Discordant Hour

Alejandro’s reaction time was impressive, even if it didn’t measure up to someone who was bending time to give himself an edge. His hands got halfway up into a defensive stance before the bolt hit him and carried through into a scooping motion to grapple Sam’s gun hand. Unfortunately for him that was his artificial left arm and it had more than enough strength to keep Alejandro from pushing it out of position.

The other man pulled up short, looking surprised. Sam could see the thought process in his face – a surprised look as he realized he didn’t have the strength to move Sam’s arm, then a realization that he wasn’t in pain. Alejandro’s eyes narrowed. “What was that?”

“Tachyon disruptor,” Sam said, taking a half step to the side to put a more comfortable distance between them. “Creates a localized distortion field that prevents people struck by it from manipulating magic. Or whatever it is you people do with it. Not sure how long the effect will last-”

Alejandro was shuffling back and forth on the balls of his feet and suddenly shot forward nearly ten feet with a single hop. “Not long.”

“-and it may vary depending on individual power levels. There are some kind of individual levels, right?”

“Yeah. And I gotta tell you, if it only lasted a few seconds with me it’s not gonna do squat to your magical girl.” He shook himself like a ghost had just passed through him, giving Sam’s weapon a skeptical look. “We’re not sure how the Legacy gathers power but the stories make it pretty clear that the girls tap power straight from dragons themselves. And dragons are supposed to be the source of magic. So, by default, we assume they’re harder hitters than we are.”

“Fair enough, but how accurate are these stories?”

Alejandro offered an eloquent shrug. “As much as legends from the bronze age can be. But everything we have on the Legacy holds true, so why not the other half as well?”

“I can’t argue with that.” He stowed the disruptor prototype in the locker and keyed it closed. “You said the Legacy counterbalances the magical girls. How does that work?”

“I only know one Legacy bearer who’s met a magical girl, and you’re looking at him.” The shrug was less eloquent this time, more dismissive. “There’s not much I can tell you beyond that’s what the theory is supposed to be. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to use the Legacy responsibly – there’s a reason I’m studying criminal justice, after all – but using it like it was originally intended? That context didn’t even exist three months ago.”

“More like six,” Sam muttered, but the other man ignored him. “Okay, so you’re not quite sure what your relationship to Split Infinity is-”

“Split Infinity? Is that some kind of codename or something?”

“Yeah. It’s a long story.” Sam started back towards his workstation. “Anyway, here’s another question for you. If I could set up another meeting between you two, would you be interested in trying to work it out?”

“What? Did you two exchange phone numbers while you were running for your life in one of these dustups?” Realization dawned. “You know when she’s going to show up in the future, don’t you.”

“Tomorrow Sharon and I go to check on the holding cells I put Thunderclap and company in at the request of the Indianapolis Police and install a few more units.” He hit a key on the workstation and brought up the plans for the installation. “I’m guessing that’s one thing she’s going to mention when we talk later. While we’re there Split Infinity is going to put in an appearance.”

“And you want to use this as a chance to… what?” Alejandro jerked one finger in the general direction of the locker the disruptor was in. “Use one of those popguns to try and bring her down to normal human status? Because that ain’t gonna work.”

“I’m installing a much stronger version on the Clockwork armor right now. The hand version is so weak because it doesn’t have a power source on the same level as the armor.” A swipe brought up the plans for the jail complex where he’d left Thunderclap. Sam pointed Alejandro towards a side room. “But if you can be there I can send you to the utility room on a pretext and you can flank her when-”

“No.”

Sam drew up short in confusion. “No? No, you don’t flank people? You want to switch places? You don’t want to go toe to toe with her?”

Alejandro waved the questions away. “None of the above. You need to understand something, Sam. I get that you’re probably well intentioned. But you’re tampering with things you probably shouldn’t. Sharon told me you can read the future. And about the same time you first did that your magical girl – Split Infinity or whatever you want to call her – showed up. I said it already, they respond to things that dragons consider threats.” He sat down at the foot of the stairs and shook his head. “Look. I don’t know what, exactly, a chimeric mythological beast considers a threat. But there are consequences to actions and I think this girl is one to yours. I’m not sure it’s my place to mess with that.”

Sam blanked his workstation. “So you’re not going to help?”

“No.” He laced his fingers together, stared down at his hands. Let out a deep sigh and ran his hand over his hair. “Look, if it makes you feel any better I don’t plan on helping her, either.”

Sam mulled that over for a second or two. “That’s your opinion? Or one of your predecessors?”

“Mentors,” Alejandro corrected. “You’re never not a part of the Legacy. You just don’t always get the perks of being the latest, greatest model.”

“Humility being one?” Sam asked. Alejandro ignored the sarcasm.

“Just… take care of yourself. Like I said, you look like you mean well.” He got to his feet and started up the stairs.

“Yeah. You too, kid.” Sam watched him go without comment. It had been a long shot after all. A future CIA director probably wasn’t careless in the decisions he made. Same picked up his phone and pulled up Sharon’s number.

——–

“Absolutely not.”

An hour later he was regretting calling her. “I just need you to stay out of the line of fire. Or the melee, since she likes getting in close.”

“So you gave me this magical think of triangles thing-”

“It’s not magic.”

“Whatever, you give me this shielding necklace and then you tell me to not use it?” She was so mad she actually stamped her foot for emphasis. “What’s the use in that?”

“It’s a low powered stopgap measure, Sharon. Split Infinity could cut through it with one finger. Ninety percent sure. You’re not equipped to fight someone on her scale.” He threw his hands in the air. “I don’t know anyone who is.”

“But you’re still going to try it. Sam, we can postpone this inspection, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow.” She gestured at his workstation. “Give yourself some time to pull a solution from the future. You said what Alejandro told you mostly confirmed things you learned from reading the future news, right? Someone must have found a solution to magic in a hundred years time.”

“Actually they only had a decade. Atlantis doesn’t reappear and bring magic along with for another eighty years. And I only have ninety two years of predictive power right now.” He held up a hand to forestall the next question, which he’d already guessed. “I don’t want to dig deeper into the future than that.”

“Why not?” It was as much a demand as a question.

“Because Alejandro was right.” He ran his human hand over his face. “There are consequences to cheating time. To see a thing is to change it.”

There was a moment to digest that, then Sharon took his arm and led him over to a seat by the snack table. “Explain.”

“Okay.” He reluctantly took the seat and ran his hands up and into his hair, trying to marshal his thoughts and explain the problem. “So there’s a thing in quantum physics. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. It states that you can’t know both where a subatomic particle is located and how fast it’s moving. Measuring one will change the other. Gross simplification, that, but that’s the general idea.”

Sharon wrinkled her brow. “Why is that?”

“Do people act the same when their being watched as when they’re not?”

“Some do.” Sharon shook her head. “And particles aren’t people.”

“In this respect they are.” He pulled out a packet of saltine crackers from the snack box on the table and pulled one out. “Now time isn’t a particle per se, although tachyons tie back to temporal dynamics in some way I haven’t figured out, but it still has a sort of uncertainty principle of it’s own. Observing time from… outside, if you will, causes it to change. Problem is, only the observed part of time changes, the rest remains as it was. Like this.”

He held the saltine in place with one hand and stabbed the finger of the other into the cracker, breaking it.

Sharon stared at the crumbs for a second. “Are you saying you broke time?”

“In a nutshell. That’s the most simple explanation, there are nuances that aren’t important.” He hesitated for a minute. “Well, to understanding the problem.”

She leaned in closer to him. “And why might they be important?”

“To someone who wants to fix the problem. Which I do. But step one is not making the problem worse and that means not peaking into the future. Or, at least, doing it as much as possible.” He dusted the crumbs off the table into his hand and absently tossed them into his mouth.

Sharon pulled a disgusted face but didn’t comment on it. “So what does Split Infinity have to do with this?”

“Fixing time takes time.” He waved his hand at the production lab around him. “There’s a lot I can do with this but it’s not nearly enough. I wanted to get out ahead of the delta-human problem because it was a disaster waiting to happen, and keeping some of the worst abuses I saw in the future from happening is still important to me. But to fix the larger problem I need an organization on, at the very least, a nationwide scale. Founding the Guardian’s Guild means more than just protecting people from changing humanity, and vise a versa, although that’s still really important. It’s the first step to preventing the larger temporal disaster that’s coming.”

“And if we don’t do something about temporal disaster… what happens?”

Sam scooped up the cracker packet with his normal hand and tossed it in the air, then unfolded his prosthetic and vaporized it with the internal laser mounted there. “Like that, only worse.”

“Got it.” Sharon looked at her hands. “And the Guild probably won’t work out if you’re tangling with a magically powered girl with a messiah complex at every turn.”

“No. She may have gotten that complex in totally reasonable ways, but we have to do something about her if I’m going to fix things.”

“Okay. Then tomorrow we go to Indy.” She looked up, determination in her eyes. “And we take her on. Both of us.”

There was no give in her stare. Sam weighed his options. “Fine. Both of us.”

An Hour of History

“Two months!” The outside door banged open hard enough that the building shook. The sound of the shout, followed closely by the rippling impact from the door opening, dopplered through temporal shearing and got translated by specialized implants in Sam’s ears. He slapped a switch on his prosthetic arm and the temporal distortion around him vanished, letting him experience time like normal people.

“You’re gone for two months and then you toss Thunderclap in a jail in Indianapolis and call me to come deal with it.” Sharon was picking up a good head of steam going through the living room. He figured it would be a good idea to go meet her at the door, cut her off at the pass as it were.

Before he could clear the workstation she got through the pass, bursting into the lab with the same, or maybe even more force than the outer door. “It takes a lot of… nerve…”

Sharon trailed off as she came to a stop at the top of a set of stairs that hadn’t been there on her last visit. He’d also dug out a whole sublevel for the room, giving him two stories of room to build a triple printer/fabricator rig for building pretty much anything he could think of. It was in the process of repairing and upgrading the Clockworker armor from it’s second outing, assembly arms pulling wrecked components out of the frame and feeding them into recycling ports while new modules were moved into place. Mostly it was the delicate electronics that needed reworking, the armor plating itself was standing up to punishment incredibly well.

Aside from the printer/fabber the bulk of the room was devoted to racks of things awaiting testing, from weapons systems to restraints, there was still a lot of futuretech he’d tried duplicating to mixed results. The whole scene was cast in a harsh blue light from the workstation, basically a single chair by a hard light projector projecting a twenty second century computing system he’d pirated wholesale a week ago.

Sharon stared at all of it before locking on to him. Her eyes narrowed. “Sam, what happened to you.? You’re hair’s gone gray.”

That’s what she notices,” Sam muttered. He reached down to the storage drawers by his workstation and rummaged until he found what he was looking for. “I made something for you, Sharon.”

She made her way down the stairs. “Is it a fully functional cyborg that’s going to explain to me where you’ve been for the past two months? Or a hologram?” She glanced at the hard light display. “You’re apparently doing those now.”

“None of the above.” Sam met her at the foot of the stairs and reached up and around her neck.

“You got me a necklace.” The flat, factual, laywerly side of her was in full force on that statement. A danger sign if she ever had one.

Sam just closed the clasp and brought his hands back to rest on her shoulders. “Sharon, I need you to wear this at all times. It’s a personal shield generator. You can activate it by pressing one of these fittings.”

The silver chain had four round, brown, gemlike things set equally across the front. Sam tapped the one on the left. “Once you do, just think of triangles.”

“Triangles.”

There was that tone of voice again, but this time Same could see the absurdity of the statement being weighed against all the other absurd things she’d seen him do in the time they’d known each other. “Size, color and type doesn’t matter,” he said, “so long as they are triangles.”

She glanced down at the necklace, where the setting he’d touched now glowed softly, and sighed. Her eyes flicked up to the right and a glowing quarter hemisphere of light appeared behind her. She jumped a little, turning to try and look at it squarely only to find it rotated with her. Sam quickly stepped back to avoid being swiped by it, then sidestepped to get back in front of her and tap the fitting again to switch the shield off. “The outer two switches control the quadrants behind you, the center two the quadrants in front. It can only draw so much power, though, so the full shield will only stop gunfire, where one quadrant can probably stop a runaway semi.”

“Sam.” Sharon gave him a hard look. “Am I in trouble?”

He put his hands back on her shoulders. “Not that I’ve seen. But I’m hoping this will keep any trouble you do attract from hurting you. I’m… going to be quite busy, soon.”

She looked down at the necklace. “How do I keep it charged? Or do you need to replace it every so often.”

“Odd as it may sound, that’s what thinking of triangles is for. It runs off a Heisenberg power tap, which, to tell you a secret, is something I came up with myself. I was worried we’d have to calibrate it some to sync with you but it looks like it worked fine.” He adjusted the necklace slightly, getting distracted by the way the chain lay against her neck.

“Sam,” she said softly. “What-”

“Er-herm.” The two of them awkwardly jerked apart and Sam looked around. Up on the landing, Alejandro Gutierrez watched them with a trace of embarrassment. “Hi, Mr. King.”

“Alejandro.” Sam hesitated a split second, then stepped away from Sharon to get a better angle to see him from. “You’re a long way from Phoenix.”

“Well, it’s summer break and I talked to the people I said I would last time we met.” He started down the stairs and Sharon moved aside to give him space. “You weren’t here when I arrived but Ms. Sanderson was nice enough to put me up in a hotel for the last few weeks. My… friends said it was important to talk to you.”

Sam leaned in to whisper to his lawyer out of the side of his mouth, “Do I owe you for this?”

“No,” she whispered back. “I still have power of attorney over the shell companies you’ve been using for your ‘inventions’ and there was more than enough money to cover one college student’s room and board.”

“Where are we with Thunderclap and his friends?”

“The Indiana state legislature wants you to appear and testify about what’s going on there next month. We have a lot of prep work to do but it won’t be urgent until tomorrow.”

“No it won’t, but I’ll show you that secret later. I think I need to talk to Alejandro now. Want to sit in?”

She raised her eyebrows. “Oh, do I rate full access to the secrets of the Clockworker now?”

“You’ve earned it, but I don’t think I can give it. It’s… hard to explain.”

“That’s the only explanation I’m interested in. Talk to the man, fill me in later.” They pulled apart and Sharon headed towards the stairs.

Alejandro watched her go and shook his head when she was gone. “Best of luck to that woman. You seem like a handful to deal with.”

“Thanks.” Sam sat down in his work chair and tinkered with the hard light projector until it produced another chair for Alejandro. “So. You said you weren’t sure what you should tell me before. What can you tell me now?”

The other man studied the chair with a skeptical eye. “What do you already know?”

“Very little. I’ve inferred some things, the future tells me others. My own observations don’t contradict any of it but that doesn’t mean it’s true.” Sam leaned back and shrugged. “How about you just tell me everything you can and I’ll sort it as best I can?”

“Fair enough.” Alejandro finally decided to work with the chair and sat in it. “Wow. That’s more comfortable than I thought it would be.”

Sam just raised an eyebrow and motioned for him to go on.

“Right. Thousands of years ago there were civilizations based on entirely different systems of understanding reality. Not unscientific or anything like that, but not,” he gestured to the equipment around them, “technological is how we say it.”

“We?”

“I’m getting to that part.” Alejandro steepled his fingers and stared at them for a second, gathering his thoughts. “Two of the creatures most commonly associated with these civilizations were the phoenix and the dragon, or creatures very similar to them, associated with the storm, immense physical power and an unnatural cycle of death and rebirth. These civilizations-”

Sam waved a hand for a pause then asked, “There were more than one?”

“Two, that there is evidence for. Maybe more.” Sam nodded and motioned for another continuance. “These civilizations revolved around a creature or creatures with characteristics of these two mythological beings, although physical descriptions are more consistent with dragons. In particular, the fact that they lived in the ocean. So that’s what we call them.”

“But they could fly?”

Alejandro gave a thin smile. “The more famous of the two civilizations in the West was Atlantis. The dragon supposedly carried the city on it’s back. Something like that flying isn’t impossible, given what the dragons are capable of, but given the way they interacted with the world I don’t think they’d bother.”

Several things he’d read in the past few weeks clicked in place. “Atlantis is a living creature.”

“In a manner of speaking. As I said, the dragons have an unusual life cycle, dying and then reconstituting into a new incarnation of the same creature.”

“Hence the association with the phoenix.” Sam nodded, thinking back to his school days when he’d had a woefully insufficient exposure to Greek legends. “Then the city sank when the dragon died. What happened when it was reborn?”

“We don’t know. It might not have happened yet. But we think it’s getting close, because half of the dragon’s emissaries are appearing again.” Alejandro pointed one finger square at Sam. “You’re being chased by one.”

“The girl we met at your dorm?”

“We’re not sure why dragons exist, or what kind of thought process leads to them meddling in human affairs, but when they do it’s always by appointing a young girl, around the beginning of puberty, imbuing her with, for lack of a better term, magic powers and turning her loose on whatever problem the perceive.” Alejandro shrugged and stood up, looking around the room. “If I had to guess, I’d say this kind of total plagerization from the future would be enough to set them off.”

“No. I only did all this because Splits Infinity came for me.” Sam got up and headed for his desk. “Although given some of the things the future has in store… maybe I would have done it anyway. But on a fundamental level they had to come for me. To see a thing is to change it. What’s the other half?”

Alejandro shot him a questioning look. “I’m sorry?”

“You said The Girl Who Splits Infinity was half of the dragon’s emissaries. What’s the other half?”

“Oh. That’s me. Us, really, but me specifically at the moment.” Alejandro hopped slightly, or at least he flexed his knees like he was going to hop a few inches off the ground. The motion actually took him almost to the ceiling of the two story space. “One half of the equation is the magical girl – or whatever you want to call giving adolescent girls transforming superpowers – and the other is the Legacy.”

Sam stabbed a series of commands into the computer console and one of the lockers a few feet away snapped open. “There’s just one of you?”

“One person holds the Legacy at a time. It’s passed from one man to the next over time, and that’s about all I’m allowed to tell you.” Alejandro trailed along as Sam headed over to the equipment locker he’d just opened. “Suffice it to say we’re intended as a counterbalance of some sort, to prevent the girls from running out of control or something. There’s some kind of pseudomystical philosophy to it about opposing forces balancing, would be really unpopular today. The only person I’ve talked to about it that I’d call an expert thinks it has to do with gender differences in thought process and the contradictions the dragons are supposed to embody.”

“How come the girls transform into…”

“Idealized forms of themselves, probably. Like, what the young girl dreams of being when she matures.” Alejandro shrugged. “We don’t know for sure why it happens. The way the Legacy works was lost over time so we don’t know much about it. Even calling it ‘magic’ is just us slapping whatever term we think best fits it onto what goes on. Until I saw it happen with my own eyes we didn’t know they did that. My theory is that it helps them channel the degree of power the dragons give them without hurting themselves.”

Sam paused with a hand on the locker door. “So you’re not even sure you run off the same power source?”

“No. We’re both magical in nature, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

“Good.” He whipped the door open, snatched up the snub nosed weapon within and shot Alejandro with it.

Return Hours

“You tell me the world is going to fall apart and you want me to just walk back into it?” Sam shook his head. “How about giving me a hint what’s wrong with it?”

Jack sighed and reached up to finger a pendant he was wearing for a moment. It gave Sam enough time to really study him. Apart from the gleaming bald head that demanded most of his attention Jack was a pretty normal guy. He wore a short sleeved shirt and jeans; the only distinctive features about him were the pendant, a metallic set of hash marks that added up to a total of five hung on a chain, and a similar set of weird bangles on a chain loop dangling from his belt. Sam had just started trying to parse what they were when Jack pulled on one of the belt decorations, coming up with a full sized ice cream scoop in his hand. He started dishing ice cream from a container that had cropped up at some point when Sam hadn’t been paying attention and into a pair of bowls that were resting on a table of equally mysterious origin.

“This is going to sound really weird,” Jack said, dropping a third scoop of ice cream into one of the bowls, rattling the spoon. “But we actually don’t know what’s wrong with your world.”

“How is that possible?” Sam asked, trying to stay calm. “You just said you knew it was collapsing.”

Jack returned the ice cream scoop to his belt with a flourish and handed Sam one of the bowls of ice cream. “Because we’re in charge of travel between worlds, not specific worlds themselves.”

There was a powerful urge to fling the ice cream back in Jack’s face but Sam fought it down. “If you’re so powerful-”

“It’s not power.” The old man gently took the ice cream from Sam and put a hand on his shoulder. Before Sam could think of resisting the other man had pushed him to a sitting position on the ground, cross legged, which he mirrored. Jack squatted down next to them, eating ice cream and watching warily. “What we have is authority. We can demand the universe work in certain ways, so long as it’s within our scope of purpose. But that scope ends where your world begins. If we were to go into it and try and determine the problem we’d just be normal people.”

Jack pointed his spoon at the old man. “You don’t count as normal anywhere, oyaji.”

“The point is, we don’t have authority over your world. If you’re really curious you could try and find out who or what does and ask them.” With a flick of a wrist the old man flipped Sam’s armor up into a standing position and oriented the open front towards its owner. “In the mean time, we can’t let you go on anywhere else since that kind of travel builds bridges that could drag other worlds into the collapse of yours. So we’re going to have to send you back.”

Sam started at the sudden change in subject. “What? That’s all the answers I get?”

“We’re not in the answers business either, pal,” Jack said. “I would have just sent you back and tied you directly to your world so you couldn’t leave again. Nothing personal, just the way I’d do it.”

The old man waved a hand across the floor and the fog that it consisted of faded away, leaving Sam with another view of the dizzying horizon fading away into reality below. This time, fully alert, he was able to make a little sense of what he was seeing. Arrayed below him was a picture of reality in the abstract, he could see the four universal forces, gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak forces all layed out in harmony, the unifying principles just out of reach of comprehension. The speed of light shot through the spectacle as the only constant, just as Einstein had suggested. And pulsing away in the background he caught the constant forward press of time, like the pendulum of a clock if it swung in a half visible figure eight.

Except the figure eight wasn’t quite balanced. Sam leaned forward and squinted, trying to figure out what he was seeing. Abstract math and abstract images danced in his mind for a moment, struggling to harmonize. Then, in an instant, past, present and future clicked in place and Sam understood. A hand took him lightly by the collar and pulled him back.

“Don’t go without the armor,” the old man said softly. “Just because we’re making you stay in a world that will only last a few lifetimes past yours doesn’t mean you need to get suicidal.”

“Sorry, I was thinking.” Sam reached absently for his armor and started to pull himself into it. “Question. Can I come back here?”

Jack exchanged a look with the old man. “Maybe you weren’t listening. You-”

“Can’t go to other worlds. Fine, I wasn’t really interested in that before. I mean, interesting concept, sure, but I’ll look to my own for now. What I wanted to know was,” Sam snapped the armor closed and waited for it to seal, tucking his helmet under one arm. “Can I come back here? Inbetween.”

The old man tilted his head towards some point in the distance. “A word, Jack?”

The two moved off and Sam took the opportunity to strap his helmet on and run a scan or two. He learned exactly nothing about the old man other than that his long brown coat and worn shoes were exactly the same shade. Examining the weird abstraction outside the little bubble was more interesting and Sam spent the rest of his time on that.

Eventually the two of them came back over and Jack offered a grudging nod. “You can’t go any further from your home than this but yes, so long as you accept that you can come ‘here’ again.”

——–

“Keep your heads down.” Teddy fumbled with a lockbox until he could dig his fingers into it and rip it open. Rolls of coins flew everywhere, prompting him to curse and look over his shoulder. “Hey, Slim…”

“Yeah?”

“You got anything?”

“Cash box, maybe a safe.” Slim toed a heavy box locked to the floor of the armored truck. “We ain’t making much on this run. Seriously, man, it’s time to look at hitting bigger targets. We got you, Upsilon and Kilimanjaro. Let’s take a bank or something.”

“No, man. Not until we got the Clockworker out of the picture.” Teddy knelt down and broke the box off the floor then started working his fingers under the lid.

“You still hung up on him? I’m telling you, whatever happened to him he’s gone. Don’t’ get too hung up.”

Teddy shook his head. “We’re not ready. Maybe one more heavy and we’ll try it. No telling what the cops might be doing to get ready for us. Any leads on the electric guy? He could probably take out security cameras and stuff.”

“He keeps moving further south.” Slim shrugged. “Maybe he’s just following suit. We came down into Indiana because the upper peninsula was getting too hot, he might have thought we were trying to muscle in on his turf.”

“Well-” the box finally burst open and some kind of a shock hit him. Teddy felt all his muscles lock in place, then begin to twitch in time with the soft buzzing coming from the box.

Slim leaned over his shoulder. “What is it, Thunderclap? Find something?” His voice turned confused. “Looks like it’s just another box. You okay, man?”

“Thunderclap!” Kilimanjaro’s voice came from outside, panicked. “He’s here-”

The big black man crashed backwards into the side of the truck, tearing through the reinforced metal. Bearing down after him was the shape that had haunted Teddy’s dreams for weeks. The sleek, bullet shaped helmet was slightly different than before, more reinforced around the visor perhaps. The rest of the armor looked much the same, a bit more reinforced at some places, but still an ugly mud color and lethal as all hell.

Kilimanjaro took a swing at the Clockworker’s head as he landed on the floor hard enough that Teddy heard the suspension give way. Not super surprising since he probably weighed two or three tons at the moment, but his punch didn’t connect. The Clockworker seemed to slip around it effortlessly then dropped his right elbow down on his opponent hard enough that Kilimanjaro went through the bottom of the truck. In the same motion his left arm unfolded to reveal not the snub nosed rubber gun from last time but a black cone that he leveled at Kilimanjaro. There was a flash of light, much like the one that had locked Teddy into place, then the Clockworker casually folded his arm back up again while his right hand pulled some kind of handcuffs from a compartment at its waist.

Teddy wanted to say that those wouldn’t hold Kilimanjaro, he wasn’t just heavy when he went full mountain man he was crazy strong, too. But some part of his mind told him that, if the Clockworker had brought them, they could probably hold even someone like that.

The handcuffs were clicking into place when Upsilon popped into the truck and pulled Teddy away through wherever teleported things went. They came back out in a cornfield half a mile away where they’d stashed the getaway car they’d planned to stash their take. Teddy shook himself off and looked around. “What happened?”

“I don’t know, Thunderclap,” she said, nervously brushing hair out of her eyes. “One of the lookouts called to say they saw him pop out from under a cameo thing on the side of the road.”

“A cameo thing?” He demanded, incredulous.

“I don’t think he got a good look at what it was and he got hit with something before I could ask.” Upsilon wrapped her arms around herself. “He knew we were coming. How did he know that? How do we fight someone who knows what we’re going to do before we do it and can take Kilimanjaro one on one. He could chew granite.”

“He’s not a precog, Upsilon,” Teddy said, annoyed. “Someone must have ratted us out.”

“You have a low opinion of your friends.” The Clockworker’s voice came from Teddy’s left and he whirled to look, only to have the Clockworker land a full powered armor bodycheck from the other side. Teddy rocked back and landed hard on the ground a half a dozen feet away.

Before Upsilon could recover he had her by one hand and was starting to lever her hands behind her. He rippled once, much like he had the last time he disappeared, then snapped back to normal. “Not this time,” he said, pulling a new set of handcuffs out. “Not eager to repeat that experience, thank you.”

He locked her hands behind her back and pushed her back into the car. “Are you going to sit and wait or do I need to use leg cuffs, too?”

She sat.

Teddy growled. “You decide to take up teleporting, too?”

“Directional speakers, actually,” the Clockworker said, his voice seeming to come from behind Teddy again.

When the Clockworker took a step forward Teddy launched himself up and back, flipping his momentum into a high speed reverse loop, a flying backflip that he pulled out of with his chest inches from the ground, streaking forward at close to a hundred miles an hour. It was a move he’d practiced for this fight, something he could do as naturally as breathing.

The Clockworker sidestepped him. The move was fast, unnaturally so. One moment Teddy was about to grab his ankle, the next the ankle was gone and something kicked him in the side harder than anything he’d ever felt before, more painful than anything that had happened to him even before he’d changed. In almost the same instant another hit landed between his shoulder blades and he smashed full speed into the ground and skidded to a stop.

Somehow the Clcokworker got in front of him and was pulling Teddy’s hands into cuffs behind his back before he came to a full stop.

The world had turned to a brown haze and at first Teddy thought it was from pain. Then he realized it was dirt. His landing had kicked up a cloud of it. Some of it had settled on him or on the Clockworker. The rest hung in the air as if suspended in amber. Then, as the Clockworker finished locking him into handcuffs, there was a sickening lurch and the dust jerked into motion, quickly filtering down and settling on the ground.

As the Clockworker lifted him up and slung him over a shoulder Teddy quietly said, “It’s not just a nickname, is it?”

The Clockworker hesitated. “What?”

“You really mess with the clock.” He lifted his head weakly to look where the other man’s eyes should be. “Did someone rat us out? Or did you…”

The bottom half of the Clockworker’s face gave something between a smile and a grimace. “My secret, Thunderclap. I’ll never tell.”

——–

Natalie.

She’d just put her head down on the pillow.

Natalie. You are needed again.

Natalie sighed and looked up into the towering eye. “You said he was gone. You said I was done. What now?”

I said he had moved beyond my sight. I said it was possible. But he has returned.

“Look. I don’t know if I can-”

Three days, Natalie. It must be done by then or the damage may be beyond repair.

She’d learned many things about herself and her patron in the last few months. The voice felt like it shook the world but, in truth, most of the time it shook with exhaustion. The great creature was straining itself just to make contact. “Alright. I put together a divination that found him last time. Maybe it still works. I’ll check it out first thing.”

Godspeed, Natalie.

“Godspeed, Atlantis.”

It was morning, and she didn’t feel like she’d rested a bit. Natalie sighed and dragged herself out of bed. It was going to be a long day.

An Hour Beyond

“And it’s on.” Sam checked his phone and confirmed he was getting input from the temporal relay. “Nice to have my eyes and ears back.”

“I’m sorry, Sam.” Sharon plopped down in one of the chairs at what he affectionately called the Snack Table, since it was where he ate when working. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

“Since I’m still not sure how she’s finding me I don’t see how we can place any blame for this on anyone.” Sam grabbed a chair next to her and sat in it, looking over the new work space. It was the same place as before, actually. He was hoping that not moving after The Girl found him might throw her off her game. “She only fried the relay, didn’t touch anything else, so we’re not too far behind schedule because of it. And from what he said Alejandro knows something about her, hopefully something we can use. So on the whole the trip was a win. If I’d been here I don’t think it would have worked out as well for me.”

“He really managed to stop her?” Sharon gave him an incredulous look. “I was here when she showed up, you know. She smashed the safe you keep the relay in by waving her hand.”

“And he knocked her through a concrete wall.” Sam leaned back in his chair and looked over his handiwork. “Humanity is changing, Sharon. We can read about what happens in the future but we’ve only got the here and now to do something about it. And it’s not time to tangle with those two yet. How’s your side of things coming?”

She leaned back in her chair with a sigh. “You catch Thunderclap and I’ve got the case for deputizing you as a temporary law enforcement officer ready to go. I can’t say it will work, but we can make the case.”

“That’s all I can ask.” Sam casually looped an arm around her shoulders and smiled. “Humanity is changing and we may not understand the reason, but we still have our wits and morals. It’ll be enough.”

Sharon shot him a sideways look. “You got all that out of the relay after it’s been back two minutes?”

“That’s not a prediction, it’s a conviction.” He patted her shoulder. “Without them predictions are useless.”

——–

Teddy crashed down on the armored car feet first, leaning hard back and forth to keep it from swerving off the road as it screeched to a stop. It had taken some practice but on this fourth attempt he managed to keep it from straying out of its lane in spite of the several tons of vehicle bucking to a stop beneath his feet. As soon as they were stopped he smashed both hands through the windshield and hauled the surprised looking guard out of the drivers seat and tossed him to one side. The other guard in the passenger’s seat had enough time to draw his weapon but not enough time to fire before he went the way of the driver.

Teddy slipped down and picked up the guard’s weapons and threw them as far as he could, which was more than far enough for them to disappear beyond the scrub brush along the sides of the road. Then he turned and flew himself to the back of the armored car, ripped the door open and pulled out his cell phone. “We’re in! Come on over.”

The armored car rocked with a loud bang.

Teddy drifted a few steps back and a foot or so off the ground, peeking carefully over the top of the car.

A seven foot tall suit of tan colored body armor finished pulling itself upright and into his line of sight. The most distinctive feature was the helmet, a bullet shaped thing that covered the head and the top half of the face, with an opaque strip around where the eyes should be. Below was a half glimpsed set of fairly intricate, interlocking plates that whirred with half heard motors. Almost the instant Teddy spotted the armor it sprang forward and hit him with a square on body block.

Teddy pushed back and up, flying up and away even as his head swam. The guy in the suit had hit him hard, way harder than Teddy thought possible, and your actual fighting had never been his thing. He’d figured that whatever had happened to him was enough that he’d not get hurt and finding out he’d been wrong wasn’t fun.

Teddy stopped about ten feet up, shaking his head to try and get his bearings. The world came into focus just in time for him to see the armored man leaping up at him from the ground. Teddy threw his hands up and wheeled backwards, flipping head for heels. By dumb luck Teddy got his heels planted in the chest of the armored man as he spun and their collision sent both bobbing erratically through the air both of them scrabbling with each other. An armored hand clamped around Teddy’s arm and he couldn’t shake it off so he used the attached arm to lever his opponent around and pushed down, driving armor boy into the ground with both feet.

Without pause the other man pulled Teddy down into his rising fist.

With stars in his eyes Teddy pushed up again, swinging around wildly and flailing at the armored man. He managed to land a hard hit somewhere on the other’s arm and body. With the second hit the hand holding his arm let go and Teddy spun for a moment in the air before he got his bearings.

Armor guy was scrambling to his feet and Teddy had enough time to line up and dive bomb him, slamming both hands into this side in a full powered shove that sent him bouncing off of the road like a hockey puck. Teddy settled to the ground, breathing deeply as he took stock of the situation. Slim was watching from around the side of the armored car, his piece dangling forgotten in one hand. Not that a 9 mm was likely to do much against whatever crazy stuff the armored man was wearing. When he didn’t immediately pop back up and come running onto the road again Teddy touched down next to Slim, who had motioned two others out from the shadow of the car and started gathering money out of the back door. “Where’s Upsilon -”

Before Teddy could finish there was a loud whizzing sound and Slim rocked backwards with a dull thwap. A second later one of the two guys in the back of the truck recoiled clutching his side accompanied by the same noise, except this time a series of metallic thunks followed as whatever hit him bounced around the inside of the truck. The other guy, miraculously unhit, bent over and picked it up as it rolled along the floor. Teddy snatched it away and looked it over. It appeared to be a hard rubber ball, blue in color, like you might use to play handball. As he looked it over another one hit him square in the face, bouncing away harmlessly.

Slim had gotten to his feet again and was pointing off to one side of the road, yelling into his phone. Teddy followed the finger to see the armored man crouched down in the brush at the side of the road, his entire left arm unfolded into some kind of weird, snub nosed gun that was firing the rubber projectiles rapidly. Teddy tore the door off the back of the car and slammed it down in front of Slim as a makeshift shield only to see several of the balls bank off the ground and up into the armored car, to a chorus of pained grunts from the guys inside.

Cursing he took to the air again and flew towards the armored man at top speed. His target jumped to his feet, the gun arm folding up into normal configuration as he braced for Teddy’s arrival. Just before Teddy hit the other man stepped forward and ducked, letting Teddy sweep by overhead and grabbing him by the heels as he went past. With a comical grunt Teddy was jerked to a stop and then whipped into the ground like a rag doll. He lay there in a daze, vaguely aware of more yelling and the sound of that rubber shooter firing again, then the armored man was back, staring down at him.

Teddy gave him a weak grin. “I’m Thunderclap. And you?”

The corners of the mouth visible beneath the helmet turned down. “I guess you can call me the Clockworker.”

“Weird name.” Space behind the Clockworker bent and two hands slapping firmly against the back of the armored suit. “That’s Upsilon. Nice to meet you.”

The suit of armor shimmered for a second, then collapsed in on itself with a quiet pop, leaving a shocked looking woman with an unflattering bowl cut staring at the space the Clockworker had just occupied. Teddy sat up with a groan. “Thanks for the save, Upsilon. What did you do with him? Send him to China? Or just out to the middle of Lake Michigan? That’d be fine, too.”

“I don’t know.” Upsilon turned her confusion to Teddy. “I don’t know where he went. Something different happened that time.”

That was true. People she teleported usually just popped out, without the protracted visuals. It had only taken a half second for the thing to play out but even that was unusual. “So we don’t know where he is or when he might come back. Guess that means we just have to grab what we can and go. Pop the other guys out of here and back to the meeting spot, I’ll go up and keep an eye out. When you’re done text me and teleport home. I’ll fly there and meet you.”

She nodded. “On it, boss.”

——–

Sam came to feeling like he was floating.

He opened his eyes and realized it wasn’t a feeling. All around him there was vertigo. He didn’t know how he knew to call it that, but he knew that was what it was. Dizzying horizons were all around him, beckoning him fall back to reality but he wasn’t sure how to get to them or why he was wherever he was, rather than down underneath them. He wasn’t even sure his mind was forming coherent thoughts.

Then he heard a footstep, a comfortingly normal footstep, near his head and the indescribable panorama around him faded away, turning to a barely perceived fog at the edge of his vision, and a head swam into view. It was surprisingly bald.

“Found it,” the face said, looking up and back over it’s shoulder. “Want I should put it back or do you feel like talking to it first?” The voice was a bit coarse and gravelly, in contrast to the smooth hairless expanse on top of the head.

“Talk to him, I think.” A second voice answered, moving closer from the sound of it. As it approached the fog around them seemed to solidify more and more. “Is he awake? He’s twitching. Might want to step back, Jack.”

Jack did just the opposite, reaching down to give Sam’s cheeks a quick slap. “You awake? Snap out of it, pal.”

“We’re officially not pals,” Sam groaned, rolling onto his side and hitting the quick release on the armor, popping it open so he could crawl out and scramble to his feet. “Where am I? Who are you two?”

Jack grabbed him by the arm and steadied him as he rocked back and forth slightly. “You don’t know where you are?”

“No.” He gave Jack a suspicious look. “Should I?”

“It’s not that unusual for people to take their first trip accidentally,” the third man answered, “but stopping Out Here takes a lot of precision for most. It’s certainly unusual.”

Jack smirked at the other guy, the action transforming his featureless face into something more personable, if a bit unpleasant. “Way to explain it clearly for him, oyaji.” Then to Sam. “You’ve left the world as you know it, kid. Kinda stuck inbetween expressions of reality right now, not common like the old man says but not rare either. Any idea how it happened?”

Sam ran over what had just happened. “I was fighting Thunderclap. Then the world went topsy turvy. And I woke up here.” Something he’d read from the future’s news occurred to him. “Thunderclap ran a criminal gang with a teleporter in it. Could that have something to do with it?”

“Teleportation could have something to do with it,” the so-called old man said. “But I think it has more to do with you. Look, Jack.”

Jack did just that, peering closely at Sam from several angles. “Oh. I see.”

Annoyed, Sam gently pushed him away. “What? And are you going to tell me who you are?”

“We’re the Gatekeepers,” Jack said. “It’s our job to make sure travel between worlds runs smoothly.”

“Sorry, what?”

The old man sat down by Sam’s armor and started rummaging around inside. “Look, you seem to be a smart kind of guy. The problem is, when people get smart they start to think they’re in control, and the two are not the same. Look at us. We weren’t always the people who made sure comings and goings between worlds didn’t tear the universe apart.”

“Yeah?” Sam gave him a skeptical look, not sure he belied it. That they were such beings or that the universe could be torn apart. “How do you get a job like that?”

Jack shrugged. “Let’s just say, if you ever get mad at the universe don’t insist you could do a better job than it is on whatever’s pissing you off. You might just get the chance to try.”

“O-kay…” Sam shook his head. “So if you’re the gatekeepers who regulate interdimensional travel-”

“There’s a nostalgic phrase,” the old man muttered. Sam ignored him.

“-why are you here digging me out of whatever I was stuck in?”

“Because your world is, for lack of a better term, under quarantine. At some point in the next two or three hundred years it’s going to collapse in on itself and we’re preventing travel between it and other worlds in an attempt to minimize the damage the collapse causes to the surrounding horizons.” The old man pulled a fried circuit board out and set it aside. “There. Your armor was out of synch with your base pattern and it was holding you in a permanent transweave state. If you stayed out of it after we collapsed this pocket the chaotic state outside will kill you but you couldn’t return home in it. But if you reset the power systems now and think happy thoughts you should be able to make it without too many problems.”

Sam stared at him, mind blank.

The old man’s brow furrowed. “What?”

An Hour For Legacies

“Wow. Fifty years makes a big difference.”

Sam broke a newly refabricated piece of ceramic exoskeleton out of his newest ceramic printer. “This? This is more like tech from thirty years forward. I’d need a couple of weeks of retooling in order to produce something on spec for fifty years futuretech.”

“He says it so casually.” The remark was addressed to no one in particular as Sharon picked her way through the living room work area. “Not bad, all things considered. You only had to relocate twice this month.”

“Still more than I’d like. It’s slowing down what I can accomplish a lot.” Sam carried the new piece over to the exoskeleton and started installing it.

Sharon swung around the work space to peer over his shoulder.”So what is it? Power armor?”

“Powered exoskeleton.” He carefully broke a set of seals and pulled out the old left arm array. “I’m waiting until I can put out the next generation of ceramics to print the armor.”

“You know, people the office thinks you’re an entire cadre of supergeniuses cranking out groundbreaking technologies with the help of neuroenhancing drugs.” Sharon laughed. “I’m not sure the truth is any stranger. I mean, this tech is decades away.”

“Three of them, to be exact. Although functional powered exos will be patented first in twenty years.” He locked the new part in place and extracted himself from his project. “I don’t have anything pulled anything new from the future for a patent yet.”

Sharon shook her head. “Not what I’m here for. Although you do have another request to use that memory metal patent from last month. Looks to be another big earner.”

“I’ve been picking things with a lot of potential uses. We’re going to need capital down the line.” He shrugged uncomfortably, still not entirely comfortable with profiting off other people’s inventions. There were going to be a lot of people loosing out on their rightful profits in the next few years. Hopefully he could make it up to them by altering history a bit. “Speaking of, have you looked over the superhuman accords from the latest iteration of the future?”

“No.” Sharon tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, turned the gesture into brushing her hair over one shoulder, leaving her slim neck exposed on a backdrop of golden curls. “I found something interesting last night.”

“Yes.” Sam snapped himself back into the present moment. “Sorry, what?”

She rolled her eyes and handed him a tablet, one he’d modified to be able to access the temporal relay. It showed him a picture of a barrel chested man in a conservative suit that didn’t quite hide the tire around his waist, seated in front of a Congressional panel. “I was browsing the futurenews late last night, just seeing if anything would jump out at me, and I saw this guy.”

“Alejandro Gutierrez. Assistant Director of the CIA.” Sam thumbed down to read the article. “Atlantis. Yeah, I remember seeing something about that a month or so ago. Archaeologists find evidence of it in a few years or something. I didn’t have time to look into it when it last came up.”

“Well,” she took the tablet back from him. “In twenty five years Atlantis isn’t a legend anymore, it’s a real place in the Atlantic. And Gutierrez has a lot of weird rumors swirling around him in days to come. One is that he knew about Atlantis since he was very young, part of a secret society or something, and that’s part of what got him to his position at the CIA so young.”

“How young?”

“Appointed at forty. He’s forty-five in that picture.” She swiped from that article to another one. “Now look at this.”

It was a blurry photo reportedly taken by an U.S. Navy observation drone that showed a fuzzy mound in the middle of the ocean with what might have been a city skyline on top of it. More importantly, a dizzying spiral of glowing light rose above the shape as if the stars themselves had come down to greet it. Sharon pointed at it needlessly. “I saw that and couldn’t help but think of what you told me about The Girl.”

In spite of being an MIT graduate Sam’s brain still insisted on counting backwards very carefully. “So, if Alejandro Gutierrez knew about Atlantis from a young age and he’s forty-five twenty-five years from now…”

“He’s twenty now.” Sharon wiped from the relay to a more standard web browser. It showed a Facebook page for a student at the University of Phoenix. “Worth looking into, don’t you think?”

——–

Sam had exactly zero infiltration skills, something that didn’t strike him as a problem until he got to Phoenix and realized that he had no idea how to find Gutierrez or what his typical routine was. Finally, after a couple of hours poking around the Internet he found the right dorm and started peeking through windows and comparing them to pictures Alejandro had posted online. He felt more than a little like a stalker.

But he did eventually find where he needed to be. Thankfully he was stalking someone who lived on the first floor.

A few hours of waiting, nose buried in technical specifications for new future tech, and Alejandro Gutierrez made his appearance, passing through his room long enough to collect clean clothes before leaving again. With his ear pressed to the window Sam could vaguely pick up the sound of a shower running. Time to get through the window.

After some fiddling he settled for carefully jabbing a single finger of his artificial hand forcefully through the glass, hooking it over the window lock and flipping it open, then carefully pushing the window up on its slide and letting himself in. Hopefully Alejandro wasn’t the type to wander around in a towel after his shower. That could get awkward. He kept reading to keep his mind busy.

The door opened some ten minutes later. Sam, sitting at the room’s desk, glanced up and set his tablet aside. “Nice room. Nowhere’s better than MIT, but it’s close to the same.”

Alejandro froze in the doorway. He was a little shorter than Sam was expecting, although still an inch or so above average, and he hadn’t grown a moustache yet, but Sam could still tell that this was the same man as they’d seen some years in the future. “I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong room.”

“Actually, no. You’re Alejandro Gutierrez and you’re here, so it’s the right place.” Sam stood up from the desk and carefully put his hands at a neutral position at his side. “I need to ask you a few questions.”

“Now?” Alejandro gave him an incredulous look.

“Yes. For starters, how did someone with your family background afford to come to a school like this?” Sam pulled a set of printouts from a shirt pocket. They didn’t have anything to do with what they were talking about but Alejandro didn’t need to know that. “You shouldn’t be able to afford it without a lot of help but you didn’t file for any scholarships this year. Or the last two years since you first enrolled.”

“I had some help from a friend. Look, who are you?” Alejandro pushed into the room, looking around as if he expected a camera crew to be hiding in the corner, waiting to jump out and announce he was being pranked.

Of course, Sam hadn’t expected a straight answer to that question right away. He pulled a printout of the Atlantis picture from the middle of the other papers and held it out to the other man. “Do you know what this is?”

Alejandro gave it a quick look, opened his mouth and started to say ‘no’, then clamped it shut and snatched the picture out of Sam’s hand. “Where did you get this?”

“It’s from the future,” Sam said, half smiling. As he’d expected, that got him another double take.

“No, seriously.” Alejandro crumpled the picture up. “Where did you get it?”

“I have more.” He was in the process of retrieving the phone in order to the next step of the conversation, showing Alejandro a taste of the actual temporal relay, when there was a muffled knock from the outer room. Presumably someone at the door to the suite Alejandro shared with his roommates. Alejandro looked at the door, then at Sam meaningfully. Sam just smiled and nodded, inside he was annoyed but he didn’t want Alejandro doing anything rash or someone at the door letting themselves in and hearing something they shouldn’t.

As the other man stepped out of the room Sam pulled out his phone and thumbed it open, ignoring a handful of notices and opening the relay’s app. There was a brief pause then the screen announced, “Not Found”.

That meant the relay wasn’t responding for some reason. Like it was turned off, or there had been a local power failure. Or it was being moved. None of which should have happened. He quickly backed out and checked his notifications. Sharon had texted him. Several times. The last few looked to be the same message over and over, starting with the words, “SHE was here.”

He switched off his phone and tucked it away quickly, pulling a patch like a nicotine bandage out of the same pocket and pulling the backing off it with shaking hands.

“Hey, this girl with you?” Alejandro called from out in the main room.

Sam slapped the patch to the side of his neck, neurostimulants hitting his blood almost instantly. Time seemed to dilate and his senses sharpened. He grabbed the thumb of his prosthetic arm and racked it back like pumping a shotgun, breaking the body of the arm open and letting him bring the riot gun inside to play. Almost at the same time there was a loud boom from the main room. Sam hooked one foot around the edge of the door and swung it open, tracking across the doorway with the stubby end of his arm, the fingers of the hand splayed to form a crude sight.

Sure enough, The Girl Who Splits Infinity was there, still shimmering slightly from her transformation, Alejandro backing away with a look of shock on his face. Sam thought about making a fist with his left hand and the riot gun barked, sending a two in ball of rubber the rough shape of a fist whistling towards her at close to a hundred miles an hour. It hit her on the shoulder and bounced away without apparent harm. The Girl brushed at her shoulder in that annoyed, anxious manner that maintained his impression that she was still a pretty green fighter, just absurdly durable, then flipped her fingers through the lines of light that came with her transformation and spun them in a wheel, from which leapt a serpentine line of fire that rushed through the main room, winding over top of the dirty dishes on the dining table and punching through the back of the couch that faced the entertainment center before blasting through the spot Sam had been standing just seconds ago, before he dove for cover.

He pumped his riot gun again and turned the mental dial on it up from normal to high and fired the other rubber slug at four times the speed of the other one. It hit The Girl as she stormed forwards and she seemed to notice it this time but it still didn’t slow her. He snapped the arm’s thumb back down, closing it up into a more normal looking prosthetic, and yanked his left sleeve up, pulling it as close to the shoulder as it would go so that the hardlight generator in the upper arm could raise a shield without setting him on fire.

It wasn’t as big as the bubble generator he’d used back at the campsite a few months ago but it was just as powerful and it could run on batteries for at least a half minute so that was something. Enough that The Girl hit it and bounced off in surprise at least.

Before she could recover Alejandro was there beside her. What happened next was a bit of a mystery to Sam. One moment both he and The Girl were staring at Alejandro in shock, Alejandro in the middle of a flawless windup, hips rotating his torso as his fist lind up with The Girl’s sternum.

The next there was an incredible thump and she was gone. Sam thought for a second she’d teleported again. Then he realized there was a new hole in the dorm wall. He gaped at it for a second, then started at Alejandro. “Okay, I’m impressed.”

Alejandro panted for a moment, his head on a swivel as he waited to see if The Girl would come back. Finally, he straightened up and said, “So you know one of them?”

“There’s more than one?” Sam buried his face in his hands. “Why do I even bother?”

“No, no, there’s probably only one at a time. Look. You’ve got some tricks up your sleeve.” Alejandro winced, realizing how that sounded. “I mean, you’ve avoided her this long. Can…” He thought about it for a long moment. “Can I check with some people I know? I don’t know a whole lot about that side of things. You’ve got questions, I get it. But I’m not sure what I should tell you or what matters in your situation or what. So can I get back to you later?”

The kid looked awfully hopeful about it. Obviously he was interested in what was going on now, and understood that secrecy was the order of the day because he was playing his hand really close to the vest. Sam pointed at the printout he’d given Alejandro, left abandoned on the table. “You can reach me at the email on there. That girl’s had it out for me for a while, though, and she’s getting better at catching me faster than I can get better at running away. I’d appreciate anything you can tell me.”

He nodded, very serious. “I’ll tell you everything I can, as soon as I can. Now you’d better get going before someone comes investigating.”

Sam left the same way The Girl had, examining the hole she’d made on the way out. Alejandro had punched her through almost a foot of concrete. Obviously he’d been using kid gloves in this fight. It was time to stop.

A Peaceful Hour

Sam slid into the seat with a weary noise. “What makes you think I can predict the future, Sharon?”

“This.” She plopped the pile of paperwork in front of him. Idly, Sam wondered if they ever replaced paper in the future. Might be worth looking into that. “Changes to the patent application process that came into the office bright and early this morning, due to go into effect next month.”

He stared at the paperwork stupidly, his pain and exhaustion fogged brain still able to suggest one pretty good reason Sharon might suddenly think he could predict the future. “And?”

“And they make the patent application you gave us 100% correct. I’s dotted, T’s crossed.” Sharon folded her hands on the table in front of her. “Problem is, no one outside the patent office should have seen these changes until this morning. You submitted your application to us two weeks ago. How do you think that happened?”

“It wasn’t time travel.”

She shook her head in irritation. “Mr. King, this kind of insider business move is highly illegal. I don’t know how you heard of the changes ahead of time but if you think-”

“I didn’t.” Sam pulled his left glove off and drummed the artificial fingers under it once on the table. The middle and ring fingers spasmed erratically for a half second then fell back into place. “Like you said, I predicted the future. The changes were already in place then.” There was a moment of silence as Sharon stared intently at the hand. “The hand is exhibit B. That’s how lawyers say it, right? Or is that just a TV thing?”

Sharon ignored his banal question and asked, “Did you have that yesterday?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t attached to me.”

“Why is it attached to you now?”

“Well.” Sam ran it over once in his mind. “I guess it started with the lottery numbers…”

——–

“Damn, TC, you went through that like a thunderbolt!” Slim knelt down and ran his fingers along the edge of the sheet metal Teddy had just flown through, examining the almost cartoonishly round hole, complete with ragged edges jutting out, that he’d left behind. “Wasn’t expecting you to hit it so low to the ground, though.”

“Wanted to see if being as tough as I am protected my clothes along with the rest of me.” Teddy pulled on his shirt, which was full of rips and tears all up and down the front. “Which it apparently doesn’t.”

“You need a tighter fitting shirt,” Slim suggested. “Maybe something in the UnderArmor category.”

Teddy made a noncommittal sound, keeping his own lack of confidence in skin tight clothing to himself. Maybe less his confidence in the clothing itself and more his lack of confidence in him, wearing said clothing. A diet might be in order. “So I can fly, I’m tough and I’m strong. That’s really basic stuff, right?”

Slim shrugged. “Way I see it, you can take a bullet or ten and answer with a rock going twice as fast. Why complain?”

“Point.”

“Question is, what do you want to do with it now?”

“Me?” He gave Slim a look.

Slim started. “Well, yeah. I mean, I ain’t giving you orders anymore. I’m not stupid. The way I see it, you can do pretty much anything you want now.”

Teddy walked over to the large passenger van he’d lifted, figuratively and literally, as a test of strength earlier. He rocked back and for on it’s suspension with a light touch, rolling over possibilities in his head. “Tell me something, Slim.”

“Yeah?”

“How much do you think an armored car weighs?”

——–

“You had a file on me?” Sharon asked.

“It made sense, don’t you think? Anyways it’s all public domain stuff, forward facing social media and the like.” Sam shrugged, poking at circuits in his prosthetic, trying to track down where that spasm was coming from. “Of course you had to undergo some serious vetting when you joined the DA’s office five years from now.”

“I’m going to be a district attorney?” Sharon shook her head. “Don’t tell me, I know. Not necessarily, especially now that I’ve read this. Causality and all that.”

That got her a surprised glance. “Not a word I was expecting to hear from you.”

“Why? Because I didn’t post nerd memes to my public pages?” Sharon favored him with a wry smile. “You know a lot, especially with your temporal relay gizmo going, but clearly you’re not omniscient.”

“Meaning?”

“You have to have some kind of science background in order to practice as a patent lawyer. My undergraduate degree was in computer engineering.” She went back to the relay’s screen and kept poking around. “Futurenews. I’m guessing that’s how you got me yesterday’s headlines.”

“Yep.” Sam went back to his arm. It would be nice if he could use two hands to work on it but then, he’d preferred not to have lost the original in the first place. Or be chased by the Homicidal School Girl in the first place. Definitely that. “Why did you switch?”

She looked down for a moment, looking profoundly embarrassed. “Promise not to tell?”

“Of course.”

“Too many of the people I met in school had a problem with abstractions.”

The arm twitched frantically as his other hand slipped and sparks flew. Sam quickly tamped down on the problem and then looked back at Sharon. “I’m sorry?”

“It was all math and tolerances and highest returned value and-” She paused to gather her thoughts. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind those ideas and they’re really important in making things safe and functional. But I’m not sure I could work a full time job where those were the only things we thought about.”

“So you study the law and wind up working with the same set of people as a patent lawyer.” Sam shook his head at the irony.

“Hey, I have a shot at the DA’s office.”

“In ten years you’re only an ADA,” Sam pointed out.

“Five, since I get hired five years from now.” She went back to perusing the future news listings. “Do you use this for anything other than staying alive?”

“I object to the idea that my staying alive is somehow a bad use of my brilliance.” Sharon shot him a sour look. “But yes, I have found the time to look into a few other things that bothered me. Look at the ‘Changing Humanity’ filter.”

She pulled up the right option and started looking through it. “Wow.”

“Yeah. Wow.”

Sharon was quickly swiping through various news stories. “Flying guy. Crazy strong guy-”

“Dense, actually. He’s capable of quintupling his mass without causing damage to himself. Makes his bones more dense than lead, but he still moves as if he were a person of his normal mass. Except for jumping.” Sam reached over Sharon’s shoulder and hit a few commands, scanning forward two years. “There was a teleporter there, too, but let’s ignore him for a second. Things get scary around this point.”

A news story with a video loop of a woman who’s eyes seemed to fire beams of scorching energy that melted through a concrete wall.

“Laser vision,” Sharon murmured.

“Not exactly,” Sam said. “But destructive to say the least. This is when things start getting bad.”

“How bad.” She glanced up from the screen. “Are we talking human rights disaster here?”

“Pogroms, at least.” He sighed and sat down on the desk beside the relay. “Lynchings, if you will. Changing humanity will be cast as an opponent of everything from white supremacy to civil rights and through it all the government sits on their hands too afraid of a human rights disaster, as you put it, to seriously consider the problem.”

Sharon had pushed to the end of the available futurenews reports and found a mob surrounding and beating a man who was trying to defend himself with a pair of cables that moved with a mind of their own. Since it was an official news clip it cut away before anything gruesome but from the look on Sharon’s face it had been enough. “What… what are you planning?”

“Well, whatever happens we need to set up some kind of long term system, a legal system, for dealing with the changes that are coming.”

“We?” She gave him a skeptical look.

“Come on. Do you think I dug as deeply into your future just because I thought you were hot?” He shrugged. “I need someone who understands the law to help me come up with a long term solution.”

“Just because I’m hot.” She shook her head. “Nevermind. How do you plan to get anyone to listen to your long term solution.”

“Mostly by catching the world’s first major superhuman crime ring.”

——–

“Not good, TC,” Slim said, looking over the cash. “This was an ATM delivery truck.”

“So?”

“So what if the money is marked? They could have the bill numbers or something, and we get nabbed when we try and spend it.” Slim shook his head and grabbed the edge of the door, careful to ignore the sharp protruding edges where Teddy had smashed through it. “Risky.”

“Do they track that kind of stuff?”

“Dunno.” He rubbed his chin. “I know a guy who used to handle incoming product. He works as a rinser. We might be able to clean some of this, but we’re going to loose a lot of the value in the process. In the future it’s probably better to hit stuff outside of big stores, WalMart and whatnot.”

Teddy just grabbed two of the boxes and slung them over his shoulders. “Whatever. We’ve got enough to get some real wheels and keep us fed. We’ll get more next time. How long will it take to clean the money?”

“We can get an advance on some of it, I think. What do we need wheels for when you can fly?”

“I can only carry so much.” He braced himself and gave the armored car a hard kick, sending it rolling down into a ditch where it would be harder to find. “Meet me back at the old warehouse. Not the one we were using when the boys went up against you, the one when you brought me in. And let people know we’re looking for more hands.”

Slim scowled, no doubt unhappy at more hands drawing from the pot. “What for?”

“We need people to help us case marks. We do it ourselves someone’s gonna get wise.” He rose a few feet into the air, then stopped and lowered himself back down to eye level. “And one other thing. Don’t call me TC. I never like it.”

“Sure.” Slim gave a noncommittal shrug. “I mean, we justed used it because it had your name in it, but it didn’t, know what I mean? Got another name you like? Just wanna go by Teddy?”

“No. What did you say earlier? When I was trying stuff out?”

“Uh…” Slim thought for a minute. “You hit like a thunderbolt?”

“Yeah. But not thunderbolt. Thunderclap.” He grinned. “My name, but not.”

“Okay.” Slim grinned back. “See ya later, Thunderclap.”

Confrontation’s Hour

“What do you mean it’s no good?” Sam demanded. He swiped his tablet to life, a copy of the patent forms already open and at hand, just in case. It was scheduled to be filed for approval in six months time. He didn’t have much time to get his own filing in, bureaucratically speaking. “But the paperwork looked fine.”

The lawyer smiled, an expression that didn’t quite make it to her eyes, and said, “Technicalities, Mr. King. Ninety nine percent of the law is technicalities. Your paperwork isn’t quit right. I think you have the wrong set of forms. It happens more often than you might think.”

Sam glanced down at the filing date of the future’s forms and carefully switched his tablet off, a sense of foreboding creeping up his spine. “Do they change that kind of thing often?”

Another not quite sincere smile. “More often than you’d hope. The technical side of things is fine, of course. It’s bureaucratic things like the sections of law and regulations sighted, that sort of thing.”

“Right.” The sensation passed and Sam put it out of mind. More pressing matters were at hand, like whether he could afford to have the paperwork reworked or if it was better to just refile with another law firm when the paperwork changed format. If there was even time for that. “Well,” he glanced at the name on the desk again, “Sharon, what will it take to get it straightened out?”

She took her glasses off and pursed her lips, studying his papers with a thoughtful expression that Sam found a lot more attractive than her forced attempts at friendliness. “A couple of hours of work, at the most.”

“Well.” Legal counsel didn’t come cheap. “Maybe I can get back to you on that?”

Sharon set the papers aside, favoring him with a wry smile that seemed a touch more honest than the previous ones. “Tight budget?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“It’s a common problem.” She turned to her computer and started tapping through something. “Lots of entrepreneurs start out on a shoestring budget. If you weren’t filing in an up and coming field like memory metals you’d probably be better served doing the paperwork yourself. But there’s a lot of work going on there now, if you get caught in a legal snag – like citing the wrong regs or filing bad forms – chances are someone else is going to beat you to the punch while you try and get it straightened out. Can you meet for lunch tomorrow?”

The question took him by surprise. “I’m sorry?”

“You’re not the first part time inventor with a great idea who needs a little backing to get things wrapped up.” She glanced up from her computer. “We can put you in touch with venture capitol investors who will help you make it into the field, put together the resources you need to get the idea patented and even put you in touch with companies that might be interested in your intellectual property, if you’re not planning to use it yourself. If you’re interested I think I know someone else who would like to work with you. I’m offering to introduce you to him tomorrow at lunch. If that works for you.”

“Yes.” The word got out of his mouth before he could think it over, the kind of snap decision he knew he’d probably come to regret. But he didn’t take it back. It just compacted his schedule a bit. “I should be available to do that.”

For the first time Sharon gave a genuine smile. “Good.”

——–

A meeting in the middle of the day wasn’t a terrible pressure on his schedule but he’d have to keep it short. The Girl was still chasing him.

It had been two months and Sam was starting to get a handle on his advantages and disadvantages. He still wasn’t sure how The Girl was following him but he was pretty sure it was the girl he’d seen at the construction site that day. He’d caught sight of her twice since then, both times in fairly crowded places where he’d picked her out before she’d spotted him. He hadn’t seen her do whatever the transformation he’d seen before again but clearly she had some kind of tricks at her disposal. Twelve year olds didn’t follow you over hundreds of miles on their own and he doubted her parents were driving her all over Michigan looking for a small time lottery winner.

There was, of course, the ever-popular government conspiracy angle to consider, but he didn’t think even such a shadow organization would stoop to using middle school girls in their pursuit squads.

The relay was still his biggest advantage. Not just because it let him read the future’s news but because he was pretty sure something about the relay interfered with however she tracked him. She’d first caught up with him in Holland, a small town with a picturesque shopping strip along it’s main street. He’d ducked into a clothing store and pulled up future news to see if there was anything he could try to reduce the chance of a run-in only to see the girl go from moving purposefully to wandering aimlessly. Now he tried to keep a connection to the relay open when he was planning to be in one place for any length of time.

But he didn’t want to be on the run forever. He was going to need more information. He’d figured out a lot of improvements he could make to the relay in the past weeks and he was starting to pull information from almost two decades in the future. That was enough time to open up new advancements and techniques to him, some of which he planned on putting to work.

The really disturbing thing was, he knew he could never get away from The Girl entirely. No matter what kind of plans he put in place, he always saw his death coming one or two months in the future. He wasn’t sure what to make his own swiftly vanishing fear of his own demise. Some of the ways his death had been predicted were quite painful sounding but he’d apparently run out of the emotional stamina to get worked up over it. If he wanted to stay alive he had to do something about her. At the same time, he didn’t like the idea of fighting a child. The only answer available was getting more information.

Most of his future deaths involved dying with some collateral damage so, before he’d realized he could “hide” from The Girl using the relay, he’d set up a campsite in a remote nature reserve he could go to if it ever looked like he well and truly doomed so as to die with the least possible impact on other people. Once he’d gotten ahold of schematics for serious future tech he’d gone a step further. Unfortunately, even with all the safeguards he’d put in place he hadn’t come up with a way to survive an encounter with The Girl there. Best case scenario had been dying of blood loss from a missing arm.

Until he’d done some more digging and discovered that the research into prosthetics started by IEDs in the Middle East wars of two decades ago would bear serious fruit very soon.

Now, with an oldfashioned remote car opener in one pocket and a backpack full of advanced sensors, he was ready to go and take a crack at The Girl again. School let out in two hours. Should be enough time. A quick glance at the relay informed him that a new story had hit his future newsfeed. The headline said something about archaeologists and the lost city of Atlantis. Probably interesting but nothing that couldn’t wait. It’s not like Atlantis would matter for another twenty years. Sam switched off the relay and walked out the door.

——–

The campsite was starting to get dark, the tall pine trees casting long shadows in the late fall sun, late migrating geese bustling by overhead on their way to better climates. School had been out for two hours. The Girl was late.

Sam had wondered if she was trying to keep whatever dual life she lived a secret. It was a fair bet, even if the idea of a secret identity didn’t have much sway in fiction anymore. Social media had pretty much doomed it’s credibility around the turn of the century. But most stories where someone tried to live a double life didn’t involve the person aging a good ten years when donning their secret identity.

With an effort Sam pushed that kind of wool gathering aside. The Girl wasn’t obligated to walk into his trap. Or even spend every waking minute looking for him. The whole errand could prove a waste of time. What he really wanted to be doing was running diagnostics on equipment but he really needed it prepped and ready to go if she showed, so he couldn’t exactly field strip anything and start tinkering. He adjusted his weight on the tree stump he was using as a seat and waited a bit more.

Finally, as the sun was almost entirely lost in the treetops, he got to his feet, dusted himself off and headed towards his car. He could always come back and try again later. But it would have been nice to make decisions on the future based on whatever he could learn, and with the meeting with patent investors coming up he suspected those decisions were fast approaching.

Wool gathering again. It should have cost him, that time. The Girl was right there in front of him, appearing as if by magic on the trail by his car. She was wearing an ankle length skirt, purple jacket and bright blue backpack. Her hands were tucked around the straps of her backpack. Big, serious eyes stared at him from a head that seemed comically small in comparison. “Hi, Mr. King.”

Sam froze in his tracks, his own eyes just as comically overlarge as the girls but for different reasons. “Hi.”

Silence stretched out for a moment. “How do you know my name?”

“It was on the news,” The Girl said in a matter of fact way. “The day after the first time.”

“Of course.” Any kid with a phone and the desire knew how to find that kind of thing out. He had made the news, disappearing like he had after an unexplained “accident” at his old job. He just hadn’t expected her to do something so mundane after teleporting away from their last meeting. Not to mention inexplicably following him for two months. “Want to tell me what this is all about?”

“You’ve seen things you shouldn’t,” she said. “Seeing things changes them. And they have to be put back.”

She pulled her hands off her backpack straps and once again Sam caught the weird plastic pinwheel thing in it. It looked vaguely like someone had drawn a backwards S on a rectangle and then cut out the inside of the curves. For a brief moment a gleam of light drew across the shape, turning the backwards S into the figure eight of infinity. Then she slid her hand across the shape, splitting infinity and with a bang she changed.

Sam frantically pressed the panic button on his car remote.

Instead of setting of his car alarm it activated a set of improvised hard light projectors around the perimeter of the clearing and they built a solid cube of light around The Girl. Without looking to see what kind of results that got him Sam scrambled for the projector’s control tablet, which he’d hidden at the base of a bush near the tree stump he’d occupied a second ago.

Improvised from parts that weren’t what the original designers intended, his hard light projectors were not the futuristic defense technology the U.S. Nave would be experimenting with in two decades. They only had a small diesel generator for power and he had to constantly ride the circuit breakers to keep anything from overloading. He hard a soft growl of frustration behind him and the weird, crackling noise a sheet of hard light made when it contacted more conventional matter. No time to look back. Sam snatched up the controls for the generator and immediately started making adjustments, turning around while keeping one eye on the readout.

In the four or five seconds the process took The Girl Who Splits Infinity had spun out her own array of light – and Sam suddenly wondered if that’s what he was seeing, another set of hard light constructs – sending it through the cage she was in without apparent difficulty. It once again spun out in a shape almost impossible to decipher, though this time it contracted all around her like the legs of a spider instead of spiraling up into the sky. That was all Sam had the time to see before a blinding bolt of lightning leapt skyward from the shape leaving him half blind and deafened by the following thunderclap.

Without a second thought Sam turned and ran.

The Girl was powerful for sure, but she’d been rightly scared of guns. Unsurprising for someone who looked like she was twelve. He’d set up a plan to hopefully exploit that fact although he didn’t want to use it. But Sam King was not used to getting what he hoped for, so the generator was not just a generator. It also blew up.

That was the “unlock” button on the car remote. Because hopefully it was getting him out of a jam.

Sam came to lying flat on his back surrounded by small fires burning themselves out. The Girl was nowhere in sight. Pieces of debris were all over. He’d built an explosive by essentially burying a canister of gunpowder under the generator when he set it up but, being an amateur he’d apparently vastly overestimated how much powder he’d need. The generator was gone, a small crater of smoking concrete all that was left, and most of the brush in the area was gone. Sam tried to sit up but didn’t make it as a wave of wooziness overtook him. He looked himself over and realized he was missing his left arm. Of course.

Miraculously the car remote was still close by. He dragged himself over and hit the “lock” button. A second later a self-propelled prosthetic dragged itself out of its hiding place towards him. He weakly scooped it up and slapped the attachment side to his arm and winced as it began anchoring itself to his arm.

——–

In a daze and operating on less than two hours of sleep, brain locked in a stupor, Sam was very tempted to skip his lunch meeting entirely. But somehow he found himself outside the restaurant Sharon had directed him to, checking his gloves to make sure the new, clearly artificial hand he had was properly covered.

A large part of his brain still hadn’t accepted this as a permanent arrangement.

Worse, the thing was twitching at weird intervals. Like the hard light projectors it was made of modern parts, not futuristic ones, and they weren’t quite up to snuff. He hadn’t worked the kinks out yet. He stuffed that hand into a jacket pocket and headed in to find Sharon.

It only took him a few minutes, it wasn’t a big place. He wandered by walls filled with pictures of somewhere that seemed vaguely eastern European and took a seat at the booth where the lawyer was. She was alone, so whatever investor she’d invited hadn’t shown up yet. Sam hoped he wouldn’t have to make small talk, though he probably would.

Sharon was reading something as he approached but as soon as he was in her peripheral vision she set it aside and gave him her undivided attention. As soon as he was seated she pushed the papers in front of him. He stared at them, exhausted mind struggling to keep up. Sharon folded her hands and gave him an evaluating look. “Sleep badly, Mr. King?”

He started a bit at her accusatory tone. “Yes? It was a tough night.”

She nodded once. “Can I cut to the chase?”

“Shouldn’t we wait for your guest?”

Sharon ignored the question. “Tell me, Mr. King. Can you predict the future?”