“Imagine if we had the power of time at our fingertips,” the refined voice of a middle-aged man pondered into the microphone, the sound booming through the spacious room as the owner of the voice looked out into the sea of students before him.
Professor Altman stood at a podium in the center of his building’s classroom, his normally steady hands gripping firmly onto the side of the podium to keep his students from seeing the unfortunate shake that had started up shortly before the class that he was scheduled to teach for today.
In his years of learning, teaching, building, and redefining science as everyone knew it - he never would have imagined that he’d find himself at this moment. After spending so many years on the brink of making a monumental discovery, he’d be the one to finally cross over the finish line. The last thing he expected to be doing in this moment of great history was to find himself being anxious about teaching a class while one of his hired teachers was off sick for the day.
It was rare that the students of The Altman Institution would ever see Professor Altman roaming the halls of his own building - let alone, be graced with the opportunity to have him teach. The only time students really ever got to see the closed-off professor was when he welcomed them into the Institution.
Professor Altman wasn’t a fan of the spotlight. In fact, most assumed that he was a cranky hermit holed up in his office. What most didn’t realize was that the professor of this fine Institution was actually a man of color with an incredible gift. A brilliant genius and a gentleman who worked his way up from the bottom to prove himself as being just as capable as anyone else in the world.
Since hardly anyone ever saw him, their idea of what the closed off professor looked like pretty much always resulted in the same thought. Most students and parents assumed Professor Altman was a white man with prestige because some really didn’t take into consideration that yes - in this day and age, a black man could sit in the head office of a major Institution and run it with the same vigor and discipline as anyone else on this earth.
Truthfully though, his Institution wasn’t at all about him. The Altman Institution was built with the idea of being able to offer the world’s troubled youth a chance for a successful future, at least that was Altman’s sole reason behind this all becoming a reality. It was the chance to give those with criminal backgrounds, parental problems, and the few that couldn’t find their place in this world that much-needed place to go. He was their last hope in helping them make a future for themselves in this cruel world.
A brief movement caught Professor Altman’s attention, drawing his gaze over towards a student who was sitting slouched in his chair with his hand raised.
Professor Altman watched as the student sat up in his chair the moment his eyes flicked over, the student straightening out his wrinkled hoodie as the young man cleared his throat.
“I imagine if we could control time, we’d be able to be on time for things. You know, I might actually make it to class more often than not,” the student admitted.
The young man ran his fingers through his unruly red hair, biting back a grin at the chuckling and laughter that rippled throughout the classroom at his remark.
Though Professor Altman would never admit it, the comment nearly drew a chuckle out of him. As he stepped away from the podium, he drew his hands together in such a way that the sound of a clap drew the sound of laughter to a quick close.
The classroom kept their focus on Professor Altman as he stood at the front of the room, watching as he smoothed out his suit with his hands. It had felt like hours were drifting by in the short period of minutes that the professor paced the front of the room, giving students the chance to grow impatient in silence.
Finally, the professor let out a small sigh as he turned to face the curious, somewhat bored expressions staring at him
“That’s a great point. Being on time is a nice feeling, is it not?” the Professor questioned, glancing about.
He was met with a few grumbles of agreement and several firm nods, though nothing to the level of excitement that he was hoping for from his students today.
Tilting his head slowly as he glanced to the side of him, Professor Altman licked his lips before a small smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
“You’re not thinking big enough,” the man confessed, finally earning the attention of the squirming students. “Say, if you had the power… to control something as unpredictable as time? You could do so much more than be on time for things such as class or parties. Think about the lives that could be saved, the tragedies that could be prevented.”
This confession brought a heaviness over the room, leaving Professor Altman to take in the first true sound of silence since he first walked into the room.
“It’s amusing, isn’t it? How no one thinks about the possibilities we could have to make the world a better place if one could simply control time?”
Another hand shot up, this time from a young woman sitting just before him. Her nervous brown eyes stared up at him as he turned to acknowledge her movement. His brief nod gave her the okay to speak, encouraging her to lower her hand.
“With all due respect,” she began, nervously fiddling with her bracelet on her wrist. “If we were gifted the ability to control time, who’s to say we wouldn’t just abuse it?”
Professor Altman’s eyes lit up at her question, his jaw squaring as he resisted the urge to crack a smile. It amused him how quickly someone brought such a topic up, especially since this young woman seemed to be uncomfortable with even speaking.
Another hand rose before he could even address the young woman, drawing him back to the young man with the unruly red hair. He could tell by the look on the student’s face that he was looking for an excuse for an out.
“No offense, Professor A, but what exactly does this have to do with history?”
Letting out a soft chuckle, the professor shook his head as he turned towards the desk that belonged to one of his hired professors.
“Your professor is assigning you all a book to read,” Professor Altman admitted, ignoring the groans and grumbles that filled the room. “Relax, she only wants you to read a short story. It’s eighty pages, I’m sure you’ll all survive.”
“What is it?” the timid young woman in the front row questioned, her eyes lighting up when Professor Altman lifted the assigned book into the air.
“H.G. Wells’s ‘The Time Machine.’ I hope you all enjoy a good SciFi classic.”
Brackston Campbell felt the uneasy sensation of churning in his stomach, the sound of his fingers tapping in a rhythmic manner on the surface of his desk as he stared at the screen of the computer before him calming his nerves just slightly.
To every other young adult attending as a student at The Altman Institution, it was just your ordinary Tuesday. To Brackston, it was anything but a traditional day at the campus. Tuesday’s were the one day a week that gifted students were brought down into the secret lab that nestled below the campus, where they worked one-on-one with Professor Altman himself on his most confidential projects.
Those on the gifted list were few, and the projects were even fewer. Brackston was one of three students that Professor Altman thought highly of, to the point that his potential earned him the once in a lifetime opportunity to work hands-on as opposed to learning from a stuffy textbook.
Brackston always figured that working hands-on with Professor Altman, while still difficult, would be the easiest thing he’d ever face. Years of barely scraping by while raising his brother as a high school dropout proved that the world was an unfair, challenging place. Doing so as a high school dropout who had lost his parents to their drug addiction habits proved even harder.
Most saw the young man as a quiet, shifty-eyed nuisance, when in actuality he was just a timid young man with a brilliant mind who was going places, unlike his parents.
Brackston leaped slightly in his chair when the feeling of a pair of hands gripped his shoulders reassuringly, his tense figure relaxing in the familiar, gentle grasp of the person behind him.
“You always look as if you’re about to piss your pants when Tuesday rolls around,” the voice of a young woman acknowledged, her thick Australian accent prompting a smile to tug at the corner of his lips.
“I nearly did, no thanks to your surprise appearance,” Brackston retorted, tilting his head to look up at the woman.
He was met with a dark pair of brown eyes that stared down into his, the shade of her eyes just a bit lighter than his own dark orbs. He was drawn to the brightness that lingered within her gaze as she smiled at him warmly, her head tilting towards his encouraging her dark black, wavy locks to sway as they cascaded over her shoulders, a stark contrast against her barely tanned skin.
“You know you love me.” She grinned, placing a kiss on his lips that prompted a chuckle to leave his lips the second she pulled away.
“I’ll love you even more if you can weasel me out of this,” Brackston quipped, trying to mask the anxiousness in his expression.
“There are many things that Layla Nevin can do, Brackston Campbell,” the young woman, Layla, pointed out as she started powering up her computer. “But she can’t sneak you out of your responsibility to this Institution.”
Brackston huffed, rolling his eyes as he leaned back into his chair to get a better look at Layla while she worked. “You know, the weirdest thing about our time here isn’t even the stuff we do and the person we work with, but the fact that you often refer to yourself in the third person.”
Layla smirked at his remark, not saying a word as she punched in her password on the computer to finish setting up for their day.
A comfortable silence fell between the couple as they waited for Professor Altman to show, focusing on the tasks that they needed to run through before the man arrived.
Their heads shot up the second a door slammed shut, their eyes lingering towards the entryway of the lab as they looked to see who was entering the area.
Brackston resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the sight of a young woman making her way towards the control area, her nose scrunched up as she glared darkly at the two of them with her hazel blue eyes. Just her presence was enough to bring a sour feeling to the room.
“It amazes me that Altman has enough money to build such a pristine campus but he doesn’t even bother to spruce up the lab that his ‘gifted’ students spend a good portion of their time in,” the woman complained, dropping her tote bag onto the floor beside her desk.
“Good morning to you too, Autumn,” Layla acknowledged the woman’s arrival, barely looking away from her computer screen. “Acting like the privileged, troubled rich girl you are, I see? If this place bothers you so much, why don’t you pay to spruce it up? Oh, that’s right… you were cut off. Must be difficult, not having access to daddy’s money to bribe people all the time.”
Brackston scoffed as Autumn gave Layla a dark glare, sitting down in her own office chair uncomfortably. Her body was stiff to the point that it made Brackston wonder if it really pained her that much to be here.
“I’m just saying, this place could use as much of an upgrade as the campus got. It smells like cat piss and looks like a dingy basement,” she grumbled.
“It is a basement,” Brackston reminded her, raising his hands defensively when the woman glared in his direction. “Besides, Altman says we need to be prepared for work in the real world. Not every place we’re going to work for is going to be as nice as what we’re all spoiled with upstairs.”
“Every place I have worked has looked as nice, if not, nicer than what’s upstairs,” she corrected, twisting a strand of her red hair around her finger.
“It’s just a shame that you couldn’t hold down a job at those nicer places, then maybe you wouldn’t have to work with such lowlifes,” Layla grumbled, seemingly unaware of the vicious stare that Autumn was giving her.
Brackston was contemplating making a comment himself but the sound of someone entering the area prompted him to remain silent.
The three turned their heads in time to take in a figure walking casually into the room, watching as the man carefully fixed his eyes on the three of them fidgeting under his presence.
“I hope everyone has studied what I asked them to,” his voice echoed through the lab, taking in the way each student nodded.
Autumn’s tense figure relaxed as soon as the professor approached where they were all sitting, her eyes sparkling as she stared up at the man.
“Yes, Professor Altman,” Autumn spoke up firmly, forcing a smile on her face. “I might have even read ahead to be prepared for the next phase.”
Brackston grumbled under his breath as Layla rolled her eyes, the two unsurprised at how quickly she turned up the charm once under the watchful eye of their professor.
Professor Altman cringed, his eyes narrowing on Autumn as an amused expression crossed his face. “I’m afraid reading ahead isn’t going to help you this week, Miss Whittaker,” he confessed. “We aren’t quite to that phase yet. Not for some time, anyway.”
Autumn’s feigned smile melted into a genuine frown, the light in her eyes darkening at the professor’s vague response.
“Ordinary travel is unpredictable enough, Miss Whittaker. You know this from your many adventures on your father’s private plane,” Professor Altman reminded her.
Professor Altman ignored Autumn’s displeased stare as he walked over to give an anxious-looking Brackston a reassuring fist bump, the professor smiling at the young man as the gesture was returned.
Out of all his students at the Institution, Brackston was by far his favorite - to the point that he considered the young man and his brother like sons. Professor Altman was familiar with the Campbell’s brother’s stories, which involved Brackston sacrificing what he did to take care of his brother. Many students and parents complained about the situation being unfair, that Brackston was only taken under the professor’s wing because they felt Altman was taking pity on a poor, orphaned black kid.
At the end of the day, it had less to do with the color of his student’s skin and everything to do with the integrity, wisdom, and passion each one had. Layla and Brackston both ended up working with him because they surpassed everyone here.
“We’re not here to talk about ordinary travel,” Autumn’s voice interjected, drawing the professor’s attention away from greeting his other students.
The professor instantly noticed the glistening haze within the young woman’s eyes, the darkened way she stared through him as she gripped firmly onto the arms of her chair. He was familiar with that look, more than he cared to admit. Having worked time and time again with the young woman’s father, he grew accustomed to seeing that look when the old man was angry. It was entertaining to him to see that his business partner’s daughter had picked up the same traits.
Squaring her jaw, the young woman leaned forward in her chair to make sure that her next words were made clear. “You told my father that we were to the next phase, didn’t you? He’s counting on this project being done by-”
“Miss Whittaker, you are aware that this project consisted of figuring out the mystery that is time travel, correct?” Professor Altman cut her off, his eyes locking firmly on her. “And with the three of you at my side, we’ve not only figured out the mystery, but we’ve built the entire bloody machine. Not only did we do that, but you three have become the first people in history to successfully pilot and travel through time. This is an incredible thing that we’ve accomplished, Miss Whittaker. Take the win, and be patient. The time will come.”
Autumn clamped her mouth shut the second Professor Altman was done, her eyes falling to stare at her lap as an uncomfortable silence fell over the room.
Professor Altman pressed his lips together at the sight before him, his gaze lingering behind him to take in the other two students.
Layla and Brackston were talking in hushed tones, squirming uncomfortably underneath the stare of their professor as they tried to pretend they were unaware of the situation going down.
Letting out a huff of air, the sound drew the attention of everyone sitting there. They glanced up just in time to catch the professor running his hands over his face as he gave the three students an apologetic glare, his head tilting towards the long hallway to the left of him.
“Go and get some rest, we’ve all had a long day of being stuck in a stuffy classroom. We’re all a little on edge and if we’re going to work as a team, we need to be on our best behavior and in our best mindset.”
The three students gave different responses in regards to his request, Autumn being the only one to leave the room silently with her bag in tow. Layla and Brackston offered the professor a simple smile that was in return met with a weak one from the professor himself, an unusual sight considering that the professor was usually always able to put a genuine smile on his face.
As they entered the hallway together, the final two students shot each other a look of concern, leaving them to wonder if there was more going on than what was visible on the surface.
Professor Altman propped his feet up on his desk the moment he was alone in his office, a deep sigh escaping his lips as he brought his hand to his head. He could feel the dull throb of a headache wearing on his mind, his eyes squeezing shut as he tried to relax from the day’s events.
Autumn Whittaker was consistently pushing his buttons, reminding both him and his other two students about the unfortunate deal with her father. More than that, she was a painful reminder of the deadline that was drawing near - one that he’d have to push out again.
Autumn Whittaker’s father, his business partner, was a far wealthier man than Professor Altman could have ever dreamed of being. Rich enough to own private islands, fancy jets… and rich enough to fund powerful, dangerous projects to further expand his riches.
The Whittaker Foundation was a business model that most would only dream of succeeding in, seeing as the majority of their projects and products were scientifically impossible. Flying cars were only the tip of the iceberg, and Professor Altman was once the brains behind all the projects that made their way through Whittaker and into the hands of the world.
That all changed when Whittaker somehow caught wind of Altman’s next big project, a personal one that was not meant to get out into the world. When Whittaker discovered that the professor had figured out how to solve time travel, it became clear that there was no way for Altman to worm his way out of this one.
Flying cars were a thing of the past, forget flying at a high speed to make it on time - imagine being able to travel through time to make it on time. Those who were simply late could just use their time-traveling vehicle to get from point A to point B and arrive early enough to get a cup of coffee.
As exciting as all that sounded, it was more of a fantasy than anyone realized - even with the successful completion of a fully functioning time machine. While Altman was able to solve the mysterious ways of time travel, he’s been unsuccessful in figuring out a machine that would let a person travel to a period they already exist without creating a duplicate. That, and without the person who’s traveling going insane from the trip. Unfortunately, their test runs have cost Whittaker a few of his great employees their sanity.
Glancing over to his desk, the professor released a deep sigh as he shook his head glumly. “Maybe I’m in over my head,” he whispered to himself, licking his lips. “Maybe we’re all in over our heads.”
His words were met without a response, the lack of noise prompting him to glance around the room. His eyes fell onto the table a short distance away that held a variety of glass bottles, his eyes taking in the dark amber color lingering within one of them.
He was contemplating standing up to get a glass when the sound of his office rattling drew his attention from the bottles, his eyes darting towards the door.
Alarms sounded throughout the quiet area as he stared at the door, confusion settling over him until he realized what was going on. Removing his feet from where they were propped on the desk, he quickly jumped out of his seat with a force that sent his chair flying backward as he raced towards his office door.
The harrowing echo of the alarm rang out through the lab as he entered the hallway, his feet carrying him as quickly as humanly possible towards the control room he often met with his students in.
It didn’t surprise him that both Layla and Brackston were already there, their rigid bodies standing at their computers as they stared over the control area that overlooked where his time machine was stationed.
The two turned as soon as they heard his footsteps, the sight of their pale expressions and wide eyes told him that something terrible had just gone down, and it didn’t take long to figure out what that horrid thing was once Brackston spoke up.
“We were just sleeping and… heard the alarms. When we raced out here, we noticed…” Brackston trailed off, fidgeting uncomfortably underneath Altman’s cold stare.
A lump formed in Professor Altman’s throat at the vacant area before him, the wide area where his time machine once sat was now devoid of the machine’s presence. The professor could feel his heart racing against his chest as his body trembled, unsure if what was bubbling up within him was fear or anger.
“Where the hell is she?” Professor Altman growled, the edge to his voice quickly encouraging Layla to jump to her computer so that she could begin tapping on the keyboard.
“Whittaker Headquarters,” Layla admitted, her eyes glued to the screen. “She managed to deliver the machine to Whittaker.”
A heavy silence fell over the room as the reality settled in. Professor Altman knew that Autumn Whittaker wasn’t a mere student, that she was sent here to keep an eye on him. However, he never anticipated that the young woman would be foolish enough to steal the machine right underneath their noses. He never should have underestimated a Whittaker.
“She left a note!” Brackston’s voice pierced through Professor Altman’s angered thoughts, drawing the attention of Layla and the professor towards the other student.
“What does it say?” Professor Altman pressed, trying his best to remain cool before the two remaining students.
It wasn’t their fault that he was betrayed. He was more upset that he had nearly put them in danger, knowing that if the two had intervened Autumn’s mission, he had no doubt she’d been given orders to take out anyone in her way.
With shaking hands, Brackston held out the note for the professor to read. Confusion settled over Altman as he read over the words that were fiercely scribbled out by the hand of one of his brilliant students.
“I’ll be sure to say hi to the father of the theory of relativity for you.”