“Nell, you ready?” Mavis hissed to his side. The two children were on top of the speeding train, crouched behind the skylight on the roof of the passenger car. On the opposite side of the car was an armored guard, seated with his back to the children.
“I’ve been ready,” Nell sighed in exasperation. “Are we doing this or not?”
“Okay, okay, I just want to be sure we don’t mess anything up.”
“Then don’t mess anything up!” And without further ado Nell sprang from their hiding spot and lobbed a metal plate she had pried from the top of the car through the air. It arced like a frisbee, sailing straight and true into the back of the armored guards. With a sickening thud it…
“…simply knocked him out and he fell off the train!” Ellie interrupted quickly.
“Hey, didn’t you say that the person who takes the bad guy out gets to describe how they die?” Nell accused.
“Then if you don’t want to hear what happens plug your ears.”
Ellie did exactly that, watching deafly as Nell spoke on and on, gesticulating wildly with her hands, flailing them at her side, wrapping them around her neck, and motioning a breaking-in-two. Then Nell mimed falling over sideways, pointed down to the ground, and splayed her hands out in front of her, eyes flashing and mouth moving with feverish excitement. Finally she clapped her hands together and gave what appeared to be the final detail of the armored guard’s epic demise. Ellie pulled her finger’s out of her ears just in time to hear all the boys exclaim in disgust.
“Oookay,” Mavis said with widened eyes. “I guess we move on.”
Just then Chase’s voice came rising from their walkie talkies.
“Hey, are you guys seeing this?”
“We got a rider approaching.”
Mavis and Nell shielded their eyes and looked across the plain. As Chase had said, a lone rider was quickly approaching the train, coming from the direction of the bridge. He was waving a red flag and gesticulating to a wooden barricade that had been laid across the tracks a quarter mile before the bridge.
“It’s a robber!” Mavis concluded. “He’s trying to stop the train!”
“One of the Time Bandits in disguise?” Chase asked.
“I don’t think so,” Patrick’s voice joined the walkie-talkie conversation. “I think this must have really happened in Abraham Lincoln’s past, just it never got written about in the history books. There’s more of those train robbers down here. They’re the ones that put the dynamite on the bridge. Probably what the rider is there to negotiate things with the engineer.”
But what exactly the rider had to say to the engineer was never found out. For right at that moment the engineer gave two blasts of the train’s horn and turned the engine’s speed up to its maximum! The locomotive lurched forward, barreling clean through the wooden barricade, jolting wildly as the splinters of it passed under its wheels. The highway robber was left back in the dust.
“We’re going to go onto the bridge!” Nell squeaked. “They’re not going to stop and the highway robbers are going to blow the bridge away! Have you got all the dynamite off that bridge yet?”
“We only cleared one side!” Ellie said in a panic. “Kind of got distracted!”
“Get the other side now!” Nell ordered. “Otherwise they’ll be picking their loot from the wreckage at the bottom of the ravine! We have to stop them!”
“No!” Mavis said forcefully. “Crazy as this looks, it already played out once before in history and we know Abraham Lincoln didn’t die here. We have to let it play out the same way here and now. Somehow–I don’t know how–but somehow it all works out. Patrick and Ellie, do not interfere with the bandits on the bridge. I repeat, do not interfere.”
“Yeah…about that…” Ellie groaned as she and Patrick watched Blackbeard deliver a spinning haymaker to yet another of the highway robbers, dropping the man off the bridge to join a half-dozen of his companions at the bottom of the ravine! As Blackbeard continued punching through the front of their forces his raptors slithered around to the back and attacked from the other side!
“Maybe it won’t matter,” Patrick suggested hopefully as he and Ellie crept along the bridge’s girders to its far side. “Maybe they messed up with wiring the dynamite or something. Maybe they would have blown themselves up instead, so Blackbeard taking them out makes everything similar enough that history won’t be changed.”
“We can’t take that chance,” Ellie sighed. “But I just don’t see how we can undo what’s already been done.”
By this point they were close enough to the far side of the bridge that they could see the two highway robbers who were crouching behind the boulders there. Running between them was the fuse that went along the underside of the bridge, connecting to every stick of dynamite.
“Those must be the guys who are going to set off the dynamite,” Patrick observed.
“I don’t think so,” Ellie shook her head. “Look, the fuse runs past them and up into that mountain pass.”
The two of them quieted down as the sound of the two robbers’ conversation became discernible.
“You think the boss is actually going to go through with this?” the one on the left asked nervously.
“I dunno,” the other returned. “He really thought the train was gonna stop. I don’t reckon he meant for it to actually come to this.”
“Well he’s going to go through with it, mark my words. I know Big Jakes and he’s never one to be made a fool of! He’ll gladly kill them all just for the spite of it!”
“Well that’s no good, we’ll all be wanted for murder! That wasn’t what I signed up for!”
“Me neither! I’m cutting the fuse!” And with that the robber bounded out from behind his boulder and grabbed the fuse with his hand, drawing his knife from its sheath.
“Oh good!” Ellie whispered excitedly. “This is why the train wasn’t destroyed in history.”
But then, all of a sudden, a rock came hurtling through the air, struck the robber in the head, and he toppled to the ground with a thud. The fuse had been left uncut!
“A-HAHAHAHA!” Blackbeard’s rolling laughter came from behind the children. “All the people in this time have gone soft!” The pirate was clearly thoroughly enjoying his little tousle.
“Not good!” Patrick exclaimed. “Get off the bridge!” The two children bolted forward, but they were too late. Whoever “Big Jakes” was, he had just set off the dynamite! All around the children was pure chaos as the bridge burst into a million splinters! A deafening, rolling explosion lifted the entire structure high into the air. Even Blackbeard’s triumphant face became etched with shock as he and his raptors felt the ground fall out beneath them. All together the children, the pirate, the raptors, and the tons and tons of broken wood fell through the air and down into the ravine!
“Reset! Reset Reset!” Chase screamed into his walkie talkie as the train hurtled for the cliff edge. The engineer slammed on the brakes, but it was going to be too late!
“Not yet!” Mavis clenched his teeth, sprinting forward along the roof of the train.
“Patrick and Ellie are dead!” Nell sprinted after him. “And we’re about to be, too! What are you waiting for?”
“We still don’t know what the time bandit’s play is!” he shot back.
Mavis had nearly made it to the front of the train where a high-security car with metal shutters sat right behind the coal car. It was the perfect place to for a time-traveling interloper to be hiding something.
“Mavis, we can’t wait any longer!” Nell cried out, and she was right. Just ahead of them the front of the train was already careening over the edge! It disappeared from view as it plunged down to its doom, followed by the coal car, the high security car, and the first of the passenger cars. Nell and Mavis held one another close as they went flying over the edge, their ears filled with the screams of all the train passengers plunging to their deaths!
“Punch it!” Chase roared into the walkie talkie.
Nell and Mavis reached for the control on his chest at the same instant. A strange, crackling filled the air while time continued forward another second, and in that second the shuttered windows of the high security car flashed with the very beginnings of a strange, bluish, ion explosion. But before those shockwaves could ripple out, everything froze. A surge of electricity coursed through the remote activator, shocking both Mavis and Nell and breaking the device, but it had already done what it needed.
All at once time slammed backwards, scooting the train back out of the ravine, pulling all of the splinters up through the air and reassembling them into a bridge, compressing the explosions back into their dynamite sticks, lifting one bandit after another back onto the bridge as Blackbeard moved backwards through their ranks, and chugging the train in reverse through the smashed wooden barrier. Chase, Nell, and Mavis changed back into their modern clothes and stepped back into the Time Capsule. The Time Capsule lifted off the back of the train, went forward and Ellie, Patrick, and Blackbeard jumped backwards into it. The Time Capsule lifted high into the air, surveying the scene in reverse, all the way until it reached the moment when it first arrived. Time reverted back to its forward motion. Everything had been returned to its prior state…except for the remote activator. That remained a burned-out wreck in its station. This time there would be no second chances.
“Never mind that, Blackbeard,” Nell was tutting in response to his comment about ironclad ships. “We had a deal and you need to have your mind on the mission at hand.”
Suddenly everyone’s eyes roved about wildly as they remembered everything they had just been through. They all looked at each other in shock.
“We had a deal!” Nell rounded on Blackbeard furiously. “You were supposed to take care of the mission!”
“You got us all killed!” Ellie added, hot tears splashing down her cheeks. “All of us! Even your own, slippery self!”
For the first moment the children saw something in Blackbeard’s eyes that they had not witnessed there before: remorse. The old cutthroat looked down sheepishly, not at all unlike a child caught in the wrong.
“Yer–yer right,” he sighed. “I messed things up something considerable before, didn’ I?” He regarded his boots a moment longer, then looked back up to the children sadly. “Iffen ye could find your way to give me another chance…I won’t be false with ye again.”
He held out his hand once more, this time without any spit in it. The children looked to each other, then each of them fit their small hand into his giant one and shook it.
“Alright,” Chase said. “So what’s our play? All we’ve figured out so far is where the time bandits aren’t.”
“That’s not true,” Mavis smiled. “Just before the reset I saw where an explosion coming out of the high security car. It was definitely futuristic tech.”
“Okay…” Patrick rubbed his chin. “So we land on that car with that Time Capsule, lock on, and pull it away with us through time. No problem.”
“Yes problem,” Nell shook her head. “Remember. This time the historical figures survive, which means they can’t witness something that will change the course of their lives. Like a flying time machine taking away a train car! We can’t get rid of some time distortions by introducing new ones!”
“Okay, so we break into the car and deactivate their bomb from the inside.”
“That’s better,” Mavis approved, “but still risky. We’ll be in close quarters, and we’re going in blind…but I don’t think we have any other option.”
“Then that’s what we do,” Ellie nodded.
“Yeah…and to your point Nell, we do want to be discreet…but , things are going to change here, that’s unavoidable. If we’re careful about it, though, it will be such small variations that they won’t make ripples of change throughout history. A small noise here, a little jolt there, everyone will forget about them by the time they step off the train and go about their lives as previously planned. The timeline will continue the same.”
“Fair point,” Nell agreed. “I think we’re ready then. How about Chase and I drop off in the passenger cars. We’ll keep an eye on the crows in the passenger cars while the rest of you take out the bomb.”
Everyone looked at each other and nodded.
On Monday I shared about stories where the hero needs to defeat the villain, but it is important for them to not compromise their honor along the way. I spoke of stories where the hero battles with the villain, defeats the villain, but then leaves them alive out of mercy, only for the villain to perish by their own hubris. I also spoke about stories where the hero is permitted to kill the villain, so long as it is done in self defense.
I also mentioned that not every one of these conundrums has to do with the hero needing to kill the villain, though. Sometimes the villain is able to use the hero’s integrity against them, tricking them into a promise with hidden strings attached. The hero can’t just go back on their word, so they need a way to get out of the deal without compromising their honor.
This occurs in the Disney animated film Hercules. Hercules is tricked into making a deal with Hades, giving up his powers to protect Meg. Then the villain reveals that Meg has actually been working for him all along and was not in any actual danger. Even so, Hercules is required to hold to his end of the bargain, he can’t just break his bonds because he is the hero and must remain honorable.
Later, after Meg has died, Hercules makes another deal with Hades, desiring to exchange his life for hers. Hades agrees, though again he is trying to cheat Hercules. Hercules, though, is being perfectly honest. He genuinely intends to trade his life for the woman he loves. Of course this heroic act elevates him to the status of a god, turns him immortal, and thus ruins Hades’ trick. Hercules did not fool Hades, though, he was sincere with his intentions the whole way through. He can’t help it if fate happened to intervene in his favor.
Blackbeard similarly forced the children into a bargain that was sharply in his favor. They needed to get out of it, but I deliberately made Blackbeard be the one to break the bond first, not the children. Now Blackbeard has learned his lesson, though, and we’re ready to close out this story. Before we get to that, though, I need to pause and look back at all the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Come back on Monday as we reflect on those, and then on Thursday for the finale!