“Ms. Tappler said I would need this,” Cognis said after a few thousand years, “but it no longer functions.”
“It’s okay,” Macnera replied millions of years earlier. “Even if we’re erased from history, I am glad I spent part of my life with you.”
Cognis shook his head. “Ms. Tappler would not abandon us,” he said, clicking the watch’s button and twisting its dials. “I just wish she’d explained what I was supposed to do.”
A well-manicured hand snatched the watch from Cognis’s grasp.
“I told you everything you needed to know,” Talie said. “I told you I’d want this back.”
Talie had appeared before Cognis, her golden hair hanging free, her violet eyes burning with unholy light. Cognis could not look at her. In his human eye, he felt pain. In his camera eye, he saw nothing but static.
“My mother gave me this watch before she died,” Talie said. Cognis glimpsed her for a moment adjusting the watch’s internal mechanism with a tiny screwdriver. “You think I’m a good time traveler, you should have seen the things she did! She created a chrono-synchronous tether binding this watch to me. She said no matter how far I travel in time or space, this watch will always know how to find me, and I will always know how to find it.”
Cognis accessed the library data stored in the deepest recesses of his brain and could not find a definition for the term “chrono-synchronous tether.” Because his suspicion program was still online, he suspected Talie had just made it up.
“What about the nameless one?” Macnera said. “What is it?”
“Nameless?” Talie asked. “Are you so old now you’ve forgotten your own name?”
A dark shape drifted sometime nearby. Though Cognis could not see any details, the nameless one seemed pathetic and fragile here outside the universe–or wherever they were.
“My kind are numerous,” the nameless one said. “We saw the universe begin. It is ours. We rule it.”
Talie laughed. “You weren’t the only ones there that day. The universe is meant to be shared, but I don’t expect you to understand.”
“One day we will destroy you.”
Talie snapped her watch shut.
“Yes, you will,” she said. “I already know the date and the time, but it will be too late. I’m going to destroy you first.”
Talie clicked the button on her watch, and in a flash of impossible light and color everything returned: time, gravity, matter and energy–the whole universe returned, and Cognis and Macnera were part of it again. The nameless one–he’d never existed.
* * *
For professional time travelers, nothing provided more protection than the ticking of a clock. At the headquarters of the Tomorrow News Network, countless clocks ran at once, some moving forward, others backward, still others shifting directions, swinging one way or the other as history changed and changed again.
Talie, Cognis, and Macnera materialized in the newsroom, perhaps the safest place in the whole Known Universe for two people who’d nearly erased themselves from history. Talie leaned against a desk and smirked. She wore her usual attire: a sharp business suit and skirt, high heels, and a low-cut blouse.
The other employees continued their work as if nothing unusual had happened, except one female Swarian who seemed to appreciate Cognis’s bare chest.
“Ms. Tappler,” Cognis said, “who are you? Who are you really?”
“The things you just did…” Macnera said. “I calculate with 100% probability they were impossible.”
Talie chuckled. “I’m a reporter. I ask questions. I don’t answer them.”
With that, Talie walked away, her high heels clicking on the metal floor.
Macnera glanced at Cognis. “Perhaps,” she said, “we should not go on another vacation. I believe we should return to our regular routine.”
“I concur,” Cognis said. “We should also deactivate the love program. It is a dangerous program.”
Macnera frowned but nodded in agreement. “I just want to try one thing first.”
Cognis waited for her to elaborate, but instead she threw her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his. A new subroutine activated, disrupting the mathematically perfect functioning of Cognis’s brain. It was called “passion.” He liked this subroutine, and through it he discovered that the taste of Macnera’s lips and the subtle motions of her mouth were even more fascinating than her physical appearance.
When the kiss ended, Cognis’s heart rate had accelerated, and his breathing had become irregular. Macnera seemed to be in a similar condition, her face flushed, her human eye wide open in shock.
“Perhaps…” Cognis said, surprised by the raspiness of his own voice. “Perhaps we can leave the program running a little longer.”
“I advise moving to a more private location,” she said, taking Cognis by the hand and leading him away from the newsroom.