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Chapter 21

“Subatomic Derivation and First Whiskies”

Five Minutes Prior

Warehouse Common Area

It would happen in four minutes and thirty-eight seconds.

Albert Einstein’s favorite food in his previous lifetime was handmade pasta utilizing a variety of techniques. His tastes were known to range from spaghetti in a simple tomato sauce to adventurous (for its time) fettuccini drenched in a fresh balsamic. Though the most brilliant physicist of a generation was a German from head to toe, his stomach belonged in Italy.

The thirteen-year-old version was eating off-brand Spaghettios out of a can, unheated, and reading a vintage copy of Nintendo Power from 1989 he found in a drawer in the locker room. Mega Man II was on the cover and he marveled over the eight-bit pixilated graphics as if it were some post-modern take on animating a Mondrian painting.

Janey and Alex were fighting again, trading blows about responsibility in the face of substantial turmoil. Albert was young but still keen on Janey’s propensity to agree to something and blaming Alex for “forcing” the decision at the moment of argument impact. Conversely, he noted that Alex would continually make sarcastic remarks while other people were attempting to discuss an issue. This generally proceeded the moment he would casually insist they were being passive-aggressive and unreasonable.  

It would happen in four minutes and seventeen seconds.

Albert hoped they would engage in intercourse at their earliest possible convenience so the aggravatingly numerous arguments would subside. In their place, awkward glances bathed in silence would volley about the warehouse and give them a bit of peace and quiet.

John Quincy sat down across the table from Albert and grimaced at the sight of the canned pasta rings. “Dear god, Albert, how can you eat that garbage? Pasta is not supposed to come in the shape of a ring.”

The young boy did not look up from his magazine. “Hogwash, lots of pasta comes in ring form. Penne. Rigatoni. Macaroni. Cartwheels. Tortellini. Manicotti—”

“Okay,” he laughed. “You’ve shown me up, but the original point still stands.”

Albert smiled, still without looking up. “I’m thirteen. I have under-developed tastes and no energy for an attempt to acquire them. My body wants carbs? I give it some carbs.” He continued the conversation without a beat between topics. “Did you know you have to use the Bubble Gun to defeat Dr. Wily in Mega Man II?”

“Is Dr. Wily a returner?”

The young man’s eyebrow went up, “I’m inclined to say no on the grounds of being fictional, but he does seem to return in every one of the games...”

Quincy attempted to muffle his confusion, but Albert was aware he knew absolutely nothing about what the boy was talking about. “Hey kid, do you know anything about Whiskey?”

“No, sir.”

“Then I think we’re at an impasse.”

It would happen in three minutes and forty-five seconds.

Albert looked up at Janey and Alex, still arguing, still doing it in front of Richie. “You should take Richie downstairs,” Albert said without breaking his gaze.

Quincy grabbed for a bottle of whiskey, nestled precariously close to the bags of cereal that were carelessly rolled up on the table; he poured a double and shot back a stare at the young man. “We can’t keep him locked in there forever, you know. Can’t keep locking up the wee one every time somebody needs to go in there, either.”

“I understand your objections, Mr. Adams.” He did not look up and chose to read on about Super Contra.

A large percentage of the whiskey had disappeared before the glass landed back on the table. “I’ll imagine a world where you said that politely. Perhaps engendering your comments with an eagerness to educate us common-folk with you dynamic science-brains.”

Albert tossed the magazine aside with a laugh. “Point taken. I made no effort to be rude, not on purpose. My brain lately—I mean, there’s a lifetime of knowledge up there and my mind is too young to grasp it.” He took a moment, scraping the bottom of the can for excess pasta. “Feels like a prison not knowing what I already know.”

“I remember the feeling. The awkward teenage years.”

The young genius smiled again, enjoying a conversation with someone other than a nine-year-old. “So what did you want to know?”

It would happen in three minutes and twenty-two seconds.

The older man finished the glass of whiskey and slid it to the side. “Start with the bit about how duplicate returners touching causes a nuclear explosion.”

“It’s an atomic explosion.”

Quincy gave a slow whiskey-blink and raised an eyebrow. “Is there a difference?”

Albert poured his friend another double. “I understand the confusion. Atomic bombs use nuclear fission to, you know, go boom. The danger in Richie and Richard coming in contact is potentially a million times more unstable.”

“Pretty sure you should make that a triple, kid.”

He made it a triple. “I’m not sure anyone really understands how dangerous keeping these guys in the building really is.”

“Innocent or not, seems like we should just put a bullet in Richard’s head. Needs of the many, and such and such.”

The boy lowered his voice and leaned closer. “If you believe that than we should put a bullet in both their heads and burn their bodies on opposite sides of the Pacific.”

Quincy’s eyes widened, knowing what was just said was an abstract solution that also happened to be the most logical. “How does it work?”

“It’s all theory, which is why I think no one is really taking me seriously. Imagine being told to drive a car from Ohio to Florida. There’s a nuclear bomb in the trunk, and it will go off if you get in a wreck. Now, put the best driver in the whole world behind the wheel of the car and try to predict a result.”

“You can’t.”

“Precisely. There’s no accounting for other drivers, drunk drivers, hell, somebody could try to drive into your car on purpose.” Albert looked across at the empty glass. “You should slow down.”

Quincy poured another triple. “But why does the reaction happen? You know, ‘in theory?’”

“It’s all unprecedented and a complete mystery. I mean, it could all be nothing, but we should take all necessary precautions. Common table physics tells us that we cannot, one, create matter, and two, occupy the same space.”

It would happen in two minutes and three seconds.

“And how is either of those happening?”

Albert took a giant swig of the whiskey and set the glass back before a stunned Quincy. “Because—” the boy started coughing. “Oh god, that’s horrible. Point is, we don’t know why any of us have returned or why multiple versions of varying ages have returned. In theory, Richard and Richie’s matter, not created matter, but theoretically duplicated matter, would simply pass through itself.” The boy made an explosion shape with his hand and puffed out his cheeks.”

“You’re saying that Eliot is an idiot.”

“No, I’m not saying that.” He looked back at Quincy with strained eyes. “I’m saying that a murderer on the loose is literally an acceptable side effect provided, whoever it is, is not—” Albert was cut off.

“He’s not a duplicate of any of us,” finished Quincy.

“Exactly. It’s the guy driving into your car on purpose scenario.”

Quincy rubbed his forehead, his already drunken eyes scanning the room and inheriting a sobriety of knowledge. “We have to kill Richard.”

“From a moral imperative, we don’t have any choice in this.”

Albert took another sip of the whiskey, trying to take it slow and use it to dull all emotion in the conversation.

It would happen in one minute and twelve seconds.

“What about the four Janeys?”

The boy’s eyes turned a slight pink as he looked over at his friend. “Moral imperative is to shoot her—shoot ourselves—shoot anyone we believe to be a returner to wipe them off the face of the planet. There might be another of any of us walking around out there. There could be another John Quincy Adams two blocks down the road!”

“You’re kinda depressing, you know that?”

Albert wiped a tear and smiled, “funny, that’s what they all say about you.”

“Well, I guess we’ve disproven the ‘everything happens for a reason’ theory. To be fair, I suggested the killing myself scenario to Harry, like, four times already.”

“Everything absolutely happens for a reason. But only mankind is so arrogant to believe a ‘reason’ implies some kind of net-positive or divine intervention.” Albert said, noticing the warehouse had cleared out of everyone but them.

It would happen in thirty-one seconds.

Quincy decided the best course of action at that point was to begin drinking directly from the bottle. “You don’t think it’s possible—and I can’t believe I’m the one on this side of the argument—but, you don’t think it’s possible that we were all brought back to save the world or something?”

Albert grabbed the bottle and took a drink before sliding it back into Quincy’s drunken palm. “John, I’m saying that it’s possible someone brought us back to destroy the world!”

It happened.

The two drunken conversationalists spun in reaction to the loud gunshot they heard emanating from the backroom of the storage warehouse. Albert stumbled off the bench first, but got to his footing before Quincy could even stand up from the table. The boy ran with a shaky stride across the long concrete expanse of the warehouse.

Upon reaching the door to the backroom, he took a long pause; suddenly clear headed enough to know that opening the door was the least intelligent move.

Quincy appeared behind, out of breath and grasping for the door handle.

“Don’t,” Albert ordered.

“What?”

Albert looked up at his older but equally drunken companion. “I moved the watch order around.”

Quincy’s eyes narrowed. “Why?” he asked with a deliberate slowness.

“Because I knew Eliot would kill Richard.”

“I’ll admit that answer would have surprised me twenty minutes ago.”

Quincy ushered Albert out of the way and pulled back the door, a rush of air hitting them in the face immediately.

The window above one of the shelves was open, providing the surprising flow of air, as the two glanced down in horror at the sight of Eliot lying motionless against a cabinet, surrounded by blood flowing quietly into the drain.

The leg shackles were collected and spiraled neatly in the metal chair.

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