As Joe looked up at the grand Victorian that served as ZZN’s base of operations, he began to have mixed feelings about partying with a bunch of college kids. Though he was in his college-aged body, his mind was firmly planted in his depressive, disillusioned mid-thirties.
Revelers crammed the house, girls clad only in bikini tops raising their red plastic cups as they drifted in and out amongst the sea of brothers and pledges. One particularly well-endowed young lady leaned towards them from the wrap-around porch and beckoned them to come inside.
“Wonder what her father would think of this,” Joe muttered.
“Don’t know, don’t care.” said Nick. “All I know is that I think we made the right choice.”
“Absolutely,” said Jonesy.
Joe knew why Nick had chosen ZZN, of course. They discussed it as they set up their dorm room in Paxton Hall before heading out with Carlos and Jonesy. The two of them had still ended up roomies, the head of housing honoring their long-shot request. Thank God Nick had set The Machine to deposit them back here after their parents had left for Lowell; he wasn’t ready to see his family. Not like this.
“Are you sure we aren’t dreaming?” he had said to Nick as they bunked their beds. “I had a dream kind of like this tonight, the first time we were in college. I woke up and instead of being a freshman here I was a freshman in high school again. It was horrifying. Maybe The Machine knocked us out. Maybe you’re not really here and I’m talking to myself. Maybe–”
“Maybe you’re babbling,” said Nick. “We’re here, this is real, and we’ve just got to get used to it. Now shut up and lift.”
“Do you think this has ever happened before? Besides the tests, I mean? What if this wasn’t the first time The Machine had been built, or used? If it affects the whole world, how many shifts have there been? What if time never progressed past ours?”
“I guess we’ll find out if we end up back at ChronoCorp a dozen or so years from now,” said Nick. “Less talk, more bunkbeds.”
They got the beds together, Nick almost getting a finger smashed between them, and proceeded to secure the beds tight.
“When we end up back at ChronoCorp,” said Joe, tightening a bolt.
“Joe. Joe, listen to me. The idea of this is to change things. What part of that don’t you understand?”
“I don’t want to change things, Nick.” He held back the tears, always close by. “I want my son back. I don’t know why you don’t understand this.”
Nick put his wrench on one of the dressers and sat down on the bare mattress, patting a spot next to him. “Take a seat. Listen: There’s nothing that says doing everything step-by-step like we did before is going to lead to the exact same outcome. There are a million variables between now and the birth of your son. A billion. Let’s say you marry Sandra again. Who’s to say that your firstborn will be Jason?”
Nick was right, of course, but that didn’t stop Joe’s heart from being torn apart. He put his head in his hands and began to cry.
“I’m sorry, Joe,” said Nick softly. “I’ve gotten you into a pretty big mess. But I promise you we’ll make the best of it. Some good will come out of this. I know it will.”
Joe straightened up. He had no choice. Why cry about it? With a few last sniffles, he said: “Zeta Zeta Nu, right?”
“Right. And we can do more. Look at Carlos and Jonesy. They were like us: Full of dreams that went nowhere. We can help them, Joe. We can help a lot of people.”
“But what if things turned out the way they did for a reason?”
Nick stood up, almost bonking his head on the upper bed. “What about free will, right? God gave us free will for a reason. Things aren’t fated, Joe. Things don’t just happen ‘for a reason.’ It’s up to us.”
“It sure feels like we’re the ones playing God. I don’t recall the Almighty ever turning back time.”
Nick raised a finger, a passionate advocate making his closing argument to the jury. “But He could! And who’s to say He hasn’t? We wouldn’t know.”
Maddeningly, like usual, Nick had a point. Continue reading “Reset: Chapter Six: Saturday, September 1, 2001 (3)”