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Defusing a time bomb is tricky business even if the many-worlds interpretation doesn’t hold, and Mario isn’t helping.

“Have you ever done this before?” he asks, trying to get a better look.

“In simulations,” mutters Girard. Sweat accretes under his ears and armpits.

“Which wire do you think you should cut?”

“Ask me in thirty seconds,” says Girard, cutters poised.

Mario twists his watch and jumps forward. “Which wire do you think you should cut?” he asks again.

Girard lolls at him, skinless, his jaw across the room somewhere.

“Well?” says Girard when he returns.

“Not that one,” Mario says.


“HQ’s not just gone, it’s unmade,” mutters Mario as they dodge through the street market. “Scrubbed out of this whole damn line.”

“If we could stop moving,” says Girard, swiping at a chicken, “set up a decent backcast–”

“You don’t think Barrister will be waiting for that?”

“So what!” shouts Girard. “I’m lab, not field, why’d you even bring me!”

Mario hustles him away from the staring stall owners. “I need you, Girard, okay? But we can’t do anything he’ll expect.”

“You want to ask them for help,” says Girard slowly. “The Blue Man Group.”

Mario bites his lip and nods.


“Rosebud is his dog,” says Mario. “Haley Joel Osment’s dead. Norman Bates is a drag king, and the Village is a reality show. The lawyer made up Keyser Soze. Tyler Durden is Jack’s long-lost brother, the Blair Witch is the girl, and Obi-Wan is Luke’s father.”

Girard checks each of them off on his list. “Right. Thank you.”

Mario waits.

“You can go now,” says Girard. “The evaluation’s done.”

“That’s–I’m right, right?” says Mario. “We didn’t change anything in the past, so the culture matrix matches. Right?”

“Can’t tell you,” says Girard brightly. “Don’t want to spoil anything.”