Suddenly, after a long silence, George said, “Virginia didn't make it.”
George's comment, coming with no warning at all, shocked Erin into incomprehension. “What do you mean, she ‘didn't make it’?” she asked, mostly to give her reeling mind a little more time to recover.
“She didn't make it,” George repeated. “Took an arrow in her back; died a little while later.” George's voice was flat, emotionless. “I watched 'em bury her.”
“But, but, she did survive, George!” Erin protested. “She's right downstairs in the guest room!”
In a more dispassionate part of her mind, Erin was astonished at how strongly her emotional side had reacted to the thought of Virginia's death. As a pediatric surgeon, she'd occasionally had to deal with the death of a tragically young patient. Sometimes she reacted with anger at a universe so unfair that it could so casually snuff out an innocent life, or anger at herself for having been unable to save that life. Usually she reacted with sadness, but most of the time it was a distant, impersonal, sadness. It was a long, long, way from indifference, but experience had taught her that she couldn't afford to get too emotionally invested in her patients.
Somehow, it was different with Virginia. Somehow, just the thought of her death had hit Erin almost as hard as if the girl had been her own daughter.
“Could be a multiple-reality thing, I guess,” George was saying. “But in this reality, she only made it because I unwound time a bit and stopped the bastard who was in the process of wasting her.” He had no intention of being specific about how he'd stopped the man.
But now, hours later, George had to wonder… Had he done the right thing killing the man who had been in the process of killing Virginia? Wouldn't it have worked just as well to pop out of nothingness into the man's reality and shout “Boo!”? It certainly would have ruined his aim, and wouldn't that just as effectively have saved Virginia's life? But it wouldn't have stopped him from shouting and drawing attention to the few who'd managed to escape the murder of their town.
But, George knew, all he was doing was giving himself a civilized excuse for wasting the bastard who thought it was okay to kill a scared fourteen-year-old kid who'd just watched her mother die.
Erin gasped, shocked again. “You went back…?”
“Yeah. Just for a moment. A four-hundred year god-damned moment.” He rolled over, propping his head in his hand to look at Erin's silhouette in the darkness. “I couldn't not go, you know? Like you said, Virginia did survive. At least in this reality. Existence theorem. She's alive now, ergo she survived then. Whatever “then” and “now” mean. Just damned lucky, ha-ha, I was there to fix the little screw-up the universe was about to make.”
Erin was silent for a moment, but then said slowly, “So Virginia's alive because she came forward four hundred years so you could know to go back four hundred years to save her life so she could come forward, so you could go back, and 'round and 'round…?”
“Yep. Indirectly, she saved her own life by getting help that went back to before she was killed to keep her from being killed.”
“But there's no initial causality! Just a big circle in time of stuff that eventually causes itself!”