Student: Sheneel Carpenter
Occupation: General process walk-through
Workplace: Commonweal White Time Laboratories
Date: Spring semester break
"Buggaration." Sheneel crumpled the hard copy, tossed it bin-wards and banged her head a few times on the desk.
"What's up?" said Dalma, taking a break from her victory dance with Keanu.
"It's not fair! You two always get what you want. You both get to go on release-party tasting, and I end up at the bloody White Time Labs!"
"White time? What'd you put that down for, dope?"
"You had to put down a second choice."
"You just shouldn't've! Keanu's brother said, don't you remember? You don't give 'em any choice but what you want!" She danced off again.
"White time'll be interesting . . . won't it?" said Liv Morrow. She hadn't even opened her letter. She already knew she'd be tasting her dad's fashionorium, making antique musical instruments, which she did in her spare time anyway, but being paid for it and doing it to fixed hours.
"It'll be boring as hell," moaned Sheneel. "They get to choose dance music and do celebrity bites and put out gazines. We were all going to do it together—that was the whole idea."
"Yeah," said Liv, "but tasting's supposed to be about the sort of job you want to have after school. I mean, you want to end up some terrible ageing groover?"
"Come on, Liv—I'm only in Year 10!"
"And release parties are pretty seasonal—like, six weeks at the end of every school year. And you have to be right there, like, in front of the cutting edge to make any kind of a living."
"They're pretty fun, that's all I know." Sheneel pretended to weep.
Liv smiled and patted her on the shoulder. "Never mind. White time could be fun, too."
"Yeah, right. Fun like menstru-ation is fun. Fun like tidying your room is fun."
Liv laughed. Leaning confidentially against her, she said in a soft, super-reasonable Sir-voice, "Well, both of those things can 'be their own reward'—"
"No," said Sheneel severely. "Don't start."
Sir was doing a tour of the classroom. "And you, Keanu?"
"Release party, too, Sir."
"Another release party? They're taking a lot this year, aren't they?"
"Not enough," said Sheneel.
Joey Fitzardo sniggered. "Yeah, poor old Sheneel copped the Commonweal Labs. Hoot!"
"Really?" Sir brightened. "Thinking about a career in time theory, Sheneel?"
"Pushing the envelope in ethical hazards, maybe?"
"Oh, don't be cruel, Sir."
"Never mind, Sheneel. I'm sure you'll find something there to interest you."
"I think it's going to majorly suck, Sir," said Sheneel, and was gratified at the general laugh she got.
Sir's eyes went bland again. "Well, I look forward to reading your report."
Taster's general remarks:
This was a very interesting assignment. I got to see all the interesting things White Time do in the white time reservoirs, met lots of interesting people and learned a lot.
"A what?" said the guy at the terminal.
"An occupation-taster," said the reception-guy patiently.
"Like I said, a what?" He hadn't stopped keyboarding since the reception-guy had brought Sheneel in.
"All you have to do is take her with you, Lon, and show her what you do, what it entails. Your job."
"Ah. What we used to call work experience," the guy brayed, "back in the old days before the work/leisure dichotomy became politically incorrect." What was he talking about?
"And try not to turn her into an old cynic like you." The reception-guy winked at Sheneel and abandoned her there.
The place was a mess. Everything was grey—not dirty, but made of grey plastic. Cables and plugs and dead computers and bits of nameless equipment. Stuff, piled on the grey tables and in all the grey corners. Nowhere for anyone to sit, except him. Mr. Keyboarding. Mr. Whistling-to-Himself. Lon.
"'ka-ay," he said finally, eyes still on the screen. "Looks like we've got one or two for you this morning. For your viewing enner-tainment."
A few random white spots showed on the screen, on a grey ground between two elaborate toolbars. Lon blanked the screen without explaining anything. "C'mon, then."
The elevator took them way down. There was nothing to show how far, just an intercom in the metal wall.
"I better give you the tourist spiel, I guess," said Lon. Not once had he met eyes with her.
"I didn't know tourists were allowed in here."
"They're not. Curious bureaucrats, I mean; historians; people who've got business here, or think they might have." He inspected the top four corners of the elevator ceiling. "Okay. What I am, is a field officer. Meaningless name. I used to be called a redirection agent, but someone decided that was too straightforward."
This guy is a sour old bucket, thought Sheneel. This is going to be fun, I don't think.
"You know what white time is?" He sounded dead bored.
"Sort of . . . We did it in school, a bit . . ."
"Time out of time, people call it, but they're wrong. It's all time, like white light is all colours, or white noise is all pitches of noise coming at you together. White time's all over the place, blobs and puddles of it, some just hanging in space, some buried in planets, like ours here. This one's quite a big reservoir. Took a bit of clearing—I wasn't here, back when they first happened on it. It keeps one field officer—moi—occupied full-time; plenty of eggheads clack-ulating behind the scenes, too. All very interesting, if you like number and time theories. Do you?" He shot Sheneel a look so sharp she flinched.
"Um . . . number's okay, I suppose."
"Huh. Gal after my own heart. I can't stand time-theorists. Bane of my existence, them and their 'spiritual dimension.' Bloody god-botherers. Anyway! What I do. I redirect . . . entities, we call 'em. They're actually bodies. Physical beings." He frowned and fell quiet.White Time. Copyright © by Margo Lanagan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from White Time by Margo Lanagan
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