“What would you burn in November, if you could?”
“My medical records, but only if that would make it all go away.”
Abigail peeked over into the caldera and then pulled quickly back. The rocks themselves were smoking down there, and the updraft was very strong. She had begun to sweat in her heat-proof suit. She couldn't survive here without it, but if she stayed too long, her own retained body heat would cook her.
She took out the fat folder full of Steve's medical records and set them carefully on the edge of the caldera, then eased them over into the flaming pit. The updraft caught them and swirled them around, but almost all of them burned up in the hot wind or settled down into the caldera.
One lone page did neither. It snagged on something just below the edge. She leaned over and reached for it, but couldn't quite get it. Her suit had started to smoke. She pulled away and staggered down the mountainside. She stopped about twenty feet from the caldera and tried to breathe and think.
She could get the page and make sure it burned. Steve would live, and she would never have existed. Was it worth it?
She and Steven were assassins, and as such she had expected a quick, exciting death for both of them, not a lingering, dull, painful one. Cancer ate Steve over the course of a year. After six months of watching, Abigail could stand it no more. She left the love of her life to chase improbabilities.
She sought miracle cures, wish granters, anything that had the potential, however small, to save him. She had been to the bottom of the sea and the bottom of space. She'd seen shamans all over the world. She'd followed a tunnel through the earth to another world where everything was upside-down. She'd bought five hundred sixty-three lamps purported to have genies within; of them only one held a genie, and it was only able to do parlor tricks, not cure cancer.
This was his last chance. A ritual burning of something one wished to destroy; it was retroactive, so even if Steve died while she was out here, if it worked, he would be alive and cancer-free when she returned.
Abigail stood still and weighed what could be on that one page against her own existence. If she had never been born, perhaps her father wouldn't have lost his mind and started beating her and her mother, but she thought that unlikely. The disease had been in him, planted by his mother, whom Abigail resembled.
If she had never been born, her father might still be alive. He was her first cold-blooded murder, committed just before her brother was born, when she was only fourteen. There had been an investigation, of course, but her mother's testimony made it clear she had acted in self-defense. Abigail had no illusions. She had stabbed him as he sat watching tv. There had been no struggle. It was not self-defense.
Rather, she had done it to save her unborn brother from having a father like theirs; to keep little Joshua from becoming another monster in a line of monsters.
So, it stood to reason that her mother could be dead, would probably be in pain, and her brother would be a monster, if Abigail had never existed.
Then there was Steve. He had helped her since the beginning. He'd hired her to help him with a job, because of her stealth and almost magical understanding of locks and security systems. They had made quite a team. She knew she loved him when he was discovered on a job and she'd had to rescue him; she didn't know until then how much she needed him.
Abigail started to walk back down the mountain. She was exhausted. It seemed Steve would already be dead if she had never existed. She had killed in cold blood, and perhaps the world would be better off, but the ones she loved needed her and she couldn't abandon them.
All she had left was a thin hope that she could return to Steve's side before he left her forever.