Published: August 14, 2010
Thunder shook the many shelves surrounding the workshop table, many of which were cluttered with woodworking tools and newspaper clippings. A preserved bird skeleton jittered on a high shelf and threatened to collapse. Flasks and bottles clinked together.
Tucked into the nest of his collectables, a man sat hunched over the small wooden table. The commotion was but a fragment of disgrace to his tedious work. A turn of a screwdriver; a tap of hammer; he laid out his tools and paused just a moment to adjust his spectacles beneath hushpuppy eyebrows, then turned his creation over to test its clockwork interior. A tap of his finger started the pendulum's swing. Gears caught and held, turning each other to rotate black hands upon a porcelain face. That was when he started counting, or at least heard the numbers calculating in the back of his mind; counting down from thirty seconds.
In the realm of the unconscious, time meant very little. Thus was the state of mind every sinking moment until the last possible second before the clock's first and final chime.
A flash, lightning he was sure, then all went black.
He woke in a jerk. Bed sheets gathered around his feet in a blend of nightgown and cover. Yet despite the bed's trauma, he felt nothing more than the steady beating of his own heart.
How uncanny. He held a hand overtop, not a beat out of place, and sighed. Like a clock. Yet a glance to the one next to his bed was enough to cause it to skip.
"Holy!" In an effort to untangle the sheets, he toppled over the edge with a loud thud. "Stupid!" Scrambling to fetch his clothes, he kicked the rumbled sheets aside. "You're a Keeper of Time and you can't even get up on time? Now that's uncanny!"
He was out the door in a matter of minutes, his mind tracking the seconds he had left to be at work. Once he set his thoughts, there was no turning off the constant numbers counting in his head. Like a clock himself, he needed no machine to calculate the minutes, hours, days or months. As he hurried down the path he had traveled so many times he could walk blindfolded, he glanced to the domed ceiling. As usual, the vortex of swirling Black Hole raged beyond the thick glass. It served as a constant reminder that there would always be work in the Time Factory, for as long as the Black Hole existed, so would they.
The first set of gears appeared off to the right. Already, Workers of Time scrambled to oil and tighten. Clanging and banging pipes opened and closed to occasionally let out steam from under rounded lids. The pipes stretched well above the rest of the Factory, though a few had to be stepped carefully around so not to get caught in a blast of hot smoke.
"Morning, Time Keeper!" a worker greeted. "Unusual for you to be running late."
"Six minutes, forty seconds, to be exact," was the reply. "Not bad, considering."
He cocked his head to listen to the metallic screech of steel and turning gears. Their tapping parts to turn each other could almost be described as a form of music.
Time Keeper nodded.
"See you at noon!" Then he moved on to the next, and the one after that. There were gears all around the Factory. Each set had a different sound he was accustomed to hearing. To check speed, he had only to hold a hand over his own heart, for the beats matched perfectly.
The last piece to check was located at the Factory's core. It was the very heart of its existence and the most important function to the Main Machine's operation. Even before he reached the chamber he could hear its steady swings. He counted down before opening the great door, for it needed to be shut by the next pass.
Time Keeper's body pressed against the wall when the air split with a thunderous crack. A gold pendulum swung past, and it was all the Keeper could do from being blown aside. He marveled its slender neck sloping down to the spherical tip. There, it curved into a needle; a dagger to most. One slice and a person was done for. Yet it was the needle he needed to check.
On either side of the chamber small pins had been placed, each with a narrow slit cut from the top. To make sure the pendulum swung correctly, Time Keeper had only to check whether the needle passed directly between the cuts. Speed was no problem; the rest of the Factory's gears had performed beautifully. Without the pendulum, the entire structure would be worthless.
With body still pressed against the wall to avoid the massive wave of air current, the Keeper slowly moved toward the first pin. At certain intervals along the wall were places he could grab to help hold him steady. The stories he had heard of past Time Keepers cut in half clogged his mind, but did little to slow his pace. He was nearly there.
A knock on the great door made him stop.
"A little busy right now!" Time Keeper called.
"I tried to reach you," the voice on the other side replied. "The Time Master had me check for you. It's fine! Meet me at the Machine."
"Oh, for the love of..." Time Keeper struggled to work against the air current. "You couldn't send a Worker? It's not like I have any other schedule!" He reached the door and waited until the pendulum had passed once more before darting outside.
He stood for a moment to recompose his thoughts. In truth, it was the moment he lived for. The thrill of something different in such a place gave him a high he could not achieve anywhere else. Certainly, the remainder of the day would be occupied by the Machine.
Until noon. A smile touched his pale lips, and he ran a hand through his thick frock of white hair before stepping away from the chamber's entrance. Once again, the silent countdown resumed in the back of his mind.
Time Keeper was well past his expected arrival upon entering the spacious room where his assistant anxiously waited. A cave-like interior appealed to the Keeper's solitary nature, though he enjoyed the occasional interruption for all the necessary items required for long-term survival. A few stalactites clung to the ceiling like protruding teeth ready to descend upon any unauthorized entries, and they could, if so desired, with the flip of a switch near the Main Machine's control panel.
"Millennium," Time Keeper greeted and dipped his head.
"Abouttime you decided to show." The assistant rapped his fingers along the polished surface of the Machine's countertop. "You know I'm not allowed to touch anything until you get in. Orders from the Time Master himself, or had you forgotten?"
Time Keeper smirked.
"If I truly wanted to be late, I just wouldn't show. How's that? Now," he grasped a lever and pulled it slowly toward him while tapping several round buttons with his other hand, "let's see where we stand with calculations, shall we?"
"You probably already know the answer."
"As a whole, it would probably be the same," Time Keeper replied, his eyes never leaving the display of multiple screens flicking on at the top of the Machine. "But Matter moves. The total amount wouldn't differ, give or take new life forms."
"Which happens every waking second," Millennium added. "Come on! You know it's way off by now."
"By whose calculations? Mine or the Machine's? You do realize I sleep, don't you? Measuring Atoms in any given location takes time. I have to think back to the last set."
"Last set of
thousands of numbers?" Millennium shook his head. "I've always wondered how you keep up with it all."
"Well, it all comes down to measuring Time, and you know me. Time is what I seem to gravitate to best. Let the Machine do the thinking while I clock the rest. Put it all together and," he smacked the last button to reveal the final results, "wa-la! The amount that measures Earth's Time Frame."
Millennium stared at the dozens of numbers spread across all six screens, panning well below the bottom margins.
"Earth couldn't even produce enough paper to print that!" Millennium exclaimed. "And anyways, atoms don't account to when something happens. You can't tell an Atom to stop growing."
"No, but you tell it to create something." The Keeper spread his fingers in emphasis. "The simplest task takes time. All you need is to find the source of History to make it. To measure Time is to compare durations of events with the motions of objects. We have to have something to grasp. In this, that motion is the Atom, to which the computer can comparatively count in accordance with remaining Time Frames of Earth's past History." He laughed. "Just think! Even the greatest scholars, philosophers, and scientists ever to exist could not sufficiently do what we have been able to."
Millennium tapped a screen, drawing Time Keeper's attention to a date flashing in the upper left hand corner. The year read twenty-one hundred. Pushing a small button on the side of the screen, another date appeared.
"But look how many years it took us," he replied. "Our first readings were back in the 1970's."
"Don't you mean my first readings?" Time Keeper grew quiet and sank into his chair. "There were many more before me." He gripped the ends of the chair's armrests while examining his assistant. "And why all the chat now about this?"
Millennium's face turned red.
you forgot." Time Keeper cracked a smile. "My best assistant yet! And he can't remember past yesterday!" He pointed to a desk by the sidewall. "You willremember to get my report ready by the end of today, won't you?"
"Don't I always?" The assistant hurried over and began scrambling through papers scattered throughout his workspace.
"You're good for keeping up with History," Time Keeper said. "Let me worry about keeping Time." His eye trailed the numbers scrolling up the screens while his fingers worked the multitude of chrome colored buttons layered upon the Control Panel in dizzying flashes of red and white light every time he pressed one.
After recording the final calculations in the number of Atoms replacing the last second of spontaneous shifting Matter, he clicked a small switch off to the side and watched while numbers were replaced with various scenes of human movement. Every second, the images shifted to a different scene. Though no sound accompanied, the flick of each picture seemed to create its own to match the simultaneous beat of his heart. In the back of his mind, a countdown clouded all other surrounding objects except his focus on the Machine. It was as if someone had placed a clock next to his head. There was no sound but the illusionary tick tock of counting thoughts.
It was an out-of-rhythm cough that drew Time Keeper's focus to his assistant. The young man stood erect with bowed head instead of sitting at his desk, and it only took a moment to scrutinize the situation before realizing why.
"Time Master!" He immediately stood and bowed before the person silhouetted in the entranceway.
"Your concentration is like this wall," the figure said and stepped into the room while running a hand over the cave like interior, "solid until broken." Where rock formation ended, gridded white walls began that enclosed the work room. He eyed the assistant before turning full attention to his Keeper. "So what broke that pattern this morning?"
Time Keeper could hear the seconds ticking by that he did not respond. To say he had been late due to a dream was absurd. Yet just as he was about to reply, the Time Master answered for him.
The assistant straightened. "Yes, sir?"
"A moment alone, please."
The Time Master's gaze never wavered from his Keeper. It was only when the two were alone amidst the beeps and blinking lights from the Machine's control panel that he spoke again.
"Time Keeper," he began.
"How long have you worked for me?"
"Since 1971, sir."
Time Keeper blinked, his mind a blur to count back the years, the days, hours and minutes. He converted and recounted until finally, after taking a deep breath, he replied, "One hundred twenty-nine years, one thousand five hundred forty-eight months, forty-seven thousand eighty-five days, one million one hundred thirty thousand and forty minutes, four trillion sixty-eight million one hundred forty-four thousand seconds, and counting!"
"And tell me," the Time Master added, "when was the last Haley's Comet?"
"Two thousand sixty-one."
"And when will it show again?"
"Thirty-six years from today."
"So I ask you again. What changed this morning?" A hint of force edged its way into the Time Master's tone. "You can calculate Time beyond the normal capabilities of anyone I've ever seen. Why today? Do you realize how dangerous is it for another to do your job? To ask Millennium to check the Control Room in place of you could have been disastrous! The last time we had to clean that room due to an accident, the entire Factory had to be shut down. Do you realize how much data we lost because of that? How much Time was wasted?"
Time Keeper lowered his gaze. "I...uh...heard about that."
Time Keeper raised his eyes to find the Time Master had somehow moved right in front of him. Before, the two had been standing several yards apart. Yet the sudden change in positions came at no surprise. He was not called Time Master for nothing. It had been that way ever since Time Keeper had started work in 1971 - at least that was as far as his memory went back. Beyond that date, he had no recollection of any other lifestyle, of any family members or friends. Everything he ever knew was centered around Time, though Time was not on his side today.
At last, the Time Master sighed and flicked his gaze to the miniature screens. Each had paused since his arrival. One caught and held his attention a brief moment before turning away.
"On second thought," he waved a hand, "don't answer that." He started for the entrance. "Probably needs tuning."
Time Keeper watched him go, his brow crinkled in confusion.
"As you were," came the command. Then he was gone, leaving his Keeper to return to work.
Yet work was not on Time Keeper's mind as much as the dream was. Though he was thankful to be alone, the empty office enticed his thoughts to once again flash through the dream sequence. He could clearly make out the hunched over craftsman at his worktable, the clock he repeatedly tampered with and multiple rows of shelving. He thought back to the first night it had occurred. The first time held very little detail to even scarcely remember. Yet as the nights wore on, the dream began to grow, until it not only included visible objects but bits of sound as well.
Time Keeper scanned the multitude of buttons randomly blinking across the control panel. That was how the dream always ended a blink of light. He pulled a lever to his left. A whirring that sounded like a miniature thunderstorm echoed around the room. He recalled the same from the dream, only he was quite certain the sound came from an actual storm. He reached for the lever again, the Machine at last ready where he had left off. His fingers barely touched.
A flash of light
He could hear the unmistakable ticking of the day's rhythm in the back of his mind. As Time Keeper rose from bed, he needed no clock to guess what time it was. He just knew.
He took his time dressing, timing his exact movements, even taking a moment to glance at his pale appearance from a hanging mirror. After passing a hand through his frock of white hair, he stepped outside and stole a glance to the clear domed ceiling. As usual, the vortex of swirling Black Hole raged beyond the thick glass. It served as a constant reminder that there would always be work in the Time Factory, for as long as the Black Hole existed, so would they.