“Jesus, Jane! Give a guy some warning!”
Her eyes were wide and she looked like she was swallowing a smile.
“I’m sorry, Alan.” She gestured in a way that encompassed the cavernous room and pointed to somewhere on the other side of him. “I’ve just come for a fresh batch of squillae.”
He tried not to smirk in response to her persistence in using the word squillae even when speaking in English. It was the word in Mensententia for nanite, but the literal meaning was shrimp and it just made him want to laugh every time he heard it. He blew out a breath and sagged a little bit, cradling his arm, as his heart rate slowed. She was just passing through and probably hadn’t wanted to talk to him. He was just in her way.
Mental note: add this encounter to the Journal of Bizarre Telepathic Bullshit. Could be significant. She didn’t seem to have known he was here either. Further note to self: try really hard not to read anything into that.
“Yeah. Of course. Sorry. I don’t know why I’m so twitchy.” He damn well did know, but he wasn’t going to admit that to her. “How did the jump go?”
She nodded. “It was successful.”
He nodded too, inanely. Was he turning into a bobblehead? “Good, good. How many more now?”
“Just two more,” she said gravely. She pointed at the large drum behind him. “How are things going here?”
He thumbed back at the open device. “This? Well, you know...” He didn’t really know what to say. Did she expect some kind of progress report?
She half smiled and bobbed her head like she was uncomfortable too and ready to be on her way.
He couldn’t keep himself from watching her as she approached the open device. He realized it would be a tight squeeze for her to get past and moved to close it so she could slip by more easily. She put out her hand to wave him off, but suddenly her expression went strange and she stumbled.
Alan lurched to brace her. She leaned into him for a moment. When her eyes met his, they were wide. She looked around as though she were searching for something she’d lost.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” he asked her. He found himself looking around too, though he wasn’t sure why or what he was looking for.
“Oh...I just...I don’t know.” She looked confused.
He took on a stern tone. Someone had to get through to her. At this rate she was going to stroke out or something. “This is about enough, Jane. You’re pushing yourself too hard. You need to get more goddamn sleep.”
“No, something is...” She shook herself and turned away from him, back the way she had come. There was a panicked expression on her face.
He let her go reluctantly as she moved away. He took a few steps after her, wanting to say more, but feeling completely impotent.
She reached the point where she’d been standing when they’d first begun this bizarre conversation and she stopped suddenly again, swaying.
He leapt after her and put his arms around her. “Jane,” he said gruffly.
“No, it’s…” She swiveled in his arms, and her eyes locked on the open device. “Oh,” she mumbled. “It’s from the jump…”
His eyes darted from her to the drum and back again. This device had something to do with the folded space-time they used, the artificial wormhole technology? A limited understanding dawned on him—and then grew exponentially. He’d relaxed his mental guard in his concern for Jane. The information that she was unlocking was passing out in the open between the three of them: him, her, and Ei’Brai.
He almost slammed closed the conduit that allowed the information to pour through, but stopped himself. He was too damn curious to pass up the chance to understand the device, even though it felt like cheating.
He looked at Jane with awe as he realized the level at which she understood the mechanics inside the device. They were completely open to each other now, as they hadn’t been in ages. She registered his admiration, and the dimple on her right cheek deepened and her clear, gray eyes brightened. He liked that.
She was pleased that he noticed. He also registered that she was cautiously enjoying his embrace. There was hope in her mind—a breathless anticipation. That, added to his own feelings, which were igniting… Okay, that was an understatement. He was fucking en fuego. It was intense to feel her feeling him, feeling her—it all seemed to roll up into something more. Something…was snowballing…
He scooped her to him, tightening his hold slightly and extending their contact to cover more surface area. He bent his head over hers and feasted on her lips.
“Yes,” came borne on a mental sigh of gratitude from her mind to his—via the Squid, he couldn’t forget, “this, Alan, but…just this. Let’s go slowly.”