Morton DeMasse waited nervously. He had good reason for his nervousness. He was scheduled to meet with the benefactor of his research on the stroke of the hour.
His benefactor had impressed on DeMasse the importance of time, more specifically his own time. DeMasse, in his own right, knew almost all there was to be known about time. DeMasse had been sought out by his benefactor, who preferred to be known simply as Mr. Client, upon publication of preliminary research into the nature and manipulative abilities inherent in time itself.
The relationship, long and sometimes strained, had worn on Morton over the 10 years of its existence. Mr. Client, patient but insistent, had been the money as well as the motivator, keeping Morton on track through thick and thin. When Morton had come upon a seeming dead end in his time research, Mr. Client had very quietly yet firmly acquainted Morton with some of the nuances involving the term dead end. Fueled by desperation, Morton had gotten past that particular dead end, delaying his own dead end for the foreseeable future. Morton learned the truth to that old chestnut "necessity is the mother of invention".
Though Morton's benefactor insisted on his strange title of Mr. Client, it did define the relationship admirably. Mr. Client would pay well for the desired outcome to Morton's research. The sum was open to negotiation, the result however was not. Morton, in the beginning, had been so sure of his ability to bring the project to a satisfactory conclusion that he had rashly leaped to accept Mr. Client's terms.
Morton sat at the conference table, alone and reflective. His reflection of the moment was concerning the slight tremor evidenced by his thin, pale hands as they rested on the desktop. His hands fit the man, Morton being that archetypal nerd, sallow and thin, a reflection of too much time spent with his research, too little time in the sunlight. He was nervous too in the news he had to relay to his benefactor. It wasn't bad news, not at all. It was news that the project was complete, though without telltale field tests to actually see if the research was firm. Morton had run computer models of the program, rerun them, started from his first hypothesis, gone letter and verse through everything time and again. He was sure beyond certainty that he could deliver.
Mr. Client, however, was a man calculated to take the joy from such a triumphant achievement. Morton, and of necessity his associates, knew Mr. Client's true identity. The facade was maintained as a sort of designed deniability if the research was blown open to other curious eyes. Mr. Client had been indicted several times, each time evading the long arm of the law with his platoon of attorneys. He was a serious dude, was our benefactor. He was the John Wayne of the underworld, taking no crap from nobody. The list of people who had simply disappeared after running afoul of Mr. Client was both long and varied.
The clock on the wall notified Morton that 6 pm had arrived, and just as he expected the buzzer rang and Ms. Torrence informed him that Mr. Client had arrived for their meeting.
Please, Ms. Torrence, would you show him in?" Morton stood as Ms. Torrence brought Mr. Client into the conference room. His benefactor strode across the space between them and grasped his hand perfunctorily. Without invitation Mr. Client spoke to Ms. Torrence, asking her for a bottle of chilled water, no ice or glass, screw top intact, thank you very much.
Ms. Torrence gave her practiced smile, her professionalism and competence declared with a brief flash of sparkling enamel, turned and withdrew, closing the door quietly behind her.
Mr. Client turned back to Morton and quietly said, almost as an afterthought, "She is worth everything I have invested in her."
Morton had his suspicions regarding exactly what Mr. Client had invested into Ms. Torrence, but both discretion and self preservation dictated a tight reign be kept on that particular horse. Ms. Torrence had been placed without objection into the research organization. Morton had been glad for the help despite recognizing that Ms. Torrence was Mr. Client's mole inside the organization. Morton knew that her job was to report any problems with the project, including personnel, to her real employer. She was efficient, bright, and totally loyal to Mr. Client. Her education hadn't been wasted, enabling her to fulfill many tasks in a seemingly effortless ballet of skill.
Ms. Torrence had been the bringer of bad tidings relating to one Geoffrey Standing, a research associate who had become a problem to the project. Standing had apparently never heard the old cliche "Loose lips sink ships". Mr. Client had directed Morton to shut Standing up. Morton had passed along the message with appropriate stern warnings of dire results, but dear old Standing wasn't paying close attention. Another incident where Standing had been far too chatty to a journalist acquaintance had led to his untimely demise in an automobile accident. After that little bruhaha, Morton didn't have to speak further on the subject of security involving the research.
Ms. Torrence retired from the room, and Morton reflected how much she looked like Tippi Hedren in the old Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds. "Very sleek, stylish, and 50s", thought Morton, who then refocused on his chilled water bottle and his benefactor.
"Well, Mr. DeMasse, I hear you have good news for me." Ten years and it had always been 'Mr. DeMasse', never Morton or some other title less formal. "You have to give the Boss points for consistency", remarked the small impertinent voice inside Morton's skull.
Morton came back to himself quickly and replied "Yes, indeed, I have quite good news to share with you regarding our mutual interest, sir. The results are final, the device has been tested by computer simulation repeatedly, with consistent results. We can finally accomplish what we initially proposed, sir. We can collect time in a focal point and interject that time into a physical object."
Mr. Client sat, unspeaking and immobile except for his fingertips which joined with each other to form a pyramid, above which his piercing gaze fixed Morton.
"Are you sure, Mr. DeMasse? You must be quite correct regarding this. I can assure you that should you be incorrect, you will not enjoy that outcome. Now, once again, are you absolutely certain?"
Morton paused for a moment. He could feel his hands trembling again. He was caught, knowing he had already committed himself for good or ill. If he tried to reverse himself, he knew the results of that would be most unpleasant. He decided to plunge forward. After all, the tests had been conclusive, sans an actual field test.
"Yes, sir, the device is functional and fully ready whenever you wish to activate it."
"Ah, yes, that's what I like in a man, the ability to be decisive. I do hope you are right, Mr. DeMasse. We shall meet at the laboratory on Saturday afternoon, at 4 pm sharp, and let's both pray that we meet with success."
The meeting concluded with a few more exchanges, the main topic to be DeMasse's final compensation for his services. He was astounded to find that his reward was to be $50 million dollars, deposited into an offshore account, fully redeemable at any time after midnight on the upcoming Saturday. He realized that should things go awry, there would be no opportunity to cash out and run. He'd either wake up Sunday morning filthy rich, or not wake up at all.
The day came in a rush, filled with checking and rechecking everything again. Morton thought he'd be nervous again. He was wrong, he was scared so badly he could hardly spit.
Mr. Client arrived at the facility an hour early, which did nothing at all to allay Morton's barely restrained panic. Mr. Client had never deviated an iota from his announced schedule before. Was he also scared, wondered Morton? If he was you'd have never known it from his demeanor. Calm and well attired in one of his customary imported silk suits, he awaited the signal to ascend to the singularity point. That was the location where time would be harvested then invested into a physical object. The object in question was the living body of Mr. Client himself.
Morton and his staff busily finished all possible preparations for the run. He asked Mr. Client to assume his place at the singularity point. The benefactor ascended the raised dais like an emperor, about to receive his crown. He turned, seated himself, put his calm hands into his lap, relaxed yet expectant. "Mr. DeMasse, let us proceed, if we may."
Morton gave the sign and the techs started the software program, started the device in its mission to harvest time itself. The hardware began to cycle, a barely perceptible vibration strummed on the chords of the universe. Morton, poised over the readout telltales, saw the device attain sufficient efficiency to fulfill its purpose. He was about to announce the critical moment with a loudly interjected "Now!", when the lights went out.
"This is KNEW news and weather when you need it, and the correct time is 4pm. EST..wha... excuse me, the time is NOT 4 pm, my mistake. It is 4:01 pm EST. Ok, maybe we'll have better luck with the weather. Here's our staff meteorologist, Dr. Chuck McKay to bring us up to date on the weather picture."
The same thing played itself out everywhere. Missed time checks, news breaks, a remarkable series of events of precisely one minute duration. The event was duly remarked upon and then forgotten. The matter of a single minute missing was no big deal. The most prevalent feeling was an intense feeling of deja vu eexperienced universally on the planet. Like most such occurances, it was largely kept to oneself by the people experiencing it.
At the lab, the lights came back on precisely one minute after failing. Morton looked at the telltales and let a whistle of relief escape his lips. The readouts showed the result. The 6 billion inhabitants of the entire planet had been robbed of a single minute each. Morton Demasse and his device had just received the cumulative total of just over 11,415 years which they would now download into Mr. Client.
"Mr. DeMasse, do it. Right now, Mr. DeMasse." The voice was quiet, powerful, intense, and strained. It had a quality of beseechment Morton had never heard emanate from his benefactor before.
Morton DeMasse entered the required code and the process was completed in the wink of an eye. The life expectancy for Mr. Client had just been increased by over 11,415 years. Mr. Client stepped from the dais, his stride light and crisp. The change was apparent for anyone to see. He was somehow overflowing with an unseen torrent of something, something timeless.
"Thank you, Mr. DeMasse. Your last task will be to disassemble all components of this project, of which I will take possession. Please include all software, hardware, literature, and associated materials. That should occupy you and your staff for the next 2 weeks, following which we will conclude our relationship. Thank you very much for your efforts and I wish you all to enjoy the fruits of your labors.
Mr. Client swept from the lab, and everyone looked at each other, a collective sigh escaping their lips.
One year later
CNN Headline News: "Today, we have news that underworld kingpin Adolpho Luis was convicted following a federal sting operation which infiltrated his crime family and empire. The litany of his crimes include murder, arson, extortion, racketeering, drugs, a whole grocery list of criminal activity. Federal Judge Thomas P. Caine has sentenced Luis to a sentence of 6 life terms, to run consecutively. The sentence followed one of the largest operations to battle organized crime ever staged in the history of American justice. President Hayes made comment after the sentence was passed, saying she was gratified that justice has finally been served. The convicted kingpin, very visibly shaken, was led away by uniformed federal officers to begin his incarceration. Back to you, Charles..."