The numbers arrange themselves in Ford’s head while he and his assistant are packing for their upcoming expedition. He drops his knapsack, nearly loses his balance, and has to disentangle his foot from the wires on the floor, in his haste to reach a pencil and paper.
As he scribbles, he hears Fiddleford ask, as if from a great distance, “You okay, over there?”
“I’m fine,” Ford says, without raising his eyes from the paper. “I’ve just thought of a variable that could make all the difference in our calculations.”
“I won’t sneer at sudden mathematical inspiration,” Fiddleford says, “but I’ve seen how you get when them ideas pop into your head without warning. I hate to think about what’ll happen if you start tripping over your own feet while we’re up in the mountains.”
Ford puts down his pencil. “It’s been a long time since somebody has worried about me.”
“Well, you done kept me from tearing out all my hair during final exams. I’d say that I owe you.” Fiddleford smiles, but his face just as quickly turns serious. “Stanford, now that I know we're going to visit an honest-to-gosh alien spaceship, I still have to wonder where all your ideas are coming from.” His blue eyes stare into Ford’s brown ones. “I’m asking you this as a friend and a fellow scientist: Have you been contacted by the aliens? Did they tell you how to build the portal?”
Ford considers answering in the affirmative. For all he knows, it’s not even a lie. He has never outright asked about his muse’s origins, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t considered the possibilities. “It would certainly explain a great deal,” he says carefully. A half-truth will suffice, for now.
“Nothing like stargazing with a friend, is there?” Bill gestures at the night sky that soars above them, and at the glimmering lights at the bottom of the cliff. “If you think this view is something, you’ll love the one that’s waiting on the other side of the portal!”
“We’re getting closer to the finished product,” Ford says. “Aren’t we?”
“Every single day.”
“And most nights, too,” Ford admits. “This is probably the most sleep I’ve gotten in weeks.”
“I always forget that being made from meat has its little quirks. Can’t stop you from needing to eat or blow your nose, but if you think sleep is cramping your style…”
Ford’s spine straightens. “Yes?”
“Got your attention, didn’t I?” Bill chortles.
“You sweet-talker.” Bill ruffles his hair. “Consider this: when you’re here in dreamland, the numbers aren’t going to crunch themselves. Meanwhile, your body’s just lying there in its tent with nobody to run it.”
Ford’s thoughts are racing. “And you’re offering to take it over while I sleep?”
Bill tips his hat. Their surroundings shimmer. “Right on the first guess, smart guy.”
“Would you also be able to… possess me when I’m awake?”
“Anything’s possible.” Bill twirls in midair. “And ‘possess’ is such an ugly word. I thought we were partners.”
“We are.” And if Ford accepts this extraordinary proposition, they could be closer than any partnership that he’s ever encountered or even imagined. What if he were fully awake to witness the feats of brilliance that his muse would work through him? What would it feel like to share consciousness with such a blindingly brilliant mind, to move and speak as if they’re one being? “What would I have to do?”
The hand that Bill extends seems to flare with pale blue fire. “Just one handshake, Sixer, and you’ll never have to miss another night again.”
Ford’s hand is almost close enough to brush Bill’s fingertips with his own. His heart is pounding… or, at least, he imagines that it is. He has no idea whether his slumbering body manifests physiological responses to mindscape stimuli. Perhaps, on another night, he’ll fashion some excuse and ask Fiddleford to monitor him…
He pulls his hand back. “Would my assistant know what is happening?”
“Why don’t you tell me?” Bill asks. “You’re the one who wishes you could tell McGucket about your ‘blessed muse.’”
“I’ve considered it,” Ford says. “Many times. However, Fiddleford is a religious man, and very easily frightened. If he encountered you, I don’t know whether he’d come at us with holy water, or take the first bus back to California.” He looks Bill in the eye. “I’d like some time to consider your offer. I hope that’s not too much to ask.”
“Not too much at all,” Bill assures him. “Still, I gotta ask… if Fiddlesticks is so easily spooked, how’s he gonna hold up against what’s coming? It’s not like this town is gonna get any less weird when our door opens.”
“He knows what he signed up for,” Ford says. “And no matter how weird our world becomes, I’ll remain at his side, just like he’s been at mine.”
“Didn’t know you were so sentimental, buddy. It’s precious.”
“It’s the truth,” Ford insists. “I couldn’t lie to you if I wanted to.”
“Right again!” Bill circles him. “And remember that even when Fiddlesticks does leave… when everyone leaves you…” His voice deepens, and he whirls faster and faster until Ford feels caught in an endless vortex. “…You’ll still have me.”
“Thanks for agreeing to come upstairs, Stanford,” Fiddleford says. Three days after they’ve returned from their hike, he and Ford sit, facing each other, on the floor of their inventing room. “All them triangle statues in your study give me the creeps sometimes.” He pauses. “Are you sure this is gonna work?”
“That’s up to you,” Ford tells him. “I’ve always found meditation to be very helpful in organizing and steadying my thoughts, especially after my research takes a particularly frightening turn.”
Fiddleford’s knee is bouncing again, and his face is pale beneath several days’ worth of beard. “I ain’t forgotten what I saw in that creature’s eyes,” he mutters. “My wife… and poor little Tate…”
“They’re perfectly fine,” Ford reminds him. “You spoke with them on the phone as soon as we got back.” It’s the third time that he’s said those words since their encounter with the Gremloblin, but he’ll repeat them as many times as he needs to. For now, his assistant’s mental well-being takes the highest priority. “We have to remember what’s real and what isn’t.” Says the man who communicates in his dreams with a supernatural entity, he thinks to himself.
“I’d rather not remember any of this,” Fiddleford confesses.
“Close your eyes, Fidds,” Ford instructs. “I can’t help you to forget, but we can take the edge off of the bad memories.”
By the time the sky darkens, the snow has blanketed the ground and is still falling steadily. When morning comes, the children of Gravity Falls will eagerly haul out their sleds and fling snowballs at each other to their hearts’ content. Hopefully, none of their snowmen will come to life this time.
Stanley was always unstoppable in a snowball fight…
Ford blinks away the moisture in his eyes. Those thoughts, and the way that his field of vision wavers around the edges, must be the result of fatigue. He almost never allows his thoughts to stray in the direction of his childhood, or his brother.
Just after midnight, he brews another pot of coffee and returns to the kitchen table, where his journal rests atop a stack of blueprints.
Just after dawn, Fiddleford places a hand on his shoulder. “When did you last rest?”
Ford thinks back. “I’m sure that I slept after we imprisoned the shapeshifter.” The moment that he closed his eyes, Bill appeared at his shoulder, full of assurances that he recognized Ford’s genius, and that soon, the rest of the world – and possibly several other worlds – would recognize it, too.
“After we what the who?” Fiddleford sounds perplexed.
There’s something vaguely alarming about his response, but Ford is too exhausted to wrap his mind around it. There will be time to address that issue once they have fulfilled their mission. He’ll soon have the resources to ensure that his friend receives all the psychological help that he needs.
Fiddleford reaches over and closes Ford’s journal. “If you keep going on like this, you’ll be of no use to anyone.”
Ford stands up. “You may need to think again about which one of us could be considered useless,” he says with a glare.
Fiddleford glares back. “I didn’t deserve that, Stanford.”
Perhaps it’s only Ford’s imagination, but he swears that he hears, or feels, a ripple of laughter across his consciousness. “You’re right, Fidds,” he says. “I apologize. I obviously do need to sleep, but I still shouldn’t have said that to you.” He carries his coffee cup to the sink and pours it down the drain, and tries not to look back at his unfinished work as he leaves the room.
The next time that Bill makes his offer, Ford doesn’t hesitate even for a moment.
Ford barely notices that his right eye is throbbing with pain.
He sits cross-legged in a circle of candles and pyramid-shaped crystals. He’s claimed that these are meditation tools that help to keep his mind clear and receptive.
A half-truth will suffice.
He doubts that Fiddleford entirely believes this, but for the time being, Fiddleford’s beliefs and opinions matter less than usual, as long as he does his job and doesn’t let his fear lead him astray.
Ford closes his eyes, and waits for his muse to open them.