The Fixers #4

The buzzing is his ears faded away. Seb Cole looked around.

Beside him, the new girl, Gretchen was struggling. Bent at the waist, she held her head between her hands, groaning.

"Are you alright?" he asked her. "The first time is a little rough." He reached out, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You'll get used to it.

She nodded, blinked a few times, and rose to meet his worried look.

"Yeah," she said. "I'm okay." Then, eyes widening, she noticed their surroundings for the first time.

"Oh my God!" she cried. "We're in Venice!" She rushed forward, to the edge of a nearby canal.

After a moment, she turned to look back at Seb.

"This is crazy! We're really here!" Her eyes moved to study buildings rising above them. "This is 1567?"

He came forward, nodded. "It is," he told her. "Or it should be. I haven't got a watch. Impressed?"

Her wide grin answered his question.

It was nice to be traveling with another person again, he thought. It had been too long since . . . . Seb shook his head. Stop it, you fool! This was no time to think about her.

He returned his attention to the new girl, and forced himself to smile. After a moment, he wrinkled his nose slightly. "Smells a bit, though, yeah?"

* * *

"So what are we here to do, exactly?" Gretchen asked.

The two of them were walking through the streets of Venice.

"We are here," Seb reminded her, "to find the painter."

"Right, that Ricci guy."

Seb smirked. "Exactly. That's the one. And when we do, we need to make sure that he goes through with his plan to do away with himself. That's what happens. Ricci the painter, throws himself from a bridge and into art obscurity."

"According to who," she asked.

"According to who? According to no one. That's just the way it happens. Somebody changed that and now we're here to change it back. Although, technically," he said, "if we're successful, then it will be like it was never changed at all."

"And if we're not successful?"

"Well aren't you a cheery one? Of course we'll succeed. In the original timestream, Giancarlo degli Ricci dies. That means we succeed. We always have. Or, we always will. One, or the other." He paused for a moment.  "We could, I suppose, fail somehow - if we're killed, for instance . . . ."


". . .  Hal will have to find new Fixers and then send them back here - but eventually, whoever altered the timestream will be stopped, and the event will happen as it always has, Ricci will die, and that's that. Back to obscurity."

"Sebastian," Gretchen said. She was looking at him.

"What?" Had he been rambling just now? He glanced sideways at her. "It's Seb, by the way." After a few more steps, he added, "Anyway, you asked. Fixing the timestream can be rather confusing."

"Does that mean you were supposed to chase me out into that road?"

"I didn't chase you out into any bloody road - I told you before." He shook his head. "Anyway, there is no 'supposed to be'. Things either happened or they didn't."

"That happened to me," she insisted.

"Yeah? Well, it never happened for me. You're here now; you didn't die. So why don't you just enjoy the city?"

"Maybe it just hasn't happened yet for you."

Seb turned his head to give her an angry response, but she was already looking away.  A moment later, he realized that he had no rebuttal to offer.

They walked on in silence.

* * *

After a while, Gretchen turned to him.

"How come no one is paying any attention to us? Shouldn't we stick out, or something?" She looked down at herself. "I mean, I'm wearing jeans. And my shoes. Look at my shoes!"

"Don't worry about it. The bracelet controls all that. It generates a kind of energy field around us, creates a sort of illusion. You look perfectly normal from everyone else's perspective. Totally average."

"That's convenient, isn't it?" She looked at the metal band around her wrist.

"Would you rather it was the other way 'round? Everyone stopping to stare and point at you? Anyway, it's not so simple as all that. I see you, because I know it's you. Same as you see me. Someone from this time looking at you would see someone else. Someone whom they imagine belongs in this place and time."

"Okay, I'm not even going to ask what that means."

"Good, I'm not entirely sure myself. Len tried to explain it to me once or twice. He gets all of the technical stuff." He shrugged. "The point is, we're here and we look like we belong here. And we're here."

"You said that already."

"No, I mean, we're here."  He indicated the multi-story building in front of them. "This is where Ricci has a room."

* * *

They were in Giancarlo degli Ricci's room, or what was left of it. The room was mostly empty; what remained was scattered all over.

Seb knelt beside a large, metal tub. There were scorch marks on it, and the contents were still smoldering. It was filled with ashes, charred brushes and jars, pieces of wood.

This, Seb realized, was the painter's life. All his works, his paints, his canvases and easels. No wonder the painting they recovered had become the earliest surviving work.

"He burned everything. All his paintings, drawings, all of it." Gretchen was standing behind him, looking down into the tub.

"Sounds about right for a guy who's going to throw himself off a bridge. We should hurry," Seb said, standing.

"Okay. Where to?"

Seb keyed his mic. "Len?"

"Right here," came the response.

"The fastest way from Ricci's room to the place where he drowns himself."

There was a brief pause. "Out the front to the street," came the reply. "Turn left. You should see a footbridge over the canal. Past that. He'll be on the next bridge."

"Got it".

Seb turned to the girl. "Let's go."


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