Broken Time

By Natasha Blade

Madagastar was thrilled that Sir came home happy. Lately he had been in a grouchy, snarly mood. But that was to be expected what with Sir not knowing how to manage money and prices up so high.

“Oh! Madagastar! I’m going to be rich again!” Sir waltzed around the room, except…it wasn’t waltzing.

Madagastar smiled. “I congratulate you, Sir.” The manservant paused, uncertain how his question would be received. “How, sir, may I ask, Have you come about to your wealth?”

Sir spun around, looking rather odd in his slightly wrinkled, ill fitting suit.

“Time.” Sir gave a lild looking grin as he said the word so softly Madagastar wasn’t sure if he actually heard it or not.

“Time, Sir? How?” Madagastar wasn’t sure how you became rich on time.

“Yes.” Sir clenched his hands together as a young child might upon being told he could be as greedy as he wanted. “Yes, Madagastar. Time. I found a vein rich in time. And people pay Trillions for time.”

Madagastar thought it sounded like a line in a book. Like at the end of a chapter where the bad guy says something that sent chills down the reader’s back.

Too bad Madagastar didn’t have the slightest idea what it meant. He was sadly lacking in the knowledge of veins.

X X X

Andrei had just finished putting away approximately one hundred books and had sat down with an interesting looking book when she was rudely interrupted by a loud female voice.

“Andrei! Did you hear about all the houses that were just bought?”

Andrei clenched her jaw, then turned slightly, putting a finger to her lips. “Shhhh. We’re in a library.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Dayna plopped down and continued speaking in a voice just slightly softer. “You know all those houses that were for sale? The ones along Riddle Street and Jimminy Street and Oak Street and Highland Road and—”

Andrei stood up with the books she had already picked out and went to check hem out.

Dayna got up and followed her, talking. “They were all bought and a bunch of people moved in. Aren’t you interested? What are those books you’re holding? Are you going to greet some of the new people? Some of them live on your street. Where are you going? Do you want to come over to my house? How come I never see you? When is the—”

“Aren’t you supposed to wait at the library for your mother to pick you up?” Andrei interrupted, sweetly.

“Oh.” Dayna blinked several times. “I suppose so. Couldn’t you stay with me?”

Audrei shook her head quickly. “No, I probably should be going.” She quickly hurried out the door and down the sidewalk before Dayna could say anything else to delay her.

Once Andrei was down the street she slowed down to her normal pace. She hated when Dayna caught her. ALL she did was talk. It was even worse in the library.

Andrei opened her book bag and pulled out the few books she had checked out. The baby name book. She smiled at that one. It was the book she checked out the most and she sincerely hoped one of her sisters would buy a copy of it for her birthday. The second book was Deep Secret by Diana Wynn Jones, an author that she really enjoyed. It was one of hers Andrei hadn’t read before. The third book, and sadly the last on (she blamed Dayna for that) was You Killed Logic!!, a book she had found while putting books away. It had looked interesting and she had picked it up, since she was looking for more reading material.

She started Deep Secret while walking home.

School had stated a month ago so the library was void of children, and most distractions, not that the library was ever crowded, which Andrei was thankful for.

Faraway was a small town, well, in most people’s estimation; the population was 1200, but the library was decent. It had its own schools, through high school that was, it had several locally owned businesses and not very many people from out of town.

Faraway didn’t have much of a history, and unlike many ‘small’ towns in books, everybody didn’t know everybody else. Sure, strangers would be recognized, but people, in general, kept to themselves.

Andrei arrived home at the same time as her sister, Willow.

“Hello,” she called as she opened the mailbox and retrieved the small stack of mail.

Willow gave her a smile as she held the door open. “Anything interesting in the mail to-day?”

“I don’t see anything unusual…Wait.” Andrei frowned. “Here’s a piece addressed to all three of us.”

Willow took the envelope and sat down with it. “It says to open it immediately. What could it be?” She looked up in question as she opened it.

Willow, Cinthia, and Andrei Halston

(The letter ran)

Your presence is required at the Faraway auditorium tomorrow morning (August 29th of this year) at 9:30 A.M.

-Kiev Vernon

X X X

Vincent Guaraldi leaned back, pleased with his work.

He closed his eyes and sat like that for exactly 5 minutes and 47 seconds, at which point his computer made a soft sound informing him he had received a reply.

Vincent sat forward sharply, a pleased look on his face. He clicked the message up and started reading.

Mr. Guaraldi,

Your credentials have passed inspection ad your ride to Yakov is arranged. You will leave at 7:07 A.M., October 2nd, 4301. We will leave exactly on time. We will not be delayed.

-Raynom Yves

Vincent jumped up, a smile on his face. He resisted jumping around the room.

But they had fallen for it! His ride was arranged! In three months he would be rich, on a different planet, and have a clean record!

X X X

Andrei and her sisters arrived at the auditorium ten minutes before the allotted time.

“Good morning, Halstons,” greeted the young man in a dark grey suit, who had opened the door for them.

“Nathan will show you your seats.” He nodded to a serious looking man walking their way.

The Halstons followed Nathan as he led them into the auditorium and to their seats. All three girls noticed that the seats were systematically being filled. Every one of them. They had started at the bottom and just filled up.

At about 9:40, after the auditorium was filled, a man in his forties quietly walked out onto the stage. Gradually the talking quieted down. When all talk had stopped the man spoke.

“I would like to thank everybody who came for coming. And I think I should introduce myself before I forget. My name is Kiev Vernon and I am the head of one of the branches of Time Maintenance, Galaxy 763. I do take questions, if anyone wondered.”

At this point, though most of the people weren’t quite sure what to think, there was one man with enough presence of mind to ask an intelligent question.

Mr. Thaddeus Willis stood up and asked, in his loud voice, “What in creation’s name is galaxy 763? And what sort of job is called ‘Time Maintenance’? And, more importantly, what are you doing here?”

Mr. Vernon smiled politely and nodded to Mr. Thaddeus. “Thank you for your questions. Galaxy 763 is the galaxy we are in. As for the name of my job, well that’s what I do. I maintain time. As for the reason for being here…I’m doing my job.”

Mr. Willis stood up to speak again, but Vernon continued, not minding him at all.

“I will assume that all of you know at least a little what a vein of silver is?”

There was much nodding from the attentive audience.

“Good. That will make my explanation that much easier. The universe is criss crossed all over by veins like veins of gold or diamonds, only what is contained by these veins is time.”

The silence in the auditorium, though no one had been making any noise previously, deepened vastly, as this was revealed. A vein of time? How?

“I realize,” Vernon continued in his soft way, “That this may be a hard concept, especially for those who do not believe in worlds other than your own. I am sorry, but it is true. There are hundreds of planets with life on them out there. And each and every one of them is somewhere in a vein of time.”

He paused again surveying the faces. Many were frowning in confusion, or shaking in disbelief, but just as many were nodding approval and smiling as they figured it out.

Vernon smiled to himself. This was the most patient group of people he had come across n his career.

“As with veins of coal and iron the veins of time can be mined. And that is what is happening here. Someone is is mining from the vein of time your planet is in. And they started the mining in your town.”

The shock was so deep you could be buried in it.

Then a young lady said, indignantly, “How dare they! This is our town! And why would they?!”

Upon this the entire auditorium burst out with protests and objections.

Vernon quietly waited for the uproar to settle down, which took somewhere near the space of five minutes, at which point he said loudly, “Please settle down. I will do my best to answer your questions.” His voice echoed around the room, apparently he was somehow on mike, though you wouldn’t have guessed it by looking at him.

Finally the room settled down, though it was very obvious that people weren’t happy.

“I’m not entirely sure why they chose Faraway, most possibly because of the small size. The reason they are mining time I the first place, I think I can answer: either they need or want more time, or they are selling it.”

“Now it’s time for you to explain how someone can mine time, much less sell it.” This comment came from several rows behind Andrei.

X X X

Nathan leaned back against the wall an amused look on his face. Thank Goodness HE wasn’t the one up on stage explaining all the whys, hows, wherefores, and what-do-I-cares. He would make a terrible mess of it.

Nathan looked his watch again, 9:41, his time was up. Just as he pushed on the door to open it Damaskus pulled it open from the other side.

“My turn,” Damaskus whispered, “And I was just starting to win.” He made a face to emphasize his frustration.

Nathan just grinned at him as he accepted Damaskus’ cards and left the auditorium.

X X X

Damaskus had just gotten back to his game of poker when Jonathan bust out of the auditorium.

“Quick, put the cards up,” he hissed at the group of young men. “Kiev is coming out. Hurry up.”

The group, except Jarrow, who had just sat watching his team gamble, scrambled to hide the cards and pocket the money.

Jarrow gave a slight grin. Someday Kiev would catch them and it’d be Jarrow’s delight to witness their shock in finding out that he, too, enjoyed a game of cards.

Kiev walked in and sat down among his group.

“They have got to be the most reasonable group of people I have ever come across in my entire career.”

Anyone could have guessed it would be France who ended up asking the question, everyone else knew Kiev well enough that he preferred not to be pushed into speaking before he had held them all in suspense long enough. But that was France for you; blinder than a bat.

“Why?”

Every eye turned to France. Stig and Damaskus with raised eyebrows.

France looked slightly uncomfortable. “What? I just want to know why.”

Kiev humored him. Or maybe he just felt like telling his team right then. Who knows with Kiev.

“They ask all the right questions.” Kiev looked at the table for a while, then an amused look came to his face. “And even though they believe me they are suspicious enough to ask for a switch.”

Jarrow won the non-contest for raising his eyebrows the highest.

“What do you mean…switch?”

“I feel uncomfortable dominating the conversation. Did whoever was on guard hear about it?”

Damaskus nodded. “I did. They want one of us to stay in town while we investigate, to make sure we bring back the person they’re sending to report on us so they know we were telling the truth.”

Damaskus looked to Kiev for conformation on what he had heard.

“Good job, Damaskus. You heard correctly. At the moment they are choosing who is to come with us.”

This time France didn’t ask the question, for fear that Kiev would make him the one staying, just out of spite. He didn’t know Kiev very well.

Kiev shifted his sitting position once in the long silence that followed.

Troy was the one who interrupted their thoughts. At least Kiev’s thoughts. Kiev was the only one with their ear-piece turned on.

“Kiev, your time’s up,” the acclaimed NOT Scottish accent said into his ear. “They’ve a decision.”

“Good.” Kiev nodded and stood up. “So have I.” He had jus reached the auditorium door when he turned and told his team to join the last bit at the meeting. Sure to be interesting.

Mr. Willis was standing on the stage, waiting, though he hadn’t for very long, when the T.M. Team entered.

“Have you reached a decision?” Kiev waited until his entire team—except Troy, he wasn’t even in Faraway—was on stage to ask the question.

“Yes. We have.” Mr. Willis had been self-elected the “Faraway spokesman’ and only slightly regretted it.

“W have decided who is to go with you. Have decided who is to stay with us?”

Kiev nodded, his head tilted some. “I believe so. This is my team by the way. Weelll…” He raised his eyebrows expressionly. “Most of my team. Napoleon will be the one staying in Faraway.”

Napoleon’s shocked face was a sight to behold. “. . . . .” he managed to say, blinking a lot. “M….mmee, sir?” The barely discernible words reached Kiev, though anyone could tell the general meaning by his gestures, he didn’t have a chance to answer Napoleon before Mr. Willis announced Faraway’s choice.

“Andrei Halston.”

X X X

The silence with the Halston’s quickly doubled and re-doubled on their trip home. It wasn’t until they were in the living room and Andrei had asked her sisters if they would help her pack that Cinthia burst out.

But why you? That group is totally and completely guys! I counted them! Nine guys! You’ll be completely alone! And what does Mr. Willis, or anyone else for that matter, know about you? How do They know you’re trustworthy and calm and can deal with awkward situations, I mean, you are but how do they know? Are they just surmising because you were the most unrattled looking person to say you thought you understood what what…what-ever-his-name-is—”

“Vernon. Kiev Vernon, I believe.”

“Yeah, Vernon. Do you really understand what he said? Really? You could object to being stuck in a group of guys. Oh why did you stand up?”

Cynthia finally seemed to be out of breath, out of questions, or just plain wanted answers

X X X

By the next morning Kiev had ignored exactly eight hundred and thirty-seven questions, such as “Is it legal to do this?” (asked by France) “Do you have permission to do this?” (also by France) “Has this ever been done before?” (Liberty of France) “Why’d they pick a girl?” (Asked by France, but everyone was thinking it) and “Why do we have to make the switch?” (And…France). He also answered the total of One question: “May Damaskus and I come?” (by Jarrow).

He counted them himself.

X X X

On the way to Faraway Kiev pulled out a deck of playing cards because he deemed the brothers were being too quiet.

“Here Jarrow,” he said. “Deal us some cards. How does poker sound?”

Jarrow grinned as he accepted the cards and started passing them out.

X X X

Andrei sat nervously on the couch as she waited to be picked up; Mr. Vernon had told her he would pick her up about nine in the morning, depending on how long it took to drop off Napoleon.

The Halstons had thought, upon a later time, that it may have been the polite thing to do, opening their house for Mr. Vernon’s choice (which turned out to be Napoleon) to live at since Andrei was going…where ever they decided their job brought them, presumably. But they had not thought of it, (and Willow and Cinthia were very relieved they hadn’t when they discovered it would be a young man staying) and a couple with a mixed age group of children had volunteered their home.

“How long do you suppose you’ll be gone?” Cinthia looked sideways at her younger sister.

Andrei shrugged. “I have no idea Mr. Vernon didn’t say how long it usually took to…finish a job.” She hesitated some over the last few words.

“What I wonder,” Willow turned her head to look at her sisters, “Is why we so readily trust Mr. Vernon. Why believe this stranger who randomly shows up, telling us things that at any other time we would consider nonsense? And we just accept it! Sure, we asked a few questions, but how do we know?”

There was silence for a long time.

X X X

Madagastar smiled to himself, of course—as he served Sir his dinner.

“Sir, has your…mining gone well? You seem so chipper…” He waited expectantly for an answer.

“Yes, Madagastar,” Sir leaned back grinning ear-to-ear. “It’s boing brilliantly! I have generously been directed to a vein that is ripe for mining!…Of course it was for a price, he wished for enough money to transport off his home planet. Apparently he’s neve liked it.”

Madagastar smiled. He loved when Sir was in good moods.

X X X

Kiev walked up to the house with Jarrow and Damaskus right behind him. As he knocked on the door, he shifted, so he could better see Jarrow. It had always made him feel rather uncomfortable when Jarrow was behind him, rather like a bodyguard. He knew it was Jarrow’s military background, slight as it was, but it never ceased to put Kiev on nerve.

The door opened to reveal a rather nervous looking Andrei Halston, and her two sisters standing behind her.

“Good morning, Mr. Vernon.” She smiled slightly.

Kiev gave a slight bow and returned the greeting.

“Good morning, Miss Halston. You may call me Kiev. These are two of my team.” He stepped back, and out of the way so she could see the two brothers. “Jarrow and Damaskus Cree. They are Napoleon’s older brothers.”

The men nodded their greetings.

Andrei gave a weak smile and then, for a moment, there was an awkward pause, everyone a bit unsure. Then Andrei turned and gave her sisters quick goodbye hugs and picked up her bag.

“Is that your car?” She nodded to the black five passenger car.

X X X

Andrei wondered what sort of things she might be doing in the next month or so, as she watched the houses go by her window.

She had more or less chosen the window seat diagonal of the the driver, which turned out to be Mr. Vernon…Kiev, she corrected herself.

Andrei turned to study the young man introduced to her as “Jarrow.” He was looking out his window and had been in that position since climbing in the car. Andrei noticed he was unbukled.

“Do you think we’re dumb for asking for a trade?” She decided to avoid the words “stupid” and “demand”, even though the second one would have been more correct.

Jarrow turned and studied her with his dark blue eyes. “No,” he said and turned back to his window.

Andrei felt slightly offended to his answer. Couldn’t he say something other than plain old simple “No”? Couldn’t he at least elaborate some?

“Actually, this is the first time anyone has asked that someone keep their eyes on us.”

It was the younger man, Damaskus, twisting around in his seat so he could make eye contact with her.

“We actually think you’re the most reasonable group of people we’ve come across in our entire career.” He tossed a look to Mr. Vernon, who grinned. The joke was lost on Andrei.

“Do you want—do you play poker?” Damaskus cocked his head. “We have time for at least one game, if not two.”

X X X

Napoleon was more nervous than he had ever been before. After saying goodbye to his brothers and Kiev, he had been left alone with the Blackstons.

“I am Kristine Blackston and these are my children, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get their names down.”

Napoleon grinned, weakly. There were eleven Blackston children, and although he wasn’t worried about getting everyone’s names down, he was worried about getting along with them and getting to know them. Some of the older ones, the boys in particular, didn’t seem too keen on having him live in their house.

He gave a silent, shaky sigh as he entered the house, young children running all over. When did they do school? At night, in their sleep?

Napoleon frowned. Maybe they were homeschooled? Hopefully Mrs. Blackston didn’t ask him to help them with their school, it would probably turn into a disaster, seeing he had never been very good at school himself AND he had been raised on a different planet.

“Have you eaten breakfast yet?” It was a little girl of maybe five or six. “We’re just about to have ours. Do you know where you’re going to sleep? We’re going to have hot cereal for breakfast. Do you like hot cereal?”

Goodness! She asked as many questions as France!

X X X

“When are they getting here?” France walked forth and back flapping his hands about as he talked. “Are we leaving as soon as they get back? Where are we going next And I STILL don’t understand WHY Kiev didn’t veto their choice. It’s perfectly logical! And how come…”

Stig rolled his eyes as he played an ace. “And that makes me winner, I believe.”

Nathan snatched Stig’s cards. “You’ve got to be marking them to win that many tines in a row! You’ve got to be!”

“It’s just skill.” Stig leaned back, a smirk on his face. “And maybe a little luck.”

Nathan snorted. “Or maybe you cheat.”

Ray leaned over the table and retrieved the cards “Then I’ll deal the cards this time.” He hesitated in his shuffling. “Are we gong to play Mexican Stud again or are we going to play a different game?”

Jonathan answered with a somewhat sour look. “Well, if we’re going to play more poker, then I’ll have to call it quits. Unless it’s Dragon Poker. I’d try my luck on Dragon Poker.”

Ray gave him a questioning look. “Your luck not doing well?”

“That’s an underestimation!” Jonathan retorted. “And payday isn”t for two weeks; I can’t afford to lose any more money to Stig.”

Stig gestured to the cards Ray was now passing out in defense.

“How can you sit here playing poker?!” France had gotten tired of being ignored. “You’re sitting here gambling your money away while Kiev will be arriving here, at any moment, with some stranger that we’ll give to deal with until this job is finished! And she’ll be giving reports on us! I repeat; how can you sit there playing poker?!” France was now rather red in the face from not-quite-shouting.

Stig smirked again. “Some of us, rather well.”

“Yes…” Nathan growled, frowning. “Too well.”

“I think I’m being accused again.” He looked around at the others, with raised eyebrows. “Isn’t that what it sounds like to you?”

Nathan and Stig didn’t do well playing cards together. Cards of any type, but they got along least when money was at stake.

“Why, what a shock,” Naha’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I had no idea you recognize accusations! I thought, with all your practice of recognizing marked cards, it would be NO problem.”

Stig’s eyes flashed. “Why Nathan Archer…”

The two men stood up, glaring at each other.

“I advise you to take back your attempt at insulting me,” Stig finished.

A door slammed suddenly, causing everyone to jump up and look in the direction of the door. Several of them looked rather guilty, like Troy, who was supposed to have been keeping an eye out for Kiev.

…who happened to be standing in the doorway. It was inevitable, really.

X X X

At supper Napoleon counted the children, mentally putting a name to each face.

The oldest one still living there was a boy named Adrian, who looked about 18. He seemed to be the most against Napoleon lodging with them. And then there were Jeremiah and Kendra, but Napoleon wasn’t sure who was older, he knew for a fact they weren’t twins, because the talkative six year old Laurel had told him that they only had one pair of twins, and they were the rough-and-tumble Finn and Harper, aged 11. Not her exact words, but Napoleon had watched them and decided that those were good descriptive terms for them.

Before the twins there were Jamaca and Megan, 14 and 12, then after the twins were—

Napoleon wasn’t given time to come up with names for the last three children before a bowl of white fluffyish stuff was pushed practically onto his plate.

Food was merrily being passed all around the table at people’s beck and call so Napoleon assumed that he should help himself to whatever looked good Well that was one thing that was the same as the T.M. Group.

Napoleon cautiously, and maybe a little suspiciously, helped himself to the white stuff. Almost before he had dumped a glop of it on his plate, the bowl was whisked away for Megan, who was waving anxiously for it.

Napoleon abandoned matching names and faces and instead chose for himself a couple of roundish brown things, which he later was given a nam to: buns. He also took several slices of the meat, but the long green things he avoided.

“Here, try some cheese on your potatoes, and the salt is over there if you need more.”

It was Laurel, not surprisingly, who had given this helpful advice. Napoleon, after some consideration, took a scoop of the yellow and white strips of cheese and carefully dumped them on the white stuff. He wasn’t entirely sure if they were the potatoes, but the meat and bus didn’t look like they need condiments.

Judging from the facts that he got no comments or odd/disgusted looks he had chosen the right food to put the cheese on. Potatoes. Those white fluffy-ish things were potatoes.

He mixed the cheese in and started eating. As he ate he considered his company and how he would get to know them.

X X X

Damaskus looked around at the guilty faces, then at the cards Ray had scattered when standing up.

Everyone was either standing or in a mostly standing position, except for Jonathan, who had picked up a book to read while cards were being passed out and was still in a sitting position, looking over his book with surprise. His chair loudly hit the floor as he yanked his feet off the table.

Damaskus stood there, biting his cheek to keep from laughing. He couldn’t count how many times he had stood there, just as guilty looking as they were now, trying not to look at anything. And now it was in front of a ‘visitor’.

Andrei’s eyes flitted from one face to another, six new people. Why did they look so guilty? Except the youngest one, he just looked like he was in a bad mood.

Kiev stepped forward and broke the silence, though not necessarily the awkwardness.

“Andrei Halston, I would like you to meet the rest of the crew; this is Nathan Archer.” Nathan gave a tight grin, his grey eyes flashing at Stig.

A wiry, light brown haired man, with strikingly bright blue eyes stepped forward, a grin on his face and his hand out. “Nice to meet you, Andrei.” His Scottish accent was a far cry from any sort of accent Andrei had ever heard. “I’m Troy and I basically deal with everything electronic.” He stopped as if he had more to say, but wasn’t sure he should be saying it. “Um, yeah. That’s me.”

Andrei shook his hand. “Nice to meet you too.” She gave a rather nervous grin as the dark haired man who had been reading a book introduced himself as “Jonathan Cain, pleased to meet you.” His hand shake was quick and he immediately went back to his place, though he remained standing.

It wasn’t until the blond man who had been having a glaring contest introduced himself as “Stig Anders” that Andrei noticed that Troy had given no last name.

“And this is France, our youngest member.” The flourish Stig gave only soured France’s mood.

“France Buckingham,” he said through a forced smile.

Ray quickly stepped forward with a quick smile.

“And unless you haven’t been introduced to your escort,” he said, “then I’m the last. My name is Ray Austin.”

X X X

Apparently the children were homeschooled. Napoleon wasn’t sure how he felt about this. It meant more time with them, which could, potentially, be a good thing, but the older boy, Adrian, didn’t seem to like Napoleon, and also seemed to be annoyed at anyone who did. That could be, at the very least, annoying.

He resented himself to Mrs. Blackston, hoping she had something he could do to help.

She seemed pleased that he was willing to work. “Yes, we have more dirty dishes than we have clean ones Thank you, Napoleon.”

X X X

“Finn,” twelve year old Megan hissed. “What on earth are you writing? You’re supposed to be working on your grammar, not drawing in a notebook.”

“I’m not drawing!” Finn protested. “I’m writing up a list!”

Harper glared at his twin brother. “Shhh! You’re supposed to be doing grammar, don’t blow it.”

“Exact—blow what? What are you doing?” Megan looked back and forth between her brothers. “What kind of list?”

Finn and Harper looked at each other for a while before consenting to tell her.

“From what Mom said Napoleon is from a different planet,” Harper began. “And it sounds like he’s been to lots of places—”

Finn interrupted. “Se we wanted to know what it’s like, so we’re coming up with a list of things to ask him this evening. Anything you want to add?” He handed her the notebook full of very neat letters. It was amazing how neat Finb wrote, considering he was always in a hurry. He made up for it when he wrote in code.

How many planets have you been on?

What kind of job is it to ‘Fix Time’?

Can time actually be mined? How?

How do you know time is being mined?

What happens to the people mining time?

Do you get to try many new foods?

How many people are in your group?

Why did you decide to get your job?

Megan stopped reading. “Not really, but I’ll probably ask a question of my own if I think of it.”

X X X

It wasn’t until supper had been served and people had started their various conversations that the boys, who had carefully stationed themselves on either side of Napoleon, started firing their questions.

“Napoleon,” Harper started, very innocently. “Have you been to a lot of different planets?”

Napoleon sort of nodded his head. “Yeah, I guess.”

Finn frowned. “What does that mean?”

“I, personally haven’t been on a lot of planets, but we’ve gone to lots of planets.”

“So do you just sit there? What do you do?”

By now most conversations had dwindled down to nothing and everybody was listening to the question/answer session. Finn and Harper felt a little uncomfortable, by Napoleon didn’t seem to notice anything.

“What do I do in specific, or what does T.M., Time Maintenance, do?”

“Uh, in general. What’s Time Maintenance?”

“Time Maintenance is the name of our job. Basically when the guys at headquarters find or hear about signs of some one illegally mining time they end a group out to investigate and, if needed, to fix the problem. Though sometimes Troy beats them to it.”

“Who’s Troy?” Megan cocked her head, and it wasn’t until then that Napoleon noticed everyone listening, though Adrian seemed to be intent on eating.

“Uh…” Napoleon paused, feeling slightly awkward. “He’s our ‘Tech’ guy. He, um, takes care of the ship and…that kind of thing.”

Jeremiah eagerly jumped in. “How many people are usually on a a T.M. Team?”

Napoleon gave a quick answer, relieved to get an easy question. ‘Five. There’s the leader, which in our case if Keiv, a trilon, that’s Troy, and then three other people.”

“Don’t you have twice that many?”

Napoleon nodded. “Exactly twice as many.”

“Why?” Jeremiah had neglected eating and was eagerly listening to Napoleon.

This was a harder question. “Well, I believe Kiev was asked to take on more so that in about a year there will be two groups that can work well together if a situation arrises that we need two teams.”

Fin wedged the question in before Jeremiah could ask it.

“Has there been a situation like that before?”

Napoleon nodded. “But I wasn’t involved and if you ask about it,” he was looking at Jeremiah when he said this, “I won’t have anything to say.”

Jeremiah wasn’t deterred. “How long have you been working with T.M.? And why’d you join?”

“Five years and I joined because I wanted to work with my brothers.”

X X X

Andrei sat in bed, looking at her blank notebook. She absentmindedly tapped her pen against her mouth. What to say? Her first impression was that they were nervous, and probably on their best behavior. Probably.

She smiled. Except the youngest one….France? Yes, France Buckingham. If he was on his best behavior then she didn’t want to know what he was like when in a bad mood.

Finally she wrote down their names and her first impressions of them.

Kiev Vernon ~’leader’, kind, enjoys his team

Jarrow Cree ~ quiet, maybe second in Commanding

Damaskus Cree ~ talkative, tries to get along with everybody

Napoleon Cree ~

Nathan Archer ~ doesn’t like/get along with Stig

Troy ~ tries to be friendly, a little unsure around strangers?

Stig Anders ~ likes being in charge

Jonathan Cain ~ doesn’t like to be caught off guard

Ray Austin ~ prefers to go unnoticed

France Buckingham ~

She left that one blank because she thought it’d be fairer to draw a ‘first’ impression on him after he cooled off, unless he was always like that.

What kind of reports did they want anyway?

X X X

When Andrei awoke the next morning she found that everyone had already eaten, except Jonathan, whom she found sleepily stirring some liquidy, icky looking yellow and white slimy thing stuff.

She stared at it, a slightly disgusted look on her face.

Johnathan smiled at her expression. “Do you not have eggs in Faraway?”

She turned her gaze from the slimy stuff in the pan, to his face. “I’ve never heard of them. Are you going to eat them?”

Jonathan laughed. “Not like this I’m not! But they’re quite good once they’re cooked.”

He laughed again at her disbelieving look. “It’s true! Ou should try them.”

Andrei looked at the now rather different looking eggs. “What happened to them?” She frowned at the eggs. “They’re different. Still slimy, but different.” As she watched the sliminess seemed to disappear.

Troy interrupted any comments that might have been made by entering the kitchen, making Jonathan look up.

Andrei looked up a moment later and any shyness she had was overcome by curiosity.

“Do you really eat these?” She pointed at what Jonathan called ‘eggs’.

Troy gave an odd look to the two and nodded. “D you know how to use a computer?” he proffered Andrei a small black computer. “It’s for sending your, eh…reports.

Andrei reluctantly accepted it with a half shrug. “In general. I can turn them on, type in the password, and use some of the stuff found on them That’s about all,” she added apologetically.

Troy shrugged. He was used to people being utterly clueless when it came to computers. Though some people wouldn’t mind than almost no one they knew could hack their computer, Troy had found it slightly disappointing and had tried teaching Damaskus and Jonathan to do it. It hadn’t worked too well and he had given up, but not before they had both learned how to hack each others’ computers and erase the entire desktop, leaving no trace at all.

“Well rather than let you mess around with it I’ll show you how to use it.”

X X X

Napoleon was quietly playing a game of Egyptian War with the friendly Harper, Finn, Megan, and Jeremiah when the afternoon sun suddenly disappeared to be replaced with a shallow, pale moon and a wind that sounded like it was from a November storm.

The dark was noticed first and, not oddly at all, everyone jumped up and ran to any available window to look at the moon, tripping over many things on the way.

Some people stared in silence and others whispered questions, although only a few got theirs answered immediately. Everyone else had to wait a few hours.

When questioned, Napoleon told them it was what happened when time was mined. “Since time is being taken away there are empty, blank space where the time was. To make up for the missing bits, time stretches its self out to cover the hole. The more time mined the thinner it’s stretched. Time doesn’t like to stretch and when it is forced to, it doesn’t always do a good job.

“Here and there it will leave small holes, because it couldn’t or wouldn’t, over it up, and those holes are when time skips around like it’s doing right now.” He nodded toward the window where a pale light was given from a sick looking moon.

“And when time is stretched out like this we say it’s broken.”

“Can it be fixed?” was the timid question, and Jeremiah wanted to know how.

“Well, the mining can be stopped,” Napoleon said slowly, “But if we can’t track down where the time was brought or it’s been used up then we can’t put it back and jumps like will always happen.”

Harper won the contest of the widest eyes. “Really?” he said excitedly.”How are you going to stop the mining? When? What happens to the person in charge? How do you find out who THAT is?”

Napoleon laughed. “I won’t be stopping the mining, that will probably be left to Jarrow, Ray, and Stig, once we find out where the mining machines are, that is. The person in charge will probably be at the mining site, and if not there’s always a worker, or a buyer who will give us the clue we need.”

X X X

Guaraldi slammed his chair back as he stood up, momentarily regretting it was a swivel chair and this wouldn’t be knocked over when he was in these moods.

Vincent was not happy. The man was an idiot! He was proceeding too fast! Someone was going to notice! And once that happened who ever dealt with illegal ming would show up and then…

Vincent punched the wall, then, suddenly calm, stalked back to his desk, sat down, and quickly started typing.

Four hours later after much coffee, hacking, and one calm shooting of his computer screen, Vincent stared at his new computer. He swished the coffee around in his cup, resisting the temptation of dumping it on the keyboard. It wouldn’t do any unfixable damage but he wouldn’t get as much satisfaction out of it as shooting its screen to bits, sh, he refrained from dumping the coffee, and instead, drank it.

The screen blinked, refusing entry to the files. Again.

Guaraldi forcefully place the cup on his desk, then, after looking at the screen several more moments, he slammed the lid down. The he walked across the room to retrieve a new notebook and pen. He grouchily sat back in his chair, back to the desk and the offensive computer.

Vincent like to have things written down, on paper and preferably in his handwriting. Of course he promptly burned all traces of his notes, but he still wasted many notebooks trying to gather his thoughts and all the information he had collected.

Well first of all the man was proceeding far too fast, second of all his files were too easy to hack, the third of all, the most important of all, according to his files and the speed the man was going he seemed to be making more money than he was letting on…which meant Vincent wasn’t getting his share of the money. True, he was getting the amount he expected to be getting, but at the speed he was going Vincent should be receiving twelve more credits per day.

Guaraldi spun his chair around, flipped open his laptop computer, and typed in his rather long password.

Less than forty minutes later he was on his way to fire the imbecile and hire someone else dim-witted enough to illegally mine time while giving Vincent more that his fair share of the income.

X X X

Kiev signed his name, feeling slightly relieved that in five months he would be retired. Jarrow would make a good leader.

Kiev looked again at the lists he had made. His boys would be split into two teams at his retirement and this list was his recommendations on how they would be split up.

Jarrow Cree                                                                   Ray Austin

Damaskus Cree                                                             Troy

Napoleon Cree                                                               Nathan Archer

Stig Anders                                                                     France Buckingham

Jonathan Cain?

Kiev frowned at the names. It was debatable how the groups would function once they were two groups and Kiev had been party to many, if not most, of those debates before and after he had accepted the task of forming two compatible teams.

So far he had been successful except for Stig and Nathan. In general they weren’t too bad, but after their second game of poker, which most of them thought he didn’t know about, they were each convinced the other cheated, and thus they could be rather suspicious of each other.

Kiev winced as his door slammed open to reveal a pleased looking Troy.

“I’ve got somethin’. By testin’, analyzin’, or whatever you want to call it, the type ‘o time from around Faraway, did you know that the mining actually started at the library? Well, by hacking into the—”

Kiev waved his hand, impatiently cutting Troy short.

“Troy, I think I would really rather Not know how you obtained your information, otherwise I am as guilty as you. Just tell me what you found. Please.”

“Ah,” Troy nodded. “Well, I believe I found someone who bought Faraway time. Though, from his records he doesn’t sound like someone willing to co-operate.” He grinned. “Here are the coordinates.”

X X X

“But aren’t aces to replace ones? And ones are the lowest so why do they beat kings?!” Jeremiah frowned at the cards spread out in front of him in annoyance. “Why not just stick with numbers instead of going into royalty and-and,” he waved in the general direction of an ace and three jacks.

Napoleon thought desperately. How should he know? When he learned poker he had never wondered about these things, and thus never though about them.

“Okay,” he said, buying time. “I’ll tell you the story about the cards.” He took a deep breath and made up a story on the spot.

“When cards were first being invented, the official type that is, the three card makers decided numbers were best, after much arguing that naming them all after royalty was NOT a good idea. They decided on the number thirteen because in their country thirteen was lucky.

“After they finished the cards, one through thirteen, they brought the deck to the person who requested, or more accurately, ordered, the cards made. The person was Jack. The only child of the king and queen.

“Jack admired the cards: the size, the color, the quality, but he wasn’t pleased about one thing.

“’These cards are officially mine,’ he complained, ‘So why doesn’t my name or picture show up anywhere? It’s unacceptable!’

“So the three men trudged back home and talked long and hard about how exactly, they would manage to stick Jack in the cards.

“’Well, if he had then siblings we could put a picture of each on them and—’

“’No!’ shouted the other two. ‘We have already decided we can’t do royalty, so either leave the deck as it is or we put Jack in it and let him be pleased.’

“The three agreed the Jack would be in the deck of cards and, after even more discussion that King George and Queen Ellen must also be on the cards or it could very easily be interpreted as treason.

“As you can see they decided to replace the eleven, twelve, and thirteen with the Jack, the Queen, and the King.

“But since ‘Prince Jack’, Queen Ellen’, and King George’ were too long, they were eventually shortened. And no, I haven’t forgotten about the ace.”

Jeremiah subsided from his unasked question.

“The answer to that is quite simple: unbeknownst to most people the Ace was the actual ruler, above the King and Queen. The Ace was really in charge so when Jack became the king, in his father’s stead, he discovered this and decided to put aces into the deck of cards (which he was very proud of) and since nobody really knew the Ace ruled he replaced the ones with Aces and in official rules, they were the highest.

“The jokers were added years later, after deciding there should be wild cards thrown in as well. The name ‘Joker’ was decided upon because the jester of King Jack was his murderer. It was later discovered that the jester was an imposter and the real one had been missing for some time.

“And that is why Aces are higher than Kings and Queens. Now are you ready to play?”

X X X

Mr. Larson Silver was a private man who liked to be left alone.

Which was why he wasn’t happy to have the T.M. on his doorstep.

“No, you may not come in,” was his response to the polite inquiry. “You may go away.”

Stig ignored the suggestion. “Sir, do you, or anyone you know, buy time?”

“My name is not ‘sir’,” was the somewhat venomous reply.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“If you’re suspicious enough to ask questions, then why don’t you ask the people who hold he answers?” Silver shot back. “I’m sure they’d be thrilled to do anything for the government.” He knew that at least two of them would slam the door shut and possibly call the police. Silver himself was, at the moment, too polite to slam the door. But it wouldn’t last for long.

“I’m asking you if you buy time, aren’t I?” Stig was having a little trouble not snapping right back. “Is that simple question too hard for you?”

“No.” Silver snapped. “It’s perfect; you are asking me. Good day.” The door slammed shut and Silver locked it. Then he stood for several moments glaring at the door, almost daring Stig to try entering, much less knocking.

X X X

“Number one: he doesn’t like answering questions; number two: he doesn’t like anything government related, which means us; Number three: please don’t send me back.”

“Well someone’s going to have to go back ’cause my bug needs plantin’.”

“Don’t you mean hatching?”

“Ha, ha,” said Troy sarcastically. “Very funny.”

Damaskus spoke up. “Couldn’t we hack his files or something and see if he’s bought time? Then we could track down who sold it to him.”

“That is only possible if he keeps records, and if it’s illegal time, then records about it would be wiped.”

“Well what if he doesn’t know it’s illegal time” Damaskus argued. “Unless he’s really conscientious about that sort of thing and deleted his records, but still, couldn’t you—”

“Not likely,” Troy interrupted. “Even if he doesn’t know or care, which he obviously does, or he wouldn’t be hiding like that, or maybe he really doesn’t like anyone government related, but whoever is selling the time most likely wipes all records so it can’t be traced back to him and such. Besides, it’ll be much easier to plant a bug.”

X X X

Guaraldi was pleasantly ignorant about the T.M. For several days, but once he found out nobody within a kilometer of him could even fake a smile.

“I knew it! I knew he was proceeding too fast! And now someone’s going to be caught!” Vincent fumed. Just two more weeks. Two more, and he could have cut all connections with this planet, and be innocent of any accusations they might throw at him. If they found out it was him of course.

But nooo, they had to come and find out early. Before their time.

Vincent hit the wall, angrily. There was nothing he could do but be prepared for his flight.

And leave false trails, he thought gloomily, leaning his head against the wall. Ha. Like that was possible. To do it he’d have to be able to mix a Sample of Faraway time into a shipment of legal time and that was impossible.

….but worth a try.

X X X

Napoleon was pleased to find out he hadn’t lost as much as he thought he had playing poker. He had spent quite a while carefully doing the math, it wouldn’t have taken as long except Kiev hadn’t let him bring his computer.

Before he closed his notebook Napoleon added a note onto the list of things he wanted to tell his brothers when he saw them again; Don’t play poker, or any game where money is at stake, with someone who looks naturally sneaky and deceptive, especially blind draw because no matter who deals they’ll look like they magicked all four aces into their hands and everybody else will only have twos and threes. I lost more than France did his first game and I dread tomorrow’s game because they also want to add Alimo.

X X X

The dinnerbell rang and Napoleon headed downstairs to join the Blackstons.

It wasn’t until the meal had started, (today it was long yellow strings with sauce and brown balls of…meat) that seventeen year old Kendra walked in and moodily dropped her notebook on the table.

“I’m out of ideas,” she complained, sitting down. “I’m never going to finish the story.” She placed her head in her folded arms in despair.

Jamaka, who had been hearing this all day, rolled her eyes, but the more sympathetic Megan asked what the problem was.

“Well the reason the King hasn’t been taking a notice of anything going on is because of his upcoming wedding,” Kendra explained. “So why would he take any notice now?”

“Well maybe someone brings it—”Megan had no idea what ‘it’ was—“to his attention.”

“Two problems with that,” Kendra complained. “Who and why? Anything less than rebellion or a murder of a lord or something isn’t important enough to distract the king om his bride and their wedding.”

“Why bring it to the attention of the King?” interrupted Klara.

“Because the earls and the lords won’t listen to their complaints.” Kendra replied with a noticeable amount less of despair. She quite enjoyed people taking interest in her stories.

“But if the earls and lords won’t listen and the King is too busy, and there isn’t a queen why not tell the Ace?” Klara looked up from the food which she had been carefully poking while asking her long question. “The Ace is in charge anyway.”

“The Ace? Like the card?”

Klara nodded and Napoleon swallowed hard. Maybe teaching the eight-year-old how to play poker hadn’t been the best idea. Then he glanced at Laurel. Or maybe the six-year-old, either.

“Yes, the Ace is the person in charge of all the Kings,” said Klara, her memory working better than Napoleon had hoped it would.

“You mean like the Pope?” By now the entire family was listening in on the conversation, a select few feeling rather nervous and hoping Klara wouldn’t go into the bit about cards, and more important: the betting of money.

“’Cause I’m not sticking a Pope in,” Kendra continued, “Anyways they would be the last person they would go to, and they might very well skip over him and go straight to out-and-out fighting.”

“Well couldn’t you do that?” Jeremiah tried steering the conversation away from Aces. “The the King would have to notice, wouldn’t he?”

It didn’t work. Mrs. Blackston asked her second youngest child where she had heard of Aces?

Napoleon decided he should probably speak up and possibly avoid the issue of poker, or any other card gambling game.

“Um, I was telling a story…similar to the ones I was told by my brothers.” The only similarity being it was made up on the spot, Napoleon added silently. “And, um, that’s what she was referring to.”

Mrs. Blackston cocked her head. “She was asking you to tell stories?”

“Eh, sort of,” Napoleon said, trying not to sound guilty.

“But why royalty related?” she pressed. By now other conversation had started up, though every once in a while someone would glance at the floundering Napoleon.

He gave a gesture signifying that he either didn’t know why or he was trying to get out of answering the question.

Mrs. Blackston was suspicious, which is to be blamed on her children, several of whom were looking a little guilty, and took it to be avoiding the question.

“How’d the Aces get involved?” she asked and someone down the table started choking violently.

“Uh,” said Napoleon. This was a question he could answer. “I was explaining why Aces were higher than Kings.”

X X X

Garner, four years a member of Faraway residency, jumped over a puddle, and checked his watch again. “Garner, you’re fine,” he told himself again, but it didn’t really help. Ever since the first ‘time stretch’ he always felt like he was going to be late. Well…later than usual.

Garner suddenly tripped, which was no fault of his because all of a sudden he could no longer tell where he was stepping.

“I. Hate. Time,” were his first audible words. “I hate it.” Slowly Garner picked himself up and, limping, continued his journey slowly.

“It figures,” he griped, walking blind. “Not a street lamp in sight. Why did time have to break here?” Of course Garner knew it wasn’t any fault of time itself that it was broken, but couldn’t they have started the mining out in the country somewhere?

It wasn’t until 10:27 p.m. (though it was hard to believe with the glorious sunrise, which Garner ignored) that Garner finally got to read the latest ‘update’.

He quickly set up his computer and clicked the report.

We have found someone who bought Faraway time, though he doesn’t want to tell us who he bought it from. We left Stig stationed behind to have further conversation with him while we follow up another led on a planet called Omusa.

Kiev says it should be no more than forty-eight hours to get there so I’ll write then.

Andrei Halston

Garner was disappointed at the shortness of the report, but he wasn’t surprised at that. What he was surprised at was the way she had slipped into “we have found” and “tell us” instead of “they found” and “wouldn’t tell them”, Like she had started writing in. He was also surprised at the way every update that was more like a personal letter than the last one.

X X X

“Gareth Inger, of the city Duro, planet Omusa, very busy man, doesn’t spend nearly as much time with his children as he wishes he could….has missed several important events in their lives, and today is his anniversary, also his eldest son’s twentieth birthday. I’m willing to bet he’s using the time right now.”

“How much?”

Troy didn’t even consider. “Twenty dollars and the time right now is 9:10 a.m.”

“You’ve got yourself a bet,” Damaskus replied with a grin. “And did you know that on Omusa it’s somewhere around six in the morning?”

Troy nodded. “I do, and it’s six twenty-six to be exact.”

Jarrow looked at the two of them. “Do you have any idea how unfair a bet like that is?”

The two twenty-dollar-riskers looked at him, one with a far too ‘innocent’ look on his face, and the other just struggling to keep a straight face.

“Never mind.” Jarrow shook his head. “I’ll just assume you both have counterfeit twenties you’re trying to lose. There is no other possible explanation.”

It wasn’t until several hours later that anything was said about the bet, and it was Damaskus quietly admitting to Troy that, No, he didn’t know how unfair the bet was, what were the risks anyway?

Troy obviously found it amazing. Risks and unfairness in gambling—er, playing bets? Never!

“But what’s the unfairness?” insisted Damaskus. “It’s not like we each bet a different amount, or bet someone else’s money.”

Troy gave an agreeing kind of nod. “That sounds like a suicidal mission but the risks in this gamble are that we’re each placing our bets on our assumptions of how early Gareth starts his day.”

“So you’re saying we’re betting our money on how much we think some person we don’t know is gong to follow our sleeping patterns”

Troy nodded again. “Though it is always possible he started using it so everyone could sleep in.”

“Smart man,” was Damaskus’ reply, a wishful smile on his face.

Troy raised an eyebrow. “You do realize that if he did that you’d be short twenty dollars, don’t you?”

“Yes I do, but it’d also mean I’ve met a man who has spent time in its best way.”

Troy frowned suspiciously at Damaskus. “Is you money counterfeit?”

X X X

Kiev chose Nathan and Ray to accompany him into the house.

“I would really prefer not to sound crazy,” Nathan said for the first time out loud, though he had been thinking it since Troy had handed out the ear pieces again.

“Well then, don’t reply to anything Troy sends you,” came Kiev’s slightly amused answer. “Anyway, it’s a bad first impression to talk to people who aren’t there.”

Kiev rang the doorbell again, waited three seconds, then invited Ray to pick the lock.

“Insanity’s a bad first impression, but breaking and entering isn’t?” Nathan queried. “How odd. I’ll have to try it someday.”

“It’s not breaking and entering, Nathan, it’s politely picking the so they don’t have to deal with a broken door. Big difference.”

The door clicked and Ray opened it with a pleased smile. “See? I didn’t break a thing.”

Nathan just rolled his eyes as he entered the house.

X X X

Cassidy Inger was proud of her husband. Very proud.

And ‘less than pleased’ was a mild way to describe how she felt about the three men who wanted to see him.

“How’d you get in?” she asked icily. Today was Logan’s twentieth birthday, and if these men did anything to embarrass Gareth in front of Logan much less any of the other children, she’d—

“The front door was unlocked, and since there was no reply we invited ourselves in. Sorry if we’re interrupting anything.”

She looked at him. “You had no right to—”

“Cassidy. I can handle this.” Gareth had a temper and could get annoyed just as easily as his wife, though he could usually hide it better than her. This was one of those times.

One of those times he didn’t keep his temper, that is.

“Who are you, and what do you think you’re doing here?” he hissed at Kiev. “Why can’t whatever you need to talk about wait ’till tomorrow?” He continued glaring at them to make his point.

“I’m sorry,” said Kiev, and he truly did sound sorry. “But it’s about the time you’re using.”

“What about it?” growled Gareth. “I bought it and now I’m putting it to good use. At least I was, until you came along.”

“Well first we need to take a sample of it to make sure it’s what we’re looking for, then if it is, we’ll replace it for you. We will also need your records of how much, when, and from whom you bought it.”

“And what time you started using it,” interjected Nathan.

“How should I know where I got it?” Gareth said, more or less ignoring Nathan. “For all I know the could have bee calling themselves Galaxy III!”

“Not very likely,” said Kiev dryly. “Galaxy III is the largest clothing store around. In three galaxies, to be precise. But back to the point; you should have records telling me everything I need to know.”

“But when did you start using the time?” Nathan interrupted per the urging in his ear. “And yes, it is important.”

X X X

“How much do you want to bet Ray will break something?” Damaskus asked, leaning over Troy’s shoulder.

“No more than fifteen and if you’re short of money you could probably tlk France into playing poker. With you.”

How’d you get in?”

Damaskus snorted at her question. “You really don’t want to know the truth lady.”

The front door was unlocked, and since there was no reply—”

“Kiev,” Damaskus scolded, “You really shouldn’t leave out important details, like Ray picking the lock. It puts a different light on things.”

Troy turned, looking up at Damaskus. “You do know they have their earpieces in and can hear everything you’re saying, don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” he replied a little uncertainly, then mouthed ‘All three of them?’

Troy nodded, a look of amusement on his face. ‘All three of them’ he mouthed back.

“…We will also need your records of how much, when, and from whom, you bought it.”

“And what time you started using it.” Damaskus and Troy chorused directly into the microphone.

Nathan helpfully repeated them, only to be ignored.

How should I know where I got it?” Gareth said and Damaskus rolled his eyes in annoyance.

But back to the point; you should have records telling me everything—”

“Nathan! Ask him!! Now!”

Nathan obliged.

But when did you start using the time? And yes, it is important.”

There was a pause, then, “About six-thirty this morning. Beyond that, I don’t know. Yes, I do have records.” The voice was resigned, but still annoyed. “This way.”

“Oh, come on.” Troy threw his head back to look at the ceiling like it would tell him the proper time. “Couldn’t you ask him, Kiev? Please?”

At this point Andrei plopped down in a chair distracting them. “What’s wrong?”

“We can’t figure out when he started using the time.” Troy looked distressed.

“And Ray won’t break anything.” Damaskus looked so disappointed and Andrei so confused that Troy started laughing at the two.

Damaskus glared at him. “That’s not very nice.”

Andrei rolled her eyes. “Well, the reason I really came in here was to find out more about how time works.”

Damaskus pretended to look shocked. “It’s almost as if she takes us to be time experts or something.” He turned to Troy. “What have we done to make her think such a thing?”

Andrei ignored him. “Once you buy time, how do you use it?”

“Well,” said Damaskus, “First of all you choose the room you want to spend all your extra time in, the smaller the room, the longer the time lasts, lock the door, if you don’t want anyone walking in on you, then open your bottle of time and let it free!” Damaskus threw his arms out expressively.

“Your bottle of time?” Andrei looked doubtfully at him. “Somehow I don’t believe that.”

“Well how else are you supposed to transport it? Bottling works well, so that’s what they do.”

Andrei gave a sort of half glare at the two of them, but then gave up. If they wanted to say time was stored and transport in bottles, let them say that time was stored and transported in bottles.

“But how are you going to stop the use of the time at what’s-his-name’s house? Can you…re-bottle it?”

“Well first we have to pull out our equipment then we sorta re-mine the time, then we re-bottle it.”

“My equipment,” said Troy, still vastly interested in the ceiling. “And to answer the question I feel you’re going to ask, if you don’t want to spend all the time at that moment, only let some of it out.”

Andrei was going to ask how you could “only let some” out when Keiv dryly interrupted.

“Troy, could you send who ever is lurking around the corner over her so they can bring us back.”

“Lurking?” said Troy, a little guiltily. “What makes you think someone’s lurking around anywhere?”

“Because they always are.”

X X X

Jarrow was rather surprised that he was called upon to pick up the group, but he felt that the fact that their car was missing was a good reason to ask him.

“What did you do to the car, Ray? You couldn’t have had much time to hide it or where the rest of the team in on it an’ it’ll show up in a couple weeks?”

“I have NO IDEA what happened to the car, Nathan,” answered the exasperated Ray. “And why do you assume I did it? What ever ‘it’ may be.”

“You were out of sight of both myself and Kiev for at least a total of five minutes, supposedly trying to find out when Mr. Gareth Inger started using the time. You are the obvious suspect.”

“What about a motive?” protested Ray. “Doesn’t there have to be a motive? And I don’t have a motive or proof against me. So thus I am innocent.”

“Innocent until proven guilty, which you will be, because you are. Why don’t you just admit it?”

Jarrow turned his attention to Kiev who had his computer out and was sending Troy Gareth’s files. (Kiev, though he wouldn’t say it, was relieved they had taken everything they needed out of the car before the disappearance, though he would be hard put to find a replacement for his lost jacket. It had been his favorite.)

“Is it enough information to find him?”

Kiev looked up. “Yes.”

Jarrow glanced away from the road. “You don’t sound like you’re very pleased. Why not?”

“Oh, I’m pleased about catching him, but apparently that unpleasant man Stig had to deal with was a waste of time. Stig managed to test a sample of the time and as far as he could tell someone had put a sample of Faraway time in his time for a distraction. And it worked.”

X X X

Vincent frowned. He didn’t remember an appointment with this…he looked at the name again. K. Vernon. Who was that? And what was so important that Vernon had to speak to him today. Now, in fact. Why couldn’t it wait a few days? A week would be best, not that Vincent would be available in a week, but that was the point, really; avoid the meeting.

Anyways, meeting s usually meant that someone was suspicious about his doings, though they technically had a reason to be suspicious, Vincent didn’t like it when they were. It usually delayed his illegal plans. Occasionally his legal ones too.

The buzzer sounded (which Vincent dislike passionately and had come close to shooting it, but he had managed to refrain…mostly. He had shot it once, but the meeting [which he actually wanted to have] didn’t work out and since then he’d refrained from damaging it. Back to the buzzing buzzer.)

The buzzer sounded, causing Vincent to sit up straighter. “Come in,” he said loudly.

Ther was a moment of nothing really happening, but then the buzzer’s button got hit impatiently and things started happening again.

Vincent frowned. Hadn’t he been heard? He had said ‘Come it’ and very politely, too.

Then he was annoyed with himself. Of course he hadn’t heard him; the room had been soundproofed (after getting annoyed at one of his computers several years ago and [can you guess?] shooting it, Vincent had decided it was worth the money soundproofing the room [which incidentally helped most bullets from going through the walls].) Vincent got up and opened the door.

“Hello,” he said, with a not very real smile. “Come in.”

The two men entered and Vincent refrained from giving them an annoyed look. Why had the man felt the need to bring his bodyguard along with him? The least he could have done was warned Vincent, so that he’d have the chance to get deathly, if not contagiously, ill, because when people brought their bodyguards along with them, it meant they didn’t trust him and expected trouble from him. It also meant they thought he wasn’t a law abiding citizen, which hurt, because Vincent did his best to look like he complied with every letter of the law.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Guaraldi,” said the older man, not the bodyguard. The bodyguard was doing what all good bodyguards did; standing there looking intimidating and making people nervous.

“I have heard,” the man continued almost carefully, “That you sell time. I am interested in buying.”

Vincent looked at him. This was the important stuff he had to be talked to, right now? And “technically” he didn’t own any of the shares of the mining company; he just got the money.

He made a confused face. “Your information must have been mixed up; I don’t sell time, though I could direct you to someone who does—”

“Sir’s Time?” was the sarcastic interruption. “I’ve heard of it.”

“Well then,” said Vincent, brightly. “I have nothing for you. The door you used to come in can also be used to exit. Good day.”

Vincent walked back to his desk, but if he really expected the two men to leave, he was sorely disappointed.

“So you will admit having heard of them?”

Vincent sighted, exasperated. Why wouldn’t they just leave? It would be a very appreciated thing for them to do, and possibly even polite.

“Yes, I’ve heard of that mining company. Is that what you scheduled this ‘important’ meeting for?”

“So will you also admit to getting more than half the profit it makes or will we need to gring the proof to court?” This time it was the bodyguard speaking.

“Don’t forget the bit about it being illegally mined, Jarrow, it’s important too.”

Vincent didn’t even bother with the courtesy of answering, he just pulled out his pistol and started firing at them.

He didn’t particularly aim very much, which didn’t bother him. What did bother him were the men who came through the door that he knew had been locked (Vincent had specially ordered it so it automatically locked people out and you had to have the key to get in. Or a good lock pick, and lock picking skills, but he didn’t know that.) That was what annoyed him.

And that they caught him, proved him guilty, made him pay for the illegally mined time, took away his wonderful office, put him in prison, and that Sir got let go on parole and didn’t even have to pay for anything (besides giving back the money he had earned, but that didn’t count.) That also annoyed and frustrated Vincent, but that didn’t start until almost 70 seconds later.

The End

An Epilogue for Glory

Damaskus, who was laying in bed, tossed the hand sized green ball up into the air again and once again didn’t catch it as it came down. The ball bounced, rolled, and in its general, decietful way, made it across the floor before Damaskus could even sit up.

The ball had been retrieved and Damaskus had gone from letting it roam about the room to drawing on it with a black marker when Troy came in.

Damaskus looked up guiltily as the door opened, hiding the marker at the same time.

“Uh, hi Troy.” Damaskus gave a bold I’m-not-hiding-anything-now-please-go-so-I-may-continue-not-doing-what-I’m-not-hiding-from-you smile.

Troy gave him a questioning eyebrow raise, then leaned against the hammock Napoleon had bought two weeks ago. “Who do yo think gets to deal with France once the team is split?”

Damaskus gave him an odd look. “What kind of question is that? You want me to tell you how I think we’re getting split up? ‘Cause there are too many possibilities to split us up and I’m bound to get it completely wrong, which you will never let me forget.”

Troy shook his head, a slight smile on his face. “No, that’s not it. I’m just trying to figure out how many think Jarrow will get France and how many think it’ll be the other team leader.”

Damaskus threw the ball at him. “From this I will make the assumption Napoleon won at poker last night. Am I right?”

Troy tossed the ball from hand to hand several times before throwing hard right over Damaskus’ shoulder. “Everyone. Sometimes I think we shouldna have left ‘im in Faraway, apparently they play a vara good game of poker.” He smiled good humoredly.” And they’ve rubbed off on ‘im.”

For revenge Damaskus bounced the boll off the floor, missed seeing it hitting the ceiling, but had a grand view of it narrowly missing Troy’s head.

Troy managed to duck the flying tattooed ball, but then lost his balance and the hammock betrayed him, landing him on the floor.

“Oi!” Troy glared at the ball as it rolled back to Damaskus.

Damaskus grinned and rolled it over to Troy. “Speaking of Faraway, how long before we visit?”

“If that was an offer, I thought I made it clear I have no money, your brother has started a collection with it.:

Damaskus looked extremely innocent. “Oh, I was thinking something a little more permanent, and colorful.”

X X X

Seven and a half months later Andrei received a surprise visit from nine men and was thoroughly taken aback by Damaskus’ green hair. With orange tips. And Troy’s half dyed blue hair. Like he had been running while someone chased him with spray paint.

The End

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