The grad students' calculations seemed consistent. Time travel appeared possible. But could they really change history?
"We can't kill my advisor," Terry sighed. "Even for extra funding."
"No dictators," said Vipul. "I've read all the books."
"I hate my roommate—" said Naomi, "—but killing her two years ago feels as cold-blooded as killing her today."
"You hate her for keeping you up all night, practicing?" Keisha clarified.
"It sounds like we need to stop this problem at the source," Vipul said. "If you read."
"If I reed?" Naomi echoed. "I do."
Brussels bore witness to the first successful test. And to inquisitive parents.
"Antoine? Antoine, where are you?"
"His name is Antoine?" Vipul gulped. "I thought it was Adolphe."
"Push him out the window and get it over with," Naomi muttered. The time machine was buzzing, a low, whirring harmony.
"He's two years old, I can't—"
"This is literally why we're here!"
"Naomi, his name is wrong. What if we've already changed something?"
"Get over yourself." Naomi unceremoniously defenestrated the toddler, listening to his skull crack against the stones below. "Easy. Let's go home."
"Hey!" said Keisha. "I brought you some, uh, beer."
"Beer?" pouted the child.
"It's really great. The adults are drinking it." She'd considered trying to pry on his adulthood, but why tempt fate when she didn't want that future to exist? In reality, she'd borrowed the boric acid from her roommate, a grad student in chemistry. Not that chemistry grad students didn't have their own supply of beer.
Dubiously, Adolphe took a swig. Keisha began to run for the time machine, punching at the coordinates.
"Well?" said Naomi.
"I could use another drink," Keisha groused.
Child murder wasn't how Terry's dissertation year was supposed to go. He justified this to himself by asserting that it wasn't actually his dissertation year, but rather, almost two centuries earlier.
"Come here," he said. "I want to show you something."
Adolphe regarded the interior of the time machine. Saw the rows of keys and buttons corresponding to obscure symbols, sharp points and flat surfaces, all for manipulating time and space. It was a beautiful contraption. Maybe someday, he imagined, he could construct something as powerful.
Then Terry beckoned him outside and kicked him off a cliff.
Vipul's roommate was in medical school. Using his ID, they'd been able to steal a powerful strain of the measles virus. "Why is it—" Naomi sighed, "—that everyone else's roommates study something useful, and I'm stuck with this loser?"
"You won't be for long." Keisha gave a comforting smile.
"Do you think we could get sick from this?" Terry asked. "I mean, this is a year before any of us have been exposed to the vaccine, right?"
Vipul squinted. "Don't think too hard," he said. "Stay back; once I inject him, I'll need to run for it."
"Thanks for the tour of Dinant!" Naomi smiled. "It's so cool to see all the ways this city has changed over the years."
"You've lived here for a long time?" asked the teenager next to her.
"Uh, well, sort of," Keisha clarified. They'd certainly seen a decade's worth of Brussels history, in what had taken them about a week of subjective time.
"Well, see you," Adolphe jauntily muttered.
"Hope not," said Naomi. "Man, we all better get French credit for this."
"What?" Adolphe asked, exiting the carriage.
Naomi slammed the door on his arm.
"When we pull this off, we'll be the only ones to know what saxophones are," said Terry. "That's how memory works, yeah?"
"No idea," Vipul said. "Wwe're groundbreakers."
"Literally and figuratively, sometimes." It was a rough landing for the time machine. "Should we sell the blueprints to someone in the far future who'll appreciate it? Reap massive profits?"
"You were never in it for the money."
"I'm just saying—--"
"Are you starting to like the music?"
"Good, he's coming."
Terry threw a brick out the window, nailing Adolphe in the skull.
Looking like any other gang of twenty-something-year-old friends, Adolphe and the time-travelers crowded around a table. "A toast!" said Adolphe, "To new beginnings." He drank deeply of his wine.
"To another date, when we get back home," Naomi said, grinning at Keisha from across the table.
"Cheers!" Keisha exulted.
"To whatever you put in that wine," said Vipul, as Adolphe slumped over.
"To killing a different Adolf if we get home and this still hasn't worked," said Terry. "I'm getting tired of this."
The time machine was still humming, a wilder and more insistent melody.
Try as they might, they could not return to a time before 1840. Driven by the despair of being a wanted man—"a ghost," he was called, "condemned to misfortune,"—Adolphe had striven to leave his mark. At first he was afraid he was destined to invent time travel; surely everyone would want to thwart that inventor as a youth, and preserve history. Instead, he left a different destiny, equally noteworthy.
"Are you dating my roommate now?" Naomi asked in horror, centuries later.
"Nah," Terry admitted. "She's been giving me lessons. What can I say? It's grown on me."