The clinking of wrench on bolt echoed slightly through Dela’s guts, sound bouncing ever so slightly against the gears and steam pipes. The parts of her that he was standing in were shut off while the rest continued to pump away, using redundant systems to keep Newton safe while he repaired and enhanced her. He spoke to his difference engine, watching a yellow light blink Morse code in response.

“How is Dr. Bellenger?” The computer seemed sincere in her question. After so long, Newton could almost believe he could hear her moods in the grind of gears and strength of pistons.

He blushed a little as he tightened a bolt, rolling his shirt sleeves higher, trying to stall for time. “Please don’t begin that as well, Dela. I receive quite my share of it when I visit with the rest of the Exceptional community.”

“I don’t see what the problem is. It’s been quite some time since you’ve considered women as anything more than a potential colleague.  You’re not embarrassed by her, are you?”

“No!” The answer was sharp and quick and slightly mortified. “Not in the slightest. I might as well be embarrassed that the works of the Old Masters are so heartbreakingly beautiful. Rather…it is unfamiliar to me. Never have I been so delighted to be unsure of so much. Each new revelation is glorious.” The scientist started, realizing he had stopped working and was instead staring into space, the scent of oil and metal reminding him not necessarily of her, but of how she made him feel.

“Irregardless,” he continued, clearing his throat and deliberately returning to the task at hand, “she is the most brilliant women I’ve ever known, and I am honored simply to know her.”

There was the briefest pause before Dela answered, “The most brilliant?”

Newton couldn’t help but laugh. “Present company excepted, of course. No need for you to worry.” He patted one of the steam pipes, “You’re still my number one girl, Dela. But you have to admit, there are certain limitations to our friendship.”

“You’re right, Newton,” she said, pistons calm and steady. “I’m not jealous of your time. But I can perform thousands of calculations a second. I sincerely doubt Dr. Bellenger can accomplish half of that.”

He smiled, oiling an assembly with care, wiping up a trail of the slick lubricant before it dripped into the bearings. “You are indeed correct. Though Mac may be able to-” he was interrupted by a piston arm crashing down on his shoulder, not enough to hurt him, but certainly enough to gain his attention.

“I’m sorry, Newton,” the light blinked. “I seem to have slipped.”

Newton glowered for only a moment. “Perhaps less oil next time, then.” But soon he was smiling softly again. “Alright, Dela, I think you’re in form.” He climbed over another pipe, past a steam vent, and out a trap door in the huge facade of the Difference Engine. The buttons were warm and the switches flipping were accompanied by the satisfying hum of power surging through a machine. The pistons took a few moments to come up to speed and synchronize with the rest of the parts that hasn’t stopped moving, but soon the entire engine was moving at full capacity. Newton went over to the output slot and read the status report, his eyes scanning a familiar pattern of holes.

Then there were the two extras. Two punches that he had never seen in a diagnostic report previous to this one. That was entirely new, and the scientist spent more than a minute staring, trying to remember when he’d added that functionality.

“Dela, what is this ‘temporal fluctuation detection’ you have listed in your diagnostic?”

The computer took several seconds longer to answer than usual. Finally, a blue card spit out. “After your temporal…adventure, I though I should begin learning how to upgrade myself to include chronology sensors. They are not complete, but they would be present on the diagnostic.”

He didn’t know where to begin. All he could do was sputter, “What do you mean, ‘upgrade yourself?’ You don’t have that functionality, I never gave it to you!”

Dela did not answer. She didn’t answer anything for the rest of the evening.