Time's Apprentice: Overture

Chapter One: Prologue

Terra Benedicta surveyed each of the eight board members, his gaze panning over the identical, forgettable faces in turn. The spacious conference room's fluorescent lights were unnecessary at this time of day; sunshine streamed in from the ceiling-length windows, the expansive London cityscape reduced to a playset version of itself, complete with inching Hot-Wheels scale cars. That's how Terra knew that he was dreaming; he hadn't lived in London in over five years.

As though reality were just now realizing its mistake, the windows blurred and then sharpened, the skyline now displaying Ottawa's Peace Tower, just visible through a gap in the concrete and glass forest. The hasty correction meant nothing to Terra; he still knew that he was about to be fired.

"You've been a great asset to this bank," the Chairman began, "which is why we all felt that you deserved a final chance to tell us why you shouldn't be let go."

Beside the leading suit, a woman in her mid-forties coughed. Her usual matronly stern-but-fair aura had lost its two best attributes. At the moment, Terra couldn't recall her name, and every few seconds, her face would shift into that of an old high school teacher, or Queen Victoria, or his mother, while still retaining its identity. Always the face of a dead woman. Terra hated dreams.

The suit to the Chairman's right spoke up. "We considered medical leave, initially." He mopped his glistening fivehead with the wide part of his tie and gulped. "You came to us as a lowly intern, and proved your way. Outshone all the rest. We felt that you deserved a second shot. But your behaviour last week was simply unacceptable. As unacceptable as your excuse was ridiculous."

Another of the eight pitched in. "Your file says that you had anger issues in high school. Violent tendencies."

Terra found himself playing the role of himself in the dream, unable to not follow its script. "It's been twelve years since my last outburst," Terra intoned to the floor. A few months ago, he had looked the Chairman in the eye, but he had replayed this scene so many times that it had lost its impact. "I had therapy. My hormones settled down. I got over it."

"Your file says you weren't married," the Chairman said. "And yet, I have here a quote from a witness to the events, which says that you said, 'say that about my wife again.'"

"My fiancee," Terra said stiffly. "But that's how I think about her. She was going to be my wife. She was going to be the mother of my child."

"Now see here, Terra," said a man at the back of the room. Even in the dream, Terra knew Malcolm and his vulture-beak nose, his crinkly kind eyes, his ever-present (save for now) smile. "We've worked together for three years. I think of you as quite a dear friend, if I'm honest. And not once in all that time have you had a girlfriend, fiancee, or significant other of any sort." Even the man's accent, BBC English tempered by years of life in Canada, made it through whatever veil separates dreams and reality. Terra supposed, as he detachedly watched the events unfold, that was what had drawn he and Malcolm together in the first place; what could be said for Terra's own watered-down expat speech was that it was, as Malcolm liked to put it, "a bit dodgy."

Terra found himself focusing on the dream again. He watched with no small dispassion as his dream self lost its cool at last, and lashed out at the Chairman. At the press of a button, two fridge-sized security guards appeared out of (probably, considering the circumstances) nowhere and dragged Terra out of the room. For sixty-four seconds, always sixty-four seconds, everything went dark, and all that Terra could perceive was the sensation of being carried.

On the sixty-fifth second, he opened his eyes, and saw himself being thrown from the front steps of the highrise. As he curled on the cement, foetally, his own voice rang in his ears: If you tell me one more time that I'm crazy, if you tell me one more time that my pregnant wife who you all knew wasn't murdered in Venice, then I'm going to—