December 31, 2036
The hands of the giant holographic clock, projected above the crowded lobby, ticked off the seconds until midnight. With less than five minutes to go, upturned faces watched intently and excited chatter buzzed above the haphazard strains of the jazz band. The anticipation was palpable. Dunbar Helpers patrolled the floor, weaving between the partygoers with trays of brimming champagne flutes for the New Year toast. Guests snatched them, some helping themselves to two glasses, even three, gulping them down before thrusting the empty vessels in the Helpers’ direction.
Teri Palmer scowled. Draining the last of her wine, she dumped the glass on the nearest table and shrank back against the wall. She hated parties, and this one, held inside the cavernous marble floored lobby of the Dunbar Technology headquarters, was particularly loathsome. The lavish opulence and self-righteous arrogance of the privileged partygoers sickened her. And worse, she was surrounded by the faceless metal robots she hated even more than people. She wished she could leave but department heads were expected to attend and an early exit would be seen as the height of ill manners.
A tray of bubbly was thrust beneath Teri’s nose. It was real Champagne imported specially from France but, already tipsy enough, she curtly shooed the Helper away. She glanced up at the clock – only three minutes to midnight. Horrified at the thought of being hugged and kissed by a crowd whose sense of decorum had diminished with every vintage bottle they’d consumed, she slipped away. At the quiet rear stairwell, she kicked off her stilettos and ran up three flights before emerging, panting, onto the wide, polished landing of the top floor.
Crossing to the windows, she dumped her shoes then pressed her palms against the cool glass. It was a clear night, the skies as star-strewn and glittering as the party guests downstairs. A silvery sheen of frost covered the floodlit grounds and Teri watched blinking coloured lights dance on the ornamental fountains while shadowy figures crisscrossed the wide manicured lawns, machine guns in hand.
A double row of tall, steel security fences separated the whitewashed concrete and glass buildings from the outside world. Flickering fires beyond the posts and wire illuminated the ramshackle tents of the protestors’ camp. Teri could see movement and, while she’d had a five-course banquet with unlimited wine in sumptuous surroundings, pitied those braving the cold with only scraps to eat and little warmth.
From far below, raucous cheers went up as the New Year countdown began: ten, nine, eight… Teri pursed her lips and stared into the night. …five, four… A rocket shot from the grounds exploding into a ball of glittering silver stars that expanded across the sky like the blooming of a colossal celestial flower…two, one… Happy New Year!
Whoops and cheers filled the brief hiatus between the single rocket and the barrage of fireworks that followed. Dozens of simultaneous detonations rattled the windows and the sky erupted with a dazzling display of breath-taking affluence. Momentarily forgetting her troubles, Teri watched in awe.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
A woman stood at the window a few feet away, her shiny silver jumpsuit reflecting the explosion of colours outside. Her top had a hood that partially obscured her face.
“It’s stunning,” said Teri, casting a sideways glance at the woman. She didn’t recognise her or appreciate the interruption. “Sorry, do I know you?”
The woman shook her head. “I’m Faith.” She held out a hand but Teri ignored it. “They must be freezing,” she said, nodding at the protestors’ camp. “I’m surprised they’re here tonight.”
“I don’t think they’ve anywhere else to go.”
Teri shifted uneasily, realising she’d failed to hide her irritation. She fixed her gaze on the fireworks, tried not to look at her unwanted companion, but the girl drew the eye. Her jumpsuit hugged the smooth curves of hips and thighs, while the top, a looser fit, rippled like silk whenever she moved, its highly reflective surface as eye-catching and beautiful as the fireworks.
“Lovely outfit,” said Teri, conceding a smile. “Unusual material.”
“Thank you. And I like scarlet with ruffles,” said Faith appraising the red taffeta gown Teri had rented for the occasion. “It’s bold.”
“Thanks.” Teri touched her skirt and, glancing down, realised she was still barefoot. “I’m sorry, who are you? Did you say already?”
“I did. I’m Faith.”
“Right. Wine brain…” Teri shook her head.
“That’s okay.” Faith angled her body towards Teri. “So, why are you up here alone?”
“I’m watching the fireworks.”
Faith’s lips stretched into a smile and Teri saw a flash of dark eyes as she lifted her chin. “Are you a sympathiser?” she asked, pointing to the campsite.
Teri inhaled. “No… Yes… Sorry” – frowning, she clasped her hands tightly – “which department are you from?”
“I’m not.” The fireworks reached a dramatic, deafening crescendo and Faith waited for the noise to dissipate before speaking again. “Look at that,” she said. “Clever.” An army of drones flew over the grounds in formation, their lights spelling out, Happy New Year from Dunbar Technology. “You’re Teresa Palmer, aren’t you?”
“Teri Palmer, yes.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“You’re one of the original programmers from AI Engineering.”
“And your coding was used to develop the Dunbar Helpers.” Faith smiled. “I’m not a fan, sorry.”
“Good. They’re hideous.”
“Agreed.” Faith took a step closer, her jumpsuit shimmering. “So why build them? Seriously, it puzzles me. They’re mass-produced emotionless things and it was my understanding that AI Engineering planned to produce artificial intelligence with emotions. I know a little about your work.”
“Yes, well…” Teri gulped air and put her hand back on the window as her world spun a little. “They’re programmed with my code but that’s my only connection.”
Faith cocked her head to one side and Teri felt her face flush under the woman’s studious gaze. Staring straight ahead, she noticed her reflection in the floor to ceiling windows appeared ghostlike, fragile. Lifting her chin, she squared her shoulders and stood tall, like Faith.
“Yours was a post-Covid initiative intended to fill a specific role in care settings,” said Faith, “your remit to prevent major staffing issues every time a new strain of Covid reared its ugly head.”
“Correct.” Teri shot her another sideways glance. “You have done your homework.”
“I have, yes. They weren’t simply machines you were designing.”
“Hell, no. My AI project was far superior to the Helpers,” said Teri, her tongue loosened by alcohol. “My design had a human face and could react with simulated emotions. It had a bedside manner if you like.”
Faith pulled a face. “Was that necessary for something destined to clean floors and change bedpans?”
“I think so,” Teri retorted. “They’d have set the patients at ease not scared them half to death like those hateful Dunbar monstrosities.” She blushed. “I’m babbling.”
“Not at all, you have a point,” said Faith, nodding “Affable, caring auxiliary nurses who never took sick leave or complained about pay and conditions would have been the perfect solution to the Health Care crisis.”
“Exactly.” Teri waved a finger then quickly lowered her hand.
Faith paused. “So, what happened?”
“We missed the production deadline,” said Teri, puffing out her cheeks. “Missed it by miles, truth be known.”
“So the funding was pulled.”
“Yep. Then Blair Dunbar swooped in, swallowed us up and churned out the Dunbar Helpers to fulfil the vacant contract.” Teri tensed, her mouth drawn in a straight line. “It was never my intention to mass-produce servant robots. I knew that would put millions out of work and I didn’t want something like that on my conscience, didn’t see it as progress either. But guess what?” She made a flamboyant gesture to the camp outside. “It happened.” She snorted. “Not exactly my idea of AI development for the benefit of mankind; more like selfish, money-grabbing for the privileged few.”
“Possibly? There’s no possibly about it,” Teri snapped. “The Helpers do every menial job there is and Dunbar Tech thinks that’s fine, job done. They don’t care about their robots and don’t give a damn about advancement. They weld the Helpers together, slap a barcode on their wrists and sell them on the shopping channel like they’re tins of soup. No post-sale care, no updates. Nothing. When they break, they melt them down and send out a new one. An identical model. I just… ugh.” She shook out her hands. “My coding – years of my life – for that.”
“And yet you work here.”
“Yes, I do.” Teri let her hands fall against her dress crinkling the taffeta. “I sold out. There, I admit it. I did. Blair Dunbar’s offer was too good to turn down, but I wish—”
“You’d done things differently?”
Teri shook her head. “That I’d had the strength to walk away.”
The lift pinged and the sliding doors opened with a gentle swish. A Helper rolled out, champagne and canopies held aloft on a silver tray.
“Christ, even up here? Go away,” screamed Teri. “Go!” The Helper stopped. Beeping, it scanned the area for other guests. Finding none, it retreated to the lift. “God, I hate those things.”
“They are rather cold.”
Faith smiled. “Do you still create AI?”
“No,” said Teri flatly. “I barely do anything. Except at home, I tinker there.”
Teri eyed her suspiciously and pursed her lips.
“Okay, no need to answer.” Faith leaned in closer. “Would you change things, if you could?”
“Everything. Working here, creating the Helpers—”
“In a heartbeat.”
“Hmm…” Faith’s hood slipped a little and Teri saw rich chestnut eyes shining in an otherwise pale, unhealthy looking face. “If you could go back in time and change your life, would you?”
Teri tittered. “That’s an odd question.”
“Is it? Why?”
“Because it’s not possible.”
“But if it were, would you? Question – when did it all go wrong for you? Can you pinpoint the exact moment?”
Teri grunted. “Yes, I can.”
“Oh?” Faith waited, watching expectantly. “Tell me,” she urged. “I’m interested.”
“Curiosity, boredom… I’m up here with you, not down there with the other guests. I think we have much in common.”
“Ha! I doubt—”
“Trust me, we do. Now, tell me when it all went wrong.”
Teri bit her lip. “I shouldn’t.”
“But you’re going to.”
“I’ll humour you,” said Teri, shrugging. “It’s no big secret. My life went wrong at the same time it all went to hell for the people out there in those tents – the Dunbar Technology merger and subsequent production of the Helpers.”
“That’s general, not personal. What was the exact moment that ruined your life? Was there one?”
Teri’s eyes crinkled as she screwed up her face. “That’s an even odder question but bizarrely enough, I do have an answer.”
Teri smirked. “I’m drunk and talking shite, this won’t mean anything to you.”
“Seriously? Okay… It was my decision not to delete my research.”
“Delete your research?”
“Yep. I thought about it but you already know I didn’t. You’ve obviously read up on my past so you know I handed everything over to Blair Dunbar.”
“True.” Faith’s hood slipped a little further. Her eyes were on Teri.
“It was a fleeting moment of rebellion that I didn’t even act on.” Teri sighed. “It was anger, frustration… When Blair Dunbar announced her intention to buy AI Engineering it was obvious the merger was unstoppable. Merger,” she sucked air through her teeth, “it was our destruction, dissolution, obliteration – anyway, we were all offered managerial jobs with ridiculously fat pay packets on condition we handed over all our research and allowed it to be used in any way Dunbar Tech saw fit. I could have stopped that.”
“Ah,” Teri tapped her nose. “If you recall, the merger was announced in late December and scheduled for completion on January the tenth.”
“I read that. Less than a month from conception to completion.”
“It was ridiculous. With that time frame, I decided to forgo Christmas, New Year, and everything in between in favour of winding things up in my lab. And that’s how I found myself sitting alone at my desk at the exact moment when 2026 became 2027. I watched the hands of my watch align on twelve, then I stared at my computer, wondering what would happen if I placed my finger on delete and kept it there. I still wonder. Would my life have been better if I’d erased my coding and told Blair Dunbar to go to hell?”
“Your life would certainly have been different, possibly ruined. You’d probably have ended up outside with them,” said Faith, tapping the window.
“It would have been worth it to stop the Helpers.”
“Ah, but you wouldn’t have. Blair Dunbar would have found another company to merge with and the Helpers would have hit the production line with or without you.”
“You think? Possibly, possibly not… There was plenty of opposition to mass-produced servant robots, some countries banned them. That might have happened here if the Helpers hadn’t hit the shelves quite so fast.”
“You think production would have been slower without you?”
“So the decision not to take action was the pivotal moment in your life?”
“Yes, I think so – know so. Yes, it was.”
Faith leaned closer still, whispered breath tickling Teri’s cheek. “How would you like to change that?”
Teri blinked. A smile flickered on her lips. “Change it?”
“Uh-huh. I can send you back in time, give you the chance to reboot your life and relive it from the point it started going wrong.”
“Ha-ha, funny.” Teri looked around, expecting to find people watching, pointing. “Who put you up to this? Seriously, is this a wind-up ’cos it’s not funny.”
“I’m telling you the truth.”
“Are you? Right – send me back in time, tsh.” Teri rolled her eyes and folded her arms across her chest.
“Look.” Faith turned her right wrist and Teri saw a shiny object embedded into her forearm. Bright green and translucent, it looked like a smoothly rounded emerald the size of a pebble. “Ever seen one of these?”
“No. What’s it supposed to be?”
“It holds energy, kind of like a battery. It’s got the power to break down your body into atoms and send your memories back through time and space.”
“Oh, right, silly me,” Teri sneered. “I should’ve known that. So, you hit that glued-on costume jewellery and you and I hurtle through space like—”
“Of course not. No one goes anywhere, least of all me. When I activate the crystal it will burn up and take me with it. You too, except for your thoughts.” Faith continued staring, her facial expression unmoved. “There’s no point in a detailed explanation. You just need to know that if you pick an exact time and place, somewhere you know you’ll be before your pivotal moment, then you can go back and change it.”
“Just like that.” Teri clicked her fingers. “Poof!”
“Yes, just like that. Your memories – your essence, I guess – combine with your former self creating a new you. You’ll have your youth again and also all the memories from the life you’ve lived since that point.”
Teri gaped. “This gets better, I should be taking notes. Let me get this straight: you can send me – my brain – back in time to my former body with all my memories intact and I get to live my life over?”
“From any point before my pivotal non-eureka moment? Can that glitzy green thing send me back to my birth and let me relive my whole life from scratch?”
“In theory, though I wouldn’t recommend it; an infant with adult memories would not be good. But yes, if you could tell me the exact time and place where you were born—”
“Within a ten-second time frame, and thirty-five-millimetre position accuracy.”
“Oh my God,” Teri wagged a finger, “you’re certifiably insane. No one can pinpoint their past locations to that degree.”
“You can. Think,” said Faith, “you’ve already told me: midnight 2026/27? Ah, you remember now,” she said watching Teri’s face. “You were at your desk in the lab. Show me.” Faith produced a small, thin screen from her jumpsuit pocket and touched it with her thumb. A three-dimensional blueprint leapt from the screen. “Show me exactly where you were.”
“What the… Is that my old workplace?” Teri stared at the blue and red lines. “You have done your research. Okay, I’ll play along. Oh my… the lab’s here and my desk was right there,” she said pointing, “wedged between these two supporting pillars. See? It was a snug fit so the desk couldn’t move. I was sitting in my chair square in front of it, my stomach touching the desk. I liked to sit like that, with the chair dead centre,” she added, seeing Faith mark in the furniture.
“Accurate time and place,” said Faith. She tapped the image and it vanished. Pocketing the device, she held out both hands, palms up. The green jewel began to glow.
“Whoa!” Teri stepped back. “What is that?”
“It’s powering up,” said Faith calmly. “I told you it was a battery of sorts.”
“That will blast us to smithereens.”
“Incinerate us, yes, but that won’t matter. Come on, Teri, don’t look like that, you’re a clever woman, you know about alternate timelines and the bending of time.” Faith shook her head. “This is a one-off offer and we’re wasting time. The crystal won’t stay charged for long so if you want to go back, take my hands, now.”
Teri swallowed hard.
“Teresa Palmer, you’re hiding away at a New Year’s Eve party attended by the wealthiest, most influential people on the planet. You’re one of the luckiest women in existence yet you choose to be alone, staring at those unfortunates who don’t count in your brave new world and wondering about what could have been. Take control. Change it.”
Faith stretched her out arms and Teri saw a small tattoo on her left wrist: a delicately drawn infinity symbol, the right-hand loop made up of tiny birds in flight.
“It symbolises rebirth, reincarnation—”
“The circular nature of life and opportunity. Yes, I know,” said Teri. “The birds are swallows. I used to watch them glide overhead in the summer when I was a child. They represent a safe return.”
“Which you’ll have,” said Faith.
Teri held Faith’s unblinking gaze, her chestnut eyes somehow familiar. “What the hell…” She grasped Faith’s hands, gasped as pain shot through every nerve and sinew in her body, burning her, blinding her. She filled her lungs to scream but the air evaporated before she could make a sound. She and Faith were torn apart.
January 1, 2037
The stranger pressed her palms against the cool glass and watched the fireworks until an intense burst of rockets shook the building and drones circled high, their lights forming the words, Happy New Year from The Palmer Institute. Show over, she rubbed her eyes, as if awakening from a vivid dream and struggling to shake it off. She cricked her neck twice then turned toward the stairwell doors. She waited, hands clasped in front of her.
“Faith!” The doors were thrown open and Teri Palmer strode through breaking into a run. “Faith, you’re real. Oh my goodness, let me look at you.” Teri hurried closer then stopped. Her eyes widened.
“Hello. I’m Hope,” said the stranger. The body inside the shimmering fabric was curvier, softer, the skin glowing with a healthy radiance Faith had lacked. The stranger lowered her hood, a shock of raven locks spilling to her shoulders. She gazed at Teri with chestnut eyes that were so familiar. “Pleased to meet you,” she said, extending a hand.
Teri grasped it. “Hope? Of course, you are.” She turned the woman’s wrist and saw the infinity tattoo. “So, you’re the new Faith,” she muttered absently.
“Technically, no; I’m her equivalent in this timeline. She’s gone as are you. Old you.”
Teri looked up, meeting Hope’s gaze. “I guess so. Wow, look at you… I’m impressed. You’re perfect.”
“This timeline…” Teri twirled the gold locket hanging around her neck, wrapping the chain around her fingers. “I’m still getting my head around the concept of alternate timelines even though I’m living in one, and I haven’t even begun to fathom the mechanics of bending time though I think I understand the principle. Exact time and location coordinates are essential because the receiving body is an anchor, right? And it’s got to be compatible, like a transplanted organ.”
“The anchor has to be yourself.”
“Of course.” Teri paused, nodding thoughtfully. “You’ll have gathered that your calculations worked for me. I’m alive and well and I’ve lived the last ten years twice. See this?” She clutched the locket. “My mother’s,” she said. “I originally lost it sometime in 2030 but I made sure I didn’t this time.” Her eyes lit up as she laughed. “I still can’t believe I’m able to say things like that.”
“Interesting, isn’t it? You’ve made changes,” said Hope, gazing around.
“Same building but a little plusher. More staff judging by the racket downstairs. You look good.” She eyed Teri’s silver gown and the precious stones dripping from her earlobes and wrists. “The firework display went on longer.”
“Did it? I don’t remember—” Teri stopped abruptly and glared at the metal robot that had appeared beside her, drinks tray in hand. “Christ, that one keeps finding me.” She shook her head and pointed sending the robot away.
“You still have Dunbar Helpers and even more protestors,” said Hope, her gaze drifting to the perimeter fences and protestors’ camp. An angry mob were silhouetted against a roaring bonfire, shouting and waving placards, with row upon row of tents behind them. Armed Dunbar Helpers patrolled the lawns and the drones, their part in the New Year celebrations complete, hovered overhead.
“Are there? Maybe.” Teri sighed. “I stopped production of the Helpers as soon as I took over Dunbar Tech. I’ve tried to give people their jobs back but they don’t want them.” She shrugged, flapped her arms. “What can I do? I think there’re two lots of protestors out there tonight: one trying to stop AI production, the other demanding their Helpers back. The security’s there to stop them from killing each other, not us. It’s insane.”
“And the Helpers?”
“All Dunbar, not me. Except that one.” She pointed to the Helper still loitering on the far side of the landing. “That one’s a kind of project. Improvements, you know.” She tensed. “Actually, you do know; why am I telling you?” She put her hands on her hips. “You also know I went ahead and developed my AI robots and they’re an absolute dream, exactly as I envisioned.”
“I do. They’re in every hospital in countries that allow them, doing all the tasks nurses used to. Just as you wanted,” said Hope. “They’ve reduced outgoings in healthcare expenditure to a point where everyone can receive the highest standard of care at an affordable cost.”
Teri snorted. “You’re quoting a statement I made on TV. We recently diversified.”
“Yes, and it will be a huge success. Your AI robots will soon be the mainstay of the fire service and police as well. And that’s not where it ends.”
“Really?” Teri’s face cracked into a beaming smile. “That’s good news.” Reaching out, she closed her fingers around Hope’s left wrist and turned it, stroked her thumb over the infinity tattoo. “I vowed never to use a bar code on my robots but it wasn’t until I had a meeting with my designer and found myself asking for an infinity tattoo with swallows that I realised Faith was one of mine. You too.”
Teri traced the figure of eight. “Ah, time travel is still such a mystery and my robots are nowhere near as perfect as you.” She touched Hope’s hair, pushed it back. “I can’t imagine accessing a new timeline or creating something as complex as you in my lifetime. How far back have you come? Did I send you or was it someone else? Actually,” she frowned, “don’t tell me.” She released Hope’s wrist. “I wasted time when Faith sent me back. Too much time. It freaked me out finding myself thrown back inside my thirty-two-year-old body, toasting in 2027. I struggled to adjust.”
“But you did. You didn’t change that pivotal moment, though. Why?”
Teri shrugged. “I couldn’t. I sat at that old computer, staring at it, the same as before. The first time… you know. It was exactly as I remembered: blue flowery coffee cup on a cork coaster beside it; half a packet of ginger nuts poured onto a cracked plate. It was the details that were unsettling.”
“Like extreme deja vu.”
“Yes.” Teri shook her head. “All my files were there – years of research, hours of dedication, missed birthdays, sandwiches instead of hot meals. My life. I couldn’t delete that. Not even knowing what I did. I sat there for hours, just staring and thinking.”
“Then?” Faith smiled. “Oh yes, I know the result but not the how or why. I’m curious.”
“Curious AI… you are special, and I shall indulge you. It was obvious really, the choice I had to make. See, once I started thinking clearly, I opened the internet. I googled robots, AI, technology firms – everything. It’s staggering how out of touch I was. The Japanese already had robots running coffee shops and cafés, their standard of automation far more advanced than I’d thought. The Chinese were almost there. It was all online, public knowledge. I’d been too wrapped up in my projects to notice. Faith was right.”
“Blair Dunbar. There was a long list of companies she could merge with and the production time for the Helpers would be unaffected. No one would have chance to intervene and Dunbar Helpers would flood the market exactly as they had before, with or without my programming.”
“So I got to thinking,” said Teri, “about Dunbar Technology and what little they had to do with me.”
“Oh?” Hope cocked her head. “I don’t understand. You’re here, this place was Dunbar Tech. Your name is still connected to them. You’re giving me conflicting information.”
“Conflicting information? Hmm, I know all about that. Going back wasn’t easy, hell no. Deja vu… My memories felt like dreams when I started living over again, they had that slightly surreal quality, but they never faded as dreams do. I got confused, couldn’t remember which memories were old, which were new.”
“Was that unforeseen? Well, that’s how it was. I remembered most of my research, though, and more than enough about the time I’d lived before. Have you heard of the film, Back to the Future?” Hope shook her head and Teri smirked. “You should watch it. I started reliving my life with in-depth knowledge of the next ten years – I effectively had Marty McFly’s sports almanac in my brain. Now, I never really followed sports but I recognised the names of winners, and, it turns out, bookies will take bets on pretty much anything.”
“You made money. Clever.”
“I made a fortune. In ten days, I had enough capital to place a viable bid on AI Engineering myself. It wasn’t as much money as Blair Dunbar was offering, but when I put my flat up for sale and pledged that money, my colleagues pitched in too.” She laughed. “The shareholders went for it.”
“Palmer Industries was born with you as CEO. The phoenix from the ashes.”
“Nicely put.” Teri stepped back, hands returning to her hips. “Stopping the merger with Dunbar Technology wasn’t the pivotal point of my life, I was wrong about that. Giving up on my dream was what made everything go wrong and that’s what I changed.” She drew a sharp breath, gaze settling on the protestors. “But it’s not enough.”
“Not nearly enough.” Teri turned to Hope. “Send me back again,” she said, her voice suddenly urgent. “I have to do better and I’m prepared this time. I’ve memorised my research so I can implement everything in a few weeks, catch up to where I am now in six months. After that, it’s all progress.”
Hope nodded slowly. “The potential for a huge leap.”
“The chance to get it right. I can stop that,” said Teri, pointing to the Helper beeping to itself near the lift, “and them,” she said jabbing the window. “Just send me back. Use the same time and coordinates, you know they work.”
“But why would I? What you were given was a one-off opportunity.”
“In that life. Now I want a chance in this one. New timeline, new deal. Better results.”
Hope gazed at Teri’s face then smiling, raised her right wrist and turned it. She had an identical crystal to Faith’s; it was already glowing. “Are you ready now?”
“Oh yes,” said Teri, her eyes alight. “Tell me one thing first: do I have to repeat all this with Charity before I get it right, or Love, perhaps? Not sure how I’ll cope with multiple overlapping memories, I’m befuddled enough already,” Teri tittered while Hope stared blankly. “Okay, I need to develop code for a sense of humour.”
“Are you ready?” Hope repeated.
“Yes. Let’s do this.”
Hope held out her hands. “To a brighter future,” she said, her broad smile mirroring Teri’s.
“Indeed.” Teri grasped her hands and braced for the pain. “See you, or whoever, in a decade… unless I screw it all up.”
A flicker of a frown darkened Hope’s face but Teri didn’t see. She’d already gone.