23 Seconds is the first data pack of the Flashpoint cycle.
“You were right.” Perosh stood in Null’s doorway. A bioplas carton under her arm overflowed with the plants and action figures that had once decorated her desk. “I hope you’re happy.” She threw him a venomous look, followed by a pen. “You sob.” A very large woman in a somber suit materialized at her shoulder, and Perosh held up one hand in surrender. “I’m going, all right?” she said to the guard. “I’m going.”
“Hope I’m happy?” Null muttered at Perosh’s retreating form as the security marcher her off the floor. He slumped in his doorway. Perosh was the third person let go since the Twenty-Three Seconds from his floor alone. He could only imagine the chaos elsewhere in the building, elsewhere in the city.
“I told anyone who would listen that something like this might happen! I warned you, I warned the Chief, it happened anyway, and you think I’m supposed to be happy?” He turned back into his office and shut the door. Someone was screaming elsewhere on the floor: the fourth firing of the day? “It’s not like I caused it.” He sat at his desk, fingers drumming on the cool black marble. “Not like anyone I told could have…”
His eyes fell on the silver case under his desk which held, and hid and protected his console. “Sandy, hold all calls.” His secretary chirped. “Privacy protocols up, please.” The room darkened slightly, his visual cue that the standard surveillance on his office had been disabled by the policy-violating modifications he’d snuck in to the system. He opened the case and with a few gestures connected.
Are you there? He sent. We need to talk.
There was a delay, maddeningly slow. He called this mysterious friend “Turtle” for how long it seemed to take him to compose his replies. If Null didn’t know better, he’d think Turtle was using a physical keyboard.
I’m here, sent Turtle. What is it?
It’s about the 23 seconds. I shared my collapse model with you, sent Null. What did you do with it?
I did what you asked, sent Turtle after another delay. I verified it, then shared it with the media. NBN ran that report. They got over a hundred details wrong, the morons, but the main thrust was sound. The credit is fragile and it’ll take the whole damn system with it when it collapses.
Collapsed, sent Null. Past tense.
They even quoted my blog! sent Turtle. Then a moment later, Wait, what?
Null wasn’t sure what to respond to first. God in Heinlein, Omar, you put this on your blog? You signed your name to this stuff?
There was a pause. Null imagined Turtle scrabbling through a pile of old teevee remotes, turning on an ancient cathode ray tube. He could only hope the truth was slightly more modern. When did this happen? What are the 23 seconds?
Titan Transnational went dark for 23 seconds about an hour ago, sent Null. HFT’s went nuts and now there’s a 23-second gap in the records and no one knows who owns what. This is exactly what I showed you in the simulation.
This is it, sent Turtle. This is the Flashpoint. This is what I’ve been talking about for years.
Omar, he sent. Did you do this? And into the pregnant silence: What do we do now?