Part V - Chapter 27 - The Bootstrap Paradox

Pete woke up in his bed. The pain that had radiated throughout his body had dwindled to a mild ache in his arms and legs. As Pete flung the blanket away in preparation of getting up, he noticed that his arms appeared to be a light pink and without hair.

"Welcome back to the land of the living," Socrates said while sitting in a chair across the room.

Pete groaned as the dull pain increased slightly in protest to moving to a sitting position. Ellie came into the room carrying breakfast on a tray with the journal tucked into an apron pocket.

"Good Morning, Sunshine," she beamed as she placed the tray on the bed beside Pete. "Not only have you survived a new injury but it looks like you have found a way to reverse aging."

"Why would anyone want to reverse aging?" grumbled Pete. All of this cheerfulness and sunshine, it only increased his headache.

"You know, I don't know if I would recognize you without your beard," chimed Socrates.

"You didn't!" exclaimed Pete as he began to pat his face. To his relief, his beard was there and fully intact. But when the other two laughed at Pete's vanity, the thief pouted as he picked at the breakfast next to him.

"So why didn't the bracelet protect me from fire? Bullets ricochet off of me and no one can cut off my arm to escape with the bracelet, but what makes fire my Achilles' heel?"

"The book didn't explain, it just said that it doesn't prevent against fire. But looks like you are able to recover from flames so it seems that you two continue to be the perfect pair."

"Don't say that so loud around my piece!" scolded Pete. He turned to look at the gun on its silk pillow before commenting, "Don't listen to them, Baby. I still love you best."

"Did you find out anything about Doc?" asked Ellie. Pete filled them in on his visit and Doc's claims that he did not know that Charles had been holding him hostage. Pete also told them about the battle that had occurred before he left. "It must have been weeks or months ago, based on all of the healing."

"Pete you seem to be healing faster."

"Excuse me?"

"I mean, you got here last night and now you've almost fully recovered." Pete whistled as he looked at himself in amazement but then he thought about Jayne and his sacrifice.

"Still so odd to see Jayne alive, knowing that Charles is going to kidnap him, and he's going to die in the future."

"If it were me, I would have found a way to say something," scoffed Socrates.

"But if he did that, he'd mess up the time stream," scolded Ellie. "Besides, they were in a battle. It's not like they had time to have a heart to heart."

"Well not a heart to heart," began Pete. Upon her narrowed gaze, Pete explained about tearing a page from the hymnal to give Jayne a note. Upon hearing the story, Ellie anxiously got up and began rummaging through the desk.

"I saw it here somewhere," she muttered to herself.

"What?" asked Pete. As Pete looked around the room, he noticed that all of his loot was no longer littering the floor.

"Ellie, what the hell did you do with-"

"It's safe Pete," she responded in a sing song voice. Almost mocking the melodious greeting that Pete often used.

"If I know what you're looking for, maybe I can help?" offered Socrates.

"Just a second..." Ellie muttered as she began to take things out of Pete's drawers and begin dropping them onto the floor.

"Please, make yourself at home," Pete stated sarcastically before reaching for a yogurt on his tray.

"There it is!" she exclaimed after picking up a tiny piece of paper off the floor. She examined it for a moment and said, "I think this is the piece of paper that you said burned when you arrived from the future."

Pete took it before confirming, "Yes. But I could never read the writing. It was smeared before he gave it to me."

"Pete, look at the back of it," she explained while pointing on the side without the handwritten words. As Pete inspected it, it was clear that it was the tiny words of a hymn. Pete flipped it back to the front and made out the words "life for." What shocked Pete was not necessarily the words but the fact that it was his own handwriting.

"Pete, don't you see what this means? Jayne didn't give you that sheet as a code to get out of the cell. The gizmo was the key to the cell. The note was his way to protect you; he gave you back your message."

"Why would he give this back to me?" asked a shocked Pete.

"From his angle, it probably looked like you saved his life. Like you, he didn't like owing another person his life," Ellie explained. As the words dawned on Pete, a question began to build in Pete's mind.

"So, if he died for me because I looked like I died for him. Who really died for whom first? Who had the idea or the burden first?"

"Don't do that!" commanded Socrates. "I've hit my limit with all of this time travel and time stream craziness. You're making my head hurt!"

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