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Epilogue

Brought to you by Ben Wray

“Okay, what about exceptions?”

“I need your exceptiona-” but then Kay’s rudely interrupted.

“Notimetoexplain!” Mario grabs her and spacetime rearranges itself in a flash of light. They’re just in time for the closing words.

“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit,” solmenly quotes Toe. “Death is but a door, time is but a window…”

“Is he quoting Ghostbusters 2 or 8-bit theater?” asks Jake, but Dylan kicks him, hard, and he shuts up.

Everybody’s there. Zach, Rob, Asuka’s doctor, Zaganza, Shelly, your favorite character not already mentioned… everybody.

Then Millicent’s paw thrusts triumphantly out of the ground suck it Brendan I win forever.

Audrey

A story by Andy Holloway

When Audrey is 34, she invents practical human time travel. Every week of her life up to that point, time travellers show up — some trying to kill her, some to save her, some just to be skeevy — so Audrey has to amass tools to defend herself. She learns Judo, disguise, and a bunch of temporal physics. Some of the travellers help her with theory, but others dick her around; eventually, though, she’s best in the field, and then, well, I’ve already told you.

It dies down, but not completely. Mario keeps trying but never once gets her into bed.

Mario

Mario can calculate the weekday of any date in his head and employ nineteen theoretical tenses, but in some situations he feels like a four-year-old trying to remember which hand is the minutes.

One such situation is Minneapolis.

“Forgive me for this intrusion, your highness,” he manages, concentrating, trying to arrange his words in some sort of sequential order. Untime buffets him, and the sensors on his chronosuit creak into the red. “I boon to a request come–”

A sudden cessation; The Artist Formerly Known inclines his head. “Greetings,” he says, and will say, and has always been saying.

Mario

Defusing a time bomb is tricky business even if the many-worlds interpretation doesn’t hold, and Mario isn’t helping.

“Have you ever done this before?” he asks, trying to get a better look.

“In simulations,” mutters Girard. Sweat accretes under his ears and armpits.

“Which wire do you think you should cut?”

“Ask me in thirty seconds,” says Girard, cutters poised.

Mario twists his watch and jumps forward. “Which wire do you think you should cut?” he asks again.

Girard lolls at him, skinless, his jaw across the room somewhere.

“Well?” says Girard when he returns.

“Not that one,” Mario says.

Mario

Mario shimmers into being, shakes off the chronoference nausea and sticks his hand out, waiting for a newspaper to blow into it.

Eventually he opens his eyes. His hand remains empty.

“Goddamn collapse of print media!” he swears.

One of the guys sitting on a nearby cafe patio raises his eyebrow. “What’s the matter?” he asks. “Lose your job?”

“Not exactly,” mutters Mario. “Um. I don’t suppose you have the date?”

“1-20-2018,” says Mako.

“Wow!” says Mario. “Thanks!”

Mako grins. “Now how about you give me your digits?”

“Sure!” says Mario. “But they won’t work until you invent ansibles.”

Chronastromy HQ Officer Training: Final Exam

Name Mario L.
Student ID#   1445

Questions will be projected onto your HUD; answer below.

Alternative 1: Arrange war loan forgiveness in the early 1930s and allow Germany to overcome poverty on its own terms

Alternative 2: Deutschland Über Antidepressants

Alternative 3: Fix Mr. H up with some nice young Austrian boy and avoid all that frustration

Alternative 4: Get Princip arrested and avert WWI instead

Alternative 5: Track down the blighted philosophy professor who first came up with this little chestnut and impress upon him in childhood, very strongly, how box-brained the whole idea of time-traveling murder is

Mario

Mario is five again, in the Beanbag Corner, where Miss Gladisant is teaching him the phonics of time. She sings three simple syllables at three pitches and they loop, a perfect echo, three times before they fade away.

Mario tries to copy her, but he gets one note exactly wrong. As soon as he finishes he feels himself grabbed by the stomach, yanked, breath forced back into his throat–sings again, can’t help it, grabbed, singing, helpless, again and again.

Miss Gladisant shouts a strong, angry word. The loop shatters. Mario wakes, nauseated, in Mexico, and knows what Barrister has done.

Mario

“HQ’s not just gone, it’s unmade,” mutters Mario as they dodge through the street market. “Scrubbed out of this whole damn line.”

“If we could stop moving,” says Girard, swiping at a chicken, “set up a decent backcast–”

“You don’t think Barrister will be waiting for that?”

“So what!” shouts Girard. “I’m lab, not field, why’d you even bring me!”

Mario hustles him away from the staring stall owners. “I need you, Girard, okay? But we can’t do anything he’ll expect.”

“You want to ask them for help,” says Girard slowly. “The Blue Man Group.”

Mario bites his lip and nods.

Mario

“Rosebud is his dog,” says Mario. “Haley Joel Osment’s dead. Norman Bates is a drag king, and the Village is a reality show. The lawyer made up Keyser Soze. Tyler Durden is Jack’s long-lost brother, the Blair Witch is the girl, and Obi-Wan is Luke’s father.”

Girard checks each of them off on his list. “Right. Thank you.”

Mario waits.

“You can go now,” says Girard. “The evaluation’s done.”

“That’s–I’m right, right?” says Mario. “We didn’t change anything in the past, so the culture matrix matches. Right?”

“Can’t tell you,” says Girard brightly. “Don’t want to spoil anything.”

Mario

“Never understood how these work without energy,” says Mario quietly, one hand on the Time Tube.

“It puts you in quantastasis,” says Rasmussen.

Mario nods.

“And then we, ah, wait.”

“Until what?”

“Until it opens, for a forward jump. Backwards–until we train replacements, retire and die, Earth falls into the Sun, the universe goes into blueshift and collapses, explodes again–and this is the tricky quantum bit, so you and the Tube spontaneously reassemble the same way–Earth boils out, life appears, civilization. The Tube opens. You step out.”

Mario stares.

“We have better methods now,” says Rasmussen, slightly embarrassed.

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