Brian's friend Carl really seriously lived in his mother's basement. And here I'd thought I was joking when I'd made fun of the concept of a time machine earlier. We pulled up to the house - a somewhat small place in the middle of downtown Lexington suburbia, not very far from the high school Brian had gone to - and we all clamboured out of the car.
Meira hadn't said much since the gas station. She had a worried expression on her face, though, and she kept looking at me with these sad, almost haunted, eyes, like she was seeing me for the last time. It made me kinda uncomfortable. It was the same way Brian had looked at me every time he'd left the hospital since I'd been diagnosed.
"So... remind me again why we're trusting a guy in the basement of his momma's house in Kentucky?" I murmured as Brian led us across the lawn to the geranium-lined front door.
"Because I saw it work with my own eyes," Brian replied. "Because she's here," he added, thumbing in Meira's direction.
Brian pressed the door bell and we could hear it echo through the house even from outside. A dog started barking - a little yappy kinda dog. The curtains in a window to our lefts ruffled and there was a bang against the inside of the door as, I assume, the dog bounced off of it. Then the clicking of the locks undoing, and a moment later the door opened just enough for an old woman to peer out of the crack. At her feet, a blonde-colored pomeranian peeked out, too. I took a step back as the dog growled with it's itty bitty teeth bared. Probably they were sharper than they looked, I thought.
The old woman's eyeball swiveled between me and Meira, then back to Brian. "Are you sure we can trust them with it?" she asked.
"Absolutely," Brian replied.
"Not gonna try to steal the plans or anything?"
"This is my friend, Nick," Brian said, waving his hands at me. "The one I told you about. The one that could benefit from it?" He paused and waved at Meira, "And this... this is his... well his -- his wife."
"Wife?" I said, my voice choking with shock at the phrase.
"From the future," Meira added to Brian's declaration. She forced a smile at me, as if to say there, is that better? "If it happens the way it did before."
I looked at her, then back at the old lady.
She opened the door of the house like she was allowing us into Fort Knox or something and we shuffled through the door. Inside, it smelled like old lady. The pomeranian bounded a couple feet away, still wary of us, though a little less aggressive now that the old woman had shown us in. "Pikachu," the woman called it as she walked toward what looked like a living room - the blue flashing of the TV set gave it away - "Come with mummy. Carl's in the basement. Been making a noise like the cows a'comin'," she added. The pomeranian raced into the room and I heard the unmistakable sound of an old person sitting on a couch - groaning of both the person and the couch.
I looked at Brian, eyebrow raised.
"This way," he said, and he walked through the house in a way that showed how well he knew it. He'd probably been coming here since he was a kid, I thought. He led us to a small door in the kitchen, down a steep, wobbly flight of steps into a stone-wall basement. A squat space heater oscillated in one corner of the room, which was cold regardless of it's efforts, and the far wall was lined with a cord of firewood. And in the middle of the room was a small, home made, wooden platform, encased in plexiglass with a little door on hinges. Inside the plexiglass room sat a folding chair and in the folding chair was a pair of headphones with some weird computer chip looking things connected all over them. The wires stretched off to the top of he dome where there was a giant metal thing that looked like a weird ass corkscrew. To one side was a card table and at the card table, in another folding chair that matched the one encased in the plexiglass, sat a guy, leaning forward, staring at the screen of the old computer that was in front of him.
And the computer was the most futuristic thing in the whole room.
I looked at Brian. I wondered if he could feel my skepticism.
"Hey Carl," he said.
Carl turned around and you know the quintiessential look that a mad scientist has? With the wild eyes and the crazy hair? The Emmett Brown look? Yeah. Carl kinda had that a little, I'm not gonna lie. I mean he wasn't Christopher Lloyd by any means - he actually looked more like Adam Goldberg than anything - but he had a wild look in his eyes like he couldn't be stopped. Like he should be cackling evilly. Like maybe Pikachu upstairs should be thanking his lucky stars that Carl didn't want a pomerainian fur coat.
"Brian," he said, and his voice was higher than I'd expected. I tried not to guffaw in surprise. "You're back. So soon. That was fast. One day. I haven't finished the touches I told you about yet." He got up and grabbed a pair of glasses off the top of the tower of the computer - 'cos yes, the computer was old enough to still come with a tower - and slid them onto his face. He squinted across the room at me and Meira. "So you're Nick," he said. "Your liver's bad."
"Yeah," I answered.
Carl nodded. "I'm one of the few scientists who get to see their invention used for good and healing before it's abused and used as a weapon."
"Well there's something," I said. He turned to the plexiglass encased platform. Part of me had been hoping that wasn't it, but it evidently was. I licked my lips.
"Have you ever seen a more lovely time machine than this?" Carl asked, practically foaming at the mouth as he danced around it. He splayed his hands on the plexiglass and stared up at the lights and wires and metal that hung above it. "Well of course you haven't, it's the only one of it's kind."
"I've seen one," Meira argued.
Carl looked over at her in surprise. "Say what again now?"
"This is Meira," Brian said, "She's from the future."
Carl stared at her, an almost hungry look in his eyes, and something about it made me struggle not to grab hold of her hand. "Well. Aren't you lovely." He smiled. "You've seen time machines like this one?"
Meira walked closer and looked in the glass at the headset sitting on the chair. "Similar concept, at least," she said. "The headset is the vacuum, yes? The energy breaks down the atoms and because they're contained in this box, the headset draws them up to the receptor --" she pointed at the corkscrew thing, "Which translates them to their destination. Yes?"
Carl nodded, an impressed expression on his face. "More or less. You a physicist?"
Meira shook her head, "Just have used a few in my life."
"Changing your past?"
"Changing his," she pointed at me.
Carl glanced over at me. "And did it work?" he asked.
"Changing his past?" she asked. She shrugged, "I don't know yet."
"She's talking about changing his future to us," Brian explained. "To her, it's the past. To us, it's his future." He grinned.
I just stood there because, to be honest, I was back to feeling like maybe they were all completely mental.
"Well. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Yeah, I should have it all... fixed... by... tomorrow." He grabbed the chair by the folding table and pushed it up against the platform, got up on it and started inspecting the wires on the top of the thing. He removed his glasses, tilted them, and used them like they were a magnifying glass.
Brian nodded, "Okay." Meira was squinting at the wiring on the inside of the thing, then she shrugged and turned back to join us. "We'll come back tomorrow then," Brian said to me.
"Okay, whatever," I answered. Somehow, I pictured me getting electricuted by that contraption more than I pictured getting sent to the future, but that's okay. Whatever. It's just another way to go, really.
Brian led the way up the stairs and Meira and I followed. He shouted good bye to Carl's mother - to which Pikachu barked up a racket and she shouted a "toodle-loo" in return - and then out onto the lawn, pulling the front door shut behind him. When we got in the car, we were all silent for a moment. Brian clutched the driver's wheel and he took a deep breath. "I mean, I know he's a little eccentric, but --"
"A little eccentric?" I asked pointedly.
"But the science is solid," Meira said. "I was looking at that machine's wiring. It's perfect."
"I thought you said you weren't a physicist."
"I'm not," she replied, "But I helped you build your machine," she pointed out.
"How exactly do you think I got here?" she asked.
"I dunno," I answered.
"Your time machine. The one you're operating eight years in the future right now. The one you're gonna use to pull me back the moment I give you the message."
"And when are you gonna gimme it?" I asked.
"When it's time to," Meira replied.
"So... anyways." Brian took a deep breath. "Y'all are welcome to come with me to my momma's for the night."