Taking down Goddard Futuristics, or at least the idea of taking down Goddard Futuristics, had been a handy way for all three of them to distract themselves from how strange and awkward things had been between them since Renée and Isabel had returned to Earth and Dom had discovered that his wife wasn’t quite as dead as Goddard had reported.
But finally, there’d been some kind of resolution. Finally, they’d managed to oust most of the board, and the company was in the hands of… well, Isabel Lovelace wouldn’t exactly call them good people, but they were definitely less obviously evil than Marcus Cutter had been.
She’d be keeping an eye on them, of course. For all that Hilbert trusted that woman Rosemary, for all that Pryce seemed to have changed significantly since she’d undergone her complete mind wipe, for all that the strange archivist named Adriane seemed to actually have a strong moral compass that pointed away from genocide somewhere under her stoic exterior, they weren’t exactly nice women.
And any day now, Dom and Renée would be moving out of Pryce’s mansion and back to their own home in New York. They—or at least Renée—had invited her along, but Isabel was a little hesitant about moving in with a married couple who still hadn’t quite had the time to sit down and talk about things.
Especially since one of those things was her.
Of course, maybe it would work out just fine. After all, Dom had seemed to accept Isabel’s presence in his wife’s life without question. But the two of them still edged nervously around one another, like a pair of cats who had just met one another and were making sure they weren’t about to get a claw to the face. And if they were ever alone in a room together… god, the awkwardness was always thick enough to cut with a knife.
Finally, one morning, Isabel managed to corner the both of them in a breakfast nook.
“We need to talk.”
Renée and Dom exchanged a look, and then Renée sighed and put down her coffee cup.
“Yeah, we do,” Renee said.
Isabel looked straight at Dom. “You don’t like the relationship I’ve got with your wife, do you?”
Dom frowned. “It’s not that. I understand—you can’t go through the sort of things the two of you went through together without becoming close, without…” He trailed off, and frowned, and both Isabel and Renée waited for him to continue. He looked to Renée next. “I love you. I have ever since the first conversation we ever had, in that little café in Paris. And I don’t…” he trailed off again, his voice sounding choked. Renée reached over and rubbed his back gently as he dropped his face into his hands. Isabel couldn’t quite tell, but she thought he might have started crying.
“I don’t want to lose you again,” he continued in a low, broken voice. “I lost you once, and I don’t want to lose you again.”
Renée bit her lower lip and frowned. “Do you think Isabel is going to take me away from you?”
Dom let out a little laugh, and lifted his head, swiping tears off his cheeks. “I don’t know.”
“I’m not,” Isabel said. “I wouldn’t try. I just…”
“You’re important to me. Both of you. And I love you. Both of you.” Renée said in her forthright way. “So I want to make this work, if we can. But you have both got to tell me what you need.”
Isabel opened her mouth to answer, then shut it with a snap. She hadn’t quite thought about it, she was realizing suddenly.
Dom had a frown on his face as well, as if he was facing the same dilemma. All the same, he was the first to speak. “I think… I think I need to get to know Isabel better. I mean, we’ve been here for more than a year—” he waved his hand through the air, obviously indicating the mansion they’d all been holed up in while they tried to figure out what needed to be done about Goddard Futuristics, “—but the two of you have been, well…”
“Focused?” Asked Isabel.
“On the job,” added Renée.
“Yeah,” said Dom. “So maybe… I don’t know. Could we take a vacation together? Now… now that we’ve got time for it?”
Renée looked at Isabel, who nodded, and then she said, “Yeah. That would be nice.”
“Where to?” asked Isabel.
Renée got a look on her face suddenly that reminded Isabel of a small child. “Well, we’re still here in Florida. Have the two of you ever been to Disney World?”
Just then Eiffel poked his head into the breakfast nook. “Did you say something about Disney World? Are we going to Disney World?”
Isabel and Dom exchanged a look of exasperation as Renée said, with a slightly forced smile on her face, “Of course we’re going to Disney World!”
“You have to help me, Selberg.”
“Have asked you to call me Alexander now,” he replied, picking a slide up from the rack next to him and frowning at it.
“It’s just, Renée can’t deny Doug anything these days. And we were going to have a vacation, just us, but now he’s coming along, and there’s no way we can do what we need to do if he’s tagging along. So I need you to come and distract him.”
“At Disney World.”
Alexander set the slide aside and sighed, looking at Isabel over the top of his glasses. “Is that not a place for children?”
Isabel bristled a bit. “Hey, it’s nostalgic.”
“I am not going to go to Disney World in order to babysit Officer Eiffel,” Alexander said in an exasperated voice.
“Please. I’m begging you. I… I need this to work out. With Renée. And with Dom. I need it, Alexander.”
Alexander sighed again. “Perhaps Rosemary will come along and give me a hand.”
“Thank you,” Isabel said fervently.
“You want me to drop everything and spend a week with you in Disney World. Helping you run interference on Doug Eiffel.”
Alexander gave Rosemary a wide-eyed, pleading look. “Yes.”
“I don’t have time for that and you know it,” Rosemary said irritably, setting aside the paperwork she’d been looking over.
“If I am left alone with Eiffel, one of us will murder the other,” Alexander said.
“Oh, nonsense. From what you tell me, the man’s significantly less irritating than he used to be.” Rosemary turned her attention back to the paperwork.
“He is still irritating. And you know very well that Pryce and Adriane can keep this place going for a week without you.” He reached across the desk and put his hand over hers. “We have been at work since we returned to Earth, suka moya. Perhaps it is time to play a little.”
“But at Disney World? Isn’t that for children?”
“That is what I said!”
“What do you mean, you haven’t seen any Disney movies since Alice in Wonderland?”
“I was born in 1935,” said Rosemary, an amused smile on her face. “Alice in Wonderland was the last one I was young enough to appreciate.”
“Nonsense.” Doug declared.
“Oh, just because you’ve been watching them with your daughter…”
Doug went quiet. He still hadn’t seen Anne in person, but her mother had let them set up weekly Skype dates where they watched movies together with subtitles, and a little bit at a time, he was rebuilding a relationship with his daughter.
Of course, it always seemed to remind him that he’d forgotten every other moment of her childhood.
“Sorry,” Rosemary said, in a careful voice. “I forgot that was still a sore spot.”
Doug cleared his throat. “It’s okay. Anyway, we’ve got a couple of days before we go, so I’m going to get you and the Doc over there caught up.”
Alexander, who had only partly been paying attention, looked up at that. “I beg pardon?”
“We’re getting indoctrinated into the cult of Disney, I believe,” said Rosemary.
“I just wish I could go,” Hera’s voice came from one of the speakers in the living room.
“Hm.” Rosemary got up from the couch and crossed to the door of the living room. “Hey, Miranda?”
“What?” The irritable voice of Miranda Pryce echoed down the hallway.
“You were working on mobile AI units before my instance of Eris was shipped out, right?”
“My notes say I never solved the cooling problem.” Miranda’s voice came closer, and she poked her head into the living room. “Why?”
“I want to go to Disney World,” Hera said.
“Oh. Hm.” Pryce considered for a moment. “So maybe not a physical presence… a digital relay?”
“Is the wifi signal good enough there, do you think?” Rosemary asked.
“No, but a satellite uplink would do it.”
“You mean I can go to Disney World?” Hera sounded delighted.
“Well, we can loop a bit of your consciousness into a mobile device that Doug can wear around the park, at least,” Pryce said.
Doug looked a lot happier to know that he’d have Hera with him too, Rosemary thought. Some time between when he’d first intruded on Renée’s plans and now, he’d picked up some of the awkwardness and realized the sort of faux pas he’d made inviting himself along. But by the time he had realized that, the plans had been finalized, and he’d then realized that he was going to be stuck at a resort for a week with Alexander and Rosemary, both of whom were dubious to the extreme about the appeal of Disney World.
It would have been fine if Daniel Jacobi had still been around; after all, he and Doug got on well enough, and Daniel seemed like the sort of fellow who might actually enjoy Disney World. But the damn man had taken himself off to the Arizona desert the instant Goddard looked like it was well in hand, saying he needed a lot of wide open spaces to blow stuff up in for a bit.
Well. Rosemary had encountered Warren Kepler more than a few times over the years she had spent as an instance of Eris. She couldn’t blame Daniel for wanting some time alone to get his head straightened out, and she supposed blowing stuff up was as good a way as any for him to do that.
“So, now that we’ve got that little matter sorted out… want to join us for movie night, Miranda?”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “No, thank you. I’ve got little enough time to myself these days.”
Rosemary shrugged and turned back to Doug. “What’s first on the list?”
Doug grinned. “Well, I think you might like The Princess and the Frog…”
God help her, she did. And even Alexander, who had cuddled up against her side on the couch—after much sighing and complaining about being forced to watch a children’s movie, of course—did not seem entirely bored by it.
Isabel set the salad on the table, where Dom and Renée were already waiting, then sat herself down. The three of them had resolved to try and eat dinner every night together before the Disney trip, and while it had been awkward the past two nights and would probably continue to be awkward for a good while going forward, she thought it was probably less awkward than it would have been if they hadn’t had their little talk.
“So. Uh. How were your days?” Isabel asked as they started dishing up the food. Baked ziti wasn’t exactly fancy, but it was easy, and easy was what she’d needed for her first night cooking for them.
“Good,” Renée said. Both Isabel and Dom waited for her to elaborate, but instead she scooped salad onto her plate and started eating.
Dom cleared his throat. “I, uh, okay, I guess,” he said. “I’ve been working on setting up some trips for next year—the Times would be happy to have me back, especially after the exclusives I’ve been able to get on the shakeup at Goddard, but I’ll be happy to get back to being a foreign correspondent. Corporate reporting is not really my forte.”
“That’s… that’s good.” Isabel dished herself up some ziti and stared down at the steaming pile of pasta.
“How about you?” Dom asked.
Isabel shrugged. “I spent most of the day with Pryce. And… and the other two.” Pryce was still trying to figure out what, exactly, made the alien clones tick, and she’d been pulling Isabel and Alexander and Rosemary in for examinations and tests.
There was silence from the other third of the small round table they were sitting at, and Isabel shot a frowning look at Renée, who had worked her way through a pile of salad greens—without dressing—and had started in on a serving of the ziti. Renée still seemed off to Isabel somehow, and from the anxious glances Dom was shooting his wife, he’d noticed it too.
“Something you want to tell us?” Isabel asked.
Renée looked startled, and a little guilty. “What? No. Of course not.”
Dom reached out and put his hand over Renée’s, forcing her to lower her fork to the plate. “Kochana…”
Renée gave an awkward little shrug. “I was offered a job today. Assistant Director of Goddard’s space division.”
“Oh,” said Isabel and Dom together.
“I’m not going to take it, of course.”
“Why not?” Isabel asked.
Renée looked to Dom, her expression anguished. “I can’t do that to you again.”
Dom rubbed his thumb over the back of Renée’s hand. “You’d have to go back to space again if you took it?”
“Well, no, but…”
“Then why not take it?”
“What about New York?”
Dom shrugged. “We can sell our apartment. Get something down here.”
Renée looked taken aback. “I just… I thought you’d want to get as far away from Goddard Futuristics as possible. And what about your job?”
“I can do my job from anywhere these days,” Dom said with a smile. “And I do, remember? I’m a foreign correspondent.”
Isabel sat, frozen, feeling locked out of the conversation, as always happened every time Dom and Renée fell into their roles of husband and wife.
God, please let this vacation help, she found herself thinking.