Atticus was consumed with the sensation of impending… something. It wasn’t doom, but it was… something. He found it frustrating that he couldn’t express himself. He’d begun studying synaesthesia, learning how people with the condition interpreted the world around them. An entire new branch of the temporal lab had been opened for the study and training of platforms, those people who inadvertantly provided a haven or anchor to the jaunting chrononauts.
Of course, so far, no one actually decided to become a platform. Atticus himself had not even met Kennealy yet when he became the chrononaut’s platform. Neither had Ruby. One goal the new branch had was determining how the connection was made between the platform and chrononaut, and why. Next, they would see if they could create and control those connections.
Atticus definitely felt a connection with the young man. It was an incredible, thrilling sensation, to be able to communicate with so few words and know exactly what that the other person meant.
Helen chuckled next to him. “I believe the two of them have finally become lovers.” She whispered to him. Atticus looked up. Sure enough, Kennealy and Ruby seemed to be a bit more touchy-feely than usual. Ruby was more of an emotional platform; Kennealy was able to experience much more freedom with her than with Atticus. With Atticus, Kennealy had stability. He could get his bearings before Ruby sent him spiraling off on some adventure.
At times, Atticus wished he could jaunte. He wanted to experience it for himself. He was certain it would help him with his understanding of synaesthesia if he could only do it once. But the jaunt required a much younger, stronger body, and Atticus was a grandfather.
Actually, he had officially become a grandfather only a few hours earlier, when their daughter called from the coast to tell them about their newborn grandson. Helen was going to fly out later that day to be with them.
Helen had insisted on coming in to watch Kennealy’s jaunte. The previous afternoon, the core team had sat down with all the chrononauts, all the platforms they’d been able to identify, and anyone who had reported those “strange moments of synchronicity” that might just be contact with a chrononaut.
The cuckoo was still a mystery.
Although they had left Ruby’s clock in her apartment, a pair of researchers had been by to measure and study it, and other similar devices were being incorporated into the new platform study area. They had already had some success, finding that certain energies seemed to be more easily manipulated by the chrononauts. They just had to figure out a language so they could communicate.
Helen had felt terribly guilty about putting the poor little wounded cuckoo in a cage, but the Drs. Knapp promised they would take excellent care of the little bird. Upon examination, there was nothing unusual about it at all.
The biggest worry was the supposed call of alarm. The repeated S.O.S. was more than a coincidence, but they had no idea what to make of it. It seemed too much to believe someone was simply telling them that a little bird was about to crash into Helen’s door.
Kennealy had put everyone’s minds to rest. He was certain he could ascertain what the trouble was when he jaunted. A three day field was a bit of a stretch for him, but he had done two day jauntes with no problems at all.
Helen poked him in the ribs again. Kennealy and Ruby were being cute, and it made her smile. He couldn’t help but smile too; he’d seen pictures of how happy his daughter was with her husband and new baby. Maybe the two young scientists were on the same path.
Ruby was having a bad day. She was in and out frequently, usually only finishing half a sentence before zoning off somewhere. She seemed to like the platform lab. Some of the toys they had brought in seemed to work almost like bait for the unidentified visitors. Frequently, Ruby would come back to cognizance and immediately one of the devices would light up, as if the visitor had left her and gone to it. They even had a movie player of the same type Atticus and Helen had at their home, and it was left on playing The Wizard of Oz in a continuous loop.
When it was close to the time for the jaunte, Kennealy went into itineris to prepare. Ruby, ever by his side, went with him. Atticus and Helen followed.
If there was any lingering doubt as to the nature of the chrononaut’s relationship with the prettier of his platforms, it was all blown away by the searing kiss the two of them shared before he walked out to the temporal lab. The small audience gathered at the lower level of the lab, where they could watch Kennealy lower himself into the tank.
Suddenly, Atticus knew exactly what the term “palpable tension” meant. He felt stretched, like he’d left his wallet back in the other room but couldn’t go back to get it because he absolutely could not miss what was going to happen in the temporal lab. He patted his pocket and, sure enough, his wallet was gone.
Helen handed it to him.
The tension did not ease.
He could feel the tension radiating from his wife, and Ruby looked… blank. She was gone again.
Kennealy could obviously feel it too, but he was doing his best to smile and dissuade their fears. He clicked his tongue, and just as Atticus looked up, Kennealy flicked a little glob of goo at him. Helen laughed, also trying to ease the tension, and she busied herself by wiping the mess off his coat.
As the countdown passed a minute, Kennealy took several deep breaths, then lowered himself into the tank. He folded his large arms in, and crossed his legs so that he was completely suspended in the transitional medium, no part of his body touching the tank walls.
He mouthed “I love you.” To Ruby, who mouthed it back, and then he was gone.
Atticus was becoming accustomed to the routine the researchers performed in changing the settings from outgoing to incoming. Although the planned return was always an hour away, they had streamlined the procedure so that it was always ready after only about twenty minutes.
Helen was playing pat-a-cake with Ruby. Ruby apparently had no idea that she was doing it. But she seemed content enough, and in her most lucid moments, she had reassured her caregivers, her family, and the researchers that she really was all right. She was scrambled. But, for whatever strange reason, she was happy… she had a sense of purpose and rightness about being a platform, not just for Kennealy, but for the unknowns. She insisted they were… though not entirely harmless… they were good. Atticus couldn’t help but be reminded about how his own mother had often referred to him as mostly harmless. Ruby seemed to have that motherly way about her. Perhaps that was what made her a good platform.
One thing Atticus was trying to study and understand was the idea of the field and duration. The machine was set to a field of three days, meaning it was flinging him back in time three days, from where he would gradually catch up to his own time again. It was like a stream of water diverted from the regular flow, carrying them along, but navigable if one knew how. The chrononauts found it very difficult to describe the sense of the duration of their trip. Certainly, it felt like more than the hour they were gone from the corporeal realm. But it was not three days either. Although all the chrononauts came back exhausted and starving, that was to be expected as they usually jaunted on an empty stomach, and it took a lot of energy to maneuver in the non-corporeal realm.
He wondered where Kennealy was at that moment, with ten minutes left before his anticipated return.
He wondered, silently, if the distress call had been Kennealy himself.
How did he know that? He had become more adept at identifying when the non-corporeal chrononaut was with him. He was conscientiously making a point to concentrate on his own, older research whenever he sensed Kennealy’s presence. So many of the loose ends had been neatly tied up thanks to the chrononaut’s insights.
The tank bubbled and popped. He felt like he must have been daydreaming, because he could have sworn that he’d glanced at the clock just a moment before, and they still had five minutes to go.
The familiar muscular, tattooed form began to raise himself out of the tank, then slipped and fell back in. Immediately the lab attendants were reaching for him and pulling him out.
It wasn’t Kennealy.
And on his arm was a tattoo… of a cuckoo.
Chapter Fourteen: Cuckoo Incorporated
Chapter Fifteen: Lingering
Chapter Sixteen: Will-o-the-Wisp
Chapter Seventeen: Rescue
Chapter Eighteen: Over the River and Through the Woods
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