“Is that how you got onto us?” asked Henry 1, the older of the Henrys.
“No, it was murdering the not-quite-three-year-old,” said Lilah. “Kind of got my attention.”
Henry 1 tried to slap Henry 2 on the head, but was restrained by the hold spell over the cease spell. “Idiot,” he muttered. “Anyway, who are you actually and why are you allowed to hold me?”
“I work for the Violet Council, as I told you. No further explanation is necessary or forthcoming. It’s bad to murder children in their sleep. Your friend here did it using time travel. That makes it my business. Now you can answer my questions some more. What did you do to the worms? Did you modify them, or did you get them that way from somewhere, or what?”
The Henrys looked at each other, then looked down, shaking their heads in identical gestures. “They were collapsing that whole universe, weren’t they?” said Annelise.
“And it wasn’t a quick job,” said Rob.
“Yeah,” said Lilah. “And it’s kind of hard to figure how that could be part of an ecosystem, you know? Like, they couldn’t very well have evolved to do that.” She glared at the two men, who seemed oblivious. “Come on,” she said after a minute, “it’s not like you’re going to get off easy with me because you didn’t talk.”
Another short pause filled with glare, and Henry 1 gave in. He sighed and shook his head again. “It was a stupid idea. But we tried all sorts of things, and nothing seemed to fit the bill.”
“And the bill it was supposed to fit was?”
Henry 1 looked at his younger counterpart, Henry 2, who said, “We couldn’t let it be, don’t you get it? We couldn’t let Andre seduce our Lucy and run off to start the revolution and get them both killed and—we just couldn’t.”
Lilah stared at the younger Henry, thinking: I already knew what he did. So why is it shocking? What she said was, “Sure you could. Lots of people do. Lots of people lose in love. Lots of people lose in love and don’t go killing toddlers and destroying universes. Isn’t that true?” They both looked away. Henry 2 presently looked back and found her glaring at him, a scary smile on her face. “So. Those worm things never evolved to eat the substance of reality. Did you tweak them?”
“You have to understand,” Henry 1 began.
“No. I don’t. I am not listening to anything after those four words, from now on. So try again. Did you tweak them?”
“No,” said Henry 1.
“Not ourselves,” said Henry 2.
“It’s not really my area of expertise,” said Henry 1.
“Whose is it?” asked Lilah.
The Henrys looked at each other, and Henry 2, the younger Henry, muttered, “Parkavan.”
“Park a van?”
“Parkavan,” said Henry 1. “Parkavan. It’s a person. A wizard, a nature alchemist actually.”
Henry 2’s eyes caught fire. Henry 1 said, “Well, actually, yes, but not as such.” Lilah almost interrupted, but he went on: “No, okay? No. No, he would be a different kind of nature alchemist, one who worked with—!”
“Worms,” said Annelise. “Parkavan. Yeah. He was one of the five, the five at the Shakaran Institure who worked with worms. He was exiled. He was supposed to be the one with the most knowledge, as opposed to the one who dumped the worms on the front lawn.”
“Oh, that Parkavan,” said Lilah. “Go on. How’d you find him? How much did he know? And so on. Oh. Lucy said you had a grant, a long-term grant. I’m going to guess it was from Henry 2.”
The Henrys looked at each other again, but it was hard to believe they could still conspire at all. “He came to me,” said Henry 1. “He talked me into it. And of course he had money, as do I, from our family. So he gave me a large, um, fund, a sort of fellowship, and then came back every ten years or so to see how much progress I had made. Or not made, as the case usually was.”
“And your assignment was to collapse the entire universe where Andre still existed, to make it so he really never did exist. Because anything short of that would leave someplace, in some history, where he ran off with Lucy. And you couldn’t handle that. Unlike most of your fellow human beings, you couldn’t handle the idea of your girlfriend breaking up with you and taking up with someone you didn’t approve of.”
“He broke the law,” said Henry 2. “He time traveled. He came from the future already knowing how to take her from me.”
Lilah rolled her eyes, which the two Henrys were content to watch without comment. She said, “Yeah. So just to correct your misimpression, going back in time and romancing your girlfriend before she’s married to you, that’s not a crime. Killing him as a toddler because he would grow up to be a guy who would do that: that’s a crime.”
“Not to mention,” said Annelise, “destroying a whole family of histories.”
“Yeah,” said Rob. “So I need that filled in a bit, okay?”
“Well,” said Henry 1, “if I may?” He looked around, but no one was interrupting him. “So,” he went on, “we had decided that the thing to do was to eliminate those histories in which Andre’s parents even came to Olvar. Now I had hoped we could just sort of cancel them out, you know, slap some brick on one path of the bifurcation in time, make all the history go the other way. And I was good, I am very good at time mechanics, ask anyone, I’m a natural temporal alchemist. But I could not crack that problem. And of course it’s all very hush-hush, I can’t go share research with my colleagues. So I went nowhere. I spent at least thirty years with that problem in the back of my mind. Of course I was doing other things as well, but—!”
“You were snogging my Lucy,” said Henry 2, “bastard.”
“No, correction, I was snogging my Lucy. The one who actually did say no to Andre.”
“Okay, okay,” said Lilah.
“So,” said Rob, “at some point you gave up and—!”
“I was in a bar,” said Henry 2. “A disreputable bar in a disreputable world, little piece of manure called Gagdas-4. There was this guy, he was also an alchemist, he was a nature alchemist. So we got to talking. Turned out he was from Shakaran, he was in on this famous incident with these worm things, well, he was in on the research. I showed some interest, and he told me about Parkavan.”
“And you went and found him,” said Lilah.
“I did. I found him and I brought him here.”
“And he did the work for you? This Parkavan?”
“He did excellent work,” said Henry 2.
“We saw. We saw what excellent work he did. And where is this Parkavan now?”
“Oh,” said Henry 2, “somewhere you won’t find him.”
Lilah came very close to the two Henrys, just brushing up against the seal around them. She leaned down and gazed into Henry 2’s face. “Oh,” she said, “isn’t that just the kind of stupid thing people love to say to me.”