Discordant Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——–

“Absolutely not.”

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

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

“It’s not magic.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharon wrinkled her brow. “Why is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.