Their Days Are Numbered is a new year-long project authored by the collective Entropy community. It is a collaborative online novel written by the Entropy community on a weekly basis. A different author will write the next “chapter” each week, to be posted every Tuesday, following the previous post from the previous week, and following a very limited set of guidelines (that each author has one week to write the next piece after the previous week’s installment goes up, that installments should range between 150-1500 words, and that pieces should somehow incorporate a real-life occurrence, current event, news item, or other happening from that week).
Follow the entire “novel” here: Their Days Are Numbered.
The seventh installment is presented this week by Bud Smith.
The electric mouse buzzes in your pocket. The days of walking, climbing, hiding, have built up enough kinetic energy to charge the device, the miniature robot, the toy. The mouse says, “Hello, can you hear me?”
You pull it out into the light. Its eyes shine the faintest blue in the predawn.
“Wen?” it says.
“Who is Wen?”
“I used to belong to him. He was my boy. Where is he?”
“Dead probably, like so many.”
“Oh … sad. What day is it?” the mouse asks.
You set the electric mouse down on a flat piece of slate and sit cross-legged, staring at it.
“Don’t know the day. I’ve been waiting for you to wake up, to reboot. Started to think you wouldn’t.”
“I seem to be working okay. Let me see if I can squeak.” The mouse squeaks. “Let me see if I can pantomime eating a hunk of ghost cheese.” The mouse pantomimes eating a piece of cheese that is not there. “I seem to be fully functional. Do you want to play a game?”
“Yes. Let’s play ‘undercover government spy’ Check your systems to see if you can still spy.”
“Spy? What is that?”
“Oh good, you can’t spy now. You were reprogrammed.” You pick the mouse up and hold it in your palm. It’s eyes are glowing brighter now. The sensors on its back are working now, it is charging from the sunlight. It will charge in the moon light now too.
“Do you have a name?”
“I don’t have a name, no. Do you have a name?”
“The air feels so different.”
“You’ve been shut off for a long time,” you say. “A lot has changed. There used to be electronic mice in almost every home. Toys the children played with, ways to keep real vermin away as waves of needy bodies pushed into the cities—crops not growing any longer, ground burnt up, air like glue.”
“It does feel heavy, this air.”
“Yes. Humans packed into the cities. Harder and harder to live together. Not enough supplies. Every week on the block where I lived there were public beheadings. Severed heads tossed into the sewer. We voted on who went and who stayed. But that’s no way to live. We all die that way, just slow. Just ruthless. But something changed.”
“There was a man who knew, knew where the trouble started. Knew it was from you. A spy for the men up the totem pole. A spy in every home. You were disassembled some connections were burnt out. The man said you’d know where we could go. A safe utopia.”
“I know that?”
“I hope you do,” you say, “Or I don’t have a use for you. I’ll smash you with a rock.”
The mouse flinched. “Let me search my systems a little deeper.”
“Where is the hub?”
The mouse closes its eyes and is very still. After minute it begins to vibrate at a very low frequency.
“North,” it finally says.
You look at the horizon. To the north there is a swirling wall of fire on the skyline.
“Can’t go that way,” you say. “We’ll die.”
“It’s not real,” Squeak says. “It’s an illusion.”
The sun shakes, a noon wind makes the fire swirl like a pinwheel. You and your mouse cross the dusty earth, walking head long into the worst of it.