“Yes,” Dodger said. “Show us.”
“As you can imagine, I found it sort of improbable that young Henry and the time device would happen upon our path, especially when we so desperately needed our friend Feng here.”
“You and me both, doc.”
The doc pulled a bit of parchment from his coat and began unfolding it. “Well, when we were able to bring the two pieces of the time device together, I found something interesting engraved on the bottom of the thing.” The doc flattened the parchment out, allowing for everyone to see it.
Dodger glanced down at the surprise to find a few basic Chinese symbols. He looked back up to Feng. “What does it mean?”
“It’s my name,” Feng said. “My real name.”
“Like I said, what does that mean?”
Feng sat back and scanned the room, taking in his friends, his family. “Fine. But you aren’t going to like it. Remember when I went off for a bit, while the Sleipnir had to air out after dingdong here filled it with gas?”
A giggle slipped from Lelanea before she could suppress the laugh. “Of course we remember.”
“You got in touch with Rex,” Boon said. “I helped.” Boon nodded to Dodger, and repeated with a wide smile, “I helped.”
“Yes, well,” Feng said, “I might have been up to more than just reaching out to that slimy little toad.”
The doc furrowed his brow. “Oh, no Feng. What have you done?”
“I might have done a bit of scrying on my own future. I might have seen what was going to happen with the TAP and knew I would suffer for it. I may have …” Feng’s words faded into a garble of mumbles as the man lowered his head.
“What was that?” Dodger said. “I don’t think we quite got that last bit.”
Feng raised his head again and huffed. “I might have sent the basic schematics for the TAP into the future with instructions on when and where to send it back to me.” He ran a finger across the parchment bearing his name. “That’s proof that it’s from me. I sent the characters of my name along with instructions to put it on the device so I would know for certain where it came from.”
Dodger raised his eyebrows. Never in a million years would he have suspected such a thing was possible, much less have the idea himself.
Everyone seemed shocked by the news, especially the doc.
The professor’s jaw hung free as he stared at his old friend in complete surprise. “Feng. Tell me you didn’t do such a terrible thing.”
Lelanea let out a long sigh and covered her face with one hand. “This isn’t good.”
“I know,” Feng said. “I couldn’t help it. I panicked. And to be fair, I didn’t think it would work. If you remember I wanted to escape through the TAP the moment I got back. You all saw me packing to get the hell out of here. You were there.”
“I hate to be the odd man out again,” Boon said. “Can someone explain why this is a bad thing? Whatever he did worked and Feng is back to normal. What’s the problem?”
Dodger kept his mouth shut. He couldn’t see a problem either, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a problem. In his unfortunate experience, problems tended to be invisible until they wreaked the havoc they intended.
“The problem is that he interfered,” the doc said. “Our friend Feng here has created a temporal paradox.”
“Which means,” Lelanea said, “by sending Henry into the past, Feng has interrupted the natural flow of time.”
“Yeah but Henry being here isn’t hurting anything,” Boon said. “Why should it matter?”
“Everything Henry interacts with can potentially alter history,” the doc said.
“Maybe for the better though?” Boon pointed to the Celestial. “Feng goes back and forth all of the time and no one stops him.”
“He only goes forward and then returns to our time. The chances of creating a paradox is less likely in that order.”
“I don’t see how. Doesn’t that mean he could be altering things in the future’s future?”
The doc turned to glare at Feng. “I say, I remember us having a similar argument that ended in me falling asleep. Numerous times. I stopped worrying about it after that. I wonder why.”
Feng raised his shoulders in a shrug as he grinned wide.
“It doesn’t matter,” Lelanea said, “Feng is an experienced time traveler. He knows what he is doing. Henry doesn’t. He isn’t supposed to be here. That’s why it’s going to create a paradox.”
“She,” Boon said.
“She?” Dodger said, glad he hadn’t heard the man wrong the first time.
Suddenly, all eyes were on the ghost.
Boon swallowed hard. “Um, yes?”
“What do you mean she?” Lelanea said.
“I mean Henry is a girl,” Boon said. “Or rather a woman. I think? Didn’t everyone know that?”
The silence in the room answered Boon’s innocent question.
“What makes you think young Henry is a young lady?” the doc said.
“She isn’t?” Boon said.
“Oh no, she is. I just didn’t know you knew.”
“Yes, darling,” Lelanea said, her voice clipped and cold. “I can understand how Uncle would know. How did you figure it out?”
Boon lifted his hands to his chest. “The bindings, mostly. Didn’t anyone else see them?”
“I did,” Dodger said. “I should’ve known. We had more than a few women sign up for conscription during the war in place of their husband or sons.”
Lelanea crossed her arms and stared hard at the spirit. “And you just happened to notice these bindings, did you?”
“Well the PAUL has really super sensitive eyes,” Boon said. “I tried not to notice, but I couldn’t help it.” The spirit pointed to Feng again. “What about him? He started a pair of docks!”
All at once, the group devolved into arguing. The doc harangued Feng while the cook insisted that he knew what he was doing. On the other side Lelanea grilled Boon about what else PAUL’s visuals allowed him to notice about women while Boon insisted he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary in the first place. Dodger sighed and rubbed his temples, a headache settling into place behind his eyes.
“All right,” Dodger said over them.
The arguing continued.
“Enough!” Dodger shouted.
Everyone fell quiet as sheepish looks rose all around.
“We aren’t going to get anywhere arguing,” Dodger said. “Whatever Feng did is done. We can’t change it. Agreed?”
“Too true,” Fend said.
The doc nodded. “Agreed. He is still very naughty for doing so, but yes. We can’t change it. No need to argue about it.”
“And you two,” Dodger said, waving at the fuming lovers. “Knock it off. Boon only noticed the bindings because he’s observant. Nothing more.”
Lelanea shrugged, but didn’t lose the ire in her eyes. Boon whimpered at her indifference.
Dodger didn’t care. Let them fight about it later. He had far too much on his mind as it was to worry about them now. “I have a plan. I am going to tell you my plan, and you are going to follow it to the letter. No matter what I say. Do you understand me?”
Lelanea lost her attitude. “What plan-”
Dodger silenced her with a raised hand. “I am in charge of security for this train. I have put my life on the line for y’all more than once. I spent my whole life playing this game and I know exactly what move to make next. The least you can afford me is to pay attention to what I am about to say and don’t interrupt me. When I am done, I don’t want to discuss the details. I want your obedience. Is that understood?”
Four pairs of eyes plied him with a thousand silent questions, but no one disagreed.
“Good,” Dodger said. “Tyler Crank is on his way here. He should arrive within the next twenty minutes or so. He is coming to arrest the doc.”
“What makes him think he can do that?” Lelanea snapped.
“Ludda,” the doc said and patted her knee. “Let Mr. Dodger finish.”
Dodger waited for her to calm down before he continued. “Crank isn’t really coming for the doc. He’s coming for me, and I am going to go with him.”
Mouths opened but before anyone could argue, Dodger held his hands up again. Mouths closed. Eyes burned. Especially Lelanea’s.
“I have to go,” Dodger said. “The only way I can get on that airship without us attacking it and risking crashing the thing is if I go willingly.”
“He’s right,” Boon said.
“Boon,” Lelanea said with a sneer.
“No,” Feng said. “He is right. He needs to be on that airship, and the only way he’ll get on is if Rex lets him. He has to go with Crank. He has to surrender.”
“I don’t care if he’s right,” the doc said. “We don’t have to like it.”
Dodger smiled. “I didn’t ask you to like it. I asked you to listen and follow my instructions.”
“Which are?” the doc said.
Dodger’s smile widened. “I thought you’d never ask, sir.”