"The liquid scorched its way down, laying a fleeting truce with the pain, the suffering, and the memories that had caused them, providing the brief illusion of relief from the towering regret that teetered invisibly on her shoulders."
She swallowed. There was no sense and no point in getting too stinking drunk until the rest of the Temporal Integrity Commission's Human Unit was gone or she was at home. Still, Carmen had invited them all out, and they had dutifully followed her, even after fixing a massive megaotric event that had seriously threatened the future.
So Admiral Carmen Calavicci plastered on her best smile. "Children!" she called out, "We've all had a disastrously long week. Unless we get some sort of a direct call from the highest levels of the Federation, or Otra here has a vision, take the next two weeks off. And that even means you, Levi." With a little scotch in her, her Leicester accent was more pronounced than usual.
"Oh, uh, yeah," mumbled Levi Cavendish, one of the engineers. He then went back to whatever was so fascinating on his PADD.
"So this is the Tethys Tavern," Crystal Sherwood, the department's Quartermaster, said. "I've been meaning to go. I understand this place has been in business for over a thousand years."
"Well, y'all are here now," drawled Tom Grant, the military specialist. "Carmen, do ya mind? I invited Eleanor to join us."
"Not at all." Carmen peered into the bottom of an empty glass that had held a shot of scotch. "Another, if you please," she said to the Xyrillian barmaid.
The barmaid held out a hand and asked, "Your PADD, please."
"Oh yes, yes, of course." Carmen handed it over, and the barmaid clicked it next to a device just behind the bar.
"Says here," the barmaid read off a display, "that you can have this one but not another until two hours have passed. Blood alcohol law, you know."
"Right. Well, I'll just drink this one a lot more slowly, then."
As Carmen sipped, she looked around at her team. Crystal was chatting with Polly, the psychology specialist. Deirdre and Kevin – both were engineers, and he was part-Gorn, to boot – were both speaking, seemingly to no one, but Carmen knew they were both just using their implanted communicators. Levi was still captivated by his PADD, as Otra, the half-Witannen who could see temporal alternatives hovered nearby. She had chavecoi on her head in lieu of hair, and they looked like flowers. They swayed a little, an act that she had no control over; and turned coral pink briefly, another act she could not control. HD Avery, the music and arts guy, and Sheilagh Bernstein, the ancient computers specialist, were overly close to each other, and Carmen realized for the first time that they were a couple. Senior Temporal Agent Rick Daniels had his arm around Milena Chelenska, a woman he had brought back from 1970. No, 1969. No, 1968. No, it was 1969. 1141 years previously, although probably not to the day, which was August the eighth, 3110.
The department's doctor, Boris Yarin, was part-Klingon and part-Xindi sloth, in addition to being human. He was standing at the bar, scowling a bit, and occasionally checking a wrist chronometer.
There were two people missing. She counted again. "Boris," Carmen asked, "where are Dan and Marisol?"
He looked as if she had struck him. "In custody. You know this." Angrily, he walked away.
"Damnation, I must be getting forgetful. Or perhaps this scotch really is working." She hopped off her bar stool and went after him. "My apologies," she blurted out when she found him, poised to walk out the door. "It's, I simply cannot believe it."
"Well, believe it," he stated, "they were working for that group, the Perfectionists, to alter the prime timeline to suit their own ends. It was only through temporal integration that they are alive at all, and can be brought to justice."
"And the same is true for me," he stated bluntly. His Russian accent had never been more pronounced. "If you had not returned early from your missions, and intervened, it would have been as before. I would have pulled Marisol with me out of that airlock, and choked her in the vacuum of space with the last of my strength."
"But now, Boris, you never did that."
"It does not matter in, in my head, you see. I still know that I am capable of such things. She is a traitor and a blackmailer, but I had loved her during our affair. She, I can see now, that Marisol never cared for me. It must be like how it is for a prostitute. Did you know I was considering whether I could keep my job here yet leave my wife?"
"I, I didn't know that."
"It is true. I was also considering quitting if Darragh would have made things difficult, if I had been made too uncomfortable to stay. I was that thoroughly hooked, Carmen."
"Things will be different now."
"I still need to come clean with my wife," he stated. "That part does not neatly snap back to the way it was. Temporal integration does not fix that."
"I don't suppose it does," Carmen commiserated. "Look, you don't need to stay, of course. So go and, and do what you need to, all right? And if she gives you a hard time or if your marriage is over, well, you and I both know you originally got this job as a favor to her muckety-muck brother, but I, for one, don't give a rat's arse about that. I will fight to keep you in my employ, Doctor Yarin. I want you to know that."
"I, I am humbly grateful." He left.
Carmen went back to where the others were. A willowy blonde had joined them – Eleanor. She was Rick's sister and Tom's fiancée. They stayed for a brief, polite moment and then Eleanor, Tom, Rick and Milena departed. Soon afterwards, so did Sheilagh and HD. Otra took Levi by the arm and got him out of there as well. Deirdre walked out with Kevin; they both claimed dates with their respective significant others. It was just her, Crystal and Polly. "We're gonna catch a film," Crystal told Carmen. "Wanna come?"
"It'll be some horrible old chick flick," Polly added.
"No, no, I'm all right. Have fun. I'll see you later in the month."
And so she was alone.
But not quite, as a figure beamed over perhaps a minute later. He approached her. "This seat taken?"
"Of course 'tisn't, Bryce." It was her boss, Bryce Unger, who was the head of the entire Temporal Integrity Commission. "Coming to check up on me?"
"Polly sent me."
"Oh, did she?"
"Plus I know you were flagged here. I do get that info when it's a work night." That was a facet of the Blood alcohol law that the barmaid had cited earlier – one's employer would be told if anyone had, in public, had enough to drink to be considered impaired. But as for what a person did on their own time, even on a work night, there were no restrictions. It was an imperfect law, intended to protect people from the possible consequences of being intoxicated away from home, without infringing on their privacy and their right to do what they wished while in the sanctum sanctorum.
"Right. So I suppose I'll go home and get snockered." She got up to leave.
"Wait. C'mon, Carmen, just, just wait a second."
"We're off the clock, you know," she said, and then laughed at that, "of course, for a professional time travel agency, I don't suppose we can ever truly be off the clock."
"Touché. Look, we'll get the Master Time File fixed. Beauchaine and Castillo and Von from the Ferengi Unit will probably go to the Gemara Prison on Berren Five for tampering with time like they did. So that's all going to be settled," he offered.
"Understood. But I now have a departmental doctor who has realized that he's got a killer instinct within him. I mean, I know the man is part-Klingon, but the man is utterly mortified by his own behavior. I wonder if he'll be a safe person to be around. And he wonders that as well."
"I get that."
"And I've got two openings now, and a part of that is because I hired the wrong people. Bryce, I have always appreciated your allowing me to run the department in my own way. I have never liked stuffy bureaucrats or conventional Federation types," he raised an eyebrow at her, so she added, "present company excepted, of course. But honestly! Castillo and Beauchaine were my hires, and they turned out to be traitors."
"Hell, I'll take some of the fall for Beauchaine," he offered. "The Section was leaning on me pretty hard to get you to bring him on."
"Yes, well, Section 31 doesn't have to deal with the fallout," she complained. "They get to wash their hands of it, while we're stuck with trying to put it all back and fix what once went wrong, or some such."
"None of this is perfectly put back. But that's always been the case; we find errors or Otra has a vision of some sort of alteration, and then we all scramble to fix it. But it's always a bandage," Bryce said, "it's never perfect healing. Time is scarred in all sorts of ways."
"I know, but –"
"But this time, you know about it. C'mon, I'll take you home."
"And then what?"
"I'll read you a bedtime story. Now, c'mon, Car."
"You're such a slave driver, Bryce. I half expect you to pull out a whip."
"Don't sound so disappointed, Calavicci."