Tim sat on the bottom steps in the stairwell of the CDC Research Facility, smiling up at Ruby as if they were discussing the weather.
"It is 'Ruby', isn't it?"
Ruby stared at him, unable to speak.
He put up his hands. "Relax. I don't bite. I'm just here to talk."
Could she hurt him? Tim had godlike power, but did that make him immortal? And did she dare try to find out?
"What do you want to talk about?"
He shrugged and looked around. "This is a scary place. What are you doing here?"
"We're working on a cure for the Simp plague."
His face brightened. "You're a scientist?"
"No. My friends are."
"Really? Maybe I could give them a hand. I've done plenty of lab work. Not so good with biology, but if they need someone with a theoretical physics background—"
"Is that why you're here? To help?"
Tim scoffed. "No. I'm wondering if you can tell me where Ed is."
She tried to act casual. She shook her head. "No idea."
"Is that so?"
"Why do you want him?"
Tim stood up and paced, his slippers shuffling on the concrete floor. "This morning, I moved a mountain," he said.
Ruby's mouth went dry. She swallowed. "Really?"
"Yeah. I tried to do it somewhere where no one would get hurt, way up in the Arctic... or at least what passes for the Arctic now. There's a continent at the North Pole. Strangest thing. So I went up there and moved a mountain. Well, knocked it down, more like. A mountain doesn't hold together so well when you try to push it."
"Why did you do that?"
"To see if I could. I've been doing all kinds of things to test my limits. The big things are no sweat. Move a mountain, change the Earth's temperature. I could shift the Earth's orbit so there would be no more seasons. We'd get the same amount of daylight every day."
"But isn't all of that dangerous?"
He shrugged. "Maybe. See, I'm just trying to understand how everything works. I haven't figured out how to bring back the dead yet. I've run dozens of experiments without success."
"You've killed dozens of people?"
"But the main thing I don't understand is Eddie. Why can't I see him? And why did he hurt my dream-self?"
"How should I know?"
"I don't expect you to know. I just want you to tell me where he is."
"I don't know."
He turned to her, his face passive. "But you do know something." He approached her.
Ruby backed up to the wall. She bent her knees, her arms at her sides, preparing for whatever he might do. "Stay away from me," she said, her voice cracking.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "I just..." He held up his hand, palm facing her.
The gesture reminded her of the Ord priests. Ruby slapped his hand aside and lunged forward to kick Tim in the knee. When her foot came down, it met only air. The unexpected lack of a target knocked her off balance, and she stumbled. As she spun to face Tim again, a paralytic wave seized her. Her arms and legs locked up, and she fell sideways to the floor.
Tim crouched beside her. "Don't be so jumpy. I told you I wouldn't hurt you."
Ruby couldn't breathe. Her diaphragm wouldn't move. She wondered if her heart had stopped, and if so, how was she still alive?
Tim reached down. He touched her forehead with his thumb. She expected pain from the contact. Instead, she felt a wave of icy chill wash through her head. When it subsided, she found she could move again.
She sat up. Tim stood before her, frowning at the floor. She waited.
"Impossible places," he muttered. "The anomalies. But why should that be..."
He closed his eyes and stood still for a few seconds. "Holcomb. The town Holcomb. I can't see it. It's like a blind spot." He looked up at her. "Is that why I couldn't see you? You were somewhere that defied physical law?"
The wave of cold connection passed through her mind again.
"Yes, that's exactly it. An observatory in the sky. A car—the car. It can fly? Are you kidding me? That's fantastic." He frowned. "But you really don't know where Eddie is, do you?"
Ruby didn't move.
"An abandoned gas station? That makes no sense at all."
Tim stood up. "Well, this has been a fascinating conversation. I'll think about what I've learned here. And don't worry. I will find Eddie. You may not know where he is, but someone does. I'll go down the list of everyone I know. Eventually, I'll find someone who knows where he is."
Tim disappeared. The air crackled, then went quiet. Ruby sat staring at the place he'd been.
She'd known this would happen. Eddie had warned her. As long as she was away from the car and the observatory, Tim could find her. And he'd read her mind. The thought of that cold wave through her brain made her sick.
I'll go down the list of everyone I know.
Ruby thought of Bryce. She ought to warn him. She raced up the stairs, her phone out, ready to call Bryce. She ran towards the outer doors of Gen-Corp. Once outside, her phone rang. At first she was startled to see Eddie's name. But no, Bryce had Eddie's phone now.
"Ruby, I'm glad you're safe," Bryce answered, whispering.
"What's wrong? Where are you?"
"Holed up in a house. I was looking for some food when Simps wandered onto the yard."
Ruby's heart sank. "Can you get to the car?"
"There's too many Simps. They haven't heard me yet, but—"
From the phone, she heard a crash of breaking glass.
The phone went dead.