We are all time travelers. We just get to move forward one second at a time. –Unknown
Josephus Daniels was a watchmaker in the Old West.
When, is less important for our needs, because we are only going to be with Mr. Daniels for a single day.
But for an artifact like the Wou Lonbraj, a single day could last a very long time.
Josephus Daniels was a freeman. A Black man that had never been a slave in the year of our lord 1878. He learned his trade of watchmaking up North in Massachusetts apprenticed to a Swiss immigrant seeking his fortunes in the post war America. As a young man, Daniels was a good student. Attentive, skilled, possessed of both a keen mind and a steady hand.
Daniels was considered a bit touched mentally. He was slow to speak and often confused people who spoke to him but in his chosen profession he was masterful. His skill at making precise mechanical movement for watches and clocks gave him a reputation that preceded him.
Despite his peculiar state of mind, he was particularly fond of strange ways of keeping time. He created DeVinci’s water clock. Rebuilding it again and again until its timekeeping was perfect. He then scaled it up and sold one to the small town of Squatahawton in their central square.
From that moment on it was clear, Josephus Daniel’s awareness of time, and his intuitive nature of it’s flow would be his ticket to fame and fortune in this new America. Clocks were needed everywhere so Mr. Daniels began to tour America, from one end to another leaving a variety of unusual clocks, some wind powered, water powered and even the occasion sundial in those places which boasted reliable and steady sunshine.
One evening in Kansas City he was taking his ease in a local saloon when the sounds of gunfire were heard. No one moved, assuming it to be a local disturbance and not their business. Mr. Daniels agreed and continued teasing a spring into his latest client’s pocket watch.
A few minutes later, a disheveled gentlemen entered the saloon and dropped his hat onto the bar next to Josephus. He was a tall man, uncommonly so for this part of the West, but poorly fed, his face was gaunt, hungry and when his eyes caught Josephus’ there was a fierceness, a fire burning within them. He stared at him for a moment and a chill wind seemed to pass through Mr. Daniels’ very soul.
“Bourbon. Keep ’em coming.”
“Money, you got some? Otherwise, beat it,” was the bartender’s curt reply. His tone and the tight mien of his jaw gave credence to his veiled threat.
With a casual movement, federal dollars fell upon the counter, generously tossed, coveted, by scavengers avariciously watching through tightly slit eyes. All but Mr. Daniels who remained oblivious to the man and his money.
“How can you work in this light?” the Dangerous Man asked Mr. Daniels.
“I have done this so many times, sir, it is second nature to me. Time and I are old bedfellows, so often together, no one can remember ever seeing us apart. I could do this with all of the scourges of heaven or hell standing about me.”
“You speak in song, stranger. Why is that?”
“C-c-cause if I don’t. I have a t-t-tendency to stutt-tter. A woman doctor thought singing might help me. So I sing, mostly about time-time and I do much better.”
“What if I told you, your stutter has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with a music only you and I can hear.” The Dangerous Man threw back his bourbon and another immediately followed. As he became lubricated, his voice became less gruff, smoother, clearer, and easier to understand.
“That’d be a right interesting idea. But I am a man of science, I believe only in what I can see, hear and intuit, sir. My lady doctor, a legend in her field has proven to me words as song are the cure to my ill.”
A brief cough before continuing, the Dangerous Man leaned over Mr. Daniels and looked at his watch. “A mechanical timepiece powered by a spring action and mechanical gear assembly. Fine workmanship for this era. You are a natural.”
“I see you know your way around a watch. Very few people do. How does a man who uses a gun, rides a horse, and wears bullet scars such as yourself, come to know anything about watches?”
“Let us agree that I am something of an expert myself. But I don’t have much time to explain.” the Dangerous Man reached into his pocket and pulled out a strange pouch which he held in his large hand. A trickle of blood had begun to slide down his arm over that hand.
Two men walked into the saloon at that time. Each was a study in violence. Their every movement oozed menace, their very aura spoke of death. Only someone whose eye was quick would have seen their shadows had wings for just a second before they entered the gloom of the saloon.
Their eyes had the same fire as the Dangerous Man’s. Josephus gathered his tool bag and his watch and packed them away as they approached the bar.
“Tell me your name sir, for I must take my leave and I would have your company again, if I may. I am Josephus Daniels, watchmaker, tinker, and inventor.”
“My name is Gabriel and I don’t suspect we will be meeting again, Mr. Daniels, but I appreciate the time we have spent together. The song is only part of the work, you need to hear the music, Mr. Daniels. You should go now. It’s not safe here.”
The blood spatters fell heavily upon the floor and Gabriel downed his last drink. “Barkeep, I am going to need the rest of that bottle.”
The bartender looked at the two silent men at the end of the bar and noticed the bar was now nearly empty. He handed the bottle over without protest and left out the back.
“We are here to finish what was started, Gabriel. You are alone while we, we are Legion. Look outside.”
Winged shadows flickered everywhere. The afternoon sun showed them long and frightening. People ran into their homes or got off the street in expectation of violence.
“Can you have the decency to let a man finish his drink and leave this establishment? No sense in shooting up a man’s place. You will have what you came for.”
The two men retreated from the bar and stepped outside.
“Since you didn’t have the good sense to leave, I would ask you to help me to my feet.” Josephus sensing Gabriel was out of time, complied setting his bag on the table. Gabriel was heavy and the two stumbled back and bumped into the table knocking over Josephus’ bag.
“Let me help you with that.” They repacked the bag and went to the door.
Josephus looked at Gabriel before asking, “Maybe you should leave through the back like the barkeep?”
“Wouldn’t help. They are Legion.”
“What are you going to do, then?”
“Die, most likely.”
“Can you use a gun, Mr. Daniels?”
“Yes, sir, but not very well. Never had the need.”
“Then I’m sorry.” The Dangerous Man walked out into the street and moved toward the far end of the street before turning around. The two gunmen stood at the opposite end of the street with several others positioned on the tops of rooftops with long rifles.
At that moment, the sheriff and two deputies rode up.
“There, there gentlemen, this isn’t that kind of town. We don’t allow no dueling here. Take your feud and head to the edge of town for that kind of…”
Three shots rang out and the sheriff and deputies drop from their horses. Each struck squarely in the head.
None of the men standing appeared to move to anyone on the street, except for Josephus. He saw the gunman on the street draw his weapon, shoot three times and put it back in his holster in the same time it took Josephus to blink his eye.
“Gabriel, leave it with us and you may go. No one will be the wiser. You can say we took it from you. We are Legion after all.”
“You were legion last week. And the week before that. And the year before that. You are always legion and yet you always lose.”
“Not today. That burning in your blood? That fever you can’t identify? It is a special venom that we covered our bullets with. You won’t be anywhere near as good as you used to be. Today, it will be ours.”
“Then take it.” People on the street that day still talked of the strange standing gunmen, who appeared to stand still for half a hour, unmoving, the wind blowing through the streets, dust landing on the still cooling bodies of the sheriff and deputies before all of the gunmen fell over dead on the street. Or the terrifying storm that followed.
Josephus Daniels saw something completely different.
Gabriel and the gunmen moved faster than the beating of a hummingbird’s heart. Bullets whipped though the air, barely missing the fluctuating vibrations of these strange gunmen. Then Jospheus heard the music. Gabriel’s was first, a french horn, tremulous, brash, arrogantly played, where the gunman who called itself Legion was the beating of drums, large angry drums with a sound that quickened the heart, created fear of an oncoming wave.
These two musics were separate, yet complementary as if they might have once been part of the same orchestra, playing music they might have once played together. But no longer.
Legion fired from rooftops, from behind corners, from windows, and Gabriel saw them all. His movement was fast as if he were on strings, whipping left then right. He fired at each target only once. They fell over dead, from windows, from rooftops, from around corners. Gabriel never missed.
But as his enemy was fond of reminding him, he was Legion.
Though bodies dropped, other took their place. The music grew louder. The sky darkened as clouds appeared almost as if by magic. Wind accompanied the rain which began to fall and Gabriel began to slow.
Josephus wanted to leave but something held him to his spot. An overwhelming urge to know what this was. The music now had a background, a rumble of thunder, with the crack of lightning adding a constant sizzling sound as the bolts of lightning began to touch down in the gun battle.
Then Josephus saw it. The battle was slowing, Legion was not replacing his gunmen. Gabriel was firing slower. Even the rain began to fall slower. In a few seconds, nothing moved.
Only the two Legion remained at the other end of the street, they had never moved until now. Both had drawn their weapons and fired. Josephus saw their rounds were moving where Gabriel would be. Gabriel fired twice and each bullet was only a split second after the first.
Then the sound of gunfire faded, only the music could be heard. Josephus walked out to Gabriel, drawn inexplicable to what he knew was truly a divine presence.
“You must take it. My time here is done. I can no longer protect it. In your hands, it will always stay a second ahead of Legion and his ilk.”
“I’m no gunman. How would I protect it from the likes of them?”
“That was my mistake. I thought I could use it, I thought I could control it and it would make me invincible. Fighting was the wrong way to protect something like this. You will find a better way.”
“Done right, you will have all the time in the world.”
The strange sundial made of a black metal was in Gabriel’s other hand. He reached out and touched it. And suddenly everything was clear. Time was not only a linear thing. It was a flexible construct, like a ribbon, where one could move around it, through it. You couldn’t change the past, you couldn’t travel into the future, but you could change how a thing interacted with the flow of time. It could age, it could grow older, younger, faster or slower. Its position in time could be moved and he decided he could fix this.
The language of time came to him and he knew he needed to avoid paradox. Walking away from Gabriel, he realized Gabriel used it the way he was used to seeing the world. From an immortal’s perspective.
He watched as time expanded again, the rain began to move at the corner of his eyes and he watched as Gabriel’s last two bullets found Legion and their last rounds caught him and laid him low.
Then the storm lashed out with a cascade of lightning striking the bodies of Legion where they fell and turning them to dust.
Gabriel lay in the street, as the watchmaker saw him nod and then lie still.
Josephus watched as the townspeople tried to put out the fires that sprang up from the lightning strikes.
Gripping the strange sundial, he considered Time again and everything sat still. Then he considered his small house on the edge of time. And he was there. He walked into his house and looked at his clocks. They all had the same time of five, twenty five. His pocket watch said, five o’clock.
He would keep it safe by moving outside of time. Gabriel used it as a weapon, speeding his reflexes, making himself faster, but the secret would be to simply stay away from anyone, living between the seconds.
Josephus Daniels, a man obsessed with time, held in his hands, the very passage of time itself. Hiding in plain sight, he spent the next fifty years, living between the seconds.
Yes, we know ultimately Legion did claim it. But a man did what an angel could not, he considered time in ways immortality could not. He did not see to use time, but to watch it, to husband it. To release it only as necessary.
He acted as if time was a finite resource, a uniquely mortal perspective.
Josephus Daniels died at the age of 102 in the town of Nicodemus. While he was there, he was known to offer Time to people who were in need of a little luck and every so often he was known to travel the Black Ribbon of Time, itself. But we all know time travel is impossible, right?
The Wou Lonbraj was captured less than six years after his death, taken from another foolish angel.