Nita said the five words and took a careful step, and then another, dodging the breakers and running over the water towards the Made Rocks. Kit had said something about investigating a hotspot before she fell asleep, she thought, but she didn't quite remember why she had to be there.
As she got closer, though, she realized that it was getting a bit lighter with every step she took. The sun wasn’t getting brighter, exactly – it was more than everywhere was getting brighter. And once she she realized what it was, she smiled and doubled her efforts to get to the old fishing platform. She hadn’t been here in awhile – but the trip, when the Powers granted it, was always worth it.
In the distance, on the platform, she would’ve sworn that something was even brighter yet, even though everything was reaching a level of luminescence that would have made the sun dim – and Nita would know, having been up close and personal with it more than once. After experiencing Timeheart a few times, Nita had learned to stare into the brightness instead of away from it. But this brightness was something else – it kept moving, for one, which is not something most lights did.
Nita suddenly realized who it was and broke into a run, sliding a bit on the water but ignoring that, grinning madly and shouting a greeting, almost tempted to try and hug the spark, the white hole that accompanied her first journey as a wizard.
(Dear Artificer,) Fred said, doing a figure eight in midair, the equivalent of a grin. (I've blown my quanta and gone to the Good Place!)
“Freddd!” Nita said again, drawing the name out in response to the teasing as the white hole bobbed a tight spiral in what was a big smile.
(You're here too soon again, you know,) he said kindly to her, the words coming across as light, dancing across her skin in a way that was almost ticklish.
"I know, Fred. I’m just visiting; something Kit said last night drew me here. Remembering, I guess, what I used to be. Maybe it will be important tomorrow?”
(There are no accidents, you know. Even back then – you were so young and eager. And you cared very much - about that pen, about doing the right thing, about Kit too. You’re older now, but no less caring.) Fred wove tight circles around her, pulsing happily against her skin.
She blushed a bit, not sure what to say about that, and then looked around them. She could see for miles under the sea and across the sky; in the distance, Manhattan was a pristine crystal palace. Then she looked back at him and frowned a bit, remembering all of their losses and repeating her question from the first meeting. “Was it worth it, Fred? You told me to find out, and we’ve…we’ve changed things for the better. But was it worth it?"
He laughed and emitted light that went across through the entire electromagnetic spectrum, a pure whoop of joy. Nita felt her hair stand up and grinned; he always did forget about the high frequency radiation, though it didn’t matter here.
(It's always worth it, Nita. Look.) And Fred bobbed towards the surface of water, where a sharp grey fin much larger than normal was making a wave more commonly seen behind motorboats.
Normally, Nita would've started saying in her mind the three word spell that would've created a physical wall, protecting herself from the mindless hunger of the shark, but this was Timeheart, after all. And even if it hadn’t been, she knew this particular shark very well, and dove into the water without second thought, canceling her water-walking spell as she went. She wasn't surprised to find that it took only a thought and she had transformed into a humpback again; the eyes on opposite sides of her head, her binocular vision reduced to a couple degrees.
But humpbacks didn’t need to see: Nita didn’t dally as she sang an effusive hello to Ed, rolling on her back and offering her belly in a greeting that only held for a few seconds before she surged forward, singing constantly in her giddiness.
"Hello, Sprat," his voice came, dry as always, his eyes still as dark as night and yet alive with the light that was all around them.
"Ed! What’s it like, Ed?" She even nudged him a bit in her mix of relief and worry, feeling the rough shark skin against the her smooth rubber of a humpback like the handshake of an old friend. "Did we do right? Do you ever regret-"
"Sprat, you almost sound distressed." His sandpaper voice against her skin was a feeling Nita hadn't felt for years, a feeling that she desperately missed. "You've been here many times now, and you still ask?"
"Well," she fluked backwards rapidly, a whale's embarrassed gesture. "I'm just...asking, Ed. I'm…worried."
Ed bumped her in the snout then, harder than Kit would have, a reminder as to who he was. Timeheart or not, the Master Shark still had and performed his duties. He swam in a circle around Nita, his passionless eyes reminding her that he never changed. And yet…"Before we sang, Sprat, I remarked that I would never hear that which the Blues sing of - the Voices of the Ocean, the Tranquility of the Seas. Now I have."
"Did we-" she started to ask. But this was Timeheart, and she was thinking it so hard, so desperately, that he opened his jaw, showing her the teeth that could have ripped her apart and reminding her again of his creed. "The Sea tells me the price was paid by willing substitution, Sprat. And willing it was. You, young and now loving; I, old and now loved. I am not sorry for what happened." He swam under her and nudged her again, upwards. "Timeheart waits, Nita. But there is still distress out there, distress to be cured."
"Thank you, Ed." She said, singing gently and quietly. She fluked downwards, once, twice, to brush against him one more time, to remind herself of the price - and the reward - of serving the Powers That Be. Ed drew away and then stopped, rolling to display his belly to her - only for a second, of course, but it was done. And then, calmly as always, he turned and swam away, a dark shadow that grew lighter every moment as he returned to the Sea.
When she could no longer see him, she swam for the light above, heading towards the surface as it got brighter, and brighter still, and finally woke up to the morning sun on her face and the sound of her dad and Dairine downstairs, arguing about what soil composition would be best for Filif.
She smiled, grabbed her manual, and paged through it, feeling the buzz and already knowing what she'd find.
Delayed Temporalspatial Message from Rodriguez, K. Accept?
Yes, she thought, and the notice cleared, replaced with two lines.
Hey, Neets, I was thinking we'd go over some of the undersea samples again -
There's weird power signature in it. Maybe get a chance to talk to S’reee again?”
She got dressed in a hurry and then opened her bedroom door to listen to the conversation - apparently they had moved on to the behavior of Spot...which meant they wouldn’t miss her anytime soon.
Nita smiled to herself, dropped her manual into the otherspace pocket, and disappeared in a clap of air.