Faisal worked more diligently than ever after Hedoniet left. “We don’t need time-travel to give the world peace,” he insisted. “All we need is brain-power.”
Enioreh went with him a lot of the time; Faisal had an idea that era-foreign psytrons would behave differently, and he wanted to study hers. Sometimes he’d stick wires to her head with suction cups to try and see what was inside, but most of the time she was left with nothing to do but follow Faisal around, trying to look official in a white smock. She didn’t mind; she had an odd feeling someone was going to attack him if her back was turned, or that he would just disappear, like a ghost in the light.
Faisal was intensely quiet. When he had to speak, he was intensely heard, by all the underlings who used to be his peers. It was a race, Enioreh knew – Hedoniet’s team against Faisal’s. Liolaoc had the money, but Faisal had started working on psytrons first. Liolaoc had the formula for Chronojuice. But Faisal said that would only tell them how to keep psytrons in a person’s blood once they’d been harvested. And according to the Prince, Faisal was the one who’d figured out how to do that.
The days trickled by, pooling into one week, then another. Faisal wouldn’t let them get too far, too fast; he fought to wring each second for all that it was worth. The weight of monumental discovery was always in the air, making people jump. Enioreh found herself hanging on the minutes with baited breath.
Late one night, when there was no one in the lab but Enioreh and Faisal, she heard a scratching on the outside of the window.
“I think I’ll go check that out,” said Enioreh, after pacing and thinking about it for a minute.
Faisal nodded vaguely as she went.
The air was frosty and good when Enioreh stepped outside, and the moon hung low. Enioreh crept to the side of the building where Faisal’s lab windows were, searching the shadows for signs of something wrong.
“What!!!” Enioreh spun reflexively, throwing useless punches and kicks in all directions.
“How have you been, friend?” It was Prince Hedoniet, leaning on a tree, shortened locks of burgundy swaying in the moonlight.
“Fan-fucking-tastic, asshole.” Enioreh folded her arms across her chest. “What’s with you sneaking up on me?”
“Permit me to be direct,” Hedoniet commanded. “I need help.”
“You’re damn right you do.”
“Tonight is the night, isn’t it, Enioreh?” His eyes glittered. “Tonight is the night that psytrons are discovered, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
Hedoniet studied her face. “You don’t know,” he agreed. “But you suspect. You know Faisal’s getting close. As do I. I’ve had it in my head for some time now, that Faisal would make his key discovery tonight. I don’t know whether this is a memory or an idea, but it sticks; I feel that this is it.”
“So, what? You’ve hit a wall at Liolaoc, or something? Realizing the value of Faisal’s mind, after all, and so you come crawling back for help?”
“I’m afraid so.” Hedoniet smiled. He did not look afraid. “It seems vision is just one of those things one cannot transfer unwillingly. We can’t see what Faisal sees without him wanting us to see it. Even with a good knowledge of psytron technology as it was always used in our time. And, Enioreh – I can’t see what you see without your help.”
“What?” Enioreh raised an eyebrow.
“You took us here, with your special brain. Maybe my mind had an influence on where we landed, but the picking up and going, was all you. And I need it, desperately, in order to get home to any kind of future.”
“Yeah,” said Enioreh. “Too bad you didn’t figure that out before you ditched us for Ortiz. I slept on a park bench. Do you have any idea what animals are like after dark? Fucking mean – bastards kept throwing trash at my legs.”
“You seemed not to care that I was leaving, until you had nowhere else to go. In any case, you are a resourceful woman with humanitarian friends – I had no fear for you.”
“Yeah,” said Enioreh. “Jesse and Faisal are humanitarians – good guys, and smart guys, too. Too bad you went and betrayed us – looks like you need all three of us now.”
“Betrayal?” Hedoniet shook his head. “My first allegiance is to the future, not the past. As is yours.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What is a personal slight compared with the development of global death-squads? I realize that Jesse and Faisal have both been kind to us – personally, I care for both of them a great deal. But what are my feelings in the scheme of things? We need to make history, Enioreh, whilst yet we know how. I asked Faisal to consider a partnership with Liolaoc, yet he remains unwilling. I fear this may be my fault – had I not shown him the Chronojuice formula, he may not have spurned such a materially beneficial arrangement. This is not what happened originally. Faisal Adlai partnered with Liolaoc, and once in possession of the particle, Liolaoc developed it – first as a source of alternative energy and then of weaponry, prior to becoming a state.”
“Wait,” said Enioreh. “You’re telling me, Lioloac became the Empire? Because of its weapons – because of psytrons?”
“Oh, what the hell! We’ve been pushing Faisal to invent the thing that caused the war – and you’re ok with this, you fricken douche? You said you were in favor of world peace! I’m definitely not helping you now.”
“Enioreh.” Hedoniet sighed. “Understand that there has always been war – there have always been nations fighting. Liolaoc merely conglomerated those scattered conflicts into one. And if they had time-travel from the outset, they would have been able to solve that one, centralized conflict much sooner, and thus create a centralized and everlasting peace. It’s essentially the same as winning the battle of Theminus – giving the empire the power to triumph over all while they’ve still the will to win. By the time we return to our own time, we may find the world has even had time to grow used to peace. Think of all the people you have lost over the years of constant war, of all the people you thought never to see again. We can give all of them a second chance!”
“We?” Said Enioreh. “What exactly are we supposed to do, now?”
“When Faisal discovers the way to capture psytrons, the information needs to find its way to Liolaoc. It needs to, or we’ll never get anywhere.”
“So?” Said Enioreh. “I like it here.”
“The whole word isn’t like this,” The Prince laughed hollowly. “Any more than the entire world back home is like the Emperor’s summer palace. There is war, here, too. And there will be war, until someone has the courage to win.”
“You don’t know that,” said Enioreh.
“You don’t not know it.”
“You know I don’t know about knowing nothing like that!” Enioreh yelled. “Dude, look – I don’t have time for this. Talk to me when you’re feeling like less of a douche.” She went inside, shaking her head. Her brain had taken her here – from a world of suffering to the one place she had the power to choose. There had to be some way of not fucking up.
* * *
“Everything outside was fine, Faisal. It was an owl, or something.” Enioreh coughed uncomfortably. What was the proper way to break it to someone that his work would lead to a war-torn dystopia, after all?
Faisal smiled faintly – looking at her, but not really. His eyes didn’t stick to anything. “Enioreh – come here.” He held out the wires bound to suction-cups, and Enioreh took halting steps forward, sinking into a chair in front of him. Music was pouring from one of his machines – soothing and scary at the same time.
“That’s cold,” she said, as he started attaching the suction-cups to her head.
“Yes,” said Faisal. “It’s an adhesive I’ve been toying with; a substance designed to channel stray particles. …Enioreh!” Faisal’s eyes were wild and whispering. He was watching squiggles dancing on a monitor behind her. “We’re close! We’re so much closer than we knew. …I can see them!”
“Oh, shit,” said Enioreh. “I guess that’s the end of your project, then? You can prove psytrons are real.”
“Yes,” Said Faisal, sounding hushed and far. “But they flee. And I – I know how to catch them!”
“Wait,” Enioreh gasped. “You’re talking about taking particles from my brain?”
“It won’t hurt,” Faisal murmured. “Psytrons aren’t contained by bone or tissue. They wander, they dissipate, like breath, and re-configure – you won’t even feel their harvest.”
Enioreh wiggled, looking at Faisal’s machines. The goop on her head had stopped feeling cold, but kept feeling heavy, with a growing stiffness. She followed the angled lines of wires with her eyes, from her body to where they hooked into an open box lined with delicate rods of glass and metal. It reminded her of a piano’s insides. Faisal’s face above it gave back the light of monitors, young and knowing. There was nothing but a tremble between him and discovery.
Enioreh steeled herself. She wouldn’t let the world get fucked up another time, right in front of her. “Faisal?”
He didn’t answer. The morning’s beginning was shining in over mountains through the window, making all things blue. “Here. Right here. Enioreh – we’ve done it!” Faisal spun wildly, his eyes meeting hers in soft wonder. He pried a gold-tinted metal tube from a slot in the machine. “We did it, Enioreh!”
“What?” Enioreh gasped. “What did we do? What is it?”
“Energy,” Faisal breathed. “Pure brainpower!”
Enioreh gasped again, touching her head all over. “But…that’s my brainpower?”
“I told you it wouldn’t hurt.” Faisal grinned affectionately, handing her the psytron-tube. “What kind of mad scientist did you take me for? We’ve always been the good guys.”
“Yeah, right? I know…” Enioreh muttered as Faisal pulled out his silly phone with shaking hands.
“Pizza is in order, wouldn’t you say? I just have to call Jesse first.” Faisal clasped his phone to his ear and turned away, maybe for just a second.
Enioreh stood as quietly as she could, then made a dash for the door – forgetting about the wires cemented to her head. There was a sharp feeling, like hair being pulled, a quick, chirping screech, then a pop, and the sound of clattering machine bits behind her.
Enioreh paused, hand on the door, and her eyes met Faisal’s where he stood across the room. The naked gizmos of the machine had spilled onto the floor, following the broken scraps clinging to her wires.
Faisal’s words dragged out, too still and quiet not to make her hairs stand up. Then there was a burst of something behind Faisal’s eyes, and he was flying across the room at her. Enioreh scrambled around the door out into the hallway as fast as she knew how, her hands going into her hoody pocket as she ran. The Prince’s Invisiband was there – she’d made sure to always have it handy after the nights she’d slept in the park. Now she jammed it on her head, willing the wires and pieces of Faisal’s machine to also go invisible as the space and light in the hallway expanded and her hidden skull opened her vision too much.
“I can still hear you!” Faisal yelled, getting closer as Enioreh bashed her way through the emergency exit at the end of the hall.
She didn’t know if she could keep psytrons from being invented, but she could sure as hell try. Faisal’s feelings would be hurt, but he was a genius – he would come up with some other amazing project before long, and he’d get noticed for it right away this time. His supervisors knew how special he was, and he knew now that his own ideas were worth believing in.
Enioreh coughed on the crystals of cold morning air, dashing through the parking-lot. There were trees crowding its edges – she could just make out their silhouettes through pooling fog – and beyond them she knew where to find a brook. Enioreh had learned that most important things in the 21st century were programmed to self-destruct under water. She hoped Faisal’s psytron-cartridge was no different.
Headlights raked the edges of Enioreh’s vision; she turned her head in time to see the door of a black car fly open into the side of her face.