Kennealy tried to focus on Atticus as he lowered himself into the tank. Atticus was a stable platform. He was logical, and reliable, and they seemed to be making progress in their work together.
Yet his eyes were drawn to Ruby. She often came to observe his jaunts, always with a nurse, friend, or other caregiver. Her tom was always close by as well.
He closed his eyes, then opened them again and focused on Atticus. He wanted to control which platform he used. He wanted stability.
The goo tingled, and he knew the moment was mere seconds away.
Against his conscious will, his eyes fastened on Ruby again. Her fingertips traveled from her cheek, along her neck, brushing her breast ever so gently before settling on her abdomen. He knew she was feeling herself breathe.
She inhaled, and he was gone.
Forty-eight hours. His first task was to identify where and when exactly he was. With each jaunte it became easier. Sometimes he couldn’t find an anchor or marker till he was almost done, but at least he could find something. Most of the time.
Math and music. No marker, nothing to identify him in time or place. He memorized the beat. Math usually meant Atticus was his platform.
Atticus was listening to Helen sing. It was neither sound nor sight nor any other traditional sense… it was something else. Helen’s voice did something to Atticus. It calmed him, helped him to concentrate. He was thinking about the formulae Kennealy had sensed during his last jaunte.
Kennealy dove and explored. Memory was key, there was no other recording device. His brain was non-corporeal, yet somehow an analogue for his body was remembering and taking care of all the tasks his body would usually perform.
There was much to do. He noted markers whenever he could. A potted palm, a scent that really was a scent and not a representation of something else. His forty-eight hours was not a duration for him, it was a field to explore. The edge of the field always reached back to the time from which he’d embarked, stretched forwards by the machine that made it all possible.
A persistent buzzing harassed him. It was uncomfortable, so when he couldn’t shoo it away, he climbed back onto his platform.
Poppies. He smelled poppies in his future. It was strange… to his knowledge, he had never actually smelled the flower, but he knew they existed, and he recognized the smell.
The buzzing had followed him. But it was hovering near, not bothering him. It sat on a corner of the Atticus platform… then hopped.
Kennealy hesitated a moment, then followed it. He found himself stuck on a pole in the middle of a field, watching impatiently as a little girl stopped to say hello to a yellow bird. He really wished she would hurry up and get to him; he was sure she would help him get unstuck.
The yellow bird twittered hello to Dorothy, then flew to him. It perched on his wrist momentarily, chimed “Cuckoo!” and flew away.
He gave chase, but it was too fast. The bird knew the way, he did not.
Then he recalled promising that he would find a way to affect the movie if he could. He remembered that there had been a momentary burst of static when he had been physically in the room. Ruby claimed he did that.
He sat on the Atticus platform, yoga stlye, lotus position, whatever that meant to his non-corporeal self, willing the world around him to change.
Time slowed around him. He knew he was there, at Atticus and Helen’s home, in the theater watching a movie. He felt the music. But he could not do anything.
He felt a tug. He discovered that he wanted to switch platforms, and so he did.
It was the first time he voluntarily went to Ruby.
Suddenly he sensed his surroundings with every nerve analogue he possessed. He laughed, and his laughter was rude.
It was static.
He was giddy. He couldn’t sit still. He had to dive.
The Ruby platform refused to let him dive. Instead, he found himself spinning down a slide, losing all sense of direction till he splashed into something.
Instinctively, he tread water. But it was taste, not the sensation of wetness.
He couldn’t identify it. Not sweet, not fruity, just… filling.
He couldn’t find any markers, but there were distinct sensations and he made an effort to remember and catalogue them all.
He grew tired. He had a sense that his duration was no longer than usual, yet he was travelling farther and wider than he ever had before.
He sighed and fell backwards. Enough work. He wanted to float for a while before going back.
He smelled chocolate. He opened his mouth, and tasted it. There was no texture at first. Some other sense was tempting him, and he wanted more. He had no body, but he felt like every sinew was humming. There was something he wanted…
He jumped back.
Something he wanted, but why was he reluctant?
He looked around him. There was no sign of the Cuckoo. It had disappeared after the stunt in the theater.
He knew Ruby was near. He knew he wanted to be with her. Did he have a reason for his reluctance?
He couldn’t think of a reason to stay away. He felt her pulling him, and he finally gave in.
The water was more comfortable to him than the photos had been in the movie studio. He could sense the water. Could he influence it?
He touched her cheek, and she wanted more. He caressed her neck…
But it only made her more needy.
How would she interpret this?
But he knew with a certainty that she wanted him there. He knew everything about her. He knew that she could only sleep comfortably if her feet were warm. He knew why she hated wearing socks. He understood her drive to succeed… and her utter and complete acceptance of being a platform instead of a chrononaut.
That thought gave him pause. There was a reason Ruby had been selected as one of the first chrononauts. She was a superb physical specimen of humanity. She was highly intelligent, and before being scrambled she had been a most articulate, scientific person.
She would be a doting grandmother.
Kennealy pondered the thought. Wouldn’t she have to be a mother before she could be a grandmother? Could she have a relationship, get married, raise a family, with her challenges?
The thought of another man touching her caused him to rage. He felt her squirm, and he realized he’d been absently touching her the whole time.
Ruby was sad.
Ruby was frustrated.
His protective instincts kicked into overdrive, wanting to fix everything for her, to make her whole again.
He wanted her to have everything she needed.
He wanted to be everything for her.
And there was one way he could do that…
Or could he? Like this?
He thought back to the theater, and how it had felt to control the photons and electrons to create the static. It was another sense, another muscle, another neural pathway. There was no electricity surrounding Ruby, but there was something else… something that smelled like chocolate.
He touched her, and she responded. He continued, trying different ways to affect the physical world, to affect her. To fix the frustration in her.
They were attached somehow. More than just platform and application, there was a connection that joined them. He brushed away her sadness, and implanted hope. He took that hope, and grew it to joyful expectation. He gave all of himself to her, reluctant no more.
And she was fulfilled.
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