Artwork by Shaun Tan. Copyright 1999 Shaun Tan. Matthew 24:36

Chris Lawson

Part 3 of 4

00:00 hr   Melbourne, Sydney, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands

"Well," said Hanna, "that was exciting. Are we dead yet?"
Still, she waited another twenty minutes listening to the babble on Radio Y2K just in case the world ended. There were a few reports of drunkenness and urban violence, but nothing exceptional. All was quiet on the eastern front.
Eventually boredom and exhaustion overtook her curiosity. She got up from the sofa to go to bed. As she stood, the lights flickered. The three Humboldts looked at the ceiling light. It settled back to its normal constant glow. Hanna gave a little giggle, then headed for her bedroom.
When she was halfway there, the lights blacked out. She stood in darkness, disoriented by the sudden blindness. She was also in total audio silence. The radio had gone dead. Then there was a thump from the back of the house as the generator started up. After a few seconds, the lights came back on and the radio started again.
It's OK, folks. Just a little blackout, but we have our own power supply. What about you folks out there in the Valley? Did you prepare? If you're hearing this, I guess so. If you're not hearing this, then good luck with the frozen meat! What's it like to eat a hundred kilos of beef in four days, I wonder?
Hanna looked back over her shoulder. Her father wore an expression of - she struggled to put her finger on it - serene contemplation. He looked like a goddamn Buddha.
She walked back to the sofa and sat down.

01:00 hr   Brisbane, Guam, Port Moresby, Vladivostock
01:30 hr      Adelaide

Radio Y2K started to roll out the reports. The emergency services switchboard in Wellington had failed, so all the lacerated brawlers and drink-drive accidents had to wait for ambulances and police, sometimes up to ninety minutes.
By the way, said the DJ, we've just heard that the entire Australian phone network has crashed. There will be no more phone calls, kiddies!
Erwin checked. When he picked up the phone all he heard was a dull buzz. Punching the numbers had no effect other than making a strange tone. He looked over at Hanna, who refused to meet his gaze. He didn't push it. He knew he was right; there was no point shoving it down the throat of a sullen teenager.

02:00 hr   Seoul, Tokyo, Yakutsk
03:00 hr   Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Perth

Riots broke out in Seoul, although there was always student unrest there and it might have had nothing to do with the millennium bug. Not much happened in low-tech Beijing, but its reclaimed territory of Hong Kong and the territory it would like to reclaim, Taipei, both fell to pieces. China was already working on an aid package to Hong Kong, and feeling mighty superior about it, and a food-for-reunification deal with Taipei, and feeling mighty superior about that too. Beijing politicians used the occasion to explain that the Western New Year was weak, while the Chinese New Year was the proven choice of all righteous nations.
In Tokyo, the remnants of the Aum Srinyoko cult, which was still a legal religion, tried to break their guru out of prison. They failed, but killed three hundred people in the process.

04:00 hr   Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta

Amongst the most flammable cities in the world at the best of times, Bangkok and Jakarta lit up like tinderboxes. By contrast, Hanoi was politically stable and largely ran on manual labour, so it slept through the night.

05:00 hr   Almaty, Dhaka
05:30 hr      Bombay, Calcutta, Colombo, New Delhi
06:00 hr   Ekaterinburg, Islamabad, Karachi, Tashkent
06:30 hr      Kabul

Erwin woke up with a start. They had slept through the fall of the Indian subcontinent, only picking up bits and pieces as they dozed.
You can almost see it sweeping across the globe, said the radio. Hour by hour, new time zones get swallowed by the bug. It's like a fire spreading from a fuse lit at the International Date Line, jumping from one zone to the next. Like fire, it doesn't take a straight line either. Some zones are half an hour out; others deep in the Southern Hemisphere are on daylight savings. That's what it's like: a patchwork quilt burning up one patch at a time.
He quickly checked the security monitor and patrolled the house. It was all clear, but he admonished himself anyway. He should have organised some watch roster. He looked at Irene and Hanna, who were asleep on the sofa, and he checked in on Billy, who would need a bucket of water to be woken at this time of night. He would have to take the watch himself. He went and poured himself a strong cup of coffee.
The sun was up, so Erwin flicked the security cameras off night vision mode.

07:00 hr   Abu Dhabi, Tbilisi
07:30 hr      Tehran
08:00 hr   Baghdad, Moscow, Nairobi, St Petersburg

The remains of the old Soviet Union fell even closer to the Stone Age. Two nuclear reactors went Chernobyl, and one secret nuclear warhead storage facility that Turkistan had failed to decommission lit up in a storm of neutrons. Meteorologists in London were rushing to model the fallout across Western Europe. But the Russians had more immediate problems: a sudden loss of power in the middle of a frozen night. Winter laid a new siege on St Petersburg.

09:00 hr   Athens, Cairo, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Johannesburg

The Australian government has announced a State of Emergency, said the DJ, although it has no way of systematically informing police and the military. A spokesman said that police and army officers had been briefed on the possibility beforehand and expect near universal compliance even if they can't be contacted in remote areas.
Police have withdrawn from the riot at Flinders Street Station following the deaths of three officers and serious injuries to seventeen others. The Police Commissioner has asked the army to step in, and is waiting for a response. Meanwhile, armed gangs are terrorising the mansions of Toorak, Brighton, and Kew.
Gangs from the city have already been seen in Shepparton and Bendigo. There have been reports of car theft and armed robberies from these reprobates exploit country hospitality and lack of security. Armed thieves killed a family of five in their home, ten kilometres out of Benalla.

There was a brief pause in the transmission. When the DJ spoke again there was a noticeable change in his tone of voice.
Now for some lighter news. The government has asked all television broadcasters to continue with their usual programming to reduce panic in the community. Your electricity may be down and your phone cut off and there may be gangs in the streets of Melbourne, but you just know it will be all right because the television that you can't watch is showing its normal programs. I notice right now that Channel Nine is showing Bugs Bunny cartoons. I feel safer already.
Erwin briefly flicked over to the television. Sure enough, Wil E. Coyote was smacking into the side of a mesa while the Road Runner zipped off into the distance, just like it was any other Saturday morning. Erwin laughed, not at the cartoon itself, but at the inappropriateness of it. He flicked back to the security cameras.

Part 1 ] Part 2 ] Part 3 ] Part 4 ]

Eidolon: SF Online
Copyright © 1999 Chris Lawson. All rights reserved.
Originally published online: 17 December 1999.
Artwork ©1999 Shaun Tan