November 22nd, 1963; half a century ago, and in the next few weeks, we will be inundated with specials, documentaries, and books, commemorating the anniversary of that infamous day in Dallas.
Do I remember? Of course I do, everyone from my generation knows where they were, and what they were doing.
Where was I? Well, I was a boy of nine, living with my mother and father, and three siblings in Scotland. My parents went to a ball that night. The time difference was/is six hours, so the news didn’t break until after they had left; Dad in his evening suit, and Mum in a gold dress, both looking very glamorous.
A couple of years ago, I started writing a story involving time travel, a subject that has always fascinated me. I wrote about ten chapters, and then Mac & June entered my life. They subsequently took up all my writing time, but since this dark anniversary is upon us, I’d like to share with you Chapter Two of Wonderful Inc., about a broken man who invents something ‘wonderful’ only to find himself, and those closest to him, on the run for their lives.
Do you think I should continue with this story? Any feedback would be most welcome.
Here you go.
May – Two Days Earlier
On a plate he recognized in front of him, sat two sausages next to a small hill of baked beans. A slice of buttered bread lay on the matching side plate. The smell of the food was intoxicating.
There they were. Just like he remembered it. All seated at the table in the kitchen. He could smell the tea in the giant white teapot, and hear his mother stirring his cup before placing it in front of him. She was wearing a housecoat and had rollers in her hair.
“Pass this tea to your father,” she said. He saw his own arm move, and pass the cup and saucer to his brother, who in turn passed it to his dad.
The windows were completely steamed up. Outside, the inky blackness of an early evening in November was punctuated only by a sodium streetlight, a lone sentry in the night a hundred yards away beyond their back yard. With the constraint of only being able to see and do what he/his host chose, he was helpless, but fascinated.
He pushed the button, the kitchen was gone, and he was looking up at a shaded fluorescent ceiling in an antiseptic room.
Danny was in his face, staring at him with a concerned look. “Did it work? Are you OK?”
Surprised by them, Ian wiped away the tears streaming down his face. He wanted to return immediately, to experience more of his past. It was like a drug. But he needed to compose himself and report in a scientific manner.
“Danny, that was fucking unbelievable,” Ian took a deep breath and exhaled, his hands on his knees. “I don’t know what to say. They were all there. He, I mean, I… whatever, was eating sausages with baked beans, and they tasted like the best thing I ever put in my mouth. My lungs felt like I could have inhaled the room, and my eyesight was perfect. Jesus, it’s kind of depressing how our senses deteriorate. At least nature is kind enough to do it so slowly that we don’t notice.”
Danny butted in, “Yeah, but were you able to do anything–like move a leg or an arm?”
“To tell the truth, I was so overwhelmed by the situation that I didn’t try any of that. Put me back in and I’ll give it a shot.”
“I thought I was going next,” Danny grumbled.
“Yeah well, I want to be out of the room if you’re picking what you said you would.”
“Are you kidding? Of course that’s where I’m going.”
“Might not be the best way to dip your toe in the water.”
“It’s not my toe I’ll be dipping.”
“I’m serious. We don’t really know if, or how, this all works yet. Don’t you want to try something more normal?”
“If this works out, we are going to be stupid rich. Dude, one of the most popular activities on this thing will be sex. Let’s not be puritans about this.”
Ian took the helmet off and climbed out of the chair. The actual invention and concept was his, but Danny had been invaluable in writing the software necessary for it all to work. That, and the vast supercomputer they had been borrowing from their employers in the wee hours of the morning for the past eighteen months had made it all a reality, so to speak.
Whenever Ian tried to explain how the procedure worked, Danny’s eyes would glaze over. On the other hand, Ian was impressed by how Danny, a computer genius, had managed to interpret his scribbles to write code that would make the the whole thing function. Most of all, they were both amazed they hadn’t been caught.
“We are going to have to wait ‘til tomorrow for your lustfest with Tina, Danny boy. It’s four a.m. and the early shift’ll be here soon. We have to put our toys away. I don’t want to get caught when we are so close to being complete.”
“Shit. All right, I’ve waited this long, suppose another day won’t make much difference.”
Ian started dismantling their custom chair and equipment while Danny extricated them from the mainframe and did the necessary fiddling with the clocks and memory to conceal the fact that they had been hijacking the computing behemoth they were tasked to baby-sit every night. Somehow, Danny was always able to bullshit the early shift guys and to assure them that any anomalies in the system had been fixed by he and Ian during the night. How they never figured out that the system had been hijacked was always unbelievable to Ian. He figured the day shift guys didn’t really care about their jobs. Fine by him. The less they cared, the more he and Danny could get away with.
A year ago, Ian had discovered a bar close to the company headquarters that none of the other Solaris workers frequented. They didn’t want anybody from the company putting them, and two and two, together. The Choking Chicken sat in an anonymous strip mall in Tempe, sandwiched between a pet store and a TV repair shop. It was somewhat seedy, but the food was good, the beer selection was large, and the jukebox was remarkable. There was also discreet parking in the rear. The place closed at two and opened again at five am, catering to night shift workers who wanted to unwind a bit before going to bed. For Ian, Maria, the bar owner, didn’t hurt to look at, either.
He’d discovered the bar around the same time he had recruited Danny. They’d met at the nightshift Christmas party. Ian was amazed that a completely blitzed Danny could still write code when the computer had suffered a breakdown in the middle of the festivities and he’d had to fix it on the fly. Afterwards, they had gone to a bar to continue talking and drinking. After a few more sessions following work, Ian had carefully sounded Danny out, asking him his opinions on various topics, he had even told him a secret about himself that was not true. He waited a couple of weeks to see if it came back to him. It didn’t, but Danny was pissed when he found out that Ian had been testing him.
No one in the company would have dreamed Ian and Danny could have anything in common. They were an unlikely pair, to say the least. Ian was fifty-something, graying, longhaired, and divorced. Tall and still fairly fit, he was a history and nostalgia freak. He was also a burned-out theoretical physicist who had suffered a complete mental breakdown some ten years before.
Danny Norton, at twenty-six, was pushing two hundred and sixty pounds and sported a buzz cut. Ancient Nordic tattoos adorned his large frame. He was the archetypal computer geek with a passion for role-playing games and unattainable women. He could also polish off two dozen buffalo wings at a sitting, and down a pitcher of beer in well under a minute.
In the windowless bar, they sat silently across from each other in their usual booth. Maria, who looked like she had seen it all and then some, brought their drinks.
“Tough day at work, boys?” she sneered as she threw down two beer coasters and plunked the drinks unceremoniously on top. Foam ran down the sides of the tall glasses on to the cardboard mats as they swapped beers. Maria either couldn’t remember their individual beer choices or didn’t care. She was very attractive in a mid-fortyish, well-traveled way, and brooked no shit from anyone. Ian imagined that a crash helmet would be on the checklist before heading into a bedroom with her. Not that he wouldn’t have minded finding out.
“Breakfast?” She raised an eyebrow to reinforce the question.
Ian looked up at her, smiling. “We’ll have a few of these first, thanks Maria.”
“I’m here to serve, my Lord. Your wish is my command.” She cracked the gum in her mouth, turned on her heel and headed back to the bar. She winked at two older drunk men in ventilated trucker caps who sat on shiny red Naugahyde stools and were blatantly staring at her chest. Ian watched Maria go, admiring her legs, particularly her slim ankles. She walked like she knew she was being ogled.
Danny took a long pull of his Guinness, put it down and made the satisfied sound men make when first tasting a malted beverage. He sat back in the red booth. Ian took a drink of his Newcastle Brown Ale and put both elbows on the table between them. They looked at each other without doing so until Danny cleared his throat and sat upright.
“How come it was November twenty second, nineteen sixty three that you went to?”
Ian snorted and swallowed another mouthful, “Lots of people my age would choose that particular date. For my generation and a bit older, it’s a day they will always remember. People younger than me would pick other days, days where everyone knows where they were or what they were doing. I imagine… what are you, twenty five?”
“Then someone your age would probably pick Nine-eleven. Right?”
“If I didn’t happen to remember the date when I had sex with Tina, then, I guess, so. Maybe I would pick something like that. Just to see what it would be like.”
“Didn’t you ever have a memorable birthday with maybe your Grandpa or Grandma? How about the first time you went to Disneyland?”
“Yeah, that’s all great, but I want to see Tina face down on the bed again, with her ass in the air.”
“Whatever. So, what happened on November the twenty second, nineteen sixty three?”
“Kennedy was shot in Dallas in an open car.”
“Yes. Jesus Christ. Don’t they teach you kids anything in high school these days?”
“Well, we didn’t cover ancient history, if that’s what you’re asking. Listen, you boomers are going to be supported by us soon. You’d better start being a bit more respectful, Grandpa.”
“Yeah, well I’m not on a respirator just yet, so let’s talk about our next step.” Ian leaned in. “I am going to talk to Venner tomorrow.”
Danny paused in mid-swig, “Venner? That bastard has screwed so many people in the technology business… including you. Why would you want to bring him in?”
“Because he’s got the money, the resources, the infrastructure and, most importantly, the name recognition.”
“Better get a good lawyer.”
“Got one. We are now the clients of H.B. Bachmann.”
“The guy who took down Infratech?”
“Fuck me. You have been busy. I guess it’s on then.”
“Yep, starting tomorrow night, we disassemble the chair and all the peripherals and you wipe the mainframe of everything pertaining to our work. By Friday, any footprints we may have made at Solaris Systems Inc. will be gone, and their computer system as pristine as the driven snow on a February morning.”
“Yeah, they can go back to their prime directive; analyzing weather patterns and predicting crop prices. What a waste for a machine like that!” Danny turned around to face the bar. “Maria!” He swiveled back, face lit. “This calls for a celebration.”
Ian put his hand over Danny’s glass. “No. Not yet. We have to keep our wits about us. We can’t get careless and make a mistake this close to the finish line. One more beer, some breakfast, and then some sleep. We have a big week or two ahead of us.”
“All right, old man. We’ll do it your way,” Danny poked Ian’s arm, “but once this is all settled – it’s party time for this zillionaire.”