differently in the desert. Everything seems clearer, louder, more real
somehow. A difference appreciable only to human ears, Brandon Caine mused,
staring out at the mesas along the horizon. He didn't bother to look up
as footsteps echoed behind him, simply slid a little further along the
wing to make room for the newcomer. He was only mildly surprised to see
Rikki Singh-Baines sink down to occupy the space next to him.
"Hey," Brandon said softly, raising a hand in greeting.
"Hey," Rikki replied, just as quiet. "You've been out here a long time, you know."
The other man shrugged. "It's just all so… overwhelming. So much has changed, and I don't even know how long it's been."
Rikki shifted. "About a year, I think… Six months until you came to us for help… another three, four as a trilobug, and two and a half in therapy with Gray… close as I can get, anyway."
"A year." Brandon sighed. "God… that time as a trilobug really screwed up my time sense. Half of me was living on computer cycles, half of me was in human time… it's a wonder I didn't go crazy."
That got a chuckle. "Brandon, trust me on this, you were NOT in your right mind when we found you two months ago."
"Well… point," the athlete allowed, smiling slightly. "You don't have any idea what it's like… all of a sudden, I went from the world of five senses, to two. Sight and hearing. And those were all through sensors. The difference…" Brandon shrugged. "It's indescribable. Colors, music… when I came back, I got that all dumped into me again."
"Hence the need for your time with Gray," Rikki agreed. "And now with us. Guess we get to teach you to be human again."
Brandon sent him a sideways glance. "Do you mind? I know I've never been one of your favorite people…"
Sighing, Rikki folded his arms across his chest. "No, I don't mind. I don't know how much Alex told you about me, but I've never trusted anyone very easily. Hell, the first time Alex and I met, we beat the shit out of each other."
"Nope. Put him through a chain link fence. That's what the scar's from."
The lanky man looked thoughtful. "He never WOULD tell me how he got it…"
"It's embarrassing to have to say it was a fourteen year old kid, who weighed all of 120 soaking wet." Rikki grinned, remembering. "But… I was wrong to jump down your throat when you came to us for help. I'm so used to seeing the dark side… sometimes I jump to conclusions. As for before… I think part of it was jealousy."
One eyebrow shot up. "Jealousy? You're kidding."
Rikki shook his head. "No, I mean it. Alex… has been my best friend since high school. We shared almost every part of our lives… except sports. I never lived for sports the way Alex does, and you do. And that's what bothers me, I guess. You share that one part of him I never can. And it scares me to be without him. I know it's dumb, but…"
"Emotions rarely make sense. Trust me, I know all about letting your heart lead you into dumb things."
"Is it hard? I mean, you said it was so different…"
Brandon nodded. "Yeah. I have to remember to talk instead of just think at people; I have to remember to eat, and I can only have bland foods. I sneaked a chocolate bar once and nearly passed out. You don't appreciate taste until it's gone. I still forget how to walk sometimes, but if anybody can help me with my coordination, it's Alex.
"And I can FEEL again… you have no idea how much that means. Towels are soft, metal is hard… and the cold. I used to go outside in the snow at Gray's cabin and just STAND there, soaking it in… that I was actually FEELING cold, and not just getting feeds from my temperature receptors.
His gaze grew distant. "I didn't make it back completely, you know. Part of me is still there, inside the computers… surfing the data streams… it's so much freedom… I think I'm always going to miss it. But it's a trade I'm willing to make… to be human again."
Rikki nodded, then slowly got to his feet. "Dinner's almost ready-- don't worry, Grinder's cooking, so you'll live. Probably another half hour, tops."
"I think I'm going to stay out here a little longer," Brandon replied, gaze turning back to the setting sun.
"Well, don't stay out too long," Rikki cautioned him. "You may like feeling the cold, but you can get hypothermia now just like the rest of us."
Brandon shook his head. "Man, are you this bad with Alex?"
Rikki grinned. "Worse. Remember what I said, only a few more minutes. You're not strong enough for more." He quickly ducked down the ladder, dodging Brandon's half-hearted swat. The other man sat in silence for a few more moments, then rose and followed his friend inside.