Andrew awoke to see Silke bent over him, smiling.
"Sleeping Beauty wakes," she said.
Andrew blinked, then propped himself on his elbows with a groan. "I passed out, didn't I?" he said.
Silke nodded. "And missed Borges' orientation speech," she added. "But I took notes, and Saphyr recorded it all in digital audio for you to hear later."
"I meet one of my greatest heroes and I miss his speech because I passed out," Andrew said, shaking his head.
"It's all right," Silke said. "You can just attend the talk he's giving on possible worlds. That should more than make up for it." Silke handed him a sheet labeled "Plenary Sessions, Roundtables and Workshops."
Andrew brightened. "That more than makes up for it. Workshops? I had no idea this would involve hands-on work."
"Some of the workshops involve trips along the Tree to certain places of import," Silke. "Borges' involves a trip to a place called the Library of Babel."
Andrew looked up at Silke with a very serious expression on his face. "Just when I think I've begun to understand what it means to have the Tree as a reality in my world, something new and...I can't think of any better word than 'terrible' opens up before me. Not terrible in the sense of awful...although that word works too...as awe-full...full of awe. Or Terrible in the sense of reverence. The mysterium tremendum."
"I have no idea what you're talking about with that last bit, but I think I know what you mean. It turns out that all the stories you read as a child weren't stories, and if that isn't enough, it's entirely possible that all the stories aren't just stories. That somewhere on the Tree, they're real."
"But more than that," Andrew said, grinning in agreement with everything Silke had said. "If Borges is here, that means there's some element of resurrection involved..."
"I can explain that," Silke said. "Grandmother told me about it in regards to John, Jack and Charles visiting with you when we went to the Pole."
"You mean Tolkien, Lewis and Williams," Andrew said. The way she used the word visiting to refer to their adventure at the North Pole, one would have thought she was talking about everyday events. Although given her work with the Rotkäppchen, it effectively was everyday work for her. He nodded for her to continue.
"They aren't the dead come back to life," she told him. "They're still alive. They've simply traveled along the branch of the Tree their history takes place in to another point along the Tree."
"Time travel?" Andrew said, more a statement than a question.
"Yes, but there is one very strict rule governing that sort of travel," Silke said. "You cannot travel to a point in which you are still alive."
"But you can travel anywhere else in time?"
"But isn't it dangerous to travel into the past?" Andrew asked. "I mean, in all the science fiction books, it always ends up changing history."
"You can't change the past of a particular history," Silke said. "The past is the portion of the Tree already formed...the thick limb which other branches...other possibilities sprout from. If you were able change the past, the result would be that branch of the Tree splitting off and making a new branch with the new history you'd created. But the original branch wouldn't cease to exist. It would simply be a point of...I'm not sure the word to use here...departure?"
"Divergence maybe," Andrew suggested.
"Perhaps," Silke said.
"And what about the future? If the points of departure are new histories, then wouldn't that mean that the future isn't formed as a...branch, until we make a decision? I mean, how can you walk along a branch that isn't yet formed?"
"You're assuming it's unformed before you step into it," Silke said. "I asked the same question, and Grandmother laughed at me and said, 'You think your single decision can affect the direction of an entire branch of the Tree? There are few events that can make that happen, and they always involve many persons. The branch itself isn't formed by your decision regarding what to wear tomorrow...it is shaped by those decisions, but the new branch is the result of larger historical moments. Which is why it doesn't really matter if you travel into the past. The chances of you achieving a change cataclysmic enough to alter a particular historical timeline are very slim."
"But not impossible," Andrew said.
"And that's why the Tree has guardians," Silke replied. "To make sure the travelers moving in and out of its avatar points aren't brining a nuclear missile into the past, or a pre-industrial world, or someone else isn't bringing Dragon Flights into worlds where they never existed."
"I think my assistant manager might be doing something very much like that at this very moment," Andrew said worriedly, explaining a text he'd received from Lara earlier that day about two new hires she'd made at the shop.
"Not exactly a move for World Domination," Silke said with a wry grin. "And you aren't altering the past of your history either. You're shaping its current branch."
"But that still doesn't explain how the Inklings or Borges could travel into the future along the branch their history exists on. I mean, isn't tomorrow essentially unformed on the Tree?"
"Well, that's why I'm excited about Borges' workshop on possible worlds," Silke answered. "All I know is that the branches of tomorrow are already formed...but there are a number of possible branches for tomorrow. And our choices will take us down one of them. All John and the others have done by traveling to where we are is to choose a branch and follow it down its path."
"You mean they could choose another branch and get into another history...a parallel one that's almost identical to this one, but just slightly different?"
"The differences for history's branches are never slight," Silke said. "But I don't know how it all works. Except that I asked Grandmother what happened to branches that weren't chosen, and she wouldn't say anymore. That I wasn't ready to hear the answer."
"What do you think happens?" Andrew asked hesitantly.
"I think that any branch that isn't living...is one that withers and dies," Silke replied.