(When we last left our story, it was April 9, 2018. The Islanders are cleaning out their lockers at the Barclays center, while Jon Ledecky finds himself lured from his season-ending press conference and to a strange gathering in a small lot just behind the arena.)
Ledecky snorted. “You pulled me out of an important press conference for this?”
“Point of order,” objected the Maven. “You left on your own.”
“You weren’t even there! That’s how I knew to leave. So how did you know I left on my own?”
In response, Fischler pulled out a manila envelope from his jacket pocket and handed it over. Within was a typewritten paper enclosed with the front page of the Toronto Globe and Mail, showing John Tavares hoisting a Stanley Cup.
“Holy crap, those guys are getting desperate,” Ledecky muttered. “Nice Photoshop, though.”
“Not exactly,” said Moulson gently, tapping the top of the page. Ledecky scanned it more closely, and then saw the typo: June 13, 2021. “And no,” Moulson broke into his thoughts, “it’s not a typo. That’s the real thing. That’s where he’s going, and that’s what could happen.”
“That’s ridiculous,” scoffed Ledecky. “He’s been telling those guys to get lost since 2011.”
“Seven years can change a man,” Capuano replied. “I mean, look at this guy here,” he said, pointing behind Ledecky. “Remember when you were my shirt guy, Dougie? And now you’ve replaced me.”
“This is a complication,” said Reasoner.
“Nah, Marty, I ain’t going,” said Weight, emerging from shadow.
“Going?” asked Ledecky.
“Yes,” Moulson replied. “You see, all this we’re showing you is actually true. That’s not a ‘shop and it’s not a typo, it’s actually today’s morning edition… or it will be in about 38 months.”
“You really think I’m going to believe this? And going WHERE?”
“Going WHEN, of course,” Moulson said. “But first things first. I know it’s kind of hard to believe that there will still be print newspapers in three years.”
“Dammed strange place, the future,” Capuano muttered.
“The hipsters decided that it was much hipper to actually have a physical broadsheet, and they were all reading papers like, way before anyone else, so the industry will be having a small revival,” Moulson continued. “We snagged a morning edition and headed back here. And here you were… or are going to have been, to be temporally precise. And you had that message for yourself.”
Suddenly Ledecky realized that he had never looked at the typewritten note. “I was wrong,” he read aloud, slowly. “We were all wrong. The center cannot hold. Entropy consumes all, rent asunder. Set the capstone true. Square the circle. Please forgive me.”
“It wasn’t signed,” Moulson said cautiously, “but I know that you wrote it.”
“No… I believe you.” Ledecky looked like ash. “I recognize it. It’s from my high school diary.”
Fischler arched an eyebrow.
“Well I was going through some heavy business back then, OK? I got kind of emo. Look, leave off me on that, all right? Besides, this… my god. It’s like the sloth got a hold of me.”
“Oh, don’t even bring it up,” Cappy said quickly. “Gives me the chills, and I still don’t have a shirt – DOUGIE.”
“Anyway,” said Moulson with a surprising touch of asperity, “quibbles aside, you see what’s going on, Jon. This is the future as it stands this minute… your franchise player off to his hometown, your franchise itself in ruins, and your soul consumed by slothful despair. It’s already written, just waiting to be read. You sent us back to warn you now, to stop it before it can start.”
Ledecky nodded. “Well, I guess I can go inside and fire Garth. Oh, you too, Shirt Boy.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa…” Weight smiled. “I know something you don’t know. I know that this isn’t really how it goes.”
“Do you, now?” said the Maven, practically chuckling.
“I know John. He actually promised me, in great secrecy mind you,” – and he glared quickly at Fischler – “that he could never work for someone as micromanaging as Lou Lamoriello. So this Toronto bullshit is bullshit.” He was too busy nodding in satisfaction to notice the other four men shuffling uncomfortably.
“Hold on a minute, Doug,” Ledecky said, his eyes wide. “They said going, not coming. So being here to warn me now is only the first step.”
Reasoner smiled. “And you guys said he wouldn’t understand!” He showed off his stack of equations again. “That’s exactly right, Jon. We had to come back here because this was our point of origin. The nature of spacetime is such that opening a channel from point to point fixes those two points in an interval of time that cannot be altered. That temporal relationship must be closed by returning to the origin point before the participants may travel freely again.”
“So now it’s possible?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Moulson continued. “You see, we didn’t just go to 2021 and back again.”
“I don’t follow.”
“It’s all in the equations, see?” Reasoner said excitedly, shuffling through more papers.
“What he means is that we weren’t gonna leave this to chance,” Cappy said. “Gotta work smaht and hahd, put in the effort, outta our spacetime curvature and in theirs.”
“Or in other words,” said Moulson with a smile, “we went back and prepared some things. We knew that if you made wholesale changes sooner, then this wouldn’t be happening. But – and it’s terrible to contemplate, but it’s true – if you hire anyone NOW, then the future is not reparable. In fact, the paper we have just shown you turns out to be the LEAST bad possible outcome.”
Ledecky had the sinking feeling that the sketch of the hockey player on a dinosaur wasn’t mere whimsy.
“The problem is, the thing that *could* work is something you can’t do,” Reasoner continued, showing off the final page of his notes. It was a flowchart, with fifteen possible outcomes, many of which were circled in red pen, and several of which were simply labeled DOOM; one corner was missing and the edges were charred, with “LORD, SAV-“ scrawled in what appeared to be dried blood. Reasoner gently tapped the fifteenth outcome, which was just a very large question mark.
“That’s the best chance you got, Jonny,” said Capuano. “And the only way to get it is to hire this guy to run your outfit.” He handed Ledecky the photo of a guy wearing a bandana like a pirate, otherwise decked out in goaltender’s gear.
“Square the circle,” he said wearily.
“Yup. You gotta hire some unqualified schlub goalie to replace the unqualified schlub goalie you got running the joint.”
“My God,” Ledecky sighed, “Section 329 will personally come here and burn down the ar- OH…”
“Right,” said Moulson. “So, like we said, instead of just sending your message back, we went on behind and tinkered with a few things. Now the unqualified schlub is… well, he’s moderately qualified, and not as schlubby. He cut off his ponytail, anyway.” Moulson took Ledecky’s shoulder. “So that’s your shot. You have to hold this press conference one year earlier and put him in charge. Let him clean house.”
“That will fix things?”
“It’s a chance,” Reasoner said, showing him the question mark in the middle of the page. “Nothing more. But it’s all we’ve got.”
“Nah, Mahty…” Capuano shook his head. “It’s a chance we gotta take. Classic line. How can you blow such an easy set-up? Nah, wait, don’t answer that,” he said. “You know I’m kidding. Guy’s the best!”
“Not... so... fast,” said Weight. He was holding a gun. His hand was rock steady and his eyes flat and dark like coal.
“Dammit, Dougie,” Cappy snarled.
“Doug,” Moulson said gently, “you know it’s just about helping the Islanders. It’s not about you, man.”
“Now it is,” he said thinly and calmly. “I am going to wait right here. Ledecky is going to go, and he is going to come back, and when he gets back, we will walk back into that arena, and I had better still be the head coach of the New York Islanders, or I will shoot all of you.”
“Doug,” said Fischler, “this is mad science, you know plans like this never work.”
“No!” Weight snapped. “I worked my ass off for this job! Do you have any idea what I’ve put up with for all these years? You guys are actually so jealous of my success that you’re going to break time and space to ruin my life?”
“What success?” Capuano said. “I’m the one who got us to the second round.” Weight smirked, and shot him. Moulson caught him as he staggered.
“What’s wrong with you?” Ledecky cried out.
“Well, guys, sooner you go, sooner you’re back, and sooner all of this never happens. Unless you’re bringing back the Holy Grail at the same time, I suggest you run along.”
Fischler shook his head. “He’s got us boxed in.”
“I’m firing him the second I get back,” Ledecky said under his breath.
“It’s not his fault,” Reasoner said. “No – really, it isn’t. That’s the problem with this sort of thing. Each equation is like a variable in an entirely different equation, and that equation of equations is a variable in the first equation. It would be easier to map the ocean in a typhoon. Something’s happened to him. Our guy is going to have to fix that too.”
“I know what he looks like, by the way,” Doug called out, smiling sweetly. “So you tell my new ‘boss’ to keep me on, or else a whole lot of time-traveling hockey players are getting new piercings.”
“Eavesdropping is very rude, young man!” yelled Fischler.
“Oh,” Weight said suddenly, eyes snapping back almost to normal. “Oh man. Yeah. Sorry, Maven. I gotta lot on my mind. Gotta go scheme out some new defensive stuff with Cronin.” His eyes began to glaze over again. “Greg will help me. Greg has always helped me.”
He wandered vaguely towards the arena doors and vanished inside.
“We have to do this now,” Moulson said, his shirt stained red to the elbows as he worked. “Cappy’s abs slowed the bullet but I don’t know how much longer he’ll last.”
“We’ve gotta call 911 or something!” Ledecky said.
“How are you going to explain this to the staff at New York Presbyterian?” said Fischler. “You have to prevent it – that’s the only way to save him now.”
“We’ll know the second I get back, right?” said Ledecky. “You have all the time you need.”
“No,” Moulson said. “Remember – these will become points with a constant interval. You can’t leave here, spend a week in the past, and then return to five minutes after you left. However long you spend in the past is however long we will be waiting for you here. If it’s an hour, you will get back an hour later. If it’s a month, it will be a month. And if it’s too late… then it’s too late for Cap.”
“But the changes…”
“It’s called Schrodinger’s Timespace Paradox,” said Reasoner. “While we’re out of our timespace, anything we do both WILL and WILL NOT have happened, and we only see the effects of those changes after we return and the loop closes.”
“So you’d better hurry,” Moulson said. “Take him, quick speech, right back. You’ll meet your new GM on the way. Good luck.”
“On the way?”
“Yes,” said Moulson. “He’s here from the past, right now. When you get back it will be” – he checked his wristwatch quickly – “approximately 44 minutes after he left.”
“Hopefully his return will fix whatever happened in Doug’s mind,” Reasoner said.
“Hey… hey Mahty…”
“Don’t talk, Cappy,” said Moulson quickly.
“Shush…” Capuano waved him off. “Gonna be… fine… Ain’t going… to the Dahk Place… without a fight.” He shook his fist. “YOU HEAR ME, DAMMIT?”
“Sure, Cap,” said Moulson.
“Tell Dougie… I forgive him, boys… if I don’t make it…”
“Don’t talk like that –“
“Tell him… if I don’t make it… for my wake… shirt me just one last time…” He smiled. “Gonna be an epic wake, boys…”
“Not if I can help it,” Ledecky said.
“See, Mahty? Classic… line…” Cappy gave Ledecky a thumbs-up.
“Just get going, will ya?” Moulson said.
TO BE CONTINUED