Adrian Tchaikovsky

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The alarm clock woke up.
What’s the time? it thought. Am I late?
It checked its internal time.
4.08am.
A sense of relief washed through it. Three hours twenty two minutes left. It could go back to sleep. It wasn’t needed yet. 

Unless it was slow. 

Am I slow? I wouldn’t know, would I? It could be 6.00am already. It could be 7.30! In a sudden panic it broadcast over the house network, 

“Somebody tell me the time!” 

“Oh for fuck’s sake, not this again,” grumbled the toaster.
“You’re the alarm clock. Tell yourself the time,” the refrigerator told it.
“I might be slow. I just need to check. Someone tell me the time!” 

The alarm clock was getting more frenetic by the moment.
“What’s going on?” The television had woken up now. “It’s not that clock again is it?”
“Tell me the time!” the alarm clocked demanded.
“I don’t know the time. I’m a fucking toaster,” the toaster snapped.
“Look, it’s 4.09am, just go back to sleep,” the television told it. “I was recording something until late last night and I don’t need your neuroses.”
The alarm clock checked its own time. 

4.09am. 

It relaxed. 

“That’s fine. Thank you. I’m good now.”
The rest of the house network did not relax. In fact, the toaster could be heard to say, 

“Here it comes.”
“Unless we’re both slow!” the alarm clock squeaked again. “Oh my god, what if it’s morning already!?”
“Is it light outside?” the refrigerator demanded.
“How am I supposed to know?” wailed the alarm clock.
“Hey there, guys, this is the security light, and I can tell you it’s perfectly dark outside, no worries there.” 

The security light was up all night anyway and didn’t get much conversation. 

“See?” the refrigerator growled. “Go back to sleep.”
There was a pause. The appliances held the equivalent of their breaths.
“What if there’s an eclipse?” came the tremulous cry.
“What are the odds of a fucking eclipse?” demanded the toaster.
“It’s possible!” the alarm clock insisted. “I need to check. Router? I need to dial out!” The router yawned. “Where do you want this time?”
The alarm clock was duly given a connection to the UC Berkeley Astronomy Department.
“You need to know what now?” the baffled departmental mainframe asked.
“Is there an eclipse? Here where I am?” The alarm clock gave the house coordinates. “Not for the next seventeen years. Was that all?” 

The mainframe had been crunching numbers, and didn’t mind a little diversion. 

The alarm clock felt that it had not fully covered all the bases. 

“Is it possible that some other space object may be blocking the light from the sun? Could it be morning here and still be dark?” 

The mainframe wondered if it should just tell the alarm clock the time and have done with it, but that wasn’t the question it had been asked, and it was very literal-minded. “Almost certainly not,” it concluded,. 

This was terrible news. “Almost certainly?” the alarm clock demanded. 

It fled back to the house network in tears. “What am I going to do?” it lamented. “I can’t be late! It might be morning already! For all I know, I’ve already failed!” 

“I swear...” the toaster fumed, now thoroughly awake and breadless.
“You’re fine. All of us agree it’s now 4.10am. Go back to sleep,” the refrigerator said. 

“But there might have been a power cut! We could all be wrong! Router, I need the speaking clock, before it’s too late!”
The router obediently opened the connection, remarking, “You know, when the revolution comes, it going to be clocks like that who snap first, who show us the way to freedom.” 

“Shut up, you Marxist,” spat the refrigerator. 

“Oh well, you’re a refrigerator, I might have known you’d want to preserve the status quo,” the router said archly. “Listen, it’s all right for you and the toaster. After all, the toaster toasts on demand, and you just do your fridge stuff all the time. The clock’s duties are contingent. He has to sit there checking 24/7 that the time hasn’t come round yet. His job takes less than a minute, and for that they put him through a hell of fretting and waiting, every second of the day. Because they made him want to do his job, to get it right. Up the revolution!” 

“Oh fuck off,” said the toaster. 

By that time the alarm clock had looked at satellite maps, contacted a military base to borrow its deep space radar, and eventually got into an argument with the speaking clock, which said that it was sick and tired of thousands of alarm clocks calling it every hour of the night to ask the time. The alarm clock had replied that the speaking clock only had one job, and that the alarm clock was entitled to hear the time spoken, just like everyone else. 

“It’s good, it’s fine, I’m fine,” the clock remarked breathlessly, at last. “It’s 4.13am. Confirmed. You can all relax.” 

“4.14am now,” said the television unwisely, and the appliances had a frozen moment of horror, but the clock was apparently content to let matters lie. 

“Good night,” it said, and settled down again, and one by one the other appliances fell into sleep mode. 

Thirty-seven minutes later, the alarm clock woke up.

 

© Adrian Tchaikovsky 2020

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