"First, controlling time takes a great deal of mental energy. The more you use it, the more you will be capable of doing."
"I will prepare myself," Simon spoke confidently. He had, after all, won every legal case he had ever come across, even though John Dramery had likely played a hand in each of them.
"Second, although you can selectively advance the aging of a thing through acute time dilation, you cannot travel forward in time."
"Why is that?"
"There is a block. Something is preventing the future from happening. I know what that something is, but I will not be sharing that information with you."
"Then why bother mentioning it?"
"I had this same conversation with John many years ago. It's important information. That is all."
"Wait, what about the third rule?" Simon asked.
"Oh yes. If you carry yourself backwards in time, you will not be able to return to your own timeline. When John rescued himself from his own childhood, making you in the process, he did it knowing full well that his original life had ended. It was a new start, but the world he left carried on into… whatever the future had in store. I do not recommend doing that."
There was much to lose, Simon understood. If he traveled backwards in time, Sarah and Merrick would remain in this time frame in that dark warehouse. Also, Simon quickly discovered that Time was not bluffing when he talked about time control causing exhaustion. Tiredness, nausea, migraines, and, perhaps most dangerously, a general lack of concern about social interaction--all of these accompanied Simon's early exploration of his newfound power.
It was all he could do, in the beginning, to reverse a dull pencil back into being a sharp pencil. Later, he played with paper, folding it into complex shapes and then unfolding it with time magic, refolding it again with a surge of power.
It was then that he began to see the ripples. Undulating screens of energy flowed across objects that had been time-manipulated. What is that blurry film over everything? Simon was confused until he saw it on his pencil.
From then on, Simon only practiced time magic on objects that had already been manipulated--he was meticulous about leaving that wavy resonance on something that did not already have it for fear that John Dramery could discover his secret.
It wasn't hard to find things that he could play with--almost every building or structure in Somatis had that ripple of energy around it. The amount of mental energy that would have been used to do this had seemed limitless at the time. John built this city, Simon realized with a shudder, so why does he need me, a younger and more naïve version of himself?
He was determined to have an answer and a resolution. All he needed was the pocket watch where the Aspect of Time was trapped, and then Time would do the rest.
He plotted and planned, knowing full well that someone awaited him in a dark warehouse beneath one corner of the city, blood-shot eyes, screaming hoarsely to no one at all, clutching her stomach.
Three months later, Simon waited at the non-functional fountain where the town screamers had all departed moments before, frost at its highest point, signifying midnight. It dark as any other time of the day, though it seemed colder than possible. The tension of this, the final showdown, had been building like an additional layer of frost over Simon's wool coat. The end was quickly approaching.
He had mastered every trick that he had seen John use. He had even transformed a child into a monkey by reversing the evolutionary process--the history of species genetics was an abstract concept for his powers, but, he discovered, as long as the concept was related to time, he could usually achieve it. He had found himself exhausted from the effort, needing to keep the child-monkey in a cage for half of a day just to get up the energy to change the child back.
He was proficient enough now to have developed a trick of his own. In minutes, the world would change, bringing John face-to-face with Simon with no energy to fight further.
The Aspect of Time lingered in his ear. "Remember Simon. You need to retrieve that pocket watch. We cannot eliminate John as a threat until you hold that watch in your hand. As soon as you touch it, this will all be over. You will retain your ability to manipulate time as a parting gift."
It was then that Simon's explosions began. Spherical bursts of time reversal erupted in different intensities all across town. Buildings were reduced to the grass and trees that had once existed before industry had cleared them away. Cobblestone streets and lamp posts vanished as if someone had simply washed them out of a barely stained fabric. It twisted Simon's gut to do it this way, watching places he knew and loved reduced to nothing, but John had designed all of that for a purpose. Simon was the chaos to John's order.
Time bombs. Two time setups worked into one. The first step designated a particular area to reverse in localized history, the second step set a time for the first step to trigger. They were completely invisible to even the trained eye until Simon began to target buildings that had not been time manipulated, which were few and far between.
Simon knew that if John cared enough to build this town the way he saw fit, he would run around frantically fixing all the structures before finally meeting Simon, too exhausted to spar with what little energy he had left.
Simon was wrong.
When the only existing structure left of Somatis was the fountain on which Simon sat, John appeared. He was wearing that familiar black suit, complete with pocket watch, but his face was purple with rage.
"You damn child! What have you done?" he howled at Simon, walking murderously towards him.
"I could ask the same of you, old man! Why me?" Simon replied, preparing himself to freeze John in his place.
Too slow. John grabbed Simon's shirt by the collar and began quickly striking his face with his fist. Sending a spray of blood out of Simon's mouth, he hurled Simon to the frost covered pavement. John openly wept, an emotion Simon never thought he would see.
"I spent years preparing that town for you. I gave you a new destiny, Simon, I gave you a new lease on life. I made Somatis a place that could weather the coming storm, while you, churl, destroyed every beautiful thing I had in this world."
"What about the homeless then? Those people that you worked to be rid of, using me for so long."
"You don't know anything, Simon Randalph. Although, I guess since we're at this point you know your true name. My name. I will continue calling you Simon though, because I do not wish to be associated with fools," John Dramery spat.
John walked to Simon's side and placed his foot firmly on Simon's cheek. "I knew you would come to know Time's gift. I had every plan of giving it to you, in the hopes that a man who had been raised to be less power-hungry than myself would be able to use it gently. You wrecked my home, twisting the lives of thousands of citizens, obliterating our chances of survival!"
"I don't understand. What survival?"
"I don't have to answer that question. Neither you nor I have the capacity to fix the damage you've wreaked. You did this to ensure that I would not be able to fight you. I haven't had more than a sliver of energy ever since I travelled back in time to make you! I can't fix this!" John screamed, sobbing for a second before tensing his fists. "And now, I'm going to use what little I have left to finish you, just as I finished your bratty friends in that warehouse."
John lifted an arm and pointed a finger at Simon's chest, aiming at his heart. Suddenly, another time eruption engulfed them both, dragging them backwards through the motions they had just before, both fully aware of the switch. Now they were standing upright as they had been, moments before John began punching Simon.
Now Simon froze John from the shoulders down by creating a time rift at the base of John's neck where the spine began to branch off into other body parts, utterly preventing most nerve impulses from communicating with John's brain. Before John could collapse completely, Simon grabbed his shoulders and pivoted him so that that John sat on the fountain.
"John Dramery, before I turn you over to the Aspect of Time, I want you to clarify what your goals have been. Realize that I am more proficient in time manipulation than you--you made me like this, encouraging my victories--and if you are not cooperative, then I will use my abilities to make life uncomfortable for you. Is this clear?"
"You are a monster, Simon," John croaked, "but you have me where you want me. If you expend your remaining energy undoing some of the damage you have done to this city, then I will tell you some of what I know."
"I don't need to use up my energy on this. I already did that several weeks ago in preparation for today."
"What?" John asked, confusion and concern crawling through his rough voice.
A third burst of time eruptions began, creating rifts all across the icy forest that had once been town. In mere seconds, the ripples of energy ceased, leaving the city just as it had been before John had approached Simon.
"My faith is restored," John said, no longer holding back tears. John truly cared about Somatis, in spite of everything, but Simon would not forget what John had done to Sarah and Merrick no matter how much John cried.
"Did you really think I would destroy my own house just to have a confrontation with you?" Simon snorted. "I like where I live. I like my town. But I am through with being your puppet in this world. Tell me your secrets now, before I let Time deal with you."
"Very well," John stated, clearing his throat as best he could. "I returned to rescue you from my poor childhood because the world I had been living in was doomed. Know well, child. When the clouds begin to form west of Coburntown, you and everyone else in this world will have only twenty hours to carve out an existence before absolutely everything perishes."
"Can you give me a guess as to when this ending will start?" Simon asked.
"Probably less than a year," John replied.
Simon found that he was gripping the sleeves of his wool coat as if to brace himself against the end of the world. "How does it end?"
"I can't tell you for sure. When I made the decision to travel back in time, I did so while a brilliant red beam of fire sliced through our city. Buildings tumbled to the ground, and the people who were touched by it were simply incinerated. I could tell, instinctively, that as free of death as we have been, this is the end."
"Then why me? Why take yourself out of your own history, make yourself into a lawyer, raise yourself as if the younger version of you was your own son? That seems needlessly complicated."
"My experiences made me determined, strong, but not strong enough, not social enough to find a way to stop this tragedy. When I travelled back to my childhood, I found myself utterly depleted of energy- it took all that I had in me, for example, to work the magic you witnessed in the warehouse," John confessed.
"As soon as I'm finished with you, I will go fix that," Simon sharply remarked.
"No need," John said waving him off. "I reverted them back to their ordinary forms less than an hour after I showed you my capabilities. I gave you people that you needed to protect to bring you to this point, a mastery over Time power and the decency of a pure heart to go with it. I just wasn't expecting you to shock me like--"
"--then where are they now? Why haven't I seen them?" Simon angrily interrupted.
John closed his eyes momentarily. When he opened them again, he seemed apologetic. "Simon, do you know what happens to someone who dies in this world?"
"They just keep living."
"Right, though it takes a toll on their minds. The homeless people were just red herrings to confuse you as to my intent while I gave you a goal to develop time control abilities. I had transformed them into monkeys, and they did not die in the process, and so they moved comfortably into the empty houses I had designed for them." Simon recalled the lightless streets on that night when Sarah drove him, in a wheelbarrow, to talk about John Dramery, the arbiter, with Merrick.
"What about Merrick and Sarah?" Simon asked in a hushed tone.
"They died, Simon. They died many times in rapid succession. I made a terrible mistake in dealing with them," John sighed. "I tampered with things that caused them incredible pain. For that alone, I deserve whatever fate the Aspect of Time wishes to put upon me."
"What happened to them?!" Simon hissed.
"We kept them in the basement of our office for a few weeks. They would often face the cement wall in the dark of the basement, standing upright for hours, grinning at nothing at all. Always the same cement wall, always the same facial expression. They never spoke, never ate. They often slept together, with their eyes fully open in the dark. One day they vanished, leaving only this note behind. Your name is on the envelope, Simon, so I didn't bother to take a look." John gestured with his head downwards to one of his suit pockets. "Grab it when you reach for my pocket watch. You will not see them again- they were beyond repair. Simon, I'm so sorry."
"You're right. You deserve what you will be given. Are you ready then, John Dramery?" Simon asked through a grimace.
"Almost. Listen, Simon. No matter what your friends meant to you, do not allow yourself to forget what I told you. You must seek out the man named Schism. Tell him about the twenty hour countdown. He will be one of the first ones to see those storm clouds west of Coburntown. He needs to know so that he can prepare the one who will save us all. Don't forget!"
Reaching into John's coat, Simon grabbed the letter with his name on it and the pocket watch. He flicked open the cover of the watch and Time spoke.
"Smash the watch against the ground to release me, so that I may deal with this man." For a moment, Simon almost let John go, ignoring the Aspect of Time. He overcame his hesitation, grinding the pocket watch against the cobblestone with his heel.
A wisp of motion flicked across Simon's vision. Suddenly, the world just a foot away from Simon looked considerably different. John was now lying, still paralyzed, in a pile of ashen dirt under a red sky, barren wasteland stretching out as far as the eye could see. There was light there, but it was fire. Fire ringing the horizon, just as it had--Simon could barely remember--when the world had ended. In the distance, towards where Mt. Aramis would have been were it not leveled enveloped in a cloud of swirling dust, an enormous bloodshot eye watched from the clouds. Flicking back and forth, looking for something.
Just as it noticed John and Simon, the gate closed, leaving Simon fully standing in Somatis next to the fountain, in the cold dark once more. Simon knew in his gut that he had just witnessed the "block" that the Aspect of Time had mentioned, preventing a man from travelling into the future. The future's end. One year off. Simon shuddered.
He decided to open the letter from Sarah and Merrick- maybe he could find some clue about their whereabouts, try reversing the flow of time within their heads so that they could find sanity once more.
But when he read those six words, he truly felt like his friends were gone forever; lost in deathlessness.
Find us in the silent city.