Stella was not all that surprised (but more than minorly pissed off) when Viktor called her at four AM.
“Wha?” she asked. If Viktor wanted eloquence, he'd call sometime when she wasn't sleeping.
“THE TIME MACHINE WORKS HOLY SHIT COME IMMEDIATELY”, he yelled in his vaguely Eastern European accent.
Adrenalin brought Stella's brain to an alert state . “Wait, it worked? Howdyaknow?”
Stella dressed herself single-handedly while Viktor enthusiastically squeed about the changes to the circuit diagram.
“I'll be there in a quarter”, Stella said, hang up, and raced out the door.
The supply closet Stella had finagled a key for was tiny and full of electronics junk from the past two centuries that no-one would ever miss. Their non-OSHA-compliant time machine was perched on a non-OSHA-compliant stack of cathode ray tube computer monitors. Viktor would have looked like the prototypical mad scientist had he been able to stand on the floor, rather than have to perch on a stack of ancient binders on the state-of-the-art in nanophysics from '99.
“Have you tested it yet?” Stella asked.
“Yeah, I did, transported myself to last week next to the football stadium and back again. Worked like a charm.” Viktor grinned. “Now, how could we improve the world?”
Stella smirked. “I believe assassinating Hitler is traditional.” She adjusted her footing between the piles of ancient resistors. “Though it's a bit cliché by this point.”
Viktor frowned. “I think that would necessarily alter the timeline. I don't know how much it would affect time travel. Does the continuum have some sort of self-adjusting bounce-back mechanism, or do we live in a many worlds universe? How far back can we travel? If we change things, can we go back to our now?” He paused. “And most importantly, will the Prof let me do my PhD on it?”
“Probably not, he's a bit of an ass”, Stella said. “Mind you, we might get a Nobel out of this. Off to the patent office after the proof of concept?”
“Oh yes.” Viktor smiled. “Now, how should we improve the world? Eliminate Epic Sax Guy from YouTube?”
“Fuck you, I got ear cancer just from the name.” Stella winced. “How about we assassinate the guy who invented the saxophone? A century's worth of jazz and a musical instrument are less easy to fake than a simple YouTube clip, so it'd be much more convincing evidence.”
“Yes, let's. Now-” Viktor yawned. “how about some time travel for the purpose of getting a good night's sleep?”
N ext weekend, armed with a load of jazz CDs and the schematics for a saxophone, they traveled to 1816. Adolphe Sax was two years old and unsupervised. Stella dropped him out of a second-story window while Viktor kept his hand on the “go back” button.
“Don't you feel guilty for murdering a two-year-old?” Viktor asked when they were back in their era.
“Not when said two-year-old would later invent the Instrument of Evil”, Stella deadpanned. She would have tortured the two-year-old to death had that been necessary to remove the twenty-four plus hours of bad jazz music her undergrad roomie had worshiped.
Viktor shrugged and retrieved his laptop from the pile of boxes labeled “transistors, 1987”. Stella watched him search YouTube for Epic Sax Guy. The results hadn't changed from their last search.
“He survived?” Viktor said, devastated.
“I guess we'll just have to murder him harder, then”, Stella said. “I've got a friend in Chem who could get us some acid or something. Re-convene tomorrow?”
This time armed with a glass of boric acid, Stella faced her task with obvious glee. Viktor twiddled with the knobs of the time machine (scavenged off a broken retro oscilloscope), and they appeared in a mostly deserted kitchen. Sax was in the doorway, about 6 years old. Stella quickly poured out the water in a cup near the sink, and poured in some boric acid instead. ( Pouring acid into water was an extremely bad idea if one was attached to all of one's eyes or other body parts.)
Just before Sax turned, Stella grabbed the time machine and Viktor navigated them back to the instance of time they'd left at.
Again, Epic Sax Guy existed. Viktor cleared all cookies and did a hard refresh, to no avail.
“Maybe he didn't drink the acid”, Stella suggested.
After two days running simulated experiments, Stella and Viktor went back to the 19 th century. Viktor pushed a nine-year-old Sax off of a small cliff.
“I don't think that's going to cut it”, Stella said when they were back in their closet. “The cliff wasn't tall enough.”
“I think you're right”, Viktor said. Epic Sax Guy still existed.
“Look, we've been going at this the wrong way”, Stella said on Friday. “We've been trying to assassinate him based on the premise that he's a modern human being. He's not. He hasn't received the vaccines we have. Let's try biological warfare.”
Some googling later, they settled on measles. Viktor acquired a disposable cup, they hopped to 1912 and filled the cup with saliva from a girl suffering from the disease, and then they went to Sax's time and threw the saliva onto an 11-year-old Sax's face.
“That should do it”, Viktor declared. “The complications should majorly hinder any musical career.”
Epic Sax Guy still showed up in YouTube's search results. “I'm afraid you're wrong, Viktor”, Stella said.
The next morning saw a determined Stella come a-knocking on Viktor's door at seven in the morning.
“You could've called”, Viktor grumbled when he let Stella in.
“You don't answer your phone if you're asleep”, Stella retorted. She swept past him and engaged the coffee machine.
After she'd bribed him with a mug of coffee, she poured one for herself.
“I've been thinking”, she said. “How about we try some good, old-fashioned mutilation?”
Viktor, now partially awake from the effects of the caffeine, scrunched his brows in thought. “Carriages”, he declared. “We'll arrange an accident with a carriage. Don't nobles of that era have carriages?”
Two cups of coffee later, they were in their teensy supply closet, balancing on the ancient transistors. Stella fiddled with the time machine's knobs, aiming very precisely for the right era, then pressed the big red button. A small fizzing sound could be heard, after which they were in a carriage, watching a 14-year-old Adolphe Sax walk out. Viktor grabbed his arm and pulled him back while the door was being closed, let go, and Stella pressed the “go back” button.
“I don't think I was fast enough to get his neck in the door”, Viktor said.
“Eh, it's time travel, we can try again”, Stella said. “Again.”
Viktor's YouTube search revealed that Epic Sax Guy was still present on the internet.
They ate lunch at the one student cafeteria open on Saturdays.
“I still think we should've gone to the Chinese place down the road”, Stella said.
“Shut up, this food's cheaper”, Viktor grumbled, the regret at his life choices plain on his face.
“I would not call this food, but I get your point”, Stella said.
When they had finished their servings of tasteless mush, Viktor said, “Perhaps we should be less elaborate in our plots. I believe a good, hard hit to the head should take care of him and his evil instrument.”
Stella sat back and bit her lip in thought. “Yes, rocks should be easy to come across. Other things, too.” She smiled. “Shall we wash the taste of this meal from our mouths with some good, old-fashioned murder?”
“Well formed and impressive in turn of phrase, but the meal didn't actually taste like anything”, Viktor said.
“Oh shut up”, Stella grumbled.
Viktor brought them to Sax's time. They were in an empty second-storey room.
“Really, Viktor?” Stella asked. She walked over to the open window.
She heard Sax talking below. She leaned back and frantically scanned the room for anything useful-
Viktor pressed a brick into her hand. Stella leaned back out the window, then threw the brick with all her might at the back of a 19-year-old Sax's head. This time not in a colossal hurry, Stella and Viktor paused for a celebratory handclasp before going back to their present.
The seeming success of the attempt made their failure even more disheartening.
“I'll go get some potent stuff out of Bio”, Viktor declared. “If I'm found dead in a dumpster, know that I was the victim of a hate crime, and you should posthumously give me co-authorship on everything you ever publish on time travel.” He flounced off. Stella huffed.
Sunday morning saw Stella waiting next to the time machine, filling her time with trying to come up with text for the article on the stability of the lumbar spine she was co-authoring.
When Viktor arrived, it was 11 AM and he looked incongruously well-rested.
“Escherischia coli”, he declared, presenting a small vial. “God, I love time travel. I was up on my back 'till 6 AM, then I went back to 11 PM and got a real good night's sleep.”
“So, what was their Prof like?” Stella asked. “Was it worth it?”
Viktor grimaced. “It might've been okay, but he would not shut up and I'd already gone through half of Bio that night and didn't want to hear about it, y'know?” He sighed. “I hope I'll be able to sit without wincing on Monday.”
“I'll buy you lunch at the Chinese after this. And dinner”, she added upon seeing Viktor's expression. “Shall we go?”
Viktor nodded, so she began the delicate work of adjusting the time machine's knobs.
A small blast of ionized air later, they were in a 19th Century party, wearing entirely the wrong clothes. Heads turned towards Stella, especially, and Viktor managed to pour the E. coli into the nearby Sax's wine cup unnoticed. They quickly rendezvoused. Stella grabbed Viktor's hand and pressed “go back”.
With great trepidation, Stella released Viktor's hand and the time machine, then reached for her laptop. She gingerly opened Firefox, went to YouTube, and wrote in Epic Sax Guy.
The results still hadn't changed.
“Okay, fuck this, let's do some research”, Stella said, and googled Adolphe Sax.
“So”, Viktor said, reading over her shoulder, “All of our attempts did happen. He just didn't die.” He blinked, as if holding back tears, then collapsed into hysterical laughter.
Stella leaned her head against an old oscilloscope that could masquerade as a wall in this instance. She banged her head against it gently, so as not to cause a potentially lethal avalanche.
Ah well. They had, still, invented a time machine. That should count for something, right?