Between the 1730-1930 Debriefing, solo and the 2100-2200 Debriefing, submarine, with Docs there was an hour and a half marked for dinner. This time it was real. Hilda not only gave me all that time for a leisurely meal, she let me have it in the little apartment belonging to Pat and Dan M., and she left us alone for it.
It wasn't exactly a home-cooked meal. It seemed they didn't do much cooking, because both of them worked for a living. Dan-that Dan-was in charge of Camp Smolley's resident aliens, their Dopey and Mrrranthoghrow; he told me that right now the job mostly amounted to monitoring all the Dopey's contacts to keep him from learning anything about the captured sub and Beert. It wasn't a demanding job. The Dopey's contacts were few; he had been well and truly interrogated long since, and there weren't many questions left to ask him.
Dan M. was waiting for me when I got to the apartment. He offered me a drink, and I took it gladly-it was the first I'd been allowed since I got back. "Pat'll be along in a minute," he told me, as he poured the Canadian and ginger ale-naturally he didn't have to ask what I preferred. As I was holding the copper-mesh babushka out of the way with one hand in order to lift the glass to my lips, he gave me a disapproving look. "Why don't you take that thing off?" he asked. "We aren't going to be talking any military secrets here, are we?"
"Well, Hilda said-" I began, and then reconsidered. Hilda, after all, wasn't there, and the thing certainly was a damned nuisance. I slipped it off and set it down on the floor next to my chair.
"Better?" he asked. "Fine. Now you can look over the menu and see what you like." He scrolled the screen for me, offering comments. The gazpacho was more or less all right, but they made it with canned tomatoes; the soup of the day, though generally canned, was better. He didn't recommend any of the fish, but the steaks were pretty good. So I studied the menu with care, not so much because I was having trouble making up my mind as because I was feeling a little uneasy. It was the first time the other Dan and I had been alone together.
It didn't seem to be bothering him much-well, he'd had the practice. He freshened my drink without being asked, and politely offered to show me around the apartment. I said no. I could see the workroom and bathroom from where I sat; the kitchen was only a little appendage off the main room, and I had no interest in visiting the bedroom he and Pat shared. I don't mean that I was consumed with jealousy, exactly. I just didn't choose to look at their bed.
While he was placing our orders with the kitchen Pat came in, looking exactly as I expected her to look. "Sorry," she said. "Pell is such a pain in the ass sometimes." She took a quick look at the screen, made her choices and then sat down next to me, explaining what Marcus Pell had done to make her late. It was her job to take the Threat Watch synoptics as they came in from the Observatory and dumb them down enough for Marcus Pell to understand. That was a tricky tightrope for her to walk. If she didn't make them simple enough for him to grasp at the first hearing, he complained she was wasting his time. If she simplified them too much-as tonight-he got suspicious and demanded to know what she was leaving out.
I listened to her story, but not attentively. What was mostly on my mind was less what she was saying than the mere presence of Pat herself beside me. This was the precise Pat I loved, the Pat I had made love to back on the prison planet; this was the exact, specific, identical physical body that I had undressed and explored, and had yearned to do the same to again for all that long time I spent with the Horch.
Of course, so had this other Dan Dannerman with the mustache.
I wondered if he felt any jealousy, with me sitting right there in the room with them. For that matter, I wondered if I did. I definitely felt something. When Pat passed me the salt and our fingers touched, I was aware that that was the hand that had caressed me…
And, of course, the same hand that had caressed him as well.
That was a jolting thought. On the other hand, Dan M. was definitely me, wasn't he? And was it possible for me to be jealous of myself?
I didn't know the answer. This whole question of living in a world that contained more than one of me took a lot of getting used to, and I was nowhere near that point.
I don't know what Dan M. made of my absentmindedness, but he surely noticed it. What he said after a moment, kindly, was, "I guess you'd like Patrice to come back, wouldn't you?"
I thought for a moment, then came to a conclusion. I did want her to come back, if only to sort out what, if anything, I felt for the carbon copy of the woman I loved. I said, "Yes."
"She didn't really want to leave, Dan," Pat said reassuringly. "She didn't have any choice about getting back to the Observatory. We're all working for the Bureau now, Patrice, too; she has to keep me posted on Threat Watch so I can pass the data along."
I mulled that over. "Aren't there a couple of you Pats there already?"
She gave me a forgiving smile. "Pat Five has her hands pretty full with the triplets, and it needs both Patrice and P. J. to handle the job at the Observatory, Dan. They work in shifts. There's all the administrative work to do, the stuff I used to hate-signing payroll checks, travel vouchers have to be approved, somebody has to keep the interns in line-especially keep them from flirting with the Bureau spooks these days. And then there's the regular staff, Kip Papathanassiou and Pete Schneyman and all. Some ways, they're the hardest part of the job. Patrice says they keep barging in on her at all hours, all of them, because they're not getting the observing time to keep up with their Cepheid counts or gravitationallensing studies or whatever. Observing time! They know perfectly well that every big telescope is fully committed on Threat Watch… And then there's Threat Watch itself. Patrice and P. J. have the synoptics to prepare every six hours and send me so I can tell the deputy director what's going on. Now and then, when there's something special, I even get to brief the President." She nodded her head approvingly. "That's the good part of the job. The President isn't a bad guy, for a politician. And he always treats me as though I were a human being- not like Marcus Pell."
I chewed away on my steak, listening. Something had crossed my mind about this Threat Watch thing, but there was something else on my mind that drove it out. "About Patrice," I said when Pat paused for a moment, getting the subject back to what interested me. "You said I hurt her feelings."
"Well, you did. You shouldn't have said she was 'more or less' me, Dan," Pat informed me. "Patrice isn't more or less anybody. She's herself. And also me, of course, but none of us like to be told we're part of a matched set. Even if we are. It's better if we just think of ourselves as family, isn't it? Saves a lot of confusion."
But it didn't. Not for me, anyway. Thinking of us as family didn't make it easier to handle for me, because I had had no experience in that area. I had never had a family to get used to. No siblings, parents long dead, no one to call a relative but Cousin Pat… and that was in the days when there was only one Cousin Pat.
The fact was that I didn't have much time to be part of a family, anyway. I didn't have much time for anything at all. Hilda made sure of that. She came to collect me right on the dot, hurrying me to my last session of the day, this one at the submarine.
I guess the talk had made me a little absentminded. We got through the session at the sub without my noticing anything was wrong-work coming along well, Wrahrrgherfoozh promising the sub's incoming comm systems would be back on line in a day or so-and it wasn't until we were in the final talk session between Hilda and me that I put up my hand to scratch my head and said, "Oh, shit."
Hilda interrupted herself in the middle of telling me that I really had to press Beert and the Docs harder for information to ask, "Now what, Danno?" Then she saw for herself. "Oh, Christ! Where's your damn Faraday shawl?"
I said apologetically, "I guess I forgot to put it back on when I was having dinner. I'm sorry."
"Well, hell, Hilda, I didn't do it on purpose. But look, if I really was transmitting data to somebody, I've done it, haven't I? So why don't we just forget about the damn babushka?"
And after a certain amount of chewing me out, she sighed and said, "Oh, what the hell. Maybe we could."