The Timekeepers – Prologue

Below is the prologue of a new project I’m collaborating on with the working title The Timekeepers.

Prologue

Earth 4023

There was no sound, the bed was comfortable, the room was dark, but her thoughts kept her awake. Lately, her regrets had been coming by night to visit and show the beautiful fabrics of time that might have been if she had only acted differently. She could not go back and change what was already done.

Even with this.

She glanced at her wrist, the moonlight reflected off the glossy surface of a watch, making it difficult to read. Was it two hours after midnight, three? Did such a distinction matter? It gave her so much power, yet the trinket was nearly useless.

She left her bed and lit her sand lamp. The light flared for an instant before simmering down to a constant glow. The room was well furnished, there were two old wooden chairs, the stone-carved bed, and a desk hanging from the wall by two ropes. Beside the bed was a cord she could pull to bring a servant up. She hesitated for a moment, then pulled it.

As Timekeeper of the Steelheart clan, she lived as lavishly as anyone could in the Reik. She knew there were places on Earth where people lived in relative luxury, but they were born into lush, temperate climates. They did not know the the harshness of the Reik. They didn’t have to deal with seven power-hungry clan leaders. She had been told to bring unity, to forge one nation from the many clans.

I’ll likely die before Pactor Hewin kneels to anyone.

She walked across the room to look out of the wide, open windows over her town in the desert desert. All the people in it were hers. In the distance she could see the lights of other towns, and those were hers too. They followed her commands, fought for her, died for her, and thankfully, most of them liked her. Something that could not be said for her father.

And that’s why he and Ardin are dead.

Her father had left the world in a precarious balance. One incident, one clan shifting its allegiance, could mean war. It would be immediate, and it would be as merciless as the Reik.

The desert takes no prisoners.

A common saying among the Enultagen, though she did not agree. She would not say it aloud, but she knew that the Enultagen were prisoners of the desert. Explorers sent in search of new, more bounteous lands had come back empty handed, or had not come back at all. She had seen the Reik from above, and the only escape was death.

The Enultagen would escape soon enough if circumstances did not change. There were more and more people, but only the one river: the Eolif. When water becomes scarce, blood rushes to replace it. Another common saying among her people. Though she wished to unite the clans, it was her duty as Steelheart Timekeeper make other clans bled first.

What is taking the maid so long?

It had been minutes since she pulled the cord, but no one had showed up yet. No doubt she had woken someone, but ample time had passed for someone to dress and ascend the stairs.

She let out a sigh and told herself to be patient, but she did not enjoy waiting. Without someone to talk to or something to do, her mind inevitably return to the thought that had kept her awake: I need to have a baby.

Someone knocked three times on the door, and she immediately knew something was wrong. Any servant would know to knock twice, delay, and knock once. She rushed over to her bedside and pulled from underneath it a long, glistening, obsidian-edged saber. Just as she crouched behind the bed, the door crashed open and a volley of darts flew over her head and bounced off the dried clay wall. As she flung herself over the bed, she counted five black-robed figures reaching for their knives.

In an instant she was among them with her sword, and with two blows she felled two of her assailants. Then the other three formed a triangle around her, keeping her at bay with their knives. What fools they were to bring such small weapons to bear against a timekeeper.

She lunged at one with her sword. He moved to block with his knife, but the force of her blow shattered it, sending bits of broken obsidian flying into his eyes and across the floor. The other two slashed at her, but their knives tore only the fabric of her nightgown. She would never have imagined four years ago in Everco that her training there would prove useful so soon.

She punched one assassin in the face, stunning him long enough to grab the knife from another and send it plunging into his chest. With her sword hand, she finished off the man who was attempting to claw the shards of stone out of his eyes. It was then that she saw another assassin hiding inside a doorway down the hall. He had a bow drawn and aimed for her heart. She grabbed a hold of the disarmed assassin in front of her and pulled. The arrow splintered dove into the man’s wrist and collided with bone, the head shattering inside his body. While the archer tried to notch a second arrow, she charged from the room and smote him with her ancestral blade.

Then she heard a whistling from behind. She whipped around just in time to see another black-tipped arrow flying through the air to greet her. It pierced her chest and she crumpled to the ground. Another assassin was standing in front of window at the end of the hall, a triumphant smile beginning to play across his lips. She tried to stand but could not. Already her head felt too heavy to lift. With her last moments, Miramond Steelheart picked up her sword with both hands and flung it across the room, hitting the assassin square in the chest and defenestrating him. The last thing she heard was the sound of her guards coming too late to her rescue.

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Vile Part 42

On his way back to his mansion, Dr. Hex considers employing his Laotian miners in retrieving and tending to the bodies of the police, but decides against it. His minor minions have not see the sun in over two years, and perhaps allowing them to would give them some semblance of hope when they returned the excavation, and he didn’t want that. A hopeful child is an annoying child.

So he made a fifty-eight degree turn and headed for his garage, where he found the doom tractor.

When he was a little boy growing up in Last Kale, Mortimer had been walking his dog Sunshine down the sidewalk while a man was moving his lawn. As they passed each other, the mower ran over a rock and shot it out toward the road. The rock collided with the puppy’s head and the animal promptly died. Geologists might interested to know that the rock was fine.

The next day, the man’s corpse was discovered with a dog leash dangling from his neck. Also, his tractor had been stolen.

Since that day, Mortimer has not owned a pet that he couldn’t repair in his garage, and the doom tractor is one his oldest pets. When he drives it out onto his lawn, belching black smoke and emitting a sound like a host of chainsaw murderers, the living police line breaks into chaos, and good number of men and women go home.

As our villain lowers the bucket attachment of the doom tractor, he realizes what he should with all the bodies.

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Vile part 41

“I’ve realized that if I blow up Last Kale’s nuclear facility, the fun will be over, because you’ll all be dead,” explains our villain. “And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?”

What remains of Last Kale’s police force listens as if in a trance. Behind the police line, a horde of reporters and cameramen film the proceedings. No one answers the rhetorical question.

Hex half expected someone to. “But I’m a man of my word. I said I would destroy the nuclear facility, and if you make me I will, but I have a deal for the people of Last Kale. If, by 10:00pm tonight, you take down the stars and stripes from the town and hall and replace them with my own colors…” He gestures to a flag hanging outside his porch. “…I will let this city live.”

He had designed the flag at age twelve, after learning all he could about heraldry. It was quartered black and gold, with a red gauntlet crushing a green apple.

“Also,” he adds, as an afterthought, “your children must, instead of reciting the pledge of allegiance, recite a pledge to me, like this:” he pauses, partially for dramatic effect, but also to compose the pledge in his head, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of Dr. Mortimer Hex, and to the tyranny for which it stands. He is our nation. He is our god. We are his playthings, his meek and worthless thralls.”

He likes the sound of that.

Sorry for my absence the past couple of days. I moved to New Mexico, and I’ve been incredibly busy. As always, if you’re not sure what’s going on, maybe you’d like to read from the beginning.

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Vile part 40

“I have an an announcement to make!” declares Mortimer through his new-found megaphone.

“You killed him!” shouts Officer Draper.

“And?”

“And you said you wouldn’t.”

“And I won’t kill you either,” says our villain, taking his silenced pistol from his bathrobe pocket and shooting Officer Draper. “Now unless someone else wants to interrupt, can I get on with my announcement?”

“Hey!” shouts Office Connolly. “You killed Draper!”

After watching Star Wars, the young Mortimer Hex learned that the reason the good guys always win is that the bad guys simply can’t shoot straight. He resolved to practice marksmanship every day until he could shoot a pea from forty paces with his eyes closed.

Mortimer slams his palm to his face and shoots Officer Connolly between her eyes.

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Vile part 39

The police are uncomfortable, especially Ryan Summers, whose normal Sunday routine is to sleep in until noon, wake up and eat a bowl of fruit loops with his kids, then watch cartoons for a while. But this Sunday is different, because all his superior officers died at the explosion of the precinct or while storming Dr. Hex’s house last night. Now Ryan Summers is the man in charge, wearing the boots of the Police Commissioner of Last Kale Police Department. Not literally; he can see the last commissioner’s boots on the last commissioner’s feet not thirty feet away. This Sunday, he hasn’t slept at all or eaten any fruit loops, and he sincerely wishes for the diabolical Dr. Hex, tromping across his lawn in a pale-green bathrobe, to be nothing more than a harmless cartoon.

Ryan holds the megaphone to his lips and stammers, “Don’t come any closer, Dr. Hex, or we’ll be forced to fire upon you.”

Mortimer wants to see them try, so he ignores the man and strides up to his fresh new crop of scarecops. He has so many now, he doesn’t know what to do with them. Those are thoughts for another time. “I’d like to have a parlance with you,” he says, pointing at Ryan.

Ryan looks around, hoping that our villain has indicated someone else, but Officers Draper and Connolly edge away on either side of him. “A what?”

“A parlance,” Mortimer repeats, hoping that if he stresses the word enough, this lackwit of a policeman will understand.

Ryan only stares.

“Just get over here and we’ll talk,” Mortimer explains.

“Do you promise not to shoot me?”

“Of course I won’t shoot you. How can I talk to you if you’re dead?”

This evidently makes sense to Ryan, so he hands the megaphone to Officer Connolly before stepping around the police car he’s been hiding behind.

Our villain stops him short. “Bring the megaphone.”

So Officer Connolly passes back the megaphone, and Ryan gingerly steps over the ring of dead policemen before receiving a bullet to the brain and joining them.

“Your mistake was believing I wanted to talk to you at all,” explains Dr. Hex as he pries the megaphone from Ryan’s fingers.

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Vile part 38

“No, not that,” says ZERO. “Who cares about them? I was talking about blowing up the nuclear plant.”

Our villain has been so caught up in the morning’s revels that he has forgotten about his plans for the evening. “Oh, right,” he says. “Yeah, it will probably kill everyone in Last Kale if it blows up, but I never programmed you a conscience. Why do you care?”

“I don’t care about the people,” ZERO explains. “It just seems that going from stealing a potato to exploding a nuclear facility and destroying the city is too big of a jump.”

Mortimer had not considered that. His supercomputer is entirely correct. When planning what crimes he would commit each day, he had simply chosen at random from a list of preplanned endeavors that he had never seen through. Such behavior seems lazy to him now.

People will be saying many things about Mortimer Hex in the coming months, and he will not let anyone say that he’s lazy. “I’m going to need that megaphone.”

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Vile part 37

For those who are curious, the signs he had posted say:

Warning:
Trespassers will be shot, broken, flayed, skewered, set on fire, or defenestrated. Their bodies will be donated to science.

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