TURN OF THE EARTH
Part One - Investigations Institute
In the Investigations Institute, Rockleson and Powell observed their flat-screen computers with distaste.
‘Really, sir, this is impossible,’ simpered Powell, swinging in his computer chair to face the imposing bulk of Sir Joshua Rockleson, his boss.
‘Shut it,’ replied Rockleson, quite coolly, not even bothering to turn round. His normally lazy face was fixed on his computer screen, watching a simulation that showed the turn of the Earth. A few minutes before the event, the digits that scrolled and hummed cheerily onscreen were flat and constant. Now some had rocketed up, some had plunged down, and were in perpetual movement.
‘But sir, I don’t mean to put down the Institute, but this is beyond our control,’ Powell persisted, irritatedly swinging round his chair so that he was facing the computer once more.
‘Come on, Powell, think it through,’ Rockleson said, still intent on his simulation. ‘If we don’t deal with this, then who will? The Royal Institute? They’re probably having a posh dinner in Buckingham Palace right now — they know nothing. We’ve got to handle this ourselves.’
‘It’s not a question of handling it,’ exclaimed Powell, losing his temper, atnding up angrily from his chair, making the heads of dozens of workers turn, interested, towards him. ‘It’s a question of the rotation of the whole bloody Earth slowing down by an entire day in the past year!’
‘Sit down, Powell,’ Rockleson responded calmly. Powell angrily obeyed, sensing with some pleasure that his boss was attempting to avoid the current subject. ‘Return to your work.’
‘What is there to do? Monitor how much slower the rotation gets?’ flared Powell, feeling that he had already lost the argument.
‘Precisely,’ replied Rockleson, smiling slightly. Then his face fell. ‘It’s slowing incredibly fast,’ he added.
The computers chittered unhappily, little squeaks and clicks emanating from their hard discs, complaining about the outrageous amount of data that was flowing through their systems. They auto-upgraded their processors, downloaded amazing graphics, updated their systems — one even secretly ordered a sound card on eBay. But it was of no use. The data kept building and building and building, until, with strangled cyber-squawks, the machines went down.
As every single computer in the parallel rows of banks crashed, Rockleson finally made the effort to swing round in his chair to observe his confused workers.
‘It’s hopeless, sir,’ Powell said, shaking his head, defeated. ‘The computers can’t even begin to fathom this change in rotation speed. It’s over. The Institute’s destroyed. We can’t do anything more.’
‘This has always been your problem, Powell,’ replied Rockleson, his eyes gleaming. ‘You have no imagination. Our computers crash — we buy new ones.’ He opened his personal laptop, which had not crashed due to its not being connected to the Institute network. He clicked on the Internet icon, and the eBay window popped up, advertising the very latest computer model — the ThunderBolt 365.
The workers crowded round Rockleson’s shoulder, and watched in amazement as he clicked on the icon, then typed in: AMOUNT — 20.
Before anyone could stop him, he whacked ‘ENTER’.
‘We may now be bankrupt,’ Rockleson laughed crazily, ‘but we have the most processing power of any company or industry in the world, even Microsoft.’ He turned to Powell. ‘We will handle this ourselves,’ he said, firmly.
Mr Peter and Mrs Joan Nutsmite always went to bed at ten o’clock at night. For some reason which they didn’t quite know, they loved doing this and could not break the habit. It had to be ten o’clock exactly, or else they wouldn’t be able to sleep.
Tonight was no exception. They drunk the last drops of wine from their classic bottle — Buzet 1998 — and helped each other up from the garden table, onto which strange otherwordly sunlight spilled, playing over the damp wine glasses and over the darkening skin of the ageing couple.
The reason why the sunlight was strange and otherwordly was because it was shining at ten o’clock at night!
Mr Nutsmite gazed up at the sun, unwaveringly and unfailingly bright, its harsh untimely rays hitting his face, exaggerating the wrinkles and filling them with fire until it seemed that his face was of cracked and drying lava, and his glasses discs of blinding flame.
At last he lowered his gaze with a sigh and turned to his wife, who said sympathetically, ‘You shouldn’t look at the sun, Pete, it’ll dazzle you.’
Mr Nutsmite snorted. ‘Sixty-five years of looking at it and I’m not dazzled.’
Mrs Nutsmite sighed, and headed in for bed. Her husband simply sat there in the garden, returning his attention to the sun, wondering if it would ever go down.
Somewhere in Australia, a girl named Isobel Beechwood woke to the sound of her alarm clock. DING, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP...
Frustrated, she jolted awake, and slammed her hand on the large inviting button located on top of the alarm clock. Its annoying beeps ceased with an equally annoying click, and all was calm again.
Why, oh, why, Isobel thought, did I have to forget it was the first day of the holidays and leave my alarm at nine thirty...
As the words “nine thirty” passed her she remembered that she hadn’t left the alarm at her school wake-up time, she’d moved it forward three hours. She was simply being lazy.
At this thought, she swung out of bed with a sigh, slipped her feet into slippers, brushed back her long blonde hair, and drew back the curtains.
If it’s nine thirty, she thought, puzzled, then why is it still dark? And why, last night, was sunset at four thirty?