TITLE: A Matter of Timing

AUTHOR: Susan M. Garrett

CATEGORY: GEN

RATING/WARNINGS: G

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is based on the fervent discussions of proper episode order. I thought about it, thought about it, took some pills, thought about it some more, gave up, and wrote this instead.

********

"Un, deux, acht, onze, cuatro . . . No, no, no! Is wrong, is being all wrong!"

Notebook in hand, Jules Verne leaned against the iron railing of the circular stairway, completely baffled as he watched Passepartout lining up chess pieces on the table in the salon. There was neither rhyme nor reason to it that he could see, pawns mixing with bishops and queens and no distinction made between the black pieces or the white pieces. Passepartout seemed to pick up whichever came to hand, lining up the pieces in a row, one after another, while he counted . . . if you could call rattling off seemingly random numbers in a variety of languages 'counting.'

"Douze, fünfzehn, nove, siete, três . . . cinco . . . . No!"

Jules started as Passepartout swept his hand through the pieces, scattering them about the room in an uncharacteristic display of . . . frustration?

"Is this something I can help you with, Passepartout?" he asked, continuing down the stairway. He bent to retrieve a white pawn and a black rook from the floor and placed them on the table.

Passepartout grinned uneasily. "No, no, thanking you for your very kind offers, Jules. Is nothing." He looked at the table in horror and ducked down beneath it, gathering chess pieces frantically. "Oh, such a mess I am making."

"It's not nothing." Jules dropped to his knees as well, picking up every piece he could spot and placing them back atop the table. "I've never seen you get so upset about anything before. If there's any way I can help--?" Rising to his feet, he placed the last piece on the table, then turned to survey the carpet behind him. "I think we've got them all."

"Yes." Passepartout placed the last two white pawns on the table, then sat down with a sigh, his chin on his hands and staring straight forward, as if looking through the forest of chess pieces. "Is something that will be making you crazy if thinking about. I think, I think, I think--" he raised his hands in the air despairingly, "and there is being no answer. It does not make senses."

Pulling up a chair, Jules seated himself across from Passepartout. "Is it a chess problem?"

"No. That would be easy. This," he gestured toward the pieces on the table and rolled his eyes, "is being impossible." Passepartout hesitated a moment, pursing his lips. "But you are a being a very smart young man, Jules, with your 'visions,'" he waved his hands in the air, "and your ideas. Perhaps you are able to be solving this problem where idiot Passepartout cannot?"

"You're not an idiot," declared Jules. Pushing aside some of the chess pieces, he leaned forward on the table. "But between us, we may be able to come up with an answer."

"Is a good point." Passepartout carefully swept the pieces from the center of the table, clearing a space. Picking up a white pawn, he placed it squarely in the middle of the empty area. "We are to be starting with one."

"One," agreed Jules.

Passepartout gestured down at the piece. "Un, one, yes?" Then he picked up several more pieces and placed another down as he spoke. "Deux. Is two, yes?"

"Yes."

"Then acht - eight."

The piece went down onto the table, but before Passepartout could release it, Jules grabbed his hand. "No - not eight. Three. Trois."

"Yes, yes," agreed Passepartout excitedly. "And this is being the problem - three does not be coming after eight, but is be coming before the eight."

Jules stared at him, then down at the chess piece on the table, to which neither had relinquished his hold. "Then this is three."

"No, that is acht - eight." Passepartout picked up a white knight and placed it beside the piece they were both holding. "This is the piece being three. You are seeing the problem?"

Jules began to nod his agreement, then changed the shaking of his head from vertical assent to horizontal dissent. "No. I don't."

"This is difficult to be explaining," muttered Passepartout. He released his hold on the chess piece and swept all of the others out of the way, leaving only the piece Jules was still holding. "Numbers are not having been working. Forgetting the numbers."

"Forget the numbers," agreed Jules.

"Yes." Passepartout pointed toward the piece in Jules' hand. "Is day we meet - when Master Fogg is beating you ups."

Jules winced, then nodded. "All right. The day we met."

"Good." Passepartout picked up another piece and placed it beside the one Jules was holding. "Is day my auntie, her soul resting in peaces, has died."

"All right," agreed Jules.

"To be holding the pieces, please?" said Passepartout, pointing down at the black pawn on the table.

"They're not going to move."

"Just to be holding to the pieces, please."

With a sigh, Jules put his left hand on the black pawn.

Passepartout picked up a white queen and hefted it in his hand. He met Jules' gaze, then placed the piece firmly on the board, in a line extending to his left from the other two pieces. "And this is the days the Baron and Master Fogg are playing the game of cards and I am meeting Master Fogg."

"No, that's wrong," said Jules. "How can you have met Fogg after I met Fogg if you were already working for Fogg when I met you and Fogg?"

Passepartout sighed, knocked over the white queen and said unhappily, "Now you are seeing the problem. There must be an answers."

"I haven't even figured out the question!" declared Jules, releasing the pieces and throwing his hands up in the air. "I think Fogg's right - you are an idiot."

"And what should I be right--about?" asked Fogg, stumbling slightly as he entered the salon from the galley. Bending down, he picked up a white rook from the floor and placed it on the table. "Passepartout, you should know better than to leave things lying around - someone could get hurt. And I should like a claret, at your convenience."

Jules stared at Fogg. "Um, it's just past ten in the morning. Isn't that a little early, even for you?"

"It's not at all early if you've been drinking the night through. Which I haven't," declared Fogg, somewhat defensively. He picked up a queen, two knights, a black bishop and three pawns and set them upon the board in a grouping, placing a finger to his chin as he worked out possible moves. "Verne, you might have your watch checked - it's almost five in the evening."

"Master Fogg will be confirmating what I am saying," Passepartout informed Jules.

Fogg glanced up, looked from one to the other, then down at the chessboard again. "Always happy to settle an argument. What's the problem?"

"Passepartout claims that he met you after I met you, but he couldn't have met you after I met you, because when I met you, you'd already met."

Fogg looked up, staring blankly at Jules. "Either you've been spending far too much time with Passepartout or you must stop sampling the strange fauna he's been collecting. Those mushrooms from Mexico, I believe it was?"

"Peyote," corrected Jules, sitting down on a chair and folding his arms defiantly. "That has nothing to do with this. Besides, it wore off in a few hours."

"Hmmn." Fogg moved the bishop on the board, glancing up at his valet briefly before returning his attention to the queen. "Passepartout, I may regret this, but perhaps you'd better explain this properly."

"Yes, master." Passepartout folded his hands primly before himself on the table. "You are remembering beating up Jules when you were meeting him?"

Fogg raised pained eyes to Passepartout and cleared his throat. "Yes."

"And you are remembering my sainted auntie getting her returnal reward?"

"Something of that nature," agreed Fogg, now moving a knight and capturing a pawn. "Go on."

"And then after you have been playing cards with the Baron and you have been winning Passepartout as your valet?"

"A day that shall live in my memory until the day I no doubt--" And then Fogg stopped, straightening suddenly. He stared at Passepartout. "That can't be right. And yet--?" Now he turned toward Jules, who was still radiating annoyance. "It would mean that I met Passepartout after we met. But Passepartout was already my valet when you were brought aboard . . . ." Fogg pulled up a chair to the table and sat down as if stunned. "That would be impossible."

Passepartout rose from behind the table and walked over to the sideboard. Decanter in hand, he was about to pour the claret when Fogg directed, "Have we any more of the whiskey from our American sojourn? If so, bring the bottle."

"Yes, master." Removing the whiskey bottle from the cupboard, Passepartout placed two glasses on the table and poured the whiskey into one. Fogg took it from his hand almost without looking, downed the shot, then held the empty glass out to Passepartout for a refill. "It is being very distressing," explained Passepartout. "The times are not being what they used to be."

"At least not since it changed editors," remarked Fogg, still appearing somewhat stunned, sipping the second glass of whiskey and staring at the wall. "This is utterly impossible." He turned to Jules. "Do you think it might have anything to do with us having traveled in time?"

Jules considered the idea for a moment, passing his hand over the glass to decline the drink Passepartout offered to him - and which Passepartout promptly downed after a fatalistic shrug. Rising to his feet, he patted Passepartout on the back absently as the valet choked on the alcohol. "I don't see how it could have affected us. Passepartout perhaps - he was, from what he says, completely outside the normal stream of time when we were stuck in the past. It could be why the incongruity of it finally occurred to him - he was outside it long enough to gain some perspective, even if it was unconscious."

"You mean, this has been the situation for some time now?" asked Fogg in astonishment. "And we never realized it?"

Jules shrugged. "If Passepartout hadn't mentioned it, I don't think I would have even noticed."

"Noticed what?" asked Rebecca, scooping her skirts into her hands as she descended the staircase from the upper floor. She plucked the whiskey glass from Fogg's hand and set it on the table. "Really, Phileas! Before breakfast?"

"It's five o'clock. In the evening!" he protested, drawing his pocket watch from his vest and consulting it. "Verne, tell her!"

"Why should anyone listen to what I say, I might have tried the peyote again." Falling into a chair at the table, Jules slumped forward and rested his head on his arms. "I don't understand the problem - it was only an experiment."

"Trying to pluck invisible flowers from my hair was the problem," chided Rebecca. Catching sight of the chess pieces, she glanced at the board then moved a knight to the left and toppled the queen.

Fogg muffled his "Damn," with a fake cough and she shot him a sharp look.

"Am to being excused, please," said Passepartout hesitantly. "But is something to be done about the times?"

"Of course," answered Rebecca. Tucking in her skirts, she made her way to the far side of the table, sat down, and announced, "I'm ready for breakfast."

"We have a problem with time," explained Jules wearily. "It seems that when I met Fogg, he hadn't yet met Passepartout--"

"Don't be absurd," said Rebecca sharply, "of course he'd met Passepartout."

Fogg raised a hand, forestalling the explanation. "Could you find another example? If you go through that again, I'm going to need another drink."

"Well, we certainly wouldn't want that," said Rebecca.

Passepartout cleared his throat and stepped forward. "Miss Rebecca, you are remembering when we were meeting Al . . . the newspapers boy on the train?"

"Perfectly. Charming young man. Perhaps a bit too energetic, but still." She shrugged, then turned her attention to Passepartout. "What about him?"

"You are rememberings that we were seeing the plans for his machine, which was very liking to the Phoenix?"

"Yes," said Rebecca slowly. She glanced at Fogg, who was trying to maintain a blank expression, and Jules, who was biting his lower lip and watching her in return. "And this would be a problem because--?"

Passepartout removed another glass from the sideboard, placed it on the table, and began pouring. "When you going back into the time in the Phoenix and wearing the fancy clothings, it was before or after we had met the newspaper boy?"

"Well, after we met Al, of--" And then she stopped, a startled look in her eye. "But it would have had to have been before we met Al because we knew about the Phoenix--"

Passepartout moved the glass of whiskey into her hand. She brought it to her lips, threw back her head, and downed it in a shot, causing both Fogg and Jules to sit upright in their seats in admiration and amazement respectively. Placing the glass firmly back onto the table, she gestured for Passepartout to refill it and announced, "There's something wrong."

"That, dear cousin, is the understatement of this and every other century," announced Fogg. After collecting his drink, he clinked his glass against hers and took a long swallow.

"We can't just sit here drinking," said Rebecca.

"I'm not drinking," protested Jules.

"And you'd better not start," she warned. "You've been officially banned from using any mood or mind altering substances at least until 1875!"

Jules sunk back down to the table again, glaring.

"Cheer up," noted Fogg. "The way things are going, that could very well be tomorrow."

Passepartout stepped forward, picked up the whiskey bottle and took a swig from it. "Is being possible we could be finding the Phoenix. We could be doing something to fix this temporarial problem."

"Or make it worse," said Jules. Stretching across the table, he grabbed his notebook and opened it. Removing a pencil from the binding, he began to sketch.

"How could it be worse?" declared Rebecca.

Jules didn't even look up from his drawing. "Time could be going backwards."

Rebecca shot a look at Fogg, who shrugged. "You would have to ask," he chided.

By this time, Jules' pencil was skittering across the surface of the page as he sketched madly. "I think - I think I may have something," he said through gritted teeth, continuing to sketch.

"You keep at it, then," said Rebecca helpfully. Then she looked up at Passepartout. "Is that the last of the whiskey?"

He nodded sadly.

"Bugger," she whispered, beneath her breath.

Wordlessly, Fogg handed across his half-filled glass, which she accepted with a gracious nod.

"Here," announced Jules, throwing down his notebook and pencil before them.

The tip of the pencil was still smoking, but it was the sketch that drew their attention. It was a box, and there was another, smaller box beside it with the words 'remote control' as a label.

"What is it?" asked Rebecca.

"It's a tele-visio unit. It shows plays, but they aren't live like on a stage. They're recorded, like a moving photograph with sound."

Rebecca looked up at him. "Are you certain you haven't been drinking?"

He ignored her, pointing to the sketch again. "This is our problem. Somehow, we're linked to this. Someone has been using our lives as a form of entertainment."

"Without our permission? Or residuals? Ghastly!" declared Fogg. He reached down to his boot and pulled out a gun. "What do we do about it?"

"Um . . . nothing, I'm afraid," said Jules, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Usually they show these things in order and that would be all right, but we've been moved to something called 'syndication.'" He closed the notebook. "They can play with our time as much as they'd like and we have no control over it at all."

"You are not sayings we can do nothings!" demanded Passepartout.

Jules put a hand on his shoulder. "That's exactly what I'm saying." Then, he looked up for a moment. "You know, we might have a chance--?"

"Yes?" asked Rebecca and Fogg at the same time.

"If at some point, somewhere, events were put back the way they're supposed to be . . . ."

Passepartout nodded. "I am seeing your words. Yes - it could mean that times would be returning to the right away round."

"There's hope, then?" asked Rebecca.

Jules nodded, suddenly realizing that Fogg wasn't the only armed member of the group - Rebecca was holding a knife in each hand. "It's going to take some time, but I think we can do it. We've only got one real problem."

Fogg tucked his gun back into the top of his boot, starting to relax. "Well, that's all right. What is it?"

"Does, uh, anyone remember the order in which things were originally supposed to go?"

****

The End.

Until the second set of SciFi recuts of the Canadian recuts.