As he knelt before his brother's grave, paying his respects, Myron had never felt more lonely and worthless in his entire life.
From the day he was born, he had lived in his brother's shadow. Followed in his footsteps, been there to support him and his family - just as was expected to do. When their father, Maximilian, had passed over, Mostyn inherited the title, and estate, and most of the family fortune. (Myron had received a small portion of it - and true, it was still a significant amount of money - but it was spare change compared to what Mostyn got.)
As the first-born son, Mostyn had always been the centre of the Miskin family universe. Everything had revolved around him. When the boys became old enough to date, matches were immediately made for Mostyn with the daughters of other noble families - while Myron generally got the cast-offs, none of which ever really worked out.
When renowned young beauty Lady Amelia Blackwood had walked onto the scene, Myron immediately lost his heart to her... but unfortunately, so did Mostyn, and as with everything else, he got first pick. As it turned out, the feeling was mutual, and the pair swiftly wed - their union eventually producing three children.
Myron was still undecided as to whether his brother's marriage was a blessing or a curse. On one hand, he was glad to see his brother happy (because, despite any tension, he still loved him), adored his nephews and niece, and was grateful just to keep the beautiful Amelia in his life. But to have someone he longed for so much always so near to him, yet forever unattainable, was absolute torture - and some nights, the lonely young noble would cry himself to sleep in despair.
The entire purpose of Myron's life had been to serve and honour Mostyn. Only now... that was all over. Mostyn was dead: his tragic passing a bolt out of the blue. Amelia - although utterly heartbroken, of course - was at least able to take solace in their children. But Myron, with his parents having both died years before, was totally alone.
A romance with the new widow, whilst incredibly tempting, was completely out of the question. It would destroy the children: Myron was their uncle, not their stepfather. It was too soon, anyway. Far too soon.
With the title and fortune rightfully to his elder nephew Rowan, Myron's life no longer had any meaning, and he had spent the days since the funeral moping around Miskin Manor, his soul constantly torture. Having forever been treated as an extra, a spare part, he'd never had the opportunity to live for himself. And surely it was too late to start now?
There was only one thing left to do.
He'd always followed his brother everywhere. Everywhere. That was his mission - his duty. Why should he stop now?
The creek wasn't too far away. Not a swift way to go, perhaps... but gentle, so he'd been told.
Before he could delve any deeper into his melancholic thoughts, Myron was suddenly startled by a blinding flash of light - followed by a bizarre whirring noise which was like nothing he'd ever heard before.
Rubbing his eyes as the glaring whiteness faded, he found himself blinking over and over again - convinced his vision was playing tricks on him, because there, right in front of him - having appeared out of nowhere - was a shower.
His confusion only grew when the door opened, and a kindly-looking grey-haired man emerged, smiling at him.
"Hello, Myron," he said warmly. "It's nice to meet you."
For a man already struggling to comprehend his place in the world, all of this was simply too much. His veins flooded with icy fear, Myron shook his head violently in denial, and turned on his heel.
"Wait!" the stranger called. "Please! I'm here to help you!"
His ears pricking up, Myron froze like a statue. Intrigued, he slowly turned back towards this mysterious old man, approaching him with baby steps.
"Who... who are you?" he croaked weakly.
"My name's Mally," came the reply. "I'm from the future. I know how tough things are for you right now. What you've... been contemplating. I'm here to convince you otherwise."
"But - but why?"
"Because you're more important than you can possibly know."
As Myron contemplated this, he did something that he hadn't done for quite some time. He chuckled.
"You've - you've got the wrong man," he replied bluntly, hanging his head. "I'm... I'm not important at all. My brother, he was the important one. You must have come for him. Well, you came too late. He's dead. And without him, my life has no purpose."
Mally reached out for Myron, clapping his hands upon his shoulders. The grieving nobleman was shocked by the sudden gesture, but at the same time... it felt comforting.
"That's not true," Mally insisted. "You have no idea what wonderful things the future holds for you."
Smiling, he gestured towards the cabinet with a wave of his hand.
"But come with me," he added, "and you will."
Myron stared at him, feeling even more confused than before.
"What are you talking about?"
With a knowing smile, Mally led him towards that strange shower of his, and opened the door, beckoning him inside.
Myron hesitated. He had absolutely no idea what this thing was, and he was positive that placing your trust in a stranger who'd appeared out of nowhere less than five minutes ago was generally ill-advised. Then again... given his planned alternative... surely there was nothing to lose?
Ah, what the hell.
Thanking Mally, Myron stepped into the cabinet, with the older man swiftly following. As the door clicked shut behind them, Mally began pressing all manner of buttons and switches upon a side panel, and Myron was left gazing through the glass in amazement as Miskin Manor faded into a sea of blue light.
Shapes that were both familiar, and yet incredibly different, to Myron slowly took form within the blue haze beyond. White walls, a tiled floor, a chemistry set here, a coffee machine there. Within moments, it became apparent that he and Mally had been teleported into some kind of laboratory. It caught his interest immediately. He'd always been top of the class in science, back in his private school days. He would even have considered it as a career, had his family duties not dictated otherwise.
As the cabinet door opened and Myron stepped out, he was amazed to discovered the ground was solid beneath his feet. This wasn't just some crazy dream, after all. It was really happening.
As he noticed Myron staring at his surroundings in awe, Mally chuckled, and went to stand by his side.
"Welcome to my humble abode," he said. "Come on upstairs. There's people for you to meet - things for you to see."
As he walked towards a locked, secure-looking door, Myron began to follow - but then stopped as he spotted something rather unnerving on a table a few feet in front of him.
"Good Lord, who is that?!" he cried, pointing.
Mally followed his finger. The cause of his distress was what appeared to be a young woman, dressed in a maid's outfit, unconscious and laid out like a corpse.
"Oh, don't worry about her," he said matter-of-factly. "She's fine. Just charging her battery."
"It doesn't matter," Mally told him, taking his hand. "Come on. I want to introduce you to someone."
After being half-dragged up a stairwell, Myron found himself in some sort of lounge. As he glanced around at the black-coloured wallpaper, he allowed himself a small smile. Clearly, whoever had decorated this room had excellent taste.
His eyes fell upon a sofa beside a bookcase. There, head buried in a glossy magazine, was a red-headed young woman, examining the pages studiously. Such material wasn't Myron's literature of choice, but all the same, it was nice to see someone invested in reading. Intellectual pursuits really were on the wane this days.
"Typical Mina," he said. "Reading, as always. She's always been a bookworm. Heck, she even writes them these days."
As he cleared his throat loudly, Mina looked up, and smiled.
"Sorry, Dad," she said. "I just got caught up in this article about Merlin."
"In the press again, is he?" he replied brightly. "Let me have a look."
Mina passed him the magazine. As Mally read the page, Myron glanced at it over his shoulder curiously - his attention caught by large photograph accompanied by a caption.
Blue-haired rocker Merlin Diamond, accompanied by vocalist and long-time girlfriend Flossie Sundae, has been wowing the crowds nightly on his "Full Velocity" tour. The show named in honour of his famed grandfather, Diamond's playlist included a few covers of Max Velocity's old classics, along with his own bestselling ballads.
"Flossie looks well, doesn't she? Mina remarked.
"Indeed she does," Mally replied, remembering how very different the young woman had once been in appearance. "She and Merlin both came through the procedure beautifully."
As Myron tapped on his shoulder, he remembered himself.
"Ah! Where are my manners? Myron, this is my daughter, Mina Valentina. Mina, this is Myron."
"Pleasure to meet you, Myron," Mina said brightly.
"Charmed, I'm sure."
"Please, take a seat," Mally said. "I'll ask for some tea."
As Myron sat down on the sofa opposite Mina, Mally called towards the kitchen.
"Thomas? Could you come here, please?"
A few moments later, a tall, young-looking man in a smart suit and white gloves entered the room. He might have been imagining it, but Myron could have sworn he heard a quiet whirring noise as he moved.
"Yes, Mr. Miskin?" Thomas asked - his voice carrying a cut-glass English accent.
"Could you fetch us some tea, please? And perhaps some biscuits?"
"My pleasure, sir."
As the butler turned away, Mally snapped his fingers as an afterthought flooded his brain.
"Hold off on the tea - I'll sort that out. Could you please go down to my laboratory? I have a surprise for you."
"A surprise, sir?" replied a puzzled Thomas. "For me?"
"Indeed," Mally told him. "I'm sure you'll spot it the second you go in."
"Thank you, sir."
As Thomas headed down the stairs, Myron nodded approvingly.
"Your servant seems very efficient," he remarked.
"Mmm," Mally replied contentedly. "Time machine aside, he was one of my best inventions."
Myron's jaw dropped.
"Oh, Thomas is a robot," Mina replied, politely but dismissively. "He has very high AI, though. You'd swear he was human, wouldn't you?"
"But he... he looks like life-like!"
"Synthetic coverings," Mally explained. "Took me years to develop, but they work a treat."
Myron groaned, his fingertips gently massaging his temples.
"Pardon my French, but this is turning onto one hell of a day," he muttered. "First, I travel in a time machine. Then, I meet a robotic butler."
He laughed, shaking his head.. but then sighed deeply.
"Look, I appreciate your kindness," he said, "and all this stuff is amazing to see... but you still haven't explained why you came back for me specifically. I mean - I don't even know who you really are."
Grinning, Mally got up.
"I think there's one room here that you really should see," he said. "It should answer all of your questions. I'll lead the way - it's just through that door over there. Mina... will you make the tea?"
Meanwhile, down in the lab, Thomas had curiously approached the table in the centre of the room, and leaned over to look at the beautiful lady laid upon it. As his hand accidentally brushed against hers, she opened her eyes, looked up at him, and smiled.
"Hello, Thomas," she whispered softly. "I'm Mary. Mr. Miskin has told me a lot about you."
If Thomas had had breath, she would have taken it away.
Just when Myron was beginning to think the day couldn't bring any more wonders, Mally showed him into the room he had mentioned... and he found himself completely floored at its contents.
It was a vast, bright hall, reminiscent of a museum gallery, filled with individual oil portraits of various men - trophies and achievements, presumably acquired by them in their lifetime, resting on little tables in front of them.
This alone would have been awe-inspiring enough - but Myron almost lost his mind completely when he looked a little more closely at the portrait nearest the door.
"Hold on!" he cried, utterly shocked. "That's... that's me!"
"That's right," Mally said. "Your portrait was the first one that was ever hung in here. The one that sets the wheels in motion, as it were."
"But... but why am I wearing a lab coat?"
"Because you will go on to become a great scientist."
"Well, not as great as me, of course," he said in joky tones, "but you always were something of an inspiration."
Myron stared at him.
"I don't understand this at all," he said, breathless and completely confused. "What is this place? And who are this people?"
"This room commemorates the Miskin Legacy," Mally told him. "The men shown in the portraits here as your descendants. The heirs to a proud and noble heritage... which all began with you."
Almost childishly, Myron pointed to himself.
"Me?" he gasped. "These men... are descended from me?"
"Come on," he said. "There's even more of them."
Over the next few minutes, Myron led Mally around the gallery, giving a brief summary of the life of each Miskin heir they passed. Myron listened to his stories enraptured - still quite unable to believe that such amazing and gifted individuals were the fruit of his loins.
As they reached the final portrait, Myron laughed in delight.
"That one's you!" he said, pointing to Mally.
"That's right," he answered. "I'm your great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, Mally Miskin."
"Which makes Mina... my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter?"
"Yes. The eleventh generation of our family." Mally replied. "But here's the rub. All of this, these decades of greatness, began with you. If you give up now, then... then none of this will ever happen. You need to stay strong, go out there, and make a life of your own. After all, as our family motto goes..."
He indicated a coat of arms on the wall.
"... E Miseria Ad Meritum."
""From Misery to Merit"", Myron replied thoughtfully. "It's... it's a good phrase."
"Of course it is. You chose it."
"Thank you," he said sincerely. "For bringing me here. I think it's what I needed to see."
"It's my honour... Great-Grandfather."
"I just have one question left."
"Oh? What's that?"
"How did you know to come for me in the first place?"
"Ah!" Mally replied merrily, reaching into his pocket. "As it happens... you sent for me."
He pulled out an old, yellow, opened envelope, with an equally aged letter peeking out from within. As Myron took it from him and examined the contents, doing his utmost to commit them to memory, Mally recounted the tale of the bank employee who had come along on his wedding day - making sure he mentioned the exact date - and handed it to him. Reading the words written in his own erratic scrawl, Myron noted that the date atop the letter was the very day he'd been brought here from.
Re-sealing the envelope as best as he could, he pondered the situation.
"I assume all this needs to stay a secret between us?" he said. "To avoid altering the future? It's not going to be a sweet little bedtime story I can tell my children?"
"I'm afraid not," Mally replied. "No-one can ever know about this except for the people in this house right now."
Hearing footsteps from behind them, the two men turned - and saw that Mina had come to join them.
"I trust you enjoyed seeing the family gallery, Great-Grandad Myron?" she said.
"Very much so," Myron answered, "It's... it's made me feel that my life is worth living. All the same, it's a lot to take in."
"Well, the tea's ready," Mina replied brightly. "Perhaps a cup and a chat would help you process everything?"
"That sounds delightful."
He turned to Mally, nodding towards his daughter.
"Charming young lady, isn't she?" he remarked.
"Yes," Mally answered without hesitated. "I'm very proud of her."
Suddenly, his voice began to quaver.
"She reminds me so of... of her mother..."
As she noticed tears forming in her father's eyes, Mina clasped his hands tenderly.
"Come on, Dad," she said, her own voice close to breaking. "It's... it's going to be OK, I promise..."
Myron's face fell.
"Am I right in thinking," he said to Mina, "that your mother is no longer with us?"
"She passed away three months ago," he explained. "After thirty wonderful years together. Polly. My beautiful Polly. She was my world."
"You... you still have me, Dad," Mina told him.
Wiping away his tears, Mally looked at her, and nodded.
"Yes," he said firmly. "I still have you. My precious Mina Valentina. You bring me so much comfort, each and every day."
"Shall we go and get some tea?" Mina added softly.
"Yes - let's," Mally replied. "After all, it would be rude to refuse our honoured guest some refreshment."
Back at Miskin Manor, having enjoyed Darjeeling and cookies with his descendants, Myron stepped out of the time machine into the luscious green garden - then immediately turned around and hugged Mally tightly.
"Thank you so much," he said. "For everything you have done. You've given me back my will to live."
"No... thank you," Mally replied. "For establishing our legacy. Our family. If it wasn't for you, then none of us would have been here to achieve everything we did."
Breaking away, Myron slowly ventured towards the back porch.
"Can I offer you a drink before you go?" he asked kindly. "I could introduce you to Amelia and the children."
"Best not," Mally told him. "Butterfly effect, and all that."
"Ah, yes... you said," Myron replied, realizing his error. "Shall I see you again?"
"Sadly, I don't think that's wise, either," Mally answered. "Besides... I'm not sure how much time I have left."
"Well, if I don't see you in this life," Myron said, "then I'll see you in the next. Only now, God willing, I'll get to be an old man before that happens."
Nodding contentedly, Mally re-entered his machine, and pressed the buttons. As he saw the flash of light and heard the loud whirr, Myron smiled proudly.
"Goodbye, my boy."
His heart lightened, and filled with hope, Myron headed into the manor. Tonight, he would inform Amelia about his decision to leave his ancestral home and forge his own destiny.
First, however, he had a letter to write.
At the gates of the beautiful garden she now called home, Polly waited about anxiously, checking for a newcomer every ten seconds.
She'd been told that he was coming today. Everything had been arranged... and despite the tragedy such arrivals meant on Earth, the joyful event planned here would surely ease his heartbreak.
Suddenly, she looked up, and broke into a massive grin... as she spotted her beloved husband stepping through the gates.
"Mally! My love!"
Rushing towards him, she threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly.
"I've missed you so much," she whispered.
"And I've missed you too," Mally replied. "I'm so sad to have to leave Mina... but at least I get to be with you again."
"That's not all," Polly said, taking him by the hand. "Come with me. Everybody is waiting for you."
Moving as swiftly as his feet could carry her, Polly dragged Mally past bushes and flowers into an open area of Paradise. Here, Mally's eyes widened in delight as he saw various Miskin ancestors from across the decades setting up tables and laying out refreshments.
"A celebration," Polly told him. "To mark the end of a great legacy."
As Mally looked around at his many relations, he caught the eye of Myron - who simply raised a glass to him, and winked. When a cool breeze brushed through Mally's hair, it brought with it the sound of music. Turning, Mally spotted his much-loved father, in full Max Velocity costume, jamming away on his guitar upon a makeshift stage: a certain pink-haired vocalist singing by his side.
A hour or so into the gathering - after Montague had told some jokes and Mitch had passed around some freshly-baked treats - Libby suddenly jumped up from her place at the table, waving her camera above her head.
"Come on, all Miskin heirs!" she cried. "Time for a photo!"
It took for a few minutes for the ten men to arrange themselves appropriately and choose poses - leading Libby to take control of the situation, moving them around like a film director preparing a scene. But swiftly enough, with a snap of her camera, the deed was done.
On Earth, it had taken ten pictures to document the Miskin Legacy.
Up here, they only needed one.
"I've been thinking," Mally said, once he'd returned to the side of his wife. "All ten of us have done our best to make sure the family name and honour was passed from generation to generation. But what about the future? How much longer are we going to be remembered for?"
"Don't you worry about that," Polly replied. "Mina has it all in hand."
Allowing tears to roll down her cheeks, Mina laid fresh flowers on the graves of her parents. It had been three months since her father's funeral, and the pain was still very raw. Still, for his sake, and the sake of all of her ancestors, she now had to think of the future.
Wrapping her arms around herself for comfort and warmth, she walked across the lawn to the small cottage that had been built four weeks previously - occupying the same spot where Max's mansion had once stood.
There, waiting for her in the open doorway, was Mary - the second robot her father had constructed, and Thomas' bride. When Mina had announced her intentions for the Miskin house, she had immediately arranged for the cottage to be built for them, allowing Mr. and Mrs. Robertson, as they now called themselves, a permanent, safe and happy home. It was the least she could do for them after all of their faithful service.
Managing a weak smile as she neared the door, Mina allowed Mary to lead her into their cosy kitchen - where she was duly offered a cup of cocoa as she, Mary and Thomas continued to discuss their plans.
"So, are you quite sure that you want us to run the Miskin Museum?" Thomas asked Mina. "We would understand completely if you'd rather do so yourself."
"Thank you, but no," Mina replied. "Legally, the legacy ended with my father... and I think I would quite like to follow my own path in the future. That means going out into the world on my own, just like Myron did. But, of course, that doesn't mean I want everything my forebears did to be forgotten. Having two immortal beings such as yourself, who I trust and care for dearly, to look after the family home from here on in will be a massive weight off my mind. I know you're completely capable of handling the responsibility of maintaining the house once it's open to the public... that is, if you wish to do so?"
"It would be our honour," Mary replied. "But perhaps you could do us one favour?"
"I know you aspire to be a great writer," Mary went on. "Your novels are becoming popular, so... perhaps you could write some sort of family history for us to sell in the museum? Put some of your ancestors' amazing stories into words? It would really add another layer to the history on display - don't you think?"
"I do," Mina replied optimistically. "I'll get right on it. But before I go... perhaps you would care to rehearse your new guided tour on me? I'll even be the first to sign the guestbook."
Over the next two hours, Mina took one last look around the house she and so many other Miskins had grown up in: the once-open rooms now cordoned off by plush red ropes, the heirlooms and possessions within now exhibits to be preserved for all time. The only items she asked for were the family photo albums and personal writings, which Thomas duly packed into boxes for her and loaded into her car.
As the sun set, Thomas and Mary stood on the lawn and said their goodbyes to Mina as she prepared to leave: the young woman blinking back tears as she looked upon the grey brick walls and black roof that had been built so lovingly by Myron all those decades ago. After waving back to the new caretakers and wishing them luck, she put the key into the ignition, and headed off down the highway - driving both to her new home, and her new future.
Mina's new abode was a small apartment on the outskirts of Willow Creek. A major downgrade, some would have said, but it had everything Mina needed to be happy. After struggling up several flights of stairs with the boxes of heirlooms, she staggered into her study, set the boxes down - much to the relief of her muscles - and sat at her desk.
Beside her computer and photos of her parents was a pile of unanswered fan mail: letters from well-wishing readers of her books. One gentleman in particular, a high-born individual by the name of Mr. Clements, had expressed some very kind sentiments indeed. Mina made a mental note to reply to him as soon as she could. Perhaps they would even strike up a correspondence - who could say?
Right now, however, Mina had a family history to write.
After looking through the photo albums and skimming the incomplete memoirs of her great-grandfather Marlon - who had studied the Miskin family history incredibly intensively - Mina began to feel a bit lost. She had to fit ten generations' worth of tales into one work. Where on Earth did someone start with a mammoth task like that?
Easy, she thought to herself after a few moments. You begin with the beginning.
Turning on the computer, Mina opened up her word processor, and typed the first sentence of her future magnum opus.
For as long as he could remember, Myron Miskin had always been in second place.
HERE ENDS THE MISKIN LEGACY
Well, here we are, folks! After over eighteen months, and a heck of a lot of work, the Miskin Legacy is finally complete!
And yes... the very last line was also the very first. I also hope you enjoyed seeing the Miskins' Trophy Room - I've been longing to reveal it to you for ages!
Thank you all again from the bottom of my heart for your much treasured support! I hope you'll come back here in the future to check out some of my other projects.
Have an awesome day wherever you are - go out into the world and make it great in your own way!