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?”

Hour of Transformations

The first thought that ran through Sam’s mind was that he knew why the news had said the worksite blew up. He immediately dismissed that, pretty sure that a twelve year old probably hadn’t brought a bomb to a half finished building. Something else must have happened. He just needed to find all his arms and legs, put them back on and figure out what it was.

A ringing sensation rose in his ears. Actually, they had probably been ringing since the blast he was just getting enough sensation back to notice it. His eyes swam back into focus and tried to make sense of the world again.

Unfortunately, the world stubbornly refused to be sensible. The girl Sam had seen right before everything went haywire was gone. Men on the jobsite were running around at the edges of his vision and probably shouting, although with his hearing the way it was he couldn’t be certain. The scene was dominated by a statuesque woman in a frilled dress with a sash running from right shoulder to opposite hip, then wrapped around her waist. On the sash, in front of her shoulder was a weird glowing shape and spiraling out from her raised right hand was a glowing pattern of lights that were bright enough that Sam couldn’t make sense of them.

Not that any of it really made sense.

The woman drifted towards him, her feet stepping lightly, although in the heels she was wearing she should have had trouble crossing the loose dirt ground at all. On second glance, Sam wasn’t entirely sure her feet were touching the ground so much as just in the same general area. A lifetime of science fiction about time travel flicked through his head, reminding Sam that messing with timelines invoked consequences the likes of which were often severe, if not fatal, and of superhuman origin.

“Hey!” Clark’s voice cut through the haze in Sam’s mind and the ringing in his ears. The floating woman glanced to the side and slid backwards a few steps, defying several laws of momentum. Normally Sam would wonder what his foreman was up to but, given the circumstances, he chose to keep his eyes on the more pressing matters.

Namely the extremely dangerous looking woman and her special effects show.

So he had a perfect view of the moment that her look of confidence and satisfaction morphed into surprise and then panic. He was dimly aware of Clark saying something about hands and then caught the unmistakable sound of a gunshot, short, sharp and loud even over the noise in his ears.

At almost the same moment the pattern of free wheeling light winding in the air spasmed and contorted, the weird glowing design on the woman’s shoulder twisted in sympathetic movement. For a split second it looked exactly like the pinwheel thing the girl had been carrying. Then space twisted, snapped and the woman was gone.

It took a minute for that to sink in then Sam scrambled to his feet, head pivoting one way and the other half to look for the girl, woman or whatever that was half to clear the last ringing from his ears.

Clark, ever the practical man, was slipping a semi automatic pistol back into a holster behind his back. “You okay, Sam?”

It took a quick inventory but he did confirm that there wasn’t much of anything wrong with him. “Should be. If my hearing comes back.”

“So long as you keep hearing me fine you’ve got enough already.” He shook his head and looked around warily. “What the hell was that?”

“I don’t know.” But he had a feeling he could find out.

——–

And he did, although Clark never got to hear the answers. Sam went straight home, ducking out as soon as his foreman turned his back, and asked the future. Sure, it sounded like the woman was mad at him for just what he was doing but, since he was already in trouble, he couldn’t see the problem in doing it a little more. Especially if it helped him stay alive.

Unfortunately all the future could tell him was that, if he went back to work tomorrow he was still going to die, along with two other people on site, one of whom was Clark. There was only one boss Sam had ever had that he’d wanted dead, and he hadn’t worked for them in two years. After a short deliberation Sam decided it was time to be somewhere else, collected some clothes, his laptop and a few other necessities, packed them into his car along with the relay and made himself scarce.

Being scarce proved harder than he’d anticipated. After a week of driving around Michigan’s upper peninsula he discovered that, no matter where he stopped the next day’s news predicted some kind of catastrophe would come along with fatal results. He couldn’t get news far enough in advance to confirm he’d be one of the casualties but there was always some kind of fatality and he really didn’t want to draw anyone else into whatever was going on. Money was getting tight and he figured the relay was his best bet to get ahead of the game.

It was time to win the lottery.

Not the jackpot, that would bring too much attention. But with a little finagling of the numbers he managed to walk away with a $200,000 prize in the bank. That was enough for him to figure out a few things. However the woman was trailing him, bank transactions weren’t a factor. He’d been doing his best to use cash and make withdrawals only when leaving a place so he thought cashing in the prize might be a risk but, to his surprise, it made no difference to how the future predicted his death at all. Furthermore, every news story predicting his death said he died early in the morning or mid afternoon – shortly before most schools started or about ninety minutes after they let out.

Along with the similarity between the glowing, shapeshifting thing on the woman’s shoulder and the plastic pinwheel the girl had carried Sam felt it was fair to assume they were somehow the same person. Far fetched, he knew, but he was also using news from the future to stay one step ahead of her so he wasn’t going to rule anything out. He wasn’t sure what to do with the information besides use it as a new search parameter while using his jury-rigged cell phone to poke the future’s social media. Other than finding a picture he thought was the same girl standing near the place he died in one of the dozens of news reports he looked through it didn’t get him much.

He still didn’t know how she was finding him or catching up to him so easily. She was far too young to drive and no girls her age had been reported missing in the area, so she must have gotten home after showing up the first time.

Finally he decided there was only one thing to do. He spent about half his cash rebuilding the relay, cutting himself off from the future for a tense two weeks during which he kept the hours of a student once again, frantically working on upgrading the relay so he could see further than a few days in the future. When he was done he found the relay could contact itself from nearly a year in the future.

It was time to concoct a counterstrategy. Before he could fight whatever avatar of death was so close behind him he was going to need resources and information.

While learning whoever or whatever the woman chasing him actually was proved still out of reach Sam did come up with a pretty simple way to get resources. He didn’t feel great about it, but U.S. patents were public knowledge. So one morning while school was in session, after a month and a half on the run, he picked up the phone and called the firm of Renninger and Howe, and said, “I’d like to speak with someone about filing a patent.”

——–

Some people spend their whole life dreaming about flying. Teddy Clapper was not one of them.

He spent most of his life dreaming about how to make things easier. Sure, flying could make your life a lot easier in a lot of ways, save you gas money and get you places without having to worry about traffic, but those weren’t the kinds of things Teddy thought about. Teddy’s days were consumed with thoughts of how to pick up money for the rent and to spend at the bar without having to, you know, work. At one time that meant finding cars in alleys in the bad parts of town and doing a little “salvage” work. That went on until he salvaged the wrong car.

Then he owned some bad people a lot of money and they gave him two options. Deal some red caps or, since he did know a lot about cars, become a delivery driver.

Since slinging drugs on a corner had a short career expectancy and tended to end people in the big house, Teddy opted to be a driver. What nobody had told him was that he wasn’t driving product from place to place. He was driving people.

He did it for six months, driving angry gang bangers from place to place, waiting where he was told and driving them away again. He saw a lot in those six months, drove everything he could imagine and then some. Stolen drugs, bleeding people, dead bodies. In the grand scheme of things, life probably would have been easier if he hadn’t gone salvaging at all. But no matter how bad it got he didn’t get directly involved himself. Until one night, when Teddy had dropped his boss off at a meeting with his dealers only to wind up in the middle of a running shootout.

It started when Slim Greg, his boss, ripped the door of the car open, startling Teddy from his cell phone induced trance, screaming, “Drive, TC, get us out of here!”

Slim was holding a gun and smelled like harsh chemicals. For all he’d seen, Teddy had never smelled gunsmoke before. He wasn’t likely to forget it quickly now that he had.

Almost on instinct Teddy’s foot came down on the brake pedal and his thumb hit the ignition button. With the key fob Slim was carrying now in the car it roared to life and Teddy peeled out, swinging along Lakeshore Road and along the side of the small warehouse the meeting had taken place in. “What’s going on, Slim?”

“Boys wanted new management,” he replied, looking out the back window, his handgun waving in a worrying way.

Two people hustled out around the far end of the warehouse and Teddy saw flashes of light from them. The windshield cracked into spiderwebs. Teddy yelped and did his best to duck down behind the wheel, Slim started rolling down his window, yelling incoherent profanity.

The car engine roared as Teddy swerved the car towards the two shooters, sending them diving for cover, then back across the centerline. The speedometer had just ticked past fifty when the back tire blew out, whether from a stray bullet or a well aimed shot Teddy never knew, and the hectic swerve became an even wilder fishtail that he struggled to correct.

He’d almost made it when Slim grabbed his arm, yelling about the docks, and the car went out of control, hit a safety barrier and crashed to a stop. Both occupants were sans seatbelts, not a priority when running for your life, so they catapulted forward towards the windshield.

That’s when Teddy felt the change. A haze seemed to surround him, he put an arm up and pushed out to ward off the windshield and the haze grew stronger. He flew threw the windshield without feeling a thing and kept on going. He was twenty feet up over the surface of Lake Michigan before he realized he wasn’t showing signs of coming back down. Slim Greg was still holding his arm, yelling wordlessly, his hands caught in the haze around Teddy and apparently unable to let go. Not that he’d want to at this point.

Almost as soon as he realized what had happened they stopped going up and started going down. Slim’s hollering changed pitch and he started kicking in fear. But Teddy barely felt it, in fact now that he realized it all he had to do was push whichever way he wanted to go and they could fly that way. He flew a bit further along the shore and set Greg down on the sand beyond the docks, then carefully set himself down as well.

There was a moment for everyone to double over and catch their breath. Then Slim said, “What’d you do, TC?”

Teddy shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Slim took a deep breath and straightened up. “Can you do it again?”

Teddy took stock. There was still that weird haze around him. He pushed up a little bit, putting his hands over his head. Sure enough, he rose a foot or so off the ground.

“TC, it looks like you got yourself some kinda superpower.” Slim flipped the gun around and held it towards him, grip first. “And me lookin’ for a new number two man. Think you got what it takes?”

Teddy looked at the gun for a moment, then a hungry smile worked its way across his face. He took the gun and said, “Yeah. Easy.”

Hour of Epiphanies

Lottery numbers were the logical place to start. They were completely random, with astronomical odds, the Powerball folks still used a purely mechanical device to generate them so he couldn’t be accused of tampering with them electronically and the drawing was streamed live at a specific time and place. All Sam had to do was sit down at his work table five minutes before things kicked off, cue up the stream on his tablet and flick on the power to the relay.

In theory, anyway. But more than two hours before the drawing was supposed to take place Sam was up to his elbows in the relay’s power source, running another diagnostic in what his brain told him was part of an obsessive need to control but his gut told him was definitely, 100% absolutely necessary for the test.

He’d always had problems with indigestion.

Pure math was not his thing but after leaving grad school at MIT under a cloud he’d been determined to prove… well, something. Contrary to popular belief high concept, theoretical scientists were ruled by emotion just as much as other people. Some of them even knew how to deal with those emotions. Sam King prided himself on channeling them into his work. And so, anxiety drove him to rebuild the tachyon relay a fifth time and like it.

Twenty minutes before the drawing he was done.

With nothing better to do he switched the relay on and pulled up the Powerball app on his phone. It was hard to believe that people of the modern era, with all the education and what not it prided itself on, people were still drawn to such wasteful forms of gambling but, just this once, Same was grateful that the lottery had kept up with the times. It made this experiment really easy to run. All he had to do was push the appropriate lottery button and see what the winning numbers were, then activate the – highly modified – phone in the relay and pull up the same screen.

The numbers listed didn’t match.

Sam frantically checked the relay’s phone and confirmed it was working. There were still fifteen minutes until the drawing. “Not possible,” Sam muttered, checking the relay again. “It shouldn’t have that much range.”

After ten minutes of frantic shuffling of notes and double checking calculations he came back to the conclusion that everything was working properly. The two phones still displayed different sets of winning numbers. Sam pulled up the browser on his laptop and flipped over to the bookmarked page that would let him livestream the drawing. Four minutes to go.

The hosts were chattering about something or another but Sam tuned them out and ran over everything one more time. Then double checked his wifi router, to make sure the stream wouldn’t cut out. Two and a half minutes. There was nothing to do but drain his mug of tea, sit down in a chair, hug his knees to his chest and wait. By some heroic exertion of will he managed to keep himself from rocking back and forth while humming. He hadn’t gone that far down the nutty professor route.

Though, to be fair, he’d never been a professor.

Envy and discontent welled up in him, as it did countless times every day. As he did whenever that happened he forced it down by mindlessly running through simple differential equations and almost missed the drawing. It was only the fact that the hosts had stopped talking that yanked him out of his reverie. The small plastic ball with the first number on it was already bouncing down to the deposit. Sam leaned forward and held his breath.

Five minutes later the drawing was done. The numbers matched the display on his relay. Sam King had successfully predicted the future.

——–

Natalie jerked around, the sound of rushing waters in her ears. Pivoting frantically, she tried to place herself. Most of the world was dark, lit only by small patches of light that seemed to drift in the distance, far out of reach. Nothing nearby was illuminated but she had a sensation of floating.

The last bit gave it away, it was familiar enough. She was dreaming.

Dreaming was nothing new for her, she’d had horrible nightmares for years, to the point of insomnia, until therapy helped her learn to assert herself and dream in a lucid state. She inhaled deeply and phantom water streamed into her nose and mouth, settling in her lungs and stomach. But it wasn’t real, she told herself, and exhaled it back out steadily. She wanted to see.

Darkness took flight all around her, leaving her standing on a rough surface that was probably some kind of coral or clinging sea thing. It looked like she was in some kind of shallow depression in the side of a sheer cliff while over her head the seafloor rose up in some kind of ridges. Straight ahead there was nothing but open water as far as her subconscious had created the world. With a shrug she decided to go exploring and pushed herself off into the water, drifting away from the cliffside. She’d gotten far enough to catch a glimpse of some kind of stone wall rising up from the top of the cliff when a voice rose up through the water, loud enough that she felt it with her entire body.

“Natalie. The world bends. So few are left who hear our voice.”

She stopped her drift through the murky water and looked around frantically. Dreams of drowning in the ocean were nothing new for her – even though she’d never seen a body of water larger than a retention pond – but dreams with dialog were another story. “Who-?”

“You must find the cause.”

“Yeah, how am I-”

“You shall feel our power in your bones. Think with the minds of the ancients. Hear with our wisdom. See with our eyes. You shall be everything you have ever desired to be. Wield the power to set things right.”

The depression she’d just left spasmed, then split open to reveal an angry yellow eye with a black vertical pupil as tall as her three story apartment building. Natalie’s mouth opened but she couldn’t scream – the weight of the water was suddenly too much and crushed all the strength from her.

“Go, Natalie. More depends on you than you know.”

She jolted awake, fighting against phantoms, and found herself panting and tangled in cords and sheets. As calm returned she realized she was in a hospital bed, attached to monitors. The door burst open and a nurse hustled in, already shushing her and trying to straighten out the mess she’d made of things. “W-why am I…”

Natalie trailed off, trying to remember why she might be in a hospital. The nurse guessed the question anyway. “You’ve been asleep for the past two days. Your parents brought you to the ER when you wouldn’t wake up.”

That hadn’t happened before. “Two days?”

The nurse nodded. “That’s right, honey.”

Her mind worked to process that, then blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I missed my math test.”

——–

As tempting as it was to just win the lottery a couple of times and retire, Sam knew that would immediately get him in trouble and the ability to predict the future was too good to waste on something like that. He wasn’t quite sure what practical implications it had just yet but, before thinking too much about that, he needed to prove it worked in as many different ways as he could.

The concept was simple. He’d built a relay that used tachyon particles to talk to itself in the past. The cost in power was pretty high, he was going to have a killer electrical bill that month, and at first it had only been able to talk to itself half an hour in the past. Not super useful.

But after a week of tinkering he’d managed to run the relay for about an hour and pull up news reports from two days in the future on it. Then the relay had blown a capacitor and was going to need serious retooling. Sam figured it was time to give it an overhaul, think about how to improve it for presentation to the scientific community. But first things came first. He’d read several news stories from yesterday twice. Once on the relay, once when they happened. So far everything had been pretty accurate. Which made today kind of tricky.

He had to go to work to pay his bills and the costs of another build of the relay. Problem was the worksite was supposed to blow up that morning. He climbed out of the car and looked over the bustling site. A huge scaffolding and gantry system supported a 3d concrete printer, laying out the shell of a planned commercial suite intended to hold six offices for dentists, optometrists and the like. Most of the place was printed already and contractors were bustling through the dried sections, running utilities and whatever else happened in there once the printing was done. The big concrete printer was still whirring away on the third floor.

The report said the explosion came in the area of the concrete printer, which was crazy. As one of the four techs who programmed, set up and supervised the printer when it was in motion Sam knew it wasn’t the kind of thing that could explode and take out half a building. Still, he didn’t have any reason to doubt the report he’d read, either. Other than the fact that it came from the future.

Sometimes new technology was more trouble than it was worth. Sam set out to find his supervisor.

As it turned out Clark was at his truck, drinking coffee and listening to the architect drone on about something or other and nodding at the right times. Clark had made foreman for his diplomatic approach to contractor/employer relationships. He usually didn’t talk when they told him what they wanted, then ignored how they wanted him to do it and made sure the job got done right. He was a better boss than some Sam had worked for in academia. Certainly more patient. Clark put up with almost ten minutes of lecture before the architect moved on. Clark let him get a good ten feet away before snorting, shaking his head and walking over to Sam.

“Morning, King.” The foreman was not a man fond of given names. “Anything I can help you with?”

Frivolity wasn’t something Clark like in any form and Sam had a feeling that mentioning news from the future wasn’t going to get him anywhere in this situation so he decided on a more practical tactic. “Do you have the last safety and maintenance inspection report on the printer? It was acting a little funny yesterday and I was hoping to see if I could find the cause.”

Or at least a reason to shut it off and keep it from killing four people when it exploded.

“Sure.” Clark went to his truck and pulled open the back door on the cab, rummaging for his box where he kept those kinds of papers. Sam rolled onto the balls of his feet, impatient. The news had said the explosion was early in the morning, although it hadn’t given an exact time. And he’d run every safety check he could think of on the thing yesterday, no telling how that might have altered the variables since he last checked the future’s news. But he still didn’t want to waste time.

He was so preoccupied with the question of what might go wrong with the printer that he didn’t notice the girl until she was standing right next to him.

“You shouldn’t have looked.”

Sam jerked out of his musings at her voice. She was short, maybe five foot, and young. At a guess, he’s have said thirteen, although she might have been fourteen. Wavy brown hair framed a solemn face and hard brown eyes. Sam frowned. “Honey, you shouldn’t be here. This place is dangerous. What-”

“You’ve seen something you shouldn’t have.” The girl pulled a weird piece of white plastic off of her belt. It looked a bit like a pinwheel. “You shouldn’t have looked.”

Sam felt the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. Something was off about this. “What are you doing here, young lady?”

“The world is bent,” she said. “I have to make it right.”

It took a moment for him to realize it wasn’t just the hair on the back of his neck standing up. All of it was. Then a bolt of light struck the girl and he was knocked back with a deafening crack.