San Diego - Morning of January 20 2038

Deidre rolled over, snuggling under the covers, only half-awake as she tucked the pillow under her head. She thought, “I should get up and fix coffee,” but only pulled the covers further up. The room was chilly and she wasn’t ready to brave the cold quite yet. Maybe if she waited long enough Roberto would get up to fix the coffee.

At the thought of Roberto, she sat up suddenly, glancing over on the other side of the bed. Instead of her husband, she saw the top of her son’s head sticking out from the covers, little wisps of blond hair falling across the pillow. Gradually she remembered she remembered the power outage last night and walking home with her neighbor John. Roberto had been at work with no way to get home quickly so she had let Jake sleep in the bed with her.

Crowd of people at park

John had stayed with her for a few minutes to make sure she had a flashlight that worked and that she and Jake would be safe for the night. She had been able to fix a snack of apple slices for Jake and herself and she allowed Jake to have a chocolate bar as a special treat.  While Jake munched on his snack, she spent the evening reading to him. When he fell asleep, she had carried him into her bed so she would not have to navigate a dark house if he woke up in the night. However, her mind was still racing so she snuck out to the living room to sit up for a while. She confirmed, again, that the power was still off, their desktop computer didn’t work and her cell phone wouldn’t power on either. As she paced the small living room, she would peek out the curtains to the street to see if anyone else had power. It was an eerie sight to see only the street lights, powered by batteries, and no lights from the houses or cars moving down the street.

Although she was tired, her mind wouldn’t stop it’s worry and she stayed up for several hours before falling asleep in the recliner. Occasionally she would jerk awake, thinking she heard Roberto coming in the front door, then realizing it was another dream. Finally, when she woke up to go to the bathroom, she quietly joined Jake in the big bed, that seemed all too empty without her husband in it. The last dream had turned into her nightmares about the night she left home and the tornado.

She slowly moved to the edge of the bed, feeling exhausted after her night of broken sleep. Quietly she walked over to her closet to get some clothes, hoping to have a few minutes of quiet before Jake woke up. After looking through her closet, she found a clean shirt and pants, then grabbed some clean underwear from her chest of drawers. She continued to stay quiet as she left the bedroom and went to the bathroom for the duplex.  Perhaps a shower would wake her up.

However, when she turned on the faucet for the sink for hot water, it never heated up.  It also seemed like the water pressure was lower than normal. While a cold shower would definitely wake her up, she decided she didn’t want to be that alert, especially since the house was chilly this morning.

So much for a hot shower, she thought as she grabbed a wash cloth to clean up with. By the time she finished, she was shivering and glad to put clothes back on.  Then she found that the furnace wasn’t working either so she continued shivering as she went out of the bathroom to the kitchen. At least they lived in San Diego where it didn’t get below freezing at night.

The last straw for the morning was when she found that she couldn’t turn on the stove. Just a cup of coffee, she thought as she grimaced, still shivering in the useless kitchen.   Then, her mind finally cooperated and she remembered their  emergency food storage. I think Roberto put a camp stove, maybe that would work.

Out In the hallway, she walked over to the little closet where they had their standard emergency pantry. After the cyber wars and infrastructure outages of the 20’s, most houses had some place to store items like extra food, water, flashlights and other things for surviving several days during emergencies or natural disasters. When the door opened, she smiled when she saw the camp stove with an old fashioned propane bottle. She would have to be careful, it would be better to run this outside or with a window open but at least she could cook. There were several small propane bottles so she could run it for a while. Before she left the closet, she found the old style radio, with batteries and pulled it out too. Perhaps she could find out some news.

As she backed out, her arms full of the stove, a propane bottle and the radio, she lost her balance and dropped the propane bottle. It landed with a sharp and loud “Thunk!” on the tile floor. She held her breath, hoping the sound didn’t wake up Jake. For a few seconds, she thought he would stay asleep, when she heard a wail and “Mommy!” Silently cursing, she put the stove and radio on the floor and hurried over to the bedroom. When she opened the door, she saw Jake sitting on the bed, clutching his stuffed animal, tears starting to fall down his face. He screamed “Mommy!” dropped the animal and started to crawl towards her. She went over to the bed and sat down, holding her arms open.

“Mommy, I was thcared, you were gone and Daddy was gone,” he lisped, tears continuing to fall down his face.

“I’m here,” she said, while rocking him slightly. He sobbed, little hands holding her shirt, while she waited for him to stop crying. Internally she sighed, wanting to see if she could get news but knowing if she didn’t soothe Jake he wouldn’t let her do anything. Too bad this wasn’t a book where the heroine’s child would be calm and ready to help, even if he was only two years old. Jake was a smart child, but still a toddler who needed his mother.

Deidre’s arms were getting tired, her back was aching as she continued to rock her son back and forth, longing to sit in her rocking chair, never mind trying to make breakfast and check on the news. Jake was sniffling a little so she tried to loosen one of his hands, but he moved closer and grabbed her tighter.

“No mommy, Jake want stay with you,” he said, looking up at her with his terrible two’s face.

She sighed again and said “Alright, I won’t let go of you. I need to get up though, I need to make breakfast.”

He snuggled against her and she heard a muffled ‘Ok’ as he pressed his face against her chest. She slowly stood up, holding him close, and walked out of the bedroom. He peeked out and saw the camping stove and radio on the floor.

“Mommy, what’s that?” he asked, the unexpected items distracting him from his fear. He leaned out and she took a chance on putting him on the floor. He was willing get on the floor and now she sighed in relief, maybe she could get something done. However, she had to stop him from trying to pick up the radio, she didn’t want it to get damaged accidentally.

“That’s a camping stove and a radio. I was going to make some coffee and maybe some breakfast using it. Then I want to use the radio to see if I can find out what’s happening.” She said while picking up the radio and the stove. Jake had just started to reach for the radio as she quickly picked it up.

 “I want to see, let me see!” he said, holding his arms up to the radio in her arms.

“Honey, let me get it and the stove, I can make pancakes, how does that sound?” she wheedled him.

“Pancakes? With strawberry jam?” he asked, standing up and still reaching for the radio.

“Yes, pancakes with strawberry jam but mommy needs to put the radio and the stove up. We’ll try and listen to the radio later,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t become stubborn.

“Okay,” he said and walked out to the kitchen.

Again, she sighed, thinking that sighing was becoming an alternative breathing method for her. She carefully took the items to the kitchen and set the radio on top of the refrigerator where she hoped it would stay out of Jake’s reach. In the last few weeks he had been trying to climb up on the counter but hadn’t been successful yet. After putting the radio up, she put the stove on the counter towards the back, again trying to keep it out of Jake’s reach. After a second of thought, she decided to see if it was too cold outside to cook. She went over and opened up the back door a crack and was glad to find that it wasn’t too cold outside. When she closed the door and looked back inside, Jake was trying to pull out the mixing bowl she used for making the pancake batter.

“Thank you honey for getting the bowl, I’ll get the other things we need,” she said while getting the pancake mix and measuring cups out.

“I help mommy,” he said, proudly carrying the bowl to her.

“Yes, you are helping, here I’ll take that and mix up the pancake batter. Then we’ll cook it outside, just like we would if we went camping.” She continued gathering things together, hoping that Jake would continue to be helpful while she made breakfast and coffee.

***

Two hours later Deidre was frustrated and Jake was sitting on the floor, yelling “Mommy, no!” Breakfast had gone well and Jake had enjoyed the pancakes and the adventure of cooking outside. They had eaten on paper plates so she wouldn’t have to use water for washing. After they ate, she sat and played with him outside, hoping to wear him out so he might take a nap. However, when they went back inside, he was ready to watch his TV show, “Bernard and Friends” and was now too tired to be distracted by another activity. Deidre was losing her temper and was frustrated that she hadn’t been able to try the radio yet.

“Jake, no TV, it doesn’t work and Mommy can’t fix it. Why don’t you play with your train, it still works,” she said while pulling out the box of his wooden train track and train cars.

Jake was now laying on the floor, eyes squeezed shut, yelling “Mommy fix TV, wanna watch Bernard, he’s my friend!” He hadn’t started kicking yet, but Deidre judged he was getting close to it.

“Jake, mommy can’t fix, come on, let’s play with the trains,” she said through gritted teeth. Her parenting classes emphasized the importance of staying calm and neutral at all times when dealing with children but she wondered if the instructors had actually dealt with toddlers and the terrible twos’

“No mommy, no, want TV NOW!” he screamed.

Just as Deidre was about to yell at him, she heard knocking at the front door. Just what she needed, a screaming toddler and someone at the door. However, answering the door was probably better than yelling at her child so she got up from the floor and went to answer the door.

As Jake screamed behind her, she was surprised to see her neighbor John, with his wife Millie.

“Hello my dear, we thought we’d check in on you to see if you needed help and it sounds like you could use a hand. May we come in,” he asked, his English politeness coming through even in this odd situation.

“Yes, please, we’d like to help out, it sounds like you could use a hand. Did Roberto make it home?” Millie asked.

Deidre held the door open while John and Millie came in. When Jake saw John, he stopped screaming and jumped to run to his friend. “John!” he said excitedly. “You make the TV work? Want to watch Bernard and f’iends.”

John had knelt down while Millie sat down in the rocking chair. “So sorry Jake, I can’t fix the TV, no one’s TV is working so Bernard is taking a vacation. He’ll be back soon and you can watch him then. Would you like to sit on Millie’s lap and she can read to you about Bernard?” he asked while Jake looked up at him.

“Bernard on vacation?” Jake said, his lower lip trembling.

“Yes, he’ll be back though. Here, Millie will read to you while your mommy and I talk for a few minutes, how does that sound?”

Lower lip still trembling, Jake looked down then back up at John and said very softly, “Ok.” John picked him up and put him up on Millie’s lap. John then went over to the bookcase to get a book while Millie held Jake and started rocking him. When John handed Millie the book she said “Here you go love, a story about Bernard, I’ll read to you and you can close your eyes and pretend you’re watching him on TV.”

Jake obediently closed his eyes and Millie started reading the book. Once they were settled, John nodded to Deidre and pointed to the kitchen. She nodded back and followed him.

“Did you have a chance to try and have a listen on the radio yet?” he asked, talking softly.

“No, I’ve been busy with Jake all morning. He’s been extra clingy this morning and I haven’t been able to break away.”

John looked over at the radio on the refrigerator and back at Deidre. “Well, we’ve tried and I’d say don’t waste your time or the batteries. We couldn’t pick up any stations, including KMFB or KOGO. I know they have backup power and in every other power outage one or both of them have been on the air.”

Deidre blew out air in frustration, “I’ll still try but yeah, this doesn’t seem like a normal power outage. This seems more like a cyberwar attack.”

John was nodding in agreement and said, “I had a chance to talk to some other neighbors and I also walked up to Balboa. A community post has been setup and there are police that are patrolling on foot. However, I didn’t see any of the emergency cars which should work even if regular cars aren’t. They also looked worried although they are telling people that the power outage will be fixed soon. I think I also saw volunteer runners and some guardsmen talking with them.”

Deidre remembered her father’s service in the last cyber war but he had never talked much about the attacks he had defended against. She thought he had mentioned attacks on infrastructure but they had never been affected. She thought he might have mentioned working with the military or the national guard but she couldn’t remember, it had been several years and she was just starting high school at the time. Her mom had still been alive and had sheltered her from her father’s work.

“Have you heard from Robert yet?” John asked.

“No, I don’t know how I would without any power. He’d have to walk home, assuming he didn’t have to stay at work due to the power outage and monitoring critical systems.” She bit her lip, as she wondered how her husband was doing.

“Perhaps you could send a message through a runner?” John suggested.

“That’s a good idea but I don’t want to take Jake out there,” she answered.

“Millie can keep an eye on him and I could walk with you to where I saw the police patrol. “

Deidre thought for a moment and said “I would appreciate the help, it can be hard to get around with a toddler.”

“Let’s go out and see how Millie and Jake are doing, it sounds very quiet,” he said.

They both walked out to the living room and saw Millie rocking Jake, his thumb in his mouth, eyes closed as he slept. She held a finger up to her mouth and then looked at Deidre for guidance. Deidre walked back to the bedroom and pointed to the large bed as a place to put Jake for his nap. Millie very carefully got up and carried him back to the room. A few seconds later, she came out and very quietly shut the door behind her.

“I wish I knew how you did that,” Deidre said very softly.

“After raising two children and three foster children, I’ve had some practice,” she said dryily.

‘Millie, I was going to walk with Deidre up to the police so she could see if she could send a message with a runner to Roberto. You can stay here with Jake just in case he gets up again.”

“That’s fine, take her up there so she can see if she can ease her mind about her hubby. Who knows, they may have a message for her and haven’t had a chance to deliver it yet,” Millie answered.

“Thank you Millie,” Deidre said as she clasped Millie’s hands. “And thank you John, I’m grateful you are both here to help.”

“Bosh, no trouble at all, let’s go and be back before Jake even knows you are gone,” John said as he went to the front door. Deidre followed him as they went up to the main street.

***

The short walk had not eased Deidre’s worries. There were people walking around but no cars or buses moving. After a short time, she also realized that she did not hear any jets or airplanes flying overhead. Everyone was calm, so far, but she knew that could change and quickly if power wasn’t restored. Not everyone believed in having emergency supplies, although most people had learned to be prepared after the power failures in the last two decades. She looked nervously at all of the people, wondering if it was safe. She edged closer to John as they walked along.

John was walking up to a police officer who was talking to a young woman. Just behind her, there was a line and a sign that said “Neighborhood Liaison, wait here for your questions” next to the line. John walked over to the end and she joined him. The line moved slowly and Deidre started to worry about Jake waking up.  Tapping her foot, she wanted to check her phone for the time and kept stopping herself when she started to reach for it in her back pocket. John was chatting with the person in front of them, another neighbor that lived on their street. Deidre held her arms across her chest and stayed next to John as they moved forward in the line.

Finally, it was their turn and Deidre walked up with John as the other neighbor walked off. John greeted the officer with a cheery “Hello sir!” while she mumbled “Good morning.”

“What can I do for you,” the officer asked, staring at a paper notebook hewere holding instead of looking at John or Deidre. He was scribbling some notes, and when he finished he said, “Sorry, needed to finish up my notes for the last person. What’s your business?”

“Sir, this young lady is interested in finding out how her husband is doing. He was working up at Sorrento Valley last night and it appears he couldn’t make it home. Also, when will the power be back on, do you have any estimates,” John asked.

The officer answered, “We don’t have an estimate yet, as soon as we do, we will pass on the  information at these neighborhood posts. For the other question, we don’t have much information, we are using backup communications and they are already book for official communications for the emergency.”

“Sir, is there a runner available, could I send a note to my husband to let him know that our son and myself are safe at home?” Deidre asked anxiously.

The officer was writing down another note, then said “Hmm, yes, runners are active but they are part of the backup communications and their priority is communications between the various command posts.” He paused a moment and said, “However, if you can give us a note with an address and name, a runner might be able to deliver it to another runner to forward to that area.” He turned to his left and pointed to tables at the side and said, “You’ll need to wait in line over there to give them a message, here, let me write you a note of recommendation so you won’t have to explain the situation again.” He bent down and scribbled on one of the pages in the notebook, then tore it out and handed it to Deidre. “Here you go, I hope you hear from him. My wife is up in North County and I still don’t know if she’s okay or not.” He grimaced as he handed her the note, then turned back to the next person.

Deidre took the paper and followed John as he walked over. He whispered to her “Awfully sparse with his information, he didn’t say anything about why there are problems. I hope there hasn’t been an attack.”

“I hope so too, it’s hard not being able to get information,” Deidre replied. They moved into the new line. Both were quiet as they moved forward. After another wait, they moved up to the front of the line. In front of them there was a tent placed over several tables. A handmade sign was hung from the ten that said “Runner Messages: Official Use only!”. Each of the tables had a sign with locations written on them, such as “Downtown San Diego”, “Kearny Mesa County Offices”, and “Miramar Air Field”. She spotted one with “Sorrento Valley/Del Mar Fair Grounds” and went over to it. A young woman sat there with another paper notebook and envelopes with addresses on them.

Bicycles

“What is your official business,” the woman asked in a no nonsense tone.

“I want to contact my husband, he is a software developer in Sorrento Valley. The officer over there directed me to here and gave me this note,” Deidre said as she handed the piece of paper over. The woman looked at the note and sighed.

“Ma’am, this isn’t really official business, you’ll need to wait until the secondary communications are opened up tomorrow.”

“But the officer said that a runner might be able to make a stop in the…”

“He was wrong, you’ll need to wait until tomorrow. Next person,” the woman said while pointing at someone standing behind Deidre.

“C’mon Deidre, we can try again tomorrow. I’m sure Roberto is fine, and who knows, maybe he can get a message to you.”

Deidre started walking, her anxiety increasing as they increased their distance from the table. She took a deep breath, realizing that Roberto couldn’t help her and she would need to be strong for Jake and for herself. As they got farther away from the table, a young man started walking along with them. He was dressed in shorts and t-shirt and towered over her. As she glanced at him, she thought “He looks like a runner,” and wondered why he was walking by them. When she looked up, he looked back at the tables, then straight ahead

“Heard your story back there, I’m sorry that miss fancy britches wouldn’t take your message. Who is it for?” he asked her in a very quiet voice.

“It’s for my husband, I just want to let him know that his family is safe.”

The young man glanced back again, and then said, “I need to get going but I don’t mind taking a message, I’m headed up to Del Mar and if his building isn’t too far I could take a message to him. Just don’t give it to me yet, we need to get out of sight otherwise Ms. Britches will make sure I get reprimanded.” The young man grinned and didn’t appear too worried about this threat.

“Thhaannkk you, Mr. …” Deidre stammered out.

“Just call me Gabriel, an angel messenger here to help you out.” As he said this, he sped up and walked around the corner that was a few yards ahead. Deidre started to walk faster but John pulled her back and said quietly “Let’s not get the young man in trouble, we’re just strolling, not trying to catch up with him.” Deidre slowed down and took another deep breath as they walked. As they turned the corner, the young man was waiting for them, just out of sight of the tables. John and Deidre walked up  to where he was waiting.

“Do you have the message written out?”

“No, I didn’t have a chance to do that, and  I don’t have a paper or pen either.”

“Well, this is your lucky day, I’ve got a good memory, so tell me the message and building address and then I’ve got to head out.  It’s a long ways and I’ve got quite a few other messages to deliver, “he said while patting a large leather bag hanging from his shoulder.

“Thank you so much. My husband is Robert and he works at the Leidos building in Sorrento Mesa, the large one on the top of the hill in the old Qualcomm building. He works on the fifth floor in the server division, that’s why he was at work late last night. Just tell him that Deidre and Jake are home and they are fine.”

Gabriel closed his eyes, mouthing the message and location. After a few seconds, he opened them again and looked at Deidre. “Got it, Old Qualcomm building, fifth floor, Deidre and Jake are at hom eand they are fine. Don’t promise that I can find him, I’ve got a schedule, but I’ll stop by there on the way to Del Mar. Where do you live, if I’m back this way, I’ll stop by to let you know what happened.” Gabriel was stretching his legs as he waited for Deidre’s answer.

“I live over there,” she said and she gave him her street and house number.

“Okey dokey then, gotta go, lots to do and lots of miles to go,” he said with a wave and a smile. He turned around and started running towards I-805, his bag bouncing against his side.

“I hope he gets through Deidre. And who knows, maybe they’ll get things fixed today and he’ll be home soon.” John said.

Deidre looked at the runner, and then looked around the neighborhood. She shivered, and said “I hope so, but things don’t look good for a quick fix.

Swings hanging empty

 

Pictures by J.T. Harpster