Eventually, they got him back. It wasn’t thanks to their heroic efforts that they're able to rescue him; they just happened to find him in an alley in Victorian London while they were out on the trail of the Legion of Doom, unconscious and bloody, holding a small metal disk tightly in his hands.
They brought him back to Waveraider where they hooked him up to the machinery in the medbay, and then set the course to the temporal zone. They all agreed to keep him sedated at all time: it was a safety precaution, of course, as there was always the possibility of a trap and, anyway, they couldn't risk a homicidal psycho wandering about the ship; but Sara suspected most of them were quite relieved they wouldn't have to face evil Rip again, at least for the moment.
Once Rip was secured and the Waverider safely moored in the time stream, the team gathered silently around the holotable on the bridge, all except for Mick, who preferred sitting on the steps to Rip’s office to enjoy his sandwich in peace.
As captain, Sara knew the others were waiting for her to say something, waiting for her to know what to do. She didn't; on the one hand, she was more than happy they've finally found Rip, whichever Rip this was, him not being under the Legion control was certainly a huge step forward; on the other, she was afraid that when he woke up, she would see that coldness in his eyes again, she was afraid to think about what she would have to do if they couldn't bring him back. But she couldn’t think like that right now, there was no use in that; they needed to know what happened and more importantly they needed to know what the Legion was up to.
“So,” she began. “We have Rip, and that's great, that's huge, actually. And we'll have all the time to celebrate later. Right know we need to focus on figuring out...”
“Why?” Sara looked at Jax, who had spoken in a low, hard voice, without averting his eyes from the floor, his arms crossed on his chest. “Why do we have him?” Stein eyed him warily from where he was standing next to him, concern moulding his features; they’d been like that since the ‘evil Rip killing Sara’ incident: Jax had been acting normally, save for a little extra determination in bringing the Legion down, but Martin’s recurring glances and apparent worry made clear that the young man felt something far from normal.
“Maybe Rip tried to escape,” Ray offered, hopeful. “He came to his senses, the Legion found out and beat him up, leaving him for dead.”
Stein replied, cautiously, “Raymond, as much as we all wish that is indeed the case, I think it would be wise to proceed on the assumption that this is still the same man that attacked us. We have to be prepared.” Ray’s optimism visibly deflated, although it seemed like he wasn’t entirely convinced and all he wanted was to give Rip the benefit of the doubt.
“Martin’s right,” Sara interjected, putting a stop to further discussions on the topic. “Yes, it could be that he tried to escape, but it could also be that Thawne didn’t need him anymore or they had a lovers’ quarrel and he got rid of him;” or maybe, it was just to fuck with them a little more, she thought. “There’s no point in arguing about what Rip’s state of mind might be, we’re going to find out soon enough. So why don’t we just focus on what the Legion’s plan is?”
“Perhaps, the disk Captain Hunter had with him might offer some clues?”
Yes, thanks Martin, that’s what I’m talking about; we just need a starting point.
“Right, the disk.” Ray said, somewhat uplifted by the idea of having something to focus on. “It’s a digital storage device, plain and simple; the data on it are encrypted, so I uploaded the content to the Waverider mainframe and asked Gideon to decode it. Don’t worry,” he added, in response to perplexed looks of his teammates. “I made sure there was nothing on it that could corrupt the system. Gideon, where are you with the disk?”
The AI interface immediately appeared above the holotable: “I have successfully decrypted all of its content, Doctor Palmer. I can confirm it is one of Captain Hunter’s neural structure backup.”
They all seemed to freeze on the spot, eyes fixed on the AI and mouth agape, incredulity mixed with seeds of relief on their faces; could this be it? Could it be so simple?
“A backup?” asked Ray, a smile beginning to form on his lips.
“Yes. Captain Hunter used to regularly upload a 3-D connectivity scan of his brain on an external device and hide it in a safe place. I believe this backup specifically is his latest, containing all of his memories up to two weeks before the mission in 1942 New York.”
“And you didn’t think it was a detailed worth mentioning, right Gideon?” Sara remarked, in a not entirely convincing display of annoyance towards the AI.
“I apologize, Captain Lance. Captain Hunter instructed me not to divulge this information; besides, I have never been informed on the location of his backups.”
“Wait,” Nate spoke for the first time, “So, what Gideon is saying is that she can reset Hunter to the person he was before the brainwashing?”
All eyes were trained towards the AI, waiting expectantly for her reply.
“Exactly, Doctor Heywood,” as the atmosphere in the room seemed to instantly ease, Gideon’s words were accompanied by cheering sounds, with Jax shouting a triumphant ‘Yes’. “That is one of the possibilities.”
While the others were abruptly taken aback mid-celebrating, Jax didn’t miss a beat: “And what would the other possibility be?”, he asked, confrontational, as if to say ‘I dare you to tell me we should even consider any other possibility’.
“I could morph Captain Hunter’s current neural structure into an exact copy of the one contained in the backup or I could integrate the two; this way, in addition to recover the entirety of his memories, the captain would still remember what happened up until today.”
Jax examined the faces of his teammates, with a perplexed look on his own. “I really hope no one is even taking into consideration the second possibility, right? We have to reset Rip to the last backup, end of story.”
Sara exchanged a glance with Stein, while the others averted their gaze, not sure about what to think.
“I’m afraid it’s not so simple, Jefferson…”
“Yes, it is, Grey.” Jax countered curtly, his voice raised just a bit. He then inhaled and pursed his lips, trying to keep his composure. “Look, we said we were gonna get Rip back; now we can: we have him, we have his memories, all we have to do is erasing every trace of what the Legion did to him, and make sure not even a little, tiny bit is left.”
“But there are ethical implications to consider here.” Stein continued in his reasoning, as Jax rolled his eyes and dropped his arms to his sides. “If an individual is the sum of his experiences, by deleting Captain Hunter’s memories post-brainwashing aren’t we de facto killing this individual that lives here in this present? On the other hand, one could very well argue that not restoring Captain Hunter to the person he was before is equivalent to letting that version of him die. Who are we to decide which of his versions is real and which deserve to live or die?”
“I agree there are ethical implications, Professor, but isn’t it more important to ask ourselves what would Rip want us to do, at the very least what’s best for him?” Ray replied, “I mean, we know he has done some pretty terrible stuff while he was… well, evil, and who knows how many others we don’t know about: he would be devastated by that knowledge, he would be consumed with guilt.” He looked at Sara, while saying the last words.
Yes, the knowledge of having hunted down his teammates, of having killed Sara would devastate him, but to the point of destroying him? Sara thought about the first time she had come back to Starling City, to her family: Sara had always known that only the memory of her loved ones had kept her from entirely losing her identity and that love, the longing she was feeling for them, apparently even more powerful than her survival instincts, had pushed her to escape from the League clutches, just so she could see them again; and yet, for a long time she hadn’t been able to, the shame for the person she had become holding her back. If someone had given her the chance back then, to make it all go away, she knew she would have said yes in a heartbeat; nothing was worth that pain.
Sara shook the memories away; as much as she debated it internally, she feared she’d already made up her mind. She looked at Ray: “So, what? We restore his memory, we get the old Rip back, and then we just keep going like nothing happened? He would know something is off the second he looks at us. We can’t keep this secret from him.”
She shifted her gaze from Ray to Jax, only to see the anger in his eyes: he felt betrayed. “You too, Sara? Come on! Have you all lost your mind?”
Sara turned to her newest teammates: “Nate? Amaya? Want to weigh in on this? I know you’ve never met Rip, but your input may be valuable anyway.”
Nate looked like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, opening and closing his mouth without actually saying anything, before turning towards Amaya, dropping the hot potato on her.
Before speaking, Amaya glanced at Jax and then quickly avert her eyes, she looked at the rest of the team:
“Clearly, I wouldn’t know what Captain Hunter would want and I am not suited to speaking on what would be best for him, either. What I can offer though,” She continued hesitantly. “It’s a tactical prospective: in my opinion, it would be a mistake to erase Hunter’s most recent memories, as they may contain valuable information about the Legion’s intentions and the Spear location.”
As soon as she finished talking, Jax was at her throat: “Seriously, tactics? So that’s what’s important here? What about this, then: what if we leave those memories where they are and Psycho Rip tries to murder us all in our sleep?”
“Jefferson...” Stein tried to placate him: the older man seemed strained, maybe because of the long day catching up with him or maybe because of the weight of Jax’s emotions.
Jax cut him off: “No! Screw the tactics, screw the ethics, and whatever moral debate about keeping secrets. I don’t want him on this ship!”, he yelled.
The room fell quiet, no one daring to engage in a discussion with Jax given his current mood; Mick, who hadn’t uttered a word since they had gathered on the bridge, apparently decided that was the best moment to give his contribution.
“He already is”, he mumbled from his corner, his mouth full of the last bit of his sandwich. His comment caused Jax to pause and glare at him, probably in an effort to determine if Mick was purposefully trying to piss him off. Sara intervened, before Jax could reach a conclusion.
“And what do you propose we do, Mick?”
“Whatever, I don’t care.” he shrugged.
“Listen, I didn’t care much for the English before and I definitely don’t care for him now. If you want to go all Time Masters on him and brainwash him again into whatever version of him you like better, fine by me.” He looked at the floor around him, searching for something. “Damn, I forgot my beer!”
And with that he stood up and left the room, leaving the rest of the group speechless and feeling mildly uncomfortable. Stein was the first to recover.
“Well. As usual, in all his simplicity, Mister Rory managed to pinpoint the core of the issue at hand.” He sighed and briefly closed his eyes, as to better visualize what he was about to say. “Whatever our choice ends up being, it’s important we keep in mind we are indeed choosing for Captain Hunter. There is no right decision to be made here, simply because there isn’t the option of the captain choosing for himself; nonetheless, we have to make the best, or rather the least bad, decision we can. And that, in my opinion, implies giving Captain Hunter at least an amount of control over what was done to him.”
Martin was right: control was what Rip would have wanted. They couldn’t keep the truth from him, because in a way that would have meant controlling him, like the Legion did. Sara locked eyes with Stein and nodded.
“We can’t give Rip a choice, then we give him the truth, the whole truth. Ray?”
The engineer took a moment to gather his thoughts, and then looked up with a determined expression.
“Ok. We give Rip the truth.”
Sara turned to look at Nate and Amaya, neither of whom seemed to have any objection to the plan, and then at Jax, who was now leaning on one of the seats backrests, facing away from the group.
“Jax, what do you think?”
“I’ve already told what I think.” Sara took a step towards him, just as he turned to face her.
“Jax…” she pleaded.
“You want my blessing?” Jax’s voice was low and steady, his anger damped by resignation. “You’re the captain, I guess you don’t really need it, do you?”
He held her gaze for a few moment and then left the room. Sara was about to follow him, determined to reason with him until he understood that was the right call, but Stein stopped her:
“Let him go. He needs to be alone for a while.” Seeing the hesitancy on her face, he cracked a reassuring smile and continued. “He knows it’s the best choice, he just need some time to process it. He’ll come around eventually.”
“I really hope so.”