Next Steps-Arrondissement Part Fifty Six

Having thoroughly searched the Tower Cerulean, the Repairperson had to conclude that the Penultimate device was not there. There was however a multitude of weapons, armor, and trophies that were worth more than the contents of the Banque Nationale.

The Repairperson was not a thief and even if she were, there was no one to fence them to.

After leaving the Chevalier’s keep she walked to a nearby street vendor. She picked up a cup of café and left three copper concepts. The Repairperson then walked along the rues and ruelles, found her way to a tiny park nestled between two buildings. It had a tarnished brass path that wound its way below street level forming an intimate valley, including a miniature pond with petite, iridescent octopuses.

She sat there, nibbled her café, and thought. They must have adjusted the numerical sequence. That would explain things.

Four of them were not frozen if she counted correctly, the Renard Gendarme, the watchmaker, the thief, and one Chevalier. Challenging to be sure but not impossible. There was a way. Perilous though it may be, it would work if she could pull it off.

Chewing the last of her café, she got up and climbed out back to the street. From the branch of a tree, a verdigris Chartreux watched her leave. He miaoued and a grey Burmilla, who was sitting on a rooftop, replied and took off in the same direction as the Repairperson.

She was followed until she reached her destination. If the Repairperson knew that she was being watched, there was no outward sign.

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Supper Time-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Five

“Why don’t we lay out exactly what we know?” asked Monsieur L’Horloge, taking out a pen and notebook.

The brasserie they sat in would ordinarily have been too loud to have a decent conversation. Business was honestly quite brisk and the rest of the place was filled with customers. Silent, frozen customers.

They found an empty table and sat. Since table service was not available, Maxi recommended they take meals off tables that had just been served or were on their way from the kitchen.

There was some debate over the morality of this. Arpin and Unexpected suggested that they leave money to cover the bill. Maxi pointed out that if they put time back on track, a meal was the least they could do in return if they restarted time and if they couldn’t, it hardly mattered. L’Horloge pointed out that this was the least of their problems. The subject was then tabled.

“First, time has been locked in place with the exception of us,” said the watchmaker.

“Obviously,” remarked Maxi.

“Perhaps, but these details are important, even if they do seem obvious,” added Arpin.

“I agree,” piped in Unexpected.

Maxi made a ‘get on with it’ gesture.

“Additionally, the following beings are unaffected by the event. Firstly, cats.”

A golden bobtail sat on a nearby table nibbling a roast chicken that sat in front of a pair of bohemians.

“Unexpected,” mused Arpin, “But then, perhaps not. They do have many unusual… qualities.”

“Between us, I think they’re as surprised as we are though they’ll never admit it,” said Maxi.

The golden bobtail gave no indication that she heard what was said or at the very least, did not acknowledge it.

“Ghosts too,” said Nikita who had arrived with the cat.

“Spirits are exempt as well,” said Monsieur L’Horloge as he made jotted down what was discussed.

“And you’re quite certain that they will not be of help?” asked Arpin.

Nikita sighed, an action that made the hair on the back of ones neck stand up, though it was clearly unintentional.

“I wouldn’t count on it, they’re too busy arguing with each other.”

“Shame, I can think of any number of uses for a squad of ghosts,” said Unexpected with a grin.

“And finally, the Repairperson,” said Monsieur L’Horloge, underlining that name.

“Cats and spirits have unique qualities that might allow them to avoid being stuck in time, but why the Repairperson?” asked Unexpected.

“So too do the members of League of Spiders,” said Arpin who explained the glyphs inscribed on their skeletons.

Monsieur L’Horloge turned pale, Maxi just stared at him, Nikita disappeared for a minute or so and Unexpected flung a croissant at the wall where it embedded itself.

“Are you saying that the League of Spiders is immune from all this?” asked L’Horloge rather louder than he intended.

“Let them come,” said Unexpected, “I have more than a few surprises for them!”

Maxi said nothing but her eyes darted about the room.

“I doubt that’s the case, if it were, we would not be enjoying this meal or these drinks,” said Arpin.

That settled the others mood or at the very least kept them from doing anything rash.

“So we only have one preternaturally strong foe to deal with?” asked Maxi.

“As far as I can tell,” replied Arpin, “Let’s have another bottle, agreed?”

They did. Unexpected took a beaujolais and cracked the bottle lengthwise. Once the bottle was removed, the wine stood unperturbed and they could scoop it into their glasses. It was a little chewy at first but it then became liquid the longer it was in their mouths. An odd sensation but given everything, perhaps not the oddest.

“So, we have one foe with extraordinary strength and the ability to ignore pain,” said L’Horloge, making further notes. This is a redundant line if said this way. It sounds virtually identical to the one Maxi says just a bit earlier.

“Is that really an asset?” asked Maxi.

“I’ve another list of what we have arrayed against us.”

Maxi looked at what he wrote.

“Limited resources?”

“Well, given we cannot farm or produce more food or other necessities than those we can find, eventually we will starve to death,” replied the clockmaker.

“How long do you think this will take?” she asked.

“I have no idea. Maybe a day, maybe forever.”

“Perhaps you’re getting ahead of yourself,” said Arpin.

“Do not give into despair clockmaker,” added Unexpected, “Let me cut you some more wine.”

“Let’s get back to the Repairperson and why was she not frozen? Why weren’t we?” mused Arpin.

“She did have the key to the device,” Maxi said snapping her fingers.

“Yes!” said L’Horloge, “A bespoke variable key made specifically for the Penultimate Device, crafted by The Huygens’ own hands! Of course, it has other properties.”

“That’s quite a property,” said Maxi with a smile.

“Well, given all the things that can go wrong when you mess about with time, it makes sense to have some safety measures,” observed Nikita.

Everyone stared at her.

“I’m dead, I’m not an idiot,” she said with some indignity.

“Pardon mademoiselle,” said Arpin with a nod of his head, “After all, you are working with Detective Durand, a very talented colleague of mine.”

“I was, before…”

“Think of it as a long weekend,” said Maxi.

“Yes, I think I will,” replied the spirit.

“Also, you discovered something very important,” said Arpin.

“Oh yes! We know where the League of Spider’s headquarters is!”

“We do?” asked L’Horloge.

“Well, the Sergeant and I do,” said Nikita.

“How did you find it?” inquired Maxi.

“Okay, I was flying above the financial quarter in early evening when I spotted-

“And why are we only now just being told this?” interrupted Unexpected with concern.

“What do you think your Marshal would’ve done with that intelligence?” Arpin asked the Chevalier.

“She would’ve taken direct and forceful action, an attack, or a siege if necessary. Of course, she would have worked with the Gendarmerie and civil authorities.”

“I have no doubt. And given what you saw of the gifts of the League of Spiders, what would be the cost of lives, assuming victory?”

Unexpected paused, then answered, “I cannot say.”

“Not even a rough estimate? Fifty percent, sixty, seventy-five? Just keeping it in round numbers,” asked the Gendarme Sergeant.

“Impossible to say,” replied the Chevalier.

“That is why I did not share that with the Marshal. Fighting an unknown number of powerful, fearless zealots who give death no thought is not an option I will consider. I do not wish to be the one responsible for the death of Coterie du Honor, to say nothing of the causalities of Gendarmes, and those innocents that are in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Silence reigned as Arpin’s words settled on them like ash from a burning sky.

“Forgive me my friends, that was the darkest possible outcome I could foresee.”

“The darkest?” whispered L’Horloge, “That was one where the League lost. What if- “

“We have eluded that fate, let us not dwell on it. We are alive and mobile, and each of us has unique gifts that will be of great use in our…”

Arpin paused, looked directly at the Chevalier and asked, “Would you call this a quest?”

She smiled and said, “Perhaps the most important quest ever undertaken!”

“I never thought I’d be on a quest,” said L’Horloge.

“Neither did I,” added Maxi.

“This is very cool,” said Nikita.

“Then raise your glasses and toast to our success!”

All of them stood and held their glasses that held odd shaped nuggets of wine.

“We are now bound by common cause, to awaken the peoples of the Arrondissement and to restore time to its rightful pace. To victory!”

They echoed his declaration and chewed their wine. The golden bobtail, who had had her fill of chicken, at least for now, meowed loudly at them.

“Yes, of course we could not succeed without you,” answered Maxi, “In fact, I have a message for you to deliver to the Clowder.”

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Measured Moves-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Four

The Repairperson used gauze to absorb her blood that had been caught in the air when everything stopped. She got the supplies in a pharmacie, first bandaging her various cuts, then removing all trace of her presence, all the while carefully avoiding disturbing customers in the isles.

Her attention to detail made her uniquely qualified to work on The Penultimate Device but it meant she never did anything quickly. Fortunately, she had all the time she required. After disposing of the blood-soaked dressing in several places around the Arrondissement, the Repairperson made her way back to the Tower Cerulean.

Climbing up to a roof of a maison de ville a few blocks away, she observed the keep with a pair of field glasses. After an hour of stillness (her chronoton was still running), the Repairperson ambled to the headquarters of the Coterie du Honor and through the open gates.

Squires and Chevaliers did not react to her presence, which was as it should be. She climbed the stairs and followed the path she had been led through before (as her memory was flawless) and stood before the door where the Penultimate Device was placed.

While nothing she had seen or heard indicated that the whole of the Arrondissement was not still trapped in a moment of time, she paused. A spiked mace hung on the wall. She took it, just in case. The Repairperson had no desire to kill anyone but she also had no reservations about doing so.

She opened the door, looked inside, and then returned the spiked mace to its display. The room was empty. To be sure, fixing things would be more difficult, but she had all the time she needed.

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Six Years Old Today

Today is the sixth anniversary of my first post on this blog. It started as a place to share my novel, Chosen, but it has grown over time as I have continued to post something every Monday.

I want to thank my devoted readers for continuing to… read. A little on the nose but it works. Having people read my work does inspire me to keep writing, so another thank you for keeping me working.

Here’s a new haiku to commemorate the date.

Each Monday I post
Poetry, stories, novels
Please read and enjoy

Now, I’ve got to write something else.

See you all next Monday!

Leo Byrne Jenicek

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What To Do Next?-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Three

The last thing Detective Durand said was, “The question is why ghosts were affected at all? They are effectively immortal.”

Mistress Rosamund looked as if she had some choice words about that. She continued to do so and showed no sign of stopping.

If this was a joke, thought Nikita, it’s an extremely mean one. She floated in the tiny office looking at her mentor and the ex-spirit wrangler. They were frozen. The living, at least the vast majority of them, could only hold off moving for a very short period.

She shouted, moved objects, and hovered right in front of them. It was then she noticed that they were not breathing.

“Merde!” she whispered.

Dead knows dead and they were still alive, in a fashion. This was bad and she knew she needed some help. Luckily, I’m a in Gendarmerie, Nikita thought and floated through the door and down to the main floor.

Help was not to be found. Just a room full of Gendarmes and criminals fixed in time and space. Additionally, things were stuck. A cup of café was arrested halfway to the floor. Papers, pencils, and other objects were all suspended.

No one reacted to her presence and after many fruitless attempts to gain them Gendarme’s attention, she screamed obscenities but it made no impact.

Nikita exited the Gendarmerie to find the street in the same state. It was not a surprise but it was a disappointment. She spent hours, or minutes, or days searching for some sign of movement. Nothing.

Eventually, she made her way to Jardin des Gens. She always loved the park, a walk through it had the power to revive her when things seem to being going wrong. Now, filled as it was with immobile people, it just drove home the fact that she was surrounded and all alone.

She sat on a bench and wept. Her own death didn’t sadden her as this did. It seemed a cruel joke from some unfeeling and capricious power that she didn’t know and it broke her heart.

After a good cry, which usually helped when she still lived, Nikita wandered the Arrondissement. It only served to heighten her sense of isolation and helplessness.

She was wondering how she would endure and if going mad might make it more bearable when she suddenly saw movement. Whirling around, she saw another spirit.

“Hey!” she shouted and rushing to the figure, “Stop!”

The ghost did and looked at her.

“You’re not frozen! How? Why? What the hell is going on?”

“Of course not,” said the spirit dressed in a chef’s coat, “I’m not alive.”

“Are there others like us?”

“The dead can still move. The Conclave of the Undeparted has convened. ”

Nikita followed the transparent chef. As she moved, more ghosts joined them as they arrived at the great underground chamber where they met. It was lit by blue flames in verdigris encrusted braziers placed about the room. The tiers were filled with the dead. Their moaning murmurs filled the room. It quieted when Dieudonné Murat glided to the center.

“My brethren of the grave, our time has come!”

This elicited a ghastly huzzah.

“The living have been made unmoving and unresponsive. We now rule the Arrondissement!” declared the leader of the Conclave.

More bone-chilling cheers followed. Nikita began to speak but was drowned out. Finally, she gave a two-fingered whistle that cut through the grim merriment. Everyone fell silent.

“I think you’ve forgotten a few things,” Nikita said.

Dieudonné Murat tittered and replied, “And what would that be?”

“One, there is no one left to frighten. I know lots of you love to scare the living. Two, with everyone frozen, unfinished business will remain unfinished. Three, did you all just happen to forget that ghosts were disappearing without a trace just days ago? How do you know we aren’t next?”

Debate ensued. More of a mass shouting and howling match and just as useful as it sounded. This went on for a while. Nikita tried to organize the discussion but if there was one creature who was unable or at least unwilling to change, it was a ghost. It was evident that she was not having any impact on the proceeding, so she drifted away with a mix of anger and disappointment.

Once she was back on the surface the weight of loneliness had returned with a twist of frustration. What to do next? The silence was broken by a mrow.

Sitting in a doorway was a golden bobtail looking straight at Nikita. It blinked.

“You can move?” she shouted excitedly.

Ears went back in clear annoyance.

“I wish I spoke cat.”

Suddenly, the cat began to walk down the rue. When Nikita didn’t immediately follow, the bobtail stopped and gave her a look that said, “Are you coming?”

What else could she do?

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The Other Shoe-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-Two.

The League of Spiders Repairperson was escorted by a dozen Chevaliers as she walked into the Tower Cerulean. Every stairway and corridor were deserted as they moved towards the room where the Penultimate Device sat.

Uneasy was one way to describe the détente between these two ancient foes but it was entirely inadequate. It was more like peering into the darkness and waiting for a monster to emerge.

Nevertheless, the truce held for now, hidden monsters remained so. The Repairperson was led into a hexagonal chamber, deep in the tower.

Waiting inside were Monsieur L’Horloge, Frau Schlüsselherrin, Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, Maxi, the unexpected Chevalier, and the Marshal who strode to the Repairperson.

“Understand this,” she said, towering over the diminutive and unassuming repairperson, “If you betray us, your life is forfeit.”

“You make yourself very clear,” the Repairperson replied meekly.

The Chevalier escorts entered and took up positions along the walls. Each seemed ready for danger.

“Are all of these Chevaliers entirely necessary?” asked Monsieur L’Horloge.

“They will not affect my work,” said the Repairperson.

“Well then, good…” the watchmaker said.

“May I have my tool bag?”

One of the Chevaliers, whose armor suggested shifting sands, handed her a worn leather satchel.

“It was searched,” stated the Marshal.

“Yes Marshal, thoroughly,” replied the one who handed the bag to the Repairperson, “It contains only precision tools and other equipment. No weapons.”

“Anything can be a weapon,” said the Marshal with a fierce certainty.

A round worktable was set up in the center of the room, the Repairperson walked up and unrolled a length of grey velvet on which her tools were arranged. L’Horloge and Schlüsselherrin hovered nearby.

“Is that a Wimmer counter wrench?” asked the watchmaker.

“Yes.”

“Mein Gott, you have an Azzini double-headed tumbler.” Said the lock-mistress with a gasp.

“I do.”

The repairperson examined each tool, wiping some down with a chamois, adjusting others. L’Horloge and Schlüsselherrin chatted with her excitedly and she replied to them with few words. In polite company, it might seem rude but the Repairperson’s demeanor was more dispassionate than dismissive.

“I’m prepared,” she finally said.

A moment later, a squire entered with the wooden box that contained the Penultimate Device, placed it on the table and exited.

“The key?” asked the Repairperson.

Maxi reached under her blouse and pulled out a chain on which the key hung. She sauntered over the Repairperson and handed it to her.

“Here you are,” she said with a smirk.

The Repairperson took it and quietly replied, “Thank you.”

Maxi moved back to stand with Arpin.

“What do you think?” she asked the Sergeant Gendarme.

He sniffed.

“She seems… calm”

“Is that good or bad?”

“On the surface, it’s good.”

“And below?”

He shrugged.

“Merci, I am at ease.”

“She doesn’t seem aggressive.”

“That’s not terrible.”

“Of course, I’ve bound murderers by law who smelled tranquil.”

“Did they also smell of blood?”

“More often than not.”

“Any ideas on what to do?”

“I suggest we wait.”

“And observe?”

“Absolutely.”

They turned their attention to the center of the room. A creased leather-bound notebook was gripped in the Repairperson’s hand, she slowly turned the pages and nodded or shook her head based on whatever she read.

“Will you start with a quarter widdershins turn and then three full right rotations?” asked L’Horloge.

The repairperson looked at him for a moment and said, “That’s correct. How did you know?”

With a smile, he pulled out a notebook of his own.

“I’ve been pouring over The Folio of Mechanical Fabrication and discovered some hidden text!”

“You’re very clever,” the Repairperson observed.

“It was a bit of an accident, but thank you,” he beamed.

At the wall, Arpin sniffed and softly said to Maxi, “She’s surprised.”

“What does that smell like?”

“Black café.”

Removing The Penultimate Device from the case, the Repairperson placed it on a thick velvet pad. It looked like a teardrop comprised of brass and crystal. Despite its age, it was pristine, lacking the minute scratches and defects that most objects collect over time, even with the most scrupulous of care.

She slid the key into the slot on the narrow tip and turned it counterclockwise halfway, and then three full clockwise turns. A spot on the thick end of the device began to unfold with a succession of clicks that revealed another keyhole, one with three angled slots.

“The ancillary lock!” exclaimed L’Horloge, who added comments in his notebook.

“It looks like we’ll need another key,” said Frau Schlüsselherrin, “Unless…”

As the key descended, it reassembled itself to fit the new configuration.

“It’s a variable key!” she said delightedly, “The art has been lost for ages.”

“Remarkable!” added L’Horloge.

The Repairperson continued to turn the variable key in multiple permutations until The Penultimate Device had opened to show an array of dials and buttons, each one etched with a number.

“She just needs to adjust the figures to the correct formula and then wind it in the correct sequence,” the watchmaker said to the lock-mistress.

“This might be too little and too late, but it seems we could’ve done this ourselves,” stated Schlüsselherrin.

“I afraid Zsófia still hasn’t decoded the final turn combination, so we do need to work together,” he said

“I see. But are those the correct numbers?” she asked.

“Hold on,” he replied, flipping through his notes.

“Pardon!” said L’Horloge, “But I think you made an error!”

A terrifying silence filled the chamber.

“I believe if you check that it should be 6390271573832498. You set it to 6390271575832498.”

Everyone waited for the reply. It came in the form of a quick key turn and a rapid and loud ticking.

“Portcullis formation!” shouted the Marshal.

Several large knives flew and hit the repairperson before the dozen Chevaliers closed in on her. The fight was absurdly brutal, a banner of Chevaliers versus a petite woman. Though admittedly, a banner of Chevaliers versus a petite woman with preternatural strength, speed, and the ability to ignore pain.

The Repairperson was wounded multiple times but she kept dodging when she could and knocking back Chevaliers. After pushing two of her foes away, and suffering cuts across her back and left arm, she leapt to the door, kicked it down, and fled.

“To me Chevaliers!” cried the Marshal as she led her people out in pursuit.

The only Chevalier not in the group was Unexpected, who had been given orders to stay with Maxi.

“Monsieur L’Horloge, Frau Schlüsselherrin” said Sergeant Gendarme Arpin, “If you have any solutions, please use them now.”

“Right,” replied the watchmaker as he stared at the bewildering display of gears work.

“Maybe adjust the numbers?” suggested key-mistress.

“Yes, of course!”

L’Horloge corrected the numbers but the ticking continued.

“What will happen if you do the wrong sequence of turns?” asked Maxi.

“Something terrible or wonderful or maybe nothing,” L’Horloge said nervously. “Maybe Zsófia has some idea. I’ll go get her.”

“Nein,” said Schlüsselherrin, “I’ll do it, you know more about this machine than I do.”

“Honestly, I don’t know that much!”

“Still more than me!” said the key-mistress as she left the room.

“Do you have any suggestions,” asked Arpin of Maxi.

“Hope?” suggested Maxi.

“Could you take it apart?” asked Unexpected, “Wouldn’t that just shut it off?”

“NO!” yelled L’Horloge, “This is a device of many unknown properties. Dismantling it would be a terrible mistake and I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“What can we do then?” asked Unexpected.

“Hope that Zsófia has figured this out,” said the watchmaker.

“Where’s the key?” asked Arpin.

It was no longer in The Penultimate Device.

“Oh no!” L’Horloge whispered.

“Don’t fret, the Marshal will be back with it very soon,” said Unexpected.

It was then that they all experienced it. An infusion of warmth with golden illumination that filled the room. It felt like the time just before sunset when you are sitting outside and enjoying a drink. Then it faded.

“Is anyone injured?” asked Arpin.

No one was.

“That wasn’t so bad,” remarked Unexpected.

“I hate to say this, but it was…pleasant,” added Maxi.

“Listen!” said L’Horloge.

Everyone did.

“I don’t hear anything,” said Arpin.

The Penultimate Device had stopped.

“Everyone stay here and lock the door. I’ll be back with help,” said Unexpected who dashed out.

“Is this good or bad?” asked Arpin.

L’Horloge just shrugged.

“At least we’re still alive and whole,” added Maxi.

The door opened and Unexpected entered.

“Is no one around?” asked Arpin.

“Not exactly.”

“That’s not comforting,” said Maxi.

“No, it isn’t. You need to see this,” said the Chevalier.

They walked down to the main entrance and out to the main gate. Everything was silent save their footsteps.

“Take a look.”

The Arrondissement was whole and unharmed but nothing moved. In the sky, the Wandering Woman was fixed in place. As were autogyros, dirigibles, clouds, and birds. Velo-Pedes, the monorail, and of course, people all were still. The silence was chilling.

All of them just stared a while, for how long was difficult to say. Finally, Maxi said, “I could use a drink, anyone care to join me?”

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Working yesterday, for a better tomorrow.-Arrondissement-Part Fifty-One

Ministry of Chronology
Memo # 897-B-246
Date: November 17th, 394th Year of the Thrush
Subject: Dealing with The Public
Level: HIGHEST OBSCURITY

FOR INTERNAL DISTRIBUTION ONLY

There have been many questions about the current temporal crisis, (which will hereafter be referred to as the C.T.C.). Below are guidelines on how to deal with them.

1- “What are we to tell the public?” The citizenry of the Arrondissement wants to know what is going on. This is of course to be expected. Things are very serious and many questions have arisen. If a citizen asks you about the C.T.C., please respond with the following phrase, “The Ministry of Chronology is working diligently to correct the variances in the time stream.”

If that does not satisfy them, encourage them to fold a bird to the Office of Public Inquiries with any and all concerns. Extricate yourself from the conversation as quickly as possible. Site pressing Ministry business as an excuse.

2- “How to handle interactions with the public?” Due to the ongoing and escalating nature of the C.T.C., it is important to maintain the prestige the Ministry has built up. While we are investigating all avenues, nonetheless a lack of visible progress can undermine public trust. Do not identify yourself as a Ministry of Chronology employee to anyone you do not know. While the law prohibits us from lying about who we are, mumbling or pretending not to hear a request to identify is an acceptable alternative. Remove all pins or other devices from your clothing that could identify you as a member of the Ministry of Chronology. We are currently arraigning alternative entrances to our offices to ease any difficulties.

This policy is strictly so we can apply our efforts to end the C.T.C., not to avoid questions we cannot answer.

(NOTE: Please treat all employees of the Mayoral Office, members of the General Assembly, officers of the Gendarmerie, Sapeurs-Pompiers, and representative of the Fourth Estate the same way you might an overly curious citizen.)

3- “What procedures and equipment may we use?” As a result of the C.T.C., our standard techniques and specialized apparatus is not to be relied upon. Even in situations where the timeline seems intact, do not manipulate the matter of time, use double or triple dating, future shock collars, clock-beating, stitching up time threads, firing blast from the past firearms, employ second or minute sight, occasion planning, instant communication, both good and bad timing, and avoid all clear and present dangers, as well as past, future ones. This cannot be stressed enough. Results thus far have been extremely unpredictable and therefore, dangerous. If you have any Ministry equipment, please return it to the Quartermaster’s Office posthaste. Those who do not comply will be disciplined with suspension without pay, demotion, cession of café privileges, and retroactive termination.

4- “What is going on?” While the C.T.C. is of an unprecedented scale, the Ministry of Chronology is using all of its considerable resources to resolve it as quickly and safely as possible. Any conversations or correspondences to the contrary are unhelpful and should be reported to your immediate superior. Remember, we are all on the same side!

                                                     Ministry of Chronology

                                    “Travailler hier, pour un avenir meilleur.”


IMMOLATE AFTER READING

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How Could I Say No-Arrondissement-Part Fifty

Maxi sat in the shade of a tree on the training grounds of the Tower Cerulean. The weather had cleared nicely since the snow this morning. Now it felt like a pleasant early summer afternoon. She spun a silver Notion on the tip of her finger. It moved to each digit and then to the other hand.

“That’s quite a feat.”

She looked over to see Sergeant Gendarme Arpin watching her. She shrugged but the Notion did not drop.

“Just a silly trick,” she replied with a smile.

“Perhaps, but there are few that could do that.”

“You’re not wrong.”

He took a pack of cigarettes out and offered her one. She accepted and he sat next to her. They both smoked for a while, just enjoying the moment.

“These are terrible for us you know,” she said after a long drag.

“Absolutely, but I cannot quit.”

“Me either. Can I ask you something?”

“Yes.”

“Are you going to bound me by law?”

His whiskers twitched.

“On what charge?”

“You tell me.”

“As far as I can tell, you have not broken the law.”

“I had the Penultimate Device.”

“You inherited that from your Semi-Aunt Ismay-”

“-the Golden Kraken. I got an earful from the Marshal about that.”

“The Marshal is a woman of definite opinions.”

“Technically, I was in possession of a stolen artifact.”

“True, but you didn’t do the actual stealing.”

“Some people think that if you are related to a criminal, that makes you a criminal,” Maxi said with a slight note of bitterness.

“Self-pity does not suit you. You strike me as someone who knows who they are and is content with that. Am I wrong?”

She smiled and said, “You’re very astute.”

“If you simply watch and listen, it’s remarkable how much you can learn.”

“I’ll have to remember that.”

“Additionally, people cannot be prosecuted for the crimes of their family, not since the Grand Liberation. You are free and clear of any wrongdoing. I suspect you knew that already.”

“Maybe. I’m sure there are colleagues of yours who might not be as generous in their interpretation of the law.”

“Very likely. However, I must take a longer view of the situation. We both have seen what is going on or at the very least we see that something is going on. If I tried to bound you by law now, it would be like catching a rat while the house burns down.”

Maxi gave him a slide long look and said, “Am I a (the) rat in this analogy?”

“A very clever one, if that makes any difference.”

“A little.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I’d love another cigarette,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

He handed one to her and lit it for her.

“You should get a proper cigarette case.”

“When this is all over,” Arpin said, lighting his own, “Beyond this smoke, what are your plans?”

“Sergeant Gendarme Arpin! Are you flirting with me?”

His whiskers twitched again.

“While that would be very enjoyable, I meant about the immediate future.”

“Well, I don’t really have any reason to stick around. The key and Penultimate device are here, guarded by the Chevaliers. The League doesn’t have any real reason to hunt me down.”

“Yet, you have not left.”

“No… I haven’t.”

“Why haven’t you?”

“It’s like a holiday, only with uninteresting food and no wine or cocktails. To say nothing of all the suspicious looks.”

“Who could leave such a paradise?”

They both chuckled.

“I suppose I feel safe here,” Maxi admitted, “Don’t tell the Marshal.”

“Your secret will die with me.”

“Merci.”

“May I tell you something?”

She smirked and replied, “A secret for a secret.”

“On paper, we have a détente. If everything goes to plan, the Arrondissement will return to normal, or at least it’s version of normal. However, things seldom go to plan. I am pleased you are still here. “

“What do you think I can do?”

“You evaded the League of Spiders for approximately a month, disguised as a novice of the Order of the Déception Éternelle. You subtly aided Olivia Chercheur in finding the key, to say nothing of discovering that she was hired by the League and later rescuing her from them. According to the Unexpected Chevalier, you dispatched a League assailant, even if it did put you in danger. That and you have friends in the Feline Union.”

“What makes you think I’m a cat-friend?”

He pointed to a grey shorthair sitting on the wall around the grounds. It stared at them with unmistakable impatience.

“I have to say, I’m impressed,” Maxi said nodding her head.

“Then will you help me?”

“How could I say no?”

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Insights and Delights -Arrondissement Part Forty-Nine

Zsófia was still filthy when they returned to the Tower Cerulean but Monsieur L’Horloge did not care. He flung his arms around her and kissed her deeply. If she had any doubts about his love for her, and she didn’t, this was all the proof she needed.

He almost didn’t let her bathe, he later confessed that he was afraid she might disappear again. As a compromise, Zsófia asked him to join her, that way if kidnappers appeared they would have to take them both. It was meant as a joke but he did as she asked.

Later, they lay entwined in bed.

“I cannot say how relieved I am that you are back, safe and sound,” said Monsieur L’Horloge.

“Drágám, that’s simply not true. You’ve already done so a dozen times or so in the last hour,” she replied.

“I suppose so.”

“And I loved hearing it each time.”

He ran his hand along her face, and she kissed it. They lay for a while, luxuriating in each other’s company.

“May I ask you something?”

“Anything,” she said.

“Did they… Harm you?”

“They ruined a really wonderful outfit,” she said with mock horror.

“I’m not joking!” he said, likely louder than intended.

Monsieur L’Horloge turned from her and looked out of the window. The lights of the Arrondissement flickered through the thick glass.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly.

“Szerelmem,” she said, “I know that this comes from your heart, but know that I have never felt safer than when I am with you.”

He smiled a little sadly, “I’m acting as if I was the one who was kidnapped.”

“Perhaps just a bit.”

“Forgive me?”

“Always.”

They embraced.

“I envy your ability to laugh when the darkness knocks,” he said into her ear.

She ran her fingers through his unruly hair. As always, it defied even the most casual of styling.

“Laughter will defeat tears,” she said as she impishly nipped his neck.

“I wish I could be more like you.”

She pushed him down on the bed and said with a grin, “If we were too alike, I’m sure we’d just fight. Stay as you are.”

“As you wish.”

“But to put your mind at ease, they treated me rather well, aside from the abduction. The food was edible, if a bit dull. They didn’t harm me at all. Even when I tried to repeatedly escape.”

“Are you saying that they are good people?” sputtered Monsieur L’Horloge.

“No! But I’m not sure they are entirely bad either.”

“They’ve done such monstrous things. They have little regard for life – “

“And yet, they let me go.”

“That you are safe and in my arms delights me, but I don’t trust them.”

“Very wise.”

“Occasionally.”

“The Device, have you discovered how it works?”

He leapt out of bed, dashed to his desk, and beckoned Zsófia to follow. She slithered to his side. He carefully opened up The Folio of Mechanical Fabrication.

“I’ve been reading it over and over. There are vague references to the Penultimate Device peppered throughout the text and a few rough sketches. I discovered a pattern for a code from the little that was written. However, all that produced was a recipe for mutton stew.”

“Really?”

“Quite strange, I know.”

“Is it any good?”

“Very, though it didn’t give me any insights into the Device.”

“Will you make it for me sometime?”

“Of course. Good stew or not, it felt like a dead end. It seemed as if fate was toying with me.”

She laid her hands on his shoulders.

“Then, one evening, I was flipping through the folio hoping for something, an insight or an epiphany, but everything looked the same until this.”

Monsieur L’Horloge pointed at a page in the Folio. “There,” he exclaimed, “See this pattern along the edge of the page?”

“It looks like some sort of geometric embellishment.”

“At first glance, yes. But I discovered this!”

He took a candle and held it behind the page, closer than he probably should. The thick vellum glowed and words appeared in the pattern and flowed along the edges.

“Fever Script?” she said with wide eyes, “It’s a lost art.”

“To us, but not to The Huygens,” Monsieur L’Horloge said with a wide grin.

“And?”

“And what?”

“What does it say?”

“Ahhh… I’m still working on that.”

He picked up a notebook and showed her all he had transcribed.

“Another code?”

“It’s not that mutton stew one.”

“That would’ve been too easy,” said Zsófia.

“Would you try?”

“I accept this challenge,” she said, bowing.

“Let me set up an area for you to work,” he said, carefully moving papers and fine tools to one side.

“I think,” she said putting her arms around his neck, “That it would be best to start in the morning. Don’t you?”

“Where would I be without you?”

“I shudder to think.”

She led him back to bed, an easy thing to do, and continued their reunion. Later, they talked about their future, as uncertain as the future seemed to be. It was a small portion of normalcy.

“Before we drift off, I have one more bit of intelligence for you,” she said snuggling next to him.

“And what is that?”

“The League of Spiders is sending someone to work on the Device.”

“What? Who told you that? When are they coming? How did they convince the Coterie du Honor to agree to that? Why did they agree? How can they trust them?”

“I only know the answer to one of these questions. When we were being driven back, the Marshal and the Renard gendarme spoke in front of us. I suspect that they thought we were too traumatized to listen. The League is sending someone to adjust the Device. The Marshal, like you, does not trust them but the gendarme convinced her to go along with the plan.”

“This feels like a terrible plan.”

“Better a terrible plan than none at all,” she said.

Monsieur L’Horloge sighed and declared, “Well then, we have two things to do. Wait for the person the League sends and see if we can figure it out before they arrive.”

“Tomorrow.”

He kissed her once more and said, “Yes, tomorrow.”

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Believe What I Say-Arrondissement Part Forty-Eight

They picked a small café, The Petite Bouchée, to meet. As previously agreed, each brought two others with them. The Marshal chose Sergeant Gendarme Arpin and the Watchful Chevalier. Old Man whom Arpin met before, was accompanied by two nondescript people. Each leader nodded, then sat at a table on which a tray of cheese and bread was set along with a pitcher of water.


“We have much to discuss,” said the Old Man.

Arpin and the Marshal sat while Watchful stood behind them.

“Please have something to eat, the bread is freshly baked,” said the Old Man.

“No thank you,” said the Marshal.

“They aren’t poisoned,” added the Old Man, “If that’s what concerning you.”

“Amongst many things,” replied the Marshal.

“He’s telling the truth,” said Arpin, who then took a bite from a thick slice of bread, “At least about the food.”

“Marvelous, your sense of smell can detect lies!” exclaimed the Old Man.

“I can also smell poison,” added Arpin.

“Of course,” said the Old Man with a smile.

“I did not agree to this parley to make idle chit-chat. What is it that you want?” said the Marshal.

“Right to business then, very well. You have an object that belongs to us, we’d like it back.”

“The Penultimate Machine?” asked Arpin.

“Indeed.”

“Making a claim on a legendary and obscure artifact is legally tricky. Do you have any proof?” asked the Sergeant Gendarme.

“Are you asking for a bill of sale?” asked the Old Man.

“Documentation would be quite useful.”

“Do you wish to aid this malefactor?” hissed the Marshal.

“I am here in the service of the truth,” said Arpin.

“A worthy cause,” said the Old Man.

“Please do not mistake manners for approval. You and your organization have committed many crimes, including the most recent events at the Manoir de la Lune.”

“Young Thibault needed specific care.”

“Small comfort for those who were injured,” said Arpin.

“You are all villains and scoundrels! Your claim means nothing,” said the Marshal, “You and your cabal have been responsible for thefts and bloodshed going back centuries.”

“The same might be said for the Coterie du Honor,” observed the Old Man.

The Marshal’s eyes narrowed at that.

“Our causes are always just. We defend those who cannot defend themselves. Every Chevalier lives their lives by a code of conduct. You do as you please. We are nothing alike.”

“Have you not sent Chevaliers on quests that might end in their deaths? Did you not go on them yourself in the past?” asked the Old Man.

“Hardly the same. A Chevalier will give their lives to save others, we do not spend them as freely as you do.”

“You have no idea what we do for…, “began the Old Man.

“Do not try to justify your crimes!” shouted the Marshal.

A shrill sound cut through the argument. Arpin put away his Gendarme whistle and said, “Apologies, but this feels an unproductive use of this parley. The League of Spiders requested this, we should listen to what they have to say. Let us put philosophies aside for the moment.”

“Very well,” said the Marshal.

“Agreed,” said the Old Man.

“Now, if I may ask how you claim ownership of the Penultimate Device?” asked Arpin.

“It’s a rather long tale,” said the Old Man, “But the short version is that The Huygens entrusted it to us, many years ago.”

“Quite a statement,” said the Marshal.

“I assure you that it true.”

The Marshal fixed her stare at Arpin, “Is he lying?”

Arpin sniffed.

“No, he’s not.”

The Old Man smiled.

“However, that does not mean it is true.”

“Are your acute senses faltering?” asked the Old Man.

“Not at all. You believe what you are telling us. That does not mean it is objectively factual.”

“I see,” replied the Old Man thoughtfully.

“Please continue with your story,” said Arpin.

“As I said, we were entrusted with the Penultimate Device by The Huygens. He knew that it was extremely dangerous and he did not want it to be used for immoral purposes.”

While the Marshal said nothing at that last part, Arpin noticed that she gripped the arms of her chair tightly.

“And we had done so, maintaining it as per The Huygens’ instructions. However, approximately twenty-three years ago the Penultimate Device was stolen from us. There was a concerted effort to recover it but unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, clearly. It was never offered to collectors nor was whispered about in less savory circles. It effectively vanished.”

“You should’ve been more vigilant,” remarked the Marshal.

“I agree. We have since tightened our defenses,” replied the Old Man.

“Understandable,” said Arpin.

The Old Man shrugged and said, “Yes, well barn doors and horses.”

“Then you heard about Mademoiselle Couture’s inheritance.”

“Yes, did you know her semi-aunt was the infamous jewel thief, the Golden Kraken? It was said that she could charm a roomful of people while removing their jewelry and bilfolds with no one the wiser. Until after she left of course.”

“You sound as if you admire her,” said Arpin.

“It’s difficult not to be impressed with someone so gifted.”

“I see your point,” said Arpin.

“Really?” asked the Marshal.

“She was never caught. Most criminals slip up sooner or later. If I recall correctly, she never stole from anyone who could not afford it.”

The Marshal seemed scandalized, and asked tightly “Are you saying you would let her go?”.

“Absolutely not,” Arpin replied. “To capture the Golden Kraken would be the crowning achievement of any Gendarme. But I never had the opportunity.”

Arpin shrugged and then turned to the Old Man.

“So, you discovered the Penultimate Device was part of Ismay Fitz-Couture’s estate and then you attempted to retrieve the item by force.”

“Actually, we first attempted to purchase the entire inheritance through an advocate,” said the Old Man.

“You did?” asked the Marshal.

“Did she not mention this?”

“She did not.”

“A shame, this all could have been avoided.”

“It’s disturbing how easily you justify murder and chaos,” said the Marshal.

“As if your hands are not covered in the blood of your enemies,” countered the Old Man.

Arpin once more brandished his whistle.

“Do not make me use this again.”

The Marshal and the Old Man stared at the Sergeant Gendarme with a fury that quickly transformed into amusement.

“I yield,” said the Marshal

“As do I,” added the Old Man.

“Clearly you will not agree about the past, let us put that aside and discuss the future.”

The others nodded.

“Excellent. Let us name terms, perhaps if we all know what each other wants, compromise can be reached.”

“May I speak first,” asked the Old Man.

The Marshal nodded.

“We want the return of the Penultimate Device. That is all.”

“I see,” said Arpin, “That seems on its face, simple.”

“It is, that is all we desire.”

“Then let me ask you this. What is it? Why is it worth so many lives?”

The Old Man looked at Arpin and the Marshal.

“You have seen what is happening. The incident at Rue du Référentiel, the astounding growth of the Cure-dent de Déant, the de-aging of Willem Molyneux, and countless other events that have been going on all over the Arrondissement.

“Time is unraveling. As we’ve seen, it is wildly unpredictable and these episodes are accelerating. If we cannot re-align the Device, things will assuredly get worse. For everyone.”

This last statement hung in the air.

“I believe him,” said Arpin.

“He could be delusional,” said the Marshal.

“I think not,” replied Arpin, who gestured to the plate of bread and cheese that [had been placed] in the middle of the table. Pale green mold covered the food and its putrid odor rose making him repress a gag.

“Proof, if you needed more,” said the Old Man.

“Maybe so, but I still do not trust you,” said the Marshal.

“I can understand why, but sometimes you need to make a leap of faith.”

“Do you have an expert on the Penultimate Device?” asked Arpin.

“Yes of course. Until it was stolen, it was they who maintained it.”

“May I offer a compromise?”

“Please,” said the Old Man.

“Send your expert to make the necessary adjustments, under the protection of the Coterie du Honor.”

“That seems a little dangerous.”

Arpin turned to the Marshal and asked, “Will you swear an oath that if the expert acts in good faith, they will not be harmed or restrained?”

“I will,” she said.

“The Marshal would rather die than break an oath.”

“As would any Chevalier,” she said proudly.

The Old Man said nothing but looked at Arpin and the Marshal thoughtfully. Finally, he spoke.

“I will speak to my superiors and I will let you know if they agree.”

“You are not the leader?” asked Arpin.

“Everyone reports to someone.”

“I suppose so,” said Arpin.

Things concluded, at least for the moment, and they all stood in unison.

“I will let you know as soon as I have my orders,” said the Old Man.

“I will wait for your reply,” said the Marshal.

The Old Man snapped his fingers.

“I know you have trouble trusting me but let me make a gesture of good faith.”

From the back of the café, one of his nondescript men brought out Zsófia and Mr. Twig. They were both filthy and Mr. Twig was clearly the victim of a savage beating, but they were upright.

“Hostages?” spat the Marshal.

“They are both whole and mostly unharmed. Mr. Twig put up quite a fight.”

“That I did,” said the doorman.

“Before you go on a tirade about our honorless ways, consider this. We do nothing with malice.”

“I find that hard to believe,” said the Marshal.

“Bonsoir,” said the Old Man.

Watchful lead the two hostages out to the Velo-Pede and the Marshal brought up the rear. Arpin stayed and turned to the Old Man.

“If I may, I have one more question.”

“I imagine you have many.”

“True, but let me ask you this. If this truce works and the stewardship of Penultimate Device changes, what will you do?”

He smiled at Arpin.

“What makes you think that’s all we protect?”

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