Chapter 1: 1
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 a way 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.
“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.
Lucy had thought that she’d conquered nausea along with her claustrophobia, but it turned out that discovering that your mother was part of the secret evil conspiracy threatening her teammates and the world—enthusiastically, dispassionately, even patronizingly part of it—was a different kind of nauseating.
After she threw up what little she’d managed to eat that day, she spent the minimum of time possible staring at herself in the mirror, enacting the cliché of the person deceived by everyone they cared about. For someone whose reviews called her books “insightful” and “perceptive,” she’d been a fool. She hadn’t seen any of it—not Rufus’s recording, not how close Wyatt had been to breaking and dragging Rufus along in his desperate plan, and not this. Never this.
It did put a new spin on parts of her life. Like how Mom hadn’t wanted her to leave for the job at the University of Wisconsin, despite its perfection and the prestige of the department. She’d wanted Lucy nearby—being groomed for her future in Rittenhouse. Getting used to being controlled, and Lucy had obediently gone along. Maybe that had been the plan for her sister too, or maybe not given her apparent half-blood Rittenhouse status. Amy had been written out of Rittenhouse’s plans seamlessly, if so. A small mercy, perhaps, to be a casualty and not, like both her parents apparently, a villain.
She didn’t remember the ride to Wyatt’s place. One minute she was staring at her pinched white face in the bathroom mirror that was almost as familiar to her as the image within it, and the next she was knocking on his door, not quite pounding, but not able to make herself stop even as she knew she’d alerted him if he was inside and very possibly all the neighbors as well.
He opened the door with his gun by his side and his mouth open to question her, but she didn’t let him. She fell more than walked across the threshold, relying on him to hold her up as she let herself cry at last.
After he ascertained that Rufus was okay, he asked about her mother, which put off by at least five minutes her ability to speak coherently, but she was at least able to shake her head when he asked if there was an immediate danger. After that, he let her cry, ugly and snotty and completely unhinged, into his shoulder. She saturated the worn flannel shirt he had on over his Army T-shirt, and probably the T-shirt too, but he held her tight and didn’t complain. He was warm and solid and the only stable thing in the world right now. And Rittenhouse might well be planning to erase him, along with Rufus and everyone else who challenged their dominance.
When she was out of tears, she had a pounding headache and no doubt looked about as good as she had when she’d been pulled from the water all those years ago, but Wyatt didn’t let her go until she’d put her hands between their bodies and pushed, gently, letting him know that she really was okay without full physical contact. In the middle of everything, she was still grateful that he was part of her team, a warrior on her side. By her side.
“I’m gonna get you a glass of water,” he said. She nodded, bit her lip and forced herself to breathe slowly, in and out, so that she wouldn’t collapse again. She was so sick of being scared all the time; she knew it wasn’t weakness to appreciate the stakes, but that didn’t alleviate the constant grinding of having to save the world against strong opposition. She drank the water that he brought and blew her nose on the tissues he offered, belatedly, and watched as he double-locked the door and stowed his gun as he’d neglected to do while she was sobbing all over him.
Then she talked.
“I think we were the ones who rescued Lucy from drowning,” Wyatt said, without even nodding his head hello.
Rufus stood, shutting the laptop he’d been typing on. “You know, I should just stop saying ‘what?’ when I hear crazy things in this job, but, what?”
“Hear me out. I’ve been looking into it, and the person or people who pulled her out of the Platte River weren’t at the scene when the EMTs arrived, and they never came forward to claim credit. I think it was us. You were at MIT half the country away, and I was in Afghanistan, so we wouldn’t have blown up anything if it was us. Last time we talked about this, you said you thought you had it, the change that could let us go back to a time we existed. And I think it has to be us.” He paused, and felt himself flush, but he wasn’t going to start lying to Rufus now. “Maybe—maybe I’m not just meant to take care of you now.”
Rufus blinked a few times. “For the record, my life wasn’t in danger on a regular basis until I started time traveling. But I get your point. Lucy said Flynn told her that she aged well, which means future-Lucy went back to give the journal to Flynn, and if that’s how he found out about the time machine in the first place, future-Lucy would have to have the ability to go into a time when she already existed, because Flynn’s family was killed while Lucy was alive. That’s actually part of what convinced me that it could be done. And if Lucy was traveling on her own—‘cause I know neither you or I could stand helping Flynn get started on his path after what he’s done—then we might take trips without her. But why do you think we go now?”
“No time like the present,” Wyatt said, completely deadpan.
Rufus glared, even though that had been legitimately funny.
Wyatt sighed. “Look, we don’t know how long we have before somebody shuts us down again. I say we get in, get it done, get out. Then we know your upgrade works, and we know we’re keeping history right, not changing anything we shouldn’t.” As for Rufus’s perfectly good question about why Lucy would be reaching out to Flynn in the future, he had the stomach-sinking feeling that Lucy might be on her own in the future because he—and Rufus—wouldn’t be there for her, then. Rufus didn’t need his focus pulled by that scenario, though.
At this point, Rufus had enough sway that they didn’t need to get anyone’s approval to take out the lifeboat. Either that, or Rufus hacked his way in. Wasn’t Wyatt’s part of the job, didn’t ask. Lucy probably would’ve insisted that they change into 2000-appropriate clothes, but Wyatt didn’t think there was much of a difference. Rufus didn’t mention the issue either, though he did grab a backpack from the back of a cabinet and tossed some random electronics in.
Rufus talked while he was setting up the lifeboat. He was mostly calming himself, but Wyatt paid attention anyway. Rufus was part of his team and also Rufus deserved somebody to appreciate how smart he was, and Wyatt would have to do. “Just so you know, you, me, Lucy, Flynn, and Emma are probably the only ones who could use this trick without dying. Our bodies and possibly even our neurons—I’m a PhD, not a biologist—seem to be synced to the quantum entanglements that allow us to travel through time. I think that’s why Jia had such a bad reaction but we didn’t when the lifeboat was overloaded.” Wyatt couldn’t see his face, but his voice went strained. “Actually it was her reaction that got me looking for something different about us, and that’s when I figured out that we might have some kind of immunity to the usual effects of timestream doubling.”
“You’re saying, we’ve got time calluses.”
“All right, ew, but that’s not the worst metaphor.” Rufus paused, though his hands didn’t slow their dancing over the keyboards. “I mean, now I really want an actual biologist to check our DNA, not that I’m planning on having kids any time soon but it would be good to know if something’s happened at the cellular level.”
That set Wyatt back on his heels, a little. He’d thought about kids with Jessica, in that generic way: someday, he’d come home to a perfect family instead of a perfect wife. But the agony of losing her so awfully had overridden all that, and he didn’t feel the lack. Well. Like his old buddy said, one problem at a time.
“Okay, strap in,” Rufus said at last.
Wyatt had never minded the feeling of time travel, even though he suspected his team thought that he was only pretending not to notice. He didn’t get carsick or airsick or vertigo or any of that, which was part of how he’d survived training. Time travel was just another attempt by the physical world to make him suffer, and he rejected it.
Rufus put them down in a cluster of trees by the riverside, thick enough to hide the lifeboat from easy detection. “We’ve got two hours before the EMTs arrive at the accident site, and it’s about a thirty minute hike. Also we’re not dead, which I take as a personal validation.”
“Never doubted it,” Wyatt told him, clapping him on the shoulder (not hard enough to make him stagger).
They hoofed it. Rufus was good company when he wasn’t freaking out. Funny how he was nothing like Wyatt’s old Delta Force buddies, except for the ways in which he was completely like them at the core. He’d say it restored his faith in humanity, if he were the kind of guy who said something like that.
“Okay, the road and the river turn about fifty yards away, and that’s where—” Rufus said at last, just as Wyatt held his hand up for silence. He tilted his head, listening to the absence of bird noise in front of them, then gestured Rufus back behind a larger tree. “There’s someone else here,” he mouthed, taking his gun from his shoulder holster. Rufus’s eyes widened. “Wait here.” Reconnaissance on his own sucked, but Rufus wasn’t trained—he really should make him and Lucy spend a few weekends running scenarios when they got the chance—and both of them were safer with Rufus holding back.
Within two minutes he’d counted five guys, all heavily armed. They were setting up what looked like a modified grenade launcher, aimed at the road. He couldn’t take them all, not with only his semi and the backup pistol at his ankle.
He scurried back to Rufus. “I think they’re here for Lucy.”
“Why would someone else be trying to save—oh.”
“I don’t like it, but our best bet is to let them take their shot, then scare them away and rescue her, just like she says it happened.”
“She didn’t mention anything about being run off the road!”
“She might not have seen what caused the accident,” Wyatt pointed out. “If they leave after they fire, I should be able to get her. If I screw it up, can you take us back in the day even further? If I insert ahead of them, I can probably take them out.”
Rufus didn’t get stuck on the fact that ‘screwing up’ in this case meant letting Lucy die. He thought about it for an excruciating amount of time. “If we don’t triple up—two of you in the same area is still bad, even if neither of you are from this time. Then, yeah.”
Wyatt nodded. “Then we wait.”
Rufus frowned. “We should also call in the accident. Nearest ambulance is over 15 minutes away, and she’s due any minute.” He fished in his backpack. “You are so lucky that I am a geek who never throws anything away, including my ancient Sprint phone, which I have been fast-charging for the past hour. Past-me is probably going to yell at the phone company when I see my minutes this month. Remember paying for minutes? I'm gonna insist it's an error: why would a black man from Chicago ever call 911 on a deserted road in Nebraska? That is just asking to get officer-involved shot.”
Wyatt recognized Rufus’s talk as a request for reassurance. “Good idea,” he said, because it was.
Rufus held a quick conversation with the 911 operator—he couldn’t give her precise coordinates because in 2001 his phone couldn’t have had them, but the EMTs would be able to follow the highway. Then they eased forward, Rufus following in Wyatt’s literal footsteps, so they could see the road without being seen. They didn’t have a precise time for the accident, but it would have to be soon.
After a couple of eternities of waiting, Rufus’s cut-off gasp told Wyatt, whose eyes were still in the direction of the unknown hostiles, that a car was approaching. Lucy was driving way above the speed limit—in her twenties and mad, planning for a new life—and for a moment Wyatt thought she’d passed the ambush without incident. Then there was a crack like an IED going off. Her back fender crumpled and the car spun around on the road twice and slewed into the river, on the other side of the road.
Wyatt gripped a nearby branch so hard he felt it break his skin. He couldn’t move yet, not yet. Lucy had three minutes, give or take, before the car filled with water, and a few more after that.
In the distance, sirens. The unknowns finished breaking down the launcher and slipped back into the woods, away from them. Wyatt waited ten brutal seconds longer, then burst into the open, crossing the highway at a full run. Without slowing down, he dove into the river beside the churning area where the car’s air was rising to the surface.
The water was cold and murky, the car barely visible in a cloud of silt and silvery bubbles. Inside, Lucy’s body was slumped away from the window, nearly covered with water.
Wyatt grabbed the hammer clipped to his belt with fingers already numbing. He hit the window in the center, then punched away the remaining fragments. Lucy was still belted in. He held on to the frame with one hand and sliced the seatbelt with his utility knife. He dragged her out, heavy as a fully loaded rucksack, praying that she wasn’t inhaling too much water while he pulled them both to the surface.
As soon as he broke the surface, Rufus was there, helping him get Lucy to the riverside and laid out. Wyatt turned her head to the side. Water ran out of her mouth, but she was unresponsive. Already so cold, or maybe that was him, worse outside of the water where the wind could steal even more warmth from them. He began mouth-to-mouth; after the second round, she coughed and started breathing on her own.
“Oh thank you Jesus,” Rufus said beside him. Wyatt now had time to notice that he was shaking with cold, and that Lucy was a kid. Face softer, less formed than the one he knew; the remnants of some extreme eye makeup on her lids; a streak of purple in with the sodden black of her hair. Eighteen years old and already halfway through a degree at Columbia, so the kid was a genius, but still: strange, to see this young girl, like looking at what Lucy’s own daughter might be some day.
“If she’s gonna be okay, we ought to go,” Rufus said quietly.
“Right,” Wyatt agreed, recollecting himself.
Rufus started setting up the return trip. Wyatt was already strapped in, dripping on the floor. “Plus side, we know my trick works with those of us who’ve been synced. Minus, someone was trying to kill Lucy before she could grow up and overthrow Rittenhouse. Plus, I guess, we know that.”
Wyatt grunted, or tried to, but his teeth were chattering. They hadn’t done much in the way of environmental controls for the lifeboat, so Rufus couldn’t turn the heat up for him.
His calculations worked better when he put something else at the top of his consciousness. Fortunately there was a good candidate for discussion: “Rittenhouse doesn’t have me, so they don’t know they have the ability to go back to when their people already existed, and I doubt they sent enormous 14-year-olds on this murder mission, Spy Kids notwithstanding. Which would mean that some part of Rittenhouse survived long enough to rebuild, years in the future, and they’re trying to restore their past glories.”
Wyatt’s silence took on a different flavor—the ‘that’s bad news’ kind of silence, which overall Rufus disliked more than the ‘Rufus is wacky but tolerable’ silence. For the five hundredth time (though technically for the first time during his lifetime), Rufus wished that he didn’t know about Rittenhouse.
He was almost to the initiation sequence when Wyatt spoke. “Lucy’s mother hasn’t been arrested, has she?”
He wouldn’t have thought that in a million years, but then again he didn’t have a mom who wanted to be the queen of evil. “It doesn’t have to be her,” he said, sounding unpersuaded even to himself. “It could be some other faction. She might even help us, if it’s between her daughter and some future Rittenhouse she’ll never see.”
“Yeah,” Wyatt said, with an inflection meaning that’d be a cold day in hell. Rufus wished he could disagree. “Hey, think Lucy will be mad at us for going back without telling her?”
“Oh, no, I’m sure she’ll be totally chill. You know, the way she always is about everything related to her family.” Rufus hit the switch, and they were off.
Lucy was not chill. There was yelling, even after Wyatt pointed out that she couldn’t have gone and that knowing would only have made her worry, after which she explained—somewhat louder than Wyatt would have preferred—that she would have worried a lot more if Rufus and Wyatt had just disappeared, as if for example they’d been caught by whoever had been trying to kill her.
She had a point. It wasn’t exactly a secret kept. But “exactly” was for lawyers.
So he didn’t fight when she demanded the ability to go back as well. After grilling him and Rufus extensively about their travels, she took them to 2009, just outside New York City, and headed into town with a thick file folder.
“Why 2009?” he asked, when Lucy returned. He hadn’t felt the need to wander around, had a sort of superstitious fear of encountering someone he actually knew.
Lucy let him help her buckle up while she talked. “Twitter was founded in 2006, but 2009 was the year it took off. It was also the year ‘sexting’ entered the American vocabulary, after a few false starts years before.”
“What does that have to do with Rittenhouse?”
Lucy ducked her eyes. “That’s not what I was trying to stop.”
She was the first out of the door when they returned, nearly breaking an ankle in her hurry to get to an unoccupied computer. She typed a few words, then collapsed into a nearby chair in relief. She would have sent it rolling off of the platform if Wyatt hadn’t grabbed onto the back. “Huma Abedin didn’t marry Anthony Weiner.”
Rufus looked at the screen she’d abandoned. “Hillary Clinton is the president,” he said, as stunned as when he’d met other actual presidents.
“Huma Abedin didn’t marry Anthony Weiner,” Lucy said. “It was the smallest change I could think of, and it worked.”
“Articles of impeachment have already been introduced,” Rufus pointed out, leaning past her shoulder and scrolling fast. “Plus, fake news is still a big thing.”
“But we’re not going to drop a bomb on North Korea any day soon. I am a historian, and I have seen that man’s kind before.”
“No argument,” Rufus said. “I just hope you weren’t planning on a feminist utopia.”
Wyatt wasn’t sure what he thought about any of this. He hadn’t voted, disgusted by them both. But they’d seen up close what the misuse of power could do, and he trusted Lucy’s judgment. Still— “This can’t go on. Changing things we don’t like, because we can.” He grimaced. “I know that’s rich, coming from me.”
But Lucy and Rufus were nodding. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Rufus said. “I have an idea about that, now that I have the data from our last trip. Give me a few hours. Go, I don’t know, go be somewhere else.”
“Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner had a kid together, and now they don’t,” Lucy said into her cup of coffee. They were at a quiet corner in one of those not-quite-Starbucks places that dreamed of being the neighborhood hangout. Lucy’s back was to the room, and Wyatt’s back was to the corner, angled so that he could see past her and jump into any fray that materialized. At least Wyatt was staying the same, through all the changes of the past year.
Wyatt was also perceptive enough to follow her logic. “Like your sister.”
She nodded, lips tight. Whatever moral duty she owed that lost child, she’d decided that other lives that would exist in both timelines were more important. Was it different to kill someone than to make sure they never existed in the first place? It had to be, otherwise—otherwise what was the point of all this? “I want Amy back for selfish reasons, for me, but—it’s not like with Jessica. I know that now. The absence of a possibility isn’t the same thing as the destruction of a living person. I don’t want to be making that choice for Amy, but—it’s more important to help the people who are here. I still want to save her if I can, but we have to make sure Rittenhouse is done first.”
After a moment, Wyatt reached across the small table and took her hand in his. “We will.”
She typed out a quick email to her mother. Stiff, though truthfully not more formal than they’d usually been with each other, before she got sick. Lucy asked for a meeting, on neutral ground.
Her mother must have been truly concerned, or eager to get Lucy on board the Rittenhouse train, because she called almost immediately. “I’m at a lovely restaurant right now,” she said immediately, without a greeting. “I’ll give you the address.”
When they came through the door of that indeed lovely restaurant, Lucy was surprised to see her mother bracketed by younger men in stiff suits. Guards, she realized: they stood the same way Wyatt did, as if they were only waiting for the violence and their jobs to begin. Wyatt, who’d guided her inside with a hand on the small of her back, dropped his arm and edged slightly in front of her.
“Sit down,” her mother invited; there was a chair already pulled out. One chair. She glanced at Wyatt, who shook his head minutely.
“I’ll stand, thanks.”
Her mother sighed, then smiled, the remote one that she always used when talking about Lucy’s accomplishments to other people. The one that said ‘I know Lucy’s not living up to her full potential, but we’ll pretend that she is because after all even her mediocre efforts are better than most people’s best.’ She felt a stab of anxiety, still wanting Mom’s approval after all she knew, and then a moment of hoping against hope that in the world where there was an Amy, Mom had left Rittenhouse. Maybe this wasn’t how her mom was supposed to be.
But this was how her mom was.
The woman herself sipped from her wineglass and pressed her napkin to her lips. “I was hoping that we could have a real discussion about what comes next for you.”
“And for Rittenhouse?”
Her mother snorted, delicately. “I raised you to make a difference in the world, Lucy. I don’t know where you got the idea that the difference would come without any collateral damage. You are a historian, after all.”
Lucy squared her shoulders. “I study the past so I can understand it, so we can learn how to do better. Not how to do worse.”
“And is American history so fine that it couldn’t do with a few changes?”
Did her mother know about their latest journey? How was Lucy any different from her, given what Lucy had done? Other than not wanting to rule the world in secret.
Lucy stayed silent long enough that Wyatt jumped in, reminding Mom that he was still there. “Not Charles Lindbergh changes. Kinda the wrong direction, moral arc of the universe-wise.”
“Really, Mr. Logan. You should know better, even with only a basic education. History is written by the victors, and we intend to be the victors. Don’t hurt her,” she said.
Wyatt was moving forward before Lucy even understood that she was talking to her companions, and that those orders had specifically exempted Wyatt.
The guards closed in on him, but Wyatt yanked the tablecloth off with one hand and grabbed the wine bottle with the other. Before the flatware had hit the floor, he’d wrapped the tablecloth around the head of the one on his left and bludgeoned the one on his right. As the wine bottle casualty fell, he turned to his white-wrapped victim and put him in a chokehold until that one stopped scrabbling at Wyatt’s arm around his throat.
The restaurant was silent with shock, but people were raising their phones, whether to call the police or put this on YouTube Lucy didn’t know.
Wyatt was panting but otherwise unharmed. “We should go,” he said, which snapped her out of her paralysis. She could freak out that her mother was willing to kidnap her later.
They grabbed a cab to the light rail station, a destination that Wyatt explained was based on his evade and escape training. Just in case Rittenhouse still had an in with surveillance technologies, they ditched their phones; Wyatt also changed into a tourist T-shirt, while Lucy grabbed a matching rain jacket and hat. Then it was off to Oakland, a ride that gave her the time she needed to resume her freakout.
Her mother was … insane didn’t seem to be the right word. Her mother was a megalomaniac, raised into a tradition she couldn’t see past, despite how corrupt it was. Lucy had to revisit everything she’d ever been told, from her mother’s contempt for religion to the way she’d always disparaged state universities. Rittenhouse had given her nothing Lucy had ever seen, in this timeline or the original, but her mother still believed, so much so that she’d be willing to hurt Wyatt and do God knew what to Lucy to protect it. Maybe that was why she’d taught Lucy and Amy that religion was a comforting lie told to the weak; her God was already present on earth.
“Are you okay?” Wyatt asked.
Lucy dragged her gaze away from the outside world whizzing by. “I should be asking you that.”
He shrugged. “They weren’t exactly at Flynn’s level.”
“I should be grateful that she kept it a secret from me, I suppose,” Lucy said, not quite able to meet Wyatt’s eyes. “But that means my life has been a lie. How can I even know she wasn’t involved with my accident? She might be on the phone with whoever else is left of Rittenhouse even now, setting it up.”
“Hey,” he said, and put his hand on her knee. “Bad people can love other people. What I saw was a woman who wanted you on her side. I don’t think she’d do that. And we’re going to make sure that the people who would, aren’t able to do anything other than take a walk in the prison exercise yard.”
She covered his hand with her own and they went the rest of the way like that, in a silence that almost managed to comfort her.
In Oakland, they walked for a while and then found a bodega that sold disposable phones. A call disclosed that Rufus was at the facility, under Agent Christopher’s protection. She advised the two of them not to come in, but not go back to their homes just yet, for the same Rittenhouse-evading reasons Wyatt had cited. It was a good thing Lucy was in the habit of carrying a couple hundred dollars in cash, just in case.
They ended up in a motel worse than any she’d ever encountered for an academic conference, though Wyatt insisted that it was far better than the average for Afghanistan.
Lucy dumped her jacket and hat on the table by the door and eyed the lone queen bed with distrust.
Wyatt followed her eyes and ducked his head, misunderstanding. “Sorry—I wanted to save cash, and I don’t want you in another room in case we’ve been followed. I’ll take the floor.”
“The floor might be cleaner,” Lucy noted. “But no, don’t be ridiculous. I trust you with my life, I think I can trust you with a bed.”
Wyatt’s lips curled. When had he moved so close? God, his eyes were blue. Clear as ice, but kind, now that she could see beyond the bravado. “And what if I have … designs?”
“Designs?” she repeated, as if compelled. Her skin was coming alive, tingling, ready to be touched.
“On your virtue,” he said, still with that twist of amusement. Letting her back away, if she needed to.
“I thought I was the historian,” she managed. “How very nineteenth-century of you.” She licked her lips involuntarily and saw his pupils dilate. “Maybe … I have designs of my own.”
She moved; he moved; they avoided an embarrassing collision only by accidental grace. And they were kissing—
This is the explicit chapter; skip straight to the next and miss no plot.
Lucy put her hands on his shoulders, which she now had to admit she’d been admiring for a very long time now. They were even better up close, solid and warm and perfectly curved, only his shirt keeping their skin from touching. His hands circled her waist, then slid lower, giving her plenty of time to decide what she wanted to do about it.
What she wanted to do about it, as it happened, was hitch her legs around his, letting him hold her up. She hadn’t realized how sexy it was that he was so strong. Historians didn’t generally date men who could bench-press them. He was breathing hard, but she didn’t think that was because of the effort of holding her up. His fingers curled against the backs of her thighs; her hips were surging towards him, every cell yearning for him.
He turned them easily, taking two steps towards the bed, and she tore away from the sweet heat of his mouth. “I was serious about how terrible that bed looks,” she managed between gasps.
Wyatt snorted and shook his head. “I can work with that,” he said, and spun them again, which only increased the feeling of free fall, like time travel except without the nausea. When her back hit the wall, he urged her legs down so that she was standing again.
He dropped immediately to his knees, looking up at her almost worshipfully. He was even more beautiful from this angle, all tousled hair and his angelic eyelashes and model-perfect stubble, grinning up at her as widely as she was grinning back. He lifted one foot and removed her sensible pump, running his thumb along her arch. She groaned and leaned back into the wall, feeling more like he’d just stroked between her legs. He guided her foot to the floor, then repeated the process with the other foot.
Maybe it wasn’t fair that he was so good with his hands, she thought deliriously as he effortlessly found the fastenings in the back of her skirt, but she was not going to complain. He slid the skirt down to puddle around her feet, his hands pressing along the outside of her thighs. It felt deliciously naughty to be standing in front of him in just her shirt and panties.
Then Wyatt bent to nuzzle at her through the panties, and she wasn’t thinking much for a while after that.
When she could see again, they were both shirtless and she’d lost the panties; the scrape of the lace of her bra against her nipples was nearly painful, so she shrugged it off while Wyatt fumbled—fumbled!—with his belt.
He stopped, and his face contorted in what looked like agony. “I don’t—”
“I use an IUD,” she hurried.
“Thank god,” he breathed, and then they both laughed uncontrollably, Lucy bending at the waist as she covered her mouth with her hands. But then Wyatt rose, and everything was very serious again. “Let me look at you,” he requested. Lucy brought her hands down, self-conscious, and had to close her eyes as she flattened her palms against the wall. “You’re so beautiful.” His hands curved around her breasts and he moaned at the contact, which made her arch into the touch. His mouth found hers, salt-sour with her own taste, and his hands came down again, pulling her into his body and the hot press of his erection.
He pulled back. “You okay?”
For that, she had to look at him. “Yes.” She hadn’t even known sex could feel like this—so good, but also safe. “I trust you,” she said, realizing how deep that truth went even as she said it.
His eyes softened, even as he somehow lowered himself and used his knees to spread hers wider. “Just remember,” he said, “you were the one who didn’t trust the bed.”
He pressed up slowly, giving her time to adjust as he entered her, then hitched her legs up around his hips and pressed her back against the wall.
“Oh my god,” Lucy said drunkenly, and he chuckled—until she squeezed her thighs and pushed her shoulders back into the wall, pushing her chest up. His hands cupped her ass, squeezing just hard enough to send shocks of heat through her. She grabbed onto his shoulderblades for extra stability. Then he began to thrust in earnest. Every twitch pressed her down against his powerful thighs, like living metal, inside her and around her, above and below.
Her orgasm this time lasted even longer. Wyatt watched her almost unblinking, mouth open like he was seeing a miracle. When she was all but melted against him, he bent even further, until she was practically sitting in his lap—so damned strong; another pulse of pleasure spiked through her just from realizing it. Three more thrusts that knocked her shoulders against the wall and he stiffened, groaning low and long.
They both staggered as he let her feet touch the ground, but since Lucy was braced against the wall she reached out and held on until he caught his footing. They grinned helplessly at each other until it got weird, at which point Lucy began pulling him towards the bed. “We should get some sleep,” she suggested.
“I thought the bed was gross,” Wyatt protested, not with any heat.
“It is. I just don’t care any more.”
He chuckled and followed her down, curling around her so that they could both sleep.
The good thing about having a mathematical problem so complex that it could barely be comprehended was that it kept you from worrying about your good friends, who you’d sent out into the world where they apparently came under threat by the remnants of Rittenhouse, including one of said friends’ mother, which truly sucked for Lucy.
Anyway, Rufus was glad to be working on the problem of destroying time travel. He wasn’t sure when he’d last slept, or eaten anything that didn’t come out of the staff pantry, but he was making good headway when Agent Christopher tapped on his shoulder and told him that Lucy and Wyatt were coming in. “By the way, what are you working so hard on? The mothership hasn’t moved in days—I know it’s distressing that it’s still out there, but you can afford a break. I sent everyone else home for one.”
Rufus swallowed. “I’m trying to figure out what happened to Jia,” he said, and then felt twice as bad as if he were just lying. If organic damage had truly been done, he wasn’t in any position to fix it—he wasn’t a TV scientist, expert in a baker’s dozen of fields—but he could’ve been doing something, working with doctors maybe to identify exactly what had been done to her.
Agent Christopher nodded, satisfied (at least someone was) and wandered off to do something law enforcement-y, or so Rufus assumed as he returned to his work.
Eventually, he heard the unmistakable sounds of Lucy and Wyatt talking to Agent Christopher, and then even as he saved his work, the familiar whomp-whomp of the—holy crap, it was the mothership! He got up from his terminal, ready to beat a strategic retreat to behind the men and women with guns, only to see that the bad guys had already materialized behind his team. Of course, with a time machine you could have perfect timing.
Emma emerged from the mothership and nodded at the other bad guys, some of whom were busy tying up everyone but Lucy—so nice of them to avoid killing, and yet not reassuring in the slightest.
“Hi, Rufus,” Emma said. “I don’t suppose I need to tell you that your friends will get hurt if you try anything.”
“You really don’t,” he said, raising his hands.
It was quiet for a while as Emma went into the lifeboat, presumably copying the modifications Rufus had made to allow double-timing. Rufus wanted to look back to see what was going on, but no one was crying out in pain and he had the feeling that Being a Hostage While Black was also a thing that happened, so he didn’t want to risk any moves that might be misunderstood.
Finally, Emma emerged, grinning widely. She came up to stand in front of him—great, a gloater. “We owe you a huge thank-you, actually,” she said jauntily. “We have a mole in Mason Industries, and we know when you were on your last couple of trips. What on earth were you doing in 2009?” Agent Christopher’s audible gasp indicated that she, at least, hadn’t known that. “I guess we’ll get it out of you eventually.”
Lucy spoke up from behind him. “You’re going to use the mothership to go back a few years and erase the storage cubicle full of material.”
“Got it in one!”
He turned; Lucy was standing by the entrance to the main room, her face pale with fear, her body with the stiffness she got before she remembered her bravery. Behind her, Wyatt was sitting, hands behind him and legs cuffed to one of the heavy chairs from the conference room. He looked even more murderous than Agent Christopher did beside him.
Lucy backed up until she was standing in front of Wyatt. “You’ll have to kill me to get to them,” Lucy said.
Emma smiled at her. How come Rufus had never detected the crazy in her? Connor, Anthony, now Emma—they’d all betrayed him one way or another. He was going to get a complex.
“It doesn’t matter,” Emma told Lucy. “After we make enough changes, we’ll get to a timeline where the two of us can be friends. Come on,” she said to her companions, and they began trotting towards the mothership, guns still trained on the four of them.
Even then, he almost opened his mouth, almost told them what would happen to the people who weren’t time travel veterans—which was to say, all of them but Emma. They were working for a bad cause, but they may have had their reasons. Like Anthony had for working with Flynn. They probably thought they were the good guys—but then again, so did Bull Connor.
If he didn’t speak up, their deaths would be on him.
If he did speak, Rittenhouse would figure out another plan, and on and on.
Rufus looked away, so he didn’t see the mothership leave.
“What the hell was that?” Agent Christopher demanded, even as Wyatt’s chair splintered and disintegrated. Wyatt immediately contorted himself so that his handcuffs were in front, and Lucy wordlessly handed him a bobby pin.
“Yes, I figured out how to travel to times in which we already exist,” Rufus said. “But not for everyone. Anyone who hasn’t already had significant time travel exposure is gonna die horribly, which means that Emma is going to be alone in a mothership full of dead men.”
Agent Christopher blinked at that, and Lucy looked taken aback as well, which reminded Rufus that he hadn’t explained that part to her. “There’s no way Emma didn’t do something to keep the lifeboat from going after them,” he said, and fled to check, leaving Lucy to help Wyatt free Agent Christopher.
Sure enough, the instrument panels were a mess. She’d gone for pure physical destruction, no viruses. He’d be at least four hours fixing it, so he might as well get started.
It turned out that repairing damage done by a Rittenhouse operative wasn’t as good for blocking thoughts as examining the deep structure of time. He kept freezing, thinking of the people who’d volunteered to test going back only a few years. The expressions on their faces. The cleanup crews after.
“You okay? You haven’t moved in two minutes,” Wyatt said from his seat. He’d declared that he would be guarding the lifeboat, though mostly he was just holding pieces in place until Rufus had them screwed in properly.
“I let them go when I knew what would happen. That was, what, ten men? We’ve got to destroy time travel, if only so I don’t have to make these decisions any more.”
“I knew too,” Wyatt said. “I could’ve told them, same as you.”
“You know, for a military man, you are a remarkably sensitive person,” Rufus told him, which was as close as he could get to thanking Wyatt for the solidarity just now.
By the time Rufus was finished, the operation had been restaffed—that break Agent Christopher had granted hadn’t lasted very long—and they had a new location for the mothership. Out west, 1900.
“There was still a Western frontier, barely populated, even though it was shrinking,” Lucy explained. “Emma seems to have a preference.”
They all knew they had to go get the mothership. Without another pilot, they’d have to stuff the lifeboat into the mothership, but since that had been the original plan for the lifeboat, there’d be room. Especially if no one else was coming back with them.
Wyatt was in a killing mood when they found the mothership in the Arizona Territory. Lucy wasn’t of much of a mind to dissuade him, but that turned out to be unnecessary. The mothership still smelled of death, which she knew from all the wars they’d visited—a stomach-turning mixture of bodily fluids of all kinds. But other than that, it was empty, and the same destruction had been visited on the electronics as had been the case with the lifeboat.
Emma was in the wind, which Lucy considered to be a smart move under the circumstances. Emma might try to let Rittenhouse know what to expect, but she was only a woman and Lucy didn’t think Rittenhouse was doing much listening to women at this point. Maybe after suffrage and the first big wave of white feminism, when their daughters demanded equal access to elitism, but not yet.
The mothership was designed to carry the lifeboat, as Rufus had promised, but he had neglected to mention that this design assumed a modern engineering shop that could disassemble the lifeboat and pack it away. Also, Rufus first had to move the electronics from the lifeboat into the mothership, with what looked to Lucy like a disturbing amount of jerry-rigging.
They set up a shelter next to the mothership while it aired out and spent a backbreaking week taking apart the lifeboat. Lucy didn’t entirely embarrass herself when helping to carry heavy objects, so she was going to call it a win, especially since they were all by now familiar with what people who didn’t have access to showers and deodorant smelled like.
At night, Lucy and Wyatt retreated to the other side of the mothership, letting Rufus have the fire to himself and staying warm in other ways—“like a screen door in a hurricane,” Rufus might have said under his breath, but Lucy was very good at not hearing things like that and Wyatt just grinned at him.
By the time they were ready to go back to the future (heh), Rufus had a plan mostly figured out. The principles Rufus had used to double up their presences in the timeline could, in theory, also be employed to screw up the timestream enough that the technology should no longer work. If he had the math right, but hadn’t he proved that he was the world’s resident expert on time travel? He didn’t mention to the others that his plan required him to go back a few hundred years in time to finish, in order to set up the necessary resonances across spacetime. Breaking time travel would leave him stuck in a past even less hospitable to him than the present was.
They were all more than ready to go back to hot water heaters and indoor plumbing by the time everything was packed away in the mothership. (It was actually the process of storing the lifeboat that had given Rufus the last clue—doubling the mechanism, if done in the right way, could work like doubling a person, except on the currents that they used to travel up and down the timeline rather than on the physical body.) Rufus was definitely going to miss indoor plumbing when he went back for the final time.
“Any last words for the twentieth century?” Rufus asked as he prepared to send them forward.
“The past is a foreign country, let’s go home?” Lucy suggested.
“Amen to that.” Wyatt’s hands lingered a bit longer on Lucy’s safety harness now that they’d gotten together, which was sickeningly cute. Rufus shrugged and launched.
He thought the trip home should’ve felt different, after all they’d been through, but it was the same disorientation as ever. Wyatt and Lucy lingered, probably whispering sweet nothings to one another, but Rufus wanted to get back and check on Jia, who had still been under observation at the hospital when they left.
Rufus stopped as he came out of the mothership, because there was an extra person waiting for them. She seemed familiar—and then he recognized her, from all the pictures he’d seen in the newspaper articles he’d reviewed. Jessica Logan.
Wyatt noticed her just after he’d helped Lucy down from the exit. As they approached the others, she ran down the stairs and into Wyatt’s arms. He oofed with the impact, and she kissed him like he was in Top Gun. Wyatt hesitated for half a second, then disengaged and kissed her cheek. To Rufus, he seemed stiff and stunned, but Jessica didn’t react as if he were doing anything strange. Rufus looked over at Lucy, who was visibly struggling to control herself. It was easier to look at Jessica and Wyatt, who were now hand in hand. Wyatt’s face was alternating between disbelief and tender affection, like a flickering TV screen.
Rufus opened his mouth, then shut it. It didn’t matter what they’d done that brought Jessica back; it mattered that they’d done it. In his peripheral vision, he could see Lucy drawing herself up to her full height, drawing in, putting on the mask of the distant professor. It was the kindest thing she could do for Wyatt, and the kindest thing Rufus could do in return was pretend that it was working. At least one of them was going to get their happy ending.
“Congratulations, team,” Agent Christopher said. “I think we can say that your mission was an unqualified success.”
“Of course,” Lucy said, only a bit more thinly than usual. “Once we save Amy, everything will be exactly the way it should always have been.”
Rufus nearly winced at the reminder that his plan was going to wreck Lucy’s chances of reconstituting the best part of her family. He was going to hurt her, probably worse than Jessica Logan’s resurrection had. The worst part was knowing that she’d countenance it, if he made her. She knew the stakes. Which was why he wasn’t going to make her choose. This was a burden he’d have to bear on his own, now and in the past.
No more Rittenhouses. No more Jias, brains torn apart in an attempt to stop them. Only forward from now on, no do-overs. It wasn’t great, but humans had been dealing with those kinds of linear consequences for centuries. In a world that could produce Mom and Kevin, Lucy and Wyatt and Jia, even Agent Christopher and Connor Mason, that would have to be enough.
He was thinking about traveling to Africa and trying to found Wakanda. The thought was as terrifying as it was exciting. The best-case scenario was that he would have to “discover” penicillin and a whole bunch of other semi-modern conveniences without more than a college-level understanding of pharmaceuticals and plastics. (Solar power, instead of oil—get it right, and he could stop global warming before it started.) Even if he succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, though, there’d still be no one to play Halo with and he wouldn’t be around to get Kevin through college and launched into manhood.
But there was no question: as between himself (and even his family) and the whole world, he had to vote for the world. He was going to go home and say goodbye to Mom and Kevin. And then he was coming back here for the last time.
He’d always thought of piloting as a kind of weaving. This would be ripping the seams of time. And if he ended up torn loose as a consequence, well, everything had its price.
Lucy’s hand circling his wrist, gripping tightly enough to hurt, shocked him out of his reverie. “Lucy?”
She leaned in, speaking softly enough that no one else could hear. “I know what you’re planning. I’m no engineer, but after what you said I can guess what’s required to seal up the timeline. Wyatt would get it too, if he weren’t—” She made a frustrated, self-deprecating sound. “What I meant to say was: I’m coming with you. You won’t be alone.”
“Lucy? Rufus?” Agent Christopher’s voice was sharp, concerned. Her instincts were very good. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” Lucy said, a smile in her voice—here and now, she was the lecturer who could capture the attention of whole auditoriums full of undergraduates, the researcher who could convince you of her interpretation by the sheer force of her own conviction. “Rufus and I just have a little more work to do.”
Agent Christopher stared at them, then glanced back at Wyatt, who was deep in conversation with Jessica at the other side of the room. Clearly deciding that, without Wyatt, they were unlikely to get in too much trouble, she nodded and turned to leave.
“Don’t,” Lucy said before Rufus could open his mouth. “Just—don’t. Now that I know about my mother, there’s no way we can risk letting her find out about us when she’s younger. Amy is gone. And you know you’ll need a historian where you’re going.”
Rufus wouldn’t have minded a Special Forces operator, either, but he wasn’t going to say that. “I need to go home first.”
Lucy nodded. “I’ll pack.” More hesitantly: “For when, exactly?”
“Eighteen seventy ought to do it,” he said. He sure hoped so, anyhow.
She raised her chin. She was as terrified as he was, Rufus realized, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her. “I don’t need a historian where I’m going,” he said, and hurried so that she wouldn’t misconstrue him. “I need you.”
Her eyes glittered, but she didn’t protest.
Lucy loaded the lifeboat with as much era-appropriate currency and gold as she could scrounge up, as well as extra clothes for the both of them. They could go to Europe, she thought. There were places it wouldn’t be as bad for Rufus to travel with her, though nowhere would be completely safe. A complicating factor was that neither of them spoke German (the language of scholarship at the time), and her French had gotten her through the GRE but wouldn’t last two sentences of spoken conversation. The question of where to live was a diverting problem, and she needed that right now.
When Rufus returned, the devastation in his face kept her from doing more than offering a smile of sympathy. If he wanted to talk about the people he’d left behind, she’d be there and then.
“Do we need any other equipment?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Strap in, I’ll close up.”
If her hands shook while she was fumbling with her seatbelt, Rufus wasn’t going to judge her for it. The door started to swing closed on their old life—
And there was an arm blocking the way. “Ow!”
Rufus quickly hit the release button.
“The hell,” Wyatt said, swinging in all the way. “That door tried to break my arm!”
“This isn’t an elevator, it doesn’t automatically open,” Rufus said, then shook his head. “What are you doing?”
Wyatt plopped himself down across from her and reached over to redo her straps. Her nerveless hands fell to her sides, letting him work. “I know you’re both smart, so I know you didn’t think I was gonna let you strand yourself in the past without me.”
Lucy swallowed. She forced her fists to unclench. “Jessica—no one expects you to—”
He shook his head. “You’re my team,” he said simply. Then he closed his eyes and turned his face from her. “Anyway, it turns out—she can live without me just fine.” Lucy could feel that there was a story underneath that simple statement, but she wasn’t going to hear it right now. “So, we gonna blow this pop stand?” He finished with her buckles, but didn’t withdraw his hands all the way.
After a moment, she reached up and gripped his hands in her own. They couldn’t go backwards in their own personal timelines, but they could go forwards.
“Let’s go fix time,” Rufus said, and they were off.