“What can you tell me about her?” Kennealy asked the nurse, observing Ruby from the dark observation room. He felt guilty about watching her like that, but he was afraid of confronting her personally.
He had no idea why he was afraid.
At least it wasn’t like they were spying on her in her quarters. She was in the art room shared by all the residents, working the clay on a wheel. She didn’t seem to have a goal in mind. She coaxed the clay into a wide shape, then convinced it to narrow till she had a tall pillar spinning perfectly, flinging little flecks of clay mud everywhere. She was smiling, as if she had thought she might be able to accomplish some unknown goal, and had. She smelled like pineapples.
He had no idea how he knew that.
“Ruby was one of the first chrononauts to take the plunge.” Archie–nurse and all-around good guy–explained. “She came back from her first jaunte extremely disoriented. She couldn’t even walk, as her sense of balance was so out of whack.”
Kennealy nodded. His sense of balance was usually whacked when he came back from a jaunte. He knew exactly what she meant.
“She recovered fairly quickly, but after a few more trips, the problems got worse. She started blanking out, going into some kind of zombie mode where she’s incommunicable, and doesn’t remember anything.” Archie looked at Ruby. “Oh… there she goes.” Archie pursed his lips, watching Ruby, but he took no action. Kennealy watched carefully. She was still at the clay wheel, but the expression on her face was somehow far away, as if she was listening to a completely different environment. Her hands continued to work the clay, and the wheel continued to spin.
Kennealy felt a clutching in his chest. “Shouldn’t someone do something? Can’t you help her?” he was surprised at the strength of the sensation of helplessness, of wanting to protect. He was naturally a protective person, but this was beyond any reasonable reaction. He hardly knew her, and yet he felt an intense urge to keep her safe.
And he still knew she was dangerous.
He just had no idea why.
Archie shook his head. “If we try to interrupt when her brain takes a vacation, she gets lost. It’s like she’s receiving input from somewhere else, and if we interrupt her, she loses all input altogether, and she can’t function till she wakes up on her own. She’s never done anything unsafe; in fact it often seems to coincide with some artistic endeavor.” Archie’s tensed shoulders relaxed. “There, she’s back again. See?”
Ruby was regarding the clay with a bemused expression, as if wondering “How did it get that way?” It was no longer a smooth pillar. It was ringed with irregular ridges, all perfectly smooth and perfectly symmetrical all the way around.
Kennealy had to get out of that room. He had to reach her, to look into her eyes and know that she was all right.
She only seemed mildly surprised to see him. “Oh. You were here while you were here.” She said.
“Here while I’m here?” It seemed obvious and redundant, but he sensed a different meaning.
“You were here. You could’ve met yourself if you’d been near.” Ruby smiled, seeming to like the fact that her words didn’t make much sense. But he understood. He had seen recordings of himself immediately following a jaunte, and he was like that. He didn’t mean to tease, it just came out sounding that way. “I think you did this…” Ruby giggled. It was as if she knew something, and was just bursting with excitement, waiting for everyone else to figure out what the joke was.
She used a wire to slice her creation off the clay wheel, and used a flat plate to carry it over to the drying shelves. Even though there were plenty of open spaces at waist height, she went through the trouble of rearranging the other pots and sculptures so that there was space available right over her head.
She looked back at Archie and Kennealy, her hands on her hips, a slightly mischievous smile on her lips. She walked over to Kennealy, and he unconsciously put a hand on his belt, afraid she might try to look at his tattoos again. But she just took him by the hand and led him to the shelf.
“No…” she said, when he naturally turned his head to look at the thing. “Turn this way.” She placed her hands on his cheeks, searing him with some kind of sultry heat while turning his head so that his profile was displayed to the nurse.
Archie laughed out loud. “It’s you!” he said. “Your profile. Here, let me show you.” The nurse took his med scanner out, and Kennealy turned his face to profile for a picture. Archie handed over the display, and Kennealy saw that the ribbed pillar of clay was a perfect imitation of his facial profile, reproduced in 360 degrees.
Ruby was no longer paying attention. She was rearranging the shelves. Kennealy approached her cautiously, remembering what Archie had said about her getting lost if they tried to jolt her away from her mind’s vacation. He stood there patiently, watching her randomly move clay pieces in various stages of drying from one shelf to another.
Then she turned to him…
It was his own eyes looking back at him.
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