The real lesson of time travel, Wyatt had learned, was the fragility of some events and the seeming inevitability of others. Stop a stranger on the street to ask them for directions and you might set off a chain of missed encounters that would prevent the birth of a future president. Or a beloved sister. Try to save a journalist from a terrible, fiery fate or prevent your wife's killer from being born and you would discover that some deaths seemed to be fixed points, hideous dark knots impervious to every weapon you could bring to bear.
Or maybe he just lacked the right weapons.
"Rittenhouse has the mothership," she said, words tumbling out in a rush as if she were trying to get the taste of them out of her mouth. "Wyatt, my mother—my mother—is one of them. She's part of Rittenhouse."
For a moment, he was sure he'd heard her wrong. "Wait, are you sure? How?"
"She told me herself. She says that Rittenhouse has an agent on the inside. That they're taking the mothership so that they can reshape history into what they want." An edge of anger crept into her voice with the last words, and his lips quirked involuntarily. Trust Lucy to be more offended by a threat to history than betrayal by her own mother.
It was a hell of a betrayal, though. All those months of her mother feigning concern about where Lucy was and what she was doing, pressuring Lucy to come clean, and she'd known the truth the whole time? And why reveal it now? Why give the game away? Unless, of course, they were pretty damn sure they'd already won.
Well, it wasn't the first time Wyatt had dealt with someone who was prematurely confident in their victory.
First things first. "We need to get people there. There might still be a chance—"
"I already called Agent Christopher. She has people on the way to secure it, if they can." Her stress on the last three words made it clear just what she thought about their chances. Given the circumstances, Wyatt couldn't disagree. If they were going to stop Rittenhouse, it wouldn't be there.
He grabbed his jacket and headed toward the door. "Where are you now?" He'd pick up Lucy first if she needed it, he decided, and then see if he could pry Rufus away from Jiya's bedside. They'd have to be ready to launch the lifeboat as soon as they knew what time period Rittenhouse had taken the mothership to.
"I'm still at my mother's house."
She didn't say "home," he noticed. Not anymore. "Can you leave?"
She was silent for a moment. "I don't know," she said finally. "There's a car out front that hasn't moved all evening. I don't think that's a coincidence."
"Probably not," he agreed. "Sit tight; I'm on my way. And, Lucy, be careful."
"I think I’m okay as long as I don't try to leave," she said. "Whoever she is, whatever she's done, she's still my mother. I don't think she'll hurt me."
"It may not be up to her," Wyatt said, sliding into his truck. "I'll be there soon."
He returned to the back of the house and tapped lightly on the door. It opened immediately, revealing a relieved-looking Lucy. He opened his mouth to ask how she was doing, but before he had the chance to speak, she had stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder. She was trembling, he realized as he tightened his arms around her, pulling her a little closer. "Hey, are you okay?"
She shook her head. "No," she said, stepping back. "I'm not." She took a deep breath, visibly steadying herself. "Come on. You need to see this."
He followed her into the house, both of them moving quietly to avoid detection by her mother. She led him into a large room near the back of the house—her mother's office, he guessed, looking around at the crowded bookcases that lined every wall and the enormous wooden desk, covered in papers and a slightly incongruous-looking laptop, that dominated the centre of the room. Lucy headed straight for the desk and leaned over to type something into the laptop.
"Once we hung up, I started looking through my mother's notes. I was hoping to find some hint of when or why she started working with Rittenhouse. Instead, I found this." She gestured toward an open document on a computer, and an array of handwritten notes spread across the desk. Wyatt glanced over them, recognizing most of the names as various prominent politicians past and present, including multiple US presidents.
"She has biographical details, analyses of their positions, long-term implications of their careers—everything you'd need if you were going to try to reshape history by influencing major political figures," Lucy said. "I think this is what they're planning. This is how they're going to change the past."
"We have to let Agent Christopher know," Wyatt said, mind racing with the implications as he looked over the documents. It wasn't just American politicians on the list; they apparently meant to remake the entire world. "If they know when Rittenhouse is going, they might be able to get there first."
"I've already taken pictures of everything I could find," Lucy said, holding up her phone. "As soon as we get out of here, I'll start forwarding them to her."
"I really wish you hadn't found this, Lucy," said a voice from the doorway.
Their heads jerked up simultaneously as Carolyn Preston stepped into the office, looking cool and composed and faintly disappointed. In her right hand was a Glock 9 mm. From the way she held it, Wyatt suspected she knew how to use it.
"It really was unspeakably careless of me to leave all of that lying around," she continued. Her tone was regretful, but her hand, Wyatt noticed, was steady. "On the other hand, I wasn't exactly expecting my own daughter to snoop around and spy on me." She gave Lucy a reproachful look, as if Lucy were somehow the one in the wrong here.
Lucy's eyes were fixed on the gun in shock and horror. "Mom," she said, hands raised in supplication, "you don't have to do this."
Her mother's expression softened. "Lucy, you know that I would never, could never hurt you."
Bullshit, Wyatt thought, remembering the pain in Lucy's voice when she'd called him and the horror that lingered on her face even now despite her mother's reassurance. Carolyn had already hurt her daughter a dozen different ways today.
Her gaze shifted over to Wyatt as if she'd heard him, and with it came the muzzle of the gun. "The master sergeant, on the other hand, is another story. I don't want to shoot him—I know you're fond of him and I know he's saved your life and I'm grateful to him for that. But I'll pull the trigger if I have to. So please, both of you, don't make me."
"I don't understand any of this," Lucy said desperately. "I know your work; I know you. How can you support what Rittenhouse is trying to do?"
Her mother sighed, like a patient teacher trying to instruct a slow student. "Your father wanted me to raise you in Rittenhouse, you know. Introduce you to it as a teenager, the way most of us learn about it. But I knew you. You were always a good, reliable daughter, but only if you weren't pushed too far. And you'd picked up some ideas along the way that I knew would present a problem. I told him we needed a more subtle approach. That you would outgrow it as long as you were properly directed. " She ran her free hand along the nearest shelf, caressing the spines of the books. "I thought encouraging you to study history would help. That you'd see for yourself that this is the only way things can be." She let her hand drop and took a step closer. "The world is full of suffering, Lucy. If the study of history has taught you nothing else, surely it has taught you that. And we have a privilege very few can claim: We can do something about it."
"By oppressing people? By letting one small group decide everything for everyone?"
"One worthy group, yes," her mother said. "The best people, with the best minds. A true meritocracy."
The gun was still pointed in his direction, but Carolyn's attention was clearly on her daughter. Keeping an eye on Carolyn, Wyatt slowly reached backwards until he made contact with the bookcase behind him and then felt along it until his fingers found the spine of what seemed like a good-sized book. He tugged the book forward carefully, freeing it from the hold of the surrounding books, and shifted his weight, ready to take advantage of the first opening he saw.
"The world is on the brink of disaster," Carolyn was saying. The gun wavered as she spoke, drifting downward just a little. "Something has to—"
Wyatt moved, shouting a warning to Lucy as he yanked the book free and hurled it at her mother. From the corner of his eye, he saw Lucy duck down as he rushed toward Carolyn, fast and low. The gun went off as he grabbed her arm, bullet flying harmlessly over his shoulder into one of the bookcases. He twisted her wrist until she was forced to drop the gun, feeling a brief, vicious satisfaction when she gasped in pain, then seized both of her arms, pulling them back—just in time to hear the front door slam and a clatter of heavy footsteps coming down the hall.
He spun toward the entrance, letting go of one of Carolyn's arms to reach for his own weapon. He got his gun free and aimed at the door just as a group of armed men appeared in the doorway. The gunmen moved like professionals, flowing smoothly into the room and spreading out in disciplined fashion to cover both Wyatt and Lucy. There were six of them—too many for a shootout with no cover and no exit, Wyatt decided. He began to shift his aim from the nearest gunman to Carolyn's head, banking on her being valuable enough to Rittenhouse that they wouldn't risk her. Then he looked back at Lucy, who was leaning on her mother's desk, watching everything with wide, wary eyes.
Whatever she's done, she's still my mother.
He lowered his gun with a grimace, releasing Carolyn's arm and setting his weapon on the ground. He raised his hands as he slowly straightened up again.
"It was a good try, Sergeant," Carolyn said as she moved over to join the gunmen. "But I'm glad to see you're smart enough to recognize when the odds are against you."
Lucy came over to stand beside Wyatt. She no longer looked horrified, just resigned. "Now what?" she asked.
"Now we put the two of you somewhere safe until we're done."
He twisted in his seat far enough to see a third car pull up behind them, then turned back to look at Lucy. She gave him a shaky smile, and he smiled in return, trying to convey reassurance. She didn't look too bad, considering, he decided. Worried, yes, but also calm and alert. Ready for action in a way that she wouldn't have known how to be when they first met.
She leaned closer as the car started to move. "I had no idea my mother even knew how to use a gun," she said quietly.
"You were right about one thing," he said, tilting his head toward her. "She wasn't willing to shoot you." He even thought Carolyn Preston had believed it when she said it, although he wasn't sure how far that position would hold if push came to shove. In his experience, true believers had a way of justifying what they needed to.
Lucy didn't look particularly comforted. "Before today, I wouldn't have thought my mother was capable of shooting anyone. But apparently I don't know her very well."
"Maybe you did," he suggested. "Maybe the woman you grew up with, the mother you remember, wouldn't have been capable of this. Maybe we—or Flynn—changed more than just your father marrying someone else."
"But she was still Rittenhouse all along. She said our whole family is Rittenhouse. Both sides of my family."
"Yeah, but maybe she broke away in our original timeline. Maybe that's why she never told you about it."
"I think we both know that no one breaks away from Rittenhouse and survives," Lucy said. "Not unless they're prepared to go into hiding, which my mother clearly never did."
"There are other ways of resisting," he said. "Your grandfather found a way. Maybe your mother did too, in our reality."
"Maybe," Lucy agreed, giving him a look that suggested she knew what he was trying to do. And then her expression shifted, eyes widening with realization. "If that is true and something we changed made her into this…God, Wyatt, do you think they'll do that to us? Change the past so that we're happy little Rittenhouse soldiers?"
They might try it with her, he thought. He couldn't imagine that anyone would bother with a poor boy from West Texas. And really, they probably wouldn't have to. If Rittenhouse managed to create a reality where they controlled the country, controlled the government, there was a good chance he'd serve them willingly, never having known anything else. His stomach clenched at the image.
He pushed the thought aside and shook his head his head. "Remember what your mother said. She didn't tell you about Rittenhouse when you were younger because she knew you'd never go along with it. I don't think there's anything they can do that would change who you are that much."
The agents pulled them out of the car and began marching them toward the building. Men from the other two cars followed behind, guns drawn. Wyatt considered their positioning, calculating the odds, but it was six to one and he had no idea how many people were inside the building or who else might be watching. He kept walking.
It wasn't until they were inside the building that it became clear why the building was so large: They'd needed the space for the mothership.
They must have been planning this for a while, he realized, looking around. The room was a near duplicate of the one at Mason Industries, down to the line of computers populated by techs along one side of the room. The similarity was almost eerie. It must have taken months, he thought, and remembered what Lucy had said about an inside agent.
Their escort prodded them in the direction of the mothership. As they approached, a redheaded woman broke away from the small group gathered nearby and walked toward them. She was oddly familiar looking, and after a moment, he realized why.
They still had photos up of her, back at Mason Industries. Emma Whitmore, the lost pilot.
"Rufus is going to be so disappointed," he said as she stopped in front of them.
Emma ignored him. "Lucy, it's nice to see you again."
Judging by her expression, it wasn't a sentiment Lucy returned. "So you're Rittenhouse's inside agent."
"It makes sense," he said. "They knew they needed a pilot and having one of their own is more reliable than extorting someone else into doing it. She might even be the reason they knew what Mason was up to in the first place."
"Yeah, but what I don't get is, why the act? You spent years hiding in the past. Why would you do that if you weren't hiding from Rittenhouse?"
Emma's mouth curved into a pleased smile. "What better proof that I wasn't working with Rittenhouse? And what better way to get everyone, including Flynn, to trust me?"
"You spent ten years living in the past to create an alibi?" Wyatt said. "What the hell did Rittenhouse do to you to convince you to do that?"
"It worked," Emma said with a casual shrug, as if ten years in a cabin in the woods was nothing more than a minor inconvenience. She looked past them toward their escort. "Get them inside the mothership. We need to get going."
"Wait, what?" Lucy said. "What are you planning to do with us?"
Emma was already heading toward the mothership. "Your parents want you safe and unable to interfere," she called over her shoulder. "What better place to guarantee that than outside of the time in which we're acting?"
One of the men behind him shoved him forward, and Wyatt felt a spark of hope. Could Rittenhouse really be stupid enough to release them in the past?
"Don't worry," Emma added. "I'll come back for you when we're done." She disappeared inside the mothership.
"She's right," Wyatt said as their escort shoved them forward. "You shouldn't worry. Look at it this way: You were concerned about who we might become if Rittenhouse succeeded in altering history. At least if we're in the past, we know we won't change, no matter how much the world does."
The mothership was bigger than the lifeboat, with plenty of room for an armed escort to accompany them. Wyatt noticed that that didn't stop them from shackling both him and Lucy hand and foot before taking their own seats.
"When are you planning to drop us off?" Wyatt asked Emma as she began to power up the ship. He glanced down at his jeans and jacket. "We aren't exactly dressed for the past."
"Don't worry, you won't be there long enough to run into anyone," she said. "I should be able to time this to pick you up a few minutes after I drop you off."
"Just in case," he said, "maybe you can make it someplace where we can speak the language."
"I think I'm going to let it be a surprise," she said, and flipped the final switch.
They were in a wooded area—probably Western Europe, from the trees, but he couldn't even begin to guess at the year. Presumably nothing prehistoric, he thought dryly, or the foliage would probably be a little different.
Once they were out of the mothership, the agents who had escorted them withdrew back inside.
"Come on," he called, raising his still-cuffed hands. "You can't leave us like this."
"You want us to take them off and have you ready to put up a fight when we come back?" Emma said from the door of the mothership. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"It's going to be hard enough to explain who we are if anyone finds us," Lucy said. "Do you really want them to think we escaped from prison?"
"I'm sure you'll be fine for a few minutes," Emma said, and closed the door.
"Great," he said, glancing down at his wrists. "I assume you still don't have a hairpin."
"No, but will this do?" Lucy asked, holding out a paperclip.
"Nice," he said, taking it from her. "Where did you get that?"
"My mother's desk. I grabbed it as soon as I realized we didn't stand a chance of getting away."
"Good work." His cuffs fell from his wrists, and Lucy held out her hands. A minute later, they were both free.
"We need to get going," he said, gathering up the two sets of cuffs.
"Where do you want to go?" she asked. "We don't even know where we are."
"Anywhere they can't find us," he said. "Lucy, they've left us in the past. This is our chance to prevent Rittenhouse from doing everything it's about to try to do. If we can warn Rufus and Agent Christopher, they might be able to stop them."
"Of course," she said, understanding dawning. "We can lead them right to the mothership."
"Exactly," he said, beginning to walk.
"But how do we do it?" she asked, falling into step beside him.
"Any way we can," he said. "We'll write letters and leave them with a big law firm to mail out in the future. Send telegrams. Lock up things in banks. Whatever it takes.
"We don't even know if they have banks or telegraphs in this time," Lucy pointed out. "We have no idea where or when we are."
"Then we'll carve it in stone if we have to. We will find a way."
They walked in silence for a few minutes.
"You know, you've tried this before," Lucy said eventually. "It didn't work."
"Back then I was trying to change our present," he said, as if he hadn't been worrying about the same thing. "Maybe it's different when you're trying to preserve it. Anyway, we have to try. Unless you want to go back to a future where Rittenhouse runs everything."
Wyatt stumbled through the door and collapsed onto the room's sole bed. He vaguely recalled being more exhausted during Delta training than he was now, but only a little. And at least that had had a definite end date.
Lucy was already there, sitting at the tiny table where they ate. She twisted in her chair to face him.
"I've been thinking," she said. "How concerned do you think we really need to be about paradoxes? We've been trying to time our messages so that they arrive after you and I were sent here, because if Rittenhouse never steals the mothership, it shouldn't be possible for us to be here to warn them. But do we even know if we end up in the same reality when we change things? Maybe we aren't changing things at all; maybe we're just slipping between already existing realities. I mean, apparently there's a me who apparently fell in love with Noah and agreed to marry him, but I don't remember any of that. What happened to the woman who did all those things with him?"
"I don't know," he said, closing his eyes. "Maybe she just disappeared."
"So you're saying my arrival killed her?" Lucy said.
"Maybe she took your place in our reality," he said. "Or everyone got shoved sideways somehow."
"Those are all horrifying possibilities. But anyway, I was thinking that maybe after Rittenhouse has the mothership is too late. Maybe there's nothing anyone can do then. Or maybe Emma didn't go back to the present at all after dropping us off. So if we send them a warning a little earlier—"
"Uh-huh." There was something to that, he thought. If he could just get a few minutes of sleep, he'd be able to follow the conversation. Maybe figure it out.
He felt the bed shift as Lucy sat down beside him. "This isn't working," she said.
He forced himself to open his eyes. "I thought we were doing pretty well."
"I'm serious," she insisted. "We can't keep this up."
"So am I." He turned on his side to face her, propping his head up on his hand. "We've got clothes, a place to live, food."
"We stole the clothes," she said. "We're living in one room, with one bed."
"You're the one who said it would be better if we pretended to be married." Not that he had fought her on it. He'd rather liked the idea when she had suggested it. It had seemed like a promising opening to continuing the conversation they'd started back in 2017, before all of this had happened. Of course, that had been before the realities of daily life in nineteenth century London had set in, and before he understood that, for whatever reason—concerns about Jessica, her own feelings, or just not wanting to upset the delicate balance of her friendship with the only other person from her era, not to mention the person she shared a single room with—Lucy had no intention of picking up that conversation again.
"It is better this way," she said. "And the bed is fine. I mean, it would be better still if bathing were more of an option, but—"
"Hey!" he said. "If you put in a full day on the docks, you wouldn't come out smelling like a rose either." Showers—and indoor plumbing—were definitely way up on the list of things he missed.
"Trust me," she said emphatically, "it's not just you. I've been thinking of picking up some of that horrible rose perfume that Mrs. Wilder was wearing, just to have some variety in how I stink. Anyway, it's not about the room."
"Then what?" he asked.
"We're supposed to be doing more than surviving here, and look at you. Look at us. By the end of the day, we're both too exhausted to even figure out how to get a message to the future, let alone travel around and plant them. We need something new."
"We've haven't done that badly," he said. "We've left messages for Agent Christopher. And Rufus. Even Connor Mason. One of them will work."
Lucy shook her head. "If they were going to work, don't you think someone would be here by now? It's time travel; it should basically be instantaneous. I think we need to be more creative in how we send them out. Or maybe we need to leave the messages somewhere else. But we can't do that while we're living like this. Face it, Wyatt, we need new jobs."
"Doing what?" he asked. It had taken him a little over a month to get promoted up to foreman—fluent literacy and basic organization skills were somewhat scarce on the docks—but he didn't think those skills were particularly rare among the middle class professions. "I don't think I can exactly go join the army here. And you definitely can't go work in a university."
"I was thinking of something else," Lucy said. She held up a piece of paper—a copy of the Daily Telegraph, he saw. The top headline was dedicated to the theft of a diamond necklace belonging to the Duchess of Wellington.
"You're suggesting we become jewel thieves?"
"No, I'm suggesting we catch jewel thieves," she corrected him. "I think we should be private detectives."
"It's still a new idea in the 1880s," Lucy said. "People know about it, but just barely. We're two years away from Sherlock Holmes. There's an opportunity here. And it would give us more money and an excuse to travel—all the things we need to send messages to the future."
Wyatt had decided early on not to worry too much about not changing the past. Preserve the big events, sure, but when just looking at someone could the wrong way could change history—the metaphorical flutter of a butterfly's wings—then he didn't see any point in stressing about all the ways he could be changing things by carrying anachronistic weapons into the past or even the occasional killing.
Despite all of that philosophical acceptance, he couldn't help but balk a little.
"Wouldn't we be changing the future?" he asked. "If we're solving cases that weren't solved before—"
"I know," Lucy said, "But everything we do changes the future. Every job you or I take is a job someone else doesn't get. Money we earn is money they don't earn to feed themselves or their kids. This room is one that whoever was supposed to get it doesn't have. Just saying hello to people might be changing things. There's no way to live in the past without changing it. All we can do is hope we don't change things too much."
"It still seems different," he said. "I mean, whoever would have had my job probably found a different one. But solving crimes seems like it could do a lot more damage to the timeline."
"As much as Rittenhouse plans to do?"
"All right," he said, admitting defeat. "How do we get started? Why would anyone hire us when they don't even know what a private detective is?"
"Because," Lucy said determinedly, "we're going to solve one of the most famous cases ever." She held up the newspaper again.
"You want to find out who took the necklace."
"I already know who took the necklace," Lucy said. "So do the police. What we're going to do is prove it."
"Oh, I don't know," Wyatt said as they took their seats. "I think it suits you."
She gave him a dirty look "Want to trade?"
"I'm not sure I could pull it off," he said. Around them, chairs scrapped and voices chattered. At the edges of the room, waiters hovered, waiting to begin the service. He leaned in a little closer and lowered his voice. "How long until the police get here?"
"According to the newspaper reports from this time, they arrive right as the oysters are being served."
"And you're sure they won't find the necklace? I mean, if this guy is as notorious as you say—"
"They won't find it," Lucy said confidently.
"But you definitely know where it is."
She gave him a brilliant smile. "Oh, yeah."
Arranging their first case had been a little easier than Wyatt had expected, largely because Lucy had managed to strike up an acquaintanceship with a lady's maid who worked for the daughter of the Duke of Sutherland, and through her, with Lady Cecelia herself. Lady Cecelia, it turned out, was passionately interested in the newfangled notion of investigating crimes, and when she'd learned that Lucy and Wyatt might be able to solve the case of the missing diamonds, she'd insisted on helping them, up to and including arranging their invitation to dinner and loaning them the money needed to buy the clothes to dress the part. Her only request had been that she be allowed to witness the conclusion to the case, which was why she was down at the end of the table, chatting gaily with their host.
"She knows that he's going to remember she's the one who got us these invitations, right?"
Lucy followed his gaze. "I don't think she's too worried about it. The daughter of a duke can afford to burn a few social bridges."
The police did indeed arrive as the waiters were bringing out the oysters. There was an excited stir among the guests when their presence was announced, but otherwise, people remained surprisingly calm, carrying on the conversation as if nothing was happening.
Wyatt waited in his seat with the rest of the guests, trying to keep an eye on what the police were doing while keeping up his end of the conversation.
The oysters had been cleared and the soup brought out before the police announced that they were done. From their disappointed expressions, they were clearly leaving empty-handed.
"Wait," Lucy called as they started to leave the room. She pushed her chair back and stood up. "Inspector, I believe there's one place you haven't yet looked."
The guests fell silent, all eyes turning toward her. After a moment, the inspector spoke. "And where might that be, Madam?"
"Why, in Mr. Grantham's bowl, of course."
The silence held while the inspector, looking skeptical, ordered Grantham's bowl emptied, but it shifted to full-on applause when a triumphant constable held the missing diamonds aloft.
Grantham was surprisingly cordial about the whole thing. "I really didn't think anyone would find them there," he told Lucy as he and the police waited for his guests to leave. "How did you know?"
"It's quite simple," Lucy replied. "There wasn't anywhere else to look."
After the Duchess's diamonds, cases started to flow their way, as Lucy had predicted. Mostly thefts at first—cases that boggled the police, or items too small for the police to pay much attention—but gradually other cases crept in. Adultery, of course—that staple of all PIs. A few suspicious deaths. And the ones that Wyatt found most challenging, child abductions.
His favourite parts of the cases, oddly enough, were the stakeouts where he and Lucy got to talk—odd because they were together most evenings with plenty of time for conversation. But stakeouts somehow seemed to encourage a kind of honesty that general social conversation did not.
That was how he learned about Lucy’s doubts about her chosen profession and about the university she was teaching at, and the way her mother had manipulated both. It was how Lucy learned about what he and Jess had been fighting about the night that Jess died—the stupid, typical military spouse problems, and the deeper underlying issues that they’d never been able to bring themselves to discuss—and how he'd woken up one day and realized that Jess really and truly was gone and that nothing he did was going to bring her back, and that the sun was going to keep on rising anyway. It was how he heard about Lucy’s father, the man she’d considered to be her father, and how he’d finally told her a little about his own, and about how he got out just as fast as he could.
Lucy never brought up what he’d said in 2017. Wyatt didn’t push it. They only had each other out here, and if he lost that, he had no idea what he’d do.
In-between cases, they continued to leave messages for the future, and continued to receive no reply.
"If nothing else," he said one day, "you'd think they'd notice all the stories about us in the newspapers. I mean, we've been front-page news like three times now."
"First they'd have to know to look," Lucy said. "They have no way of knowing that we're even stranded in the past, let alone when. Besides, as far as they're concerned, the way things are now is the way things have always been. As long as we avoid getting our photos in the paper and don't use our real names, they have no way of knowing it's us. And of course, we can't let them use our photos—"
"—without leading Rittenhouse straight to us," he finished. "I know. So we stick to the original plan."
"You said it yourself," she said. "Sooner or later, it has to work."
It was worth it, though, for the reunion between mother and son. After she'd finally let go of her son long enough to speak, she had thanked them profusely, tears streaming down her face. "If there's anything I can ever do for you, please don't hesitate to ask," she told them, grasping their hands.
On their way home—a full three rooms now, with a bedroom for each of them—Lucy looked thoughtful. "Maybe we've been going about this the wrong way," she suggested.
"What do you mean?"
"We've been relying on institutions to get a message to the future because they have continuity. But there are only a few that survive from now until 2017. That's limiting our options."
"Okay," he said. "But what other choice do we have?"
"People," Lucy said. "Families. I mean, every person alive in 2017 has ancestors who are alive right now."
"And you want to recruit some of them?"
"You heard that woman today," Lucy said. "We have a bunch of clients who are very grateful to us. Why not give them with our letters, and tell them to pass them on to their children and children's children until it's time to mail them?"
"You realize a lot of them may not have any descendants in 2017, right?"
"We only need one to get through," she said. "I don't suppose your ancestors are still here now?"
Wyatt shook his head. "You don't want to rely on my family for this."
"You definitely don't want to rely on mine either," she said.
"Then I guess we're going to be relying on the kindness of strangers."
They were halfway through writing the first batch of letters when he had his second idea. One ask for one little favour, he told Lucy, when you can ask for so much more?
Most of their clients looked at them oddly, but nearly all of them agreed to the request. Yes, they would hold on to the sealed envelope and pass it, and the mailing instructions, down to their children. If there were no children to pass it on to, then it would go to whomever inherited. And one day, the letters would be mailed.
"Maybe we'll start a new fad," Lucy said. "Like time capsules. Everyone will start writing letters to be posted in the future."
Lucy had nodded somberly. It was easy to forget sometimes that Rittenhouse was actively looking for them, that Emma must have already returned and realized they were gone.
"Do you ever wonder what we'll be returning to?" she asked. "I know we tried to time it so that they'd get to the mothership right after Emma returned from dropping us off, but what if they don’t? What if we get back and we're the only ones who realize things have changed?"
"Then we'll find a way to fix it," he said, with more confidence than he felt.
Wyatt had trouble sleeping the night before the first meeting date after handing out the letters, plagued by the kind of nervousness he hadn't felt since his first year in the army. Instead he checked and rechecked his guns—period appropriate for once, since that was all he had access to—and went through his mental list again, making sure they weren't leaving behind anything they shouldn't.
He told himself that he shouldn't be so confident about this attempt when dozens of previous attempts had failed, but the truth was, this one felt different. More optimistic, somehow, perhaps because of the personal connection. Of course, it wouldn't be personal in 2017; it would just be an odd, inexplicable request from some long-forgotten ancestor.
Still, it felt like it would work.
Early Sunday morning found them in a field outside of London, well hidden from any observers.
"How long?" Lucy asked.
"Ten minutes," he said. "If they arrive on time." If they arrived at all, but neither of them said that out loud.
"I'm going to miss this," she said, looking around the meadow.
"Which part?" he asked dryly. "The corsets? The lack of hot showers? The constant male condescension?" He was exhausted from the way men treated her, and he hadn't been the one dealing with it.
"The getting to spend all of our time together," she said. She sounded a little defiant, as if she weren't quite sure how he'd respond. As if he hadn't basically told her how he felt months ago and a century from now.
If hearts could stop and breath continue, Wyatt would have sworn that was what had happened to him. He smiled at her, buying time, trying to find the right words not to frighten her away. "You decided to wait until we were leaving to tell me that?" he said at last, playfully. He hoped he sounded playful. "Lucy, we've been pretending to be married for months."
From the way her eyes brightened, he thought he'd pulled it off. "Yeah, with no showers," she said, matching his tone.
"There's plenty of hot running water where we're going. And no one who carries if two unmarried people are alone together."
"So when we get home—"
"We'll talk," he said. His internal clock ticked. He glanced at his watch—brought out of storage along with the rest of their twenty-first century gear—for confirmation. "It's time."
They both shifted to their knees, taking care to stay out of sight. Wyatt drew his gun, and they waited.
In the meadow beyond, a familiar shape materialized out of nowhere. The mothership.
"Oh, no," breathed Lucy.
Wyatt tightened his grip on his gun, and gestured for her to start backing away. As he began crawling himself, he wondered where their system had broken down. They'd tried to choose carefully which clients received the letters, avoiding the ones that seemed ripe for recruitment by Rittenhouse, but clearly they'd failed. Which family had betrayed them, he wondered.
They both froze in their retreat at the sound.
"Oh my god," Lucy whispered. "That's Rufus."
They exchanged startled, delighted glances, and then Lucy stood up and ran towards the mothership. Wyatt held back for a minute, waiting to see if anyone else emerged from the mothership, but Rufus's wide grin at the sight of Lucy convinced him. They were going home.
"I take it you got our letter?" he asked as they settled into the mothership.
"Letters," Rufus corrected him. "We must have gotten half a dozen of them. And listen, I don't know what else you guys did back here, but we also had a fifty different people show up with information on Rittenhouse on the same day, and three of their own people turned out to be double agents. They basically stood there and let Agent Christopher in when she went for the mothership. I don't know how you did it."
"That part was Wyatt's idea," Lucy said.
"I just figured if Rittenhouse could set up a whole network through time, we could do the same," he said. "An anti-Rittenhouse network."
"Well, it worked," Rufus said. "Whatever we didn't get from Lucy's grandfather, we're getting from your people. There were a few pockets we missed before, but it looks like we're going to get them all this time." He turned around in his chair. "So, are you guys ready to go home?"
Lucy reached across and clasped Wyatt's hand. "I think it's time," she said.