The Fixers #6

"The painting! It's of you!"

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Gretchen demanded. She followed Seb out of the Chamber.

Len watched with some amusement as the pair brushed past him, into the Lobby. He wasn't sure what Seb had done, but the new girl was certainly riled up.

"The painting," Seb was saying, "the one that he was going to paint in a couple of weeks, the one of the girl. It's you!"

"But -"

Len watched as Seb crossed the Lobby and went to the door of the Vault.

"Well, it isn't you exactly. But it was how he saw you." He paused to enter a code on the keypad. "The bracelet changes your appearance, makes you fit to the expectations of the person looking at you. That's why it doesn't look exactly like you. He saw a 16th Century, Italian version of you."

The door to the Vault slid open, and Seb strode inside. Len came forward, curious. He studied the side of Gretchen's face, trying to compare it to his memory of the painting. Could it be? As he watched, her jaw tensed. She was still angry.

"Even if this painting is of me," she called after Seb, "you just murdered a man. A very nice man. In cold blood."

Seb re-emerged a moment later holding the painting.

"Oh, please," he said, meeting her eyes. "I wasn't the one who hung those chains and stones all over him, now was I?"

Gretchen opened her mouth. After a moment she closed it again.

"Exactly." Seb brushed past her and carried the painting to the table. "Let's have a look, shall we?" He undid the paper wrapping and pushed it aside.

Len came forward and peered over his shoulder. Reluctantly, Gretchen came to stand beside them. They stared at the painting for several moments.

It sort of looked like her.

But then, it sort of didn't. Len looked over at Gretchen, then back to the painting.  Back to her.

"I don't know," he said. He patted Seb's shoulder. "That could be her, man."

He turned to look at Gretchen, again; the girl's eyes were locked on the painting.

"I mean, yeah, it could be," Seb agreed. "Damn. I was sure . . . ." He looked over his shoulder at Len and Gretchen. "What is it?"

"Look above the right eyebrow," Gretchen said, motioning with a flick of her head. "See it?"

"See what?" Seb turned back to the painting, looking close. "Yeah, what is that?" He poked at the painting with a nail. "Some kind of marking?"

Len looked over his shoulder. He saw the mark, too. It looked like the artist had put it there intentionally.

"It's a scar," said Gretchen.

"How do you know?" asked Seb, squinting. "It could be."

"Because," she said, "I have the same scar." She pointed to the spot on her own face, above the right eyebrow. "I got it when I was sixteen. I was drunk at a party, and I fell and hit my head on the edge of a table." She tapped her finger against her skin. "Right here."

Len looked back to the painting. He rubbed the bare skin of his arms, suddenly feeling a chill.

It was the same mark. There was no doubt.

He took a step back, trying to understand the ramifications. He barely noticed as Seb leaned close to Gretchen's face, peering at the scar; barely saw her slap him away, then turn and stride off.

But how could it be?

 * * *

"Whether that painting is really you -"

"It is," said Gretchen.

"Whether it's you," Seb continued, "doesn't change the fact that it's an artifact."

"There's that word again," she said. "Tell me, what's an artifact?"

"A temporal artifact," said Len, stepping forward. "It's an object that, for one reason or another, contains temporal energy."

"That's a real thing? Temporal energy?"

"Do you want to hear this or not?" snapped Seb. He was sitting at the table. Len thought he looked tired.

"I'm not talking to you, murderer," Gretchen snapped back.

"Kids, kids." Len shook his head. The two of them doing this all the time was going to get real old, real fast.

"Alright, I'll explain it this way." He cleared his throat. "Ricci, in the original timestream died in May, right? Someone comes back, saves him, and now he doesn't die in May, anymore. So now he's alive. Then, in June he paints the portrait. So far, so good. He goes on to have a long life, yada yada. Now, we come along, and we fix the timestream at the point where it diverged."

"We murder him, you mean."

"If you'd like," Len sighed. "The point is, as far as history is concerned, he committed suicide. In May. That's the important part. Because that painting was done in June, after he died. In the original timestream, he couldn't have painted it. It's an impossibility. "

As he spoke, Seb got up from the table and began pacing.

Len watched him briefly before continuing. "Now, normally that's not a big deal - Ricci probably painted dozens of new paintings in the altered timeline where he lived a long life, but they all disappear, along with that entire timeline when we fix things back to the correct history. Poof! That altered reality disappears. No one remembers, no one notices. It's like it never happened."

"Because it didn't," said Seb.

"Right," Len agreed. "But this painting was different. It should have disappeared too, just like everything else connected to that never-happened reality. But someone moved it through time. And stashed it in a safe. And once an object is moved through time it acquires a sort of, um, solidity."

"Meaning?" Gretchen prompted.

"Meaning," interrupted Seb, "that we should find out how Anderton got a hold of the thing."

"What it means," said Len, shooting his friend a look, "is that the rest of its timeline went poof, and vanished. But the painting remained behind. It's now a part of our reality, and yet, it's an impossibility. In this case, a painting made weeks after the artist died. And that," Len concluded, "is a temporal artifact."

"Okay, I guess I understand," said Gretchen. "But why is that so important? So it's a temporal artifact - big deal."

"Well," said Len, "because temporal artifacts are very, very valuable to certain people."


"The correct question would be 'who'," Seb said. Gretchen shot him a dangerous look.

People like Anderton, Len thought. Seb was right. They needed to find out how the painting got to him. A damn shame that Seb couldn't catch up to that hooded figure they had seen on the bridge. That guy would've had answers.

"They're valuable, he said at last, "because of the way they're formed, they contain temporal energy. And temporal energy can do some, um, pretty powerful things."

"Such as?"

"Well, for starters -"

"I'm sorry to interrupt." Hal's voice filled the room.

"Yeah Hal, what is it?"

"Action is required. A Fix has been determined."


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