“Well shake it up baby now hmmmh hmm hmmm baby!”
Nik hummed happily, if somewhat less than melodically, as he thumped his foot mostly in time to the tinny beats emanating from the BBC. It was so exciting – a live broadcast, all the way from the Albert Hall!
“Ahhh, ahhh, ahhhh, ahhh… wow, wow, wooooowwww!!”
A pair of blue eyes looked up from the worktable in exasperation.
“For the love of monkeys, Nik, if you are going to listen to that absolute claptrap, then could you at least do me the favour of listening in silence?” the voice belonging to the eyes requested, blowing a floppy fringe out from the way of the soldering iron.
“You are such a fuddy-duddy, Tom”, said the quite possibly hip and happening Nik, twisting and shouting his way around the crowded garage. “I find it hard to believe at times that you’re a youth of today at all. One could argue you were a figure from – well, from the nineteenth century, you’re so behind the times!”
He sniggered quietly to himself, and continued relentlessly jiving to the beat of his own drum. This thankfully was not the beat currently being sustained by Ringo Starr as he closed out the last bars of the Beatles’ latest chart topper, as it would have been horribly difficult for both John and Paul to harmonise to thud, whoops, missed that bit, thud thud try again nearly got it this time. In between five and a half beats to the bar, he managed to neatly sew, with quick effective stitches, three of the final components awaiting completion together.
Tom looked at him with scorn, but also caution, as he was still holding on tightly to the soldering iron.
“Listen to me, chumly”, he said, with a fair degree of snoot, which never bodes well for the snootee, “just because I happen to understand the finer points of Thelonious Monk’s lesser known and more, shall we say, esoteric repertoire –”
“You mean the bits where he was whacked off his chops, when he played at that gig at the Cellars? Yes, I agree, I certainly didn’t understand those.
“Mind you, neither did he”, added Nik. “He was asleep.”
“He was not asleep” said Tom indignantly, carefully setting two pieces of copper wire into place around the inferior concha, and checking for symmetry. “He was… thinking. Heavily.”
Nik snorted, and measured up some more sulphuric acid. “Bloody heavy thinking. And you made me miss ‘From Me To You’!”
“Did I?” replied Tom, with obvious and unctuous fake sympathy, as he watched the levels rise in the tanks of carbon dioxide and oxygen. “Oh well that’s an enormous pity, as we were both enjoying your performance immensely. Never mind, another time no doubt. I’m certain you’ll be playing that buggeringly god-awful Radio Luxembourg in here within the next millisecond or two.”
As he finished his sentence, the yarp of the afternoon announcer started squawking from Nik’s transistor radio. “And next up, another hit from our favourite mop tops… yes, you know who I mean, girls and boys… your lads from Liverpool –”
“Oh SHUT UP!” Tom yelled, throwing the soldering iron at Nik’s beloved Telefunken.
The radio, and John Lennon, both stopped Loving Me Do with a loud and sudden squawk.
Tom turned to Nik, a look of horror on his face.
“Oh, bollocks. Nik… mate, look – it was an accident. I’ll replace it. Well, fix it. If you and I can’t fix it, who can, right? Ha, ha, ha.”
Nik fixed him with a withering stare.
“I see. So, you’re saying us travelling through the space time continuum, to a moment and place where we had enough power to complete your pet project, which still creeps me out, by the way, is well worth the candle – because whilst we are here, you wrecking my best ever invention doesn’t matter as we are able to fix it.”
The last words of this epic pronunciation were said in a sort of wheezy malevolent hiss, as Nik’s lungs ran out of air – but not, regrettably for Tom, venom.
Edison looked at Tesla unhappily, but with the edge of sulkiness that was to mark most of the daguerrotypes and photographs of his latter years; those taken in their own original time, of course.
“Look, I said I was sorry; there’s no need to get so highty-tigh – oh, hang on, there really isn’t any need to get so highty-tighty about it. It was just the extension cord! See?” and he rose up from a sudden crouch, almost bashing Nikola on the chin with the back of his head, as Tesla craned down to look as instructed.
Tesla shook his head, holding onto an end of the extension cord, its bright yellow and purple safety plastic gleaming against the dull, grease smeared tiles of the garage workbench. He smacked it against his hand, feeling a satisfying thwack in return, and wondering, just for a second, what it would be like to give Thomas Snootybox Alva Threenames Edison just one good, hard bonce with it.
“Fine” he sighed. Really, he was too easygoing for his own good. “Just… don’t let anyone see it, OK? Atherton may have invented these damn things, but he didn’t invent thermoplastic, and I can’t afford to pay out another time slip. We’re already running a risk, diverting so much alternating current into here. I still don’t understand by the way how we ended up in 1963 instead of 2063. You’ll have to explain that to me again, when we get home.”
Edison looked mulish again.
“I didn’t do anything. The thing just took off.”
“Uh huh. Look – let’s just get on, alright? And leave my bloody radio alone!”
Tom looked sullen, then seemed to realise he was behaving like a right donkey, nodded, and bent back to his work.
About three hours later, Radio Luxembourg reaching far out into the early evening air with the wailing skiffle beat of Lonnie Donegan singing Rock Island Line, both boys reached the same conclusion.
They looked at each other, nodded, and said, almost in unison;
Nik sighed, and looked down at the worktable.
“It’s no good”, he said, dolefully to Tom. “We’re going to have to wait for that thunderstorm after all. Buggeryfairies with added bugger.”
“I told you we couldn’t get the amplification we needed” said Tom, with just a little satisfaction, because to face facts, he was usually in the shadow of his brilliant friend. Try as he might, he couldn’t help but feel he was coming second in a race for – well, he wasn’t sure, just that he wanted to win it. Badly. It made him uncomfortable, but not uncomfortable enough to end the prickly desire for fame.
Elvis took over from Lonnie, sending a letter to the postman. Nik started looking up the next large weather disturbance, as Tom fiddled rather aimlessly with a phalange, trying to make it move. Elvis sang on.
Tom hated Elvis with a passion. Something about the King made him feel… small. He shrugged, and tried to concentrate on the middle joint, tightening a screw infinitesimally. Scree, screeeee, screeeee…
Rrree-turn to sen-dah, Rrree-turn to sen-dah!
Suddenly he could handle Elvis Aron Presley no longer. The frustration of not attempting the Bringing Forth was more than he could bear. This was his brainchild, excuse the pun – his moment to shine! To prove, once and for all, that Thomas Alva Edison was a greater inventor and all round wonderpants than Nikola Tesla ever was, is, or would be, in the history of mankind!
He wrote upon it…
“BLOODY ELVIS, I’LL RETURN YOU TO SENDER.”
And he pushed the Telefunken to its terminus. Straight off the bench, to land at the horrified feet of Nikola Tesla, one of the nicest men to ever time travel, and more importantly, reluctant genius, and genius loci, of the human race.
“Oh, Nik. Oh, crud on a crudstick. I am – look, I am really sorry. Really – I just lost my rag. I’ll buy you a replacement. Well, OK, I’ll help build one.”
Nik looked down at his radio, which he had, on a prior excursion, been so proud to bring to life.
He shook his head.
“I don’t think –”
Suddenly, the garage plunged into darkness.
Zap, zap. Sparkkkkkkk. Crackkkkkk. Crackkkle.
Tom switched on a highly anachronistic Maglite, and flashed it around the close walls, then down at the floor.
“I don’t know what - we must have brought in too much current, or something. You know me and electricity, I get muddled sometimes. I’m sure it’s nothing sinister.”
“You are correct”, said a low, slightly pedantic voice from the gloom.
“It was just an – I believe you called it an extending cord, was it?”
“Extension” corrected Tom automatically, swinging the torch around, just as the lights came back on, and realising in a rush of horrified understanding Tesla would never get something like that wrong, as he met the mismatched eyes of his greatest creation, who stood, wobbling a little, Prometheus triumphant, naked in all his Vitruvian glory, with a brightly striped extension cord wrapped around both his beautifully crafted robotic fist, and Nikola Tesla’s neck.
“I think”, said Edison’s Monster, in slow, measured tones, “I would like to hear some more of this Beatles music. I am fond of I Want To Hold Your Hand, in particular.”
And Edison could do nothing but nod, as his Monster put the lifeless body of Nikola Tesla, humanity’s one hope for salvation, to one side, and plugged in the resurrected radio, placed it back carefully on the table, and switched it on.
“Now” said the Monster, sewn on polymer hair wafting, china teeth clinking, as he flexed his energy-crackling fingers. Tom, gazing at him, still in horror, remembered fancifully naming his creation after a future reality show talking head who amused him on a quick visit to the early 2000s, the furthest he had ever travelled and where they were supposed to get back to. It was as he remembered why they hadn’t – because he had seen Tesla’s status, compared to his own – that the first waves of grief hit, along with the nausea of his friend’s murder at the literal hands of his own Monster and his greedyguts need to control the elements themselves.
He realised the Monster was speaking.
“What”, it said, again, reasonably patiently, “is my name?”
“It’s… Donald. Donald Trump.”
The – thing. It nodded. Seeming satisfied, it turned away. Humming along to the radio it beckoned to Tom, who had no choice but to follow.
“Come with me. I see us doing great things together, my – I think I shall call you my apprentice. For it is clear who was the master in this room, isn’t it. Yes.” And, laughing softly to itself, orange-tinged skin crackling a little from the residual power intake, Trump padded away, singing the lyrics, with Edison trailing miserably behind, and Nikola Tesla’s still-warm body left, his neck still twisted in garish polymer plastic extension cord, listening endlessly to his beloved radio.
Oh yeah, I’ll, tell you something (doo do doo do do) I think you’ll understand…oh yeah I’ll, tell you something… I wanna hold your haaaaaand…
It’s such a feeling that my love, I can’t hide.
I can’t hide.
I can’t hide.
NB: for lovers and otherwise of Thelonious Monk, forgive me for taking his performance (well, non-performance) in Cambridge at The Union Cellars in 1966 and transporting it to 1963. As we all can see, if I can make time travel merely a matter of taking what you want, and wishing it elsewhere, I can definitely be granted a little licence here.
Particularly as the genius behind Monk’s Dream was not actually aware of which country he was in at the time of said gig, let alone which town.