The event which eventually became known simply as the Blackout lasted exactly two hours, though it would take days for anyone to clarify the exact start and end time, and weeks for people to accept that what felt like an eternity of pain, chaos, and death lasted just one twelfth of a day.
Ten minutes into the event, the sound of sirens, originally designed to warn of air raids, earth quakes, tsunamis, and other calamities could be heard everywhere, as if the alert would somehow reverse the effects of millions of people suddenly losing their sight simultaneously. Half an hour later, Sentry could be heard calling public service announcements over loudspeakers:
"This is Sentry. Your Sail has defaulted to an emergency setting. Lie down wherever you are and do not move until further notice. This is Sentry. Your Sail has defaulted to an emergency setting…"
It was a recording, playing on loop for an hour. Then everything turned quiet and all anyone heard were people crying, fires burning, and the world falling apart around them.
At exactly two hours from when the Blackout began, everyone had their vision restored. Having been blinded for the duration, it took some time for their eyes and minds to adjust to the sudden return of an entire sense, and it took longer still to make sense of what they saw.
For people like Maiken and Kenneth who had been home or at work during the event, the immediate aftermath didn't look too bad. Some overturned furniture and various objects strewn about or broken on the floor, serious, but for the most part not fatal injuries, that sort of thing. For those who had been outside, on the street, in transit, operating machinery, at the dentist, the hospital, or in any environment that wasn't immediately safe, the experience was akin to being dropped into a war zone.
Three months later, a famous journalist published a deeply personal account of her experiences that day:
What happens when hundreds of thousands of cars suddenly become driverless? Or a plane loses it pilot in mid-flight. Or a train, or bus, or ship, or any other mode of transport is left to find its own way? It was a question nobody ever asked because the very idea was absurd, a philosopher's thought experiment without practical use.
Then it happened, and we were all reminded in an instant how much of our world relies on a singular sense to function.
My driver, a 25 year old man from Calgary with aspirations of becoming a real estate investor, was about to make a right-hand turn onto Georgia Street when the Blackout descended on us. The shock of sudden darkness overpowered every other sense and there were long moments before I regained enough composure to reach my other senses out beyond my immediate surroundings. The taxi was still in motion, making a hard right turn at high speed, the driver screaming about his eyes, before it hit and ran over several large soft objects and terminated its journey with extreme violence against a wall. I was thrown from my seat into the plexiglass divider and knocked unconscious.
The first thing I senses as I came to some time later were the screams. All around me were screams from people. I moved around inside the vehicle, running my hands first along the floor, then the seat, then the door, and finally finding the door handle. When the door wouldn't open I made my way to the other side and tried again, this time with more success. The door swung halfway ajar before hitting an obstruction. I carefully put one foot out and felt for the ground only to realize the car was tilted at an angle and this side was now elevated. My regret was immediate when I finally worked up the courage to swing both legs out and let myself fall to the ground, only to land on top of the body of another human being, already turning cool and hard. As I panicked and rolled away from the body, I could hear screams for help and whimpers of pain and I realized we had run over several people, some of whom must have passed away.
I made my way to the front of the vehicle and opened the driver side door. My driver, Frank was his name, had a large wound on the side of his head, blood caking his hair and soaking his clothes. It was immediately clear to me he was dead.
I stayed there, with the taxi, until my sight returned. It was only then I realized the noises of things breaking and the strong smell of burning plastics were not caused by other car crashes. Two blocks down from my location, a passenger jet had fallen to the street causing fires in two buildings. I was upwind form the inferno, and from my position I could see the damage, hear the cries for help, but still somehow see myself as not part of what was happening. That humanity I always imagined would kick in for me during an emergency situation, that urge to spring into action, to run into the fire and drag people out, was nowhere to be found. In its place was a cool and calculating journalist looking for a story and how to stay safe while reporting it.
I watched people burn, I watched people die, I watched people help and be helped, I saw pain and suffering and heartache and reunions and hope and miracles and the best and worst of humanity. And I saw myself, in the reflection of a store window, covered in blood not my own, streaming every second of my experience to the world, detached, absent, otherworldly, my only thought where to find the next great story.
Today, the only story I have left to tell is that of my own cowardice. I hope, someday, you will all forgive me.
Maiken and Kenneth made a desperate attempt at reaching the closest hospital by car. Her shoulder caused her extreme and persistent pain, and the wound on her head would not stop bleeding. They only got a few blocks before realizing driving was not an option, the road and sidewalks a melee of vehicles and bodies, and they got out on foot, Alfred on Kenneth's hip, Maiken leaning against his other shoulder for support.
As they made their way around vehicles, stepping over people injured or dead, Maiken started humming a song to keep Alfred from picking up on the stress that filled the air around them.
I see you are tired
But I cannot walk all the steps for you.
You must walk them yourself
But I will walk beside you.
I will walk beside you.
I see you are in pain
but I cannot cry all the tears for you.
You must cry them yourself,
but I will cry beside you.
I will cry beside you.
It was a rough English translation Julia had made of a song she'd heard when she lived in Norway, a song written and performed by a minister who was also a popular recording artist. She loved the melody, and today of all days the lyrics, about how we can't carry the burden of others but we can join them in their time of need, seemed almost too fitting.
When they finally reached the hospital two hours after departing from their house, it was overrun with the injured and dying and their friends and relatives. Tents and bunks had been set up in the street outside the building, guarded by heavily armed Sentry, and it took another half an hour to find a triage station that would let them in.
"At least the Sentry are OK," Maiken muttered to Kenneth as they stepped through the line and into the organized chaos of the disaster emergency ward.