“We need to go back,” said Monsieur L’Horloge.
The Repairperson pulled the watch-master down the hallway.
“We can’t just leave Unexpected to those creatures! It’s wrong.”
“You have a noble heart but there is nothing we can do. The Chevalier gave her life so we might correct the unraveling of time.”
“I know but – “
“Grieve when this is over.”
“Do not tell me when to mourn!” protested Monsieur L’Horloge. He paused, shoulders sagging and said quietly, “You’re right.”
They entered his outer office to find the automata assistant engaged in a flurry of paperwork. Letters were typed, sealed in envelopes, and finally dropped into the outgoing mail tray.
Regarding the watch-master with eyes that whirred, the automata emitted a high-pitched sound and redoubled her correspondence. L’Horloge moved behind her and pressed a small panel, which opened to expose ten steel switches. He flipped up and down in a particular sequence and she began to slow and then stopped entirely.
“Poor Mirourette, you’ll need quite a lot of work after this.”
“Is the device here?”
“It’s in the inner office,” L’Horloge replied as he pressed the unlock button behind the desk.
The doors to the inner office swung open and they entered.
“Quite a collection,” said the Repairperson as she looked at the timepieces on display, “That’s a Jichi-Ku Water Clock.”
“Yes, I got it when I was abroad. You should see the pieces I have in my home.”
“Excuse me?” replied L’Horloge as he shut the doors.
“I searched your home when I was looking for the Penultimate Device. It seemed a likely place for you to hide it.”
“If it is any consolation, I searched the other’s apartments as well.”
“It really isn’t,” L’Horloge said as he locked the doors.
“Why have you locked us in?” inquired the Repairperson.
“Have I frightened you?”
“No, you haven’t.”
“I don’t suppose I could,” he responded, “Very well, in order to recover the Penultimate Device, the doors must be locked. Observe.”
L’Horloge threw a lever which lowered steel shutters over the windows. He then moved about the room opening clocks and adjusting the time on each. The ticking became arrhythmic.
“It’s familiar,” said the Repairperson as she listened.
“It should be,” said L’Horloge with a smirk.
She listened as he manipulated each clock.
“Yes! It’s the love song from the second act,” L’Horloge practically shouted.
“Quite a lot of detailed work to set this up.”
L’Horloge smiled and said, “I never thought of it as work.”
She didn’t say anything but nodded her head.
“Finally, the last part,” he said, taking his Roosenmutter off his wrist and fitted it into a depression under the blotter on his desk. With a twist, a rectangular wooden and copper pedestal arose from the floor, just in front of his desk.
L’Horloge moved to it and placed his palm on the top. A series of clicks could be heard and the sides opened up to show the case with the brass spider inlaid on the cover.
“I imagine there are consequences if any part of the sequence is done incorrectly.”
“Oh my, yes. To say nothing of what would happen if you just used brute force to tear the place apart.”
“I am impressed.”
Placing the case on the desk, he said, “High praise from the League of Spiders.”
“That’s not our actual name.”
The watch-master paused.
“I don’t suppose it would be. It’s something the Fourth Estate came up with to sell papers. What do you call yourselves?”
“If we survive all this, I’ll tell you.”
“And if we don’t?”
She didn’t reply.
They then began to work. First, the Device was opened with the Variable Key and by unsealing the ancillary lock. What followed was a succession of byzantine adjustments to dials, buttons, gears, weights, and counterweights. A minute kaleidoscope made with diminutive gemstones was removed, gently cleaned in a soft beaker filled with a liquid that turned from a dark crimson to a bright azure, then replaced.
Notes were checked and double-checked and it was almost done.
“Just turn the Variable Key and it should be done,” said the Repairperson as she sat down on one of the office chairs.
“Are you sure – “
L’Horloge looked at her. She had gone sallow and pale.
“You need help.”
“It’s not important.”
He moved to her. Her jacket had a large dark stain that now smelled of iron.
“Both are true.”
L’Horloge ran to his washroom muttering, “I must have fresh towels or – “
“Just turn the key and set it right.”
“I’ll just – “
This was the first time she had said please.
“I will but then you need a Chirurgeon.”
She slowly nodded as she closed her eyes.
L’Horloge turned to the Device, took a deep breath, and turned the Variable Key. Suddenly, the floor dropped beneath him and just as quickly, rushed up to knock the breath out of him.
He lay there, waiting till he felt that could sit up. Perhaps a little longer.
“So, it finally happened, eh?” said a voice he did not recognize.