Science Fiction Art Dying Earth Long Now voluntary extinction

The Bones of Our Hereafters

By Daniel Roy
Nov 7, 2020 · 5,980 words · 22 minutes

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia via Unsplash.

From the author: As humanity prepares to fade into self-imposed extinction, one clockmaker dreams of an impossibly distant future.


02632 - MON OCT 1

At twenty one, full of the piss and vinegar of humanity's final generation, I stood before a melting ball of wax with painted-on continents and found it trite.

The artist, like all his peers who had pieces in the rotting auditorium of Lontown's Tate Modern, had affixed a self-important little plaque to the cinder block holding up his work; it read Global Warming, followed by the artist's name, which I've long forgotten. The continents were painted in wide crayon strokes and a lit wick poked out of the Artik.

I doubted the child-like quality was intentional; most likely, it was the result of endemic carelessness that characterized those of us who were going to turn out the lights.

I resented the artist in part because he was right: with no genes to pass on, there was no point in caring. But then, it's one thing not to care about, say, road maintenance or nuclear waste disposal, but art? Art had always been useless. Art was important because it was useless. And given how useless we were, us Lasters should have been the best artists in history.

I watched the candle wax trickle down across South Amrik, pooling in fat droplets off the rocky coast of the Antartik. I thought about my generation, glancing at their corroded watches, waiting for the end.

I closed my eyes, and for a moment I thought I could hear the ticking of life itself, winding down.

I ran home.

Without saying a word to my parents, I grabbed my rubber boots, overalls, metal detector, and a large backpack, and left jogging for the Camden Trashland. I spent the next three hours going through metal scraps, all the while hearing the tick tock of my heart over the cries of seagulls and the whistle-speak of fellow scavengers.

We Lasters didn't like to be reminded of time very much, but I still found a few salvageable pieces: a digital watch with a rotting pink plastic wristband, a metallic alarm clock with a smashed clock face, a rotting flip calendar with a month and year display, and the scattered larger gears of a grandfather clock.

Back home, I cleaned the four pieces as best I could with homemade alcohol, then pried the alarm clock apart. I lay down the pieces on the garage floor as delicately as if taking an insect apart.

As much as I tried to learn by observation, though, after three weeks' effort I still couldn't fix a simple alarm clock. I compromised. I carefully took apart the flip clock, making sure to clean its black front. Then, using a rusty pocket knife, I cut out a square hole to the left of the existing four digits.

I snapped a zero from the century display and glued it in the new space I had cut out. I put back together the flip clock, set the correct date and time, and admired my creation. With an extra digit at the front, the clock could now go up to the year 99,999.

The flip clock read:

02632
SUN OCT 21
3:37 PM

I nodded to myself, a fleeting peace warming my heart. I picked up the clock and slipped it inside my backpack with the care I imagined previous generations had reserved for newborns.

The clock soon had a new home in the Tate Modern, along with a small piece of white cardboard with typed letters that read:

"The Long Odds" - Walt Stone

In my self-satisfied excitement, the irony escaped me: I had set it on the same block where Global Warming had once stood.

02632 - MON OCT 22

As embarrassed as I am now by the crudeness of The Long Odds, there's no denying it struck a chord with my fellow Lasters. It invited the viewer to ponder the possibility of humanity surviving its own self-enforced sterilization, and perhaps even, against all odds, to live until that zero would turn to a one, more than seven thousand years in the future.

For two hundred years, humanity had taken its own inevitable end as a simple, unquestionable fact. The enlightened generation that had made this painful decision, that had envisioned an end on their terms rather than from that excruciating death march to extinction that awaited us if we did nothing, had passed down their vision to their children and down the ages, and it grew from a political conviction, to a vision, to a religion, and finally into a culture. When the Killswitch Virus was engineered and released a hundred years ago, it was met with somber celebration and nothing else.

Gently, gently into that good night, the poet Shubada Prakash wrote that day. Rage is gone long before the light.

Not gone, no. Our passion had cooled with the centuries, but somehow, through The Long Odds, I had breathed on the embers.

I returned to the Tate Modern the next day, daring to hope I'd find a small crowd gathered around the cinder block. What I found instead astounded me: someone had moved my clock to a proper glass case display inside the northern entrance.

And all around the glass case, visitors had left timepieces: offerings, I supposed, to the cruel gods of time. I saw quartz watches, pocket watches, even a tarnished brass skeleton clock.

Day after day, visitors came by to offer watches at the altar of time. The whole of Lontown was in love with me, or so I felt.

Which is what made Emily so refreshing.

02632 - SAT NOV 03

"Navel gazing." That's what I heard her say from across the entrance hall.

I could see on her face the same disdain than I had experienced looking at Global Warming. I felt myself turn red. She looked my age; long brown hair in a pen-skewered bun, loose-fitting hand-sewn clothes, thick recycled eyeglasses perched on an upturned nose. She sat cross-legged between the poking springs of a dark brown couch facing The Long Odds.

I approached her, took a deep breath. I smelled flowers over the mold in the air.

"What do you think?" I asked, trying for nonchalance. She must have heard the anxiety in my voice because she turned to me, a smile tugging at her thin, pale lips.

"That's supposed to make me think of my own mortality or something? To imagine this clock still working when I'm gone? Is that the point?"

I struggled for an answer that didn't sound flippant. Her smile widened.

"Everybody's bones will outlast them," she went on. "The idea of something going on after we're gone isn't anything new. It doesn't make it art, just litter."

"It's a statement." My own lameness astonished me.

She nodded, considering my words.

"Let's say you create a clock that lasts a billion years," she said after a moment. "A billion years of autonomous function." My mind raced at the idea. "What then? The clock won't survive the death of the sun, so what does it change?"

I tried to reply, but she went on.

"But what if you somehow found a way to save the clock from the death of the solar system. Or from... From..."

"Heat death?"

"The heat death of the universe," she said, nodding. "Let's say your clock can survive the universe itself. What's the point? There will be no one there to see it." Her voice trailed off. "No one to give it meaning."

"Maybe that's the point. You thinking on these time scales."

She turned to the clock and stared at it for a while, in what I thought, or hoped, was reverent silence.

"That zero," she said. "Can it actually flip to a one when the clock hits the year ten thousand?"

"I guess you'll have to wait and find out."

She turned her whole body towards me, studying me with furrowed brows. Finally, she bounced up from the couch and offered her hand.

"Emily Spencer."

"Walt Stone." Her eyes widened a fraction, and I saw her try to glance at the plaque on The Long Odds for confirmation.

For a fraction of a second I wanted her to praise me like the rest of the world. I wanted to watch her lay down a clock at the altar of my genius.

"You like it, don't you?" I asked.

She laughed a clear, crystalline laugh that made me smile despite myself. "No!"

"How about you tell me how much you love it over a cup of coffee?"

Laughter lingered on her lips. "No."

02632 - WED DEC 19

In an age of endings, with nothing left to shock anyone, Emily and I committed to the last, great taboo that humanity still had to offer: we fell in love.

For the first two months of our relationship, the whole, grim darkness on the edge of tomorrow faded into a gentle dawn. We explored each other like vast, undiscovered continents.

What I remember the most are the spaces in between. The way that our sweat-covered bodies fit like jigsaw pieces that finally joined into a picture. The gentle glow that seemed to fill our silences like a deep, joyous breath.

When I clung to Emily's naked back and closed my eyes, I could feel a stillness in myself that I never knew existed. I was half a life, half a mind, finally whole. I would put my ear to Emily's forehead and imagine I could hear her think, beyond that meaningless gap of skin and bone that kept our minds apart.

02633 - THU FEB 07

I don't know when we began to pull apart. It happened with the deliberation of a continental drift. All I know is one day, our limitless Pangaean landscape had begun to break into unexplored coastlines.

Four months after that fateful cup of coffee, I reached for her in the night and found her gone. I got up and followed the glow of an oil lamp into her father's study, where she sat at the desk, scribbling away on a sheet of paper, her eyes squinting in the near-darkness.

I walked up behind her and kissed the nape of her neck. She ran the fingers of her left hand along my arm without stopping her furious writing. As stupid as it was, in that moment, I felt a pang of jealousy.

"What are you writing?" I asked her in a whisper, so as not to wake up her parents.

"I told you," she said, still not looking at me. Her history book. She stopped, and I thought she would turn to embrace me, but instead she threw open a reference textbook and scanned the index.

Emily had begun working on her book a year before we met, and of course she had told me everything about it. Human history, she said, was a story, and now that the tale was coming to an end, someone had to write the final chapter for all of it to make sense. For what is a story without an ending?

"Did you find a title for it yet?" I asked half out of interest, and half as a selfish way to break her out of her trance.

"Yeah," she replied, the slightest edge of annoyance in her voice. "I'm calling it Everything Ends."

I don't know why I took it personal. Perhaps the half-light put her face in a contrast that seemed alien to me, like someone had replaced the woman I loved with a stranger wearing her face.

"Not everything has to," I said, my voice rough with sleep and reproach.

She put down her pen and turned to me at last, the lamp behind her casting harsh shadows across the angles of her face.

"I know how it feels," she said, her voice now gentle as she took my hand. "But we both know that's not true."

I gave a short laugh, halfway between a gasp and a snort. I knew, of course, that our love wouldn't last forever. But her words made it sound as if she meant we wouldn't last past the weekend.

"Since the dawn of time, there's only ever been two outcomes to any love story. Separation or death. "

Looking back, I think Emily was just caught up in the academic tone of her writing. But in that instant, her words echoed like a death sentence through a stunned courtroom.

She tried to entangle her fingers in mine to stop me from leaving. She tried to speak words that would soften the blow. I had none of it. I went back to bed without saying another word.

Ten minutes later, Emily slipped under the covers and blew out the lamp. I was determined to stay mad at her, but when she pressed her stomach to my back and ran her fingers along my temples, I felt all that venom drain away from my lips.

"I love you," she said in the darkness, kissing the back of my ear. The words made me happy and sad at the same time.

"Do you love me?" she asked, trying to make her worried question sound more playful than it was.

"No," I said with a grin. Our own private joke.

I turned to her in the near-darkness and saw her smile shine back. We kissed, the night terrors finally lifting from my mind.

When the sun rose on our enlaced bodies, the foundations of our love felt whole again. But some subtle yet essential quality had been damaged by the exchange; the night's storm has shaken something loose.

02633 - FRI FEB 08

The next morning, as I sat in Emily's sun-drenched kitchen sipping a cup of tea, I tried to chase the night's alien emotional landscapes from my mind. The more I tried, the more I felt angry at the world and myself.

Emily and I ate a quiet breakfast. Afterwards, I kissed her goodbye, grabbed my backpack, and went to the Tate Modern. I knelt down amidst the ever-expanding circle of clocks and selected the more interesting pieces.

I walked back to my parents' home and cleared out the floor of the garage of my previous clockmaking experiments.

This time I did learn. I studied with a patient fierceness that scared Emily. Oh, we spent plenty of time together, and she did move to my parents' house when she saw I was reluctant to walk all the way back every night. But she could see that space forming between us, the distance in my eyes as I thought about gear ratios, escapements, and mainsprings.

She set up a desk in the garage so she could write as I worked, but to me she might as well have been a thousand miles away.

Emily pleaded with me to come to bed almost every night, but even when I did, I would see gears spinning into the infinity behind my eyes. When we made love, I felt like an escapement and she the wheel, marking time in starts and stops, marching the seconds of our lives towards the final darkness.

02640 - SUN AUG 16

On a morning in August of 2640, Emily and I boarded a train bound for Dover. From there, we would board a slow boat across the Channel to Calais, then take a second train through Brussels all the way to Halberstatd, in Deutschland, where we would witness the end of a six-hundred-years music performance.

It would be a grueling journey, but as the coal train chugged its way through England's countryside, we both felt buoyant with hope for the world.

Emily sat next to me and took my hand into her lap as we watched the countryside glide outside the open window. Eight years earlier, she would have pressed herself against me, our bodies thirsty for the reassurance of each other; now we were content with the joining of our fingers, a shared intimacy that felt somehow greater than yearning.

I watched wild cows stare at us from across the fields, airs of startled boredom on their bovine faces. They reminded me of "clockheads" when they saw me and tried to act disinterested.

"I can't believe we're riding a train," I said, turning to her to grin. "My grandmother used to read me stories of the Trans-Siberian Express."

Emily squeezed my hand. "It's all because of you, you know." I chuckled, figuring she was joking, but her eyes told me she was dead serious.

"That's not true, Em, but I appreciate the sentiment." I kissed her forehead, but she batted me away, grinning.

"Walt the Watchmaker, the father of Defiant Optimism." She made a sarcastic swirling gesture with her right wrist, introducing royalty. "The man who taught the Last Generation that defiance in the face of death was better than despair. The last great revival in human history."

"Is that your historian's opinion, then?"

"No," she said, her eyebrow raising as if she were appraising me. "It's historical consensus held by a hundred percent of historians, me."

I shook my head. "All I did was cut a square out of a flip clock. If I could go back, I'd"

"I know," she said, leaning her head against my shoulder, amused at my anger. "You'd machine the whole thing from scratch. You'd make it a skeleton clock so you could add a gear that counts the years up to a hundred thousand. You'd obsess over the balance spring until you knew it was accurate to a microsecond, even though nobody cares."

"I Yeah. I guess I already did that."

"Three times, not counting your prototypes."

I grasped for words.

"Long Odds was an idea, Walt," she said. "Everybody dances around the fire and you're worrying about the craftsmanship of the box the match came in."

"When the fire dies out, and it will," I said, "all that will be left is that matchbox."

02640 - SAT SEP 05

Despite numerous stops for repairs and track maintenance along the way, as well as a one-week delay in Brussels while scavenging for coal, we made it with time to spare to Halbertstatd.

What brought us to the ruins of a church in a near-deserted Deutsch town was a man called John Cage. Local legend claimed that sometime in the 1900s, Cage had composed a piece of organ music called As Slow as Possible. He initially meant for the piece to last around thirty minutes, but he omitted exactly how slow the piece should be played.

Halbertstatd's Saint Burchardi church decided to see just how slow "slow" could be, so they built a special organ that could play As Slow as Possible over the course of more than six hundred years. The performance began sometime in the twenty-first century with a pause that lasted for two years, during which they built the pipe required for the first note.

Six centuries of music, despite ecological catastrophe, despite nuclear war, despite riots and famines and worldwide economic collapse. Six centuries of hope turned to despair as we jumped for the stars and fell deeper into the gutter, during which our colonies died in pain and our messages went unanswered. Six centuries that would see the human race sterilize itself rather than inflict further torment on its children, trapped without hope on a choking, dying world, alone in a hostile, empty universe.

After six hundred years, As Slow as Possible was coming to its scheduled end on this very day, September 5, 2640.

Emily and I stood with about twenty other visitors in the bare bones of Saint Burchardi, letting the low, two-tone droning hum fill our very beings. I closed my eyes and pictured John Cage reaching out to me across the centuries, speaking to me of his hopes and dreams with this clear note that had begun in a long-dead man's mind and ended in the living ears of the Last Generation.

Then, at the appointed time, someone shifted the weights off the organ's pedals, and the noise died out.

Nervous silence filled the church. Somebody coughed. We applauded with as much sincerity as we could muster.

We had come to hear a music performance that had almost survived the end of the world, and now we witnessed only silence. It felt profound, humbling, and heartbreaking. Mostly, it felt awful.

I wiped my eyes, then sought Emily's face, yearning to share this understanding with her. She smiled back at me, her eyes filled with quiet wonder; the historian, rejoicing in a historical moment with no regard for its awfulness.

She saw my face and reached for my hand, but I looked away, stunned by the death of music.

02643 - WED JUL 05

On the way back from Halbertstatd I had told myself I had overreacted to a simple music performance, but three years later, music's ghost still tugged at my soul. I kept working at my clocks, and although I created some interesting technical pieces during that period, they failed to find an audience, much less put a balm on the aches in my soul.

This was also true of my relationship with Emily. We had become a well-polished mechanism that ticked away time in effortless measure, but we lacked the fits and tremors of our earlier days.

It's not that we fought, although we did. Most of the times the arguments helped, if not to settle the issues, at least to acknowledge their existence.

I blamed Emily back then, but now I know better. I remember how she'd cling to me in sleep like she stood on the edge of a precipice.

One summer morning in '43, eleven years into our relationship, we sat together at our kitchen table, each sipping our cup of tea, both of us looking at anything but each other, cradled by a comfortable silence.

That's when she finally worked up the courage to say it.

"I'm thinking of going to Newyork." Just like that. As if discussing the weather.

I swallowed my mouthful of tea in one big, painful gulp. Sure, some of the shipping lanes across the Atlantik had been re-established during the Defiant Optimism period, but these were getting rarer and increasingly perilous.

"Are you sure?" I asked, staring at the bottom of my cup.

"Yeah. I mean, I said I'm thinking about it, so, you know... It's not definite. Just a thought."

"For your book," I said. It was more of an accusation than I meant it to be.

"Yes. Why else would I go?"

"Why write a book if nobody's gonna read it?" I regretted the words the moment they passed my lips.

She sighed, took a long, calm sip.

"Why do you build clocks that no one will use?"

We had had this discussion before. I knew exactly where it was going, yet I couldn't help myself.

"My clocks make people think about the future," I said. "They're relevant here and now. But a book no one knows exists..."

"The value of history is in writing it," she said. I could have quoted the words right out of her mouth.

I knew what would happen next. I would remark this made it valuable only to herself, and then she would point out the multiple ways in which my own clocks were a selfish endeavor. We would both grow frustrated and lonely together.

I felt a great exhaustion blow through me like a dry wind.

I raised a hand in appeasement. We looked at each other for the first time.

"Look, Emily, let's not do this. It's just..."

"I know. You're jealous of my book."

"And I have no right to be, what with my cl"

"Exactly."

We ate in silence. When Emily refilled my cup, I saw the white of her knuckles around the teapot's handle.

"It's a big move," I finally said. "I'll have to find a way to move my entire machine shop. And who knows if they have generators in Amrik"

"You're thinking of coming?" Emily stared at me, her face pale, her expression unreadable.

"What? Why would I not"

"You have your whole shop set up here, Walt. The communities like you. They look after you."

"But we..." I closed my mouth. I felt like someone had pulled the floor from under me.

"Do you love me, Walt?"

I looked up at Emily, then away, troubled by the intensity in her gray eyes.

I wanted to say no, like we always did. I would say it with a smile, and she would smile back and all would be right with the world again.

I couldn't say anything.

Emily left four days later. We embraced in the doorway and cried together in silence. Emily kissed my cheek, smiled that brave smile of hers, and walked out of my life.

If I ended my story here, it would be a fitting epitaph for my entire species, I suppose. We had loved and lived as hard as we could until love and life drained out of us.

Not a bang at all, in the end.

On page seventeen of the introduction to her book, Emily writes:

Tell a story long enough and it becomes a tragedy. Happy endings are a matter of knowing when to stop.

It's true of humanity, and it's true of love. I understand that now.

But what if tragedies are also a matter of stopping the story too early?

02671 - MON NOV 27

One gray afternoon in the winter of 2671, an old man knocked at my studio door. I say "old," but I was no longer young myself, now in my sixties like the youngest of us. But this man looked particularly tired and sad, with rheumy blue eyes and a bent back. His elbows poked through the torn fabric of a faded red old Royal Mail uniform.

"Delivery," he said in a gravely voice, handing me a large, yellowed, waterlogged envelope.

I took it from him with both hands, surprised at its damp heaviness.

"You still do these?"

"Only for stuff that matters," he said with a shrug, then turned to leave without further explanation.

I put the envelope down on my work bench and opened it, careful not to damage its content.

The two books had been carefully wrapped in sealed plastic, but constant humidity still made them soft and fragile. I placed them side by side on the bench, and spent hours just staring at the covers.

The first one was an ancient, frayed book titled The Clock of the Long Now by Kevin Kelly. The faded cover showed the planets of the solar system with their circular orbits, a Roman numeral clock face framing the image and the short hour hand pointed right at Earth.

But it's the second book that kept me up that night.

Its title was The Bones of Our Hereafters: An Oral History of the End. The cover image was a stylized drawing of a wall clock with a five-digit year display. The Long Odds.

The author, of course, was Emily Spencer.

The next morning, I put word with the stevedores that I was looking for passage to Newyork. Eight weeks after I had received Emily's books, I boarded a Pacifik ship bound for Espania, then onward to Newyork, Amrik.

My watchmaker bag under my arm, I looked on the receding skyline of Lontown, knowing I would not see it again.

02672 - WED JAN 31

After sixty-five days at sea, we finally caught sight of Newyork, the Lady of Liberty rising up from the horizon as we drew closer. We dropped anchor in an empty shipyard. Captain Malaka and I shook hands, and I wished the rest of the crew smooth sailings.

I had sent a telegraph ahead of our departure, but I had no way of knowing if Emily had received it, and if she cared. My only clue to Emily's whereabouts was the address of the printer from the back of The Bones of Our Hereafters. Beyond that, I had no idea what I would do to survive in Amrik. In Lontown, my notoriety as "Walt the Watchmaker" ensured people looked after me and sought my clockmaking services. But here in Newyork, nobody knew who I was.

"Hey, are you Walt Stone?" a dock worker asked. He had an impressive physique for a man in his sixties, and he wore a cap that hid his eyes. Still, there was a softness in his strange English accent that made me decide to trust him.

"Yeah," I said, my heart beating harder.

He gave me a nod. "You stay right here."

I sat down, clutching my leather bag, feeling old and lost.

Thirty minutes later the man reappeared, whistled at me, and pointed to a horse-drawn carriage that had stopped at the end of the yard.

Out of the carriage climbed Emily.

Of course, Emily had changed. Her skin was tanner than I remembered, and she carried herself with more purpose, more confidence than she used to. I could see hard, lean muscles rolling on her forearms, and the years had sculpted her face into thin, hard lines that gave her an air of authority but also made her look resigned and disappointed by life.

Beautiful as ever. My Emily.

"You came," she said, the gap between us as deep and unknowable as the ocean I had just crossed.

"I should have come a long time ago."

02672 - SUN MAY 05

In Newyork, I rediscovered a happiness I thought was gone forever. I loved Emily with a fierceness I don't think my twenty year-old self could have contained. I no longer cared that our love was finite; in fact, its fragility made it more precious to us both. We had been apart longer than we had been together, but this mystery, rather than separate us, made me want to know her more.

To understand her alienness was to rejoice at a universe that was bigger than I could ever be. To look into her wide, gray eyes was to know I was not alone.

In the twenty-eight years since she had left Lontown, Emily had traveled across the continent, meeting with scattered Amrikan tribes and interviewing them for her book. In Newyork, people on the street would wave or bow at her.

With my clocks, I had given hope to the people of Europa. But Emily had provided Amrikans something they didn't even know they needed: closure.

As winter turned to spring, Emily and I said farewell to our Newyork life and saddled our horses for the long journey ahead. Part of me wished I could spend the rest of my days with Emily in Newyork, but I needed some closure of my own.

Somewhere out there, in a land called Nevada, the Clock of the Long Now was waiting.

02673 - MON SEP 15

One month after my sixty-second birthday, Emily and I spotted Mount Washington, Nevada where, Kelly's book claimed, the Clock of the Long Now had been built.

A religious apprehension filled me as we hiked our way past the ancient bristlecone pines towards the peak. According to the book Emily had found in the ruins of the Library of Congress, the Clock of the Long Now had been built in the 21st century by a group known as the Long Now Foundation, who had dreamed of building a clock that would last ten thousand years.

At the time, the Long Now Foundation must have believed humanity's future infinite. They must have imagined us flying to the stars or even transcending our mortal coils. Yet here we were; an old couple, struggling against the aging of our bodies, slowly edging our way up to a clock that would outlive the species that dreamt it up.

"Here," Emily hissed, breathless, a few feet above me. "Walt, it's here."

I joined her, staring at a jade door rimmed by stainless steel, sealing an entrance in the rock face.

We stepped through this door and past a second one inside, and found ourselves in total darkness. Emily rummaged for a lantern, but I stopped her with a touch.

With our hands before us, we walked for a few hundred meters in total darkness. I thought I could see the faintest glow on the floor before us, at the end of the tunnel. Once there, I looked up: sure enough, a tiny dot of light, high above us, shed a gloom into the dark sanctuary. I could make out massive stone disks, lying haphazardly on the floor in the middle of the shaft.

The hair raised on the nape of my neck.

"Counterweights," I whispered, awed.

Holding hands, we began to ascend stone stairs that spiraled upwards towards the light. We climbed past a horizontal turnstile that would raise the weights again, past gigantic horizontal wheels that calculated the chimes the Clock of the Long Now used to play before it wound down.

At the top, we entered a chamber and finally saw it: the clock's face. It was eight feet in diameter and looked more like the eye of God than a clock. The center was a star field, showing the evolving positions of the stars as the Sun went around the Galaxy. Along the edge were numbers etched in stainless steel: Two for the years, and three for the centuries. I thought of The Long Odds.

The numbers read: 024-32.

"The clock has stopped two hundred years ago," I whispered to Emily, my heart hammering at my throat.

"Can you fix it?" Emily's voice was tiny and frail in the mountain's twilight.

"I hope so."

02673 - WED OCT 08

It took me three weeks just to study the clock's mechanisms. The problems with the clock became clear two weeks into my survey: some of the gears had been thrown off-balance, either by natural seismic activity, or man-made tremors such as underground nuclear detonations.

As I worked, Emily traveled back and forth between the Clock and a nearby Amrik settlement known as Ely. There, she traded copies of her book for food, which the Ely residents were delighted to share. She came back with small feasts which we shared in the clock face chamber.

We spent long hours in comfortable silence there, just Emily, the clock, and I. Balanced on the edge of infinity together.

Five weeks after our arrival, Emily and I exhausted ourselves pushing the turnstile, watching the massive weights rise up towards the light. Then, we made our way back up to the clock face and listened to the ticking of the massive, ancient clock in the darkness around us. It felt like the heartbeat of the world: strong, purposeful, reassuring.

At noon, the resurrected clock played its tune. The chimes resonated around us in the darkness, filling the very air with their vibrations. The gears we saw coming up to the chamber were a massive differential engine, built to play a different tune every time the clock chimed.

I thought of John Cage's As Slow as Possible. It had not been the death of music after all; music had been sleeping, waiting for me to wake it up again.

As the last note of the chime echoed in the hollows of the mountain, I felt this gentle stillness I had felt once, long ago, when I had finished The Long Odds.

A beautiful, impossible idea being dreamt below the mountain, as ancient as humanity itself, yet still young and vibrant. Even now, after everything, just waiting for a clockmaker's hand to set it in motion once more.

I reached out and took Emily's hand.

"Emily?"

"Hmm?"

Her voice was distant, as if she was lingering at the shores of a distant dreamscape. I took a deep breath and thought of the years behind us and the few still ahead.

"Yes."


Data?1593425727
Daniel Roy

Daniel Roy is crafting tales of hope for a cold, uncaring universe.

2 Comments
  • Manuel Royal
    November 8, 3:22pm

    That's wonderful. (Needs one more proofing.)

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    • 1bluepixel
      November 8, 3:48pm

      Thank you for your kind words and support! I've proofed it as you suggested and did indeed find a few issues... Much appreciated!

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