Although his wife’s palate was discriminating to a nicety, neither Jack Wragsland nor Marilee cooked. Their virgin oven still had the energy-saver stickers on the door, and Jack kept paperback poetry anthologies inside. His breakfast reading goal was to catch up on all the verse he had missed by traveling almost 170 years into the future.
Entertaining the President of Jalanesia to dinner therefore entailed high-end caterers. Delivery trucks clogged their steep suburban road. All afternoon hired wait staff poured through their modest Los Altos bungalow, setting up tables, unpacking wine glasses, and arranging vegan hors d’oeuvres on art-glass serving trays.
Jack took refuge in the shed beside the lap pool. It housed the pool machinery that generated the water current one swam against, and had electric and data connections. All his devices and tech were portable, so he was able sit on a deck chair with a cup of the rather oddly-flavored tea the coffee machine produced, and get several hours of work in after lunch.
When a tall figure darkened the open doorway Jack didn’t look away from his CAD holograms. “Ask Mrs. Wragsland,” he said absently.
The visitor chuckled. “I shall if you insist, but I believe you would much rather not.”
Startled, Jack looked up. A winter chill rolled off the intruder, who was clad in a blue anorak over a heavy sweater, down mittens, and ice-encrusted moon boots: supremely unsuitable wear for the San Francisco region. When the visitor pushed back the furred hood and pulled the polarized goggles down Jack’s breath came out in a huff of astonishment. The lean fresh face, blue eyes and crisp-curled red hair were his own.
The other Jack grinned at his surprise. He sported a short frost-rimed beard barbered square, which made his long jaw quite masterful, and his English had the broad Yorkshire accent that Jack had mostly lost. “I am rather pressed for time, sir. Has Calla arrived?”
“Uh, no. In a couple hours.”
“Dash it, miscalculated. And she has how many children?” He eased a frame backpack off his shoulders and went down on one nylon-clad knee to lower it carefully down flat in the only open space on the shed floor.
“Two.” Jack had the sense that his brain was left behind at the turn of the track while the horses all galloped away towards the finish line. “Seylat and the baby, Kat. Akata.”
The visitor rose. “Eh, well enough. Give this to her with my best love, would you?” He nodded at the backpack, which was of bright yellow nylon and buckled shut.
Before Jack could marshal his wits to respond Marilee appeared at the door holding a bottle of single malt. Eurasian, tanned and fit, she had begun wearing maternity clothing only this week. “Jack, do you want to open the — Jack?”
She gaped at the other Jack, who laughed. “Great heavens! Can you indeed be Mrs. Wragsland? And enceinte, my hearty congratulations! Ah, how very kind of you.” He took the bottle of Glenmorangie from her nerveless grip and slid his other arm around her thickening waist. Briskly he saluted Marilee’s lips. A mittened wave, as he tucked the bottle into the pocket of the anorak. “You have my gratitude, both of you.”
He flicked a naughty wink at Jack, and was gone. Jack jumped to his feet and stepped over the backpack. Outside, the narrow patio around the lap pool was empty. Only a chunk of melting ice lay on the slates. Above and behind the palisade fence that enclosed the paved back yard the mountain sloped almost straight up. Cloaked in scrub, it was climbable only by goats. This yard was the only level land in sight.
“Jack!” Marilee gasped. “Oh my God. Was that –”
“Uh, yes, dear. A time traveler, and a shocking cad! Dearest, are you all right?”
She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand and made a face. “That was you!”
“Some version of me, yes, I think.” He hastened to hug her. He was sufficiently the taller that he could tuck her brown head under his chin, and feel her heart jumping against his chest. His own beat in tandem, also rather fast.
“But what was it all about?”
“I have no idea,” Jack had to say. “He left a parcel for Calla.”
They both looked at the yellow backpack lying on the floor, and Jack tensed. It bumped, moving a little. There was a tentative hiccup and a muffled grumble from within.
Quickly Jack knelt. The plastic buckles were icy and recalcitrant under his fingers. He flung the insulated nylon flap back. Rather grumpy, the infant within lifted a chubby fist and gummed it, fixing him with a dark displeased gaze.
“Oh Jesus, Jack,” Marilee whispered. “A kidnapped baby? We are in deep shit. And he took your best whiskey.”