Lost In Time

Dear Reader,

Below is a preview of my upcoming novel, Lost in Time. The book will be out September 1st and available on all platforms (as well as via Kindle Unlimited) and in all formats (eBook, hardcover, audio).

I hope you enjoy this sneak peek, and I can't wait to hear what you think of the novel.

- Gerry

PS: there are pre-order links at the bottom or you can click here to see them.





On the anniversary of his wife’s death, Sam Anderson visited her grave.

It was a crisp spring morning in Nevada, with dew on the grass and fog rolling through the cemetery. In one hand, Sam carried a bouquet of flowers. In the other, he gripped his son’s hand. Ryan was eleven years old and strong-willed and introverted, like his mother. After her death, he had withdrawn, spending even more time alone, playing with LEGOs, reading, and generally avoiding life.

Counseling had yielded little help for Ryan. At home, Sam had searched for a way to get through to his only son, but he had to admit: he wasn’t half the parent his wife had been. Most days, he felt like he was simply reacting to his children, making it up as he went, working on a mystery without any clues.

He hoped the visit to Sarah’s grave this morning would be the start of turning that around.

Sam’s daughter, Adeline, gripped Ryan’s other hand. She was nineteen years old, and to all outward appearances seemed to have coped better with her mother’s passing. But Sam wondered if Adeline was just a better actor than Ryan or himself. He worried about that too, about her bottling it all up and carrying the burden of unaddressed grief.

Last night, he had seen a glimpse of her hidden rage. Adeline was still furious with him over the evening’s argument. So angry she wouldn’t even hold his hand or look at him. Hence, Ryan walking between them.

But she had agreed to be there that morning, and Sam was thankful for that.

They walked in silence through the cemetery much like they had floated through life since Sarah’s death: hand-in-hand, trying to find their way through it all.

Fog drifted in front of the headstones like a curtain being drawn and opened. Across the cemetery, sprinkler heads rose and began deploying water. The cemetery likely cost a fortune to irrigate out in the Nevada desert, but of all the problems Absolom City had, money wasn’t one.

At the edge of the grass, Sam thought he saw a figure watching them. He turned his head, and yes, there was a man there. He wore a dark uniform, though Sam couldn’t make it out from this distance. Fog floated in front of the man, and when Sam looked again, he was gone.

Ryan must have felt his father slow down.

“What is it, Dad?”

“Nothing,” he muttered, resuming their pace, tugging on his son’s hand.

Near Sarah’s grave, Sam spotted a man and a woman standing on the other side of the cemetery. They were also wearing dark uniforms. Sam’s first instinct was that they were here for a burial service. But they didn’t move deeper into the maze of graves. They stood there, staring at Sam and his family.

He set the flowers at the base of Sarah’s headstone and tried to put the figures out of his mind.

Mentally, he had rehearsed the lines he wanted to say a hundred times. And as he spoke the first words into that foggy April morning, they sounded just like that to him: rehearsed and passionless.

“I’d like to say something.”

Adeline’s gaze shifted away from him. Ryan stared at his shoes.

Sam decided right then to drop the speech and say the first thing that came to his mind. That thing was a memory.

“I want to tell you what your mom said to me one of the last times I saw her.”

Adeline’s head turned quickly. Ryan looked up.

“She told me that it would make her very sad if she was what kept me from being happy after she was gone. I think she meant that for all of us. She was selfless like that—in life and even after.”

Adeline closed her eyes and raised her fingers to her eyelids. A warm wind blew across the three of them. A tear leaked from the edge of Adeline’s right eye and lingered there, soaking itself in mascara, and slowly began painting its way down her cheek as if an invisible hand was drawing warpaint on her face.

It was the first tear Sam had seen her shed in years.

“The second thing she told me is something I think about a lot: time heals all wounds. But it won’t work if you don’t give time a chance. That was her point: we just have to accept that sometimes things are going to be hard for a while. If we’re strong enough—if we hold on long enough—things will get better. Every year, this hurt we feel is going to get a little better. I promise you.”

He reached out and pulled Ryan into a hug, and Adeline closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around Sam, and buried her face in his shoulder. He felt the warmth of her tears soaking through his shirt.

A buzzing overhead caught his attention. It was a drone. Not one, but three of them.

A computerized voice called through the fog.

“Dr. Samuel Anderson, please step away from the others.”

Sam glanced around the cemetery. What was happening here?

“Dr. Samuel Anderson, this is your second warning. Step away and put your hands on your head.”

“What?” Sam called out.

Adeline looked up. “Dad, what’s going on?”

The three drones were hovering above them now. The computerized voice called again.

“Adeline Anderson, step away and put your hands on your head.”

Sam realized the suited figures he had seen earlier were surrounding them now. There were seven in all, wearing Absolom City Police uniforms, standing with their hands on their belts within easy reach of the handcuffs and stun batons hanging there.

The drone called again.

“Dr. Samuel Anderson, this is your final warning. You have five seconds to separate yourself from the others and place your hands on your head.”

“Dad…” Adeline’s voice was ragged and panicked.

“It’s okay,” he whispered as he turned and scanned the police officers, searching for the person in charge to address.

“I’d like to talk to—”

The sharp pain in his neck was like a bee sting. He reached up and felt a circular piece of metal the size of a coin dug into his skin. He was trying to pry it loose when his vision blurred. His legs went weak, and he fell headfirst into the soft grass.

The last thing Sam saw before the darkness swallowed him was the engraved letters on his wife’s headstone.


When he came to, Sam was lying in a hospital bed. His arms and legs were strapped down. A machine to his left showed his vitals, the charts and numbers updating in real time.

Sensors were adhered to his chest and forehead. He felt a slight pinch on his right hand. He looked down and found an IV snaking away, a clear tube with a piece of tape over it.

Beside him, a nurse sat on a metal chair, dressed in blue scrubs, reading a digital paper. He looked up and tapped a button on his chest.

“Timestamp. Subject is awake and appears alert.”

Sam felt like his mouth was full of sawdust. He fought through it, forcing the words out. “Where am I?”

“Post-arrest medical observation at Absolom City Police, Central Station.”


Before the nurse could answer, the door opened, and a man and a woman walked in, both dressed in suits, gold and silver police badges clipped at their waists.

“Dr. Anderson,” the woman said. “I’m Detective Billings. This is my partner, Detective Holloway. How do you feel?”

“Very confused. Not very happy.”

Billings made no reaction. “You were issued three requests to comply, which you refused. You were subsequently restrained in accordance with the standardized arrest protocol, which protects law enforcement personnel and ensures all subjects of arrests are treated uniformly, regardless of—”

“Why am I here?”

“Dr. Anderson, you’re under arrest for the murder of Dr. Nora Thomas.”

Out of his peripheral vision, Sam saw his pulse number on the machine skyrocket. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.

Billings held up her arm and tapped a smartwatch. A woman’s voice spoke loudly.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights that have just been read to you?”

Sam lay there, still in shock.

“Dr. Anderson?” Billings asked.

Nora was dead.

That was Sam’s first thought.

How? was his second thought.

She had been murdered.

It was impossible. Who would murder Nora? Someone protesting Absolom? If so, were the other Absolom scientists in danger? Company personnel? His family?

“Dr. Anderson?”

His gaze drifted back to the woman.

“Do you understand the rights that have been read to you?”

“Yes,” he muttered.

“With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

“You better believe I want to speak with you. I want some answers.”

“So do we, doctor. We’re just here to find the truth.”

“How…” Sam began, but his mind spun, unable to form a question. A million of them fought a war in his brain, none emerging on top.

Billings reached inside her jacket and took out an e-ink tablet slightly bigger than her hand.

“Dr. Nora Thomas was found dead at her residence this morning at 7:13 a.m. after a friend she was scheduled to exercise with reported seeing blood and a motionless body inside her home.”

Sam shook his head, still in disbelief.

Billings pressed on. “Dr. Anderson, when was the last time you saw Dr. Thomas?”

Sam tried to force the words out, but it was as if his mind wouldn’t connect to his mouth.

Billings cut her eyes to her partner. The gray-haired man spoke slowly, his voice deep and calm, a sharp contrast to the tension in the room.

“We know you visited Dr. Thomas last night.”

Sam stared at the man. He felt his heart hammering in his chest.

Detective Holloway shrugged. “We have the city surveillance camera recordings.”

He paused, waiting, but Sam said nothing.

“We know you and your daughter, Adeline, arrived at Dr. Thomas’s home at 9:06 p.m. and left at approximately 9:43 p.m. We’re pretty sure Dr. Thomas was killed toward the end of that window.”

“Impossible…” Sam whispered.

Billings cleared her throat. “Dr. Anderson, were you engaged in a romantic relationship with Dr. Thomas?”

Sam’s heart beat even faster. This was wrong. A setup.

The nurse stared at the medical monitor, watching the numbers ticking up like a countdown to an explosion.

The two detectives glanced in Sam’s direction, but not directly at him, as if he had three heads and they were looking at the ones beside him.

Sam swallowed and forced the word out. “Yes.”

“Is there anything you’d like to tell us about that?” Holloway asked.

Sam shook his head. The sedation drugs were wearing off. His head was finally starting to clear.

In the cemetery, the drones hadn’t just called out his name. They called out for Adeline as well.

“Where’s my daughter?”

Holloway held his hands up. “She’s in a post-arrest interview room. Don’t worry. She’s fine.”

“Why’d you arrest her?”

“The same reason we arrested you,” Billings said.

Sam sat up and tried to raise his arms, but the restraints caught. An alarm on the machine next to him blared.

Billings took a step closer. “Relax, Dr. Anderson.”

Before he could respond, the door flew open and Sam’s long-time friend and colleague, Elliott Lucas, barged in.

Close behind him was Tom Morris, the chief counsel for the company they co-founded, Absolom Sciences. Tom spoke over the sound of the alarm. “Don’t say another word, Sam.”

Elliott eyed the detectives. “Why is he strapped down?”


Tom pointed at Sam. “I want my client released from police custody right now.”

Billings shook her head. “That’s not possible.”

“Why?” Tom asked.

Billings didn’t flinch. “Dr. Anderson is being held on a murder charge—which is subject to Absolom. As I’m sure you know, pretrial bail is not allowed for Absolom-eligible crimes. The risk of flight and risk to the community is too great.”

A silence stretched out in the room.

Billings glanced at Elliott and Tom. “Gentlemen, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the room.”

Tom’s eyes bulged. “On the contrary, detective. I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I’m this man’s attorney, and he doesn’t have to speak to you. I want Dr. Anderson moved to a comfortable room where we can talk in private.”

Billings nodded to the nurse, who stepped closer to Sam and eyed him. “Dr. Anderson, do you feel you’re a danger to yourself or others?”


The nurse pointed to the band around Sam’s right wrist. “You’re required to wear this medical monitor and locator device at all times. Tampering with it or trying to remove it is a felony. Do you understand?”

“Yes. I understand.”

The nurse tapped the button on his shirt. “Timestamp. Subject is cleared to be held outside of medical observation.”


After the drone shot her father, Adeline had screamed.

The drones had made her step away from her brother. The police moved in then and took her away, to Absolom City’s central police station, to a holding room where she now sat in an uncomfortable chair, at a table with nothing on it.

She felt confused. And scared.

The door opened and a man and a woman walked in. They were dressed in plain clothes, their police badges clipped to their belts.

Without asking, they sat at the two chairs across the table.

The woman spoke first. “Miss Anderson, I’m Detective Billings. This is my partner, Detective Holloway.”

“Where’s my father?”

“He’s here. We just spoke to him.”

“I want to see him.”

“Before we get to that, I need to apprise you of your rights.” The woman tapped her smartwatch and a recording played, reciting the Miranda warning. Adeline had seen it hundreds of times in movies and TV shows. She never thought she’d hear it in person. This was so bizarre. It had to be some kind of mistake. That was the only plausible explanation.

“Do you understand the rights that have been read to you?” Billings asked.

“Yes,” Adeline said quietly.

“We’d like to ask you some questions, Miss Anderson. With these rights in mind, are you willing to speak to me?”

Adeline stared at the two detectives. This was all wrong. Being arrested. Her father being arrested. It had to be a mistake. Talking to them could clear it up. After all, the cops existed to protect people like her father and her. Innocent people. Refusing to answer would look suspicious. Might even land her in trouble.

“What do you want to know?”

“Last night you visited Dr. Nora Thomas.”



“She… wanted to give me some things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Items my mother had given her. She thought I might want them.”

“Was that the only reason she wanted you and your father to come over?”


“What was the other reason?”

With her thumb, Adeline began picking at the skin next to the nail on her middle finger. In her mind, she couldn’t help replaying the fight that had taken place inside Nora’s home.

“Last night,” Billings said carefully, “you got upset, didn’t you, Miss Anderson?”



Two uniformed police officers led Sam from the hospital-like room to another holding area.

To him, the new cell felt more like a one-bedroom apartment. There was a sitting area with a couch, coffee table, and two club chairs, a long table with six chairs, and a separate bedroom and bathroom.

It certainly wasn’t an average police holding cell. And for good reason: Absolom City wasn’t a typical small town. Absolom Sciences Inc. had built the city to house its corporate headquarters and research facilities. It was located in Western Nevada, near the California border, in the middle of a vast expanse of desert. Around the town, a massive solar field spread out in every direction, collecting the immense amount of energy the Absolom machine needed to operate.

Most of the town’s sixteen thousand residents worked at Absolom Sciences, and the houses had been designed and built specifically for their needs. So had the police station. With the sheer amount of surveillance cameras in the city (and Absolom as a penalty for the worst offenses), crime was nearly nonexistent in Absolom City. But like human nature, crime couldn’t be completely eradicated. There was always the occasional drunk and disorderly. A domestic dispute. A teenager sowing wild oats—or crying for help.

These cells in the police station had been designed for those occasions. They were like hotel suites where wayward—but valued—citizens could sleep off the excess alcohol or reflect on what had landed them here.

As Sam sat on the couch, he wondered if he would ever leave this place a free man. He was certainly the first murder suspect to be arrested in Absolom City.

He did have one thing going for him: he could have visitors. In this day and age, everyone was well aware of the fifth amendment—and their right to an attorney. If a suspect under arrest wanted to avoid talking to the police and communicate with the outside world, it was simply a matter of asking for a lawyer and passing messages from that person to anyone outside the police station. As such, the police were more liberal with allowing people to visit suspects under arrest. In many cases, talking with loved ones even encouraged suspects to confess. And confession was the typical conclusion to crimes in Absolom City, thanks to the ubiquitous cameras recording all public spaces and a well-trained police force.

Tom sat in the club chair opposite Sam. Elliott plopped down in the other one.

“They can’t record in this room,” Tom said. “Can’t even question you here.”

Sam nodded absently. “They arrested Adeline as well. I want her released. This has to be some mistake.”

Tom took his phone out and tapped out a text message.

Sam leaned forward. “Please, Tom. Do it right now. They could be questioning her for all we know.”

Tom nodded, rose, and left the room.

To Elliott, Sam said, “How did you know I was here?”

“Dani called me.”

“How did she know?”

“She said the cops came to her house to get access to city and company records. She must have used the cameras and seen you being arrested.”

They were silent until the door opened and Tom strode back inside. “They were questioning her.”

“What did they ask?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know. They won’t tell me. And they won’t release her.”

“This is insane. What’s going on here?”

Tom crossed his arms. “I don’t know, but it’s outside my expertise. I’ve been in touch with Victor Levy’s office. He’s flying in from LA right now.”


Tom furrowed his brow. “The celebrity attorney. Don’t you know—”

“I don’t need an attorney,” Sam muttered. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Tom took a sharp breath and exhaled. “Sam, you know I respect you greatly. Your intellect. What you’ve accomplished. Your character. But what you’re dealing with here is dangerous.” He pointed toward the door. “They don’t know you. They are going to follow the evidence. And if it says you’re guilty, they will take that over your word, no matter what.”

“Well, frankly, I don’t see how the evidence can say I’m guilty if I’m not.”

“Back up,” Elliott said. “Tell us what happened last night.”

“We should wait for Levy to get here,” Tom said.

“No,” Elliott shot back, “we shouldn’t. I know and trust everyone in this room. Some celebrity attorney—forget it. For all we know, he’ll leak everything to the press just to get his own name out there.”

Sam took Tom’s silence as some indication that he agreed with Elliott.

“Last night,” Sam began, “I came home after the meeting.”

“The meeting in the lab, with the six of us,” Elliott said.

“Right. I was supposed to have dinner at Nora’s house. Adeline and I were both going to go over. But it was too late for dinner when I got home. Adeline and Ryan had already ordered take-out.”

Elliott nodded. “Then what happened?”

“We went over to Nora’s anyway.”

Elliott looked confused. But Tom nodded. “Because you had to.”

“Yes,” Sam whispered. “Because we had to.”

Elliott’s gaze shifted between Sam and Tom.

The attorney, still looking at Sam, said, “Because of the pictures.”


Elliott stood. “What pictures?”

“Nora and I had been seeing each other.”

Elliott’s jaw dropped. “What? How long? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“For a while. We just… we wanted to keep it private until we knew where it was going.”

“But you couldn’t hide it anymore,” Tom said.

Elliott turned and stared at Tom. “You knew about this?”

“Of course. He informed Absolom legal when he got the blackmail message.”


“We slipped up,” Sam said. “Last week at the conference in Davos, Nora and I had dinner, and we were walking back to the hotel, and it was freezing cold, and I leaned over and kissed her and…” Sam shook his head, the memory of that night overtaking him—the way Nora’s soft lips had felt on his, the white steam of her hot breath in the frigid night, his arms around her, lifting her gently off the cobblestones.

It was more than the memory that gripped him. It was how it felt in his mind, how he had felt that night on the narrow street under the yellow glow of the lanterns, leaning in to kiss her, feeling like himself again for the first time in years. He had realized something then: a part of him that he thought he had buried with his wife was still very much alive. And clawing its way to the surface.

Tom, perhaps assuming Sam couldn’t, supplied the rest. “A photographer snapped some pictures of them. He emailed Sam. The subject was: Love in Absolom. Said it was a touching story the world deserved to hear. He was going to sell it to the tabloids unless Sam wanted the pictures for himself.” Tom shook his head. “Legally, there was nothing we could do. We could buy the pictures, but that’s still no guarantee, and a story like that is always going to get out eventually.”

Sam swallowed. “I told Adeline that Nora wanted to give her some things. Just trinkets and reminders of Sarah. But the real purpose of going over there last night was to tell Adeline that Nora and I had been seeing each other. We wanted her to hear it from us before she saw it online.”

“Okay,” Elliott said slowly. “So what happened?”

“We got there around nine. Everything went fine at first. Adeline was thankful for the reminders of her mom. And then—” Sam glanced up at the ceiling.

“And then you told her,” Tom said.


“How did she react?” Tom asked.

Sam closed his eyes and slowly shook his head, remembering the scene. “She just… lost it.”

“Lost it how?” Elliott asked.

“We were in the living room, sitting on couches and chairs just like we are here, and she jumped up and started pacing and yelling at us, telling us we had been sneaking around behind her back—which is technically true. She said that we were a disgrace to her mother’s memory, that she was never going to talk to either of us after she went back to college, and that she was leaving the city immediately.”

Sam took a deep breath.

“I think it’s just the fact that she had kept it all bottled up for so long. She just wasn’t ready—not ready for anything to change. She screamed at Nora, told her she wasn’t half the woman her mother had been and that we should both be ashamed of ourselves. She punched the living-room wall hard enough to make two of the framed photos fall off. She grabbed one of the other pictures—one with the Absolom Six—and slammed it on the floor.”

“What did you and Nora do?” Elliott asked.

“We just sat there, letting Adeline get it all out. But Nora jumped up when she realized Adeline was bleeding.”

“From the glass in the picture frames?” Tom asked.

“No. From hitting the wall. Her knuckles were bleeding. Nora went to the master bathroom and got some things and tried to clean the wound, but Adeline was still in a rage. She pushed her away.” Sam rubbed his forehead. “Nora stumbled and slipped on the broken glass on the floor. It all happened so fast. Seeing Nora fall sort of snapped Adeline out of it. She immediately tried to help her up.”

Elliott stared at Sam. “Did… she get up?”

“Of course she got up. She landed on her hand, on some glass. She had a cut, but she was fine. We both helped her up and washed the blood off. Once Adeline saw that Nora was okay, she just wanted to leave. She stormed out, and Nora assured me she was fine, so I ran after Adeline. I didn’t see her when I got home, and she was still angry the next morning—too angry to even hold my hand as we walked to Sarah’s grave.”

Sam closed his eyes and rubbed his eyebrows. “It was a disaster. The whole night.”

Elliott put his hands on the seat back and braced himself. “This is bad, Sam. We need to know what the police know. And we need to keep this out of the press.”

“That’s going to be impossible,” Tom said. “Absolutely impossible. One of the scientists whose invention almost eradicated crime is arrested for murdering another scientist who also helped eradicate crime? It’s the story of the century. The world loves a mystery. Especially one with love involved. And rich people. And irony.”

“Forget the press.” Sam focused on Elliott. “We need to bring Hiro, Connie, and Dani here.”


“Several reasons. First, if someone is killing Absolom scientists, they might be in danger. Second, Nora’s death might be related to Absolom Two. If so, we need to talk about precautions. And finally, one of us might know something that could help us find Nora’s killer.”

“We’re scientists, Sam, not some crack team of detectives.”

Sam leaned back in the chair. “Well, technically, we’re frauds, so I’d say that makes us equally qualified for detective work.”

Tom’s head snapped back and forth between Elliott and Sam, finally settling on Elliott. “What does that mean?”

“Ignore it, Tom. Sam is under a lot of stress. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

“Oh yes I do. Get them here, Elliott. And Tom, go get the detectives. It’s time we found out what happened at Nora’s house after Adeline and I left last night.”


The police offered Sam lunch, but he was too nervous to eat.

Apparently, so were Elliott and Tom. They sat in the small living area, rehashing what they knew, until the door’s deadbolt slammed open with a loud crack that made Sam jump.

A uniformed officer leaned in. She looked to be in her twenties, and peered at Sam with a grave look, like someone who knew the bad news he was yet to receive.

“They’re ready, sir,” she said quietly.

As he exited the room, Sam noticed an Absolom Sciences security guard standing by the door to his room.

Tom shrugged. “I want to make sure no one gets in your room, Sam. We can’t be too careful about listening devices. The police agreed to let our security do that.”

Sam followed the officer down the hall and past the offices and cubicles. With each step, he felt eyes watching him, some subtly looking up from their computers, others standing and openly gawking. In small towns—and small offices—news traveled fast. Secrets were impossible to keep. Sam wondered what they thought they were looking at. A murderer? A dead man walking?

The young officer left Sam, Elliott, and Tom in an interview room with no windows and minimal furniture: only six chairs and a long metal table. The walls were covered in fabric. Sam assumed it was for noise deadening.

Detectives Billings and Holloway arrived soon after.

Billings set down a tablet. “You’re making the right decision to talk with us, Dr. Anderson.”

Tom held his hands up. “I want to state first, for the record, that my client, Doctor Samuel Anderson, is innocent of murder.”

Holloway cut his eyes to Billings. She nodded once at him.

“Based on the evidence analyzed this morning,” Holloway said slowly, “at this juncture, we’re inclined to agree.”

Sam exhaled a breath he felt like he had been holding for a thousand years.

“Good,” Tom said, nodding.

“We believe,” Holloway continued, “that Dr. Anderson is actually an accessory to a murder in the second degree.”

Sam’s body went numb.

“A murder,” Holloway said, “committed by Adeline Anderson, in a moment of rage.”

Before he walked into that room, Sam thought that being convicted of murder was the worst thing he had to fear. But now he saw a fate far worse: Adeline being convicted, losing her freedom, and on the other side of Absolom, her life.

He had lost his wife.

He couldn’t lose his daughter.

The room seemed to explode then. Tom and Elliott began talking at the same time, both men growing louder as each tried to talk over the other.

Sam held his hands up. “Stop. Both of you.”

To Billings, he said, “Please tell me why you think Adeline is guilty.”

“We’ll show you why,” Billings said. “If you’re willing to meet us halfway.”

Tom began to speak, but Sam extended his hand in front of the man. “Please begin.”

Billings slid the tablet toward Sam and tapped it once.

A video began, showing the outside of Nora’s home. It was night, and Sam and Adeline were walking up to the front door, their faces clearly visible as he reached out and rang the doorbell. The video stopped with a still image of Nora, smiling as she swung the door wide to let them in.

Billings and Holloway both studied Sam’s face, but he simply stared at the tablet, revealing nothing. He was genuinely curious to see what was on the next video.

Nora was dead. He wanted to know what had happened. At the same time, he dreaded what he might see.

Billings touched the tablet again, and the second video played.

The timestamp was thirty-seven minutes later than the first. Once again, the front door to Nora’s home opened, and this time Adeline ran out into the street, tapping on her phone as she went. At the closest intersection, she got into an autocar and slipped away into the night.

On the video, Sam exited Nora’s home, looked both ways on the street, glimpsed the car driving away, and began the short walk back to his house.

Billings pulled the tablet back to her side of the table and tapped on it as she spoke.

“The next person to visit Dr. Thomas’s residence was a friend who was coming to join her for a morning jog. She peered in through the glass in the front door and noticed a body lying motionless and blood on the floor.”

“Is there a question?” Tom asked. “Where’s the actual evidence that Dr. Anderson or his daughter were involved in her death? This confirms they visited her and left—no more.”

Sam was lost in thought. His mind felt like it was trapped in a torture chamber of grief for Nora and confusion about what was happening—about what they were trying to do to Adeline.

“Mr. Morris,” Billings said, “we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have evidence. Evidence we know is strong enough to convict.”

“Do you have video of my house?” Sam asked. “Of Adeline arriving?”

“Yes,” Billings said.

Sam braced for the answer to his question—a question he had to ask. He had to know. “Did she leave in the night?”

Holloway cocked his head. Billings studied Sam for a long moment. “No. She didn’t. After you and Miss Anderson returned to your residence, no one left until the two of you—along with your son—departed that morning for the cemetery.”

Tom was saying something. But Sam was in another place. He was only vaguely aware of the interrogation room. What he had learned, at that moment, was that Adeline was innocent. She hadn’t returned to Nora’s house. Not that he could ever imagine her doing that. But the world was strange sometimes.

Adeline had gotten her feelings hurt that night. But she hadn’t done something that couldn’t be undone. The truth would free her. And him. He clung to that thought like a rope hanging over a cliff. Absolom was below, and the facts would pull them free.

Sam had given the eulogy at his wife’s funeral service. It had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. The words he said next were a close second.

“How did she die?”

Holloway turned in his chair to Billings, who seemed troubled by Sam’s question.

“We think you know.”

“Just show me. Please.”

Elliott and Tom shared a glance, and so did Holloway and Billings. The detective slid the tablet forward.

The picture Sam saw there nearly made him vomit.

Nora lay on the floor of her kitchen, a wide gash in her neck. A pool of blood spread out around her on the tile floor.

Sam inhaled.

And exhaled.

He felt like he had woken from a nightmare only to learn that it wasn’t a dream. This was reality.

It couldn’t be.

It was wrong.

Nora Thomas was the kindest, gentlest woman he knew.

The picture of Nora lying dead, her blood spilled out like the liquid contents of a shattered wine bottle, gutted Sam.

If he stared at it much longer, the picture would break him. He had to focus. He had to protect Adeline. That was his life now. He knew it then. And nothing else mattered.

“Why,” Sam said, “do you think Adeline killed Nora? She clearly went home. And you admitted she didn’t leave that night. Until the morning.”

“The murder weapon,” Billings said.

“What about it?” Sam asked.

Billings tapped the tablet again, and a picture appeared of a knife laid out on a white plastic background.

“We found it in the tank of the toilet in the half bathroom off the foyer,” Billings said. “They have Miss Anderson’s prints on the handle. We detected significant amounts of Dr. Thomas’s blood on the blade. The water didn’t wash it away completely—or the prints, as Miss Anderson hoped they would.”

Billings watched Sam, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak.

She pressed on. “CSI detected a significant amount of both females’ blood in the living area and kitchen. Your prints are everywhere. We detected both women’s blood on your skin—we collected the sample while you were unconscious this morning. We also found trace amounts of Dr. Thomas’s blood on your daughter’s skin. Lastly, audio from surveillance cameras outside the home confirms the verbal altercation between the victim and Miss Anderson. It overlaps with the deceased’s projected time of death. It’s easily enough to convict both of you. You were there. Her prints are on the murder weapon. Both of you have blood on your hands.”

“We’re done here,” Sam said. “I want to see my daughter. Right now.”


In the plush holding cell, the door opened, and Adeline marched in, eyes wide.

Sam rose from the club chair and held out his arms.

She ran to him and wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest and sobbed, a long, ragged cry filled with hurt. It was a single word: “Dad.”

“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered. “Did they tell you?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Adeline sobbed again. “I was so mean to her, Dad. So mean.”

“You were upset. You had every right to be. It’s understandable. She understood. I promise you.”

Her sobs receded, and Adeline broke the hug and looked up at her father. “What happened?”

Sam sensed that now was a time for truth. And he told her the truth: “I don’t know.”

“She was alive when we left.”

“Yes. She was.”

“And somebody killed her.”

“They did.”


“I don’t know that either.”

“What happens now?”

“Frankly, I’m not sure. Whoever killed Nora is one step ahead of us—and you’re obviously their other target.”

“They’re trying to frame me.”

“It would seem so.”


“I have no idea.”

Adeline studied her father’s face and seemed to decide something. “I don’t believe you, Dad.”

When Sam didn’t say anything, Adeline scoffed. “I thought we were done with secrets. Please tell me what you know. That’s all I’m asking.”

Sam scratched the side of his head. “My best theory is that this is somehow related to my work.”

“As in…”


“What about it?”

“We’ve made a discovery. Elliott and Hiro did. A breakthrough. A… new version of Absolom. Nora was opposed to it. My best guess is that maybe that’s why she was killed.”


Shortly after Adeline left, the door to the holding cell opened again and Elliott walked in. Two of the other founders and inventors of Absolom were with him: Hiroshi Sato and Daniele Danneros.

Daniele marched to Sam and hugged him tightly. “My God, Sam,” she said, shaking her head.

When she released him, Hiro nodded solemnly. Sam couldn’t help but notice the deep bags under his eyes. The man looked like he had been up all night.

Elliott held up a take-out bag from a sushi restaurant. “Dani brought food. If you’re ready to eat.”

“I am.”

They moved to the dining table and began laying out the trays.

“Connie is on her way,” Elliott said. “It turns out she spent the night at a medical clinic in San Francisco. She left for there on a private plane right after our meeting yesterday.”

Daniele furrowed her brows. “Is she all right?”

“I think so,” Elliott said. “I think it was a scheduled treatment.”

Hiro set his chopsticks down. “Then let us state the obvious: if she was not present in the city, she could not have committed the murder.”

Hiro had always been the most blunt of the group. Some mistook his directness for aggression, but Sam had always appreciated his approach—both in the lab and now here.

“And even if she was,” Sam said, “I don’t think she’s physically capable of overpowering Nora.”

“I will go first,” Hiro said, taking a deep breath. “After our meeting last night, I stayed in the lab to work on Absolom Two.”

“What time did you get home?” Sam asked.

“I didn’t. I spent the night there. I showered in my office, and I came directly here when Elliott informed me of what had happened. The video surveillance cameras on campus will confirm my movements.”

Daniele screwed the top back on her water bottle and set it down. “I went directly home after our meeting last night. I ate leftovers, ran a bath, and read.” She glanced at the others. “My home video surveillance will also verify that.”

No one looked at Elliott, but he shifted in his chair. “I went home after the meeting. Had a few drinks and went to sleep. But I did call Nora last night.”

The room was silent and still.

“Before or after Adeline and I visited?” Sam asked.


“Why?” Hiro asked.

“The obvious,” Elliott replied. “I wanted to finish Absolom Two. She didn’t. She wanted to destroy it.”

“What was said?” Sam asked.

“I asked if I could come over to talk. Nora said no.” Elliott glanced at Sam. “She said she was having guests.”

Sam stared at the table. “How did it go? The discussion about Absolom Two?”

“How do you think it went, Sam?”

When no one said anything, Elliott added, “She was absolutely adamant that we destroy the prototype and cease any further research. It didn’t matter what I said.”

A knock at the door drew the group’s attention. Sam stood and opened it and found Constance standing there, a scarf wrapped around her head, brown eyes peering up at him, already filled with tears. She reached out and hugged him. In his arms, she felt small and fragile, and Sam didn’t dare hug her tight.

Her voice sounded as fragile as her body felt. “I’m so sorry, Sam. How are you holding up?”

“All right,” he lied.

She broke the hug and stared at him. “We’re going to figure this out.”

They joined the others at the table, but Constance didn’t eat. She briefly confirmed Elliott’s account of what she had done after the meeting, and when the group fell silent, Hiro stood from the table.

“We must start with motive. I believe the most likely explanation is that Nora was killed because she opposed Absolom Two.”

Elliott stood. “I take that as a veiled accusation against me.”

“Your perception is incorrect.”

Daniele held her hands up. “Let’s back up a second.”

Elliott strode to the door. “You can back up without me.”

“Elliott, where are you going?” Daniele asked.

“This will hit the press soon. We need to make a statement. If we don’t, the narrative will get away from us.”

Hiro cocked his head. “And what precisely is our narrative?”

“The truth: a wonderful human being was tragically and senselessly taken from us. And Sam Anderson and his daughter had nothing to do with it.”

Without another word, Elliott marched out.

“He’s right about the press,” Constance said. “If the public perception is that you’re guilty, it’ll be hard to change that—even after the facts come out. And kids can be cruel. We need to get ahead of this for Ryan’s sake.”

“True,” Sam muttered.

“Back to motive,” Daniele said. “I’m not sure the Absolom connection is right.”

“How so?” Hiro asked.

“I think Absolom—and the next generation of it—is on our minds, and that’s the first thing we see. But we should look at the more obvious motives. The two classic reasons for murder.”

“Which are?” Sam asked.

“Love and money.”

Sam shrugged. “Not sure that helps. If love is the motive, that would seem to lead back to me.”

“But framing you doesn’t,” Daniele said. “Think about it—what if the person who killed Nora was in love with her? The killer finds out you’ve been seeing her. They know it’s getting serious. And they can’t handle it.”

“Then why would they frame Adeline?” Constance asked.

Daniele focused on Sam. “I believe you can answer that.”

“Maximum pain.”

Daniele nodded. “The only thing worse than losing your future is seeing your kids lose theirs. Whoever killed Nora might have seen an opportunity to strike back at both of the people responsible for their unreturned affection: Nora and Sam.”

“That leaves money,” Hiro said.

“And Nora would have left a lot of it,” Daniele said. “Her shares in Absolom Sciences are worth billions.”

Hiro nodded. “But she doesn’t have any children. And she’s a widow. Who would it go to?”

“I think we should find that out. And I think we should make a list of everyone who knew the contents of her will.”

“I agree,” Sam said. “But if it’s for the money, why frame me?”

“Convenience,” Daniele said. “In homicide investigations, the police almost always start with lovers and former lovers. You were there. There was an altercation. It works out well.”

“Next steps?” Constance asked.

“I’ll call Tom Morris,” Daniele said. “Nora may have filed her will with the company.”

“I’ll start trying to track down any former romantic acquaintances,” Hiro said.

Sam turned to Daniele. “I hate to ask, but Ryan’s still here at the station. And…”

“You want me to keep him? Of course. I’m happy to, Sam.”


When they left, Sam began clearing the take-out containers from the dining table. A small slip of paper was lying under one of the sushi trays. At first, Sam thought it was the message from a fortune cookie, but there weren’t any of those with the meal.

He picked it up and read the short message:


He felt his pulse quicken.

Still holding the slip of paper, he moved to the door, locked it, and set the short note back on the table. They would need to get fingerprints off of it, though he figured that was likely a long shot.

He looked under the dining table, but there was nothing there. He got down on his hands and knees and crawled under and peered up.

Taped to the underside of the table was a small cream-colored envelope.


For a while, Sam simply stared at the envelope attached to the bottom side of the dining table.

He knew he should call the police and have it fingerprinted and analyzed.

But what if it incriminated him somehow?

Whoever had taped it there was clearly a step ahead of him. And there were only four people who could have put it there—the only four people who had sat at the table: Elliott, Hiro, Daniele, and Constance.

His closest friends and colleagues.

Could he add Tom Morris, the Absolom chief counsel, to the suspect list? Sam thought back. No. The entire time Tom had been in the room, he had sat in the lounge area, never at the dining table.

Could someone else have gotten in here? No. The room had been guarded by a staffer from Absolom Security while he was gone.

It had to have been left by one of the four.

Sam reached up, pulled the envelope free, and flipped it over. The entire outside was blank.

He opened it, slipped the folded page out, and read the typed message.


You have a choice.

Confess to Nora’s murder, and Adeline will go free. No harm will come to her.

If you refuse, I will send the police irrefutable evidence of Adeline’s guilt.

You have until 5pm.

Choose wisely.

Absolom awaits.

The small page shook as Sam’s hand began to tremble. His chest heaved as he sucked in breath after breath, but try as he might, he couldn’t fill his lungs. It was like they were shrinking.

He was suffocating.

His legs felt weak. He staggered to the couch, closed his eyes, and tried to breathe.

He was losing the battle.

He was dying.

A knock at the door sounded a million miles away.

“Dr. Anderson!” The man’s shout was muffled, as though Sam was underwater. “Dr. Anderson! Are you all right?”

Sam’s vision spotted.

A wave of nausea overtook him.

His last thought before he passed out was of the note. He couldn’t let them find it.

His arms were heavy and sluggish, but he forced them to move, to stuff the small page under one of the couch cushions as darkness swallowed him up and the door lock clicked open.


Sam was lying on the couch when he regained consciousness. The bright lights above hurt his eyes, so he squeezed them shut.

Elliott was practically screaming. “You’ve nearly killed him. I want Dr. Anderson released. Right now.”

Billings replied: “That’s not going to happen.”

Elliott again: “So help me God, if this man dies here, I will bury this police station in lawsuits. The paperwork alone will kill every last one of you.”

Another man spoke then. Sam thought it was the nurse from the post-arrest room. “We could move him to the hospital for continuous observation.”

“I’m okay,” Sam croaked as he tried to sit up.

The nurse gripped Sam’s shoulders and helped him up.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Elliott said. “You had a panic attack, Sam. The next one could kill you.”

“Can you tell us what happened?” the nurse asked.

Sam’s eyes drifted to the couch cushion where he had hidden the note.

“Dr. Anderson?” the nurse said, leaning forward.

Sam made a decision then, one he sensed was about to determine the rest of his life. And Adeline’s life.

“Nothing. Nothing happened. I just started feeling a little overwhelmed.”

The nurse nodded. “That’s very common. If you’d like, we can transfer you to the hospital where we can run some diagnostic tests and monitor you more closely.”

“I don’t want any tests. Or to be monitored.”

“Well,” Billings said, “to be on the safe side, we’re going to halt any further meetings with Dr. Anderson for twenty-four hours.”

The nurse pointed to the medical armband on Sam’s wrist. “We’ll continue to monitor your vitals, but please notify us if you experience any changes—mental or physical. Okay, Dr. Anderson?”

“Sure thing.”

Elliott muttered and paced as Billings and the medical team left the room. When the door closed, he plopped down in one of the club chairs.

“What really happened?”

Sam glanced at the couch cushion again. Elliott was one of his oldest friends. And probably his closest friend at work. Except for Nora.

But for some reason, Sam couldn’t bring himself to show him the note. At least, not yet. Maybe it was because Nora was opposed to Elliott’s Absolom breakthrough. That was as close to a murder motive as Sam could see right now. The other problem was that, deep down, he sensed that if he showed Elliott the note, he might take it to the police. Or even the press—to prove Sam’s innocence. There were too many unknowns.

Sam had to decide who to trust. For some reason, Elliott wasn’t one of those people.

“It all just sort of caught up with me. I’m fine.”

“We’re going to figure this out. Victor Levy should be here within the hour.”

When Elliott was gone, Sam glanced at the clock on the wall.

It was 1:43 p.m.

He had a decision to make. And soon.


When the door to the suite opened again, Elliott walked through, followed by Tom and a well-dressed man with coiffed hair. He looked like he had just sauntered off the set of a Hollywood movie.

“Sam,” Tom said. “This is Victor Levy.”

“I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances, Dr. Anderson, but I assure you, I’m going to do all I can for you and your daughter. We’re going to handle this situation.”

Against his will, a flicker of hope rose inside of Sam.

The group moved to the couch and chairs, sat, and Levy opened his briefcase.

“Dr. Anderson, I’m going to start by telling you how we’re going to win this case.”

“Call me Sam.”

“Sam, do you know what mutually assured destruction is?”


“That’s how we win, Sam. We attack the system itself.” Levy held up his hands. “But let me back up a second. I couldn’t be here sooner because I wanted to review the evidence against you and learn about you and the other individuals involved.” He paused a moment. “Do you know the best thing about the American criminal justice system?”

Sam shook his head. The question sounded rhetorical to him.

“Do-overs.” Levy said. “If at first you don’t succeed, you try again.”

“Appeals,” Tom said.

“That’s right, Tom.” Levy put a hand on the other attorney’s shoulder. “But Absolom changed that. You can’t get an appeal for a client who no longer exists in this universe. So we’re going to have to start right there.”

Levy waited, Sam thought for dramatic effect, then proceeded.

“The first thing we’re going to do is scare the world to death. We’re going to pose a simple question: could sentencing Sam and Adeline Anderson to Absolom end the entire world? This is going to be a different kind of trial, Sam, one that will have the public enraptured. Why? Because everyone watching is going to think their lives are on the line too. It’s going to make the O. J. trial look like a box office bomb.”

“What exactly are you saying?” Tom asked.

Levy pointed to Sam. “We have one advantage here, gentlemen. Our defendant is unique in one very important way: he is one of the inventors of Absolom.”

Elliott shrugged. “Why does that matter?”

“It might not,” Levy said. “But the question is: what if it does? What if, by the act of creating Absolom, Sam is somehow tethered to it in ways we don’t understand, by some connection of quantum entanglement or a space-time mechanism we don’t fully understand? And what if, by sending him through Absolom, we somehow break the causality bridge that created our entire present existence? What if, by sentencing Sam to Absolom, we’re sentencing our entire present reality to nonexistence? Is that a chance the world can take? To punish one man and his daughter for a crime of passion—a crime we intend to sow doubt about as well?”

Elliott rolled his eyes. “That’s not even scientifically accurate.”

“Does it have to be?”

“Yes,” Elliott said, “it has to be.”

“This is a court of law, Dr. Lucas, not a laboratory. The laws of quantum physics are a bit player in the great experiment of justice. Do you know what the prevailing force is in a courtroom?”

Sam sensed that this was another rhetorical question. They were getting a real preview of Levy’s courtroom performance skills. Elliott, however, took the bait, instantly answering: “Truth.”

“Fear,” Levy shot back.

Elliott’s eyebrows bunched together. “Fear?”

Fear, Dr. Lucas. Everyone in that courtroom is scared of something. The defendant is afraid of being convicted. Myself, I’m scared of losing—because losing trial attorneys become former trial attorneys. The DA is scared of losing, too. Because superstar DAs become attorney generals and, if they’re lucky, senators, governors, and occasionally presidents. They’re thinking about their book deal, too—and who will play them in the miniseries. The judge is thinking about their next appointment. Or election. The jury is thinking about their own reputation. In the paper and on TV, they’ll be anonymous—juror number three and juror number nine—but let’s face it: their identities will leak. Online discussion boards will be obsessed with every aspect of this trial, including the jurors. There will be a daily—even a real-time—dissection of every witness who takes the stand and every potential tell from those twelve men and women in the jury box. Their backgrounds will be exposed. Their potential biases analyzed.”

Elliott held his hands up. “I still don’t get it.”

“You’re looking at it like a scientist,” Levy said.

“I fail to see the flaw in that,” Elliott shot back.

Levy let the silence draw out. Sam thought it was to let Elliott’s momentum fade, which worked.

When Levy spoke again, his tone was almost reflective. “Gentlemen, let’s back up for a moment. Let’s look at this from the public’s point of view. Because ultimately, that’s the true court in which our first trial will be adjudicated.”

Levy spread his hands. “First, consider what the public knows about Absolom. It’s a machine that sends the world’s worst convicted criminals back in time. Serial killers. Terrorists. Genocidal dictators. War criminals. They go into the Absolom chamber, and in a flash, they are gone from this world, sent back in time, hundreds of millions of years in the past, to the age of the dinosaurs. They’ll be alone for the rest of their life. They’ll die a terrible death. And do you know what the worst part of it is?”

This time, Levy didn’t pause for dramatic effect. He pressed on. “The unknown. That’s Absolom’s true power. That’s why every person on Earth knows the phrase, ‘A fate worse than Absolom.’ Because no one knows for sure what exactly happens to those sentenced to Absolom. We just know they disappear from our world, and never come back. And that’s terrifying, even to the world’s worst criminals.”

Elliott rolled his eyes. “We know what happens to them.”

“How do you know?” Levy asked, his voice reflective.

“Entanglement proves—”

Levy quickly pointed at Elliott. “Exactly. Exactly, Dr. Elliott. Your entanglement data shows that Absolom payloads arrive in the past. And the reason the entire system works is that they don’t arrive in our past. Absolom activation branches our timeline. It makes a copy and it sends the criminal back to an alternate universe. A copy of our universe, where nothing they do can impact our reality. That’s why it’s safe, isn’t it? Because they’re utterly and truly gone from this universe. That’s why the public accepts it.”

“I wouldn’t say everyone accepts it,” Sam said.

“True,” Levy replied. “Every Absolom departure sparks protests. Since its introduction, the efforts to shut it down haven’t stopped. Because a lot of people think it’s too cruel and unusual. And even more people are, to some degree, afraid of this mysterious box. They like what it has done for society. They like getting rid of the world’s worst criminals. But they also fear it. And that fear is what we will use.

“Again, our question to the world will be: what if, in the case of Dr. Samuel Anderson, because he is one of the six inventors of Absolom, he’s entangled with it in a unique way? What if, by trying to tear him from this universe, it rips the very fabric of our reality? Can the world take that chance? Would you risk ending everything to punish one man?”

The room was quiet until Levy continued. “Fear, gentlemen. We’re going to give that courtroom a new fear. A greater fear. One that will light the world on fire. One that will apply pressure—from inside the courtroom and from outside, from every corner of the world. Mutually assured destruction. That’s what we’re talking about here.”

“Forgive me,” Tom said, “I’m not trying to throw cold water on this, but the evidence is still pretty bad.”

Levy stood, looming over the other three men. “Tom’s right. The evidence is bad: Dr. Thomas’s blood is on your hands, Sam. Actually on your hands. Adeline’s, too. They have the house on camera. You two were the only ones who entered the home before she died. You’re the only ones who could have committed the crime. I’m not going to lie to you, Sam, or give you false hope. Based on the evidence, you and your daughter will be convicted of this crime. What I’m proposing isn’t trying for an acquittal. At least, not in the first trial.”

“Then what’s the plan?” Elliott asked.

“We use the fear that an Absolom sentence could end the world to get a life imprisonment sentence. Maybe the DA will crack under the pressure and do a deal. Maybe we convince the judge at sentencing. Or perhaps we get the jury to convict of a lesser crime—one not eligible for Absolom.” Levy held his arms out. “And that’s when the real work begins, Sam.”

“Do-overs,” Tom said.

Levy drew a deep breath. “That’s right. Appeals. The world will be enraptured by Sam and Adeline’s first trial. But the sequel won’t get as much attention. And the one after that will get even less press time. Every time we appeal the case, the world will be less interested. There will be less pressure on future judges and juries. Like a ball of string, we’ll pull at the threads, and we’ll keep pulling—as long as we have to—until it all unravels and the world has virtually forgotten about Sam and his daughter. And then, one day, they’ll walk free. It’ll take years. Probably decades. But, one day, we’ll beat it.”

Sam tried to imagine what a trial like that would do to Adeline. What would years, maybe decades, in prison do to her? That only made him more sure about what he had to do.

“There’s not going to be a trial,” Sam said. “Or any appeals.”

Levy paused, studying Sam, then broke into a smile. “A man after my own heart. I like the way you think, Sam. If we can get the charges dismissed, we skip it all. But it’s a long shot. We’ll have to dig into how they collected the evidence. They’re very careful about that these days. They use robots mostly, so we can’t pick apart any biases the officers may have had.”

“Mr. Levy,” Sam said, “you’re paid to get the results the client desires, correct? Not necessarily to win.”

Levy nodded slowly. “That’s right. I work for you and your daughter, Sam. To get you the outcome you want. We take a holistic approach at the Levy Group. That includes PR and post-trial services. We can get you transferred to any prison you want—if it ends up that way.”

“What I want,” Sam said, “is to confess.”

Elliott’s head snapped around to stare at Sam.

Levy’s face was a mask of concentration.

“I’m going to tell the police that there was an altercation. During that incident, I killed Nora. Adeline tried to stop it—that’s why her prints are on the weapon. She’s innocent. I’ll take Absolom, and she goes free. That’s what I want. And I want to minimize the PR around it. I want it to be handled as quietly as possible.”

For a few seconds, no one said anything. And then Elliott exploded. “Sam, you’ve lost your mind!” He spun and spoke to Levy. “Our client is insane. We need to plead insanity. He had a nervous breakdown an hour ago.”

Sam focused on Levy. “Do I seem insane to you?”

“I’ll bite, Sam. Why do you want to confess?”

“I have my reasons.”

Levy studied him. “In my entire career, I’ve never asked a client this. But I’d like to know: did you do it, Sam?”

“I’m going to confess. With or without your help. Can you live with that as an answer?”

“I can live with that. In my work, ambiguity is the rule, not the exception.”

“How do we go about this?”

Elliott stood and gripped Sam’s shoulders. “Sam, what are you doing?”

Sam pushed Elliott away. “Stop, Elliott. I have to.”

“You can’t.”

Sam stared at his old friend. “I have to, okay? I have to.”


Adeline couldn’t stop thinking about Nora and her father and last night. She had replayed the scene in her mind a hundred times, but that only made her feel worse. She regretted what she had done. It was all her fault. If she hadn’t lost it—if she hadn’t lashed out, maybe Nora would still be alive; maybe she and her father would still be free—

The door to her suite opened, and two of her father’s friends—Elliott and Tom—strode in. Behind them was a man she didn’t know. The stranger introduced himself as Victor Levy, an attorney Adeline’s father had hired to represent them.

He set a recorder on the coffee table and asked what Adeline had said to the police.

When she had told him, he said something Adeline had been hoping to hear since this morning: “We’re going to get you out of here, Miss Anderson. Soon, I hope.”


Sam checked the time.

2:54 p.m.

That meant it was almost eleven in the evening in London, but Sarah’s sister, Amanda, was a night owl. She was Sarah’s only sibling and had never married, unless one counted her marriage to her job as a stage actress.

Sam picked up the phone and talked with the police operator. They didn’t seem to have any issues placing the call. After all, Sam was allowed a phone call, and technically, he hadn’t used it.

Amanda answered on the third ring, sounding confused. “Hello?”

“Hi. It’s Sam.”

“Sam,” she breathed out. “I thought I might hear from you today. I haven’t stopped thinking about her. I could barely get through rehearsal.”

“Yeah. It’s a tough day. But that’s not why I’m calling. Listen, I know this is unexpected, but I’m wondering if Adeline and Ryan could come and stay with you.”

“Um, well, it’s not a good time, Sam. We’re set to go out on tour on Monday. They could come around the end of June.”

“No, I’m not saying for a visit. I mean permanently.”

“I don’t understand. What are you playing at?”

“I’m going away, Amanda.”

“To where? Why? What’s happened?”

“I can’t tell you. At least, not yet. I just need to know if you can take them.”

“Well, frankly, no, I can’t. My life simply isn’t set up to have children at home. And to be quite honest, I’m not sure I am either. And I’d like to know what this is all about. I think I’m owed that much.”

“You sure are. I’ll call you back, Amanda, when I can, and when I can tell you.”

When they had hung up, Sam paced the room, mentally debating who would be the best guardian for his children. Adeline was technically already over the age of majority in the State of Nevada. But she couldn’t reasonably adopt Ryan, or raise him. Sam couldn’t ask her to do that. And she was still enrolled in college.

His first thought was Elliott, but the more he thought about it, the less he liked that idea.

A knock at the door brought him out of the mental debate, and Sam found Levy and Tom waiting outside.

When they were seated, Levy said, “We have an agreement with the DA—in principle. Our offered account agrees with their evidence, and I think, between you and me, they also would rather avoid a trial.”

“So what happens now?”

“They want to see the exact text of the confession before they’ll formally make an offer. Then you’ll sign it.”

Levy took out his laptop, and the three of them worked on the language until they were satisfied.

When they were done, Sam made one last request. “I need to see Dani.”

“I’ll tell her,” Tom said.

As the two attorneys were leaving, Levy paused. “With my clientele, I see some pretty strange cases. But once I get the whole picture and study it long enough, it makes sense, even the crazy things people do. But I’ve been trying to get my head around this one, Sam, and I can’t.”

“Maybe it will one day. If you give it enough time.”


Daniele sat across from Sam, a somber look on her face.

He inhaled and said the words he dreaded saying.

“I’ve confessed to Nora’s murder.”

In his mind, Sam had imagined a number of reactions from Daniele. Shock. Rage. Confusion.

He saw the last thing he expected: nothing. Daniele didn’t react at all.

“Who told you?” Sam asked.

“Elliott called me. He was drunk. And enraged. He wants me to talk you out of it.”

“It’s already done.”

Daniele nodded.

“Are you going to ask me if I actually did it?”

“I don’t need to. I already know the answer.”

Sam had wondered how she would take his confession. Her, and his other friends and colleagues. It was one thing to be accused of a crime. It was another to confess.

Her reaction was a relief, knowing that even if he was convicted, it wouldn’t change her mind about him.

“Do you know why I asked you here?”

Daniele nodded. “I do. But tell me anyway.”

“When I’m gone…” Sam swallowed. “I need someone to take care of Adeline and Ryan, to provide a home, and watch out for them, and serve as a legal guardian for Ryan.”

Daniele waited, and Sam continued, “We don’t have any family—none that can take them. I thought about asking Elliott, but he drinks too much. He works too much. And I think…” Sam clenched his teeth.

“You think he might have done it,” Daniele said, sparing him from having to say it—which Sam was thankful for.

“What about Constance?” Daniele asked.

“She’s too sick. And Hiro, well, I think he’s still struggling with his… problem.”

“My answer is yes, Sam. I promise you, I’ll do my very best to care for them the same way you and Sarah would have.”

“I know you will. You know you were always very special to Sarah. Almost like a daughter to her.”

After a pause, he said, “Can I ask you a question?”


“Why didn’t you ever get married?”

Daniele shrugged. “Work mostly. There was never enough room for what I knew I had to do and someone else.”

Sam rose, assuming the meeting was over, but Daniele held up a hand. “Sam.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“We’re wasting time.”

“Wasting time?”

“We need to be working on the only thing that matters now.”

“Which is?”

“Figuring out how to get you back after Absolom sends you to the past.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Today it is. But not one day. I’m going to make sure that day comes. That you see your family again, Sam. But I need one thing from you.”

“What’s that?”

“Your help.”

Sam made another important decision then. He reached under the couch cushion and handed Daniele the note.

“I found it taped to the bottom of the dining table.”

She scanned the page quickly and looked up. “You were going to keep this from me, weren’t you?”



“Because I think whoever is doing this is way ahead of me and unbeatable.”

“I don’t ever want to hear you say that again. Or think it, Sam. That’s a dangerous thought.”

She set the note between them. “Do you ever wonder what happens to them—the people we send through Absolom?”

“A lot, actually.”

“They’re alone, in the distant past, millions of years ago. It’s a survival situation. Do you know what the most important thing is in a survival situation?”

“Shelter? Food? Water?”

“Those sustain life, but the most important thing is your will to live. You lose that, you die.” Daniele fixed Sam with an intense gaze. “Promise me you won’t lose that will. That you won’t give up. Because I won’t give up on you. Promise me, Sam.”

He exhaled. “I promise.”

Daniele held up the note. “Who do you think wrote it?”

“It has to be either Elliott, Hiro, or Constance. They are the only ones that sat at that table—besides you and me.”

“And you’re assuming it’s not me?”

“I’m betting my life—and my family’s future—that it isn’t.”

“Of the three, who do you think did it?”

Sam tilted his head back. “Elliott is the most likely. He’s got a motive for Nora’s murder—she opposed Absolom Two. So did I. That gives him a motive to get rid of me as well. And to scare the others into helping finish his work.” Sam shook his head. “But I refuse to believe it. He’s one of my oldest friends. And… I just don’t think it’s him.”


“I can’t see it. For the same reason I know she can’t take Adeline and Ryan: she’s too sick. And she wasn’t even in town that night.”

“She could have hired someone.”

“True. But I doubt it.”


“Wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Sam said. “I don’t think it’s him.”

“Then who?”

“That’s the question. I simply have no idea who could have done it. That’s one of the reasons I confessed. But that’s not my greatest concern.”

“What is?”

“I fear that Nora was just the start. That they got rid of her for a reason we can’t see. And that the same thing is going to happen to others. Maybe you. Or Elliott. Or Adeline. When I’m gone, the killer will still be here.”


The door opened and Adeline looked up to see Daniele Danneros, one of her father’s friends and colleagues.

Adeline had known the woman for a long time (she had been close with Adeline’s mother), but she hadn’t seen her that much in recent years.

Daniele hugged Adeline and explained that she would be coming home with her.

“I want to see my father.”

“We’re working on that.”

“What’s happening? Why are they releasing me and not him?”

“I’ll explain when we get home.”


Daniele’s home was quite similar to the one Adeline shared with her father and Ryan. Almost eerily so.

In fact, the bedroom Daniele led her to was a near mirror image of Adeline’s own bedroom. The size was the same and the bed was in the same location. Even the furniture was a similar style.

Daniele seemed to read Adeline’s unease.

“It’s the same builder and floor plan—with some slight modifications. Same interior designer too.”

“I want answers.”

“You should sit down, Adeline.”

“I don’t want to sit down.”

Daniele placed a hand—gently—on Adeline’s shoulder, guided her to the bed, and sat beside her.

“What I’m about to say is going to be hard to hear.”

“What is?”

“It’s going to hurt, but I promise you, it’s going to get better. You just have to give it some time.”

Adeline’s eyes filled with tears. Somehow, in that moment she knew what Daniele was going to tell her. One feeling rose above the others: rage.

“Everyone keeps telling me everything is going to get better. But things just keep getting worse.”

“They always do,” Daniele said. “Before they get better.”


A short time after he signed the confession, they came to transport Sam.

The guards shackled his feet, but they didn’t handcuff him. They put him in a straitjacket.

One of them, a young man who looked to be in his early twenties, shrugged as he held the garment up. “I’m sorry, sir, but it’s protocol.”

Sam understood. People sentenced to Absolom were desperate individuals. They had no future. Nothing to lose. No hope.

People with nothing to lose were the most dangerous thing in the world.

The transport van was windowless. Two guards sat across from Sam, stun batons in their hands, at the ready.

Although the Absolom technology had been licensed to every government on Earth, there was only one operating Absolom machine in the world, and it was here, in Absolom City, in the middle of the Nevada desert. The reason was simple: safety.

Victor Levy had been right about one thing: the world was still a little afraid of Absolom, in the same way they had feared the atomic bomb and the Large Hadron Collider when it had first started up. It was a new technology, one that seemed almost surreal at first, a leap forward some still weren’t comfortable with. If there was an accident with Absolom, people didn’t want it to occur near a populated area.

The other reason Absolom Sciences kept the only functioning Absolom machine under their control was practical: they didn’t want anyone studying the technology and reverse engineering it. At the moment, they had a monopoly on exiling criminals from this universe.

Sam felt the van angle downward. They were on a descending ramp now, which meant they had reached the Absolom departure facility in the heart of the city.

The cell they led Sam to wasn’t nearly as plush as the holding room at the police station. It also had a few strange modifications. The walls were padded. There was no metal at all. No bathroom. No mirror. Only a soft floor, a ceiling that couldn’t have been over eight feet tall, and a squishy foam mattress.

He understood why. There was no way for an Absolom prisoner to hurt themselves in here.

The guards removed the straitjacket and left Sam alone in the room for a long time—how long, he didn’t know. There was no clock and no view of the sun.

A woman’s voice came over the speaker and asked him a series of questions—ones Sam had anticipated.

What would he like his last meal to be?

Who would he like to be present for his Absolom departure?

Would he like to update his will?

Who would he like to visit with before his departure?

When Sam had finished answering, the woman told him that he had received several requests for visitation and that it was up to him if they were allowed to visit. The list was one he could have guessed: Elliott, Constance, Hiro, Daniele, and Adeline.

Sam said yes to all of them.

He needed to say goodbye.


In the padded cell, one of the wall panels lifted slightly, revealing a Styrofoam tray with dinner.

Sam took it, but he couldn’t bring himself to eat.

The woman’s voice over the speaker asked if he wanted to watch a movie or TV or read a book or listen to an audiobook.

Sam didn’t.

He wanted to think. It was the only thing that might save his life. And his family.

The lights dimmed soon, and Sam lay there on the mattress, staring up at the padded ceiling, trying to wrap his mind around what was happening.

Sleep wouldn’t come. But at some point in the night, bad thoughts did. Thoughts of blaming himself. And others. And even worse than that: what-ifs.

With his last bit of strength, he forced those thoughts from his mind and tried to hold his mind still, to think about nothing at all. Somewhere in that void, sleep found him.


He didn’t know how long he had slept, but Sam sensed that it hadn’t been much time. When he opened his eyes, the lights were bright, and the woman’s gentle voice over the speaker was calling to him again.

“Dr. Anderson, can you hear me?”

“Yes,” he croaked.

One of the wall panels opened, like a door swinging in, revealing a shower stall, a toilet, and a sink. There was a change of clothes waiting atop a foam cube next to the sink.

Sam tried to force himself to eat breakfast, but he didn’t get very far.

“You should eat,” the gentle voice said over the speaker. “Food may be harder to find on the other side.”

The other side. So that’s what they called the world waiting beyond Absolom. It sounded so benign when you put it that way.

Regardless of the syntax, the reminder motivated Sam to finish the tray.

When it was gone, another padded wall panel swung in, revealing a small desk and a soft stool built into the floor. The wall ahead was glass, and there was an empty visiting room on the other side.

“Are you ready for your first visitor?” the voice asked.

Sam thought, no, but said, “Yes.”


Elliott was the first to arrive. His eyes were bloodshot. He hadn’t shaved, and he fidgeted in the chair.

He asked the question Sam expected: “Why?” And Sam gave him the only answer he had: “Because I had to.”

They argued after that, and when it was clear Sam wasn’t going to recant his confession, Elliott screamed at him, a string of curses and accusations that cut deep into Sam and lingered long after his old friend had stormed out of the visiting room, slamming the door behind him.

Sam hoped those wouldn’t be the last words Elliott said to him—for Elliott’s sake. He knew the man would feel guilty about it. At some point.

Constance was next. She looked even more fragile than she had the day before—in body and mind. Her bottom lip quivered, and her eyes gushed tears. Her voice shook so much Sam could barely make out the words.

“Why, Sam? Help me understand why you’re doing this. Please.”

“I can’t. I’m sorry.”

Hiro arrived shortly after Constance had left. His face was a mask and his words were to the point.

“How can I help?”

“There’s nothing to be done now.”

“It would be a shame if Absolom experienced a technical difficulty. It’s a very complex device. A routine check could reveal potential malfunctions. Our clients require our technical sign-off before operating it.”

“Don’t do that.”

“It would buy us time.”

“Not enough time, Hiro.”


After lunch, Daniele arrived. Her face was pale, and dark bags loomed under her eyes.

“You’ve been up all night,” Sam said.

“Look who’s talking.”


Daniele took out a printed page with a timeline and percentage numbers next to the date ranges.

“You’ve plotted my destination date.”

Probable destination date,” Daniele said. “You of all people know that we’re uncertain of the exact date Absolom convicts arrive at, but we can make a good guess based on your mass and volume.”

“How does that help me?”

“Get your head in the game, Sam. This is a survival exercise now. Don’t just blindly march through this. You need to be studying survival techniques while you’re waiting for departure—and those strategies will vary based on the destination environment.”

“Okay. Where do you think I’ll end up?”

Daniele placed the page against the glass. “My best guess is that you’ll arrive in the Late Triassic period, about 202 million years ago.” She took the page away from the glass. “Which is sort of bad news.”

Sam frowned. “Why is that bad news?”

“Well, where to start… I guess with the dinosaurs.”

“Are we talking fast dinosaurs or slow dinosaurs?”

“Both—and probably a lot of other animals that are just as dangerous.”


“At the end of the Triassic period, all the continents were still part of a single landmass.”


“That’s right.”

“Interesting,” Sam said, glancing away. The fatigue was catching up with him. So was the stress. And the realization that he was about to be ripped away from this reality, his family, and everything he had ever known. How long would he last—

“Focus, Sam.” Daniele leaned in. “We’re running out of time.”

“Okay. Okay.” Sam rubbed his face. “You know, you’re as insistent as Adeline.”

“I know. Now can we continue?”


“The Triassic period lasted about fifty million years. This is the period when dinosaurs first evolved. Because there was only a single landmass on Earth, scientists think the variation in plant and animal life was low—relative to other periods.”

Daniele flipped the page and scanned her notes. “The climate was hot and dry. We think most of Pangea was covered with large deserts. There were no polar ice caps back then. But what concerns me are the major events at the end of the Triassic.”

“Such as?”

“Researchers believe that the Triassic ended in a series of massive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the separation of Pangea, which formed the North Atlantic Ocean.”

Sam had assumed hunger and predators would be his biggest threats.

“If you arrive during that period, Sam, I think your chances of survival are extremely low. We know there was a mass extinction at the end of the Triassic, though the cause isn’t clear. It could have been the ecological disruption or maybe a pathogen of some sort. Scientists estimate that the end-Triassic extinction event—or the Triassic–Jurassic extinction, as it’s sometimes called—saw the permanent end of over seventy-five percent of all species on Earth. One in five taxonomic families ended in the Triassic. Of the five major extinction events in history, only the one at the end of the Permian was worse. The massive change is what allowed the dinosaurs to become the dominant species on Earth.”

“This just keeps getting better.”

“It would be ideal if you arrive before the transition from the Triassic to the Jurassic period. Or later in the Jurassic period. The years between the two saw Pangea split into Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south. Based on fossil records, we know there were land bridges between the two. And we know the global temperature fell, though it was still far warmer in the Jurassic than it is today—there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back then. The deserts turned to jungles, and rainfall increased because of the seas between the landmasses.”

Sam shook his head. In a way, it was a fitting end for him. He felt as though his world before being arrested was like Pangea: one solid mass, not perfect, but holding together. The events of the past few days had shaken him like the earthquakes and volcanoes and mass extinctions of the past. And like Pangea, he felt his life was separating forever. He would soon be separated from his family and the only world he had ever known.

“Seriously, Dani. How long do you think I’ll last out there?”

“You’re going to last as long as you have to, Sam. You’re going to do it because you have to. Because you have two children who are going to be waiting for you to return.”

Sam laughed, a frustrated, hopeless laugh that made him feel even worse. “Return how?”

“You let me work on that.” Daniele held up another piece of paper with a list of three things. “This is what you need to focus on.”

“What is it?” Sam asked.

“Your homework. A book on basic survival, one on desert survival, and one on jungle survival—just in case you arrive in the Jurassic instead of the Triassic. And about that: you need to keep your weight up. If you lose more weight, it will decrease your time distance—you’ll arrive sooner, likely in the Jurassic. More dinosaurs, more rain, probably more disease, and more likelihood of landing in that mass extinction event during the transition between periods. There’s never been a better reason to clean your plate, Sam.”


That night, Adeline hugged her brother and found herself telling him that everything was going to be okay, though she wasn’t sure she believed it herself. She wondered if that act was a small glimpse of what being a parent was like.

She knew Daniele was at the Absolom departure facility, visiting her father. The woman had insisted that she see him before Adeline, that she had information to share that her father needed to prepare him for the past.

Adeline had raged at Daniele, screaming at her, but she had barely reacted. She stood there listening, saying nothing, like a massive redwood tree weathering a windstorm. Then, without another word, Daniele had marched out. Which made Adeline even more angry.

After talking with Ryan, Adeline sat at the desk in her bedroom, took out a notebook, and wrote a single line at the top:

Who killed Nora?

Then she crossed out the question mark and added two words.

Who killed Nora and Dad?

Because that’s exactly what they had done. Whoever had framed her father had killed him. Effectively. Soon, he would be put into a box, and he would never come back. That’s what Absolom was. A death chamber. One that simply absolved society from the guilt of executing the people it didn’t want around. Absolom was less messy. More ambiguous.

Adeline decided then that she hated it. She wished her father and his friends had never invented it.

Which brought her to the next order of business: suspects. There was no doubt in her mind who they were. She wrote their names in neat block letters.




Holding the pen above the page, she hesitated a moment, then pressed it in harder than before and wrote the final name.


She paused and stared at the name, a strange sensation coming over her. Daniele had told her about the note her father had found under the dining table in his holding cell. Adeline wondered if she had done that to deflect attention from herself—to make it look like she was helping her, like she was someone Adeline could trust.

Daniele’s voice behind her made Adeline nearly leap out of the seat. She slammed the notebook shut and spun.

“Don’t you knock?”

“I did knock.”

“But apparently you didn’t wait to barge in here.”

Daniele nodded to the notebook. “Working on something?”

“It’s none of your business.”

“On the contrary. What you’re working on is my only business now.”

Adeline swallowed, suddenly nervous as Daniele took a step closer and spoke again, her voice steady and calm.

“You’re making a list of the people who might have killed Nora and framed your father.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“True. Nor do I want to. I’m going to help you, Adeline. We’re going to figure it out. Together. And we’re going to get him back.”

Daniele turned and strode out, pausing at the doorway. “But right now, we’re going to have dinner. And we’re going to be civil.”


Sam did indeed force himself to eat that night.

After dinner, he read the survival books Daniele had recommended.

He had to admit: reading calmed his racing, panicked mind. And the words he read gave him confidence about what he would soon face.

The knowledge bolstered his hope that he could actually survive, that he would be reunited with his family. He realized then what a truly powerful thing hope was.

He slept deeply that night. Either because he was weary to his bones or because he had a purpose now. And hope. Maybe because of both.


That morning, Sam showered, forced himself to eat every scrap of breakfast, and waited for the wall panel to slide in and reveal the visiting booth. When it did, he sat on the padded stool and waited. Butterflies filled his stomach. His palms began to sweat, and they didn’t stop, no matter how many times he wiped them on his pants.

Trying to look confident for her was only making Sam more nervous.

The door opened, and Adeline charged in and stopped abruptly, face confused as she studied the glass partition. Sam sensed that she had expected to be able to hug him. But the glass wall was more than that. It was a stark reminder that they were separated forever now. Because of Sam’s confession, they would never touch each other again. Never share a meal. Never stand outside in the sun together.

Adeline closed her eyes, and tears gushed out, and her voice was ragged and hurt as she said the word “Dad.”

Sam rose and put his hand on the glass. “I’m here…”

Sam heard his voice trailing off as his own emotions overtook him. He had mentally rehearsed all the things he wanted to say to her, but in that raw moment, it all crumbled like a sandcastle on the beach being hit by a crashing wave.

It was Adeline who composed herself first. She walked to the glass and placed her hand on the opposite side of Sam’s. The tears were still coming but her voice was steadier when she spoke.

“Are they treating you well?”


That seemed to steel Adeline. She wiped the tears away with one hand as the other fell away from the glass. She sat at the desk, opened a notebook, and fixed Sam with a serious look.

“They’re only giving me an hour. We should use it wisely.”

“Wisely for what?”


Sam laughed. “Work on what?”

“Figuring out who actually killed Nora.”

The smile faded from Sam’s face. “Adeline, I’ve thought a lot about that.”

“Good,” she mumbled, drawing lines on the page, ready to take notes. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that it would be better for you to let this go.”

She glanced up. Her pen was still on the notebook.

“Since I saw you last, there have been some developments. What’s happening here is complicated. I think it’s better if—”

“I’m not going to let this go, Dad.”

“You have to, Adeline.”

“I can’t.”

“If you don’t, it will eat you up. That’s what scares me the most. It scares me more than Absolom. My fear is that when I’m gone, you’ll obsess over what happened. That you won’t move on with your life. I don’t want this to take your life too.”

“Scares you enough to confess?”

Sam clenched his jaw.

“I’m not dumb, Dad. I know that I’m the only reason you would do it. Me and Ryan. How do you think that makes me feel?”

Sam exhaled. “I’m begging you, Adeline. Move on. It’ll destroy you if you don’t.”

“No, Dad. It will give me strength.”

“Maybe at first. But when you stop making progress, that fire will turn to frustration and then bitterness and then it will rot you from the inside out. You’ll be a shell of who you were meant to be—all because of hate and resentment about what happened. If you don’t get free from it, it will take everything from you.”

“Well, good news: I don’t have anything left to take. Not after they beam you to the dinosaur age. We lost Mom. Now you.”

“Wrong. You have Ryan. And you have to let it go for his sake. You are all he has left. Don’t desert him, not for some quest of vengeance for me.”

Sam waited, hoping Adeline would see reason. When she said nothing, he pressed on. “This is my fate, Adeline. You have to accept it.”

“I don’t accept it. I never will.”

“These are the last hours we have together. I don’t want to spend them arguing with you. I want to spend them doing what I should have done more of: listening. I want you to tell me all your plans for the future.”

“I don’t have plans, Dad. I have a plan. One plan. Do you want to hear it?”

Sam exhaled, knowing where this was going.

“I’m going to figure out who killed Nora. I’m going to get them convicted. Then I’m going to get you back, Dad. You can either help me or desert me, but it won’t change anything. I’m going to finish this, if it takes the rest of my life.”

“Can we make a deal?”

Adeline squinted at him, then nodded once.

“Two years.”

She cocked her head. “For what?”

“I’ll tell you what I know on one condition.”

“Which is?”

“Starting today, you can spend two years of your life trying to right this wrong. Not a second or a minute or an hour more.”

Adeline fixed his gaze. “Sure.”

“I know that look. I’m serious, Adeline. Two years. No more.”

“I don’t like this deal.”

“It’s the only one you’re going to get. Because I made a deal too—a promise to your mother that I would do my very best to take care of you.”

“After you go through the machine, you can’t stop me from spending fifty years on this.”

“True. But you’ll have to live with knowing you broke the last promise you made to me.” Sam stared at her. “Promise me. Like I promised her.”


“Two years. No more.”

The silence seemed to bend time more than Absolom. Finally, Adeline breathed a single-word response. “Fine.”


“Do you know who killed Nora?”

“Only a general idea at this point.”


“There’s something you should know first, Adeline.”


“I’m going to tell you a secret. Two, actually. They are very big secrets, things only six people in the entire world know.” Sam caught himself. “Only five people now. I think these secrets are the key to figuring out who killed Nora. And to clearing my name.”

Sam looked at his daughter and mentally prepared himself to tell her the secret he had harbored for so many years. Unexpectedly, he felt a strange sense of relief at knowing it was about to happen, like a long-awaited release was finally at hand, a confession to one of the two people he cared about most.

“We’re frauds.”

Adeline cocked her head. “Who?”

“The Absolom Six. We’re frauds.”

“Dad, I don’t understand.”

“We never meant for Absolom to be crime deterrent.”

“That’s your secret?”

“No. The real secret is stranger than that. The truth is, we never even intended to create a time machine at all.”


Adeline stared at her father for a long moment, then opened her mouth to speak, closed it again, and finally spoke slowly, carefully.

“You’re telling me that Absolom—”

“Was an accident. One we never imagined. In fact, the entire experiment, from the very beginning, is something we never thought would work in the first place. Never in a million years did we dream Absolom would work. The truth is, we’re double frauds.”

Adeline held her hands up. “If you didn’t think it would work, why even create it?”



“We needed money.”


“All of us. Everyone in the original group: me, Elliott, Constance, Nora, and Hiro. For different reasons.”

“What exactly are you telling me?”

“I’m telling you that the most celebrated scientists in the world began as nothing more than a group of desperate people who were basically trying to scam a venture capital fund.”

“Back up, Dad. To the beginning.”

Sam exhaled. “Did you know Elliott and I have been friends since college? We were roommates our second year and after.”

“No. I thought you were friends because they lived next to us in Palo Alto.”

“Just the opposite. Elliott was one of the reasons we bought the house next door—it was in pre-foreclosure, and he found out about it before it hit the market. Elliott and Claire had their first child the year after we graduated college, so you probably thought they were older since Charlie was about eight years older than you.” Sam took a breath. “Anyway, the point is, we’ve been close for a long time. Back before Absolom, Elliott was doing research on quantum entanglement. His work was really amazing. He was studying how the Higgs interacted with gravitational waves and dilated time—”

“Dad. English, please.”

“Right. Suffice it to say, Elliott was doing groundbreaking research. With a lot of potential. But he had problems at home.”


“That’s right. I don’t know how much you remember about those years, but Charlie was in and out of substance abuse programs and rehab facilities. Elliott and Claire had spent virtually every last dollar they had, and Charlie was still in terrible shape. Elliott was desperate.”

Adeline nodded. “And so were you back then.”

“I was.”

“Because of Mom.”

“That’s right. Every day, I watched her get sicker. She put a brave face on, but we were facing some tough decisions too. The only treatment options left for her were complete long shots. Nothing that was covered by insurance. Nothing we could afford on my university salary.”

“And the others? Hiro, Constance, and Nora?”

“We were at a conference in London, the five of us, at dinner, just commiserating about our various money problems. Just colleagues complaining about their lot in life to others going through the same thing.”

Sam interlaced his fingers. “Nora’s parents were aging and in poor health. Their financial advisor had swindled them. Took every last dollar they had saved their entire lives. Nora wanted to keep them in an assisted living facility, but she couldn’t afford it. She had already drained her savings. They were going to be evicted, and she had no idea what she was going to do.”

“And Hiro?” Adeline asked.

“He was deep in debt and at risk of losing his house. But Connie had it worst. She was sick.”

“Even back then?”

“She’s been sick a long time. She needed money for a new therapy.”

“What’s her diagnosis?”

“I can’t say.”

“You don’t know?”

“I know. I just won’t betray her confidence. That secret is hers alone to tell.”

“Is that why she never married and never had kids?”

“Yes,” Sam said. “It is.”

“What about Daniele?”

“She wasn’t at the dinner where we hatched our plan. At that point, none of us had ever met her in person.”

“She wasn’t one of the original group?”


“So she wasn’t in financial trouble?”

“No. Just the opposite, actually. She was what got us out of financial trouble.”

“She’s not a fraud, then?”

Sam laughed. “As it turns out, she is a fraud—or became one—but not for the same reason the rest of us are.”

“What do you mean?”

“In a way, Dani started it all. She had contacted Elliott a few months before the conference.”

“About what?”

“His research. Back then, Dani was a partner at a venture capital firm—San Andreas Capital. She still has the fund, but I don’t think she invests much anymore since Absolom took off. The point is, at the time, she was looking for a big opportunity to invest in, a technology that could revolutionize an entire industry—or ideally, multiple industries. Her words to Elliott were: ‘I think you’ve stumbled upon something bigger than the internet.’”

“Pretty grandiose.”

“Very grandiose. And for good reason: billions of dollars in capital require big ideas to realize decent returns. Dani thought she had found one. She had read some of Elliott’s published research and wanted to know if it could be applied to a new technology that San Andreas was interested in.”

“Which was?”

“The other secret the six—now five—of us have kept from the world all this time.” Sam took a deep breath. “As I said before, Absolom’s original intention had nothing to do with time travel. Or prisons. Or reducing crime.”

“What was it?”


Adeline squinted at him. “Shipping?”

“Parcel shipping. Think about it—shipping is at the heart of the entire global economy. E-commerce. Healthcare. Construction. You name it. At its core, the internet changed one thing: the speed at which information could easily and instantly be transmitted anywhere. Look how profound the effect has been. With Absolom, Dani wanted to do for physical matter what the internet had done for data. She wanted to invent a machine that would take any item and instantly transport it anywhere in the world.”

Adeline sat back in her chair. “Wow. That’s incredible.”

“It was. Truly incredible. And something none of us—the original five scientists at dinner that night—thought was possible. In fact, it’s still not. But the original business plan, which cited research by Elliott, Constance, Nora, Hiro, and myself, made it seem inevitable. That original business plan for Absolom Sciences—which has since been deleted, purged, and shredded—was to revolutionize shipping. And to make an unimaginable fortune for San Andreas Capital.”

“So what happened?”

“Elliott set up a meeting with Dani. I admit, I felt guilty about it, but he did most of the talking. He told her we were somewhat skeptical that Absolom transportation could become a reality, but the five of us were willing to work on it full-time—assuming we were paid well. We insisted that since we were giving up cushy salaried jobs—and for some of us, tenured teaching positions—we needed massive signing bonuses, generous pay packages, and stock. Some of the stock would vest at signing and some over time. Dani also agreed to let the science founders sell stock at every funding round—and with board permission, in between rounds, assuming the shares had vested.”

“I’m assuming that solved your money problems.”

“It did. For all of us.”

“And then what happened?”

“And then,” Sam said slowly, “the strangest thing in the world happened. We all went to work at the newly formed Absolom Sciences, we built the machine that none of us thought would work, we hired some of the brightest minds, and we sort of assumed the ruse would soon run its course. The crazy part is that along the way, we made breakthroughs we never imagined. Bringing that many geniuses together has a way of making the impossible a reality.”

Sam stared at his daughter. “I’ll tell you, some days back then, it was like magic—we’d be at lunch talking about big ideas in physics and how they might impact our work and a week later, we were putting them into practice in the lab. And one day, we made a discovery that changed everything. It was a discovery about time.”

Sam held his hands out. “Time and gravity are linked. For example, if the gravity pulling against my right hand was twice as strong as the gravity acting upon my left, do you know what would happen?”

“Your right hand would be pulled to the ground.”

“That’s technically true, but assume I can exert a counterforce sufficient to keep my hand where it is. Think about it in the context of time.”

Adeline shrugged.

“Strong gravity slows time,” Sam explained. “In fact, for my right hand, time would pass at half the rate of my left. If you had a time-lapse camera and watched these hands for years, you would see my left begin to wrinkle and discolor while my right barely aged. That is gravity’s effect on time. But our breakthrough was about the third piece of the puzzle: energy.”

Sam let his hands drop. “Did you know that according to general relativity, any form of energy is a source of gravity?”

“Of course I didn’t know that, Dad.”

Sam laughed. “Relativity proved that gravity and energy are essentially manifestations of the same thing. In particular, both distort the curvature of space-time. Our breakthrough is that we could use increasingly large amounts of energy to modify gravity and distort space-time, essentially causing a specific object to be displaced in space and time.”

“You’re losing me, Dad.”

“The point is that we, much to our surprise, were indeed able to create a machine that could transport items from one location to another, just as Dani had theorized.”

“So Absolom did work?”

“Yes and no.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that the payloads Absolom transported did arrive at their destination—we used quantum entanglement as a form of tracking. The problem was that the packages weren’t actually there, despite the quantum tracking confirmation.”

“They were in the past,” Adeline said.

“That’s right—that was our second discovery about time. If we used energy and gravity to displace an object in space, it was also displaced in time. It was sent into the past. But the worst part was the final realization: that the act of transporting something with Absolom essentially branched our universe—it created an alternate timeline where the payload was deposited. This is consistent with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is the idea that we are constantly creating copies of our universe, even as we speak.”

Sam laughed. “Frankly, I thought we were finished. We’d spent billions to build a machine that was no use for anything I could imagine—I mean, what good is sending items to the past in an alternate universe?”

Sam paused. “But Dani saw what none of the rest of us could: she saw the potential to use Absolom for prisons, to exile the worst of humanity and make the world a better place. That day, she destroyed the original business plan, and all documents related to shipping. Everyone at the company was under an NDA, and it was a very secretive place to work. Actually, very few even knew what we were working on in the first place—at least, what it was supposed to be used for. I think half the staff probably thought it was a new form of energy generation, a replacement to nuclear power. Some thought it was a new weapon.”

“So Dani sold it to the world?”

“She did. It all happened so fast. Absolom Sciences transformed from a secretive start-up to this purpose-built city in the desert that changed the world.”

Sam stared at his hands. “And along the way, we lost your mother anyway. In a strange twist of fate, we had accomplished the very thing none of us believed in—using Absolom to better the world and make a fortune—and all of us from the original five had lost the reason we were doing it. For me, your mother. For Elliott, his son. For Constance, her health. For Nora, her parents—they never really recovered from their financial advisor and friend’s betrayal. Nora moved them to the nicest facility in the area, but their health declined. She thought it was maybe them feeling like they had lost the last bit of control and independence they had in the world. Losing your life savings has a way of doing that to you.”

“And Hiro?”

“He’s still fighting his demon. And he’s always in financial trouble.”

“One thing I don’t get, Dad. How is all that related to Nora’s death?”

“Because I think it’s all happening again.”

“What’s happening again?”

“The night Nora was killed, Elliott gathered us in the lab and showed us a new prototype he’d been working on, Absolom Two. He’d made another breakthrough.”

“What kind of breakthrough?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Adeline squinted at her father. “Why?”

“You’re smart enough to know why.”

“Because you think if I knew, I’d be in danger.”


“You think that’s why someone killed Nora.”

“I think that’s half the reason she was killed. That night in the lab, after Elliott showed us his experiment, Nora insisted he destroy the machine. She felt it was too big of a risk.”

“What did everyone else say?” Adeline asked.

“I agreed with Nora. Hiro had been working with Elliott on the Absolom Two. He was for it. Constance agreed with Nora and me. She was against it.”

“And Daniele?”

“Dani was as insistent as Nora. Except she wanted the opposite. She wanted to continue Elliott’s work, and to finish it, regardless of the risks.”


That night, when Adeline returned to Daniele’s home, the older woman was sitting at the kitchen island waiting for her.

“How was the visit?”


Daniele cocked her head. “Do you know the biggest mistake people make?”

“Asking rhetorical questions?”

Daniele smiled. “Making up their minds before they have all the facts. I hope you won’t make that mistake, Adeline.”


In the padded cell, Sam ate, exercised, slept, and read. Perhaps it was the absence of the sun or the brutal repetition of his life, but time seemed to slow down.

In that strange room out of time, visitors came daily, and they made confessions of their own, stories they knew they would never get another chance to tell.

Hiro confided in Sam that his father had been an alcoholic, and for that reason he had never taken a single drink in his life. He knew he had an addictive personality, and that it would ruin him sooner or later, and that alcohol would only hasten his fate.

Constance confessed that she had spent the years after college as a nomad, crashing on couches after raves and parties and hiking through Europe and generally living a hedonistic lifestyle that brought her immense ecstasy at the time but that she now deeply regretted.

One line of hers stuck in Sam’s mind long after she left: “I would do a lot of things differently… if that sort of thing were possible.”

Elliott apologized for his previous outburst, for the rage he had shown. He begged Sam to reconsider, to come to his senses. And then he cried for the coming loss of his friend.

Adeline and Ryan came in the mornings and the afternoons, and in the small room with the glass divider, the three of them clung to the last fleeting shreds of time they had left together.

They cried. They laughed. They talked. And they played games they could through the glass.

Daniele’s visits were a crash course in survival. She was constantly drilling Sam on the books she had found and planning for contingencies. The closer Sam’s departure date got, the more nervous he became. He felt like a man who was inching toward the gallows, the dread of his fate growing as his remaining time dwindled.

Finally, that day arrived.

Sam wasn’t sure what to expect. The protocol for an Absolom departure wasn’t public knowledge.

Sam willed himself to sleep that night, but he couldn’t. He tossed and turned and stared at the ceiling, his mind clinging to every waking second in this world where his children existed. He second-guessed himself. He blamed himself. And the world.

The wall opened with a pop, and Sam sat up and found a breakfast tray waiting in the alcove. He wasn’t hungry. But he knew he couldn’t afford to lose more weight.

He wolfed the meal down and stared at the place in the padded wall where the outer door was, expecting it to open and for the guards to come for him.

But the door didn’t open. It blurred. Everything was blurring. Moving slowly. His limbs felt heavy, mind groggy.

As darkness closed in, his last thought was, that was a smart way to do it.


When he woke, Sam was lying on the cold metal floor of the Absolom chamber. He could tell they had washed his body and his hair because there was absolutely no smell anymore—gone was the slightly minty fragrance of the shampoo he had used in the cell. That was a kindness, Sam thought. Less scent for predators to track. He wondered how long that might extend his life. Hours? Days?

They had changed him too—into warm clothes, with several layers. Another kindness. If it was indeed warm where he arrived—as Daniele thought it would be—he could always remove layers and use them for other things (a blanket, part of a shelter, or even tinder for a fire).

Sam lifted his head from the floor. Through the glass door of the Absolom machine, he saw a viewing box directly across from him. It was slightly elevated from the room’s floor, with a wide glass window that revealed two rows of seats. Adeline, Ryan, and Daniele sat in the front row, staring at him, eyes bloodshot and full of tears. As Sam watched, Adeline stood and ran to the glass and slammed the side of her fist into it, pounding as her mouth moved.

But the sound didn’t reach Sam.

Daniele rose, placed her hands on Adeline’s shoulders, and guided her back to the seat.

In the row behind them, Elliott, Constance, and Hiro sat watching.

Sam stood—because he wanted to look brave for Adeline and Ryan. He didn’t want the last thing they saw to be him lying down, looking confused and scared. He tried to smile, but his lips were shaking too much.

He glanced around at the inside of the machine he had helped build, at the smooth white walls and ceiling and floor. Of all the surprises life had dealt him, this was the biggest: to lose his life to his creation, which had made the world a safer place.

He swallowed, and on the second try, he was able to form that smile.

The last thing he saw was Adeline reaching an arm around her brother.

The machine vibrated. A hum rose all around him, and the world snapped out of existence.

When Sam Anderson opened his eyes, he was in the past.

I hope enjoyed this preview of Lost in Time.

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