Kept in the Dark

Time stood still when the lights went out.

We're accustomed to the time generator stopping; it was the warning lights blowing that caught us. They were new and top of the range so we expected them to withstand anything. Sam from the technical department tugged at the wiring behind the console panels. The lights flickered into life, dimmed, and went out again. He scribbled a log entry and turned his attention to the time generator.

It was old and outdated so its periodic failure wasn't a case of "if", it was more of "when". It's why we invested in the new warning lights so that we'd know in advance when a failure was imminent.

Even the universe next door, some twelve millennia younger than ours, is much further developed. Their time generator has controls and systems which make our brightly flashing lights dim in comparison.

Our model is more basic, which means Sam can fix it easily, even with its many quirks. Sam is like the twenty-first century steam engine enthusiast who caresses his Grange class steam locomotive into motion. He massages the balance between the energy flux and the temporal field enhancers to the right level, sets the quantum spin and adjusts the probabilistic determination matrix. It's an art he excels in.

Time shows erratic behaviour when the time generator fails. Sometimes it repeats itself itself or goes round and round and round in a loop, repeating itself and going round in a loop. Other times it backwards goes and it realise don't you.

You'd be surprised at how often time skips or lurches to a halt, but our customer relations team carries out a superlative job. Thanks to their efforts, most people aren’t aware of time failures and are kept in the dark. Others might suspect something is awry.

You know when you can't remember shutting the front door? Or the conversation in which your wife swears she told you something important and yet you have no memory of it? These are time generator failures where time jolts back into gear when our technical department fixes the glitch.

Sam left me his report. It described how warning lights preparing us for these failures means that we have information about the future. Advance knowledge is a dangerous thing to have when working with the flow of time because it confuses the time generator with a feedback mechanism.

The bottom line is that time might jitter, buzzing around a single moment, or even shut down the time generator completely. Naturally, this kind of behaviour triggers the warning lights. The temporal engineers call it a causal loop.

I needed to speak to Sam, so I headed to the control room where the time generator was housed. He was tugging the wiring behind the console panels. The lights flickered into life, then dimmed. Time stood still when the lights went out.

Paul Sterlini
Jul 30 2020

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I really enjoyed this. A very clever way of writing.

Tracy Windross
Sep 21 2020

Very, very clever. I started reading the fifth paragraph thinking, ‘ooh, there’s a mistake there I must tell Paul about’, until I realised just how clever you’d been. Loved it!

Rod Webb
Aug 16 2020

Like Paul, I love stories based on time; it must be because I grew up under the influence of Doctor Who and HG Wells. This story is a great addition to the list.

Tony Spencer
Jul 31 2020