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Aberrant: The Infinity Hour - [ItB:The Infinity Hour] - Thomas Froit


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In a studio apartment in Pasadena, the sunlight played on the wall. Morning rays lit on a brass globe, borne by a brass Atlas who knelt, bent under the weight, on a dark wooden base. Fastened to the base was a clock framed in wood and brass. The time was 6:59. Light glinted from the top of the globe as the minute hand ticked to the 12. A popping sound and a hiss, and Atlas began to stand, raising the globe more fully into the light. The hiss became a piercing whistle as Atlas achieved his full height, and as he raised the brass globe, sunlight reflected off of Asia into the face of Thomas Froit.

Thomas waved a hand in front of his nose for a moment, his face scrunching up in irritation. Finally he glared, through one slitted eye, at the sun, and sat up in bed. Hair stood out in crazy directions on his head, and he scratched at the mutton chops on his jawline as he yawned mightily. Suddenly, he opened his eyes wide with a huge exhalation.


He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and hopped off. It was higher than a normal bed, but Thomas had needed the extra height to get the angle of the sun correct. Besides, it was very cool, a crazy looking contraption of brass pipes and dark wood. Thomas reached behind the pillow and felt for the clips protruding from the headboard. He grabbed them and pulled out four thin wires attached to the clips. Swiftly, he found the corners of his sheet and his blanket and attached a clip to each. Then, he went to the foot of the bed and grasped a handle attached to a wheel. Slowly, then with gaining speed, he cranked the wheel. First the sheet, and then the blanket stretched themselves up towards the top of the bed. Thomas moved a step to his left and grasped a second handle on a second wheel. He cranked this wheel, and the sheet and then the blanket stretched out towards the side, and indeed over the edge of the bed. As Thomas watched, the sheet and blanket grew taut, and the bed made itself.

Thomas briskly rubbed his hands together. Quickly, he pulled on his jeans and shirt, and went to the kitchen. Noting quickly that he still had the same amount of food and bev in the refrigerator and pantry as the night before, he made the instant decision to eat at Beckstein's instead. He whirled, and shoved his feet into leather work boots, and threw on a dusty leather trench coat. He slung a bag over his shoulder, peeking in to make sure he hadn't forgotten the charger. He pushed the eject button on an anachronistic desktop, and grabbed the disc that emerged. He slipped it into a paper sleeve, then kissed the sleeve. Chuckling, he stowed the disc in his bag.

He glanced around his apartment, patting at his various pockets. He lunged for his dresser, and grabbed a most unlikely looking watch, which he slapped onto his wrist, where it decided to stay. He frowned, and looked around the room. Finally, he went to his pillow and felt under it again. He smiled.

Thomas pulled his goggles out from under the pillow, and headed for the door.

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Beckstein's was a classic, clean, family-owned diner three blocks down the street. It was a habit of Thomas' to visit there most times he ate out- they served breakfast, lunch and dinner. If there were any stares from passerby as he crossed that distance to reach Beckstein's, there would have been inherently far less than one month ago. The Galatea Effect had created things more out of the norm than a steampunk diehard fan's fashion choices.

Dannie was his server today, a sweet blond haired girl he'd known since he started going to Beckstein's years ago. She was a drama student at another college, and easily used to his quirks and interests. Thomas had even gone out with her, though they decided to stop after the third date.

"Your usual, Thomas?" Dannie asked with a smile when he sat down. "Yeah," the man agreed brightly, seeming to buzz with optimism, "two eggs, over-easy and corned beef hash." Dannie nodded, writing it down. "You know, sometimes I expect you to talk all formal and old-fashioned, I mean, with your getup and all."

"Eh," Thomas grinned back at her, "I save that for the fellow steampunk fans, usually." She chuckled. "Limits to your public display of steampunk enthusiasm? I've seen your apartment!" Thomas' grin grew wider at the mention, though strictly speaking, it was a visit and no carnal activity in the slightest occurred.

"Dannie, I am a half-mad scientist, and more importantly, an artist. It's my prerogative to be obsessive about my interests." Indeed, much of the gadgetry, the Atlas clock, the bed's modifications, were his own creation and work. Even the desktop and other modern technology in his had been modified, plated with brass and iron. Those he had not personally made were bought from other steampunk artists of clear skill.

"Oh, snap. You got me there." She admitted. "I'll put in your order."

Thomas sat back as she walked off, chuckling with quiet mirth. After breakfast, he planned to have a creative mind-focusing walk, and later that day he had to meet John over some proposed brainstorms for the initial company content they'd planned. On the disc were brief animated clips of some sample ideas they'd worked over as options.

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Breakfast was excellent, his banter with Dannie moreso, and Thomas left Beckstein's a new man, on his way to his friend and business partner's house in the hills. John Morgan was a fellow Neo-Victorian enthusiast and programmer, and Thomas's only close friend from college. Even better, from a business point of view, though John had a bit of money, he knew how to get a lot of money for the right start up company. Which made their current project the fabled golden ring.

When he got to John's house, and parked in the circular driveway, he realized at once that John wasn't home. His car was gone, and the house had a dark, unoccupied feel to it. He banged the knocker anyway, a masterpiece of Steam engineering wrought from iron and hanging from a chain. As expected, there was no answer. He tried the door- locked. Thomas shrugged. He knew where the spare key was, but decided to camp on the doorstep while he waited instead. It was sufficiently unusual for John to be late for anything that Thomas was convinced that he had just stepped out for a moment. He unwrapped John's newspaper and read for awhile.

Interesting stuff. President Clinton had brought a Novus into the Secret Service. Negotiations with China had broken down, again. Some disaster in New Zealand. Cost of gas rising by a nickel. He opened the paper, and folded it back upon itself, and saw the Federal Express truck pull into the drive. The woman driving hopped down from the cab and waved, a shoebox sized package under her other arm. Thomas waved back.

"John Morgan?" she asked.

Thomas shook his head. "Nope. But this is his house, and I'm waiting for him. I'll sign for it."

She looked thoughtful, then nodded.

"Ok, then. Right here on the 'X'"

Thomas dutifully signed where she pointed, and took the package when it was offered.

"And, here you go." She clipped the pen back to the board, and started to turn.

"Nice goggles!"

Thomas grinned, and she tipped him a wink, waved.

"Have a good one!" She swung back up into the truck and backed out of the drive.

Thomas, still smiling, considered the package.

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Thomas waited, wondering what was inside, and daydreaming about clockwork contraptions briefly. John still wasn't home. And it itched at Thomas. He could not simply stand or sit around and wait for John. Hopefully nothing bad had happened, had it? He decided to give it ten more minutes before calling John's cell, but in the meantime, he picked up his friend's package, dug out the spare key, and went inside.

Having dropped off the package in the kitchen table, Thomas ducked into the garage and poked around. Amid the clutter was a thin sheet of gold and a burin chisel. He smiled and picked up those, heading back out through the front door, and closed it. The key was returned to its place, and he began engraving concentric circles of gears.

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Ten minutes passed quickly with the work, and Thomas was pleased with the intricate gears he was engraving. However, something about the light reflecting off of the gold sheet was hurting his eyes, and he decided to go ahead and call John's cell. He stood and brushed curls of gold off of his jeans. He turned and opened the still-unlocked door and went back inside. John might carry a cell phone, but Thomas was not quite that up to the minute. He dropped the chisel and engraved gold sheet on the dining room table, and went in search of John's wireless phone.

Not in the kitchen, not on the couch. Not on a side table, nor on the glass bar. Finally, Thomas pushed the button on the cradle and listened for the handset to ring.

Brrrrrrt. Brrrrrt.

Thomas followed the sound to the garage. On a worktable, near John's computer, he found it. He went to grab it, jostling the mouse with his hand. The computer screen flashed to life. Thomas glanced at the screen, not out of any curiosity, but just the movement catching his eye, and in one of those quirks of life saw his own name. Now, some researchers suggest that a person can instantly find their own name in a block of text because the subconscious mind reads the entire document and points out important information to the conscious mind. If this is true, it certainly explains Thomas's sense of foreboding as he leaned down to get a clearer look. The irritating glare had started a headache, but as Thomas looked a bit closer at the screen, the illumination of the LCD screen sent a bolt of pain through his head. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.

When he opened them, the pain in his head had receded to a dull ache, and his vision cleared a bit. He caught sight of the screen again, and was about to turn away in search of some ibuprofin when words leaped off of the screen at him:

...unfortunate to hear that your partner, Thomas Froit, is not interested...

Thomas grabbed the mouse, and scrolled to the top of the page. It was an email from a suit at Ubisoft. He scanned the email quickly, his heart beating in his chest and with sudden nausea.

...pleased to offer you the Lead Programmer position...

...designs for upcoming Myst III development are spectacular...

...your partner, Thomas Froit, is not interested in a position...

...purchase of your designs...

...Agreement and software FedExed overnight...

Thomas stood, shaking his head in bewilderment. The movement renewed his headache. John was screwing him. His best friend was screwing him over. He could hardly believe it, but there seemed to be no doubt.

Outside, Thomas heard a car pull into the driveway.

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Thomas' head ached, both from the sense of betrayal he realized had been hammered onto him, and the anger and inflamed head pain would not let up. And hearing John's car arrive, Thomas gritted his teeth and prepared to storm back out and confront the son of a bitch- he'd rarely even thought in expletives.

But then, a true form of revenge glimmered into his head, and then the weight- like a pulsing mountain- still bore down but did not hamper the haste of what Thomas did. In frightful speed, Thomas clicked reply to the email, and rapidly wrote up his counterattack, then pressed SEND.

To whom it may concern:

My partner John Morgan informed you that I was uninterested in a position with Ubisoft on the development of Myst III. That is patently false, as I have been unaware that any business, contract, discussion, etc. was taking place with your company. In addition, as the artistic creator of the designs you have agreed to purchase, I own the copyright to the majority, if not all of the collective work in question. Any agreement that has been made without my foreknowledge and consent is thus invalid and constitutes copyright infringement.

Furthermore, I categorically deny permission to use my material in any manner, paid for or otherwise. Should you do so anyway, expect to face my attorney in court. If you have any questions or comments you wish to make, you may e-mail me at tfroit@comcast.net.


Thomas Froit

With a groan, Thomas stumbled off into the kitchen, to pilfer John's ibuprofin before he walked out. He could hear the door opening.

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"Tommy?" John Morgan looked cautiously around the door until he caught sight of Thomas. "Tommy Boy!"

They had watched the Chris Farley/David Spade movie a dozen times together, and Thomas was quite used to John's nickname. It occasionally irked, but it had never grated. Thomas smiled, but his eyes were cold.

"Hey, buddy! Sorry I'm late, I got donuts!" He produced a pink and white box, and went to set it on the table. He spied the FedEx box.

"Sonofabiscuit!" he dropped the donuts on the table and snatched up the package. He turned and laughed, shaking his head. "I went all the way to MLK, to the FedEx office, cause they said I had to pick this up!" He laughed again, then tossed it on to the table again. "This is why I am late."

"What is it?" Thomas' voice sounded strange to him, but John didn't seem to notice. He answered quickly, like he had expected to be asked and rehearsed his answer.

"Oh, just a gear assembly for the bike I'm building." He was indeed building a bike. Thomas had seen it many times, watched him work on it. Helped him work on the bike. But John was searching his face, and it sounded like bullshit.

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It was a long moment, at least in Thomas' head. The ibuprofin had better kick in soon. Outwardly, he just shrugged and muttered, "'kay." in that strange voice, and simply gravitated over to the doughnuts, opening the box and picking what he guessed to be a jelly-filled doughnut. John smiled, buying that as his subterfuge had worked, though he picked up the package and moved it into the garage - just for safe measure, Thomas suspected.

But while he was alone, Thomas simply peered at the jelly-filled doughnut, and then squeezed. The red filling came out and oozed over his fingers, messy to say the least. It fit the situation. And John? The man wanted to take the easy route, Thomas realized with sudden intuition. The pieces had been there before in little ways.

Money was a strong lure, and John had made suggestions about building up a rep with other companies first. But Thomas had stuck to his creative guns, and John had apparently dropped those. Now Thomas realized, his so-called friend had become more subtle during that period knowing Thomas would not support him.

It wasn't something Thomas wanted to belabor and argue about, he'd already done his main salvo to stop John secretly. But one last bit had to be taken care of, no lies here. Thomas dumped his spoiled jelly doughnut in the trash and washed off his hand. As John started to come back in, Thomas grabbed the box of doughnuts and marched to the door.

John's confused protest, Thomas didn't really hear the words of. He just turned and opened the door, and stared straight at John. "Taking my royalties from the agreement." John stiffened, and Thomas added, "I already knew what was in that package. Enjoy Montreal... you bastard." Then he left, door slamming behind him. Outside, Thomas looked down as he walked, yanking his goggles over his eyes- tears were not something he wanted to show.

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While he walked, he went over every conversation he had had with John in the last few months. He slammed his fist against his thigh. What a bastard.

But, as he hit his stride, his footsteps making a steady tik-tok, tik-tok on the pavement, his thoughts turned towards the designs in his bag. The big ones, the best of anything he'd shown John, easily. All week, he'd been working on it, and it was far and away the coolest stuff he had done. Extremely detailed, Thomas had calculated all of it himself. He was proud as hell of it, and he thought if there were any way to build it, it would work almost exactly the way it would in the game. That sure would be something.

His head still hurt, but the pain seemed to clarify his thinking, and suddenly he thought he understood how it would be done. He did not know it, but a thin wisp of blue fog streamed from the corners of his eyes, gaseous tears that leaked from the edges of his goggles and trailed behind him. He was intent, however, on how he could blueprint such a complicated design. Wait, that was backwards, he'd already done the blueprint. A three dimensional blueprint, at that.

He could start over, without John. He was sure of it. He could re-invent the game around the designs in his backpack, even if Ubisoft tied his other ones up in court, and it would be far superior to what he had originally come up with. It would be a lot of work, but Thomas was confident he could do it quickly, he was bursting with ideas. But, right now, he was working on an engineering problem.

By the time he reached his studio, he thought he knew how it could be done. He popped the cd into the drive of his workstation, and turned on some music. His goggles now dangling from the post of his chair, his eyes leaked several blue tendrils. Thomas was oblivious to them.

He jumped from his chair, ignoring both his splitting headache that John's dollar store ibuprofen couldn't touch, and his sudden nausea. He went to his rack of materials. Brass tubing, copper kettles, sheets of gold, were all sorted into racks. Underneath, he kept a bin with hundreds of turn of the century doo-dads and whatsits. He looked it all over, and then turned and surveyed his apartment.

His eyes lit on his custom bed, his Atlas clock, his dining table, even his computer. I can use all of this, he realized. Viscous streams of blue light trailed from his eyes, and he reached for his tools.

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Thomas opened his eyes groggily, the fading lights of the sun on his face. Ironically, he was in the best place to observe it, strung out over the window sill like a junkie blitzed out of his mind and with an insane hangover from imbibing a sea of booze. Not that he was the kind to indulge in such things.

He collapsed to the floor, taking in the metallic brass bracer on his arm, inner ring covered in leather according to the tactile senses. Odd. It reminded him of his watch... which was missing to say the least.

His room had practically self-destructed. The Atlas clock was torn down and missing, the bed was little more than a mattress and pillows for intents and purposes and a child could play blocks with the remnants of his table.

Outside he heard a strange clockwork buzzing. Arising with difficulty, he saw a clockwork plane soaring around a steam-powered pendulum system. What had he gotten up to?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Lincoln hung up the phone and cursed softly. He sat in a rented minivan, watching the diner across the street. Susilo reclined in the passenger seat, asleep. Five days. August was understandably pissed, and Lincoln was deeply unhappy himself. Five days it had taken them to track down this Froit fellow. They had gotten very comfortable in their ability to be on the spot at the time of becoming, but Froit was a wake up call. Hell, Stonecalf had taken almost nine hours, and that was unacceptable. Lincoln just didn't know what to even call a five day delay. August had even questioned whether it was possible to salvage the situation, and Lincoln didn't blame him one bit.

They had gone to the area, just like they usually did, but nothing had seemed out of the ordinary. Usually, the Novus was obvious, and had created a ruckus that was inescapable. With this guy... nothing. So they waited. And waited. Finally, Lincoln had given up and rented a hotel room. Susilo, of course, was impassive. The Indonesian probably even now barely understood that anything was wrong.

From what Lincoln had been able to piece together, right about the time he had given up, Froit had emerged from his apartment. Of course, they hadn't known his name then. Or, Lincoln hadn't, at any rate. Who knew what information August had?

Lincoln mopped his face, and looked at his watch. This one had been balls up from the word go. Plus, it didn't help that they had had to leave for a day to get the Connelly woman. August had told him to come home, but Lincoln wanted another shot, and thank God he had come back.

Somehow, this guy had stayed out of the paper, but Lincoln figured he had about another day on that, and then there goes the ballgame. There was already a ton of local buzz on this guy, and it was a miracle that nobody had put him on TV yet. This morning, Lincoln had been canvassing the neighborhood where they had originally appeared, and heard about the pendulum dispute. He went to Cal Tech to find out about 'Thomas Froit', and discovered that the young man had already received a discrete degree, simply on the basis of the design of the pendulum. The dean of the College of Engineering had agreed to the young man's condition of 'no press', but Lincoln could tell that the dean was going to crack. Sooner, rather than later.

Finally, Lincoln and Susilo had gone to see Froit's supposed 'partner', a rather angry young fellow named John Morgan. According to Morgan, Froit was a fraud. Morgan had been packing a UHaul truck with boxes, and his condemnation of Froit was scathing, accusing him of every kind of mopery and dopery imaginable. When Lincoln had asked where he was moving, Morgan had sneered.

"Not Montreal, that's for fucking sure. Tommy Boy saw to that. If he can't have something, then he'll make goddamned certain that noone can." Morgan had slammed another box into the back of the rented truck. "Fuck him. He's got everyone fooled now, but he'll crash and burn. I don't want to be here when he needs help picking up the pieces. I'm going to Boston. Shoulda done MIT in the first place."

Lincoln had beat a hasty retreat, but not before extracting the name of a local diner, Beckstein's, where Froit might be found. Morgan had been reluctant, but when Lincoln had said that he was collecting on a gambling debt, the guy had about fallen over himself to be helpful. Lincoln didn't know what had caused the bad blood, but Froit couldn't be too bad a fellow. That Morgan was a weaselly twat if he had ever known one. But, the Beckstein's tip had turned out to be the real deal. The place was fair packed with gawkers and groupies. All for Froit.

He had to move now. August had called to say that the WHO had finally heard of this guy, and was on the move. Lincoln might have four hours, he might have one, no way to tell. But whether the WHO or the news crews got here first, Lincoln had to move before they got here. He didn't know where August got his information, but he was always right. Lincoln suspected someone on the inside at Aeon, but he knew better than to ask.

There. Froit was leaving the diner. A cluster of people went ahead of him, and many more trailed after him, but Froit was the epicenter. He didn't look much like the picture he had seen at the College, but it was close enough. Lincoln shrugged his massive shoulders. He knew firsthand how much becoming could change a person. He swatted Susilo's arm with the back of his hand. The Indonesian jerked awake. Lincoln opened the door to the minivan.

"I'm going in. Wait here, I'll bring him to you."

Susilo nodded and yawned. "No problem."

Yeah, yeah, thought Lincoln, No problem. He doubted that Susilo understood half of what was said to him in English. Still, the two of them had been getting along and getting the job done for a couple of weeks now. Susilo was a good partner, but Lincoln still marveled that he was the brains of any operation. His ma would laugh and laugh, if she were around to see it. Lincoln crossed the street quickly.

He spotted the look on Froit's face, and grinned to himself. This wouldn't be hard. Lincoln knew that expression. It was what his ma had called 'being nibbled to death by ducks'. Overstressed, and way too much on his plate. The guy already needed a break from this nonsense, and Lincoln was just the guy to give it to him. Lincoln mentally bet that the kid would jump at the opportunity he represented.

"Mr. Froit?" He raised his voice to cut over the chatter of the hangers-on. "Excuse me, Mr. Froit?"

The kid looked at Lincoln, a guarded expression that almost made the older man laugh.

"Yes? What is it? What can I do for you?"

Lincoln held his hands up, palms forward. "Me? Nothing. I have what I need. I'm more concerned about what I can do for you."

Froit looked mildly confused, and Lincoln reminded himself how unbelievably sharp the kid was reported to be. It wouldn't be a good thing to play coy with this guy. Get cute, and he's likely to bolt just on general principle. Just come clean from the gate.

"My name is Lincoln Goode, and I'm a Novus, like you." The crowd murmured at this, and Lincoln rolled his eyes. "Look, I'd like to have a conversation with you, but I can't do it with all these people around. Plus, time is an issue, because they are coming. Can we go somewhere?"

Froit thought briefly, then nodded. "We can go to my apartment, if you wish. But, you say they are coming? Who is coming?"

Lincoln smiled. "Exactly, my friend. Exactly."

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