It happened so quickly, I don’t think many of us noticed it.
I was about to walk past the curb on 34th when suddenly the gray asphalt I was about to step onto went black. I pulled back my foot in confusion, as if the street had vanished, but it was everything. Everything had gone dark. Around me, cars screeched to a halt and for a moment, before the drivers thought to switch on their headlights, the only illumination came from the green and red globes in the streetlights overhead and the fluorescent glow of a drugstore behind us.
The sun was gone.
Murmurs everywhere. The throngs on the street were frozen.
“What happened to the sky?”
The sky was fine, though. There was no cloud cover. Peering up, we could see straight through to the stars. Orion’s belt drifted over Broadway as lights flickered on in the buildings above us.
“It’s not the sky,” someone said. “It’s the sun. It’s gone.”
Gasps. Profanity. In a few moments, we could see that we were wrong. It wasn’t gone exactly. It had gone dim.
“Is it an eclipse?” someone else asked, but no, it clearly wasn’t. The disc of the sun wasn’t blocked, it was simply browned out. An ember at best.
“How could this happen?”
We were all silent. Noon in Manhattan without a sun and we stood there, mute.
“It’s the end of the world,” someone finally said.
And it seemed true. Panic started to boil in each of us.
“What will happen?”
No light. No food. Everything would die.
“Nothing can survive without the sun,” I said in a whisper, but it felt as though everyone heard me.
There were shrieks now. People grasped onto one another. I couldn’t say whether they were strangers or lovers, but they held fast.
“Hell it can’t,” a voice said beside me. I turned and saw him. He was barrel-chested. Yes, that’s what they would call it. He was a barrel-chested man. He was wearing a suit, but it was a suit that had been stripped down throughout a long day. The trousers were still pressed, pinstripe gray, but his jacket and tie had been left behind somewhere and the sleeves of his silk shirt were rolled up to his elbows. As more lights came on around us, I could see the orange stubble on his chin. It was as if he had been working on this problem already for a full day–unflappable and unwearied.
“We’ve got to get moving,” he said.
“But–” someone began.
“If the sun’s gone,” he interrupted. “Then there’s no time to fart around.”
“There’s no time for anything,” someone else protested.
“You three,” he said, ignoring the dissent and pointing at a group of denizens still awestruck by the darkness. “Head uptown to the UN, tell them we need a concerted effort to gather up every last scrap of biomass that we can.”
“Anything edible. We’ve got to get it right now, while we can. Preserving it shouldn’t be a problem, since I expect things are going to get cold fast, but we need every harvester out in the heartland to run until its blades go dull and every fishing boat working overtime. Hell, if we could catch us some blue whales, that would go a long way.”
“You want us to go to the UN?”
“Hell yes, we need every government coordinating this right away. Every last scrap of food on the surface has to be gathered. We need supplies to last until we get hydroponics going.”
The three looked at one another. Again, I couldn’t say whether they had been traveling together or not, but now they nodded slowly to each other and then back to him, before turning and heading toward the East River.
He singled out another cluster of people, “Why don’t you two head over to NYU and find somebody in the astrophysics department–”
“Find out why this happened?” one of them asked eagerly.
“Too late for that. We need to know what’s going to happen now. How bad is the weather going to get? How fast is it going to become freezing? We need projections.”
“Right,” the young man answered. He laid his hand on the shoulder of the woman beside him and then they set out.
He barked a few more instructions and then said in a booming voice to catch all the parties starting to spread out from the intersection, “Everyone rally back here in two hours!”
Dazed, I watched the others scatter into the dark, then I felt a fist close around the shoulder of my coat. “Come on, buddy.”
“Where are we going?”
“I know they’re digging that new tunnel beneath Grand Central. We need to get down there, see if they can point that giant drilling rig downward.”
“We’ve got to dig deep to survive this.”
“But…how can we survive? Even if a few can make it, most people–”
“Stow that, mister. We’re not going down that road. As far as I’m concerned, we need to be digging seven billion berths in the rock down deep where there’s geothermal power and heat. We don’t have time to think about anything else, got me?”
I looked at him in the growing glow of artificial light. I opened my mouth, but found I could think of nothing to say.
“Yes…yes, alright,” I stammered. “But what about the others? There are millions of people–”
“We’ll tell them on the way. Now, come on,” he said, pulling again on my coat.
And we went.