Stimulus

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stimulus
ˈstɪmjʊləs/
noun
a thing that arouses activity or energy in someone or something; a spur or incentive.

I'd been working on my speech. Well, I'd been running through it in my head for months, ever since I had the grand idea of trying to change the world. By which I mean, change two worlds. Some of the kids at my school did public speaking as an actual subject, which I always thought was kinda weak. Getting grades for yabbering?

Really wishing I'd taken those classes. Here's the thing: you can have a great idea in your head, but translating it into something that even makes sense to anybody else is insanely hard. Doing it well enough that it'll actually convince anybody of anything is a kind of sorcery I haven't yet figured out.

But here I was, pretty much on my own in Cord, armed with pen and paper. They'd offered me some kind of computerised console but I'm pretty sure that would have taken me longer to figure out than the speech itself. Computers on Locque were only really found in big businesses or science labs or science fiction shows. Earth had made sure we never made the leap to microcomputing, so everything was big and clunky and not something you could have in your house. It was pretty sucky that the watch thing Sek had given me back in Hong Kong had never worked properly once we'd got back. Furey had thought it was something to do with satellites, or not being close enough to turbine relays - honestly, I hadn't really been listening.

So, Furey was gone. Didn't see that one coming. I'm not sure if I liked her, not in the way you like a friend, but I'd definitely come to admire her. I trusted her. And now she was gone, taken back to Earth. Hopefully she was doing some good over there, as it was going to be Earth that had the most resistance to change. People on Locque were going to be shocked, but on Earth they'd always known about what was going on and hadn't done anything to stop it.

Her leaving seemed to start something of a trend, with Marv insisting that Cal take him back to Perlyn to see his family. Seemed pretty risky to me but Cal was confident that he could get it done without any risk of capture. He seemed so comfortable with genoshifting and dimension jumping in particular that I believed him. Off they went, leaving me in my apartment on my own.

I stared at the blank notepad. How to even start? Introduce myself? Talk about Cal? Do I begin with how we attacked a government building, and freak everyone out? Do I dive right into dimensional theory and get them all confused? How would I explain Marv, and Holt, and Furey, and Simons, and all the rest, and not get utterly lost? No audience was going to be able to wrap their heads around it.

Maybe I should just write a book and leave copies lying around for people to find. In the absence of a better idea, I thought I'd give that a shot, thinking it might at least get things straight in my own head. I tried to remember what my life had been like way back before all this crazy stuff started happening to me, and I put pen to paper and scribbled something out.

The straight guy on the opposite side of the lecture hall winked at me. He was so straight it was unbelievable

Well, it was a start. I actually remembered that guy. I'd been hoping to bump into him at the Black Jasmine, but instead I'd met Marv and seen a cop fall off a roof.

Cal and Marv returned after being away for a couple of days. They'd found Marv's family, who had moved out of town due to being harassed after what went down at the Aviary. It had been pretty nasty but they were safe, and his little sister had turned out to be rather more capable than he'd suspected. Point is, Cal got him in and out without being detected.

"You've been waiting to see them for so long," I said, as I sat with Marv in one of the hotel's restaurants. It was just us two, as Cal was off 'making arrangements'. The restaurant was softly lit, all burnt umbers and candlelit orange, and a jazz guitarist strummed away contentedly up on a tiny raised platform. The food came on tiny plates and was exquisitely presented. Tasted okay, too, I guess.

"Yeah," Marv said quietly. He sipped at a glass of wine. Neither of us were really wine drinkers, but what the eff, right? "Listen, Kay, I know I've not really been, you know, present, this whole time."

I frowned and shook my head. "What are you talking about? You've been with me the whole way."

He held up a hand. "No, wait, what I mean is that I've been here but my mind's been off in other places. You know pinball machines? That's what my brain's felt like since I met you."

"I know what you mean." I sighed and looked down at the perfectly curved arc of sauce on my perfectly white plate. "Our lives haven't exactly been normal. People have been trying to capture or shoot or whatever us for what feels like years."

Marv smiled a little smile and looked over at the guitarist for a few seconds. "Yeah, that's not what I'm talking about. Pinball, you know pinball, right?" I nodded. "When you fire off the ball, and it goes shooting up over the top and you've got this great plan, but then you hit a bumper, and it goes through a gate and disappears, then it's off in another direction, then you're smashing those bumpers and just trying to keep it in play, because once it drops off the table it's all over."

"Marv, I've played pinball."

"Okay, alright. But that's how I've felt since I met you. And I don't mean since we got involved with Cal and started doing all of this. I'm talking about since I started talking to you at the Black Jasmine. Standing at that bar. My mind's been bouncing ever since."

"Neither of us have had much time to think, with everything going on. When you know a dimension-jumper it all gets a bit—"

"Fuck Cal," Marv said sharply, then he laughed abruptly. "Sorry. No, not sorry. Fuck him. Because I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about you. And me. Me and you. That's what I'm talking about."

"You and I?"

"What?"

"I never know what the right grammar is with that."

Marv stared at me, his mouth curling into a wonky grin. "If I didn't have a miniature plate of ridiculously expensive food in front of me, I'd face-plant right onto this table."

I reached out and took his hand. "I'd have quit months back without you." It was true. Just having him there helped, every single day.

He nodded ruefully. "I'd be chilling with some buddies at a bar in Locque having a great time without a care in the world if I'd never met you."

"Dick."

"Yep."

The restaurant had dropped away, all the sounds of knives and forks silent to my ears. I couldn't see anybody but him, as if we were in our own little bubble of light. I don't know how long we sat, holding hands, simply looking at each other across the table. It might have been seconds. I like to think it was days.

Eventually one of us had to say something. "There's still a lot to do," I said, the words themselves seeming to break our cocoon and open us back up to the surrounding world. The guitarist was sipping at water before starting his next song.

Marv let go of my hand and coughed awkwardly, before composing himself. "We're not doing it on our own this time, though, right?"

"Sounds like we're going to be able to get around a little faster, if the World Council isn't talking bollocks."

"What they were talking about was all kinds of crazy."

The high ceiling was covered in geometric, recessed patterns which caught the light in peculiar ways. I found myself gazing up at it, biting my lip as I pondered what to say.

"What is it, Kay?"

I took a deep breath. "I wasn't going to ask you to come with us," I said. "I thought you'd want to be with your family. I thought you might not even come back, you know. That's where you belong. I didn't want to pressure you."

"Kay," Marv said, "I belong right here, wherever you are. My family, I've seen them, and they're safe. They're solid. For the first time in months I don't have to worry about them. All my eyes are on you now, until the end of the line."

"Alright, then," I said, breaking out into all kinds of smiles. "How about we go change the world?"


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