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?”

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