Dr. Pollack sat in one of the uncomfortable desk chairs near the far edge of the room. Andrew was sitting his lap, looking much more like a scared nine year old than a fourteen year old boy. His arms were around his dad's shoulders and tears continued to slowly streak down his face. Dr. Pollack's arms were around his son. He had a sad but warm look in his eyes and he was talking to his son quietly. The others couldn't hear what was being said.
Craig was sitting on the floor. He hadn't moved. His arms were crossed tightly across his chest and his head was down. His eyes were closed. It was all too much. He didn't know how to deal with this. There was too much going on, too much intensity. So he was trying to blank it out, to not think.
Jamie and Joel were kneeling beside Craig, concern, worry, and a large dose of fear showing clearly in their eyes. They each had a hand on one of Craig's shoulders and were talking to him quietly.
The harshness of the fluorescent lights, the dull off-white of the walls and ceiling, and the low ongoing hum of the equipment forced a sense of falseness, of unreality on the scene. There was nothing natural, nothing warm and life-affirming anywhere in the room.
Eventually Andrew stood up, as did Dr. Pollack. They gave each other a long hug and slowly walked towards the others. Andrew knelt down in front of Craig. Joel and Jamie moved slightly away. Andrew held Craig's shoulders and looked into his face. He leaned forward and delivered a short but meaningful kiss onto Craig's lips. No words were exchanged, but none were needed. One subject closed. Another loomed large.
Joel broke the silence first. He turned to Dr. Pollack, determination and stubbornness etched into his every pore. “I'm going with him. He needs me,” is all he said.
Dr. Pollack looked at his son and Craig, arms around each other. He looked at Joel, glaring at him with equal parts fear and determination. He looked at Jamie, pale and lost looking.
“Guys,” he began gently, “guys, none of you are going anywhere. Except home to bed. We've got the best people in the world working on this. There's no way in hell I could send any of you boys. It would be unthinkable, unethical, and immoral. I would never forgive myself, and neither would my son ever forgive me. Forget it. Let's go home guys, it's been a hell of a day.”
They reached the parking lot and Dr. Pollack was pulling his keys out of his pocket when it happened.
“What the hell is that?!” asked Jamie, pointing to the sky.
The five of them stopped and watched the spectacle.
In a vast area of the sky the stars suddenly winked out and then, a second later, winked on again. But they had shifted, moved. Then it happened again, in another area. Then a third, but this time the sky stayed dark.
The reflections of the water in the lake could just be seen from where they were standing. Then the reflections disappeared, attracting their attention. It looked very much like the water was no longer there. Just rocks, and dirt.
Their stomachs suddenly heaved, as if in a rollercoaster, or an elevator. They felt heavier, then light, then normal again. The wind started up, then began blowing fiercely before changing directions and blowing just as fiercely the other way.
Dr. Pollack was looking fearful. “The universes. The strings. They're splitting. Unweaving. Unblending. It's too soon! It's happening too soon!”
Pointing up, Craig said, “But that's not possible. The light from those stars left them years, centuries ago. Longer. This is happening now.”
Dr. Pollack looked at him. “It's not the stars that are shifting Craig. It's the light. Gravity is changing, universal constants, maybe even the speed of light itself. The universe is coming apart.”
The moon itself winked out of existence, then back again in another part of the sky, then gone again. Several seconds later a great rumbling was heard and the ground shook.
“The moon.” Dr. Pollack said, “Tidal forces. With it's gravity suddenly disappearing the whole crust is shifting.”
The five of them stood unbelieving as the spectacle played out in the sky and all around them. Craig turned and looked at Dr. Pollack. He put his hands on his hips. He didn't say anything, just looked. His eyes unwavering. Dr. Pollack looked back uncomfortably.
They argued silently like that for fifteen long seconds.
The world tilted twenty degrees and they fell hard and began sliding across the asphalt parking lot before it tilted back to normal. They picked themselves up, somewhat scraped and sore.
Craig finally said, “How long?”
Dr. Pollack looked around, at the sky, the horizon. “Minutes,” is all he answered.
Craig looked at him again, hard. Joel was doing the same. Jamie was leaning against a light pole, eyes moving back and forth between them. Andrew was crying again, silent tears, holding Craig's hand. But he didn't say anything, just looked into Craig's hardened eyes, and finally he seemed to nod imperceptibly.
Dr. Pollack watched them, then met Craig's hard eyes.
His shoulders fell, his face changed.
“Let's go,” he said, and without looking turned and began jogging back towards the building.
Maybe it was the wind. Craig thought he heard Dr. Pollack say something as he strode away from them, something like, “I'm going to burn for eternity.”
They were back in the superposition room. Dr. Pollack was running back and forth, turning on equipment and doing something on a computer. Craig was standing still. His trembling had returned, twofold. He was holding Andrew tightly while Andrew held him back, quietly whispering to him, saying nothing of any importance, just words meant to support, reassure.
Jamie was whispering something intently into Joel's ear. His body language was fierce. Joel still had the same determined, fearful look on his face. He seemed to be doing his best to ignore Jamie, but you could tell from the flicker of emotions on his face that some of it was getting through.
Dr. Pollack turned to the boys and looked at them. He then looked away, rubbed his eyes hard, looked at the floor, and then looked back. Nothing had visibly changed, but he said, “That's it. We're inside the superposition field. Like the cat. Time is running slightly differently there. Here, we have minutes. There, my best guess is that you'll have two weeks. Maybe three.” He looked at Craig and Joel. “There's nothing more I can do. It's up to you. Your choices. Your willpower. Your wishes.” He turned away. “May the Universe and the Fates forgive me.”
Craig and Joel shared a significant look. Craig sat down in a chair and closed his eyes. He saw Joel do the same just as his eyes were closing.
He thought about his life. Before his dad died, then those awful months after. He thought of his friend Tim. He thought of his mom. He thought of school, he thought about the people he knew. He thought about Rabble, and Karma, and Emdy. Then he thought about his new friends. Joel of course. And Jamie. And his boyfriend Andrew. Especially Andrew. He knew he'd never see any of them except Joel again. He thought about his feelings, and how they had changed, were continuing to change. He was frightened. Scared to death. He felt unprepared, inadequate. But he had another feeling too. A feeling ever so slightly stronger than all of the other feelings. Determination.
And so Craig Jamison made a mighty wish.
The alarm clock came to life, music playing. A favorite folk CD of Joel's.
Craig opened his eyes. He looked around his bedroom. He saw the shuttered windows, the gun and knife on the nightstand. He saw Joel staring back at him. He looked at the date on his watch. They were back. The next morning.
No words were exchanged. They took their turns in the bathroom, got dressed, and strapped on their guns and their knives.
“We have a busy day. Let's get to it.” Craig said finally, and he moved towards the door.
“Craig? I need to take a quick drive,” said Joel, looking slightly uncertain.
Craig stopped, halfway down the stairs. “Where to?” Somehow he knew the answer though.
Craig's shoulders slumped slightly. He wasn't surprised. He saw them talking. “I'm coming with you,” is all he said.
Downstairs a half expected surprise greeted the boys. Two puppies, not so small anymore, and Emdy. The boys looked at each other and both grinned slightly. “I couldn't help it,” said Joel. “I wished for them to be here too.”
“That's ok,” said Craig with a little smile, “So did I.”
They fed the dogs and found something to eat for themselves before getting into the truck.
They were halfway there when Joel spoke again. They had both been thinking about Jamie.
“He insisted. I caved.” Joel shrugged. “I was scared. I willed...wished...whatever, for him to be here too.”
“I know. I figured as much. I saw you guys talking and knew something was up.” The thought that had been niggling at Craig suddenly became clear. He turned back to Joel. “Turn here. We need to go Andrew's house first. It's closer.”
Joel took his eyes off the road and stared at Craig. “You didn't!” Joel said.
Craig shrugged. “Not intentionally. But I was thinking about him when I made the wish. I'll never forgive myself if I dragged him here too, but I'll also never forgive myself if we don't check for sure.”
Joel just nodded and turned the corner.
They arrived at Andrew's house and Craig looked it over, a bit worried about what they'd find. It looked intact though, no obvious damage or animal infiltration. They ran to the front door and Craig opened it. It was unlocked. He ran into the front room, gun half out. “Andrew?! Andrew? Are you here?”
Andrew walked out his dad's office, a bunch of papers in his hand. “About time. I thought you'd never get here. I've got some stuff here from my dad's office that I think will be helpful...”
Craig just looked at him, then leaned against a wall with one hand. “Andrew. This is my fault. You shouldn't be here. I'm sorry. I dragged you here against your will. I don't blame you if you hate me now, but at least let me give you some stuff and show you a couple of things before you tell me to fuck off.”
“Craig. Get off it. I almost expected it. I did expect it, so I was kind of mentally preparing myself. I'm glad I'm here. Someone has to keep you alive before you go gallivanting off all half-cocked thinking you're going to save the universe single handed. Besides, you know what this means, right?”
Nonplussed, Craig just asked, “What?”
Andrew smiled at Craig. “It means you were thinking of me when you made your wish. Now let's get a move on, we have to get Jamie. Uh, he is here too, right?”
Craig and Joel nodded sheepishly. “Ok then. I've got some stuff here that might help,” Andrew continued, “I don't know how hard it will be to get into Dad's lab, but I have his card key, some security codes, and some technical stuff I thought you might need Craig. If the generator there is still working we may need this.”
Craig shook his head. “Uh, we're going to B.C., not back to your Dad's lab. Why would we go there?”
Andrew looked exasperated. “Geez Craig, it's a good thing I'm here with you. The equipment here is bound to be pretty much the same as in B.C. so you can figure out the easiest way to disable it before we leave, where it's relatively familiar and safe. More importantly, maps, plans for the facility, and hopefully card keys or alarm codes may be available somewhere here for the B.C. facility.
A smile slowly came onto Craig's face. “Andrew, I'm glad you're here. Thanks.”
Andrew moved forward into Craig's arms and they shared a brief kiss. And another. And then a third.
“Guys! End of the world! Deadline! Remember?!” said Joel.
They had the grace to both blush before pulling apart and going out to the truck.
They had just pulled up to Jamie's house when they saw the front door open. Jamie walked out. “Did you get Andrew first? Oh, good. Listen, I packed up a few things I thought might help. Come here and look.”
Craig looked at Jamie, then back at Andrew, then at Jamie again. “How did you know...” He shook his head. Obviously they all had this worked out before he did. “Whatever, never mind. What did you want to show us?” They walked into Jamie's house.
Jamie said, “Ok, let me go over this stuff and then can we find something to eat? The only thing left in here vaguely edible were some year old granola bars and some ramen noodles. Yuck. And do you know how gross it was to wake up in a bed covered in a year's worth of dust?”
They walked into an office off of the hallway in Jamie's house.
“Ok,” Jamie said, “I've got my mom's flight book, maps, and gear. I just need to figure out where she put her keys.”
Joel and Craig looked at him with blank expressions. “Uh, what are you talking about Jamie?”
Jamie looked at them, and then at Andrew. “You haven't told them yet?” He turned back to Joel and Craig, “Guys, my mom's a private pilot. She has a Cessna out at the airfield. She's been teaching me since I was eight. I have about thirty hours or so but she won't let me solo until I'm sixteen. I think I can get it going though, even if it has been sitting a year, maybe with some help from you guys?”
Craig sat down in a dusty chair. One of the biggest obstacles to the entire trip had suddenly vanished. Just like that. He felt like a selfish fool. He knew he had to say something. “Guys, um, listen. I've been trying really hard the past few months to try not to be a self-absorbed jerk. But I think I just realized I have a long way to go yet. Here I was thinking this is my problem to solve and I don't want to drag you guys into it, and now you've both just solved some of the biggest obstacles we had against us. And we've been here an hour and a half. I'm a fucking slow learner. I'm sorry. And thanks. More than you'll ever know. Thanks for everything you're doing. If you see me doing that again feel free to knock me over the head with a frying pan or something, willya?”
Andrew plopped down on his lap, sending a small puff of dust into the air. “How about I just pinch your cheek instead,” he did so, “and then kiss you.” He did that too.
Now Jamie and Joel both were groaning and making puking noises. “Geez guys, find a room! No, wait, forget it. We've got too much to do. Save it for later,” Joel laughed as he said this and Jamie was smiling at them despite his reaction of a few seconds ago.
Craig thought of something. “Hey, you know what's weird? We're all of the sudden smiling and laughing and acting like everything is going to be ok. Oh sure you can tell we're all still worried, but it's different. A few hours ago we were about as far from that as it's possible to get. I don't get it.”
Jamie answered. “Well, isn't it obvious? It's like when there's an essay or exam or something at school that I've been worrying about and putting off. When I finally start studying or get to work on it and put my back into it, that feeling goes away. It's like doing something about it somehow makes all the difference. Suddenly we're doing something. I think we feel more in control instead of just waiting for something to happen to us.”
Craig looked at Andrew, still in his lap. “It's a good thing you're so cute, 'cause that guy over there is awfully smart and...ahhh, quit it! Did Joel tell you all my ticklish spots or something?!”
Finally they got organized and were back in the truck. “Ok, originally Joel and I were going to leave tomorrow. That's all changed now obviously,” Craig said. “First, we need a trip to the gun club to get these two outfitted and probably spend some time practicing. Then we need to head back to the outdoor store and find them some knives and clothes and real shoes. Probably me and Joel should spend some time with you guys going over some of the biggest things to watch for, and how to manage some of the day to day problems here. Then we need to head to the airstrip and check out the planes. How big is your mom's Cessna, Jamie?”
“A Cessna 172. A four seater.”
“We'll need something bigger I think. There's four of us, and we can't leave the dogs behind obviously, and we have quite a bit of gear. Can you handle something bigger Jamie?”
“Uh, well, maybe. I've only flown single engine though. And only VFR. If it's a twin engine or more I'm not sure I can handle it. I'll need to do some reading and get some practice in for sure,” said Jamie.
“What's VFR?” asked Craig.
“Visual Flight Rules. Clear weather so I can see. I haven't really practiced flying by instrument much. And landing wouldn't work anyway because no airports are going to have their stuff working. I'm guessing the GPS system is out too?” Jamie saw Craig nod in answer to his question.
“Ok,” Craig said, “Then I guess we need to see what's at the airfield, see if it runs, find a maintenance manual and get to work to make sure it's as safe as we can get it. Oh, and find some kind of supply of good aviation fuel. I guess we'll need to figure out the range too and map out some stops at airports along the way to refuel.”
“Ok, Craig,” said Andrew, smiling, “What the heck. I suppose we might as well let you come along too. Sure the rest of us have all the good ideas, but maybe you can offer the odd tidbit yourself.” This time it was Andrew that got tickled.
“Guys!” Joel said after being jostled for the third time. “I'm driving, remember?”
They laughed, but settled down.
And then they got down to work.