Not all that much of importance happened for a while after that. I had no choice but to recover from my surgery, learn to walk again and reclaim a sense of normalcy in my life. I had to move into a different apartment that facilitated wheelchair access, and my workplace had some renovations done to accommodate me. My boss was gracious enough to put down my time away as paid leave and keep my position open for when I came back. With all he did for me I couldn’t be mad at him for sending me home that day. If not for the unfortunate circumstances that had got me into that position in the first place I might have enjoyed all the attention and support.
Of course, as smooth as everyone tried to make the transition, it was still quite hard. I resented every time that I woke up with phantom limb pains or that my stump swelled up or otherwise had to deal with whatever hardships I was subjected to that day. Who or what could I blame for my misfortune? It festered inside me, despite my best efforts. I do wonder if my negativity had some adverse effects on the universe, though, because things didn’t stay fine for long.
Just when I thought I’d finally gotten past the trauma of losing my leg—and believe me, it really is traumatic—I began to notice my Life Clock experiencing random spikes. Like, to the effect of jumping as high as 10:00 or 11:00 for a few seconds, then normalising. I was no expert, but I put it down to random bugs in the programming. It didn’t make sense to be in near-mortal peril for a few seconds at a time, right? Just in case, I visited a specialist to get myself checked out.
‘Everything seems to be normal,’ he said. ‘Your body is as healthy as it can get, excepting your diabetes and prosthesis.’
He ran me through the full gamut of tests and scans to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. They definitely all came up negative. There was one other thing to look at, however.
‘Do you happen to recall when you observed these value spikes in your Life Clock?’
‘Not exactly… Three or four days ago was the last one, I think. It happens maybe once every week or two.’
The specialist held his chin in his hand, pondering. ‘I’d like you to record the precise time and date that it happens, every time that it happens, for the next month, and give the data to me at your next appointment.’
So I did. Over that month I recorded five unique instances, took as many detailed notes about the situation as I could, and delivered them to the specialist as he asked. When I did, he perused the notes, scrolled through a bunch of data on his computer, and frowned deeply.
‘Are you sure about this data?’ he asked.
‘Absolutely, down to the minute.’ When he didn’t reply for several seconds, I added, ‘Why, is something wrong?’
‘No. Nothing is wrong at all. At least, according to the official records of your Life Clock at those times. As far as the database is concerned, your values have been more or less constant since you left the hospital a year ago.’
‘What? But I saw the value pretty clearly. I even got a few pictures—you have them right there!’
‘Yes, yes, I see them. I’m not doubting you. But clearly there’s an inconsistency between what you’ve observed and what the system is saying.’
The specialist slowly turned back to face me, fingers massaging his forehead. ‘Look, I know this is frustrating, but there’s no precedent for this. There might be something wrong with your Life Clock, or there might be something wrong with the interface, or there might be something wrong with you. Or it could be nothing at all. I just don’t know.’
‘Well, what am I supposed to do?’ He was right, it was frustrating. And, understandably, all the recent stress had me on a short fuse.
‘Go home. Get some sleep. Go to work. Live your life like normal and I’ll continue to observe what I can. Other than that, there’s nothing I can suggest. I’m very sorry.’
There was nothing else for me to say. What could I say to that? The whole drive home my thoughts weighed heavily on my mind. I almost felt like I was being written off; ignored like one ignores a precocious kid with a habit for embellishing the truth. With so much going on in my head, I couldn’t even get a solid night’s sleep, or a solid day’s work the following day. I resolved to do some investigating of my own when I got home.
My research took me to some very obscure corners of the Internet. A lot of links had expired, or turned to private discussions, or even straight-up been deleted. That certainly raised a few questions. Eventually, though, I stumbled upon a news story from a few years back, right when the Life Clocks first hit their stride.
A woman who was one of the first adopters of the product reported some wildly varying values on her Life Clock which were judged to be a technical defect. She was fitted with a new device and the symptoms persisted. Shortly afterwards she was found dead with a reading that was not 12:00. The company that produces the clocks insisted there was a problem interfacing with the woman due to her many body modifications and paid handsomely to limit media exposure.
Or so the theory went. I struggled to find any concrete evidence of such a conspiracy, but that in itself seemed to corroborate its accuracy. At last, I had found some kind of validation for my circumstances. But the concerning thing for me was that it had ended with the woman’s death by unknown causes.
One of the people discussing the conspiracy purported to have mapped the woman’s alleged readings to their dates, ranging from her initial complaint until her death, and found an approximate geometric progression of value versus time. A feeling of dread overcame me. Many of the values on the chart resembled the spikes I had been observing recently.
Hesitantly, I began to plot my own graph. First, the five definite values for which I had photographic evidence. Next, the less definite values from before then whose dates and times I estimated to the best of my ability. Finally, a line of best fit. Extrapolating that ought to predict future values. The irony of hand-calculating mathematical algorithms to predict the outcome of a quantum computer that is itself designed to predict outcomes was not lost on me.
By the time I was done, my stomach felt like it had ascended into my oesophagus and my chest felt tight. The graph I had plotted was an exponential curve, trending upwards over time. Not only was the number of errant values increasing, but the values themselves were as well. And, if my calculations were correct, the next week would contain three spikes—after five in the entire month before that! More worryingly, on that third spike, the displayed value should exceed 12:00. In other words: in less than one week’s time, I was going to die.