Atticus watched as Ruby discorporated in the tank before the countdown even reached “two.”
“What happened?” He wasn’t the only one to ask.
“That shouldn’t be possible.”
“She jaunted herself?”
Helen grabbed his arm. In thirty years of marriage, he’d never seen her truly afraid. Not like this. He patted her hand, wishing he could reassure her in some way, but knowing that nothing he could say would reassure her. None of them knew what would happen.
Not even Kurou. Atticus regarded the young man, not with suspicion, but with a kind of awe. Somehow, he knew. He knew the man was telling the truth, that he was their great-grandson, and also Ruby and Kennealy’s grandson. That meant… their new grandson would grow up to marry Ruby and Kennealy’s daughter. He wondered if it was fate, or if their own timeline would somehow turn out differently.
Children did tend to have minds of their own.
Miranda’s team set a record for getting the tank ready. There were shouted discussions about whether the tank should be set for Kennealy or Ruby, or somehow adjusted for both. Atticus wasn’t sure what they ended up doing, but a few seconds after the tank was declared ready there was a loud popping sound and the temporal goo in the tank overflowed violently. The two chrononauts were entwined, Ruby with her hands on Kennealy’s back, his arms completely circling her. Two of the lab assistants dropped to their stomachs on the mezzanine level, reaching into the tank to haul the two of them out.
Kennealy thrashed as they pried Ruby from him. She was unconscious. “No!” he shouted, wrestling with the lab assistants. “Ruby!” They crashed against the railing, and one assistant was kicked into the tank headfirst. The assistant grappling with Kennealy let him go, and went to rescue his co-worker.
Kennealy lunged after Ruby, who was stretched out on the floor of the mezzanine. He shoved one of the medics away from Ruby, then suddenly collapsed directly on top of her.
“Great googlie mooglies, he’s strong!” Miranda exclaimed, holding the injector that had rendered him unconscious.
Eventually, the medics got both the chrononauts into the recovery room. When Kennealy came to, he looked at his restraints sheepishly. He looked over at Ruby, who was still unconscious. “Is she all right?” He wasn’t worried. Atticus could tell that Kennealy knew she was stable, and resting.
“She’s exhausted, but otherwise seems to be all right.” Atticus answered.
“Did I hurt anybody?” the young chrononaut answered sheepishly.
“Well, Miranda has one lab assistant with a lungful of temporal gel, and several with some nasty bruises. For a minute there, I thought you were going to tumble right off the edge, taking them all with you.”
“I can’t explain it. It just had to get to her… she was drowning. I don’t even remember arriving in the tank.”
“So the disorientation…”
“Exponential. It was… frightening. Do they know what happened?”
“You didn’t take your exit.” Interrupted Kurou.
Atticus watched as Kennealy stared at the stranger, figuring out who he was. Like his grandparents, he was tattooed. On his right shoulder was a cross, formed by the absent place between the manes of two lions. On his left shoulder was a cuckoo bird.
Kennealy’s eyes were not focused on the tattoos, but on the man’s face. Although Kurou was technically Kennealy’s grandson, Kurou was about ten years older than Kennealy.
“You…” Kennealy said, and Kurou recoiled, as if wondering what the man was about to do. “You were trying to get me to let go… to leave.” Kurou nodded, and Kennealy continued. “That’s why the others were saying move on. They knew I would want to stay with Ruby.”
“We’ve always known that this happened. It’s been a goal of the chrononaut program for decades now to get one of us to be able to travel this far back.”
“And you’re a distance jaunter, aren’t you?” Kennealy said with a grandfather’s pride. Atticus wasn’t sure yet if Kennealy had figured out his relationship to the cuckoo, but there was definitely a connection there.
“I have a lot of support. We work better as a team. And it helps to find familiar platforms and anchors along the way.”
“We’ve only just learned about platforms… but what do you mean by anchors?” Atticus asked.
“Well, think of the time stream as water. A platform moves along in time with the flow. A platform is also interactive, and can be used in various ways.” Atticus and Kennealy both nodded vigorously. This made sense with their own experiences as chrononaut and platform. “An anchor is usually an inanimate object or machine. It’s something that simply exists in time instead of moving with it.”
“Like the clock…” said Kennealy.
“Yes. The clock, and other machines like it. It takes a certain kind of energy for us to be able to use it, and although we know that elektriks usually work well, we don’t fully understand why some elektriks work well and others do not.”
Atticus noticed that Miranda and several of her team were listening carefully, recording everything as was the norm in the recovery lab. Kurou could tell them so much…
“The surprise I found when I did come back was how many other chrononauts were here already! Travellers whom I expect have yet to be born, even in my own time.”
“Here? I understand that this being the beginning… but is there also a correlation to physical space? Wouldn’t chrononauts want to explore the entire world? Why come back here?” Atticus asked.
“It’s a worn path.” He smiled that punchy smile chrononauts often got immediately following a jaunte. “Over the river and through the woods.”
“…to grandmother’s house you go.” Ruby chimed in.
“Ruby!” Kennealy exclaimed, and tried to get up and go to her. The restraints kept him in place. “Um… Miranda? Are these still necessary?”
Miranda hurried to release him and he went to Ruby’s side. Atticus couldn’t hear what the young chrononauts were saying, but there was a lot of cooing and soft words.
Helen came to his side. “So… are we going to have a houseguest for a while? A great grandson living in the guest room?”
Atticus considered that. What was to happen to Kurou? Could he even go home? Time travel was only into the past. The machine had no ability to fling someone into the future. The future did not yet exist.
He looked at the young man with new regard. Kurou was watching Ruby and Kennealy, an odd expression on his face, like he was witnessing something sweet, but embarrassed at the same time.
“Kurou, can you get back? Do chrononauts from your time regularly incorporate into times other than their own?”
“No, oh, no. I mean, it’s happened a few times before, but it’s never good. One chrononaut ended up stuck in the new time, and her own timeline never happened. She went a bit nuts at that, knowing that everything familiar to her would never exist.” He took a deep breath. “I do know of one who successfully exited in the past, and re-entered the stream to return to his own time…”
He paused, as if worried about who might overhear, about the worry he might cause. “But he was hopelessly scrambled. He couldn’t even form a coherent sentence.”
“You could stay here…” Helen offered.
“I have to go back.” His voice rose in pitch several levels. “I have a family. It’s… surreal being back here, at the beginning of it all, seeing my ancestors…”
Atticus laughed at being referred to as an “ancestor” and Helen snickered.
Kurou blushed and tried to apologize, but Helen shushed him. “It’s all right. It’s true, after all. I’m just finally getting used to the idea of being a grandmother, and now I find out I’m going to have jaunting great-grandchildren, coming back in time and visiting me in my garden.”
“I wish I could tell you all about them… how great they all are… how you find ways to communicate with them. In the garden.”
“But you have to go back. Soon.” Atticus understood. He couldn’t explain it, but he felt the urgency, from elsewhere. He blinked, and everyone was in a different place.
“Atticus? Can you hear me?” Helen was leaning over him, a look of concern on her beautiful face.
“Munchkins?” he asked, feeling punchy. He had no idea why he should feel punchy. He wasn’t a chrononaut, he wasn’t jaunting…
Kurou laughed. “You call us Munchkins. I take it that’s the first time you’ve blanked?”
“It’s the first time I can recall… though honestly, the more I think about it, the more it explains the times when I’ve been sitting at my desk, pondering a problem, and it seems as if time has simply flown by.” Atticus said. “I suspect I’ve blanked at least a few times before, but never for too long.”
“Ruby blanked too.” Helen explained.
“My team. They’re waiting for me to get back in the stream. Hopefully, with their help, I can get back.”
The next twenty minutes were a blur. Kurou went into itineris to prepare for the jaunte. It was strange, knowing that he was going to discorporate, and they wouldn’t find out for many decades whether or not he made it back to his own time. Atticus was already a grandfather… would he live to see his great-great grandchildren?
He followed his great-grandson into itineris, along with Helen, Kennealy, and Ruby. Kurou kept a running monologue of information flowing, imparting as much knowledge as he could while he had the chance. He even included lottery numbers, a bit of famous trivia all of the “Munchkins” had memorized. “But they’re not always the same… it’s hard to explain, and we don’t even understand it fully. If the first set of numbers I gave you pops up, it’s usually followed by what we call scenario one. The second set, the other scenario. But nothing is set in stone. There’s always flexibility, and just because one little detail is different doesn’t mean there’s a paradox. Stepping on one butterfly won’t necessarily cause a chain reaction of events…” Kurou took a deep breath. “…and then again, it might. It’s fluid, and flexible.”
Odd thoughts occurred to Atticus as he listened to his great-grandson’s lecture. He tried to make mental notes about it to compare with Kennealy later. Maybe, between the two of them, they could make some sense of it all. At the very least, they could document as much as possible for the research team to pick apart and refer to.
The tank was ready.
The cukoo was ready.
He sat on the edge, taking a few deep breaths before immersing himself in the temporal gel.
The countdown reached zero, and the time machine flung him back into the stream, just one hour, just enough to get his bearings…
…and hopefully find his way home.
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