Quicksilver Breakbolts are a source of almost endless fascination and frustration, our sparse understanding doing little to explain their mechanisms or intended function.
At first glance one could be forgiven for mistaking a Quicksilver Breakbolt for a fairly unimpressive piece of jewellery; a slim silvery brooch in the shape of a stylised bolt of lightning, a simple and clean modern design with the faintest engravings of circuitry that can only be seen at oblique angles. Five centimetres in length, it would sit comfortably in a palm if not for its most obvious and overt strangeness - a Quicksilver Breakbolt is always freezing to the touch, more than cold enough to burn and blister bare skin in a matter of moments. Nonetheless, they do not appear to draw in heat from any non-living and non-organic source they are placed in contact with, and can be handled entirely comfortably if one is wearing gloves.
Once the risk of burns, and inadvertently activating a Breakbolt, has been circumvented, their other notable material property becomes more obvious. Each one weighs exactly two kilogrammes, meaning that they are several times denser and heavier than the any naturally-occurring element of the same given mass. Inexplicable as these traits are, it is the apparent function of Quicksilver Breakbolts that truly astounds: They allow a person to travel through time. That time travel is not only theoretically but practically achievable is remarkable, even to those who deal in miracles and impossibilities on a regular basis, although the technology and technique by which it is achieved exacts a terrible price.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding their provenance, it is generally argued and broadly accepted that the creation of Quicksilver Breakbolts is the work of art and knowledge centuries - if not millennia - beyond our most prescient ability and understanding. Nonetheless, many well-respected figures believe that this work is being hastened, maybe even made possible at all, because of the examples and evidence that we are already able to examine; the bootstrap paradox being only one of the philosophical headaches that the existence of Breakbolts’ shifts from the realms of the theoretical and fictional into that of the known unknowns of our sciences and metaphysics.
Long before there were intact examples to study, there were the remnants and remains and traces of the presence of Quicksilver Breakbolts by which some concrete object could be extrapolated. Where solving more typical mysteries can hinge on finding the things that are out of place and - by investigation and interrogation - creating a narrative which explains them, the nature of Quicksilver Breakbolts was discovered because of the things that were displaced in time. A few such items, small personal effects and trinkets, mechanical oddities and historical artefacts too-well preserved, have been found in countries all across the world, usually in circumstances even stranger than the objects themselves.
The best-known instance, the example which has most often set people on the path to cataloguing the elements shared by the events which involve Quicksilver Breakbolts, concerns a set of unburied remains that were found within a previously unopened tomb during a late eighteenth century expedition to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Sat apart and separate from the treasures therein and crudely mummified by the conditions of their inadvertent imprisonment, tests have shown that the traveller died at some point over the many centuries between the tomb originally being sealed and its later discovery, starving to death with no hope of rescue.
An unknown quantity at the time, no-one made particular note of how the clothing had not rotted away, the burns fusing the left hand closed or other small anachronisms. Their minds were occupied by the more spectacular relics and decorations, their bounty, and so, almost as an afterthought, the remains were shipped to the British Museum and put into storage, largely forgotten. Sloppily detailed in an internal listing of the Museum’s archived materials, mention of the burns to the hand caught the eye of an interested party - or parties - who arranged for the remains to be transferred, secretly, on suspicion of their greater significance.
The hope was to match the pattern of the damage to something that had been seen before - a bolt-shaped burn which had seared through flesh and marked the bone beneath - an injury which would later come to be recognised as the effect of grasping a Quicksilver Breakbolt tightly in one’s hand. This toll - the immediate agony and permanent injury and the consequent risk of death from shock or infection - is steep, and the devices themselves are obliterated when they are used. They are surely not what their creators had hoped that they would be, and the crude nature of their effect has divided opinion around why they were created, what their purpose is and how closely they serve it.
Were they the first forays into the arcane engineering that would allow time travel; dangerous and quickly discontinued prototypes whose users were stranded throughout time with no hope of returning home? Or perhaps, given how immediate the harm and how uncertain the prospects of using a Quicksilver Breakbolt are, they were intended as a form of escape; a last-ditch method for escaping circumstances that were somehow worse than the guarantee of pain and the chance that one might be lost forever in some distant time? There has yet to be a discovery which includes so much as a note from the time traveller, at least none we recognise and none that has survived long enough to be discovered.
It is worth noting that not every anachronistic person has been discovered in horrific circumstances; at least one found a new life a long time before she was born and it seems that her family never knew that her past was in their future. After she died, eleven intact Quicksilver Breakbolts were found in her belongings, all of which were quickly obtained by various collectors. One group secured three and, after deciding that their examinations and tests would yield no new information, entrusted three volunteers with a mission: To use the Breakbolts and find a way to leave a message that the group would be able to find. They all vanished without a trace, but a decade later one returned to the group, his hand still raw and bloody.