GONE IN TIME
By Stephanie Panozzo
She adjusted the astrolabe, pulling at the chain around her neck. It was heavy but solid pewter as she took it in her hand and double-checked her calculations. Yes, she had the right day. May 28th, 1860, or so the synchronization on the astrological piece of metal said. She just wished she could carry the damn thing within the pocket of her skirts but knew she couldn’t risk it. She was out of time.
Her heels echoed off the cobblestoned alley as she tucked the device back into her corset and took a firmer grip on her parasol in the rain. She passed faster under the gas lamps, counting them like Teddy had told her to until she reached twenty-three; the same number of hours she had left.
“Twenty-three.” Her voice was quiet and visible in the dark between the lamps. She should just go in. Lurking in a poorly lit alley by herself at night was not at all smart. But neither was going into a brothel alone.
She didn’t dare close her eyes to calm herself, not with the London urchins loitering just outside the lights. One move of vulnerability sent those cretins over the edge. Instead, she took a deep breath and reached into her pocket for the second set of directions Teddy gave her, which would allowed her access to the Underground, the center of all debauchery and happiness.
The lock gave way when she punched in the coordinates, revealing nothing inside but the dark. She moved forward and was immediately impeded by a massive Lurch, the glint of its metal hidden from the street.
Its left eye revolved, moving in all directions. The direction didn’t matter because there wasn’t an iris or pupil, just pure white tucked into the metal around it, scanning for weapons, for non- iTechnology.
It wouldn’t find what she was hiding. The iAge had moved onto bronze and copper, cheaper versions of the metal she was holding and the only metal security would be checking.
Although, she hadn’t seen one like this before. It was decorated and about 6’7”. The metal that made up the left side of its face was iron and, on what could pass for a cheekbone was sculpted into the shape of a wing, and permanently attached. It was like a mask one would wear at a masquerade, a celebration of a time long ago.
The clicks of its clockwork that lay behind its metal face ticked away one probability of threat after another. Its huge body went stiff, the eye stilling, and it declared her suitable enough for the club. It walked out of her way, but not before bowing and opening the door, the flesh of his right hand touching her lower back, guiding her through the entrance.
She placed one hand over her heart feeling it constrict, tightened her grip on her parasol, and held back the bile that rose from its touch, moving herself forward into the club.
The club was everything she expected it to be: dark and crowded. She didn’t see much of anyone. Her eyes caught hints of metal as the stage light passed, parts of flesh, if there were any, were left in the wake of the light.
Scarlet kept her head down, regretting not dying her blonde hair darker. She tugged on her leather mask, securing the monocle over her eye, and tried to blend in with the other women who were making rounds, looking for flesh.
Looking through the glass lens, she searched for a man with a silver hand, and kept the laser ready in case anything metal decided to mess with her. At least it was functional even if it wasn’t fashionable; it was as thick as it was wide.
She couldn’t say as much for her corset. The only functions the corset provided were blending in and restricted lung capacity. How in the hell did women wear these things all the time? She was determined to return home, and if she had to, she’d fight to the death to get there, corset be damned.
Scarlet felt a tug at the end of her corset strings and saw a scarred hand gripping the lapel of her skirts.
“You looking for something, sweetheart?”
She took a restraining grip on her parasol and ignored the condescending tone. “Someone.”
“Well, I’m someone. The name’s Gene. Can I interest you in a drink?” He didn’t look at her. He only stared into his glass, his eyes reflecting the dark liquid as he lifted it with a silver hand and drank.
She was really grateful she hadn’t sliced the guy when he grabbed her.
Scarlet tugged her skirts out of his scarred hand and sat down, placing her parasol across her lap. She figured she would play his game of pleasantries, for now. “No, thank you. I heard you could help me with a problem. A problem with no face, but two sides. One that has existed, will exist, and can never stop.” She recited in a whisper what she had been taught, line by line.
His other hand slid further onto the table, the hand covered in silver. There was something under it and it didn’t catch the light.
“That sounds like a puzzle, not a problem.” He finally looked up at her, toying with the device in his hand. “I’m no good with puzzles. But, seeing as I am the owner of this establishment, I can get you a drink.” He lifted a hand into the air motioning one of the girls with a tray over to the table.
Scarlet gripped the hand that was still in the air and pulled it down to her and whispered even lower than before, looking him square in the eye. “Teddy told me you would help.”
A girl with colorless dirty hair and skirts that were thin, torn, and grey, was their waitress for the moment and had barely made her way over toward their table when Gene turned to her and said, ”Nevermind, Sheila.”
She barely blinked as she pivoted, the holes in her skirts becoming visible as she found the next guest who beckoned.
Without preamble, the man pushed a button on the device that was in the hand covered in silver. Scarlet jerked as their chairs started to lower into the floor.
The room they entered was different from the one they had left. The bar above was dark with small round wooden tables, more saloon than bar.
This one was filled with private alcoves and a stage that was covered in cobwebs. Its walls were barely lit with dirty sconces and broken photographs filled the spaces in between. It was reminiscent of a speakeasy.
He got up from the table, knocking his chair to the ground, and it kicked up dust up from the newspapers on the floor. He grabbed a dirk from his boots and pointed it at her, close enough to make her sit up straight. “How do you know Teddy, sweetheart?”
So much for pleasantries. And so much for his threat. She made her parasol contract itself into a rapier from a push of a button, which was now ready for action and directed at the juncture of his breeches.
“The name’s Scarlet. Teddy said you would help me. Guess he was wrong.” She moved it forward, standing, and pressing home the point that he should back away, slowly.
He did so, but kept his blade up and pointed at her. “Are you a Shifter?”
“No, Sherlock, I am not a Shifter.”
“No need to be rude, sweetheart. Just answer the question: How do you know my son?”
“I met him at a party. This time is all about their society parties. And from the looks of this place, so were you once upon a time.”
He moved in toward her, trying to cut at her forte. “You’re lying. Only royalty go to parties. Only royalty, i, and Shifters looking to loot. Who are you?”
They circled each other but she didn’t have time for games.
Scarlet brought down her sword, swinging at him again and again, backing him into the chair he had knocked over. The force landed him on his ass and caused the silver piece that acted as a hand to fly off his wrist, revealing twisted and molded fingers underneath.
She’d give the guy credit. After that fall, he was winded but the knife in his good hand was still up and pointed at her. A fighter, like Teddy.
He went to stand and she pressed the rapier to his throat, stilling him instantly. “Listen to me. Teddy and I met at one of iTech’s anniversary parties at Queen V’s.”
Walking, she kept the sword pointed at his throat but angled herself directly behind him, forcing his body to bend back. “He infiltrated iTech, trying to continue the work you and your team started. He risked his position to get me to you. He said you were the only person who could get me close to Gemini.”
She reached into her pocket and squeezed the note that was in it. It had the code that Teddy had given her to get access to the club, but it also had a note from him on the back.
Gene pulled his head back further from the sword, and she reluctantly lowered the note for him to read. “See?” She knew he would see the distinctly crooked angles of the L and T that were at the bottom.
He squeezed his eyes shut and his knife fell to the floor. His voice was full of gravel when he spoke. “Who are you?” When his eyes opened to look at her, they were like stone.
She walked over to his knife, pocketed it, and then lowered her rapier. “I’m not a Shifter. I don’t use rips to pillage and plunder random Ages through Time. I need your help. I need Gemini to restore Order.”
He scoffed, sitting up, and bowing his head towards his chest. “Order? Is there such a thing? My son is barely whole because I tried to fight back against iTech.”
Scarlet walked away from him, walking toward stage hoping there were stairs or some back room that would get her out of here. If he wasn’t going to help her, she needed to get out of here and get a new plan, fast. “Your son has been braver than you’ll ever be. What happened to the man Teddy told me about; the one who actually gave a damn?”
“He was gone as soon as I let Teddy hit the Net.” Gene reached down for what had come to replace the flesh of his hand, a sliver glove.
She stopped abruptly halfway across the stage and picked up her skirts. “He became crippled not dead. Teddy was trying to help me change that.”
He was gripping his metal hand as he headed toward her and shook his head. “Not what I meant, sweetheart. What do you mean?”
Pacing across the floor, she listened to the shift in sound beneath her, hoping for hollow ground and a trap door, an exit underneath the stage. “I mean, reverse it all. Make it so none of it ever happened.”
He stopped at the foot of the stairs to the stage. “How?”
“By getting me to Gemini.”
“Is Teddy involved in your plans?”
“He’s not implicated in any way?”
“Not any more. He got me here to you. That’s it.”
Gene climbed the stairs and went to the grip that controlled the curtains. He pulled it out then down and floorboards an inch to Scarlet’s left lifted, revealing a deep hole that was stashed with guns, and not a musket or single-shot pistol in sight. All of them were plastic.
“All right. These will help. Not against the automatons, but you have your umbrella for that.”
She would have never picked a gun as her weapon of choice, always preferring a sword, but she did know how to use one. She eyed them and put the safety on and tucked it into her skirt pockets.
He grabbed a gun of his own and placed it between his boot and pant leg. He pushed the floor back into place, walked to the left of the stage, his blue eyes catching the light from the sconce above him as he turned toward her, his jaw tightening. “I can get you into Gateway. That’s the closest I can get you to Gemini. If you promise Teddy’s safe.”
Scarlet nodded. That was the only thing she could promise.
Gene nodded in response and left the stage as he pulled out the remote with his silver gloved hand. “You coming or what, sweetheart?”
She handed him his knife when she followed him off the stage. And with a push of a button, the entire wet bar in the back of the speakeasy slid to the side; it’s bottles rattling from the movement. “How can you get me into Gateway? Past the Net? I haven’t been able to hack it since I got here.”
“We need Lurches to break the connection. i has ‘em and so do I.” Gene went to the revealed door from behind the bar and Scarlet followed him into an office.
He shut and locked the door with one key, then took a different one out of his jacket pocket. This key was silver and shaped like a shoehorn. He slid the key into a hole on the wall and it gave way to a huge space that had wooden worktables everywhere.
She walked in behind him and all she saw was metal, piles of bronze and copper, covering the tables and floors alike. “These aren’t Lurches. It’s just copper and bronze scraps.”
“Haven’t needed Lurches in a while. We used to build them ourselves for demonstrations.” He smiled but his grey brow furrowed. “I only have the one now. But he’ll be enough to mess with the Net.” He moved past the tables toward a large, erect, wooden coffin in the back.
He opened the coffin and there stood the huge Lurch that guarded the club. It was standing still; its white eye open, enlarged by the elaborate mask, but not alert. Just cold metal. “Come on.”
“In you go.”
“Into the coffin?”
He stepped into the box to the right of the Lurch. “It’s a lift. It goes back up into the entrance. Let’s go.” He gestured toward the Lurch and in she went, tucking in her skirts so they could fit behind the doors. Gene took out his remote and shut them in with the push of a button.
“Another secret entrance? You’re like the 19th century Batman.” They rose and the strain on the pulley creaked in protest. It stopped and she pushed open the door and entered the foyer of the club.
“Who?” Gene directed his remote at the Lurch’s head and immediately the white eye swiveled, only showing that small bit of animation.
Scarlet followed him out the door and into the alley. They walked up to the street, passing by dark shapes that lay motionless under the gas lamps. “Where are we going? This isn’t toward the Net.”
“How do you feel about urchins?”
She couldn’t control her the disgusted tone of her voice. “What about them?”
“They might be dirty and relentless, sweetheart, but damn useful in a raid.”
“How so? All I’ve seen them do is steal.”
He laughed. “They’re useful because they steal. That can be very distracting. Back when we ran raids against i, they were the ones who stole plans for microchip prototypes.”
The unpaved road they were on was sloping upward and Scarlet tried to breathe through her mouth as much as she could. There was no hope for her getting away from the smell soon. The dampness of the streets was tearing up the skirts of her dress and the smell of mold making her gag. Indoor plumbing truly was a blessing. “Why did you stop the raids? Teddy talked about you like a hero.”
It was getting darker. There was no light or sounds in this deserted part of London, nothing but the heaps of metal littered on the ground and the sound of Gene’s voice for company. “Ah, Teddy. Kid followed me everywhere! To raid meetings with the other Old Timer’s, and to the missions themselves. Stubborn fool! But, he’s a good kid. He just wanted to help.”
Scarlet fiddled with her pocket, her fingers brushing the note inside. “Exactly. Teddy never stopped fighting.”
“It’s because of me and my stupid ideas that he can’t function on his own. Teddy ran right into the Net. It destroyed him. We didn’t know what i had developing the thing until we did. I knew then that our intelligence, our raids, weren’t enough, would never be enough against i and his iTech. If it wasn’t the raids that got us killed, it would be i finding us and putting an end to it. I knew my kid deserved better than a dad like me; one who hurt him. Then he goes and works for the bastard.” Gene frowned but smiled.
Scarlet frowned and wrapped her arms around her to keep out the cold. “So, a Lurch will break the connection to the Net?”
“Lester’s special. He can get you past the Net.”
“Lester? You mean your Lurch?” Scarlet stuck to the middle of the road away from the walls and piles of what she hoped was dirt.
“Yes, my Lurch. Custom made. He’s more than brute force and protection. He’s got GPS. That deserves a name.” Finally, Gene slowed and stopped, looking at the building to his left. “If we’re getting you into Gateway, we have to get the best distractions money can buy, or at least what Caitriona’s willing to sell us.”
Scarlet turned on him. “You mean-“
“Yes, I mean the Caitriona. It’s not like you had a problem being in my brothel, sweetheart.”
“I thought we needed urchins not prostitutes.”
“Caitriona takes care of both, sweetheart.”
“It’s Scarlet. How is it that history forgot to mention that all business in the 19th century involved brothels?”
“History never mentions anything worth noting, Scarlet.”
He started climbing muddied steps that were almost buried into the wall of the building. They led up to a piece of wood, which Scarlet guessed doubled as a door because Gene knocked on it five times, stopped, then knocked twice more.
An urchin opened the door and growled.
“Right.” Scarlet gripped her parasol and tried not to recoil but they were hard to look at. They were so small, dirty, and scowling all the time. Not to mention the smell, worse than the piles of shit in the streets.
“It’s just me, Donald.” Gene put his hand out and Donald smelled it. Seeming to approve, he moved and they walked down the hall and into a kitchen. Cleaner than the kitchens up on High Street.
“This is the cleanest place I’ve seen in ages.”
Gene’s lips lifted into a glimpse of a smile. “Yeah, Caitriona doesn’t like to keep a dirty whore house.”
“What did I tell you about calling it that?”
A woman who looked like a strawberry from the color of her hair to the shape of her body came face to face with Gene. Or she tried, but was about a foot too short to actually reach his face.
She was shorter than Scarlet too. The woman’s head only reached her shoulder, but she had no problem getting into Scarlet’s face. She didn’t even turn to look at Gene as she spoke to him. “Who’s this? She looking for a job?”
“No. I’m not.”
Gene laughed. “Cait, we need urchins.”
“When? How many?”
“Two hours and as many as you can lend me, right now.”
She had been appraising Scarlet, eyeing her dirty skirts in contrast to her pale face. “I’ll give you more, if you give me her.”
Scarlet’s face was reddening. “Do I look like a whore to you?”
Apparently she did, but knowing where to find a better bargain, the woman turned her attention to Gene. “I can give you ten for a hundred dollars.”
“You know I can find them for free in the streets.”
Making a noise between a grunt and cough, something that sounded distinctly Irish, she shook her head. “I have professionals and you know it. You pay me a hundred and we have a deal, or give me fifty and the girl.”
Scarlet was about to squash this strawberry but Gene put his hand on her, holding her back. “We’ll do five for forty.”
Caitriona came back with five of the dirtiest looking urchins Scarlet had seen yet. And according to Gene, they were also the best pickpockets and distractions money could buy.
They were thin and small. All the urchins were, seeing as none of them would ever mature into their bodies. It was that, plus the fact that they were constantly moving and didn’t look anybody in the eye, which made Scarlet uneasy.
The sky outside was its typical spotted grey as they, and the aforementioned urchins, left the brothel. Scarlet looked up and noticed that he dark spots were spreading. They were bigger than she had remembered.
She picked up her pace forcing the urchins, who were swiveling back and forth between Gene and her, to scramble and forcing Gene, who was toying with his remote to move faster.
“They won’t steal from you. You paid them.”
“Right.” She kept her hands in her pockets just in case and looked over at Gene. “What are you doing with that thing?”
The dark and crooked street they were walking up was only made darker from the crowds of metal and flesh that lined it. They turned left into an alley between a boarded up apothecary and printer’s shop as they made their way toward the edge of the Net guarding Gateway.
“I’m setting a timer and putting in coordinates so Lester can meet us at the edge of the Net. We don’t want him trailing us there. As soon as he’s out on the streets, he’s traceable just like any other Lurch.”
As they walked down, the alley became crowded as the urchins closed in tighter. Donald was a few paces ahead of them, and was crouched next to a fallen and cracked automaton. He was staring at its flesh and metal face, pulling on what was left of the long shiny brown ringlets that covered the circuits. The electronics of the iTech it had clutched in its hands was making its fading pulse glow and its green eyes twitch.
Scarlet could hear the hiss of breath coming from it as they passed; it’s last attempt at protest failing, along with the rest of its metal body. After all, there was nothing to preserve; the iAge made sure of that.
She looked back and saw him still rubbing the hair between his dirty fingers, not noticing the active automaton that was coming up behind him, reaching for him. “Donald!”
He looked up in alarm at her voice and she ran as fast as she could in the alley trying to avoid touching any of the automatons with life left in them. Small sparks of light flashed as she passed them trying to reach Donald before it infected him.
Donald was quicker than she would have thought for someone so small boned. He jumped up and pitched himself forward, landing in a splash of filth in the middle of the alley. But the automaton, it’s lip curled up and torn from the metal replacing his bone, groaned and kept coming for him, reaching out, desperate for flesh he no longer had.
Scarlet came from the side and sliced the thick and hairy arm that went to grab Donald, her rapier burning through the last of his flesh, making it plop with a thud against the cobblestones.
She didn’t waste a second. She triggered her monocle and sliced through the things head, disconnecting the main server, and leaving its body to fall over in a pile of metal.
Scarlet felt a heavy weight and a sudden chill run down her back, and she looked at Donald. “Run!” She hoped to hell that all the others would as well.
He hesitated, but only for a second. He darted back down the alley. Away from the Lurch that was holding her and would kill him.
Scarlet tried to be as still as possible as she slipped on her gloves. Without turning, she kept her voice as contrite as possible. “Release me! Now!”
The grip on her shoulder lightened but didn’t move. “I said, now, you miserable leech! How dare you touch royalty!”
“You know, going around feigning royalty is abominable, not to mention treason. Release her.”
Immediately, the weight was lifted and she rounded on it, slicing its head as well.
“Damn. He was one of my favorites. But you knew that.” The man in front of her looked medieval, from the cloak to the chain metal. He wasn’t even trying to blend in.
“Traveling again, John? What could you possibly want from that Time? Last time I checked, you thought capes were for weirdos pretending to be wizards.”
He looked as casual as a snake as he paced in front of her. “I was looking for you. You really thought you could turn your back on us and get away with it? i is not pleased.” He drew his sword and slashed at her, forcing her to jump back and over a half smashed automaton.
“Since when have I cared about that?” She swung her rapier up as she stumbled but he matched her with his own.
His dark eyes were stark as he pushed her against a wall and stared down at her, his face twisted in annoyance. “You should. We should have never doubted him. He knows better. He’s been Traveling a lot longer than we have.”
“Seriously, John? Coward.” Scarlet pushed him off her but his blade nicked her face. She circled him, her dark eyes alive as she watched him move, coiling and ready to strike.
“Me? I’m the one who Traveling for a purpose, going through time collecting the knowledge i needs, doing the dirty work. Doing what’s best. What have you been doing all these years? Shifting from Time to Time. Running.”
“You of all people? Really, John? You know what those rips in Time do! Grow up!”
“Scarlet!” Gene was at the end of the alley near the Thames with a Lurch moving in behind him.
“Gene! Behind you!” She turned back to her brother as he struck. She stumbled on her skirt but rose as her brother struck again; the clash of metal ringing in her ears, the blow coming close to her head.
Scarlet and her brother stood tangled, swords locked: him trying to force her down, pressing the blade into her neck, her trying to push him back. It wasn’t working. His blade was forcing hers closer to her neck. She could feel the burn of the blade as it cut her.
She spit in his face and as he recoiled, she slashed his cheek with a scrap piece she had picked up from the smashed automaton.
A piece that flickered as she flung it immediately to the ground.
“What did you do?” Her brother stumbled against the brick wall of the alley, forgetting the fight and clutching at his face.
She turned and saw that Gene had held the Lurch back for the moment, punching it with his silver hand, but he was backed against the wall, the ground around him covered with broken automatons, buzzing with live circuits ready to infect.
Scarlet ran over and stuck her sword in the gap between the Lurch’s shoulder and neck, burning its metal innards and forcing its attention on her. She shoved Gene down and rayed the Lurch, leaving a scorch mark on the wall above his head.
She let the thing drop and Gene walked on top of it and over to her, trying to avoid the circuits.
“Scarlet! Scar!” Her brother’s voice rasped from behind her, struggling to come out. “Now, no one from our family is left! You happy? We should have trusted i.”
She walked over to him and looked down. “Fear is the path to the dark side. You must unlearn what you have learned. ”
He let out a choked laugh. “That’s not how the line goes.” He choked again, this time chunks of blood coming out of his mouth. “You think I’m the only one i sent to kill you? I’d run if I were you.” The flesh on his face started to redden, growing brighter, pulsing from the circuits that were now overriding the inside of his body.
“Yes, you would.”
Scarlet looked at the end of the alley near the Thames and saw two more Lurches marching toward them, ones as large as Gene’s but marked with white i’s on the corner of their metal breastplates. She looked at her brother one more time before she grabbed Gene’s hand and ran toward the Net. “I’m so sorry John.”
They were running, rushing to the docks toward the Net. Gene looked pissed. “Who the hell was that?”
“It doesn’t matter any more.” She could feel the energy coming from the electric field up ahead.
“The hell it doesn’t matter! We almost died! Who are you?”
“I’m Scarlet. Who I am doesn’t matter! It’s the when that matters.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
They had to stop just outside the Net. They needed Gene’s Lurch, and it was due to meet them here any minute, but it was almost dusk now; she didn’t have much time.
She drew her rapier, hoping it would show before more of i’s Lurches arrived. “I’m not from a Time. I’ve been shifting, trying to learn how to stop i. I can restore Order, fix Time. I need Gemini.”
The Lurches closed in on them forcing them back, closer to the Net. Scarlet felt the heat begin to burn her neck.
Gene flexed the hand in his silver glove. “Why don’t you laser them?!”
“The laser doesn’t work on the Lurches firewall!”
The back of Gene’s shirt was smoking and Scarlet knew her dress was doing the same. She could smell it. She jammed her blade into the eye of the Lurch, hoping if she hit home, her blade would fry the electronics that made it move.
It did destroy his eye, but didn’t stop him. She pulled a small knife from her leg holster but the Lurch squeezed her arm, forcing her to drop it. He grabbed her other arm and began to squeeze her, as if the corset she was wearing wasn’t enough of a lung restriction.
Her vision was going in and out. She was trying to breathe and focus, but then she felt a shove and a heavy weight before she was knocked out.
She gasped, waking up and choking in one lung full of air. She saw one Lurch on the ground in front of her, its head rolling away, back toward Gene, who was facing her and being pushed into the Net, being burned alive by the other Lurch.
“Gene!” Her voice was rough as she screamed; it came out as barely a whisper. She tried to run to him, but she was lifted again, like a child, by a Lurch she hadn’t seen. She struggled but it was futile because it was crushing her.
Gene’s screams stopped and he dropped to the ground.
She tried to kick and get herself out of the Lurch’s hold but she couldn’t move. Then all of a sudden, she was set down behind the walls of Gateway, the tall concrete building that dominated the city.
“Gene!” She started to run from the Lurch toward him, but it took a hold of her arm, stopping her. She looked up at it and stopped struggling. It was Lester. Her voice was ragged as she yelled. “Go get him!”
He didn’t move.
Right. Voice activated commands applied to owners only, and Lester was past the Net with her, not Gene.
She dragged a deep breath, holding her head up for more air. She opened her eyes when she felt a tug on her hand.
Lester grabbed her and led her to the left through the hedges to a small window at the base of the tower. He bent down and pressed the circuits in his copper hand against the copper framed window. There was a small puff of smoke and the frame snapped, making it hinge from the corner. Lester stood up from the window and walked back toward the Net; his orders complete.
“Thank you.” She dropped down and saw open crates and sawdust covering the concrete floor. Not to mention a collection of priceless art, covered in wrap and collecting dust.
Scarlet walked past multiple Da Vinci’s, Picasso’s, and Dali’s, as well as sculptures, and one she was almost positive was Michelangelo’s David. Sitting here in the dust. Wow. Her brother and Teddy were right. i was doing some impressive dirty work.
It didn’t surprise her. i only wanted the best. It seems that had evolved from stealing knowledge to stealing art.
She fixed her monocle making sure it was in place, and opened the door, hoping she wouldn’t have to use it.
Peering around the frame, she saw stairs at the end of the hall that curved upward. She slipped off her shoes, and pocketed them. She kept herself along the wall, making sure not to put too much weight on her feet as she went up.
Pushing open the door only to a crack, she looked out onto an open and circular floor plan. There were statues that were spread out among the white marble underneath them.
i had really changed the palace since she’d been gone. But there was still an elevator at the end of the room to the left. She pushed the door open and ran straight for it.
Scarlet tried to quiet her heavy breathing as her heart pounded in her chest against the astrolabe. Where were all the people?
She went to push the button for the elevator, but hesitated. She remembered. Teddy said i had placed Lurches in the palace elevators.
She went to the right, to the next set of spiraling stairs.
And saw that this floor had been knocked down and reduced to an open floor plan as well, except it held paintings and it was full of people.
The splashes of color that dominated the pieces highlighted the white walls behind them. There were van Gough’s and Monet’s among Rembrandt’s and Pollock’s. His collection really was incredible. He even had The Scream by Munch.
“You did know that I would find you, didn’t you?”
Scarlet whipped around and backed up against the wall. “Yes. But that’s why I came to you. I just had to get my timing right.”
“Ah, time. I have all the time in the world dear, Scarlet. You on the other hand…”
i glided forward, moving smoothly across the floor right up to her. “Why did you come? I am curious. Are you suicidal? Too much Shifting? We’re still not sure what the medical side effects of that are.”
She kept one hand in her pocket, gripping the gun and the note, and one along the wall to guide her. “Except you continue to Travel, creating more rips, more holes in Time, knowing the side effects?”
Lurches started to fill the room behind him and the patrons looked up and then ignored them, to wrapped up in their iTech to care.
She leaned and pressed her hands against the wall, moving away from him. “My family was wrong to trust you.”
i frowned and tilted his head as he considered her statement. “You’re wrong, my dear. You’ve disgraced your royal lineage and defied me. And for what?”
His crippled, arthritic hand gestured to the paintings and the people. “Look at what unlimited access to Time allows me to do. I’ve been able to gain so much knowledge and can give people what they want: the best technology the world has to offer and constant connection to it, all the time.”
Scarlet saw that everyone in the room had their head down, uninterested in anything beside their iTech. “People are dying to get iTech, to be connected, but at what cost? A shorter and shorter life span, a half-life as a robot, supported solely by iTech. Not to mention a future of Stasis caused by the rips!”
i smiled as a man in a voice activated wheel chair passed right in front of him, his head down, absorbed by the device in his hand. “The iAge has brought instant Globalization. This is what the world was working towards when I created Gemini. I was just able to speed up the process by using Gemini to Travel, and create a Time where we can revel in it. There will be side effects, but ultimately they do not diminish the maximum revenue of the portal.”
She leaned forward. “A side effect? Is that what you call the automatons?”
“We are connected to Time! Time is worth everything! It’s truly unfortunate that you can’t see that. You were the elite. You could have been a part of the Future, been by my side. But now, you’re out of time, and I’m out of patience! Guards!”
The Lurches marched toward her and she reached into her pockets and pulled the gun on i.
“Stop!” i held his hand up to the Lurches and they halted.
She kept the gun to his head. “Tell everything in this room not to move, or I will shoot you.”
The knuckle of his curled finger pushed a button on his armrest and Scarlet dove just in time. The laser burned right through The Scream and the wall behind it. The hole wasn’t large but it was big enough to show her exactly where Gemini was.
She shot i’s hand that could reach his laser and then she shot his remote. It sparked and all the Lurches began to spasm, their bronze and copper pieces melting. Then, they powered off, the electronic moans of powering down echoing in the room.
“Son of a bitch, Scarlet! That remote took a year to assemble!”
Scarlet walked over to him and kept the gun pointed at his head as she rolled him over to the wall. She ripped the painting off and saw a mirror. She stepped aside, so it only held i’s face. A scanner was activated and it swung open.
“Great. Now I have to find a new hiding place for Gemini. Congratulations.”
She pushed i into the portal, shut the mirror behind them, and locked him in tight. “It’s over i. It’s done. No more messing with Time. Order will be restored.”
Scarlet reached into her corset and pulled out the astrolabe. She reset the coordinates to San Francisco, California, USA for February 24, 1955.
“Scarlet! Scarlet! Where did you find that? What are you doing? Stop! STOP! Don’t do this! Don’t send me back to that time! Don’t erase what I’ve created. You don’t know what you’re doing! If you send me back, it won’t just stop the iAge; it’ll delete me from Time completely!”
“It’ll restore Order and Time. There will only one way through life, and that’s forward. For everyone but you. Your time’s long gone.”
She placed the astrolabe onto the iDeck, the control center of Gemini. It lit up and the walls around them began to shake.
“Scarlet! If I go, you go! This world will be destroyed! Think of the lives you’ll completely rewrite!”
The walls were beginning to spin and she was forced to the ground. She leaned her head back and reached into her pocket, squeezing a battered and ripped note. “I am.”