Reflex

Jumper (Volume 2)

Steven Gould

Tor Science Fiction

Chapter One

“Davy was gone.”

The first time was like this.

“You are the most stubborn man I’ve ever met.”

The latest incarnation of this argument started in a little pastry shop on Sullivan Street, New York City.

His first response was light. “You probably shouldn’t have married me, then.”

She glared.

“I can’t help it. It’s how I feel. At least I know how I feel. That’s better than I used to be.”

She watched him push crumbs across the tabletop, herding them into a neat little pile. The busboy was leaning against the lime-colored wall, watching them. They were the last customers in the place and it was almost eleven p.m. on the east coast.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said.

They threaded out between the tiny tables and into the chill air of the street. It was the first week of March. Out of sight, in a deep sheltered doorway smelling faintly of urine, he put his arms around her and jumped them, and the argument, a time zone to the west, to the small two-bedroom condo they owned near her clinic, in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Her ears popped and she swallowed reflexively, so used to it that she hardly noticed. She was intensely frustrated. How can you love someone and want to kick them in the butt at the same time? “But what about the way I feel? I’m thirty-one. I’d like to have kids while I’m still young enough to keep up with them!”

The corners of his mouth turned down. “Look at how my dad---I don’t exactly have the right modeling to be a parent.”

You’ll never know until you try.

“And there’s the Aerie. It’s not exactly kid-safe.”

“We can live here. We can live elsewhere if necessary. It’s not as if we don’t have the resources.”

“And when the kids start kindergarten? ‘Did you take the bus today, little Millie?’ ‘No, my Daddy teleported me.’”

She glared at him but she couldn’t really find an argument against this one. Was she to ask him to stop jumping? Jump, but lie about it to their child? Let the child know but have them lie? She knew that one all too well. She’d been lying about Davy for ten years.

He looked at his watch. “I have a meeting with Brian in D.C. in ten minutes. He wants to sell me on another errand.”

Oh, that’s convenient! Then she recalled his mentioning it the day before and felt guilty for the thought.

“You want to wait here?” he asked.

“How long do you think you’ll be?”

He shrugged. “Not too long, I should think.”

She was still annoyed. “I’ve got clients at seven-thirty. I need my sleep. You better jump me to bed, first.” Though I’d rather you jumped me in bed.

“Okay.”

He paced while she changed into her nightgown and brushed her teeth. He looked at books, opened them, shut them. When she was ready, he jumped her to the cliff dwelling---their hidden aerie in the rugged desert of far west Texas. It was cool here, but not as cold as New York City.

He turned on the bedside light and she heard the faint sound of the electrical generator kicking in, from its own enclosure at the far end of the ledge. The furniture, a rough knotty-pine queen-sized bed, contrasted sharply with the more contemporary bedstead back in the condo. The walls, ceiling, and floor were all rough stone, the face of this cliff, and only the rough-mortared outer wall, made of like-colored stone, was man-made. Most of the walls, natural and otherwise, were hidden by rows of knotty pine bookshelves.

She sat on the edge of the bed and sighed. “We talked about it when we got married, you know.”

He winced. “You said we could take some time, first.”

“It’s been ten years!”

He looked at his watch again. “Look, I’ve got to go, or I’ll be late. We can---”

She turned her back. “Oh, just go!”

“Millie....”

She shook her head. “Go, dammit!” Then she thought better of it and turned back to him, but he’d taken her at her word.

Davy was gone.

Of course she couldn’t sleep.

When did I become an appendage? There was a price to be paid, being married to the world’s only teleport. It was like being a Saudi wife, unable to travel anywhere unless accompanied by a male relative.

An appendage.

She’d accepted this, she realized, quite a long time ago, trading her own independence for the benefits, but she was beginning to feel that something was atrophying. If not my legs, then my spiritual wings.

And even Saudi wives can have children.

She alternated between blaming him and blaming herself with brief stints of blaming Mr. Brian Cox of the National Security Agency. The real blame, she knew, if it was going to rest on anyone, belonged to Davy’s father, who was an abusive alcoholic when Davy was growing up, but even he’d changed, going through treatment and now a decade of grumpy and uncomfortable sobriety.

Deciding on blame wasn’t going to give her a child. But she wasn’t willing to raise a child without a partner’s help. Davy’s help.

For the millionth time she wished she could jump, like Davy, so she could go after him, to finish this argument, or at least defuse it. She regretted their decision to live here, hidden, instead of in Stillwater where she could expose him more to her friends’ kids, to family settings totally unlike his own childhood.

Instead, they commuted, Davy jumping her in and out of the condo in Stillwater, usually from the Texas cliff house, though there were extended periods of living in Tonga, Costa Rica, and one glorious spring in Paris. Still, they always came back to the cliff house. It was the only place Davy felt safe.

He’d built it shortly before the NSA first discovered him, and Davy and Millie were the only humans who’d ever been there. The surrounding terrain was incredibly rugged, a tortuous rocky desert region known as El Solitario. Since Davy’s original discovery of the place, it had become more popular. The original ranch surrounding the area had been bought by Texas and made a state park. Still, the house was built into a natural overhung cliff ledge two hundred feet from the canyon bottom and a hundred feet from its top. Backpackers had made it into the bottom of the canyon but since the Aerie was on the side of El Solitario away from the trailhead, there were fifteen miles of waterless mountain desert to be crossed just to get to the bottom of the canyon.

She groped for her glasses, got up, and put the kettle on the propane burner. While it heated she started a piñon fire in the woodstove, then browsed the shelves for a book. Davy had covered the walls in the first five years and then added freestanding double-sided shelves later. In the last two years, though, he’d finally started culling the shelves, donating books to community libraries, but his acquisition rate still exceeded his outgo and there were piles of new books throughout the dwelling.

It was three in the morning when she awoke in the reading nook, a cold pot of tea beside her and The Wood Wife fallen from her lap, that she gave up and went to bed.

Dammit, Davy! You must really be pissed.

When her alarm went off, at six-thirty, he still wasn’t there.

Shit! She couldn’t even cancel her clients, a husband and wife coming in for marital counseling. There was no phone---only a last-ditch 406 MHz PLB---a satellite-detected personnel locator beacon used by aircraft and ships for emergency search and rescue. It used the Global Positioning System to send its location so setting it off would put some sort of helicopter on the ridge above the Aerie fairly quickly.

She and Davy had considered a satellite cell phone for the Aerie but Davy was convinced the NSA could use it to locate the cliff house. Instead, he carried a satellite pager, so Cox could get messages to him all over the world, but it was receive only.

The Emergency PLB was just that, for emergencies. Was this one? Not yet, she decided.

He could get to the Aerie right up to seven-thirty and still jump her to the clinic on time, but her professional clothes were all in the Stillwater Condo. She wasn’t even sure she had clothes here.

She ended up putting on one of Davy’s flannel shirts and a pair of his jeans, which were tight in the crotch and thighs, and loose in the waist. She found a pair of her own running shoes and used Davy’s socks.

For a while she stared at the picture on the bedside table, a Polaroid of both of them taken at a restaurant in Tahiti. She remembered Davy’s irritation at the flash. He hadn’t hesitated to buy it from the photographer. He didn’t like images of himself floating around. He was going to destroy it but Millie asked him to give it to her instead. Only her promise that she would keep it in the Aerie had won him over.

There wasn’t much in the propane refrigerator. She ate some Wheaties dry and drank two glasses of water. The ceramic water tank atop the refrigerator was only a quarter full when she checked the sight glass.

Come on, Davy! This isn’t like you.

Seven-thirty came and went.

She rehearsed speeches of anger and pounded the bed with a stick. She read more. She paced. By midafternoon the anger had turned, like the worm, and she began to feel afraid.

She was afraid for Davy. Only death or severe injury could keep him from her. No jail could hold him, no prison bars, though, she remembered, chaining him to something solid might do it---something he couldn’t jump. They’d tried that experiment once, long ago, handcuffing him to a railing. He’d nearly dislocated his shoulder. Old-fashioned manacles set in a wall would hold him nicely.

She shuddered.

A while later, she began to fear for herself.

Copyright © 2005 by Steven Gould