(PETE tries his best to follow PHINEAS down the sand dune, but finds it rather difficult going. He staggers a bit next to the time traveler’s firm strides as they head down to level ground, where they find WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT, sweat through with exertion and argument. WILBUR’S is the first voice we hear out of the melee.)
WILBUR: It’s not working, Orville. The power is ample, but it keeps stalling after takeoff.
ORVILLE: It’s just a mechanical flaw, Wilbur. We’ll work it out. Trust me, if we can get the engine to start and run correctly, it will fly… beautifully!
WILBUR: That is what you always say, brother! How many times have we failed, hm? And each time, with each stall and crash my resolve weakens. I am sweat through from working the Flyer and arguing with you; I’m bound to catch cold in this dreadful headwind.
ORVILLE: Wilbur, please…
WILBUR: Enough, Orville. Each time we think the goal is within our grasp, we are faced with a new and insurmountable task. It is impossible, or God does not will it. I have said it often before, brother… if man is to fly, it will not be within our lifetimes.
PHINEAS: (approaching the two men) Well, now, I wouldn’t say that…
(The two brothers, deep in their conversation, jump in surprise at the sudden appearance of the well-dressed man and teenaged boy.)
PHINEAS: It seems to be just a trifling error with your propulsion system, nothing more.
WILBUR: And who are you, sir, who has been listening in so rudely to our conversation?
PHINEAS: (without missing a beat, extending his hand to be shaken) W.C. Brinkley, local businessman, and this is my assistant, Johnny Moore.
PETE: (with a nervous wave) Uh, hi.
(The Wright brothers shake his hand, although WILBUR remains skeptical)
WILBUR: Mr… Brinkley. Hm. Pray tell, how is it you know of our device’s problems?
(PHINEAS taps a finger to the side of his nose and gives a wink)
PHINEAS: My dear Wilbur, everyone could hear the problems you two were having all the way to Hatteras.
(WILBUR blushes a little and starts to admire his shoes, while ORVILLE steps in)
ORVILLE: Forgive my brother, sir. He is very frustrated with our continued lack of satisfactory results.
PHINEAS: Well, I can’t say as he particularly SHOULD be!
(WILBUR’s head snaps up, glaring at PHINEAS)
PHINEAS: Oh, don’t look at me like that. You two are pioneers, out on this freezing land of blasted sand! Do you think everyone has a prototype Flyer like yours just sitting in their backyards?
ORVILLE: No, but…
PHINEAS: But nothing! You are blazing a trail where very few, if any, have walked before. You’re often working on nothing more than theories and conjecture, like that rubbish Smeaton coefficient…
(WILBUR looks at him differently, now, interested.)
PHINEAS: And it’s your job to somehow make it into reality. Now, don’t you think you’ll suffer a bump or two along the way?
WILBUR: In all due respect, Mr. Brinkley, we have had more than a few…
PHINEAS: (beginning to challenge him) And do you think that stopped DaVinci? Or Marconi? Or Morse?
WILBUR: (challenging right back) Those are great men of science! What are we, two bicycle makers from Ohio!
PHINEAS: Well, of course you will be, if you act lie that!
PETE: (jumping between them) OKAY! That’s enough of that. Don’t need you guys beating the crap out of each other right here on the beach.
ORVILLE: (confused) beating the what?
PETE: (covering quickly) Er, nothing. (to PHINEAS and WILBUR) You both need to calm down, though.
WILBUR: (exhaling loudly and stepping away from the confrontation) You’re right, son. I do apologize for my behavior, Mr. Brinkley.
PHINEAS: (smiling) There is no need. I only hope you’ve taken my words to heart.
WILBUR: You make it sound so simple, so easy. You speak of us as if we were beyond mortal men, yet I have only just met you. From where do you get your strength and conviction?
PHINEAS: (smiling broadly now) Call it an inclination. Someday, I’ll wager, the names Orville and Wilbur Wright will grace the pages of all history!
WILBUR: (rolling his eyes) You certainly are a confident one.
(WILBUR then sneezes rather nastily)
ORVILLE: (coming to the rescue) Oh, dear, Wilbur. I knew you’d catch a chill out here like that!
WILBUR: It’s nothing, Orville, nothing.
PETE: Still… you should probably take tomorrow off. Rest up, and try again later.
ORVILLE: It will take us some time to make the necessary repairs. Until then, it is probably best that we retire. I’m starting to worry about my brother.
WILBUR: If you fussed over the Flyer like you did me…
ORVILLE: (ignoring his brother pointedly) If you’d like to join us for dinner, I think we can make room for you. You seem to know quite a bit about aviation, Mr. Brinkley, I’d like to talk with you a little more.
PHINEAS: Oh, I don’t know if I know THAT much… but I never turn down a meal!
PETE: That’s pretty obvious.
PHINEAS: (under his breath) Quiet, you.
(fade scene to after dinner. PHINEAS and PETE are reclining in a makeshift living room in part of an old storefront the Wright’s are renting in Kitty Hawk. PHINEAS is gleefully picking his teeth.)
PHINEAS: There, now, my boy… for the turn of the century, it wasn’t a bad meal, was it?
PETE: I’m more hungry for a Whopper.
PHINEAS: Odd note, through almost all of the rest of recorded history, the period from 1890-1910 is constantly referred to as “The Turn of the Century,” more out of habit than anything else. Hundreds of years in the future, and THIS is still where the century turned. In a larger sense, I suppose a lot did turn, but…
(ORVILLE emerges from another room, drying a mug with a rag)
ORVILLE: I hope you enjoyed dinner, gentleman. Mr. Brinkley, you have an appetite that is only matched by your topics of conversation.
PHINEAS: I do what I can.
ORVILLE: But your boy is awful quiet. Does he… fear being in the Carolinas?
PHINEAS: I can’t see why he would. Lovely place you have here… a bit cold, but lovely.
ORVILLE: No, sir, I meant…
(There is a crash coming from the kitchen, which all three rush to investigate. WILBUR is found face down on the wooden floor amongst a mosaic of shattered ceramic. ORVILLE drops to his knees, wincing as sharp shards dig into his legs.)
ORVILLE: Dear Lord… he’s burning up. Something’s wrong… he must have over-exerted himself today… Oh, God…
(WILBUR moans a little as ORVILLE looks up at the two houseguests.)
ORVILLE: Mr. Brinkley, can you help?
(PHINEAS wastes no time and kneels down as well)
PHINEAS: I’m going to need a cool washcloth for his forehead. Run and fetch it, will you?
(As ORVILLE turns to do what he’s bidden, PHINEAS sneaks the Omni from his pocket and scans WILBUR’s face)
PHINEAS: Oh, my.
PETE: What? What’s going on?
PHINEAS: (rising) There’s no time to explain. (to ORVILLE, who has just returned) Do you have a car?
ORVILLE: A truck, out back… but it’s not much of one.
PHINEAS: It will have to do. Is there a druggist, or chemist, or…or… damn, what’s the word?
PHINEAS: Yes, that’s it! Is there one nearby!
ORVILLE: It’s a short drive up the road, but–
PHINEAS: Then you stay here and watch after your brother. We shall get the necessary medication.
PHINEAS: No buts! Time is crucial and we must go!
(with that, PHINEAS and PETE exit the house and take off in the truck down a bumpy dirt road)
PETE: You mind telling me what the hell is going on?
PHINEAS: WE are going on, you and me. And on and on and on…
PETE: What does that mean?
(the truck takes a sharp turn as PHINEAS looks at PETE, a grave expression on his face)
PHINEAS: Do you know what Influenza is?
PETE: Of course I do! I’m not an idiot.
PHINEAS: Do you know what Spanish Influenza is?
PETE: (grudgingly, after a pause) No.
PHINEAS: The Spanish Flu was a pandemic that killed between 50 and 100 million people from June 1918 to December of 1920. There are several schools of thought as to its origin.
(the truck goes over a particularly nasty bump)
PHINEAS: Unfortunately, in my haste I forgot to innoculate you to the dangers of time travel, particularly the microbial ones.
PETE: Like this Spanish Flu?
PETE: But I feel fine!
PHINEAS: Of course you do! By your time the Spanish Flu was a distant memory, a thing for books no one ever reads anymore. Your bodies had all adapted to fight it, but the microbes still clung to your flesh, your hair, your clothing, trying vainly to infect you… or someone else. The people of Kitty Hawk in 1903 have no such defenses…
PETE: Do you mean…
PHINEAS: Yes, Mr. Rodney… we just started the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 fifteen years too early.