Praxus sector. 1200 hours
Jasmine lay back in her seat, wincing slightly. Though she would rather kiss a Tyrranoid than admit it, the fight with Miles had taken more out of her than she had expected.
"Are you all right, Jasmine?"
She gave an exasperated sigh.
"I'm fine, Clank. Just bruised" She held aloft the piece of Tendrillite. It caught the light of Aphelions cockpit, sending soft green shadows whirling.
"But this was worth it though"
Ratchet engaged the auto-pilot.
"I take it that's a vital part?"
"It has 'unique refractive abilities' apparently. I'm not sure, I kinda zoned out during Gingers lecture"
"So where to next?"
Jasmine pulled the sheet of instructions out of the manifester on her breast-plate.
"Kreeli comet. We need to find-"
A song started playing, quite possibly the most annoying song Ratchet had ever heard. He knew with a sinking heart it would be stuck in his head all day.
Jasmine touched a spot on her glove.
"Love that ring tone. I wonder who's calling me?"
A holo-screen appeared, flickering slightly from solar interference. There was a gruff voice. It had a slightly echoey quality, as if it was coming from the other end of a long tunnel.
"Corporal? Corporal? Are you there?"
It was interrupted by another, more feminine voice.
"You have to adjust the camera, General"
A Lombax appeared on screen. His fur was gray with age, with the occasional streak of blond showing through. He glared at Jasmine with piercing blue eyes.
"Corporal! Status report!"
"Hey General! How did you manage to contact me?"
The elderly Lombax was gently but firmly moved aside by a young female with bright orange fur,green eyes magnified by huge glasses.
"I finally found a wave-length we can talk to you with!"
Jasmine gave the screen a thumbs up.
"Nice going, Ginger!"
The General reappeared on screen.
"How are you progressing on the mission?"
"I already have the Tendrillite, General. We're on our way to Kreeli comet now"
The General cocked an ear.
She turned the screen towards Ratchet, who gave a sheepish little wave.
"I picked up some allies on Fastoon"
General Cross folded his arms and glowered.
"This mission was supposed to be top-secret, Cain"
"Eh, he came with the ship"
There was a "Hey!" from Ratchet.
The Generals expression softened.
"Well, it's nice to know we aren't totally extinct in that universe. Have you had any trouble with Tachyon?"
She looked over at Clank.
"Could I have that newspaper clipping, please?"
Looking rather preoccupied, Clank handed it over. Jasmine ran it through her scanner.
"You might find this rather interesting…" she said, grinning. Ratchet watched the Generals face change slowly as he read, going from his default expression of barely concealed rage, to disbelief, to amazement, and finally to quiet awe. It seemed an age before he could finally speak.
"So, you're telling me that this fellow here" he motioned towards Ratchet "defeated the greatest threat the Lombaxes have ever known, single-handedly?"
'Woah whoa whoa" Ratchet held up a hand "I didn't do it alone! Clank helped too, ya know!"
General Cross smiled.
"of course. You three keep up the good work. I must admit, I was skeptical at first, but you really seem to be pulling it-"
She laid her ears flat. Oh god whats he doing on the Exodus Project? she thought. A face appeared on screen, and Ratchet felt his fists clench. Everything about this Lombax, from the arrogant gleam in his eye, to the self-satisfied smirk on his face cried out for a kick in the pants. Jasmine gave the mother of all eye rolls.
"Hello Fenris. How did you wind up on the Project?"
He flashed a toothy grin.
"Wrote a few good programs, baby. In fact, we wouldn't even be talking if it weren't for me. Man, I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to seeing you in the flesh. Perhaps later you and I might go clubbing?"
Jasmine rubbed her forehead wearily.
"Not gonna happen, Fenris. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. I. Can't. Stand. You. I don't know why you don't seem to get that!"
"Cuz I'm in looove with you, bay-be, and-"
"Sorry! 'krrzzzt!' Can't hear you! 'Krrztt! You're breaking up! 'krrzzt!'"
"You know I can see you, rig-"
She hung up.
"God, he's harder to shake off than a bad head cold. And about as pleasant. That was Fenris Vargo, or as I like to call him, mayonnaise. Worlds biggest pain in the butt"
"Mayonnaise? Wait, wait, don't tell me. Rich, thick and oily, right?"
"And always smells faintly of eggs"
Jasmine sunk lower in her seat.
"He's no laughing matter. He's had his eye on the Generals job for quite some time now. The Council of Elders blocks him at every turn, but he's pretty damn persistent, as you've just seen. I hate to think what Fenris would do to the Guard if he got the job" She shuddered. "Not a pleasant thought- Clank? Are you OK?"
Jasmine leaned over her seat with a worried expression. The little robot sat hunched over, head in hands.
"Clank? Whats wrong?" Said Ratchet.
"I…do not know…something…something is wrong with-" He froze.
"Warning. 606 temporal error. Time codes malfunctioning"
Terror flooded through Ratchet. This was not Clank. His eyes were blank and dull, his voice flat, lacking its usual warm tones. Something was very very wrong…
"3-6 alpha codes failing. System crashing. Error-error-error-"
Clank spasmed once, then was silent. And still.
Ratchet scooped him up, desperately running a systems check.
"Whats wrong with him?" asked Jasmine.
"I-I don't know! I've never seen this before! He's completely crashed!"
"Don't you have back-up files in case this happens?"
"Yeah but his whole mainframe programming's seized! The back-up won't work!"
"What did he mean by time codes?" said Jasmine.
Ratchets ears perked up.
"Say that again"
"I'd hit you but I should have seen that coming. Time codes. I can't believe I didn't spot that!"
"What does this mean?"
Ratchet disengaged the auto pilot.
"Means we're changing course"
"Its a long story, so listen up. I'm only gonna tell it once…"
The Great Clock 0100 hours.
"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!"
Sigmund fought unsuccessfully against the rising tide of fear.
"Oh this is all going wrong!"
It had looked like such a normal day he thought ruefully. He had woken from power saver mode, performed his duties in the Orvus Chamber and had looked forwards to a quiet day of light maintenance. Then chaos had struck. Now the Clock groaned like an animal in pain, as gears and springs pinged of under the strain. This was not like the damage done by Dr. Nefarious. Something was wrong. He looked up. Even the Zoni were panicking, leaving trails of energy as they flew around like bees with their hive destroyed.
Sigmund moaned softly. Clank had trusted him with the Great Clock. And he had failed…
A Zoni bobbed up in front of him.
"Caretaker, someone approaches" it said, hovering nervously. One disadvantage of a hive mind was that feeling were shared. This Zoni was feeling not just its own fear, but the fear of all the others.
It took a moment to for Sigmund's question to sink into its fear addled mind.
"Sire returns" It jetted off.
Sire…the Zoni had only called one person that…
"Clank!" he gasped.
The roar of a ships engines echoed around the Clock, nearly drowned out by the relentless background noise of the Clock breaking. He could see the ship touching down on the landing pads, and dashed forwards to meet it. As he approached he slowed down. A familiar Lombax was gently lifting something out of his ship, while holding a conversation with a slim, black-furred female. He gave this one a distrustful look. The last Lombax he had met besides Ratchet had nearly destroyed the Clock. He'd have to keep a sharp eye on this one…
As he got closer he could hear them.
"-I know it sounds weird-"
"No, man, I totally believe you. Besides, we're right here aren't we? This place is totally neat!"
"Hello!" Sigmund called out, then froze as he recognized the still form in Ratchets arms.
"Clank!" He dashed over as fast as he could. "What happened?"
Ratchet gently handed Clank over.
"We were hoping you could tell us that"
Sigmund took off towards the Orvus chamber.
Jasmine had to admit, she was impressed. The Great Clock was nearly as beautiful as Jasindu, it's bronze and silver coloured components fitting together perfectly, moving in gentle harmony. Or at least, they should. She could feel the Clock shuddering beneath her boots, see pieces flying off. What should have been a soothing background chime was replaced by groans, creaks and grinding noises. To Jasmine, the Clock felt like a living thing. And it was in pain. She shook her head, trying to clear her head of the funny ringing she'd been having for the last hour. It was as though a note she'd been hearing for so long she's stopped noticing was out of tune. Odd…
She heard a soft whimper, and took a peek behind a smashed gear. A tiny creature was huddled there. It seemed to be all head and eyes, with its body encased in a metal suit. It was a Zoni, overwhelmed by terror.
"Hey there little guy. Whats the matter?" she said gently. It looked up.
"The Clock is wrong!" It said. Its voice was strained with fear, but it still had an ethereal harmony. She scooped it up.
"Ooh, poor thing"
"I wouldn't do that, miss!"
She suppressed a jump. The cleaner bot Ratchet had introduced as Sigmund had crept up.
"Zoni lose control of their bio-energy when frightened"
"oh, he's alri-arrgh!"
She let the Zoni go quickly, shaking her arms to relieve the stinging.
Sigmund shook his head.
"I warned you. Come on, we're nearly there"
"I remember my mama telling me stories about Zoni" She said as she hurried along behind him. "She said they were all-powerful. What can possibly frighten them?"
Sigmund was quiet. Then…
"I don't know"
They reached the Orvus Chamber. The disturbance was less noticeable here, only the occasional tremor betraying the nightmare outside. Sigmund began attaching wires to Clank, connecting them to a large computer.
"I need to run a diagnostic first. This is quite a serious malfunction. I could damage him further if I go in not knowing what I'm up against"
"You do what it takes. Just get him up and running again" Ratchet said. He had noticed quite a change in Sigmund. He seemed less flighty and more mature and confident than he remembered. Sigmund tapped a few keys.
"OK, I think I can fix him. It may take some time though, I need to completely reboot him. You can look around if you want, but don't touch anything!" The last line was directed at Jasmine and accompanied by a glare. She looked around with interest. After the spartan bleakness of her home universe, the complexity of the Clock greatly appealed to her Lombax curiosity. She was about to investigate further, then stopped. Ratchet stood in the center of the Chamber, head bowed, ears lowered. She had never seen a face hold so much sadness.
He looked up, eyes bright with un-shed tears.
"Are you alright?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, fine. I just…" he sighed "This place has a lot of bad memories for me"
He took a watch out of his pocket.
"I…lost a friend of mine here" he said, gazing down on it. "And now there's a chance I could lose Clank. We've been friends since the beginning. If I lost him…" His voice trailed off.
"Chin up, dude. That Sigmund guy looks like he knows what he's doing. Clank'll be-" she staggered as a tremor rocked the Chamber.
"Is it just me, or are they getting stronger?" asked Ratchet.
"It's not just you"
"Uh-oh" He looked over at Sigmund.
"How much longer?"
"Not long now. Just a…few…more…codes. Got it!"
There was a whirr from the computer, and Clank opened his eyes.
Ratchet gave a sigh of relief.
"We're in the Orvus Chamber, buddy. Man, you gave us a scare!"
Clank blinked in surprise.
"We are at the Great Clock?"
"Are you alright, Sir?" asked Sigmund. "Whats the square root of 952.37?"
"Good. I'm so glad you're here, Sir. Things are-"
The Chamber rocked.
"-well, as you can see, things aren't good"
Ratchet carefully helped Clank up.
"The whole Clocks gone crazy. Even the Zoni are freakin' out" He said.
Clank began checking computer screens.
"Sigmund, what have you done?"
Clank turned around, scowling.
"I leave the Clock in your hands and this is what happens. The fight with Alister must have knocked something loose in my circuits. I clearly was not thinking straight!"
By now they were face to face, anger crackling between them.
"Well, maybe if you'd given me more instructions, this wouldn't be happening!"
"'Don't destroy the Clock' How hard an instruction is that?"
"We don't have time for this. PI IS EXACTLY 3!"
The two robots froze, staring at her in horror. Was it Ratchets imagination, or was there a quiet chuckle from the shadows?
"I'm sorry I had to do that" Said Jasmine. "But you left me no choice. Now listen up, you two. We do not have time to play the blame game right now. In case you haven't noticed, the Clock is falling apart!" She pointed at Clank. "You're programmed for this kind of thing, do something!"
Clank bowed his head.
"You are right, Jasmine. Sigmund, can you forgive me?"
"Of course, Sir. I shouldn't have yelled at you either…"
Jasmine butted in.
"OK, OK, you're both really sorry. Now fix the damn Clock!"
Clank nodded, jaw set.
"We must go to the main computer terminal on the other side of the Clock. If I get there fast I can reset it"
Ratchet looked pensive.
"It's gonna be a bumpy ride, Clank. The Clocks pretty much in pieces!"
"We have been through worse"
"Good point. Get ready, Jaz" He said, locking Clank into his harness " We're gonna have to hit the ground running"
They burst out of the Orvus Chamber. Sigmund moaned. The damage was worse than he'd expected. Hardly a single component had escaped damage. Compared to this, the damage Alister had done was no more than a thrown spring.
Jasmine dodged a flung gear.
"Which way, Sigmund?" She shouted over the noise.
They set off after him, leaping over fallen rubble. Ratchet winced as a piece of shrapnel struck his cheek. It was like running through a swarm of wasps, his whole body being peppered by debris. Even with her armour, Jasmine was hardly faring better. Blood from a cut above her eye partially obscured her vision. She didn't dare use her hover-wings for fear of damaging them.
"We are almost there!" Clank said, as Ratchet narrowly avoided a broken gear that had been thrown off. "It is just ahead!"
Jasmine could see the door up ahead. And a huge piece of the Clock breaking off just above it.
"We're not gonna make it in time!" shrieked Sigmund.
"Nonsense!" said Jasmine cheerfully.
The door was only a few meters away now, door already opening as its sensors picked up their approach. The slab off machinery was falling deceptively slowly, as Jasmine grabbed hold of Ratchet in one hand, Sigmund in the other and jumped.
They barely made it. Ratchet swore he felt it clip the end of his tail. Jasmine got to her feet and turned to look at the door.
"We're sealed in. If you're gonna do your stuff, Clank, you'd better do it right. If you fail-" The Clock shook. "If we're lucky, we'll starve"
Clank looked over at Sigmund.
"I was built ready, Sir!"
They set to work, fingers flashing over the keys, oblivious to all around them. Lines of incomprehensible code raced across the screens. And, slowly but surely, the Clock was calming down. Jasmine could feel the tremors slowing. She breathed out with relief, only to yelp in shock as they began again. But these shakes were different. She watched in amazement as the damage in the computer room repaired itself, time flowing backwards under Clanks fingers. There was a rumble as the broken gear that blocked the door flew upwards, returning to where it came.
Then finally, it stopped.
Clank dropped his hands to his sides, head drooping with exhaustion.
"It is done" he said wearily. "The Zoni can repair any minor damage I missed"
"Take a load off, pal. You've earned it" said Ratchet.
Clank slumped gratefully against the computer terminal.
"That was a nightmare. I-where is Jasmine?"
"Taking her first look at the Clock when its not shaking itself to pieces" There was a cry of "Epic!" from outside. "So what caused all this?"
Clank and Sigmund exchanged glances, then said in unison.
"We don't know"
"This was nothing like the damage done when Dr Nefarious attacked. It was like times basic fabric was ripped but there was nothing before the malfunction to indicate anything like that. No time rifts, no time quakes, nothing. I might check the memory banks, see if anything like this has ever happened before"
Jasmine came back inside.
"This place is awesome! Why all the long faces? The Clock is fixed, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but no-one knows why it broke in the first place"
"Hmmm. That is a puzzle…Well, we'll figure it out on Aphelion. We have work to do!"
Ratchet clapped a hand to his forehead.
"The mission! I totally forgot!"
"That's OK" said Jasmine, flinching slightly as she plucked a piece of shrapnel out of her neck. "But before we leave, I think some nano-tech is in order"
Ratchet flicked blood off his ear.
Clank sank down in Aphelions seat. He would need to recharge soon. His power levels had been very badly drained trying to bring the Clock under control.
But he thought proudly I fixed it! The worst threat the Clock has ever faced and I fixed it!
The Clock now ticked smoothly, Zoni milling around on mysterious errands.
He was so tired he barely felt Jasmine and Ratchet entering Aphelion. His last thought as he slipped into recharge mode was: Father would be so proud…