Professor John Bennett has just done the impossible-by altering the electrical characteristics of space itself, he has actually managed to change the speed of light. Now, after so many years of trying, he's finally about to realize his dream of becoming the most famous physicist in the world. But that dream is abruptly shattered when John discovers that his girlfriend, Dawn Whitmore, a cultural anthropologist, suffers from an incurable disease and has less than three years to live. Her only chance for survival requires that John sacrifice his career and use his technology to travel into the future to find a solution. Together with their friend Sam Tobin, John and Dawn enter into a secretive fifty-year stasis and ultimately emerge into the year 2055. But the incredibly divisive world they discover is not what they had hoped for: California has splintered into five states, each with dramatically different laws; increasingly sophisticated nano-viruses-a malicious form of nanotechnology-are continually released by anarchists known as nano-hackers; people live in constant fear of being electronically branded with the Scarlet Letter of the 21st Century. Has John really helped Dawn, or has he inadvertently signed her death warrant?