Gaslamp illumination had not yet reached the antechamber. For all the sapping electricity science created, it still cast no brighter veil over the population. They should at least have changed the lamps, Zara grumbled to herself. Still, that half-haze was enough to identify components dotted into the full body of the square machine. She had read about each one over and over. An inside defibrillator. It tingled like fire the moment Zara extended – and withdrew – her hand. The systems hotbed. A central processor that – somehow – joined the gas to the science of light. First Year Students weren't allowed to understand the firing of electrons yet.

And, of course: the phenomic driver. The spring-lever attached into the body was long and dark, clouds of dust picking at its corners where Mairim had failed in her cleaning.  Zara ran a finger over the dust-collected arm. Even in its facade, it gave her a haughty look. The lever pulsed at her very touch, and a cord in royal blue trailed from it.

Zara already knew its spring was too loaded for her own weak wrists to guard. Months would not have changed that unhappy fact. She rested her eyes upon what could rightly be called a 'console'. Oh, it was a dream poured into reality! How many times had she wished to be behind this skeletal beauty. Now she possessed its power.

Even if that phrase was going a step too deep.

The machine hummed further, giving its life to Zara's waiting hands. She remembered how slow it always was: the clicks like some tiny animals were trapped within the infinite wall of chrome. Next came the wave of warmth as the last of the pipes filled with their transfusing energy. On cue, the phenomic driver trembled. With her wrist nearby, Zara's whole body thrummed with motion. The set of flick-switches resting in a dip of the console beckoned. She'd never before seen such a collection of instant controls. Zara's jaw slipped. The textbooks had been well-detailed, but not well enough. They didn't paint this scene of physics so elegantly.

In the boxed cavern, in the faded hue of midnight blue, the machine took in Zara. She, too, eyed its graceful countenance. Her breath caught in her mouth. In and out the soft clouds darted. Nothing caused the little bubbles of dragon's breath but her heating body.

Zara spread her hands above the switch-board. Two movements was all it took, and the thrum of the first wave pushed Zara into a sway. Her knuckles tightened around the grip-post made for that exact reason. Manipulating time always packed a punch.

Her eyes caught upon two circles of digits packed in glass frames above the technical mechanisms of the manipulator. The hand of the closest ticked into action, moving through its digits at a steady rate for the time-being – but rising. For all intents and purposes, Zara mused, it was a volt-barometer, the instrument to measure the potential difference between the circuit components. Heat, and that number, mattered; in theory, time-jumping was possible if the potential difference rose beyond 150. Students on this topic needed 90 for a pass, and that had been to show that, as theorists, they were able to incur the machine into proper movement.

Zara huffed as she watched the barometer hand move in its 20s. Precision and progress was more complicated than pressing two buttons.

But Mairim had left her settings as precise as during their last experiment. Now came the – in Zara's opinion – more difficult part. She eyed the second glass frame. One silver hand of three juddered over 2057; the others were motionless in place on 04 and 04. Strange, that was today's date.

Eyes soared back to the barometer. Only to check. The faster the numbers moved on, the quicker she could complete her victory. Its hand was reaching for the 40s. Zara bristled and the typical tremble of excitement rippled her spine. Except, this time, she was inside the mouth of the beast.

The time manipulator reacted as expected. The creature was bucking its rider. The shell shook. Zara squeezed her eyes as tight as they would go. Think.

Fingers shot out and lack of practise was no dictator. Zara smoothed the tops of the switches under her fingers; she edged three switches back and forth, listening to the machine pulling a face as it focused her instructions.

Still, the difficulties were not complete.

Past the 55 point now, the volt-barometer needle was slowing. Zara narrowed her eyes. Consequently, the world became a strip of silver hue. She'd devised her idea long ago, but its vision was fresh in her mind.

The phenomic driver had to go. And soon. Crouching, Zara located the thick belt of elastic within ten seconds. To unpop it from its tethered posts because a trickier task. She stretched the fabric and dug her broken nails into the bar, she tugged around the metal pole, catching her flesh against the bitter bite.

Crying aloud at the torn line of skin diagonally marking her wrist, Zara nevertheless continued. When beads of her blood were trails down her arm, she grimaced, but kept pulling. With a final grunt, she wrenched the belt free. In response, the machine stirred, red lights as warning eyes awake.

The End

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