Helen had never actually watched a jaunte before. She wondered whether the tension she felt was normal, or if it was heightened due to the distress call.
“…since discovering the relationships with the platforms, we’ve learned so much…” Miranda was explaining. Prattling nervously, actually, though the scientist didn’t seem to realize just how nervous she was. As a trained Psychiatrist, Helen could recognize the signs. Excessive talking being one nervous habit that both Miranda and Atticus shared. “…and the lab is ready to receive at any time now, although he won’t actually arrive for five more–”
She was interrupted by a bubbling and popping from the tank. Helen had been watching the clock, and she knew that Kennealy was not expected to return for five more minutes yet. In fact Miranda was just saying that there were still five minutes left. Yet there he was, masculine muscles and tattoos, incorporating in the tank of goo before her eyes.
He pulled himself up, and she knew something was wrong even before he slipped and fell back in.
It wasn’t Kennealy.
The researchers pulled him up, but his body was limp, a dead weight in their hands. People were rushing everywhere, up to the mezzanine to help those handling him, or rushing to examine the data and see what went wrong.
Helen looked to Ruby. The young woman was absent, completely frozen. Helen gently put an arm around her, searching her eyes for a sign of something, either reassurance or distress. Ruby would not even blink.
“Help me with her!” she grabbed a lab assistant and together they lowered Ruby to the floor. Helen carefully closed her eyes as a med tech rushed in to take over. Helen watched, calming herself as she realized her heart rate was sky rocketing. She had promised Kennealy she would watch over Ruby until he returned.
“She’s all right; the same as she is whenever she blacks out, just far less responsive than usual.” The med tech explained. “Let’s get her up to the recovery area.”
Helen handed over Ruby’s care to the techs who were familiar with Ruby and knew how to care for her, and she stepped into a niche where she could be close and still see what was happening. The unexplained visitor was still unconscious, stretched out on a recovery bed. Miranda and her assistants stood around him, examining him and trying to figure out what had happened.
“Make sure the tank is set to receive again! We have to be ready in case Kennealy…” her words were drowned out by the chaos around her, but her team still turned to do her bidding.
“Should we restrain him?”
“Who is he?”
“He’s regaining consciousness.”
Helen watched as the researchers stood poised over the man’s bed.
He groaned. “This is the recovery lab?” he asked.
“Yes. You’re in the recovery room of the temporal lab.” Miranda answered.
“What is today’s date?”
“September 16, 2436” Miranda replied again, watching him carefully.
The man turned to Atticus, and looked surprised. “You’re Atticus Bester.”
“Yes. You know me?”
The man laughed. “I will.” The joke seemed in keeping with the odd sense of humor all chrononauts had immediately post-jaunte. “Congratulations, by the way.”
“On the birth of your first grandson.”
Helen nearly fell backwards upon hearing those words. How did this man know that their first grandson had been born that morning?
Ruby grabbed her elbow, and used it to help her stand up. Helen glanced back and saw that some insightful lab assistant had run to the supply closet in the platform lab and brought back a mantle clock of the same type as Ruby’s new grandfather clock. It was chiming, and wouldn’t stop, but no-one seemed to want to silence it. Ruby turned back to it, looking mildly perturbed, and placed a pillow over it to muffle the sound.
The researchers automatically made room for her as she approached the bed.
“Sweetheart, it’s not Kennealy…” Helen said, afraid the woman might panic…
“I know. It’s Kurou.” Ruby approached the bed and Helen went around to the other side, to stand with her husband. They watched as she sat on the bed next to him. Her lips were tight, and Helen had the odd thought that Ruby was about to say “And what do you think you’re doing, young man?”
But she didn’t. Instead, Ruby made a tsk sound, licked her thumb, and used her spit to clean a bit of goo off his cheek. “You’re thirty-nine years old. You really should be able to clean your face better.”
“Leniency, please! I just incorporated into the wrong time. I was unconscious up to a few minutes ago. Blame the girl who was supposed to clean me up.” Just as he had recognized Atticus, he seemed to be familiar with Ruby as well.
They all looked towards the foot of the bed, where a very young lab assistant was suddenly frozen, poised with a small hand vac she was using to clean the temporal gel off his body. “What?” she asked, but they turned their attention back to Kurou.
“Your name is Kurou?” Atticus asked. “You’re the cuckoo.”
“Yes, and yes. My name is Kurou, and when I’m jaunting, I usually incorporate as some aspect of a cuckoo bird.”
“How did you know our grandson was born today?” Helen asked. This young man didn’t seem threatening. He was an enigma.
Kurou laughed. “Because…” he looked them both directly, then stated clearly. “That baby is my father.”
Helen couldn’t think of how she could possibly respond to such a claim, but Atticus took over. “Your father? You mean you’re from the future? And you said you’ve incorporated in the wrong time… why?”
“It was certainly not on purpose. I was trying to get Jack to let go.”
“Jack? You mean Kennealy? Let go of what? Of you?” Atticus rapid-fired the questions at him before he could respond.
“Jack Kennealy. It wasn’t me he was holding onto…”
“It was me.” Ruby finished for him. “He doesn’t want to leave me.”
Helen looked from one face to the other, confused. “I don’t understand… how can he be reluctant to leave you? Wouldn’t he be eager to come back to you?”
Ruby’s face turned beet red. “He… doesn’t want to leave… last night. He’s staying in last night.”
A little light went on in Helen’s mind, and she understood. Kennealy had two known platforms. With Atticus, it was all work, all math and research. With Ruby, it was exploring, and finding out what next to investigate.
And it was emotion. She’d seen the attachments formed between the chrononaut and his platforms. Atticus was positively pouty if he didn’t get to spend enough time with Kennealy. And Ruby was Kennealy’s lover; a relationship that had been rapidly blossoming since the day the two of them met.
“Do you know why you ended up incorporating here and now?” Helen asked. She had several questions in mind, but unlike her husband, she planned to ask them one at a time.
“It is only a theory, because it happens so rarely. But when the exit opened and we approached, he stroked back. He didn’t want to leave. I tried knocking some sense into him, but it takes a pretty heavy hit to affect Grandpa Jack at all, especially when we’re both non-corporeal.”
“Grandpa Jack?” Atticus exclaimed.
Kurou smiled. “Yes. He’s my grandfather. My mother’s father.”
Helen smiled at the thought, even though she was still worried for the young chrononaut. But… if he didn’t somehow come out of this alive, wouldn’t that mean he would never have a daughter or grandson? Wouldn’t that cause a paradox? Unless his one night with Ruby…
“Is Kennealy all right? Will he come out as soon as the gate is open again?” Helen asked.
“How soon will the tank be ready to receive?” Miranda asked one of her assistants.
“Ten more minutes… maybe as few as eight.”
“Can Kennealy survive non-corporeal for that long?” Miranda asked Kurou.
“He’ll be all right as long as he maintains a sense of self,” he answered.
“A sense of self? Is there a danger of him… losing himself?” Helen asked.
Kurou took a deep breath before answering. “In the past seventy years, a handful of chrononauts have been lost during a jaunte. Sometimes, we don’t know what went wrong. With a few of them, other chrononauts jaunting with them reported observing them… wandering off. We call it death by Will-o-the-Wisp.”
“They’re not dead.” Ruby stated.
“That’s very true. We don’t know what happened to them. Perhaps they’re happy, out there somewhere, enjoying an existence we can’t possibly comprehend. We just don’t know.”
Ruby looked directly at Helen. “Irony.”
“Jack might not come back to me, because he doesn’t want to leave me. I’m his Will-o-the-wisp.”
Chapter Sixteen: Will-O-The-Wisp
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