He gasps as he streaks toward the free rise platforms.
It's been a long day at the office—so to speak—and he's ready to have some fun.
Mindlessly punching in his coordinates, he waits for the sudden jolt that always occurs before the thrilling ascent begins. It's not as harsh today, and the platforms are running like clockwork.
He steps off onto the one hundred and twenty-fifth floor and smiles upon seeing the glowing neon sign.
Roller Skating Rink.
His ID in hand, he walks through the door and up to the counter. The man there looks up.
"Good to see you again, Dr. Newman. The usual?"
"Yeah, Frank. I don't think my feet have grown that much."
The man chuckles as he turns to the shelf of skates, scanning for the right size. Pulling them down, he hands them to Tony.
"Haven't seen you around here much lately."
The scientist sighs. "There have been some serious issues in the control room. The radiation's been out of balance, and on Tuesday the whole thing blew. That sets us back almost six months."
"Yeah. Well, in any case, Kirk told us all to enjoy ourselves tonight—tomorrow we go into overdrive."
"It looks like you have the place to yourself."
Tony offers a strained smile. "I always do."
He makes a quick escape from the counter, not wanting to continue the conversation. All day people have been asking questions, expecting him to have carefully planned responses, and he's tired of it.
Sitting down on one of the benches along the sides, he unties his boots and puts on the skates, rolling one of the wheels with his finger before standing up. He proceeds to the rink, taking careful strokes, hoping he hasn't lost his touch. He glides from one side to the other—the wheels run like clockwork—and begins to relax.
He's been there for about five minutes when a woman comes in.
She's clad in a purple turtleneck and black skirt; dark curls tumble down her back. She hands Frank her ID and waits.
He looks it over, then hands it back to her. "I'm sorry, ma'm. You can't use this facility."
"You're Dr. Martin, correct?"
"Your credentials haven't arrived here yet. Thus, you aren't officially a Tic Toc employee, so you can't use employee facilities. That's just the way we do things here."
There's silence for a moment before she speaks. Her voice carries a certain bite but remains cool.
"I am well aware of the situation Tic Toc has had in regards to my papers. I'm not responsible for that situation, however, and if I recall correctly I've been on this project for the past three months. Are you telling me I've been working and accepting a paycheck for a job I don't have?"
Frank sighs. "All I know is that we were told to be on the lookout for you. I'm sorry, but you'll have to leave."
The woman turns toward the door, dejected, and Tony feels strangely moved.
He skates over to the edge of the rink, leaning on the bar.
"Frank," he calls, glaring at the counterman with daggers in his eyes, "she's my guest."
Frank cocks his head at the woman. "Well why didn't you just say so? What shoe size are you Miss Martin?"
She spins back around, answer on the tip of her tongue.
"It's Doctor. And as it happens, I'm a seven."
As Frank is getting the skates, she peers at Tony through her large black glasses.
Her green eyes seem to say "Thank you."
Once she has her skates on she glides out onto the floor, graceful in a way very few are in roller skates, and he finds himself watching her intently.
They each skate on their own for a time, but he catches Frank sending him some dreadful "you're being a terrible date" looks. So as not to arouse suspicion, he quietly slides over to her, and puts a hand on her shoulder.
"May I have this dance?"
Then, for seemingly no reason at all, he adds, "I'd bow, but it's very difficult in skates."
She gives him an agreeable smirk. "It's even harder to curtsy. But I'm game if you are."
"Could we have some music, Frank?"
It's only a second before the speaker transmits the sound of a radio being flicked on, then the smooth voice of Bing Crosby.
Somehow they figure out a system, just barely similar to ballroom dancing, and he takes the initiative to lead, even though he can't go backwards in his skates nearly as well as her.
They've been going on like that for a short while before she speaks.
"Thank you for…uh…bailing me out, Dr. Newman."
He smiles. "My pleasure, Dr. Martin. Tell me, just what was that about your credentials?"
She sighs. "I honestly don't know myself. Some error in communication. That's all. Until everything's straightened out though, I can't take any sort of qualified job."
"What are you doing then?"
"I'm the base telephone operator. When I got my PhD, that wasn't exactly the type of thing I thought I'd be doing, but it's not so bad. Considering the number of calls people want to direct, though, there ought to be three or four of us."
"What's your doctorate in?"
"American History, with a focus on disasters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."
"Really? Sounds like an interesting course of study."
"Yes, it was. But enough about me. What about you?"
"Yes." She slows down as a new song begins. "What's your doctorate in?"
"What do you do here?"
He looks at her a bit oddly. "I'm number two man on the science team. You mean…you've never heard of me?"
She shakes her head. "Forgive me. I see your infamy hasn't traveled to my wing of operations." Hearing the lightness of her voice, he releases a breath he wasn't aware of holding.
She smoothly changes the subject.
"How long have you been at Tic Toc?"
"What? Oh, about two years now."
"Indeed? How did you…um…rise through the ranks so fast?"
"Uh…actually I was directly hired into my position. I served an internship here right after receiving my doctorates—then I was screened, and applied. It's through the internship system that Tic Toc got some of its best employees, actually."
"Oh. I…uh…wasn't aware they had a recruitment method as such."
"Well I wouldn't call it that. Just how did you get into Tic Toc?"
"Um…it's a state secret."
There's an awkward silence between them following that remark, and it takes them both a moment to realize they've stopped dancing.
"Would you…care to continue our discussion in the staff canteen over a coffee?" he asks. She tosses her hair.
"Oh come on. All talk and no dance makes Newman a dull boy."
"Really hitting below the belt, aren't you?" He says, but there's a smile in his voice as he whisks her off into a dancing spree Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers would be jealous of.
They don't talk any more that night, and it all ends around eleven o'clock. She slips out between songs without saying goodbye and he never sees her there again, no matter how many times he goes or how much he wishes he could have caught her leaving, if only to inquire of her first name and ask if he might perhaps see her again. Nonetheless, the evening has a magical imprint in his memory, one he will sometimes think of when he's swirling through the vortex.
He doesn't know it, but someday their paths will cross again.