Title: The Madness of our Endeavors
Author: The Island Hopper
Rated T for a wee bit of language
Frequency of Updates: Weekly until finished.
Summary: When a miscalculation threatens the survival of Hill Valley itself, Jules, Verne, Marty and the intrepid Doc Brown must find a solution, or risk their own timelines and their own survival – that is, if the Brown brothers don't destroy each other first. A multi-timeline story.
Author's Notes (Please read, they are helpful!)
I'm going to try to get all of the author's notes out of the way here in the beginning of this first chapter, so that I don't have to clutter up any of the other chapters with them! Just a few things to keep in mind with this story:
Firstly, this story is going to be pretty long (novella length), so fair warning has been imparted for those who prefer shorter stories or one shots. It will be updated with a new chapter every week or so.
Secondly, I based some material in this story, including the personalities of Jules and Verne, on the mostly-atrocious Back to the Future cartoon that ran on television in the early 1990's. So, if you're wondering why Jules speaks the way he does, or why Verne acts the way he does, or why in the world the Brown family lived in the 1990's, you can consider it loosely canon-based, if you count the animated series as having any impact on movie-canon. I was the target demographic age at the time the show ran, which should give you some clue of my age - I am an old school BTTF fan, but this is my first (and probably only) BTTF story. If you're curious, almost all of the episodes are on YouTube (and they are all introduced by Doc Brown himself and his lab assistant, a then-unknown Bill Nye).
Thirdly, no Biff Tannen or progeny in this story. Appropriate apologies to Biff fans.
Lastly, and most importantly, this story switches back and forth from present day to the past, so please please please pay attention to the "time stamps" at the beginning of each chapter. They're very important!
The Madness of Our Endeavors
Chapter 1 - Homecoming
June 23rd, 2011
It was a dark and stormy night.
A clap of thunder sent rumbling vibrations through the asphalt of the highway, making the man driving in the beat-up green Honda SUV shiver despite his exhaustion. Fidgeting and pulling his collar up higher on his neck, he eased his foot down harder on the gas pedal as the sounds of the all-80's music hour on the radio struggled to be heard over the old engine doing some rumbling of its own as it struggled to accelerate. The gas light on the dash board suddenly pinged and lit up, making the man groan; he had pinned his hopes on getting all the way to Hill Valley on a quarter of a tank, and by God, he was going to give it his best shot.
Playing that game so particular to those trying vainly to conserve gas on the last leg of a journey, the man let up on the gas pedal and let the car cruise down a small hill before giving it another little burst of gas. Another crack of thunder and the accompanying lightening bathed the whole outside world in a bizarre light show complete with sound effects that did nothing for the man's nerves. His eyes strained in the darkness for the one thing that could make this nightmare of a drive end – a sign reading Welcome to Hill Valley!
Within minutes, such a sign did indeed greet his eyes and his shoulders instantly relaxed as he crossed into the city limits. Though he only lived an hour from Hill Valley, it had been well over a year, almost two, since he'd last coasted into the city that had expanded rapidly in the decade since he'd moved away.
The car was beginning to pull slightly as the nearly-empty gas tank began to make itself known. With a sigh, he pulled into a gas station that appeared on his right and climbed out of the car. The wind was blowing the rain sideways and even with the car to shield him, he was soaked in a matter of seconds. He pumped fifteen dollars that he couldn't really spare into the gas tank, clamored back into the car, and headed off towards his brother's house on the outskirts of Hill Valley.
The driveway, if it could really be called that, was merely a depression in the ground with a light scattering of pebbles barely discernible under the carpet of grass that was beginning to grow over it. He swung his SUV onto this pocket of sparse vegetation at the back of the house, snapped off the car lights, and shut off the ignition.
And then he just sat there.
The thunderstorm continued unabated as he studied the house in front of him. No lights were on inside, though that was hardly surprising – he was at least a day early, if not two. He hadn't settled on an exact day with his brother, as that wasn't really how it had ever worked between them, but he knew his brother wouldn't be expecting him to arrive in the middle of the night as a thunderstorm raged. A Cape Cod style home, the house had been built onto haphazardly over the years, creating a rambling, unmatched effect to the whole structure. It also desperately needed a new coat of paint and the garden in the back looked like it hadn't been touched by human hands in years; brambles, weeds and even a single, stray cornstalk stuck up unceremoniously in the untamed lawn. The man shook his head, marveling at his older brother's lack of awareness of such things. His brother held thirty-three patents, another nine pending, had engineered dozens of mechanical whats-its and doo-hickeys that were used in everything from car engines to toys, had collaborated with some of the brightest minds in physics, chemistry and engineering - and yet he couldn't keep his damn yard clear.
I might not understand a tenth of what the guy does with science, but I do know how to mow a yard, the man thought to himself with some satisfaction as he jumped out of the car, grabbed just one of the several duffel bags out of the backseat, and hightailed it up to the back entrance where a makeshift awning created with two pieces of plywood and old ceiling fan blades hung over the door. He hadn't brought a key, somehow hoping against hope his brother would still be awake by the time he arrived, but dug across the top of the door frame until he felt a little metal object fall into his hand. Smiling with the satisfaction that comes from still knowing every inch of one's home even after a lapse of several years, he stuck the key in the door, turned the knob, entered to a darkened interior, threw his bag in the entry hall, called, "Jules, I'm here!" and promptly stepped into one of Jules Brown's unpatented creations – a homemade home security system.
Verne Brown wished he could say it was the first time such a thing had happened.
Two metal bands appeared to shoot out of the floor and ensnare his ankles while the same section of flooring, seemingly defying the laws of gravity itself, shot up and flipped, propelling Verne into a mid-air flip worthy of an Olympian. A girlish shriek, the one he always swore had never happened before, erupted from him. The square-shaped section of floorboard then leveled out beneath him a good five feet in the air, which he crashed down onto face first. Then, what could only be described as a cage-shaped square of steel crossed fencing descended from the ceiling and enclosed him. He moaned and flinched as the hallway lights suddenly flipped on and he was face-to-face with the muzzle of a rusty old revolver.
"That thing hasn't fired in thirty years and you know it, Jules," he grumbled tiredly, patting his lip with the back of his hand to check for blood. He didn't even need to look down to see who it was.
The gun disappeared from his view. "No matter. I knew it was you as soon as I heard that shrill yawp of yours echo through the house, Verne."
Verne pursed his lips and languidly rolled over onto his back inside the cage. "I haven't done that in years. This idiotic booby trapped of yours just spooked me, that's all."
"Naturally. And sus scrofa domesticus will achieve flight."
"Are you going to let me out of here? Or are we going to start a zoo and charge people to come see me?" Verne flipped back onto his belly, shot an annoyed look down at his brother Jules below him, and arched an eyebrow. "Because if you do, I want a cut of the profits."
With a staid simper of his own, Jules keyed in a code to a pad on the wall. The fenced cage enclosing Verne retracted back up into the ceiling and the section of flooring descended back into its rightful place, albeit far too quickly – with another yelp, Verne crashed to the floor in a heap.
"I bet you think this is funny," he murmured.
"I have seen less amusing spectacles in my time, I suppose." Jules held out a hand to help Verne, who took it gratefully and pulled himself into a standing position. "Although possible speculation as to why you chose to conduct your commute at both this time of night and in the current weather, the mind cannot fathom. Had I know your arrival was imminent, I would have disabled the security system."
Verne, clutching his back, gave Jules a long, slightly bemused look. "I bet ladies line up around the block to hear that vocabulary, Jules," he said flatly.
The dark haired man blushed slightly and set their father's old revolver on a table near the back door, which he then proceeded to lock. He turned back to Jules and gave him a small smile. "Notwithstanding your usual sarcasm, Verne, it is good to see you again."
The brothers embraced in the hallway, patted each other on the back and then headed into the living room. Verne noticed that Jules' normal crew-cut hairstyle that he'd had since he was a teenager had been replaced by a shaggy, unkempt style that nearly reached his ears. He had just opened his mouth to ask when Jules flipped on the lights and Verne found himself standing in the middle of the room, soaking it all in as the memories flooded back. The mismatched furniture, a product of their parents' weekly rounds of local garage sales looking for good deals, still stood in exactly the same spots where they'd left them. He noticed the family pictures still adorning the wall, showing shared memories of a happy family made up of two loving parents, two precocious-looking little boys, and even a young brown-haired man smiling in a few of them. He smiled. "You haven't changed a thing, Jules."
"The house has always been arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner. I see no reason to change it."
"It's been too long since I've been back in Hill Valley. Just wish it was under better circumstances," Verne said, muttering the last part as he flopped down onto the floral print couch and put his hands behind his head, sprawling comfortably on the old sofa. Verne's muddy tennis shoes, coated from the soggy ground outside, dribbled a little onto the carpet, causing Jules to scoff quietly and wrap his dressing gown around himself more tightly.
"Am I to assume another fight hastened your early arrival?" Jules asked pointedly, grabbing a roll of paper towels that he left in every room in the house. He knelt under his brother's feet and began to gingerly blot the muddy spot with the paper towel until he noticed Verne's silence; looking up, he saw a slightly pained look in Verne's faraway expression. Jules sighed. "I apologize, Verne. I did not mean to sound so abrupt."
Verne finally glanced at him and gave him a fleeting, defeated smile. "'S ok, Jules. Family has to be honest with each other, right?" he enjoined in a disheartened voice as he swallowed back a lump rising in his throat.
Seeing his brother's rapidly fading countenance, Jules shifted slightly and managed a small shrug, somewhat at a loss for words. "Yes. Yes, absolutely. Father always believed that we should be open and honest in our familial relations, as it creates cohesiveness and harmony – "
Verne waved the words away tiredly. "Forget it, forget it. I should have told you long before it came to this."
Getting up and brushing himself off, Jules deftly crumpled up the paper towel and threw it in a corner trash bin. "To be honest, I was quite surprised to hear that you and Margo were experiencing marital discord."
Verne slipped off his shoes and left them sole up on the carpet, to keep them from dripping more. "It didn't happen overnight, but it didn't happen at a snail's pace either." It was Verne's turn to heave a sigh. "Neither of us really saw it coming. It just…happened."
Jules smiled brightly and clapped his brother on the shoulder in what he hoped was a reassuring way. "You are, of course, welcome to stay with me as long as you like. I am certain that Mother and Father would have wanted this house to always be a home for you should the need arise."
Verne gave him a half-smile. "Thanks, Jules."
"Can I prepare something for your nourishment? I could manage some coffee and a sandwich if you're so inclined."
Minutes later, Verne sat at the kitchen table wolfing down a lunch meat sandwich as Jules absent-mindedly brushed crumbs away as they fell from the sandwich. "What's this I read about some lawsuit you filed against a toymaker?" Verne asked with his mouth full.
A scowl etched itself on Jules' features in response to the question. "Their insidious attempts to use my patented mechanism for urinary expulsion – which could have revolutionized the lives of those who have bladder retention problems, by the by – have created a mockery of serious advancements in biomedical technology in using my mechanism to create what can only be described as the unholy alliance of cutting-edge urology research…and dollies."
A bit of ham dangled from the side of Verne's mouth as he tried to decide whether his brother would ever forgive him for bursting into peals of laughter. He decided against it and settled on shaking his head gravely. "Shame on them," he said in a steely voice.
"Exactly!" Jules burst, glad that someone else saw his point of view.
Verne pounded a fist on the table. "Shame on them for creating a doll who pisses herself at timed intervals using a tube delivery system that Jules Brown invented!"
Verne began to hoot with laughter and the scowl on Jules' face deepened. "I see nothing humorous about the misappropriation of technology!" Jules barked, crossing his arms in front of himself.
"Misappro – Jules, for Christ's sake, they paid you for it, right? At least it's legal to use in dolls! You told me yourself that your device was never cleared by the FDA for human use."
"True, the clinical trials didn't go quite as I'd planned, but I have great hopes – "
" – Great hopes? For crying out loud Jules, the thing disintegrated inside of people and was no use at all! At least in a doll you don't have to worry about ammonia – "
"Ammonia! Don't talk to me about ammonia!" Jules cried, throwing his hands in the air and standing up.
Verne burst into another fit of laughter. "You could have been Dad there, Jules."
Jules, now leaning over the kitchen sink with both hands on the counter to steady him, seemed to deflate somehow, his shoulders sinking slightly and his fingertips pressing hard on the countertop. Verne swallowed quickly and tried to think of a sincere-sounding apology.
"I didn't mean – it was a compliment, Jules." When his brother didn't answer, Verne got up and patted his brother comfortingly on the back. "I know you miss him. We all do. You, me, Marty..."
"I was not offended by your comparison," Jules assured him in a quiet voice. "But I fear my coping mechanisms are not as robust as yours and Marty's are."
Verne rubbed the back of his neck absently. "Dad would be real proud of you, Jules. So would Mom. And look, any invention you make that's actually useful to someone, somewhere – that's something, isn't it? You've done great."
Jules was silent and still for a moment. "There's a difference between earning an honest living through your work and achieving greatness, Verne. A vast difference."
"You know what I mean. Your gadgets are used all over the world, for all different kinds of - "
"The vast majority of my successful engineering patents have been used for products for which they were not originally intended," Jules interrupted. "I agree that it is perhaps far from the worst case scenario, but I refuse to believe that my inventions are only useful to toy companies and novelty item manufacturers." In the dim light from above the kitchen sink, Jules' face looked far older than his thirty five years.
Verne grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and leaned against the counter. "Don't be so hard on yourself. Dad went for most of his life before he invented something that even worked, right? Your stuff works; just not always how you envisioned them working."
"Father may have gone for more than half of his life without a successful invention, but the inventions that were successful were both the very apex of human ingenuity and great assets to understanding our common humanity. It is not so odd that the offspring of such a man would wish to carry on that legacy."
"I guess not," Verne conceded with his mouth full.
"Not only that, but our own childhood was absolutely unique in terms of normal childhood social development," Jules continued, picking up a sponge and beginning to half-heartedly clean the sink; a vestige of their father's habit, and the philosophy that hands should always be engaged in improving something – even a dirty kitchen sink. "If you take time to ponder upon it, we spent much of our lives not belonging to any particular place or time. You and I went to schools all over the world, in many different epochs, under many different forms of government, religion, and social philosophy. Except for our later schooling here in Hill Valley, all of the rest of our classmates are and have been dead for hundreds, some thousands, of years. We watched Aristotle expound on the philosophy of Plato in ancient Athens, we once listened to Benjamin Franklin speak of his hopes for a young America, and from the air we witnessed the Battle of Hastings in eleventh century England."
"As I remember it, the only reason we stayed long enough to see it was because Dad fell asleep before we could hightail it outta there," Verne recalled in a bored tone.
"In any event, you and I have been exposed to history in such a manner that is hardly universal. Most humans experience their history linearly, confined to only their life span, and their knowledge of past events is relayed through books, relics and archaeology, sometimes incorrectly or through the bias of history's victors. They did not experience that history first hand. We did. Through Father's invention of the time train, we have become the only human beings still living – besides Martin and Jennifer, of course – who have witnessed key events and people who have shaped human history down through the ages."
"Jules, not that I don't appreciate long, rambling speeches on things I already know, but is there a point to all of this?" Verne asked, dribbling a bit of apple from the side of his mouth.
Jules threw him a slightly annoyed glance and shoved a napkin at him before continuing, "The point is, Verne, I have absolutely no excuse not to create things eminently beneficial to humanity. We have seen far more of it than most people, and thus should be able to grasp the implications of repeated mistakes throughout history and their impact on our world today. If one knows what humanity's timeless needs are, should one not be able to correct them, especially if one is knowledgeable of the sciences through which such breakthroughs are entirely possible?"
"All I know is that even with all of that, I ended up as a high school history teacher in suburbia, and I feel fine about my place in the cosmos." Verne plopped down in a kitchen chair. "So we had a weird childhood. Everyone does. It doesn't mean you have to take the entire fate of humanity onto your shoulders. It isn't your responsibility to cure all the ills of the world, and that if you fail, no one else could possibly do it. Mom always told us that humanity is a collective endeavor, remember? That it's more of an idea than a reality, and ideas can sometimes be stronger than reality, and that the only human constant in the universe is that we're all in this together whether we like it or not. So relax. It's too damn late for big philosophical monologues, anyway."
Jules threw the sponge back into the sink. "Very well. I haven't yet made up a guest room for you, seeing as how I did not expect you for another two days, but the linen cabinet is stocked - "
"Nah, forget it. I'm too tired to make a bed. I'll just sleep in the basement in my old sleeping bag," Verne said as he slung his duffel bag over his shoulder.
"No!" Jules cried in a tone that startled Verne, who gave him a bewildered look.
"Why the hell not? My room was down there when I was a teenager. I think I have some claim to it," Verne said. "Why, what have you done to it?"
"Nothing! It's – it's just that I'm running a very sensitive experiment down there at the moment, and – "
"Oh, bull!" Verne waved his brother away as he stalked towards the basement door. "The basement is huge. Surely there's enough room to spread a sleeping bag out for one night. It'll be fun sleeping in my old space. Really, I don't mind – "
"No, wait!" Jules cried again, throwing himself up against the basement door. "You cannot go down there."
"Don't tell me," Verne said, letting the bag slip off his shoulder. "You turned the basement into the flight deck of the Enterprise again, didn't you?"
"Of course not!" Jules said indignantly. "I haven't done that since high school."
"Jedi training obstacle course?"
"I promised Mother I wouldn't."
"Then it's that weird alien plant nursery you had for a while, right? With that one plant that ate my gerbil?"
"Just because heliamphora chimantensis is not indigenous to this hemisphere does not mean it is of extra-terrestrial origin. And I apologized about Twitchy at the time," Jules answered stiffly. "I was merely testing the olfactory responses of the plant - "
"Look, forget it," Verne said tiredly, grabbing the doorknob to the basement door. "I just want to - "
"Stop!" Jules burst, once again throwing himself between the basement door and his brother. The steely look in his eye was unusual for the older brother, and Verne took a step back with a quizzical look on his face. Jules struggled to maintain a calm demeanour. "I told you, it's a very sensitive experiment. The environmental controls are calibrated to precise specifications, and should any fluctuation occur – "
"Look man, I'm not going to mess with your little science project. I just want to get some sleep, all right?" Verne said, exasperated, as he once more grasped the doorknob. Upon turning it, he realized it was locked tight. He turned back to Jules. "This door never had a lock on it before."
Jules exhaled slowly, not looking him in the eye. "I'm sorry, Verne, but it is a necessary precaution. I am unable to explicate the purpose of this experiment, nor can I elaborate upon the equipment being used. I am afraid you will simply have to place your faith in me without proof of non-nefarious proceedings. In layman's terms, brother, you will have to trust me."
Verne studied Jules' face carefully for a moment. "Jules, I don't know what's down there, but I do know that you've never kept anything from me before," he conceded in a slightly hurt voice. He shrugged the handle of his duffel bag back over his shoulder and headed for the stairs, throwing one last glance at his brother. "Whatever it is, I hope it's worth it."
Jules leaned back against the basement door with a thump, exhausted from the exchange. "I hope so too," he whispered.