TIME: 2 BC, late Wednesday afternoon

PLACE: The house of Gaius Tullus DeGustibus, in the northern suburbs of Rome, near the new Circus Maximus Mall.

[the phone rings]


PROBONO: Hello there… am I speaking to Mr. Gaius T. DeGustibus?

ANTONINUS: [haughtily] No, this is his slave, Antoninus. May I ask who’s calling?

PROBONO: Yes indeed, my friend. Tell Mr. DeGustibus that Claude Probono is calling with some very important news about his future.

ANTONINUS: Certainly, sir. One moment. [he exits and returns with DeGustibus]

DEGUSTIBUS: [pulling on a robe, talking to Antoninus] I don’t remember anyone by that name. [picking up the phone] Hello?

PROBONO: Greetings, Mr. DeGustibus. My name is Claudius Probono, but please, call me Claude. I’m wondering what plans you have to deal with the impending Year Zero problem.


PROBONO: The Year Zero problem, sometimes known as the Y-No-K problem. Do you have any plans to mitigate the vicious effects of this calamity on your lovely household at [sound of shuffling papers] 23 Pantheon Path?

DEGUSTIBUS: What on earth are you talking about? I’ll have you know I was just getting an olive oil rubdown from my slave when you called and—

PROBONO: I certainly understand your annoyance, Gaius. Can I call you Gay?

DEGUSTIBUS: You may call me Mr. DeGustibus.

PROBONO: I certainly understand your annoyance Mr. Gaius, and I wouldn’t bother you if I wasn’t trying to save your household from ruin and despair. Now isn’t that worth an interrupted salad job?

DEGUSTIBUS: I beg your pardon! What’s all this about ruining my house?

PROBONO: Gaius, let me begin with a simple question. What year is this?

DEGUSTIBUS: This is the year 2.

PROBONO: And what year comes after that?

DEGUSTIBUS: [impatiently] Why, the year 1, of course. Where are you going with this line of inquiry?

PROBONO: And what’s the year after that?

DEGUSTIBUS: Hmmm. Well I… [genuinely puzzled] Hmmm. I suppose no year at all. The year naught. No year. Hmmm. Yes, I suppose I never thought of that before. I’d gotten so used to counting down the years, I never gave much thought about what would happen at the end.

PROBONO: [triumphantly] EXACTLY! Do you think the Roman Federal Credit Union will pay you interest that year?

DEGUSTIBUS: [beginning to show some doubt] I expect so… it’s probably nothing that a public sacrifice wouldn’t fix.

PROBONO: I wouldn’t count on it, Gaius. Their tabulation systems are going to Hades in a handbasket. How long is the year zero, would you say? And how would you write a zero, anyway?

DEGUSTIBUS: Well it’s a matter of… I would… [giving up in frustration] it’s this damned numbering system! All X’s and V’s! This country can put a man in Britannia; you’d think we could figure out a way to write zero.

PROBONO: Think of the aqueduct running dry because of faulty calculations, Gaius. No Roman Meal bread at the Pigglius Wigglius. No water at the bath-house, the vomitorium shuttered and deserted—

DEGUSTIBUS: [growing increasingly horrified] Please stop it! Oh what can I do?

PROBONO: [urgently] Well, if you act today, I might be able to put you on our Zero Risk Survival Plan. I can set you up in a lovely gated compound in the mountains near Switzerlandium. We’ll bury a year’s supply of wine and freeze-dried olives on your property and provide you with some board games and a highly-trained security force to drive off the Flintstones and Visigoths.


PROBONO: You don’t read the paper very much, do you Gay?

DEGUSTIBUS: What board games do you have? And what about my art supply store in Capitolium and my cat, Nero? Oh, it’s making my head spin.

PROBONO: You’ve got to stop thinking about clinging and start thinking about cashing out and saving your skin! And by the way, we offer a wide assortment of popular games, including backgammon, Candyland, Nails and Crosses, and Gladiator, the new hand-to-hand action figure combat game.

DEGUSTIBUS: Oh! I’d better start packing now. [loudly] Antoninus! Antoninus! Is my good toga still at the dry cleaner’s?

PROBONO: Gaius, I’m going to call you back with the details tomorrow. In the meantime, if any Centurions should ask you what’s going on, let’s just keep this our little secret, okay? [He hangs up]

[Cut to the offices of Veni Vidi Fleeci, Year Zero Consultants. Probono, hanging up the phone, turns to his co-worker Edwardius Pluribus Unum]

PROBONO: [shaking his head] I’m telling you, Ed, this Y-No-K gig is going to make us rich. You just call them up and reel them in. Year zero indeed. Sweet Jesus!

UNUM: Who?

PROBONO: Nothing.

UNUM: [after a pause] Tell the truth, Claude. Are you worried about this stuff really? You know, that whole world-is-ending mass-hysteria thing?

PROBONO: Naah, not a chance. But if there is any trouble, I’ll be ready. I am going to take all this money and buy myself a great big country estate south of here and watch the whole big mess blow over.

UNUM: Oh yeah? Whereabouts?

PROBONO: Sweet little beach spot called Pompeii.

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Why Y2K?

Why indeed. Some say that, after centuries of fretting needlessly about these regular rollover dates, the human race has finally given itself a problem worth worrying about, that we’ve manufactured a terrible reality from our own nightmares. Some say that the Y2K problem is itself a biological software glitch programmed into our brains by some overworked demigod ages ago. Some people positively salivate over good apocalyptic omens, and this is the likeliest suspect that’s come along in a long time.

Temporal chauvinism tells us we’re special, but Paracelsus has the distinct feeling that we’ve seen this all before. And as in all times of great human crisis, there’s someone waiting to profit from the situation.

Read the story Y-No-K