"Alright," Dan said to Marcus. "Explain."
The pair had moved locations slightly, putting a larger gap between themselves and the window at Dan's insistence. No matter what Marcus protested, it was growing increasingly clear that the old man had not given thought to any risks before building his little device.
Dan wanted to believe that it was unlike Marcus to act so recklessly, but how could he? He'd only known the man for a few months. For all his lectures and warnings, this might just be the norm.
Marcus made a face; the kind a child might when confronted with vegetables for dinner. "I spent most of the week building my window. It was perfectly normal to need some sleep, afterwards."
Dan raised an eyebrow expectantly. "But...?"
A sigh came from the older man.
"I designed the window for observation only. It cannot interact with the gap. It cannot," Marcus emphasized, giving Dan a glare. "I'm not a complete fool. I am perfectly capable of building something the way I intend it to be built."
The doctor's mouth twisted into something awkward. "Though I am also human, and thus capable of making mistakes. The machine cannot interact with the Gap. I, on the other hand, can. If only in a limited fashion."
"Because you have a power?" Dan asked, mind whirring. He didn't know what the doctor's power was, exactly, but he had a few guesses. The fact that the man's mind was so heavily effected by exposure to the gap gave weight to his theory.
Marcus perked up at that. "Quite so! You've been paying attention to my lessons, Daniel."
"More than you have at least," Dan muttered beneath his breath.
The doctor ignored his comment, plowing onward with barely suppressed glee. "The device, to use your own words, leaks!"
Marcus let out a bright laugh. "I didn't even notice until you mentioned it! It's fantastic,"—Dan leaned away from him at this point—"and practically confirms my theory about the origin of powers!"
"This should really worry you more," Dan pointed out nervously.
"Oh no, not at all," Marcus replied, waving his hand dismissively. "On the contrary, now that I know that it's happening it should actually be quite helpful!"
Dan groaned as his palm met his face.
"My power gives me a limited control over my own biology," Marcus explained candidly. "I've occasionally used it to increase my intellect, but it isn't a state that can or should be maintained for long periods of time."
Dan almost interjected, aghast that the man was choosing now of all times to share personal information. It was so out of character that Dan was beginning to suspect some sort of alien bodysnatcher. Maybe the mad scientist that Dan knew had accidentally swapped places with a version of himself that wasn't an anti-social hermit?
Marcus remained oblivious to his suspicions, however, and continued to ride the high of discovery. "After all these years, I thought I had discovered everything there was to know about my power. I thought that I had found my limits. But then I stared into that lens, into that abyss of nothing and everything, and I dreamed up new limits!"
The following giggle was manic, hysterical even. His eyes were wide and glistening, his arms spread-eagle. "I thought to myself, if only my old friends were here to see this. If only I could have shared this with them..."
His voice drifted off, filled with nostalgia.
Dan thought back to when he had first found Marcus, to the man's waking words and confusion. A worrying conclusion presented itself.
"You weren't dreaming," Dan accused more than stated. "You were reliving old memories."
"Like I was really there," Marcus murmured reverently. "Like I had gone back through time as easily as shutting my eyes. I've never been able to do that before. To view memories like dreams, to visit the past in sleep."
"That barely counted as sleeping, Marcus," Dan pointed out apprehensively. "I had to practically concuss you to get you conscious. What if I hadn't been there?"
The doctor shrugged blithely. "Then I would've kept dreaming, I suppose."
He was remarkably blasé about that possibility. Where was the cautious, rational old man that had been here just a week ago? The teacher, the mentor, who Dan was relying on? He needed to get away from this subject, for the sake of his own sanity if nothing else.
"Earlier, you said that you put me in danger. What would have happened if I'd teleported into that room?" he asked. His anger returned with the question. Rage and disappointment. How dare the old man ignore his own rules! How dare he put Dan at risk!
To his credit, Marcus appeared contrite. He wringed his hands together, seemingly losing some of his giddiness.
With some hesitation, he admitted, "I don't know. Possibly nothing."
"Possibly?" Dan repeated, clenching his fist. Never before had Dan wanted so badly to punch a man in the mouth. It was an interesting feeling, and one that he looked forward to exploring.
"Your power lets you move in and out of the Gap at will, Daniel. It obviously has a much stronger connection to that place than my own power would." Marcus shrugged, only barely making the act seem apologetic. "Maybe you would've been fine, or maybe you would've been stuck in the Gap, unable to return to real space. I don't know how your power interacts with the, erm, leakage."
Dan's face was set in stone.
"You said you could hear... whispers?" Marcus glanced over for confirmation, and received a minute nod. "Right. I don't know what that could be, either. I just don't know enough about anything, yet. But I will, I just need time. This could be—"
"Revolutionary. Yes, you said," Dan acknowledged wearily. He felt an unexpected wave of fatigue as he spoke. This wasn't what he had expected when he woke up this morning but he was tired of being angry.
Was he being selfish? Unreasonable? Was this situation not as insane as it appeared on the surface? Maybe it was some kind of other-dimensional thing, some weird quirk of culture and history that made these circumstances acceptable in Marcus's eyes. Dan just didn't know.
Perspective was so hard to find on your own. Dan needed another confidant, another companion that he could be honest with. Someone that he could trust to be honest in turn. He had ideas on that front, but he still had questions that needed answers. Better to ask them now, while Marcus was in a sharing mood.
Dan let out a heavy breath, and faced the doctor. He asked the question that had been bothering him from the beginning, the question that he had wanted to ask on the very first day he had arrived.
"Why do you care?"
Marcus blinked in confusion, so Dan elaborated.
"So what if it's a major breakthrough? So what if it could revolutionize the world's understanding of superpowers. Why does it matter? Who, exactly, would you even tell? You're up here, alone. Isolated. A hermit on the edge of existence.
"Why do you care?"
A grimace crossed the old man's face. "Is a thirst for discovery not reason enough?"
Dan crossed his arms and scowled.
"Don't fuck with me, Marcus. This, right here," he jabbed a finger towards the center of the lab, "this isn't normal. I don't care what anyone says, these were not the actions of a sane man. This is about two shades shy of a dumb teenager making napalm in his parent's basement. I can't say I know you that well, but you've been nothing but meticulous in the past. How is it that you've suddenly set the house on fire?"
Marcus's face ran through a gamut of emotions, from anger to sadness to guilt, before finally settling on a sort of nostalgic wistfulness. He spoke, quiet and reminiscing, "It's a long story. I made a mistake once, a long time ago. I couldn't... I don't know what I did wrong. It cost me."
He met Dan's eyes, his voice grim. "It cost me everything. When I left Earth, I told myself that I'd find out where I went wrong."
He laughed then, a sad, hollow thing. "I failed. Every experiment, every risk, every idea, failure after failure until I was just... existing out here, with nothing but hints to sustain me. Then you came along, and suddenly there was a way forward. Can you blame me for my haste? For my excitement? The truth is so close that I can taste it, Daniel. I've waited so long!"
His rant ended in a bellow that echoed off the walls of the lab. The two men eyed each other, each searching for some sort of recognition in their companion. Some sort of acknowledgement that their concerns, their reasons, were understood.
Dan broke the silence first, lowering his head with a loud sigh. A feeling lingered in the air between them, a sense of inevitability, of finality. Something had changed between them in the short week that they had been apart. A shifting of priorities for them both.
Dan was no longer at the top of Marcus's list. That was fine. The doctor didn't owe him a thing. He'd been more than accomodating to the lost little idiot that had arrived on the station months ago. He'd taught Dan a decent amount, might teach even still, despite this new development. He'd given Dan a home, a source of income, a friend. Dan owed the old man. He couldn't begrudge him his closure, no matter how reckless the process of achieving it might be.
It was Dan's fault, really. He had placed all his eggs in one basket. He had been passive, drifting along in life with only a vague goal to guide him. He had looked to Marcus for guidance, for training, for answers. Too much, too many expectations for the one man. Dan had wanted a silver bullet for his own ineptitude, and so had latched on to the first moderately competent figure he had blundered into.
He was acting the same as he always had, taking the simple and easy path.
The thought rankled him. He was supposed to be better than that now. Wasn't that what he had decided? To become the sort of man he could be proud of? He had been granted a do-over in life, a clean slate, a fresh start.
He refused to squander it any longer.
"I think," he began, choosing his words with care, "that you should focus on your research. It's clear that this is important to you. My presence here would be a distraction at best."
Surprise crossed the doctor's face, followed by regret. "I told you I would train you, Daniel, and I meant it."
"But not now," Dan finished for him.
Marcus hesitated. "Not... right now. My research can help us understand your power, as well. It might be better, logically speaking, to wait until I've made some more progress."
"That's fine," Dan said with a shrug. He was resolved now. No more hesitation. No more passivity.
"Give me a week— two weeks. A month, at most," Marcus continued quickly. "Without studying your power, I never would have been able to make so much progress. I owe you, Daniel. I intend to pay that debt."
Dan waved him off, still lost in thought. "You've done plenty for me already, doc."
But it was time for Dan to start thinking for himself. Keeping secrets, keeping others at a distance, Dan had been following the old man's lead without even realizing it. Marcus had been a good friend and a decent teacher, but his way could not be Dan's.
It felt important, somehow, to find his own path.
"Where will you stay, in the meantime?" Marcus asked him. The old man seemed caught between guilt and anticipation, his eyes occasionally flicking towards the center of the lab where his research waited for him.
"A hotel for now," Dan replied, feeling remarkably at ease with his decision. The road less traveled by spun out before him in all its wondrous mystery. Excitement filled him, anticipation, a sense of purpose. He hadn't the slightest clue where the road would end, but he knew the first stop.
"I'll be in Georgia, first," he added to Marcus.
"Visiting that friend of yours?" Marcus questioned, pleased that Dan would not be alone. "What was her name again?"
"Abigail," Dan replied, his lips curling upwards. "Her name is Abigail."
"It's good that you've got friends," Marcus said gruffly. He patted Dan awkwardly on the back. "Being alone... isn't all that it's cracked up to be."
"I'll visit occasionally," Dan reassured him. "And you've got my email address."
He worried about leaving the mad scientist alone, but not enough to make him stay. Very little could have convinced him to sleep in the same structure as that eerie hole in reality. Marcus was an adult, and Dan was not his keeper.
Marcus seemed unconcerned. With his grin returning, he stated, "I have plenty of work to keep me occupied. And so will you. You should take my book along with you. Consider it a homework assignment."
Dan snorted. "Sure thing, old man. I'll read that dry encyclopedia if it keeps you off my back."
The pair laughed together one last time. They glanced over the lab in all of its jumbled glory. Marcus smiled at the disarray, while Dan shook his head in amusement.
"Good luck with your experiments," Dan said, holding out his hand.
Marcus gripped it tight. "Good luck with the girl."
They shared a grin, and Marcus finished, "Now take your rat and get off my station. I've got work to do."
They parted then, one man retreating to his quarters, the other to his research.
Each of them searching for their own answers.