Jacob and Marion lay on their bed, and they sweated, and they stared. It was the seventh day of November, and it was 1:59 in the morning, according to the ceiling projection coming from Marion's Sensei. Jacob turned to make sure his metal bat was within reach, and by the time he looked back, the projection had swapped out all three digits.
"It'll be fine," Marion whispered.
Her arm tunneled through the covers to reach his, but he was already up and pulling the curtains open to the street below. The white of the LCD streetlight flickered for a moment, casting a strobing glow on the sidewalk, still dark with dampness from that evening's automated wash. The flicker ceased, the light settled. Jacob shifted to see all of Harbor Street: up to the golden glow of the Capitol, down to the dock. That full 180-degree vista was the reason he put all of his remaining credits down on this particular 8th floor unit. He saw no one breaking curfew.
He returned to bed and the clock shifted a minute forward.
"See," Marion said. "It's okay."
Jacob snapped on his own Sensei.
"Any problems to report?" he asked. Exactly 2.5 seconds later, he received a response: "No."
"Told you," said Marion. "Can we go to bed now?"
Marion fell into the sheets and replaced her Sleeping Mask, a smile on her face, knowing she'd be able to point to this "nonpocalypse," to use the parlance of that week's news shows, for the next dozen years whenever they had political arguments. The primary point of demarcation between the two candidates in the previous election had been what would happen on this very night.
"We're not shitting in outhouses anymore," Marion's drawling Candidate had said during the singular televised ten-minute debate. "We've better than that now. Don't see why we need some bullshit like Daylight Savings anymore. Get on the same clock year round's what I say."
Jacob's Incumbent heard this remark and was forced to respond with absolutely no preparation. The Incumbent, see, had been told that that election's Official Point of Contention was to be the creation of temporary bridges to the California islands. How many were needed, at what cost, that kind of thing. And while the Incumbent was capable of turning fastballs into down-the-middle into home runs, he wasn't particularly adept at striking curveballs, with even glancing blows.
"I mean," said Jacob's Incumbent. "It's not a move in the positive direction to be wasting tax-payer funds to change-"
"C'mon, you pussy!" countered the Candidate, grinning out of the side of his mouth. He used the next fifty seconds of stammering to focus his molars on the end of a cigar. When exit polls were released after the landslide, voters pointed to this moment as the decision-sealer.
Seeing as it was literally what the Candidate-now-Incumbent was elected to do, his first order of business was creating the Committee To Investigate The Effects Of The End Of Daylight Savings to, well, you get it. As was the case with any newly-formed committee, his appointments were debated and voted down and run through the wringer of background checks—turns out, five nominees were former members of Anonymous—until enough back-room maneuvering allowed three to slip through.
This didn't happen until late March, however, making November the first attempt to remove The Tyranny Of Fall Darkness, as 3-D bumper stickers dubbed it.
Jacob did not anticipate enjoying the next morning, when Marion would surely unleash her torrent of "I-told-you-so's." But that was a post-slumber matter. Jacob heard Marion's jaw perform its nocturnal routine of clamping and releasing, clamping and releasing, signaling that her vibrating mask had done its job. Jacob watched another eight turns of the clock before he, too, drifted off.
The hologram from Marion's Sensei paused its instruction—the class she was currently taking, How to Make Your Own Shampoo—and was replaced by a still of Jacob.
"Carnegi-" was all he got through before the signal collapsed, the line died.
"Stir in the remaining-" Marion snapped off her Sensei, exhaled a resigned "Shit," and ran down the nine flights of stairs. She thumb-printed into the building's subterranean storage, jogged to their locker, plugged in the passcode and thumb-print, lifted the sliding metal door, and pulled out the rolling cart full of sealed cardboard boxes. She rocked one to make sure it still contained the packed canned goods, and exited the building.
On the street were roughly seventy pedestrians and no movers, ordinary for that pre-rush time of night when the sun neared its disappearance, albeit sixty minutes later than it did the same time last year. Marion pushed her cart, the wobbly metal wheels scratching along the concrete, and as she did, the walkers began to either slow or stop completely. They tapped their temples, that central nervous system of the Senseis.
"Hello," one said. "You there?"
"Shit, lost ya," said another.
She ducked and wove through the chorus of missed connections, most of which were accompanied with expletives. Suddenly, the lights—outside on the street, inside in the businesses—blinked out. Pedestrians paused and waited for their eyes to adjust. A faint repeating thump echoed against the building facades. It was further down the street, it was growing in volume. Marion and the rest located the sound, and were met with the vision of a lone mover slowly rolling through the empty road. A man wearing a track suit was in the seat, staring out at the gawkers that stared back. Finally, it rolled to a stop in front of a City Market.
The first of the drones fell. It shattered onto the mover's hood and sparked into flames. The rider gasped, tried to open the automated door, tried to break the unbreakable glass. Pedestrians ran towards the commotion to help, but were quickly driven back by the fire. Some stared at the pyre, most turned back into the market.
Marion heard the first notes of the first argument, as the flaming mover lit her path. She ran ten blocks, turned down an alley, and came to her destination: the back entrance of the long-shuttered brick library. She wrapped a sheet around her hand and broke the window. Marion took a knife sharpener rod from her cart and edged the border, removing the shards. She climbed in and hoisted the cart in behind her.
Marion spent the next ten minutes collecting the twenty "Vital Volumes" that she and Jacob had debated over, one weekend, a few years back (Bob Vila and Good Housekeeping compilations were well represented). She pushed empty bookshelves in front of the window, heard the first gunshot of the new era ring out, clutched the bat, and fell asleep to the sounds of helicopters in the night.
Jacob wouldn't fully unpack the irony until his sixth day standing sentry at the former library's basement door, when the adrenaline of it all had floated away and boredom had taken its place. He traced the chaos back to some point in the past, when, in a bout of technical annoyance, he'd instructed his Sensei to just go ahead and automatically set the clocks back every Daylight Savings. No need to ask permission every fucking time, was the thinking. And this would've been fine, a shortcut without any longterm effects, except he'd also previously—in another bout of technical annoyance—turned off the Sensei's automatic update option as well.
(Somehow, Jacob had also managed to ignore the constant bombardment of the government-funded thinktank'd-and-trial-tested "Update Today, Send Your Worries Away" PSA campaign that broke into every program precisely at the 15-second mark, forcefully reminding viewers to perform the legally-mandated Sensei Update before this new era of Non-Daylight Savings took hold. How the campaign didn't work on the one person it needed to work on was a conundrum to be debated with himself, then the tens, hundreds, and finally thousands who'd heard rumors about The Incident that went down at MOID Control that fateful morning; then the thousands, hundreds, tens, and finally nothings when the Pre-Debris Fielders died off, shuttling the names of Jacob and Royce and the rest of the MOIDs off to history's compost heap when the first Post-Domino generation, who knew only an imprisoned Earth, took over.)
So, when Jacob's Sensei's alarm went off that morning—at precisely 7 a.m. in the unsprung-forward reality, 8 a.m. in the non-updated machine—he noticed the discrepancy with a smile, snapped away the alarm, and smirked back to slumber. When he startled back awake at 8:34 a.m., there was something off; later, he'd recall that the sun wasn't at the angle he was used to. And so began the series of stumbles and mishaps as he rushed to work, already late.
First, he ground pistachios instead of coffee beans. Then, he slurred his speech when he told his closet what outfit he needed; instead of "work" it whipped out his "wok" costume from three Halloweens back. He told the mover he was late, so it automatically took the shortcut. A fine move any other day, but seeing as Jacob wasn't the only person who didn't update his Sensei—anti-government sympathies prompted a large percentage of people to do the same—the shortcut was backed up for miles. Finally at the office, his first attempt at retina-scanning through the SecureLock failed, as did the second. It wasn't until he wiped the inside corner of his left eye, still thick with mucus from the previous night, that he was allowed into the harsh white and steel interior of Minimum Orbit Intersection Distance Control.
Being late to work wasn't what did it, nor was it stumbling into the rolling chair someone had idiotically left in the center of the cubicle bay, nor that Jacob had inadvertently sent said chair rocketing towards Royce Higgins' empty console, nor even that the spinning projectile spilt a mug of coffee. If the unfortunate series ended there, that'd be that. But when Jacob dabbed the coffee with his MOID-issue tie, he accidentally struck the console's "mute" button with his elbow. Such a stupid, stupid, silly accident.
When Royce returned from the restroom to complete his fifth shift that week of the same mundane activity the entire MOID crew had the bad luck of being assigned to perform—that is, the 24/7 tracking of the varied abandoned and discarded broken satellites still orbiting the planet, Royce's assignment focusing on the Envisat, a 2.3 billion Euro paperweight the size of a bus with an "orbital completion" rate of 101 minutes—he looked over his shoulder to make sure the boss wasn't paying attention (he never was) and returned his console screen to the melee fight option of the "Guardian Attack" game he was in the middle of.
A minute later, when the Envisat was within 500 meters of another long-dormant satellite, the alarm failed to sound. Thirty seconds after that, when his console auto-shifted into Universal Operator Mode, giving him command over the Envisat as well as any satellites within 1,000 meters, so as to allow the wrecking ball's path to be cleared, Royce didn't notice. Instead, the console screen was showing the last act of his long-planned ambushing of some smart-aleck pre-teen dick who, through Royce's investigation of his IP address, lived somewhere in Colorado. And when that dick felt safe enough to come out of his hiding place, when the first pixels of the dick's avatar showed on Royce's screen, Royce licked his lips and pulled the trigger and sent that jerk-off back to level one. He also inadvertently sent the nearest satellite directly into the Envisat, the first of the dominoes.
Alarms screeched throughout MOID, then the rest of NASA, then the White House, the offices of the other World Leaders, the International Warning System, and everyone else, each announcing that the world would be technologically dark within (x) amount of time, each generation of communication lowering the value of (x) like a death row prisoner watching the clock on that final day. In many ways, it was. Jacob, in the break room grabbing a coffee refill as the warnings blasted, immediately told his Sensei to call Marion's.
"Carnegie! Go to Carnegie!" he shouted, hoping she'd get some of the message. In his recurring nightmare, the screen went blank before the message got through.
Jacob shuddered awake to Marion's head on his shoulder, the alarms from his dream echoing away.
"Another cat nap," she whispered. "I don't know how you do it, kid."
She'd opened a can of something, a spoon lodged inside, and handed it to him. He ate and watched the barrier of propped-up bookshelves in front of him for any movement, listened for sound outside. Together, they sat in the former library's basement and waited for signs that the world had steadied itself once again.
This dispatch is a part of Terraform, our new online home for future fiction.