Jack seeks to use science to ease suffering - Journey Through Genres
|Professor Jack Marsden wrinkled his nose at the acrid smell of mothballs his cologne failed to mask. He dusted lint from his vintage jacket's lapels and straightened his kipper tie. Hopefully, the stench would soon dissipate. Facing the full-length bedroom mirror, he brushed his brown hair and chuckled. He looked like an older Austin Powers, gray strands readily visible amongst the brown, but fortunately he inherited his father's good looks. Finally, he slid a selection of pre-decimal Bank of England notes into his wallet alongside the vial of Rohypnol. He wasn't keen on using the infamous “date-rape” drug, but it was essential for the success of his plan.
He exited his bedroom, marched down the corridor, and halted before an incongruous steel door. After keying in the pass code, he entered his private laboratory. A supercomputer filled most of the space, programmed using code he wrote and utilizing optical wiring he invented. The AI it hosted was the only consciousness capable of handling the complex calculations involved in punching a hole through the fabric of time and space.
Jack walked over to the aluminum, coffin-shaped capsule dominating the center of the room. A tangle of electrical cables and exposed circuitry surrounded the machine. To anybody else, it would look a chaotic mess. To him, it represented the culmination of decades of experiments and labor. With practiced ease, he flicked switches and checked dials. His invention hummed into life. Time for the first, and last, human trial.
He turned to a console and read the streaming calculations. Fiction writers assumed the most difficult element of time travel was time. Somehow, they failed to note place is also relevant. The spot where he stood spun around the Earth's core at a thousand miles per hour. The Earth orbited the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles per hour. The solar system rotated around the galaxy's core at half-a-million miles per hour. Even the Milky Way hurtled through space relative to other galaxies. Nothing stood still, and the vectors involved were infinitely complex. Numbers and symbols flowed down the screen with a beauty surpassing any example of fine art. Jack nodded. Everything was going to plan.
Leaving the AI to complete its task, he wandered into the adjacent study. He straightened the items on his desk then turned to the small table against one wall. There stood the framed photograph of his beautiful daughter, Kate. Surrounding objects marked milestones in her life: pony club rosettes, high school certificates, her prom wrist corsage, and the death certificate issued the day after her eighteenth birthday. He touched the cold glass covering her heart-shaped face, and a tear welled in his eyes. All it took was one drunken idiot in a car to rob this world of the universe’s brightest star. He stepped back and contemplated the wall behind this makeshift altar and the twenty images of young girls extracted from newspapers. Each of their lives was violently snuffed out before Kate was born. Ever since his daughter's death, he'd dreamed of gaining the power to change the past and erase their suffering. Tonight, this goal would come within his eager grasp.
The familiar intro to The Final Countdown reached his ears, a classic tune from his birth year signaling the AI had completed its calculations. He rushed into the lab, excitement making him giddy. Nothing stood between him and the past … if everything went as planned.
He punched his password into the terminal. The time travel capsule's lid popped open and steam billowed out, reminding him of Marty McFly's DeLorean. Before climbing in, Jack pulled a white hazmat suit over his sixties clothing. He wasn't afraid of diseases but wasn't sure exactly where he'd arrive and didn't want to soil his glad rags. Now prepared, he input a sequence of commands to the terminal and then lowered himself into the machine. As he lay back against the body-molding foam interior, the lid swung closed, and the airtight seals activated with a loud hiss.
Entombed inside the dark sarcophagus, his teeth chattered and his stomach churned. A tiny miscalculation could land him in a subterranean lake of molten lava, cast him adrift in the vacuum of deep space, or—God forbid—leave him stuck in some hellish dimension where his lost soul suffered through eternity. Perhaps he deserved such a fate.
A tingling sensation rippled through his fingers and toes. It spread into his forearms and calves, his upper arms and thighs. His whole body vibrated with alien energy. Uncontrollable spasms wracked every muscle, and cramps twisted his body. A blinding white light filled his vision, then turned to pitch black. He fell through the air. Stars shone above. Within seconds, he landed on his back, and the air whooshed from his lungs. He took a deep breath, turned to one side, and voided his stomach.
Once nausea subsided and his sight returned to normal, he climbed to his feet and scanned his lamp-lit surroundings. He stood in the middle of the road in a familiar urban location. A few scattered patches of trampled snow indicated it was winter, though it wasn't too cold right now. The foul odor of leaden exhaust fumes polluted the air, reminding him how primitive this time was. He took his first step, and something squelched underfoot. He glanced down at the canine excrement. “Seriously?”
A group of men standing nearby with beer glasses gaped. “Wh-where…?”
He stripped off his fouled protective suit and dumped it into a trashcan. “Don't you watch Star Trek?”
Abandoning the bewildered men, he headed toward a concrete building. The last time he came here, it was derelict and filled with rusty exercise equipment belonging to a gym closed shortly after the introduction of over-the-counter weight loss and muscle toning pills. Currently, the building was used for its original intended purpose. An illuminated sign advertised Batley Variety Club and today's headline act, Shirley Bassey. He joined the queue lining the sidewalk.
After paying the five shillings entrance fee, he descended into the ground floor—a horseshoe-shaped pit that seated patrons at tables on five tiers enjoying an unobstructed view of a stage where A list celebrities performed. Cigarette smoke clouded the air, and the club stank of stale beer and sweat. Jack made his way toward the bar. Men in colorful shirts and flared pants chatted with long-haired women in short dresses, clones of Daphne from Scooby-Doo.
He searched for a familiar face. Luck was with him. Two young women sat on stools beside the bar, each caressing a glass of Babycham. One was a brunette he didn't recognize, but the other possessed a freckled face he knew better than his own. His breath caught in his throat. She looked so young and beautiful, though her purple dress hung like a sack and failed to display her figure to its full potential. Mary brushed back a length of ginger hair, caught sight of him, and smiled.
He took a deep breath and composed himself. This was a landmark moment, and he couldn't afford to mess up. He strolled over to the bar and ordered a pint of John Smith’s bitter. Glass in hand, he faced the two women.
“Good evening, ladies. Are you enjoying yourselves?”
“Aye,” said the brunette and fluttered her fake eyelashes. “Now that you're here.”
He ignored her and focused on Mary. “Do you concur with your friend?”
She bit her lip and studied her glass as if the answer swam in the yellow liquid. Jack knew she found him attractive. Girls often thought he was a silver fox, but he had reason to suspect Mary liked him even more than others. He placed a possessive hand on her knee and squeezed.
The brunette's eyes flicked from his hand to Mary’s expression. “Right then. I'll go powder my nose, shall I?”
He spent the next hour getting Mary to open up, discussing pop art, psychedelic fashion, and contemporary music.
“That's an unusual choice,” she said. “Why's Ringo your favorite?”
“He doesn't clamber for attention like the other three. He's good at what he does and satisfied with that. He doesn't indulge in drugs or preach about strange Indian gods.” Nobody yet knew he was an alcoholic wife-beater.
“You're not going to believe this.” She placed her hand on his arm. “He's my favorite, too.”
“Really.” He feigned disbelief. “You sure you're not just trying to get on my good side?”
She blushed and glanced away.
“Can I buy you another drink?” he asked.
“That would be great, thanks.”
He produced his wallet and pulled out a one pound note and the vial. “A Babycham and another Smith’s, please.” He handed the note to the barman but slipped the Rohypnol up his sleeve. “So, Mary, what do you think about the Monkees?” he asked, knowing this would prompt a tirade against the manufactured copycat band. As she launched into an enthusiastic rant about the Beatles wannabes, the barman arrived with their drinks.
He pointed over her shoulder. “Hey, is that Lulu?”
Mary turned to look. “Where?”
He poured the drug into her glass. “In the green dress.”
“No.” She turned back to Jack. “Looks a bit like her, though.”
“You never know who you'll bump into at Batley Variety.”
Within five minutes, Mary's eyes drooped, and she slumped on her stool.
“You don't look well,” he said. “Let me escort you home.”
Just like the girls he’d lured from bars during his youth, she didn't object and allowed him to raise her to her feet and steer her out of the club. Out on the sidewalk, he brushed against a man who turned to apologize or complain. It was like looking in a mirror.
The man frowned. “You—”
“Look like you,” Jack finished. Memories of his early youth and this man’s smiles flashed through his mind. “If you were older and had some gray in your hair, we could be twins.” He gestured to Mary. “I'd stop and chat, but my girl isn't feeling too good.”
“If I had a gorgeous girlfriend like yours, I'd head for home, too.”
Jack smirked. “Nice to meet you, daddy-o.”
Nearby, a row of taxis waited to pick up club patrons. He ignored the first two. The drivers were young men who might take advantage of a pretty young woman in Mary's condition. An elderly man who looked like his grandfather sat in the driving seat of the third. Jack took that as a good omen and climbed inside with Mary, who promptly fell asleep.
“Take us to the Healds Hall Hotel, please,” he said and slipped the driver a five-pound note. “Keep the change.”
The driver beamed as he pulled out into traffic. Jack turned and looked out the rear window. As the bright lights of the club faded into the distance, a numbness flooded his arms and legs. His heartbeat raced. Was this It? Had he successfully created a paradox in time? His head grew woozy, and the colors leached from his hands and clothes. Yes! He'd done it. In some ways, it was a shame the knowledge of how would be lost with his demise. In others, it was better. Mankind wasn't ready for such godlike power.
He grinned and kissed unconscious Mary on her forehead. “Bye, Mum. It was lovely to see you one last time.”
As he slipped into darkness, his final feeling was an overwhelming joy that twenty sets of parents would no longer suffer as he did. It wasn't until he lost his own daughter that he came to understand what they went through—the depth of their pain and loss after he stole their daughters away. Now none of the evil crimes he committed in his youth would happen because Jack's parents failed to meet for the first time at the Batley Variety Club on Valentine's Day, 1969. He welcomed the justice of oblivion.
Word Count: 1981