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Kopeksky was almost killed on Broadway by a horn-blaring Lincoln charging the line of crossing pedestrians, and again by a cab on Seventh. The sidewalks were practically as dangerous, with running, briefcase-flailing commuters and people rushing in and out of subway entrances, and every public phone booth seemed to be occupied by a yelling figure gesticulating wildly in the air. No two clocks that Kopeksky saw anywhere said the same thing. Sidewalk vendors were already selling watches hand carried from Grand Central and set to Grand Central time, which much of Midtown had apparently adopted as a standard. Kopeksky found it to be eleven minutes behind his windup, which, if nothing had changed since he talked to Quinn, was in step with the rest of the country's EST. Nope, he told himself as he hurried on. It wasn't going to be one of "those" days, after all. There had never been a day like this one was looking to be.

He reached headquarters by ten minutes before nine and stopped by at the Day Room to check on the latest. NBC had retuned a channel to a frequency that worked, and a group of Bureau people were taking in the news from a portable on Quinn's desk. Kopeksky helped himself to his second morning coffee from the pot on the corner table and moved over to join them. "What gives?" he asked.

"They've just given out a time check as 8:15," Alice, one of the records clerks, replied.

"The airports are closed," Quinn said without looking away from the screen. "Incoming traffic's screwed up trying to synch to the tower times and frequencies. It was still the other side of eight- o-clock at JFK, just a few minutes ago." He shook his head. "Oh man, oh man. This is wild, wild, wild."

Kopeksky listened to the newscaster. Apparently the retuned channel was being picked up in a few places around the city, but that was by no means true universally. "But I assure you that we're working on it, folks. The latest opinion from our experts here is that it's probably a glitch in the computers somewhere." Kopeksky felt the same kind of reassurance that he did when he listened to TV evangelists or presidential candidates. He took another mouthful of coffee, turned away, and left to make his way up to Ellis's office on the fifteenth floor.

Ellis Wade had arrived steerage through the ranks, not first class, courtesy of any social connections or college degree, which put him at odds with the Bureau's new management style and image. His natural taciturn and laconic disposition did not effectively project the new-age analytical openness that the PR firm hired from Madison Avenue had decided was appropriate to business-school forensics and computer-aided impartiality, and their efforts to enlighten him only deepened the cynicism and suspicion that made him the kind of chief that Kopeksky could live with. The same qualities also made him the only kind of chief that could live with Kopeksky. He was short, but broad and solidly built, with straight, close-cropped, steel-gray hair, tanned and fleshy, heavy-jowled features, and a bear-trap mouth that writhed, pursed, stretched, and compressed itself ceaselessly when he wasn't talking--which was most of the time.

The man sitting to one side of Wade's desk when Kopeksky entered and hung his hat on the stand inside the door at once put Kopeksky in mind of his schoolboy imaginings of a Martian: small, but with a disproportionately large and rounded cranium, mildly pink and almost bald, and peering intently through circular lenses that magnified his ocular movements into erratic sweeping motions that suggested the data-input scannings of an intelligent, wide- eyed octopoid. He was wearing a heavy jacket of plain, light-blue tweed and a misshapen maroon tie. Wade introduced him as Dr. Ernst Grauss, from the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.

"He's been sent to help people here look into this crazy business that's been going on with the clocks," Wade explained. "He deals in . . . " His voice trailed off as he realized that he didn't really know what Grauss dealt in.

"Der physics theoretical it iss, in vich I specialize," Grauss supplied, and by way of elaboration presented Kopeksky with a reprint of a scientific paper that he had authored, entitled "Higher Dimensional Unifications of Quantum Relativity."

"A scientist," Wade offered, his tone conveying that the title meant as much to him as Kopeksky's expression was registering. Kopeksky sat down in the empty chair in front of the desk and stared back with an okay-let's-hear-it look.

Wade tossed out a hand indifferently to indicate the wall behind him, the rest of the building beyond, and the city outside that in general. "It's all a mess. First they told us it was just something affecting a few TV stations. Then people started getting time checks that didn't add up, so it was the phone company computers, too. Now nothing anywhere makes sense. I just came up from Communications. They're having trouble getting through to anybody by radio now. The latest is that JFK, La Guardia, and Newark have shut down operations. All their frequencies are out."

Kopeksky nodded. "I know. I heard on the way up."

The sounds of a door opening and closing came from the corridor outside, then hurrying footsteps accompanied by jabbering voices, fading rapidly. The phone range on Wade's desk. He picked it up irascibly. "Yeah, Wade? . . . I said I'd be busy. I'm busy. . . . It is, huh? Okay, fifteen minutes. . . . I just said, fifteen minutes." He hung up and looked back at Kopeksky.

"It's as if the time you thought you had suddenly isn't there any more. Nothing's getting done. Everything's a rush. Nobody's finishing anything."

"Tell me about it," Kopeksky muttered, crushing his empty paper cup in a palm.

Wade made a gesture that could have meant anything. "Well, here's something I bet you haven't thought of. Has it occurred to you that the reason why there suddenly doesn't seem to be enough time any more could be that someone, somewhere is stealing it?"

Kopeksky stopped in the act of pitching crumpled cup toward the trash bin and stared speechlessly. "Stealing it?" he repeated. "Someone is stealing time?" Wade nodded heavily, in a way that said it wasn't he who had dreamed this up, and then waved a hand in Grauss's direction. Evidently he himself had said all he was prepared to on the subject.

Grauss wiped his glasses on a pocket handkerchief, then replaced them and brought them to bear on Kopeksky as if making sure that he had his target clearly in the sights before beginning.

"Vor many years now, der scientific vorld hass perplexed itself been by der unpredictabilities unt strangenesses at . . ." he waved a hand in the air, searching for a word . . . "untermicroscopic, ja?--levels below der atomic--vich are called quantum uncertainty." He barely moved his mouth as he spoke, which with his accent caused his voice to come out as a hiss. "But ve find ven computing eigenfunction connectives across many complex planes, dat der solutions produce conjugate loci vich converge to yield definitions off orthogonal spaces. Unt der quantum reconcilliations ve find at ze intersections, unt so obliges us to conclude dat der existence is real. So far is gutt, ja? . . ."

Kopeksky just stared, glassy eyed. "I think what he's trying to say is that the `other dimensions' that people have been talking about for years really exist," Wade threw in. His tone made it clear that he wasn't saying so. He was just saying that whatever bunch Grauss was from were saying so. Wade's accountability ended right there.

"Ja, ja!" Grauss nodded several times, excitedly. "Ve haff der universe mitt other dimensions vat ve don't see, but vich can intersect along der complex vectorspaces. Unt vy not, ve ask ourselffs, cannot ziss other universe vich iss here but vat ve can't see, haff its own inhappitants too, who also master der sciences unt der physics, maybe more so zan ve do here?"

"Another guy from NAS called Langlon last night," Wade told Kopeksky. David Langlon was Wade's chief at the Bureau. "They've got a theory down there that we've somehow collided with aliens who exist in another dimension." Kopeksky nodded, having to his surprise extracted more-or-less that much himself. Wade shrugged. "The way it looks is that time has suddenly started disappearing from the New York area. So one thought is that these guys in the other dimension might be stealing it." Wade showed his palms in a gesture that said it made as much sense as anything else that had been going on lately. The phone rang again. Wade snatched it up, barked "Later," into it, and banged it back down.

Kopeksky jerked his head back at Grauss for some justification. The scientist went on, "Vy, in our vorld, ve spend der lifetimes vorking, vorking, always vorking? Iss to get rich unt make more der money, ja? Unt then, vat is it ve vant to do viss all der money? Ve vant it to spend vat little life iss left doing der things ve vanted ven ve vass younger peoples, unt never had der time! You see, dat iss vot ve really vant all along, not der moneys at all. Vat ve vant iss der time." He spread his hand briefly, as if the rest should have been too obvious to need spelling out.

"But vy spend der lifetime chasing der money around unt around, vich you then haff to use to buy ze time? Iff you possess der capability unt der technology zat iss advanced enough, vy not you simply take der time direct?" Grauss looked from one to the other and concluded, "Unt ziss iss vat, dese aliens, ve conjecturize zey do."

Even after more years than he cared to remember of doing a job that he believed could leave no capacity remotely close to experiencing surprise any more, Kopeksky had to strain hard to keep his composure. Finally he looked back at Wade and protested, "What in hell does this have to do with us? We don't know anything about outer space dimensions and quantum . . . whatevers. It's for--"

Wade had expected it and cut him off with a wave. "I know, Joe, I know. But save it. It's not gonna do any good. The situation has been classified a national emergency, which means following up any line that might turn up a solution. It sounds strictly scientific to me too, but somebody somewhere has decided it qualifies as larceny, which also makes it a law-enforcement matter."

Kopeksky shook his head helplessly for a few second before he could manage words. "Larceny? . . . Where are we supposed to look for the merchandise? Show me the list of it. I mean, what the hell kind of larceny is this? It's crazy."

"Well, of course it's crazy," Wade agreed. "Why else would the Bureau have gotten mixed up in it? Anyhow, that's your assignment: Find out who's stealing the stuff and what can be done about it. Okay? It's straight down the line from Langlon."

Kopeksky sat back heavily in the chair. "That's it? You're sure you don't want anything else? I mean, do you need it before lunch, or would afterward be okay?"

"For now, go and do some head-scratching and see what kind of a strategy you can come up with. We'll get together and go over it this afternoon," Wade answered, unperturbed.

"But what kind of help can I expect to get on it?" Kopeksky demanded. "What kind of resources? Who are the contacts? Don't I even get some idea of that to take back to the office?"

Wade was looking at his watch. "Gee, is that the time already? Oh yeah, that's right. They reset to EST. I've got another appointment waiting already."

Grauss rose to his feet, revealing a gangling frame that seemed to be all limbs, giving Kopeksky the feeling that it might be about to come apart at the joints inside his clothes. "I must der train to Hartvord catch, unt den from zere fly der plane pack to Vashinkton," he announced. "A pleasure to be meetink you it hass peen, Mr. Kopinsky."

Wade spread his hands apologetically. "Sorry, Joe. It looks like there isn't time."

 
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