Even after rescuing Angela and closing down the machine, James knew it was all over for this world.
Slowly the adrenaline rush built from fear was replaced with rage. This was his work. His theories, discoveries, and inventions, and through Angela, the U.S. military had stolen all of it. The machine could have taken them anywhere in time, which was the main reason why he had not wanted this technology to fall into unscrupulous hands.
There were so many theories governing time. In one scenario, changing a single event in the past could have serious repercussions in the future, known as The Butterfly Effect. Step on a butterfly in the Jurassic period and the course of history was changed. Some small creature dies because the butterfly - or its offspring - never became its food source. In turn the creature that would have eaten it changes. Perhaps it dies of starvation, or this is the deciding factor between staying and leaving an area. Perhaps it never meets its original mate and finds another elsewhere. Generations down the line, some people never exist and others take their place, and they are changed by different circumstances affecting the outcomes of wars, or politics, of the ecosystem. Perhaps he might never be born and the terrible future lying only a few decades ahead never comes to pass.
The other theory is that, once written, time cannot change. Actions in the past by future visitors were merely catalysts, creating the world they all knew. Part of him subscribed more to this theory, and he knew what Angela, her less scrupulous scientists, and the military had done was set in motion the world's end at the hands of the Morlocks. Perhaps Colonel Wichita had altruistic motives, wanting to save his son who was dying of cancer, but instead he had unleashed an apocalypse.
James had the key to the machine, and full access. He gripped it tight in his hand as he wondered if there was a way he could use the machine to save some remnants of humanity before the end came. Perhaps he could aim further into the future; a hundred years, a thousand, ten thousand. Find a time when the Morlocks had died out and the world was safe for them to repopulate once more. To start over.
It had to be worth it.
General Arling nodded as he listened to James's idea.
"There is another possibility. Dr. Jillian O'Hara created a machine that can move through dimensions. Alternate versions of this world. We could find one where humans never walked the Earth or never evolved."
"Did her machine work?"
"How do you know?"
"Because until she and the only other survivor of her first test arrived here just a few days ago, she had never existed in this alternate time line."
"And the other survivor?"
"Is a doppelganger, but he's dying. Both versions of him are dying. Scientists are convinced they cannot coexist. Something to do with quantum physics that went straight over my head."
James nodded because he had theorized the same. Moving one of the doppelgangers to a time period where the other did not exist might save both of them.
"I want to meet them."
The General nodded, and within six hours he was in Washington D.C. sitting in a conference room surrounded by military, politicians and scientists from several specialisms. Across the table from him sat Doctor O'Hara, and either side of her was two identical men. They could easily be taken for twins but James could see the differences between them from their life experiences. From what he had read during the flight, the one from the alternate dimensions was a soldier and the original from here was a medical doctor. Neither looked unwell despite Arling's report that both were dying, and James had never seen such a beautiful man before. Two men, he amended silently.
James listened as O'Hara outlined the problems using her machine to jump to parallel universes.
"There are an infinite number of possible alternate time lines. Most are hostile, unable to support human life, and once aligned with this universe, there is only a finite amount of time to travel through and verify its suitable for habitation. Hours, not days before it goes out of alignment possibly forever."
Some nameless politician shrugged. "Then we have everything prepared well in advance, to leave at a moment's notice."
"Except my machine spirals out from the center, basically swapping matter with matter. I can only guarantee the transfer of matter physically touching the machine."
It was a conundrum.
"My machine opens a door for as long as we want, and wide enough for thousands to pass through. There has to be a way to combine the two machines," James stated.
"Perhaps you and Doctor O'Hara should work on this together."
James watched O'Hara nod in agreement. The meeting broke up soon after, with plans to move O'Hara and her machine to a facility housing a backup time machine; something he had been unaware of until now but should have expected. He looked up as the alternate universe Samuel Synn approached him.
"Um... Colonel? Can I help you?"
Colonel Synn smiled wryly. "I guess that's the only way to tell us apart. Colonel." He tapped his chest. "Doctor," he stated, glancing across at his doppelganger who was talking with O'Hara.
"Do you need to... to sit down?"
"Nah! I'm fine."
"Um. How long...?" He waved his hand generally.
"Two, three months, maybe more." He winced. "I'm the interloper here so I need to go before I kill both of us."
"Go where?" James rolled his eyes. "You mean jump to a parallel universe with no other Samuel Synn."
James blinked. "Yes. Sam." He knew he was a little flushed, unable to hide his attraction to the handsome Colonel standing right in front of him, and realized all this blood flowing south had left him a little stupid. He shook his head. "I'm working on a theory that I could send one of you to a different time, where the other doesn't exist... but..."
"But the Morlocks will destroy humanity within a human lifetime, and might rule the Earth for the next ten thousand years so going forward isn't so great an option."
"Technically, the Morlocks are part-human. An evolution... or devolution." He gave a short, breathy laugh. "But yes, not so great, so I could send you back in time except..."
"The Butterfly Effect?"
James smiled. "Possibly... unless your presence then was simply meant to be." He sobered. "Or it could have no impact at all and you might still die. Both of you."
"So you don't believe two Sam Synns can exist in the same universe," he stated rather than questioned.
"Which leaves a dilemma for me. If O'Hara does find an alternate universe then we still have to decide which of us should go, because staying here is certain death."
James looked away for a moment, staring at the other Sam Synn. Even from here he could tell the difference between the two versions of the same man. Doctor Synn was loose-limbed and always smiling, charming Jillian O'Hara if her blushes were anything to go by, whereas Colonel Synn was more rigid, with a soldier's bearing, and small private smiles. Still charming though in his own way, and definitely more James's type. He glanced across the room and caught Angela watching him, her lips pursed, and he knew she had seen his attraction to Colonel Synn.
He could have blamed the break-up of his marriage on his single-minded pursuit of his research, or the ridicule he had gained when putting forward his theories, but they both knew they had married in haste. The separation was bitter, and not just because she had claimed most of his research as her own, cutting him out. He'd made the classic mistake of getting involved with a work colleague, believing it was love until he woke up one day finally willing to acknowledge that she wasn't what he wanted or needed. It wasn't even a matter of gender as that had never bothered him, finding beauty in both the male and female form. He and Angela were simply too much alike, too competitive within the same field, leading to arguments that moved from professional to intensely personal.
Marriage hadn't worked for them, tearing them apart instead of bringing them together, and despite rescuing her from the Morlocks, nothing else had changed. If they got back together the same petty jealousies and opposing intellectual pursuits would tear them apart all over again.
"If that's the case then I should stay and let him go," Sam stated and his words drew James back from his inner turmoil over Angela; he frowned.
Sam shrugged. "Because I'm a soldier... and maybe it isn't all dark in the future. You only saw one city on a whole planet. Maybe there are other parts of the world that are left unscathed, protected by the oceans lying between them and this continent. I could protect the countless millions left behind."
"I wish... But no. The whole world falls," James replied sadly, recalling the tattered newspaper he'd seen among the rubble in that terrible future that spoke of outbreaks across the globe. The genetic mutation was carried like a virus from one country to another by those fleeing the contaminated zones, and his only regret was seeing no date on the article.
"Then I'd stay anyway." Sam looked across again. "They'll need a doctor more than a soldier. They have plenty of their own soldiers already."
Over the next few weeks James worked closely with Jillian and Angela, integrating their machines. Calculations were swirling through his head, and some days seemed like mental battlefields, fighting and arguing, and getting nowhere. He recalled why he and Angela had worked in those early days, occasionally falling into bed together to release the tension from a frustrating day with raw, mind-blowing sex.
He didn't want her now. He had no desire to feel her soft skin beneath his fingertips, but he needed more relief than his own hand could provide.
After spending one more unsuccessful session, scrubbing more equations off the white boards than he added long after the others had given up for the day and gone to bed, he snapped and threw the whiteboard eraser just as the door opened. James winced when Sam ducked back quickly to avoid being struck.
Scrubbing his hands through his hair, James just stared at Sam for a long moment in frustration, seeing the increasing shadows under Sam's eyes from the quantum effects of having two Sam Synns existing in the same universe. He turned away with a hard sigh of annoyance to stare at the whiteboard.
"You need to take a break, James."
They had moved to first names by the end of that first day, and James was glad the government had ordered Sam to stay with the project, but his presence simply reminded James of what he truly needed. He turned back.
"No. What I need is to get laid."
Both eyebrows crawled upwards before Sam shrugged. "Okay."
The shock of that single word stunned James for a moment as he tried to decipher all its connotations, from a simple acceptance of James's needs, to an offer to fulfill them. James knew which meaning he would prefer.
"Okay?" James asked.
Sam moved forward slowly until he was standing right in front of him. He reached out slowly to take the whiteboard marker still grasped tightly in James's fingers, placing it carefully on a small ledge before stepping in closer still.
"Yeah... Okay," he breathed, closing the distance until their lips met.
James lost himself in bruising kisses, in hastily stripped clothing, and the sensation of a hard, cold floor beneath his naked body as they writhed together. It was hard, fast, dirty, and glorious. Insane and yet exactly what he needed, losing himself in physical perfection, in the sheer pleasure that thrummed through his entire body and shorted out his brain for one incredible moment. For days afterwards he would find bruises from strong fingers digging into his flesh, and he would smile so hard his face ached, while equally appalled at himself as anyone could have walked in while they were fucking their brains out on the cold floor.
Wiping his mind, if only for that one insane moment of intense pleasure, was enough to kick-start his brain, and the equations flowed. The impossible became possible, giving up its secrets, with assistance from more mind-blowing sex with Sam. Those answers came none too soon for reports of attacks were growing daily. Unbeknown to James, Wichita's scientists had already used Morlock DNA on his dying son, and he was Patient Zero for the infection that was spreading exponentially. They were running out of time as Morlocks had been spotted less than ten miles from them. They had days at most before they were overrun.
Doctor Synn had spent his time working alongside other medical professionals, creating a screening process to ensure no one with the mutated DNA made it onto the project site. Slowly they brought in hundreds of people with varying skill sets, and their families, ready to open that window to an alternate universe and send them all through, to save as many people as they could.
The time had come to switch on everything.
James had provided the solution to another problem - a portable time machine that could take two people at most. As soon as a suitable parallel universe was found, two people could jump through with the portable time machine and activate it to take them back several weeks if necessary, long enough to determine if the universe was suitable so an immediate response could be sent back to start the evacuation.
It all went to plan though it took most of a day to find a near perfect parallel universe. Within minutes several thousand people were streaming through the massive portal on-board specially built container trucks, carrying everything they would need to rebuild civilization. Computers carried all data they needed - the entire known history of the world, written works, cultures from around the world, technological research. Music, movies, everything.
It was a mass exodus, but the other universe was going out of alignment too fast. There wasn't enough time to get them all through, and as the last few minutes ticked down, James made his decision. He wouldn't be going with them because he couldn't strand all these others in this dying world at the mercy of the Morlocks, but more importantly, he couldn't leave Sam behind. A few technicians made the jump as the final seconds counted down, abandoning their stations, but James shoved back hard as Sam tried to force him towards the portal.
"You have to go!" He pleaded. "Please, James!"
"No! I'm staying." He gripped hold of Sam's biceps, looking into his eyes. "I'm staying... with you"
It became moot seconds later as the parallel universe shifted, gone forever. Dozens more containers, filled with less important people and materials were stranded on this side of the portal, and James could hear there terrified shouts when they realized there would be no escape for them. O'Hara had misjudged the time available for alignment, but it was never an exact science so he laid no blame at her feet. Except James knew there was still a chance if another habitable parallel universe should align within the few hours they had left.
All the leaders had gone at the front, along with all of the necessities, but second copies of data, and additional equipment to supplement what had already gone through still remained in the containers stranded in this universe. James grabbed the radio mike and called for calm, taking over as leader.
"That parallel universe is gone but we still have time to look for another. If everyone remains calm there is still hope for us yet. Let my people do their jobs, and be ready to go. We'll have only one last chance at this."
The technicians who hadn't abandoned their posts began a fresh search, even though the only portable time machine had gone with the first group.
"Even if we find something in time, it'll be a gamble," James murmured.
Sam laid his hands on James's shoulders, looking him in the eye. "Still better odds than staying here."
"Colonel, sir? Morlocks have been spotted on the outer perimeter."
Sam nodded, and James realized he was likely the only soldier left above the rank of sergeant, so the others were turning to him now even though he had coem from another parallel universe. Sam turned and kissed him hard.
"Don't leave without me," he quipped but James could see the fear he tried to hide.
"Never," James replied.
If ever they needed divine intervention it was now. He watched universe after universe flow past the portal, each too inhospitable to sustain life. Then, suddenly, it was right before them. A wild, open meadow, green and luscious. The sky was blue with white clouds on the horizon, and without waiting for the order, one scientist jumped through and took a deep breath, waving the atmospheric reader to look for pollutants.
Nothing. It was green across the board. He gave a double thumbs up.
"Go," James gave the order, knowing they would have to take this gamble and hope it was the miracle they needed to survive.
The containers began rolling forward, moving swiftly away from their entrance into this new world to make room for the ones coming up behind. In the distance James could hear the stutter of gunfire, drawing closer, and he radioed Sam, hearing him give the order to fall back. The last of the containers swept through from the exterior chamber, heading towards the portal, and James waited nervously as soldiers came running, ofccasionally stopping to fire. He was ready to seal the final gate behind them before setting the detonation charges to destroy the portal at this end. With his heart hammering in his chest, he watched for Sam, unsurprised when he was the last to cross the threshold. James slammed down the door seal, watching as the soldiers picked off the two Morlocks that had managed to get through before it sealed.
"Get through the portal," he ordered.
The seal wouldn't hold for more than ten minutes but it was enough time to get the last container and the remaining soldiers through. Standing on the threshold, he waited for Sam to reach him before depressing the button, dragging Sam with him as the world behind them exploded. The portal closed before the flames could reach them.
The containers had circled the wide meadow, like huge wagons in an old Western movie, and people were climbing out, scared and nervous.
James spent a moment holding on tight to Sam, feeling the solidity of his presence easing his ragged nerves. He rested his forehead against Sam's, breathing him in, matching their breathing as the adrenaline left and their hearts slowed. Pulling apart, he could see the silent promise in Sam's eyes for him alone; a promise of a future together, and it gave him the strength he needed now as he turned to the hundreds of men, women and children looking to him for leadership.
"Let's start building our new world," he stated, and a single shout became a triumphant cry from all those he had saved.