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.”

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.

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?”