L’Horloge opened his eyes and looked up. The ceiling was wooden, with crossbeams. Definitely not his office. He sat up slowly, still sore.
“Feeling better,” asked the voice.
Looking for the speaker, he saw a woman. She was dressed in a leather jerkin with sturdy green trousers and scuffed yellow boots. Her salt and pepper hair was bound up atop her head using a half dozen pencils.
“Where am I?” he inquired.
“What does it look like?”
The watch-master took stock of his surroundings. Workbenches laden with clockwork machinery, designs on parchment attached to the walls, an extensive but antiquated tool cabinet stood near the door, and finally, tall windows on each wall provided light.
“It seems to be a workshop.”
“Well then, that must be where you are,” she replied with a smile.
“How did I get here?” he said aloud.
“Don’t you remember?”
The woman extended a hand, helped him to his feet, and peered deeply into each eye.
“No, nothing wrong,” she concluded, “Except the usual.”
“Oh, you know, all the flaws and inconsistencies that everyone has.”
“I suppose so.”
With that she moved to the nearest workbench and began to disassemble a glass sphere filled with countless miniature gears.
“Why did you bring me here?” he asked a little impatiently.
“Of course, you did.”
“I’m afraid this is all your doing.”
“How could it be?”
She put down the sphere, picked up a pair of goggles with multiple lenses and proceeded to adjust them as she walked around L’Horloge.
“Nothing got knocked loose.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Travelling sometimes makes people a bit pixilated but you seem fine,” she concluded, pushing up her goggles.
“What could be loose?” he said patting himself to make sure he was in one piece.
“You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”
“And you don’t seem to answer any!”
“I haven’t lied to you,” she said returning to her work.
“You’ve been a little light on the details.”
She stopped and looked at him, “Ask me anything.”
L’Horloge stared at her for a moment.
“Who are you?”
“Who do I look like?”
“Do you always answer a question with a question?”
“No, of course not. That would be maddening.”
“You’ve got a little vein popping off your forehead,” she observed.
“I can feel it,” he said as he sat on a worn, wooden chair.
“I’m not at all familiar to you?” the woman asked.
“Have we met before?”
“Oh no, never.”
“Then how could I know who you are!” L’Horloge shouted.
“Very linear thinking for someone who’s gone through what you have,” she said.
“How could you know? You don’t even know who I am!”
“You are the esteemed Monsieur Édouard L’Horloge, watch-master, awarded the Grand and Petite Hand Cluster by the Société de L’engrenage, accidental hero, beloved of the lovely Zsófia, and the only living being to have any comprehension of the Penultimate Device.”
L’Horloge said nothing but watched her as she walked in front of one of the windows, putting herself into silhouette.
“You look like The Huygens,” he observed.
“Do I?” She rushed to a reflective surface of an oblong section of polished brass leaning against the wall.
“Yes, that makes sense,” she said turning her head this way and that. “It suits me, don’t you think?”
“I always suspected The Huygens was a woman.”
“Have you been trapped in here?”
The Huygens tilted her hand back and forth.
“No, but also yes.”
“I need a drink.”
“An excellent suggestion!” she declared and removed a bottle and two glasses from a cupboard.
“This was supposed to fix everything.”
“Everything is a lot. You’ll need to be a bit more specific.”
“Time. It was supposed to fix time.”
She poured them each a glass.
“To the present! It’s all we have!” she said holding her glass aloft.
L’Horloge clinked his glass to hers, locked eyes, and then drank. It tasted like a superb brandy, but with something else.
“So, fixing time. Are you sure you want to do that?” she asked.