“Have you secured the doors?” Rosalind asked as she turned the upper dials as far to the right as they would go.
Robert nodded, giving the latch one last pull. “They couldn’t be more secure if we so constructed little toy soldiers to guard it.”
Rosalind resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I highly doubt toys of any kind would keep Comstock’s thugs out of our house should they wish to enter.”
She got no reply and expected none. The buttons on the machine - their machine - made a familiar rhythmic noise as she pushed in the coordinates. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Robert was facing the door to the next room, standing stock still.
“We are in some hurry,” she said and gestured at the controls. “Stop staring and come over here!”
Robert started as if shocked by a mild electric current. He turned around and took his place by her side. He fidgeted with his sleeves before he turned to manage his part of the device.
“I hope you’re prepared to buy me a mountain of napkins, brother,” Rosalind said and couldn’t help but throw a quick glance at the door. There was no knock and she heard no footsteps.
“If my theory is correct, I think we’ll have to share,” Robert said. He pressed a button hard, cursed under his breath, and started over.
“I’ll be needing daily blood transfusions,” Rosalind said, her eyes turning to the door again.
Robert backed away from the controls, threw a last glance at them, then whirled around and stepped into the center of the machine. “As I said, if my theory is correct-”
“-then we’ll be moving from the frying pan into the fire,” Rosalind said and adjusted the last dials. “Yes, yes, but with that attitude we might just as well cut off our own heads and serve them up to Comstock on a plate.”
Robert waited for her to join him, his eyes on the door. She gave the set-up a third double-check before moving away from it.
“Are you sure this is wise?”
“Wiser than staying here.” Rosalind stopped so that they were shoulder to shoulder and turned to face her companion. “I will not lose you, brother.” She cupped her hand under his chin and pulled him down for a soft kiss. “Not now.”
Before them a tear began to open. Then the room began to hum. Rosalind felt her own eyes widened in tandem with Robert’s.
There was no time to run for the door.
When you’ve experienced time as a linear path all your life trying to articulate the sensation of losing that linearity is as hard as describing color to a person who’s been blind since birth.
You always have metaphors, of course, but they only convey the abstract.
Rosalind stared off into the sea of events around her, at the ones inside her own mind and at the ones happening parallel to one another. It felt like she was going to overheat. Then one thought floated to the surface, pushing all others aside.
The walls of their house appeared around her. The machine, shut down and cold, came into view as if out of a bank of mist. The floor and ceiling followed.
Robert was the last edition, curled up with his back against the wall and his hands covering his face.
“Robert?” Rosalind tried again, kneeling down by his side. “Are you injured?”
He took his hands away from his eyes and looked up so quickly Rosalind had to lean back or have their heads smash together.
Robert looked at her as if she’d grown out of the floor. “…you’re here.”
“As are you.” Rosalind put her hands on his shoulders and pressed their foreheads together. “Though I’m not quite sure where ‘here’ is.”
“Are we ghosts do you think?” Robert asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Rosalind said, allowing herself a laugh. “But I do believe we have some research to do.”
Robert echoed her laugh and put his hands on her shoulders. “Yes, we-”
That’s when they heard footsteps in the hallway outside.
The field was empty except for the two of them. Above them a handful of clouds drifted across a blue sky and birds could be heard singing in the distance.
“Or perhaps it isn’t,” Rosalind said, holding up her hand to study it. It still had five fingers and was the same size it had been the moment before.
Robert nodded and shaded his eyes with one hand, squinting up at the sky. “Yes, I’m still trying to figure out how time works now.”
“I think it works the same as before-”
“-it’s just we who are different.”
“I petition we find out just how different,” Rosalind said. She rolled her eyes as Robert made a choked of noise. “Oh please, brother.”
Robert cleared his throat, his face flushed a light pink. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Rosalind took one of his hands in hers and gave it a squeeze. “I just think this field is a most unsuitable place for such activities. And there are some other things we need to estimate first.”
Robert just nodded.
“Blushing suits you, brother,” Rosalind said, letting go of his hand.
She couldn’t help but laugh at his scandalized tone of voice. Then she concentrated on repeating the action that had brought them to the field, knowing he would follow.
“How far do you think we can go?”
“Good question,” Rosalind said. “Or should the question perhaps be ‘how far have we gone?’, do you think?”
“That’s also a good question.”
There was no floor beneath their feet. No air either. There were just specks of light and immense darkness. Oh, and the supernova exploding right ahead of them.
“I wonder how we can talk out here,” Robert said. “Not to mention avoid going blind or suffocating.”
Rosalind reached out and pressed two fingers against his neck. “Still no pulse,” she said. “I wonder if we actually have bodies or if we’re simply seeing them because we’re used to being like this.”
“I prefer to keep mine, if it’s all the same to you.”
“No protests from me,” Rosalind said, her face carefully blank.
It was Robert’s turn to roll his eyes. “You’re just trying to make me blush again.”
“Purely for scientific reasons,” Rosalind lied. “It’s baffling that your blood can accomplish such a task without a heartbeat to move it about.”
The supernova’s light shrank, falling in on itself. There was no pull on them from the newborn black hole, but the rest of the objects around them began to twist and bend. Even light itself twisted and was pulled into the absolute darkness that was the center of the dead star.
“Do you think we should thank our saboteur?”
“Maybe we could send him a fruit basket.”
“Where did you two come from?”
Rosalind and Robert started and turned in unison to face the speaker. The dim light of the street made it hard to make out more than the falling snow and the silhouettes of buildings around them. They could see the boy’s eyes though. They were wide and terrified.
“Ah,” Robert said. “That answers that.”
Rosalind took a step forward, but stopped when the boy nearly slipped on a patch of ice in his effort to back away from them.
“Calm yourself, young man,” Rosalind said. “We’re just out for an evening stroll. We were just crossing the street from that alleyway over there.” She gestured at the alleyway in question.
“No you didn’t,” the boy said. “No one moves that fast. You weren’t there a second ago.” He took a few more stumbling steps backwards. He grabbed a handful of snow and threw at them, then whirled around, running as fast as his legs would carry him.
“How rude,” Rosalind said and brushed some of the falling snow from her shoulders. The snowball, however, had missed its mark by an inch and its trajectory had followed a most illogical path. Rosalind took note of that. It would be interesting to study further.
“I think that might be for the best.”
The sound volume in the restaurant was increasing. The waiters and customers were caught up in their own affairs to the point where no one questioned the fact that the redheads sitting by the table near the back of the establishment never had been seen entering through the door.
“I would say this was a successful experiment,” Rosalind said and dabbed a her lips with a napkin.
Robert put his fork back on his plate and gave a happy sigh. “A life without meringue pie would have been a fate worse than death.”
Rosalind stepped around kitchen table and leaned forward to look out the apartment’s single window. “This is how you lived?”
“No. It’s a quite efficient use of space.” She looked away from the empty street below and found that Robert stood facing away from her, hands clasped behind his back and shoulders stiff.
“Was there anything you wanted to bring before your landlord starts clearing things out?”
“Should we leave?”
“I have to agree with you on that.”
The people walking past them didn’t turned their heads to look at the two of them. Success.
Rosalind put a hand on the glass of the window they were facing, taking in the sight of the stars outside. They were almost as interesting to study as the building itself; the walls were metal and plastic, the gravity keeping the building’s other occupants walking on its floor as artificial as the mechanical secretaries stationed at each help desk.
“Do you think we’ll ever run out of new things to observe?” Robert asked, his eyes reflecting starlight.
“I doubt it,” Rosalind said. “But all the same we should set up a method of observation. Keep records perhaps or start out from our original location and work our way forward and backward from that point.”
“Haven’t we begun doing so already?”
“We will have begun soon.”
“That can’t be right.”
A woman in full uniform walked past them close enough to brush against their backs. Of course she didn’t.
“Well, whichever approach we have had chosen, I agree with it,” Robert said and offered his arm to Rosalind. “Time to take a turn about the Milky Way?”
Rosalind linked arms with him and smiled. “That would be lovely.”
The heat of the fire could be felt all the way up to Columbia. Robert and Rosalind watched in silence as New York burned.
“I wish to leave,” Robert said. “We already know how this ends.”
“A most depressing constant,” Rosalind said and turned around. She froze in place as a woman who looked to be about seventy stepped out of the shadows. Robert did the same, taking a step forward and to the side so that he was shielding Rosalind (who in her turn took a step forward and to the side, placing them shoulder to shoulder).
“You!” the old woman shouted. She had a name, of course, but Rosalind couldn’t make herself connect it to such a haggard, enraged face.
Robert gave a choked off scream and Rosalind whirled around to look at him. She had to stifle a gasp of her own. Robert was shimmering, the surface of his skin and clothes buckling and undulating like waves.
The old woman’s was moving closer, her face blank. It felt like standing in the path of an oncoming avalanche.
Rosalind didn’t hesitate. She grabbed hold of Robert’s hand and pulled.
The streets were covered with blood. Well, not literally but there was far too much of it and far too many corpses for anyone to want to take a leisure stroll down them.
Robert had a hollow look in his eyes that Rosalind couldn’t place, but his skin and clothes remained in place and had made no effort to start moving again for three shifts, so she asked no questions.
She let the bloodied streets fade away and guided Robert to sit down on their bed. Outside their window the sun shone. The streets looked as they always had and people went about their business without guns or cannons.
“She doesn’t appear to be following us,” Rosalind said, sitting down next to Robert. “I think it’ll be wise of us to not venture to that particular time in any universe.”
Robert nodded, staring off into the distance.
Rosalind put a hand on his shoulder. The fabric of his jacket felt like it always had and would feel, which loosened some of the pressure around her heart. But not all of it. “Robert?”
The sigh that he let out was heavy and deep. “Rosalind, there’s something I must ask of you…”
Robert straightened up and smiled. “I will confess to feeling a modicum of satisfaction, yes.”
“Good, then this whole tedious exercise had some value,” Rosalind said and adjusted her tie.
“Don’t pretend you aren’t happy with the results.”
Rosalind shrugged. “Things will be quieter now. I can appreciate that.” She ignored the chuckle this drew from Robert. “Shall we give them some privacy?”
“Yes, I think he has things in hand now.”
“And I, dear brother, will not be the one to clean up the mess if he doesn’t.”
"I doubt DeWitt would trust us to watch over his offspring if we so were the last people in the universe."
They left Booker DeWitt to tend to his baby daughter and began strolling toward the nearest cafe. It was an excellent occasion for meringue pie.