With a wave of his hand, Bill sets up the board for a new game of inter-dimensional chess. Around them, the mindscape is a boundless expanse of stars, and Ford wishes that he could name all of their patterns. “Before we start playing,” he says, “there’s something that I’d like to discuss with you.”
“Sure thing, pal,” says Bill. “Always happy to provide a listening ear. I’ll even tear it off myself!”
“That won’t be necessary.” Ford should be accustomed to his muse’s sense of humor by now. Genius often comes with quirks, after all. “I’ve made contact with… that is to say…” Why is he so nervous? Bill is one of the most understanding creatures that he’s ever encountered.
“I got the rest of eternity, Sixer. Take your time.”
Ford starts over. “I’ve hired an old friend, from university, to be my research assistant. He arrives in town next week, and he’ll be living with me – with us – while we work on the portal.”
“So, it’s not enough that I’ve been helping you?” Suddenly, Bill’s single eye is all that Ford can see. It burns, more brightly than all the stars, with its own heat and light…
“It’s more than enough!” Ford says quickly. Now I’ve done it. “Your guidance means everything to me. I’ve never felt so fortunate in my life.” He has often feared that, sooner or later, he will say or do the wrong thing, and his otherworldly companion will deem him unworthy – a disappointment – and abandon him forever. “You already know that we’ve encountered a roadblock, and Fiddleford’s mechanical expertise will allow our work to proceed much more quickly.”
Bill drums his fingers on the table between them. “I wonder what you plan to tell him about me?”
“He’s completely trustworthy, and absolutely brilliant. You’ll like him.” Ford hesitates. Will he truly be able to keep such an extraordinary, life-changing secret from Fiddleford? It’s just one more hypothesis that he will have to test. “If you don’t want me to say anything, I won’t.”
“Not everybody’s as… open-minded as you. He might not understand.”
The praise takes the edge off of Ford’s discomfort. “I know.”
“Still, some new blood around the place might be just the thing!” Bill abruptly sounds a great deal more cheerful. “I’m looking forward to meeting old Fiddlesticks. I’m sure the three of us will have lots of fun together.”
“Thank you, Bill,” Ford says with a relieved smile.
“My pleasure, Fordsy. Now that we’ve got that business over with…” Bill gestures at the chessboard. “You’ve gotten pretty good at this game. I like a partner who knows which pieces he needs to sacrifice. Why don’t you make the first move?”