The sun melted into the horizon, sending cascades of deep oranges and purples and greens across a darkening sky. Max Nebula’s gaze shifted up from the setting sun to see alien stars just beginning to shimmer through the atmosphere.
It was the end of another day. A magnificent display of nature that held within it the promise of a new day to come.
It would have been a beautiful scene if not for the fact that the world he stood on was about to be winked out of existence by a massive phase induction bomb. This was particularly unfortunate because, as previously mentioned, Max Nebula was still standing on said planet.
“Hey, laser-brain!” The call came from Max’s on-again-off-again partner-in-sleuth, Luna Astroflux. “We could use a little help with this whole end-of-the-world crisis, if you’re not too busy with the naval gazing.”
Max spun on his heel to face Luna. Her face was scrunched up in a sassy annoyance that didn’t quite seem to match the gravity of the apocalyptic situation. It might have been the end of the world, but it’s not like Luna hadn’t seen worse.
She wore a dark jumpsuit and her short, shock-white hair whipped in the wind. A set of bulky goggles sat high on her forehead; a tool belt was slung low on her hips and was equipped with all the essentials needed to keep her hunk-of-junk spaceship mostly off the ground.
Max pointed to the final person on the rooftop. “You said he knew what he was doing.”
“I was speaking optimistically,” Luna shot back.
The man with his head stuck inside the phase induction bomb—a trio of massive metal cylinders connected by a convoluted mess of tubes and wires—shifted and predictably banged his head against the inside the world-ending contraption.
Everyone froze and collectively refused to even breathe.
When it became apparent that they weren’t going to die (yet): “I’m okay!”
Harold Spectronium extracted himself from the phase induction bomb. He attempted to brush the grime off his lab coat and adjusted his glasses. All the while, his eyes sparkled with excitement and a grin pulled at a mouth that was trying to restrain itself in the midst of the current, potentially fatal crisis.
“You know what you’re doing with this thing, right?” Max asked.
“Absolutely not,” Harold said.
“Told you,” Luna quipped. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing!”
Harold Spectronium grinned. “Let me tell you something about knowing. It’s about intelligence--the ability to acquire knowledge. And the thing about knowledge is that those who respect it, want more of it. Those who have it, want to share it. And those who fear it? Well, let’s be honest. People who fear knowledge are idiots and we don’t need to waste another breath on them--“
“That hardly answers my question, Captain Brainiac.”
“Do you know how to stop the end of the world?”
Harold grinned again. This was the most fun he had had in years. “Ah. Yes. Emphatically so.”
Harold’s grin grew wider. “I have absolutely no idea. And isn’t that fantastic?”
Max shook his head. “No, actually. That’s not comforting.”
“Good!” Harold dove back into the access panel. “That means we have extra motivation to figure it out!”
“The end of the world isn’t motivation enough?!”
An explosion of sparks and Harold pulled out of the cylinder again. “Okay, it’s definitely not the red wire.”
“What do we know?” Harold ignored an exasperated Max and started pacing the rooftop. “I’m the person who originally authored the first phase induction formula. And according to everything you’ve told me, I’m going to use that formula to eventually build this bomb.”
Max nodded. “A future you, yes.”
Harold gestured emphatically as he paced. “While I don’t currently possess the knowledge to understand how the phase induction bomb works, I will, invariably, figure it out to such an extent that I’ll actually build the bomb. If at some point in the future I WILL have this knowledge, it only stands to reason that I possess within myself the potential of figuring out the science of the bomb in the present. Of course, that’s assuming I don’t get vaporized in the present, thereby triggering a paradoxical anomaly that--“
Harold stopped abruptly and turned to Max with sheer panic in his eyes.
“Oh my sweet galactic starshine.”
“Temporal paradox,” Luna muttered, glancing at the datapad strapped to her wrist. They didn’t really have time to chase their tails through time like this.
Harold placed a hand over his mouth in shock. “It’d be a temporal paradox! If I die here, I’ll never build the bomb, Veronica Vespa will never get stuck time tripping, and we will never wind up standing on this roof top.”
Harold grabbed Max’s shoulders, his fingers digging sharply into tweed.
“This isn’t just about the planet, Max,” Harold said. “All of time and space could unravel from this exact moment!”
Max took a breath and then put his own hands on Harold’s narrow shoulders, locking the two men in an awkward, arms-length embrace. “Harold,” Max said slowly. “We already know all this.”
The scientist who in seven years time would be named one of the top ten smartest beings in the tri-galactic region by a publication that specialized exclusively in ranking things, looked from Max to Luna in confusion. “You do?”
“We’re private detectives, you numbskull,” Luna yelled.
“You said it yourself,” Max said. “We tracked you down because you wrote the original phase induction formula. Veronica Vespa? The only way she doesn’t die is if you figure out this bomb. She’s counting on you, Harold.”
“So is the planet,” Luna chimed.
“And so is the planet,” Max repeated with a nod.
“So are we,” Luna added.
“And so are we,” Max again repeated.
“So is all space and time--“
“The point—“ Max spoke through gritted teeth, “--is that you are our spark of hope, Harold--“
“Technically our only hope.”
“--and hope is so much more than a just a four letter word.”
Luna counted her fingers but thankfully had nothing to add.
“Hope means having something to look forward to, no matter how bleak things may seem,” Max said, plowing on. “It means not giving up, even when you realize you’re the one who gets us into this mess in the first place. Hope--hope means holding on even when every fiber of your being is waving a white flag …”
The wheels in Harold Spectronium’s head were turning and he nodded slowly. He was, after all, an unimaginably intelligent fellow and pretty much as soon as Max had started speaking, Harold’s brain had turned back to the problem of the phase induction bomb.
“… and hope means that even in the face of overwhelming logic--“
Another spark. Harold shook Max’s shoulders. “The subatomic catalytic converter!”
Max blinked. “Excuse me?”
Harold released Max’s shoulders and jogged back to the bomb. “It never had anything to do with the red wire! But if I reconfigure the subatomic catalytic converter using a temporal compression algorithm, that might get us halfway home!”
Max shook his head. “I don’t know what any of that means, but if it works--“
“Halfway?” Luna was dubious.
Harold practically dove back into the nearby access panel.
“I just want to point out that ‘halfway’ doesn’t get us off this planet,” Luna said, leaning against the cylinder and absently spinning a wrench.
Harold popped his head out. “But it does get us halfway to being off the planet!”
Luna turned a pointed look at Max. “I hate you, this is all your fault, and if we don’t die in the next few minutes, I swear I’m gonna kill you.”
Max shrugged. “That’s probably fair.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.
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