July 31st, 2148
It started as a thrum.
Then it evolved into a beat.
Then it became a pulse.
Then it began to thump through the walls.
Stuart placed his hand on the walls and felt the vibration pound against his palm, making what few pictures he had hanging in his room bounce against the surface.
"What in the world?" Stuart placed his hand on the door of his quarters and could almost hear the vibrations become a tone.
No, not a tone - it was a tune!
He walked out into the corridor and listened. He could hear Scout's voice sing in sync with the singer, the rhythm and beat echoing down the hallway. He couldn't make out any words other than 'Crocodile Rock.'
It wasn't a new experience for Stuart. There seemed to be music playing a lot of the time in any room at the base at some point during the day, but not quite at that volume level. Scout's voice was happy. Whatever that song was, it had a fast momentum and nice little beat to it. Stuart didn't recall ever hearing it before. He couldn't place the singer either.
"Getting used to the music?" Jon asked him as he walked around the corner.
"I am now," Stuart agreed. "Just out of curiosity, Matt told me that Scout's our resident expert on 20th century music. He loves the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra. Loves 1960's rock and roll. I know he doesn't like disco and he's blocked it from being played. Tank said something about belting out 1980's power ballads, but does he sing like that often?"
"You mean loud and mostly on key?"
"Loud enough to shake the walls." Stuart pointed toward the nearby masonry.
Jon shrugged and smiled. "It happens occasionally. Especially if the song has a good beat, but he didn't sing for about seven months. We've been hearing all his favorite songs lately."
Those seven months? That explained it.
He listened as a second voice joined with Scout's. "Is that Jennifer singing?"
Jon listened for a moment. "That's her. She loves the 60's rock and roll and a lot of the 80's music too." He listened to the song for a moment. "I think that song came out of the 1970's?"
Stuart saw his son smile when he heard Jennifer's voice take up the chorus. That smile was something Stuart had gotten used to seeing because it was there whenever his son looked at Jennifer. At first, Stuart didn't know what he could or couldn't say to Jon about Jennifer as he watched their relationship progress and become closer. If Jon had still been fifteen years old, Stuart could have had that special father-son talk with him, but Jon was a grown man. Mature, independent, very much sure of what he wanted, much more experienced about life than a young boy. The time for the father-son talk was long over, and undoubtedly, Matt had had that talk with him years earlier.
Stuart knew the relationship between Jon and Jennifer had taken a more serious turn. There was no one particular moment he could point to and say 'voila,' but he saw their behavior change slightly from day to day. Matt and the others did as well, but not one word was spoken about it. Stuart just followed their lead. Jon and Jennifer were keeping things discreet and private, but some of the subtle distinctions were there that everyone quietly noticed and smiled about. Some handholding, private discussions, spending time alone, staying at the Passages overnight when they flew there for supplies or when Jennifer visited Doctor Kirkland for a follow-up... both Jon and Jennifer were - what was the old saying? Over 18, footloose and fancy-free? In any case, they were both adults, old enough to move their relationship along a little faster if they wanted to, and it seemed that people grew up fast in this new world he found himself in.
He felt that he didn't have the right to make any fatherly comment, helpful or otherwise, especially since Jon hadn't really sought out advice of that sort. Stuart mused that Jon may not need advice. In fact, he was at a loss at how to discuss certain topics with his son. When they first arrived at Northstar, started getting to know each other again and learning how to work together, he saw Jonathan Power the Captain making command decisions. Jon the Teenager was long gone. He wondered if he had lost the right to give Jon any fatherly advice since he'd been gone all those years. Did he have the right to be involved in Jon's personal life as anything other than a friend? It was a difficult path to traverse even after several weeks.
After they had arrived at the Arctic base, Stuart found himself in the position of odd-man-out. He didn't know where he fit in Jon's life or with the team as a whole. Jon led the team. Matt was second-in-command as well as being the one Jon discussed personal problems with. Tank gathered Intel. Scout and Jennifer took care of the maintenance on the computers and the transports. Jon and Jennifer, well, they spent a lot of time together when off duty. All of them had a place and a station and a job, and Stuart had no idea what he was to do.
Things began to change about week later. Not only did he get an idea about how he could contribute to the team, but his relationship with Jon also took a good turn at that time. He knew he had Jennifer to thank for that. She was urging Jon to spend more time with Stuart off-duty, not with her. Stuart understood his son's fears though. He was still worried that he'd turn around and Jennifer would be gone, sent somewhere else in time where he wouldn't be. He wanted to be with her as much as possible to watch over her, but as she told Jon, if the people from the future were to take her away, no one could stop them. That meant it was all right for Jon to spend some time with Stuart. Besides, she was an adult. She didn't need a mother hen hovering over her all the time, and if she did, there were three others who were vying for the job.
So one week after they returned to Northstar, after things had settled down and everyone was growing somewhat accustomed to their new reality, Stuart and Jon finally got to talk.
The area dubbed 'the electronics room' was used mostly as a repair lab for every mechanical device at the base. A few long workbenches, a variety of pristine tools just beginning their useful life of service, a newly constructed matrix interface so Mentor could transfer into the lab in case he was needed - it was a workplace with a homey feel to it as Scout would say.
Jon had enlisted Stuart's help in repairing Jennifer's powersuit. The shots it had absorbed from Blastarr and the biomechs when they infiltrated the Colorado base had done more damage than even Jon had realized. Wires were frayed, leads were burned and power paths were compromised.
"It looks like she took a beating," Stuart observed as he helped begin the repair to the internal wiring of the torso armor.
"Blastarr had pretty powerful weapons," Jon explained.
Stuart held up the upper part of the suit. "This is the smallest one I made, wasn't it?"
Jon smiled and nodded. "And it was still too big for her. I had to cut it down a bit, rewire it -"
"Incredible job," Stuart admired. "I was planning on explaining how they worked to you, but things happened."
Jon reached over and grabbed the soldering gun. "Dread, an explosion, a little trip through time... totally understandable," he said, smiling.
Stuart felt comfortable making small talk. "How did you reintegrate the wiring into the fabric if you had to cut it down? Actually, how did you deal with the wiring when you cut it down?"
"It wasn't easy," Jon explained. "I knew if I removed some of the wiring, I'd limit its abilities and functions, and I didn't want to do that. Then I realized that the suit was initially more like Tank's when activated. It would have created more armor than necessary for a pilot when powered on, so I removed that part of the wiring. With that gone, I had more room to work with."
"Redistribute the wiring and the circuitry through the now vacant areas." Stuart nodded his head. "Like I said, incredible job. What about the size?"
Jon smiled. "Did you know the suit material can shrink if you leave it in hot water long enough?"
Stuart laughed. "You shrank it?"
"It worked," Jon agreed, laughing as well. "But to be honest, I was worried the first time Jennifer activated the suit. There was no way to know if it'd work or if she'd survive when it first powered on. This one was altered. If I'd made a mistake -"
"It worked," Stuart pointed out.
"That it did."
Their conversation meandered back to Jennifer. "She seems to be doing well after everything she's been through."
"Better than any of us could have hoped for," Jon explained. "Doctor Kirkland said she'll be on downtime for a few more weeks and needs to use the regenerator a few more times, but she'll be fine. I know her powersuit had better be fully functional by then. She'll want to get back out there as soon as she can."
Stuart noticed a decided happy tone in Jon's voice. His son was definitely pleased that Jennifer was back. "Between the both of us, we'll have her suit 100% by then, but if you don't mind my asking, then what?"
Jon looked up from the suit and frowned. "Then what, what?"
"When we were at the hospital, Matt showed me the last conversation you and Jennifer had just before the Colorado base blew up. She mentioned something about a talk you two were going to have. I was wondering if you'd had it."
"Ah," Jon stopped for a moment and then leaned back in his seat. "Yeah. We talked that morning before the hologram showed up. We got a lot of things said. A lot of things that needed saying."
The smile on his son's face told him all he had to know, but he didn't want to stop talking. "From that smile on your face, can I take it to mean things are good between you two?"
Jon smiled a little bigger. "Yeah."
Stuart was getting the sneaking suspicion that this wasn't a mere flirtation. In fact, he may have met his future daughter-in-law. Odd to think that since he and Jon were so much closer in age. It felt very strange.
"You love her," Stuart stated.
Jon nodded. "More than I thought I could love anyone. It hurt when I lost her, Dad. I just couldn't handle it. I was so angry all the time."
"I felt the same way when I lost your mother," Stuart agreed. "It was so hard just getting up in the morning, but I had you to take care of and my projects I was involved with to get me through the day. Would you believe building and programming Overmind was one of those projects?"
Jon bent back over the suit and rethreaded several circuits "I can believe it. I remember you worked late a lot of nights."
"I was just trying to keep everything together in an impossible situation. Keeping busy helped."
"How about now?" Jon asked him. "How are you doing?"
Stuart shrugged. "Trying to keep busy?"
"Dad," Jon prompted him. "You're fine when you've got a problem to solve. Since we've been here, it's just been busy work for you. We don't have a lot of scientific problems or inventions to work on at the moment other than repair work. How are you doing? Really?"
How had he been doing? Sleeping some, catching up with the work and the procedures, working out what was to him new technology - "It hasn't been easy," Stuart sighed. "What am I supposed to do here now, Jon? I'm sixteen years out of time, and you've got a team of specialists unlike any other Resistance group. I just don't know what I could bring to the team that might be helpful."
Jon put the suit down on the table. "Aside from the fact whatever you do has the people in the future moving us around like the proverbial pieces on a temporal chess board trying to get you back into the game? I'd say you have a lot to contribute. You're a scientist who can really balance the scales against Dread. Pitcairn said you were leading this team -"
"On the original timeline," Stuart corrected. "I wasn't 'dead' for sixteen years in that one. This isn't the same timeline. Everything's different. Even you and Matt are different, but I still feel the same. I just feel out of place and useless."
"You're not useless," Jon argued. "We need you."
Stuart laughed at that. "No, son, you don't need me. Not even you. You're a grown man, you're leading a successful Resistance group, you give hope to the people, you've got your own life -"
"Wait, whoa, Dad," Jon interrupted him. "Why do you think I don't need you? For the past sixteen years, Mentor was my lifeline. Not a day went by that I didn't think of you or want to talk to you again. I could see you in Mentor, but he wasn't you. He was a part of you. He had your face and your voice and in a way, it seemed like I hadn't lost you. There was a point where we thought we'd lost him, and I couldn't face that. It was as if I was losing you all over again." Stuart saw a small tear form in Jon's eye. "I might be a grown man, but sometimes I still feel like a fifteen year old who wants to know his dad is right there beside him, helping him make the right decisions because sometimes, I don't really know what I'm doing." He paused for a moment to let his words sink in. "I never stopped needing you."
And at that moment, Stuart could see his fifteen-year-old son in the grown man before him. The one that wasn't ready to be without a parent. "I wish I'd been there," he said. He cursed the future scientists who removed him from his son's life, not for the first time.
Jon turned back to his work. "I'm sure Matt will be more than happy to tell you about all the things I did. But if it's bad, don't believe him," he joked.
"Oh, you mean like the time you wrecked the skybike because you were trying to outfly Soaron? Dove it right into a lake?"
Jon glanced around and then said in a loud whisper, "Do not let Jennifer hear that. She may love that jumpship of hers, but you don't mess with the skybikes either."
"She does seem to have a single focus when it comes to her aircraft. By the way, how did you convince her to stay her away from the sprintship for now?" he asked, very curious. "I would think a pilot would enjoy having a ship like that to fly."
Jon smiled slightly. "It wasn't me. She can't wait to get her hands on that sprintship and rip its insides out to learn how it ticks, but you know those bits of conversation we had on the flight here about the other jumpship behaving differently?"
"She doesn't believe that the ship flies better for her than anyone else. She's thinking that something's wrong, so she's got Scout helping her run diagnostics and doing some routine maintenance. Once she's healed and is convinced that the old jumpship is in top working order, she'll be on that sprintship before you can sneeze," Jon told him.
His voice changed slightly in pitch when he spoke of Jennifer. Come to think of it, so did the others. Even though she was back, her loss was still fresh in their minds. "I'm guessing Scout had to work alone on the ship while she was gone."
Again, Jon nodded. "They've always been close friends. You've seen the way they work together. When she was gone, Scout seemed to lose his... balance, for lack of a better word. I mean, we all lost a lot when we lost her. Hawk thinks of her as a daughter and Tank is like this over-protective uncle... I guess we all dealt with it any way we could."
Jon paused for a second. Looking up at Stuart, he said, "I got angry. I wanted Dread to hurt as much as I was. I started destroying everything of his I could find."
And he was supposed to according to Pitcairn, but Stuart didn't mention the obvious. It wouldn't help. "We all deal with loss in our own way, son," he told him. "We just hope we can do something good or at least something necessary when we hurt and lash out like that."
"Like you tried to do when Mom died?"
Stuart sighed. "I should never have built Overmind."
Jon shook his head. "You did good, Dad. Don't ever doubt it."
Stuart shook his head. "No. You and the others have done good. You fought a monster. I helped create a monster. I programmed it."
"No," Jon disagreed. He looked at Stuart with a serious look in his eyes. "Matt always said you took a gamble, and if it had paid off, you would have stopped the wars. I remember how bad it was then. Stopping those wars was worth any risk. It wasn't you who created a monster. It was Taggart when he merged his mind with that computer's. You understand the original programming for Overmind. You know Taggart. That could give us an advantage over him."
"And maybe be able to destroy it all?" Stuart asked. "Pitcairn seemed absolutely certain you could."
"But history's been changed. What if what they think we did isn't something we set out to do? What if it was just an aftereffect of the battles we fought only they thought it was deliberate? They're looking back at history from the future. How can they know exactly what happened and how and what we were thinking or feeling at the moment?"
Stuart considered the idea. "History as an aftereffect. Almost like the storms being the aftereffect of time travel? That's an odd way to look at what's been happening with us. What made you think of that?"
"Jennifer," Jon said, a small grin on his face again. "She said that maybe it wasn't me who destroyed Dread and his machines. What if I led the Resistance attacks? Or what if I just got the credit for what happened and it was a group effort?"
Stuart thought for a moment, then asked, "That sounds a great deal more plausible. But would it matter what they thought as long as you got Jennifer back?"
Jon smiled and shook his head. "No, it wouldn't."
"So, destroy Dread," Stuart said.
That was the start. They became more and more comfortable talking to each other, but their relationship hadn't quite gelled back into that of father and son. They were at more of a relatives-who-hadn't-seen-each-other-in-years stage. Friendly, polite, but becoming more familiar.
There was a break in the music and then a softer, more melodic ballad seemed to roll through the air. Stuart didn't recognize it. He was going to have to take a quick course in 20th century musical hits if he was going to keep up.
"Change of pace?" Stuart asked.
Jon answered, "Righteous Brothers. I think that song was used in a movie."
Stuart laughed at that.
"Something you just said. You think something happened in the past. I keep wondering about what Pitcairn told us. What do the people in the future think is real?" They thought that Stuart Power was the pivotal person to bring forward, and that Jennifer's death was what turned Jon into the destructive force they believed him to be. They honestly had no idea that Stuart was inconsequential by 2132. Jon, Jennifer and the Power Team were the important ones. They were the ones who fought and risked their lives and even died to stop Dread.
"There's no way to know, Dad. Maybe history isn't quite as easy to figure out as the people living in the future think it is?"
The music suddenly stopped. Scout's voice echoed loudly down the corridors. "You are NOT going to believe this! Captain! Guys! Lookee here! Look what we found!"
Stuart and Jon ran to the Control Room, Tank and Hawk rushing in from another direction.
"What is it?" Hawk asked. "It has to be important if you turned off the music."
Jennifer and Scout pulled up various graphs, charts and live videos. "Latest meteorological updates from the Los Alamos to JPL corridor. After the last storm, no other storm kicked in. They're over with. Exactly one week from the hour the storm with the tachyons in it showed up, they were gone. All storm clouds are cleared out. Everything's quiet, but get this - the storms kicked out a lot of pollution in that area. We're getting some feedback from a couple of Dread's satellites. People are seeing blue skies for the first time in a long time, and they're staying. Clouds aren't rolling back in yet."
The stolen satellite photographs showed a clear sky over 700 miles of land in the western United States. Ground could be seen in the photo, dead trees, filled up lakes and streams. It was a sight that had gone unseen for a lot of years.
"Don't you wish we could figure out how to make storms without traveling through time? We might be able to clean up the planet," Scout said.
"That technology is still far ahead of us," Stuart added quickly.
"We might have told Pitcairn about it. For all we know, someone in the future is creating storms now?" Hawk suggested.
"But Pitcairn didn't know we had storms," Jennifer reminded them. "He seemed surprised."
"But if it could be done, it would be bad," Tank commented. "Control the weather, control the world. Isn't that what we were afraid that Dread was doing when the storms were going on?"
"Another slippery slope," Stuart admitted reluctantly. "Try to do something for the good, and it can be used for evil."
"I'm wondering if our friends from the future are facing that problem," Jon told him as he sat down next to Jennifer. "They seemed to think they made a mistake."
"Tough. They can live with it because we like their so-called mistake." Scout closed a few of the data windows. "I wish we'd had more time to get information out of that hologram though. There's no telling what we're supposed to do."
"Destroy everything remotely connected with Dread," Jennifer repeated. "Facilities, robots, programs, Volcania -"
"We're gonna need a bigger ship," Scout joked.
Jennifer gave him a playful punch in the arm. "Not one bad word about my jumpship or the sprintship or you won't ever get to go joyriding ever again," she cautioned him, smiling.
Jon glanced over at Stuart and said, "Did I mention that he likes to mangle old movie quotes too?"
Stuart had to smile to himself. This group wasn't just an ordinary Resistance group. This was a group of five friends who really enjoyed each other's company. More than that, they were happy being in each other's company. How many people in that devastated world could sit around and crack jokes the way the team could?
Hawk cleared his throat. "Has it bothered anyone else that Dread hasn't seemed the least bit interested in the storms? We haven't heard a word out of him."
Five heads turned toward him. No one had thought about Dread's lack of attention during their recent adventure. Finally, Scout answered. "To be honest, I hadn't even considered him. Storms happening on schedule would have interested him, wouldn't they?"
"Would they?" Jennifer asked. "He's a machine now, right? He transferred?"
"Into a biodread body," Jon sighed. "He's lost all his humanity now. Maybe the storms wouldn't interest him?"
Hawk placed his hands on the console and leaned over. "He's going to be very interested if he finds out that Stuart and Jennifer came back during those storms and that there's a connection."
"Don't let him find out," Jennifer suggested. "He'll find out soon enough that Stuart's alive and well and working with the Resistance. Let his being back be a mystery. That should knock Dread off his game, right?"
"For a little while," Jon admitted. "And it could put the two of you at the top of his hit list."
Tank crossed his arms and grinned. "How is that different from any other day?"
For the last few weeks, Stuart had marveled at the group standing before him. He was constantly amazed at the difference he was seeing then and the team he met on the 7th. The group he met then was angry, confused. This group was happy, had a sense of humor and wonder and purpose. He didn't quite feel like a fish out of water or even a fifth wheel anymore, but even though he was out of his own time and was only starting to find his place in the war against Dread, he knew he was with the one Resistance group who could get it done.
"No difference," Scout mumbled.
Jon glanced at his chronometer. "And it's suppertime. I think Jennifer and I got KP tonight, right?" He stood, held out his hand which she took and they walked off towards the kitchen. Stuart smiled at the sight they made. All low-key, nothing overt, their actions kept private, but someone could feel how powerful their connection was just by looking at them. The team and the war came first, personal endeavors came later, but Stuart was now certain - he'd met his future daughter-in-law.
"Ah, suppertime and why not have a few tunes playing?" Scout pressed the play button on Mentor's music player. A fast-paced song began to sound, one that Stuart didn't know. Scout did, so did the others, and they were singing along with the singer as they went on about their work. The only word he could understand was 'Footloose.'
~o~ This Domino Won't Fall ~o~
March 26th, 2357
Jet Propulsion Laboratories
It had been one week to the day they started the great attempt at 'saving' Stuart Power. This was the day that the timelines would cement themselves and they could see if history had been righted. Or at least propped up correctly. Delphi Aderholdt, Jillian Barrett and Elias Pitcairn had regrouped at JPL to watch the monitors as the timeline waves began to coalesce and converge.
Elias crossed his fingers. "Come on, come on, come on..."
"Look!" Delphi pointed toward one end of the time wave. "It's flattening out... the timeline isn't wavering..."
Jillian increased the screen resolution as the waves straightened out into a flat line. "It worked. The timeline's back on track. Our history hasn't been changed even though it's been altered. We still exist like we did before this scite-up!"
"YES!" Elias jumped up from his chair and threw his arms around his co-workers. "And a happy ending was had by all!"
Delphi gave Elias a punch in the ribs. "Just let us know the next time you want to play it that close to the vest like that, will you? A Plan B like that is too hard on the nerves."
Without hesitation, Jillian handed Delphi a steaming cup of hot coffee. "It wasn't Pitcairn. It's because you haven't had any coffee in a few hours. You're no fun when you're decaffeinated."
"Or unemployed," a voice sounded behind them.
The three physicists turned and saw Administrator Collier enter the room. "Doctors, I am not merely the lead councilperson for the Temporal Administrative Council. I am also a temporal physicist. Retired. I do know how to read a timeline. Which one of you stopped the hologram from doing its job of removing Corporal Chase to a safe temporal location and, instead, sent something of an equivalent mass?"
No one moved for a moment, then, finally, Elias stepped forward. "It was me, ma'am. I really couldn't stomach the idea of killing an innocent person or sending her decades forward in time, alone, just because we could. I thought if they knew what was at stake by only telling them something they needed to do without telling them exactly how to do it, they could handle things themselves. Looks like that hunch was right. The timeline we're on now was once an adjacent one, then all the changes we made meant it slid to even another adjacent timeline and now it's all settled into place. We just checked the general historical continuum and the timeline itself just before it solidified, and Dread and Overmind were completely destroyed. So was everything like their bases, labs and other facilities. Everything remotely Dreadly was crashed, smashed and trashed. Looks like our world is secure. No clusterdrecks and scite-ups anywhere."
"And the Power Team?" Collier asked.
"All on track with the adjusted time line," Pitcairn continued. "All lived happily ever after exactly the way they were supposed to, sort of."
Collier sighed heavily. "I take that to mean Major Masterson, Lieutenant Ellis and Sergeant Baker's lives continued on as indicated in the original timeline. Dare I ask about Stuart Power?"
"Alive and well and the architect of a new JPL and Los Alamos," Delphi explained. "He's the one who rebuilt the labs on their former sites. He also helped build a few hospitals and schools. Became a teacher at one of the rebuilt universities, was involved in a lot of different types of research... basically, he had a lot of scientific fun after the wars."
Collier looked at all three of them, no emotion showing on her face. "Did Captain Power and Corporal Chase specifically have a change?"
The three scientists smiled and nodded.
"Does that mean that a new mitochondrial DNA line has been added to our genetic base in this timeline? One that can track part of its origins back to a certain pilot and captain of a particular Resistance team in the Badderdays?"
"Five new lines since they had five kids. The youngest two were twins, boy and a girl," Pitcairn muttered. "Gotta love a happy ending, ma'am."
Collier stepped forward, looked Pitcairn up and down, and then extended her hand. "Good job, Doctor Pitcairn. This is one time that insubordination, unapproved time manipulation, and willful acting produced the positive result." Then, she pulled Pitcairn closer and said in a very low, very menacing voice. "Do something like that again, and I'll have your job."
"You wouldn't want it, ma'am. You'd have to work with Delphi, and she's no fun if we run out of coffee," he said jokingly. When Collier didn't smile, Elias said, "Understood, ma'am. Won't happen again."
"For some reason, I doubt that," Collier explained. "I wouldn't expect anything less than unapproved actions from any of you, not after this incident." She then held up a file. "And you might like to know that some anonymous someone sent us a file with information on Doctor William Custer who's really Byron Micklon."
"Anonymous? But ma'am, uh -"
"Anonymous," Collier repeated, her voice leaving no room for any other interpretation. "It was an anonymous source that left the information that Custer was behind this mess in order to get the Taggarts back in power. In fact," Collier continued, "once it was determined that DNA logs had to be accessed to get the information on Custer, and DNA logs are restricted to medical personnel only, it would not be good for this person's career if it's proven that this information was obtained by someone not in the medical profession, correct?"
All three scientists remained silent but they nodded their heads.
Collier just smiled. "Well, whoever the anonymous individual was, I'm sure they'll be happy to know that William Custer, a.k.a. Byron Micklon, has been taken into custody and is facing temporal disruption charges as well as attempted murder charges and records tampering. That's a long stretch in prison. A more thorough investigation into our hiring practices and verification procedures will be necessary, and I will need your assistance on that, Doctor Pitcairn. You seem to be quite good at getting around computer systems. Oh, and there'll be no need for anyone in this room that's not on the Council to mention Custer or the name Micklon again. If you take my meaning."
They understood what she was saying in crystal clear letters.
Collier turned to leave but turned back. She looked at them all with a strange expression on her face.
"You did good even though you didn't do it correctly, and you gave them a happy ending which they wouldn't have had otherwise. Manipulating time is a serious offense, Doctors. The unauthorized manipulation of time could carry a prison sentence under normal circumstances."
"Ma'am," Delphi began to say.
"However," Collier interrupted her, "apprehending a time manipulator from the Cyclotron Labs was a good thing, and in this case, let's just say it balances out a certain unauthorized time manipulation done from JPL and Los Alamos, shall we?"
There was no stopping the appreciative grins they wore or the nods they gave Collier. "Thank you, ma'am," Jillian said lowly.
"There is, however, one thing that could be said should the topic ever arise - which I will make certain it doesn't as a means of keeping the scales balanced. It's another avenue of research that wasn't considered by anyone," Collier added. "We all worked under the premise that the original timeline we were on was the correct one, and that was the one that was changed. Did anyone ever consider that we were on an adjacent timeline from the very beginning? Perhaps it was incorrect and that moving Stuart Power ahead sixteen years and Jennifer Chase a few months moved us to the correct timeline? After all, we do labor under the theory that the universe has a preferred timeline, and if it's removed from that timeline in any way, it will try to get back on that timeline even if it takes years. Ages. Eons. Perhaps we were just on a comfortable adjacent timeline to start with?"
Jillian leaned over and said, "We didn't change history because someone changed history? We corrected it?"
"It's possible since there was no research done in this respect," Collier observed. "We are mere spectators to history, but even though we see a great deal, we don't know all of it. We didn't walk in their shoes, as the old saying goes."
Elias put his hands in his pockets. "Ma'am, are you saying we did the right thing?"
"I'm saying that's how I'm concluding this experiment and writing up the Council's report. This time. Regardless of how the events that took place in the Montana hospital in 2148 unfolded and the subsequent outcome of those events, everyone did their jobs correctly and as ordered," she told them. Then, with a stern look in her eye, she said, "The Jennifer Chase and Jonathan Power we know from history deserved their happy ending, but people don't always get what they deserve. Just remember one thing - it's our job to keep history on track no matter who deserves what, not change it just because we can. The bad has to happen as well as the good, and bad things happen to good people whether we like it or not. This time, you were lucky. Next time -"
"Understood, ma'am," Delphi agreed. "No next time."
No, no next time, and if there was a next time, they'd have to be a bit more secretive about it, more obscure. After all, obscurity sometimes had its advantages.