Time stretched for just a few moments before he climbed out. He opened his eyes, and saw Ruby. She was standing still, lips slightly parted, one arm across her body, her hand gripping her elbow. But as soon as their eyes met, a jolt went through him. It was an emotional sense, something he couldn’t usually identify while he was corporeal. But she felt it too because she smiled. It was a smile of happiness and relief. Somehow, he knew it was not relief over his safe return. It was because she knew he remembered what had transpired between them.
For him, it had been moments ago. Then again, duration was difficult to sense during a jaunte. How long ago had it been for her? Hours?
He felt strong, reliable hands assist him out of the tank and he realized he was lingering in the fluid, reluctant to feel corporeal again. He wanted to go to Ruby, but nearly fell over as he stepped towards her. The research assistants and medics helped him into the recovery area. They were all accustomed to the disorientation and lack of balance that followed a jaunte.
He fought a headrush of sensations as they helped him onto the bed. He was used to it. It would pass.
He felt a warm softness, a comforting music and pleasant smell nearby. He pushed away the chaos and static and opened his eyes to see what it was.
It was Ruby. She was sitting next to the exam bed, holding his hand against her cheek.
He watched her, meeting her eyes, and lingering there. She was innocence. Gentleness. Spontaneity… But she was still dangerous. He felt it deep in the pit of his stomach, like a stone that weighed him down, kept him from moving, took away his freedom.
“Ruby, why are you dangerous?” he asked, before he could censor himself.
She chuckled. “Only dangerous to you.”
He searched her face. Post-jaunte was no time to have this conversation. Then again, perhaps it was the best time. “Only to me? Why are you dangerous to me?”
She let go of him and moved her hand to his abdomen, landing exactly where the stone weight had settled.
The stone shattered. His body floated a meter into the air, then settled gently back down to the bed. Judging by the passive looks on the researcher’s faces, there was no actual levitation. But it had certainly felt that way.
Ruby whispered to him, letting him in on a secret. “We’re in love.”
He knew it was true. His emotional sense may not be as astute when he was corporeal, but he knew he loved Ruby.
But why? His logical senses demanded. He wanted Atticus. He wanted the stable platform, the one that made sense. “Atticus?” he asked.
Ruby pouted, and pushed away just enough to give Kennealy some breathing room.
The scientist quickly approached his bedside.
“Did you hear the formula today? The last part?” Atticus asked, oblivious to the emotional soap opera going on between Kennealy and Ruby.
Damn it, he just wanted a hug!
Ruby squeezed his arm, planting a firm kiss on his bicep.
Kennealy patted her hand, then looked at Atticus. He took a deep breath to clear his head, then asked for a writing board. Atticus nodded and made enthusiastic noises and gestures while Kennealy spoke and diagramed, imparting everything he could about the insights he’d discovered during the jaunte. Atticus understood, even when the bevy of hovering researchers looked at each other with confounded expressions.
Jaunting was no longer just about time travel. That had been the original intent, but the results had produced so much more. Now there were more questions than answers. They knew humans possessed more than five senses. They still argued over exactly what those were, but for lack of better terminology they named them sense of space, sense of time or duration, sense of emotion…
The sense of emotion was what tied a chrononaut to his platform. It allowed him to function. It also created a certain bond between the platform and application.
Kennealy brought Ruby’s hand to his lips before he even knew what he was doing. Atticus had turned to his assistant, listing off the things they needed to do in order to get the most out of the information Kennealy had brought back.
The bond between them was real. But why did it exist? Was it fate? Destiny? He knew he’d visited both Ruby and Atticus as platforms before he met either of them.
But were his feelings real?
Were they his?
Or had they been manufactured by the complex machinery that launched him through time?
He had to know.
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