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The Late-Night Time Travelers’ Philosophy Club

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They didn’t have separate dressing rooms, though they all tended to retreat behind a decade’s worth of clothing racks when underwear was involved. Lucy could’ve asked for a room to be set aside, but she was starting to think that the post-mission conversations were just as important as the missions themselves, as far as the team went.

Wyatt, as usual, cleared out quickly, as competent at putting away his costume as at everything else physical Lucy had seen him do. Rufus lingered until she was at one of the chairs at the side of the room, putting on her shoes. He was looking at her, that sidelong glance and jerk away, then glance again pattern that told her there was something on his mind. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“Oh, sure. I mean, the serial killer didn’t actually serial kill me, which is always a plus. But—I have to ask. You flinched when Wyatt shot Homes, but you knew that was what would happen as soon as you told him the truth. You could have lied, and saved Homes’ life.”

She didn’t know what expression was showing on her face. “And lost Wyatt’s trust when he found out the truth.”

“But that wasn’t the reason you told the truth, was it?” Rufus pressed, his hands twisting in his coat.

She paused, thinking it through as thoroughly as she’d consider a colleague’s question at a job talk. “Actually, it was, at least in a way. You know how much trouble we’ve had with trust. We couldn’t work together if he couldn’t trust me to tell the history that I know. And he wouldn’t be Wyatt—the guy we trust to keep us alive—if he were the kind of man who’d respond differently to the truth about Homes.”

“And that trust was worth the life of a serial killer.” It wasn’t—quite—a question.

Lucy swallowed. She didn’t want to be becoming this person, but then she didn’t want Garcia Flynn to have a time machine and be hell-bent on destroying anything in the way of his revenge quest either. “Maybe. It might be worth all our lives, if Rittenhouse is as evil as Flynn thinks. I wouldn’t have shot Homes. I couldn’t have. But each of us can—and will—do things the others can’t and won’t. It’s what makes us a team.”

“Kind of a scary team,” Rufus said.

“You’re just noticing that?”

Rufus huffed a laugh, somewhere between rueful and freaked-out. “Nah, but I’m feeling it pretty hard today.”

“Yeah, me too.”

She thought that was it, but he gestured towards a particularly heavy clump of coats. Pushing through them felt like going into Narnia. The smell was slightly musty, the thick wool fabric scratchy against her hands as she pushed into a small, darkened space. “Speaking of doing things the others won’t—” he said, close enough that his words went almost straight into her ear, almost like he was speaking inside her head.

“How worried should I be?” Her voice didn’t shake. Maybe that was progress.

He sighed. “I’ve been working on how we can’t exist twice in the same time. And I think I’ve narrowed the problem down. It’s possible—I’m not making promises, but it’s possible—that we could, at least if we were sufficiently far enough away from the other us in physical space.”

Lucy sat up. If they could go back, try again to prevent Garcia from achieving his current successes—“That’s fantastic—isn’t it?”

Rufus hestitated. “Weeeellll, you know how the previous attempt killed the scientist who tried it?”

“Yes, but I presume you’ve got some way around that, or you wouldn’t be thinking of trying.”

“I think I have away around the temporal problem—it has to do with the conditions that exist right at the instant we arrive—but I didn’t get rid of the problem, I just moved it around. If I’m right, then what we’d be risking if we came within sufficient physical proximity isn’t just death but a release of energy equivalent to a couple of nuclear bombs. And not, like, Las Vegas dawn-of-the-atomic-age nuclear bombs. We’re talking about wiping out entire states.”

“Wow,” Lucy said, for want of anything better. The air in their small hideaway had heated with their presence, and sweat was prickling at her temples. Focusing on the physical discomfort was so much easier.

“And now I face the scientist’s dilemma: I have this knowledge. If I build the tech, it could give us the edge we need to stop Flynn, and even Rittenhouse—we could find John, help him give up on his father’s ideology. Worst came to worst, we could just bring him back here and stop him that way. But if I build the tech, it’s also going to be available for the most dangerous uses. It’s a weapon, if you don’t mind sacrificing a person to it, and you know even in our own government there’s people who’d do it.

“ ‘I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,’” Lucy quoted.

“Pretty much.”

“We’re already playing god,” she pointed out. “We crossed that line a while back. And not just Wyatt.”

“Yeah, but—taking out one person, it’s different. Even saving one person. You know it is.”

“I do,” she agreed. “I can’t tell you what to do, Rufus. I can tell you, if there’s anyone I trust to make that decision, who’s seen how this technology can be used for good and evil already, it’s you.”

“Thanks,” he said. She loved that about him, how his social awkwardness wasn’t just nerdery but also deep honesty, discomfort with the social lies that eased the way for so many others. “Anyway,” he said, “do not bug me about this, okay? I promise I’ll tell you as soon I’ve made progress, and I don’t do well with pressure from people who don’t understand the tech.”

“Sure,” she said, and started to push her way out of the forest of coats, telling herself to put any innovations out of her mind for the moment. There was enough to do without banking on a possibility that Rufus would barely have time to pursue.