“But what does it mean?” Kennealy asked Atticus, sitting in itineris while the researchers and lab assistants made all kinds of preparations to him and to the equipment.
“Do you have any idea why Ruby is dangerous?” Atticus asked. He didn’t mean to change the subject. The two men had developed a shorthand way of speaking, understanding each other in a way that others could not comprehend.
“It is the most horrible, ripping sensation, feeling like I am torn between the urge to protect her, and the knowledge that she could be a threat.”
“Did she seem… threatening in any way when you visited her?”
“No. Not threatening. Just…” the chrononaut uttered a two tone whistle and circled his finger around his ear. “…a little cuckoo.”
“Yeah, you know, like she’s not all there.”
“No no no… I meant… have you heard the term brood parasite?”
“You mean how some birds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and the other birds end up raising the Cuckoo chicks?”
“Exactly. The host birds actually develop an attachment to the parasitic chicks.”
Kennealy focused his gaze on his platform partner, somber with the realization of what it could mean for Ruby. “They feel protective towards them… even though they’re a danger to their own chicks.”
They had no time to contemplate this revelation as the researchers said “It’s time.”
Kennealy stood and stretched, giving his muscles a warm up before his jaunte.
“Now, I know I felt you a few hours ago, but only the once. Then again, we’ve learned that sometimes I don’t realize it at the time. And the other thing…”
“Yes. Don’t jagurnaut… it might be yellow, but it’s a meme…”
“I know. I won’t.”
Miranda hovered nearby, recording everything as she had given up trying to interpret the men’s strange communications. Time was announced, and Kennealy lowered himself into the bluish-purple goo, and jaunted.
The urge to yawn was the most difficult sensation to overcome. He had no corporeal presence… that much they had learned from the early tests. But he was still himself, somehow, as if the lack of a physical body were nothing more than a minor inconvenience, like visiting a foreign country where one does not know the language.
He was not sure what he was doing. It was something repetitive, and then he felt a sharp pain. At least, he recognized it as pain. There was no hurtful sensation. But it did provide a sudden focus, and he was in the back of Atticus’ mind. The scientist had cut himself shaving that morning. Whether he was distracted by the sudden arrival of the chrononaut, or if the sharp sensation was somehow an anchor for his arrival, perhaps they could determine after the jaunte. It was a chicken or the egg scenario.
The sensation of cutting himself repeated itself five times in a strange tattoo, one initial beat, followed by three quick in succession, and then one last beat as if to say There. It will be remembered now.
Time did not flow. It simply existed.
Kennealy raised his arms high above his head, even though neither limbs nor noggin existed per se, and dove off the Atticus platform. There were other things nearby to experience. Things which his extra senses were detecting, but which he could not yet label or describe.
That was his primary mission goal. To find out what those other sensations were, and how they could be interpreted. They knew that his synapses were firing in new and exciting ways every time he returned. What exactly those synapses were doing was still a mystery.
He heard math. Somehow he knew it was related to Atticus’ previous research, the project he was currently writing up and closing out. He paid careful attention to the rhythm so that he could go over the equations with his friend later.
He tasted steel, and it seemed to make sense, though he knew he would be struggling to find words to express the experience at the end of his journey. He swam back to his platform, but Atticus was not where he thought he’d be.
One of Kennealy’s unknown senses identified the music as Pink Floyd’s The Wall. He could not hear it. Sound was silent. Sight was gloomy. Taste was salty, a bit too much like blood.
He tried not to think about that.
Yet another sense identified a second piece of music. It was classical, and although he’d heard it before, he had no idea what the name was. He knew he would be spending hours before his next trip trying to figure out just what it was. Such things tended to cause lost sleep.
Non-existent goose bumps rose on his non-corporeal skin. His anxiety level rose. It was not fear, it was…
It was Ruby.
He saw his own face for a moment, the astonished look he had when he’d looked into Ruby’s eyes and seen his own orbs staring back. But this time the experience held no fear for him.
The urge to protect subsided, but another kind of anxiety arose. He couldn’t identify it, but he had a lot of experience in dealing with unexplained anxiety. He knew how bring his heart rate down… or whatever it was that substituted for a heart rate in this state.
He counted by a progression of n… where n1 was equal to three times n0, minus two. He started arbitrarily with eight as n0. Eight, twenty-two, sixty-four… he felt the mathematical distraction helping him to center and calm himself.
He realized Ruby was rearranging shelves of clay pots.
That’s when he heard the cuckoo.
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