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Trial and Error

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“Son of a bitch,” Stan hissed as he yanked his hand back from the wires he was trying to reconnect.

Shaking out his hand, which was stinging, he sighed and put down the pliers he’d found in Stanford’s tool box. Glancing at his watch, he was surprised to find that he’d been down here in his brother’s workroom for seven hours.

Guess time sure flies when no one wants you around, Stan thought bitterly, the images of Ford’s… disappearance flashing vividly behind his eyes.

It’d been almost two weeks since his brother had been sucked into whatever this machine was, and Stan had spent almost every waking moment trying to bring him back. When he wasn’t down in the portal room itself, he was pouring over the journal his brother had left behind, looking for some clue as to how to get this machine up and running.

Stan’s stomach rumbled, reminding him that he couldn’t actually remember the last time he ate. All of his energy was put into finding his brother, which was… demoralizing. Stan had always been good with his hands; he couldn’t remember how many afternoons he’d spent tinkering with the ol’ Stanley mobile, his own personal project.

But this machine… it was something else. The parts Ford had used were like nothing Stan had ever seen before, and it didn’t help that his brother’s handwriting was almost illegible. His brother, the nerd he was, had left some physics and mechanics textbooks laying around the house, probably from his college days, and Stan, to his own dismay, had cracked them open in hopes that they would be able to provide some form of help. He really was desperate.

Stan rubbed his eyes and began his ascent up the steep staircase that connected Ford’s workshop with the house above. Opening the fridge, he pulled out the loaf of bread, strawberry jam and jar of peanut butter he’d been living off of for the past week. Stan knew he’d need to go find food eventually, but this was lasting for now. It wasn’t much, but compared to how he ate on the run, this was a feast.

Sitting in Ford’s kitchen was unsettling. There was something almost eerie about this house that Stan couldn’t quite pinpoint. The wind and the blizzard raging outside didn’t help, but there was something more than the weather that was making the hair on Stan’s arms stand on end.

When Stan and his brother were kids, Ford had kept hundreds of drawings and posters up on the walls. Even into their teen years, Ford had decorated the walls of their shared room with posters of scientists and project blueprints and lists of dreams and checklists for his future.

But the walls in here were empty.

Stan knew that college had changed his brother, but this was… drastic. He didn’t even have a single picture up in the house he’d clearly owned for some time. Stan shook his head and put aside his plate, preparing to head back downstairs.

Stan took one more look around the kitchen and shuddered. He’d have to get Ford to redo this place once he got him back.

Once I get him back, he thought.

Determined, Stan headed back down the stairs and into the time-stopping void that was his brother’s basement.

After what could have been one hour or twenty-four, Stan was sure he’d gotten it right. All the wires appeared to be in the same place as the pictures, and… well he didn’t have a clue what all those dials meant, but they weren’t going crazy, which Stan took as a good sign.

Buzzing with anticipation, Stan glanced over his brother’s notes one more time. While Ford’s handwriting was hard to read, Stan was sure he’d gotten it right this time.

He pulled the lever out in front of the portal itself and held his breath as the giant machine groaned and whirred to life.

Stan’s heartbeat sped as the outer ring of the portal began to glow blue and spark.

“Yes! It’s working!” he exclaimed, some of the first words he’d said aloud in the past two weeks.

But something wasn’t right.

The portal sputtered and faded out, the light flickering twice before dying out entirely.

“NO!” Stan screamed, voice raw. “It has to work!” He yanked on the lever to no avail, and he fell to his knees. “I need to get him back,” he murmured, not bothering to wipe away the tears running down his cheeks.

Exhausted and drained, Stan put his face in his hands.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, you knucklehead, he thought to himself.

Resolve momentarily restored, Stan took a deep breath, silently vowing to himself that he would do whatever it took to get his brother back. Just a minor setback, he thought, smiling ruefully at his usage of one of Ford’s favorite childhood phrases.

Even if it took the rest of his life, Stan would never stop working, stop trying, to save his brother.

And with that, Stan picked up his wrench and went back to work.