“What are you doing up?” he said, voice rough from sleep, and she smiled, eyes bright with possibilities.
“I think I have it,” she said, and he sat down beside her on the couch, liking how his weight slid her into him.
But she shifted back, the excitement of discovery in her. “I’ve been looking at the data you got from the double-draft,” she said, and he squinted down, blinking through the glare. “Everything indicates that you’re right, that we’re not going back in time, but sideways, creating a temporary secondary existence for those within our reach, sort of like a closed oxbow of time.”
“Yeah?” He was too tired to think, and he reached for the tablet. Summer wouldn’t let go, and they slid together so they could both hold it. The thin fabric of her nightgown was almost not there, and he forced his attention back. “I could use some good news,” he added, but data supporting his theory was only half the battle. He had to prove it.
“Look here,” she said, slim finger pointing at the three-dimensional graph on the screen. “The gravity sink parallels an individual drafter’s physical reach, and the Doppler shift is a direct correlation with the span of time we impact. You couldn’t see it until there was a double-draft. There wouldn’t be a gravity sink that large unless we were going sideways, creating a new reality that we drag back with us using the Doppler shift resonance echoes as a guide. And if you are moving sideways, not back, then you can do a long draft and change something beyond a drafter’s natural reach. Time is an artifact of distance moved, not the other way around. This proves it, Silas. You did it!”
Summer was hugging him, and he blinked fast, pulse quickening as he lurched to keep his tablet from hitting the floor when she let go of it.
“This changes everything,” she said, positively glowing. “You’ll have all the clout you need to do whatever you want. Professor Milo can eat your silicon dust,” she said. “Silas,” she exclaimed, giving him a shake. “Say something!”
A slow smile spread across his face, and he stared at the data, torn between studying it and holding her. “We only have this one data pool,” he said. “I’ll need more to prove it. Years,” he said, his excitement faltering at the idea of fighting Professor Milo for every scrap of computer time, the agony the drafters and anchors would have to endure to even gather the data. Years in which Summer would drift farther from him as she began her work as a drafter. “I can’t say a long draft is possible with just one twenty-second double-draft. I need more data.”
Her lips pressed together, a vivid red against her cheeks, which were pale from lack of sleep. “Data? You don’t need data. I’ll prove it right now.”
“Summer!” he exclaimed as he set the tablet aside, shifting sideways to take her hands. “Knowing I’m right doesn’t equal safe or even possible. You might have to hold uncountable timelines until I can defragment them. The human mind is not a circuit.”
“The human mind is the most flexible system ever created,” she said, flushed. “Isn’t that what you tell your students? Are you saying you don’t believe it?”
“Well, no . . .”
“Your theory is sound,” she said as she pulled away, her excitement undimmed but tarnished by his disbelief. “I’m not going to wait,” she said, cutting off his next protest. “I’m not going to wait until time and a partner assignment decide who I will love. Not if I can go back and maybe shift something. Make it better.”
“Make it better?” he whispered, not believing his levelheaded, careful Summer was threatening to jump into the unknown, risk everything for . . . for them. “No.” Turning to face her even more, he took her shoulders, feeling her defiance. “There’s too much we don’t know.”
“Then I’ll find out,” she said, and he gasped as vertigo swamped him. Sparkles so blue they glowed black rose like fireflies, blocking his vision. His grip on Summer became numb, indistinct. He scrambled for her, searching for her mind as she threw them both back far beyond her normal reach, the gravity sink of the double-draft pulling her. And she drafted.
Silas spasmed as hot lances pierced his skull. He fastened on the thump of music, knowing immediately where they were. The dance club. It was the night they failed their test. She won’t survive, he thought, ignoring Professor Milo’s demand as he bolted out of the back room.
He slid to a halt just past the door as his mind struggled to comprehend. Behind him the security room was stable—no choices to be made there—but before him . . . the bar was red-tinted shadows of alternate times. It was as if translucent pages fluttered before his vision, and he tried to comprehend, nothing real but Summer standing upon the dance floor.
The pain of the universe being born shook him as she rifled through choices as if she were looking for a favorite recipe. She was the only thing clear as red-smeared shadows played out alternate timelines around her.
With an angry, Doppler-tainted shout, the bouncer grew distinct as possibilities circled and steadied around the angry man. She’s trying to keep Professor Milo from getting shot, he thought as Summer focused on him. The pain was less as choices were cast aside, and feeling it, she smiled. Tiny shifts of probability haloed her in silver, and the knowledge that their love would survive made her achingly beautiful.
“Excuse me,” Silas said as he tapped the bouncer on the shoulder. The man spun, and the red blur that was Allen became solid and real. Less pain, more reality. Silas jerked the rifle from the bouncer’s hand, and the drafter/anchor teams wavered into existence out of the red smear of possibilities. “Hold this,” Silas said, throwing the rifle to Professor Milo, who had emerged from the back room. If he had the rifle, he couldn’t be shot by it.