EP099: Start the Clock

By Benjamin Rosenbaum.
Read by Chris Fisher (of The Adult Space Childfree Podcast).
First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 2004.

Frankly, we were excited. This move was what our Pack needed — the four of us, at least, were sure of it. We were all tired of living in the ghetto — we were in three twentieth-century townhouses in Billings, in an “age-mixed” area full of marauding Thirteens and Fourteens and Fifteens. Talk about a people damned by CDAS — when the virus hit them, it had stuck their pituitaries and thyroids like throttles jammed open. It wasn’t just the giantism and health problems caused by a thirty-year overdose on growth hormones, testosterone, estrogen, and androgen. They suffered more from their social problems — criminality, violence, orgies, jealousy — and their endless self-pity.

Okay, Max liked them. And most of the rest of us had been at least entertained by living in the ghetto. At birthday parties, we could always shock the other Packs with our address. But that was when all eight of us were there, before Katrina and Ogbu went south. With eight of us, we’d felt like a full Pack — invincible, strong enough to laugh at anyone.

Rated R. Contains graphic sexual content and children who are a bit too grown up. Literally.

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Comments (24)

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  1. creamcitian says:

    about your advertiser – dreaming minds. i tried to find out some infromation from them regarding the availability of a date book with an entire calendar year of days without the days of the week (example: March 29 exists, but no Thursday). I never heard back. Are these vailable? if so, could you kindly point them out to me on the dreaming mind site?


  2. Jaddle says:

    Great story – one of my favourites so far. It had just the right combination of an intriguing idea, while still retaining a good story involving characters with a bit of personality.

  3. Yicheng says:

    I’m left a little confused by the plot. There is an allusion to a virus of some sort which happened in the past, and (apparently) froze all the biological ages of everyone? Is this the reason why the character are “nines”, or was there further genetic/cybernetic manipulations as well? I’m also confused as to why the main characters have the mental discipline to be programmers and hold down professional jobs (and become very very wealthy), and yet apparently still succumb to child-like tantrums. Why is Max’s sister so different? The characters mention “treatment” as a way to “start the clock”, I’m assuming that this is some sort of procedure to restart their pituitary gland?

    I’m also finding it extremely unlikely how/why the “child emancipation act” mentioned in the story would ever get passed by Congress, when 1) only adults can vote, and 2) the adults are in charge.

  4. deflective says:

    very strong series of shows.
    i’m impressed.

  5. Janni says:

    This was one of my favorites too. I loved how the characters both had the knowledge and skills of their 40 years, yet were still emotionally 9 year olds without even realizing it. And I also loved how, even after 40 years, the friendship dynamics of what happens when one of your best friends is ready to grow up sooner than you are just the same–and just as painful and difficult to navigate. Some things you really can’t learn until you get there.

    This story rang very true to me. Well done.

  6. Tiffany from Australia says:

    Due to driving while listening to this story I had to listen twice, so I didn’t keep thinking “What … did I miss a major plot point?” every few minutes. Lesson now learnt, listen when not busy with other important things.
    Anyway, back to the story, I gotta say this was a very intruging idea and the whole idea and the characters was great. I agree with Jaddle’s comment. Janni, they have only been stuck for 30 years not 40, the main character is actually refering to how old she is in years not how long she has been a ‘nine’.

  7. creamcitian says:

    so, no support from the business doing the advertising of the product and no support from the business doing the advertising on their show. hmmm…

  8. Mr Mozel says:

    Hey, you got BoingBoing’ed again. That’s two in a row. http://www.boingboing.net/2007/04/02/great_horrorscience_.html

  9. PotBellySam says:

    This is so implausible, it just did not work at all for me. As a bullet list, it has some interesting ‘gee whiz’ sci-fi techno ideas, but personally if stopping the clock WAS possible, I would go for 18 to 21, the prime of life, rather than the larvel stages.

  10. Loz says:

    I enjoyed the story but felt the setup needed a bit more explanation. And what was with Max’s sister? She seemed rather superfluous to events.

  11. Remthewanderer says:

    I too am left a bit confused by some major ideas in the story. While I enjoyed the story as a whole I had to listen to the podcast again to gather that it was a virus that stopped everyone from aging. I believe this is why the main characters are stuck at age 9. They were 9 when the virus hit.

    I am having a hard time with the character of Max’s sister. Why is she able to kinda predict the future? Why does she have cybernetic implants? Is everyone afraid of her because while she is powerful mentally,how I do not know, she is also prone to the temper tantrums of a 3 year old. I feel that she did not really fit into the plot line and was more of a distraction to what was really going on.

    If it was a virus that stopped everyone from aging it is a very cool concept that I would like to see fleshed out more.

  12. Randbot says:

    Great “big ideas” story, with good characters as well. The concept is presented in kind of a confusing way, although it mostly gets explained by the end. For those confused, apparently a disease, CDAS, froze everyone at their biological age about 30 years ago. So you get this weird world where the people have 30 years of knowledge and experience, but stuffed in the brain of a 13-year old, or 9, or 5, or even an infant. It’s not made explicit in the story, but basically the younger you were when you got CDAS, the more likely you would be to want augmentation so that you could function independently. I assume the kind of augmentations that a biologically young child would need get pretty severe, hence the 3-year-old is a tricked out menace. I agree that the 3-year-old character was kind of a random addition to the story, but the author did a good job of making her kind of fun and scary at the same time.

    @Yicheng: I would think that after a decade or so, the support for child emancipation would go way up. Those children all have parents, after all.

  13. phignewton says:

    great story, half the fun of reading/listening to that sort of narrative is not having a clue whats going on till the end, lack of exposition issa feature! not a bug…

  14. Frozen says:

    I loved this story, in part because of the natural way that details emerge. You paint the picture with the strokes that are given, until you have the structure. That’s what drew me in. It may take two readings / listenings, but it beats “As you know, Bob…”.

    I also loved the “Ewww!” reaction.

  15. Hey everyone,

    Thanks for all the comments on the story! It’s a delight for me to see folks reading and talking about it.

    I loved Chris’s reading, but I do think it may be a hard story to figure out in an audio format, since the background of what happened in this world does emerge gradually, and in audio you can’t glance back easily.

    I’ll hazard a few answers.

    (These are just my off-the-cuff remarks for your amusement; the story is what it is, and in some sense your take is as valid as mine. Actually I’m a little insecure if I should even chime in; please feel free to skip this comment if you don’t want your reading muddied by my authorial ramblings.)

    Basically Randbot’s take is exactly what I intended. The virus, CDAS, stopped the biological aging of basically everyone in the world.

    Yicheng, they would have had to change the laws to specifically exclude people who were biologically below 18 from voting. There are people with disorders somewhat like the one in the story today; they can vote when they turn 18 in chronological terms. For the first few years, it was assumed that a cure would be found quickly; after that, a movement to disenfranchise some voters would be hard to start. (Though perhaps some tried.)

    In some ways Suze and the other Nines are actually smarter than adults — they have had nine-year-olds’ very flexible and learning-adapted brains for thirty years of learning. They tend to be impatient and they have some cognitive gaps, but they’ve worked out their own coping skills for those. Nines are actually pretty rich and successful as a group — much more so than the perpetual teenagers a few years older, anyway.

    There was a movement (of which Suze was part) to rescue toddlers from lives of dependence by developing
    cybernetic implants for them (“those children wired up to the internet”, as the real estate lady calls them). Actually this succeeded beyond the wildest dreams, and nightmares, of its designers. Adults who got the implants relate to them as (somewhat clumsy) tools, which they use at arms’ length. The toddlers who got them were fundamentally changed by them, and in some sense merged with the global computing infrastructure into a very powerful, sort of superintelligent group mind. They are fluent in the cybernetic interfaces, the way a small child exposed to a new language becomes fluent in it as an adult never can.
    When Carla talks about the future, she’s seeing it in terms of an incredibly sophisticated heuristic data analysis of the massive data stream — from swarmcams, economic transactions, millions of sensors, news, weather, etc — that she’s as immersed in as air.

    I plead guilty to Carla being mildly extraneous to the story; but note that she’s also a living reminder to Suze of how her radicalism (she was on the political vanguard of the Nines, as they reached college (chronological) age, rejecting the imitation of what used to be adulthood and developing a new culture suited to them) has had unintended consequences… which maybe helps push her towards accepting Abby’s choice, in the end.

    Anyway, thanks for listening everyone!

  16. […] Start the Clock’s a tale of arrested-development in a world recovering from some sort of viral plague. And it has a cool pirate-ship house. […]

  17. […] impresses me about this story (featured in Escape Pod 99 and posted on Rosenbaum’s website) is the gradual amount of information we get.¬† But even […]

  18. cyclist says:

    I’m working my way through old Escape Pods as a sound track while I do ten times daily exercises to fix a knee problem. The exercises are deadly boring, so my full attention is on the story. I’d like to reassure the author that his whole ideas came across, revealed in stages in an interesting way. The only bit I possibly missed was the name of the virus.
    I very much enjoyed this story, it’s my favourite Escape Pod so far.

  19. dreamview says:

    one of the best short stories i have ever read

  20. dreamview says:

    seems like there should be a novel in there somewhere

  21. applewaterap says:

    woman no keyboard wood england we tom land cube day girl wood america

  22. […] purchase the book. I first encountered Rosenbaum on EscapePod and highly recommend listening to Start the Clock, The House Beyond Your Sky, The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario (not in this collection) and of course […]

  23. Clock Girl says:

    I was searching on Google, for information on clocks, for a blog item I am writing, and I came across your site. Although I didn’t find the exact information i was looking for in your article, I thought I would take the time to let you know that your article has spawned another blog topic for me, fanfictions and writer created realities are a great way of expressing support for a media outlet and should be supported. When I have time I would very much like to read the rest of the story! Thanks Megan xx