Last time on "Rebecca Drysdale is a Time Traveling Lesbian":
Becky crested the last rise and saw the agent that Carl had told her she was acting as "back-up" for: or at least, she hoped so: jeans, cowboy boots, a Western shirt -- more or less the same outfit Becky was wearing -- with curves, and a mass of dark curly hair that had Becky wanting mostly to take them off of her.
"G'day, I'm Rose," the woman said. "You must be my back-up," the woman said, looking her up and down and snorting derisively. "Carl is scraping the bottom of the barrel again, I see."
"Hey!" Becky said. "I'm one of Carl's top agents! I caused the fall of the Roman Empire!"
"Everyone causes the fall of the Roman empire, sweetheart," she replied. "A toddler could cause the fall of the Roman Empire, that's one of those inevitable events that's almost impossible to screw up, so he sends out rank beginners. Did you sleep with the empress?"
"...Yes," Becky said.
"Good, isn't she? She collects time agents. I hope you had a VD check afterward."
"But-- but--" Becky protested. Okay, the Empress of Rome had seemed a bit too easy, but this woman couldn't be telling the truth, could she? Becky was one of the most vital agents, she had Carl's word for it. Of course, she'd recently had a very direct demonstration of just how much Carl was willing to stretch the facts. "I went forward to the invention of time travel! I'm the reason the agency exists in the first place!"
"Ah, he's sent you there already, huh? I guess that explains why he thought you were good enough to be my backup. I'll just have to assume you aren't totally incomptent. Oh well," she added. "At least you're cute."
"Why am I here?" Becky growled at her. The faint possibility of eventual lesbian make-outs wasn't quite enough to make her happy about the possibility of having to spend more time in this insufferable woman's company.
"We're working rescue," Becky said. She pointed west toward the horizon. "From that direction," she said, "In about half an hour, some ranchers coming home from town will be passing through. In that direction--" she pointed the opposite way, "an agent on the way back from a successful mission will be passing. Unfortunately, he's exhausted from the mission and not thinking straight, and the ranchers will see him, panic, and shoot him. Our goal is to get the agent back to headquarters alive with minimal disruption of timelines all around."
"That should be easy," Becky frowned. "We just have to grab him and get him out of site, and if you know exactly what's going on, what's the catch?"
"The catch," said rose, "Is that this is, for some reason, a highly sensitive temporal event. 90% of the time, the course of history has enough inertia that all we can do is change a few details, or one or two lives-- humanity as a whole is heading somewhere, and no individual can exert enough force to change the broad arc of time. You're new, so you probably haven't run into that sort of thing before. But once in awhile, there's a life or event that that really does change things, and we have to make sure things happen exactly as they should--" she stopped, looking intently at Becky.
Becky wiped her face and steeled her expression. "What?" she said, as hostilely as she could. This woman didn't need to know everything about her.
rose shook her head. "You hit an Edith Keeler, didn't you?" she asked gently.
"Is that what they call it?" she said, almost smiling, and then ducked her head. "Of course they do."
"And I suppose Carl just let you take a memory wipe and try to quit instead of actually helping you deal."
"Oh, you must know Carl too."
rose sighed. "Well, that explains why he decided you were qualified for this mission. I am sorry," she said, tentatively reaching a hand out to Becky and then pulling it back. "That's hard. No-one should have to. After we make it back to Headquarters, I'll have to find someone you can talk it through with."
"Does that sort of thing happen a lot?"
rose shrugged. "The sort of people who bend the arc of history around them tend to be extraordinary people. Yeah. It happens a lot." She flashed Becky a grin. "Never to me though. Unlike some people, I know how to keep my mind on my mission. Luckily there's not much chance of anybody falling inconveniently in love this time, but what we've in the middle of is a confluence of a temporally sensitive individual and a temporally sensitive event. The time agent who's going to get shot is exceptionally vital to the history of the agency itself, and if he doesn't survive, timelines get screwed six ways to Sunday. Unfortunately, he fiddled his own timeline and records enough that nobody noticed until the version where he was killed had established itself - and in that history, there's a photograph taken of his body which becomes extremely important to the future and shifts the path of science in a direction that makes life a lot happier for a whole lot of humanity. So we've got to save his life-- but make sure the picture of his corpse still gets taken."
"Ah," said Becky, thinking it through. "Not as simple as it seems on the surface, then. Still." Thinking like a Time Agent required a certain amount of twistiness, but it was something Becky had always been good at, that improv had honed - treating reality itself like a play where past didn't always follow present and things could exist without antecedents. "So we get the agent back to headquarters, and then fake up a photo."
rose shook her head. "Tried that first. The photo's going to be subjected to a hell of a lot of analysis with centuries' worth of technology, and without the eyewitness testimony and an absolutely unimpeachable photo, it gets rejected out of hand as a fake. You save the agent but the photograph doesn't happen, and the agent has declared that unacceptable. Which is why I was sent back to try again. And is also why you and I are here and not several kilometers back that way, saving him - I'm already back there doing it, and several other high-ranking agents are already there stopping me."
"Okay," Becky said. "So we have to let the shooting and the picture happen, which means we rescue him as soon as the photo's taken, and zot a few hundred years into the future - 25th century medical tech is amazing; they can save him even if he's been clinically dead for nearly an hour."
rose shook her head. "Tried that too. They drag the body all the way back to the ranch first, pulled behind their horses. By the time it's possible to get to him, he's beyond saving by any tech known to the agency. I think we're going to have to pull something more complicated, which is why I called for backup. We need to make sure a photograph gets taken, but it doesn't have to be that one - we need to change the sequence of events. I already did the groundwork back in town to make sure one of them is hobby photographer carrying his camera with him; I think the best way is to do something to distract the ranchers - let them shot the agent, but then lure them quickly away; hopefully they'll do a quick photograph and then head for our distraction without trying to take the body, and then we can rush in and get him home in time to save him."
"What sort of distraction did you have in mind?"
rose shrugged. "I figured I'd wait and see who they sent me before I planned too far. Any ideas?"
Nothing came to mind immediately. Carl had given her so few details on the mission that she hadn't brought any special supplies, figuring she could improvise with local materials, so none of her usual repertoire of technological magic was around, and nothing in her standard kit was spectacular enough to work from a distance. "With nothing but stone knives and bearskins?" she said dubiously.
rose shot a glance at her, smiling quicksilver. "Still in Star Trek mode, huh?" she said.
"You started it," Becky muttered, but that gave her an idea. "These are 19th century Arizona ranchers. I bet a naked woman appearing out of nowhere and dancing for them."
"...I like the way you think," rose said. "You volunteering?"
"I have very delicate skin," Beck told her seriously. "By which I mean, of course, fishbelly white. You've got a better shape for it anyway," she added, frankly admiring rose's curves.
"Oh, but I'll have to be the one to grab the agent - your wristband isn't rated for passengers yet, is it?"
Becky shook her head.
"There you go then," she said, and smirked. "Besides, don't sell yourself short! You'll do. Go on--"
"I could borrow your wristband," Becky suggested. "I don't see why you get to decide--"
"Because I outrank you," Becky said. "By quite a lot. Enough that you don't want to check in to ask, it would just be embarrassing. Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on your clothes for you while you get into position." She sat down Indian-style on the hilltop and smiled at Becky over folded hands. "Well? We don't have a lot of time. Go on, strip."