April 20, 1906–May 1906
Sam and Casey went to breakfast early, with plans to continue their job searches. Three other boarders were in the tiny dining room ahead of them, gathered around a newspaper spread out on the chipped and scratched wooden table. They looked at Casey with uncertain glances.
“Ain’t she from there?” one of them muttered, and another nodded.
“Where? What’s going on?” Casey asked.
In answer, they moved aside so she and Sam could look at the paper.
San Francisco Leveled by Earthquake! ran the headline. Casey froze, as did Sam behind her. They read the article amid anxious questions from the boarders. Casey answered as best she could. Yes, she had friends in the area and yes, she hoped they were all right. No, she no longer had family there. Then she burst into tears and ran from the room. Startled, Sam grabbed some scones and tea and followed her.
She was sitting on the bed, head buried in her arms. “Casey,” Sam touched her shoulder. “Casey, this is one of the things we wondered about. The same things do happen in this timeline. But we don’t know anyone there, now. None of your family is there.”
She raised her head and wiped tears from her face. “I know. It’s not that. It’s just… reading about home. And it could happen. It could happen again at any time and I will never know. I’ll never know anything again, about my family or my friends.”
Sam turned and sat against the wall, his face thoughtful. “I’ve been thinking about the future, Casey. What we left behind. Do you realize we left clues about what happened?”
She shook her head, brow crinkled in puzzlement. He continued. “In the park, I had the time machine with me, and a laptop. They were left there. Someone has to notice.”
A look of horror dawned on Casey’s face. “What would they do with it? Could someone accidentally set the machine off again?”
“No, not at all.” Sam felt sure of that. “The thing is, that particular experiment was unauthorized. I’ve told you what was going on. No one knew what I was doing that night. But they’ll be able to trace it. I had the time machine, and I accessed the system to run the experiment. Presumably, when they don’t hear from me, they’ll investigate. They’ll want to get the time machine back, if nothing else.”
“What if a random person found your laptop? Could they boot it up? Maybe get your information and see what you were doing?”
Sam shook his head. “Needs a password. And believe me, it’s well-encrypted. I did, perhaps carelessly, have my business card tucked in the case. Just my name and cell number. My cell phone is with me, so calling that number won’t do anyone any good.”
“The party you are trying to reach is outside the calling area,” Casey murmured.
Sam looked at her, his face serious. “Indeed. But there’s something else you need to understand.”
Her eyebrows twitched. “What?”
“My team has researched this for years. We’ve done hundreds of experiments. None of them has given us positive data. Do you understand what I mean by that?”
“You have no results. All your inferences are made from a lack of data as opposed to empirical results from your experiments.”
Sam nodded, reluctant. “Yes, exactly. When we sent something back in time, we knew it went somewhere because it disappeared. But it never showed up in our past. We were considering the possibility that sending something back in time creates a new and different timeline. A new universe, if you will, with the same history as ours, but only up to the point the object went back to. In our case, January 24, 1906.”
“What happens to the original universe? Is it still there?”
He chewed on his lip, nodding. “I believe so. At least, we never noticed a difference when we ran our experiments. All the timelines could co-exist, theoretically. But my point is, that as far as you and I finding our way back to our own, original future, or even living long enough to get back–that won’t happen. Any future we get to from here will be a different universe.”
“Maybe someone will figure out how to build a bridge,” Casey said.
Sam looked thoughtful. “That’s a very interesting idea.”
She thought of something else. “We’re the only ones who will know if something changes if you and I cause the future to be different.” She looked uncertain at this prospect and Sam held up a finger.
“Now, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing, but I’ve been thinking about it. We have no idea what will change because of our presence. Even if we don’t decide to change something deliberately, I think it’s impossible that we won’t have some effect, somewhere. And I want to know what happens. I want to keep studying this and hopefully, in this timeline, we can make some real progress in the knowledge of time travel.”
“I wonder if we should somehow leave messages for the future. A trail of sorts, to show what we did. You’ve seen the notebook I had in my pocket when we came here. You know I’ve been keeping a diary of sorts. But maybe we should each keep one and record what we remember of our twentieth century. Leave a way for future historians to determine the effect we’ve had. And not just historians. For me, too.”
“Well…” he paused, not sure if she would approve of his idea. “For my future self. Assuming I’m born in 1946 and go into physics, having access to all this would be helpful. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about. It hasn’t quite come together yet, so I’m not sure I can explain it.”
“Okay,” Casey said. “Let me know when you figure it out. But sure, I can keep a diary, too. We need to record what we remember of the future, too. We have to, Sam. We owe it to our families and friends, if no one else.”
Sam nodded. “We can call them time travel journals. We’ll have to buy notebooks.” He lifted a brow at Casey. “Something else to spend money on.”
“I have some blank paper in my backpack,” Casey said. “We can start with that.”
A few days later, a letter came from Einstein, and Casey listened as Sam read it aloud, hope hammering her chest. But the hope faded at the carefully worded letter. Einstein expressed amazement at Sam’s thoughts, but left enough unsaid to keep from committing himself. He seemed to think Sam might be insane, but wanted to keep his options open. He asked for more time to think about it. He encouraged Sam to continue writing to him and said he hoped they could meet at some future time to discuss Sam’s ideas.
Casey bit her lip as Sam folded the letter, his face discouraged and bitter. “I can’t depend on Einstein,” he said, staring at the pages in his hand. “We revered these early physicists. I can’t believe they would all be so afraid.”
“Write him again,” Casey said, trying to sound upbeat. “He’s our best hope for figuring out what happened. Maybe you were too circumspect. I know you don’t want to come right out and tell him you traveled through time. But try again. Make him understand. We really need his help, Sam.”
“What about his life?” Sam asked her, more disturbed than she had ever seen him. “His work is seminal to every bit of the physics done after this year. How will my interference screw that up?”
She rested her forehead on her hands as she thought. When she spoke, her words were quiet, but firm. “We have to make a decision, Sam. Is there only one timeline? One timeline that we have somehow rewound by one hundred years, and that if everything remains as before, will end up exactly at the same place as before? Or are we on an alternate timeline, a new universe, as you’ve suggested? The original universe goes on as before, no changes. But our new line, here with you and me in 1906, is as new and innocent as a newborn baby. Anything is possible. Any future is possible. In this timeline Sam, it doesn’t matter what we do. It’s all new.”
“It’s hypothetical, Casey. You and I have no way of knowing what is the true state of affairs.”
She was impatient. “I know that. But we have to decide.” She shook her head, angry and dissatisfied. “We either live in constant fear that the next breath will forever end everything we ever knew, or we live as if we have real lives to live.” She started to cry. “I’ve just turned twenty-one, Sam. I want a chance to live.”
He agreed he owed her that chance. He wrote to Einstein, again.
After giving it considerable thought, Sam decided not to press his luck overmuch at Queen’s. He would need their cooperation eventually, but he wanted to be in a stronger position when he next approached them.
“Investors,” he told Casey, as he adjusted his cravat one morning in preparation for a day of job hunting. “I need investors. They don’t call it networking these days, but that’s what I need to do. Meet people. Impress people. Find out who they know and who I need to know. I either find someone to employ me, or even better, find people to invest in my vision of the future.”
He gave her a wicked smile. “Well, for starters, you want a better sound system, right? Sound is a big deal right now. Communications, in general, is ready for a big leap. The telegraph, and even telephones, are almost commonplace, and Marconi’s wireless is coming into its own. But their range is still very limited. I can bring them to the next level in a matter of months if I have the backers for it.”
“And,” he wagged a finger in front of her, “it can only help Ireland to be on the forefront of all that. Anything we can do to improve Ireland’s economy just might distract them from blowing each other up over religious and political differences. It’s worth a try.”