I really liked the idea of magic being a tangible source of energy as opposed to an idea or a feeling or something that was just deep down inside you. It’s not an idea I preferred necessarily, but it was one that I really wanted to dig down into: What would we create alongside something like that? How would it affect the world? What would be repercussions? Obviously I never made it to the point where I was able to explore that idea to its fullest, but I still kind of like the idea.
Oh, and this is the end of what would have been Chapter 1.
Benjamin took hushed strides down the hallway, stepping on the newly vacuumed runner that laid out along it. He was…he didn’t know what he was. Angry? Upset? Confused? Hurt? He had no idea and no clear way of figuring it out himself. His mind was a squall, surging up like a wave, back and forth against the inside of his head. His body, a tensed cable contorted, wound up and agitated beneath the calm he put out. And no matter what he did, he couldn’t shake the feeling of his father, right there, ironically, because the man never was.
Benjamin glanced in at an open door off the side of the hallway. The little light there was fell on the face of a little boy, sleeping under sheets printed with puzzle pieces. He had soft brown curls like Benjamin did when he was younger, though Benjamin’s hair was straight now, and a round face like Allie’s, while Benjamin’s was an oval. The floor of his room was dotted with small toys and large toys, lego pieces, dinosaurs, action figures and building blocks, pulled out of buckets, tipped out and over off the shelves they sat on. Benjamin smiled a little as he passed and jotted down in his head that he needed to remind Oliver to pick up his toys.
He opened the door across the hall. There was a desk, a book shelf, there were paintings too, some were Benjamin’s, hanging off the wall above an easel. There were pots, and glass, pencils and paint brushes, art books and Christmas lights strung up from the ceiling. And in the middle of the desk, large and round, was a glass lens, about twelve inches across, snugly nestled up against the wood that enclosed it. Benjamin stepped in and walked to the desk; Matthew closed the door behind them.
They didn’t speak at first. Benjamin faced the desk, staring off at an unfinished sketch he was doing of a street he’d seen in New York on vacation. The perfectionist in him said that the building on the left wasn’t quite right and the person to the side’s nose was a bit crooked. Matthew, from behind him, shuffled in his pocket.
“Is that your HDU? In the middle there?” He pointed at the lens in the desk.
Benjamin brought him in here to say something he’d not entirely figured out yet. “Yeah. Why?”
“I’d like to show you something.”
Matthew laid a small drive on top of the desk and sat in the desk chair.
A whirring sound came from the center. A soft light fanned out from the lens. Transparent images with a pumpkin colored outline erupted from the desktop, twirling up toward the ceiling like a twister to the ground and objects and letters, billowing up around it, reached out, cascading over the edges of the desk. And then, there was a calm. The images, the shapes, the letters, all gathered into the shape of a sphere and from there, a login window broke off; the window floated up and sat in front of Matthew. He plugged the drive into the desk and began typing on nothing. Faint clicks and small squares lit up where his fingers stopped.
“Do you even know what Dad did when we were kids, Ben?”
Benjamin didn’t. He never knew and didn’t care. His mom probably would have told him if he’d asked, but he never really wanted to know. When he grew up and left and was out of the house, Benjamin wondered more, but still never asked, and when his mother died, he lost the chance altogether.
“How could I?” Benjamin said leaning back against the book shelf. “It wasn’t like he was ever home.”
“But do you know why?”
Selfishness, Benjamin thought. That was his best guess. It’s what he always told himself when a thought floated up. After all, what else made a father leave his family?
Benjamin shook his head. “No. I don’t.”
Matthew stood up and spread out his arms. The sphere shattered. Files and folders and documents sped past them in a moment and stopped. The two were surrounded by all of it.
“Our Dad was a scientist,” Matthew began, plucking files out of the air. “He wasn’t good at art like you are, or music, or business, or working with his hands, but what he was good at, was being naturally curious.” Matthew gestured his arms closed. The files gathered back, as fast as they came, into the shape they were in, slowly rotating like a planet, all of them, that is, except the ones he plucked out. “Until I was five and you were–I think you’d just been born, Dad worked as a research assistant in a lab Grandpa Sam was in charge of. As I’m sure you remember, Grandpa Sam was–”
“Horrible, I know.”
“I was going to say difficult, but okay. Either way, they never got along, never worked well together and Dad was always looking for an out. Something…more interesting. Something better. Now, Dad had been friends with a man named Joseph Matisse.” He flipped through a file in front of him. “Another research assistant who was fed up with Grandpa. Come to think of it, it’d be a shorter list to name the people who didn’t have a problem with him.” He paused. “If there were any.”
“I’m sorry, Matt, but what does any of this have to do with anything? Dad hated Grandpa. So what? I don’t care about what he did back then.”
Matthew smiled. “I think you will, Benji.” He dragged an image through air, over the desk.
It flickered in front of them, a wispy amalgam of smoke and pixels, or fog, or something, in place about a foot above the desk.
Benjamin placed his face in front of it, bent over, hands on knees, staring at it with a cat-like curiosity. “Help me out, Matthew. What am I looking at here?”
Matthew turned away from the desk and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“How much do you remember about the prosthetic rejections when the biochips were introduced?”
Matthew turned back. Benjamin stood up, glancing up at his brother and back to the image. “Not much. Just what I heard on the news.”
“I don’t know, Matt.” He scratched his head, looking up at his brother looking back at him. What did any of this have to do with this thing, or anything for that matter? “Something about the first recipients going through some sort of psychological trauma in response to the implant.” He paused. Matthew kept quiet, kept looking at him. He wanted more. “I was in high school at the time. That’s all I remember.”
“Well, you’re right. When the biochips were first introduced, there was a backlash in response to what happened. It was an exciting time, but when the first round were administered, some people got sick, others went insane. People died Ben, and no one believed it was a good idea anymore, even with all of the benefits. Grandpa Sam got in trouble because his team was responsible for developing an anti-rejection drug that could be administered along with the insertion of the chip and only need to be given the one time. Just the once. Obviously that didn’t work at the time. Come to find out that Dad had an idea as to why it didn’t work and why there isn’t a permanent solution now.”
“Okay,” Benjamin sighed, “why didn’t it work?”
“Because, the biological complications of something imitating life being placed into something that is alive wasn’t the problem. The problem was whether or not the body would accept something artificial like that.
Benjamin squinted his eyes, shook his head. He was confused. “Aren’t both of those the same thing?”
“That’s what I thought when I first came on. I didn’t really understand until Dad explained and showed me all of this.”
Dad. Benjamin felt a twinge in his heart when he heard the word on its own. The man wasn’t his dad. Maybe he was Matthew’s. But he wasn’t his.
“Okay,” Matthew began, pulling out pictures, documents, articles, hanging them all in the air and stepping back, “so, even though this biochips weren’t commercially available until I was about twenty, and in college, Dad and the other people on Grandpa’s team were, like I said, responsible for developing a prototypical drug for permanent augmentation acceptance.”
“Yeah. But what was he doing during that fifteen year gap? The drug couldn’t have taken that long to develop.”
“But it did. And Grandpa kept on until it was released.” Matthew pointed at the image. “Dad, on the other hand, left, because of this.”
Benjamin ran his hands across his face, pulling the skin taut and letting go. He let out a breath. “What is it?”
Matthew closed his eyes, scrunched up his face like he was licking a lemon, like he was flinching before being hit. He let out a breath, a stifled laugh and said,
“This is magic, Ben. Real, tangible, fairy-tale magic.”