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Eighty-three light-minutes from Saturn, a construct far smaller than Janus but still impressive orbited the planet Earth. The dark blue hull of Argus Station took the form of a fat cylinder, and over nine million officers of the Consolidated System Police worked on or from there, including the heads of the six specialized divisions that supplemented the rank and file.

Gordian Division was the newest addition, having been formed less than eight months ago after a calamity known as the Gordian Knot had almost destroyed sixteen universes, including the one the citizens of SysGov called home. The division, charged with enforcing time travel and transdimensional laws, might have been small compared to the more established elements of SysPol, but the monumental challenges before them—and a clear understanding of the countermeasures those challenges required—had led to the division’s rapid growth.

Several levels near Argus Station’s south pole had been allocated to the Gordian Division, having stood empty for several decades, and much of the space had already been filled with offices, labs, engineering bays, and hangars for time machines called TTVs or transtemporal vehicles. This influx of personnel brought with it the side effect of attracting clusters of civilian businesses eager to support the new division—

—and make a little Esteem in the process.

LifeBeam was one such business, and a newly constructed transceiver tower descended from Argus Station’s south pole for the exclusive use of Gordian Division abstract and synthetic personnel. The company had constructed an expansive waiting lounge at the tower’s base, far larger than was required for current traffic levels, but perhaps this was an investment in what many saw as Gordian Division’s inevitable rise in the future.

Two men sat on a couch near the outer wall with a virtual image displaying the blue globe of Earth beneath their feet. These two men, the chief scientist and lead engineer of Gordian Division, were the only occupants of the lounge, and both were oblivious to the crime that was about to happen.

“Time.” Doctor Andover-Chen said the single word with a grand gesture of his arms as faint mathematical equations danced under the glassy skin of his synthoid body.

Joachim Delacroix looked over with a perplexed face. His own synthoid was externally accurate to his original human body, complete with freckled face and unruly reddish-blond hair. Both men wore the gray-green uniforms of Gordian Division with golden eye and sword flashes at the shoulder.

“What about it?” Delacroix asked finally, not sure what to expect from the eccentric scientist.

“Where does the arrow of time come from? What force drives it forward?”

“Are you asking me?”

“It’s more a question to myself, but if you’d like to take a stab at it, I wouldn’t mind.”

“What brought this on?” Delacroix dodged.

“I find myself with time to think,” Andover-Chen explained. “And so I wonder, why do I have time to think?”

“Are you really that bored?” Delacroix checked a timer in his virtual vision. “We’ve only been here twelve minutes.”

“Twelve minutes. And what are those, really? Why does the universe even need time? Why not exist simply as a collection of spatial dimensions?”

“I don’t know, but it’d be pretty boring without it.”

“Or perhaps two dimensions of time?” Andover-Chen mused. “Why can’t time be structurally like a sheet instead of a line? And why only one direction?”

“Sorry, but you’re outside my specialty. I just do impellers.”

“And that’s exactly my point.”

“It is?” Delacroix raised an eyebrow, not sure where his colleague was going with this.

“Why, yes.” The scientist turned to him. “We travel through time. We bend the chronotons around us to our will. But do we really understand the fundamental nature of time?”

“Well, if you don’t, then none of us do.”

“And so”—Andover-Chen spread his arms once more—“I find myself wondering about time.”

“I think I have a pretty good grasp on what twelve minutes is.”

“As do I.” Andover-Chen’s expression turned sour, and he crossed his arms and leaned back on the couch. “Are they ready for us yet?”

“I think they’re still waiting for the last transit confirmation.”

“I wish they wouldn’t call us in here until they’re ready. If there’s one thing about time I’m sure about, it’s that I loathe wasting it.”

“That makes two of us,” Delacroix agreed.

“By the way”—Andover-Chen knuckled him in the shoulder—“is it just me, or have you been in a better mood lately?”

“You think so?” Delacroix asked.

“Yes. I started noticing it after we returned from Saturn the last time.”

“Oh.” He thought on this for a moment. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Any particular reason?”

Delacroix hesitated.

“Sorry,” Andover-Chen said. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, it’s all right.” He sighed. “I’ve just had a lot on my mind recently. Been going around feeling like my head isn’t screwed on straight, you know?”

“Oh, I know how that can be sometimes.” Andover-Chen flashed an encouraging smile.

“I guess it’s just…” Delacroix hesitated again, then nodded. “It’s just that I’ve experienced a lot of trouble coming to terms with Selene’s death.”

“Of course, you have. That’s only natural.” The scientist nodded knowingly. “Ah, Selene. I wish I’d known her better. She must have been a remarkable woman, given what you’ve told me.”

“She was,” Delacroix agreed. “Better than I deserved. And as painful as it’s been waking up without her every morning, I think I’m finally coming to terms with life without her.”

“Good for you.” Andover-Chen clapped him on the shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“I’m not done healing. Not by a long shot. But I do feel like I’ve made the first significant step forward in months. In a way, this is the first time I’ve felt even close to normal since she was killed.”

“Well, you look the part, take it from me.”

“Thanks.” Delacroix gave him a half smile. “You want to know the trick I came up with?”

“Sure. Let’s hear it.”

“I asked myself if Selene would be proud of the way I’ve been acting recently, and the answer was no.”

“That seems rather harsh.”

“But it’s the truth. I’ve been yearning for something I can’t ever have again.” Delacroix shook his head. “And that’s no way to live. I have to heal, and the only way to do that is to first accept my new reality.”

“Too true.” Andover-Chen sighed. “Still, the healing process is a long one.”

“But I’m confident that time”—Delacroix’s eyes twinkled with mischief—“will heal my wounds.”

Andover-Chen laughed.

A three-note chime played across their virtual hearing.

“Will Doctor Andover-Chen and Chief Engineer Delacroix please head to Outbound Transmission? The last of your relay confirmations just came in.”

“It’s time to go.” Delacroix stood up.

“And so it is.”

The two men headed through the open arch marked OUTBOUND where LifeBeam technicians guided each of them into separate caskets. Delacroix clicked through the virtual prompts to authorize the suspension and transmission of his connectome, then eased down flat and closed his eyes. The top sealed him in, and he willingly placed his connectome into a paused state.

The casket’s infostructure interfaced with his synthetic body, extracted the connectome, and moved it to a data buffer awaiting outbound transmission along with Andover-Chen’s. A crane retrieved their caskets, now with dataless synthoids, and stored them in a secure holding area for when the two would eventually transmit back to Argus Station.

The outbound transmission laser locked onto a target reception dish on a LifeBeam relay station two light-seconds away. Both sides had confirmed the transmission timing and coordinates. A clock ticked down to zero, and a precision laser fired the two connectomes to the relay station.

The two Gordian connectomes passed through eight more relay stations before arriving at Kronos Station, the SysPol headquarters orbiting Saturn. There, the same process played out between the LifeBeam tower on Kronos and the one rising above Ballast Heights.

Both sides confirmed the timing and coordinates, a timer reached zero, and a final laser fired the photons of Andover-Chen and Joachim Delacroix down to the Janus megastructure.

But an unexpected maintenance routine activated in the reception dish, forcing a shutdown of the primary infostructure as well as the two secondary support infostructures. Backup systems detected the fault within nanoseconds and immediately initiated recovery procedures, but the shutdown process refused all commands to abort.

With all three systems in control of the dish unresponsive to external commands, backup systems initiated an emergency purge of the infostructure and restored all code to default. This process would take three whole seconds, after which the dish would be restarted and normal operations could resume.

But it was already too late.

Andover-Chen and Delacroix arrived less than a second after the dish shut down, and the photons of their minds rebounded off the inert collection dish and scattered into the clouds of Saturn.

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