Tenk had not been seen in city hall since the Writer revealed that, in the future, Tenk would carry a cloud angel across town to be placed inside a time machine as a power source. He had not been seen much of anywhere at all, unless you made a habit of keeping your eyes at roof level. Tenk went about his work, his real work, winding and adjusting the clocks, and listened to the voices in his head. In times of trouble, it was old Johan’s voice he heard, back when he was just Johan, who taught him geometry in his lonely cell late at night. “Damn you, Tenk! Think! Don’t just do! I’m trying to save you!” It was the only time Tenk had ever heard him raise his voice. Knowing wasn’t enough, you had to think, you had to prove, before you could know… such strange notions, but the game was so delightful he came back every night to play again.
But another voice was gaining ground now. He thought of Pocket, there in his dream with the fox-boy, Pocket looking older than he had ever seen him. “It’s us or them, Tenk! Us or them!”
Us or them… Tenk looked at the profile of a dead Emperor in one of the heavy old coins he saved to put on the tower pendulums as the temperature dropped. Tenk never saw the famed lights of Illuminopolis, they were already flickering by the time he got there. Pocket had no memory of the hunters that had finally learned to outwit the fey with their own tricks. He must have slept through those years. His clothing was over a century out of date when he first came to Babbage. How old was he? Tenk whistled the refrain of the Hunter’s Song loudly as he went from place to place. If anyone was hiding here without his knowledge, that would send them running.
Work calmed him. Work was good. He watched a pair of Brothers, one in scarlet finery, the other in furs and mask, walk slowly through the snow in an ancient theatre. There was no time for thinking. There was work to do. Forms he could not deny. Contracts that had been made long before his own birth. The Advent had started. In less than three weeks, last year’s Yule charms would fail.
Us or them… If they were really building a singularity machine, they were going to have to need to put something in the bottle chamber. If those monsters peeking through the holes in the ground were really going to swallow the city, they were going to take everything with them. Even Mr. Loosestrife would not escape.
Tenk took a kitchen clock and set it on the mantle in the house he had built for Mr. Loosestrife. He saw Pocket’s shadow moving in the flames, watching him. Mr. Loosestrife was unresponsive in his room, still and stiff as a corpse in his chair. There would be no talking to him on this side. He wound the alarm on the kitchen clock to ring in half an hour, as a precaution. Then he went across the street to his little rooftop apartment and prepared to meet Mr. Loosestrife on his own ground.
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