One of Hulse’s stray shots sliced into Ethan’s throat. Fighting off unconsciousness, he struggled to collect his thoughts. He knew he had only seconds.
Don’t panic. Ignore the pain. Stay focused.
Ethan heard the roaring of space and suddenly he left Billy’s mangled body.
Clean and free.
Ethan felt a disorienting ripple of energy, like a dark wave, run through his being. His grip on the fabric of time began to slip. He was here, yet he wasn’t. Part of his mind began to see other images. This had never happened before.
God, no. His body link. That thin tendril of energy that somehow tethered him to his body back at Neural Research tugged at him. He had no idea what would happen if that body died. It had been his anchor. If it pulled loose, what chaotic sea of energy might he be cast into?
No, Godammit, no.
Ethan wanted to go back to the clearing. He felt Ethridge’s life slipping away, knew he could inhabit Ethridge’s body. Not to heal and live, but to squeeze out the few moments he needed to save Beth. By using Ethridge, Ethan could go back to almost the same moment he had left. He had to do it. But he felt himself slipping away, losing control. All he had to do was relax his thoughts and he knew he would be back at Neural Research. But he fought it.
Then he felt Beth. He felt her fear. And he knew she was going to die within moments back in the clearing. He heard her cry in the void. “Ethan.”
Ethan’s mind screamed. He was being torn in half, wanting to stay, yet being pulled back to his body. His energy writhed. He fought with every scrap of will at his command.
But he was being yanked away, inexorably. All the anger and frustration he had ever felt turned to scorching rage. Like a game fish being pulled out of the ocean, Ethan was being yanked out of time.
He needed a nanosecond to connect with Beth, but it was denied him. Could he find her on his next jump?
He had to go back. He had no choice.
So, he made a quick detour. It only took a second.
God help you, Churchill, here I come.
Ethan yanked off the oxygen mask and lurched to a sitting position on the examining table, his head a roiling nightmare. Part of his consciousness lived in the clearing in the woods, part of him struggled to see the events that splintered off from that moment. Only a small fraction of him seemed back in Neural Research.
“Ethan, lay back down. We need another EKG. You had a bad one this time.”
“No, I have to get out of here.” Hands pulled his weak body back onto the table.
Ethan struggled. “Are you insane? I need to jump again. Now! I need Memnon.”
“You’re not going anywhere. You almost died. Now lay back down,” Dr. Stewart barked.
Ethan fought against hands that clamped down on his arms. He felt restraints being secured. Then the cold jab of a hypodermic pierced his left forearm. “That should calm him down.”
“No, damn you.”
Ethan’s thoughts began to swim. He had to keep his thoughts in the time stream. He had to stay aware. But his body went limp.
His howling rage subsided into a corner of his brain and growled. They would pay for this.
“Tomorrow, after its FOMC meeting, the Federal Reserve will surprise the market with an interest rate hike. Not a small one. Three quarters of a percent. The Dow will nose-dive a thousand points. NASDAQ will tank.” Ethan scribbled a series of stock symbols on a notepad. “These are the biggest losers. You short these and make a ton.” He handed the paper to Churchill.
“Does the market turn around?”
“Not until the next day. So, tomorrow, you sell short like crazy and then hold on. During the day, you’ll see all kinds of whipsawing. Don’t worry about price fluctuations. Just know that at the close tomorrow, those will be the final prices.” He pointed to the piece of paper in Churchill’s hand. “The next morning, the rally begins. That would be the time to cover the short sales and get back in.”
“Excellent.” Churchill’s eyes beamed as he folded the sheet of paper and slipped it into the breast pocket of his suit. He could taste victory.
Ethan returned to his room. He turned off all the lights and sat on his sofa, invisible to the cameras, grinning in the dark.
Churchill said, “When can he launch again, Cliff?”
“When? Don’t you mean if?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Andrew, are you oblivious to what just happened? We almost lost him. He was out for three days. We implanted a defibrillator, for Christ’s sake. One more jump and he may not come back at all.”
Churchill’s brain raced through a stream of numbers. With what West had told him yesterday, he would have the big score he needed to break free of their investors. If West didn’t come back from his next jump, well, it might make things difficult, but he would find another time jumper. “Cliff, he says he wants to jump again.”
“He’s become crazier than you.”
“Does he have any permanent damage?”
“We put a machine in his chest, Andrew! That’s no laughing matter.”
“You’re being an old woman, Cliff. His heart is fine. Millions of people have defibrillators.”
Dolci’s eyes flashed behind his glasses. With clipped words he said, “We’re going to run tests and we’re going to make sure West is okay before we make any decisions.”
Churchill wanted to slap his research director, but instead, his mind churned through West’s Federal Reserve revelations. If he could get that broker, Fanning, to really press, really leverage his position, it was possible to squeeze enough out of West’s latest data not only to pay off the Avalon Group but to have a few million left over for himself. Let Dolci run his tests. Whether it took a week or a month to greenlight West’s next jump, Churchill could afford to wait. Tomorrow he would have the money he needed. “All right, Cliff. I leave the decision in your hands.”
Dolci rose. However, he cast a suspicious glance at Churchill. Dolci sat down again.
“You agreed too easily. What are you up to, Andrew?”
Churchill’s smile revealed too many teeth. “You’re becoming cynical, Cliff.”
Dolci, examined his boss’s face. “You’re not worried about what happens to West because you think you can find another timejumper?”
“I’m sure there are others with his talents.”
“But you’d run into the same problems of control. If the subject doesn’t want to cooperate it’s a mess.”
“West’s on board. What’s the problem, Cliff?”
“But wouldn’t it be better not to deal with an outsider?” Dolci’s hands snaked across the conference table and pulled up the left sleeve of Churchill’s lab jacket. In the instant before Churchill pulled away, Cliff Dolci saw the telltale bruises. Dolci’s eyes squinted. “No, Andrew. Are you insane? How long has this been going on?”
Churchill’s face turned surly.
“How long, Godammit!”
“Couple weeks,” Churchill grudgingly mumbled.
“How much have you been taking?”
“Jesus, that’s twice the arterial dose West was taking and he was off the charts.”
“But it has no effect.”
“That you know of. Andrew, you’re playing with fire. Look what’s happened to West. His heart’s unstable. We don’t know where this is headed.”
“I don’t want to be dependent on West. I want to know what he’s experiencing. Now stop mothering me, Cliff.”
Clifford Dolci rose from the table and tugged at the stubble on his chin. “I’ll be watching you. Anything weird happens, I will have you strapped into an ambulance to Johns Hopkins and this project comes to a screeching halt. You understand?”
“Oh, yes.” Their history together was not enough to stop Churchill’s thoughts from taking a wicked turn.
As soon as the door closed behind Dolci, Churchill grabbed his phone and dialed Clark Fanning’s private line. “Fanning, how’s the market?”
“Dropping like a stone after the Fed’s announcement. Just like you said.”
“Good. Can I leverage any more? I want to be in with every nickel I have. Leverage my ass to the sky.”
The broker began explaining the intricacies of short selling. “The exposure on this kind of trading is enormous.”
“Fanning, when you know the outcome of an event, you have no exposure.”