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How to Stop Time

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On the way back to the small office where Lyfrassir Edda spends most of their workdays, every clock on Mitgard stops.

Lyf doesn't notice this at first, because there aren't many clocks between the prison block and their office, and those few are digital, and they hadn't stopped to check the time before visiting the prisoners. Besides, their thoughts are too caught up in decades-old political intrigue to pay much attention to their surroundings. They do notice that the office has an unusual stillness to it as they sit down, because that particular clock is analogue, an antique they'd picked up some years ago and decided would add a little personality to the plain square room. They don't, however, realise the source of the quiet, too eager to plug the black box into the old reader they'd dug up from storage and watch the newly restored footage.

Of course, when that footage has finished playing, Lyf has far more pressing things to worry about than why their clock has stopped.


The final frames of the video feeds are frozen on the screen; even restored, these parts of the footage are little more than static and blurs of colour, the last residue of bifrost energy before the cameras gave out completely. The screen casts a scattered pattern of faint colours across the desk, dappled over Lyf's hands, hovering just above the surface and trembling, the light shimmering across the metal of their left hand.

Lyf should not be surprised by the trembling. They grip the desk hard, and the light rattle of their synthetic fingers against the faux wood immediately stops, plunging the office once more into an uncanny silence. The only thing they can hear is the blood pounding in their ears, drowning out the faint electrical whine of the old reader the black box is plugged into. Their throat is bone dry and rough, as though they've been talking for hours.

A single impulse has taken over their mind, honing all thoughts to a laser point, gripping them with a fervour that steals the breath from their lungs.

Run.

They push away from the desk, and bolt. Visions of melted forms and squamous things and the twisted remains of flesh and gold linger behind their eyes. Every shadow seems to twist and follow them, the darkness melting into something bright and painful, only to snap back into sharp reality when they look. Somehow that makes it worse. They try not to look.

It's late, and they don't see anyone on their mad dash through the building. They spot the nighttime sky through the windows of the front doors, and force themself to stop, taking a shuddering breath. Yog'sothoth isn't going to arrive any sooner just because they've found out about it. Hel, the train has been here for days, and nothing overly strange has happened yet. They could have weeks, or months.

The sense of urgency does not fade, and Lyf finds themself running again as they push through the door into the warm night air.

They call to charter a ship, and if they have to pull the police card to get it ready the same night, well, desperate times. They don't plan on being around in the morning for the captain to yell at them. Hoddmimis is some ways away, several months of travel from Yggdrasil, and they can figure out where to go next when they get there. They order enough supplies for twice the journey, just in case. Then they stop by a liquor store, because there's no way they're handling an apocalypse sober. The clerk gives them a strange look as they leave, and Lyf belatedly realises they're still wearing their work uniform, their hair still done up as though they're on the job. Hm. What a sight they must look.

They shove the alcohol into their bag and head off again. They're going to need it if they're going to watch that footage again. And they have to. They need to get the word out and there's hours of footage and they know where all the important parts are already, they need to write out a—a report or a summary and send it as high up as they can and hope it gets spread around enough in time, hope they even believe it, fuck, there's billions of people in the system, there's no way everyone can evacuate in time, they don't even know how much time they have it could already be too late—

The prisoners. The prisoners might know. They'd known the train was coming, they knew what had happened on board if Von Raum and his fucking tales to be told nonsense was any indication. Alexandria had copied the black box footage. They'd talked about where it had been.

La Cognizi's last words to them had been good luck.

They knew.

And they sat in a jail cell for sixty years, just waiting for the train to arrive, having a jolly fucking time. Like the apocalypse was just some fucking game to them.

They don't really have any other way of finding out what sort of time scale they're on, minutes or hours or months, so they decide they can spare a few minutes to run down and punch Von Raum in his smug little face. He could have said something. Anything.

Sixty years.

The walk back passes in a blur. Still, they've calmed down somewhat from their initial frantic need to bolt, so they can at least get their thoughts in order. First priority; talk to the prisoners, see how much time they have. Deck Von Raum. Then get the word out about the Bifrost. Pack and leave. Get suitably drunk and ignore the apocalypse.

Not their most elegant plan, but it's something.

The station is still eerily quiet, the heels of their boots tapping out a sharp rhythm that echoes in the empty halls. It's always strange being here late, everything seeming slightly off in the harsh florescent light, and the looming threat of the bifrost adds another layer of unreality to the whole thing.

The sound of voices and movement drifts down the halls as they approach the actual lockup, and by the time they reach the corridors leading up to secure containment, they find the whole place buzzing with activity, armed guards and officers milling around, sharp orders and furtive looks flying around the dozens of people present. Lyf's urgent stride slows as a mounting feeling of dread starts to curl in their gut.

They pull aside one of the younger guards, Leia or Lira or something, and ask what's going on. Her silver-green eyes dart back and forth, wide with confusion and concern, a gloved hand clutching tightly at the short blade that hangs from her waist.

"The prisoners are gone." There is a note of panic in her voice, and she doesn't explain further.

She's new, they can tell. The experienced guards are far more comfortable with their guns, far less jittery, less likely to strike up conversation with any officer that just walks up to them. She's probably worried about getting fired.

What a thing to be worried about.

"Right. Right... Get off Mitgard. Get out of Yggdrasil. Just... get out. The prisoners knew what's coming."

And with that, they turn and leave, the last scraps of hope melting from them, leaving a horrible chill that settles in their chest and curls greedy claws through their body. They can't find it in themself to be surprised; the prisoners have pulled all sorts of nonsense that shouldn't be possible, escaping from a high security cell is probably their idea of a good time. Or maybe whatever friends they'd made reference to had somehow snuck in to break them out.

Fuck.

They stop and lean against a wall, vision swimming from something that might be terror and might be rage and is probably a mix of both. Their hand curls into a fist, and they slam it into the wall, the shock running up their arm. Their breath catches in their throat and something between a sob and a yell escapes their lips, echoing strangely in the empty hallway. They really, really don't have time for a breakdown, not if the prisoners have already gone, so they breathe out and push everything down under the mask of cold professionalism that's served as valuable armour time and time again.

Their eye catches on a small digital clock close to the ceiling. The time is several hours wrong. The numbers should not be showing that many colours.

They run.

Back in the office, the final moments of the Asgardians and Mitgardians are still frozen on the screen in black and white and bleeding rainbow static. They pull out a bottle of... whatever they'd grabbed, something strong and brown that smells faintly of blackberries, and down several mouthfuls. Might as well get a head start on the drinking part of the plan. They quickly scan through the speech-to-text generated version of their earlier unfinished report, making sure they've covered everything, seeing where they left off.

Then, they take another drink, and resume.

"The recordings are clear now. I can see everything..."

They sift through the recordings quickly, pulling clips together and summarising them, oddly detached from themself and the reality before them, voice wavering slightly but refusing to break. The words come easily, smoothly, the horrors practically narrating themselves.

They still can't shake the feeling that some part of the box is watching them back. There's something else there, behind the recordings, an echo of their voice and the discordant melody that sings far too clearly for how corrupt it should be, bleeding through with an emotion and a fervor that is utterly alien and leaves them shaking in fear. Still their voice does not break, and they know, utterly and completely, that this song is for them alone.

Some part of them wonders if one of the screaming voices is their own.

They reach Loki and Sigyn's final moments, and it is as though a string has been cut. Their throat closes up, and they have to take a moment to force themself to breathe again. They're so close. They're almost done.

"So there you have it. The train has arrived, and it's only a matter of time."

They're rambling now, broken from whatever compulsion they'd been caught in, lips loosened and voice rough, head foggy with alcohol and bleeding static, the screams echoing in painful bursts, their eyes squeezed shut in an attempt to ward off the horrors lurking just out of sight, their metal fingers clenched so tightly around the bottle they're surprised it hasn't shattered yet. They can feel their heartbeat pound in their ears, pulsing with the awful and beautiful melody that echoes in colours they've never seen or heard.

"Inspector Second Class Lyfrassir Edda, signing off. Good luck."

They save the text and audio versions of the report in a few different formats, and send them to everyone in the department, then to every government office they can look up in short measure, then to every major news outlet they can think of, then directly to the pathetically few friends in their contact lists.

They finish off the bottle of drink, leaving it on the desk, grab the stupid little red crown plant Velnya had given them as a gag Yule gift, and leave.

This time when they exit the building, it's snowing. Not heavily, just a few white flakes that drift across the somber indigo sky, melting the moment they touch the ground.

It's late spring. It was warm when they left earlier. Technically it's not impossible for it to snow this time of year, or this suddenly, but given the circumstances, a dramatic shift in the weather is not a reassuring event.

The shadows are following them again as they stalk through the streets, creeping and darting just out of sight. They shouldn't be that drunk yet, it wasn't that big a bottle, but the two alternatives are they're going crazy, or some horror from the bifrost is haunting them, and they don't much like either of those options.

Home is a secluded little flat half hidden in the shadows under an elevated light train platform. Warmer nights can sometimes find the more daring university students on the tracks, challenging each other to duels in the starlight to practice their fencing skills on the narrow beams, or racing down the magnetic plating on hoverboards stolen or crafted in secret, dodging the cops that lurked by the tracks hoping for easy arrests.

They spare a moment to smile briefly at fond memories of racing along those same tracks, before pressing on and inside.

All things considered, it takes very little time to pack up their life. No pets, no family, and romance has never really been their thing. No loose ends to tie up. Just clothes and books and a few pieces of memorabilia, the sword they'd gotten as a coming of age present, their parents' wedding bands, a set of crochet hooks, the toolkit they still mess around with sometimes.

It's with a wry laugh that they realise it's probably a good thing they've been doing all the maintenance on their prosthetic arm for several years now, as they're unlikely to find a specialist in the void of space. A shame they never ended up going into mechanics like they'd always planned. Leave some other poor wretch to discover the secrets of the black box, learn about it through whatever government or news agency eventually published it, and probably get lost in the floods of people trying to evacuate. Dying on Mitgard with no idea why the world was collapsing around them.

Maybe that would have been better.

They throw on their coat as they leave the flat, pulling up the collar as the wind blows tiny snowflakes into their face. It's gotten colder still.

As they rest their hands inside the coat pockets, their fingers brush up against something, cold metal on cold metal, and they pull out their hand to see the black box clutched tightly in their grip. They must have grabbed it when they left the station... put it down to pack and picked it up again? They don't remember carrying it. The dark surface seems to mock them as they turn it around, the interlocking geometric pieces not betraying the horrors that lurk within. They should get rid of it. It's of no use, they can't even access the recordings inside without the reader, and they don't need the reminder of what terrible things are coming for them.

Instead, they tuck it back into their pocket. Somehow, they can't bring themself to just throw it away. One more tiny piece of Yggdrasil to hold onto.

The shipyard is still, the ships themselves casting stark shadows across the ground. A single figure emerges from the overhang of the small building just inside the entrance as Lyf approaches.

"Inspector Edda?"

"Yes."

The name tag on his uniform reads Almir, and a strand of golden brown hair escapes the cap it's tucked into as he nods, gesturing towards a row of ships.

"It's the Meili model, over at the end. It's all ready to go, and the runway's clear. Odd about the snow, but it's light enough that you shouldn't have any issues."

Lyf accepts the key with a short nod, and Almir turns to leave. Lyf reaches out an arm to stop him, then stalls. What to say? They have to warn him. They have to at least try.

"Get out of Yggdrasil if you can. Something's coming. You don't want to be here when it arrives."

They can see immediately that he doesn't believe them. They sigh, and let him go, watching him glance back once with something like pity in his eyes as he walks away. Probably going home for the evening.

... Probably can smell the alcohol on them. No wonder he didn't believe them.

They walk past the rows of sleek ships, and, reaching the one Almir had pointed out, they lay a hand on the cool exterior, and raise their head to take one last look at the skies of Mitgard. Even covered by clouds, with an unnatural snow falling around them, it's beautiful. It's home. And this is the last time they'll ever see it.

At least they'll see the stars in space. That has to count for something.

For just a moment, the twin moons peek from between the clouds, looking far too much like a pair of great eyes, blinking slowly open before vanishing again.

Lyf wraps their coat tighter around them, and boards the ship.

This model isn't one they're particularly familiar with, they've only ever been on short range flights before, but it's well stocked and small enough to be comfortable while leaving room to walk around. The controls seem fairly intuitive and there's a user manual and several maps propped up on the pilot's seat.

Fully prepared indeed.

Lyf runs their fingers along the control panel, feeling the bumps and grooves of every button, switch, and dial, before flipping the manual open and figuring out how to get the thing in the air. It comes to life with a heavy hum, which resonates through their boots in a way not unlike the light trains, and soon they're off.

They don't realise they're crying until the first tear falls onto their hand. They stare at it for a long moment, during which its joined by another, and as they lift a hand to wipe at their eyes, they feel a strange texture on their face, and pull their hand away to see flakes of rusty red on their fingers.

They look around for a mirrored surface, reluctant to stray from the controls, and end up pulling out the black box from their pocket, examining their fragmented reflection in the glassy dark surface.

There is a gash across their left cheek, maybe an inch long, a crescent of dried blood that flakes off as they run a finger along it. The skin is tender, sensitive, and they flinch away from the odd sensation.

When did that show up? They must have cut their cheek at some point during their desperate flight, though for the life of them they can't think of when that might have happened.

They put the box down on the dashboard, and return their attention to flying. They can take care of it later.

A shudder runs through the ship as they approach the edge of the atmosphere, slowing it ever so slightly, as though something more than gravity is reluctant to let them go. It's gone just as quickly, and then they're in space proper, and as Lyf lets out a breath they didn't realise they were holding, a sob tears itself from their throat, and the dam finally breaks. With shaking hands, and tears blurring their vision, they manage to set a course for Hoddmimis.

And then, with the only home they've ever known quickly disappearing forever behind them, Lyf collapses on the floor, and buries their head in their trembling hands, and cries.