Blocks of Time
The process was simple, so simple that Wally Gar was astounded no one thought of it before him. Him! Wally Gar! Small-time chemistry professor at a third-tier college with Ivy League aspirations in the shadow of the real thing. That was the trouble with a city like Boston: There was too much competition. It’s not like you weren’t on the map. You just needed a sub-atomic microscope to be seen.
A sub-atomic microscope was just one of the first tools Professor Wally had used in discovering his scientific miracle. All the secrets of the universe were waiting at the molecular level. That’s what the bigwigs of science had been saying for decades . . . and now Wally had more proof of creation’s building blocks than any of the theorizing quacks who laughed at him, those clowns too busy being paid consultants for moronic newspaper pop-science puff-pieces and appearing on TV to actually get in the lab and do something. Wally couldn’t wait to rub it in their faces.
But Wally’s work wasn’t done. Before he’d work up the papers and the peer-review and all the other aspects of managing a good scientific breakthrough—as opposed to the bad ones, the kind that didn’t make you rich and famous—he’d make like every other legendary American innovator who happened to create some new product that provided a superlative user-experience while being highly addictive.
Wally would start dealing.
Chop a Line Now
like any good pioneer, Wally had to try his own creation out for himself.
The small white cubes of time he’d distilled shimmered like waves on a placid sea. They were also deceptively heavy. The next step was to work out the delivery mechanism. It had to be used somehow. It had to go somewhere. And even a chemist at a low-budget university knew that a solid, cubical thing that with the mass of a tire iron couldn’t just be eaten, could it? Maybe it had to be administered rectally . . .
The thought made Wally laugh as he held up a cube with fingers protected by a thick rubber glove. He kept his goggles on until he was sure there were no ancillary reactions from the block, nothing resulting from the surrounding air playing havoc with its molecular.
When he was satisfied his skin wouldn’t melt, Wally slipped the glove off his free hand and did something kind-of stupid: He touched the block. It didn’t burn or freeze his skin. It just felt like hard plastic, neither hot nor cold. It was perfectly lukewarm; just there.
Wally found that eminently appropriate. Time was, after all, a constant no matter how one personally felt. His safety goggles made a loud sucking sound as he moved them from his face to the top of his head. The relief was exquisite; there were few things as uncomfortable as wearing protective eyewear over your already uncomfortable eyeglasses.
He must have looked a strange sight, short and scrawny with gray seeping into his shaggy brown hair and patchy beard, an angry red outline around his eyes advertising to the world where the goggles had been.
Wally must have sounded strange too, laughing to himself, his wide mouth split in his gap-toothed grin. Wally didn’t just have a gap-tooth, he had gap-teeth. Each member of his mouth’s little family liked to keep their distance from their neighbors, as if contact would spread some horrible disease. He usually blamed his teeth for why he was single. There were plans to get them fixed, but they kind of fell by the wayside as other things came up. There were too many distractions.
Focus. He needed to get busy with the task at hand. Wally cleared some space on the workbench behind him with a sweep of his arm and set the cube down gently. He tapped it with a fingernail. It felt a bit like quartz. Who would have known solidified time would take this form? Not Dr. Pardem, that’s for sure.
Just thinking about Pardem, the pompous ass, made Wally seethe. He knew Pardem’s rejection letter by heart: “We’re sorry Dr. Gar, but the board does not find your proposal is realistic. In fact, you should consider yourself quite fortunate we tolerate your continued employment at Paul Revere University given the frankly disturbing tone of your grant application.”
The only disturbing thing was Pardem’s fat face. But as with everything, Wally took it with a smile. A stoic, he was not. He was just a coward. A coward who had made the discovery of the millennium.
Pardem made him so mad . . . Wally flexed his fingers, wishing he had some blunt object—how he’d love to smash the bastard’s smug face someday.
The violent fantasy gave Walter an idea. He strode to his desk in the corner of the lab and pulled open the drawers with such force that his collection of collectible figurines collapsed like they’d been standing on the San Andreas Fault. Cloud Strife and Iron Man collapsed in an embrace as Arya Stark looked on like an angry schoolmarm, sword raised in disapproval.
Wally found the small ball-peen hammer and the little chisel he kept in his desk because he had no better place for them. He shook the hammer triumphantly. You never knew when blunt objects would come in handy. If Pardem had been there, for example, he could drive the chisel into the middle of his fat forehead—yes, even his forehead was fat—but in Pardem’s absence, the block of time would have to do.
Wally had no trouble chipping it into smaller square crystals, like grains of table salt. Maybe he could eat it?
That was a dangerous plan. Chemists generally didn’t live long by gobbling up their experiments. But how toxic could time be? Wally ground the pieces into a powder, dipped his pinky into the pile, and gingerly pressed them to tongue.
It tasted like nothing and he felt nothing. Maybe that wasn’t enough. Wally sucked his finger dry and his heart started to race at one-thousand beats-per-minute before lurching back to normal speed.
Wally staggered. His breathing stopped and it was so long before he could catch it he thought he would die. But he survived, breathing heavily and clutching the workbench for support. Wow. That kind of worked, but it didn’t last long, and certainly didn’t feel good. Did he dare eat a whole cube?
He shook his head, grimacing at the cube with one corner broken off. The remaining powder lay on table like leftover cocaine, and Wally, who knew nothing about drugs save from music, TV, and movies, wondered if he could just snort the time.
Wally took his wallet from his pocket and pulled out its largest denizen, a ten-dollar bill. Not very glamorous, but it would do. Imagine graduating Northeastern, getting a Ph.D. from Tufts, and then snorting a mystery compound at Paul Revere University through a goddamn ten-dollar bill. Mom would be so proud.
Pay It Forward
Wally didn’t care if he lived or died. His notes were on his computer, unsecured; in case he didn’t make it, everything would be there for some enterprising snoop to reproduce. At least in some way, Wally’s work would live on. If he died, what did he care about how much money other people made? There was nothing when you died. Pay it forward, as his dad liked to say. Life is a one-way trip, so the best legacy you can leave behind is to make it easier on the next guy.
The ten-dollar bill, which looked like it had taken a ride on the washing machine/dryer double-feature, rolled neatly into a tight tube. Wally placed one end in his left nostril, covering the right with his thumb. Bottoms up, or whatever it is that cokeheads say.
He felt a rush, his head like a comet screaming through the cosmos. Though his heart charged along with it, Wally didn’t have the sense it would explode. The weird thing was everything around him seemed slowed down, as if there were vibrations surrounding Wally he’d never noticed until they stopped.
A heavy silence engulfed the lab. Wally’s senses sharpened, yet all he could hear and feel was more nothing. When he turned his head, it was with hyperkinetic accuracy. Each movement felt deliberate and perfect.
He looked to the clock on the wall. It had stopped. The second hand just sat there. Wally laughed.
Before he knew it, he was standing on Comm Ave, gazing around in mute wonder. The city looked like a diorama: In the fading September light cars, passersby, even trash blowing in the wind remained frozen like preserved specimens in a museum. His museum. Doctor Walter Gar, Ph.D., was literally a Time Lord.
Wally Starts Small
He hadn’t known what to expect, although he’d hypothesized this extra time would be added to the end of his life. Instead, it was spliced into the middle.
This was fascinating. Even the setting sun froze, melting into the horizon in a permanent haze of gold. Except it wasn’t permanent. Time was infinite, but it passed, perceived in distinct chunks based on the clock-like workings of the universe. What the Big Bang had loosed, time obeyed, but could apparently be manipulated by mere mortals like Wally.
The possibilities for what to do with this were endless, but Wally started small. He always started small, and stayed there. Of all the things he could do with his discovery, all he could focus on was making money. For a scientist, he sure exhibited a stunning lack of imagination.
The hit of time wore off eventually, and the world, or Wally’s perception of it, returned to normal like a stopped record resuming normal speed. Suddenly the people who had looked like living statues and the cars frozen mid-transit roared to life with a fury that made Wally scream and cover his ears. A few people looked at him like a run-of-the-mill city madman, perhaps wondering where this strange guy with the lab coat had come from and why they hadn’t notice him before. But as people always did, they quickly put him out of mind and continued on their way.
A bike messenger nearly crashed into Wally, yelling a very nasty curse as he swerved. The dumb bastard shouldn’t be on the sidewalk in the first place, but if there was one thing bike messengers were good at, it was ignoring the bounds of society. If there was one kind of person Wally wouldn’t mind being poofed out of existence, it was bike messengers.
He could worry about idiots on bicycles later. Wally had to process the results of his experiment. He was still alive, which was a good thing. Second, snorting the time worked. Now he needed to examine and document its effects.
There was no way of knowing with any mathematical accuracy how long the extra time had lasted, but his best guess, based on his internal clock, was approximately five minutes. He did the math in his head as he walked back to campus: five minutes for snorting about one-fiftieth of the cube would make each cube worth about four hours.
What price could he put on that?
Wally didn’t know. All he cared about at the moment was seeing what snorting a full block was like.
* * *
It felt great. It was a feeling that didn’t go away, like breathing the cold air on top of a mountain in the Alaskan wilderness. Everything was fresh and clean like the world was newly formed and made for Wally alone.
He started his smartphone’s stopwatch running and discovered to both his delight and chagrin that he could perceive the working of machines as normal. This was a very interesting development, but unfortunately a very distracting one because it meant the Internet would work as well. Too many distractions.
There were about seventy articles on Wally’s reading list he hadn’t gotten to the past few weeks, and now he had plenty of time to go through his backlog. In the back of his mind he knew that sitting at his laptop reading about movies, video games, a smattering of politics, and tech news that was already obsolete didn’t accomplish anything, but he couldn’t help himself. And when he finished this stuff, he figured he might as well check out what was new. He had all the time in the world.
Eventually, Wally reached the end of the Internet: There was no new news, no new content on social media, no updates to anything, because he was existing slightly ahead of everybody else, a man out of sync with the universe. Or maybe the universe was out of sync with him.
Wally had to will himself to stand up from his desk and remind himself of his ambitions. In his profession: Earn the respect of his peers by winning a Nobel Prize. In life: Become wealthy through helping the world with scientific breakthroughs. In relationships: Marry a beautiful, smart woman and have a family.
Small to big. That was the way he liked to work. First, the foundation must be laid. It turned out that a full block of time represented four hours and twenty minutes, which was good to know.
Wally counted the remaining blocks of time and put them into his knapsack. There were fifty-nine full blocks and one slightly used. Altogether, they represented almost twelve extra days of life. Plenty of time. But to mount his full-scale assault on the walls of academia, Wally needed money. Money and prestige. And how did one earn prestige in this day and age? One needed followers. To get followers, you needed to make people believe in you.
He left Paul Revere University’s Munson Science Building laughing out loud. He would give people something to believe in all right, as long as he didn’t get distracted.
Wally Finds a Partner
Wally turned. It was one of his students, a towering junior named Bryce Collins. Bryce had the physique of an overweight defensive lineman and the soul of a lamb. Those large hands were more interested in gripping beakers and pipettes than throwing blocks and sacking quarterbacks.
“Hey Bryce,” said Wally. He smiled. He liked the boy. Bryce was Wally’s best student that year, and the kid was genuinely interested in organic chemistry. “Don’t tell me you’re off to the lab. It’s a Friday night!”
Bryce shrugged, his eyes on the sidewalk. His brown hair puffed out in an unruly mop, oozing sweat like a squeezed sponge. It was hot—though mid-September, it felt like late-July—but the volume of sweat running down Bryce’s face was ridiculous.
“Yeah. I don’t know,” said Bryce. “I just figured I had nothing else to do, might as well redo some of those reactions from class just to make sure I got them good.”
Bryce’s voice was shockingly high and soft, as if his testicles hadn’t yet descended from that huge abdominal cavity. As rude as it was, it made Wally want to laugh. “You sound like me at your age. Have fun, but don’t work too hard.”
“Okay. See you, professor.”
Bryce turned, his lumbering form hunched over as if he was afraid of his own stature, and walked towards the front door to Munson.
“Bryce,” said Wally.
Bryce turned his massive, sweating frame towards Wally, his eyebrows raised in anticipation. “Professor?”
“Since you’re here already, would you mind helping me with an experiment?”
Bryce was looking at the blocks as Wally took them from his backpack one-by-one and stacked them on the table like the pyramid from Q*bert. “Whoa. You did this?”
“Yes I did,” Wally said, a thrill of triumph swelling in his chest.
“Um, are they okay to touch?”
“I touched them, didn’t I?”
Bryce nodded. Wally watched like an indulgent father as the huge boy delicately picked up a block and turned it slowly in his huge hands. Wally wouldn’t be surprised if Bryce could crush the block with those hands without needing the hammer and chisel.
Bryce held the cube up to the light. The time looked so fragile perched on his thick fingers. “These are interesting but I can’t seem to figure out what it is.”
“Don’t worry, Bryce,” said Wally. He patted the boy on the back, making him jump. For a second, Wally feared that Bryce would topple and squash him. Wouldn’t that be an embarrassing way to die?
Wally’s smile made Bryce think he had done something wrong. He lived in a state of perpetual fear that he might break something, or someone, by accident. It went with the territory of being a large mammal in a world that pretended to appreciate the different and unique but didn’t know how to handle anything outside the norm. Everybody expected him to be a jock or a tough guy, but he was really just a kid who loved science and worried about accidentally knocking stuff over with his massive shoulders or giant ass.
“Do you remember last week’s lecture about the intersection of theoretical physics, biology, and organic chemistry?” said Wally.
Bryce exhaled, glad that Professor Gar had changed the subject. “Yeah. It was, uh, pretty obscure. I’m not going to lie: I didn’t understand a whole lot of it.”
Wally barked a laugh, clapping Bryce’s shoulder with a meaty thwack. “I’m glad you don’t lie. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know everything. Anyway, you’re a believer in science, aren’t you? I can tell.”
Bryce nodded eagerly.
“So you should believe this, then. Anyone else would think I’m crazy, but not you. That’s why I’m telling you.” He leaned his head closer to Bryce’s, the mouse confiding to the elephant. “What if I told you I found a way to distill time into its physical form?”
He received no answer from Bryce. The average idiot might think the boy’s round-eyed stare was the sign of an uncomprehending mind, but Wally knew better. The boy was sharp, but took his time processing things before speaking. That slack jaw, however, did unfortunately make him look like an imbecile.
“You know it’s possible,” Wally said quietly. “You know it’s true.”
After a few false starts, Bryce found his voice. “I just never thought it would look like this.”
“Nobody did,” said Wally. “Nobody did but me.” He was exultant, rehearsing his epic dressing down of those clowns in the American Chemical Society. “It was just a hypothesis, but it paid off. And let me tell you, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
Bryce, for whom the only comparable feeling in his life had been the first time he saw a bare breast when he ran into the girls’ locker room in the eighth grade to avoid Jesse Kaminski and his cronies who were pelting him with eggs stolen from the cafeteria, could only nod.
Wally picked up a block, hefting it admiringly. “Each cube represents about four hours and twenty minutes. Four hours and twenty minutes people can use to augment their own time on this earth. Pretty amazing, right?”
Amazing didn’t begin to describe it. Bryce knew that Dr. Gar was a genius, and this only proved it. He could imagine the heroic doctor here in this lab, poring over texts and test results, doing his best to perfect some compound that would benefit mankind for generations to come, not for glory or for gain, but because it was the right thing to do. “Yeah.”
“So what do you say? How would you like to be my special assistant?”
Bryce straightened and cleared the emotion from his throat with a great rumbling growl. “Why me?”
“Why not?” said Wally. “You’re the only student—hell, the only person at this god-awful school who even cares about science for science’s sake. You love knowledge, Bryce. I can tell.”
“Sure. And it’s not just your grades. Anybody can get straight A’s—trust me, I did too. But not just anybody can get it, you know what I mean?” Wally drove this point home by tapping his forehead with a finger. “And you get it.”
The faint rumblings of pride stirred within Bryce’s massive breast. Here he was, privy to the biggest scientific breakthrough in, like, ever, and being treated like an equal by its discoverer! But pride went before the fall, if God was to be believed, and although Bryce enjoyed asking questions and loved pulling the curtain back on the universe’s secret workings, he hadn’t been able to shake off all vestiges of his strict Methodist upbringing: if something seemed too good to be true, the saying went, then you were probably screwed. “But . . . why?”
Bryce Just Says No
Wally took off his glasses, folded them slowly, and placed them in the pocket of his shirt. Turning his watery eyes to the boy’s, he took a deep breath and told a half-truth: “I need help.”
The boy’s head perked up. “Replicating the experiment and drafting your report for publication?”
Wally waved a hand. “Eventually. First, we need to distribute this time.”
“Oh,” said Bryce. He turned his eyes to the shimmering pyramid of time. “Uh, what’s that mean?”
“I think you need a demonstration. Take a look at this.”
Wally once again got the hammer and chisel from his desk, took the block Bryce was holding, and pulverized it as the boy looked on in horror. “This’ll look worse than it is,” said Wally. He removed his ten-dollar bill and rolled it into a tube. “President Hamilton here’s going to help us.”
“Hamilton was never President,” said Bryce.
“And that’s why I leave the history to the historians. Anyway, I think you know what to do.”
Bryce looked with bovine fascination at Wally’s rolled-up ten-spotr. “Do you . . . drink it?”
Wally pointed at the powdered time. “Think, Bryce. What does this look like?”
“Haven’t you ever seen Scarface?”
“No,” Bryce said meekly.
“Okay. Cop shows, then?” said Wally.
“Then think,” said Wally. He was smiling, but Bryce got the feeling that Professor Gar was mad at him. “Think about all the music you listen to. What were those people high on?”
Bryce, whose musical tastes began with Rush and ended with They Might Be Giants, could only shrug.
“You snort this,” said Wally, “kind of like . . .”
“Exactly. Go on, give it a try.”
“It’s not actually cocaine, Bryce. It’s just how you have to ingest it for it to work.” Now Wally was getting annoyed. The time was there for the taking and Bryce wanted to play the morality card. “I wouldn’t have you do anything harmful. I’ll do it with you too, in the name of science.”
“I can’t, professor,” said Bryce, shaking his massive head. “What if we get caught?”
“Caught? What for? It’s not cocaine, Bryce! It’s nothing illegal!” Wally laughed and took out his wallet. “Here, I’ll even make you a loan.” He handed Bryce a five-dollar bill. “I’ve got no more Hamiltons, but I’m sure you won’t mind an assist from Honest Abe. And I know he was President.
“I can’t,” said Bryce, warding off the bill like it contained smallpox.
“How are you going to help me write up my findings if you don’t even know what the findings do?”
Bryce paused. In the face of that unassailable logic, he finally said yes.
Where Were You While We Were Getting High?
The rush of time into his system hit Bryce like an ice-covered meteor. Everything seemed to simultaneously speed up and slow down like the world was undergoing a dolly zoom. “Whoa,” he squeaked feebly. This was freaky—even the dust motes floating in the light of the setting sun were immobile.
“See?” said Wally. “Look!” He pointed at the clock. “It won’t really hit you until you go outside.”
They didn’t just walk down Comm Ave in mute wonder. Wally took Bryce all the way to Fenway Park where they strolled in unmolested by the security guards and the ticket takers, weaving through immobile patrons and right onto the field where they beheld the spectacle of the Red Sox and the Athletics frozen mid-game, the ball hanging in the air halfway between the pitcher’s mound and home plate.
The sight of all those frozen people nearly made Bryce faint. “I could just take it,” he whispered, reaching for at the ball.
“Yup,” said Wally, equally mesmerized by the sight. “And it’d probably just look like it disappeared.”
Bryce put down his hand. “So time is frozen?”
“We perceive it like that. What we’re experiencing is the extra time crammed into the space of our regular time, or our perception of it. I guess we’re moving so fast that everything else seems still, so it feels like no time’s passing at all. Listen, it makes my head hurt, and it’s my discovery!”
“How come you went into chemistry and not physics?” said Bryce.
“Because chemists get all the cool toys,” said Wally. “And we get to make stuff out of nothing.”
Too Many Good Questions
When the effect had worn off and Wally and Bryce returned to the lab, Bryce asked a simple yet potent question: “What are we going to do with all of this extra time?”
“That’s the billion-dollar question,” said Wally. They sat on stools around the workbench, hands wrapped around beers they’d purchased from the package store around the corner. Wally had left the money on the counter, wishing he could see the look on the cashier’s face when it suddenly appeared in front of him. Maybe he’d have a vague recollection of some guys who paid and left without waiting for their change, or maybe it would look like the money had just magically appeared. Either way, the beer did Wally good.
That went double for Bryce. He was only twenty and had never drunk in his life (“That stuff will kill you like it did your father,” he could hear his mother say. Dad crashed into a telephone pole when Bryce was fifteen; the guy was never violent or derelict in his duties as a father, but he didn’t know how to walk the fine line between sober-enough-to-drive and maybe-I-should-call-a-cab) but he could tell that this occasion called for a stiff one, or whatever they called it.
Wally took a pull from the bottle. “I think, first, we need to show it to the world.”
“But why?” said Bryce. “Why not use it ourselves? There’s no telling what we could discover.”
“With great power comes great responsibility,” Wally mused. “Who said comic books rotted your brain?”
Bryce nodded so eagerly his eyeballs nearly rattled. “We could do so much good!”
Wally held up his pointer. “But to do good, you still need one thing beyond time. Money.”
“But we have the time!” said Bryce.
“What are we going to do, Bryce? Steal what we need? That’s not very ethical, is it?”
Bryce looked down at his beer bottle, absently picking at the label. “Oh. No.”
“We need cash. But never fear, partner: we’re sitting on a goldmine.” When the boy didn’t answer, Wally went on: “We’re going to sell this stuff.”
“Okay. But do we know what it’ll do to people?”
Wally, whose nostrils were already flaring in anticipation of another bracing rush of time, had an idea. “No. But this’ll be how we find out. Think of it like a clinical trial.”
“Don’t you usually give stuff out for free in a clinical trial?”
Wally did his best to tamp down his frustration, hoping he hadn’t made a mistake confiding in the boy. “This isn’t medicine. This is more like . . . a performance enhancer.”
“Like a drug,” said Bryce, nodding once sharply. “Got it.”
“So you’re in?”
Bryce shook his head. “There’s just so much . . . I mean, what’ll people do with this? Commit crime? Where does the time come from? Are we stealing it from other people, or . . .?”
“Time is infinite,” said Wally. He attempted to show just how infinite by spreading his arms. “Unless your particular belief system posits a particularly cruel form of eschatology, we’ve literally got all the time in the world.”
Bryce, who despite all outward appearances was no dummy, immediately grasped the capitalistic implications of this. A never-ending resource that could bolster the lifespans of everybody who used it. It was like a money-printing machine, the plans to which were firmly ensconced in Professor Gar’s head. And he was willing to share it with Bryce—Professor Gar hadn’t actually said as much, but he did call him “partner.”
It was too good to be true. And that’s what bothered Bryce. “Professor?”
“Call me Wally, please. We’re partners, right?”
“Right. Um, Wally? If there are side effects, I don’t know if I’m okay with testing it out on other people without them knowing. Maybe . . . maybe we should test it out on ourselves?”
Wally thought that was a great idea.
The Devil’s Work
The second hit was better than the first. With alarm dulled by the raw sensations of power and movement, Bryce began to realize he wanted to feel like this all the time.
“Think about it,” muttered Wally as they sat around his desk. He gave his laptop a loving stroke. “Think about all the knowledge we could absorb. All the information, all the art . . .”
Bryce nodded. That was exactly where his thoughts were heading.
“We could become the smartest people in the history of the world,” said Wally.
Again, Bryce nodded his head until his chubby cheeks jiggled. “I could learn every martial art.”
“Okay,” said Wally, “If that’s what you want. You’d have to lose some weight first, no offense. Who’d teach you, though?”
“I guess we’d have to give them some of this too,” said Bryce. He was offended, but he knew that if he wanted to play in the big leagues he had to take his lumps like a man.
“Sure. Or they could buy it. Anyway, why are we sitting here? You said you’ve never seen Scarface, right?”
“Right,” said Bryce, not understanding what the Professor was getting at.
“I think we can remedy that,” said Wally. His fingers clattered on his laptop’s keyboard as he called up his Netflix account. “Remember: Machines still work like normal. Lucky us!” He let out a haggard cackle, like he was out of breath. “Grab another beer.”
“Okay, I guess we can watch a movie,” said Bryce. “After, can you show me how to make this?”
“Patience,” said Wally, flapping a hand. “Now grab a beer and settle in. You’re going to love this.”
* * *
Bryce thought the movie was all right. It was well-written and acted, but really profane. And violent. Bryce generally had a hard time rooting for the bad guy, but at least Tony Montana died in the end.
“Great, huh?” said Wally, leaning back in his chair. “It never gets old.”
“Sure,” said Bryce, though it didn’t sound like he meant it. “How do you feel, Professor?”
“Feel? I feel great!” said Wally, stifling a yawn. “Never felt better. Why?”
“I’m starting to get kind of sleepy,” said Bryce. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m, um, out of shape, or from this.”
Wally slid his chair over to the workbench and snatched another block of time from the top of the pyramid. “You know what that means, right? It just means that you need a little more.”
“That’s another thing I’m kind of worried about,” said Bryce. “Um, this is really addictive.”
“Even better,” said Wally. “Want to watch something else?”
Self-Abuse, by Any Other Name
At some point, Wally knew they were going to have to get to work. The boy deserved to see the procedure, but damn he was being annoying about it.
“We have all the time in the world,” said Wally after yet another movie. “Maybe we should go to Miami. Or Key West. I’ve never been to Florida. Have you?”
The boy shook his head. He hadn’t spoken since his fifth cube, Wally’s sixth. But he had dutifully gone along with all of Wally’s side-quests with an air of annoyance.
Bryce was silent because he was disillusioned, like he’d been suckered into something special for all the wrong reasons. Professor Gar, it turned out, was kind of a loser. Bryce always pictured him slaving away relentlessly until his goals were met, but it turned out that he was pretty lazy.
“So let’s go!” said Wally. “We can be down and back before that clock has even moved a tick.”
“How’ll we get there? I don’t know how to fly a plane and I don’t really want to walk.”
“Hey, we’ve got all the time in the world, remember?”
“Let’s say we drive,” said Bryce. “We’re going to have to go wicked slow. The number of cars just sitting on the road—”
“That we perceive to be sitting on the road,” said Wally.
“Okay. The number of cars we perceive sitting on the road that we’ll have to avoid will be staggering.”
Wally threw his hands in the air. “So what do you suggest then? We just sit here on our asses?”
Bryce blinked, taken aback. “No. The opposite, actually. Um, I think it might help if you show me this process. Then we can get started on our business plans.”
“Fine, sure. Let’s . . . let’s wait until this wears off. We still got some time, so I’m going to do a little reading.”
“Okay,” said Bryce. He stifled a yawn. “I’ll be in the lounge.”
“Doing what?” snapped Wally, smartphone already in hand.
“Are you ready?”
Bryce shot up from the couch like an elephant woken mid-hibernation.
“It’s alright, Bryce,” said Wally, “it’s just me. Come on, let’s hurry up and make a little more of this stuff before . . .”
“Before what?” said Bryce, getting to his feet. He twitched his nose and put a finger up to it. When he took it down he saw it was covered in red. “Oh no.”
“Before you bleed out,” said Wally.
Bryce looked up from his hand at Wally. His eyes widened.
Wally caught the look. He brought his fingers to his own nose. “What? Don’t tell me my nose is bleeding too?”
Bryce shook his head. “No, you’re good.” He didn’t tell Professor Gar that his hair and his beard had started to turn gray.
* * *
“Can you explain that again, Professor?”
“What’s so hard to understand?” snapped Wally. He softened his tone when he saw the boy’s hurt face. “Look, it goes like this.”
Bryce didn’t get it. He turned to the chemical equations Professor Gar had written on the glass of his fume hood, helpfully drawing each part in a different color. It was unlike anything Bryce could even conceive. In some way, it seemed too advanced for Professor Gar to have come up with on his own given what Bryce had learned about his work habits.
“Maybe it’d be easier if we borrowed some more time,” said Wally. That’s how he thought of the blocks: Borrowed time, taken on loan from God’s pantry. The big guy wouldn’t even notice a few hours here and there, busy bastard that He was.
“I don’t think so,” said Bryce. “I think it would be best if I learn this and then we both go home and get a good night’s sleep. It might help to think about things and come back tomorrow with a fresh perspective.”
“Well, who died and made you God-Emperor?”
“Nobody,” said Bryce.
“Then why don’t you keep quiet and pay attention? I’m sorry, Bryce.” Wally put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. Bryce flinched. “It’s been a long day. Let’s . . . let’s take another cube so we don’t waste any more time, all right?”
“Why? So you can watch more TV shows?”
“What’s it to you?” Wally barked with an angry snarl. “What do you care? This is pretty boring, as a matter of fact, and there are about a million things I’d rather do than teach chemistry to an ignoramus.”
“Like watch TV and surf the net,” said Bryce. “Real important.”
“If you want out, you know where the door is,” said Wally. He jabbed his finger at the egress just in case the big idiot didn’t. “And don’t let it hit your ass on the way out, though that might be kind of tricky.”
“I get it,” said Bryce, nodding slowly. “Because I’m fat.”
“Bryce, look. I’m sorry. I’m just getting impatient. There’s so much to do and so little time, I can’t understand why we don’t just—”
“So that makes it okay?”
“To borrow more time?” said Wally, looking around the lab in bewilderment. “Isn’t that why I created this stuff in the first place?”
“To . . . to insult me like that. The fact that you’re having a bad day makes it okay?”
“It’s not that,” said Wally.
“Then what is it?”
The boy’s eyebrows drew down, his pudgy face screwing into a scowl. Wally took a step back. The effect was frightening. Doughboy or not, a six-foot-nine, three-hundred-and-fifty-pound frame was a frightening thing to behold. “I think we both need to relax. There are a few more beers left in the fridge. What say we—”
“No,” said Bryce. “I’m done, Professor.” He took off his goggles and gloves and tossed them on the workbench. “I think you are, too.” He pointed at the pyramid of time, shimmering like an iceberg in the midnight sun. “And I think we should get rid of these as well.”
“Oh really, you do? I’d love to hear why, Bryce. Please, do tell.”
“It’s too powerful. Too . . . monstrous.”
“The only monster I see here is you.” Wally turned his back on the boy and walked to the table, picking up another cube. “When did you go all ethicist on me?”
“It’s like playing God, Professor. It’s a bad idea.”
Wally whipped around, his lab coat swirling dramatically. “A ‘bad idea’? ‘Playing God’? What’s next, Bryce? Cancer research is ‘playing God’? Fertility treatment? Climate science? Food production? Transgender surgery? Organ regeneration? I never pegged you for some kind of Luddite or something. Or some kind of science-denying Christian.”
Bryce held his fear in check, not liking the shrillness creeping into Professor Gar’s voice. He sounded like a mad scientist threatening to “show them all.” Bryce stepped back and chose his words carefully. “I think we just need to think this through a bit more. What if, um, what if the government got its hands on this? Or terrorists? Or the Russians or North Koreans? Or criminals? The Mafia, Professor. What if Tony Montana had this instead of cocaine?”
“Tony Montana wasn’t Italian, you fucking retard, he was a Cuban! And he’s not a real person anyway.” Wally put a hand to his head, which hurt all of a sudden.
“I think we ought to go,” said Bryce.
“I think you ought to kiss my ass,” muttered Wally. He put the cube down on the workbench and picked up the ball peen hammer. “If you’ve got a problem with this, then get the hell out. I need someone who’s all in, or this whole thing isn’t going to work.”
“What thing?” said Bryce.
“What I’m going to build,” said Wally. He started tapping the block of time with the chisel.
“What, an empire? And you, you’ll be the kingpin, I suppose? Nothing more than a glorified drug lord.”
“You’re goddamn right.” Wally reached into his pocket for his lucky ten-dollar bill. No matter how much money he’d make, Wally would always use this one. He looked at Bryce, rolled-up note hovering in front of his nostril. “What the hell are you still doing here? Get the hell out!”
Bryce took a step forward. It was the hardest step he’d ever taken. “No. Professor. You need to stop this.”
“You need to stop bothering me.”
“Don’t throw it all away, Professor. This is an amazing discovery. Think of all the good—”
“Think of all the bad. Think of all the everything. That’s all you seem to do, Bryce. Think, think, think! You’re like an overgrown Winnie the Pooh, except full of shit and not stuffing. Just go away and forget you ever saw any of this, and I promise I’ll leave you alone too. Some things are just too powerful to trust with the world at large.”
He should have left. He should have walked out the door and gone straight to the police. Professor Gar wouldn’t have been expecting it, wrapped up as he was in his diversions, and Bryce could have made sure he got some serious help. That was more important than the actual scientific discovery of frozen time, after all.
But Bryce was emboldened. He felt like this was his moment. It would be so cowardly for him to just turn and run. It was time to use his size for something more than knocking over lamps and chairs.
He reached out and grabbed Professor Gar.
Violence is Timeless
The strength of Professor Gar’s reaction was astounding. “Let go of me!” he screeched, thrashing like a fish out of water. He was actually able to throw off Bryce’s grip.
Bryce staggered back, bewildered. He flexed his huge hands. Time seemed to slow down for him—a side effect of adrenaline, another sensation Bryce had little experience with.
Stunned, he watched Professor Gar snort up the powdered time on the workbench. What happened next almost made him faint: Professor Gar straightened and smiled, and then began to shimmer as if he weren’t quite there. His movements became stop-motion, unnaturally jerky: His arm, which had been by his face, suddenly appeared by his side, and then he pointed at Bryce. Bryce thought he saw Professor Gar’s mouth move, but all he heard was a whisper of wind. And then he felt a crack on his jaw and, as he staggered back, Professor Gar just disappeared.
The door was suddenly open. There was no transition or sensation of movement. It just was.
Bryce rubbed his jaw, supporting his bulk on the fume hood behind him.
Professor Gar was gone and the workbench was empty. It would have taken, literally, no time for the Professor to scoop the blocks into his backpack and take off. His mind struggled to think of his next steps. There was no way he could catch the Professor, and the police and other authorities would never believe him. Then saw something in the fume hood Professor Gar had forgotten: The blocks of time that they had made during the demonstration. Ignoring all safety precautions, Bryce thrust his hand into the hood, grabbed a cube, and squeezed.
The corners of cube dug painfully into his palm, but it eventually cracked. Bryce opened his palm, placed his other on it, and pressed as hard as he could until his hands were covered in the shimmering white powder. He shoved his hands up to his nose and inhaled, sniffing powder until he felt his heart race and time slow. That telltale chill wracked his body, like splashing naked into a frozen lake.
The playing field was even. He raced out of the lab after Professor Gar.
Man Can’t Fly
Wally put his hands on his knees and tried to catch his breath. That boy was strong, but didn’t seem to know it. A little more pressure, and Bryce’s might’ve snapped his bones.
It was a mistake to have confided in Bryce. He should have gone it alone, the way he went about everything else. It might have taken him longer, but he’d be able to set everything up, make his money, and get stuff done.
He jerked his head up at the sound of heavy breathing. No way. He had all the time in his backpack, and there was no way the boy could have figured things out from Wally’s notes and made more time so fast.
Yet still, those ragged breaths were real. Wally turned and, when he saw the huge, lumbering shadow turn the corner behind him, started to run.
* * *
The boy was strong, and he was fast too. Such a thing shouldn’t be possible. Wally was not in great shape, but he was skinny and should have been able to put distance between himself and Bryce. But he had to account for Bryce’s great height. Those legs might be pudgy, but they were long. And now, as he dodged frozen people, Wally found himself on the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue overlooking the frozen I-90 freeway, grasping the guard rail and struggling for breath.
It made no sense: Wally didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink too much, and he wasn’t fat. Why did it feel like he was falling apart?
Wally coughed. He was alarmed when blood spattered his lab coat. A hand to the mouth revealed more. Shaking, Wally stood. The boy had been right. Borrowing the time had a toll. But there was no time to ponder this now. The giant was coming, and he was relentless.
“Professor!” came the call. In the silent air it sounded like the voice of a titan.
Wally silently begged for one more minute to catch his breath. He knew he should have taken something as a weapon—the hammer, a fire axe, anything—but he never expected the boy to find a block of his own. Where the hell did it come from?
It hit Wally like a slap. The fume hood. He had been so distracted with other things he’d forgotten about the failed demonstration. Typical Wally. He did things ninety-nine percent of the way, but that last point was a bitch.
“Like hell,” Wally muttered, giving his mouth one final swipe before stumbling down the street.
* * *
Bryce wasn’t built for running. He had a stitch in his side, his knees and ankles hurt, and he found it hard to breathe. Still, he was gaining on Professor Gar. The Professor seemed unusually wobbly, another clear indicator that something wasn’t right. “Professor!” he called.
Professor Gar turned around. He didn’t look well. He looked old and frail. Bryce spared a moment wondering how using the time was affected him. He felt well enough, nosebleeds aside. He’d prefer to keep it that way. “Professor, wait!”
Bryce had almost reached him when the Professor turned and ran. But he didn’t get far. Bryce watched in comic horror as Professor Gar smashed into a frozen pedestrian. He bounced off the statue-like man, lost his balance, and windmilled his arms like a flightless bird to keep from falling on his face. The man he bumped into began to fall to the ground with glacial slowness, an incredibly unsettling sensation that hurt Bryce’s brain.
Professor Gar finally caught himself, both arms wrapped around the guardrail as he fell to his knees. His backpack slid from his shoulder and down his arm, scattering the remaining blocks of time all over the pavement.
Wally let out a groan. In addition to overlooking the remaining blocks in the fume hood, he’d forgotten to zip his bag before running off, that damn one percent again. And here came Bryce the Giant to take it all away from him.
Instead of scooping up the blocks, Bryce walked right over them, picking his steps carefully so he didn’t repeat Wally’s careless blunder. “Just leave me alone,” Wally groaned. “Help me pick these up and leave me alone.”
“Professor,” said Bryce. “Let me help you.” Gingerly, he extended his hands towards the Professor.
“Get away!” Wally shrieked. He kicked at Bryce’s ankles. Wally wasn’t strong, but he’d found the beast’s weak point. Like a cartoon giant, Bryce kicked his heels before succumbing to gravity and falling on his ass with a mighty thud.
Bryce’s fall bought Wally time, time he knew he should have spent running. But leave his precious blocks of time on the street? Never. On hands and knees, he ventured into the street, reaching underneath a motionless red Camry where several blocks had tumbled.
He shoved them into his backpack and turned, looking for more cubes. There, where the big oaf was getting to his feet. Bryce’s great big sneaker come down on one block glowing beautifully in the frozen sunlight. “Watch out!” he croaked. Too late. The block was crushed into powder on the sidewalk. Four hours and twenty minutes lost forever.
“Professor!” Bryce bellowed, sounding angry for the first time all day. “Stop!”
The Professor froze, one hand over a cube. With shocking quickness, Bryce caught Wally’s wrist and squeezed.
“Let go! You’re hurting me!” Wally yelled.
“Professor, stop! You need help!”
“Let go of me!”
Bryce squeezed tighter. The Professor’s wrist felt so frail. Up close, he looked like a man of seventy. A rough seventy, like a succubus had drained him of vitality. “That’s where the time comes from!” he said.
“It comes from you. When you ingest it. It sucks your life!”
“Shut up and let go!” Wally slammed a fist into Bryce’s ear. It wasn’t a hard blow, but was enough to make the boy let go.
Slowly, Wally stood and ran in the opposite direction. Again, he didn’t pay attention to his surroundings, and again he bumped into another frozen person to fall face-first over the guardrail and towards the traffic on the Pike, thirty feet below.
It had been a bike messenger. Of course it had been a bike messenger.
“Professor!” Bryce yelled, reaching out with his great hands. He caught Wally by his backpack. The strap slipped off the Professor’s shoulder as his momentum pulled him forward and down. Time may appear frozen, but other natural laws, such as gravity, still operated with reassuring certitude.
Bryce stood helpless with the bag hanging from his hand as Professor Gar fell like Wile E. Coyote, meeting his end on the hood of a black, westbound Mercedes-Benz.
There was no blood geyser, no pink mist rising from Wally’s body like morning dew on a hot summer lawn. Just a terrible crash, and his body splayed on the vehicle in an unnatural pose like a carving on the walls of an Egyptian pyramid.
Bryce froze, the only his racing heart differentiating him from the frozen Bostonians around him. Professor Gar was dead. He had no doubt about it. And when the time drug wore off and the world returned to normal, the police investigations would commence and the trail would eventually lead to Steve Chang, whom Bryce saw last before telling him he was heading to the lab. And then the cops would come knocking on Bryce’s door. And what would he say?
He had to think. Not because he wanted to lie about what happened: It had been an accident, after all, and Bryce had tried to save the Professor. He was worried about the blocks of time. No one could know about them. He would have to destroy the Professor’s computer, but that would raise questions about Bryce’s motive . . .
Too many problems. He needed time to think.
Bryce looked at the bag. He reached in and pulled out one of the blocks of time. It shimmered beautifully in the palm of his hand. He had time to think. Plenty of time.
Overhead, the late summer sun shone, the light seeming to crawl its way towards the Earth. Bryce closed his fist, pulverizing the block and slowly sniffing the powder off his hand. He could do this. He knew he could. Once he could get away and gather his thoughts, he’d figure something out. Every problem had a solution.
Bryce shuddered as the time surged through his system. Ignoring the fresh river of blood pouring down his nose, he closed his eyes and waited for the rush to subside. He knew where to go. Florida was nice this time of year. He’d get away and find that solution. Eventually. After all, he had all the time in the world.