“Math deserves to die.”
The thought repeated itself in the young panda’s head as he lay across his bed, his footpaws kicking idly against the memory foam mattress, his body disrupting the perfect smoothness of the fine silk sheets. His head hung over the edge of the bed, his startling light grey eyes staring with loathing at his Algebra textbook, which lay open on the floor below him.
“Tim needed to buy sugar cookies for his little brother’s birthday party,” he read aloud for the fourth time. “The party will have fourteen guests. How many cookies will Tim need to buy in order to give each attendee two cookies apiece and still have enough for his mother, his sister, and himself?”
The panda furrowed his brow. He could do this problem if he really wanted to. That was the issue—he really didn’t want to. He didn’t care about Tim or his stupid cookies. He wanted to leave the house.
With a sigh, he rolled over onto his back, staring upside-down through the floor to ceiling window of his bedroom. “I hate you, Tim,” he mumbled, watching a mourning dove light on the glass banister of his balcony.
Tik had lived in this big house for as long as he could remember. He had to admit, it was an impressive place. It had floor-to-ceiling acrylic windows that could darken for privacy and comfort at the press of a button and withstand hurricane-force winds. Downstairs, simple pillars, adorned with a cobblestone facade, stood between them, supporting the second floor and extending to the roof. Where there were no windows, cream-colored stucco walls offered stability and extra privacy. Now and then, the house would receive an upgrade to keep its appearance modern and stylish.
Tik’s bedroom was upstairs. The room was not over the rest of the house, but instead hung over a patio below, supported by pillars, providing nice shade and a quiet place for Tik’s parents to relax. The panda could play his music as loud as he wanted to and not disturb anyone else in the house, as long as his bedroom door was closed. It overlooked a beautiful, green lawn, meticulously cared for by the landscaping crew his parents had hired. Through the windows to the right, Tik had a view of the large swimming pool that his family hardly used. Tik’s parents were usually far too busy for swimming. Tik and his friends were the only ones who would occasionally go out for a swim during the warmer months.
Inside, the house was modern and elegant. Beautiful hardwood floors were cool to weary pawpads after a long day. A beautiful kitchen with fine granite countertops, professional-grade stainless-steel appliances, and a constantly well-stocked pantry were a chef’s paradise. The hundred-inch LED TV in the living room sat perfectly in the center of, of all things, a wall fountain, carefully installed to ensure that no harm would come to the expensive device. That TV paled in comparison to the one in Tik’s game room upstairs: a 3D projector that displayed high-definition images across the surface of an entire wall. Two rows of plush movie seats sat amidst an array of bean bag chairs, and the 7.1 sound system could melt one’s eardrums if needed. It was a gamer’s wet dream. Whoever designed the place must have imagined that Tik would be bringing his entire class there.
This lavish lifestyle was nice and all. It was comfortable. Tik’s needs were often very quickly taken care of, many of his desires placed within easy reach. The looks on his friends’ faces when he brought them over to visit were always a treat.
So why did he feel so restless?
Maybe it was because he generally had no one to share all this with. There were few real challenges in his life. His parents had made sure of that. They were both doctors and workaholics, addicted to their job, to the furthering of their wealth, their lifestyle and, in their minds, the betterment of their son’s future. Tik would see them briefly in the mornings if he managed to wake up on time, and then get a weary kiss goodnight at the end of the day before they trudged off to their bed. With the exception of the housemaids that kept the place clean and kept Tik fed, the panda spent most of his time alone when he was at home.
At the moment, he wanted nothing more than to go to Zone’s house. Zone was his best friend. From the moment they had met in the fifth grade, they had clicked. The excitable husky always knew just how to make him feel happy, or entertain him when he was bored. Furthermore, Zone’s father, Ban, was amazing. He would call him and check up on him. He would buy him Christmas presents. He had never once forgotten his birthday. He was easy to talk to about pretty much anything.
As much as he loved his parents, Tik considered Ban to be a better parent to him than both of his own combined.
“That’s it,” said the panda resolutely. He sat up, ignoring the now-wrinkled bedsheets. He would finish his math later. There was no way he would be able to focus on it right now. “Siri, call Zone.”
Tik reached under his bed for his backpack, where he had carelessly shoved it after retrieving his math book. A plume of dust rose from the ground as he shut his mathbook and stuffed it into the bag.
“Dangit,” he said, standing up and waving the dust away from his face. He called for the maid before mumbling to himself. “Mrs. Mirian! The maids slacked off again. Darn maids, makin’ me sneeze… guh… CHOO. Ugh.”
He opened his eyes, rubbing his nose as he recovered from the sneeze, and looked at his phone. It should have called Zone by now. There was the picture of his best friend smiling goofily at the camera from flat on his back, and the text above it read “Calling…” but nothing was happening.
Tik pressed the “home” button. The screen didn’t change. He tried powering it off. The device would not respond.
“Whaat?” Tik grumbled. “This phone’s new. It can’t be broken already!” He sighed, tossing it onto his bed. He’d call Zone from the home phone and deal with his mobile later.
The panda picked up his backpack and went to the mirror in his bedroom to make sure he looked good for his friend. He smiled at his own reflection. Tik wasn’t conceited, but he was proud of his looks. He flexed his arms, admiring his form through his shirt. He got enough exercise to add some muscle to his physique (honestly, what else would he do by himself all day?), and though he wasn’t exactly buff, he looked nice. His eyes were easy to get lost in. His black hair was short and stuck out in natural spikes. Even his somewhat pudgy tummy added charm to his look. There was nothing wrong with being proud of the way he looked, and that he was.
He mussed up his hair a little and slung his backpack over his shoulder, turning to leave the room, when something he saw in the mirror made him stop in his tracks. He stared at the reflection of his room, squinting his eyes. “What… the heck…?”
He turned around quickly, staring at the corresponding space above his bed, dumbfounded. Was he dreaming? This had to be a dream. What else could it be? It was too surreal to be real life.
His phone had not landed on the bed like he had intended. It was floating above it, suspended in midair as if it had just left his paw, still locked on the “Calling…” screen, unmoving in front of his face as if somehow resting on a solid and yet completely invisible, intangible surface.
“What… what is this?” Tik was confused. He didn’t know what to think. “Things don’t just float in midair like this!” he said aloud. “There’s a very strict law called ‘gravity’ that prohibits it!”
He had to make the phone behave again. It would bother him eternally if he couldn’t. Tentatively, he reached out a paw, extending his index finger toward the device. As if expecting it to shock him, he gently poked the phone with his pawpad. It moved backward, tilting slightly around the force of his touch. As soon as his finger stopped pushing it, it stopped moving, but remained suspended exactly as it was.
Tik looked around his room. Was it just something wrong with the phone? That didn’t even make sense to his own brain, and he wasn’t sure how he’d take it if another object started doing the same thing, but he decided to test it anyway.
He picked up the nearest piece of paper: his math assignment. He was only on the first problem anyway. He crumpled it up into a tight little ball and stood in a corner of the room, facing the opposite corner created by the acrylic windows. He took a deep breath, not sure what to hope, not sure what he was about to see. He reared back and hurled the paper ball at the window as hard as he could, not taking his eyes off of it.
The paper ball rotated against the motion of his paw. It moved forward as his paw pushed it. It rolled off his fingertip. It should have soared straight into the corner and bounced against the windows.
It didn’t. The moment Tik’s fingers stopped touching it, it stayed right where it was, suspended in midair, not moving, not drifting, not even floating, but just… there.
It was then that the panda got a glimpse of the clock on his bedside table.
“4:08 PM,” he said aloud in astonishment. That was the exact time displayed on the unchanging screen of his phone. It had been at least five minutes since he first noticed it had frozen. It should have been at least 4:13. He looked at his watch. 4:08 PM.
“Unbelieveable,” he whispered, leaning back into the corner and sliding down the wall. “It’s like time itself is just… frozen!”
This was surreal, otherworldly. What was he going to do? Time wasn’t supposed to just… stop. What caused this, and how could he fix it?
Suddenly, the door to his bedroom opened wide. Tik just about jumped out of his skin. He was so deep in his thoughts and so used to being alone that he forgot he had called the maid. As she stood there, he tried hard not to reveal his surprise that as soon as he jumped, the phone dropped from its position and landed softly on the silk sheets of his bed, and the paper ball rocketed into the corner and bounced off the windows before landing in front of his backpack.
She looked around for a moment, confused. “Master Tik?”
“I-I’m here,” he said, standing up quickly. “I’m here.”
Mrs. Mirian folded her paws politely in front of her. She had served his family for years. Tik liked the badger very much. She seemed to sympathize with his loneliness; she would sing and tell him stories and watch TV shows with him as she cleaned or cooked. On his last birthday, she had even bought him a cake. She was like the mother he never had.
“Are you alright, Master Tik?” she asked.
“Yes!” he said hurriedly. “Yes, I’m fine. OH, um… what was it…? Yes, I think the new maid forgot to clean under the bed,” he said. He kept the area plenty tidy on his own, but the maids were the ones who usually made sure everything was dusted and vacuumed and actually clean. As part of their service policy, he wasn’t supposed to do any cleaning.
“Really?” She lifted the bedskirt and took a look for herself. “Oh, you’re right! Look at that. I’m sorry, Master Tik. I’ll have it fixed in just a little while, okay?”
He nodded appreciatively. “Thanks. I’m going to go visit Zone,” he said. “I’ll be back a little later.” He picked up his phone from the bed. He could hear Zone’s voice saying “Hello? Are you there?”
“You know,” said Mrs. Mirian, “Your eighteenth birthday is tomorrow. I won’t be able to call you Master Tik too much longer!”
He smiled at her. “Crazy, right? I’ll see you soon!”
He ran out of the house and straight to his Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, a present for his sixteenth birthday. Mrs. Mirian hadn’t mentioned that anything weird had happened. Either he was imagining things or nothing outside his room had experienced a freeze in time. The former was most likely. As he conversed with Zone, he shifted into first gear and accelerated down the clean-paved driveway. It would be best to try to forget this had happened.
Many, many miles away, hidden from the view of the world, a veritable fortress existed. The eyes of normal people could not detect it, nor could any technology such could invent. Only a special kind of person would be able to tell that the massive structure was even there.
And massive it was. It lay in the deepest part of the ocean, dwarfing even the largest of undersea creatures. It sat there, solemn and solitary among the dark, cold depths of the sea. One would not imagine from the outside that inside was as busy as a theme park.
Inside were many people from many different nations. Some of those nations were not on planet Earth at all. People were moving quickly to and fro by various means: some were running through the fortress’ many corridors at incredible speeds. Others simply disappeared and reappeared at their destinations. Others simply sat still in the massive atrium with its high, domed ceiling, conversing with each other as they quickly popped a bag of popcorn or chilled a can of soda with their bare paws.
This was the headquarters of the Global Council of Transcendent Beings. Most people there would simply call it the Council of Anomalies, or the Council of Supers. Everyone there had some kind of special ability: pyropathy, cryopathy, electropathy, telepathy. Every ability one could imagine was represented by someone in the gargantuan fortress under the sea.
In one of the myriad offices sat a secretary. Her eyes were closed as she scanned through the incredible mass of data she was constantly receiving.
“Ah,” she said softly. “Councilor, I’m sending you another new one. Time freeze used at sixteen-oh-eight, Pacific time, in Cartino Bay, California, United States of America.
“Excellent!” replied a voice. “Sounds like someone’s powers are coming in. Get some eyes on him.”
“Yes sir,” she said with a smile. To herself, she said, “Oh, I just love seeing the newbies learn about their new abilites.”
“Darla, focus!” said the secretary next to her. “Don’t lose track of that information feed. It’s too important.”
“Oh, I know, Karay,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for years. I’m just excited. It looks like the west coast is going to have a brand-new chronopath!”