Sam woke up to the red phone ringing. He rolled over in bed and flailed about until his hand landed on the nightstand with the device buzzing under his fingers. Sharon made an annoyed sound next to him and rolled over in the other direction, taking most of the covers with her. Sam sat up and shook the cobwebs from his brain, then staggered towards the door. Calls on the red phone were important, less than a dozen people had the right technology to even make a call to it and they were all priority one, but they were expecting to talk to the Clockworker, not Sam King.
Some days he wondered if maintaining the fiction that they were two different people was worth the trouble, the public knew he was a close associate of the Clockworker and a lot of people suspected they were the same person, but the engineer in him still wanted the extra layer of protection for Sharon, no matter how thin it might be. So for the moment he let the myth persist.
He raised the phone to his ear and said, “This is the Clockworker.”
The phrase was both a greeting and the voice print authorization that unlocked the phone and answered the call. There was a split second as the phone processed his voice and sent the greeting, then a click at the edge of audibility as the other line patched in. “Good morning,” a smooth baritone on the other end said. “And happy Anniversary.”
His brain ran through the list of people who could call the red phone. None of them sounded like this. Only Sharon and Alejandro knew who they talked to on the other end. “Who is this?”
“Senator Ichiro Maslow, Clockworker.” Sam’s brain was fully engaged by that point, telling him Maslow as from Nevada and served on the Armed Forces Committee. “Before you become overly concerned, Alejandro lent me his phone to call you. We met three and a half years ago, although you may not remember it. We let him handle most of the leg work.”
Sam took his finger of the phone’s panic button and tapped it twice, cancelling the trace on the call. Somewhere three floors down a suit of Clockworker armor stopped powering up for a quick jaunt across the country. “You’re a part of the Legacy.”
“I don’t suppose this has anything to do with your getting Natalie off my case.”
There was a short laugh on the other side of the phone. “No, I’m afraid her opinion of you remains as low as it’s ever been. As odd as it may sound, knowing magic does not make you a miracle worker.”
“Fine and dandy, but having her running around as a vigilante has made getting the Guild sanctioned much harder than I’d hoped.” Sam let himself through the door at the far end of the hall, stepping into the house’s situation room, full of equipment and monitors that let him keep tabs on the world and scramble wherever he needed to go if the situation called for it. “So to what do I owe the honor? Not my anniversary, I think.”
“Sadly, no. I’m calling about the matter that brought you into contact with us in the first place.”
Sam absently started scanning through the reports the screens were displaying. “I haven’t had any problems with Natalie since you guys took her in hand the last time we met. Has she decided to bail on whatever agreement you made then?”
“We didn’t make a deal.” There was a pause on the other end of the phone, the kind of pause he’d come to associate with Alejandro decided how much to tell him about some esoteric point of magic. “She was given a time limit to deal with you. We just kept her from tapping the powers of Atlantis until it ran out and convinced her it wasn’t worthwhile to keep hunting you after that, since you do have your own plan to set things to rights. But your greater concern was the dragons themselves, wasn’t it?”
“Well, yes. After all, if they just tried again I’d be right back where I started. But so far they haven’t.”
“No, because Atlantis was planning to go one further. He’s coming himself.” A notification popped up on one of the screens, informing him that a confidential file server had just received files from one of Alejandro’s encrypted servers. “I just sent you a report from the U.S.S. Leyte Gulf carrier group showing significant seismic agitation and mysterious sonar contacts in the northern Atlantic. Alone, not much, but Natalie told Alejandro earlier today that she’d had a vision of the dragon for the first time in years. We did a little digging with our own resources and when you put it all together it all leads to one conclusion.”
“Atlantis is rising.” Sam put a hand over his mouth and thought for a moment. “Senator, Atlantis isn’t due for another eighty years. How can it be rising now?”
“We’re talking about a creature that sleeps for millenia at a time,” Maslow replied. “Waking up a few decades earlier or later might not make that much of a difference.”
“How has Alejandro not mentioned that in the last three years?”
The senator laughed. “You never asked. And I notice you never mentioned you knew when he was coming back to us. That might have been worth knowing.”
“Touche.” Sam paged through the report. “On the other hand, I do have an idea for what to do now.”
“Anything we can do to facilitate?”
“Can you keep the carrier group out of the area?”
The laughter was incredulous this time. “I thought that a decentralized leadership was something you always praise about government when you stump for people to agree to having a Guild branch in their area.”
“So I guess that rules out your trying to keep Thunderclap’s appeal from going through, too.”
“Retroactively applying new laws is a can of worms no one wants to open, Clockworker. You didn’t have the right to bring him in and no amount of legal finagling is going to change that. He’s probably going to get out when the circuit court rules on it.” He could almost hear Maslow shrug over the phone. “If it’s any consolation I did stump for the Guild when it came to Nevada. Now if you really don’t need anything, I have a lot on my plate.”
“Then I’ll let you go. Thank you for the heads up, Senator.”
“Give my regards to your wife.”
The senator hung up and Sam turned around and found Sharon leaning in the doorway. She was holding her own red phone, the only one he’d given out that could listen in on calls from the others. He’d modified it to do that as last year’s anniversary present. “How much of that did you get?”
“Everything from Natalie still hates your guts.” She sighed and looked at the monitors, where the map of the Atlantic showed a two mile stretch of ocean floor that had started shaking at a 4.7 on the Richter scale six hours ago in spite of there being no known fault lines in the area. “How are you going to fight that, Sam?”
“Hopefully I won’t have to.” He got up, blanking the screens as he did. “Admittedly, given how much Natalie hates me, it’s fair to assume the dragon that sent her after me is likely to be just as hostile. And since Atlantis wants me, staying put places a lot of people in the line of fire so going to meet it is the best bet for everyone. I wouldn’t deserve to be the leader of the Guardian’s Guild if I was willing to put people in danger for my own convenience.”
“Better it be just you.” She didn’t sound bitter, although he knew from past experience the bitterness was there, deep down.
“I wish you wouldn’t worry.” It was a stupid thing to say but it still managed to slip out.
Sharon gave him a thin smile. “Sam, you’ve got a basement full of replacement prosthetics, for all four limbs. Not to mention the artificial replacement organs you’ve been tinkering with.”
He winced. “I didn’t think you’d seen those.”
“It’s not hard to keep tabs on when you access your temporal relay, and when it’s not attached to a crisis at the Guild I’m not above peeking. The fact that you’ve powered it up is enough to give me jitters. And I’m not the only one relying on you.” Sharon glanced over at the emblem of an hourglass, a deep crack running down it’s bottom half, that was emblazoned on his workstation. The sigil of the North American Guardian’s Guild. “Don’t you worry that it won’t last without you? Three thousand people working for the Guild in the U.S. and Canada, not to mention all the people who count on said Guild for their safety while the delta factors in the population continue to increase.”
“The Guild is built to outlast me, Sharon. It has to.”
She slumped down in the chair he’d abandoned. “I know. You have to fix time. That might be another reason to avoid fighting dragons, you know.”
“Since it’s the reason the dragon is mad at me I’d tend to disagree.” Sam went over to the wall and started pushing buttons on the keypad there. “Besides, I think this is a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.”
Sharon looked up. “How so?”
“I need to reach some kind of bargain with Atlantis or it could really get in the way, so that’s bird one. Bird two is that I need to put down a fixed point in time.” A panel on the far wall slid open to reveal a suit of Clockworker armor. It was a few months old but essentially fresh off the fabricators as it was his latest antimagic model and he hadn’t needed it since it was built. He kept pushing buttons, ordering specific equipment lots mobilized and loaded onto his jumpship.
“A fixed point in time.” That was Sharon’s patented I Don’t Understand So Keep Talking Or Get Punched tone.
“So I’ve been saying I’ve broken time to describe the problem but on digging into the problem more I’ve determined it’d be better to say I’ve pushed it out over a place where it has no foundation. There are a lot of worlds out there, kind of woven together like a tablecloth, and by changing the course of time I’ve pulled us out of the weave.” He finished setting his loadout and activated the armor so it stepped forward out of the alcove, which closed behind it.
“So we’re like a loose thread? What, are we unravelling the universe or something?”
“Nothing quite that drastic. But if a thread gets long enough without anything to support it, it will break under it’s own weight.” He climbed into the armor and started sealing himself in. “When I disappeared after Upsilon tried to teleport me the first time I went… outside our world and figured a few things out. I think I can put us in a new weave with some of the worlds around our new position. But if time is a thread I need to be able to pull on it without breaking it myself. For that, I need fixed points in time.”
Sharon was nodding. “Points, plural, to spread out the strain.”
“Exactly. And you reinforce the places you expect to bear extra strain so it’s best if these fixed points correspond with significant events.” Sam detached his helmet from his waist then thought better of putting it on. It probably didn’t fit the mood of the conversation.
Sharon gave him a sardonic look and stood up to put her hands on her hips. “Events like the rising of a dragon that’s been dead and sleeping for thousands of years?”
“That would fit the bill.”
“How many of these fixed points do you need?”
He tucked his helmet under one arm. “I’ve identified eleven suitable points over the next thirty years. With Atlantis rising that makes twelve, which should be enough. I’ve built in four extra, for safety’s sake.”
She stepped closer and ran her hands up the armor’s chest plate to rest near where his shoulders were under all the machinery and ceramics. “Thirty years? Think you’ll be in any shape to go running around fighting when you’re nearly sixty?”
He looked away in discomfort. “Well… thing is, once I start doing this the Heisenberg effect of my future knowledge will quickly unanchor the fixed points. If I remain in the timeline. So I’m going back outside, to the place Upsilon sent me before. If I can establish all twelve fixed points inside of three weeks it should be fine.”
“No, I’ll be gone for a little less than two.” He set his helmet on the desk and gently wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “Outside a world isn’t a healthy place for people. I’ll need to set up a few things before I can bring you there with me.”
Skeptical, Sharon leaned back and studied his face. “Samuel King. Are you asking me to go time traveling with you? When were you planning to bring this up if ancient dragons hadn’t forced the issue?”
“I was actually planning to do it today,” he said sheepishly. “I worked out the last details a few weeks ago and had everything ready to go except for when I would be ready to leave on my first jump.”
“You were going to invite me on a crazy, time travelling expedition to save the world for our second anniversary?”
“It seemed like a romantic idea at the time…” He shrugged as much as the armor would let him. “Maybe our five year would have been mor-”
Sharon cut him off with a kiss that was a lot more interesting than whatever he’d been about to say.
After a minute she pushed away with a grin and said, “Go slay your dragon, Sam. I’ll be here whenever you get back.”
He scooped up his helmet and jammed it in place, grinning back and ready to take on all the dragons the oceans had to offer. “Be back before you know it.”