Blind Man's Bluff
...Okay, maybe not quite so done. Still alternate universe, picking up more-or-less where the last left off. Thanks muchly, Emma, UtahBarb, I'mpekkable and Darkhelmet for the reviews and encouragement. New idea for me, this work-in-progress thing...
Late one morning, Gennine found what she was looking for in the solarium. How her half-finished romance novel had come to make the rounds of nearly the entire family (except Jeff and Alan, thank God) she had no idea, but she very much wanted it back.
This time, the much dog-eared green notebook was in Gordon's hands. Gennine colored clear down to her split ends, and sprang across the room, meaning to snatch the bodice-ripper out of the deeply absorbed boy's hands. Then she noticed something that drove the novel entirely out of her thoughts.
"Gordon," she said, rather worriedly, reaching across the big arm chair he'd collapsed in, to seize one of his wrists. "You need to get up and move. Now."
He was an Olympic athlete; a swimmer. Auburn-haired and hazel-
eyed, Gordon had a reckless and fun lovingpersonality that had gotten him into deep trouble more than once. He usually heeded her advice, though. More often than Alan, anyway.
Glancing up from the penciled writing, he frowned slightly. He was on chapter six, she noted distractedly; the bit where Hunter carried Violetta up into the hay loft, and...
"Move?" Gordon asked, derailing Gennine's train of thought. "Why?" He'd been swimming laps since 4 AM, and had just settled down in a sun-warmed armchair with a book that was getting more interesting by the moment. He hardly felt like sitting up, much less leaving the chair. But Alan's mum tucked a strand of blonde hair behind one ear, and pointed emphatically at one of the sunroom's odd, jutting angles.
"You see that corner?" she inquired urgently.
"That's a poisoned arrow. It's pointed directly at this spot, and it channels negative energy right at this chair, and anyone who sits in it." Then, in a whispered grumble, "Whoever designed this mausoleum was a moron! Sharp corners everywhere, windows in all the wrong places, and this dreadful furniture! If only Jeff would let me hang some crystals!"
Gordon looked over at the innocent-seeming corner, then climbed to his feet with a long, tired grunt. The instant he set the green notebook down, Gennine plucked it up, clamping the red-hot reading matter safely beneath one arm. Gordon, meanwhile, had lifted the armchair off the floor and over his head, the muscles in his arms and chest standing out like they'd been chiseled.
"Right, then," he said, resignedly. "Where to?"
"Gordon, Sweetie, put that down before you kill yourself!"
He grinned at her suddenly, all boyish mischief, his broad face halfway handsome.
"What..., this little thing?" he scoffed, actually tossing the heavy wood-and-leather seat into the air. His former step-mum gave a wordless little scream and lunged forward, ready to help catch the chair, if it proved too much for him. No need; Gordon fielded it easily, clearly showing off. He might not by the cleverest of Jeff's sons, nor the tallest or best looking, but at sixteen-and-a-half years old he was nearly as strong as Virgil, and that was saying something. Gennine was more worried than impressed, though.
"Gordon, put it down this instant! You're going to herniate from your chin to your kneecaps, and I'm not cleaning up the mess!"
"Tell me where y' want it," he replied, good naturedly.
"Um..., okay," Gennine looked hurriedly about the room. "I haven't got my compass, or anything, but... not by the fire, Sweetie... Over here, closer to the glass wall. You can see the ocean from here, and wood and water are a good match."
To her immense relief, he walked over and obediently set down the chair, turning it a bit, as requested.
"That's better," she smiled. "Out of line of the poisoned arrow, and facing a fortunate direction for mental activities. Now it's all right to sit in the chair."
"But, what about the book?" He asked plaintively, pointing at the tucked-away novel. "How 'll I find out if Violet ever gives..."
Gennine blushed again.
"I don't think this is appropriate reading materialfor a boy your age, Gordon." She cut him off, in a slightly strangled voice. "Go find something healthier, like National Geographic."
He brightened up immediately.
"Yes, Ma'am," the boy responded, sauntering off with his hands in his pockets to locate the latest issue (which, he recalled, featured a long, lavishly-illustrated article on Rio De Janeiro's most popular beaches. Lovely city, Rio; the girls there never wore much). "I'm off t' improve my mind."
Across the mansion, in one of Brains' largest clean rooms, John Tracy was taking his third virtual tour of the planned space station. The cavernous lab contained a sophisticated array of holographic projectors, a 3D sound system, and chemical misters to provide him with all the appropriate sights, sounds... and smells (the space station's air was constantly filtered, but being essentially a closed system, tended to develop a certain character; not a hamster cage stink, precisely. More of a lived-in... aroma. You got used to it, after awhile.)
The computer-generated illusion was incredible. Had John not known better, the slow sense of rotation, the low, continuous rumble, and the seamless visuals would have fooled him into thinking himself back in orbit. She'd even gotten the lowered gravity right. On station, gravity had been provided by an ultra-dense, violently spinning mass, deep in Thunderbird 5's interior; not quite 1g, but close. Amazingly, she'd somehow managed to reproduce the buoying effect here on Earth, giving him the same slightly lengthened stride and increased lifting power he'd had in space. It felt good, bringing a slight smile to the ice blond young man's model-perfect face.
5 had manifested herself as a pale lavender, humanoid icon, nearly featureless but for two large, golden eyes. She glided silently along beside him now, in a cloud of swarming pixels and qubits. Data flowed constantly to and from her icon, causing its shape and size to flicker and morph like a dancing candle flame. John was too well accustomed to this will-o-the-wisp phenomenon to be disturbed by it, but something else did trouble him. Besides being multi-lingual, he had a photographic memory, and any unannounced changes tended to stand out.
"You moved the instrument panels," he pointed out, noting about a 20 degree alteration in the placement of an inner bulkhead.
"Recent input indicates the undesirability of sharp corners," she responded promptly, anticipating his intended meaning before he'd quite finished speaking. "While this hypothesis is being tested, it is deemed safer to redesign all John Tracy work spaces to exclude negative energy channels."
John didn't know whether to laugh, or reprogram... or if she'd even allow it. 5 had gotten rather balky about letting him tinker with her basic commands, lately. Was getting downright stubborn, in general; sometimes following directions in the most annoyingly literal manner until he backed off, or changed the order. He had a feeling that soon, he would no longer be able to "program" at all, merely request, as if she were a human coworker. Five was evolving, literally before his eyes.
"If I can make a suggestion," he told her, trying a new strategy, "Not all data sources are equally reliable. Some things..., the Oxford English Dictionary, the Encyclopedia Britannica..., are unimpeachable, but I wouldn't waste my time with infomercials, daytime television, or the National Enquirer. I don't know what the hell this "negative energy" is supposed to be, or how you "channel" it, but I don't really think that's a legitimate concern. On the other hand," he demanded, pointing at a smoothly curving bulkhead as bare and shiny as a brass doorknob, "what happened to the windows?"
"Windows compromise the integrity of the hull, John Tracy, representing an unacceptable breach risk. Probability of hull failure calculated at .04 percent, given three windows per bulkhead, and factoring in known and conjectured stressors, applying Bernoulli's formula as follows:"
A complex stream of glowing equations appeared in the air between them. John studied them for a bit. Meanwhile, through the staggering eternity of processing time he required, his computer occupied herself by considering the outcome of such trials run in the nearest 2 million parallel universes. At length, John Tracy processed her input and responded.
"I can't argue with your math, Five, but I still need windows," he replied, facial features realigning themselves in a manner that indicated serious dissatisfaction.
"Windows are deemed unsafe, John Tracy, and safety is paramount."
"So's not going damn stir-crazy!"
5 reconsidered, opening several new processing channels and applying more memory to the problem. After the attack that had destroyed her previous housing, she'd determined to eliminate or shore up as many weak points as possible. John Tracy failed to grasp the necessity, however. Logic, to an analog life form, frequently seemed about as useful as strawberry Jell-o, to an octopus.
"Compromise," she forwarded, finding a possible solution in game theory. "It is feasible to reach a 'Nash Equilibrium' in this matter, where both may successfully 'take home the blonde from the bar'."
A diagram appeared beside her, with the players' best cooperative path highlighted through a mare's nest of possible choices, leading to a pair of smiling emoticons.
"And how often have you actually scored with a blonde at a bar?" John asked, amused.
"Approximately as often as you have," she returned.
Oh, good; more sarcasm. Right, then:
"What's the compromise?" he inquired, moving on while he still retained some dignity.
"The outer hull may be peppered with fiber optic camera ports, which will transmit an exterior image in the manner that the electrons surrounding glass molecules transfer photons. As shown:"
And, all at once, the bulkhead seemed to vanish entirely, revealing a cold and hollow, star-filled blackness, and the Earth, spinning blue-white and lovely in its precious haze of air. For all the world, is was as though John was floating in space, with nothing at all between him and the view. It quite took the breath from his body.
"Equilibrium reached?" Five prodded gently, judging from temperature, pulse and breathing changes that she'd satisfied him.
"Absolutely," John murmured, unable to tear his eyes from the heart-rending sight. "You got the blonde."