Will’s Workshop, February 6th 2010, Riverport, Massachusetts
“I want more”, Paul said.
“More what?” Will asked, breathing out a trail of fragrant smoke.
The dark-haired young man shrugged. “More of everything.”
Jack watched them both. They were sitting in Will’s workshop in an old warehouse down by the docks. Scattered around them was enough high-tech equipment and cabling for two mad scientists, with enough to spare to furnish a Bond villain’s lair.
At age twenty Paul was already dressing as the young hotshot businessman he would soon be in designer jeans, Converse sneakers and an Armani suit-jacket over his red Night Springs Tee. Only Jack knew that the sneakers were knockoffs and the fancy jacket was stolen from a rack outside that expensive Second Hand store down at River Av. The jeans were real though. Paul had worked extra at McKing’s Burger Joint for months and saved every cent of his meagre pay so he could afford to buy them.
Will was wearing the standard uniform of nerdy brainiacs everywhere: chinos, no-brand sneakers and faded flannel shirt over a T-shirt sporting a picture of a sheep framed by the words: DON’T BE A BAA SAYER. It was hard to believe, but his scruffy looking brother was considered to be a genius, and at age 32 was nominated for the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the Meyer-Joyce field and the Chronon particle.
Jack, equally scruffy-looking, but much less of a genius, took a swallow of the half-bottle of cheap scotch they were sharing, before passing it to Paul.
“What do you want out of life?” Paul asked him, taking a sip and almost sneering at the harsh taste.
Jack shrugged. “I don’t know. Better tasting booze maybe?”
Paul sniggered and nearly chocked on the scotch. “This is pretty fucking awful, isn’t it”, he managed after having coughed and wheezed for a bit. “Why do we always end up drinking stuff that taste like paint-thinner?”
“Because it’s easier to steal than the high-end bottles they keep behind the counter?” Jack flashed a grin.
“You stole it?” Will asked asked around his hand-rolled ‘herbal’ joint, his eyes widening a little as he met his younger brother’s gaze. “Stealing is wrong, Jacky.”
The boy flashed that too charming grin again. “Only if you get caught.”
“Which you will sooner or later.”
“No I won’t.”
“You will”, William insisted. “I wrote a software, and based on your IQ, your personality and your physical fitness, I can predict-
“I’m not your damn lab-rat!” Jack glared at his brother. “And I won’t get caught.”
Will’s shoulders slumped a little. “Alright…” He said, his voice softening a little. “If you say so. Just please be careful.”
The fact that Will gave in to him just made Jack even angrier. You should tell me to stop! He thought furiously. You should have told me to stay in school and keep my nose clean. You should have taken care of me after our parents died instead of burying yourself in whatever fucking project you’re working on! But he said nothing, simply accepted the bottle when Paul handed it back to him and took a long draught.
“So, what is all this?” Paul asked, gesturing at the computers and equipment connected to an octagonal, no doubt high tech and very expensive-looking doohickey. It was surrounded by what looked like a make-shift maintenance walkway that completely dominated the workshop.
“A time machine.”
Paul’s dark blue eyes widened. “Seriously?”
“Yeah.” Will gave him that little half-grin that was so like his younger brother’s. “Well, it is in theory anyway. I haven’t been able to get it to work properly yet, but I came close once. 1999. I had built a working prototype and I would have succeeded. But when the core came online there was a sudden flux of energy and the damn thing blew every fuse in the place.”
It wasn’t just the workshop that had been effected, Jack thought dryly. Ten years later people still talked about the Big Blackout of ’99, and how a train had derailed at the same time as a cargo-ship had crashed into Riverport bridge, nearly causing a catastrophe. Had Will even noticed, or if he had, did he care?
“So, you’ve been working on this for ten years?” Paul asked.
Will nodded. “Yup. The University is breathing down my neck. All I need is a bit more time and I’m sure I could get it to work.”
Will’s smile widened a little, wiping away some of the tired lines around his mouth and eyes. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
“So, how does time travelling work?” Paul asked, his eyes going back to the machine.
“You know Einstein’s theory of relativity?”
“Kinda. I mean, I know about it but I don’t quite grasp it-”
“Forget it completely”, Will said, his eyes sparkling with that intense light that was always there when he spoke about physics and his work. “Einstein was only partially right. You see, time is like an egg-”
Jack rolled his eyes. Once his brother started down the Yellow Brick road to Quantum Physics-ville there would be no stopping him. “I’m going to get something to eat”, he announced, pushing off the crate he had been sitting on. As he headed towards the exit he could hear Will’s voice behind him:
“Imagine a man in an empty room. He puts an egg on a table.”
“I thought you said the room was empty”, Paul’s voice wafted through the warehouse.
“The room doesn’t matter. What matters is the egg. It’s broken and not broken at the same time. Schrodinger’s egg! That’s how you travel in time!”
“Jesus…” Jack muttered under his breath, shaking his head. “There really isn’t a line between genius and madness with you, Will, is there?” He pushed the heavy door open and stepped out into the cold, grey February afternoon. Dark clouds blocked out most of the pale light, heavy with the promise of rain.
Turning his back on the warehouses, Jack headed down the street that would lead him to the bridge that had so nearly been destroyed ten years ago, and towards Lucky Joe’s pub that lay on the edge of the water in its shadow.
“Hey! Wait up, Jack!”
The sound of sneakers slapping against the wet pavement made him throw a glance over his shoulder to see Paul come running down the street, his neatly combed dark hair already curling in the damp air. It would only be a matter of minutes before he would start to comb through it with his fingers in failed attempts to smooth it back and end up looking more like the punk he was instead of the neat and proper Business School student he pretended to be.
“Why do you do that?” Jack asked when Paul had caught up with him. “Why do you get him started on his crackpot theories?”
“His theories has been proven true so far. Well, most of them”, Paul added, remembering the long-winded and confusing explanation of how time travelling was either like an egg or a doughnut, but it had to be either one, Will had insisted. It couldn’t be both. “Okay, so maybe his ideas doesn’t always comes across as firmly rooted in logic, but I don’t think they nominate crackpots for the Nobel Prize.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Jack shoved his hands into his pockets. He glanced at his friend. “I’m sorry about this. When Will invited us to the workshop to celebrate you going to New York, I really thought he would deliver. But as usual he forgot.”
Paul smiled. “I don’t mind. I mean, what other intern at Leland-Angus can claim they’ve seen a real time machine?”
Jack returned the smile, his chest burning with an almost fierce love. Paul always knew what to say, what to do, to make him feel... well, better. He and his family had been there after Kathryn and Anthony Joyce’s death when Will had simply disappeared into his own world of Quantum Physics, leaving the then ten year old Jack to deal with the aftermath and shock of losing both parents on his own.
He clasped a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “C’mon, Moneybags, let’s get a couple of cheeseburgers and those thick fries you like. My treat.”
LUCKY JOE’S WAS A RIVERPORT landmark. With an eight foot lobster resting on the roof, the diner was hard to miss even with the bridge towering over it.
Jack and Paul stepped into the warm, comforting smells of fried food, slightly stale beer and cigarette smoke.
Ruling this kingdom of steamed clams, fried codfish, burgers and steakhouse fries was Joseph McGillen, grandson of the original Lucky Joe who had opened the diner in the 50′s. As always, he was manning the deep-fryer and grill in the kitchen while chain-smoking Lucky Strikes, leaving the counter to his wife, Ellen. She looked the two young men up and down as they approached the mahogany counter that spoke of better days long since passed.
“You got money, I hope. ’Cos neither of you look trustworthy enough to get a tab.”
“We can pay.” Jack pulled out a couple of crumpled up dollar-bills and pushed them over the counter. “Two cheeseburgers with steakhouse fries. Oh, make that three burgers”, he added.
“You feeling extra hungry?” Paul asked.
Jack shook his head. “It’s for Will. God only knows the last time he ate something that didn’t come out of a tinfoil bag.”
A smile touched the dark-haired young man’s face. “You’re a good brother, you know that?”
Jack ducked his head, uncomfortable with the praise. “I’m not.”
“You want something to drink while you wait?” Ellen asked, having shouted the order to her husband.
Paul flashed her a charming smile. “Beer, thanks.”
“Beer?” Ellen scoffed. “I’ll serve you a beer on the house the day you turn twenty-one, Paul Serene and not a day before. You get a coke.” She turned those gimlet eyes that managed to be warm and friendly and hard as steel at the same time to Jack. “What about you, son?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a coke too, thanks.”
“How’s that brother of yours doing?” She asked, placing a bottle each on napkins in front of them. “He used to come in here all the time a couple of months back. Drove me crazy the way he used to scribble on napkins, coaster and even the counter top at one point.”
“Will’s good. He just got nominated for a Nobel Prize”, Jack replied, wishing she would leave them alone. This was after all Paul’s last night in Riverport. Tomorrow he would be getting on a plane and flying to New York for an internship at one of the most prestigious investment firms in the country. A part of Jack wanted to go with him.
“A Nobel Prize… Fancy that. You must be so proud.”
He nodded and gave the required I-sure-am reply. Then, after having given them both that almost professionally motherly smile, Ellen finally turned her attention to other customers coming in through the door.
“You know you can come with me to New York, right?” Paul said quietly as if having read his mind. “I could tie you over until you find a job-”
“I can’t”, Jack replied with true regret. “Will need someone to keep an eye on him.” It was an answer Paul must have known he would get, but it still meant something that he asked. Hell, it meant the world, Jack thought meeting that almost sapphire blue gaze. There was a sparkle in them, a heat that made his breath quicken and his pulse race. He unconsciously wetted his lips. “I…”
A paper bag sporting Lucky Joe’s lobster-logo was plunked down on the counter, interrupting the moment. If it had been a moment at all and not just Jack imagining it. “Three cheeseburgers and two steakhouse fries. I made them extra large. Free of charge.” Ellen gave them a smile.
“Thanks, Mrs. McGillen.” Jack took the change she handed him in exchange for his bills and put them in an old pickles jar bearing a handwritten sign stating that ‘Tipping is not a city in China’. Grabbing the bag of food, they exited the warm restaurant, burying their chins into the collars of their jacket as the icy air hit them.
“It’s fucking freezing”, Paul complained, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “C’mon, let’s get back to Will’s before the food goes completely cold.”
THEY WERE ACROSS THE STREET from the warehouse when Jack looked up and noticed the distorted rectangle of light spilling out through the open door. He frowned. Will was much too paranoid to just leave it open like that. A first stutter of fear ran through him as he picked up the pace and hurried across the street with Paul following a step behind.
They were just outside the door when a gunshot rang out followed by another.
“Will!” Jack dropped the bag, dodged Paul’s attempt to grab him and rushed into the warehouse. The scene that met him on the other side of the door seemed to defy reality. Red light rippled through the workshop, reflecting and shattering in something that looked like shards of glass floating inside an oily corona that seemed to bend the atmosphere itself. The smell of copper and burnt hair hung heavy in the thick air and sparks seemed to be flying off everything hooked up to electricity.
“What the fuck…” Paul’s voice echoed hollowly behind him in the strangely empty atmosphere. Jack raised his hand, trying to touch one of the shards but it simply burst into fragments of light.
“What happened here?”
“The time machine!” Paul shouted and his voice sounded like a tinny echo of itself. He pointed at the structure with the large core in the centre. “Someone’s activated it. That must be what’s causing this.” He turned to Jack, his eyes wide with wonder. “Do you know what this means? Time travelling! We could fix things… stop things from going wrong! Stop 9/11!”
Jack pushed past him, the time machine completely forgotten as his gaze fell on the figure laying on his back in a pool of blood. “Oh God… Will…”
The echo of footsteps made him look up just in time to see a man in a dark T-shirt back away before being lost somewhere in the darkness beyond the time machine. Then that strange bubble shattered. Air and sound seemed to rush in, filling up the empty void. Jack heard the almost sharp, slamming noise made by his boots as he ran up the two wide steps to where his brother lay surrounded by flickering computer screens and equipment.
He fell to his knees, not noticing that the dark blood started soaking into his jeans as he frantically searched for a pulse on Will’s neck. Then he exhaled in a rush as he felt a weak beating against the tips of his fingers.
Will’s closed eyes fluttered open. “J-Jacky… T-the machine…”
“Don’t try to talk.” Jack pressed his hand against the wound in his brother’s chest, feeling hot blood bubble up between his fingers.
“H-have to…” Will managed, his hand flopping weakly beside him as he tried to reach for his younger brother. “Have to save the future, Jack…”
Jack stared into William’s eyes, the same summer sky hue as is own. “Stay with me, Will! Keep your eyes open and keep breathing!” Somewhere in the distance he could hear Paul call 911, his voice thin and shaky as he shouted at them that there had been a shooting and they had to send an ambulance.
The hours that followed was a blur of red and blue light, of grim-faced police officers and doctors. Of questions: Where were you when you heard the shots? How many shots did you hear? Did you see someone leave the place? Do you know if your brother have any enemies?
Jack answered in a clipped tone of voice, barely paying attention to what he was saying. He and Paul had been across the street. He’d heard two shots. No, Will had no enemies aside from some jealous physicists who’s theories he’d proven wrong. As for what he’d seen… That’s where it became complicated. He had no idea what the hell he had seen.
How did he explain the weird bubble or whatever it had been, or that strange glass-shard effect? The feeling that somehow reality had been shattered like a mirror. There really wasn’t anything he could say without coming across as crazy. As for the other question, he answered it as truthfully as he could: Yes, he’d seen someone running away from Will. A man. He’d only seen the back of him; dark hair, jeans and a dark T-shirt… There had been something vaguely familiar about the him. Something he couldn’t quite put his fingers on.
Once the police had left, Jack just sat there on the worn lumpy couch in Riverport’s General Hospital’s waiting area, completely numb and empty. He was vaguely aware of Paul’s parents showing up, moving in and out of his field of vision. Judith gave him a hug while Philip patted him on the shoulder and told him that the doctors were doing everything they could. And at the same time as the world was just a dull fog, he was acutely aware of Paul not leaving his side other than to get them both some coffee that tasted like burnt tar.
“You should go”, he said, surprised at how normal he sounded. “Your plane is leaving in an hour and-”
Paul leaned forward, putting his hand on Jack’s. “I’m staying. I’ll call Mr. Wayland and tell him what’s happened.”
“You have to go”, Jack said almost sternly. “This is your big chance to create the life you want. You can’t give that up.”
“Go.” Jack pulled his hand free and blinked away the tears that was suddenly clouding his vision. “Go to New York, Paul. For the both of us.”
For a moment he thought Paul would refuse, choose to stay in Riverport. Then he pulled him close, giving him a hard hug. “God, I’m so sorry, Jack…” His voice was hoarse, rough almost, and Jack closed his eyes, burying his face in the crook of Paul’s neck, breathing in that warm smell that was as familiar as his own, allowing himself a moment’s comfort. “I wish there was something I could do…” Paul pulled back so he could look into Jack’s blue eyes a couple of shades lighter than his own. “I’ll call you as soon as I get there”, he promised, pressing their foreheads together for what seemed a brief second. Then he was gone, almost as if he had disappeared in the blink of an eye, and Jack was sitting there alone, holding a now cold cup of bitter coffee, waiting for the doctors to tell him if his brother was going to live or not.
And an ugly part of him, a part he pretended he didn’t have, hoped Will would die. Because that would mean that Jack was free. Free to leave Riverport. Free to do what Paul was doing, to create a future instead of having to spend his life taking care of Will and making sure he didn’t completely lose himself in his own world of delusions and paranoia.
When a doctor dressed in blue scrubs approached him he climbed unsteadily to his feet.
“You’re brother’s going to be fine”, she said, giving him a smile. “It was touch and go for awhile and he’s lost a lot of blood but…”
Jack didn’t hear the rest of it. Her voice drowned in the hard sobs shaking him. And has he buried his face in his hands, he wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed.