“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.”
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.”
“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.