its shores.  “That won’t be necessary.”

For the next two weeks she tended the child taking it with her on a sling in front of her back when she walked or pedalled her bicycle about the island.  Joanna and she would visit the shops in Adamstown, now a crowded town gleaming with glass and steel.  Once a day, a nurse from the agency would stop by to take the baby’s measurements. Both Jane and Joanna accepted the nurse’s presence with stoic silence.  As Jane read her books, fed her chooks and conversed with exiled Pitcairners Joanna would remain next to her. Uncle William and Aunt Mary doted on the baby, something that Jane rather regretted.  What the agency gave the agency could take back.

Her spectacles perched on top of her short nose Jane examined the box of powdered baby’s milk.  She decided that while it might suit mainland children, goat’s milk was best for an island baby.

At the end of the aisle, carrying a shopping basket, was Astrid. She looked at Jane,  nodded and returned to considering a box of Ritz crackers.  As Jane passed her Astrid, without turning to her, whispered, “they’re bringing in the Dzingira verdict tomorrow.”  Before Joanna could speak Astrid hurried to the cashier, paid for her groceries and left.

Fifteen days after turning the anomaly over to Jane the agency concluded its case against agent Dzingira.  He was found guilty of breaking the prime directive, interference with the time line.  He was stripped of his rank and sentenced to ten years in prison. Only one thing remained to be done. The historical anomaly had to be corrected.  The baby was to be returned to where it had been found.  Delisle ordered two agents to collect the baby.

Someone in the director’s office made an unauthorised call to William Christian. The speed of the agents sent to fetch the infant seemed slower than usual. When they arrived at the Christian house they found six old people and Jane sitting in chairs in front of William Christian’s house.  Two of the men carried ancient shotguns.  A worn piece of cloth had been hung from the window, the old flag of the Pitcairn colony.  Mary Christian was inside the house with Joanna at Jane’s computer.

The agents looked at the seven people.  They looked at the guns and at the flag and phoned for instructions.  As they phoned, an eight-year-old boy in Wellington picked up a message on the computer for his mother, Edna Brown.  The next morning all one hundred and sixty-seven Pitcairn descendants living in the city converged on Parliament.  Within a day New Zealanders ten times their number had joined them.   There were similar demonstrations in Canberra, on Norfolk Island and Sydney.  Jane kept her baby.

The demonstrations were overshadowed in agency history by the Adamstown agreement but to the Pitcairners and to the agents Jane Christian became a legend.  To the children of Pitcairn she became Aunt Jane.  To Joanna she was simply mother.

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Islands in Time : Chapter Two

   

                                               The Anomaly

The agency recognized that what one person discovers another will discover. When receiving the Nobel Prize for Physics, Doctor Foley had spoken of the dangers inherent in his discovery and the need to use it with utmost discretion. He announced that he was placing the portal and all of his research with the United Nations.  Out of that gift had sprung the agency. Foley had also pointed out that restricting the use of the portal would be as important as ensuring its proper usage.  

Two possible threats, one unintentional, the other intentional, had to be considered.   An explorer could inadvertently destroy part of the past, and by that action affect the future. The plucking of a flower could result in the subsequent loss of millions of its offspring, the butterfly principle.   The second threat however was far more ominous. Any radical religious or political group seeking victory for their cause might try to find it in the past. A portal in the wrong hands would be as dangerous as a miniaturised atomic weapon planted in the centre of Manhattan or Tokyo.

 An international flotilla of ships and planes ringed Pitcairn Island.  Always remote, the island now became inaccessible to anyone outside the agency. Any attempt to approach the island in force would trigger instant intervention by forces based in the kingdom of Tahiti.  They had found no attempt to alter the time-line yet the fear of such an attempt shaped every mission, every budget, and every decision. Fifty percent of the agency’s budget went into security. If they delayed or cancelled an occasional project due to insufficient funding, so be it. The sanctity of man’s past came first.

Doctor Foley had presided over the first seven years of the agency’s life.  Many veterans would recall that period as the golden age of the agency. Every day had brought new finds about the past. This flood of information forced the rewriting of every archaeological and historical text. Billions of rapt viewers followed the lives of great religious and historical figures. A record attendance in holovision viewing was set with the broadcasting of the original productions of Shakespeare’s plays.  Then public interest faded.

The broadcasts had not been without their critics.  Viewers complained of poor sound quality and distractions from hawkers in the pit.  Texts and discs showing ancient cities as they had looked outsold every other form of entertainment, except romantic fiction. Yet soon this popularity began to wane. Romance had been taken out of the past. Fabled civilisations seemed primitive to modern eyes. The past the portal offered, while remaining of interest to scholars and amateur historians, the general public viewed with growing indifference. It was, many complained, too uncomfortable. The recession of the twenty-thirties had brought with it the first of many budget cuts.     Space travel had brought practical benefits. What had time travel brought, except new history books, and a few programs? The public soon became aware that time travel would not become as common as jetting around the globe. Public fear grew over possible manipulation of the time-line by unnamed sinister forces, usually from the future.  Demands increased for the dismantling of the portal.  The cries received further impetus after the showing of videos of religious leaders. Viewing Christ, Mohamed, and the Buddha as ordinary human beings with frailties and bodily functions, led to denunciations of the agency as irreligious. In many cities assaults against agency personnel became commonplace.

Doctor Foley’s resignation was greeted with public indifference.  He retired to a secluded island in Lake Ontario. Although he remained as titular head until the Dzingira affair, he refused to attend agency functions or hold interviews. Rarely stepping off his island, the old man disappeared from public view.  Years later, public interest brightened for a moment at the news that he had died in a fire that had gutted his home on Pigeon Island..

Chief Director Delisle told his agents that the present era required caution. The Adamstown Agreement had pushed the agency in a direction the directors did not wish to take it.  Being women and gentlemen of honour, they would not revoke the agreement. Instead they would shape it, adapting to the agency’s needs. The agency declared the islanders to be their children. They possessed no civil rights, as they were not citizens of any state. They could not marry, bear children, own land, travel anywhere in the world of the twenty-first century. Home would be the tiny island group of Pitcairn, Ducie and Oeno.  The past and Pitcairn were the only homes that they would ever know.  Bureaucrats spoke of weeding the higher paid mainlanders out, of entrusting the exploration of the past entirely to the islanders. Joanna discounted the rumours.  One thing she had learned from the past. The ruling class never gave power to slaves.                                       

***

Joanna stood by the copter, as Sean and Susan wheeled the small blanket -covered body to the operating tent. She looked at the lifeless hand hanging below the blanket.  Sean had held that hand all the way to the base as if he could push his own life force into the child’s.  Joanna’s proper agency training told her that their efforts were not a waste. The corpse would be of some limited historical use. They would take specimens of blood and body tissue.  They would do an autopsy; an analysis made of his stomach contents.   Another tiny fragment could be added to their understanding of the past.  Joanna slumped away to her tent.  She pulled out a smuggled bottle of Glenlivet from her small fridge.  The genius of Doctor Foley and of the agency had granted man the wonder of time travel. To this great gift she owed her life and the purpose of that life.   She would drink to that.

As a little girl, she had devoured tales about the wonders awaiting time travellers.  She remembered Ray Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder,” the story of a man punished for violating the time-line.  The careless hunter had stepped off the prescribed path, treading upon a butterfly with catastrophic effects for the future.   The trod-on butterfly became the symbol of the agency, its credo marking its agents.  Joanna wore it as a pendant around her neck.

Joanna had studied the twentieth-century imaginings of Time Travel, reading Wells, Bradbury, Asimov, and  Anderson. She had lived the adventures of the time patrol walking with those men and women as they protected it from those seeking to subvert it. In secondary school she began reading technical papers. In simplistic terms they explained the principles of the space-time continuum, the morass of plasma and quantum physics, the mechanics of wormholes and the journals kept by Doctor Foley and the first agents.

Through all of them flitted the butterfly principle.  Any damage to the past could cause the present to shift.  When taught this, she could not keep from asking of her teacher why Doctor Foley had invented the time portal. Her teaching replied with the proper agency answer. He had invented it to protect the time line and to learn from it.  “We must follow his example,” the teacher told her.

The past, a place full of wonder, great events and personalities, anchored the present.  She should consider herself fortunate to help defend it.  The books and teachers had not lied to her, she admitted, her face pressed against her glass of whiskey. Wonders existed but the books and teachers had not told her the entire truth.  None of them had  explained what it would be like to see a small child ripped apart by lions. They had not told her how to  walk through the charred ruins of a home and feel nothing.    They had not told her how to walk away from the dead knowing that she could save them.   Agency psychiatrists and chaplains would offer explanations and prayers.  For now she could find an answer only in the whiskey.

“Want some company?”

She looked up at Sean, still dressed in his surgical gown. A smear of blood stained the front of the gown.  She tried not to think of where it had come from.  Instead, she pushed the bottle towards him.   After her third drink, Joanna decided to speak to the director.  After his first, Sean agreed to go with her.

***                                                                                             

“Five minutes, Sam.  Just give us five minutes.”

Sam Habib scratched at his thick beard, curled in the best Sumerian style. He concentrated on looking out of the window of his tent. He admired Susan’s dark body climbing onto the rocks towering above the water hole. As he watched Susan’s body knifing through the water, he tried to think about their lovemaking.  It seemed a more pleasant prospect then looking at Joanna and remembering the video clip of the lions mauling a doomed child. Joanna, being a novice, sometimes found it difficult accepting the grimier parts of the past.   He did not blame her. That video clip had left him shaken.  Sam could forgive her anger.  He could not forgive the smell of whiskey on her breath.

“We can do it,” Joanna added. “We know the oasis from where he came. Before the lions find him, we pick him up at the date grove.  He’s dead in his own time.  What difference would it make?”

“The lions won’t starve,” Sean added.  “They just chose him because he couldn’t run as fast as the onagers.”

Sam shook his head. “Pitcairn would never approve. The onager the lions choose instead of the boy, what about it’s descendents?  No descendents would mean a disruption of the time line,, the creation of an anomaly.”

“What do you think we are?” Joanna asked.

“That’s different.”

“Why” Joanna asked, “because we have a choice?”

Susan raised herself out of the water. Sam studied the drops clinging to her breasts, the curve of her back, the tapering of her legs. Joanna would go to her and inform her of his decision. Susan would side with her. He would sleep in a cold bed tonight.

As a nine-year-old schoolboy in Beirut, Sam had read his first book on archaeology, The Romance of the Past. With photos of ruins, it had also contained coloured drawings of the ancient peoples. They had all looked so cheerful, well-fed and clean, no scars, no marks of famine, and no mutilations.  Those scholars in their book-lined studies had dreamed of a tidy past, divided into tidy eras. Sam Habib, a merchant’s son from Beirut, had walked that past.  He had seen its dirt, and brutality.  Now Sam dreamed of the day that he could leave it, and retire to his small villa beside the sea.   For every agent who loved the past, ten hated it. The further back the assignment, the less popular it seemed.  With the Sargon expedition the agency had made its deepest probe into the past. Every member of the expedition, islander and mainlander, looked forward to seeing it end.

The agency psychiatrists theorised that this historical antithesis had something to do with the way that human beings looked at their world. The ancients, whether Egyptian, Sumerian or Elizabethan English, had a casual acceptance of brutality that agents raised in the twenty-first century found hard to accept.  Agents could understand the reasons for the brutality.  They could look upon it with indifference but twenty-first century revulsion remained.   They passed lines of emaciated prisoners, ropes strung through their noses.  Agents witnessed mutilating, impaling, hanging and beheading of both sexes and  of all ages.  Such scenes were not, the directors conceded, beneficial to morale.  Nevertheless they were part of the societies the agents were studying and were unavoidable. The modern age had its own fair share of brutality but its history had shown a growing revulsion to it.   On the plains of  Sumer no such revulsion existed.   Acceptance of the unacceptable became the mark of a good agent.  The acceptance came at a price, the slow wearing down of an agent’s enthusiasm for his or her work.

                                                                  ***

“From his stomach contents the child had eaten dates.  A small date grove lies about two miles south of where we found him,” said Sean. “We could pick up him up there.”

“I’m not saying that you couldn’t do it,” said Sam, “but Pitcairn will never approve. We’ve committed our resources to studying Kish and Sharrumkin. Anything else needs their approval.”

“That child was the only survivor of his people,” said Joanna. “We could learn so much, his language, customs. . . .”

“That’s not why you want to do this, Joanna,” said Sam turning to face her.

“No,” she admitted. Then she gave him a knowing smile.  “It’s what you’ll tell Pitcairn though, isn’t it?”

Sam knew that the proper thing to do would be to assert his leadership. He should tell her no but Sam, as had Joanna, had seen too many burnt villages, and could not forget the image of the lions tearing at their prey.

“The portal will open in three days,” he said “I’ll go to Adamstown and submit my recommendation that they allow you to try. It’s the best I can do. Maybe they will go along with it. Meanwhile, “ Sam sat on his camp stool and began stabbing at the laptop computer  on his desk, “we have the festival of Inanna to concentrate on. I’d appreciate it if you let me get back to work.”

Sam drove through the portal three days later, returning after ten minutes. He had stayed in Adamstown for a week. He brought back fresh supplies; a new assortment of holotapes, more fuel for the copter and new instructions from the agency.  The instructions included a brief notation.  Under no conditions, would there to be any attempt to alter the time line. Understanding Sharrumkin and the city of Kish remained the primary mission.

Joanna heard the news in silence. As she slipped out of Sam’s tent she longed to blame someone, but whom?   She could not blame Sam, the agency, or even the lions. Joanna busied herself with refuelling the copter and cleaning the engine. As she worked, she tried not to think of the body that they had buried behind the encampment. At least not returning it to the lions had been considered safe.  When Daniel called her in for lunch, she closed her toolbox.  Joanna poked at her food, smiling mechanically as Sam rattled on about the gossip in Pitcairn, about who was  in and was  out. The strawberries and New Zealand peaches, she tasted, out of politeness to Sam.  At the first convenient moment she slipped out and returned to her tent. Undressing, she lay down on her cot.  When she knew that no one could see, she began to cry. She must have fallen asleep for she awoke to find Sean sitting in the campstool next to her cot. “I didn’t want to disturb you. Anyway, the cot’s not big enough for two.  Are you all right?”

As she sat up, the blankets dropped away giving Sean a warming view of her breasts. “Am I a stupid person, Sean?”

“You? No. A little thick headed from time to time, but that’s a matter of temperament not intelligence. Why?”

“I can’t help thinking that we have learned just as much about the past from that boy as we can from studying Sargon. Why can’t they see that?”

“Because Sargon made it into the history books, the boy didn’t. The year after Benjamin brought you back to Pitcairn, agents brought in eighteen children, including me. Last year, with more agents, a bigger budget, more experience, we managed to net three.   If there’s a problem, Joanna, it’s not with you.”

                                       ***

The night of the first new moon of the autumn had come. Today, in Kish and in the other cities of Sumeria they would celebrate the festival of Inanna.  The festival however had not brought the agents and neither had the city of Kish.  Ur, Shinar and the other cities of the delta were larger and more impressive.   Apart from its geographic position as a northern outpost of Sumeria, the city had only one other reason for attracting the agents, Sharrumkin. His ascendancy to power still lay a few more years into the future. For the present, Sam shared a bench and a pot of beer with Joanna and Sean. They sucked at the beer, Sumerian style, through reed straws. The thick liquid reminded Joanna of  Chibuku, the maize beer that Benjamin would send her from Zimbabwe.   Tomorrow they would see the festival, filming it for posterity’s sake.   Sargon would be there in the train of the ensi Ur Zabadda.  Until then they let the hours pass, sipping from a pot of beer, eating roasted lamb and listening to the other customers.

The small, mud-plastered, windowless room with its beaten earth floor seemed the perfect place for them. The tavern, inconspicuous and informative, sat among the narrow alleyways close to the main gate. Sam had questioned the gatekeeper who had gaped at the traveller’s classical Sumerian.  Amused by the eccentric foreigners, the sentry pointed his spear at a narrow lane squeezed between a row of two storied flat-roofed mud brick buildings. The three agents and their donkeys pushed through the crowd that choked the narrow lane. They reached the entrance of the tavern, an entrance flanked by animal and human dung, broken pottery and rotting foodstuffs.

Moderns assumed that Sumerian architecture, based upon clay brick, had a dull appearance. Whatever else Kish might be; it was not dull.  The Sumerian love of bright colours, the need to proclaim each shop’s purpose for an illiterate population, coupled with the need to placate the Gods, resulted in a plethora of drawings drawn upon the painted walls of the houses. The Sumerians possessed a casual attitude about certain basic human needs. In front of the tavern two pictures drawn in charcoal, one of men sitting around a beer pot the other of a man and woman with legs intertwined.

If you want to learn about a culture, Sam told his agents, go where the locals indulge in their vices and listen. Having paid in silver for a room, they ordered beer.  As they sipped their beer, they taped farmers discussing their crops, and merchants complaining about rising costs, and increased taxes.  In the opposite corner of the room, two drunken soldiers tried to impress one of the inn’s serving girls with their military exploits.

 It took a few minutes but Sam recognised the two. They had been with Sharrumkin, on his raid to the north.

“Animals,” the first soldier told the tavern girl. “All they are.”

Typical frontier mentality thought Sam.  Kish stood at the northern edge of Sumerian civilisation. At the edge hostility towards the outsiders was always deepest.  Sharrumkin had recruited, not from the wealthy, but from the poor farmers and labourers, most of them frontiersmen.  Armies would not change for another five thousand years.

Joanna sucked at her straw and stared at the grey mud of the wall. She tried not to think that the two soldiers had shown how civilised they were by cutting babies throats.

One of the soldiers lurched to his feet and staggered over to a corner of the room.  He loosened his woollen skirt and urinated, ignoring the innkeeper’s complaints that he should have stepped outside. His friend began nuzzling the tavern’s girl breasts. Giggling she pulled away ducking behind the innkeeper’s squat form.  His arms folded, the barechested man demanded payment.  The soldier growled, “Sharrumkin’ll burn this place down around your ears, Shabat, you go insulting his men.”

“No one’s insulting anyone,” the innkeeper told him, trying to placate him.  “This is business.  You have your fun, you pay for it and don’t go pissing in a respectable place.  You’re not that much of a fool to insult the goddess by making trouble the evening before her festival.”

It may have been the hilt of the bronze dagger at the innkeeper’s waist, or the mention of the goddess that sobered the man. It might also have been the knowledge that Sharrumkin would impale any of his men that disturbed the peace. Sharrumkin’s men could match the soldiers of the ensi but one did not challenge the Gods. Ur Zabbada might have the mind of a dullard, but as ensi he remained under Inanna’s protection.  In offending the ensi, one risked offending her and Sharrumkin. The prospect of a stake thrust up his bowels gave the soldier pause.  He opened his pouch and tossed over a copper ring.  The innkeeper examined it and nodded at the girl. She and the two soldiers disappeared into a small side chamber.

“Do you have much trouble here?” Sam asked, when the innkeeper brought a fresh serving of roast lamb and barley bread.

Shabat shrugged. “They’re not too bad. Sharrumkin keeps good control over his men.”

“What about the ensi?”

Shabat grimaced, “what about him?”

Sam nodded and fell silent. Best, he thought, to concentrate on his food.

The procession began in the early morning. The three agents followed the crowd surging towards the open square in front of the ziggurat. Hidden beneath their woollen cloaks were video recorders, cloak pins concealing lens. Sam noticed how Joanna could not keep a look of distaste from crossing her face as they passed the slave pen. Men, women and children, all naked, all bound, stared out with empty eyes at the crowd surging past. Sam and Sean  had learned to  look upon the captives as the rest of the city’s population did, with causal disinterest. The agency would note Joanna’s failure to do so. It would do little to enhance her status with the agency. Still, that would be a problem for the future.   For now they had to find a good viewing place from which to observe the ceremony.

Innana’s union with Dummuzi, the goddess of peace uniting with the god of war, celebrated the year coming to its full cycle. The high priest, shorn of body hair and naked except for a red woollen cloak, stepped out of the gateway of the ensi’s palace. Following him, clad only in a loincloth, came Ur-Zabbada, his sagging pink flesh perspiring. Behind him, bearing offerings of grain, beer and wine, and bound sheep, walked the temple priests, all shorn, all naked. As the procession made its way down the town’s main street towards the temple, Joanna looked at the  small group of wealthy nobles and merchants standing on the other side of the street.   In their centre, flanked by his son, and by his aged godfather, Aqqi, stood Sharrumkin.  His height, hooked nose and piercing eyes made him unmistakable. In that tall, dignified man she could sense what could not be found in the pudgy Ur-Zabbada, power. Behind Sharrunmkin she could see his principal ally and friend, Marduk. The butchers, she muttered under her breath.

As Sharrumkin turned his head to whisper to Aqqi, Joanna caught a brief glimpse of a young man standing behind the cupbearer. His beard was still new,   not yet having attained the fullness prized by all upper class Sumerian males. The youth seemed not to be looking at the procession but through it, at her. Then Sharrumkin turned back towards the procession. The young man’s face disappeared behind Sharrumkin. A young man had stared at a young woman. Some things did not change, even after five thousand years.  Joanna dismissed him, concentrating on the high priestess now visible at the summit of the ziggurat.

As she stepped out of her quarters high above the city, she shimmered in the sun, a goddess appearing from the heavens. Clad only in gold headdress, earrings and gold trimmed cape, she waited for her lover, the god Dummuzi, lord of the land, to approach her. Their successful union would ensure that  the union of heaven and earth would continue undisturbed.  The god, not used to such exercise, waddled manfully up the steps of the temple. The necks of the crowd craned to see him ascend. All prayed fervently that he would not stumble. As Joanna glanced furtively at Sharrumkin, she wondered what the man was thinking but then scolded herself. Religious hypocrisy remained a notion foreign to this time. However ruthless the man, however soaring his ambition, he remained a Sumerian. Sharrumkin’s prayers for the ensi’s success were as sincere as any other believer.  To him Ur-Zabbada had become the personification of Dummuzi.

Ur-Zabadda/Dummuzi disappeared into the priestess’s chamber. The crowd waited in fervent expectation. The three agents caught up in the excitement, stared upwards as the familiar chubby figure emerged. As the ensi raised his hands in prayer to show success, a great cheer arose from the crowd.    Then unnoticed by the agents, Sharrumkin slapped the back of his neck.  As the cupbearer bobbed his head, Joanna could see the young man standing behind him stepping back.  When the crowd began to chant, he disappeared behind Marduk.

Joanna  watched the ensi descend the steps of the ziggurat.  Sean nudged her.

“Look.”

He pointed at Sharrumkin’s party. Sharrumkin, the future king of Akkad , of Kish, ruler of the land of two rivers, had sagged forward.  His son and Aqqi held him by his arms. They hurried away, Sharrumkin’s sandaled feet dragging, leaving two grooves in the dirt. Marduk and their attendants followed. Joanna looked for the young man who had stared at her.  She could not see him. From the expressions on the faces of Sharrumkin’s supporters something was very wrong.  As Sam led them back to the tavern, they overheard the murmuring spreading among the crowd, Sharrrumkin the cupbearer, had been struck down by the gods. In their room, squatting on reed mats, the three agents discussed what they were to do. “A sudden illness, stomach upset, who knows what, “ grumbled Sam. “There’s no reason to suspect anything more than that.”

“Sharrumkin’s not the type to be seen complaining of an illness,” said Sean. “Is there anything to suggest that he might be epileptic?”

Sam shrugged. “We know so little about him. The earliest written records were seven hundred years after his time. What we know is largely legend, maybe just propaganda. We do know that he survived, so whatever it is can’t be that serious.”  

A burst of noise sounded from revellers in the main room of the inn. “They don’t think that it’s serious,” Sam added. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”

                                              ***

As they munched on a breakfast of barley cakes, the agents overheard the innkeeper chatting with a neighbour. The tavern keeper murmured and shook his head. “Sharrumkin died in his sleep.”

                                            ***

Shabat wondered what he had done to offend his guests. The woollen merchant from Ur had told him that he had intended to stay a month. Barely a week gone by, and the man and his companions were heading off again, on the very day of Sharrumkin’s funeral.  Enjoyable guests too, quiet, no trouble at all. Probably the death of Sharrumkin had given the three a fright.  He admitted that it had shaken him as well. The Gods had reached down to strike the man for his arrogance. He had made himself head of the city’s host. Everyone knew that he was already scheming to become the vizier. Shabat nodded. A man should not try to rise too far, too fast. It went against me, the proper order of things. He thought of Gilgamesh who had striven for the flower of immortality only to have it stolen from him by a serpent.

The gods read the thoughts of men, punishing anyone who threatened the natural order of things. Perhaps the merchant from Ur had his conscience troubled by Sharrumkin’s fate? More likely the man sensed that uncertain times meant bad business. There would be jostling between the city nobles and wealthy merchants, each man trying to fill the vacuum filled by Sharrumkin’s death. Marduk would attempt to defend his own position and that of  Sharrumkin’s son.   He was no fool, Marduk, but no Sharrumkin either. The innkeeper did know one thing. When Gods and great men troubled the land, ordinary folk should keep their heads down and pray for better times.

The reed boat scudded down the river, its square sail filled by a strong wind. Sam sat at the bow. His black eyebrows bristled. He tried to think of where they had gone wrong. He clung to one feeble theory, the only alternative to what he did not want to admit. The three agents had sat up deep into the night in their windowless room.  They had debated the possible effects of Sharrumkin’s reported death. Joanna had seen it as a ruse, an attempt by the cupbearer to increase public sympathy for him before making a bid for greater power. Possible Sam admitted, but doubtful. Sumerians respected craftiness but strength even more. Sharrumkin’s reputation had rested as much on his size and physical brawn as it had on his intelligence.  Any appearance of illness and his followers would begin to drop away.

“If he is dead,” said Sean, “we have the wrong man in the wrong time. No written records from his time have survived.  Being exact is hard.”

“How many Sharrumkins were found in baskets by gardeners named Aqqi?” asked Sam. “Lugulzaggishi is the lord of Ereck. He is supposed to die in a neck yoke chained beside the main gate of Akkad, the city built by Sharrumkin. How does that happen now if Sharrumkin is dead?”

“It happens because Sharrumkin is still alive,” said Joanna. “Suppose he should reappear resurrected by the Gods? Wouldn’t that squash whatever resistance there is to him?”

“Perhaps,” Sam agreed. It did seem reasonable from the twenty-first century point of view, but from that of Sharrunmkin? Such an act would be tantamount to more then sacrilege. It would threaten the very essence of the Sumerian universe, the idea of me. No matter how intelligent and ruthless the man, he remained bound by the ethos of his time. No. Sharrumkin would not have violated the sanctity of the goddess’s festival for political purposes.   That left only one other possibility. Again, Sam replayed the videos showing the procession. Sean’s and his were almost identical.  Joanna’s was different. Her lens had turned with her to view Sharrumkin. Again he stood, proud, aware that the power of the city, lay within his hands, flanked by his friends and the only person that he loved, the gardener Aqqi. Again they could see him slapping the back of his neck as if warding off a mosquito. Sam watched the man crumple, his son and his godfather holding him up. Behind him Marduk reached out for his friend and called to whom? Soldiers and attendants for support, or for the young man that Joanna had looked upon, who alone of all the members of Sharrumkin’s party had disappeared.   The man, according to Joanna had seemed to recognise her. Had he seen them on their way to the city, or could there be another reason?

“There’s only one way to know what’s happened, “said Sam. “We’ll contact the base.  We’ll leave the city tomorrow.”

What Sam did not mention was their greatest fear.  The loss of Sharrumkin had changed their future.  In that new future, the portal might not exist.  They could be stranded in this era.   When the portal opened, the agents knew that the crisis was not as bad they feared.  Pitcairn remained Pitcairn.  The agency remained the agency.  The directors puzzled over Sam’s report on Sharrumkin.

Sargon remained entrenched on the king lists of Sumeria and Assyria.  According to writings dating back to late Sumerian times, Sargon had won the support of the merchants. With that he had established his own kingdom. Sargon had built Akkad. Habib, the directors agreed, had over-reacted. Rumoured to be dead he had obviously recovered. Yet it did not explain what had happened in the square.  

 The agency sent two other agents back to the square during the feast of Innana.   They stood in on the one spot not recorded by the earlier videos, at the rear of Sharrumkin’s party. They would film the happenings from the rear, each agent shooting at a different angle.  Computers would examine the pictures to learn the exact events leading up to Sharrumkin’s collapse. The agents waited, eyeing each member of Sharrumkin’s party.  The one they eyed the most was the young man in a blue robe, identified by Joanna.  He stood behind Marduk, holding the hand of a young girl.  He seemed cheerful, concentrating as much upon the girl as upon the ceremony. 

The agents waited.  Nothing happened.  Once the ceremony ended,  Sharrumkin turned, and chatting with Aqqi walked past the agents, followed by his friends and bodyguards.  The young man and the girl formed part of the group. Puzzled, the agents returned to Pitcairn. Sharrumkin had collapsed. So it had been had recorded. Now he was walking away as strong as when he had come. Another discrepency. Sam, Joanna and Sean had been in the square during the collapse and yet there had been no sign of them.

Both teams viewed the two videos. After the viewing Sam called for comments.

“Curiouser and curiouser” said Sean. “It’s as if we weren’t there.”

“So where were we,” asked Joanna.

“It’s a big crowd Joanna,” said Daniel Lemoine the leader of the second team. . “Maybe we just missed us.  Simplest explanation is usually the best.”

                “Only if you’re simple minded,” grumbled Joanna. She wanted to say more but the expression on Sam’s face caused her to sink into silence.

That night Sam composed his report of Delisle. He outlined three possible explanations for the discrepancy. The second team had arrived at the wrong time due to some unexplainable problem of the portal. General Diagnostics had revealed nothing amiss but tests were continuing. The second possibility, someone, possibly from the future was tampering with the timeline. The remaining possibility, the first team had stumbled into an alternative timeline.  The last he rejected as being a patent absurdity making of twentieth-century science fiction; creating universes out of nothing. The timeline was one. The timeline was linear. Even if one did concede that multiple universes were possible it would make no difference as far as Delisle was concerned.  His responsibility lay with protecting the sanctity of the timeline. Delisle would discuss the report with Brussels.   More consultations with New York and Washington and then a decision would be made, about Sharrumkim and about Habib.

Delisle had already recommended to Brussels that Habib should be given early retirement. The Arab did not fit the agency’s image it wanted to create for its personnel.  Too old, Too heavy. Too familiar. He shut the author away in a back drawer of his mind and studied the report.  

                ***

Six rows, each containing seven chairs. They faced a raised dais. On it sat five men and women, the four other directors of the agency and Sam Habib. Two of the chairs on the dais were empty. One belonged to Delisle. The other was off to the right side. In the sixty-three chairs sat the agents, all called in for a special address from Chief director Delisle. Joanna sat with other junior agents in the back row of seats, half-listening as the director explained how the agency planned to deal with the problem posed by the two differing videos. It would be, Delisle told the assembled agents and directors, the most ambitious project yet attempted. They must protect the timeline against anyone who sought to interfere with it. To do that the agency would spare no expense, leave no stone. . . .    

“How many other cliches does the old fart have” Joanna murmured, glancing over at Sean. Sean looked back at her, shrugged and concentrated on the director’s face. Joanna returned to her thoughts. There seemed emptiness to the room. It lacked the smell of life. Deodorants applied to human skin, room fresheners, the crisp scent of fresh plastic and artificially grown flowers, it all seemed unreal. She remembered no aromas in Sumeria, just smells, smells of donkey and sheep and of human beings living without the benefits of synthetic aromas.   Many smells had repelled her but at least, they had been  real. Joanna had hated the past. Now she wanted to go back if only to break free of the aromas stifling her nostrils.  

Delisle was proud of his people.  The mainlanders, he had hired and trained. The islanders owed him their existence, except for one. That quiet, brown-haired woman at the back owed nothing to him. Delisle knew that whenever Joanna looked at him, she thought of a father that they would never allow her to touch.   The woman had never offered active opposition.  That did not matter. What mattered was that she offered a potential source of opposition. A good agent’s family had to be the agency. He did not fear disloyalty for himself.   Delisle remained unimportant. All-important was the time-line. From what he had read of Habib’s reports concerning the woman’s attitudes, Joanna had never understood that. She was too much like her father. She seemed to have a problem with alcohol.  He would look into that. Something more suitable would be found for an agent of her limitations.

Joanna thought of a letter that her father had sent her. In it he had written that to understand African history it was important to remember that the Africans, defeated, ill-used, impoverished, were reluctant to hate the Europeans.  Most of them never had. They had felt sorry for the white man. They had found the paleness of their skin repulsive but far more repulsive had been the paleness of their lives.   Benjamin had remembered sitting with his sekuru, his grandfather, next a small fire. From across the field they could see the lights shining in the windows of the baas’ house. Why, his sekuru had asked, did the whites need such a bright light? How could one see the stars? Foolishness.

Joanna turned back to look at the director. Robert Delisle had dominated the agency long before Doctor Foley’s resignation. Foley might have invented the portal. Delisle had done something of far greater difficulty. He had persuaded New York to support it.   Delisle had created and had presided over the bureaucratic structure that had protected the portal.  Joanna knew that she had no reason to dislike the man. He had never said an unkind word to her, nor to anyone else.  Scrupulous in the performance of his duties they could not question his sincerity. Sam had told her how he had explained in impeccable logic, why the time line could not be bent to allow them to save that unknown child’s life.  Perhaps she disliked him because of Jane.

If Benjamin was her father, Jane Christian was her mother. The last true Pitcairner, the last nurse, the last teacher, the last administrator, she had seen her two hundred and fifty-year-old community shrivel under the benevolent rule of the agency. Old Pitcairn, she conceded would have died anyway but if the pakeha had not come, it would have died as it had lived, in freedom, with dignity. She could not forgive the agency for the taking away of that freedom.

Delisle pointed at the projected map of Kish.  Between walls that surrounded a space not much larger then Adamstown lived twenty-five thousand people. Among those existed a force that might be attempting to change the natural course of history. As guardians of the time-line the agency had to track that force down and neutralise it, while careful not to harm the inhabitants.   They would take blood samples over a course of nights from which they could compare DNA samples. Such samples could pinpoint whoever was responsible for the aberration.

“Assuming that the personage responsible belonged to the household of either Sharrumkin or of Marduk we will begin there the night before the festival of Innana. We will then work our way out examining each sector of the city.”

It was the most ridiculous thing that she had ever heard, thought Joanna.    Even assuming that they could account for every individual within the city, how would its citizens remain unaware of the strangers slipping through night after night? Even if it worked, then  what? A scan would not detect an agent from the future. The cost of deploying enough agents would cripple any immediate research projects. Shelved was the plan to examine the village of Jarmo, the first agricultural settlement in the Fertile Crescent.  As for “we” Delisle would remain in his air-conditioned office in Adamstown. New recruits unfamiliar with the city or with the culture would conduct the actual operation.  They could never, physically or culturally, appear as anything else then strangers. Sam Habib should be the natural leader, but he, Sean and the other members of the first expedition could lend only technical advice. The agency decided against sending them back. Grasping the intellectual complexities of time travel was difficult enough but two different Sams?

Sam whispered to Susan and then rose from his seat in the front row. “Isn’t it possible, director that our entire view of Sharrumkin might be somewhat off?”

“Explain please.”

“Well the only records we have of him date from Assyrian times two thousand years after his death, and they were composed during the reign of Sargon the Great of Assyria.  The history of the original Sargon might just be official Assyrian propaganda.”

“There may be something in what you say,” Delilse replied.  “But the point remains, we are faced with an anomaly that we have not been able to explain. “

How, Joanna wondered, did Delisle intend to do this without waking up half Sumeria? Copters bringing agents back and forth, the amount of supplies, and the size of the base camp; how could they not notice us?

Delisle noticed the hand raised in the back. “Agent Dzingira?”

“Sir, I’m a copter pilot. You can’t bring those machines anywhere  near a settled area without attracting attention.”

As Delisle nodded, he recalled the report that Chief Agent Habib had submitted concerning her character profile. She had shown undue emotion concerning the agency’s policy regarding non-interference. She had  proposed that the agency waste its time and energy  on the retrieval of nonessential data. For once, she had done him a favour by giving him the opportunity to impress the agents with the agency’s newest achievement.

“You’re quite right. We can’t. However, then we won’t be needing copters on this trip, perhaps on any other. The directors have decided that it is too clumsy an instrument.”

“But sir, to set up the portal . . . ”

“Director Isukuru, would you please explain our new modifications?”

As the room lights darkened, on the wall behind the directors the image of the portal appeared, the large circular frame known to every agent. In front of them stepped the four-foot-ten inch figure of Professor Yukiko Isukuru. She bowed at Director Delisle. She then bowed at the agents. In her high-pitched singsong voice she recited the brief history of the portal since its inception by Doctor Foley.   Improvements made on the portal both by Doctor Foley and since his death, by the agency, but the basic form remained the same, a large complex structure. The size of the portal restricted the size of any object going through. Large pieces of equipment such as a copter had to taken apart and reassembled to allow passage. Due to the size of the portal it had to be placed remote from the population of the period under examination. This required the need for overland vehicles and copters to haul personnel to and from target sites.

The image of the familiar circle shimmered and vanished.  The overhead lights brightened.  Professor Isukuru stepped up to the empty chair beside Director Delisle. She pulled out a small rectangular remote from her coat pocket. She studied the buttons for a moment and then punched out a combination.

Joanna was looking at the professor and waiting to see what she would do next, when Sean nudged her. She looked at the chair.  Perched on it sat a small brownish pigeon. Every agent in the room could identify it. It had last been alive in 1912. The passenger pigeon stared at the strange view and then fluttered up searching for an escape. Unable to find one, it settled on the exit sign.

As Joanna watched the small bird soaring above her, she thought of the tale of Gilgamesh. Utnapistim, the Noah of Sumeria released a raven. When the raven failed to return, Utnapistim knew that the world had begun anew.  As she looked back at the benign smugness of Delisle waiting for the excited chattering to subside, she wished that she could see in his face the reverence and humility that old Utnapistim had possessed.

Liquid molecular engineering, Professor Isuruku had allowed for a complete redesign of the portal, shrinking it to as fraction of its former size.  “It is laser surgery compared to amputation by a bone saw,” said Professor Isukuru. “The portal gave us a doorway. This gives us both a doorway and transportation.”

No more copters, Joanna thought. It would make Delisle’s scheme practical. It would make possible the saving of that unknown child, and who knew how many others. Perhaps.  The new portal had also made her redundant.  Why would they need copter pilots as agents?

                                      ***

Sam looked down at Susan still asleep in the bed.  The wonder of her love still awed him. It still struck him as being so incongruous. She would have had her pick of others far younger and more attractive than he. Every morning in the bathroom he would look at his rotund form and wonder why she continued to love him. What was he after all? Half Christian half Moslem. Half-Lebanese; half-Palestinian. The Lebanese half, his father, killed by a Syrian patrol, the Palestinian half, his mother, killed by an Israeli air raid. Both accidents unnoticed by a larger world. He had been accepted by the agency as a sop to Arab opinion.   Someday Susan would outgrow him, settle down with another islander. He would go back to Beirut. They understood that. For now they had one another.

He left her and tiptoed out of the room. As he stepped out onto his glass-shielded sunroom, he peered down into darkness. Six stories below, only a few feet from the front of the building the cliffs fell away   three hundred feet to the ocean.  He could neither see the waves nor hear them  crashing  against the rocks, but he knew that they were there.    Three centuries before they had brought a small group of men and women here to this tiny island in search of  a refuge. He had proposed once, half-seriously to the directors, that it might be interesting to have a film crew watching the Bounty as it approached. They had smiled the smiles of tolerant men with minds on more important things. With all of his other suggestions this had drifted into oblivion.

Sam stepped back into his living room. Instead of returning to bed, he settled down in front of his computer.   For the past day he had entered   the results of the blood samples gathered by Delisle’s teams.   Night after night, or the same night as far as Kish was concerned, the agents slipped into house after house gathering as many samples as they could. The  painless process, conducted while the inhabitants slept passed unnoticed by the citizens of Kish.  Now all that remained was to do  the analysis.

From the very beginning Sam knew that they might find nothing. If the man who had struck down Sharrumkin came from the future, his DNA sample would not be on file. Eventually though, they would find him. Time did not matter. The likeliest suspect, the young man noted by Joanna, they found in Marduk’s house, sharing a bed with one of Marduk’s daughters. That seemed a mark in the young man’s favour. If   from the future, he would have fled once he struck Sharrumkin down.  Why strike him down at all? What could they gain by favouring Marduk?  How did that explain the fact that Sharrumkin appeared live and well on the second visitation?

Sam’s fingers tapped the plastiwood of his desk as the computer hummed. The processing  began. This could go on for hours he told himself. The computer would  compare billions of samples searching for a match. As he  rose to get himself a cup  of coffee,  the computer beeped, signalling that it had found a match. Surprised,  Sam punched enter.  On the screen, the matching DNA analysis appeared. Below it appeared an identifying number and a name. Sam looked at it for a moment. Behind him he could hear Susan stirring, calling to him. He sank back into his chair. There had to be a mistake. Jabbing at the keyboard he ordered the computer to copy and double  check the results, knowing as he did so, that the computer could not have erred. It had not. The result remained the same.

“Sam?”

He could hear Susan’s bare feet stepping on the floor. He could feel her standing behind him, at the doorway to his study.  Sam shaded the name of the person from whom the DNA sample had been  drawn.

Susan  placed her arms on his back. “Did you find anything?”

Sam pressed delete. “Nothing.”

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Islands In Time : Chapter One (b)

The Survivors

I am Sargon, the mighty king, king of Agade . . .

Joanna leaned down to close the infant’s eyes. A blue fly, sluggish in the morning heat, crawled out of its mouth. Joanna longed to get back into the helicopter, to feel clean air in her lungs. The village stank of burnt wood and decomposing corpses. The bodies would be left where they lay, left for the vultures, hyenas and wild dogs. Even now she could see the dogs waiting outside the palisade for the strangers to leave.  The agents still had more pictures to take.

. . . defeated them, cast them in heaps, and overthrew their widespread host.

As she looked through the ruins, Joanna tried to calculate how many infants would make up a heap.

                Only after they had kicked over the last heap of burnt timbers did she concede defeat. “I had hoped. . . .”

“Sharrumkin’s too damn efficient, You should know that,” Sean Mulcahey told her, his right eye pressed to the lens of his recorder, still filming the last heap of ruins, the last decapitated body.

“You sound as if you admire him?”

“Sharrumkin, Sargon the great, built the first large empire that we know of, defeated his enemies, marched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and died in bed of old age. You have to give him credit.”

“I’d like to give him something,” she muttered.

“Historical objectivity, love. Don’t forget, all of this, including Sharrumkin, was dust before you were born.”

“Study the past, learn from it, but never change it. Preserve and protect.” Joanna recited the agency creed. The truth, which in the academy classrooms on Pitcairn seemed so noble and clear, seemed to wither in the ashes of that burnt village. 

Agents, both islanders and mainlanders, found it hard to maintain their objectivity.  Twenty-three years before, one agent, Benjamin Dzingira, had abandoned it at the sight of a baby girl, starving to death in an English village, annihilated by the bubonic plague. Unable to leave the infant to die, he defied regulations and brought it back to Pitcairn. The agency confined him to the one cell on the island and debated  the child’s future. They could only return her to her village to die. To let her live in her own time would change the past. Neither could they release her into the general population. The directors of the agency were neither cruel nor unsympathetic but they were logical. They could not allow the child, taken outside her time, to disrupt the future.  The agency would then have returned the child.  Then two things happened.

A native islander, one of nine remaining Pitcairners, Jane Christian, appointed as the child’s nurse, refused to surrender her. Instead, she barricaded herself and the infant inside her home. The eight other Pitcairners, all of them old and ailing, kept watch outside. In front of her small wooden house, Jane displayed the former flag of the Pitcairn Island colony. The Union Jack and the anchor of the Bounty hung again in the sky above Pitcairn. A Pitcairner took a photo.  Computer screens carried the image around the globe.  In front of the parliament building in Wellington, a hundred and sixty-seven former Pitcairners and friends gathered to protest, joined by ten times their number of sympathetic New Zealanders.  Similar demonstrations followed in Auckland, on Norfolk Island in Canberra and in Papeete.

The agency could brush aside such petty resistance.  However, worried about muttering from its own agents, and possible damage to its public image, it hesitated. During that moment of hesitation, the other untoward event occurred. Doctor Foley arrived on Pitcairn.

The old man arrived uninvited, the one person to whom the agency could not deny admission. Ignoring the hurriedly assembled honour guard, Foley demanded that the driver take him to see Dzingira. He left the directors, and most of Pitcairn’s population waiting, as he visited the disgraced agent in the man’s cell. The doctor then ordered the driver to take him, not to the director’s office, but to the home of Jane Christian. Over a glass of peach juice and a dish of Jane’s pilai, her chicken stew, he chatted with the woman as she nursed the child, the innocent source of all the trouble. 

Three hours after his arrival on the island, Doctor Foley met with the directors.  The result of their discussions became known in history as the Adamstown Agreement. The directors, moved by the old man’s pleas, made two concessions.  They agreed to the release of Benjamin Dzingira, granting him a general discharge and dropping all charges.  They also agreed that, when it did not violate the laws of historical determinism, they would cede permission to agents to salvage children abandoned to die in their own time. Every April thirteenth, the agency commemorated the agreement with banqueting and speechifying.   To no one did the day mean more than to the children of Pitcairn, allowed to celebrate by travelling to the beaches of Oeno Island to swim, feast and to receive presents.  At the end of the day the chief director would tell them of the agreement, to which they owed their lives.

The agreement carried a price.  “We are not,” Robert Delisle, the executive director noted, “a charity.  We must pay our way.”  The rescued children became the property of the agency.  They could not run loose in a time different from their own.  They assigned those lacking in the intelligence required of agents various tasks, from administration, to maintenance, to tending of the gardens.  The lucky ones, such as Joanna and Sean travelled into time, finding there the freedom to leave the two square miles of Pitcairn.  In the end, whatever their assignments, the islanders, as they called themselves, would all share the same fate.  Once an islander died, agents would transport their bodies back to their own period.  The agency would preserve the natural order.

As a further safeguard to the time line, the directors decreed sterilisation for every foundling at the age of thirteen. Any accidental offspring, whether on Pitcairn or in the field, could have a detrimental effect upon the future.  Mainlander agents used temporary contraceptives. To offset any undue psychological hardship, the agency allowed a sexually permissive atmosphere to develop on the island. Around the sterilisation the agency draped a coming of age ritual celebrated with gifts.  They now regarded the child as sexually mature.

For those islanders with parental instincts, the agency took pains to ensure that they would be eligible to adopt any new foundlings.  Not a perfect solution, Delisle admitted to his fellow directors, but the best that they could come up with, given their limitations.

                Joanna Dzingira would never see Benjamin or his family. She would never, except through holograms or videos, travel to his home in the Hunyani Hills.  She could ramble through Benjamin’s village, but it remained an image. Joanna would never feel the red earth under her feet upon which Benjamin had trod. He would never hold her. She would never be with her sisters and brothers. Still, she should not be bitter, Joanna would tell herself.  How many women of her time knew how to fly a helicopter?

As she walked back to towards the stubby rounded body of the copter her memories lay, not with Benjamin, but with the bodies scattered throughout the village.  For two years, she and six other agents had studied the life and rise of the world’s first empire builder, Sharrumkin, Sargon the Great.  She had walked through eight other villages such as this. The pattern remained the same. Sharrumkin’s raiders, whether led by Sharrumkin or by his lieutenant Marduk, left nothing behind except the dead.  Only among the dead could Joanna salvage a life. Every time she had failed.  They turned her pleadings to move closer to the village aside, as she knew they would. Protection of the time line came first. The agents must wait until the raiders had moved on beyond the sound of their engines.  Even with the engines muffled that required waiting until the raiders and their captives were miles away from the village.

With every walk through the gutted villages, Joanna reminded herself of the mission priority, to observe, to note, to learn. If they could save a life, do so, but never at the cost of the mission.  She brushed away the flies gathering around the dead infant’s face.  As she did so, she tried not to think of the jackals waiting beyond the palisade.

“Better be on our way,” said Sean.  He wished that he could say something that would comfort her. How often had he wanted to go back to that dying village where he had been found?  He still remembered that snow-shrouded cottage of the dead.  Ruth, that tall, bronze-skinned woman, had bent down to lift him up from that frozen corner where he, in his rags, had dragged his feverish, skeletal body to die.  Robin passed by hundreds before saving one. Accept the unacceptable. Otherwise, the work could not be done.

“Tomorrow perhaps,” he whispered.

Joanna nodded and turned towards the copter.

They sped towards the Zagros Mountains. As Sean concentrated on examining his prints, Joanna stared ahead at the distant mountains. She would change, have a swim, and make love with Sean and then sleep. The village and the dead would slip back into the past where they belonged. She did not look aside when the beeper sounded. A good pilot, her gaze remained on her instruments and on the view in front of her.

Sean turned away from his computer screen, towards the viewer. The beep could, and usually did, suggest animal life. Human travellers in this part of the plain were few. If they were human, they were probably nomads or a convoy of merchants. They might make interesting material for picture taking but represented nothing which they had not seen before. The agents did not worry about being spotted.  At the speed and height at which they travelled, any chance observer would dismiss them as the Gods hurrying about their affairs.

As he glanced at the screen, Sean saw four objects moving across the plain. He adjusted the viewer lens for greater magnification increasing it to a factor of ten.

“Jesus Christ.”

Joanna looked at him.

He increased magnification to fifteen.  Without looking up, he called to her.

“Take it down. Quickly.”

“Down? Why?”

He continued to peer through the lens.

“I’ve found your survivor.”

                                                                                                     ***

Tezah found the pool in the early morning after wandering across the plains for hours. The barbarian had pointed towards the mountains. Towards them, Tezah ran. His father had once told him of villages to the north.  Three days march for a grown man. Tezah was far from being a grown man.  Fear and his shorter stride made the distance greater then that faced by men.  He knew how to move north by the stars, but without food, water or clothing, he had little chance of reaching the mountains.  Somehow the gods would help.

As he stumbled towards the grove of date palms, he knew that they had guided his steps. Here in the midst of the plain he found both food and water. The palms fringed a small water hole. Tezah fell into the water, lying in it for what seemed to him to be hours, allowing its coolness to soak into his skin.  He then shinnied up a palm tree to pluck some dates. As he ate, Tezah realised that he could not stay at the water hole. Footprints and droppings of gazelles and onagers surrounded it.  From the treetop he watched a small herd of wild onagers looking at him, waiting for him to leave. Where onagers went so lions and jackals went. Tezah stared out over the plain. He saw no sign of predators.  He looked across the plain at the foothills. It would take him until evening to reach them. At their base were small stands of cedar. He could spend the night in one. That would protect him from the lions. In the morning he would find water, and with any luck, people.  Tezah touched the amulet on his chest.  The goddess would protect him, as she had protected him in the village.   The fear of the goddess had caused the soldier to return the amulet and to release him.  Shahat would see him safe to the next village.

Huddled beside the base of the tree, Tezah rested against the trunk, the roughness of its bark scratching his back.  As the sun rose he tried to sleep.   Memories of his father and mother, of his brothers and sisters mixed with those of the savages killing and burning.   They were animals, not true people. They huddled together in thousands, filthy and cruel.  When he grew to be a man, he would slay them all as Tiamat had slain his enemies. 

As he squatted beside the water hole and drank, Tezah studied the small herd of onagers.  They seemed nervous and might have caught the scent of a predator. He could not stay here any longer.  One thing he had to do before he left.  He sang the song of remembrance for his people taught to him by his mother.  The knowledge that he remembered them would help his father and brother and the others find peace in their new life.  He thought of his mother and sisters bound, slaves to those barbarians.  His voice thin and tremulous, he tried not to weep like a woman.

Tezah ran towards the hills. His bare feet pounded the ground. A few minutes after leaving the tree, he looked back.  Three low slung creatures sniffed the ground beside the water hole.   Even as he looked, the lionesses looked up and stared at him. He prayed to Shahat they would prefer the onagers. When they began loping towards him, Tezah knew that he would not live. He had allowed the stranger to violate the amulet.  The goddess in her anger had condemned him.  Even so, he began to run.  Fear, not hope, fear of the great claws and teeth kept him running.   He had not gone twenty feet before the leading lioness fell upon him, raking his  right side with a paw.  As he fell forward, the snarling of the three lionesses buried his scream.

The copter streaked through the air.   As the animals and their prey appeared, Joanna touched a button above her.  A high-pitched shrill exploded upon the lionesses.  Their ears numbed, the animals bolted, shaking their heads.  Sean grabbed the first-aid kit, and a blanket.  As the copter settled, he opened the door and sprinted towards the child lying in the grass.

Air bubbled through a gash in the boy’s throat, mixing with blood. Only a tendon and scraps of flesh held his right arm to his trunk. Sean knew that this child would not live.  A pulse still fluttered, but for how long?  The boy, deep in a coma, could feel nothing.  Sean slapped a bandage upon the gaping hole torn in the boy’s throat.  The other wounds, the ripping up of the right arm, back, legs and buttocks would have to wait until they reached the base.  He noted the dark stain on the boy’s face. The slave traders must have rejected him.  Why had they not killed him outright? They might have thought it would bring bad luck. Butcher a village and spare a child to avoid offending the gods.  He glanced at the stone dangling from his neck.  It might be a clan symbol.   Had a doting parent fastened it to ward off evil spirits?   Sean doubted whether he would ever know its purpose.  The child in his arms, he dashed back to the copter. 

As the machine lifted off, he strapped the boy into the rear seat, and injected him with antibiotics.  With any luck, Sean lied to himself he might live long enough for them to get him to base.  The fingers of the boy’s left hand moved.  Sean knew it to be an automatic reaction. Even so, he placed his hand on it. Maybe his initial diagnosis had not been accurate.  The child died sixteen minutes before they reached the base.

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