Read an excerpt from The Seems: The Split Second
|The Seems: The Split Second
(Hardcover) by John Hulme (Author), Michael Wexler (Author)
The Edge of Sanity, The Seems
Sunset Strip, a sub-department of the Department of Public Works, had been built overlooking the Stream of Conscious¬ness, and for good reason. The Seemsian sun set in the north, casting a warm glow over the tranquil back lot, while a pleasant hike down the Path of Least Resistance led to the Stream itself. But perhaps it’s most eye-catching spot was the Edge of Sanity—a jagged outcropping high above the weaving canyon— which attracted many a Scenic looking for a never-before¬imagined shade or hue. But it also drew a different sort of visitor.
“How the heck did he get all the way down there?”
Becker lay flat on his stomach and peaked over the Edge. Far below him, a lone figure was huddled on a narrow sill jut¬ting from the face of the cliff.
“No idea,” said his Briefer, kneeling beside him. “But that rock he’s sitting on isn’t gonna hold for long.”
A queasy feeling was working its way into Becker’s stom¬ach. He’d once had a Glimmer of Hope in mind for just such an occasion but he’d been forced to blow it on his very first Mission, so now he had to suck it up.
“Agreed.” Becker pulled the rubber soles from his Toolkit, careful not to touch the bottoms with his hand lest he would have to go to the Department of Health and have them surgi¬cally removed.“But set me up a Safety Net™ just in case.”
Many feet below, a tortured artist wearing a thin mustache sat with his arms around his knees. He rocked back and forth, muttering to himself, until his attention was drawn by a hand¬ful of silt that trickled down from above. Gazing up, he was amazed to see a lanky thirteen-year-old boy with shaggy hair standing at a ninety-degree angle and looking straight down the face of the cliff.
“Stop right zere!” screamed The Maestro in his thick North-Seemsany accent. This picturesque region of The Seems was famed for cultivating persons of a certain artistic flair— painters, musicians, and especially masters of culinary delights like Twists of Fate or the Snooze—but the rolling hills also engendered a particularly fiery temperament. “You no come closer or I jump!”
“I just want to talk,” said Becker, dangling over the Edge of Sanity.
“Zere nothing to talk about! It is done. Over. Finis!”
The painter punctuated the statement by slamming his fist to the ground, knocking pebbles and baseball-sized rocks out from beneath the ledge. Becker could see that The Sarge was right . . . it wouldn’t hold for long.
“Is it okay if I join you?”
The Maestro ignored him, gazing toward the water with despair. Becker took that as a yes, and found his way to a small crevice that the centuries had carved from the wall. It wasn’t much of a sitting place, so Becker kept his Feet firmly planted on the rock.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of high places.” The Fixer knew the key to talking him down was establishing a rapport. “It’s not that I’m afraid to fall, it’s just
that there’s always this little voice in my head saying ‘jump, jump, jump’—and someday I’m afraid I’m gonna listen to it.”
“It is probably just ze Mischievous Imp,” said the Maestro without looking up.
“Nah. We caught that guy a couple years ago. He’s up in Seemsberia knitting pot holders and singing ‘Kumbaya.’ ”
Down below, the slightest of chuckles was just audible above the wind.
“Mind if I call you Figarro?”
“You can do whatever you want.”
At least he was talking now, so Becker figured this was the time to strike.
“What happened out there today?”
The Maestro shook his head angrily, but was too filled with disgust to even speak.
“Look at them over zere.” He pointed bitterly to the other side of the canyon, where a gated community and its lavish clubhouse was perched even higher than they.“Yuppie scum in their fancy houses.”
“This isn’t about Crestview.” Becker made a harsh transi¬tion to tough love because time was running out.“This is about a very important Sunset that you were supposed to paint tonight but decided to rip into a million pieces instead.”
The Maestro flinched at the implication, and Becker knew that he was starting to get through.
“I can’t help you, Figarro. Not unless you tell me what’s wrong.”
The Maestro sat and stewed for a moment before finally speaking up.
“My entire life I work to make Sunsets zat will remind
people of ze beauty of Ze World, bring zem a precious little moment at the end of another hard day. But everything I do— it is for nothing!”
Far down below, the waves in the Stream crashed against the rocks, and Becker again resisted the urge to see what would happen if he ...
“I brush Hope in ze clouds for people of ze Philippines, and next day, zey are hit by Typhoon. I hide beautiful Memory in shade of pink, but ze person it is meant for is too sick to even look up and see!”
“The Plan works in mysterious ways,” said the Fixer.
“But why must zere be so much suffering?” The Maestro seemed to be asking himself as much as Becker. “Why cannot Ze World be a better place?”
This type of rhetoric sound awfully familiar to Becker and it forced him to ask a very uncomfortable question.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain . . . organization . . . would it?”
“How dare you accuse me of being in Ze Tide! I pour my heart and soul on ze canvas each and every day!” Figarro slid another inch forward. If this didn’t turn around in a hurry, not only would there be no Sunset, but there would be no Figarro. “But what is ze point? Ze Maestro makes no difference at all ...”
And that’s when Becker knew what was really wrong in the Department of Public Works and how he was going to Fix it.
“Au contraire, Figarro.” Becker carefully unclipped his Blinker from his belt. Dotting the view screen of the rubber-buttoned communication device were a host of folders— individual Case Files of those who would be affected by the
Sunset (or lack thereof).“With one look at this Sunset,lives can be changed forever . . .”
Down below, the man with the thin mustache slowly turned to listen.
“. . . and it’s not just people struggling. I can’t even count how many are on beaches or on hikes through a mountain pass or lying in a meadow with their best friend and don’t know they’re about to enjoy one of the greatest moments of their lives.”
“But one Sunset, my friend? What can one Sunset do against ze troubles of entire World?”
“Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.” Becker flipped over to one case in which he was personally involved. “A good friend of mine’s future may depend on him getting a little dose of Confidence tonight. But even if he looks away at just the wrong moment, or something awful happens tomorrow it doesn’t really matter.All that matters is we try.”
The Maestro looked Becker directly in the eye.
“Do you really believe zis?”
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
There was a long silence, and from the way Figarro peered down at the rocks below, Becker wasn’t sure whether he had gained him or lost him.
“All right, Fixer-man. Maybe ze Plan is out of our control. But if only one person in those Files of yours stops to look . . .” He rose and proudly faced Becker.“Then I shall give that per¬son the greatest Sunset Ze World has ever—”
But before he could finish his sentence, the entire ledge the Maestro was standing on broke off and went plummeting down toward the Stream.
This time, Becker did listen to the voice in his head screaming “Jump!” Detaching from his Sticky Feet, he plummeted straight toward the Maestro, who was screaming in abject horror. It was a second or two before he caught up to the flailing painter, which only brought a small modicum of satisfaction, because it would only be a second or two more before they both smashed headlong into the rapidly approaching rocks below. But Becker knew something that Figarro didn’t.At least he hoped he did . . .
“Sarge, please tell me you set up the—”
The Fixer and the Maestro found themselves encircled in a ball of nylon twine, which stretched uncomfortably close to the water before recoiling back up toward the top of the cliff. Thankfully, it was connected to the twin firing mechanisms that the Sarge had undoubtedly anchored to the Edge of San¬ity, and whose retractable crank was now reeling the two sur¬vivors of a near-death experience back to the top.
“How you doin’ down there, boss?” barked the Sarge over his Receiver.
“Hangin’ in there.”
The best part about a Safety Net was the safety.The whole net thing Becker could have done without, because at the moment it was imprinting a familiar waffle-shaped tattoo on their faces.
But better to be a waffle than a pancake.
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