~The year is 2086. Electricity is the main source of energy, all the others depleted or discarded. Daily existence is filled with convenience. Minds are numb with pleasure and the lack of struggle, for all is provided. The living believe life is good, and it is. But then came the Black Crash.
Police Officer Hidalgo
No one knows what caused it.
It had been a Thursday evening like any other when a cannon-like blast echoed across the city. Seconds later windows all over the city darkened, a great wave of shadow plunging everyone into darkness. Outages happen, Officer Hidalgo knew. He had been on patrol that night, his own car shutting down with the rest of the city. It was all so sudden, as if someone had merely pulled the plug on the world.
It was when he turned to his phone, also consumed in darkness, that he knew this was different.
His phone was completely dead, nothing he did would turn it on.
Which means all technology is dead.
No phones, no cars, no internet, no digital billboards, no fancy refrigerators.
It was all dead.
This same thought seemed to hit the rest of the city at that moment, for that was when screams began to echo between the darkened buildings. Quick as he could, Officer Hidalgo leapt from his useless car and into the panic building in the middle of the frozen streets, filled with other dead cars. Climbing to the top of one rusty husk, he raised his hands and voice, “Please!” he cried, “There is no need to panic! We have outages all the time, that’s all this is!”
One person at a time, he seemed to be gaining attention, and before long the crowd had calmed to a moderate fearfulness. “Please” he lowered his voice and hands in an appeasing gesture, “I’m sure the electric companies already know about this. Once they figure out what happened, things will be back up and running before we know it.”
As he said this, the last of the buildings darkened in the city, plunging everyone into impenetrable darkness. So heavy was this darkness, it seemed to compress fear into something thicker, something paralyzing. Just as Officer Hidalgo thought that the crowds were settled, a high scream pierced the silence as pale light fell from the sky above.
As each person turned their eyes skyward, their faces contorted into something horrific, panicked. For above them all was a silver swarm, one that overtook the entirety of the heavens.
None of them had seen anything like this before. Panic and hysteria ensued, screams pierced the charged air and individuals scattered. Officer Hidalgo could do nothing, for he himself stood paralyzed in the wake of this infinite army of silver light above.
When the blackout struck, he saw his chance.
Notebook and pencil in hand, he ran from his single-story house and down the main road. If he could get out before the panic started, that would be even better. No one to stop him, trample him, scream at him, tell him to be afraid. He was afraid, but not of the blackout. These began to happen all the time once society shifted completely to electricity. Every single time, there was panic.
He was, however, afraid of missing this chance.
The screams started earlier this time, and he jumped as the first one pierced the air. Edison knew that the electric companies would already be informed by now, which meant the timer had started. Maybe an hour or so, that’s all he had.
It was hardly enough.
Once on the edge of the city, the air grew fresher, no longer tainted with that fizz that was always there. Out here, it was clear and cool, refreshing as Edison took great gulps of it. Though he still ran, his legs did not falter, nor did his chest ache. While youth was on his side, small trips out of the city gave him strength that others did not have. He knew it could go as long as he’d want.
But his destination grew closer.
As far outside the city he could go, while still able to keep an eye on the goings and comings within, Edison’s hill welcomed him. Soft grass, untouched by electric fire, soothed his skin as he flopped down. Up here he felt tall, as his hill rose as tall as some of the buildings in that cursed city.
Quickly he got himself situated, cracking open his notebook. Tonight, he was hoping to see Orion again, maybe even the Big Dipper if enough of the city was dark. One way or another, he was hoping to get more progress done on his sketch of the night sky this time of the year. Grandma Bonnie had helped some, telling him where he could turn his gaze, filling in the gaps where the darkness had stolen his chance. Now he knew where he might see Cancer or Draco, maybe even Ursa Major.
Readying his pencil, lead to paper, he turned his head up to something he had never seen.
Across the expanse of the heavens was a river of stars, and ocean of stars. The great line reached horizon to horizon, dark stars twirling with light stars. Millions upon millions of others surrounded this great creation, lighting up the night all on its own. None of the electric lights could touch this bountiful source, as endless it existed.
The sight stole the breath from Edison’s lungs, his pencil falling from his limp fingers. Chills ran down his spine and across his arms as his eyes fought hard to take in every inch, every spec. Peaceful warmth spread from his chest out, as realization hit that he was nothing compared to this creation. How small he is, a speck himself in the eyes of eternity. How ignorant man is, to think they can compete with the glow of the heavens.
A hand moved to his mouth on its own accord as tears welled in his eyes. Is this what his people gave up when they turned their backs on nature? At this thought, Edison’s heart broke, and the sobs became uncontrollable. Their cause: the incredible beauty around him, the society that gave it up, and the idea that he himself was blessed enough to know it’s worth.
While the rest of the city panicked, a singular woman merely watched. Born over 80 years ago, she understood what that silver swarm overhead was. As the masses below saw it for the first time, for there had yet to be a time when the entire city darkened, she watched them from her pristine living room window. Her three-story apartment was high enough she could see them all in their fear, as well as the poor officer trying to bring order.
“It’s the Milky Way, you fools…” she sighed, letting the pink lace curtains fall over the window. Screams continued after she turned her back on them, turning to the darkness of her own apartment. Not like she had hope for this generation anyway, she reminded herself as she pulled a handful of wax candles from her kitchen cabinets. Too focused on conveniences, on what the world can do for them. Barely a soul was willing to step outside of themselves, out of their own city for mercy’s sake.
Thank goodness her Edison was not that way.
While this generation turned to technology as children, her grandson had turned to books and reading. She nursed this, of course, having quite the private library herself. He devoured every text she passed to him, whether be fiction or history or science. But once he discovered astronomy, she grew excited. She loved the night skies herself as a child, spending many an evening under their magical glow. And once he wanted to see them for himself? She was all too willing to provide a notebook and pencil, plus direction.
The candles lit easily, spreading their warmth faster than electricity. Her smile came quickly as the naturalness of the fire awoken her childhood within her. The smell of earth not fried or burnt. Fresh air, wild and liberating. All of this was natural, all of this was life. Technology was destroying this naturalness, severing the human connection to the world around it.
This threatened the Age of Mankind, she believed.
But she was old, what did she know?
Her mind turned back to her grandson, who was no doubt out in the hills. Would he know the Milky Way when he saw it? This would be his first time, she supposed, for a complete blackout hadn’t happened since before he was born. Though he may not understand what he was seeing, he would not run in fear like those poor idiots in the street.
Though they filled her with disappointment, she felt a deep pity for those in the streets. They did not know any better, she reasoned. They were just victims of the era. So, Grandma Bonnie took her candle with its tiny flame, and sat in her favorite armchair. All the while, she reminisced on her childhood in all its natural glory.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, a yellow haze fogged up the far horizon deeper in the city. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the bright wave would reach this side of town, bringing life back to the technology that surrounded them all.
“Look!” he cried, the light wave of hope swooping closer and closer, a “whoosh” echoing where the electricity replaced the darkness.
A great cry of joy echoed from the streets as the silvery swarm above slowly vanished.
“Oh, thank goodness” Officer Hidalgo sighed, putting his hands to his hips as he watched the sky proceed to darken. The mass of people around him began to calm, screams returning to tired chatter, weak with relief. Fear had drained their energy, and many just walked off the streets towards their homes, leaving the previous event as well as their empty cars to deal with in the morning.
Another officer who had been in the fray came to Hidalgo’s side, looking as shaken as the rest of them, “What do you think that was?” he asked, eyes to the black sky.
“I don’t have any idea” he sighed, shoulders aching from holding them tense, “Never saw anything like that.”
“Me neither” he mumbled, “Strange too, how they vanished once the lights came on?”
“Uh-huh” Hidalgo grunted, “Like they were watching us.”
“Maybe the light scared them off?”
“Probably” he nodded, “Wonder where they were from.”
“Probably government” the other officer shrugged, “If I had to guess.”
“Yeah” he nodded, then sighed again as exhaustion hit him hard, “Probably.”
“No, no please!” the young boy cried, as the great river of stars started to drift back into the darkness. It had not yet been an hour, but the city lights whooshed back on, one building at a time. Frantically he scribbled an outline of the stary river, trying to add as much as possible before it was taken from him for who knows how long.
“No…” he breathed, hand slowing to a stop as the river became nothing but a memory against the inky black of the night.
Edison had been in awe for more than half his time on the hill, just staring at the glory before his eyes. At first, he hadn’t even wanted to try and draw it, knowing he could never do it justice. Never get it down right. How does one began to imitate something so perfect, with barely adequate material. But once he heard the first “whoosh” of the electricity coming back on, he desperately had tried to get it down so he could have something to show Grandma Bonnie. Now as he looked at the page, it was nothing but a shadow, a set of blurred lines and attempted replication. He knew it would not be as beautiful, but he still felt his heart sink in disappointment.
But he realized it wasn’t just disappointment in his work that made him feel sick. He knew he had to go back into that awful city, back to that artificial life. He knew he could never be happy there, not when he had tasted reality.
The cold air wrapped its brisk arms around him as he tried to decide what to do.
He didn’t want to go back- not yet.
Slowly he got to his feet and turned his back on the electric life waiting at home for him. Now in front of him, he could see the hills rolled on forever. Stretching his eyes to the horizon, he didn’t see the sickly yellow glow that marked the existence of another city. Instead, where the hills kissed the sky, he could see the faint flicker of stars untainted by inky darkness.
He heart inflated, and he knew what he had to do.
He would indeed return to Grandma Bonnie, but not until he saw that river of stars again.
With hope keeping his footsteps light, he walked deeper into the hills to starry infinity he always dreamed off.
All the lights in her apartment came on at once, and she allowed herself a moment of relief. Even she would admit its difficult to cook with nothing but a small candle flame.
She knew then that her Edison had found the Milky Way. She knew he would not be content with the short time he had been given with it. She just knew he was going to follow it out into the hills, just to see it again. Most importantly, she knew he was going to be okay. He knew how to take care of himself, and he would find his way back home when he was ready.
Grandma Bonnie chuckled to herself as a mischievous thought crossed into her mind.
She rose from her favorite armchair and drew the blinds. The neighbors already thought her eccentric, she did not need to give them more fodder. Traveling through her small apartment, she turned off each and every light until she was plunged back into a comforting darkness. From her coffee table, she picked up the book she was reading. Finally, she grabbed the candle she had lit earlier in the evening, picked off the dripping wax from its side, and relit it.
If her grandson was brave enough to rebel, so was she.
Sitting back in her favorite armchair, she flipped her book open and began to read from the flickering light of the wax candle. Though her old eyes struggled to piece the dark letters together, she would not have wanted it any other way.