Glass hours


Jay Burma is sitting at his usual spot in his usual haunt. Corner table, near the round window with the best view of the Vehicular 73. He likes to spend his time there every Friday afternoon until late night. The excuse is that he’s working on his next book, but writing is often replaced by a lot of reading, coffee drinking, smoking tobacco of unknown provenance, and people-watching, probably his most favourite activity.

There’s definitely more to Jay Burma than meets the eye, and Tweed knows that. ‘Tweed’ is not the real name of the man now entering the café and approaching the corner table, but an easy nickname Burma gave him the second time they met. The man, in fact, always wears tweed suits — apparently, where he comes from, it’s a custom to indicate his status. But Jay Burma doesn’t know where he comes from — Tweed wouldn’t tell him — and despite Burma’s erudition, he doesn’t know of a place with such customs. Tweed is definitely a foreigner, but with a great deal of knowledge about what’s going on in the megalopolis. Sensitive information about the current events that only a government employee with a certain level of security clearance is supposed to know. So what does that make him? A diplomat? An undercover agent? A spy?

These thoughts rapidly crowd Jay Burma’s mind as he watches Tweed approach his table. It’s their sixth meeting, yet Burma (whose instincts very rarely failed him) still hasn’t measured him up, and is bothered by finding it unusually hard to do. As soon as Tweed sits, Roy, one of the waiters, brings another cup of black coffee for Burma and a cup of steaming water for Tweed.

– I think I already told you I find odd that you have the same habit of bringing your own lyophilised drink as a good friend of mine.
– Yes. The same time you started referring to me as ‘Tweed’.
– [Glancing at the light-green capsule] What’s that anyway? Some rare tea?
– It’s a mixture of Rosmarinus officinalis, Salvia and Mentha spicata. Quite refreshing.
– Hell. Those are even rarer than most teas.
– Well…
– Yes, I know. You’re not here to talk about endangered herbs.
– Are you familiar with the expression Glass hour?
– That’s World War III slang. It’s been a while since I last heard it.
– You’re about to hear it again.
– Shit. Do you know what’s going to happen?
– I know that something is about to happen. I’m not privy to all the details, but it has to be a complex operation, some kind of multi-pronged attack. Maybe your good friend in the government is resourceful enough to perform some damage control. Call him and tell him that a Class H4 event is likely to happen.
– H4? Are you serious?

And now Jay Burma realises that he never saw a smile on Tweed’s face, not even as a fleeting expression while speaking. Tweed takes a sip of his herbal tea, looks outside the round window, then again at Jay, sternly, because time is tight and…

– Hey Roy! I need a phone.
– You can use that one over there. I’m giving you the line now.

Jay stands, shakes some ash from his jacket’s sleeve and reaches the phone. He dials #07#.

– Operator. To fulfil your request for a secure line, please enter your code.

Jay dials *10*02*20660915.

– Thank you. Which Department?
– HL. I’d like to speak with Mr Kay. His extension should be 1197.
– Thank you. Please hold.

A familiar voice. – Hey Jay.
– Bert. Great I caught you at the office.
– I won’t be out of here before 2 AM, I’m afraid. What’s the matter, mate? You sound nervous.
– No shit. A Class H4 event’s about to go down.
– What? Is the source reliable?
– Same source as the other time…
– Probability?

Jay mouths ‘probability’ to Tweed. Tweed makes a gesture in sign language.

– Eight to nine.

– How many glass hours?

Jay starts mouthing ‘glass…’ to Tweed when he notices Tweed’s fingers.

– Three.

– Jay, does your source know more? H4 is a very serious classification.
– He says it’s going to be a multi-pronged operation.

Tweed, always in Jay’s line of sight, makes another gesture with his hands.

– He also says that… wait… that you should keep an eye on the power grid. Check the power stations… in the SE District.
– I’ll contact Molloy. His Department is more suited to handle this kind of situation. Though I honestly don’t know what can be done in just three glass hours. Anything else I should know? Has your source mentioned specific targets?

Jay looks again at the table, but Tweed is gone. He mutters, Son of a bitch…

– Jay? Are you there?
– Uh, yeah. Wait… he wrote something on a napkin…

Jay tries to reach the table from where he stands, but the wall phone’s metallic cord is too short. Roy comes to take away the empty cups, sees what Jay’s trying to do, and passes the napkin to him. Jay makes a thank-you gesture with his free hand.

– Okay, the note reads: There is a map inside a map. Your friend in the government will understand. Be safe. Do you get it? ‘Cause I don’t.
– Yes. It’s a reference to the Arslan Underground System. I hadn’t heard that phrase since the war.
– And I hadn’t heard the glass hour expression since more or less that time. I have a bad vibe, Bert.
– Me too. They’re escalating. Fast. First the acts of protest and the two burnt diplomatic cars, then the robbery and the flood at the BRC, then the sabotaged trains at Barrett and Ralegh stations…
– And the authorities still have no clues?
– If they’re planning an H4 event, we’re dealing with a group of subjects who are outsiders, last-generation hackers and World War III veterans.
– Christ.
– Thanks for calling, Jay. I have to make some calls now, you’ll understand. Take care.
– You’re welcome.

Jay Burma goes back to his table. He’s lost his appetite, so he’ll probably order some strong drink. He looks outside, at the Vehicular bustling with people and cars under the rainstorm, but then his gaze returns to the mess of personal effects on the table: newspapers, notebooks, his smoking kit, his portable typewriter… and the note left by Tweed on that napkin. Looking closer, there’s like a doodle near one of the corners, something he mistook for an ink stain at first. It’s indeed a symbol, three small dots arranged in a triangle, like this: ∴

Jay could swear he’s seen that before, but can’t remember when, and what it means.