Schroedinger's Box

by Niko


It was the best thing he'd ever made, Phineas was one hundred percent sure of that. He'd built it without a plan--it had sprung directly from his mind into reality like Pallas Athena. The designs he'd painted on the side were all done by hand with more patience than Phineas suspected he had in him on most days. It was worth it, though, because Julian was going to love it. How could he not love something his little brother had spent weeks working on?

Sometimes, Phineas wished he had a younger brother who could follow him around and do awesome stuff for him. Chances were, though, he'd get pretty annoyed with the kid and it would all be downhill from there. He wouldn’t make as good a big brother as Julian did. No, it was best to just be the ingenious Phineas Maxwell and spend his time proving once and for all that he was the best little brother in the world and a perfect match for Julian.

Birthday preparations were going on all over the estate. While this limited Phineas’s work area to his bedroom, it provided an ample supply of tools and various sundries he'd otherwise have been lacking. He suspected the bits and pieces he'd "borrowed" would be missed eventually, but by the time they were no one would suspect they were now a beautiful part of an original Phineas invention. He was that awesome.

Sixteen seemed a rather arbitrary number to celebrate with such gusto. Customary or not, it didn't really mark any sort of life transition. It was too early for voting, drinking (though Phineas had spied him on more than one occasion in their father's study with half a glass in hand) or financial independence, but too late for the transition from physical child- to adulthood. He wasn’t even finished with school; there was nothing he had today that he hadn't had yesterday except a party. No matter. Phineas liked an excuse for cake and ice cream as much as the next kid. Like so many things, it didn't have to make sense; he just wished it would. It bothered him when pieces didn’t fit together precisely.

It almost felt like a crime to hide his wonderful invention in a box but, again, it was customary, so he put it in and tied the box closed with a ribbon. It looked messy an uncared for though, with the ribbon lying limp across the top, fastened by a small, tight knot. But were bows still girly even if they were on a box? Not that it mattered--Julian wasn't exactly the epitome of masculinity--but there was no reason to be an ass about it on a day that was supposed to be his. Ribbons were wasted if they didn’t have bows, though, so Phineas picked apart the knot and retied it.

Next he found a marker to write his name on the tag. “From Phineas” would probably do, though as his adopted brother perhaps “Love Phineas” was expected. “Love” always sounded funny though. Not funny ha-ha but more a kind of sad funny. Love wasn't exactly in a Maxwell's vocabulary. “From Phineas” would do just fine. The only problem left now was deciding when to give it to him.

It was, after all, the most perfect and amazing present ever devised. It would make all the other presents seem boring and all the other people socially obligated to attended the party would feel jealous for not having brought something so great. It wouldn't really be very fair or nice to give it to Julian in front of others.

And what if one of them wanted to see? Well, of course they'd want to see--who wouldn't? But what if while they turned it over in their hands, they managed to break it? It was one of a kind, perfect in every way! It would be a crime to destroy a present as inspired as his!

Well, it just wouldn't happen. No, even though he would miss the chance to impress the snooty masses, this was for Julian, and so he would have to find a way to get it to him when he was alone. And it would have to be after the party, now that he thought about it. If he gave it to him before, all the gifts that followed would lose their appeal. And think of the triumph to top all those gifts combined with his single present at the end. It would be the perfect climax to an otherwise ordinary and boring night!

And Julian would love it. How could he not love something his brother had made for him?

Well, if he were honest, there had been that time Phineas had made him breakfast. But then again, how was he supposed to know the whole egg didn't go in the mix? Crunchy pancakes were stylistic! Oh, and there was that time he'd invented staircase sledding. And when he'd rewired Julian's hairdryer for greater efficiency and heat capacity (he’d needed a hair cut anyway). And there was the time he'd turned his datapad into a universal remote, but in all fairness, he didn't have his name on the thing, so it wasn't like Phineas was supposed to know not to rewire it. Dad had just gotten him another one anyway. Julian could be such a baby about things like that.

Carefully, Phineas pulled the bow off of the box. One last peek at his machine was all he really wanted. He cracked the top off and peeked in at it.

It looked different in the box than it had in his hand. The smooth black finish was somehow uneven now, and his details were sort of jagged and confusing. This wasn't what he’d put in the box. It couldn't be. His present was amazingly, spectacularly awesome beyond the imaginings of mere mortals! This was…this looked like a little black metal mess that only wanted to be something better, but never would. It was failing miserably just at the attempt.

Phineas took it out of the box and moved it around in his hand. He looked at it this way, that way, upside down way and around way. There was simply no comparing this thing from the box to his gift for Julian. This was a cheap imitation--a sad looking attempt at copying greatness. He couldn't give something like that to Julian. Not on his birthday. He'd laugh or, even worse, hate it and throw it away. It wasn't Phineas's fault if something happened to it when the box was closed.

He set the wreck on his desk and took a piece of paper and began to scribble on it. This would have to do until he could figure out the injustice that had taken place within the confines of the printed box; the paper read "Good for One Invention by the Great Phineas for his Big Brother" in bold and slanted handwriting. As an afterthought, he scribbled below it "or a really big hug and sandwich of equal or lesser value." Slipping the paper into the box and retying the bow around it, Phineas hoped whatever phenomenon had ruined the last gift would work again in reverse or else not at all this time. This was for his brother, after all, and it needed to be special.