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Authors: John Hulme

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BOOK: The Split Second
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Becker only smiled and flipped the Silly Putty back to its owner.

“You leave that up to me.” He turned to the Dispatcher. “In the meantime, put the rest of the Roster on call. We don’t know what we’re gonna find inside that tent.”

“There’s one more thing, Drane.” The Dispatcher pulled a piece of information out of his back pocket. “I didn’t tell you why you were the one called in as the replacement for Chiappa.”

Becker wanted to say, “Because I’ve been on a hot streak lately?” but it didn’t seem appropriate, especially when the Dispatcher popped the piece into his own custom-designed Blinker.

“The Powers That Be only declassified this info ten minutes ago. I think you need to see it.”

Onscreen was an MOS
14
image of the three largest spinning Gears of Time. Judging by the grainy black-and-white quality and the time stamp in the lower-left corner, it was shot by a security camera mounted on the wall of Time Management.

“This is only a few moments before the Bomb was discovered.”

Nothing happened for a few seconds, then a masked figure entered the room and jammed a crowbar in between the spinning gears. Moments later, two similarly dressed accomplices came in, bearing the already-assembled device that would soon bring down the entire department. As they awkwardly managed to maneuver it between the jammed-up gears, the first figure took the time to pull out a black spray can—but instead of spraying the prototypical Tide symbol, he walked directly toward the security camera and unexpectedly pulled off his mask.

“Thibadeau,” Becker whispered.

The young Frenchman looked well enough, though his beard was significantly longer than it had been the last time they’d seen each other at The Slumber Party. He shouted some orders to his comrades before turning back to the camera and kissing it directly on the lens.

“I wonder why he took his mask off,” asked Bochkay the Ticky.

“Because he wants us to know that it’s him.” Becker could feel the muscles tightening in his stomach. He would never forgive Thibadeau Freck for faking his own death and betraying everything the two of them had once stood for. And the sight of him orchestrating this destruction made his blood boil.

“We thought that your knowledge of Mr. Freck’s methods might come in handy,” said the Dispatcher.

“Understood, sir. You made the right decision.”

Becker looked back at the Blinker, hoping to see what the Tide’s operative would do next, but he had already painted the camera lens black.

On a bench on the far end of the platform, a girl wrapped in a wool blanket rocked back and forth as if she were shivering on a cold winter day. Her long hair, which had once been jet black, was now splashed with white—and the trembling fingers that covered her face were streaked with age. But thankfully the Anti-Aging Cream had stopped the process at about seventy years old.

“I have to be honest with you, #37,” the Dispatcher whispered in Becker’s ear. “I think she’s cooked.”

From where Becker stood, only twenty feet away, he couldn’t argue with this conclusion. Though Shan Mei-Lin had managed to contain the disaster in Time, she had remained inside the Fallout Shelter to pull out as many victims as she could. But the physical wounds she had sustained were nothing compared to the psychological ones.

“I know you like to work with Briefer #356, but he’s on a leave of absence right now.” The Dispatcher pulled out his Blinker.

Why don’t you let me call in the Sarge?”

“With all due respect, if she doesn’t get back on the horse right now, she probably never will.”

“Understood,” said the voice of Central Command. “But remember you have more important things to do than save the career of one Briefer.”

Becker nodded, then quietly made his way over to the bench.

“On your feet, Briefer.”

Shan parted two fingers and Becker saw one tear-stained eye.

“Excuse me?” she whispered.

“I said on your feet!”

The sound of a thirteen-year-old voice shouting like a drill sergeant at the top of his lungs snapped Briefer Shan out of her fugue state.

“Yes, sir!” She stood up and snapped into her salute. “Briefer #375, reporting for duty, sir!”

“That’s better!” Becker was happy to see that her face had been spared injury. “Now I’ve read the Mission Report and I know what you’ve been through, but we still have a World to save and I need a Briefer on this Mission.”

“Isn’t there somebody el—”

“I don’t want somebody else.” Becker’s voice softened. “I need
you
.”

“I don’t know, sir,” said Shan. “I’m not sure I’m up to it.”

“I’m not sure I’m up to it either,” the Fixer confessed. “What do you say the two of us roll up our Sleeves™ and find out?”

Time Square, Department of Time, The Seems

Unlike Pajamas™, the white spandex bodysuits known as Sleeves™ were lightweight, breathable, and did not require a bulky helmet. Instead, sleek Eyeglasses™ were woven directly into the fabric, which allowed the wearer to see through any Cloud of Suspicion or Rain of Terror. Fixer Drane and Briefer Shan pulled theirs on tight, then strode down the platform and into the “new” Time Square.

Just as with the wounded, the very infrastructure of the village had been partially aged to its logical conclusion. Halves of buildings had crumbled into dust, trees had devolved into lumps of coal, and even the Rock of Ages—the indestructible monument that had become a favorite climbing wall for Seemsian children—had been reduced to a solitary pebble. All of which gave a ghastly preview of what might happen in The World should Becker Drane fail in his Mission.

“It was the strangest thing, sir,” said Shan, leading her Fixer back toward the door she and Chiappa had entered only a few hours before. “There was no sound when the Bomb exploded. Just a flash of white light, and then it was like being splashed across the face with water. Except I wasn’t wet.”

“The Essence of Time,” Becker observed. “It’s a miracle you made it out in one piece.”

“I know that, sir.”

Becker knew that Shan was dealing with a bad case of survivor’s guilt, and for lack of a better phrase, only Time would heal the wound. But when she opened the door with the faded grandfather clock, it was apparent that much more Time would be required.

“Wuh de ma,”
she whispered in her native tongue.

Lining the hallways were neat little piles of dust—all that remained of the brave men and women of the Minutemen.

“I told them to run. I did. But they refused to leave their posts.”

Shan bent over and picked up a half-melted ID Badge, upon which the name “Beaufort Mills, Captain” was still visible. It was Chiappa’s old friend Millsey, whose Time had come all too soon, and she felt her eyes welling again.

“It wasn’t your fault, Shan,” Becker tried to keep his Briefer on beam. “With them . . . or with Mr. Chiappa.”

At the mention of her late Fixer, the tears Shan had been fighting to hold back came easy. She was nowhere near ready to forgive herself—especially for thinking of him as a doddering old fool who might hold back her career.

“The best way you can honor his memory is to save the department he loved.”

The Briefer nodded and wiped her cheeks dry.

Farther down the hallway the security doors were gone, and the spiral staircase down to Time Management had been reduced to a twisting metal frame. Becker and Shan deployed their Chutes & Ladders™ and quickly descended into the darkness below.

Time Management, Department of Time, The Seems

“What are you looking for, sir?”

“I’ll let you know when I find it.” The fluorescent lights that normally lit up Time Management had gone black, and Becker crawled on his hands and knees clutching a penlight. “Can you fire me up a Flash in the Pan™?”

“Affirmative.”

Shan reached into her Briefcase and quickly sparked the one-thousand-candlepower skillet. Fully illuminated, the room showed remarkably little effects of being the epicenter of one of the greatest disasters in Seemsian history. In fact, the only remnant of the Time Bomb was the black cylinder that had once contained the Second Splitter . . . or what was left of it.

“There’s something inside there,” noticed Shan. “It looks like some kind of shell.”

“That’s half of the Split Second. Put it somewhere safe, ’cause we’re definitely gonna need it.”

While Becker continued scouring the underside of the gears, Shan managed to detach the Split Second from the clamp that held it in place. It indeed looked like half an eggshell, except with a reflective metal finish instead of nutrient-rich white. Shan was surprised at how hard the surface was and wondered what the guillotine could have been made of to so easily cut such a thing in two.

“Brrr!” she shivered, tucking the shell deep into her Briefcase. “Maybe I should unwrap a Hot Potato™ too?”

Due to the temperature-resistant properties of the Sleeve, it had taken her a while to notice just how cold it was down there. Obviously, the same generator that powered the lights also handled climate control.

“Not yet,” grunted Fixer Drane from beneath the largest of the gears. “We need it to stay below freezing.”

“Why, sir?”

“Because we don’t want
this
to melt.”

In Becker’s Sleeved hand was what at first glance appeared to be a shard of glass. But when Shan leaned in closer, it was actually a thin sliver of ice, with something frozen inside of it.

“It’s a piece of a Frozen Moment.” He held it up to the light and showed his Briefer what looked like a butterfly about to land on a human palm. “They were all shattered when the Bomb went off—but somewhere inside them is the
other
half of that Split Second.”

Briefer Shan was about to ask, “How do we get it out of there?” when the method to Becker’s madness began to dawn on her. Shan had gone through the same Training Becker did, and had seen the same simulation, when a legendary Fixer’s Mission had gone terribly awry in front of an archaic ice machine. And for the first time since Mr. Chiappa had ordered her to leave the room, she knew exactly what to do.

“I’ll start collecting the rest.”

Half an hour later, Fixer Drane and Briefer Shan were staring down at fifty trays’ worth of shattered ice. The Briefer had found the original freezer, broken in two pieces and embedded in the ceiling of Time Management, and had managed to extract the bulk of the Moment shards.

“No one’s ever done this before, sir.”

“No one who’s ever lived to tell the tale.” Becker Drane picked up his Receiver. “Fixer Drane to Central Command.”

“Go ahead, Fixer Drane,”
the Dispatcher shouted over the sound of the monorail, which Becker hoped was pulling away with its final load.

“Initial survey finds power in Time Management down, but pipeline to Reality still intact.” Becker could hear the audible sighs of relief from everyone who was listening in. “Only problem is, the shattering of the Frozen Moments has turned this place into an icebox. Recommend calling in Tony the Plumber to restore basic functionality.”

“Why? Where are you gonna be, #37?”

“Briefer Shan and I are gonna melt what’s left of the Frozen Moments and go looking for that Split Second.”

The silence on the other end of the line informed Becker that his plan was just as crazy as he himself thought it might be.

“Say again, Fixer Drane?”

“It’s the only way.”

“But you’ll never make it out of there, son.”

“Yes, I will,” said Becker, though he had no precedent to support his claim. “And besides, if we don’t put that Second back together, there won’t be any World for me to go home to.”

Muffled voices came back over the line, and Becker had the distinct impression that the Dispatcher was covering up the microphone of his Receiver so neither he or Shan could hear what was being discussed.

“Understood,”
the Dispatcher relented. “
I’ll handle the paperwork.”

“Thanks.”

“And Fixer Drane? It’s an honor to serve with you.”

“Likewise.” Becker tried his best (and failed) to hide from Shan how much the Dispatcher’s compliment meant to him. “Drane over and out.”

He hung up his Receiver and pulled the aforementioned Hot Potato from his Toolkit.

“Ready, Briefer Shan?”

“Ready, sir.”

They looked at each other, knowing full well that there was a distinct possibility they might never return. But there was no greater feeling for one who had been trained at the Institute for Fixing & Repair under the auspices of Fixer Jelani Blaque than to put everything on the line for a cause higher than oneself. Which was why they smiled the smile they were smiling right now.

Becker ignited the spud and pointed the glowing skin down at the pile of Frozen Moments.

“Let’s go for a swim.”

12
. A popu lar World-based band from the 1980s whose chart-topping single “Tom Sawyer” became a crossover hit in The Seems.

14
. “Mit out sprechen,” or “without sound.”

BOOK: The Split Second
7.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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