The next morning, as Lem and Eryn drank their coffee and woke up—a time they once would have dedicated to catching up on the day’s facts—they took turns reading passages about the importance of history aloud from the big book. After their jaws tired and the impersonal quality of the prose had muddled their minds into a slurry of boredom, they rehydrated packs of food and ate breakfast at the small kitchen table.
After breakfast, Lem’s Erasa-delible pen sat poised over his empty notebook, its tip twitching as he practiced scribbling out his thoughts. The blank page was as desolate and full of potential as the world after a blizzard. He worried about which direction he should take and what meandering thoughts those first tracks might preserve. “What do I write?”
“I was just wondering the same thing.” Eryn cracked her knuckles. “Maybe we should just start with a date. We definitely have to write down the date, right?”
“Of course.” This simple step forward removed a surprising amount of pressure and Lem felt an embarrassing amount of relief.
“Okay then, what’s today’s date?” There were a few seconds when Eryn looked around as though expecting an AI—a tablet, holographic projector, or the house itself—to reply. When she was met with silence, she realized what she was doing and shook her head in self-ridicule. She chewed on the end of her pen and mumbled to herself, “The System stopped eight days ago, and that was on…but then we spent a day in DISC detention before…”
Lem interrupted. “I’m not sure the old dates matter anymore.” She looked at him confused. “Those were Systemic Era dates. What happened the other day was momentous, one of those events that works like a border between then and now. I think it’s safe to say we’re on day seven of the Post-Systemic Era.”
“I counted eight.”
“The first day would be the zeroth day. It shouldn’t be counted,” he said confidently.
“Why not? ‘Button day’ seems like a pretty important day not to count.”
“Well sure, but the System shut down at, say, three in the morning, so there was only twenty one hours on that day. It wasn’t a full day. So it’s day zero. The first full day was the next day. Day one. So today is day seven.”
“Who knew we had a calendar expert on our team?” She wagged a finger at him knowingly. “I knew there had to be some reason the System chose you.” Lem smiled and inclined his head. “Same logic go for years, smart man?”
“Or,” she suggested excitedly, “we could start the year number high, and start counting down. That’ll really freak people out in, say, 527 years?” She made like she was going to write it down. Lem screwed up his mouth and looked at her through his brows, and she relented. “Fine, so today is day seven of year zero?” Lem nodded. “When do the years turn over? 358 days from now? Or between December 31st and January 1st like before?”
“358 days from now feels right to me. And I don’t think we should have months.” Eryn lifted an eyebrow. “They don’t serve a purpose as far as I can tell. They’re inconsistent, with some having thirty or thirty one or maybe twenty eight or sometimes twenty nine days. Just one more useless detail to keep track of.”
“People will still want to know what month it is.”
“So let them figure it out. I don’t think we should pay it any mind.”
Eryn shrugged. “Fine. So today is day seven of year zero of the New Era?”
“New Era?” Lem scoffed. “What will the next era be called? The Newer Era?”
“You just got to reset the way days and years work and you killed off months entirely. I want to have some fun too. Besides, we can’t call it the ‘Post Systemic Era’.” Her voice a deep-toned mockery of Lem’s expert voice.
“Because that will be abbreviated PSE, which is how they’ve always abbreviated the Pre-Systemic Era. So that will just confuse people. We’re historians now, we need to think of these things. And besides, ‘New Era’ has a hopeful feel about it, not to mention that the System literally wrote it on the cover of the big book.”
Eryn wrote down the date for real this time, and turned her book so Lem could see her syntax.
When Lem had copied her he asked, “So, besides getting the date right, what else is important?”
“Well, what do you think future historians will find interesting after we’re long gone?”
“I think they are going to want to know what we thought was important. If we write something down, it’ll be interesting to them. I’m pretty sure that’s how history works.”
“Well, there is the whole, the-world-just-ended angle. We should probably touch on that.”
Lem nodded thoughtfully and sipped his coffee. “Indeed.”
They sat in silent contemplation for a long time, the gaps between their pens and paper slowly closing. They were just about to make contact when Eryn interrupted. “What about tone?” Lem looked at her through his brows. “A casual tone feels most natural to me, but maybe I should be more formal given the task at hand.”
“No one cares, Eryn. Whatever you do will set the standard for how New Era history should be written. Your making the rules. You can’t lose.”
They had both just put pen to paper when Eryn spoke up one last time. “Lem?” He sighed and sat back in his chair. “I want to write about the day we shut down the System. I want to tell them how it happened. You and I are the only people in the whole world who know.”
Lem drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I don’t think that’s wise.”
“But it’s important, don’t you think?”
Lem lay his pen down in the crease of his notebook. “Arley was a Systemic AI. She could basically predict the future. She was my partner. I have no doubt my wellbeing was her primary concern. Especially given the crucial roles you and I have been asked to perform. She warned me to never let anyone know that her and I planned to shut down the System. She told me that if people found out, I’d be severely punished. She said if I succeeded and was caught after the System was gone I would receive some arbitrary non-systemic human punishment that would have more to do with fear and anger than justice.”
“But you didn’t shut the System down. Thomas did.”
“I think you’re over-estimating how compelling that detail is. People would still question why we were there at all, and why we didn’t try to stop him, and why we conveniently left Thomas to die behind a four-foot-thick steel door. We’d look guilty and we’d have no systemic veracity rating to prove our innocence.”
“We could explain that we were under a mnemonic lattice. And that it wasn’t really us at all, they would understand.”
“Just like we understood when Thomas told us about our lattices? No. They would assume we were liars or insane. Even if an angry mob didn’t string us up, we could be damn sure no one would listen to us or believe what we had to say. Our role is too important to risk it. We can always tell them later, if it comes up. But just offering up the information feels like an unforced error.”
Eryn chewed her lip and screwed up her face in thought. Eventually she huffed, put her pen to paper and started writing.