Struter Jones rushed to the corner to catch the 7:58 Fifth Avenue bus. As usual, she had timed every action in getting ready for her daily work grind down to the last second. No fan of her current dull-as-hell-go-nowhere clerical position, she did only what she had to do when she had to do it, as every day she searched for the miracle job that would take her out of the morass that had defined every day of her life for the last five years.
However, little did Struter know that her life and her world–indeed, the world of every other person on earth–this day would spin off their axis into an unknown climax none of them ever could have predicted.
The 7:58 bus that Struter had just managed to catch every morning did not show that day. In fact, it didn’t show up in what she estimated as 15 minutes, a half hour or even an hour.
Struter had to estimate the passage of time because, at that minute, her smartphone clock had stopped dead at 7:57 am. She rushed up to the Apple store at 49th Street to check the time on the in-store clock that also had stopped at 7:57. The same went for the huge street clock at 47th Street.
As she looked around she saw all traffic suddenly slowing down to a pace much slower than even its usual Manhattan morning rush hour traffic jam crawl. Massive confusion also seemed to have taken over the usual robotic masses along the Avenue.
Several passersby looked desperately at their Apple watches, wristwatches or Ipads with the same stunned expression that Struter had when her own watch appeared to have stopped functioning.
“What the hell is going on?,” she asked an obviously confused NYC traffic cop as he attempted to prevent collisions precipitated by drivers angered over something or someone that had caused interminable delays along their normally carefully-mapped-out routes
“I have no idea,” the unusually overstressed officer replied. “It seems like every method of keeping time has stopped. Precinct commanders see their morning roll calls running way behind schedule, but they have no way of knowing why; the court system came to a complete stop and the MTA doesn’t know if any of its vehicles are on or near any type of schedule. Metro North reports the same problems and the airlines are in chaos.”
Apparently New Yorkers didn’t have a monopoly on the time stoppage, as Struter found out when she tuned in to WCBS radio. The Boston, Chicago and San Francisco transit systems all reported significant delays with no apparent cause. Congress had ground to an even larger halt than that inspired by its usual political stonewalling and the Supreme Court had cancelled all its case hearings because scheduling had become impossible.
The financial sector, which depended so heavily on timing, found itself mired in confusion as Wall Street had no yardstick by which to measure the start of trading and many banks closed because millions of dollars of customer funds lay sealed in vaults whose time-controlled locks frustrated officers could not open.
Motorists stood helpless on roadways stranded without gasoline because computerized pumps could not operate and even electric-propelled vehicles could not move because charging stations had timed out.
Hospitals could not schedule operations or appointments or even restock emergency room supplies because each of these procedures depended on the operation of timed devices.
“The FBI, CIA and FEMA all have established emergency task forces to investigate the situation and prevent what we believe constitutes a temporary shutdown and I have activated the National Guard in all 50 states to help keep order,” President Maria Johnston announced.
She promised frequent updates “throughout this rapidly-evolving crisis.”
Struter, who now realized more intensely than ever what a small cog she had become in America’s massive economic machine, began, however, to see this time stoppage as an opportunity to reassess her life and get it moving in a more positive direction–that is, when movement again became possible.
After spending hours navigating through this strange maze of confusion, she walked slowly home down the 12 blocks of Fifth Avenue that she had absent-mindedly covered in her search for a timeframe on which to anchor her future existence.
Mired deep in thought, the young woman did not realize that her next step led her into a gaping hole in the sidewalk. She kept falling for what seemed like another eternity before landing in a room that resembled a 1960s-era discotheque.
A door then opened into another room from which a deep orange glow came shining out. To Struter’s surprise, huge dayglow clocks covered almost every inch of the four walls of the room. A nearly eight-foot-tall man with flaming red hair sat on a huge chair in the front of the room.
The man spoke in a booming voice that resembled that of the king in The King and I musical of the 1940s which Struter had studied as a music major at NYU.
“I am Tock Ryerson, president of a secret corporation known as the Eternal Dialex Corporation,” based on the planet Euroton,” he said. “For many years our scientists have studied various methods of controlling time because our planet faces destruction from pollution emanating from the earth’s atmosphere. We have discovered a formula that has enabled us to stop earth’s time. By stopping your planet’s time we believe we can delay the ultimate destruction of our planet.”
Ryerson further explained that earth’s leaders could “buy back” their use of time by negotiating with the Eurotonians and setting guidelines for destruction of the pollution threatening Euroton and cooperatively working toward restoration of his planet.
“We don’t trust most of earth’s leaders to negotiate the kind of agreement we seek,” Ryerson said. “We believe we can only trust a person less tied into your planet’s political power structure. Therefore, we have selected you to carry our message back to your leaders. In our estimation, the current status of earth’s pollution only gives our planet another three months before Euroton’s destruction. As a sign of good faith, we gradually will restore time to your planet. However, if the parties do not reach an agreement in another month, all time and your planet with it will reach total destruction. Our terms for reaching an agreement cannot be changed. You hold the future of your planet in your hands. We will release you today to bring our message to your leaders. If you disappoint us the destruction of your planet will immediately follow the failure to reach an agreement.”
With that, suddenly Struter found herself wisked from the underground room to the headquarters of the Secretary General of the United Nations. She told Secretary General Marisa Lopez that she had to appoint four second level diplomats–from the United States, the United Kingdom, China and Russia–with full powers to negotiate a timeline for the dissolution of the pollution that had targeted Euroton within one month or have the earth face the permanent stopping of all time around the globe.
Although Lopez did not like the blackmail-like pre-conditions set by the Eurotonians for negotiations she felt she had no choice. She immediately appointed the four-person commission.
The four diplomats hit back hard about being used as pawns in this interplanetary game of environmental chess, but they felt the future of
earth depended on ensuring the survival of Euroton.
Within a week time again began to advance on earth.
The diplomats signed an agreement with Ryerson and his assistants setting a timetable for dissolution of the Eurotonian pollution within a month and clocks around the world began once again to function as life returned to normal.
Struter, no longer a minor clerical cog in the United States corporate machine, won the Nobel Prize for Peace and wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about her experience whose sales earned her millions in royalties.