“Quantum physics seems to hint at the possibility of time travel, and while intriguing, those are theories that only apply to particles on the subatomic level. Real time travel doesn’t need wormholes or flux capacitors.”

Chuckles rippled through the auditorium. That line always sparked a laugh.

He smiled out at all those faces he couldn’t see.

Like they weren’t even there.

Nothing but the crowd energy and the lights and the heat of the lights.

He said, “Real time travel is already here, has been for eons, occurring in nature, and that’s where we, as scientists, must look.”

It was a forty-minute presentation, and for the duration, his mind was elsewhere—in the tiny town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, that was more and more feeling like home.

With his collector, Javier, who had promised to deliver ten new “recruits” by year’s end.

With the last phase of his research and the pending sale to the military that would fully fund everything to come.

When he’d finished, he took questions, people lining up behind a microphone positioned at the front of the center aisle.

The fourth question came from a biology student with long black hair. It was the inevitable question that had come at some point during every one of his lectures.

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She said, “Thanks so much for coming, Dr. Pilcher. It’s been a real privilege to have you on campus these last few days.”

“Pleasure’s all mine.”

“You’ve talked a lot about medical applications for suspended animation—using it to keep trauma patients in stasis until proper care can be administered. But what about what you alluded to at the beginning of your talk?”

“You mean time travel?” David said. “The fun stuff?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, I was just trying to get your attention.”

Everyone laughed.

“It worked,” the student said.

“You’re asking if I think it’s possible.”

“Yes.”

He took off his glasses, set them down on his leather notepad.

“Well, it’s certainly fun to dream about, isn’t it?” he said. “Look, there have been successful tests on mice—de-animating them by initiating hypothermia—but as you can imagine, getting human test subjects to sign up for such an experiment is a whole other matter. Especially long-term dormancy. Is it possible? Yes. I think so. But we’re still decades away. For now, I’m afraid, suspended animation as a time travel application for humanity is the stuff of bad science fiction.”

They were still clapping as he walked offstage.

The young, overachieving escort who’d been at his side during his entire stay on campus was waiting in the wings with a blinding smile.

“That was so amazing, Dr. Pilcher, oh my God, I’m so inspired.”

“Thank you, Amber. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Would you mind showing me to the nearest exit?”

“What about your book signing?”

“I need a breath of fresh air first.”

She led him through the backstage corridors, past dressing rooms, to a pair of doors in the back of the building next to a loading bay.

“Is everything, okay, Dr. Pilcher?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“And you’ll be right back? They’re already lining up at your signing table. I have a book for you to sign too.”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

David pushed through the double doors and stepped out into the alley.

The darkness and the quiet and the cold so welcome.

The nearby Dumpsters reeked and he could hear the central heating units on top of the auditorium rumbling away.

It was that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the fall semester drawing to a close, the smell of dead leaves in the air, and the quiet that befalls a campus in advance of exam week.

His ride—a black Suburban—was parked in the alley.

Arnold Pope, bundled up in a North Face jacket, sat on the hood, reading a book in the light of a streetlamp.

David walked over.

“How’d it go?” Arnold asked.

“It’s over, this tour’s over, and that’s a good thing.”

“You’re already done signing?”

“I’m skipping out. Small present to myself.”

“Congratulations. Let’s get you back downtown.” Arnold closed the paperback.

“Not just yet. I want to take a little walk across campus first. If they come asking for me…”

“Never saw you.”

“Good man.”

David patted his arm and headed off down the alleyway. Pope had been with him now for four years, initially on the payroll as a driver, but with his law enforcement background David had let him branch out into PI work.

The man was talented, capable, and scary.

David had come to value not only Pope’s investigative acumen, but also his counsel. Pope was fast becoming his right-hand man.

Crossing Sheridan, he soon found himself walking into an open field.

Despite the late hour, the stained-glass windows of the library glowed.

The sky was clear, the moon climbing over the spires of a large, Gothic hall in the distance.

He’d left his coat in the Suburban, and the cold wind cut through his wool jacket, coming off the lake that was less than a quarter of a mile away.

But it felt good.

He felt good.

Alive.

Halfway across Deering Meadow, he caught the scent of cigarette smoke riding on the breeze.

Two steps later, he nearly tripped over her.

Caught himself, staggered back.

Saw the tobacco ember first, and then, as his eyes adjusted in the growing moonlight, the girl behind it.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see you there.”

She looked up at him, her knees drawn into her chest.

Dragging deeply on the cigarette, the ember flaring and fading, flaring and fading.

Even in the poor light, he could see she wasn’t a student here.

David knelt down.

She cut her eyes up at him.

She was shivering.

The backpack in the grass beside her was packed to the gills.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“How the f**k is that any of your business?” She smoked. “Are you like a professor here?”

“No.”

“Well, what are you doing out here in the dark and the cold?”

“I don’t know. Just needed to get away from people for a minute. Clear my head.”