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Authors: John Hulme

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The Split Second (4 page)

BOOK: The Split Second
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“They would never hire you, Phil,” retorted Tony the Plumber, #22, hands resting on his generous belly. “You have to not be a jerk.”

Becker cracked up at Tony’s diss on Phil. Though #36 was undeniably one of the most talented Fixers on the duty roster, his personality left a lot to be desired.

“Now, now, gentlemen,” the Octogenarian soothed the warring factions with her always sunny disposition. “We’re all on the same team here.”

The side door to the conference room abruptly swung open and in walked a Fixer in her twenties, with double-braided pigtails and flip-flops on her feet.

“All right, mates,” said Cassiopeia Lake, “the meeting is back in session.”

For three years now, Casey had been the bearer of the Torch—an eternally lit flame that symbolized the unofficial leader of the Fixers—and thus it was her job to run the monthly Briefings.

“We only have one item left up on the docket, but it’s probably the most important, so please pay attention.”

Frau Von Schroëder, at #38 the newest of the Fixers, whipped out an old-fashioned Briefing pad, but Becker leaned over and whispered in her ear.

“Don’t worry about taking notes, Frau.” He and the German mother of three had been Candidates together at the IFR and had become pretty tight. “They’ll send you the minutes over your Blinker, so you’re better off just tuning in.”


Danke
, Becker,” said the Frau, feeling like a freshman on her first day of class. “Lucky I am sitting next to you.”
6
She tucked the pad back into her Toolkit, then quietly waited for Fixer Lake to continue.

“As all of you undoubtedly know, a certain ‘underground organization’ has been sticking a poison-tipped thorn in our sides for some time now.”

A murmur of agreement ran through the crowd, for all of them at some point or another had faced acts of sabotage perpetrated by the shadowy movement known as “The Tide.” Fixer Lake flipped over a white grease board on which was ominously drawn the image of a black cresting wave—foaming and ready to crash upon the shore.

“Jammed-up fans in the Wind Tunnels. Locusts in the Color Fields. A corked and blown-up Rain Tower.” One at a time, she removed photographs depicting these Tide assaults and tacked them on the board. “With increasing audacity, this insurgency has sought to undermine operations in The Seems in ways that have continually threatened the integrity of The World. And yet, their agenda remains unclear.”

“What’s unclear?” shouted Tony the Plumber. “They’re terrorists who want to destroy The World!”

“It’s a little more complex than that, Anthony,” said Lisa Simms, who, in her other life, traveled The World as a violinist for the London Philharmonic. “My experience with The Tide suggests they actually think they’re trying to save it.”

“She’s right. T. Thibadeau Freck joined The Tide and he truly believes the Plan is broken.” Becker was referring to the French teenager who had been his best friend during Training, until the day he was lost in a Well of Emotion. But on #37’s first Mission he found Thib very much alive, and a fervent believer in The Tide’s cause. “Judging from my last job, a lot of Seemsians are feeling the same way.”

“Regardless of The Tide’s ideology, the danger caused by their acts is very real.” Arguably the best surfer in southern Australia resumed control of the meeting. “In the last three months, however, these attacks have suddenly ceased.”

The table full of Fixers nodded, for they too had noticed the unsettling silence.

“I would like to think this is partially due to increased security throughout The Seems, but we must consider the obvious alternative . . .” Casey twisted one of her pigtails and leaned forward on the podium. “They are planning something big.”

Becker had a feeling this was coming, especially after the memo from the Powers That Be and double especially when Fixer Lake pulled out a padded yellow envelope.

“Today at 9:30 a.m., this package was found in the mail room of the Big Building, addressed only to the Powers That Be.” She held up a small circular cartridge that was the standard platform for all audio, video, and textual content in The Seems. “It contained the following message . . .”

As she inserted the cartridge into the clunky-looking player, Becker flushed red for a moment, because just such a cartridge was burning a hole in his pocket right now. But his guilty conscience quickly faded due to what was being projected in the center of the room.

“Allow me to introduce myself.” The player had cast a three-dimensional hologram of a person, whose features and voice were obscured by the garbled fuzz of the transmission. “My name is Triton.”

The figure sat on the table as if he or she was actually in the room.

“You might call me the leader of The Tide, if there was a leader of The Tide. For The Tide is not an organization, but an idea.”

The Siberian Fixer who called himself Greg the Journeyman swept his massive hand across the image. “Has anybody tried to clean this kaplunsky up?”

Casey nodded her head. “Kevin, our AV guy, is working on it right now, but we think it was recorded this way intentionally.”

The image of Triton casually leaned back upon the table and continued.

“The World is irreparably broken and a new one must be created from the ashes of the old. But before this can happen, those who are responsible for the perversion of what the Plan originally intended must be held accountable. Hence, we issue the following demands . . .”

Triton’s voice gained in fervor and even though Becker couldn’t see a face, something about the tone got under his skin.

“One, the wholesale resignation of the existing members of the Powers That Be. Two, The World itself must be put on immediate hold, until a referendum can be held to determine both new leadership and a revision to the Plan. And lastly, the Second in Command must be placed on trial in the Court of Public Opinion, for crimes against humanity.”

“Is that all?” joked the Octogenarian, but even she wasn’t laughing.

“If these demands are not met within seven days, all necessary action will be taken to accomplish these goals unilaterally.” The figure fritzed for a second before fading off into digital fuzz. But though the image had vanished, Triton’s last words continued to ring. “We anxiously await your response.”

A somber mood fell over the room, prompting even No-Hands Phil to take his feet off the table.

“Do we have any idea of what they might be planning?” inquired Becker.

“Chatter’s been low and most of our field operatives report little or no activity.” Casey seemed to pause for a second, as if in possession of some news that she didn’t want to deliver. “But new intelligence suggests they may have successfully completed the construction of a Time Bomb.”

Becker felt like he’d been punched in the stomach, and the looks on his peers’ faces said they all felt the same. Almost a year ago, fifty trays of Frozen Moments had been stolen from the Daylight Savings Bank in the Department of Time, and they were still unaccounted for. On their own, that was small cause for alarm, but if combined with enough fertilizer and a highly unstable Split Second, a weapon of almost unimaginable consequences would be in the hands of the wrong people.

“How is this possible?” asked Mr. Chiappa, who hailed from the isle of Corsica. More than anyone else in the room, the fifty-year-old high school teacher seemed weighed down by the report. “I thought we had Time on lockdown.”

“We do,” responded the bearer of the Torch. “But this information comes from a very reliable source.”

Becker wondered who that reliable source was, but Fixer Lake was privy to information that only a handful of others were cleared to know.

“At this point, there’s really not much we can do, except keep our 7
th
Senses bingolocked on Time. Po, is there anything you’d like to add?”

Everyone turned to Fixer Li Po, #1 on the Duty Roster and the acknowledged master of the 7
th
Sense. Po’s vow of silence kept him from answering aloud, so he produced a pouch of Olde Seemsian characters instead, and his fellows waited as he patiently spelled out the words:

Time is of the Essence

“Ah c’mon, Po,” cried No-Hands Phil. “Can’t you just give us a straight answer for once?”

The table cracked up, on Phil’s side of an argument for a change, but Po just shrugged and returned the chuckle.

“All right, people. I guess that’s a wrap.” The Fixers rose from the table as one and waited for Casey Lake to give her trademark parting shot. “Now let’s Live to Fix out there . . .”

“Fix to Live!”

And with that, the meeting was adjourned.

Field of Play, The Big Building, The Seems

With the Briefing spilling over into lunchtime, the hungry Fixers said their good-byes and split off in various directions— some heading to Mickey’s Deli for a whole New Perspective (or a half, for those watching their weight), others to The Flip Side, and the rest back to their homes and families and “real jobs” in The World.

“Becker, I’m gonna let my Me-2 take the kids today,” offered Frau Von Schroëder. “Would you like to grab a piece of strudel at the FDA commissary?”

“Thanks, Frau,” Becker apologized. “But I’ve only got a little while before I have to get home, so I think I’ll just grab a pretzel on the Field of Play.”

Fixer #38 had a fourteen-year-old of her own, so she could recognize when a teenager needed to be alone with his or her thoughts.

“No problem. Catch you on the Flip Side then.”

“On the Flip Side.” Becker still felt a little bad for blowing her off. “And congratulations, Frau. You’re gonna be great!”

Ilsa Von Schroëder smiled and gave a half-wave, then headed for the monorail. Becker went in the opposite direction, toward the huge recreational facility known as the Field of Play.

As he stepped through the flower-garnished entryway, his brain was still buzzing from the Briefing. He hadn’t personally encountered The Tide since that first Mission in Sleep, and all attempts since then to track down his old friend Thibadeau had failed. It was as if the Frenchman had gone completely underground again, and considering how they’d parted ways, Becker wasn’t looking forward to the day when he came up for air. But he pushed those thoughts aside, for there was something much more pleasant on his mind.

Fixer #37 rummaged through his pocket and pulled out the contraband that he’d scored from Brooks. Recorded on the tiny cartridge were excerpts from the Case File of a person in The World—transcripts of conversations, deposit slips from the Memory Bank, even Helpful Hints sent by Clara Manning, Case Worker #423006. None of this information required a particularly high Clearance—in fact, it was quite mundane—but to Becker Drane it was like gold, because all of it pertained to a certain girl who lived in a certain small town in Ontario, Canada.

On the same Mission when he had squared off against Thibadeau and fixed a nasty Glitch in Sleep, Becker had also made a friend named Jennifer Kaley. She had been scheduled to receive a Dream that night—a Dream to help her cope with a difficult time in her life—but Becker had accidentally destroyed it. Given the chance to build her a new one, he was able to deliver the intended message of hope himself, and though the day they spent together was all too brief, it was one of the best he ever had.

Unfortunately, by entering into Jennifer’s Dreamworld, Becker had invoked the “Golden Rule,” one of the primary directives in the Seemsian Rulebook. This rule stated that:

No employee, agent, or advocate of The Seems having access (or with access) to the confidential Case File of a person in The World may engage in contact, communication, and/or relationship with said person, romantic or otherwise.

When Becker took his Fixer oath, he swore to uphold every one of those Rules, no matter how difficult some of them were to follow, and he hadn’t broken any as of yet.
7
But over the course of the past year, he’d begun to tread on some dangerously thin ice.

It began professionally enough. Becker checking in with Jennifer’s Case Worker now and again to see how she was doing. But these updates only piqued his curiosity, and he found it difficult to shake the memory of the time they’d spent together at the Point of View. He soon found himself googling her on the Internet, perusing her online photo album, and seriously contemplating sending her an e-mail—but his respect for the Rules (and desire to keep his job) kept him from pressing the “send” button. Everything he found out, however, only confirmed the impression he’d had the first time he’d seen Jennifer—that there was just something about her.

“Passing on your right!”

Becker was yanked from his thoughts by a group of bike-riding Case Workers out for a lunchtime spin around the Field. He watched them disappear, then scanned the park for a more secluded place in which to sequester himself. His first choice was to take a long walk down the Short Pier, but Becker was disappointed to see that someone had already scarfed his favorite spot. He was about to retreat to the Grassy Knoll when he realized that someone was a tall African man, with blue-tinted shades and a sweat suit from the Institute for Fixing & Repair.

“Fixer Blaque!” Becker was always happy to see his old Instructor. “What are you doing here?”

“I might ask you the same thing.” Jelani Blaque smiled and rose from the bench that overlooked the still water. These days, he was carrying a traditional Igbo walking stick, partially because his leg was bothering him again and partially because it made him look even more mackadocious
8
than he already did.

“We just finished the monthly Briefing,” said Becker as they shook each other’s hand. “I was just gonna unwind for a while before making the Leap back home.”

Becker hated to lie, even a lie of omission, because outside of his mom and dad, Fixer Blaque was the one person in The World (or The Seems) who had taught him the most about life and how to live it. But he knew the retired Fixer would never approve of what Becker had concealed in his back pocket.

“I assume they showed you the message from Triton?” asked the IFR’s head instructor.

BOOK: The Split Second
12.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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