Silverwood: Chapter 9

An oversized and gleaming and black and otherwise featureless car rolled to a stop in front of Building 103. Out climbed the Chairman, whose shoes were as shiny as the car. He made a brisk climb of the fifty marble steps leading to the entrance. He took a look upward at the edifice. He enjoyed the way the clouds made the skyscraper appear to be moving. A fun illusion.

He passed through glass doors into a black marble lobby with a tiny reception desk, also black marble, at the far end. Seated there was a slight woman in spectacles immersed in a romance novel. The Chairman’s shoes clicked toward her.

When he got within a few yards the receptionist noticed the Chairman was there and looked up from her book.

“Hello Mr. Eg… Eg…, Mr. Chairman,” the receptionist said. What a tiresome name for a tiresome person.

“Hello, Sally. Would you be so kind as to direct me to the current location of the Time File archives?” The Chairman smiled as he awaited her response. He expected she would be alerting someone in the bowels of the building of this unusual request.

“Certainly Mr. Chairman,” Sally said. Alert complete. From somewhere in the desk she produced a stack of rectangular see-through cards a little larger than her book. She sifted through and selected one and laid it down on a panel embedded in the desk in front of her. The card lit up and the light reflected in her glasses. She poked around and swiped and swiped again and then put down a finger. “The Time File archives are currently located on floor 63,” she said. Take the second bank of elevators.”

“Thank you Sally, as always.” the Chairman swept past her desk.

No problem, Eagle Yak Life or whatever your name is,” Sally muttered under her breath. She went back to reading. She was just getting to the part where the long-separated couple find each other again.

The Chairman stepped out of the elevator onto floor 63, the only floor he was cleared to access. It was a lifeless, textureless white hallway like every other hallway in the building with no indication of what floor it was or what direction one should go. A line of circular ceiling lights stretched off in both directions like dots in a video game. Each light cast a corresponding reflection in the floor below it.

The Time File was the world’s most effective system for not finding things. Most files arrange everything according to a physical order, in space. Like alphabetically. But everything in the Time File was also stored in the added dimension of time, and so retrieving it, or even knowing it was there, presented a multi-sided and thorny problem. Only people who deposited things into the Time File had any idea how to get them back out again, and that was by design. At some point someone horrible figured out that this system could also be useful for disappearing humans that they didn’t like. A person filed in this way would not know where, or when, they were. This made it especially hopeless to escape. And if one did escape, it would most likely be to the wrong time frame. Things shifted around in the Time File as items displaced one another. So up-to-the-minute accuracy was paramount if you wanted to attempt to actually find something. Or someone.

The Chairman knew where to look, though, since he had made this particular entry in the Time File with great care. He pulled out a small card and stuck it to the surface of the wall at eye level. The card lit up with data. Names and faces, objects, vehicles, documents containing embarrassing details. Sums of money. Sentimental items. Some things that were worthless except to whoever hid them there. A single shoe. Some of it was straight up garbage.

The Chairman swiped across the card and more things flew by. No sign of what he was looking for. He peeled the card off and flipped it over and kept swiping. He poked it with a finger and the display stopped. Another swipe or two, forward, back, and then there he was. Mr. Silverwood. ID photo featuring scraggy hair and a cheesy grin. He poked the display and mechanical sounds started up somewhere deep within the walls.

While he waited for the system to retrieve Mr. Silverwood’s Time File location, the Chairman straightened his back and faced the blank wall. He tried on a couple of different stern facial expressions. How do you greet a man with whom you have a complicated history, and who may or may not know you are the one who filed him away? The Chairman wanted to appear calm and most of all he wanted to keep the upper hand. He smoothed back his hair and took a deep breath.

The mechanical sounds got louder and louder until they stopped and a ten-foot-square section of the wall turned transparent. Here was the Time File of Mr. Gabriel Silverwood, Item Number 96-84287.

Which was empty.

The Chairman took in the scene – or lack thereof – in front of him. The room was as blank as the hallway. He turned off the force field on the front and stepped in. The only things inside were a toilet and a platform for sleeping and a small object in the middle of the floor. It was a device with a screen on one side and a single button. It was beat up and cracked and looked out of place in the sterile room.

When the Chairman picked up the device it automatically activated. It beeped and the screen flickered and then a grainy but seemingly live image of Mr. Silverwood himself appeared. He was looking away but spun around at the sound of a corresponding beep on his end. He leaned forward and peered in and his face burst out in a smile of recognition.

“Ah! Hello there, Mr. Chairman Magistrate Sir. I was pretty sure that I would hear from you pretty quick. Took longer than I thought. How the heck have you been?”

Gabriel Silverwood had the kind of unstructured personality that could make you forget he was also a highly-trained Agent and assassin. There were those who dismissed him as a loose cannon who happened to have decent technical and battle skills, but was not worth the risk to deal with. He had a history of acting on impulse that had gotten him into and out of trouble on many different occasions. It was impulse that led him to leave this little device behind as a gift in his prison cell instead of disappearing entirely.

Gabriel’s physical presence matched his temperament. He gave the impression he was going to spring up and break into a run at any moment. He never seemed to stop moving even when sitting still.

From what the Chairman could make out on the tiny screen it looked like Gabriel was in an outdoor location. There looked to be a second person moving around behind him. The Chairman wondered when and how the Time Files had been breached. No doubt Silverwood had help on the inside.

The Chairman tried to appear calm. “Hello, Mr. Silverwood.”

“Gabe. Call me Gabe.”

The Chairman scowled. “Gabe. Obviously you’ve gained your freedom prematurely, which is unfortunate since I was on my way to offer you a deal.”

“Well, I guess the deal’s off,” Gabriel said.

“As I said, that’s unfortunate,” the Chairman said. “I think you would have been very interested in this particular deal.”

“Your deals stink,” Gabriel said. “But you do sell them pretty well. You’re a good junk salesman.”

The Chairman came out with it. “I know where your wife and children are,” he said. “Or I suppose I ought to say I know where and when your wife and children are. That would be more accurate.” The Chairman lifted up his chin and stared straight into the screen.

Gabriel’s demeanor changed immediately and the goofy face disappeared. He sat down to consider this. He looked at the ground. Just below the surface, Gabriel Silverwood was an angry, isolated man who had not seen his family in a very long time and the Chairman knew this. He counted on it.

Gabriel considered the word, “children.” Last he saw Kate, that word had been singular with another on the way. Children. As in, more than one. He knew this, of course. He had talked with them all over various pirated channels from time to time. But seeing all of them at once, in real life – that was a possibility that he had kept carefully contained in a far corner of his mind. Because he could not fully believe in it, even now.

“Okay, and I suppose you want something in exchange for that information, am I correct?” Gabriel said.

“Well, you know, it’s interesting you would ask,” the Chairman said. He was starting to enjoy himself now. “Because, this deal actually benefits you, too. It’s a very good deal. If you hold up your end, you get the information, and the means, to get to the place and time where your family are. And stay there. No strings. Doesn’t that sound like a good deal?”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Talk.” Gabriel said, leaning in.

“There’s been an incident,” the Chairman said. “A considerable number of portals have unfortunately been taken. Along with The Book of the Future. A book that I believe has been repaired, by the way. Interesting, since you were the last person known to be in possession of the missing page. But no matter, back to my story. Recently, a Tromindox paid a visit to our headquarters.”

“Your headquarters?” Gabriel said. “Who told the Tromindox where your headquarters are? You people really are losing your touch, you know that?”

“Never mind how it happened. It’s sufficient to say that important responsibilities were left in the hands of idiots, and it won’t happen again. These portals that were taken – they were unique. Used in combination with the book they give the Tromindox far too much time traveling flexibility. The beasts can now move around at will and in much greater numbers, Mr. Silverwood. You know what that means? Agents or bounty hunters like your wife won’t be able to fight them off one by one. The Tromindox will go where they want, when they want. And they will multiply. I don’t have to tell you, battling Tromindox in multiple time frames at once isn’t going to work. We shall find ourselves at a serious disadvantage. A lot of people are going to perish. And I’m afraid bounty hunters like your wife are going to be in for a nasty surprise, if you get my meaning.”

Gabriel understood exactly what the Chairman was saying. The thought of his wife going into battle with what she thinks is one Tromindox, and finding out it’s really five, or ten, or twelve…

“My wife can take care of herself,” Gabriel said.

“Oh I’m certain she can, Mr. Silverwood, when she knows what she is dealing with. That’s the problem. And should she be, say, surprised, compromised, what’s to happen to those two children of yours? We wouldn’t want to leave them alone in a world filled with hungry Tromindox now would we? This place is about to become an all-you-can-eat buffet for the squid. And we certainly wouldn’t want that daughter of yours finding herself amongst the wrong people. Or the wrong creatures. Would we?”

Gabriel touched the utility knife in his pocket. It was encoded with his daughter’s bio-signal. An exact match to the knife that he had given to her when she was five. Even though it sat silent the knife felt like an unseen and unbreakable link with Gabriel’s family. A link that he reached for unconsciously at moments like these. The Time Files couldn’t take that away. They weren’t a proper prison, with rules and processing and little bags of your belongings being put away somewhere and jumpsuits and special shoes. They were dumping ground. They were imprisonment through bureaucratic mishandling. A natural extension of the system if there ever was one.

Rumors circulated that people who had wound up in lost in the Time Files had gone catatonic or even killed themselves. Whether or not those were true, it seemed obvious that such isolation in time and space amounted to a violent severing from everything that was meaningful to a person and the loss of context could certainly be extremely dangerous or conceivably fatal. There were stories about those who had spent time in the Time Files being unable to rebuild their realities and to re-connect to the people around them. As if a curtain lowered inside of their minds that hid them from their own consciousness and set them adrift. Gabriel knew he would have to work to re-establish his sense of tangible reality, however long he had spent in there. Hence the knife and the many stories he repeated to himself inside his head.

Since their separation, his family had sporadically kept in communication through a series of stolen and pirated and altered equipment and channels and the assistance of a widely-dispersed network of Agents. These were people who allied themselves with the Silverwood clan and remembered or longed for the days before the Council had convened and confiscated the portals and books. This web of connections had kept Gabriel sane outside of the Time Files as well as inside.

Gabriel looked straight into the screen. What was the Chairman really after? Now the man had resorted to threatening Gabriel’s family. This must be serious and something involving some serious vulnerability on the Chairman’s part. Gabriel crossed his arms and leaned forward. “So, Mr. Magistrate Secretary Sir, what exactly is it that you are asking me to do?”

“I want you to locate this Tromindox T-441 who took initial possession of the portals and of the book. You are to track it and when it travels in time you are to go with it. I want you to isolate it, and retrieve all of the portals and the intact book. And I want you to return it all to me personally.”

Gabriel stared at the screen. This man had to be crazy. This was a plan both stupid and impossible. “What?”

“You heard me,” the Chairman said. “Do you want to hear what you get in return?”

Gabriel didn’t say anything.

The Chairman continued. “I’m glad you asked. In return for your efforts I will ensure that you conclude your journey in the same time frame as your family. You shall also receive the means to tether your family together – permanently. You will never be separated from them again.”

“You must want these portals and this book awfully badly,” Gabriel said. “How do I know that you have any intention at all of doing your part? What assurance have I of landing in the right time frame? That’s a tall order, isn’t it? Do you even have the capability to do that?”

“Never mind how. I give you my word that you will be reunited with your family. I’m willing to give you something very important to you, in return for something very important to me. It’s truly that simple.” He held out his palms. “I’m taking quite a risk here Mr. Silverwood. I have no idea if you’re going to get me the exact items I’m asking for. I don’t have to remind you that you don’t enjoy a glorious history or reputation. You removed a page from the Book of the Future that somehow has magically made it back into Tromindox hands. Do I have the full story on how that happened? I don’t. But I’m willing to set that aside, ‘Gabe.’ I’m willing to work with a sketchy ex-Agent who has been in and out of prison. Why? Because I believe you are the right person for the job.”

And, I’ve got your family tied up in this, the Chairman thought to himself. You can’t turn me down and you know it.

“Mr. Silverwood do we have a deal? Because I don’t want to waste any more time on this conversation if we don’t.”

“Fine. You have yourself a deal,” Gabriel said. As much as anyone can make a deal with a double-crossing obtuse paper-pusher like you. “I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes won’t we.”

“That’s good enough for me,” the Chairman said. “Someone will be along with materials for you shortly.”

“What?” Gabriel said.

“You heard me. Expect some information. That’s all for now. Oh, and Mr. Silverwood – Gabe?” the Chairman says.

Gabriel looked into the screen.

“Mess this up, double cross me, and you will not see your family for a very, very long time. By which I mean to say, forever.”

The Chairman turned the device off and the screen went to static.

He whistled to himself as he took the elevator back down to the marble lobby.

“Thank you, Sally, again,” the Chairman said passing the reception desk and tossing the device – and the card he used to look up Mr. Silverwood – into the wastebasket with a loud clang.

Chapter 8 | Silverwood Index | Chapter 10