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february bingo with samuel aust
[02 . . . . . 21]

There was some level of come-down that was to be expected -- that just made good logical sense. Like jetlag, or altitude sickness. Sure there was little to no research on the aftereffects of time travel (Reed would know, he looked), but data and observations on astronauts returning from the International Space Station and other missions said that there were effects on the body and mind alike. Hell -- only a few weeks ago (a few years ago) Reed had spent wakeless nights just feeling the effects of increased brain activity, new parts of his mind lighting up and keeping him awake at all hours. So now to be back in 2021 and experiencing nothing -- it was, honestly, a little upsetting. It should have been stranger, should have felt like a more difficult transition, but here he was, days after popping back into the right timeline, feeling bright, aware, grateful. No side effects to speak of. He could almost scream.

Thankfully, the next best thing for a mind still reeling with the impossiblity of his last few days (years) was some wholesale, physical destruction of the drywall partitions he had, honestly, forgotten about completely, but upon checking into his lab for the first time in ages (days) hated all over again on first sight. There was so much work to do, Reed could tell just from looking at the half-finished devices left splayed over tables, the barely-started programming work he'd been procrastinating when fate and linear time plucked him out of thin air -- but that Reed could come back to. Just seeing these things, getting his bearings again, had his memories refreshing far past the detail they should have had after so long (not that long), as if it really had been only days ago (it really had been only days ago) he was procrastinating the computer work to prioritize the rewiring. Even that slight sense of guilt was still there. Fascinating, certainly deserving of further research, a publication if he could just prove to anyone else that what he'd experienced in the year 1957 was real. Time for that later. First, a cathartic demolition with a friend.

Sam Aust didn't know about Reed, but he knew that Theo had gone missing for a matter of days. He knew that Theo had returned uttering phrases like 'unwilling time travel' and 'years' time,' kickstarting the cogs in his brain until he was elbow deep in the physics of a contraption that could prevent such a thing from happening again.

(Due to this more pressing need, Sam had forgotten all about the schematics of his weaponized suit. He hadn't even thought to bring them along with him to this partnered act of demolition.)

No, Sam arrived with several sheets of barely legible scientist scratch that drafted the initial makings of some sort of time machine. Had he made it look a bit like the DeLorean? Maybe. Did that mean it was any less functional? Of course not. It did mean that Sam burst into the room like some Wild West sheriff on the hunt for a villain causing mayhem in his town. It did mean that he stretched the sheets across a table the second that he was close enough to one. And it did mean that his first words to Reed were, "Take a look at this. Tell me what you think," as Sam was on a mission and greetings suddenly seemed like a waste of time.

There was something so comfortingly predictable about Sam's complete lack of a greeting, let alone a segue, that Reed almost didn't have the heart to complain about it as he usually would after the other man basically kicked down the door and knocked several halfway finished knicknacks off a lab table in order to stretch some blueprints across the surface. "Hello, Dr. Van Allen, pardon me, Dr. Van Allen, I'd like your esteemed opinion on this, Dr. Van Allen," Reed said, pointedly offering examples. Oh, turns out he did have the heart to complain. And he might have continued, playing up his role as a stickler for the rules and paragon of etiquette only while in comparison to Sam just for kicks, if it hadn't been for the way a few stray equations, a certain section of the schematics caught his attention, and all too quickly his words veered off into a muttered "Well, that's very interesting..." before Reed shut his mouth with a snap, pouring over the document with one hand held up in the universal just one second sign. Was it intentionally designed to look like something from Back to the Future? He wouldn't put it past Sam in the slightest, but that was far from the question at the tip of Reed's tongue as he straightened, focused on Sam, and folded his arms over his chest. "Walk me through what I'm looking at here," he suggested, rather than launch immediately into the I was just blasted into the past and got back this week, my mind is reeling and I think you've created something that can I desperately needed but didn't know how to explain narrative.

Sam chuckled lowly at Reed's complaints. In response, he clapped a hand gently on his friend's back and then patted his shoulder a handful of times before his touch retreated altogether in favor of the plans that he had spread out for both Reed and himself to examine. If Sam noted anything about Reed's demeanor that might have revealed that he had been a part of Theo's blast into the past, he certainly didn't seem to acknowledge it. (Mostly because he hadn't noted anything.)

Gesturing over the blueprints, he took a step back to mirror Reed's stance, arms crossing over his chest in a similar manner as he met his friend's gaze. "It's intended to be a portable time traveling device. Whether it works or it doesn't remains to be seen." Sam certainly hadn't conducted any experiments with it, and he wasn't prepared to part with any literal lab rats to test out his theories. "The physics of it, that's there I'm stuck. That's why I'm here." As if that required any sort of explanation. "The thing is," Sam explained, drumming his fingertips at the corner of the schematics as he leaned back over it. "Theo mentioned something about unwilling time travel. I'm not sure how he got where he got, but this is designed to alleviate that issue, right? Remedy - or effectively reverse - a scenario where one has been blasted back in time without their consent. On accident or otherwise." When he stepped back this time, it was to meet Reed's gaze with brows raised in curiosity. "What do you think?"

"Ah, Theo," Reed said shortly, before steepling his fingers over his lips in thought. "You spoke to him? How does he seem?" Their little detour hadn't been easy on either of them, but Theo didn't have the instincts to compartmentalize and shut out the lingering negative experiences that Reed did -- not that he'd wish it on the younger man, not by a longshot. Two years in a different century felt like enough of a bond that Reed still held onto concern for his friend and collaborator, the lifeline that had helped them return to the present timeline. Besides, no adverse side effects had manifested yet, but that didn't mean they wouldn't.

But although that was perhaps the most pressing question Reed had for Sam, so much else about what he said had captured his attention, demanded a response. Frankly there was a thrill that came from being able to work through some of the vast implications of time travel with a mind as adept as his own, despite the lingering voice of concern that Stella had put into his mind about taking a break. "I think this is promising," Reed answered with an indulgent nod of his head, genuinely impressed with what Sam had splayed over the lab table now that he'd had a few moments to process it. "I like what you've done with the inhibitors, inspired work. And you said portable -- are you still thinking about that suit you mentioned?" Because Reed's questions about that were still unanswered and he was, as any good scientist, a bit bulldogish about an open-ended question. He gave a quick glance to Sam for the answer, but leaned back over the schematics before either of them could really get into that issue. "Here -- this is what worked for us in 1957, but I want your input on a few more contemporary replacements to streamline the engineering." Reed was already making annotations in pencil over the designs, drawing on his memory of what he and Theo had cobbled together from engineering parts and whatever they could steal from government research and development labs, eyes carefully on the blueprints as he added, "I don't know if Theo mentioned -- it was both of us, blasted back."

In response to Reed's question, Sam simply nodded. "He seems alright. Shaken up, admittedly, but that's likely to be expected." He paused a moment, mulled his lower lip between his teeth, then continued. "I'm afraid I don't know everything that transpired, which is to say that I don't believe he mentioned you were there with him." A cant of his head to the side, concern written all over his expression, Sam flashed Reed a tight smile in an attempt to seem less tense about the ramifications of what Theo and Reed had experienced simultaneously. "Do you know how it happened?"

Sam hadn't asked many questions of Theo. It wasn't that he hadn't wanted to know;  he simply didn't feel that Theo was in the proper headspace at that time to look at things scientifically. There were too many unknown variables in play, and a situation like that always caused Sam discomfort. "I admittedly haven't looked at the suit since I mentioned it to you. Do you think there's potential for it to be of use here?" His focus rested entirely on the blueprints in front of the pair of men as Reed scrawled notes across it. When the term '1957' rolled out of Reed's mouth, Sam couldn't help but look up at his friend and blink slowly. "I'm sorry, did you say 1957?"

Alright, enough dancing around it, Reed decided. He was reticent by nature, often holding back the details of his life not because he didn't trust his friends and loved ones but because it never seemed easy to say, never seemed like an appropriate time to take the spotlight, even to ask for help or advice. Mentioning time travel, then, was an even bigger lift -- where did a person even begin on bringing that up? Reed was a person loathe to even tell someone when he'd had a cold, he absolutely didn't have the skills to bring up a bout of temporal displacement with any subtlety. But this was more important than navigating social anxiety, and of anyone that Reed might confess it to, Sam was at least someone who could help him make sense of this from a scientific, technological perspective. After a steeling breath, Reed took his gaze up to his friend again from the blueprints, pencil still in hand, poised to jot down any further notes. "I did," he confirmed. 1957 -- it would have sounded crazy to his own ears if he hadn't lived it himself, if he hadn't already had the little breadcrumbs of the unexplainable leading up to that moment. "And no, unfortunately the cause is the piece of data that has most eluded me." He frowned, thinking back to the chalkboard he'd worked through these equations on, more than sixty years ago, and less than a week ago. That empty section, that bright blank space to factor in an inciting incident -- never filled in, and never fully explained. "It was... challenging, certainly," Reed admitted, shying away from the full weight of it. Lonely, isolating, maddening, those experiences were still fresh in so many ways, "Which is why I think there's an extreme potential for a portable component, one of a set of tools to help during temporal displacement, unintentional or otherwise."

The notion that the cause of this unwilling time travel had been elusive to Reed only served to deepen the furrow between Sam's brows. "Are you suggesting that this could happen to any one of us at any point in time, then?" He was uncertain how he should feel about the prospect of being blown back decades without warning. On one hand, scientifically speaking, it was exciting to imagine time travel; on the other, however, Sam much preferred that traveling through time occurred on his own terms.

Crossing his arms over his chest, he examined Reed thoughtfully. "You said 'a set of tools,' which begs the question: What other tools do you believe one would need for an event like the one that you and Theo encountered? Beyond the obvious, of course." As he said this last phrase, Sam gestured over the blueprints of the portable time machine, then redirected his attention to his friend.

"Statistically speaking, I can't suggest anything is truly out of the realm of possibility," Reed acknowledged a little darkly, thinking of the unexpected blast that had taken him back before he'd even had a chance to catch his breath in this timeline. "And you realize that perhaps the best way to be nonconsensually taken back in time is to be regularly in the proximity of time-displacement technology, no?" He frowned slightly, hearing how blythe he sounded about it all, as if he hadn't been horrified to find himself in 1957 before he'd even had a chance to catch his breath in 2021. "No, I don't think it could happen to anyone, at any point in time," Reed allowed, a little more soberly, "But do I think the odds go up until you've perfected this thing? Yes I'm afraid I do."

Tools -- a better place to focus, a higher priority on prevention than reaction. If he let himself, Reed could almost believe that what he'd been through was an advantage, given how much first-hand experience he was returning with. "Besides a quick way home again?" he asked, the obvious answer to the question. "We would have appreciated communication tools. Even if we couldn't get back ourselves, the ability to let someone know what happened..." Reed shook his head. "I'm not the most responsive, but even I had people worried."

He smirked. Reed was right, of course  -  the proximity of both men to a time-traveling device in progress certainly did increase their odds of being blasted back or forward in time. "Until we've perfected this thing," Sam amended, nodding first at Reed and then at the schematics that he'd stretched out for the pair to study simultaneously. "And we will perfect it, Reed." Though Theo had told Sam very little of his time in the 1950s, Sam was intuitive enough to gather that it hadn't been the most exciting opportunity in the younger man's life. In an effort to assuage any fear that it might happen again, Sam had immediately gotten to work re: formulating a solution.

"Alright," he began slowly, a furrow appearing between his brows as he dropped his eyes back to the plans, his gaze having previously been on his friend to ensure that Reed was aware that he had the brunt of Sam's attention in giving his response. "So, how do we make it plausible for one to communicate with others using this device? Especially in a period of time where the Internet was not a thing or, worse, when telephones had not yet been invented." His lips mulled over one another thoughtfully before he glanced back up at Reed. "Is it possible to manipulate solar energy into some sort of broadcasting signal?"

This was what Reed valued so much about his friend, the thing he admired and sought out in Sam specifically whenever he needed a second set of eyes, another brain, focused on a problem -- the man always had a solution that Reed had never even considered. It must have shown on his face, that feeling of being impressed shortly followed by some quick mental calculations around the idea. "Solar energy, that's -- that's quite good, actually," he said, nodding out of enthusiasm alone, "I highly doubt anyone is going to be abducted to a timeline beyond our sun, and if they did, well --" Well the outlook on a return voyage was going to be quite poor. Best not consider it too deeply. "And if you transmit in morse code, both the transmitting and receiving devices could be quite simple." His hand was moving already, sketching out equations that would beam a message in an orbit around the sun and back down to Earth, ideally targeted not just to a location, but a time, mathematics that a few weeks ago Reed would have puzzled over for far longer coming now almost intuitively.

So intuitively, in fact, that a different part of his brain had the chance to catch up on their conversation, process what Sam had undertaken in just a short time after Theo must have told him what happened. Reed felt a sense of urgency in the project, suddenly, that his own reaction to the idea time travel had drowned out. "This is very kind of you," he told Sam, straightening slightly from the lengthy annotations he was making to look his friend in the face. "Obviously the project, it's significance, it's all very exciting scientifically, but to create something so quickly to promise Theo this accident won't happen again? That's something to be proud of." Reed was talking about Theo, about the way this invention of Sam's would provide a feeling of comfort, of safety, of a failsafe in place, but he could easily have substituted his own name there, given the way the idea of a solution in place made him feel.

Nodding, Sam gestured toward Reed to indicate that his thoughts on harnessing solar energy had been along that same vein, the physical movement preceding any words that he might have had to say on the subject. "Morse code," he breathed out, awe tinging the two syllables, as Sam crossed his arms over his chest and his gaze dropped to process the mathematical equations that Reed was scrawling out across the schematics. His brows furrowed a bit, producing a concerned furrow at the center of his forehead, but Sam said nothing about how expediently his friend had managed to produce thoughts and concepts that might have otherwise taken Sam himself weeks to conjure. "That's quite smart," was just about all that he could manage to say on the employment of morse code and Reed's impressive cognitive abilities.

Sam's attention shifted from the blueprints to Reed when his friend straightened to make eye contact. "I've not heard all of his feelings on it, honestly, or the complete summary of what transpired. I know enough to recognize that it wasn't the most pleasant surprise. If I can help ease any worries he might have that it could happen again, it's the very least that I can do." Theo was important to him for a number of reasons, but he was not prepared to have that discussion presently  -  or, perhaps, at all. "And as far as you're concerned, too, given I'm sure you weren't exactly keen on being blasted back into the 1950s either."

"No, I wouldn't say I was keen on it at all," Reed said slowly, giving himself the time to come to a real conclusion about how it had all affected him. He was an expert compartmentalizer, talented, even too talented, at shutting out emotions if he could just focus on work, and for two years in the 1950s, a matter of days in this timeline, he'd been able to do nothing but that. In some ways it had been a valuable survival skill, that instinct to just keep his head down and do the work it took to return, but now that he was back, people around him who knew him too well to let him pretend, things were starting to seep through the cracks and Reed wasn't sure he should stop it. If he'd been determined to shut it all out and keep moving forward, wouldn't he have hidden himself away, not stepped out to see Stella or let Sam come around to the lab? A part of him was looking for places to talk about this, the right people to process the whole experience with.

"It does ease some worries, mine at least," he confessed, nodding slightly with the truth of it. "Not just because getting blasted decades out of time was bad enough," and bad it was -- easily the most difficult thing Reed had dealt with in his life, "But before I left, a few people close to me, Liam and Stella, they were..." He grimaced a little, thinking of it. "In bad shape." Just a few seconds to recognize it, waking up in his laboratory, Stella injured and Liam practically comatose, enough time for Reed to to realize what was going on but not enough to be able to do anything meaningful to help, stranded in 1957 with nothing but the image of it in his mind. "Not being able to reach anyone, find out if they were okay, that was the hardest part for me. Even if I got sent back again right now, being able to at least send a message would do so much."

As someone who had never been blown back in time, Sam could not exactly empathize with Reed's situation. He had always been curious about the time-space continuum, curious enough to consider and piddle around with the possibility of a functioning time machine, but he had never actually experienced a shift like the one that Reed had suffered. Suffered, not because a ricochet back in time was a thing to endure in a negative context, but because it had not been his choice and it had come at a point in his life when it sounded as though Reed would not have preferred it occur. "So we work on it," Sam suggested. He always functioned best when he could actively solve a problem, whether that problem was his own or belonged to someone for which he cared a great deal, and he made the suggestion with that knowledge of self in mind. "We discover how to make it function, how to make communication possible in another point in time, and how one could return from that point in time to the present without negative consequence."

He fell silent for several seconds, considering, before he glanced up from the blueprints to focus his eyes on Reed. "How are they now?" A quirk of his brow, Sam thought to specify: :"Stella and Liam, that is." While he didn't know the former very well, Sam did consider the latter to be something of a pseudo-nephew, and he was surprised to hear that he hadn't been aware of Liam's conditions. "Is everything alright now? Do I need to be at work on another sort of solution?"

"They're fine, they're fine," Reed promised, and it was a joy to assure Sam of that, if only because speaking the words out loud reinforced to Reed himself how true it was, how safe and whole Liam and Stella were upon his return -- a relief that Reed had never stopped dreaming about while he was displaced, a fear that had lived inside of him for what felt like two years, even if he returned to find it was only a matter of days. Days -- Reed had hardly been able to contain his disdain upon return, no matter what others might have thought, as if how dare only a few days have passed when Reed felt personally as if the stakes had been so high, as if he hadn't dragged Theo into a series of illegal interventions no matter what Reed knew was ethical, appropriate, and what wasn't. "No further solutions needed," he said, as if swearing it to himself and Sam alike, closing his eyes against any outside intrusion as he promised it, "This does more than enough." Reed found himself exhaling slowly, convincing himself. What Sam had brought to the lab today was generous in a way perhaps neither of them could have expected until he'd shown up, battering down the doors with that energy, but in this moment there was nothing Reed felt more thankful for than a friend who knew he was welcome and take advantage of it, saw a problem and sought to solve it. "Thank you, my friend."

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