Ji turned and walked from the room, pleased and oddly humbled when Lyssa didn’t hesitate to follow.
“You said he’s sick. What’s wrong with him?”
“Not sick. His body has had a shock, a symptom of which can be severe nausea among others. He’ll need a few days to recover, but he’ll wake up feeling well.”
“What kind of shock?”
He wasn’t certain what compelled him to reveal the truth to Lyssa, or what he could of it. While she wouldn’t be the first dresi to be told of the myriad worlds, she was the only one he’d chosen. Was it because of her relationship to Clare, knowing it’d be a relief to the young, naive technician to be able to speak freely to her friend? He decided it was, even though, when Lyssa looked at him in that silent, penetrating way she had sometimes, he felt her clear through to his bones. Some villeins operated solely by reason, but Ji had long ago learned to follow his instinct when pulled hard enough, so however he’d come to the decision, it’d been made, and he saw no reason to postpone it any longer. “Perhaps we should join the others in the kitchen. I can explain over a cup of tea.”
A low buzz hummed in her ears, underneath all the words. Maybe she hadn’t heard right. “A parallel universe.”
“Yes.” Ji didn’t shift in his seat across the small dinette table. He sat relaxed, one arm resting along the tabletop. His dark eyes stayed level and calm.
Lyssa’s gaze darted to Clare, who still hovered near an old fridge, twisting her fingers together until her knuckles bleached. Her face had gone white when she’d seen Lyssa follow Ji into what used to be a break room and now served as a makeshift kitchen. Her color hadn’t returned, save for two twin spots high on her cheeks. She tried for a smile when she met Lyssa’s gaze, but the effect bordered on sickly. It was enough to tell Lyssa that her friend, at least, believed. And because looking at Clare made those feelings of betrayal, anger, and loss rise again, she looked away.
“You do know how crazy this sounds.” She told Ji.
“No, I’m afraid not. We were all raised with the knowledge of the dimensions. Of the four of us, only Clare is born of this world.”
“What?” The claim jolted through her, and she swung her gaze to the man leaning against the counter. “Sam?”
He, too, looked startled by Ji’s words, then sheepish, his dark eyes apologetic as he shrugged broad shoulders. “A’sa na koorus. He speaks the truth.”
She turned to Dan next, sitting to her right where he’d sat silently through the whole exchange. “I’m sorry, hon. It’s true. Though you shouldn’t know about it.” He tossed Ji an accusatory look.
The buzzing in her ears pitched higher, drowning out all other sound, and she looked back at Ji. He was the eye of the storm, a calm center in the midst of upheaval, and she stared at him until the buzzing faded again. He gave her time, silencing Clare with a lifted hand when she began to speak.
“So you—all of you—” she refused to exempt Clare “—are from this—this other planet?”
“Dimension,” Ji said again. “Same planet, different… realities.” His brow creased as he frowned slightly, the only indication of his frustration as he waded through the words. “Your lexicon doesn’t accommodate an adequate explanation yet. Our worlds are layered, one over the other. We exist in the same space, only on different…frequencies.”
“Like a radio,” Lyssa said.
“Yes!” Pleased by the analogy, he leaned forward and smiled. “The sounds are there. You just need to know how to tune into the stations.”
“And this is a station.”
“Both literally and figuratively.”
She crossed her arms over her stomach. “I don’t believe you.”
Ji only nodded. “Few do at first.”
“It seems a difficult concept for some—”
“No, I mean why are you here? What purpose would any of this have?”
“Ah.” An easy enough question to answer with a partial truth. “To study.”
Lyssa thought about that. Same world, he’d said, but different realities. All the variations of the world, all the different possibilities of humankind manifested, and yes—she could understand that. “So you travel and study how each world is different. Like an inter-dimensional anthropologist.”
This time he smiled fully, the corners of his eyes creasing as it flashed and faded, and he blinked at her a second, as if surprised by his own reaction. “You have a way of phrasing things perfectly.”
She stared at him, her gaze caught in his. “Thank you.” She couldn’t speak for a moment, and then something twisted in her chest, and she cleared her throat as she shifted her eyes to Dan. “Is that what you’ve been doing here? Studying?”