~ Chapter 1 ~
The Time Keeper
Two was a slender man, though not too slender. He exercised regularly and like most Time Keepers utilized the gym daily. He was not incredibly handsome, nor was he homely. He had an average face with high cheekbones, a high forehead, finely chiseled nose and almond eyes with a hint of smoke to them. His dark skin was smooth, as he cleansed and moisturized twice a day. He was careful not to stay in the sun too long and he smiled regularly, so as not to develop frown lines too early.
His manner of dress, mirrored his physicality. Stylish, but not flashy. He never wanted to stand out, though he did prefer soft cotton in his clothing. He cared more about comfort than look. On most days Two wore cotton suits, either gray or light blue. Never black or white, for both would attract attention and a Time Keeper never wanted attention.
Every day Two sat at his desk in the gray hub of the Time Keeper compound and kept track of the passage of time across the globe. His job required he monitor the hours of two A.M. and P.M and that they move seamlessly through to the next hour without interruption. There were technical problems to contend with. Overlapping occurred daily at all times; for instance at two P.M. St. John’s Newfoundland overlapped with two A.M in Darwin, Australia. Seoul and Sao Paulo overlapped as did Casablanca and Anadyr, Russia.
Regardless, he kept track of them and recorded deviance in the sun’s radiance and the moon’s movement at each location. In addition to this, Time Keepers were required to keep track of production shifts in human behavior. That is, if large segments of a population began exhibiting signs of lower technological development than what was their norm, it would be noted and reported immediately.
There were instances when new Time Keepers were thrown off course by anomalies; a horse and buggy in Pennsylvania; back-to-the-landers in Alaska; old gasoline generators used in South America. In those cases, supervisors were consulted.
“Some parts of the world are not as developed as others,” explained a supervisor. “…and we must remember, humans are curious, sometimes superstitious creatures. They like to experiment.”
On occasion Time Keepers would notice individuals flagrantly wasting time. Posting a video on a social networking website, showing that individual sleeping on company time usually worked.
Two sat at his monitor tapping the touchpad in front of him. Several alerts appeared. Production was down in Anchorage; bathroom time was being used to read porn in Chicago; Livermore Laboratories had let everyone leave work early for ‘Casual Friday’.
Turning to the passnet on the other side of his desk three messages blinked red. He knew what to expect, sighed inwardly and clicked on the first message. Twelve’s face appeared on the screen. Bald, unsmiling. He had never seen a smiling face among his colleagues and only in rare instances did anyone receive praise for a job well done.
“Greetings Two. I’m sure you know why you are receiving this message. Again we have failed in our attempts to improve performance. I have suggested a meeting in the Chamber and Six is following up. We’ll know shortly. I hope you are up to it. I will let you know.” The message ended with a click and the screen went dark.
He looked around and saw that only a couple of his colleagues sat at their desks. One sat directly across from him, squinting into the monitor silently moving his lips. Two smiled, knowing the new One needed to move through the material as quickly as possible. Someone, he did not know who, was filling in until the new Time Keeper was up to speed on his duties.
Four sat on the other side, two stations away and watched him intently, tapping a finger against his desk. Two smiled, raised his hand in greeting, but the man puckered his lips and arched a brow disapprovingly. He glanced away and clicked on the next message. Again Twelve appeared with a similar message only this time the meeting had been scheduled. He glanced at his watch and saw he still had time.
Deleting the first messages, he clicked on the last. No image appeared, but a voice spoke quietly, in a whisper. He moved closer to the speaker straining to hear. “Two, you don’t know me, but I know you…” Laughter followed the message and he sat back alarmed, glanced around at other stations. Still, only Four and One sat at their desks engaged in their own work. He thought that perhaps it was a test. They could monitor his response, though no one appeared to take special notice of him. He continued to look around for anything unusual and several minutes passed before he felt comfortable to turn his attention back to the teleprompt. The message had run out, so he hit replay and listened to it fully.
Shuffling into the chamber room, Time Keepers took their seats. Twelve sat at the center-most position of the circle. Two nodded at One and Three as he took his position between them. They returned the acknowledgment unsmiling.
Seats filled, Twelve stood and began his speech. “We have convened Chamber now, for the purpose of efficiency.” He glanced around the room, allowing his gaze to linger on each agent until he saw a hint of discomfort. Two met the older man’s gaze, but did not allow it to waver as others had. He smiled, noting the widening of his superior’s eyes.
Rattled, or seeming to be, the other man dropped his gaze and continued. “Our organization has been around since the beginning of civilization. Our predecessors wanted to ensure the continued existence and evolution of humans as a superior form of life in the universe; hence, Time Keepers were created.”
Though Two had been made for a specific purpose, he found that his likes and dislikes felt distinct from those of others. He did not like his superior. Overweight, lazy and browbeating, Twelve deliberately (and maliciously) attempted to make Time Keepers feel deficient in their duties.
The man paused, building up the emotional tone necessary for this particular speech. Two had heard it before, just a year previous. The older man glanced around the circle again, this time holding his gaze on no one in particular. “Our job is to ensure our brethren on the lower side fulfill destiny. This position requires utmost care and diligence. As Time Keepers we have been granted gifts unique to our kind. We have superior powers of concentration and physical attributes. We have been created specifically for this purpose, yet–” Twelve raised his hand palm up as if in question. “we still fall behind on the production scale. Our performance is down from last year by several points.”
Twelve’s hand fell to his side, he looked down at his feet shaking his head, then glanced up, his gaze directed at the man across from him and shrugged his shoulders, “I’m at a loss. We have given you everything you need to succeed, but still everyday we fail..” He sat down hard on the seat under him and looked at his shoes again, appearing much older than Two remembered. Wrinkled and spotted with age, tiny dark webs lined his face.
Six stood quickly, eyes wide in alarm. “Sir, I believe all the agents are working to the best of their ability. I don’t believe production is lower due to any fault of ours.” He pointed to a large digital map hanging high on the wall behind Twelve’s chair.
“Look at the map! There are more than we can deal with. It’s coming up on eight billion!” A note of hysteria sounded in the man’s voice. “Think back to when we began. There were only five million on the whole map. It’s no wonder our production is down.”
Two examined the map and thought it odd than no one had noticed this before. Of course it was true, but had they really gone this long without realizing it? “We don’t have a chance.”
He had not meant to say it aloud, but the utterance came unbidden. The sound of despair in his own voice alarmed him and he sat up straighter, felt the color rise in his cheeks and glanced at Six, who nodded his head in agreement. Other agents glanced at him uncomfortably and looked at Twelve for help.
Twelve had raised his head when Six mentioned the map. He stood again gazing up at it, nodding his head in agreement and echoing Two’s thoughts. “I don’t know why we haven’t realized this before. You’re right of course.” He turned back to the circle, glanced at Two, then at Six, both of whom had already spoken.
“What can we do?”
Was he opening the meeting for discussion? Another agent tentatively raised his hand. He appeared to be one of the older agents.
“Yes Ten. Speak up.”
Ten stood, appearing ill at ease. He glanced around the room briefly, but kept his head down. “Sir, can’t we double up on agents so that each of us has only one time zone?”
A whisper moved around the circle, astonishment showed on every face. The rules were broken and Two felt giddy with expectation and possibility. They would sail into unknown and possibly dark waters. A storm brewed.
Twelve shook his head, but answered to the affirmative, excitedly; gray eyes alight. “Yes! We could do that.” He sat down again, bending forward in interest, elbows on knees and lifted a hand gesturing to the circle of men. “What else can we do?”
Time Keepers looked at each other smiling. “What can we do?” they asked each other. Some agreed with Ten about doubling personnel, others were not so sure. It may cause confusion amidst current Time Keepers, they said. They did not want more confusion.
Four’s voice rose above the others, “Why not go back to the old way so we won’t have to double up?” The room grew quiet and Twelve glanced up, looked at Four slyly.
“Can you elaborate on that Four? What are you proposing?”
Four stood, cleared his voice and began speaking. Two noticed one of the man’s hands shook. The hazel eyes had dimmed with age and his hair had begun to thin. He was the oldest of the Time Keepers. He knew things.
“I propose moving the map back to an earlier age. We would have to cut the population in half to make a real difference in our production, but we could do it. It would work.”
Twelve shook his head, looked around the room. “Something like this was done many years ago. The Time Keepers then did not have the technology we have now, but they managed it. ”
He grinned at Four. “You have read the journals then?”
Four looked away from his superior and sat down. “I don’t recall. Maybe I glanced through them.”
Twelve nodded, straightened himself in the chair and glanced around the room. “Many years ago, I don’t recall when, I went into the archives. My superior was still alive and I was under his tutelage. It was almost the end of his time, but he said I needed to look through the archives, because Time Keeper activity and history had been documented from the beginning.
“The rooms below us are large.” He swept his hand across the air, as if envisioning the scene. “Not like this area. They are similar to underground caverns, but hold the historical treasures of the Vatican.
They were built centuries ago specifically for our needs. From here, we would keep civilization on track and advance the human race.” He paused for a moment, then asked, “What do we have to show for our work?”
He looked expectant. When no one answered a brief look of disappointment showed on his face. “The civilization you see today is a direct result of what we have done.” He pointed his finger in the air, “Never would man have come into the Age of Information without our direct interference. You see Time Keepers, humans are inherently lazy animals. They want to eat, procreate and indulge their curiosities. They do not however, want to work.”
“We create the need for progress and evolution. We inspire, motivate and dictate certain changes in order for the world to turn in our favor. In favor of humankind. They say ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.'” He smirked at that. “We create necessity.”
He stood again and turned away from the circle, gazing once more upon the map. “Can we do it? Is it the right thing to do? If you have moral dilemmas, think about this: what would happen if we decided to quit our interaction with humanity right now?”
He turned back to the circle of rapt faces, “I’ll tell you what would happen. The man sitting on a toilet reading pornographic material in his workplace, would continue to sit on that toilet. Cities would not be built, machines created. Civilization would crumble.”
Two kept himself from smiling at that. Though he believed their interference with humankind had certainly made a difference, he did not believe everything would come to a stop if Time Keepers went on vacation.
“We are the builders of civilization. Before we dismiss this meeting, I will leave you with one last thing to ponder. We can cut the human population by half. It would take approximately one year to complete, but it can be done with some manipulation. Should we do it? That is the question I pose to you all. You will give me your vote within the week. Leave it in the suggestion box.”
Two coupon at Smashwords for free copy – Coupon code: UH58A. Good thru December 1, 2012.