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Those who live and die for astronomy

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Tenuousness less seven comes to three
Them you us plus eleven
Thank the heavens for their elasticity

--“Tenuousness” - Andrew Bird

“People can’t teleport now,” Claudia says, swinging her feet off the edge of Joshua’s bed. “Why do you think some guy did it in the 1500s?”

Joshua doesn’t turn to look at her, but she can’t blame him - he just picked the subject for his master’s thesis, after all. Of course the research is going to be what he’s looking at.

“Well, even if it doesn’t work out, the theory is bound to be interesting,” he says. “Besides, you’ve met Professor Reynolds. Do you think he’d steer me wrong on something like this?”

Claudia frowns and thinks about it. “Probably not. I mean, he could, but what would he gain from making his own master’s candidate look bad?”

Joshua laughs. “My thoughts exactly.”

***

Claudia has Girl Scouts on Monday nights, so Joshua’s taking a Wednesday night lab. He takes her along for the first one, with a joke that she probably won’t cause much damage when all they’re doing is getting the syllabus.

Professor Reynolds is tall and skinny and British and very, very interested in Joshua’s progress, even though he hasn’t had much time to make it. Claudia half-listens to their conversation - a guy who broke down after his boyfriend’s death and became obsessed with teleportation can only hold her attention for so long, especially when there’s so much neat stuff in the lab to play with.

But then Professor Reynolds gets out an old compass, and even Claudia’s impressed. It’s beautiful.

“You may find this of some assistance in your studies, Joshua,” he says. “There’s quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to suggest Rheticus put it to good use.”

“Well, of course,” Claudia says; she blinks a couple times when Joshua and Professor Reynolds turn to look at her, but keeps going. “A compass is for navigation, right? So if you’re going to teleport, you have to have some way of saying where you’re going.”

Professor Reynolds eyes her for a few moments, then smiles. “You’re a very bright young lady, Claudia,” he says. “I’d hate to be on your bad side.”

***

For Joshua’s birthday, Claudia decides to make spaghetti for dinner.

She’s mastered omelets, after all, and Joshua digs out their mom’s recipe all the time (better than any restaurant spaghetti she’s ever had), and she’s got three whole hours to work on it between getting home from school and him getting back from the lab. How hard can it be?

But then she starts out burning half the beef to the pan, and she doesn’t stir the tomato paste in right, and the onions and pepper aren’t chopped very nice - then again, she at least didn’t cut herself in the process - and she does something weird to the sauce besides not mixing in the paste right, and Joshua gets home just in time for her to start burning the pasta.

He blinks a few times. “...Claud? You might want to turn the burner off.”

And that, when the rest of her failures didn’t, sets Claudia crying. “I’m sorry, Joshua, I’m sorry, I wanted to surprise you, I thought I could do it--”

“Hey, hey, it’s all right,” Joshua says, coming over and scooping her into a hug. “You... definitely did surprise me, I’ll grant you that. It’s not the end of the world, you just bit off more than you could chew. I’ll walk you through it next time. For now, let’s get this cleaned up and go out.”

They scrape the food into the garbage and leave the pans soaking in the sink; over dinner, Claudia asks Joshua how his thesis is going.

“Pretty well, actually,” he says. “I think I’ve almost got the differential equation figured out, finally, and there was another professor in today - I think he’s got connections that could get me a grant, if this works.”

“Really?” Claudia grins. “Awesome.”

***

Her Girl Scouts meeting is canceled the day Joshua’s supposed to talk to the other professor about the grant, so he takes Claudia to the lab.

Professor Nielsen is short and fat and American. The only thing he has in common with Professor Reynolds is being very, very interested in Joshua’s work, even though he acts like he doesn’t believe it’ll ever work, at first. Claudia thinks he’s lying about that - why else would he be interested in giving Joshua a grant?

And then Professor Nielsen says something about what Joshua’s doing being very dangerous (well, obviously, Claudia thinks) and it’d be better to just put the compass in storage. Joshua agrees, but the way he says “I’ll just be a minute” tells Claudia he’s lying; it’s the same way she’s agreed all her life that maybe she shouldn’t do whatever it is her parents or brother told her not to do, but she’s totally going to try it anyway.

Their family’s very impulsive like that.

Professor Nielsen (“please, call me Artie”) tries to strike up a conversation and fails to hit on anything Claudia knows well enough to talk about. He at least doesn’t assume she’s not interested in science because she’s a girl, but it’s still bad enough that after the fourth attempt, she looks at him and says, “You don’t talk to very many kids, do you?”

Artie shakes his head, smiling a little. “No, I don’t.”

And then ‘just one minute’ turns into five, then ten, then twenty, and Claudia’s whole life goes down the toilet.

***

It’s not until years later, after the literal and figurative dust has settled around the MacPherson business (Professor Reynolds, Professor Reynolds, how did she not see that?) that Claudia thinks to ask, “So why did you dump me in the tender arms of the foster care system, anyway?”

Artie sighs, and slowly turns his chair away from his computer to face her. “For one thing, you were right,” he says. “I don’t talk to very many kids.”

“I wasn’t exactly a normal kid, dude.”

“No, but - you still needed a more stable living situation than I could’ve given you. Leena wasn’t here until two years after that, we had a revolving door of agents at the time, I was always out in the field, and the Warehouse is no place for a ten-year-old. Sometimes I’m not sure it’s a place for you now.”

Claudia rolls her eyes. “Whatever, Grumpy, you’re still the one who hauled my ass back here.”

“Yes, so don’t make me regret that decision.”

Claudia just shakes her head, but before she can reply, her computer gets a ping. “Dude, this is weird. Little old lady accosted a model at a show in Milan and dropped dead...”