Quartz

Time is absolute. That was the foundational truth in Evie’s life. One minute was one minute long every time, just like cause flowed down the line into effect and never the reverse. The Delimiter kept everything moving exactly as it should.

It was a source of comfort to her, knowing the Delimiter made sure of exactly when she was and what she should be doing in that time. She liked to watch it working, in the peaceful minutes when she had nothing else to do.

It spanned overhead, a transparent roof over the entire C-133 Vega settlement zone, growing out of a central silver stalk that dominated the horizon. The soft, nearly subauditory thrum of it pulsing overhead counted out the microseconds in taps against the distant spires ringing its edge. Evie was sure it was beating out the heartbeat of the universe.

Their Delimiter wasn’t the only one, of course. They were some kind of natural formation, covering the surface of C-133. The first settlers hadn’t thought anything of them for years, but eventually people started to notice changes.

People weren’t late anymore. They weren’t early either. Unless something went wrong, they were always exactly on schedule. No one lost track of time or forgot what they were supposed to be doing, and tasks took the same amount of time each time they were done.

Everything was a little easier, a little more reliable, living by the beat of the Delimiter. That’s what the 1st Gens said about it anyway. Evie had never known anything else.

Sleeping in for the first time came as an unpleasant surprise. Evie – along with everyone else, judging by the hectic crowd she rushed out into – was in a hurry to catch up with her day. She was pushed around in the frantic hustle as everyone rushed to get where they were supposed to be. More than once she had to do some pushing of her own to avoid being swept off in the wrong direction by the crowd.

She knew she had to get to work, but was she late for the Adamson meeting or her presentation on the Vertagrow project? Wait, no, Adamson was tomorrow. Or, oh god, what day was it? Panic took hold.

Evie stumbled out of the flow of foot traffic, heart pounding in her ears. She slid to the ground, trying to catch her breath, and felt for that reassuring thrum that would get her back on track, only to discover it was gone.

The Delimiter was still moving, but it wasn’t keeping time. Instead of the steady pulse that the inhabitants of C-133 had relied on for generations, the Delimiter was warping and bending along its edge, twitching as it occasionally managed to produce a series of irregular beats. There was a strange, strained squeak at times, like it was trying to tear under the strain of the irregular motion.

Evie couldn’t move. All she could bring herself to do was sit and watch as the Delimiter struggled to move. The sun was setting when it finally broke under the strain with a resonant snap. The three huge shards caught against the spires, barely shifting, but Evie still felt as if the sky were falling.

The man who approached her was a stranger to Evie. He came along a little before dark and crouched down, meeting her eye and offering a hand. When Evie didn’t respond, he reached for her hand where it was pressed flat against the ground. “Hey now, it’s going to be ok. Let’s get you on your feet.”

The stranger got her standing, and after a little hesitation they were making their way back to Evie’s home. She was still stunned silent as they walked but the stranger seemed happy to carry the conversation alone. Evie probably missed more than half of what he was saying, focused on the slow pace of their steps on the pavement and the reassuring tone of his voice.

He was a 1st Gen. He had relocated to C-133 with his parents when he was young. He had shared his name at some point, but Evie had missed it. He talked about what it had been like, living without the Delimiter when he was a kid and he sounded like he had enjoyed it. Evie couldn’t imagine how with the short minutes it took to get back to her building stretching into hours.

He walked her to her door, making sure she got inside, and as she turned to close it behind her, he smiled. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine – a little messier, but fine.” He pulled out a notecard with some names and numbers written on it, “Some of the other 1st Gens and I are putting something together. Nothing fancy, just to help everybody adjust. If you need help, you can call one of those numbers, ok?”

Evie stared at the card, brain trying to catch up, and finally accepted it. “Thank you. I -,” She cleared her throat, “I think I will.”

The stranger smiled. “Great,” his phone rang and he went to answer it, “hope we hear from you soon!” He headed off down the hallway before Evie could think to respond.

She stood there in her open door, looking at the spot where the man had been just a moment ago. She looked down at the notecard again.

How long was soon?

Published by

Mal McInnish

Professional public library goblin, hobby-hoarder, and writer, located in Texas, USA.

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