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Five Things That Never Happened To Janey Slater

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5.

As bitter as she is, as much as she hates Dr. Manhattan, Janey Slater decides in a sudden burst of inspiration that she hates Doug Roth more. He makes her skin just crawl. So when he corners her after work and starts asking probing questions, she brushes him off and declares she doesn't know what he's talking about. She's fine. Healthy. Of course she looks tired, she's fifty-three goddamned years old, they're called wrinkles and everyone gets them.

When he goes away, she calls her doctor to warn him. He agrees to take her records home. He'll get his neighbour to put them in his gun safe, he says, even Doug Roth won't think to look there. And he doesn't, although the doctor's office is subject to a mysterious burglary.

A week later Dr. Manhattan is interviewed on live television. Doug Roth tries to bring up the cancer allegations, but the attempts fall flat and he is escorted from the studio by security guards.

Janey goes to see Jon the next day. She doesn't even know if she'll be able to get into the building. She doesn't have to: as soon as she gets out of her car, there's a flash of blue light and she's standing in a room she's never seen before, but one that's eerily familiar. An experimental physics laboratory. Jon is there, looking as impassive and serene as he always has. Laurie Juspeczyk is standing with him, holding his hand. She looks like she's been crying, but it's done now, and she's determined to see something through.

"Jon," Janey whispers. "Jon, I - I wanted to come say goodbye. I guess you knew that already."

He nods. "I know."

"I've got cancer. They say I have six months to live." There it is, as flat as she can make it. She sneaks a look at Juspeczyk, but Juspeczyk's expression doesn't change. She's not afraid. Or maybe she was, but Jon told her about this long ago.

Jon touches her forehead. It's as startlingly electric as she remembers. "They're wrong," he says, and she suddenly realizes his fingertips have sunk into her forehead, that the ghost of an expression on his face is the same look of concentration that, once, Jon Osterman would wear while working over a particularly difficult math problem. Her whole body tingles. "You had cancer. It's gone now. You have plenty of time."

She can't even think of a response. She stares at them, and Juspeczyk's look is nothing but sympathetic.

"This is goodbye, still," Jon continues, implacable. "You can tell the base commander that Laurie and I are leaving. Mars first, I think, then we'll find another galaxy. One a little less complicated." He smiles, then. She suspects he's forcing it, but he's forcing it for her sake and she just can't keep hating him, not now, not when he's turned her future from six months to whatever she wants it to be. "Goodbye, Janey."

"Goodbye, Jon," she says. "And good luck."

"Thank you. But there's no such thing as luck."

Jon takes Laurie's hand again and suddenly there's nothing left of them but a shimmer in the air and a fluttering piece of paper, drifting toward the floor. A photograph. Janey catches it without thinking. She looks so happy in it, and so does Jon, and she misses him more than she had ever imagined.

 

4.

It takes two years from the time she begins to suspect something until she has amassed enough evidence for a confrontation. She's been working at Dimensional Developments for four years by then. The facade was good. But not quite good enough. Janey asked questions, lifted files, researched, recklessly abused her administrator password, learned computer cracking, and did some light bribery and blackmail. The hardest part was keeping her investigation quiet.

The doorman at Veidt's building is actually awake, so she puts her lockpicking skills to use and sneaks in the back. He isn't home yet - ten at night and not home. The man's a workaholic - and once she's broken into his apartment, she helps herself to a glass of wine and sits down in the living room to wait. The sofa is covered in cat hair, but his cat is nowhere to be seen. Probably asleep in the bedroom. She's not about to go look.

Veidt arrives home at ten-twenty. "Hello," he calls out as soon as he opens the door. "Who is it?"

"In here," Janey answers, and drains her glass.

The light clicks on. Veidt leans in the doorway, looking not nearly as alarmed as she would have expected. He just looks tired. "Dr. Slater. What brings you here tonight?"

For an answer she tosses her folder of evidence on the coffee table. It makes a very satisfying thump. He comes over, weariness written in every motion, and sits beside her to look through it.

He still doesn't look surprised.

"These are copies," she tells him. "The originals are with a trusted friend, who has instructions to send it all to a certain newspaper if I don't return by a certain time. I believe that's the traditional approach to these situations."

"I can't imagine you would be interested in anything so vulgar as blackmail." A ghost of a smile crosses Veidt's face.

Janey takes a deep breath. "No. I want an explanation. They say you're the smartest man in the world. Convince me."

Veidt's expression is the amiable blankness of a department-store mannequin. "Dr. Slater," he begins, and closes the folder. "You know, of the three people I thought might discover my plans, you're the only one who I expect could be convinced." His hands are clenched. He begins to speak.

Fifteen minutes of calm explanation, punctuated by a few questions from Janey, attempts to cling to something as her world slowly turns on its end.

She shivers when he's done, huddling on the sofa feeling far colder than she should. Veidt looks at her with sympathy. "I know it's monstrous," he tells her. "This is a monstrous world. But remember why the research at Gila Flats was even being conducted, Dr. Slater. You worked there; you should understand. Terrible acts are necessary, in the face of a terrible threat."

"You don't think people will see sense until it's forced upon them?" Her words stick in her throat.

Veidt doesn't quite meet her eyes. "Not given the lessons of history. Almost all people will do good given the chance, but the world right now doesn't give them much chance, Dr. Slater."

It's that which tips her decision. Dr. Slater. Even at Gila Flats she'd gotten so used to being called Miss that it stopped grating; nobody respected a woman in a man's profession, that was the way of the world. But Veidt did. And so she can believe he understands people, that he has thought things through.

Janey sighs and closes her eyes. "Alright," she tells him. "I'm in."

"You'll keep quiet?"

"I'll help. I'll do whatever you need. Lie to whoever needs lying to. Fake having cancer. Run interference. What are the odds those two other people you mentioned will work something out?" She can't believe she's doing this. But it's play along, or run away screaming. What newspaper would believe the truth?

Veidt takes her outstretched hand to shake it, and she tries not to think about concrete blocks coming apart with a flash of blue.

 

3.

The way Jon and the Jupiter girl were looking at each other was the latest in a long string of pains. Little things. She fell in love with a charming young scientist, someone she understood, someone she could have worked with and lived with and grown old with. She didn't sign up to be the girlfriend of a demigod. So Janey sits on their bed and cries, because it's that or explode.

Jon asks her what the matter is, as if he didn't already know the answer, and listens as she sobs that he doesn't love her anymore, doesn't understand her. "It's all just particles to you," she says, and chokes back her tears.

It was all just particles to her, once upon a time, and then she'd met Jon. After a year spent telling herself she had no time for romance, that you couldn't plumb the mysteries of the universe and the mysteries of the human heart at once, she'd met Jon. And then it had all gone so horribly wrong, and she'd shoved all her new dreams away, and then two months later she'd gotten him back. Only she'd never been absolutely certain that what she got back was really Jon.

That wasn't the biggest problem, though. The problem was that they had been equals, partners, and then suddenly he was a superhuman and a strategic asset and he could just see all the things they had spent so long trying to discover, and she was - an accessory. Six years, and she hadn't gotten used to it.

"If you could perceive the world as I do -"

"Well, I can't!" She bites back a scream. "I'm only human! You should know that by now! So unless you feel like rearranging my subatomic structure into something just like yours -" She takes a deep breath, and the silence hangs between them, heavy with unspoken words.

Jon closes his eyes. "If that's what you wish," he says.

His hand on hers is cold and tingles with suppressed energy. He said to her once that he no longer felt heat or cold.

"You could do that?" She means it for a simple question, diffident, but it comes out heavy with wonder and hope.

"Yes. The process is painful," he adds, almost absently, "but not difficult. You have the necessary understanding to complete it safely."

Janey squeezes her eyes shut and thinks what it would be like to look at an atom and be able to see its inner workings. To move through a wall as easily as solid air. To know the future as well as the present, events falling together into logical sequence with the inevitability of clockwork. To understand Jon again.

"Do it," she says.

He doesn't hesitate. He takes her hands, closes his around them, and there's a wash of blue light, steadily increasing in intensity, washing out the world, washing through her, until every atom of her body is infused with it, screaming and burning and taking everything away and taking her to pieces -

(It's 1967, and her existence is still a closely guarded secret. Her mother and siblings were told she died accidentally. The government repeatedly asks Dr. Manhattan to repeat her creation, with volunteers from the Army and Marines. He refuses.)

(They leave in 1983. Wally says he'll follow them as soon as he's found another Dr. Manhattan. There will need to be a Dr. Manhattan for a long time, he thinks. There should be no shortage of volunteers. 1981, and Janey is sick of the tangle of human life, of politics and higher causes and petty concerns of one small species on one small planet.)

(Wally Weaver, in August of 1967, laughs and says it's his turn now, isn't it? Jon says he doesn't want it, yet. Years later, ashy with the news of his own impending death, Wally asks seriously. Janey does it for him, and it's the strangest feeling of a universe of improbabilities, to hold his whole molecular structure in her mind while he reconnects himself from nothingness. To guide him home.)

(It's Valentine's Day of 1960, and Jon teleports from Washington to spend the evening with Janey. She is beginning to wonder what the world looks like to him. How different his perception must be. What it means for his life that he sees it unfolding before him, even and perfectly inevitable.)

(Janey wants to convince Jon not to go to Vietnam. She knows that the choice is not hers. Nor his. It's 1971. They are both wondering why they stay around, what the loss would be if they were to walk away and leave the world to its own devices.)

(1960, and Janey asks Jon what it's like.)

(She finds out in 1966. She never regrets it.)

 

2.

After the funeral she just can't take the sight of Gila Flats anymore. Janey calls up a friend at MIT and asks if they're still looking for researchers on their intrinsic field power generation project. They are. It's only a postdoc position, no tenure, but she accepts over the phone and is packed and gone three days later.

Wally Weaver sends her letters, gleefully ignoring classification levels in his rambling. He mentions strange apparitions, dismissed as electrical effects or stress by the top brass. They culminate in a strange effect in the cafeteria, witnessed by a dozen people. Like a great blue angel, Wally says. It hovered there for a few seconds, and then it vanished. Are there any jobs left at MIT?

She pulls some strings and gets him a position as her research assistant. He's overqualified for it, but he's elaborately grateful anyway.

By the time Gila Flats closes down, MIT has produced vast numbers of spinoffs but not achieved their goal. Free energy, they tell each other. The Holy Grail. Free, clean, energy with no messy radioactivity. Any day now. Really. It's taken on the status of a morbid running joke. People start leaving for impressive professorships at Princeton and Caltech.

They get an infusion of cash in 1978, enough to buy a nice new lab. It's a gift from a company that makes, of all things, perfumes and electronic components. The CEO and his wife come to tour the new building, and Janey finds herself watching them with envy, the way they smile sideways at each other like they have a secret language. He has to leave for a board meeting, but Janey invites his wife out to dinner. Her name is Laurie Juspeczyk, and she was a costumed hero until the Keene Act forced her to quit. "It all seems so silly, looking back," she tells Janey with a sigh over their spaghetti primavera. "I know I did some real good, but compared to something like what you've done ..."

"Nothing," Janey says. She surprises herself with her bitterness. "I've spent twenty years chasing elementary particles around and never gotten anywhere. We've figured out everything except what we wanted to. At least you got things done."

"Sometimes. It got weird. There was this one fellow who called himself Captain Carnage - " And she tells the story of the strangest excuse for a costumed villain she'd ever met, while Janey does her best not to snicker too loudly.

They're friends after that. Laurie keeps making excuses to come back and see how things are going at the lab. She hasn't worked since the Keene Act. Janey suspects she's going a little stir-crazy, not dealing well with being the VIP's Wife instead of a useful person in her own right. Janey is quietly grateful she avoided all that. She hasn't really been involved with anyone since Jon died, although she and Wally Weaver have a quiet sort of arrangement that might someday turn into a real romance simply from years of familiarity. She has more important things on her mind. The Holy Grail. Free energy. Any day now. Maybe it's stupid, but she's going to keep trying. Who knows? If they can do it, if everything lines up right - it won't the a Grand Theory of Everything, but it will be a great good thing, and it will do so much for the human race. It would not be a bad life's work. Laurie speaks admiringly of it, and surprises Janey by knowing a lot more about physics than most of the people who give them money. She reads a lot, she says with a dismissive shrug.

"Most people don't bother," Janey admits to her. They're looking over a huge set of new electromagnets that were just delivered. Wally is leading a gang of lab assistants who have descended on them with boxcutters to take away all the shipping wrap. They're like children with a new toy, Janey thinks, and isn't sure if she's delighted or disturbed by her own simile. She enjoys being head of the lab, really she does, but she has trouble sustaining her old enthusiasm; she leaves that to the grad students.

"They should. It's fascinating." Laurie's eyes are alight. "There's so much out there, and people are so stupid. They never bother looking. They get all wrapped up in these stupid little problems, and half of them wouldn't even be problems if they'd just think about things for one goddamned minute." She presses her lips together and frowns at the electromagnet. Someone is suggesting, to much laughter, that they plug it in and see if they can attract the lawnmower through the wall.

Any day now, Janey says to herself.

Any day turns out to be four weeks later.

In 1981, there's a party to celebrate the first experimental reactor going online. It's only big enough to power the labs, but it's a proof-of-concept and they already have plans to build eight more. Astonishingly, everything goes without a hitch. There are cheers all around, and champagne. Laurie's husband, whose company has somehow arranged to expand into construction just in time to handle all the new reactors, sits with his arm around her at the back of the room, quietly beaming. They're doing that subtle-glances thing again. She says the device looks like something a supervillian would build, and he says how lucky it is that Laurie is around to foil any nefarious plans, and she tries, with limited success, to muffle her laughter. Janey can't help but smile. She worked out early on that Laurie and her husband had to have met in the hero business, that he was the right height and hair colour to be Ozymandias, but he's never admitted it publicly. If he wants to leave all the glory to Laurie, Janey won't bring it up.

Several people give speeches. Laurie's husband proposes a toast. "To a better world," he says. "The better world that you're building here." Everyone can agree with that. Everyone cheers.

1.

"Oh, don't bother, I can get it later," Janey says, and catches Jon's wrist. "Let's go." He looks just a little embarrassed, but sort of sheepishly pleased. He gives her back her watch the next day.

Things go pretty well for them, after that.

They get married in April of 1963. Jon's father is there, beaming. Wally Weaver is best man, and Janey's sister is maid-of-honor, and the entire Gila Flats research team have bought them a giant cake decorated with an atom. (Jon is a little annoyed they went for the Rutherford model, but not so annoyed he isn't touched.) Janey has never been so happy. At the reception Milton Glass raises a toast to Dr. and Dr. Osterman, and there's a tremendous round of applause.

In 1967, they have a daughter. They name her Elanor, after Janey's aunt. They leave Gila Flats in early 1968, to take jobs at CERN. They say to each other that the military research is getting the point of needing technicians, rather than researchers. They say to each other that the work will be more interesting. They sat to each other Switzerland is a wonderful place to raise a child, excellent climate, good educational opportunities. They do not say what they both are thinking: that Switzerland is not on anyone's priority target list.

There are no public announcements, but Jon is fairly sure, from some of the papers coming out of Moscow, that the Russians have developed an intrinsic-field bomb just as the Americans did. Nobody is saying anything. Politicians make oblique comments, and old friends from Gila Flats write them very evasive letters, and they hold on and hope that nobody does anything stupid.

Elanor is a bright girl. She declares her intention, at the age of four, to develop a Theory of Everything. Jon laughs and hugs her and says, well, she's got as good a chance as anyone. That night in bed he clings to Janey and whispers into her shoulder, "If she lives that long. If any of us live that long."

Janey holds him. "It'll be fine," she says.

"If everything goes right. If the Communists don't get too annoyed. If nobody has an excuse. If we don't wake up one morning and discover that some idiot has pulled the trigger and now New York's a pile of glowing blue rubble - "

"People aren't that stupid," Janey whispers, and wishes she could believe it.

People keep talking about developing energy generation using the blue-field effects, like nuclear power but less hazardous, they hope, but so far the only practical effect has been the Bombs That Don't Exist. An open secret among physicists, but still an official secret. The American and Russian governments are starting to get severely testy, judging by the news reports making their way out of Washington. Wally Weaver is arrested in 1975 on suspicion of espionage, in a sweep that picks up a dozen Gila Flats researchers. He is released shortly afterwards for lack of evidence, with seven others. Four of the researchers vanish. Jon and Janey never find out what happens to them.

They share the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1984, for their work on quantum-level blue-field structure. They're the first married couple since the Joliot-Curies to share a prize. Comparisons are thick on the ground. "Thanks to the Ostermans, our understanding of the nature of matter was again revolutionized," says a magazine article, although it's vague as to how and why. Unsurprising, given how esoteric blue-field theory is. In theory, the equations they've developed show how to turn one form of particle into another at will. The dream of the alchemist, realized at last. In practise, they've only done it to a few dozen particles. Ten years of work havn't improved matters much.

The night after the ceremony they sit up late, talking, holding hands. Eventually Janey wonders where Elanor went. She's on the balcony, as it turns out, staring up at the stars. Even with the light pollution of Stockholm it's absurdly beautiful. "Hey," Jon says, and gives Elanor a brief hug. "What're you thinking about?"

"Nothing." From any other teenager this would be sullenness, but from Elanor, it's shop talk. Janey smiles. "That talk you gave last year in Paris, on vacuum - " Elanor breaks off, and squints at the southwestern horizon. "Hey, do you see that?" In the approximate direction of London, the sky is glowing blue.

Ridiculous, Janey thinks. Some weird atmospheric effect. Northern lights. It only looks that way. There was no diplomatic incident. Britain is only a US ally, nobody really believes in a First Strike doctrine, people aren't that stupid -

But the glow only intensifies for ten heart-stopping seconds, and then, suddenly, it's dark. Far too dark.

Someone somewhere is yelling, and there are people pouring out of the hotel lobby far below, waving their hands, trying to get a better look. A loud bang, like some heavy piece of furniture being tipped over. Some more yelling. People are coming out the side doors in heavy coats thrown over pyjamas now, like there was a fire. Elanor's hands are white-knuckled on the balcony rail. She doesn't move. Janey reaches behind her to take Jon's hand and hold on tight. His hand is limp and clammy in hers. She doesn't look at him. She doesn't want to see what his eyes look like right now.

The telephone in their room rings, but nobody goes back inside to answer.

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