Authors: John Hulme
Tags: #ebook, #book
The Dispatcher pulled his headset off and wiped the cold sweat from his eyes.
“We need you, kid. We need you real bad.”
. Firsts, Seconds, and Thirds are the three naturally occurring geological phenomena from which the Essence of Time is distilled. For more on the science and nature of Time, please consult appendix B: “Time Is of the Essence.”
. An ex-employee of the Toolshed who turned his talents toward darker purposes and is rumored to be a founding member of The Tide.
Customs, Department of Transportation, The Seems
By the time Becker arrived in Customs, a state of emergency had already been declared by the Powers That Be. All departmental employees were instructed to remain at their posts until further notice and only authorized personnel were allowed to board the monorail. But as Fixer Drane boarded the express and headed toward one of the greatest disasters in Seemsian history, his head was still spinning from the mess he’d left behind.
Shortly after the haggard Dispatcher had disappeared from his screen, Becker had grabbed his Toolkit from the trunk of his parents’ car and returned to the woods under the guise of walking off a final bout of nausea. From there, it only took a minute to inflate his Me-2, insert his shiny Skeleton Key into the base of a maple tree, and open a portal directly into the In-Between. But just as he was stepping inside—
The ever-present Benjamin rounded the bend to take another whiz. From the horrified look on his face, the seven-year-old must have thought he was carsick too, for standing next to his older brother was . . . his older brother.
“You’re dreaming, B.” Becker and his Me-2 tried to cover for each other in perfect harmony. “Go back to the car and when you wake up you won’t remember any of this.”
“Yes, I will.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Yes, I will. Because I’m
The last thing the Fixer needed was another Rule violation, but seeing that the boy was on the verge of hysterics, he had little choice but to kneel down beside him and come clean.
“I know this is gonna be hard to believe, B,” Becker waited for an eighteen-wheeler to rumble by, “but um . . . everything I told you about The Seems—it’s real.”
The fact that there was a blue tunnel apparently extending into infinity (as opposed to the inside of a maple tree) backed up Becker’s claim.
“I have to take off for a little while, so you hang out with Me. But whatever you do, don’t say anything to Mom or Dad or you’re gonna get the worst flying wedgie of your life.”
As if to punctuate the threat, the inflatable Becker put its hands together and made a violent upward yanking motion.
“I swear I won’t say anything. I
Becker slung his Toolkit over his shoulder and gave his little brother a hug.
“Take good care of him, okay, Me?”
“Affirmative,” answered Becker’s alter ego. “Now get going!”
“Now arriving, Department of Time, where it’s always Now.
Please watch the gap between the train and the platform.”
Even before the monorail pulled to a stop, Becker had a feeling it was going to be bad. He was the only passenger on a train normally packed with commuters, and the closer he got to the station the more the Fixer could hear the sound of sirens through the plate-glass windows. But he never expected it would be quite as bad as this.
Scattered across the platform were hundreds of people— employees and visitors alike—laid out on stretchers or huddled on the floor in blankets, crying out for medical attention. Emergency Care Givers from the Department of Health were scrambling to help everyone they could, but the sheer numbers of those who’d been caught in the blast had them overwhelmed.
“Help me! Somebody help me!” A girl Becker recognized as one of the baristas from Magic Hour was clutching her leg in agony. “My leg . . . it’s getting older!”
Seeing that no one was answering her cries, Becker ran over to see what he could do.
“It’s okay! It’s gonna be o—”
But it wasn’t gonna be okay—for on closer inspection, the skin right below the girl’s knee had rapidly begun to age, wrinkling like Saran Wrap right before Becker’s eyes. Even worse, the bones beneath the skin were gnarling and warping into those of an old woman.
“Help!” Becker called out at the top of his lungs. “We need a medic over here!”
“In one second!” cried a sweat-soaked Care Giver. “We have to deal with the most serious cases first!”
As Becker tried to comfort the anguished girl, he realized that as bad as what was happening to her, what was happening around them was much, much worse. Two paramedics were treating a teller from Daylight Savings, but their Anti-Aging Cream had failed to stop his teeth from falling out of his head. Everywhere Becker looked, blonds and redheads were turning gray and white, spines were hunching, and years of life were rapidly draining away.
“We need more dustpans over here!” shrieked a nurse to no one in particular. “We need more dustpans
True horror, it is said, lies in what remains unseen—but that is only said by those who have never truly seen it. Becker was now witnessing it firsthand, as Seemsians who only a half-hour ago had bright futures ahead of them were following the aging process to its logical conclusion—their lives cut short as they literally crumbled into piles of dust. Weeping Care Givers were delicately sweeping up the remains and pouring them into ceramic urns so friends and family could someday honor their loved ones.
“Somebody do something!” he shouted, noticing how fear had made his voice sound high pitched and shrill.
Becker had never seen a dead person before, except for a girl named Amy Lannin. Amy grew up around the corner from Becker and was by far his best friend, but she was stricken with leukemia when she was only ten years old. On the day of her funeral, the sight of her made up and lying in the coffin had been almost too much for Becker to bear. And even after a year of service as a Fixer, to be in the presence of death again shook him to the very core.
“Fixer Drane! Over here!”
Becker looked up to see the Dispatcher himself emerging from a makeshift ops center.
“One second, sir!” Becker was still holding the hand of the terrified barista, who was finally having a tourniquet applied to her leg. “I need to make sure she’s—”
“That’s an order, Fixer Drane!” Even the Dispatcher’s famously gruff voice got caught inside his throat. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”
Reluctantly, Becker pulled his hand out of the grasp of the barista.
“Please . . . don’t leave me!” implored the girl.
“I have to,” answered Becker. “After I Fix this thing, I promise I’ll come back and make sure you’re all right.”
But that brought the young woman small comfort as she was lifted onto a stretcher and loaded onto the monorail with the rest of the victims. Becker still hoped that he could find her at the Department of Health when all of this was over, but then he realized . . . he never even had the chance to get her name.
“Here’s what we know so far . . .”
The Dispatcher pulled Becker inside the curtains that had been hung around the kiosk to keep it separate from triage. Behind them were a host of Time Keepers, Central Command personnel, and even a few off-duty Night Watchmen who had come down from the Department of Sleep to help monitor the effects of the Bomb on both The Seems and The World.
“As soon as the Second was split, it caused a massive release of the Essence of Time. The bulk of it went through the Frozen Moments as planned, but since there was no containment field in the basic design, there was a large degree of spillover into the department itself.” The Dispatcher took a quick look outside, as another load of victims was lifted onto the train. “Which explains what you see out there . . .”
“Any word on Chiappa?” asked Becker, still a bit rattled from what he’d seen on the platform. And he wasn’t alone.
“Negative. We can only assume the worst.”
“What about his Briefer?”
“Shan made it out of there before it detonated and thank the Plan, she had the wherewithal to set up a Fallout Shelter™.”
Becker stepped to the opposite side of the booth and pulled the curtain aside. Normally, this would have given him a perfect view of the quaint little village known as Time Square, but today all he could see was a giant blue tent that covered all eight blocks of downtown.
“Nice work,” admired Fixer Drane, appreciating Briefer Shan’s quick thinking. The Fallout Shelter had been invented by Al Penske to protect a Fixer in the midst of cataclysmic events, but recognizing that it was air, water, and fire tight, Shan had inverted its purpose and used it to keep the Essence from spreading out even farther. Becker had never seen one quite this big though.
“Who knew the Double XL would ever come in handy?” the Dispatcher chuckled, marveling at the wizardry of the Toolshed’s head designer. “But it’s not gonna hold for long.”
Becker did the quick calculations in his head and knew that with so many first responders on the scene, an alternate solution to the Fallout Shelter could probably be conceived. The World was another matter, though.
“For all intents and purposes, it should have been destroyed already,” added Permin Neverlåethe, hands shaking and face seemingly drained of all blood by what had happened in his department. “With this level of exposure, the Fabric of Reality should have been soaked in the Essence and the entire World reduced to dust, much like my . . . ,” the Administrator of Time tried to choke down the emotion, “. . . former employees.”
“Then why hasn’t it happened yet?” A cold wash of fear came over Becker as he thought of his family and Me-2, who were no doubt stuck in traffic on I-95 near New Haven right now. “Outside of a few minor anomalies I saw before the Bomb went off, there weren’t any noticeable effects.”
“That’s what we’ve been trying to figure out.” Neverlåethe whistled toward a crowd of Tickies who were still trying to rig up some servers to keep what was left of Time up and running. “But we do have one potential theory . . .”
“What’s up, boss?” a young, shaggy programmer in a Rush
T-shirt appeared at Becker’s side. “We’re about to patch in the laptop Window so we can check the World’s timing.”
“Bochkay, show Fixer Drane what you showed me.”
At the mention of the word “Fixer,” the normally flippant Ticky suddenly found himself tongue-tied, until Becker gave him the peace sign, which seemed to mellow him out.
“Well, a typical Second kind of looks like this, right?” He sheepishly reached into his pocket and pulled out an egg of what Becker recognized as Silly Putty. “I don’t normally bring this to work with me, but uh . . .”
Seeing that nobody cared, he continued his explanation.
“Imagine the putty is the Essence inside the Second and the egg is the Second itself.” Bochkay split the two pieces in half and removed the taffylike gunk. “Now, assuming this Bomb is relatively similar to the original, the moment the Second was split in two, all of the Essence would have gone into the Frozen Moments with this half of the egg.”
He jammed the entire ball of putty into one half of the egg and flipped it over to Becker.
“The only reason I can think of to explain why what you’re holding in your hands hasn’t hit The World yet is that it somehow took a detour into one of the Frozen Moments themselves— or may even be ping-ponging between them.”
“Does that mean it could still end up hitting The World?” Becker inquired.
“Absolutely. It’s really not a matter of
Becker wanted to ask, “Well, how do we stop it?” but then he remembered that that was
“What if we were somehow able to get our hands on this piece,” Fixer Drane held up the putty-filled half of the egg in his hand, then grabbed its empty partner from the Ticky. “And put it back together with
“That would be ideal,” said Bochkay. “But how the heck are you gonna do that?”