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Authors: John Hulme

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The Split Second (11 page)

BOOK: The Split Second
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5

Lost in Time

In the long history of the relationship between The Seems and The World, Frozen Moments are perhaps the only commodity that originate on the World side of the Fabric of Reality. When a human being’s experience reaches a certain level of emotional intensity—be it happy or sad— that Moment, and the set of events surrounding it, are captured in a small cube of ice and sent careening back to The Seems. The hows and whys of this process are still under examination, but in the absence of scientific breakthrough, the focus of this department remains in keeping these precious artifacts secure.

—From
A Not-So-Brief History of Time
by P. Neverlåethe (Copyright © Seemsbury Press,
MGBHII, The Seems), pages 4, 119.

Since few will ever have a vacation long enough to read Administrator Neverlåethe’s infamous treatise, it is important to understand just what he means by secure. Each person’s individual Moments are kept under lock and key in safety deposit boxes within the Daylight Savings Bank. Twenty-five-hour security surrounds the titanium vault, as does an alarm system complete with motion sensors, electric eyes, and Personality Scan technology. The contents therein are only removed when an individual account is closed and transferred to A Better Place, where they can be enjoyed at a person’s leisure for all eternity. But for a living person to enter another’s Frozen Moment is not only considered taboo . . . it is considered suicide.

“Sir—I highly recommend we roll down our Sleeves and don wetsuits instead,” suggested Briefer Shan.

“We’re not gonna be flowing through water, Shan.” Becker stared down at the melted pool of experience. “We’re gonna be flowing through people’s lives.”

Both of them circled the puddle, which looked much like the one that each had studied when reliving the Day That Time Stood Still, during the second semester of Training. Fixer Blaque counted on this simulation as a perfect example of the need for a “Mission Inside the Mission,” but no former Candidate could ever forget the terrible sight of Fixer Tom Jackal drowning in a pool much like this one. Jackal had been a role model, if not hero, to many a Fixer, and his demise still weighed heavily on everyone at the IFR.

“Any more recommendations before we go in?” Becker asked his Briefer.

Shan bent down and stared at the blurry water. “The Moments were fragmented to start with and now that they’ve been melted, I don’t know how stable they’re gonna be. I suggest we use some Connective Tissue™ as an added safety measure.”

“Agreed.”

They unrolled six feet from the toilet paper–like spool, and attached one end to each of their belts. Down in the puddle, they could just make out a set of faces and places—even hear a distant voice—all blending together in a murky soup. Becker thought about giving one or two more words of advice, but the fact was there was nothing left to say except, “On my mark! 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .”

And they jumped.

As soon as Becker’s head dipped beneath the surface, he started to regret turning down the suggestion of wetsuits. They were sinking fast into cloudy, swamplike fluid, and the fear in Shan’s eyes told him that she was thinking the same thing he was— “Let’s break out our Iron Lungs™”—when the water suddenly vanished and their feet hit solid ground.

“Where . . . are . . . we?” coughed Briefer Shan, gasping for air.

“Looks like . . . the Sahara,” replied Becker.

He had always stunk at geography, so it could it have been any desert—the Gobi, the Mojave, even the Rub’ al-Khali, which he only knew from watching a documentary about meteor rocks on Nat Geo. The wind was whipping across their faces, but strangely enough, they were all alone.

“I wonder whose Frozen Moment this is,” said Briefer Shan, scanning the burning white sands.

Becker shook his head, too carried away by the size and scope of the landscape to care. Much like a Dream (which the Fixer had visited in his first Mission to the Department of Sleep) the inside of a “Fro Mo” felt as real as The World itself. There was no telling how far it stretched and what, if any, boundaries there were. “I don’t see anybody . . .”

Almost in response, a striped red and pink parachute rose above one of the nearby dunes. Attached to it were several taut ropes, and it kept on drifting higher and higher into the sky, until . . .

“Sweet!”
shouted Becker at the top of his lungs, and it was.

Some adventurous soul with a board strapped to his feet crested the dune and shot into the air, propelled by a kite-surfing mechanism. Becker had never seen anything so radical in his life, and by the shout of exultation that echoed over the winds, neither had the kite-surfer himself. Fixer and Briefer were about to run down the hill and give the dude a high-five (or ten), when the sand beneath their feet turned to water.

“Whoaaa . . .”

It was like falling down a waterfall, although neither of them had ever fallen down a waterfall before. Their stomachs were stuck in their throats and their arms flailed to try to maintain balance. But this time, when they hit the ground, they hit it a lot harder.

“That sucked,” said Becker, trying to untangle his legs from the Connective Tissue, which had twisted around them in the fall. “Maybe we need to cut each other some slack.”

Briefer Shan extended the sturdy double-ply Tool a few extra feet, then they took in the sight of their new surroundings.

It was a wide meadow in the peak of spring—filled with daffodils and bees loading up on pollen. Once again, the owner of the Moment was not immediately apparent, but Becker kept his focus on the Mission at hand.

“We need to pick up the trail before we slip into another Moment.” Becker dropped his Toolkit and shook the kinks out of his neck. “We may not be back this way again.”

Shan recognized the Fixer’s preparations as trying to clear his awareness for an extension of his 7
th
Sense. If he could gather some evidence left behind by the Split Second, they could potentially isolate which Moment it was bouncing around in now.

“Anything, sir?”

“Not yet,” said Fixer #37, deep in meditation. “Let me concentrate.”

The Briefer took that as a direct order to “shut up,” and for the first time since she had lost Chiappa, Shan felt the sting of her old pride. “Who is this little kid to tell me how to do my job,” she thought, “when I could do it just as well as he can?” She dropped her own Toolkit to the ground and was about to teach him a lesson, when a voice wafted through the pasture.

“Rufus! Stay!”

It sounded like an old man, but before Shan could see who was there, a squirrel shot past her feet—followed closely by a young Labrador retriever.

“Hey, boy,” she said, immediately thinking of Xi Shi, her own Pekingese, who was no doubt sacked out on the couch back in her Beijing apartment right now. The dog stopped on a dime—perplexed to see a woman in a soaking-wet bodysuit and goggles—and was torn between its desire to sniff out a possible new friend or chase down that bushy-tailed rodent that was always sneaking into the yard and making off with its beloved rawhide chew toys.

“Rufus!” the voice cried again, closer this time. “Come back here, you little troublemaker!”

The old man emerged through the rye, dressed in a tweed vest and using a walking stick to bat away the grass. From the sound of his accent, Shan thought they were somewhere in the hills of New Zealand.

“Excuse me. I didn’t know anyone else—” He stopped, just as confused as his dog to see the bizarrely outfitted strangers (not to mention the fact that they were tethered to each other by toilet paper).

“We didn’t mean to startle you.” Shan tried to cover for her boss. “We’re just up here doing some . . . surveying.”

“Very good then,” the old man seemed to take her word on it. “Rufus and I will let you get back to work!”

Shan reached down and petted the dog, whose tongue was wagging in an effort to cool himself down.

“Seems like a good boy.”

“The best. I haven’t had one with this much pep since Barnegat, the dog I had when I was a lad.”

Shan felt a tug on the Tissue at her waist and realized that Fixer Drane had started to wander off in the direction of a clearing in the glade. She knew she should probably say goodbye, but Rufus was intent on licking her shoes.

“Was Barnegat a chocolate lab too?”

The rope pulled tighter, forcing Shan to walk backward, but the old man seemed completely unperturbed and started to walk along.

“Ah, yes. It’s the only breed I’ve ever owned. They may be a bit excitable, but they have so much love to give.”

Behind Shan, Fixer Drane was picking up the pace
,
but she didn’t want to interrupt his meditations to ask him if he’d found anything . . .

“If I could go back in time and do one last thing, it would be to wrestle with ol’ Barney like we used to in the yard.” The old man’s eyes grew watery at the memory. “We would tumble head over heels, and I can’t remember ever laughing so hard before or since. The kind where you feel like you might split apart at the seams.”

Briefer Shan nodded her head, and petted Rufus, whose coat shone in the sun. She couldn’t help but wonder what Frozen Moment this old man could still have, when life had already passed him by.

“Shan! I got something!”

She turned around to see Becker standing on a circular piece of grass that looked like it had been charred by a campfire.

“The Split Second came through this spot!” It was hard to argue with his assessment, especially since circles that perfect do not occur in Nature. “If we wait right here, maybe we can fall right along its trail . . .”

“Who did you say you work for again?” asked the old man, and Becker was surprised to see they had visitors.

“It’s a company called The Seems.” Shan figured that truth was stranger than fiction. “We’re making sure that everything goes according to Plan.”

The old man was about to pry further when Rufus jammed his nose inside the pocket of his vest. He had smelled the pepperoni treat the owner had been saving for when they got back to the house, but the pup was in no mood to wait any longer.

“Rufus! We’re in the middle of a discussion. Wait until we get—”

But Rufus had already knocked the old man down to the ground, and in a blur of fur and tweed, man and dog began to tumble through the field. At first, Becker and Shan worried they would hear the sound of old bones crunching, but the only noise that drifted back to them was the sound of laughter. Though the person who was doing the laughing was at least seventy years old, something about the way it bubbled up from the grass made it sound like that of a child on one of those endless summer days when the idea of ever getting older seems impossible. The laughing got louder and louder and more uncontrollable until it seemed like the old man was literally about to split apart at the—

Then the ground began to fall away.

Again and again, this was how it happened: Becker and Shan tumbling down the waterfall of Time and landing in other people’s experiences—experiences so rare or magical or moving that they were instantly frozen in ice. But since Becker had found the charred pathway of the Split Second, their tumble through an autumn hike in the woods and a Ferris wheel ride at the fair and a quiet afternoon reading comic books in a treehouse while Grandma sends up a basket of homemade cookies on a rope was not without purpose, for according to their 7
th
Senses, they were getting closer and closer to their quarry . . .

Until they landed in the hospital.

Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, New Brunswick, New Jersey

“Oh no.”

The moment their feet hit the marble floor, Becker realized exactly where they were, and—even worse—when.

“What’s wrong, sir?”

“I think I know whose Moment this is.” There was a tremor in the boy’s voice, and Shan could tell it had nothing to do with the severity of the Mission at hand. “It’s mine.”

The two of them were standing in a sterile waiting room with blue chairs, fluorescent lights, and nondescript carpeting. A few children were busy playing with puzzle toys on the floor, and they briefly looked up at the two figures in bodysuits, but soon wrote them off as surgeons or specialists called in to the Bristol Myers Squibb Pediatric Oncology unit.

Shan was about to ask Fixer Drane, “What are the odds The Tide would have stolen one of
your
moments?” but suddenly, he didn’t look quite like Fixer Drane anymore.

“Sir, this may sound strange, but it appears you have . . . shrunk.”

Indeed, Becker did appear to be a lot smaller than he had been only seconds before—several inches, in fact.

“What are you talk—,” but when he saw himself in the
Freckleface Strawberry
mirror that someone had donated to the ward, he knew exactly what she was talking about.

The Fixer’s Sleeve no longer hugged his body, but hung like a business suit on a child who tried to dress up like dad. Becker quickly uncovered his head and was stunned to see the face of an eleven-year-old boy staring back at him, with the same bad bowl haircut that his mom used to force him to wear squarely on top of his head. That was when he knew he wasn’t just visiting his own Frozen Moment . . .

He was reliving it.

“Where are you going?” asked Briefer Shan, surprised to see her Fixer detaching himself from the Connective Tissue.

“There’s something I need to do,” answered the younger version of Becker.

“But sir!” Shan pointed to the ground beneath them, where a perfectly charred piece of rug indicated the place where the Split Second had burned through this Moment. “We can’t leave this spot, or else we could lose the tra—”

“Wait here. I promise I’ll be right back.”

Briefer Shan was jarred by the noticeably higher voice of the eleven-year-old, and briefly considered whether or not she should invoke the Rule You Should Almost Never Invoke,
15
both because Becker had gotten younger and because of his clearly distressed emotional state.

“But sir?”

“That’s an order!”

Becker peeled off the rest of his Sleeve to reveal different clothes underneath than he’d worn when he put the protective suit on. He knew Shan was right, that this Moment could end at any second and drop them into the next, but in the two years since this day had happened, he had thought over and over and over again about how he could have done things differently. He wasn’t about to let this chance slip away . . .

BOOK: The Split Second
13.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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