Updated: Jan 7
“Hustle, hustle, hustle,” Selse hissed. “In this universe, you gotta go fast to go slow.” Her training team was darting between a random course of high stone pillars, low walls and short ledges, crouching low, praying not to mess up. Selse was praying how to get away from this mess she’d been commanded to oversee. Ahead, one of her trainees careened into a ledge and swore loudly. They’ll get themselves killed, Selse thought. Or worse, they wouldn’t get killed and would credit her. She didn’t want anything to do with this misfit outfit, but when Keeper said, “Train the bastards,” you did your best to train the bastards. Otherwise it was cut time. For real. And more than anyone in C-force, Selse knew what that meant. And what it didn’t mean. She cut to the trainee swearing and holding his head where he’d hit the ledge. “Quarkshit! Where’d you come from?” the stunned young man squeaked. “From your worst nightmare, trainee.” Selse wasn’t even bothering to learn their names. It wouldn’t matter. Keeper would agree. “Your job is to learn this course. Your job is to learn to cut. You don’t have the luxury of hurting yourself. That’s my job.” She backhanded his jaw, snapping his head up, so he’d see her pitiless eyes. “Now, get moving as fast as you can go slow.” The trainee fled back to the course, but he looked more purposeful, more in the moment. Which was a good thing because the moment was about to get real. Selse opened her connection with Keeper. “Cut ‘em,” she said. The course evaporated. There was nothing. And everything. Cut time still affected Selse. She’d been here as many times as anyone in C-force, and it still messed with her. No way to orient. No point of reference. No meaningful context. No fucking fun. The only thing cut time left you was desire. The sheer desire to get back before the anchor of your memories pried loose in the relentless maelstrom of timelessness. That was cut time. Being sheared from any construct of time. Everything happening at once and always. It was not something the average human handled well. In fact, very few handled it at all. But for those who survived cut time and made their way back to themselves, they developed the ability to temporize their immediate environment. They could cut. They could understand the rhythm of wave functions, the beat of quantum entanglement, the tempo of multiverses. They could hop, skip and jump across time. Fast forward in and out of their surroundings. A useful skill. Very strategic. For those who could be trained to temporize. And those who trained them. But these trainees, this chrono-cluster, Selse just didn’t get. As she listened to the agonized cries, the absolute panic of her trainees, she wondered with ever-deepening misgiving, why Keeper had given her this bunch. How desperate could C-force be if Keeper thought musicians could handle cut time?