“Have you been drinking?” Cassy almost yelled after James had explained everything.
“Am I a drunk in this life?” James asked.
“Look, I want to give our daughter a shot at life.”
“And what about our son?”
“Look, Lilly is-”
“You better be talking about a daughter and not that…that woman.”
“I am. Our daughter is amazing and wonderful and worth fighting for.”
“And Jimmy isn’t?”
“No, it’s that Lilly doesn’t deserve to be non-existent.”
“Neither does Jimmy.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do? Just let her never exist? If I can cancel the first one out, maybe we can both get what we want.”
“That’s just wishful thinking. That won’t happen.”
“I was always the hopeless romantic.”
“‘Hopeless’ is right.” She laughed at this in a way that made him uncomfortable.
“I don’t know, James,” she said, “but possibly killing our son to save some theoretical daughter doesn’t sound right. How do you know they’re not the same?”
“I don’t, but Lilly hated opera, and she was only nine, and… I just want to put things back the way they were.”
“Oh, the one where we got a divorce or the one where you married Aria?”
“Both… Neither… I don’t know. I want to fix it.”
“You’re the only one who thinks it’s broken. And you’re the only one who’s broken in it.”
“I can’t do nothing!”
“James, there’s only one timeline–the one you’re in. That’s the one you can change. That’s the one you can make better.”
Lilly stopped swimming now and again, just for a change. The purple light stayed in front of her no matter how she oriented herself. Her senses seemed to dull with the constancy of the world around her, though she couldn’t be sure. She played games with herself, trying to remember puzzles or riddles or even stories from her life. But her memories too seemed to disappear in lines of hexagons.
Lilandra called the next evening. She’d spoken with Fowler and he’d agreed to let her into the lab and see what’s going on.
“He agreed to just let you in and leave? Just like that?” James asked.
“Well, no, but I think I can get it unlocked and distract him long enough for you to get in. Al’s always had a thing for me.”
“Al, huh? Not Albert or Albertross?” With mock grandeur, he added, “Albertross Fowler, King of the Birds.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“You made it up.”
“Anyways, look, you’ve gotta stay out of sight. Fowler’ll definitely press charges if he sees you.”
“Does this version of you know Carlos Montague?”
“No, but the name sounds familiar.”
“He’s one of Fowler’s grad students. You met him at an AA meeting. You stole his ID and used it to get into Fowler’s lab. Fowler believes you want to get even with him.”
“Besides being a prick, what’s he done to me?”
“Well, you claimed he stole the Wells Fellowship out from under you, and you believed he directly stole your work on that telephone thing you told me about once.”
“Yeah, that. He published his version two months before yours.”
“He said something about that…”
“The journal rejected your paper for plagiarism concerns. Which kinda ended your academic career.”
“That sounds like something I’d want to get even for.”
“But why do it now? That was years ago, right?”
“He was just awarded the Wolf Prize for his work on tachyons and he’s seen as a contender for the Nobel next year.”
“I wasn’t even considered for the Wolf prize…”
“Al was always better at PR than you.”
“‘Al’?” He said with a laugh. “I can’t get over that.”
“Shut it, Cole. You gave up that right when you broke it off.”
“Whoa, sorry. I was just teasin’.”
Lilandra calmed herself. “Sorry, I shouldn’t take it out on you… Err… This version of you.”
“For what it’s worth, I didn’t break it off.”
She went quiet for a long moment.
“It’s just weird, you know?” she said in a quiet voice. “You’re still talking like we did in grad school. But it’s… I’m a long way from who I was then.”
“I guess I am too.”
They talked long into the night about their plan, finessing details and preparing for every possible scenario. And Cassy sat just outside the door holding a notebook full of temporal calculations; at first she wept, but then her tears dried, leaving behind a detached despair for the marriage she’d fought for and for the son it bore.
To Be Continued…