[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
This started out as a single-parter but I decided it should be broken in the middle.

My Repellex was supposed to keep all biting insects away, but apparently the Solomon Island mosquitos hadn't gotten the memo. I swatted at them idly while crouching in my concealed nest atop a dormant volcano. It was a low-action assignment I had been given, and the heat and humidity and biting insects were a much worse threat than the Japanese.

From time to time I checked the scope. Twenty-second century imaging technology allowed me to view Naru Island thirty miles away. I could see the Navy men lying in the shade, some of them wounded, all of them low on morale, waiting for something to happen. And there was Kennedy, too, lean and shirtless, pacing around the island and rationing out coconuts to his men. I admired his leadership. It wasn't hard to see that he was future president material.

I wasn't expecting anything to happen. After all, everybody knows that Kennedy eventually did become the thirty-fifth President of the United States of America. It's not like hostile time travelers could do anything to change that; you can't alter recorded history. But there are other ways to damage the Presidency. Gathering information that might show the future President in a bad light; planting documents or blackmailable situations that could be used to tarnish Kennedy's legacy; gaining access to the future presidency that might come back to haunt America two centuries in the future – these were things that the Secret Service, Forewatch Division, had a mission to prevent. It had happened to President Obama, with twenty-first century private interest groups going back to muddle his citizenship records; it couldn't be allowed to happen again.

The Sonor in my ear chirped. "What's up?" I muttered. I couldn't afford to talk loudly; there were ten thousand Japanese soldiers stationed on my island, and being caught or compromised would be difficult to keep out of the history books.

"Bagley here," said the 1940's section chief. "Forewatch Control called; they're yanking you out. New assignment."

"That's crap," I said. "Kennedy's not due to be picked up for another three days."

"Can't be helped," said Bagley sympathetically. "Emergency mission, I gather. Get your crap packed up and campsite sterilized; Bounce-Out is in fifteen minutes." The Sonor went dead.

Time travel is like a yo-yo; you bounce in and then you bounce out. The longer you stay, the higher the energy of the insertion, so shorter missions are best. I had bounced in and out of the lives of future presidents a total of eight times. I had watched over Roosevelt in the Badlands, monitored radiation levels on Carter at Chalk River, and kept Huckabee out of a major sex scandal. But I had never had a mission cut short, and it bothered me.

In fifteen minutes my nest was scattered, no traces of the future remained to be found, and I was gone.

**

I had three days of time-sickness at Forewatch Headquarters before I was fit for briefing. Bounce-in is never a problem, but for some reason bounce-out plays havoc on the nerves and organs. Some people die. To be down only three days qualified me as the ultimate bad-ass.

"You still look a little pale," Doctor Curmison told me. We were walking along the Washington Mall in August. It was hot and I still wasn't feeling good. The spires of the rebuilt Capitol rose in columns of marble and chrome. I didn't want to say anything that would sound insubordinate to my boss.

"Oh, Danny, you're angry with me," chided Curmison, scanning my face with her violet eyes. "I'm sorry I had to pull you off Kennedy. You were doing good work. But you have to believe me – this is a positive emergency."

"I'm not angry, ma'am," I said. "I'm your agent; send me where I'm needed."

"I intend to," she replied. "This is a very sensitive case, Danny. As you know, Lonnie Street's the odds-on favorite to win her party's nomination, and if she wins that, she'll waltz into the presidency come November. It's the first time in a very long time that any candidate has been known to be this likely to win, this far in advance."

"I'm pretty sure I know Street, although I'm out of touch on account of being on assignments for so long," I said. "Originally a bioscientist, right? Joined the Space Corps, pulled off that moonbase rescue. She's had a couple of terms as senator, if I remember right, and her campaign for synthetic rights makes her the popular person's darling?"

"And your average nutjob's worst nightmare," added Curmison. "Oh, she'll win the popular vote in a landslide, assuming nothing happens in the next few months, but she'll have plenty of enemies in the meantime."

I saw where this was going. "So we're going to get into the business of protecting people who *might* become president some day, ma'am?" I asked.

"Well, normally I would say no, Danny," Doctor Curmison answered. "But this is special. Time travel is a very expensive proposition – so much so that only the biggest corporations and most wealthy and tech-savvy governments can consider doing it. And even they won't spend a significant fraction of their net worth on a roll of the dice. But nobody thinks Lonnie Street's a gamble, Danny. If they can get an edge on her early on, they might just do it." She fumbled in her pocket and pulled out an envelope. "There's also this," Curmison added.

I took the envelope and opened it. It was an intensity graph of background sigma radiation over the previous century. One of the peaks occurred in 2035. Scrawled over it in ink was a note: "Street birthdate 10-27-35".

Curmison tapped the graph. "Follows the sunspot cycle as you know," she said. "We can tell when people are bouncing in and out because of the signature sigma radiation patterns. But when they do it near the Solar Maximum, it's very hard to screen it out from the background. Well, in 2035, we had the biggest peak in recorded history – and our likely new president is born on or around that same time. It's too good of an opportunity, Danny."

"What do you think they might do, ma'am?" I asked. "They don't kill her, we know that much. If you send me back when she's a baby, there won't be much they can pin on her. What should I look for?"

"I don't know," Doctor Curmison said, troubled. "I confess I'm playing a hunch. And you'll have to use your instincts too, Danny. That's why I'm sending you; you're the most experienced and you have a good head on your shoulders." She brushed off my coat affectionately.

"Then there's the matter of jurisdiction, ma'am," I reminded her. "As an officer of Forewatch I am authorized by law to protect any future president at any point in their lives. But as of bounce-in, Street won't have any standing."

"That's what makes this sensitive, my dear boy," said Curmison.

"I'm going to protect a baby," I wondered.

"A newborn," Curmison corrected, pulling out laminated newsfeed printouts. "And a cute one!"

**

I bounced in to Phoenix, Arizona at midnight on October twentieth, 2035. I spent the next week fixing up my credentials. I was Danny Werther, a visiting hospital administrator from the northern part of Quebec (which would help cover the accent drift over the preceding seventy years) and I had been assigned via various persons in high places to observe how Century West Hospital's child delivery department went about doing business. In this way I wouldn't have to display any actual medical skill and could come and go without notice.

"You're so lucky to be here this week, Mister Werther," gushed Hattie Fernandez to me in her office. She was the lead nurse coordinator and she was very proud of her hospital. "We've having a documentary filmed right here at Century West!"

"How nice," I replied blandly. "What's it about?"

"It's being made for the Fox/ABC triddy," she said. "It's called 'A Day in the Life', and it'll follow six different babies from all across America for the first twenty-four hours of their lives. Isn't that superwow?"

"Superwow plus," I answered, hoping I was using mid-21st century idioms correctly. "I'd love to see them at work; what day are they coming?"

"On the twenty-seventh," she said, as I knew she would. Curmison had been right; there was something going on. On the twenty-sixth I phased a needle pistol through a wall into a storage closet, thus bypassing security, and went to stake out Labor and Delivery.

The Fox/ABC crew showed up in the small hours of the twenty-seventh. There were six of them led by a buff character who called himself Griffiths. I quietly took his picture and blurred it up to Forewatch Headquarters for identification. The group claimed to be out of a network franchise in Montreal. Was everybody using Canada as their excuse to talk a little oddly? A few calls turned up the fact that the franchise in Montreal was pretty small and certainly didn't have a six-man team to send around making documentaries.

Street's mother was due to check in around breakfast time. Griffiths and crew spent the morning casing the hospital, getting shooting angles and placements set, talking with hospital staff, and generally acting in character. They also spent some time claiming to want to find 'the right mama', as Griffiths put it, and generally failing. I had myself assigned to the task of bringing the crew coffee and danish, which made me both popular and omnipresent.

Around eight thirty on the morning of the twenty-seventh, Griffiths nodded to his crew, then strolled with elaborate casualness to the incoming lobby. I trailed him discreetly. In the lobby he sat down and pretended to read a magazine. I spilled a glass of water and phoned for housekeeping, then stood over the mess and clucked disapprovingly and waited.

I didn't have to wait long. A couple came through the glass doors, the woman being supported by an older man. "Oh Jesus thisisit thisisit thisis IT!" she gasped, leaning against the reception counter. Griffiths looked up with interest.

"Hey!" shouted the woman. "I think this baby is gonna fall out of me while I'm standing here! Oh, Christ," she moaned, sagging.

I hustled up a wheelchair and brought it around. Griffiths was talking with the older man while the labor and delivery people were checking the patient in. I caught the name: Cordelia Street.

This really IS it, Cordelia Street, I thought to myself. Somebody means your baby no good.

After the immediate stress and pain of the contraction subsided, Cordelia Street and her father were amenable to talking with Griffiths about being part of a documentary. There was apparently a twelve thousand dollar stipend involved, and the Streets didn't look to be landed gentry. They were all smiles as they were wheeled back to a private delivery room.

The Sonor chirped at me. I ducked into a side hall. "What's going on?" I asked.

"I have an ID on Griffiths," said the 2030's section chief. "He's actually a Rhodesian named Kuiper, wanted by Interpol. Most recently was employed by Cytonetics GmbH, creators of synthetic humans and human organs. Cytonetics was one of the heaviest opponents of the Synthetic Rights movement and has the most to lose if Street is elected. Kuiper is ex-military and was responsible for various terror attacks…"

"Any known associates?" I interrupted.

"I expect the rest of his crew may be synthetics themselves," said my contact. "Probably not fully self-willed, but synthetics all the same. Expect them to have super-human capabilities…"

"I know, I know," I said. "Get me anything you can to help even the odds, and fast." I severed the link, then hustled up a cup of ice and brought it in to Street's room. From that moment onward I vowed to never leave her, or her baby, alone with Griffiths and company.

**

Street wasn't scheduled to be delivered until eight in the evening, so I figured I had a little time. I got to know Griffiths and his crew. There was Penry, the narrator and interviewer, a dapper older man with a bushy mustache. Marie was the director; she claimed it was cold the labor wing and kept her overcoat and hair kerchief on at all times. Willers was the cameraman and Logan was the sound technician; aside from hair color, they were as alike as two peas in a pod. Then there was Pierre. He was a good 6'10" and three-fifty. His job was to carry equipment, and he stood over the pile of boxes and gear like he was guarding it with his life. Synthetic people aren't machines, and I felt I had a decent chance at being able to take down most of them, but I didn't relish the thought of tangling with Pierre.

The crew interviewed the Street family and got various human interest angles to their story – Cordelia was out of work; the father of the child wasn't in the picture; their financial situation wasn't the best. The filming crew was very professional and didn't break character. I hovered in the background.

"You, there," said Griffiths to me at one point. "What's your name?"

"Danny Werther," I answered. "Will you be interviewing me for your triddy?" I tried to sound excited.

Griffiths smiled. "Perhaps," he said. "We might want a hospital administrator's viewpoint."

"That would be ultra swell," I said, then retreated. I wasn't sure if I had made Griffiths suspicious.

The sonor rang again. "All right, we've got you some help," said the section chief.

"A few more agents?" I asked.

"Can't do it," he said. "Solar activity will disrupt the signal; we can only get something small through, and of very short duration. We're sending you a neural."

"I don't know what that is," I objected.

"Relax, this is helpful," said my chief. "It's a weapon developed by Cytogenics, as it happens, during the synthetic riots. It's like a flash grenade, but it only affects synthetic nervous systems. Knocks them out for an hour. There's only one and you can only trigger it once, so use it wisely."

"I'll take it," I said. "Blur it to my office and I'll pick it up."

I severed the link. It was hard to think what I should do next. Griffith's plans were still unclear to me. What on earth could he be plotting? Killing the baby was out of the question; blackmailing her, or implanting ideas, seemed impossible to accomplish. Embedding something in the baby that could be triggered later? Possible, but easy to thwart; we could scan her and defuse anything they put into her at any point in her life. And anything they did would have to be done without alarming me, the hospital personnel, the mother and the grandfather…

I drew up short. It hit me then that Penry, the interviewer, could shave off his mustache and be the spitting image of Street's grandfather. And Marie, if she had red hair under that kerchief, and a post-partum body under her heavy coat, could easily substitute in for Cordelia. Could the plan be to replace Lonnie Street's family with synthetics? But why?

I began to run back to the laboring room. As I passed a storage closet, impossibly strong arms seized me in a headlock and dragged me into the room. I thrashed around, but it must have been Pierre choking me; he was the immovable object. Griffiths was there too; he punched me in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me and making it impossible to cry out. Some agent.

"Mister Werther," said Griffiths, "I believe it is time for our interview. Bring him, Pierre."

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September 2012

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