Elizabeth could feel the blood draining out of her face. She'd specifically asked 2019 and 2029 not to interfere unless...
2029 nodded at her. "Yes, it's that bad," she said.
The gurney holding Daria was standing incongrously in the middle of the Tesseract's main chamber. Anya was holding on to one of the side rails, looking like she was about to faint.
Elizabeth frowned. For a smart girl, Anya seemed awfully fragile.
Murali stepped away from the gurney and stared indignantly at 2029. "Well," he said. "If it isn't Miss Deus X. Machina herself."
Elizabeth's head snapped around to look at Murali. She had never heard him use that tone before.
2029 stepped towards him. "Good to see you too, Murali," she said. A moment later she was standing only a few inches from him. She put a hand behind his neck and pulled him to her, planting a firm, familiar kiss on his lips.
Murali didn't resist, but when she broke it off, he took a step backwards. "Do you really think that's appropriate under the circumstances?" he asked.
Elizabeth staggered backwards, bumping into a console. She glanced at 2019, who was at that moment glancing at her. They were both dumbfounded.
2029 glanced at them, a slight grin of amusement on her face. "Oh," she said. "Didn't want little me to know about this, is that it? Didn't want her to know why you were protecting her so fiercely?"
There was an edge to 2029's voice that Elizabeth hadn't heard before. A bitterness. It was starting to make her uneasy.
She looked at Murali. He made a slight grunting noise in the back of his throat and looked at the floor. "I would have protected her--you--regardless," he said quietly.
"Mmmmm," 2029 said. "That's a nice answer. Too bad you didn't think about protecting me while you were in 2029."
Murali put a hand to his head. "It was wrong of me to... I knew I couldn't stay in your time. I should never have..." He turned away and closed his eyes.
Anya gripped the side rail of the gurney even tighter. She was nearly vibrating with the tension in her body. Suddenly, she exploded.
"What is this, a soap opera now?" she cried.
All eyes turned towards her.
"I mean, it's bad enough that I just found out one of my colleagues is an android, and that I found out by seeing her head get blown off. And never mind that I'm suddenly standing in some kind of time device that can see everywhere. Now I have to deal with this... this..." She gestured at Murali and 2029. "This romantic nonsense? Do we really have time for this?"
2029's eyebrows slid up a notch. "Nice to see somebody's thinking clearly," she said.
"Yes," Murali said, turning back to face the group. "Well spoken, Anya. Well spoken indeed."
Anya let go of the gurney's rail and took a deep breath.
"Thanks," she said.
Then her knees gave out, and she collapsed to the floor in a dead faint.
Elizabeth put her hand to her head. "Great," she muttered.
Murali stared at Anya's crumpled form. "You two don't happen to have another gurney in here...?"
2019 stepped forward. "No, but there's a cot in the next room. If somebody wants to help me..."
"I'll do it, " Murali said. "She'll seem like nothing after lugging Daria around."
2019 and Murali crouched down at either end of Anya, rolling her onto her back and straightening her out.
"On three," Murali said, "One... two... three!"
They stood again, hefting Anya's limp form. 2019 guided them to the doorway, and the three of them disappeared into the other room.
2029 turned to face Elizabeth. "How ya doin', kiddo?" she asked with a wry smile.
Elizabeth crossed her arms. "This is becoming way to complicated."
2029 snorted. "Oh, you're just figuring that out now, are you?"
Elizabeth sneered. "Don't do the condescenion thing. It's one of our least attractive traits."
2029 put her hands on her hips. "Geez, you'd think I might be getting just a smidgeon of gratitude here. After all, we did just come in and save the day, didn't we?"
"After I specifically asked you--"
"This is not a hobby, Elizabeth." 2029's eyes were practically glowing now. "I already told you. This is serious. You were not going to get out of that situation by yourselves."
Elizabeth slumped back against the console. "Yeah. So you say."
2019 emerged from the other room, but stopped in her tracks when the tension in the room hit her.
"It's all right," 2029 said. "She's getting it."
Elizabeth looked back and forth between her two future selves, her head practically spinning at the incongruity they represented. They were both her, and yet they were not.
"Look," she said. "I can't keep thinking of you as numbers. The numbers are driving me crazy. I need names for the two of you. I can't call you both Elizabeth, because then there'd be three of us with the same name. Too confusing."
"What do you suggest?" 2019 asked.
Elizabeth thought for a moment. "Well, I was thinking..." She turned to 2019. "...that I might call you Liz, because you're not as far into the future as she is, and Liz is only part way into my name."
2019 shrugged. "Makes sense, I guess."
Elizabeth turned to 2029. "And I could call you Beth, because you're the furthest along in the timeline, and Beth is at the end of my name."
2029 looked at 2019. "Smart kid," she said.
2019 looked back at her. "I'm okay with it if you are."
2029 looked back at Elizabeth. "Okay. Fine."
Elizabeth nodded. At least that was one confusion handled. Now if only all their other issues were so easily dealt with.
Murali stepped in from the other room, his mouth set, his eyes glassy.
Liz moved towards him. "Is she okay?"
Murali waved the notion away. "Yes, she's fine."
"Then what is it?" Beth had her armour up again. She glared hotly at Murali.
"I know what I need to do," Murali replied. "And I'll need your help to do it."
"In case you hadn't noticed," Beth said. "We're running this show."
"Oh are you, indeed?" Murali said, striding over to her and matching her glare heat for heat. "Because from where I'm standing, all it seems you're doing is confusing the situation."
"Would you rather be frozen?" Beth asked.
Murali let out a breath. "No. For that part, I'm grateful. You arrived at just the right moment. But now your younger self knows all about our personal history, and Anya's practically having a nervous breakdown. You're not handling the details well at all."
Beth continued to glare at him for a few seconds. Finally, she turned away and began to chuckle.
"Details," she muttered. "We're trying to fix the universe here, and you're worried about details?"
"Don't over-dramatize," Murali said. "These time devices are more trouble than they're worth. You of all people should know that. You've seen the havoc that Jason's caused. Technology transplanted to a time before it was invented. People knowing about their futures. It's insanity."
Beth whirled back to face him. "Yes. It is. And we're trying to fix it."
"Fine. Then help me."
"I don't even know what you want to do yet."
Elizabeth stepped quietly over to Liz. "How long do you figure they were together?" she asked.
Liz shook her head. "Quite a while, by the sounds of it."
"You didn't even give me a chance to tell you," Murali said.
"All right. Then tell me." Beth's nostrils were flaring now.
Murali looked around, suddenly realizing there were two other people in the room. He straightened his shoulders and brushed his hand down the front of the lab coat.
He cleared his throat.
"I need you to take me back to just before Elizabeth and I met."
He looked at each of them in turn.
"I have to destroy Swapna."