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4.

“So do we arrest him now—? Where’d she go?” asked Rob.

He and Annelise turned and saw Lilah walking away. The two pursued her around a bend in the hall, and then, down the next extent of hall, saw no one but a pair of students sitting on the floor outside an office, studying. Rob and Annelise started down this stretch of corridor, and then Rob realized he was alone. Looking back, he saw that Annelise had stopped at an open office door five meters behind him. She beckoned him.

Through the door was a small, bare office. Lilah Bay stood at the window looking out. “Come in and shut the door,” she said.

“Whose office is this?” asked Rob.

“No one’s. It’s a spare. It’s ours now.” She turned her dark eyes on them. “Questions?”

“So it’s definitely Salagon, right?” asked Annelise. “It’s definitely the guy Lucy went back with after she couldn’t find Endweith. Right?”

“You’re right about that,” said Lilah, turning to look back out the window. Even on a sunny day, Shargay was not especially interesting to look at.

“Henry said Parkavan knew someone in ancient Olvar,” said Rob. “But it was Parkavan himself, though he called himself Salagon.”

“Indeed.”

“So,” said Rob, “the question is, do we arrest this guy or the other one?”

“This one hasn’t committed any crimes,” Annelise pointed out. “Or at least, he hasn’t done any work for the two Henrys. They haven’t contacted him yet.”

“But the thing is,” said Rob, “he already knows how to do that kind of thing, and if we let this one go free, eventually someone will come get him from this point in time. Someone who wants to destroy universes.”

“And suppose we arrest him for something,” said Lilah. “So your enterprising time traveler with an urge to destroy time streams just visits him the day before we get here.”

“Besides,” said Annelise, “even if we arrest him and put him in a tiny cell and seal him in and surround the whole thing with molten lava, some enterprising time traveler just has to find their way back to the version of him we didn’t arrest, and the whole reason for all that imprisonment without charge is out the window.”

“But if we wait till he gets hired,” said Rob, “or if we wait till he’s in place in ancient Olvar, then they can get him once he’s already done the experiments and knows they worked.”

“Hey,” said Lilah, “that enterprising time traveler can get to that Salagon anyway.”

“So what’s the point of anything?” asked Rob. “If we can’t stop the knowledge from getting out—! I know. We could grab him as soon as he arrives here from future Shakaran. Then we somehow just have to close off the histories in which he—!”

Lilah stopped him with a brown-eyed glare. Annelise said, “That’s what the Henrys were doing. If they could just close off those histories!”

“They didn’t just close them off. They collapsed them. Those billions of people died.”

“This is the thing,” said Lilah. “I can’t say I know. But it sure seems like you can’t close off histories without killing everyone in them. There’s just no way. It’s like closing off anything—a room, a road, a planet. It won’t stay closed. Nature abhors a vacuum. Time abhors a vacuum. The only way to keep anyone from finding Parkavan – Salagon in this history is to collapse it.”

“So we can’t save—?”

“Those people? Definitely not. The universe’s innocence? Don’t think so. What, as you ask so succinctly, is the point? Still trying to work that one out.”

“Come on,” said Annelise. “The point is, Salagon and the two Henrys conspired to do a horrible deed and then they did it. We can see justice done. We saw justice done on Henry 2, it’s getting done with Henry 1, all we can do, all we need to do is see that Salagon, or Parkavan, gets justice done to him. For what he did. Or will have done.”

“After he does it,” said Rob.

“Yeah, basically. You don’t punish for a crime that hasn’t been committed.”

“She’s right,” said Lilah. “Maybe you can do three things, as an officer of the law. You can make sure laws are enforced. Check. You can try and deter other people from committing crimes. Well, I’m not going to say we can check that one off, but we’re closer to that if we arrest Salagon, back in ancient Olvar that is, than if we don’t.”

“And the third thing?” asked Rob.

“You might hope you can prevent people from having the chance. You might hope you can get people to treat each other with peace. And gentleness. Maybe even love.” She gave Rob and Annelise, standing together, a long serious look, and then she snorted. “Good luck on that.” She moved toward them and took their hands. “Shall we go arrest someone for a crime they actually already will have committed?”

“Yeah,” said Rob. “Yes,” said Annelise. “I’m okay with that.”

“Good. Because that’s about all we’re going to get.”

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