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Authors: John Hulme

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The Split Second (22 page)

BOOK: The Split Second
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Tidal Wave

274 West 12
Street, New York, New York

On the top of 274 West 12
was a rooftop deck accessible only to the lucky resident of Apartment #5. Sophie had taken full advantage of this perk and proceeded to furnish the roof as if it were a greenhouse. Ferns, sunflowers, and delphinium sprung up like the skyscrapers in every direction, and Becker was sure he’d noticed some Seemsadendrums crawling up the legs of the cedar patio furniture. But the greenness of her thumb was the last thing on the Fixer’s mind . . .

“Five more strikes of the Essence just hit The World,” pleaded Becker, slamming his Blinker on the table amid a collection of old and empty flower pots. “And it’s a miracle that no one got killed!”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” The Time Being wore gardening gloves and was in the process of pruning a bush. “It’s always disconcerting when innocent people are put in harm’s way.”

“Disconcerting?” The breaking news on Becker’s screen angered him even more. “A three-year-old in Patagonia almost got smoked!”

“Time is relative. A fly lives an entire lifetime in one day.”

Following Sophie’s refusal to assist on the Mission, Becker had tried every trick in the book to convince her otherwise. He’d reasoned with her, appealed to her love for The World, shouted at the top of his lungs, cried, and even threatened to reveal her present location to a crew of documentary filmmakers in The Seems who had been fruitlessly hunting her for years. But with each stratagem he employed, the Time Being only grinned and replied, “Do what you must.” Finally, she had invited her guests to join her on the roof, because it was time for her to tend to her garden.

“I must admit, Madame Time Being—I mean, Sophie—” Daniel J. Sullivan suddenly popped from behind a thick patch of ivy. “Your taste in horticulture is outstanding!”

“Thank you, Daniel.” She surveyed his unique attire. “I should say the same about your choice of wardrobe.”

“Sully!” shouted Becker, furious. “Work with me here.”

The Keeper looked down at his shoes, ashamed of what a space cadet he’d become. “I am somewhat perplexed by your decision to absolve yourself of all responsibility in this matter, though. With all due respect, of course.”

“You said it yourself, Daniel—the Plan will provide.”

“But this wasn’t part of the Plan!” Becker had tried this tack several times already, to no avail. “The Time Bomb was planted by The Tide.”

“The Tide
part of the Plan, Becker. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” Not at all impatient or perturbed, the Time Being took off her gardening gloves. “Daniel, can you do me a favor?”

“Of course.”

“On my night table downstairs is a pile of books. One in particular is called
The Grand Scheme of Things
. Can you bring it up here?”

The Grand Scheme of Things
?” Sully immediately yelped. “You have a copy of
The Grand Scheme of Things

“It’s the original.” Sophie wiped the sweat from her forehead and took a sip from her tea. “The rest are just mimeographs.”

Sully almost tripped over himself in a rush to get to the door, and Becker could hear him pounding down the spiral stairs. The Fixer was so filled with frustration and disappointment that he was afraid he would burst into tears again. All of his eggs had been placed in this one flimsy basket, and not only had they cracked, but the basket itself was going up in flames.

“Sit down, Becker.” Sophie’s calmness in the face of what was going on infuriated the thirteen-year-old, and he refused to take her suggestion. “There’s a lot you don’t understand.”

She motioned for him to sit once more, and since there was nothing to be gained by being obstinate (not yet, at least), the Fixer finally plopped down in a wrought-iron chair. But he couldn’t even bring himself to look at the woman who meandered through her garden as if this were an ordinary afternoon.

“Before The World was even a thought, there were just those of us who lived in The Seems. And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad life.” As she spoke, Sophie picked a few mulberries from one of her trees. “In fact, it was pretty much paradise. Happiness could be harvested, Love was in the air, and Time could easily be avoided.”

She popped a few of the berries into her mouth for emphasis.

“But when everything is provided for you—and you know it will last forever—even paradise grows stale.”

Becker wasn’t asking for paradise. He was happy enough just to keep The World the way it was. But listening was the only strategy he hadn’t tried so far.

“It was that complacency, that . . . boredom . . . that drove us to seek out something we could believe in beyond our own pleasures and gratification.” Sophie smiled at the memory of those heady days. “When the idea for The World was hatched, we felt alive again. And when we tried to devise a Plan by which that World would operate, all we cared about was how to make things There better than they were Here.”

The Time Being waved her hand in the direction of the seething metropolis below.

“This place was never meant to be perfect—and we did everything we could to ensure it stayed that way. Created Rules and restrictions in every department, built randomness into Nature, Weather, the very Fabric of Reality. Not because we wanted the inhabitants of The World to suffer, but because we wanted them to savor the experience of life in a way that we in The Seems never had.”

Becker couldn’t help but think that he could definitely savor the experience of life without sleet, the flu, and a possible World War III, but again he bit his tongue. Sophie seemed to know what he was thinking anyway.

“Were there certain things that went into the Plan that I didn’t a hundred percent agree with? Of course.” The Time Being turned to look at Becker with the wisdom of who knows how many years etched into the lines of her face. “But on the day of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for The World, we the Designers swore an oath that we would never interfere with its unfolding. And no matter how many times someone walked through my door and told me this or that just
to be changed or everything would be ruined, I’ve never broken it.”

The wheels in Becker’s mind were spinning. If this had been a philosophical argument, he would have felt more comfortable—after all, he had gotten an F (Fixer) in Planology 201 at the IFR and even scored a tie with Lucas Pamelius at the tryouts for the Lafayette School debate team. But it was hard to refute a personal vow.

“If everything’s part of the Plan”—his only choice was to pull a back door trap—“then breaking your vow just this one time to help me on this Mission would also be part of the Plan, wouldn’t it?”

“You’re funny.” The Time Being smiled with real affection. “Jayson
used to try that same argument on me.”

“Did it work?”

“Nope. He could never get his head around the idea that bad things happen to good people—he called it a design flaw—but then again, Jayson wanted to Fix everything, even if it wasn’t broken.”

“That’s because Jayson knew that The World isn’t a laboratory experiment!” Becker pointed to the streets below. “It’s a place with real people who have real hopes and dreams and lives, all of which are about to end!”

“That’s the beauty of Time, is it not? The less you have of it, the more you begin to appreciate The World around you.” Sophie held up her hands, both looking at and showing off the veins and wrinkles. “For the first time, I’m staring at the possibility of my own death, and never before has life tasted so sweet.”

The Time Being smiled, put her gloves back on, and started pulling the dead leaves off some of her larger sunflowers.

“Please, Sophie. I’m not asking you to Fix the Split Second.” Becker’s voice again quivered with emotion. “I’m just asking you to tell me how to do it.”

But if there had been a moment when the Time Being had been considering Becker’s pleas, it had clearly passed, for she simply gripped the dying head of another sunflower and said, “Can you please hand me that spritzer? Mother Nature would never forgive me if she knew I was treating her children this way . . .”

Kids who grow up in the Drane household are trained from an early age that a certain list of curse words are unacceptable for use in public (if at all), and Becker was tempted to unleash all of them in an effort to describe what the owner of said spritzer could do with it. But before his rage could spill over . . .

“Chill out, Draniac,” a voice rang out from somewhere behind them. “You’re wasting your breath.”

Becker and the Time Being turned to see Daniel J. Sullivan standing in the crooked entrance to the roof deck, holding a glass case with an old book inside. But the voice that had come from Sully’s direction was not that of the Keeper of the Records.

“What’s wrong, Daniel?” asked Sophie, shielding her eyes from the slowly setting sun. But Sully only jerked forward— like he’d been pushed in the back—nearly dropping the precious case as he stumbled across the wooden deck.

“Sorry, Becker. They caught me by surprise.”

Stepping through the doorway behind him was a tall, bearded young man, wearing the same shades and tattered suede jacket that Becker Drane had admired for its casual cool on the day the two had first met.

“Thibadeau,” whispered the Fixer, and his heart began to pound. Not out of the anger he’d felt ever since his old friend had joined The Tide. And not out of frustration that his Mission to Fix the Time Bomb had officially jumped the rails. In the simplest of terms, what was happening to his body was a normal physical reaction to the human emotion known as fear . . .

Because Thibadeau Freck was not alone.

Meanwhile, The Seems

When Shan Mei-Lin watched The Tide drag Mr. Chiappa and most of their equipment back through the portal they’d opened into Meanwhile, she’d felt a strange combination of powerlessness and relief. Powerlessness at the fact she’d been unable to help her Fixer, and relief that she’d gone unnoticed hiding on the outer reaches of their secret HQ. But then the Briefer realized that, once again, she was doomed to solitary confinement in this awful, lonely place.

Fortunately, the Mission at hand did not allow her the luxury of panic.

“Remember, Shan,” she whispered aloud to make sure it was she who was speaking. “The World is counting on you!”

The Briefer approached the ten-foot-square box of Time-resistant glass that was Meanwhile’s only source of light. Mr. Chiappa’s Hour Glasses revealed that the Split Second was still reflecting between the walls of the Containment Field, leaving more and more droplets of yellow goo behind every time it bounced off the floor. But there was something else she saw inside that concerned her even more.

Not only had the Field become soggy and soaked with the Essence of Time, but the dirt itself seemed to be tinged with a luminescent blue. Upon closer inspection, Shan could see that it wasn’t fertilizer or anything else on the ground, but small pinholes of light shining up from beneath it. And because she had spent the last several years of her life traveling back and forth through a place that possessed the exact same shading and hue, the color of the glow was familiar . . .

“The In-Between.” Shan’s heart sank. “Plan help me.”

Somehow, the Essence of Time had dissolved a hole through Meanwhile and into the In-Between, and the Briefer could only surmise how much had already found its way to The World. What she did know beyond a shadow of a doubt was that it had to be stopped, and there was no one else here who could do the job.

Shan reached into her Briefcase for the empty half of the Split Second, as if somehow it would tell her how to reunite it with its twin, but all the shell did was sit silently in the palm of her hand. If she entered the Containment Field, her Sleeve could protect her from the Essence for a few minutes, but prolonged exposure would turn her into a pile of dust—much like those poor souls swept off the platform in Time Square.

The Briefer wanted to save The World, she really did—but at the age of only nineteen there was still so much in life she wanted to experience. She had never seen America. Never walked the Great Wall of her own country. And never fallen in love. But none of those things would happen if she made the ultimate sacrifice that every Briefer (and Fixer) wondered if he or she were capable of making.

“You can do this, Shan. Death is just a part of life.”

If those words were designed to spur her into action, they failed to accomplish their goal. Her feet felt leaden and she couldn’t stop thinking about the unanswered letters her family sent to her over the years. Surely there was another way or more time . . .

“Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.”

In the middle of the Containment Field, one of the pinholes of blue light had enlarged to become a slightly bigger dot. Worse yet, more like it were popping up all across the dirt. Soon puddles would form, creating openings through which the bouncing sphere would inevitably escape. So whether it was going to happen now or in a half hour from now, the choice was unavoidable: Fix the Split Second, or stand idly by and watch it destroy The World.

BOOK: The Split Second
2.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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