A/N: Please note, this is fanfiction based on the television show Eureka. I liberally and extensively quote from the show and those quotes are not credited at the time of use. The characters, the situations, and sometimes dialogue belong to the creators of Eureka. For those of you who are not Eureka fans, this story basically replicates the first half of the 5th season of the show, changing one major element.
Chapter 1: A Bridge to Nowhere
A/N: Babycakes10121 sent me a prompt (um, thanks? I think?) — namely, what would have happened if Zane had gone back in time instead of Jo? As always, not my characters, not my world, and many thanks to the creators of Eureka for such a wonderful place to play. And many thanks to babycakes for the idea. It caught me and wouldn’t let go.
Was it shock? Maybe. But Zane’s face felt numb as he stormed out of the sheriff’s office. He’d thought about it for weeks. He’d called his mom and gotten her to send his grandma’s ring. He’d tried to pick the right place, the right time. He’d gotten down on his knees, for God’s sake.
And never once had it occurred to him that Jo might say no.
It didn’t make sense.
She loved him, he knew she did. They’d been through so much together already. Getting married – come on, it was a no-brainer. They were a couple. They belonged together. So what the hell was her problem?
All right, maybe it was a little out of the blue. Maybe he should have led around to it a little bit. He’d wanted to surprise her, but maybe – too much of a surprise?
Halfway to GD, he pulled his phone out of his pocket. Okay, he was mad, but not so mad he wanted to break up with her. He could wait until she was ready, even if he did think she was being totally stupid. He dialed, held the phone up to his ear, then…whirr, jolt, stumble. What the hell?
He barely had a chance to take a breath before he was being shoved into a jail cell.
Okay, this was crazy. Crazy!
“That the best you got? I was just getting warmed up!” he shouted after the guard who’d locked the cell door.
What the hell was going on?
“Zane? Is that you?”
“Fargo? Is that you?”
“Oh my God, I thought I was going to die alone!”
Zane recoiled in horror at the sight of his fellow GD employee. “Why the hell are you naked?”
Fargo sheepishly positioned his hands over his crotch as he said, “Funny story. I was changing my costume when the phone rang and then I was standing, naked, in the road, surrounded by soldiers. Completely traumatizing, if you care.”
“Ah, yeah, not so much.”
“So what’s your story?”
“I was trying to reach Jo. What’s happened to us?”
“Based on the photos from Founder’s Day, I’m pretty sure we’re in 1947. I have no idea how to get back.” Fargo sank back onto the cell bench.
“Or what happened? Time travel is impossible. The laws of physics – this is just crazy. Something crazy must have happened. Some kind of electromagnetic pulse? But there must have been a tremendous amount of negative energy to transfer matter on a closed time-like curve.”
“Solar flares, you think?” Fargo was still huddling on the bench, but the scientific puzzle had him charged with energy.
The two of them debated the physics until a knock on the door stilled their words. Was the guard coming back? The door opened and it was the guard, but accompanying him was Alison in a nurse’s uniform.
“I’ll need to check them for injuries,” Alison said. “Take a break if you like.”
“If you’re sure you’ll be okay.” The guard seemed skeptical but Alison smiled warmly at him.
“I won’t open the cell door.”
“All right, I’ll have a smoke. Thanks.” The guard glared at Zane and Fargo. “Behave,” he grunted as he opened the door and exited.
The moment he’d left, the two men rushed to the barred door.
“Alison, what’s happening?” Zane asked urgently.
“You guys okay?” Alison asked. “I brought you some clothes.”
“Thank God,” they said in unison, as Fargo reached through the bars and eagerly accepted the clothes Alison was carrying.
“Henry and Carter are here, too, but we’ve got to get you guys out of here. Here’s some magnesium powder: it should burn hot enough to melt the lock. I’ll distract the MP for as long as I can.” With that, Alison passed over the powder and rushed away.
Fargo and Zane packed the lock and then lit it, but the explosion was lukewarm. They exchanged glances.
“We need to pour water on it,” said Zane.
“Easier said than done.” Fargo looked sulky.
“Only one option.” Zane felt pretty damn sulky himself. This was not going to be fun.
“Fine, you do it,” said Fargo.
“Why not? I’ve already had a really bad day. I got stuck here naked.”
“Well, you’ve already been embarrassed then, so you should do it.”
“Not a chance. You do it.”
The back and forth went on for a couple minutes until finally Fargo said, “Fine. Rock, paper, scissors?”
Zane grunted agreement. “Best two out of three?”
A minute later, Zane grinned as Fargo scowled. “Turn your back. I can’t do this in front of you.” The yelping in pain was annoying: Zane was sure he’d have been a little more stoic, but he felt a grudging respect for Fargo’s endurance when the lock finally opened.
Bolting out of the jail cell, they scurried through the base until they met up with Henry and Carter. A few minutes later, they were helping Henry with the phones while Carter and Grant searched for Alison.
And then – they waited. Would it work? Would the phones send them back to their own time? Zane couldn’t stop himself from thinking about Jo: that last minute between them couldn’t be the last minute for ever. He couldn’t not have a chance to apologize, not have a chance to tell her that he loved her no matter what and that he could wait until she was ready. He had to be able to tell her that he loved her at least once more.
He didn’t believe in God, but he was praying as the time ticked down. And then….whirr, jolt, and he was back in the jail cell.
“Yes.” The scream was exultant relief. He was home.
“What’s your problem, Donovan?” The voice was borderline hostile, but mostly disinterested.
“Jo?” Zane asked.
“Excuse me?” From outside the cell, Jo looked at him, her lip curled with scorn. “That’s Ms. Lupo. We don’t need to get familiar. It’d make the me throwing you in jail part of our routine a little creepy.”
Zane tugged at the door. It was locked. He hadn’t been locked in this jail cell since the day he’d arrived in Eureka.
“Wow. Ah….deja vu,” he said carefully.
“Yeah, right.” She laughed. “You spend half your life in that cell, Donovan. That’s not exactly a weird déjà vu.”
Oh, hell. He was home. But it wasn’t home anymore.
Chapter 2: Positively Positronic
“So, uh…why exactly am I in here?”
“Oh, please.” Jo glanced at her watch and went back to ignoring him.
Zane frowned. Where the hell was Carter? He and Jo had been sitting in strained silence for what seemed like endless minutes while his brain raced through permutations of the situation. There was a part of him that wanted to spill the whole story, right away, immediately, just tell Jo what had happened and deal with what came next.
But Jo was so hostile: he didn’t have any idea how she’d react. And she seemed – well, this wasn’t the Jo he knew. She still looked like herself, but where his Jo had always had a soft and warm side, a vulnerability about her, this Jo seemed almost bitter.
“Ah, seriously,” he tried. “When am I getting out of here?”
“I don’t know,” she scoffed. “How long do you think it’ll be before Dr. Fairchild gets his monkeys back?”
“The ones you let go. The ones you set free?” She made mocking finger quotes around the last two words.
“Those monkeys deserved some freedom,” he responded almost automatically, wracking his brain for any memories of a Dr. Fairchild. Nope, no idea who that was.
“Yeah, and you don’t.” She smiled at him, but there was no warmth and no humor in the look.
“Be a human, I’ve – got a date.” Zane wasn’t sure where the last words came from. What he really wanted to say was “Let me go, dammit, I’ve got to find Henry and Carter and find out what the hell is going on.” But he needed some reason. He couldn’t just tell Jo that he didn’t belong in jail – not until he understood what changing the timeline was going to mean.
“Ha,” Jo scoffed, but was that surprise on her face? Before he could be sure, she narrowed her eyes and said deliberately, “You’d probably make less trouble if you had a girlfriend. Who is it?”
“Ah –” For a minute, Zane drew a blank, then he said hastily, “That blonde chick in reproductive biology.” There was a really cute PhD who’d just joined GD in the biology department. Not that he’d paid attention but – well, he wasn’t blind. And if he hadn’t been absolutely, totally, completely committed to the maddening Jo Lupo, he might have asked said blonde chick out. Not that he would have. Just, you know, that he might have. In some other universe. Like, maybe, this one.
Jo’s mouth tightened, but then she gave an aggrieved sigh. She stood and crossed to the door. Unlocking it, she said, “Go.”
“Really?” Zane asked. Jo was going to let him go? To go out on a date with another woman? His Jo? “You’re not gonna tase me, are you?”
“Just get out,” she said. “I have better things to do than babysit you.”
Zane didn’t ask any more questions. He got out, while the getting was good.
“So Jo doesn’t like you?” Fargo’s voice was incredulous.
“Thanks, Fargo, that helps. That really helps.” Zane’s response was bitter.
“Sorry, that’s just – you know, weird.”
The two of them were walking down Main Street. Zane didn’t want to be with Fargo – he would much rather have found Carter or Henry or even Alison. But beggars couldn’t be choosers and in this strange new world, any face that had been back in 1947 with him was welcome.
“What have you figured out?”
“Well, Julia – my sort-of girlfriend – has never been to Eureka. She works for Google, is like a gazillionaire, and is married to an astronaut.”
“Whoa. That sucks.” It wasn’t the same thing – Julia and Fargo had been more in the kinda, sorta, maybe stage of a relationship. But still, married to an astronaut? That kind of competition was like a geek’s worst nightmare.
“Other than that, I seem to be living my same old life.” Fargo shrugged.
“I wish I was. This reality blows.”
The events of Founder’s Day were happening around them. Balloons decorated the streets; people in costume were wandering by, talking cheerfully, and in the distance, it looked as if Henry might be giving a speech.
“We should find the others,” suggested Zane.
“Yeah,” said Fargo. “Let’s split up. See if you can find Carter or Alison, and we’ll meet up by the podium – looks as if Henry’s down there.”
Zane nodded agreement and headed away from Fargo. But at the sound of a rumble, a mechanical clatter, and then a whir, he turned around. Whoa, cool! A robot was scuttling down Main Street, six legs moving in unison while its insect-like head shifted from side to side. It was nice work, if odd: he wondered why the designer had picked the bug-like form and what the technical advantages were.
But then the robot started shooting lasers out of its eyes and the street turned to chaos and before he knew it, Tess Fontana was screaming at him.
“I have been working on that probe for ten months!”
“Um, yeah?” Zane didn’t know what to say. What did that have to do with him?
“You jackass! I kicked you off my design team but this kind of revenge is pathetic even for you. Tiny’s power cell was hardened, there was no way it would short out.” Tess was yelling, her cheeks flushed, and Zane took a couple steps backwards. What the hell?
“Are you kidding, Tess?” he asked, as Carter hurried over to them.
“Tess? Tess? That’s Dr. Fontana to you, you juvenile, twisted, piece of –”
Zane looked at Carter in disbelief, as Carter shook his head and said “Go, just go.”
Zane went. But as he did, he couldn’t help thinking that this new universe? It really sucked.
It sucked all the more when he made it to GD. His lab? Gone. His office? Not his. His team of employees? As far as he could tell, they were all on other projects. He had no idea what he was supposed to be doing, but whatever it was, it wasn’t what he’d been used to.
And Jo was walking around GD in a power suit and heels. Whatever the hell she was up to, it wasn’t being Carter’s deputy.
When she saw him, she glared.
Oh, yeah, this universe? He did not want to be here.
But the positronic lightning? Now that was cool.
“I’m guessing this is it,” said Carter. Zane, Henry, Carter and Fargo were in Section 5, following a suspicion of where the positronic lightning might be being created. Zane rolled his eyes at Fargo’s password, but as the door slid open and they stepped inside, he had to concede that he’d be psyched, too.
“Nice work,” he shouted over the noise, grinning at Fargo. He went to offer him a high five and then remembered – this was Fargo. He dropped his hand.
Back in Fargo’s office, when Tess stormed in, he kept his mouth shut. He had no idea why Tess hated him, but he didn’t want to draw her attention. Or maybe, he thought, watching her scream at Fargo, the Tess in this universe was just a bitch? He almost felt sorry for Carter.
A sparkle and crack of lightning interrupted her tirade.
“Containment’s failing,” Zane reported.
“We have to work fast,” Henry said urgently.
“We could purge it into the bedrock,” Zane suggested.
“We could use a particle drill to sink the ground wire,” Henry agreed, “but we still have to tap the dump coil.”
“I’ll go,” Carter volunteered.
“You’ll be vaporized.” Tess still sounded angry.
A couple more minutes of conversation – ideas flying by – and as always, Carter came up with a simple solution. Andy would draw the lightning, covered in some Compton shielding, while moving along the east pylons: Carter and Zane would dash across the lab. Directly under the capacitor sphere, Carter would use a cross-bow to shoot the dump-coil, while Zane used the drill; they’d drop the titanium wire, and it should purge the charge.
At least that was the plan until Jo showed up. They were at the lab, almost ready to go, Carter and Zane in their flame-proof suits, all the equipment at hand.
“What the hell is going on here?” she snapped. “I’m head of security for GD: I expect to be consulted on operations of this magnitude.”
Fargo and Carter exchanged glances. Zane kept his head down. It hurt just to see her. It was like that time when Julia pretended to be Jo: a different person had taken over Jo’s body. A bitchy, hostile person this time. He’d almost rather she was kissing Fargo.
“Uh, yeah, sorry, Jo. We were in a hurry,” Fargo mumbled.
“Unacceptable.” She looked at the crossbow, and scowled. “And for a job where there’s shooting to be done? This is my job and you know it.” She turned to the security guard behind her. “Get a flame-resistant suit for me, size small, and make it speedy.”
Turning back to the group of men, she glared impartially at all of them, before focusing on Carter. “I don’t want to keep having this argument, Carter. I’m not your deputy anymore. I’m not your assistant. And you don’t get to make this type of decision in my facility.”
Without waiting for a response, she turned to Fargo, “And what were you thinking?” She was angry, but Zane could hear a trace of hurt in her voice.
“I – uh – it’s – um –” Fargo struggled to find words, turning a desperate glance on Carter before looking at Zane. Zane shrugged. She was right, really. She’d been an army ranger: physically, she was the toughest and best-trained of all of them. This should be her job.
The guard was back with the flame-resistant suit, standing behind Jo. Zane gestured at him to let Jo know that he was there, and then said to her, “Hurry it up. We need to get this done.”
She looked momentarily confused, and said, “Donovan? What are you doing here?”
“Drill guy,” he responded, holding up the drill to demonstrate. “And we need to get moving.”
Carter looked like he wanted to argue. Fargo looked horrified. Henry was frowning, but Jo nodded, turned to the guard, grabbed the suit and scrambled into it, zipping it up over her clothes.
“Jo, you don’t have to do this,” Carter protested, as she moved to take the crossbow from him.
“It’s my job, Carter,” she responded. “My responsibility. My right.” She glanced at Zane and again a brief look of confusion passed over her face, before she nodded at him and said to Andy, “We’re a go.”
Carter, Fargo, and Henry backed out the room, the door closing behind them, as Andy said, “Yippee-ki-ya” and headed off into the lightning. When he was halfway across the room Zane said, grinning at her, “Let’s do this.” She didn’t grin back, just frowned at him as they headed across the lab and into the lightning storm.
Zane worked the drill, while Jo shot the dump coil. Carter was counting down the time from outside the room. “Thirty seconds, Jo,” he reported, voice worried.
“Dropping the ground coil,” Zane shouted at her. “Bedrock in 200 meters. That’s going to take 30 seconds.”
Jo had the wire dangling from the dump coil: she was pulling it toward Zane. “Got it,” Zane shouted. He yanked the wire from the drill end and rushed to her side, stretching his length of the titanium alloy as far as it would reach. Together, they pushed the connecting pieces until it clicked into place, then, as Carter’s voice shouted, “Hurry, you’re almost out of time,” jumped across the room and away from the pounding lightning.
They landed side-by-side and watched as the chaotic lightning stabilized into one last intense bolt that shot down the wire and into the ground. Zane’s grin, as he watched the lightning hit, felt as if it would split his face.
“Woo-hoo, that was fun,” he said, turning toward Jo. He could feel the energy surging, the high from the danger and the electricity still sizzling in his veins.
She was watching him, not the lightning, and she looked almost puzzled. “Only you would think so,” she said, but the words didn’t hold any reproof, just thoughtfulness.
He wanted to reach for her. So badly. He wanted to slide his hands into her gorgeous hair and take her mouth with his and pull her next to him until he could feel every inch of her body pressed against his, and for a split second, as his eyes dropped to her full lips, he could have done it. But then she shook her head a little and scrambled to her feet.
“I still don’t get how you got involved in this, Donovan.”
“Right place, right time,” he said as he rolled over and looked up at her.
She was frowning slightly, looking serious, as she said, “Well, nice work,” almost as if the words pained her, and put a hand out.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” he drawled, taking her hand, and letting her pull him to his feet. Just the feel of her small fingers on his made him happier then he’d been all day.
“Which, the lightning or saying ‘nice work’ to you?” Jo dropped his hand the moment he was on his feet, and even though Zane wanted to hold on to it, wanted to pull her to him, he let her go. The sarcasm in her voice made it clear that the moment was over.
Later that night, not by coincidence, the six of them gathered at Café Diem.
“So,” Henry started, “The bridge device is dead. And the energy field has decayed beyond repair.”
There was silence, until Carter broke it by saying, “So this is home then. For all of us.”
“Well, what do you know,” Grant murmured. Zane could barely bring himself to look at him. He was pretty sure he hated the guy. He’d never really hated anyone before, but Grant had destroyed his life.
“So how do we tell everyone what happened to us?” Carter asked.
“We don’t,” Henry’s answer was quick.
“We have to,” Zane protested. “This place is insane.” The argument raged for several minutes until Alison ended the debate by revealing the military protocol that would send them all to solitary confinement or see them killed if the truth came out.
“We can’t tell anyone,” Henry had the final word.
Zane grimaced with frustration. “Well, you at least have to get me my lab back, Fargo.” If his love life was destroyed, he wanted his work life to go back to normal.
“No,” Henry insisted. “Not yet. We can’t make changes until we understand what we’re dealing with.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Zane’s voice rose, almost inadvertently, and then he dropped it to a fervent whisper as the others looked around nervously. “This world sucks. I can’t live like this.” All the rest of them had lives that had improved: Alison’s son, Fargo’s job, Carter and Henry’s romantic situations.
“Any changes now could give us away,” Alison agreed with Henry, but her voice was sympathetic. “Just live with it for a while, Zane.”
“You can handle it, sport.” Maybe Grant meant his words to be bracing, but to Zane the patronizing bullshit was the last straw. The man had screwed up his life in so many ways. He hated him, with a passion he wasn’t sure he’d ever felt before.
Chapter 3: Heaven has no rage*
Zane was pissed. This reality? It sucked. No, that was too mild a phrase. It was a living nightmare. It was hell. It was … well, in some past life, he had clearly done something really, really, really bad.
Maybe not as bad as the next thing he was going to do in this life, though. Killing Charles Grant? It wouldn’t be a sin. Okay, yeah, he’d have a tough time explaining it to a jury, but it’d be worth it. Sure, he’d wind up in federal prison, but apparently it wouldn’t be the first time.
And that just blew his mind. How the hell had he gotten convicted? Somehow Charles Grant’s absence from the timeline had caused him – the this-universe him – to make a screw-up of monumental proportions. His alleged crimes in the old timeline had brought him to Eureka, but he’d never been convicted. In this timeline, though, he’d spent some time in federal prison before getting sent here. He supposed that was why the weight room in his apartment – after all, wasn’t that the stereotype?
And he should probably keep working out. It wasn’t as if he was looking forward to going to prison, but it might be inevitable.
“What the hell, Parrish?” he snapped. “Do you even know how this works?”
“Can the attitude, Donovan,” Parrish snapped back at him. “It doesn’t work. I get it. You just work on your little I-mines and leave the RSS to me.”
Zane shook his head but turned back to his own work. He couldn’t believe Fargo had him working down here. What a waste of his time. At least he still had the SkyCruiser. Otherwise – well, working in the old Eureka had always been interesting. Working in this Eureka? It was just a grind.
Head down over the immobilization mine, he missed the moment when Parrish left the lab, but at the sound of the door sliding open and Parrish’s voice saying stiffly, “The latest null wep prototypes are still in development. They’re not ready for demonstration,” he looked up.
Fargo. And Jo.
Great. That was just great.
He hadn’t hated Fargo in old Eureka. He hadn’t liked him, particularly, but he’d just been part of the scenery – no more worthy of hate than, well, than Larry. Now, though? Now he hated him. Not as much as he hated Grant. But more than he hated Henry. More than he hated Carter? Yeah. But maybe not quite as much as he hated Parrish.
“General Mansfield is expecting one.” Oh, maybe he hated Fargo more than Parrish. It’d be a tough call, really.
“We just need to see what you’ve got.” Jo’s smooth voice was like sandpaper rubbed across bare skin.
If he hated anyone, it was her.
“Anytime you want, Lupo.” The bitter words were said to Lupo, but the mocking wave that went with them was directed straight at Fargo.
Two days ago, he’d been scolded by the group. “He was going to give them away,” they’d said. “He was going to get them all in trouble.” Even Alison, who seemed to understand how frickin’ hard this was, had pleaded with him to try to act like the this-timeline Zane.
So, okay, he was supposed to play the part? He’d play the part.
“Fine,” sighed Parrish. Stepping forward into the lab, he led Fargo and Jo to the unidirectional plasma field. Oh, now, this might be fun. Scooping up the beanbag gun, Zane joined him, a small smile playing around his lips. Maybe today wouldn’t be all bad.
Blah, blah, blah – Zane was ignoring the words as he tried to decide who to shoot. He definitely hated Jo more than Fargo. Definitely. But even though it wouldn’t really hurt, just sting for a while, something about shooting Jo was too intimate. It was almost as if aiming at her would reveal too much – to Parrish, to Fargo, maybe even to Jo herself, although as far as he could tell, the this-timeline Jo was as stupid as a rock.
So, Fargo, yeah, he’d shoot Fargo. He aimed the gun.
“Donovan,” Jo’s voice was filled with warning.
“Relax, it just shoots beanbags.” Zane fired, but hell, Jo was too fast. She grabbed the beanbag out of the air before it could hit Fargo’s face. Damn her. Okay, maybe she’d moved ahead of Grant in his personal hate list. No, no, Grant was still the winner. It was Grant’s fault that he was in this world. But he didn’t let his thoughts show on his face. He was playing a part so he forced a grin as she walked by and scornfully dropped the beanbag at his feet.
Parrish tried to demonstrate the riot suppression system, and of course it didn’t work. Surprise, surprise. Nothing in Parrish’s stupid lab worked. Except for Zane’s I-mines. Fargo, the idiot, picked one up and shook it and for a second, Zane was tempted to just let it go off but he didn’t want to clean up the mess, so he quickly stepped forward and started explaining what it did.
Maybe Fargo was playing his own role, but he didn’t listen to the explanation, just petulantly said, “Forget it, just send me all your design specifications and fix this, fix it all.” As he stomped off, Zane exchanged a look with Parrish.
Okay, Fargo had definitely moved ahead of Parrish on his list. First, Grant, then Lupo, then Fargo. Hell, Parrish might even have moved below Carter. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all.
* William Congreve: Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned…
Chapter 4: Feed the Rage*
“This was an assassination attempt!” Fargo was almost hissing the words in his fury. He was standing in his office, covered in yellow goo from an i-mine explosion.
“Easy, Fargo.” Carter wasn’t quite rolling his eyes. “An assassination attempt with a non-lethal weapon seems a little pointless, don’t you think?”
“I almost suffocated! And these were my favorite pants.” There was a wobble in Fargo’s voice on the last sentence.
“You sure it wasn’t just a prank?” Carter tried to find a little more sympathy for the beleaguered director. Fargo had had a rough week. They all had. Alison was loving her time with the changed Kevin, but for the rest of them, the changed universe was filled with stress as they tried to navigate the uncertainties without revealing the truth to the people around them.
Jo, standing next to and a little in front of Carter, said with a sigh, “I’ll go arrest Donovan.”
“Uh, any particular reason you think it was Zane?” Carter asked.
Jo glanced at him, puzzled. “Because it was a prank? Because Donovan was in the non-lethal weapons lab a few minutes earlier? Because he designed and knows how to use the i-mines? Come off it, Carter.” Her chuckle wasn’t amused, but lightly disbelieving. “This kind of thing is always Donovan.”
“I usually prefer to have evidence,” Carter said, looking at Fargo.
“Yeah, speaking of what you prefer – what exactly are you doing here?” Jo’s words weren’t hostile, but they were direct.
“Fargo called me,” Carter responded, with a touch of caution in his voice. Why was she asking? Shouldn’t it be obvious? He was always called when something went wrong at GD.
Jo raised her eyebrows at Fargo, clearly waiting for an explanation. She had the look of a punitive school teacher, ready to scold.
Fargo swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing convulsively. He was obviously remembering Jo’s anger over the positronic lightning. “It’s – it’s a crime,” he stammered. “I thought the sheriff should, um, investigate.”
Jo shook her head and this time the disbelief was written on her face. “Oooo-kay,” she said, and then she glanced at Carter. “I don’t get what’s going on here.” She looked back and forth between them, more puzzled than angry. “It’s like we’ve gone back in time.”
Oh, hell. Carter grimaced, and Fargo flinched. How had she guessed? And how would she react when they told her exactly what had happened? Would she feel obligated to turn them in? She might. Jo took the law seriously. And this universe’s Jo might well be as zealous as the Jo that Carter had met all those years ago, before her relationship with Eureka’s resident bad-boy had softened her edges.
Jo directed her next words to Fargo. “I’ve been doing this job for a year now. I think I’ve been good at it. You certainly haven’t complained before. Why are you suddenly acting like I was Carter’s deputy just yesterday?”
Oh. That was what she meant.
“You’re right, I don’t know what I was thinking,” Fargo blurted out. “My mistake. I’m sorry. Won’t happen again.”
Jo’s mouth dropped open, and then she pulled it closed, her expression wary. “You just apologized to me. You never apologize. To anyone.”
“I’m turning over a new leaf?” he suggested, a hint of desperation in his voice.
Jo folded her arms across her chest. One foot tapped as she gazed at Fargo while she thought. Fargo looked at Carter pleadingly and behind Jo’s back, Carter shrugged. He had no idea what to do. They should try to distract her, but how?
“All right, this isn’t getting us anywhere,” Jo said abruptly. Shaking her head, she started, “I’ll go arrest –”
She paused and glanced back at Carter, before correcting herself pointedly. “Excuse me, I’ll go interrogate Donovan, and when he confesses – as he will, because he always does – I’ll throw him in jail for a couple of days. Unless this is the last straw for you, Fargo, and you’re ready to send him back to Sheridan?”
“No, no,” Fargo said hastily. “I don’t want him to go back to prison.”
Jo shrugged. “I know you think his work is valuable, but honestly, he spends so much time in jail, I don’t see how he gets anything done. The SkyCruiser and the other projects he’s working on can’t really be worth all the hassle he puts us through.”
“That seems like a bit of an over-reaction for a prank,” Carter interjected before Fargo had a chance to respond.
“What the hell, Carter?” Jo spun to face him directly. “Okay, now that was really weird! You’ve been trying to get Donovan sent back to prison since the day he got here. You’re always in favor of getting rid of him! What’s going on with you?”
“I – uh, uh,” Carter almost stuttered, struggling to find the right thing to say before inspiration hit, and he said, “I just don’t think it would be the right time, that’s all. You know, Zane helped us out last week with that positronic lightning, so, uh, maybe he’s turning over a new leaf, too.”
“Donovan? Are we talking about the same Zane Donovan? The one who’s in the jail so much he has his own pillow?”
“I – people can change!” Carter said defensively. “Zane’s not so bad.”
Jo just looked at him and slowly shook her head. She looked back at Fargo. “Anything else to say?” she asked him.
“Uh, um, no?” Fargo’s voice squeaked.
“Okay, then,” she said. “I’ll go get started.” At the door, she turned back to both of them. “Ya’ know, if you think of anything else you want to tell me, you’ve got my number.”
With the door closed behind her, Fargo and Carter exhaled simultaneously.
“How bad do you think it would be if she – you know?” asked Fargo.
Carter looked at the door out of which Jo had just disappeared. “I think – I think it might be bad. I mean she’s not Mansfield, but…” He didn’t want to admit the truth, not even to himself. He loved Jo. Truly loved her, almost like he loved Zoe. But this Jo? She might not be the same person. And even old Jo had had moments when the rule-book took precedence over the person. Slowly, almost to himself, he repeated, “I think it might be bad.”
“We’re going to have to do better,” Fargo said fervently. “But this is so hard!”
“Yeah.” Carter nodded, his face worried. “But if it’s this hard for us, what the hell is it like for Zane?”
Zane. Carter had called him Zane. More than once. Like three times maybe. What was up with that?
Calling Donovan by his first name? It was as if he’d started calling Fargo, Doug. Or Alison, Allie. He’d never called Donovan Zane before. When had they become so friendly? And how? And why didn’t she know about it?
Behind the wheel of her sporty blue Subaru, Jo was frowning, her attention barely on the road.
And Fargo. Apologizing! What the hell was that about?
People were being so weird. Everyone was being weird. Carter, Fargo, Henry…and Donovan. He was being weirdest of all.
She’d almost been glad when he aimed that bean bag gun at Fargo. It was the first sign of normalcy since…since when? She tried to think back. He hadn’t met her on in her way into work once this week. Not once. Not a single time. None of that annoying flirty stuff he did, the teasing, “Morning, Lupo, and aren’t you looking hot today? All ready for another day of cracking the whip?”
And Tuesday night at Café Diem – he was always at Café Diem on Tuesdays. As was she, of course, but where the hell had he been this week?
It wasn’t as if she’d missed him. But he ate at the counter, she ate at the counter, he hassled her about being a slave to big government, she criticized his anarchistic ways, it was a routine. And damn it, she didn’t like having her routines messed up.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat: there was a prickling along her spine that she associated with agitation, with being in the midst of action. Why was driving her car making her feel this way? Could just thinking about Donovan annoy her this much? Well, yeah, she admitted to herself, he was damn annoying. But…no, it wasn’t just him.
Yeah, he was being weird, but he wasn’t the only one. Carter was weird, too. Fargo was weird.
So try to figure it out, she told herself. When had they started being weird? But she couldn’t put her finger on a specific moment. It was more a series of tiny things; niggling little odd stuff. Like Donovan, in the jail cell on Founder’s Day.
“What’s your problem, Donovan?” was a question with a whole series of right answers. Not right answers, that was, but, you know, the typical Donovan answers.
“Women in uniform make me hot, Lupo.” Now that was a typical answer.
“I just like making you mad. You’re gorgeous when you’re pissed at me.” That worked, she heard that one a lot.
“Someone’s got to resist the corporate machine before we all turn into drones, Lupo.” Okay, she didn’t like that one, but it fit within the realm of typical.
“Jo?” Said in a voice that was tentative and uncertain? No, that was just…that was just wrong.
Jo shifted again. The prickling in her spine had reached her neck. Her shoulders felt tight and she was gritting her teeth so hard that her jaw hurt. She felt…angry.
Because something was wrong and she didn’t know what and she hated that feeling.
But, hey, she was on her way to arrest Donovan – he’d left GD and headed to Café Diem, so she was following him there – and once she had him in cuffs and tossed into the jail cell, maybe things would get back to normal. She’d sit at her old desk until Andy showed up, and he’d tease her and she’d glare at him and everything would be okay.
Rubbing her neck, she kept driving. Only another couple minutes until she reached Main Street.
*Anger as soon as fed is dead –
‘Tis starving makes it fat.
Chapter 5: Indulge the rage
Grant was sitting at the counter of Café Diem, chatting with Vincent.
Just your typical, casual, friendly conversation.
A smile here, a laugh there, as if he’d never destroyed anyone’s life for kicks.
Zane hated him so much that he could barely breathe. He put his sandwich back on the plate, his hands clenching into fists. Hold it together, hold it together, he told himself. But, oh, God, he hated that man. He was glaring at his plate so ferociously that he didn’t notice Jo come in.
“Donovan,” she drawled.
He looked up. She was standing in front of his table, looking so much like his Jo – albeit in an incredibly sexy suit, the likes of which his Jo had never had in her closet – that for a moment he froze, time standing still as he wished himself back to his own world.
Then the moment was broken, as she added, “Fargo, i-mine?” She was dangling her handcuffs almost suggestively, and he scowled at her.
Not his Jo. Just an imposter. “What about him? Them?”
She looked surprised, and said, “Did you set off an i-mine on Director Fargo?”
“No. Why would I? If I wanted an i-mine to go off on him, all I had to do was let him keep shaking the one he picked up.” A surge of anger raced through him and he added in a mutter, “Booting me from one brain-dead assignment to another. Guy deserves what he gets. “
“Are you saying that you didn’t do it?” She sounded shocked.
“I’m saying he’s a tool,” he snapped at her. “I’ve been here for hours. Ask Vincent, law-dog.”
He couldn’t even look at her. Rage was burning in his veins. He wanted to scream, to throw things, to strike out, to smash the world.
“You always confess,” she said slowly. “Always. Even when…” her words trailed off, then she added, voice firm, “Get up. You’re coming with me.”
“You’re arresting me?” He looked up at her, and it was his turn to be shocked.
“Taking you back to GD, yeah,” she confirmed.
He shook his head. Unbelievable. “You’re going to arrest me for something I didn’t do?” he asked again.
She frowned, brows drawn down over her eyes, and said, not patiently, “I’m taking you back to GD so we can get to the bottom of this, yes.”
“Great. That’s just great.” He shoved the table away from him, not quite knocking it over, as he stood. “You want to arrest me?”
He leaned across the table toward her and almost whispered, “Let me give you something to arrest me for.”
Without waiting for her response, he strode across the restaurant to where Grant was still sitting at the counter, and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Donovan,” he heard Jo say behind him, voice a warning. “What do you think you’re doing?”
As Grant turned to face him, Zane bit out the words, “Hey, sport, welcome to Eureka.” Before Grant could do more than look confused, Zane pulled back his fist, and smashed him in the middle of his smug, arrogant, conceited, cocky, miserable face.
Ow. Shit. As Grant flew backwards, off his stool and onto the floor, blood already starting to stream out of his nose, Zane shook out his hand.
Damn. That hurt.
In the next moment, he hurt even worse, as Jo grabbed his thumb and twisting it, forced him across the room until he hit the wall by the door.
“You’re coming with me. Now,” she bit out, as she fumbled with her cuffs.
“Bite me, Lupo.” He hated her. He so hated her. But she was so close. He could smell her and she smelled like his Jo, same shampoo, same soap, and for just a second, his gaze dropped to her full lips, and he felt the pain of knowing that she wasn’t his and would never be his again.
Her lips parted and he tilted his head down, just slightly, wanting so desperately to kiss her, to taste her, before she ground out, “Don’t tempt me,” and forced him around, snapping the cuffs around his wrists.
He leaned against the wall, forehead touching it, and he hated. He hated. But he also hurt.
Behind him he could hear the chaos as Vincent rushed around the counter to help Grant up, and the other patrons of the restaurant exclaimed and talked excitedly.
“If you want to press charges, drop by the Sheriff’s office,” Jo said brusquely to Grant. “That was assault, and you’ve got witnesses, so it’s a clear violation of his parole. He’ll go back to prison.”
Damn. He didn’t care about going back to prison, but he would rather have gone for killing Grant, not just punching him in the nose.
Jo was shaking. Not a lot, not enough for anyone to notice, but she could feel the tremor in her hands as she snapped the cuffs around Donovan’s wrists.
She was too close to him, so close that she could feel the warmth of his body.
In all the times she’d arrested him – so many times she’d lost count – she’d never once had to resort to physical force. Most of the time, he held out his wrists mockingly when she came near. And most of the time, she didn’t even bother with the cuffs, just rolled her eyes and said “Come on,” while he fell into step beside her.
What the fuck was going on?
He was never violent. Never. He was a jackass, a jerk, an egotistical, arrogant, know-it-all, smug, snarky, anarchistic rebel, who delighted in making her life miserable.
But he didn’t hit people.
And this? She didn’t know the guy he’d hit, this Grant character, but if he wanted to press charges, Donovan would be headed back to prison before he could blink. Maybe for somebody else, it’d be a simple misdemeanor, but for Donovan, anything that took him to court would be a violation of his parole.
Was it her fault? But why? She’d confronted him about petty crap dozens of times – dozens – and he always just smirked at her and claimed responsibility. Even when it turned out later that he hadn’t done it.
She’d challenged him about it once and he’d told her that being arrested by her was the best part of his day and he didn’t really care whether he deserved it or not.
It was…it was a given.
He always confessed.
He always came quietly.
He always smirked and flirted and made his smart-ass comments.
This? What had just happened? It was really, really wrong.
Somewhere, deep down, she thought that she might want to cry. But up where her conscious mind lived, she was just angry.
Really, really angry.
* I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.—Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Chapter 6: Anger Like Fire
Being chained to a hospital bed in the midst of a zombie insurrection pretty much sucked. Maybe especially if you were one of the zombies.
Zane’s memories were fuzzy, but he remembered enough.
The throbbing pain in his cheek? That was where Jo had smacked him, hard, when he’d tried to kick out the dashboard of her car. The smarting sting in his wrists? That was from trying to wrench his way out of her handcuffs – entirely ineffective when it came to getting himself free, but he suspected that he’d drawn blood. The ache in his shoulder? That was from trying to jerk loose and having Jo twist back. And the dull pain of his knuckles? Bruised from where he’d hit Grant. Only the last gave him any satisfaction at all.
He’d have to apologize to evil Lupo and just the thought made him want to squirm. But with the influence of the RSS gone, he knew he’d been way out of line. He would have hit her if he could have, and even the idea made him feel vaguely sick to his stomach.
“How ya’ doing, Zane?”
He opened his eyes to the sound of Alison’s warm, worried voice and tried to muster a smile. “Been better,” he said. “Can you—” He nodded toward the handcuffs that held him locked to the bed. He had a dim memory that they’d tried to get him into restraints instead but that he’d been fighting too hard.
“I don’t have the key,” she replied. “Jo’s on her way back. She’ll –”
“Great,” he muttered and closed his eyes again.
“Zane,” her voice was urgent and her soft hand cupped his cheek. “I know it’s hard, I know. But you’ve got to hold it together. We’re all counting on you.”
He opened his eyes. She was leaning toward him, her eyes worried, her voice soft as she continued, “We will fix it as soon as we can. I mean, not – we can’t – but it’ll get better, it will. You have the hardest job. We all know that. As soon as we can safely make changes, we’ll …”
“Alison,” Jo’s voice was dry, but just the sound of it had Alison jumping back, dropping her hand as if she’d been touching a hot stove. “Donovan.” Jo nodded at him and Zane looked away.
Okay, he had to apologize. But that didn’t mean he wanted to look at her.
Alison was saying something, her voice hurried and anxious, but Zane just stared at the wall, ignoring the words, waiting for the click that would mean the cuffs were released.
It didn’t come.
Footsteps meant that Alison was moving away.
Finally, he lost patience. Turning toward her, he snapped, “You want me to apologize first? Fine. I’m sorry.” It wasn’t much of an apology, he knew. His mom would smack him if she’d heard it. But it was the best he could do.
She didn’t answer.
He was facing in her direction, but he was looking past her, at the motion behind her. Reluctantly, he let his eyes meet hers.
She was solemn, face serious. Abruptly he realized that they’d been in this exact place, in this exact position, before. “Gonna fluff my pillows?” he drawled. He’d made a joke last time and she’d been pissed. He’d apologized and she’d…
He turned his face away. Damn her. He wanted to hate her, but the rage had burned its way out of him and all he felt was sorrow.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Her voice was husky.
“No idea what you’re talking about,” he answered without looking at her.
“I’ve already talked to Dr. Grant,” she replied.
Zane’s eyes flew back to her and he opened his mouth – and then paused. Grant would be in just as much trouble as the rest of them if the truth got out. There was no way he’d said anything. Or at least not anything important.
It was hard, but Zane kept his mouth shut, eyes narrowed. He’d thought this Lupo was stupid, but he was almost positive she was trying to trick him. Almost. Either way, she could make the next move.
Finally, she grimaced and said, “Fine, be that way.” She sounded irritated and Zane felt a little thrill of triumph. He’d won. Not that he knew what he’d won, but if she was irritated and he wasn’t, he’d won something. She smiled at him, not nicely, and said, “Dr. Grant would like to talk to you. I’ll be back to unlock you after he’s done.”
Damn her! She’d won after all. The last thing in the world he wanted was to face Grant. Most especially while he was locked up.
Jo turned and walked away, and Zane glared after her, then shifted his gaze back to the wall.
“I’m sorry.” The words were unexpected.
Zane sighed, and shifted to face Grant. He’d pulled a chair over and was sitting by the side of the bed. Zane felt a spurt of irritation. Making himself comfortable, was he? But then he realized that Grant looked terrible, nose swollen, eyes bruised. For a moment, Zane almost felt satisfied, until he recognized that the emotion in Grant’s eyes was pure sorrow.
“I—” Zane opened his mouth to say something, although he wasn’t sure what, but Grant shook his head, interrupting him.
“Let me—let me say what I have to say.” The words were stiff and the pause that followed lasted and lasted, so long that Zane opened his mouth again, to apologize, if nothing else, before Grant said, hastily, “No. You were – it was justified. I understand. And don’t worry, I won’t be pressing charges.”
He shrugged and tried to smile. “It’s all my fault. I wanted to see the future. The thought, the chance, it was irresistible. But…everyone I knew is gone. Everything I might have done is erased. Yours is not the only life I destroyed.”
Goddamn it. The last thing Zane wanted was to feel sympathy for Grant. But in that moment he thought about what he would have done, confronted with the same choice. To jump forward sixty years? To see the future? To know what the world would be like in 2075? Of course he’d go. He wouldn’t have hesitated. He wouldn’t have thought twice. And he certainly wouldn’t have worried about what he’d be doing to some other poor schmuck’s life.
“Damn it,” he mumbled.
Grant almost chuckled. Their eyes met and the look they exchanged was one of mutual understanding. Zane understood why Grant had taken the risk, and he knew that Grant understood that he’d deserved a sock in the nose, if not worse. Zane nodded at him, and Grant touched his brow in an almost salute.
Back in the doorway, Jo frowned. When she’d gotten to the infirmary, Alison – Alison! – had been caressing Donovan’s face. The guy was a horndog but she’d never had the slightest inkling that Alison might have fallen for his lines before.
Alison? It just seemed so unlikely.
And yet that caress had been way more intimate than any gesture she’d ever seen between Donovan and one of his women. He ran through them like Kleenex, usually: there was no affection involved. But Alison’s touch – if she hadn’t known better, Jo would have called it loving.
It made no sense.
And now this. Whatever was going on between Donovan and Grant, it wasn’t simple. If she had to guess from their body language, Grant was apologizing to Donovan instead of vice versa.
What the hell was that about?
Jo wanted to believe that everything weird she’d been sensing was just a result of the RSS. She really did. Now that they’d reversed the effects, everything would go back to normal, right?
But seeing Donovan smile at Grant, stilted though it was, sent a shiver of unease down her spine.
Maybe she should find out a little more about Grant. Who exactly was this guy?
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” – Maya Angelou
Chapter 7: Let the Flames Begin
What a rush!
Zane could barely contain his grin, a fierce joy filling him. This was – it was flying. The blood pounding in his ears, the roar of the engine, the whistling wind racing past him, the bounce of an unexpected air current – it made him want to laugh with glee, to scream with exultation.
It was everything he’d imagined, but better than he’d imagined. It was like riding a motorcycle, mixed with the coolest roller coaster in the world. Knowing that the ground was a deadly distance below him, and that one false move would be fatal, just gave it that extra bit of spice.
Before the thought even had a chance to fully form, Zane pushed it away.
That was then.
This was now.
But he’d reached the rocket launching ground: time to circle in for a landing. Spiraling down, he brought the SkyCruiser to a perfect stop in front of the structure set up to shelter the Rocket-Daze broadcasters. And hey, that hot blonde from aerospace was right there. Nice.
Pulling off his helmet, he shouted over the roar of the engine, “Hey, ya’ want to go for a spin?” He didn’t have an extra helmet, but if she said yes, he’d suggest another time, maybe after the rocket launch.
“Donovan! Cut the engine.”
Evil Jo was here.
This break-up – if such it could be called – sucked big-time.
It was inevitable that their break-up would be the worst of his life. She’d meant more: witness the engagement ring.
But after recovering from the effects of the RSS, he’d tried to convince himself that maybe they would have broken up in the old timeline, too. After all, he’d proposed; she hadn’t said yes; maybe their relationship had run its course.
Maybe they would have been over even without the time travel.
It wasn’t a happy thought. In fact, he pretty much hated it. But it was a way to live with what had happened.
Except – that in a nice, normal break-up – they would have split up their friends. They would have split up their social calendar. For six months, minimum, they would have danced the barely conscious dance of avoidance, where when one came into a room, the other left; where when one went to an event, the other sent regrets.
Instead, he knew that they should be doing that dance, and she didn’t have a clue. And she had no hesitation about giving him a hard time.
Yeah, it just sucked.
“Explain,” Mansfield barked.
Zane looked at Fargo.
“I clearly told you no joy rides,” Fargo blustered.
What an ass.
“You’re only allowed to ride the SkyCruiser from GD to here and back,” he continued.
Exactly what Zane had done. So what the hell was the big deal? But calling Fargo out for being a hypocrite in front of Mansfield probably fell well within the range of what the others would deem dangerous so Zane swallowed his irritation, and said, as smarmily as he could, “Yes, sir. Wouldn’t want to disobey you or the Enforcer.” He threw in a tiny salute to Jo, knowing it would piss her off.
“Why are you allowing Donovan to operate a $150 million dollar prototype?” Mansfield’s fury seemed a little over the top. Awesome, that probably meant that he was another person who held a grudge against the this-timeline-Zane.
“Dr. Donovan is the only person who can fly it,” Fargo muttered.
“And I did design the thing,” Zane added helpfully.
“You are a felon,” Mansfield snapped. “Here on qualified parole, with a history of strikingly poor judgment.”
Yeah, no kidding. Zane tried to keep his smile in place. He had no idea what his alter-ego had been thinking, but at this point, if he had to pick a single person in this universe to hate, it would have been the this-timeline version of himself. Why had the guy been such an idiot? It was like he wanted to make life difficult.
“He takes this responsibility very seriously,” Fargo assured Mansfield. “Don’t you?” He glared at Zane.
Zane wanted to kill him. What an asshole! Fargo dropped out of the other timeline into the cushiest job on the planet. Why did he have to decide to make Zane’s life hell? He couldn’t find something better to do? But…
“Abso-fricking-lutely.” Zane grinned. Might as well go along.
Beep, beep. Jo looked at her phone and said, “Larry’s ready at Mission Control.”
“Perfect,” Fargo said, with a hint of desperation in his voice. “Right on schedule. General, Jo will show you to the VIP seating area.”
“Fine,” muttered Mansfield, still glaring at Zane.
Zane kept his smile firmly in place, but behind it was a glare.
Jo, staring directly at him, as if she could order him to behave via mind control, said, “Sir, please, right this way,” as she ushered Mansfield away.
Behave? Yeah, as if.
“Birds,” snapped Jo.
“What?” Fargo was oblivious.
The rockets were launched, the general was happy, everything ought to be fine, but what the hell was happening with those birds? It was like a scene out of a Hitchcock movie as a flock of blackbirds dive-bombed the flat ground at the top of the hill.
“Oh, crap.” Fargo saw it, too.
The SkyCruiser was swaying its way through the sky, weaving back and forth like a towel on a clothesline on a windy day, until – boom! It hit a non-descript black sedan in a mass of fire, exploding as Zane spiraled over it, crashing to the ground in a cloud of smoke.
“Zane!” Jo raced forward.
Into the smoke, the debris. “Zane…Zane…Zane…” She was saying his name, over and over again, but that didn’t have anything to do with him, it didn’t mean anything, it wasn’t personal and then – there he was – and she was helping him up and taking off his helmet and –
“Whoa! Did you see that? It was awesome!”
God damn him. It was like he existed to make her life miserable.
What a shame
We all became such fragile, broken things
A memory remains just a tiny spark
I give it all my oxygen
To let the flames begin
So let the flames begin
Chapter 8: Drunks Are So Cute
“Do you realize what you’ve done?” Fargo’s arms were folded, his glasses pushed high on his face. “You destroyed the prototype. Prototype. As in only one!”
“It must have malfunctioned?” Zane’s words were slurred.
“Malfunctioned?” Mansfield took off his cap, furious. “You’re inebriated.”
“I am not – ” Zane started, before getting distracted. “Those are pretty ribbons.”
“Donovan,” snapped Jo. “Knock it off.”
‘What the hell was wrong with him?’ thought Jo. Mansfield thought he was drunk but Zane didn’t drink. Hell, she’d knocked back enough shots of ouzo at Café Diem while he mocked her for falling prey to the opiates of the masses to know that he’d never risk his brain cells on anything as stupid as alcohol. “What happened?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you what happened,” Mansfield sniffed. “He’s been indulging in those Titan-tinis that you’ve allowed on the premises.”
“Hey, I am not drunk,” Zane protested. “I was flying back to GD like little – little – Fargo, over there, with the glasses, told me…” Just from the way he gestured, Jo knew that there were other terms he’d use if he could summon them. If he wasn’t drunk, he was doing a damn good imitation.
“And there was these birds, and then – and I went – and came – and came down, and – I don’t know?” He looked up at her with a perplexed expression.
“Donovan,” Mansfield’s expression was grim. “You are going back where you belong: to federal prison.”
“No,” Jo interrupted. “I need to complete a formal investigation.”
“Of? What?” Mansfield was abrupt, dismissive. But that didn’t matter to Jo. He was also wrong. “He was hot-rodding under the influence and he just obliterated a multi-million dollar project.”
“But he said he wasn’t drinking. Right?” Jo turned toward Donovan but he was staring at his fingers. He looked up at her with a helpless expression and she shook her head in disgust.
“Lupo, I’m surprised at you,” said Mansfield.
Jo laughed. She couldn’t help herself. “Not as surprised as I am, sir,” she said, trying to sound calm, to not let the trickle of hysteria that she felt in the back of her throat rise to the surface. “You must know that I’ve been trying to get rid of Donovan forever.”
Mansfield looked momentarily puzzled.
“How many times have I sent you requests for his transfer?” she questioned him. “How many times have I asked – no, begged – for you to take him off our hands?”
Mansfield frowned, face stiff with disapproval.
“That time with the holographic Ewoks?** I went beyond begging: I offered you my annual bonus if you’d just get Donovan out of here.”
“I recall,” grumped Mansfield. Looking at Fargo, he added, “How are you going to handle this?”
Fargo swallowed hard.
“Fargo,” Jo said firmly, “Everyone, even Donovan, is entitled to due process. Whatever happened here, it’s not nearly as simple as Donovan getting drunk and crashing the SkyCruiser.” Turning toward the general, she added, “Sir, you know that I am perfectly willing to have you send Donovan back to prison. More than willing. I can barely believe that I’m trying to stop you. But Donovan doesn’t drink. Or do drugs. Or do anything that could mess with his precious brain cells.” She glanced across the landing to the people still gathered around the tents. “We have to consider who might have wanted to drug him and why.”
“You think someone drugged him?” Mansfield sounded shocked.
“Donovan is a jackass, sir. But this behavior is not like him. We need to test his blood; I want to talk to witnesses. If this was carelessness on his part, it’ll be easy to prove. If it wasn’t, then it was sabotage. Maybe even attempted murder.”
She looked at Zane, who was still leaning against the destroyed car, staring at his fingers as if they held some mystifying insight into the secrets of the universe.
She shook her head. A little, tiny, miniscule voice was reminding her that Donovan had been behaving oddly for weeks now. Maybe drinking was just part of the change? But it wasn’t just Donovan – sometimes it felt as if half the people in Eureka weren’t behaving like themselves. Carter, Henry, Alison…
“Who do you think would want to hurt Zane?” Fargo interrupted her thoughts, his face worried, his voice sounding authentically concerned.
…oh, and very definitely Fargo. Calling Donovan Zane? When had everyone gotten so damn friendly?
“Apart from every scientist he’s ever pulled some lame prank on?” Jo asked. “I don’t want to get ahead of the evidence. Let’s get him back to GD and get his blood tested.”
She didn’t want to say as much in front of Mansfield, but that new science historian, Grant, was going to be first on her list of people to interview. After the rage incident, she’d tried to learn more about him but all she’d found out was that his paperwork was in order. She’d had no reason to question him officially, and his haste to leave any room she entered almost made it seem as if he was avoiding her. He wouldn’t be able to avoid her now.
“All right.” Mansfield finally nodded his agreement. “But detain him while you figure out what happened here,” he ordered.
“Absolutely, sir.” Jo glanced at Donovan. He smirked at her and she shook her head and sighed as she reached out a hand to pull him to his feet. Had she really just passed up an opportunity to get rid of him once and for all? Maybe she should add herself to her group of people who were behaving oddly.
“Ow, why’d you do that?” The complaint could have come from a small, sulky child.
“I’m sorry, Zane, but you need to hold still.” Alison desperately wanted to get back to Café Diem. It wasn’t the race itself that she cared about, but she loved watching Kevin when he was happy and excited. Ever since that brief period when the Akashic field had given her a glimpse of the child that was hidden behind the autism, she’d yearned to be able to communicate with her son again. The best – and worst – moment of her life had been when he’d said, “I love you, too, Mom,” and she’d known both that he meant it and that she might never hear it from his mouth again.
Now? Now he tossed ‘love you’ around like candy. Now he laughed and joked and rolled his eyes and scoffed at her worries and every minute of it, every bit of his casual teenage nonchalance, was a moment to treasure.
But she was worried about Zane. Could he really have turned to chemicals to ease his pain? Zane? It seemed so unlike him. She would have expected him to be working around the clock, trying to fix the Bridge device and take them back to the old timeline.
“Breathalyzer test was clean,” Jo reported as she entered the room. “There’s no alcohol in his system.”
“I wanna go home.” It wasn’t a whine, just a sad statement of fact. Jo frowned at him.
“He’s obviously under the influence of something.” There was no way in hell Alison was letting Zane get sent to federal prison. Should she insist on a complete round of medical tests as a delaying tactic?
“On your feet, Donovan,” Jo ordered. “Empty your pockets.”
“My pockets? What pockets?” Zane made no move to rise, just looked confused.
“What are you thinking, Jo?” Alison asked.
“If it wasn’t alcohol, it must be drugs. If he took something deliberately, he ought to have a pill bottle, a plastic baggie, even just a fold of paper with trace on him. He wouldn’t have planned to crash the SkyCruiser, so he didn’t have any reason to get rid of the evidence.” Jo was pulling Zane to his feet as she spoke, slipping her hand into first one jacket pocket and then the other. “If we search him and his wallet and find nothing, it’s not proof that he didn’t take something by choice, but it’s – stop that!” Zane was pulling away in protest, first batting at her hands, then trying to capture them and hold them still.
“Not searching my wallet. Not yours. Not you.”
“Cut it out, Donovan.”
What was Zane thinking? Alison wondered, not sure what to do until he glanced at her and she saw the conscious desperation in his eyes. He might be intoxicated, but he was aware enough to have realized that Jo searching him was trouble.
Stepping forward, she said smoothly, “Let me give you a hand.” If there was evidence of drugs on him, maybe she could get rid of it before Jo saw it. Quickly, while Jo was trying to hold Zane’s hands still, she searched Zane’s pants pockets. He didn’t resist, but there was nothing in them but his wallet.
“Keep this up and I’m going to cuff you,” Jo threatened Zane. “If I don’t break a finger first,” she added in a mutter.
“So mean,” he responded. “Never knew you could be so mean.”
The puzzled expression on Jo’s face as she looked up at Zane worried Alison. Was Jo starting to suspect something? The time-travellers had agreed that no one could know, both for their safety, but also because anyone who learned about the alternate timeline might be in just as much trouble as the original time-travellers. Of course, it was unlikely that anyone could guess: Andy’s artificial intelligence might have been able to put the pieces together but even in Eureka, the average human being faced with strange behavior wasn’t likely to explain it with a story that included time travel. But if Jo was getting suspicious – well, that wasn’t good.
“Just his wallet,” Alison reported.
“Here, pass it –” Before Jo could finish asking for his wallet, Zane had started to struggle again. “Damn it, what the hell is wrong with you?”
The wallet. That must be what Zane was worried about. “I’ll search it,” Alison quickly volunteered. Turning slightly away, she flipped it open. Cash, credit cards. And a photograph. Jo and Zane together, his arm around her shoulder, her laughing face turned up to his. It wasn’t posed, just a snapshot.
Alison bit her lip. She ought to get rid of it. She ought to slip it out of the wallet, tuck it into her pocket, make sure it was destroyed. It could give them away. It was dangerous to all of them. “Nothing. No evidence of any drugs.” She closed the wallet, turned back to where Jo had, with practiced ease, twisted Zane’s arm behind his back, and was holding him still, and slipped the wallet back into Zane’s pocket.
Jo shook her head in disgust. “Just being a pain for the hell of it? You’re an annoying drunk, Donovan.”
“Not drunk,” he protested.
She sighed. “Whatever.” A little less than gently, she shoved him back to the stool he’d been sitting on. “Can you run the tests again, Alison? See if you can find anything.”
“Any idea what I’m looking for?” Alison asked. She was perfectly willing to run tests: lots of them, enough to keep Zane in Eureka forever. But some idea of what Jo was thinking might help her find a solution to this mess.
Jo shrugged. “If he didn’t take something himself, someone drugged him. I’m going to start with that new science historian, the one Donovan punched last week. He was gracious about it at the time, but maybe he holds a grudge.”
Oh, hell. Having Jo take a closer look at Grant was almost as bad as Zane going to prison.
“Yo, Jo. Check the engines, one of those crazy-ass birds must have gotten sucked in.”
“That’s a good idea,” Alison said with relief. “Why don’t you start there, Jo, while I finish the bloodwork? Once we know what’s wrong with him, you’ll have a better idea of what questions to ask.” Maybe she’d find something in Zane’s blood, but even if she didn’t, she needed a chance to warn Grant.
Jo was frowning thoughtfully, her eyes on Zane. She looked back at Alison and this time Alison was sure: Jo was definitely suspicious.
If only Carter were here. He’d know what to do.
Today was going from bad to worse.
And, damn it, Alison was still missing the race.
Chapter 9: The Oxygen of the Soul
The SkyCruiser was destroyed.
Zane wasn’t clear on much about the last few hours, but he knew the SkyCruiser was gone. He’d dropped out of the sky like a meteor, no control whatsoever, and between the bad landing, the crash into the parked car, and the explosion when the car’s fuel tank blew, there was no way the SkyCruiser had survived.
He was probably lucky to be alive himself.
So how come he didn’t feel lucky?
And why the hell did his head hurt so much?
The door slid open.
Evil Jo. Great. Just what he needed.
But whatever had happened, it wasn’t her fault, and although his memories of the past few hours were fuzzy, he didn’t think she’d been unkind. “Hey,” he greeted her reluctantly.
“You sound sober.”
“I’ve been sober. I wasn’t drinking. But whatever messed with my head just went away.” Why did he bother? She was going to think the worst, he knew. Everyone seemed to about this universe’s Zane.
Her phone rang, the familiar ba-da-ba-da-bip-bip that he’d heard so many times before. Not someone she’d given a personal ringtone to, then.
“Lupo,” she answered, turning away from Zane.
Lupo. That’s how he ought to think of her. Not Jo. And not Evil Jo. Just Lupo. Some woman he’d never met before. Maybe that way he could stop hurting when he saw her face.
“Yeah, as soon as I can,” she said, turning back again and pacing toward Zane. He closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see her. She just looked so – so right. He felt an odd sensation in his eyes, a tickle at the inner corners. He wanted his Jo. He wanted to tell her how much he missed her, and how messed up this place was. He wanted to tell her how she would have loved riding on the SkyCruiser – if he hadn’t fucking crashed it.
He opened his eyes and blinked a couple times. Toughen up, he ordered himself. Yeah, this place sucked. But…maybe he didn’t have to stay here. It wasn’t like he’d wind up in some maximum security hellhole. White collar crime, no escape attempts…he’d be in a prison with stock brokers and scammers.
The beep-beep of another call came through and Jo responded, “Gotta go. Andy, did you find anything?” She glanced at Zane before turning and pacing away again. “Bag it and bring it back to GD. I want it autopsied.”
Autopsied? The puzzle of wondering what she was talking about distracted him from his bleak thoughts momentarily – not human, or she’d be reacting a lot more strongly. Ah, must be one of those damn birds.
“Can you tell why?” Why what? But this time he didn’t have enough information to figure it out.
“Andy, take a really good look around and just see if you can find anything else unusual and report back to me.”
Jo paused after closing her phone, then took a deep breath, and crossed back to the cell wall. “We may be onto something. I was thinking drugs but when you suggested I look for a bird, I realized that there’s got to be a reason both you and those crows dropped out of the sky.”
“I don’t get it.” Zane stood. “Why do you care? I destroyed the SkyCruiser. What difference does it make why?”
“What difference? How about the difference between a crime and an accident? The difference between right and wrong? Oh, right, you’ve never been a big fan of that last.”
Zane shook his head and walked away, then turned back. He crossed to the wire, and wove his fingers into the mesh. She was watching him, mouth twisted, but her eyes – were they worried?
“You’re wasting your time, Jo.” He kept his voice soft. He didn’t want to fight with her. He didn’t want to make her mad. But there was nothing for him here. Brain-dead work? Following Fargo’s orders? Alone when he went home, alone when he woke up? Prison wasn’t a fun thought, but maybe it’d be easier. He’d serve out his sentence, and then move on with his life. He’d make a new life, far away from Eureka and memories of what had been.
She looked at him, just looked at him. And then shook her head, and sighed, and said, “Fine.” But instead of leaving, she crossed to the door and pushed the button that opened the cell door. “Take off. I won’t stop you.”
What was she doing?
“Or you could quit confessing to crimes you didn’t do, and try to help me figure out what happened.”
That prickle in his eyes was back. He wanted to touch her, to grab her and hold her and never let go. She trusted him. Why did that hurt so much?
“I know something weird’s going on. I’m going to figure it out eventually. But you could help me, you know. You don’t have to be like this.”
He wanted to tell her everything. What had happened, how the world had changed, what they’d been to one another. But it would put her in as much danger as the rest of them were in, and he couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t do that.
“It’s your choice.”
He didn’t trust his voice. So he didn’t say anything, just walked across the room and into the elevator, trying not to meet her eyes.
Where were the snarky comments? The smartass remarks? The constant flirtatiousness that made her want to smack him?
All of her uncertainties, all of her doubts, had just coalesced into a rock-solid conviction: within the last few weeks, something had happened. Whatever it was, it had shaken Donovan badly. It had changed him, cracking his wall of cocky arrogance and revealing a completely unexpected vulnerability.
He was an annoying ass. She’d thought she hated him. No, she did. Definitely. She hated him. But seeing him hurting – well, she couldn’t help but want to fix whatever was wrong.
But she couldn’t fix it until she knew what it was. And first things first – she needed to figure out why the SkyCruiser had crashed and quickly, before Mansfield overrode her decision and sent Donovan back to federal prison.
-Freedom is the oxygen of the soul. ~Moshe Dayan
Chapter 10: An Occasion of Chemical Joy
Were her suspicions making her paranoid?
And where the hell was Andy?
“Andy, you’re a robot, how can you be unavailable? I need you to help me find…” Jo let the words trail off, closing her phone as she saw the object of her search leaning on her car. “Donovan. What changed your mind?”
He sighed and pushed himself up and off the car. “I don’t know. Curiosity, I guess. I want to know why the SkyCruiser crashed.”
He looked serious, and a little tired. Not his usual look. Did she actually miss that lopsided smirk of his? No, definitely not. “Did you steal Dr. Ramsey’s TAP fluid?” Would he answer the question? Would he tell her the truth?
“What are you talking about?” He shook his head slightly, looking confused.
It was an answer, of sorts. It wasn’t the snarky, “Why, of course, sweetheart,” she still half expected from him and which meant nothing, but it wasn’t the cocky “Yep,” he would have tossed at her if he had taken it, either.
“If you didn’t take it, then there’s got to be more to this. I’m going up to the crash site to find Andy and see if I can figure this out.” She was getting her keys out as she walked toward her car, frowning thoughtfully. At the door, she turned and looked back at him. “You want to come with?” she asked uncertainly.
He smiled, just a little. “You’d be aiding an escaped prisoner.”
“Huh.” She held back the laugh. Little did he know how many other people were also trying to help him. “I’ll arrest myself later.” As she got into the car and waited for him to take his seat and buckle up, she thought about those strange interactions, the ones that were making her wonder if she was paranoid.
Alison had been desperately worried when she’d told Jo about the hyperoxia, or oxygen poisoning. Jo had tried to reassure her that Donovan seemed fine, but Alison had been adamant that she wanted him moved from the cell to supervision in the medical wing for at least three days of observation. Three days that she’d been surprisingly willing to forget about when Jo told her that she’d already released him.
And then Fargo had come dashing up to Jo in the rotunda, almost pleading for Jo to find a delaying tactic to stall Mansfield. “Tell him that Zane needs debriefing,” he’d hissed at her. “Don’t let Mansfield transfer him.”
Why and how had Donovan gotten Alison and Fargo on his side? And if Carter were here, what would he be doing?
“Why’d you let me go?” he asked, breaking the silence in the car.
She glanced in his direction. “I know you think I’m stupid, but I’m not blind.” She was trying to keep her voice cool, but a slight hint of the bitterness she felt couldn’t be hidden. She’d graduated top of her class at West Point, one of the best schools in the country. She’d been a straight A student her entire life. Coming to Eureka and being looked down on by the brainiacs – well, she was used to it by now, but that didn’t mean she liked it. And Donovan was one of the worst. If you didn’t know your particle and theoretical physics, you might as well be invisible.
“I don’t think you’re stupid!” He sounded almost shocked.
She tried to chuckle. “Yeah, right. Whatever. Not the point, anyway.”
“Seriously, I don’t think you’re stupid.” He seemed far too adamant, and yet almost sincere? Damn it, what was wrong with him? He continued, “You’re so intuitive. And you’re one of the most observant people I’ve ever met. You notice everything.”
Did Donovan just compliment her? Okay, the world was coming to an end. Maybe he was terminally ill? Maybe she was terminally ill? Or maybe she was actually asleep and this was all just a really strange dream. Hmm…that last seemed possible, because her head was swimming. “Uh, I’m feeling…” She started to say, glancing over at Donovan.
His head was shifting, moving up and then down. Was that him or her vision blurring?
“I’m dizzy,” he mumbled.
“Me, too.” He was disappearing in front of her, dissolving into patches of color, the dark of his hair, the pale of his skin, the green of the trees behind him, and then her head was bumping against the door and for a second she tried to remember. She was doing something, what was it? And then the car was sliding sideways, and she was dropping into darkness.
Her mouth was dry.
That was the first thing she noticed.
The second was that she wasn’t in her bed. And wow, her head hurt.
At a knock next to her, she startled upright. Andy. What the-?
As she rolled down the window, he said, “I wouldn’t start her. One spark and she could blow.”
“What happened?” Jo was confused. One minute, she’d been – was it dreaming? Or talking to Donovan?
“The area’s a tad combustible,” Andy said cheerfully. “You hang tight. I’ll have you back at GD in a jiff.” He gave them a thumbs up and walked away and Jo shook her head. Donovan looked as confused as she felt, but as he started to point at Andy and say something, Andy began pushing the car up the road.
Back at GD, they went straight to Henry. As he and Donovan ran tests on Andy, Jo tugged at her lip thoughtfully. Andy’s combustion, the oxygen in the system, the empty gas tank – it was clear that the accident wasn’t Donovan’s fault. Somehow the TAP fluid was responsible. But even as she puzzled over the missing TAP, she was watching the way Donovan interacted with Henry, and trying to analyze what was wrong with it.
Was the problem Henry’s behavior? Donovan was being his weird new self: no snarky comments, none of the automatic insubordination that drove people crazy. But Henry – Henry almost seemed to take his improved attitude for granted. They’d always gotten along pretty well – better than Donovan got along with anyone else anyway – so maybe Donovan was usually like this around Henry?
When had Donovan changed? The first time that Jo had noticed anything unusual was in the jail on Founder’s Day, but whatever had happened couldn’t have happened then. He’d been normal going in, there’d been that one moment, and then he’d been normal again. And she’d been in the room the whole time. If something had happened then, surely it would have affected her, too?
Could it have been the positronic lightning? Could Donovan have been hit? Were there side-effects from being so close? But again, she’d been in the room with the lightning, too. Why wasn’t she affected?
Then there was the RSS, but how could it have caused a permanent change? That just didn’t fit with Jo’s understanding of how the technology worked.
“I’m sorry, what?” Jo woke from her reverie as she realized that Henry and Donovan were looking at her expectantly. They’d been talking about what was happening – the rapid oxidation, the concentration of oxygen – and she’d only been half paying attention.
“Ramsey’s TAP fluid,” Donovan repeated patiently. “You mentioned it was missing?”
Damn it. He was never patient. He should be mocking her momentary lapse of attention. But she shook off the frustration of not being able to figure him out, and said, “Yes, he called me to say that some was missing just a little while ago.”
“That could be bad,” Henry said. “TAP fluid is very stable and the wavelength necessary to activate it is precise, but if it has been activated, then everything around Eureka could become as explosive as – as Andy.”
Oh, hell. Maybe it was time to focus on the immediate problem, the one that might kill them all if they didn’t solve it quickly.
Fire is the reuniting of matter with oxygen. If one bears that in mind, every blaze may be seen as a reunion, an occasion of chemical joy – Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
Chapter 11: In the Air
Jo thought he thought she was stupid.
What an idiot his other self must have been.
Okay, so maybe once in a while, when she was really driving him crazy, he might be frustrated enough to wish she saw the world more like he did. But most of the time, he liked that she didn’t. He loved bouncing ideas off her – she was so practical and down-to-earth, but she saw connections between things that he missed. Sure, she didn’t have the science background to keep up with him when it came to physics, but who did?
He could tell that other-him had hurt her feelings, too. He’d heard it in her voice in the car. So, okay, yeah, that was way too easy: she’d always been hyper-sensitive and over-reactive. But still, he wished he knew how to apologize for his other self.
The equipment he’d been using to run tests on the TAP fluid beeped at him, and he pushed his chair over to take a look. Chemistry wasn’t his deal, but Ramsey’s achievement was impressively cool. And – hmm, that was interesting.
“Hey, guys?” Standing, he crossed to the others in the room: Henry, Mansfield, Ramsey, Fargo, and Jo. “That TAP fluid would make awesome rocket fuel.”
“Oh, boy,” Fargo muttered, then continued, “When we adjusted the EM field, we must have hit just the right – or wrong – frequency to activate the TAP.”
“I love it.” Zane grinned. “It’s your fault.”
Mansfield glared at him. “I don’t think we need your assistance any further, Mr. Donovan. Ms. Lupo may have kept you out of prison for the moment, but I placed you here, and I can send you back any time.”
Zane waited. Surely Fargo would speak up to defend him now. Or Henry? But no one said a word, so with a wry half-smile, he passed Henry his test results. “All yours.” He said the words as lightly as he could.
Walking out, he wanted to feel angry. He wanted to feel righteously insulted.
But he just didn’t. His other self had been an idiot. And now he was faced with the same ugly choices he’d struggled with after Jo let him go that morning.
He could go back to his apartment. The walls were covered with the equations he’d been working on: he could stare at them some more while he considered just how much of an asshole he was willing to be.
See, he could do it. He was almost sure he had the equations right, which meant that he could rebuild the Bridge device, go back in time, change the world yet again. The thing he couldn’t do was know what the outcome of his changes would be. There were just too many variables. Grant hadn’t realized the risk, but Zane knew exactly the chance he’d be taking: he’d be putting not just his own life in danger, but everyone’s lives. Could he be that much of an asshole? He just wasn’t sure.
Next option: he could hop on his bike, take off, hope he could stay two steps ahead of the law. Maybe a couple of years ago that might even have seemed like fun. But he’d never find a pleasure as sweet as the mind candy he’d found at GD. Working with Henry and Stark, running his consumer products lab, playing with the newest and coolest technology – life on the run would be boring by comparison.
That only left him with one real choice. Stay here, and try to make the best of it. Put up with the crap, keep his head down and his mouth shut, stay away from Jo – and Mansfield, too, apparently – and wait for things to get better. Exactly what Carter and the others had been telling him to do from Day One. And yeah, it was petty of him not to want to take their advice just because it came from them, but there it was.
Fuck it, he wouldn’t decide anything right now. He’d go to Café Diem and get some lunch. If they couldn’t figure out how to solve the oxygenation issue, maybe the whole town would explode. Problem over.
“Can I get a Vinspesso, Vince? Make it a double.” Jo was leaning on the counter, focused on the coffee machine, ignoring the anxious crowd around her, including Zane who was sitting two seats down.
He swiveled to face her. Should he? Might as well. “Since the town may go up in flames, I just wanted to thank you for not letting me hang for it.”
She glanced at him. “Just doing my job.” She kept the words brief, businesslike.
“Well, thanks anyway.” He paused. “How’s it going up there?”
She shrugged. “They’re blowing up the rockets now. That’ll give us more time to figure out a solution.”
Zane frowned. “I’m no chemist, but shouldn’t it be possible to create…”
Vincent passed Jo her coffee. “Anything else? Sorry to interrupt but it’s packed in here.”
Jo shook her head no and thanked him, but before Zane could continue her phone rang. She answered, automatically, “Lupo.” She listened. “What? Oh, great, I’m on my way.” Clicking her phone closed, she said to Zane, “Larry didn’t include a self-destruct mechanism in his rocket. We’ve got about six hours before it gets here. I’ve got to run.” Without waiting for a response, she took a long swig of her coffee, and headed for the door.
He watched her go, still frowning, but now more thoughtfully. They’d figure it out, he was sure. But it might not hurt to make a few plans just in case they didn’t.
Kevin took the seat next to him. “I can’t believe my mom,” he muttered.
“Still pissed at her?” Zane asked sympathetically. The news that Alison had added the TAP fluid to Kevin’s fuel had flown through Café Diem like lightning.
“She’s been acting like a freak for weeks.”
“Yeah.” Zane wasn’t going to argue with him. His life and Alison’s life had changed in radically different ways, but he’d seen her happiness become tinged with uncertainty and self-doubt. The new Kevin was a different person, and although Alison seemed grateful for the chance to get to know him in a new way, it couldn’t be easy.
Kevin was scowling. Impulsively, Zane said, “You know, sometimes when you come really close to losing something, it makes you really appreciate it later. And the combination of fear and relief can maybe make you act a little crazy.”
“What did my mom come close to losing?” Kevin looked confused.
“Nothing,” Zane said hastily, opening his fingers in a gesture of innocence. “Nothing at all.”
Kevin didn’t respond, just eyed him suspiciously, until Zane finally sighed and gave him a twisted smile. “I can’t talk about it. Really.” He added a mocking, “Welcome to Eureka.”
“Was she in trouble?”
Zane shook his head firmly. “Seriously, Kev, I shouldn’t have said anything. Nothing. And you should forget I did. But – give your mom a couple weeks. She’ll go back to normal.”
Kevin nodded slowly, not smiling.
“Hey, and do you still have all the rest of the hydrogen you were using for your rocket fuel?”
“Probably,” Kevin shrugged. “There’s some stored in the garage and a ton more at Tesla. Why?”
“Mind if I borrow some?”
“Love is not an equation, it is not a contract, and it is not a happy ending. Love is the slate under the chalk, the ground that buildings rise, and the oxygen in the air. It is the place you come back to, no matter where you’re headed.” – Jodi Picoult (Vanishing Acts)
Chapter 12: The Contact of Two Chemical Substances
The control room was remarkably hushed. Various techs still rushed around, checking incoming data, but the rocket was less than an hour away and no one had come up with a way to lower the oxygen level in the air. Intent conversations were taking place in every corner, at every screen, but voices were low and tense.
Jo was standing next to Alison and Kevin, watching the trail of the rocket on the huge monitor. She was still shocked at Alison’s behavior – stealing Dr. Ramsey’s TAP fluid? The ethics committee was not going to be happy. But she was glad that Kevin had come to GD: it was obvious that getting his forgiveness had meant a lot to Alison.
Kevin’s phone rang. “Yo, Zane,” he answered. “No go here.”
Jo glanced in his direction. Donovan was calling Kevin? What was that about?
“Yeah, it’s like forty-five minutes, I think. You finished with the hydrogen yet?”
“Hydrogen?” Alison’s eyes had also been on the screen, but she turned toward Kevin at the sound of his words. Jo frowned. What was Donovan up to?
“Yeah, okay,” said Kevin, ignoring his mom. “You want me to call you back at about five minutes? Okay, man. Um, and…well, try not to die.”
All right, that didn’t sound good. As Kevin hung up the phone, Alison said, “Kevin? What was that about?”
Kevin shrugged. “It’s kind of a last resort, Mom. Zane’s gonna combine the oxygen with hydrogen. It’ll neutralize the problem.” He seemed calm about the idea, but it sounded almost too simple to Jo. There had to be something wrong with it.
“Well, in theory,” Alison said. “But the reality is that that reaction will be very explosive, especially in these conditions.” Ah. That would be what was wrong with it.
“Yeah,” Kevin sighed. “I wanted to go with him, but he wouldn’t let me. He said if we survived, you’d kill him anyway, for letting me take the chance.”
“Damn right I would! Where is he?” Alison demanded.
“He’s on the bridge leading to the launch site. Low enough that the explosion might not reach him.”
“Might not?” Alison burst out. “Did he bring anything with him? A fire shelter?”
“Um, no.” For the first time, Kevin looked a little less confident. “We didn’t have one.”
Alison’s eyes met Jo’s. She looked torn, almost desperate. “Jo, he won’t survive. Not without shelter.”
“I’ll go,” Jo said briefly. Alison nodded in grateful relief, and as Jo hurried away, she wondered yet again, what exactly was the relationship between Alison and Donovan?
He grinned at her. The idiot grinned, his teeth white against the stubble on his cheeks, blue eyes bright.
“Donovan, are you insane?” she snapped at him, a little out of breath from running up the road, the metallic fire shelter bundled under her arm.
“It’s just simple chemistry, Jo,” he said, releasing balloons with clicks of a controller and watching them float into the sky.
“The whole town will ignite!” He was still smiling. He looked almost happy, she realized. The man was crazy, that was the only possible explanation.
He shook his head. “H20, babe. It’ll put out the flames before they reach the town.”
“What about before they reach us?” she demanded, ignoring the endearment.
He sobered slightly. “Not us, Jo. You need to get out of here. We don’t have a lot of time.”
“I’m not leaving you here.” She wasn’t sure why she felt so strongly. She’d brought him the fire shelter; she could drop it at his feet and turn and leave. Would she feel as if she’d done the best she could if she did? And would he use the shelter?
“I’ve got to detonate the hydrogen gas once the balloons get high enough.” His attention was on the sky again, and then he looked back at her. “Seriously, Jo, scoot.”
“Scoot? I’m not a stray cat, and I’m not leaving you here.” Damn, but he was infuriating.
“We don’t have time for this. That’s rocket’s going to be here any minute.” His phone rang and he fumbled for it in his pocket, trying to pull it out and flip it open one-handed, the other on the balloon controller.
“Give me that,” Jo snapped, pulling his phone away from him as he got it out. “Yes?” she answered it.
“It’s time,” Kevin’s voice said. “If you want to beat the rocket, that is.”
“All right,” Jo sighed. She looked at Donovan. “Ever used one of these?” she asked, shaking out the fire shelter.
“No. But take it and go!” He was scowling, brows drawn, smile gone.
“Me neither. The instructions say stay down, lie flat on the ground, keep as much air around you as possible while holding down the edges. We’ll need to stay close.”
“Damn it, Jo, you should get out of here.”
She shook her head. “Not enough time,” she answered shortly.
“How close are we?”
“It’s now or never.” With her decision made, she smiled at him. Her heart was pounding, her breath a little too quick, but she waited with the shelter at the ready.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he muttered grumpily, but then he sighed and looked up at the sky. Jo followed suit. It was a beautiful day: the sky a serene blue dotted with white balloons and the occasional cloud, the trees a backdrop of green. “Here goes,” he said, his grin returning.
He pressed the button, the controller beeping, and as they stared upward, the balloons lit up the sky, first in isolated bursts and then in a flash that blew outward, turning the clear blue into a golden blanket of light and flame. The heat hit first, a blast of warmth, followed by the sound, a crash of thunder, and then the air almost seemed to light up as the flames raced toward them.
Quickly, they scrambled under the shelter. Jo was murmuring the rules under her breath, “Flat on the ground, hold it down, keep air around you.” It was dark under the shelter, which made sense, of course, but was still unexpected. As she positioned herself, hand above her head, holding down one edge, foot holding down another, she couldn’t quite figure out what to do with her other hand, so she pushed up on the shelter, trying to keep as much air as possible around them. She could feel Donovan next to her, a warm presence in the dark, even as the heat started to build.
Damn, it was hot. She tried to push herself farther into the ground, still cool underneath her, and closer to Donovan, away from the blanket.
“You okay?” His voice was right next to her ear, his breath brushing her skin, and she realized that they were lying face-to-face. She couldn’t see him, but she could smell him, a mix of healthy guy and – was it eucalyptus? No, it was tea tree and mint. She smiled a little, amused that they shared taste in shampoo, but it was getting less and less pleasant in the shelter as the temperature rose, and the feel of the bare skin of her hand against the shelter was becoming almost unbearable.
“Hot,” she said. “I can’t – damn.” She let her hand drop, pulling it toward her and tucking it between them, as the shelter started to settle down on them. She turned her head, trying to get her face against the ground, away from the scorching blanket. Her lips brushed his cheek, and she felt the scratch of his whiskers against her lips.
“Sorry,” she muttered, breath coming in short and shallow gasps as the air heated up. “I was holding it up, but it’s too hot, I can’t do it anymore.”
“I’ll get it,” he said, his voice husky. “I can use my sleeve.” He was still wearing his leather jacket so Jo just nodded, as she felt his arm moving around her and a little welcome relief as the shelter surface lifted again.
She sighed with gratitude, and turned her head again. “Thank you,” she whispered.
She was so close to him, but in the dark she couldn’t see him, and it wasn’t until he murmured, “Anytime,” a hint of wry humor in his voice, that she realized that their lips were almost touching.
And then their lips were touching, and his were strong and searching against hers, their movement stirring an immediate ache in her belly, a rush in her legs. Her heart was pounding as she opened her mouth to him, letting his tongue trace its way along her soft inner skin. Almost as if it wasn’t hers, her hand slid up and along his chest and then over his shoulder, curving around his neck and pulling him to her, fingers reaching into his hair. It was tingling because it was burned, she thought fuzzily, not because touching him was igniting her nerve endings. But that only explained her hand, not the rest of her, not why all of her skin felt flushed and shivery and hotter than hell but with an inner heat, not just an outer. And then thinking stopped and she was kissing him back, wanting to take it harder, deeper, wanting more.
There wasn’t enough air, not nearly enough air, and she finally broke away, gasping, as she realized that the heat was passing and the shelter was being pounded with rain. She rolled away from him, pushing up the edges of the shelter to see the water pouring down from the sky.
“Two hydrogen, one oxygen,” Zane said.
She didn’t want to look at him. She knew, just knew, that he’d be smirking at her. Damn him. She should have guessed that he’d take advantage of the situation but what had she been thinking? Why the hell had she kissed him back?
But then he stood, pulling the shelter up with him and said, “Come on, we should get back to GD. You should get that hand looked at.”
That was it? Really? That was all he was going to say?
She looked up at him as she rose to her feet. He wasn’t smirking, but she couldn’t read his expression.
“Just your basic chemical reaction,” he continued and his voice almost sounded – was it sad?
Jo was sitting on the cot in jail cell, staring out through the bars. A notebook in her lap contained a list: every incident that she could remember from the past few weeks that seemed off or wrong. And the first had been here.
They’d been sitting in semi-silence – she’d been pissed at him, even more than usual, because she was stuck on duty while half her team chased down Fairchild’s monkeys. Normally that wouldn’t have been a big deal, but she’d been supposed to meet up with an old Army buddy in Portland for dinner, a fact that Donovan had known. She’d half suspected that he’d timed his monkey trick on purpose to mess up her scant personal life.
But being pissed at him wasn’t unusual. It was when he called her Jo – that was the strange event. But what could have happened? Could Donovan have seen something? Whatever it was, it must have been quick.
“Don’t tell me Andy arrested you?” Carter was leaning on the half wall that separated the entryway from the office, and the sound of his voice broke Jo from her reverie.
“Andy’s terrific,” she sighed. “No, Larry’s rocket went boom. It blew up my house. I’d figured I’d just hang out here. It used to be practically a second home, after all.”
Carter strolled toward her, and Jo closed the notebook in her lap. There wasn’t a lot about Carter in it, not really. The times he’d called Donovan by his first name and his friendly relationship with that new guy, Grant, were about it. But she didn’t want him to see what she had written, especially not the parts about Alison and Donovan. Carter didn’t talk about it, but she knew he had feelings for Alison. If he knew that Alison and Donovan had been involved or maybe still were involved – well, she’d rather he didn’t find that out from her speculations, that was all.
“Come on,” he said, scooping up her bag. “Let’s grab your stuff. With Zoe gone, S.A.R.A.H. could use the company. And so could I.”
Jo smiled up at him. “I suppose I could tolerate you.”
“Don’t get excited, it’s not permanent.”
As they walked together out of the cell, Carter rested his hand on her shoulder, a comforting, friendly touch. Jo looked back at him and for a moment, she was tempted to tell him everything, all of her questions, all of her doubts. But then she thought of how ridiculous her suspicions would sound and how embarrassing it would be to admit that kiss, and she just said, “Thanks, Carter.”
He shook his head and smiled warmly. “Let’s go home.”
-“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
— Carl Gustav Jung
Chapter 13: Shifting Back
His eyelashes were unreasonable, she thought. Really, just unreasonable. They were so long and dark it was almost irritating. But then everything about Donovan was irritating.
She’d never really had a chance to study his eyelashes before. It was impossible when his eyes were open: they were just a frame for the blue. Well, except when they framed the gray, which his eyes sometimes were, depending on what he was wearing. Or maybe it was the light in the room that caused the color to change? She wasn’t sure. She liked it when they were gray, though; the color reminded her of the ocean.
Oh, God, was she really sitting here thinking about how pretty his eyes were? She’d obviously lost her mind.
His lashes flickered, just a little, and the muscles in his face tightened with pain. Almost holding her breath, Jo watched him. Was he waking up?
The pain was like a fire in his chest, a burn that spread out and down his arm and side. As he shifted, he couldn’t stop the groan from escaping. Wow. He’d never felt anything like it. What had happened?
He tried to open his eyes. It was harder than it ought to be. He felt as if he were lifting weights, but finally he forced his eyelids up. He blinked, trying to take in the scene.
Okay, he was in the medical wing. That was good. That meant that whatever had happened would be getting fixed, quickly, he hoped.
He turned his head slowly. Jo was sitting by his bed, and at the sight of her, he felt his heartbeat pick up speed. He didn’t believe in God, so he wasn’t praying, but for a few seconds, he was wishing with all the energy he could muster that the whole time-travel thing was just a weird, injury-induced hallucination, a product of whatever drugs Alison would have been giving him. And then Jo opened her mouth and the wish crashed into dust.
“Donovan.” It was her cool voice, the one she’d been using ever since the day he’d crashed the SkyCruiser. Okay, so maybe the crash wasn’t the reason she used the voice, but he didn’t like to think about the real reason. It just made life harder, and things were tough enough without dwelling on those moments under the fire shelter.
“What are you—” he started to ask.
“Recognize this?” she interrupted him, holding up an object that he’d never seen before in his life. It was a brass tube with a dull gray-metal tip, probably more than five inches long.
“Never seen it before in my life.” His mouth was dry, he hurt like nobody’s business, and the disappointment was crushing him. He closed his eyes, hoping she’d go away.
“It was inside you.”
He opened his eyes again. “That? Ow.” It was huge. No wonder he hurt so much.
“Know what it is?” She was watching him, eyes speculative, face almost expressionless. It was a cop look, one he recognized from a few too many past interrogations. He’d never seen it on Jo’s face before.
He almost sighed, but then shook his head, just a little. He didn’t know what it was, and he wasn’t sure he cared, but he recognized that she wasn’t going to go away without telling him.
“It’s a 50-caliber Browning aviation tracer.”
Trust Jo to recognize some obscure bullet by name. “Yeah?”
“Want to know what’s strange about it?”
“Apart from the fact that it somehow wound up in my chest?” he asked dryly.
She smiled, just a little. “Apart from that.”
“Okay, shoot.” She rolled her eyes, and he added, “Metaphorically speaking.”
“It takes a lot to be a smartass when you’ve just had a bullet pulled out of your chest, Donovan. I should have known you’d manage it.”
Funny that it felt like flattery. Despite the pain, he managed a grin.
She tapped the tip of the bullet. “They stopped painting the tip in the 1950’s. Collectors would go crazy for this.”
“The 1950’s?” Damn. In combination with the missing circle of Mt. St. Helen’s ash on the trees in the rotunda, that meant that quantum particle entanglement was out as a possible cause of the latest Eureka crisis. He’d never really liked that explanation, anyway: with entanglement, the trees should have fused with the building instead of displacing it. That meant – shit, that meant wormhole.
This must have something to do with the Bridge device. Could Grant have been crazy enough to be working on it in secret? If so, Zane was going to be really pissed. If he had managed to find the integrity to not muck around with the timeline despite how messed up his life was, Grant should surely have been able to do the same.
“What have you been messing with, Donovan?” Jo’s voice was intent, her brown eyes fixed on his face.
“Me? Nothing! This wasn’t me.” But he had to get out of here, and quickly. He had to find Henry and Grant and find out what was going on.
“Who was it, then? Come on, I know you thought of something. I saw it in your face.”
Zane glared at her. His chest hurt, and he felt miserable enough without Jo setting traps for him.
“Where’s Alison?” he asked.
“I – need a painkiller,” he improvised. “You’re giving me a headache.”
“That’s nothing compared to the headache you’re giving me,” Jo snapped, and then her voice softened and she continued, “Come on, Zane, I know you know something. Tell me.”
She’d used his first name. It was the first time.
He looked at her, just looked at her. She was so damn beautiful. The very first time he’d seen her, sitting at that desk in the Sheriff’s office, cleaning some big-ass gun, he’d thought she was incredibly hot – the cheekbones, the olive skin, the full lips, the dark hair, the expressive eyes. By now, he ought to be used to the way she looked. But no. The longer he knew her, the more beautiful she was.
She shifted under his intent gaze, and her eyes dropped first. “I’m going to figure it out,” she finally burst out, and this time, when she raised her eyes, they were angry. “I am going to figure it out,” she said again, emphasizing every word.
Even with the ammo, Zane didn’t think so. Time travel was impossible, everyone knew that, and even in Eureka, people looked for logical explanations, not ridiculous ones.
He couldn’t shrug, it hurt too much, so he just said gently, “Can you find Alison for me? I could really use something for the pain.”
“Fine,” Jo pressed her lips together and he could tell that she wanted to say something else, but finally, shaking her head, she stood and walked away.
Okay, so he could have died. But where had the weird desire to tell him that she was glad he hadn’t come from?
Jo had found Alison and sent her over to Donovan, but she hadn’t left. Tracer cartridge clutched in her hand, she stood in the doorway and watched them. Yeah, he wasn’t asking for a painkiller, no surprise there. They seemed to be arguing, but they were keeping their voices low.
Then Donovan tried to push back the covers and sit up and Jo took an involuntary step forward. Surely, Alison wouldn’t let him – and no, Alison was gently stopping him, while gesturing for a tech to help her. All right, it looked as if she was going to drug him whether he liked it or not, but he was protesting. Alison looked resigned, but she was nodding, listening to him intently, and nodding a little more. And then finally, she took the hypodermic gun from the tech and injected him.
As Donovan leaned back and let his eyes close, Jo turned and walked away, heels clicking along the hallway floor, thinking hard. The cartridge was the first solid clue she had. She hadn’t known it was a clue, not really, not until he reacted the way he did, but now she was convinced. He knew more about the cartridge than he was saying.
The 1950’s. Jo didn’t know a lot about the era, not really. She’d have to go do some research, maybe in the town archives.
She didn’t say the word out loud, but her mouth shaped it. How interesting that the new guy was a historian. Eureka had never had a historian before. Why did they need one now?
Her lips started to curve upward as she felt that tingle of excitement that meant she was onto something. She’d need to find an opportunity when Grant wasn’t in the archives – easy enough, since he seemed to spend a lot of his time wandering GD or the town – and she’d look through the town records.
She didn’t know what she was looking for. But she wouldn’t stop until she found it.
Chapter 14: The Little EMOtions
Could they have been more obvious?
They hadn’t even bothered to change Grant’s name.
Jo hadn’t known what she was looking for, but that hadn’t mattered. She’d decided to start at the beginning, with the founding of Eureka, and work her way forward, and there it was.
Dr. Trevor Grant. One of the co-founders of Eureka. A brilliant scientist. Disappeared in 1947, on the same evening that a group of mysterious strangers made their way onto the top-secret base, and then abruptly vanished.
One of the strangers claimed to be the town sheriff, of a town that didn’t exist. A second was apparently a nurse; she’d miraculously saved the life of an injured soldier using a car battery. Another was described as “a little naked guy.” Jo smiled when she read that. That had to be Fargo, right? The fourth, in the black leather jacket, that must have been Donovan. And then there was the mysterious mechanic. Henry, of course.
So, time travel. That was the answer. Somehow, the people she knew – or people much like them, anyway – had travelled back in time.
Since she was the head of security for GD, she should undoubtedly report this information to the Department of Defense.
Yeah, like that was going to happen.
Oh, she considered it, of course. But her dad’s favorite, oft-repeated Colin Powell quote – “The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise” – guided her decision. She’d worked by Carter’s side long enough to trust his judgment. He wasn’t talking, so she’d stay quiet, too.
Besides, how could she ever face Zoe and Kevin again if she got their parents in trouble with the DoD?
Still, it was strange, Jo thought, as she stepped into the shower. A part of her wanted to believe that they were exactly the same people, and the differences she saw were just reactions to a traumatic experience. But this was Eureka. They’d all been through plenty of life-threatening, near-disasters before. No, the changes were more than that.
Like Fargo. He was nicer. It was the only way to put it. He listened, he apologized, and he’d stopped throwing his weight around as if he had something to prove every minute of every day.
Jo slid her hand under the dispenser and the perfect amount of tea-tree mint shampoo dropped into her palm.
And then there was Alison. She was happier. She smiled, she laughed, she seemed almost relaxed. And her stunt with the TAP fluid? It was a little crazy, a lot illegal. Donovan’s law-breaking ways must have rubbed off on her.
Of course, her upstanding ways must have rubbed off on him, too. From the way Carter treated him, Jo knew, just knew, that Donovan hadn’t gotten into nearly as much trouble in Carter’s memory as he had in hers. But she supposed that made sense. She’d said herself that having a girlfriend would be good for him. She hadn’t had Alison in mind, of course – she would never have imagined those two together. But after Stark’s death, maybe Donovan’s lighthearted charm had been just what Alison needed.
But still, what was Donovan doing – No, Jo told herself, firmly. She was not going to over-think this. She had a tendency to do that, but not this time. So he’d kissed her. He’d said himself that it was a basic chemical reaction. And it must be really frustrating to be him – to be in this world, where he couldn’t be open about his relationship with Alison, and where everyone had ideas about him that were wrong. She ought to be nicer to him. She resolved to try.
Was it weird that she kind of missed the old Donovan, though? Okay, yeah, that was crazy. It wasn’t missing him, missing him, not like she actually wanted him back or anything. Her life was a lot easier now that he wasn’t getting into trouble all the time. It was just…what was that?
She’d heard something. Close by. Still rinsing her hair, she listened intently, trying to figure out what it was. Then the shower door slid open behind her and she spun. What the – ? She sighed with aggravation at the sight of the little robot and shouted, “Carter!”
Zane slipped into the chair in front of Alison’s computer, eager to take a look. This was his eighth call this morning and after all the brain-dead crap he’d been doing, anything new was exciting. Repairing the SkyCruiser was all practical application instead of theoretical abstraction, not nearly as much fun as inventing it had been.
“Zane, listen,” Alison said as she hurried over to him, her voice hushed so that Larry wouldn’t hear. “I called Jo, too. She’s on her way.”
“Why?” Zane protested, looking up at her.
“She’s head of security of GD, and my computer just tried to kill someone. She needs to be involved.”
Zane sat back in the chair, eagerness gone.
Alison rested a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I know dealing with her in this timeline has been tough for you, but you can’t just avoid her forever.”
She kept talking – optimistic words about how things would get better – but he wasn’t listening. God, he missed his Jo. Kissing her in the fire shelter had been like being home again, but when his Jo should have been tugging at his shirt and undoing her own buttons one-handed, this Jo had been scrambling to get away. It was a cold dash of reality even before the rain hit.
But the other time travellers didn’t understand. Carter kept telling him that he could get her back, he just needed to try, but he didn’t just want Jo – he wanted his Jo, the Jo that loved him. But did she really even exist? On his most sleepless nights, he went back, again and again, trying to decipher every nuance of meaning in the look on her face when she saw the ring, in the sound of her voice calling his name as he stomped out of the sheriff’s office. If only he’d turned around and gone back.
“You don’t understand,” he finally interrupted Alison’s flow of soothing words. “I asked her to marry me.”
“You asked her – what?”
“Not this Jo, the – you know. Right before. And she didn’t say yes. So it was probably over anyway.”
Alison looked stunned. That answered the question of whether Carter had told anyone: Zane had wondered. He hadn’t told anyone himself – who would he tell, after all? Fargo? Not likely.
“Zane – if it was a surprise – if she – you must have – you know, marriage is a really big deal and – ” Alison’s words stopped abruptly and she plastered a fake smile on her face, as she pulled her hand off his shoulder. “Hey, Jo.”
Zane didn’t bother to say hello. And he didn’t look behind him, at where Jo had arrived. Not that it mattered, since she wouldn’t be looking at him. She never did anymore.
“We’ll talk more later,” Alison said to him, following it up with an insistent, “Zane?” when he didn’t respond. Reluctantly he nodded and leaned forward to start scrolling through the code, as Alison turned to Jo and said, “My computer just tried to harvest Larry’s brain, against my explicit instructions.”
“Maybe something you did triggered it?” Jo asked.
“The system doesn’t have the capability of prioritizing my research over human life,” Alison replied.
“There is an independent sub-routine here that I don’t recognize.” Zane felt a little glimmer of interest spring to life. What was this? “That’s bizarre!” he said as he kept reading. “Dr. Monroe asked me to look at strange code on her system, too.”
“How long will it take you to figure out what happened here?” Jo asked him.
He glanced at her. She was looking directly at him, chewing on her lower lip in the way she always did when she was worried.
“A couple hours, probably. But I’ve got eight other people asking me to trouble-shoot their equipment. That’s a glitchy day, even by GD standards.”
“I guess we’re lucky you haven’t gone camping.”
“Camping?” Zane couldn’t hide his surprise.
“Yeah, you know, guys weekend? Carter, Kevin, off in the woods?”
Zane grinned at her. He couldn’t help it. He started to say something, to remind her of their first disastrous camping trip, and then, remembering, closed his mouth. He was a city boy. He’d never even considered camping until getting involved with Jo, and he’d never gone camping without her. His grin turned wry, as he said, “Not really my thing.”
Jo looked a little surprised and said, “Oh, I –” before pausing. “Well, it’s good you’re here. I’ll let you get to it.”
Zane watched her walk away and then glanced at Alison. Had that just been as weird as he thought it was? Had Jo actually been friendly to him?
Alison was watching her, too, frowning just slightly, but catching Zane’s eye, she raised a shoulder as if to say that she had no idea.
Jo’s phone rang and she answered it absently. A problem at Café Diem. Great, just what she needed.
But the car ride would give her time to think.
She’d only caught the very last part of their conversation, but somehow hearing Donovan and Alison talk about marriage was – well, upsetting. No reason it should be, really. Alison would be crazy to marry the Donovan Jo knew, of course – the snarky, flirtatious, trouble-maker Donovan – but this Donovan was a different guy. She just had to keep reminding herself of that.
Of course, sometimes it was easy. Camping wasn’t his thing? That made no sense. They’d bickered over the best spot at her favorite local campground more than once. There was this one site, almost on top of a hill, but a little sheltered, where she loved to go on clear nights with a new moon because the view of the stars was so amazing. He loved it, too. Or at least the old Donovan had.
It was really strange that he was so different, when everyone else seemed so close to the same.
She almost wished she could ask someone, maybe Carter, why. Maybe she would. Someday.
If they ever talked about this whole time travel thing.
-Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it. ~Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
Chapter 15: Living Just to Find EMOtion
Zane was more than a little irritated.
He’d like to focus on the job at hand and figure out what was going on with the AIs, but Alison was determined to ask him questions.
He didn’t understand why she didn’t get it. Plain and simple, the Jo he wanted didn’t exist.
It wasn’t that this Jo was different: she wasn’t. She was the same person, and not just physically. She had the same quirks, the same touchiness, the same stubborn streak. Okay, yeah, so their history was different. In this timeline, only she knew what had happened or not happened between them, but obviously it hadn’t been the awkward first date followed by the incredible first kiss that he remembered.
But that didn’t matter, because even in the history he remembered, Jo hadn’t wanted him.
Not the way he wanted her, anyway. He’d wanted to marry her. He’d wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. He’d thought they belonged together. But she hadn’t felt the same way, and nothing Alison could say would change that. If Jo had really loved him, she would have said yes.
If she really loved him, they’d have been together here, too.
That was the reality. And he didn’t have to like it, he just had to live with it.
Alison clicked her phone shut. “Jo’s almost here with Andy. He and Virtual Vincent have both been affected, too.”
“So can I get back to work?” Zane asked impatiently.
Alison sighed. “I don’t think you’re being fair to her.”
He choked out a laugh. “Me? I’m not the bad guy in this. I figured out the math weeks ago. I could rebuild the Bridge device tomorrow if I wanted. I won’t, because it’s too dangerous.”
“Oh, Zane.” Alison put a sympathetic hand on his arm. “But you can’t just give up.”
“It’s over. It’s done. Can we just drop it?”
Alison barely had time to nod before Jo and Andy entered, Jo looking fiercely annoyed.
“Andy here,” she said with a jerk of her head in his direction, “has decided he’s in love with me.”
“It wasn’t a decision,” Andy protested, looking crushed. “I can’t help myself. You’re so lovely. And your PH levels are perfectly balanced.”
Zane didn’t laugh, but it was hard to resist. How was that for irony? Maybe he and Andy should go out drinking later. They could commiserate, drown their sorrows together, and hey, Andy could drive home.
Jo glared at him, and he realized that she thought his smile was mocking her, instead of himself. He didn’t say anything, just shrugged at her, smile turning wry, and swiveled his chair back around to face the computer.
“What did you find, Do – Zane?” Jo leaned in behind him, looking over his shoulder at the lines of text on the screen.
Zane glanced back at her. Huh. She was calling him Zane. He wondered what that was about, but turned back to his monitor without comment. “This is crazy, but all Level 6 AIs have been infected with the same foreign subroutine.”
“Which does what exactly?” Alison folded her arms in front of her.
“It doesn’t exactly have an exactly,” Zane said. “It’s some kind of emotion-generating program that can produce any number of behaviors depending on the system running it.”
As he spoke, Andy put his hand on Jo’s shoulder, and then stroked his way down her jacketed arm. Jo kicked the base of his wheeled chair, sending him three feet away. “Your MRI machine, Virtual Vincent…” she said to Alison, straightening.
“And Grace’s memory retrieval system,” Zane offered.
“And robotic Romeo, here…” Jo added, not quite rolling her eyes at Andy.
“Their feelings are over-riding their programming,” Zane finished. Bad enough that people had feelings. If he could find a way to turn his off, he’d take it.
“AI systems control everything, from the speed of the elevators to the temperature in the labs. Can you remove the subroutine?” Finally Alison was focusing on the problem at hand.
“Well, yeah, but not without that uncorrupted source code and I have no idea where this thing came from.” Zane shrugged.
“Okay, well, then we need to shut-down every level 6 AI system in Eureka before this thing gets out of control.” Alison’s voice was urgent, her expression worried.
“On it.” Zane nodded and started pulling up the list of AIs. He wasn’t sure how many there were, but he’d try to prioritize them, putting the most potentially dangerous first.
“Oh, don’t tell me she’s level 6,” Jo said, looking over his shoulder. “She’s already on her way to NASA.”
“Who?” Zane asked.
Alison joined Jo at the screen. “Tiny,” she sighed.
Alison looked at Jo, and Jo nodded without waiting for instructions. “I’ll get her back,” she said, hurrying from the room.
Mere minutes later, she returned. “No answer from Tiny’s driver, but the truck was located on the road out of town. My team’s mobilizing as we speak.”
Her phone rang and she pulled it from her jacket pocket, answering it almost before the first ring ended. “S.A.R.A.H., bad time.”
Zane could hear S.A.R.A.H.’s tinny voice on the other end of the line. “Jo, have you by any chance seen Deputy Andy today?”
“He’s right here,” Jo responded, frowning.
“No, don’t put him on,” S.A.R.A.H. hurriedly said. “I was just wondering, has he mentioned me at all?”
“What? Why, why would he-?” Jo paused. Taking a deep breath, she said, “S.A.R.A.H., I’ve got to go,” and hung up the phone. “Zane, did all level 6 AIs need to be plugged into the mainframe to be infected?”
“Yeah,” he answered, look questioning her, but she ignored his look and turned to Andy.
“Andy, when did you start liking me?” she asked.
“8:27 this morning,” the robot answered with a cheery smile and a jovial wink.
The door to the bunker opened.
“S.A.R.A.H., what did you do?” Jo demanded. She’d had the whole car ride over to stew about what was going on and worry about what was happening with Tiny and she was in no mood to deal with S.A.R.A.H. politely.
“You seem to be quite agitated,” S.A.R.A.H. responded. “Perhaps you and Zane should relax with some herbal tea in the kitchen, while I keep Andy company out here.”
Jo folded her arms across her chest. “S.A.R.A.H., you infected Andy with some kind of emotional—”
“I didn’t infect him, I improved him.” S.A.R.A.H. interrupted her. “Andy, I know we got off to a rocky start with me terminating you and all.”
“Twice actually,” Andy acknowledged with his usual good cheer.
“I was confused. But now I see that you’re charming and sophisticated, and I know it’s shallow, but I love your new adorable little face. And well, I really like you.”
“Wow.” Andy looked a little stunned, but Zane wasn’t bothering to hide his grin.
“But you lacked the programming to reciprocate. Unlike some newer AIs.”
“That perverted little robot? You used the EMO’s attachment program on Andy?” Jo was finally putting the pieces together.
“S.A.R.A.H., you called me here this morning?” asked Andy.
“Yeah, and she slipped you an EMO download, dude,” Zane chuckled. Jo glared at him. Maybe this version of Donovan wasn’t so different from the one she knew after all. She’d resolved to treat him differently, to call him Zane, to try to believe that he wasn’t the juvenile smart-ass that she was used to, but he was making it hard. His mocking smirk when she’d arrived with Andy and announced that the robot was in love with her had made her want to hit him.
“I’m sorry, I just wanted you to like me,” S.A.R.A.H. apologized.
“Sorry? That’s the first romantic thing anyone’s ever done for me.” Andy sounded thrilled.
“S.A.R.A.H., your attachment patch affected all the AIs in GD, including an escaped Titan Rover!” Looking away from Donovan, Jo spoke directly to S.A.R.A.H. again.
“I didn’t intend it that way,” S.A.R.A.H. said. “But—I am lonely.”
“That’s no excuse!” Jo couldn’t believe S.A.R.A.H.’s lack of perspective. Larry could have died, and with Tiny on the loose again, S.A.R.A.H. had put everyone in Eureka in danger.
“It’s an excuse,” Zane said. He’d lost his grin. “Maybe not a good one, but…”
“I find my emotions both useful and generally satisfying,” S.A.R.A.H. said. “But sometimes—”
“Loneliness isn’t exactly one of the fun ones,” Zane muttered.
“No,” S.A.R.A.H. agreed gratefully, almost sounding relieved. “You understand, don’t you? It’s hard not having someone of your own.”
“It can be,” he agreed, no humor in his voice. Jo glanced back at him, but when their eyes met, he looked down at his tablet.
“You need to fix this, S.A.R.A.H.,” Jo said gently, anger gone. That conversation about marriage earlier, the tension between Donovan and Alison when she returned with Andy, his responses to S.A.R.A.H. … she didn’t like the way she saw the pieces adding up, and she couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him.
Of course, that meant he shared at least one trait with the real Donovan, she realized – the real Donovan could make her feelings swing from intense aggravation to laughter and back again in the space of thirty seconds. It looked as if this one had the same skill.
“I didn’t create the program, I only copied it. But I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
“All right, S.A.R.A.H., just drop your firewall and show me your code. I’ll take it from there.”
Jo pressed her lips together. Should she say anything else? Tell him…Tell him what, exactly? she thought, annoyed with herself. Of course she couldn’t say anything. There was no way Donovan would want her to have seen him as vulnerable, any more than she would in his place. He might be different but he couldn’t be that different. And what was she going to say? That she hoped that he’d work things out with Alison? She wasn’t supposed to know about that.
“Just get this fixed,” she said and as she turned and left, she couldn’t help but realize that it would have been a lie, anyway. That feeling when she thought about him and Alison breaking up? It was relief, not sympathy.
* “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world…Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit…living just to find emotion…Don’t stop believing, hold on to that feeling…” – Yes, I admit it, the chapter title is from “Don’t Stop Believing” from Journey.
Chapter 16: And It Stoned Me
“Sheriff,” Zane greeted Carter, as he walked out of Café Diem. He’d just picked up a Vinspresso and was headed to GD. “Hey, Zoe,” he added, realizing who the dark-haired girl was a little belatedly.
“Hey, Zane,” she replied, smile warm and friendly.
He’d been helping her with her physics homework over holo-Skype, so he’d seen her recently, but she somehow looked different in person. Her dark hair made her look older, more mature, as if the few months at Harvard had turned her into an adult overnight. “Looking good,” he added, turning as he walked.
“Thanks,” she acknowledged.
As Zane made the ride to GD, he was feeling more cheerful than he had been in days. The repairs on the SkyCruiser were almost done, and Fargo had promised that when it was finished, Zane could work on the Directed EMP Device. Sure, maybe it was a Doomsday weapon, but it was great technology and Zane couldn’t wait to get his hands on it. But he hadn’t even made it into his lab before his phone was beeping urgently.
Hmm. A 911 from Fargo? That couldn’t be good. As the door to Fargo’s office slid open in front of him, he strolled in. “All right, Fargo, what’s the emergency?”
Before he even finished, Fargo started shushing him, reaching urgently for the wide-screen monitor behind his desk and pressing buttons until the computer whirred and cheeped, flashing a message across the screen.
“You’re running sonic protocols?” Zane asked. Maybe this really was bad.
“Big Brother could be eavesdropping,” Fargo muttered, looking around his office nervously.
“On what?” Zane asked. What could be going on?
“On me,” Grant answered, appearing from behind the walled divider. “Seems my mug may have drawn some unwanted attention from the DoD.”
“Someone’s been snooping around Dr. Grant’s personnel file. The one you manufactured. If they know we falsified documentation…” Fargo looked as if he was about to begin hyperventilating.
“They may know that I’m not Charles Grant, GD historian, but Trevor Grant, GD history. We could be in a lot of trouble.” Grant’s hands were stuffed into his jacket pockets, his shoulders slightly hunched.
“Try sanctioned,” Fargo snapped. “We violated time-travel protocols. They’re going to lock us up like lab rats.”
“No way,” Zane shook his head. “I created that identity myself, and it is a thing of beauty.”
“Well, maybe too beautiful. Someone’s curious!” The words were almost an accusation. Fargo was panicking.
“Did you trace the checks? Follow them to the source?” Zane wasn’t about to follow suit. Hey, he wasn’t perfect – he’d gotten caught before. But he was damn good, and there was nothing in the identity he’d created that could arouse suspicion.
“Hack the Pentagon? Are you insane? The DoD mainframe has dozens of firewalls, laced with info-mines along every data path. It’s like trying to hack the Matrix!”
Zane grinned at him, and in his best Morpheus voice, said. “Free your mind, Fargo. Let go of the fear.”
“This is not a joke,” Fargo retorted.
“No,” Zane agreed, sobering. “But what’s the chance that the checks are coming from within GD? They could be bouncing off a DoD server.”
“Within GD? Someone from here?” Grant stepped forward, eyes intent.
Zane looked at Fargo, waiting to see if he shared the same suspicion. “What are you thinking?” Fargo asked. “Jo?”
Fargo grimaced. “I was nervous a few weeks ago – it was like she was watching everything I did. But she stopped!”
“That doesn’t mean she gave up,” Zane pointed out. Her persistence was one of her best – and worst – traits. If she was pissed at him, it was a worst, but when they were on the same side, the fact that she never quit was pretty cool.
“All right,” Fargo sighed. “We should start by checking her computer then.”
“What are we going to do if it is her?” Grant asked.
Fargo and Zane exchanged glances.
“Nothing,” Zane said firmly. “Your identity is fine. If Jo’s checking it, she’ll see that it’s perfect, and she’ll be reassured. End of story.”
Grant nodded, but he still looked uneasy.
“I don’t have my laptop on me,” Zane said to Fargo. “Let me use yours?”
“Sure,” Fargo nodded and shoved away from his desk, letting Zane take his seat.
Zane set to work. An hour later, he was typing frantically and mumbling curses under his breath.
“You’re supposed to be this great hacker,” Fargo said sarcastically, “And you can’t even break into Jo’s computer? How the hell were you going to get into the DoD?”
“Shut up, Fargo. I’ve done the DoD before and it’s easier than this. You wouldn’t believe how…” Zane didn’t even look up from the keyboard, answering absently, as he tried to outrace the defenses on Jo’s system until, ding, the light bulb went off and he realized what was wrong with the picture.
“Shit,” he said, trying to backtrack as quickly as possible. “Damn, damn, damn…”
“What is it?” Fargo stood up from where he’d been sitting on the couch.
“She’s got it guarded against me! That’s why her security is so good. Someone – probably you! – helped her set up a —”
At that moment, the door slid open and an irate Jo stormed in. “Fargo, what the hell are you—”
At the sight of Zane and Grant, her words broke off. She folded her arms across her chest, one foot tapping, as she glared at the three of them equally. “Would you care to tell me what you think you’re doing?” she asked, voice dangerous.
Zane took his hands off the keyboard, and leaned back in Fargo’s chair, grinning at her. Holy crap. She wasn’t a hacker, so she’d obviously gotten help from someone. But still, she’d managed to trap her computer so skillfully that he’d hit a flag without even spotting it. Why did he find that just incredibly hot?
Fargo and Grant looked at each other. Fargo looked momentarily terrified, and then tried to pull his GD Director mask on. Tugging at the base of his jacket to adjust it, he stuck his chin out and said, “We were just…” and then he faltered, obviously failing to find any remotely plausible excuse.
“Just running a little security check,” Zane drawled. “Got to make sure the systems are running at full capability.”
Jo narrowed her eyes at him. She looked at Fargo, who swallowed hard and started to say something. Then, very deliberately, she turned her head and gazed directly at Grant, who tried to muster a smile.
Shaking her head, she strode across the room to Fargo’s desk, and leaning over Zane, pulled the keyboard to her. Typing quickly, she entered some information, and then shoved the keyboard back to him.
“Go,” she said, voice brusque, as she walked back to the other side of the desk to where she couldn’t see the monitor. She crossed her arms again and waited, fingers tapping against her jacket sleeve.
He looked up at her. She was watching him, her brown eyes serious. He let his gaze drop to her full lips. He wanted to kiss her. If Fargo and Grant hadn’t been in the room – but they were. And besides, he was supposed to be getting over Jo, letting go, not falling deeper.
He looked at the screen. She’d shut down the security remotely. Quickly, he ran the searches he’d worked out.
She’d checked Grant’s records, all right. Once, a quick, probably casual check, soon after Founder’s Day. A second time, after the RSS problem. And then again, the day after they’d found a cartridge in his chest. But not recently. That meant she wasn’t the source of the checks that Fargo was worried about.
Fargo was watching him, and Zane gave a tiny shake of his head. Fargo sighed and dropped back down onto the couch, putting his head in his hands.
A smile was tugging at the corner of Jo’s lips. “He shouldn’t play poker,” she said. “Done?”
Zane nodded and tried to smile back at her. It was not her fault that he could barely hold still for wanting her, that he was almost desperate to bury his hands in her hair and kiss her until she was breathless and melting. It was not her fault that she was breaking his heart.
“I’ll be changing my access codes as soon as I get back to my office,” she said pointedly. And then she placed both hands flat on the edge of the desk, leaning toward him across the expanse. “It’s been a while since you tried to hack my system, so apparently you’ve forgotten that the penalty for getting caught doubles every time. You’re off the hook this time since –” she glanced at Fargo and Grant, before turning back to him. “But the penalty still doubled. Next time I catch you? It’s a month in jail. And I will not be bringing you coffee.”
“Got it,” he replied, his forced smile turning real. A month in that cell? With only Andy and Carter for company? He wasn’t surprised his other self quit trying.
She gave him a long look, then straightened. Turning, she nodded at the other two men. “Fargo. Dr. Grant.”
As the door slid behind her, Fargo said, in a stifled voice, “She was always a little scary, but now she’s terrifying.”
“That wouldn’t be the word I’d choose,” Zane muttered.
“No,” Grant agreed. “She’s pretty amazing.” His tone was admiring.
Zane scowled at him. He wasn’t Carter. If Grant even breathed in Jo’s direction, he’d break his fingers.
-“And it stoned me to my soul. Stoned me just like going home.” – Van Morrison.
Chapter 17: Everybody Must Get Stoned
First, the IRS.
How dumb was that? Create an awesome cover, perfect supporting documentation, and one ridiculous typo by an office worker throws the whole thing in doubt. But it could have been worse, Zane supposed. At least it wasn’t really the NSA or the CIA snooping around.
How weird was that? The hand on the arm, the flirtatious smile, the tilted head, the invitation to get together. Zane wasn’t an idiot. And Carter had seen it, too. Zane couldn’t help but grin at the thought of Carter’s reaction: there was no way the over-protective dad would be happy about his teenage daughter having a crush on Zane. He almost wished he could get S.A.R.A.H. to record them at home tonight – watching Carter go insane over the idea was bound to be entertaining.
Maybe together they made an excuse for him missing the big picture.
But he couldn’t believe it had taken him so long to see it.
Okay, so he’d been distracted by his feelings for Jo, and a healthy dose of sheer lust earlier in the day, but he’d had all the pieces and he hadn’t put them together.
Jo never gave up.
That was why he’d been right to suspect her right away when Fargo said that someone was snooping around Grant’s file. But the fact that she hadn’t been the one doing the snooping? The way she’d let him search her computer? And that “apparently you’ve forgotten?” Under the circumstances, those were dead giveaways.
She knew something. Should he talk to her? Just then, he caught sight of her coming out of the Sheriff’s office.
No time like the present.
“Jo,” he called out. She saw him and paused, and he picked up his pace, jogging across the street toward her. “You going somewhere?”
“Just grabbing some stuff for Carter in case he spends the night with Zoe,” she replied.
“Is she okay?” Zane asked. He hadn’t heard anything. Had Zoe gotten mixed up in the latest Eureka disaster?
“I hope so.” Jo didn’t sound too worried so Zane just nodded, letting it drop. He’d check on Zoe when he got back to GD and find out more.
“I’ve got to go,” Jo continued.
“No, wait,” Zane said, putting out a hand to stop her. She stepped away from his touch and he let his hand drop, as he said, “How much do you know?”
She looked at him, eyebrows raised, but didn’t say anything.
“Come on, Jo,” he said. “I’m not stupid either. I know you’ve figured it out.”
“It turned out not to be that hard,” she conceded. “You didn’t even change Grant’s name.”
He shrugged his shoulders, feeling abashed. Maybe that had been a little lazy of him. But it was easier for people using fake identities to respond to familiar names and he’d never really considered that anyone might be looking. “It’s impossible, you know. Against the laws of physics,” he pointed out.
“That’s never stopped anyone in Eureka before.” She glanced over his shoulder and nodded at someone passing by, then dropped her voice. “We shouldn’t be talking about this.”
“No,” he agreed. But he still wanted to know more. “What gave it away?”
“Well…” She paused and looked troubled. “You did, I guess. I mean, you….we…”
“…were different?” He finished for her.
She nodded, and shifted uncomfortably, moving the duffel bag she was carrying to her other hand.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“I’ve figured out some things,” she said, hurriedly. “I mean it was sort of obvious once I started paying attention. But it’s – look, the change must have been really hard for you, but I think, well…you know, you’re probably better off this way.”
It didn’t hurt as much as when she’d stumbled over answering his proposal, but it didn’t feel good. Better off? He wanted to protest. He wanted to tell her how much he missed her, how good they’d been together, how strong his love for her was. But what could he say? If she’d figured it out and thought they were better apart…
He nodded, trying to be stoic.
“I’ve really get to get going,” she said, heading for her car door. “But hey…” she paused, one hand on the door. “This might be a strange question, but do you trust Grant?”
He shrugged, unsure of what to say. He didn’t hate Grant the way he had at first, but trust? “Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know exactly.” She opened the car door and tossed the duffel bag inside, then leaned on the door for a moment. “He’s charming and suave – and he’s got great hair. But there’s something about him that I just don’t feel right about.”
Great hair? “He’s definitely made some crappy choices,” Zane’s voice was grim. No way was he going to say anything that would encourage Jo to approve of Grant. Watching the two of them together would make him insane.
Jo just nodded. “I’m going to be keeping an eye on him. But not because of the – you know. You can tell Fargo to relax if you like.”
Zane grunted. Yeah, like he had any motivation to make Fargo’s life easier.
She glanced around again as if to see if anyone was near enough to hear. “So what was going on today? What were you looking for?”
“Someone was sniffing around Grant’s records.” He saw the worry flicker across her face and hastily added, “Turned out to be the IRS. Larry’d given him 11 dependents on his W-2.”
She nodded, but her eyes were still dark with concern. “If I could put it together, someone else might, too. We really shouldn’t talk about this. Not here, not anywhere. The less said, the better.”
“Yeah,” he sighed and stepped away from the car, as she got in and pulled the door closed.
It was like he’d said to Alison. Over. Done. Time to drop it.
“Hey, how’s our girl?” Jo asked brightly as she stepped into the medical wing.
Carter and Alison were standing together, and as she crossed to them, she realized that they were watching Zane. He was sitting on the end of Zoe’s bed, admiring her arm, and laughing with her.
“She’s good,” said Carter, but his voice sounded tight with tension.
“What’s Zane doing here?” Jo asked.
“Apparently he and Zoe are…friendly,” Carter replied.
Jo glanced at Alison. She had been watching Zane and Zoe, but – almost as if she felt Jo’s gaze – she turned and smiled warmly at Jo and Carter. “I should get back to work. Talk to you later?”
“Yeah, definitely,” Carter confirmed.
As Alison moved away, Jo said quietly to Carter, “Oh, God. Zoe asked my advice about her new guy but I didn’t realize…”
“I know,” Carter agreed. He turned his back toward Zoe as if he couldn’t stand to watch and Jo followed suit, with one last glance over her shoulder, to see Zane smiling and nodding as if he’d just agreed to something.
“But you’re not okay with this?” Jo asked urgently. She couldn’t believe Zane. He couldn’t ask Alison to marry him one minute and then go out with Zoe the next, even if Alison had said no. It was callous. And it was incredibly unfair to Zoe. He couldn’t possibly be that much of a jackass.
“No!” Carter replied, heading out the door. “No, I’m not okay with this. And I keep telling myself that it’s a crush, and it’s not going to last.”
“But what if it does?” Jo glanced back at the door. Poor Alison. And poor Zoe.
And damn Zane. Maybe it was unreasonable of her. Certainly it was none of her business. But she was furious at him. Changed? No, he really was exactly the same trouble-maker she’d known for years.
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good, They’ll stone you just like they said they would, They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home, They’ll stone you when you’re there all alone, But I would not feel so all alone, Everybody must get stoned – Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, Bob Dylan
Chapter 18: The Answers Are There
“Hey, sorry I’m late,” Zane said, greeting Grace and Henry as he joined the other time travellers in the backyard.
“No problem,” said Henry. “We’re just glad you could make it.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the lake?” Fargo’s words were snide.
Zane glanced at Carter. The sheriff wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t glaring either, so Zane grinned at him as he drawled, “Jealous, Fargo? It’s okay. Just because Zoe likes me better than you, it doesn’t mean she hates you. She doesn’t work for GD, after all.”
“I – I – that’s not what I – I didn’t –” Fargo spluttered.
Zane laughed. “Just jerking your chain. No, I told her I was going to the lake, so I could come to the barbecue without…I mean, not that I’m avoiding her or anything, but…” He let the words trail off. He didn’t want to say anything in front of Carter that might sound as if he was insulting Zoe, but wow, that girl was persistent. Also cute, smart, sweet, and funny, but she was as bad as Jo when it came to not giving up.
“…you’re avoiding her?” Alison finished the sentence for him, smiling at him.
He shrugged. “It’s a crush. She’ll get over it. And I don’t want to be mean.”
“Oh, thank God,” Carter said fervently. “No offense, Zane, but – “
Zane couldn’t resist the temptation. “The picture of me engaging in adult recreation with your daughter keeping you up nights?”
He was rewarded by the horrified look on Carter’s face, and a pained groan. “You had to do that,” Carter muttered, just as Grant arrived, also a little late.
As Grant asked if he could join them at the DED test, Fargo answered, “Yeah, sure, it’ll be a laugh a minute. General Mansfield’s coming by in person to yell at me in case anything goes wrong.” With a crackle of electricity, sparks started flying, and Fargo added, “Like that.”
“Oh, man, what’s that? Some kind of power surge?” Henry asked. Grace fussed over him worriedly a moment or two, but with all well and everyone there, Carter proposed a toast.
“To new beginnings!” Everyone else raised their glasses, while Zane tried not to grimace. Did everything have to be a reminder of what he’d lost? Despite Mansfield, he’d been looking forward to the DED test: he’d done good work on it and the energy discoveries alone ought to open up new areas in scientific research. Today ought to be a fun day and the last thing he needed was to be thinking about what should have been instead.
“Any time now, gentleman,” General Mansfield ordered.
This Mansfield was such an ass. “Easy,” Zane retorted. “When you’re building a Doomsday machine, details matter.”
“The DED is not a weapon, it’s a defensive counter-measure in case of electronic attack.” Mansfield’s voice was grim.
Zane couldn’t hold back his smirk. Mansfield hated that he was here. But they’d only reached the testing stage because of Zane’s input, so Mansfield was stuck with him. “Whatever helps ya sleep at night.”
“And we’re ready,” Fargo jumped in. “Grab some popcorn and take a seat, General.”
Jo and Grant were talking in low voices behind him as Zane input the final calculations into the computer. He tried to ignore them. He didn’t hate Grant any more. Really, he didn’t. But if he had to watch him with Jo, he would rapidly change his mind.
“Here we go,” said Fargo. “For this test, we’ll be using point four percent power potential.” With a glance back at the audience and a huge grin, he pushed the button. Lights flared, a pulse beat out and the screen on the other side of the room went dark. They waited. It looked good. Zane grinned back at him, as Fargo added, “Shutting down,” and crossed the room to check on the results.
As he walked toward the screen, a whistle, followed by a whir, caused him to pause. Zane looked up from his computer screen: what was that sound? Then suddenly, Fargo was flying through the air, until, smack, he hit the wall. Jo and Grant rushed forward, but Zane hurried over to the computer. What the hell was that?
“It must have been some kind of transient anomaly from one of the couplings,” he reported, looking at the data stream. Maybe? That didn’t really make sense, but the numbers seemed to be indicating a oscillation in the power flow and the couplings might be a source.
“An anomaly I trust will be fixed before next week’s field test?” Mansfield’s tone was halfway between a question and an order.
“Good…as…done…” Fargo got out, as Jo and Grant held him up.
“Good,” Mansfield murmured. Zane frowned. Good as done, but only if they could figure out what the problem was.
As Mansfield strode out, Grant said to Fargo, “Let’s get you to the medical center and get you checked out. That was a rough landing.”
Fargo nodded weakly, and said to Zane, “Can you-?”
Zane nodded. “On it,” he said, as he scrolled back up through the data log, searching for anomalies.
As Grant half-carried Fargo out, Jo lingered. “Are you—,” she started, before stopping.
“What?” Zane asked absently, looking up. She was frowning, seeming a little worried, and he stepped away from the computer and closer to her. “What?” he asked again.
She shook her head again. “It’s silly. We work for the Department of Defense, after all. But does it bother you to be working on a weapon like this?”
“Nope,” he grinned at her, adding confidently, “No one’ll ever use it.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Math,” he answered simply, but she still looked worried. “Okay, and human nature, too.”
“You’re trusting human nature?” She sounded skeptical.
Should he explain further? Did she really want to know? But she wasn’t moving, so he continued. “Okay, math first. The DED eradicates all electronics in a thousand mile radius. That’s huge. We couldn’t use it on most countries without hitting their neighbors, too: to get North Korea, we’d have to wipe out South Korea; to take out Iran, we’d have to take out Israel; Libya, we’d be destroying Italy, and so on.”
Jo nodded so he went on. “Only six countries are big enough to even be possible targets. We’re not going to use it on ourselves, so that leaves Canada, Australia, and Brazil, and yeah, I’m not worried about us using it on them, either. Then there’s Russia, and hey, Cold War is over. Why would we? Unless they’re setting off their nukes and in that case – well, a directed EMP is a hell of a lot better than throwing our nukes back at them.”
“And China?” Jo asked.
“Our biggest trade partner? An EMP attack on China would destroy billions of dollars of American-investments. Dozens of US-based multinational companies have factories in China.”
“So that’s the human nature part?”
Zane nodded. “Any American president who authorizes that attack isn’t just going down in history as the world’s worst person, they’re also kissing power good-bye. Corporations have a lot of money to throw at elections, and the people who run them would be seriously pissed to lose their investments. And politicians care about winning elections.”
“I’d call you a cynic, but-,” Jo shrugged.
“Yeah,” Zane nodded, turning back to his computer. Jo was at least as cynical about politicians as he was. “If it works, though, and we can use what we learn to create a controlled version, it’d be an incredible weapon,” he added. “Imagine if we could take out an area the size of a city block with an EMP. Or even a zone of a mile or two. No more saturation bombing, no more civilian casualties.”
“Okay.” Jo nodded. “And – thanks.”
He looked up at her and she smiled at him, almost tentatively. “No problem,” he answered as she headed for the door. And as he turned back to his data, he was half-whistling. He’d been right, today was a fun day.
*…you just have to know where to look.—Scully
Chapter 19: A Dream Is an Answer
Zane was seated at the counter of Café Diem, absently eating lunch, and puzzling over the problems they were having with the DED. It couldn’t be the couplings: he’d tested them all. But the flux compression generator shouldn’t be capable of creating resonance frequencies. It didn’t make sense, but it reminded him of one of the proposals he’d worked on a while back. He was trying to put the pieces together, when he realized that Jo was staring at him, her eyes narrowed, her face thoughtful.
“What?” It was the kind of look that made him immediately defensive. “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”
“I know,” Jo answered, sliding into the seat next to him, still gazing at him intently. “What I can’t figure out is why?”
“Why, what?” he asked warily.
“Zoe,” Jo replied, taking a French fry off his plate and eating it, before continuing. “She’s cute, she’s smart, she’s fun, she likes you. What’s your problem?”
Zane looked around the restaurant. Okay, he was seated in Café Diem and everything looked normal. Was this actually happening? “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No.” Jo shook her head. “You’re lonely. You need someone. Zoe would be good for you.”
“Zoe is great,” Zane replied, trying to be patient. “But we really have nothing in common.”
“Sure you do,” Jo took another French fry. “Both juvenile delinquents. Both outgrowing that kind of thing. Zoe just managed to do it a little sooner than you did.”
“Our criminal histories don’t compare,” Zane said. He’d been in federal prison, for God’s sake. Not that he thought that made Zoe off-limits, but surely Jo should think so? At least the Jo who’d spent the past two years throwing him in jail?
“If Zoe’s dad hadn’t been in law enforcement, she could have easily wound up in juvenile detention for identity theft,” Jo pointed out. She was dipping the French fry in his ketchup, carefully swirling it around before bringing it to her mouth. Zane couldn’t help watching as she bit into it. “I think you guys would really get each other.”
“She’s eighteen years old. She’s too young for me.” Zane was finding it hard to focus. He leaned a little closer to her, his eyes on her mouth as she licked a little ketchup off her full lip.
“She’s very mature for her age,” Jo responded. “And you’re…not.”
Ouch. Had Jo really just said that to him? He leaned back.
“Ask her out tonight,” Jo said persuasively. “Spend some time with her. You’ll see that I’m right. You and Zoe – you’d be good together.”
Before Zane could say anything else, Jo stood, and grabbing one more French fry from his plate, patted him on the shoulder – the same three firm pats that a guy offering a casual, yet meant to be comforting, touch gives another guy.
Zane shoved his plate away, and then swiveled on his counter stool to watch Jo walk out the door and away.
God damn it. That just sucked.
But maybe she was right. He was lonely. He missed having someone to talk to, someone to have fun with.
And although he hated it, he knew that he needed to move on.
But with Zoe?
And speak of the devil – there she was, walking in the door. She spotted him and her smile lit up her face. He smiled back, trying not to let his reluctance show.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Jo couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Carter had told her just that morning that Zane had said he was avoiding Zoe, and now Zoe was telling her that she was going out with him.
“Not you, too.” Zoe rolled her eyes. “So judge-y. Zane’s a great guy.”
“He’s a criminal.” Jo knew that wasn’t the right answer. Zoe wasn’t going to be persuaded by Zane’s past. But what else could she say?
“You should give him a chance. He’s actually really sweet once you get to know him.”
“I know him plenty well enough, Zoe,” Jo snapped. “And he is not sweet.”
“Well, okay, maybe not sweet.” Zoe’s mischievous look didn’t make Jo feel any better. “But he’s funny and smart and so, so hot.” She twirled around in her skimpy summer dress. Its strap ties left her shoulders bare, while the gathered top clung to every inch of her slim frame. “These shoes, you think?”
“Zoe, honestly, Zane is not someone you should get involved with. It’s – he’s – you –,” Jo sputtered to a stop. She couldn’t tell Zoe the truth, so what could she tell her?
“I know you guys hate each other, but I really like him,” Zoe said simply as the doorbell rang.
“Mr. Donovan is at the door,” S.A.R.A.H. reported.
“Stall him,” Zoe ordered, gesturing imperatively with one hand, before turning and rushing back toward her room.
Sighing, Jo turned toward the door as S.A.R.A.H. opened it and Zane sauntered in, casual in his blue t-shirt, black jeans and sneakers.
“Hey, Jo,” he said, voice calm.
“I can’t believe you,” she whispered back furiously. “Are you insane?”
He looked taken aback.
“Carter’s not here, but if he was -,” Jo shook her head. “How can you do this?” she demanded.
Zane shook his head, just a little, as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “Do what?” he asked, stuffing his hands in his pants pockets.
“Love is a big deal to a girl her age,” Jo continued. How could he be taking this so lightly? How could he think dating Zoe was okay when he – but she pushed that thought away almost before she thought it, that wasn’t important anymore. It was that Zoe was too young for him. It was that he had just proposed to Alison. There were plenty of reasons why Donovan, why Zane, shouldn’t even be looking at Zoe.
“Okay,” he answered, looking puzzled.
Jo wanted to haul off and punch him. Instead she satisfied herself with a glare as Zoe entered the room.
“Hi,” Zoe smiled demurely, immediately crossing to Zane and hugging him in greeting. As he awkwardly bent to hug her back, her arms locked around his neck, the look he sent Jo was one of sheer annoyance.
Jo frowned. Why was Donovan annoyed? He was the aggravating one.
Zoe released Zane and waggled her fingers in farewell to Jo, eyes bright and cheerful, as she led the way out the door of the bunker.
“We won’t be back too late,” Zane said, turning to Jo with a scowl as he followed Zoe out. “And you and me? We’ll talk later.”
Damn straight they would. She couldn’t wait for the chance to tell him exactly what she thought of him.
Chapter 20: The Truth Will Save You
“What the hell was that about last night?” Zane demanded. He’d been watching for Jo all morning. He didn’t know how she’d managed to get into the lab so quietly that she hadn’t disturbed him, but that didn’t matter – it was just the two of them and he was going to have it out with her.
“Zoe said that she had an awesome time with you,” Jo responded, smiling at him. “I knew you guys would have fun.”
“Are you crazy, Jo? First you tell me to ask her out, then you’re all mad at me because I did, and now you’re excited about it?” Sure, he and Zoe had had fun. She was a nice kid, and he wasn’t going to hurt her by being rude. But he’d spent the whole evening thinking about Jo and trying to figure out what was going on with her and why she was being so strange.
Impossibly, Jo looked hurt. “I just want you to be happy. Is that so wrong?”
“Happy? With Zoe? Are you sadistic? You said you knew –” The door slid open and Zane shut up as Fargo walked in. What a crappy time to be interrupted. He wanted to know – he needed to know – what Jo was thinking.
“Zane? Have you seen – there you are!” Zane watched as Fargo put his arm around empty space. “Kids aren’t supposed to be in here,” Fargo scolded the air.
“Uh, Fargo? Who are you talking to?” Zane asked. Bad enough that Fargo was interrupting them, but why was he being so weird?
Fargo stared at him. “This girl from the tour group is still wandering around.”
Zane shook his head. “Nobody there,” he told Fargo. “And would you mind?” he gestured toward Jo. “We’re kind of in the middle of a private conversation.”
“Um…who’s standing here right now?” Fargo asked, gesturing in a small circle around him.
Zane stared at him. “You, me, and Jo,” he said, not very patiently. “What the hell?”
“I think we’re hallucinating,” Fargo said, folding his hands in front of him. “It’s happening to Carter and Alison, as well.”
“Hallucinating?” Zane looked at Jo. She looked just like herself. “Why would we be hallucinating? Why would I be hallucinating…” She smiled at him, much too cheerfully. “Jo?”
“Uh, maybe it’s not this Jo?” Fargo suggested. “Maybe it’s your Jo?”
“From the old timeline.” Zane grimaced in acknowledgement. It still didn’t make any sense at all. Why would the Jo that knew him want him to be dating Zoe? She wasn’t insecure, not really, but she would have broken at least a finger or two of his before she let him touch another woman. But at least it explained why she’d been so weird: he must have been hallucinating yesterday, too. “Okay, what is going on?”
“I don’t know,” Fargo said, staring down at the floor next to him as if there was something there to see. “But we need to find out. Let’s get to the infirmary and see if Carter and Alison have discovered anything.”
Nodding, Zane followed him, but not before scowling at hallucinatory Jo. Did she have to be so perky? “Stop smiling. It’s creepy.”
Jo felt sick to her stomach.
Why had Mansfield come in at exactly the moment that Fargo found the designs for the oscillator?
And why, oh why, hadn’t she told Fargo that she knew about the time travel? If he had known that she knew, he wouldn’t have been worried about lying in front of her and they would have been able to keep Zane’s designs a secret from Mansfield.
And she wouldn’t currently be on her way to arrest him.
She’d been furious at him. She’d been planning what she was going to say to him the next time she saw him from the moment he walked out the door with Zoe the previous evening. It didn’t matter that Zane didn’t share the memories of the Donovan she’d known: there was no way that him dating Zoe was okay and there was no way he didn’t know that. And that was the fight she wanted to have. Not this one.
Could he really have been involved in the theft of the DED? No. It was impossible. She knew that. Fargo knew that. Carter would know that. Zane’s logic about how the DED would never be used didn’t hold up at all if it fell into the hands of terrorists who would use it against the United States, and he would never take that chance.
But Mansfield didn’t know Zane like they did.
Oh, God. This would be the first time she’d arrested him since the rockets. The first time she’d arrested him since knowing that he wasn’t the same guy any more. He wasn’t going to hold out his hands for the cuffs mockingly; he wasn’t going to flirt with her. There’d be no teasing about their jail vacations and how much more fun they’d be if she’d join him in the cell. This was just going to be hell.
The door to the lab slid open and she stepped inside.
He was sitting down, concentrating on a monitor, and didn’t notice her entrance. For a minute she just looked at him. His dark hair was a mess, as always, and he needed a shave. His face was serious, intent.
He wasn’t smiling. Before, back when – well, before things changed, she’d thought she hated his smirk. He’d always had a grin on his face, most of the time because he was annoying someone, a lot of the time because he was annoying her. How could she miss that? But, oh, she did.
And, oh, her stomach hurt.
She cleared her throat and he looked up, startled.
“You again,” he said, voice disgusted.
Jo blinked. Again? She hadn’t seen him all day.
“Alison…” He sighed and shook his head, looking pained, then closed his eyes and rubbed a hand over his tired face.
Alison? Jo glanced behind her to see if Alison had followed her in. What was Zane talking about?
“Alison says that I have to work past my unresolved issues to make you go away,” Zane finally continued, still not looking at her. “Shrink-speak, got to love it,” he added as he looked up and directly into her eyes. His were their brightest blue, the color almost startling in its intensity.
Jo paused, caught by his gaze, not sure what to say. What was going on?
“Here’s the thing. I don’t want to.” He shook his head and pushed away from the monitor. “I’ve been telling myself to move on, to let go, to forget about you, for months. I proposed, you didn’t say yes. End of story, right?”
Jo bit her lip. He thought she was Alison. But why? She looked back over her shoulder. No, she was the only one here. What was going on with him?
He stood up. “I’m going to regret leaving like that for the rest of my life. I’m always going to wonder what would have happened if I’d just waited. If I’d just talked to you. No, if I’d just listened to you. I’ll never get to know what you were thinking.” He leaned on his desk, bracing his hands on the edge.
Jo frowned. If he wanted to know what Alison was thinking, why didn’t he just ask her? What was the big deal?
“But here’s the thing: it almost doesn’t matter. If I knew how to stop loving you, I would. But I don’t know how. I miss you so much. I miss you every day. And it doesn’t stop.”
“What are you talking about-?” Jo started. He was making no sense. Shrink-speak? Had Alison told him he needed a psych eval? This was crazy.
“You can tell me to date Zoe, and if that’s what I have to do to make you go away, I will. But I’m never going to love her. Not the way I love you.”
Okay, now that made sense. “Well, then don’t you dare date her,” Jo snapped. “That is so unfair to her.”
He looked taken aback. “What?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, Donovan, but I didn’t come here for this. I’m here to – I need to – ah, hell. You’re under arrest for collusion in the theft of the DED.”
“For – what?” His shock was complete.
Jo sighed. She’d already known he didn’t do it, but his reaction confirmed it.
“But I didn’t – I wouldn’t – that’s crazy!” he went on.
“There seems to be a lot of crazy going around,” Jo answered. “You’ll be better off in jail until we get this figured out, anyway.”
Jail or a psych ward. As soon as he was locked up, she was calling Alison to find out what the hell was going on.
*…Scully. I think it’ll save both of us. – Mulder
Chapter 21: Crazy He Calls Me
Alison had known that he was hallucinating. But when Jo had said, as delicately as she could, that Zane seemed to be mistaking her for Alison, Alison had choked out a laugh and firmly said, “No. That’s not what’s happening.”
All right, so it wasn’t the most important thing. It definitely wasn’t what Jo should be worrying about. They needed to find the DED, and they needed to find it now. Losing a Doomsday weapon was by far the most critical problem facing Eureka at the moment. So why couldn’t Jo let go of trying to understand what Donovan had been talking about?
Zane, she corrected herself grumpily. He wasn’t Donovan, he was Zane: a different person. One with different memories, different experiences, a different outlook on life. But what the hell had he meant?
With Carter close behind her, she entered the sheriff’s office. Andy had called them: Zane wanted to talk.
“I’ve been thinking about how things played out.” Zane was pacing the cell. “It’s Grant.”
“What would Dr. Grant have to gain by being involved?” Andy asked carefully.
“He was alone in the control room when the containment field failed. And you heard him. He was way too worried about the DED and how it would be used. I don’t know how he got my passcode, but that has to be how he did it.”
Jo glanced at Carter. He was looking worried, but said to Andy, “Andy, get him down here.”
“You got it, boss. Dialing,” Andy responded with his usual cheer.
Grant. Jo had been uneasy about Grant from the day she’d met him. Sure, some of it was the time travel: he hadn’t belonged in Eureka of the present day and she’d seen that. But there’d been more to it. One of her father’s friends was a retired general. Retirement was hard on generals. When you were used to saying ‘jump’ and the only possible response was ‘how high?’, losing your authority was difficult. Grant had the same flavor to him: he wanted power, he wanted to be in the center of things, he wanted to know that when he talked, people listened. Being nothing more than a historian, a precarious hanger-on in a town that he’d helped create? Yeah, he wouldn’t have liked that.
“I’m afraid he’s not answering,” Andy said.
“We should check the archives,” Jo said, her eyes on Donovan. “See if anything in his file gives us a clue as to who he might know now.”
Carter glanced at her, and she shrugged.
“Yeah, she knows,” Zane said. His expression when he looked at Jo was unreadable, at least to her. She scowled at him.
“She – what?” Carter glanced from Zane to Jo and back again.
“I didn’t tell her. She figured it out on her own. And we haven’t talked about it.” Zane scowled back at Jo.
“You know?” Carter asked Jo. “Why didn’t you say something?”
She turned her glare onto him. “Why didn’t you?”
“Well, because—” he started, sounding exasperated, and then stopped.
Jo nodded. “Exactly.” He hadn’t told her because it was too dangerous. She hadn’t told him for the same reason. “It’s not important, anyway. We need to find the DED. Grant’s records are in my office. Let’s go look at them.”
Jo turned back to Zane. “When this is all over? We are going to talk. You are going to tell me what all that was about yesterday.”
“Awesome.” Zane rolled his eyes, and turned away. Jo glared at his back. This whole thing wasn’t her fault. Maybe it wasn’t his fault, either. But she couldn’t help the way she felt and the way she felt was really, really pissed at him.
Damn, but jail was boring.
He was so sick of being trapped here.
It would have taken him twenty-two minutes to fry the lock with some wire and a power source. He’d done the math. Or, if he could get Andy to give him a smart phone, six point two minutes to open the lock electronically. Or, if he could get Andy to pause close enough to the door to subvert the AI’s programming, twenty-two seconds to get Andy to open the door.
Instead, he sat on the bunk and stared at his snapshot of himself and Jo. She was so frickin’ beautiful. Her hair curled when she didn’t straighten it. He wondered how many people in Eureka knew that. She spent forty-five minutes a day, every day, turning the natural curls into the straight ponytail that most people knew.
Why the hell did he have to love her? Why couldn’t he just stop?
“Good news, Mr. Donovan,” Andy’s cheerful voice interrupted his bleak thoughts.
“Yeah?” Zane looked up.
“They’ve found the DED and concluded that you weren’t involved in its theft.”
“Rocket scientists, all of them,” Zane grunted. Like it was a surprise that he wasn’t involved. Of course he wasn’t. But Andy was opening the door to the cell so what the hell. He shouldn’t complain. At least he was getting out.
“Sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Donovan. But the evidence was overwhelming.”
“Yeah, well, you can relax, I’m not going to sue you.” Zane didn’t know where he should go. He wanted to see Jo. He wanted to have it out with her. He didn’t know anymore what she knew or didn’t know, but it was past time for them to just have the fight that they should have had two months ago.
He slipped his photo into his back pocket just as Zoe entered the sheriff’s office.
“Zane!” she said exuberantly. “Hey! I just heard the good news!”
He tried to smile at her. What was he going to do about her? She was a nice kid. He really didn’t want to hurt her feelings. He knew exactly how miserable it was to care about someone who didn’t even notice, but still, he didn’t want to lead her on, and not just because Carter would kill him.
She crossed the office to him, and before he could even think of how to signal a no, she was wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down to her. Shit.
“Don’t you dare!”
Saved by the bell.
Or in this case, an irate security chief.
His lips an inch from Zoe’s, Zane pulled back in relief, his hands dropping to his sides.
Zoe let him go reluctantly, turning to face Jo with an irritated look. “I’m not a child, Jo. Do you mind?”
“Tell her,” Jo snapped at him.
Tell her? Tell her what?
“Tell her what you told me yesterday,” Jo demanded.
Oh, what a bitch. Really? Bad enough that he’d shared his innermost feelings with a woman who didn’t give a damn, now she wanted him to share them with the world? He glared at her, stuffing his hands into his pockets.
“Tell me what?” Zoe asked, looking from Jo to him and back again. He looked at her confused expression and sighed. Fine. Better she know now, anyway.
“What Ms. Lupo,” he drawled, throwing all the sarcasm he could into the name, “wants you to know is that I’m in love with her. Have been for years.” He turned his glare back to Jo. “And much though I hate it, I can’t figure out how to stop.”
Zoe took a step backwards, away from him, looking stunned. But not quite as stunned as Jo looked. Her mouth opened, her face paled, and she blinked. Once, twice, a third time.
Zoe looked from one to another, her startled expression rapidly changing to one that looked a lot more like suppressed amusement. Jo’s expression hadn’t changed at all, though. “You and –, ” Zoe started. “Um. Okay. Well…ah, yeah. So, maybe I’ll just…um…I’ll just leave you two together.” Backing away from Zane, she started for the door, passing Jo with a whispered, “Oh, we are so going to talk!”
Jo didn’t move. Her phone started ringing but she made no move to answer it.
Zane rocked back on his heels. Okay, this felt damn awkward. What the hell had she thought he’d been talking about the day before?
“You – I thought – but – what about Alison?” Jo finally said.
Alison? What about Alison? What did she have to do with anything?
“Alison?” Zane asked.
“I thought you and Alison were…” Jo started. “I…”
Zane shook his head in disbelief. “Alison?” he repeated. “Are you insane?”
Jo’s phone stopped ringing.
“So in the other – in your – you didn’t propose to Alison?” Jo asked. It was as if she couldn’t quite let go of the idea.
Zane sighed. This sucked just as bad as he’d thought it would. Although where she’d gotten this weird notion about him and Alison…
“No,” he said firmly. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the photograph of the two of them together. Taking two steps closer to her, he held the photo out. She looked at it and if anything, went paler. Her eyes, when she looked up at him, were dark with an expression he couldn’t read.
Her phone started ringing again, and impatiently she pulled it out and looked at the message. “Fargo,” she sighed. “Damn it, I have to go deal with the DED.”
He shrugged. She’d caught her lower lip in her teeth, the way she did when she was worried, and he wanted to touch her, to run his finger across her mouth, and then to kiss her, but she was still looking at the photograph of the two of them, as if she couldn’t quite believe it.
“Meet me,” she said abruptly. “Later,” and then she pressed her lips together as if she couldn’t quite believe she’d said that.
“Okay,” he answered slowly. “Where?”
She looked up at him, and she was almost smiling. “Figure it out.”
Chapter 22: I Wished On the Moon
Meet her, she’d said.
He looked down at the photo. They’d taken it here, the site of their first casual camping trip. Jo had been experimenting with the camera in her new phone and he’d liked the image so much – the laughter in her face, the angle of the light on her hair, the look in his own eyes as he pulled her closer to him with his arm around her shoulders – that he’d printed it out and saved it.
And she’d been looking right at it, her face pale, when she told him to meet her. This had to be what she meant. But he’d been sitting here for what felt like hours, debating with himself. Call her? Text her? Ask her? Or trust that he knew and that she’d get here when she could?
It was starting to get colder: the sun had been sliding down the sky and the first stars were starting to glimmer in the early twilight. How long should he wait?
The crunch of a footstep in the dirt behind him answered his question at last. He scrambled to his feet.
“Hey,” she said.
He didn’t say anything, just looked at her, feeling uncertain. He’d gotten it right. But what did that mean?
A tiny smile was curving her lips, but she just gestured with her head. “Cooler’s in the car, can you grab it while I set up the tent?”
“Jo—,” he started.
“Just get the cooler, Donovan.”
He shrugged, slid the picture back in his pocket, and made the short hike down to the parking lot at the bottom of the hill. The cooler was heavier than he’d imagined it would be, and he was a little out of breath by the time he made it back to the campsite, and dropped it next to the fire pit. “What do you have in here, rocks?”
She was standing with her back to him, looking out at the view, but at his words she turned. Backlit by the setting sun, she was haloed in gold and looked so beautiful that he took an inadvertent step or two toward her before pausing.
She didn’t pause. She walked straight to him and into his arms, pulling his head down to her and capturing his lips.
He kissed her back, the glad relief flowing through him quickly replaced by the heat of passion. Her mouth was so soft, her skin so smooth, her taste as sweet as he remembered. The feel of her fingers on his cheek and then curving around his neck, and the warmth of her body pressing against his, were so familiar, and so intensely right.
He wanted more.
He took the kiss deeper, his hands sliding down to her hips, tugging her closer. He wanted to lift her off her feet, to feel her wrap her legs around him, but despite the haze of lust, his brain sounded a note of caution. He shouldn’t go too fast, shouldn’t chance pushing too hard. Jo was cautious when it came to giving herself.
Or was she? She was tugging at his shirt, sliding it up and running her hands over his chest and back, even as her tongue teased his. He lifted his head away from her and let her pull his shirt over his head. She didn’t pause but immediately started unbuttoning her own shirt in that one-handed way she had.
“Tent. Now.” It was an order, but she was smiling.
“Jo, do you – are you –?” He didn’t want to question this, didn’t want to take any chance of her changing back into the stern, disapproving Jo, but he was confused as hell.
“Shut up, Donovan,” she said, and the name, which had always felt like a slap, suddenly felt more like an endearment. “We’ll talk later.”
He wasn’t going to argue. He followed her into the tent, kicking off his shoes, peeling out of his clothes, finally falling with her onto the sleeping bag that she’d already laid out. In a tangle of limbs, he stroked his way down her body, loving the feel of her, the scent, the taste. She was kissing him, tiny nibbling bites down the side of his neck and across his chest, and he wanted desperately to make this moment last forever, but just as desperately to be inside her. And then she was arching underneath him, breathy moans driving him insane, and he couldn’t stop, nothing could stop him, until finally she was contracting around him and the throbbing warmth was just too much.
As their breathing slowed, and their sweat cooled, he tried to understand what had just happened. “Now why didn’t that feel like a first time?” he finally drawled, rolling off her but pulling her with him, so that she was draped across his chest, his arm around her.
She laughed, a low, husky sound, and he felt the vibration of her lungs moving against him. He stroked his hand up her back, wanting to feel it again. The sound of her laughter, the smoothness of her skin, the tickle of her hair against his chin – he felt inexpressibly content.
“I thought we were enemies.” It wasn’t quite a question, but kind of it was. He was thinking back, trying to remember Founder’s Day, trying to remember all of his first interactions with Jo in this timeline.
“Mmm, sort of. Say, um, enemies with benefits?” She chuckled again, sounding drowsily content herself.
“Enemies with – how did that happen?”
She tilted her head up so that she could look at him, and said dryly, “I succumbed to your somewhat irresistible charm.”
He grinned at her. “I like the sound of that. But there’s no way that’s the whole story.”
She shrugged and looked away, almost shy. “We were – well, maybe not enemies. Adversaries? You got in trouble all the time. It was bad enough when I was the deputy but then when I got the job as head of security – what a pain in the ass you were.” She punched him lightly on his shoulder, and then snuggled closer.
“And?” he prompted, when she didn’t seem inclined to continue telling the story.
“I was furious the day I found you camping in my spot. This is my favorite campsite. Nobody knows about it, it’s always open, and here you were.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “You claimed it wasn’t on purpose. I was sure you were lying. I guess I’ll never know now.”
His grin grew a little wider. She might not know, but he did. There was no way it had been an accident. He must have planned it that way, because he didn’t camp. Not before Jo.
“Anyway, I was mad, and you were being a jackass about it and then you kissed me and…well, I kissed you back. And then…and I don’t do one night stands! We didn’t even have a tent up.”
He chuckled, remembering the first time he’d convinced her to make love outside. It had taken some serious teasing. He started tracing a pattern along her back, loving the feel of her against him.
“Back in Eureka, I – we – acted like nothing had happened. But then, the next time I came up here, you were here again, and…well, up here just became a place outside of real life. In Eureka, at work, everything stayed the same. You were still the town delinquent, you still got in trouble all the damn time. I swear you just liked it that way.”
That was probably true. He didn’t have any way of knowing for sure, but he’d never been good with authority. Working for Alison had always been different: from day one, she’d been more of a supportive encouraging presence than an authority figure. It made sense to him that working for Fargo – especially the dictator that Fargo had apparently been – hadn’t been his style.
“And then right before Founder’s Day, we fought. I was going on a date with an old friend and you were a jerk about it.” She sighed, and moved her hand on his chest so that it was over his heart. She fell silent.
“So that day in the jail?” Her hair was loose, and he started playing with it, twisting the silken strands around his fingers.
“I was sure you let those monkeys go to stop me from going to Portland and then –.” She pushed herself up off him and glared down at him. “You said you had a date. You wanted me to let you go because you had a date!” Her tone was filled with outrage.
“You did let me go,” he protested. “You said I’d get in less trouble if I had a girlfriend.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t about to let you see how I felt about that. What I don’t get is why you didn’t figure it out from the photograph.”
“The photograph? But it was mine.”
She shook her head. Leaning away from him, she reached for her jacket, and pulled it to her, searching for her phone. As he watched, she scrolled through, and then turned the screen to him. It was the same photograph of the two of them.
“It’s not like you used a spaceship or something,” she pointed out. “You were there in the jail and then you were still in the jail. Same clothes, same stuff, same you. How could you have had something that the real you didn’t also have?”
“I am the real me,” he said, but he was shaking his head. That made so much sense. Why hadn’t he thought of that before? Why hadn’t he realized… “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“You never came back,” she said simply. “You stopped meeting me on my way into work, you stopped coming to Café Diem for dinner on Tuesdays, you stopped flirting with me…and you never met me up here again. I didn’t know why you were so mad when I was the one who had a reason to be angry, but…and then with the RSS, things were just so different. I asked you what was going on but you wouldn’t tell me – and you and Alison…”
“Me and Alison?”
She shrugged. “You looked – well, I could tell that there was something between you, I was just wrong about what it was.”
“Really wrong,” he said fervently. “There’s never been anything between me and Alison. Nothing. It’s always been me and you. Always.”
She smiled at him, and the light in her eyes – she was his Jo. His. “I used to think I hated you, but I had no idea how much I would miss you.”
He reached for her, and she came willingly back into his arms, meeting his lips with her own. As they kissed, he tried to put everything he felt at that moment into his touch, all the love, all the passion, all the joy.
And he must have succeeded, because she pulled away from him just long enough to whisper, “I love you, Zane Donovan.”