Kennealy playfully flicked a glob of goo at Atticus, his good ole’ stable platform. He wondered if any of the machines would be able to measure the tension he felt in the room. It was certainly palpable. He knew they were worried about him, but all he felt was a thrill of anticipation.
He’d hardly left Ruby’s side since they’d made love, an act they had repeated several times over the course of the day. (Once in the supply closet of the new lab, but he wasn’t about to share that information with anyone.) They were both unreasonably giddy, happy with the rightness of it all. It was like something that should have been finally was.
She seemed to be learning to shoo away her visitors when they were not wanted. It was easier when she was near the clock, but there were other instruments with similar power sources in the supply closet, and they were not interrupted when they were near.
After lowering himself into the tank, a stab of guilt washed over him. He wanted to jump out, but he had less than a minute. He realized that, in all their time together, he had never told Ruby he loved her. She seemed to know, and the words seemed superfluous, yet he wanted to say them, to make them his own. He mouthed them to her, and she mouthed them back right before the machine flung him three days into the past.
Kennealy swam. That was the best analogy he could think of. The current was moving as usual, taking him with it. But with a little effort he could maneuver himself around.
He performed the usual explorations, recording the taste/emotions and sound/displacements as best he could in his own mind. Someday, they would have to design some kind of recording device he could take with him instead of sending him off with nothing but his skivvies.
And then he saw the clock. Strangely, it looked much the same in the non-corporeal realm as it did when his body and eyes were intact. There were songbirds flying to and from it as if it were a bird airport. Some birds perched on the top, others found resting places in various other nooks of the decorative façade.
He was still far enough away to view the clock as a whole. He looked down, and saw what looked like water swirling around the base. Out of nowhere, a snake was swept in by the current. The birds glanced down curiously, but seemed to pay it no mind. The reptile curled itself around a niche in the base, and seemed to rest.
Kennealy closed his eyes, but he still saw the clock. This time it was not birds, but lights and spiral patterns flying to and fro. He opened his eyes again and watched the birds. They did not seem to match up; there were more birds than lights, and none were in the same positions.
“Hello…” he said tentatively. He looked for the robin or the cuckoo, but found neither. A few of the others chirped at him, and it did seem like a friendly greeting.
He approached the clock carefully, and it turned out to be much larger than he’d realized. It was as if he himself was the same size as the birds.
As he got closer, he felt the current pulling him past. But he grabbed onto the corner of one decorative piece, hauled himself into a niche in the woodwork and made himself comfortable. He looked up, and a couple of sparrows looked back down at him. “Please, tell me about the clock. Tell me about yourselves.”
The two sparrows took turns tweeting at him, as if they really did understand and were doing what he asked, but he couldn’t understand a word. They didn’t seem to mind that he didn’t understand, they continued to lecture him anyway.
“Is everything all right? Do you know who sent the distress call?”
“Not yet.” Said the sparrows. It was a chirp, a tweet, but he understood the words. Whether they meant “We don’t know yet” or “It’s not time yet” he couldn’t tell.
The sparrows flew away. Kennealy watched the other birds, but they didn’t seem to notice him.
He felt a tug at his heartstrings. It was a definite pull, and an emotional one. Something told him it was not Ruby, but it was female. He looked around, but the birds all seemed to be gone. He closed his eyes, and saw the swirls. An orange sunburst told him “Don’t stay!”
The words were a smell. He was accustomed to such odd idiosyncrasies. He took the advice, falling backwards off the edge of the clock.
Free-fall was fun. He had learned to identify the sensation of free-fall with the fact of moving in time at the same rate as the physical world. He found Atticus, and spent some time with his platform, going through the exercises they had talked about, and hoping to gain a greater understanding of how the non-corporeal chrononaut was interacting with the corporeal world.
He exhausted the progress he could make with Atticus. Duration was an odd thing; he couldn’t tell how long he’d been in the stream. He had learned to stroke backwards, to take a second or third look at something. He could even freeze at a particular moment, and look at a tangle from multiple angles.
Abandoning his stable platform, he found himself on the clock again. He fell directly onto the face, grabbing the hour hand and holding on until he found his balance. Once he was oriented again, he soared to Ruby.
The sense of pure joy that engulfed him when he found her was overwhelming. He remembered how they had spent most of the last day, and swam with the current. He wanted to reach that first moment.
He found himself in a feathery traffic jam. He wasn’t the only one going to Ruby. She was like the clock, but different.
They flocked to her.
The cuckoo fell into a parallel flight pattern to him. Suddenly he found himself on the clock again, but he understood that it was a different point in the clock’s existence. He was sitting on the base, and the cuckoo was perched next to him. Size was irrelevant. Somehow he felt like they were the same size and the relative size of man to songbird at the same time. Sometimes he was the same size as the clock. Sometimes he was the same size as the bird.
“Move on!” the bird tweeted. Not words, but a clear meaning.
“Did you send the distress call?” Kennealy asked, wading off the clock while still holding on.
Words this time, and for a moment the bird was his mirror image. “I will if you don’t move on!”
Kennealy moved on. He finally felt like he was learning to navigate, but hadn’t yet learned the rules of the road. Was stopping bad? Why did they keep telling him to keep moving?
He spiraled into Ruby, and she welcomed him. He found just the right moment, and lived it over and over. He experienced their first kiss from every angle, careful not to take over her mind, careful to be sure he was just in the background of her consciousness.
He found the water, and it felt like something he could hold in his hands and manipulate. He’d done so before, and Ruby had told him he did it while they made love in the shower.
Kennealy free-fell, moving in concert with real time. It was easier to interact while he was free-falling. It was easier to get his bearings while he was on the clock. And there was even more he could do when he was with one of his platforms.
The birds were far away, but he could feel them just at the edge. He glanced back to the clock, seeing the cuckoo, the robin, and the orange starburst waiting for him.
He turned his attention back to Ruby. He stroked back again and again, going deeper into the feelings and intimate movements between them.
“JACK!” yelled the trio, and he was momentarily shaken from his wife.
Yes, she would be his wife.
He stroked back to her. The time in the supply closet. Then back to the night before, and the shower. He wanted to stay with her; he wanted to relive the experience with her over and over.
He wanted to drown in the sensations.
He wanted to drown in her.
The cuckoo flew by his head, smacking him with an almost physical sensation.
Momentarily disoriented, he looked up, and saw that the spheres were aligned. He wondered how long they’d been that way…
Not that it mattered. Time didn’t matter when he was non-corporeal. He could stay with Ruby…
The cuckoo crashed against his chest, then tumbled away. It recovered, and flew to the spheres, then back to him. Kennealy shooed the bird away.
He wanted to go back to Ruby.
He had to go back to Ruby.
He needed to stay with Ruby.
He wanted to drown.
Drowning was bliss.
The cuckoo flew at him one last time, but he dove into Ruby, drowning in her essence and evading the annoying creature.
He held onto her, cherished her, loved her…
And his exit came and went.
Chapter Fifteen: Lingering
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