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Nine Years Later

Rob Nevin swore to himself as his hot coffee splashed across his hand, and hastily pulled away from the tidal wave of cappucino and foam threatening to turn his papers into a soggy mess. He swiped at the spreading puddle with a handful of paper napkins, as his eyes were drawn back to the semester's tutorial enrolment list.

No, he hadn't read it wrongly. He frowned. Hughes, M. Garvin, L. And there it was: Geller, A. Of course, it couldn't be Artie Geller - the universe wasn't that cruel. This was merely an startling reminder of the weirdest, most stressful summer he'd ever had. Probably Adam Geller. Maybe Andrea.

Just to be on the safe side, he checked -- DOB: 8/12/74 -- and relaxed; Artie would have to have been born in 72. Maybe 73 at the latest. Just a funny coincidence, that's all.

The phone on Jared's desk rang, but Rob ignored it until Jared thrust it under his nose.

"Rob Nevin here, hello?"

"Nevin, my man! How's life in the tropics?" Dennis Leaver's voice crackled down the line, sounding the same as ever. Indefatigable and upbeat - and, reflected Rob, possibly slightly unhinged.

"I hardly think Calgary counts as the tropics," Rob commented. "Though I guess to a guy in a protest boat off Greenland, even an igloo in Nunavut would feel like the Hilton. How's the campaign coming along?"

"Fantastic!" enthused Dennis. "We're really making some headway on getting the drilling stopped, and the global community here is really great, you know?"

"Global community?" asked Rob, suspiciously.

"Absolutely! There are activists here from all over the world; it's like a Greenpeace jamboree! It's so heartening to know that we're not alone, you know?"

"I'm sure it is," said Rob dryly.

"And," Dennis' voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, "there are some girls here who are just your type, let me tell you. They make Canadian girls look like men. I've got a date tonight with an anti-whaling activist called Miko, and she's got a cousin who'd be great for you. I'm telling you, man, you really should be here!"

"Gee, Dennis, I'd really love to, but I have this little thing called a doctorate that I've gotta finish - remember that?"

"It'll still be there when you get back!"

"Actually, no, it won't. My supervisor retires in two years, so if I don't get finished and written up by the start of '96 at the latest, I'm history. And I'm TAing for another prof this year, got four tutorial groups to teach. I love you like a brother, Dennis, and you'll always be my best friend -- but I am not dropping everything to hare off halfway around the country, or the globe, with you again." Not after the disaster of the Winter Games protests, he reminded himself - nothing like getting arrested in front of your favourite professor to make for some awkward moments in class.

"Well, okay," said Dennis, doubtfully, "but I still think you're making a mistake. Hey-- I know! I was thinking about going down to Antartica for the Save the Penguin campaigns over Christmas - you should come then, when school's out!"

"Sure, Dennis. If I can get time off, which I doubt. Look, I have to go - I've got four hours of classes to give. Give my love to the polar bears, okay?"

"I keep telling you, we're here for the whales, not the polar bears! Oh, gotta run - we've got a supply ship to unload. See you at Christmas!"

Despite himself, Rob laughed. There was no stopping Dennis, he knew that much by now. In the face of Rob's continuing indifference -- both to his environmental crusading and the double dates he kept trying to arrange -- Dennis Leaver remained the eternal optimist.

***

A Week Later

Rob was busy editing a research paper draft when his second tutorial class filtered into the classroom, and he ignored them for as long as he could. When his watch beeped the hour, he sighed to himself, then slid out of his chair and walked around to sit on the front of the desk.

"Afternoon, everyone. My name's Rob Nevin; I'll be seeing you every Monday afternoon for the rest of the term for this tutorial class." He looked around the room briefly; most of the chairs were full, and a few stragglers were coming in as he spoke. He handed a pile of photocopies to the nearest student, and indicated with a twirl of his finger that she should pass them around.

"Okay, let's start by introducing ourselves, get to know each other, and I'll go over the basics of the course, okay?" There were some nods from the students.

"Okay. My name's Rob Nevin; just call me Rob. I'm one of Professor Crane's teaching assistants, and I'm teaching a few of these introductory tutorials this term. If you have any questions about any of the material covered in the course, you can ask me in these tutorials, or catch me in one of the lab sessions. I do have office hours as well; my office extension and room number is on the handout being circulated now. Just make sure if you call to ask for me by name; there's four of us in that office. I also answer to 'Sardine Number Three' - it's a pretty small office." He grinned at the teenagers, who mostly smiled back.

"You can also stop me at any time if you need a hand with something, but please don't be offended if I ask you to come back during my office hours - as well as TAing for Professor Crane, I'm finishing up my own PhD, so you can probably imagine I'm pretty busy. We have a joke that PhD stands for 'piled higher and deeper' and let me tell you, that's pretty much true." A few of the smiles turned to laughs, and Rob felt confident he'd be able to teach them.

"Okay, that's me, now what about all of you? We're gonna be spending a few hours in each others' company every week, and these are pretty small groups - so let's get some of the basics down. I'd like you to stand, introduce yourself to me and the rest of the group, tell us what you're studying, how long you've been here, and something random about yourself." He sat back, and gestured to the first girl to start.

The students all stood up, introduced themselves and shared a few personal details. Rob ticked each name off his enrolment list, and amused himself trying to identify what kind of kid each one must have been at school.

Geek... preppy... cheerleader... jock... rebel... another jock... rich kid... another geek... uh-oh. Sick tension curled around Rob's stomach as a dark-haired teen in the back row stood up. Rob didn't need to check his enrolment list to identify the all-too-familiar face floating above a slim body in a scruffy old Flames jersey and battered blue jeans.

"Hi, I'm Artie Geller," said Rob's worst nightmare in a quiet voice. "I'm planning on majoring in chemistry, I moved to Calgary a month ago for school, and," he paused, and smiled almost imperceptibly, "I used to work on a dairy farm."

Rob tried to turn his choke into a cough, and smiled blandly. "Thanks, Artie." He looked at the stocky boy sitting next to Artie, and asked politely "And you?" He didn't hear a word the boy said, lost in a whirl of memories of Attack Jelly, signs reading 'No Frills Milk Store' and 'The Pretzel', and a choleric Charlie Butcher on the verge of a heart attack. He felt a nearly overwhelming urge to call Dennis and tell him he'd be on the next flght.

***

Twelve Hours Later

At 3:43 the next morning, Rob Nevin sat up in bed and howled at his ceiling, "And they want me to let him into a lab full of volatile chemicals?!"

***

Four Weeks Later

Surprisingly, Artie Geller was a model student. Despite Rob's cynical expectations, he appeared in every tutorial, although often rather late. Rob had taken to calling on Artie for answers during Q&A sessions, and throwing the difficult problems to him during labs -- and yet Artie always seemed perfectly poised, ready with the correct answer. It was aggravating, that's what it was, Rob decided absently as he set up the materials trolley for the afternoon's lab session. It was almost as if Artie knew when Rob was going to call on him, and what he was going to ask in advance.

There was a tapping on the open door, and Rob looked over to see Sandy, one of the TAs from the lab next door.

"Phone for you, Rob. Office put it through to our lab by mistake - come and get it." Rob ducked into the neighbouring lab and picked up the phone receiver, but the line was dead. Shrugging, he strolled back to his lab, and walked bodily into Artie as he rounded the corner.

"Oh, hi Rob. Sorry, I didn't see you there." Artie stooped to pick up his textbook, smiling apologetically.

"No problem," shrugged Rob, determined to be the very model of a professional TA who hadn't nearly been fired and/or arrested nine years ago thanks to the eleven-year-old Artie. "I see you've given up your Houdini tendencies, huh?" He forced a chuckle. "I don't think you've missed a single tutorial or lab yet this year. It's like you're a new man."

"Oh, I'm very dedicated to my education," said Artie seriously. Rob thought Artie was possibly the only first year he'd ever seen say that with a straight face.

"Actually Artie, that reminds me." Rob snapped his fingers. "There seems to be an irregularity in your enrolment. The date of birth's wrong - puts you as eighteen, when you've got to be what, twenty-one now?"

Artie looked around, and shrugged. "Nearly." He smiled vaguely at Rob. "Must be a clerical error, I guess. I'll get it sorted out with the office sometime."

Rob nodded. "Good idea. Well, I'd better go and -" he gestured at the lab trolley.

"Oh, yeah, sorry. I'll see you later - thanks, Rob." Artie flashed a sudden, dazzling grin at him. "I didn't say before - it's good to see you again, by the way."

"Uh, yeah." Rob stammered. "Sure, yeah, it is." He gave Artie a half-hearted smile, and ducked back into the lab to finish setting up. Artie ambled off down the corridor, stashing his textbook in his backpack and zipping it closed as he rounded the corner.

***

Three Weeks Later

"I don't know why I have to come to these things," Rob grumbled half-heartedly to Professor Marcus Low, his thesis supervisor. "I'm just a lowly graduate monkey - I mean student."

Marcus grinned at him. "Because it's compulsory for all staff members, and because some poor foolish academic who lacks my good fortune in dodging undergraduates deigned to employ you to teach the aforementioned undereducated miscreants?"

Rob snorted, and then snickered. "Isn't that Doctor Dalek, Professor? The scary Norwegian lady?"

Beside him, Marcus stiffened in his seat and tried to look invisible. "Dalen. God, she's going to ask me to dance, isn't she?"

"Well, she's coming this way. You'd better find an excuse fast if you don't want to be born away by the Valkyrie maiden."

"Hell. I'd make you dance with me, but I don't think the Conduct committee would buy 'I was just avoiding the Valkyrie' as an excuse. I'm going to hide at the bar - you want a refill?"

"Uh..." Rob said intelligently. "Sure. Uh, same again."

"Right. Come and rescue me when she's gone off to find other prey." Marcus launched from his chair as if it were electrified, and made for the bar at full speed. Rob idly wondered if Marcus actually would have danced with him, before he had to remind himself that he wasn't a fifteen year old girl, and also, Tenure committees were not the most liberal of bodies.

A few undergraduate students circled, employed as waitstaff and ushers for the night. One of the girls in Rob's lab group came past with a tray of finger food, and he beckoned her over.

"Hi Rob -- uh, I mean, Mr. Nevin".

He rolled his eyes. "Didn't I say to call me Rob?"

She shrugged. "We're supposed to be 'formal' tonight, they said. Are you having a nice night, sir?"

He winced at the 'sir', and shrugged himself. "Seen one fundraiser, you've seen them all. Uh, look, if Professor Low comes back can you tell him I've gone to check on some experiments I left running and that I'll probably be back later?"

"Sure thing." She picked up his empty glass, and moved on. Rob scanned the room to make sure no-one important was looking his way, and ducked out one of the side exits. Outside, he slipped his dinner jacket off and loosened his tie, wandering along the adjacent walkway. He found a spot on the stairs and plopped down, leaning back against the chilly concrete and gazing up into the clear starry sky.

His contemplation of the mysteries of the universe was interrupted by voices rising from below. He glanced down, and saw Artie Geller and another student - one of the jocks (Mike?) in the same tutorial group, he thought. Both were obviously working at the event as waitstaff, and Rob couldn't help but smile as he compared Artie at 21 with the boy of nine years previous - between the tuxedo, the poker face and Rob's complete inability to work out what made him tick, it seemed Artie Geller hadn't changed all that much. That thought sobered him, as he remembered exactly what Artie had been up to last time they crossed paths.

Obviously the boys were on a break; Artie had slipped off his jacket and hung it off a light fitting, and they were both lighting cigarettes. Artie drew on his and laughed quietly at something Mike said. Unconsciously, Rob tilted his head and shifted a little closer; unbidden, the thought occurred to Rob that Artie looked a lot better in a tux at twenty than he had at eleven.

"...it's gonna be an awesome night, man. 'Sjust a shame you can't come." That was Mike, or Mick, or whoever he was.

"I can't?" That was Artie, and Rob was startled at how unlike him it sounded. It was his voice alright, but it sounded ... different. Richer, sharper, more alive. A lot less polite.

"Oh, I wish you could, man. But they're pretty strict about carding there - none of my friends could get in til they were eighteen. They're really good about spotting fakes."

"Not the kind of fakes I can get. Trust me, it won't be a problem. I'll be there."

"Alright! Way to go, man."

"We'd better get back. Break's over."

Rob stared up at the stars, baffled. Why did Artie's friends think he was seventeen?

***

Ten Days Later

Rob rapped on the door of his office, and fished his keys out of his pocket when there was no answer. Juggling a box of photocopies and his satchel, he got his keys in the lock and swung the door open, and then dropped his satchel on his foot in surprise when he saw a figure already in the room.

Artie Geller was sitting cross-legged on one of the battered old deskchairs, a textbook open on the desk in front of him, and a walkman in his lap. One foot was waggling to an inaudible beat, and he looked up as Rob walked in.

"Hi Rob." Artie was folding away the headphones. "I know these aren't your office hours, but I'm snowed under with this stuff and I was wondering if you could help."

"Snowed under? You're a model student." Rob looked skeptically at him.

"Oh," Artie shrugged. "Not your class - Professor Crane's a great teacher, and I get all your labs and tutorials just fine. Thermodynamics though - I just don't get some of this stuff, and the TAs are never around." He looked up at Rob and cocked his head, smiling hopefully. "I know it's not your class and all, but I was wondering if you could help?"

"Thermo's not my strong point, but sure, I can spare an hour or so. How'd you get in here?"

"Oh, I came a bit too early, and that guy - " Artie gestured at Jared's desk, "let me in when I said I was waiting for you."

Rob shrugged. "Fair enough. Okay, let's see where you're at with this Thermo stuff - which, I hope you know, I swore I would never touch again after I nearly failed Advanced Thermo in third year."

"Thanks, Rob." Artie looked grateful. "You're a lifesaver."

***

Four Days Later

Rob was perched on a stool, colouring in one lapel of his lab coat with a dry-erase marker - which wasn't likely to show, as the whole thing was dyed black anyway. He looked up at the sound of tense voices, in time to see an explosion billow out in slow motion from one of the work benches. He didn't need to check the seating plan to know it was the bench claimed by Artie and his lab partner - which logically meant that the shape huddled (or collapsed, Rob's brain insisted) on the floor was Artie.

Before he could think, Rob was in motion, grabbing Artie and hauling him bodily to the emergency showers. He yanked the release chain and held Artie upright and fully clad under the shower, even as he was checking Artie's exposed skin for burns or other danger signs of chemical exposure. Artie's eyes were closed and his head was lolling; Rob couldn't tell if he'd been knocked out by the explosion, or if there were dangerous fumes at work.

Dimly Rob was aware of heavy footsteps behind him, but he didn't stop checking Artie for injuries or yelling instructions to the other lab assistants, until a heavy hand came down on his shoulder and forcibly spun him around. Rob blinked until his brain caught up: he was facing a burly man in his late thirties, flanked by a younger guy and a woman. All three were in what looked - to Rob's addled brain - like RCMP uniforms. The younger man looked curiously at Artie, before returning his stare to Rob.

"Rob Nevin?" the RCMP officer in front asked.

"Yeah. -- Look, officer, whatever it is, it has to wait. We've just had an accident here, and one of my students has been injured, and--"

"--and that can be taken care of by one of your colleagues. Rob Nevin, you are under arrest for theft and conspiracy to defraud. You have the right to retain and instruct a lawyer without delay. Anything you say can be used in court as evidence. Do you understand?"

Dumbly, Rob stared at them.

"Do you understand?"

"Yes. No! Wait, what? Theft, what theft? I haven't stolen anything! I haven't conspired about anything! I need to be here, I need to make sure my students are all right --"

"Your colleagues can do that. We need you to come with us for questioning now." The Mountie dragged Rob out of the shower. "Come along please, Mr Nevin."

Helplessly, Rob allowed himself to be manhandled out of the room. What theft?

***

Fourteen Hours Later

Rob was beating his head quietly against the table in the interview room. Thud. Thud. Thud. He stopped, blew out a heavy breath, and took stock of his position. Model student? Last seen unconscious after a chemical explosion. Career? Apparently in the toilet, thanks to arrest for theft. Defense lawyer? Missing, presumed absent. Awesome.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Across the table, the RCMP detective was still talking, but Rob had tuned him out at this point. Apparently, if you believed the RCMP, Rob had been stealing chemicals for months, and selling them to drugs labs for use in making street drugs. The case against him was so persuasive even Rob was half convinced.

"Nevin."

"Yes, hello, what?"

"Do you have any explanation for the fact that the stolen property in this photo--" the detective tapped a glossy on the table, "was found in your office?"

"I share an office with three other grad students. We all have TA jobs. There are other grad students and undergrads coming in and out all during the working day."

"It was in the locked drawer of your filing cabinet."

"Ah." Rob sighed. "Then no, I don't have an explanation. And before you ask - again - I don't have an explanation for the fact that stuff went missing from the lab materials room on days when I was the last person to sign the access sheet, either. All I can say is that I didn't do it!" Rob's voice raised on the last two words, and he ran his hands through his hair.

"Look, Detective Mueller, you've gotta understand - a science department's just not that secure. I mean, sure, I sign out that I'm opening up the materials locker. But something might happen - a phone call, or a student comes in to see you, or someone needs a hand shifting a spectroscope, or something, and the door to the materials locker isn't in your line of sight one hundred percent of the time. It may be sloppy, but that's just the way the place works. It could have been anyone's name on that signout sheet."

"But it wasn't, was it? Okay, let's forget about the mysterious appearance of stolen property in your locked cabinet. How about the fraud case against you in America?"

"The what?!"

"Nine years ago? A case against you and your partner - Leaver - for fraud, deception, vandalism, criminal trespass, running an illegal gambling operation, --"

"This is insane." Rob had a sudden vision of Agents Newman and O'Reilly assuring them the whole thing would be buried. "For starters, no charges were ever laid; everything was dropped and private restitution was made. And more importantly, it wasn't us! We weren't the defendants, or the people who did anything wrong, we were just in the wrong place when Arthur Bloody Geller happened to us, and --" Rob broke off, breathing heavily as Mueller stood, flicking a glance over his head.

"You can have a minute to calm down, Nevin. We'll continue shortly." Mueller scooped up his file and backed out of the room. Rob twisted to see what he'd been looking at, and then slid back down into his chair, sinking his head in his hands.

A few minutes later, the door opened, but Rob didn't look up until a throat that wasn't Mueller's was cleared in front of him.

Sitting in the chair opposite was Artie Geller, as infuriatingly relaxed and unruffled as he'd ever looked. He wore an open jacket and a dark shirt, his casual appearance marred only by a sling cradling his left arm.

Before Rob knew it he was on his feet, staring at Artie. His fingers itched to wrap themselves around Artie's throat and throttle him; somehow, this was all Artie's fault. It had to be.

"Ah, Rob?" Artie looked at him mildly. "I can explain, if you'd like to sit down."

Grudgingly, Rob sat, staring at him. "This had better be good."

Unexpectedly, Artie looked sheepish. "I owe you an apology."

"I knew it!" Rob howled in triumph. Then Artie's words sunk in. "Wait - why?"

"I set you up."

Rob could only blink at him uncomprehendingly. Artie sighed.

"Rob? Hello? ...Okay. I'm not a Chemistry student. I'm in my final year of a Psych honours course, at Simon Fraser. Part of the program is an industry placement, and mine's with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

"You're going to be a Mountie?"

"Colloquially, yes, I suppose so."

"And you wound up here at U of C how, exactly?"

"The RCMP was investigating a rumour that someone in the U of C Science faculty had been supplying local drugs manufacturers with precursor chemicals used in opiate manufacture. They needed somebody to investigate, but they didn't have any agents who'd be young enough to blend in with the undergraduate population. I convinced them I was capable enough to do the job."

"But you're only an intern!"

"It did take some persuasion, yes."

"So you're not really seventeen. I'm not going crazy. Good."

"No, that really was a clerical error. The RCMP office was supposed to enrol me as a seventeen year old, but the clerk used my real date of birth."

"Okay, that makes sense." Rob sighed. "I'm not going to like the answer to this question, I bet. But how on earth did I get dragged into it?"

Artie shrugged. "I told you. I set you up. I had to have someone arrested so the real source would feel confident enough to move the stuff they'd stolen."

Unable to take it any longer, Rob laid his head against the table and laughed until he cried.