Three years later
Sarah stared with blank disinterest at the morning news on the lab’s wall screen. In truth, it was the digital clock in the upper right corner that had her attention. Three years of experimentation and scrapped prototypes had just culminated with one brilliant insight that woke her up at two-dark-o’clock this morning. She’d left Sam slumbering while she threw on jeans and sweatshirt, to pad her way to the laboratory. Four hours of tinkering brought the insight to physical reality, and wonder of wonders, the bloody thing worked.
Her fingernails tapped a dull rhythm on the countertop, keeping time with the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway. She’d long since given up trying to keep busy as she waited for Sam and her uncle to wake up and respond to her urgent message telling them to hurry. The TV clock flipped to seven-oh-six.
Men seemed to wake up quickly for just one thing.
Although, she perhaps should not be having such thoughts about her uncle.
Sam, though …
The sound of footsteps drew her thoughts back to safer territory. She turned with narrowed eyes and pouting lip to regard the men as they at last entered the lab. “I thought you’d never get here. I sent you a memo an hour ago.”
“At six in the morning, lass,” Jamie said. “Normal people were still in bed.”
Sam carried a large, steaming mug in each hand, and he held one out to her, in the apparent hope he could use it as a peace offering. “I brought you tea.”
The fragrance reached her, and she decided not to fight it. As she took the mug from him, he said, “I noticed you were gone around three o’clock. What drove you from your sleep this time?”
She sipped the tea and offered a smile to both men before she turned away, crooking her finger to get them to follow. “The solution to our problem.”
“Which one?” her uncle asked. She didn’t look back, just rounded a counter and reached for the petri dish in the center. She slid it toward them, then took another sip of tea as she watched their expressions.
Perhaps it was still too early. They stared at the dish, and at the two-centimeter-wide silver cylinder that glinted in its center. They exchanged a glance with each other, before bringing their gazes back to her for enlightenment. She sighed and began to explain.
“Our bridge-builder, which I’ve started calling CERBO, by the way … ”
“CERBO?” Jamie asked.
“Confined Einstein Rosen Bridge Originator,” Sarah said. “CERBO.”
He frowned, but did not comment. As a rule, Jamie didn’t like acronyms, although he admitted that he’d never find a universe without them.
“So far, we’ve only been able to build wormholes that stay in this universe.” Sarah continued. “This wee chip alters the neutrinos to allow for travel to another universe. One that already exists, anyway.”
A strange shadow crossed Sam’s face, but her uncle’s face lit up with a huge grin. He pointed. “This? You’ve done it with this?”
She nodded, returning Jamie’s grin. But she watched Sam.
He was staring at the cylinder, the steam from his forgotten tea rising to dissipate against his chin. Her uncle turned to face Sam as well. They waited.
At last Sam blinked, put his mug on the counter, and picked up the cylinder, holding it on the tip of finger. “How does it work?”
Sarah shrugged. “It’s plug-and-play. You use CERBO to collect your neutrinos and build the bridge that you design. But if we want to return to the first universe … and we do want to, don’t we Sam?” His slight nod did nothing to relieve her anxiety, but she went on. “To travel to the first universe, we insert this wee chip, and input the parameters for the shape of the neutrinos in that universe. That way, the bridge we build will start here, and end up there.”
Jamie whistled and bounced on his toes.
Sam handed the chip to Sarah. She gripped it between thumb and forefinger, and shook it at him.
“It does more than that, though,” she said.
He looked a little pale. “What?”
“It also controls the time travel. It’s a safety feature, Sam. Used alone, CERBO will only build wormholes within our own universe. Or,” she shrugged, “whichever universe we happen to be in. But we cannot travel to another universe, or through time, unless this wee chip is inserted first.”
“So no more accidents, eh?” Jamie said.
“No more accidents,” Sarah said. She was relieved to see a bit of color return to Sam’s face.
His lips twitched. “We better not lose it.”
Sarah shivered as a cold hand gripped her heart. She put the chip back in the petri dish. “I’ll make more than one.”
“No.” Jamie shook his head, and Sarah looked up at him, surprised.
“Oh, make more than one,” he said. “Indeed, indeed. But take just one with you. It would be disastrous if it fell into the wrong hands.” He reached out to touch the chip. “No, I’m afraid we’ll have to ask you to design one more miracle before we attempt this.”
She sighed, and Jamie showed her a brief grin before turning serious again.
“Program a fail-safe into each CERBO. I want a program that will find you in whatever universe or time you are in, and that will automatically transport you home after a set time. In case you do lose your wee chip. Or if … something else … should happen.”
Sarah thought about it, noticing Sam’s slight nod of agreement. “I can probably do that,” she said. “We’ll need to wear something that the fail-safe can lock onto. A marker of some kind.”
“It should be internal,” Sam said. “If we’re really going to do this insane thing, we should have a biomarker, perhaps in our bloodstream. Something that carries the shape of the neutrinos in this universe.”
“We all carry that already,” Sarah said. “Everything in this universe does. But I think I can come up with something that will work.” She looked heavenward. “Another sleepless night or two.”
“Then we’ll be ready,” Jamie said, gazing at the chip.
“We’ll be ready to run a test,” Sam said, his tone firm. “A probe. Build the fail-safe, and we’ll send a probe to the first universe. They’re a hundred years ahead of us, and we have no idea what’s happened in the last seventy-four years. We need data.”
“Certainly,” Jamie said, as if puzzled that Sam even suggested it.
Sarah just nodded, aware that the cold grip on her heart had not lessened.