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In About Thirty Years

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The Brown Mansion was empty. That’s what Emmett’s mother would’ve classified it as, at least. Above anyone else, even his overbearing father, she most of all wanted him to settle down with a nice lady and fill the house with grandchildren. The house had been her pride and joy, and she’d gifted it to Emmett out of love. Even so, Emmett knew there were more pressing matters to attend to than family values. Science, discovery, the mysteries of the universe - and time traveling teenagers that showed up out of thin air.

“I’m sorry, Doc, it’s all my fault you’re stuck back there.” Emmett turned to Marty, who ran a rough hand through his hair. “I never should’ve let Biff get to me!”

Whatever that was about, Emmett didn’t want to know. In fact, there were so many things he already knew about the future, the more new information he could keep out, the better. Marty obviously had a different attitude towards the situation. Every word the kid spoke made Emmett feel a mixture of anxious expectation and fear, to the point he worried about listening too closely at all. Even seemingly inconsequential details, such as the knowledge that he called his dog “Einstein” in 1985, could turn out to make all the difference. “There are plenty of worse places to be than the Old West,” he said, deciding on a subject change. “I could’ve ended up in the Dark Ages. They probably would’ve burned me at the stake as a heretic or something.” It was only a half joke; he was beginning to understand his older self’s inclination to destroy the time machine.

He turned his attention back to the bundle of papers that his older self had sent to them. “Let’s look at the map. It says here that the time vehicle is buried here, in a side tunnel. We may have to blast.”

Marty nodded, but Emmett’s diversion hadn’t seemed to be enough to distract him from his guilt. “1885,” he muttered. “Can’t believe I sent you back to a place before indoor plumbing.”

“Marty,” he began, “none of this is remotely your fault. Hell, if I’d known what a careless man I grow to be, I never would have bothered with an invention this astronomical!”

Marty laughed, short and harsh. “Careless? Doc, you’re the most careful guy I’ve ever met! The only time you weren’t careful was-“ He stopped himself with a look that made Emmett’s heart jump unpleasantly. “I mean, you’re always careful.”

Emmett thought it best to just nod and move on. “Let’s clear a space here to wire our explosives,” he said, and moved his coat from the table to hang it on a nearby chair. As he set it down, a scrap of paper fluttered out of one of the pockets. He stooped to pick it up and caught the fragment of a sentence - nt open u. He raised his eyebrows. “I’d almost forgotten.”

“What?” asked Marty, and his eyes widened dramatically when they locked on the pile of scraps in Emmett’s hands. “Shit.”

“Good thing I noticed these!” Emmett smirked, and turned on a bunsen burner. “All this talk about the future, I wouldn’t want to know more than I absolutely- off!” Emmett was on the ground, wind knocked out of him, and the scraps of paper settled around him like confetti. Marty quickly reached past him and scrambled to pick them up as Emmett struggled into a sitting position. “Marty, what in the name of Sir Isaac H. N-!”

“Doc, you gotta listen to me!” Marty was crouched, wild-eyed, and cradling the scraps of paper like they were injured baby birds. “In the future, you-“

“No!” Emmett sprang up, hands clamped firmly over his ears. “I don’t want to hear it! I know far too much already!”

“Doc, listen!“ Marty was right up after him. He grabbed the bundle of papers from 1885 and rustled them in his face. “Look at this! You read the whole thing and the universe didn’t unravel even a little bit-“

“There’s no telling what the breaking point of any given reality would be! And I don’t intend to test those boundaries!” Emmett countered. “I can’t risk-“

“Jesus Christ,” Marty groaned, and buried his face in his hands. Emmett had never seen Marty this panicked, come to think of it, but he had to stick to his guns.

Didn’t he? “The space-time continuum-“ he began, but Marty cut across him.

“Doc,” he said, and his voice was so controlled and deliberate that Emmett had to listen, “I wouldn’t be asking you to do this unless you’d already done it.”

Emmett blinked, and his tension ebbed a fraction. “You mean to tell me, that in your timeline, I did-“

“Look, I’m not saying you gotta piece it back together today or anything.” Marty looked down at the scraps like they were his last hope, and for the first time, Emmett didn’t fight against the curiosity that flared up in him. “I mean, I didn’t even want you to open it until 1985 anyway. Just- you have to do it. You have to.”

Then, hesitating only a moment, Marty relinquished the scraps of paper onto the work table. They both stood in silence as the paper fluttered out of the tight ball Marty had been gripping it in. Emmett noticed a couple more words scribbled on their surfaces - terrible, please, friend. A storm raged in his mind; he’d been fighting for one thing, the preservation of the timeline. Causality mattered above all else. But as he watched Marty’s gaze flicker between the letter and the flame, he realized he’d been fighting against Marty as well.

And he trusted Marty.

Emmett held his breath, then reached forward and turned off the burner.

The world didn’t unravel, and neither of them faded away. Instead, Marty’s shoulders relaxed and he ran both hands through his hair. “I’ll go get a ziplock bag,” he said.

“A what bag?”

Marty laughed airily. “Right, maybe just another envelope, then.” He walked away, but turned right before he left the living room. “Thanks, Doc.”

The DeLorean’s bombastic disappearance at the drive-in gave way to five years of unending work. It took about that long to get used to a quiet house after all the chaos, and not much longer after that to decide to do something about it. He dialed the old phone number, Copernicus nearby for moral support.

“Yes, hello,” he began once he was sure he was speaking to the right person. “This is Dr. Emmett L. Brown, and I was calling to-“

“Emmett! Good gracious, it’s been too long!” The familiar voice of Roscoe Rosenbaum, president of California Institute of Technology, greeted him. “How long’s it been, exactly?”

“About eight years,” he said, smiling confidently at Copernicus. “It’s been at least that long since I’ve been down to Pasadena! How’ve you been?”

“Wonderful, wonderful,” Roscoe answered. Emmett heard some rustling, like he was walking into another room. He braced himself. “Now, I have to assume the reason you’re calling-“

“I want to go back to teaching, yes,” he said.

“And we’d love to have you back,” Roscoe said. “But considering the, ah, circumstances of your departure…”

Emmett had anticipated this. He had left Caltech to work on certain bigger projects, swayed by a sense of duty to his country, and at the time it had been the high point of his entire career. He’d promised to return, but that was more than twenty years ago.

“My real concern,” Roscoe said, “is longevity. You’d be great as a permanent fixture around here, Emmett, we just don’t want you running off if an enticing project comes your way. I can’t have you getting restless.”

“I understand,” Emmett said, and he did. 

“How about you come back to teach a semester-long elective?” Roscoe suggested. “Then we’ll go from there. How does that sound?”

“Perfect,” Emmett said, and it truly did. He could handle that no problem.

In the week and a half he’d known Marty McFly, there had been endless work to do. Hours and hours he would spend tinkering and fixing parts of the DeLorean, and the only mark of time would be when Marty showed up after school let out.

“Hey, Doc,” he said, shrugging off his coat.

He took off his goggles and set his sauntering iron to the side. “Marty,” he greeted, “how was school?” He’d settled into the “Calvin Klein’s uncle” role, and found it hard to shake even when they were alone.

“Good. Hell of a day.” He leaned over the hood of the car. “What’s that you’re working on?”

“Wiring.” He shoved the goggles back on. “It seems your reentry damaged the electrical components of the ventilation system, something to do with the sudden temperature shift. The line wire was almost destroyed, which is the primary conductor for the flux dispersal-“ He cut himself off and looked up. “Of course, you’ve had a long day. Why don’t you go up to the house and get some dinner? I’ll be down here a while.”

Marty gave him a curious look, like Emmett had said the opposite of what he’d expected. He’d been getting that look all week. “I’m alright.” He leaned further, trying to get a closer look. “What about the flux dispersal?”

Emmett’s eyebrows raised a fraction. “Let me get you some protective eyewear.”

Soon, Emmett walked through the halls of Caltech with a cardboard box full of lesson plans and binders. Everything was a welcome sight, especially since he had done little else but work on the time machine in recent memory. Roscoe had even managed to get him in his old classroom. He looked on the spacious lecture hall with pride and excitement; standing in his spot at the front of the room brought memories flooding back. How he’d missed this!

“Emmett! Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!” Roscoe patted him on the back. “So happy to have you back.”

“Good to be back!” Emmett said.

“Thank you again for letting us expand the seats,” he said, taking a sip from his coffee mug. “When word spread that you were teaching the course, suddenly everyone had room in their schedule for an introductory level nuclear physics elective.” He set down the coffee and handed Emmett a class roster, which was a full two pages.

“Great Scott,” he muttered in awe. He could only hope no war protesters had joined the class to derail it. In fact, he wondered if he should be teaching a class with the word “nuclear” in the title at all.

“It’s going to be a great semester,” Roscoe said, smiling.” We all appreciate you coming back, the students most of all. Really, you’ve got such an important hand in shaping these kid’s futures.”

Emmett’s blood ran cold. “What did you say?”

“You have a hand in their futures,” he repeated. “Every name on that list!” Roscoe clapped him on the back again, and Emmett hastened to keep his papers straight. “Have a great day, Emmett!” He picked up his coffee and walked out the door.

Emmett stood still for a very long time, until he noticed with a jolt that class started in five minutes. Students had already begun filtering in, a few of them approaching Emmett to introduce themselves. He shook their hands mechanically, counting them in his head. Ninety-two students.

The lecture hall was packed, and every student was looking expectantly at him. He blinked himself out of whatever trance he was in. “Hello, I’m Dr. Emmett L. Brown, and I’ll be your lecturer for Nuclear Theory and Practice. Did everybody receive a copy of the syllabus?”

As he went on, scribbling on the chalkboard, he knew he should be falling into a familiar rhythm. Instead, his heart pounded and his palms sweat. Had he gone back to Caltech in the original timeline? What if his presence here caused some sort of unfavorable chain reaction?

His hand slipped, and the chalkboard gave an unpleasant screech. A couple students complained, and he looked over his shoulder. “Sorry, sorry,” he said. Ninety-two students, one hundred and eighty-four eyes, all trained on him. There were ninety-two people who he suddenly felt like he was holding hostage. What if this truly was a point of divergence into an alternate timeline? He could accidentally inspire the next great nuclear physicist and before he knew it the world would be plunged into atomic war!

He shook his head, then realized he had been standing at the front of the room silently for a solid minute. “Uh- i-if you could-“ He cleared his throat. “If you would please turn your attention to the following filmstrip-“ He switched on the projector, and Radiation Safety in Nuclear Energy Explorations began playing. “I’ll be right back.”

In the bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face. He locked eyes with himself in the mirror, and for the first time in his life, he had no idea what sort of decisions he would normally make. Every interaction, every decision, was tainted with the fact that any action would ripple outward through the time stream and affect absolutely everything. He wished desperately that he had no say, that everything was truly predetermined with no input from himself, but he knew that that wasn’t true. If it was, Marty’s photograph of him and his siblings wouldn’t have faded the way it did. His future was as futile as it was inevitable.

He weighed his options. He could go back into that classroom, finish out the semester, and possibly doom the universe. Alternatively, he could go home, shut himself off from the world, and possibly doom the universe.

He walked briskly through the halls back to his Packard, cutting his losses on the lesson plans and filmstrips. After a terse phone call from Roscoe, it was clear that he was no longer affiliated with Caltech. It was better this way, he hoped.

Two years later, he stopped at the hardware store to pick up some extra casing supplies for one of the flux capacitor iterations. He scribbled out a check, then handed it to the cashier.

“Oh,” she said, in a tone that made him look up. “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t accept this.”

“Why not?”

“It looks like your last check bounced,” she said.

He had rushed to the bank, and his worst fears were confirmed. He was out of money.

He paced in his garage workshop, wondering what in the world he could do. With no more money, there was no way he would ever finish the time machine, not to mention survive in general. The damn car he was destined to build it into hadn’t even come out yet, and it was bound to cost a large chunk of money. Despite being a pack rat, he didn’t have anything of value he could, or would be willing to, sell.

“What do you think I should do?” he asked Copernicus, who walked across the workshop to lay in his dog bed.

He certainly wasn’t worried about much. He’d probably be content to sleep in the garage for the rest of-

Great Scott, that was it!

He would never be able to sell the house; his parents would never let him. His mother would rather it burn down than see it belong to another family. Luckily, that meant she had insured it for the great sentimental value it held. Now, the house was just another thing he didn’t need.

He gave Copernicus a quick pat and ran into the house, retrieving one of his side projects from the living room. It was a set of Pres-To matches designed to burn in succession, which he had yet to find a use for. He dumped them all onto the stove, turned on the burner, and ran out. He felt a great rush of giddiness, like he was moving in the right direction, like he was taking a huge step towards the time machine.

It wouldn’t be long before the kitchen was in flames. The fire department would be there before long, he reasoned with the size of that mansion. The matches would disintegrate, and nobody would be any the wiser, least of all his mother. He looked around the garage and thought that this was all he really needed; after all, he was only one person, and this was all for the good of the future-

“Great Scott!” He shot up like a rubber band and sprinted into the house.

The letter.

How had he missed it? He kept it right in his bedside table next to his journal, for God’s sake! A blast of heat greeted him when he opened the door, and he brought his shirt up to cover his face. The fire had spread already from the kitchen into the foyer. He’d taken one step forward and two steps back; there was no way he had gone back into the house in the original timeline! He kicked himself all the way up to his room, wrenched open the drawer, and clutched the envelope full of letter pieces to his chest. He rocketed back down the stairs, but stopped short at a loud cracking sound. The fire had made its way to the staircase.

I finally invent something that works. He stepped gingerly, but it was no use. The step splintered and cracked, and Emmett crashed to the ground. The smoke clouded his vision and filled his lungs, and when he couldn’t get up, he realized his leg was pinned under the broken wood. Either the lack of oxygen was affecting his reasoning or he had made a horrible mistake. The home he had spent his entire life in, the home his mother had given him out of the kindness of her heart, was destroyed. All for a time machine that would surely doom all of existence. He hoped his calculations were not correct, and that his continued existence and destiny to create the time machine wasn’t the only thing holding the universe together, and closed his eyes.

They snapped open to sharp barking. Copernicus was inches from his face, and it broke him from his daze long enough to wrench free and scoop him up. He sprinted out of the house before anything else could collapse on them. He stumbled out the door, cool air hitting him like a slap in the face, and breathed deeply. He could’ve sworn Copernicus was giving him a reprehending look, and honestly Emmett didn’t blame him. What was he thinking? This was the dumbest, rashest, most damning decision he had ever made.

The fire department came and went without much incident. Emmett changed his “My dog and I fell asleep in the garage” story to “My dog and I woke up to the house in flames.” He assured them that the garage was well equipped to be a temporary residence, and bid them farewell.

He shut the door to his new home and rummaged around for a can of dog food. Copernicus curled up on the dog bed again, and Emmett felt a little better. The garage wasn’t such a bad place to live; it was relatively spacious, with indoor plumbing and running water. Copernicus glanced out the window at the burning wreckage. Emmett shut the curtains quickly.

Like an object with an outside force acting upon it, he was quickly losing steam. He turned his attention to the envelope still in his hands, and a surge of anger consumed him. At Marty, at himself, at the mere existence of this thing that gave such conclusiveness to his future. He should’ve left it to burn in the house, he should’ve burned it on the lab table seven years ago, he should’ve let it scatter to the wind during the lightning storm, he should’ve-

A loud whine shook him from his thoughts. He looked down and realized Copernicus was still waiting patiently for his food. A harsh, clarifying breath of laugher escaped him, and he set to work dumping the food into the dog bowl. He felt that heaviness Marty was always talking about in his chest and knew that none of this was his fault, or Marty’s fault. Of course it wasn’t Marty’s fault. He remembered the fear and panic in the boy’s eyes when Emmett had almost burned the letter, and the shock when he had torn it up. Whatever was in it, it had to be life or death. He looked down at the letter again, and a shiver ran down his spine. Marty had rewritten do not open until 1985 on the new envelope, and he traced the ink carefully.

He sighed, shook his head, and smiled tightly.

It was a good thing he only used acid-free tape in the lab, because this letter would need to hold up for a while. He fell into the rhythm of work until his world shrunk to the repetitive action of putting these pieces back together. Copernicus ate happily at his feet, his clocks ticked, and the garage felt warm and almost comforting.

Until he finished up.

Dear Dr. Brown,

On the night that I go back in time at 1:30AM you will be shot by terrorists.

Please take whatever precautions are necessary to prevent this terrible disaster.

Your friend,

Marty

The death sentence sent him into another five years of frenzied, tireless work. Now he had two tasks - not only did he need to invent this time machine against all odds, but he had to somehow engineer the situation so he would live through it. Before, he had done all he could to prevent Marty from giving him details of the future, but now he would do anything to know more. What type of guns would they use? Where would they shoot him? How does he get tangled up with terrorists in the first place?

He was desperate for assurance that he would succeed, and the letter wasn’t cutting it. He went back to the library, half hoping his search would be fruitless, but he found another copy of the picture of his future self in 1885. His own face smiled up at him, and he remembered when he had called him an “old man.” He wasn’t that far off now, he thought.

All his money and time went into working through the vagueness, and he abandoned his original plan to sell the garage and buy an honest-to-God house. Instead, he sold the surrounding land to developers and settled permanently in the garage. He became a recluse, with nobody but an aging Copernicus and a thousand clocks to keep him company.

However, he could only survive for so long on Burger King and canned vegetables. One August day, he decided to do some real grocery shopping. Unfortunately he’d begun to get a bit of a reputation around town, especially with the younger generation, of being a terrifying mad scientist. This meant it was easier to go to the grocery store closer to the edge of the town rather than deal with rude teenagers who had heard too many stories from their older siblings. That was fine with him; truthfully, he just wanted to be left alone.

He was examining a bag of carrots when something smacked him in the shins. He looked down to see a curly-haired toddler holding a yo-yo.

“David!” The boy’s mother was hot on his heels. She snatched the toy from his hands. “We watch out for strangers while we’re in the store! Apologize to-“ She stopped short. “Doctor Brown?”

He had only seen her a handful of times before, thirteen years ago, but there was no mistaking Marty’s mother. “Lorraine Baines!” He smiled cordially, fighting his instinct to turn and sprint out of the grocery store without interacting with her.

“Lorraine McFly,” she corrected him, and indeed George was right behind her, steering a grocery cart and holding a two-year-old girl in his arms. “George, honey, it’s Doctor Brown!”

“Wow, well, isn’t this a blast from the past!” George shook his hand. “How have you been holding up?”

“Fine, just fine,” he said truthfully. The sight of the family sent a wave of relief over him, relief he hadn’t felt in a very long time. George and Lorraine were happy, standing close and looking warmly at each other as they wrangled their kids. He recognized Dave and Linda from Marty’s picture, and they were undeniably whole and solid. It seemed that, long-term, they had ensured the McFly family’s existence.

“It’s just, y’know, we’d heard about the fire a while back,” Lorraine said almost awkwardly. “And we’re glad to see you’re… doing okay.”

Emmett faltered. “Oh,” he said. “Well, thank you.”

“I mean, first Calvin, then your house catches fire,” Lorraine continued, a light waver to her voice. “That’s a lot of misfortune in such a short amount of time.”

That’s right, Emmett thought, he had spoken to the McFlys fairly recently. With the mysterious appearance and disappearance of “Calvin Klein,” he’d had to come up with a cover story, and he could only stretch Marty’s Coast Guard lie so far. In an effort to eliminate the possibility of Calvin ever coming back, he called up George and told him that Calvin had been lost at sea. He didn’t relish the idea of faking Marty’s death, but he hadn’t had much of a choice. He didn’t have a choice in much of anything nowadays, it seemed.

“Yes, well…” He sighed. “It’s been a rough couple of years.”

Lorraine looked over at George sadly, but George smiled. “I’m glad we ran into you today. You see, we just had our third baby.” George gestured to their cart, towards something Emmett had completely missed. An infant car seat. “And, well, we named him Martin.”

“Great Scott,” Emmett whispered. He walked slowly around the cart, and there he was. Marty couldn’t have been older than a couple months. He looked no different than any other baby, but the absoluteness of him boggled Emmett’s mind. He was there, right in front of him, blinking at him, indisputably existing.

“We liked ‘Martin’ better than ‘Calvin,’” Lorraine went on. “And I think Calvin did, too.”

“And would you believe I have a distant ancestor named Martin, too?” George said. “So it made my parents happy. That was a good bonus.”

“Do you want to hold him?” Lorraine asked, and a note of fear shot through his heart. He nodded.

Lorraine gingerly took him from the seat and put him in Emmett’s arms. He stared down at Marty, head spinning. Marty stared into his eyes. Emmett knew this baby would save, and had saved his life. Great Scott, he hadn’t realized how much he had missed him! And he was here. He existed again.

Tears prickled at his eyes, and he hoped Lorraine and George would write it off as emotion for the departed Calvin Klein. Lorraine touched his arm. “It’s really something, huh?”

He took a deep breath, glanced around the grocery store, and composed himself. “Yes, yes, he’s- he’s perfect. Congratulations, really. Mar- Calvin would’ve been very touched.”

He left the store with sparse groceries and a newfound vigor for his work. That evening, he finished the first prototype for the world’s strongest bulletproof vest. He felt as if the long, tedious wait was drawing to a close. Now that he was running out of time, his workflow increased dramatically, and he felt unstoppable.

Then, his father died.

“It’s not my fault your Uncle Heinrich wanted a German service,” his mother chided. “You never kept in practice, Emmett. You should’ve brushed up.”

His grip on the steering wheel tightened. “I’m sorry, Mother. I, ah, I got the gist.”

Emmett felt like he was coming off of some strange fever dream. He had been trapped in an ornate room, full of people speaking German and talking about how wonderful his father was. It reminded him too much of his childhood. His mother had asked him to speak, and he declined, but ever since that conversation he had an uncomfortable pit in his stomach. Three days later, it still hadn’t gone.

She squeezed his shoulder. “Oh, don’t beat yourself up over it. We were glad you made it there at all.”

He sputtered. “I would never miss-“

“You miss plenty, Emmett,” she said. It had been so long since he had heard her thick accent in person rather than over the phone, and as always it made him feel like a child being scolded. “When was the last time you visited me?”

“I know, I know,” he said, defeated. He didn’t tell her that to visit her, he’d have to visit his father. Not anymore, a voice said, and the pit in his stomach sunk lower. “I’ve been too absorbed in my work.”

“What are you working on that’s got you so absorbed?” she asked.

Emmett grimaced. This long car trip offered exactly what he’d thought it would - more opportunities to lie. “Freelancing, side projects, important work.”

“Important work,” she echoed, staring out the window. “Important work would’ve kept my house intact.”

A spike of guilt shot through him. On most days, he could convince himself that the house fire had been an accident, but with his mother two feet away from him, he couldn’t do it. Of course, he’d rather she think he was an absentminded moron than an arsonist, but he didn’t trust himself to talk about this. Luckily, his father had thought Emmett was an absentminded moron anyway without any reinforcement from him.

“No matter, no matter,” his mother said, shaking her head, and Emmett knew it wasn’t no matter at all. “You still have all the photo albums, yes? I’m going to need those at my new house if you’re never going to visit.”

“Yes, I’ve still got them.” Against all odds, he still had those photo albums. They were under piles and piles of scraps, but he had them.

They pulled off onto the exit ramp. As they approached John F. Kennedy Drive, Emmett felt like he was about to drive off a cliff. His mother had been back there exactly once, right after the mansion burned down, before she became too frail for long car trips. She had never seen his new living arrangement.

Sure enough, when they pulled into the Burger King parking lot, she put a hand to her forehead. “Mein Gott, Emmett.”

“I know it’s not- really, it’s nothing like the mansion, but…” he trailed off. Nothing he said would be good enough. “It works for me,” he finished lamely.

“I shouldn’t even get out of the car,” she grumbled. “Just leave me here.” Emmett decided to assume she was being dramatic and crossed the front of the car to open her door. He led her into the garage, right to the armchair by the entrance. He didn’t want to give her too much of an opportunity to look around, but he could still feel her disappointment as he went to the next room to find the photo albums.

“Here we are,” he said, placing them on the coffee table. “There were three, right?”

“Yes, yes, let me see,” she said, her voice soft but insistent. He handed her the thickest one, and she flipped through it. “Oh, oh, I remember this. Emmett, come see.”

He pulled up a chair, leaning over her shoulder. He saw a professional-looking portrait of their family. Emmett had been about fourteen in this picture, and he remembered the whole day clearly. His father had been planning their trip to the portrait studio for weeks, but when the day came, Emmett had wanted to be left alone in his workshop. He remembered he had been close to making a breakthrough on his rocket propulsion project, and he had no time to get his picture taken. His father had been furious, and he could feel some of that through his hard set face in the photograph. None of them looked happy. After they went home, he had destroyed Emmett’s lab and banned him from practicing science indefinitely. It had been devastating at the time; they hadn’t spoken for weeks after that.

He didn’t want to ask her if she remembered that day, so he reached over and flipped ahead in the album. “What else is here?”

He saw a small black and white photo that made him stop. His parents looked considerably younger, and they were smiling wide at the camera. A toddler he could only assume was himself sat on the floor, playing with an elaborate model train set.

“The Lionel Electric Train Set,” his mother said wistfully. She reached over and rubbed his back. “Your fifth birthday. I remember this. Your father picked that out. He was so excited to give it to you.”

“He was?” His chest twisted uncomfortably. He hadn’t known that. All he remembered of that train set was dismantling it at age ten to figure out how it worked. His father raised hell when he found out.

“Yes, you two would play for hours with that thing.” She kept staring at it, and the pit in Emmett’s stomach continued to grow.

He took her hand in his. “I’m going to visit more, Mother. I promise.”

She smiled. “That’s all I ask, mein Liebling.”

He stood quickly. “Do you want tea? Coffee? I’m going to go boil some water.” She nodded vaguely, and he turned and retreated into the next room. He focused on the methodical process of making tea, trying to push all else to the back of his mind. He moved quickly, not wanting to keep his mother waiting any longer. But when he finally got to the doorway with two steaming mugs in his hands, he was paralyzed.

She had somehow gotten up, hobbled across the room, and had gotten to the work bench. She was hunched over a piece of equipment Emmett realized with a jolt was a prototype for the flux capacitor. Next to it was a journal of his, filled with detailed notes of its function. Really, scattered all over the table were pieces of the puzzle he had no doubt his mother was capable of putting together.

“Emmett,” she said, “what’s all this?”

He fleetingly thought that he didn’t have to build a time machine at all, time had frozen. He crossed the room and set down the mugs. Her hands ghosted over the circuits and wires, and he watched her read his notes. A million excuses raced through his mind. It’s a clock, it’s a hair dryer, it’s a toaster, it’s garbage, it’s-

“It’s a time machine,” he said.

She looked up at him slowly. “No, it’s not.”

He met her gaze seriously. “No, but it will be.” A blanket of calmness had enveloped him. He felt as if he was watching himself from a distance, like he had no control over what he was doing. “This is what I’ve been working on, Mother.”

She sat down; she had been standing for too long. “I can’t- I don’t believe this.” She shook her head. “Have you gone crazy, Emmett?”

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “And I can prove it.”

He, or a hand that looked just like his, reached up to a high shelf and retrieved one of his earlier time-travel-specific notebooks. He set it on the work bench. “Seventeen years ago, a young man showed up on my doorstep claiming to be from the future. He claimed I had sent him there. In a time machine that I invented.” He spoke slowly and deliberately, and felt oddly like he was an audience member to his own voice.

He opened the notebook and carefully took out the old, taped-up letter. It had started to yellow, the ink feathering a bit, but it was still legible. “He gave me this.” He handed it to his mother, and she read it over with wide eyes. “Obviously, I was skeptical at first. But he showed me the time machine. I saw it with my own eyes. Mother, I even touched it.” Her hand was to her mouth now, her eyes never leaving the letter. “He was stranded, and I helped send him back to the future. To the year 1985. He gave me undeniable proof that I will succeed.” He flipped further through the notebook and found the photograph of himself in front of the uncompleted clock tower.

“What is this?” she asked.

“It’s me, in the future,” he answered. “In the past.”

He let the truth settle over them. His mother looked worried, disbelieving, and most of all, overwhelmed. She ran her fingers down the photograph, and Emmett wondered deliriously if she would add it to the photo album. When she finally looked back at him, her eyes sparkled. “Your father would have been so proud.”

Just like that, he resurfaced. A sharp spike of adrenaline rushed straight to his head, and he gripped the work bench to keep steady. Regret and panic crowded either side of his heart and took turns punching it. He slowly, carefully reached across the table and took back Marty’s letter, not to read it, but to hold it. He needed a physical reminder of the resilience of the timeline. It stayed solid and remained the same. He took a steadying breath, then sat at the other side of the work bench next to his tearful mother.

“To know all you had accomplished…” she continued. “No, to realize all you had accomplished… If only he had realized your talents, Emmett.” She shook her head, the picture of Emmett in 1885 still clutched in her hands. Her voice wavered. “He asked for you, Emmett. Towards the end.”

The core of his being seemed to halt, and Emmett had no doubt that if he moved an inch he would shatter into a million pieces. He drew in a harsh breath. “W-why didn’t you-?”

“You never would have made it to Sacramento in time,” she said, and Emmett must’ve had a pitiful expression on his face, because she tutted and pulled him into a protective embrace. He thought of all the time he’d wasted, time he would never get back even if the time machine worked perfectly. “He knew you loved him, Emmett. You didn’t need to say it in words.”

But I didn’t know he loved me, he thought desperately, clinging to his remaining parent. She didn’t need to know that he’d burned down her house, or that he still wasn’t completely sure he would succeed in inventing the time machine, or that the universe apparently wanted him to get shot pretty badly. One small truth would have to make up for the things he’d done wrong.

The 1980s crept up on him quickly. As he read the paper one morning, he saw it. An ad for a silver, gull-winged contraption. There it is! Not only did the stainless steel construction of the DeLorean factor into the overall flux dispersal perfectly, but he had to admit it was a nice-looking ride. It truly looked like the car of the future, one he might’ve pictured as a child.

He drove home from the dealership in the DeLorean that night, his excitement waning the closer he got to his home. It was truly empty now, he knew, since Copernicus passed. He really could use a new lab assistant, but he doubted any other old dog could keep up with his scientific studies the way Copernicus had. Copernicus would have at least been excited to see him when he got home. He realized for a self-pitying moment that he had nobody, not a single person, that he could show this DeLorean to, and that was when he passed the Hill Valley Animal Shelter.

Oh well, he thought. Maybe he’d just go in and look around.

There wasn’t much to look at, as it turned out. He couldn’t see any dogs, just a couple cats and gerbils sleeping lazily under fluorescent lights. The quiet, old building didn’t match the velocity with which he had strolled through the door, and he stopped short. The receptionist eyed him curiously. “Can I help you, sir?”

He approached the counter. “Yes, I was wondering if you- woah!”

Something was tangled in his legs, and he was nearly sent to the floor. He looked down to see a large dog, panting and wagging his tail. Tesla’s ghost, he looked just like Copernicus! He bent down to scratch his ears, warmth blossoming in his chest, and the dog leapt up and put his paws on his knees.

An intern hurried in the door, leash in hand. “Sorry sir!” She leaned down and clipped the leash to his collar. “He got away from me. Down, Spot, down!” She straightened up and smiled at Emmett. “He loves meeting new people. I hope that’s okay.”

“It’s quite alright,” Emmett assured her. “Your name’s Spot?” he asked the dog curiously. “Why’s that? He hasn’t got any spots.”

She shrugged. “His old owner named him. We haven’t got any idea what kind of dog he is, either. He’s a mystery.”

“Picardy Shepard,” Emmett said, then crossed his arms. “Um, I would think.”

The receptionist smiled. “Do you like him? He’s up for adoption, you know.”

Emmett could’ve sworn Spot was looking right into his eyes. Despite everything that had happened to him, Emmett still struggled to decide if he believed in destiny. Of course, he had a specific set of events he had to follow until 1985, but he still wondered if things had been just as predetermined the first time around. Maybe it was all predetermined, he thought, including Marty’s changes to the timeline. In that case, he wondered if he was supposed to take home this dog named Spot. The risk to the timeline had hung over his head for the last twenty-five years, shadowing every decision he made until he wasn’t sure if he could make decisions at all. Einstein, Marty’s voice said in his head. It’s what you call your dog in 1985. Not “Spot.”

With a surge of bravery, he turned to the receptionist. “D’you- do you think he’d mind if I changed his name?”

She laughed, pulling a stack of papers from a cabinet. “You’d have to ask him that.”

Emmett smiled unabashedly down at him. “How’s ‘Einstein’ sound to you?”

Einstein stepped close to Emmett, leaning over to put his full weight against his shins. He craned his neck to look up at his new owner, tail wagging.

The intern laughed. “Y’know, they do that to show that they love you.”

For the first time in a long time, things were looking up. Einstein proved himself an excellent lab assistant. He took to directions very easily and quickly, and he felt as if his progress on the time machine was speeding up with his influence. The only thing he didn’t quite seem to grasp was when it was appropriate to bark.

It wasn’t completely his fault, though, since this was a recent venture. A new generation of teenagers was gaining freedom, misplaced angst, and secondhand tales of what a terrifying mad scientist he was. He’d been ding-dong-ditched more times than he could count, which didn’t do much more than annoy him. His mailbox had been knocked over twice in the last month, and he’d hoisted it back up again both times. Still, he figured he should have some sort of additional security measure in place in case he ever really feared for his safety. Einstein refused to cooperate, however. He merely stared out the window contentedly one day as a gang of unruly kids skateboarded by. Emmett sat next to him, disappointed. “See, that’s the kind of thing I want you to warn me about.” Einstein looked back at him blankly and Emmett sighed. “I guess I’ll have to get working on that automated security system after all.”

He had just laid out all his materials on the table when Einstein started barking like crazy from the next room. Emmett shook his head and leaned in close to start sketching. It wasn’t until he heard the sound of glass shattering that he sprang up.

He approached the door cautiously, heart sinking. He knew these kids thought it was funny to harass him, but nobody had ever actually broken into his home before!

He heard the trespasser before he saw him. The kid was crouched, backpack slung over his shoulder, picking up pieces of glass from the floor. Einstein crowded next to him, nudging him with his nose. “Get back!” the kid whispered, and Emmett’s heart jumped several feet. “You’re gonna scrape up your paws!”

He cleared his throat, and the intruder stood up and spun around. Marty was only slightly shorter and slightly scrawnier than Emmett remembered. He was backed up against the workbench, jaw dropped, a look of fear plastered on his face.

“Uh-“ Emmett coughed again, buying himself some time to try and imagine how he would react to a complete stranger breaking into his house. “Can I help you?”

Marty looked around wildly. “Where’s the Death Ray?”

His mind hit the brakes. “Death Ray?” Of all the things he’d imagined Marty would introduce himself with, that wasn’t one of them. He looked down and realized Marty was still holding the broken glass. “Here, give me that. Come away from there, let me sweep that up.”

Marty obeyed, letting Emmett dump the glass into a trashcan, and awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck as he got a broom. “Sorry about your… Uh, actually, I’m not really sure what I broke.”

“Whatever it was, it was inconsequential.” Emmett’s heart pounded. The space-time continuum depended on this meeting, he knew, but he’d been so blindsided by the nature of it that he had no plan. First thing’s first, he supposed. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Marty,” he said. Then, a fraction more quietly, “Marty McFly.”

“McFly,” Emmett echoed, partially because he really hadn’t heard that name in a while. “Yes, I know your parents.”

“Everyone knows my dad,” Marty said, taking a seat at the workbench. This kid really likes to make himself at home, Emmett thought. “Listen, don’t think just ‘cause my dad’s a little famous that I’m some entitled ass.”

“Well,” Emmett said, sitting across from him, “you did break into my house. I’d still like an explanation, by the way.”

“It’s like this,” Marty began, and Emmett could tell he was in for a tale. “I was ridin’ around with Needles and the guys, and we pass your house. Needles says you were building a huge Death Ray in here somewhere, and I said no you weren’t, and I guess I looked a little scared ‘cause next thing I know he’s callin’ me a chicken and saying I don’t have the stones to go inside and see for myself. And I’m not gonna let some punk call me chicken!” He gave Emmett a knowing look, like this was a perfectly reasonable excuse.

“That’s certainly a conundrum,” Emmett granted, despite his head still spinning. “I hope he won’t be disappointed to learn that there are no Death Rays in here.”

“He’s gonna feel like such an asshole, I bet,” Marty said. “What kind of stuff do you make in here, anyway?”

“Oh, a little of this, a little of that,” he said noncommittally. “With endless scientific possibilities to discover, my time is quite occupied.”

Marty huffed, looking around the room again. “I dunno how you can spend all day doin’ science, Doctor Brown. I just got outta science class and it was boring as hell. And none of it makes any sense! It might as well be magic!”

Emmett balked. “Well, that’s simply not true! Science is wondrous, all-encompassing, frustrating, and challenging - but it’s definitely not boring.” He rummaged around, looking for a notepad and a pencil. “And it’s not magic, either. What were they teaching? Are you in high school yet?”

Marty shot him an indignant look. “Yeah, I’m fourteen,” he said. “And I have no idea what they’re teaching.” He grabbed his book bag, unzipping it. “Look, I’ll show you my homework. See if you can make heads or tails of it.”

He dumped a Physical Science textbook and several pieces of loose-leaf paper onto the table. Emmett brightened at the sight of it. “Forces, motion, the scientific method!” He stood, looking over it all. “You realize this will be the foundation for all the things you’ll learn throughout high school! What’s more exciting than that?”

“Can’t wait,” Marty grumbled. “It’d help if I knew what I was supposed to do.” 

Emmett skimmed the first paragraph of his homework. “It says here that you have to write a short essay explaining Newton’s First Law. Which is…?”

“Uh, inertia?” Marty tried.

“Exactly!” Emmett exclaimed. He reached over to one of his shelves of junk and found a marble. He set it on the table. “According to the laws of inertia, what do we know about this marble?”

Marty stared at it, as if trying to get the marble to explain itself. He shrugged.

Emmett nudged the marble, sending it rolling across the table, then stopped it with his other hand. “An object in motion will stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force. In this case, the marble stayed still until I touched it. Then, it stayed in motion until I grabbed it.”

“Wait, wait,” Marty said, waving his hands. “That doesn’t make any sense. If you rolled the marble and didn’t grab it, it wouldn’t just keep rolling forever! So that’s wrong!”

“You’re right!” Emmett went on. “This is because the table, in that case, is the outside force. It provides the necessary friction to keep the marble from rolling forever.”

“Oh,” Marty said. “Duh.”

He went quiet, and it occurred to Emmett that he might be embarrassed. “Marty, asking those kinds of questions is a good thing. It’s how some of the greatest theories ever discovered were unearthed!” Marty simply nodded again, so Emmett tried a different approach. “Can you think of any everyday examples of inertia?”

“Uh…” He stared at the ceiling in concentration, but Emmett was thrilled that he was thinking so hard. “Like when you’re skateboarding and you hit a rock?”

“Yes, precisely!” Emmett smiled proudly. “See, you do understand!”

Marty nodded and smiled back. “Yeah, I guess I kinda do!” He passed the marble back and forth in his hands. “Jeez, why can’t you be my teacher?” He looked past Emmett, eyes widening at the impressive clock collection. “Damn, it’s been like a half hour! Needles and the guys are probably wondering where the heck I am!”

He started to gather his things, and Emmett noticed he stacked everything more carefully than when he first yanked them out of his book bag. “I bet they’ll wish you had a more exciting story for them.”

Marty waved his hand, as if dismissing the notion that Emmett could be an insane, murderous mad scientist. “They’ll live. Besides, I bet half those guys are failing school already. They’re gonna be jealous.” He slung his backpack over his shoulder. “Seeya around, Doctor Brown.”

Just as Marty paused to give Einstein a pat, something occurred to Emmett. “Wait a second, Marty.”

“Yeah?”

“If you really want your friends to think you’re brave,” he said, “why don’t you work as my lab assistant?”

“Lab assistant? Me?” he asked in disbelief. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, Einstein here can only do so much, and I could use an extra set of hands,” he explained. “I’d pay you, of course, and help you with your homework. What do you say?”

Marty seemed to consider it for a moment. “Hell yeah, that sounds great!” He smiled wide and pulled the door open. “Thanks for everything, Doc!”

The door slammed, and Emmett’s heart drummed in his throat. “Great Scott.”

True to his word, Marty was back in the lab two days a week. Though he insisted he was terrible at science and worried he would just get in the way, he turned out to be very helpful. Much more helpful than either Copernicus or Einstein, which Emmett realized probably shouldn’t have been a surprise. The point was, Marty was smart, and Emmett made it his mission to make him understand that.

“Your parents don’t mind you working here?” he asked that next week over a circuit board.

“Nah, Mom was thrilled. They just want me to get good grades,” Marty answered. “Dad wants to know if this counts as an internship, though.” He took off his goggles. “Oh! He also said they named me after your nephew!”

Emmett’s hand slipped, sending his sauntering iron skipping across the board. “Yes, it’s a small world, I suppose.”

“Heavy stuff,” Marty said, getting back to work.

Oh, Emmett thought, it’s a colloquialism.

Before he knew it, Marty had been working in his lab for over a year. Maybe “working” wasn’t the right word; he would still come in his allotted two days and tend to his lab duties, but lately he’d started coming in nearly every other day of the week to make conversation and poke through Emmett’s record collection. Marty was always willing to listen to him ramble on about whatever he was working on that day, even if Emmett had to be purposefully vague about some of the more temporal-related gadgets. Still, Emmett had to wonder, didn’t he have anywhere else to be?

“How are, uh, Needles and the other guys doing?” he asked one day when Marty didn’t seem to be doing anything but playing with a slinky and listening to Beach Boys records.

Marty stopped whatever it was he was doing and tensed up. Emmett immediately regretted saying anything. “Haven’t really heard from him in a while.”

Stop prying, he told himself, but Marty looked just as upset as he looked uncomfortable. “Any particular reason you want to share?” he settled on.

“I mean…” He raised his hands and brought them down heavily. “It was so long ago.” He crossed his arms and leaned forward on the table. “They ditched me, Doc!”

“They ditched you?” He set down his wrench. “When?”

“That day, the day we met. They dared me to go into your house and then they just left! I mean, for all they knew, you coulda kidnapped me and used me as a guinea pig for some crazy experiment- not that you would do that,” he clarified. “It’s just, that’s the kind of shit they used to say about you.”

“I’ve heard worse,” Emmett assured him, “believe me.”

“Yeah,” Marty mumbled. His eyebrows knotted, and he looked nervous all of a sudden. “Uh, Doc, can I tell you something?”

“Of course,” he said.

Marty was avoiding his eyes, nervously rubbing the back of his neck. “A while back, we, uh… we kinda knocked over your mailbox. A couple times.” He looked up, guilt and worry playing across his face. “I’m real sorry, Doc.”

A bit of uncomfortable disappointment swirled in his chest, but above that, something hit him like lightning. He’d never considered it possible before, but it was plain to him now.

Marty was lonely.

“It’s okay, Marty,” he said. “I forgive you.”

“You do?” he said.

“I do.” He handed him a screwdriver. “Why don’t you help me with this?”

Marty took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Sure thing,” he said. They fell into silence, Pet Sounds filling the air.

“Not that it’s any of my business,” Emmett said after a while, “but you may want to think about getting better friends.”

Marty nodded and didn’t look up. “I’ll think about it.” He paused, then almost sheepishly said, “You’re my friend, right, Doc?”

He stopped. “Of course I am, Marty.”

The wind whipped violently around him, quelling any notion that there wouldn’t be a spectacular storm. He did a quick scan, making sure everything was just as he had left it. Everything had fallen into place, it seemed, and Emmett just had to knock down the first metaphorical domino.

“Well,” he said, turning towards Marty, “I guess that’s everything.”

Marty looked back at him with a curious expression. Great Scott, this kid was an enigma, and not just because he was from the future. “Thanks,” he finally said.

Emmett smiled incredulously. “Thank you,” he said firmly. Because of Marty, he had something tangible to shoot for. Perhaps Marty didn’t realize the full implication of his journey here - Emmett would invent the time machine. He was proof that everyone had been wrong about him; parents, colleagues, teachers, and neighbors would marvel at his accomplishments soon enough, and everything he had and would put into this venture would all be worth it. He had a purpose. He couldn’t fathom why Marty didn’t look thrilled. Obviously, he would be there to share in the culmination of all this hard work.

Marty wrapped his arms around Emmett in a tight embrace. It was so opposite of anything Emmett had expected from this moment that he froze. He wasn’t much of a hugger, but this seemed important to Marty. It occurred to him that Marty might be scared that he would miss the lightning bolt. Emmett’s hands came to rest on his puffy-vested back, hopefully reassuringly. “In about thirty years?”

Marty’s voice was strained. “I hope so.”

It hadn’t worked.

It all came down to that critical moment, staring down the barrel of a gun, running through his schematics and test results in his head. All that went out the window the moment he saw the headlights and heard the shouting; though he knew it was coming, the fear that shot through him was so visceral and so real he may as well have not done any planning at all. The only thing he could do was hope that it would all be enough.

The second he saw that assault rifle, he knew his chances were slim. The bullets ripped into him, one after the other, and he fell facedown, hard, onto the rain slicked pavement. He heard Marty yell in horror for only a moment until everything was replaced by the sound of blood rushing to his ears, blood rushing everywhere most likely. He couldn’t see, he couldn’t think, he couldn’t move.

Reality twisted, and he could hear bangs and tires screeching and explosions from the end of a long tunnel. He felt like he was sinking to the bottom of a pool of temporal molasses, failing to grasp onto any fixed points.

Wait, there was one. A climbing speedometer, twin fire trails, success. Einstein and Marty, two time travelers, something he hadn’t gotten to be. A whole week of a functioning time machine, something he should never have gotten to experience. Goes out hot, comes in cold. He’d never felt anything colder.

He got to the other end of the tunnel and realized that he wasn’t staring at the endless void of the next life, but the starry night sky on Earth. He blinked. Great Scott, he was alive!

There was somebody beside him. He had the presence of mind at least to sit up slowly, in case he had broken any ribs, and turned to see Marty. He looked absolutely hopeless, face wet with tears, and Emmett’s mercifully intact heart twisted.

Marty turned, finally, shocked. He scrambled to face Emmett. “You’re alive!”

Emmett still couldn’t get his voice to work, so he fiddled with his radiation suit zipper. He vaguely registered the amount of bullets, so close to his chest, but he couldn’t focus on it long enough for it to scare him. Maybe he had a slight concussion. It wasn’t important right now.

“Bullet-proof vest,” Marty whispered. “How did you know? I never got a chance to tell you.”

Emmett had already found the letter. Marty took it, holding it in his hands for the first time in thirty years. No, he corrected himself, it had only been minutes for him.

Marty’s voice was almost giddy, if a bit unsteady. “What about all that talk-“ He faltered. “A-about screwing up future events, the space-time continuum…?”

Emmett found his words, and they were the truth. “Well, I figured, what the hell?”

Marty hugged him with urgency he hadn’t experienced in either thirty years or thirty minutes, and Emmett felt earth-shattering relief wash over him. It hadn’t all been for nothing.

His first clear thought since he had been shot came to him. “Marty, we should really get out of here.”

“Right,” Marty said, then cleared his throat. He pulled away, rubbed his eyes, then offered a hand to help him up. “S-should we go to a hospital or something?”

Emmett patted his ribs and shook his head. “I think it’s best if as few people know about what happened here as possible. Where’s the DeLorean?”

Finally, when the DeLorean was loaded up in the van and they were safely on their way to Emmett’s garage, he relaxed. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and looked out into the night sky. I’m in the future, he thought briefly, and smirked.

Marty sat slumped in the passenger’s seat, absentmindedly petting Einstein. He’s probably exhausted, Emmett thought, he really needed to get him home. “I missed you, Doc,” Marty said.

“Didn’t you just see me?” Emmett asked curiously.

Marty huffed out a short laugh. “Yeah, but that wasn’t you. I mean, it was you, but it wasn’t you.” He shrugged. “I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.”

“Thirty years is a long time.”

“Unless you’ve got a time machine,” Marty said, rubbing his eyes.

The silence hung heavy on them for a long moment. It hit Emmett again that the thirty years were over, and in fact, this was the Marty he had met in 1955. “Marty,” he started, then felt a bit overwhelmed as he realized he could tell him pretty much anything now. But there was one thing he had to say. “Marty, I’m truly, deeply sorry. I should’ve listened to you in the first place and avoided all of-“

“Doc, it’s not your fault,” Marty said firmly. “Why should you have listened to me, anyway? I was a total stranger. Hell- I should’ve told you first thing when I got back there, before you got a chance to watch that tape-“

“Marty, don’t you dare blame yourself for that,” Emmett said. “For any of this! You did the best you could with a very difficult situation.”

Marty laughed and dragged a hand down his face. He was slumped down in his seat so far now that he was almost laying down. “Great, so we’ve established that it’s nobody’s fault.” 

Emmett shrugged. “That’s the way I’m choosing to move forward.” He pulled into his driveway and the van shuddered to a stop.

Marty unbuckled his seat belt, pausing before opening his door. “I’m real glad you’re okay, Doc.”

Emmett smiled. His trust had never been misplaced, not for a moment. “Thank you, Marty.” He opened his door. “Come on, I’ll bring you home in the DeLorean.”

“You’re going ahead now?” he asked.

“I’ve waited long enough, don’t you think?”

Soon, Marty swung open the gull-wing door in his own driveway, home at last. “So,” he said, “about how far ahead are you goin’?”

“About thirty years,” Emmett said automatically. “It’s a nice round number,”

Marty seemed to hesitate, then said, “Look me up when you get there. I guess I’ll be about…” His eyebrows raised. “Forty-seven.”

“I will,” Emmett promised, and they shook on it. Their eyes locked, and he instantly thought of the baby he had held in the grocery store, of all the potential and promise. Of the great second chance he had given him.

“Take care,” Marty said.

“You too.”

“Alright,” Marty said with a note of finality. He scratched Einstein’s ears. “‘Bye, Einie. Oh, and watch that reentry. It’s a little bumpy.”

Emmett chuckled. “You bet.”

Marty smiled at him one last time, then shut the door. Emmett pulled out of the McFly driveway, took a deep breath, then looked over at Einstein. This was it, the big one, the one he’d been waiting for for the last thirty years. He checked all the dials and panels, and everything was in working order.

He watched the speedometer climb, excitement coursing through his veins just as surely as plutonium was coursing through his life’s work. The last thirty years had crawled, but he knew the next thirty were going to fly right by.