“She’s back,” Griffin whispers, without turning his head.
Daley sighs. She starts running the search macro she’s run way too many times the past few days. Results start filling various child windows. Little red dots indicate null results.
There are many red dots.
“Agent Daley?” The voice is soft, intentionally so. The enunciation precise, with Received Pronunciation.
“We continue to keep an eye open, ma’am.” Daley tries to keep the impatience from her voice. She’s an analyst, not a monitor monkey. She should be getting the reports from the folk in this room, crunching numbers and words, looking for patterns, and interpreting them.
Instead, she’s here. On monitor duty. At Special Agent Parker’s request.
Sometimes being good at your job sucks.
“And what is your open eye telling you, Agent Daley?”
Sigh. “Monitoring of all Menagerie affiliated locales showing no results. Monitoring of news feeds, with gradated weighting of local, national, and international sources showing no results. Global scientific instrumentation taps showing no results in gravitometric, neutrino emission, or tachyon detection rates.”
A few moments of silence. “So, your open eye tells you nothing.”
“Nothing there to be told, ma’am.”
Parker draws in a long breath, lets out an even longer one. “No data. God dammit.”
Daley makes a noise.
Daley sighs. In for a penny – She turns in her swivel chair to face her superior. “When are you expecting data, ma’am?”
“I don’t know!” The response is sharp. Angry. Frustrated. Daley can almost empathize.
After a moment, Parker continues. “Time travel. In theory, they could return the instant they left. Should return.”
“But they haven’t.”
Daley purses her lips. “Ma’am, this is above my classification level. How much experience does AEGIS have with time travel?”
Parker raises an eyebrow. After a moment she says, “Time travel is an interdicted topic for the agency, under direct mandate from the governors.” A soft snort. “Aside from our remit to observe the actions of time-traveling individuals – to be sure, and mercifully, a limited population – time travel is off-limits. What information we have is strictly limited.”
“So the assumption that time travelers will return to the moment they left is just that, an assumption.”
Parker looks at her. “Go on.”
“Time travel trumps causality. It kicks all the rules in the teeth. People traveling through time, maybe their return is relative to the time they spent there … two days spent in the future, they have to come back two days later. Isn’t that possible?”
A beat. “As possible as anything else. When one is talking about the improbable.”
“Improbability is based on known parameters, ma’am. Time travel breaks those parameters.”
Parker nods, sharply. “So?”
“Unknown parameters make prediction impossible. Impossible prediction means that expectations are out the window. They could return this very moment. They could return in a century. There’s no basis for knowing which, or what point in-between. Analysis 101. Insufficient data means you can only guess.” Daley quirks a half-smile. “Don’t tell the Analysts Union. I’ll lose my license.”
“Mum’s the word, Agent Daley.” Parker slumps slightly. “So there’s no telling when they might be back.”
Daley shakes her head. “Sorry, ma’am.”
Parker holds up a hand. “A lesson I ought to have learned long ago. Even without time travel. I’ve never been comfortable being the one who waits.”
Parker flashes a brief glimpse of teeth. “It’s much easier being the person in the field, Agent Daley. Pooh-poohing those Ops Office bureaucrats and analysts and pencil-pushers.” A snort. “Good Lord, do we still say pencil pushers?”
“That’s a comfort.” Parker closes her eyes, draws in a deep breath, lets it out. “So your recommendation, Agent Daley?”
“Your analysis, Agent. Your recommendation, as analyst. Report.”
Daley nods, tamping back her flaring concern. “We continue monitoring. Short-term, you get some sleep. Long-term, we establish a specific team to watch and wait. We assume they are coming back. We do not assume we will have them as an asset in any particular planning until they do return. Whether it’s an hour or a decade.”
“Or never. We cannot assume that they’ll be coming back, ma’am.” Daley’s Carolinian accent seems to come to the fore. “We just hope, and carry on.”
“And you’d run such a team, Agent Dale?”
Hell no. Daley has career ambitions. Being locked into an actual dedicated team of monitor monkeys, waiting for something that might never happen – or might happen a dozen years from now, which is practically the same thing – is unthinkable.
But she hears herself saying, “If you need me to, ma’am.”
Parker smiles, thin-lipped. “They also serve who only stand and wait, Agent Daley. Thank you.”
Daley nods. “As you say, ma’am.”
“Keep a stiff upper lip, Agent Daley. Nothing is forever. I won’t leave you in fruitless durance vile.”
“But perhaps two people hoping for their quick return will have twice the effect.”
“Schrödinger’s Handler, Agent. Until they are confirmed to have failed, they are in a unknown state, and can be influenced by observers – or, one hopes, would-be observers.”
“I’m … not quite sure that’s how it works, ma’am.”
“As you said, ‘Unknown parameters make prediction impossible.’ Why wouldn’t it work that way?”
Daley nods. “Fair enough, ma’am.”
“Carry on, Agent Daley.”
author: *** Dave H.