Thursday, November 14, 2013

Still Life 01

This is the story of Jay Castle, one of the most important people in the universe.

Jay didn't know his importance. For the first 24 years of his life, he was, if anything, extraordinarily ordinary. He lived a common lifestyle of a lower-middle class American citizen during the early part of the 21st century. Jay rarely gave a thought to the future, living moment to moment. Jay made his living as a freelance camera operator, most recently working on a reality television show that highlighted performers on the Las Vegas strip.

Jay knew his job was a great one, with many perks and connections to people who could help him get things not readily available to the public. Which is how Jay scored two tickets to see the New Year's Eve concert of one of Jay's favorite bands - The Freaking Whatevers. The show had been sold out for weeks, but one of the producers of the reality program had managed to get an extra pair, and had given them to Jay as an early Christmas present or maybe it was for his birthday, which was on the 21st. Jay was just ecstatic to receive the tickets, regardless of the why. Jay would come to question the "why" of many things later, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

After Jay had the tickets, he contacted his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Alicia, who was living in LA. She was thrilled to be able to go see the show. New Year's Eve was on a Wednesday, so the plan was to stay in LA thru Sunday, and return to Vegas Monday morning. Alicia was working as a waitress while interning at DesnoTech, and her place was not big enough for Jay to stay at, so Jay contacted his friend Miguel to arrange living conditions for the extended weekend. Miguel asked if Jay was going to be flying out. "Nah," Jay told him, "I'd rather drive. Gas has dipped back down to under six bucks, so it's probably cheaper. And with all the security hassles with flying, it might be quicker to just walk."

So Jay rented a car (a '34 Dodge Natural, for those wanting to know) from the Hertz dealership on Tuesday, December 30th, 2036, instead of flying, which most likely saved his life. If he had been in one of the 47,803 commercial airlines that were airborne on January 5th, 2037 at 5:41am, Pacific Standard Time, things would have ended very differently for Jay. And everyone else, too, of course.

Jay did have a fantastic time. The concert was most definitely the best Jay had ever been to, there were several parties that Jay went to, and the LA crowd knew how to throw parties. And, naturally, he and Alicia engaged in many sexual activities during the four days he was in town. It was at some point during the first few days of 2037 that Jay seriously considered taking the next step with Alicia. Jay often thought back to those days in the time that was to come, and considered them some of the best days of his life. Of course, compared to what Jay had to deal with starting on 1/5/37, practically anything would have been preferable.

Like many people at that time of day, when 5:41am struck, Jay was sleeping. The rental car had been driving Jay back to Vegas for just over an hour at that point, and so he had chosen to lay his seat back and catch some z's. Sleeping while your car is on auto-pilot was not technically legal, but practically everybody did it, especially on long stretches of freeway, such as the I-15.

While dozing, Jay could sense that the movement of the vehicle was decelerating. Jay sat up and looked out the front window. He didn't see anything that should cause the Natural to slow down. There were taillights of a vehicle ahead of them, but it was easily a mile or two down the road. There were headlights behind him as well, also roughly that far back. The auto-drive lanes generally kept a good safe distance between cars, after all. The speedometer read 40. 39. 38.

It was then that Jay noticed the music he had been resting to - The Freaking Whatevers' "Mayor Dog" - was also slowing down. The phrase, "couldn't hack it as the mayor, couldn't hack it as a dog"was being dragged out. Assuming the car must be having some sort of mechanical failure, Jay sat up entirely and placed his hands on the wheel. He addressed the car's computer. "Gerry? I want to go to manual mode, please."

Gerry responded with what sounded like a drunk, slurring voice, "Maaan-u-aalll mo-o-o-o-de". The car had decelerated to a mere 4 miles per hour at this point.

"c o u l d n't ... h a a a a a c k",  Jay switched the music off completely, in order to focus clearly on driving. Manual driving was not something that was done all that often, and it made Jay nervous every time he had to do it. Fortunately, the car had relinquished control over to him. Moving was another matter. Gerry, being a computer, felt it was prudent to alert Jay that being in Manual Mode while remaining in an Auto Drive lane was unsafe. Unfortunately, the speed of Gerry's speech was greatly reduced, which only caused Jay's irritation level to increase. "I'm working on it, Gerry!" Jay had the gas pedal floored, but the vehicle was not moving fast enough to register on the speedometer. It was still moving, though. Jay managed to inch the car onto the shoulder.

Once there, he switched to Park and put the emergency hazards on. They blinked on - and remained  lit up.

Jay grabbed his Glasses, and fired up G-chat. "Call Alicia, Miguel, Parents," he commanded. "Oh, and Triple A." he added.

Jay stared at the space in front of his face where four separate windows should have appeared as his phone called each of the people he'd listed. But nothing had happened. In fact, his Glasses were not even done loading up to the 'net yet. That never took more than 3 or 4 seconds. Perhaps 7 or 8 in places where coverage was spotty...

Jay glanced forward and saw that the taillights of the other car hadn't gotten any further away. And the headlights of the car behind him hadn't gotten any closer. So whatever was going on must have something to do with the system controlling the auto-driving cars, Jay surmised. But, why weren't the other cars switching to manual? Or were they also having the same problem he was?

He considered getting out of the car, walking down to the car behind him (it seemed like it might be closer than the one ahead of him), then thought better of it. It was January, in the desert, and the sun wasn't even up yet. And even if the auto-drive lanes were down, didn't mean that EVERY vehicle was inoperative. Walking along a dark freeway in the early hours of the morning was a recipe for disaster.

Just then, his Glasses connected to the internet, and the four windows popped up. The dialing was monstrously slow. What in the world is going on? Jay wondered. The hazard lights suddenly blinked off. They had been "on" for about 45 seconds, Jay figured. Although this whole situation was making him uncertain of how much time really was passing. Miguel's face appeared in the bottom left of his vision, Miguel wearing his own Glasses. The connection was horrible. Jay was only able to see and hear Miguel every few seconds. What he was able to hear was "...Stopped. ...ire. ....cra... et... you... wi... hear..."

Alicia popped up shortly thereafter, with similar results. And then, with a sudden snap, everything the connection cleared up, and the hazard lights began blinking at the rate that they should have, and the car that was behind him zipped past.

The three of them spoke rapidly, and Jay was able to discern that evidently everything electrical in Los Angeles (and possibly other parts of the country, the reports on television and the net were hard to understand at that point) had slowed down, and effectively stopped. This had resulted in numerous automobile crashes (mostly in areas where auto-driving streets had not been constructed yet) and, worse, several plane crashes, as well as one known helicopter crash. Miguel and Alicia were looking things up on the internet, and Jay watched as they slowly realized that it had, in fact, been a worldwide phenomenon.

"Are you both safe?" Jay asked, and he wondered why his parents hadn't yet answered their phone. Although it was still before six, and they might not have heard it. But what about Triple A?

His friends confirmed that they were both all right, though mightily shaken.

And then, at 5:55am, Jay was hit with a powerful feeling of deja vu mixed with vertigo. He closed his eyes for just a second, but when he opened them, he saw that the video on his glasses had frozen again. "Damn it." He smacked the side of the Glasses. "Alicia? Miguel? Can you guys hear me?"

It was as he looked at his girlfriends feed that he noticed behind her the clock with the second hand. It was still ticking. The clock was moving, it was Alicia that had stopped.

No comments: