All it took was to mention the name of Johnny Faa.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” David said before a group of twelve scientific specialists, “we are doing something that has been tested by human beings exactly zero times.”
All assembled were gathered in Faa’s brightly lit metal box of a room off from the desks and office spaces of the science staff. In fact, David’s desk was about seven steps away from the heavy metal door, but that had still proven too far. Over the last five days, he’d moved most of his paper and research into the room with the Gypsy King. Maybe it really was easier. The door did require a keypad access every time it shut. Maybe it was because Faa tended to behave himself if David was around. But maybe, David thought as he looked over his crew, which frankly looked terrified to be there, maybe it was something else.
“This is what you got into this business for,” David continued, noticing some frustration on a few faces.
“Or, perhaps,” he noted, “this is what some of you were forced down here to do.”
The faces changed into dark smiles. A lot of them knew that, were it not for men in black suits absconding with them one day… sure, they’d have a normal life, but it would also be a life slinging Frappucinos and falling behind on rent.
“Thanks to the kind support of our governmental penpals at NASA,” David went on, gesturing to the still mostly empty room, “we have a means of doing something that humanity has, until recently, thought impossible. By utilizing a reaction between antimatter recently discovered from the asteroid belt and the standard matter of this gateway…”
He gestured to a massive square steel structure on the far end of the room, across from a massive blast shield and bay of several computers and server cabinets.
“We are hoping to create a large enough reaction to… well, there’s really no way to say this better… we’re going to try to dig our fingers into the fabric of time and see if we can’t rip it open.”
There were a few uncomfortable shufflings at that point. Seeming to feed on that energy, Johnny Faa leapt off one of the computer chairs where he had been lounging.
“So, we’re looking to play a game of ‘Just the Tip’ with all creation and see if that harlot will let us go all the way. Sound like fun?”
There were more uncomfortable murmurs, as Faa passed David, he murmured quickly.
“Your speeches are getting better.”
“I’m half in the bag,” David replied quickly.
“A-ha,” Faa said back with a small laugh. He began to walk up and down the length of the assembled scientists, engineers, and medical staff.
“Now, all of you have very important tasks. We selected all of you because the tasks are important, you see. Important tasks for people, that makes them important people. Yes. So all of you are know, officially, important people. To me. Relish that.”
He stopped directly in front of Adorra, the tattooed, bespectacled young lady in very trendy clothes and heavy makeup.
She scowled a little then. Johnny smiled.
“I have a very important task for you. Mr. Berg?”
“Yes, Mr. Faa?” David replied wearily from the re-occupied chair, massaging his temple to stave off a headache.
“Can you hand me that reflector board next to you?”
David looked around bewildered until he found what looked to be a leftover from the recent construction in the room, a piece of acoustic tile with one side slightly shinier than the other.
“This thing?” David asked, holding it up.
“Yes,” Faa replied with looking back, “that thing.”
David, still bewildered, walked forward and handed the board to Faa, who handed it to Adorra.
“Now.. you,” Faa continued as Adorra stared blankly at the tile, “You just might have the most important job of all.”
“Pffft,” she scoffed, “Yeah right. You usually wouldn’t trust me to make you coffee.”
He grabbed both of her shoulders and held her close, his gaze boring into her face.
“I’ve been training you for this moment for all this time: molding you, testing you, forging you and re-forging you until you were just strong enough... Only you can hold that. I need you to hold that up high, like this.”
He modeled a sort of “touchdown” formation. Adorra, slightly shell-shocked, did as she was bidden.
“Good!” Faa almost giggled, “Good. That’s perfect. Do you know what that does, Adorra?”
She shook her head no.
“That is specifically tuned to the fabric of this time and space. I need you to hold that up high and keep it up high. We need to properly configure this dimension so it isn’t ripped apart by the next… do you understand me? If you let that drop, you could very well destroy our entire universe. Do you understand?”
She nodded yes.
He walked back to David and turned around, pleased to see Adorra still holding the tile up high.
“You are terrible!” David hissed at him under his breath.
“You’re not stopping me,” Faa replied, a very satisfied smile on his face.
And so the work began in earnest: the engineers set up the gate and the special chamber which the antimatter would be released from, the scientists made sure everything was accurate with their weeks of calculation, and the medical staff were busy setting up Johnny Faa to be monitored behind the blast shield for heart rate, brain activity, and more.
“Careful with those sticky things, now,” Faa quipped as they set up the EKG, “I’ve got precious little chest hair and I don’t wanna lose it.”
He wasn’t kidding. Even the medical professionals gasped when they saw under his shirt. His body was marred almost impossibly with scars, punctures, and what looked like dozens of bullet holes.
“Yeah, some of ’em don’t heal up quite perfect,” Faa said with a shrug, “I got a few of those left from the Great War, you know, but I think all my Civil War ones are gone…”
Meanwhile, David was grilling all three of the specialists behind the blast shield.
“I want to know everything that goes on.”
“If he farts, I want to know why.”
“Yeah, got it.”
“I want the chemical composition. I want to know if there’s any antimatter in his ass.”
Back near the gate, Faa was having an animated conversation with an awkward looking scientist when Adorra finally spoke up.
“Um, hello? It’s been a while, do I really have to keep this up here like this? I really don’t know if I can, this is getting really hard…my arms are really starting to hurt……”
With a smile, Faa walked briskly over to Adorra, making the medical staff skip quickly to avoid him dragging the EKG on the floor. Johnny once again looked directly into Adorra’s face, but this time his expression was playful… and wolfish.
“You know, that’s amazing. I’m seeing you in pain, real pain. You didn’t speak out because you wanted the attention, you didn’t speak out to catch everyone’s eye and show everyone just how wonderful and special and unique you are… you really don’t want the attention, because you’re in quite a lot of pain. Your pain is… real. It makes you real. This is the most real I’ve ever seen you: no artifice, no pretending like you’re a character out of a bad comedy, no trying to make yourself something you aren’t. This is you and, honestly, I think it’s the best you’ve ever looked. I mean… you don’t look good, your face is all red and puffy, and I can see this nasty vein standing out on your neck, and you look about ready to collapse… but this is still better than what you usually do. You’re more attractive now that you ever have been under the chunky glasses and the thick eyeliner and the gaudy jewelry and scarves and stupid hats. For once, I’m seeing you make a noise, and do a thing not for your own benefit or self-aggrandizement… but simply because you have to. And it’s human. And I’m glad I got to see it. You might have been a real person, one day, under all that fake, and it would have been a long trip back from the brink… but this was a good start. I suppose I should say I’m sorry to put you through pain… but I’m not. I did this specifically to see who you really are: a scared, lonely little girl who will do anything for anyone that offers her a kind word and that validation, who would stand here for someone who has been so cruel to her just because I told her that holding that useless piece of tile was important… that’s who you really are…”
He probably would have kept talking, but Adorra threw down the tile in disgust and stormed out of the room, but not before tossing a few lame expletives at his smiling face. The awkwardness continued as the setup continued, and as Faa was getting fitted with a brain scanning helmet, the awkward-looking scientist spoke up in a quiet voice.
“I liked what you did back there.”
“Oh?” Johnny said, raising his eyebrows until they disappeared under the helmet.
“Yeah, I get annoyed with her sometimes.”
She was thin and unremarkable, with pale skin that looked almost unhealthy, spotted liberally with freckles. The wire-rims she wore seemed a few sizes too large for her watery eyes and washed out hair, but her hands were still deft and nimble as they performed one last check on the helmet.
“She’s always so loud, and if you’re having a conversation she’ll just butt in. It’s like everything’s a competition with her.”
“Too bad she sucks at it,” Faa replied. The scientist tried hard to stifle a giggle. After a few more moments, she spoke again.
“I’m really going to miss you around here.”
It was a simple sentiment, but she said it with such gravity that it actually surprised the immortal gypsy for a few seconds. After that, of course, he was back to normal.
“Oh, I see… so what you’re saying is that you find me attractive.”
Color flooded to her face, turning the pallid white a striking crimson. Faa only laughed and kept going.
“Well, you’ve certainly got your own thing going on, I have to say. I’ve been admiring certain parts of you since you got here, you know. I’ve even had a little bet going on in my mind for a while, and I was wondering if you could resolve it for me.”
Faa took that as a cue to move on.
“You see, you’ve got a terrific ass, and I always was curious as to what you were rockin’ under those pants. So tell me… bikinis? Something high-cut? Thong? G-string?”
He would have continued, but the scientists finished configuring the helmet in record time and scurried away like a frightened rabbit to hide behind the blast shield with the rest of the contingent. David pressed a button on a microphone and heard his voice ring through the room.
Faa grinned back, shooting a wink at the awkward scientist, who tried to duck down behind a desk.