“What do you mean?” sputtered L’Horloge.
“I thought it was very straight forward,” replied The Huygens, who sipped her drink.
“Are you suggesting that I not fix time?”
“No, not at all.”
“You just did!”
“What I asked was if you thought it was a good idea?”
“That clearly implies that you think it’s a bad idea!”
“I can’t be responsible for what you infer,” she said with a shrug.
Stifling a scream, L’Horloge stood up and walked to one of the windows. Outside was an old-style city, no dirigibles flying or Velopedes speeding through the streets. Lots of people walking and carts trundling along. The trees all were blooming. It seemed like spring.
“Where are we?” he asked, “Beyond in a workshop.”
“That’s a bit tricky.”
“Of course, it is.”
She moved next to him and they both looked out the window.
“To me,” she said, “it looks like the Arrondissement in springtime.”
“I don’t think so.”
“There are no recognizable landmarks.”
“Look to your right,” she said pointing.
L’Horloge peered in that direction.
“I see some scaffolding.”
“They’re building the Skeletal Cathedral.”
She handed him a spyglass and he got a closer look. Workers were sculpting bones to make a wall.
“So, we’re in the past,” he said.
“Do you never give a straight answer?”
The Huygens scratched her nose and finally said, “Not every question has a simple answer.”
“Yes, but…” he trailed off.
“As I said, tricky.”
“Back to my question, is fixing time a good idea?”
He walked back to his chair and finished his glass of liquor.
“A lot of people have suffered because of the Penultimate Machine.”
“I whole heartily agree.”
“If I repair the unraveling of time, things will go back to normal.”
“As normal as things get.”
“I suppose so.”
“On the other hand, if you let time unravel, you could end a lot of suffering.”
She walked around the office as she spoke.
“Everyone who is in pain will be released. No poverty because there won’t be anything to need or own. An end to war.”
“The Arrondissement is not at war.”
“Not now, but it’s bound to happen again.”
“I don’t think war is inevitable.”
“How many times has the Arrondissement gone to war?”
“I’m not entirely certain.”
The Huygens ticked off her fingers as she spoke, “There was the Spindle War, the War of the Crimson Carp, the River Crusades, the War of Five Hundred Queens, the Iridescent Enmity, the Bloodshed of the Orange- “
“To say nothing of all the petty cruelties that people insist on inflicting upon each other. Do you want to be responsible for returning all those sins on everyone?”
“True but there is so much to celebrate. Art, music, literature, and a good meal shared with friends. Summer nights. Wine. Falling in love. Could I deprive the world of those?”
“So overall, you think there is more good than evil in the world?
“I want to believe so but truthfully, I don’t know.”
“I have one for you,” he said.
“Why did you make the Penultimate Device?”
The Huygens stopped and she walked to one of the other windows. He followed her.
Outside this window it was winter, and the cityscape was more recognizable as the Arrondissement, though there were many buildings that were new to him. A tower of metal and glass rose into the clouds, while snow fell in thick, heavy flakes.
“I’m not proud of what I did. Making it, that is.”
“You should be, it’s a remarkable invention. Even though I don’t understand all of what it can do.”
“Even those who I entrusted it with don’t. I told them enough to maintain it, but that was all.”
She touched the window.
“Why did you make it?”
“Because I was young and entirely too clever. Arrogant as well, as my critics called me. I didn’t make it to enrich lives or to solve problems.”
They stood there for a while, watching the snow fall.
“I did it for the worst reason of all. Because I could.”