This is part two of our fictional technology apocalypse series – four stories about what could happen during an extended blackout following a terrorist hacking attack.
The delay from the first post in this series to this one was due to our desire to offer some respect to the victims of the French terror attack.
If you missed part one, make sure to read it first. And now, for the next radio broadcast from day 2 of the ongoing global crisis.
United Nations Security Council Emergency Radio Broadcast: February 15th, 2018 @10:30 A.M. New York time.
“Citizens of the world. This is Ambassador Alexandre Durand, the acting President of the Security Council of the United Nations.
Much has happened over the last 24 hours since the attack occurred that disrupted power all around the world. We understand that you all have concerns and even fears surrounding this event. Let me share with you what we’ve learned so far.
First, the bad news. The damage to the electrical infrastructure in nearly every country was much worse than expected. Power recovery may not occur for many days — maybe even several weeks. Your governments are actively funding the recovery efforts, pulling in technical resources from everywhere possible. Rest assured that the work to repair the damage and restore power is well underway.
Secondly, U.S. and U.K. intelligence services have notified us that the hacker attack appears to have originated from Asia. Eastern member states have assured us that there is no government connection to the attack. I repeat, this is not a state-sponsored attack.
Third, there have already been some reports of muggings and attacks in unlit urban areas. We want to advise you to stay indoors, lock your homes, and avoid unlit populated areas at night if possible.
Citizens in colder climates are advised to find alternative, safe sources of heat. If none can be found, please relocate to your local, heated community shelters.
Please also be advised that most local water and sanitation utilities depend upon electricity to maintain those services. Since those services can not be maintained throughout this extended period, we are advising all citizens to avoid drinking from your tap water if it is still running in your area, as that water may become unsafe to drink. Secondly, avoid flushing your toilets if possible — sewage can not be processed in most areas, and may put groundwater in danger of contamination.
We understand this may create undue hardship, however governments have advised us that military personnel are being activated to assist with delivering food and water to major metropolitan areas within two to three days. If you live in a rural area, please contact your local government regarding emergency food and water stores.
Remember, as a local and global community, we are all in this together — and together, we will get through this difficult time.
This message will repeat hourly, and will be updated in 24 hours.
Please stay safe.”
Kevin Morley – Part II: The Old Oak Tree
-by Christian Cawley
His prize was the apple. The biggest, juiciest apple he had ever seen. It seemed to be out of reach of the birds, and its smooth, green skin suggested the worms had been unable to make a home in it.
Digging his fingernails into the tough bark of the giant apple tree, Kevin reached out, putting a foot on the lower branch, stretching his right arm as far as it would go. His brother had told him he’d never reach the ripe fruit, but Kevin knew that he could. Smaller and lighter, he was the better climber – how could he not reach the apple?
Kevin Morley didn’t care that actually, this wasn’t a great apple for eating raw. He just wanted to win, and prove Phil wrong. And he would… wouldn’t he?
With a slip, it was all over. The wet branch refused purchase, and Kevin’s size-two foot slipped forward, flinging him backwards, sending him falling, clattering into branches as he smashed into the cracked dry soil, breaking his ankle.
With a start, Kevin Morley grabbed the branch. This was the third time he’d found himself drifting off to sleep. In the darkness, he must have become accustomed to the singularly noxious smell of the slime below, the endlessly expanding N0v4 x18, which lapped at the trees around him. Kevin was sat, back against the trunk of a particularly robust sycamore, struggling to come up with a plan.
Overhead, the lights of an old helicopter surveyed the damage of the nearby chemical facility, now a burning wreck. Fire crew could get nowhere near, thanks to the sea of man eating slime, resulting in tons of dangerous chemicals being burned up. Fifteen years of facility health and safety and fire awareness training told Kevin that under the circumstances, the fire crew would be opting for the fire to burn itself out unless they could get a helitanker or waterbomber on the scene.
Doom hung in the shadowy ether, taunting embers of impending death reminding Kevin of his mortality. Not long ago, he’d heard the fire crew captain reading a new UN statement over the appliance’s PA. Confirmation that the local water pumps were electric-powered had led to howls of frustration.
Thanking whatever god had kept him alive so far, Kevin checked his watch. Light was dripping into the sky from the east, and while the plume of brown or black or grey – or whatever damned color the cloud was – would block much of it out, leaving the area in shadow for days, Kevin knew that light was the one thing that would make the N0v4 x18 slime even more dangerous. While it could be paralyzed with electricity, its photosynthetic properties would result in the slime – currently a reasonably thin pool seemingly lapping at the tree trunk below – expanding in every direction. Damp conditions were also in the Beast’s favor.
Again, thoughts turned to his boy, Dominic. Recalling the effect losing his mother had on the kid was enough to push Kevin into action. He had to get to Dominic, and get to safety before the fire spread to the rest of the industrial zone.
But as close as the trees were, jumping between them just didn’t seem to be feasible, which meant there was no chance he could reach the giant oak and leap to safety. Kevin had scrambled up the sycamore after sprawling in the mud, stumbling in the darkness as the slime poured out of its erstwhile prison. Beyond, an electrified fence stood around 20 feet high, and the same distance on foot. The slime had since retreated from the fence – which was maintained by the local gas fired power station – but there was no way Kevin Morley could contemplate getting over it until the slime retreated further.
And of course, he then risked almost certain death.
Just then, the tree lurched. Looking down suddenly, Morley saw an apparent tide of slime pushing against the trunk. Puzzled, he looked at the other trees. Using the torch on his smartphone to get a clearer view, he saw nothing. No tide, no buildup of slime.
The slime, the Beast – it was targeting him.
Again, the tree lurched, and this time with more force. The slime wanted Kevin Morley, and it was going to take him. He held on tight, stooping to cling onto the trunk as a third push was heralded by an almighty crack, and the tree began to tumble, toppling straight down into the green…
…of another tree. The one tree that Kevin had been hoping to reach; the large oak that he reckoned could be used to jump across the electrified fence and be on his way. Scrambling up the second tree, Kevin allowed himself a moment of celebration before looking down at the Beast, now swelling around the trunk of the oak. More sunlight crept through the plumes and the dark branches of the woods. Soon, the fence would be breached, and even with the hill before him slowing it down, the slime would find a way around, which meant that Dominic and everyone in the nearby town was at risk.
The jump seemed impossible. Halfway up the tree, Kevin Morley edged his way along a particularly sturdy branch, which sat at a slight angle to the fence.
Whatever happened, however he fell, he knew it was going to hurt.
Dropping down to his haunches, Kevin grabbed the damp branch with both hands, and continued his way along until it started to bow. Swinging to gather as much momentum as possible, Kevin Morley let go, and set himself flying through the air, with little grace or control.
Essentially, he was falling at an angle.
Arms flailing, his foot catching the top of the fence, Kevin hit the mud, head first, and got a mouthful of slug. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the slime pushing at the fence, blue sparks defiantly blocking it.
Kevin Morley knew the fence was not going to hold. So he stood, turned, and ran up the hill, smartphone torch in hand, looking for the quickest and safest way back to his boy, Dominic.
Part II: You Can’t Take Away Our Bread
-by Angela Alcorn
Mixed nuts, beans, and tinned vegetables — I feel as if my mind has been focused entirely on our food stocks and how we’re going to last. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, everything here seems completely normal.
I dropped the kids off at school and creche, then raced to the shop this morning to buy more long-term food with the last of our remaining cash. Strangely, it was as normal as you could hope for.
The lights weren’t on and the cashiers were using calculators, but other than that it felt like the sort of rush you get just before a public holiday. The lines were long, but there was nothing crazy going on.
Oh, and get this. People were paying with cheques! I’d basically forgotten that cheques existed (other than paying for childcare and choir membership). But I guess that’s what you do when no-one can access their money — we rely on promises. For now anyway, while there are still businesses in operation and society expects to continue when the power gets up and running again.
And what if it doesn’t? Bartering, I guess. I always mused that if the world were to fall into chaos I’d become a wandering bard and sing for my supper. That’s not quite so easy with a family in tow — and my kids are not exactly like the Van Trapp children. I mean, they can sing, but they’re still little. Ah, who am I kidding? It’s Bruce’s can-fix-anything skills that will get us by if it comes to that.
Speaking of Bruce’s skills, his boss has put him in touch with other fix-it types to try to help maintain our town’s infrastructure. The mayor basically came straight to Bruce’s boss when he was worried about our water supplies, and so the whole company is now doing whatever they can to maintain clean tap water and generate power for the sewerage plant.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working on getting the town connected digitally. You see, many years ago a genius friend of mine created an app called Serval that would create a mesh network anyone could use in a disaster. I wrote a review about it for work and made sure I kept a copy on my phone from that moment on. Now, the brilliant thing about this app is that you can start with just one copy and share it.
I’ve been sharing the Serval app with all my neighbours, the teachers at school and creche, with everyone at the mayor’s office and with all the staff in stores locally. Obviously, this all hinges on at least a few people managing to charge their phones in the long term. But if we spread the app far and wide before the bulk of phones go flat, then the network will still work.
So that’s my goal. That, and helping people to find ways to charge their phones. In our house, we have all sorts of solar chargers and spare charge bricks. I’m reminding people to check their camping gear for this sort of device. Sometimes people have car chargers for phones they can use that they’ve totally forgotten about.
I remember once reading about an African kid who made his own wind power station, so Bruce and I are trying to build one ourselves — we certainly have plenty of books, parts and tools for the job. If we manage it, we’ll start making them for all the other people we know too.
You know what surprised me most about today? The bread. Yup, we had fresh, beautiful baguettes available at the boulangerie. Face it, the French will not go a day without bread if they can help it. Our local baker said that his oven was electric, but the pizza bar next door had a wood oven. These two wonderful people very quickly came to an agreement and made sure we could all have fresh bread. Amazing! Honestly, with fresh bread to go with every house’s secret cellar of cheese, wine and fois gras, spirits will remain high in France for a good while yet.
Meanwhile, I managed to find a crappy kerosene heater and some fuel for that and the camping stove today, so I’m no longer worried about that. We do have about a million* blankets too, so I’m sure we won’t get too cold. Also, It took me far too long to remember we have a Weber sitting outside under a tarp. We’ve even got carbon and firelighters for it. Brilliant.
I’m starting to really wonder about what it is that actually happened yesterday, though. I mean, how can they take out all the power like that? It wasn’t EMP obviously because our devices still work, but what did they actually DO to kill off all our power? Where, exactly, is the power being stopped? Those wind farms are still catching the wind — so is someone near there able to use the electricity? And what about the nuclear power? Surely we can get this working again soon.
And exactly how big is this enemy? They’re obviously everywhere.
I know we’re in the arse-end of nowhere, and that there’s no imminent danger here. But somehow I’m still uneasy. And I guess, I want to solve the puzzle and help put things back to rights. But what can I do?
Pretty soon I’m probably going to spend 100% of my time making sure the family can still eat and wear clean clothes. Crazy how that freedom the washing machine gave women can be taken away so quickly by removing our power source.
Oh well, it’s not like I can do any actual work. I have opened the laptop a few times today, mainly out of habit. It’s no use. All I can do is play the stupid dinosaur game or work in offline apps, which would be of some use I guess if I ever expected I’d be able to save that information back to the cloud one day. Anyway, I’m thinking it’s best to save the power for now.
Mark & Mort Milton – Part II
-by Brad Jones
The power is still out, but I feel quite different about it. I see now that the technological advances of the past one hundred years don’t really offer that much progress at all — the things that really matter in life don’t require electricity to function.
Psyche, living without power is the worst. The worst of all time.
I was only a few more pages into Heart of Darkness when I noticed how low the battery on my tablet was getting. I figured I’d try get to the end of the first chapter at least, but that turned out to be a terrible idea. It was like thirty pages long, and the stupid thing cut out about three pages ahead of schedule.
Thankfully I had the foresight to back up the PDF to my laptop so I can carry on reading it on there. Unfortunately that’s only got about half a full charge on there too, so I think I’m going to try and find another alternative. There’s apparently an eReader that dad used to use when he was younger hanging around upstairs somewhere. Who knows if it’ll have any battery left, but Grandpa says those things were made to last.
Normally, I wouldn’t put any effort into something that’s only going to result in me reading more of Joseph Conrad’s riverboat adventures. However, having experienced Grandpa’s other method of keeping me occupied, I think I’d rather have read the book.
Somehow he decided that this was a great opportunity for me to learn chess. If you’re not familiar with the game, I’ll give you the TL;DR since I know you can’t Google it — imagine Starcraft, but there’s only six units, and the only difference between those units is their movement options. Everything has one hit point. Everything attacks by jumping on their target’s head. Every game ends the same way: Grandpa wins.
I might sound salty, but I’m really not. Grandpa has been playing this game for years and year and years. I really don’t know how he’s not sick of it yet, but I guess any game can hold your interest if you win every time you play. Apparently I should have been thinking a few moves ahead, but if I’m thinking ahead I would rather just imagine the time when the game has ended. Anyway, chess stinks and I don’t think I’ll be playing much more of it. Maybe if the Knight got nerfed I’d be convinced to take another look.
In other news, this is becoming less of a “crappy week” scenario and more of an “end of the world” scenario. There was another broadcast from the UN earlier today, Grandpa made me sit and listen to the whole thing. It seems like they really don’t know what’s happened or how bad the damage is — I guess that’s part of what Dad is trying to figure out.
They also told us not to flush the toilet. That’s what really got me worried. I feel like it’s a really bad omen. How much of a state can society be in if they won’t even let us flush the toilet? Grandpa loved the idea. He’s always said that people flush toilets too much “these days”, I guess he means in comparison to when he was growing up in Medieval times. When I was little, Grandma always used to tell him off when he went on one of those diatribes. I miss her. I think she’d make this sort of situation a lot more easy to get through.
Grandpa’s doing great at the “not flushing toilets” task we’ve been set, but we were also told not to drink any tap water and that’s a bit more of a problem. We’ve got a few packages of bottled water in the pantry, but I don’t know how long that will last for. The radio message said to prepare ourselves for the possibility of this going on for months, and we certainly don’t have enough supplies to last that long.
The problem is that Grandpa isn’t really fit to leave the house. He hasn’t liked going outside for years because of his agoraphobia, but he’s probably a bit too frail to attempt it at this point. That leaves me in charge of getting supplies, if it comes to it. Dad did his best to leave us with enough food and water and everything else to keep us going, but I don’t think even he was expecting the situation to be like this.
We’ve still not heard anything from Dad, as it goes. He said that this was probably going to be how things turned out and we shouldn’t worry. They’re still trying to make sense of what’s going on, so I guess they’re doing everything they can to control the flow of information. It’s actually a pretty easy thing to do when there’s no Internet for people to use.
I always wondered what it would be like to be in a real disaster situation like this, but it’s really not like how they make it seem in the movies and on TV. It’s actually super, super boring. I don’t know what’s going on, and there’s nothing for me to do. I guess Dad is probably having a less boring time, and he’s pretty much just at work. The only person that doesn’t seem fazed by all this is Grandpa, and he’s just satisfied because someone’s finally agreed with him about not flushing the toilet.
I don’t know if I’m going to keep up with these daily journal entries. The Academy said we were to write something up every day, but if nothing is happening I guess I’ll just leave it until there’s something worthwhile to talk about. Until then, I guess my options boil down to a) get better at chess or b) finish reading Heart of Darkness. This really is the end of the world, isn’t it?
MI5 – Part II
by Philip Bates
We’re always on high alert. Have been for years now. But then high alert becomes the norm and you start to expect an even more severe alert before anything actually happens.
I don’t think anyone suspected this though. Before that announcement, we thought maybe Russia or HUAM were responsible; they were certainly the most tech-savvy – the latter in particular. After their last two attacks, that high alert went global.
But Asia? That should’ve been obvious too. We have agents in Asia working overtime to learn what their hackers are up to, so we can prepare tougher security at GCHQ and Thames House.
But if this really was the work of hackers, it seemed stupid. These were incredibly sophisticated people, apparently capable of shutting down the world. Geez, that sounded melodramatic. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get any ransom demands.
“Free so-many prisoners, and declare the West a stewing pot of evil or we take down the Earth” isn’t going to be met with a considered approach. We’d shrug it off. No one could have that power.
Turns out, they did.
Instead of dangling the dagger over us, we all just went dark. Chaos ensues because that’s what humans do. But if we’re powerless, so are the hackers now. Unless they have a big red button that starts everything back up again. Is that possible?
“Don’t you ever shut up?” Graeme yelled at me. Apparently, I had been enumerating my thoughts out loud and tensions were high enough as it was without me mulling over the motivations of a mastermind/madman.
“No, but Matt’s got a point,” Peter said. I hate it when he agrees with me. “Surely this leaves terrorist groups in a worse situation. They’re more scattered with no communication. Well, presumably.”
“At least this might mean jumped-up snotty teens can’t YouTube how to make a bomb,” Eva added.
Just the mention of YouTube made us a little glum. Yeah, we might work for the Secret Services, but even Holly takes time out to look at videos of cats and sneezing pandas.
Holly hadn’t said much. I think Graeme was getting to her. He’d already accused her of making things worse, thanks to the emergency procedure that resulted in the doors staying locked. There’s a limit even to emergency procedures and we had passed that. Unless one of us was a suspect. Graeme was partly at fault too, then, with his “insider information” comment.
Fortunately, there’s a hatch at the far end of the office for use in these sorts of situations, and various crew from Section D passed morsels of food through to us. It all came from the canteen so it was hardly a full-cooked meal, but hey, I’ve always enjoyed sandwiches anyway.
The Intranet – and so access to the cloud as well – was down, although I could just about get the BBC website on my phone. We resorted to scouring whatever files we had on our desks. Holly was shut in her office, reading two-day-old reports about a new controversial project at Porton Down, some chemical storage facility containing the ominously-titled ‘Beast’, and a guy in PR who had been targeted for a medical scam.
Going to the Gents was an interesting experience. Bizarrely, there’s no emergency lighting in there. It used to be bathed in blinding white spotlights, almost an interrogation, but it appears that the brains behind these things don’t think anyone will need to toilet in the event of an actual emergency. Maybe they figure a blackout will make people relieve the pressure straight away.
Truth is, it was good just to rely on Peter’s torch because the permanently-red lighting gives you such a bad headache.
That and the lack of proper sleep make you question each other; question if you left the desk drawer open before you left for the toilets; question the point of continuing poring through the files we’ve been looking at for countless hours.
Still, five people trying to rely on one torch seemed ridiculous, so I decided to do something about it.
All I needed was a light bulb (unscrewed from a rather-pointless lamp), a battery (taken from a CD player which we use to access old voice memos), electrical tape and a single line of wire; there’s loads of pointless electronic equipment in a box we like to call ‘Graeme’s Box of Doom’ for no reason whatsoever.
Strip the end of the wire to expose the copper; tape one end of the wire to the negative end of the battery; tape the bottom of the bulb to the top of the battery; and touch the other end of the wire to the metal bit of the bulb when necessary. It’s very easy, but still elicited an impressed “ooh” from Eva. It might’ve been sarcastic, I don’t know.
Still, it made me feel better. And it wasted some time.
But let’s face it: we had to get out of there. Holly really was great at her job, but she didn’t have a clue how to find out if anyone in the office was helping the hackers. Normally, we’d use computers to track hackers. I guess they’re smarter than I gave them credit for.
If it were one of us, I considered, my money’s on Peter.
Graeme wanted out of there too badly. Eva was a bit rubbish with computers. Holly… Well, she was the boss of Section B now, but only for as long as our real boss was stranded in Cornwall.
That’s the thing: what’s the motivation for any of us? We all had too much to lose. I found out later that Graeme had more to lose than any of us.
One of the only things not affected was my wristwatch, which made time go even slower. Nonetheless, it allowed us to keep track of whether it was evening, morning, or the dead of night. We invariably drifted to sleep, not that any of us intended to – certainly not with a potential traitor in our midst. I guess boredom makes you tired.
I don’t know how long I was asleep for. But we all woke up to the sound of a gun firing, and Graeme saying he’s so sorry, again and again and again.
Next week, we will publish Part III of this series. This will actually be a radio transmission after a full week of radio silence from the UN Security Council President. As these tales unwind, and the world slowly unravels, what will happen next?
Join us next week for the third installment of MakeUseOf’s first collaborative fiction.
Image Credits:Abandoned Industrial Buildings by John Kershner via Shutterstock