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David Bruce Bozarth

At one end of time the Beginning shines, vigorous, bright, and promising. At the other is a Gate, leading to darkness, a void of impossible terminations. Mechanics travel the Time Line, shoring shattered dreams and lost campaigns; erasing and inserting as needed to keep Time flowing from Beginning to End.

Raol's Now moves ever closer to the End, a chaos of disintegration. It is a time when Mechanics flit like shadows on an October night, drifting between reality and unreality, their immense efforts to avoid a premature ending seemingly pre-ordained to fail; for the Now is a saturnalia of personal greed, a bedlam of dark unbounded by common sense.

Raol, chronologically ancient, yet biologically young because the Gates preserve the Mechanic in transit, was an experienced hand at Time manipulation. Though each timing project created new problems, on the whole a Mechanic's intervention might actually help the race to survive to the end of time.

A hunter fires at a small animal and frowns, was it really there?

A small child finds a pet, which later saves her life.

A boy is born, to become a king.

An empire fails because the hunter starved.

As with others of his kind Raol once maintained several families along the Time line, islands of restorative peace which recharged his dedication, in spite of having been to the End of Time to gaze through the Gate of Nothingness -- to run from it as he never ran from anything in his life.

His children were grown in the Early Time, off-world settlers who perished on alien soil, their mother dead of a cancerous disease. His family of Mid Time was violently separated by a war Time Central helplessly sought to defuse, and two years of searching ended in sorrowful despair. His family in Pre-Now, Mirrihem, Jas, and Ty, patiently waited between increasingly infrequent returns. Mirrihem was a wonder, able to still small gossip from relations and strangers with the proper amount of secrecy when asked... "Raol travels a lot," she would say.

Whenever he returned, weary and haggard, distressed by the Now he so truly despised, Mirrihem never asked what Raol did or where he traveled, or why she and the boys spent so much time alone. She accepted his love, understanding in her quiet way that his work was important and he never loved them any less than they adored him.

* * * * * * * *

The morning sun warmed the kitchen. Raol pushed away from the table, replete from a lovingly made breakfast, a quiet time he came to yearn greatly as the Now marched toward the End. Forty years remained before the chill Nothingness, a dark haunting which overlaid the cozy room filled with lingering aromas of food and household. Raol turned his head, gazing upon the vista of blue lake and green trees outside the window.

Jas and Ty mock fought in the grass, laughing, too gawky with youth for grace, too boisterous to be less than enthusiastic. Mirrihem aired the laundry, a trim, sun-brown figure, plain in dress and feature, yet more beautiful than any princess from uncounted empires vanished in time.

He lowered his head, gripping the edge of the table. Why should he miss what little happiness he ever hoped to have? Two families already gone, this third threatened more certainly than the others. What did he owe faceless billions? If he traveled again his sons would be young men when he returned. Mirrihem of the sweet smile and gentle understanding would be less limber, more sedate. He would miss that transition and this anticipated regret gnawed feverishly.

Mirrihem entered the house, arms loaded with sun-ripened clothing, her smile brighter than the sun, filling Raol with peace. Taking the clothes from her he said, "Pack a lunch. We'll go to the island, just the three of us. Then we'll do it again tomorrow -- for as many tomorrows as we shall have together."

Mirrihem's eyes brimmed with moisture. "You're not leaving?" she asked the question never asked because something in her husband's voice trembled her heart with gladness.

"Never again, my love," he said gently, hugging her with great affection.

The woman, brown hair and brown skin, expressed her joy with laughter. "Jas will be so glad!"

Raol smiled, pleased his decision met with such approval, yet perplexed by something he could not quite distinguish. He shrugged the feeling away as he watched Mirrihem run outside to call their son.

He left the kitchen to change his clothes. In the bedroom, next to his collection of artifacts gathered from centuries past, was a statue. He would "loose" this first because it was his only connection with Central.

A familiar tingle caressed the man's skin and the statue glowed rutilant in the morning light. A great despair descended on Raol. If Mirrihem entered the bedroom now, she would see or hear nothing; the force field which protected traveling Mechanics also veiled them in secrecy.

Poltin stepped through the Gate unannounced, as was his privilege as Raol's superior. "Something terrible is happening," the man said without preamble. "Do you feel it?"

Raol tilted his head, as if listening, then made a negative gesture. "Why are you here?"

"Are you sure, Raol? Is Mirrihem alright? How is Jas and Ty?"

"Ty?" the Mechanic frowned. "You've been timing too much, Poltin. I'm not coming back."

"Don't you understand, Raol? You have two sons and a wife. Don't you remember?"

"There's only Mirrihem and Jas. Go away. I'm done. We die in forty years and I will spend them with my family."

"This is serious, Raol!" Poltin cried. "You cannot turn away! Look! You had a shard of Neolithic pottery," the man's finger stabbed at Raol's collection. "It was very ancient. Where is it now?"

"I never had a pottery shard." Raol frowned, perplexed by an almost memory of a boy and a delicately worked fragment of baked clay.

Poltin faded before his eyes, then the house faded. Mirrihem's laughter echoed hauntingly a brief instant before it vanished.

The Mechanics, who tampered with and were rooted in various Times, were first to sense changes and the last to linger when it Changed.