As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.
Our players this week both come from science fiction stories. Neil Tapscott was taken away by a mysterious robot on day 126 in Summoned, and young super-genius Kevin Truman from day 71, Genius. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with these two, but an idea blossomed in my head and I ran with it. Let’s hope it takes me somewhere good.
A young Indian girl raised her hand and Neil pointed to her from the stage. She stood up, looking remarkably calm for someone who was going to have to ask a question while surrounded by her fellow middle schoolers, and asked, “Is working for a technology company a way to make the future better for everyone?”
Neil blinked. He’d agreed to do this career day thing for his sister, who was teaching at the school, and thought it would just be a matter of telling them to study hard and not do drugs. He came as an “Information Control Specialist” at Acton Informatics, which was a fancy way to say that he was a data entry clerk. He got reams of numbers from the tech and R&D guys every morning and spent his day making sure they got put into the right databases. He supposed that technically his job was essential to the proper operation of the company, but that was only because no one had bothered to teach the tech and R&D guys how to do it themselves.
He cleared his throat, which seemed to echo around the gymnasium. “Well,” he said, “there are many ways that you can make the future better, and not all of them can be done at a company like Acton.” He put his hands in his pockets and tried to think. You could probably make the future better by working at Acton, but not for everyone. Stockholders, maybe.
“Working with technology means working with tools,” he said. “And a tool can be used to do good or bad things, right? I mean, I can take a hammer and use it to build a house, or I can use that hammer to crack someone’s skull.” The kids laughed, and he glimpsed his sister in the wings doing a tiny, frantic wave to get his attention. The look on her face was horrified, probably because she was standing next to the principal, who clearly didn’t find joking about murder to be very funny.
“My point is,” Neil went on, focusing on the girl who asked the question, “you’re not going to make a better world with technology. You can only do that with people. You find good people, you get a good future. The technology just makes it a little easier to do.”
His sister walked in from the wings, applauding frantically. “Wasn’t that great?” she asked the kids, who applauded with at least some measure of enthusiasm. “I want to thank Neil for coming to our school, and I hope you all got something you can take away from what you heard.” She clapped again, and a few scattered kids followed suit. She gestured offstage, and Neil walked away, giving a wave to the crowd that no one really noticed. His sister followed him a few moments later and whispered furiously, “What the hell was that hammer joke?”
“Relax, Marie. It was funny. The kids liked it.”
Her eyes went wide. “Jesus, Neil, you’re in a school! Last April a kid was suspended for drawing a picture of a gun.” She slapped his shoulder. “A picture! These are not rational people, Neil.”
He held his hands up in submission. “All right, all right, I’m sorry. If anyone gives you grief, tell them to talk to me and I’ll make sure they know how completely appalled you were.” He held out a hand. “Deal?”
Marie glared at it for a moment before shaking it. “Deal. Fine. But if I get fired,” she said, “I’m crashing on your couch.”
“Feel free,” he said. “Maybe it’ll get the cat out of my bed for a night.”
She let out a short laugh, and the tension of the moment was gone. “Ah, Nickel. You really have to stand up to your cat one of these days.”
Neil shrugged. “What can I do? I stopped being the boss ages ago.” He reached out and gave his sister a hug. “Good to see you again, Marie,” he said.
“You too,” she said. “Thanks for coming out here on short notice.”
“And get my baby sister out of a jam? Not a problem.”
“So now you owe me.”
Marie grimaced. “Bank it,” she said.
“With interest? Gladly!” He laugh and hugged her again. “I’ll catch you later. I have to get back to work and tell my masters that I put a good face on for the company.” Neil gave a quick wave as he pushed open the backstage doors and tried to remember how he was supposed to get back to his car. There was probably a reason why they built schools like mazes, but damned if he knew why. As he walked, some of the students waved and said “Thanks, Mister Talcott!” Which, he figured, was close enough.
He took a few wrong turns, nearly ended up in the art room, and was just about ready to stop and ask for directions when one of the students called out to him from behind. “Mister Tapscott!” Surprised at hearing his name pronounced correctly, he turned around. A boy was running towards him with a folder full of papers in his hands and he had that look of frantic desperation that all kids get when they think they might miss a big chance. Neil had no idea what the kid might have thought he was missing, but he stopped anyway.
“Mister Tapscott,” the kid said, breathing heavily as he skidded to a stop.
“Slow down, kid,” Neil said. “Take a breath. Or two.”
The kid did, and looked up at Neil. “Mister Tapscott.” He handed out the folder full of papers. “Can you look at these for me?”
Neil took them without thinking, and instantly regretted it when the boy’s eyes lit up. “What are they?” he asked.
“Designs,” the boy said. “I have these ideas for some new machines, and I thought that you might know what to do with them. Since you work for Acton.”
Neil opened the folder and started leafing through the pages. They were packed with dense writing and precisely-drawn diagrams of devices that Neil had never seen before. They had been done with the kind of care that he usually didn’t even see at Acton, and never expected from a thirteen year-old boy.
He turned another page. “What is all this stuff?” Neil checked the name in the corner of each page: Kevin Truman. Not a name he was familiar with, but he made a note to email his sister about him.
“My designs,” the boy said. “I want to be an inventor someday and make the world a better place.”
“Uh-huh,” Neil said, turning one of the diagrams around to see if he could figure out what it was. He couldn’t
Kevin reached out and turned the diagram again. “That one is an artificial arm I thought of. It hooks up to the nervous system and allows the user to control it like it was his own.” He pulled the folder out of Neil’s hands and flipped through the pages. “This one is a design for a bridge that converts vibrations into electrical energy, and…” He found another. “This is for growing crops vertically, so we don’t have to use as much land.” He handed the folder back and looked up at Neil expectantly. “What do you think?” he asked.
Neil wasn’t sure what to tell him. The boy had that hope in his eyes that Neil remembered from when he was that age. It was the hope that he had done something not just right, but uniquely right. It was the belief that he had finally found someone willing to listen to him. And not just anyone, but an adult. An adult who could get things done!
Except that Neil wasn’t the kind of adult who could get things done. He closed the folder and handed it back to Kevin. “Listen, Kevin,” he said. “I’m not the guy you want to be bringing these to.” Kevin’s expression grew puzzled. “I can’t help you, Kevin,” he said. A moment of honesty overtook him. “In fact, if I were you, I’d keep all those ideas as far as I could from a place like Acton Informatics.”
Kevin looked like he didn’t understand, which seemed to be a rare enough feeling that it was uncomfortable on him. “Why?” he asked. “They’re good ideas, right?”
“Sure,” Neil said, even though he had no way of knowing if he was telling the truth. “But I’m just a data entry guy, Kev. I put numbers into a computer every day, then I wake up the next day and do it again.” He shrugged. “Even if I knew how to make these ideas real, I wouldn’t be able to make it happen.” He bent down a bit so he could be more on the boy’s level, and lowered his voice. “And honestly, the ones who could? They’d probably do it, take all the credit, and leave you with nothing.” He patted Kevin on the shoulder. “I’ve seen it happen, and believe me, it’s not pretty.”
Kevin eyed him with a careful gaze. “So what do I do?” he asked when Neil stood up. “Just forget about them?”
Neil shook his head. “No, no. God, no. Keep working on them. Keep making them better, maybe doing what you can on your own. Just make sure to keep looking for the right person to make them real.” He smiled, more at himself than the situation. He didn’t think he’d be able to bring this conversation around full circle. “It’s all about the people, remember?”
The boy nodded and clutched the designs to his chest. “Thanks,” he said, the ghost of a smile playing across his face. “Thanks a lot, Mister Tapscott.”
“No problem, kid.” He watched Kevin run off again with the same burst of energy he’d used when he arrived, and only a moment later realized that he’d forgotten to ask him how to get to the parking lot. Ah well, he thought. At least I made somebody’s day a little better. Maybe the rest of the day will go as well.
Part of writing is getting to know your characters. The way that I’ve been working so far, there’s not been a lot of time to do that. I write a story, and move on – maybe coming back another time to revisit the people I have created, but usually not. So just for fun, I’m going to do some character interviews this week and see what I can find out about the folks who emerged from between the folds in my brain. To do so, I’ve got my list of characters and the fine folks over at random.org, and together I’ll be randomly choosing my subjects. If you have a request for a character interview, let me know in the comments and I can see to it that he or she jumps to the head of the queue.
For our final interview, we will talk to Kari Truman, the mother of the brilliant – if eccentric – Kevin Truman from Day 71, Genius. When we saw her, she had discovered that her son was capable of brilliant scientific discovery, but what he did struck her as horrifying and unnatural. When she tried to call the police, Kevin froze her in a null-time field. Let’s see how she’s dealt with that…
So. You must be the “historian.”
I am a chronicler, Great Mother, yes. It is an honor to-
Don’t call me that.
I’m sorry, Great Mother? Don’t…?
Don’t call me “Great Mother.” I hate that. I don’t care what my son has told you.
I am most sorry, Gre-
I’m sorry. Is there something else I can call you?
Call me Kari. It’s my name, after all. Not like anyone remembers with all this “Great Mother” nonsense.
Very well, then… Kari. We are here to begin the interviews for your part of the Chronicles. Your son commissioned them, you’ll recall. Before he left.
Yes, I recall. I just didn’t expect anyone would actually want to hear my side of the story. No one has asked me about it, not since I woke up. I just get paraded about and called “Great Mother” and spend the rest of my days wondering how I can just die and get it over with.
I’m… I’m sorry?
Never mind. What do you want to know?
Well, we want to hear about your life, from before. Before you were woken into the world your blessed son gave to humanity.
Hmm. My blessed son.
We used to have a normal life. More or less normal, anyway. Phil and I were happy to have one child – we thought it was just as much as we could handle, really. We could give our child our full attention and resources, and not have to deal with all the stress that would come with more. We thought we had planned it all through.
Then we had Kevin.
Don’t misunderstand – I loved my son. My poor, strange son. Even when he was very young, he was so smart – he took things apart and put them back together. He absolutely loved math and science, and while other boys were out playing games or joining the Boy Scouts, Kevin was doing math problems or tinkering in the garage.
We worried a little, actually. We worried that he wasn’t getting enough social interaction. He went to an excellent school, with some of the brightest kids in the country, but he never seemed to be interested in making any friends. He didn’t join any clubs in school or get invited to birthday parties. He just came home every day and did his work, and he was happy with that. Still, when he was ten, we bought him a puppy. An adorable little beagle that he named Racer.
Yes, I’ve seen the statues. He looks like he was a noble dog.
Noble? Anything but. He was noisy, he never really learned where not to pee, and he shed all over everything.
But he was dedicated to Kevin. And Kevin loved that dog. Probably more than anything else in the world, other than his work. He was just shattered when Racer ran away. Or that’s what I thought, anyway.
About his work – when did you begin to understand your son’s genius?
Well, like I said – I always knew he was special. By the time he was in high school, he was begging us to give him the basement as workspace. I thought it was part of some teenage need for privacy, you know – control of your own world and all that. That’s what the parenting sites all talked about, anyway. So we gave it to him, under the condition that he not do anything illegal or anything that would damage the house.
He loved it down there. He’d come up for meals and to go to school, but otherwise he was in his “workshop.” I thought he was just doing electronics, maybe building little robots or something.
Then I went down there.
Then I saw everything.
What… what did you see?
He had… monstrous things down there. The worst of it was that he had Racer’s head in a jar. And it was still alive. It could move, and even bark. I was… I remember just being sick to my stomach when I saw it. Then Kevin told me about all the other things he’d made, and the things that he was working on. An army of insects. Artificial cells. A time-device.
My son. My wonderful, genius son was playing with life and death. He was trying to change the order of the world. He was trying to interfere with the course of nature and God’s own plan.
My son was a monster.
Well… history would disagree with that, Gre… Kari.
History can disagree all it wants, young man. I know what I saw down there. I know what he was working on, and when I tried to stop him… When I tried to stop him, he used his time device to slow me down. To keep me out of the way.
When I blinked, I went from our basement to a great marble temple, and my son standing there with a crowd of worshippers behind him. He just beamed at me and said, “Welcome home, mother!”
Three hundred years. Gone. Just like that.
Everything I knew is gone. My friends, my husband, my home – all gone. In its place is this… this “paradise” you all seem to love so much.
But it is a paradise. No one wants for anything, no one need get sick, or even die. There is global peace and prosperity for the first time in human history.
Yes, and how did that happen?
Your son gave it to us, of course.
And you don’t see any problem with that?
I don’t… I don’t understand the question.
Young man, humans don’t do very well when people just give them things. It makes us complacent and lazy. Tell me – how many new things have been invented since my son “gave” you this perfect new world? How many things have been made by someone other than my son?
None. You look at vids from a hundred years ago and they look exactly the same as they do now. And they’ll probably look the same a hundred years from now. Nobody needs anything, so nobody makes anything. Nobody comes up with creative solutions to problems because there are no problems. Humans used to advance and create and grow. Now we just exist.
But things are so good! Like I said, no one wants for anything, not like in your day, when there were poor and hungry people everywhere.
There was a saying when I was young – “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” My son has given you all a whole lot of fish, but he hasn’t taught you a damned thing. And you probably expect that he’ll keep giving us things, which is fine… Until it stops.
Someday, mark my words, all this will come to an end. Maybe Kevin will die. Maybe he’ll get bored, or he’ll wander off to some other world and forget you. But one day, he’ll stop giving, and this whole place will collapse around your ears. You write that down in your book, young man.
I… I will.
Good. Now get out. I have a busy day of existing to do.
Thank you… Kari. If I have questions, may I contact you again?
(sighs) Sure, go ahead. Maybe I can talk some sense into you people.
Very well. Have… Have a wondrous day.
On the last day of each month, I’ll take a story from the previous month, clean it up a little, see if I can make it better than the first time it appeared, and post it up. When I first wrote “Genius” (day sixteen), it was an experiment in doing a dialogue-only story. No narration, no description, no nothing. Just the words. I think it worked out okay, with some good characters and an interesting premise. For the revisitation, I thought I’d put in a more conventional third-person narrative and see what I could make of it. Let me know what you think!
Kevin took deep, slow breaths to try and keep his heartbeat under control. The tip of the soldering iron trembled ever so slightly, and that wasn’t good enough. This part of the apparatus was vital to the success of the project. He blinked away the sweat that dripped into his eyes. He took one more deep breath, held it, and let it out as he lowered the iron to the circuit board.
“Kevin? Time for dinner, sweetheart!” He jerked the iron up and away from the board and cursed. He swung the magnifier back, dropped the coil of solder on the tabletop and growled under his breath at his mother. “Don’t make me call you again!” she called.
He wiped his forehead, set the iron back in its holder and counted to ten. “I’ll be up in a minute, mom!” he yelled. He stood up and turned on the light, blinking against the sudden illumination. The basement was cluttered and chaotic, with benches and boxes full of parts and various electronic components, cast-offs from neighbors’ trash and whatever he could scrape together from eBay. He took a battered notebook from one of them and started scribbling on a blank page.
“This is the second time, Kevin. It’s getting cold.” His mother’s voice was starting to sound concerned, but that was the default expression for her. For the last few years, she hadn’t know what to do with her son, and that was fine with him. She and his father had tried therapists and talking to his teachers at school, but they didn’t have any help for them. “He’s a great student,” they said. “Top honors, just… He’s in his own world sometimes.”
Would that that were true. If he had his own world he’d be able to get work done, to stay away from such trivialities as whatever it was his mother had cooked for dinner. It was only after many arguments and a little begging and pleading that he convinced his parents to let him use the basement for his own purposes. He promised not to do anything that would burn down the house or get him arrested, and they’d just have to live with that.
In recent weeks, however, he’d spent more and more time down there. He would come home from school, head straight downstairs and not show his face again until he came up to wolf down his dinner. After that it was straight back to the basement, and he wouldn’t emerge again until morning. They had tried to talk to him about it, as they had tried to talk about so many other things, but whatever he was doing down there was taking up all of his attention.
“Kevin,” she called again. “Your father and I… You’ve been down there all week, and we’re worried about you.” He didn’t answer, but put some extra notes next to an improved circuit design. He may not have finished this one, but maybe that was a good thing. If he just tweaked the design a little…
“That’s it, Kevin. I’m coming down there.”
His head snapped up from his notebook as he head her come down the stairs, in flagrant violation of the agreement they’d made. “What? Mom, no, you can’t – No!” He ran to the foot of the stairs to stop her, but it was too late. “No no no no – awwww, mom!”
His mother looked completely out of place in his basement junkyard. Her pale blue suit was clean and uncluttered, and the only jewelry she wore was a tastefully small cross on a thin gold chain. She looked every bit the professional working mother, but she’d somehow managed to make it look easy. She looked around the basement with an expression of horror and confusion, not only at the chaotic mess of things that was down there, but simply the chaos itself. Up above, in the house that she ruled, such a thing as this would never be tolerated.
“What on earth have you been doing down here?” she asked. She reached out to open one of the battered cardboard boxes and recoiled as dusty cables and connectors spilled out. “My God!”
Kevin took his gloves off and tried to escort her back to the stairs. “Jeez, mom, I told you not to come down here.”
“I mean, just look at this mess.” She walked around him and started peering into everything with the horrified curiosity of a driver passing a fatal accident. “Why do you have a shopping basket full of batteries? And broken remote controls? And is this -” She picked up a metal basket with a leather chinstrap. The helmet had been festooned with wires, all leading to a thick, canvas-wrapped cable that was coiled in another box. “It looks like my old colander,” she said. “What are you doing with this?”
“Mom, could you put that down please? It’s delicate.” Kevin was acutely aware of the whining tone that was entering his voice and he squared his shoulders. “Mom, look, just put it down and go back upstairs. I’ll be up in a minute.”
She put down the helmet and sniffed. “And what’s – what’s that smell? It smells like… Like…” Kevin knew what it smelled like, but he was used to it by now. The smell of burned-out electronics was part of the background atmosphere of the basement at this point. She spun around to face him again. “Kevin, have you been smoking down here?”
He wanted to deny it, but stopped himself. “Yes!” His eyes lit up. “Yes, mom, that’s exactly it.” He weaved through the junkpiles and gently took her arm, trying to guide her out. “I’ve been smoking and I feel terrible about it and I promise that I’ll stop, so just go back upstairs and-”
She broke free of him again and approached the door to a walled-off section he had built. “What’s in here?” she asked, turning the knob.
“Mom, no!!” It was too late. The room beyond that door was better than the rest of the basement, at least in terms of neatness. There were small lights in the darkness, a well-organized bench, and shelves of tagged and labeled devices, the successes that had been culled from all his failures.
His mother looked around, and stopped, horrified, when she saw what was on the desk in the middle of the room. “Oh. Oh my God, Kevin, what have you done?” She approached it, gingerly. There was a great glass jar, its thick walls distorting the dim light that shined upwards from the base. Inside, its neck wired to a shining steel base that was covered in little lights, was the head of their family dog, Racer. She leaned towards it, her hand to her mouth.
It opened its eyes and started barking.
“Don’t touch me!” she screamed, stumbling backwards from the dog’s head. She backed up against the door, her face twisting between anger and disgust. “Oh God,” she whispered. “Is that Racer? You – you said he ran away and-”
“Mom, I-” The dog barked again and she whimpered. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s Racer. He – quiet, boy! Quiet!” The dog stopped barking but started licking the inside of its container.
“Wh- where’s the rest of him?”
“Buried out back, mom. I…” She bent over and threw up on the floor. “Oh. Okay. You, um…. I’ll just…” He grabbed a small towel off a rack and twisted it in his hands. “I’ll clean that up after. Don’t worry about it.”
“Sweet Jesus, Kevin, sweet baby Jesus…” She wiped her mouth and took a step closer to the thing in the jar. Racer barked again and started panting happily as she approached.
“Mom, I know how this looks,” Kevin said. “Look at me, Mom.” He reached out to touch her and she flinched away, but she looked at him. “I know how this – shut up, Racer! – I know how this looks. And I know it looks pretty bad.” He tried to smile. “But if you look at the bright side-”
“Bright side? Bright side?” She rounded on him, and her usual expression of careful pleasantness was gone. Now his mother’s wide, tear-filled eyes were full of anger, fear, more real emotion than he could remember seeing from her in a long time. “You have your beagle’s head in a jar, Kevin! And it’s still alive! How –” She gestured around to the bizarre-looking contraptions that were on all the shelves. Some of them looked vaguely identifiable, but there were far more whose purpose she could not begin to understand. “And these machines? Did they do this? Did you make these?”
“That’s what I’m talking about, mom!” Kevin got in front of her and tried to recapture her attention. “I made these! Out of the crap that people throw away. Out of the things in my head! Look at Racer, mom!” He ran over to the desk and wrapped an arm around the glass case. Racer barked again. “He got hit by a car, okay? And I kept him alive! No one else could have done that!”
He left Racer, who whined quietly, and picked up a thing that looked like two old TV antennas stuck together with a copper coil between them. “Do you see this machine, mom? Hold on, let me find…” He put it down and started digging through a box under the desk.
“Hold on, mom,” he said. He stood up again with a metronome in his hand, the one they bought for him when he’d expressed an interest in playing the piano. That had lasted for very nearly two weeks. “Okay, Look at this, okay?” He set it ticking and put it on the desk some distance away from Racer, who was watching it intently. “Nice beat,” he said, “four-four time, keep your eyes on it…. You watching?” He picked up the machine off the desk and pressed a small button. The coils began to hum quietly and a soft glow filled the space between the spreading antennas. He adjusted a dial, pointed the whole thing at the metronome and pushed the large red button in the base of the device. He touched the pale glow to the metronome, which immediately stopped in mid-swing, the pendulum leaning precariously to the right. The glow stayed around it, faint and iridescent.
Kevin turned back to his mother, a huge grin on his face. “Isn’t that cool?” He held up the device towards her and she took a step backwards. “Localized time distortion! I can dial that baby down to almost nothing!” He turned the dial back a bit, just for show.
He gestured back to the shelves. “I have an antigrav plate down here somewhere, and a new plastic that can replace human skin cells. If I can find the remote, I’ll show you my army of mind-controlled cockroaches.” That look of disgust passed back over his mother’s face and she looked like she might want to throw up again. “Okay, maybe not them, but didn’t you wonder why your roses grew so big last year? Why they screamed sometimes? Or what happened to those kids who egged our house last Halloween?” He laughed, and it was a dark laugh. “Not a coincidence, mom. I mean just look at all this stuff!” He turned back to her.
“I… I’m looking, Kevin.” Her voice had gone quiet.
She walked over to the desk, and rested a hand against the glass case. “Oh, Racer…”
“Mom, forget about Racer. Racer was just a stepping-stone, a way up to something better!” He grabbed her with his free hand and turned her to face him. This time she didn’t flinch. “Mom, listen to me: in a few years, I’ll be able to figure out how to keep people alive indefinitely. And not in a jar, either. I have stuff down here that’ll change the world, mom.” He tried smiling again, letting a note of pleading enter his voice. “Don’t you see?”
She nodded slowly, mechanically. “Yes, Kevin. I see.”
“Do you understand why I did all this?”
The nod again. “Yes, Kevin. I understand.”
“So… we’re cool?” He maneuvered to look into her eyes, but she looked away. “Mom?”
His mother took a deep breath and turned to the door. “Kevin. I’m going to go upstairs now. I’m going to call a doctor or someone, because this…” She looked back at the room and shuddered. “This isn’t normal.”
“No, mom. No, you can’t do that.” He gripped the device tightly.
“I have to, Kevin.”
“No, you can’t. I’m not ready – the world’s not ready! You have to just – Mom, wait!!” She was already out the door, heading towards the stairs.
“I can’t let you do this, Kevin, not under my roof!” She reached a block in the maze of clutter and turned around to find a clear path, a sense of haste and panic entering her steps.
“Mom, no! Stop!” He held up the time-stopper as she approached him, and the pale glow lit up more brightly between the antennas. “NO!!“
She tried to step around him, but there wasn’t enough room. She turned to look as the light embraced her and she slowed down. “Kevvvvv…iii…nnnnnnnnnnn….”
Kevin looked at his mother, who was frozen in mid-step. Strands of hair hung, immobile, and the cross on its chain was dangling off towards the lapel of her suit jacket.
“Oh, mom,” he whispered. “You shouldn’t have made me do that.” He reached out to touch her, but drew back his hand. He didn’t know what would happen if he touched her. He made a mental note to test that out later.
He sat down on one of the boxes and rested the device on his lap. “You’ll be fine like that.” He tried to make himself sound sure. “You won’t have to worry about getting old, anyway. Not for, let me see…” He checked the settings on the device and then did some quick math in his head. His eyebrows went up. “Huh. Two point three million years.” He smiled and patted the machine. “Damn,” he said. “I am good.”
His mother stood there, frozen in time and perfectly beautiful. She didn’t understand, and that was no surprise. He’d never expected her to, but rather hoped that he’d be able to show her some of the more amazing things first before letting slip that bit about their dog’s head in a jar. Or the cockroaches. Sooner or later, he figured he’d be able to bring her around – her and his father. But she’d pushed the schedule ahead, and letting her go was far too risky.
And now there was his father to worry about. If she didn’t come up soon…
Kevin picked up his gloves from the workbench and put them on. “All right, then,” he said. He took up the time-stopper again and rechecked the settings. A pale glow bloomed between the antennas. “Dad first,” he said, mounting the first step. “Then dinner.” He smiled grimly.
“Then the world.”
“Kevin? Time for dinner, sweetheart! Don’t make me call you again!”
“I’ll be up in a minute, mom!”
“This is the second time, Kevin. It’s getting cold.”
“I know, mom – I said I’ll be up in a minute!”
“What are you doing down there, anyway? You’ve been in the basement all week.”
“It’s nothing, mom!”
“Your father and I are worried about you, Kevin….Kevin? That’s it, I’m coming down there.”
“What? Mom, no, you can’t – No! No no no no – awwww, mom!”
“What on earth have you been doing down here? My God!”
“Jeez, mom, I told you not to come down here.”
“I mean, just look at this mess. Why do you have a shopping basket full of batteries? And broken remote controls? And is this -”
“Mom, could you put that down please? It’s delicate.”
“It looks like my old colander. But what are all these wires sticking out of it?”
“Mom, look, just put it down and go back upstairs. I’ll be up in a minute.”
“And what’s – what’s that smell? It smells like… Like… Kevin, have you been smoking down here?”
“Yes! Yes, mom, that’s exactly it. I’ve been smoking and I feel terrible about it and I promise that I’ll stop, so just go back upstairs and-”
“What’s in here?”
“Oh. Oh my God, Kevin, what have you done?”
“Don’t touch me!”
“Oh God, is that Racer? You – you said he ran away and-”
“Yeah. That’s Racer. He – quiet, boy! Quiet!”
“Wh- where’s the rest of him?”
“Buried out back, mom. I…. Oh. Okay. You, um…. I’ll just… clean that up after. Don’t worry about it.”
“Sweet Jesus, Kevin, sweet baby Jesus….”
“Mom, I know how this looks. Look at me, Mom. I know how this – shut up, Racer! – I know how this looks. And I know it looks pretty bad. But if you look at the bright side-”
“Bright side? Bright side? You have your beagle’s headin a jar, Kevin! And it’s still alive! How – And these machines? Did they do this? Did you make these?”
“That’s what I’m talking about, mom! I made these! Out of the crap that people throw away. Out of the things in my head! Look at Racer, mom – he got hit by a car, okay? And I kept him alive! No one else could have done that!”
“Do you see this machine, mom? Hold on, let me find….”
“Okay, Look at this metronome, okay? Nice beat, four-four time, keep your eyes on it…. You watching? BAM! Huh? Isn’t that cool? Localized time distortion! I can dial that baby down to almost nothing!”
“I have an antigrav plate down here somewhere, and a new plastic that can replace human skin cells. If I can find the remote, I’ll show you my army of mind-controlled cockroaches. Okay, maybe not them, but didn’t you wonder why your roses grew so big last year? Why they screamed sometimes? Or what happened to those kids who egged our house last Halloween? Not a coincidence, mom. I mean just look at all this stuff!”
“I… I’m looking, Kevin.”
“Mom, forget about Racer. Racer was just a stepping-stone, a way up to something better! Mom, listen to me: in a few years, I’ll be able to figure out how to keep people alive indefinitely. And not in a jar, either. I have stuff down here that’ll change the world, mom. Don’t you see?”
“Yes, Kevin. I see.”
“Do you understand why I did all this?”
“Yes, Kevin. I understand.”
“So… we’re cool? Mom?”
“Kevin. I’m going to go upstairs now. I’m going to call a doctor or someone, because this… This isn’t normal.”
“No, mom. No, you can’t do that.”
“I have to, Kevin.”
“No, you can’t. I’m not ready – the world’s not ready! You have to just – Mom, wait!!”
“I can’t let you do this, Kevin, not under my roof!”
“Mom, no! Stop! NO!!“
“Oh, mom. You shouldn’t have made me do that.
“You’ll be fine like that. You won’t have to worry about getting old, anyway. Not for, let me see…. Huh. Two point three million years. Damn. I am good.
“All right, then. Dad first. Then dinner. Then the world.”