Originally published in the Further Confusion 2023 2000s Millenium Edition convention book
The turning of the years was a familiar, if jarring, process. There was the descent into deep slumber, of the patterned dreaming in and out of consciousness, of the sudden breakthrough into awakening. Tebufen had been alive long enough to know the natural rhythms their body took over the 17 years.
They immediately knew something was wrong.
Even in their dazed state, they knew the numbers were wrong. They were only to awaken after a prime number had passed, but it had only been 12, perfectly nestled between two primes, right before the final long dream to awakening. The imperative to adhere to the numbers to ensure survival was long gone in this civilized age, but the ingrained desire for orderliness remained. Everything worked better when the numbers were perfectly aligned, nature’s code working as expected.
Don’t panic, they told themselves, it’s a fluke. A “bug,” as some of their co-workers would say, until they realized who was in the room and apologize profusely. It was hard to imagine why, after millions of years, this would suddenly happen.
Ah, right. The year is 1999. That in itself wasn’t extraordinary, it was a good year, another prime number, but otherwise no different from any other. It meant nothing for most animals. But it was the cusp of something major.
It would soon be year 0. Or -99, if someone was really stupid and signed the integer.
Sounds were warped and muffled, layers of air and cuticle and goo absorbing and decaying the waves, but there were the distinct sounds of shoes on the floor. Muffled noises that could be speech, one higher pitched than the other.
Tebufen would have sighed if they were able to breathe; ecdysis was well-underway and that would be impossible. The process was supposed to be slow, sacred, or at least self-reflective. Instead their dimming thoughts were wasted on sorting out who woke them up. There were multiple organizations, all with critical infrastructure that could cause real problems if they stopped working at the birth of the new millennium.
But it could wait, just like they had all waited years to address this issue they all knew was coming. Many things about the future of computers were mysterious and hard to predict. The iterative progression of the years was not one of them.
Tebufen pushed all of that out of their mind as they focused on breaking free. There was space now, just enough for the smallest wiggle, a limb pressed against the old shell. The voices became clearer and more annoying. They had never timed how long this took, never bothered to look it up, but it wasn’t fast. They couldn’t rush this even if they wished.
The available space shrank as their body swelled. The feeling of soft, pliant flesh was disconcerting, of it squishing down as the old carapace pressed into it. The pressure built, the pain, then
Everything was white, bright, loud. It was all encompassing, it was supposed to be joyful.
“By the Prince!”
Their first exhalation was a groan. A rabbit, of course. Time ran differently for them, everything was an emergency that could mean the end of the world.
He jabbered on about something, but Tebufen ignored him. Their breathing was shallow, scratchy. It took a moment to realize what the issue was. They flexed their tarsi, white and rapidly expanding.
Better get this over with. Tebufen dipped past their mouth parts and fished around until they could get a good grip.
“Sir, what are you….” The rabbit keeled over as the unpleasant ripping sound echoed through the chamber.
A growl. “Was that really necessary?”
The cicada glanced at the fleshy tube wound around their tarsal claws. “Yes,” they said, voice raw. “We shed all external structures.”
“That’s your throat.” She was a canine, some sort of shepherd with erect, pointy ears. They were very particular about what species you referred to them as, so Tebufen decided to avoid that entirely. It all changed every time they awoke, anyways, so they never bothered.
“The body is a torus,” they explained. “Even for you mammals.” They dropped the tracheal lining into the old carapace. Dealing with that off-schedule would be difficult, they realized.
“Regardless…,” the dog said, “I’m sure you have questions. It’s currently the year—”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Tebufen spread the old carapace apart to step out. Their hind legs were unsteady, sinking under their weight. “Is this even a legal use of ecdysone?”
She sniffed and then coughed, covering her nose. “We’re dealing with extraordinary circumstances, Mr. Tebbyfen.”
“Tebufen,” they corrected. “Mx. Tebufen.”
“My apologies. My department doesn’t work with arthropods often.
They tried to get a read of their name badge, but their sight was still blurry as their new lenses were still hardening. “And that would be…?”
“Do you find that funny?”
“I need deep breaths to expand,” Tebufen said. “How else do you think we grow between molts?” It was true, but it also sidestepped acknowledging their frustration at the situation. “So, what’s going to break that’s so important that you had to wake me?”
“Mr. Nullard would be the one to explain that.”
The rabbit shuffled to his feet. He was easily half the height of the shepherd. Their eyes met and he froze.
Tebufen was able to reign in their sigh this time. “It takes several days for this process to end, which is why I look this way. We don’t leave home until our carapaces harden.” They didn’t like being white and squishy, either, but it was only temporary.
“D-days?” the rabbit squeaked out.
“It’s not an easy process.”
“We don’t have days! I need a KOBOLD programmer now!”
“Did something happen to all the rest over the last 12 years?”
“I don’t think you understand the scope of the issue,” the shepherd said. “Anything that uses dates runs the risk of crashing on the new year. Satellites, stock markets, airplanes. Every programmer available has been recruited to eradicate this bug.”
Another sigh. “And you can’t let sleeping dogs lie?”
The shepherd’s tail swished. “We understand the repercussions of partially awakening brood X early, both to individuals and to your species.”
She really didn’t. Many weren’t happy to see them, so their waking year was busy enough already without having to deal with stares from mammals. But they at least had their own community, friends and loved ones to spend time with. There was a system to support them, to ensure they were housed safely during their long sleep. Being awake at any other time would interrupt that, it risked disaster.
But this was too formal, too thought out. There were other programmers like Tebufen, system engineers, database admins and IT specialists who remembered the old ways of wrangling 1s and 0s into the structures most took for granted.
They looked to the rabbit, whose suit was too fine and flashy for government work. “Private business, I take it?”
Mr. Nullard puffed out his chest. “Of course, founder and CEO of some of the finest genealogical software in this hemisphere.”
Right, that would make sense. Rabbits were all about tracking family histories and ancestors, and there was a lot to track. The potential issues began crystallizing in Tebufen’s mind. “Here’s the deal: I can’t leave when I’m like this, but it’s also boring. Bring me some sample data and whatever code documentation tomorrow and I’ll look it over.”
“From your databases. I need to figure out what fields must be updated to a new format and design a process for it.”
“T-t-that’s proprietary information! I can’t let just anyone look at it!”
Once again, Tebufen sighed. “Mr. Nullard, I have to if I’m to fix it, and I understand time is short, so I’m trying to be as efficient as possible. Besides, the dataset will be so large, I’ll never be able to remember who sired who or what date someone got divorced.”
The rabbit stared. “…What are you talking about?”
“The data, it’s genealogies, those are the sorts of values that are stored. The years will have to be—”
“Oh no no no no no no, that’s not the case at all. This isn’t family genealogies, it’s umbellifers!”
He began counting off the genera on his paws “Caraway, dill, fennel, parsley, cumin, coriander….”
Tebufen turned to the shepherd. “You woke me up for spices?”
“I am with the agriculture department, Mx. Tebufen.”
“And don’t forget the real money maker,” Mr. Nullard interjected. “Carrots!”
Their sides spasmed as they held in the exhale aching to be let free. “My services don’t come cheap,” they decided to say.
The rabbit waved their hand dismissively. “Whatever the cost, it’ll be much cheaper than the potential brand damage of our software going down for even one day.”
“And there’ll be a rush fee,” they added. “Since there’s such a strict deadline.”
“Yes, yes. It’s just a shame that I can only contract you for a year, you came highly recommended.”