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.
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
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.”
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?”
“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?”
“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
“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?”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“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?”
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.
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.
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”