Chapter 1

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Hugo picked up a tiny golden cog with his tweezers just as someone rapped hard at his door. A voice yelled, 'Hey, watchmaker? Open up, will you?!'

Hugo jumped with surprise and dropped the cog onto the desk. It rolled away and tumbled to the floor, falling into the crack between two floorboards.

Hugo sighed. The cog was the size of a grain of sand. He would never find it again.

'Come in,' Hugo called out. He twisted his magnifying lens back into his eye socket, folding it out of sight so that only his smooth outer casing was on display. He did this because sometimes people were distracted when they could see Hugo's moving parts. It was easier for them to talk to him when he looked like a biological person too. He'd been told that the metal cogs and valves inside his robotic body were disturbing.

The door of Hugo's attic room was pushed open. It banged against the wall, and a cloud of plaster dust fell from the ceiling. A student barged in, wearing the crisp red uniform of the upper fifth year.

'Are you the watchmaker?' the student asked with gritted teeth.

'That's me,' Hugo said, and folded his hands together on the desk. He tried to look calm. He hardly ever spoke to the students of the academy, despite working on the campus.

'You're an android,' the student said, surprised. 'I was expecting ... Oh, never mind.' The student pulled the jacket of his uniform straight. The red was very bright against his green skin.

Hugo wondered which planet he came from. The academy taught children from the richest families across the galaxy – those who could afford to send their sons and daughters to another planet for school. The students were the future leaders of their planets. At the academy, they had the chance to mix with people from other places in the galaxy and learn about their cultures. It was supposed to encourage peace and understanding between the different planets.

'How can I help you?' Hugo said.

'My watch is broken, you idiot,' the student said. 'And my Time Travel for Beginners exam is tomorrow! You have to fix it.'

That explained why the student was so angry. But a broken watch was something that Hugo could fix. Especially a time‑travel one, which was a lot simpler than some of his other devices. Once the watch was working, this student would leave, and Hugo could be alone again. He was much happier when he was on his own.

Hugo dipped his head and said, 'I'm so sorry about that. Do you have the watch with you now, Mr ...?'

The student dropped a plain gold watch on the table. 'I'm Duke Dorian Luther of the star system Hydrox.'

Hugo tried not to react. He hadn't been around any nobility since his last owner, the Earl of Astea, had left him behind on this planet.

'I'm Hugo,' he replied, taking a closer look at the watch.

There didn't seem to be anything wrong with it on the outside. Tiny time‑travel watches such as this one looked very plain and boring, but inside they were a complicated mix of layers of cogs and gears. They were very delicate and easy to break.

Most of the students who bought these watches probably didn't even know what was inside. They just knew that if they twisted the dial, the watch would send them back in time for a few seconds. It was apparently handy when they embarrassed themselves at a dinner party or said the wrong thing during an important political meeting.

'I'm going to have to open the watch up,' Hugo told the Duke. 'Would you like to come back in an hour?'

'I'll wait,' the Duke said as his antennae trembled. He was clearly annoyed. 'I only bought it last semester. Are all your watches this poorly made?'

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